Foodie Friday – Amazing bacon chili

When the chili cook-off at work rolled around on Halloween I still wasn’t 100% satisfied with the recipe I had been working on. In the end I whipped up a batch that I called “When Zombie Pigs Fly Double Bacon Chili” that used a whole pound of bacon, but I wasn’t sure it would be a success. People seemed to like it (I knew the bacon would be a crowd pleaser), but I actually didn’t even taste my own concoction! I was a little afraid to considering how badly my previous batch had turned out. I’m not sure what I did differently the last time, but I threw half of that batch out because I simply didn’t like it. What a waste. I’m pretty sure the chili cook-off version was better than that since my co-workers at every last bite, but I still had a nagging feeling that it was just mediocre. So a couple of weeks ago when I decided to make a batch of chili for my weekday lunches I was nervous that it would be another flop. Fortunately I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was amazing! Here’s what I did differently: 1) I used maple-flavored bacon (the hint of sweetness made all the difference), and 2) I cooked in on the stove rather than in a Crockpot. Those tweaks turned this chili into one of the best things I’ve made all year. I even made a batch for my co-workers this week and they loved it.

Note: This chili recipe is completely customizable. If you want some heat, add a little cayenne pepper or some diced chili peppers. I can’t handle spicy food so I simply leave those kinds of ingredients out. Also, you can throw in a couple of cans of beans (drained and rinsed), like I did in the batch I made this week. Black beans and red kidney beans are my favorite. You can also use other meats or vegetables. Whatever you want! I think I’m going to try sweet potato chili next. The sky’s the limit!

1 lb maple-flavored bacon
1 c diced sweet onion (about 1/2 large onion)
1 c diced red bell pepper (about 1 large pepper)
1 lb ground beef (preferably grass-fed)
2 Tbsp chili powder
1/2 Tbsp ground cumin
1/2 Tbsp paprika (mine is smoked)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 cans (14.5 oz each) diced tomatoes
1 can (14 oz) tomato sauce (can use two 8 oz cans instead)

Cut the bacon slices into 1/2 in pieces. In a large nonstick skillet (I have an aptly named chili pot that I love), cook the bacon over medium heat. Use a splatter guard if you have one because that bacon grease is hot! Once the bacon pieces are crispy, remove them from the pan and set aside for later. Add the ground beef, diced onions, and peppers to the pan with the leftover bacon grease and cook until the beef is no longer pink. Add the chili powder, cumin, paprika, coriander, garlic powder, oregano, salt, and black pepper. Stir and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and reserved bacon and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover, and cook for at least an hour (longer if you want), stirring occasionally. Enjoy!

Based on Kate’s Healthy Cupboard’s Bacon Chili (Gluten Free).

Old recipe – Spiced pumpkin bread

Forgive me for posting more than one recipe in a week, but I haven’t been able to get it together enough to write anything else this in the last few days. I was pretty busy at work last week and I’ve been all over the place this weekend. At the beginning of a weekend I always feel like I have tons of time to do everything that I want to, but then the two days pass so quickly that I hardly know how I spent them. It’s a bit frustrating, really. But that’s a subject for another time.

Getting back to the food, I can’t believe I’ve never posted either of my favorite pumpkin bread recipes before! I must remedy this error as quickly as possible. Since fall technically started last week I decided to bake some pumpkin bread for my co-workers. Of the two most successful recipes I’ve tried, this one is the easiest since it doesn’t require any out of the ordinary ingredients. (The other recipe calls for “cook and serve” vanilla pudding mix which I never have just lying around.) I’ve had a couple of cans of pumpkin sitting in my cupboard since last year, begging to be made into yummy treats, so I didn’t even have to get any at the store before whipping up this delicious seasonal treat! By far the best thing about this pumpkin bread is the mix of spices. I added the pumpkin pie spice myself, and maybe next time I’ll throw in a little cardamom for good measure. You really can’t go wrong. I’m not sure anything tastes more like fall than this pumpkin bread. Plus, the recipe makes 2 or 3 loaves. It’s so good you’ll need that much to go around!

