I am officially full of humbug. And, like, Szechuan Chicken.
There are some days I question my commitment. This, my friends, is not one of those days.
I’m quite sure that I am not the first person on Earth to think about cooking up bacon and then using the ensuing pan drippings to pop up a batch of popcorn. Many people fantasize about bacon.
I get to live the dream.
And actually, now that the stuff has cooled down, it tastes pretty good. You DO taste the bacon, but it’s the faintest hint. There is a slight hint of rich savory and smoke, but nothing overpowering.
And here is a confession. Until this evening, I have never cooked popcorn on the stove before. But it’s a fairly common method given in several cookbooks – heavy stainless steel bowl, oil, salt, kernels, cover with foil, bowl over high heat, moving constantly with tongs.
I got a kick out of doing it. I smiled when I heard the bacon grease sizzle (as i am wont to do) inside the bowl… and a few seconds later I actually heard popping!
And what was most fun about it is that you have to gauge doneness by smell and by ear. You can’t really see the inside of the bowl, naturally, so you use your nose. You should smell “popcorn” but not “burned popcorn” AND the popping should have reached just beyond the point where its popping really urgently.
Anyway, let’s review.
Three strips of bacon. ”Reserve” the “pan drippings”
1/3 cup popcorn in a heavy-bottomed stainless steel bowl, along with a heavy drizzling of fine salt (not kosher) and the bacon grease.
Cover with aluminium foil. Say “al -u- MIN- i – um” in a fake British accent like I always do. Jab a few holes.
Medium High heat. Use a pair of tongs and keep the bowl moving! You will hear the oil bubble and then hear your first pop in about one minute.
An idea just occurred to me for next time. The next time I dry-cure pork, I am going to dry that salt and use it! Or maybe not. We’ll see.
I love surprises.
I’m in one of those “cookbook of the month” things. You know, one of those six cookbooks for a dollar send in the card every month deals. The selection has deteriorated considerably since I enrolled about three years ago. I’m to the point where I’m too lazy to cancel my membership and I have a recurring event on my cellphone every month to basically inform the clowns not to send me anything.
But this time… I saw something.
And I completely forgot that I ordered it. I saw the package in front of my door a week later, and, being senile, I just stared at the box primordially as if it were the monolith in 2001.
So I want to tell you about how I make spareribs and chard and garlicky hash browns. But first, I want to tell you a story.
Question. What do vegetarian zombies eat?
Tee Hee. Anyway, I offer you the following cogent facts.
1. I enthusiastically maintain a bacon blog.
2. The last chocopot will be pulled from my cold, dead, sticky fingers.
2a I’m sorry if you clicked that link and didn’t already know how bad I need to clean my stove.
3. I have a family history of diabetes.
4. I need caffeine and am very picky about how I get it. Sometimes this means dirty dancing with the soda machines.
5. It is no longer 1993 and I am no longer able or even remotely inclined to run 30 miles a week. (yet)
So. 6. Obviously, eating well is a critical day-to-day challenge for me.
I mean, the exercise part is going to take care of itself. After about two months of running, I did get my first weight loss compliment the other day, which made me feel really good. But, like I said, I’ve been working on eating better, too.
It all started with this “health fair” they had at work. At first I was only in it for the $25 gift card, but I figured how much could it hurt to actually have my cholesterol and blood pressure checked?
Well, have you ever read Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart?” Toward the end of the story, the murderer is visited by three very polite police inspectors, who simply and calmly talk to the murderer… and witness a complete breakdown and confession.
It was like that.
They were sitting around me at the table in the break room with the results of my screening just looking at me. My glucose is normal and my blood pressure is fine. But I could stand to drop some weight and my “bad” cholesterol was, well, bad.
“Have you ever thought about whole grains?”
Never leave me a comic opening.
“Yeah, I have ‘thought’ about whole grains. But I bake all my own bread and I figure that if I want whole grains I can just use white flour and eat a Goddamn Flinstones Chewable.”
Now, I’m not sure of the precise words that came out of my mouth. But I am COMPLETELY certain that I did actually say “Goddamn Flinstones Chewable.”
The Health Fair Ladies were not impressed. At all.
Despite my snarkyness, their point was well taken. The “1/4 cup of whole wheat flour I typically add to my 3 cups of bread flour when I bake bread” thing just isn’t cutting it anymore.
So the key was finding something I liked. I settled on this.
I really do suck at cooking brown and wild rice, partially because I am an impatient person and partially because I never add enough water. The instructions always say about three cups of liquid for each cup of rice, I’ve never been able to do it with fewer than like five.
