Tuesday, October 22, 2013

At 4:30pm, I had already finished dinner

I've always told people I was an 85 year old man, but up until last Monday I was joking... mostly. It is true that when my dad drove me to school in high school I would ask him to turn down the music, and I'm happier playing cribbage than doing most things, but today I put the final nail in the coffin.

aaaand just realized the connotation of that phrasing. Ten points for Becca!

It's a good thing I'm not actually an octogenarian, because my coronaries might explode if I ate dinner like this ever again. It started off in such a innocent and wholesome way, too - one minute I'm picking tomatoes (from an actual plant! outside my door!) and next thing I know I'm switching out milk for half and half and putting mayonnaise on a fried-thing and egg sandwich. Oops.

My mom planted what seemed like half a produce aisle out back the second week of the summer. Within 48 hours, rabbits had eaten everything* but a singular tomato plant, which I completely forgot existed until last week. That gets me to last Monday, when while waiting on my boss to call (and procrastinating on my practice midterm) I realized I was hungry. The government may have been shut down and it may have been a national holiday, but I had two conference calls, statistics to learn and a stomach. Adulthood! Adulthood?

* technically they did not eat the mothballs we put in to deter them, although they did eat the supposedly rabbit-repelling plants we bought originally.


I've made fried green tomatoes before - even once this summer - but never really been satisfied with the results. It was something different every time- the general unpleasantness I feel whenever a recipe calls for buttermilk, too little cornmeal, too much cornmeal, WAY too much cornmeal (think sandpaper). I had an impossible idea in my head- something I had a restaurant once, something my dad told me about his mother making, some recipe that would remind me of watching the movie with my own mother. More specifically, I wanted a perfectly crispycrunchy exterior to gave way to a just-softened, lemony green tomato. I ask so little.

You see where this is going, right?

Ironically, I was trolling the internet for a non-fried way to eat green tomatoes when I found a copy of the recipe from the Lee Bro's Southern Cookbook. I'm enough of a nerd to know about that cookbook's reputation, so I got out the cast iron skillet and retrieved my frying oil from under the sink. I know when I'm beaten. I'm going to get to the actual cooking, but first let me say this: when you are finished, eat the tomatoes. Do not, under any circumstances, go looking for that hardboiled egg you'd forgotten about. Do not toast bread. Do not make Sriracha mayonnaise, or add thin slices of cheddar cheese. DO NOT MAKE A SANDWICH! 

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Fried Green Tomatoes
Adapted from the Lee Bro's Southern Cookbook, original recipe posted here

I don't generally believe in sifting, an opinion I was delighted to discover was shared by this awesome pro. Here, however, there's a lot of salt and pepper, and cornmeal that needs to be distributed; sifting does a better job mixing it all up. A whisk would probably work just fine. Secondly, since I successfully subbed a couple ingredients out, I'm giving options below. 

Oh, and people know green tomatoes are just raw regular tomatoes, right? Not funny heirloom ones? Just in case.

3-4 medium green tomatoes
1/2 cup whole milk, half and half, or whatever liquid dairy product you have around
2 eggs
~3 cups peanut or canola oil 

1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornmeal
3 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons ground black pepper (if you can make it fresh, it's worth it!)

Slice the tomatoes 1/4 inch thick, and whisk the eggs and milk together in a shallow bowl. Either sift the flour, cornmeal salt and pepper together twice OR whisk the mixture very thoroughly. Turn out onto a flat surface. 

Meanwhile, heat the oil. In a 12-inch cast iron (or otherwise heavy metal) skillet, heat ~1/3 inch of oil over medium heat. If you have a candy thermometer (seriously. who owns one?) it should hit 365 degrees. If you're me, test the oil either by tossing in a small piece of bread or dipping the end of a wooen spoon in the oil. If you go with bread (which I did, above), the sizzling should be distinct but not volcanic.

Dredge tomatoes. Press a slice in the flour/cornmeal mixture, once on each side, and shake off the excess. Dump it in the egg mixture, then fish it out and dredge/shake a again. Repeat, repeat, repeat. If you're smart, you'll dredge 3-4 slices (the number my cast iron skillet could handle in once batch) and the dredge the second batch while the first is frying. I wasn't that smart.

Finally, fry! Each tomato will take 1-2 minutes per side (I like tongs for flipping) to get a good golden brown color, but the exact time with vary with the heat of your oil. Remember, the more stuff you try to fry at once, the faster your oil cools down. Drain on paper towels, and eat immediately.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

This salad has fangirls

Ok,  fangirl.

