June 25, 2013

You say tomAto, I say tomAHto...

I was home visiting my family and was freshly out of culinary school.  I mean green. I hadn't really worked in kitchens yet other than as a stagiaire or "stage", which is an intern (read: free labor).

I'm not really sure where the brilliant idea came from, but I had it in my head to make fried green tomatoes.  Keep in mind, I'd never eaten them nor made them but off I went to gather green tomatoes and make them.  I had no reference point, so I didn't know how thick or thin to cut the slices.

So, I took to the kitchen with my tomatoes in hand and proceeded to make what one could only technically  classify as fried green tomatoes.  They were tomatoes.  They were green. And they had been fried.  Looking back at the first attempt to reach beyond my comfort zone, so full of enthusiasm, as all new culinary grads are, I wince at what I made.  Thankfully, I've gotten a handle on it now.

I still struggle with failure as I'm sure we all do.  I don't want to look stupid or fail at something. 
But, isn't that how we learn and grow?  Our failures tend to teach us more than our successes in my experience.
I'm learning to let go of that a little, although I'll be the first to admit that my competitive spirit will never disappear and the fear of embarrassing myself in front of people is still quite real. 
With that, I give you the following recipe... southerners need not correct me.  I'm sure you make it better.

Fried Green Tomatoes
4 - 5 green tomatoes, cut into 1/4" rounds
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 - 2 cups breadcrumbs (any kind you have on hand)
pinch cayenne pepper
pinch paprika
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
oil for frying
optional: dried herbs

Combine flour, garlic powder, cayenne and paprika in a shallow dish and whisk together. Set aside.

In a separate dish, whisk eggs and buttermilk together.

In a third dish (it will be worth the dirty dishes, I promise) combine breadcrumbs with a little salt and pepper and any dried herbs if you are using.  I throw in about a tablespoon of dried oregano or thyme if I don't have seasoned breadcrumbs.

Lightly season tomatoes on both sides with salt and pepper.  Dredge through flour mixture, shaking off any excess.  Then dip into egg mixture and coat with seasoned breadcrumbs.

This next step most people find annoying, but I have found it essential.  Place on a cooling rack and let it rest for about 15 - 20 minutes.  This allows your coating to adhere to the tomatoes.  I do this when coating anything I am going to fry.  You know how disappointing it is when your breading falls off in the pan or as soon as you cut into it?  Let it rest beforehand and that will be a thing of the past.

After the tomatoes have hung out and gotten acquainted with each other, it's time to fry.
Heat a large skillet with enough oil to go about 1/4 inch up the side.   Heat oil on medium high heat (350 degrees with a thermometer) and carefully slide tomatoes slices into the oil, dropping them in away from you, not toward you.  If the oil splashes, it will not splatter you, but the back of the stove.

Fry until GBD (Golden Brown Delicious), remove and place on a bed of paper towels to absorb excess oil.    
Serve immediately.

June 17, 2013

A Peck of Pickled Peppers

My banana pepper plants have been rather prolific and for this I am grateful.  As most of you who are regular visitors to this little space already know,  I went a little overboard in planting.  I have a tendency to overdo things and this was no exception.

Spending so many years living in an apartment with zero outdoor space, I may have gone a little crazy when I realized that I could grow some of my own food.  This had been a goal of mine for a very long time (growing food, not going crazy... that ship has sailed).  
I am fascinated by the entire process of planting a seed, taking care of it and watching it grow into something that will actually feed you. 

The very first time I had a banana pepper was on a pizza, my Freshman year in college.  A small group of us had descended on the pizza place next to campus.  We were there under the pretense of "studying", I'm sure.  There were pool tables, dart boards (which I became quite skillful at playing), air hockey tables; all the things one thinks of when looking for an appropriate place to "study".
Anyhow, there we were and one of the guys went to order our pizza and when the waitress came to the table to set it down in front of us, I noticed that it had peppers on it.  Not wanting to draw any attention to myself, I dug right in but in my head was this little voice shouting "are you nuts?!".

I was under the impression back then, and I'm not sure why, that banana peppers were so hot they would peel the skin off of the roof of your mouth.  Happily surprised that my mouth did not ignite into a ball of flames, there was no turning back.  Thus began the love of banana peppers. Of course, I rarely ate a pizza without them after that.  They were on sandwiches, mixed into tuna fish,  often plucked right from the jar and popped into my mouth.  However, having crossed the threshold into my 40's, my stomach will not always tolerate such shenanigans these days.

I still eat them on pizza. An Italian cold cut sandwich is nothing without them, chop them up into a good bowl of pasta to transform it into something even better.  Charred on the grill, they are a smoky side to any grilled meat. Banana peppers even give egg salad a kick on the days you need a little something extra. 

Pickled peppers are the perfect balance of sweet, tangy, just barely there heat and the right amount of crunch.  They are one of the easiest things to pickle, as you can see from the recipe below.  It takes very little time and the peppers can go from plant to jar in well under an hour at the languid pace that comes with steamy summer days.

Pickled Banana Peppers

6 medium banana peppers, sliced into rings (roughly 1/2 pound)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp mustard seed
1/2 tsp celery seed
2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup tarragon vinegar (or white vinegar)
1 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
pinch turmeric

Sterilize 4 half-pint jars, lids and rings by immersing them in a large pot of simmering water.  Leave in hot water until ready to assemble.

In a medium sauce pot, combine all ingredients, except banana peppers, and bring to a boil.

Remove jars from water and place banana peppers inside.

Pour pickling brine over peppers, leaving 1/4- 1/2 inch space from top of jar.  Wipe off any brine that may have spilled on rim or side of jar.  Place lid on and tighten ring.  Set on counter to cool.  Jars should "pop" as they cool, sealing themselves.  One of mine did not, so I lowered it into simmering water for about 6 - 8 minutes until it did.  If you need to do this, make sure water level is 1 inch above top of jar for it to seal properly.

You can test them by pressing on the lid.  It should not make a "popping" sound when you press it.  If it does, you can either seal it by processing it in a water bath, or keep it in the refrigerator and use first.