S’MAC ‘N CHEESE

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Since my Caitlin is a huge mac ‘n cheese fan I decided to feature this recipe today. It brings back memories of a New York city trip we took to track down the restaurant, S’MAC. Served with a side salad this can be a meal or in a smaller portion an unexpected side dish. I recommend a high quality smoked cheese like the Tillamook brand or the smoked gouda from Revittle

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Smokehouse Bacon Mac ‘N Cheese Cornbread Skillet

8 slices applewood smoked bacon, diced

1 ¾ cups (6 oz) elbow macaroni, cooked

1 cup shredded smoked gouda or cheddar cheese

1 cup shredded pepperjack cheese

4 ounces cream cheese, cubed

¼ cup chopped green onions, plus additional for garnish

6 eggs, divided

3 cups milk, divided

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 (7 oz) package Martha White Sweet Yellow Cornbread & Muffin Mix

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

fresh herbs for garnish

Heat oven 400F. Cook bacon in a 10-inch Lodge cast iron skillet until crisp. Transfer bacon to a paper towel lined plate; set aside. Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat from skillet. On medium heat, add cooked macaroni, smoked cheese, pepperjack cheese and cream cheese, stirring, until cheese begins to melt. Beat 2 eggs, 1 cup milk, ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper; pour into skillet. Add green onions. Cook, stirring, macaroni mixture for 3 to 4 minutes or until cheese is melted and mixture is well blended. Turn off heat. Spread macaroni evenly over bottom of skillet. Reserve ¼ cup of bacon. Sprinkle remaining bacon evenly over macaroni. In a blender, combine remaining 4 eggs, 2 cups of milk, ½ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon black pepper, cornbread mix and smoked paprika; blend until mixture is smooth and well mixed. Immediately pour over macaroni in skillet. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Garnish with remaining bacon, green onions and fresh herbs. Serve from skillet. 

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Better than gold is quality time spent with those you love most.

World Food Championships & Moving Forward with Egg Salad

Toasted Egg Salad Roll with Candied Orange Habanero Bacon and Crispy Smoked Potato Strings

Toasted Egg Salad Roll with Candied Orange Habanero Bacon and Crispy Smoked Potato Strings

Like a pat on the back for a job well done once in a while I need a reminder from William he is here with me. When I cook he comes through, so I cook. This past week I was celebrating him at the World Food Championships in Kissimmee, Florida. He and I along with my Comare* Lynn cooked up a few recipes including one bad-ass egg salad sandwich. More about that special sandwich later.

Lynn, my maid of honor and William's godmother is my sous chef. I have always referred to her in Italian as my “comare”. Here is more of a definition:

*Lynn, my maid of honor and William’s godmother is my sous chef. I have always referred to her in Italian as my “comare”. Here is more of a definition:
“Comare… women used this term… [to describe other women in their group] to honor a close bond of mutual assistance.”(Guglielmo, 2010). It was a woman who worked with other women while the men were in the fields, they relied on each other for support in Sicily in the early 1900’s.
When my son passed away, Lynn never left my side. I am so honored to have her cook with me and so our team name (as we both are suffering with hot flashes right now-lol): “Too Hot Comares”.

The World Food Championships (WFC) brought hundreds of professional chefs and home cooks from around the globe to compete in 9 categories for over $350,000.00 in prize money and bragging rights. IMG_7713Having played this game before and getting my butt whooped I never in my wildest dreams thought I could advance through the ranks in my qualifying category of “sandwiches”. Luckily, it’s never about winning or losing for me. I just like being in the mix, cooking to the best of my ability and hoping for a little extra icing on what is already a spectacular cake. Truly, this competition feels more like a family reunion than a cutthroat kitchen. To be passionate and endure in this hobby it has to be about friends first and competition second. Think about those athletes who only care about winning and how quickly they lose the love of the game. I never want that burn-out to happen to me.

good old days with my family

good old days with my family

Others strongly believe in me when it comes to food sport. My daughter Caitlin for one. She never stops believing I can win. She nudges me forward with her simple notes and texts, “You got this mom” or “I know you can do it mom”. Does she know how much her thoughtful, gentle touch means? Same with my husband. He is the perfect coach. His support and encouragement never waivers. He never acts surprised when I bring home a medal or a prize when usually I am picking myself up off the floor in disbelief. And then there is William…..

