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Candied Bourbon Bacon Bites

There was a time when I ate bacon almost every day. Growing up we had bacon and eggs for breakfast most mornings. When we weren’t eating strips of bacon we were using the drippings to season beans or potatoes.

I can remember waking up early to the smell of breakfast as Aunt Hen fried thick slices of jowl bacon (she pronounced it so that I always heard it like it was someone's name, Joel Bacon) for my uncle's breakfast. She cooked a whole cast iron skillet full for my uncle to share with Cisco, his German Shepherd who stayed patiently by his side until he left for work long before the crack of dawn.

As the years passed wisdom finally overcame tradition. After learning about the risks associated with the nitrites in bacon, not to mention the high salt, saturated fat and calorie content that bacon brings to the table, I have cut most of the bacon from my weekday menus and save it for special occasions.

This recipe is a good one for such special occasions. It is attributed to Paula Dean but I stumbled over it while previewing The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook a year or so ago. It stood out as both special and uncomplicated.

As a Kentucky girl with a heart for traditional Kentucky flavors this recipe was one I had to try. It is simple to prepare, using only three ingredients most Kentucky cooks are likely to have on hand: bacon, brown sugar and bourbon. Another plus is that it uses a technique for cooking bacon that was new to me, but useful for those times when you need more bacon than one skillet will hold. It cooks the bacon in the oven while you prepare the rest of the meal and, if you line the baking pan with foil, even clean up is a snap.

Candied Bourbon Bacon Bites
from The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook

¾ pound bacon
2 Tablespoons Kentucky bourbon
½ cup packed light brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Place a wire rack on top of the foil. Arrange the strips of bacon close together in a single layer on top of the rack. Brush the bacon with the bourbon. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the bacon.

Place the bacon in the oven. Bake until crisp and dark golden brown, approximately 20 - 25 minutes. (This time may vary depending on the thickness of the bacon. My bacon was thick and took longer.)

When crisp, remove from oven and transfer the bacon to a paper towel lined plate to cool slightly. Break each strip into several pieces. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Lime Green Beans with Brown Sugar Tofu

This little recipe I pulled from the September issue of Sunset magazine has quickly become a favorite at my table. It takes beautiful green beans fresh from the market, adds a little seasoning and sliced shallots, brightens the flavor with lime juice and fills out the nutritional content with pan-fried tofu.

This recipe is quick and easy, taking less than 30 minutes to prepare. Served with rice and a side salad or light dessert it makes a simple and satisfying weeknight meal. It also makes a nice contribution to a picnic or potluck gathering. For a fresh new recipe that fits into the craziness of my fall schedule it doesn’t get much better than this!

Lime Green Beans with Brown Sugar Tofu
adapted from the September 2011 issue of Sunset Magazine

1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed and halved
2 Tablespoons lime juice
2 Tablespoons soy or tamari sauce
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
14 oz. block of firm tofu, drained and patted dry
1-2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
½ cup sliced shallots

Fill a medium pot halfway with water. Bring water to a boil. Add the green beans and cook until bright green, approximately 3 minutes. Drain and rinse the beans under cold water.

In a small bowl combine the lime juice, soy sauce and black pepper. Set aside.

Slice the tofu into 8 rectangles ½-inch thick. Then slice each rectangle into ½-inch think strips. Heat oil in a nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add the tofu strips to the pan and sprinkle with brown sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned; approximately 10 minutes.

Stir in the shallots and continue cooking until they begin to brown; approximately 3 minutes.

Stir in the green beans and continue to cook until warmed through; approximately 3 more minutes.

Stir in reserved lime juice mixture to coat. Remove from heat and serve.


A More Delicate Side of Sweet

Cold Drinks

This weekend fall is in the air but just last Sunday the weather in my backyard was finally hot. No two ways about it, the sunshine was soft and almost sticky. It wrapped itself around me like a warm blanket and sapped my energy. I just wanted to lay back in the shade with a cold drink. Most hot afternoons my drink of choice would be iced tea, freshly brewed and unsweetened. Sometimes, however, my tastebuds crave something different or special. Sometimes they will even put me in mind of a coke.

