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I am probably one of the few non-Southerners who loves okra.  I usually don’t buy it at the supermarket – only when it pops up at the green market in August does it make it to our table.  It is such an interesting looking vegetable, particularly when it is the purple variety. When I have time and the price is right, I will pickle a good amount of okra.  It makes a great accompaniment to charcuterie or cheese platters.  But, as often as not, I will give it a quick stir-fry all by itself or mix it up with some tomatoes and onions.  But occasionally – particularly when I’ve made cornbread or have shrimp on hand – I’ll turn them into my version of maque choux, that traditional Louisiana side dish that usually features just corn, bell peppers, and onion.  Cornbread makes a good dipping tool and shrimp can turn it into a sorta gumbo.  I never cook okra very long as I’m not a fan once it starts to get slimy.  Although recently someone told me that if you blanch it for a minute or so, it stays bright green and doesn’t get slimy.  I haven’t tried that method so can’t recommend it, but you might want to give it a try.

Maque Choux

Serves 4

2 tablespoons bacon grease (or any fat you like)

½ cup chopped red onion

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced hot green or red chile or to taste

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 cup fresh corn kernels

½ cup chopped red bell pepper

2 cups sliced okra

¾ cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper

½ cup chopped scallions

2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

Hot sauce, optional

 

Heat the bacon grease in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, chile, and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, for about 4 minutes or until the onion is softening.  Stir in the corn and bell pepper and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes or until just barely tender.  Stir in the okra and then quickly add the cream, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer.  Simmer for about 5 minutes or just until slightly thick.  Don’t cook too long as you don’t want the okra to start oozing – you want it slightly crisp.

Remove from the heat and stir in the scallions and parsley.  Taste and, if necessary, season with salt, pepper, and hot sauce.

Serve hot.

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IMG_0022

It’s been quite a while since I wrote my last blog post.  I don’t exactly know why I stopped. Maybe I felt I had run out of things to say. Maybe I just got lazy.  Maybe I wondered if I had been at it so long that I couldn’t write another recipe that was interesting.  But if I really wanted to speak the truth I think that after I lost my oldest son to lung cancer, my heart just wasn’t interested in doing too much of anything other than watching my grandchildren grow up, particularly our youngest granddaughter who is 15 years younger than our middle granddaughter. Watching her as she celebrates her birthdays gives us one more chance to feel the joy of watching a little one grow up to be an amazing adult.

One day last week the thought came to me that I’d like to be back at it.  So here I am.  I hope that I have a little stick-to-it still in my bones and that I will keep writing recipes for years to come.  More than anything, I would love to hear from you if you come across the blog. I would love to hear about the foods you enjoy, favorite recipes, and, of course, tell me if you enjoy the blog or even if you hate it.  If the latter I’ll try to do a better job.

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Lima beans only appear in the green market in the fall and they don’t hang around for very long.  I suspect that this is because they are a pain to disrobe from their tough pod and honestly I don’t think many people like them very much.  I, on the other hand, really like them and try my darndest to pick out the pods that contain pale green, medium-sized beans.  The large beans tend to be starchy and not very flavorful – at least to me.  The tiny ones are so small that you would have to buy pounds and pounds to unearth enough for a meal.  This is a long way to say that when I find them I buy whatever I can.  Sometimes serve them like I do fava beans – let guests peel off the pod and eat the raw beans with some slivers of cheese – ricotta salata, parmesan, or any other hard cheese that you can peel off paper thin slices.  When cooking, I often mix them up with other vegetables or beans and do a quick stir in some olive oil and butter or with some pancetta or bacon to add some smoky flavor.  Always add a little onion and a nice bit of salt and pepper.  You could do the same thing with frozen limas that you have let thaw and patted dry, but oddly I never do.  I just prefer the fresh beans and the fact that they are so seasonal makes them even more alluring.

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Onion Marmalade
At a recent greenmarket I bought a few onions that were a little sleeker and paler than the big fat deeply red onions I would normally buy. Turns out they are called La Rossa di Tropea or cipolla di Tropea or in plain English “onion from Tropea”. Photos of this onion that I have seen in Italian publications show it to be a very bright maroon-red, but the ones I purchased were almost a pinkish-brown. Apparently it is an onion that was brought to southern Italy by the Greeks and its cultivation perfected by the Arabs who settled there. Mine were simply raised by one of the passionate young farmers that inhabit the greenmarket in our neighborhood on Sundays.
At first I was going to keep them for eating raw, but then I had quite a few ordinary red onions on hand so I decided to combine them to make one of my favorite condiments, onion marmalade. In Italy I believe the marmalade is made with red onion, roasted bell peppers, garlic, and a little chile. My version is simpler – just red onions. It keeps well and is terrific with roasts, steaks, and chops.
The recipe is easy – takes time to cook — but very little effort. You can either make it on the stove top or in the oven; all you need is very low heat.
Cut as many red onions as you like into thin strips. Toss them with enough olive oil to make them glisten. Place in a nonstick pan large enough to hold them in a relatively thin layer. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of light brown sugar (more if you like sweetness), and drizzle balsamic vinegar over the top. Place over low heat and cook for a couple of hours, frequently tossing and turning with tongs. You want the onions to almost melt and all of the liquid to evaporate. Store, refrigerated, in a nonreactive container for up to 3 weeks. Bring to room temperature before serving.

