- Date: Sunday, April 8, 2012 -- 1:30pm
- Location: East Lansing, MI
- Kitchen: Our House
- Fellow Chefs: Matty, Chris, and Mike
- Dining Companions: Karen H, Dave, Brad, Deniz, Mike M, Teresa, Sami, Kendra, Watson, Terry, and Teri
- Recipe Rating: A-
Over the years a lot of people asked me which recipe I would save for the very end. What would the LAST recipe from the project be? Well, this is it! Smoking my own bacon seemed like an appropriate way to end this crazy adventure. Friends and family came from near and far to smoke and eat bacon with me. I have been intrigued by this recipe since I first read it, largely because of one of the ingredients: Instacure No. 1. What is that? I managed to find it online, and when it arrived I was even more excited about this recipe. How can you not be thrilled to cook with something that looks like this:
I started working on this recipe on the Thursday before Easter. I first prepared the cure for the bacon by combining some Instacure with water, lots of kosher salt, brown sugar, molasses, and ice cubes. I then added boneless pork shoulder roast:
I weighted the pork so it was submerged and then cured it in the refrigerator for a day and a half. In the meantime, Chris and Mike arrived from out of town and on Saturday morning we were ready to smoke some bacon! Chris and I were in charge of getting the meat ready. Mike and my special gentleman were assigned to assemble the kettle grill that we had purchased for just this purpose. Chris and I got the pork ready to be smoked by draining it, patting it dry, and sprinkling it with black pepper. You know a recipe is good when you are using a measuring cup to measure the pepper!
Here's a shot of the pork before it went on the grill. You know how some recipes go through phases where they don't look too appetizing before they finally reach the delicious end product? This was not one of those. At every stage this meat was beautiful and I wanted to eat it!
Prepping the pork was a piece of cake. Prepping the grill took a bit longer:
The biggest difficulty though was in using the chimney started. I don't think any of us had ever seen a chimney starter before, more or less used one, and the directions on the package were not super helpful. Mike looked for some tips on his phone:
The real problem was, we only needed to light 5 charcoal briquettes. As it turns out, the chimney starter was easier to use if it was a bit more full. We did manage to create fire, but it would burn out without really getting our briquettes started:
It was pretty funny. Between the 4 of us we have 4 PhDs and a culinary degree, and yet the chimney starter had us a little baffled. Eventually we employed a method which involved turning the chimney starter upside down, using a little more charcoal, and Mike blowing on it, and it all worked out. We got some hot briquettes out of it!
The briquettes did not just go in the bottom of the grill, as you might guess. Rather, they went in a pan of hickory sawdust.
Those 5 briquettes, smoldering in the sawdust, were the only source of heat for this 8 hour smoking process. The pan with sawdust went on a rack below the rack with the meat on it.
We then put the lid on the grill and carefully monitored the temperature. The temperature in the grill needed to stay between 80 and 120 degrees. I would have guessed that the issue would be keeping it warm enough, given that it certainly wasn't an 80 degree day outside and there were only those 5 briquettes in there. But as it turned out, it was easy to keep it above 80 and harder to keep it below 120. If the temperature got too hot we were supposed to remove a briquette (which we had to do on several occasions). We smoked the pork like that for 8 hours, adding more sawdust ever hour and a half, and checking on it frequently to make sure the temperature was in the proper range. When the pork came off the grill it looked like this:
The next day it was finally time to fry and eat our bacon. My special gentleman patiently sliced all the bacon:
Needless to say, this bacon was tasty! This was pork shoulder bacon rather than pork belly bacon, so it didn't get quite as crispy as typical bacon. But it had an amazing smoky flavor. It was extremely peppery (possibly slightly too peppery even). Mostly I was just amazed by how much it tasted like bacon. After cooking nearly 1300 recipes for this project, I rarely find myself amazed by what I have created any more. But in this case, I really was. I had just never done anything like this. I had never cold smoked a piece of meat before making this.
We froze the leftover bacon and have been eating it slowly over the last couple months. Indeed, we had some this week when my parents came to visit so that they could try it! I'll be sad when it's gone -- the last leftovers from the last recipe of the Gourmet Cookbook!
The recipe is here.
This was the last recipe in The Book! Thank you so much to Mike, Chris, Mike M, Teresa, Sami, Dave, Karen, Brad, Deniz, and Hannah for coming all the way to East Lansing to celebrate with us!
