Saturday, December 21, 2013

Chocolate Covered Bacon Fat Popcorn with Sea Salt

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Stop for just a minute and ponder the title of this post.  Chocolate Covered Bacon Fat Popcorn with Sea Salt.  Is this a thing?  Not to sound presumptuous, but this should totally be a thing.  I first discovered the simple genius of bacon fat popcorn while vacationing in Charleston for my birthday back in November.  Instead of cooking popcorn in oil, you simply use rendered bacon fat.  It’s so basic, the fact that the idea had not occurred to me before is kind of crazy.  The version we had in Charleston at The Cocktail Club had some spicy seasoning on it.  Not long after we returned I made some, and drizzled it with a bit of butter, and then salt & pepper.  It doesn’t taste like bacon, but it has the essence and aroma of bacon.

We cook a lot of bacon in this house, as my dad has taken on the hobby of making his own bacon.  I always reserve the rendered fat, like a good southerner, strained through a mesh strainer into a mason jar.  My original mason jar was full, and I started another.  I began to wonder what I would do with all this bacon fat.  Unlike a good southerner, I hadn’t yet discovered uses for it.  (Though this Bon Appétit article has some ideas I’d like to try!)  Popcorn has turned out to be an awesome use for the leftover fat that might otherwise get thrown away!

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When thinking about doing holiday treats this year, I wanted to do something different than cookies or sugary sweets.  I know people sometimes do popcorn balls, or popcorn treats.  The idea occurred to me to share my love of this bacon fat popcorn with my friends, and I wondered how a chocolate covered version would taste.  It was simple to make, and after I coated it in chocolate, I felt it needed something else, so I sprinkled it with a bit of fine sea salt.  PERFECTION!  This stuff is so addictive!  It really covers the major taste points of sweet, salty, savory.  As I said before, the bacon flavor is really an essence or aroma you get, as opposed to straight up BACON.  I suppose if you really want an extra bacon flavor, you could chop up fresh cooked bacon and toss that in.

Now, one thing I should mention.  As I discovered, this is perhaps best served as a “same day” party treat or snack.  I packaged it up and delivered it within a day or two, and I found the popcorn texture lost it’s texture & crunch.  The flavor was still great, but I think next time I’ll reserve this as a snack I serve the same day I make it.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Slow Cooker Chicken & Mushroom Farro Risotto

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This time of year everyone is extra busy.  Between shopping for gifts, wrapping those gifts, baking up specials treats, decorating the house, etc etc, ON TOP OF your regular family/work/house/pet duties, it leaves us all stretched for time.  That’s one reason I love to turn to my slow cooker during busy times.  While my slow cooker tag may not show it, I actually use mine a lot!  I often make the same dishes over & over that are already on my blog; I might make a simple pot roast; or I’ll try a new recipe that only ends up tasting so-so, or is so beyond fugly I don’t go to the trouble to take a photo.  This was yet another new recipe I was trying out, and I honestly didn’t know if we would like it.  I literally braced myself for a flop, as it wasn’t until I was assembling the meal, that I noticed it only had so-so reviews.  I’ve never made risotto, let alone a farro risotto.  And in the slow cooker?!  Wasn’t risotto supposed to be constantly stirred to get that creamy texture and flavor?  Luckily, I worried over nothing.  I could smell this one working it’s magic, and it ended up tasting as good as it smelled.

My problem with slow cooker meals are that the really simple and easy ones call for “can of cream of _____” or have a lot of ingredients that I’m not a fan of.  Then, a lot of the slow cooker recipes that appeal to me as far as “clean” type of foods, using fresh vegetables, etc, are often a multi-step process that nearly always calls for browning meat and practically cooking the whole damn thing before you even put it in the slow cooker.  Multi-step slow cooker meals defeat the purpose in my opinion!  The prep time for this meal is minimal, and it doesn’t have a multi-step cooking process.  I bought pre-chopped mushrooms, so all I had to chop was the leeks.  This was almost one of those “dump everything in & turn it on” type of meals, but using “REAL” ingredients.  (I will add, sometimes boneless skinless chicken thighs are hard for me to find.  The one grocery store that always has them for me is Publix.  At other grocery stores I can often find boneless, but with the skin still on.  So if you can’t find skinless, you will have to add in the step of cutting the skin off.)

