Wednesday, July 21, 2010

DIY: Fried Green Tomatoes At The Chez Noonie Cafe

Fried Green Tomatoes are worth the price of admission. The film was sentimental and heartwarming. The recipe is crunchy, fun, and delicious.

I have always wanted to make these, ever since I saw the film. But the tomatoes were hard to come by. I saw many an heirloom green tomato, but those are soft and ripe and mushy, the way they ought to be. Green tomatoes are firm; that is the key to this recipe. Firm tomatoes. Anything soft and mushy will not do, because it will fall apart when frying. So seek out green tomatoes, just regular tomatoes that have not ripened yet, at your market - it is the season for them.

Green tomatoes taste a little tart, and have a nice fleshy mouth feel to them. When fried, they become a slice of heaven, slightly warm and tender on the inside, crunchy and salty on the outside. There is something about the contrast of textures and flavors that makes this dish unique and wonderful.

I also enjoyed the cooking process. There is something comforting about the preparation; you need three shallow bowls, one each for the flour, milk/eggs, and corn meal. Then you dip in each bowl, one at a time, until you have mounds of these wonderful tomatoes sitting on a rack, waiting to be fried. I don't know if I would go so far as to call it zen like, but there was a flow after a while, where all I was doing was dipping and dredging...and my mind went south. I was surprised when I was done, I had so gotten caught in the doing, the moment.

And then of course there is the eating. I tried lots of condiments with this. Salsa was tasty, but messy. Mayonnaise was good, as it is with all manners of fried things. But hands down the best was ketchup. Something about tomato on tomato action just really works, yielding a tangy treat. I kept thinking about hamburgers, as the tomato kind of looks like a giant pickle covered with ketchup, a la Whopper. I bet a fried green tomato would taste great on a burger...mmm, must remember for next time.

In the film, they are cooked and enjoyed by two best friends, becoming a symbol of the life their cafe brought to a sleepy southern town. Now, I am not sure if they can bring an entire community together again. But people will come just to see them, and stay to eat them. They are novelty fare that will keep crowds and families pleased. Even my 2 year could not resist eating a 'motato'. Enjoy every bite.

4 medium sized, green tomatoes
1/2 cup white flour
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup corn meal
salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

  1. Mix milk and egg together in a shallow pan. Place flour and corn in like pans. Add salt and pepper to taste to the corn meal.
  2. Slice each tomato lengthwise into 4 equal slices. Trim the round ends.
  3. Dust each slice with flour, then dip in milk/egg mixture. Dredge each slice in corn meal. Set aside on a rack and complete the rest of the slices.
  4. Heat olive oil on medium in a frying pan. Add tomato slices and cook for 2 -3 minutes/side. Serve hot.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Lesser Evil: Pancakes

There is something about a summer pancake breakfast. My kids go berserk as soon as they see me take out the big bowls and spoons - they know what's coming. Maybe I do it this time of year because it reminds me of vacations, when there is plenty of time to make the morning meal and linger over the coffee. Making pancakes takes me to that happy place, and my kids straight to heaven.

But I see a lot of crazy short cuts to pancakes these days, and I have to say they scare me to no end. The other day I saw them sold in the freezer section of the supermarket, waiting to be microwaved in some poor kitchen with little time and low standards. The ingredient list was long and painful. The directions were brief and unappetizing. The calorie count rivaled the deficit. Stay away from frozen pancakes my friends - they are evil.

Evil comes in many forms, and it certainly manifests itself in the kitchen. But what does it mean? I always liked the definition of the devil, evil incarnate, from the film Broadcast News:

"What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he's around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I'm semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing... he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance... Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he'll get all the great women."
The stuff at the market is a little like that. It is attractively prepared and packaged. It is helpful in that it seems to save time and effort. And let's face it, it has influenced a many a great nation, which is why we find ourselves in the state of food crisis we are in these days. It is therefore incumbent upon we consumers not to choose flash over substance, but to choose the lesser evil.

In the case of pancakes, next on the wrung of wrong is Bisquick. I am not a fan and honestly do not see the point of this product. But some folks swear by it. Here are the ingredients:
Enriched Flour Bleached (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oil, Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Dextrose, Salt.
Bleached flour is a bad idea. To do it, firms use things like peroxide and chlorine, things you don't want in your hair much less your mouth. It is used purely for appearance, to seem whiter than white. Partially hydrogenated soybean or cottonseed oil anyone? I think we've established the dangers of these products. So why buy them in a mix? Bisquick works in a pinch, but the ouch factor is not worth it. Buyers beware.

From my own experience, the best way to get pancakes is to make them. They really are easy to do, taste great, are fun to cook, and ready in less than 1/2 hour. Best of all, when you make them yourself, you can be confident about what you are eating, without the fine print haunting you later.

Ways to further lessen the evil:
  • Add fruit such as bananas, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, apples, and anything else you enjoy.
  • Use almond flour, a terrific option particularly celebrated by the gluten free crowd. I have personally come to know and love cooking and baking with it.
  • Cut out the extra sugar, or at least lower your risks. Mix with palm sugar, and if you need syrup, use real maple syrup. Or consider agave, which has a much lower glycemic index.
They are so good, it's almost sinful, dare I say evil (pinky points to corner of mouth)? Enjoy every bite.

