Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Saying Goodbye To Those Tomatoes

No matter where you are in the country, as we’ve established, the weather is turning towards the inevitable chill.  Even if you are lucky enough to live in an area with mild winters, as I do, the simple shortening of the days and the diminishing sunlight is changing the way the local plants and crops behave.  There just aren't enough warm, relatively close, rays of The Great Star to ripen those summer fruits and veg and bring them to their full glory now.  Add in the cool-ish evenings, which we’re getting even here in SoCal, and it’s time to not only put away the flip-flops and shorts, but also the recipes for peaches and cherries and berries and corn and zucchini, and, *snifffffff* tomatoes.

I know that some super-duper MegaMaster gardeners have managed to have tomato plants overwinter, and even bear some fruit, but me, I’m happy to have mine survive the summer and bear fruit when they’re supposed to.  And sad though I am about it, I have to admit my glut of tomatoes has dwindled to a trickle, and I will probably pull the last of them off the vine tomorrow.  Too soon it will be back to the hothouse grape tomatoes (which are the only ones worth buying off season as far as I can tell).

It’s also time to reconcile ourselves to the fact that some of the later-set fruit will, unfortunately, never ripen.

So, it’s time to make some fried green tomatoes, I say !  If you’re lucky enough to live in the Southern States, those below the Mason-Dixon Line, and not the "Western" Southern States, I hear tell that all y’all are lucky enough to actually be able to purchase green tomatoes for this delicacy.  Even at the MegaMarts.  We here in Botox-land are not so lucky.  I think I’ve seen green tomatoes available commercially a grand total of once, at a farmer’s market.  It wasn’t until I started growing tomatoes myself that I was able to sample this Southern treat, and see what all the big whup was about.

Now, I honestly think I grow tomatoes as much for my three or four rounds of fried green tomatoes every season as I do for the final, ripe product.

OK, maybe not, but I still have become addicted to these tart, crispy little bundles of goodness.  Especially when served with a spicy shrimp rémoulade.  Yeah, baby.  That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

Now, I know you're going to be scared, as I was, when we get to the actual recipe, about the list of ingredients.  It's about as long as my arm, and my arms could rival Magilla Gorilla's.  But, carry on.  Most of it is just assembling and measuring and mixing.  VERY little chopping and mincing.  And, it's SO worth it.

No class picture, this was a day my brain wasn’t fully engaged with the rest of me, and it wasn’t until I got into the prep that I thought the dish might be good enough to document.  Duh me.  Also, frankly, I don’t think I have a counter long enough to hold all the components…..as I said, it’s quite the laundry list.  But it’ll all be worth it.

First of all, we’re going to make the rémoulade.  You’ll need some Creole mustard (Zatarain’s is the brand I can most easily find, and it’s good), ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, lemon juice, paprika, white pepper, cayenne pepper, sugar, salt, olive oil, minced celery, fresh parsley, minced onion, minced scallion greens, mayonnaise and hot sauce (PHEW !).  Anything left in the cupboard???   Not likely…..

Trust me, every single one of these ingredients is needed, and you can taste them in the final rémoulade.  Even though they seem to be in minuscule quantities, they make a difference.  Only change I made, I didn’t have parsley, so I used the leaves from the celery.  WHOOOOP ! WHOOOP !  WHOOOP !  ALERT !  ALERT !  Good tip there….DON’T throw away your celery leaves.  I make it a habit, when ever I have them, to throw them in, minced up, to whatever I’m using the celery for.  They have great flavor.  Don’t waste your celery leaves !

Oh, and if you can’t find Creole mustard, use any spicy, grainy mustard you have/can find.  NOT ballpark yellow mustard.  Dijon would be fine.  Dijon with whole mustard seeds in it would be even finer.  Ballpark yellow mustard would not be fine.

OK….back to the rémoulade.  Mix in everything up to the olive oil.  (Don’t worry, I’ll give you better directions and the quantities below.)  Then drizzle in the olive oil like you’re making mayonnaise.  Whisk in the celery, parsley, onion, scallions and hot sauce.  You’ll get a sauce that looks like this:

Sorry, that’s an ugly-ass picture.  The color is way off, and I can’t figure out how to fix it.  I told you the little brain wasn’t quite hooked up to the rest of the body that day.

At any rate, stash the finished sauce, which I guarantee you is NOT quite that fugly color in real life, in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

Now we’re gunna deal with the shrimp.  You’ll need some lemon, some more hot sauce, bay leaves, a carrot, more Worcestershire sauce and GUESS WHAT, shrimp.  Use shrimp that are at least “medium” sized.  I used larger ones, but those are the ones I prefer.  They need to be deveined.  I left the shell on while I was cooking them, and then peeled them before service.  You could use either, but I prefer the shell-on for this type of cooking.  I think it keeps them more succulent and flavorful.  Mine were frozen.

**Digression to the State Of Shrimp In The Country**.  Unless you live on either of the coast(s), and even then, unless you shop at a reputable fish market, the shrimp you buy at the MegaMarts, no matter if they are in the “fresh” seafood counter or not, have been frozen.  Shrimp, like most (all) seafood are extremely perishable, and would never survive the trip from the harvest to the market unless they were frozen at sea.  Just a fact of life.  The advantage of purchasing frozen shrimp, rather than the frozen defrosted shrimp from the “fresh” seafood counter is that YOU CONTROL THE DEFROSTING PROCESS !  Hello.  YOU know how long the food has been thawed.  YOU know how it was thawed.  You simply get a better product purchasing frozen shrimp and thawing it yourself, rather than purchasing frozen, defrosted shrimp at the “fresh” seafood counter.  Look for shrimp that’s labeled “IQF”.  That’s “Individually Quick Frozen” and it means you won’t get a massive, 1-pound block ‘o’ shrimp you have to thaw in toto.  You can pull out what you need, and plant the rest back in the deep freeze.  By the way, all seafood must be labeled as to its origin, whether it was wild or farmed and whether it’s fresh or frozen/defrosted.  If it isn’t labeled, ask the guy at the counter, and then start shopping at another MegaMart, because they're supposed to be displaying that information so the consumer can see it without asking.

