Tag Archives: bacon

Cheesy Brioche Rolls with Bacon & Rosemary

24 Sep

“What shall we do with all of this bacon?”, said no one in my family ever. With a constant flux of at least 3 packages of bacon in our small apartment fridge, we embrace ‘Emergency Bacon Preparedness’… You know, for those nights on which you don’t feel like shopping for dinner groceries, but you don’t feel like pizza either?

Bacon is a drug hearty. It makes everything 10x better than it already is. And let’s admit, if there is any processed meat that could potentially be conceived as candy by your taste buds, it would be the crunchy sweetness of salty bacon. No? So when I won a $75.00 gift certificate of the LA Farmers Market during an industry event a few months ago, I knew exactly where I was going to spend the bulk of it: ‘Huntington Meats’. Just like so many small family-owned businesses in this Mecca of deliciousness, the folks at ‘Huntington Meats’ take great pride in their butcher’s craft. Besides the tasty quality of their meats, there’s something eerily familiar about an apron-wearing, fat-bellied man presenting me with a brown paper slab of house-cured & hand-crafted peppered bacon.
I regret that corporate America is slowly but surely edging out small businesses like this. Personally, I enjoy buying meat from a rosy-cheeked butcher, or seafood from a charming blue-tiled monger that smells a wee bit salty and beckons passers-by with a giant neon-flickering smiling mussel. Places like that make me happy. The people who own these types of stores, take pride in their craft and life’s work, and somehow they make me feel like I matter.

When I was younger and still lived in Belgium, these are the kind of places my mother would take us to on her weekly Saturday morning grocery runs. We’d be hectically crisscrossing all over town in her old Ford, and loading up the car with freshly baked pastries & bread from the sweet smelling bakery on the corner of our street or we’d stop by the smelly cheese shop and pick out the finest Cabrales or Brie to eat with our crusty French bread… Wherever we went, everything was freshly sliced, diced, cured, chopped and/or packaged… with love. We had a grocery store nearby, but mom considered that to be mostly for non-perishable stuff. Like peanuts, cat food and laundry soap.

The LA Farmers Market brings this community-minded way of grocery shopping back. If you haven’t been, you urgently have to plan a vacation around this place. Tucked away next to a fancy, overprized open-air mall, the market itself is surprisingly humble and quaint. And none of the boobs Gucci-clad ditsies with electric pink patent leather Hermès handbags actually shop here, for reasons unbeknownst to me because this place truly offers the finest foods in the county. The bustling, colorful market is a bit overwhelming at first sight, but once you get passed the crowded chaos and ‘see’ the vintage appeal of the mint green colored plastic picnic tables, you’ll feel like you’re in foodie heaven.

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With so many fabulous eateries, ranging from hot Brazilian roasted meats to Spanish tapas and spicy N’awlins drunken shrimp, you’re in for a real treat. And with most meals being under $10.00, you can splurge and eat your belly full without breaking the bank. Finally, there are the handful of purveyors of fine foods, my favorites being a toss up between ‘Tusquellas Seafood’ and ‘Huntington Meats’… Last Saturday, I walked away from the latter with just a little over 2 pounds of house-cured peppered bacon and 12 hot Italian sausages for nary $38 and change.

So what I am doing with all of this bacon? How about some cheesy brioche rolls now that soup season is officially open?

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CHEESY BRIOCHE ROLLS WITH BACON & ROSEMARY
(Adapted from a recipe for French ‘pistolets’)
– 1 lbs of bread flour, sifted
– 5 eggs, beaten + 1 more for the egg wash
– 5-6 slices of bacon (or more)
– 1.5 oz of fresh yeast or 1 packet of dry yeast
– 1/2 cup of whole or 2% milk
– 1/3 cup of finely chopped fresh rosemary
– 1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan
– 1 Tbsp of sugar
– 1 tsp of sea salt
– 1 tsp of baking powder

Preheat oven to 400F.

Crumble yeast into a small bowl, add sugar & lukewarm milk and stir until dissolved. Set aside for 15 min while you cook the bacon.

Slice bacon into thin strips and sauté over medium heat until cooked through but not crispy. Reserve 1-2 Tbsp of the fat, then drain fat and set aside to cool.

