Bacon Onion Cheeseburgers

Bacon is good on a burger but I’ve always wondered about putting bacon in the burger. There are a gazillion recipes out there – some say use cooked bacon crumbled in, other recommend cooking the bacon just a little, others just mix uncooked bacon in with the burger meat.

I didn’t want the burger crunchy nor did I want any bite of burger to have raw. I decided to do a quick par-cook of minced bacon so it could be well incorporated. You can definitely use more bacon – for three pounds of ground meat, I figured about a half of strip per burger as I didn’t want the bacon to overwhelm the burgerness of the meat, if that makes sense. I used thick cut bacon as I figured the thin stuff would be destroyed by the food processor. 

I also cooked the onions in the bacon fat to eliminate the taste of raw onion and up the bacon flavor. I ended up with almost caramelized onions that added a sweetness and depth to the final result.

Bacon Onion Cheeseburgers

3 lbs 80% lean ground chuck
8 strips thick bacon
2 medium onions
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
grated cheddar cheese, to taste

In a food processor, pulse the bacon until it is well and truly pulped. Place in a cast iron skillet over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. In the food processor, chop the quartered onions. Remove the bacon from the skillet and set aside to cool. Add the onions to the pan and sauté in the bacon grease until soft and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, place the meat, the bacon and the onions and the seasonings. Mix with your hands to combine. Divide and form into quarter pound patties. Makes 14 patties.

Create a two zone area on your grill, so you can move the burgers to the cool side in case of flare ups. Make a small indention in each burger with your finger before setting it on the grates to keep the burger from bulging while it cooks. Grill over direct heat for about 5 minutes per side. Do not press down on the burgers during cooking – you’ll lose those precious juices.

Sprinkle on the grated cheese for the last few moments of cooking and serve with toasted buns.

We had grilled zucchini from the garden with our burgers.

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Meatballs and Marinara Sauce

Michelle had an urge for meatballs in marina sauce, so I made up a batch of all beef meatballs for dinner plus extra for the next time she has a craving. We used some of the tomato sauce she canned at the end of the summer but you can use store bought sauce. You can also add a cup of red wine to the sauce but it is quite tasty without as well.

If you don’t have Italian seasoning, make your own by combining the following dried spices in a bowl and crushing them together with your fingers or the back of spoon. Don’t use a spice mill, as you’d end up with a powder not a blend.
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon marjoram
1 tablespoon sage
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 tablespoon Italian flat leaf parsely
Transfer blend to an airtight container until ready to use.

This recipe makes about 50 golfball sized meatballs. You can make them larger, just increase the cooking the time. Or, you can do what I like and freeze what you don’t use for dinner (we used about 20 for our meal for three and that used up all the marina sauce, too).

Meatballs and Marinara Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil
3 onions, chopped fine
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

1 pint tomato sauce (two 8 ounce cans)
1 10.5 ounce can tomatoes, diced or crushed
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or 1 tablespoon dried
seasoning (salt, pepper, sugar) to taste

2.5 lbs ground beef
3/4 cups milk
4 slices of white bread, torn into pieces
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried parsley

Saute the onions in the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, or until they are softened and golden. Add in the garlic and seasoning and cook, stirring regularly, for about 5 minutes more, until the mixture is fragrant.

Transfer half of the onion mix to a large mixing bowl to cool slightly for use in the meatballs.

Add tomato sauce and diced tomatoes to skillet with remaining amount of onions. Simmer over low heat for 45 minutes to an hour to thicken. You can add 1 cup of red wine here, too. Once thickened, add basil. Stir and taste for seasoning. Add salt, pepper, and/or sugar if desired. I find it doesn’t need any additional seasoning.

While the sauce is simmering, make the meatballs. In a separate bowl, tear the bread into small pieces and pour the milk over it. Let stand for 2 minutes before mashing with a fork into the reserved onion mixture. Add parmesan, egg, garlic and seasonings and stir thoroughly to combine. Add in the beef and gently mix together with your hands. Form into golfball sized meat balls.

Place meatballs on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven until browned, about 20-25 minutes. At this stage, you can cool the meatballs completely before freezing for later use. Store in the freezer, in an airtight, zip top bag.

Place browned meatballs in sauce until skillet is full and cook until done, about 15 minutes. Serve as is, over spaghetti or pile onto a roll for an awesome meatball poboy/hoagie/sub (whatever you call it, its good!).

Tacos de Carne de Cerdo

This weekend was the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival. I had a great time, as I was on a couple of panels and even did a reading from my latest book, Bitter Heart. On one of the days that I knew I was going to be busy all day at the conference, I put a pork shoulder in the slow cooker with some spices and a bit of citrus juices for us to have meaty tacos for dinner and for me to have delicious leftovers.

I was joined for dinner by my fellow author, Mercedes Lewis, who read from her book of poetry (Glimpses of a Fractured Soul) at Saints and Sinners and also participated on a poetry panel.

Tacos de carne de cerdo

Dry Rub

1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground oregano
1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Mix dry rub together and store until ready to use in an airtight container.

Carne de Cerdo

5-8 lb pork shoulder, bone in preferred
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice
1 cup chicken stock
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed

Cut off the large fat cap and any other spots of hard fat. Rub spice mixture on the meat. Heat a skillet and brown the meat on all sides.

Remove meat from the skillet and place on a bed of onions and garlic in a large crockpot. Pour the juice and stock into the skillet to deglaze the pan. Scrape up any fond on the bottom and then pour over the meat.

Cover and cook on low in the slow cooker for 6 to 8 hours. Remove when the meat is falling off the bone. Let cool for 15 minutes before attempting to shred for tacos.

