Bourbon Bacon Burger with Pimento Cheese

CAUTION: Things may appear fuzzy after eating this burger…or even after just looking at this burger. It’s the bourbon! …Only kidding. The camera played a mean joke on me and not one photo of this gorgeous burger came out in focus. My apologies! 🙂

 

I have two words for you– Bacon. Jam.

Make that three words– BOURBON. BACON. JAM.

Let’s pause for a moment to reflect…

BJ dreamed up this burger last weekend as we were in the mood for something out-of-the-ordinary and fun.

“Have you ever had bacon jam?” He asked from the kitchen.

I had, and he had too, he just didn’t remember. We had bacon “marmalade” atop a tiny mason jar of pimento cheese when we dined at Hugh Achenson‘s Empire State South in Atlanta. It was a scrumptious little appetizer, as anything served in a mini mason jar usually is. I reminded BJ of that date night almost a year ago now, and then these burgers happened. He was inspired and my mouth was watering in anticipation. BJ came up with every component of these Burgers- the bourbon bacon jam, the pimento cheese, and the pretzel bun between which it would all be nestled. I helped him carry it out by flying to the nearest grocery store during the kids’ naps, then coming home and furiously grating cheese, crisping bacon, and basically completing all of the prep work so he could throw it all together. The results were AHHH-MAZING!

Bourbon Bacon Jam needs to live in your refrigerator, perhaps in a cute little jar, for the duration. Yes, you will be tempted by it on a daily basis. Yes, it’s likely definitely not the healthiest condiment in the world. But man…it’s good. As Joey Tribbiani from FRIENDS would say,

“Bacon? Good!”

“Shallots? Good!”

“Brown sugar? Good!”

“Bourbon? Goooood!”

Slather it on a cracker, a biscuit, or some toast. Use it to add some oomph to your next grilled cheese, or maybe stir it into some polenta or grits. However you eat it, you’re going to be glad you know how to make it.

On a side note, this pimento cheese recipe is no slouch either. Inspired by the recipe from Husk in Charleston, SC, this little bit of goodness took me less than 5 minutes to prep and really hit the mark. The original recipe called for bourbon as well, but I wanted it to be kid-friendly and there was already enough bourbon in the bacon jam to go around. Feel free to keep it in there if that’s your fancy.

To pull all of these components together, don’t skimp on the pretzel bun if you can help it. We found ours at Whole Foods, but I’m sure some of the other higher end mainstream stores carry them as well. The bun was almost my favorite part, probably because I just thought it was so smart of my hubby to suggest it. We’ve had a lot of fun picking out special buns for our burgers lately. It really takes a ho-hum burger to a whole other level. Even if all you can find is King’s Hawaiian Buns, it makes a huge difference!

You’re going to love this burger! It’s a winner on every level and will undoubtedly be the star of your next cookout. I’m not going to put this burger on next week’s meal plan…I think it might be too much for a weeknight dinner. However, since the recipe is posted here you can make that call for yourself! 🙂 If you need help with other dinner ideas, meal plans and shopping lists there has never been a better time to subscribe. As part of a Ladies Night Out event happening in Orange County this week, I’m running a HUGE discount on annual memberships. New members get 80% off with the coupon code “ocladiesnightout”. That’s just ten bucks for an entire year! Crazy, I know. The code is good until August 1st. Happy cooking!

