Candied Pecan Bacon: An Appetizer

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 
Every year, the Indy Alumnae Panhellenic (this is Greek talk people.  Put on your fraternity or sorority hat for two seconds, then I promise you can take it off and concentrate on the food) hosts a "Taster's Luncheon" to raise money for scholarships that are given to local, sorority women.  The luncheon is always a collection of salads, appetizers, breads and desserts that are submitted by the delegates and then selected for this event.  One of the delegates for our alumnae chapter couldn't make her dish (lucky gal was cruising with her husband) so I jumped to help her out.  I thought it was interesting, so I decided to share (by interesting, I really thought it was going to quickly become a mishap...)

Candied Pecan Bacon Points
Ingredients include:
  • 1 pound bacon
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • black pepper
  • rye party bread
  • 1 cup cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
  • chives for garnish (optional - I didn't have these on hand to add)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and top it with a baking rack. Arrange the bacon in a single layer on top of the rack.

Mix together the pecans, and brown sugar with a good grinding of pepper in a small bowl. Evenly sprinkle the mixture over the bacon. Put the bacon into the oven and bake until the sugar is melted and the bacon is crisp, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly until crisp.

While the bacon is cooking, in a small bowl mix together the cream cheese and Worcestershire sauce.  Spread the rye bread with the cream cheese mixture, then cut the slice of bread in half like a triangle (Jan uses scissors). Top with two pieces of bacon cut about ½ inch each and crossed to fit the bread.


I had no idea what to expect out of these, but to be honest, I was surprised.  They were tasty, despite me not being a lover of rye bread.  They even held up pretty good overnight in the fridge before being served at the luncheon.  And from what I heard, they were well received.  Overall, great recipe Jan - glad that I could help you out while you were off cruising!

Sunday Ramblings...

Sunday, March 27, 2011 - 
Do you ever have those times where you are just off your game?  No reason in particular, but things aren't lining up for you?  It happens for sure, and I'm in one of those funks.

I feel like I haven't been in the kitchen lately.  I've lacked motivation to work out.  Even to participate in my volunteer events after work.  But, this morning, I found myself roasting tomatoes for a sweet potato hash.  As I was sauteing the onions and poaching the eggs for brunch, I realized I was ready to get back on track.  Yes, cooking is completely therapeutic; I guess I needed some therapy without even knowing it.

Maybe the sudden spring in my step is is because birthday month is right around the corner?  Or that Spring (despite this minor cold snap) weather is approaching?  Who knows, I may even swap out my Spring/Summer closet with my Autumn/Winter closet this afternoon if time permits (no pressure of course!)

It has been a slow start to the New Year Resolutions, but I think April 1 may be a perfect place to restart.

Kitchen Mishaps

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 - 
Hubs and I like to cook together, especially on the weekends.  We can take our time, sometimes making things that take a bit longer to do.  This past weekend was the same case - our menu consisted of crab dumplings and saffron rice - our two kitchen mishaps.

Exhibit A: Crab Dumplings (aka gyoza, pot stickers, whatever you like to call them)

Exhibit B: Saffron Rice

kitchen mishap.  What I mean is they didn't turn out the way we intended them to, aka they weren't delicious.  We ate them, but we didn't keep any leftovers.  Why weren't they delicious?  A salty dough and filling combination for the dumplings and soggy rice that was lackluster in flavor. Despite the work in the kitchen, there were two disgruntled people in the kitchen. 

This got me thinking, "why do I never see kitchen mishaps on blogs?"  I know everyone has them, but are people just not willing to say so?  I mean come on, chef's have them too - that is how they get to the glorious point where they currently are, they learn from their mistakes.  Sometimes you see them publicly (ie. Top Chef).  But I'm wondering, do most people sweep them into the closet so no one can see? 

So here I am, admitting defeat. 

I even crimped them.  ::sigh::

Then again, maybe if we had people over, they would have loved the meal?  We are sometimes our worse critics, aren't we?

Does that mean we won't try this again?  Not at all - I know the rice suffered because of the grain we used (we just grabbed what we had in the pantry), lack of timing (shift of hands between the two of us) and lackluster ingredients. Is this is a fail?  Not at all, just a lesson in cooking.

