Smoky Bacon Shortbread

Last year at Comicpalooza, I was honored to meet author Michelle Muenzler. In addition to being a great writer and mentor, she makes seriously awesome cookies. In fact, on the con circuit, she’s known as The Cookie Lady, as she always has cookies in tow.

Ms. Muenzler is kind enough to share her recipes on her website, and I have had great success with a few of them. My favorite, though, is her recipe for Earl Grey shortbread. Now, I’ve never actually made Earl Grey shortbread. I don’t care for Earl Grey tea, and as that’s the major flavoring agent, it didn’t seem like a wise choice. However, there are many, many teas that I do enjoy, and I’ve experimented with a few with great results.

My latest experiment with the Earl Grey shortbread recipe is this one: Smoky Bacon Shortbread. I subbed Tea Punk Tea’s Winter Smoke tea for the Earl Grey and added in some chopped candied bacon. Delicious! Below is the recipe, based on the one at Michelle’s website: http://www.michellemuenzler.com.

For candied bacon:

  • 1 1/2 strips of bacon
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp water

For shortbread:

  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 Tbsp loose Winter Smoke tea
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 strips of bacon, candied and finely chopped

Prepare candied bacon

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Place bacon strips on rack over a lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes.
  3. Flip bacon over. Baste with a mixture of 1 1/2 Tbsp of brown sugar and enough water to create a thick liquid.
  4. Return to oven for another 15 minutes or until bacon acquires preferred level of doneness.)

Prepare dough

  1. Cream together butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Add flour, tea, and salt. Mix until thoroughly combined.
  2. Chop bacon (I use a Ninja food processer) and stir into dough.
  3. Roll dough into logs (1″ thick or so). I do this on waxed paper or a silicon baking max sprinkled with powdered sugar.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap or the waxed paper and chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 375F.
  5. Slice logs into thin disks and place on nonstick baking sheets or parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until edges begin to brown, about 10-12 minutes. Let cool slightly, then transfer to wire racks to finish cooling.

The Winter Smoke tea used here is available from the lovely people at: https://www.teapunkteas.com/store/c2/Black_Teas.html

 

 

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Red, White and BBQ,

Being a member of MyMagazine™ Sharing Network has gotten me to try a lot of products that I might otherwise have let slip by. These products are normaly in the form of free samples and coupons for free products and discounts. This time around, the mission was all about “Red, White, and BBQ”.

The package of free goodies for this mission included:

 

There. I’m done pimping out the products for the mission. I do recommend trying them all, as they are wonderful in the opinion of my household.

 

37704196_10215091447293353_3453033150546968576_nThe mission suggested a backyard BBQ bash, but it’s been too hot to do much outside recently. Instead we had the party inside and enjoyed every bite.

There were ships and cookies and other assorted goodies on each plate served up, though the burgers and sliders simply stole the show.bite

 

 

 

 

37611425_10215091446413331_7249442738771329024_nWe gave the McCormick Grill Mates Smokehouse Maple a try. Instead of sprinkling onto a meat to be grilled, we mixed it into the hamburger meat with a couple of eggs and a bunch of shredded cheese. May not look like much in a bowl, but it came out better than we expected.

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Talk about outstanding flavor! The added smoky aroma and the subtle maple flavor wound all through the burger for a delicious surprise. We made burgers and sliders out of that one batch, with all the fixings, and can’t wait to try some of the other flavors.

— Ann Cathey

House Blend Coffee

While piddling about in my kitchen this morning, I noticed myself going through a rountine – emptying the last bits of unused ground coffee into a 5 pound can that I keep available. I call it my “house blend”.

It began as a brand new cannister of Beaumond (a WalMart brand? It’s been several years…) coffee. At one time I put a pound Kroger house lable decaf into the cannister and shook it up. This was several years ago when my medical issues were first being figured out and my doctor wanted me to “slow down” my caffiene consumption. At that point, it was pretty-much half-caff coffee.

Months later, the pressure to stop drinking coffee eased off. Around that time I found that I had several rolled up bags of various brands of coffee grounds taking up space in my freezer. I thawed them out and dumped them all into the cannister.

