Oh my god, it looks soooo good

Bacon DOESN’T Make Everything Better

Ok, that title is a little misleading. Please don’t get me wrong, I fucking love bacon. I love bacon as much as Elise Andrew fucking loves science. My love for bacon is the main (and only) reason that I think I’d get along famously with Jim Gaffigan, who spends a few minutes during his “King Baby” stand-up special waxing poetic on the virtues and magic of the food.

Oh my god, it looks soooo good

Oh my god, it looks soooo good

But there’s a line in his bit that irks me. A line that tugs at the logical coattails of my Literature-teacher brain (my brain is very formally dressed in this metaphor), and insists that I share my position with the world. That line is as follows:

“Do you want to know how good bacon is? To improve other food, they wrap it in bacon.”

I know it sounds stupid, but I have a problem with that statement. Mind you, not the practical execution of it – I love a good bacon-wrapped fillet – but rather the logical fallacy inherent therein.

Gaffigan proceeds: “If it weren’t for bacon, we wouldn’t know what a water-chestnut is.”

Fair point, really. No one has ever ordered a stir-fry and wished for more of those weird little crunchy bits. I mean, even the title of this article I found about them seems to be mocking their very existence.

But more to the point, his line reminds me of a conversation that I had with one of my students not too long ago. See, as a teacher, I try to get to know my students interests, and every so often theirs happen to overlap (albeit slightly) with my own. A few weeks ago I struck up a conversation with a student whom I knew shared my interest in cooking. When asked about his favorite recent culinary creation, he began talking about Brussels sprouts, much to my revulsion.

Given that I’m terrible at hiding my emotions, especially when it comes to food, he read my expression, and immediately launched into a all-out defense of his newly-discovered recipe, which involved sprouts cooked in bacon fat, and served with bacon crumbles. I admitted that the bacon part of the recipe sounded good, and seeing no need to defend himself any further he concluded with the simple cliche “bacon makes everything better.”

There it is.

You’ve seen the commercials (thanks, Denny’s), the t-shirts (triple XL will cost you an extra 2 bucks) and (hopefully) have felt the wave of the bacon-borne cultural phenomenon. I have. And I love it. Again, bacon is fucking awesome. But that’s my food-brain talking.

My teacher brain get’s pissed when it sees things like this:

Pretty sure you can find this on etsy

Pretty sure you can find this on etsy

I hate this for the simple fact that it’s a mass-produced and disseminated logical fallacy. More specifically it’s a hasty generalization.

Allow me to explain.

A hasty generalization is a logical fallacy in which a conclusion is reached without considering all variables. In this case, the generalization is as follows: Bacon is delicious, and it can go with other foods, therefor bacon makes everything better.

Besides the fact that the nerds over at NPR proved that this statement is scientifically unfounded, it’s just a blatant lie.

Let’s try a few scenarios.

Say I put a piece of bacon on a pile of my springer spaniel’s shit. Did I make that shit better? Nope. It’s still shit, and I ruined a good piece of bacon.

Not enough proof?

I put a piece of bacon on Hitler. Did I make Hitler better? Of course not. AND, since he was a vegetarian, he would probably be angry that I put a slab of pig fat on him. There goes my day.

I googled "bacon hitler" after writing this, and this is what I found. The internet is weird.

I googled “bacon hitler” after writing this, and this is what I found. The internet is weird.

Hopefully you just realized that I’m using a logical fallacy to argue my point. Frustrating, isn’t it? Do you see what I’m dealing with?

So – in an attempt at clarity – let’s return to the case of the Brussels Sprouts (also the name of the worst Sherlock Holmes case ever written).

When my student argued that bacon made the vegetable better, what he really meant – and what the “bacon makes EVERYTHING better” cliche means – is that the bacon is good, and the other thing seemed good BECAUSE OF the bacon. Remove the bacon, and the other things is still the other thing. The Brussels Sprouts are still just brussels sprouts, Hitler is still Hitler, and dog shit is still dog shit.

Bacon has no magic flavor amplification powers. Sure, it’s salty, but if nothing else, the addition of bacon to most foods serves to overwhelm rather than amplify the other flavors.

