Fried Green Tomatoes (and other such nonsense)

Richard spent the evening at the driving range yesterday, so I took the opportunity to cook a little dinner for one and had a few of my favorite things:

Cream peas (also called crowder peas or cowpeas) with salt pork,

…a hot, fresh pan of cornbread (I love Anson Mills, but this recipe is a complete joke; I’m putting a link to it here SOLELY as a CAUTIONARY TALE),

Cornbread

…and my beloved fried green tomatoes (oy vey, I know: the movie! enough already with the movie!).

Okay, that’s obviously not my photo.  But I recently broke my camera, so you’ll just have to bear with me until it’s fixed.  Besides, that’s a pretty good representation of how they came out.  Just…not with quite such an elegant presentation, jar of Tabasco and what-have-you.

Richard doesn’t care for the tart green tomatoes or their cornmeal and buttermilk batter, but that’s okay — more for me!  The recipe is simple enough and is oh-so-satisfying after a long day.

Fried Green Tomatoes
Serves: 2 (or 1, if you’re a piglet like me)

1 green tomato
1 c. cornmeal
1 c. buttermilk
salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes
vegetable oil

Slice your tomato into at least four thick slices.  If you can get more slices out of it, more power to you.  Just make sure they’re about 1/4 of an inch thick.

In a bowl, mix together your buttermilk with salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.  I use about three good pinches of kosher salt, a few grinds of black pepper and about 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes.  But I like my tomatoes spicy and peppery.  If you don’t, just omit the red pepper flakes.  If you like them really spicy, make sure to mash on those flakes (put them in your palm and rub them with your thumb) before you throw them in, to release even more flavor.

In a pie pan (it’s just easier this way, okay?), spread an even layer of cornmeal.  Begin battering your tomato slices with buttermilk first, then cornbread.  Make sure they’re well coated on both sides and on the rind.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add about a half-inch of vegetable oil when the pan has gotten hot.  Gently put your tomato slices into the hot oil and let cook for four to five minutes per side.  Remove from pan and drain on paper towels before serving.  Add a little pinch of salt and a lot of freshly-ground black pepper to the fried tomatoes and dig in!

Your tomatoes will be crunchy and crispy on the outside, warm and melty and succulent on the inside.  It’s the perfect pairing of textures, and the tartness of the tomato is absolutely wonderful on a hot day.  Especially when it’s served with a soft, buttery slice of cornbread!

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See?  This is what happens to me when summer rolls around each year and I can get all the quality foods of my youthful summer months spent in East Texas:  I turn into freaking Paula Deen.  Oh, well.  At least I’m enjoying the hell out of the summer produce while I experience my mid-year transformation into half-crazy, middle-aged, drawling, David-Yurman’d-within-an-inch-of-her-life, owns-stock-in-Aqua-Net, Southern lady.  The regular me should return sometime around September…

Fried green tomatoes picture courtesy of www.liketocook.com.

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Mad For Morels?

Are you mad for morels?  Have you ever considered setting the woods behind your house aflame in hopes of creating your own little morel heaven?  Do those little miracles inspire you to acts of culinary greatness?

If this sounds like you, then you must check out the Morel Mushroom Recipe Contest sponsored by Marx Foods.  Submit your favorite mushroom recipe — for any mushroom, not just morels — to the Marx Foods website by Friday, May 16th.

The chef behind the most delicious recipe will be awarded two pounds of fresh, wild morels.  No freeze-dried mushrooms here, folks; this is the real deal.  That’s $105 worth of savory, decadent, earthy fungi-based goodness for the mere submission of a recipe (…that is if you win, of course).

While you’re there, check out the wide assortment of exotic foodstuffs offered at Marx Foods, including but not limited to: truffles, fiddlehead ferns, ostrich, kangaroo, farmstead cheeses, geoducks and — my favorite — frog legs.  If you’re having trouble sourcing a specific exotic ingredient, chances are Marx carries it.

Of course, Gordon Ramsey may not agree with transporting your food in to you instead of purchasing locally-grown or farmed ingredients.  But, truthfully, there simply aren’t any decent packs of wild boar roaming around these parts…

Morel picture courtesy of Flickr user ~flutterby~.

Spinach and Watercress Salad with Pomelos and Roasted Beets & Pan-Fried Eggplant

Enough about raw meat…  I’ve been properly shamed by my admissions of popping grease fears and pitiful meat-cooking techniques.  On to something that I do do well: vegetables.

Beet Stems
Beet stems and leaves.

These beautiful beets were part of the Farmers’ Market haul from Saturday morning, as was the rest of our meal on Tuesday night.  I decided to do a twist on a typical Southern meal, using very Southern ingredients while keeping the meal fresh, contemporary and healthy (sorry, Miz Deen).

Fresh Beets
Fresh beets.

First up was roasting the beets for the salad.  I chopped off the stems and leaves, saving those for a later meal (you can eat beet greens, just like you’d eat any other greens…collard, mustard, kale, etc.).  I trimmed some of the rougher spots off the beets, roughly chopped them and tossed them with some olive oil and koshering salt.

Beets
I love my knife.

I threw the beets onto a cookie sheet and into a 375 oven for 45 minutes. I covered the beets with a layer of tin foil, but removed it for the last five minutes of cooking. Some people/recipes may tell you to put water into the pan while you’re roasting the beets. I disagree and feel that the beets do much better on their own, like any other root vegetable (sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, etc.).

Unroasted Beets
Ready to rock.

