Oh bacon, how we love you.
A few weeks ago, I received a rather long and hateful comment from someone hiding in anonymity. I didn’t publish it. No big deal. These things seem to happen, if you have a life online. Still, one of the lines that was meant as a terrible insult turned into a funny little chanting compliment around here: “I’ve never seen a website so filled with pork.”
Well, Mr. Anonymous Hater guy, you might want to click over to another website right now, because you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen today’s entry.
For the past few months, we have been having informal potluck parties at our home. On one of the last Sundays of every month, we pick an ingredient, send it to everyone on the email list, and sit back until we can share the succulence. Each month, it’s a different mix of friends, since we all have such chock-a-block calendars and a thousand directions we could go. The Chef and I love this, actually. It’s a different party every time.
Last month, we had the winter root vegetable party. The diehards showed up. We ate well, and healthfully, and there was space and time to talk with everyone, in meaningful bursts. But we knew that this month would be a bit more like mayhem. Why?
There’s just something about bacon. Its salty, slightly-sweet crunch, the way it shrivels into itself when we fry it, the heavenly ahhhh one sighs when leaning in for a smell, and the way bacon seems to make everything, everything better. Some foods only mingle with a few others. They’re part of an exclusive club. Smelt — one of our favorite fish, to tell the truth — tastes divine with a few friends. However, chocolate-covered smelt sounds like one of the candies from the Crunchy Frog sketch from Monty Python. But have you tried bacon chocolate? Oh god. Bacon is the most exuberant, open-minded host you have ever met. Everyone is welcome. The door is always open. The sunlight streams in. And bacon is equally happy to see everyone.
And so, it’s no surprise that the bacon party was the best attended of all the potlucks so far, with a flurry of emails from frustrated friends having to bow out, saying, “Shoot! I had such a great bacon recipe, too.”
Actually, it’s probably for the best that we didn’t have more people. As a group, we seemed to test the limits of amount of bacon eaten in one day.
It was hard to resist. There was sweet-potato hash, made by Kimberly and Paul. Actually, they brought two dishes, one made with Skagit River Ranch bacon, and the other with low-sodium bacon. Could anyone tell the difference? Not a bit. They were both delicious. (And this may have been the only discussion of health matters all day.)
Our supremely talented friend Monique came in, sunlight sweeping in with her, bearing a dish of these seemingly simple-to-prepare scalloped potatoes. Layered a dozen high with potatoes, sour cream, onions, cheese, herbs, and bacon, these potato-bacon extraordinaire (the only name I have for them) were deeply satisfying. Monique arrived a little later than most, when the entire room thought we couldn’t take any more bacon. But we all leaned forward from all parts of the room to take these bites.
My darling husband cooks better potatoes than anyone I know. But all afternoon, he kept moaning about these potatoes. “What did she do? I have to know.” We still don’t know. It’s her secret weapon, these potatoes. Hell with Helen of Troy. The Trojan Wars could have easily started over the bacon-and-potato goodness you see pictured here.
(Oh gosh, if only Monique would start her own blog and share these with us….)
My dear friend Karen brought these beauties: dates wrapped in bacon, drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction. She felt bad that she hadn’t realized the dates still had pits in them. Thank goodness, I say. Without the pits, we would have popped every one of these into our mouth in one bite. And then I would have eaten a dozen without even looking, and then I would have been sick. Pits forced us to slow down.
(And hey! No one brought bacon-wrapped scallops. There was a time those would have been at the top of the gourmet list. Luckily, our friends are more creative than that.)
Talk about creative? How about these — deconstructed BLT sandwiches. Combine cooked bacon, tomatoes, and mayonnaise, and then line lettuce leaves with the tempting concoction. For an extra crunch, top with gluten-free croutons. (Judy, who prepared these, doesn’t even have to eat gluten-free, but she was kind enough to stop at Whole Foods for croutons for the party. Now that’s a kind guest.)
Judy also made a dish so damned popular that we never got a photograph of it: candy bacon. Bacon roasted with brown sugar, walnuts, and a touch of cayenne pepper. Oh god, when it was warm, it was like a deadly elixir, some aphrodisiac put together by an evil witch. You knew you shouldn’t keep eating it — our arteries pumped harder in protest after several pieces —but you just couldn’t resist. Luckily, Judy is on the good side, so we weren’t lulled into 100-year sleeps. (I’m glad that fairy tales don’t use bacon as a force for bad.)
There were other dishes, and reasons to faint from heart over-exhaustion. But perhaps the most dramatic, in name and deed, was this: bacon-wrapped bacon.
Matthew learned this trick from friends of his — pork belly braised in aromatic Asian spices, cut down into bite-sized pieces, and then wrapped in bacon. Just out of the oven, these made us all slobber. I knew I shouldn’t, but I ate the first one in one gigantic bite. The rich, dulcet tones of pork belly sang out against the low bass notes of roasted smoked bacon and I wanted to join in with the heavenly choirs. But I just kept walking in the backyard with Monique, speechless, with bacon fat on my chin.
