Category Archives: U.S.A.

Fried Green Tomatoes

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Living in Australia during the holiday season makes me crave Southern food from home since it’s summer and doesn’t really feel like Christmas.  Luckily, my search efforts were rewarded with a few green tomatoes at the market this weekend that were hiding in a box full of hundreds of tomatoes.  It didn’t take long before I had those beauties coated in dredge and sizzling in oil in my trusty cast iron skillet.

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When it came to treating these green tomatoes with the respect they deserved I turned to my Southern Cooking bible – The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook.  At first, I was skeptical about two yankee transplants’ ability to write a cookbook on Southern food but they’ve done their research and it’s an incredible book that includes some good stories behind the recipes.  Definitely pick up a copy if you are interested in Southern American cooking.

Since the Lee Bros have spent a lot of time in New York where green tomatoes are about as popular as they are in in Australia, they include instructions on how to turn firm unripe tomatoes into the tangy taste of green tomatoes – just slice, sprinkle with a little salt and lemon juice before dredging.  I wish I had known this earlier!  They also have a section on how to source green tomatoes, since they rarely make it to the market.  Basically, you need to talk to a local tomato grower or grow your own.

I always eat my fried green tomatoes with ranch dressing – if you are ambitious then homemade ranch is definitely worth the extra effort.

Fried Green Tomatoes adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 3-4 medium green tomatoes
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3 cups peanut or canola oil (or just enough to fill 1/3 inch deep in the skillet)

For the fry dredge:

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 3 tbs stone-ground cornmeal (I use Red Mill)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (optional, for a spicy kick)

Preparation:

  1. Sift the flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Stir and spread onto a large plate or pie pan.
  2. Cut the tomatoes to 1/4 inch thickness with a serrated tomato or bread knife.
  3. Whisk the eggs and milk together in a broad, shallow bowl.
  4. Pour the oil into a 12-in skillet and heat over medium-high heat until the temperature on a candy thermometer reads 375 F (190 C), or until a pinch of flour sizzles when added to the oil.  If using a different sized skillet just fill with oil to the depts of 1/3 of an inch.
  5. Heat the oven to 225 F (107 C).  Set a baker’s rack on a cookie sheet on the top rack.
  6. Taste the tomatoes, if they aren’t tart then sprinkle with salt and lemon juice.
  7. Press 1 tomato slice into the dredge, once on each side, shaking any excess loose.  Dunk in egg mixture, then dredge the slice on both sides again.  Shake of any excess and place the slice on a clean plate.  Repeat with more slices until you’ve dredged enough for a batch (3 to 4).
  8. With a spatula, transfer the first batch to the oil.
  9. As the first batch cooks, dredge the 2nd batch of tomatoes, but keep an eye on the first.
  10. Once the slices have turned golden brown on one side (about 2 minutes), flip them carefully and fry for 2 minutes more or until golden brown.
  11. Transfer the fried tomatoes to a plate lined with double thickness paper towels and drain for 1 minute.
  12. Transfer the slices to the baker’s rack in the oven, arranging them in a single layer, so they remain warm and crisp.
  13. Repeat with the remaining slices until all the green tomatoes have been fried.
  14. Serve right away with ranch dressing.

This fry dredge can be used to fry other veggies and even fish, such as whiting.  I got a little carried away and sliced some okra to 1/4 inch thickness and followed the same dredging and frying process.

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Bami’s Famous Sugar Cookies

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Today is my belated grandmother Bami’s birthday, so I decided to make her famous sugar cookies, which was one of her signatures and one of my fondest memories of her.

We used to always request these special cookies on our birthdays and Bami always made so many of them that I swear they could have lasted you until your next birthday.  I also remember them being a staple on our Thanksgiving and Christmas dessert table.

The secret to these cookies is the special glass that has glass bubbles on the bottom (very trendy in the 1970s) that you use to make indentations on the top of the cookie.  No one knows where Bami’s official glass is, but my boyfriend’s mom knew I was on the lookout for one and found one in her belated mother’s old glassware so she passed it on to me.  Now that I have the recipe AND the special glass I can finally do her cookies some justice and they’ll be on my dessert table every Thanksgiving and Christmas.