1 c canola oil
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
2/3 c water
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3 c granulated sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3 1/2 c all-purpose flour

In a large bowl (or extra large if you have it – this recipe produces a lot of batter!), stir together the canola oil (you can substitute 1/2 c butter and 1/2 c oil if you want), pumpkin, water, eggs, vanilla, and sugar (you can use a mix of white and brown sugars if you want). Add the baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and pumpkin pie spice, and stir until combined. Now it’s time to break out the electric mixer (if you haven’t already). Add 2 c of the flour (I used a combination of all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour) to the bowl and blend until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Add the other 1 1/2 c of flour and blend until combined. Divide the batter between a couple of greased loaf pans. The original recipe calls for three 7×3″ pans, but since I don’t have any of those I used one 9×5″ pan and one 8×4″ pan instead. Bake at 350 deg F for about 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Keep in mind that if you use pans of different sizes, like I did, the smaller one will be done faster. Enjoy!

Based on All Recipes’s Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread.

Old recipe – Pumpkin oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

Pumpkin desserts are still acceptable after Halloween, right? Good because I have three cans of pumpkin puree in my cupboard and I’m planning to make some cookies this weekend. But before I try anything new I want to share my favorite pumpkin cookie recipe of all time. It had been a long time since I made them, but I whipped up a batch one weekend this month while watching the Gators lose a football game and I was reminded how much I love them. I pretty much follow the Taste of Home recipe, but replacing some of the chocolate chips with butterscotch chips was my own stroke of brilliance. It really puts these cookies over the top. And adding a few more spices besides just cinnamon helps too. As usual, I make these as cookie bars, but you can make drop cookies instead if you want. They are delicious either way!

1 c butter, softened
3/4 c sugar
3/4 c brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c pumpkin puree
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
2 c all-purpose flour
1 c quick-cooking oats
3/4 c semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 c butterscotch chips

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars. You can use un electric mixer or just a wooden spoon some manpower. Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Add the pumpkin puree and mix until combined. Add the baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and mix until combined. Add the flour and mix until almost combined. Fold in the oats, semisweet chips, and butterscotch chips and stir until no streaks of flour remain. Spread the dough into a 13×9″ pan lined with aluminum foil and coated with cooking spray. Bake for about 30 minutes or until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. Enjoy!

Based on Taste of Home’s Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Foodie Friday – Cranberry cream cheese pound cake

After a ridiculously unnecessary visit from a Time Warner technician I am back online! The less than helpful service rep yesterday didn’t even bother to add my new modem to my account so that’s why it wasn’t working. So stupid. But it’s fixed now and I’m very happy. So on to the recipe!

The week before I left for Florida I did a lot of baking to use up all of the butter and eggs that would have gone to waste otherwise. For some reason I also had a package of cream cheese in my fridge so I had to find a way to use that. Cream cheese pound cake seemed like the obvious choice. And I still had a lot of dried cranberries leftover from my DC business trip (One of my co-workers there unloaded a huge bag of dried cranberries on me because he was moving and didn’t want to just throw them in the trash) so those got thrown in too. This cranberry orange pound cake turned out AMAZING. It was incredibly dense and tasted delicious. This is going to be my new go-to pound cake recipe. You can easily replace the cranberries and orange extract with other mix-ins and flavors. It’s a definite winner!

1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 c sugar
1/4 tsp orange extract
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 c all-purpose flour
2 c dried cranberries

Put the dried cranberries in a medium bowl and add enough water to just cover them. Microwave on HIGH for 1 minute. Stir and microwave on HIGH for 1 more minute. At this point the cranberries should be pretty plump and a lot of the water should be absorbed. Let the bowl sit and cool while you mix up the rest of the batter.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, cream cheese, and sugar. You can use an electric mixer or just a wooden spoon, which is what I do. Add the extracts and eggs and mix until combined. Add the baking powder and salt and mix until combined. Add the flour until almost completely incorporated. Drain the plumped cranberries and dry them a bit between a few sheets of paper towels. Fold the dried cranberries into the cake batter and mix until the flour is completely incorporated. Divide the batter between two loaf pans (I used one 9×5″ pan and one 8×4″ pan) coated with cooking spray and bake at 350 deg F for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before turning them out on the rack to cool completely. Enjoy!

Based on Sophistimom’s Cranberry Orange Cream Cheese Pound Cake.

