Last year I served up some some blue bacon crystal meth rock candy dubbed Bacon Bad and won a year’s worth of bacon from Hormel. That was FIFTY-TWO POUNDS YO! Fifty-two pounds that I ate in one sitting shared with family and friends!
I have no idea what I’m doing yet, but I do know one thing:
I would be thrilled to feed smoky, fatty, crispy, pork belly to you all again!
Now the deets:
When will you guys be serving up your insane bacon creations? October 19th from 2pm-4pm
Most of you who follow this blog know that for the past couple of years I have been a regular competitor in a series of cook-offs here in NYC known as The Takedowns. However, it occurred to me the other day that for all of my blog posts announcing competitions and updating you on what happened at each one, I have never actually written about what it’s like to prepare and compete in one.
In contrast to what one might think, there is no cooking on site; the venue just isn’t set up to accommodate that. Rather, all the cooking happens at home and then the competitors — known collectively as the Takedowners — tote their creations to the venue about an hour early to stake out a table and set up the tastings. The tastings are open to the ticket-buying public — not just the judges — which means that each of us has to prep about 250 1-oz. samples for everyone to taste.
If 250 1-oz. samples sounds like a lot, it is! The majority of Takedowners do multiple test runs before deciding on a final entry, and most try to plan ahead so that they are not scrambling at the last minute to put together something that is both tasty and winsome.
I wish that I was one of those people, but partly due to my schedule and mostly due to my inability to get organized early, I am usually the Takedowner pulling out her hair and freaking out less than 24 hours before the event. I do console myself by thinking that stress and time constraints are the mothers of invention. Sometimes it works in my favor like last summer when I brought home two ice cream makers for my Backwoods Blueberry Buttermilk Sherbet.
Sometimes it just results in something damn weird that I am still damn proud of like my Miso Awesome Cookies.
I had a couple of ideas for this year’s Brooklyn Mac and Cheeze Takedown (pizza mac and cheese? garlic bread-inspired mac and cheese? chocolate mac and cheese?). Ultimately, I decided that a baked mac and cheese was the way to go.
My entry for this year’s Brooklyn Mac & Cheeze Takedown? Mac-sagna, the heavenly mash-up of mac and cheese and lasagna.
Using a gallon of homemade, three-hour pork and beef Bolognese, a gallon of béchamel, four pounds of macaroni, two pounds of shredded mozzarella, two pounds of grated Parmesan, and half a pound of garlic and parsley-buttered bread crumbs, I made two gigantic 21 x 12 inch trays of mac-sagna for champions.
It was delicious and I had to stop myself from eating it like this:
Sadly, there were so many other excellent mac and cheeses that I did not win. I did, however, get to see and spend time with good friends, taste a lot of amazingly creative and imaginative dishes, and be part of another drunkenly excellent Takedown. That alone is worth every sweaty second in the kitchen.
A scaled down recipe is forthcoming. In the meanwhile, you can check out my fellow Takedowners here and here, and read more about the lovely winner here.
The first really, truly mind-blowing Scotch egg that I ever had was at The Breslin. The breading was shatteringly crisp, the sausage was moist and savory, and the yolk . . . oh the yolk! Just liquid enough, it oozed and spread over the plate like runny gold. I may have moaned. I most certainly peppered the server with questions: “But HOW???? How do they get the egg so PERFECT????? How do they possibly PEEL it so that the egg stays so intact????? The whites must be barely set! DO THEY HAVE THE DELICATE FINGERS OF ANGELS BACK THERE????” In response, I only got a coy smile.
“Sous vide!” my friend Jason hissed, “It must be sous vide!”
Possible, but doubtful. It was hard to imagine anyone going through the trouble of sous-videing the quantity of eggs that a restaurant would require every night. As we pondered and chewed, and pondered another round of Scotch eggs because anything good should always be ordered twice, I thought that this would be my deep-frying project. I will make this at home, I thought, and all the Scotch eggs will be mine!
As I must be the world’s worst egg peeler, I let the eggs boil until the yolks were firmer — about 5 minutes. Next time, I’ll let them be a little runnier as I found out that a layer of sausage hides a multitude of fingernail gouges and fingertip-sized divots. The most important thing is that the oil remains hot — between 350-375° F — and the layer of sausage must remain reasonably thin.
All in all, it’s a pretty decadent affair for such a simple preparation. Deep-frying is messy business, but the final result is unbelievably satisfying.
