Countdown to the Brooklyn Bacon Takedown!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Just picked up all my bacon for the Brooklyn Bacon Takedown at the Bellhouse this Sunday.

The event is sold out, but I will keep you all updated with what I do with my bacon! For those of you lucky souls who have tickets, I look forward to seeing you and catching up at the event.

Vote for me! The newbie!

Post-Dissertation Life: Come Watch Me at the 4th Annual Brooklyn Bacon Takedown


I think that there is a little bit of confusion among most people as to when life after the dissertation starts to look “normal” again. I only say this because I have found my friends to be genuinely befuddled:

“What?! You’re still not done?!”

Well, I respond, it’s kind of a long process. Yes, you have to write your dissertation — and that can take forever and a day. When it is done, you submit it to your committee members as early as you can before your defense. Then you defend it in front of them. You take their suggestions during the defense and you revise your dissertation to address — as best as you can in the time that you have allotted yourself to revise — their feedback. Then you submit the whole thing again and wait to see if there is anything else that needs to be done (formatting, paperwork, etc.). If everything looks okay, then you can start breathing again.

For myself, as of Monday, all revisions are finished, the dissertation is uploaded and sent to Proquest, and all my library fines are paid. So I can finally officially say that I am done!

I am only now slowly beginning to ease back into life: tidying up my apartment after almost half a year of neglect, doing laundry, seeing friends again, dealing with the crush of emails and electronic whatnot that have been accumulating since June.

And after so many months of being out of the kitchen, what is the first thing I do?

I sign up to compete in the 4th Annual Bacon Takedown in Brooklyn and cook for 200 people.

That’s right. And what kind of baconbiscuit212 would I be if I didn’t?

For those of you who are in the NY Metro Area, please do come out and cheer me on at my first Takedown!

October 14 at 2:00pm at The Bell House.

I will have 15 pounds of bacon to play with.

15 pounds, people!

There are just a few tickets left. $15 nabs you the chance to taste the 20 competitors’ dishes, including my own. For tickets, click here.

It’s gonna’ be greasy 😉

Orecchiette Carbonara with Freshly-Shelled Peas


On a hot and sticky mid-August night several years ago, I boarded an overnight train from Paris to Milan. The cabin was filled with two sets of bunk-beds that were meant to accommodate four people. Instead, we were five because the couple sharing the cabin with us had a toddler.

The family asked if they could have the bottom bunks, which was fine by me because I wanted to bunk closest to the itty bitty window that cracked open at a woefully insufficient angle.

Insufficient because the father had removed his shoes and the smell was horrific.

It was so bad that I couldn’t sleep. I was finally forced to look in my Italian phrasebook and scan the pages by moonlight for something appropriate to say that would make the man put his darn shoes back on!

Unfortunately, my phrase book had nothing related to shoes, or putting on shoes or telling people that the smell of their feet was intolerable. However, I did manage this:

“Per fevore, signore. I vostri piedi, è violazione dei miei diritti umani!”

Which worked out roughly to mean, “Excuse me, sir. Your feet, this is a violation of my human rights!”

No response. So I tried these other phrases:

I vostri piedi, sto svenendo . . . Non riesco a respirare . . . !”

Which means: “Your feet, I’m passing out . . . I cannot breathe . . . !”

Then I repeated, “I vostri piedi,” pointed to his feet, crossed my eyes and pretended to die.

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

He must have understood me because he refused to acknowledge my existence. I tried not to take it personally, even though I hated him more and more as we crawled south to Italy. Maybe, I thought, he was trying to incapacitate his over-active son. Or maybe he was angry at his wife and was trying to suffocate her with the smell of his feet.

Seriously. If that smell could be weaponized, the war on terror would be over.

So what does this have to do with carbonara, that amazing Italian dish that uses the residual heat of freshly boiled pasta to transform bacon, beaten eggs and Parmesan into a creamy sauce?

In that very same Italian phrase book was a recipe for spaghetti alla carbonara, a recipe that I still rely on to this day.

