Homemade BLT

This is not your #basic BLT.  This BLT is a labor of love.  And a week in the making.

My heart smiles when I see that platter of Build Your Own BLTs.

It all started with a pork belly two weekends ago in which we used half for burgers and we decided to make the other half into bacon.  After a week curing in the fridge it was ready for the smoker.  After about 90 minutes, it was ready to sizzle in a pan until crisp.

bacon

So we have the “B” covered…

We also made homemade bread for the BLTs.  Thanks to a little help from a friend (having a chef friend is always a good thing) I was armed with a recipe and confident that we would have sandwich bread for our BLTs.

recipe

And it turned out beautifully!  I have to say, I’m about as proud of the bread as I am the bacon.

bread

There are few things in life that smell as good as fresh baked bread.

And while Big Guy loves Duke’s Mayo, we opted to make our own (because WHY NOT?!?!).

Mayo is so easy to make.  Big Guy and I first made mayo from scratch about three years ago and then again last 4th of July weekend at a cooking class.  The base is egg yolks, a little honey, the juice from half a lemon and then stream in 1 cup of oil.  I folded in some fresh parsley at the end for a punch of freshness.

Unfortunately our tomatoes aren’t quite ready to make an appearance on a sandwich (we planted a little late this year) but our friends gifted us two gorgeous heirloom tomatoes for our BLTs.  And the lettuce is by no means local – straight from the grocery store.  The heat in NC doesn’t make for fresh, crisp lettuce in the summer.

BLT

Two hearty slices of homemade bread slathered with homemade herb mayo and then topped with lettuce, tomato slices and bacon.

Served with a slice of watermelon on the side.

I’ve never been more proud of a sandwich in my life.

And I have to say, our hard work paid off.

Best.BLT.ever.

 

Herbed Shrimp Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Feta

Salads are pretty much a daily happening in my life.  I love salads.  For many reasons.  And I find that salads I make at home are 9 out of 10 times better than any restaurant salad.  One of the reasons I love salads is because every salad is different.

Herbed Shrimp Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Feta is a total winner of a salad.  We haven’t had shrimp in a while so it was extra delicious – not to mention it was wild caught off the NC coast.  There is nothing better than fresh, local seafood.

The shrimp are quick marinated in a mix of ingredients that took a whirl in the food processor:  parsley, oregano, EVOO, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and honey.

The salad greens are a mix of baby lettuces plus sliced radicchio and homegrown fennel.  The greens are tossed in half of the mixture from above.

I pan seared the shrimp until cooked through but still tender.

Each bed of lettuce was topped with sliced baby heirlooms (local!), feta cheese and shrimp.

We LOVED this salad.  Fresh and absolutely delicious.

 

 

Pork Belly and Brie Burger with Spicy Peach Caramelized Onions {and marinated tomatoes}

Yesterday I was all healthy and vegan but today I’m pure indulgence (with a side of healthy).

I’ve had a lot of burgers in my lifetime but this is by far the best burger I’ve ever tasted.

But how can you go wrong with pork belly?

Originally, the burger was “simply” going to have bacon on it but we found ourselves with a slab of pork belly and decided that it was fate.

So on Friday night at 11pm, we were preparing the pork belly by giving it a good massage with brown sugar, salt, and Sriracha (the pork belly recipe is from Easy Gourmet – a cookbook by one of my favorite food blogs.)

After a full day at the pool, it was time to cook the pork belly low and slow.  The pork belly bakes at 250 degrees for 3 hours and then at a higher temperature for about 20 minutes for color.

pork belly

Allow the pork belly to rest for about 20 minutes before slicing.

One bite, and you’re in heaven.

But it doesn’t stop there.  We added the pork belly to a burger that is made with veal and beef.

A new burger combination to me, but it was incredible.  On top of the burger, a slice of creamy, dreamy brie.  We don’t eat brie all that often (for no real reason) so Big Guy thought the brie was an indulgence, too.

And for major flavor – peach caramelized onions.  And I might add that the onions were straight from our garden – making it all the better.

Brioche bun.

Veal/beef patty.

Brie.

Peach caramelized onions.

PORK BELLY.

That’s it.  There’s no more room for any other flavors.

And while the photos don’t do it any justice, this is the most insane burger ever.

And to make myself feel better, marinated tomatoes on the side.  

This burger is completely over-the-top.

But that’s why we had vegan muffins for breakfast.

Pesto Potato Salad

Yesterday I let the zucchini have the spotlight.

But today, it’s all about the other half of Monday night’s dinner:  Pesto Potato Salad. 

Big Guy is a HUGE fan of potato salad.  And I’m a huge fan of pesto.  So I knew these potatoes would be a hit.

I made the potato salad in advance and served it cold over a bed of greens.

To make the potatoes, cover sliced potatoes in a pot with cool water.  Add a splash of vinegar.

Apparently vinegar helps the potatoes hold their shape.

Bring the potatoes to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.

While the potatoes are doing their thing (and trust me, you want to do something because a watched pot truly won’t come to a boil), make your pesto!

In your food processor, whirl together fresh basil, parsley, Parmesan cheese, Greek yogurt, a little mayo, pecans (I didn’t have any sunflower seeds, so I used a few pecans), a tablespoon of water, a splash of red wine vinegar (I forgot to grab a lemon at the grocery store), salt and a couple of cloves of garlic.