homemade focaccia filled with a candied orange walnut pesto, speck, fontina and roasted red peppers and arugula salad with cranberry balsamic

homemade focaccia filled with a candied orange walnut pesto, speck, fontina and roasted red peppers and arugula salad with cranberry balsamic…cooking from the heart always wins ❤

Like in sports the WFC is a tournament style competition. My first sandwich requiring the use of Kansas City Steaks ribeye was judged at #6. Next up is my signature sandwich inspired by my lunch dates with William at Aventura’s Italian deli in Waterbury. The judges liked it and launched me into the #4 position. What?  Hot damn! After two rounds of judging I am still in it. I made Top 10 and would be required to create an egg sandwich in the final round using American Humane Certified free range eggs from The Happy Egg Co.

Smokehouse Steak Sandwich

Smokehouse Steak Sandwich

Just one problem. I never believed I would make Top 10, so I never prepared any kind of elevated egg sandwich recipe before I left home for the event. Exhausted but exhilarated I had less than 24 hours to figure it out. Before I went to bed that night I had nothing. It was like recipe writer’s block. Lot’s of anxiety. This is going to be embarrassing.

my good luck charm

my good luck charm

…..and then there is William. Just before I turned out the light I held a good luck charm in my hand (thank you Patrice Hurd) and had a little chat with my boy. I closed my eyes and hoped for a little Will Keys intervention. He never disappoints me.

Toasted Egg Salad Roll with Candied Orange Habanero Bacon and Crispy Smoked Potato Strings

Toasted Egg Salad Roll with Candied Orange Habanero Bacon and Crispy Smoked Potato Strings

Guess who woke with a start and jumped out of bed at 3 am with a complete egg sandwich recipe in her head? Not just any egg sandwich, but one bad-ass egg sandwich that scored the second highest score of the Top 10. It shot me into a 3rd place finish, but more importantly it reminded me that William is always here helping me move forward. This is why I cook. This is why I love the competition. It’s putting my grief into a passion. What is your passion?

Too Hot Comares both placed in the Top 10

Too Hot Comares both placed in the Top 10

As always I owe a debt of gratitude to those who went above and beyond to support me at the WFC. Big thanks to Felipe Rivera and Jennifer Daskevich for rescuing me from a major bread snafu; to Amoroso’s Bakery for supplying the most delicious rolls; to Carlino’s for vacuum sealing the imported speck and to Suzy and Colette of Saucy Mama for seeing and believing in me and taking me on this whirlwind of a ride. I am so proud to be a part of your team.

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Toasted Egg Salad Roll with Candied Bacon & Crispy Potato Strings

12 large Happy Eggs

2-tablespoons Saucy Mama Orange Habanero Wing Sauce, divided

1-tablespoon water

1-tablespoon white vinegar

1 tablespoon Saucy Mama Smoky Garlic mustard

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

½-cup diced Duda Farms Dandy Celery

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives

2 tablespoons finely chopped dill pickle

1 tablespoon Saucy Mama Backyard Brat Mustard

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1-tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1-teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

12 slices Wright Apple Wood Bacon, diced

1 russet potato or other frying potato, peeled and thin julienne

Canola oil for deep-frying

1 teaspoon smoked salt

6 (8-inch) whole grain sandwich rolls

½ cup clarified butter

1 bunch fresh arugula

Place eggs in a large saucepan with enough cold water to cover the eggs. Bring to a boil, cover and remove from heat. Let eggs stand in hot water for 16 to 18 minutes. Immediately remove eggs from hot water and plunge into an ice bath. When cool, peel eggs. Separate the yolks from the whites. Chop egg whites and reserve in a large bowl. Place yolks in the bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade. Add wing sauce, water, vinegar and garlic mustard; pulse to blend. With Food processor running, slowly add olive oil, processing until mixture is smooth, stopping and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Fold egg yolk mixture into egg whites. Add celery, dill, chives, pickle, whole grain mustard, zest and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Chill until ready to assemble sandwiches.

