Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bacon: A Love Story

Bacon, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.

I first met you as a fried egg's best friend.  Crispy, smoky, slightly chewy, you sacrificed your delicious fat so that my eggs didn't stick to the pan in the days before the invention of Teflon.

I think the only meal that I can recall  my dad ever making, was breakfast.

We camped as kids and probably half as joke, we ended up with a frying pan so large it would cover the entire fire pit.  I think at least a dozen eggs,  a pound of bacon, and a big batch of extra crispy thinly sliced potatoes and onions could be cooked in that beast over a fire.  (I still beg waitresses to request my home fries be burned, because that's how I like them best, open fire optional.)  I'll have to ask my dad if he still has that pan.  I'll bet he does.


Second, it really isn't summer until you have your first BLT with a freshly picked tomato, still warm from the sun, preferably one you've grown yourself.  The BLT is truly one of the best sandwiches ever invented, and bacon, good bacon, is obviously the ingredient that pulls it all together.

These days, I am pretty particular about where my bacon comes from.  I love the applewood smoked version by Niman Ranch which Trader Joe's carries.  I get most of mine from the farmer's market through my friends at Curly Tail Farms.   Once you've had bacon from happy pigs, the grocery store stuff will seem pretty insipid.   And precooked bacon?  Please, just don't.

I even made my own (well pancetta, technically, since I didn't smoke it) with a pork belly from Curly Tail Farms.  It's quite simple actually, just follow Michael Ruhlman's recipe, and honestly, it is the one of the most delicious things I have ever made.  When the weather is a little nicer, I'll try my hand at bacon when I can smoke it on the grill.

Some of the best artisan bacon (and other porky deliciousness) I have ever had was procured at the Ithaca Farmers Market, at the aptly named, Piggery.  They even offer a winter charcuterie CSA, which made me briefly consider moving to upstate New York.  My New Year's wish is for someone to offer this CSA in Northeast Ohio.  Pretty please.

Bacon has made many an appearance on both my personal, and personal chef client menus this year.  I participated in the Countryside Conservancy's Fund Grazer in the fall, and thanks to generous donations from Curly Tail Farms of bacon, and fresh goat cheese from Lake Erie Creamery, I was inspired to create the popular Goat Cheese Truffles with Bacon and Toasted Pecans.  And not one to waste good bacon grease, I used some of it in a vinaigrette I made for a salad for the event.

Bacon also was part of the inspiration for my entry in the Adams Reserve Cheddar Challenge.  Sure the Sweet and Spicy Cheeseball with Apples and Bacon would have been good without the bacon - but with the bacon, it's great.  The salty, smoky flavor from the bacon is what helps balance the flavors. 

The sweet and savory interplay with bacon has leaned closer and closer to the sweet side lately.  You can now buy a chocolate bar with bacon, and Sweets by Dilley at the farmer's market offered chocolate covered bacon this year (mmmmmmmm).  So when NPR published some year end dessert recipes featuring bacon, the Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies with Bacon, caught my eye immediately.  And boy oh boy are they delicious.

My sister toyed briefly with becoming a vegetarian a few years ago.  She gave up meat, took up farmer's market shopping, and switched to organics when possible.  She switched to turkey bacon for her Sunday breakfasts.  Turkey bacon?  What in the heck is up with that stuff?  Blech. (Beef bacon, on the other hand is delicious, and for my money a better substitute if pork consumption is an issue - many of the West Side Market butchers carry it).

But she couldn't resist the siren call of real bacon.   And neither can I.

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