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Getting to the Meat of the Matter: It’s All About Bacon


Bacon. Any questions?

Yes, quite a few, actually.

Marie Rama knows her bacon.

Marie Rama knows her bacon.

They came from all sides of the bacon-loving audience that gathered at Central Market recently for Marie Rama’s cooking class — and Rama, who co-wrote “Bacon Nation” (Workman Publishing, $14.95) with Peter Kaminsky, was happy to oblige.

She started with the pig as a whole. “All parts of the pig are joyous — and edible,” she said, before launching into a series of dishes from appetizer to dessert that used bacon as a key ingredient.

A Bacon Crumble-Topped Muffin

A Bacon Crumble-Topped Muffin

For her first recipe, she turned bacon into a jam loaded with ginger and bourbon. It would make a great starter or snack with cheese and crackers. Or you could spread it on a hamburger or pork. Or you could just dip a spoon in the jar and enjoy it’s sweet, salty, fruity and hot flavors.

The type of bacon that you use in recipes like this one matters, Rama said. For a jam, you’d want a bacon that’s been smoked with applewood or cherrywood to give it a fruit flavor.

For her Bacon Crumble-Topped Bran Muffins, a thick-cut bacon is preferred for both the muffin base and the topping. But a thin-cut or regular-cut slice would work better for the Bacon Swizzle Stick that’s perfect for your next Bloody Mary.

Marie Rama shows how easy it is to make bacon-flavored toffee.

Marie Rama shows how easy it is to make bacon-flavored toffee.

It also helps to know what you’re buying, she said. Some bacons have water added to pump up the volume and add weight. You might not learn that by reading the label, but you’ll know the first time you try to cook it, she said. So, if it happens to you, remember the label and don’t be fooled again.

Rama likes to examine the bacon for a good proportion of fat to meat. She prefers hers to be about 50/50, but she added quickly that “I don’t have a horse in this race.” She used artisan bacon and commercial bacon alike in creating and testing the recipes for “Bacon Nation.” But she did say that was impressed with the bacon selection she found at Central Market. “Whenever I go into a new city, I always go to the meat market and check out the bacon,” she said. “You’ve got great stuff here.”

Throughout her class, Rama stressed the importance of reserving the bacon grease for using again. Your recipe may call for a tablespoon or two; or you could use those drippings to great effect in any of the following ideas from “Bacon Nation:”

  • Pop popcorn in bacon fat.
  • Make a Caesar salad dressing using bacon drippings instead of olive oil.
  • Fry chicken using four parts peanut oil and one part bacon fat.
  • Use bacon fat to cook refried beans and sunny-side-up eggs.
  • Add bacon fat when boiling water to cook or blanch green beans.

The litany goes on to such an extent that you wish Rama were inviting you over for dinner on a regular basis, just to see what she’s got cooking.

Chocolate-Peanut-Bacon Toffee

Chocolate-Peanut-Bacon Toffee

Her menu for the cooking class also included a rustic Bacon and Butternut Squash Galette, an open pie that’s easy. “You don’t have to fuss with it too much,” she said.

The pastry crust didn’t call for bacon grease, but Rama did say you could use it in quick breads, corn breads and muffins among other dough recipes, which is why her cookbook includes the likes of Cheddar Cheese and Bacon Biscuits, Bacon and Rosemary Shortbread, and Oyster and Corn Bread Stuffing with Bacon.

Thin- or regular-cut bacon was preferred for Rama’s main course, a Crusted Salmon with Avocado and Red Onion Green Salad. This recipe was a variation on a dish that celebrity chef Daniel Boulud once created for President Bill Clinton, presumably before he turned vegan. His called for tuna wrapped in pancetta, while Kaminsky and Rama’s uses strips of bacon wrapped around salmon.

