Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Bacon Bonanza

It was a bacon bonanza!  I am in a dinner group with some friends and we recently had one of our dinners.  In our group, whomever is hosting can decide the plan for the dinner, whether that means a general theme, choosing the actual recipes, etc.  This time, the hosts decided to do a "secret ingredient" dinner.  After we each chose what course we wanted to create, they emailed us all with the secret ingredient that each course must include.  BACON!  Mr. Clever Mom and I chose the appetizer course this time.  We usually choose dessert but decided to shake things up a bit and picked appetizers instead.  We created a bacon bonanza.

Above, starting from the top left, we made Pancetta-Wrapped Peaches with Basil and Peach Balsamic Vinegar, a Goat Cheese, Herb, Pecan and Bacon Pop, and a Bacon Cracker topped with Maple Bourbon Bacon Jam.  Mmmm.  I wish I could say "definitely try X recipe as it was the best" but really they were all so different and all really good.  The peaches were sweet and crispy and juicy, and the bacon pop paired with a crisp Granny Smith apple was really great, and my goodness that bacon jam was delicious.  Sweet and smoky and perfect atop a flaky bacon cracker.  I have to pat the two of us on the back a bit.  We made three great appetizers!  So here are the recipes for you to try!

Pancetta-Wrapped Peaches with Basil and Peach Balsamic Vinegar
adapted from Food & Wine magazine
16 thin slices pancetta
2 medium freestone peaches, halved, pitted and cut into 8 wedges each
salt and freshly ground pepper
16 basil leaves
1 TB olive oil
peach balsamic vinegar, for drizzling (the recipe called for aged balsamic, which we actually did have, but we also had this delicious peach balsamic which went perfectly!)

Lay the pancetta slices out on a cutting board.  Place one peach wedge at the edge of each slice, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and top with a basil leaf.  Roll up the pancetta to enclose the peach.

Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet.  Add half of the peaches and cook over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until the pancetta is browned and crisp.  This takes about 4 minutes, depending on the heat of your pan. Transfer to a platter and repeat with the remaining peaches.

Lightly drizzle the peaches with balsamic vinegar and serve.
Makes 16 wrapped peaches.
Printable Recipe

Goat Cheese, Herb, Pecan and Bacon Pops
adapted from The Kitchn
6 slices bacon
4 ounces goat cheese
4 ounces cream cheese (not whipped)
2 TB chopped thyme or basil, divided (I used basil)
cracked black pepper
1/4 cup pecans
apple slices, to serve
lollipop sticks 

Cut each piece of bacon in half and place in a large skillet without overlapping the slices.  Cook on low for about 15 minutes, turning frequently, until the bacon is quite crispy.  Place bacon on a paper towel-lined plate to drain and pat the slices to remove excess grease.

While the bacon is cooking, mix the goat cheese, cream cheese, 1 TB of herbs and a few turns of fresh black pepper in a food processor.  You might add some bacon at this point if you want an extra bacon bite, but I would cook more so you still have plenty for the coating.  Mix until creamy and well mixed and then form small balls.  The recipe states to form them about the size of your thumb.  I knew I wanted 10 balls so I split the dough into 10 relatively equal blobs and formed the balls from there.  The main difference is whether you want your pop to be one bite or two.  Whatever size you choose, insert a lollypop stick into each ball and put them in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm.  You could also place the pops in the refrigerator for a longer period of time if you prefer.  Just don't let them actually freeze in the freezer!  You could choose to forgo the pop part of this dish and simply serve them as balls.  Whatever works for you! 

Clean out the food processor bowl and add the crumbled cooled bacon, remaining herbs, pecans, and a few more turns of fresh black pepper.  Pulse until the mixture is very fine and crumbly, as fine as you can get it.

Take the pops out of the freezer and roll them in the bacon mixture, pressing it in with your fingers.  Mine did not immediately stick on its own so I pressed the bacon mixture to each pop.  I also found that I barely had enough to cover my 10 pops so you may want to increase the amount of bacon, pecans and herbs that you prepare for the coating. 

Refrigerate pops until serving.  Serve on a full round of a sliced apple.
Makes 16-20 one-bite pops or 10-12 two-bite pops.
Printable Recipe

Bacon Crackers
adapted from The Runaway Spoon
4 strips of bacon, cooked very crispy
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
1 TB solidified bacon fat
5 TB cold butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 to 2/3 cup very cold water
1 TB butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line two baking sheets with a silicone liner or parchment paper.

Pat the cooled cooked bacon with paper towels to remove as much grease as possible.  Break into pieces into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse several times to chop the bacon very finely.  Scrape the bacon out of the bowl and set aside.

Place the flour, bacon, salt and 1 tablespoon of the chopped bacon in the food processor and pulse a few times to combine.  Add bacon grease and cold butter pieces.  Pulse several times until the the mixture looks like sand with a few larger lumps.  Turn on the food processor and slowly drizzle in the ice water just until the dough starts to come together.  Pinch the dough together with your fingers  If it sticks together, you are done.  Add another tablespoon (or more) of chopped bacon pieces and pulse a few times to mix.  You might not use all of the bacon, but I am not sure why you wouldn't want to!

Lightly flour a work surface.  Divide the cracker dough in half and place half on the floured work surface.  Knead the dough a little to bring it together and pat it into a square.  Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough until it is as thin as a dime.  Trim off the rough edges and set aside to use later.  Cut the dough into crackers, about 1 inch by 1 inch.  A pizza wheel is very handy tool for cutting crackers!  Transfer the crackers to the baking sheets.  The crackers puff up but not out, so you can place them close together.  Prick the top of the crackers with a fork, brush the tops with melted butter, and lightly sprinkle with salt.  Repeat with the other half of the dough.  Bake one sheet at a time, in the center of the oven for 12-15 minutes until lightly puffed, golden brown and firm.  Cool on the baking sheets. 

You may gather up the scraps, mush them together and roll them out as a third batch if you like.  They may look a bit more rustic but will still taste great!
Makes about 3 dozen crackers.
Printable Recipe

Maple Bourbon Bacon Jam
adapted from Closet Cooking
1 pound thick smoked bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup brewed coffee
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup bourbon
2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, seeds removed and chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
pepper to taste

Cook the bacon in a large saucepan over medium heat until the fat has been rendered and the bacon starts to get crispy.  Set aside, reserving 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease in the pan.  Add the onions to the bacon grease in the pan and saute until tender, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about a minute.  Add the vinegar and deglaze the pan.  Add the coffee, brown sugar, maple syrup, bourbon, bacon, chipotle chiles, cumin and pepper and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Simmer until the mixture is reduced to a syrupy consistency, about 1-2 hours.  Process the jam in a food processor to smooth it out a bit but not too much as you want to maintain the bacon texture.

Makes 1-2 cups.  May be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.
Printable Recipe

Yes readers, this was just the START to a simply amazing meal.  Are you curious as to the rest of the courses?  Well, we had a wedge salad with mascarpone/blue-cheese dressing, bacon and blueberries followed by a butternut squash/apple soup topped with bacon.  Then we had a pancetta-wrapped pork roulade stuffed with kale, apples and more pork which was served with braised apples and the most amazing creamy, cheesy bacon scalloped potatoes I have ever eaten in my life.  Our dessert was a mango shortcake (in which the biscuit was made with lard) topped with bacon ice cream.  Holey-moley.  We really outdid ourselves on this meal!  It was scrumptious all the way around. 

It was a great evening.  I hope you are tempted by some of these incredible bacon treats.  They are all really quite easy to create and so tasty!

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