Aug 31

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Taking on Michael Ruhlman

in Uncategorized

Michael Ruhlman (a well-known and accomplished author) issued a challenge earlier this summer on his blog to “Make a BLT from scratch.” He specified that “From scratch means: You grow your tomato, you grow your lettuce, you cure your own bacon or pancetta, you bake your own bread (wild yeast preferred and gets higher marks but is not required), you make your own mayo. All other embellishments, creative interpretations of the BLT welcome.” This challenge appealed to me on so many levels. First of all, I always like a challenge, especially one that involves food. Second, we have become so distanced from the sources of our food in this day and age, that this type of meal would force me to look at the work that goes into producing something as simple as bread, or pancetta, and would force me to have a closer connection to where my food was coming from. So I decided to take on the challenge. The difficult thing about a menu like this is that the planning begins long before the meal actually takes place. Tomatoes and lettuce must be planted and cared for, pork to cure must be obtained, the pork must cured–in other words, you cannot run to the grocery store at the last minute to grab any items you’ve forgotten. This is about as far away from fast food as you get. You really have to sit down and think things through. Last night (Saturday, August 29th), we sat down to dinner with our family, my mom, my youngest brother and his friend Miss L and enjoyed one of the more complicated, yet simple meals I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. The meal was not without its hiccups, yet it was still delicious.

On the menu:
1) BLTs 2) Cucumber Salad 3) S’mores

1) BLTs

Let’s look at the anatomy of a traditional BLT: You’ve got 2 slices of bread and sandwiched between those two slices is bacon, lettuce, and tomato, with a bit of mayonnaise to hold it all together.
We had two different styles of BLTs for our meal–a more traditional one and a vegetarian version. We ate homegrown tomatoes on both, but in place of lettuce we had homegrown basil (I didn’t grow any lettuce this summer).
I started the bacon several weeks ago. I was unable to find pork belly to make proper pancetta, so I used easier to find pork shoulder. I cured it using the basic dry cure method described by Ruhlman.
I rubbed the dry cure on the meat, put it in a large ziploc bag and threw it into the refrigerator where it stayed for a week.
After a week I pulled it out, thoroughly rinsed the dry cure off of each piece of meat, and improvised hanging it by skewering the pieces onto BBQ skewers and hanging them on a bowl.
They dried like this for a week. When the week was up I roasted them in the oven for 2 hours at 250 degrees Fahrenheit until they were tender.
When we were ready to eat, I pulled several pieces out, sliced them thin, then fried them up just like regular bacon.
For the vegetarian BLTs I made homemade tofu. I will be going into more detail on how to make tofu during the coming week, but to give you a brief preview, it all begins with dried soybeans that are soaked overnight in water.
Then those soybeans are used to make soymilk.
Then a coagulant is used (I used granulated nigari, a byproduct of sea water) to curdle the soymilk.
The curdled milk is then ladeled into a tofu press where it is pressed into a block of tofu.
When it was time to eat, I sliced the tofu into slices, sprinkled them with some shichimi togarashi (Japanese 7-spice), and pan fried them (fried each side until they were lightly golden brown).

The bread was a bit of a disaster. I made a sourdough starter using the method described by Ruhlman.
Everything seemed to be going well. After a couple of days when everything looked good, I proceeded to make a loaf of bread using 1 part starter, to 1 part water, to 2 parts flour (and a small amount of salt) (all measured by weight). I mixed up the dough and left it to rise. This is where I started to get worried. Things weren’t progressing as they should have been. But I pushed onward, determined to follow it through no matter what happened.
After the first rise I formed the dough into a long loaf and set it on a cookie sheet for the second rise. By the end of the rising time, the dough had spread out into an unappetizing slimy flat slab of dough on the cookie sheet.
Curious to see what would happen, I threw it into the oven anyway. This is what came out:
Don’t worry, it’s okay to laugh, I certainly did! My brother and I both agreed that it looked like a giant madeleine. I cut it open to find a very impressive yeast bubble inside which my brother promptly named “The Yeast Cave.”
Luckily I had a backup plan, just in case something like this happened. I have a bread recipe I’ve been working on perfecting, so I pulled it out and whipped up two loaves. (Watch for that recipe sometime next week.)
I think I was cursed when it came to the bread for this meal because I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t separate the racks in the oven enough, and so the loaf on bottom rose up into the other rack, which destroyed its appearance a bit (but at least it was still edible).
Sigh. I’m blaming all mistakes on sabotage by kitchen goblins. That or sleep deprivation due to a teething Bug.

