Bacon Update

It’s been an interesting past few weeks. I finally, after a year of teaching and being an intern, have a full-time, real job, complete with salary. I started this morning. Here’s where, in my mind, I run around in a panic with my hands flailing shouting about not knowing how to do anything. But I am quite excited.

I’ve been occupied with finding a place to live. A lovely friend and co-worker, to my every living gratitude, has let me crash in an absent roommate’s room for the time being. Far be it from me to complain, but I must say that it is basically the equivalent of Harry Potter’s room, only on top of the stairs instead of under it. I am, in fact, under a skylight that lets in all of the cold air, and while Beijing is no longer subfreezing, and in fact, has had some wonderfully springlike and warm days, nights are cold and I spend most of my time wrapped up in a comforter waiting for owls to take me away to Hogwarts. Also, it is a small little ayi room that already has the possessions of someone else filling it. So I’ve been throwing myself into the whole find-an-apartment adventure.

I had forgotten, in fact, what an adventure finding a place was. I had, rather, blocked it out of my memory. I had forgotten, how much of apartment hunting involved getting on the back of strangers’ mopeds. I have perched precariously on the back of many people’s mopeds, and one rickety, loud, choking three wheeled car. I was pretty sure I was going to be kidnapped that time. Or run over when the damn engine stalled out in the middle of second ring road. I have also forgotten that the agents here are assholes. Like, let’s make an appointment to see an apartment, but never call and tell you that apartment was already rented out, so let you show up for the appointment and never show up, kind of assholes. I may or may not have cursed a few out in Chinese (hint; I did). Thankfully, I have remained, thus far, un-kidnapped, unmolested, and un-murdered. Fingers crossed it stays this way while I continue my search for a not-too expensive not-too far away place to call home.

I haven’t done very much cooking. A few quick, uninspired things, mostly. I did, while still at Bambi’s, try my homemade bacon.

So the whole being super crafty and turning the gas grill into a smoker didn’t really pan out..for, well, reasons. But I had this beautiful slab of pork belly that had been cured in salt and sugar and honey and black pepper for a week. Now it’s in Bambi’s freezer. It’s still technically bacon. After a copious amount of whiskey one evening, the next morning I decided bacon and brunch would be the answer.

Slices of bacon post-soaking

With much trepidation, I cut off a small bite and fried it, and tasted it. I did not sicken or drop dead of botulism or anything, so I decided it was relatively safe to eat. The tiny sample was extremely salty, so after cutting as thin slices as I could manage (note to self, work on my knife skills) I soaked them in water for 15 minutes, then thoroughly dried with paper towels, and fried in a pan. As I had been informed by the internet, the lack of nitrite salt meant that the bacon wouldn’t stay that pink color we are so used to, but it would turn grey in the pan. It wasn’t so much grey as it was the color of cooked pork, and not as unappetizing a color as I had been told. Plus it got all crispy. Noms.

Crispity tasty bacon!

It was still incredibly salty, but went well with scrambled eggs, toast, and sweet potato hash browns. I think its best applications will be in sauces or soups that leech some of the salt out, and that next time, my cure will have far more sugar and far less salt.

In light of my present promotion to actual full time employee, and since my predecessor used to bake and bring in cupcakes on a weekly basis, I felt that I could only make a good impression in trying to fill those shoes by bringing in a little treat this morning. So last night I made almond-honey cake with candied kumquats. In the process, I also made a delightful kumquat and chili pepper marmalade.

I’ve been making some variation of this bread-like honey cake since I was 12. Every time I do something a little different and I rarely measure, so it comes out different every time. This time, I added almond meal.

I soaked a cup of whole almonds in water until the skins slipped easily off, then let them dry and ran them through a blender. With my little food processor I can just grind them and make the meal, but the blender required some water to blend successfully.

I cut up a bag of kumquats I had mistakenly bought at a fruit market. About a cup worth I sliced thin and whole and set aside, the rest I chopped into little bits (about 1 cup) and added sugar, water, lemon juice, and a crushed up dried red chili. Let that slowly simmer for a while until thick, then cool.

I simmered the kumquat slices in a 2:1 water to sugar ratio for 10 minutes. Then I made the batter. Approximately 2 cups of flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup milk, 1/4 cup honey, baking powder, vegetable oil, and 3 eggs, plus the almond meal and water mixture. Mixed this thoroughly, and then poured it into a a baking pan. I painstakingly laid out the kumquat slices on the batter with a pair of chopsticks, and went to an oven preheated to 400F, when I then discovered that the pan was too big for the oven! So I painstakingly lifted the kumquats out of the batter, poured it into two smaller baking pans, and slowly and delicately laid the kumquats back down. Then popped into the oven for 30 minutes until golden.

Kumquats carefully placed on top of batter for a second time

It’s not a very sweet dessert; a very dense, sticky cake with tart citrus on top. Other variations inclue vanilla or almond extract, ground cloves and cinnamon, fruit jam piped into stripes on top, no almond meal, baked in mini-muffin pans and topped with jam for afternoon tea.

Beautiful cake. One of the few pretty things I've managed to bake.


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