Candied Bacon for Easter

stout candied bacon

My sister’s never been a fan of that traditional, Easter staple, ham. It’s just not her thing. While clicking around on Pinterest the other day, I found something that I think she’d enjoy, kind of a honey-glazed ham cousin – candied bacon with beer.

The recipe I found was from Tide and Thyme. As is my wont, I changed the recipe to fit my own tastes, and the result was compulsively good. Warning – if you have difficulty stopping your snacking tendencies when something is savory, sweet, smoky, crispy, and chewy, you may want to make sure that you only make this when you’re surrounded by a party of people. This creation is that delectable. Your taste buds will scream, “More, more, more!” and it’s so hard to say, “No!”

The fact that this is a finger-food makes it that much more appealing, as my family will be spending Sunday playing the Settlers of Catan, and that will make it very easy to snack on. Holiday tabletop – woot!

The pairing of this melt-in-your-mouth, sweet, fatty stick of wonder is pretty obvious. It goes wonderfully with the rest of the beer you used to create it. For me, that just happened to be Six Rivers Brewery’s Paradise Moon Porter, a chocolaty porter infused with Kona coffee. It’s amazing on its own, and it makes one Hell of a candied bacon.

Candied Beer Bacon

serves — well, that’s up to your degree of self-restraint

12 oz applewood smoked bacon
1/2 cup loosely packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup porter or stout

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Whisk together sugar and beer and set aside.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place a wire cooling rack or baking rack on top. Lay the pieces of bacon on the rack. A little overlap is fine. Put in oven and cook for 10 minutes.
Remove from oven. Using a grill or marinate brush, coat each piece of bacon with the syrup. You may need to give the syrup mixture another quick whisk if the sugar has settled. Turn the bacon over and brush the other sides. Cook for another 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and repeat the brush/flip/brush. Return to the oven and cook for another 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and repeat the previous steps one final time. Cook another 10 minutes.
Remove from oven and let cool for one hour.
Stuff your face and be glad we live in a world with bacon, sugar, beer, and tabletop games.

Falling in Love with Healdsburg

vineyardsI got to do something really special for my birthday – I got to visit Healdsburg, California.

It’s a vibrant wine town. Charles and I felt immediately at home as we walked through the town center, a lovely plaza shaded by mature trees. Studded with shops, bookstores, and wineries, it felt like Arcata’s – the place we called home for most of our adult lives – older sister.

We spent our first afternoon in town walking from winery to winery, and brought home wonderful creations from Rosenblum Cellars, Roadhouse Winery, and our favorite of the day, Selby Winery. Our evening was spent at Dry Creek Kitchen where we partook of a beautiful birthday dinner. We achieved gastronomic heights as we experienced the many courses the kitchen had to offer. It was both a meal and a glorious adventure.

The next morning we enjoyed a lovely breakfast at Costeaux French Bakery. In fact, we enjoyed our meal so much, we returned there the next morning, both for breakfast and for pastries for the trip back to Nevada County.
Pezzi KingAfter breakfast, we went on some tours of the local wineries, beginning with Pezzi King. The Pezzi King estate is one of the most breathtaking vineyards I have ever seen. Set high on a hill, it has astoundingly gorgeous views, and the marine-influence was felt by the soft caress of the breeze. We could have stayed there all day, enjoying their amazing wines. Their Cabernet Sauvignon will make you grateful to be alive.

But onward we went, next stopping at Mazzocco Sonoma. Their wines were also splendid. In fact, they were Charles’ favorites. My favorite, Wilson Winery, is part of Wilson Artisan Wineries, a group that Pezzi King and Mazzocco also belong to. While the wines may have all been of Sonoma County, their talented winemakers’ hands were evident in the styles from each winery. It was amazing to try such similar – and yet distinct – Zinfandels, Cabernets, and Chardonnays.
Dry CreekAs the day was still young, we hit up a few more wineries including Preston (Organic), Quivira (Biodynamic), and Dry Creek. Each tasting room was staffed by extremely nice and knowledgeable people, and every spot had wine we were more than willing to take home.