Bourbon Bacon Burger with Pimento Cheese (4-5 servings)

1.5 lbs. ground beef (I use 85% fat for juicy burgers)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
salt and pepper, to taste
canola oil, for brushing
butter lettuce, leaves separated
Bourbon Bacon Jam (recipe to follow)
Pimento Cheese (recipe to follow)

  1. Using your hands, gently mix beef, eggs, breadcrumbs, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, salt and pepper until just combined.
  2. Divide beef into 4 or 5 equal portions and shape into patties. I like to flatten mine out as much as possible and then press a small well into the center of each to keep them from turning into burger meatballs on the grill.
  3. Brush a small amount of canola oil on each side of the burger patty and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Heat and oil a grill to high heat. Once it’s screaming hot, lower the heat to medium and add the burgers. Close the grill. After 4-5 minutes, flip the burgers and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes. Check for desired doneness and move to a top rack to finish cooking if needed.
  5. Build the burgers by topping the bottom of the pretzel bun with the patty, some butter lettuce, 2 tablespoons (AT LEAST!!) of bourbon bacon jam, and 2 tablespooons (AT LEAST!!) of pimento cheese. Serve. Swoon.

bourbon bacon jam

Bourbon Bacon Jam

1.5 lbs. good bacon
1 cup of shallots, finely chopped
2 cups sweet onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ cup bourbon
½ cup pure maple syrup
ÂĽ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup brown sugar

  1. Preheat an oven to 375 degrees. Lay a wire rack inside a sheet pan and line the rack with the bacon. You may have to do this in batches or use two pans.
  2. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until bacon is extra, extra crispy. Set aside and reserve a few tablespoons of the bacon drippings from the bottom of the pan.
  3. Once bacon has cooled, chop it up finely.
  4. Heat reserved bacon fat in a large skillet or sauté pan on medium heat. Add shallots and onion and cook until caramelized. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or so longer.
  5. Carefully deglaze the pan with the bourbon, scraping up any bits that have formed along the bottom of the pan. Add the maple syrup and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.
  6. Add the brown sugar, chili powder, smoked paprika and chopped bacon. Continue to cook for about ten minutes or until the mixture starts thickening up and looks like jam.
  7. Drain any excess fat off and pour into jars. Store in the refrigerator. Can be served cold or warmed up in the microwave and slathered all over anything that looks like it needs a slathering. 🙂

 

Pimento Cheese

 

Pimento Cheese

3/4 cup mayonnaise
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup jarred sliced pimiento, rinsed and finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
1 teaspoon chile powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
6 cups freshly grated sharp Cheddar cheese
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add all other ingredients and combine.
  2. Store in the refrigerator.

pimento cheese crackers

What else can I do with this ricotta?

So now that you have a nice batch of homemade ricotta in your fridge, let’s figure out how to use it! I’m assuming you have some left over after making the roasted cherry tomato bruschetta, and that’s a bold assumption because I definitely didn’t. But good news– even if you’re out, you now know how  easy it is to make more.

Like I said, I ran out post-parent picnic, but I had already brainstormed all of these wonderful ways to cook with it so I’m seriously making more tomorrow. Good thing I have a steady supply of cheesecloth in my pantry. So here are my thoughts and some useful links that will help you get the most out of that creamy, wonderful goodness just lying in wait in the refrigerator. Let me know which ones you use and always let me know if you come up with something totally awesome that I haven’t thought of…I would LOVE to try it!

(More) Uses for Homemade Ricotta Cheese 

  1. Pancakes
  2. Stuffed Shells
  3. Summer Vegetable Tart
  4. Scones
  5. Muffins
  6. Cheesecake!! duh
  7. Pizza- See my “weird pizza” OR this one!
  8. Gnocchi!!!!!!! (I’m excited about this one!)
  9. Cookies
  10. Stuffed and Fried Squash Blossoms

Need a few more dinner ideas? Check out this Food 52 article that will inspire you to squeeze 6 dinners out of one batch of ricotta. Or if you’re ready to move on from our cheesy friend but still need some dinner ideas, become a Menu Therapy subscriber for just $5. We will plan your dinners, write your grocery lists and help you become a superstar in your kitchen. 🙂

Roasted Cherry Tomato Bruschetta with Shallots and Thyme

roasted cherry tomato bruschetta

This might be my favorite way to make bruschetta. Scratch that– this is definitely my favorite way to make bruschetta. I serve this as an appetizer every time we have someone over for dinner, and it’s usually gobbled up so quickly that I only get to sneak a bite or two.

