And now we have another guest post, this time from our West Coast Contingent, Abi (you might remember her from such previous BLK adventures as Moules Flambé.) Take it away, Abs!
Bacon: A delicious pork product that belongs on/in pretty much everything, namely my mouth.
Jam: A sweet spread made from fruit; good for toast, sandwiches and reductions.
Bacon Jam: Abomination or Ambrosia?
Monday afternoon I was sent a link from a friend of BLK, Fitz, to a recipe for something dubiously dubbed “Bacon Jam.” Beyond the initial mind-blowing implications of the name, I was skeptical of its delicious integrity because it came from Martha Stewart. Has anything good come from our favourite neurotic jailbird? [Hey now! I have made many things by Martha. Like marshmallows! Crap, that might not be a good example as I haven’t sent any to Abi. – T]The answer, after two days of cooking, is still “no.” Below is a chronicle of my journey to condiment heaven.
7:00am - Drop the SO (Matt) off for class in a neighborhood called “Westwood.” It should be called "Mexican Donut & Liquor Store-ville" or "Inner Closed Down Barbershop Town,” as those are primarily the shops you encounter on your way to the campus. I had an hour to kill and my trusty Droid(tm), which to my surprise revealed a hidden Safeway mere blocks from campus. I like any day that starts out with a no-effort victory.
8:15am - Stop at Art's Cafe for hashbrown sandwiches … you heard me right. I'm not going to get into this because it deserves a whole entry on its own to describe this newfound joy. [I believe the term “teriyaki beef hashbrown sandwich” was used. Jealous! – Court]
9:00am - Material ingredients for my magical spell acquired* and bellies full, we return to our apartment in the Inner Richmond (this name is valid, but could also appropriately be named "Russian Mafia-burg,” "Hipster Hamlet," or "New Chinatown" … which is actually one of its nicknames.).
10:00am - Still circling the neighborhood looking for parking.
10:30am - Assemble ingredients.
I should mention at this point that I initially pitched this to Court and Turk as "Extremely Brave Little Kitchen" as I was going to be cooking in what were essentially Third World kitchen conditions. I told my friend Chuck it was like one of those Top Chef challenges where they have to prepare a full five-course meal on only a camping stove. I brought my own chef's knife because I just couldn't use the one they have, and I'm told this wasn't “cheating” because that's what the real chefs do on these challenges. Okay … I exaggerate. The kitchen isn't really that bad, except for the lack of cooking implements and counter space. Also it was freezing in the kitchen.**
10:35am - Send Matt out for Coffee. Okay, Matt volunteered which was surprising and delightful. Coffee was needed for the recipe as well as my face [Your face needed coffee? Is this a new facial technique? – Court], and it was quite good.***
10:40am - Quit griping about the kitchen. Put on sweater and cut bacon into one-inch pieces. So far, so good. I put the bacon in the freezer while setting things up for ease of cutting. Good call, me.
"It says to smash and peel it, what should I do?" I can tell by the ”entering text” display that she's about to tell me to do just that, so I quickly clarify "I mean, beyond the obvious. Should I chop it up? That would make sense." Court is not helpful. She always recommends following the recipe. I decide this time to take her advice since it will all get blended in the end. [Good, then stop making fun of me. – Court] [Where is the fun in that? - T]
Once the bacon is lightly browned I drain it,
11:00am - Inaugural voyage of the crock pot off to a good start. This was a Christmas present from my Mom and I hadn't drummed up the time or courage to play with it yet, so I schlepped it down to The City (please, do not call it "San Fran" or "Frisco" - locals may give you disapproving but harmless looks) for this express purpose. Some recipes I looked at suggested using a deep cast iron skillet and doing this on the stove-top, but that would've required that I had a) the foresight to bring my cast iron and b) the patience to watch something on the stove-top for 2+ hours. I max out at about forty-five minutes with risotto, so that clearly wasn't in the cards.
1:00pm - Check on "jam.” Okay, that wasn't the first time, but it was the first time I whipped out the camera to document it. It looked a little darker and a little thicker. Send photo on the Droid(tm) to the listserv to tease the East Coast Contingent.
