Thursday, November 11, 2010

Experimentation: Bacon Candy

My newest fixation is cupcakes. I love the individual portions, the fun ways to frost them, and how much flavor you can bake into each bite. Oh, not to mention the joy on peoples’ faces when they see them in the cake stand on the counter. Anyone entering my house knows that baked goods that appear in the cake stand are free for the taking, and very few are shy about it.

The one flavor I’ve been really wanting to make is maple-bacon. (I subscribe to the theory that everything is better with bacon.) But I haven’t been completely satisfied looking at the recipes for the cake, frosting, and bacon candy, so I decided that I would take matters into my own hands and create something I was happy with. Thus began a day of experimentation, starting first with the bacon candy.

I wanted to try various methods of making the candy, so I started by cooking bacon first. Given that the bacon would be used in candy, I used a good, high quality bacon: Wellshire Dry Rubbed Center Cut (all natural, raised without antibiotics). I like the heft of the pieces and it has a good flavor (it is both thick sliced and applewood smoked). It is available at Whole Foods and you can order it online (for about $2/lb cheaper).

I took 6 slices of the smoked bacon and cut each in half. I decided to slow bake (300 degrees) the pork strips to get an even cook and to preserve the flat shape of the bacon. I remember reading about baking bacon on Cooking for Engineers, although he used a much slower oven and put the bacon on racks. It seemed to be a good way to get the bacon just right for the candying. Baked at 300 degrees on a baking sheet took about 50 minutes. I did turn the bacon about two-thirds of the way through, but I do not think this is strictly necessary. What I got at the end of the cooking process was a flat, evenly colored, chewy piece of bacon. No burnt or overly crisp edges. Perfect for making bacon candy.

My first experiment involved melting 1/3 cup of raw turbinado sugar in a small saut̩ pan to make a dry caramel. I started this on a low heat but because turbinado sugar is larger and harder granules than plain old granulated sugar, it did not melt readily. I turned up the flame to med-low to get a melt. Once there, I turned the flame to low and dropped in 2 pieces of the bacon. Turning them once and cooking for about 30 seconds, then taking the pan off the heat. I removed them to a parchment-lined baking rack to cool. (Note that if you cook on too high of a heat or for too long, your caramel will become burnt Рso watch very carefully.)

Second, I made a dry caramel with granulated white sugar and did the dip, 30-second cook method. This caramel was much thinner than the turbinado sugar, but yielded a heavier caramel coat.

Third: brown sugar two ways: I packed brown sugar on one side of two pieces of bacon and put them in a preheated sauté pan. I let them cook on low until the sugar had melted on top and then flipped the bacon to cook the sugar in. I also tried this a second way by dredging one piece of bacon in brown sugar, packing it on both sides (which is a bit difficult to do). I then put it in the preheated pan, cooked until the sugar melted and then flamed the gas up high to really melt the sugar good onto the bacon.

Fourth: I heated maple syrup to a light boil and sauteed two pieces of bacon for 30 seconds.

Fifth: Ditto #4 but with molasses.

Once all was said and done Mr. B and I did a taste test. Great way to start the morning, I might add.

The white sugar caramel completely encased the bacon into a hard shell. It was stiff as a board but did cut fine with kitchen shears. It was crunchy and stuck to the teeth with a lot of chewing needed to get to the bacon flavor. Mr. B thought this tasted like caramel corn. Too much sugar/caramel for my liking.

The turbinado sugar caramel was darker than its white sugar counterpart and not as thick on the bacon, but just as hard. It cut fine with kitchen shears and had more depth of flavor. Not quite as crunchy as the white sugar caramel and I really liked the flavor and the way it would hold up as a garnish on a cupcake.

The two-sided brown sugar was also a favorite. Both single- and double-sided brown sugar bacon were slightly overcooked due to the candying method. The edges got crispy and they looked the worst by far. But they cut easily and were crispy and crunch with more bacon flavor than sugar. This could be a very good method if the bacon started out slightly undercooked to compensate for the fact that a second cooking period occurs.

The maple syrup and molasses were both sticky—the maple more so. Given that, they would not work as a garnish. But the molasses was the best looking by far, shiny but not hard. The maple flavor was OK but not great, while I loved the molasses flavor, albeit found it too strong for the cupcake purpose.

The consensus is that either a turbinado caramel or two-sided brown sugar candy coat should be used to make the bacon candy for the garnish.

One experiment down, two to go (cupcake batter and frosting).