Assorted cherry tomatoes roasted with shallots, thyme, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and a pinch of brown sugar. Di-vine. I usually put the tomato yumminess in a bowl and serve it alongside toasted crostini and a log of goat cheese topped with lemon zest and red pepper flakes. So good! I love goat cheese, even if my best friend Haley thinks it smells like a farm. She’s kinda right. I ‘ve actually noticed lately that the goat cheese has such a strong presence that the subtle sweetness of the roasted tomatoes can be overlooked, and that’s just a shame. To remedy that and to help the tomatoes shine like the star they are, I served it up with…you guessed it…the homemade ricotta from a few days ago.

roasted tomato crostini

One bite and I’m pretty sure I heard angels singing the Hallelujah chorus. Hello match made in heaven! The creamy ricotta with its mild hint of saltiness is the perfect base on which to serve the bright tomatoes bursting with sweetness and flavor from the shallots and thyme. We took these little cuties to our sunset picnic at the beach with my mom and dad, and they ate them up long before the sun dove into the Pacific. My mom referred to them as “crack”. I double checked and confirmed that was a compliment.

If you heeded my advice and made yourself a ton of ricotta, let this be one of the ways you enjoy it. It will be hard, but don’t use it all up because I have a few more suggestions coming your way soon. Once I started brainstorming it was hard to turn it off! There are apparently an infinite amount of ways to cook with ricotta, each more delicious-sounding than the next. What’s a girl to do? I guess I’ll go curdle more milk!

ricotta-and-roasted-tomato-crostini_forweb

Roasted Cherry Tomato Bruschetta

4 cups assorted colors of cherry tomatoes, halved
2 shallots, thinly sliced
4 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed from stem
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Preheat an oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Prepare a sheet tray by lining with aluminum foil. This will make clean up easier and keep all of the goodness from sticking to the pan.
  3. Scatter halved cherry tomatoes, shallots and thyme on the tray and lightly drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with brown sugar, salt and pepper and toss to coat tomatoes evenly.
  4. Bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes, until tomatoes are bursting and shallots are softened and beginning to caramelize.
  5. Remove from oven and spoon everything into a serving bowl.
  6. Serve alongside toasted crostini and ricotta cheese.

If you like this recipe, let me help you plan and cook dinner every night. I’ll do the hard part and you do the cooking  Become a subscriber for just $5. Happy cooking!

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I’ll have the house made ricotta, please!

homemade ricotta cheese in cheesecloth

Have you ever been to a restaurant that offered house made ricotta cheese as an appetizer? Why would you order that, right? Can it really be worth the $12 price tag when you can get a 16 oz. tub at Trader Joe’s for $2.99? Yes, friend. Yes. I promise you, yes. I order it at one of our favorite places in Laguna Beach. It’s served alongside a honeycomb and always makes me feel super fancy. It’s something about house made anything that will make you feel that way. I’m a sucker for the chipotle ketchup, house made crackers, sausage ground and stuffed in the back of the house, or butter that was just churned up that morning by the prep cook. Homemade cheese makes me giddy as well…in a restaurant and especially in my own kitchen. I love when something sounds daunting when in reality, it’s a breeze.

Homemade ricotta cheese is the easiest thing you’ll ever make.

Bring milk and cream to a light boil.
Add vinegar.
Watch milk curdle.
Strain with cheesecloth to separate the curds from the whey (yep, this it where that came from).
Eat.

Cheesecloth in strainer

Cheesecloth layered on top of strainer, awaiting the goodness that is to come!

Milk and cream begin to curdle when vinegar is added.

Milk and cream begin to curdle when vinegar is added.

Curds of cheese being strained of as much liquid (whey) as possible.

Curds of cheese being strained of as much liquid (whey) as possible.

