Category Archives: bacon

Reflections on 2008

Well, it was a bizarre, fantastic, and somewhat surreal year, and it’s going out in proper New Haven style.  (What, you don’t know what that is? Well … Think biting, icy snow and freshly made pizza, with the slight char on the crust. Happy New Year, right?).  There were a lot of firsts: buckwheat baguettes, cheese making, voyages to Australia and beyond, campfire cooking, and milestones of a more personal sort.  Next year promises to be even crazier, believe it or not, with the end of graduate school, a wedding (with our own homemade / homegrown food!) to pull off, jobs to find (somewhere, somehow) and still more travel to far off, exotic places. Well, maybe, anyway.  Hopefully we’ll finally make it out to Arizona for the Grand Canyon hike we keep talking about, with a possible side trip to Pizzeria Bianco, because that’s just how we roll.  The pizza will come first, of course.

Tomorrow, though, the silly resolutions kick in.  Here are a few food-related ones from my list for the year, just for good measure.  (Do you have any this year? Leave a comment!)

  1. Don’t die from James’s camembert experiments (oh yes, there will be a guest post. If we survive.)  I should add — I have faith. They actually look pretty good. I guess we’ll find out soon enough…
  2. Knife skills, baby.
  3. Make more green things.  Preferably things that James will eat.  (You know what the secret is?  Bacon.  If you add it, even in minuscule quantities, he will eat.)
  4. Learn to make simple, amazing dishes for parties that don’t require me to hide out in the kitchen. This will come in handy for our wedding, as we’re cooking everything ourselves.
  5. In honor of the financial crisis: more cheap eats.

And with that, I leave you with something to kick of the most typical of resolutions: Broccoli soup, a la Gordon Ramsay.

Easy Broccoli Soup

Cost: Cheap

Difficulty: Easy (as if the title didn’t tell you already)

Serves: 2-4 depending on what you serve it with. It’s really a starter, but is freaking amazing for lunch with grilled cheese sandwiches.

Splurge a little and buy good broccoli for this. As this recipe requires all of three ingredients, you must do it. Spend the extra dollar for the pretty fresh organic stuff (or farmers market stuff, you lucky warm climate bastards).  You will need a blender, unless you are more ambitious than I am.

  • 2 heads of broccoli. Cut the florets off and save the stems for some other project (broccoli slaw, anyone?).  Just a tip: look for closely packed, fresh florets. This means the broccoli is fresh. You want fresh broccoli.
  • 2 pinches salt, plus more to taste.
  • water
  • olive oil, plain yogurt (optional)

Fill a medium pot with water (until it’s ~2/3rds full).  Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Once it’s boiling, add a pinch of salt, add the broccoli florets, and add another pinch of salt. Stir quickly and cover. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the broccoli is lush and green and can be pierced with a knife but has not turned to mush.  In other words, if you drag a sharp knife through the broccoli, against the side of the pan, it should take a little pressure to get it through. When this happens, take the broccoli off the heat, and drain, BUT KEEP THE WATER. You will need it.

Place the cooked broccoli florets in the blender.  Add some of the reserved broccoli water until the water comes up to about half the broccoli height in the blender. Cover, throw a towel over the top of the blender, and hold.  Pulse gently a couple of times, to keep the water from shooting out and scalding your hand, then blend until it’s a nice puree.  Taste and adjust the salt, and maybe add some pepper or cayenne if you’re into that sort of thing.  Pour into a bowl and decorate with either the olive oil and yogurt, a bit of cheddar cheese melted on toast (my favorite), or nothing at all.  Serve immediately.

Variation: Do a mix of broccoli and cauliflower for an even creamier texture. It won’t be quite so vibrant, but I think the mix of flavors would be nice.

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Getting lost in Canberra

Parliament, from the rear (aka, what you see if you get lost on your way up)

Parliament, from the rear (aka, what you see if you get lost on your way up)

If I had a sense of direction, I wouldn’t stumble upon Asian lions guarding the rear end of the Australian Parliament house, ready to pounce upon diplomats intent on a secret smoke break. But then again, I wouldn’t feel like I was going to be hauled in by the Federal Police, for wandering into somewhere I really shouldn’t be. I forget sometimes that I’m in Australia, where they seem to be a little less uptight about that sort of thing. I mean, you can walk on the roof of the Parliament House here, provided the grass isn’t frosty. There aren’t even guards with funny black earpieces and formidable eyeglasses to avoid.

