smoked beer can chicken soup

Autumn is my favorite season. I love the chill in the air; I love the contrast between the bright blue sky and Mother Nature’s muted colors; I even love the cool, earthy and slightly damp way the world smells. Around this time each year I’m typically elbow deep in end of the season garden veggies; namely peppers, tomatoes, onions and eggplant. But not this year. This summers garden was a serious bust. I gave it just as much love as I ever do and the meager amount of veggies it produced was beyond disappointing. Sure my cucumber plants grew so voraciously we were eating cucumber with nearly every meal, but I got exactly two habanero and six bell peppers, the yellow and acorn squash flowered but then nada, the radishes and beets were nothing but greens and the tomato plants grew taller than me but only offered up a few handfuls of fruit. It broke my heart. What did truly flourish and produce in abundance were the tomatillos. The plants were so tall and willowy they resembled trees and each was covered stem to stern in little paper-thin green lanterns that would later be filled with the tomatillo fruit. It was the bountiful harvest I had been longing for. So you may be wondering, what did I do with all those lovely tomatillos? Well… I ate them sliced in salads and as a garnish for tacos. I made an insanely spicy Salsa Verde and I threw a handful in with some heirloom purple tomatoes for a kooky homemade pasta sauce. And I made soup.

Ours is a house of soup eaters, in fact my daughter is so crazy for soup that she’ll frequently request the leftovers for breakfast. No problem… In my mind there’s nothing like a warm comforting bowl of some homemade goodness to make a chilly Fall day (or morning) seem downright toasty. Believe it or not I’ve actually been planning for my first pot of Fall soup for a few months now. I know, seems a little crazy right? But it’s not really. You see my husband really honed his smoked beer can chicken technique this past summer. What started out as a good recipe in June turned into a killer recipe by August. It was so good that beer can chicken was the meal requested by my son’s friend the night he slept over. (And you know when a super picky 10 yr old requests one of your recipes it must be good!) Anyway, to ultimately get to this poultry of perfection recipe he made beer can chicken fairly frequently— sometimes as often as two weekends in a row. Mind you I’m not complaining, just explaining that we had a considerable amount of leftover chicken in the house and one can only eat so many chicken salad sandwiches! So, I decided to quietly squirrel away some of the leftover bits in the freezer in anticipation of that first pot of soup.

Fast forward to a chilly day in September, a day that begged for soup. Into the pot went some onion, a green pepper and a bunch of those lovely tomatillos. Out of the freezer came my carefully rationed chicken and an hour later… into our belly’s went some of the tastiest soup ever to come out of my kitchen.

And yes, my littlest love did in fact have a bowl of it for breakfast the next day.

beer can soup

Smoked Beer Can Chicken Soup
Any sort of leftover chicken will do but the smoked beer can really brings a nice flavor to the party.

3 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups diced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. tomatillos, husked, washed and diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. chipotle chili powder
3 cups frozen corn, defrosted
2 15 oz. cans black beans, rinsed
8 cups chicken stock
4 cups leftover beer can chicken, cut into bite size pieces
Sliced jalapeño, fresh cilantro, avocado (optional garnish)

  1. In a large stockpot over medium heat warm the oil until it just begins to shimmer. Add the onions and cook until they become transparent. Then add the garlic, tomatillos and peppers. Season with salt and let cook until the tomatillos break down and become soupy.
  2. Add to the pot the spices, corn, black beans, stock and leftover chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for 10 minutes. Ladle into bowls and enjoy garnished with sliced jalapeño, fresh cilantro and avocado if you like.

a cherry pepper of a giveaway!

It’s over, can you believe it? Yeah me neither. It feels like only yesterday we were cheering over the first day of summer break and now ten weeks, countless day trips, endless hours spent floating in the pool and one family vacation later… and the summer of 2014 is coming to a close. I have mixed feelings about summer’s end. On one hand I’m ready to get back into a set routine; sure that means shuttling kids to and from school, soccer, gymnastics and so on— but there’s a certain comfort to be found in the routine. On the other hand I could do without another year of maddening school projects, endless video game vs. homework battles and the daily chore of making lunches. Not to mention feeling as though it goes from the first day of school to Halloween to Thanksgiving in the blink of an eye. Seriously, before you know it we’ll all be stressing over holiday dinner menus, Black Friday shopping and the impending countdown to the end of the year. Ugh.