Not that overwhelming other flavors is a bad thing. In the case of the Brussels sprouts, the natural flavor of the sprouts NEEDS to be overwhelmed to make them palatable. Which is where the bacon comes in. But does that make the sprouts themselves better?

No.

blech...

blech…

Given two plates, one of Brussel sprouts, water chestnusts or any other such bacon-added food, and the second of simple, sizzling, griddled bacon, I’d – personally – take the bacon off the second plate any day. After all, that’s what I really wanted in the first place.

Let’s not forget the other aspect of the argument; the inference that everyone agrees with the cliche. There are legions of people (let’s say, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, vegertarians, vegans, people who care about their health, people with pork or nitrite allergies, and my sister in law) for whom the addition of bacon would ruin any meal. To them, the assumption that “bacon makes everything (or anything for that matter) better” would be wholly untrue, and – in many cases – altogether offensive.

So rather than disseminating the fallacy any further, let’s do away with “bacon makes everythign better” and go with something more accurate. Here are some options:

  • “bacon is good”
  • “I enjoy bacon”
  • “the addition of bacon to other foods enhances my enjoyment of the dish as a whole”
  • “bacon: yum”
  • “bacon: no offense, but I like it”

Fuck it. I’m going to go make some bacon.

Boat Food – Simple snacks to eat on the go

One of the many benefits of living the in wonderful Pacific Northwest is the  scarcity of summer days marred by the unbearable heat characteristic to other areas of the country. I  spend the majority of my school break in shorts and a t-shirt, enjoying pleasant sunshine and temperatures in the mid-80’s. But every so often, the temperatures will spike, forcing the unprepared denizens of the greater Seattle area to awkwardly remove their shirts (while still wearing jeans, for some reason), switch to iced-lattes, buy COSTCO out of all of their otherwise untouched window-mounted AC units, and (ultimately) get tangentially invited to spend an afternoon on their brother-in-law’s friend’s super-nice boat.

Note: That last one might not apply to the entire population of the area, but the first three are universal certainties.

While many a King-County denizen might accept such an invitation, they would do so ironically, wear their Ray-Bans (the ugliest fucking sunglasses ever invented) and skinny-jeans on the boat and refuse to swim, my wife and I did so wholeheartedly, and – of course – offered to bring snacks.

My first inclination was to bring chips. I LOVE chips. But that seemed… pedestrian.

We were – after all – being given a special treat. So I felt that I had to reciprocate.

Boats present their own special set of problems when it comes to snacking. The food needs to be portable, and individually portioned. It needs to be easy to consume without utensils or plates, and it needs to be crowd-pleasing. Of course, as per my own standards, it also needs to taste good, and be a unique experience for the audience. In our particular case, it also needed to be hearty enough to be considered dinner.

So I set to work planning a menu.

Normal sandwiches? BORING

Pasta salad? TOO MESSY

Veggies? AM I A GODDAMN RABBIT?

Chips? PEDES…. yeah, I’ll buy some chips to bring along. I love chips.

Food on a stick? THERE WE GO!

After concluding that toothpick-borne bites would be my best option, I landed on the following three snacks:

  • Caprese bites
  • Deli wraps
  • Smoked-salmon cucumber rolls

After a stint in the kitchen skewering marinated mushrooms, layering deli-meats, and peeling cucumbers, we headed down to the lake and shared the afternoon, and my snacks, with great success!

Caprese Bites:

  • 6 oz. fresh mozzarella – cubed
  • 25 (or so) fresh basil leaves – wrapped around the mozzarella cubes
  • 1 Columbus peppered salami – cubed
  • 1 package cherry tomatoes
  • 8 oz. Italian-marinated mushrooms
  • Toothpicks

To make the bites, skewer three of the above-listed ingredients onto each toothpick in various, alternating configurations. The random variations allow people to pick through and finds the ones they want, and with so many options there’s bound to be something for everyone.

Meat, cheese, etc.

Meat, cheese, etc.

