Bacon Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake Recipe

Teehee...sometimes I like to think of myself as a cooking-villain. Like just when you commit to having that iceberg lettuce salad for dinner, I swoop in and drop a perfectly grilled Angus beef burger in your lap, zap it to add melted brie, mushrooms, and bacon, and you'll forget all about the leafy, boring culinary mistake you were about to make.

So, what's a villain to do when "Jenny Bakes" of the Daring Bakers challenges her to take a classic cheesecake recipe and make it her own? (Thanks for a wonderful April Daring Bakers Challenge, Jenny!) Cover it in bacon fat, of course! MUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!To be honest, the bacon is pretty subtle in this recipe. (Drat!) Every once in awhile you get a definitively meaty bite in the crust or the chocolate candy drizzle, but it just adds a smoky richness to the caramel sauce that tastes nothing like your Sunday bacon n' eggs breakfast.
The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abby's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
Jenny Bakes of the Daring Bakers & BaconConcentrate Present:

Abby's Infamous Cheesecake with a Bacon Crust and Bacon Turtle Topping:

2 cups Low-Fat Graham Cracker Crumbs (cookie must be low-fat to avoid soggy crust)
2 Tbs. Butter, melted
2 Tbs. Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1/2 cup extra-crispy Bacon Crumbles
1/2 cup ground Almonds

24 oz. Cream Cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup Sugar
3 Large Eggs
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 Tbs. Lemon Juice
1 Tbs. Vanilla Extract
1 Tbs. Bourbon

Bacon Turtle Topping:
1 cup Sugar
1 Tbs. water
3 Tbs. cold Bacon Fat (drained and chilled until solid after cooking the bacon)
1 Tbs. Butter
1/2 cup Heavy Cream
1/2 package of Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips
1/3 cup extra-crispy Bacon Crumbles

Make the Cheesecake:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan. (Use enough of the crust ingredients to make the crust 1/4 inch deep). Hello, lovah!
Tap your crust with an empty drinking glass for an even texture. It should be fairly dry...the bacon will render some fat into the crust as it bakes, and anything else will result in the dreaded soggy-crust. Doesn't my thumb look gross in this picture? I'm a hobbit!
Cover and store the extra crust crumbs in the refrigerator.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl and cream together with a hand mixer until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles. If using a springform pan, place the pan into the center of the oven, and place 3 smaller cake pans around and under the cheesecake. Fill the empty cake pans with boiling water. (Ok, ok, or use a true water bath. Hate, hate water baths.) If using a foil baking dish, insert into a larger cake pan and fill the outside, empty pan with boiling water.5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes. The edges will be set, but the center will have alot of jiggle to it and will appear uncooked. Carefully run a knife around the edges to release the cake and avoid cracking. Without removing the cake, close the oven door and turn it off; let the cake rest for one hour. Remove it, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

After the cheesecake has cooled overnight, remove it from the springf orm pan, press the remaining crust crumbs into the sides of the cheesecake, and place on your serving plate. Mr. CheesecakeFace looks on disapprovingly, and says "You should have used a true water bath, E.Lee"Make Bacon Caramel Sauce:

Stir together sugar and 1 tablespoon water in a shallow sauce pan. It should be dry and crumbly. Cook the sugar/water over medium-high heat. Gently stir the grainy sugar mixture into the sugar that is melting in the center of the pan.
Shake the pan rather than stirring after all the sugar has melted, and bring to a boil. Let boil until amber in color. Add the bacon grease and butter. Gratuitous bacon fat picture below, just for Liza Jane and PapayaBlue. Remove from heat and stir in cream. Let the sauce thicken for 20 minutes, then pour over the top of your cheesecake, letting some pool in the middle.

Make Bacon Chocolate Drizzle:

Microwave the chocolate chips in a medium-sized bowl for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave for 30 seconds, and stir until all of the chips are melted. If some pieces remain, microwave for another 30 seconds and stir.

Carefully fill a piping bag with the melted chocolate and decorate your cake. Sprinkle the bacon pieces onto the chocolate immediately. The chocolate will harden into a bacon-candy shell once cooled.

Smoked Tomato Pasta Sauce with Portabellas and Fennel

This recipe started out as an experiment--a quest, if you will--to make an interesting and unique pasta sauce for a recipe contest. My thought process went something like this: "Bacon is smoked meat, and bacon is yummy. Why not smoke vegetables? Then they'll taste like BACON!"

Maybe that's not 100% accurate, but these smoked veggies gave the pasta sauce a definite smokey, almost meaty flavor and a silky texture.

I wanted the herbs to "pop" against the strong smoke flavor, so I used fennel and tarragon. And the ricotta salata cheese has a mild, salty flavor and beautiful white color that's perfect for this flavorful, zesty tomato sauce.

