Saturday, June 17, 2017

Candied Bacon


My mother-in-law Rita made this amazing candied bacon for Easter that was instantly devoured. It’s Lance’s grandmother’s recipe and it truly is candy (it’s probably more brown sugar than it is bacon). 

My dad loved it so much that I’ve made some in preparation for Father’s Day brunch tomorrow. It’s really easy but takes some time since it needs 2 hours in the oven. 

I slightly revised the recipe based on the candied bacon our friend Spencer made for a potluck last month – his recipe included fennel seeds which adds a hint of a licorice taste. If you don’t like that spice, you can omit it, but I like the extra layer of flavor it adds. 

You could half this recipe and just make one pound, but it gets eaten so quickly I went ahead and made two pounds this time. You could probably use a bit less brown sugar since I had some extra, even though I really coated the bacon. 

Candied Bacon  

Ingredients:
  • 2 pounds thick-cut bacon
  •  1-1/2 cups brown sugar
  • Heaping teaspoon dry mustard
  • Heaping teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Pepper to taste (can use peppered bacon if you’d like)
  • Fennel seeds as garnish
Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

2. You’ll need a broiler pan with a bottom tray. Put a layer of water in the lower half of the pan and bacon on the top layer touching.


3. Mix together the brown sugar, mustard, paprika, and pepper in a bowl. Spread generously on top of the bacon. Sprinkle with fennel seeds.

4. Bake for two hours. Make sure it is fully cooked (may take longer depending on the thickness of the bacon).



5. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. Cut into desired sized pieces & try not to eat a whole pound yourself.  

Blue Apron


I’ve never tried a meal kit delivery service before, but when my friend Phil said that he had free Blue Apron meals he could share with friends, I decided it’d be worth seeing what all the fuss is about. 

I love to cook at home and try out new recipes. The benefit of a meal kit delivery service is that it takes a lot of the hassle out of meal planning, grocery shopping, and some of the preparation.

I signed on to the Blue Apron website and chose the 2-person plan, which gives you three meals that feed two. Had I not had the free trial coupon, this would normally run $59.94/week, or $9.99 per serving.  They also have a family plan, which gives you 2 meals that feed 4 for $71.92, or $8.99 per meal.

They give you six meals to select from and you pick your favorite three for delivery. We chose the Persian-Style Chicken and Crispy Rice, Crispy Catfish & Spicy Vegetable Curry, and Seared Steaks & Salsa Verde. You then pick your preferred delivery date & wait for your box of food to arrive. You can skip weeks that you don’t want to cook, plan to be out of town, or don’t love the options.



We thoroughly enjoyed the three meals we chose – see recipes below. However, there are some definite pros and cons of Blue Apron:

Pros:
  • All the meals we had were fantastic. We were impressed with the quality of the ingredients and I wouldn’t have thought to try these meals on my own.
  • It saves you time getting all these ingredients from the grocery store.
  • Some of the ingredients aren’t typical foods or spices you’d have in your pantry. Our recipes included things like pink lemons, dried currants, a Makrut lime leaf, and a spice blend of cardamom, cumin & turmeric. 
  • Everything is already measured for you, which saves on cooking prep time.
  • It’s cool to go on the Blue Apron Instagram and see people from all over the country cooking the same meals as you (my brother and his girlfriend Kim chose the same three meals as us this past week!)
  • We had a lot of fun cooking together & gives us an excuse for a date night without going out and spending money at a restaurant.



Cons:
  • It’s expensive. Although it is significantly cheaper than eating out, I could go to the grocery store and buy similar ingredients.
  • It only covers you for three dinners of the week – you still need to grocery shop or eat out for the other 4 dinners of the week, breakfast, and lunch.
  • It doesn’t make enough for leftovers. The portions are just enough for two people to eat – which is great for some people, but we usually cook extra food if we take the effort to make a good meal so we can take leftovers for lunch.
  • You can’t be too picky. This is NOT a problem for us since we will eat anything and love to try new foods, but you only have 6 recipes to pick from, which can be an issue with finicky eaters or people with allergies. I have a sensitivity to almonds, so I had to substitute for walnuts in our pantry in one of our recipes.
  • You use a lot of pots, pans & tools in preparing these meals, so you’ll have dishes to do. These aren’t one pot recipes. You’ll need basic tools like a zester and vegetable peeler, so if you’re a beginner chef/novice, you may not have all the tools. The recipes aren’t basic, so you’ll do some multi-tasking. I found them pretty easy to follow, but I cook a lot.
  • Don’t plan to have it delivered on a day you want to cook. We chose Thursday as our delivery and it didn’t arrive until 8:22pm (we gave up on waiting and made BLTs that night).
  • There is SO MUCH PACKAGING. Every individual food is wrapped up which seems incredibly wasteful and unsustainable. It arrives in a large box with insulated silver bubble wrap, giant freezer packs, and plastic around everything. It makes sense that it needs to survive the shipping process, and it certainly makes it convenient, but to have 3 T of flour in its own package seems crazy.
I’m really happy that we had the chance to try it out, and if I had a half off coupon, I’d definitely order again. The meals were way better than what I would have made otherwise that week. But I actually enjoy grocery shopping and picking my own meals, so I wouldn’t sign up to get this regularly. You can go on the Blue Apron website and get their current recipes, so if you don’t mind the hassle of grocery shopping, you could pick up the ingredients yourself.