The cooking process here take two steps. First, you have to brown the bacon thoroughly in a pan before placing it in the oven. The first step gets the bacon dark and crispy, while the oven cooks the salmon at the center. For this dish, Rama likes to use a cast-iron skillet “for getting a good sear on the bacon,” she said.

Crusted Salmon with Avocado and Red Onion Salad

Crusted Salmon with Avocado and Red Onion Salad

OK, Rama’s menu was loaded with bacon from start to finish, because that’s what her cookbook is all about. She wouldn’t suggest a whole bacon dinner at home, however. “It’s a little too much,” she said.

When it comes to health matters, bacon really isn’t as bad as some have made it out to be, she said, explaining that only about half of the fat is saturated.

If you needed further proof, consider this: The svelte Rama said she didn’t gain a pound while doing the research and recipe writing for the cookbook.

To close out her class, Rama made a Chocolate-Peanut-Bacon Toffee that elicited more than a few contented sighs from people in the classroom. Think of a more buttery peanut brittle with chocolate and bacon added.

You need to use a candy thermometer for this recipe because the caramel holding the peanuts together (yes, it’s made with bacon drippings) needs to reach about 300 degrees but no more. “Caramelizing is literally bringing it to a burnt state, but you don’t want to go over it or it will burn,” she said.

Welcome to Marie Rama's "Bacon Nation."

Welcome to Marie Rama’s “Bacon Nation.”

Of all the recipes that evening, the bacon in this one was the least pronounced. It seemed to lend more of a salt flavor to the complement the peanuts, while the dark chocolate just carried everything over the top.

But if there’s not enough bacon in it for you, that’s easily remedied.

“You want it with more bacon? Throw some more bacon on it,” Rama said.

It was a philosophy her students were ready to take home and put into action.

Ready to add bacon into more of your dishes? Here are links to Rama’s recipes

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Shaken, Stirred and Ready for More


The countdown to the second annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference is just hours away. With that in mind, we offer a few cocktail recipes to wet your whistle and get you in the mood.

For a complete schedule of the non-profit festival, which benefits HeartGift, click here. And see you Thursday at the opening, shaker in hand and taxi cab number on your speed dial.

Basil Hayden’s Bacon Sour

Basil Hayden’s Bacon Sour

1 ¼ parts bourbon, such as Basil Hayden’s
1 part St-Germain liqueur infused with applewood-smoked cacon (recipe below)
1 part freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice
1/2 part diluted maple syrup (1:1 ratio of Vermont grade A medium amber syrup to water)
1 dash of Peychaud’s Bitters
1/4 part pasteurized egg white

Bacon-Infused St-Germain:
4 or 5 thick slices of applewood-smoked bacon
1 (750-milliliter) bottle St-Germain

Cook bacon in the oven until it is crispy on the outsides but still chewy in the center. Place bacon on paper towel to remove some of the rendering.

Place cooked bacon in a glass jar with one 750-milliliter bottles of St-Germain and allow it to infuse for 24 hours at room temperature.

Remove bacon. Place liqueur in the freezer so renderings congeal and you can remove them.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer and cheese cloth to remove as much rendering as possible. Repeat freezer step, if needed, and strain again.

Refrigerate until ready for use.

To make the cocktail, combine bourbon, bacon-infused St-Germain, lemon juice, diluted maple syrup, bitters and egg white into a mixing glass and shake vigorously with ice. Strain over fresh ice into a double-old fashioned glass. Garnish with an orange slice and a piece of the St-Germain-infused applewood-smoked bacon.

Makes 1 cocktail.

Adapted from Patricia Richards/Basil Hayden’s Bourbon

Basil Hayden’s Fire & Ice

Basil Hayden’s Fire & Ice

¾ parts fresh lime juice
1 slice jalapeño
1 part pomegranate juice
½ part simple syrup
1 ½ parts bourbon, such as Basil Hayden’s
Splash of soda water
Lime wheel, for garmish
Pomegranate seeds, for garnish
Muddle lime juice, jalapeño, pomegranate juice and simple syrup in a mixing tin.

