"Awesome!" A Blog.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

I failed Father.

This evening I managed to create a dish with Father's hickory-smoked bacon that became less than the sum of its parts. It was sort of embarrassing, and rather confounding, as I usually like this particular dish quite well when there isn't bacon involved. No, it was not iced tea.

If I have some chicken breasts around I like to use the technique Jacques Pépin adapted from an old frog leg recipe*: cube the meat to 1", dry it, dust it with seasoned Wondra (extra-fine flour), fry it in some butter and oil until golden, then hit the whole thing with a handful of finely chopped parsley and garlic (persillade), stir, and serve. Persillade has gestalt. Two humble ingredients, heated briefly and tossed with a little fat, make otherwise dull breast meat almost sparkle in the mouth. How could a little chopped, super-smoky bacon not improve it? I even threw in some dijon and white wine until a thick sauce formed - that sort of fancy shenanigan always seems to do the trick with restaurant rabbit. The result?

Hospital food. Well, not precisely (this differed somewhat from a sullenly-proffered mattress-size tray of enchiladas with whole black olives inside), but the bacon flavor didn't permeate the way I thought it would (probably because chicken, unlike the starches I wrote of last time, is dense, and needs time to take on flavor, and maybe all the acids retarded the permeation of the smoke). My hopes, built up as they were by the bacon's previously demonstrated power, were dashed, and that can deaden even passable flavors. As many a failed chef holding a lightly steamed, intact-but-for-one-tiny-bite chuck roast has often been heard to say,"I guess I should have gone with a braise."

No telling what the future holds from here. I'm like a lost boy in a rowboat, and he sees another lost boy, this one in a dinghy, and he thinks to himself, "you know, we're really not all that different."

- - - Scholar's Korner - - -

Fast Food My Way, 2004 (p. 145)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bacon No. 1: Going Low.

In deference to the upcoming tax season, we've agreed to spend less money on groceries. We're eschewing wines that have particular flavors in favor of wines that cost less than parsley, and we've committed to working through the mortifyingly monochromatic pantry arsenal of pasta, canned beans, and frozen walnuts. The Bacon of the Month Club has been instrumental in giving purpose to the wallpaper paste that dispiritedly calls out to me from all corners of the kitchen.

Intellectually—that is to say, in my imagination, which is slightly to the side of the grumpy old sleeping man that is my intellect—I began this bacon club documentation project with the loftiest of aspirations. I fully expected to grow as a cook, to broaden my horizons through the use of brave new techniques and exotic ingredients. Here and there, in indulgent moments, I pictured myself striding purposefully into a market catering to an unfamiliar, fast-speaking, foreign nationality, and picking up a yummy block of, say, tamarind paste. Perhaps a pack of bidis to roll into the sleeve of my white undershirt, little leafy smokes which I might puff postprandially as my friends congratulated me on a stellar bacon-tamarind paste "maki-wrapped pan-future burrito."

Well, not this week. Here are the two things I've cooked with my fancy, expensive artisanal bacon so far:

1) Bacon and lettuce sandwich (not even any mayonnaise, because it smelled off and I didn't want to break my arm whipping up a new one)

2) Chopped bacon stirred into some microwave-style kids' macaroni and cheese*

So! Dry sandwiches and microwave pasta. You may think that sounds pretty pathetic, and while I support your correctness, I must point out that it only sounds that way. The real truth of the food in question is quite different.

The Bacon and Lettuce Sandwich
Some toasted sourdough, two wide leaves of romaine heart, and three slices of thick, hickory-smoked Father's bacon inside, rendered tender but not too crisp. Originally I had kicked myself for not putting a moist dressing on the sandwich, but that soon became an unnecessary self-flagellation of the past (I am part Catholic, and so is my half-assed sense of guilt). Father's bacon didn't really need the bread or lettuce, as it turned out, because the bacon itself essentially turns off everything but one's caveman brain, and you go into a pretty excellent trance until it's gone (at which point you become furious and want to fuck something). So: my lousy-sounding dry sandwich, which I ate in my robe at noon, with a Mickey's grenade that the warehouse guy had left around the night before? Sorry, French Laundry. Where was the hickory-smoked bacon that time I paid you all that money? (The Mickey's, true to form, tasted extremely bad. I doubt if Thomas Keller routinely looks to these for inspiration.)

The Bacon and the Microwave Kids' Macaroni
This dish also sounds as though it were coming to you live from a house with a beach ball-sized propane tank. It was worlds removed from Slim Jim dogs on Wonder slices, of course. Some chemical aspect of smoke is all-permeating, and after a few stirs the bacon had entirely infused the light, creamy sauce like a battle-coiffed matron dripping White Diamonds in a crowded elevator. Only, unlike in that scenario, I was more than happy to open my mouth, close my eyes, and let what happened, happen.

