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Entries in Bacon (3)


Highlights from Thanksgiving 2012

Another Iaciofano Thanksgiving has come and gone. As you may recall from reading posts of Thanksgivings past, our family Turkey Day is a small affair. And as Aunt Olga has left us, to hopefully dine at pearlier Thanksgiving day tables, it has become even smaller.

Nevertheless! The Iaciofano's put on quite a show, gastronomically speaking, that is. But as with any show, we must begin with the warm up, the intro, the....well the schlepping.

Yes, the holiday schlepping. I have before intimated that I might require my own personal sherpa (please post applications in the comments section). This past Wednesday before Thanksgiving was no different. I and about 298,461,928,317,318,291,283 other turkey revellers descended on Penn Station at 4pm to catch a train to the New Jersey suburbs. However, I am about 99.99% convinced that I was the only passenger carrying the following items:

1. 4 different camera lenses and a camera

2. A tripod (that got repeated dirty looks from other travellers)

3. 2 pairs of sneakers

4. 2 different types of squashes

5. Cranberry sauce of my own making

6. Various plates (sandwiched in between clothes for cushioning)

7. A computer

8. Heavens only knows what else

I carried these items to accomplish cooking, photographing and a little racing. Enthusiastic, I know.

And so, we (by which I mean myself and all my gizmos, accoutrements and sneakers) arrived in Morristown, NJ ready to go. 

And go I did! I began the day with a little warm-up: The Morristown Turkey Trot at Ginty Field. It's nice to get out and trot with turkeys before you devour them. And it's even nicer when you place 1st in your age group of turkeys! Toby pictured above was overjoyed by my win (as you can see), as was The Box, who complained repeatedly of the cold weather, stole all the granola bars from the post-race buffet, and insisted we stay for the award "ceremony".

Anyway, I brought the extra sneakers for the race. They're racing sneakers, see....and I have this wackadoodle idea that they make me go faster. And they're pink.

And now, on with the show...Thanksgiving Day Dinner! There were a few stand-outs to the meal, one of which was ALLLL MINE MWAH HAHAHAHA!!

No seriously, I made it myself. Concocted it in my head, in fact, based on previous stuffing knowledge, some crazy theories and a sprinkling fairy dust. This miracle of carbohydrate and vegetable was the:

Stuffing with Winter Squash, Fig and BACON!

Also known as: The Best Stuffing in the UNIVERSE

What You Need:

This recipe serves 10-12

2 loaves good-quality white bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 20 cups)
Roasted chestnuts, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
4 leeks, (just the white parts), trimmed rinsed well and diced
6 pieces cooked bacon
6-8 dried figs, diced
1/2 delicata squash with seeds removed
1/2 butternut squash, peeled with seeds removed
1/2 acorn squash, peeled with seeds removed
1/2 Kabocha squash, peeled with seeds removed
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage, plus a few more leaves for fried sage garnish
5 cups homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock
1 tablespoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper

*A note on the squash - you could use more or less of any of the varieties listed, depending on availability. You could also use pumpkin!

What To Do:

The night before, you can slice up the squashes and roast them. Heat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

Slice the delicata squash into thin slices - there's no need to remove the skin from this little guy, as it's edible and very delicate....get it? Delicata??? ... ok, moving on.

Peel the butternut and slice into small cubes.

Th Acorn and Kabocha squashes are a challenge to peel because of their odd shape. Half these and remove the seeds. Then, place them, cut side down and brushed with a little olive oil, on the baking sheet. They may require a little more roasting time, but they will get nice and soft, and you can remove the insides after roasting.

Place all your sliced and cubes squash on the baking sheet as well. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and ground pepper and 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh sage (use more if you like, but be warned that sage is a powerful herb!).

Roast in the oven at 350 for about 25 minutes. As I said the halved squashes may require more time. If so, remove the sliced varieties and let the other bake an additional 10 minutes.

Now onto the stuffing part! For the bread cubes, you can either buy a bread, cube it, and spread the cubes in single layers on baking sheets, letting them dry at room temperature, uncovered, overnight.