That my friends, is why I love the kitchen.  I love to experiment and not measure, so of course things like this happen.

What about you?  Any mishaps lately that you are willing to share?

The Broadmoor

Monday, March 21, 2011 - 
I was in Colorado Springs for a conference last weekend and had another opportunity to stay at the beautiful Broadmoor resort.  A grand and regal resort, the Broadmoor is one of the best properties in the country.  Beautiful and rich with history, I couldn't help but walk around the lake and take photos of the property.  Here are a few just to share.

West Tower lobby
Great foot rests
Hall of Famous - anyone that is famous has their photo hung - the hall wrapped around and had so many photos
The main building - the original Broadmoor

A sitting area that was remote and quite on the grounds
There was so much to see - I can imagine this is a great resort in the summer for couples and families.  Though pricey, there is much to do including a free movie theater, 14 restaurants, lake activities, pool, award winning spa, golf course and so much more.  You could easily walk around for hours just looking at everything.  If you ever get the chance, stop by - you will be in for a treat.

Been anywhere recently that was regal and beautiful in every way?

Sun King Sips at Tastings

Friday, March 18, 2011 - 
In celebration of the upcoming St. Paddy's Day, Tastings invited Sun King to participate in their weekly Wednesday tasting event.  A combination of two of my favorites in Indy (Tastings & Sun King), I immediately knew hubs and I had to participate.  Those who attended drank and ate well that evening - here is what you missed (and be sure to look at the great glasses Sun King served their beer in - love them!):

First Course - Sun Light Cream Ale served with Irish Breakfast in One Bite
Sun Light Cream Ale is the first beer I sampled from Sun King Brewing.  And to this day, it is consistently beautiful.  Clean and smooth, it is always great on the palate.  Couldn't have picked a better beer to pair with the treat Steven served up.  A deviled egg, consisting of a creamy center of yolk, goat cheese and mustard, was wrapped in a smokey and spiced Irish Banger sausage.  The taste was perfect - the seasoning of a great breakfast sausage.  To make it even better, it was wrapped in Rasher bacon - slightly fatty but crispy at the same time.  To calm it all down, an heirloom tomato coulis was the bed and perfectly thinned out sauce to cover the egg in.  The half surely wasn't enough - I could have eaten more of these (and of course, sip on the Sun Light as well).  Hubs doesn't even like deviled eggs and he too said that he wanted more.  A little goat cheese always make it a tasty treat, and with perfectly spiced sausage?  You can't go wrong.

Second Course - Osiris Pale Ale served with Corned Beef and Cabbage
If you like hoppy beer, you will love the hop punch from this Pale Ale.  And if you aren't a hop lover, I still say give it a taste.  You will be surprised on the citrus element you taste.   Definitely give it a sample next time you head to Sun King's tasting room - or buy it in a can at a store near you.  The beer carried a back of the mouth taste with the hops which played well with the beef brisket we were served.  A surprise to me, the beef brisket was infused with citrus elements, and that acid was perfect in the dish.  It gave the expected fatty (but full of flavor) corned beef an extra burst of flavor, which subtly lightened the heavy flavor of the meat.  And it give it an even lighter characteristic, the citrus was carried through in the warm cabbage slaw accented with a variety of herbs.  This isn't your run of the mill heavy with mayo cole slaw, but instead, a delightful citrus salad.  And what is corned beef without mustard?  Bringing it together was the Fermenti Osiris mustard sauce (which you can buy at the Indy Farmer's Market downtown - check out Fermenti Artisan).  A slight touch of honey for some sweetness, a dash of heavy cream for some thickness, and you've got yourself the best accompaniment to this dish you could have possibly asked for.  More mustard please!