These are very delicate sugar cookies due to the use of a mix of white sugar and confectioners sugar.  They are also unusual in that they use 3 types of fats – butter, margarine, and oil.  The dough consistency is not as dense as normal cookie dough so definitely don’t skip the step where you freeze the dough – it will be difficult to roll it into balls if you don’t.

So without further adieu – here is the family recipe:

Makes about 9 dozen (I’ve divided this recipe by 4 and it’s turned out fine)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 stick margarine (not softened)
  • 1 stick butter (not softened)
  • 1 cup oil
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla (add along with dry ingredients and oil)
  • 4 cups plain (unsifted) flour
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt

Preparation

  • Sift dry ingredients except sugar
  • Cream butter, margarine and sugars.  Gradually add beaten eggs to mixture.
  •  Blend  in dry ingredients, pouring in the oil and vanilla gradually.  When the dough gets too stiff for mixer, finish it by hand.
  • Freeze until hard.
  • Roll into small balls.  Press bottom of a glass than has been dipped in granulated sugar.*
  • Put about 15 on each tray.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or to desired color.

*Note: I could’t figure out how Bami stamped the cookie dough with the glass before they had baked because the dough just kept sticking to the glass.  Instead, I baked the cookies until they were almost ready, then I pulled them out of the oven, stamped them with the sugar coated glass, then popped them back in the oven for 2 more minutes until they were done.

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Oreo Blondies

I’m a big fan of Donna Hay, who is Austraila’s answer to Martha Stewart.  I’ve tried a few recipes out of her 10th anniversary magazine from October, which had an entire feature on brownies, one of my all time favorite simple classics.

You are probably wondering what is so special about brownies that would make them worthy of Donna’s anniversary magazine, but this was not just any ordinary brownie feature.  She has created brownie cookies that you sandwich around peanut butter frosting and blondies with crumbled Oreos in the middle – both were absolutely amazing.

I’ve made both this month but since the brownie cookies disappeared before I could take a decent photo, I’m writing about the Oreo blondies.

Donna’s recipe calls for cream cheese to be dropped into the mixture in the pan before baking, but I found the flavor much too tangy and would suggest replacing the cream cheese with chunks of white chocolate.  The cream cheese chunks also started to look a bit funny after a day so if you are planning on serving these the day or 2 after baking then definitely go with the white chocolate chunks instead.

Oreo Blondies adapted from Donna Hay

Ingredients

  • 200g (7oz) softened butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 200g (7oz) white chocolate
  • 125g (4.5oz) white chocolate chips or softened cream cheese (see note above)
  • 150g (5oz) Oreos

 

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C  (350° F)
  2. Place butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until pale and creamy.
  3. Gradually add eggs, beating after each addition.
  4. Add vanilla extract.
  5. Add flour, baking powder and melted white chocolate and beat.
  6. Spoon half the mixture into a lined baking tray. (20cm x 30cm or 8in x 12 in)
  7. Place spoonfuls of white chocolate chips on top (could be substituted with cream cheese if you wish).
  8. Sprinkle with chopped cookies.
  9. Spoon remaining brownie mixture on top, covering the cookies completely.
  10. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Buckeyes

Happy Thanksgiving!  I took these into the office today along with a pumpkin pie to so that my non-American colleagues could finally taste some authentic American classics.

Buckeyes are the nut off of the state tree of Ohio (and mascot of Ohio State University) and this might as well be the official state candy because every good Ohioan knows how to make a mean buckeye.  I’m not from Ohio but learned how to make them from my Stepdad’s family in Ohio and I’ve been making them for Thanksgiving potlucks and holiday parties for the past few years.

I’ve always made the traditional buckeye candy recipe but this year decided to try Smitten Kitchen’s because she uses less powdered sugar and adds graham cracker crumbs, which I thought could add some extra texture.  Since I am living in Australia and can’t find graham crackers anywhere, I did quite a bit of research (including taste testing with my few remaining imported graham crackers) and discovered that digestive biscuits are almost identical in taste to graham crackers.  Win!

My boyfriend’s mom loaned me her #70 scoop that came from Uncle Stan Wigley’s Charters Towers Café in Northern Queensland who used the scoop to make milkshakes in the 1950s.

