Wondering how this all came about? Read the first post here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

STEP 10: CANDIED BACON CHEX MIX


Wait, wait, before you read on, just sit back and let that title soak into your brain a little bit. It'll make it easier to handle this idea, kind of like altitude acclimation when climbing a mountain.

...

OK, there. That should do it. Now turn on your speakers and hit play:



That is the sound of me realizing that there is no law of Man, Nature or God that could forbid me adding bacon to homemade Chex Party Mix. (I didn't invite the laws of Good Taste or Moderation to submit opinions.) It was immediately followed by the kind of euphoria that Newton must have felt when he conceived of gravity, or Einstein when he developed the Theory of Relativity, or Gary Clegg when he perfected the first Slanket.

The moment of inspiration came in a note from my sister-in-law Robin, (youthful) matriarch of Troubled Acres, the original home of our pig. On December 13th much of the family was gathering at the farm and then going out to cut Christmas trees. I traditionally bring a batch of homemade Chex Mix, and she mentioned that she heard about people adding bacon salt to it.

"Fie on bacon salt!" I said aloud to no one, possibly with a pirate accent. "I'm going to add BACON!"


Arrrrrr you hungry for a unique snack?

A quick search of the Interwebs found two types of bacon/Chex Mix hybrids. Bourgeois sites like epicurious.com suggested using bacon fat instead of melted butter for the seasoning. Proletarian sites like allrecipes.com had basic Chex Party Mix sprinkled with bacon salt. But as far as I could find, no one has yet thought that a meat-based snack mix was a good idea.

I was determined to prove them wrong.

The first thing to decide was what flavor combination I was going for. Chex Mix is obviously salty and savory, and so it bacon. I didn't want to overdo the savory, so I figured I would shoot for a sweet/savory mix. In addition, I wanted to make the bacon as durable (for lack of a better word) as possible - a mix might sit out, and I was worried that the high fat content of simple fried bacon might lend itself to going rancid.

The answer I settled on was candied bacon, which is bacon cooked in caramelized sugar. I have no idea if I'm right, but it seemed to me the glaze of sugar would help preserve the bacon, which is already partly preserved through smoking and brining. (Don't know if it's the same idea, but I was thinking of fruit preserves.)

I'm going to write up this recipe as if it was my own, but in reality I just looked at a bunch of recipes for candied bacon and did a little pick-and-choose of the different recipes. I then took the classic Chex Party Mix recipe and modified it to fit my needs. The source material is as follows (for fair attribution):

Candied Bacon ingredients: epicurious.com
Candied Bacon methodology: The Hungry Mouse
Chex Party Mix base recipe: Chex.com

Source: My synthesis of the above

Candied Bacon Chex Mix

Ingredients:
Candied bacon (see below)
3 cups Corn Chex® cereal
3 cups Rice Chex® cereal
3 cups Wheat Chex® cereal
1 cup dry roasted peanuts
1 cup bite-size pretzels
1 cup garlic-flavor bagel chips, broken into 1-inch pieces
4 tablespoons bacon grease (reserved from making candied bacon)
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ teaspoons seasoned salt
¾ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 pouch dried fruit pieces

Candied Bacon

8 slices bacon
1/2 cup demerara sugar (aka turbinado sugar; best known brand name is Sugar in the Raw)

Instructions:
Making the candied bacon
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • Line a shallow pan with foil and put in light racks (I bought cheap ones at Cub rather than ruin a good cooling rack)
  • Lay out the bacon and sprinkle the top of each slice with 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar (I used about 1 1/2 each - a nice even coating)
  • Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. 
  • The bacon should be browning and glistening, but not crinkling up or blackening. Remove the pan, flip the bacon, sprinkle each with another serving of sugar.
  • Bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  • Remove and lay the bacon on brown paper like a grocery bag to cool (NOT paper towels - the sugar will make it stick)
  • Pour off whatever grease comes easily from the pan and set it aside.

I actually did the bacon the night before and put the bacon in the fridge (after sampling a slice, of course - delicious!) The next day I made the Chex Mix proper.

