I’ve felt pretty strongly about something for a long time, and Kelly’s recent post about Whole Grain Newtons inspired me to finally get if off my chest. Here’s the thing: Turkey bacon is not bacon. They’re not the same thing. They’re just not.
Now, look. It’s fine if you like turkey bacon. You’re allowed. I don’t mind the stuff, I just don’t usually find myself wanting to eat it. It’s a perfectly okay food, if that’s what you’re in the mood for. But if you’re in the mood for bacon — real, delicious bacon — and someone offers you turkey bacon? No. That’s not going to cut it. It’s not an acceptable substitute. The texture’s wrong. The flavor’s wrong. It’s about as far from actual bacon as a protein can get.
Several years ago, when Tim’s parents lived in Atlanta, we went down to visit them over spring break. The night we arrived, we all watched a Jim Gaffigan stand-up special, in which he talked at great length about his love for bacon, as he does. Tim and I both commented about how, yeah, bacon is pretty amazing, at which point Tim’s mom piped up with a story about her and my father-in-law’s trip to the grocery store that morning. “We were about to check out,” she said, “when I realized we hadn’t bought any bacon. I knew you guys would want bacon in the morning, so I made your father go back to the back of the store to get bacon.”
This was great news. Tim’s mom is a wonderful cook, and one of the many perks of going to visit his parents is that we get to wake up to the smell of whatever delicious breakfast she’s prepared each day. So we already knew we had a good breakfast to look forward to in the morning, and Jim Gaffigan had us craving bacon, and now — miracle of miracles! — our delicious breakfast was going to include bacon! This vacation was off to the best start ever!
We got up the next morning, super excited for breakfast, and…you know where this is going, right? It was turkey bacon. There was no bacon anywhere in the house. Now, breakfast was still good, of course. And the turkey bacon was fine. Like I said, it’s a perfectly okay food. But when you’re expecting bacon and you’re presented with turkey bacon…well. There’s just a certain level of disappointment that comes with the realization that the bacon you were so looking forward to is nowhere to be found.
(I should add that Tim’s mom really is a wonderful hostess and always takes great care of us when we come to visit. I think Tim found a polite way to work into conversation later that week the fact that turkey bacon’s not really our favorite thing, and ever since then, whenever we’ve gone to visit, there has always been real bacon available. She doesn’t have to buy us real bacon — I would eat turkey bacon every day of our visits to them without complaint; really, I would — but she does anyway because she’s very nice. The Morning of the Turkey Bacon has become something we all laugh about together, which is why I can write about it here without worrying that she’s going to see it and think that we’re ungrateful house guests, because that’s about as far from the truth as turkey bacon is from real bacon.)
So there you have it. Turkey bacon, as its own, separate-from-bacon thing, is fine. What’s not fine is trying to pretend that it’s in any way a substitute for real bacon. Turkey bacon and bacon might as well be in separate food groups, they’re so different from each other. My brother once wrote a review of the movie Anaconda in his high school paper in which he commented that the only thing the computer-animated snake had in common with the real snake from another scene (I didn’t see the movie, but I gather that there was only one snake character, and the filmmakers used both a real snake and a CGI snake to play the role of the single snake character) was the number of legs. Likewise, the only thing turkey bacon has in common with actual bacon is the presence of the word “bacon” in the name. Other than that, they are completely separate food items. End of discussion.
Turkey sausage, on the other hand? Delicious. Love the stuff. Would gladly eat it in place of pork sausage any day of the week.
Last month when I asked Tim what new vegetable I should try to make, he was quick to respond: “I think you’d really like sugar snap peas.” I immediately set to work finding a recipe and decided on an Asian Sugar Snap Pea Appetizer. I was planning to whip up some spicy chicken and fried rice (a trusty favorite around here) and this seemed like a good side dish candidate.
The sugar snap peas were quick and easy to prepare, and they came out pretty delicious. The only thing I might do differently next time is toss them in the sauce before broiling them so the sesame seeds get nicely toasted. And there will definitely be a next time.
Lately, few things sound more delicious to me than stir-fried vegetables, so for extra credit I added a bunch of chopped peppers, zucchini, and yellow squash to my standard chicken recipe. Between the chicken-and-veggie stir fry and the yummy sugar snap peas, we had a veritable vegetable medley on our plates.
This new vegetable recipe was another success, and it turns out Tim was right (as usual): Apparently I do enjoy sugar snap peas quite a bit.
In my quest to try a new vegetable recipe each month, I made this baked zucchini recipe in February. Except there was no zucchini at the store, so I used yellow squash, following Tim’s logic that squash and zucchini are generally pretty interchangeable.
I’m pleased to say that February’s recipe was much more successful than January’s cucumber disaster. The Italian flavors of oregano and Parmesan complimented the sweet flavor of the squash nicely, and — let’s be honest — it’s pretty hard to go wrong with something tossed in olive oil and baked until golden brown.