In non-stick skillet over medium heat, cook bacon, stirring occasionally until fat is rendered and bacon is browned and crispy. Transfer bacon to a paper towel and discard grease from the pan. Return bacon to pan. Over low heat, add remaining 1-tablespoon orange habanero sauce to bacon, stirring to coat the bacon. Set bacon aside in a single layer until ready to assemble sandwiches.

For crispy potato strings: Fry potato strings in 350F hot oil for 1 minute or until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towel; sprinkle immediately with smoked salt.

Brush cut sides of rolls with butter. Place rolls, butter side down, in skillet over medium heat. Toast 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown.

To assemble sandwiches: place a layer of arugula on bottom half of roll. Top with egg salad. Sprinkle with bacon and crispy potato strings. 

use a russet potato and pat dry with paper towels for extra crispy potato strings

use a russet potato and pat dry with paper towels for extra crispy potato strings

Good Days & Bacon Days

puffy pancakesI spent a significant part of my day yesterday creating this recipe for a contest only to realize I had missed the deadline. It has been that kind of week or should I say month. It is embarrassing to say, but there was also an episode of putting my shorts on backwards and not realizing it until many hours later and an episode of trying to get into a car in the parking lot that did not belong to little old me. Clearly, I am distracted.

William in the sunglasses

William in the dark sunglasses at Taft

Brain misfires like these make me feel like I am taking a few steps backwards. It is an upsurge in grief. I know why it is happening. It is June and there are lots of graduation parties going on. Some of my proudest moments in life were seeing my children graduate from high school and Caitlin from college. I so looked forward to William going to college, too.

Will & Cait at Wake Forest University

Will & Cait at Wake Forest University

I don’t know about you, but as a parent I marked my life by the events and accomplishments of my children.  From the time they took their first step, to getting a good report card, to making the team or not, graduating, getting married….all these things reinforced my role as a parent. I love nothing more than being a mom.

There are times I yearn for William. Truly, I am happy to see his friends graduate or getting engaged or having children, but at the same time it can be excruciating. I am growing up with a loss. I have a lot to learn, but I know I will survive these brief upsurges of grief. And you will, too.

ebelskiver

Now for the recipe. It is far from a misfire and rather far out of my comfort zone. Puffy little pancakes with caramel and bacon; the perfect balance of salty, sweet and savory. I think it is a winner.The ebelskiver pan can be yours from where else but Williams-Sonoma.

Salted Caramel-Bacon Ebelskivers (puffy pancakes)

6 slices thick cut apple wood smoked bacon

20 caramel candies, unwrapped*

¼ cup heavy cream

pinch of kosher salt

½ cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon sugar

¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 egg, separated

½ cup milk

1 tablespoon melted butter

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 200F. Cook bacon until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towel to drain; reserve bacon grease. Crumble bacon into bowl of a food processor; pulse until finely chopped. In small saucepan, over low heat, stir caramel candies, cream and salt until melted and smooth; keep warm. In small bowl, whisk flour, sugar and baking powder. In another bowl, whisk egg yolk, milk, butter and vanilla. Pour wet ingredients and ½ cup bacon into dry ingredients; blend well with a spoon. The batter will look lumpy. Beat egg white until stiff peaks form. Fold 1/3rd of egg white into batter to lighten it up. Fold remaining egg whites in until fully incorporated. Brush the wells of an ebelskiver pan lightly with the reserved bacon grease; place over medium-low heat. When the bacon grease is hot, spoon 1 tablespoon of batter into each well. Working quickly, spoon ½ teaspoon of warm caramel into center of each pancake. Top each with another tablespoonful of batter. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until the bottom of the pancakes are golden brown and crisp. Using two wooden skewers or chopsticks, turn the pancakes and cook for 3 more minutes or until golden brown. Transfer pancakes to an oven-safe platter and keep warm in oven while making the second batch. Arrange pancakes on platter. Drizzle with some warm caramel and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon bacon. Serve passing remaining caramel sauce. Makes 14 ebelskivers.

*note: ½ cup of high quality prepared caramel sauce may be substituted for this homemade sauce