While the beets are roasting, you are free to tend to other tasks around the kitchen.  For me, this meant cleaning and prepping the spinach and watercress for the salad, making the vinaigrette, slicing and prepping the eggplant and creating a little workstation for the flour/egg/cornmeal bath that awaited the eggplant later on.

Watercress
Fresh watercress.

First things first: cleaning and prepping the spinach and watercress.  Spinach, especially, tends to be very sandy and loamy and requires a lot of washing.  The watercress, thankfully, requires just a quick rinse.

Oranges
Oranges, prepare to be juiced.

Balsamic vinaigrette is one of my favorite things to make, since there are endless permutations and variations and methods of creating it.  Tuesday’s vinaigrette was my favorite recipe yet and was composed — on the fly — of the following ingredients:

  • juice of half an orange (above)
  • 2 oz. olive oil
  • 1 1/2 oz. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • pinch of koshering salt
  • a few grinds of black pepper

Most people prefer a 2:1 (or, worse, 3:1) ratio of olive oil to vinegar, but I prefer the sharpness and tang of a more evenly-matched ratio (1.5:1).  Make sure to adjust for your personal preferences.

Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette
Handy cruet with recipes on the side.

Once the salad was prepped and ready to go (by the way, there are no pictures, but just take that pomelo, slice the rind off with a sharp knife and cut it into chunks along the membranes…don’t bother with peeling it, since it will take you FOREVER), I started prepping the eggplant.

There is the traditional “Italian” way to pan-fry eggplant, after dredging it in breadcrumbs.  And then there’s the Southern way, which uses cornmeal.  Slice your eggplant into half-inch thick slices, and walk it down the line:

  • Dredge it in flour
  • Give it an egg bath (one egg and a little bit of water, whipped together)
  • Coat it in cornmeal
  • Lay the slices in a pan with hot oil (I use canola), two at a time

You’ll need to turn the slices only once, cooking for about three to five minutes per side, depending on thickness.  After each batch is finished, let them drain on a plate with some paper towels to absorb any excess oil.  Your eggplant will have a delicious, crispy exterior and a melty, creamy interior that’s a miraculous combination  of textures.

When everything was finished, I plated the eggplant with just a little smidge of the salad for garnish, while the rest of the salad went into wooden bowls:

Spinach and Watercress Salad with Pomelos and Roasted Beets
Finished salad.

The roasted beets are sweet and earthy, perfectly paired with the crisp, almost bitter taste of the watercress and the tangy, full-bodied vinaigrette.

And last, but not least, the eggplant:

Pan-Fried Eggplant

OG Southern-style, cornmeal-battered and pan-fried.  You may be saying to yourself: But, K, that’s not exactly “healthy.”  Well, it’s certainly healthier than deep-frying it or using an entire stick of butter.  Plus, let’s count all of the fruits and vegetables that have gone into this meal…  Beets, spinach, watercress, eggplant and pomelo.  I think that a little pan-frying won’t hurt anyone, especially in the presence of all that wonderful, fresh food.

Happy eating!

Farmers’ Market

Before you read this post, please take some time and read this thought-provoking, insightful and worrisome Op-Ed piece from this weekend’s edition of the New York Times, My Forbidden Fruits (and Vegetables), and remember one thing:  the moment that you start taking money from a governmental organization, you’ve given up a small piece of your freedom.  Farm subsidies and the ensuing restrictions are just one of the many problems associated with allowing the government to manage and interfere with peoples’ lives on such an intrusive level.

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Okay, that said, on to the pictures:

Favor de no mayugarlos
“Please don’t squeeze the avocados!”  Augh!  But they’re so squeezable!

My mother and I went to the giant Farmers’ Market on Airline this past Saturday.  We stocked up on produce for the week, she for her clients (my mother is a professional chef, but cooks for private clients only) and me for my bewildered husband and I to eat.  Husband: “What’s a pomelo?  Did you really buy five pounds of oranges??”

Nadia vende mas barato
It’s true!

Needless to say, speaking Spanish is very useful if you’re shopping at the market on Airline.  However, for those Spanish-challenged Houstonians, some of the signs are helpfully translated for you.

Pozole?
Want to make some pozole? Start here.

The sheer quantity of dried goods sold at the market could fill the Goodyear Blimp twice over.  They even sell real cinnamon, not just dried cassia.

Habaneros, Front & Center
Hot, hot, hot.

Every stand had at least one enormous box of habañero peppers for sale.  They looked like little nuggets of gold panned from a stream.

Mole!
Mole!

Don’t have time to make mole from scratch? Don’t fret; you can buy it premade here. And it’s good.

Giant Carrots
Egads!

The market also sells some of the largest, beefiest carrots known to man. They make your storebought carrots look puny and sad by comparison.

Fresh Eggs
I like the brown ones.

In the mood for fresh eggs? You can find any size, shape and color egg that your little heart desires at the market’s Egg House. It’s a giant, walk-in cooler the size of a mobile home that houses beautiful, fresh eggs from floor to ceiling. Just grab a carton and fill it up.

After walking around for a good hour, and purchasing three giant boxes of food and produce for paltry $45, total (including beets, watercress, potatoes, 10-15 onions, cornmeal, avocados, bananas, pineapple, pears, apples, leeks, spinach, cabbage, okra, dill, various oranges, eggplant, spaghetti squash, honey, strawberries, etc.) we headed next door to El Bolillo, a panaderia that’s just as popular as el gran mercado on Saturday mornings. Continue reading Farmers’ Market