Luckily the end of Summer doesn’t mean the end of garden fresh vegetables. Root vegetables, apples and pears, pumpkins and gourds and a variety of peppers are at their seasonal best this time of year. In fact on a recent trip to Corrado’s Market the local cherry peppers looked so good that I couldn’t pass them by. I threw a dozen in a bag and figured I’d decide what to do with them later. Turns out that inspiration was no further away than the cheese department. You see Corrado’s sells an amazing sharp provolone that my husband and I adore, but some may find too strong for everyday snacking. As I pushed my cart along I thought about that cheese and imagined the flavor mellowing beautifully if it was wrapped in a bit of imported prosciutto, stuffed inside of a cherry pepper and allowed to cure for a week or so in some quality olive oil. Oh yeah, you know what I’m talking about right? Those spicy little stuffed cherry peppers that are an integral part of every good antipasto platter and olive bar. Yup that’s right, that’s exactly what I made… and man were they delicious!

But my story doesn’t end there— You see writing about back to school and the impending holidays began to make me feel a bit stressed. Don’t get me wrong, while I enjoy all the planning, prepping and preparing of a holiday meal it seems to become more and more difficult to pull off with each passing year. Apparently the universe sensed my stress and sought to sooth me with a little retail therapy… No sooner did I think ‘Thanksgiving’ then along came an email from Pacific Merchants Trading Company offering to send me a few pieces of their gorgeous tableware to use and review! By now you know that I’m a sucker for dishware (especially serving pieces) so you can imagine how quickly I jumped at the chance to add a few of their beautiful Acacia wood pieces to my collection. But the folks at Pacific Merchants didn’t just want me to be happy, nope they wanted you to be happy too! Pacific Merchants has offered to send one lucky beets and blue cheese reader a $50 gift certificate which they can use to purchase something amazing from their website. But that’s not all, they also wanted to offer EVERYONE reading this post a coupon towards a future purchase. Simply enter “WeLoveBeets” at checkout  on www.pacificmerchants.com  for 20% off your next purchase, from now until October 1, 2014. Pretty fantastic, right? Yup those lovely people over at  Pacific Merchants really know how to talk a girl in off a ledge!

So thank your lucky stars that I start worrying about Thanksgiving in September and go enter the giveaway, make this recipe and serve it up in something beautiful from Pacific Merchants

Pickled Cherry Peppers with Prosciutto and Provolone
I never need to buy those expensive olive bar peppers again. And now neither do you!

stuffed cherry peppers

12 large hot cherry peppers
6 cloves garlic, divided
1/4 tsp. black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 cups white wine vinegar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cup water
1 tsp. coarse kosher salt
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 lb. wedge of sharp provolone cheese
12 slices prosciutto
3 cups extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Wash and dry peppers and put in a large glass jar. Peel and smash three garlic cloves and add them to the jar with the peppers. Then add the peppercorns and bay leaf.
  2. Combine the vinegars, water, salt, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and carefully pour over the peppers, they should be fully submerged. Allow to cool to room temperature on the counter, then cover and refrigerate for 1 week. (The peppers will absorb a considerable amount of the vinegar. Once the level has dropped a few inches you’ll want to add something to the jar to weigh down the peppers and keep them submerged in the vinegar. I found that a small ramekin worked well.)
  3. Drain the peppers well and use a sharp paring knife carefully remove the stem. With a baby or demitasse spoon carefully scoop out the seeds, leaving the pepper hollow but intact. Place the peppers cut side down on paper towels and allow them to drain further.
  4. Cut the cheese into blocks small enough to fit in each pepper. Wrap one slice of prosciutto around a block of cheese (don’t worry if the prosciutto pulls apart), then gently stuff into a cherry pepper. Repeat the same process with the remaining peppers.
  5. Carefully place all of the peppers and the three remaining garlic cloves in a large glass jar. Cover with olive oil, put the lid on and refrigerate for at least 24 hrs. Allow to come to room temperature before serving. And speaking of serving…

*adapted from chez panisse vegetables

HIP, HIP HOORAY, IT”S A GIVEAWAY!— HAS ENDED

wood plates2CONGRATULATIONS MIMI… YOU’RE THE LUCKY WINNER!

To enter for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate to Pacific Merchants Trading Company (which can be used for any number of beautiful times including a set of Acacia serving pieces like mine), please leave a comment below telling me what you like or dislike most about hosting a holiday dinner.

Are you like me and you love the recipe researching, list making, planning and ultimately pulling together a meal that hopefully tops all others? Or do you dread everything involved with a holiday dinner including the cooking, cleaning and having your family converge on you like locusts? Whatever it is, I want to hear it!

Leave your comment between Wednesday, September 3, 2014 and Thursday, September 11, 2014. (One comment per person please, US residents only.) Entries must be left via the comment form at the bottom of this post. A winner will be selected using Random.org. on Friday, September 12th and will be promptly contacted.