Add bourbon and shake lightly for 5 seconds.

Strain into a Collins glass, add ice and top with soda water.

Garnish with a lime wheel and pomegranate seeds.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From Joel Black of Black LAB Ventures/Basil Hayden’s

Knob Creek Spice of Life

Knob Creek’s Spice of Life

4-5 fresh mint leaves
2½ parts rye, such as Knob Creek Rye
½ part white peach nectar
1 part ginger beer

Muddle mint, rye and peach nectar in the bottom of a shaker.

Add ice and shake vigorously.

Strain over ice and top with ginger beer.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From Michael Symon/Knob Creek

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Peg’s Tomato-Bacon Pie Combines Favorite Flavors


Layer the bacon, onion and basil over the tomatoes.

Need a dinner that goes together quickly and tastes great? Try this recipe from Peggy Buckshaw of Stow, Ohio, who says, “”This scrumptious pie will be a hit at your next get-together!”

Her recipe is included in Gooseberry Patch’s “101 Cozy Casseroles” (Gooseberry Patch, $14.95), and it can be modified easily to suit your tastes. For example, I opted to make it without the crust in order to cut back on the carbs. I also forgot to get green onions, so I used shallots instead. I might also add capers to the mix the next time I make it. And if there’s no fresh basil in the garden, parsley would work beautifully, as would sorrel or a mix of herbs, such as thyme, mint, tarragon and dill.

Peg’s Tomato-Bacon Pie

Top with the mayonnaise-cheese mixture.

2 to 3 tomatoes, peeled and sliced
1 (9-inch) pie crust, baked
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup bacon, crisply cooked and crumbled
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Peg’s Tomato-Bacon Pie

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Layer tomato slices in pie crust. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with onions, basil and bacon. In a bowl, mix together mayonnaise and cheese; spread carefully over bacon so that all of the ingredients are fully covered. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until lightly golden.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

From “101 Cozy Casseroles” from Gooseberry Patch

 

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Bacon and Eggs Like You’ve Never Had Them


David Gilbert cooks his scrambled eggs slowly — and in pork fat.

Chef David Gilbert had never tasted pork until he was 19 years old. Then, while away from home to study at Johnson & Wales culinary school in Charleston, S.C., he found himself biting into a pork chop at a soul food kitchen near the school.

It was a life-changing experience. “It took a moment to determine if I had committed an enormous sin or had just been transported to heaven,” he remembers. “I decided, after 19 years without pork, that I now knew what ecstasy felt like.”

That story is but one of the culinary odysseys that Gilbert, now head chef at Sustenio in the Eilan Hotel Resort and Spa, recounts in his new book, “Kitchen Vagabond: A Journey Cooking and Eating Beyond the Kitchen” (Infinity, $27.95 hardback, $17.95 paperback).

And it led up to a recipe that Gilbert shared in a cooking demonstration he offered at the Pearl Farmers Market, an unusual but welcome take on scrambled eggs.

Like many recipes, the chef’s version has evolved over time.

It began with his father, who would, whenever Gilbert’s mother wasn’t watching, use butter in the pan and whole milk  in the egg mix, thereby creating a richness that the future chef appreciated.

David Gilbert and Christina Narvaiz, line chef at Sustenio.

He watched his father closely and learned to whisk the eggs gently with a fork, not a whisk. He also saw that it was important not to rush the eggs as they cooked. “That is my little secret,” he says. “I believe in slow cooking because it gives the eggs the opportunity to coagulate and the natural proteins to slowly set.  There is nothing worse than dry scrambled eggs.”

But Gilbert’s recipe took a turn in an entirely new direction after he headed to South Carolina for school. One morning, after a forgotten night of drinking, he found himself staggering to the kitchen, trying to step carefully around a handful of co-eds sprawled all over the floor. Once he made it to the kitchen, he tossed a chunk of sliced bacon into the pan and let the fat render slowly. Once the meat had crisped up, he removed the strips and then started to cook the eggs in the leftover fat.

