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To Eat? Or Not To Eat (Meat)? – Black Bean Soup with Canadian Bacon

Right now my loving husband is working on our next post. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will hint at the fact that the love of my life, and our household’s chief engineer, is going to be presenting to you an essay and some technical hints on the preparation of one of our most favorite libations. But for more on that, you will have to wait, at least a teensy while longer.

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And now that I have piqued your interest with a glimpse of things to come I would like to switch gears entirely to discuss the topic that has been “top of mind” for me over the last few months. I have spent a great deal of time lately ruminating on ideas related to the grand theme (and current social buzz word) of “Sustainability.” More specifically, I have been reading, researching and listening to various different sources in hopes of developing some deeper understanding of how my decisions, as a consumer, impact the environment, and, furthermore, how environmental impacts may threaten future generations ability to thrive.

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The modern American Diet, with its focus on meat protein and packaged convenience foods, has taken a toll both on the health of our people and on the environment. I recently completed an eye-opening course on the American Food System on Coursera. The course provided an impactful overview of both historical and modern systems of agriculture and food animal production, as well as the policies, such as the American “Farm Bill”, which drive the complex networks of subsidies as well as the protocol governing food assistance programs and the dissemination of information related to nutrition. But among the many segments was most illuminating to me were the lectures on industrial food animal production systems and their environmental and health costs.

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Not only do Industrial Food Animal Production systems have a stark impact on the ecology of the immediately surrounding area, but the industry’s hunger for resources, from water, to energy, to pharmaceuticals is stripping the nation of many resources and putting us at risk for environmental disaster. And that is to say nothing of the nasty byproducts of the production such as animal waste, methane gas, and potential for diseases that come hand in hand with large scale facilities. It is clear that something needs to change, in terms of our patterns of meat consumption (which, until recently, had been on the sharp rise over the course of the last century) as current trends are simply not sustainable.

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While the facts of food animal production are certainly harrowing and, indeed, a bit off-putting, for me, the solution to lessening the impact of my food choices on the environment is not to simply forgo meat altogether. It is clear to me that meat protein should play a far smaller role in our modern diet. In our home, we have committed to eating less than a single small (3-4oz) serving of meat per day and endeavor to vote with our food dollars to support farmers who use sustainable practices in raising food animals. The recipe for black bean soup featured below was developed around a traditional practice of using a small portion of meat as flavoring for an otherwise plant-based meal. While the amount of meat used may be small, it’s smoky and savory favors make a big impact on the hearty soup, which is a warming treat to share with loved ones on a rainy spring day.

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Before I delve into the recipe, lets take a moment to talk about soaking beans. If you look through our blog history you will note that I have shifted away from using canned beans. Canned beans are a great convenience food and can make a quick addition to a dish in a pinch but what you gain in convenience comes at a nutritional cost. Canned beans are traditionally packed with sodium, while rinsing the beans before using them does make an impact on the amount of sodium that makes its way into the final dish, even proper rinsing techniques are only able to mitigate about 40% of the added sodium. Dried beans are not an ingredient that can be used instantaneously in the way that they canned counterparts may be, but I, personally, find them no less convenient. Not only do I find the home cooked beans to be superior from a textural perspective, but I appreciate the opportunity to soak, rinse, resoak, and rerinse the beans before cooking. Putting the beans through multiple (2-3) changes of water over the course of an 8+ hour soaking process helps to rid the end product of some of the indigestible carbohydrates that give beans the monicker of the “magical fruit.”

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One final note here on using dried beans, the dried nature of the beans used in this dish allows for them to be cooked for a much longer period of time without compromising the texture of the bean. With the longer cooking window the beans absorb a greater deal of flavor from the bacon and aromatics in the soup creating a richer end product. If substituting canned beans the overall cooking time for the soup will need to be much shorter in order to avoid reducing the beans to mush.

Black Bean Soup with Bacon (Serves 8)

500g (2.5c) Dried Black Beans
3 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Divided)
About 15 Slices of Thinly Cut Canadian Bacon
1 Large Yellow Onion, Chopped
2 Cubanelle Peppers, Diced
3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
1 TSP Chipotle Powder (or Hot Smoked Paprika)
1 TSP Ground Cumin
1oz Tequilla (Blanco, or Reposado are OK – I would Avoid Anejo)
1/2 a Bunch of Cilantro, Washed Well and Chopped
1 TBSP Lime Juice
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Start by soaking your beans. I start mine in the evening after dinner and drain them and change out the water just before going to bed. If you are concerned about wasting water – the liquid drained off of the beans can easily be saved to water houseplants.