So please leave a comment and then feel free to…

  • Follow @beetsbluecheese on Twitter.
  • Become a beets and blue cheese follower via e-mail
    (you’ll find the “follow me” button at the top of this page).
  • Follow @beetsbluecheese on Instagram.
  • Share this giveaway with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Good luck!

cucumber à la julia child

This week would have been the 102nd birthday of everyone’s favorite food maven and former spy Julia Child. Julia was a firm believer in following your heart, stepping outside of your comfort zone and embracing life regardless of the obstacles placed in front of you. In honor of her and all she has given to a world of home cooks and great chefs alike, I have decided to reblog my post about Julia from last August and my (her) recipe for Cold Cucumber & Potato Soup.

Until next post I’ll leave you with these wise words from the beloved Julia Child:

“The measure of achievement 
is not winning awards.
It’s doing something that you appreciate,
something you believe is worthwhile.”

Well said Julia, I couldn’t agree more…

Around this time each summer two things happen in my garden. The squirrels destroy my corn stalks (evil no-good rodents) and my tomato and cucumber plants explode with fruit. An over abundance of tomatoes is never a problem, I use them in salsa and salads of all kinds and for my Sweet Summer Sauce, but cucumbers are a bit more tricky. I’ve attempted to make pickles, only to end up with a soggy vinegary mess. I’ve given some away, but believe it or not a lot of people don’t like cucumbers (I know, can you imagine?!?) and I’ve eaten them simply sliced and in salads, but there are only so many cucumber salads that even this girl can eat! So I set out on a mission to find another use for all these cukes.

My initial thought was that I could try to bake with them like you would grated zucchini, they really are almost the same vegetable after all. In fact I’m sure they would be the perfect zucchini substitute in these Pineapple-Zucchini Muffins and with back-to-school only a few weeks away I think that’s exactly what I’ll do (don’t tell my son). But muffins weren’t what I felt like making amidst this August heat, so I continued to wade through my cookbook cabinet in search of inspiration. And there it was, in the NY Times food section that I had saved from last August. August 15, 2012 had been Julia Child’s 100th birthday and the food world had celebrated it in great fashion. Julia Child— the cooking and culinary legend and inspiration to generations of home cooks. She was “absolutly fabulous”. And here I stood, just days away from Julia’s 101st birthday and in need of cucumber inspiration. “Hmm, what would Julia make?” I thought to myself. That’s when I heard a warbly voice say “Potages aux Concombres!” Okay I didn’t actually hear Julia’s voice from the great beyond, but I did discover an old recipe of hers for cold cucumber soup which sounded perfect but for one exception; to thicken the soup she had used farina— that’s where she lost me. I would rather use a thickener that would add flavor to the soup as well as substance (sorry Julia). A bit more research and I found a vichyssoise recipe that seemed to have some of the elements Julia’s recipe had been missing, namely potato and buttermilk. It was at that moment, in my little New Jersey kitchen that a Julia Child/Cooking Light cold cucumber and potato soup was born.

Bon appétit and happy birthday Julia, thank you for being you!

Cold Cucumber & Potato Soup
This soup may not be for everyone, including my children and husband. But that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious and wouldn’t be the perfect first course on a hot summer day.

cucumber soup3

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 leek, halved and sliced thin
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 cup sweet onion, chopped
6 1/2 cups cucumber (about 4), peeled, seeded and chopped
3 cups baking potato, peeled and cubed (about 2)
3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 cup light buttermilk
1/4 cup heavy cream (as an homage to Julia)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
snipped fresh chives, for garnish
Greek yogurt, for garnish

  1. In a large dutch oven over a medium-low flame heat the oil. Add the onion, leek, celery and garlic and cook 6-8 minutes or until onion is transparent, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add to the pot the chopped cucumber, potato, and broth; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until potato is very tender, stirring occasionally.
  3. Using an immersion blender (or food processor) blend the cucumber/potato mixture until it is perfectly smooth. Allow to cool on the stovetop for at least one hour.
  4. Once cool add the buttermilk, heavy cream, salt, and pepper and stir well. Cover and chill for several hours before serving. Garnish with snipped fresh chives and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

bacon!