I receive samples, and one shots of different types of coffee pretty regularly. I’ll try one out, and often dump teh rest of the samples into that cannister as well. Nothing “flavored”, just regular and decaf coffees. It gets stirred up and/or well shaken to make the “blend” and it’s ready to use.

I managed to track down some of the wonderful odds and ends that have gone into the cannister in the last couple of years. Here’s what I discovered:

 

This is not a complete list by a long shot, but the resulting blend is deep, rish and full bodied, sometimes elegantly smooth, other times with a bite. It’s always coffee, all the time, whenever I want  to make a cup or a pot. Guests have repeatedly complimented my personal house belnd and asked for a recipe of what I use. I can only say that I truly do not know what’s in any given scoop of grounds form that particular cannister.

One thing I do not do is add flavored coffees. There are so many flavors out there that might clash in horrible ways that I dare not mix them haphazardly. I do have a couple of smaller cannisters that I drop flavored odds and end into, however. One of them is for baking flavors like hazelnut, pecan, cinnamon, and sugar cookie. The other is for darker flavors like chocolate and Kahlua. I may need inthe future to create a couple of other flavored cannisters, but for right now, two is plenty. The flavors are chosen for their compatibilty and have turned out twisty and delicious every time.

I look forward to adding more odds and ends to the collective, and savoring the resulting brews.

 

— Ann Cathey

Strawberry Pie with a Twist

Are you a fan of chocolate dipped strawberries? Strawberries dusted with cocoa powder? Strawberries and chocolate in any form? Then this might be the strawberry pie for you.

I borrowed a recipe from the Kroger website, and put my own spin on it. Sadly, I did not get photos of this delectable dessert.

STRAWBERRY PIE WITH A TWIST
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 1/2 hours
Serves: 8

Ingredients:
1 pkg (+/- 14 oz) cream filled chocolate sandwich cookies
3 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
2 tbsp arrowroot powder
3/4 cup turbinado sugar
1 3/4 cups water
1 pkg (3oz) strawberry gelatin
2 pints washed strawberries halved
Optional toppings: whipped cream, chocolate syrup, chocolate sprinkles

Directions:
Crust:
– Preheat oven to 325F.
– Crush cookies by preferred method. Place in bowl, add butter, and stir until thoroughly mixed and a little gooey.
– Pat mixture into pie plate, making sure the bottom and sides are covered with no breaks.
– Bake for 10 minutes, allow to cool to the side.

Sauce:
– Bring water and sugar to a boil.
– Add arrowroot and mix thoroughly.
– Remove from heat and stir in strawberry gelatin until dissolved.

Final:
– Arrange strawberries in cooled crust.
– Pour gelatin mixture over the strawberries.
– Refrigerate at least one hour or until set.

Serve:
– Top with whipped topping.
– Drizzle on chocolate syrup.
– Add chocolate sprinkles if desired.
– Refrigerate any leftovers.

 

Keep in mind that if strawberries cut in half are too much of a mouthful, cut them smaller. The smaller the slices, however, the more space there may be to fill in the pie. Adjust accordingly.

Adding other fruit, such as blueberries, can add a twist to the textures and flavors in this pie. Adjust the spices used to taste and give it a whirl.

I hope you enjoy this fresh fruit dessert as much as my friends did – it went quick!

— Ann Cathey

Brunch Cups featuring Hormel Natural Choice Bacon

Warning: This entry is photo heavy! As always, click on a photo to view a larger image.

Bacon. Seriously, other than folks with allergies and specific diets, who doesn’t like bacon? (I know there are a few of you out there, but what you don’t care for is our treat.)

34985143_10214773115775264_2706663659517509632_nI have had an opportunity through My Magazine Sharing Network to give a free sample of a Hormel product a try: Natural Choice Cherrywood Smoked Uncured Bacon. There are other flavors of course, but this one appealed to my partner in crime, so that’s what we took home.

 

From Hormel:

No Preservatives,* No Artificial Ingredients

The makers of HORMEL®NATURAL CHOICE® Bacon believe everyone deserves to eat better. That’s why they’re committed to making honest products you can trust that are both enjoyable and affordable. HORMEL® NATURAL CHOICE®Bacon is made without artificial preservatives or ingredients. It’s gluten free, minimally processed and comes from pork raised without added hormones.** Whether enjoyed alone or in a recipe — it’s a delicious way to start your day.

