Posts tagged bacon

california farmhouse sandwich

Who here knows about The Cheesecake Factory?  I’d heard of it, of course, this mythical place that had 30+ cheesecakes on their dessert menu as well as an assortment of other tasty items.  I’d seen them places, usually in well-to-do towns on cross-country road trips, but I’d never been into one.  Turns out we have a Cheesecake Factory less than an hour’s drive from my hometown, in a shopping center I don’t usually frequent.  You may have noticed we’re a bit crazy for sweets, and my kid brother convinced me to take him here.

Did I mention they have an enormous menu?  My eyes were immediately drawn to the Farmhouse Burger, a cheddar cheeseburger topped with pork belly and a fried egg on a brioche bun.  How could I resist?  I recently found out this item in particular was singled out as one of the worst entrees in America, weighing in at 1530 calories, without the fries.  Considering what I’ve seen on the Chili’s menu, I’m not sure I agree this is so unusual, but I will say that unlike many other restaurant dishes, I felt this one was worth the calories.  It wasn’t too fatty or too salty, had nice, balanced flavors.

It has often been said that eating at home is preferable because it’s “better for you” than eating out.  Having eaten at enough people’s houses, I can tell you definitively that it depends on who’s doing the cooking.  Some friends do indeed use fresh, healthy ingredients with appropriate portion sizes.  Others come from homes where vegetables mean tater tots, macaroni and cheese (yes, really), and buttered corn, and if nothing on your plate is fried, you’re doing it wrong.  So I can’t tell you that my sandwich here is better for you than the Farmhouse Burger at The Cheesecake Factory.  Actually, I guess I can – I plugged the ingredients into a recipe calculator (I should really do this for everything from now on), and it returned 710 calories, with 48 of those from fat.  Okay, it’s not a paragon of health food.  But it is tasty.

California Farmhouse Sandwich (makes 1 sandwich)

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices sprouted whole-grain bread
  • 2 tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 2 quail eggs
  • 2 1/4″-thick slices green tomato
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 6 tbsp. cornmeal
  • 1/2 avocado, sliced

Directions:

  1. Lightly toast bread, then let cool.  When cool, spread both sides with mayonnaise.
  2. In a cast iron skillet, cook the bacon over medium-low heat to render out the fat.  When bacon is crispy, drain on paper towels.
  3. Crack the eggs into the bacon fat and cook until desired doneness.
  4. Meanwhile, whisk flour and cornmeal in a small bowl, and dredge green tomato slices in mixture.  Add to the cast iron pan, and cook for 4 minutes on each side.  Drain on paper towels.
  5. Layer avocado slices, fried green tomatoes, quail eggs, and bacon on the bread.

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bacon panzanella

There’s just something special about toasted bread in any form, much less toasted in bacon grease and dressed with red wine vinaigrette.

Bacon Panzanella (serves 2-4)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 loaf rosemary focaccia bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • 1-2 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion
  • 1 c. frozen cut green beans, thawed
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp. dried herbs of your choice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Cook bacon over medium heat in an oven-proof saute pan until crispy.  Remove bacon to paper towels to drain.  Add bread cubes to saute pan and toss until covered with bacon fat.
  3. Place saute pan in the oven and bake 15 minutes, tossing several times, until evenly golden brown.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk olive oil, red wine vinegar, dried herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Toss bread cubes, bacon, tomatoes, onion, green beans, and dressing in a bowl until thoroughly combined.

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Bacon-Roasted Chicken

Well, this was a good idea, but I can admit that it didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, most of this dish was delicious.  But, I thought that covering the chicken breast in bacon would not only impart delicious smoky, salty flavor, but also keep it moist.  Instead, while the breast did not cook all the way through – odd, since the thighs did, and they always take longer to cook – the part that was cooked was actually dry.  The skin over the breast was soft and flabby instead of crisp like the rest of the chicken.

So, while I highly recommend the rest of the recipe, I would rethink the bacon.  Next time, I would potentially just oven-bake the bacon on the side, and serve it with the chicken – not because you need it, but because the combination is just plain delicious.

