B is for Bacon

Okay. So this is my version. I decided to make a roasted potato salad for dinner tonight. Before I did that, I started a bread sponge to make foccacia tomorrow. And then I went to the kitchen (my favorite room in the house when it is clean) to start my salad.

Now, dear reader, you know that I have some reputation for being a good cook. And I suppose I am. Oh, I’m not good enough to ply my skills on TV, heaven’s sake. And I lack the self confidence to compete…say for the best this-or-that at the county fair. And for good reason, really.
The other thing to know is that there is a new cook in town…Larry aka Lorenzo who also just happens to have the best hair in town too. But I digress.

One night when having too much wine to drink with friends or maybe we were wine tasting with our wine club. Or maybe we were at martini Monday at the local joint. The point here being…a gantlet was thrown down as to who had the best cioppino. Now for you in the rest of the world, cioppino was reportedly discovered in CA. Do not fact check this because no matter what kind of evidence you present…I will not give up on the truism that cioppino is a California fish dish with Italian roots. I have heard it said that the Eye-talians came up with this stew to use whatever fish they had on hand (in San Francisco…quite possibly at Fisherman’s Wharf). Anyway…so I was saying that everyone present thought THEIR cioppino was superior to everyone else’s cioppino. A date was sent and the contest was on.

Now, I fancy myself as one of the best cioppino makers around. I use the freshest fish which usually includes clams, mussels(sometimes), halibut, Dungeness crab (particularly fresh, as in cooked that day), shrimp, bay shrimp (little tiny things that are pre-cooked. That’s a minimum. And my secret secret is that I use a recipe from Tadich’s Grill in San Francisco that i got from Saveau Magazine years ago. A real keeper, if you know what I mean. I mean, this was going to be a slam dunk.

So. Back to Larry. He was the new cook in town, a recent transplant from Texas which garners him extra credit for having the brains to get the hell out of that horrible state and join the west coast(completely European) California. Well. What the heck would a guy from Texas know about making good cioppino. But I humored him.

And so did his wife. She bought a trophy to bestow upon the winner. “Cioppino Cook-off Champion” was inscribed on the base of the trophy. Like, “where am I going to put that trophy, when I win?” was a thought I kept having.

The other competitor was a guy named Jeff. I know Jeff and he is a very good cook. Perhaps a hint of competition there. But he was from Wasington, D.C. and what would he know about cioppino?

So. Larry, the hair, won. What? How could that be? Well…not only was my plan for the trophy squashed, so was my ego. OMG. I may never be the same. So, I cannot complete at the fair, on TV, or quite possibly anywhere else. People don’t enjoy my food, my technique, my know-how. I’m toast.

But, I digress.

The fingerlings were cut in half lengthwise. They were thrown into a 425 oven to roast after they were tossed in some olive oil, chopped garlic, salt and pepper. And while they cooked, I started cooking the bacon. Not just any bacon. This bacon is from the eastern Sierra, Bishop, CA precisely. The bacon is smoked there and treated so tenderly that they can command $10/pound for the stuff. it is to die for. Rayman bought it when he went skiing at Mammoth. So, I sliced about 1/4 of pound and put it in the pan to render the fat and crisp up the meat. It smelled so good. When it looked done, I turned off the burner and checked it by tasting. Oh, perhaps a few minutes more of cooking.

As I am sure most cooks do, i let my mind wander. How it wandered to setting a friend of ours with men is not anything I can explain even if I cared to but that’s where I wandered. This lead me to wondering how I could find her. I had seen her at golf yesterday but hadn’t thought at the time to ask her for her email or tel number. So, at this moment of cooking bacon I decided I’d look up her number. She was listed in phone book but it was her old number. She had moved. So, I went into the computer room and googled “white pages”. This is when I discovered that you can’t get a phone number on the internet. For free and with just a name you can find the person, the address, relatives…but no phone number. So that got me to thinking…I’ll email someone who knows here and get her number. About the time that I was half through the email…that’s when i smelled it. The burning bacon. OMG.

I dashed out of the den and saw Ray in his chair on his iPad. “DIDN’T YOU SMELL THE BACON BURNING?”, I shouted. “What?”, he said. I wasn’t sure if he was even looking at me…the smoke was so thick he looked like an apparition. Dark smoke and deep burned bacon smell…OMG. Well, this necessitated opening all the window and doors, turning on the fan…and when I got to the pan…the $10 bacon was charred beyond all recognition. The pan was really looking hopeless. OMG. Not another pan?

So, what’s with that? A couple of learning moments. First, do not leave the kitchen without setting a timer. Secondly, stay off the damn computer when cooking unless looking up a recipe that you are CURRENTLY using.

It’s now 6:20 p.m. I burned the bacon at 10 a.m. The house still smells like burnt bacon. The pan is still soaking in the sink as we assessed the damage and think it will be okay. But my goodness. Where is my mind?

When I expressed my misgiving about my mind to Rayman, he scoffed. He says it happens to anyone…wandering into a closet and then wondering, “Why am I here?
I remain unconvinced.

However, the salad was superb. Served it with barbecued lamb chops and marinated roasted mini-peppers (yellow, orange, red baby bells). Yummy. Especially the newly cooked bacon that was not burnt because I chained myself to the stove until it was done. Oh, there was one other slight mishap which caused me to wonder aloud, “what’s it with me and this BACON?” The bacon, once cooked, needed to be “drained” on paper towels. So I put the bacon in a paper towel and scrunched up the towel and placed the bacon on the countertop.

Then I rinsed and chopped the capers, mixed up the mayo and mustard and vinegar. And I iced the sllced red onion to tone down the acid. As I was putting things away, the cooked bacon got thrown into the sink because I forgot that it was in the paper towel.. EEEEEEEKKKKKKK. (I recovered it and into the bowl it went.) But…again, what the heck is going on here?

There are other considerations for the cook in this regard. Why didn’t I just microwave that bacon? Duh. The bacon would be timed. it would be drained. It wouldn’t catch on fire, wouldl it? The pan wouldn’t be soaking. The house would only smell of bacon (yummy). What a duffis.

But that is the nature of cooking. It is never perfect, often riddled with risks, and nothing is guaranteed.

I’m just glad cioppino didn’t use bacon!!!

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