Ba·con. (bey-kuhn) noun. Cured and smoked meat from the sides and belly of a pig. Bacon. A smell immediately identifiable by hard core vegans and dyed in the wool carnivores alike. Bacon. A food that has reached a cult like obsession within the food community. Bacon. An item that until I made it myself, I really never gave a flying fig about. Bacon. The topic of this post…

Sure I’m the girl who gave you candied bacon, followed naturally by Candied Bacon Fudge; but I never really considered bacon as anything more than just another ingredient. However strangely enough, when we became the proud owners of a smoker my first thought was BACON! Crazy, right? Or perhaps not… Anytime I can figure out how to make something from scratch that I’ve ALWAYS had to buy, I do. Bacon seemed to fit that criteria perfectly! The more I considered bacon (be it homemade or store-bought) the more I began to see it’s inherent value. What would Quiche Lorraine be without bacon? And how sad would that BLT sandwich be without good ol’ bacon? Not to mention my roasted brussels sprouts or mashed turnips. I quickly came to the conclusion that bacon is in fact much more of a superstar than I’ve been giving it credit for.

Last summer was the first time we attempted curing and smoking a pork belly. I couldn’t find one recipe that seemed exactly right, so I cobbled two of them together and dove headlong into the process. The resulting bacon was not exactly a success. It was bacon all right but it was extraordinarily salty bacon, way too salty to be eaten on it’s own. I ended up using it in a variety of yummy recipes, but my desire to create the perfect slab of homemade bacon still loomed large in my little foodie heart. I spent the winter on a mission to find what I deemed the ideal bacon recipe, I was a girl obsessed. And then I found it. A recipe from Whole Foods for Brown Sugar-Black Pepper cured bacon. Naturally I tweaked the recipe a smidge (come on now, you know I can’t help myself!) but followed the curing directions to a tee. And guess what happened? Deliciousness baby. Total and absolute deliciousness!

We ate the bacon just as is. We ate bacon and egg sandwiches (on homemade english muffins). We ate black-eyed peas with bacon, brussels sprouts with bacon and maple syrup and one of my all time favorite side dishes— braised collard greens with bacon. We were in a bacon stupor and damn we were happy.

Bacon. Possibly the world’s most perfect food.

Homemade Brown Sugar-Black Pepper Bacon
Delish. Delish. Delish.

bacon group4

5 lbs. fresh deboned pork belly
4 cups coarse kosher salt
2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tbsp. ground black pepper

  1. Rinse pork belly and then pat dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture.
  2. Combine salt, brown sugar, granulated sugar and back pepper in a mixing bowl. Place half of the mixture in a large lidded container. Add the pork and cover with the remaining salt mixture, being sure that it is fully submerged in the salt.
  3. Cover and refrigerate the pork belly for 1 week, checking on it once or twice to be sure it’s still fully covered with the salt mixture. This will “cure” the belly, creating salt pork (a.k.a. unsmoked bacon).
  4. Remove the pork from the cure and rinse well under cold water. Fill a bowl large enough to hold the pork belly with water and submerge the pork. Allow to soak for 30 minutes then pat dry with paper towels and place on a rack fitted in a large rimmed baking pan (a lasagna pan works well). Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight to air-dry.
  5. Prepare the grill (or smoker) for indirect cooking over very low heat. Add 1 wood chunk (such as hickory or pecan) to the charcoal, or add 1 handful of the wood chips to the smoker box of a gas grill, following manufacturer’s instructions. Close the lid. When the wood begins to smoke, place the pork belly over indirect heat.
  6. Cook until pork is firm and slightly darker, about 1 1/2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 145-150°F. Remember, you’re infusing the pork belly with a smoky flavor, not fully cooking it at this point. (If using a charcoal grill, replenish the charcoal as needed to maintain a steady temperature. Add 1 wood chunk to the charcoal every 30 minutes, or drain and add 1 handful of the remaining wood chips to the smoker box every 20 minutes before the old chips burn out.)
  7. Allow bacon to cool, then cover and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or thoroughly wrap and freeze for up to 2 months. (The colder the bacon is the easier it will be to slice.)
  8. Thinly slice, cook and enjoy!

*adapted from whole foods

Braised Collard Greens with Bacon
Even if you’re unfamiliar with collards and don’t really think you’d like them, this recipe will change your mind. It’s honestly one of my most favorite things to eat.

3/4 cups homemade bacon cut into lardons (or slab bacon, diced)
1 1/2 lb. bunch collard greens
4 cups onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, grated
1 12 oz. bottle of beer
2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

  1. Dice the bacon, add to an already hot stockpot and allow it to crisp and the fat to render, about 5-8 min. Rinse the collard greens and remove the tough center stem of each leaf. Stack a few leaves together and slice them into thin strips. Repeat with the remaining leaves.
  2. Add the diced onion and garlic to the bacon fat and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the beer to deglaze the pan, being sure to scrape up any brown bits that have formed on the bottom.
  3. Add the sliced greens and stir until they are all moistened. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or until they begin to wilt. Add the spices and stock, reduce to low and cover. Allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Uncover and cook for 15- 25 more minutes. (I like my greens to still have a bit of texture to them so I cook them for 35 minutes, if you like yours mushy go for the 45.)

winging it

The most highly anticipated day of any football lovers year is right around the corner. Frankly, I don’t like football. However I realize I’m in the minority, particularly this year since the Super Bowl happens to be taking place about five miles from my house.