Sift flour into large bowl, add the baking powder, add eggs, salt and foamy yeast mixture, and stir or knead into a doughy consistency. Add in reserved bacon, bacon fat, Parmesan and rosemary, and knead 10-15 min. (tip: you can do this on the ‘dough’ setting of your bread maker!)

Place dough in a lightly greased warm bowl, cover with a clean towel and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place for at least 90 min or longer, until practically doubled in size.

Flour a clean surface. Tip dough out of the bowl, and knead for another 15 min or so. Divide dough in even balls the size of a small apple, and space apart on a lined baking sheet or place in a greased muffin tin. Cover with a clean, damp towel and allow to rise a bit more over 20 min.

Brush rolls with a quick egg wash made out of 1 beaten egg and a splash of water. This will make them shiny. Bake rolls for 20-30 min, until golden brown and crusty on the outside.

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Maple Bacon & Butternut Squash Waffles

18 Sep

When I stumbled upon a recipe for mashed potato cheddar & chive waffles from Joy The Baker the other day, I swear I heard the faint sound of violins. I mean, waffles… with cheeseand mashed potatoes! What could possibly be better than that winning trifecta? And who knew you could put mashed potatoes in waffle batter? But more importantly, who even has leftover mashed potatoes to begin with?!

My inner-Belgian was intrigued, so I baked Joy’s waffles that same night and I thought they were really good. As in ‘I binged on 6 waffles in one sitting’-kinda good, and then impulsively grabbed the last sole survivor this morning for breakfast-on-the-go and ate that one ice cold because I was desperate I was in a hurry. Let me tell you, any waffle that tastes this good after being left overnight on the kitchen counter, should be considered a mortal sin. It made me ponder the question, if this much tastiness can be achieved with cheddar & chives, how wickedly delicious would these waffles be with, let’s say, bacon? And what if we replaced the mashed potatoes with puréed butternut squash for instance? With visions of savory waffle greatness, I took Joy’s recipe and ran with it. Like a thief in the night.

Even malicious recipe-snatchers foodies like me sometimes need a late breakfast-brunch idea, and these Fall-inspired waffles are perfect for those days on which your uterus bleeds uncontrollably you crave something salty & sweet or you need a unique alternative to a dinner roll. The mapled butternut squash mash gives them a subtle sweetness and the bacon adds a salty touch to balance everything out nicely. Now let’s all surf to Joy’s blog, and thank her for the original recipe that sparked this tasty spin off! These waffles are delicious straight out of your hot waffle iron, but they are equally as good the next day, albeit that they lose their crispiness as they cool. Top these babies with a dollop of crème fraiche, and you’ll find yourself in savory waffle heaven.

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MAPLE, BACON & BUTTERNUT SQUASH WAFFLES
(Inspired by ‘Joy The Baker’)
– 4 Tbsp of unsalted butter
– 1/4 cup of buttermilk
– 2 large eggs
– 2 cups of butternut squash mash (*)
– 4-5 slices of bacon
– 1 large shallot, finely diced
– A pinch of brown sugar
– A pinch of cayenne pepper
– 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
– 1/2 tsp of baking powder
– 1/4 tsp of baking soda
– 1/2 tsp of salt
– 1/2 tsp of freshly ground pepper
– crème fraiche, for topping
(*) Butternut squash mash is simple to make and a healthy alternative to regular mashed potatoes, See recipe below.

Plug in your waffle iron and allow it to heat so it’ll be nice & hot when you’re ready to bake.

Preheat oven to 450F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and place bacon slices on top. Sprinkle bacon lightly with brown sugar and cayenne pepper, and bake at 450F for approx. 10-15 min, until crispy. Set aside on paper towels and allow to cool, then crumble.

In a small pan, melt butter over medium-low heat and allow it to brown. When it’s all melted, it’ll start popping and cracklin a bit, which is the water evaporating out of the butter and giving the butter a yummy nutty flavor. Keep watching the pan and wait for the edges to brown slightly. Once you see browned edges, pour browned butter directly into your cooled butternut squash mash, and whisk in the eggs & buttermilk to combine into a smooth mass. Keep on an eye on this process, as butter can go from tasty browned nuttiness to a burned mess in a matter of seconds!

