Sunday, March 30, 2014

March 30, 2014: Attempted Murder with Bacon, and some Oscar Mayer Selects!

MY LIFE WITH BACON continues this week with a look at the newsworthy bacon assault, bacon on travel, some other topics, and this week we cook up some OM Selects.

BACON IN THE NEWS starts with a bang this week.  Apparently, a young woman (I was going to say 'lady', but what kind of lady would waste a whole pound of bacon) tried to kill her boyfriend by cooking bacon and then leaving the house!  The idea was that the bacon would burn, set the house on fire, and kill the boyfriend.  Looks like the young man "woke up and smelled the bacon" burning, so he didn't die.  Get this: her name is Cameo Crispi.  You can't make this stuff up.  Crispi tries to murder boyfriend with bacon.  Click HERE to read the original article, or just see her picture and quotes below.

"A woman named Cameo Crispi tried to set her ex-boyfriend's home on fire by burning a pound of bacon, police have said.  

The 31-year-old mother from Uintah County, Utah was arrested on March 14 and has been charged with arson.

Her arrest came after her ex-boyfriend called Naples police to say that he had received numerous phone calls and texts from Crispi in just an hour and wanted her to stop, charging documents said."

IN MORE NEWS, Nabisco has just released a new Bacon Flavored Ritz Cracker.  Here's a picture, appropriately framed with my bacon pan in the background.  These crackers are excellent, with a hint of
smokiness, and a good, solid, but not overpowering, flavor of bacon.  

It's totally artificial bacon, and is Kosher, since it has the OU symbol - an inspection by the Orthodox Union, the most strict  and the largest certifying organization.  See the OU symbol description here and the Ritz announcement here. The crackers also have the "D" symbol, indicating that it's a dairy product, with no meat in it. 

An interesting Jerusalem Post article discusses how the Rabbinical community is a little confused and fascinated by the product.  I particularly like the Ritz announcement:
Two American Favorites Collide To Become the Ultimate Snack: RITZ Bacon Crackers
"RITZ recognized America's love for the taste of bacon and wanted to help take bacon flavor to places it's never been before," said Katrina Cohen, Senior Brand Manager of RITZ, Mondelez International. "RITZ Crackers are an American favorite, and pairing them with one of America's most popular, savory flavors is an exciting new step for snacks."

I WAS TRAVELING THIS WEEK ON BUSINESS to Orlando, FL.  I didn't see Mickey, but I did eat at a fantastic restaurant called Eddie V's, on West Sand Lake Road. Out-of-this-world steak and seafood.  
Naturally, I had their bacon, crab and corn chowder, which picture appears at the top of this week's post.  
We also shared an awesome raw-bar seafood tower.  All compliments of our host, Denise of NEPS - the virtual, cloud-based solution for Customer Communications Management (CCM) - a high reliability, low cost, high service way for enterprises to solve the CCM problem.

WHILE AT THE CONFERENCE, I ATE BACON.  Go figure.  The conference, Xplorations, was the annual meeting and conference of Xplor International.  Outstanding content, great networking and new friends.  I naturally had their buffet bacon, which was quite acceptable.  Our host staff at the Wyndham on International Drive was excellent. The Banquet Captian, Dereje Yizezew, was very friendly, and shared with me that the bacon comes from one of the foodservice companies.

ON TO THE BACON OF THE WEEK.  This week I cooked up a new-er form of my favorite brand: Oscar Mayer.  They have a product line they call "OM Selects" and this one is their "Smoked Uncured Bacon".  There was almost no scent out of the package.

Package weight: 12 ounces; net pre-cooked was actually 11.8; post-cooking 3.2 ounces.  I didn't measure the bacon fat, although it appeared quite low.

In the pan, after achieving room temperature, the bacon did emit a faint smoky aroma.  It cooked FAST - so fast in fact, I overcooked it.  This warrants a re-do, no question about it.  The bacon was also very thin on one side, and normal thickness on the other - a quality control problem, no doubt.