It seems to me that Super Bowl Sunday has very little to actually do with football and a lot to do with Clydesdale commercials, half-time wardrobe malfunctions and trashy food you would never ordinarily consider eating. You know the kind I’m talking about— bowls of melted velveeta and salsa served with Fritos (hmm, who knew they still made Fritos?) piping hot pizza bites and mini hot dogs (I’m sure there’s not that much MSG in them, right?) and of course deep-fried wings with a side of bottled blue cheese dressing (limp celery stalks optional). But before you get the wrong impression here’s the thing… I happen to like wings. In fact there’s a coal-fired pizza joint nearby that makes the most delicious caramelized onion and rosemary wings that I like to order with a side salad. So you see it’s not the wing itself I take issue with, it’s the prepackaged, deep-fried, preservative laden aspect of your typical trashy wings I dislike. If I’m going to eat a wing I want some thought to have gone into it, some consideration for the flavors in combination with the cooking method. I want someone to have given that wing a little love long before it ever hits my plate.

While I don’t have a coal-fired pizza oven, I do have a gas grill and a Weber cookbook, which as it turns out is all I really need. A few pounds of wings, some Asian ingredients, a little grill time and voilà… Delicious without apology wings. I realize as I type this that the temperature outside is only 18°F, not exactly standing at the grill weather. I have but one thing to say about that—

Toughen up buttercup. This is football!

Grilled Asian Wings
These are delicious and far less guilt inducing than your typical wings.

wings6

1 medium leek, halved and sliced thin
2 tsp. Thai red curry paste
1/2 cup tamari soy sauce
5 tbsp. dark brown sugar, packed
4 tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
4 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
3 tbsp. fish sauce
3 tbsp. peeled, grated fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 lbs. chicken wings, tips removed

  1. Add all the ingredients (except the wings) to a medium bowl and stir to combine. Pour all the marinade except for 3 tablespoons into a large ziploc bag, place the wings in the bag and seal tightly. Turn the bag to insure all the wings are coated and allow to marinate for an hour.
  2. Prepare your grill by brushing the cooking grates clean and heating the grill to 350°F.
  3. Carefully oil the grates and grill the wings over medium heat, with the lid closed, until they are well browned and cooked through (turning them several times), 15 to 25 minutes.
  4. Transfer the cooked wings to the large bowl and drizzle with the reserved marinade. Serve warm and… Go team!.

*adapted from weber

a saucy cranberry christmas

One individual informed me, that the rosy complexion of the women had been attributed to their consumption of this article [cranberry sauce].”
~Letters on the Eastern States; Memoir on Cranberry Sauce, 1821

I know cranberry sauce is typically thought of as strictly a Thanksgiving side dish here in North America, however it’s in fact traditionally served with Christmas dinner in the UK. Personally I think it’s perfect for either meal, particularly if it’s homemade. We’ve all suffered through that can shaped log of purple jelly that goes directly from can to plate—belch—and based on that experience most of us claim to not like cranberry sauce. Well I’m here to hopefully change that opinion and to set things a few things straight. 1. Real cranberry sauce is nothing more than fresh cranberries, sugar and a bit of spice— so simple to make that even the least experienced of cooks can successfully pull it off. 2. Because of this perviously stated fact cranberry sauce should never come from a can. NEVER. 3. Very few people make their own cranberry sauce, regardless of how easy it is. Therefore if you do your guests will think you are a total culinary rock star; which is always a good reason to get in the kitchen!

My cranberry sauce recipe is the perfect combination of tart and sweet, so perfect in fact that my children actually fight over who gets to lick the spoon every time I make it. (I guess that tells you something!) Since cranberry season is such a short one (mid-September to mid-November) I make a point of always buying a bag or two around the holidays to keep in the freezer. Then when the mood strikes, simply defrost and rock n’ roll. I often serve it along with roasted turkey or beef, use it as a condiment on Blue Cheese + Chive Biscuit mini sandwiches or spoon it over a slice of pound cake or a scoop of vanilla ice cream— delicious! So go ahead and give homemade cranberry sauce a shot for your holiday dinner (or dessert) and tell me you don’t end up loving it too.