We ended with some substantial grub and tasty beers at Bear Republic Brewing Company and called it a day, wishing that our weekend could extend into the weeks and months to follow. We realized that we had fallen in love with Healdsburg, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
vineyards and trees

Portobello Burger

portobello-burgerThere are a lot of good veggie burgers on the market, but since I’m very Hobbit-like when it comes to food choices, if I’m presented with a mushroom, I’m going to eat it.

One of the nice things about making portobello burgers is that the patty is already made for you. All you have to do is brush off any lingering dirt, and there you are. I like to rub on a little gluten-free Worcestershire sauce to give it more of a robust, meaty taste. (Make sure it’s GF if you’re sensitive. Worcestershire sauce usually contains wheat.) I do that to my hamburger too, so it’s not just a veggie thing. Then it’s time for my stove-top grill, and it’s done before I can even contemplate getting impatient. Suddenly, there’s a meatless meal that’s still incredibly hearty.

Maybe the best part — there are so many ways in which you can pair this burger! A Sangiovese or Sangio blend would be stellar. I had our previous blend winner, Montoliva’s 2009 Sierra Bella. It’s sold out, but our newest blend winner will soon be available. The 2009 is really coming into its own — lots of good tannin structure, ripe, well-rounded fruit… it was a wonderful pairing with dinner. Or you could have a good Pinot Noir. Its earthiness would compliment your portobello wonderfully. This was actually my first instinct. Of course, if you’re feeling like a good burger deserves a good beer, you can’t go wrong with a porter. Deschutes Black Butte Porter comes to mind… I may need to go make a few more just to play with the pairings.

Portobello Burger with Goat Cheese

serves 1

1 portobello mushroom, stem removed and cap brushed clean
a sprinkle of gluten-free Worcestershire sauce
1.5 oz chevre (I used Laura Chenel Cabecou)
1 leaf of escarole
1 roasted red pepper in olive oil
1 teaspoon horseradish sauce
1/2 a small avocado, sliced (Use the side without the seed so that the rest of the avo can be saved for later. The side with a seed still in it tends to oxidize slower.)
gluten-free hamburger bun (I used Rudi’s.)
extra virgin olive oil
salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste

Preheat grill over medium heat. Rub a bit of Worcestershire sauce on the cap of the mushroom, flip over and rub in a bit more. Place bottom-side-down onto the grill and cook for three minutes.
Flip over and place chevre on mushroom. Cover with a lid and cook for another three minutes.
While burger is cooking, drizzle the inside of the hamburger bun with olive oil. Sprinkle with garlic powder and set on the grill to crisp and brown. Flip when you flip the portobello.
Remove bun and burger from heat. Place burger on the lower half of the bun. Spread the horseradish sauce on the inside of the upper bun. Layer burger with roasted pepper and avocado. Sprinkle a bit of coarse salt and grind a bit of black pepper on top. Lay your crisp piece of escarole on top, set on the top bun, grab a bunch of napkins and your drink, and dig in.

Quesadilla Fusion

quesadilla fusionThere’s nothing like a good fusion to get those taste buds popping. Such was the case the other night when a small taste of summer in the form of sun dried tomatoes and basil came my way. Since wheat and I are no longer friends, a caprese sandwich was out of the question, so what could I do?

There are lots of great options for gluten-free tortillas, and melted mozzarella never goes amiss, so how about a quesadilla fusion? A bit of Mexican styling and an arrangement of Italian ingredients made for a colorful, delicious result. Charles enjoyed them so much, he asked for them again the next night. That, my friends, is what I call success! Serve up your new fusion sensation with a good microbrew pale ale.

