Tomatoes are here!

Tomatoes are just about to flood the markets around Chicago, and I couldn’t be happier–caprese salad,  BLTs, pizza, gazpacho, here I come. Sometimes it just comes down to the simplest ingredients to make the most satisfying meal, though: great bread, juicy tomato, crisp lettuce, salty bacon, creamy avocado, and the barest bit of mayonnaise.
IMG_0029Growing up, the closest I would get to a BLT was the B and L–no tomato, no mayo. Considering I loved tomatoes in just about every form other than raw, I think it was just a consistency thing. But over the past few years (including one memorable quest with my mom to find 10 pounds of heirloom tomatoes), I’ve come to appreciate the glory that is tomato season: perfectly juicy heirlooms, sliced and sprinkled with sparkly flecks of salt; a thick slice of a beefsteak on a burger; tiny yellow and red gems coated with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and tossed with basil –they all have their place in my kitchen now (none of which, by the way, bear any resemblance to the tomatoes found in the grocery store in January).
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With my rediscovery of the tomato, I’ve also revisited the BLT. The B and L were fine by me, and I figured out a great way to make bacon that doesn’t involve turning my stovetop and counter into a greasy mess. Now I’ll happily add the T, especially a great field-grown beefsteak. I also like the creaminess that a few avocado slices add, and I figured out that while I still don’t actually like the taste of mayonnaise, a very thin layer on the slice of bread with the tomato keeps the bread from getting soggy. And the bread? Get the best sandwich bread you can find (or make one that’s even better), toast it slightly, and you’ll find heaven on earth.

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And with that, I realize almost all of my food posts so far have been meat- or dessert-based. With tomato season (and with tomatoes come corn, and beans, and peppers, and tons more fantastic vegetables), I promise the next few posts will be veggie-based.

BLTA
Makes one fantastic sandwich

2 slices perfect sandwich bread (recipe below)
3 slices bacon, cut in half (cooking instructions below)
2 thick slices tomato, preferably fieldgrown, sliced in half
2 leaves lettuce (I like Romaine or any kind of butter lettuce)
3 slices avocado
Mayonnaise

Toast the bread lightly. On one slice of bread, spread a very thin layer of mayonnaise; gently spread the avocado on the other slice. On top of the mayo slice, arrange the halved tomato slices to cover as much bread as possible in one layer. Next add the lettuce leaves and top with the halved slices of bacon, which should fit neatly on the sandwich. Top with the avocado piece of bread, cut the sandwich in half, and enjoy.

Perfect Sandwich Bread
Somewhat similar to the recipe for burger buns, but primarily adapted from The Joy of Cooking‘s recipe for milk bread, this makes the most impressive-looking and best tasting sandwich bread.

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1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
3 tablespoons warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
1 cup warm milk (105 to 115 degrees)
5 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons honey
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt

2 cups bread flour
1/2 to 1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour or your preferred mix of whole grain flours

1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup rolled oats (optional)

Combine yeast, warm water, and a pinch of sugar in a mixing bowl and let stand until the yeast is foamy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile mix warmed milk, melted butter, honey, egg and salt in a measuring cup. Add to the yeast and stir on low speed  or by hand for 1 minute.

Gradually stir in bread flour, then begin adding the remaining flour until dough is moist but not sticky. Knead with the dough hook or by hand for 6-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Pour a few drops of oil over the dough and roll the dough around the bowl to coat it with the oil. Cover loosely with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch the dough down, knead briefly, and refrigerate, covered, for 30 minutes.

After the dough has rested, punch it down a few times and roll it out into a circle. Fold the rounded edges in towards the center so the dough is a rectangle, then roll into a loaf. Pinch all the edges together and place in a greased loaf pan, seam-side down. Cover again with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (350 if you are using a dark pan). Beat the egg in a small bowl and brush it over the top and exposed sides of the bread. Sprinkle with rolled oats if you’d like.

Place on the middle rack of your oven and make for about 40-45 minutes or until the bread is a deep golden brown and it sounds hollow when tapped. Remove the bread carefully from the pan and allow to cool completely before slicing (restrain yourself, the payoff will be worth it).

Baked Bacon
Great bacon doesn’t really need any additional seasoning, but sometimes I like to sprinkle it with a little Old Bay or other spice mixture (especially the Pullman Pork Chop Seasoning or Gateway To The North Maple Garlic seasoning) from one of my favorite spice stores, The Spice House, before baking.

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Line a jellyroll pan with tin foil, being sure the foil come up the sides of the pan and place a cooling rack on the pan. Arrange bacon on the cooling rack, sprinkle with seasoning if desired. Put the pan in a cold oven and turn the heat up to 375 degrees F.

After 30 minutes, check the bacon. Depending on its thickness, how many slices you are cooking, and how crispy you like it, the bacon can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour; since I buy thick-cut bacon and like it crispy, mine usually takes 45-50 minutes.

Carefully remove the pan from the oven and lay the bacon on paper towels to absorb any remaining grease. Allow the bacon drippings in the foil to cool and either discard or use them to fry up some potatoes and onions for breakfast, (yum).

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5 thoughts on “Tomatoes are here!

    • Haha, I feel the same way about writing them, especially when I wrote this post three days after I made this originally and I didn’t have any more bacon to make another sandwich :-( Your comments are always so nice!

  1. Pingback: Spicing things up | My Homespun Home

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