Wipe pan with a paper towel, and give diced shallots a quick sauté, until they are translucent. It should only take a minute or 2-3. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift flour and add baking soda, baking powder, salt & pepper. Fold in the butternut squash mixture and combine into a smooth batter. Add crumbled bacon and reserved shallots, and stir to combine.

Place about 1/4 cup of the batter in each section of your waffle iron, and cook waffles according to your taste. I like mine crispy and dark, but that’s just personal preference. Allow waffles to cool on a rack, as placing them on a solid surface will make them soggy and limp.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH MASH
– 1/2 small-medium butternut squash, seeded, peeled & cut into in large chunks
– 1 large tan sweet potato (not a red-skinned yam!), peeled & cut into large chunks
– 1.5 Tbsp of maple syrup
– 1/2 tsp of of curry powder
– 2 Tbsp of butter
– salt & pepper, to taste

Boil butternut squash together with potatoes until tender. Give it a quick mash, then and add butter & maple syrup. Mash together, and season with salt & pepper & curry powder.

Zingy Potato Salad

5 Sep

Ugh. It’s been hotter than a tandoori oven here in Southern California. We’ve seemingly landed firmly in the mid to upper 90’s at the beach, and we’re not headed anywhere cooler any time soon if Tootsie Farklepants the forecast is correct. Combine this with the complete absence of our usual ocean breeze and the rising humidity, and it’s downright hell in our non-air conditioned apartment. I recognize that this muggy grossness is probably a fine day on the porch in the South, but for us temperate coastal Californians, this kind of heat is downright brutal – and frankly, unacceptable in the ‘Book of Helga’. Despite it being extra-ordinarily hot & muggy lately, California weather is not my cup of tea in general. Over the years, I’ve been asked countless times what I miss most from Belgium, and as I’m writing this, it dawns on me that it’s not chocolate or quaint cafés, or even abbey-brewed beer. It’s not my friends or family (they visit, after all), or the many French-Fries-on-wheels that dot the town squares, nor is it ‘zoute haring’ or mussels. I miss ‘seasons’. Dreadfully.

Southern California is perpetually stuck in its own ‘non-season’ with year-round pleasantness of 75F and mostly sunny blue skies. Every now & again, temperatures dip well below 60F, at which point we collectively shiver and ‘Brrrr…’ our way through Starbucks’ hot beverages assortment and whip out our sheepskin-lined flip flops, you know, the Winter-kind that keeps the top of your foot warm but still allows you to show off that killer pedicure you paid $45 for. There’s a deep-seated seasonal confusion here in La La Land Los Angeles. Spring & Summer range from sunny warm to hot and are exactly alike, with the exception that in Spring your kids are still in school and your house stays moderately clean throughout the day. Most of the time Fall is simply an extension of Spring or Summer, only slightly cooler and with the gratuitous option of dressing up slutty for Halloween. And in Winter, we get crisp evenings and occasional moderate rainfall, which prompts us all to drive like a troupe of aging circus folk and cover our cars with giant weather-repellent plastic out of fear our paint job may suffer damage. With all meteorological bets off lately, I hold no hope for stew and hot pumpkin lattes any time soon.

On blistering hot days like the past 2 weeks today, my delicate Belgian constitution demands cold fare. One of my favorite Summer dishes is a nice cold potato salad, but I’m not keen on the mayo-laden American version of this classic. It’s not that I’m frantic about my waistline, but I simply like the zing of a vinegar-based potato salad better… I also think it’s more flavorful, but as the French would say: “Les goûts et les couleurs ne se discutent pas”… which freely translated means that you are wrong in your opinion about flavors and colors, and they are always right. Et voila…

I am letting you know right now that you are not obligated to like this potato salad, but once you take a sumptuous spoonful of it, I know you’ll fall in love because… BACON! Bacon vincit omnia, ya’ll.

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ZINGY POTATO SALAD
(A Hungry Belgian original adaption of ‘Luikse Sla’ and German Potato Salad)
– 2 lbs of Fingerling or Yukon Gold potatoes
– 1 package of thick-cut bacon, sliced in strips (approx. 12 oz. Don’t skimp, this is where the flavor is at!)
– 2 large shallots, diced finely
– 1/3 cup apple cider or red wine vinegar
– 1/4 cup of honey
– 1 Tbsp of Dijon mustard
– salt & pepper, to taste
– 4-5 green onions, sliced thinly or slivered
– a handful of crisp arugula

In large pot of salted water, boil potatoes in the peel until fork tender but still with a bit of bite. Drain and allow to cool.