Once the beans have soaked for at least 8 hours, drain them again and set them aside.

Heat 1 TBSP of the olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the canadian bacon and cook until any fat has rendered and the meat is slightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate and set aside. Add and onions and sauté until soft, add the Cubanelles and continue to cook until they too soften.  Stir in the canadian bacon, garlic, chipotle, and cumin and sautee for another minute or so before tipping in about 8 cups of water. Add the beans to the pot and stir.

Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. While the soup does not require constant monitoring at this point be sure to periodically check on the pot to ensure that there is still enough liquid present to cover the beans. About every 20 minutes or so, skim off any foam that rises to the surface, and then give the mixture a few slow stirs to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Be sure to do this in this order, skimming first and then stirring, as you do not want to stir the foam back into the soup.

The cooking time for dried beans can vary widely depending on the age of the beans and length of soaking time. After the first hour and a half of cooking time test one of the beans to see if it is tender. To do so, remove a bean or two and set it on a plate, as the beans may still be rock hard it might not be the best plan to toss it in your mouth and chomp down – instead test one between your thumb and forefinger to see if there is any give. If the bean is still completely hard keep the pot simmering away and test again after another 30 minutes have elapsed. If the bean has reasonable give you can move on to an actual taste test to better gauge the texture. When Dustin is put in charge of testing the doneness of things he invariably asks me how to know when it is done – here I will offer the same advice I give to him, when you like the way the beans taste, and the texture is to your liking, they are done. Once the beans are cooked to your preference, stir in the tequila, about half of the chopped cilantro, and the lime juice. Taste the soup and determine if more lime, cilantro, or salt is needed and adjust these seasonings until they, too, meet your flavor preferences.

This soup is great on its own but also pairs well with homemade cornbread – I love the cornbread recipe featured on the Anson Mills website. The recipe is as simple as it gets but is remarkably good. If you have not explored Anson Mills’ site before, it is a stunning resource for information on grains such as Oats, Corn, and Rice and their freshly milled ingredients are a world above anything available in even the best grocery stores.

A Porky Problem – Bacon Scones with Figs and Black Pepper

September 30, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ll admit, I may have a bacon problem. But I am undeniably in much company in my predilection for this crispy porcine delight. I am grateful that bacon has made its way into the main stream and even more excited that it has become accepted as a common element in sweet dishes like ice cream and chocolate bars. When I came across these the other day on a new blog obsession called “Bitchin Camero” I was certain I needed to try them, ASAP. To sweeten the case for baking these delightful goodies, I had a nice package of thick-cut bacon from Trader Joes sitting in my refrigerator begging to be used.

Over the last few years, a few too many experiences trying to render splattering and spluttering bacon in a skillet on the stove has instilled me with a slight aversion towards the traditional pan frying method of cooking bacon strips. So this time, I opted to cook up the entire batch in the oven, the process is quite simple. Set the oven to 375 and place a cooling rack over a foil lined jelly roll pan. Lay the bacon flat on the cooling rack and bake for approximately 12-17 minutes or until crisp. Remove the pan from the oven and leave on the counter to cool. The bacon produced from this method can be used for a vast variety of uses, it can easily be recrisped in a pan or microwave for breakfast, or simply warmed to room temp to be used in sandwiches or salads.

This use was one of the best and most unique uses for amazing precooked bacon that I have ever found. These scones are just off the charts delicious for breakfast. The combination of the crispy and smoky bacon with the sweet and fragrant notes of figs and punch of spicy pepper play against each other beautifully in these scones. It is amazing that in all of my years of cooking, and in all of my attempts at baking, I have never tried my hands at making scones before. I guess I had always assumed that a great scone’s delicate buttery texture was difficult to reproduce at home but, fortunately, this recipe proved my fears to be false.

