Maple Bacon Streusel Muffins with Maple Bourbon Glaze

I have a question…it’s really an age old question….
Why does the squeaky wheel always get the grease?

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Honestly, I’m really trying to figure this one out. All of the other wheels don’t have a problem doing their thing…so they don’t squeak at all. They wouldn’t even think of squeaking because they are decent, hard-working wheels. But yet, they don’t get grease. My question is…. Why don’t they get grease? Don’t they deserve the grease too?

Unfortunately, there is no more grease to be had at the moment.
That’s because the squeaky wheel just got greased.
Once again.

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In a perfect world, the farmer would get rid of the squeaky wheel.

But, in the real world, squeaky wheels cannot be gotten rid of so easily. Why? Well… because they’re squeaky. Try to get rid of them, and they get squeakier.

Better yet, in a perfect world, there would be no squeaky wheel at all. Daily life would be peaceful… squeak free…

But, in the real world, there are squeakers all around us..and we have to deal with them, but figure out a way to find a happy balance.

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My remedy for that is to bake muffins. Maple bacon streusel muffins with maple bourbon glaze, to be exact. With a little extra shot of bourbon on the side for the cook!! That always does the trick..and very soon, that squeaky wheel just might be forgotten… Ok, I exaggerate… not forgotten… because they never let us forget they’re there… but tolerated.

Until the next time…when the squeaks start again.
And we know that they will..

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I was so pleased with the way these muffins turned out..each bite so moist, with smoky bacon and nutty pecans… cinnamon and brown sugar…all mingled with that sweet bourbon and maple glaze.

As you know…I’m not a baker… can’t bake to save my life…but I used the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook recipe, and I changed it up to suit my style… I also found some pointers from The Kitchen Whisperer and she said that the best way to get nicely domed muffins is to spray the top of the muffin pan with cooking spray, fill the liners to the top with batter, and bake them for the first few minutes at 425 degrees and then drop the temperature to 350 degrees for another six to ten minutes.   It really worked! The muffins came out with nicely rounded tops, perfectly baked…

Who knows? Maybe there is hope for me as a baker after all…

So…in the end.. who really needs the grease when there is a plate of these muffins  sitting on the counter?
Not me.
Let the squeakers have the grease, and enjoy a maple bacon streusel muffin instead.

Life is good…it’s a “The squeaky wheel can keep the grease, because a maple bacon streusel muffin with maple bourbon glaze is so, SO much better…” kind of good…

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Maple Bacon Streusel Muffins with Maple Bourbon Glaze
Makes 14 Muffins

Streusel:
6 tbsp all purpose flour
6 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp butter, softened
1 tbsp maple syrup
6 tbsp chopped walnuts or pecans
4 slices crispy bacon, chopped

In a small bowl, mix the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, nuts, and bacon until well combined. Set aside.

Muffins:
3  cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
2 beaten eggs
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, and place the oven rack to the upper third part of the oven.

Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray, and line with paper liners.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, and salt together. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it is course crumbs.

Stir eggs and buttermilk into the dry/butter mixture just until moist.  The batter will be lumpy.  Spoon into the prepared muffin tins, filling each about halfway full of batter. Sprinkle some of the streusel onto the batter. Top with the remaining batter, filling the liner to about 1/8” from the top. Yes. Really fill it that full.  It will be ok! Sprinkle the tops with the remaining streusel.

If there are empty muffin cups, fill them with water. Seriously, do it. I never used to, but The Kitchen Whisperer said to do it, and it really helped!  I know, if the Kitchen Whisperer said to jump off the Empire State Building, would I?  After taking her advice on how to bake muffins, yes, I think I would… well, maybe strapped to a bungee… oh who am I kidding?  I’d be scared to death to jump.  Just forget the jumping part, and fill the empty cups with water… it really does work..

Bake at 425 degrees for about 6 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees (Do not open the oven door at this point!) Continue to bake the muffins for another 10 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean..don’t confuse the streusel on the toothpick for raw batter.

Cool in muffin tin for 2 minutes, but no longer so that the muffins don’t get soggy in the pan. Cool completely on cooling rack. Drizzle with maple bourbon glaze.