Crispiness, due to the overcooking, was around 4.5; succulence, I'll rate at 3.5 (there was some curl and shrinkage); and flavor, about 3.  Even though a little burned, it's an above average bacon.  I'll try it again in the future and pay more attention!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

March 23, 2014: Kevin Bacon on top of his game

MY LIFE WITH BACON continues this week with a recap of the news, and some bacon!

BACON IN THE NEWS this week starts off with a blast from the past and just an overall blast of a time.  It turns out that this is the 30th anniversary of Footloose the movie, starring Kevin Bacon.  He celebrates by going on the Tonight Show, and reprises the famous warehouse dance scene.  The absolute best recap of the original scene and his appearance on the Tonight Show can be found HERE.  This falls into the category of MUST SEE VIDEO for anyone over the age of 45 (and great for the younger set too!)  Kevin Bacon is obviously at the peak of his popularity.

SOUTH CAROLINA has a new bacon-themed restaurant called "Sizzle".  Located in the suburb called "Five Points", just east of Columbia, this restaurant sounds terrific.  Check out the news article here.  Also, see their T-shirts?  The original "Keep Calm and Carry On" was created by the British Ministry of Information in WW2, and was rediscovered in 2000 by a shopkeeper.  The saying has obviously been re-purposed thousands of times.  One of the more fun uses of KCCO is the website "The Chive" which has some interesting and fun photos and videos.

I particularly like the quote from one of the owners, when he talks about taste testing all of his menu items, “All of these things I’ve tested personally,” he said. “I’ve gained 20 pounds.”  

AND HERE WE GO AGAIN... prices of bacon are expected to rise once again.  If you're a regular reader of this blog, we've seen this movie before.  First, bacon was supposed to drop in price because there we so many pigs out there.  Then, there was a pig virus that was killing lots of litters.  That passed, and now it's back.  Here's a news story.  This time, coffee and OJ are going to soar, too. Hey, if bacon goes up 10% I doubt if there will be any decrease in sales.  I wonder about the price elasticity of bacon... 

ON TO THE BACON.  This week I cooked some Smithfield Hickory Smoked "Butcher's Cut" Double Thick bacon.  I know, I know... I've panned (no pun intended) Smithfield each and every time I've cooked it up.  And the parent company is owned by Red China (is it politically incorrect to call them that?)  Hey, my friends and I won the Cold War.  We're authorized to call it that.

But America is the land of second chances, isn't it?  So let's give them another try.  I might have had a bad pig the first time.  Plus, I have never tried this particular varietal.  Here we go.

The bacon package says it's a full pound, but I only netted 15.7 ounces.  Already 18.75% in the hole.  Not a good sign.  The bacon had no scent out of the package, which was odd.  But it looked OK.  The ends broke off as I placed on the pan and waited for it to get to room temperature (a best practice).  Once it started cooking however, the hickory came through crisp and strong.  Nice.

The bacon generated lots of fat, in fact, 175 ml.  This is quite high for any pound of bacon.  There was, to be expected, a good amount of shrinkage - as you can see in the 3-way.

The bacon was quite noisy - the absolutely classic sizzle sound.  Not too active, though - no splattering.  But it did stick to the pan more than most, and those pesky broken ends curled up quite a bit.  Post cooking, the bacon weighed in at 3.7 ounces.  Flavor - surprise!  I give it a solid 4 in flavor, a 3 in succulence and a 3 in crispness.  The broken end pieces, once dry, were quite tasty! Solid performance!

See you next week.  Since tonight is the annual Founder's Day dinner here in Chicago-land, I leave you with a non-bacon themed photo.

Read more here:

Friday, March 14, 2014

March 16, 2014: What's the Best Way to cook Bacon?

MY LIFE WITH BACON continues this week with a project, born of curiosity.  Which way to cook
bacon is best?  I use several methods to cook the same bacon with some interesting results.  Read on; if you're impatient, jump to the bottom!

BACON IN THE NEWS continues to fascinate me.

 THE OSCAR MAYER PROMOTION  "Wake Up and Smell the Bacon" (click there) continues to get great coverage.  I'm hoping against hope that I get selected as one of the winners of the coveted bacon-scent hardware.  (Photo left) Alas, it appears that the app only works on the iPhone, but I'll 'swipe' my wife's, install the app and the hardware, and we'll wake up to her surprise, to the smell of bacon!  Not like it hasn't happened before in real life.

