Archive for July, 2010

The South is known for its cooking. Fried chicken, grits, collard greens and black eyed peas, sweet tea…and of course, fried green tomatoes and fried okra. I’ve been living in Georgia since 2002 and only had fried green tomatoes once. I decided it was high time I tried creating this Southern classic on my own, and my friend Lori kindly provided a recipe: 


Cori’s FGT (Fried Green Tomatoes)
(These are approximate amounts; I didn’t actually measure when I made it recently.)

You will need:
5 Medium Green Tomatoes (Firm; baseball size)
A frying pan
Olive Oil, as needed (If possible use the bottle labeled for frying.)
4 Eggs (Beaten, in bowl)
1 Cup Flour (In separate bowl)
Salt, To Taste
Pepper, To Taste

1. Pour olive oil in frying pan (About ¼ deep); warm to medium heat. (Don’t allow it to get too hot, olive oil ‘breaks down’ & loses its flavor if too hot.)
2. Wash & cut top & bottom off tomatoes. Slice to about ¼ inch thick. (Some people prefer thinner slices, to me they are crispier but you can’t tell you are eating tomatoes. Thicker slices give you the tartness of the tomatoes that contrast with the fried batter; a perfect union. It’s all a matter of preference.)
3. Dip slices first in egg, then flour. (I did them all at one time & stacked on a plate.)
4. Fry as many as will fit in the oil, about 3-4 minutes on each side. The batter should be golden brown all over.
5. Drain & cool on a paper towel; eat warm. Sprinkle salt / pepper to taste. Makes about 25 slices, more or less. Store uneaten slices (Yeah, right LOL) in an airtight container. Reheat under broiler to maintain crispness.
6. I didn’t use dipping sauces but ranch dressing or a honey mustard horseradish sounds like a good match.


I picked up a couple of green tomatoes at the farmer’s market. Unfortunately they sat for a little longer than I’d anticipated and one of them was more pink than green, but I figured it was the firmness that really mattered and it was still pretty firm. And I’m a yankee so I can probably get away with a kung faux pas like that.

Since I only had two tomatoes I halved the recipe. Also, I used the lard I rendered last week to do the frying. Test subject Bill was suspicious when I told him what I was making (he’s from Nebraska…) but I was confident he would become an enthusiastic supporter once he tried them.

Frying up the green tomaters..

I egged and dredged and fried the tomato slices in my cast iron skillet in about half a pint of lard, give or take. I probably could have gotten away with less. I fried them for about three minutes per side and they came out looking fabulous. On Lori’s suggestion, I whipped up a dipping sauce – just dijon mustard and local honey for a sweet and tangy zip.

As the slices came out, I salted, peppered and then added a dash of smoked paprika over everything. I don’t think the flavor of the paprika came through, though, for the ones we used the dipping sauce on. However, it did make them look nice!

Fried Green and Pink Tomatoes

Test subject Bill came down for a sample and walked away with half the slices. I think he liked them even better when I told him they were fried in lard. Pork fat. It just makes you smile.

I do think that I overdid it last week on the lard rendering though. The porky flavor really came through more than I think it should have. Plus when I was frying I could really smell it. Next time I’ll know what to look for as far as “doneness” and take it off the heat earlier. No more lard kung faux pas for me. I can learn!

Fried okra with a rib eye steak for dinner...God bless America.

Since I was frying and had all this nice lard and happened to pick up a basket of okra at the farmer’s market, fried okra was the natural progression. I did a lot of research on different recipes but settled on this one. I did end up modifying it a bit based on some other recommendations on other recipes (I used half cornmeal and half flour for the coating), but it came out fantastic! The coating totally stuck to the okra and came out crunchy and flavorful. I think even my okra-hating Dad would have loved this. After all…what food does frying in lard NOT improve?

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If there’s one thing I hate, it’s so-called salsa in a jar in the grocery store. GROSS. The useless sodium-laden, soggy, sugary mess inside is enough to make me run away screaming. I haven’t consumed the stuff in years for that very reason. For me, it’s homemade, restaurant-made, or nothing. And to be honest, I make a smashing raw tomato salsa that I was not interested in improving. Until I saw this recipe.

