I've been working on a Unified Theory of Bacon lately. I have come to realize that anything tastes better with bacon. That's not to say that bacon can make a spew-a-licious carrot salad (you know the one with shredded carrot, mayo and raisins) into an edible side dish, but it wouldn't taste nearly so vile.

To put it simply, I love bacon. I was therefore delighted when I saw a tip on America's Test Kitchen about how to store bacon for easy use. We normally buy an extra package of bacon, cut it in half and freeze each of those. What if you just need a couple slices of bacon, say for some bacon mashed potatoes (which I'm making right at this very moment)? Instead of freezing the whole slab, take each piece and roll it up like it was a cinnamon bun. Toss them into a bag and stick them in the freezer. It's then a cinch to take out exactly how many you need (do plan 20 minutes ahead so they can thaw). It does take a little time to roll up an entire package of bacon, but really not too bad. Certainly no more than it does to split a 5 pound pile of hamburger into half pound portions.


Taste Test: 2% Milk

There's a local dairy just up the road from my house, maybe a mile away. In the summer time it's quite a treat to go over there for a refreshing ice cream cone. Delicious stuff. They also, of course, have milk. I've been wanting to start getting my milk from there, for a few reasons. First, they're local and I always prefer to support that. They also don't use hormones and steroids on their cows. I prefer that as well, just like I would choose an organic apple if possible. But, as you can probably guess, their milk is more expensive than my standard Walmart brand milk. Would the switch be worth it? Scientific research to the rescue!

I acquired a gallon of 2% milk from both Reed's Dairy and Walmart. I like my milk as creamy as possible. How can I say no to cream? The answer is, I can't, of course. I poured about 2 ounces of each in small glasses each labeled on the bottom. Due to the opaqueness of the milk, I had no way to see the label. I then had my wife mix them up while I closed my eyes.

Visually I couldn't tell them apart. Both were white and milky, imagine that. They both smelled the same. It really all boiled down to taste, as you would probably expect give the extent the FDA has its fingers in the milk supply. Basically they tasted the same, but one had a creamier and richer flavor. It wasn't strong or overwhelming, but noticable. Unsurprisingly the creamier one was from Reed's Dairy.

I haven't fully contemplated the ramifications of this test. The taste was definitely enough that I could differentiate even on cereal or drinking with dinner. All things being equal, I would prefer the Reed's Dairy milk. The problem I find is that I don't really care to make a separate trip just for milk, especially considering how much milk we consume with 2 little tikes.

The solution might be home delivery. I'm just not sure how much it costs. I've asked each of the last two times I've been in for a price schedule but both times they've only had the out-of-town list, which is no help to me. Their website is a little pathetic in this regard as well. Until I find out just how much that would cost, it's a no-go for me. We'll see when I can finally find time to give a call over there during the day. Maybe Tuesday when I've got the day off. That's a good idea. Thanks, I thought so too. You're so smart. Oh, I know.


Taste Test: Cheerios

This test wasn't nearly so blind as many of my others have been. My apologies if your sense of scientific adventure is spoiled.

Here's the back story. My wife refuses to eat anything but Cheerios, but based on $$$ I bought a box of Walmart's off-brand toasted oats for the baby's snacks at church. Since we had them both, I ate a bowl of each.

The Cheerios were nice and cruchy. They have a balanced oat flavor with a nice after-taste. I prefer unsweetened cereals and these fit the bill nicely. They have good taste without being sweet.

The Walmart brand didn't have the same crunch. It's hard to describe, but even out of the box they just weren't as crisp to the tooth. Maybe a little stale tasting, but that's not quite the right description. The taste was pretty similar but wasn't as pleasing.

From then on we've been a Cheerios household. The baby even enjoys them more. Who'd have thought he had such discerning tastes?


Taste Test: Chicken Broth

This is the first in a new category which you may or may not have noticed, named Taste Tests where I pit two or more products head to head to see which is really the best. I've been doing this off and on for the last few years. My goal is to save money on no-name brands where taste makes no difference but spend the big bucks where it really does. Like when you buy butter instead of margarine, or shiitake mushrooms instead of button mushrooms. On with the show!

Yesterday I tried out a new (to me) recipe for tortilla soup. It turned out quite delicious by the way, despite my initial fears that it was lacking in the seasonings department. The calls for 4 cups of chicken stock or broth. We were at the dreaded Walmart picking up supplies and I couldn't decide whether to get the Swanson's or the Great Value (cheap Walmart brand). Since I needed two 14.5 ounce cans, I grabbed one of each.

