Granny Recipe #2: Not Just a Movie

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Green Tomatoes.  These babies are a delicacy.  To get green tomatoes, you have to know someone with a tomato plant.  The grocery store doesn’t know what one of these is (although to taste tomatoes from the store, you’d think they were green).  The farmer’s market won’t even do you for a good green tomato (unless they’re the kind that never turn red).  No, most sane people like to keep their tomatoes on the vine until they turn red.   Don’t get me wrong, a juicy red tomato pulled straight from the vine is the essence of perfection; a good one will almost make me cry.  But as anyone who has ever successfully grown tomatoes knows, if you wait for all of them to ripen before you pick them, they’ll be rotten before you can finish eating them.  And you’ll never want to see another tomato again.  Nor will your neighbors. *

Simple solution: pick some of them before they’re ripe, and figure out a different way to use them.  Hence, the fried green tomato was born.  According to granny, you have to fry them green, because the red ones “don’t have a strong enough constitution” and they’ll fall apart in the frying pan.  Personally, I think it would be doing a ripe tomato a disservice to fry it; they’re delicious enough already.  I know it’s another recipe that calls for deep frying something, but it’s not too bad–you don’t need a whole vat of oil (unlike Granny’s fried ribs)–and you can use olive oil if it makes you feel better.  I still recommend the cast iron skillet, though!

*Funny story–my first job after college took me to Boston for awhile; I found an apartment with a guy who had lived in the city his whole life.  When I moved in, I found no less than fifteen tomato plants scattered in pots on the back balcony.  My roommate called it his “agriculture experiment” and hoped to get enough tomatoes for a couple of salads by the end of the summer.  Needless to say, we ate a lot of salads. And spaghetti.  And tomato sandwiches.

The method for frying green tomatoes is pretty self explanatory:

slice 'em up

slice 'em up

Dredge each slice in some cornmeal, salt, and pepper, and throw in a hot skillet.

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Leave them alone while they brown; you don’t want to flip them more than once or they’ll fall apart.  It should take 2-3 minutes for each side.  Remove from skillet and drain on a paper towel.

eat 'em while they're hot!

eat 'em while they're hot!

Savor the beauty that is an unripe tomato.  If you can get your hands on them, that is.

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Next time:  something from granny that isn’t dredged in cornmeal and deep fried–promise!

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I just had to share with someone…

I haven't seen the top of my desk in six months

I haven't seen the top of my desk in six months

And yes, that is a mint julep.

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When life gives you rotten bananas…

So, you know how you and your roommates make a biweekly trip to the yuppie grocery store outside the city, because it’s actually cheaper than the Not-So-Safeway just a few blocks from your house, and you want to be environmentally conscious, so you bring your own grocery bags with you, and you suffer through the stares from the people behind you in line because even though your bookbags and duffel bags hold groceries just as well as anything else, they’re not stamped with the store logo so for some reason they’re not as good, and you get home and put away all your groceries, and then you take your bookbag back to your room and don’t look in it for another week, because it’s summer, until one day you wonder what that funny smell is coming from your closet and you find that entire bunch of bananas that you wondered where they went but just assumed your roommates ate them before you did? No? Well, it happens more often than you think—usually it’s crackers or something that doesn’t really make a difference, but I guess bananas are better than, say, a gallon of milk.  At least they’re salvageable.  I mean, how often do you have an entire bunch of rotten bananas that you can make banana bread with?  Usually, there’s only one—two, if I’m really lucky—banana left in the bunch that’s too far gone for anyone to eat.  I hoard rotten bananas in the freezer for months before I have enough for a loaf.

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As banana breads go, this one is fairly involved, ingredient-wise, but everything goes into the same bowl and stirred with a fork, so it’s really not that bad (especially if you don’t have a dishwasher).