Going along with my pickling/fermentation vibe this summer, a fermented salsa sounded too interesting to slip by this tomato season. The recipe calls for Roma tomatoes but I got some nice heirlooms so I used those. I roasted up the tomatoes, garlic, onions and peppers (got some mystery hot peppers at the market that were delish). Since putting a piping hot anything into a plastic bag gives me the heebie-jeebies, I put the peppers into a half-pint mason jar and screwed on the lid to let them steam.

After peeling the roasted and steamed peppers with food-safe gloves (we will not repeat the jalapeno contact lens incident) I chopped everything up, mixed in all the other ingredients (I didn’t have a lime so I used lemon for the juice) and put it in one of my trusty quart jars to ferment on the counter for two days.

Ketchup (left) and salsa (right) fermenting away on the counter

I have to admit, I was skeptical. Could any type of salsa really beat my old standby? I was absolutely blown away by the intense flavor of this roasted fermented salsa. It is absolutely delicious (and seems to get hotter as it sits in the fridge, by the way) and I’ve put it on tacos, scrambled eggs and served with guacamole. It really is the bomb. I won’t say that I’ll never make mine again, but I can say with certainty that I’ll be making this again. Too bad canning it would kill the benefits of fermentation. I’m going to miss it this winter!

For my other fermentation project that I got going about the same time, I made some fermented ketchup. I was nervous about this one. Would test subject Bill reject it? Would he freak out? It wouldn’t be the first time.

I used the recipe from Nourishing Traditions for my ketchup. It was a very simple mixture of canned tomato paste, whey, sea salt, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, garlic and fish sauce. I used store-bought fish sauce; haven’t progressed to making my own yet. Yet. Anyway, you just mix everything up and it sits on the counter to ferment for two days. That’s it. So easy.

Home made ketchup and meatballs with a side of sauerkraut!

I was surprised at how much it did, yet didn’t taste like commercial ketchup. It had the sweet and tangy, yet not the…soupy, plastic-y taste I’m used to (if that makes any sense). It’s thicker than store-bought ketchup, which I assume you could thin out with filtered water if you chose to. I left it as it was and thoroughly enjoyed it on some meatballs. Now to make some real-food friendly French fries for this healthy ketchup…

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I had no idea what I was in for after I walked away from the sweet corn stand at the farmer’s market with fourteen ears of corn. Fourteen ears of terror later, I am here to tell my story.

I thought freezing corn was going to be a breeze with my new Oxo corn stripper (inspired by Susan over at Thoughtful Consumption), a contraption that cuts off the kernels and holds on to them while you cut. Well, pride comes before a fall.

The first step in freezing sweet corn is, of course, to shuck the corn. I remember my siblings and I shucking countless ears of corn on the front steps of the house into five gallon buckets. Sometimes it was for freezing, sometimes it was for boiling and eating straight off the cob. Just when I was wishing my sister was there to help me, I remembered that she would probably eat all the corn before I had a chance to freeze it.


When it comes to sweet corn, I’ve heard that if the worms don’t want to eat it then you probably don’t either. Well, this corn must be where it’s at because I swear there was a worm in every ear. I know they were there first, but I bought that real estate out from under them and it was eviction time.

After I got done shucking, I grabbed my corn stripper thingy and anticipated a smooth ride from there on out. I’m thinking that Susan may need to come give me  lesson in how to use it because I was having a heck of a time. It worked

Stabbing thumb with corn stripping tool: not recommended.

ok until about half way when the blade jammed too far into the cob to keep going. So it was too shallow in the beginning and too deep half way in. Plus it was a struggle to get there. Then it slipped and lodged itself into my thumb, and that was the end of the corn stripper tool experiment.

I washed and wrapped my bleeding thumb and came back for more, this time just using my plain old kitchen knife to scrape off the kernels the old fashioned way. It was working just fine, but as I cut it sent kernels flying all over the place. Now In addition to the tool

Kernels everywhere. But note the stylish toenail color.

frustration, I was losing precious produce all over the floor.

Enter the Engineer. Test subject Bill must have heard me cussing in the kitchen, which usually sends him to the basement, outside or to Taco Mac, but this time he came to my rescue. I described the problem to him in excruciating detail. Next thing I knew I had The Corn Shield. Who knew my CSA box and some plastic wrap could be so handy? With Bill’s new invention I was on my way and finished up the rest of my corn with limited casualties.

