Guilty pleasures. Every chef I know has them. When you spend years refining your knife skills and palette, countless hours training your staff to create at a specific level of quality, and limitless effort to ensure a memorable dining experience for your patrons, there are times when you just want… a hot turkey sandwich from the diner, with canned gravy on squishy white bread that sticks to the back of your teeth.
Scratch a big-name celebrity chef and you’re likely to find a closet Beefaroni or Velveeta hound hiding somewhere underneath.
Not long ago, I was rooting around our recipe archive, and came across these gems: Bacon Bites. They had all the components of upscale bachelor food, and certainly fit into the guilty pleasure category. They combine simple cooking techniques with three of the greatest food groups imaginable rolled into one snack: bacon, cheese, and squishy bread. What a coup for the holiday entertaining season (not to mention football playoffs) to come! I was off.
The original recipe was an older one, and needed a little rearranging and updating, but the concept was brilliant. Spread cream cheese on soft bread, roll it up, wrap it in bacon, and bake. You can make your own sandwich bread, but the challenge of cutting it into 20 perfectly uniform slices steered me toward the grocery store-brand loaf.
First step? Make the filling. First, stir the cheeses together until no lumps remain.
Drain some roasted red peppers well,
Dice them up, slice some scallions, and stir them in.
That’s the red/green holiday filling recipe, but please don’t stop there. You could mix chunks of smoked salmon and some chives into your cream cheese. Grated onion and horseradish with some shredded cheddar would be tasty. How about some diced shrimp and pineapple? Pepperoni and artichokes? Please feel free to put your favorite flavors inside. The shortcut version is to buy any flavored savory cream cheese you like: I picked up some low-fat veggie cream cheese at the supermarket, but more about that in a bit.
Assembly is pretty quick and simple. Trim the crusts off the bread (I used them to test a bread pudding recipe I was working on, so no waste there. You could also grind the crusts in a food processor for fresh bread crumbs.)
Fastest way to do this is stack 3 or 4 slices and trim them all at once.
Now spread the filling on the bread
And roll up from the short side.
After making a few rolls and seeing some cracking from the bread as I went, I remembered a trick Sue Gray showed me once, when she was making exquisite tea sandwiches for a catalogue shoot. She went over the bread with a rolling pin, which made it more malleable and less likely to crack. Out came out my handy pastry roller; my test kitchen version is an older wooden one.
And the next time I rolled the filled slices, voilà. Much easier.
Wrap each piece in bacon, overlapping the slices like the stripes on a barber pole.
You may have to use a bit of another bacon slice; if so, just tuck it under the end of the first, and trim the excess after the whole roll is covered.
Freeze the rolls for 30 minutes to firm them up, then cut in thirds, and put on a baking sheet.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the bacon is crispy.
Now, the folks who work here get to taste a lot of stuff. They can even get a little choosy over where they’re going to budget their calories: frankly, there are times when the sheer volume of baked goods for tasting in the employee kitchen gets a little intimidating. But savory things tend to attract a crowd, and when I retrieved the tasting sheet I’d put next to this recipe, this is what I found:
Obviously, this one was headed for publication. So I sat down, did the nutritional analysis, and came away crestfallen. There had to be a way to make this less expensive in the Weight Watchers® points zone. I did a little reverse engineering in the nutritional program, and realized I could make a significant dent in the calories by using a lower-fat veggie cream cheese spread, leaving out the Parmesan, and wrapping with some turkey bacon. Everything went according to plan until I got to the turkey bacon part. The strips aren't as long or as stretchy as real bacon, and there’s no fat to help it stick to anything.
When the turkey bacon strip was too short, I tried overlapping the slices like I did with the regular bacon. No dice. So I cut a notch in the end of the first strip, and a corresponding notch in the next one, and locked the two together.
But the problem recurred at the end of the roll; this version was going to need a little help from some toothpick acupuncture, I could see. Here are the turkey bacon-wrapped versions next to their original recipe cousins, getting ready to go into the oven.
After 15 minutes in the oven, things are starting to move. Notice that the turkey bacon roll without toothpick has decided to unravel itself. A teachable moment in action...
At 25 minutes, the turkey bacon version is almost done: the bread on top is starting to brown.
At 35 minutes, the original version is ready to serve. After a 5-minute rest on a plate, they were ready to unleash on my colleagues once again.
When Jim Taylor, who codes a lot of our web pages had his first taste of Bacon Bites, he was pretty much transported. So much so that I had to grab my camera. See for yourself.
His comment? “Foodie heroin.”
Let’s just say that if you’re looking for an easy appetizer to add to your holiday entertaining arsenal that you can make in advance and have whenever you need it, Bacon Bites will be happy to come to the rescue.
Please read, rate, and comment on our Bacon Bites recipe here.
Buy vs. Bake
Buy: TGIFriday’s Frozen Potato Skins stuffed with Cheddar and Bacon, $3.49 for 6 pieces, 58¢ each
Three-Cheese Bagel Bites, $4 for 18 pieces, 22¢ each
Bake at home: Bacon Bites, 18¢ each