28 July 2010

Fried Green Tomatoes

My mom grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and her favorite "southern" foods from her youth often showed up at our table. Okra was a regular staple, as were collard greens, cheese grits, and sweet potato biscuits. Every once in a while as a special treat Mom even made her absolute favorite: boiled peanuts (there's a future post there for sure folks). Fried green tomatoes, however, never graced our plates, probably because Mom isn't a big fan of tomatoes period and also generally avoids anything fried. But when I fell in love, as a young girl, with the book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, she gamely handed over her cast iron skillet and let me try my hand at making them using the recipe included in the book. I don't really remember much about the results of this early foray into the kitchen so I think they must have been pretty lackluster. Probably I was just disappointed that simply by making them I wasn't somehow magically transported to the Whistle Stop of my romantic/nostalgic fantasy.

Recently gifted several large green tomatoes from the prolific garden of friends (thanks Blaine, Laura, and Bill!), I decided to try again. Honestly, I'm now no more experienced in the nuances of frying anything, much less tomatoes, than I was back then, and I had no real recipe to use as a guide, but that didn't stop me. I also didn't have a camera on me to document these shenanigans and had to use my phone so I apologize for the extra-lousy photos.

What I did have was Laura's advice to double dip the sliced tomatoes--first in buttermilk, then in a mixture of flour and cornmeal, then once again in the buttermilk and finally the flour mixture. Laura's from Georgia so I figured she should know. It was great advice because these suckers were delicious! Really really good. If you wait until the oil is hot enough and fry them just right, the slightly sweet, slightly tart tomato gets cooked to the point of tenderness but not sogginess and is perfectly paired with the crunchy cornmeal batter. They were fantastic hot and straight out of the pan, lukewarm for seconds a little later, and still truly awesome leftover the next day cold straight from the fridge! Ketchup entirely optional.

If you can manage not to eat them all up unadorned as I did, I think they'd be phenomenal as a base for a poached egg with hollandaise, or some kind of gravy. Or how about a fried green tomato shrimp remoulade? I'm thinking yes.

Fried Green Tomatoes

**Please use this recipe as a loose guide. I was kinda eyeballing everything as I went, had to pour out more buttermilk, flour, and cornmeal a few times, and didn't really measure. I think it's a pretty forgiving process, though.

3 green tomatoes, sliced into about 1/4 to 1/2 inch rounds
1 cup (ish) all purpose flour
1 cup (ish) cornmeal
1-2 cups buttermilk (lowfat is fine)
peanut or vegetable oil
salt and pepper

Pour oil into a heavy skillet (cast iron is my fave) until it's about 1/2 inch deep (feel free to use more oil if you're feeling particularly extravagant or nostalgic). If you're frying up a lot of a tomatoes or want to finish relatively quickly, you might want to use more than one skillet. Heat at medium temperature until oil is quite hot but not smoking. Meanwhile, mix together the flour and cornmeal along with a good bit of salt and pepper on a plate and pour the buttermilk into a shallow bowl. When the oil is hot (you can test by tossing in a sprig of fresh parsley or other herb and seeing if it sizzles up nicely), start double dipping the tomatoes (buttermilk, then flour mixture, then buttermilk and flour mixture again).

As you finish dipping each tomato, drop it in the skillet. You want to fry only maybe 4-5 at a time depending on the size of your skillet--avoid crowding them. After a few minutes check the tomatoes--when they are golden brown, flip over and fry the other side. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels (now's not the time to skimp for the sake of the trees, folks). You might need to finish with a little extra salt to taste.

**Lily's lovebird, Birdy, helped me with my frying technique. Also, we made fried okra--same concept entirely.

19 July 2010

Really Like Your Peaches

I wait impatiently all year for peach season. Sure, all fruits and veggies are at their prime when eaten freshly picked at the right time of year, but I think peaches are particularly so. To me, summertime is made all the merrier by the fact that it's peach season here in the Texas hill country. I've had California peaches fresh from the orchard and Georgia peaches too, and I have to say with more than a pinch of native pride, give me a Texas peach any day. To my palette anyway, a Texas peach is sweeter, juicier, and somehow just peachier than any other. Lucky for me and the countless other Texas peach fanatics, it's been a banner year.