Maple Bourbon Glaze:
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp bourbon
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp melted butter

In a medium mixing bowl, mix the powdered sugar, milk, bourbon, maple syrup, salt, and melted butter with a hand mixer until smooth. If necessary, add more milk to make it the drizzling consistency that you prefer.

Enjoy!!

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Popcorn: Our Favorite Three… And Fiesta Friday #14!!

It’s Fiesta Friday at Angie’s The Novice Gardner… and I’d like to bring popcorn this week to share with all of my friends there.

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Popcorn? You ask looking at me a bit skeptically…maybe as if I have lost my mind…
YES!! I wholeheartedly reply, knowing full well that you’re thinking that I lost my mind!!

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Read on…

Did you know that popcorn has been around for thousands of years? It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, but it did. I guess I never really thought about people 4000 years ago not only eating popcorn…but popping it!

Corn, yes. But popcorn?? No.

From what I’ve read about popcorn, it wasn’t considered a snack food… (and that made me wonder if they even had snack foods 4000 years ago)…but archeologists believe that the kernels were popped on a hot stone; and then ground up into a fine powder, and mixed with water.. my guess it was used to make bread and/or grits.

In colonial times, it was popped, and then served for breakfast with cream and sugar (corn pops?). Even Christopher Columbus jumped on the popcorn train when he wrote about the Native Americans making headdresses and corsages, not only for rituals, but they also sold them to Columbus’ sailors!

I could just see me wearing a popcorn headdress…

Prudy!! Stop eating your headdress!
She’s pouring butter on her head!!!
Prudy!!! Quit pouring butter on your head!!!
Would somebody PLEASE get that headdress away from that girl before she eats the whole thing?!!
Oh man, she’s got the salt!!
Prudy!!!! Drop the salt!!
For the love of God, GET THE SALT AWAY FROM HER!!!!!…”

It would not be pretty.

I joke, but I’m certain that the rituals were of most importance and religious, and very important to the tribes. Because they used popcorn to make the headdresses, it makes me wonder if there was some sort of meaning behind it. My guess is yes. Maybe it was for a Harvest type of ritual.

Apparently I could talk about that stuff all day… but that’s because I’m kind of nerdy, and I’m totally into the history of things…

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But this is about the popcorn..Today’s popcorn..

Katie’s boyfriend Ryan works at Freedom Run Winery on the Niagara Wine Trail…and last summer he came up with the best idea… he started doing a movie night on Friday nights. Imagine this… a warm summer evening, a quirky movie, and a quirky drink to go with the movie…all outside in a bistro setting.

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I can’t tell you how happy and relaxed I am on those evenings, which is exactly why I wanted to share this with you today……And….while I enjoy the silly movie and the funky drink… the thing that I look forward to the most is the popcorn.

Yep, the popcorn.
Maple and Brown Sugar Bacon Popcorn, to be exact.
I’m hooked…
Head over heels…

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And that’s why Ryan was there the other night…to show me how to make his popcorn, so that I could share it with you. A special thank you to Ryan and Katie for spending that evening with me… I had so much fun, even if I had to cook thousand pounds of bacon… I just love the both of you!

And..in my true fashion… as I was gathering the ingredients necessary for the maple and brown sugar popcorn, we started brainstorming… what other flavors could we come up with? The list was endless, and there are a ton that we wanted to do (and we plan to in the near future), but we had to narrow it down to three for this post.

Our favorite three.

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The first flavor we came up with is Cranberry Relish. Popcorn cooked in coconut oil, mixed with cranberry and walnut butter, and drizzled in blood orange olive oil. Totally out of this world…totally delicious! You need to try this. You really do.

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The next flavor that we came up with is S’Mores. Popcorn cooked in vegetable oil, drizzled with chocolate, and topped off with graham cracker crumbs and crunchy marshmallows. Crazy good. Seriously. Crazy good..You won’t look at S’Mores the same way ever again. I promise you.