The end result was a hangover cure as effect as San Antonio’s menudo. Though science may disagree, both are so good that you forget the hangover and concentrate on the restorative powers that the flavors of both dishes provide.

The crowd that had gathered at the Pearl open kitchen area hung on Gilbert’s every word and even applauded as he added more milk to his egg mixture and more pork fat to the eggs as they cooked. The end results were delicious, thanks in part to the fact that the pork he used was from South Texas Heritage Pork, which sells its meat at the market.

During the demonstration, Gilbert crumbled up the bacon, not too finely, and returned the pieces to the eggs before serving. He also topped the dish with chopped parsley to add both color and flavor.

Southern Hangover Cure (or Bacon and Scrambled Eggs)

1 pound sliced bacon
12 whole eggs
2 ounces whole milk
1 pinch of black pepper
Room full of co-eds, optional

Heat a large cast-iron skillet on medium-low heat; add the sliced bacon. Break apart the bacon with a whisk (in my case) or, properly, with a pair of stainless steel tongs. Remove bacon to drain excess fat (on a paper towel), once crispy.

Crack one dozen eggs into a bowl, add a splash of milk, whisk gently. Add to bacon fat; slowly stir with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle with black pepper. Watch football the rest of the day and try to figure out what occurred the night before.

Makes 6 servings.

From “Kitchen Vagabond: A Journey Cooking and Eating Beyond the Kitchen” by David Gilbert

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Beer and Food Pairings Popping Up Around the City


ED’S NOTE:The date of the Sustenio dinner has been changed to Oct. 18.

Oktoberfest is in the air. So naturally there are several events happening in the coming weeks that offer savory reminders of how wonderful food and beer pairings can be.

Brewniverse at Central Market

Central Market, 4821 Broadway, is focusing on beer every day through Sept. 25, offering tastings in the wine and beer department as well as classes adding the food element to beer appreciation.

One class, set for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 21, will focus on craft-brewed beers paired with American artisanal cheeses. “You’ll be amazed by the delicious results,” the class description promises. The cost is $45. Call (210) 368-8617.

Beer and Bacon Pairing Dinner at Whole Foods

The culinary team at Whole Foods Market at the Alamo Quarry, 255 E. Basse Road, is planning a five-course dinner pairing beer and bacon. It’s set for 7 p.m. Oct. 3.

Specialty beers from around the world will be paired with the pork favorite. The cost is $30 a person. Prepaid reservations required. Call (210) 826-4676.

Pork and  Jester King Beer at Sustenio

Sustenio at the Eilan Hotel, 17101 La Cantera Parkway, is pairing South Texas Heritage Pork and Jester King beers in a three-course dinner, from snout to tail, that’s set for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18.

The pig for this dinner will have been fed a special avocado diet for two weeks prior to the dinner, according to South Texas Heritage Pork, a highly sought-after pork purveyor in the region.

Jester King Craft Brewery is an authentic farmhouse brewery committed to making artisan ales. “Like the small, farmhouse breweries that inspired us, we seek to embrace nature and local terroir in our brewing, giving our beers a true sense of place,” says the brewery, which is located south of Austin. “We draw water from our well at the brewery to make our beer and at times call upon naturally occurring yeast from the Texas Hill Country to shape our unique flavors. We use as many organic ingredients as possible with the majority of our beer being USDA Certified Organic. We do not rush beer to market, but instead allow it to mature naturally – often in oak barrels – prior to re-fermentation in the bottle, cask, or keg.”

The dinner begins with a meet and greet featuring folks from South Texas Heritage Pork and Jester King.

The cost is $75 a person. Call (210) 598-2950 for reservations.

