Last Week’s Menu: Beer Cheese Soup, Bacon Brussels Sprouts & More!

In an effort to not only catalog previously attempted recipes, but also give a few hints, tips and anecdotes, here’s last week’s menu revisited!

beer cheese soup Continue reading

Advertisements

Cooking Closet Cooking’s Roasted Asparagus & Mushroom Carbonara

You know a recipe must be good if I not only make it twice in the span of 30 days, but also prepare it for a parent visit. That was the case with Closet Cooking’s Roasted Asparagus & Mushroom Carbonara. I saw this recipe while trying to figure out my menu a few weeks back and it jumped right off the page. I love bacon. I love carbonara. I loved mushrooms and I’m pretty alright with asparagus. It also doesn’t use a full package of bacon, which is kind of nice, especially when you’re looking to make that particular protein work for a few different meals.

The prep for this dish is also super simple. You wash, then cut the mushrooms and asparagus, mix them with some olive oil, salt and pepper before putting them in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Since I chopped my veggies into smaller bits than suggested, I kept them in the oven for a bit less time than recommended. With that doing it’s thing, I got my pasta going and cut up the garlic followed by the bacon. While the pork sizzled, I shredded the cheese and combined it with the two beaten eggs plus salt and pepper. Once the bacon is done, you toss in the garlic (I did this instead of removing the bacon as suggested in the main recipe), cook for 30 seconds and then mix with the cooked pasta, roasted veggies and cheese-egg mix.

When I made this the first time, I used boxed pasta, but last night I went full-out and made my own. The only other change I made was throwing in some chopped shallot I had lying around. Either way, you’ve got this great mix of fresh vegetables, smoky bacon and that salty carbonara goodness that solidifies as you mix. Making this meal even better is that fact that it tastes just as good reheated as it did the first day.

Cooking Damn Delicious’ One Pot BBQ Chicken Pasta

I’m all about Damn Delicious these days. I’m pulling a recipe or two a week for my menus these days including this one last week for One Pot BBQ Chicken Pasta. I was a little leery about this one, not because of the recipe itself, but because I sometimes have trouble getting into a dish if I associate it with one style of food. I had this problem when I made Taco Stuffed Shells a while back. Stuffed shells are just an Italian dish that should have ricotta or cottage cheese as far as my taste buds are concerned. Would I have the same problem with this barbecue sauce-infused pasta dish? Luckily, no!

I’m a big fan of the one pot method for cooking this dish. You cook the bacon in the pan (I skipped the olive oil because of the bacon fat) and then toss in the diced chicken breast. From there you add the garlic and onion followed by the rest of the ingredients, including the pasta which actually cooks in the tomatoes, chicken stock and milk. Cover that up and let it cook for about 15 minutes, mix in the cheese and bbq sauce — we had Sweet Baby Ray’s on hand — and you’ve got dinner!

I wasn’t sure if the the sweetness of the sauce would throw my tongue for a loop, but this whole dish worked so well together that I didn’t even think about Italian food. In fact, the sweetness really popped and worked well with the saltiness of the bacon and the tomatoes. It all worked really well together and you can’t complain about making a whole meal in one pot!

MATK Originals: Bangin’ BLTs

bagin' bltsAs a kid growing up, BLTs were pretty common in our house. They were the good, solid kinds that featured your basic toasted bread, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo combination, most often served with some Campbell’s tomato soup. But, over the years I’ve started adding to that structure and think I’ve created some really special sandwiches that I wanted to tell you about.

The first major BLT change came for me when my wife introduced me to the idea of the BELT, that’s a BLT with a fried egg on top. As fried eggs and their runny goodness are a favorite of mine, that was a pretty easy sell. So was the inclusion of cheddar cheese, which makes just about everything better.

Recently I’ve been playing with a few ways to make all that even better which culminated in last night’s dinner, what I’m now calling Bangin’ BLTs. Last night’s sandwiches includes your B, your L and your T, but also the aforementioned fried egg, cheddar cheese (we’re big fans of the Hannaford Wisconsin sharp these days), homemade mayonnaise straight out of Ruhlman’s Twenty and either Tony Packo’s Sweet Hot Skinnies or Banana Peppers (the former for my wife, the latter for me).

Bangin’ BLT Ingredients

Bread
Bacon, 2-3 pieces per sandwich
3-4 Large Leaves of lettuce, I use romaine
1-2 Tomatoes, sliced
Eggs – 1 for each sandwich
Sliced cheddar cheese
Pickles, Banana Peppers
Homemade Mayo

This meal might seem simple, but it actually has a lot of moving parts, so I’ll walk you through my process. I make the mayo first and follow Ruhlman’s recipe to the letter using vegetable oil and a farm fresh egg (we just happened to have a few on hand). This is the most intensive part of the process, but I guarantee the flavor you get from this will be far more full and rich than the stuff you buy at the store. This can be made days ahead, but the process only took me about 10 to 15 minutes and I went the hand-whisking route. In the future, I’d like to experiment with combining this mayonnaise with different elements like spicy sauces or fresh herbs.

