Sunday, October 27, 2013

October 27, 2013: Abagail's Lumberjack and Hormel Natural Choice

MY LIFE WITH BACON continues with a visit to a great neighborhood restaurant, and testing Hormel Natural Choice bacon.


This one falls into the category of "why didn't I think of that?"  Someone has come up with an app, including hardware,: that makes your smartphone send out a puff of bacon scent as a notification (such as when your loved one texts you).  This is amazing, and incredibly silly.  Apparently, there are actual business uses for this accessory - samples of scents for perfume, or cooking samples.  Go here to read the engadget article plus a video!  Remember "smell-o-vision"??  This was a technology that released smells during a movie!  It was a cool idea, obviously well before its time.  Smell-O-Vision had its one and only public use for a movie appropriately called "The Scent of Mystery," in 1960.  Read the article and also learn that a competitive technology, called "AromaRama" appeared around the same time, and the newspapers called it the "Battle of the Smellies!"  The things you learn while blogging...

GREAT DINNER WITH FRIENDS AT ABAGAIL'S in Highland Park, Illinois on Friday night.  The menu at Abagail's is phenomenal, and the service - well, really thoughtful and entertaining.  As usual, I gave the help a hard time.  Jeremy started reading the menu to us, explaining what "little things," "neither small nor large," and "bigger than the rest" things meant.  Of course, I took the opportunity to tell him how annoying I find it when people read their PowerPoint slides.  Jeremy quickly recovered and had a great attitude, and guided us through the menu.  Service was excellent; food flavorful and a great value; drinks excellent.  Thanks for the recommendation, Wendy and Lowell!!

Check out their site, and if you're in the area for lunch or dinner, do drop by.  Not on the menu, I ordered the bone-in ribeye (a monster), and my friends had corvina (fish) and a whole branzino (aka European Sea Bass).  Beautiful presentation and flavor.  Of course, I had to ask if there was anything in the house that used bacon as an ingredient.

Jeremy's eyes lit up as he began to explain that the resident mixologist created a version of the Lumberjack that included bacon (fat skimmed off), Old Fitz bourbon, and maple syrup.  It wasn't quite ready for serving yet, but if I really wanted it, I could be their 'beta test'.  You know my answer.  The drink tasted a bit like scotch, but was a little sweet; for their 'production version,' they will lighten the maple syrup.

ON TO THIS WEEK'S BACON: Hormel Natural Choice.  No preservatives, not cured.

Out of the 12 oz package it yielded 12 ounces on my scale - fair trade.  It had absolutely no nose whatsoever.  Looked good, though.

During the cooking process on my cast iron, it looked like a fatty blobby mess. 

Very unusual, it stuck to the pan excessively.

After cooking, my assessment was that it's a pretty average uncured bacon.  It had a pedestrian flavor (2.5), crisped up only minimally (2), and very little succulence (2).  We agreed that this bacon really had no character whatsoever.  It seemed like simple fatty, sliced ham.

Oh, it rendered 50 ml of bacon fat, which was a very small mount for 12 ounces.

Overall, I can't recommend this bacon; it commands a premium, which isn't warranted whatsoever.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

October 20, 2013: Schmeissser's Bacon and Hormel Video Contest

MY LIFE WITH BACON continues with a review of a famous Chicago butcher's in-store cured bacon, and some Bacon In The News.

THE NEWS THIS WEEK was pretty cool:  Hormel sponsored a video contest - who can produce the best short video on the subject of bacon?  They call it the 2013 International Bacon Film Festival, and the YouTube playlist can be found here.  The winner shouldn't have won, in my opinion. A young man with a banjo sings a hokey song about bacon, and waxes thickly about his bacon fantasies.  Make up your own mind, however.  BBDO did the work for Hormel, and they said it was a very efficient way to grab attention, declining to say how much the campaign cost.  A very cool banner image.

