Thursday, June 26, 2014

BLT (+A) Sandwiches

It's Summertime. We love going to the Farmers' Market

And then coming home and thinking about how to eat the Farmers' Market for dinner.  

For summer meals, I just want to eat watermelon and corn-on-the-cob, honestly.  (Of which we have been doing our fair share.)  

I know a sandwich doesn't seem like dinner food, necessarily, but if it's the right sandwich it is! 

My summer sandwich crave is a BLT (Bacon Lettuce Tomato) and I have been making it for dinner weekly this summer.

My kids are a little tired of it being on such heavy rotation, but it is SOOOO quick to make, yummy and refreshing! We had our friend, Lane, over for a birthday dinner and I gave her menu options of Cobb Salad or BLT.
She texted back, "BLTA would be amazing!"
I replied asking about the "A".
"BLT + Avocado would be splendid!"
And that's what we did.  

We had corn on the cob and melon as sides and it felt like summertime on a plate!

I was reluctant to write a blog post about BLT Sandwiches because, really there is no recipe- it's a sandwich. And the ingredients are in the name of it: B, L, T, sandwich

But I decided to share it for inspiration, in case you forgot, or in case you needed permission to have a sandwich for dinner (not that I am the menu police).  And because I wanted to share a bacon cooking trick with you that we have discovered and love.

We have been baking our bacon in the oven.  
I traditionally cooked bacon in the microwave between layers of paper towels- this technique has its pros and cons (Pros: it doesn't stink up the house; it doesn't pop grease on you, your kids or your stove top; it is easy to clean up – just wipe and throw away the paper towels/ Cons: you can't do a bunch at a time, it sometimes sticks to the paper, it sometimes cooks unevenly).

Dave traditionally cooked bacon on the stove top in a skillet- which also has its pros and cons. (Pros- tastes good, cooks evenly, pretty fast/Cons: it's MESSY and SMELLY).

Then one week when our small group dinner was having Breakfast for Dinner and we signed up to provide the 3 packages of bacon, we looked online to find the best way to cook large quantities of bacon.  We discovered the beauty of baking bacon.

Here is how:

  • Line baking sheets with aluminum foil (make sure to use sheets with a lip on them, as it is greasy). 
  • Place slices of bacon in a single layer on each pan. 
  • Bake in an oven preheated to 400˚ for about 20 minutes (depending on the thickness and fattiness of the bacon), turning the slices over at least once during the cooking time.
  • Using tongs, lift the bacon onto a plate lined with paper towels to cool and drain.

This method cooks evenly, doesn't stink up the house, doesn't pop grease on you, is easy to clean up, and can make a bunch at the same time.

(If I am just making a couple of sandwiches, I usually use the microwave method for speed. But if I am making for my family or a group, I use the baking method.)

And here's the "recipe" for a BLT (+A):

Take 2 slices of bread per sandwich (I like to use a large-sized wheat or whole grain sandwich bread)
spread a little mayo on one (or both slices)
sprinkle with coarse salt and ground pepper
Thickly slice good, red tomatoes and place on top
Add crisp cleaned lettuce
Add cooked bacon (2-3 slices depending on your bread size and bacon size)
And any other ingredients you want to ramp it up (avocado, cheese, etc.)
 If you really want to get snazzy you can use a baguette or ciabatta – like this ciabatta baguette we got at Trader Joe's this

Another benefit of a BLT is that it includes meat- but not too much.  I like this amount of meat in a meal.  I agree with Michael Pollan, author/food scientist/activist, and what he wrote about meat in The Omnivore's Dilemma.  He basically says that meat is not bad, we just need to eat less of it and better quality of it. He says that in America we have given meat an exaggerated place on our dinner plates.  Instead of meat being the centerpiece and the main thing, meat should be an accessory – to provide salty, savory flavor and protein but not be the focal point.  (He also says we should be choosier about where our meat comes from – preferably grass-fed and local.  I am still working on this practice as local, higher quality meat is expensive!  I aspire to this, though. )

A BLT Sandwich with fruit and corn-on-the-cob for dinner feels like a well-balanced meal. 