For the tacos, I had both hard corn taco shells and soft flour tortillas, guacamole, sliced red and green bell peppers, black beans, grated pepper jack cheese and salsa to go with the shredded meat. We built our tacos based on our own taste and ended up eating more than planned as everything tasted so good.

I will use the leftovers in quesadillas, burritos or even with a little BBQ sauce for a pulled pork sandwich.

Worcestershire Chicken

I’m the lucky recipient of some homemade saffron rolls from my friend Charlotte and I figure they’d be perfect for sopping up pan juices. This recipe is one of the first ones I ever developed –  although it came about because I spilled part of a bottle of Worcestershire sauce all over some chicken that was thawing in the pan. A happy accident that became the basis of a tasty dish.

Worcestershire Chicken

4 chicken breasts
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cloves garlic, minced

Score chicken breasts with about three slices on one side and pepper them lightly on both sides. Place chicken in a shallow casserole dish that has been lightly buttered. Mix together the rest of the ingredients and pour over the chicken. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350º F for 45 minutes. Remove cover and bake for 10 more minutes.

Honey Glazed Ham Plus Applesauce and Brussel Sprouts

We found big, bone in butt portion hams on sale after Thanksgiving. So, we bought a 10 pounder and put it in the slow cooker for the day while we went about our business (Michelle spent the morning visiting with her 96 year old Grandpa, who isn’t feeling well and I did laundry, vacuuming and took a nap).

Sliced ham, Brussel sprouts and applesauce

Honey Glazed Ham

10 lb ham
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup apple juice (can use water)

Cut diamond patterns on the ham. Mix together the honey, brown sugar and cinnamon and spread over the ham. Pour the 1 cup apple juice into the bottom of the slow cooker and slide in the glazed ham.

Turn the slow cooker on to low and cook about 45 minutes per pound, basting occasionally with the juices in the cooker. Internal temperature of the cooked ham should be 140-145 degrees F.

Slice thin to serve.

We served the ham with homemade apple sauce and some Brussel sprouts.

Homemade Applesauce

4 Granny Smith apples
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
dash salt

Peel, core and dice the apples. Place in a mixing bowl with water and a splash of lemon juice until ready to cook.

Heat water and butter in a large skillet, I prefer cast iron. Once the water comes to a boil and butter is melted, add the apples.

Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly until the apples start to break down. Add brown sugar and cinnamon and salt. Continue to stir, pressing down to further break down apples. Taste and adjust sugar and seasonings once the applesauce is of your desired consistency.

I hated Brussel sprouts as a kid. They smelled bad and tasted horrible. There wasn’t enough butter in the world to make them palatable.

I then discovered a great way to make them. They are almost but, not entirely, unlike French fries with this method. Instead of olive oil in the pan, consider using bacon fat for added richness.

Skillet Fried Brussel Sprouts

about 10 Brussel sprouts per person
a couple glugs of olive oil
generous pinch of kosher salt

Peel off the loose external leaves and slice off the root end before cutting Brussel sprouts in half. Toss in olive oil to coat. Heat skillet over high heat. Toss Brussel sprouts with salt.

Pour a little oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Once it begins to shimmer, place Brussel sprouts cut side down in skillet and let cook until that side is brown. Turn over and continue to cook for 2 -4 minutes more.

Serve immediately.

Kicked Up Ground Beef Tacos

I love tacos and there is something comforting about plain ground beef with a little sprinkle of cumin and then lots of yummy toppings. Sometimes, though, I want to kick things up a notch in the meat department but I want something better than just sprinkling a seasoning packet over ground meat. Here is a version that comes together quickly and tastes like you spent hours on it.

Kicked Up Ground Beef Tacos

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried cilantro leaves
1/4 teaspoon chipolte powder (or cayenne pepper)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound lean ground beef
1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth (or beef broth)

Preheat 2 teaspoons vegetable oil in skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Sauté the diced onion for 5 minutes, stirring as necessary.

Meanwhile measure out and combine all the dried spices. When onions are translucent, put garlic  into the skillet and add spice mixture. Cook and stir for 1 minute to bloom flavors.

Add ground beef to skillet. Use a wooden spoon to break up the meat. Cook for 5 minutes, scraping the bottom of the skillet to prevent scorching.

Once the beef is no longer pink, siphon off fat. Then, stir in tomato sauce and chicken broth. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then turn heat down to medium-low. Continue to simmer until liquid has thickened, but not completely dry, about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently. Adjust salt and pepper, if necessary.

Place in serving bowl and serve with taco shells, refried beans, pepper jack cheese, sour cream, guacamole and other toppings of your choice.

Grilled Turkey Breast

I confess that I’m not much of a turkey fan, except in sandwiches. For that reason, I don’t cook a whole bird for Thanksgiving but rather get just the breast – either bone in or boneless. I also grill it, so that the oven is free for all the treats and trimmings that go with the meal.

Boneless turkey breast cooks faster than bone-in

My recipe is very simple:

3 lb turkey breast
3 tablespoons butter, melted
salt

About an hour before you’re ready to start cooking, pull the turkey from the refrigerator. Soak a few wood chips before building your fire.

Rub the melted butter all over the turkey. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Set the coals for indirect cooking. I usually do a set up on two sides of the grill. Place a drip pan below where you are going to set the bird. Put on the upper grill and clean it with a wire brush before oiling the grate. Set your turkey down and let cook for 1 hour.

Go in and remove the drip pan if you’re making gravy. Take the turkey’s temperature – done is when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. Baste with butter. Continue to cook until it reaches that safe temperature, checking every 15 minutes and basting with butter. Bone in will take longer to cook than boneless.

Remove from grill when done. Let rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing and serving.