Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bacon, Bacon, BACON!

My dad has loved bacon his entire life.  And that love has been passed down to my brother and me.  When we're at a diner for breakfast and we're given the option between bacon and sausage, there's really no choice.  Bacon, please.  What would make those green beans a little more appealing?  Bacon, of course!

We truly add it to anything, anywhere, any time.  Let's face it.  Bacon makes everything better.  And this last weekend, we just made bacon even better, if you can believe it.

This year, my dad threw a bacon cook-off.  We were given explicit instructions to not return home for the holidays without at least 2 new bacon recipes each to showcase at the event.  It was a blast, cooking in the kitchen with my family, listening to Christmas music and stealing tastes of everyone's creations.  We fit bacon into all kinds of courses and foods including Bacon Bloody Mary's, Bacon & Blue Cheese Coleslaw, Bacon Oatmeal Cookies and even Chocolate-Covered Bacon.  Below are a couple of the recipes I brought to the table.

My dad smoking new tradition has already caught fire and it has me brainstorming bacon recipes for next year.  Join us in our bacon extravaganza!  We encourage you to get creative with bacon (and your other favorite ingredients) and throw your own delicious throw-down.

Sweet & Spicy Bacon

There's an adorable little restaurant tucked into my neighborhood called Katelina's.  It's roughly the size of a size 8 shoebox and somehow, they produce some of the best food in the city.  My favorite thing on their menu is the Sweet & Spicy Bacon.  I pretty much order it on anything and everything and it's always magnificent.  Indulge yourself and share in Katelina's simple, delicious, sweet and spicy revelry.  Naturally, I recreated this for the bacon cook-off.  This is my version:

1 lb. Bacon
4 T. Brown Sugar
1 t. Chili Powder
1/2 t. Chipotle Powder (or to taste)

Turn your oven to high broil.

Mix together the brown sugar, chili and chipotle powders.  Sprinkle the mixture onto both sides of the bacon, rubbing it in so it sticks.  Place the bacon on a wire rack on top of a baking sheet.  Broil to desired chewiness/crunchiness, about 4-6 minutes, per side, keeping a close eye so it doesn't burn.

Bacon-Wrapped Teriyaki Shrimp

These bite sized shrimp are tropical, sweet and smoky and a great addition to your New Year's party.  Exchange the teriyaki for your favorite Asian sauce or marinade for more variety.  

24 shrimp, cooked, peeled, with tails removed
12 slices of bacon, cut in half
24 pieces of pineapple
Teriyaki sauce

Preheat the oven to 350.  

Thread the shrimp and pineapple onto toothpicks.  Wrap with a half piece of bacon, securing it onto both ends of the toothpicks.  Place each shrimp on a baking sheet and brush with teriyaki sauce.  Bake until the bacon is cooked through and slightly crispy.    

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Bacon Bloody Mary's

Bacon Spanakopita, etc.

Bacon & Blue Cheese Coleslaw

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Gifting :: Sugar & Spice

If you're like me, you enjoy gifting.  And I don't mean picking up a DVD and slapping a gaudi bow on it.  I mean brainstorming, searching, finding and disguising the perfect gifts that your friends will absolutely love.  I know, it's tricky and frustrating sometimes.  But, the look on their face paired with that cozy feeling of knowing you tickled them intrinsically is priceless.  This post is devoted to the ingredients of gifting food in the hopes that the next time you need a special gift for a foodie friend, you won't have to look too far.

:: Sugar ::

Can you really go wrong with gifting something sweet like cookies?  No, not really.  A homemade treat is always a great gift because your love and hard work is already inside.  But, take it to the next level with my suggestions for the perfect cookie goody bag.  These work well for little forget-me-not's, thinking of you's, teacher appreciation, bridal or baby shower goodies.

Here's what you'll need: 
cookies, small gift bags, raffia or ribbon, scrap book paper, 
regular paper, glue stick, marker, hole punch, scissors

1.  Glue a sheet of regular computer paper to the scrapbook paper.  
Allow to dry and then cut into small gift tags.  

2.  Using the marker, write the name of the cookies your gifting 
being sure to list any important ingredients.  Fold the gift tag in 
half and use the hole punch to puncture the top left corner of each tag. 

3.  Place a few cookies in each bag. 

4.  Tie raffia or ribbon around each bundle and thread it through 
the hole in the gift tag to secure it to the package. 
 Tie it in a bow for looks.