Quesadilla Fusion

  • Difficulty: super easy
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serves 2
2 gluten-free tortillas (I used Food For Life’s Black Rice Tortillas.)
¼ lb mozzarella, grated
4 oz sun dried tomatoes
6 leaves of fresh basil
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons guacamole

Place a skillet over medium heat. On half of each tortilla, place tomatoes and basil. Scatter cheese over the top and scatter with a bit of pepper. Fold the uncovered half of the tortilla over.
Drizzle the skillet with a bit of olive oil and cook the quesadillas until the tortilla has browned. Carefully flip them over and continue to cook until cheese is melted. (If your house is chilly, help the process along by covering quesadillas with a lid.)
Remove to two plates and cut each quesadilla into wedges with a pizza cutter. Place a dollop of guacamole in the center of each creation and serve immediately.

The International Alsace Varietals Festival

Alsace FestivalLast weekend, we attended the International Alsace Varietals Festival in Anderson Valley, California. It was our second year attending, and something we plan to repeat each year. As I’ve mentioned a few times, Anderson Valley is one of our favorite areas in the world. It’s one of those places that feels like home, and the festival is a great reason to visit.

Alsace varietals that are focused on for the festival are Riesling, Muscat, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris. (Also in the Alsace varietals are Pinot Noir and Sylvaner as well as Auxxerois, Chasselas, and Chardonnay, via WineFolly. Anderson Valley has a separate Pinot Noir Festival in the spring.)

Last year’s focus was a bit more farm-oriented, and we learned a lot of interesting things about the challenges of growing grapes. This year was a bit more varietal focused. The first panel was about Riesling and the second about Gewurtztraminer. That meant we got to start sampling wines right away – score! – as well as learn about farming those specific varietals, environmental effects, bottling and closure choices, and fermentation practices. I loved it and took copious notes. The wine geek in me rejoiced.
food pairingThe third panel brought even more fun, focusing on food pairings from frog legs to stinky cheese. Flammekueche, Salad Truite Fumee, Terrine de Cuisses (frogs legs), Charcuterie et Moutarde, Goose Liver Pate, and Alsace Munster Cheese with Caraway Seeds and Sugared Walnut created a meal unto itself. Chef Lars Kronmark made excellent choices for the pairings, and all of the wines were amazing. Maybe because of my Super Taster-ness, maybe because I’ve never been a liver lover, but as beautiful as the chef made the goose liver sound, I couldn’t enjoy it. It was way too strong, but I enjoyed everything else, especially the smoked trout (Truite Fumee) and the Munster/sugared walnut pairings – delectable!

After filling our bellies with amazing food and wine, it was on to a cooking demonstration. Chef Francois de Melogue showed how to make Moroccan Sea Scallops to pair with Gewurztraminer. It was a gorgeous plate, and he was quite entertaining. If I’m ever in La Quinta, I’ll be visiting FIGUE, the restaurant where he’s the Executive Chef.

Then it was on to the Grand Tasting in which we enjoyed the craft of many wineries and continued to eat awesome things like pork belly and pizza. I love me some Anderson Valley Alsace wines, but there were also awesome options from Michigan and the Finger Lakes region of New York. Charles and I were quite taken with the wines of Fox Run Vineyards from Penn Yan, NY.
Husch VineyardsTo top off the weekend in extraordinary fashion, Sunday was spent traveling from winery to winery. We started with our absolute favorites, all three of which we’re wine club members: Handley Cellars, Husch Vineyards, and Navarro Vineyards. From there we ventured to Balo Vineyards, Esterlina, Phillips Hill Winery (At Phillips Hill I also learned that 1)my One Pan Meal is actually a traditional Alsatian meal and 2)it pairs amazingly with Alsace whites), and finished with a visit to Brutocao Cellars. We have never gone to so many wineries in a day, but it was so worth it. Everything we tried was terrific, proving once again that Anderson Valley wines are a force to be reckoned with. Man, I love them! If you’re a wine lover, especially of Alsace varieties, and have never had Anderson Valley wines, what are you waiting for? You won’t be disappointed, and you will be quite pleased to add another region to your go-to list for great wines.

We ended our final evening in the valley with a dinner at Aquarelle. I had a sumptuous swordfish that was absolutely delightful. The vibe was rustic/modern and like all good Anderson Valley things, casual and comfortable. The food was gourmet and very reasonably priced and was the perfect way to top off the weekend. We fell into bed that night quite satisfied with our festival experience and vowed to visit more regularly. We really do love it.