The mayonnaise was one of the last pieces of the meal I pulled together. I used the recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (you can find the recipe on The Nibble).
I made the mayo with olive oil and a combination of lemon juice and wine vinegar. I took the easy way out and made it in my food processor, so it came together quickly and perfectly.
I put the mayo into small jars and then spiced one of the jars up with some of my homemade chili garlic paste.
So, in a face off between tofu and bacon, which sandwich was better?
That’s hard to say. They were both delicious in their own way.
The bacon was unlike any bacon I’ve ever had before. The flavor was amazing! It was so baconey. I can’t think of any other way to describe it, except for that it was like a flavorful slice of bacon times five in the flavor arena.
The tofu was creamy and slightly sweet, and tasted amazing paired with the spicy chili mayo.
Both sandwiches were fabulous on my homemade bread, and I didn’t miss the lettuce at all.
In fact, I may just start using basil on sandwiches in place of lettuce from now on!

2) Cucumber Salad
As a side, I made a simple salad using pickling cucumbers from a local farm. I thinly sliced the cucumbers (using a mandoline), then sprinkled the slices with some seasoned rice wine vinegar, lime juice, a bit of cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper.

3) S’mores

In my world, no meal is complete without dessert. I decided that to match my all-American BLT meal, I needed a dessert that was along the same lines. I decided to make s’mores–one of the quintessential summer desserts from my childhood (and very appropriately, a sandwich type dessert). For these s’mores, I made homemade graham crackers and homemade marshmallows. Then I sandwiched a marshmallow between two of the crackers and dipped them partially in melted chocolate.
The crackers were made using a recipe from Smitten Kitchen. The dough was quick to mix up, but it was kind of finicky to work with–a lot like pie dough.
I could only work with part of the dough at one time because otherwise it would soften up quickly and become a sticky mess.
As such, the crackers took time to roll out and cut.
The marshmallows were also made using a recipe from Smitten Kitchen. These were really easy, and would have been easier if the kitchen goblins hadn’t struck again and caused me to not pay attention to the candy thermometer on my first go.
Guess what happens when you don’t pay attention to sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt that is simmering on the stove? The temperature gets too high and then the mixture turns into a hard glass-like rock at the bottom of the pot.
The second time around went smoothly without any hiccups, and I got a beautiful white pillowy mixture that I poured into my prepared pan.
After the marshmallows set, I inverted them onto a cutting board, cut them into one and a half inch squares, rolled them in confectioners’ sugar and set them in a plastic container to use for later.
The finished s’mores were a lot of fun. The graham crackers were a bit thick, but they tasted wonderful. The marshmallows were amazing: light and fluffy, like eating little squares of sugary cloud. Paired with the chocolate, everything was absolutely s’more heaven.

So what did I learn from all of this? Well for one, even with all that planning, things can still go wrong (at least in my kitchen). I also learned that I’d like to spend some more time figuring out the whole starter/wild yeast process (I’m determined to get bread that actually looks like bread and not a giant madeleine). I also learned how satisfying it is to see a meal from start to finish. I recently wrote about the enjoyment that comes out of anticipating foods that are in season. This meal encompassed that, as we enjoyed fresh tomatoes and basil from our own garden.
But it also encompassed another type of anticipation and subsequent enjoyment–the anticipation of working towards a goal and then enjoying the fruits of our labor.
What a wonderful meal. It was a simple one–just a few BLTs, a bit of cucumber salad, and some s’mores, yet it was so much more than that. It was gardening and harvesting, curing and roasting, soaking and pressing, mixing and baking, waiting and more waiting, failure and triumph. It was a meal to remember.

* Special thanks to Foodbuzz for showcasing my post as part of the monthly Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 Event which showcases 24 meals, written up in 24 posts, from 24 Foodbuzz Featured Publisher bloggers, all of which occur around the globe during a 24-hour period.

Coming Next: Tofu Week!

{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

Mara @ What's For Dinner? August 31, 2009 at 5:29 am

How incredibly cool! I think I would've been too overwhelmed to even attempt curing my own bacon!


Tamakikat August 31, 2009 at 6:05 am

Go you! What a marvelous meal!