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This recipe has been tweaked and tweaked and tweaked (like I said, the missing-grocery-items scenario happens more often than you would think), but I think I’ve finally settled on a winning combination.  Oh, who am I kidding?  I’m a sucker for banana bread, and I would consider any combination a winning combination.  Anyway, this one has both white and brown sugars, and white and whole wheat flours in it.  If you want to keep it simple, feel free to make substitutions as you please.   Just do me a favor and don’t leave out the coffee, ok?  It’s vitally important to provide yourself with as many vehicles for caffeine consumption as possible.

Steeping the coffee.  Sometimes I just use the dregs from the coffee pot, but today there wasn't any left Sometimes I just use the dregs from the coffee pot, but today I had some bananas foster flavored coffee–terrible for drinking, but great for banana bread–so I steeped just a bit of that for this recipe.

And the chocolate.  Don’t skimp on the chocolate.  I skimped on this one, thinking walnuts would be a great addition.  They were, but they should have been that: an addition, not a substitution!

tip from granny: toss your chocolate chips/nuts in flour first before stirring them into a batter--it helps them stay suspended while baking

tip from granny: toss your chocolate chips/nuts in flour first before stirring them into a batter--it helps them stay suspended while baking

Added bonus: baking banana bread while the cable repair guy is at your house (for the THIRD time this month, I shit you not) guarantees that he’ll hang around long enough for the pans to come out of the oven, which gives him all the time he needs to make sure the job is done right this time.

Worth the wait--and the working television!

Worth the wait--and the working television!

Banana Bread (this was my starting point, although I’ve adapted it quite a bit):

makes 2 loaves

5-6 overripe bananas, smashed

1/2 cup melted butter

3/4 cup white sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

pinch of cinnamon

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup brewed coffee

2 tsp baking soda

pinch of salt

1 1/2 cups white flour

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

8 oz chopped chocolate or chocolate chips

Walnuts (optional)

Mix the butter and bananas until incorporated.  Batter will probably still be lumpy.  Add sugars, cinnamon, eggs, vanilla, and coffee, stir until (mostly) smooth.  Sprinkle baking soda and salt over top of batter, then add flour in 1-cup increments and mix until just incorporated.  Stir in chocolate chips (or filling of your choice).  Divide batter evenly into two greased loaf pans; bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes or until knife comes out clean.  (Note: my bread usually browns 10-15 minutes before it’s done–I just cover it with foil and let it finish baking).

Enjoy!

Enjoy!

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Hobo Tuesday–er, Wednesday: Veggie Chili

So, I know it’s not Tuesday anymore, but a perfect storm of circumstances prevented me from writing this up yesterday.  Actually, I can’t believe it’s been a month since I beat the pants off everyone in my first ever Tight-Ass Tuesday Challenge.  Michelle at Thursday Night Smackdown hosts this monthly challenge in which we all try to cook the cheapest meal possible–a maximum of $5 for two people (or $10 for 4).  Official rules are here.  Last month, I stole the smugness prize, and am out for blood this month!

Since I won (sorry, did I mention that I won?) the July picnic challenge, I got to pick the theme for August.  I figured that the hottest month of the year deserved a little competition, and challenged everyone to bring on the spice.  A little out of season, perhaps, but I’ve read somewhere that the reason people who live in tropical climates tend to have spicier foods is because eating hot things actually helps cool your body off.  Anyway, I digress, so without further ado, I give you my submission for this month’s Hobo Tuesday: Vegetarian Chili and Cornbread.

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please ignore the less-than-clean bowl; I forgot to take a picture until round 2

I would just like to say for the record that, technically, this meal was 100% free.  Not just because everything I used came straight from the pantry, but because I didn’t pay to get them there in the first place.  I helped a friend move last week, and in exchange she let me take home most of her food–including all the fixin’s necessary for this meal.  In the interests of fair play, though, I made a special trip to the grocery store to price the things I didn’t consider actual pantry items, so, you know, other people had a shot at beating me.

