Pigs in a Pickle

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You can call me Donna Reed.  Well, maybe Betty Crocker instead.  Let me explain.  I’m on a retro food kick in a big way.  And just so I don’t offend anyone, I’m calling retro foods anything that reminds me of my childhood as well, so I’m throwing myself under the bus too when it comes to age!  I opted for the Betty Crocker reference instead of Mrs. Reed because she was supposed to represent the picturesque housewife with the perfectly coiffed hair, pressed apron, and sassy little pumps who flitted about a perfectly clean and tidy little home.  Hmmmm.  Hair – I have some.  Apron – I have one.  It is stuffed in the back of my entryway closet.  Pumps?  I like slippers better.  And clean and tidy home?  A for effort?  Betty Crocker was probably perfect too, now that I’m thinking about it.  Whatever.  Call me JB.

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It has been lonely here around the house.  Ben’s busy time of year is here, so he’s been on the road.  A lot.  You would think that without distraction or obligation I’d find myself knocking off all of those things that seem to always be on my list.  You know, laundry, cleaning…  yeah right.  Motivation walks out the door, packed away safely in Ben’s suitcase and I race home after work each day to jump into my pajamas and curl up under the blankets on the couch with a pup on my lap.  Even making dinner seems like a giant chore.  I really am terrible at preparing food for one.  To be honest, I’m terrible at preparing food for two.  We always have copious amounts of leftovers, which tends to suit us and our budget just fine as we typically have the best looking (and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say best tasting) lunch among our peers.  Is it bad if I love that my coworkers always ask what I’m eating after they catch a whiff as I walk back to my desk?

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Anyway, dinner for one is hard.  And it is even harder because something in my brain says when eating for one, this is a good week to save up on the grocery budget and to eat cheap.  So cheap, small quantities that can keep my interest for both dinner and my leftover lunches send my brain searching.  Because ultimately, these nights alone are my chance to eat whatever I want, whatever I crave, especially if it is something Ben doesn’t like (which admittedly, is very little these days).  I’ve been running out of ideas because again, he’s been gone a lot.  Grilled cheese and tomato soup.  Tuna melts (which I think I’m going to have to repeat again soon.  I forgot how good plain old tuna salad can be).  Old family favorites.  Easy Appetizers.

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There it is.  My single gal menu option favorite.  Give me a good dip and some hearty bread and I’m calling it a meal (uh, plus wine, right?).  Appetizers are my saving grace when I’m holding down the fort solo.  I fill up my plate and hurry back to my spot on the couch before it gets cold or, more likely, the dog has stolen my spot.  So when coworkers started discussing the pickle wrap or pickle roll ups the other day at work, needless to say, my ears perked.  I may have hearing damage from chemo, but you can be sure that if someone is talking food, I’m well aware and have an opinion.

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The pickle wrap is a simple thing – ham, spread with a layer of cream cheese, then a pickle dropped in the middle.  The pickle is rolled up in the ham cream cheesiness, sliced into bite sized chunks, and devoured.  I’m not ashamed to admit that my sisters and I ate these like crazy any time my mom made these.  God bless her, she didn’t want to serve the ends of the rolls to guests so as not to skimp on the pickle portion of the roll, so we’d stand by like dogs begging, waiting until we could snatch a bite.  So my coworkers chatting about this family favorite piqued my interest.  But as we all know, I can’t leave well enough alone.  I figured, if these bad boys were so tasty on their own, imagine if I amped them up a bit and, ya know, fried them.  I’m glad I did.

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Pigs in a Pickle/Deep Fried Pickle Wraps/Whatever You Want to Call Them

recipe:  jb’s pour house

1 lb. good quality deli ham, sliced thin (if you can get ham off the bone at your deli, do)

1 package cream cheese, room temperature

1 jar good quality miniature pickles, preferably kosher dill

1 package wonton or eggroll wrappers

1 egg

Canola oil

Lay a piece of ham across work surface and spread with a layer of cream cheese.  You want to cover the ham fully with a decent amount of cream cheese so you can taste it in each bite.  Cut the ham slice in half lengthwise and lay a pickle on each half.  If pickles are larger, you will want to cut in half.  Roll the pickle up and set aside.  Repeat with remaining ham, cream cheese and pickles.  Can be prepared to this point.