- Afterword -

Clearly, the thing that makes Father's bacon special is the way it aggressively radiates intense, even smokiness in all directions. Starches love to assume that sort of submission, and so does delicate seafood like shrimp and scallops. Maybe a smoky paella is in the works. I've been barbarically shaking paprika into things lately, perhaps that's where we're headed. I implore that you remain tuned to this channel.

*To my credit, the macaroni was a white cheddar organic fancy-pants variety, and not the stuff that's the color of a Simpson. But, yes, the microwave was my go-to guy here.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Bacon No. 1: First Taste

As I sit down to describe this bacon to you, "Squeeze" is on the headphones, and I cannot adequately convey the serious qualities of this food to that happy pop stuff. Bless Squeeze for all they have done, CBEs for the lot of them, but Father's Country Hams' cinnamon-rubbed hickory-smoked dry-cured bacon seems to demand something a little less "Anthony Michael Hall combing his hair in front of a Vector W-2 poster," and a little more "[the abject silence of Southern patriarchal scorn]."

I searched the Internet for an audio clip of Hank Williams dying in the back seat of a chartered Cadillac, but the best I can seem to do is a ten minute YouTube video of Bono singing to Santa Claus, so here it goes. I don't have all night.

Father's bacon is smoked. You have had "smoked" meat before, but this is not that. Eating this meat is like eating camping. Merely touch its plastic wrap and your skin holds the smoke smell for hours. Put the cooked morsel in your mouth and you are in a cheap sleeping bag again — drunk, slightly confused, and thirsty. Is someone playing the guitar? Did that ranger score with Marlene? Damn. Too bad it wasn't me — what did I do wrong? Wow. I'm camping [falls asleep with mini-Maglite suspended in sewn-in tent baggie inches from head].

Here now, while Bono wishes Santa Claus a Merry Christmas for the eighth time, I think back to how the pork looked when I first cut the package open. The meat had the surface quality of a prosciutto, that particular sheen and dryness. It had the deep, rich red of raw duck breast. The balance of meat to fat was generous. I flipped the first test strip a few times in a low pan until it had rendered and gone slightly crispy. The cinnamon flavor was negligible in this application — it was all thick, pure hickory smoke on pork, and I felt like I'd never really had bacon before. The watery, wrinkly strips you get at the supermarket now just seem like pictures of bacon, and cheap pictures taken with a cell phone, at that. Father's bacon is a sturdy pair of Wellingtons to their photocopy of Capezio toe shoes. Father's bacon is produced in slow, stern, abject paternal silence, to their factory line where Squeeze plays over cheap loudspeakers at a federally-regulated volume and the immigrant packers have no idea why. Father's bacon is excellent.

Next time: Cooking with Father's.

(Oh, I ought to mention where you can go to find the Bacon of the Month Club: GratefulPalate.com. Tell them I sent you, if possible. Maybe they'll give me another free plastic snout.)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bacon No. 1 is here. What now?

As promised, UPS delivered the initial package of bacon on March 14th, two days ago. I'm nervous. Some suffer from completion anxiety; I suffer from outset anxiety. Earlier today, the warehouse guy chided me for not even cooking one piece of it yet. He may be right, I may be more hesitant than is warranted. Or, he may just have been angling for some. He didn't get any, but we did go to a hofbrau later, one which features a slowly rotating, slowly roasting turkey in a little peepshow-like booth on either side of the front door (no picture). He made a big show out of eating a lot, and I can't help but feel like some of the eating was directed at me.

This particular bacon comes to us from Kentucky, and is a dry-cured cinnamon-spiced gentleman of hickory extraction. Dry-curing apparently means it won't shrink during cooking (since no water is absorbed in the curing process, none has to be handed its hat on the green mile), so unlike most bacon, you (I) won't wind up with a linguini-size string of meat in the middle of two deeply scalloped and ballooning fat-edges. But that's just structural. The real thing to consider here is the cinnamon.

My copy of Culinary Artistry suggests the following flavor pairings with cinnamon: apples, berries, chicken, chocolate, coffee, lamb, oranges, pears, rice, tea, and zucchini, (to name a few). So...coq au vin, sausages with an apple-bacon sauerkraut...wait. One thing I despise in food writing is watching amateurs make up fanciful dishes the way eighth-grade girls write elaborate descriptions of makeout scenes with Cary Elwes. Fuckin' A, food writing. Do not be a girl on my bus when I was thirteen.