THE HUFFINGTON POST comes through again with a funny article entitled "9 Ways Floppy Bacon Ruins Everything". The thesis is that when you add good, crispy bacon to most foods, it inevitably improves them!  But when you add floppy bacon, well, you know what happens.

A BACON-FEST called "The Bacon and Beer Classic" is coming to Safeco field in Seattle on May 17.  If you hail from the Pacific Northwest, go here to buy your tickets!  The Mariners will be in Minnesota that Saturday, and don't return until the following Thursday.  This gives the cleanup crew plenty of time to eat the leftovers, and remove all the bacon grease.  The Seattle Weekly News says:
"The traveling festival visits baseball fields around the country, drawing thousands of attendees to sample craft beer and bacon-inspired bites from local restaurants. Adding to that already winning combination are performances from local bands and cooking demos."
IN OTHER NEWS... the Perfect Bacon Bowl announces restaurant availability... the State of Tennessee makes bacon its state meat... as verified by this state map of state meats... and Bacon Academy marches to quarterfinals... ok, that was just to see who's paying attention.


After receiving lots of notes on the best way to cook bacon, I decided to test four different ways: 
Traditional Pan Frying, Baking/Roasting, Bacon Wave in the microwave, and Sauteeing in Water. The questions I was out to answer were: which way tastes better?  Which method makes more evenly cooked, crispier bacon?

Background: I used Kirkland's Smoked Bacon, which provided enough strips to cook four or five with each method.  Using the same bacon at the same time ensures that it's an 'apples to apples' comparison, which, as we all know, is essential (right, Steve?)  I let the bacon come to room temperature before cooking, which is a 'best practice'.

Below is the bacon placed in a shallow pan on parchment paper; to its right is the previously evaluated Bacon Wave.  Both have five slices of bacon, ready to cook.  The pan went into the oven at 400 degrees for 25 minutes; the Bacon Wave went into the microwave.  As you can see, I had to curl the slices around the Bacon Wave posts to get them to conform to the specifications of the device.

Baked Bacon: Not much commentary on the baking bacon as it baked... set it and forget it.  I did turn the slices over, half way through cooking.  This method cooked the most evenly of all, and produced the flattest, most even coloration throughout - very attractive bacon.  Oddly, it came out of the oven very, very FLAT, and then curled up when it dried out - the opposite of the water cooked... hmm.. any Foodies out there who might be able to explain that?  Good news: this bacon had the 'cleanest' pure bacon flavor. Total of 20-25 minutes of cooking time (I set the timer but left it in a few extra minutes).

Bacon Wave Bacon: The user manual said I should cook five slices on high for 2 minutes and 55 seconds.  Since the bacon is a little thicker than average, I went with 3:00.  At the end of the cooking time, the bacon was hardly cooked at all; I added a minute, then another, then another 30 seconds, and finally another whole minute.  The bacon took ~6:30 to cook, more than double the user guide - and it still wasn't cooked the way a pan fried bacon would.  I'm guessing that the manufacturer is afraid of lawsuits if you cook it too long, so they really understate how much time it takes.  This bacon was very chewy, but tasted just fine.

Water Cooked Bacon:  This one was the most fun to cook.  Here's an animated .gif file as the water started to boil off.  The bacon curled and shrunk in the pan very quickly, which was surprising - even before the water boiled away.  Interesting how the fat rendered white, floated, and then settled on the bottom of the pan to brown. Once the water was gone, I had to turn down the heat as the edges were cooking too quickly.  On the drain towels, the bacon went from curly to flat - strange - but it tasted great and was the crispiest, although a little unevenly cooked. It took a full 20 minutes, as the water had to boil off.

See the picture below to see how messy the water cooking method becomes.  Aluminum foil on the stove helps with the cleanup.  All the rendered fat goes to the bottom of the pan and browns.  Also, more splatter than other methods.