Deli-Wraps:

  • Sun-Dried Tomato and Spinach-flavored sandwich wraps
  • 1/2 lb deli roast beef
  • 1/2 lb deli bbq chicken
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/4 lb sliced smoked gouda
  • 1/4 lb sliced horseradish cheddar
  • mixed greens
  • mayo
  • hummus
Sliced and ready to travel

Sliced and ready to travel

I made two wraps, one with a tomato wrap, chicken, gouda, avocado, greens and hummus, and a second with a spinach wrap, beef, cheddar, mayo, avocado and greens. I rolled them up, pinned them every two inches with toothpicks, and sliced them into finger-sized bites.

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

Smoked-salmon cucumber rolls:

  • 2 cucumbers
  • 1 tub (6 oz.) whipped cream cheese
  • 3 green onions – chopped fine
  • 1 small bunch of chives – chopped fine
  • 5 0z. smoked salmon

DSC_0049

To make the filling, chop the green onions and chives, and flake the fish into a medium bowl. Fold the cream cheese together with these ingredients, until the mixture is uniformly blended.

Slice thin strips of cucumber (I used a mandolin) with the peel on.

Spoon a dab of the salmon mixture onto the end of each strip of cuke, and gently roll it until you can pin it into a tube with a toothpick.

Delicate little morsels

Delicate little morsels

These three treats were a hit all-around, were portable and clean enough so as not to leave the boat (or ourselves) a mess, and hearty enough to serve as dinner!

Enjoy… and happy boating! :)

See? Told ya.

Imperial IPA Pulled Chicken

In mid July, I finally purchased a slow-cooker. I don’t mean to imply that there was some sort of build-up to this decision, that I had been painstakingly putting away my extra change in anticipation of this moment, or even that there had been a lot of research involved. I happened to be perusing amazon, saw that slow-cookers were relatively inexpensive, looked up some of the wonderful things I could make if I owned one, returned to amazon, and the rest is history.

Granted, a crock pot may not have been the most effective way to spend money mid-summer, but it’s in the past. Move on.

Never mind, you’ll get past it when you see the results of this recipe.

See? Told ya.

See? Told ya.

Slow-cooker recipes that are still summertime appropriate live firmly in the world of pulled meats. So as to avoid going directly for the 4-lb. pork shoulder, I decided on a recipe for pulled-chicken sandwiches, though in my ongoing effort to slowly subvert my own attempts at health and fitness, I opted for an Imperial IPA as the main braising liquid.

This recipe was initially inspired by a pulled chicken slider recipe from the Beeroness.

My Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 5 chicken thighs
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp  brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp white sugar
  • 1.5 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1.5 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 12 oz Imperial IPA – I used Jet Star Imperial IPA by No-Li Brewhouse out of Spokane, WA

The wonderful thing about this process is the slow-cooker mantra: “set it and forget it”. After only a modicum of prep-work, the meal simply simmers for a few hours before you can pull the chicken and serve it up.

Simmered, beery goodness

Simmered, beery goodness

To prepare: whisk together – in a medium bowl – all of the ingredients except the chicken breasts and thighs. For the beer, I chose to use 12 oz. of Jet Star Imperial IPA by No-Li Brewhouse. While not as heavily malted as some Imperial IPA’s, Jet Star’s pleasant sweetness is balanced surprisingly well with a double-dose of hops that showcase notes of floral and citrus, all while clocking in at 8.1% ABV. Since this beauty comes in a 22 oz. bottle, I made sure to cork the leftovers, which paired very nicely with the deep flavors of the final product.

Place the chicken pieces and the sauce in the crock-pot.

Cook on “low” setting for four hours, or until the chicken pulls apart easily.

Shred the breasts and thighs with two forks, and combine back into the sauce.

Serve on buns, slider rolls, in a tortilla, atop a baked potato, or in any other delicious way you choose to consume this sweet, smoky, deeply flavorful dish.

Enjoy!

Menu Week: Good Things Brewing

After a GIANT grocery-shopping trip this afternoon, I have all the ingredients for – what’s shaping up to be – a pretty damn good week of food. My first week of school kicked off last Tuesday with new classes, new students, and new responsibilities.

