Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fried Green Tomatoes

No your eyes do not deceive you. This is in fact my second post in as many days. I made fried green tomatoes yesterday and they insisted on being mentioned. It was as though they were talking to me from the pan. Sizzling up at me, saying, "Don't forget about us."

How could I really? I love fried green tomatoes. I used to think my mom was a little weird for eating fried green tomatoes. They look a little unnatural. Firstly because my majority experience with tomatoes is with red ones. Second because once you dredge them in flour and brown them up in a pan they look a little rancid. Oh, but they're delicious!

Once you taste them, the brownish colouring they acquire in the pan will be absolutely tantalizing. And the smell. Honestly I think just about anything frying in a pan will smell good. For instance I don't really like onions, but when I smell them frying I swear I could eat them all. Fried green tomatoes smell like summer.

These particular ones came form my mom's garden and they were the best green tomatoes I've had in a while. This may be because I haven't had any since last summer, but truly these are some delicious tomatoes. Firm enough not to go to mush in the pan, with just enough sweetness to cut any bitterness.

Fried green tomatoes are perfect for a quick summer lunch or snack because they're almost laughably easy to make. No one wants to labour over food when it's hot outside. You can eat them on their own, as I usually do, but I imagine they would also be delicious on a sandwich, or tossed with pasta. I've been drooling over the thought of them on an English muffin topped with a poached egg. One of these mornings when I have time for a proper breakfast I'll give it a try.

For now it's your turn to experiment with them. Mix one part flour and one part cornmeal, add salt and pepper to taste. I'm not going to give you exact measurements because I never measure when I make these and how much you need really depends on how many tomatoes you're frying. Slice your tomatoes into rounds and coat both sides of the slice with your flour mixture.

Melt butter in a pan over medium heat and place the slices so they're not overlapping. After a couple minutes flip them with a fork. They should be nicely browned. A couple more minutes and ta-da! Fried green tomatoes. Repeat the process with the rest of the tomato slices.

The cornmeal is a wonderful addition that my mom discovered a couple years ago. It adds complexity of flavour and a nice texture contrast. If you don't have cornmeal you can absolutely make them with just flour, salt, and pepper. They'll still taste good, but I highly recommend the cornmeal. It's well worth the purchase and you can always use the rest of it for cornbread.

It's difficult to fully explain what fried green tomatoes taste like. I can't quite put my finger on it. There's something slightly tangy about them. Something of under-ripe fruit. Savory with the tiniest hint of sweetness. You'll just have to make them yourself to understand. They'll sizzle up at from the pan and say, "You won't be able to forget us anytime soon."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Carrot Muffins

Success! Ladies and gentlemen the long awaited and previously promised carrot muffin recipe. This was a bit of a journey. It certainly was much more of a journey than I anticipated when I set out to make carrot muffins. To think this all stemmed from the fact that my mom gave me left over carrots before going to Newfoundland. Who knew?

I tend to not be a very patient person when it comes to baking, in that if a recipe fails, I tend to give up entirely on that item, not wanting to go through the process of finding a recipe that actually works. So the fact that I went through four (yes, four) different recipes until I got to this one is a step forward for me. And might I add totally worth it. Because these muffins are sooo good.

I began this recipe with skepticism. Admittedly I was beginning to give up on the carrot muffin. I had to buy more carrots for crying out loud. I went from trying to find a way to use extra carrots to having to buy more carrots. On the bright side I now have a fabulous carrot muffin recipe.

They are deliciously moist in the middle while the top crisps up beautifully around the edges just as a muffin top should. Their subtle sweetness is tempered by the hint of cinnamon and ginger, which with every few bites gives you a kick in the taste buds. And the crunch of pecans beautifully compliments the cakey texture. Just look at that crumb!

And that muffin top! I ask you, have you even seen a more beautiful top on a homemade muffin? I didn't think so. Just wait until you taste it! I'm planning on bringing them to work (as I do with much of my baked goods, otherwise they end up on my waist), but after devouring the first one I seriously questioned this intention. Really I want to keep them all for myself. But in the avoidance of ill-fitting clothes, I'm going to share. I may need to make a new batch tomorrow. These won't hang around long.