I highly recommend using a food processor to mix the butter into the flour in this recipe. The food processor will allow you to cut the butter into the pastry in a very controlled manner and in a very short period of time, this keeps the dough from becoming overworked and tough.  When the dough comes out of the food processor it will be very sticky. I highly suggest that you flour your hands and work surface well before turning out the dough and gently pressing it into a circle. These scones will disappear quickly – If you plan to have extras left over – you may want to hide some. Bake and enjoy the bacon-y smell of success!


Bacon Scones with Figs and Black Pepper

7 Slices Thick Cut Slab Bacon Cooked According to the Method Above, Chopped into 1/2 Inch Lardons
1 1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1/2 Cup Sugar
1 1/2 TSP Baking Powder
3/4 TSP Baking Soda
1/2 TSP Kosher Salt
1 TSP Freshly Cracked Pepper
3/4 Cup Slices Mission Figs
1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter
2/3 Cup Buttermilk
Baking Spray
Raw Sugar

Place flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, pepper and kosher salt in a food processor and pulse to mix. Place about 3/4 the bacon and 3/4 the figs in the food processor and pulse once or twice. Grate butter into the food processor on a cheese grater, add buttermilk and pulse until moistened and dough begins to come together, approximately 8 1-to-2 second pulses.

Turn dough out onto a well floured surface and pat into a 9 inch circle. Cut into 8 wedges. Spray the tops very lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle on remaining bacon and fig pieces. Sprinkle some raw sugar over the top and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. These can chill in the fridge for up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place in the oven and bake for 16-18 minutes or until the scones are golden brown. Serve warm or at room temp and enjoy!

Categories: Bacon, Figs

Happiness is a Hot Breakfast – Bacon and Broccoli Frittata

September 18, 2011 Leave a comment

I was watching a preview for a new movie the other day – the movie focused on the impact that technology, and more specifically mobile technology and connectivity, has had on our lives. The movie centers on what has to be the biggest theme in film and literature in the past two or three years, globalization, and the effect that the new global economy and global society has had on citizens of this modern age. I worry that all of this connectiveness has, in some ways, taken us further away with the loved ones that are right in front of us.

Today is Dustin’ Birthday. As I am writing this we are in the car en route to Chattanooga TN, Dustin is on the phone with his parents and I am typing this post on my iPad. For us, who have so recently moved away from our long-time home base in Delaware, technology has enabled us to keep in touch, via phone, photos, chats and even blog posts with friends who are now hundreds of miles away. Also miles and miles away is the place where, almost exactly 4 years ago, Dustin and I met and fell in love. The last four have been the best years of my life so far and I am looking forward to many more with this amazing man of mine.

D started his new job this week. He has already thrown himself into his new work and is really enjoying it. It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows him that he is a pretty spectacular engineering in training. His supervisors are noticing his eagerness and team spirit shining through in even these first few days. And with all this, it already seems that the pace of our lives has quickened. Dustin is working long hours and I foresee that trend continuing. Despite the fact that life seems to want to speed up, I have my heart set on doing what I can to slow things down whenever possible.

As part of this effort to put on the breaks and spend quality time with my lover and partner in crime I am hoping to uphold one of our longest traditions. Breakfast. You see Dustin and I have been eating breakfast together, almost every morning, since we met. Even when life is at its craziest it is nice to have a few moments together in the morning to start the day with a cup of coffee and a warm meal in eachothers company. Dustin and I love to eat eggs for breakfast and this recipe is fairly easy to throw together at the last minute and makes a fairly impressive morning meal. The dish is fairly flexible and could easily be adapted to include whatever ingredients are in season. Feel free to improvise with what you have on hand. One of the best things about this dish is that it can easily  be sliced into portions to feed a few people (2-3) so share with your loved ones and enjoy the morning respite.

Bacon and Broccoli Frittata

3 Strips of Bacon Cut into 1/2 Inch Lardons
One Head of Broccoli Florets Chopped into Small Bite Sized Pieces
Pinch of Hot Pepper Flakes
5 Eggs
3 TBSP Milk
Good Cheddar Cheese Cut into Small Cubes
3 TBSP Chopped Parsley
Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a small bowl whisk together milk and eggs an set aside.

In a 10 inch ovenproof pan fry bacon until crisp and browned. Remove bacon from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside on a small plate until needed.

Fry broccoli in the remaining bacon fat until just cooked. Add pepper flakes and stir.

