Post 105 – Snowflake Cookies and Bacon Fat Gingersnaps

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With all of this snow falling here in the Northeast I’ve had several of my relatives checking in with me to see how we’re holding up. Are you guys buried in snow? Are you staying warm? Do you have enough food? Do we have enough food? Ha! In my house we always have enough food.

These snow storms have generally caused a decrease in productivity here in Boston as public transit has been shut down for full days more than once, businesses have had to close, and schools have racked up snow days to make up in the warm months of summer. For me, it has been a very productive time.

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There is something about being stuck inside with white flakes falling down that makes you get down to business (or makes you start to go crazy!) For me that has meant making significant progress on a quilt I started probably fifteen years ago (no joke) and baking and cooking many of the delicious recipes I’ve been wanting to make. It has also meant being continually well-stocked on all types of food – breakfast, dinner, dessert.

As I mentioned in my last post I’ve made Cincinnati Chili, Cinnamon Swirl Bread, and Homemade Hamburger Buns. During storm #3 I made bacon fat gingersnaps. This recipe was a combination of looking-for-an-excuse-to-make-cookies-of-any-kind and wanting-to-use-up-the-bacon-grease-in-the-fridge. (I’ve told you before about my obsession with using things up). I found it in the New York Times cooking section and had been eying it for what felt like forever. So I made a small batch.

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The cookies turned out savory, ginger-spicy, and salty – a little too salty, we decided after a few cookies (and I even reduced the salt it called for!) Always looking to improve rather than waste, I decided if they were too salty then they needed more sweet to balance. So I sandwiched them together with a maple butter cream frosting. They were better… I mean I ate them! Next time we’ll try again with less salt.

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Post storm #4 I opted for some snowflake sugar cookies. To be honest I felt quite sugared-out for the moment thanks to a delicious Valentine’s day chocolate mousse my husband made for me and the salted caramels he bought me, but I had an ulterior motive. After six official snow days (plus the weekends) I had still not gathered the courage to meet my neighbors across the hall, something I’d been telling myself to do for weeks. With encouragement from others, I decided making snow-themed cookies was a perfect way to introduce myself and break the ice (haha, pun totally not intended).

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I baked a small batch of cookies, cooled and frosted them (barely making it by using up the last crumbs of powdered sugar) and knocked on their door, my heart beating. No answer.

Unfortunately, my great cookie act of kindness mission did not succeed. I made Sam take the cookies to work today because I know they would enjoy them there, having made the cookies with the intention of not eating them myself. I will have to try the neighbors another time.

This recipe is my favorite sugar cookie recipe lately. It makes soft, lightly-colored cookies that roll out beautifully. Be warned that if you use a snowflake cookie cutter, they can be a little fragile with the points. I hope you make some cookies for your neighbors or at least make friends with them. We never know when we might need a friend nearby.

 

Erin’s Favorite Sugar Cookies

(apologies to my grandma’s recipe, which I know is the favorite for a few in my family)

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens 75th Anniversary Cookbook

2/3 cup (almost 11 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 egg, room temperature

1 T. milk, room temperature (I often forget to leave this out to “warm” up)

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups all-purpose flour

In a large mixing bowl beat the butter with an electric mixer for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt and beat for a minute or two until light and fluffy, scraping the sides every now and then. Add the egg, milk and vanilla and beat to incorporate. Add flour and beat or fold in with a spatula. If the dough is too soft or sticky, divide it in half, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Otherwise continue by rolling out your cookies on a floured surface, making sure to keep the thickness consistent. Transfer cookies to a parchment lined sheet and bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes, depending on softness of cookies you desire and the thickness you’ve rolled. They should be lightly colored and slightly soft to the touch. Cool and frost with your favorite homemade frosting.

IMG_0567Share with a neighbor or a friend. Stay warm!