*No nitrates or nitrites added except for those naturally occurring in cultured celery and cherry powder
**Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in pork.”

 

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Look good, don’t they?

Now that you have the pertinent information, let’s get down to business. The recipe. I’d been wanting to make brunch cups sans pastry dough (my usual tactic) for a while, and this was a golden opportunity. There were a bunch of photos taken during this kitchen session, so you can get a step by step idea of how these lovely cups are built, if you are not already aware. The recipe is good for breakfast, brunch, or anytime you feel the need for these flavors, and can be a wonderful cooking project to share with kids at home or at Gramma’s when you go to visit.

As usual with any of my recipes, feel free to make additions, deletions, and alterations to suit your own dietary and taste needs. The more variations, the merrier!

 

BRUNCH CUPS
Prep time: minutes
Cook Time: minutes
Servings: 6

34874862_10214773116295277_866612718298202112_nIngredients:
1-12 oz package of bacon,
6 whole strips, the rest cut into thirds
10 large eggs
4-6 oz potato, pre-cooked
6 oz Swiss cheese, shredded
1 tsp parsley
¼ tsp paprika
¼ tsp cumin
Sea salt, garlic, and pepper to taste

 

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Freshly washed yard eggs, medium to large in size.

NOTE:
-I used slices of baked potato (Golden) that had been stored in the refrigerator, tossed with sea salt and diced garlic).
-Olive oil baking spray is a standard in my kitchen.
-Cupcake pan should be larger than normal, but not cake sized. This handy chart helps with sizing.-The Cherry Wood Smoked bacon smells amazing!

Directions:

35080231_10214773116055271_8061552674270609408_nPre-heat oven to 350F. Spray cupcake pan liberally with olive oil.

Line baking cups with bacon in stages: 2 cut slices on bottom, one whole slice around the inside of the cup. Place slices of potato (with garlic and salt) into the bottom of the cup. Place a single slice of cut bacon on top of the potato. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to rest while other prep work continues.

34963243_10214773153696212_9215589916891676672_nIn a moderate sized bowl, crack eggs. Whisk briskly while adding parsley, paprika, and cumin.

 

 

Pour egg mixture into baking cups slowly, to allow any air bubbles to surface. Return to hot oven for 15 minutes.

 

Remove cupcake pan from the oven. Divide Swiss cheese evenly among the cups, making sure that coverage is even and no bits of cheese are hanging out to make cleanup a chore. Return the pan to the oven and cook for 5 minutes or until the cheese is all melted.

 

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Emplated, with a dab of onion sour cream.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow to rest a couple of minutes. Carefully remove the cups so as not to scratch up the pan. They may be plated individually or removed to a serving platter.

 

Refrigerate any leftovers.

 

The brunch cups may be served with fruit, a bit of sour cream on top, or however you prefer to emplate them. The meal is fairly low in carbohydrates and quite high in protein, making is a delicious main dish for diabetics. It is not particularly ketogenic friendly due to the potato content.

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Try this recipe with one of the Hormel Natural Choice bacons, and let us know how you like it. We, and our guests that morning, have enjoyed the experiment a great deal.

 

“That bacon is not too salty and not too sweet. Great stuff!” – Adrian
“I found the cups to be an interesting bit of breakfast. The egg mixing with the bacon and the cheese had a slight sweet taste. Yet, I found the cups to be soft and easily eaten with little mess. My furbaby even enjoyed a few nibbles that escaped from my plate! I would be interested in trying this again — maybe with sausage or a different type of cheese to see how the flavor changes.” — Billie Jean

 

– Ann Cathey

Koji Ramen Bar – Spring TX

We are all likely well acquainted with the ubiquitous ramen noodle packs found in most grocery stores. College students live on them, moms keep them available as quick lunches for their children on weekend and vacations, and writers seem to thrive on them. We eat them straight out of the package, cooked up according to the directions (noodles in broth), and we eat them dry (broth drained off and spice pack added directly to the noodles). Some of even get creative with ramen by adding broken meats, veggies, and other items that we have on hand at the time.

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Put what you think you know about ramen out of your mind. Koji Ramen Bar offers a whole new perspective on the ramen noodle and how it should be served, offering deep bowls of broth with perfectly cooked noodles, and the sort of things on top that appear to be pretty traditional and/or local favorites.

