Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bacon Maple Pineapple Upside Down Cake

I decided to jump onto the Bacon Bandwagon.  Since there's no donut shop in my nearby area that carries a bacon maple donut, I had to improvise.  Pork and pineapple go together.  Pineapple and maple go together.  Maple and pork go together.  It's rich, but it's sweet and salty and delicious!  Loved it!  And how many cakes do you know of that include a pound of bacon?!  It's awesome.

It makes me think fondly of the Prodigal Son that used to be in Chicago.  Irish pub in the front, angry, dirty punk music in the back, and bottomless free baskets of deep fried bacon on Wednesday nights.  I think I actually saw more blood spilled in that venue than any other venue.  That's just what happens when you get crazy and mix bacon and punk rock!  Chaos and anarchy!

The last show I saw there was my friend Germ's band, The Rotten Fruits, shown in the video here!  You can find Germ with his new band, Modern Day Rippers!  If you're in the Chicago area, check 'em out!  It's always a good show! 

  • 1 pound bacon
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened and divided
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • 2 cups + 1/3 cup 100% pure maple syrup (Grade B if possible)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 egg
  • 1 & 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat (rendered from bacon)
  • 1 can pineapple slices
  • Maraschino cherries
  • non-stick cooking spray
Chop bacon into bits and cook until crisped over medium-high heat.  Use a slotted spoon to remove bacon from pan and drain on papertowels.  Save 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Spray 9x13 cake pan with non-stick spray and then coat with flour.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, allspice, baking powder, and salt.  Stir until mixed.  In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 stick of butter and shortening and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy.  Add 2 cups of maple syrup and beat until smooth, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl.  Add egg yolks and egg, one at a time, blending thoroughly after each addition.  Alternately add flour mixture and milk, 1/3 of each at a time.  Set aside

Melt 1 stick of butter and 2 tablespoons bacon fat over low heat.  Once melted, remove from heat and stir in 1/3 cup maple syrup.  In floured pan, sprinkle 1 cup brown sugar evenly over bottom of pan.  Pour butter and maple mixture over brown sugar.  Place pineapple rings on top and cherries in the middle of the rings.  Sprinkle bacon in even layer over everything.  Then carefully pour in cake batter.  Bake at 325F until a knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (40-45 minutes).

Cool cake over cooling rack for 10 minutes.  Then invert onto serving platter and let cool another 20 minutes.

(Served here with a Fig Balsamic reduction)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ordinary Mutton Stew

A couple of weeks ago, Jen and I happened to be out of town near a little butcher that I know and he almost always has some goodies stashed away that you can't find at your local markets around here.  So we picked up a mutton loin, bone in, complete with fat cap and skin still attached and hid it away in the freezer until I could decide what to do with it.  After some consideration I decided to do a stew with it as I have never had mutton before and what could be more traditional than a mutton stew?  Almost every culture across the globe, at one point or another, has developed a stew using sheep flesh so why not try my hand at that?  Plus, I like stews and soups as they are usually simple to prepare, require little to no attention after starting, store well, get better with a couple of days in the fridge, and last but not least, they reheat easily.  Folks are welcome to substitute lamb or beef for the mutton as I can't imagine many folks having access to it unless you live somewhere outside the US or happen to be, or know, a sheep farmer.

I did this in a 7 quart slow cooker and there was plenty of room for more to be added so if you've got a 3 or 4 qt slow cooker, you should be just fine.  Alternatively, if you don't have a slow cooker you can simply follow the recipe as listed and add everything to a roasting pan.  Cover tightly with foil and bake in the oven at 250F degrees for 3 hours.

As musical accompaniment to this dish, I decided to go with Face to Face's song "Ordinary" as it takes me back a good 15 yrs or so down memory lane to my teen years, just as a good homemade stew should take you back to childhood.  Besides, this recipe is fairly, well... ordinary.  A meat stew is usually savory and doesn't have a lot going on in the "Wow" department.  It's homey, hearty, warm, and perfectly reliable as a good meal, especially in the winter months.  Ordinary. - Justin

  • 1 3lb mutton loin, bone in (approx 8 ribs)
  • 2 medium potatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 large rutabaga
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp dried rubbed sage
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley 
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 1 shot dry vermouth
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp dried ground tarragon
  • 1/4 dried ground herbs de provence 
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped chives
  • 1 cup wild rice or pearled barley
If you've acquired your roast at a grocer or butcher, chances are you won't have to prep it at all, so in an effort to save time describing how to butcher and skin a sheep, we'll assume you all have done the former and we'll skip right to the veggies.  If your roast has rib bones, leave them in as they will exude the best tasting marrow into your broth while they cook!  If your roast doesn't have ribs, you can either leave it whole or dice it into 2 inch cubes.

Wash the carrots, potatoes, and the rutabaga and leave the skins on them as that is where all the flavor and nutrients are. Dice them all, and the onion as well, into roughly similar sized chunks, approximately an inch to an inch and a half and add them to the bottom of the slow cooker.  Add the kosher salt, black pepper, sage, parsley, chicken and beef broths, the sherry and the dry vermouth and stir everything to combine.  You want to make sure that the liquid comes up to the top of the veggies.  If you need to, add a little more broth or some water to raise the level.  Add the roast to the top of the veggies, rib bones up if you have a bone-in roast, cover and cook on low for 6 hours.