A few weekends ago some friends and I drove out to an orchard near Fredericksburg, in prime hill country Peach territory, to pick some straight from the source. If you have ever gone berry picking only to be dismayed by how looooooooong it took to fill your bucket or box, you should really try peach picking. In what seemed like a matter of minutes we had picked a peck of big, fat peaches. Actually, we picked about half a bushel which, if you can picture it, is about enough to fill your standard office file box. Even though I shared the box with a friend and ate fresh peaches every day as they began to soften, by last week when the vast majority of them ripened simultaneously, I had a helluva lot of peaches on my hands.

Intent not to waste even one precious peach, I knew I'd have to get a little resourceful. Freezing was an option, but with my luck I'd forget about them and they'd succumb to frost bite--a shameful end for such seasonal treasures. I opted to bake them instead and my tastebuds, and those of several willing dessert guests, are rather pleased with the choice (as for my waistline, well, the jury's still out).

A good number of the blushing yellow fellows found their way into a Peach Pudding Cake, baked last week and consumed with such gusto that I failed to capture its fleeting presence with a photograph. You'll simply have to take my word for it that this dessert is PRIMO. Slices of peaches arranged over the top of rich vanilla cake batter sink down to the bottom when it's baked. The thin sheet cake's center is soft and pudding-like but the high butter content creates a divine crispy edge. It's not the most beautiful dessert to look at, but as with most things important in life, it's not the looks that count. A generous spoonful or two of cold heavy cream over the top comes highly recommended.

Later in the week, restored by a few days of comparably ascetic fresh peach eating, I went back to the baking board with cobbler on my mind. It couldn't be just any cobbler, though. I wanted it to really feature the peaches, their flavor unadulterated, and to have a biscuit topping with some real character. Enter the sweet cornmeal biscuit recipe from Deb's cobbler. With such a toothsome topping, juicy slices of cooked peaches, brightened by just a little bit of brown sugar, lemon, and cinnamon, meet their perfect match. Double the biscuit recipe and you'll have plenty of topping plus some leftover to make impromptu peach shortcakes!

Isn't that just peachy?

Peach Pudding Cake

This recipe is from Bon Appetite but supposedly the original source is the Hyde Park Bar and Grill here in Austin. Their cake is called Wom Kim (???). Anybody want to join me there sometime for a little comparison taste test?

4 cups sliced, peeled peaches (dunk peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds to make peeling a cinch)
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 1/4 t. baking powder
3/4 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups sugar (I used less but my peaches were especially sweet)
2 T vanilla extract (yes, 2 tablespoons)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
cream or whipped cream for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray 9 x 13 inch glass dish w/ veggie oil and set aside. In a bowl whisk together all the flour, baking powder, salt, and soda. In a separate bowl use an electric mixer to beat butter until smooth. Gradually beat in sugar. Add vanilla, then eggs, one at a time, incorporating both well. Using low speed, add dry ingredients alternating with the buttermilk in three additions each, beating well between each addition. Transfer batter to baking dish, spreading evenly. Arrange peach slices over the batter, overlapping them slightly. Spray a sheet of aluminum foil w/ vegetable oil and cover cake w/foil, spray side down, sealing edges. Bake for 45 minutes, then remove foil covering. Return to oven and continue baking until top is golden brown, edges are crusty and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean--about 40 more minutes. Cool for an hour and then serve topped with cream (whipped or not).

Peach Cornmeal Cobbler

6 cups sliced, peeled peaches
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar (I used regular and a little less)
2 T flour
2 T fresh lemon juice
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Biscuit Topping:**double this for lots of topping**
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup fine stone-ground cornmeal (not sure if mine met the specs...worked out fine)
3 T dark brown sugar (used regular and a little less)
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
3 T cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 F. Toss together peaches and seasonings and pour into a 2 quart ovenproof dish.

Make dough: Stir together flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into the dry mixture with your fingers or pastry blender. Stir in buttermilk with a rubber spatula until wet, tacky dough comes together.

Drop dough over the peaches by the spoonful covering most of the surface. Bake until the fruit and syrup are bubbly and the biscuits are browned (Deb says this should take 20-25 mins but at that point mine was still raw--I cooked it for about 40 mins). **you may want to place a baking sheet underneath it in the oven to catch drips. Let cool a bit and then scoop into bowls, top with cream or ice cream.

