Welcome to our first post. Personally, I think it’s easy to make food and talk about it. Everyone loves food. Well, almost everyone. Personally, I don’t think vegans love food that much. I mean come on, no cheese, dairy, meat of any kind? Hell, coming from the land of brats and fried cheese, that concept borders on insane. After all, how can anyone expect us Wisconsinites to put on that winter coat (excess fat) without some good old-fashioned animal fat to keep us warm during the winter months? Which brings me to the topic of our first blog. BACON, BACON, BACON!
According to those people “in the know”, bacon as a hot food trend is on the decline. Reeeaally? I didn’t get the memo. I don’t know who “those people” are, but they clearly don’t know their head from their rump roast. Bacon is always “IN” So you don’t like bacon? No problem. Just don’t complain when I don’t invite you to my next baconpalooza party. With that said, let’s talk about bacon inspiration.
A few weeks ago, while cleaning out my ever-expanding kitchen equipment graveyard, I came across the panini machine. Not being Italian, or a huge lover of squished sandwiches, I had not found a lot of use for the lonely relative of the waffle maker. I would only use it for styling when I needed to get that “run over by a car look” to a sandwich that you can only get with a panini machine. Anyway, I thought I would see if it would work for bacon. I had to make turkey bacon at a photo shoot using a specific panini style machine named after a famous boxer. Not the dog breed, but the athlete who punched people for a living, then naturally went into the indoor grill business. That one still boggles my mind. The result was genius!
Anytime I decide to make bacon for the family, it usually goes something like this. I put 12-14 slices of thick cut bacon on a jellyroll pan lined with foil. I put it in the oven, which I have determined works much better than pan frying or microwaving. After about 20-30 minutes, I pull it out of the oven and drain the bacon on paper towels. Shockingly, it always seems to disappear before the rest of the meal is prepared, so I end up repeating this process for another two hours until two and a half pounds of bacon have been consumed. I of course am not guilty of sneaking any of it. At least that’s what I tell the kids. Every time I say “hmmmm, if only there were a way to cook bacon more quickly without sacrificing quality. Enter panini machine. It literally only takes between 4-6 minutes to cook bacon using a panini machine. Depending on the thickness of course. While making my first batch, I started thinking about flavoring the bacon. There just isn’t that many flavors of bacon out there, and my goal was to determine whether it was lack of imagination with bacon producers, or that it was a logistics issue. With panini machine in place, multiple styles of both local artisan and big agra varieties of bacon at the ready, herbs and spices nearby and a plethora of other sauces, and flavorings at hand. I ventured forward cautiously.
I chose six different kinds of flavored bacon. Cheddar cheese, fresh herb and peppercorn, double jalapeno, Caribbean wild mushroom, buffalo blue cheese, and bourbon and brown sugar. Why these flavors? Why not? I’m a big fan of big flavors, and the standard pepper flavored bacon seems a little mundane for me. The first toe in the water was cheddar-flavored bacon. Come on say it out loud once. Cheddar Crusted Smoked Bacon! Those are words that bring men to their knees, or at least to the kitchen.
Sprinkle the cheese or whatever herbs, spices, flavorings, or sauces trips your trigger; press them into the sinful swine. Carefully transfer them to the hot panini machine making sure you don’t touch the hot surface with your fingers. Close the lid and cook for 4-5 minutes for regular cut bacon and 6-7 minutes for thick cut bacon. Don’t open the lid to check too early, or the bacon sticks to the top of the grill. Using tongs or a fork transfer the bacon to a paper towel lined sheet pan. Depending on your machine, you may need to unplug the machine and carefully pour the fat out into a container. Wipe the excess residue then plug it back in and repeat. If I had one complaint, it would be the amount of time it took to clean the machine after each batch. The huge advantage of using a panini machine for flavored bacon is the incredibly unique flavors that result. The panini machine literally sears the flavorings into the bacon on both sides. This isn’t possible in the oven or a pan because the melted fat takes the spices, sauces off the meat.The results of the test were predictably yummy.
The cheese flavored bacon gives a crunchy toasted cheese flavor that blends nicely with the smoky bacon. I have tried 4-5 other kinds of cheese this way and all have worked perfectly. The fresh herb and peppercorn resulted in a very grassy flavor. If you use herbs, limit it to one or two varieties. The double jalapeno was good, but not nearly enough heat considering. I used chipotle powder and fresh jalapeno slices on a very smoky local artisan brand. In the future, I would rub the chili powder into the slices, then press the slices of jalapeno into the bacon, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for over night before cooking. The buffalo blue cheese bacon was awesome. I tossed 5-6 slices of bacon in Frank’s Hot Sauce, and then sprinkled blue cheese crumbles and celery leaves over the top. Spicier than the double jalapeno, the hot sauce and blue cheese flavors came through. Sprinkle the celery leaves over after they are done cooking for a fresher flavor. The Caribbean wild mushroom flavor was earthy and very unique. For this one, I soaked a wild mushroom blend of morels, oysters, shiitake, chanterelle, and porcini mushrooms in hot water for 20 minutes. Avoid hallucinogenic mushrooms unless you are looking for a different kind of bacon experience. I then drained, chopped and pressed the mushrooms into the bacon slices with a local wild mushroom seasoning called P. Dickey’s Healthy Shrooms Seasoning, which has five different kinds of wild mushrooms, herbs and spices, and a local seasoning called Sunwild Island Tangerine Spice. The bourbon brown sugar bacon produced a sweet, crunchy glaze with hints of bourbon and cinnamon. Simply press brown sugar and cinnamon into the bacon, and then drizzle with bourbon. Rum would be another good choice.
The options for what you can do with bacon using a panini machine and a little creativity are endless. So the next time you are trying to think of a new culinary creation, go no further than that dusty panini machine. A bowl of bourbon & brown sugar bacon tossed with spiced nuts, a burger topped with Caribbean wild mushroom bacon, a bowl of mac and cheese topped with buffalo blue cheese bacon, or a simple jar of cheese flavored bacon at your next party might just put you on the culinary map. O.K., maybe the neighborhood foodie map anyway. Until next time, remember to cook with love and live to cook.
What an amazing bloody mary bar this would make! Can you think of any other flavors to try or other recipes that would be a good mix with these flavors? Leave a comment. We would love to hear from you!