Buckeye Candy Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Yield: I made 77 with a #70 (1/2-ounce) scoop – and I measured the first few to make sure they were ½ ounce.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter
  • 1 cup digestive biscuit crumbs (or graham crackers if you are in the U.S.)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 3 cups confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks or 5 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 12 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preparation

  1. Beat the cream cheese and peanut butter together until combined with an electric mixer.
  2. Add the digestive biscuit (or graham cracker) crumbs and beat for 10 seconds.
  3. Add the sugar and butter, and mix on the lowest speed, then increase the speed until the ingredients are combined. Scrape down the whole bowl well, then mix again. The mixture will be quite sturdy and a little dry — perfect for shaping.
  4. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Scoop out ½ ounce scoop of filling and use your hands to form it into a ball (make sure it is sturdy enough to withstand being poked with a skewer and dipped in chocolate).
  5. Place the ball on the prepared sheet and repeat the process until all of the candies have been shaped.
  6. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before dipping in chocolate (optional but really makes them a lot more sturdy against the skewer and melted chocolate).
  7. Melt the chocolate either over a double boiler, stirring until it is completely smooth or in a microwave in 30 then 10 second increments, stirring before you start it again until it is completely smooth.
  8. Let it cool to tepid (about 100 degrees, though I’d go a little cooler next time for a thicker coating).
  9. Using a fork or large skewer, dip each ball into the chocolate and roll it about so that almost the entire candy is coating, leaving a small circle uncoated. Smitten Kitchen recommends sticking the skewer in the side, angling the bowl towards it and making sure it is submerged as you roll the candy around.
  10. Chill the buckeyes until they are set, about 30 minutes.

Do ahead: Buckeyes will keep in the fridge for up to a week, or I’ve had highly restrained friends keep a stash in their freezer for a year!

Cornbread with Bacon

Cornbread is one of my all time favorite side dishes because it’s so versatile and it’s easy to play around with different additions.  Since it’s Thanksgiving week I thought I’d post about this in advance of the big day in case anyone wants to have a little slice of Americana on their table, whether or not you actually celebrate Thanksgiving.

I’d never thought about adding bacon and a hint of maple syrup to cornbread before this recipe and it was great. I usually go the Barefoot Contessa route and add lots of cheese and jalapenos, which I do recommend if you are feeding a crowd, but this bread was a perfect sized loaf for a family dinner.

If you are in Australia you can find yellow cornmeal at specialty food stores (Fundies in Brisbane and Byron Bay) or you could try polenta if you don’t feel like hunting for it, just know that it will be a slightly different texture.

I didn’t add as much bacon as the recipe called for but wish I had in the end because it needed that extra moisture.  I would also consider using creamed corn instead of just canned corn for some extra moisture.

Cornbread with Bacon adapted from Food Lovers Lunch

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 12oz (350g) bacon, chopped
  • 2 scallions (spring onions), finely chopped
  • ½ cup (120g) canned corn kernels, drained
  • ½ tsp hot pepper flakes
  • 2 cups (350g) cornmeal
  • 2 1/3 cups (350g) all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ cups (375ml) buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp melted butter
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C) and grease a loaf pan.
  2. Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet and cook the bacon until crispy.
  3. Add the scallions and cook with the bacon for about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in the corn kernels and pepper flakes, then remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal with the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  6. Add the buttermilk, eggs, cooled bacon mixture, melted butter, maple syrup and pepper and mix until just combined.
  7. Spread batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30-40 minutes.
  8. Slice and serve warm with butter.

US Southern Style Biscuits

I knew that I’d miss southern biscuits when I moved to Australia because their interpretation of the word ‘biscuit’ is a cookie.  The closest thing that I can find to a true southern biscuit here is a scone, but even they aren’t the same since they are sort of a cross between a dinner roll and a biscuit and have sugar in them.

I’ve resorted to making my own here so I thought I’d share the best recipe that I’ve found from Neal’s Deli in Carrboro, North Carolina – just down the street from my alma mater the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.  On a recent trip back to Chapel Hill my friends and I decided to try out the biscuit at Neal’s deli to see how it stacked up against it’s local rival, Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen – and boy it did.  The secret to their biscuits is using quality local butter and buttermilk from the Chapel Hill Creamery  down the road.