Maple bacon chocolate chip cookies

I want to post something about my first few days in Florida, but I’m really not in the mood to write this evening. I’ve had two disastrous runs since I’ve been here and I’m extremely frustrated. So until things looks a little brighter here’s a recipe for some awesome chocolate chip cookies!

Yes, I’m sharing a recipe for maple bacon chocolate chip cookies. I made these as chocolate chip cookie recipe #34 in May, and like I said back then, they were AMAZING. These are not your everyday chocolate chip cookies, but trust me, you won’t care that they aren’t 100% traditional. When you eat one of these sweet and salty cookies you’ll be thanking whoever had the idea to add crumbled bacon and maple extract to chocolate chip cookie dough! Who know that would make it so incredible? It’s a whole new level of delicious. And since they do have maple and bacon, feel free to have some of these cookies for breakfast! In all seriousness, it really doesn’t take much to elevate your usual chocolate chip cookie recipe so try adding some bacon and maple extract next time. You won’t regret it!

10-12 strips bacon
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/3 c light brown sugar, packed
1 egg
3/4 tsp maple extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 c flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 c chocolate chips

Place the bacon on a cookie sheet completely lined with aluminum foil (to catch the grease and make clean up easy), making sure the strips don’t overlap. Bake at 350 deg F for 15-20 minutes or until crispy, rotating the pan once and keeping an eye on the bacon so it doesn’t burn. Cool the strips on a few layers of paper towels to absorb the excess grease. When the bacon has cooled crumble or chop it as finely as possible.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars. Add the egg, maple extract, and vanilla and mix until combined. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt and mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and crumbled bacon. Spread the dough into an 8×8″ pan lined with aluminum foil and coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 deg F for 25-30 min or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack before slicing. Enjoy!

Based on Noble Pig’s Maple Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Foodie Friday – Toasted coconut chocolate chip cookies

So I haven’t been posting all of the chocolate chip cookie recipes I try because they’ve had mixed results, but there are a few that are so good that they definitely deserve to be shared! Like these toasted coconut chocolate chip cookies. Out of all the different baked goods I’ve shared with my co-workers, I think these cookies are their absolute favorite. And that’s saying something! Toasting the coconut seems to be the key to making these cookies irresistible. Simply adding some shredded coconut (I’ve only tried sweetened coconut, but I assume unsweetened would be good too) to chocolate chip cookie dough is always a good idea, but toasting it first is infinitely better. It brings out the nutty flavor of the coconut which is the perfect complement to the cookies. I made coconut chocolate chip cookies a few times before I perfected the recipe – which I first wrote about as chocolate chip cookie recipe #11 plus back in February – so here it is for everyone to try!

2 c sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c white sugar
1/4 c light brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp coconut extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 c flour
1 c semisweet chocolate chips

Evenly spread the shredded coconut on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake at 350 deg F for 7-10 minutes, stirring once and rotating the pan, until the coconut is lightly toasted. Remove the pan from the oven and let the coconut cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars. You can use an electric mixer, but I usually just use a wooden spoon. Add the egg and extracts and beat/stir until combined. Add the baking soda, salt, and flour and stir until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and almost all of the toasted coconut (set a few tablespoons aside). Spread the dough into an 8×8″ pan lined with aluminum foil and coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle the reserved toasted coconut on top. Bake at 350 deg F for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. Enjoy!

Based on Two Peas and Their Pod’s Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chunk Cookies and Vittles and Bits’s Chocolate Chip Coconut Cookies.

Belated Foodie Friday – Toffee brownies

OK, I’m working on a post about my surgery, but it’s not ready yet so here’s a recipe for belated Foodie Friday instead! These brownies are amazing. I really wish I had picture of them to show you how dense and fudgy they are. I was blown away the first time I made them. I’ve always loved a simple recipe and this one is about as simple as brownies get. Melt the butter, stir in the rest of the ingredients, and bake. Easy as that and so delicious. After several days of very limited activity following my surgery I finally had a surge of energy on Wednesday so I decided to do a little baking. My parents were leaving to go back to Florida the next morning so I figured some of these toffee brownies would be the perfect snack to take with them on their travels. Luckily this recipe is pretty flexible because I had to make a few substitutions. I only had about 3/4 c semi-sweet chocolate chips so I supplemented that with 3/4 c dark chocolate chips. Also, I didn’t have any white sugar so I used all light brown sugar instead. And with all that the brownies still turned out great. Rich, chocolatey, and insanely delicious. You should whip up a batch right now!