But, you could also use pre-dried bread cubes. Look for those in the Thanksgiving section of your supermarket. I won't judge you...I used the pre-dried version this year on account of juggling 14 different squashes, 4 camera lenses, a tripod, rolling suitcase and two pairs of running shoes (we'll get to that later) through Penn Station at 4pm the night before Thanksgiving.

Rinse and chop up your leeks. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks to the skillet, stirring, until they are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh sage; cook 3 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup stock; cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon. I use the microwave for this task. Mostly because I love how once you use your microwave for cooking bacon, any time you heat it up after that for at least a month, it smells like bacon is cooking. Ever noticed this? Try it now. I place 2 paper towels on a plate, and place the 6 slices of bacon on top of that, evenly spaced, all lying next to each other. Then I put one more paper towel on top. Bacon likes to be tucked in, you see?

I cook the bacon in 30 second intervals to my desired degree of crispness. Don't crisp the bujeezuz out of it, as it's going to bake in the oven afterward.

Now grab a LARGE bowl. How large? In charge, people, that's how large.

Transfer the leek mixture to the large bowl. Add remaining 4 1/2 cups stock, the chestnuts, bread, salt, cooked bacon, figs and all the squashes; season with pepper. Toss to combine. If not stuffing turkey, transfer to a buttered 17-by-12-inch baking dish. Cover; bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Uncover; bake until hot and golden brown, 30 minutes more.

You will love this. John even loved it. Aaaaand, I must toot my own horn here, AUNT EMILY EVEN LOVED IT. No joke, people. She said it was "unique" and she actually meant that in a good way. Huh.

The next was Marmo's creation, from a recipe from the Silver Palatte Cookbook:

Ginger Pumpkin Mousse

What You Need:

4 eggs

7 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin

1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (or canned pumpkin)

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 cup heavy cream

minced crystallized ginger for garnish (don't eat it all before you garnish!)

What To Do:

Beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture is light colored and thick. Add the gelatin and beat to blend well. Mix in pumpkin puree and spices and chill mixture until it begins to set.

Whip the heavy cream with a hand-held or standing mixer until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture.

Pour into 4-6 dessert dishes (like small ice cream bowls or ramekins). 

Chill for 4 hours. Before serving, decorate with crystallized ginger.

And then we commenced lying about. In the living room. With the Jets game on.

Let's not talk about the Jets game. But I will give you a sampling of Iaciofano Thanksgiving dialog, unrelated to football:

John: (Glancing at the fireplace) We should light a fire.


Me: (from the opposite couch, and apparently newly awake): LIGHT IT UP!!


Marmo: Who's going to CLEAN IT UP?!

John: I'll start it! (walks away to get some wood)


Marmo: Oh jeez.

The Box: Lighter's in the kitchen!!!

Toby: BARK BARK BARK!!! (translation: Light it up!)

And so we did. We lit it up. And then we watched more football (egads), and I fell asleep hours before normal people do. In fact, I was getting so much sleep, I decided to hang out in the burbs for the weekend.

On Saturday, I declared it my Family Birthday Dinner. We had not celebrated my birthday as a family yet. Hurricanes and power outages and train disturbances had postponed it. What did I want for my Family Birthday Dinner? Chinese food. Yes, I did! Chinese food from Bill and Harry's in East Hanover, NJ and Gruner Veltliner. 

And so, we lit it up (by which I mean started the car), and off we drove to sample the Szechuan Dumplings in Spicy Peanut Sauce that the Box and I had an argument about.

Me: I want the Szechuan Dumplings.

The Box: They don't have those at Bill and Harry's. You're thinking of the other place.

Me: No, they have them at Bill and Harry's. They have that spicy peanutty-saucy thing. 

The Box: No.

Me: YES.

The Box: No, you're imagining it.

Well, I'm here to tell you that I imagined them all the way into my mouth because lo and BEHOLD - there they were on the menu. LIGHT IT UP!!