Next I get my bacon in the oven. Sure, you can cook your bacon in a pan the traditional style, but I’m a big fan of using the oven because you don’t get splattered with hot grease and you don’t have to worry about it for 10 whole minutes. I set my oven for 400 degrees, then line a rimmed baking sheet with crumpled-up tin foil, this gives it more surface area to heat up. I then lay out as much bacon as I can fit, which wound up being about 7 or 8 pieces and popped it in the oven for 10 minutes. At that point I flipped the pieces over and let them cook for another 10 minutes.

With the bacon in the oven, I get to cleaning and cutting my vegetables. For the lettuce, I just pulled four large romaine leaves, sprayed them down and then ripped them into smaller, sandwich-sized pieces, discarding the hard white ribs in the process. Then I cleaned and sliced the tomatoes before slicing the banana pepper into strips for my sandwich (half of a large Tony Packo’s pepper did it for me) and getting out the Sweet Hot Skinnies for my wife. I also cut the cheese into squares.

At this point, it would behoove you to set up a solid sandwich-making station. I didn’t have the space for this, so it was a bit tricky, mostly because I had the toaster right in the middle of my work space. Once the bacon’s out of the oven and patted down, you’re almost ready to start making sandwiches.

Why almost? Because it’s egg time. This is where things can get a little tricky timing-wise because you want to work fast enough to make sure your bacon is still warm, but you’re also cooking eggs and toasting bread. I don’t worry so much about the bacon, so I basically put the bread in the toaster and then drop my egg in a small hot pan coated with cooking spray. By the time the toast is done, I’ve flipped my egg and it’s ready to go.

So, grab the bread and put on your desired about of homemade mayo. Then put cheese on one side (I’ve found that the extra sharp cheese can be a little overwhelming if you double up). I then put the hot egg right on top of the cheese and build up the other side with the bacon, tomato, lettuce and peppers/pickles. Bam, there’s your sandwich.

The richness of the homemade mayo works so well with the bacon, but do watch out because both can be on the salty side. When you mix in the crispiness of the lettuce, the coolness of the tomatoes, the sharpness of the cheese and the heat of the pickles or peppers, plus the egg doing it’s ooey gooey thing, you’ve got something really special happening in your face.

While I’m thinking about it, I do want to circle back around to the idea of serving BLTs with tomato soup. It’s an idea I still adore, but there was no way I was going to cook soup yesterday when it was in the 80s. However, a month or two ago I did make BLTs and tried a new tomato soup recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen. It was delightfully creamy and made for awesome dipping. Unfortunately, we lost most of the leftovers when our fridge fritzed out a month ago, but when things cool down, I’ll give it another try.

MATK Originals: Bacon & Broccoli Ramen Stir-Fry

As you’ve probably noticed from reading this blog, I do most of my cooking based on other peoples’ recipes. Every now and then I’ll MacGuyver something or change out a few ingredients here and there, but I usually just go by the book. Lately, though, I’ve been experimenting with a few of my own creations. This particular one is based on Soup Addict’s Ramen Noodle Stir Fry but I changed a few key things to suit our tastes better and figured I’d share them with the group.

Bacon & Broccoli Ramen Stir-Fry

Sauce
2 tbs fish sauce
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tbs rice wine vinegar
2 tsp hoisin sauce

Stir-Fry
3 packages of ramen
Half package bacon, diced
Head of broccoli, cut into florets
8 oz mushrooms – I used baby bellas
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
1 egg, lightly beaten

1. Mix all the sauce ingredients in a bowl.

2. Cook bacon in a large skillet or wok. Remove from pan when done to your liking. We like ours pretty crunchy. Remove some bacon fat if desired.

3. Cook mushrooms, red pepper, broccoli, mushrooms, garlic and ginger in bacon fat for about a minute.

4. Cook ramen. You can either boil water like you would for pasta in which case you should get this set earlier in the process. Going back to my college days, though, I’ve always just soaked my ramen in boiling water for three minutes or so. I filled up our hot pot, turned it on and then poured that hot water over the three packages of noodles in our soup pot, covered and let sit for several minutes until cooked.

5. Mix egg into vegetable mixture. Stir until cooked.

6. Add bacon back in. Combine with cooked noodles and sauce.

As usual, I like to get all my chopping done ahead of time, so I worked on the broccoli, mushrooms and pepper first. I also grated my garlic and ginger. We keep our ginger in the freezer and grate on a rasp as needed which not only keeps the ginger for a longer period of time, but also gives a more solid grate when needed. Since I’m already using that particular kitchen tool, I started using it on the garlic as well which works great, just watch your fingers.

