Thursday, February 25, 2016

Bourbon Blood Orange Mini Bundts - Gluten-Free (and regular, too)

It's not often that I bake, I don't really have much of a sweet tooth. Well, that and the gluten free stuff makes it more trouble than its worth...most of the time. Occasionally, I do get a craving that just won't stop. Usually chocolate is the culprit, but this time it was blood orange. 

Gluten free baking can be tricky, unless you start with a mix. Why reinvent the wheel and the delicate balance of just the right amount of ingredients when a good mix starts it off just right? If you're gluten free and haven't picked up a copy of The Cake  Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten-Free by Anne Byrn, DO IT NOW!!!!! I usually use Anne's recipes as a base for what I want to make and create from there. As I did this time.

Tart, sweet, richly decadent with demerara sugar, bourbon and sliced blood oranges that look like jewels and taste like candied oranges these cakes are simple to make. Even though I used a yellow cake base this time, I'm sure a deep, dark chocolate batter would be fantastic. Who doesn't like luscious chocolate and orange together?!

Depending on which variety of blood orange is in your market (I like Whole Foods for blood oranges), the season is either smack dab in the middle (Tarocco variety) or at the tail end (Moro variety). It's not always easy to find them, so when you spot a display of blood oranges, buy them. And make these!

Bourbon Blood Orange Mini Bundts

Makes 8 mini bundt cakes or large cupcakes

(These instructions use a gluten-free yellow cake mix which makes just one layer. If you use a regular cake mix which makes 2 layers, double all the ingredients except for the cake mix itself. It should make approximately 16 cakes instead of 8.) 

Sugar Mixture for bottoms of cakes:

  • 5 T butter
  • 3/4 C Demerara sugar
  • 2 T bourbon (I used Woodford Reserve)
  • 1 T Woodford Reserve Sassafras & Sorghum Bitters (or Angostura)
In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Then stir in the demerara sugar until everything is wet and well combined. Stir in bourbon and bitters and set aside.

  • 2-3 large blood oranges (if you can't find blood oranges, use navel oranges...they won't give quite as dramatic a look, but will be delicious nontheless) - cut 1 in half across the equator of the orange, then in half the other way. Cut very thin slices across the grain. Juice the second orange, reserving 1/4 C of juice. Set aside. (The extra orange is just in case you need more orange slices.)
  • 1 yellow gluten-free cake mix (15 oz) (I used Betty Crocker)
  • 1/2 a box of instant vanilla pudding (1/4 C)
  • 1/2 C sour cream or Greek yogurt (I used half of each)
  • 1 stick (1/2 C) melted butter
  • 1 t finely grated orange zest (blood orange)
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 1 T bourbon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixer bowl with an electric mixer, add the cake mix, 1/4 C instant vanilla pudding, 1/2 C sour cream or Greek yogurt (or half of each like I did), orange juice, orange zest, vanilla and bourbon. Mix on low until just incorporated, scrape down sides and mix again at medium for about 2 minutes. Batter will be thick.

Spray the mini bundt pans  (or large size muffin tins) with Pam. Divide the sugar mixture evenly among the tins, then arrange the orange slices around the bottoms. When all the bottoms are covered, evenly spoon the cake batter into the mini bundt pans or tins.

Bake for 23-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cakes.

Remove from oven. Take a rimmed cookie sheet and cover it with parchment paper. Turn them upside down over the mini bundt cakes and carefully flip the sheet over. Let them sit for a minute, then gently lift the edge of the mini bundt pan up. The cakes should come out easily.

You notice I used Woodford Reserve bourbon. Why? Because Kimber just won the Pittsburgh Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience! Now she moves on to a fun and informative few days in Kentucky and the Woodford Reserve Distillery where she and the other regional champions will find out which six go on to compete in NYC for the national championship. Exciting!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Crunchy Roasted Bacon Slabs With Bourbon Peanut Butter Dip


Now that I have your attention, let's get right down to the business of this perfect storm of smoky, salty, sweet and spicy, crunchy bacon goodness. 

If you've been following Dinner Plan-it since our trip to Kentucky Bourbon Country, I've mentioned the crush I have on the Bacon In A Glass at OBC Kitchen in Lexington, Kentucky. It's just one of those food memories that haunts your taste buds, beckons you to indulge again..and again. But it's a 6 hour drive to OBC Kitchen. There was nothing else to do but recreate the dish at home.

Although the OBC Kitchen serves this as an app, I've been making it for brunch without the peanut butter dip. If you can't make it to Kentucky to sample this wonderfulness for yourself, here's my version of their classic. If you CAN make the trip to Lexington (and I strongly urge you to visit the Bourbon Trail), be sure not to miss it!

Crunchy Roasted Bacon Slabs 
With Bourbon Peanut Butter Dip 

  • 1 lb VERY thick sliced (slabs of) bacon - packaged bacon just won't do, get it from your butcher. My bacon butcher is Butcher On Butler - tell them I sent you.
  • 2/3 C brown sugar
  • 2 t ancho chile powder
  • Demerara sugar for finishing - Demerara is a large crystal raw cane sugar with a rich molasses note. It's not hard to find, even Giant Eagle has it!