To smoke veggies [for tips on smoking, check out this post]
5 large Tomatoes
1 large can Artichoke Hearts
3 Portabella Mushroom caps, gills removed
1 bulb of Fennel
1 Anaheim Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Hickory Chips for smoking
Salt and Pepper

For sauce
4 slices Bacon
4 Garlic Cloves, diced
1 cup chopped Onion
¾ cup White Wine
1 Tbs. Balsamic Vinegar
1 ½ cup Water
12 oz. can Tomato Paste
2 tsp. chopped fresh Tarragon
5 oz. Ricotta Salata Cheese
1 Tbs. Sugar
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Prepared Pasta (I used Buitoni Braised Beef and Sausage Ravioli)

Smoke the Vegetables

Cut the bulb of the fennel and the Anaheim Pepper into two large halves, and place in a bowl of water + 1 Tbs. olive oil. Add the artichoke hearts and portabella mushrooms to the water/oil mixture, and soak everything for 1 hour. Score the skins of the tomatoes with a large X, and coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Soak two handfuls of the hickory chips in water for at least 30 minutes. Prepare a charcoal grill so that the hot coals are spread on 2 sides of the grill, with an aluminum pan filled with water in the middle and separating the coals. Place the soaked hickory chips over the hot coals, and replace the grilling surface.

Place the veggies in the center of the grill, and try to avoid putting them over direct heat. (You may have to make smoke the vegetables in batches). Use a metal tray to keep the artichoke hearts from falling through the grate.

Close the lid and smoke the veggies for 30 minutes. Remove the veggies from the grill--they may not be completely cooked, but they'll finish in the sauce.

Make the Sauce

Once the veggies have cooled, chop the pepper and fennel. Cut the portabellas and artichokes into bite-sized pieces.

Chop the bacon, and saute it in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Once the bacon begins to brown, add the onion and garlic and saute for 5 minutes. Add the fennel, pepper, portabellas, and artichokes and saute until all of the vegetables are soft and the fennel is sweet.

Peel the skin off of the smoked tomatoes, and core and seed them. (I do this by holding the whole tomato over the pot and using my fingers to slide the soft, smoked tomato off of its core. Ewwww.) Add the tomatoes to the pot, and stir until all of the browned bits come off the bottom of the pan.

Stir in the white wine, balsamic, tomato paste, and water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a vigorous simmer, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Add the tarragon, and simmer for 10 more minutes. Taste the sauce--if it is too smoky for you, add the sugar and simmer for 10 more minutes. Right before serving, crumble or shave pieces of the ricotta salata cheese into the sauce, and enjoy!

Go Foie Yourself

No matter where you stand on the foie gras debate, it's always good to open yourself up to dialogue. (I always like to say that "The smartest person knows what she does not not know." But maybe that just comes from dealing with know-it-all idiots a few times too many?)

That said, until I hear something more compelling than what's already out there, I will continue to enjoy the socially-conscious foie gras from Hudson Valley Farms. And oohhhhh will I enjoy it.

I think I'll enjoy its mere existence right now, with a post from

"The “Foie You”, a croissant sandwich prepared especially for our friends at Farm Sanctuary..All profits from the sales of the sandwich will be donated to the Center for Food Action...

Recently, a friend of mine, Christine Nunn, who owns Picnic Caterers in Emerson, NJ, received a threatening letter from Farm Sanctuary, an special interest group which has a focus on protecting the rights of animals in our food supply. Christine received the letter no doubt due to her use of Foie Gras in one of her dishes at the Ultimate Chef Bergen County Finals. It should be noted that due to the fact that since Foie Gras is such an incredibly expensive ingredient, she only finds use for about two lobes total per year for special events and customers that specifically request it, so she shouldn’t be considered a mass consumer of Foie Gras by any stretch of the imagination.

It should be also be noted that Christine only uses Hudson Valley Foie Gras, which is not raised in “intensively confined” environments that foreign Foie Gras producers use and is one of the elements of Farm Sanctuary’s complaints. As to whether the gavage feeding methods to fatten the ducks are “inhumane”, no conclusive scientific evidence has been found to date to support that the ducks being raised for Foie Gras actually feel any discomfort from the process, as they don’t eat in the same way human beings or other animals do and thus may lack a gag reflex.

While Christine and I both believe that our food animals should be treated humanely, it should be a personal choice for chefs and restaurateurs to serve whatever ingredients they want to their customers, not via agendas that are forced down OUR collective throats by special interest groups...Not to be bullied, [we]decided that perhaps it was apropos to create a dish that was representative of our views on this matter.


Jason Perlow's Foie You Croissant Sandwich...with Hudson Valley foie gras, smoked duck breast, thin sliced pears, terrine de foie gras; and blackberry jam.

For more information on the conflict between Farm Sanctuary and Picnic Caterers, or to more tasty foie gras pictures, click on the link above.

Food Imitating Art? Or Art Imitating Food?