:: Spice ::

How many times have you been given spices as a gift?  I'm betting not many.  Spices are a unique way to literally "spice" up someone's present.  There are so many options, it's hard to go wrong.  And who would refuse some added flavor for their meals?  The spices in the grocery store tend to be pricey, so I recommend finding a spice shop (yes, you probably have one hiding near your home).  First, they have a much better selection and you can eliminate the cost of the container.  If you're not sure about which spices to choose, ask for help!  Here are a few of my favorites that you don't see everyday:  cardamom, smoked paprika, whole vanilla beans, black sesame seeds, spice shop special blends.  Give a few of these jars as a birthday present or single ones as dinner party or even wedding favors.  And if you happened to serve a dish that included the special spice, gift the recipe too!

Here's what you will need:
spices, sandwich bag, small jars, raffia or ribbon, 
scrap book paper, regular paper, glue stick, marker, hole punch, scissors
**TIP:  Craft stores like Hobby Lobby and Michael's have a great variety of glass jars and containers.  They also offer coupons on their website every single day to help save moolah.

1.  Empty your spices into sandwich bags.
2.  Roll a sheet of computer paper into a funnel and place into the jar.

3.  Gently pour the spices through the funnel into each jar. 

4.  For the gift tags, glue the computer paper to scrapbook paper.  
Allow to dry and cut into gift tags.  

5.  Write the name of the spice on each gift tag.  

6.  Fold the gift tag in half and using the hole punch, 
puncture the upper left corner.  

 7.  Tie the raffia or ribbon around the jar.  Thread it through the 
gift tag and tie in a bow for looks.  

There are many options for gifting food.  Some of my other favorites include toffee, citrus zested sugars and even little travel packs for my vacationing friends.  Think about the people you love and gift them with food this year.  Happy holidays.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Honduran Holiday Pork

This recipe is inspired by a traditional holiday meal served in Honduras.  I fell in love with it over dinner with a friend’s family and now I make it every year around the holidays.  This pork is dynamic and robust, with wonderful citrus flavors and smoky spices.  It’s incredibly easy to make and it will fill your home with delectable aromas.

Guide to Latin T Dishes:

Torta - sandwich on soft bread
Tortilla - obvious, but flat bread made from corn or flour
Tostada - crispy tortilla piled high with latin goodies
Taquito - rolled and fried tortilla with meat and cheese
Taco - if I have to explain this one to you, you may be reading the wrong blog

Crockpot Orange Pork

1 Pork Shoulder (one that will fit in your crockpot)
Salt & Pepper
1 T. plus 1 t. Smoked Paprika, divided
1 T. plus 1 t. Cumin, divided
1 T. plus 1 t. Sugar, divided
2 Red Onions, cut into slices
2 Oranges, cut into large chunks
1 Lime, cut into large chunks
¼ C. Olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
Cilantro, Orange slices & Avocado, for garnish
Tortillas, for serving

Add the pork and onions to a large bowl and sprinkle generously with salt, pepper and the spices.  Squeeze the citrus over the pork and drizzle with the olive oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic and marinate overnight. 

In the morning, squeeze whatever is left from the citrus over the meat and onions.  Remove the citrus from the bowl and discard.  Carefully transfer the pork, onions and marinade from the bowl to a crockpot.  Set to high and cook for 8-9 hours until the pork is cooked through, tender and pulls apart easily with a fork. 

Move the pork to a large bowl and shred with 2 forks.  Skim the fat from the juices in the crockpot and doctor up the sauce with the butter and about one teaspoon of smoked paprika, cumin and sugar.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Add the meat back to the crockpot so it can soak up all those good flavors. 

To serve, pile the pork onto a warm tortilla and garnish with fresh cilantro, orange and avocado. 

Happy holidays and happy eating!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Honey Butter Pork Tenderloin

Last weekend, my parents visited me in Columbus for the first time and we had an absolute blast!  I was able to show them all around my new city and introduce them to the my closest friends.  All in all, it was a fabulous weekend.  And because we're O'Gara's, you can rest assured that our entire weekend revolved around food!  We shared appetizers and cocktails at Hubbard Grill and swooned over sinful desserts at Pistacia Vera.  I also took my parents on a tour of North Market where we found perfumed honey from a local beekeeper, which became the inspiration for our Sunday Family Dinner.