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Buttermilk Banana Muffins

I found myself with some extra buttermilk and bananas this week and in searching for a suitable recipe for both found a wonderful recipe on Taste of Home. These muffins are light in every way – both in cake and flavor. This is not the overwhelming thick banana taste of my favorite banana bread but much more subtle and perfect for breakfast with its crumb topping. I like a lot of topping, so I doubled that part of the recipe. I have also found that adding ½ cup chopped pecans or ½ cup mini chocolate chips enhances the recipe ever so slightly.


1/2 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 large ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 cup)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup buttermilk


1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup quick-cooking oats

4 tablespoons cold butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Fill 20 muffin tins with paper liners.

In a bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Add bananas and vanilla; mix well. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda; add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk.

Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. I used a full size ice cream scoop. One slightly overflowing scoop is perfect.

For the topping, combine the flour, brown sugar and oats. Cut in butter until crumbly. (You can use your hands for this.) Sprinkle a rounded tablespoonful over each muffin. I use a small ice cream scoop for this. One rounded scoop is a good amount. Do not push down the crumb topping onto the muffin.

Bake for 16-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans.

Yield: 20 muffins.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

On Sharing

First, let me say that I have been terribly remiss in posting. We’ve had a lot of visitors in the last two months who have graced us with their presence, so I have been spending a lot of time in the kitchen. But between enjoying our friends and family, I have just been working too hard. Not that I’m not still working hard, but its 6 a.m. on a Saturday, the house is quiet, and I don’t have it in me to work until another cup of coffee makes it way through my system. So, I thought I’d tell you about the sharing experience I had with my friend, fellow food blogger and writer extraordinaire, Tea of Tea and Cookies (and author of The Butcher and the Vegetarian).

Tea lives in Seattle but had occasion to come down to the Bay Area for a few days. She called and wanted to cook with me in my new kitchen. Can’t say I blame her, it really is a wonderful working environment. She proposed marathon gnocchi and pesto-making session. She showed up with a big box from the farmer’s market with a dozen bunches of basil and various other ingredients and we set to work, with an ice-cold gin and tonic. To keep our whistles wet.

And it was fun. We work well together in the kitchen, even though both of us were clearly exhausted, had not had enough sleep and were overworked. Something about being in the kitchen instantly makes us happy. Most of the time it felt like a choreographed dance, working together. She peeled the cooked potatoes while I riced them. She massaged the egg and flour in, and we rolled, cut, and scored the gnocchi. She cleaned the basil, while I pulled off the clean leaves. Many hands lighten the load. And all the while chatting.

We laughed at our attempt to properly score the gnocchi, with various shapes and sizes that would probably make an Italian nonna wince and shake her head in disgust. We constantly tasted the pesto and lamented the fact that we had peeled 9 heads of garlic, but only needed 3. She shared her wonderful experience at Mighty Summit and revealed a bit of her life list. I got to tell her about my upcoming trip with Brilliant Daughter to the U.K. and France. (Departure date just one week away!)

Next thing you know, four-plus hours have flown by. We’ve made tubs and tubs of pesto and a double batch of gnocchi—enough for 12. As we cleaned the kitchen, we snatched bites of gnocchi bathed in brilliant green pesto, the soft pillows melting the mouth and the whole thing leaving us with a breath strong in garlic. We washed the dishes, cleaned the counters, swept the floor of basil debris and smiled at our accomplishment.

At the end of the night, we both lay flat on our backs, she on the floor, me on the couch, and let out a big sigh. While we have cooked together before, this time it seemed more effortless. We were able to share the task at hand, but carry on a conversation like we were sitting around on the porch relaxing. It was joyous and exhausting, all at the same time. Which means that I look forward to sharing my kitchen again with Tea…any time.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Suburban S’mores

I’m not going to get a vacation this year. No Pinecrest Lake in my summer plans. Even though we bought a new tent, it will not have a chance to leave its box until next year. So I had a bit of a pity party.

I was making homemade graham crackers for my sweet little Cora, who is coming to visit from England.

As I was making them I got to thinking how good they would be in s’mores.

So as soon as they came out of the oven I started in making homemade marshmallows.

And when those were cooling, I went down to the store and bought some Hershey’s Special Dark bars. So that’s how I spent my Sunday, by making by hand the goodies for s’mores.

Of course, we ran into one small problem: no campfire. And we don’t own a fire pit, portable or in-ground. I guess we could have built a fire in the fireplace, but when its 80 degrees in the house, that’s not such a good idea.

