Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shameless Bragging


Okay, are you ready for awesomeness?  Good, because nothing epitomizes awesome quite like a BLT.  Especially a BLT in the middle of summer.  And especially, my BLT.  Now I’m going to try and sound as humble as possible about all this, but really, there’s no way to say this without coming across as totally bragging:  I make the best BLT’s in the whole entire world.  

Bing Cherries
BLT’s with Avocado
Corn Chowder
Raspberry-Almond Crumb Bars

This is something I’ve believed for a long time.  And every time I make this stupendous sandwich, I never fail to proclaim this very sentiment, always with a full mouth, between unbelievably delicious bites.  Of course, I do this only when it’s just me and Ben.  (For some reason, I’m a bit more comfortable bragging over the internet, rather than face to face.)  And anyways, if someone else is with us, I just wait for them to say it.  And I never have to wait very long.  I think you think I’m exaggerating, but I’m being totally serious!  It happens without fail.  Just ask Josh and Dana, our dinner guests for the evening, who both, without any prompting or nudging from me, declared it the best BLT they’d ever had. 

The only way I feel okay about such flagrant boasting, is because now I’m going to fill you in on all my BLT secrets, so that now, all of you can, at the very least, tie with me for the Best BLT in the World award.  I’ll share my imaginary trophy gladly! 

BLT Beauty

So, here is my complete list, all the tricks of the BLT-making trade:

1.  Use sourdough bread.  Try it once and you’ll realize what a difference that little extra tang of yeasty flavor makes.  But don’t use those crusty, freshly-baked sourdoughs.  Go with the soft and tender Pepperidge Farm sourdough.  (I know this is an unusually specific request, but you’ll find it’s worth it.)  All too many high-end restaurants fall into the trap of using fancy, artisan bread.  Trust me, this is a big mistake.  And a painful one too, literally, because once it’s toasted, this kind of bread just rips apart the roof of your mouth.  (That’s by far my number one worst pet peeve of lesser-made BLT’s.) 

2. To further prevent against needless rooftop abuse, toast your bread on one side only.  And butter it first too – Brush the tops of both bread slices with melted butter, then slide them under the oven broiler until they’re perfectly golden brown.  

3. Spread mayonnaise on both slices too.  Not only is it delicious, but this oil-based spread prevents the tomato juice from making the toast too soggy.

4. After the mayonnaise, the first layer should be the lettuce.  And go with Bibb lettuce, the hydroponic kind you find in the plastic containers.  It’s just the right blend of crisp and leafy. 

5. Bacon goes next, on top of the lettuce.  Add plenty of it– at least a quarter pound per sandwich.  Be sure to use thin-sliced bacon.  Again, don’t be tempted by the fancy stuff, all thickly cut and smoked over apple wood or hickory or whatever.  Basic is best here, and thin slices makes for much easier bites. 

6. Thick slices of tomato go on top of the bacon.  And use only the best, most ripe, juicy, summer tomatoes available.  This sandwich lives or dies by the tomato. 

7. Add avocado.  Don’t question it.  Just try it.  You’ll never make a BLT again without it.

8. Don’t forget the salt.  Sprinkle a pinch of the kosher stuff, first over the tomatoes, and then again over the avocado.  A little detail, but what a huge difference it makes.

9. Last but not least, serve these guys right away, as fast as you can assemble them.  The longer the toasted bread sits, the tougher it gets, and the roof of your mouth will definitely pay. 


And that’s about it.  None of those tricks are complicated.  And not a single one is all that extraordinary.  But follow them all, down to the letter, and I guarantee you’ll produce a BLT of such shocking magnificence, you won’t know what to do with yourself. 

Gorgeous CherriesA Simple Hors D'OeuvreBing!

I could go on about BLT’s all day, but I should at least give a nod to those beautiful Bing cherries, a delicious, in-a-pinch summertime hors d’oeuvre.  And the lemonade too, my fondest county fair memory from when I was a kid, and an easy recipe – just lemons, sugar, water and ice – for a refreshing dose of nostalgia. 


I’m beginning to fear I’ve applauded my BLT’s a little too thoroughly.  And not that they don’t deserve it!  It’s just that, after extolling such praise on the sandwich, I’m now in a tough spot as I try to describe the soup.  If I start to eulogize again, I risk sounding insincere.  But if I don’t give this delicious corn soup it’s due admiration, I risk you never trying it out for yourself.  And that to me sounds like the worst case scenario.  Simply said, you’ve got to try this soup!

Corn Chowder

My friend Ed made this corn soup for me years ago.  I loved it from the very first bite, and he was nice enough to fill me in on his own tricks of the trade, which I’ve now made my own.  These included a touch of turmeric, for enhancing the golden hue while adding minimally to the flavor, and a good grating of extra-sharp white cheddar, for enhancing flavor to the max.  Along with these special ingredients – tender kernels of sunny yellow corn, flecks of smoky bacon, sweet specks of sautéed onion, baby potatoes with smooth pink skins, rich and lovely chicken stock, a pat of butter and swirl of cream.  I tell you honestly, this is my favorite soup.  And it’s my favorite accompaniment for BLT’s too.  When it comes to soup ‘n sammies, these two are a match made in heaven.