Other don’t-miss places while you’re in the valley besides the ones already listed:
Mexican food at Libby’s
Booneville General Store for an amazing breakfast or lunch
Mosswood Market and Café for great coffee and amazing empanadas
Coq Au Vin for lovely French Country cuisine
Lauren’s Café for an awesome home-style dinner (and the owner is SO NICE.)
Lemon’s Market and Deli for a quick but very tasty sandwich
Anderson Valley Brewing Company for some of the best beer anywhere (I had an ESB this trip — OMG!)
and where we always stay:
Anderson Valley Inn (the owners are awesome and do so much for the community)

Cash and Coins

Spicy Hoppin John and Collard GreensThere’s a Southern American tradition for the first day of the new year — eating black eyed peas, greens, and cornbread. The peas stand for coins, the greens for your green bills, a.k.a. cash, and the cornbread for gold. Throwing in some pork is beneficial, as the pig represents forward progress. Turn these all into a meal for prosperity throughout the new year. The day of black eyed pea dish is called, “Hoppin’ John.” Make sure to save the leftovers, for the following day, when you eat your “Skippin’ Jenny” and show your frugality, you’ll increase your chances for prosperity.

As an added bonus, for those of you who party a bit too enthusiastically on New Year’s Eve, Hoppin’ John is a pretty good hangover meal. All of that protein and fat will make your uncomfortable tummy happy and settled.

I make a spicy Hoppin’ John and collard greens for our first meal each New Year’s Day. I feel pretty darn blessed, and it’s a lovely meal, so why mess with tradition? I do, however, tweak the recipe just a tad each year, and I think I’m finally satisfied with the full-on meal. The flavors meld beautifully together, so much so, you’re going to be really looking forward to your Skippin’ Jenny.

Spicy Hoppin’ John and Collard Greens

1 cup dried black eyed peas
1/2 lb thick-cut bacon
1 clove of garlic, crushed and minced
28 oz can of crushed, fire roasted tomatoes
hot sauce to taste (I used Jimmy T‘s 3 Pepper hot sauce.)
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons of dried parsley

Soak peas overnight. On New Year’s Eve, drain peas and rinse, then put in a slow cooker.
Cook bacon in a skillet until done. Remove bacon, but make sure to keep the grease. Chop bacon and add to cooker.
Add garlic, tomatoes, hot sauce, nutmeg, salt, and parsley. Stir. Taste the sauce to see if anything more needs to be added — more hot sauce, salt, etc.
Put the lid on the cooker and set to low right before heading to bed after the clock strikes midnight. The next morning, your Hoppin’ John will be ready to eat, but not until those greens are ready.

1 bunch of collards
1/2 a bunch of mustard greens
2 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
1 large shallot, chopped
pinch of salt
1 lemon for juice
drizzle of vinegar (I used a Gewurztraminer vinegar.)
sliced almonds
fruit and pepper jelly (I used Aloha Oregon Balsamic Cherry Habanero jelly, and it was divine!)

Put a large pot of water on to boil.
As water heats up, rinse greens. Remove stems and chop leaves into one inch wide pieces. Place into boiling water and cook for fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain in a colander and squeeze out excess moisture with a towel.
Warm up a skillet and add your reserved bacon fat. toss in the garlic and shallot and cook until the shallot turns clear. Add greens and sautee until greens are warmed through. Squeeze the lemon juice into the skillet, followed by the drizzle of vinegar and pinch of salt and toss well.
Place greens on a plate, sprinkle with almonds, and add a dollop of jelly to the top. The sweet and spicy jelly compliments the bitter greens beautifully.

Serve your Hoppin’ John and collard greens with cornbread, and your New Year’s Day is set, and hopefully, so is your year.

While it may be too early for the Hoppin’ John, I’d recommend pairing a pale ale with your Skippin’ Jenny. We drink one of our favorites with the meal, Steelhead‘s Extra Pale Ale. We love us some Steely.