1. Place 6 eggs in the bottom of a medium saucepan and add enough cold water to cover them. Over medium-high heat, bring the water to a boil. When the water begins to boil, cover the pan, remove it from the burner, and let it stand for 3.5-5 minutes, depending on how set you like to have your yolks (3.5 minutes for runny yolks, 4 minutes for just set yolks, 5 for perfectly set yolks) .
2. While the eggs are cooking, prepare an ice water bath. Carefully drain the water and gently roll the eggs around in the pan to crack the shells. Plunge the eggs into the ice water bath and let them sit there until they are cool enough to handle and peel. Once peeled, very gently pat them dry with paper towels.
3. Divide the sausage into six equal portions. Flatten and shape each portion into a thin disc about 1/4 of an inch thick. Lay the patty in the palm of your hand and gently rest a soft-boiled egg in the center of it. Wrap and mold the sausage around the egg, pinching and sealing the seams shut as you go. Make sure that the sausage layer is no thicker than 1/4 of an inch, otherwise the sausage will not cook through before the outside of the Scotch egg begins to burn. Repeat with the remaining sausage and eggs.
4. In a large, heavy pot, pour in enough oil so that you have a depth of about 2-2.5 inches. Insert the deep-fry thermometer and bring the oil up to 375°. While the oil is heating up, whisk the remaining 2 eggs in a shallow bowl. Keep the panko crumbs another shallow bowl.
5. Right before the oil reaches the right temperature, work quickly and dip each sausage ball in the beaten egg and roll it in the panko crumbs. While keeping an eye on the temperature, carefully place each Scotch egg in the hot oil. You will need to work in batches and the temperature should never drop below 350° F.
6. Turn the Scotch eggs occasionally so that they cook evenly. When they are golden and crisp — about 5-6 minutes — use a slotted spoon to remove them from the oil. Let them drain on a paper towel lined plate. Serve immediately.
Even though your zodiac animal’s years are special ones, they can also leave you more vulnerable to bad luck and impending doom if you are not careful. To compensate for all the bad luck that you will likely experience this year, the universe promises — as a reward for your suffering — that next year will be amazing!
(On a side note, only the Chinese would think to remind you not to eat your zodiac animal during your zodiac animal year.)
I remember the last Year of the Horse as being one of the worst years of graduate school that I had ever had. It was so bad that I moved to France (unbeknownst to me at the time, apparently traveling mitigates your bad luck since you will be physically removed from any potentially disastrous situations at home and can inflict your misfortune on a bunch of strangers instead). Furthermore, my grandmother died while I was away.
“Horseshit,” my cousin reiterated. “And I might remind you that your grandmother didn’t die. Our grandmother died.”
Touché, dear Cousin, but as I watched our family bicker around the table at New Year’s Dinner, I couldn’t help but think it was an omen, a portent of things to come. It didn’t help that every conversation that I had in the two weeks following Chinese New Year’s Day was awkward and stilted. Those interactions were so uncomfortable that I was beginning to think that 2014 would be better off spent in a menstrual hut somewhere in the New Mexican desert.
During that time I thought, “Oh no. It’s starting. Pretty soon, dormant volcanos will erupt and rising sea levels will cover and erase Indonesia.”
I was so in the dumps that an Indian colleague, deciding that enough was enough, pulled me aside one day. “Daisy!” she said while looking me straight in the eye, “In my country everyone is superstitious! I used to be so superstitious! Until I finally told myself that this was ridiculous and I am the only one who controls my destiny!”
Although it sounded like a load motivational speaker clichés, I was oddly swayed by S. Maybe it was the conviction with which she told me to (wo)man up and stop whining. Maybe it was the fact that I was already tired of being anxious about 11 more months of social ineptitude and imminent disaster. In any case, I was finally able to pull myself out of my funk and look forward to what 2014 might bring.
One of the resolutions that I have made this year besides learning to rock a funky, colorful sock (a much more challenging endeavor for me than you would think), is to wrap up loose ends from last year instead of just avoiding them until they are no longer relevant. At the very top of that list is this blog post which has been sitting in my drafts folder for an absurdly long time.
1. Preheat oven to 400°. Arrange the bacon in a single layer on a half-sheet pan. Roast the bacon until it is really crispy and most of the fat is rendered, about 20 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and let dry/drain until it is cool enough to handle. Either crumble or cut the bacon into bacon bits.