This meal felt like upscale comfort food.  I swear, with one bite it instantly shot up to the top of the list of my favorite slow cooker meals.  I love the texture of the farro, and was surprised at how creamy it tasted.  It’s sad that it’s a little ugly, but I have to say, this was surprisingly delicious.  On a cold, dreary day, this could certainly warm & cheer you up.  As it turned out I made this on a 75 degree December day, but it still was the perfect meal to come home to as I was exhausted and starving!

chicken_mushroom_farro_risotto_slow_cooker-3Click more for the recipe!

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Jameson Harvest Sipper

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After the Music City Eats Festival I found myself in possession of a bottle of Jameson Black Barrel Select Reserve.  (Jameson was one of the sponsors of the festival, and the primary sponsor of Pettyfest.  They are NOT sponsoring this post.  I’m just writing about a recipe I created using their product.)  I’m familiar with the regular Jameson Whiskey, as I have a friend who likes it.  But this Select Reserve is new to me.  To be perfectly honest, while I enjoy whiskey a lot, in my heart I am a bourbon girl.  Being born and raised in Kentucky, that’s where my alliance lies.  So, when I looked up on Jameson’s website to find out what this special variety was all about, I was very pleased to discover it’s a special blend of whiskey matured in flame charred bourbon barrels.  Hence the “Black Barrel” name.  This is a mighty fine spirit, and I have truly been enjoying it.

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One afternoon I found myself with some time on my hands and knew it had been a while since I made a cocktail.  I used to experiment with cocktails once a week or so, now it seems like it’s once every 3 months.  A quick glance in my fridge revealed some ingredients that resulted in this delicious seasonal drink.  A little cranberry juice, a little orange juice, some delicious Jameson, and a dash of bitters.  This would be a fantastic cocktail to serve on Thanksgiving day.  (If you’re lucky enough to attend a Thanksgiving where a responsible amount of alcohol is welcomed.  Sadly, mine will be a dry affair.)  I’ve made this multiple times, and I think I will continue to do so even past Thanksgiving.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Beer Can Chicken {ThermoWorks review}

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Being a food blogger, I get a lot of emails with offers to sample products for review.  Like multiple emails a day.  Most of them I turn down, as in case you haven’t noticed, I pretty much strictly post recipes.  Very rarely do I agree to review products, as I just typically don’t have time, nor the passion for it.  Plus, I don’t like it when I read a blog and all they seem to talk about are the free stuff they got, free trips, etc.  But every once in a while an opportunity comes my way to review a product I’ve always been curious about.  So please know that I won’t be turning my blog into a big ol’ commercial site, I’m just going to take a rare moment and tell you about this awesome product!

I was offered the chance to review a ThermoWorks Chef Alarm Thermometer and the Pro Series Needle Probe.  Before getting the chance to use this I only had the standard meat thermometer, and a standard candy thermometer.  When cooking meat, I would pull it out of the oven, shove in the huge prong (and let so much juice ooze out) then wait and wait as the temperature needle slowly slowly climbed.  Often the temperature would indicate that it needed to cook longer, so back in it went, and I would check again in 10 minutes.  Same thing, it would read too low, back in.  Next time I checked it I might check a different area, and this would read well over the desired temp, which meant I overcooked it!  It was always so frustrating.  We have two different standard meat thermometers and I would try both and get different readings.  It always drove me nuts!

