With anticipation of a new year, we prepare for a fresh start, with new goals and good intentions. But hold your horses.
Before you begin 2011 with a strategy to improve your health by consuming more plants and eating meat sparingly or maybe not at all, bring on the bacon.
Bacon has been a hot food in 2010. It's not just being eaten sizzling and crispy right out of the skillet. Bacon has been adding flavor to many things sweet. I've seen bacon ice cream, bacon peanut brittle, bacon cupcakes and peanut butter bacon cookies. Bacon has been dipped in chocolate and infused into vodka. Bacon has even been used to flavor cotton candy.
All this, yet I have completely ignored the salty, smoky meat in my recipes.
It's not that I don't care for bacon. My favorite breakfast is a plate of poached eggs with yolks that aren't runny, golden fried potatoes, crispy bacon and whole wheat toast with real butter melting into its crunchy and dark, but not burned, surface. Yes, call me fussy about breakfast.
Of course, I wouldn't think of making my Hungarian noodle dish without at least a full pound of bacon.
It's time for me to sneak in a bacon recipe before the year of fatty, smoked pig meat, in all its glory, comes to an end.
Last spring I hosted a brunch for a group of food-loving friends. One of the women came over with a plate of bacon that she had baked with a sweet and spicy glaze. It was a unique and delicious accompaniment to some of the more traditional sweet and savory brunch foods on the table that morning.
That crisp, sticky bacon came to mind recently when I got a request from a friend in Mandan, N.D., who wondered how to make a glazed bacon appetizer.
Sweet and Spicy Glazed Bacon is an adaptation of a recipe in Rebecca Rather's "The Pastry Queen Christmas." Rather's recipe turns bacon and brown sugar into something that resembles candy, with smoky undertones. The technique Rather uses to make her Brown Sugar Bacon produces a cloak of shiny sweetness around each slice of smoky, salty crispness.
Bacon slices sprinkled generously with brown sugar are covered and refrigerated overnight. The next day, the bacon slices are uncovered and baked in the oven until crisp. Easy and no mess to clean up as long as you line the baking pan with aluminum foil before arranging the bacon slices on it in a single layer.
But I wanted more than just sweet. I wanted spicy, too. Cayenne pepper and freshly ground black pepper do the job nicely.
Sweet and Spicy Glazed Bacon is served at room temperature and is best eaten the day it is baked. I made some recently to tote to a holiday cocktail party. In just a wink, the plate was empty.
Bacon is good in just about anything. But if you will have one last bacon hurrah before your new food year begins, make it Sweet and Spicy Glazed Bacon.
Sweet and Spicy Glazed Bacon
1 (12-ounce) package thick-sliced bacon
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Line a large baking pan with sides with aluminum foil. Coat foil lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Separate the bacon slices and arrange them in a single layer on the prepared pan.
In a bowl, stir together brown sugar, cayenne and black pepper. Sprinkle brown sugar mixture evenly over the bacon slices. Lightly pat the brown sugar onto the bacon. Cover pan with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a wire cooling rack with non-stick cooking spray and set the rack on a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper. Set aside.
Remove the foil or plastic wrap from the pan of bacon. Bake in preheated oven until crisp, 25 to 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the baking bacon. It can go dark and burn quickly. Remove from oven. Using tongs, transfer the bacon slices to prepared wire cooling rack. Let the slices cool to the touch, then cut them in half crosswise and thread each piece onto party picks or short wooden skewers. Arrange on a serving platter and serve at room temperature. For a more casual approach, pile the bacon into a shallow bowl and serve.
Adapted from "The Pastry Queen Christmas" by Rebecca Rather. Ten Speed Press, 2007.
Tips from the cook
--If you want to keep the bacon trend alive, finely chop up Sweet and Spicy Glazed Bacon and sprinkle the bits over ice cream, into salads, or on top of frosted cinnamon rolls. Or caramel rolls.
--Texas cookbook author Rebecca Rather suggests using Nueske's Applewood Smoked Bacon. It's not always available in local grocery stores. I've been using Hickory Smoked Bacon from the Forest River Community in Fordville, N.D. The slices are not too thin and not too thick, but somewhere in between, allowing the glazed pieces to bake to perfect crispness.