Monday, January 16, 2012

boy + birthday = bacon

Steve makes my life awesome, and I wanted to make his birthday awesome.

I toyed with the idea of a fancy shmancy dinner out, and then went, “Hmm, is this what Steve wants or is this what you want?” And I thought about what Steve loves. And that’s what his birthday became!

First and foremost, the Saturday night leading in to his birthday, we went swing dancing. Number one Steve love, man.

And neither of us is that good, but we invented a mood where he flipped me onto his back and I stuck my knees in the air that was heaps of fun. And also lots of spinning. No one should take swing dancing too seriously, in MY opinion. Furthermore, I spent much of the evening drooling over the utter glamorousness of the pointy high-heeled, bouffant-haired, hourglass waistline dress’d lead singer in the band. Vair fun!

Midnight, the first moment of Steve’s 27th year (or actually, if you turn 27 that means you have completed 27 years so I guess the first moment of Steve’s 28th year!), we were at a diner, Steve enjoying a postdancing pulled pork sandwich :D

Then the actual birthday involved football watching and beer. No surprise.

And, yes surprise, an 11 mile run (?!?! Steve why you so crazy?!?!?!?!)

And then, the ultimate Steve Joy for the ultimate Steve birthday. Bacon. Lots. Of. Bacon.


Local bacon from my favorite Mennonite farmers!


The site of all this cooking was Steve’s apartment, now known as the hydroponic garden!

I read in Bites and Bowls that you can put the ends of green onions in a cup of water and they will regenerate new onions and SURE ENOUGH!


That’s like two week’s worth of growth! Madness!

Okay so it was cooking time.

Serious. Business.

The bacon-wrapped dates were a huge hit at our bacon-versary dinner. And they’re a glamorous appetizer that are essentially effortless. No brainer that they’d be included in the birthday dinner.

I upped the ante, however, by stuffing them with GOAT CHEESE! Holla!


And you just chuck ‘em in the oven and forget about them while you cook everything else. No idea how long they were in there but they did juuuuuust fiiiiiine. Not dry, just intensively sweet and caramelized. And baconized!

Which is good, because the stovetop needed my full attention. This was set to be a four burner operation.


Preparation is key in these situations, so the veggies got set before anything else. It was a decadent meal, to be sure, but one with an impressive quantity of phytochemicals.


And then it was time to fry up a. lot. of. bacon.


So first on the menu was a dish I was making for the first time (perhaps risky for a special occasion, but the Internet has enabled us to read other peoples’ reviews of dishes before we make them, which is awesome.) It wasn’t hard to tell that Apple Glazed Carrots with Bacon were going to be a hit.

In a genuine effort to produce enough food but not enough food for an army (a constant struggle for me and really Greek women in general from what I can tell), I halfed the recipe (originally serves four people, but I figured I’d eat one portion and Steve’d eat three).

Other than that, though, I followed the directions pretty precisely- fry the bacon-



fry onions in bacon fat-



and add carrots and apple cider and brown sugar and cook til carrots are tender.

It did take roughly three times the amount of time the recipe said for the carrots to achieve that tenderness. I ended up just jacking up the heat!


Meanwhile, I was making some lovely bacon pasta sauce.

Step 1: Fry some bacon


Step 2: In the bacon fat, cook up some mushrooms.

Step 3: Roux! Sprinkle some flour on the mushrooms and bacon fat and mix around until no longer white. Add milk.

Step 4: Stir til thickened. Then add some CHEESE! I used gouda. Splendid.

The sauce was perfectly velvety:


Steve was marveling at how I get an even coating of sauce on the pasta (because he is besotted with me. No one else would marvel at something like that.)

The secret for those of you who want to besot (is that a verb?) someone, is just to cook the pasta shy of al dente in the water and then add it to the sauce, allowing the pasta to finish cooking in the sauce, thus coating it with lusciousness. (I use a slotted spoon to add the pasta to the sauce, which adds a little pasta water. Which is fine, cause it’ll evaporate out as you cook the pasta, and the starch in it will even help thicken the sauce).

The final component of the meal was Austin brussels sprouts. The kind that turned Steve into a brussels sprouts lover, coated in dijon mustard, honey and dill. Recipe on my recipage!


I was super concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get them at the farmer’s market cause I hadn’t seen them for a few weeks and lo and behold there they were, WAITING FOR ME, when I got there. Phew!

So carrots, brussels, pasta, and sauce; that’s FOUR BURNER ACTION! Plus a heap of bacon all set for sprinkling! Plus appetizer in the oven!


How did I not burn anything? Or overcook anything? Because I am AMAZING.

And so the table was laid, with Moscato for my older man who drinks like a little kid. (Grape juice! It’s extra sweet grape juice!)

But fun story- we stopped at Trader Joe’s on the way to Steve’s apartment to get apple cider for the carrots, and they were doing a wine tasting, so obviously we popped in. And naturally, I went “IT’S HIS BIRTHDAY!” And the wine guy at Trader Joe’s had everyone do a toast with their little mini cups! Delightful.

Wined and dined:


Yes that is a Christmas tree in the background. Yes we do plan to keep it up all year. What of it?


The dates were a delight; the extra tang of that goat cheese gave them a little tangy and creamy sumthin’ sumthin’ but there is something so maaaaaaaagical in just the combo of that sweet date (enhanced and caramelized with a trip in the oven) and the salty meaty bacon.


The brussels sprouts were as blissful as ever. Sauteeing brussels sprouts is where it’s at. And it minimizes the smell, for those of y’all who might be bothered by it.