Posted in Wine, Beer, Spirits Q&AComments Off

Bacon and Lentils with Egg


Red lentils

“Have you ever eaten lentils for breakfast?” Faith Durand asks in “Not Your Mother’s Casseroles” (The Harvard Press, $16.95). “This is one of those breakfast dishes that is really just as good for lunch or dinner. It’s flexible; after you make up a batch of soft, mashed lentils with spices, you can serve them for any meal of the day. Serve this with Indian lime pickle or a spicy chutney.”

Bacon and Lentils with Eggs

4 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 shallots or 1/2 red onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 cups red or yellow lentils, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
4 cups water
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 eggs

Place the bacon in a 2-quart (or larger) saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Cook the bacon slowly, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until it is crisp.

Turn the heat to medium and add the shallots and garlic. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, then add the garam masala and lentils. Stir so the lentils are coated with the shallots and garlic, then add the cilantro and cook until it is wilted.

Add the water and turn the heat to high. Bring to a boil, then cover and lower to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes. if the lentils are too watery at the end, leave the lid off for a few minutes until the liquid is reduced and the lentils are nearly dry. Turn off the heat and taste. Season the lentils with salt and pepper, then lightly mashed them with a fork.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease six 6-ounce ramekins with baking spray or olive oil. Mount a few spoonfuls of the lentils in each (you may have some lentils left over), then make a hollow in the center of the lentils with the back of a spoon and crack in an egg. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the whites are just set. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

From “Not Your Mother’s Casseroles” by Faith Durand

 

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Bacon and Blue on Rye


Add blue cheese to bacon in these sandwiches.

Food Network star Sondra Lee is known for taking already made products and combining them for maximum effect. Her “Semi-Homemade Comfort Food” (SL Books, $19.95) is loaded with tips and she even offers her favorite brands to help you with your shopping. Of course, you could make as much of the dish as you had time for.

This recipe is for a quick sandwich that matches two favorite foods: bacon and blue cheese. The end result will have you seeing a BLT in a whole new light.

Bacon and Blue on Rye

16 slices fully cooked bacon (Tyson)
8 slices light rye bread (Oroweat)
1/2 cup creamy blue cheese dressing (Bob’s Big Boy)
4 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese (Sargento)
2 roma tomatoes, sliced
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
Spring salad mix

Heat the bacon in the microwave according tot package directions.

Toast bread and spread each slice with blue cheese dressing. Place 4 slices of the bacon on half of the bread slices. Sprinkle with blue cheese. Top each with tomato slices and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the lettuce and then the other piece of bread. Slice in half and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

From “Semi-Homemade Comfort Food” by Sondra Lee

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WalkerSpeak: Pork and the Kocurek Family Artisanal Charcuterie


With the economy still in the tank and some of us marginally employed, why would we purchase Czech bacon at the price of $7 for a half pound?

First, it’s pork. Second, it’s one of our favorite artisan foods: charcuterie. This is the preparation of pork (mainly, though other meats can be prepared similarly) specialties such as pâtés, rillettes, sausages, and, of course, bacon.

If the product is made by those who adhere to a “slow-food” ethos, it becomes even harder to resist. This was our pleasurable predicament after sampling from the Kocurek Family Artisanal Charcuterie Saturday at the Pearl Farmers Market.

The Kocureks have been selling prepared sandwiches and packaged sausages, bacon and other hand-crafted foods at the Pearl market for some weeks now. Their stated mission is to “preserve the art of traditional charcuterie using local, free-range, hormone-free meat and game, and above all else, the preservation of our happiness in making authentic food with our family.”

Czech bacon, thickly sliced and seasoned with herbs and spices, comes from the Kocurek Family Artisanal Charcuterie in Austin.

Lawrence and Lee Ann Kocurek met at culinary school a decade ago, then moved to New York. Lawrence is an honors graduate from The French Culinary Institute and Lee Ann is a certified sommelier from the American Sommelier Association. They have a young son, born in 2009, who was their inspiration, after careers with top restaurants and wine merchants, to go into business for themselves in Austin.