Third Course - Dominator Dopplebock served with Shepard's Pie
This strong lager was rich and malty, boasting a strong molasses flavor.  Around 8% ABV, you know you are getting a strong beverage with a simple smell of the rich, deep flavors the glass holds.  I loved this matching as the dopplebock was balanced well with the Shepard's pie.  Duck confit was earthy and fatty on the tongue - delicious all on its own (thank you Maple Leaf Farms!)  But what I really loved about the confit was the sweetness of the golden raisin and fig chutney.  I'm not normally a fan of sweet chutney, but the figs were a great addition to the rich meat.  Figs, carrots, onions, malt vinegar and touch of honey brought a sweet element to the dish as it cut the thick taste of the duck.  On top, an Irish cheddar potato fritter: crisp fried goodness on the outside, slightly salty cheddar cheese with a creamy potato filling on the inside.  I personally like the two separate more than together as I didn't want to mask either flavor.  However, those fritters were great finger food that I could have eaten through the evening.

Fourth Course - Ring of Dingle Dry Irish Stout served with Deconstructed Irish Stout Stew
Now, I love my stouts.  And if you haven't had the opportunity to sip and savor this delicious Irish Stout, you better get out and do so because it will not disappoint.  I was stoked with the taste of cocoa in the Ring of Dingle.  It had a dry cocoa taste to it making it extremely drinkable - glass after glass.  Hubs tasted more coffee than cocoa, but either way, we both tasted something pretty amazing in that glass.  The second best pairing of the evening (see below for the best), it was matched with a coffee-crusted buffalo strip loin.  I didn't get the coffee flavor from the crust, and the Though initially a bit tough to cut into, the buffalo burst in flavor and was perfectly cooked throughout.  I didn't get any coffee tones from the crust, but the piece of meat was slathered in a divine sauce.  Creamy, buttery and rich in all the best ways, the stout gravy was amazing on the meat.  Rutabagas, parsnips, potatoes and carrots were part of the root vegetable confit bed, slightly seasoned with thyme and pepper.  Caramelized onions, rich in sweet flavor, also had a subtle rosemary taste, perfect for the homey stick-to-your-ribs meal.

Fin - Buffalo Fest served with Bread Pudding
Now my friends, remember the fantastic Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale that I sampled at WinterFest?  Or the equally delicious Buffalo Mac from Sun King at the festival?  Though both were delish, Sun King's Buffalo Fest blew it out of the water.  Why was this beer epic you may ask?  Oktoberfest.  My favorite type of beer was aged in a Bourbon barrel.  Best. Thing. Ever. So not only do you have all those great flavors of an Oktoberfest, but now you have these great elements of a bourbon infused into the drink.  So many flavors were expressed (caramel, vanilla, coconut), everyone was loving this beer.  And it was paired to perfection with the toasted croissant bread pudding.  Rich in buttery, yeasty flavor, these croissants were baked in a pecan-brown sugar custard.  Sweet, it was elevated to perfection with a reduced Bourbon-Devon cream sauce.  Heaven.  Steven: must have more.  Sun King: I'll be by to fill my growlers with this beautiful beverage if you will let me.

It was a great evening of fantastic beer and food.  Pairings were great, and all those attending were having a good time.  After two successful tastings together, I look forward to seeing many more in the future.  Congrats for great products to all those involved, especially Dave of Sun King and Steven of Tastings.

Back on My Feet

Thursday, March 10, 2011 - 
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to join some colleagues and high profile individuals for a luncheon at the new  JW Marriott in downtown Indy.  The purpose of this luncheon was to unveil the hotel's Griffin (an eagle/lion creature that will be displayed in the lobby - their version of a ribbon cutting ceremony) and to celebrate and learn more about their partnership with a fantastic organization, Back on My Feet

By high profile individuals, I'm talking Mayor Ballard, Mr. Marriott (yes, THE Marriott) and Mr. White (of White Lodging) to just name a few.  All took the time to speak to the audience about the property, the city and their personal excitement of it all.

Being the largest JW in the world, I am excited to be holding a meeting there this summer.  Conversations about this property have been had for over 2 years about this property, and now that it is open, it is living up to all of the hype.  I look forward to the fantastic service, the delicious food and the comforting accommodations that will soothe my weary feet after days of meetings.  This property is impressive, adding a new level to the city's skyline and opening the city up to a whole new world of conventions and meetings (not to mention Super Bowl 2012). 