The idea to use orecchiette and peas actually comes from Suzanne Goin‘s Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Her description of how orecchiette are perfectly shaped to cup small bits of bacon and peas was irresistible to me, but I prefer to stick with my old phrasebook’s way of making carbonara because it only uses one pan — and who doesn’t prefer that?

These proportions will make enough for two, but can easily be adjusted for more. For something richer, you could add about a 1/3 of a cup of caramelized chopped onions to the mix. This recipe was also a great way to start using the wonderful shell peas that are at the market right now, as well as the bacon and pullet eggs from my CSA.

Pullet eggs are small eggs from young hens that have just started laying. They say that two pullet eggs are the equivalent of one regular chicken egg, but I find that it’s really more like 3 pullet eggs = 2 regular chicken eggs. Pullet eggs are wonderfully rich in both flavor and mouthfeel, just perfect for carbonara if you can get a hold of some.

I also used up the last of my CSA bacon ends to make my bacon bits, but you can use crumbled cooked bacon strips in this if bacon ends are not handy.

Ingredients:

1/3 pound of dried orecchiette

1/3 cup of bacon bits or crumbled cooked bacon

1/3 cup of freshly shucked green peas or frozen peas

5 pullet eggs or three regular eggs

1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan

Freshly grated black pepper

Olive oil

How to prepare:

1. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. When the water has reached a rolling boil, add the pasta. While the pasta is cooking, set up the other ingredients. This recipe moves quickly near the end, so it is a good idea to have everything ready to go.

2. Combine the Parmesan and eggs in a small bowl with freshly ground black pepper.

3. When the pasta is not quite al dente, add the peas to the boiling water. Let the pasta and peas finish cooking together. Drain and pour the pasta and peas back into the saucepan. Add the bacon along with a quick drizzle of olive oil. Pour the beaten egg mixture over the pasta and begin stirring everything together quickly. When you add the eggs, the pasta should be warm enough to barely cook them. You want the sauce to be just thick enough to coat the pasta with a glossy sheen. If the sauce seems soupy instead of creamy, put the pan over a very low flame and continue to stir and toss the pasta quickly until the sauce turns smooth and creamy.

Don’t worry if you accidentally overcook the eggs and they scramble a little bit. It will still be delicious.

Split Pea Soup with Bacon Ends


A while ago, I was gifted a giant tub of bacon ends from a member of a different CSA. They languished in the back of my freezer until a deep spring clean last week.

Bacon ends are a terrific thing to have in the house — even if you’re like me and fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” camp. Just make sure that you have them somewhere you can see them at all times, a visual reminder that every dish is better with bacon.

Not only are bacon ends a good thing to always have on hand, but they are also much more economical than buying bacon strips. Chopped up and slowly browned, they make wonderful bacon bits. The rendered fat can be used in the place of oil or butter, or in anything that could be enhanced by some smoky porcine flavor.

And let’s be honest, what wouldn’t benefit from added porkiness?

People can sometimes be a little skeeved out by cooking with animal fat. However, so long as the pigs are pasture-raised by a farmer who follows organic practices, there should be no fear of needing Lipitor. Bacon fat from pasture-raised pork even has the added benefit of being a good source of vitamin D, making bacon fat certainly as good as butter!

I’m not saying that you should sit around the house and chow down on scoops of it, but a little bacon fat is much healthier for you than all those omnipresent, heavily-processed vegetable oils. My rule of thumb is that the more steps in processing it takes to get the food to your mouth, the less healthy it is for you. I would even go as far as to argue that it’s not even food at that point. This is why I always shake my head at people who buy low-fat foods because in order to make up for the taste and flavor deficit, those items are generally bulked up with tons of sugar — which might be worse for you than the fat.

Plus low-fat foods taste bad.

Anyway, no more ranting. Back to the soup!

Dried split peas scream for bacon! But if animals are not your thing, you can leave the bacon out and make the soup with smoked paprika instead.

