Monday, October 29, 2012

Grease is the Word

Did you know that October is National Cookie Month? Considering there are only two more days left in the month, we'd best get cracking. Plus, a lot of my friends are holed up and bracing themselves for Hurricane Sandy, so by now you're probably going stir crazy and are hungry. So whip these up and then sit back with a handful and watch movies. It may be awhile. . . . 

I first made these here and have been recalling how awesome and unique they were. I mean a classic chocolate chip cookie is hard to beat, but there is something special about these. Could it be the fact that they have a shadow of spice in every bite (thank you, Mr. Cayenne)? Or that they're there is buttermilk in them, which seemed kind of unusual? Or that they're made with bacon grease? If that doesn't pique your interest, I don't know what will. And no, the cookie doesn't really taste like bacon.

The cookie ends up being kind of dome shaped and a little more cake-like in the center, which I think is probably a result of the bacon grease and the buttermilk. Regardless, these are tasty and feel like Fall with the additions—a little smokier, a little richer. 

I usually do keep a jar of bacon grease around because my mom always did as did my grandmother. Well, she used a coffee can, but that's just splitting hairs. 

Anyway, it's not uncommon for me to throw a spoonful of bacon grease into savory dishes, like cornbread, beans or even shrimp and grits. However, this was my first sweet dish I've made with it. And it won't be my last. But for whatever reason, I was out of bacon grease, so in order to make this recipe I had to cook about 2 lbs of bacon literally just for the grease. But is it such a shame to be stuck with 2 lbs of cooked bacon? Well, my thighs think so, so after a few handfuls I called my friend, Ronda, to see if she wanted some. The conversation went like this:
Holley: "Hey Ronda, it's Holley. This is probably one of the most random calls you'll ever receive from me, but by chance are you interested in a pound of cooked bacon?"
Ronda: "Um, yeah."
This was followed by a text about 5 minutes after I dropped off the bag: "We just finished off the whole bag!"
Pretty much the same thing happens when you eat these cookies. 

Be safe everyone! 

Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies with Bacon Grease
from The Homesick Texan

Bacon grease and softened butter
Cayenne and cinnamon speckled flour
Add roasted pecans and chocolate chips

Roll into walnut-sized balls
Bake for 17 minutes and enjoy!
1/2 cup bacon grease
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 cup roasted chopped pecans
2 cups chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a cookie sheet. 
2. Cream together the bacon grease, butter, and sugar. Add the egg, buttermilk and vanilla and beat until fluffy. 
3. Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and cayenne, and add to butter, sugar, egg mixture. Beat until well incorporated and then stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.
4. Roll dough into walnut-sized balls, place on parchment-lined cookie sheets and bake for 17 minutes. 
Yield: approximately 40 cookies

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Night Out

When I was a child, a blue Kraft macaroni and cheese box could only mean one thing: My parents were going out. You see, this was the go-to-dinner for nights we had a babysitter. Luckily, my brother and I loved mac and cheese so we were pretty stoked about being abandoned for the night. For me, mac and cheese is one of those wonderful comfort foods. I think that's the key element of comfort food—that it has some resonating cord in your history. Years later I still smile fondly when I think about mac and cheese, recalling all the fun my brother and I had together. Perhaps a favorite memory is when we threw strawberry jello squares on the ceiling, watched them slowly peel off and then scrambled to try to catch them. [What the babysitter was doing, I have no idea.] While providing entertainment for hours, the act also left undeniable red square marks all over the ceiling. Apparently our parents didn't share our same decorating aesthetic.  

While there seems to be an infinite number of mac and cheese recipes out there, this one caught my eye because it looked particularly light. Whatever. If you're gonna make mac and cheese, you should make something really luxuriously indulgent, right?! This one meets that definition with two types of cheese along with bacon, leeks and cream. Did I mention how freaking delicious it was? I think I should rename it "crack and cheese." It was hard not to sit down and polish off the entire thing by myself.  

Of course I still love my Kraft mac and cheese, but if you've got an hour on your hands and are craving comfort food, this is for you. It's way easier than it probably sounds. But do it on a day when you're not feeling "all that" because after one bite people start showering you with compliments. It's a total ego boost!  