Bacon-Roasted Chicken (serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 1 4-6 lb. roasting chicken
  • 6 slices bacon (optional)
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 15 cloves garlic
  • pinch red chili flakes
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 large turnip
  • 1 bunch baby broccoli
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 golden beet
  • 1 c. white wine
  • 1 c. mixed olives (optional, if you like them, whatever olives you like)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425.
  2. Dry chicken with paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides, and in the cavity, generously.
  3. In a small frying pan, heat the oils together over low heat.  Add thyme, rosemary, garlic, and red chili flakes.  Heat, swirling gently, until very fragrant, several minutes.
  4. Halve the lemon, and insert it into the chicken’s cavity.
  5. Dice all of the vegetables, mix, and place into the bottom of a roasting pan.  Set the chicken on top of a roasting rack and place over the vegetables.
  6. Remove thyme and rosemary from the oil.  Carefully pour over the entire surface of the chicken, and over the exposed vegetables.
  7. Sprinkle chicken again with salt.  If desired, lay strips of bacon over the breast of the chicken.  Or, cook bacon separately.
  8. Place in the oven for 30 minutes.  Once chicken has browned and skin is crisped, pour 1 cup of wine over the entire surface of the chicken and the exposed vegetables.
  9. Tent foil over the top to prevent further browning.  Cook another hour.
  10. Sprinkle olives around the chicken, and then cook until done all the way through.

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Leek & Bacon Pasta

Now I admit this is probably the sort of recipe that most people have stashed away in their recipe files or their brains, but they might not know it yet.  I see this recipe as one of those that can be endlessly varied based on the ingredients you have on hand – seriously, endlessly.  The formula basically goes like this: fat + aromatics + deglazing + grain etc. + liquids = delicious.  (PS – this is sort of a teaching post.  For those of you who know all this already, skip down to the recipe)

Typically, the fat will be either olive oil or butter, a combination of the two, or fat rendered from a meat, such as bacon, pancetta, or any of the dozens of types of sausage meats out there.  Aromatics are vegetables typically used to create a base of flavor in a dish, or a soup.  The most common aromatics used are onions, garlic, carrots, and celery, but you can also use shallots, scallions, leeks, chile peppers, herbs, and spices.  Often, different cultures or regions will have their own particular mix that is commonly used, such as the French mirepoix, which is two parts onion to one part each carrot and celery.  More on aromatics here.

You might notice as you are sweating or sauteing your aromatics in your chosen fat that a brown, crusty substance is developing on the bottom of the pan (at least if you’re not using non-stick).  If you don’t know what this is, you might think your pan just got a lot more difficult to clean, but never fear, this is what deglazing is for.  Deglazing the pan uses a flavorful liquid to dissolve the brown crust and begin developing a delicious sauce.  Most commonly, cooks use wine or any of a variety of broths, but practically speaking any liquid can be used – just be sure it’s a taste you like.  The liquid will bubble and spatter rapidly, and soon evaporate.  Use a wooden spoon to scrape the brown crust off the bottom of the pan – wooden always works best for me.  Silicone utensils I find next to useless for this.

Once there is a wet, slightly sticky kind of mixture in the pan, it’s time to finish off the dish with grains and anything else that goes into it, like vegetables or bigger pieces of protein like chicken.  Grain in this case most often refers to pasta, but feel free to branch out!  In addition to the similarly common rice and potatoes (not a grain, but starchy), there is quinoa, couscous, amaranth, teff, millet, Israeli couscous, and the wide world of legumes: lentils, split peas, chickpeas, beans of all kinds.  In this case, pre-cook the grains, vegetables, and/or protein, and then add at this stage.

It’s ready to be finished!  To finish creating the sauce, add any flavorful liquids, such as melting cheeses, cream, or broths.  Then, as it cooks and thickens, if the sauce needs additional liquid with a little thickening power, the best and easiest option is often the liquid your pasta (or potatoes, etc.) has been cooked in.  A ladleful or two of this provides that certain something that can cause a pan full of soft stuff to coalesce into a cohesive sauce.  Garnish with anything extra, such as Parmesan cheese shavings, olives, capers, really whatever you want, and you’ve got a delicious plate of food just waiting to be devoured.

Here’s the version I made tonight:

Leek & Bacon Pasta (serves 2)

As you might imagine from the lengthy introduction, I encourage substitutions, omissions, and additions to this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 oz. pasta
  • 4 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 3 medium leeks, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, 2 of them minced
  • 4 baby potatoes, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 2-4 oz. soft goat cheese

Directions:

  1. Set a pot of water on to boil.  When boiling, salt generously and then add pasta, and two cloves of garlic whole.
  2. While water is heating, add bacon to a saute pan over medium-low heat.  Cook several minutes, or until fat has rendered, and bacon is beginning to brown.
  3. Add butter, and swirl to melt it.  Then, add leeks, potatoes, celery, and remaining garlic.  Cook about ten minutes, stirring often.  If you start boiling your pasta just before adding these ingredients, when the pasta is ready to drain, you will be ready to move onto the next step – no timing required!
  4. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 c. pasta’s cooking water.
  5. When the vegetables are soft, brown, and beginning to stick to the bottom of the pan, add wine, and cook, stirring, until wine has mostly evaporated.
  6. Add goat cheese, and pasta water as needed to create a creamy sauce.

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