She's only one person, but she's pretty fanatical. Last semester, I couldn't get halfway through my first bite before she would ask me when I was planning on making it again. I had to start buying double ingredients so I had an answer for her. Pretty good showing for a salad.

I made fun of her a lot, but the truth is I was delighted. Besides my usual joy in people liking my food, this particular salad is a favorite of mine. Her neurosis  justified my desire to eat it constantly. It's always reassuring when someone shares your addiction. 

Those are croutons, which I made in my kitchen. That's really the only difference between this salad and the Caesars you find in plastic containers at gas stations; the components are homemade. In the interest of blogging, however, I should probably be more detailed. The dressing involves no anchovies (unless you count the tiny amount in Worcestershire sauce) but there is a raw egg, and cheese mixed into the dressing. Also, it's very important you chop the heart of romaine crosswise, and into pretty small pieces- I let my mom handle the lettuce once and my sister was most displeased. Hey! Two fangirls and counting.

Caesar Salad
Special thanks to Ellen (recipe testing goddess) and Andrew (guinea pig extraordinaire)

Note on crouton bread: a baguette is the perfect size and shape for croutons, but in my opinion making croutons out of a baguette is a waste of good bread. You can use pretty much any bread you want - I suggest something  from the 'day old' section of the grocery store - as long as you can slice it very thinly without it crumbling. If that's proving difficult, I suggest throwing it in the freezer for 5 minutes first. Additionally, extra sliced bread can be stored in the freezer for future croutons.

2 hearts of romaine (you know those bags with three? use two)
3/4 cup shredded parmesan, divided
~half of a baguette (see note on crouton bread)
1 egg
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil plus more for drizzling (milder is actually better in this case... wooo for generic brands!)
7 drops Worcestershire  sauce
salt, pepper and ground corriander

Preheat oven to 350. Thinly slice bread and arrange flat on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle generously with salt, pepper and coriander. Flip all the bread pieces over and do the same to the other side. Bake croutons for 10-20 minutes, until dark brown and crunchy (timing will depend a lot on your oven). 

Next make dressing. Beat the egg in a mid-sized bowl, then whisk in garlic, mustard, and lemon juice. Slowly mix in olive oil, then taste for balance. You want mustard and lemon to be balanced, and a good kick of garlic. Add worsteshire sauce , then cheese, then salt if necessary. Add black pepper to taste (the amount I like is inappropriate for human consumption).

Chop lettuce, then break croutons into smaller pieces and dump the whole mess into a salad bowl. Toss with dressing, then again with remaining cheese. Eat and be merry!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A foodie balance

This picture, from Yotam Ottelenghi's Plenty, gets me every time. It's a bare bones recipe for marinated mozzarella and tomato, and it calls, quite politely, for the highest quality of ingredients. In fact, Mr. Ottelenghi deems this recipe useless unless you can find "a tomato that has never seen a fridge or a chilled truck, only soil and sun".

I was given a copy of Plenty for Christmas my senior year, and when I got back to campus I had one of my roommates look through it with me and flag anything she really wanted me to make. Sitting with her on our stained, second-hand futon, I thought about avocados, the month I spent living on a farm, the  Meyer lemon tree outside of every one of my high school friends' houses. Then I went into the kitchen and ate a teacup full of shredded mexican-blend cheese and Cholula.

When I was in high school I used to regularly eat tomato halves sprinkled with salt, biting into them the way you would an apple. I haven't done that in a while. I have, however, learned to make quiche out of pretty much anything, and how to know what recipes will still work on a pretty tight budget. It's a give and take.

This chickpea salad has been lunch at least twice this week. It came from Orangette, and I made it for the first time two summers ago when we'd just moved into our first college apartment. In terms of effort, it's barely a step above eating the beans straight from the can (a habit I'm not sure that roommate of mine every really gave up) but it tastes like real food. Food for people with their own dining room table.

Like Mr. Ottelenghi, the Lady Orangette points out that with simple recipes, ingredient quality matters. She suggests specific brands of beans, and the kind of olive oil you buy from specialty stores. I'm sure it would be fantastic, but I'm here to tell you that in this case, it doesn't matter. I've run the gambit in terms of ingredient quality with this one; bottled lemon juice, any brand of beans, that pre-grated parmesan they sell at Costco that does disturbingly well in the freezer. In the picture above, the parmesan was Reggiano (!), and I had an actual lemon, but both the beans and the olive oil were Stop and Shop-brand. Seems about right.

Chickpea Salad with Lemon and Parmesan
Stolen from Orangette

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
1 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
A dash of salt, if desired

Dump everything into a bowl, then stir. Add salt if necessary. Eat lunch.