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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Sunday, April 21

Gapers Block

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I dig pig. Seriously, I could pass up filet mignon, chicken, and lamb for years. But take away pork products* and I'd be a miserable person. I dig pig. Bacon, prosciutto, ham, even that American favorite the pork chop.

However, living in a neighborhood where most of the grocers are Muslim means no pork products. I could go to Jewel or Dominicks, but I try to avoid them for everything but cleaning products, cat litter, and toilet paper. So my last year and a half has mostly been pork free. Andrew will stop occasionally on his way home and pick up items from an Italian grocer (Italians dig the pig, too), but I'm starting to miss getting a craving and walking a few blocks to the store.

So when a friend invited me to her Oscar-watching party and told me it was a potluck, I decided then and there I was going to make appetizers that involved bacon. It's a whim, but it seems appropriate to eat fatty pork while watching wretched excess on television.

But I wanted classy apps. I considered the whole Lil' Smokies (did you know that in Australia cocktail wieners are called "little boys?") wrapped in bacon thing with a side of spicy ketchup for dipping, but that didn't sound very appetizing at all. And potato skins stuffed with cheese and bacon are great, but more appropriate for a Super Bowl party, so I kept looking.

And I'm pretty happy with what I came up with. These are simple but they go just a step beyond your average potluck snack food.

Bacon wrapped dates with pecans
1 pound of bacon
8 ounces of pitted dates
8 ounces of pecans (or walnuts, or almonds, or cashews, or even goat cheese)

Set your oven to 350°. Cut the bacon into half strips. Pick up a date and place a pecan in the center. Wrap a half strip of bacon around the date and pierce it with a toothpick. Place on a jelly roll pan (it's a cookie sheet with sides) that has been covered in parchment or aluminum foil to help with cleanup. Once you have run out of dates or bacon, place them in the oven for about 30 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn the pan around to ensure even cooking. When the bacon is evenly browned you know they're finished. Place on a platter and serve while they're warm.

Smoked Cheddar Black Bean Bacon Dip
(just a step up from your average bean dip found at most parties)
1/2 pound of bacon
2 cloves of garlic
1 can of black beans
1 1/2 cups of shredded smoked cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons of sour cream or mayonnaise
1 roma tomato that has been minced
3 green onions chopped fine
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
3-4 tablespoons of canned chipotle peppers chopped fine
tortilla chips or chopped veggies for dipping

Cook the bacon over medium high heat until it's nice and browned and crispy. Move the bacon onto some paper towels to drain, and pour off all but one teaspoon of drippings from the pan. Cook the minced garlic over medium heat for just a minute or two. You don't want it to burn. Drain the can of back beans and add them to the skillet. Toss them and then use the back of a slotted spoon to mush them down. You want to create a chunky paste. If you prefer a smoother dip you can run the beans through a food processor or blender first. Once the beans have the texture you want and are warmed through, add the remaining ingredients (except for the chips of course). Stir well and let cook for a few minutes. Crumble the bacon over the top and stir it in. Taste to see if it needs salt or pepper or even more chipotle sauce. Move to a serving bowl and serve with chips or veggies.

Baked Mushrooms Stuffed with Brie and Bacon
1 pound of fresh button or white mushrooms
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 teaspoons of dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon of fresh cracked pepper
1/4 pound of brie (or bleu cheese)
1/4 pound of bacon, cut in half

Preheat your oven to 350°. Gently clean any dirt off the mushrooms and remove the stems. (Save them in your freezer for making soup or vegetable stock.) In a bowl, combine the olive oil, thyme and pepper. Add your cleaned mushrooms to the bowl and toss until all the caps are covered. Using your fingers, pinch off blobs of brie and place in the hole where the stem used to be. You want it to be even with the top of the cap. Wrap a slice of bacon around the mushroom, either making sue to leave the seam on the bottom of the mushroom or using a toothpick to keep it from uncurling. Place evenly spaced on a jelly roll pan that has a sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil on it. Bake for about 30 minutes, turning the pan halfway through. Once the bacon looks crispy and brown you're ready to serve.

I love bacon. Adore it. But my doctor would kill me if I cooked with it the way Paula Dean and Emeril Lagasse do. So after this weekend of bacon feasting, I'll be eating lentils and spinach and oatmeal for awhile to prevent the oncoming heart attack. Maybe it's a good thing I have to go out of my way to get bacon.

*Or sushi, but that's another column.

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