The Corn Sheild, an original invention by Test Subject Bill

Once the cobs were stripped it was into a boiling water bath for the kernels. Once the water returned to a boil, I left them in there for about two minutes, then rinsed them off in cold water. From there, I packed glass jars with corn and a little bit of water. To the freezer they went…finally.

These past few weeks after doing all this canning and freezing, I have really come to develop an appreciation for all that women used to go through just to feed their families over the long winter. I’ve worked my tail off and have enough preserved food for a few weeks. And

Jars ready for freezing. The olive jar makes a career change.

they didn’t even have the convenience of a freezer. It was canning, drying, fermenting or root cellaring.

Think about how dependant they were on these preservation methods. If something happens to my batch of canning and it goes bad, I’ll be irritated and disappointed. If it happened back in the day it could mean starvation. I’ll just go to the grocery store. They would have to ration…or worse.

I recently watched the movie The Book of Eli. In the movie, the world has experienced a devastating war. People live much more primitively. Technology is present, but largely unavailable. The main character, Denzel Washington, is constantly in pursuit of clean water. One of his lines that I can’t stop thinking about is when he is describing the world before the war to a young girl. “We had more than we needed,” he told her. “We didn’t know what was precious.”

I plan to try to remember what is precious, and be thankful for it.

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Rendering lard is not an activity you often see in an American kitchen these days. Even my mom, the farm wife, does not render lard. If she cooked with lard I didn’t know about it. So when it came to rendering the lard from the 3+ pounds of fat back in my freezer, I turned to the most obvious place for instruction: the internet, everyone’s second mom.

There’s lots of resources out there for learning about lard and rendering lard. My source for most of my meat, Nature’s Harmony Farm, keeps a blog that did a post on lard rendering. In fact, I believe that’s where I first became interested in doing it myself. But in my most recent adventure, Cheeseslave provided an excellent source of options for rendering lard. I chose the crock pot option since my oven and stove were both busy with other projects that day.

Cutting the Lard

I cut up just over three pounds of lard for this endeavor. The fatback still had the skin attached, which I’ve run into problems with before with my bacon making projects. I’ve learned that the skin will do your bidding if you talk nice to it (AKA, cut against it not with it). So as long as I cut perpendicular to the skin, it was easy to chop up the fatback into small chunks. Ok, it wasn’t “easy.” I started cutting at 8:00 a.m. and had a small blister at 8:20. I just need to wear gloves. I’ve found that my cut-resistant glove is very useful for tasks like this.

Chunks o' Lard

Once all the chunks were in the crock pot, I put it on low. I really didn’t know exactly how long it would take. So I put it on ten hours and went on my merry way. About the time it was done, it looked roughly the same as it had at five hours. But it really did look like it had more to go so I left it a bit longer.

Finally I reached in with a spoon to stir the remaining chunks only to find that they were rock solid. They were almost crystallized and stuck to the bottom of the crock. Um…oops. I guess maybe it was done at five hours. Anyway, I’m

Crunchy chunks stuck to the bottom of the crock

presuming that these crunchy chunks are what is known as “cracklins.” I bit into one and it was gross, like wiping my tongue with grease. I’m hoping that people who eat these do something else to them first, or maybe it’s just not my cup of tea. *gak*

Anyway, I ended up with about a pint and a half of lard for my efforts. It started out golden and translucent, then turned white as it cooled and solidified. Kind of cool!

A friend stopped by while I was

Rendered lard - once it cooled down it turned white.

rendering the lard. In a totally non-judgmental way, he announced that lard was a primary cause of the health crisis in this country. I informed him that lard is a health food. As I further thought about it, how many decades has it been since lard was prevalently used in homes and restaurants and our health continues to decline? Yet people are still blaming lard and other natural fats for current health problems? Things that make you go hmmmm….

Anyway, while the scientists fumble over themselves and try to figure out

My lard butt kicking back.

ways to convince themselves and others that we should be eating man-made foods for health instead of the foods that God gave us, I’m going to kick back and eat something with lard in it. If it was good enough for our ancestors, it’s good enough for me.

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Unusual Ingredients

In my CSA box last week I got a branch with leaves and sort of prickly pods on it. I’m thinking..what the…and check the label on the box. It lists only one thing that I am unfamiliar with: Lychee.

