Shanghai Smashed Cucumber Salad

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One quick announcement: the winner of the Des Moines Bacon Company giveaway is Lori of Lori’s Culinary Creation. Congrats to Lori and thanks to everyone who entered. I’ve another giveaway planned for you, so stay tuned!

When I visited Shanghai three years ago, every dinner I had on my trip started with cold appetizers, like smoked fish, drunken chicken, and smashed cucumber salad, which was my favorite. I was quite obsessed with the dish and had been wanting to recreate the dish at home, except that I couldn’t find that type of cucumber back in the States. Recently, I’ve discovered that Persian cucumbers are very similar to what I had in Shanghai. In terms of appearance, they are slender, deep green, and with a bumpy skin. They are also sweet, seedless, very crispy, and not as bitter as say, kirby or English cucumbers- all characteristics that make them perfect for this salad.

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This recipe is my rendition of the traditional dish. I’m using fish sauce and chicken bouillon powder here, which I find blend nicely into the vinaigrette. Soy sauce can be too pungent and overpowering sometimes.

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Smashing the cucumber with the back of a knife bruises and breaks it down into smaller pieces, which allow the cucumber pieces to soak up the flavors of the vinaigrette. The cucumbers are then marinated and chilled until serving, so that they take on a sweet, tangy, and refreshing taste.

I’m going to warn you in advance- this dish is pretty addictive! My sister Kelly (by the way, she writes a lifestyle blog here, so you should definitely check it out!), who hated cucumber all her life, took a bite and was forever changed. Who knows, maybe it will change your taste buds too.

Shanghai Smashed Cucumber Salad
(serves 4)

5 seedless Persian cucumbers, halved lengthwise
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsps Chinese Jinjiang vinegar
¾ tbsp sugar
2 tbsps fish sauce
½ tsp chili garlic sauce
¼ tsp dark sesame oil
¼ tsp chicken bouillon powder

On a cutting board, smash cucumbers with flat side of knife and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch pieces. In a bowl, whisk together garlic, vinegar, sugar, fish sauce, chili garlic sauce, sesame oil, and chicken bouillon powder. Add the cucumber pieces and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

*If you can’t find Persian cucumbers, you can use other types of cucumber and follow the recipe as is with this additional step: in a colander, toss cucumber pieces with about a tablespoon of salt and set it over the sink until some of the liquid is released from the cucumbers. Rinse with cold water and pat dry with paper towel. This step removes the bitter juices and excess moisture so that the vinaigrette does not get watered down when the cucumbers are being marinated.

*Smash the cucumber to break it down slightly but not so much that it turns into mush.


Candied Smoked Chipotle Bacon (And a Giveaway!)

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I think it’s no secret that I’m a bacon aficionado. I love to create new and interesting recipes that involve bacon, so I was really thrilled when Jim from Des Moines Bacon Company offered to send me their products to try! I tested a few recipes with them and was quite pleased with the results, especially in this candied bacon recipe I am about to share with you. And there’s more information about a giveaway you can enter to win a free box of bacon (like the one below)!

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Des Moines Bacon Company specializes in thick-cut artisanal bacon made from fresh, locally procured pork belly using a traditional dry curing process.  Dry curing is a method that uses only dry ingredients instead of water.  By omitting the water, there is hardly any shriveling or splattering when the bacon strips are cooked.  Therefore, you can be rest assured that what you are paying is actually for meat and not water weight.  In the past, I’ve encountered problems with bacon shriveling up as I’m frying them in the skillet, leaving very little meat after cooking.  But definitely not so with this bacon!

post1-9Des Moines Bacon Company uses salt, sugar, and a variety of seasonings to produce four varieties of bacon that are available: Maple, Smoked Chipotle, Italian Herb, and Hardwood Smoked Uncured Bacon.  Maple Cured is a great all-purpose bacon perfect for breakfast, on a sandwich, or on a hamburger.  Smoked Chipotle (the one I used in the recipe below) is peppery, with a hint of spice (not spicy though), and goes well on a hamburger or with a steak.  Italian Herb contains a blend of Italian seasonings, and will surely enhance the flavors of a BLT sandwich or Cobb salad.  Hardwood Smoked Uncured Bacon is an alternative to the traditional cured bacon, as it is made with celery juice powder instead of curing salt.  The uncured bacon slices are nitrite- and nitrate-free, which is particularly good for you to enjoy if you are health conscious and mindful about added chemicals.

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I found it difficult to choose a favorite because they are all delicious in their own ways!  When cooked, each of them delivers a unique aroma and taste.  I love how little I have to do to give my dishes an additional layer of flavors.

Now that I’ve whet your appetite, here are the details about where you can pick up some of Des Moines Bacon Company’s products if you’re in Iowa.  And don’t fret if you’re not near any of those locations, because they can be shipped to you.  While you’re on their website, I’d definitely recommend checking out the page on making your bacon at home!  I’d love to give it a try if I can get my hands on a smoker.

Now about that giveaway…

**Giveaway is now closed. Congrats to Lori and thanks to all who entered!**

Des Moines Bacon Company has kindly offered a variety pack of bacon to one reader!  There are five ways to enter and each entry must be a separate comment (you can have up to five entries).  This giveaway ends on 11:59 pm EST on Saturday, January 19, 2013:

1.  Leave a comment below answering the questions: which of the four types of bacon from Des Moines Bacon Company would you most like to try?

2.  Like Des Moines Bacon Company on Facebook (and leave a comment below telling me you’ve done so)

3.  Follow @the_tasty_bite on Twitter (and leave a comment below with your twitter name)

4.  Tweet the following: Win Des Moines Bacon Company products from @the_tasty_bite #giveaway http://wp.me/p2wTWx-AC  (and leave a comment below with your twitter name or link to the tweet)

5.  Subscribe to my blog by email on the right hand side (don’t forget to confirm your subscription via the emailed link and leave a comment below telling me you’ve done so)

*Giveaway is open to US residents only (sorry international readers!)  Winner will be randomly selected on January 20, 2013 via http://www.random.org and contacted directly via the email you provided in the comment section.

And here’s the recipe I promised you…

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Candied Smoked Chipotle Bacon
(makes 12 pieces)

½ cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp black pepper
12 thick-cut chipotle smoked bacon slices

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set a cooling rack on top (I just used a disposable aluminum foil tray with ridges for easy clean up).

In a shallow dish, mix sugar, cinnamon, and black pepper.  Dip bacon slices in the sugar mixture, coating both sides, and thread each strip of bacon onto a wooden skewer.  Place the bacon skewers on the rack.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the bacon appears to be caramelized and crispy.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Smoked Almonds

I have a grocery shopping habit and it often goes like this: I go through a mental checklist of items I need, jot them down by categories on a notepad, and head to the store with a plan.  When I’m there, the trouble begins.  I see some peaches in the most stunning shades of red and orange (I love colors) and I’m not exactly sure what I should make with them.  But they are just so lovely I can’t possibly pass them by!  Hmm…maybe peach cobbler?  Between compiling the list and reaching the grocery store, I’ve somehow lost interest in making cream of broccoli soup, so heavy cream is crossed off the list.  And the skirt steak…seems incredibly tempting with chimmichurri sauce, which means I now need mint, parsley, and…what else is in there?  Rosemary?  This kind of indecisiveness goes on and on until I realize I’ve spent more time than I’ve intended.  I rush to the checkout, out of the store, and home with my grocery bags.  Then, as I unpack everything, I realize that my entire plan has fallen through.  I forget to pick up the heavy cream, which is supposed to be for the cream puffs.  I check the chimmichurri recipe and find out that I need cilantro for the chimichurri sauce, which I don’t have.  But now I have rosemary, which I have no use for.  And then there’s the peach cobbler.  You can’t make it without flour, right?

I know.  These are the kind of conundrums that occupy my mind during my waking hours.

You see, bacon has been on my list for about three months now (how is it possible that I haven’t cooked with bacon in three months?) and has kept getting lost in this shuffle.  Now you ask, how does bacon make it to this recipe?  Well, simply as a result of another grocery store fail when I planned to use bacon in my corn chowder and ended up forgetting the potatoes.

These treats are incredibly easy to make, and trust me, when you serve them as finger foods or appetizers at a get-together, they don’t last very long.  They are packed with tons of flavors and textures.  Smoky, salty, sweet, chewy, and crispy.  All in one bite!

Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Smoked Almonds
(makes 30 stuffed dates)

15 strips applewood smoked bacon
30 Medjool dates, pitted
30 smoked almonds

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place an almond in the middle of each date.  Cut each bacon strip in half.  Wrap the dates with bacon strip, using toothpicks to hold them together.  Place them on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until bacon is browned and crispy.  Serve warm or at room temperature.