This is S.'s creation from our weekend in the Wilderness. It's sort of a collaboration between her and Mr. Luz; he made the fresh blueberry pancakes, and she was inspired to make this painting with the splashes of fuchsia blueberry juice on her paper plate. I would love to blow this up and hang it in our kitchen. There's something (ba-dum-ching) about it.

S.'s painting illustrates why I love to prepare and share my food. Her painting is beautiful, but abstract enough to mean something different to everyone. Similarly, food is interactive--by its very nature it elicits a reaction in everyone, and depending on the food that reaction can be highly complex and exciting, or it can be familiar and comfortable.

Like art, food is highly personalized but also communal. I love to share my "creations" with people and watch as they mull over the colors, aromas, textures, and flavors and open themselves up to the experience. I may not have talent for painting, film, or singing, but I am content with what I am able to convey with some fresh veggies, a wooden spoon, and my favorite heavy-bottomed

Shenandoah Crossing: Wish You Were Here

I just wanted to post a few of my favorite pics from this weekend. It was a whirlwind of eating, napping on the deck in the sunshine, Twister, and tetherball. (Yep, tetherball. It's amazing, you should try it sometime.) Also, we drank at least 7 bottles of wine. And I won't tell you how much beer, because you'll judge me.

I may have taken this picture from a moving convertible with my point-and-shoot camera. Our cabin was in an area off to the right, and the lake is down at the bottom of this hill. These pastures just sprawl through the middle of the property--the only way I can describe the overall effect is "majestic."
Mr. Luz's ripe blueberry pancakes, awaiting real maple syrup and whipped cream. My favorite picture of the weekend. The ripe blueberries stained our paper plates in some interesting swipes and spots. S, ever the artist, wanted to capture our impromptu "paintings" with her camera (look for more pictures later!) I want to blow one up and hang it in our kitchen.

A Food Blogger Goes Camping

Ok, it's not really camping. I'll have a King-sized bed, fireplace, and 2 1/2 bathrooms (and mayyyyyybe a jacuzzi bathtub! Crossing my fingers).

We'll be in the mountains of Virginia with some old friends and some new ones, and our agenda looks like this: eat tons of food; sit out and enjoy Wilderness; drink bloody marys in the daytime, cocktails at night; eat some more; play Twister; more bloody marys; and hit up some Virginia wineries on the way home.

We may even go horseback riding--these are the horses outside the Lodge to the left.

So far our menu looks like this (with contributions from Mr. Luz and Liza Jane):

Spicy shrimp creole with an arugula/goat cheese/balsamic salad
Smoked Gouda & Camembert cheese for a snack
Blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup and whipped cream
Asian noodle salad with multi-colored bell peppers and scallions
Greek turkey burgers on pita with tzatziki sauce and lemon/oregano couscous risotto
Liza Jane's homemade banana bread and blueberry scones

It's gonna be A.W.E.S.O.M.E.!

Tales from the Office

True Story:

Magnificent Mallory: Have you been to Matchbox? (D.C. restaurant near my house).

Me: No, but my impression is that it's like Applebee's, but at Capitol Hill prices. Which, come to think of it, is the curse of many Capitol Hill restaurants. Check

Magnificent Mallory: Yeah...I may be going there tonight. My friend really likes it, but she's..a Republican.

You are perfection, Ms.

Gruyere Potato Gratin Recipe

One of my favorite things about St. Louis (aside from Cardinals baseball, pork steaks, and my family) is the gruyere cheese potato gratin at Annie Gunn's Restaurant. It is, as one of the roomies stated "a brick of potatoes and cheese."

That stuff is nutty, starchy with a touch of cream, and dense as all hell. I'm sure that a single square inch of it could cause me to lose the Cholesterol Contest at work outright. So of course, I have to try to recreate it at home.

Chef Lou's potato gratin is fairly no-nonsense. I've watched them make it, and it's comprised of approx. 6 ingredients---fresh butter, fresh cream, organic potatoes, the-worlds-most-expensive-gruyere-cheese, and salt and pepper. My budget does not allow me to cook with the cheese of cows that have been swathed in silk and read Pablo Neruda poems. So instead, I sub in 90% of the cheap stuff, bacon, and leeks. The result is pretty creamy, nutty, and dense. Just do me a favor, and buy the tiniest hunk of fancy gruyere you can to grate over the top. Once that stuff goes under the broiler, you'll be glad you didn't Kraft it up.

Gruyere Potato Gratin
4 slices of Bacon, chopped
1 cup chopped Leeks
1 Tbs. Butter
1 Tbs. Flour
1 1/2 cup Milk
1 1/2 cup shredded Swiss Cheese (cheap crap)
2/3 cup shredded Gruyere Cheese (fancy stuff)
1/2 tsp. Thyme
1/4 tsp. dried Nutmeg
4-5 large Potatoes

Using a mandoline or a paring knife, slice potatoes 1/8 inch thick in the largest pieces you can. This is easiest if you remove the rounded ends, stand the potato up on the flat just-cut edge, and slice downwards. (The flat side will also help you layer your gratin later, and you can use the trimmings for skin-on mashed potatoes when you're done).