To test I poured small amounts (since I needed the rest for the soup) into two small glasses. One had cute flowers on it so they were easy to differentiate. My wife warmed them up in the microwave since generally (always?) chicken broth will be eaten warm. I closed my eyes and she gave me the glasses one at a time.

The first one had a nice round taste. Not too much of anything, and certainly not too salty which was my primary fear. I probably could have enjoyed a bowl of that with some noodles and called it lunch.

The second had some good flavors, don't get me wrong, but my first reaction upon taste was "gimme the other one back". I took a few sips but couldn't identify what it was that I didn't like. It wasn't salt, that would have been too easy. The flavors just didn't marry well. The only way I can think to describe it is with music. Go play a nice C chord. That was the first sample. Now add an F#. That's the second one. You can still pick out the nice sound, but you would much rather it stop.

The result? The second was Great Value. I should have (and did) guess based on the package. Swanson's is just so much more appetizing. And we all know that old story about a book and its cover. "Don't eat a book or its cover. Have some Swanson's chicken broth instead."


Healthy Eating

Over the course of the last few years, but this most recent one especially, I've been pondering the question of eating healthy. For one, I'm getting to be middle aged. Had to happen sometime, unless I died first, and I suppose this is a better option. I figure sooner or later (although luckily it appears to be later) my metabolism is going to give out and I better be ready. Joseph's recent post about health food prompted me to finally put my theory down in words.

Something Alton Brown once said, I think it was in his slashdot interview, really caught my attention. Somebody asked about low and non-fat foods. He said that if it didn't affect the taste, sure why not. But sometimes there's just no substitute for cream. Oh boy, is he ever right. Ever put cream on your cereal? Were's that sound clip of Homer drooling...

If people would worry more about how well something tastes rather than following some diet of the week, they would feel more satisfied with their meal. They wouldn't need to double up their portions to get a hint of the taste. Going back to my cream on cereal reference, I tell you what, you'd be hard pressed to eat two bowls of that. But I could go through 3 or 4 bowls of cereal with just milk, no problem. Which one will really make me fatter?

Consider the low-fat craze that we're currently in. Most people I know like to poke fun at the Atkins diet, or the South Beach diet, or the Mayo and Peanut Butter diet (it must exist somewhere). But is the low-fat diet really much different? First margarine was in because it was low in saturated fats, now it's out because it's high in trans fats. Well who cares? Butter actually tastes good and doesn't make your popcorn all soggy. If we'd been following our tongues and noses, we could have avoided that whole mess.

People don't stick to their diets because it's not a lifestyle for them. In a safety meeting one time our instructor ingrained in our head how safety can't be a priority. There are just too many priorities to worry about, you can't think about safety when you're juggling all those. Safety has to be a value. How many times do you actually have to think about whether to put pants on? It's a value your mom taught you when you were small (and I bet you enjoyed tormenting her by running around butt naked).

Treat yourself right. Fix a meal that tastes good. Try some foods you've never had before. Just this week I made mac & cheese (no, not from a box) with shiitake mushrooms. Delicious! Mushrooms haven't really ever been my thing, but I think when I finally get home tonight I'll make a mushroom and jalapeno quesadilla, followed by some peaches and ice cream (made with real vanilla. And I won't feel guilty about it.


Grilled Pizza

You may recall a while back I reviewed Alton Brown's book, Gear For Your Kitchen. There was a great little recipe in there for grilled pizza. Often when I read food books I will skim over the recipes, but never pay them much attention. That's was the case with Ruth Reichel's book (which it appears I never finished reviewing), but not so with AB. I made this one on an electric skillet and it was good.

Then my wife and I watched America's Test Kitchen make their version. It was pretty similar. I mean, how many ways can you drape a dough on a grill and call it pizza? They emphasized that the dough has to be rather thick and chewy to stay afloat on the grate, and that you have to be careful not to overload the pizza with too many toppings, especially wet ones like tomatoes, since the cooking time is so short.

We had some friends over the other day and cooked grilled pizzas for them. This time we got to use the real deal, our new 45,000 BTU grill. It's every boy's dream to cook with real live fire.

The toppings included mozzarella cheese, finely diced tomatoes, garden fresh spinach, and mushrooms. We also made a cheese and pepporoni pizza just for the kids (following Michael Chu's recommendation of microwaving the pepperoni to remove excess grease.