Triple Citrus Cranberry Sauce
This recipe is so easy and so delicious you won’t believe you ever considered dinner complete without it.

cran.sauce3

1 12 oz. bag fresh cranberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
zest of 1 tangerine

  1. Add the first 5 ingredients to a small saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the berries begin to soften.
  2. Increase the heat, bring to a simmer and cook uncovered 2-3 minutes longer until the sauce begins to thicken and nearly all of the berries have popped.
  3. Allow to cool slightly in the pan before adding the tangerine zest to the sauce. Transfer to a glass jar and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

“we’re starving!” snack bars

I don’t know about your kids but when mine come home from school they usually ask for a snack. Snacks before dinner are tricky; too much and they don’t eat dinner, too little and they complain that they’re STARVING until dinners ready. I always try to offer them something healthy (which they usually accept without complaint) but sometimes even I know that baby carrots just won’t cut it. Sometimes a snack needs to be healthy, but seem like a treat. Hello homemade snack bars.

I’ve been on a mission to make a granola/snack bar for sometime, but something always went wrong. Too crumbly. Too sticky. Too blech… But being the tenacious type and all, I kept on trying. The recipe I finally achieved success with is super easy; it really only requires melting and mixing; is pretty healthy; almond butter, puffed brown rice, dried cranberries (yeah there’s mini chocolate chips, but just a few) and most importantly my kids love them.

Here’s hoping that yours do as well and that these tasty snack bars buy you a few pre-dinner hours free from starving people underfoot.

Crispy Almond Snack Bars
These bars can easily be adapted to fit your kids’ likes; soy nut butter instead of almond, raisins instead of cranberries and mini m&m’s instead of chips. Go crazy, you have my permission!

new bars2

2 tbsp. butter
1/3 cup chunky almond butter
1/3 cup honey
2 cups puffed brown rice cereal
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

  1. Line an 8×8 pan with parchment or wax paper and set aside. In a small sauté pan toast the almonds. Allow to cool slightly and roughly chop.
  2. Place the cereal, almonds and dried cranberries in a large bowl, being sure that cranberries are not all clumped together. Set aside.
  3. In the pan you used to toast the almonds melt together the butter and almond butter, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, add the honey and stir until fully incorporated. Pour the mixture over the cereal and stir to evenly coat.
  4. Press the cereal mixture into the parchment lined pan. Scatter the top with chocolate chips and lightly press them into the sticky cereal mixture. Place the pan in the freezer for 20 minutes to set.
  5. Remove from the freezer, use the parchment paper to lift the contents out and slice into individual bars. Store in the refrigerator in an air tight container between sheets of waxed paper.

devil dog treats: take two

Life as a dog owner is much more involved then I expected. There’s puppy shots and house breaking; leashes, collars, toys, beds and crates; social time at the dog park and training classes to correct some not so hot behavior and don’t even get me started on dog food and it’s many many options. I almost think it would have been easier having another child, at least I know what to expect when you bring the little bugger home! Anyway back to the dog…

Trixie is a medium-sized (high energy) terrier-mix rescue dog who was beginning to develop some skin and ear issues. The vet didn’t want to jump to any conclusions or get crazy with tests but she suspected it could be (dum dum dummm) an allergy; perhaps seasonal or food. I don’t know about you but as soon as our pediatrician or vet says the word allergy alarm bells start going off in my head. That allergy road is no fun, I’ve been down it with both my kids and I didn’t want to go down it again with the dog. Being a bull by the horns type rather than a wait and see kinda girl, I decided to take it upon myself to switch her to a wheat free diet and see if it made any difference. Of course that would also mean rethinking those homemade devil dog treats I had so lovingly been baking her.

It turns out that making wheat free dog biscuits isn’t all that hard to do. They take a bit more time in the oven than your average chocolate chip cookie, but they’re considerably healthier and cheaper than buying them at the pet store. I discovered that oatmeal is a good alternate grain for dogs that are having issues with wheat and that pumpkin is great for canine digestion. Who knew! It’s been about two months since I changed Trixie’s diet and so far so good. I’m thinking wheat free just may be her ticket to ride. Oh the things you learn when you become a dog owner. I’m a little frightened to think what’s next…

Gluten-Free Pumpkin-Oatmeal Dog Biscuits
You can make these in any shape you want. I happen to like the dog biscuit shape because it fits well in Trixie’s treat ball.

new biscuits

4 1/4 cups rolled oats, ground
2 eggs
2/3 cup canned pumpkin
1/8 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. canola oil
3 tbsp. chicken broth, plus additional for brushing
3 tsp. dried parsley