Once the potatoes are tender, drain and toss them with the pesto.

You could serve them immediately, or you can let them hang out in the fridge.

Served over a bed of greens that was tossed with a little EVOO, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.

And on top, a sprinkling of fresh dill.

pesto potato salad

But I’m not going to lie, between this half of the plate and yesterday’s half, I can’t pick a favorite.

Grilled Zucchini Caprese Stacks

Summer is officially here.

And the garden is finally starting to deliver some homegrown goodness.  On Sunday, Big Guy picked two huge zucchini from the garden and I couldn’t wait to put them on the plate for dinner on Monday. 

zucchini stacks

Zucchini slices are sprinkled with salt and pepper before grilling until tender.  While Big Guy manned the grill, I prepped the other ingredients.

I sliced two gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and a mozzarella.  I also prepped the balsamic drizzle – a combination of EVOO, balsamic glaze and garlic plus a little salt and pepper.

Once the zucchini was grilled, simply layer all the ingredients.  Tomato slice, zucchini slice, mozzarella, more zucchini, tomato and I ended with a zucchini slice.

Once stacked, drizzle the entire platter with the balsamic dressing and then sprinkle with fresh basil.

Summer never tasted so delicious.

Tomato Frittata

Frittatas are not only quick and easy but you can customize them with whatever ingredients you have on hand.  In my opinion, as long as you have eggs and some kind of cheese – you can make a frittata.

The latest issue of Cooking Light featured a Tomato-Asiago Frittata that I customized earlier this week for a delicious dinner.

In order to make the frittata my own, I used cilantro instead of thyme and Parmesan cheese instead of asiago cheese.

I think this frittata would be delicious with dill or basil or perhaps even rosemary.  I prefer the saltiness of Parmesan but I think goat cheese would be insanely creamy and dreamy.  Feta would also work wonderfully.  Let’s be honest – any cheese would be delish.

The key is making sure to properly salt and pepper the eggs.

On the side, I made a simple salad.

In a bowl, I toss blackberries with a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.  While the blackberries were “marinating”, I warmed some olive oil (about a tablespoon) in a skillet and then sauteed chopped pecans until I could smell them.  Please don’t skip this step – not only does it bring the nuts to life but it infused the oil.  To the bowl with the blackberries, I added large handfuls of greens and poured the infused olive oil and the pecans on top.  I added a nice pinch of salt and several grinds of pepper.  Toss and serve.

How would you make this frittata your own?  

 

Vietnamese Braised Beef Tacos {plus spicy cucumber margaritas}

This past Saturday was one of those days that I didn’t want to end.  The perfect mix of productivity and relaxation.  After a morning workout and massage, we spent the better part of the day soaking up the hot sunshine and staying cool in the pool.  Once home and showered, our day date officially started.

We kicked off the evening by preparing the ingredients for Spicy Cucumber Margaritas.  (I used a combo of recipes/techniques, but this was the inspiration.)

(On Friday night, we infused tequila with cucumber:  slice a cucumber and place in a mason jar; fill the mason jar with white tequila and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.)

First, prepare the cucumber puree:  peel and chop an English cucumber and add it to a blender with 1/2 cup fresh orange juice.  Once blended, strain.

On a shallow plate, combine 1 tablespoon each of coarse salt, sugar and chili powder.

Rub the edge of a glass with a lime wedge and then dip into the salt/sugar mix.  Add ice to the glass.

In a cocktail shaker, muddle a slice of jalapeno then add ice, 2 ounces cucumber infused tequila, 2 ounces of the cucumber puree, 1 ounce simple sugar and the juice of one lime.

Shake, shake, shake!  Strain into the rimmed glass.

Sip with smile on your face.

These go on the list of one of my top 5 margarita experiences.  Sweet, a little spicy and totally refreshing.  The infused tequila is the secret to this margarita.

But you can’t have a margarita without guacamole.  At least not around our house.

We really trashed up the guacamole with bacon (!!!!), caramelized pineapple, and feta.

I’m going to be honest – I think I’m a guacamole purist.  While I can’t deny I ate quite a few chips with this trashed up guac, I adore simple guacamole.  The simplest of recipes includes avocados, lime juice, salt (lots of salt), a little red onion, jalapeno and cilantro.

The star of the evening was dinner, though.

Without hesitation, I deem these the best tacos I’ve ever had.

The flavor profile of Vietnamese Braised Beef Tacos is like nothing I’ve ever tasted.

The tacos take a little time in the oven but it’s totally worth the wait.  Chunks of boneless chuck roast are seared before sauteeing diced onion, shallot and garlic.  Along with the beef, carrots, crushed tomatoes and beef broth are added to the Dutch oven.  And for the flavor, star anise, a cinnamon stick, Chinese five spice, brown sugar, a bay leave and fish sauce.

These are not your typical Tuesday night tacos.

After 3 hours, the meat is so tender is falls apart.  Taco assembly is simple:  charred corn tortillas (I used a cast iron skillet), green onion, jalapeno slices and chopped cilantro.

The tacos are sweet yet spicy bursting with flavor from the star anise, cinnamon and Chinese five spice.

And these recipe would feed a crowd – though I’m betting the leftovers are just as incredible as they were on Saturday.

Cucumber in my margarita, bacon in my guacamole and cinnamon studded tacos.

Could taco night get any weirder?