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Brown Sugar 

You taste so good

click to enlarge Smokin' bacon.

Photo by Jada Calypso Brotman

Smokin' bacon.

I super heart brown sugar, especially in fall, when rich stews, pumpkin pie and dark, caramelly flavors seem cozy and appealing (ditto thick sweaters and Maine accents). I adore sweet things in all forms, but particularly anything dark and caramelized. Why does white sugar even exist? What isn't improved by the rich, butterscotch hug of brown sugar? I love the texture brown sugar imparts. Raw, it's sort of crumbly on the tongue before the heat hits and melts it into a cream. Cooked, it can get chewy, as in the butterscotch brownies below, or mature into toffee, crunchy in the teeth before it diffuses into richness.

I make chutney in boggling amounts and this necessitates huge sacks of brown sugar that gets into my hair and clothes with sticky cloying molasses-ish obstinacy. I can't suck it out. Believe me, I try. If it wasn't for the siren song of chutney, I wouldn't be practically bathing in it by choice, but, typically, I try to turn lemons into lemonade and revel in my sweet brown paradise. I have become a brown sugar addict. If a food can possibly be made with any form of sweetener, I opt for the b-sug. Salad dressing? Brown sugar. Braised leeks? Brown sug. Buttered toast? Damn straight! B.S.!

It's also an appropriate ingredient for this time of year. Right now, it's raining out. The wind is blowing, the cows are lowing, Pop is smoking bacon, and I have butterscotch brownies in the oven and chutney on the stove. Thank goodness brown sugar comes in 50-pound bags.


Pop's Brown Sugar Bacon

Take your pork belly; 3 pounds is a reasonable amount. The Co-op in Eureka has it pretty regularly, or ask your butcher. 
Curing Rub:
I cup salt
3/4 brown sugar
Mix and place in flat baking dish. Lay belly in baking dish (cut into two or three pieces if necessary to fit) and press belly into mixture, rotating and flipping to make sure all sides of meat are covered. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap to ensure salt/sugar is held against meat. Leave in fridge for two or three days. Then, wipe away salt/sugar and store it, loosely wrapped in the fridge, for as long as you like. It will keep for several months now that it's cured.

When ready to use, soak in lots of fresh water for two ours. This gets rid of excess salt and makes it edible. Slice and fry. After the soaking, it will keep a week or two.

We like to smoke it on our barbeque for added scrumptiousness.  When ready to smoke, soak bacon in lots of fresh water for two hours. Make a tiny fire with a few briquettes in your kettle BBQ, feed it with small pieces of fruitwood, alder or corncobs (dry). Adjust intake and vent to a quarter open and get a little fire going. Keep the little fire way on one side of the BBQ. Put the meat on the opposite side of the rack from the fire. Position the quarter-open vent over the belly so the smoke gets sucked across the meat on its way out the vent. Smoke should be pouring out. Keep watching it and feeding it with little bits of wood for three to four hours at least. If you have one, use an oven thermometer to make sure the temp inside the 'cue doesn't get over 125 degrees. Under is fine. Basically, hang around all day and keep your tiny fire smokin'. Slice n' fry. Keeps 7-10 days in the refrigerator. 


Braised Leeks

One leek per person is a nice side.
3 leeks, thinly sliced into rounds up to the point where the green outer leaves separate. Wash well after slicing.
Heat 1 T. butter and 1 T. olive oil in 10-inch cast iron pan. Add leeks and cook over high heat for 3 minutes, stirring. Lower heat to medium and add:
1/2 cup hot chicken stock or veg stock (keep at least another 1/2 cup hot in reserve)
1 T brown sugar
1 t salt 
1 1/2  T balsamic vinegar
Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Stir every few minutes, making sure there is still a little liquid in the pan; add more sparingly if needed. Taste and add more salt as needed. Remove lid, add a splash of cream or cooking sherry (or both) raise heat to high and cook down any liquid remaining until the leeks aren't positively dripping. Serve right away, with a poached egg on top if you're needing protein.


Butterscotch Brownies

(adapted from The Joy Of Cooking)
This has been such a family standby for so many years I have it memorized. Very simple and very good.
I double the recipe as printed in the book, because the original recipe makes very thin brownies. It can be tripled, but do not triple the baking powder, just double it, or the taste is detectable.

Melt into a biggish saucepan:
1/2 cup sweet butter
Turn off flame.
Stir in 2 cups light or medium brown sugar, and cool for 2 minutes.
Beat in 2 eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla.
Beat in 1 cup sifted flour, 1.5 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Add 1/2 cup chopped walnuts if you like it nutty.

Pour into buttered 6 by 10 inch Pyrex dish, or equivalent. Cook 20 - 22 minutes at 350 in preheated oven. Cool and cut. These should be really chewy around the edge and a little gooey in the middle. 

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About The Author

Jada Calypso Brotman

Jada Brotman grew up in Arcata before moving to the U.K. and then New York City, where she cut a wide swath in the world of cheese. Insert joke here. She returned to the home of her fathers four years ago, and now works as a journalist and seasons her crepe pans in downtown Arcata.

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