July 17, 2012

A Summer Sandwich

Summer is not the best time to bake. It's not the best time to fire up the oven, and our apartment community rules prevent us from having an outdoor grill. I've relegated myself to the crock pot and electric griddle, both of which emit as little heat as possible. Even our beloved patio watering holes have become too steamy to frequent until late at night. Don't get me wrong; I love summer. But cooking and baking can become a little cumbersome.

I'm sure that your average BLT doesn't spark much excitement. It's one of those sandwich mainstays, something you can make winter or summer, with grocery produce or tomatoes fresh from the local farmer's market. In fact, I could eat heirloom tomatoes on toast all summer. Throw in a ripe, fresh avocado and you don't need much else. But supper sandwiches need something a little extra - lightly toasted bread, protein, spice, an extra vegetable or two. After years of making BLTs (and even experimenting with Speck and salami in Germany), I believe I've found a golden combination that works for my tastes. The summer BLT incorporates my love of fresh tomatoes and my husband's love of chipotle and avocado. Served on sourdough with a golden Pilsner, this summer sandwich hits on all the right marks: creamy, salty, savory, crunchy.

Everybody has a summer sandwich that cools the atmosphere and warms the spirit. This is mine and will be always. In order for the salty-smoky bacon flavor to stand out, I like to serve this sandwich with a side of fresh fruit or berries, although I could see a summer salad with peppers, goat cheese, and a lemon vinaigrette really working well. The mayonnaise may be substituted for any kind of homemade spread: roasted red pepper, cream cheese, goat cheese, or even ricotta. For me, the natural texture and flavor of the Duke's mayonnaise combined with extra-smoky chipotle gives this sandwich a special spice and really stands out against crunchy Boston Bibb and rich heirloom tomato. 

BLT, Avocado, and Chipotle Mayo Sandwich
Serves 4

8 thick (3/4") slices fresh sourdough
1 sliced heirloom tomato (or any fresh market tomato)
1 sliced avocado
4 slices Boston Bibb lettuce
8 strips thick-cut bacon, cut into halves

1/3 cup Duke's mayonnaise
2 teaspoons dry chipotle

Heat ungreased griddle around 400 F for about 10 minutes, then place bacon strips evenly on top. Prepare tomato and avocado and remove excess moisture with paper towels. Sprinkle liberally with freshly ground salt and pepper and set aside. 

In a separate bowl, prepare the chipotle mayo. Combine Duke's and chipotle and whisk until smooth. (If I were being really holistic, I would have made my own mayo and sourdough but it's summer - who has time to plan these things? In any case, feel free to go all homemade.) 

Let bacon fry for about 8 minutes until bubbly and crispy on one side. Flip and cook for an additional 6-8 minutes. I like my bacon extra crispy so I watch for that deep ruddy red color - spend less time frying if you like your bacon on the chewy side. 

Place crispy bacon on paper towels and pat dry. The trick to this really delicious sandwich is to eliminate pools of water from the tomatoes and grease from the bacon, so pat dry and let your bacon cool for a bit before assembling your sandwiches.

Toast bread lightly in the oven on both sides. I avoid a toaster because I believe it takes away that chewy center that you need from this sourdough. I recommend moving the top oven rack to the next-highest position and broiling for about 3 minutes on each side, or until slightly golden. 

To assemble, spread a thin layer of chipotle mayo on both sides of each sandwich. Place a crispy leaf of Boston Bibb on one side and 2-3 avocado slices on the other. Layer lettuce with 1-2 slices of tomato and avocado with 4 bacon halves. Cut in half with a serrated knife and serve with fresh fruit and a summer ale or Pilsner. 

July 10, 2012

Spicy Carnitas with Homemade Wheat Tortillas

There has been a proliferation of catchy songs this year that have become very big over the summer. Carly Rae Jesperson's "Call Me Maybe" is as ubiquitous as the Macarena of the mid-90s and Gotye's "Somebody that I Used to Know" is getting close. (At least in my car last week it was.) Then, on the deeper side of things, there is this exquisite duo of Swedish sisters called First Aid Kit, who sing a haunting single called "Emmylou." Emmylou is quickly becoming the sound of summer for me. I can't get over those pristine thirds, the tight harmonies, the cold, dusty guitar accompaniment. The words are poignant - they speak of the end of summer and ghosts of the past, but of partnerships that stand pure and unwavering. Interestingly, these young sisters illustrate their passion for American music duos through references of Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons, Johnny Cash and his beloved June. The chorus goes like this:

July 5, 2012

Blueberry-Peach Cobbler with Gingered Biscuits

I sneaky love high summer. I love the heat, the pool, the summer schedules, the baseball park (even when the Bulls are losing). I love it that everything is fresh and big and green, that tomatoes and peaches are in season, and that a good night out involves patio drinks and live music. Being from the South, I have never experienced a summer that wasn't sweltering, aside from the few weeks I happened to spend in Europe surrounding study abroad and occasional research trips. But even my first summer in Freiburg, Germany was the hottest on record for that usually mild climate. Triple-digit heat didn't elude me then and it doesn't elude me now. At least now I have air conditioning.