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And my personal favorite… Maple and Brown Sugar Bacon. This stuff is so good, I guarantee that you won’t be able to stop eating it once you start! Cooked in bacon grease, vegetable oil, and brown sugar, it is then mixed with chunks of bacon and maple syrup. It’s crunchy, it’s sticky, it’s smoky, it’s sweet.. it’s fabulous!

So now all you need to do is gather some friends, and set up a movie night in your backyard! Serve these popcorns with a drink that goes with the movie! It’s just a relaxing and happy evening, with wonderful friends and great food!

But today, I’d love for you to join us at Fiesta Friday, because I know that you would love all of the great recipes and ideas that these wonderful bloggers share as much as I do! Thank you to Saucy Gander from Adventures in the Kitchen, and Johnny from Flours n Dainty Buns for hosting the party this week! Saucy, who is one classy chick, lives in Sydney, so she got the party started yesterday for us with her beautiful Chana Masala which looks absolutely delicious… (I think it was Friday, or pretty close to Friday for her!) And Johnny… so sophisticated, yet funny and quirky…you’ll immediately fall in love with him and his outstanding recipes! I’m excited that they’re hosting together… the perfect pairing if you ask me!

If you’re a blogger, and this is the first that you’ve heard of Fiesta Friday, I’d love for you to join us!  Just click on the link to the right, and follow the directions to link up to the party!  You will absolutely love Angie, her recipes are just spectacular, I can promise they are nothing like you’ve ever seen before…  and that girl always has something fun up her sleeve!

Life is good…it’s a “ movies on a hot summer night, funky drinks, and maple bacon popcorn…sharing with all of my friends on Fiesta Friday” kind of good.

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Popcorn: Our Favorite Three

Just a quick note: Ryan said that the first batch of popcorn always tastes stale, so he usually doesn’t use that first batch..I guess you can call it “seasoning the pan” with the first batch, because he was absolutely right. It did taste stale, but the second batch of popcorn tasted sweet and perfect!

So, my suggestion to you, is to discard the first batch of plain popcorn…and use the second batch to make these recipes. It’s not a huge loss..doesn’t cost that much…it’s just one extra step, but worth it.

Plain Popcorn
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
Salt & Pepper

Heat vegetable oil in a large heavy pan (I used a 4 quart pan, and of course, one that has a lid!) over medium heat. Place 2 popcorn kernels in the oil, and cover. When the two popcorn kernels have popped, immediately pour the popcorn into the heated oil and cover the pan. Holding the lid tightly on the pan, remove the pan periodically from the heat and shake it up so that the unpopped kernels fall to the bottom of the pan to heat and pop.

When the popping is finished, uncover the pan, and pour the popcorn into a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper (or just salt).

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Cranberry Relish Popcorn

NOTE!!  Cook popcorn in 1/4 cup coconut oil, rather than vegetable oil.

1 batch plain popcorn cooked in coconut oil.
1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup butter, melted
Blood orange olive oil for drizzling

Popcorn should be in a large mixing bowl.

Melt the butter in a medium size mixing bowl. Add the cranberries and walnuts and mix well with the butter. Spoon a little bit of the cranberry nut butter into the bowl of popcorn and gently stir it. Continue to spoon a little bit of the mixture into the popcorn until it’s all incorporated.

Drizzle with blood orange olive oil. Serve in individual bowls, or one large bowl or basket.

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S’Mores Popcorn

NOTE!! Cook popcorn in vegetable oil.

1 batch plain popcorn, cooked in vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1-1/2 cups mini hot chocolate marshmallows (the crunchy kind)
1 – 11.5 oz bag milk chocolate chips
3 tbsp heavy cream

Popcorn should be in a large mixing bowl.

Melt the milk chocolate chips and heavy cream in a microwave safe bowl, on medium high heat for about 30 seconds in the microwave. Remove from microwave and stir. Continue to microwave for about 30 seconds at a time until the chocolate chips have melted and are of drizzling consistency.

Drizzle some of the chocolate over the popcorn, and immediately sprinkle with the graham cracker crumbs and marshmallows, so that the graham cracker and marshmallows stick to the chocolate. Continue to add the chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows in small batches, stirring gently until it’s all incorporated.

