Smoky Bacon Mac and Cheese

A few weeks ago I found myself hanging out in a series of airplanes, listening to the latest episode of Pod Save America and flipping through cookbooks on my kindle.  After a weekend of somewhat hectic traveling (an entire day of flights getting canceled and missing drinks with a good friend and dinner with another good friend), I was ready for some comfort food.  No matter which recipes I came across in these cookbooks, I kept coming back to this Smoky Bacon Mac and Cheese.  I have to admit, I love Molly’s Molly on the Range cookbook, which brings together my favorite things about the midwest, with some true fusion along the way.  So, I threw this together and found myself noshing on it leading into the Thanksgiving holiday for a little northern plains comfort food.

Smoky Bacon Mac and Cheese.jpg

Smoky Bacon Mac and Cheese

8 oz medium shells
12 oz applewood-smoked bacon
1/4 c flour
2 1/2 c whole milk
3/4 lb smoked Gouda cheese, chopped
1/4 lb pepper jack cheese, chopped
1 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
1 1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 c panko breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Grease an 8×8 inch baking dish.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions, reducing the cooking time by 1 minute.  Drain and set aside.

In a large pan, cook the bacon until crispy.  Chop the bacon and set aside.  Pour off all but 1/4 cup of the fat in the pan.  Heat it over medium-high heat and add the flour, whisking until combined, and then cook for 1 minute.  Add half the milk, whisking continuously until thickened, about 5 minutes and then repeat with the other half of the milk.  Add the gouda, pepper jack, and all but 2 Tbsp of the Parmesan and stir until the cheese melts.

Stir in the paprika, cayenne, nutmeg, and salt and black pepper to taste.  Fold in the shells and bacon and transfer to the greased baking dish.  Top with the panko, a pinch of salt, a few turns of the pepper and the reserved 2 tablespoons Parmesan.  Bake until the top is browned, about 25 minutes.

Cool for 5 minutes and enjoy with ketchup, if desired.

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Slow Cooker Bourbon-Peach Baked Beans

I don’t know why, but I’ve been in a baked beans mood lately.  It might be a desire for some comfort food as the weather is getting colder.  Over the summer, I’d clipped this recipe from Cooking Light’s July 2017 magazine and had been looking for an opportunity to make it.  So, over lunch one day, I threw it in the crockpot and came home to some delicious baked beans.  The peach flavor was extremely subtle, whereas the bourbon flavor hit the nostrils.

Slow Cooker Bourbon-Peach Baked Beans

Slow Cooker Bourbon Peach Baked Beans

3 center cut bacon slices, chopped
Cooking spray
2 cans unsalted cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans unsalted pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 ripe peaches, peeled and finely diced (about 2 cups)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c ketchup
1/2 c bourbon
1/4 c maple syrup
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
2 tsp chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high.  Add bacon, and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 4 to 5 minutes.  Remove bacon from skillet.  Coat inside of a 4-quart slow cooker with cooking spray.  Add bacon, beans, and remaining ingredients.  Stir well.

Cover and cook on low 4 to 6 hours.  Keep covered until beans are ready to serve.

Bacon, Chicken, and Mustard Pizza

In the process of the refrigerator move, I found a half-eaten jar of mustard sauce that went well with the pulled pork I made recently.  Between that, the leftover bacon from Nick’s, I started to think about the combination of mustard and bacon on a pizza crust.  I went to the store to find some pulled pork to put on the pizza as well, but couldn’t find any.  I did see a small container of rotisserie chicken, and I thought that would suffice.  This worked out well, minus the fact that when I was having a leftover piece of pizza one morning, some mustard dripped on my shirt and I needed to change clothes.  I did, however, love this flavor combination.

