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Baking with Bacon Grease

So you're up on the locavore movement and appreciate organics, but what are your thoughts about nose-to-tail eating? You don't have to enjoy sweetbreads to get the most out of the meat you make on a weekly basis. To avoid creating waste, try putting side products to use. Bacon is a favorite in my family, so I spent the past week substituting everything from Crisco to sunflower oil with bacon grease. Fans of pork might not be surprised to learn that everything is better with the bacon.

The mission began when my sister sent me a recipe for granola, using five simple ingredients: oats, brown sugar, maple syrup, bacon fat and an oil of your choice. Feel free to change the ratios depending on how many people you have to feed, because this is a recipe that's (almost) impossible to ruin. (Who doesn't love a good maple-bacon combination?) I used five cups of oats with a quarter cup each of sugar, syrup and the fats. Preheat the oven to 215 degrees F. Mix the oats and sugar together before topping with the wet ingredients to blend. Once they're coated, transfer the oats to two baking trays. Bake for an hour or so, tossing every 15 minutes to ensure even color.

I enjoyed these oats most in yogurt and berry parfaits like the one pictured at top, where the fruit adds a hint of extra sweetness.

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Another excellent twist on the same flavors can be found in maple-bacon ice cream, though only for proud ice cream maker owners or those willing to put in the extra elbow grease. Most bacon ice creams ask you to candy the meat and mix it into a simple vanilla or grown-up vanilla bourbon custard base. I took a David Lebovitz recipe and replaced the four tablespoons of butter with refrigerated bacon drippings. Melt the grease in a saucepan with a half-cup of brown sugar and a half-cup of maple syrup, one cup of half-and-half (or any lower-fat milk if you don't mind sacrificing heavenly texture for reduced calories), a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a pinch of cinnamon. Remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool. (This will happen faster over an ice bath.) Whisk together five egg yolks. Slowly add the sugar-cream mixture to the egg yolks, stirring constantly. You don't want to cook the eggs, so temperature is really important here. Pour the new eggy mixture back into the saucepan and heat on low until thickened enough to coat a spoon. Remove from heat and pour another cup and a half of half-and-half to the custard. Chill in the refrigerator. Once it's cold, pour into your ice cream maker and, following its instructions, make your sweet-and-savory dessert. Add two teaspoons of whiskey at the end for an extra kick. (The alcohol will slow the freezing process, so I prefer to add it later.)

And then there is the oh-so appetizingly named lard cake. It's a standard yellow cake, only made with, you guessed it, animal fat, not butter. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease a baking pan. Mix one cup of milk, two-thirds of a cup of sugar, one-third cup of lard, one egg, one teaspoon of vanilla and two cups of self-rising flour in a bowl. (For those of you who, like me, don't have self-rising flour on hand, mix two cups of flour with one teaspoon salt and three teaspoons baking powder). Pour into pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

For more standard adaptations, feel free to substitute part of the butter (not all, because you need the cold butter for texture) in your favorite biscuit recipe for bacon grease. Or what about bacon-flavored corn bread? At breakfast time, replace the melted butter in your pancake recipe with bacon grease and combine your two favorite morning foods in one flapjack.

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