The Whistle Stop Café Has Been Burgled

I stole a tomato—sort of.

We’ve known neighbors Tim and Misha forever.  Their son Mick, daughter Noelle, and The Kid all went to preschool together. 

I love Misha because she has a big heart and tells it like it is.  And, Tim really reminds me of my dad.  He can’t stand to sit still.  He’s always doing something in the yard, fixing something, walking their dog, Cosmo.

Crowley

Both he and Misha are dog people and are on our pooch Crowley’s list of humans he adores.  His whole body wiggles and his ears drop down, parallel to the earth as he rushes up to smoosh his head on their hips with his huge noggin (It’s his version of a hug). 

The other day Tim was outside when we went by, and after Crowley finished losing his mind, Tim offered me a couple green tomatoes.  They were growing in a large pot next to his front porch, and he had tons.

I thanked Tim, and he told me I could have all I wanted.  I decided I’d fry them.

The thing is, I’ve never actually made fried green tomatoes before.

In the parlance of tech savvy youth, this is called a fail.

I started to think a spare would be a good idea in case my novice effort resulted in having the first batch go wonky, like with pancakes.  The next morning, I grabbed another tomato in case of trouble, and left them a note.

This is just sad.

The biggest problem with fried green tomatoes is that often, most of the coating falls off—I hate that.  That’s why I got them breaded and let them hang out in the fridge hours before cooking.  I hoped the crust would set up and not flake off while cooking—it worked.

First, I dusted them with heavily seasoned flour.  I used buttermilk for the middle/wet step because it’s creamy and it gives food a delicious tang.  For the outer layer, I chose crushed Ritz crackers.  They’re buttery and sweet, which plays well against the sour astringency of green tomatoes.

Stolen Fried Green Tomatoes

3 firm green tomatoes, sliced into ¼ inch slices (10-12 slices)

2 cups flour heavily seasoned with salt and pepper

2 cups fat-free buttermilk

1 & ½ sleeves of Ritz crackers, crushed

For frying: vegetable oil

Salt for sprinkling on finished tomatoes

Four hours before cooking, bread tomatoes; first coat in flour, then buttermilk, then cracker crumbs, making sure they’re completely and thickly covered.  Cover loosely with plastic warp and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

To fry: Heat oven to 175 and place a cookie sheet with a cooling rack inside.  This is where the finished tomatoes will wait. 

Put about ¼ to ½ inch of vegetable oil into cast iron skillet and heat on medium.  When a pinch of cracker crumb sizzles, carefully place in about four or five tomato slices—if you crowd them, they’ll never get nice and crispy.  You don’t have to rush, you have a landing area in the oven.

Fry first side until golden-amber, then using spatula and fork, carefully turn over and fry the other side.  As each one finishes, place on cooling rack in oven and lightly sprinkle with salt. 

They were so good, we ate them all because I’d made no duds.  And next time The Kid comes for dinner we’re making pimento cheese and fried green tomato sandwiches, just like Granny’s sells at the State Fair (WooHoo! State Fair! Next month! Can’t wait!).

After dinner I called Tim and Misha to thank them and offer to make some for them.

Misha’s from New York.  She passed.

Bless her poor Yankee heart, she doesn’t know what she’s missing.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Don’t let the cheese stand alone

Petey likes it simple; very basic, with no fanciness.  He’d be quietly satisfied if it was the same way every single time.

Sometimes simple is ok, but I really like to mix things up; today one way, tomorrow, another.  With me, variety is the spice of life.

I’m just talking grilled cheese here, folks.

An episode of “Chopped” on Food Network got me to thinking about grilled cheese.  A contestant decided to make a chicken pot pie grilled cheese sandwich.

Then she commenced to making a giant, gloppy mess of the whole thing.

She made chicken pot pie filling.  Then she cut some slices of brioche bread.  She filled it with pot pie stuff, slapped on a slice of cheese, and threw it, unbuttered, onto a ridged grill pan.

It didn’t brown, got stuck to the grill, and leaked all over.  She ended up shoveling it into a bowl and serving it to the judges like that,

Shockingly, she was chopped.

If she had really wanted to make a chicken pot pie grilled cheese, there were actually two ways that probably would’ve worked.  She should have made a very thick filling.  Then assembled it by using one slice of cheese on each slice of bread, spreading a layer of filling between them, and browning and crisping it in a non-stick pan.

Or alternatively, made two thin-ish grilled cheese sandwiches, cutting each in the shape of a gratin dish, and using them as the top and bottom crust of a traditional pot pie.

She would not have gotten chopped.

Even though a grilled cheese seems like the epitome of simple, it’s also simple to make a bad one.  You can burn it, over or under melt the cheese, or make it into an oil slick.  But with a few tips, a delicious, well-made sandwich is mere minutes away.

Break out your well-seasoned cast iron frying pan (or a heavy non-stick skillet), and set it on the burner at about medium-low.  Smear a very thin layer of mayo on one slice of bread.  The egg in the mayo will give the bread an almost French toast-like surface.  Place the bread mayo side down onto the heated skillet.  Layer on the cheese and any other fillings, starting and finishing with the cheese so it will act as a glue.

Put another thin layer of mayo on the other slice of bread and place on top, mayo side up.  Put a lid on the pan and cook for about 4-5 minutes.  Uncover pan, check and flip if the bottom slice of bread is browned and the cheese has started to melt.  Flip and cook until the other side is browned and crispy.

Remove and let sit for a couple minutes then slice and serve.

If you’re Petey, you pick Velveeta on Wonder Bread.

But…

Here are a few ideas if you’d like to shake things up:

The Kid likes fried green tomatoes, bacon and pimento cheese on a hearty homemade white made with a touch of cornmeal.  Or crazy sharp cheddar on chewy, mouth-puckering sourdough.

I like caramelized onion and goat cheese on French baguette. And also sautéed mushrooms, short ribs and Laughing Cow on Hawaiian bread.

So here’s my advice: go to the fancy cheese store, and buy some new interesting types.  Then go to a good bakery and get a couple loaves of funky breads.  Visit the produce department, and pick up some guest stars.

Then go into your kitchen and have a grilled cheese party.  No RSVP required.

Thanks for your time.