AN INTERESTING SITE CALLED FOODSPIN reports on a scientific study that concludes: bacon improves everything except pasta and desert.  They call it the "Ultimate Ingredient". The study can be found here, but it's one of those "I knew that" kinds of studies.  I'll even bet it got federal funding.

Quoting the article:
"It's a clever methodology: Cliff Kuang and his team broke down 49,733 recipes on the Food Network website by category (ex: "lettuce"), split the categories by whether the recipe called for bacon or not, and then used the site's 906,539 ratings to calculate the average score for the bacon and non-bacon recipes. Bacon generally improved ratings—as you can see in the graphic above—but it dramatically bumped up sandwiches and asparagus. Desserts and pasta (!) were the only two foodstuffs that saw a decline."
 The graphic tells the whole story:

FINALLY, NOT-SO-GOOD-NEWS, if you believe it.  Supposedly, men who eat a lot of bacon have lower sperm counts.  This study can be found here, but it's important to note that it's CORRELATION - NOT CAUSATION.  This one is based on a survey of what people say they eat, and we know from work in market research, that recall is very poor.  I can tell you anecdotally (which is not scientific), that I have five kids, so eating lots of bacon had no effect on me.

ON TO THE BACON!  Today, I reviewed bacon from my favorite Chicago butcher: Schmeisser's Sausage (it's just their name; they sell EVERYTHING meat-y).  I've purchased absolutely astounding meats of all types - from veal shanks to prime steaks.  They supply lots of restaurants and in addition to my personal experience, they have a great reputation.  A great looking website, too:

Schmeisser's bacon package was nice, and the weight was 1 pound one ounce, and it weighed in at 1.12 ounces; a slight bonus.  Post cooking, it came in at 4.3 ounces of finished bacon, and produced 125 ml of bacon fat.  No scent at all; couldn't tell if it was smoked or not.  But it was clearly cured.

At the outset, it looked a little over-cured.  The translucent fat gives that away:

It did cook up nicely, and had a marbled appearance.  Pieces broke apart as if they were crispy:

However, the taste didn't live up to my expectations.  Crispy factor, only 2.5 our of 5 - average.  Succulence was VERY low - minimal fatty pieces, and so it scored only 1.5 out of 5 there. 

Worst of all, this is the first bacon I've tasted that was DRY.  Very puzzling, since it didn't produce a ton of rendered fat.  It was kind of chewy.

Overall, very disappointing for the quality of the establishment.  Maybe I got an unhappy pig!

Have a good week everyone, and enjoy your bacon.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

October 12, 2013: Smithfield Bacons

MY LIFE WITH BACON continues today with a Smithfield bacon cook-fest.  We try three varieties of Smithfield, sold locally here at Jewel Osco supermarkets.  Jewel has to be happy these days, because the owners of  Dominicks have decided to exit the Chicago market.

BACON IN THE NEWS - Consumer Reports comes out with a report on the best bacon, and you can read a synopsis of it here.  Amazingly, they agree with me that Oscar Mayer is one of the best!  They disagree, however, in saying that Kirkland's bacon is #1 in taste.  I really think Oscar beats Costco every time, although the Kirkland brand is very, very good. Read my previous post on both Kirkland as well as Oscar, buy them both, and make your own decision!


I'm cooking up three varietals (using the wine terminology with nose pointed in the air) of Smithfield Bacon.  they are all Hickory Smoked, and it appears that the only difference is the thickness.

The "Hometown Original" is classic thin cut, the "Thick Cut" is just that, and "Butcher's Cut" is "Double Thick". 

Smithfield is the largest pork producer in the US, and made headlines a few months back because they were acquired by a Chinese company, Shuanghui.  The press has beaten this dead pig over and over, so I won't go on about it here.  It's an interesting acquisition, and here is an informative article about the implications.

Let's see how they taste.

Upon opening, there was virtually no smell to any of these.  I took a shot of the three types on top of each other, just to show the thickness differences. 