Anonymous August 31, 2009 at 6:32 am

Please, please, please share your recipe for homemade tofu. I want to start cooking with it but for some reason, the appearance of store brand tofu give me the heebie-geebies. I have heard of folks making their own but it would be nice to have a reliable method. Plus, I like the way you add side notes to your recipes!

Also, where did you get those cute little bacon and tofu toys?


Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction August 31, 2009 at 7:01 am

Wow – very impressive! I have never made my own bacon or tofu… but I might have to give it a try at some point! Love the smores, too – the homemade marshmallows look great!


Amber August 31, 2009 at 7:03 am

I'm completely amazed! Those s'mores looked divine, and the homemade bacon? AND homemade tofu!!! I'm in awe. It all looks delicious!


maybelles mom August 31, 2009 at 7:08 am

great job. I went untraditional with my challenge for Ruhlman–but now after looking at other people's BLTS, I might need to just make a sandwich.


raquel August 31, 2009 at 7:49 am

wow! very impressive! congratulations on your foodbuzz 24, 24, 24! love the homemade tofu!


Barbara Bakes August 31, 2009 at 8:03 am

Now I'm really impressed. Homemade bacon – who knew!


tastyeatsathome August 31, 2009 at 8:13 am

I saw that challenge a few weeks back and thought it was so cool! Congrats to you for taking it on! And where in the world did you find bendy tofu and bacon man? So unique! And hilarious. :) And those smores, yum!


Fuji Nana August 31, 2009 at 8:19 am

An amazing meal, Fuji Daughter. Thanks for sharing! (May I have another s'more? Please?)


The Food Librarian August 31, 2009 at 8:43 am

I'm completely speechless. This is amazing!! Your own bacon and tofu? What a challenge and how wonderful it all turned out!!!


Gaby August 31, 2009 at 9:18 am

LOOKS AMAZING!!! OH I want one of those smores right this minute!


Bob August 31, 2009 at 9:19 am

You're my hero. Seriously. :D


Dawn August 31, 2009 at 10:15 am

Great post. GOOD FOR YOU!


angelia mcgowan August 31, 2009 at 10:39 am

WOW what an accomplishment congrats! and the sandwich looks delish, I would vote for the bacon though


Shelley August 31, 2009 at 10:39 am

Awesome! That looks like it was so much fun. I have never even heard of making your own bacon, and those are the cutest S'mores I've ever seen.


The Duo Dishes August 31, 2009 at 10:56 am

The s'mores look amazing! Whipping up homemade marshmallows is something we need to try. Really nice.


Pierce August 31, 2009 at 11:32 am

Amazing. Thanks for sending me this post through Foodbuzz. I think you deserve an award for curing your own bacon. Kudos!


Jessie August 31, 2009 at 12:10 pm

very impressive! I found the entire meat curing process fascinating, congrats on making the foodbuzz 24,24,24


Jenn August 31, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Those look absolutely great!!! Aweseom 24 post. ;-D

btw…I want that little bacon figurine. hehe…


Sara August 31, 2009 at 1:00 pm

What a fabulous post! Everything looks fantastic! Great job!!

Sara @
http:/[email protected]


Angie August 31, 2009 at 1:18 pm

I am in shock and awe at your culinary zeal!


Mary August 31, 2009 at 2:07 pm

This was an incredible and fun post. There is so much effort involved in making a simple sandwich from scratch. I admire you. I'm perfectly willing to opt for semi-from-scratch. I'm willing to do everything but the bacon and that's where I have to salute. Job well done. Would you do it again?


veron August 31, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Wow-o-wow, that's something I have not done, cure my own bacon. Fantastic job, drooling all over! :)


Annie Pazoo August 31, 2009 at 5:11 pm

LFM – this is the most awesome (and ambitious, in my book) meal!


Annie Pazoo August 31, 2009 at 5:18 pm

P.S. How DID you get the first batch of hardened sugar syryp out of the pot??


Frieda August 31, 2009 at 7:19 pm

I don't know how you do it…with 2 little ones under your feet! Congratulations…now I want a piece of that bacon….


Molly August 31, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Holy cow! this is incrediblel. Your culinary skills put in motion are remarkable. I love it. I'll bet that was as satisfying to taste as it was to read about. Thanks so much. Now I don't know whether to be inspired or exhausted :)


Megan August 31, 2009 at 8:32 pm

What a great post! Like you said, an ordinary meal, made extraordinary!