First things first–everything I used:

DSCN0160In case you can’t make out the spices, it’s cumin, red pepper flakes, chili powder, hot chili powder, and sage.  I also threw in a shitload of black pepper and quite a bit of salt, too.  I started by chopping and browning the onion and two cloves of garlic in some olive oil, and then threw the spices in the hot pan towards the end, just to toast them a bit.  I would estimate about a tablespoon each of the cumin and chili powders, a pinch of sage, and a whole palmful of the red pepper flakes.

yes, I did use that much chili powder--got a problem with that?

yes, I did use that much chili powder--got a problem with that?

Meanwhile, drain and rinse the black beans and kidney beans, and toss them in the pot with the large can of tomatoes.  At this point I also usually add a can of beer (which, in my house, can most definitely be considered a pantry staple!), but we were out so I settled for about a cup of water.  I also threw in a bit of extra salt and a couple of tablespoons of black pepper to compensate for the lack of flavor.  Add in the onion/spice mixture and de-seeded green chile (we’re going for the hot factor here).  Finally, I added about half a bag of frozen corn, and let it simmer on the stove while I baked the corn bread.

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I cheated on the cornbread, and my granny would just die if I found out.  But the boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix are super cheap (3/$1!), very fast, and I actually prefer the cornbread they make to many homemade versions.

a mix, an egg, and 1/3 cup of milk--can't get any easier than that!

a mix, an egg, and 1/3 cup of milk--can't get any easier than that!

Et viola!  You have yourself a bowl of chili!  Extra cheap, extra easy, and extra spicy, complete with a corn muffin to wash it down.

On to the nitty gritty details:

5-alarm Vegetarian Chili: (makes 4 servings)

1 med. Onion–pantry staple

2 cloves garlic–pantry staple

1 Tbsp. ground cumin–pantry staple

2 Tbsp. chili powder (mixture of regular and hot)–pantry staple

1/4 cup (or to taste) red pepper flakes–pantry staple

1 can Black Beans–$0.69

1 can Dark Red Kidney Beans–$0.69

1 large can diced tomatoes–$1.19

1 green chile, de-seeded and diced–from garden

1/2 bag of Frozen Corn–$1.29/2 = $0.65

1 c. water

Salt and Black Pepper to taste.

Brown onions and garlic over med-high heat; add in spices and stir briefly.  Add to large pot with drained beans and undrained tomatoes.  Add water (or beer, if you have it) and salt and pepper.  Add chile and frozen corn; let simmer 10-15 minutes or until corn is cooked (or cornbread comes out of the oven).

Corn Muffins:

1 box Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix–$0.33

1 egg–pantry staple

1/3 c. milk–pantry staple

follow directions on back of box.

And the grand total comes to… $3.55!  That breaks down to $0.89/person.  We’ll see how that measures up to my competition…good luck everyone!

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Meet (the real) Granny

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This is my grandmother (and my brother, who, though not entirely irrelevant, you can ignore for the moment).  She is one of my heroes.  The oldest daughter of 5 sisters (they also have an older brother), she grew up on a large farm in rural Florida during the Depression and World War II.  She’s raised sisters, children, grandchildren, and just welcomed her first great-grandchild (don’t worry, not mine!) into the world.  She’s lived through a lot, put up with even more, and is still the sweetest human being I know.

Her younger sister, Sharon.  Look at that attitude!

Her younger sister, Sharon. Look at that attitude!

She’s never known what having money felt like, though if you ask her she’ll tell you she’s never wanted for anything, either.  Living on a farm meant you always had plenty to eat, acres and acres of playground, and if you needed a new dress, you just made one from an old flour sack.  After my grandfather got out of the navy, he worked for the telephone company, and was president of the workers’ union.  When they were on strike—sometimes for 6 months at a time—my grandmother managed to provide for her family of five with just her salary as a part-time school board administrator.  She’s held my grandfather’s hand through months of a terminal illness, seen her children through marriages and divorces, and hasn’t missed a single grandchild’s birthday or graduation.  She is amazing, plain and simple.