What the heck is a lychee? I immediately googled this strange food. Apparently lychee is a tropical fruit. You peel it and eat it. Or make it into any number of incarnations. How it made its way into my LOCAL CSA box was a bit of a mystery that I intended to investigate. Someone in the Georgia or Florida area has successfully grown lychee…

I found this in the CSA newsletter on the lychees: “Last week I came across a find that I just could not pass up as they are one of my favorite fruits. Lychee  – pronounced lie – chi or lee-chi  depending on who you ask are a wonderful tropical fruit found throughout Asia. They have a thin shell that can be easily peeled, underneath is a juicy eye-ball looking fruit that is similar to the taste and consistency of a grape. These are hard to find fresh but we ran across some being grown in South Florida so we went out of our regular sphere a bit just to get a taste.”

Alien fruit

So I cut upon a lychee fruit and examined it. The white interior was kind of spongy. There was a dark oblong seed in the center. (Could I grow my own lychee tree? Maybe, but I doubt it would bear fruit…) As I munched on the fruit, it kind of reminded me of canned fruit cocktail. Does anyone know if lychee is a common ingredient for fruit cups? Very interesting. Anyway, I didn’t have the energy to turn these little fruits into anything so I just ate them. And they were good.

I also recently got some duck eggs. I don’t know what I was expecting, but they were pretty much just like chicken eggs except huge. Only other difference I noticed was a slightly gamey flavor and that they tend to toughen up faster when scrambled than chicken eggs. One of my favorite I-don’t-have-time-to-cook dinners is scrambled eggs and salad. So I scrambled up a few of my duck eggs and served them up with a salad of CSA greens and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and vinegar.

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I was back home in Iowa for a few days earlier this month for my neice’s wedding (the one I’ve been whining about fitting into the dress for). Being back home always means a lot, but one thing is constant: Mom’s kitchen.

Anything could come out of Mom’s kitchen. You just never know. And Mom is inspired by lots of things. She’s one of those people that will see or taste something good, then go home and try to make it herself, being mostly successful on the first try. She was inspired by a picture from a from a friend at her church. His mother sent it to him from the other side of the world – a picture of her carrots, celery and mushrooms wrapped in bacon with a dipping sauce. I guess she was trying to make him homesick!

Mom's Beautiful Bacon Veggie Wraps

Mom decided she was going to duplicate this bacony goodness. Enokitake mushrooms are hard to find in northeastern Iowa, so she had to go with portabellas. I helped cut up the shrooms and carrot and celery sticks. We decided to blanch the veggies before wrapping them up in the bacon – seemd like just a little too much crunch if they were raw. The celery seemed extra stringy so I peeled it. Yes, I peeled celery. It wasn’t as weird or hard as it sounds, and the end result was worth it: celery that doesn’t take up residence between your teeth.

The team: my sister, me and my mom!

My sister and I worked on rolling up and toothpicking the baconed bundles while Mom concocted the sauce. Working on a very loose set of instructions, she created the Hong Kong Sauce:

1/2 cup soy sauce

1 T sugar

1 t cornstarch

1/2 cup water

chopped onion and garlic to taste

Simmer all until slightly thickened.

The result was delicious with our bacon veggie wraps. Everyone ate their vegetables at dinner that night. And not to let anything go to waste, Mom marinated the rest of the mushrooms in the sauce for dinner a few nights later.

Proof that I got into my dress for my niece's wedding!

Since I have been bemoaning getting into my dress for the wedding, I thought I would post proof that I was in fact able to get into it without looking like a lumpy sausage. Yay for nutritious, whole foods!

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Before I forget – announcements! I participated in a blog hop this week! Check us out here: http://spaininiowa.blogspot.com/2010/07/simple-lives-thursday-first-edition.html

Also, I’m on Facebook! Like me – I’m nice! http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kitchen-Kung-Fu/117815484922486

Now for our regularly scheduled blog:

A few months back I bought a pressure canner. I know a lot of traditional foodies are down on pressure canning, but here’s my position: I can’t rely 100% on electricity and feel secure. I desire shelf-stable, safe food that I prepared in the event of an emergency. I certainly would not recommend relying on pressure canned foods on a regular basis throughout the year. It’s more of a personal survival and independence thing.