Now this next part must be done fairly quickly so that the eggs don’t cook too much. Add egg mixture, cheese, and parsley and stir. Sprinkle liberally with freshly cracked black pepper and stir again.

Place the pan in the oven and cook for about 10 mins or until eggs are just set.

Cut into slices and serve.

A Legume Party – Smokey Baked Beans with Kielbasa

I cannot believe we are leaving on Friday, it still seems so unreal. Our belongings are almost completely packed away in boxes around the house, and its strange to open drawers and cabinets to find that the item I am searching for is tucked away in one of the brown boxes that line our walls. It is so strange to think that we will soon be leaving this apartment we have inhabited for so long, that I will no longer frequent the same restaurants, or shop in the same stores, or climb in the same gym after the end of this week. While I am excited to leave and to move on to a new scene in a new town my years in Delaware have been some of the best and I will certainly miss this place.

Last night we had a going away party for Dustin and countless members of the climbing gym came out to see him off. Thank you to everyone who came out, your presence meant so much to Dustin and to myself! We have learned so much from knowing each and everyone of you and will carry that with us as we move on to our new home in Nashville. We certainly will miss you! Our door is always open to visitors.

Now, before I get to sappy, lets move on and speak a bit about today’s featured recipe. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but these baked beans are pretty darn delicious. As the beans were simmering away in the oven the filled the home with the most amazing smoky sweet aroma. I could not wait to taste the final product! Like some other recipes featured here recently this one was inspired by a recipe in the June/July BBQ edition of Saveur and has been edited to meet our tastes. The initial recipe included significantly higher amounts of sugar which I reduced in the recipe below. If you prefer a sweeter dish feel free to adjust the amount of brown sugar to meet your liking.

Smokey Baked Beans with Kielbasa

1 lb. Smoked Kielbasa Cut into 1/2″ Round
10 Slices Bacon Cut into 1/2 Inch Strips
4 Cloves Garlic Minced
2 Medium Onions Diced
1 TBSP Thyme Minced
2 Cups Good Quality Barbeque Sauce (we used Trader Joe’s Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce)
3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1 Cup Beef Stock
1/4 Cup Molasses
1 TBSP Yellow Mustard
1 TSP Kosher Salt
4 15-oz. Cans Navy Beans Rinsed Well and Let Dry
1 16-oz. Can Whole Peeled San Marzano Style Tomatoes Crushed by Hand

Preheat oven to 300 degreese

Sear Kielbasa in a single layer in a small amount of oil in a pan on the stove (you may need to do this in batches.) Allow the sausage to brown, remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Repeat the process with the bacon, browning in the bottom of the same pan and removing with a slotted spoon.

There should be around 4 TBSP of Grease in the bottom of the pan, if there is more remove excess with a spoon. Saute the garlic, onion, and thyme in the pan until translucent.

Add BBQ Sauce, Stock, Sugar, Molasses, Mustard, Salt and some good cracks of black pepper and allow to simmer. Add beans and stir gently. Break tomatoes into the pot by hand and stir again until just mixed. Taste for seasoning, remembering that the beans will reduce slightly, making the flavors stronger.

Put a lid on the pot and place in the oven, allow the mixture to bubble away in the oven for around 2 hours, removing the lid half way through baking.

Carefully remove the pot from the oven and taste for seasoning. Add additional salt and pepper as needed.

Spread the Love Around – Sweet Corn Succotash with Cumin

I know I have already shared with you a bit about my love of sweet and juicy summer corn. It’s funny because I have not always been a big fan of this great North American staple. Perhaps I was negatively influenced by one too many ears of the severely over boiled and gummy back yard barbecue variety, but in my first year as member of a downtown Philly CSA I left my share of corn in the swap basket on an almost weekly basis. It was not until the end of the season when I arrived one day to collect my share that I came upon the end of the collection line to find the swap basket completely empty. I debated for several moments over leaving the ears for another taker but, as the remainder of the share was a bit sparse, I shoved the 7 ears in my bag and trudged home determined to make my glut of corn into something palatable.

As usual, when I finally battled my way through Saturday morning traffic and out of the city, I arrived home to lay my CSA bootie on the kitchen counter and started to think over possible uses for each ingredient in the trove. Part of that early August share included a block of locally produced farmers cheese, beautiful brown free range eggs, a pint of cherry tomatoes, a loaf of seeded italian bread, a bag of brilliantly verdant green beans, a small slab of thick-cut Amish Country bacon, and, of course, the 7 ears of late season Jersey corn.