And good Lord, can the woman cook.  I mean, damn.  Paula Dean is my grandmother incarnate (sans the heart attack hamburger).  In the fifth grade when we had to write an essay about our favorite restaurant, I wrote about my granny’s kitchen.  I’d take her cooking over the fanciest restaurant in Baltimore any day of the week.  She’s the one that taught me how to really cook.  Good ingredients and fancy techniques are all well and good, but they won’t get you there.  It’s all about soul, and taste, and intuition.  If a recipe calls for a teaspoon of salt but it tastes like it needs two, then, gosh darnit, put two in.  That steamed broccoli looks lovely, but it would taste even lovelier with a dollop of butter on them.  And cheese grits aren’t cheese grits unless there’s “enough cheese to choke a goat” in them.

For Christmas this year, my grandma gave me a booklet full of handwritten recipe cards, full of the things that defined family dinners at her house: squash (cooked in bacon grease, of course!), potato salad, macaroni and cheese, and banana pudding.  They’re less recipes than they are guidelines, with instructions like “add butter until it tastes right” or “cook until done”.  They would be useless without years of experience in the kitchen to know what “tastes right” is, or what “done” looks like.  Nonetheless, it is, without a doubt, the best Christmas present I’ve ever gotten.

One of the recipes is a family trademark, saved only for special occasions (usually when I come home to visit): fried ribs.  Yes, it’s a heart attack waiting to happen, but I don’t care.  If I died eating one, I’d die a happy woman.  No one I’ve ever met outside my family knows what a fried rib is, so I thought I would enlighten ya’ll.  Don’t eat them every day, but you should definitely give them a try.  I’ll do my best to translate the original recipe into a photo essay that you can actually follow, but will also include Granny’s recipe at the end, because her advice is sound.

First, the meat.  Pork ribs, please; this ain’t Texas.  Get the butcher to slice them individually, if you can.  You can do it yourself, but it’s a lot less work if you get them to do it. Sprinkle them with tenderizer and let sit for a few hours. Then wash them, pat dry, and chuck em’ in a bucket of cornmeal, salt and pepper.  It should look something like this:

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Those are my brother's hands--told you he wasn't entirely irrelevant!

Those are my brother's hands--told you he wasn't entirely irrelevant!

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Throw the ribs a batch at a time into some hot peanut oil (well, don’t literally throw them, as you might regret it).  I have no guidelines for temperature, but you want it to be pretty hot—I’m guessing around 350 degrees?  At any rate, you want it to look like this when the ribs are in:

notice the presence of cast-iron--I promise I wasn't trying to be stereotypical, it just...happened

notice the presence of cast-iron--I promise I wasn't trying to be stereotypical, it just...happened

Tip: Fry these outside to keep your kitchen from overheating and smelling like McDonald's!

Tip: Fry these outside to keep your kitchen from overheating and smelling like McDonald's!

“Cook until done”, approximately 7-10 minutes, then pull them out of the oil and let drain.  Start another batch, because you’ll need a whole bunch of these babies to satisfy everyone.  Guaranteed: the first batch will be gone before they get to the table.

Enjoy!

Enjoy!

Granny’s Recipe directly transcribed:

Pork ribs—I usually get them cracked at the store (that’s cut almost through each rib)because I can’t cut them anymore.  Also I like baby back—more expensive but more tender.  If I use just Pork Ribs I put tenderizer on them for awhile.  Wash and let drain, then salt.  Mix self-rising meal and pepper (you decide amount) in gallon bag or bowl.  Shake ribs in bag or dredge in bowl.  Put enough oil in deep skillet to cover ribs, heat, put ribs in and fry.  Fry until they are nice and brown—make sure they are done.  Guess someone will have to do a taste-test! Wait, wait, one’s all you need to test!