Hugh Acheson's Southern Mac and Cheese
from Southern Living

1/4 lb thick bacon slices, diced (about 4 slices)
2 medium leeks, cut into 1/2-in rounds (about 1 cup)
1/3 (16-oz) package uncooked cavatappi pasta (or tube pasta of choice)
1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup milk, warmed
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
Pinch of ground red pepper
1 cup (4 oz) freshly grated 2-year-old aged Cheddar cheese, divided
1 egg yolk
1/2 freshly grated Gruyere cheese
2 Tbsp heavy cream
1/4 cup toasted soft, fresh breadcrumbs (or substitute panko)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 6 - 8 minutes or until crisp; remove bacon and drain on paper towels. 
2. Cook leeks in 4-qt boiling water in a large Dutch oven 5 minutes. Remove leeks with a slotted spoon, reserving boiling water in Dutch oven. Plunge leeks into ice water to stop the cooking process; drain. 
3. Add pasta to boiling water and cook 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain.
4. Melt butter is a large skillet over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, and whisk flour until smooth; cook, whisking constantly for 2 minutes or until golden brown. Slowly whisk in milk and cook, whisking constantly, 3 minutes or until thickened. Whisk in dry mustard and next 3 ingredient, and 1/2 cup Cheddar cheese, stirring until cheese is melted. Remove from heat. Season with salt to taste. 
5. Gently stir together pasta, cheese sauce, half each of cooked bacon and leeks, and egg yolk. Stir in Gruyere cheese and remaining 1/2 cup Cheddar cheese. Spoon pasta mixture into a buttered 8-in cast-iron skillet or baking dish, and sprinkle with remaining bacon and leeks. Drizzle with cream; sprinkle with breadcrumbs on top. 
6. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Let stand 15 minutes before serving. 
Yields 4-6 servings. 

Note from Hugh Acheson
"This recipe's roots are classically Southern with the hearty addition of leeks and bacon. I also like to use Canadian Cheddar, which reminds me of my childhood growing up outside of Ottawa. The dish, like me, is a lot of Canada happily enmeshed in the South." 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Indian Summer

Santa Barbara is holding onto Indian Summer like it's its job. No complaints here. Usually Summer isn't all that in SB, but this year has been exceptional. Not much "June Gloom" or "Fogust" to complain about. September was spectacular with many pool and beach days, and October isn't showing any signs of weakening with temps still in the 80s—which seems to match the atrocious $5.00 per gallon gas price, which is equally abnormally high even for California. Until Fall decides to show up, there will be no stews, roasts or comfort dishes being cooked. No, right now it's all about grilling and salads and staying out of the hot kitchen. 

This is one of my warm weather dishes that's been on heavy rotation for the past few months. Having said that, it can definitely be replicated indoors—and should be. It's delicious, nourishing, a snap to make, and healthy (if that's a driving factor for you). I should also mentioned that it's good for the lazy cook, which I would label myself as. Although I love to cook, I hate cleaning an excessive number of pots, I avoid the food processor because it has too many pieces to assemble (and clean—see previous point), I still question if anyone really needs a food scale, and I avoid any recipe citing ingredients in metrics. So if you like the kind of dish you can eye-ball the ingredients, throw them into a blender, toss into a bowl and have people rave, then this is your kind of recipe. 

Seriously, you basically just take the core ingredients of gazpacho and blend it up to make a delicious and thick dressing. 

You toss it with some lettuce, toasted almonds, avocado and grilled or sauteed chicken. That's it. You're money. So whether it's too hot to cook in the kitchen or you're looking for a fresh and tasty dish to brighten a rainy fall day, try this out. It will feel like Summer to you, regardless of if you're wearing flip-flops or a chunky sweater. 

Grilled Chicken Salad with Gazpacho Dressing
from Food Network Magazine

1 lb chicken tenders
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 slices of crusty bread
1 clove garlic, halved
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp red wine or sherry vinegar
1/2 English cucumber, diced
1 cup cherry tomates, quartered
1 cup fresh parsley
1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds
8 cups arugula (about 8 oz)
1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1. Preheat a grill or grill pan over medium heat and lightly coat with cooking spray. Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper. [Note: If I have my act together I will marinade the chicken in Italian dressing or equivalent for a few hours ahead of time.] Grill until well marked and cooked through, about 3-5 minutes depending on thickness. Transfer to a plate. Add the bread to the pan and grill until toasted, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and rub with garlic halves. 
2. To make the dressing, puree the olive oil, vinegar, 2 Tbsp water, half of the cucumber, tomatoes, parsley and almonds, 1/2 tsp salt, and pepper to taste in a blender until smooth. 
3. Cut the chicken in strips. Tear the bread into bite-sized pieces. Combine the arugula, chickpeas, chicken, bread, and the remaining cucumber, tomatoes, parsley, and almonds in a large bowl. Add half the dressing, season with salt and pepper and toss. Divide among shallow bowls. Drizzle with the remaining dressing. 
Serves: 4