I only just realized that the original recipe calls for a scrambled egg to be put in the dish instead of a beaten one. I like the way I did it better because it distributes the egg throughout the dish in a different way while still getting that additional protein in. However, if you wanted to continue the obvious breakfast theme you could go with the scrambled.

Next time I make this, I think I might add in some watercress and/or snow peas to bring in even more veggies. All in all, though, I think this recipe will be a good addition to the rotation, especially as things (hopefully) start warming up soon and I won’t want to sweat my face off in the kitchen. There’s also the potential to use a variety of other types of noodles or rice here. I like the simplicity of using ramen packets, but they’re probably not the healthiest things in the world. Maybe I can try making my own someday.

Cooking Closet Cooking’s Fully Loaded Hasselback Potatoes

From the age of 16 until I moved out to New York to start working for Wizard, I worked in a bagel shop in my home town of Toledo, Ohio called The Bagel Place, but everyone called it Barry’s Bagels. In addition to the circular bread delights so popular out here in New York, they also served sandwiches, soup, a variety of offerings on the salad bar and baked potatoes. Depending on what position you were working on a particular day, you were either making these things in the back, preparing them for customers up front or throwing away the remnants in the bussing room.

One of the unexpected treats of working there (at least for the first few years) was a pretty solid list of free food you can have on break. While I wasn’t overly familiar with baked potatoes before that, I became quite adept at creating a variety of options for customer and myself. What do you expect from a bunch of kids with access to a ton of food who get tired of eating the same thing over and over again?

This is a long winded way of saying that, when I saw a recipe on Closet Cooking for something called Fully Loaded Hasselback Potatoes, I was intrigued, especially because that super starchy part of my life mostly came to an end when I moved east as  a young man. The basic idea of the Hasselback is you thinly slice a potato about 4/5 of the way down the tuber, top them with garlic and butter and bake them. Before they’re done, you pull them out, sprinkle with cheese and bacon, pop back in and then serve with sour cream and chives.

I’ve actually cooked these a few times now and have tried a few different variations. The first time, I didn’t cut the slices thin enough, which meant they didn’t cook evenly. I also melted the butter and poured them over the potato before baking. The second time I went thinner which made for more evenly cooked tuber slices. I think I also mistakenly put the cheese on before baking which wasn’t the worst mistake in the world, but it definitely changed the flavor of the cheddar.

You could really do a lot with this basic recipe. At the Bagel Place, we sold broccoli and cauliflower potatoes as well as steak tips and gravy. Those are just two possibilities that could easily translate into the Hasselback format. And, if you think a potato isn’t quite meal-worthy, I’d challenge that assumption. One giant potato topped with cheese, bacon, chives and sour cream all cut up makes for a very hardy meal. Give it a whirl!

Cooking Nigella Lawson’s Beer-Braised Beef Casserole

A month or two back I sat down with my usual stack of cookbooks and wound up walking away with several recipes from Nigella Kitchen. I had about an equal number of hits as misses, but this one, more fully titled Carbonnade a la Flamand (a.k.a. Beer-Braised Beef Casserole, page 330) was a home run. This recipe is super easy to make, but you do need several hours for it to cook. Since I work from home, this wasn’t such a big deal, but if you’re working full time and like to cook, I’d recommend giving in a whirl on a nice fall or winter weekend.

You might be wondering about that first photo above. That’s molasses in some sugar because I realized just as I was about to make this dish that we didn’t have any brown sugar. I’ve since remedied this, but after looking up what brown sugar actually is (sugar mixed with molasses), I figured this would be a good workaround. I think it worked out pretty well.

Anyway, I wasn’t familiar with this recipe by name, but it’s pretty similar to others I’ve made. You start off by cooking bacon in your Dutch oven. When it’s done to the crispness of your liking — we like ours nice and crunchy — you then cook onions in the bacon fat. This infuses not only the pungent veggies, but the whole dish with a rich fatiness that plays well with the right ingredients. The beef and spices go into the pot after that followed by flour and then the beer and beef broth. I happened to have a Brooklyn Brewery sampler pack on hand, but I can’t tell exactly which kind I used because that pic is so blurry.

And then you just let it cook for three hours. The recipe suggests putting it in the oven, but I just let it simmer on the stove top and thought the results were delightful. The beef takes on a sweet, tangy quality that made this dish a delight both fresh and as leftover. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the entire opening story before this recipe because if I had, I would have noticed the part about serving this meal over egg noodles which would have really soaked everything up. I’m definitely keeping that in mind for a nice winter meal.