Tangled Noodle August 31, 2009 at 8:36 pm

I'm completely in awe! I could definitely manage the tomato and basil, the bread maybe but everything else is, at this point, more than I'd be willing to do (or have the skill!)

I think you met and exceeded Ruhlman's challenge. Outstanding 24, 24, 24 post!!


Chowhound August 31, 2009 at 8:43 pm

Congratulations to your 24,24,24. I can't believe you actually made everything from scratch, including the tofu and bacon. Wow, that is awesome! I wish I can have a piece of that marshmallow.


Peggy Bourjaily August 31, 2009 at 8:52 pm

I remember when you were looking for pork belly. Brilliant problem solving using shoulder instead. Can't wait to hear more about tofu!


jglee's food musings August 31, 2009 at 10:10 pm

Wow – absolutely incredible. I kept reading and reading and continually being amazed at how many things you made from scratch. Tofu from soy beans? That's awesome.


Meg August 31, 2009 at 10:36 pm

This post is AWESOME!! I love how your hard work is my fun down-time read : ) It makes you stop and think abt what it really takes to get food to your plate. I finally tried your Jerusalem salad today but messed up b/c the Tahini (sp?) the lady at Trader Joes handed me was actually tahini sauce which I didn't realize until after I made everything. It was still good, but I am going to try it again with the plain paste.


the ungourmet September 1, 2009 at 12:17 am

Oh my golly! You are my hero! I can't imagine taking on such a challenge. Bravo!


eatlivetravelwrite September 1, 2009 at 3:57 am

Lovely! I linked back to this on our own BLT update…


Family Cuisine Food And Recipe September 1, 2009 at 5:26 am

Cool ! Whole homemade meal. Thank you for sharing. Cheers !


Joan Nova September 1, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Looks like a lot of hard work for just a sandwich but, as you said, it is so much more. Loved the little tofu/bacon characters.


Alison September 1, 2009 at 3:50 pm

K, my sister would love a good recipe for homemade soy milk. She misses it from her mission to Taiwan and she tried to make it once but didn't like how it turned out and hates store bought soy milk.


Emily September 2, 2009 at 2:00 am

Ok, so I've never actually cured my own bacon yet, but I have raised my own pigs, grown my own lettuce and tomato, and made my own bread, and made it all into a sandwich. Not doing the homemade mayo thing. It counts though right? Oh, and those cookies look divine.


Fuji Mama September 2, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Thanks so much everyone. But really, you're giving me too much credit! This meal is the result of multiple weeks of work. If I had to do all of this work in 24 hours, then I'd be complaining. The hardest part of this meal was compiling all of the pictures and figuring out a way to write about it in an organized manner!

Annie Pazoo–Ha! Getting the hardened sugar syrup out of the pot was actually very easy! I just filled up the pot with hot soapy water and left it to sit. The sugar eventually dissolved and I was able to wash the pot like normal.

Everyone who mentioned Mr. Bacon–you can buy him on (along with Monsieur Tofu):


Bert | September 2, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Cooking at home with a different kind of dish is most of the moms hobbies, there were used to cooking instead of eating outside. For me I prefer homemade food.


Diana Bauman September 3, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Wow, Wow, WOW!!! Seriously, this is right up my ally! Making things from scratch because you can!! Love it, love it, love it!!! Thanks for sharing this as I'm so excited to make bacon!!


Jackie September 3, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Oh you reminded me, I made those Smitten Kitchen marshmallows and took them camping to make some smores but they did not toast well at all. Next time I will have to try your method :) Someday, when I have as much energy as the Fujis…


Snooty Primadona September 5, 2009 at 11:46 am

I am totally impressed with your stamina to go through with the BLT from scratch. You rock!


Sweet and Savory September 6, 2009 at 11:40 am

You are one imjpressive Mama. What do you do in your spare time?
I give you lots of credit and you deserve it. The sign of a true cook can be measured next to you.


Deeba @Passionate About Baking September 10, 2009 at 9:23 am

Oh Rachel. Your post is drop dead gorgeous. Look at these beauties yu created, & enjoyed all the way too. That is some hard work!! WOW!!


eatlivetravelwrite September 13, 2009 at 12:10 pm
Maya September 14, 2009 at 7:25 pm

WOW!!!!!!!! This is amazing. I can't believe you made your own bacon. What a fun challenge with a great message. I love you s'mores, they turned out really cute with the half-dip in chocolate.


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