Whisk egg in a small bowl.  Lay wonton wrapper on work surface and place pickle roll on top.  Roll, jellyroll style, and secure wrap to itself by painting lightly with egg wash.  Fold in edges like a present (or eggroll) and secure each edge with egg wash.  You may find that your wonton wrapper is too short.  You can avoid this all together by using an eggroll wrapper and trimming of the excess or, you may cut a wrapper in half, secure it to the full wrapper using egg wash, and procede as described previously.  Repeat with remaining pickle rolls and wonton wrappers.  Freeze for 30 minutes and no more.

Place canola oil in a large wok or frying pan, enough to come up about 1 inch on the side of the pan.  Bring to 350 degrees over medium high heat.  Remove pickle wraps from freezer and gently loosen from plate/tray.  Place about 4-5 pickles in the pan, depending on size used, and fry until golden brown on all sides.  Remove and repeat with remaining pickles.

Eat immediately and be happy.

Don’t you wish there was some great appetizer eating event coming up like the Super Bowl?

– j

All content and photographs © 2010 – 2013 jb’s pour house

ricotta and pulled pork stuffed squash blossoms

They say girls like receiving flowers.  Turns out I like eating them.  Don’t worry, your flowers are safe.  I don’t go around and willy-nilly pick off a peony or snap a rose off of a shrub and munch away.  But if I see squash blossoms, zucchini flowers or whatever you choose to call them, guaranteed my heart will start to beat a little faster. 

My interest in floral consumption started several years ago when we were new homeowners.  You see, our former hometown had a huge, amazing farmer’s market each Saturday morning to which we would routinely ride our bikes.  I quickly learned that the trendy items that were quick to sell out early each weekend included bright orange squash blossoms.  A little internet browsing later, I found multiple delicious sounding recipes and soon enough, bunches of blossoms in hand, I was cooking.

Now this summer has been a bit crazy.  My dates with the weekend farmer’s market have been far less than regular.  Instead, trips along the long stretch of highway between Kansas City and Des Moines filled our weekends as a “Sold” sign appeared in our yard and boxes and packing tape began to fill the empty floor spaces inside our house.  Instead of hot dogs, apple pie and fireworks for the 4th, we hauled boxes and furniture under the relentless Midwestern sun.  It seems I’m also death to air conditioners this summer, with no fewer than six repairs and one new air conditioner under my belt between the two residences.  And you wonder why it has been a bit quiet here?

And so we closed the chapter on Des Moines and in this brief respite from moving (albeit not from the heat – thank goodness for a working AC!), I’ve found myself strolling in the morning sun, gazing across tables filled with tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, berries, and wait – squash blossoms!  I beelined through the crowd, leaving B to apologize to the people I cut off or cut in front of as I made my way to the table and grasped my treasures.  In our new barbeque-centric hometown, it seemed only appropriate that we make this recipe first.

ricotta and pulled pork stuffed squash blossoms

recipe:  adapted from Bobby Flay

2 bunches of fresh squash blossoms (keep in water like regular flowers and refrigerate for up to 1 day – they are delicate)

1 1/2 c. ricotta

1/2 lb. best quality pulled pork (you can certainly smoke your own, but we usually buy from our favorite BBQ joint)

1/4 c. barbeque sauce

2 c. rice flour

2 c. ice water

Canola oil

1/3 c. rice vinegar

2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp. honey

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Snip squash blossoms from stems and place in a large bowl filled with cold water.  Gently swish around and let any dirt or debris fall to the bottom of the bowl.  Remove flowers and tip upside down to remove any excess water.  Peel off the sepals (long green leaves at the base of the flower) and gently open the flower petals.  Note: you may find a few little bugs, this is common as the flowers are typically open when picked and the bugs get trapped inside.  It is worth noting that I found a bee once, so do be careful (this was 1 out of hundreds of squash blossoms, so odds are you won’t find a bee).  Gently pull out the stamen and set the blossom on a towel to dry.  Don’t worry if you tear the flower slightly.  Repeat with remaining blossoms.

As blossoms dry, combine ricotta, pulled pork and barbeque sauce in a medium bowl.  Season to taste and set aside.  Combine rice vinegar, Dijon, and honey in a small bowl.  Whisk thoroughly and begin slowly drizzling in olive oil.  Continue adding oil until mixture is emulsified.  Season lightly with salt but liberally with black pepper.  Taste and adjust to your preference.  Set aside.