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Birthday Pie

It’s been awhile, especially considering that my hiatus came so soon after starting a blog.  I’ve been on vacation in the Land of No Internet for the last month, so I didn’t get a chance to post much while I was gone.  I’ll have plenty to talk about—and lots of pictures to share—in the coming weeks, but today I have more pressing matters to discuss.

Today is my roommate Lauren’s birthday.  Lauren is an awesome roommate.  Not only does she share my love of Arrested Development and all things NPH, but she made me the most spectacular green stegosaurus cupcake cake (a la CakeWrecks) for my birthday.

See, it all started as a joke.  There are 5 people that live in my house, and I try to bake a special birthday something for each of them.  So when I facetiously asked who would be baking my birthday cake this year, Lauren piped up and asked me what I wanted.  Big Mistake.  I said I wanted a dinosaur cake (because I’m five, and also because it was the most ridiculous thing I could think of at the spur of the moment).  Then a few days later I happened to be at the Museum of Natural History, where I snapped a picture of the stegosaurus skeleton and sent it to Lauren, “just for reference”.   Anyway, to make a long story short, I came home one night to find this masterpiece waiting for me in the kitchen.

Best. Birthday. Ever.

Best. Birthday. Ever.

So how could I possibly let her birthday pass without something equally as delicious to celebrate the occasion?  Cakes, cupcakes, and cookies are all manageable, and I have tried and true recipes to make sure that any request will not result in a birthday disaster.  But nooooo.  It was payback time.  Lauren likes pie.  Never mind that the one pie I have ever made (strawberry rhubarb—and sorry, no pictures, I was too embarrassed to take any) was nothing more than a gloppy mess that overflowed in the oven.  I can also say quite authoritatively that rolling out dough is not my forte.  I can’t seem to get it both flat and large enough without making a horrible, sticky mess that has to be scraped from the counter in pieces.

But Lauren wanted pie, and I was bound and determined to give it to her.

I started with Deb’s pie crust tutorial from smittenkitchen.  Because it is July in Baltimore, and my house is 100 years old and has no A/C, I left the dough in the fridge overnight (as opposed to the recommended 1-2 hours), just to be on the safe side.  I also stuck my largest cookie sheet in the freezer when I put the dough in the fridge.  When it was time to roll out the dough, I pulled the cookie sheet out, flipped it upside down, and rolled out the pie crust on that—the cold surface seemed to keep my crust in tact far better than the warm countertop.

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I wrangled the bottom crust into my 10-inch pie plate and stuck the cookie sheet back in the freezer while I pre-baked the bottom crust and mixed up a peach-blueberry filling (I also splashed in some cognac just for good measure)

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Then I pulled the cookie sheet out of the freezer, rolled out the top crust, and put the whole shebang back in the oven for about half an hour.  The end result:

mmmmmmmm, pie!

mmmmmmmm, pie!

It certainly won’t win any prizes for prettiest pie ever made, but the crust was nice and flaky (and in tact!), and the filling was quite tasty without being overly sweet.  I’ll count it as a successful pie making attempt, but I think Lauren’s stegosaurus still takes the cake (ha, ha) this year.

Happy Birthday, Lauren!

Happy Birthday, Lauren!

Peach-Blueberry Birthday Pie:

Use your favorite double pie crust recipe; first-timers might find smittenkitchen’s Pie Crust tutorials helpful

Filling:

6-8 ripe peaches, peeled and diced

½ cup blueberries (can be adjusted according to taste and/or amount of filling needed)

½ cup flour

¼ cup sugar

2tbsp Cognac

Make pie dough according to your favorite recipe, and let rest in fridge for several hours.

Meanwhile, mix the filling ingredients together, give it a quick stir, cover and let sit while you wrangle with the dough.

Roll out bottom crust and place in pie pan (most crusts have a high enough fat content that the pan won’t need to be greased).  Poke a few holes in the crust with a fork, cover with foil, and bake in a 300oF oven for 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Bump the oven temperature up to 375o and let it preheat while you finish making the pie.