My All-American Pressure Canner (AKA the Tank)

That said, pressure canners are a bit intimidating in the kitchen. First, they are heavy and huge. Second, they have ginormous warning labels all over them. Not the kind of thing that gives the average cook warm fuzzies. I bought this one because it had a higher capacity (fewer loads needed) and it’s made in the USA (go USA!). Let me tell you, this thing is built like a TANK. If this doesn’t last forever nothing will. I also like that it has a metal-to-metal seal that you lubricate with petroleum jelly instead of gaskets that can and will go bad, requiring replacement. Additionally, the safety features are impeccable. You shift the lid to lock, then there are six wing nuts that hold the lid securely to the base. That baby’s not going anywhere. There’s some really good info on pressure canning and pressure canners here. I recommend doing some homework before buying one, as they are pricey.

My test run for the pressure canner was green beans. I picked up a load at the farmer’s market and washed and cut the beans. After spending about an hour reading the user’s manual for the canner (which I found poorly organized and required reading parts several times to determine which steps came when), I was ready to roll. I washed the canner and lubricated the seal and the screws. I packed the beans in hot pint jars and poured boiling water over them, checked for air pockets, and lidded.

Vent on the pressure canner (without the weight)

Here’s a big difference between pressure canning and water bath canning. When you put jars into a water bath canner, there’s water in it already going to town boiling. When you put jars into a pressure canner, it’s cold. There’s about an inch and a half of water (for my canner)  at the bottom of the base. It’s a bit…anticlimactic. Don’t worry though, there’s more action to come.

I settled seven pint jars on the rack inside the canner and secured the lid. The jars were to be processed at 10 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes. However, the first step was to vent steam. This means the canner has to heat up. This took FOREVER, but finally I could see steam coming out of the vent and started counting – seven minutes as per the owner’s manual. Then I put the weight on the vent set for ten pounds. You don’t start counting the processing time until the weight begins to jiggle. This, also, takes forever (at least for my enormous caldron).

I found it was easier to watch for steam with the black background of the handle for contrast.

The weight is supposed to do its jiggling venting dance one to four times per minute. I found it difficult to maintain that. Either the heat was too high and it jiggled all the time or it was too low and it didn’t jiggle at all. Oh well. The pressure gauge showed constant at ten pounds of pressure the whole time so I wasn’t too worried.

Once processing time was up, I cut the heat and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally the pressure gauge was showing zero pounds of pressure. I removed the weight from the vent and allowed the rest of the steam/pressure to release, then removed the lid. Note: it is hotter than hell. Do not allow it to touch any body part EVER. Not that I did that or anything.

My jars of green beans inside were intact. They had not exploded, disintegrated or otherwise become unusable during their time under pressure. The test run was counted as a success.

The next day it was time for the big guns. Beef stew. Making a protein like beef shelf stable is no laughing matter. I joked about botulism last year when I canned, but for real – I don’t want to kill myself or others in an attempt to be independent. I carefully followed the exact instructions for preparing the stew as per this recipe. I would hope Ball knows what they are doing when it comes to canning. (Ok I added garlic. Who can make soup without garlic??)

I followed the same procedure as the day before. This time the jars processed for an hour and fifteen minutes. Actually probably longer given how long it takes the thing to heat up and cool down, but I followed the instructions precisely for my first time through. I can play with timing later.

Pressure canned green beans and beef stew; water bath canned marinara sauce

While the stew pressure canned I was busy making marinara to water bath can. I made it last year and test subject Bill has been talking about it ever since. I had enough tomatoes to make twice as many this year. Good thing, because it is time consuming to make! Darn tasty, though…mmm, need to do some fried mozzarella to go with it…

While the marinara cooked down the stew finished processing and cooling. And the lid promptly became stuck. The manual had talked about the possibility of a vacuum forming and how to remedy it – by prying the lid open with a screwdriver. However, test subject Bill came to the rescue with the claw end of a hammer. Worked like a charm!

My weekend's work

By the end of the day, I had fourteen cans of beef stew, seven cans of green beans and seven cans of marinara. It was a long but productive weekend. And if the power were to go out…we would be ok for a while due to our own diligence and foresight. After all, who wants to eat factory processed crap even in the midst of an emergency? We have standards!

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