So we did what any good suburban camper would do, we fired up the 6-burner BlueStar range, got out our skewers, turned on the overhead fan and roasted some of those marshmallows!

MMMM, good…..

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Cupcake Tester Extraordinaire

Electrician Son and girlfriend brought over their nephew Damarian for Sunday dinner. His only request: cupcakes. I was happy to oblige.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Intersection of Two Grandmothers

I had two wonderful grandmothers, both of whom provided me with very different outlooks on life. They were like night and day in most respects but they shared one thing other than their love for me: they gave freely of themselves, providing both life skills and memories that I cherish and carry deep inside. Today, I was reminded of this as I plated a simple jam tart on a fancy Fitz & Floyd dessert dish.

Both women had suffered through the Great Depression, my Granny on a farm in rural Nebraska, my Nana in the middle of urban San Francisco. Both ended up living in the same California suburb.

Granny (of rural Nebraska) had married 3 times, was independent, loved fancy antique furnishings, nice jewelry, and beautiful silk blouses and wool suits (which took up the whole of a 2nd bedroom). She ran her own tax business, frequented the horse races, and regularly threw little soirees for her gal pals. In the kitchen she was a whiz with a pressure cooker, made her own noodles, and was best known for her crab potato salad.

Nana was married to the same man for 52 years (and when my Papa died it was the first time she had ever lived on her own), always thought of others before herself, and lived a spartan existence, primarily in a small 35-foot trailer that she kept immaculately clean inside and out. Her clothes did not fill one whole closet, she worked odd jobs in between raising first her own two children and then helping with my brother and me. She cooked simply, dishes like pot roast, liver and onions, poached fish.

When each had to move out of their home, it took me less than one day to clear out my Nana’s small one-bedroom apartment, even though she had lived there for 20 years. It took me the better part of 6 months to clear my Granny’s two bedroom house (along with several other relatives), where she had lived for 35 years. I had long suspected my Granny was a hoarder, a common result of living through the Depression, but I had no idea the extent. A painful experience.

Both of my grandmothers had a hand in shaping my culinary talents, for which I am immensely grateful. They also had a significant hand in my development into an adult. My degree in social work, my constant need to “mother,” to help, to provide love and guidance comes straight from my Nana, probably the most selfless person I have ever known or ever will know. My love of shoes and good clothes is courtesy of my Granny, along with my penchant for antiques and the joy of serving food on beautiful china. Which brings me full circle….

Today I was making fruit tarts for Sunday dinner. I had extra pie dough left and immediately rolled it out and stamped out big scalloped circles, filled them with a dollop of my homemade plum jam and made little jam tarts, just like my nana would do for me when I was a child. After they had baked, I pulled out a china dish to serve them upon and realized that both my grandmothers were represented there, right in front of me, evoking a smile, a tear and a flood of memories. A simple tart served on a fancy plate, my Nana and Granny side by side.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Calendar Notation: Pickling Time!

When I flipped over my large 12x18 monthly calendar to July I saw a notation in the upper left corner that said “Pickle Time.” I must have marked the calendar when I transferred all the birthdays and anniversaries from last year’s calendar. Pretty smart idea, if I do say so myself.

Last July Brilliant Daughter and I went on a canning frenzy last July after trips to LJB Farms in San Martin. In addition to jams, salsa and barbecue sauce, we put up 24 quarts of pickles. We have been generous with our crunchy dill spears and consequently Mrs. B’s cupboard is just about bare of pickles, hence a need to haul out the canning equipment.

We made a quick trip down to LJB Farms on July 3rd and picked up a lug of the full-flavored Blenheims—since they have such a short season—and I made about 20 half-pints of jam on the 4th of July. I didn’t have time to go to the farm the following weekend, so I made a trip down to our local farmer’s market and bought 10 pounds of pickling cucumbers and some fresh dill, an investment of $12. I went across the street to Safeway and picked up a gallon of white vinegar and made my way home to begin pickling.

Pickling is a very simple process and really takes very little time. While I put the canning kettle on to boil, I washed out my jars and put them in a 250-degree oven to bring them up to temperature.

I washed and quartered all the cucumbers into spears and put them in an ice bath to stay cold and crispy.

Then I set got the pickling liquid on to boil*.

While I waited, I trimmed and cut the dill, peeled garlic (I do love my pickles with garlic), and found the peppercorns. (I even added some chili pepper flakes to a few jars to add some kick.)

