Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fried okra

Supper was ready the other night. Shrimp and corn bisque. A loaf of the artisan bread that WE ARE IN LOVE WITH. Salad fixins' fixed. And then the lady across the street called, to ask if we wanted any fresh okra and of course, we did. I had in my mind...dinner the next night.

Y'all, that okra was BEAUTIFUL. And it sat on the counter and just SANG to me until finally...let's do okra. Now, The Big Boy and I grew up with our grandmother's okra and it's still our slice the okra into a bowl, pour some milk or buttermilk over it, sprinkle it with flour and dump the whole mass into hot bacon grease and cook it down. When it's done, it's...homogenous. Crispy, one hair short of burnt, the stuff dreams are made of.

But in this day and time, when frying is a special-occasion event, my kids are accustomed to the okra you get in lunchrooms and Cracker Barrel...the individually fried okras. So that's what I did. Appetizer style, and we ate the ENTIRE BATCH before we ever sat down to dinner.

Oooh. This brings us to another thing. I have some buddies who are in Baltimore, working on a nuclear plant. And they come home for the weekend, get ready to go back and have these "altercations" at the airport trying to take back loaf bologna and White Lily cornmeal. Which you can't get up there. And since I don't think you can cook okra without White Lily, you may have to fake it. (Although White Lily just shut down its Tennessee plant and moved to some godforsaken Yankee town like...Cleveland or something.)

Fried Okra
White Lily cornmeal mix
Bacon grease plus vegetable oil

Wash and dry the okra. Slice it into a large bowl, discarding the tops and ends. Pour enough buttermilk or milk over to coat each slice, and let sit for a little while. (A little while would be however long it takes to get the rest of supper started.) If you're cooking it appetizer-style, drain the okra in a colander. Take a gallon ziplock bag and put about a cup of White Lily in the bottom. Add the drained okra, pour another cup of White Lily on top, seal the bag and shake until each slice is coated. Pour the okra out onto a baking sheet, in a single layer.

Using (preferably) a large black cast iron Dutch oven, pour in bacon grease and vegetable oil to about two inches. Heat to 350 degrees, and then fry the okra in batches. When it's done, scoop it out onto a platter lined with paper towels and SALT IT IMMEDIATLY. For appetizers, we use cayenne, or smoked salt, or Tony Chacheres.

If you're frying the old-fashioned way...after you add the buttermilk, just sprinkle the White Lily into the bowl and fold to combine. Then fry, stirring occasionally.

If you can't get White Lily, you can mix white cornmeal and white flour, 2 cornmeals to one flour.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Black bean burritos

Supper last night WORKED. Very well. When I bought tomato plants this year, I bought some just because I didn't know what they were. Turns out, it was just a glorified roma and not too interesting. So last night I made salsa. (To go with the margaritas left from Saturday night but that's another post.) And since we were having salsa we obviously needed Mexican we are.

Black Bean Burritos
Tortillas (I do half corn and half flour to please the masses)
1 large can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups cooked rice
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
1 package four cheese Mexican blend
1 large can enchilada sauce (red or green)
1/2 cup sour cream

Prepare the tortillas...heat a griddle over low heat and lay each tortilla on the griddle. Sixty seconds first side, 30 seconds other side. Put each one in a covered casserole/tortilla holder as you finish.

In a saucepan, combine the black beans, rice and 1/3 of the can of sauce. Heat just until warm, remove from the heat and fold in the cheese and cilantro. Spoon a line of bean mixture down the center of each tortilla, roll up and place in a casserole dish. Put in a 325 degree oven for ten minutes...just to heat through.

While the burritos warm, put the remaining sauce in a small saucepan and heat just to simmering. Remove from the heat and stir in the sour cream. Ladle sauce over burritos as you serve them, with extra sour cream on the side.

In hindsight, a small can of corn kernels would have been a healthy addition.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Do you devil?