Let cool, so that the chocolate hardens. Serve in individual bowls or one large bowl or basket.

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Maple and Brown Sugar Bacon

NOTE!!! Cook the popcorn in 3 tbsp bacon grease, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, and 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Add the brown sugar as soon as you pour the popcorn into the pan. Give it a quick stir, and cover. The brown sugar on the popcorn will seem a little soft to begin with, but as it cools, it will harden into a wonderfully crunchy popcorn!

1 batch popcorn, cooked in bacon grease, vegetable oil, and brown sugar
1/2 pound bacon, cooked crisp, and broken into small bits
1-1/2 cups maple syrup
1 tbsp melted butter

While the popcorn is cooking, mix the maple syrup, butter, and bacon together. You’ll want to pour it over the popcorn while it is still hot, so that the maple syrup and bacon stick. Stir it in gently, until it is fully incorporated.

Let cool completely so that it has a good crunch to the popcorn, and serve in individual bowls or baskets.

Enjoy!!

Embarrassingly Simple BLT Wedge Salad

You know, I want to call this a simple salad.

But what is simple? Exactly what does it mean?

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Sometimes I think I use the word “simple” in the wrong context. It’s simple to prepare, but maybe I want to say that it’s EASY to prepare, because there is nothing simple about this bad boy when it comes to flavor.

But then again, maybe I’m right, because our friend Mr. Webster says that “simple” means that something is easy, as in a “not involved, or complicated”.

True.

Yes, this BLT (Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato) Salad is easy, it is definitely not involved or complicated. It’s perfect for a “simple” summer meal, when the last thing you want to do is cook. There is virtually no cooking involved, and if you have some cooked bacon already in your fridge, or use the pre-cooked bacon, then there is zero cooking involved. It’s a matter of slicing a head of lettuce into four wedges, preparing a “simple” dressing. So yes…it is simple in that way.

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But then Mr. Webster goes on to describe “simple” as “plain and unadorned or not complex”.

Well shoot. That is not true.

If there was ever a salad adorned, it is this one. Ok, yeah…the ingredients are few. But their flavors are strong. Fresh tomatoes, chives, blue cheese, buttermilk, bacon, all work together so perfectly, to create that classic flavor that we all love so much in a BLT, but with that added zing from the blue cheese..and once in a while a little bite from the chives…and then the buttermilk really wants to be sour, but the creamy mayo just won’t let it…your tastebuds just scream for more!

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So in the end..I believe that this is truly a “simply adorned” salad. One that you can throw together in a matter of minutes, but walk away completely gratified…fulfilled….satisfied. And the best part? There is hardly any clean up.. and you have the rest of the evening to do what you want to do..

Life is good..it’s a “SImple, yet complex salad, and Mr. Webster needs to get his facts straight…or maybe I need to get my facts straight…but who really cares, because you’re going to forget all about this after one bite of this salad..” kind of good…

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BLT Wedge Salad
Serves Four

1 head iceberg lettuce, sliced into four wedges
8 slices bacon, fried crisp and cut into pieces
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
4 oz blue cheese
Buttermilk dressing (recipe below)
Chives for garnish
Fresh ground pepper to taste

I was serious when I said that there is really nothing to making this salad, and it’s almost embarrassing to write out the instructions….Almost…This salad is totally worth the embarrassment!

Place each lettuce wedge on individual plates. Divide the bacon, cherry tomatoes, blue cheese, and buttermilk dressing between them. Garnish with chives, and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Embarrassingly simple…easy…whatever. It’s delicious…and that’s all that matters!

Enjoy!

Buttermilk Dressing:
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, finely minced
¼ tsp ground mustard
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp fresh chives
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper

Whisk the buttermilk, mayonnaise, garlic, ground mustard, cayenne, parsley, chives, salt, and pepper in a small bowl until well blended.

Cover and refrigerate for up to one week.

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Twisted Tuesday: Cobb Lettuce Wraps

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I was watching the weather on the news before I left for work this morning, and the weatherman said something like: “If you think you’ll be walking out the door to dry roads this morning, you will be very mistaken”… and of course, he was right. It was yet another slippery morning, one of the many we have had in the last month and a half. It just set the tone for the rest of the day.