Once the canning pot was ready I pulled out 6 jars, added my dill, 3 garlic cloves, 5 peppercorns and then stuffed the spears in tight. I filled them up with the vinegar mixture, sealed them and put them into the bath for 20 minutes. I repeated the process and second time and after 1 ½ hours—start to finish—I had 12 quarts of pickles ready for the pantry. (Not near enough to last the year, unless I decide not to share.)

Now comes the waiting…..

*Ratio of pickling liquid is 3 cups vinegar, 3 cups of water, 1/3 cup salt. For 12 quarts of pickles I used 4x this recipe.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bake Sale: Vietnamese Coffee Cupcakes

Brilliant Daughter was participating in a bake sale at her place of employment to raise funds for local schools. I thought it would be a good idea to contribute, being as I work as a contractor…at home…with no co-workers to feed. Since I had been hankering to make some cupcakes, I dug around for something a little unique. I finally settled on Vietnamese Coffee Cupcakes, cobbling together recipes from various sites to come up with something that would work for me and utilize ingredients I had on hand.

The cupcakes turned out rather well, light and tasty, reminiscent of a sweetly fragrant Vietnamese coffee. They are a bit of work, as they are made from scratch and have a filling, but I think they were worth it.

Cupcake Batter

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee (preferably espresso)
1/4 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon finely ground coffee (espresso grind works best)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare 24 cupcake pans.

Beat butter on high until soft, about 30 seconds. Add sugar and beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beat for 30 seconds between each.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Put coffee and cream into a measuring cup together.

Add a quarter of the flour to the butter/sugar mixture and beat to combine. Then add one-third cup of liquid mixture beat until combined. Repeat the process two more times and end with last addition of the flour mixture. Fold in ground coffee.

Fill cupcake liners two-thirds full and bake 25 minutes. Let cool completely

Make filling (below).


1 teaspoon unflavored (Knox) gelatin

1/4 cup cold water
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let sit for 5 minutes. In a small pan over medium heat, heat the sweetened condensed milk until warm. Prepare ice bath by putting ice cubes and water into a bowl that will accommodate the pan. Add the gelatin to the heated milk and stir over heat until the gelatin melts, about 2 minutes. Transfer mixture to water bath set. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Once mixture has cooled put into pastry bag with medium round tip. (Alternately a Ziploc bag with corner cut or even baby spoon will work to fill cupcakes.)

Using a large pastry tip, core out the center of each cupcake. Carefully pull out any crumbs and remove the cake round from the tip using a toothpick. Fill each whole three-quarters full with filling and replace cake round on top.


1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
¾ cup heavy cream

¼ cup very strong coffee (preferably espresso)

3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
1 ½ pounds confectioners sugar

Beat the cream cheese in a bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the heavy cream, coffee, and sweetened condensed milk. Slowly mix in the confectioners’ sugar. If you like a thicker frosting that will stand up to fancy piping tips, you might want to add more sugar.

Finish each cupcake with a heap of frosting (piped or spread), dust with a bit of finely ground coffee and a chocolate espresso bean.

P.S. The bake sale raised over $300 for local schools. My cupcakes sold out. : )

Sunday, June 27, 2010

My New Favorite Breakfast Treat: Jam Crumb Cake

I’m a recipe clipper. I subscribe to a number of food-related magazines, as well as my local newspaper (yes, I know that is soooo old school) and I regularly cut out recipes I’d like to try. Originally filed separately by category (breakfast, soup/salad, veg/side dish, main, dessert and misc), each file folder had become so fat that I needed to take action. I spent one cold, rainy May afternoon sorting recipes into additional categories, and for the really big files (breakfast, main and dessert) I split them into Tested and Untested. It so made me want to get in my brand new kitchen and cook, and so I did.

I woke up this morning and decided to make something new for breakfast. Butcher Son had pulled an all-nighter the day before, finishing a particularly difficult art project for college. He had slept for almost 12 hours and I wanted to surprise him with a treat. I found a recipe clipped from Gourmet back in December of 2007. No sure what I was waiting for, and after all was said and done I wish I had tried the recipe earlier.

The recipe took 5 minutes to make and another 25 minutes to cook and utilizes staples from the pantry and refrigerator. Couldn’t have been much easier unless I opened a box of muffin mix. While the original recipe called for raspberry jam, I had some lovely Blenheim apricot jam that Brilliant Daughter and I canned last summer. It smells so heavenly every time I open it (and it is just amazing stirred into plain Greek yogurt).

