The Naughty.

It’s not often you’ll see me talking about a specific product on this blog.  After all, when you’re trying to eat pretty cleanly and in a way that’s accessible to everyone, you’re basically going to end up being more lured by the marketing of Mother Nature (by the way, Ma, nice tomatoes!) than by any particular brand, store, or packaged food item.  I’m not above mentioning a few things here and there that I actually do use and like quite a bit, but in general, spinach is spinach, if you know what I mean.

However…when Whole Foods Market asks if they can give me some free bacon, I’m not going to say no.

OBVIOUSLY it has to be good bacon — nitrate-free, uncured, from humanely raised animals, all of that.  But equally obviously, Whole Foods has that covered.  So when a representative from my local store emailed me to ask if I’d want to try a package of the 365 brand Uncured Center-Cut Smokehouse bacon, and (if I liked it) maybe create a recipe or two to share here on the blog and help Whole Foods promote their current Bacon Smackdown contest, I couldn’t help but be a little bit intrigued.

I mean, COME ON, you guys.  It’s BACON.  And bacon, apparently, brings out the naughty in me.

I know this is a healthy food blog, and it’s a resource for people to turn to when they’re trying to feed themselves and their kids a little bit better than the average Standard American Diet.  I wish I could tell you that I did something wholesome and nutritious with the bacon.  I just…didn’t.  Depending on how you look at it, I guess, the bacon either brought out my worst…or my best.  (Mwah hahahahaha.)

This one’s for you, grown-ups.  Sure, you COULD share with the kids, and they’d probably like it; but sometimes we deserve a little treat that’s just for us, right?  This bacon recipe would be EXCELLENT with cocktails or a cold beer.  It would also make you the most popular person in your town if you happened to make a big batch of it for, say, Christmas gifts this year.  It’s wonderful for bribery purposes (not that I’ve, um, tried anything like that), and if nothing else, it made J. REALLY happy.

This, friends, is  the Naughty.

NAUGHTY, I tell you.

It is  the Bacon-Rosemary Caramel Corn.

Before you ask: YES, you could omit the nuts if you needed to, and substitute extra popcorn.  YES, you can make it without rosemary if you want a slightly less complex flavor, though I actually think the rosemary’s greatest contribution to this snack mix is the fact that it seems to enhance the bacon flavor.  (I tested the recipe both ways.  The SACRIFICES I make for you people!)  And YES, it’s far too full of sugar and bacon grease and just general all-around naughtiness to be anywhere near a blog about eating well.

And I’m sharing it anyway.

Behold, the power of the bacon…and make it at your own risk.

There were actually many jars. And now there are NONE.

Bacon-Rosemary Caramel Corn

4 slices thick-cut uncured bacon, diced (about 4-5 oz.)
2 cups roasted, salted peanuts
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1 1/2 tblsp pastured butter
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup Grade B maple syrup
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the diced bacon until crisp.  Remove the bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.  Transfer 3 tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat from the skillet to a large saucepan and add the popcorn kernels.  Cover and heat over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until the kernels have popped (about 5 minutes).
Transfer 8 cups of the popped corn to a large bowl (you may have a bit of popcorn leftover for later snacking).  Add the 2 cups of peanuts and the reserved diced bacon to the popcorn.
Pour off any grease remaining in the skillet, but don’t wipe it out.  Add the butter and brown sugar to the skillet and cook over medium-high heat, swirling the pan gently, until the butter melts and the sugar begins to melt.  Add the maple syrup and rosemary and continue to cook; don’t stir, or the caramel will become grainy.  Instead, swirl the pan every few moments to help mix the ingredients.  The caramel should come up to a bubble and appear foamy as it cooks.  Allow it to foam for 2-3 minutes, watching carefully until it turns dark amber and all the sugar is melted.  Don’t allow it to burn!
When the caramel is done, remove it from the heat and pour over the popcorn mixture.  Stir quickly and thoroughly to coat everything in the bowl evenly.  Pour the mixture onto a greased baking sheet and spread out into a single layer.
Bake the caramel corn at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven, transfer to a clean bowl, and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes to cool the caramel corn and help the coating become crispy.  Enjoy if you dare.