2. Combine the sugar, the corn syrup, and the water in a 4-quart saucepan. Stir the mixture over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and it just begins to boil. Stop stirring and insert the candy thermometer. Let the mixture bubble and boil until the syrup reaches the 300°.
3. While the sugar syrup is boiling, wash and throughly dry the sheet pan that you used to roast the bacon. Line both half-sheet pans with parchment paper.
4. When the sugar syrup has reached 300°, turn off the heat and remove the saucepan from the burner. Use a popsicle stick to quickly stir in a very small drop of food coloring (a little goes a very long way). Once the color is even distributed, divide the syrup between the two lined sheet pans. Tip the pans very carefully to make sure that the syrup spreads out and evenly covers the entire bottom of the pans. Divide the bacon bits into two equal portions and sprinkle each evenly on top of each tray of candy. Let the candy cool completely.
4. Once the candy has completely cooled, take a mallet, a hammer, or a meat tenderizer and crack the candy into very small pieces/crystals. Transfer the candy to airtight zipper-lock bags.
There is a special kind of shame that comes when you tell someone that you have a food blog and the last time you posted anything was almost a month ago. This has not been by choice, but rather necessity. As many of my friends know, my teaching load this semester has been a particularly brutal one. Not so much in terms of how my students are (they are truly lovely this semester), but in terms of how many of them there are (about 100). With class planning, grading, emails, and other assorted administrative tasks, I have hardly had any time for my friends. Let’s be honest: I have barely had time to feed myself properly. Currently, my fridge has only two things in it: booze and soy sauce. Sadly, the soy sauce has been untouched for so long that it probably has become booze — a stomach-churning yet strangely intriguing thought…
I had big dreams for the Takedown. Starting last year, I had this marvelous idea of doing mini bacon éclairs stuffed with Velveeta crème. Disgusting you say? Well, I didn’t try to make them so I don’t know, but I suspect that they would have been AMAZING! I was so obsessed with the thought that I even did some bicoastal brainstorming with Paul over at That Other Cooking Blog who suggested that maybe hand-piping 250 mini-éclairs wouldn’t be such a chore if I froze the choux pastry ahead of time.
Well, that idea evaporated when time got away from me. I thus turned to thinking about things that wouldn’t need any cooking at all — like bacon “Napoléons” created entirely out of smashed Twinkies, potato chips, and bacon bits.
Earlier in the summer, I had the privilege to see the artist Émilie Baltz talk about food at a Creative Mornings event. That morning, she spoke about her book Junk Foodie, a tome dedicated to reproducing classic French dishes using only American junk food. She described in loving detail how she recreated a Napoléon using Twinkies and crushed potato chips (she scooped out the filling, reserved it, rolled out the cake, cut it into rectangles, and reassembled the whole thing with layers of crushed chips and smears of the reserved cream).
Equally disgusting you say? She claimed it tasted just like a real Napoléon and I believe her. Unfortunately, there was no way that I could ensure that the chips would stay crispy layered under all that moist Twinkie cake and cream for the duration of the event. Sadly, that idea got scrapped as well.
Finally, while texting back and forth with another Paul about Breaking Bad, he threw out the name “Bacon Bad,” and I found the name so irresistible that I had to use it.
With my teaching schedule, I knew that cooking something elaborate was going to be out of the question. But cooking several pounds of blue bacon rock candy was absolutely doable, especially with the help of my professional candy-making neighbor downstairs.
Did I win?
To my utter shock and surprise, I won Honorable Mention from the judges which netted me a T-Shirt, a Microplane grater, and a wallet printed with bacon strips.
That’s not all: I also won Best Booth which means that my table decorations scored me A YEAR’S WORTH OF BACON!
That’s 52 pounds of bacon, yo!
None of this would have been possible without the help of my friends. Thank you all for coming out and supporting me! And many thanks to everyone who voted!
To Kalay, many thanks and hugs for coming over early, feeding me, helping me get everything to Brooklyn, helping me throughout the event, and keeping me sane! I could not have pulled it off without you. Thank you for your friendship and support!
Another heartfelt thanks goes out to Kelly O. for lending me the “lab equipment.” It pays to have scientists as friends 🙂 And I think you can continue to use those flasks for cocktails and for other off-label uses without fear 🙂
A big thank you to Paul, without whom I would probably have been serving reconstituted Twinkie mush. Thank you for the name, the fantastic idea, and the inspiration. You’re brilliant! And thank you for helping me get everything home!