Pan Fried (traditional) Bacon:  Here, I simply used my normal method to cook; slow heat starting at room temperature.  This was the absolute crispiest bacon of the four, although it did have 'hard' parts.  It was also the must succulent, as it suffered from curly edges and 'bacon neck.'  Took ten minutes start to finish. No need for a picture.

RESULTS.  Here's a little table to help you understand how it turned out.  The winner, in my mind? Water Cooked.  If you have the time, this tasted the best and was pretty crispy.  The downside?  Time and the mess.  But just take a look at the picture!  This bacon is very photogenic!  Interesting how each method had a slightly different shrinkage, and definite differences on the fatty portions.

And here is a picture of representative slices, two by two, for your perusal.  What method do you think is best? Do you have another method not tested?  See you next week!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

March 9, 2014: Wake up!, Bacon 24/SEVEN and an All-Wisconsin bacon cook-off

MY LIFE WITH BACON CONTINUES with a Oscar Mayer promotion, a new book on bacon, some news, and an All-Wisconsin bacon cook-off.  There is so much bacon news going on I'm going to have to blog more often!

OSCAR MAYER COMES THROUGH with a great promotion - an actual smartphone app that produces the sound and smell (YES the smell) of bacon!  "Who knows where that crispy compass will lead you."
Wake up and smell the bacon! 

You have to enter a contest to get the app and the phone hardware for this.  Thanks to so many of you who have emailed me about this.  Here's a link to the promotion, but you should obviously click the link to the right to watch the phenomenal video.

BACON 24/SEVEN!  There are a lot of books about bacon out there, but here's on that is pretty cool: Bacon 24/SEVEN.  It's written by Theresa Gilliam, the guest in this video.  The video has only 8 views, and was produced just before the Super Bowl.  But if you like bacon-themed candy, here are a couple of great ways to make it.   Too sweet for me!  You can get her book, which was just published in January, on Amazon here.

But pay attention to the Bacon-Infused Bourbon - from last week's recipe! And for my friend JD: note the part where she says "if you're camping..."

HOW ABOUT ARNOLD COOKING BACON ON A TANK?  Interested?  This video of the Internet Epic Meal Time show is very entertaining. Arnold makes a Steak & Egger Sandwich - on a TANK.  A must watch. Here's a screen shot.  Entertaining video, only about four minutes, and a good cause too.

ON TO THE BACON!  This week, I am reviewing two of my favorite bacon brands - Nueske's and Usinger's.  They are both outstanding.  In a cook-off in early 2013 (a year ago) I preferred Usinger's.  Let's see if that's still the case!

Both products come in airtight, attractive packaging.  Both are applewood smoked, although Usinger's is "thick sliced" and Nueske's isn't.  But both are about the same thickness.

First, the NUESKE'S APPLEWOOD SMOKED BACON. This bacon had great aroma out of the package and was very easy to peel slices apart (unlike many out there).  As I started cooking, and upon turning slices, the bacon didn't stick to the pan at all - a very nice characteristic.  Very easy bacon to work with.  Net weight 12.0 ounces, but there was an extra ounce in the package - a bonus!  Post cooking, it weighed 4.6 ounces, and produced only 80ml of rendered fat.  You can see the 3-way photo below (before cooking, after turning, finished) the bacon had minimal shrinkage.

This bacon is classic.  Flavor is just about off the charts - I'm going to give it a 4.75 out of 5, the highest score I've ever given any bacon.  It crisped up very well, after draining on paper towels, score of 3.25.  Succulence was only average, but the flavor was unbelievable - I'll give it a 3 here.  Overall, EXCELLENT, Top Shelf bacon.

Next up, the USINGER'S APPLEWOOD SMOKED BACON.  This bacon had a crisper, sharper, stronger applewood smoke aroma than Nueske's.  It was also very easy to work with.  It did shrink significantly more than Nueske's and it curled up rapidly.  I had to lower my normal temperature twice to avoid overcooking... which was odd.  You can also see that the color of Usinger's wasn't quite as attractive during cooking, and the oil on cooked product didn't dissipate as well.  The package was labeled at 12 ounces, but the bacon came in at 12.6 ounces - another bonus.  Post cooking, it weighed 3.4 ounces with higher shrinkage, and produced a whopping 160 ml of rendered fat (double the Nueske's).
Flavor - I'm going to ding Usinger's on this batch.  It was somewhat oily tasting but still above average - score of 3.25.  It had a high degree of crispness, also 3.5.  The succulence factor was better than Nueske's, and I'll score that at 3.25.