Now, onto dessert...  If you level your eyes along the tops of the cookbooks lining my shelves, you’ll notice a dozens and dozens of tiny, multicolored (and randomly so) strips and rips of paper, peeking out here and there, holding the spots where old-favorite and must-try recipes are hidden amidst the countless pages.  One such little strip, a bright pink one, and just towards the front of Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, marks the spot for these Raspberry-Almond Crumb Bars.  I’ve been wanting to make these for ages, ever since receiving the cookbook a Christmas or two ago.  I don’t know what ever stood in the way, but after months and months, this patient pink paper finally enacted it’s humble duty, and led me to a perfect choice for dessert.  These pretty bars were delicious.  Oh so rich and buttery with a sweet streak of bright jam right in the middle.  But the texture was the best part, a sticky-chewy jam center yielding to crisp and tender shortbread crumb.  It’s a shame I waited so long to try out this recipe.  But now that I have, I can tell you for sure, that mini pink bookmark isn’t going anywhere.  It now officially marks an old favorite.  

Raspberry Jam with Crumbled Crumb Topping

Makes 6 cups
 Squeezing Lemons
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup plus 3 cups water, cold
1 cup lemon juice (from 5-6 lemons)
1 lemon, sliced for garnish
ice cubes
First make a simple syrup:  In a small sauce pot, combine the sugar with 1 cup water.  Stirring occasionally, bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.  Refrigerate until read to use. 
Combine the cooled simple syrup with the remaining 3 cups of cold water and the lemon juice, and thoroughly mix.  Pour into lemon-garnished glasses filled with ice cubes.
BLT’s with Avocado
Makes 4 sandwiches
Oh man!
1 # bacon
8 slices soft sourdough bread (Use this brand)
1/2 stick butter, melted
about 1/4 cup mayonnaise
8 crisp leaves of Bibb lettuce
2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, thickly sliced
1 large ripe avocado, peeled cored and sliced
flaky sea salt, to taste
First cook the bacon: When cooking this much, I like to bake it in the oven rather than pan frying it.  Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Position a cooling rack over a baking sheet, then arrange the bacon in a single layer over the rack.  You may actually need two racks and two baking sheets to fit all the bacon.  Bake until just crispy (but not too crispy), about 25-30 minutes.  Remove from the oven, and lifting the bacon with tongs, arrange it on a bed of paper towels, to soak up some of the grease.
Then toast the bread:  Preheat the oven broiler.  Arrange the eight slices of bread over another baking sheet.  Evenly brush the tops of each with the melted butter, then sprinkle lightly with the sea salt.  Broil until perfectly golden brown. 
Now, assemble the sandwiches:  Working quickly (because the more time that passes, the harder the bread becomes), flip the bread slices over.  Spread mayonnaise evenly over un-toasted sides of each slice of bread.  Now working with just four slices, arrange two leaves of lettuce over each slice.  On top of the lettuce goes the bacon, a quarter of the total for each sandwich.  Top the bacon with 1-2 slices of tomato.  Sprinkle the tomato with salt, then top generously with the sliced avocado.  Again season with salt, then top with the remaining slice of bread, toasted side up.  Serve immediately.
Corn and Bacon Chowder
Serves  6
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbl butter
6 oz bacon, chopped
2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbl all-purpose flour
1 # small red baby potatoes, cut into quarters or eighths
1 1/2 # frozen corn kernels
6 oz sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup cream
kosher salt & lots of freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Combine the butter, olive oil and bacon in a large saucepot, and place over medium heat.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the bacon is just crispy, about 7-10 minutes.  Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, and reserve in a small bowl. 
Add the chopped onions to butter/oil/bacon fat in the pan.  Season with a generous amount of salt and pepper, then sauté, stirring frequently until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the turmeric, mixing well to combine thoroughly.  Then stir in the flour.  Cook for about three minutes, stirring frequently.  Slowly add the chicken broth , mixing as you pour.  Then add the sliced potatoes.  Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.  Simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain just a gentle simmer. 
When the potatoes are tender, add the corn and the reserved bacon. Return the soup to a simmer, then add grated cheese and stir to combine.  Add the cream and and stir to combine.  Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper.  Serve hot.
Raspberry Almond Shortcake Bars
Makes 12 squares of roughly 3 x 3-inches
Raspberry-Almond Shortcake Bars
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp, cut into pieces, plus more for buttering the pan
1 1/2 cups blanched (skinless) almonds, very finely ground in a food processor
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups raspberry (or apricot or blackberry or strawberry or…) jam
Preheat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle of the oven.  Generously butter at 9 x 13-inch baking pan. 
Whisk together the ground almonds, flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter, working until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Transfer half of the flour mixture to the prepared baking pan, and press it evenly over the bottom of the pan.  Bake until lightly golden, about 15 minutes, rotating the pan half-way through.  Transfer to a wire cooling rack and cool completely. 
Evenly spread the jam over the cooled crust.  Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the jam filling, gently squeezing handfuls of the mixture, then crumbling it into coarse pieces, spreading the crumbs evenly over the jam. 
Bake until the topping just begins to turn lightly golden, about 20 minutes, rotating the pan half-way through.  Transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
Using a sharp knife, trim around the edges of the pan.  (The crusty edge is a good snack.)  Slice the inner rectangle in to twelve roughly 3 x 3-inch squares.  The raspberry bars can be kept in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to four days. 
Up Close Goodness


  1. oh man.....I'm looking at this on your website (yay for hits!!) and I'm drooling thinking about how good this sandwich was!!! When can I have another??? :)

  2. Dana! Thanks! I'll be sure to call you guys next time we make 'em! But for now, all we're eating is left-over BBQ!

  3. Finally made the soup.....it is officially in the mix. LOVE it!!! Mine turned out a bit thicker...but I was watching tv so I let it cook a bit longer and I think the potatoes broke down some. Still delicious!!!!! Next time I will make with BLTs...although the soup is hearty enough by itself

  4. Awesome, Dana! I just love that soup :).