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Post 99 – Warm Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Bacon

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I like solving problems. Like too many lentils problems. Or extra fresh rosemary from a previous recipe problems. Or what do you make for dinner that sounds delicious and enticing problems. These are the kinds of problems one is willing to face when one cooks for a living. I do love to cook, believe me, but it’s also nice to take a break from it sometimes. Then when I do come back to it, I can have the energy for creativity. I admittedly don’t get a lot of breaks from cooking between my main job, my side job, and my home job (plus I just started a cooking club at school once a week so there you go), so when I get a good solid 16-24 hour period off that’s good enough for me. That and the smell of a neighbor’s bacon cooking as I walked to the train yesterday was enough to inspire last night’s warm lentil salad.

Caviar or lentils?

Caviar or lentils?

I get a certain satisfaction from using things up (have I mentioned this before?) and so when making my grocery list I often try and plan around what ingredients we have in our fridge or cabinets that have been taking up space for too long. When something is nearing the end of its life, it’s time to use it up! When a non-perishable has been getting pushed to the back of the cabinet, it’s time to use it up! So with (some of) the remaining fresh rosemary from my sweet potato salad (which I will also be making again) and the lentils and the last of the red wine vinegar (satisfactory sigh) I made this lentil salad.

So let’s get started. This is not a hands-off recipe, but you can make a big batch of it and then eat the leftovers for a few days. Start by cooking your lentils while you roast some peppers and garlic (garlic not pictured).

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Fry up some bacon (and save the fat!)

New grill press on the bacon - Bobby Flay!  (this post is not sponsored by Bobby Flay)

New grill press on the bacon – Bobby Flay! (this post is not sponsored by Bobby Flay)

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The finished roasted red peppers:

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Break out the colors to brighten up your winter. Fresh rosemary green (why is that not a common color)! Golden roasted garlic! Ruby red peppers! (And some stray bacon bits)

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Add some goat cheese for a little tang and voila! This could almost be a Christmas salad with those colors!

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Warm Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Bacon

inspired by Causing A Stir

1.5 cups small lentils, rinsed

1 medium carrot, diced (optional)

1 bay leaf

1/2 tsp. salt

6-8 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled

2 oz. soft goat cheese

1 red bell pepper

3 T. chopped fresh rosemary

2 T. red wine vinegar

3-4 T. olive oil, plus additional for roasted the pepper and garlic

3-4 cloves of roasted garlic (see recipe for preparation)

Combine the lentils, carrot, bay leaf, salt, and 5 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes or until lentils are tender while still holding their shape.

Meanwhile prepare your garlic and red pepper. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment. Wash your pepper, cut in half, and remove the seeds. Place flat side down on your sheet pan and rub lightly with olive oil. Take a head of garlic and place in a small square of foil big enough to wrap around it. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, wrap in the foil and place on the sheet with the pepper. Roast the red pepper and garlic at 425 for 30-45 minutes until the pepper begins to blacken and the garlic feels soft when lightly squeezed or when the garlic is pierced easily with a knife.

While those are roasted cook, cool, and crumble your bacon.

When the lentils have finished cooking, remove the bay leaf and carefully drain the excess water in a fine colander, shaking off as much water as you can. Remove the lentils to a large bowl as you prepare the other ingredients. Add the red wine vinegar, 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil (to your taste), fresh rosemary, and crumbled bacon.

When the red pepper and garlic have finished cooking, let cool until you can handle them comfortably – 10 minutes or so. Carefully peel the skin from the red pepper (as much as possible) and dice the pepper. Cut off the bottom of the garlic head and remove a few cloves. Holding a clove at the more pointy end, carefully squeeze the roasted garlic from its skin. Mash and add that and the diced red pepper to the lentil mixture. Drop the goat cheese onto the lentil salad in small dollops. Carefully fold in the goat cheese into the salad, taste to adjust the seasonings and serve. Add more salt, pepper, vinegar, or oil as desired. Serve and enjoy!