  • Preheat the oven to 250 degrees; place a large roasting pan containing 4 tbsp of bacon grease (from making the candied bacon) and 2 tbsp of butter in the pan to melt as it preheats. (If you got 6 tbsp of fat, you could use just that. You just want enough melted something to coat all the mix.)
  • While it preheats, mix the cereal, peanuts, pretzels and bagel chips in a large bowl.
  • Chop the bacon into small squares and add to the mix. Mix it all up evenly.
  • Once the oven is heated and fat/butter melted, remove the pan and stir in all seasonings.
  • Stir in the cereal mix until evenly coated.
  • Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Before the final stir, sprinkle with the 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • After it's done baking, add the pouch of dried fruit bits and stir. 
  • Let it cool and store in an airtight container.
(To be fair, I was making up a lot of this as I went along. For example, I wasn't sure about the brown sugar, but when Shannon sampled it after 45 minutes she noted there wasn't enough sweetness, so I improvised.)

I started making the candied bacon Saturday night in anticipation of Sunday's trip to the farm for the tree-cutting. Unfortunately, things started going downhill at the old homestead about the time it came out of the oven.


If you don't think that looks delicious, just leave. Now.
 
Our 6-month old Frankie was getting very fussy, and we soon realized he had a fever. We'd not yet had to deal with any real fevers, and weren't sure what medicine to give him or in what doses. Finally at 2:00 a.m. he was so miserable and inconsolable that we called the nurseline and an on-call doctor told us to use infant Motrin. I ran to the store, picked it up and it finally did the trick.

Unfortunately, we ended up getting just a few hours of sleep, and Troubled Acres is an hour and twenty minutes away, and we were expected at noon. We decided Shannon and Frankie would stay home so he could recuperate and I would go to see my family and get our tree, as long as I could be home early. I dragged myself from bed and made the mix, but between fussing over Frankie and staring blankly at the stove in a half-sleeping stupor I missed the window to make it in time.


Pre-baked. Kind of like Woody Harrelson is never.

We missed the tree-choppin' party, but it was for the best - Frankie's fever roared back and it would have been a miserable day to abandon them. Even better, we now had 14 cups of the world's newest, best snack all to ourselves!

Unbelievably, I failed to get a picture of the finished product. So instead I'll ask that you please just stare at this blank space and imagine the most face-meltingly beautiful thing that comes to mind riding the second most beautiful thing that comes to mind and holding aloft the third most beautiful thing that comes to mind:


 "Whatever you do, Marion, DON'T OPEN YOUR EYES!"

I think this one is a winner, although I think I will continue to tweak it - maybe sub in dried apples for the assorted fruits, maybe cinnamon and nutmeg instead of the garlic and onion, go for a kind of autumnal flavor. We really weren't able to get unbiased opinions, but we both felt this current version was a great balance of sweet and savory, chewy and crunchy. The dried fruit was added to add sweetness and complement the bacon flavor, but it also ended up being a nice texture addition, since the fruit and bacon were about equally chewy. The cereal crisped very nicely in the bacon grease, and I think some of the sugar probably melted off the bacon and into the rest of the mix as it cooked.

I'd hate to guess the nutritional info, but as far as over-the-top treats go, it's probably not the worst one out there - can't be unhealthier than a slab of turtle cheesecake, for example. Really, once it's split up into human-sized servings, it's probably like having some Chex Mix and a half slice of bacon in the same day. If that's the worst thing you've eaten, well, I feel sorry for you.

The problem is that we had a hard time eating it in human-sized servings, especially with 14 cups on hand. Shannon brought a Tupperware container to work to share with her coworkers and ended up eating most of it herself. Her boss had a sample and yelled 'Keep it away from me!' for fear it would take over her life (at least, that's what I assume she meant.)

We kept it around for a week in the refrigerator, and it still tasted fine at the end of that time, so it does keep for a while. I'm going to make another batch for the family party on Christmas Eve, and I'll report back then.

Until then, stay hungry, friends!

Bacon Footnote:
This recipe didn't use the full pound I thawed, so later in the week I fried up the last few slices and made a couple grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches with sourdough and a good smoked cheddar.



Don't really need to wax philosophical on this, but in the interest of completeness I wanted to make sure I captured every recipe I make. I will note that those are Clausen dill pickles, the ones you buy in the cooler case (they're in the meat department at my local Cub). Best pickles out there, in my opinion.

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