Cooking Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sandwich & Chunky Tomato Bacon Soup

After hitting up a great farm stand and making caprese with heirloom tomatoes, I knew I’d have a few left over and did a little looking around on FoodNetwork.com until I came across Rick Massa’s Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Chunky Tomato Bacon Soup which fit the bill pretty perfectly. I did a few things differently than the suggested recipe, though. First and foremost, I didn’t do all that stuff with the butter and whatnot. A while back, my wife turned me on to a grilled cheese method that’s pretty fantastic: put mayonnaise on the sides of the bread that will be exposed to the pan (I used a flat cast iron skillet). I also decided to bake the bacon, as I have in the past. I like this method because you don’t have to watch it like you do on the stovetop.

Before actually making or assembling the sandwiches, but after putting the bacon in the oven, I got to work on the tomato soup. For me, BLTs and grilled cheese always have a connection to tomato soup, but growing up, it was usually the canned stuff from Campbell’s with a little milk thrown in. I thought this soup would be pretty solid thanks to the bacon involved, but it actually wound up being kind of thick and not overly interesting. It wound up being more like sauce than a soup. Part of the problem was that I put the whole tiny can of tomato paste into the mix, which I realized after the fact probably lead to the problem. We wound up not eating much of it, but I did freeze it, to be thawed up and possibly mixed with some chicken stock to thin out a little ways down the line.

Back to the sandwiches, though, they were fantastic. I got the bread prepped with Dijon mustard on the insides as well as the cheese on both sides of the bread, tomato and some of the bacon. After that it was just a matter of throwing them on the cast iron pan one at a time. Once I flipped them, I smushed it down with another cast iron pan (be careful, even though it’s not directly on the heat, this pan will get hot!). Oh, I nearly forgot, I also steamed the green beans that I bought along with the heirloom tomatoes which came out delightfully crisp and clean-tasting. The grilled cheese was just wonderful and, like with the caprese from yesterday, got a nice boost of flavor from the heirloom tomatoes. I’ve got to say, I’m pretty partial to those green ones!

Cooking Rachael Ray’s Bacon Burger Mac N Cheese


Our two year old daughter loves macaroni and cheese. I mean, who doesn’t, right? But she’s all over it. In fact, the dish holds such a special place in her tiny little head that pretty much everything with noodles is “macos and cheese” to her. As such, I’ve been looking around for various ways of cooking mac and cheese and seem to not be doing a great job of it. The general problem I keep running into is that cheddar’s just not doing it for me on the creamy scale. I’ve got to come up with something else to throw in there that really brings that out, but until then, I’m keeping track of the recipes I like in hopes that I can return to them later on and really knock them out with a few different cheeses.

Rachael Ray’s Bacon Burger Mac N Cheese is one such recipe. The only deviations I made from the recipe included replacing a bit of the milk with water (which is another factor in the creaminess factor) and I also ground up my own beef. Aside from that it was business as usual.

While I wished it was cheesier, the resulting dish was still super tasty. I enjoyed the bacon in there — adding one of the best foods to one of the best dishes just makes sense when you ponder it — and think the fresh ground beef added a fresher note, but I was also surprised with how much I enjoyed the faint hints at ketchup and mustard in the dish.

It might sound strange, but I’d really like to try this dish with more homemade and locally sourced ingredients. Beef and bacon from a local farm, some homemade ketchup and pasta and even some local cheese. I think you could have something really special and hearty hear with a few alterations.

Cooking Carbonara With Frisee & Lemon

Have I talked about my Big Blue Binder before? That’s where I keep all the recipes I find in various magazines that I want to try. I’ve got that mystery subscription to Good Housekeeping that I’m considering renewing as I type. I also get the free mag Hannaford gives out called Fresh. I go through those, rip out pages, shove them into clear sleeves and get to them when I get to them. At some point I must have gone through one of my wife’s issues of Martha Stewart Living and came across a page with four different pasta recipes including one for Fusilli Carbonara With Frisee & Lemon.

The whole recipe for this dish fits on a quarter of a sheet, so it’s pretty simple. Get your water going, cook the bacon, mix the eggs and parmesan cheese, clean the frisee and juice the lemons. The greens go in a bowl, the bacon cools and de-greases on some paper towels until you can break it up. Once the pasta’s done, drop that into another bowl and mix with the egg and cheese mixture. Once that’s together stir in the lemon juice, mix again and combine with the bacon and greens.

I actually remember the very first person who ever made carbonara for me: my friend Geof’s dad. They lived around the corner from us and Geof and I became friends after they moved to the neighborhood in third or fourth grade. We spent countless summer days hanging out together along with his older sister and younger brother and I had the pleasure of spending many a wonderful dinner at their house. One of those meals was carbonara, a traditional Italian dish of pasta, bacon and eggs where the eggs are poured over the pasta right after its done, cooking them upon contact.