By coke I mean "coke" with a small c, not some brand name cola flavored beverage. I have never cared much for those. In fact, I’ve never been a huge fan of soft drinks in general, whatever you might call them. As a child I was discouraged from drinking them, though not forbidden. Somehow this depravation never bothered me much. I was still allowed to drink them on special occasions but for the most part I always preferred water or lemonade anyway.

An Orange Coke

My one soft drink weakness was Orange Crush, though soft drink vernacular sometimes worked against me in obtaining my heart’s desire. I can remember sitting with my family at a restaurant one summer when I was a little girl. We were traveling the highway on our annual vacation. We had driven quite some way and had likely crossed into foreign territory... maybe Ohio or Eastern Kentucky. After the boredom of a day in the backseat I was thrilled with the prospect of ordering whatever I liked from the restaurant's menu for my dinner.

As we made our selections I had my favorite orange soda in mind. When the waitress turned my way and asked for my drink order I smiled and with decision I told her I wanted a coke. I was baffled when she turned away without even asking what kind. When she brought a cola flavored soft drink I was crushed with disappointment. I must have felt a little like Clarence in "It’s a Wonderful Life". I had high expectations of indulging in something special only to have things turn out quite different than I expected. Apparently waitresses beyond the borders of my home region did not understand that the word “coke” was as generic as “Kleenex” and, in fact, came in many varieties and flavors.

The Best Part

That incident probably served to lesson my interest in soft drinks even more. Except on a hot summer day when I got bored waiting for Aunt Hen to get out from under the dryer hood at Catherine's Beaty Shoppe and could talk her out of change from her purse to buy a cold bottled drink from the vending chest near the door, I hardly drank soft drinks at all. Even then, if there had been other drinks available in that intriguing drink chest I would have probably chosen them instead. My delight was in my Aunt’s willingness to let me rummage through her purse for change and then in choosing a deliciously chilled glass bottle from the chest to hold against my face or shoulder on a sweaty hot summer afternoon. Even now the feel of that cold bottle against my lips as I tasted the sweet liquid brings to mind a pleasure that far exceeds that of the actual taste of the beverage.

It’s not that I was raised on a particularly health conscious diet. I ate my share of Giant Sweet Tarts and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I was given candy money on occasional trips to the store and Aunt Hen kept a well stocked supply of Pop-Tarts and Hostess Snack Cakes on hand for all the kids. It’s just that I never much liked extremely sweet beverages. I never liked sweet tea and preferred my lemonade on the tart side.

Sometimes I have been fooled. I am not looking for low calorie beverages except as a secondary concern. What I want is a refreshing beverage that is not so sweet, one that fails to leave that cloying aftertaste of corn syrup, or artificial sweetner, clinging to my tongue.

Delighting in New Things

All of that is to say that I may be predisposed to find delight in some of the wonderful new beverages I have discovered over the past year or so. In years past I would make a special trip to the Asian markets in my area to get bottles of unsweetened tea. Now Honest Tea and others are marketing slightly sweet and unsweetened beverages and they are beginning to catch on. Sometiems I can even find unsweetened tea at a convenience mart.

Dry sodas, from Seattle, can be hard to find but offer a wonderfully unusual beverage that is made from only four ingredients and has around 50 calories per 12 oz bottle. It’s creative flavors include cucumber, rhubarb, lemongrass and lavender. My favorite is Blood Orange, with a refreshing twist on my childhood favorite.  It even comes in a glass bottle that is delightful to hold and press against my skin on a hot day. Even better these taste good, fantastic even; fizzy, flavorful and refreshing with a "delicate sweetness" and a clean aftertaste. They pair well with many foods without overpowering the other flavors on your menu and the website even offers food pairing as well as mixology tips. For my part I've found it to be a great way of adding a little sparkle to a special meal.

Peach Bourbon Toss

September is a time of transitions. Fall sports are well underway. On Friday night I cheered for the home team at the local high school football game. On Sunday, however, summer lingered as I napped in the warm shade of my backyard garden while the temperature, cooler than normal most of the summer, finally climbed into the mid-90s.