As I hold as one of my primary cooking tenets that any vegetable can be made to taste good when sautéed with smokey bacon, I set about searching online for recipes that paired the week’s lancaster county porky delight with the over abundance of bi-color corn that lay in a heap on the counter. I included in my searched other veggies from the week’s share such as greens beans, and tomatoes and what appeared on my screen was recipe after recipe for an old style american classic – succotash. Now, my impression of succotash at that point in time was less than stellar, my prior experiences with the dish had been in college where the vegetable melange was likely poured straight from the freezer bag into a large vat and either boiled or steam to death. This resulted in a seemingly creative and deceptively colorful side dish, which was unfortunately totally devoid of flavor.

I decided to run with the idea anyway and cooked up a recipe for my own rendition of the classic that incorporated the week’s bounty of tomatoes and green beans. The result was very similar to the dish you will find a recipe for below. From time to time I tweak the dish by adding zippy hot peppers like jalapeños or faintly spicy and slightly smokey Poblanos, occasionally, I substitute parsley or cilantro for the basil I initially incorporated but for this meal I selected the simple sweetness of the basil and cumin scented corn mixture as I thought it would nicely complement the spicy and herbaceous steak with salsa verde from my most recent post, which accompanied this dish on the table that evening.

I’m not sure what initially made me reach for cumin when I concocted this recipe but, amazingly, it really works here. Its earthy qualities nicely balance the bright summer vegetables and accentuate the smokiness of the bacon. A strong punch of garlic rounds out the dish and propels the flavors into another dimension. Making this dish reminds me of stir-frying, in fact, I recommend cooking it in a very large cast iron skillet or, alternatively, a wok, which will be large enough to house all of the vegetables while still allowing the cook to stir comfortably.

Although all of the ingredients end up in the same frying pan, they are added at different times and thus, need to remain separate until cooking. The bacon, corn, tomatoes, and green beans can all be prepped ahead of time. The bacon should be thinly sliced and may be rendered in a large pot on the stove several hours before it is needed. If doing this step ahead remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve until needed. The bacon fat should be kept and can be stored in the pan (if you’re planning to cook it relatively soon) or alternatively poured into a small heat resistant dish and chilled until needed.

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At least an hour before cooking you will want to start on trimming the beans and cutting them roughly into thirds. Place these in a small prep bowl. The tomatoes should be cut in half length wise and should occupy their own prep bowl. There are many fancy apparatuses sold on the market that can be used to cut corn from the cob but I think a paring knife works just fine. Try to pick corn that have a little piece of the stalk remaining at the base and keep this on when you shuck the corn. Using the small stem as a handle hold the corn vertically (upside down so to speak, as the narrow end will be at the bottom) and slice down the length of the ear remaining fairly close to the cob. I recommend doing this on a large cutting board as the kernels have a tendency to run amok and fly of the edge of your workspace – setting out a larger space might well be a good idea. As I have mentioned in a previous post I love the frozen garlic that comes frozen in small cubes from Trader Joes but, if using fresh garlic, mince this just before cooking as allowing it to sit in the open for too long will alter the flavor.

I hope your family loves this as much as mine does, leftovers can be stored and reheated or served at room temperature as a side salad of sorts. Enjoy!

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Sweet Corn Succotash with Bacon

2 TSP Cumin Seeds Toasted and Ground
6 Slices of Thick-Cut Bacon Sliced into Segments about as Wide as Your Index Finger
1 Pint of Grape Tomatoes, Halved Lenth-Wise
1 lb. of Green Beans, Trimmed and Cut Roughly into Thirds
5 Ears of Corn, Kernels Sliced from the Cob (see above for my personal method)
2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
10-15 Large Basil Leaves, Cut into a Chiffonade
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Sauté bacon in a large cast-iron skillet or wok until fat has rendered and bacon is crisp. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Do not wash pan.

Over medium heat add the garlic to the bacon fat and sauté until fragrant. Add the green beans and cumin and sauté until just slightly tender.

Add the corn and stir, followed almost immediately by the tomatoes. Sauté until just warmed.

Remove the pan from the heat and add basil. Stir in salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and serve warm.

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