We were opening Christmas gifts when my much better half dropped a package on my lap - a cold, heavy package. Curious (and suddenly chilly), I opened it. Bacon. Six pounds of artisan bacon, from thick-cut hickory-smoked to jalapeño-spiced and apple-cinnamon, varieties hailing from Virginia to Upstate New York, Texas to Tennessee.
Now if that's not true love, I don't know what is.
I'm a bacon fanatic. In or out of the kitchen, sometimes it's all I can think about: the vibrant red as it cooks, the smokiness, the subtle crunch, the sizzle, the wonderful aroma that will not be denied.
And bacon works so well in so many dishes, from soups and salads to chili and stuffed pork chops. Layer it in burgers or use it as garnish, wrapped seductively around fillets or brats for a little extra flavor.
I'm not alone. Do a Web search and you'll turn up forums and chat rooms, online shrines and bacon-of-the-month clubs.
There are bacon songs and bacon T-shirts, custom grease containers and ornaments for the rearview mirror. It's enough to make Homer Simpson weep.
But nothing compares to the real thing. While technically it can be added to anything - and probably it has been - there are some natural pairings that are magic to the taste buds.
Try potatoes. Bacon and potatoes are a classic "comfort food" combination, and potato salad is a perfect vehicle for both. For a slight twist, toss some new potatoes with garlic and oil and roast them to golden brown. Meanwhile, fry a pound of chopped bacon. Combine the potatoes and bacon with some thinly sliced red onion, then stir in a whole-grain mustard dressing lightened with a little red wine vinegar. Throw in some capers - their tartness cuts through the salad to highlight the various flavors, and they'll add some bright color to finish the dish.
With all that bacon you're frying, what about the grease? Save it. You can use it for sauteing vegetables, frying chicken and searing meats. Oil your grill with it before cooking, and use it to season your cast-iron cookware. Or really have fun and substitute it for oil when making popcorn. Just think of it, bacon popcorn.
Obsession breeds creativity that extends beyond the traditional. A true bacon fanatic pushes boundaries.
Let's start with breakfast. If there's one meal where bacon shines, it's breakfast. It's the quintessential, savory and - let's face it - only way to start the day. But what about those who prefer sweet to savory? What do we bacon lovers do when they reach for doughnuts and sticky buns over eggs, potatoes and - bacon?
Convert them, of course. With coffee cake. A bacon and apple coffee cake.
OK, it may sound unusual, but hear me out. Start with a cinnamon-roll-type dough. While the dough is rising, fry a pound - no, a pound and a half - of bacon bits. Saute tart sliced apple with cinnamon, a touch of maple syrup, and a little amaretto (the almond is subtle and pairs well with both bacon and apple). Roll out the dough and sprinkle the bacon and apple over it, then roll it up and twist it into a wreath.
Slice the wreath into wedges, garnish the top with sliced almonds and let the dough rise again before baking. (You can also prepare the coffee cake up to this point and refrigerate it overnight; set it out to warm up slightly while you have your coffee, then bake it for breakfast.)
Lightly drizzle a glaze over the cake and serve it warm. Chunks of bacon and apple spill out - it's a wonderful play on flavors with just a hint of sweetness. Before you know it, you've bridged the divide. Sweet and savory at the same table, sharing a meal. Take a picture.
Serve it to friends - they'll toast your genius. And if they can't appreciate your bacon obsession, quietly allow them the right to their opinion. At the end of the day, less bacon for them means there's more for you.
Apple Bacon Coffee Cake
Makes 16 servings
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons
1 package active dry yeast
1/3 cup sugar, divided
3 eggs, divided
10 tablespoons butter, at room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
31/2 cups bread flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
11/2 pounds thick-cut bacon,
preferably applewood- smoked, sliced crosswise
into 1/4-inch pieces
1 pound tart apples, such as
Granny Smith (about 2
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup maple syrup, divided
2 tablespoons amaretto
1/3 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon
powdered sugar, sifted
1. In a small pan, heat the milk over medium heat just until warmed. Remove from heat and pour into a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir in the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar, then set aside until the yeast is activated and the milk is foamy, about 10 minutes.
2. Whisk two of the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer) until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Stir in the yeast mixture and remaining sugar until fully incorporated.
3. With the mixer running, add the butter, one or two pieces at a time, until all of it has been incorporated.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together 3 cups of the bread flour and the salt. With the mixer running, add the flour mixture, a spoonful at a time, until all of it has been incorporated into the dough.
5. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until it is soft and elastic with a silky texture, 5 to 7 minutes. Knead in additional bread flour as needed, up to the remaining 1/2 cup. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 11/2 hours.
6. While the dough is rising, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, about 15 minutes. Stir frequently so the bacon cooks evenly and does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and drain the bacon on a paper towel-lined plate, reserving 1/4 cup of the grease for the remainder of the recipe.
7. Peel and core the apples, and slice each into eight pieces. Cut each slice crosswise into 1/8-inch pieces.
8. In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons bacon grease over medium heat. Stir in the apple slices and cinnamon and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in 2 tablespoons maple syrup and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until crisp-tender, another 2 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the amaretto. Place the pan back over medium heat and cook until the liqueur is mostly absorbed, about 1 minute, stirring to scrape any bits of flavoring from the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
9. When the dough is doubled, punch it down and roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a 12-by-18-inch rectangle. Spread the apples and bacon bits evenly over the dough.
10. Roll the dough lengthwise into a tube (like a cinnamon roll), making sure the seam is on the bottom of the roll. Make 15 slits over the length of the roll, a little over 1 inch apart and three-fourths of the way through. Carefully transfer the dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Form the dough into the shape of a wreath, with the cut sides on the outside of the wreath. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and set aside until almost doubled in volume, 45 minutes to an hour. Alternatively, loosely cover and refrigerate the dough overnight; remove from the refrigerator about 1 hour before baking for the dough to come to room temperature.
11. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon maple syrup with the remaining egg. Brush the egg wash over the outside of the wreath. Sprinkle the sliced almonds over the wreath and place the pan in the oven.
12. Bake the coffee cake until it's golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking for even coloring.
13. While the coffee cake is baking, make the glaze. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon bacon grease and maple syrup.
14. Remove the cake and brush the top with the remaining tablespoon bacon grease. Allow the cake to cool slightly.
15. Drizzle the glaze over the warm coffee cake. Slice and serve. The cake will keep for up to two days if refrigerated, but cover it and bring it to room temperature before serving.
Per serving: 373 calories, 11 grams protein, 37 grams carbohydrates, 20 grams fat, 80 milligrams cholesterol, 427 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Roasted Potato Salad
Makes 8-10 servings
4 pounds new or fingerling
potatoes, cleaned and
3/4 teaspoon chopped garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground
black pepper, to taste
1 pound thick-cut bacon
1 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons whole-grain
mustard, or to taste
1 tablespoon red wine
vinegar, or to taste
1/2 red onion, trimmed and
sliced lengthwise into
1/4 cup capers
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with the garlic, olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and several grinds of pepper. Place the potatoes in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast the potatoes until golden brown and tender, about 1 hour, tossing occasionally. Remove and cool.
2. While the potatoes are roasting, cut the bacon crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces. Cook the bacon in a large saute pan over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, about 15 minutes. Stir frequently, watching that the bacon does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and drain the bacon on a paper-towel-lined plate, reserving the grease from the pan for another use.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard and red wine vinegar. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and several grinds of black pepper. Taste and adjust mustard, vinegar and seasoning if desired.
Per serving: 420 calories, 11 grams protein, 34 grams carbohydrates, 28 grams fat, 29 milligrams cholesterol, 696 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.