And….There is a very good chance that this weather could be my fault.

I’m quite certain this past summer I proclaimed to the world that I was melting (numerous times throughout July and August), and how I would love a raging blizzard outside my window. I goofed. I should have made it clear that I only wanted one raging blizzard. One blizzard. For only one day. And then the snow could shut off, and the sun could come out, and the roads could be dry for the rest of the winter. But that’s not meant to be. Not just yet, anyway. Apparently we have about six more weeks of winter.

Six weeks.
I think we can handle that.
Right?

Six more weeks of winter.
Ugh.

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I can remember how excited I was in October to start making winter meals. I love them. They’re truly comfort food. They’re the stick to your ribs, keeps you warm meals. That seems like so long ago.

I’m sick of them.
At least for today.

All day long I thought about summer, and how a salad with an ice cold bottle of pop (Yep.. I call it pop. Western NY girl here!) would taste so good…

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A Cobb salad. With blue cheese, chicken, bacon, eggs, tomato, and avocado. For the twist? Maybe something a little lighter… like a Cobb lettuce wrap. Everything we love in a Cobb salad, but a smaller version that we can just pick up and eat. Drizzled with homemade buttermilk ranch dressing, and topped with chopped chives. And a bottle of ice-cold sparkling clementine. Perfect.

It was definitely a pick-me-up, and brought a little summer into what was a rather dreary day.

Six more weeks… we can do it, right? Yeah, I think we can..

Cobb Lettuce Wraps
Serves Four / Two Wraps Each

8 Boston lettuce leaves, cleaned and left whole
2 chicken breasts, grilled and sliced into cubes
4 slices of bacon, cooked crisp, and chopped
1 avocado, cut into cubes
4 hard boiled eggs, cut into cubes
1 large tomato, chopped
4 oz blue cheese
¼ cup chives, chopped
Lemon slices for drizzling

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing (Recipe Below)

Assemble the lettuce wraps:

Lay each lettuce leaf on work surface. Place a few cubes of chicken on each lettuce leaf. Arrange the bacon, avocado, eggs, tomato, and blue cheese in rows on top of the chicken.

Drizzle with buttermilk ranch dressing, and garnish with chives.

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Buttermilk Ranch Dressing:
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, finely minced
¼ tsp ground mustard
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 tbsp fresh parsley
, chopped
1 tsp fresh chives
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
Whisk the buttermilk, mayonnaise, garlic, ground mustard, cayenne, parsley, chives, salt, and pepper in a small bowl until well blended.

Cover and refrigerate for up to one week.

Enjoy!

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Twisted Tuesday: BLT with a Twist and a Chicken Soup Disaster Story

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Today is National Homemade Soup Day. It has nothing to do with my Twisted Tuesday recipe at all, except that it makes me think about my chicken soup disaster last night, and I thought I’d share it with you..

I thought about chicken soup all day yesterday.  I decided to make a quick pot of it last night after I got home.  Sometimes I like to take the easy way out, and I’ll throw some chicken stock in with a store bought rotisserie chicken, and some onions, a bay leaf or two, carrots, celery, canned tomatoes, potatoes and tubettini.  Ninety-nine percent of the time it comes out fabulous.  And then there’s last night’s 1% which turned out to be a total train wreck. I was totally off my game last night.  It definitely was not the easy way out.

It all started out as what I believed to be a normal preparation.  The soup was simmering on the stove. Michael came into the kitchen and asked what I was making for dinner.   “Chicken soup” I told him.  “That’s awesome” he said.   And as usual, he proceeded to grab a spoon for a taste.  “There’s no flavor” he told me.   I tasted it.  He was right. I added some salt.  Still no flavor.  Now, here is where it gets a little messy… I had a very small timeframe to get this soup finished and on the table, and in a panic, I threw a chunk of parmesan cheese in, which only succeeded in making a mass of burned cheese on the bottom of the pan.