I am always kind of tweaking this recipe… it’s definitely stove-dependent how long it takes the sprouts to brown, how much water you need to add, how long it takes for them to get tender, etc. My stove is sooooooo sluggish whereas Steve’s is really peppy. Anyway, I was quite happy how this version turned out.

In all honesty, I use more oil at Steve’s, too! His pans are kinda lousy.


The carrots just might be my new favorite recipe. Feast your eyes!


The flavor profile is just delightful: the sweet, slightly tangy background of apple cider; the onions that have caramelized; the smoky bacon; the chives adding a fresh bright pop; and the carrots themselves, enhanced by all that tasty action.


Though the carrots took QUITE a bit longer than the original recipe suggested (though we may just have the store to blame for that); their texture was ultimately perfect- tender yet with a toothsome center. A little crunch of bacon in your bite didn’t hurt!

And they smelled awesome.


Oh, and they were beautiful. In case you were wondering why you were forced to look at ten thousand pictures of them.


The two following pictures are nearly identical and I can’t decide which I like more. The first one is kind of shiny and surrealist, the second is more realistic but lacks a certain whimsy.

DSC09108 DSC09111

In The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, my FAVORITE book, I always wish you could see their artwork. Like Rosa’s giant surrealist vegetables!

Back to the meal.

We’re finally done with the carrots.

The pasta was great because it was bacony, cheesy, and in a large quantity. So Steve was happy.


Next time I would add even more mushrooms and perhaps make them the star. Mushrooms and bacon are great! Caramelized onions would also not be out of place in here.

Now, despite the abundance you have just beheld, I was actually waiting excitedly for dessert.

Back story: two days prior, I’d asked Steve to give me some adjectives that might describe his perfect birthday dessert.

“Hm… chocolate and peanut butter?” A moment’s though. “Maybe banana too?”

Those (though not actually adjectives), I could definitely work with!

And so I give you what I consider to be my ultimate dessert triumph. The dessert that, in terms of both the taste it produced and the raves I received from the man who ate it, I will have to live up to for the rest of my life. The pinnacle of my creativity and technique.

Banana bread trifle with peanut butter custard and chocolate rum sauce.

It begins, as trifle does, with the carb layer. I used my homemade banana bread (on my recipage), which as you all know is


(Let’s all take a moment to appreciate that I used the pig bowl to go with this bacon dinner. Just call me Martha)

Then (and I have my mom to thank for this, who when I told her my intial ideas said “Ooh, the chocolate and banana combination sounds kind of Jamaican!), I drizzled on the chocolate rum sauce.

Melted chocolate truffles and rum.


Then it was time for a round of the peanut butter custard.

I… I can’t even fully talk about that yet. Give me a minute.

I did a layer of that and a layer of sliced bananas.


I repeated banana bread and chocolate.


Then… okay… guys. I am going to get a little passionate when I talk about this.


I don’t know how I got this idea in my head. The brilliant peanut butter and jelly dessert from 701 that I had on my birthday probably influenced it. The traditional English trifle we had for Christmas dinner might have brought custard to my mind.

But suffice it to say, divine providence brought peanut butter custard to my life.

I followed this custard recipe to a T, only cutting it in half.

First of all, it is thoroughly amazing to whisk a thin looking mixture of milk, egg yolk, flour, and sugar on the stove and watch it magically transformed by heat, in seconds, to beautiful custard.

Then having the first taste with the rich nutty peanut butter and the zing from the cinnamon and cayenne, feeling my eyes roll back in my head at the utter decadence of it all… Guys.



The dish got finished with a final gilding of banana slices and chocolate sauce.

It was presented to the birthday boy (with a certain amount of fanfare since Steve likes surprises and I demand constant attention for my desserts) and he loved it. LOVED IT!


He actually compared this dessert to the Messiah. I don’t know what that truly means, but I went ahead and took it as a compliment.

And I watched, as it got smaller.



… by chocolate-rum-soaked-banana bread bite…


… by rich creamy peanut butter custard bite…


Yes, dessert was enjoyed with a crossword. More birthday joy :D

The moral of this story is that a home cooked meal is often much more fun than something frou frou, and that seriously guys, I can’t emphasize this enough, make this dessert.


Astra Libris said...

Steve is a VERY lucky man!!! :-) Happy Birthday, Steve!

marie said...

You just cooked all of my favorite foods. Dates with bacon and goat cheese, so YUMMY!!!! That dessert? I want to make it right now, delicious. What a fun night.

Shannon ~ My Place In The Race said...

What an awesome dinner! I didn't know that about green onions. Good o know!

I LOVE the pig bowl! GAH! SO cute.

Happy Birthday Steve!! :)

Steven Alexander Heathcliff Basil Bert said...

Ohh my God, I'm craving three huge spoonfuls of the Messiah right now. I might struck by lightening for writing something that sounds so awful. But you know what I mean...custard glory, holy scrumptious!

Ileana, that was the best birthday I've ever had. It goes sailing into first place, in front of the "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" birthday where I got to eat monkey brains (jello).

Oh Bacon, bacon, bacon,
I’d eat you every day.
Bacon, bacon, bacon,
In every thought of way.
It takes a brilliant artist
To create a vast array
Of bacon combinations
Of healthy heart display
You wowed me with your carrots
And your dates blew me away
And the gouda-est of the dishes
Made my stomach shout hooray
Oh Bacon, bacon, bacon,
I’d eat you every day,
And because of Ileana
Day 5 of bacon is today

Ileana, you are beautiful, wonderful, and masterful!

(Thanks Astra Libris and Shannon for the birthday wishes)