Catskills, NY (WIBX) - It was bacon bonanza this Memorial Day weekend in the Catskills! Well, the menu called for all things bacon thanks to Culinary Artist and Cookbook Author, Marie Rama. Rama, a Bronxville, NY native is an independent food, beverage, and media consultant. According to her biography in a book she co-authored with Bryan Miller--Cooking For Dummies--she's worked as a professional pastry chef and recipe developer for several food companies and associations, including McIlhenny Company's Tabasco Pepper Sauce and the United Fresh Fruits and Vegestable Association. She also serves as a spokesperson for Sunkist Growers as the "Lemon Lady" and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows around the U.S. and Canada. Her husband, Mark Reiter, is a successful Author and Editor in his own right, he co-wrote and edited, The Final Four of Everything, a book dedicated to "bracketology."

Over the Memorial Day weekend, about 15 of us, her family included, gathered in the Catskills to sample some of the items she plans to unfold in her next cook book and blog. This time, her goal is to incorporate bacon into her dishes. Rama comes from a long line of culinary experts--growing up her family owned a restaurant and it seems only natural for her to continue her family's tradition into the culinary world. All of us, including the 5 vegetarians, were willing participants to help Rama in her endeavor to test out her bacon inspired meals. Although the vegetarians amongst us were able to enjoy dishes without bacon--Rama didn't dissapoint. She and her family, which includes her 91-year-old mother-in-law, Hilda, were gracious hosts.

We shared the professionally prepared foods together on the deck of their beautiful lake house at Sleepy Hollow Lake. Hilda, shared great stories about her family escaping Nazi Germany in the 1930s, settling in Israel, and her subsequent relocation to the U.S. as a widower raising two children--it made for a complete experience. From sampling bacon inspired meals, to sharing the weekend with people who can still teach us about the importance of tolerance, overcoming adversaty, forgiveness, eating healthy, exercising, longetivity, hard work and having fun with family and friends--In many ways, this is what Memorial Day is partly about. Remembering those who fought for our freedom and all the rights we enjoy, to continuing to live in such a way that brings us together as a people, all while honoring our past and remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for justice and freedom.

Here are a three recipes--one from the book, Cooking For Dummies, the other two will be in the next cookbook:

  • Bacon and Cheese Strata

Tools: 2-quar(2-L) shallow baking dish, mixing bowl, chef's knife, skillet

Preparation Time: About 25 minutes, plus 15 minutes standing time

Baking Time: About 35 minutes

Butter for greasing baking dish

8-ounce loaf of Italian bread

1/4 pound bacon (6 slices)

1-1/2 cups grated Gouda, Gruyere or Italian fontina cheese

1/3 cup rinsed, chopped spinach or sorrel leaves

5 large egss

2 cups milk

2 tablespoons tomato-based salsa

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

  1. Butter the bottom and sides of the 2-quart shallow baking dish
  2. Trim and discard the ends of the loaf of bread and cut it into about 16 slices. If the bread is fresh, dry the slices in a 175 Degree oven for about 15 minutes. Arrange the slices in the baking dish, overlapping the edges.
  3. Saute the bacon in a skillet (or cook on paper towels in the microwave) until crisp. Drain on paper towels. When it's cool enough to handle, crumble it into small pieces.
  4. Sprinkle the crumbled bacon over the bread slices and top with grated cheese and chopped spinach or sorrel leaves.
  5. In a medium mixing bowl, beat together eggs, milk, salsa, and salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the layers of bread, bacon, cheese and spinach. Using a fork, press the bread slices down to submerge them in the egg mixture. Let it set for about 15 minutes.
  6. Preheat the over to over 350 Degrees
  7. Bake on the middle oven rack, about 35 minutes or until the custard mixture is formed and lightly brown. Do not overbake. Remove from the oven and serve immediately, cutting into squares.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings. The experts recommend to serve this dish with a simple salad.