To fill blossoms, gently push about 1 tsp. filling down to the base of the flower.  Continue to fill until you are nearly to the top of the flower where the petals start to flare out.  If you have torn the flower a bit, wrap the edges together to form a seal and lightly twist the tops of the petals together.  Repeat with remaining blossoms.

Fill a large frying pan about halfway with canola oil and heat over medium high heat.  As oil is warming up, combine rice flour and cold water.  Stir well to combine.  Dip a blossom into the rice flour batter and place in hot oil.  Repeat with four or five other blossoms, depending on the size of your pan.  Fry for about 2 minutes per side and carefully remove from oil.  Stir rice flour batter again and repeat with four or five additional blossoms.  Repeat until all blossoms have been fried.

Serve immediately while hot with black pepper vinaigrette.

Stay cool friends!

– j

All content and photographs © 2010-2011 jb’s pour house

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fried green tomatoes

Hello, gorgeous (channel Streisand here).

I am seriously in love with Fried Green Tomatoes, or FGTs as we call them in our house.  So much so, in fact, that I very audibly gasped when I spotted a box full of green tomatoes as we walked through a very chilly (44 degrees!) Farmer’s Market on a recent Saturday morning.  I promptly ran to the ATM, as I had already burned through what little cash I had on hand, and snatched up a few ripe specimens.  Well, technically, they are unripe specimens, but you know where I’m going here.

My first introduction to FGTs came in a manner that is probably similar to how many of you came to know of them – via the movie.  TOWANDA!!!  Sorry, couldn’t help myself.  Then, on a family vacation to Savannah when I was 12, a vendor was selling the real deal along River Street.  The fam wasn’t too excited about them, but I loved them.  My parents should have been afraid, very afraid, of the young budding obsession for all things food that seemed to start to unfurl that day.  Like I said, no one else was too keen on them, so I happily munched away.   

A few years went by and when I saw volumes of green tomatoes left hanging on my parents’ tomato vines as the autumn chill started to set in, I immediately thought of FGTs.  Through the magic of the internet, I was able to search (Google wasn’t part of the common vernacular back then) for a recipe and turned up one that proclaimed itself to be the original recipe of the Whistle Stop Café made famous by the film. 

“I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.”

I’ve made hundreds, maybe even thousands, of FGTs in the years since.  (If you think I’m kidding or exaggerating, I actually went to the hospital after a major FGT fest last summer with an acute acid reflux attack.  I really like them.)  Over time, the original measurements and preparation instructions began to fade from memory and I developed my own style of making these.  They may not be true to the Whistle Stop, but they are a definitive part of our summer cuisine.  FGTs are one of the first things I make when the tomato crops start popping up mid-spring and they are among the last things I make as we close out another summer and usher in fall.

The perfect tomato is Granny Smith green, with just a hint of a rose blush.  Sliced thickly, the tomatoes then soak in a buttermilk, garlic and hot sauce bath.  Once fried, the crisp crunch of the cornmeal coating against the slightly softened tomato creates an amazing contrast.  Drizzled with a fresh squeeze of lemon juice and several dashes of your favorite hot sauce, they are perfect as an appetizer, a side dish or your whole meal.  Well, maybe not that last part unless you’ve got some Prilosec handy…

fried green tomatoes

recipe:  jb’s pour house

4-5 baseball sized (or larger!) green tomatoes

2 c. buttermilk

3-4 large garlic cloves, crushed

1 ½ c. yellow cornmeal

¾ c. all-purpose flour

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Canola oil

Lemon, cut into wedges

Hot sauce (recommended:  Frank’s Red Hot)

Remove core from tomatoes and slice into ¼” to ½” rounds.  Place a large resealable plastic bag into a mixing bowl.  Place tomato slices, buttermilk, garlic cloves, 1 tsp. salt, ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, and several dashes of hot sauce into bag.  Seal, mix together, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, up to 1 ½ hours.

