I’ve done something. Changed something. Opened some sort of magic box, some secret portal to a new world. And now that I’ve glimpsed the other side, I rather doubt I’ll be the same again.
It all started with an innocent breakfast suggestion. On my recent winter escape to Oregon, all we wanted was a place to eat one misty Wednesday morning in Portland. Instead, we ordered a plate of food that, rather than fading from my memory as most meals do, has haunted my daydreams ever since.
It was praline bacon. And within moments of eating it, I knew that I wanted to, nay, that I must! try to recreate it at home. This weekend I finally had the time, the health, and the daylight. It took four failed attempts, but I finally found the balance I was looking for. And the best part? It’s so absurdly, ridiculously easy.
Obviously, we start with bacon. Then we have pecans, maple syrup, brown sugar, a little salt, and some cayenne pepper.
THAT IS ALL, PEOPLE.
Instead of pan-frying the bacon, I baked mine. It helps the bacon stay flat (necessary for topping with sugary pecans later) and the excess fat drains into the pan below. I may actually start making all of my bacon this way.
While the bacon cooks, chop up some pecans. I’ve seen some versions where the pecans are food-processed into oblivion, but I prefer a larger cut. Smaller than a rough chop but bigger than a fine chop, does that make sense? About the size of a tooth? (Is that gross?)
October is doing that thing again where it goes by too quickly. It’s my favorite month: the peak of autumn on most of this continent, and I may have mentioned once or seven-hundred times that autumn provides me the greatest joy of any season. A plentiful harvest of food to enjoy in the moment and store for the winter, repressed pigments unleashed in the forests in a glorious display of color, a chance to layer every article of orange, green, purple, and brown clothing I own in endless combinations for my daily attire (it is the only season I feel my wardrobe is remotely fashionable).
And of course, autumn recipes. This one in particular is the pinnacle of fall flavor unity: a basic caramel sweetened with maple syrup and punched up with a quart of apple cider boiled down to pure apple goodness. And now is really the best time to make them because it’s the one time of year you can buy fresh-pressed, unpasteurized apple cider.
And while yes, the primary purpose of my annual expedition is a supply of local fruit to get me through the winter, the added perk is access to this incredible cider. Unpasteurized apple cider, contrary to its grocery store counterparts, is thick, opaque, and must be refrigerated. But it’s filled with the most incredible flavor: you can still taste which varieties were used to press the cider. Most apple orchards sell it, but you can also occasionally find it in specialty grocery stores or farmers markets. Get out there and get some!
I also had a bottle of maple syrup that I bought in Wisconsin. It seemed appropriate to add to this autumn candy, right?
So far I’ve posted lots of wholesome (sort of), savory (mostly), meal-type recipes for your reading & eating enjoyment.
It’s time for something truly unnecessary, but totally worth your time.
Too difficult, you say? Surely must be… handmade candy is wildly expensive, so it must be a complicated, time-consuming challenge that only fabulous cooks can achieve after years of training, right?
Here’s the secret that gourmet candy companies don’t want you to know: many candies are deceptively easy to make. Really. A big pot, a wooden spoon, and a candy thermometer (you can find one for less than twenty bucks at a home goods store, maybe even your grocery store’s baking aisle) comprise the bulk of the equipment list.
Of course, you’ll need some ingredients. Candy with no ingredients would be, well, gross.
Of late, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with integrating honey into my cooking. In my continuing quest to eliminate non-local foods from my diet, white sugar is going to be a major challenge. It makes an appearance on the ingredient list of almost any recipe, but it only grows in like, three US states. (Is that redundant, US states? Please advise.) Anyway, unless I plan to move to Florida, Hawaii, or Louisiana, the odds of finding sugar cane at my local farmers market are slim at best. Honey, on the other hand, is fashioned by busy little bees all over the place.