**Special shout out to Katie and Leah for their baking assistance. Merci!!**

09 July 2010

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

All of the sudden, it is raining zucchinis in our garden at Twin Sisters Farm. Every day and every meal, I am trying to come up with creative ways to incorporate more zucchini into our bellies. I have made zucchini/chard enchiladas, two types of zucchini bread, and will attempt to make Smitten Kitchen's zucchini and ricotta galette this weekend. So far in the battle of the zucchini, the chocolate zucchini cake has been the victor. I first made a healthy version using plain yogurt and vegetable oil. Then, Jill Mason raised the stakes with this super moist and addicting version which uses milk and a healthy dose of butter. Give it a try, you will not be disappointed!

2.5 c flour
0.5 c cocoa powder
2.5 t baking powder
1.5 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1.5 sticks (3/4 c) butter, softened
2 c sugar
3 eggs
2 t vanilla
2 t orange zest
2 c shredded zucchini
0.5 c milk (I used a mixture of buttermilk and soymilk.)
1 c chopped nuts (I skipped this.)

- Preheat oven to 350.
- Combine flour, cocoa, bkg powder, bkg soda, salt, cinnamon; set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar with hand mixer. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Stir in vanilla, orange zest, and zucchini with a spoon.
- Alternate adding dry ingredients and milk into wet ingredients. Add nuts at end if using.
- Pour batter into a bundt pan that has been greased and dusted with flour.
- Bake for about 50 minutes, until tooth pick comes out clean.
- Cool in pan for 15 minutes before continuing to cool on a wire rack. Yum!

02 July 2010

Summertime Tastes Good

So it's officially summer around here. Although the past few days of hurricane-induced clouds, rain, and 80 degree high temperatures have been a bit deceiving, there's really no doubt about it. And summertime in Texas is certainly no walk in the park. Spending any time outdoors means enduring sweltering heat, abundant mosquitoes, and compromising sweat stains. But our summers are also not without their pleasures. For me, summer means the chance to while away a whole afternoon hopping back and forth between the baking heat of my beach towel and the frigid waters of Barton Springs or Deep Eddy. It means warm summer evenings and fabulous, nighttime, star-filled swims. Summer brings impromptu lakeside picnics and driving home in the evening sitting on a towel, swimsuit still drying. It means late evening poolside dinners with friends and family, vases bursting with the bright colors of zinnias, and the scent of citronella in the air.

But best of all, it's the season of my favorite food. Summertime bliss comes in the form of sweet watermelon (with seeds!) and Pecos cantaloupe, Fredericksburg peaches, basil, tomatoes, okra, squash, green beans, and eggplant in every form you can imagine. This year the flavors of summer arrive conveniently on my doorstep on a weekly basis in the form of a farm share/CSA basket from Tecolote Farm. Although the farm has a long waiting list, by a stroke of luck I got to sign up, and now Leah and I split a basket of phenomenal local produce every week.

It's been about a month so far and every week the basket is different. Weeks past have brought leeks, carrots, beets, and lots of okra (hence the recipe below). This week's basket was particularly summery--chock full of tomatoes, eggplant, basil, cucumbers, and a very fragrant yellow melon. It arrived just in time to fuel a holiday weekend sure to bring good friends, great food, and fireworks!

Roasted Okra
**my new favorite way to prepare okra. so easy and so tasty too! next I want to try grilling it...will report back. Although I haven't yet tried it, I think it would also be great to roast fresh corn kernels and halved cherry tomatoes with the okra--and a little bit of fresh chopped basil at the very end.

okra (maybe 1 lb for two people??)
olive oil
salt (I use kosher)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Wash okra and slice off stem ends. Cut small (3-4 inch) okra pods in half lengthwise and larger pods into quarters. Pour about one tablespoon or so oil in bottom of bowl large enough to hold all the okra--add okra and mix to coat, adding more oil if it seems necessary. Sprinkle on about 1/2-1 teaspoon of salt (to taste) and mix. Spread okra out on a baking sheet so that it's not crowded (if you're cooking a lot of okra use more than one sheet). Place in heated oven and cook for 15 minutes until it starts to brown. Using spatula or tongs turn the okra and cook for another 10-15 minutes until very browned and crispy. Remove from oven, taste for salt, and serve immediately for ultimate crispness.