Unfortunately after I started the cooking I forgot about Mark Bittman’s brown rice pilaf. I’ll do that next time.
So, basically, I wated to report that I’ve found a healthy meal option.
Brown Rice: Add an ass-ton of water and boil it.
Broccoli: steam or blanch it. (I steamed it here)
Also, pretend that you don’t see that piece of andouille sausage there. Really.
One cup of rice and one rubber banded “thing” of broccoli made enough for one meal
And a tasty bento box.
I’d like to preface this, for the record, by stating that my contribution to Julie’s Orphan T-day was minor at best. As I told our hostess, I would have been satisfied with toast and popcorn, given the laughter and the company and Kate’s two very strong and impeccably prepared Manhattans – not to mention a lot of other wonderful food.
But seriously. I should do guerrilla marketing for Tide. Because evidently I seem to have this knack for effortlessly getting other people excited about things I’m borderline obsessed about. I mean, within three minutes of walking into the loft, everyone at the party was talking about bacon.
Yes, I’m exaggerating slightly for comic (?) effect. But still.
I didn’t even force the conversation, I just have some pretty cool baco-curious friends. And it didn’t hurt that I brought THIS.
Glazed. Pork. Belly. First among equals in the Bacoverse, this is the most solemn moment on the High Altar of porcine worship.
Okay, maybe not. But, when you think about it, it’s pretty amazing stuff. Pork belly is raw, uncured, unsmoked and unsliced proto-bacon, which you can treat like a more flavorful and even richer form of pork shoulder, and serve it in steaks, slices, chunks, you name it.
I giggled at the recipe. Specifically, the line which read “Trim away the excess fat from the pork belly.” Mkay, what, precisely, constitutes “excess” fat?” As far as I’m concerned every bit of it is critical. As if.
This dish was inspired by the Balthazaar Cookbook, a collection of recipes from the NYC brasserie. I joke a lot about cookbooks basically being pornography, and this book is certainly no exception. But the recipes… work. They’re well written, logical, and have always yielded good results. Their braised short ribs have become my standard preparation, the mascarpone-parm polenta was perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted, and I make the pan roasted root veggies fairly regularly.
But I have to admit that in this case, I went my own way. The spice combination didn’t sound particularly appetizing (I don’t care for star anise in savory dishes), and, as much as I love my friends, I’m not using veal stock.
So we improvise. It’s pretty much a straightforward cure/braise.
1 1/2 Cups kosher salt
1/2 Cup Sugar
1 t fennel
1 t ground mustard
2 t black peppercorns
1 T juniper berries
6 Cloves Garlic
2-3lb slab of pork belly, uncured
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1 cup diced fresh pineapple
1 T tomato paste
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
2 bay leaves
1/2 dry white whine
1 cup chicken broth + 1 cup beef broth (or two cups veal stock)
Place the dried spices in a nonstick skillet over low heat, jiggling the pan constantly until the aroma fills the air. Apply the spice mixture liberally to the pork belly, then submerge the entire piece of pork underneath the salt and the sugar within a large bowl. It may be necessary to cut the pork into two smaller pieces. The key is complete coverage.
Cover with plastic, and let sit in the fridge overnight.
Next day, remove the pork and allow the meat to come to room temperature. The pork should be a much deeper red color.
Rinse off the salt and pat the meat dry.
Preheat the oven to 300.
Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed roasting pan. Add the onion and sweat for several minutes, along with a pinch of salt. Add the celery and carrot and cook until translucent. Add the pineapple and cook for five more minutes. Add the tomato paste fresh tomatoes, herbs and wine, and cook for a moment to allow the alcahol to cook down.
Place the pork belly, rind side UP, in the pan and pour enough stock to fill the pan but not cover the meat. The liquid should be just level with the top layer of the fat. Add water if need be.
Bring to a simmer, then transfer to the oven for 2 hours, basting every 15 minutes.
Remove the pork to a plate and strain the sauce into a medium saucepan. Bring to a skimmer and whisk away any fat that appears on the surface. Reduce the liquid by half, and adjust the seasoning to taste.
The cookbook recommends that you slice the pork across its width and serve with the sauce spooned over. I simply cut it into chunks and served it as a stew.
I also happened to make bacon-cheddar-chive biscuits. They were optically pleasing but were a little tough. The extra fat and flavor from the bacon and cheese mitigated this somewhat, but I don’t think these guys are ready for prime time.
Lastly, I made another chocolate truffle torte. It received raves from the Hostess’ mother and one marriage proposal, which I found immensely flattering. But the recipe is not really my own and I hate to take credit for it.
Anyway, this was the best Thanksgiving I’ve had in quite some time. Thanks, everyone.