Bourbon Bacon Marmalade

Yesterday was the first day that my children and I interacted with people other than the members of our household and my daughter’s best friend from down the street since #snowpacolypse last Thursday night. Of those five days, three of them were legit snowed-in days. Cars stuck in the driveway, roads covered, church closed, hope you don’t need anything from the store days. They were glorious, perfect days. We watched movies and basketball and football. We ate biscuits and chocolate croissants and chicken pot pies and lots of junk food. We played 4000 games of Exploding Kittens and gave the Wii a good workout and read and napped. We stomped around in the snow and walked in the woods and sledded down every hill within a two block radius. We fully embraced those first three days. But by late Sunday night we were all ready to return to a life that involved riding around in cars and interacting with coworkers and classmates and strangers in line at Target.

Only Husband got to rejoin society on Monday, though, and since his car is approximately 3 inches off the ground, he did so in my car. The rest of us, even the boy, skulked around the house all morning like grumpy sloths, slow and drowsy and grazing on fistfuls of Goldfish and the last of the Christmas candy and avoiding eye contact with each other. “No offense, but I need to see other people,” the girl mumbled into her toast. “It’s not that I don’t like you and Hayden and Daddy,” she added quickly, “but…I need to go to school.” And then she trudged back to the nest of blankets and pillows she had created in her room and immersed herself in her games and books. In what I can only assume was a gesture of solidarity, the boy took a three hour nap that afternoon and growled at me when I went in to get him up after hearing him muttering over the monitor. I left him there for another 30 minutes; he pulled his trusty sidekick Gary Moosey over his face and did not protest my departure. During those three hours I sat in our multipurpose room surrounded by unread books and art projects and crafts I have been meaning to do, and instead of doing any of those things, I sprawled on the sofa and stared at them like the insurmountable energy requirements they are. I looked mindlessly at Facebook and Twitter and Instagram until it became evident that no one had anything of substance to say, and then I moved on to pondering a few really deep questions like, “Why are all of our flashlights in a pile on the loft floor?” and “Did I wash my hair when I showered earlier?”

And so when school was canceled for all three of us again the next day, I knew I had to get a grip. I asked Trent to come home at lunch so we could drive him back to work and then actually go somewhere. I found an indoor playground and made arrangements to pick up Mia’s friend and go there after the boy’s nap. I cleaned my floors and did a load of laundry (and washed my hair, just to be on the safe side), and then I started cooking. Some people like to bake–gourmet cookies and multicolored three layer cakes and gorgeous cupcakes with swirls of icing and surprise fillings and actual edible flowers on top. I prefer pots and cast iron pans and an open spice cabinet with a good recipe that I may or may not even follow. I prepared that night’s dinner, a “clean” version of Hamburger Helper I invented. I made the kids a proper hot lunch that did not come from a microwaveable cup. And then I prepared the glorious reason you’re reading this right now. Oh sure, you may have skimmed these first three paragraphs to be polite, but I know you came here for the Bourbon Bacon Marmalade. And I don’t blame you.

Until last October, the words “bourbon” and “bacon” and “marmalade” were independent entities for me, each serving its own purpose but not on the same team, or even the same meal, really. But on a date night at a restaurant in Durham, the server recommended their house made bacon jam as a hamburger topping, and when we left that restaurant an hour later I was already scouring Pinterest for recipes. I settled on this one, which is adapted from a Martha Stewart original, and which I later modified to what I have to confess is absolute perfection. If God were having some folks over and made this Bourbon Bacon Marmalade as an appetizer, He would likely taste it and then put it away and tell His guests He was sorry, it wasn’t that good, He must have missed a step or something, He was just going to divine some chips and salsa–and then He would eat it all later and not share it, not even with Gabriel. That’s right. It’s that good. You’re going to want to have some right away, and the only way that’s going to happen is if you get busy following this recipe, because we will not share it with you, either.

Here’s what you’ll need to make my modified version:

1.5 pounds of bacon (this is about 18 slices of thick cut bacon)
1 sweet onion (Vidalia or similar), finely chopped
3 shallots, finely chopped
2 teaspoons of minced garlic (or 3-4 finely chopped garlic cloves. I know some people prefer fresh garlic, but I am lazy.)
1 teaspoon of chili powder
1/2 teaspoon of paprika
1/2 cup of brown sugar (I have used both light and dark with the same results.)
1/2 cup of bourbon
1/2 cup of pure maple syrup
1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar

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I recommend starting with the most time consuming tasks: cooking the bacon and chopping the onions and shallots. Husband is usually home to help with this process, so he is on bacon duty while I’m chopping. He cooks a few pieces in the cast iron pan, because you will need a few tablespoons of bacon grease in the pan later, and runs an assembly line through the microwave for the rest. He was at work when I made the last batch, so I cooked the bacon in the oven (400, foil lined baking pan, 20 minutes, two batches), which gave me plenty of time to chop the onions and shallots and retrieve items my son kept throwing in the garbage (I hand chop the onions and shallots because the one time used a food processor to chop onions, I ended up with a nasty pureed onion smoothie. If you know something I don’t about choppers and food processors, please share). I was able to spoon a few tablespoons of bacon grease off the baking sheet and transfer it to the cast iron pan with no problem.

Whatever method you choose, make sure your bacon is on the crispy side. Let it drain on paper towels until it’s not too greasy, and then cut or break it into small pieces. Set it aside for later. Try not to eat a piece every 30 seconds. I dare you.

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Transfer your bacon grease to the cast iron pan if it’s not already there and set the heat to medium. When the pan is hot, toss in the chopped onions and shallots and cook them until they start to caramelize. When they begin to turn a light brown color, add the garlic and cook another minute or so. Add the chili powder and paprika and stir thoroughly.

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Increase the heat to high and slowly pour in the bourbon and maple syrup. Bring the liquid to a boil. Use a wooden spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan, especially if you cooked any of the bacon in it. Boil for 3-4 minutes.

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Add the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. Stir the brown sugar into the liquid and continue boiling for another 3-4 minutes. The mixture will turn a deep dark brown color.

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Finally, add the bacon to the pan. Stir it around until every piece of bacon is coated with the liquid mixture. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.

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The recipe I used suggests transferring the marmalade to jars at this point. Martha’s original recipe probably includes instructions for blowing your own glass for this step. We just dump it into a lidded glass bowl. It really doesn’t matter. Just make sure it’s easily accessible. You’re going to want to get it out often.

I was telling a friend about Bourbon Bacon Marmalade recently, and she asked what we ate it with, and I replied, “a spoon.” I am only partly joking. My favorite way to eat it is on lightly toasted French bread with brie or Camembert cheese on top. You can also mix it up and put the cheese on the bread first and top it with the marmalade. I swear they are two separate experiences. It’s also good on burgers, although you want to make sure you don’t over-season the patties so there’s not too much competing with the marmalade. We learned this the hard way.

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I’m happy to say we all returned to our respective outer lives yesterday. I can’t speak for all of us, but I really think I could quickly adapt to being a selective hermit. The wide world is all fine and good unless you’d just rather stay in bed, just like a winter storm is exciting and lovely to look at unless you really need a Target run or some face time with a girlfriend. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of exercising these options on the regular, and so to work and school we go, grocery shopping and soccer practicing and gymming in between, and it works for us because, to paraphrase my wise daughter, I like y’all, but sometimes we need to see other people. It’s nice to know when the world is a little much to take, we get to come home to each other. And Bourbon Bacon Marmalade.


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