The organization, Back on My Feet, is motivating.  Anne (who also spoke, she is the founder and president of the organization) essentially started a running club in the Philadelphia are at a homeless shelter.  By running with the homeless population, she rejuvenated the drive in many of these individuals to be successful in their own ways.  It was a touching presentation and a great motivator for me to pick up my own running once again.

An inspiring luncheon at a immaculate property - great way to connect with the city and community over lunch!

Snacks, Wine & Jewels: A Girl's Night

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 - 
My friend Mary came over on Monday evening to showcase thew new season of Stella & Dot jewelry.  She is is off to a great start as a stylist, and I was happy to host the party for her on Monday evening.  It is a great reason for a group of girl's to get together to drink some wine/beer, eat some snacks and ogle over jewelry.  And if you find something great (which I think is not difficult with Stella & Dot), you could possibly walk away with a great purchase.  I had hosted a party in the past, but with all these new products, I was excited to see what was being offered this season (especially with all the weddings quickly approaching!)

My closest friends in Indy made it out (thanks ladies!), but I thought I would show all of you some of the jewelry (and food!) that you may have missed out on.

For food, I restrained myself and provided really simple appetizers.  I served basil, sun dried tomato and pistachio encrusted goat cheese skewers; ciabatta sandwiches of pesto, turkey, provolone and bacon; and a variety of veggies with a ranch dipping sauce.  Drinks were a variety of wines, home crafted brews from the hubs and a pomegranate punch.

I would love to get some more orders, so if you are interested, don't hesitate to place an order online!  It is great quality jewelry at a reasonable price.  Anyone is more than welcome - there are some great pieces for brides (and bridesmaids!), Spring break accents and everyday wear.  To order, visit this link and select me (Angie Ahrens) as your hostess!  Questions?  Leave a comment - I'll hit you back!

Spinach & Mushroom Lasagna Rolls

Monday, March 7, 2011 - 
Remember the excessive amount of spinach and mushrooms hubby and I purchased?  We continued to think of ways to use up the ingredients and we both were craving lasagna.  Rather than cook up a full pan, we decided that we would use up the remainder of the veggies with lasagna rolls.  

Back in the day, RMatthea and I were chatting about how baking lasagna for two people (or one, same challenge!) can sometimes be a huge waste of food.  Rather than cooking a large pan, I had told her that I like to cook it lasagna in bread pans, so we aren't left with a crazy amount of leftovers that we are forced to eat all week.  By force, I don't mean that the lasagna isn't good, but we like variety and aren't all about the same leftovers over and over (sorry Daily Sweatpants, you know we aren't lovers of long overdue leftovers.  But trust me, we aren't wasting any food!)  Anyway, there is another way I like to cook lasagna so once again, we aren't left with a mass of noodles.  Rolls - not only can you completely control how many you are making, they are as delicious like lasagna.  And, if you get the wavy ended lasagna (please tell me you know what I mean by wavy), they can turn out very appealing to the eye.

I began to saute the mushrooms with some garlic in extra virgin olive oil while hubby worked on the pasta.  Once they were tender, I added the spinach and allowed it to wilt, which takes no time at all.  For these lasagna rolls, I used about 8 ounces of mushrooms (what I had left) and 6 ounces of spinach (once again, what is left).  Removing the mix from the heat, I seasoned the spinach/mushroom mix with some pepper and nutmeg.  Next up, ricotta cheese was mixed in while still warm.  Of course, red pepper flakes give it a nice bite of heat, so that was added to the mix as well.

As mentioned, all of this was going on while hubby worked on the pasta.  We love to make our own pasta (and hubs makes some delicious bread too) rather than purchasing it.  He was rolling it out and cooking it while I prepped the filling.  Nothing better than cooking with hubs at night!

Once the noodles were cooked, I spread them with the filling and rolled them up before placing them in a baking dish.  I love that they are all different sizes, another way to watch portions!

For a sauce, I had some broth and melted gorgonzola cheese into it. A can of drained, chopped tomatoes was added before the mix was poured over the rolls.  Topped it with some mozzarella cheese, the dish was then covered in foil and baked for about 20 minutes.  Then, I removed it and let the cheese brown for some more cheesy crispness.