I read a lot of reviews on the ThermoWorks brand before I even accepted the offer.  I found one group of people who fanatically endorse the brand, and that is Big Green Egg users.  My friend’s dad has a Big Green Egg, and I know that’s almost like joining a cult.  They become obsessed with their Big Green Egg, and the forum I read had everyone raving over their ThermoWorks thermometer, saying if you’re going to cook with the best, you ought to use the best thermometer.  We don’t have a Big Green Egg, but we do grill with charcoal only.  Nathan is opposed to gas grilling.  We have also transitioned from standard charcoal briquettes to the natural lump charcoal.  The taste difference is noticeable, and SO MUCH better.  But there has been a little learning curve for Nathan (the grill master of the house) as far as experience with the heat retention and temperature.  It seems lump charcoal burns a little faster.  This is where the ThermoWorks thermometer has really come in handy!  Sometimes the coals aren’t hot as long as Nathan expected, so things will need to cook a little longer.  We love having instant accuracy with our ThermoWorks!  My dad, who smokes brisket and pulled pork in his smoker was even a little jealous of my ThermoWorks.  He said he has an instant read thermometer, but it’s not as good a brand as mine.  Looks like I know what to get him for Christmas now!

With my very first use of the ThermoWorks Chef Alarm I was truly amazed at how fast & accurate it was!  I used it when I was poaching a chicken breast, and I loved seeing the temperature instantly.  Another time it came in super handy is when I was cooking meatloaf.  I varied from my standard recipe as I was using ground beef (when I normally use turkey), and I misread the instructions and added an entire 8oz can of tomato sauce that was supposed to go on top as a glaze halfway through baking.  My meatloaf was extra moist, and I knew it would need to cook longer than the instructions, but I didn’t know how much longer.  The ThermoWorks thermometer was awesome because I could quickly take the temperature to determine whether or not it was safe to eat!  It took an extra 20 minutes, and I’m so glad I was able to accurately know the meatloaf was finished.

The most awesome thing though about the ThermoWorks Chef Alarm thermometer is that it can be used for more than just cooking with meat!  As the holiday season approaches, I forsee lots of use of it to replace my clunky candy thermometer.  This is where the Pro Series Needle Probe comes in handy, as it works in instances other (thicker) probes cannot.  You can use it for making:

  • candy
  • marshmallows
  • fudge
  • yogurt
  • bread

This Thanksgiving if it’s your job to cook the turkey this year and you’re a bit nervous about it, I suggest picking up one of these.  On the ThermoWorks website, the Chef Alarm is only $59 and comes with the Pro Series High Temp Cooking Probe.  The thinner Pro Series Needle Probe is an additional accessory for only $15.  And their Superfast Thermapen is $96, but they are running a promotion right now where you can get 2 for $85 each.  I was recently reading some tips in preparation of Thanksgiving on Top 10 Thanksgiving Tips Solved on About.com and even that article recommends ThermoWorks!  Most recently we used it for Beer Can Chicken, one of Nathan’s favorite simply & easy things to put on the grill.  Click below for the recipe!

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**This is not a sponsored post, as I was not compensated.  I was however provided the Chef Alarm, and the Pro Series Needle Probe for review.  As you can tell I was highly impressed with this product.  This post contains affiliate links, and I get a small referral compensation if you purchase.**

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sweet Soy Grilled Short Ribs

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As the weather has turned crisp, we haven’t completely abandoned the grill.  I recently found short ribs on sale, and thought I’d treat Nathan to a nice meal.  We only go out to eat about once a week, both to save money, and because Elliott’s behavior in restaurants can mean we spend more time trying to get him to behave, than we spend enjoying our meal.  I could easily see these short ribs costing $18 or more at a restaurant.  It’s nice to enjoy a restaurant quality meal from the comfort of our own home!

I marinated these overnight, then following some of the commenters suggestions, I cooked these in the slow cooker for about 4 hours.  Afterwards I reserved the remaining marinade and reduced it on the stovetop.  Nathan finished these off on the grill for that great grilled taste.  It was the perfect lazy Sunday meal, requiring little actual effort.  These had fantastic flavor, and were perfectly tender.  I loved the sweet/tangy flavor combo.  It wasn’t too strong of a flavor either.  I paired them with coconut rice (jasmine rice cooked in coconut milk), and some steamed broccoli.  I feel like I never seem to post dinner recipes these days, so it was important for me to share this!

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