Yes, Parliament and my lab have something in common. Somehow I think this execution was a little more successful, despite a few leaks in the glass roof.

Yes, Parliament and my lab have something in common. Somehow I think this execution was a little more successful, despite a few leaks in the glass roof.

Yes, I had my first tourist experience in Canberra. I had a little tour (there are more pictures on flickr, of the inside of the building), and I also walked to the National Museum and had a look. This is where I ran into this guy:

This guy knows how to live.

This guy knows how to live.

He seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. It was a gorgeous day, so I don’t blame him. The Museum was actually pretty awesome, and free. The building was impressive, in a very modern, “I intend to be an important piece of architecture” sort of way:

Imposing. But free!

Imposing. But free!

That’s Canberra for you, though. The whole city is relatively new, and is full of man-made monuments symbolizing all sorts of things. It also happens to be huge, despite its relatively small population. I walked to the National Museum and Parliament house, and it took me about 5 hours to get through both of them by foot. It’s definitely a collection of suburbs, spread out and designed for automobile transport. So it’ll take me a while to see everything. After all that walking, I really wanted food. Lots of it, fast. So I did a warm salad, with bits and pieces from the fridge.

Apples and bacon are actually a perfect pair.

Apples and bacon are actually a perfect pair.

I threw free range bacon, mushrooms, pecans, apples, bok choy, garlic, red wine vinegar, olive oil, a bit of sugar, lemon juice, and salt and pepper in a pan (add the bok choy last), cooked it until everything was nice and soft, and threw it over some mesclun greens. It was just the thing after a long walk — sweet and savory and warm (it’s winter here, remember). And with the blue brie, fresh bread, and fig jam with fennel, it was a nice way to end a rather long day.

Oh yah — I almost forgot:

I could only afford this if I consider that I almost bought a $20 bottle of vino cotto instead.

I can only afford this if I consider that I almost bought a $20 bottle of vino cotto instead.

That was pretty good, too.

Tomorrow? Well, there’s work, and dinner at a collaborator’s house, for which I’m making truffles. And the experiment. Of course. But I bought a book on Canberra. Hopefully I’ll find something a bit more interesting food-wise to share. I know it’ll involve a bus or two, or perhaps a bike rental. The supermarkets around here have been rather mundane, so I’ll have to try a bit harder to find some of the more interesting ingredients I was hoping to try. Not that I’m complaining.

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beijing, part 2

Mushrooms - Final

I promised you a couple of crowd pleasers, and this dish is definitely one of them. Provided, of course, that you like mushrooms. The recipe I want to share with you today features no less than four different types, though really, I urge you to experiment with them all. Mushrooms are fascinating, occasionally exotic, and just a bit dangerous if you dare to pick them yourself (please don’t, unless you know what you’re doing). And their best feature — at least for this dish? They absorb all sorts of crazy things, if you give them a chance. Like bacon fat. Beautiful, smoky, gorgeous (antibiotic free, humanely produced) bacon fat.

Mushrooms

Back in high school, I spent a summer working at the UCSB Medicinal Plant Garden, digging holes and learning about the unbelievably complex makeup of each species we helped raise. Fungi were one of the more memorable parts of the curriculum. They really are quite fascinating creatures — scavengers of the plant world, beneficial or devastating depending on their individual evolutionary path. The edible ones tend to be full of vitamins and protein, depending on the variety, and are savory and complex — the very essence of umami. They’re made up of all sorts of good amino acids, including glutamic acid, which (as Harold McGee points out) makes them nature’s own MSG.

Rehydrating

But I’m getting sidetracked. My point? Umami is an important — no, essential — aspect of Chinese cuisine. Mushrooms — shitake, oyster, and various other varieties — are often used to contribute a rich, meaty flavor to a given dish. This recipe — featuring nature’s perfect umami creation and smoky, golden bacon — simply takes advantage of the best properties of both ingredients. And it gives you the opportunity to experiment a little, too.

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