After 6 hours pull the meat off the bones and cut it into 1"h to 1.5" chucks and add back to the slow cooker along with the sea salt, white pepper, tarragon, herbs de provence, chives and rice.  Cook for another 2 hrs on low.  Serve with some good bread for soaking up broth.

Savory Meat Rubs

So, lately, I've been really into making spice/herb blends here at home in order to find flavor combos that I really like as Jen and I frequently do something simple like steaks or baked chicken thighs with a salad or soup for dinner.  It's really nice to be able to grab a shaker and sprinkle some heaven on your meat and throw it on a grill or in the oven and be done with dinner!  Or to rub it into some steaks or chops the night before a cookout and not have to mess with wet marinades and leaky plastic bags.  Sometimes I like something herb-based for chicken or a hot chili rub for a beef roast or whatnot.  I've narrowed down a few basic ones that can often be used alone or, more commonly, be used as a base for other flavors to be built on.  The main rub I'll feature here was spread liberally over a tri-tip roast and actually has 3 other rubs as a base so I'll include recipes for those as well.

Making these three blends will provide you with a mildly spicy dry meat rub, a garlic herb sprinkle, and garam masala (an Indian "warming" spice blend), all of which will last far beyond this recipe and will provide you with an endless combination of flavors limited only by your tastes and imagination.  I recently purchased a small electric coffee grinder that I am using exclusively for herbs and spices as the oils from said ingredients rarely wash out completely and will flavor your coffee if it does double duty for you.  I picked one up for $15US and am very pleased so far as a mortar and pestle would take ages.  Alternately, if you don't want to put out the cash for a grinder, dried ground spices can be used.  They just won't pack the same punch in the flavor department but that won't matter if you just add a bit more of the finished rub to your meat than you normally would.

Safety Warning:  Do not touch your face once you have handled spices! All spices have oils that we will be working to release, oils that will irritate your tear ducts and sensitive membranes!  I spent a good thirty minutes tearing up in the bathroom after rubbing my eye on the way to wash up.  I would suggest washing immediately after you're done grinding spices or, even better, wearing nitrile gloves that can be removed and disposed of after use.

After rinsing my eye repeatedly with cold water, I decided it would only be appropriate for the song to go with this recipe to be NOFX's "Stickin In My Eye" - Justin

  • 2 tbsp cardamom seeds
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 4 tsp cumin seeds
  • 4 tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 2 tbsp whole cloves (roughly 20 individual cloves)
  • 1 cinnamon stick broken in half
  • 1 dried chili de arbol, stemmed and seeded
  • 3/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
If you are foregoing the roasting and grinding of spices, simply substitute ground versions of these spice measurements and shake to mix in a ziplock bag.

Add everything but the nutmeg to a cast iron skillet and toast over medium-high heat for about 3minutes moving the pan constantly.  Remove from heat and spread out on a tray or plate to cool for 5 minutes.  Once cool, add everything, along with the nutmeg, to the grinder and grind for 1 full minute.  Store in an airtight container and use as desired.

Garam masala is rarely used by itself as it has many sharp and pungent flavors.  It has some sweetness from the cinnamon but has much more flavor from the clove and cardamom.  By itself, it's not very spicy.  It imparts a slow burn and tingle to the tongue and back of the throat and is literally translated as "warming spice" as it adds a savory (almost a ginger flavor), mild, warming sensation to dishes.

  • 2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp pasilla chili powder
  • 1 tbsp ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbs onion powder
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp seafood seasoning (Old Bay all the way!)
  • 1 tbsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp dry yellow mustard
Add everything to a bag and shake until well combined.  Simple as that.

This rub is good for any meats.  I also like adding a little to soups to liven them up a bit.

  • 3 tbsp dried marjoram
  • 3 tbsp dried savory
  • 3 tbsp dried tarragon
  • 2 tbsp dried basil
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp dried chives
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 2 tbsp seasoned salt
  • 4 tbsp garlic powder
Add all of the dried herbs to a grinder or mortar and pestle (you'll have to work in batches that way) and grind until fine.  Add the herbs, salt, and garlic powder to a bag and shake well to mix.

This is a good blend to lightly dust over pork chops, chicken or seafood.  Also good for soups and stews.

  • 1 2-3lb Tri-tip roast
  • 1/2 tsp Garam Masala
  • 1/2 tsp Thudium's Herb Seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp Spicy Dry Meat Rub
  • 1/2 tsp ground sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp pasilla chili powder
Cover the meat liberally on both sides and let sit in a plastic bag in your fridge overnight.  Grill the next evening over high heat for 8 minutes per side, if you like medium rare.

This is not an overly spicy rub as the pasilla chili powder is not hot but rather tastes a lot like raisins in flavor.  If you like spicier meat rubs add a little more of the Spicy Dry Meat Rub to it or substitute cayenne for the pasilla chili powder for some Cajun-style heat!