Some things are just meant to be.  The stars line up, you find yourself in the right place at the right time, and you’re handed something you didn’t even know you were looking for.  It can be a job opportunity, or a romantic connection, or something even deeper than those.

For us, it was bacon.

On January 26th, Mike read Bonnie Benwick’s profile of Mrs. Wheelbarrow and the Yummy Mummy’s tandem charcuterial endeavor and everything just fell into place.  We were just gearing up to start another one of our Cookbook Challenges – an attempt to winnow our ever-growing collection of cookbooks by attempting a new recipe from each one to make sure we still found the books helpful.  In fact, one of the first books Elizabeth reached for was Mike’s copy of Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s “Charcuterie: the Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing.”  Although he had received it a little over a year earlier, he had yet to attempt any feats of cured meat.

Enter “Charcutepalooza.”  The article made it sound tasty and fun all at the same time, and anyone who has read at least a few of our posts knows our love of all things brined, cured or smoked.  So we reached out to Mrs. Wheelbarrow through her website and decided to throw ourselves into the challenge along with the hundreds of other bloggers who have signed on.  A contest with some killer prizes has no doubt piqued the interest of some, but most seem genuinely motivated by the spirit that inspired the ladies to begin with.

The process seemed easy enough.  Each month a new pair of challenges is announced, with one for novices and one for those seeking a more intense assignment.  We all agree to work on the challenges ourselves and blog about our results on the 15th of each month.  We’ll continue like this throughout 2011, having cooked our way through a dozen recipes (more if you try both challenges in any given month) by the time we’re through.

So why am I up at 11:30 on a Monday night (Valentine’s Day, no less) waiting for my homemade bacon to reach an internal 150 degrees Fahrenheit?  My delicious, unintentional procrastination after the jump. (more…)

Time is running out to vote for Mike’s “Pinenut Butter and Gelee” in the Endless Simmer recipe contest! Vote for JoeHoya here!

Maybe it’s the proximity to creative culinary lights like Jose Andres and Michel Richard who love to put new spins on classic dishes.  Maybe it’s an outgrowth of my love of mashups, covers and other songs that reimagine existing tracks to make new (and sometimes better) music.  Or maybe it’s my love of puns and homophones.

Whatever the cause, I decided I wanted to approach something familiar in a slightly twisted way as I sat down to contemplate Endless Simmer’s Pine Nut Challenge.  When editor BS put out the call for recipes involving pine nuts, I first thought of the variety of nut butters sold at Trader Joe’s: cashew butter, almond butter, even macadamia nut butter.  Why shouldn’t pine nuts work, too?

Turns out they do – really well.  I adapted a recipe for peanut butter that I read over at DC Foodies, using olive oil instead of vegetable oil and omitting the recommended honey.  The pine nuts pureed easily, and their high fat content gave the whole thing a rich, creamy texture that has actually thickened nicely with time.

What to pair with pine nut butter?  I couldn’t get away from the obvious – kept coming back to jelly.  But grape jelly just wasn’t going to cut it, and that’s when I had my Minibar moment.