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Flavored Vinegar_DSC_5804

 

If you have a bottle of fine quality vinegar that is just hanging around the kitchen, take a few minutes of a lazy afternoon and turn it into a flavored brew. I often do this when I have extra herbs, very ripe fruit, or am just in the mood to fancy up that bottle of white wine vinegar on the shelf. Fruit-flavored vinegars make delicious shrubs and switchels, both early American thirst quenchers that are rarely made today, but if you decide to do so, I think you will find them extremely refreshing on a hot summer day. More about those later.

To make flavored vinegar you will need the following for every 2 cups of white wine, champagne, or rice wine vinegar.

For berry-flavored:

2 cups crushed berries, ¼ cup sugar, 1 strip of orange peel, and a few whole berries to put into the finished bottle

For garlic- or shallot-flavored:

5 cloves garlic, crushed, or ½ cup chopped shallots, ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, a couple of garlic cloves or large pieces of shallot to put into the finished bottle

For herb-flavored:

½ cup chopped fresh tarragon, sage, thyme, basil, or chives or a combination of fresh herbs that you prefer along with a few sprigs of the fresh herbs to put into the finished bottle

 

Place the vinegar into a medium non-reactive saucepan. Add the fruit, sugar, and orange peel OR the garlic or shallots and red pepper flakes, OR the herbs. Place over medium heat and bring to just a simmer. Lower the heat and cook gently for about 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to come to a boil. Remove from the heat and set aside for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, strain the vinegar through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into a clean nonreative saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer.

Immediately pour the vinegar into a sterilized bottle, add the berries OR garlic/shallot OR herbs. Cover and set aside to cool before storing in a cool spot.

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little berries

 

What wild berries the bears didn’t get to first have been lovingly picked all summer long by my dearest friend, Lynn, and her doggy pal, Lena Mae. Lynn always tries to save some for me to pick when I finally get upstate New York for a visit. Then we combine all of the berries and make a winter’s supply of jam.

I don’t much follow the USDA regulations that say all jams have to be preserved in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Nor do I use pectin. I like the pure berry taste that really stands out when you boil the berries with some sugar and lemon juice until they are thick. It does take a bit of sugar to get the mix to gel, but the lemon offsets the sweetness and highlights the berry flavor. I do make sure that my jars are sterilized and hot when I am filling them and that my caps and lids are new. I fill the boiling hot jam into the jars, cap tightly, turn upside down and let cool. When cool, I turn right side up and store in a cool spot for winter’s toast. This is the way my grandmother did it, my mother did it, and we never had a problem. So it is what I do. However, in my last preserving book, The Best Little Book of Preserves and Pickles, I tell you to follow the USDA rules – I may do it my way in my kitchen, but I know better than to mess with the government in print!

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GreenTomato

I have posted about my love of green tomatoes in the past, but you can never sing their praises too often. They are one of those vegetables that no one has figured out how to bring to the market in the middle of January. Only in the mid to late summer can you find beautiful green tomatoes right off the vine carrying that pungent fragrance. My husband Steve had a fascinating aunt, Rubie, who when she was very much alive and a gardening fool, would send me a big box of green tomatoes individually wrapped in newspaper that she instructed me to “fry up and few and set the rest on the window sill to ripen.” You know what, that’s exactly what I did and I had sunny, bright red tomatoes for weeks throughout the early fall.

The green ones that I fried got this treatment. To serve six people, you will need about 5 large green tomatoes.

 

5 large green tomatoes, washed, cored, and cut, crosswise, into ½-inch thick slices

2 large eggs

½ cup buttermilk

2 cups Wondra flour

1 cup cornmeal

Salt and pepper to taste

Oil of choice – I use canola

 

Place the tomato slices on double layers of paper towel to drain slightly.

Whisk the eggs and buttermilk together in a large, shallow bowl.

Place 1 cup of the Wondra flour in a large shallow bowl.

Combine the remaining cup of flour, cornmeal, and salt and pepper in another large, shallow bowl.

Heat a thin layer of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, working with one at a time, dip the tomato slices into the plain flour, then into the milk mixture and finally into the flour-cornmeal mixture, pressing down to coat evenly.  Shake off excess and place in the hot pan.

Fry each slice for about 3 minutes.  Turn and fry for another 3 minutes or until crisp and golden on both sides. Using a slotted spatula, lift the slices from the pan and place on paper towel to drain.

Serve hot with a spritz of fresh lemon or any tart relish or condiment.  Or, if you like, make a cream gravy in the pan and drizzle over the tomatoes.

 

Fried green tomatoes_image-1

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