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Post 93 – Eat your Greens! + Chelsea’s Cranberry Bread

Last Friday (Oct. 24) was Food Day! To celebrate we offered samples of kale chips to the students and teachers. To our shock and amazement, the kale chips were wildly popular with students coming up for seconds and thirds. We even heard one child exclaim: “These are better than potato chips!” I could not have paid that child to say anything better 🙂

It probably helped that we gave out stickers if they tried it and put up a big poster to voice their opinion of the kale.

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Overall, Food Day kale chips were a huge hit and I’m happy to say we may even make kale chips again. (Another great quote: “Can we have these every Friday?!” – HA!) We even had requests for the recipe so we posted it in the school’s weekly bulletin. Eat your greens!

Speaking of greens, well green vegetables, I wanted to share a successful and simple recipe with you that I came up with on Friday. Most of the time when I go to the grocery store I have a plan and a list that I follow. Sometimes I stray from the list based on what looks good and sometimes my indecisiveness causes me to buy multiple random ingredients for which I have no specific plans, or rather some vague plan that I may or may not follow. This week it was asparagus, bacon, fresh cranberries, and coconut milk. After sitting in the fridge for a few days, the idea came to me: bacon-wrapped asparagus!

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Simply wrap your asparagus spears in half strips of bacon (no oil needed thanks to the bacon fat), lay out on a tray, sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper if desired, and bake. I don’t have a good baking rack, but I’m sure they would turn out crispier if you put them on a rack on top of the sheet pan. That way more air circulates and they’re not sitting in the bacon grease. Bake at 450 until they reach the done-ness you desire (10-15 min) and broil at the end for a few minutes for extra crisping!  Easy and yummy!

I decided to use the cranberries for my sister Chelsea’s favorite Cranberry-Orange bread. This recipe is one I clipped from a magazine back in high school while collecting recipes for my favorite recipe binder. It quickly became a favorite. It is fresh, only slightly sweet thanks to the fresh cranberries, (I even got Sam to try a fresh cranberry! His face was priceless) and has a nice crunch from the walnuts. I opted to make them in mini loaves this time, though it makes a great big loaf too.

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One of the best parts about this recipe is I get to use my favorite kitchen tool: the pastry blender!

 

Chelsea’s Favorite Cranberry Bread

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1.5 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/3 cup unsalted butter, cold

2/3 cup orange juice (fresh squeezed is best!)

1 tsp. grated orange zest

1 large egg

1.5 cups fresh cranberries, halved (allow some time to cut these babies)

1 cup walnuts, chopped

 

Start by halving your cranberries, chopping your walnuts (if necessary), and juicing your oranges. Measure your flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt into a medium bowl and stir to mix well. Cut your cold butter into small cubes and using a pastry blender (or two knives) cut into the flour mixture until the butter is pea sized.

Preheat your oven to 350.

In a small bowl mix your orange juice, zest, and egg. Pour into flour and butter mixture and mix just until barely combined (see photo above). Carefully fold in your cranberries and walnuts. The dough will be relatively thick and lumpy, but don’t overmix it.

Pour into one large greased loaf pan, smaller loaf pans, or jumbo muffin pans. Bake for 25-30 for small loaves and 55-65 minutes for the large loaf. Loaves are done when golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool and enjoy.

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The smell is irresistible!

Oh and in case you’re wondering, I still have some remaining cranberries and I haven’t decided what to do with the coconut milk. The coconut milk (canned) will keep, the cranberries will not. More to come! Happy fall!

 

 

Post 76 – Bacon-wrapped Ricotta Chicken

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Remember the bacon exception? It’s the theory that even if you don’t eat meat or fat or animals or what have you, most of you will make an exception for bacon. Alright, alright there are some of you who are actually virtuous enough to adhere to your bacon-less diets, but for the rest of you, here is another delicious way to make bacon a part of your menu rotation.

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Bacon-wrapped Ricotta-stuffed Chicken

Could it get any better?

You get a creamy, flavorful filling and a crispy, salty outside layer that keeps the chicken moist and flavorful. The bacon also holds everything together so the chicken doesn’t pop open. The recipe I followed recommended securing the chicken rolls with toothpicks, but I found this unnecessary and annoying.

photo 3(20)Just look at these beauties!

