Thanksgiving has to be one of my most favorite holidays. Even though it was a week ago, I’m still dreaming of the sausage stuffing made by my friend, Holly. The delicious smell of roasted fingerling potatoes and Brussels sprouts with garlic and rosemary still lingers in my kitchen. The turkey…oh, the turkey! Pieced out and slow-roasted to a golden brown – pure heaven! We also enjoyed a boozy version of cranberry relish spiked with vodka and Grand Mariner, and a lovely kale caesar salad that has become a specialty of my friend, Pat.
The table was set with my great grandmother’s china.
I’m a list-maker. Phew, I said it. It’s out there. I feel so much better now. Yes, I make lists. I come from a long line of list-makers. My mother makes lists, my grandmother makes lists, my aunts make them…you get it. Lists are in our blood. Before I knew it, I was addicted to the satisfaction I got from crossing a big, fat line through each item on the list. Each line meant a tiny victory for me. Some lists are simple and fun, like what is needed at the grocery store. Other lists, however, might as well be Mount Everest: the endless list of books I want to read, places I want to travel, home improvement projects, general life goals. You know, lists that remind me of what little progress I’ve made. Lists that mock me and, in turn, get moved from the top of the stack to the back of a drawer.
Yes…it’s true. The past two weeks have been two of the busiest weeks so far this year. School is really throwing down and it seems like just when I have it all under control, my classes knock me down again. Oh, and I should mention our furnace died earlier this week and it’s winter in the midwest. Stressed! Fear not, though, as a new furnace is being installed at this very moment!
My sincere apologies to all of you dear and devoted readers. You are out there, right?
I have only made a few things worth sharing in the last two weeks – ramen and some lovely snacks I brought to an Oscar party.
Now, this dish was no easy feat. Just ask David Chang, as it was his recipe I followed. I’m absolutely loving my Momofuku Cookbook and I’ve been trying to make at least one thing from it every week. The ramen broth was quite an ordeal. I had to order five pounds of pork bones from the butcher and then wait. And wait. After about five days, I got the call that they were ready. I had all the other necessary ingredients: kombu, dried shiitake mushrooms, scallions, chicken legs, smoky bacon, onion, and carrots. I couldn’t wait. Into the oven went the pork bones!
Just let me tell you, after all was said and done, after all the roasting, simmering, and waiting – the flavor of the broth was divine. I wish I could hug David Chang and thank him for bringing something so amazing into my life.
“Now, just hold it right there,” you’re thinking. “Bacon jam? Jam, like the sweet spread one puts on their morning toast and eats for breakfast?”
Well, not exactly. But pretty darn close. This…condiment…as I’ll call it, is TOTALLY DELICIOUS. And totally worthy of being eaten with a crusty piece of bread, on pork chops or roast chicken, or hell…spooned right out of the jar and into your mouth. Get creative with its use. I could see a spoonful going into a pot of chili or tomato soup, in a batch of marinara, or maybe even whisked into a vinaigrette.
Now, I am aware that bacon, as an ingredient, may have run its course. What with bacon on doughnuts, in cakes, and infused in vodkas. But you know what, I’m okay with bacon. Bacon and I have a healthy relationship. We don’t see much of each other, but when we do, it’s quality. I bring out the best in bacon and in return, bacon will always have a place in my culinary repertoire.
Let me tell you that this jam is dead simple to make and you may, in fact, have many of the ingredients already on hand, just waiting to come together and make your house smell amazing. I chose to finish this jam off in the slow cooker, but if you don’t have one (really, why don’t you have one? they’re so great!) you can simply finish it off in a saucepan on the stove. Just keep an eye on it so it doesn’t scorch.
Feel free, also, to play around with the flavors. Taste as you go along. Especially if spice isn’t your thing. I increased a few things, and toned down a few others, but overall, I think this batch of bacon jam is perfect and I can’t wait to make more. It yields about 2 1/2 cups of jam, so please, share with your bacon-loving friends and family. They’ll appreciate it.
Spicy Bacon Jam
Yields about 2 1/12 cups
** Remember, many of these ingredient amounts can be increased or decreased. Don’t stress if you don’t have the exact type or amount. Substitute if you have to. I’ll still love you for it.
1 1/2 pounds pepper bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 whole large onion (yellow or white), diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt (if not using pepper bacon, use 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, as well)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/4 cup grade B maple syrup
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook, stirring occasionally and rendering all of the fat. You want the bacon to be slightly crispy, but not burned to a crisp. This will take a while due to the volume of bacon being cooked. Just be patient and enjoy the aroma filling your kitchen.
When the bacon is cooked, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon to to a paper towel-lined plate to drain more of the fat. Pour off the remaining bacon fat from the pan, reserving for later. Seriously, save it. It’s pure gold. Put it in an empty jam jar and put it in your fridge. Use it to fry potatoes or anything else you want to infuse with bacony goodness.
Return your skillet back to the heat and add the butter, onions, and garlic. Let them begin to sweat, stirring and cooking on medium heat until they are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Try not to bring too much color to them.