Overall, the rolls were good, but the sauce was slightly salty because of the broth I used and too thin because I used too much broth.  Not enough corn starch could save it this time.  Next time, I would definitely do a different sauce, but that is what I love about lasagna.  You can put whatever you want into the filling and vary the sauce to your liking.  Vegetarian or meat lovers, the options are endless.  Maybe next time we'll make a chicken alfredo lasagna?  I guess it all depends on what we have in the pantry!

What kind of lasagna have you made lately?

Mushroom & Spinach Risotto

Thursday, March 3, 2011 - 
Risotto.  A lovely concoction of creamy rice.  I love to eat it (and some people make fantastic risotto) and have never made it before.  I have been wanting to make it for quite a while, even had the rice sitting in the pantry. 

By sitting, I mean the rice was staring at me...maybe even taunting me.  The package screamed at me, urging me to give it a try for weeks.  It had made it's way on and off the weekly menu time and time again (all for various reasons of course, not because I was threatened by this bag of me.)  But honestly, I may have been daunted by a dish that requires you to stand at the stove for 30 or so minutes.  I have heard making risotto isn't difficult, it just takes patience.  And sometimes during the week, the last thing I want to do is have patience despite my love of cooking.

Do you see it?  Just staring...taunting...

But this was the week to do so.  I have to say, I was impressed with myself.  Not so much the evening we ate it, but the next day when I had the leftovers for lunch.  Read on, let me tell you why...

I began with garlic, mushrooms and onions.  All chopped up and ready for the pan, I sauteed them in some olive oil and slightly seasoned with salt and pepper.  I then tossed in about a cup of rice to get it toasted.  I was imagining it to toast up like the boxed Rice a Roni dishes that I do love (I know...horrible, but everyone has a weakness...right?!)   It took a bit longer than I anticipated.  I had never used Arborio rice before but I assumed it would be similar to other rice.  Don't get me wrong, it did toast up eventually, but maybe with all the mushrooms and onions, I made it a longer process?  Risotto rookie here, remember?

Next up - deglazing the pan.  I grabbed a bottle of red wine we already had open (as I sipped it from a glass in the other hand - doesn't drinking something make cooking even more fun!?) and gave the pan a turn or two with the liquid.  Lots of sizzling later, the liquid slowly evaporated and filled the kitchen with some delicious smells (insert hubs saying "mmmm, smells like coq au vin in here...")  Next up, spinach.  We had this huge bag of spinach from last week (long story short, when I was traveling hubs bought a bag since it was on the list, but I had already previously bought lots of spinach to use!) that I've been adding it to our nightly dinners to ensure nothing is wasted (Daily Sweatpants would be so proud.)

Once the spinach was wilted, I turned to the vegetable broth I had slightly simmering in the pan next to me.  "Let the stirring and liquid adding begin" I thought to myself.  I added a cup or so and began stirring....and continued stirring....stirred some more.  I did walk away and refill my wine glass. 

I got nervous that the rice wasn't accepting the broth love.

And then...I stirred some more. 

Soon enough, the rice soaked up the liquid.

I gave a sigh of relief.

I began adding more with confidence.  And of course, I stirred more.  I continued to do this for about 20 minutes total, adding more broth as needed, until I had this creamy delicious pot of rice.  Then it hit me, "Angie!  You have some goat cheese in the fridge!"  Of course, I had to add that - I figured since I didn't have any Parmesan on hand, it would be a great substitute.

As mentioned, I wasn't really impressed with my skills as we were eating it. Don't get me wrong, but I thought it was salty.  I didn't really salt the dish, but then I remembered the broth.  Unfortunately, I didn't use low sodium because we didn't have our normal broth on hand so I used the back up cubes I keep buried in the seasoning cabinet.  But, the next day when I ate the leftovers at the work, I was thinking "wow, this is delicious!"  Usually I find things get more salty overnight, but I gobbled it up without a thought of it being salty.  The dish left me pleasantly full and happy.  Hubs thought it was too "goaty," but he isn't a lover of the cheese like I am.  Moral of this story - I made a pretty good risotto, and yes, I'll do it again!

Made anything new recently?