This version of carbonara has a few more bells and whistles — and isn’t nearly as good as Geof’s dad’s if memory serves — but it made for a really nice dinner. Our two-year-old daughter has developed a real taste for macaroni and cheese (or “macos and cheese” as she calls it) so anything with pasta and cheese ranks pretty high on her list of favorite foods. You add in bacon, another favorite, and this turned out to be a real hit with everyone.

Walt Disney World Bonus Food Pics: BBQ At Whispering Canyon Cafe & Pork Belly From Waves

bbq On Monday my wife, dad and I went on the Disney Backstage Magic tour which takes you on an all-day tour of the park behind the scenes. Since it really does last all day they stop at a place called Whispering Canyon Cafe in the Wilderness Lodge hotel that’s got a real country western theme. They’ve got a regular menu, but also a family style barbecue thing where they bring big plates of food to your table and you all just dig in. As it turned out, there were the perfect number of people on the tour to fill three big tables and then one with just three people. We were that table of three which was great because I don’t like the idea of other people accidentally touching my food.

Anyway, the food itself was pretty great. The menu describes the Family Platter as including “Kansas City-style Smoked Pork Ribs, Herb-baked Chicken, Hand-carved Oak-roasted Beef Strip Loin, Citrus-crusted Market Fish, Western-style Sausage Sides fro Sharing: Seasonal Farm Fresh Vegetables, Herb-crushed Yukon Gold Potatoes, Cowboy-style Baked Beans, Corn on the Cob.” I’m pretty sure we didn’t have fish or beef stip loin, but the ribs were fall-off-the-bone cooked and super tasty but the real star of the show was that sausage which I could have eaten a whole plate of. I’m not sure if a huge heavy barbecue lunch is the best idea when doing a Backstage Tour, but it was tasty.

waves pork belly and tenderloin For dinner we ate at a restaurant called The Wave…Of American Flavors in the Contemporary Resort. I feel like I kind of screwed up while eating at The Wave. While my family went with some fancy steaks, I decided to try the “Thompson Farms Naturally Raised Pork Belly and Tenderloin with White Bean Cassoulet and Locally-sourced Vegetables.” What drew me to this dish is the fact that so many chefs and food personalities that I like and appreciate say that pork belly is supposed to be one of the best foods around. Unfortunately it didn’t do a whole lot for me and just kinda tasted like fatty bacon. It wasn’t bad and I didn’t really know what I was expecting, but it didn’t exactly send fireworks through my brain like in Ratatouille. However the tenderloin — small as it was — was fantastic as was the cassoulet, though I wound up passing that to my daughter who really loved it.

waves sherbert dessert

Since the Disney Dining Plan comes with dessert (I’d personally rather have an appetizer, but I’m a team player) I had a lot more dessert during that vacation than I normally would. The desserts at The Wave are pretty neat because they all come in little tiny dishes and you get three of them. I went with “Our Spring Gelato Trio: Mandarin Orange Gelato, Chocolate Malt Gelato, and Toasted Marshmallow Gelato” because I didn’t want to pile it on too heavy. And it was actually really tasty. My favorite was the marshmallow gelato because it really did taste like toasted marshmallows which are one of the desserts I really enjoy.

Walt Disney World Bonus Food Pics: Studio Catering Co. & Sci-Fi Dine-In At Hollywood Studios

studio catering company We spent the second day of our Walt Disney World vacation walking around Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a place that had great food at both the counter service and sit down levels. For lunch we hit up Studio Catering Co. which is supposed to be set up like the commissary of a studio, but, you know, right around the corner from Star Tours and butting up against the Honey I Shrunk The Kids playground (which is a childhood favorite of mine).

The way places like this work is that there’s a menu posted up high where everyone can see it (those yellow signs in the above picture). When you know what you want, you approach one of many very nice people standing at a computerized register. Once your food is ordered, you move up and pick it up from the people working in the kitchen and prep area, so it’s a little nicer and more organized than your average cafeteria, which you’d expect from Disney.

studio catering turkey panini For lunch I went with the Pressed Turkey Club which includes “Turkey, Applewood-smoked Bacon, Swiss, Roasted Red Pepper, Arugula, Multigrain Ciabatta Bread.” It was a really solid, tasty sandwich that didn’t feel like something slapped together. It seemed well thought out and well balanced. I also got the cole slaw which was better than average and think I even had a little cheesecake dessert, though the for-a-limited-time-only Worms & Dirt Cupcakes you see in the background were enjoyed by my family.

sci fi dine in reuben That day we had dinner at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater which is a fun place where you actually sit in tables that look and feel like old school convertibles. Those car-tables are “parked” in an area that’s set up like a drive-in theater complete with a movie screen running film clips, cartoons and trailers of stuff from the 40s, 50s and 60s.