The décor is trim, neat, with wall art that is splashy and fun. We had the fortune to sit beneath a six foot tall mineki-neko – the Good Luck Cat.

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We started with gyoza (Japanese pork potstickers) and takoyaki (octopus balls), both of which were outstanding in flavor and texture. The gyoza were tender and fresh, with a firmness to the filling that was not hard or difficult to chew as at some restaurants. The takoyaki were rich and crunchy; very much a new and delightful experience for us.

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Gyoza – Japanese pork potstickers

 

I ordered the chicken version, and was not disappointed. In addition to the chicken, noodles and broth, there were green onion, leaf spinach, bamboo shoots, carrots, corn, nori strips, tea egg and a sprinkled topping of sesame seeds and spices. I topped bites with dried garlic flakes, and the various tasty sauces offered on the table. Delicious!

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Koji Chicken Ramen

 

The full menu is available online and makes me want to revisit the establishment every time I peruse it. There is so much to look forward to trying!

 

On the 1-5 scale, Koji Ramen Bar has earned:
Cleanliness – 4
Service – 4
Quality of food – 5
Flavor – 5
Pricing – 3
Overall experience – 4.25

Koji Ramen Bar
25403 Interstate 45, Suite A
Spring TX 77380
832-823-5197

Enjoy! We certainly did!30531185_10214338556871563_6198082934243590144_n

– Ann Cathey

Private Selection from Kroger

I was recently sent some coupons for sampling free products from the produce section of my local Kroger. As it turns out, not only do I already love these products, I use a lot more than just the produce.

Private Selection® thrives on the notion that high-quality, culinary­ inspired foods and ingredients deliver amazing eating experiences. Private Selection’s Iove and appreciation for food is fueled by the culinary passion of their customers and the deep-seeded belief that food is truly at the heart of experiences with others. They have a desire to create delightfully unexpected flavors and bring joy and excitement to the Kroger Co. Family of Stores shopping experience. Private Selection invites you to join them in their journey to transform something to eat into something to savor.“

The Private Selection Line offers meat and seafood, dairy, deli and bakery items, pastas and sauces, spices and baking goodies, spreads, condiments, and dressings, produce, frozen goods, beverages, snacks and candy, and breakfast items. The available product line is growing all the time. If you check the numerous links in this blog, you will find that the products in the store are quite like the photos on the website – unlike a lot of advertised items from other companies.

Certain items, like the Himalayan pink sea salt are a constant in my kitchen, Just a twist or two and a rich, bold spark is added wherever I include it. I often have a Private Selection pepper grinder handy as well, for my partner in gastronomic adventure. He rpefer black pepper, though there are other blends available.

Whole grain garlic mustard coupled with the petite medley potatoes make a colorful and flavorful German potato salad. It goes incredibly well with BBQ, burgers and dogs, or any time you crave a hearty potato dish.

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German Potato Salad

The simmer sauces, notably the Tikka Masala, help create intriguing international dishes. We love curry in many forms, and these simmer sauces make for a delightful dinner plan any night. Add in a package of the gourmet blend mushrooms and quartered purple petite potatoes for color and texture, and serve over brown rice.

With the heat rising, I’m getting back into salads in a big way. With Private Selection, I was recently able to throw together a salad using Sweet Gem living lettuce, seedless cucumbers, sliced fresh strawberries, and sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms (hidden on the bottom, I think.) I also used a Private Selection lemon dill aioli for the dressing.

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I just can’t help making salads! Here’s another delicious toss from the Private Selection goodies I had on hand. I love the results I’m getting in flavors, textures, visual appeal, and consistency of the produce. With Private Selection, I was one again able to throw together a salad using Sweet Gem and Tango living lettuce, seedless cucumbers and sliced fresh mushrooms, I also used that Private Selection aioli for the dressing again. It’s truly tasty!

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I don’t eat raw tomatoes, myself, but my daughter claims the Campari tomatoes are “outstanding in texture and flavor”. Still on the vine and a ripe red, they are “incomparable”.

Here’s hoping you decide to give Private Selection a try. Their products are a staple in my own kitchen.

Ann Cathey