Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bacon Brittle Salad

Relationships are complicated.

So are non-relationship, relationships. If you know what I mean.

I have too many a few complicated relationships in my life.

Complicated: My bus crush. Going on 3 years now. Too bad he lives with his girlfriend. He is the nicest and funniest and has the prettiest blue eyes.

Non-Complicated: This girl. Right here. My good friend Kacey. She shows up. She makes me laugh with her witty and inappropriate jokes. And she eats. #Respect

Complicated: My dentist.

Yeah. My teeth are deceivingly lovely and white, but there is always something wrong with them. I won't bore you with the story about the time (aka now) I had to have a root canal on the same tooth for the third time. No, that's boring.

About 95% of the time, I blame my Mom's bad dental-genes. But the other 5% of the time,  it's my fault that the relationship is complicated. Two words.

Bacon Brittle.

I made this Bacon Brittle Salad twice over the past two weekends, both times for dinner parties, making a few modifications the second time around to my liking. It was a huge hit! The bacon brittle is sweet and spicy and then you combine it with delicious cheese and a sweet crisp apple...oh my!

This salad is for non-salad lovers and salad lovers. Last Sunday, my roommate's boyfriend said "I am getting seconds and I never get seconds on salad." I'll take it.

Also, it's even better the next day...seriously. When can you ever say that about salad?

I actually think it was worth the trip to my dentist I made yesterday and this morning to repair my cracked crown. That is heavy.

Bacon Brittle Salad
*Adapted from a Tasting Table recipe

Bacon Brittle
16 oz bacon
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon baking soda

Greens n' Things
Lacinato Kale (dark green), washed, torn/cut into bite-size strips
2 Golden Delicious Apples (dark red), chopped into bite-size pieces
1 1/2 cups white cheddar cheese, shredded

Salad Dressing
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Fresh ground black pepper

1. Place the kale in a large bowl. Mix the salad dressing ingredients and toss over the kale, coating thoroughly. Place the bowl in the fridge while you prepare everything else.

2. In a saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Once the oil is hot, over medium heat, cook all the bacon until very crisp. Set the cooked bacon aside on a plate lined with paper towels; allow bacon to cool and pat with paper towels. Once it is cooled, tear it up into tiny pieces and place in a bowl.

3. Grease a cookie sheet and set aside. In a small bowl, combine the cayenne, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and baking soda. Set aside. In a saucepan, melt the white sugar over medium-low heat. Melting sugar is hard because it can easily burn. It will slowly turn a golden brown color and clump up a bit...just when you think it won't melt, it does. Stir occasionally with a heat-safe spatula, but not too much. Low heat is key. As soon as there are a few clumps left, remove from heat and add in all the spices and bacon bits. Stir very quickly coating the bacon; you've got about 25 seconds before the sugar will start to harden. Using a spatula, transfer it out of the pan and onto the cookie sheet. Set aside so the brittle can cool and harden.

4. While the brittle is cooling, prepare the rest of the salad. Add the apple slices and cheddar cheese to the top of the kale salad.

5. Once the brittle is cool, you gotta break it up. I have yet to perfect this method, but last time I tried, I put the brittle in a plastic bag and smashed it with a glass jar. Fancy!

6. Add the bacon brittle to the Kale salad; admire how beautiful the salad is before tossing it. Then, mix everything together and serve immediately. Or eat the next day. It is SO freaking good.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dinner Party + Single Bachelor + Crispy Tofu

I recently hosted a dinner party for some friends.

Girlfriends, lovers, babes, boyfriends. You name it. They were all there.

Oh and so was Dave. Hi Dave! He's on the right. Peter is the drunk one on the left. 

Dave is my number one blog fan and my new best friend (besides my Mother....who's still trying to figure out how to get to my blog).  Dave was invited because he reads my blog and always says says nice things. He's tall, dark, Jewish (always good - he loves his Mother!), has a PhD, and owns his own start-up. 

Yes, ladies. He's single. And the man can eat. 

But back to the Dinner Party. There were many courses and I'd like to share with you, over the next week or so, a few of the most stand-out recipes I made. When it all comes down to it though, I think there are 3 key parts to throwing a successful dinner party.

1. Good company. Fun guests go a long way. Trust me. Two of my seven fun guests are pictured below. Look at those smiles!

2. Lots of wine. A bottle per person, at least. We went through 7. No big deal. Right? Right.

The reason why I didn't take as many pictures as I had hoped...

3. The food. It matters! Food is a universal connector. Besides dessert, my guest's favorite dish of the night was the Tofu. Surprising, right? They licked their plates clean!

Crispy Tofu with Sweet Garlic Soy Sauce
Adapted from my Mom's recipe
1 block (14-16 oz) firm tofu, sliced into 1-inch thick blocks
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup vegetable oil (Canola)
Salt and ground black pepper

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons garlic
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon chili paste
1 green onion, thinly sliced, for garnish
Cilantro leaves, for garnish

1. Prep the Tofu: Pat the tofu dry with paper towels. Tofu holds in a lot of water, so allow it to sit and drain over paper towels for a while (20-30 minutes). Mix the cornstarch and cornmeal in a bowl. Coat the dry tofu in the mix. Make sure each piece of tofu is coated on all sides with this mixture.

2. Make the Sauce: In a small saucepan, over medium heat, combine all the ingredients except the two garnishes (green onion and cilantro). Heat until everything is mixed together; do not bring to a boil. Turn the stove off and put a lid on the pan to keep it warm while you fry the tofu. 

3. Fry the Tofu: In a deep skillet, heat the vegetable oil over high heat until it starts to simmer. Lay a few pieces of the tofu in the pan and cook until golden on each side, about 3 minutes per side. While it fries, sprinkle each side generously with salt and pepper. Once done, remove from the skillet using tongs. Put on a cookie sheet and stick in the oven to keep warm while you finish the rest of the tofu.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Confessions & Croutons

I unwind, after a long day, by cooking. Slippers on, iPod 'Slow It Down Now' playlist with  headphones in, blasting. So much better than blasting from the computer. All the outside noise goes away.

I cannot open wine gracefully. You know how you hate how that person is watching you parallel park from the sidewalk? Same way I feel about opening wine. Too much pressure. 

I have to drink things at extreme temperatures. Very hot coffee or very cold water. I heat my coffee up 5-7 times every morning. Steamin'.

I am totally obsessed with this song + the entire album. And also, this song. Jeff Bridges - you totally tore me up in Crazy Heart. I swoon for you in the weirdest way.

My favorite comfort food meal is only half-homemade. Trader Joes Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato soup, with spices added in (rosemary, oregano, black pepper, and red pepper flakes), steamed spinach and broccoli, and topped with homemade croutons. It tastes completely homemade. And rich. Yet it's very healthy. And filling.

And really, is there anything more satisfying than homemade, salty garlicky croutons, drenched in tomato soup in that not-soggy-still-crunchy kind of way?

Laura's Croutons

1 loaf of your favorite bread (I used a gluten-free baguette from Mariposa Bakery)
1 teaspoon garlic (I prefer fresh, but garlic powder will work)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup olive or grapeseed oil
Fresh ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. 

2. Slice your bread of choice into 1/2 to 1-inch cubes. Place on the baking sheet. Mix all the spices and oil together in a small bowl. Brush the oil-spice mix across the bread cubes, evenly coating.

3. Bake the croutons for 10 - 12 minutes. Make sure to take them out of the oven and stir them to avoid burning. Once they start to brown, that means they are done.

Enjoy in salads and soups. Or alone, straight out of the oven. Garnish on anything. And everything. Warm your soul.