I decided last week that tonight was the night: the last couple of months of prep work were going to culminate, finally, in BLTs from scratch. I invited a few friends over to help me and Sean enjoy our BLTs. I had to rush home from work to make the mayonnaise for the aioli.
I just saw Julie & Julia and finished reading Julia Child's delightful memoir, My Life in France, so it seemed perfectly natural to me to try out Julia's mayonnaise recipe. Apparently she worked incredibly hard to perfect a foolproof, scientifically sound method of whipping up a batch, so I thought that I, a mayo novice, could only benefit from her know-how. Above, the ingredients for homemade mayonnaise; egg yolks and olive oil comprise the bulk of the ingredients.
This morning, my friend Sherri gave me some freshly-laid eggs from her chicken coop. This isn't a great photo, but I hope you can get a sense of how rich and orange the yolks look.
What you do is whip the eggs until they are completely mixed and creamy, add some seasoning (salt, vinegar, mustard), and then slooooowly incorporate the olive oil. You have to keep whisking the whole time you add the oil, and you only add it a drop or two at a time. It took me almost 45 goddamn minutes to whisk a cup and a half of olive oil into those egg yolks. I thought my arm was going to fall off.
But here's the finished product. It doesn't look anything like store-bought mayonnaise -- it looks more like a rich custard.
I chopped up some of my dried tomatoes to add to the mayo, along with some fresh lemon juice and a lot of minced garlic (I grew the lemon but not the garlic, in case you're wondering). I got pretty nervous as I was chopping the tomatoes because they seemed really hard and brittle; I'd been hoping that storage in oil would soften them up a bit, but no such luck.
Ah, well, not much I could do about it now. I threw them in the aioli and hoped no one would chip a tooth on my crunchy dried tomato bits. I put the aioli back in the fridge for an hour or so before dinner, and miraculously, the tomatoes softened up nicely, becoming a little chewy instead of brittle.
Here's the finished aioli. It's hard to tell from this shot, but it was a sort of chartreuse color with flecks of red. Very pretty, and Sean couldn't get enough of it.
Sean volunteered to slice the bacon, and I let him. I put the bacon in the freezer for about half an hour to firm it up, and then Sean sliced it all by hand with our big chef's knife. It was greasy work but done well:
Mmmmm. That's one whole pork belly.
Lettuce, freshly washed.
Finally, guests started to arrive. Lucy looks pretty excited about the prospect of homemade bacon, doesn't she? Norman is trying to appear blase, but I think he's actually eyeing the bowl of sweet potato chips before he goes in for another handful. Sean volunteered to fry up the bacon, and he did a masterful job.
Vern, Curtis' girlfriend, parked herself by the stove and took in the entire sensory experience of being near frying bacon: the sizzles and pops from the pan, the pungent aroma, and, at last, that first exquisite taste.
Lucy brought some Meyer lemons from her house, and we used them to make a big jug of homemade lemonade. (No, I did not process the sugar myself, in case you're wondering.)
Dinner was served alfresco on our picnic table. Sean brought a tacky and very shiny candelabrum home from the theatre department to lend some festivity to the occasion. I set everything up so that people could construct their own sandwiches; in addition to the bacon, lettuce, and tomato aioli, I provided homemade bread, aged Gruyere, and sliced avocados. (I didn't grow the avocados, in case you're wondering. I only know one person with an avocado tree, and it didn't seem right to call her up and say, "I know we haven't spoken in almost a year, but hey, got any ripe avocados you could give me for this little project I've got going on?")
*Sigh* This is so not the glam shot I wanted to get of my sandwich, but by the time I took it we were all starving and I wanted to be quick about it so we could start eating. You can see the homemade bread (not perfect sandwich bread, true, though it softened up nicely when the mayo soaked into it), the homegrown lettuce, the home-cured bacon, and the homemade dried tomato aioli, as well as the renegade avocado. It was a great sandwich, if I do say so myself. The lettuce, strangely enough, added the most interesting note to the sandwich, giving it an exotic, spicy taste. Curtis said that, as he ate his sandwich, he kept thinking how gratifying it was to know the provenance of each ingredient, and because he was concentrating so hard on his meal, he could really taste each ingredient in a way he's not used to.
Sean made a sort of bruschetta for himself and Vern for dessert: toasted bread, aioli, and sliced fresh tomatoes. Gag.
I'm kind of sorry the BLT from scratch challenge is over. I had a good time growing and preparing the various ingredients, and it was a great pleasure to feed my friends a meal that was truly homemade. I wonder what I'll do next? For years Sean and I have talked about making lasagna from scratch -- the pasta, sausage, cheeses, and tomato sauce. Maybe now is the time to get started on it!