Ingredients:

About 3 or 4 ounces of bacon or bacon ends, cut into small dice

1 small onion, chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

2 stalks of celery, diced

1 pound (16 ounces) of dried split peas, picked over for small stones

2 bay leaves

4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock + 1 cup of water

Salt and pepper

Smoked paprika

Special equipment:

A hand-held immersion blender (optional)

How to prepare:

1. In a large Dutch oven, cook the bacon or bacon ends over medium heat with a little bit of olive oil until most of the fat has rendered. Reserve a few bits of bacon for garnish. Spoon off all but one tablespoon of bacon fat. Keep the bacon fat in a clean container in your freezer, and use it for other things like roasting potatoes, eggs, roasting chickens, anything really.

2. Add the vegetables to the pot. Let them cook until the vegetables have softened and the onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the split peas and toss them with the vegetables until they are evenly coated with bacon fat. Add the bay leaves, the stock and the water. Bring everything up to boil, and then reduce the heat. Let the peas simmer until they are tender, about 45 minutes to an hour. Periodically skim the top of the soup of scum and grease. If the soup seems too thick, thin it out by adding more stock or water.

3. When the peas are tender, you can leave the soup alone if you like a chunky soup. I like to partially purée the soup so that it is creamier, but still has some interesting bits of vegetables and peas in it. This is super easy to do with an immersion blender. Just insert the stick blender into the soup and blend as much as you like. You can also transfer half of the soup to a regular blender or a food processor, then add the blended soup back to the unblended half. If you use a blender, keep your hand smacked tight onto the blender lid lest it go flying off, leaving your kitchen covered in pea soup spray. Adjust the seasoning for a final time, and thin the soup with stock or water again if it seems too thick.

Serve topped with a few of the reserved bacon bits, a dusting of smoked paprika and with some good, hearty bread.

Colcannon and Irish Bacon


I’m not really the kind of person to post Irish dishes simply because it’s Saint Patrick’s Day. In all honesty, this meal came about from searching for something to accompany the nice Irish bacon that I get from my CSA.

While idea hunting, I came across colcannon, and somewhere in the dusty outer reaches of my memory came the image of mashed potatoes and winter greens mushed together. Not quite sure where I had it first; it might have been at some random inn or, more likely, some Irish pub in Boston. In any case, it didn’t make that much of an impression on me at the time. Furthermore, I would have never considered making it if I hadn’t read this from The Country Cooking of Ireland by Colman Andrews:

“To serve [colcannon] in the traditional Irish manner, push the back of a large soup spoon down in the middle of each portion to make a crater, then put a large pat of room-temperature butter into each one to make a ‘lake.’ Diners dip each forkful of colcannon into the butter until its walls are breached.”

Holy. Crap.

If I had known that you were supposed to eat colcannon that way . . . well, let’s just say that it would have been dangerous. Dangerously delicious, I mean!

In his recipe, Andrews asks you to heat the milk together with chopped green onions, and then beat the hot infused milk into the mashed potatoes. I actually spaced out and tipped all my cold milk into the potatoes before I remembered that step. Regardless, it still tasted wonderful.

So if you think that a dipping “lake” of melted butter for your mashed potatoes and greens (which might as well be ornamental at this point) sounds as awesome as it does to me, than colcannon is definitely for you!

And once those “walls are breached,” Irish bacon tastes pretty darn good in the ensuing butter flood. Don’t forget the mustard!

Ingredients:

2 large Russet (or floury) potatoes, about 2 pounds, peeled and cut into large dice

1 cup of whole milk

6-8 tablespoons of butter at room temperature

1 bunch of Lacinato kale, stemmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (you could also use curly leaf kale, savoy cabbage, or any other kind of leafy winter green)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

About a pound of Irish bacon

Coarse Dijon mustard

How to prepare:

1. Place the diced potatoes in a large pot of salted water and bring everything to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the potatoes until they can be easily crushed against the side of the pot with the back of a wooden spoon. Drain the potatoes well. Add two tablespoons of butter and the cup of milk to the potatoes. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes until all the potato pieces are crushed. If the mash doesn’t seem sufficiently nice and fluffy, add some more milk, a little bit at a time, until it has the right consistency. Cover the pot while you prepare the rest.