As Lawrence described it, the bacon is not as salty as American bacon. It is seasoned, however, with a lengthy list of herbs and spices. The flavor was plenty bacon-y, and we didn’t miss all the salt we have become accustomed to. It sizzled nicely in the pan and turned very crisp. It was utterly delicious with scrambled eggs, green chile salsa and hot corn tortillas for breakfast, and in BLTs at lunch.

Later on Sunday, my husband and I pan-broiled the Kocurek’s Saucisse de Toulouse, a half-pound French sausage made with pork, wine, garlic, nutmeg and other seasonings. Served with an herb-scented pilaf of tiny green French lentils seasoned with salt pork and sliced fresh tomatoes, it was a perfect Sunday supper.

John Griffin took home with him his own packages from the Kocurek booth, not being able to resist the Boerewors sausage, a taste of South African-seasoned beef, pork and bacon with red wine, garlic, coriander, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and Worcestershire sauce among the spices. We’ll look forward to the report on that— or, better still, a taste!

To look at a comprehensive product list of the Korcurek family’s charcuterie, a schedule of the farmers markets they visit, and to sign up for their newsletter, click here.

Saucisse de Toulouse, pan-grilled and served with French Lentil Pilaf with Wine.

For the French Lentil Pilaf with Wine recipe that we served with the Saucisse de Toulouse (see below), click here.

Photos by Bonnie Walker


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Give Your Breakfast Some BAM!


Bacon-Avocado-Mango Breakfast Sandwich

Every time someone uses the word “bam” near a kitchen, Emeril Lagasse comes to mind. The celebrity chef, who told us all that “pork rules,” would probably love this version of BAM, a breakfast sandwich made with bacon, avocado and mango.

The silky smooth textures of the mango and avocado are a nice contrast with the crisp bacon and the hot buttered bread. If you want to make this more like a Mexican torta, use crema instead of butter.

It’s a great way to get two fruit servings with breakfast, so you can start the day right.

Bacon-Avocado-Mango Breakfast Sandwich

4 thick-cut slices bacon or 6 regular slices bacon
2 bolillos, toasted, or 4 slices Texas toast
Butter or crema (optional)
1 Ataulfo mango
1 large avocado
Salt, to taste (optional)

Over low-heat, fry the bacon, turning frequently, until you reach the desired crispness. Using a paper towel, remove any excess grease.

Meanwhile, cut the bolillos in half and toast. Spread butter or crema, if using.

Peel and slice the mango. Halve the avocado, remove the pit and cut out slices, removing them from the peel.

To assemble: Place one side of the bread down on a plate. Top with bacon, mango and avocado. Sprinkle a little salt on, if desired. Top with other half of bolillo or toast.

Makes 2 sandwiches.

From John Griffin

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Bacon Makes the Potato Salad


Use new potatoes in this Irish-infused potato salad.

In Ireland, bacon is more like what we Americans would call Canadian bacon. That’s not what is called for here. In this creamy potato salad, use crisp American bacon.

Bacon-Potato Salad

8 to 9 strips bacon
3 pounds small new potatoes
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
4 to 5 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons wine or herb vinegar
4 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup sour cream
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Fresh parsley (for garnish)

Four hours before serving: Cook, drain and crumble bacon. Cover potatoes with cold, salted water, bring to boil, cook until tender but still firm, about 20 minutes. Drain, cool; peel if desired, but red skins make a prettier salad. Cut into 1/4-inch slices. Add onion, parsley and half of bacon; toss. Combine vinegar, oil, sour cream, salt and pepper. Add to potatoes, toss. Chill 4 hours.

When ready to serve: Add a little more sour cream if potatoes seem dry. Garnish with parsley and remaining bacon.

Makes 8 servings.

From “Tampa Treasures Cookbook: The Junior League of Tampa”

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