Eggs, that is? Everyone in this house LOVES deviled eggs; and every time I make them I wonder why I don't do it more often. It's not much trouble and it's AMAZING at the favorite spice company in Fort Worth even sells a deviled egg cookbook. Maybe I should teach the kids how to do it!

Basic Deviled Eggs
One dozen eggs
Dill pickle juice

Put the eggs in a saucepan, cover with cold water and pour in about 1/2 cup white vinegar (it helps keep the eggs from cracking.) Set on a cold stove eye and turn the heat to high. Bring the eggs to a boil, remove from the heat, cover and let sit for 14 minutes. Remove from the hot water and put into a bowl of cool water, until room temperature.

Peel the eggs. Cut each egg in half longways, put the yolks into a bowl and arrange the empty whites on your egg plate. To the yolks add about one tablespoon mayonnaise, one teaspoon mustard, and the pickle juice a little at a time, mashing with a fork until you have a creamy consistency. Spoon back into the whites and sprinkle with paprika.

The possibilities are endless. Last week we added crumbled bacon, used smoked paprika and topped each egg half with a jalapeno slice. Chopped chives work. Most country people use sweet pickle relish but we don't like a lot of sweet in our regular food, so we stick with the dill pickle juice.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Fresh Tomato Salsa

My friend's sister, Mz Pam, used to make us salsa in the summer. She'd make two with jalapeno and one without and you'd start with your favorite and then finish up the other one. It is, to this day, one of the great pleasures in life.

I started with her recipe, then when we moved to Texas I learned a LOT. And one of those things was that...if it's fresh? It's gooood.

Fresh Tomato Salsa
12 ripe tomatoes
6 large, firm tomatillos
1 bunch fresh cilantro
Peppers...I try to use three different kinds with each batch, one of them taste
Fresh garlic, to taste
1 large onion
Juice from one lime
Salt and pepper to taste

Mz Pam used to peel the tomatoes and blanch the tomatillos but in Texas they said...Don't bother. They were right. But because you're not peeling things, they have to be clean. I actually take a large Dutch oven or clean dishpan, fill it with hot water and liquid dish detergent, and wash my vegetables. Just drop them in the water, swish them around and move them to a basin of cold water. Lay out on towels to drain. I even do the cilantro this way...hold the stems, swish the leaves around in the water for 2-3 seconds and then rinse it under cold running water. (This would be because pesticides are petroleum based and if you're going to get ANY of the poisonous stuff off your produce, grease-cutting dish detergent will help.)

The trick here is to turn some of this stuff to mush while keeping most of it chunky. Take one of your tomatoes, cut it into quarters and drop it in the food processor. Peel and smash your garlic...Mz Pam used a clove, we use the whole head...then quarter it and drop it into the processor. Peel and wash your tomatillas and the onion, quarter them and add them to the processor. This part you want well-processed...process it, scrape down the sides, then process it some more. Empty it into a large bowl.

In the processor, quarter another tomato and then add your peppers. Usually, if you do one bell pepper, a couple of banana peppers and jalapeno to taste, it works out well. Seed if you like, leave 'em in if you're brave. Quarter the peppers and process this until chopped (but with character.) Scrape into the big bowl.

Quarter another tomato into the bowl, add the cilantro and pulse until the cilantro is finely chopped, scraping once. Pour this into the big bowl.

Quarter the rest of the tomatoes and coarsely chop; pour into the big bowl. (Adding one tomato to each processor container gives just enough moisture to make sure everything chops evenly.) Mix everything, add the lime juice and season with salt and pepper. It seems to me that no matter how it tastes when I first season it, I end up adding more salt later so taste it again before you serve it.

Sometimes we char the peppers on the grill...if you have time you can char half the tomatoes and get a lovely smoky taste. Fresh roasted corn kernels, cut off the cob, are a neat addition, too. Serve this with good tortilla chips and really cold beer. And a lot of fun people.