Thursday, July 5, 2012

4th of July (Ultimate) BLTs

     Call me crotchety, un-American, or whatever you will, but Independence Day has never been high up on my list of favorite holidays.  Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful for the (many) liberties I enjoy as a citizen of this great nation, but I've become increasingly disillusioned by the political cluster/downward spiral/quagmire of the past decade or so and was was even less enthusiastic than usual for the Fourth this year.  Couple that with 103-degree temperatures, a fireworks ban thanks to extreme drought and wildfire danger, and the fact that I spent all day cleaning up a ruptured keglet of beer in my den (ripping up carpet, padding, cleaning rugs, etc) and it was pretty much just a Wednesday for me.  I'll honor my country's heroes on Veterans' and Memorial Day, thanks; you can keep the Fourth. 
     Curmudgeonry aside, we decided after a (very) long day that we ought to do something for the Fourth, since there were no fireworks (or anything else, for that matter).  So we started to think, what could we do that's quintessentially 'American'?  So much of what we cook is, if not technically-speaking authentic, it's at least largely inspired by European and Asian cuisine.  What could we do that was truly American?  I mean, we've got...I dunno, the hamburger?  The hot dog?  Twinkies?  Hmmm...
     As it has so many times in the past, local favorite Sycamore came to the rescue.  While Syc is one of our favorite places to stop in for a drink and a light bite during happy hour (they have a great draft/bottle menu, Jess loves their house merlot, and their small plates are delicious) we can't really afford to go out for an actual dinner there more than about once a year.  That being said, we have had a ton of fun recreating some of our favorite dishes that we've had there or seen on the menu.  Once again, they don't disappoint.  The idea? BLTs (undeniably an 'American' classic) but with lightly-battered, fried tomatoes. 
     Since I had 30-45 minutes in between each (and there were many) passes with the steam-vac we rented yesterday, I figured I had time to do a bit of 'slow-food' cooking.  I decided to make my own bread (cibatta, recipe below) and we would get as many of the ingredients as we could from right down the street at our tiny, local (largely organic) general store.  It's good food you can feel good about: made at home, with locally grown/raised/at the very minimum purchased ingredients.  We picked up a couple of beautiful, dense, ripe tomatoes, some small zucchinni and an onion for a side dish, and some thick-cut bacon at the general store.  I was going to pick up something from the local Patchwork Family Farms  but Tom up at the general store suggested that for this particular application, we might be better served by the product below: ultra-thick cut, applewood-smoked, and uncured. 

What can I say?  The guy knows his bacon, and this served us very well. 
     Normally, we might have gone down the street to Ellis Bakery, a tiny (and I mean tiny) operation that's literally not much more than a stone's throw from our house but, as it was a holiday, they were closed.  Lacking Randy's killer ciabatta, I decided to take a crack at it myself.  Make no mistake, the bread came out nice; the outside was super chewy like I like, and the flavor was great, but it wasn't nearly as airy as a proper ciabatta should be, which I suspect has a lot to do with the fact that I rushed both the rising time on the biga (as I'd forgotten to start it the night before, thanks to our beer keg disaster) and the rising time of the dough itself.  I'm not going to repost any of either of these recipes, because we didn't change a thing (other than the rising time, which was highly-abbreviated).  Again, the flavor was perfect and the crust (the 'water-spritzing' trick really helps!) was awesome, but the bread was definitely a bit too dense.  Next time, I'll try for 7-9 hours raising time for the biga and the full raising time (both times) for the dough itself. 
    So we've got bacon, bread, lettuce (yeah, we had some regular old iceberg lettuce from HyVee), what about the tomatoes?  Well, we started with good, organic tomatoes from Tom and his wife.  In terms of a recipe for the crust and technique, we started here.  We didn't have any cornmeal, however, and not wanting to go into Columbia (or even Boonville) we just decided to do without.  Instead, we used 1 cup total of Panko breadcrumbs, rather than 1/2 cup breadcrumbs and 1/2 cup cornmeal, along with the flower.  To this, we added a bit of dried Italian Herb blend, some Emeril's Essence (Jessi's favorite general seasoning blend), and maybe 1/4 to 1/3 cup of grated Parmesan 'shake' cheese.  Coat with flour, into the eggwash, and then into the Panko mixture, and fry 'em up on medium-high heat in a bit of vegetable oil until golden brown, and you're done.
     Well, we're almost done, but we needed some kind of side dish.  Well, we'd bought small zucchinni squash and an onion at the general store, and we have a ton of yellow Hungarian Wax peppers in our garden.  Hey, ya know what?  We also have a bunch of bacon fat left over from frying up that bacon.  Betcha didn't know...veggies be much tastier with the addition of bacon fat!  Jessi sauteed up a nice mix of peppers, onion, and zuchinni, adding a bit of Emeril's and some Tastefully Simple Seasoned Salt and these were de-friggin-licious. 

     All in all, a delicious (if not particularly healthy) way to end what had been, for all intents and purposes, a rather crummy day.  Now, pretty sure I need to go spend some serious quality time with the treadmill...

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