bacon!

Ba·con. (bey-kuhn) noun. Cured and smoked meat from the sides and belly of a pig. Bacon. A smell immediately identifiable by hard core vegans and dyed in the wool carnivores alike. Bacon. A food that has reached a cult like obsession within the food community. Bacon. An item that until I made it myself, I really never gave a flying fig about. Bacon. The topic of this post…

Sure I’m the girl who gave you candied bacon, followed naturally by Candied Bacon Fudge; but I never really considered bacon as anything more than just another ingredient. However strangely enough, when we became the proud owners of a smoker my first thought was BACON! Crazy, right? Or perhaps not… Anytime I can figure out how to make something from scratch that I’ve ALWAYS had to buy, I do. Bacon seemed to fit that criteria perfectly! The more I considered bacon (be it homemade or store-bought) the more I began to see it’s inherent value. What would Quiche Lorraine be without bacon? And how sad would that BLT sandwich be without good ol’ bacon? Not to mention my roasted brussels sprouts or mashed turnips. I quickly came to the conclusion that bacon is in fact much more of a superstar than I’ve been giving it credit for.

Last summer was the first time we attempted curing and smoking a pork belly. I couldn’t find one recipe that seemed exactly right, so I cobbled two of them together and dove headlong into the process. The resulting bacon was not exactly a success. It was bacon all right but it was extraordinarily salty bacon, way too salty to be eaten on it’s own. I ended up using it in a variety of yummy recipes, but my desire to create the perfect slab of homemade bacon still loomed large in my little foodie heart. I spent the winter on a mission to find what I deemed the ideal bacon recipe, I was a girl obsessed. And then I found it. A recipe from Whole Foods for Brown Sugar-Black Pepper cured bacon. Naturally I tweaked the recipe a smidge (come on now, you know I can’t help myself!) but followed the curing directions to a tee. And guess what happened? Deliciousness baby. Total and absolute deliciousness!

We ate the bacon just as is. We ate bacon and egg sandwiches (on homemade english muffins). We ate black-eyed peas with bacon, brussels sprouts with bacon and maple syrup and one of my all time favorite side dishes— braised collard greens with bacon. We were in a bacon stupor and damn we were happy.

Bacon. Possibly the world’s most perfect food.

Homemade Brown Sugar-Black Pepper Bacon
Delish. Delish. Delish.

bacon group4

5 lbs. fresh deboned pork belly
4 cups coarse kosher salt
2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tbsp. ground black pepper

  1. Rinse pork belly and then pat dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture.
  2. Combine salt, brown sugar, granulated sugar and back pepper in a mixing bowl. Place half of the mixture in a large lidded container. Add the pork and cover with the remaining salt mixture, being sure that it is fully submerged in the salt.
  3. Cover and refrigerate the pork belly for 1 week, checking on it once or twice to be sure it’s still fully covered with the salt mixture. This will “cure” the belly, creating salt pork (a.k.a. unsmoked bacon).
  4. Remove the pork from the cure and rinse well under cold water. Fill a bowl large enough to hold the pork belly with water and submerge the pork. Allow to soak for 30 minutes then pat dry with paper towels and place on a rack fitted in a large rimmed baking pan (a lasagna pan works well). Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight to air-dry.
  5. Prepare the grill (or smoker) for indirect cooking over very low heat. Add 1 wood chunk (such as hickory or pecan) to the charcoal, or add 1 handful of the wood chips to the smoker box of a gas grill, following manufacturer’s instructions. Close the lid. When the wood begins to smoke, place the pork belly over indirect heat.
  6. Cook until pork is firm and slightly darker, about 1 1/2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 145-150°F. Remember, you’re infusing the pork belly with a smoky flavor, not fully cooking it at this point. (If using a charcoal grill, replenish the charcoal as needed to maintain a steady temperature. Add 1 wood chunk to the charcoal every 30 minutes, or drain and add 1 handful of the remaining wood chips to the smoker box every 20 minutes before the old chips burn out.)
  7. Allow bacon to cool, then cover and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or thoroughly wrap and freeze for up to 2 months. (The colder the bacon is the easier it will be to slice.)
  8. Thinly slice, cook and enjoy!

*adapted from whole foods

Braised Collard Greens with Bacon
Even if you’re unfamiliar with collards and don’t really think you’d like them, this recipe will change your mind. It’s honestly one of my most favorite things to eat.