Cook the bacon until it's beginning to brown, and add the leeks. Sautee the leeks and bacon until the bacon is crispy and the leeks are soft. Drain and set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed skillet, make the bechamel. Melt the butter over medium-low heat, then quickly stir in the flour. Cook for 3 minutes on medium heat, stirring constantly, until the roux is a golden brown. Add the milk and wisk to make the bechamel smooth. Bring the mixture to a low boil, and simmer for 5 minutes to thicken. Add thyme and nutmeg.

Butter a loaf pan, and pour a thin layer of bechamel on the bottom of the pan. Put a layer of potatoes over the bechamel sauce, and top with the bacon/leek mixture, salt & pepper, swiss cheese, and another thin layer of bechamel.

You can use the bechamel sparingly on the bottom layers, because it'll spread throughout the loaf pan. Try to use approx. 1/4 of the swiss cheese (cheap crap) on each layer. Alternate the direction that you layer the potatoes, so the gratin is less likely to fall apart as you cut the finished product. Continue until you run out of bechamel, ending with one layer of potatoes only.

Cover the top layer of potatoes with the gruyere cheese (fancy stuff) and salt & pepper, and then cover with parchment paper. Gently lay several canned goods over the waxed paper to compress the gratin evenly. Let the gratin compress for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake covered for 40 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Use your broiler to brown the top of the gratin, and enjoy!

[No finished product pic--though potato gratin smells and tastes awesome, it does not photograph well. The pics all looked sort of alien with the layers of white cheese, white potatoes, and then browned glistening stuff on top. Crispy, browned gruyere with leeks and bacon, people. That's all you need to know.]

Something Sappy This Way Comes

WARNING: Bikram Yoga post. Just sigh audibly and skip down to the food pics below if it's going to annoy you. I'm 99% sure that I would be annoyed, so as a peace gesture I'll tell you that the recipe in my next post has approx. 1,700 calories in it.

For the rest of you (hello!) I wanted to post a story that I found on another blog. Before you can become an instructor for Bikram yoga, you have to attend a 9 week teacher-training program. In addition to other workshops and lectures, trainees attend two Bikram yoga classes a day...that's 3 hours a day doing high cardio yoga in 110 degree heat. People throw up alot, make lasting friendships, and some even do battle with their worst demons at teacher training. This is a blogging perfect storm.

Reading the blogs, I'm reminded of how I felt when I moved back to New Orleans right after Katrina (intense gratitude for the people who picked me back up when I couldn't do it myself, and the understanding that things would get better but I would suffer a great deal until they did). Maybe it seems trite to compare the two, but people learn the extent of their own determination, drive, and strength, both emotionally and physically, at teacher training. I know that my own emotional strength has been tested (though it didn't fare very well for awhile there), but I want to challenge myself physically and I'm beginning to think that teacher training may be in my distant future.

But back to the point of this post. I think that Bikram yoga has the capacity to heal alot of things in alot of people...maybe it's a combination of the determination and trust in yourself that it takes just to complete a class, the physical aspects of the practice, and/or the simple act of doing something for yourself for 90 minutes every day. After I've been doing this awhile longer, I'll probably tell you how it's changed me. But for now, you'll just have to hear from Luke (told as Luke taught a Bikram class at blogger Tom's bikram training):

"So something none of you know about me is that I used to be a terrible drug addict. I was addicted to everything: heroin, cocaine, all kinds of pills, methadone, you name it. I was living on the street in Houston 6 years ago, homeless, jobless, completely broke and completely addicted to drugs. A friend somehow got me to Bikram. It was at one of the studios owned by Mike and Joni. I took the class and the first day it literally killed me. But for some reason I went back. The second day killed me. As did the third. But I kept going back. And Mike and Joni were very encouraging. They never asked anything about my life and what was going on, and it must have been clear just how messed up I was. Let me tell you, I looked scary. . . But they worked out a deal with me: if I would stay after my class and clean the mirrors of the studio, I could take the classes for free. I just had to come every day. So I accepted.

Mike and Joni never asked me anything or pressed me, as scary and out of control as I must have appeared. I went every day and every day it absolutely killed me. But things started to change. Over the next six months, through going to Bikram, I slowly and painfully slid out of the addictions: to heroin, to cocaine, to the pills. My last addiction was to methadone. I was doing 70 mg a day, which for those of you who don’t know is a lot. And methadone is the worst withdrawal of all. Take the sickest you have ever been, the worst flu, whatever, and multiply it by 1000, and that's how methadone withdrawal feels.