This was also the last recipe I had to make in the Breakfast and Brunch section. For completeness I should give my top five favorite recipes from that section (in no particular order):
- Fried Eggs over Warm Lentil Salad -- This recipe was incredibly delicious! Cooking vegetables in bacon fat is always a good start to any recipe. This lentil salad was truly tasty and the fried egg on top was the perfect addition. Yum!
- Marion Cunningham's Raw-Apple Muffins -- These muffins were moist and delicious. I made these back when I lived in Boston, the summer before I moved to Indiana. That was a lovely summer and part of what made it so wonderful was a bunch of really great recipes!
- Ricotta Hotcakes with Honeycomb Butter -- This recipe was pretty fussy. It required making candy, and then crushing the candy into compound butter. As I was making it I couldn't imagine that it would be worth it. But oh how I was wrong. These were easily the best pancakes that I have ever had. So very, very delicious!
- Baked French Toast -- This has become the go-to recipe for French Toast in our house. It's super easy because it is baked rather than fried on the stovetop. And it is very delicious!
- Molasses-Cured Pork Shoulder Bacon! Mmmmm.... bacon.
It's hard to believe that I am at the end. I started this project back in 2006. Since I started this cooking adventure a lot of things have happened in my life. I met my husband. I got my PhD. I moved to Indiana for my post-doc. I married my husband. I got a tenure-track job. We moved to Michigan. We bought a house. But this project has been a backdrop in my life through it all. There are so many memories attached to this project for me. So many milestones and events have been marked in my mind with food from The Book. Cake from The Book for my MIT graduation. Dinner from The Book the weekend that my parents met my future in-laws. Dinner from The Book for my 30th birthday. Dinner from The Book to celebrate Mike and Vigleik's graduation. Dinner from The Book with family and friends two nights before my special gentleman and I got married. Cake from The Book for Michael's funeral. Dinner from The Book to celebrate my dad's 60th birthday. Dinner from The Book for many New Year's Eve celebrations. The list goes on and on. I have cooked from this book in good times and in bad, for more then 6 years. Dozens of people have eaten food from this project, and many of them have been in the kitchen cooking with me. In a very real way, this book feels like a part of me.
And so I have been dreading blogging about this last recipe. There is so much that I want to say here. There are so many people who need to be thanked. There are so many thoughts that I have about this time that I spent cooking these 1293 recipes. The more I thought about writing the last post, the sadder it made me feel.
Almost three years ago, Gourmet published a second cookbook. It's called Gourmet Today and it is big and green rather than big and yellow. It has 1106 recipes in it. A few months before it was published, I was contacted by someone at the publisher, asking if I (or someone I know) would be interested in blogging about the book. At the time, I just laughed and laughed. My special gentleman thought it was a great idea, but I just wanted to finish the yellow book and be done! So I told them that I wasn't interested. There was no way I was signing myself up for another 1000+ recipes. They generously sent me a couple signed copies of the new book anyway, and over the last few years I have flipped through it many times and cooked a few things from it. But my focus always remained on getting through the yellow book. But now I am done. And I miss it. I deliberated long and hard about this over the last several months, and finally this past Sunday I came to a decision. I am going to cook through the second book. Because you know what? I love it! I have loved cooking through The Book. I have LOVED trying all the new recipes, and cooking things that are new to me. And more than anything, I have LOVED sitting down with friends and family, trying new foods. I have loved the meals that were humorously bad just as much as the ones that were insanely good. It has been an amazing 6 years of cooking, and blogging, and friendship. And the idea of a whole new book, with amazing new recipes to choose from -- it was just too much to walk away from.
So the truth is, I have already started cooking. I started just 5 days ago and in those 5 days I have already made a dozen recipes from the new book. It has been a long time since I have been able to make quick recipes for the project. Or pies. Or pancakes. Or broccoli... I made all my favorite things from the yellow book long ago. But now I have 1106 new recipes in front of me, and I am tearing through them!
So, it looks like I will be here for a while longer. I will continue blogging on this site. And it is no longer going to be weeks (or months!) between posts. I'll be picking up the pace again. I am looking forward to a few more years of Gourmet adventures! So for now I will postpone all the thank-yous and reflections that really belong at the end of the project. Because as it turns out, I'm not done yet!
Phase I complete. On to Phase II...