The Hometown Original weighed in at 15.7 ounces; I was gypped out of .3 ounces!  It cooked down to 4.2 ounces and produced 175 ml of rendered fat.  Flavor was "light"; wife says it tasted great. Nice and crispy, but overall flavor was pedestrian.  I give it above average crispiness, average flavor and succulence.  Not impressive, but OK.

The Thick Cut weighed in at 15.9 ounces (shorted again!), post cooking was 4.1 ounces and produced a little less fat liquid at 160 ml.  It curled excessively, and had a funny shape.  Remember the bacon I cooked a while back that was shaped just like seahorses?  This is reminiscent of that day.  The hickory sent came through upon cooking but the flavor was weak - we agree it's a little "hammy".  Disappointing.

The Butcher's Cut - Double Thick sure was thick.  The slabs looked great while cooking, with a little curl around the ends.  There's obviously an inverse relationship between thickness and crispiness - this had no crispness, but worst of all, the fat was chewy and almost inedible.  I would never turn down bacon, but this stuff wasn't very good at all.

I leave you with a shot of the three types post-cooking.  Thinnest at the top, thickest at the bottom.

Overall, I wasn't pleased with Smithfield bacons and I won't be buying them again.  One of my friends once told me that Organic meats are the best. Apparently the living conditions result in contented livestock.  She says "happy chickens taste good".  There may be some truth to that, and in this case, these piggies were pretty unhappy in their lives.  Or they just don't like the new ownership.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

October 6, 2013: Black Earth Bacon and Bacon in the News

MY LIFE WITH BACON CONTINUES with an awesome brunch with two of my favorite ladies, a taste of Black Earth Bacon, and some Bacon news!  What's not to like?


PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS WHINING about bacon.  OK, I get it, there's a certain fad element to people who love bacon.  It's a cool, current thing to talk and write about.  There's been an explosion of bacon products in the market - both edible and inedible.  It's all good fun.  But this guy is taking it too far.  He says "I don't get it."  His article, however has a redeeming quality - it traces the roots of the bacon-maina to two '80's films and the 80's themselves.  Now this is a decade that I loved (but not more than today!)  My wonderful wife Debbie rolls her eyes when our 14-year-old son Jack and I, listening to XM Radio's "80's on 8" make comments like "that wasn't Hall & Oates best" or rock to "Dream Police."  When I have a few minutes, I'm going to do a short video of the two clips the author mentions.  The article is very much worth the read.

MEALS MADE WITHOUT BACON ARE A LEADING CAUSE OF DIVORCE, according to this sign, apparently in front of a restaurant that serves bacon-based dishes.  It may very well be true. Hey, it's a Huffington Post article, so it MUST be true, right?  The slide show below the picture (when you click the above link,) has some very interesting baconalia.

TODAY'S BACON STORY is about two of my favorite gals, at brunch today in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago.  Debbie and I met with Michelle, who has helped our family in so many ways, for brunch.  She was meeting her son, who lives nearby, and we were able to connect for a couple of hours. 

We ate at a very cool restaurant connected to the Hotel Lincoln, in south Lincold Park. It has 4 1/2 stars.  Quality location, quality amenities.

The connected Restaurant is the Perennial Virant, an extremely hip and cool place.

Of course, I had to check out the menu, which appears below, and since it was brunch, discover which bacon they offered.   You have to love a place that has "Philosophy" as the first item in its menu bar!  The link is a video short, a little granola for my taste, but pretty cool.

Turns out they had a side of bacon from Black Earth Bacon - in Black Earth, Wisconsin (near Madison, Badger Country).  The bacon was very flavorful, thick, and full of body.  Not exactly crispy, it was somewhat chewy but the flavor was strong and clean.  An excellent bacon.

The Black Earth site doesn't seem to offer bacon separately, but you can get it as part of a have to look around for the Red Meat Market (whose tagline is "Local Meat, Local People" - schweet!), and the breakfast pack (#PKG-BFST-110) which I'm going to try out!