Monday, September 28, 2009

Southern-Style Sunday

My friend Trenton and I have been trying to plan a cooking day for weeks and finally made it a reality yesterday. Our theme — a tribute to southern comfort food. The menu — crispy fried chicken, mac and cheese (Trenton is a master mac-n-cheese maker), fried green tomatoes, stewed tomatoes and okra, fried okra, a little country pan gravy for fun and mint juleps as liquid refreshment.

We started the day at the farmer's market, followed by a stop at Whole Foods Market and went from there. Trenton's mac and cheese incorporated a home made cheese sauce of Uniekaas Reserve Gouda, Swiss Emmenthaler and Fiscalini Cheddar. We asked the cheese guy at Whole Foods for a recommendation on a nice medium cheddar and he hit a home run with is suggestion on the Fiscalini — slightly sharp, a little nutty, creamy and well balanced — perfect to balance out our list of cheeses. Trenton slowly and carefully prepared the cheese sauce. We par-cooked Orecchiette in well-salted water and mixed it into the sauce. The mixture was then layered in a baking dish, topped with more cheese and a sprinkling of breadcrumbs, and dotted with a touch of butter once the breadcrumbs started to brown.

My fried chicken was simply seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, cayenne, paprika and a little thyme and chilled until time to fry. Just before frying in canola oil, I tossed the cold chicken in all-purpose flour. The okra and green tomatoes were both breaded in a mixture of half corn meal, half flour and seasoned the same as my fried green tomato recipe from an earlier post. We fried the tomatoes in canola oil in an iron skillet, and deep fried the okra in the same oil as the chicken once it was finished. I threw in a few cloves of garlic with the okra as it was frying and it was a nice little treat — almost like instantly roasted garlic, really tasty with the okra.

The idea for the stewed tomatoes and okra came from a vintage cookbook I picked up recently that chronicles US regional food circa 1947. The dish was really light and simple and complemented the rest of the rich plate very well.


Okra and
adapted from The United States Regional Cookbook, ©1947
2 cups sliced okra
2 cups sliced tomato

3 tablespoons butter (can substitute olive oil or half butter and half olive oil)

1 small onion, finely chopped

salt and pepper

Sautée onion in butter until onion begins to soften. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat and simmer for about an hour.

What an amazing Sunday dinner we had! Steve joined us and we sat on the porch and ate by lantern light. The only question is what will our next theme be and when?

Mint Juleps! Made with Homemade Mint Simple Syrup

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


With several flats of green tomatoes lined up for Pepe Salati — in the southern California heat no less — it was inevitable that I would end up with a good size bowl of tomatoes too ripe too make the cut. So I made the most of this by letting them ripen on my porch and making salsa! Steve's dad makes amazing salsa every year, so I called him up for some pointers and got to work in the kitchen.

I sautéed some medium-hot yellow chili peppers, mild Anaheims and hot jalapeños with onion and garlic. While that was cooking, I blanched and peeled the tomatoes, adding them to the pot once the peppers and onions softened. For seasoning, I used salt and pepper, fresh cilantro and lime juice and zest. I ended up with 6 pints and 10 half pints canned, plus a pint or so for immediate consumption.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pepe Salati, part 2

The pepe salati are coming along nicely. Tomorrow I will begin the second stage of the process — the brine. The peppers and tomatoes have been pressing for 12 days now and have all but stopped producing water. I will let them press for one more day and then begin the 4 week process of brining them in a mixture of water, canning salt and white vinegar.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fried Green Tomatoes

While I had so many beautiful green tomatoes in the house for the Pepe Salati, I couldn't resist making some classic southern fried green tomatoes! I made them 2 times and my second batch was the best. Here is my recipe. The dash of cayenne gives them a nice little kick.

4 firm green tomatoes
sea salt
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
4 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
a dash of cayenne pepper
3 eggs
1 tablespoon water
canola oil for frying
flaky sea salt

Slice tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices, discarding top and bottom ends of the tomatoes. Salt the slices and place in a colander to draw liquid to the surface.

Combine flour, cornmeal, pepper, garlic and cayenne in a large bowl. Beat eggs and water in another bowl. Once tomatoes start to weep, dredge them in the dry mixture, then the egg and again in the dry.

Heat oil in an iron skillet to medium-high heat. Fry slices 4 or 5 at a time, without overcrowding the pan, and drain on paper towels.