The first day I went without any methadone, I went to the class and after the initial breathing exercise, I collapsed on my mat and just lay there for the rest of the 90 minute class. I couldn’t move. When it was over, I was lying in a puddle of my own sweat on my towel and I still couldn’t move. Everyone in the class slowly left and I lay there for an hour, hurting. Eventually, I heard Mike come from the front desk into the studio. I knew I was going to get into trouble for not doing my part of the deal but I still couldn’t get up. I heard him moving around; after a while I was able to raise my head and when I looked up, I saw him cleaning the last mirror, he’d cleaned them all. When he finished, he walked to the door and as he left, he turned and said, ‘See you tomorrow, Son.’ And I knew I was home.”

Ribs 2-Ways Part II: Tangy, Spicy Slow-Cooker Ribs

More ribs! I love this pic because you have to be a true rib lover to appreciate it.

Maybe a fallin-off-the-bone rib doesn't look particularly beautiful, but sit some in front of the person you love and they'll look like you've just handed them the Mona Lisa (or a vintage Playboy, if that's how you roll).

These ribs are so tangy...although they don't have the traditional elements of a Carolina BBQ, they definitely mirror that sweet, vinegary flavor. The next time I make them, I'll serve them as an appetizer, or with a super crisp and light salad.

The original recipe is courtesy of my parents' fabulous Wine Group--a wonderful group of friends who share their love of food, wine, and family (the fam we choose AND the one we're given) with one another and with me. [Note: Can someone comment on the original holder of this recipe? Thanks!]

Mama and I have tweaked it a bit, but it's 99% the same recipe that's shown up at a number of their gatherings and disappeared within minutes!

Maybe we should call this "Ribs 3-Ways," because I saw this SeriousEats post about Cajun Deep Fried Ribs, and just had to show you the pics. Wowza!

Tangy, Spicy Slow Cooker Ribs

1 tsp. Salt
1 chopped Onion
¼ cup Brown Sugar
¼ cup Apple Butter (my favorite thing in the world, next to my dog and Bacon)
1/4 cup Ketchup
1/4 cup Lemon Juice
1/3 cup Orange Juice
1 Tbs. Steak Sauce
1 1/2 tsp. Black Pepper
½ cup Chili Sauce
2 Tbs. Creole Seasoning
1 Tbs. Parsley
1 tsp. Paprika
1 tsp. Oregano
4 cloves Garlic
¼ cup Worcestershire Sauce
1 1/2 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp. Hot Sauce
1/2-1 Rack Pork Baby Back Ribs
Oil + dash salt/pepper

Remove large pieces of fat and tendon from Ribs. You don't have to remove the skin next to the bones, because it will cook off, but you can if you prefer.

Rinse ribs, pat dry with a paper towel. Season the ribs with a dash of salt and pepper, heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium high heat with 1 Tbs. of oil, and brown the crap out of the ribs. [DAISNAID-"do as I say, not as I do" in this pic. You should brown them more.]
Mix all the ingredients listed above. Put about ¼ of the mixture in the bottom of a crock pot and place the ribs into the crock pot. Cover with remainder of mixture and cook on high for 6 or 7 hours. If the liquid condenses too much, add 1/2 cup of water to the crock pot.

This is Foxy, my Shiba Inu/Chow mix. Right now she's thinking "Where is Grandpa? He'd give me some of those ribs!" Since it's impossible to blast you with slow-cooked rib scent as you read this, I figured that a pic of Foxy, staring hungrily at the crock pot, would give you some idea of how awesome these smell as they cook.

Ribs 2-Ways Part I: BBQ Glazed Slow Cooker Ribs

I love my housemates so much that every time the grocery store has baby-back ribs half price, I buy two and throw them in the freezer. You should see the glee on Mr. Luz and Papayablue's faces when they unassumingly open the freezer to pull out a HotPocket, and find a freezer full of ribs instead!

This rib recipe is about as easy as it gets. It's so easy that I feel like I'm cheating, and I imagine that slow-smoked rib purists would say that I am cheating. To that I say "MMMMmmm....Mr. Purist, these fall-off-the-bone ribs are soooo good! What's that you say? It's too cold/rainy/hectic to baby your smoker for the next 5 hours? That's too bad. Enjoy your tuna salad!"

The rub has a distinct earthy, spicy flavor without overpowering the ribs themselves. I also like a tiny bit of caramelized sauce on the outside--here it completes the spicy, tangy flavor of the ribs and adds some velvety, caramelized texture as well.