We weren’t sure if the atmosphere — which was fantastic — would outshine the food, but I really enjoyed the Reuben I had. You might think that a sandwich with such basic ingredients (corn beef, Sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing and rye bread) would be difficult to screw up, but that’s not been the case in my experience. For one thing, you can find a wide spectrum of quality in just those five things, but the way a place treats their corn beef is also really important. The Sci-Fi Dine-In seems to treat its beef really well because the meat was nice and juicy and not dried out at all. In fact, all the ingredients felt top notch and tasty. I’ve probably had better Reubens in my life, but not while sitting in a fake car watching trailers for Plan 9 From Outer Space and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman. Oh, the cucumber salad was actually super tasty as well, it was a kind of sour, pickle-y alternative to fries if that’s something you’re looking for.

Cooking Michael Ruhlman’s Rip’s Marinated London Broil & Warm Arugula Salad With Bacon & Poached Eggs

A while back I found myself wanting to try some London Broil along with a nice salad, so I took to my copy of Ruhlman’s Twenty, looked around and came out with a pair of recipes to try. First off, I found Rip’s Own Marinade For London Broil (or Flank Steak) on page 294. This recipe combines the meat with soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, ginger and onion powder and lets it all get to know each other in a bag or dish for several hours. I also came across his Warm Arugala Salad With Back & Poached Eggs on page 283 which, just from title alone, sounded delightful.

While the marinade wound up being not exactly what we were looking for — it’s been a while, but I think it turned out a little sweeter than my wife or I tend to like — I’m a big fan of this salad and think it could work either on its own or as a side dish to a less protein heavy main course. Plus, the salad is super-simple to put together. The only real work involves making the making, cooking a few eggs over easy and making a really simple vinegar-based dressing. It wound up being kind of like a breakfast salad with the combination of bacon and eggs, but the slightly bitter arugala also got in on the action, making this easy side stand out even more.

Bonus Food Pic: The Parker’s Special From Parker’s Maple Barn

parker's breakfast Last weekend we took a trip to New Hampshire to visit my wife’s parents. On Saturday morning, a day I usually get to sleep in, we all got up early and headed to a place called Parker’s Maple Barn in Mason, NH. It was early, kind of a far drive and we waited mostly outside for about a half hour before getting seated. Sounds like a recipe for disaster right? No way man, this was one of the best traditional breakfasts I’ve had in a long time.

Parker’s is a sugar house which means they make maple syrup and other maple-flavored products. As I was informed on the way there, we’re in the middle of sugaring season, which means we actually got to see a little of the process, though we didn’t take the tour. Anyway, I perused the menu and after realizing I was pretty darn hungry, I went with the Parker’s Special which featured two eggs (over easy), a piece of ham steak, two pieces of sausage, two pieces of bacon, wheat toast, home fries and  piece of deep fried French toast.

Man, that was a great plate of food. I love getting crazy stuff at places like Fiddlestix on a regular basis, but sometimes you just want one big plate filled with well-made versions of all the classic breakfast foods and this was that. Plus, that deep fried French toast is a real thing of beauty, especially when devoured with a healthy dose of legit maple syrup. This was all so good and filling that I didn’t wind up eating anything else until my wife and I went out for a date and got some appetizers that night.

Bonus Food Pic: Janie’s Uncommon Breakfast Sandwich & Potato Hash

potato hash at janeysWhile visiting my inlaws for Christmas we went to our usual breakfast spot, Janie’s Uncommon Cafe. I like Janie’s because the food’s always good, they’ve got a solid regular menu and also usually have some interesting specials. The last time we visited, I wasn’t feeling super hungry, so I went with the Uncommon Breakfast Sandwich which the menu describes as “A fried egg with bacon, sausage, black forest ham and cheddar cheese on an English muffin.” I wasn’t sure if that would be quite enough food and I happened to see something called Potato Hash on the menu and decided to try that.

The sandwich was good, but that hash was ridiculously good. “Shredded Idaho potatoes grilled with sauteed peppers, onions and cherry bacon.” It’s such a simple sounding dish with only four ingredients, but it tasted so damn good with the saltiness of the bacon mixing in with the starchiness of the potatoes and the crunch of the vegetables. This doesn’t usually happen, but I liked this dish so much that I want to try and make it myself. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

Bonus Birthday Food Pics: Sushi From QQ & Brothers Barbecue

qq sushu1One of these days I’m going to remember to write down what I order from our favorite nearby sushi place, QQ Asian Bistro. I want to say that these are pictures of the 007 Roll (above) which consists of “Spicy tuna, crabmeat, avocado,lightly deep fried, eel, spicy mayo sauce, topped with scallion, masago” and the Spider Roll, but I can’t quite be sure. qq sushu2