Delicous, creamy, homemade ricotta cheese. You will never go back!

Delicous, creamy, homemade ricotta cheese. You will never go back!

You barely cook, but friends and family will think you are a culinary genius. Homemade cheese??!! That’s so impressive! Impressive until everyone finds out how insanely easy it is, then it’s just smart. Why would you buy the grainy, flavorless excuse for ricotta cheese you can get at the store when you can make twice as much, twice as cheap, that tastes twice, no, let’s say INFINITELY better? You wouldn’t– and you never will again!

This is too easy not to try, and I promise you will find a ton of uses for it after it’s made. You can use it in lasagna, pancakes, gnocchi….hmmm…I feel another blog coming on. My favorite use for it is to smear it on a crostini and call it a day. See ya, butter. There’s a new girl in town and her name is Ricotta. She’ll be slathered on my toast until every last creamy bit is gone. And then I’ll make some more. Why not? It’s too easy and too delicious not to!

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar (this is NOT white “cooking” wine)
kosher salt, to taste, about 1 teaspoon
cheesecloth

  1. Combine milk, cream and salt together and bring to a gentle boil in a heavy enamel pot, like Le Creuset.
  2. Once boiling, remove from the heat and stir in white wine vinegar. Let sit untouched for 2 minutes or so until it begins to curdle.
  3. Cover a fine mesh sieve with two layers of cheesecloth and set over a bowl. Pour curdled mixture into cheesecloth and let stand for 25 minutes until the curds and whey have been separated and most of the liquid has drained into the bowl. What remains in the cheesecloth is your ricotta!
  4. Pat yourself on the back and find the nearest crostini, lasagna recipe, or whatever!

Need some cheesecloth to get this job done? Menu Therapy now offers cheesecloth via Amazon.com. Order a pack today so you can be eating cheese tomorrow!

Interested in more yummy recipes and meal plans? Become a subscriber for just $5. Happy cooking!

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Easy ways to save HUNDREDS on your grocery bills…

Saving money is pretty awesome, especially when you’re saving money on things you have no choice but to buy. Groceries are one of those things. You have to buy them, so why not make each trip to the store a little less painful on your wallet?

Becoming a Menu Therapy subscriber is guaranteed to save you money each week. How? The meal plans you’ll be shopping for are always seasonal, meaning ingredients will be at their best price as well as at their peak flavor. Also, going to the store with a list in hand helps you stay on track and saves you from making impulse purchases on foods you won’t use or don’t need. Another major plus! Click here to find out how to become a subscriber.

As summer approaches and you have more fun and exciting things to spend your hard earned money on, check out these other 33 tips from POPSUGAR Smart Living to help you save BIG on your groceries.

How NOT to Screw Up Dinner

Couple in home kitchen using electronic tablet

 

