FOOD WISE: Back-to-basics approach to food

By Chef Renee Morgan

Chef Renee's Bacon Jam

This week I had the pleasure of participating at the very first Farm to Table Festival, put on by Le Cordon Bleu, my alma mater. It was great fun! I had an exhibit there, spent the day talking with and teaching culinary students, visiting many of my former chef instructors and even did a live cooking demo. As a chef, it was especially gratifying to see so many interested in a back-to-basics approach to food.

One of the things I love about living in Liberty Hill is that many of us are kinda “old fashioned” about our food. By that I mean it’s not unusual to have a vegetable garden, chicken coop or maybe even a few cows. That way of life had fallen out of favor until recently. It’s how I grew up. Heck, if we hadn’t raised our food, we would have starved to death. I’m sure the same is true for many of you. But society “progressed” beyond it and everything has been about convenience.

My grandmother used to say, “just wait, it’ll come back around again.” She was talking about fashions, but it fits here. Nowadays it’s hip to have a garden and raise chickens. Maybe we’re finally realizing that our parents and grandparents had it right after all. There are so many health benefits to raising our own food, even in some small portion. I believe the more chemicals and hormones we can keep out of our food, the better off we’ll be. Okay, enough of that soapbox…

One of the best parts of my day at the Farm to Table Festival was teaching the culinary students about canning. I shared my bacon jam recipe to show them how easy it is to can almost anything. By the way, bacon jam is beyond yummy and good on little toast points for an appetizer, grilled on salmon, used to dress a hamburger or just about anything else.

It’s amazing how many people don’t really know anything about preserving food these days. It seems like in this day and time of economic uncertainty, it might be good to get reacquainted with some of these old-fashioned skills. I mean, the way tomatoes grow around here, there is no reason to ever buy canned tomatoes at the grocery store. You can have your own home-grown ‘maters year round by canning them yourself. Sounds like a lot of trouble, you say? Nah…canning is easy-breezy and you don’t really need a lot of expensive equipment either.

Here’s how it works. First, you’ll need to sterilize your jars and lids. Just dip them in boiling water. Remove them to a clean kitchen towel being careful not to touch them. I move them with sterilized tongs.

Next, fill the cooled jars with your special jam, jelly or salsa. Then secure the two-piece lid and band tightly on the jar. Place the closed jars in a large pot of boiling water, making sure the water covers the jars by at least an inch. I do this with the sterilized tongs, but the canning jar people make a canning rack that holds the jars and has handles to lift them in and out of the boiling water.

You can easily Google how long to leave the jars in the water, but I find 15 minutes works for most things. Once they are removed from the boiling water, allow them to cool completely. As they cool, the lid suctions down, sealing out air and bacteria. A word of warning, if the lid makes a clicking sound, popping up and down when you press on it, the seal didn’t take. If this happens, you’ll need to let the jar cool down, remove the lid and band, put on a new lid and band and try again. You might try letting it stay in the boiling water a tad longer. By the way, this rarely happens. I’ve never had it happen. Also, for low-acid foods like the bacon jam recipe below, I like to use a pressure canner as an extra measure against bacteria.

As you are planning your garden with the How Do Gardener, think about the vegetables you’ll want to be able to “put up” for your winter season. Feel free to email me with canning questions or ideas at ChefRenee@LHIndependent.com.

Chef Reneé is an award-winning, classically trained chef. She earned her culinary degree at the famous Le Cordon Bleu, as well as a bachelor of music degree from Hardin-Simmons University. She has an extensive background in events planning and management. Reneé lives in Liberty Hill with her husband, John, their dogs, cats, chickens and one ornery rooster.

Bacon Jam

Makes about 1½ cups

Bacon jam is best served at room temperature. It can be stored in the refrigerator for two weeks, or frozen in an airtight container for up to one month. Try it on a piece of grilled fish or on your hamburger for an extra special treat!

1 pound thick-cut Applewood smoked bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 large onion, sliced thin

5 garlic cloves, minced

1 shallot, minced

¾ cup brewed coffee

½ cup water

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon honey

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon chili powder

1. Add bacon to large Dutch oven and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 20 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate, leaving rendered fat in pot.

2. Return pot to medium heat, add onion, garlic, and shallot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Return bacon to pot, and stir in coffee, water, vinegar, maple syrup, sugar, honey, allspice, and chili powder. Bring to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until mixture achieves jammy consistency, about 1 ½ hours.

3. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool for 15 minutes. Once cool, use slotted spoon to transfer mixture to food processor, leaving behind excess fat. Pulse until finely chopped, about five pulses, or until mixture has reached desired consistency. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to two weeks.