Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bakon Vodka

I saw Bakon Vodka at my favorite liquor and I had a good chuckle. A lot of products, some non-food related, are becoming bacon-flavored. Everything tastes better with bacon, right?

I asked the clerk about it and he said it smelled like bacon but didn't try it. He made a joke imagining it wouldn't be good as a Bacon vodka tonic. It seems, however, to be just right for Bloody Marys. It is being advertised as "the only vodka you'll ever want to use to make a Bloody Mary, and it's a complementary element of both sweet and savory drinks."

From Black Rock Spirits in Washington, here is Bakon Vodka's story:
We started out testing various infusions in our kitchen in the fall of 2007. We wanted to do it right, to create a premium-quality vodka you'd enjoy drinking. To match an infusion, we tested recipes for over two years, finally landing at the one true "Bakon Vodka".

We start with a superior quality potato vodka. Distilled in Idaho from potatoes, it is smooth, slightly sweet with the well-rounded flavor that you only get from a quality potato distillation, with no strong burn or aftertaste. Our vodka is column-distilled using a single heating process that doesn't "bruise" the alcohol like the multiple heating cycles needed to make a typical pot-still vodka. Getting the perfect savory bacon flavor took us a while to get right too. We wanted it to have the essence of a delicious crisp slice of peppered-bacon.

After numerous recipes and a lot of testing, we got it right. And we think you'll agree.

You can access recipes for drinks here. From the Bakon Chocolate Martini and the Scottish Bacon to Bakon Vodka marinated Steak, the recipes offer a decent range of tastes. The quality of taste, that is a different question?

I have read some reviews and some people love it so much, love the smoky, real bacon flavor and my favorite negative review, some guys wrote that is tasted "like pig's ass." It has received a lot of attention on television from late night show hosts Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien, to print Maxim Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, to CNN and NPR.

Great, alright, whatever, how does it taste?

I enjoy my Bloody Marys. That is the first thing I thought about when I saw bacon-flavored vodka and I wanted to try it real bad.

I used Tabasco's Bloody Mary mix for the base. It has the right amount of heat that I like and it is seasoned really well with a good tomato flavor. Added a few shots of Bakon vodka, ice, and loaded the glass with homemade pickles and pickled green beans from my garden. Also, I added a few splashes of Worchestershire sauce, soy sauce, and lemon juice and topped it off with some celery seed.

My garnish consisted of pitted green olives, pepperoni, and cocktail onions.
I really enjoyed it!!! The bacon flavor really does come out, makes it presence known and is not overbearing. There is a hint of smokiness that is noticeable in the drink. I wouldn't say it is a perfect accompaniment to a Bloody Mary but I would definitely recommend using it. I prefer a meatier Bloody than one stuffed with greens and veggies. Give me meat sticks, pepperoni, heck, I had a Bloody in Saint Louis that put a pork rib in the glass.
I haven't tried any other of the recipes that the company offers but after reading them, I think I will just use this vodka for Bloodys. Bacon-infused vodka mixed with banana liquor or irish creme are not really the drinks for me. I also don't think this vodka is for straight-up shots. I mean, go ahead, if you want but on its own, it didn't shine.

I also thought it was a little over-priced. A sleek, clear bottle with the brand of Bacon, new popular item on the market, I'm sure they thought they add a few bucks. Retailed at $26.99, it is not too pricy but for me, a one-trick pony, it could have been cheaper.
Honestly though, after drinking two or three of the Bacon Bloody Marys and literally becoming pork drunk, I would probably be up for trying any weird bacon vodka recipes.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sconnie Beer Cheese Soup

Ok, we have our stereotype in Wisconsin for being cheeseheads and beer drinkers and I really don't have a problem with it. No, I don't own a cheesehead hat that you see at Green Bay Packers games, I'd rather eat cheese than wear it. But I have to embrace our state's finest products, beer and cheese.

