No, I wasn’t at a church supper – this is the name roadfood writers Jane & Michael Stern dubbed the combination of creamy macaroni & cheese topped with chili – a good enough reason to start going to church, I think.
But guess what. Today I hung out and had lunch with the Cirque du Soleil‘s travelling chef, and then she took me on a behind-the scenes tour of the Corteo Big Top. I went on the stage, and saw some of the performers stretching in the artists’ tent and everything. I’m not even ashamed about how much I gushed over the whole experience. How cool a job is cooking while travelling with Cirque for 4 years? The only thing that makes it cooler is that Amira rides her motorbike when they pack up and move from city to city. (I think she should have her own show on Food Network.)
I assumed that with 150+ mouths to feed three times a day, the food would be pretty much foodservice; not so. Among Amira’s offerings were some of the best made-from-scratch mac & cheese I’ve tasted (I’ve been disappointed more often than not by restaurant mac & cheese) and homemade meatballs she made with ground beef, sauteed onions, breadcrumbs and cream, and they were ethereal. She simmered them in a tomato “gravy” (you know good old-school chefs when they refer to tomato sauce as gravy) that had started its life with the leftover bits of smoked beef brisket from a barbecue the night before, and was simmered for 7 hours before being pureed and added to the meatballs. Out of all the options I chose these two things mostly because I wanted to try them, but also because I love the combination of cheesy mac and tomato-saucy chili, and this was similar. I suppose both are more grown-up versions of macaroni and cheese with ketchup.
So this planted the seed for dinner. When I opened the fridge to evaluate our options, I discovered a small pot with the last of the chili we had a few days ago (lucky for me it improves after a few days) and so made some quick mac & cheese (just a creamy stovetop version, not crumbed and baked) to put it to bed on.
But since I don’t now have a recipe to offer up, only an idea, I’ve been thinking I should share my bacon maple caramel corn recipe, since I’ve been inundated with requests for it since I made a batch on CBC Tuesday morning, to fill the empty bowl that Mike Heltay (realtor extraordinaire) bid an astounding $875 for during the empty bowls benefit for the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank earlier this year. Thanks Mike! I promised to fill it with bacon caramel corn, and I’m sure that jacked up the bid at least $700. So here it is. In his wife, Phyllis’ words: the holy trinity of corn, caramel and bacon, all morphed into one. (If you want to use more bacon or drippings, be my guest.)
(Sorry I don’t have a photo – just imagine deep caramel corn studded with chunks of bacon.)
Bacon Maple-Caramel Corn with Pecans
3-4 slices bacon
6-8 cups air popped popcorn (about 1/4 cup kernels)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup or corn syrup
2-4 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup pecan pieces or halves (optional)
Preheat oven to 250° F. In a medium skillet, cook the bacon until crisp. Transfer to a plate, crumble into chunky pieces and reserve 1-2 tablespoons of the drippings.
Spray a large bowl with non-stick spray and put the popcorn in it, along with the pecans if you’re using them.
Combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and reserved bacon drippings in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil without stirring, swirling the pan occasionally, for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and baking soda. It will foam up at first.
Quickly pour over the popcorn and stir to coat well, adding the reserved bacon. Tongs work really well for this! Spread onto a cookie sheet or roasting pan and bake for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Cool.
Makes about 7 cups.
Per cup: 244 calories, 4.4 g total fat (2.4 g saturated fat, 1.4 g monounsaturated fat, 0.3 g polyunsaturated fat), 3.3 g protein, 49 g carbohydrate, 14.7 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber. 16% calories from fat.