Sunday, July 31, 2011

Working on Healing

I am still mourning the loss of my handsome and darling Cabrillo. My son says that there have been coyote cat-kills a block from our house in the past month.
I don't know about that. I continue to subscribe to the county shelter's newsletter to see if any of the furry faces doing time there are familiar and call the city shelter regularly. Luckily they are both no-kill so if my baby turns up there he won't be euthanized.
On a happier note, we ate brunch at a restaurant with a stupid name but good food that could have been better.
One of the dangers of closed-dish buffet service is out of sight, out of mind. Workers walk right past food that has sat for so long that a steak knife won't cut it.
I had to ask for some refills on the salad bar, an area out of staff view.
The fresh items were really good and the grits bar/eggs and waffles to order were also well done.
There were quite a few dishes that gave me ideas and some things served so simply that they were surprising - hearts of palm with a little olive oil and paprika, succotash served cold, make with grilled corn niblets cut off the cob and shelled edamame. My favorite breakfast entree was their open-faced po' boy which was unlike any po'boy I'd had before. they start with a thin slice of French bread, a piece of filet mignon that has been pounded, breaded and fried like chicken fried steak, a teaspoon or so of cheese grits topped with a sunnyside-up quail egg. Lovely!
To my taste, quail egg yolks are richer than the average hen's egg. And I eat cage-free hen eggs which sport thick, yellow yolks so I have a particularly specialized egg palate.
Anyway, next time I need to make a brunch I think I may create a brunch of quail eggs on English muffin cubes. A dab of hollandaise on the muffin to create a seat for the egg and some proscuitto on the side.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The PERFECT Fried Green Tomato

One of the treats of summer is the tomato in all of its fresh glory. The beautiful red-orange of an imperfect orb served in thick slices on white bread with mayo; diced and tossed with olive oil, fresh basil and cubes of brie; cut into fat chunks with cucumber, Vidalia onion and apple cider vinegar - these are the cold dishes I dream about on winter days.
After the initial frenzy of picking and eating tomatoes just as they turned ripe and then settling into the happy confidence that a tomato sandwich was no further away than the back yard, we were ready to start raiding the tomato "nursery" for firm, green, unripe specimens to slice and fry.
Most people can get the dish started properly - wash, thinly slice, coat in cornmeal mix with salt and pepper....
My canola oil is heating to medium high; I slice and meal as many tomatoes as I can since once the frying begins there is no time to waste between batches. I make sure I have two pan's worth of tomatoes ready between each frying batch.
If the heat is too high, the outside burns and the inside is soggy and the taste "off." Too low, the tomato is a greasy mess. I've found medium to medium-high heat and two inches of oil in a 14" skillet gets the job done.
This beautiful nibble is crispy on the outside, sweet-tart on the inside and on its way to join its bretheren.
But where? On a plate lined with paper towels? In a paper bag to shakeoff the excess oil? Nope. On a cookie cooling rack.
This simple trick keeps the tomatoes crisp all over. Charlie was engaged in a radio contest in his Man Cave so I fried his tomatoes first, piled them on a plate and gave them a grind of pepper and took them to him. After I fried mine and ate them I checked on his verdict - he loves FGT (fried green tomatoes) and is an expert on their quality. These were declared "the best I ever ate. Crispy, full of flavor, very tomato-y with a hint of sweetness."
I was pleased with them, myself.
I've never liked making FGT as a side dish because of the awful potential for sogginess and reputation damage as a cook so we used to just eat them right out of the pan. Using a cooling rack will allow me to add FGT to my entertainment menus since I can keep the dish warm and crispy in the oven.
The keys to good FGT are sharp knives, firm tomatoes, clean oil, nothing more than meal to coat and cooling racks.
Eat 'em up, ya'll!

Monday, July 4, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

We had planted a garden of tomatoes, basil, Japanese eggplant, zuchinni and cucumber.
My belief that the people who write the "how far apart you must plant" instructions are wrong was finally put to rest; the tomatoes, basil and eggplant have crowded everyone else out of existence.
At least the victors in the Lebensraum of the Garden skirmish are producing, well, produce. My tomatoes have the perfect balance of bold acidity and and the slight sweetness those lacy slices of juice-rich, red-orange orbs can bring. The Japanese eggplant are growing firm aubergine fingers as testimony to the fertility of the soil they are in and the water they've drunk.
My daughter and son-in-law were in town for the holiday weekend, staying with son, darling DIL and granddaughter so we arranged  dinner out last night. I had picked the garden in the morning and had a fat basket of slim eggplants to share. I put enough in two bags, along with a can of anhcovies each, to give to the kids so they could make one of their favorite step-Mama side dishes we call the Eggplant Thing.

Eggplant Thing
3/8-10 inch long Japanese Eggplant or one fat standard eggplant,
sliced long ways and scored, top cap discarded
6 tbl good olive oil, separated
Sea Salt, fresh pepper, dried thyme and oregano
6 fat cloves of garlic
1 can anchovy filets

Bring 1 tbl olive oil to medium high in a 10" skillet, add eggplant cut side down; cook until light gold and scoring opens, you may need to add oil since eggplant really soaks it up. Place eggplant halves into a glass pan (9x13) that you've greased with about a tsp of olive oil, set aside. Pre-heat oven to 350. If you have a small food processor, get it out. Otherwise get out a small glass bowl, sharp knife, garlic press and whisk.
Clean and press garlic into glass bowl or processor bowl with olive oil, 1/2 tsp each dried thyme and oregano, salt. If using a food processor, pulse for ten seconds or so. In a glass bowl, mash ingredients together under a plastic spoon.  Whisk. Chop anchovies finely with knife if no processor, large chop if you have the equipment, add to olive oil mix. Whisk or whir together to get a fairly smooth consistency. Scoop out about a tbl and begin spreading into the eggplant halves, being sure that you get the mix down into the scores. Once you've covered all surfaces use remainder to top off the halves. Grind pepper to taste over the eggplant (I don't like pepper and use Cavender's Greek Seasoning instead) and place in oven.
This shouldn't take more than 30 minutes; you want to cook until the meat of the eggplant is tender.
Even if you think you don't like anchovies, try this. And remember that you eat anchovies in anything that has Worcestershire sauce:)