The only way to make Sconnie Beer Cheese soup is to use local ingredients, state-brewed beer and Wisconsin-made cheese. You can't help but notice the cheese chalets along our interstate highway roads, Mars Cheese Castle for example. You can't help but notice tailgaters or football parties displaying platters of cheeses and kegs of beer. It sounds like a riot, doesn't it? That is how we do it in Wisconsin, with moderation of course....(not really)

It was hard to finalize a choice of what sconnie beer would work best for the soup. Sure, you have the Miller beers but nah, too light and void of real, real beer flavor. I love Schlitz Tall Boys and it cooks well but not for the soup, works better for beer brats.

We have a ton of Milwaukee breweries putting out fine brews and ales like Lakefront Brewery, Sprecher, Milwaukee Brewing Company, Leinekugels (also brews in Chippewa Falls), great brewery in Stevens Point, Point Brewery or a ton a awesome breweries in the Madison area: Capital, Tyranena, New Glarus.

And I can't forget to mention the hundreds of microbreweries in Wisconsin as well: Lake Louie-Arena, Horny Goat-Milwaukee, Sand Creek-Black River Falls, Gray's-Janesville, Central Waters-Amherst, Potosi Brewery-Potosi.

Oh I almost forgot to mention the Brewpubs. Some of the best beer is made from Wisconsin brewpubs: Great Dane and Ale Asylum in Madison, Hinterland in Green Bay, Milwaukee Ale House in Milwaukee, and Pearl Street Brewery in LaCrosse. I could go on and on.

But after dreaming about different beers, I narrowed it down to two beers: Hinterland's Pale Ale and Lakefront's Fixed Gear Red Ale. I chose Lakefront's Fixed Gear Red Ale for the deep red ale flavor. I think it will work well for the beer cheese soup.

My knowledge of cheese isn't as extensive as beer but one cheese company that stands out is Merkts. They make plenty of fine cheese spreads from port wine to beer cheese. Merkts sharp cheddar has become a favorite for grillers with the creation of the Merkts' Burger, melting a heaping stack of Merkts cheddar on top of a grilled burger. There is nothing else like it. Merkts sharp cheddar cheese spread will be my cheesy base, along with some Crystal Farms shredded cheddar (Lake Mills, WI).

Where is the pork product you wonder? Like most soups with bacon, it is just a garnish but it is not to be taken lightly. The bacon garnish adds a ton of flavor-smoky, crispy, fatty goodness to the dish. Since I am out of my own home-cured bacon, I went with the next best thing-Nueske's Thick-Sliced Peppered Bacon. The company is based in Wittenberg, WI.

For the Sconnie Beer Cheese soup, you will need:
  • 1.5 cups chopped carrots, onion, celery
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups beer
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups half and half cream
  • 4 cups shredded cheese, I also used 1 cup of Merkt's cheese spread
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
  • chopped bacon, for garnish
  • chopped green onion, for garnish
Saute chopped bacon. Drain on towel and set aside.

Sweat carrots, onions, and celery in butter for 10 minutes. Add garlic, cook additional minute. Add flour, a bit at a time and stir constantly. Cook for a few minutes. Stir in half and half cream, beer, broth, mustards, and Whorchestershire sauce. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, slowly and gradually add cheese while stirring.

Ladle into bowl and garnish with bacon and green onion.

Served with Pabst Blue Ribbon and a pretzel bread roll.

First off, the soup was a knockout! Creamy cheese with crunchy vegatables topped with crispy bacon, mop it up with pretzel bread, wash it down with a cold brew. Is there anything better??!?!?! The bacon did add a nice smokiness to the dairy-laden dish. The soup was also at the right amount of thickness. It should not be runny and watery. You also need a tasty slice of bread with a bowl of soup and the pretzel roll was perfect. I know sconnies garnish their beer cheese soups with popcorn or crushed pretzels but the pretzel roll surpasses those options.

It is Week 2 of the NFL and Green Bay Packer season and this soup was timed just right for another Packers win versus the Buffalo Bills. Good comfort food matched with good football.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Smoky Chili with Plenty of Pig

September is here and that means it is time for the National Football League (and Green Bay Packers!!). Sundays are now for getting together with friends and family, eating good food, imbibing beers, and huddling around the big flatscreen to watch our beloved teams.