I served these as a side dish for spaghetti and meatballs, which I’m going to go ahead and admit was genius. The little crispy squash slices were good on their own. But then one of them brushed up against some extra spaghetti sauce on the plate, and it was like the two were destined to be together. It was so good, I found myself wishing I’d made squash dipped in marinara sauce with spaghetti on the side. I couldn’t get enough.
At the end of next summer, when everyone’s gardens are overflowing with squash and zucchini, slice those suckers up and put them in the oven with olive oil, Parmesan, and oregano, then dip them in marinara sauce. Trust me — you’ll be glad you did.
One of my resolutions for the new year is to make one new vegetable-centered recipe each month. I know 12 new recipes in a year is not that impressive a number, but what you have to remember is I’ve never been a big vegetable eater. It’s not that I never eat vegetables — I’ve actually gotten much better at expanding my culinary tastes beyond meat, potatoes, and cheese in recent years — but I tend to eat the same vegetables (green beans, peppers, spinach) all the time. I’d like to work more vegetables into my diet, and it seems like the best way to do this is to start cooking with veggies more often. Knowing my general aversion to most vegetables and our usual grocery-shopping habits, one new recipe per month seemed like the best way to set myself up for success with this particular resolution.
This month’s vegetable pick was the cucumber. Cucumbers are kind of okay. I’ll eat them occasionally, but I tend to reach my cucumber threshold pretty quickly. But since I don’t hate cucumbers, I figured I could find a recipe with sufficient other yummy flavors to balance out the cucumber taste enough to make it enjoyable. Enter the California Roll Salad. This recipe has all sorts of things I enjoy — avocados, leafy green lettuce (used in place of iceberg, obvs.), soy sauce, salmon (in place of fake crab). Plus it’s one of the top-rated cucumber recipes on a usually trustworthy recipe site. Surely it could make cucumbers more enjoyable, right?
Yeah, not so much. There were probably some things I could have done differently. I could have chopped the cucumber into smaller pieces so every bite with cucumber in it wasn’t completely overpowered by cucumber. I could have spent an extra couple of bucks on fresh salmon instead of ignoring my firm no-canned-meat policy and buying pre-cooked, pre-shredded canned salmon. Oh, and I could have known better than to trust a group of reviewers who made Microwave Pickles the top-rated cucumber recipe on the site.
So, January’s recipe was a bust, and I still don’t love cucumbers. (Although, to be fair, even without the cucumbers I wouldn’t have enjoyed last night’s salad very much.) Here’s hoping February’s new vegetable recipe will be a bigger success.
About four years ago, when I graduated from college, my parents threw me a fantastic graduation party catered by my all-time favorite Ft. Collins Mexican restaurant, El Burrito. We ended up with lots of delicious leftovers, most of which Tim and I took with us when we moved down to Colorado Springs the next day. We stocked our freezer with tortillas, ground beef, green chile, and sopapillas (we had a lot of sopapillas since we kinda forgot to put them out until the party was almost over — oops!) and basically lived on El Burrito leftovers for the first month we lived here. I can’t even begin to tell you how delicious it was.
While we quickly ran out of tortillas, we had plenty of everything else those first tasty weeks in our house. So once burritos were no loner an option, I started making stuffed sopapillas on a regular basis. I’d just slice open a sopapilla, fill it with beef, cheese, and green chile, and smother the whole thing with more green chile (El Burrito has damn good green chile). It was far from healthy, but who cares? It was delicious, and that’s really all that matters.
That was four years ago. Two nights ago, while eating mediocre Mexican food at a local restaurant, the conversation turned to how much we enjoy El Burrito and how disappointing it is that we’ve yet to find a restaurant in the Springs that compares. We’d been to El Burrito over the weekend while celebrating Christmas in Ft. Collins with my family, and the bland food before us now was just not doing it for us. As we grew nostalgic for the days of a freezer full of burrito- and stuffed sopapilla-makings, when we could satisfy our El Burrito craving whenever the mood struck, Tim mentioned that back then he’d thought I’d invented the stuffed sopapilla. He’d never noticed that fairly common menu item at Mexican restaurants before and thought sopapillas were just delicious dessert pastries. But then we moved into this house and I kept coming out of the kitchen with plate after plate of this “dessert pastry” stuffed with meat and smothered in green chile and he couldn’t believe I’d come up with such a delicious flavor combination. It was genius!
I wish I had invented the stuffed sopapilla — man, what a great legacy to have to my name! — but of course I didn’t, as Tim eventually figured out. I just hope that when he finally noticed the dish on a restaurant menu for the first time there was a big pitcher of margaritas nearby to help him deal with the realization that he was not married to a genius culinary inventor after all