Stir Crazy: Making perfect bacon uses oven instead of skillet

News-DemocratFebruary 17, 2014 

Food blogger Katie Barreira at SpecialFork.com spent a day in her kitchen using a variety of methods to make perfect bacon so it wouldn't be tough, flabby on the ends or too brittle.

Bacon is at its best when the striations of fat between the meat have ample time to dissolve, she said.

"The direct heat of stovetop cooking invites overcooked meat and undercooked fat, plus it keeps the cook chained to the stove."

Her solution frees up the stovetop and requires minimum attention: A moderately heated oven provides that slow sizzle; the fat bastes the meat as it melts then pools beneath the rack, moistening the strips without making them greasy.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Place strips of bacon in a single layer on a broiler pan or a wire cooking rack over a baking sheet. Bake until well browned and crispy at the edges, but still pliable, about 25 minutes, depending on thickness of the bacon. Flip thicker slices once during cooking.

Slowly heat up the kitchen

I admit to a preference for spicy food. Not hot food where the roof of my mouth is numb, though. I just like some heat and the flavor that comes with it. This recipe from Pillsbury is so easy to make in the slow cooker. Plus, it can be altered to suit your tastes. I would add some dried chipotle chile powder and possibly substitute some of the liquid from the enchilada sauce with some medium-hot Ro-Tel tomato sauce.

Slow-Cooker Mexican Pork Burritos Bowls

1 large sweet onion, sliced

2 tablespoons dry taco seasoning mix (from 1-ounce package)

1 boneless pork shoulder (about 3 pounds)

1 can (10-ounce) red or green enchilada sauce

1 can (4.5-ounce) chopped green chiles, drained

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 cups hot cooked white or brown rice

2 cups shredded lettuce

Salsa, shredded Mexican cheese blend and chopped fresh cilantro, if desired

Flour tortillas, optional

1. Spray 5-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Place onion in cooker.

2. Sprinkle taco seasoning mix over pork shoulder, pressing to coat. Place pork in cooker. Top with enchilada sauce.

3. Cover; cook on high heat setting 5 to 6 hours, or until tender. Remove pork from slow cooker; shred meat with fork, discarding fat. Place shredded pork in large bowl. Strain sauce, if desired. Add chiles, salt and 1 cup of the strained sauce. Stir well.

4. Spoon about 3/4 cup rice into each of 8 individual serving bowls. Top each with about 1/2 cup pork mixture and 1/4 cup lettuce. Garnish with salsa, cheese and/or cilantro. Or, use tortillas and stuff your own burritos.

Serves 8 (with rice but not tortilla), each with 500 calories, 21 grams fat, 110 mg cholesterol, 1,080 mg sodium, 39 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 39 grams protein. Exchanges: 1 starch, 1 1/2 other carbohydrates, 1/2 vegetable, 5 lean meat, 1 fat. Carbohydrate choices: 2 1/2.

Note: Want to set your slow cooker in the morning and have dinner ready at night? This recipe can also be done by cooking the meat on low 7 to 9 hours, or until pork shreds easily when tested with fork.

Make sure and cover and refrigerate leftovers, and serve within 3 days.

Stacking vegetables

Hmmm.... I have sliced eggplant in my freezer, ready to use. This recipe from SpecialFork.com seems perfect for it. By the way, the eggplant is from my friend Bill DeMestri's garden. He knows I like the bulbous purple plant and kept me stocked during the summer. I had some late fall eggplant, so I breaded and sauteed slices, then froze them. I'll see how they do in this recipe.

Since I don't have any fresh basil, and I dislike buying it in the store because it's so expensive, I may omit it from the recipe (even though I know the flavor would be incredible) or thaw some of my homemade pesto and use it in place of, or along with the marinara sauce.

Eggplant Parm Stacks

1 small eggplant, (3/4 pound), unpeeled and cut into six (1/2 -inch thick) slices

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

6 tablespoons grated part-skim mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup marinara sauce

2 teaspoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

8 small fresh basil leaves

Preheat broiler and arrange rack about 7 inches from heat.

Arrange eggplant in one layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Brush eggplant on both sides with oil and season with salt and pepper. Broil eggplant for 10 minutes, until golden brown on top, flip and broil until golden brown, about 4 minutes more.

Form 2 stacks of eggplant on foil by sprinkling 2 largest slices with 1 1/2 tablespoons each mozzarella and 1 tablespoon marinara sauce. Top with another slice of eggplant and repeat with mozzarella and marinara in same manner. Top each with remaining slices and sprinkle tops evenly with Parmesan.

Broil stacks until cheese is melted, about 1 minute more.

Serve on a pool of marinara sauce and sprinkle with basil.

*Recipe says this serves one as a meal, but I think it also can serve two as a side dish.

Here's how to reach me: Phone, 239-2664; e-mail, sboyle@bnd.com; or write, Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.

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