Add the salt and pepper (if using), along with the brown sugar. Stir well, and allow the sugar to melt into the onions. Resist the urge to stop there and just eat the caramelized onions. Mmmm. Remember you have a mission and forge on toward your goal!
After a few minutes, add the rest of the ingredients, stir, and let the mixture come to a boil. Toss in the reserved bacon and stir to combine.
Now is the time when you can put the mixture in a slow cooker, like I did. If you use a slow cooker, cook it on low heat for at least 3 hours, stirring occasionally. If you don’t have a slow cooker, place mixture in saucepan and cook on low heat on your stove top. You may find that you’ll cook it for a shorter period of time on the stove top, but honestly, I don’t know. I love the convenience of a slow cooker. Just turn it on and walk away!
After 3 hours, use your immersion blender to blend the mixture to the desired consistency. If you don’t have an immersion blender, a regular blender or food processor will work just as well. You’re going for a jam-like consistency, with visible bits of bacon running throughout. Don’t go too far or you’ll just have bacon paste, and that doesn’t sound nearly as appetizing, does it?
After blending, put mixture in a saucepan and cook on the stove over medium heat until most (if not all) of the liquid has evaporated. You want spreadable, gorgeous bacon jam here. Be sure to stir along the way and adjust the heat as necessary. You don’t want to scorch it after you’ve gone to all this work to produce something so lovely.
Place mixture in a sealed container (or share with your friends and family). This can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
Aren’t we the cutest? From L to R: Truman, my lovely husband Scott, Fischer, me, and Jackie. Photo courtesy of The Mullers.
What you’re about to read is an obligatory holiday blog post. I, like many others, spent the last two weeks prepping and cooking in anticipation of Christmas. My goal is always to have a fun and relaxing time in the kitchen – preparing edible gifts for my friends and family. The vision I have in my imagination is me, swiftly moving from task to task while Bing Crosby sings about white Christmases in the background. Inevitably, though, I get in over my head and the kitchen ends up looking like a flour bomb went off and I’m huffing and puffing trying to keep up.
This year I really tried to keep it simple. For my family I made:
- Homemade peppermint patties
- Scratch cherry pies
- Herbed cheddar cheese straws
- Orange spiced cashews
- Pretzel swirl peppermint bark
- Roasted rosemary almonds
- Cranberry and pistachio biscotti
For my friends I made:
- Bourbon vanilla ice cream with buttered pecans
- Chocolate banana ice cream
- Zinfandel gelato
- Pepper bacon jam
- A loaf of challah bread for a holiday party
- Chocolate gingerbread cake
Wow. Now that I read the lists, I realize I may not have kept it simple. But you know what? It’s the holiday season, and I like to cook and bake for my friends and family. I think edible gifts are really the best way to go. As we get older, it’s harder and harder to find things to buy for people, so I would much rather go this route. Even if you’re not a professional chef or baker, you can still get in the kitchen and whip up a batch of something delicious. Wrap it in butcher paper, tie it with kitchen twine, and slap a pretty tag on it. Boom. Gift done.
I hope you all had a lovely holiday and were able to spend it with those you love while eating and drinking delicious things.
Orange Spiced Cashews
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living
2 1/2 cups whole cashews (unsalted)
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a large bowl, mix cashews with corn syrup until evenly coated. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine salt, zest, ginger, coriander, cumin, and cayenne. Sprinkle mixture over cashews and mix until evenly coated. Transfer mixture to one of the prepared baking sheets; spread in a single layer, separating nuts the best you can.
Bake until the nuts are golden and the syrup is bubbling, about 15 minutes. Immediately transfer nut to the other baking sheet. Separate cashews; let cool.
My good friend Sarah once told me that one of her favorite confections were Rolos. I had to confess that they were on my list, as well. What’s not to love, really? Decadent chocolate and creamy caramel? Pair one little Rolo with a cup of hot coffee or espresso and you have the perfect sweet snack. But, as we all know, mass-produced candies such as these come with a laundry list of ingredients. Just take a look:
MILK CHOCOLATE ( SUGAR; NONFAT MILK; COCOA BUTTER; CHOCOLATE; LACTOSE (MILK); MILK FAT; SOY LECITHIN; PGPR, EMULSIFIER; VANILLIN, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR) ; SUGAR; CORN SYRUP; HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP; PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL (PALM KERNEL AND SOYBEAN OIL); MILK; SALT; SODIUM BICARBONATE; VANILLIN, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR
That is what you’ll find if you turn a tube of Rolos over and look at the ingredients. It’s not great, but it could be worse.
For Sarah, I made something as close to a Rolo as I could, but I made a few changes. I used semi-sweet chocolate instead of milk chocolate, I added Maldon sea salt to the caramel and also sprinkled it on top. And clearly, I didn’t form them into the shape of a Rolo. But I’m sure she’ll forgive me. My list of ingredients was also considerably shorter.