We made a fantastic (if we do say so ourselves) pork tenderloin that we ate with oven roasted potatoes, onion and fennel, as well as a fun, cheesy pull-apart bread.  Our pork tenderloin turned out so well, I figured it just had to be the next blog post.  This Honey Butter Pork Tenderloin is juicy and flavorful with a crisp, sweet crust that is perfect for a special Sunday dinner.

Honey Butter Pork Tenderloin

2 small pork tenderloins
Salt & Pepper
3 T. Cinnamon honey (or another flavored, local honey)
1/2 C. Butter
1/4 Onion, thinly sliced
1 T. Fresh thyme, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400.

Rub the pork tenderloin with salt and pepper so they are evenly and fully coated.

In a large non-stick skillet, melt the butter and honey over medium high heat.  Stir constantly until the honey and butter come together in a quick bubble.  Carefully place the pork tenderloin into the honey butter mixture.  Allow the pork to sit for about a minute without turning it so that it gets a good sear.  Turn and repeat until all of the pork has a crisp, dark crust.

Remove the meat from the skillet and place in an oven safe baking dish.  Add the onion to the honey butter sauce and toss until the onions darken, about 2 minutes.  Carefully pour these caramelized onions and sauce on top of the pork tenderloin.  Sprinkle with thyme and place in the oven.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the pork is cooked all the way through.  Remove the pork from the oven and allow it to sit for about 5 minutes so all those juices can redistribute.

Slice the pork on a diagonal (it looks nicer) and serve with oven-roasted vegetables.

*Local honey contains local pollen and can be helpful in warding off seasonal allergies.  Plus, you get to support a local farmer instead of a grocery conglomerate!  Check out Brad's Bees at https://www.facebook.com/BradsBees.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Apple Cardamom Custard Tart

I'm trying my best to eat seasonally and since we're still knee-deep in apple season in Ohio, I'm stretching my creative muscles for new ways to enjoy these local, delicious apples.  Today, I decided it was time to attempt a flavor combination that's been on my mind for awhile:  apple & cardamom.  Cardamom is an exotic spice with East Indian roots that I absolutely adore.  It's warm and fragrant and pairs quite well with something sweet like fruit.  This Apple Cardamom Custard Tart is silky and sweet, with a subtle hint of spice.

Apple Cardamom Custard Tart

1 Pie crust (homemade or store-bought)
3 Apples, peeled, cored and very thinly sliced
4 Large eggs
1 C. Whole Milk (or heavy cream if you're feeling extra sinful)
2 T. sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 t. cardamom

Preheat the oven to 400.

Lay out your pie crust in a lightly greased, shallow baking dish.  Using a fork, gently "dock" the entire surface, making holes so that your crust does not get air bubbles.  Place the apple slices around the pie crust in a circular pattern.  I did two layers of apples so that apple slices would stick out slightly from the custard.  

In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, milk, sugar and cardamom.  Beat with a mixer until completely smooth.  Place the pie dish on a cookie sheet.  Carefully pour the custard over the apple slices.  

Gently place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake the custard tart for 10 minutes at 400.  Then, lower the temperature to 350 and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes or until the custard is set.  You want it to be just firm, but not overdone.  In the last 5 minutes of baking, sprinkle 1 T. of sugar on top and let the sugar caramelize for that finished look.  

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Scotch Eggs with Dill Aioli!

I've been wanting to make Scotch Eggs for such a long time!  And now that I'm in a new kitchen, I decided to bite the bullet and give them a try it!  A bizarre construction, Scotch Eggs are hard-boiled eggs, wrapped in sausage and sprinkled with breadcrumbs.  Ironically, they were invented by a store in London in the 1700's as a picnic snack, easily taken on long carriage rides.  But now, they've made it into the inner circles of the culinary world, fluttering their way through gastropubs, the Food Network and even Michelin-starred restaurants.  You have to take a bite of one of these unusual delicacies!

Scotch Eggs 

4 Eggs
H2O, for boiling
1/2 lb. Ground breakfast sausage
1 C. Panko bread crumbs
Vegetable Oil Spray (like Pam)
Dill Aioli (Recipe follows)

I promise these are not furry!  But I guess now I know how to create that effect for Halloween food.

Preheat the oven to 400.