BBQ Glaze Slow Cooker Ribs:

(serves two hungry people as an entree)
1/2 Rack Pork Baby Back Ribs
1/4 cup your Fav. BBQ Sauce
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp. Chili Powder
1 1/2 tsp. Salt
3/4 tsp. Black Pepper
3/4 tsp. White Pepper
1/2 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
1/3 cup Cocoa Powder
1/3 tsp. Cinnamon
Trim any large pieces of fat and tendon off the ribs. You don't have to remove the skin from the bone-side of the ribs, because it'll cook off, but you can if you prefer. Cut the racks into large pieces, so that they barely fit inside the crock pot when standing upright. You want the pieces to have enough "length," and therefore curvature to stand up and you want the outer edges to press into the sides of the crock pot if possible.
Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl, and press it on all sides of the ribs. Cover and let sit overnight. (You can skip this step, but I wouldn't). Put the ribs in the crock pot standing up on their edge, with the meaty side out (Very important! This gives them a crisper texture, and keeps the ribs from becoming mushy. It also allows the meat to brown a little on the outside). Cook in a crock pot/slow cooker on high for 7-10 hours. The longer they cook, the more the ribs will condense into meaty yumminess.
Carefully remove ribs from slow-cooker with tongs, and place on a broiler pan. Brush the meaty side of the ribs with your favorite BBQ sauce (thinned with a little water or beer, if you prefer) and broil on high until the sauce has caramelized onto the top of the ribs. Remove, and enjoy!

Meat-Baller, Shot Caller: Lamb Meatball Recipe

I've always felt like the meatball/pasta sauce combo is a little retro, like I may as well don my flowered vintage party dress and pearls, and vacuum while they simmer.

Fine dining restaurants do modern variations on alot of old-school comfort foods, like grilled cheese sandwiches and tuna melts, but it's hard to make the meatball sexy. (See, that even sounds weird!)

So, this meatball recipe is not sexy. It is however, richly flavored, and the parmesan cheese/lamb combo gives it a little mystery while the abundance of parsley keeps it fresh. If it has to be retro, maybe my rich, mysterious meatball is like the rich, mysterious 1950's spy . . .but would that make my meatball James Bond?

I digress. As the meatballs simmer, they release alot their flavor into the sauce, which may be my favorite part. That means you can serve them as an appetizer with some french bread at a potluck (just double the batch and make them smaller) or a complement to some yummy pasta. Or, you could eat them by right out of the fridge for breakfast, like Papayablue.

(James Bond) Meatball Recipe

1 Onion, chopped fine
1/2 Bell Pepper, chopped fine
1 lb. ground Lamb
1/2 lb. ground Beef
2/3 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
1/2 tsp. Salt (if you use Romano cheese instead of Parm, omit the salt)
1/3 cup Bread Crumbs
1/8 tsp. Nutmeg
1 heaping cup minced Fresh Parsley
6 cups Pasta Sauce (use your favorite--you can use 5 cups sauce, 1 cup water)
3 large Garlic Cloves, crushed
Olive oil

In a large bowl combine the first 9 ingredients (everything but the pasta sauce, garlic, and oil). Form into meatballs. In heavy-bottomed skillet, heat 1 Tbs. olive oil over medium high heat until hot but not smoking and brown meatballs.
Using tongs to turn and “scootch” meatballs to release before you turn. If working in batches, add 1 Tbs. oil to the pan between batches.
Spread a layer (2 cups) of pasta sauce in the bottom of a large pan, sprinkle with the crushed garlic cloves. Transfer the meatballs with a slotted spoon to the sauce as they are done browning.

When you are done browning the meatballs, drain the excess oil out of the skillet and remove any large burned pieces. Add 1 cup of pasta sauce to the skillet, and stir until all the browned bits release from the bottom of the skillet and incorporate into the sauce. Add this mixture to the pot of meatballs and sauce. (Sorry no pics!)

Cover the meatballs with the remaining sauce, and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for approx. 30 minutes, carefully stirring occasionally. (I just give the pot a good shake). Remove the lid, and simmer for 10 minutes to let the sauce thicken. Serve, and enjoy!

Bootcamp and Baby Back Ribs

I have 6 posts coming down the pipe (pike? which is it?) that involve plenty of fatty, meaty lovin'. Do you want a preview?

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Unfortunately, I'm having a setback with my internet connection at home so I can't post them yet. But I can write more about Bikram Yoga!! Woot!! Last post about Bikram...I promise...until I go to Teacher Training Bootcamp and do 12 hours of Bikram Yoga a day for 9 weeks....just kidding. I'll post that on another blog. Wouldyoucallahot-yogia"hogie"

Despite my love for Bikram, I'm thoroughly convinced that I was never meant to be a true "yogi." First, I've never been to a true yoga class, mainly because I'm from the Midwest, and we just don't do yoga. If we need to find peace, we scalp tickets to a baseball game and cuss at/cheer on the pitcher with a $14.00 beer in one hand, and some $9 Dippin' Dots in the other one. It's not perfectly balanced, but it's close.

Also, my last Bikram class was probably the closest I'll get to yoga that's not intense and competitive, and I actually got angry! Who gets mad during yoga?! Type-A-a**holes who shouldn't do yoga in the first place, that's who.

My instructor was very sweet. But she took so long between postures assuring us that we were "perfect just the way we are" and "profound creatures to be respected" that I got distracted. And guess what I learned? If I get distracted during Bikram, I can convince myself that the room is hot enough to cause my face to spontaneously combust, and that it's going up in flames right there as I contemplate my "human perfection." Fun!