In the meantime, fry bacon in a heavy pan until slightly crisped. Take bacon out of pan and set aside on a paper towel lined sheet, and drain all but 1/4 cup of fat from the pan.

Add diced shallots to pan, and cook in reserved bacon fat until translucent. Add vinegar, honey, mustard, salt & pepper in pan, and heat until hot & bubbly.

Slice lukewarm or cooled potatoes in 1-inch pieces, and pour warm bacon dressing over them. Gently fold in the reserved bacon pieces and sliced green onions. Top with arugula and gently toss one last time.

For extra protein, serve with 2-4 hard boiled egg halves on top.

Blackberry Balsamic Onion Jam with Bacon

1 Sep

A few years ago, during a random browsing session at Williams-Sonoma, my eye fell on a small jar of balsamic onion spread. With a $10.99 price tag, I decided it was entirely too expensive so I bought it anyway. For a little while I smeared it on anything from bread to crackers and grilled cheese sandwiches, until I could see the glass bottom and went into full-blown panic mode and rationed it as though the end of civilization was nigh.

So when my mom arrived for a visit some weeks later, we picked up a few gorgeous cheeses and a loaf of crusty French bread at the farmers market for lunch one day. As I was setting the table, mom came upon my nearly empty jar of balsamic onion spread, tucked in the back of my fridge, where it was shielded from impulsive midnight snacking. I think she must have seen the frantic expression in my twitching eye, cause she grabbed it and dismissively announced that wherever it came from she was sure they had more. Later that afternoon, one sales rep at Williams-Sonoma in Palos Verdes, CA became employee of the month for a record sale of balsamic onion spread, financed by the ‘Bank of Mom’.

With onions being fairly inexpensive, and fueled by my degree in Business, I figured their profit margin on that drug stuff must be sky-rocketing high, and so I set out on a quest to recreate my precious anything-spread. Only, I’d make it even better. There was some unpalatable trial & error, and a fair amount of spontaneous gagging, but in the end I came up trumps with something that is out-of-this-world delicious. The addition of bacon was real stroke of genius, but you can leave it out if you prefer a vegetarian version.

For your BBQ pleasure, I also smear this deliciousness on a Brioche bun, and top a crusty browned beef patty with some blue cheese, a fried egg and arugula, for a killer-hamburger that has just the right amount of ‘wrong’!

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BLACKBERRY BALSAMIC ONION JAM WITH BACON
(…because bacon makes everything better!)
– 4 slices of thick-cut bacon, sliced into very small pieces
– 2 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
– 1/2 cup of fresh blackberries
– salt and cracked ground pepper, to taste
– 2/3 cup good quality balsamic vinegar (*)
– 1 tsp Dijon mustard
– 2/3 cup cooking sherry
(*) I used a lovely blackberry balsamic vinegar I found at the Torrance farmers market, and it gave this jam an even sweeter & fruitier touch.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook until browned but not crispy, approx. 5-8 min. Remove the bacon from the pan and let it drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Drain off all but 2-3 Tbsp of the bacon grease and then stir in the onions. season with a pinch of salt & pepper, to taste.

Saute the onions for 2 min. then add a splash of cooking sherry, and scrape the browned bits off of the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the blackberries, cover the pot and cook the jam until the onions are soft and brown, and the berries have broken down, approx. 15-20 min.

Stir in a small pinch of cayenne pepper, the balsamic vinegar, mustard, and remaining sherry, and add in reserved bacon. Bring the mixture to a simmer and simmer uncovered until the sauce thickens and is almost completely absorbed, approx. 10 min. The jam should be a dark rich brown at this point.

Allow to cool and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week.

