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Bacon-Tomato Pasta (Divine)

So, perhaps you’ve just made the split pea soup from my last post and you have a half a pound of thick-cut bacon leftover. What to do? Might I suggest maximizing its potential as one half of the finest flavor duo known to mankind? Bacon and tomatoes. An indubitably fated coupling, much like Laurel and Hardy, Hall and Oates, Pinky and the Brain. One can get on without the other, but together, they’ve found their calling.

It’s a proven fact that bacon is a miracle food that can make anything spectacular. It’s like the circus freak of the edible kingdom–you can add it to anything and it’ll perform to standing ovation. Bacon could probably make dirty laundry taste good. But add it to tomatoes, especially in a slow-cooked sauce poured over my favorite carb, topped with cheese, and you’ve basically given your taste buds an expletive-deleted, moment of intense pleasure explosion.

It needs a better name, really, but I can’t come up with one that really pinpoints the titillating properties. Bacasm?

Perhaps My Favorite Pasta

1/2 lb. thick-cut bacon, roughly chopped
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
1 c. white wine
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 12 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes
1 8 oz can V-8 juice
salt & pepper
1/2 lb. penne

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.

In another large pot, cook the bacon over med-low until it renders its fat, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, salt & pepper, thyme, and bay leaves: cook until the veggies become translucent. Add wine and reduce by half.

Run the can of tomatoes through a blender or food processor.

Add the tomatoes and V-8 and simmer for a good half hour. Adjust salt to taste.

Cook the penne al dente. Add to the sauce to coat. Serve with freshly grated parmesan.

Save a piece of bacon for Charlie, who is as obsessed with it as I am:

cat loves bacon

i can haz bacon?

Pea Soup Soto’s

One of my favorite things to do is to drive along the coast of California. I went to college in Santa Cruz, and I used to make the drive back and forth to LA all the time. Those trips in my little Ford Escort were most certainly where I cemented my love of road trips. I get how long drives might be tedious to some, but I adore the in-between space it affords: open road, open time ahead of you, tunes, a view. Somewhere along the way, I discovered Pea Soup Andersen’s–a small roadside diner specializing in pea soup. The diner looks like the Tiki Room at Disneyland gone Swedish (cuckoo clocks instead of singing birds). And the soup, for all the hype, is truly fantastic.

The best eateries in the world are roadside diners. To get people to turn off the highway and get out of their cars, roadside restaurants know they have to be pretty special. The Madonna Inn, for instance, is just up the road from Pea Soup Andersen’s, and does nothing less than a pink-and-brass mambo all over your senses–pink sugar, waterfalls in the men’s bathroom, amazing pancakes. Can any place match the roadside genre in themes, decor, and comfort food? When there’s nothing but the lonely road ahead of you, you want something that sticks to your guts, both in food and funky kitsch.

This is a soup that you want with you on the open road. There are a million ways to approach it, but here’s a rustic, hearty one. Vegemetarians can easily skip the bacon and cook the veggies in olive oil instead.

Pea Soup

1 c. dried green peas
3 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and diced
1/2 lb. of thick-cut bacon, roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
6 sprigs of thyme
1 c. white wine
2 russet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
16 oz. stock
2 c. water

In a sieve, rinse the peas and set aside.

In a large pot over medium heat, cook the bacon until the fat renders, but don’t let it get too crisp. With a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and set aside.

Add the garlic, onions, and carrots to the bacon fat, and sprinkle salt and pepper over them. Let them cook until they soften, about 5 minutes. Cover the veggies in the wine and let it reduce for a few minutes. Throw in the bay leaves and the thyme.

Add the peas and potatoes and coat them in the veggies and oil. Cover in stock and water and turn the heat to medium-high. Let it come to a boil and continue to boil for awhile, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium and cook until peas and potatoes are cooked through. Add the bacon back in. Add salt to taste. With a potato masher, smoosh everything to desired consistency (smooshy).

Guest Post: Tami’s Barbequed Buttermilk Chicken and Wedge Salad

I get a certain fiendish joy from creatively repurposing ingredients so that what works for one dish, might be folded into others to create a thread throughout the meal. (It’s partly inspired by thriftiness, but mostly an aesthetic preference for a coherence to the plate.) Tami served us this meal in Cape Cod, and the theme here was buttermilk. The ingredient that made the chicken incredibly juicy and tender, also added a creamy brightness to the blue cheese on the wedge salad. Smart ingredient usage and a really delicious meal!

