23 February 2009

It's not just for breakfast

When someone I know opened up a bed and breakfast a few years ago I told them they should cook bacon every morning. When asked why, I said "Because everyone loves the smell of bacon, and most people probably don't cook it at home too often."

Seth agrees with this sentiment, at least the smell-good part. He's long been a proponent of a bacon-scented candle. My cousin Nathan agreed recently over dinner that everyone loves the smell of bacon -- "Except vegetarians," he said. "To vegetarians bacon smells like violence." Ha! Probably true, but so, so sad.

I grew up in the heart-smart '80's when margarine was in and eggs were out. My mother's work as a registered nurse in a cardiac unit at the local hospital meant that even as a third-grader I knew the heart-healthy diet no-nos. So, we ate a lot of turkey bacon. I think it was just becoming popular and what else should we cook in our brand new microwave (Which, by the way, along with the cordless phone ensured me that we were indeed rich, I tell you.)?

I don't remember the last time I tasted turkey bacon, but I do remember enough to know it does not taste like pig bacon. Bacon is salty, crispy, perhaps slightly sweet, and is proud of its flavor-inducing fat. Thanks to the "Eat This, Not That" guy, it's become popular trivia that turkey bacon is actually not great for you. It's got more sodium than the real deal. More sodium than salty piggy bacon? Yes. So why take a turkey when it's a pig you want? I say, don't.

Bacon isn't just for breakfast. It's a pantry staple in my house. It's cheap. And you can cook it quickly and make just the right amount. I put it in pasta, atop my pizza, on a sandwich, in a salad. It turns an otherwise ordinary meal into something memorable. It satisfies a meaty craving in a veggie-heavy dish. And because we most often eat it in strips alongside eggs, we're mesmerized at how great it tastes for dinner.

So, in case you don't often have bacon in the fridge, pick some up. Here are a few pointers and recipe ideas:
  • Look for nitrite- and nitrate-free bacon. These are preservatives that aren't necessary.
  • For the most versatility, buy the plain stuff. Don't get sucked into applewood-smoked or peppered stuff. That way, your bacon will fit the flavor profile of many more dishes.
  • Compare prices with the prepackaged stuff and what's in your grocer's deli case. Bacon freezes well, and it doesn't spoil as quickly as fresh meats (remember bacon has been cured). And remember at the deli case you could buy as little as two slices if you'd like.
  • Read labels and ingredient lists. There shouldn't be chemicals or fake-sounding things, especially if it's labeled nitrite- and nitrate-free.
  • Forget the splatter. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil and lay flat as many slices of bacon as needed. Cook in a high-heat oven (approx. 400 degrees) or under the broiler. Watch closely as it will cook fast. Remove when cooked to desired doneness and place on paper towels to drain. When I'm making bacon for a dish such as pizza, I cook it in my preheating oven.
  • Use the rendered fat from cooking bacon to saute onions or other veggies for your dish. This imparts a wonderful flavor and is a great way to stretch your bacon even further.
  • Cook an extra slice one evening and store in the refrigerator covered overnight. Add to your brown-bag sandwich the next day. What a treat.
  • Around my house, two to three slices of bacon is enough per person for dinner portions. If your crew is a bit more meat-eatin' than that, up it to four or so slices.
  • Combine baby spinach, sliced mushrooms, crumbled bacon, blue cheese, apple slices and an apple cider vinegar dressing for a delicious entree salad.
  • Toss good pasta with parmesan, arugula or spinach, bacon and olive oil.
  • Grilled cheese + apple slices + bacon = DINNER! (the apple and bacon go inside the sandwich)
  • Bacon, egg and biscuit sandwich is one our breakfast favorites around here.
  • Use cooked bacon as a pizza topping like this.
  • Use bacon to top soups. Here's an idea: Bake russet potatoes. Mash 'em, skins and all and combine with enough milk to make it a soup instead of mashed potatoes. Add salt and pepper. Add butter for more yummy. Then top with shredded cheddar and bacon.

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