(Thanks www.bonappetit.com for some perfect hardboiled advice). Place the eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cool water.  Set over high heat and bring to a boil.  Put the lid on the pot and turn off the heat.  Let the eggs cook for 3 minutes.  Drain the hot water and run cool water over the eggs.  Set them aside to cool slightly.  When the eggs are cool enough to handle, crack the shells and carefully peel them.

Pour the bread crumbs into a shallow bowl and set aside.

Take a small amount of ground sausage (about 1/8 lb.) Roll it into a ball and then flatten it between your palms until it is less than a 1/4" thick.  Place the hard boiled egg in the middle of the sausage and carefully wrap the sausage around the egg.  It takes a little bit of delicate work, but as long as just about all of the egg is covered, you'll be fine.

Gently roll the sausage-covered egg in the breadcrumbs and place on a baking sheet.  Repeat with each of the eggs.  Lightly spray each egg with a bit of oil to help the breadcrumbs crisp up.

Bake the eggs for about 10 minutes, or until the sausage is brown and fully cooked.  Serve with dill aioli.

Dill Aioli

This is hardly a recipe!  But, it renders fabulous results.  Dill is a strong, yet delicate herb and it lends a fresh lightness to mayonnaise.  This is great as a dip for Scotch Eggs or French Fries or a spread for sandwiches.

Dill Aioli

1/2 C. Mayonnaise (I prefer Hellman's)
2 T. minced fresh dill

Combine and set in the refrigerator so the flavors can marry.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Apple Cider Pork Chops

It's September in Ohio.  And you know what that means, don't you?  Apple season!  Get. Excited. 

Another kitchen mishap gave birth to this scrumptious fall meal and incredible sauce.  My original plan was to make pork chops topped with garlic cream cheese and onions.  After removing the onions from the skillet, the brown bits began to burn, so I tossed my nearby glass of apple cider right in.  Once it hit the pan, it dawned on me:  apple cider glaze.  I let the juice reduce and took it one step further.  I mixed in my garlic cream cheese and a classic was born. 

This dish is sweet and packed with autumn flavor.  The pork chops are moist and juicy, the onions slightly sweet with a perfect crunch and the sauce is creamy and delightful.  Serve them with potatoes and something green for the ultimate impressive dinner. 

Apple Cider Pork Chops

4 pork chops
4 oz. garlic cream cheese at room temperature, recipe follows
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped into thin petals
1 ½ - 2 C. dark and cloudy Apple Cider
Chives or Parsley, to garnish

Season the pork chops with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.  Cover and set them in the fridge to marinate for at least 30 minutes.  Bring to room temperature before cooking.

Preheat the oven to 350.

*If you'd rather not use your oven in addition to the stove, follow the instructions at the bottom of this recipe.

Heat a medium skillet with 2 T. olive oil over high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the pork chops and sear for 3-4 minutes per side.  When the pork has a delicious brown edge, remove it and place in an oven safe dish covered with aluminum foil.  Set in the oven to continue cooking for about 10 minutes.  

In the skillet, add 1 T. more olive oil and add the onions.  Cook them over medium until they have caramelized.  They do not need to be dark, just caramel colored.  Remove them from the skillet and set aside. 

Add 1 C. of apple cider to the pan to deglaze, pulling up all the brown bits with your wooden spoon.  Boil the apple cider until it reduces by one half.  Add the cream cheese mixture and whisk it into the apple cider.  It will be clumpy at first.  DON’T WORRY!  Just keep whisking until a smooth and glossy sauce appears.  It will work!  Add more apple cider if the sauce becomes too thick. 

To plate, place the cooked pork chop down and top with caramelized onions.  Drizzle the sauce on top and around the pork chop.  Garnish with something green, for looks. I used green onions as garnish and I served these pork chops with Horseradish Potatoes Au Gratin.  Recipe coming soon!

*To complete this recipe without using the oven, when you remove the pork chops from the skillet, allow them to rest on a plate and cover them with foil.  After you've whisked your sauce into submission, nestle the pork chops into the sauce and allow them to cook over medium low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the pork chops are thoroughly cooked.  You can even add the onions back into the pan, if you prefer.  

Garlic Cream Cheese

3 garlic cloves
4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature

Thoroughly combine in a small bowl and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to marry. 

**This can also be used as a dip for vegetables or a spread for toasted bread.  Add some thyme or dill for extra flavor and freshness!