Preparation is simple enough. Roll out the dough. Wait, you need the dough recipe? OK, here's your ingredients. 1 pound flour, 1 package yeast, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon sugar. Mix. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 cup hot water. Knead well, rise for an hour and a half.

Now you've got your dough rolled out into oblong shapes (let's face it, who can make round pizzas?). Coat one side with oil (I go cheap and just use canola). Lay oil side down on the grill. Paste on another coat of oil on the top side. Cook until it gets a nice color. Flip. Now add a layer of garlic and olive oil, and then any toppings you want. Chris Kimball says to put the cheese down first, but I found cheese last works better. Because the dough is already cooked and the toppings don't have much moisture, they tend to slide off. The cheese holds them in place nicely.


Shish Kabobs

Did you know that "shish kabob" is Turkish for "meat on a stick"? Surprisingly "kabob" is the "meat" part. So the next time somebody offers you some chicken kabobs or veggie kabobs, you can point out that useless bit of trivia. I'm sure you'll get all the same blank stares and hushed whispers that I do.

But shish kabobs are yummy. These ones are round steak, mushrooms, olives, onion, green pepper and pineapple. You may notice that olives and pineapple are not pictures. That's because those are nasty. We marinated the meat in Yoshida's Gourmet Sauce, and we used some more to baste all over as the kabobs cook.

The rice was dead simple. I sauted onions and green pepper in butter, browned the rice and dumped a can of vegetable stock in. Not quite a risotto, but not too different either. I used basmati rice. Not sure if that added anything in particular, but it was good.


Roast Pork Loin

As I was shopping last week, I needed another meal to fill in an empty spot on our calendar. A cute little pork loin roast struck my eye. Surprisingly my local Walmart carries a nice line of delicious, hormone-free pork products from Salmon Creek Farms out of Twin Falls. I've long been a fan of their ribs, which it appears I also need to post about.

I made up a wet rub of garlic (lots!), brown mustard, brown sugar, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, and thyme. I meant to add some olive oil as well, but I ran out yesterday making pizza (yes, I've got pictures. Hold your horses!). Slathered the rub on and let it site for a few hours. I really should have brined the roast too. I always forget that.

Then I moved it to the grill, seared it on high for a few minutes each side and cooked it at ~300 degrees for an hour and a half. It smelled divine. The meat was somewhat dry, hence the need for brining. It needed some sort of sauce or gravy to accompany it. We ended up using just the brown mustard, which was good I guess. Helped with the dryness.

The accompaniment was a fresh pasta salad. It was hard to stop tossing stuff in. I think we finally settled on grilled kielbasa, ham, hard-boiled egg, mushrooms, spinach (from my garden, no less), green pepper, tomatoes, and colby jack and mozzarella cheese. Topped it with a vinegarette of canola oil (remember, I'm out of olive oil), garlic, parsley, basil, red wine vinegar and cider vinegar. We used to make this stuff out of a box, I think it was "Suddenly Salad". That stuff is crap compared to my salad. And these were all leftovers, so it was quite economical too.


Cheese Stuffed Jalapenos

A friend of mine described this delectably spicy dish. I started with neufchatel cheese which we had sitting around in the fridge. I mixed in a bit of garlic powder (garlic salt is evil!) and dried chopped onion. I think I tossed in a pinch of kosher salt as well. Mixed that around real good. It was pretty good by itself. I'm considering making a sandwich with the leftovers.

The hard part was getting the guts out of the peppers. I wanted to stuff them whole, rather than in halves as I saw a few recipes call for. The trick is to split them just enough to cut to dig the innards out. I used a combination of a paring knife and a small spoon.

Originally I figured I would secure the pepper together with a toothpick but it turned out the cheese made a great glue and the toothpick was unnecessary. I grilled them over medium heat for 5-7 minutes rotating every once in a while.

The first bite I had was spicy. I modified my eating pattern to get a bigger bite of cheese and that balanced it out. Still, not for the faint of heart.


Strawberry Cheesecake

Following the Unified Theory of Cheesecake (don't forget the crust), I put together a nice treat yesterday. Actually it was my birthday cake. It was based off 16oz of cream cheese and I put it in a 9 inch round pie pan. I really like the idea of using a spring form pan, but alas I have no such item in my house.

The only complication was that I forgot to start until way too late. We cut the cake after it had been in the fridge for only 3 hours. It was cool throughout and I didn't notice any problems. It cut just fine and the slices came free of the pan in one beautiful piece.



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