There are a couple of secrets that I have learned to making good biscuits:

  1. Use shortening and butter.  Using butter alone will not achieve the fluffy texture that you need.
  2. Freeze the dry mixture before incorporating the buttermilk – the colder the butter the fluffier the biscuit because cold butter will release more air than room temperature butter which creates pockets of air inside the biscuit.
  3. Folding the dough like a letter (as described in the recipe below) creates layers within the biscuit that are necessary to achieving the desired flakiness.

 Neal’s Deli Buttermilk Biscuits recipe adapted from Food & Wine 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (or bi-carb soda in Australia)
  • 2 tablespoons chilled solid vegetable shortening
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter—3 tablespoons thinly sliced, 2 tablespoons melted
  • 1 cup buttermilk (can be made by mixing 1 tbsp white vinegar with 1 cup plain milk)

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 475F (250C).  Position a rack in the upper third of the oven.  In a large bowl, whisk the 2 cups of flour with the salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Using a pastry blender, cut the shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Using your fingers, rub in the sliced butter, leaving large flakes of coated butter.  Freeze the mixture for about 15 minutes.
Stir in the buttermilk until a raggy dough forms. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and press or roll into a 9 in. by 7 in. rectangle, about ¾ inch thick.  Fold the rectangle in thirds like a letter, then fold the rectangle in half to make a little package.  Press or roll out the dough to a 9-by-7 inch rectangle again.  

Repeat the folding process once more, then roll the dough out one more time to a 9-by-7-inch rectangle.  Using a 3 ½ inch round cutter, stamp out 4 biscuits.  Pat the scraps together and stamp out 2 more biscuits.


Arrange the biscuits on a large baking sheet and brush the tops with the melted butter.  Bake for about 14 minutes, shifting the baking sheet halfway through, until the tops and bottoms are golden and the biscuits are cooked through.

Hummingbird Cake

We had two birthdays to celebrate this week so we decided to make an old fashioned hummingbird cake.  I was surprised that my boyfriend’s mum in Brisbane had the recipe since the first reference to hummingbird cake was in Southern Living’s February 1978 issue as a recipe sent in by Mrs. L.H. Wiggins on Greensboro, NC!  Once you try one of these sweet, tropical cakes you’ll understand why it went on to become the most requested recipe from Southern Living.  The one mystery that Mrs. Wiggins never explained in her submission to Southern Living was how the cake got it’s unusual name.

I did a little research and found that there are several theories as to why the cake is called a hummingbird cake, whichall seem pretty plausible.  I found these on associatedcontent.com:

  • This cake is so yummy that it makes you HUM with delight, or happiness when you anticipate having a slice
  • Hummingbirds drink nectar from flowers and this cake is just a sweet as a flower’s nectar
  • Hummingbirds themselves are associated with the lighthearted and sweet side of life, hence the name of this cake
  • When the cake is served, people hover around it the way hummingbirds hover around nectar bearing flowers
  • Although a cake made for people, it is a cake sweet enough to attract even hummingbirds

Regardless of where the name originated, the cake is fantastic for celebrations and very simple to make – you don’t even need a mixer until you start making the frosting!  Here’s the original recipe from Mrs. Wiggins, but I’ve noted the changes that we used since I think that the original recipe is too sweet.

Ingredients

Cake

  • 3  cups  all-purpose flour
  • 1  teaspoon  baking soda
  • 1  teaspoon  salt
  • 2  cups  sugar (we used 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
  • 3  large eggs, beaten
  • 1  cup  vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  vanilla extract
  • 1  (8-ounce or 250g) can crushed pineapple, undrained
  • 1  cup  chopped pecans
  • 2  cups  chopped bananas

Frosting

  • 2 cup (125g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 8 ounces (250g) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 16 ounces (500g) icing (confectioners) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup finely chopped pecans

Preparation

Cake

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; add eggs and oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. (Do not beat.) Stir in vanilla, pineapple, 1 cup pecans, and bananas.

Pour batter into three greased and floured 9-inch round cakepans. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Mix butter and cream cheese together with an electric mixer until incorporated.  Then mix in the confectioners sugar and vanilla until fully incorporated.

Cake Assembly

We decided to make the cake even more tasty by adding sliced mangos and shredded coconut between each layer.  My boyfriend’s mum has tried both fresh and canned mango slices and recommends to go with the canned mango since it’s juicier.  Either way you can’t go wrong!

Spread the Icing over each layer, top with slices of mango and dust with coconut.  Then spread the remaining icing over the rest of the cake.