Anyway, when my parents were in town for Second Christmas and New Year’s we decided to celebrate another holiday: my wife’s birthday. Instead of going out for a big meal, we instead ordered the big meal and ate it at home. It was a great experience and as usual, the QQ food was wicked good. IMG_2474But that’s not all the food goodness we enjoyed to celebrate my lovely wife’s birth. On her actual birthday I made her a cake and we also went and got dinner at Brothers Barbecue. Brothers actually opened a while back, but they had a fire and shut down for around two years or so. Well, they’re back open and we had some awesome food there. Above you can see the corn bread which was super thick and sweet and yummy. IMG_2478And then there’s the entree. I had the two meat plate with two sides and decided on Kansas City ribs and pulled pork with mac & cheese and collard greens with bacon. The ribs were delicious and fell right off the bone, the pulled pork was perfectly tender. Both were complimented very well by their barbecue sauce which reminded me of a homemade version of Arbys Sauce. The collard greens were really tasty too, I don’t think I’d ever had them before, but they had a very cabbage-y flavor to them. The mac and cheese was alright. Having made several versions of that as a main course and as a side, I know how hard it can be to keep in good shape. It wasn’t bad by any means, just not mind blowingly awesome like everything else. Welcome back, Brothers!

Cooking Betty Crocker’s Coq au Vin

I’m a strong believe in the power of bacon. It’s such a delicious ingredient that it can elevate a boring dish or make an already awesome dish, like chili, even better. As such, when I was flipping through my copy of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook and saw her recipe for Coq au Vin (page 286 or here), which is basically a pot roast but with chicken instead of beef and bacon. Plus, you cook it in a pan an not in the oven. But, aside from all that, it’s pretty much the same idea.

The only changes I made to the recipe were using boneless chicken breasts instead of miscellaneous poultry parts and I didn’t have the materials for a bouquet garni, so I just used dry spices from my spice rack. I know, I know, it’s not super French to do any of that, but what are you gonna do?

Oh, I also cooked the bacon after chopping it up instead of doing the pieces whole and then breaking them down. Again, this is just easier for me, I don’t know if there’s a downside, but I haven’t hit one yet. Before chopping that up, I peeled and cut the carrots and also got the flour mixture ready (I try to do veggies and whatnot before meat for obvious contamination concerns).

With that done, the bacon pieces went into the pan. After they were browned and done, I got them out then dipped the chicken in the flour mixture and got the pieces cooking in the bacon fat. The recipe says you should move them to one side and then cook the thawed pearl onions and mushrooms, but I just mixed everything together and let them get together. You then add in the rest of the ingredients and let it all cook together for a while.

I was really impressed with this dish. Sometimes I’m not sure about making international dishes from the Betty Crocker book because they might not have the original balance of spices and herbs, but this dish turned out to be pretty great, though whether or not it’s traditional Coq au Vin, I have no idea. But, the combination of bacon, pan fried chicken, pear onions and herbs was a delightful one. I’ll definitely give this recipe another whirl or two during the cold winter months ahead.

Cooking Herbed Turkey And Wild Rice Casserole

Turkey and bacon make a great combination. Really, anything and bacon is super tasty, but these two proteins work especially well together. This idea was tested and proved once again when I made Herbed Turkey And Wild Rice Casserole from Betty Crocker’s Slow Cooker Cookbook  (p 120). This recipe isn’t as easy as some of the “throw everything in the slow cooker, flip the switched and wait, but it was definitely worth the effort.

First up, you cook the bacon. Instead of cooking the whole strips, I like to dice it up. Saves on time and effort down the line. While that cooked, I chopped up the turkey breasts, carrots and onions and also mixed together chicken broth and a can of condensed cream of chicken soup. I don’t usually use cream of anything soup, but I had already written down most of the ingredients on my list and was in it enough.

Once the bacon is removed, you through the turkey and veggies into the pan. When that’s done, the rice goes in the slow cooker bowl as do the cooked meat and vegetables. At this point you get to put the lid on and cook on low for six or seven hours.

This turned out to be a pretty enjoyable recipe thought brought a few things into our meals that we don’t usually eat: wild rice and turkey. Oh, also that soup. There’s got to be a good substitute for that, though right? Anyone have any suggestions?

Cooking Pat Neely’s Famous Beef and Pork Chili

I’ve made plenty of chili in my days. Most of them kind of blend together, but then I made Pat Neely’s Famous Beef and Pork Chili which I saw over on Food Network’s website and things changed for me all because of one spectacular ingredient: bacon. You can hit the link to head over and see the the recipe which is super easy to follow, but I want to talk about the addition of that delicious, salty substance known as bacon. The flavor might have faded a bit in the leftover phase, but that first bite of bacon-infused chili was just slap-you-in-the-face amazing. Why had I never thought of this before? Why hadn’t I come across a recipe like this before? You can darn well bet that every chili I make from here on out will feature bacon.

