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Caramel Fried Green Tomatoes and Ice Cream

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One of the coolest things about starting and maintaining this blog is how comfortable I’ve become in my southern cooking skin.  When I started this blog I set out with a vague, insecure knowledge of southern cooking.  I’d been eating southern food my whole life and watching it cooked and made, but I can really credit this website with helping me come into my own as a southern cook.  It’s been a wonderful tool that’s allowed me to develop as a chef, a writer, and a photographer.  I’ve been surprised and proud at how the ratio has shifted to the point where I’m writing most of the recipes I post on this website.

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Last week I bought a basket of green tomatoes at the farmers market.  I used one for the fried green tomato and arugula salad I made last weekend, but I still had two left over.  I started to mull over what I could do with them (besides just making fried green tomatoes), because I didn’t want them to go to waste.  Since I agreed to guest blog for The Love List a few weeks ago, I made the decision that I would cook a southern meal every Saturday night so that there would be a steady stream of recipes for both b&s as well as the other sites that I write for.

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I didn’t want to use the tomatoes in an appetizer, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to incorporate them into the main course so I went out on a limb- I decided to make dessert tomatoes.  My logic was that green tomatoes don’t really have a strong flavor one way or the other.  The essence of fried green tomatoes comes from the spices you use- the tomato is really just the vessel.  So I figured if I spiced the tomato with sweet and dessert spices, and served it with ice cream, I could pull it off.

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Let me tell you friends, I am SO glad I went out on that limb.  It was incredible.  Traditionally fried green tomatoes are coated in a three step process- a dip in flour, a dip in egg, and a dip in cornmeal.  This gives them a nice layered coating that provides the perfect crunch.  For the first step I combined flour, sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon.  Then, I made homemade caramel (so worth the extra work).  I whisked the caramel in with the egg.  Finally, I mixed together cornmeal and graham cracker crumbs so that the tomato was covered in subtle sweetness on all sides.  After it was fried I served it with vanilla ice cream and drizzled the whole situation with more homemade caramel.  And it was divine.

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Caramel Fried Green Tomatoes and Ice Cream

For the caramel:

2 cups sugar

4 tbsp water

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the tomatoes:

1 whole green tomato

1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup cornmeal

2 graham crackers, crushed

2 eggs

Pinch of cinnamon

Pinch of nutmeg

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Ice cream (recipe here)

Peanut oil for frying

To start, we’ll make the caramel.  Here is my advice for the caramel- just trust the directions and let it happen.  The first time I made caramel at home I was a ball of doubtful stress, checking the recipe book every two seconds to try and figure out WHAT WAS GOING WRONG.  It turns out nothing, I’m just crazy.

Pull out the most heavy-duty pan in your arsenal (at least 1 1/2 inches deep).  Combine the sugar and water.  Have the cream on hand.  For the next ten minutes or so, you’re just going to stir the sugar and water with a wooden spoon.  Pretty quickly the sugar and water will liquify and come to a boil.  When the water boils off, the sugar will return to a solid state.  Don’t panic- you did nothing wrong.  Just keep stirring.  Sugar doesn’t melt until a temperature of 365 degrees (something Dan found out the hard way when he touched a sugar-coated spoon).  As you continue to stir, the sugar should slowly start to melt and darken.

When it’s totally melted and the color of peanut butter, it’s time to add the cream.  Brace yourself.  This will seem unnatural and you’re going to want to panic.  Pour the cream in all at once and stir rapidly.  It’s going to start to bubble and steam like crazy.  Just try your best to keep stirring.  It may seem like it’s going to bubble over (and it may, a little) but resist the urge to start scooping it out into the sink.  Your stove will survive a little sugar spill over.  Keep stirring until it has stopped boiling completely.  Remove from heat and let it cool for 10-15 minutes.  Stir in the vanilla.  Pour it into a glass bowl and set it aside.

Now for the tomatoes.  Set up three bowls in a row.  In the first bowl combine flour, sugar, and spices.  In the second bowl combine eggs and a few tablespoons of caramel- whisk together well.  In the last bowl combine cornmeal and graham cracker crumbs.

Heat your oil.  You want it to be at least 350.  If you don’t have a food thermometer, you want it to bubble enthusiastically when you dip the end of a wooden spoon into it.

Slice your tomato.  Dip the slices first in the flour mix, then in the egg mix, and finally in the graham cracker mix.  Drop them into the hot oil and fry until brown.

Serve with vanilla ice cream.  Drizzle caramel over the whole bowl for a delicious dessert.

Serves 4.

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Fried Green Tomatoes

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One of the staple dishes in the south is fried green tomatoes.  I love fried green tomatoes because they’re so adaptable.  I know I’m always saying that, but I really appreciate that quality in a food.  They’re good as appetizers, in salads and sandwiches, and even dressed up for dessert!

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I tend to like my fried green tomatoes on the spicy side.  The cornmeal and flour can be really bland if you don’t jazz it up, so I add a lot of heat and it comes out about medium intensity.  I like to add paprika, red pepper flakes, cayenne, chili powder, and maybe a little chipotle if I’m feeling crazy.