It is time for me to withdraw into the Fortress of Weeping Pipes (a corroded pipe under the kitchen sink recently resulted in me making a lousy repair) and consider my options. I bid you cinnamon dreams and carabiner kisses, whatever that might mean. (What did you picture in your head?)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The bacon will be here today - 3/14/2007

I have just received automated word that my first delivery from the Bacon of the Month Club will arrive today, March 14th. Two years ago to the day, my daughter was born, so make of that what you will. Perhaps the cosmic implication is that this bacon blog is my new baby? And that it will grow into something wonderful and fascinating and I'll have to spend hours each day trying to convince the bacon blog not to climb into the sand-and-water play table because the bacon blog might fall out and crack its head open on the deck, thereby necessitating larding/stitches?

You will notice that I now embrace the term "blog" with both arms and a graceful, almost imperceptible brush of the cheek. I cannot do otherwise. It is like fighting a dying sea. Even a dying sea can crush you at the bottom of it, or float you for ages along disused trade currents. I will not go so gently into the goodnight that is "foodie," however. Everyone who uses that term, though there already were epicures, gastronomes, gourmets, and gourmands...well, shame on you. You sound like knee-dandling aunties, like a CEO named Charles who opts to go by the diminutive Chuckie. It's an idiotic term, and an embarrassment of the age. Like food is something we discovered in 1995. As though it were a novelty thing. There were already words, and good ones. Which are you? (These are pared down to their barest essence)

EPICURE/GOURMET: One who enjoys good food and drink.

GOURMAND: One who enjoys good food and drink in large quantities.

GASTRONOME: One who enjoys not just food, but its history and sociology.

Where does "foodie" fit in? I don't know. To me it rhymes with "poprophiliac."

The bacon will be here soon. At the outset, I have just amateurish ideas of how to use the stuff to its best ends. Carbonara. BLTs. Bacon-wrapped this-or-that skewers. Soup bases. Salad lardons. The old concepts you glean from a decade of reading cookbooks while never really getting your hands greasy.

On the other hand, I don't want to make a bacon foam in the shape of a hard-boiled egg, with a tourneed saffron-braised home fry "yolk" and agar-agar thickened mimosa sac "sunny-side up, slurped off the screen area of an iPod 'spoon,' to resemble consumption."

The delivery will be here in mere hours. Watch this space, as cheap billboard operators say when deadheading their overhead acreage.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


I'm not going to lie to you, not today. No, sorry — not now, not on this blog. I don't care what you came here for, I'm not going to do it. Today is truth day down at the old Onstad thing-mentioning area, and I have a juicy tidbit to get off my chest. Well, it's not really one single tidbit. It's twelve tidbits, made up of several smaller, cured, often smoked, tidbits.

If you hadn't guessed by now, I'll just come out and say it: for Valentine's Day, my wife signed me up for the Bacon of the Month club. Every second week of the month, I am promised a thermodynamically stable little cooler full of American artisanal bacon, on the doorstep, to do with as I please.

For the sake of sport and discussion, and to pad this out in the absence of my maiden shipment, I will first point out that our earlier efforts at ordering fancy delivered food did not fare well.


Two young professionals who do not like to eat ten pounds of kale.



Too lazy to cook, and there is a little money in my pocket.

ME: Say, it's Saturday! Let's spare ourselves a few dishes and get some upscale take-out! That new Fist of Mandalay place says they deliver.
LIZ: I'd love some papaya salad and spring rolls.
ME: It's done. It's as good as done. For me I will get prawn dishes.

[two hours pass]

ME: [intensely serious] I...I hope you...I just hope you don't mind. [gingerly rises from couch]
LIZ: What?
ME: Just don't do anything like listen or care or try to help for a while, alright?
LIZ: Are you feeling okay?
ME: Shut UP!
LIZ: Babe?!
ME: [runs bathroom shower as noise baffle for half an hour]
- - - -

As this is bacon, and not pestilential crates of unpopular greens, or shrimp that have been ripening under the nervous eye of a cash-strapped restaurateur, I see no reason the whole thing shouldn't be great fun from beginning to end. We'll have people over more often. Our soups will have a deeper, more earthy flavor. Large Sunday breakfasts will become a thing of tradition. We'll go on a hike, or perhaps look at pictures of the sea.

Now—here is my actual announcement—since I've got this monthly bacon gig, I thought I'd make a little recurring blog feature out of it. From the plop of the package, to the evaluation, to the recipe research and ensuing guest response, I intend to document what can only be described as one man's monthly subscription to a cured pork delivery service. I hope you will follow it with great enthusiasm, and perhaps, when it comes out, go see the film.