Bacon, Chocolate, Cupcakes, and a BLT FTW!

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The Bacon Odyssey continues, courtesy of Food Network Magazine. These are bacon strips topped with four different spice-and-sweet mixtures: Maple-Chile, Pie Spice, Rosemary-Black Pepper, Cajun. They baked in the oven until they were well-browned and crispy. Well, some of them were really well-browned and really crispy. If you try this, keep a sharp eye on your bacon, don’t be like me and get distracted by some shiny thing and forget to set the timer.

Maple-Chile: 1/4 cup maple syrup, 2 tablespoons light brown sugar, 2 tablespoons ancho chile powder, mixed in a small bowl. This one’s a bit spicy, and it brings some heat.

Pie Spice: 1/3 cup light brown sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice, 1 teaspoon water, microwaved in a small bowl until melted, 15 seconds at a time. I didn’t have pumpkin pie spice, so I used 1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. Tastes just like fall.

Rosemary-Black Pepper: 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon water microwaved in a small bowl until melted, 15 seconds at a time; 1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper mixed in a wee bowl. Brush the bacon with the sugar coating and sprinkle with the herb-spice mix. Resin-y and sweet, with a snap from the pepper.

Cajun: 1/4 cup light brown sugar, 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning, 1 teaspoon water microwaved in a small bowl until melted, 15 seconds at a time. Come on. It’s Cajun. Smoky, sweet, a bit of a tang, a bit of heat.

To cook the bacon: Preheat the oven to 375 deg.F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set a rack on top. Lay slices of thick-cut bacon on the rack in a single layer. Bake until they start to crisp. (They say 12-14 min., your mileage may vary, mine took longer-even before I burned it.) Flip the bacon and top with your seasoning mixture. Continue baking until browned all over. (Browned being the key word here.) Drain on paper towels.

I have a lot of bacon toppings left over. Hee Hee Hee. I already know I want to coat a pork roast in the Rosemary-Black Pepper topping, because it is outstanding.

Once I had all these spicy-sweet bacon strips, I wanted to do something more than gobble them all up. I thought, hmm, they’d make a mean BLT, and I was off to the races.

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Remember those roasted Granadero tomatoes from last fall? A Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwich needs some superior tomato flavor, which is just not happening with late winter/early spring tomatoes in the grocery store. The roasted tomatoes are full of rich tomato flavor, intensified by the roasting, but the texture isn’t great for a sandwich. Enter tomato mayonnaise.

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I gave the tomatoes a quick spin in the food processor with some fresh rosemary and salt, then stirred in some mayonnaise, cayenne pepper, and a splash of red wine vinegar to replace some of the acidity the tomatoes lost in the roasting.

If you give a mouse a sandwich, he’s going to ask for some soup. Luckily I still had a couple butternut squash from last fall squirreled away in the basement, and a great recipe for Silky Butternut Squash Soup from America’s Test Kitchen. It’s a perfect soup for this transitional time of year, when there’s still a chill in the air, but a strong desire for freshness and lightness. By making a light butternut squash stock while steaming the squash at the same time, this soup has a light, easy texture and deep cold-weather flavors that truly fit the bill.

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The Pie Spice bacon was the finishing touch, crumbled over the top of the soup. For my sandwich, I combined the Rosemary-Black Pepper and Cajun bacon, nestled in some toasted sesame semolina bread with the tomato mayonnaise spread on it, and crisp romaine lettuce. This was a perfect dinner, combining the flavors of fall and winter with lighter, fresher textures that satisfy Spring’s urge to lighten up, strip down, and start fresh.

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This bacon is cocoa-candied. Oh yes. This bacon will break your heart.

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Here are the wet and dry ingredients for Chocolate-Bacon Cupcakes. I think you know where we’re going here.

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The cupcakes are sprinkled with the chocolate bacon before baking, then frosted with dulce de leche frosting and topped with more chocolate bacon. The cupcakes lurking in the background are plain chocolate cupcakes for The Boy, who is not yet as adventurous as his mother and father in his food choices. The frosting is simply a mix of dulce de leche and cream cheese, and a little vanilla for flavoring. Dulce de leche was a new ingredient for me, and I am glad I tried it. I am also glad I bought two cans. I can think of a lot of things I can do with this new delight. It’s a sweetened milk that is cooked slowly down to a caramel-like consistency, but its flavor is nothing like caramel, so do not substitute. Caramel is much sweeter, and dulce de leche is creamier. I found a few recipes for making it yourself, but really, if you don’t know whether you’ll use it for anything else, it’s better to spend a little time looking for it in the stores rather than the extra cooking time to make it at home. You may find it in a jar, I found it in a can, in the Mexican food section.

These cupcakes are outrageous. Maybe even a little too over the top, as the bacon and frosting kind of overwhelmed the chocolate flavor in the cupcakes. That didn’t stop us eating them all, however. It’s good I only frosted half the dozen, because these cupcakes are Trouble, with a capital T that rhymes with B that stands for Bacon.

One more bacon blowout to go. Vegetarian readers, do not despair. Your days are coming. I recently acquired the Ottolenghi cookbook Plenty. I can’t wait to dive in to that. I’ll see you again soon, here on the Road.

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