Brainchild of the lovely Chef Tami

I came pretty late to cooking, having been raised by a woman who believed making two weeks’ worth of tuna fish sandwiches for her two daughters, freezing them, and doling them out on lunch day to serve as both main course and ice pack was an appropriate way to feed her children.  It is not.  It is, in a word, gross.  I learned at an early age how to boil water, toast bread, and spread stuff on it – that opened up a whole culinary world previously unknown to me.  Pasta! Raisin bread toast with jam! Hard-cooked eggs! Peanut butter sandwiches! That got me through the next 20 years – well that and having a great sister (who cooks), great friends (who cook), and an amazing wife (who cooks, and sizzles).  I tried my hand at baking, and found it fit well with my love of measuring cups and cake-eating.  But cooking, well, cooking is for people who are comfortable with improvisation, and who are willing to eat the mistakes.  Not me (or so I thought) until I discovered the two greatest cooking resources for lazy, precision-loving, relatively-uncreative people – Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, and Real Simple magazine.  The below recipe is derived from the latter, and is a favorite resource of mine because it combines two wonderful concepts: Real food and easy-to-follow (e.g., simple) instructions.  And it tastes good.  Better, even, than the revelation that was my first hard-cooked egg, and unquestionably more delicious than a tuna sandwich ice cube.

Buttermilk Chicken
Adapted from Real Simple
2 c. buttermilk
8 cloves garlic, finely crushed
salt and pepper
2 tsp. paprika
6 to 8 pieces of bone-in chicken, mixed cuts as desired

In a large bowl, mix the buttermilk and garlic, then add the salt, pepper, and paprika to taste. Soak the chicken, making sure it’s coated, for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours. Store in ziplock bags or a covered bowl in the refrigerator.

Grill each side of the chicken for 15 minutes or until cooked through.

Wedge Salad
1 c. sour cream
1/4 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. blue cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper
1 head of iceberg lettuce, quartered to make the wedge
5 strips of bacon, cooked and cut into chunks
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved, for garnish

Mix the sour cream, buttermilk, blue cheese, and salt and pepper together. Position the wedges of lettuce on a plate and drizzle the blue cheese dressing over each. Sprinkle the chunks of bacon, and garnish, if desired, with tomatoes.

Bacon Fest 2010: Angela’s Bacon-Apple Butter-Cheddar Sammiches

I just got back from camping in Kentucky, where I experienced many cookstove and campfire delights that I’ll share with you soon. In the meantime, on with chronicling the bacon fest. We wanted to have the iconic BLT represented, and Angela volunteered to bring some sandwich in that vein. Below is her inspired fare.

Pedro and Angela were on sandwich duty. And rose to the occasion.

Bacon-Apple Butter-Cheddar Sandwiches

I came up with this ditty on a whimmy: bacon + apple butter + cheese = yes > plain ol’ BLT (but only slightly).

Here’s what you’ll need:

Apple butter
A mild cheese (I used raw, aged cheddar which is similar in taste to string cheese)

Simply fry up the bacon, smear your bread with apple butter, add cheese, and voila!  You’ve got yourself a nice little sangwich.

Now, here are some things you should note about this recipe.  The apple butter I bought was plain and, frankly, flavorless.  A major disappointment, considering I paid $7.50 for it!  Be sure to use an apple butter you know and love, or heck, you might want to wait until fall to get some fresh from the farmer’s market.  In addition, I used storebought challa buns for this sandwich, and while they are quite tasty, there was simply too much bread.  I would recommend using plain old sliced bread in order to achieve a nice texture and balance.

Happy baconing!

–Kate’s friend Angela

Bacon Fest 2010: Bacon-Coffee Sundae

Beyond words. This was so good.

A slowly simmered syrup of coffee, sugar, cocoa, and a pinch of cinnamon. Brown-sugar glazed chunks of thick-cut applewood smoked bacon. Plain Jane vanilla ice cream.

There were some skeptics at bacon fest, but I believe I converted 100 percent by the first bite.

Glazed Bacon
1 lb. thick-cut bacon
about 1 cup of brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Use a baking sheet with a bit of a lip to it, and line it with foil. Lay out the bacon side by side on a baking rack, which you in turn will place on the baking sheet. Sprinkle each piece with brown sugar until you’ve achieved a nice coating.

Place in oven for about 18 minutes. Let cool a bit and then cut into chunks.

Coffee Syrup
1 c. sugar (I used turbinado)
1 c. brewed coffee
1/4 c. dark cocoa powder (I used Dagoba)
1 pinch cinnamon

Over medium heat, add sugar to a saucepan and let it melt. Add the coffee and reduce heat to a simmer. Add the cocoa and cinnamon and stir. The sugar will harden at first, but will soon melt into the mixture and all will become velvety. Let it simmer slowly for about 45 minutes, or until it’s reached a syrupy consistency.

I served mine cold, but you could easily serve it warm from the stove. Refrigerated, this will last at least a week or two.

Build your sundae with a few scoops of ice cream, bacon chunks, and syrup. Embellish as desired, but I thought it was great in just this simplicity.