The local produce market is also showing signs of seasonal contrast in beautiful abundance. I stopped by this afternoon. Right beside the front door was a big box of cabbages. To its left I couldn't help but notice a variety of pretty winter squash: delicata, turban, buttercup and acorn. I was tempted to pick up an armload.

Inside a variety of summer fruit still reigned. There Maryhill peaches were stacked in neat pyramids among mounds of plums and nectarines and boxes of raspberries. I found myself torn. Still wanting to cling to the last traces of tangy-sweet summer fruit, I could feel the draw of cooking heartier fall fare. On this trip I clung to summer picking out a few choice peaches.

While hanging onto the ease of summer recipes I am still beginning to lean toward warmer flavors and a little more structure. Take this simple peach dessert for example. The Cinnamon Sugar Tortilla Cups act as a bowl and provide structure for peaches tossed with just a little brown sugar and a few teaspoons of bourbon. The bourbon adds warms tones and a splash of complexity to the flavor without being overpowering. And, of course, a good sized dollop of whipped cream adds a finishing touch that’s perfect for any season.

Bourbon Spiced Peaches

2 ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons bourbon

In a medium bowl, combine the peaches, brown sugar and bourbon. Toss gently to mix and coat. Let stand for several minutes.

Serve sliced peaches in Cinnamon Sugar Tortilla Cups, if desired, and top with Old-Timey Whipped Cream.

Savor and enjoy!

Nectarine Bites with Prosciutto and Basil

Food Apps

Do you use food apps on your iPhone? I have downloaded several. Since many are free I figure why not try them. Still, I must admit I am not in the habit of using them very much.

Recently I was looking through the Epicurious app while I was waiting in the dentist office and had already caught up on my Words With Friends games. I really wasn’t expecting much more than a momentary diversion. In the end I was pleasantly surprised.

Inspiration On-the-Go

The interface for Epicurious is agreeable. On the front page you select recipes from a variety of categories like “Weeknight Dinners” or “Kid-Friendly Mains”. Or, if you’d rather, search by criteria such as main ingredient, course or occasion. Then you slide through recipe cards within that category selecting those you’d like to try. It will even calculate a shopping list from the recipes you select.

I started by looking through the appetizer section, a category that usually finds me scraping for ideas when I am planning to entertain. Right away I found several easy and inspiring recipes including this one that called for fresh basil leaves which are currently growing in my own backyard garden. I stopped by the grocery on the way home to pick up a few other ingredients.

Practical Fruition

I did make a few adaptations. Nectarines were available and I prefer their smooth skin to the fuzz of peaches when I'm not peeling the fruit. Then, unable to find Serrano ham I bought Boar’s Head prosciutto from the deli instead. Finally, having already weakened the Spanish influence of the ingredients, I took another step in that direction and exchanged the sherry vinegar for Ripe Summer Peach white balsamic vinegar.

And one more note, from behind the counter the deli clerk recommended I broil these briefly to crisp the prosciutto. I did. It made the peach slide off the toothpick too easily but it also added a nice depth to the flavor of these pretty late summer snacks.

Is this app a keeper? I’d say so. For inspiration on the go it is well worth the cost, and then some.

Nectarines with Proscuitto and Basil
adapted from a recipe at Epicurious

3 ripe nectarines or peaches, cut into eight wedges each
¼ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon vinegar (I used ripe summer peach white balsamic)
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
12 thin slices prosciutto (approximately ¼ pound)
24 small basil leaves

Toss the peach wedges with the sugar, vinegar and cumin until well mixed and coated. Let stand 10 minutes.

Cut the ham slices in half, lengthwise. Wrap one piece of ham around each wedge of nectarine.

Arrange wedges on a baking sheet. Place under preheated broiler and cook for several minutes until the ham begins to crisp.

Remove from oven. Place one small basil leaf on the top of the ham wrapped on each nectarine wedge. Secure with a toothpick.

Serve and enjoy!