Carrot Muffins
Adapted from Anne Lindsay

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups grated carrot
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp honey
2/3 cup chopped pecans

Sift together the dry ingredients (everything up to and including the salt).
Mix together the rest of the ingredients except the pecans.
Add wet to dry and mix until moistened. Beat mixture for about 1 1/2 minutes.
Stir in the pecans.
Fill a dozen muffin cups not quite to the top and bake at 350F for 25 minutes.

To test the doneness of your muffins press you finger gently on the top the middle muffin (it will bake the slowest). When it bounces back, they're done.

Eat all on its own, or with butter. Or really any way you please. Share with friends if generosity strikes. You may not want to, but baked goods are really better shared, aren't they? That's what I'll tell myself. Even as I want to lock myself in a room with them and eat the whole dozen all in one go.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Summer in a Bowl

So it has been exactly nine days since my last post, which is quite a few more days than I intended. I'm going to blame the heat and humidity. The mere thought of cooking in this weather is enough to make me want to lie down in the shade somewhere and fall asleep until I'm coaxed into awakeness by a nice cool breeze, or maybe, if I'm lucky, waves crashing on a beach. But as that's not going to happen anytime soon, I'll have to make do with some cool summer treats.

First on the list: strawberry soup. Usually the first reaction people have to strawberry soup is skepticism. The only fruit that frequently makes it into soup form is the tomato. And for the most part that's treated like a vegetable. But I promise that you will not be disappointed by strawberry soup.

I only very vaguely remember the first time I had strawberry soup. I can't quite remember where I was, but we were out for dinner somewhere, I feel like it was at a hotel. It was definitely summer. I wasn't very old, and as such I met the soup with the same skepticism I have encountered in other people. But it dissipated at the first mouthful. My mom found this recipe some time after that and she has been making it ever since.

I feel bad about not having talked much about my mom until now. Especially since she has been the source of so much wonderful food in my life. I'm going to blame the heat again for this one. She tends not to cook as much in the summer, for the same reasons I don't. It's just too hot. So I don't have as many summer recipes of hers to share. But this one needs to be shared. It's the perfect way to use up your fresh strawberries.

This soup is deliciously sweet, with a subtle tangy undertone provided by the orange juice. Its bright freshness is perfect for a light lunch or snack. It truly is summer in a bowl. It dances across your taste buds like a light breeze, carrying with it slightly floral notes and memories of lazy summer afternoons. On top of all that it is blissfully easy to make and, best part of all, no stove or oven required. So even though it will be gone far sooner that you'd like, you can take comfort in the fact that whipping up another batch will be a snap.

Mom's Strawberry Soup

2 pints strawberries
2 cups plain yogurt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 water
1/8 tsp ground cardamom

Chop the strawberries and combine them with everything else in a blender. Puree until smooth. Chill in the fridge and enjoy!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

World Cup Cookies

Hello again! I feel a bit bad because it's been a while since I posted anything. My original intention was to write about carrot muffins in my next post, but two recipes later I'm still not satisfied with the result. I have a couple more recipes to try though, so it is forthcoming. I'd rather not write anything at all than give you a dodgy recipe. Really I thought that getting my hands on a good carrot muffin recipe would be fairly easy. Apparently not. Oh well. I have something else for you today.

My sister and I had a party last night in celebration of the World Cup. (Well done Spain!) In honour of this celebration I made cookies decorated like soccer balls and the flags of the four quarter-final teams.

I'm going in a slightly different direction with this post. Rather than give you the recipes, I'm going to give you a bit of a decorating lesson: How to Flood Cookies! I swear my next post will be accompanied by a recipe. I already have one in mind. One that is fabulous and summery and won't have you slaving over a hot stove.

The reason I'm not giving you the recipes is that sugar cookies and royal icing are fairly standard and in no short supply. Everyone seems to have their personal preference regarding these two recipes and, in any case, they won't be hard to find should you not have a preferred recipe. Flooding cookies is fairly simple if you have a steady hand, albeit time consuming. They're certainly not something you can whip up the day of.