/end digression/

Back to the shrimp cookin’…..

Bring some water to boil in a pot.  Add in the sliced lemon, hot sauce, bay leaves, sliced carrot, W-sauce and some salt.  Return to the boil, and boil pretty hard for about 10-15 minutes.  Add the shrimp and return to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 7-10 minutes, or until the shrimpies turn pink and opaque.  It may take a bit longer if your beasties were frozen and/or in the shell.

Once cooked, drain them, and run them under cold water to stop the cooking.  Peel, if needed, once cool enough to handle.

Preeeety little shrimpies.  Stash them in the fridge too.

Onto the star of the show, them green ‘maters.  Whilst we’ve been prepping the rémoulade and the shrimp, the ‘maters have been doing this.

Lounging between a nice swaddle of paper towels, wicking away all that nasty excess moisture that will make the breading-to-come soggy and limp, and possibly cause it to fall off.  We wouldn’t want that, would we?

By now, you’ve cut the tomatoes into slices about 3/8-inch thick.  Let them drain at least half an hour on the paper towels, and more wouldn’t hurt.

Now we’re gunna start breading and cooking.  Annnnnnnnnd, here’s where the little brain engaged (hey, it fits, little kitchen, little house, little street, little brain !), so we’ve actually got some pictures.  Yay.  Or not.

Take some bacon fat (oh yeah, babe) and melt it in a large skillet.  You can add in some neutral oil if you don't want to use all bacon fat.

Set up a breading line of buttermilk and cornmeal seasoned with salt and pepper.

And drop the drained, sliced tomatoes into the buttermilk,

then into the seasoned cornmeal.

Make sure that you pack on the cornmeal as tightly as you can.

Now, full disclosure…..I had a beee-yatch of a time getting the cornmeal to adhere to the tomato slices.  Maybe I cut the tomatoes too thickly, I dunno.  Next time, which will likely be next summer, I’d try flouring the slices before going into the buttermilk, or doing buttermilk/flour/buttermilk/cornmeal.  That might help with the stickage.  It was tasty….but I had bald patches of tomato, especially on the skin edges, where there was no crunchy breading.

After breading, slide the slices gently into the hot fat.

You’re gunna fry them a couple of minutes per side.  Then gently pull them out and drain on more paper towels.  Let sit for a couple of minutes, the interior of the tomato is like napalm and will give you some serious hurting if you eat it hot.

Don’t ask me how I know….

Serve by placing some tomato slices (2-4 depending upon size) on each plate, topping with the cold shrimp and the rémoulade.

Enjoy yet another lovely trip down South and the feel of old N’Awlins….

Here’s the recipe.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Rémoulade
Adapted from “Food Network Magazine” – July/August 2011
Serves 4

For the rémoulade
1/4 cup Creole mustard (or other spicy, grainy mustard)
2 tablespoons ketchup
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons paprika
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch cayenne pepper
Kosher salt to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup minced celery
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon minced onion
1/2 tablespoon finely chopped scallion, green part only
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Hot sauce, to taste

For the shrimp
Kosher salt
1 lemon, thinly sliced
4 teaspoons hot sauce
2 bay leaves
1 carrot, sliced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1&1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled (optional) and deveined (tails intact)

For the tomatoes
1 cup fine cornmeal
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 cup buttermilk
Flour for dusting
Vegetable oil or bacon fat for shallow frying (or both)
8 thick slices green tomatoes (about 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick)

Make rémoulade.  Mix mustard, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, lemon juice, paprika, white pepper, cayenne and sugar in a large bowl and season with salt.  Whisk in the olive oil in a slow stream until blended.  Whisk in the celery, parsley, onion, scallion, mayonnaise and hot sauce.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Make the shrimp.  Bring 2 quarts of water to boil in a large pot.  Add 3 tablespoons of kosher salt, lemon slices, hot sauce, bay leaves, sliced carrot and the Worcestershire sauce.  Return to a boil and boil 10-15 minutes.  Add the shrimp and boil gently until pink and just opaque and firm, 7-10 minutes.  May take a bit longer if the shrimp are frozen and/or still in the shell.  Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking.  Discard seasonings.  When shrimp are cool enough to handle, peel if needed.  Cover and refrigerate until cold.

Fry the tomatoes.  Layer the tomato slices on paper towels and cover with additional towels.  Let drain for at least half an hour.  Mix the cornmeal, salt and pepper in a shallow dish.  Place some flour in another shallow dish or pie plate.  Place the buttermilk in a final dish or pie pan.  Heat the oil or bacon fat in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.  You’ll want enough fat to come about 1/2 way up the sides of the tomato slices.  Combine bacon fat with oil if needed.  Dip a drained tomato slice into the flour, then into the buttermilk, then into the cornmeal, pressing to ensure the cornmeal adheres.  Slide into the hot fat, and fry on each side until golden brown, about 1-3 minutes per side.  Remove from pan and let drain on additional paper towels.  Let rest for a minute or two to cool.

To serve, place 2-4 tomato slices on each plate (depending on size of slices).  Top with the chilled shrimp and drizzle with the rémoulade.

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