The Novice Foodie: Bacon, Shakin' and Bikin'

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KELLI BEST-OLIVER
  • Kelli Best-Oliver
When I signed up for my friend's annual bike ride/pub crawl around St. Louis, the infamous Tour de Moose, I was worried more about how my body would hold up than what I would be drinking and eating along the route. After my retirement from collegiate sports, my only regular exercise is playing kickball in Tower Grove Park and walking my dog.

However, my friend Andrew was quick to remind me that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially when you plan on drinking all day. You need to start with a signature cocktail, one with a little heft and ingenuity. Hence, Andrew and I embarked on a quest for cocktail greatness: bacon vodka, tomato water, and lettuce ice cubes -- the BLT cocktail.

We'd been plotting for weeks. We used a cocktail recipe from The Splendid Table as a guide. Andrew was in charge of the bacon vodka, a process he documents on his own blog. Bacon vodka? What miracles hath God created! This is the building block for something transcendent. Andrew assured me that he repeatedly strained the fat off the vodka after it steeped for over a month. I made the tomato "water" and lettuce ice cubes.

Of course, this cannot be a simple process.

First, my "big" food processor, which I bought from Target for $19 about three years ago, shelled out on my very first task, pureeing two heads of iceberg lettuce. As I didn't want our cocktails perfumed with the acrid stink of a mechanical fire, I delegated the heavy-duty chopping to my clearly-superior Cuisinart mini-prep. RIP cheap food processor. I think I got my money's worth. The lettuce cubes were fairly straightforward: two heads of iceberg, a little bit of lemon juice and salt, puree until smooth, and strain through a double-layer of cheesecloth.

KELLI BEST-OLIVER
  • Kelli Best-Oliver
Other than making a cocktail with bacon in it, the best part of these drinks is the vegetable straining. Squeezing the lettuce water through the cheesecloth was quite therapeutic and satisfying. It was almost like milking a cow, except, you know, no udders or teats. Two heads of lettuce yielded about a tray and a half of brilliantly bright-green lettuce cubes.

KELLI BEST-OLIVER
  • Kelli Best-Oliver
For the tomato water, I technically needed eight large tomatoes. However, I'll be damned if I'm going to buy crappy store tomatoes after the mammoth haul I grew in my own garden this summer. I only had six large tomatoes that were really ripe and juicy, so that had to do. Nor did Dierberg's have lemongrass that the recipe called for, so I had to use the kind that comes in a tube and costs an arm and a leg.

The tomatoes are pureed with onions, jalapeños, lemongrass and salt to taste. The recipe also says that cheesecloth is not fine enough to strain this concoction, but I wanted to use something I could easily dispose of, so I used it anyway, which is why my tomato "water" was much more juice-like, what with its pulp and all. No matter.

KELLI BEST-OLIVER
  • Kelli Best-Oliver
The next morning, after tuning up my bike, I packed up the now-frozen ice cubes and the chilled tomato juice and headed to Tour de Moose headquarters, Lemmons on Gravois, where the symphony of ingredients could be combined as the octane fuel we'd need to cycle our way to the finest watering holes in the city. Andrew served as bartender, taking up the shaker like an old pro.

I must admit, our first cocktail collaboration was a success. If you're a fan of bloody marys, you will like the BLT. The bacon flavor of the vodka was subtle, and the peppercorns gave our cocktail a bite. The tomato water was full of the flavor of homegrown tomatoes, and the jalapeños provided heat that did not overpower. The lettuce ice cubes were remarkable to me, if only because they served the same purpose as lettuce does in a regular BLT -- just a touch of cool verdancy to contrast with the tomatoes and pork.

My only quibble was the strength of the onion. Trust me, one does not want to be burping up essence of onion while pedaling up a hill on Morganford, lungs threatening to cough up an ashtray. Next time, I'll cut back the onions, probably by half, and I will make the "bacon dust" to rim the glass to make the drink even more bacony. And I'll take some for the road.

Both Andrew and I completed the entire Tour de Moose, thanks to our breakfast of champions and the numerous beers we consumed along the route (and latent superior athleticism). We're already scheming our next cocktail for Tour de Moose 2010.

Who's up for an Egg McMuffin shot?

Kelli Best-Oliver is on a quest to become a full-fledged foodie. She chronicles her adventures for Gut Check every Tuesday. She writes about any damn thing she pleases at South City Confidential.

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