Bacon, Chicken, and Mustard Pizza.jpg

Bacon, Chicken, and Mustard Pizza

sourdough pizza crust
cooked bacon
rotisserie chicken
maple mustard sauce
provolone cheese

Start to cook the pizza crust according to the directions.  Spread with maple mustard sauce.  Layer with slices of provolone cheese, sprinkle rotisserie chicken and bacon on top.  Bake for 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Peanut Butter Bacon Pizza

It’s been a few weeks of continuing to make pizza.  I had my refrigerator freezer go out on me a few weeks ago and I found myself cooking up the leftover pizza dough in the freezer, cooking with my sourdough starter, and trying to make sure I didn’t have too much extra.  One item I found in the freezer was some bacon from Nick’s Country Meats in Hayward, Minnesota.  I had seen someone suggest on Reddit that people put peanut butter, provolone, and bacon on pizza, so I thought it was time to try it.  Overall, I thought it tasted okay, and probably would have been better if I had heated the peanut butter to help it spread a little bit more on the pizza and be a little more even.

Peanut Butter Bacon Pizza

Peanut Butter Bacon Pizza

sourdough pizza crust
peanut butter
provolone cheese
cooked bacon

Partially cook the pizza crust, according to the instructions.  Spread peanut butter on the crust, lay the provolone cheese slices on top, and sprinkle cooked bacon on the top of cheese.

Brown Sugar Bacon Crackers

I made a meal and took it into work for a group that was having trouble finding a meeting time during an especially busy week.  It was a week when dining services wasn’t in service and so I promised them food.  One of the individuals had just returned from his family’s house in Virginia and so I wanted to provide a few snacks that were inspired from the south.  The most popular item I brought to eat were these crackers from The Southerner’s Cookbook.

Brown Sugar Bacon Crackers

Brown Sugar Bacon Crackers

12 bacon slices (not thick-cut)
48 saltines or buttery club crackers
6 tsp dark brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.  Line the bottom of a broiler pan with foil for easy cleanup.  Cut the bacon slices in half lengthwise and then cut crosswise to create 4 long strips.

Arrange the crackers on a work surface and wrap a bacon strip around each cracker, overlapping the ends on top.

Carefully sprinkle 1/8 tsp brown sugar on the top of each cracker, pressing it to help adhere (avoid getting sugar on the cracker or it will burn).

Set a perforated rack on the top of the foil-lined broiler pan and arrange the crackers seam-side down 1/2 inch apart in a single layer and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the bacon is at your desired level of crispness.  Transfer the crackers to a cooling rack and cool completely before serving.

Corn and Bacon Risotto with Wisconsin Cheese Curds and Paprika Oil

In the middle of Iowa, there’s a fairly short period of time when sweet corn comes fresh from the cob, and this dish, from Denver and Boulder Chef’s Table, is full of Midwestern goodness.  It incorporates bacon, sweet corn, and cheese curds (preferably from Wisconsin — luckily only an hour away from here, so Wisconsin cheese curds are plentiful).  This recipe was a little time-intensive, and a little heavy for the hot summer day when I made it, but the flavor was great.  I also love a cheese curd and incorporate them all the time into things, but if you find a great one, you’ll hear the curd squeak as you eat it, so something to watch for when purchasing your curds.  While not Wisconsin, one of my favorite local cheese curd purveyors is WW Homestead Dairy.  With fresh sweet corn, leftover milk from my ice cream making adventures this summer, and some bacon ready-to-be cooked, I knew it was time to make this recipe.

Corn and Bacon Risotto with Wisconsin Cheese Curds and Paprika Oil.jpg

Corn and Bacon Risotto with Wisconsin Cheese Curds and Paprika Oil

Paprika Oil:
2 fluid ounces canola oil
1 tsp smoked paprika

Roasted corn:
2 ears sweet corn, shucked
1 Tbsp canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Roasted garlic puree:
2 heads garlic
1/2 c canola oil

Corn puree:
3 ears corn, shucked
1 quart milk
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme

Risotto:
1 quart chicken stock
1 Tbsp canola oil
1/4 c finely diced yellow onion
1 tsp minced garlic
1 c Arborio rice
1/2 c white wine
salt to taste
1 medium red bell pepper, deveined and diced small
3/4 c Wisconsin cheddar curds
6 strips, bacon, cooked until crispy, divided
2 Tbsp chopped chives, divided
Salt and pepper to taste

To make the paprika oil: Pulse the ingredients to combine in a blender, pour into a small container or squeeze bottle, and let sit until the paprika settles.  Strain and reserve.