Pour enough canola oil into a large skillet to measure approximately ½” up the side of the pan.  Turn heat to medium high.  Remove tomatoes from refrigerator.  In another plastic bag, combine cornmeal, flour, 1 tsp. salt and ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper.  Mix to combine.  Remove tomato slices from buttermilk and gently shake to remove excess liquid.  Add about 4-5 tomato slices to cornmeal mixture at a time.  Seal bag and shake to thoroughly coat tomato slices.  Carefully add to hot oil and fry, about 4-5 minutes per side, until golden brown.  Remove to a cooling rack placed over a baking sheet and season lightly with salt.  Repeat with remaining tomato slices, adding additional canola oil if needed.

Serve warm with lemon wedges and hot sauce.

Enjoy a little taste of the South and one of my all-time favorite foods!

– j

 All content and photographs © 2010 jb’s pour house

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fried green beans with meyer lemon aioli

I hated vegetables as a kid.  In fact, it was only recently, now that I’m nearly 30 years old, that I finally admitted to my parents what my secret strategies had been.  I’d chew and chew until whatever offending vile veggie had been pulverized to the point that I could discreetly place the cud inside my cheek and excuse myself to the bathroom to flush the fowl pulp to the sewers.  A dinner roll or baked potato also were excellent hiding places – eat out the center, place as many vegetables as possible into the cavity, pinch closed, sigh loudly, and declare “I’m full.”  Unluckily for my sisters and me, the family dog wasn’t too keen on the veggies either – she was much more interested in our steak – so she failed as yet another method of dodging out on my daily dose of vitamins.

Time changes many things – but a delicate batter fried golden brown and a rich homemade mayonnaise spiked with the herbal-honeyed juice of a meyer lemon don’t hurt, either.  I admit, I’m late to jump on the fried green bean bandwagon.  It never really tripped my trigger.  But then, I stumbled across this recipe, saw the meyer lemon, and figured it was about time I try this on for size.  What can I say?  I’m a sucker for aioli.

With this admission comes a huge mea culpa to my grandma.  For years she sang the praises of french fries with mayonnaise, to which I wrinkled up my nose (yes, I’m getting real wrinkles there now) and declared it disgusting.  Grandma, I’m sorry.  You were so, so right.  However, I must insist that it be real mayonnaise, not the store-bought brand.  A food processor, an egg, vinegar and some oil and ooh baby, we’re in business.  And when you throw meyer lemon zest and juice into the mix, those veggies aren’t looking so bad after all!

fried green beans with meyer lemon aioli

recipe:  adapted from Loretta Keller of San Francisco’s Coco500

1 large egg yolk (Can use pasterized if you are sensitive about eating raw eggs.  I’m not.  Bring it, Rocky!)

1 Tbsp. champagne or white wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 small garlic clove, finely chopped

1 c. canola oil (maximum – you may not need this full amount)

2 Meyer lemons, zested and juiced

Salt, to taste

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 c. cold club soda

1 c. rice flour

1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1 lb. green beans, trimmed

Canola oil

 

In a small food processor, combine egg yolk, champagne vinegar, Dijon mustard, and garlic clove.  Pulse until combined and garlic is finely chopped.  With the food processor running, slowly stream in canola oil.  Continue to pour very slowly until mixture has thickened and tripled to quadrupled in volume.  Add Meyer lemon zest and juice.  Process until fully combined.  Season to taste with salt.  Add cayenne and set aside.  If making ahead, refrigerate and let come to room temperature for about 20 minutes prior to serving.

Fill a large stockpot or wok halfway with oil.  Place on medium high heat until temperature reaches 350 degrees.  Combine club soda and rice flour in a medium mixing bowl.  Once flour is fully incorporated, add balsamic vinegar and mix well.  Add green beans, about one handful at a time, and toss with hands or tongs until beans are fully coated.  Using tongs, place about 8-10 green beans in hot oil.  Fry about 4 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet and season to taste.  Repeat with remaining green beans.

Serve immediately with Meyer lemon aioli.

Sometimes, you want a little extra crunch.  While I preferred the recipe in its original form above, b preferred the extra crispy version.  To do this, after dipping the beans in the rice flour/club soda batter, dredge in panko and repeat as directed above.  Crunch away!

 

Hope this has taught your kids a few new tricks on how to hide their veggies and has provided you with a new way to enjoy them!

– j

All content and photographs © 2010 jb’s pour house

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