  • Cauliflower and Bacon Gratin

"This gratin recipe started as a lighter alternative to the every-popular baked macaroni and cheese casserole. Substituting cauliflower for starchy macaroni seemed like a healthy choice. I’ve added a little curry, some nutmeg and some hot sauce to tweak the cheese sauce and a scallion-breadcrumb topping adds a subtle layer of crunch. The bacon doesn’t dominate but rather pulls all the other flavors together. I like using a thicker cut bacon when cooking casseroles since the bacon is actually cooked twice: first sautéed and then cooked again. You can substitute Gruyere cheese for the cheddar and add a little Parmesan to the sauce, if you wish. I first served this dish at our Memorial Day picnic with grilled steak and chicken and when I asked people how to improve the sauce or seasoning, my very grateful diners replied, 'Don’t change a thing!'"--Marie Rama

5 slices thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces

2 large shallots, diced

1-1/4 cups low sodium chicken stock

1 large head cauliflower (about 2-1/2 to 3 pounds) cut into 1-1/2-inch florets

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

½ cup half and half

1 cup whole milk ricotta

6 ounces (about 1-3/4 cups) sharp yellow cheddar, coarsely grated

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated

4 or more generous dashes hot sauce, to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup homemade whole wheat coarsely crumbled bread crumbs

1/2 cup finely chopped scallions, green parts only

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 3-quart shallow baking dish. (A 9 by 13-inch Pyrex casserole dish is fine.)
  2. In a large heavy saucepan, cook the bacon over medium heat until browned and most of the fat is rendered, but the bacon is not yet crisp. Transfer the bacon to paper-towel lined plate to drain, reserving 3 tablespoons of fat in a small bowl. Pour 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat back into the skillet. Add the shallots and cook about 2 minutes over medium heat, or just until the shallots begin to soften. Add the stock and stir, scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Add the cauliflower; cover, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and steam until the cauliflower is just tender, about 6 minutes.
  3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cauliflower to the buttered baking dish. Raise the heat and simmer the pan liquid about a minute or until it is slightly reduced. Add the butter to the pan and whisk until melted over medium heat; whisk in the flour and cook the roux about 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Slowly add the half and half, whisking about 2 to 3 minutes to blend smooth. Reduce the heat and add the ricotta and half of the cheddar cheese. Simmer about 2 to 3 minutes, whisking, until the sauce is smooth and thickened. Remove from the heat; stir in the curry powder, nutmeg, and hot sauce; adjust the seasoning with the salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower and stir gently to combine. Evenly scatter the bacon and then the remaining cheddar cheese over the cauliflower. Cover the gratin loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes.
  5. While the gratin bakes, transfer the remaining 1 tablespoon bacon fat to a medium skillet over medium heat; add the bread crumbs and the scallions and toss well to coat the crumbs in the fat.
  6. Remove the gratin from the oven and raise the temperature to 450 degrees. Sprinkle the breadcrumb-scallion mixture evenly over the top. Return the gratin to the oven and bake, uncovered, 5 to 10 minutes more, until the cheese is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are a golden brown. Serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8

Baked Beans with Bacon and Molasses

"Here’s a classic combination of beans, molasses, ketchup and bacon that never fails to please a crowd gathering for a barbecue on a hot summer’s day. It’s a dish that’s easy to assemble the night before and then baked the day it’s served. Adjust the spiciness, by varying the amounts of hot sauce and habanero pepper called for. And if you can’t find the wonderful orange or red habanero in your grocery market, you can substitute half a jalapeno. Either applewood smoked or hickory-flavored bacon works, just be sure it’s thick-cut." --Marie Rama

4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

1/2 teaspoon red or yellow habanero pepper, seeded and chopped

½ cup molasses

1 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 10-ounce package frozen lima beans

1 28-ounce can baked beans

1 16-ounce can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

Hot sauce to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack positioned in the middle of the oven.
  2. In a medium saucepan, cook the bacon over medium heat until lightly browned, but not crisp, and most of the fat is rendered. Transfer the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate to drain, reserving the drippings in the pan.
  3. Add the onion to the saucepan and cook over medium heat until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often. Stir in the habanero and cook for about 30 seconds or just to soften the pepper. Add the molasses, ketchup and vinegar; bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. While the sauce simmers, in a small saucepan, cook the lima beans according to package directions. Transfer the drained lima beans, the baked beans and the kidney beans to a large ovenproof casserole, fitted with a lid; add the sauce and stir well to combine. Season to taste with hot sauce and black pepper; sprinkle the bacon pieces over the top.
  5. Cover the casserole and bake for about 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Serves 8 to 10