Archive for the ‘Easy!’ Category

Maple Praline Bacon

Okay you guys.

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.

Bacon and friends

Obviously, we start with bacon. Then we have pecans, maple syrup, brown sugar, a little salt, and some cayenne pepper.

THAT IS ALL, PEOPLE.

Ready to bake!

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?)

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Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

I eat rather a lot of pasta. When I started writing this post, I had to go back to see what stories I’ve already told you about my lifelong noodle-y obsession, just to make sure I wasn’t repeating something.

I’ve already mentioned that as a kid, I loved spaghetti with butter and parmesan cheese above all other things, and in fact I rarely tolerated the annoying hindrance of spaghetti sauce. It was sloppy, acidic, and mostly just not my thing. I still remember the first time I actually enjoyed a smear of red sauce atop a mound of pasta. Bizarrely, it was on a camping trip. In our open-air kitchen of two camp stoves and a picnic table, Dad carefully cooked a pot of pasta in one pot and in another, he combined a can of basic tomato sauce with a seasoning mix.  I don’t know why I opted to try the sauce that time, but I suddenly realized this red sauce thing wasn’t necessarily so bad after all. To this day, however, I’m still pretty picky about my red sauces and rarely order them at a restaurant as a result.

Favorite Red Sauce

There are a few brands and varieties I’ve discovered at the grocery over the years that I like rather well, but once I began canning my own basic tomato sauce, I felt it was time to finally find the homemade version I was seeking.

Basic staple
Since there are approximately one gazillion recipes for spaghetti sauce out there, each one claiming to be better than the last, it was a bit intimidating to know where to begin. Some swore by the addition of carrots and peppers, others piled on the sugar, and still others demanded the tomatoes be practically raw to achieve pure spaghetti sauce bliss. Fresh herbs, dried herbs, lots of spice, none at all – there really are so many ways to do this. How was I to know what I liked the most?

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Quesadillas

For the better part of middle and high school, I was usually up in time to make breakfast for my mom and sister while they continued bustling about, getting ready for school. Most days, this breakfast consisted of “tortillas with cheese”, which is just exactly what it sounds like: three flour tortillas, each with a layer of rough slices of cheddar or colby cheese, heated in the microwave for 30 seconds or so before being rolled up in paper towels for a to-go breakfast of champions.

All the ingredients

At some point later, upon partaking the joys of quesadillas that popped up on restaurant menus all over the place, I made the connection that I’d been making quesadillas all along (freakishly simple though they were). As with most of my cooking projects, though, I’ve stepped up my game and now make quesadillas not for hurried breakfasts on the go, but for sit-down dinners at home.

And you should too.

All the little pieces

I will say one thing though, and don’t freak out: these quesadillas don’t have much cheese.

I know. I know. What sort of monster cuts the cheese so significantly in a dish that is literally NAMED after cheese? But I tell you, it’s possible to have a delightful quesadilla that doesn’t have puddles of gooey cheese oozing out the sides and sizzling on your frying pan. Trust me on this.

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Homemade Pumpkin Puree

I realize that I’m a month or two late for the PUMPKIN-EVERYTHING craze that annually arrives in September, but I finally gathered the time, the initiative, and the pumpkins to try my hand at making my own pumpkin puree. I’ve always been a big fan of Libby’s, but I’m pretty pleased with both the results and the ease of making this myself. Right after Halloween, it’s easy to find pumpkins for just a couple dollars, so it’s a great time of year to stock up for all your coming holiday desserts, as it freezes wonderfully.

And it’s sooooo easy. I urge you to give it a try for your own pumpkin recipes this year! Here’s how it’s done:

1. Select 1-2 small-ish pumpkins, or as many as you want to make in one batch. You can definitely puree pumpkins of any size, but they flavor and texture will be better from smaller pumpkins. These are often sold as “pie pumpkins” or “sugar pumpkins”.

Sugar Pumpkins

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Peach and Almond Crumble

I write to you now from a new home! In mid-July, Brad and I packed up our lovely Ohio apartment, left our jobs, and drove nearly 1300 miles across the continent to Colorado. It’s a domestic destination I’ve had for a long, long time: having spent eleven years away, I’m finally living back in the land of dry air, big skies, and seemingly endless sunshine. And our new apartment, full of windows and light, has the view to prove it.

The view from home

It’s so great to be back!

And spectacular vistas aren’t the only benefit Colorado has to offer. It’s peach season here, and Palisade, Colorado is famous for growing wonderful peaches. They’re so perfectly delightful raw — juicy and cool and bursting with flavor — that I can rarely justify breaking them down for cooking. But I’ve been on a fruit crisp kick in recent months, so I thought I’d give one a try.

