Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fried pickled okra

fried pickled okra

The other day I was discussing okra with a friend. He’s not usually a fan and thinks it mucks up the plate whenever it makes an appearance. “It’s just so slimy,” he said. "I don't know how anyone can stand it."

I have to admit that for the longest time I felt the same way. About the only way I could stomach it was when it was fried, but even then I’d more likely say no to a batch than yes. It wasn’t until I was introduced to pickled okra that I realized that the slippery green spears could be crunchy, tangy, and crisp.

When talking with my friend, however, he confessed that he recently had fried pickled okra. “It has changed my mind,” he said. I wasn’t surprised, as indeed most people who feel squeamish about okra at least can take it when it’s either fried or pickled. But when you combine both into one dish, even the most reluctant will become a fan.

fried pickled okra

Even though I’m not the first person to fry pickled okra, (when I wrote about fried pickles, many of you said it was great) it’s such a brilliant concept that I wanted to come up with a recipe and try it at home. Not to mention, okra is now abundant at the market and people are always looking for ways to cook it.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Peach Dutch baby pancake

peach Dutch baby pancake

At times, I can be stubborn. That certainly was the case this week, as I stumbled through endless days of recipe testing that involved leaving on my oven, even though the temperatures were so high and the humidity so thick, I felt like I was back in Texas.

While it wasn’t ideal baking weather, I was determined to make something new with peaches. And once I get an idea in my head, it’s hard to let it go, which is how I spent three days cranking up my air conditioner as I struggled over muffins, biscuits, and breads. In the end, none of the recipes were bad, but I just felt they weren’t worth the effort of firing up your oven during the summer. And in late July, you definitely need a good reason to endure more heat.

That said, even though I love the simplicity of ripe summer fruit topped with nothing more than a dollop of whipped cream, the caramelized sweetness that comes from baking peaches is also an iconic Texan summer taste. And my quest was attempting to recreate that sensation in something new that wasn’t your usual cobbler or pie.

Sadly, however, all the baked goods I made stifled the peach’s glory, mainly because the delicate fruit was lost in a thick mass of flour, butter, and milk. If you’re going to bake with peaches when they’re at they’re peak, you definitely want them to be noticed. And this is why cobblers and pies are such terrific showcases for this summertime fruit—the crust lifts up the peach instead of burying it.

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Thursday, July 09, 2015

Aaron Franklin's pinto beans

aaron franklin's pinto beans

Now, I probably don’t need to tell you who Aaron Franklin is, but if you’re not familiar with him he has a barbecue joint in Austin called Franklin Barbecue, and is generally regarded as one of the finest pitmasters in barbecue. He’s most renowned for his brisket, and every day hundreds of people will wait in long lines to try a sample of his beef.

He recently came out with a book called Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto, which explains his method. While there aren’t many recipes per se, as far as cookbooks go it’s a wonderful read. The book starts off with the story of how he got into the barbecue business, and this section is especially compelling to me, as he not only goes into how much time and hard work he put into developing his barbecue technique, but he also describes how he’d sit quietly in his first barbecue trailer and dream about all that could be.

He then talks about everything you need to know to create beautiful barbecue, from building your own smoker to butchering your meat. The only thing he doesn’t cover is how to chop down trees for wood. I reckon he’s saving that for his next book.

aaron franklin's pinto beans

I read a lot of cookbooks, but this might be the first that actually made me so homesick I almost cried. It’s clear that Aaron loves Texas but I also regretted that I didn’t have a backyard space to put into practice some of his barbecue philosophies, let alone the space and tools to weld a new smoker.

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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Cherry lime Dr Pepper salad

cherry lime dr pepper salad

If you flip through most Texas cookbooks published in the last century, you’ll find recipes for congealed salads. Simply put, this is a salad is made with fruit, nuts, and gelatin. This longtime favorite was once a standard at most potlucks, church suppers, holiday dinners, and backyard barbecues. Whether the salads were pink, red, or green (or perhaps some combination of all three), these salads always took a place of pride on the table.

My family usually has at least one at every gathering, but this seems to be the exception and not the norm. Unfortunately, the congealed salad no longer occupies its esteemed place on the Texan table, and you just don’t see them nearly as often as you did back in the day.

Sure, I can understand some people’s aversion to making a salad with flavored boxed gelatin that is chock full of sugar, artificial colors, and other dreadful ingredients. But it’s simple to make a congealed salad with unflavored gelatin and any combination of liquid. And quite frankly, these salads not only taste better but are also healthier, too.

One stalwart of the congealed salad tradition is the Dr Pepper salad (or Coke salad if your people were more inclined that way). As the name implies, the salad is made with said soda, and usually some combination of cherries, nuts, and cream cheese. A topping of whipped cream would not be unheard of if you were feeling especially fancy.

When I was telling my grandma that I would be making a Dr Pepper salad for the Fourth of July and discussed with her the traditional ingredients, she laughed and said, “Is this a salad or a dessert?” Indeed, that is a good question. Especially when you consider most Dr Pepper salads are made with cherry pie filling, sweetened red gelatin, along with Dr Pepper. That’s an awful lot of sugar for a side dish, and so I was curious if it would be possible to make a Dr Pepper salad with more natural ingredients instead.

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