  1. Read the recipe from BEGINNING TO END before you start cooking.
    We’ve all done this, haven’t we? It’s happened to me more often than I care to confess actually. I skimmed the recipe and got cooking. Whoops! You mean those onions weren’t supposed to go in the meat mixture but actually the sauce? Yikes! My sweet mother-in-law is a recent example of this. She set out to bake a Tres Leches Cake using a recipe I sent her.  She told me she was very proud of herself as she began laying out her ingredients so she would be well organized and have everything she needed at her fingertips. She started the process by cracking the 5 eggs that were called for and putting them into the same bowl. Fast forward a few steps…the yolks and whites were supposed to be kept separate! She then spent the better part of  a half hour trying to scoop the yolks out the whites, but ultimately gave up and started over. Luckily, she had just bought a dozen eggs so she still had a few to spare, but what a bummer if she had not!A lot of recipes have little twists and turns that you might not have expected. Save yourself the time and trouble and ALWAYS read through the whole thing before you start cracking your eggs. 🙂
  1. Don’t over-substitute.
    Sure, the occasional ingredient substitution is to be expected, and even welcomed at times when you’re trying to lighten up a dish or keep from having to make a last minute grocery store run. But be smart about it. If you’re looking to impress your eaters it may not be the time to replace full fat mozzarella with its pathetic-excuse-for-a-cheese sibling, reduced-fat mozz. That stuff is practically plastic anyway so I’m not sure why that would ever be a good idea, but you get my drift.Also, I can’t help but chuckle when I hear someone complain that a recipe didn’t turn out right, but then confess that they didn’t have milk so they just used water instead. Yuck! Or this is my favorite… “I didn’t have onions or garlic or salt, so I just left those things out. Why is my dish bland?” These are flavor-builders people! You are better off cooking an entirely different meal than leaving essentials out of a recipe.
  1. Salt is your friend.
    Yes, this is absolutely coming from the perspective of a chef not a cardiologist, but please salt your food! Salt in the beginning, salt in the middle and salt again before it hits the table. Ok, I realize I probably just scared a lot of you, but a little bit of salt is all that separates a bland dish from a spectacular one! Salt and taste, salt and taste. Your family will thank you!
  1. Don’t serve food you haven’t tasted.
    Have you ever watched one of those cooking competition TV shows? They’re a everywhere now…Top Chef,  Master Chef, Iron Chef, The Next Food Network Star, just to name a few. The worst thing EVER is when a contestant puts s dish in front of the judges and it’s so bad they can’t hide their disdain and then quickly ask, “Have you tasted this?” Sheepishly the contestant shakes their head. This blows my mind!! You’re trying to win Top Chef and you didn’t TASTE your food before handing it over to be judged?  This is madness! Call me crazy, but my husband and child are the dinner judges every night in my kitchen. I aim to please and would never serve up something I wasn’t sure they were going to love, especially because when something isn’t quite right, it’s almost always an easy fix.
  1. Think of others when adding heat.
    Now this isn’t necessarily something that would screw up dinner for everyone but it could definitely ruin it for one. Think of everyone who will be dining with you when you are making a spicy dish. If someone in your family or party doesn’t like too much heat, it’s better to keep that in mind and tone it down a bit than throw caution to the wind a completely blow out their palate. You can always serve up some extra diced peppers or hot sauce on the side for those who appreciate feeling like a fire-breathing dragon at dinner.
  1. Invest in an internal thermometer.
    There’s nothing worse than cutting into a piece of chicken to see that it is still pink inside. Ewww. If you’re not sure how to tell if chicken or other proteins are cooked to their proper temperature then the best thing to do is buy a food thermometer and check it prior to serving. See this link for proper food temperatures.

So those are my six easy ways to NOT screw up dinner. What do you think? Do you have any funny kitchen-nightmare stories or other suggestions to add to the list? I’d love to hear from you!

Menu Therapy Cooking Tip: How to Peel a Kiwi Easily

Kiwi Slices

I’m about to blow your mind with one of the greatest tricks I learned in cooking school. It came during my two weeks learning Baking and Pastry, a class that seriously scared me to death and had me in cold sweats. Baking is suuuuper tricky. For my final exam I watched in horror as my Charlotte slowly but surely turned into the Leaning Tower of Mousse and Ladyfingers, and nearly burned my eyebrows off peering`into the oven to see if my soufflĂ© was planning on rising sometime this year. STRESSFUL. Classes like Baking a Pastry are surely why “desserts” spelled backwards is s-t-r-e-s-s-e-d. Holy cow.

Anyways, back to the topic at hand…the best and most practical trick EVER came from that same class and it changed my life. Seriously I was so pumped. I think my chef instructor was slightly annoyed at how excited this simple trick made me as it is certainly not a classic technique. However, it is easy and awesome and makes my day to day cooking easier and…awesomer?

So if you’re like me and have ever found yourself frustrated at the simple task of taking the furry, prickly, nasty little brown skin off of a kiwi, this video is for you!

Happy Peeling!