I grew up in the country. Montezuma, Georgia. The population at the time hovered around 3000. I love the country, living in the country, and having the opportunity to dig in the dirt. There’s an undeniable simplicity with country living. I’ve spent the majority of the past few years in the country and truly love it. Now, I am back to city living, but you can guarantee that my patio is filled with pots of tomatoes, peppers, and I have a cucumber growing up the brick facade.
My friend and colleague Judith Fertig has a lovely book that I’ve really enjoyed over the past few years titled Heartland: The Cookbook that celebrates the Midwest. It embraces that eating local and farm to table is really just plain old eating for many rural Americans. Residents of the Midwest have been living off the bounty of the land since the pioneer days.
Judith is one half of the dynamic duo, the witty, wise-crackin’ BBQ Queens along with Karen Adler. The two of them have written over 20 cookbooks together – and sold over 1/2 million books. Phew. However, Judith isn’t simply tongs and tiaras. She is a fellow alumnus of Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne and part of Anne Willan’s La Varenne Mafia. This cook knows her stuff. Heartland marries modern cooking with an authentic approach to the bounty of the land, presenting 150 recipes for farm-bounty fare. It’s far more than pig and polka. Heartland embraces the spirit and flavors of the modern farmhouse. Judith highlights ethnic food traditions, seasonal flavors, artisan producers, heirloom ingredients, and heritage meats.
There’s something about the summer holidays that bring out a heartfelt feeling of pride and patriotism. Memorial Day is a day that honors those that have died in service, July 4th celebrates our independence, and Labor Day is dedicated to the achievements of American workers that have contributed to the strength and well-being of our country.
What I’ve grown to appreciate is that at the end of the day, we’re all Americans. We all may sound different, vote different, pray different, eat different, and love different, but we’re all Americans.
Since you’ve likely got the grill going this weekend, I am featuring a couple of recipes to serve. I’m sharing my own recipe for Quick Pickled Vegetables to go along with Judith’s recipe for Branding Iron Beef.
Thanks for reading! Stay safe and well.
Bon Appetit, Y’all!
VIRGINIA’S PICKLED VEGETABLES
Serves 8 to 10
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
8 cups assorted cut vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower florets, green beans, wax beans, and small okra
6 cups distilled white vinegar
2 cup sugar
¾ cup kosher salt
1 large garlic clove, cut into slivers
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon white peppercorns
4 small red peppers
Prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water. Remove alternating stripes of peel from the cucumbers. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Fill a large bowl with ice and water and set aside. Place the 8 cups of vegetables in the boiling water and let cook until vibrant in color but still firm, 1-2 minutes. Drain the vegetables well in a colander, and then set the colander with the vegetables in the ice-water bath (to set the color and stop the cooking), making sure the vegetables are submerged. Drain well. Set aside.
Place ½ the red onion, garlic, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, and peppercorns in the bottom of a large sealable bowl or jar. Transfer the blanched vegetables to the jar, layering to alternate the color and texture. