NomNoms! How to Make Potato Bacon Crisp

As things continue to chill out here in the Northern Hemisphere we get to indulge a bit more in comfort foods, particularly those that take their sweet time in the oven and make your living space come alive with spice-laden aromas. The following recipe is every bit that sort of comfort food and will have savory scents emanating from your oven for hours as it slowly progresses towards golden crispy perfection.

I found the original version of this (pictured above) a while back on the brilliant Smitten Kitchen and, after a bit of experimenting, came up with a few modifications to both the protocol and the ingredients (bacon, bacon, and bacon). Seriously, this blog has been up far too long without a single mention of bacon, for which I apologize.
Though this is one of the more labor-intensive recipes that have been featured on the blog, the work is entirely front-loaded and is mechanically simple, if potentially very time consuming. If at all possible, draft one or more friends into the prep work to cut down on the time spent chopping and soaking. More than a bit of elbow grease is involved, but it's very much worthwhile.
Difficulty: Intermediate
Availability of Ingredients: Most Common
Gadgetry: Optional
Feeds: 2-4 nerds
Time Till Noms: About 30 minutes of preparation, then 1.5-2 hours of baking

Required Equipment: A cutting board, a sharp knife, a large bowl, a ceramic mug, a baking dish (can be a casserole dish, a rectangular baking pan, or a Pyrex brownie pan), a frying pan, a few clean towels (paper or cloth)
Optional Equipment: A mandoline, a mortar and pestle

4-6 medium-to-large potatoes
1/4-1/2 pounds (110-220g) of bacon
1 large shallot
1/2 teaspoon of each of the following spices: oregano, rosemary, thyme, parsley
salt & pepper
1 Tablespoon of oil
1 Tablespoon butter
1 large, thinly sliced clove of garlic (optional)
8-12 ice cubes

*Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees*

Step 1: Fill your large bowl with cold water, then add your ice cubes and set the bowl aside. While the cubes go to work slowing down the molecular jostling of the water, wash each of your potatoes. You can certainly peel them if that's your preference, but I recommend leaving the skins on for extra crunch. If you're using a mandoline, set the blade to cut at 1/8'' (3mm) thickness. If you're using a knife, you'll want to slice the potatoes as close to 1/8'' (3mm) thick as you can. Potatoes at 1/8'' (3mm) thickness should be floppy, but not completely translucent. The idea is you want them to be crunchy, but also capable of being stacked vertically (more on this in a minute). Slice the potatoes.

Dried out and ready to be loaded up with butter
Step 2: Take your potato slides and dunk them in your ice water. This may seem like a weird thing to do, but has a significant impact on overall flavor. (See Stage One here for the reason why we do this) A quick wash, about 5-10 seconds or so, is sufficient. Remove the slices from the water and pat them dry with your towels. Depending on if you're attempting a full portion of this recipe, you may need to dunk the potatoes in batches. Melt the Tablespoon of butter and add the Tablespoon of oil (10-15 seconds in the microwave is a good, easy starting point to melting the butter). Peel the papery outer layer off your shallot, then pry apart each of the 'leaves' inside. You may want to cut each of the 'leaves' in half or in thirds lengthwise to ensure the shallot pieces get even placement in the final dish.
Slice and pry the shallots apart until they look like the pile on the left
Step 3: Pour half of your oil/butter mixture into the bottom of your baking dish, then swirl the dish to ensure the entire bottom gets an even coating. Add a few shakes of salt and some pepper to the remaining oil/butter mixture and whisk this briefly with a fork. Take a handful of your dried potato slices and start stacking them vertically in the baking dish. Continue stacking until you're out of slices. Wedge your bits of shallot 'leaves' at intervals between the potatoes until you're out of shallot. The potatoes should now fit very snugly inside the dish, to the point where inserting those last few shallot pieces may be difficult. If you are including thinly sliced cloves of garlic as well, insert these between the potato slices akin to the shallot pieces. Pour the remaining oil/butter mixture over the stacked potatoes, trying to get as even a distribution as possible.
If it looks like this you're ready for the oven

Step 4: Put the baking dish in the oven and allow the potatoes to cook for an hour and fifteen minutes. After you do this, set a timer for 1 hour.

Step 5: After an hour has passed, break out your bacon. BACON! Coarsely chop the bacon into 1/2'' (1.2 cm) pieces, then toss in a frying pan. Fry the bacon until it's just beginning to bubble and turn up (it should still be pink and floppy at this point). When the bacon reaches this point, remove the potatoes from the oven. Add the bacon and any remaining spices (thyme, rosemary, parsley, etc) atop the stacked potato slices. Try to arrange the bacon and herbs as evenly as possible. Return the baking dish to the oven for another 20-30 minutes.

Step 6: Remove golden brown potatoey bacony goodness from the oven and enjoy!

Voila! Time for noms!

White potatoes are great and all, but can this recipe be done with sweet potatoes?
Definitely. In fact, you can incorporate any number of root vegetables in lieu of, or interspersed with, the potatoes. Turnips, sweet potatoes, taro, and parsnips (or even albino beets) will all serve wonderfully; just prepare these as you would white potatoes. 

Can I add more to the oil/butter mixture and make it more of a sauce?

Of course. Depending on the root vegetables you choose to use in this recipe you can integrate other liquids into the mixture to kick up the flavor. For example, if you were trying to make this dish with sweet potatoes you could add some balsamic or apple cider vinegar to the mix. Or you could put a dash of chili or, if you wanted to get really fancy, truffle oil to imbue the potatoes with that essence. I'd recommend doing so in the last 30 minutes of cook time to prevent these flavorful additions from evaporating entirely.

 A mandoline looks so badass. Is it worthwhile to pick one up?

Here's the thing: mandolines can be very handy to have around and, thankfully, they've become popular enough that you can get one at a reasonable price at many home goods stores. However, unless you do a LOT of lateral slicing (making dishes like these or, say, French fries from scratch) you can do without one in your kitchen. As effective as they are, they are often difficult to clean and must be used with extreme care. Those blades are no joke. So I'd say make an honest appraisal of how much you'd make use of this little device before running out to get one. Long story short, you won't see a mandoline entry in the Kitchen Codex. On most occasions a good sharp knife will do just as well.

Can I do this with turkey bacon?

You can do it with any cured meat or no meat at all if you wanted. For all my clamoring on about bacon, the potatoes are really the star of this recipe.

As always, best of luck in your culinary adventures!
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Cosplay: Halloween 2012

Whew! With the last of this year's workish Elder Hydra effectively dispatched, the rest of 2012 seems a bit easier by comparison, thesis notwithstanding. This reprieve comes not a minute too soon, as Halloween is literally right around the corner. I'll occasionally field questions about the impending festivities, the majority of which are derivations of: You love costumes, so does that mean Halloween is your favorite holiday?
Like this? Check out more awesome nerdy pumpkins here!
The thing is, not really. Don't get me wrong, the premise of getting together with friends and enjoying the epicurean wealth of autumn while in costume is awesome, but no more or less so than any other time we get together. As mentioned a while back, most cosplayers, myself included, tend to focus their sartorial efforts around specific conventions. By this point in the year, the vast majority of the convention season has come and gone and cosplayers tend to be A) exhausted from a recent event B) in the midst of planning for next year's conventions or C) all of the above. I imagine that this is particularly true for all you lucky nerds out there who are recently returned from NYCCC. Given all that, it's hardly surprising that someone who's already devoted untold hours to formal costuming might want to take it a bit easier outside of an actual con.

This does not, however, imply that there will not still be fabulous attire. It's just that said garb may be lighter on the overall construction time than say, spending six months re-creating Aayla Secura's trademark outfit. Ostensibly, this certainly doesn't apply to all cosplayers and many of us often use Halloween as a viable excuse to re-wear a costume that may have been previously reserved for the convention halls. In pretty much any other year I'd be in this latter category, but logistical concerns and a plain old lack of free time will prevent Aayla from making a second appearance this year.

The whole no-time-but-must-get-a-costume phenomenon is insanely prevalent for nerds and non-nerds alike. Just check out any Party City the week or two before Halloween to see just how many people try to pull an outfit together at the last minute. Though trying to do so comes with a certain inherent pressure, it's entirely possible to assemble an awesome, and potentially geeky, costume with only a few pieces and minimal effort. The two simplest routes to a snazzy costume are as follows.

Choosing a Contemporary Character
The single easiest thing to do is to emulate a character from a property based in present day or thereabouts. Your closet could potentially provide everything you need. Aside from being cheap, the costume will be entirely reusable and is assured to fit you properly. The key to pulling off this sort of costume is to focus on the details that make your chosen character distinctive and making those as accurate as possible. A simple striped scarf/tie and a wand can transform your prim, scholastic getup into the garb of a Hogwarts coed. Some fake blood, a smattering of grime, and select weaponry and you could be just about anyone in the cast of the Walking Dead. Your favorite web comics, books, or TV shows are excellent source material for this sort of costume.
Building off a Pre-Made Costume

Some of our nerdy brethren will regard this suggestion as straight-up heresy. Those pre-fabricated costumes are cheap insults to our hard-wrought crafting! While I understand the sentiment, almost no one takes kindly to the notion of their chosen art form being watered down for mass consumption, I feel that these arguments are a bit narrow in the scope their criticism. Pre-made costumes can be an excellent starting point for a project, especially if you are a sewing noob. As mentioned a few posts back, I'm just now, after a few years of dedicated cosplay, getting to be adept with a needle and thread. My first forays into tailoring involved deconstructing and reconstructing costumes that came out of little plastic bags. The little-kid method of taking something apart to see how it works is entirely viable with costumes and I highly recommend doing so! If you're trying to put a little proverbial oomph into your Halloween getup or if you've wanted to get into cosplay but you're not sure how, this can be an ideal course of action.

Something to try and practice if you're planning on working with pre-made items is to see the costume for its parts, to mentally drill down beyond its obvious application into the realm of what it could potentially be used for. Example: my very first cosplay was a tribute to Lieutenant Sarah Kerrigan from the Starcraft series. While I was enthusiastic about bringing the character to life, I had no experience building armor and was at a loss as to how to make her ghost garb come to life without a crash course in working with fiberglass. After perusing the aisles of a local party supply store I conceived of the idea to combine this Padme Amidala jumpsuit with the plating from this <ahem> interesting take on the Tin Man. Some silver spray paint, blue fabric liner and one giant Nerf gun later produced this:
Let me at some zerg!
Hair I can relate to
This year's Halloween costume is going to be less alchemy, more adjustments to a pre-made base. During the summer, I fell in love with Merida, the heroine of Pixar's latest offering, Brave. Feisty, Celtic, and redhead were all things I could easily relate to and have no trouble replicating. To do so, I procured a generic medieval gown in a dark green crushed velvet. The actual acquiring of said dress ended up being something of a hassle <cough Etsy fail cough>, so, while I won't recommend my source, I can point out that this and this are perfectly suitable starting points. Of course, if you've got the skills and the time, you can use a simple pattern like this one and make your dress.

The sleeves may be wrong, but the texture is spot-on
The gown that arrived only partially resembled what I'd ordered, so a few amendments were necessary. These 'fixes' are great examples of what you can do to make an existing garment into a solid costume.

Sleeves: Merida's dress has close-fitting sleeves that feature two apertures through which her chemise peeks through. To recreate this with the enormous bells of fabric on my remnant of my Misadventures with Etsy, I removed both sleeves by carefully pulling apart the original seams that held them to the torso of the dress. Next, I marked the point where my elbow hit on each sleeve and, starting from that mark, pinched the remaining fabric together until I could see the point at which it would lie directly against my arms. I then cut away the excess fabric starting at the elbow point and moving along the "lie flat" line to the wrist. Of course, this left a fairly long gap that would need to be closed. Traditional Celtic attire tends to feature lacing as the gap-closing method of choice, so I installed eight grommets (four per side) into each sleeve. Grommets (a.k.a. eyelets) are an easy way to not only make corset style lacing, but reinforce the structural integrity of the fabric and prevent any fraying or tearing that may result from pulling on the laces. After that it was simply a matter of cutting out a hole around each elbow and using the extra fabric from the sleeves across the gaps to create that striped effect. A few simple stitches reattached the sleeves to the body of the dress but you could also just have them remain separate and pull them on over whatever you use as your under layer (which we'll get to in a minute).
Corset lacing is literally this easy
Overall Fit: Aside from the bell sleeves, the gown arrived with another surprise feature: being about two sizes too large. Though taking in a dress can often be tricky, there was fortunately an easy workaround that prevented the need for full-on alterations. If you should find yourself in a similar situation, know this: corset backs are your friend. It's pretty much what I did to close the sleeves only on a slightly larger scale. Measure in to the point where you'd like the lacing to end, then pinch the fabric of the mid-back area between this point and the collar until you get to the desired fit. Cutting along this line will leave a sizable V of open space in the back of the dress. Install grommets along either side of the V, then feed the lacing of your choice through them alternating sides to get the characteristic X patterning in the laces. 

Accessories: Since Merida's dress is almost floor-length (which doesn't stop her from climbing waterfalls and rideing horses), you can get away with wearing just about any brown shoes. The only other accoutrements you may need are a bow, a belt, and some seriously foufy red hair. Her belt is a simple, unadorned brown strip of what's presumably leather, which leaves a lot of room for improvising. You can procure an inexpensive prop bow at several online and physical retailers. I'm reusing this bow from a costume I wore at this year's PAX East which is simply this bow from Amazon covered with this air dry foam clay painted to look like wood. If you want to be entirely accurate, a small brown quiver like this is also necessary.

That just leaves the hair. As someone who possesses a significant amount of stereotypically unruly red curls, I'm just going to let my hair down. If you are not one of my redheaded mutant brethren, then this and this may provide suitable scarlet foufiness.


For heavy fabrics, you'll need a grommet punch
What in the name of Zod do you mean when you say 'install a grommet'?
The awesome thing about grommets, aside from allowing for fun lacing, is that they're usually very easy to put into fabric. They typically come in little kits of metallic "halves". All you have to do is decide where you'd like to put one, then place one half on each side of the fabric facing towards one another and pinch them together. Occasionally, you may need to reinforce this with some added pressure to ensure that they're secure. If you want to work with heavy or very stiff fabrics, you may want to invest in one of these to help with this process. Otherwise, installing the grommets is quick and easy.

Where on Earth do I get a chemise? Do I need to have one?
If you want your costume to accurately reflect what's depicted in the movie, then some sort of white under layer is necessary. If you want to be truly authentic, you can sew a chemise very easily (this is a good starting point) or order one online. Just about any vendor who deals in medieval or renaissance garb will sell these, but they can sometimes be pricy. If you'd rather just preserve the overall look without making or buying a chemise you can substitute a flowy white blouse or tack swatches of white cloth around the inside edges of the gaps. Of course, if you have all the other pieces of this costume and choose not to have any under layer it's not going to be the death of the outfit. People will likely recognize the character with or without a bit of white in the sleeves. 

Corset backs are fun! Can I add one to any dress?
You could probably add a corset back to most dresses if you really wanted to. The thing to consider is the fabric of the dress. If you have a good, stiff cloth that can support itself or a forgiving fabric that has just a bit of stretch to it (like crushed velvet) then a corset back is a viable possibility. Take care with gauzy fabrics or cloth that has the ability to stretch a lot, as these can come apart when you pull on them. You'll need to add staves or some other form of support to create a corset back in these fabrics.

What should I use for lacing? How many laces do you recommend? 
Soft leather wraps, thin fabric cords, or long strips of extra cloth from any dress adjustments you've made will all serve as good laces for this costume. I'd recommend using either a set of two separate laces or one long lace folded in half for each closure (placing the midpoint of the single lace at the apex of each V). Either option will work just fine.

Best of luck with your costuming endeavors! As always, feel free to share your work via any one of our social media pages. Just click on the link 'Follow the Nerds' and show us what you've got!

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