We polished off a bottle of this stuff (and then another one)...

which The Box actually liked even though he claims to never have heard of Mr. Veltliner.

And then we all learned a lesson from our cookies:

The Box: Courageously shouldered the mistake in his recollection of Bill and Harry's appetizer menu.

Marmo: Did what was right and let herself be seen in public with all of us.

Me: I'm really not sure what this fortune is talking about. Imperfections??

John: Discovered his new talent: lighting it up!!

Happy Holiday Season everyone - and so it begins!


Let's Talk About Bacon

With all due respect to Salt-n-Peppa, talking about bacon can be much like talking about sex. People have some strong opinions about both. And sometimes, when they talk about bacon, or even just smell it cooking, their eyes roll back into their heads, and they have...well, they have a moment.

What is it about bacon that gets people all hot and bothered?

Bacon comes from a pig. This should not be news to you.

Homer Simpson had somewhat of a revelation when he discovered that pork, ham and BACON all come from the same animal (from "Lisa the Vegetarian", 1995):

Homer: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Lisa, honey, are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Ham?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad! Those all come from the same animal!
Homer: [Chuckles] Yeah, right Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.

But bacon is special. Unlike pork and ham, it's cured with a lot of salt. The salty flavor combines with a lot of fat and that tangy, pink pork meat to make something truly, as Homer would say, magical.

Bacon has become somewhat of a foodie obsession. People chocolate cover it, maple glaze it and top cupcakes with it. I've seen bacon chocolate bars, ice cream flavors and bespoke bacon-infused bourbon drinks...and this bacon shot called "Breakfast in Bed" (thanks to Brittany for the photo):

I, myself, love bacon. Even here on this blog, I've added it to caramel popcorn, candied it, and thrown it into maple scones. And I truly do pause when I smell it cooking and get a warm fuzzy feeling of happiness. And regardless of where I am, I think, "Where DID I put those onions and eggs?" Because, even though I love bacon as an addition to entrees, I still enjoy a good PLATE, I mean a solid SIDE DISH of the stuff.

From the Art of Manliness

But where can you get a good dish of bacon these days? Many places, I'm sure. I particularly like Egg's side of sweet bacon that you can obtain in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and enjoy while you decorate their paper table cloths with crayon doodles.

Recently, I encountered an EPIC pile of bacon. I went to Peter Luger's Steakhouse for the first time. When I told people that I was going to Luger's, I was often met with the response, "Get the bacon," before I even asked for ordering advice.

This phrase was said to me much like Egan said to Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters, "Don't cross the streams." It wasn't a suggestion, or a plea. It was a statement. You must. End of story.

So I did. Order the bacon, that is.

And what arrived was the largest pile of the thickest cut, greasiest and pinkest bacon I had ever seen. The edges were both grissle-y and crispy and there were grill lines horizontally spaced along the length of each strip.

I would guess that each strip was almost 1/2 inch thick, bordered on each side by striated fatty tissue, glistening in its own juices.

I admit to being slightly put off by this most intense presentation of bacon. This was the Everest of bacon mounds, and in that vein, this pile of pork seemed more like a Wonder of the World than something I actually wanted to eat.

But eat it I did. I gingerly speared a strip with my fork and it flopped onto my cocktail plate like a newly caught fish onto the floor of a boat, wiggling a little bit and flapping its ends.

I regarded it. Its length. Its girth. And its smell, which was intense. It was a classic briny, almost pickle-y smell. 

I approached it with caution and my knife. Trying to find an area with the most meat, I carved out a bite and ate it. It was salty – intensely so – and sweet at the same time. The fatty areas (which far outnumbered the meaty ones) where chewy and dense. It almost felt wrong to eat them. Even though it had browned edges, this bacon was not crispy. This was the steak of bacons – not a finger food, thinly cut and crispy, but a slab of meat that required utensils. It was bacon as a main event.

I did not love this steak bacon. It overwhelmed me. While others at the table devoured their slices and came back for more, I couldn't bring myself to finish mine. I prefer my bacon thinly cut and crispy. I like it to complement my meal, not steal the spotlight like Miss Piggy karate-chopping her subordinates.