P.S. Since I write about wine, you may be wondering what we’re drinking to toast in 2014. This year, we opted for a true Champagne from G.H. Mumm, though we were very tempted by the really, really good Sharffenberger Brut Rose. I’ll probably end up getting some to celebrate anyway because it’s so good. I’ll just save it for other momentous occasions, like a beautiful day or finishing an excellent book, etc. All of those great things deserve celebrations too, after all.

Pumpkin Quesadillas

pumpkin quesadillaI told you when I learned about that awesome cooking method for winter squash that I’d be using it a lot.

American readers, how was your Thanksgiving? I managed to fill myself up on assorted vegetables and cheeses from the platter I brought for pre-dinner snacking (my family does a potluck type Thanksgiving meal) and ended up being the perfect amount of full without going over when it came to turkey hour.

How was everyone else’s weekend? Because I work in the natural food industry, and so much of my focus last week was on, “Try this. How about this recipe? Have you purchased you turkey?” type promotions, I was all food-ed out after the day of giving thanks and worshiping turkey was over. Of course, food is my passion, so I wasn’t dreaming of take-out for long.

And suddenly, here’s December. It’s cold. It’s snowing. Electricity at the house and at work has become a chancy thing, so I put together a filling, taste-sensation type of meal that is easy to assemble — even if you’re doing it by candlelight.

Pumpkin Quesadillas

Serves 2-3 people, depending on appetite

1 sugar pie pumpkin or other winter squash, cooked (I used a kuri squash. A can of pumpkin puree would work, too.)
½ cup soft, white cheese like queso fresco (I used Laychee from Pennyroyal Farm. A white cheddar would also work if you didn’t have access to a softer cheese.)
¼ – ½ cup Hatch chiles or other green pepper, cooked and diced
½ cup black beans
Green salsa
4 Gluten-free tortillas
Pumpkin seeds for garnish

Warm up a griddle or large pan on medium heat. Lay 2 tortillas on griddle. Spread squash over the tortilla, going almost to the ends. Follow with a sprinkling of cheese, then chiles, then black beans. Cover with tortillas.
When the cheese has melted, carefully flip the quesadillas over and cook on the other side for 3-5 minutes.
Remove from heat and cut quesadillas with a pizza cutter into wedges. Drizzle with green salsa and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.

I paired this meal with Anchor Brewing’s Christmas Ale. It’s an amazing brew each year, and the 2013 did not disappoint. Man it’s a fantastic seasonal ale! If it’s available in your area, BUY IT. I look forward to it each December.


jambalayaI’ve made jambalaya before, but I had a different goal in mind with this creation — finding a white wine that would work.

Every year, I’m in charge of putting together the annual owner meeting for the store. Each year, the event has become more and more successful, to the point that I’m now coordinating an event for 500 co-op owners. Past themes have included Halloween, Oktoberfest, wine harvest, and Italian cuisine. This year, the focus is on Cajun food.

It promises to be chilly the evening of the meeting and dinner, so the spicy jambalaya that will be served should be well received. However, attendees have come to expect a good wine or beer pairing with the meal, and since some people are red wine drinkers exclusively, while others are exclusive to white wine, the multi-layered flavors of this year’s main dish posed a bit of a challenge.

The red wine choice was pretty straight forward — a fruit-forward Zinfandel seemed like the best option. Since my partner is also the wine buyer, I bowed to his preference for the label. Charles opted for Sobon — always nice. But the white, the white … with sausage and shrimp and chicken and spicy … my first instinct was for an off-dry Riesling, but we wanted to test it out. I’ve read that Sauvignon Blanc can work as well, so I put together a quick jambalaya and got to tasting.

While the Sauv Blanc stood up to the dish, it was just present. It didn’t sing. Then we tried an off-dry Riesling and found the tune. The sweetness harmonized with the spiciness quite well, and it paired nicely with each meat in the dish. So my first instinct ended up being the right one. We’re going with Pacific Rim. All of their wines are lovely and all pair so well with food.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share with you our beer choice for this year as well. We’re offering Anderson Valley Brewing Company Winter Solstice and Boont Amber. Mmmm… such good beer!