Top with flaky sea salt (I use Maldon) and serve.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pepe Salati, part 1

Autumn back home in the Northeast. I remember well the first day you could feel it in the air each year. A bittersweet moment as summer fades and fall takes the helm. There is a coolness in the air, a certain smell and a feeling that makes me want to bake and cook cozy dishes and big pots of soup.

A big rite of fall in my family was the preserving of the last of the hot peppers and the green tomatoes from the garden — Pepe Salati (pronounced pee-pee sa-li-ah-ti by my family). Directly translated, it means simply salted peppers.

The process of making Pepe Salati was lovingly passed down from my grandfather to me the year before he got sick. Pappaw was 89 and I was 26. I can still here him telling me how to prepare everything for the 5–6 week process. I'll never forget his voice and his smile. I was very close to him from the time I was an infant and keeping this tradition alive keeps him close in my heart and thoughts every fall.

Now I live in southern California, so that first glimpse of fall is far more subtle, yet there is still something in the air when the summer begins to fade and fall is upon us. This will be the second time I will make Pepe Salati here in San Diego and I am very excited!

The process is quite long and involved. First you have to gather a large supply of green tomatoes and hot peppers. Thanks to my friend Jonathan for hooking me up with the tomatoes! He and I hand picked organic green tomatoes last Thursday in north county. Back east, we always used medium to hot Hungarian Wax peppers, but I can't seem to find them here. I use a yellow chili peppers that are also medium to hot. They work nicely.

The next step is to prepare the crock and the weight and board. All were handed down to by Pappaw. The details of the process is best observed first hand, but the basic idea is to layer whole garlic cloves, thick sliced tomatoes, broad sliced peppers, a good amount of canning salt and a combination of fresh fennel fronds and stems (supplementing with dried fennel seed as necessary). Repeat until the crock is full, then place the wooden board wrapped in cloth and the heavy weight on top. Let it set a day or 2, poor off the water that is released and add more layers if you have more peppers and tomatoes. Once you have added all you are going to add, let stand with the weight and board in place and check daily, pouring off the excess water. Once the crock is not making water any longer, it is time to start to brine. The brine consists of water, canning salt and white vinegar. It is changed weekly along with the cloth that covers the board for the next 4 weeks until the peppers are ready. Once they are ready, the garlic and fennel stems are discarded. Some are stored in brine or plain water in the refrigerator and some are drained and dressed with olive oil and fresh garlic — ready to enjoy!
John Petosa and Pappaw wiping peppers for Pepe Salati

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Travel Photos

In addition to all things cooking and food related, I love, love, love to travel and take pictures (yes quite often including pictures of food). I just ran across a few of great slide shows on Budget Travel's blog that I wanted to share. These are all reader submitted shots.




National Parks:

Once I get my website up and running, I will have a section for my own best-of-the-best travel shots. Steve and I have both taken a lot of great shots over the years... From Napa to NYCv to Paris and Cinque Terre, Italy. I look forward to sharing those soon.


Madnening Schedules, Taking Time & Eating Well

Ok, so it is true... I spend so much time focusing on everything and everybody else in my life that I often forget to take time to do the things that I need to do and want to do for myself. There is no doubt that my life has been a bit crazy the last few month/years, but it is no excuse. I have to make time for those things I need to do, a big one of which is writing and building this blog. Yes, I know I have said it before, but this time I am serious.

Today's thoughts are on busy schedules and trying to eat well. The last few weeks have been really hectic with my work. This weekend it was just me and my trusty canine companion Allie and I finally took a few days to really relax. No work, just beach time, a little cooking, reading, game night with some friends, old movies and and topped off with Labor Day at the SD zoo with some other friends.

We are finally coming off of a heat wave here in San Diego — thank goodness! Last weekend my aunt and uncle came to visit from Houston. They had hopes of escaping the heat, but found it to be almost as hot here, made worse by the fact that we have no A/C (since the other 50 weeks of the year don't require it). Needless to say I haven't been in the kitchen a lot lately.

One of my highlights in the kitchen this weekend was a salad I made on Saturday. I pounded out a chicken breast and marinated it in and orange and muscat grape flavored champagne vinegar, dijon mustard, lime juice, fresh thyme and olive oil. (I reserved about 2 tablespoons of the marinade for my salad dressing before it went on the chicken). The chicken was grilled and thinly sliced it after it came off the heat and rested. While the chicken rested prepared a base of spring mix and arugula, tossed it with the reserved dressing, some crumbled goat cheese, about 4 fresh figs, sliced, a couple of small tomato slices and a handful of toasted walnuts. The flavor combination was outstanding!

More structured writing and recipes to come...

Bon appetit!