Oh and summertime means lots of trips to the library – to get stacks of books to read and audio books to listen to! 
(And don't be deceived thinking that it's all farmers' markets and library books at my house- summer in our home also means tons of sibling rivalry, constant mess-making, itchy bug bites, loud chaos, and some long hot days!)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Banana Bread (Cream Cheese) Sandwiches

Banana bread sandwiches (cream cheese smeared in between two slices of banana bread) have been the answer to a lot of questions for me lately.

Q:What should I do with these spotty bananas? I just bought them a few days ago, but evidently people weren't into them this week and I don't want to waste them.
A: Banana Bread Sandwiches


Q: What should I make for a goody to take to church Sunday morning…something that I can make the night before?
A: Banana Bread Sandwiches


Q:What should I serve at a brunch I'm hosting that will be pretty and a little different but universally liked?
A: Banana Bread Sandwiches


Q: Our office is having a mid-morning meeting and we were asked to bring snack foods– what should I contribute? 
A: Banana Bread Sandwiches

I made them again this week.  Y'all, they are yummy. And the answer to so many questions!  (If only they could answer some of the bigger, tougher questions that I'm grappling with in my life! But let's be realistic here. You know how I like to be pragmatic.) I won't get into those bigger questions at this time, in this space... so here's the recipe:

 1/2   cup (1 stick)  butter, softened OR 1/2 cup coconut oil
 1      cup  sugar
 2      eggs
 2      cups  flour (I use a mix of whole wheat or multi grain pastry flour, and all purpose)
 1      tsp. baking soda
1/8    tsp. salt
 1      tsp. vanilla extract
 1/2   tsp. grated lemon peel
 3      ripe bananas, mashed (with a fork)

optional mix ins:  3
1/2   cup of chopped pecans, raisins, chocolate chips, chopped apricots,  or sweetened coconut 

Cream butter and sugar.  
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.  
Combine flour, soda, and salt; add to creamed mixture.  Fold in remaining ingredients.  Pour into small loaf pans that have been greased or lined. (If you have added mix-ins put a clue on top- sprinkle a few chips, nuts, coconut or slice of an apricot, so people will know what they are getting.) 
Bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes or more, depending on the size of your pans.  You can also make one large loaf. Test with toothpick for doneness.  Allow them to cool for a few minutes in the pan and then using a knife, gently pull it from the edges.  Then remove from pan. 
 (This pan is so nifty.  It makes 8 mini loaves all at the same time.  It is easy to pop in and out of the oven- being in one pan.  HERE's a link to get one for yourself.)

To make the sandwiches
Use softened cream cheese (from a tub or a block)

If you want them sweeter, you can add confectioner's sugar to taste, OR you can just use the cream cheese as is. 

Slice the bread very thinly- since they will be eating 2 slices at the same time for the sandwich.
Gently spread cream cheese on the bread and place pieces together.  

If you already have a banana bread recipe that you are married to, but have never tried slicing pieces thinly and spreading cream cheese between, you should give it a try.

If you haven't already committed life-long to a banana bread recipe, you should give my mom's recipe a try.  It is just so consistently delicious.  

I was making it last week for church and realized I was out of butter (a terrible moment in my kitchen).  I had just made dinner for some friends  which included quick sour cream biscuits and oatmeal raspberry bars, so I had used up all the remaining sticks of butter the night before, without realizing it.  I didn't have the time or the will to pack up the kids and go to the grocery early Sunday morning.  So I decided to try using Coconut Oil.  It was my first time to try it in this recipe.  It worked beautifully.  I might just switch!  It made the bread a little richer, with a hint of coconut flavor, and a little more crusty on the top. 

And remember you can always freeze bananas that are looking too ripe to eat.  If you don't have time to make banana bread that very day.  Make sure you peel them first and put them in ziplock bags.  You can put 3 in a bag, and you'll have what you need to make a batch.  Just thaw them when you are ready to use.  They look gross and slimy but they work great.  

