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Bring Home the Bacon to Your Table

We all know bacon isn't the best thing for you. But let's be honest: Everyone loves it.

In America, especially, you can buy bacon in just about every form, from bacon mayonnaise and bacon bits to bacon brittle and even bacon ice cream.

But how can you "bring home the bacon" to your dinner table?

"Doc" Willoughby, executive editor of Gourmet magazine, demonstrated ways on "The Early Show" Monday to bring the favorite breakfast and burger meat to just about any dish, from your appetizers all the way to dessert.

But what exactly is bacon? Bacon is a cured meat prepared from a pig. It is first cured in a brine or in a dry packing, both consisting largely of salt; the result is fresh bacon (also green bacon). Fresh bacon may then be further dried for weeks or months (usually in cold air), boiled, or smoked. Fresh and dried bacon must be cooked before eating. Boiled and smoked bacon are ready to eat, but may be cooked further before eating.

"Doc" Willoughby: Tofu Revealed

Bacon is prepared from several different cuts of meat. In the United States, it is almost always prepared from pork belly. Elsewhere, it is more often made from side and back cuts, and bacon made from bellies is referred to as "streaky", "fatty", or "American style." The side cut has more meat and less fat than the belly. Bacon may be prepared from either of two distinct back cuts: fatback, which is almost pure fat, and pork loin, which is very lean. Bacon-cured pork loin is known as back bacon.

Arugula, Bacon, and Gruyére Bread Pudding

Yield: Makes 4 (main course) or 6 (side dish servings)
Active Time: 20 minutes Total Time: 2 hour

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
5 large eggs
6 bacon slices
1 large shallot, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
7 ounces baby arugula or baby spinach (6 1/2 cups)
6 cups cubed (1-inch) country-style bread (1 pound)
5 1/2 ounces Gruyère cheese, coarsely grated (1 1/2 cups)

Preheat oven to 375° F with rack in middle. Butter a 2-qt shallow baking dish.

Whisk together milk, ream, eggs, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Cook bacon in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until crisp. Transfer with tongs to paper towels to drain, then coarsely crumble.

Pour off all but 1 teaspoon fat from skillet. Increase heat to medium-high and cook shallot and garlic, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Gradually add arugula and cook, stirring, until it wilts.

Stir arugula mixture, bacon, bread, and cheese into custard. Transfer to baking dish and cover with foil. Bake 30 minutes, then remove foil and bake until golden in spots, about 10 minutes more.

Bacon And Cheddar Toasts

Yield: 56 hors d'oeuvres
Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

Ingredients:
1/2 lb extra-sharp white Cheddar, coarsely grated (2 cups) 1/2 lb cold sliced lean bacon, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped (1/3 cup)
1 1/2 tablespoons drained bottled horseradish 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
14 very thin slices firm white sandwich bread

Preparation:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375° F.

Stir together cheese, bacon, onion, horseradish, salt, and pepper in a bowl with a rubber spatula until blended well.

Spread about 1 1/2 tablespoons of mixture evenly to edges of each slice of bread with a small offset spatula or butter knife. Arrange slices in 1 layer on a large baking sheet and freeze, covered with wax paper, until firm about 15 minutes.

Trim crusts off bread and reserve for another use*, then cut each slice into 4 squares. Bake toasts on baking sheet until beginning to brown on edges, about 20 minutes.

*Reserved crusts (with some of topping still on them) can be baked at 375° F until lightly browned, about 10 minutes, then cooled. Break up crusts and sprinkle over salads

Meatloaf

Yield: Makes 6 servings with leftovers
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 1/2 hours

Ingredients:
1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs (from 2 slices firm white sandwich bread)
1/3 cup whole milk
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium celery rib, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely shopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 pound bacon (about 4 slices), chopped
1/2 cup pitted prunes, chopped
1 1/2 pounds ground beef chuck
1/2 pound ground pork (not lean)
2 large eggs
1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Garnish: cooked bacon

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350° F with rack in middle

Soak bread crumbs in milk in a large bowl

Meanwhile, cook onion, garlic, celery, and carrot in butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Cover skillet and reduce heat to low, then cook until carrot is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, allspice, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Add to bread crumb mixture.

Finely chop bacon and prunes in food processor, then add to onion mixture along with beef, pork, eggs, and parsley and mix together with your hands.

Pack mixture into a 9- by 5-inch oval loaf in a 13- by 9- inch shallow baking dish or pan.

Bake until instant-read thermometer inserted into center of meatloaf registers 155° F, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

For a Frozen Peanut Butter and Candied Bacon Pie recipe, go to Page 2.

Frozen Peanut Butter and Candied Bacon Pie

Serves 8
Active time: 30 min
Total Time: 6 hr (includes freezing)

7 slices bacon (about 6 oz)
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
35 thin chocolate wafers, ground fine in a blender or food processor (about 2 cups crumbs)
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup creamy peanut butter (not natural)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups well-chilled heavy cream
1/3 cup salted roasted peanuts, finely chopped

Equipment: Brown paper, such as a grocery bag or butcher paper, a 10-inch pie plate

Cook bacon in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, turning over once, until bacon is lightly browned on edges but still flexible, 5 to 6 minutes total per batch. Transfer bacon as cooked to paper towels to drain.

Pour off fat from skillet and arrange bacon in skillet in 1 layer. Sprinkle 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon over bacon and cook over low heat, turning occasionally with tongs, until sugar is dissolved, caramelized (sugar melts very slowly and burns easily; reduce heat if necessary after sugar begins to caramelize), and coats bacon, 8 to 10 minutes. (Bacon will be dark and look lacquered.) Transfer bacon with tongs to brown paper to cool.

When bacon is cool, finely chop 5 slices, keeping remaining 2 slices whole.
Combine cookie crumbs and butter and press into bottom and side of a 10-inch (1 1/2 quart) pie plate. Chill shell.

In a heavy saucepan dissolve remaining 3/4 cup sugar in milk over medium heat, stirring, then remove pan from heat. Whisk in peanut butter and vanilla until combined well and cool in a bowl set in a larger bowl of ice water, stirring occasionally.

In another bowl, beat cream until it just holds stiff peaks and fold into peanut-butter mixture along with peanuts and chopped bacon. Turn mixture into shell, smoothing top.

Cut remaining 2 bacon strips into 2-inch-long pieces and arrange in a decorative starburst shape in center of pie. Freeze pie, uncovered, until frozen hard, about 5 hours.

Let pie stand in refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.

COOKS' NOTE:
Pie may be made 2 days ahead and frozen, covered with plastic wrap and foil after 5 hours.

Bacon Crisps

Bacon strips
1 egg, beaten well
Tabasco
Worchestershire sauce
Bread crumbs/cracker crumbs

Cut bacon strips into thin squares, and dip the squares into a mixture of beaten egg, seasoned with a few drops of Tabasco and a similar amount of Worcestershire sauce. Then roll them in fine bread crumbs or cracker crumbs, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, fry the squares in butter to a crisp, crackling brown.