(And I can’t give you the recipe here, because Matthew is including it in his book, which comes out in 2009. It will be worth the wait. Believe me, you’ll want to read Hungry Monkey.)
Oh, but I take that back. Perhaps the most dramatic entrance was Megan’s, who arrived late enough that most of the people at the party missed this unbelievable feat. She made baskets of baked, woven bacon, and filled them with lettuce and tomatoes. When she and Scott walked through the open front door, those of us left in the living room wanted to drop to our knees and thank her. Seriously? These were visually stunning. No one wanted to eat them, at first. And that’s not only because we had been eating bacon products for hours, but also because they were so damned beautiful.
We gave in and crashed them with our teeth.
Before we ate our fill, we all shared the brands of bacon we had used: Nueske’s; Daily’s; Skagit River Ranch; Whole Foods; and even good old Oscar Mayer. We all seemed to agree — in these dishes we really couldn’t tell the difference. In individual slices, I have my stalwart favorites. But mixed in and mingled in other dishes, they were all just bacon.
All good things must come to an end, including bacon parties. By the end of the afternoon, the sun had set and we finally closed the door against the now-chilly air. Our friends sat on the couch, draped against chairs, and on the floor, all of them in a bacon coma. I swear, I think we lost our words for awhile. All we could say was, “Bacon.”
The next day, the Chef and I tried to heat up some of the leftovers for lunch. After one bite each, we realized we couldn’t do it. We just couldn’t eat any more bacon in one 24-hour period. Even we have our limits.
But we’re going back to it soon. We have new brands and recipes to try, after all. For those of you who are gluten-free, or anyone just wanting to eat in your homes more often with your friends, we heartily recommend potlucks. Dinner parties are lovely, of course, but there’s a certain show-off energy to them, a frenzy in the kitchen trying to prepare everything, and a whopping big grocery bill in the end. With a potluck, everyone participates, no one pays too much, and we all have something to teach each other.
(What would you have brought if you had been invited to the bacon party?)
And when everyone brings something gluten-free, you are reminded again.
There is so much food to eat. There’s really no deprivation to this.
Thank goodness bacon is gluten-free. Yum…………bacon.
p.s. Thank you to our amazing friend, Mark Eskenazi, who not only arrived at the party with a free couch for us (really! Like I could make this up.), but he also brought his gorgeous, large-format Canon camera. When the food was placed on the table in the living room, he was so taken by the beauty of it all that he started snapping photographs. I put down my camera and enjoyed watching him compose the shots. So thank you, Mark, for these beautiful photos of bacon.
I’m thrilled and honored to announce that the Chef and I will be appearing at an event in honor of my book at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks. This stunning bookstore in Vancouver B.C. not only holds a drool-worthy (and very dangerous) collection of cookbooks from around the world, but they also have a beautiful, long chef’s table where they hold eating events for cookbooks.
We will be at Barbara Jo’s on March 15th, at 11 am. If you should be there, you’ll receive several dishes based on recipes from the book, some cook cooking techniques and suggestions from the Chef, and some (hopefully) funny stories and inspiring exhortations from me.
Space is very limited, so please click here for details. Sign up today!
Of course, we don’t just ask our friends to bring food. We make something every time. And one of the many qualities I love about the Chef? He doesn’t try to impress with foams and mousses, impossible dreams of food that no one else could make. He simply makes food he loves to eat. And in the end, he’s pretty easy to please.
Potatoes, cream, sour cream, good white cheddar, salt and pepper. That’s all he needs to make something that makes everyone moan with pleasure. They can taste his particular heart in these.
When I asked him to jot down a recipe for me, as we drove to the restaurant, so I could post it here today, he scrawled in the big black notebook I keep for food ideas, his sideways scrawl in rushed Chef chicken scratch. Rather than trying to translate for him, I’m going to write this one (nearly) as he did. (I’ll spell out potatoes instead of pots.) He rarely works with recipes anyway, mostly with his hands and muscle memory.
If this doesn’t make sense to you, ask. But he’d like to encourage you to not rely so much on tablespoons or precise measurements. Throw in a pinch of this, pour a little of that, grate a pile of that other thing, and see what happens.
With bacon involved, you can’t go wrong.
Cook 5 slices of bacon down until crispy. Save the fat.
Bake 10 red potatoes at 425° for an hour or so. (Toss with bacon fat and salt and pepper first.) Until soft. Cool.
Halve potatoes. Scoop them out.
Run insides through ricer, or sieve.
Add cream, sour cream, olive oil, white cheddar, salt and pepper.
Put back into the potatoes.
Bake until golden brown.
Top with bacon pieces.