My lovely wife and my less-than lovely self at the Seattle Cider Summit this weekend!

My lovely wife and my less-than lovely self at the Seattle Cider Summit this weekend!

 

After settling in last week (which made for thoroughly underwhelming dinner-time menus), and a WONDERFUL summery weekend, I’m back in balance, and have planned the following items for dinners this week:

As you can see, there are a few repeat recipes, but the majority are brand new (to me) and sure to be awesome!

Salmon, quinoa and fruit-salsa makes for a hearty, healthy and photogenic meal!

Fresh Grilled Salmon with Peach and Mango Salsa

Summer is a wonderful time to showcase the fresh, vibrant flavors of ingredients like salmon, fruits and vegetables. This recipe uses simple, sweet and savory products to do exactly that.

Salmon, quinoa and fruit-salsa makes for a hearty, healthy and photogenic meal!

Salmon, quinoa and fruit-salsa makes for a hearty, healthy and photogenic meal!

While the salmon and quinoa both lend their own gravitas to the final dish, it’s no secret that the colorful and lively salsa is the star here. The fresh peach and mango may be sweet, but their natural flavors don’t overshadow the smooth, cool crunch of the cucumber, or the herbaceous pop of cilantro. The jalapenos, from which I carefully removed the seeds, added a pleasant spicy zip, but the lime was – ultimately – the star of the show, as it complemented the natural acids of the other fruit, works well (as always) with the fresh fish and cilantro, and married together the rest of the ingredients.

Salsa:

  • 1 peach – pit removed, and chopped into small pieces
  • 1 mango – peeled, pit removed and chopped into similar-sized pieces
  • ¼ cup red onion – chopped fine
  • ¼ cup cilantro – torn
  • 1 cucumber – cut into spears and sliced thin
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes – cut in half
  • 1 lime – juice of
  • 1 jalapeno pepper – seeded and chopped fine
  • 1 red jalapeno pepper – seeded and chopped fine

Fillets:

  • 1 lb fresh Coho Salmon
  • salt and pepper

Quinoa:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro – torn or chopped
  • ½ lime – juice of

Cook the quinoa according to package directions.

Fluff the cilantro and lime juice into the grains.

 

Preheat the grill to medium-high.

Prepare the salmon by patting it dry, and seasoning with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Seasoned salmon and some fresh produce

Seasoned salmon and some fresh produce

Brush the grill grates with oil, or coat with grill spray.

Grill the salmon – skin side down – over medium-high heat for 6-7 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare and combine the salsa ingredients.

Make sure to season and add citrus to suit your taste.

Fresher is better!

Fresher is better!

Serve the salmon fillets over a bed of quinoa, and with a generous serving of the fruit salsa, and (of course) enjoy!

 

The Best Paella… Ever

Brian:

I will be creating another wonderful, giant paella within the week. It will be amazing. You have been warned.

Originally posted on Love, Food & Beer:

DSC_0570A friend of mine has a small cabin on Dabob Bay, which we are lucky enough to be allowed to visit (and even luckier to be invited back to) for a few weekends during the year. These periodic cabin trips are usually packed full of fishing, setting and pulling crab pots, forgetting to re-apply sunscreen, drinking beer, and cooking up indulgent dishes that we would otherwise avoid for health reasons. It has become a recent labor-day tradition for us to have one last summertime excursion to the cabin, during which we go balls to the wall with our menu planning.

As we brainstormed potential crowd-pleasing dishes, my wife brought up a new idea: paella. While we’d both had – and enjoyed – this dish in various incarnations, neither of us had ever tried to make it. This was concerning, as we didn’t want to spend the resources required to make such a time consuming and expensive dish…

View original 1,230 more words

A thin layer of this zesty homemade sauce, tomatoes, arugula and mozzarella - simple and delicious

My Five Tips for Delicious Grilled Pizza

It’s still summer, which means that we’re still in the middle of grilled pizza season. While I’ve posted (many times) about pizza, it’s been a while since I’ve done anything more than brag about new toppings and post pictures of my latest creations. The pizza that I made a few days ago was so good, that I thought I would take this opportunity to remind you of my step-by-step instructions for grilled pizza (without a pizza stone), and give you my five simple tips for making delicious grilled pie!