It would be interesting to try out some of the other meal kits – Blue Apron has plenty of competition out there with Hello Fresh, Plated, Sun Basket, and even Publix’s new grab-and-go meal kits.  Have any of you tried these services? What did you think?

Persian-Style Chicken & Crispy Rice with Summer Squash, Currants & Lemon Yogurt

Ingredients:
  •        10 Ounces Chopped Chicken Breast
  •       ½ Cup Jasmine Rice
  •         ½ Cup Plain Greek Yogurt
  •         1 Pink Lemon
  •         1 Summer Squash
  •         1 Yellow Onion
  •         1 Bunch Parsley
  •         3 Tablespoons Roasted Almonds (I substituted for walnuts since I have sensitivity to almonds)
  •         1½ Tablespoons Dried Currants
  •         2 Tablespoons Butter
  •         1½ Teaspoons Persian Chicken Spice Blend (Ground Cardamom, Ground Cumin, & Ground Turmeric)




Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 475ยบF.

2. In a small pot, combine the rice, a big pinch of salt, and 1 cup of water. Heat to boiling on high. Once boiling, cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook 12 to 14 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Turn off the heat and fluff the cooked rice with a fork.

3. Transfer half the cooked rice to a sheet pan; spread into an even layer. Set the remaining cooked rice aside in a warm place.

4. While the rice cooks, wash and dry the fresh produce. Peel and thinly slice the onion. Quarter the squash lengthwise; cut crosswise into ¼-inch-thick pieces. Roughly chop the almonds. Roughly chop the parsley leaves and stems.


5. Using a peeler, remove the yellow rind of the lemon, avoiding the white pith; mince the rind to get 2 teaspoons of zest (or use a zester). Quarter and deseed the lemon. Place the currants in a bowl; top with the juice of 2 lemon wedges.

6. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and transfer to a bowl. Season with salt, pepper, and the spice blend; toss to coat. In a medium pan (nonstick, if you have one), heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium-high until hot.


7. Add the seasoned chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 to 7 minutes, or until browned and cooked through. Leaving any browned bits (or fond) in the pan, transfer to a plate and set aside in a warm place.

8. Add the butter to the pan of reserved fond and heat on medium-high until melted. Add the onion; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, 5 to 7 minutes, or until lightly browned and slightly softened.


9. Add the squash; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, 5 to 7 minutes, or until softened. Add the almonds, cooked chicken, and half the parsley; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until thoroughly combined. Turn off the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.

10. While the vegetables cook, drizzle the sheet pan of cooked rice with olive oil. Bake, stirring halfway through, 7 to 9 minutes, or until lightly browned and crispy. Remove from the oven and let stand for at least 2 minutes.

11. Carefully transfer to the pot of remaining cooked rice. Stir in the currants (including any liquid). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

12. While the rice bakes, in a bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, yogurt, the juice of the remaining lemon wedges, and 1 teaspoon of water. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


13. Divide the finished rice between 2 dishes and top with the finished chicken and vegetables. Top with spoonfuls of the lemon yogurt. Garnish with the remaining parsley. Serve with the remaining lemon yogurt on the side. Enjoy!


Thoughts: I would definitely try this recipe again. It had a great variety of flavors and textures. I normally think that rice is a waste of calories, but having the crispy rice and currents mixed it really elevated the dish. I thought I’d only want a little dollop of the lemon yogurt on top, but we ended up using it all. The Persian spice blend smells delicious. I would have liked to make extra to have leftovers.


Enjoyed this meal with a bottle of the Dreaming Tree Crush red wine – it’s actually a collaboration between Dave Matthews and Sean McKenzie.