Also, this bread can be baked and frozen to keep on hand, or just to prepare ahead of time for an event.  (I recommend you wait to slice and make into sandwiches until thawed.)  

So, for some questions you are asking this recipe might be the answer you are seeking.  For the rest of the questions I recommend you look to Google, your mom (or dear friend), or The Bible.  I have found that most other answers are found there.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Homemade Coconut Ice Cream- Let the Churning Ritual Begin

We have begun the Ice Cream Making Season at our house. Homemade ice cream is one of my favorite summer traditions.

I am finally taking the time to finish the lovely book, The Art of Family by Gina Bria.  One of the chapters I read this week talked about rituals and the importance of them within families. She mentions food a great deal in this section, as it is oftentimes woven into special moments and occasions.

Bria writes, "(Home is) never just four walls.  Home can be thought of almost as a body to care for, a body that contains the spirit of the family.  One can read the character of a family by the home they make.  It is not the things they have, but the spirit of life that is manifest in their home, because home is the ultimate joint project families do together." 
She goes on to suggest that, "a home is made out of bodily needs. We have to eat, we have to rest, we have to sleep.  What can we do with that? How can we use those needs to build relationships? That's the ultimate human trick- to raise up our bodily needs into lasting bonds. Home is not just meeting those needs, but building relationships out of them through so many little gestures, placements, coffee cups, shared dainties, boiled potatoes, and checkbooks."
I agree wholeheartedly that "raising up our bodily needs into lasting bonds" is a wonderful aim.  (Not that ice cream is a bodily need - but that tradition, food, our homes, and rituals make lasting bonds).

There are so many recipes for homemade ice cream- some that require cooking, some require chilling before freezing, and then there are the kinds like this one that only requires dumping and stirring before freezing and they are my favorite! Two years ago, I wrote about Ice Cream-making HERE.

My friend, Audrey, made this amazing Coconut Ice Cream and brought it to our Women's Study.  She said it was super-simple, and I kind of believed her.  I made it last week and it feels too easy to be true! 3 ingredients and no cooking or chilling before freezing! It is creamy and icy, and it's coconutty enough but not in an overpowering way. My family is crazy about it.  They all adore coconut (or "co-co-nut" as my 6 year old lovingly and phonetically pronounces it).  Here's the recipe.

Coconut Ice Cream

2 cups milk (we used 2%)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 can coconut milk (from the Asian section of the grocery- not to be confused with Cream of Coconut- like used in this delicious coconut cake and not the refrigerated watery kind in the milk carton. )

For the topping- 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut.

Stir the 3 milks together.  Use a whisk, if needed, or a fork, to make a smooth, consistent texture.
Pour into ice cream maker canister and follow directions on your ice cream maker for churning/freezing.
While I was trying to take a photo of this beautiful, creamy ice cream, a little
girl  kept trying to stick her green spoon in the container! It's that good (and she
likes to be in the pictures that much too). 
While the ice cream is churning, spread coconut on a baking sheet and bake at 350˚ for a few minutes until toasted and browned on the edges. (You have to watch it because it moves from toasted to over-done very quickly).

Pack and freeze ice cream in container after making to further solidify or eat immediately.  Sprinkle with toasted coconut when serving.

Makes 2 Quarts

If you don't have an ice cream maker, see if you can find someone who will loan you theirs.  Or if possible, purchase your own.  Someone gave us our first ice cream maker (the electric bucket one that uses ice and rock salt) as a wedding gift.  We used it so often and loved having it - so much so that for a lot of years, we gave bucket ice cream makers for wedding gifts to friends getting married.  A couple of years ago, I got this indoor, fancy, no-ice-required maker from my parents.  It makes a smaller batch but is really convenient and so easy to use.

Hopefully, more flavors will be coming throughout the summer- we have several on the "to make" list. However, I can't imagine they will beat this one!