Simple ingredients

Originally, this recipe was designed for halved peaches, with their skins, and with a buttery almond mixture smushed across the face of each before baking. The peaches form their own little baking dishes this way, and there’s no hassle of peeling or slicing. However, I found the peach skin to be someone irritating, so I gave it a shot in a more traditional slices-of-fruit-buried-by-crumbly-goodness format. I definitely prefer the latter.

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Corn and Bacon Hash
Finally, the corn has arrived! More than burgers, more than blackberries, more than plump red tomatoes and endless mounds of zucchini, fresh-shucked corn tastes like pure, delicious summer. Though I still love it straight off the cob, plain and warm, it’s also now one of my favorite ingredients to add to other dishes.

Simple summer ingredients
And it’s not just for dinner! I’ve now become quite obsessed with using corn in breakfast. In this particular one, it joints a few other mid-summer veggies (also bacon) as a really, really good hash.

Let the chopping begin Read on »

Magic Pasta
Last August, I canned 118 pounds of tomatoes. Broke ’em down one-by-one and divvied up them up into whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, plain tomato sauce, pizza sauce, and marinara sauce. And while I certainly do use those the other products, the biggest motivator is the marinara sauce. Which I ration carefully across the year for one dish and one dish only.

Magic Pasta.

The makings of greatness
Having stumbled across this delightful combination of ingredients by pure accident, I accidentally discovered a meal that Brad and I both find so perfect, so delicious, that I have to work really really hard to make anything else for dinner. Originally hatched as a way to use up the previous year’s supply of home-canned marinara sauce, this dish now holds permanent quarters at the top of our favorites list. I know that “Magic Pasta” doesn’t really indicate the components of the meal particularly well, but it’s all we call it. If you prefer, you can call it Pasta with Amazing Tomato Cream Sauce and Italian Sausage.

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Simple Perfect Lemonade
The impact that holidays have on my mood is real. I don’t even have Memorial Day off, but a feeling I can only describe as three-day-weekend anticipation built on Friday afternoon anyway, as I watched the clock tick toward 5pm. The lack of social commitments and spectacular weather of these two days feel like a luxurious break on their own.

There aren’t many things that can break me out of my water-all-time-time beverage habit, but the arrival of summer weather is one of them. And lemonade is usually first in line for my liquid-y cravings. Amazingly, though, I’d never made it from scratch until earlier this spring during the citrus extravaganza following my trip to California.

I can’t believe I waited so long.

Just lemons and sugar

Woe to the time I’ve wasted buying lemonade from the grocery. Woe to the powdery mix that’s walking around emulating this precious elixir. Using only a few lemons, you can make the most perfect, delightful lemonade with hardly any effort at all. Please do so as soon as possible.

Zesting

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How to Bake a Potato
I write this post on behalf of the baked potato. Of that simple, humble item that too often only finds itself offered as a side dish on restaurant menus, sandwiched on the side-dish-health-o-meter between the french fries and the steamed broccoli. And most of us just take the plunge and go with the fries – or is that just me?

A fleet of baked potatoes
A couple months ago, while trying to develop some easy, fairly-healthy meal options that also allowed me to keep the oven on for an hour in an effort to ward off Midwestern winter, I made baked potatoes for dinner one night. Not as a side, but as the whole damn meal. And you know what? It was AMAZING. Why was this not part of my regular meal routine? It is now, by the way: I’ve repeated this tasty dinner several times since the inaugural attempt, and I’ve learned a lot about baking a delightful potato in the meantime.

Here’s how it’s done:

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Blood Orange Salad
I’m not sure if it’s due to years of academic schedules featuring a week-long break in March, or if it’s exhaustion from darkness and grayness and coldness of mid-west winter, but I always catch a travel bug sometime this time of year. Every year. And most of the time, I just bundle up and wait out the long weeks until warm weather returns. But not this year! In a truly fortunate turn of events, Brad’s presence was requested at a conference in Malibu, California, and I tagged along for the price of a plane ticket and half of a rental car.

The timing could not have been better. Three and a half days of sunshine, ocean breeze, and t-shirt weather was a welcome break from the chilly winter in Ohio.

California Montage
When I travel, I love visiting local farmers markets, especially if my destination boasts a lengthy growing season. Because I limit my “exotic” produce purchases in Ohio to very special occasions, I jump at the chance to buy them when they’re grown just a few miles away. In southern California, I was after two things: citrus and avocados. And I came back with plenty of both! Definitely worth packing lightly so I could stuff my carry-on with produce on the flight home.

But how to use my precious cargo? I kicked it off when a bright, fresh, totally California salad.

Precious ingredients

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