Here we go:

1. – So Fresh (and so clean)

The more fresh (and clean) your basic ingredients are, the better your pizza will be. This is a very simple rule, and one that you should actually follow for most things you cook.

In this case, making simple choices like making your own sauce, using mozzarella fresca instead of pre-shredded cheese in a bag, and finding fresh, bright and vibrant vegetables and spices, will make huge differences in the flavor of your final product.

Just remember: Fresher is better!

Just remember: Fresher is better!

2. – Pizza like Paris Hilton (THIN and SIMPLE)

THIN: I’m morally averse to thick-crusted pizza, especially the kind that they serve at most fast-food style pizza restaurants. Crust thicker than a half inch tends to have a doughy, almost sponge-like consistency, and overwhelms the texture and flavor of each bite. I’m not (by any means) encouraging you to ignore the benefits of quality dough. Quite the opposite, in fact. Good dough should by pliable and easy to roll-out, but tender and (in the case of grilled pizza) just the right amount of crusty when cooked. Thin dough will ensure an even cook on the grill, and allow you plenty of room to spread out your ingredients.

Which brings us to SIMPLE: Given that you’re choosing to grill rather than bake your pizza, you have to pay attention to the fact that the heat is being applied to your food from a single direction only. This bottom-up cooking is a wonderful way to give your crust a nice crunch, but not the best way to ensure even cooking of pizza-toppings. As such, using fewer ingredients will allow you greater control.

For example, many of my former creations have been interesting, sometimes overwhelming, amalgams of various ingredients. Take the two pizzas I posted about here: Two Grilled Pizzas!

They were delicious, but the six or more ingredients on each pizza made for LONG grill times, and inconsistent cooking. 

The pizza below, on the other hand, had only four ingredients, placed in even layers, and made for easy, consistent grilling.

A thin layer of this zesty homemade sauce, tomatoes, arugula and mozzarella - simple and delicious

A thin layer of this zesty homemade sauce, tomatoes, arugula and mozzarella – simple and delicious

3. – Flip it! (flip it good)

This pointer comes as a result of A LOT of trial and error with grilled pizza methods and recipes. I spent a few summers not flipping the dough on the grill, and the results were… good. The dough – as long as I rolled it out enough – was still tender, but many of the more watery ingredients would soak into the ungrilled top of the crust, which would give the final product a more chewy consistency. Grilling both sides eliminates this problem, and gives the crust a uniform, pleasant crispiness.

4. – Slow and Low (that is the tempo)

As you can imagine (or possibly, as you’ve experienced), it’s pretty easy to burn grilled pizza. The slather of olive oil, the potential inconsistency of your grill temperatures, and the beer in your hand could all contribute to overcooking. 

So here’s the tip: Turn the heat down low, and pay attention. Once I preheat the grill and apply the nonstick coating (grill spray or oil) I make sure to turn the heat to medium-low.

I like to start with the range mid-low, because it gives me room to turn it down more, and I’ve learned the hard way that you DO NOT want to increase the heat when the dough is on the grates.

All you have to do after that is be mindful of your food. Use a spatula to lift a corner and check the color of the dough. If your grill is like mine (hotter on one side) you may need to rotate the pizza partway through.

Slow and easy - that's how you get a nice, even cook like this

Slow and easy – that’s how you get a nice, even cook like this

5. – Get it Hot, Hot, Hot!

The final tip- which I’ve only just started practicing – is to finish the pizza in the broiler. I only started doing this because I was trying to grill a pizza on one cold, windy day in the winter, and the grill just wasn’t getting hot enough. I popped the (nearly) cooked pizza under the broiler, and voila! The result was a crisp, delicious grilled pizza with some golden-brown bubbly cheese on top (an element of grilling ‘za that I had yet to find a method for). 

Crispy, bubbly, golden-brown goodness!

Crispy, bubbly, golden-brown goodness!

This may seem like a cheat… but who cares? 

So what are you waiting for? Get grilling!