If you are skilled enough to tuck in your chicken on all sides like a burrito, you will keep your cheese filling tucked in. If not, just don’t waste the yummy stuff that oozes out onto to your pan.

Mmmm.

 

Bacon-wrapped Ricotta Chicken

adapted from allrecipes.com

2.5 lb. chicken breasts, thin sliced cutlets if possible

1 lb. bacon

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 T. chopped fresh basil

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

 

Prepare a sheet pan lined with foil. Preheat oven to 350.

If you bought chicken breasts and not cutlets, lay your chicken breasts out on a cutting board, cover with plastic wrap, and pound with a meat mallet until thin and even. In a medium bowl mix your ricotta, basil, garlic, and Parmesan. Add salt and pepper as desired (remember that the Parmesan adds a lot of salt and the bacon will as well). Lay out your chicken breasts and divide the ricotta mixture between them, making sure not to fill them too full. Carefully roll up the chicken breasts from the short side, doing your best to contain the cheese. If desired, sprinkle the outside of the chicken with salt and pepper. Wrap with a strip or two of bacon and place seam side down on your prepared pan. Repeat with the remainder of your chicken. I ended up with 8 rolls of chicken and I used all the bacon, cutting some pieces in half to wrap around parts of the chicken.

Bake at 350 for about 45 min, depending on thickness of the chicken, until the chicken is cooked through. Let rest for 5 minutes and then serve.

Note: The bacon doesn’t get super crispy at this temperature, so you could try turning up the temp and baking for less time OR broiling the chicken for a short bit once it is almost done.

We enjoyed ours with homemade pesto and pasta!

photo 1(25)Bon appetit!

Post 62 – Prosciutto Pinwheels and Parties

Have you ever heard the Shel Silverstein poem that starts: “I’m writing these poems from inside a lion and it’s rather dark in here…” ?

Well I’m writing this post from inside a congested head cold and it’s rather stuffy in here, which made me think of Silverstein’s poem.

It was a good weekend, a busy weekend, which is why I think I’m sick now. It started out Friday evening with a wonderfully acted play called The Yellow Boat, performed by the middle school at the school where I work. The kids did an amazing job and I was moved by their performance. Check out the script if you’ve never heard of it.  Warning, it’s a tear-jerker!

Saturday Sam and I prepared for our housewarming/birthday party – there were cupcakes and appetizers to be made, wine to be bought, and house cleaning to do, of course. People loved the chocolate frosting on the cupcakes (same as last year requested by Sam) and the appetizers went over pretty well too, despite a slightly runny cheese ball.

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blowing out his cupcake candles

blowing out his cupcake candles

In addition to party preparations I had another party to prepare for: a holiday party for a repeat Kitchensurfing client! Being asked to cook for him again was a great pleasure, but preparing heavy appetizers for a party of 40 by yourself can be a bit overwhelming. Here was my (over)ambitious menu:

Prosciutto Pinwheels (From Causing a Stir – shout out to my St. Paul’s folks back home!)

Baked Spinach Bites (also from CaS)

Shrimp Cocktail

Beef tenderloin sandwiches

Cucumber and smoked salmon cups

Spiced Nut Mix

Bacon Scallion Cheese ball (in the shape of a pine cone)

Bacon-wrapped Dates stuffed with pecans

Mini pumpkin cheesecakes

Apple cider caramels (post to come)

I spent much of the day Saturday either lugging groceries from store to home or racking up mileage in my kitchen going from fridge to counter to fridge and back. Sunday was equally busy as I spent it cooking (and cleaning) pretty much from dawn to dusk. Needless to say the work paid off. I remembered to bring everything (except the darn camera!) and the party was a hit! At the end of the party, the host toasted me and my companion (his housekeeper – without her I couldn’t have pulled off such a big party since she helped me clean everything and tray the apps). He even invited us to join the party and have a glass of wine. We politely declined in favor of dragging our tired bodies home instead.