Bacon Wrapped Trout

27 Aug

Like many Belgian families, we counted a pastor and nun amongst our immediate relatives. Having a clerical family member is practically a right of passage in Catholic Flanders, and we certainly nailed it. Not only did we have a ‘tante nonneke’ (auntie nun) and ‘nonkel pater’ (uncle pastor) in our bloodline, we also had my mom’s great-aunt Angèle, who had been a nun at some point in her life, but the details of that affair remain vague. Angèle lived somewhere around Ghent, which was considered far away with its 30-min drive, and she would make the rounds of the entire family whenever she happened to be in town. Angèle was a whiskered old hag staunch Catholic volunteer for an obscure African Mission, who’d shamelessly guilt me into giving up my doll’s play clothing for the children in Africa who did not have clothing (!) whenever she’d visit us. Neither of us really liked Angèle, but she was family. When elbowed and prodded by my mom to oblige Angèle in her blatant demands for my doll’s terry cloth onesies, her wrinkled old hands would curtly snatch whatever offering my 6-year old self reluctantly presented, as though to imply I would burn in hell for even having a doll with clothing to begin with. To add insult to injury, her prickly upper lip would be presented for a smooch, to seal the transaction.

My mom’s ‘uncle pastor’ was much nicer, albeit as obstinate as they made them in the early 1900’s. He was my grandpa’s older brother, and a terrible driver who’d have us white-knuckled in the passenger seat each time we’d go somewhere. Truth is, is that I don’t even remember his ‘real’ name, as we always referred to him as ‘Nonkel Pater’. Decades prior to my birth, the Roman-Catholic Arch Diocese had assigned him to the very rural town of Foy-Notre-Dame in the French-speaking Ardennes, about 1-hr drive South from Brussels.

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With only a few hundred inhabitants, the village center consisted out of a handful of houses & farms, a bistro restaurant and a small country church, its bells you could hear echoing over the fields twice daily. Reportedly, it is in this solemn country church that my 4-year old self made her mark on society. I won’t go into the horrid detail, but rumor has it, that I pushed open the heavy wooden church doors and cycled my creaky tripod through the center aisle in the buff… You should know that this happened during full Catholic Mass (!), and that I subsequently clambered onto the stage and proceeded with ‘picking’ the prettiest flowers out of the altar’s floral arrangements. Let’s collectively appreciate my resourcefulness in finding mom the finest daisies, and say a deep word of thanks that all of this took place prior to You Tube, smart phones and/or Facebook.

I spent many childhood Summer vacations in the Ardennes. The heavily forested region is a quick weekend getaway for many Flemish families foraging for walnuts & chestnuts in Fall, and it’s a popular outing on school field days. The area’s natural springs & cobbling creeks are renowned for trout fishing, and the wooded fields are home to wild boar, rabbit, pheasant & quail, as well as thorny bramble bushes and black berries. It’s this natural abundance that fuels the Ardennes gastronomic fame, which is complemented by old medieval castles that have been converted into stately boutique-style hotels or Michelin-prized restaurants.

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Combined with dozens of outdoor activities as well as picturesque cobblestone towns, the Ardennes culinary tour de force forms an unmatched trifecta in tourism revenue. You can find some of the finest dry-cured meats, game, pâtés and cheeses in the Ardennes, but for me it’s all about trout. The ponds & rivers in the Ardennes are this deliciously flakey fish’ natural habitat, and you can’t beat the flavor of a fresh wild caught grilled trout!

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BACON WRAPPED TROUT
(A classic out of Ardennes cuisine)
– 4 whole trout
– 1 bunch of thyme
– 1 lemon, halved and sliced very thin
– 2 cloves of garlic, minced
– 4 tsp of good quality butter
– a handful of sliced blanched almonds, toasted
– 1 package of bacon (*)
– salt & pepper to taste
(*) Traditionally, the trout are wrapped in authentic ‘Jambon d’Ardennes’, which is Belgium’s answer to prosciutto, but to keep things a bit more budget-friendly, I used bacon.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Scrub & wash trout under cold running water. Remove fins, then pat the inside and outside dry.

Stuff fish cavity with a few sprigs of thyme, lemon and a bit of the minced garlic. Season inside with salt & pepper, then wrap whole fish in bacon.

Roast trout in the oven (or grill on the BBQ) for approx. 20-25 min until crispy on the outside and done.

Serve fish with a sprinkling of toasted almonds and parsley, and a side of hearty potato.

Bon appétit!

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