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Place rolled oats in a food processor and pulse until it becomes a coarse flour. In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients until smooth. Add the oat flour to the pumpkin mixture and combine with spatula to form a dry, stiff dough.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a cutting board and pat into a circle. Place a sheet or wax paper over the dough and use a rolling pin to flatten it out the remainder of the way, to roughly an 1/4-1/2 of an inch thick.
  4. Cut the dough into shapes using a cookie cutter of your choice and using a spatula to pry them up, place the biscuits on a baking sheet.
  5. Brush each biscuit with chicken broth and bake for 20 minutes*. Carefully turn biscuits over, brush with more broth and bake an additional 20 minutes or until slightly browned around the edges.
  6. After both sheets of biscuits are baked turn the oven off and place the cookie sheets back inside. Allow the biscuits to dry out in the oven for another hour. After an hour allow the biscuits to cool the remainder of the way on a rack before serving to your canine friends.

*The bake time will vary depending on the size of your treats. I bake biscuit sized treats 20 minutes per side, but tiny training treats only 10 minutes per side.

‘baby daddy’ bbq ribs

Last night I had a dream about pulled pork. Actually it was kind of a nightmare. I was in some sort of cooking competition and when it was time to serve my dish to the judges I couldn’t find two forks to shred the meat and all I had was paper plates to serve it on. Crazy right? I guess that’s what I get for watching Chopped before bed.

Actually I’ve had barbecue on my mind lately. As you’re aware last weekend was Father’s Day. I asked my children’s father what he would like me to make for our Father’s Day dinner, but he said he was busy with his UPS route that day… so I asked my husband instead. (Ba-dum-bum-CHING! My husband loves when I make that joke.) Seriously though, when I asked my dear husband what he would like for dinner he requested barbecued ribs. Okey dokey, then ribs it would be.

I happen to be a true barbecue lover. I can’t think of a more satisfying summertime meal than finger-lickin’ sauce-covered chicken, ribs or pulled pork with a side of corn bread, some salad and sweet watermelon for dessert. But what I don’t like is commercially produced barbecue sauce full of high fructose corn syrup, liquid smoke and caramel coloring. No thanks. I have found bottled sauce that has a more “natural” list of ingredients, but I usually end up doctoring it up a bit to fit my tastes. So… why not just make my own. It’s super easy, just ketchup (the kind without high fructose corn syrup), a bunch of spices and a little cooking. Yum!

Okay, so back to those ribs. There seem to be as many ways to cook ribs as there are people who like to eat them. You can smoke them, slow cook them, grill them, boil them (bletch) and even fry them. They can be marinated, dry rubbed or simply slathered with sauce. The possibilities are endless! The recipe I use calls for marinating, slow roasting and then finishing them with sauce on the grill. Sure this may require a few more steps than some other recipes, but the total lack of conversation at our Father’s Day dinner table told me it was totally worth it.

Barbecued Ribs
I took all the heat out of this recipe because I wanted it appeal to my kids. 
If you prefer spicy feel free to kick it up with some cayenne pepper in both the marinade and the sauce.

4 lbs. pork spare ribs

For the marinade:
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. Spanish paprika
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp. key lime juice
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp. brown sugar

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and give a quick whisk to completely blend. Add the ribs, turning to coat well, cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Place the ribs in a non-stick roasting pan and add enough of the marinade to just cover the bottom. Cover with foil and cook for 3 hours, flipping halfway through.
  3. At this point the ribs should be just about fully cooked and ready for a quick finish on the grill. Baste the ribs with the barbecue sauce and grill until the sauce begins to caramelize, about 5-7 minutes per side. Serve with additional barbecue sauce on the side and some hot sauce for anyone who wants their ribs a bit spicy.

Homemade Barbecue Sauce
This sauce is super simple to throw together and much tastier than store-bought. It can easily be doubled or made spicier and it’s just as delicious on chicken or fish.

For the barbecue sauce:
1 1/2 cups ketchup
4 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. key lime juice
1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
3 tsp. smoked paprika
3/4 cup water

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens, about 25 minutes. Set aside.

*adapted from saveur

Candied bacon…I’m all shook up!

Over dinner one night many years ago, a friend made an out of the blue declaration that “bacon was the perfect food!” Naturally we all laughed and have continued to joke about the perfect food ever since. But the more I think about it the more I think this friend of ours may have been onto something. What would Quiche Lorraine be without bacon? And how sad would that BLT sandwich be without good ol’ bacon? Not to mention my roasted brussels sprouts or mashed turnips. Yes, in-fact I’m beginning to think that bacon may be just a bit more important (and versatile) than it’s been given credit for.

I recently started planning my Easter dinner menu (yes, I do realize it’s still four weeks away!) So perhaps it was just a coincidence or maybe it was predestined, but while flipping through cook books the other day I stumble upon a recipe for Candied Bacon Brownies. “Candied bacon brownies…” I thought to myself “…that’s a crazy good idea! But way too decadent, too rich and too over the top to actually bother to make.” And so I moved on. Then a few days later the Today section of the paper had a recipe for an escarole salad topped with candied bacon.

Seriously, what are the chances of candied bacon popping up in my life twice in a matter of days? I took it as a sign.

I immediately liked the idea of using candied bacon as a garnish, it would allow you to enjoy the salty/sweet aspects of the bacon but not be overwhelmed by it. Since I had already planned to serve my spinach salad with sliced strawberries and goat cheese on Easter, sprinkling a little candied bacon on top seemed like a no-brainer! Now to come up with a more decadent use… I imagined that a combination of chocolate and candied bacon might literally cause some folks to swoon. But I also thought that it would be so rich that any more than a single bite would be too much. So I decided that instead of brownies or even cookies I would make… fudge. Yup, Candied Bacon Fudge. Sounds like something Elvis would have eaten doesn’t it?

Okay, so let me tell you what I’ve discovered about candied bacon… It’s pretty damn delicious! It was a great addition to my spinach salad (actually I can’t believe I ever thought the salad was good without it!) and it turned already delicious fudge into something a bit more special.

Candied bacon doesn’t belong everywhere, but it definitely has its place in my cooking repertoire.

Candied Bacon
I know this sounds like a crazy idea but it really is delicious, and surprisingly versatile. It kicks a plain old BLT up a notch, is great along side a couple of eggs and tastes pretty fantastic eaten all by itself.

1/2 lb. thick cut bacon
1 cup dark brown sugar

  1. Preheat oven the 350°F. Line a jelly roll pan with foil and place a cooking rack in the pan, set aside.
  2. Put brown sugar in a container with sides (something long enough to allow you to lay a slice of bacon out flat). Add bacon, one slice at a time and dredge in the brown sugar. Put the sugar coated strips of bacon on the rack and repeat until all the slices are done.
  3. Sprinkle a little additional sugar over the top of the strips and put into the preheated oven.
  4. Bake for 15-25 minutes (depending on thickness of bacon), turning the pan half way through. When the sugar has melted and the bacon is looking browned and crispy, remove it from the oven.
  5. Immediately peel the bacon off of the rack and lay it flat on a sheet of waxed paper to cool a bit.
  6. Use the candied bacon as a garnish on salad, alongside your favorite breakfast meal or as the “are you insane?!?” addition to chocolate fudge.

*adapted from lords of bacon

Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Goat Cheese and Candied Bacon
This is a great springtime salad and the addition of candied bacon makes it perfect. Feel free to change the toasted nuts to whichever kind you like most.

8 oz. fresh spinach leaves
2 oz. goat cheese
several slices of candied bacon, crumbled
1 cup sliced strawberries
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

  1. In a large bowl create a bed of fresh spinach. Top with sliced strawberries and toasted almonds.
  2. Pinch off small bits of goat cheese and distribute over salad. Sprinkle crumbled candied bacon over everything and serve with your favorite vinaigrette.

Simple Dark Chocolate Fudge
This is my standard chocolate fudge recipe. If you have a favorite of your own or prefer milk chocolate, feel free to modify the recipe.

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 stick unsalted butter
2 cups mini marshmallows
1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cocoa)
1/2 tsp. vanilla

  1. Line a 8×8 brownie pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan combine sugar, evaporated milk and butter. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the marshmallows, chocolate and vanilla. Stir until the marshmallows and chocolate are melted and the mixture is smooth.
  4. Pour the fudge into the prepared pan and chill for several hours, until it’s firm.
  5. When the fudge is set lift the parchment out the pan, gently peel it off the block of fudge and cut into squares. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator.

Candied Bacon-Dark Chocolate Fudge
I know this seems like a crazy idea but I have yet to have a single person try this say it wasn’t delicious. Rich, extreme and they couldn’t possibly eat more than one piece, but delicious.

1/2 lb. of candied bacon
1 batch of dark chocolate fudge (your favorite recipe or mine listed above)

  1. Place half of the prepared fudge in the bottom of an 8×8 brownie pan lined with parchment paper.
  2. Lay the strips of bacon on top of the layer of fudge, making sure to press the bacon down to eliminate air bubbles.
  3. Pour the remaining fudge on top of the bacon and chill for several hours, until firm.
  4. When the fudge is set lift the parchment out the pan, gently peel it off the block of fudge and cut into squares. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator.

*adapted from the kitchn