It was The Wrangler's 30th birthday.
We swooshed; we smelled; we drank; we bought wine. We ate a beautiful travelers lunch on a picnic table at our second winery stop...a hunk of sourdough bread, made by said winery, vegetable salads, and perfectly salted chips. Ah, it was lovely.
Come evening, we arrived home to begin the second part of The Wrangler's birthday celebration.
The birthday dinner!
Since The Wrangler has recently moved far, far away, I was very lucky to fly out to see him and his wife, Bugsy, in beautiful wine country and help him celebrate his milestone birthday. I asked the Wrangler if I could make him dinner on his birthday. He enthusiastically agreed and asked me to do something creative with bacon. You see, the Wrangler loves bacon. He even drew a pop-art picture of bacon for us as a wedding gift. We, too, have unabashed bacon adoration.
In recent months the Wrangler found a local vendor who made his own bacon, which of course has encouraged his obsession with this porky product. Luckily, I had this thick, flavorful bacon to work with for the birthday meal. It's like the steroid-using cousin of the normal bacon you find in the grocery store.
I found being creative with bacon is somewhat difficult. I scoured cookbooks for inspiration but found none. I love bacon as it is normally consumed -- pan fried and crispy. I don't love it as much boiled or cooked with other things --bacon in these forms is like me in summer next to tanned and toned Sistah--pale and Charmin soft. To me, bacon should have it's crispy presence and sun kissed color and not be a limp, colorless, sad second to other ingredients. So, my goal was to make bacon the main feature as much as possible with making it a dinner of bacon, bacon, and more bacon. I initially wanted to feature it in the main dish with a surprise appearance in dessert. The latter didn't happen due to time and tiredness. But someday I will make bacon a part of dessert and it will be stellar!
The menu became this:
Stacked Pork Tenderloins wrapped in sweet & spicy bacon
Goat Gouda Mac-n-Cheese accented with tomatillos, green onions and yellow wax chiles
Carmelized Onions with zucchini matchsticks
Almost Flourless Deep Chocolate Cake
And it came out like this, thanks to Bugsy's help in the kitchen. I will have to fly her out often to be my kitchen buddy.
Our after dinner treat was a rich dark chocolate cake that I had found on Orangette's website. It requires about 7 oz of 70% quality chocolate, European butter and some sugar. It's really easy, and according to the Wrangler, it is even better tasting on the third day. I can't verify as I was already back at home by then, but if he says so, then it is. The Wrangler had asked for something rich and chocolaty and this definitely fit the bill. Unfortunately, we were too full from dinner to enjoy it on his birthday. In fact, I have no picture of the cake as it should be served...sliced and on a plate. The Wrangler and I instead stood in the kitchen post birthday and ate the cake with a spoon from its own serving plate.
The birthday dinner was followed by full and happy stomachs lounging on the couch. During this lounging, I noticed The Wrangler's cat, Otis, perch himself on the kitchen table looking as happy and exhausted as us with a hint of "Maybe if I pose her cutely, people will think I helped with dinner and not mind that I'm on the table!"
Take a look and decide for yourself.
Sweet & Spicy Bacon
Adapted from Gourmet, September 2006
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 lb thick-sliced bacon (around 12 slices)
Mix all ingredients. Rub spice mix on both sides of bacon. Set onto plate. There will be leftover spice mix for pork.
Stacked Pork Tenderloin with Sweet & Spicy Bacon
2 pork tenderloins (approx. 2 lbs)
2 tbsp. olive oil
Leftover spices from Sweet & Spicy Bacon
Slice pork tenderloins into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces. Pair up the tenderloin medallions into two's. On top of one medallion drizzle a little of the olive oil and sprinkle a little of the spice mix. Stack another medallion on top. Wrap a piece of bacon around the pork stack and secure with a toothpick. Continue this until all pork is used up. Should make around 8 servings.
Heat oven to a high broil. Place stacks in a 9x13 baking dish. Place in top 3rd of oven and broil for 7 minutes on one side. Pull the baking dish out and baste the stacks with the liquid that forms. Flip the stacks and broil for 7 to 10 more minutes until it meat reaches 150 degrees.
You will have leftover bacon. May I suggest that while the stacks are cooking, pan fry the bacon and eat as a snack or let the bacon cool and crumble it over the stacks before serving.