To prepare the roasted corn: Slice the kernels carefully off the cob with a knife.  In a pan with canola oil over medium heat, lightly saute them until tender, about 3 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

Next, roast the garlic: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Slice off the tops of the bulbs so that the tips of the cloves are showing.  Place top-down in a shallow baking pan and pour oil over the top.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place in oven until tender and golden, about 1 hour.  Remove and let cool, reserving the oil in the refrigerator for future use (it’s great on bread or in pasta sauce).  hen ready to handle, press the roasted cloves out of the bulb and mash them with a fork or use a food processor to grind them into a paste.  Set aside.

To make the corn puree: Slice the kernels carefully off the cobs.  Add them along with the milk and herbs to a small saucepan and, over medium heat, bring to a simmer.  Cook until tender, about 10 minutes.  Strain the kernels, reserving the milk but discarding the herbs; place in a blender and puree, adding milk as necessary (use as little as possible) until the consistency is smooth.  Cover with wax paper or plastic wrap to prevent the formation surface skin and set aside.

Begin the risotto: In a medium pot, bring the stock to a simmer.  Add canola oil to another good-size pot and sweat onion and garlic over medium-low heat.  Add rice and toast until translucent.  Deglaze with white wine.  Add 3/4 c stock to the risotto, stirring continuously.  When the liquid is almost gone, add another 3/4 c and keep stirring.  Repeat until rice is tender yet still has tooth, about 20-25 minutes.  (You will likely use all the stock, though a little less or more may be needed to ensure the proper al dente texture.)  Salt to taste.

When the risotto is finished, fold in the roasted corn kernels, 2 Tbsp of roasted garlic puree, 4 Tbsp corn puree, diced red pepper, cheddar curds, 4 pieces of bacon crumbled into small pieces, and 1 Tbsp of chives.  Heat a few minutes until the cheese begins to melt.  Season to taste.  Ladle into four bowls and garnish each with a half piece of the other two bacon slices, remaining tablespoon of chives and paprika oil.  Serve at once.

Bacon-Wrapped Peaches

This is another recipe I’d put in my “meh” folder.  They were not as savory as I was hoping for.  But, I could also chop this up to a few other issues: the peaches weren’t completely ripened, the grill flared up on the bacon quite quickly.  I think they probably deserve another chance.  From Food and Wine 2015 cookbook, these bacon-wrapped peaches went alongside the brined pork chops I made for a peaches and pig, two ways, themed dinner.  I may decide to give these another shot later this summer, once the peaches are better, but at the moment, these were not something I would quickly endorse.

Bacon-Wrapped Peaches.jpg

Bacon-Wrapped Peaches

6 scallions, white and light green parts only
Vegetable oil, for brushing
Kosher salt
4 large peaches, halved and pitted
16 thin strips of bacon (about 1/2 lb)
16 toothpicks, soaked in water for 30 minutes

Light a gas grill.  Brush the scallions with oil and season lightly with salt.  Grill them over moderate heat, turning, until softened and lightly charred, about 3 minutes total.  Let cool and cut into 3/4 inch lengths.  Leave the grill on.

Fill the peach pit cavities with the scallion pieces and season with salt.  Wrap 2 strips of bacon around each peach half and secure them with toothpicks.

Lightly brush the stuffed peaches with olive oil and grill them cut side down over moderately high heat until lightly charred, 1 to 2 minutes.  Carefully flip the peaches and grill them over moderately low heat, turning occasionally, until they just start to soften and the bacon is crisp at the edges, 7 minutes.  Transfer to a platter and serve.