I Finally Had My Own Under The Big Top At Fiddlestix!

Guys! Guys! I finally had the breakfast I couldn’t stop thinking about it for myself! We went to Fiddlestix in Cornwall this weekend and I immediately stopped reading the menu as soon as I saw something called Under The Big Top on the weekly breakfast special menu. As soon as I saw “pretzel” I was super in. This version was actually written a little differently than the one my wife had as it was supposed to have sausage, but they were out of sausage, so they put bacon on. That made things a bit salty in some bites (pretzel plus bacon, you know how it is), but overall this was delightful. The pretzels and bacon were joined by a wonderful cheese sauce and a pair of poached eggs. Man oh, man. This was amazing. I need to figure out how to make pretzels and try this out at home!

Sixth Anniversary Dinner At Cotton In Manchester, NH

To celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary (which was actually yesterday, but we went out on Saturday), my lovely wife did a bunch of research about nice restaurants around her parents’ house in New Hampshire. We decided on a place called Cotton in Manchester which was a wonderful restaurant and got big huge thumbs up from both of us. We decided to skip appetizers, but did go with some drinks. I had a couple Cherry Old Fashioneds which had Red Stag by Jim Beam Black Cherry Bourbon with muddled, sugar, orange slice, cherry and a dash of bitters. Man, that was a tasty drink that I would love to have again and again.

For dinner, I went with Wood Grilled Native All-Natural Jumbo Sea Scallops. I’m a big fan of scallops and usually only get them when we go somewhere in the summer near the ocean in New England and those are always fried. Don’t get me wrong, I dig fried scallops, but it’s such an awesome food that sometimes you just want to eat the thing and not the breading. Cotton’s jump scallops were super tasty and wonderful. When I saw there were only five on the plate, I was a little bummed, but then I started cutting them up and realized this was the perfect amount of food, especially when included with the applewood smoked bacon, sweet potato corn hash and honey chipotle aioli. Man, that hash was fantastic. The sweetness of the sweet potatoes bounced perfectly off the saltiness of the bacon, the slight heat of the aioli and the crispness of the corn.

I can not recommend this place enough. We dropped a good amount of money because it was our anniversary. Had this just been a regular date, though, there were plenty of other options that still looked awesome and probably tasted the same. I would love to eat at Cotton again. And again. And again. By the way, sorry about the bad picture, I felt weird snapping even this one and just did it on the quick.

Pizza Party: Prima’s Shrimp Scampi & The Cowboy SomethingOrOther

Last weekend, my inlaws came into town which usually means a trip to a local pizza joint. This time we headed over to Prima’s in Cornwall one of the best places around. We decided on ordering a pair of pies, the one on the left is Shrimp Scampi and the one on the right is…well, I don’t quite remember. It’s a new one on their menu and my wife and I both think it has “cowboy” in the name. I’ve never had shrimp scampi because I don’t really like shrimp, but it’s a testament to Prima’s that I really dug this pizza. I’ll assume it’s an exemplary version of scampi and say that it’s worth a try. The unnamed cowboy pizza was a beast of fantastic-ness featuring barbecue chicken, bacon and a drizzling of ranch dressing. This is the kind of pizza that was created just for me, I’m convinced, though I could have actually done with a little more ranch as the given amount was a bit lost in the other strong flavors.

Cooking Guy Fieri’s Bacon & Tomato Pasta

Three years ago, I made Guy Fieri’s Baclon and Tomato Pasta. I know this because, I printed the recipe off from Food Network’s website and kept the paper. I don’t remember anything about that first attempt, but considering this is a pasta recipe that also involves bacon, I understand why I chose it in the first place. For this week’s menu, I decided to flip through the ol’ recipe binder, saw this one and gave it another shot.

It’s a really simple recipe, which I like. I stayed true to the recipe though I was a little short on basil because our herb garden isn’t replenishing itself as much as I’d like. Anyway, I got the water boiling and then did a bunch of chopping so I’d only have to put the right things in the pan at the right time. This made things super easy, kind of like when I cook in the wok.

You can scope out the recipe yourself to see all the steps. Like I said, it’s an easy one and it yielded a pretty tasty meal. I wish I had cooked the bacon just a little longer to get it crispier. I didn’t realize it beforehand, but going with thick cut meant it didn’t cook nearly as fast and took pretty long even to get as crispy as it did, which wasn’t a lot. I like how the red wine works in there, though I think next time I might use more tomatoes. I would like this recipe even better if it was a bit saucier. Still, I devoured it that night for dinner and again as leftovers the next day, so it’s not like I can say I didn’t like it.