The instructor was also uber-helpful and gave lots of instructions. She just chose to do so right as I was giving myself the final "push" in the posture, pulling, pushing, stretching, and flexing everything as hard as I could in the final second....the final second of the postur....the fina....OH FOR GOD'S SAKE IF HE DOESN'T KNOW WHICH FOOT IS HIS LEFT ONE YOU CAN'T HELP HIM NOW JUST TELL ME I CAN COME OUT OF THIS DAMNED POSTURE!!

See? Angry yogi.

Please oh please can my next instructor bark into the headset at a rapid-fire pace, and save all the "you're a beautiful, light-weight flower" comments for the real yogis? I just want to kick my own ass in a 110 degree room for 90 minutes, and I don't think that's too much to ask. :)

UPDATE: Adam, oh divine yoga drill sergeant. You made people stay in the room despite the heat and pushed me to do the full-backbend-Camel pose for an entire minute (woohoo headrush!). Bless

How to Brown Meat Perfectly

I always thought that there wasn't much to browning a great ribeye or my pre-braised short ribs--a hot pan, some tongs, and I was ready to go. A little research has since revealed that browning meat is fairly scientific. When meat comes into contact with a hot surface under the right conditions, the Maillard reaction occurs, which means the proteins become more complex. This gives your food a beautiful color and crackling texture, but it also intensifies the flavor.

Here are a few tips that I've collected as I've browned my way through more than a few pounds of pork, beef, and chicken:

Rinse the meat before you season it (particularly if you used a salty marinade), and pat dry thoroughly.

Season with salt and pepper immediately before searing. If you let the salt sit on the meat, it may draw moisture to the surface. This will result in you steaming, rather than searing, your meat.

Use a heavy-bottomed pan, like a cast-iron skillet. Avoid non-stick contraptions.

Use medium high heat, and heat the skillet for at least two minutes before adding the oil and the meat.

Add less meat, or get a bigger pan. You want plenty of space for the heat to circulate, and you don't want to cool the pan down with lots of refrigerated beef going in it all at once.

Use tongs! They avoid splatter burns, and give you the ability to hold onto the meat to position it for optimum browning.

For large cuts like steaks and roasts, let the meat sit a full minute longer than you want to before turning. (I have to count to 60. Really. In the pic above, I should have let it brown a little longer.) You want plenty of sear on each side, and this is easiest and fastest on the first pass. Use the tongs, and brown each and every inch that you can.

For tricky items like meatballs, use the "scootch" method. When you think it's time to turn the meatballs, use the tongs and carefully press the bottom of the meatball down onto the pan and try to "scootch" it 1/3 of an inch. If it scootches easily, then turn. If it resists then let it continue to brown until it releases from the bottom of the pan.


This may be the shortest-lived relationship I've had since I "dated" Dan for approx. 6 days in 8th grade. (Girls, never give in to that older, sweet dude who courts you for months even though you're not that into him. I don't CARE that "he has a car" and takes you to Dairy Queen. If you date him, you'll end up liking him just in time for him to dump you for a girl his own age.)

Right now I'm talking about my steamy relationship with Bikram Yoga, which at the time of this posting has lasted approx. 11 days and 20 hours. I really, really love pushes me to focus, it's giving me some rockin' abs, and I feel a million times better after leaving the studio. But in order to even make it through half of the postures without feeling like there's a fireball in my chest, I have to abstain from eating hot sauce.

That means no bloody marys. No hot wings. No gumbo. No Louisiana hot sauce on my eggs for at least 12 hours before class. What?! I'm not ready to do that! We go through a bottle of hot sauce every two weeks. How am I supposed to make my famous neon-orange cheese grits without hot sauce?

I fear that the only way I can hang onto both Bikram and cayenne/vinegar goodness may be to get up early and do 90 minutes of grueling exercise BEFORE brunch. Again, WHAT?!

I just don't know if I'm prepared for that kind of

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cupcakes II: Cupcakes with Ganache

I created these dense, not-too-sweet chocolate cupcakes for my poppa, who loves chocolate covered cherry candies and will happily eat them all through the Christmas season. The cupcakes are very different from the fancy piped-butter-cream desserts that have taken hold of the bakery industry for the past few years, and I'm okay with that. God bless the people who adore their piping bags--I just rarely have the patience to adorn my food before I tear into it.

Some modifications:

For those of you with more perseverance and talent than I, have no fear. You can easily whip the chocolate ganache icing below and then pipe away.

If you can't bear a touch of dark chocolate in your baking, just use 8 oz. of the semi-sweet chocolate in place of the dark cocoa powder and oil.