1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 c flour
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/2 c packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 c toffee chips
1 c chocolate chips or chunks (optional)

In a large bowl melt the butter in the microwave (45-60 seconds on HIGH). Stir in the 1 1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips until melted. If the chips don’t melt completely, put the bowl back in the microwave on HIGH for 10-15 seconds. Stir and repeat if necessary. Add flour, salt, and sugars. Stir until partially combined then add the eggs, egg yolk, and vegetable oil. Stir until combined then fold in the toffee chips and optional chocolate chips or chunks (I usually skip these). Transfer the batter to an 8×8″ pan lined with aluminum foil and coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 deg for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing and serving. Enjoy!

Based on Picky Palate’s One Bowl Homemade Chocolate Chunk and Toffee Chip Brownies.

Edited on 8/23/20 to slightly increase the bake time.  When I bake these brownies they are sometimes done after 40 minutes, but generally need the full 45 minutes.

Foodie Friday – Perfect chocolate chip cookie bars

At long last, it’s time for me to share my perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe! I know you’ve all been waiting for it with bated breath! Well, after baking about forty batches of chocolate chip cookies in the last year and a half I’ve discovered that the recipes I liked the most all had a few things in common – 1) Brown butter, 2) Brown sugar, and 3) Sea salt. So I kept those ingredients constant and varied the others until I found just the right combination. There’s not really a “secret ingredient” in these cookies – you probably already have all of the necessary items in your pantry. But keep in mind that this is based on my own experience so this recipe is completely customizable. You can use a mix of white and brown sugar if you’d prefer, you can leave out the salt, you can add other extracts (almond or maple would be good), and you can use any add-ins you want (like toffee, nuts, or M&M’s – yum!). I make these cookies any time I want to impress someone so I think they’re absolutely perfect. Go mix up a batch and see what you think!

1/2 c (1 stick) salted butter
1 c light brown sugar, packed
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 c all purpose flour
1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 c milk chocolate chips
Sea salt

Place the brown sugar into a large mixing bowl, using a wooden spoon to break up any clumps. In a medium saucepan, brown the butter over medium heat. This should take just 5-8 minutes so keep an eye on it because it will burn quickly. When the butter is a nice golden brown color, immediately pour it over the brown sugar (as fast as possible because it will continue to cook in the saucepan until you do), using a spatula to make sure to get all of the yummy brown bits into the bowl, and stir to combine. Cool to room temperature. Add the egg and vanilla and stir to combine. Add the baking powder, salt, and flour and stir until no streaks of flour remain. Fold in the chocolate chips. Press the dough into an 8×8″ pan lined with aluminum foil and coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Bake at 350 deg F for 25-30 min or until the edges are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack before slicing. Enjoy!

Based on Two Peas and Their Pod’s M&M Chocolate Chip Blondies and Picky Palate’s Brown Butter and Fleur de Sel Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Spaghetti sauce

Since I’m too brain dead from a 10-hour day of work starting at 2:30 AM and only a very short nap this afternoon, how about an updated recipe for today’s post? I went to three stores after work to gather the ingredients for dinner – Target for whole wheat pasta, Ralph’s for tomato products, and Whole Foods for the meat. Dan and I have been tweaking this spaghetti sauce recipe every time we have it for dinner and I think our collaboration has yielded a fantastic result. Enjoy!

1/2 lb ground lamb
2 raw pork bratwursts (1/3 lb each), casings removed
1 c diced onion
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp cinnamon
Salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper
1 can (15 oz) crushed tomatoes
1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
Yellow mustard
Lime juice
8 oz whole wheat spaghetti, cooked

Brown the lamb and bratwurst in a large skillet with the onion and garlic. When the meat is fully cooked, add the oregano, cinnamon, and a generous sprinkling of salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Stir until the spices are well incorporated and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered, for about 20 minutes (the lid will keep it from splattering everywhere). Add two generous squirts of both mustard and lime juice and stir to combine. Continue simmering, partially covered, for another ten minutes or until the sauce is the desired thickness. Toss with cooked whole wheat spaghetti. Trust me, it’s delicious!