2:00pm - Head over to Clement Street in search of container for the "jam"; one with a solid top that I can use to send back East. (I am still skeptical about sending this through the mail unrefrigerated, btw…). Successful trip to the Chinese restaurant supply store acquires two glass, gasketed containers. Decide to stop into the Turkish place to pick up lamb kebob wraps for lunch and reward my ambitious but completely untaxing day with a pint of local beer while waiting for our food.
3:00pm - Time elapsed, four hours. Yeeeah, it's thicker and darker, still, but not quite there. Weird, I'd put it in for the “max” amount of time Martha suggested. Well, in it goes for another half hour.
3:30pm - Patience is at an end and it looks pretty good. Time to whip out the dinky little food processor and chop this puppy up! I pulsed it about 20 times per batch (I'd read that number somewhere and it sounded good) and it ended up chunky and more like a relish than anything else. I just couldn't bear to process it much more because I thought it might look really gross, so this is what I ended up with.
7:00pm - Treasure Island. Not the book, the island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay that isn't Alcatraz. People live there, how crazy is that?? It was built - YES, BUILT - for the 1939 World's Fair, and afterwards was turned into a Navy base. In 1996 it was decommissioned and all of the military housing on it was turned into condos. [Did you ever read Devil in the White City? They built like a whole mini-city for the Chicago World’s Fair. Also, this post is kind of half-BLK, half-San Francisco travel guide. – Court] Anyhow we have friends who live there and host our weekly supper club cum D&D game. Yes, I'm 31 and I still play Dungeons and Dragons****.
For our dinner I had selected a few types of Bacon Jam Grilled Cheese, which was my mom's suggestion. Turns out you should listen to your mom because she's usually right. Especially when it comes to bacon. I procured buttermilk-white and sourdough breads, sharp cheddar, smoked Gouda, and pepper jack cheeses. There were several different combinations, but the one I liked the best was the white with half cheddar/half smoked Gouda. I felt the sourdough overdid it a little, but my friend Stein preferred that one. Additional reactions I got included: "Everything you cook is wonderful, dear," "Mmmphh mmm uuummmpphg, mmrrrrhh," and "Can you please put the spatula down and roll Initiative - the orcs are attacking."
Stein and I had talked earlier in the day and it was my intent as the Official BLK Sommelier (can I have that as a title, guys??) [Of course! – Court and Turk] to pair this with wine, but I mentioned that I thought it would go well with a nice Stout, too. Stein manned up and brought some lovely Oatmeal Stout from Mendocino Brewing Company which was as awesome as I'd predicted, but I botched my “open wine” roll and the wine I'd brought never did make it to the table.
All in all, Tuesday's efforts were successful, but I felt I could do better on a second try. Too many onions in this batch and too much brown sugar. The double dose of sweet was just too much - I wanted something more savory. Which leads us to...
7:00am - Drop Matt off at ”It'sTheOnlyLandTheyCouldGetToBuildACampusBecauseIt'sRightByTheFreeway College" and head back to the Safeway. I’m glad the cashier, who had commented on the oddity of my purchases yesterday, doesn’t recognize me because I’m wearing the same clothes and haven’t showered. I should mention that yesterday's trip to Clement was made in my PJs, and that living in a Russian-Chinese-Hipster area of town is great because no one looks at you funny if you go walking around in your PJs and muck-mucks at two in the afternoon; this neighborhood is the same way. San Francisco is awesome.
8:30am - Good Lord Almighty, I found parking on my second circuit! Hallelujah! I lug the groceries and newly acquired coffee up to the apartment and, after making breakfast (hey, there was going to be left over bacon with this new recipe so I got eggs, too ...) I started into my second batch. This recipe I lifted from a blog called Not Quite Nigella. I don't know who Nigella is [Oh, Abi – Court], but I like who's not-her (though I expected more photos - or maybe I'm just overkill).
10:00am - I assemble this batch with more expediency than the previous, and into the crock it goes.
11:00am - MUCH better than the last batch.
1:00pm - MUCH MUCH better than the last batch. The coffee was better quality than in the original batch (told you this would be important later), and the ratio of bacon:onions:coffee made for a much earthier, nuttier flavor.