OVERALL, I THINK NUESKE'S IS BETTER THIS TIME AROUND.  All of this bacon disappeared rapidly.

Phew.  It's been a busy bacon week. See you next time!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

March 2, 2014: A Re-review of the Bacon Wave and a Porcine Baseball Team!

MY LIFE WITH BACON continues this week with another shot at the Bacon Wave, some news, and a baseball connection.  So happy that spring training has started!

BACON IN THE NEWS this week includes lots of headlines about the new minor league baseball team - this from the TIME News Feed; very cool.  Thank you to the seven of you (strike that - eight now - thanks, Flip!) who emailed or texted me about this!
"Lehigh Valley IronPigs, a minor league baseball team that recently went viral for promoting urinals with video game systems, has debuted bacon-themed uniforms. The Saturday home game look features bacon strips down the side of the pants, a baseball cap with a strip of bacon across the front, and a brick red jersey with the word “Pigs” underlined by — you guessed it — yet another a strip of bacon.
Fans can also purchase a “scratch and sniff” t-shirt with a strip of bacon on it, and the smell lasts for up to 10-15 washes, according to the team’s MiLB store website. Fans who do not want to shell out $22 could probably produce the same effect by smearing bacon strips on the front of team gear that they already own."
Only in Pennsylvania, home of lots of bacon and smoked meat producers.  Read more here.  Love that 'scratch and sniff' t-shirt idea.  But I don't love it enough to buy it for myself.  However, I'm more than willing to accept it as a gift from my porcine readership....

I'M ALWAYS ON THE LOOKOUT for great recipes, the amateur foodie that I am.  Here's one for a bacon infused bourbon cocktail!  This one is on my list to try ASAP.  My sister-in-law Ann and I are big fans of Woodford's - and that's my targeted bourbon for this one.  Check out the link, but I've listed the recipe below for those of you who don't do links:

Bacon-Infused Bourbon

2 oz. bacon fat
1½ cups bourbon
1. To clarify the bacon fat, melt fat and strain into a bowl. Add 4 oz. boiling water. Stir well and leave until melted fat has set into a cake above the water. Remove cake, scraping off any sediment from the bottom, then melt again.
2. Combine bourbon and bacon fat in a quart-size jar. Seal with a tightly fitting lid and shake vigorously. Leave the bourbon to infuse at room temperature for 5-8 hours.
3. Put the jar in the freezer and freeze until all of the bacon fat has solidified at the surface of the bourbon, about 1 hour. Scoop off and discard the bacon fat and strain the bourbon through a fine mesh sieve lined with 2 coffee filters. Extra bacon-infused bourbon can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 weeks, or in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

My favorite line in the recipe is as follows -
Note: This technique can be used to add a bacon scent to many different liquids or liquors.

ON TO THE BACON!  This week, I simply cooked up another batch of bacon using the now famous Bacon Wave.  "After further review," I can't recommend it unless you're really in a hurry.  I don't understand how so many news organizations mention both the Wave and the newer Bacon Bowl as something of a miracle.  I'm not even going to link to them this week. Here's the uncooked photo.  You're supposed to bend the slices so that they don't stick out over the edge of the unit (hence the double-meaning of "Wave" in the name of the product):

I followed the Wave instructions again to the letter, but in addition let the bacon come to room temperature (a best practice) first.  You can see the before and after pictures.  The bacon crisped up in the protein areas, but the transition area was undercooked, as was the fat.  So I put it in for another minute, with similar results.  I'll give the Wave one more shot, but I'm not expecting great results.  Here's the after cooking photo.  The unit does do a pretty good job capturing the fat and not making the house smell:

And here is one sad slice of bacon, which admittedly has been in the fridge for a few days (for daily use). And I did use a 'thick cut' of bacon, so next time I'll use the regular variety: