Spicy Szechuan Green Beans

>> Sunday, March 30, 2014


Spicy Szechuan Green Beans


If you've ever been to a PF Chang's restaurant, you might have tasted these craveable green beans. They have all of the tastiest seasonings the Szechuan province of China can offer. If you can find a jar of preserved Sichuan vegetables, definitely add it to the mix. It adds a powerful punch of flavor.

These are traditionally made with foot-long Asian green beans. If you find them in a store, give them a try - they'll have a different flavor than regular green beans.

Spicy Sichuan Green Beans

Ingredients

1 lb green beans
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
2 tablespoons garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 tbsp Sichuan preserved vegetables (optional)

For the sauce 

2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp Chinese chili-garlic paste
1 tsp sesame oil

Instructions

Rinse and trim the ends off the green beans; steam in a microwave 5 minutes, or until almost tender. Whisk together the sauce ingredients.

Heat the cooking oil in a wok over high heat. Add the green beans and toss in the oil, then drizzle on the sauce and stir-fry until the sauce coats the beans and is thickened. Stir in the preserved vegetables, if using.

Serves 4.

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Kale with Bacon and Pine Nuts

>> Monday, March 24, 2014


Kale with Bacon and Pine Nuts


Our very last Iron Chef Bacon Cook Off recipe comes from my friend John, our tattooed and Harley-riding church consultant friend who loves his food creation time as a meditative, relaxing practice. We've enjoyed many of his fabulous dishes over the years. This wilted kale salad has all the good benefits of leafy greens, along with buttery pine nuts and of course, good-quality bacon.


John Holm cooking


This dish can be whipped up quickly and is great for a side dish or a main-meal salad.

Ingredients

1 very large bunch of kale, mustard greens, or other leafy greens, stemmed and washed
8 strips of bacon
1/2 cup chopped green onion
3/4 cups pine nuts
1 small lemon


Instructions

Toast the pine nuts over medium heat in a dry skillet. Be careful not to burn. In a large pot, fry the bacon, remove and let cool on paper towel. When cool, crumble. Save the bacon grease.

Cook the green onion in bacon grease until soft. Add kale to pot; it may not all fit at first. Add 3/4 cup water. Put lid on pot to wilt the kale. Stir/toss occasionally. Add additional kale until all is wilted. Add bacon and toasted pine nuts and toss. Squeeze the juice of 1 small lemon. Toss before serving.

Serves 4.


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Chocolate Chip Candied Bacon Cookies with Bourbon Cream

>> Friday, March 21, 2014




We're nearly at the end my friends: one of the last recipes from our Iron Chef Bacon Cook Off. This one is from my friend Talea, Chef Extraordinaire, who has been a runner-up in several national cooking show competitions. These are Tollhouse chocolate chip sandwich cookies taken to the max, and they are amazing.

Talea with Chocolate Chip Candied Bacon Sandwich Cookies


For our party, Talea also made Goat Cheese Fruit Salad in Parmesan Baskets, which is a dish with a lot of "Wow" factor. It's as luscious as it it beautiful!

Ingredients - Candied Bacon

12 slices bacon, about 1/4-inch thick
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed

Instructions - Candied Bacon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Put bacon slices in a bowl, season them with chili powder and toss with the brown sugar. Cover a baking sheet with foil and arrange the bacon in a single layer on top. Sprinkle any sugar left in the bowl over the bacon. Place the tray in the center of the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let cool completely.

Enjoy eating the bacon on its own or crumpled into salads and other appetizers.

Side note: You may use the left over bacon grease to fry almonds or to flavor other dishes as the sugar and spices give it a delicious flavor.


Ingredients - Chocolate chip candied bacon cookies 

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 cup chopped walnuts

Instructions - Chocolate chip candied bacon cookies 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a mixer bowl, beat the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract until well-combined and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir together the flour, baking soda and salt, then slowly add it to the dough while the mixer is running on medium speed. Chop the candied bacon. Take the beaters out of the dough, and stir in the bacon, chocolate and nuts by hand. 

Drop rounded tablespoons onto ungreased baking pans. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on cookie sheets for 2 minutes, then allow them to cool completely on wire racks. 

Makes about 36 cookies.

Ingredients - Bourbon buttercream

2 cup powdered sugar
3 tbsp bourbon
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup butter, softened
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp maple syrup


Instructions

Beat together all ingredients until they form a fluffy frosting. When the cookies have completely cooled, place the frosting in a pastry bag with a large tip, or a plastic Ziploc bag with a corner snipped off, and squeeze off a quarter-sized  dollop of cream on the flat side of one cookie. Press it together with another cookie. Repeat with remaining cookies.

Let cookies chill in the refrigerator for a half hour or so before serving as the cream needs time to set.

Makes about 18 double rich cookies.

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Vegetable Potpie with Gluten Free Olive-Studded Crust

>> Sunday, March 16, 2014




I've had a part-time gig cooking for a family that is vegan and gluten free, and I made this pot pie for them recently. I hadn't worked much with gluten-free flours. To be honest, the list of flour mixtures makes me a little nervous - baking and pastry making and tricky as it is. It turned out to be a light, flaky crust full of flavor from the kalamata olives and filled with a creamy blend of vegetables. The recipe was inspired by one in the cookbook Veganomicon.

After I cooked the pie for my friends, I made a duplicate for us using meat-related items and all purpose flour (avoiding food contamination, which I learned in a class last summer!). Joe absolutely loved it. Why have we not put chopped olives into a pastry crust before? For the vegan/GF version, I used soy milk, Bob's Red Mill all-purpose flour, and Natural Balance buttery spread. I've included both versions here.

In an almost completely unrelated train of thought, my friend and I submitted art to the local Lemon Street Gallery, and we were both accepted a few weeks ago! Rebecca Stahr is focused on encaustic, which is a wax resin she applies to artist boards, along with found objects and natural materials.

I submitted several of my non-food photographs. The bad potpie photo shown above notwithstanding (it was taken at 10 pm after I got home from work), I have been working steadily at photography for quite some time now. Several of my food photos have been accepted by the "food porn" site FoodGawker. You can see my artist's bio and work here, if you are interested, you can order art prints from my Etsy site AngelaWD.

Ingredients

For the crust

2 1/2 tsp (1 envelope) active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110 to 120 degrees)
1/2 tsp sugar
2 1/2 cups gluten free flour, plus a little more for kneading
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp olive oil, divided in half (or vegan margarine melted)
1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped coarsely

For the filling

3 tbsp vegan margarine, or 3 tbsp butter
2 cups unsweetened plain soy or almond milk, or dairy milk
2 tsp dried tarragon
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups cauliflower, trimmed, washed, and cut into bite-size pieces
2 tbsp grapeseed or olive oil
1 leek, tough outer leaves removed, and sliced thinly
2/3 cup carrots, peeled and diced
2/3 cup frozen or fresh peas
2/3 cup sliced mushrooms

Instructions

Pour the yeast into a small bowl, and slowly add the warm water, stirring constantly. Stir in the sugar. Allow the yeast to work into small bubbles for about 5 minutes. Stir in 2 tbsp of the oil. In a large mixing bowl, stir together half the flour and salt. Make a hollow in the center of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture. Stir until well mixed. Stir in the cold water. Gradually add the rest of the flour while stirring constantly, until the dough forms a ball.

Sprinkle a flat surface with flour, and put flour on your hands. Knead the dough on the surface until smooth and elastic and no longer sticky, about 10 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and place in a large bowl coated with olive oil. Turn the dough over and cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel. Allow it to rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down the risen dough and fold in the chopped olives. Divide the dough in half. On a floured surface flatten the ball of dough and roll to form a round thin crust large enough to cover the bottom of a large pie pan. Use the rolling pin to roll the dough around the pin then transfer to the pie pan.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large saucepan, melt the margarine or butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour until it forms a thick paste, then stir until the mixture is browned and bubbly. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking the sauce continuously. Then add the thyme, tarragon, marjoram, and mustard powder, stirring until it is well incorporated. Cook and stir for 10 minutes, making sure the sauce does not stick to the pan and remains creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste.

In a large pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the cauliflower, leeks and carrots, and sauté for 8 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened. Stir in the mushrooms and peas, and cook for another 8 minutes, or until the moisture from the mushrooms has evaporated. Cover with a lid and steam over low heat for 10 minutes.

Spoon the filling into the pie pan. Roll out the top crust the same as before. Use a thin knife and make small slits in the top crust, roll it onto the rolling pin, and roll out over the top of the filling. Pinch the edges of the top and bottom crust together like when making a pie. Brush the top with some olive oil or melted vegan margarine. Place in middle of oven and bake for 30-40 minutes. Be careful the top crust doesn't get too brown.

Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 4-6.

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Chocolate-Caramel-Bacon Cheesecake

>> Thursday, March 13, 2014




We're down to the last few recipes from the Iron Chef Bacon Cook Off of 2014, and this, my friends, this is one of the best desserts I've ever eaten. My friend Jo started with a crust of cashews and graham cracker crumbs, loaded up the cheesecake with heavy cream and vanilla, then topped it with caramel and a semi-sweet chocolate ganache studded with bacon bits. Heavenly!

Once again I will apologize for the awful photo. There was the hubbub of cutting and serving desserts just as I drained my third glass of wine, and the results were not pretty. Jo was also disappointed because this cheesecake waited in the car while they were at a baptism, and some of the caramel slid off to one side. This cheesecake is so much tastier than it looks.

Note: you can make this recipe a day ahead, but if you make it the day you're serving it, be sure to make time to chill it before serving.

Ingredients

For the Crust:

2 cups Low-Fat Graham Cracker Crumbs (low-fat cookies will prevent the crust from getting soggy)
2 Tbs. Butter, melted
2 Tbs. vanilla sugar
4 slices bacon, cooked crispy and crumbled
1/2 cup ground cashews (my friend used honey sesame-coated cashews from Trader Joe's)

For the Cheesecake:

24 oz. Cream Cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup Sugar
3 Large Eggs
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 1/2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1 1/2 Tbsp Vanilla Extract

For the Bacon Turtle Topping: 

1 cup Sugar
1 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp Butter
1/2 cup Heavy Cream
1/2 package of Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips
4 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together the crust ingredients and press evenly into bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring form pan.

Blend together cream cheese, sugar, and heavy cream on medium speed in a mixer or food processor. Add eggs one by one, fully blending them before adding the next. Add the cream, lemon juice, and vanilla and blend until smooth and creamy.

Pour batter over the crust  and tap the pan to remove air bubbles. Bake 45-55 minutes, until the edges are set but the center is still jiggly. Turn off the oven. Wet a knife and run it between the pan and the cake to release it from the sides and prevent the middle from cracking. Put the cake (still in the pan) back in the oven, close the door, and let the cake set for one hour.

Remove the cake from the oven, and refrigerate four hours or overnight. Remove from the spring form pan before adding the topping.

Next, microwave the chocolate chips in a bowl for 1-minute intervals, stirring between, until the chips are melted. Stir in the bacon pieces, then spread over the top of the cake.

To make the chocolate turtle topping, stir together sugar and one tablespoon water in a small pan over medium-high heat. It will be grainy at first, but then the sugar will begin to melt. Then begin shaking the pan instead of stirring. Bring to a boil and cooked until caramel-colored.

Remove from heat and stir in the butter and cream. Let the mixture thicken for 20 minutes, then drizzle over the chocolate, as well as making a pool in the center.

Serves 8-10.

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Stacked Bacon-Pecan Pear Salads

>> Sunday, March 9, 2014


Stacked Bacon-Pecan Pear Salads


For our Iron Chef Bacon Cook Off, Joe and I put together this salad. The inspiration for this salad had some heavier, more powerfully flavored ingredients like blue cheese and raspberry vinaigrette. We practiced the night before by making the salad that way - we had no idea if we could stack up pears like that, and I needed a good daytime photo for the blog.

The salad was wonderful with the original ingredients, but we realized that the bacon theme lent itself to lots of rich and flavorful foods, and we didn't want to overload our taste buds. We went lighter and fresher by brightening up the vinaigrette with sherry vinegar and lemon juice. Celery also added some crunch and freshness. Although we are crazy about blue cheese and it naturally goes with pears, we chose an aged Spanish cheese to give the salad a little sharpness.

Our friends commented on how the salad complimented the bacon ravioli, stuffed pork chops, and kale and bacon saute, rather than competing with them. That's what we were hoping to do!

Ingredients

For the vinaigrette

1/2 cup canola oil
1/3 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice plus 1 tbsp
1 tsp marjoram
1 tsp ground fennel seeds 
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp white pepper

For the salad

4 ripe pears
2 cups baby field greens or spinach
3 slices bacon, fried crisp
1/2 cup toasted pecans
1/2 cup celery, cut into matchstick pieces
1/4 cup manchego or Romano cheese, finely shredded


Joe coring pears for stacked pear salad

Instructions

Whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients and keep at room temperature.

Cut each pear into four slices, horizontally. Cut the core out of each slice, but leave the stem on the top of the pears. Brush each slice with lemon juice to keep them from browning, and try to remember which slices belong to the same pear - they will stack better this way.


Pear salad with bacon, pecans, baby greens, and manchego cheese


Chop the greens and bacon together and toss with the nuts and vinaigrette. To assemble, place a layer of salad mixture on the bottom slice of pear, add slices of celery and a sprinkle of cheese, then continue layering each pear.

You can see in the above photo that we only layered two pears vertically. That's because in the hubbub of people chopping and assembling and sauteing, we knew for sure someone was going to bump into the platter and they'd all come tumbling down. The pears arranged horizontally are actually buttressing the two standing pears like the arches of an old cathedral.

Really, that's the best I could come up with as a simile.

In any case, the salad was fantastic and we won a prize for "Best Presentation". The prize? A pink spatula with a piggy face.

Serves 4-5.

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Crock Pot Pasta Fagioli

>> Thursday, March 6, 2014


Crock Pot Pasta Fagioli

It's been a long hard winter, and with my rheumatoid arthritis and the extreme cold, I come home from work with all my old joints aching. Being a writer, people thought a job as a librarian would be perfect for me. I have to admit, though, that the hours of standing and all the heavy lifting and those stubborn slippery books that don't want to stand up in a straight row sometimes makes me sick of books!

Like everyone else, though, it all looks better once spring peeks its pretty head around the corner and we all come running to the warmth. In the meantime, we're planning meals earlier in the day but sometimes don't dine until 10 pm or so (Joe likes to wait for me to get home so we can eat together). Isn't it wonderful to come home from work and a nice hot dinner is ready to eat? This recipe is just about as simple as opening cans and dumping them in the crock pot.

To make it even quicker, you can buy frozen chopped onions, carrots, and celery. In the version shown in this photo, we added a can of mixed vegetables from the back of the cupboard, so there's peas and limas and corn in the stew this time.

Slow Cooker Pasta Fagioli soup


If you want a very thick stew, as we made, add the pasta with everything else. If you prefer a brothy soup, boil the pasta separately and add to the soup before serving. If you have leftovers, they will freeze better if the pasta and soup are kept separately.

We make this as a way to clear some cans out of the pantry for a meatless Monday, and to make a low-fat and hearty meal. If you want some meat in yours, add a pound of ground beef or turkey, browned and drained, to the pot.

Ingredients

1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 28-oz can Rotel or Italian-style crushed tomatoes
1 16 oz can tomato sauce
1 16 oz can red kidney beans, drained
1 16 oz can cannellini or Great Northern white beans, drained
1 28 oz can vegetable stock
2 tbsp garlic powder
3 tsp oregano
1 tbsp dried basil
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp hot pepper sauce
8 oz pasta (we used whole-wheat ditalini in this batch)

Instructions

Add all ingredients to crock pot and stir well. Cover and cook on low 7-8 hours, or high 4-5 hours. If you add pasta near the end, either turn the slow cooker to high and add it 30 minutes before eating, or boil the pasta according to package directions and add before serving.

Serves 6.

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Bacon-Bourbon Brownies with Pecans

>> Monday, March 3, 2014


Bacon-Bourbon Brownies with Pecans


My friend Jena made these chocolatey, gooey, bacon-y brownies for our Iron Chef Bacon Cook Off a few weeks ago. Her inspiration was a recipe from Food & Wine. I'm a lover of the entire genre of brownies; I've never met a brownie I didn't like except the first batch I ever made. Those somehow ended up as flat cookie bars with burnt edges. It was a long time ago, so I no longer remember what I did to make them so horribly wrong.

bacon and bourbon brownies with ice cream and bacon bits, bacon cheesecake, and bacon chocolate chip cookies

These, though, are so delicious that you must find some reason to whip up a batch right away. She served them with vanilla ice cream and sprinkled everything with bacon. Oh, my stomach is growling right now. Wonder how many sit-ups I'd have to do to work off a whole pan of these?

Ingredients

1/2 cup chopped pecans
2/3 pound sliced bacon
10 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 stick of butter plus 2 tbsp
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp bourbon
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups flour
Vanilla ice cream (optional)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, giving about 2 inches of extra paper hanging over each side. This will help you lift out the brownies once they have cooled. Spray the paper with oil. 

In a small dry frying pan, toast the pecans lightly over medium heat. Let cool. Cook the bacon until crisp and let it drain on paper towels. Set aside 3 tbsp of the bacon fat.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and chocolate together. Stir constantly so that it doesn't burn. Pour into a mixer bowl, add the white and brown sugar, bacon fat, and bourbon, and mix well. Beat in the eggs and salt until smooth. While the mixer is running, slowly add the cocoa and flour and scrape down the sides while the mixture blends until completely mixed.

Pour the batter into the pan, then sprinkle with the pecans and all but 1/4 cup of the bacon. Bake 45-50 minutes, until the brownies are firm at the edges but still a bit loose in the middle. Test by sticking a toothpick or cake tester into the center - it should come out with a bit of batter stuck to it.

Let the brownies cool on a wire rack. Cut into squares without cutting through the parchment paper, then lift out to serve. Serve topped with vanilla ice cream and a sprinkle of the reserved bacon bits.

Makes 9-12 brownies.

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