The recipe would lend itself to using any kind of thick jam or preserves and you could add a pop of flavor by stirring in a few drops of almond extract or a tablespoon of liqueur like Grand Marnier, Framboise, or Amaretto.

For cake

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup milk

1 large egg

1/2 cup raspberry jam or preserves

For crumb topping

3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in the middle. Generously butter a 9-inch square or round cake pan.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Whisk together butter, milk, and egg in a large bowl, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined. Pour batter into cake pan. Dollop jam all over surface, then swirl into batter with spoon.

Make crumb topping:
Whisk together butter, sugars, cinnamon, and salt until smooth. Stir in flour, then blend with your fingertips until incorporated. Sprinkle crumbs in large clumps over top of cake.

Bake cake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides begin to pull away from pan, about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes. Serve.

Yield: 6 servings

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Best Use of Lemons…EVER

You may think I’m exaggerating, but I am not and I do not come to this decision lightly. I have the full backing of my lemon-loving family.

As is tradition in our household, the children get to choose to go out on their birthday or stay home and have me cook whatever they want. We’ve had some odd choices over the years, like Butcher Son once asked if we could go to Dennys for his birthday, so he could have one of their Grand Slam breakfasts, and Electrician Son wanted Shake and Bake pork chops, which I had never made in my life. Those are the exceptions, rather than the rule, because let’s face it, these are my children and they know good food.

This year for Brilliant Daughter’s birthday, given the nice weather, she wanted Cowboy Burgers. You might remember this recipe from last summer. My family was so wowed they hardly spoke the whole time they were eating, hence the post tile of Seriously Good Eating.” They really are that good. In fact, it is one of the 100 recipes featured in my cookbook, Eat Drink Merry. She also wanted a lemon dessert made with our Meyer lemons. That meant digging into the archives, the recipe clippings, the downloaded notes, to find just the right thing. And I found a gem. A home run. A grand slam. (Well, it is baseball season after all….) I found a recipe for the. best. lemon. dessert. ever. It was in my clipping file, cut from an April 2005 Bon Appetit magazine.

Simply called Lemon Curd Mousse Cake, it was a creation of light and air, summertime and sunshine, and put a smile on everyone’s face…immediately. We all knew right away that this was a keeper. Fans of lemon meringue pie will especially be wowed with this cake, as it tastes like the culinary love child of the light creamy meringue and the tart lemony custard. It’s refreshing, silky, and above all – heavenly. (I just wish that I could capture that heaven in a picture for you, as the one here just doesn’t do it justice.)

While this cake does take some extra effort and dishwashing, it is one that is well worth the effort – and I don’t say that lightly!

Warning: This recipe really does require lots of pots, pans, bowls, spatulas, and spoons. Set your sink up with warm sudsy water and just drop the used items in as you go along. It will make clean-up much easier.

Lemon Curd Mousse Cake

Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2005


2 cups Lorna Doone cookie crumbs

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted


2 1/2 cups lemon curd (my recipe here)

5 tablespoons water

4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

6 large egg whites

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream

Lemon slices, cut into quarters (garnish)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray bottom of 8-inch-diameter springform pan with nonstick spray.

Blend cookie crumbs and butter in small bowl. Press onto bottom of pan. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Cool.

Pour 5 tablespoons water into small saucepan. Sprinkle gelatin evenly over. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, place 1 3/4 cups lemon curd in large bowl.

Stir 3/4 cup curd in another small saucepan over medium-low heat until very warm. Then

stir gelatin mixture over medium-low heat until dissolved and liquid is clear (do not boil). Whisk warm gelatin mixture into 3/4 cup warm curd. Gradually whisk gelatin-curd mixture into curd in large bowl.

Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in medium bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, beating until whites are thick and glossy. Fold whites into curd mixture in 3 additions.

Using same beaters, beat cream in another medium bowl until peaks form. Fold into egg white-curd mixture in 3 additions.

Pour enough mousse over cooled crust to fill pan completely. Pour remaining mousse into small bowl and reserve. Cover and chill mousse cake, reserved mousse, and remaining curd overnight.

Using a long thin knife, cut around cake to loosen. Remove pan sides. Gently spread 3/4 cup of remaining curd over cake. Transfer reserved mousse to pastry bag fitted with small star tip. Pipe rosettes of mousse around top edge of cake. Chill cake until ready to serve. (Can be made up to 8 hours ahead.)

Arrange lemon slices between rosettes. Cut cake into wedges.