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Fried green tomatoes are made in a three step process.  First, they’re dipped in a mixture of flour and spices.  Second, they’re dipped in egg.  Finally, they’re dipped in a cornmeal mixture with more spices.  Dipping them in egg between the two dry dips gives them a nice crunch.  Then they’re fried, blotted off, and enjoyed!

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Fried Green Tomatoes

1 green tomato

1 cup corn meal

1 cup flour

2 eggs

1 tbsp paprika

1 tbsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tbsp chipotle

1/2 tbsp chili pepper

1/2 tbsp garlic powder

1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes

Peanut oil for frying

Slice the tomato.

Mix together flour and half the spices.  In another bowl mix together the cornmeal and the rest of the spices.  In a final bowl whisk the egg.

Heat the oil in the pan.  When it’s 350 degrees, or when bubbles form at the base of a wooden spoon, it’s time to cook.

Dip the tomato slices first in the flour mix, next in the egg, and finally in the cornmeal.  Drop in the pan and fry until golden brown.  Remove from the pan and place on a paper towel so the oil blots off.

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Cornmeal Cake with Strawberries

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This past weekend I had the pleasure of having one of my closest friends from high school, Julia, over for dinner.  She’s been living California for the past year, and I haven’t gotten the opportunity to spend much time with her.  In fact, I’ve seen less and less of her every year since we graduated from Durham School of the Arts.  We had so much to catch up on and I’m so glad she was able to come and stay.

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On Sunday Dan and I got up and went to the farmer’s market, which was fuller than we’ve seen it in months.  We picked up fresh strawberries and green tomatoes, and Sunday night we had a fried green tomato and arugula salad, steak with avocado sauce, and a cornmeal cake with strawberries.  It was all fresh and delicious, and paired with mojito after mojito it all seemed better and better.

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At some point in the evening Julia noticed our high school year books that I recently recovered from my parent’s house.  I had so much fun looking at the pictures, reading some of the (ridiculous) things that we wrote and remembering how passionate we were about everything from Jump, Little Children to saving the world (one Environmental Club meeting at a time).  If my parent’s were looking for someone to blame for my becoming a democrat (read “communist”), it would be the hours I spent with Julia debating our world view and developing our moral and political opinions.

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Since we moved to D.C. where I don’t really know anyone, I’ve become increasingly aware of how strange it is not to have female friends in close proximity.  Having Julia here last weekend was such a strong reminder of  what it’s like to have female friends in your life that you see on a consistent basis.  From the ages of 15-20 we did everything together.  Johnny Depp movie nights (Don Juan DeMarco is our favorite, The Man Who Cried was hands down the worst), trips to Charleston to see the Dock Street Concerts by JLC, hundreds of nights spent staying up all night talking about boys, politics, religion, music, and of course, the genius that is When Harry Met Sally.

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I was looking for a good photo of Julia and I from high school to end the post with.  There’s one particularly good one of us on the bus where we first met, but while I was looking for it I stumbled across this masterpiece.  At some point in our high school photography career, Julia and I had a photoshop project.  And, as you can see below, wow we championed that program.  The assignment was either to combine two things or combine two people, but I can’t remember.  Clearly we opted to combine photos of ourselves to create a new and improved model- Elenjula.  I’m taking the creepy floating eyes in the picture to mean that we intended Elenjula to be omniscient.  You’re so welcome.

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Cornmeal Cake with Strawberries
Source: Fresh from the Farmer’s Market by Janet Fletcher

For the cake:

1 1/4 cups sifted cake flour

6 tbsp yellow cornmeal

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp grated lemon zest

1/2 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

Butter & cornmeal to prepare the pan

Strawberries:

2 pints strawberries

2 tsp sugar

2 tsps fresh lemon juice

1 cup heavy cream

Butter the bottom and sides of a 9″ cake pan.  Line the bottom with wax paper and butter the paper.  Dust the pan with cornmeal, shaking out the excess.

Stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.

With a mixer, beat butter until creamy.  Add sugar a little at a time and beat until creamy and light.  Add eggs, one at a time, incorporating each completely before adding the next.  Add lemon zest.

Whisk together milk and vanilla extract.

Begin adding the dry ingredients and milk to the butter mix, alternating so that you add the dry ingredients a third at a time.  Use the mixer to blend them until they’re just incorporated.  Spread batter evenly into pan.

Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes.  Let cool in pan for 20 minutes, and then let cool on a rack until room temperature.

Hull the strawberries.  Put half of them in a large bowl and crush with a masher.  Slice the remaining strawberries and add to the bowl.  If they’re not sweet enough, you can add a touch of sugar.  Add enough lemon juice to give the mixer a refreshing edge.  Cover and chill.

When you’re ready to serve, whip cream and sugar until soft peaks hold.  Cut the cake into portions and transfer onto plates.  Top with berries and whipped cream.

Serves 8.

Yellow Cornmeal on Foodista

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