Come on!! (said dramatically)..I always throw cheese in my soup.  It always melts into it just fine.  I realized that I still had the flame on high, and I was burning it! Seriously…Really?  …and…there was still no flavor.  I threw in a few spoonfuls of grated Romano.  It was a little bit better… but while I was stirring it, I realized that the potatoes and carrots had disintegrated in the high heat.  It was basically broth with onions, celery, a few chunks of chicken, and globules of melted cheese (that hadn’t burned to the bottom) floating around!

I was still going to try to pass it off as edible…
It didn’t work.
They were on to me…

I had Michael come in and taste it again… after he tasted it he said: “Mom, what is going on with you?  I always tell my friends how awesome your soups are, but if they tasted this, they’d be like ‘dude, what’s up with your mom’s soup?’  This is really bad”. 

Now, that normally would have made me feel bad, but what stuck was the fact that he tells his friends that my soups are awesome…

Luckily I had a beautiful loaf of country bread from my beloved Wegmans, and I sliced that up to go with the “flavorless, disintegrated potatoes and carrots, burned cheese on the bottom of the pan” chicken soup. Apparently I sliced the bread into what Mike called “mini loaves of bread” and “mom, you better get out of the kitchen NOW before you hurt yourself..”.

He was right, and after I skimmed the salvageable flavorless soup off of the top of the pan and served it to everyone; I walked away from the mess in the kitchen, and didn’t look back until I got up this morning, when I was ready to face the war zone to clean up the burned on cheesy mess…

Honestly? I think they ordered a pizza after I left the room!

Things just happen in the kitchen… sometimes bad….but most of the time good…

Twisted Tuesday…

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I went out to dinner with my friends a couple of weeks ago, and there on the menu, were corn fritters. I really love them. But I know if I order an appetizer, then I’m not going to enjoy the entrée…so I passed.  I’m still kicking myself for that, and have had them on the brain for the last few days.  I’ve also had BLT’s on the brain, and I thought I’d combine the two tonight!  Bacon, lettuce, and tomato on corn fritters should take care of my cravings all in one sitting!

Even Better: Corn and potato pancake BLT’s, with avocados and chipotle mayonnaise.  Now that, my friends, is a beautiful thing…

Life is still good, even though I burned the soup….

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Corn and Potato Pancake BLT’s
Makes 4 “Sandwiches”

Just a quick note:  You really have to eat this with a fork and knife…it’s not a pick up and eat kind of BLT..

The Pancake:
3 large potatoes, grated and drained
Juice of ½ lemon
2 cups frozen corn
1 large onion, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
3 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 ½  tsp white pepper
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne

¼ cup vegetable oil

Grate the potatoes, and mix them with the lemon juice.  Drain them until there’s no more liquid coming from the strainer.

Stir together the potatoes, corn, onion, eggs, salt, white and black peppers in a large mixing bowl until combined.

Heat vegetable oil in large frying pan.  Measure 1/2 cup potato mixture into the pan, and flatten to about ½” thick.  Fry for about 5-6 minutes on each side, until golden brown.  You can keep them warm in a 200 degree oven while you fry the remaining pancakes.

The Chipotle Mayonnaise:
1 cup mayonnaise
4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 tbsp milk
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

The Rest of the Ingredients:
1 pound thick sliced bacon, fried crisp
2 tomatoes, thick sliced
Boston Lettuce leaves
1 avocado, sliced
Fresh Chives, chopped

Assemble the BLT:
Place one potato corn pancake on the plate, layer the bacon, tomatoes, lettuce and avocados on top, and drizzle with the chipotle sour cream.  Place another pancake on top. Garnish with fresh chives.

Enjoy!

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Potato Pancakes

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I think we’re supposed to be gearing up for another cold snap this week.  I don’t know; the thermometer showed 28F today, which isn’t really all that cold compared to what it’s been, but for some reason, I just couldn’t get warm.  I sat snuggled under a blanket on the couch for about a half hour this morning, until I decided it would be better to fire up the oven in the kitchen and get cooking.  Within five minutes, I forgot all about being cold!

I had three sad little apples sitting on the shelf in the fridge that needed some attention, and I thought applesauce sounded quite delicious.   What goes beautifully with applesauce?  Potato pancakes.