2. Melt about a tablespoon of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the cut kale and a little bit of water (about a tablespoon). Season the kale with salt and pepper. Sauté the kale until it begins to wilt. Tip the kale into the potatoes and stir everything together to combine. Adjust the seasoning.

3. Brown the Irish bacon slices on both sides in a large cast-iron skillet. Transfer the browned slices to paper towels to drain.

4. Mound a good amount of warm colcannon on each plate. Using the back of a spoon, make wells in the middle of each mound and put a hefty knob of butter in each one.

Serve your colcannon with a few slices of Irish bacon and grainy mustard on the side.

Irish Bacon, Reserve Farmstead Cheese and Chive Drop Biscuits


Okay, I swear that I am going to start this new year right and get myself in the gym this week.

Many of my friends would be shaking their heads in disbelief mildly surprised to learn that I have a gym membership. I actually never talk about it because the last time that I went to the gym was in June. Yes, you read that correctly: June. My gym is open 24/7 during the week, and when I was going, I liked to slink in about 11pm or midnight when it was completely empty. That way, I could do as little as possible without feeling self-conscious about it.

But I digress . . .

I made these drop biscuits with the other wedge of CSA cheese (we get two different kinds at every pick-up), and the remaining Irish bacon from my CSA. The texture of home-made biscuits is always better than anything you could buy. Plus, they are so easy to pull together and so quick to bake, that you will want to make them all the time.

And I promise to get in better shape . . . as soon as I polish off these biscuits.

* This post was actually written the day after the Horseradish Cheddar and Irish Bacon Mac & Cheese one. However, in the whole hubbub following the Daring Cooks’ challenge, I haven’t had time to post it until today. In the meanwhile, amazingly awesome SweaterMeat posted her Cheesy Breakfast Biscuit Sandwiches on her blog, Ugly Food Tastes Better. If you haven’t already dropped by, check out blog and her biscuits!

The point being that there must be something in the air right now about drop biscuits!

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour

2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder

3/4 teaspoon of baking soda

1 teaspoon of salt

6 tablespoons of butter, cubed

6.5 ounces of reserve farmstead cheese (or really any kind of aged cheese), grated

1/2 cup of chives, chopped

1/2 pound of cooked Irish bacon, cut into 1/2-inch strips

1 1/2 cups of whole milk or buttermilk

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 450°.

2. Combine the flour, the baking powder, the baking soda, and the salt together in a large bowl. Add the cubes of butter. Using your fingertips, blend the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.

3. Stir in the grated cheese, the chives, and the bacon. Add the milk or the buttermilk all at once. Continue to stir until all the ingredients are just combined.

4. Drop the dough in twelve equal mounds about an inch or two apart on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake the biscuits until they are golden, about 18 to 20 minutes.

Horseradish Cheddar and Irish Bacon Mac & Cheese


Already I can see that the beginning of the new year is going to be a tug-of-war between the wanting-to-detox me, and the part of me that thinks that butter and cheese are inalienable rights to be defended Minutemen-style with muskets and bayonets.

I know that I swore to lighten things up after the holidays, but after about a day of that, I was starving. And when you’re starving, you need carbs. You need fat. You ideally need carbs and fat baked together with bacon.

I suppose that if you wanted to make this slightly healthier, you could substitute whole wheat pasta for the regular pasta, but I have never been the biggest fan of whole wheat pasta. Maybe it’s a texture thing.

I used the horseradish cheddar cheese (what was left of it after New Year’s), and the Irish bacon from my farmer to pull this together. Two, count ’em, two CSA products in one dish! Whoo hoo!