I usually like to get up early, throw coffee in the pot, and prep ingredients while listening to pregame football talk on the radio. Usually, the menu consists of some type of soul food/comfort food. I love my stews and soups and slow cooker recipes for fall sunday football days. For week 1 of the NFL, I wanted to make a pork-filled chili that would simmer slowly and build flavors all day until the halftime of the Packers vs. Eagles game.

Chili usually consists of basic ingredients: ground beef, peppers, beans, onions, cheese, tomatoes. This chili incorporates ingredients that are slightly different from normal  giving the chili a Mexican flair, sweet and tartness combined with smoky, robust flavors.

It is also a very meaty chili, which is essential for my type of chilis. Pork shoulder, ground pork, and smoked pork neck bones fill up the pot and all add a different texture to the chili. No beef is present in the chili, no beef! And tomatillos are added to give the chili some zip.

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1lb pork shoulder, cut in half inch cubes
  • 3 cups cut onions
  • 2 cups cut green bell pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup lager-style beer, I used Sam Adams Boston Lager
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 tablespoon Mexican oregano
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 tomatillos, quartered
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 - 14.5 oz cans of diced tomatoes, undrained (I used fire-roasted tomatoes from Muir Glen)
  • 1 -  15 oz can pinto beans, drained
  • 1 - 7 3/4 oz can Mexican hot-style tomato sauce
  • 2 smoked pork neck bones or smoked ham hocks, or one of each!
  • chopped cilantro, green onions for garnish
  • crumbled queso fresco
  • lime wedges
Cook ground pork in pan for about 5 minutes, drain, and place in slow cooker. Place pork shoulder cubes in pan and brown until done. Transfer to slow cooker.

Add onions and bell pepper to pan and saute for 6-8 minutes. Add garlic, saute for 1 minute. Add tomato paste, cook another minute. Add beer and cook for 1 minute. Stir to combine ingredients. Transfer mixture to slow cooker.

Add salt, chili powder, and next 9 ingredients to the slow cooker. Cook until meat is tender, about 8 hours on LOW setting or 5 hours on HIGH setting.

Ladle chili in bowl and garnish with cilantro, green onion, queso fresco, and the juice of 1 lime wedge.

Serve with cornbread. I made a jalapeno blue cornbread to accomodate the porky chili.

It was a great day! The Packers beat the Eagles 27-20 while the chili packed a punch similar to a Clay Matthews sack (Sorry QB Kevin Kolb).

The chili did have a very deep, robust flavor. The smoked neck bones gave the chili a woodsy flavor. The neck bone meat with the pork shoulder and ground pork thickened up the chili but did not dominate the bowl. The fire-roasted tomatoes also added to the smoky touch while the tart of the tomatillos and acid from the lime balanced the smoke.

The garnish was quite lovely. I spent decent money on the queso fresco but it was worth it, as there is no substitute for queso fresco. It adds a nice creamy touch. The jalapeno blue cornbread was a perfect side dish. Whole corn kernals, minced jalapenos, and toasted pine nuts are added to a blue cornmeal mixture and cooked for 40 minutes resulting in a comforting and pleasing addition.

You can vary the hotness of the chili if you like. I made mine at a moderate level. I'm really not into chili bowls that are super hot and make you sweat, needing 2 beers a bowl to take away the heat. Chili allows you to be flexible with the ingredients, using your instincts to add this or that and quantity of certain ingredients. That is what is fun about cooking chilis, it can be anything you want basically.

And I must admit, the chili tasted better because the Packers won the game.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pork Pie

I had a rare off day from work so I took up the entire afternoon and evening to whip up a Pork Pie. We had blistering winds in Milwaukee so it was perfect to cook inside the kitchen.

I've been wanting to make a meat pie that consists of gooey, moist filling on the inside and a crusty topping on the outside. This recipe brings all those qualities to the forefront. Oh yeah, let's have a go!

Buck up and head the market because there are a lot of ingredients to create this dish but with a little bit of time and love, it all comes together quite well.

For the pie filling:
  • 1.5 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon mexican oregano
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1.5 tablespoons minced, seeded jalapeno chiles
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped white onions
  • 1 cup salsa verde
  • coarse kosher salt
  • 10 oz frozen corn kernal, thawed

  • 2 poblano chiles
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1.5 lbs boneless country-style pork ribs, cut into 1 inch cubes

Char the peppers under the broiler and transfer to a bowl and cover and let steam for ten minutes. Peel, seed, and coarsely chop chiles and pepper. Set aside.