Despite not using the labels I had brought to tell the guests what items were, (everyone thought the prosciutto pinwheels were cinnamon rolls – oh well) everyone thoroughly enjoyed the food. The runny, bacon cheese ball, which had been such a mess when I practiced it for our party guests turned out beautifully for Sunday’s party, and the spinach bites were a surprise sell-out! The day ended happily despite my lack of sleep Saturday night and I came home exhausted and happy to find the laundry done and dinner made by my ever-supportive and loving guy. What would I do without him?

The only negative consequence of a successful weekend is my poor health, so I recommend to you if you’re throwing a holiday party to keep it small and don’t cook for two parties back to back. I learned my lesson.

And if you’re hosting a party and you want an easy hand-held appetizer, the prosciutto pinwheels are sure to please and simple to make. Just make sure people know what they are! Happy cooking.

Prosciutto Pinwheels

(an illustrated recipe – from Causing a Stir)

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Thaw 2 sheets of puff pastry from a 17.5 oz package (see package for recommendations how)

IMG_3890Spread with as much or as little creamy, herbed cheese as you desire (Causing a Stir recommends 10-12 oz. of the Alouette brand cheese for 2 puff pastry sheets) leaving a 1/2-inch border on one side to seal (the picture above is before I had finished spreading all of the cheese).

IMG_3893Layer with thinly sliced prosciutto (3.5 oz per roll) to cover the entire surface, still leaving the 1/2-inch border.

IMG_3894Tightly roll (like a cinnamon roll) toward the edge that you left uncovered. Moisten the border with a bit of water and gently press it into the roll to seal the edge. Repeat with remaining puff pastry, cheese, and prosciutto.

Freeze the rolls for 45 minutes or until firm. Slice into 1/4-inch slices and bake on parchment-paper lined sheet pans at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool and serve!

I wish I could show you a picture of the result, but since I forgot the camera for the party I have nothing to show. Make them for yourself and you will see. Delicious and beautiful.

Here’s to more holiday (and other) parties!

Post 53 – Happy Food Day!

For those of you who don’t know today is Food Day! Started by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, this is Food Day’s third year running. The CSPI uses Food Day as a way to celebrate good food and promote conversations around food issues from sustainability to food justice and affordability.

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To recognize Food Day at work, I organized a Food Day Assembly for which I invited five guests to be on a panel. My guests included:

  • A Chef and restaurant owner
  • A Nutritionist
  • The former CEO of AGAR – a food distribution company
  • The director of development for Glynwood Farm in New York, and
  • A live-in soup kitchen employee and Boston College student

Though I started out the day nervous and unsure, by the time my first panelists began to arrive I felt a surge of adrenaline and excitement run through me, and suddenly the panel began and ended before I knew it.

I came away inspired by the community that I work for and happy to have had the opportunity to host such an event. I was impressed by the students’ questions, the panelists’ well-crafted responses, and the kindness of teachers and faculty who congratulated me on the event after it ended. Though one of my co-workers joked that we’d have to make the door wider to account for my big head, I appreciated all of the compliments I received and felt honored by people’s response to my event. In addition to hosting a great event, we also served a delicious meal with fresh local fish (delivered this morning)! With this local pollock we made magnificent (if I do say so myself) fish tacos with pickled red onions, cabbage, salsa, black beans, and crema (sour cream mixed with mayo and lime juice) and everyone quite enjoyed it. I am glad that tomorrow is Friday, but I can definitely say it’s been a great week.

Life is good. So good. Busy, but good.

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Delicious breakfast! Homemade biscuits!

Delicious breakfast! Homemade biscuits!

Columbus Day weekend we took a trip up to Maine with our good friends and enjoyed the beautiful colors and the relaxed, quiet setting. We played cards, drank wine, and ate more guacamole than we thought we could and when the weekend was done, all were sad to return to our normal lives.