Ingredients:

1 pound of pasta (I used casarecce)

1/2 pound of Irish or Canadian bacon, cut into 1/2-inch strips

6.5 ounces of horseradish cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

4 tablespoons of butter, plus one tablespoon

1/4 cup of flour

1 quart of whole milk

Salt and pepper

About 1/2 cup of panko, or breadcrumbs

Fresh chives

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook it until it is slightly under al dente. Drain it, and set it aside as you prepare the rest of the dish.

2. While the pasta is cooking, brown the Irish bacon in a large skillet. As Irish bacon is leaner than regular bacon, it will not be as crispy when cooked. Once the strips are browned and most the fat has rendered, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

3. In a medium-sized sauce pan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, stir in the flour. Cook the flour for about a minute or two (you want to get rid of that raw, floury taste). Once the flour has toasted a little, add the milk all at once and whisk everything together. Raise the heat to medium, and continue to whisk the sauce occasionally as it thickens.

4. Once the sauce has thickened, turn off the heat and stir in the cheese. Continue stirring until all the cheese has melted. Adjust the seasoning.

5. In a large bowl, combine the pasta, the bacon, and the cheese sauce. Spoon the mixture into a large buttered baking dish.

6. In a small sauce pan, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter over low heat. Toss the panko or breadcrumbs in the butter, and then spread them evenly over the top of the pasta. Bake the mac & cheese for about 30 minutes. The top should be golden brown, and the cheese sauce should be bubbly. If the cheese sauce is bubbling, but the top has yet to brown, you can pop the dish under the broiler for a minute or two to toast the breadcrumbs.

Let the dish rest for about 10 to 15 minutes before topping it with freshly snipped chives and serving.

Irish Bacon and Cabbage Soup


From the archives!

As I am currently a little out-of-commission, I decided to revisit some meals that I have made in the recent past, but haven’t blogged about yet.

This soup is one of them. A few months ago, I got some Irish bacon in my CSA. What is the difference between Irish bacon and regular ol’ streaky bacon? Well, according to Wikipedia — the be-all, end-all arbiter of everything — regular bacon is made from pork belly (which is why it’s so nice and streaked with fat). Irish bacon, on the other hand, is made from center-cut pork loin — which is along the backside of the pig. Because this kind of bacon is not from the belly, it tends to be much leaner. There is usually a narrow band of fat that rings the edge, but each slice is generally more pork than fat. Similar to Canadian bacon, Irish bacon isn’t supposed to get crispy like belly bacon. It still has incredible flavor though, and holds up well to things like thick soups and stews. This recipe, adapted from Epicurious, makes a warm, wonderful, and traditional stick-it-to-your ribs kind of meal. Perfect for the rain and newly arrived cold weather. Ingredients: 1 pound of sliced Irish bacon 3 tablespoons of butter 1 medium onion, chopped 2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced 1 quart of chicken stock 2 bay leaves 1/2 of a small head of Savoy cabbage, cored and thinly sliced Salt and pepper Special equipment: 1 hand-held immersion blender How to prepare: 1. Place the bacon in a medium saucepan, and cover it with about two inches of cold water. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the water is at an even simmer, skimming any foam that rises to the surface. Cook the bacon for about 7 minutes. Drain the bacon, and when it is cool enough to handle, cut it width-wise into 1/2-inch strips. 2. In a large casserole, melt the butter over moderate heat. When the butter begins to bubble, add the chopped onions. Sauté the onions, stirring often, until they begin to soften and turn slightly translucent. Add the potatoes to the onions, and sauté everything together for about 2-3 minutes more. Add the stock and the bay leaves. Adjust the seasoning, and bring everything to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer everything together until the potatoes are soft and tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. 3. When the potatoes are ready, add the cabbage to the pot. Simmer the cabbage until it is soft too, about 5 minutes. Fish out the bay leaves and discard them. Don’t forget . . . like I did! 4. Once you find and remove the bay leaves, blend the soup together until it is smooth. If the soup is really thick, you may want to add some water to it to thin it out a little. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender or a food processor, working in batches if necessary. Once the soup is puréed, stir in the bacon. Adjust the seasoning for the final time, and rewarm the soup if needed before serving.