A final thank you to Matt Timms for being such an amazing organizer, host, and friend. It is always a pleasure to be a part of your events and always an even bigger pleasure to share a beer afterwards. Here’s to next time!
For another write-up about the event, I direct you to Brooklyn Exposed’s photo gallery here.
Never fear, dear Readers! Like the Dandy, I am still here 🙂
However, I did have to put some things on the back burner for a bit. You see, after sweatily fretting that I would have no employment this fall, I seem to have found myself in a situation where I have more teaching than I can shake a stick it. And I can shake a stick at a lot of teaching 🙂
I have classes scheduled every night of the week, except for Monday. Instead of being on one campus, I am divided between two this semester. This means that after teaching one class, I have to run and hop on the train to get to my other one at the other school. Most of my classes finish after 8pm and two finish at 10pm. One of those 10pm classes is on a Friday night 😦
Best of all? I can order everything online to be delivered ASAP to Ms. Spoiled-New-Yorker on the fourth floor 😉
But how about the weekend, Daisy? You must have time to cook on the weekend!
In theory, yes. In practice? Well, let’s be honest. On the weekends, most of my meals have been liquidalcoholic insubstantial, augmented by the latest nibble at the next it-restaurant.
All of this might sound exciting, but it gets old really fast. After a few weeks, it’s probably the least satisfying way that I can imagine eating. When things get busy, it’s not that I don’t cook at all. It’s rather that my meals become simpler and generally not anything interesting enough to blog about.
This is where the classic BLT comes in. When I get busy, I look for meals that I can put together quickly with stuff that is already in the fridge. In this case, beautiful bacon from my CSA that I cooked ahead of time, a loaf of bread, some nice lettuce, a good tomato (take advantage of them while you still can), and some mayonnaise. If the bacon and tomato are good, the lettuce is crisp, the bread nicely toasted, and the mayo (it must be Hellman’s) is slathered thickly, you really can’t go wrong.
The BLT is such a standby that sometimes I forget about it in my repertoire of meals. When I went up to visit my CSA farm back in July, I was reminded how good they are. I won’t even tell you how many of these I have had since then because a lady never reveals how much bacon she actually eats. I will say that it beats ordering in any day 🙂
Seriously though, this post on oven-roasted baby back ribs remains one of the most popular posts that I have ever done. However, for the number of times that it gets viewed, it has very few comments. I attribute this to one of two things: either my recipe is terrible, or the lead-up to the recipe is misleading.
The recipe is terrific, but the lead-up to the recipe is misleading because it is my mother’s recipe and she lied to me.
See, my mother told me that these ribs would take a mere 30 minutes in the oven. What she neglected to add was that they take about 30 minutes afterthe first hour.
So I’m here to redress this wrong: oven-roasted ribs will take at least 1 hour and 30 minutes to cook. An hour and 30 minutes. You cannot cook ribs faster than that because there is too much connective tissue and collagen to break down. You just can’t. But you should still make these ribs because they are delicious, just plan accordingly.
I had intended to make these ribs for a special occasion, but given the soaring temperatures last week, I was spurred to cook them ahead of time and meet my friends in a nice, air-conditioned restaurant instead. In my haste, I forgot to mix the seasoning with soft brown sugar. I simply rubbed them down with one of Lior Lev Sercarz‘s beautiful spice blends (Pierre Poivre No.7, if you’re interested), and threw them into a 350° oven for an hour and a half.
Done and delicious.
1 or 2 racks of baby back pork ribs
1 heaping tablespoon of steak seasoning or rib rub per rack of ribs
2. First remove the membrane on the back of the pork ribs. It’s super easy to do and allows your ribs to cook nice and flat, without curling up. It also makes them much nicer to eat. To do this, flip the ribs bone-side up. Using the flat handle of a spoon or a dull butter knife, loosen the membrane on one end of the rack of ribs. Grasp the loosened end with a paper towel and pull the membrane slowly in the direction of the opposite end. It should come off in one piece. If it doesn’t, you can just grab the torn end and continue. To help visualize, here is a how-to clip from BBQTalk.
3. After drying the ribs with paper towels, rub the seasoning mix into both sides of the rack. Sprinkle both sides with salt and arrange them on the wire rack.