Stir cumin and coriander seeds over a hot pan until fragrent. Finely ground the seeds in a spice mill and set aside.

Coarsely puree thawed corn kernals and set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to a pot. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper and brown all sides of the pork in pot. Transfer to a bowl. Add another tablespoon of oil and saute chopped onions, about 5 minutes. Add spice mixture, garlic, jalapenos, and oregano. Stir one minute. Return pork to pot and add chicken broth, scraping up the tasty browned bits. Add salsa verde and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for 30 minutes. Add chopped chiles, chopped bell pepper, and half of the corn puree; cover partially and simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

The kitchen smells amazing full of pork goodness during the simmering process. Stir occasionally. Start to prepare the cornbread topping. You will need:
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal, whole-grain stone ground
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • grated chedder cheese, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and chili powder in a large bowl to blend. Whisk remaining corn puree, whole milk, melted butter, egg, and honey in another bowl to blend. Add corn mixture to the flour mixture and stir to combine. Add in shredded cheddar, as much or as little as you like.

Fill a cast-iron skillet with the pie filling and top it with the cornbread topping. Spread evenly throughout. Add extra cheese on top of the cornbread topping.

Bake pork pie until the topping is a deep golden brown color, about 30-40 minutes. Have a look-see during this time to make sure you don't burn the cheese.

Oh, isn't that beautiful?!? Nicely crisp top with burnt edges; it makes a cracklin' sound when you scoop into it. Add a little sour cream to garnish the pie.

Oh yes, this pork pie was fabulous! Well worth the effort and the time put into it. It came out great with the crispy top and warm, gooey middle. The cast-iron is the right pan to use to give the pie a great texture. You can really taste the roasted peppers and the spice mixture in the filling and in the cornbread topping. The corn flavor also shines through but does not dominate the other ingredients. The salsa verde is perfect with the porky insides.

I think this dish would be a crowd pleaser, especially when it comes out of the oven. That golden brown color of the crust really is appealing. The texture is spot on with both crunchy and moist working together.
I must say that this pie was fulfilling on all food levels.

Tuck in!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pancetta and Baked Egg Breakfest

I saw this recipe in the recent Bon Appetit magazine and I had to try it. I don't always make breakfest early in the morning but with Labor Day weekend on the calender, it seemed like the right time.

It was nice and cool this weekend in Milwaukee so I didn't mind cooking inside with a hot oven. I still have a chunk of home-cured pancetta left and I figured it would replace the bacon in the recipe just fine. The prep and the cooking time is about 20 minutes so this early morning meal is great before work or a morning jog.

Ingredients (for one serving):
  • bacon or pancetta
  • baby spinach
  • toasted whole wheat English muffin
  • large egg
  • 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
  • salt/pepper
Obviously, you can reconfigure and customize the ingredients for multiple servings. Only important note would be to have 1 tablespoon of cream per dish.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook pancetta in pan until crisp. Reserve the pancetta drippings and place pancetta on paper towel. Add spinach to pan and coat with pinch of pepper. Cook for one minute until wilted. Transfer to a strainer. Brush ramekin with reserved pancetta drippings.

Place toasted whole wheat English muffin in bottom of the ramekin. Layer with spinach, then pancetta, and make a well in the center of the muffin. Crack one egg into the well keeping yolk intact. Drizzle one tablespoon of heavy whipping cream over egg and season with salt/pepper.

Bake egg until whites are just set but yolks are still runny, 13-15 minutes.

I love the layers of toasted muffin, wilted greens, fatty/crispy pancetta, topped with the creamy egg. Even with the heavy cream, the dish tasted light while I felt fulfilled. One ingredient didn't overpower the other, the wilted spinach stood up well against the salty pancetta. The toasted muffin and baked egg were perfect bookends for the dish. Serve with a warm cup of coffee or since it is a holiday weekend, a Bloody Mary perhaps!

Don't disrespect the Power Bite! Get each ingredient on your spoon for the full experience.