Saturday, November 7, 2009

Making bacon

Oven-cooked (top) and pan-cooked bacon.
Photos by Lori Korleski Richardson

When it's time to cook a pound or two of bacon for a crowd, oven preparation is the best, hands down. Not only can you cook the quantity that you desire, clean up is easier and you don't have to turn the strips if you put them on a rack set in your pan.

But if you're doing 8 slices or less, a large cast iron skillet on the stove should be your choice. Not only will you shave the preparation time by almost half, you will have some choice bits left in the pan when you cook your eggs.
Here are my notes from a comparison of the cooking methods. I used one pound of Smithfield natural hickory smoked bacon, thick sliced. (Although the nutrition facts on the back said there were 11 one-slice servings in the package, there were actually 14. That would take the calorie count down from 60 calories to 41.25 calories.)
  • Seven strips of bacon in a 12" cast iron skillet over low heat took 12 minutes to cook crisply. In order to brown them evenly, I had to cut them in the middle and cook the ends facing the center, and I had to turn them several times.
  • Seven strips of bacon on a rack over a jellyroll pan in a 350-degree oven took 20 minutes to cook to a nice brown color, but they were not as crisp. Perhaps cooking them at 375 degrees would produce a crisper strip.
Frankly, the mouthfeel of the pan-fried bacon was more satisfying, but the bacon flavor was more concentrated in the oven-fried version.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A taste of India

Garam masala, the spice mixture that, despite regional and even personal variations, gives a lot of Indian food its punch, is a true time saver on weeknights for cooks who want something on the table fast but with an exotic touch. Here's a simple supper based on the traditional lamb dish dilli ka saag gosht.

Lori K's lamb and spinach sauté

1 pound ground lamb
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil, optional
1 teaspoon garam masala, or to taste
6 ounces baby spinach
2 ounces (about 4 tablespoons) crumbled feta cheese
4 whole-wheat soft pitas or flatbreads

Brown lamb in a large cast iron skillet. Drain and set aside. Sauté an onion, adding a tablespoon of olive oil if needed. When nearly translucent, add the spice and sauté another 2 minutes. Add the cooked lamb and the spinach. Cook until the spinach wilts, stirring.

Meanwhile, warm the pitas or flatbread between folds of a towel in the microwave. When the spinach is tender, put the meat mixture on half the bread (it will be folded over to be eaten) and sprinkle with the feta. Serve with a pumpkin or carrot soup, or a salad.

If you like your food on the salty side, salt the lamb before browning. But be aware that feta is also a bit salty.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Baby lettuces: Best (almost) naked

One of the joys of the home garden is fall lettuce. As the nights get colder, the tomatoes and peppers wane, but perky little leaf lettuces keep chugging right along, except when a warm spell comes along and causes them to bolt (that's gardening speak for sending up a stalk and going to seed).

And picking off the leaves before they get too big ensures a tender, sweet salad. You don't need to do much to them; unlike lettuce that has spent too much time in the garden and then the refrigerator, they still have their delicate flavor. I'm sure you have a favorite dressing for salad, but now's not the time to show it off. Dress the tender leaves with a drizzle of good olive oil, then sprinkle with a grind of dried oregano, basil, red pepper, black pepper and sea salt.

The vinegar that adds so much flavor to most of your salads just overwhelms the fresh, baby lettuces. Save it for later, when your imported lettuces will need all the help they can get.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Vote tomorrow

OK, I figured sooner or later, Google AdSense would come to no good, and today is the day. I hope everyone does vote, but if you see an ad for McDonnell for Governor, rest assured that ad is not endorsed by this blogger.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hash browns, or hashbrowns, revisited

With company visiting, hashbrowns were again served for breakfast. And again, they turned out splendidly. I do want to pass along a couple of tips that I don't think I stressed enough on my post of Sept. 26, or else the editors of the Washington Post weren't listening. A recipe they ran on Oct. 21 had this to say about the breakfast potatoes:
Making hash browns can be tricky. To get the onions caramelized just right and keep the potatoes crisp at the same time, cook them separately and toss them together with a spice mix just before you’re ready to serve them. This is a good way to use leftover baked potatoes; hash browns made with raw potatoes will turn out mushy.
Wrong! If the photo they ran with their recipe is any indication, what they ended up with were very tasty country potatoes, not hashbrowns. (I like the compound form of this word, since everyone knows that hash does not modify browns; the word is a contraction of hash-browned potatoes, so why not contract it to its logical end?) (Click here to see the Post recipe.)

The secret to using raw potatoes is this: Grate them into a bowl of water. Drain well, then dump the shreds on a clean, absorbent towel, roll it up and wring the potatoes dry. "Dry" is the key to nonmushy potatoes.

Heat the oil on medium heat before adding the potatoes, then, when you have them spread over the pan, lower the heat a little. Add finely diced onions and seasonings then, including dots or slices of butter if you'd like. In about 10 minutes or so, the bottom will be browned and you can turn your hashbrowns over and continue cooking until done.

If you put your onions in first, thinking that they will caramelize nicely, you will end up with burnt onions by the time the potatoes cook. If you put in the onions after the potatoes, they will steam as the potatoes cook on the first side, then when you flip the hashbrowns, the onions will brown as the second side cooks. Yum!