If you'd like to replicate the uber-sweet characteristic of the chocolate covered cherries, consider wrapping the cherries in prepared fondant before you put them in the cupcake batter, and adding a 1/2 cup sugar to the boiling cream before you make the ganache.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cupcakes:

For the cupcake:
1 cup unsalted butter
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate bars
6 Tbs. Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder
2 Tbs. oil or shortening, melted
5 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
4 tsp. flour
1 recipe homemade maraschino cherries

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Melt the semi-sweet chocolate according to the directions. In a separate bowl, stir the cocoa powder into the oil/shortening until thoroughly blended. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and stir in the semi-sweet and dark chocolate until blended. Remove from heat.

Beat eggs, sugar and salt with a hand mixer in a medium bowl until sugar dissolves. Add the slightly-cooled chocolate mixture to the egg mixture.
Beat until smooth. Beat in flour until just combined.
Line a standard-size muffin tin with with foil liners sprayed with cooking spray. Fill liners 90 % full with the cupcake batter, and press a homemade maraschino cherry down into the center of the batter. Even out the top of the cupcake batter, and bake for 6 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then carefully remove the cupcakes from the muffin tin. Their centers should be set, but not completely cooked through.

For chocolate ganache icing:
8 oz. of fine semi-sweet chocolate (I use Scharffen Berger, available at most grocery stores)
2 Tbs. butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. almond extract (optional)

Chop the chocolate in a food processor til' you think you are ruining your machine. (The chocolate pieces should be at least as small as a jelly bean candy). Spread the chocolate pieces in the bottom of a large metal mixing bowl.

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat, add the heavy cream, and carefully bring to a boil. Immediately pour the boiling cream over the chocolate. Jar the bowl to settle the chocolate.

Let sit for one minute. Using a spoon, stir the mixture, being careful not to incorporate air bubbles, until all of the cream is incorporated with the melted chocolate and the ganache is glossy.

Spoon over your cupcakes, and enjoy!
NOTE: The cupcakes have to be refrigerated, because of the cherries and the ganache. If you do not serve them within a few hours, throw them in the fridge but expect that the ganache will become more opaque and less glossy (though still beautiful and tasty).

Homemade Maraschino Cherries

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cupcake Recipe-Part I

I'll introduce the CCCC concept in a later post (not that chocolate and cherries need much in the way of introduction), but I do want to preface with this post with an explanation. I love to sit down with an girlie movie and snarf an entire jar of the tiny, fluorescent maraschino cherries all by myself, just like anyone else. Even better if I can dip them in Dove Chocolate sauce, and spray whipped cream into my mouth at the same time. (See later recipe for a "deconstructed ice cream sundae." Kidding.) However, certain culinary creations may require a little...something more. I'm thinking about cherry blossom cocktails common to D.C. this time of year, or a big, dense, chewy chocolate cupcake slathered in chocolate ganache--even your famous buttermilk pancake recipe may need something more substantial.

Homemade maraschino cherries give you that substantial size and color, while still offering a flavor that is reminiscent of your childhood (um, or booze, if you love Manhattans but were never into banana splits). And they are super easy to make!

Homemade Maraschino Cherries

8 oz. whole frozen sweet black cherries
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup water
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. almond extract
Red food coloring
1/4 cup brandy

Thaw cherries in a medium-sized bowl of hot water. Drain and return to the bowl. Stir sugar, water, lemon juice, almond extract, and 2 drops food coloring in a small sauce pan, and bring to a simmer. If kiddos will be partaking, add the brandy at this time as well. Simmer for approx. 10 minutes. Allow the liquid to cool slightly, and pour over the cherries. If you haven't already done so, add the brandy at this time. Once the mixture is completely cool, place it in an airtight container and store overnight in the fridge.
NOTE: A typical maraschino cherry is brined, which helps preserve the fruit. Particularly if you simmer off the alcohol in the brandy, you should treat these as any other prepared fruit in your fridge and use or throw it out after a week or so. The alcohol will help preserve the cherries otherwise, but unless you use a glass jar with a rubber gasket, use or throw out after 2 to 2 1/2 weeks.

You can certainly find a more authentic recipe, using fresh fruit and maraschino liquor and involving brining and canning--I was just eager to get to Part II. :)

Adventures in Babysitting!

Papayablue thinks that I may have read too many "Babysitter's Club" books as a kid, but I really do love and sort of miss babysitting.

You should note that following Papaya's logic would suggest that I also live in a yellow boxcar with my brothers and sisters, and am currently busy solving the Mystery of the Brass Bound Trunk w/my pals Bess and George. I do, and I am.

My feminist leanings no longer permit me to traipse about my neighborhood with homemade refrigerator magnets that say "Hire E.Lee for Babysitting! Phone Number: XXXXXXX. Red Cross Certified Child and Infant CPR." However, they do permit me to occasionally help out a friend in need by covering his wee ones in icing and sprinkles, and then tying up his house with 3 skeins of yarn while he takes his wife out to dinner.
Three and a half hours later, and the kids are still happy. I'd say it was a success.