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As I was grating the potatoes, I was trying to decide whether I wanted to make them as the meal, or if I wanted to make them as a side.  That’s the beauty of potato pancakes, they can be the star of the show, or the really good back up singers.

I decided that the pancakes would be the meal today, and I’d make some bacon jam too.   I found a really good recipe for bacon jam on Angela Roberts’ blog called Spinach Tiger.  I’ve never had bacon jam before, and I’ve always wanted to try it.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I wasn’t sure if I’d like meat made into a jam.  I’m happy to report that it’s delicious!  It’s sweet bacon. Sweet and oniony bacon. I can totally see what the hype was all about last year.  I will definitely make this again.  Angela’s recipe called for apples, but since I already had the apples simmering on the stove, I omitted them.

Honestly?  I think the bacon jam stole the limelight.

Potato Pancakes

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The Potato Pancakes
4 potatoes, peeled and grated
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of ½ lemon
2 eggs
¼ cup instant polenta
½ cup grated Romano cheese
1 tbsp parsley
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper

1 cup vegetable oil

Grate the peeled potatoes, and mix with the lemon juice.  Drain the potatoes in a colander that has been placed over a bowl.  It takes a good hour for them to drain completely.  Or you can help them along by squeezing the liquid out of them.

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In a large bowl, mix the drained potatoes, onion, garlic, eggs, polenta, Romano cheese, parsley, salt and pepper.

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In a large frying pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat.  Measure ½ cup of the potato mixture into the frying pan, and flatten to about ½” thick.   You should be able to cook two or three pancakes at a time.   Fry for about 5-6 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.  Keep them warm in a 200 degree oven while you cook the rest of the pancakes.

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The Applesauce
3 apples, any kind, peeled and cut into cubes
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup brown sugar
¼ tsp cinnamon

In a large saucepan, add the apples and water.  Cover and simmer over medium heat until the apples are softened.   Remove from heat.  Add the brown sugar and cinnamon.

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At this point, you can either mash the cooked apples by hand with a potato masher, or  pulse them a few times in a food processor.  It really depends on your “chunk” preference.  My family tends to like their applesauce smooth, so I use my food processor.   Store in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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The Bacon Jam
1 pound bacon, fried crisp
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup strong coffee
¼ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup brown sugar
Pinch of cayenne
¼ cup maple syrup

In a large frying pan, fry the bacon until it’s crisp.  Drain on paper towel until cooled, and then break into pieces.

Remove all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease from the frying pan, and add the onions, garlic, coffee, vinegar, brown sugar, and cayenne.   Cook until the onions are translucent.

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Add the bacon back to the pan along with the maple syrup.  Reduce heat, and let simmer until the bacon mixture cooks down to a jam-like consistency, about an hour.  Angela said that you can add water to the jam if it becomes too dry while it is cooking.

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Remove from heat, and pour the bacon mixture into a food processor.  Pulse a couple of times to break the bacon up, but you still want to be able to see the pieces of bacon. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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Garlic Sour Cream
1 cup sour cream
1 clove garlic
½ tbsp parsley

In a small bowl, mix the sour cream, garlic, and parsley until well combined. Refrigerate.

Serve the pancakes with the bacon jam, applesauce and a dollop of sour cream. Garnish with fresh parsley or chopped chives.

Enjoy!

Lemony Brussels Sprouts, Potatoes, and Chestnuts over Gnocchi

Don’t you love it when you’re watching a movie…and you think you have it all figured out until some crazy twist at the end, that you did not see coming, just knocks you right out of your seat?  Yeah, me too…

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I’m still trying to play catch up on the sauces that I made for the gnocchi from last weekend, and this one I have to say is a definite “make again”. I think I may have gone a little starch crazy, but honestly? It worked.

My plan was just to make some roasted Brussels sprouts with baby red potatoes, and bacon. I had just roasted some chestnuts, and was snacking on them while I was cooking the Brussels sprouts and potatoes, when I started in on my last minute ideas… it hit me that the chestnuts might taste good with the Brussels sprouts and potatoes…and…what if I added just enough butter and chicken stock to make it a touch saucy? …and…what if I served it over the gnocchi that I had just made?