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Last dinner in Maine

Last dinner in Maine

When we weren’t in Maine, Sam and I have been enjoying Northeastern soccer games on the weekends and evenings since their field is right across the street from our apartment. On the nights we don’t go, we hear the announcer’s distinctive voice calling the players off the side lines and we see the bright lights blaring into our living room (more so now that the leaves have fallen off the trees that blocked our windows).

Though life has been busy, I can’t complain.

Life is full, fragrant, and colorful. I am grateful for all the good times.

The only sadness is that as we fall farther into autumn, it gets colder and darker. Winter is coming. Almost time to break out the stews and homemade breads. Until then, it’s pumpkin season.

Happy Fall. Happy Food Day!

 

Post 40 – The Bacon Exception

I have a friend who doesn’t eat pork, well except bacon. In fact if I recall when my sister was temporarily vegetarian she ate bacon one time either because she “forgot” or because somehow bacon was an exception to the no meat rule. What is it about bacon that puts it in its own category?

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I don’t have the answer. Let’s think on that one for next time.

By the way, no I’m not having apple juice with my bacon. That’s BACON FAT!

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Anyway, bacon.

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Bacon has become a big deal lately, showing up in all sorts of places and starring in its own festivals. In fact my sister and her husband attended Bacon Fest in Dayton, Ohio this last weekend and waited in line with hoards of other people for unusual treats like chocolate-covered bacon, bacon and watermelon skewers, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, and bacon cheesecake. As she told me about said festival, I couldn’t resist the urge to whip up a bacon cheesecake of my own. However, I have to say the bacon cheesecake my sister ate sounded pretty weak as far as bacon things go. There was no actual bacon in the cheesecake, according to her description, just bacon and chocolate draped on top. I mean to me if you’re going to call it bacon cheesecake, you better be putting bacon in that thing. So that’s what I did.

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This is what happens when I have a week off.

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So here’s the recipe that I made up, loosely based on my favorite cheesecake recipe. The best part is using the bacon fat to add extra bacon oomph. I’m sure they would be delicious with melted chocolate on top or mini chocolate chips sprinkled (or melted and swirled) throughout. In fact I meant to put some maple syrup in them and then totally didn’t so I drizzled some on top to make up for it. Anyway, go to town. Bacon town.

Mini Bacon Cheesecakes

Makes 1 dozen

Crust

½ cup graham cracker crumbs (from about 3 full crackers)

2 tsp. brown sugar

2 T. bacon drippings

Filling

1 8-oz package cream cheese, room temperature

2 T. sour cream or full fat plain yogurt, room temperature

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 T. bacon drippings, cooled

1 egg, room temperature

ÂĽ tsp. lemon zest (optional)

½ cup cooked bacon, crumbled into bite-sized pieces (from about 4 oz. raw bacon)

2 tsp. all purpose flour

Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium high heat, draining and reserving the fat for later. Let cool on a paper-towel lined plate.

For the crust, crush the graham crackers or pulse in a food processor. Stir in brown sugar and bacon drippings, adding more if needed to reach the proper consistency. Line a regular muffin tins with muffin cups and spray lightly with oil. Divide crust between muffin liners, a little less than 1 tablespoon each, and press down gently with fingers. Put tin in the freezer or fridge while you prep the filling.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

For the filling beat the cream cheese, yogurt and sugar on medium speed until smooth. Add egg and bacon fat and mix in, scraping the bowl when necessary. Stir in the lemon zest. In a separate small bowl toss the crumbled bacon with the flour to lightly coat and then stir the bacon into the cream cheese mixture.

Remove the muffin tin and divide the cream cheese mixture between the cups, using less than ÂĽ cup per mini cheesecake. The tins will only be about 2/3 full. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until slightly jiggly and lightly golden. Remove and cool fully before refrigerating. Serve cold to your vegetarian or Jewish friends, drizzled with maple syrup (the cheesecake, not your friends).

Just tell them to bacon exception 🙂

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drizzled with a litle maple syrup

drizzled with a little maple syrup