Blueberry Pancakes
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 3/4 tsp double acting baking powder
2 beaten eggs
3 tbsp melted butter
1 cup of milk
1/2 cup blueberries

  1. Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl.
  2. Mix the wet ingredients in another bowl
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine until just mixed. Let this mixture sit for 15 minutes.
  4. Heat a skillet on medium until hot, then add pancake batter, 1/4 cup at a time. Dot tops with blueberries and let cook until bottoms are firm. Flip and let rise for approximately 1 minute, or until cooked through (you can tell if the bottom is brown and they have risen a little). Serve.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Homemade challah for the working woman

I recently headed back to the office after being at home for nearly 18 months. During that year and a half, I renewed my relationships with my children, husband, self, and…my kitchen. I have always been one to cook and entertain, but being at home upped the ante. I turned play dates into dinner dates. Every Friday was a complete Shabbat dinner. There was usually a homemade something or other for dessert. And we had so many leftovers, we had to literally give them away to the neighbors. During this time, I shopped at my leisure, stopping into boutique markets and buying direct from the farms. I founded a CSA. In short, I found a great deal of happiness and comfort in cooking, especially for those I love. It became more than a hobby; it became a passion.

Click to read more.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Lesser Evil: Chicken Nuggets

Ew. I don't like that. Gross. Throw it out the window.

Yes, my lovely and loving children have said all these things to my dinners, and I to their preferences. This is of course the universal parent-child discourse, and in our house like many others they are fighting words, tactics that lead to escalation (que the spilled water) and worse. I try to avoid the confrontation, but it sometimes is impossible, especially if they have a very specific idea of what's for dinner tonight. Often, I am left to choose the lesser of several evils, in an effort to compromise what they enjoy eating with what I can live with preparing.

Given the above, let's talk nuggets. Chicken nuggets are tasty, easy to prepare, and 100% junk food. If you can live with that, more to you. I break them out on rare occasions, such as the long road trip with nothing but McDonalds in sight, or those nights when I have to suddenly work late and cannot possibly scramble dinner in time. Once in a while they are fine, but just understand that they are not really food per se. They are food products. Parts are not just parts.

A good alternative that seems to work for all is chicken tenders. A lesser evil, the tender is an actual part of the chicken breast, and therefore real as all get out. Chicken nuggets are to chicken tenders particle board as is to solid oak. You can buy pre-prepared chicken tenders, which are not necessarily the highest quality chicken, but a step above the nuggets. Even better, you can purchase the raw meat and make them yourselves, in under 10 minutes. They are my preferred lesser evil, and actually are enjoyed by all parties in the house, with no whining and the occasional, "mmm..good. Can I have some ice cream?"

Here are some options to lessen the evil:
  • Use grass fed, pasture raised chicken. It is better for you, and more humanely raised. Be prepared to be be poor for a few weeks though.
  • Skip the supermarket butcher and cut the tenders yourself. If you buy boneless, skinless, whole breasts, the tender is easily removed and used for this recipe. It's the side piece that kind of flops down over the larger breast. Often, I make tenders for the kids and use the breasts for grown-up recipes. Alternatively, make a big batch by cutting the breasts lengthwise into 1/2 inch strips.
  • Use real bread crumbs. Take some bread, cut it up, throw it in the food processor, and viola..bread crumbs a la Noonie.
  • Use a neutral fat like grapeseed oil to prepare this dish.
There are a lot of recipes out there for these tenders. Below is one that has worked for my family - give it a shot and see how the peeps respond. You'll know if its working by the glorious semi-silence that comes from those distinct, discreet eating noises at the dinner table. Happy sounds? You betcha. Enjoy every bite.

Breaded Chicken Tenders
3 boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch strips
1 cup flour
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup bread crumbs
3 - 4 tbsp + 1 tbsp grapeseed oil

  1. Place flour, salt, pepper, and any other seasoning you like into a ziplock bag. Add chicken and shake to coat.
  2. Place breadcrumbs in a bowl and mix in 1 tbsp oil
  3. Dip each piece of chicken in the egg, and then coat with breadcrumb mixture.
  4. Add remaining oil to a skillet and heat on medium-high. Fry each piece of chicken for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until cooked.
  5. Cool on a rack and serve shortly after with duck sauce, honey mustard, or whatever you have in the house.

Friday, July 2, 2010

DIY: Red Cabbage Slaw

I love me some red cabbage. In the winter, it is one of my favorite dishes, sauteed with apples, onions, and a big pot roast. So delicious. But I never thought of it as a summer vegetable until it showed up in my CSA loot. 'Wrong season', I thought. Wrong thinking it was.

Red cabbage as it turns out is very much in season. While traditionally seeded in spring and harvested in fall, it often comes early in summer with a little coaxing. Red cabbage is also full of nutrients, and very high in fiber. It is rare that something so tasty is so good for you, and I knew I needed to find a way to incorporate it into my summer diet.

I had researched a few recipes online, and found a variation of red cabbage slaw on the food network. Below is my adapted recipe, and boy it is a zinger. Crunchy red cabbage is complimented by a tangy vinaigrette, whose pungent taste is offset by sweet onions and cranberries. And then there are the honey roasted peanuts which truly make this dish sing off the plate. You can make a few variations that I bet would be terrific:
  • Asian: Substitute toasted sesame oil, rice vinegar, sesame seeds, mandarin oranges, and lo mein noodles.
  • Italian: Substitute red vinegar, zante currants, and toasted pine nuts.
  • Spanish: Substitute sherry vinegar, figs, and marcona almonds.
  • French: Substitute white wine vinegar, apples, and french burnt peanuts.
Or add just what you please...anything will work and who knows, maybe it's in season too :)

Enjoy every bite.

Red cabbage slaw
Adapted from the Food Network
1/2 red cabbage, sliced thin
4 carrots, chopped
1 small, sweet onion (red or white)
8 oz dried cranberries
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp celery seed
salt and pepper
4 oz honey roasted peanuts, chopped

  1. Add the cabbage, carrot, onion, and cranberries to a large bowl and mix well.
  2. In a small bowl, mix vinegar and sugar. Add oil, and gradually whisk in celery seed, salt, and pepper.
  3. Add vinegar mix to the vegetable mix and toss to coat.
  4. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Top with peanuts and serve.