A dish that Elvis certainly would have approved of. At least, my Kitchen Elvis did.

Bacon Fest 2010: Beet and Bacon Salad

I did have a vegetarian brave the bacon fest, so I wanted to make sure there were bacon-optional choices for her. And I had some gorgeous beets on hand from the farmers’ market, so I decided to build something around them.

It was nice to have a lighter bacon dish, since this feast could easily have turned into a gut-buster. This is somewhat cobb-like, in that it has the bacon and gorgonzola. I almost went all the way and added hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, and etc., but the beets were so amazing, that I really didn’t want to overwhelm them. I think that the biggest trick to learn in cooking is knowing when to stop. Knowing when you’ve reached the perfect balance of flavors, and just stop. Let the personality of each flavor you do use have its chance to shine. It’s very Italian, this idea–or at least, that’s where I learned it. It feels like a certain intimacy with flavors–knowing what they work well with and when to push them out of their comfort zone. And when to just let them be.

As I cut them into chunks and held the fleshy purple pieces, I was mesmerized by the striations. The more time I spend looking at food and photographing it, the more obsessed I become with how beautiful it is. Beets completely enchant me: the fact that such a deep, heart-pumping red color occurs naturally, the color play in the different varieties. What would I do without the farmers’ markets?  At the grocery store, a beet’s a beet. There’s no nod to the nuances they are capable of.

We had some beet detractors at the party (ahem, Angela and Pedro), but I thought they were delicate and sweet–a good complement to the bacon. The dish overall felt very earthy, with a jazzy finish provided by the mint and the grapefruit. Pretty tasty.

They look so humble.

Until you open them. Gorgeous.


Beet and Bacon Salad
6 medium beets
4 garlic cloves, skins on
2 or 3 springs of rosemary
olive oil
1 bag of baby spinach
6 oz. gorgonzola
1/2 large grapefruit, peeled and cut into wedges
1 lb. bacon

For the vinaigrette
1/2 large grapefruit
mint leaves from 2 or 3 sprigs
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
plus, the garlic that you roasted with the beets
olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel and chop the beets into equal-sized wedges, maybe about 1/2 an inch each. Add to a baking pan or sheet with the garlic cloves (unpeeled), then toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary. Cook until they are tender, about 35 minutes. Set aside to come to cool.

Fry the bacon and drain on paper towels. Chop into chunks.

Build the salad: Spinach, beets, gorgonzola, grapefruit wedges. I put the bacon in a separate dish to make the salad veg-friendly.

To make the vinaigrette, peel and add the roasted garlic to the bowl of a food processor. Add the vinegars and juice from the grapefruit, mint, salt, and pepper. Begin to pulse the mixture while drizzling in the olive oil (with the lid on, unless you are using a chopper–then it’s fine to just add the olive oil to the base mixture). Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Toss all together.

This is what my fridge looked like for awhile. Mesmerizing.

Bacon Fest 2010: Bacon Jam

bacon, niman ranch, applewood smoked bacon, dry cured

For my birthday this year, I received a lovely package in the mail containing Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon, a book completely devoted to the history, use, and love of bacon. Since then, I’ve been inspired–(downright possessed)–by bacon. Celeste and I have been exchanging bacon tchotchkes on our birthdays for awhile now, but this one really got me to thinking. So on Saturday, I invited a few friends over to eat, drink, and contemplate bacon. The conclusion: bacon is delicious.

I think bacon really gets people’s engines going because it beautifully marries the savory and sweet. You can whip it into a smoky, smoldering frenzy, or you can coax out its sweeter side. Mention bacon to any meat eater and, nine times out of ten, you’ll get declarations of rhapsodic devotion to it. It’s satisfying, versatile, and popping up all over the place lately–vodka, chocolate bars, donuts. Zingerman calls it the olive oil of America in his book, which I completely disagree with (that would be butter, ahem). But it truly, truly is an American culinary icon.

American–or “streaky”–bacon is typically a dry-cured cut of pork belly. British bacon is taken from the back of the pig. I went American all the way (it was 4th of July weekend). The first recipe I decided on was this Chipotle Bacon Jam I found at the Homesick Texan blog. (Thank you, Homesick Texan!) As soon as I came across this, I knew it would be my first course. Below is what happens when you take a pound of bacon and let it simmer in a spicy bath until it becomes a smoky, chorizo-like spread of velvet.

Homesick Texan’s Chipotle Bacon Jam
1 pound of bacon
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 sliver of onion (I used more–about half an onion)
1–4 chipotles in adobo (I used 2)
2 tsps. adobo sauce from the chipotle can
2 tsps. ancho chile powder
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. ground Mexican hot chocolate
1 c. brewed coffee
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
black pepper to taste

Cook the bacon until the fat is rendered, but not too crisp. Cut cooked bacon into two-inch-sized pieces. Pour out all but one tbsp. bacon fat.