Quick Jambalaya (not really traditional, btw)

12 prawns, peeled, deveined, and chopped
1 chicken breast, diced
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning (I actually used a rub)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce (I actually used sriracha since I already had it in the fridge.)
3/4 cup rice
3 cups chicken stock
2 Andouille sausages, sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Toss prawns and chicken in a bowl with the seasoning, set aside.
In a saucepan over medium high heat, add olive oil, onion, and bell pepper. Cook for three minutes, then add garlic, tomatoes, bay leaves and sauces. Add rice and slowly stir in chicken stock. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add meats and cook until meat is done, about ten minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove bay leaves and serve.

One Pan Meal

One Pan MealMeals that can be created with a minimum of dishes dirtied are always good things. They tend to be simple, filling meals that are satisfying to consume.

One of my favorites is not only simple, it’s also incredibly inexpensive. It involves three, yes three, ingredients — potatoes, sausage, and sauerkraut. I try to have at least two meals a day that contain fermented foods. Lunch is easy, as I always have a fruit smoothie blended with yogurt. It should be somewhat obvious at this point that I’m a fan of pairing fermented grapes with dinner. Sometimes, a bit more of those helpful, little organisms that exist within fermented foods are desired. Not only can they give a dish more of a tang, more of a flavor profile, they can also make your gut happier. That’s when a good sauerkraut, kimchi, pickle, etc. is needed.

beerSince I’ve been suggesting perfect pairings to go with my weekly dish-of-choice, I thought I’d share what I drink with my humble — though incredibly satisfying — one pan meal. Beer, specifically Lost Coast’s Great White, my all-time favorite brew, is a perfect choice. It’s citrus-y with a spicy finish, pairs well with all of the flavors of the dish, and is light enough to not bog down the stomach.

Just as I’ve found that I can eat fermented bread, I’ve found that I have no issues with beer. Here’s where you’d hear both a big, relieved sigh and a mighty, “Yahoo!” if I was hanging out with you irl.


A Super Simple One Pan Meal

serves 3-4 people

2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed
2 bratwurst or other sausage of your choice
16 fl oz sauerkraut

Heat up a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook bratwurst until they’re beginning to brown slightly. Add potatoes and cook until potatoes are soft, up to 30 minutes. (If you purchased pre-cooked brats, cook potatoes first, then add sausage and brown.) Once potatoes are cooked, lower heat to how, add sauerkraut and keep in pan just long enough for it to warm. Serve right away.

Slow Cooker Roast Beef

roast beef sandwichI work full time, as many of you do, and I’ve found that one of my best friends on a busy day is my slow cooker.

When it’s slow cooking beef, I’ve found another friend — Mr. Sauerkraut.

Mr. Sauerkraut does an awesome job of breaking down a tougher cut of meat during the day and creating a tender, flavorful star for a sandwich.

A couple of days ago, I was poking around in the freezer, trying to find inspiration for dinner. I found a flank steak from my meat CSA. A few days before, I had made a simple meal of sausage, potatoes, and sauerkraut and had picked up an extra package of the fermented wonder. (Just like other condiments, I find it’s good to have an extra package of sauerkraut hanging out in the fridge for last-minute meal ideas.)

Knowing that a tender roast beef sandwich was only a crock pot away, I allowed the steak to defrost in the fridge overnight and then tossed it into the slow cooker with the entire package of sauerkraut, turned it onto low, and left for work.

When I got home that evening, I drained the beef in a metal colander while browning a roll of whole wheat French bread on the cast iron skillet. While the bread browned, I put together a simple salad of tender baby greens of chard, kale, and spinach and threw on some grape tomatoes and avocado for good measure.

Once the bread was ready, I smeared a healthy layer of horseradish on the roll, and dinner was served. We were chowing down with a nice barleywine to drink within a half hour of arriving from work. What could be simpler?

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