4. Set the racks of ribs in the oven. Carefully pour about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of water into the bottom of the sheet pan. The water should not touch the bottom of the wire rack. Roast the ribs in the oven at 350° for an hour to an hour and a half until the ribs are tender and buttery. Remove the pan carefully from the oven. Let the ribs rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
I have inherited a lot from my mother. In addition to her dry sense of humor, her sarcasm, and her sly potty mouth, I am also the beneficiary of her glossy hair and poreless, flawless skin — which she reminds me, while comparing the four zits that I have had in my entire life to her NONE EVER, is actually less flawless than her own.
What I did not get from my mother was my taste for fiery, hot spice, gamy meat, and my willingness to put my overly-trusting ethnically Chinese-self in the hands of white people.
But it’s really not my fault! My mother is an amazing cook, who has basically decided that she will be taking all her secrets to her grave so I will miss her more when she’s gone. In her kitchen, I am not even sous chef. I am relegated to the status of line-cook. Or bus-person.
Basically she lets me wrap things like egg rolls, dumplings, or leftovers with cling film.
These dumplings are not anything my mother would ever cook. First of all, they are spicy as heck! Secondly, the root of their spice comes from a nice, thick, orange slick of delicious grease! Finally, the recipe is from a white person.
Friends, both Asian and not, swear by her books and her recipes, both of which translate Sichuanese and Hunanese cuisine into something effortless, accessible, and authentic-feeling.
I adapted this recipe from one that appeared on Epicurious from Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking. I didn’t change parts of it because I had any kind of personal reference — apart from eating similar dumplings in restaurants, I don’t. Instead, I altered the recipe because I am apparently lazier than your average Chinese home cook 🙂
However, the results are still divine. Heritage schmeritage! These dumplings tick every single box in terms of a deeply soul-satisfying food experience. Did I mention that they are ridiculously easy to make too? 🙂
2 tablespoons of roasted peanuts, chopped (Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe does not call for them, but I think they would be an terrific addition. I would have added if I had them on hand!)
How to prepare:
1. First, prepare the sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce and the sugar. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the finely minced garlic, the chili oil with sediment, and the finely chopped scallions.
2. Using a rolling pin or the bottom of a heavy coffee mug, crush the knob of unpeeled ginger. Place it in a small dish and cover it with about 2 tablespoons of water.
3. In a large bowl, combine the pork with one beaten egg, 2 teaspoons of Shaoxing wine, 1 teaspoon of roasted sesame oil, and 3 teaspoons of the ginger water. Mix well with your hands. Add the scallions and season the meat with white pepper to taste.
As the sauce is relatively salty, I opted to not salt the meat, but you can do so if you prefer.
4. Fill a small dish with cold water. Take one wonton wrapper and lay it on a flat surface. Place about a teaspoon of pork filling into the center of the wrapper. Dip a finger in the cold water and run it around the edges. Fold the wrapper in half diagonally and continue until all the pork filling is gone. You should use up about half of the package of wrappers, which you can save and freeze for another time. Lay the wontons out on a large cookie sheet to avoid crowding them onto a plate like I did.
5. While you are wrapping, set a large pot of water to boil. When the water has reached a rolling boil, salt it as if you would for pasta (wontons are essentially ravioli after all). Carefully drop the wontons in one-at-a-time. I only cooked 8-10 at once to ensure that they wouldn’t stick together. When the water has come back up to a boil, add another cup of cold water to the pot. When the water has come up to a boil again, gently scoop up each wonton with a slotted spoon and drain each well. Divide the wontons among however many bowls you want and generously spoon over the chili-soy sauce.
Sprinkle with crushed peanuts, put on a bib, and dive in.
To those unfamiliar with it, the Yule Log Show was a program traditionally aired on American network television on Christmas Day from about 9am to 2pm. It was perfectly timed to coincide with sitting around the tree and opening presents. The entire show consisted of a Yule log burning in a fireplace. No dialogue. Just Christmas music and the pleasant crackle and pop of a toasty fire in someone else’s fireplace
So imagine how delighted I was to see the folks at Applegate Farms improve on the original 🙂
Dear Friends, it doesn’t matter if you are bereft of a fireplace this year or if you have one. I invite you all to set your computer or laptop somewhere everyone can see it and open your presents while bacon sizzles the the background.
The video is a glorious 31-minutes long and can be set on repeat.