Monday, October 2, 2006

Bacon Canapés

Once a month my wife and I head down to her parents' house, along with her sisters and their families, and we have dinner. Each family is assigned to bring a certain item, and this month our item was some kind of appetizer. Any kind, really.

My wife told me to just buy something. Apparently her mom told her to tell me that I didn't have to make anything, and that we could just buy something. I think you all know me well enough by now to know that I wasn't too keen on cheating like that. But when I searched my brain for ideas, I came up empty. Undaunted, I headed to the grocery store with my wife in search of, well, something. Anything. But I couldn't even find anything pre-made that sounded good, much less any ideas for something to make. I was being pretty moody too, so that probably didn't help.

Then I saw it: a package of little toast crisps! What a perfect canapé base! What I needed was something to pipe onto them. Some kind of savory mousse. Maybe a cream cheese mousse. What could be more perfect? I headed down to the pickle isle and found a little jar of diced pimentos and a jar of green olives. With any luck, I could process these into a paste that would go smoothly into the cream cheese. Last but not least, I grabbed a little half-pint carton (why don't they just call it a cup?) of heavy cream and headed home.

The next day, a couple of hours before we were to leave, I started on some bacon from the freezer that I had out thawing. I laid the strips out on a sheet pan and put them into a pre-heated 500F oven. Every few minutes, I would pull the pan out, give the bacon a flip, and then put it back in. Every couple of times I did this, I would also drain the excess fat into a grease can. On another day I might have saved this for a bacon vinaigrette or something, but not that day. It took more time than frying the bacon in a skillet, but I soon had long, straight, crispy slices of bacon cooling off to the side on paper towels.

While the bacon baked, I turned my attention to the olives and pimentos. For those of you who don't know, pimento is really just another word for roasted red pepper. I pureed about two or three tablespoons of pimento and a small handful of olives together in a food processor, and added about half a block (that's 4 oz) of cream cheese. It was a little on the bland side, so I added half a dozen capers for seasoning. The salt from the capers was just about perfect, and while the concoction was a little more olivey than I wanted, it still tasted fabulous.

Now it was time to try and make a mousse. The cream cheese mixture was a lot softer than I wanted, so I stuck it back in the fridge for a few minutes. Still, I knew it would be too soft to just pipe with a star tip like I wanted. I needed extra help. It was time to employ gelatin. Fortunately, I keep sheet gelatin in my pantry, but you can use powdered gelatin too. It just won't be as easy to work with. I wasn't working with very much, so I decided to just use one sheet. I put it in a metal measuring cup with a little cold water to soften (bloom). When it was nice and soft, I wrung it out , dumped out the water, and added a little cream. Just a little. Those of you out there stuck with powdered gelatin (and that will be most of you), just let your gelatin bloom in the cream.

I put the measuring cup over very low heat and gave it the occassional stir, until all of the gelatin had dissolved. I let that cool just slightly, while I turned my attention to whipping the rest of the cream. My (metal) bowl and beaters had been hanging out in the freezer, so they were nice and cold. I started whipping the cold cream, and then slowly drizzled in the stuff with the gelatin. I whipped to medium peaks, and then folded the whipped cream into the now slightly-chilled cream cheese mixture. It was still too soft! I put the mixture into the fridge for a little while, with the hopes that the gelatin would do its thing.

While that chilled, I went back to the cooled bacon. It wasn't perfectly crispy, so I could still cut it with a knife. I cut it all into squares, and then counted out enough squares so that each toast crisp would have one. Then I cut all the rest of the squares into little bits. I pulled out the mousse, moved some of it into a piping bag with a star tip, and then put a little dab on each toast square. I put a square on each piece at an angle, and then piped a little star onto each one. It worked pretty well for the first one, and even for the second one. But by that point, little pieces of olive and pimento had started to clog up the tip, and the weak mousse started to come out in little almost star-shaped blobs. Eventually, most of those blobs lost their star shape. Still, they looked kind of cool and I didn't have much of a choice, so I stuck them in the fridge and let the gelatin finish firming up. Well, after sprinkling them with the bacon bits, of course.

The trip from our house to my wife's parents is always scary for me when transporting cold foods. Chilled desserts are like geeks; they need to be kept out of direct sunlight if at all possible. Fortunately, the gelatin had finally set up enough that nothing melted onto or off of anything, and the twenty minute drive went without incident. Everyone loved them, and nobody said anything about them having blobs of mousse instead of stars. And come to think of it, it wasn't really mousse, was it? There were still bits of olive and pimento throughout it all.

There was plenty of the non-mousse left over, and I kept it in the fridge in the hope of using it elsewhere. When I checked on it this morning, the gelatin had firmed it up enough that it was the perfect consistency for piping. But since there was so little in there, it was still soft. In retrospect, I suppose I should have made it a few hours earlier. Something to remember for the next time, I guess.

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