Crispy Catfish & Spicy Vegetable Curry with Charred Lime

Ingredients:
  • 2 Catfish Fillets
  • 1¾ Cups Light Coconut Milk
  • 9 Ounces Bok Choy
  • 2 Carrots
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Lime
  • 1 Pound Yukon Gold Potatoes
  • 1 Bunch Cilantro
  • 3 Tablespoons Rice Flour
  • 1 Fresh Makrut Lime Leaf
  • 2 Tablespoons Red Curry Paste
  • 1 Tablespoon Sugar


Directions:

1. Wash and dry the fresh produce. Medium dice the potatoes. Peel the carrots; thinly slice into rounds. Peel and roughly chop the garlic. Cut off and discard the root ends of the bok choy; roughly chop the leaves and stems.


2. Using a peeler, remove the green rind of the lime, avoiding the white pith; mince the rind to get 2 teaspoons of zest (or use a zester). Halve the lime crosswise. Roughly chop the cilantro leaves and stems.

3. In a large, high-sided pan (or pot), heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, 12 to 14 minutes, or until lightly browned and softened. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Add the carrots, garlic, and as much of the curry paste as you'd like, depending on how spicy you'd like the dish to be. (If the pan seems dry, add 1 teaspoon of olive oil.) Cook, stirring frequently, 1 to 2 minutes, or until fragrant and thoroughly combined.


5. To the pan, add the coconut milk (shaking the can just before opening), sugar, lime leaf, bok choy, and ¼ cup of water; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 11 to 13 minutes, or until the bok choy leaves have wilted and the liquid is slightly thickened. Turn off the heat.


6. Carefully remove and discard the lime leaf. Stir in the lime zest and season with salt and pepper to taste.

7. While the curry cooks, in a medium pan (nonstick, if you have one), heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the lime halves, cut side down, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until charred. Transfer to a work surface and let cool. Wipe out the pan.


8. While the curry continues to cook, place the flour on a plate. Pat the catfish fillets dry with paper towels; season with salt and pepper on both sides. Thoroughly coat 1 side of each seasoned fillet in the flour (tapping off any excess). Transfer to a separate plate.


9. In the same pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the fillets, coated side down, and cook 5 to 7 minutes on the first side, or until lightly browned. Flip and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked through. Turn off the heat.

10. Divide the finished curry between 2 bowls. Top with the cooked catfish fillets. Garnish with the charred lime halves and cilantro. Enjoy!


Thoughts: This recipe actually made enough that we had some leftover (we made nachos another night topped with curried veggies). The catfish didn’t get as crispy as I would have liked but it was very tasty regardless. This makes me want to buy bok choy more often to incorporate it in meals.

Seared Steaks & Salsa Verde with Fingerling Potatoes, Asparagus, & Radishes

Ingredients:
  • 2 Top Sirloin Steaks
  • 3 Ounces Radishes
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Pink Lemon
  • 1 Bunch Asparagus
  • ½ Pound Fingerling Potatoes
  • 1 Bunch Parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon Capers



Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.

2. Wash and dry the fresh produce. Halve the potatoes lengthwise. Cut off and discard the ends of the radishes; quarter lengthwise. Cut off and discard the tough, woody stem ends of the asparagus; cut into 1-inch pieces on an angle, leaving the pointed tips intact.


3. Peel and finely chop the garlic; using the flat side of your knife, smash until it resembles a paste (or use a zester). Quarter and deseed the lemon. Roughly chop the parsley leaves and stems.

4. Place the potatoes on a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange in a single, even layer, cut side down. Roast 14 to 16 minutes, or until golden brown and tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and set aside in a warm place.

5. While the potatoes roast, pat the steaks dry with paper towels; season with salt and pepper on both sides. In a large pan, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the seasoned steaks and cook 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare, or until browned and cooked to your desired degree of doneness.


6. Leaving any browned bits (or fond) in the pan, transfer to a cutting board. Loosely cover the cooked steaks with aluminum foil and let rest for at least 5 minutes.


7. While the steaks rest, add the radishes to the pan of reserved fond and season with salt and pepper. (If the pan seems dry, add 1 teaspoon of olive oil.) Cook on medium-high, stirring occasionally and scraping up any fond, 1 to 2 minutes, or until slightly softened.


8. Add the asparagus and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 2 to 4 minutes, or until lightly browned and softened. Add up to half the garlic paste and cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until fragrant. Turn off the heat. Stir in the roasted potatoes and the juice of 2 lemon wedges.

9. While the vegetables cook, in a medium bowl, combine the parsley, capers, the juice of the remaining lemon wedges, and as much of the remaining garlic paste as you'd like. Slowly whisk in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

10. Find the lines of muscle (or grain) on the rested steaks; thinly slice crosswise against the grain. Divide the finished vegetables and sliced steaks between 2 dishes. Top the steaks with the salsa verde. Enjoy!



Thoughts: Of the three recipes, this was the simplest and quickest to make. The ingredients weren’t too unusual, so it would be easy to recreate in the future. It would be an impressive way to serve steak for guests.