3/4 cups homemade bacon cut into lardons (or slab bacon, diced)
1 1/2 lb. bunch collard greens
4 cups onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, grated
1 12 oz. bottle of beer
2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

  1. Dice the bacon, add to an already hot stockpot and allow it to crisp and the fat to render, about 5-8 min. Rinse the collard greens and remove the tough center stem of each leaf. Stack a few leaves together and slice them into thin strips. Repeat with the remaining leaves.
  2. Add the diced onion and garlic to the bacon fat and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the beer to deglaze the pan, being sure to scrape up any brown bits that have formed on the bottom.
  3. Add the sliced greens and stir until they are all moistened. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or until they begin to wilt. Add the spices and stock, reduce to low and cover. Allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Uncover and cook for 15- 25 more minutes. (I like my greens to still have a bit of texture to them so I cook them for 35 minutes, if you like yours mushy go for the 45.)
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drinking in the last of summer

Goodbyes are never easy. Even when you know they’re coming they’re often tuff to take. But it seems to me that every time I say goodbye to something, the opportunity to say hello to something else usually follows close behind.

Goodbye carefree youth… Hello modern maturity.
Goodbye cute but destructive puppy… Hello (slightly) better behaved dog.
Goodbye Summer… Hello back-to-school!

Yeah, it doesn’t get much better than that last one does it? I thought I would give you a few recipes to properly celebrate summers end and the beginning of a new school year. Cake? Candy? Cookies? Nope… Cocktails!

Truth be told I’m a wine drinker with the occasional beer thrown in for good measure, but there’s just something about summer that calls for a mixed drink. This summer I was introduced to five cocktails that were so delightful I thought I’d pass the recipes along to you. Perhaps you’re already familiar with some of them and will agree with me that they’re worth trying, or perhaps they’ll be new to you as well— either way, here are my newly discovered favorite cocktails:

Limoncello & Gin with Fresh Thyme; the perfect summer combo with a fresh herbal note. Campari Shandy; a lovely balance of bitter and hoppy. Pisco Sour; the Peruvian National drink. Stormy Coconut; a riff on the classic Dark & Stormy. And Redneck Margarita; deceptively simple and refreshing.

So while it’s once again time to say goodbye to the lazy carefree days of summer and hello to the hustle, bustle and woeful hours of homework; these cocktails are the perfect way to toast the new opportunities September will also undoubtedly bring along with it. Cheers!

Limoncello & Gin with Fresh Thyme
(makes 1 cocktail)

limoncello&gin

3 large sprigs fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
1 tbsp. (.5 oz.) key lime juice
3 tbsp. (1.5 oz.) gin
3 tbsp. (1.5 oz.) homemade limoncello (or store bought)

  1. In a cocktail shaker, gently muddle the thyme with the lime juice (if you don’t have a muddler you can use the handle of a wooden spoon). Add the gin, limoncello and several cubes of ice and shake.
  2. Strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice, garnish with another sprig of thyme and serve.

*adapted from fine cooking

Campari Shandy
(makes 1 cocktail)

shandy

3 tbsp. (1.5 oz.) Campari liqueur
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) pale beer (such as an IPA, Landshark or PBR)
1 lime wedge

  1. Pour the Campari into a tall glass. Add the beer and stir gently to mix.
  2. Squeeze the lime wedge into the glass and enjoy.

*adapted from food 52

Pisco Sour
(makes 1 cocktail)

pisco4

1 egg white
1/2 cup (4 oz.) Pisco
2 tbsp. (1 oz.) simple syrup
2 tbsp. (1 oz.) key lime juice
Angostura Bitters
ground cinnamon, to garnish

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add to it the egg white, Pisco, simple syrup, and lime juice. Shake vigorously for 1 minute.
  2. Strain into a rocks glass, add a dash or two of Angostura bitters to the center of the foam, sprinkle with ground cinnamon and enjoy.

*adapted from oh! calamares restaurant

Stormy Coconut
(makes 1 cocktail)

stormy

3 tbsp. (1.5 oz.) dark spiced rum (I used Kraken)
1 tbsp. (.5 oz.) key lime juice
1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp. (.5 oz.) simple syrup
1/2 cup (4 oz.) coconut water (NOT coconut milk)

  1. Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker, top with ice and shake.
  2. Fill a glass with fresh ice, pour in strained cocktail and enjoy.

*adapted from foodista

Redneck Margarita
(makes 1 pitcher)

margarita

1 12 oz. can frozen limeade concentrate
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) tequilla
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) Sprite soda
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) pale beer (such as an IPA, Landshark or PBR)
wedges of lime
salt for glasses, optional

  1. Pour limeade, tequila, soda, and beer into a large pitcher (you can use the can from the limeade as your measurement tool). Stir until well-blended and limeade has melted.
  2. Salt the rim of two large glasses and fill with ice. Add the margarita mixture, garnish with lime wedges and enjoy.

*adapted from jennifer bogart