  • 1/3 C smooth peanut butter
  • 2 T Mike's Hot Honey - or regular honey if you don't want extra heat
  • 2 T bourbon - I used Bulleit
  • 1 T maple syrup
  • 2 T water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Line a large baking sheet WITH A RIM (so you don't have molten sugar and bacon grease all over the bottom of your oven) with parchment paper (for easy clean up, you'll thank me). Then set a wire rack on top of the parchment covered baking sheet. 

Mix brown sugar and ancho chile powder together and spread on a plate. Dredge each slice of bacon in the sugar mixture on both sides, then lay the slabs, without touching each other, on the rack on top of the rimmed baking sheet. Bake for approximately 20 minutes. The time could be more or less depending on the thickness of your bacon. 

While the bacon is roasting, spread demerara sugar on a dinner plate or paper plate.

Remove from the oven when the bacon is well browned, but not burned. If the slices are not crisp, that's just fine as they will firm up as they cool. 

As you remove each slice from the rack, immediately coat both sides in demerara sugar. Lay each slice on another parchment covered baking sheet to cool and set. 

For the dip: In a microwave safe small bowl, mix all the dip ingredients. Nuke for a few seconds, stir, nuke again until well combined and warm but not hot. If the mixture is too thick, add a little more water.

Once the bacon slices have firmed up, stand them in a glass, dip in peanut butter and it's party time!

Bourbon Honey Bacon In A Glass with peanut butter dip at OBC Kitchen in Lexington, KY.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Pittsburgh Strip District Italian Deli Pasta Bake

Winter in Pittsburgh. Temps are in the 50's and 60's one day, the teens the next. I don't know about you, but my internal appropriate-recipe-for-the-weather indicator has been swinging back and forth like some kind of crazed pendulum. 

My kitchen is as likely to see a fresh off the grill sizzling chicken breast atop a crisp, green salad as it is a pot of stew or chili simmering on the stove. As a result, I'm behind on making my favorite cold weather recipes, like my family's favorite macaroni and cheese with ground beef and tomatoes. I'd bet this old fashioned, homey casserole is one of your family's favorites, too. 

My mom used to make the dish with elbow macaroni, browned ground beef, onion, green pepper, cubes of cheddar (or even Velveeta!) and a can of tomato soup. Nope, she used no seasoning or garlic at all except for salt and (maybe) pepper. 

My version, many years later, ditched the soup for canned tomatoes, added fresh spinach (to pack more nutrition and the kids never knew there was spinach hidden in there), sometimes I used feta, sometimes mozzarella, sometimes mushrooms made it in, and always garlic. The recipe has always been changeable, but still maintained the basic tomatoes, ground beef, cheese and macaroni base. As does this twist.

As always with this casserole, a visual sweep of what's on hand is the first step. At first glance, the fridge revealed leftover cooked hot sausage links from last night's dinner and several slices of some good Strip District Parma Sausage Salami Rustico. That would be waaaaay better than plain old hamburger! Looking further down, I discovered my own home-smoked hot pepper cheese and even a little home-smoked mozz! The pantry, as always, contained cans of San Marzano tomatoes thanks to Penn Mac in the Strip. The Strip District Italian Deli Pasta Bake came into being. 

Maybe there IS a benefit to this oddball winter. A warm and sunny day is perfect for strolling the Strip picking up components for a comforting casserole to make when the temperature inevitably dips back into the chill zone. Maybe this IS the perfect winter weather after all.

Pittsburgh Strip District Italian Deli Pasta Bake

  • 4 C cooked pasta - al dente, of course - I used gluten free penne
  • 2 links cooked hot Italian sausage, sliced into rounds
  • 1/2 C pre-sliced salami, cut into ribbons - I used Parma Sausage Salami Rustico, use whatever you have on hand...pepperoni works really well, too!
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, medium dice
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 1/2 C real San Marzano tomatoes, don't drain off the liquid, use it all!
  • 1 T dried oregano
  • 1 t dried basil
  • 1 t Jane's Crazy salt or kosher salt
  • 2 T tomato paste - buy the tube so you don't waste the rest of a small can
  • 1/2 lb diced smoked hot pepper cheese (or use your own favorite - cheddar, smoked cheddar, hot pepper cheese that hasn't been smoked)
  • 1/2 C smoked mozzarella or smoked provolone for the top, shredded

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a shallow casserole dish with olive oil and set aside.

In a nonstick saute pan over medium heat, warm the cooked sausage slices and salami until both release their fats and the salami separates and no longer sticks together. Remove to a plate. In the same pan, add the olive oil and then the onion and garlic. Cook until soft, but not browned.

Stir in the tomatoes, oregano, basil, Jane's Crazy Salt and tomato paste. Combine well, then add the sausage and salami back to the pan. Combine all thoroughly.

In a large mixing bowl, add the cooked pasta and the tomato mixture, stir well. Add the diced cheese and mix gently again until everything is evenly distributed throughout. Pour into the prepared casserole dish, top with shredded cheese and bake 25-35 minutes.

Add a green salad and it's dinner, folks!

NOTE: If you like your version less spicy, use cheddar instead of hot pepper cheese and sweet Italian sausage in place of the hot version. Like it spicier? Top the casserole with pickled hot peppers after it comes out of the oven for a real Italian deli touch!