3:00pm - Okay, really? Not done?? Bacon Jam, you have been in here for four hours and you have less liquid content than the last batch! What is wrong with this recipe?? MAN it is so much colder in here than... in... the ...
"So, I just realized how science is further thwarting me," I pull out my Droid(tm) [OK, half BLK post, half San Francisco travel guide, half Droid commercial (yes, that is good math) – Court] and IM my science geek friend Kristi, "The room I'm making it in is cold ... and it gets cooked with an open top."
"God damn thermodynamics!" she quips.
That is right, God damn thermodynamics!! I'd cooked the first batch half an hour longer but it still never got "syrupy" and I figured that maybe I was expecting too much out of "syrupy." I was wrong. You cannot get around Science.
4:30pm - I've been working on my BLK time-stamped entry for over an hour, and Matt is so bored he fell asleep. Honestly, I just let it go for a while and when I looked up from what I was doing I decided to check on it. PERFECT! I found the key! Just leave it alone and it will somehow work out just right! I don't know why I didn't apply the traditional cooking method of The Cloisters,****** which is "High Heat and Walk Away," in the first place.
4:45pm - Whip out my trusty immersion blender. I'd brought this down because I didn't think the boys had a food processor. It was a pain to make the first round in batches, so I decided to go for the quick and dirty, which was the best choice I made all weekend*****. In a minute flat I had the perfect consistency. In fact, I pulled out the original batch and took the immersion blender to that as well.
Okay, so it looks gross. Really gross. Molly wouldn’t even try it because it looked so gross; also because she's lame. She was eating sour cream and cheddar potato chips at the time, too, which is far more disgusting-tasting than the Bacon Jam looks.
5:00pm - Taste test: original batch v. current batch. Verdict ... NEW BATCH WINS BY A LANDSLIDE!! Bacon Condiment Heaven: Achieved!! That's one small step for BLK, one huge leap for foodie-kind.
Court and Turk like to publish lessons they learned from their new kitchen experiences, and I will follow suit.
1. Crock pots are awesome. I'd never appreciated the value of a good crock pot until today, and I was a little scared of using one b/c a) it seemed so Midwest and b) like a lot of work to put it together, even though you didn't have to do the cooking part. I can't wait to make a stew this week. Or chili. Or baked beans. Or ... [Yeah, crock pots are awesome. I’ve been making this recipe for pulled barbeque chicken in mine lately and it’s so good (it only takes a few hours and you can start with frozen chicken! – Court]
2. The coffee matters. Use really good quality coffee in this recipe, hopefully something that is locally and freshly roasted and made with care. (I used mid-grade bacon - I experimented with cheap, mid-grade and expensive bacon when making candied bacon and the mid-grade was the best of the bunch. I believe the same principles apply here.)
3. The bacon to onion ratio needs to be pretty even in order to get real bacon-y flavor. I love caramelized onions, but this is BACON jam, not ONION jam. Next time I will add a little smoked paprika or chipotle powder, too.
4. Don't cook in a cold room. The recipe may not call for you to "Heat room to 68 degrees" but that should be understood when using a crock pot without the lid on. Stupid laws of physics...
5. Bacon IS appropriate in every context. I defy someone to come up with a context in which bacon does not work. DEFY.
So that's it. That's my BLK West. Or AGT's Test Kitchen West, as Angela called it. I should note that I totally blew the wine pairing when we tried it Wednesday night and should probably relinquish my not-yet-gifted title of BLK Sommelier, but I did nail the beer pairing, and that counts. This is BLK West, out.
* this will be funny later. [Do all of these comments mean that we need to learn how to do footnotes? – T]
** this will be extremely relevant later, but I won't figure it out until it's too late.
*** but could have been better - this will be important later.
**** I play a 6th level Oracle in the new Pathfinder system, for you nerds out there. It is a useless class - don't play it unless your DM is awesome, which mine is. [Dude, this might be too dorky for BLK even. – T]
***** Tuesday-Wednesday is my weekend. Suck it, normal weekend people.
****** My group house in Saint Helena, CA.