Now, I'm not a dainty eater. Have you met me? Some of you have. I can eat my meal and yours too. But this was too much for me. Too much in the way that diamond-studded, gold tooth caps are too much bling. It took over everything, including my stomach and had me retaining water for days so that I resembled the meat in its original state.

I still love bacon. But I don't love Luger's version.

Bacon is an overwhelming meat. It's meant to be so. But it can still play nice. It's meant to be the Beaker to the meal's Bunson, the Zuul to Venkman's Dana.

Luger's crossed the streams. And it was bad.

I did manage to visit the restrooms, for your entertainment and edification. They are a typical stall affair with recessed lighting, institutional cream paint and old-school Dial soap:


Be A Real Genius – Put Bacon In Your Popcorn

For today's Meals on Reels feature, we are taking you back. Back to the 80's and Val Kilmer's pre Top Gun days. It was a beautiful time. A time when science nerds banded together and harnessed the power of expandable foods to defeat their nemesis. I'm talking about Real Genius:

I have a complicated relationship with popcorn. I've never really loved it - not the plain/salted/buttered version anyway. It doesn't do much for me snack-wise. I feel like I have to eat an entire houseful to fill me up. I like something a bit heartier.

A recent visit to Ward III, a TriBeCa bar with fancy snacks, gave me just what I wanted in a popcorn: a sweet and salty version with snippets of crispy bacon! I ate two housefuls - I mean bowls.

So I searched around and cobbled together this recipe that has everything you might want in a substantive popcorn: sweetness from a caramel coating and craisins, a kick provided by a dash of cayenne pepper, just the right amount of saltiness and a smooth, buttery crunch from cashew nuts.

Here's how to do it. Just don't waste it on blowing up someone's house. The stuff is too good.

Sweet and Spicy Bacon Caramel Popcorn

What You Need:

1 package microwave popcorn - natural/unflavored variety (I used Newman's Brand)
6 ounces bacon, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted raw cashews
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt or coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (less if spicy stuff freaks you out a bit)

For the caramel sauce:
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

What To Do:
Preheat oven to 300°F.

Heat popcorn in microwave according to package instructions. After it is finished popping, open the bag (carefully) and pour the popped corn into a large mixing bowl.

Cook chopped bacon in a skillet over medium heat until almost crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain and cool.

Add bacon and cashews to the bowl with popcorn. Sprinkle in the coarse salt and cayenne.

Mix it up!

Coat a cookie sheet with nonstick spray (you can also use tin foil to protect your cookie sheet from sticky caramel sauce.

Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves.

Increase the heat to high and boil without stirring until syrup turns deep amber, occasionally stirring, about 10-13 minutes.

Once it has turned brown, turn the heat WAY down and add in the heavy cream. Keep stirring until it starts to thicken. Then turn the heat off and continue stirring until it is smooth like caramel (it IS caramel!).

Immediately drizzle caramel over popcorn mixture and toss with spoons until evenly coated. Transfer to the prepared cookie sheet.

Place this whole concoction in the oven and bake until caramel is shiny and coats popcorn, about 20 minutes. Cool completely on sheet on rack, tossing occasionally to break up large clumps.

This can be made 2 days ahead and stored in a giant ziploc bag in the fridge.

TIP: It's likely that you now have a medium saucepan covered in leftover caramel. And it's also likely that the caramel is not just coating the pan, but STUCK LIKE GLUE on there. Yup. I know how it is. To get it off, add some water to your saucepan (enough to cover all the caramel bits) and heat it up on the stove. The water will loosen up the stuck caramel, and you will be able to pour it all out. AND have a clean pan. Nice, right?

Not into making your own? Then get your own! My current favorite store-bought variety is from Popcorn, Indiana:

And I will still go for a bag of the timeless Cracker Jacks, especially if I'm at a sporting event (nothing says curling like peanuts and popcorn).