On medium heat, cook the onion and garlic in the bacon fat for a few minutes. Add the cooked bacon, spices, vinegar, and coffee. Simmer on low for two hours, stirring occasionally. If it starts to get dry, add 1/4 cup of water at a time. I found that I needed to do this ever 20 minutes or so.

After two hours, place bacon jam into a food processor and pulse for two or three seconds until it has a nice, chunky consistency.

I served it with Fuji apple slices, crostini, smoked gouda, and caramelized onions.

From the Ultimate Bacon Resource:

Top 10 Bacon Quotes from Homer Simpson

  1. “(Lisa) “I’m going to become a vegetarian” (Homer) “Does that mean you’re not going to eat any pork?” “Yes” “Bacon?” “Yes Dad” Ham?” “Dad all those meats come from the same animal” “Right Lisa, some wonderful, magical animal!””
  2. “Porkchops and bacon, my two favorite animals.”
  3. “When you’re in my house you shall do as I do and believe who I believe in. So Bart butter your bacon.”
  4. “Is it Bacon Day?”
  5. “Mmmm. Move over, eggs. Bacon just got a new best friend – fudge.”
  6. “Not again! First you took away my Philly Fudgesteak. And then my Bacon Balls. Then my Whatchamachicken. You monster!”
  7. Homer: I’ll have the smiley face breakfast special. Uhh, but could you add a bacon nose? Plus bacon hair, bacon mustache, five o’clock shadow made of bacon bits and a bacon body.
    Waitress: How about I just shove a pig down your throat?
    (Homer looks excited)
    Waitress: I was kidding.
    Homer: Fine, but the bacon man lives in a bacon house!
    Waitress: No he doesn’t!
  8. “[strained] You know that feeling you get when a thousand knives of fire are stabbing you in the heart? I’m having that right now…[normal] Ooh, bacon!”
  9. “Mmm … bacon”
  10. “Mmm … unexplained bacon”

Blue Potato and Bacon Latkes with Farm Stand Salad

It’s been a long time! This is mostly due to camera custody issues, but also to a lot of life stuff that has kept me out of the kitchen for awhile–moving, general regrouping, and a very busy season at work. Anyways, my apologies for this long lapse. And, thank you if you are still reading.

To celebrate my return to blogging and the city’s return to farmer’s market season, Melissa and I got up early to get the best pick of things and to let the market inspire a meal. After a long, marketless winter, it was amazing to be presented with so much bounty this morning. The Wicker Park farmer’s market has only been open for two weekends so far, so I have been jonesing for it. The whole city opens up in the summer–people dine al fresco, ride their bikes, crowd the beaches, go to baseball games, and eat vegetables. It can be hard to pry the Lou Malnatti’s deep dish out of some Chicagoans’ hands, but the many local farmer’s markets make a valiant effort to do so.

In truth, culinary culture in Chicago is pretty vibrant, and the markets are always full of people, including mini ones and canine ones. Melissa and Sean and I brought their dog, Jackson, who seemed to have forgotten how glorious a place the market can be. With all the stimuli, Jackson was in heaven. And I have to say, so were we.

With apologies to the Jews, this is what we came up with.

Blue Potato and Bacon Latkes with Lemon Cream
10 slices of bacon
1 lb blue potatoes
2 cloves garlic
3-4 shallots
2 eggs
1 c. flour
1 tsp. ground coriander
salt and pepper to taste
canola oil for frying

Lemon Cream
1 c. sour cream
1/2 c. plain yogurt
lemon juice

Fry up the bacon and let drain and cool on paper towels. Drain all but about a tablespoon of the bacon fat from the frying pan.

Line a colander or sieve with paper towels. Shred the potatoes and transfer to the towel-lined colander. With paper towels on top, squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Finely dice the garlic and shallots and set aside. Chop the bacon.

In a large bowl, whisk two eggs with salt, pepper, and coriander. Add the potatoes, garlic, shallots, and bacon. Pour in the flour and mix all ingredients together.

In your bacon frying pan, heat about 6 tablespoons of oil until you can see a bit of smoke rise from it. Add a dollop of the potato mixture and flatten it out with your spatula. When you can see the bottom edges brown, flip it and let the other side brown. It’s about 2–3 minutes per side.

Let the finished ones drain on paper towels. Serve with lemon cream, which is just a combination of all three ingredients listed above.

We served this with a beautiful, simple market salad:

2 heads wild arugula, destemmed
1 bunch radishes, chopped
1/2 lb. sugar snap peas, quickly blanched and cooled

Melissa made a vinaigrette with shallots and lemon. When she sends me the recipe, I will post it.

The meal was simple and had the freshness of a lemony zing and crunchy greens. Not to mention bacon.