First, make your royal icing. (Well, actually, first make your cookies in the desired shapes and have a design in mind.) Make sure it's nice and shiny and dye it whatever colour you need it to be. Slowly add water to the icing, a tiny bit at a time (do NOT add too much, you can always add more water, you can't take it away). You want it to be just runny enough that it falls back in on itself when you drizzle it in the bowl. It still needs to have enough substance to stay where you put it and not run all over the place.

Any colours that will rest right next to each other need to be done on separate days so the colours don't run into each other. I'm using the Spanish flag as the example here. Make an outline with the icing like so (apologies for the blurriness)....

Then scribble inside as desired and move the icing around to fill in the gaps. You can use your finger to do this, or a brush, but I usually just use the tip of my piping bag, which works just fine.

The end result should look like this....

Once you have all the initial designs done (as below with the flags), let them set over night.

Repeat the process with the rest of the design. You can pipe on top of the set icing like I did with the sun on the Uruguay flag. To make the subtle lines on the white part of the soccer ball pipe them on first and let them set a bit, like so....

When you fill them in they should end up like this....

If you mess any of them up, perhaps by not leaving enough room for the fourth blue stripe in the Uruguay flag, just eat it. No one has to know!

Have Fun!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Canada Day

There's nothing quite like a picnic. It's such a perfect combination of everything I love: food, friends, and the outdoors. I mean, really, what could be better than eating delicious food while spending time with friends as a cool breeze dances through your hair?

Yesterday was the second of two glorious days I had off of work (a rarity in my busy summer schedule) and in celebration of Canada Day I spent it on a picnic with some friends I hadn't seen in far too long. The weather was perfect. It was what my family and I have taken to calling 'an east coast day.' Warm when the sun is out, cool as the clouds drift across the sky, with a breeze to temper the heat. Having spent numerous summer vacations in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and PEI, I've grown to love the breeze that always seems to blow in from the ocean, never allowing the temperature to remain too hot for too long. So even though I sustained a minor sunburn, it was fantastic.

But enough about the weather...this is really about the food. Originally I had intended to make some sandwiches as well as baked goods, because what is a picnic without sandwiches? I got the recipe from Anna Olson. Proscuitto, pear, and fig, on a baguette with blue cheese and Dijon mustard. I was extremely excited about this sandwich. Unfortunately I planned to run to the grocery store that morning forgetting that it was Canada Day and everything was closed. So no sandwiches.

Luckily I had baked enough to make up for the lack of sandwiches. The first being these delicious lemon thumbprint cookies (above). They have a density almost like shortbread which contrasts wonderfully with the blueberry jam filling. I adore blueberry and lemon together. The tangy lemon acts as a perfect foil for the sweet blueberries. And blueberries are oh so summery.

I also baked farm cakes, always a sure thing, which are essentially chocolate cupcakes with a cream cheese filling. I feel a little guilty for not divulging this recipe at present, but I'm going to save it for a later date. Today is not about the recipes, rather about good times with friends.

I will, however, give you the recipe for my friend Joanna's pasta salad just as soon as I get my hands on it. She made it specifically at the request of my friend Dayna who had the privilege of tasting it at an earlier occasion. And it is good pasta salad. It's fairly simple. Just pasta, some vegetables and a garlicky vinaigrette, but it is also everything pasta salad should be. It hits the spot and it is the perfect combination of carbs and veggies. It's also very versatile. Apparently Joanna doesn't really have a recipe. She sort of makes it up as she goes, seizes whatever vegetables she happens to have in the fridge and tosses them with pasta, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and garlic. From the ingredients alone you can probably make your own version.

It was a perfect day really. At least it was everything I needed it to be. Relaxing and filled with good conversation (and a healthy dose of silliness). I highly recommend going on a picnic before the summer's out. You have a couple months. Bake some cookies, whip up a pasta salad, and definitely make some sandwiches. Don't forget some good iced tea or lemonade. And a frisbee (or a small squishy yellow football with suffice). We finished the day with fireworks, which never cease to amaze me. I just love that no matter what is happening in the world, people can still be fascinated by the simple beauty of exploding lights in a night sky.