Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Fun, New Cookbook
What’s cooking? Bacon and Pecan Pralines

I’m back! Back from the wedding abyss. Back from the beautiful fall colors in New Jersey. Back to the Austin days when you can leave all the windows open and luxuriate in the warm breezes of October. Frankly, I don’t know which place I’d rather spend these months in.

Austin is a town of outdoor events. Start with South by Southwest (SXSW), the massive week-long music (and now film and interactive) festival that makes Woodstock look like a meeting of the Tuesday Ladies Lunch Club. Then there’s the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival in April, part of which is an outdoor fair. Only a couple of weeks ago, we celebrated Austin City Limits – a glorious weekend of music held in Zilker Park. And this weekend was the Texas Book Festival, which occupied the center of town and many of the rooms in the capitol building. Admission was free, and presentations ran all day long, with opportunities to hear lots of authors and get signed copies of their books.

It was my first visit, so I paced myself, going to only a few of the presentations. The idea was NOT to make myself crazy. And it turned out that a couple of the talks I wanted to attend – like Alton Brown talking about his newest book, Good Eats 2: The Middle Years – were so popular you had to have gotten tickets earlier in the week to assure yourself a spot. But I get happy just being around books and authors and other people who like books, so it didn’t really matter to me if I didn’t do much more than that this year. On the other hand, I did have a front seat to hear the remarkable Ian Frazier talking about his latest work, Travels in Siberia. I know, it doesn’t sound like a book you'd want to spend time with. But his style is so deliciously wry, and I figure any writer who can make the New Jersey Turnpike fun to read about can surely keep my attention on Siberia.

The other high point in my initiation to the Book Festival was a demo and talk by the fresh and lovely Melissa Clark, whose regular food column in the Wednesday New York Times is a favorite of mine. She had a fun, casual manner in the demo, and I stopped by the signing tent after her talk and spent a few more minutes chatting. She is as easy to talk to as her recipes appear to be in the making. So I looked forward to paging through the book, In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite: 150 Recipes and Stories About the Food You Love.

Friends, this is a very different cookbook. I’ve now jumped around through much of it, and almost every recipe looks like one I’d like to try. The backstories add a bit of humor and humanity, and the dishes sound really GOOD, but not in a flamboyant-combinations-of-hard-to-find-ingredients sort of way. Maybe approachable is the best word: every recipe reads like comfort food. Melissa (now that we’re such good friends, I really feel I can call her by her first name) writes with such easy familiarity that I found myself thinking more than once, You know, that seems so natural, why didn’t I think of it? It’s like you’re standing in the kitchen with her, looking around for some way to cook this fish, or chicken or pasta, when lo and behold, the solution fairly jumps out at you, from ingredients you might already have. So while I haven’t yet made any of the recipes, I feel confident of the outcomes.

Here’s one she made for the demonstration:

Bacon and Pecan Pralines, from In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite, by Melissa Clark

1 cup packed dark brown sugar
½ cup sour cream
¼ cup unsalted butter
1 cup pecan halves, toasted
⅔ cup crumbled bacon (about 5 strips)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a heavy saucepan with a candy thermometer hooked to the side, melt together the brown sugar, sour cream, and butter, stirring occasionally. Once the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved, raise the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil the mixture, without stirring, until the thermometer registers 235º, about 5 mins. Take the pan off the heat and let cool for 2 mins.

Stir in the pecans, bacon pieces, and vanilla, taking care not to splash the molten mixture. Continue to stir until the pecan mixture is thick and creamy, 1-2 mins. Using two table spoons, drop 1½-inch pralines onto wax paper or parchment paper. Let them cool and set. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 30.

Kitchen Goddess Note: According to the author, this recipe also works well with toasted walnuts (be sure they’re well-toasted) or pignoli nuts.


  1. Wow. Sour cream in pralines. That's a new one for me. Sounds delish tho!

  2. Erin and I LOVE Alton Brown! Don't know if she made it to any of his NY signings, though.

  3. Hey Lee- nice meeting you again! I just finished Melissa's book on vacation. I love her writing so I went through and read all the stories and skimmed the recipes. I have my eye on a few recipes to try out as soon as I get back in the kitchen.

  4. Wow, those pralines sound good. Thanks for sharing the recipe! Thanks, too, for sharing your experience at the book festival. I'm an amateur food blogger and I felt a little intimidated by the idea of going to such a huge event. Reading about your experience, it sounds like I really missed out! Maybe next year...

  5. Kate just called from Borders with her 50% off coupon and wanted a cookbook recommendation for her friend's birthday. I remembered this from your blog, so thanks for the idea!