Pour filling into the baked crust, roll out the top crust, and cover the pie.  Crimp the edges to seal (neatness makes for better pictures, but it doesn’t affect taste—trust me, I know). Cut some pretty shapes out of the crust to decorate, or you can be lazy like me and just make a few vents to let the steam out.  Return to the oven and bake 30-45 minutes until crust is browned.  Serve with homemade vanilla ice cream to cover up the ugliness of the pie crust, or serve plain, confident in the beauty of a warm, flaky crust no matter what it might look like.

Enjoy!

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The Recession Special: Hobo Tuesdays

In keeping with my theme of branching out, I’ve decided to start actively participating in this World Wide Web thing.  I mean, the interwebs and I go way back, but until now it’s been a one-sided relationship; it gives and gives and gives, and I am content to take, but never return the favor.  What’s the weather going to be like today?  Have any celebrities died recently (too soon for that one?)?  What is the airspeed velocity of a coconut-laden swallow?

Well, Internet, in the interests of preserving our relationship, I’m going to start giving back.  And what better way to start, than by posting about making cheap food?  Michelle over at Thursday Night Smackdown has a genius monthly contest called Hobo Tuesdays, whereby participants try to cook a meal as cheaply as possible (under $5 for 2 people, or under $10 for 4) according to that month’s specified theme.  Official rules can be found here.   This month’s theme was picnic fare.

As a graduate student on a (very) modest budget, I am all about the cheap food.  And with a lot of hungry friends, it pays to be able to find cheap recipes with a few clicks of the mouse.  I thought I’d do my part to improve the odds of finding said recipe and submit a cheap-ass recipe to the blogosphere.  So for all you grad students out there, this one’s for you:

Tabbouleh: refreshing, delicious, and cheap!

Tabbouleh: refreshing, delicious, and cheap!

This is a great summer picnic meal—it’s easy, fast, super cheap, and doesn’t need to be refrigerated.  It also makes a metric shit-ton of food—we fed 8 hungry students on this batch, but it could have easily fed several more if they weren’t the kind who stuffed themselves on free food in the hopes of being able to skip the next meal and save some money.

I didn’t really follow a recipe with this one, I just tried to replicate the flavors of tabbouleh salads that I’ve had before.  One thing that always really bugs me about using grains, though, is that they are often not seasoned properly.  I find that if you cook pasta, couscous, or bulghar with seasoning in the water, it really makes a difference, so I tried it here and it definitely beats your average tabbouleh blandness.

12oz Bulghar Wheat ($3.59 for 18oz = $2.39)

1 ½ cups boiling water

1 Lemon, zest and juice ($0.50)

2 cloves of garlic (pantry staple)

2 large-ish tomatoes  ($1.50 at farmer’s market)

2 cucumbers (2/$1 at farmer’s market)

4 Green Onions ($0.75/bunch at farmer’s market)

6-8 Mint leaves (from herb garden = free!)

3-4 sprigs Parsley (from herb garden = free!)

Salt/pepper to taste

Place Bulghar, lemon zest/juice, and chopped garlic into a large bowl (you may also want to sprinkle in a little salt).  Add boiling water and stir.  Cover and let sit while you chop the rest of the vegetables.  Cut the tomatoes and cucumbers into bite-sized cubes, chop the green onions (white and green parts), mint leaves, and parsley.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  By now the bulghar should be done—all the water absorbed—and reasonably cool (doesn’t have to be cold, just not boiling hot).  Add in the veggies and stir it all up.  Adjust the seasoning to taste, and pack it in your picnic basket.

This most certainly benefits from some fridge time, and gets tastier the longer it sits.  However, since there’s nothing in it that will spoil, you don’t need to worry about keeping it cold if you actually do take it on a picnic.

Total Cost: $6.14

Cost/person (8 people): $0.76 = WIN

Thanks for playing.  Internet, you’re welcome.

mmmm, mmmm good!

mmmm, mmmm good!

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