I did add some butter and chicken stock, and cooked it on low flame until it thickened. I didn’t add the chestnuts until the last minute; I didn’t want them to lose their texture. I wanted to be able to taste them in the sauce. I quickly cooked up some gnocchi, so that I could do a quick taste test.

Of course, I decided it needed cheese, so I sprinkled ricotta salata (a heavy sprinkle, because I love it) over the Brussels sprouts and gnocchi. I took a taste, and I liked it, but I didn’t get that first “mmmm” factor. The creamy, soft nutty flavor of the cheese really worked well with the Brussels sprouts, potatoes, bacon, and chestnuts, but I wasn’t in love. It’s funny, because I thought I was so creative when I added the chestnuts to the mix.  I truly thought that they were going to be the star of the show…but in all honesty…they really weren’t. They were good. They belonged. But they weren’t the star.

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After another bite or two, it hit me…fresh lemon….and I thought, “Why not?”… I’m so glad I’m open to my own ideas, and not one to reject them immediately…and I’m so glad that I always keep a lemon or two in the fridge… because I have to tell you…

A squeeze of fresh lemon over the entire dish made it shine.
Like the heavens opened up with beams of light and a choir of angels singing…
Ok, maybe I exaggerate. A lot.
But the lemon… I totally did not see that coming. It knocked me right out of my seat.

Don’t forget, I love a million levels of flavor going on in my mouth…and this…what seemed to be a boring little dish…suddenly became exciting!

I can’t even begin to tell you what the lemon did for the potatoes.  They were a little lost in the crowd until the lemon showed up…and then wow, did they show up. Those little starchy chunks of goodness just popped!

The Brussels sprouts with the lemon brought an unbelievable fresh, citrusy, excellence to the dish…the chestnuts with the lemon…so…SO crazy good…and of course the gnocchi with the lemon.. I mean, who doesn’t like lemon with their gnocchi? Not this girl.

Just like the movies… a surprise ending.  You gotta love it..

Life is Good.  Life is Lemony Good.

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Lemony Brussels Sprouts, Potatoes, and Chestnuts over Gnocchi
(Serves 4)

The Sauce
20-25 Brussels sprouts, cleaned and quartered
10-15 baby red potatoes, cleaned and quartered
15 to 20 chestnuts (more than you need, but just in case a couple are no good to eat)
½ pound bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken stock
¼ cup butter
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 lemon, cut into sixths

Prepare the chestnuts per the instructions below.  Eat a couple to make sure they’re properly cooked.  Eat one more…yum….Then roughly chop the rest.  Set aside.

In a large frying pan, cook the bacon until it’s crisp over medium heat.  Drain on a paper towel lined plate, and set aside.  Remove all but two tablespoons of the bacon grease from the pan, and add the onions. Sauté them until they’re golden. Add the garlic and sauté for a couple minutes more. Add the potatoes and Brussels sprouts, and cook them until they’re browned and tender, stirring occasionally.

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Add the chicken stock and butter to the Brussels sprouts and potato mixture, simmer on low heat until it has reduced, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir the chestnuts into the Brussels sprouts sauce, and cook until they’re just heated through. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper.

Serve over cooked gnocchi.  Sprinkle with bacon and freshly grated ricotta salata.  Generously squeeze a lemon slice over the whole dish…and Enjoy!

Chestnuts
Preheat oven to 450 degrees

I think the hardest part of roasting a chestnut is slicing into it.  You should really use a sharp knife to slice one side of the chestnut, just deep enough to cut the shell. Make sure you’re cutting it on a board, and not holding the chestnut in your hand!!

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Place the chestnuts on a cookie sheet, and place in the oven.  Bake for about 45 minutes.  Right before you remove them from the oven, dampen a towel under hot water.  Remove the chestnuts from the oven, and immediately wrap in the damp towel for about 15 minutes.  Most of your chestnuts will peel easily.  Don’t get too discouraged if they all don’t peel easily…some of them will take a little bit more work than others, but they’re totally worth it! You will definitely want to eat a few before they go into the sauce…

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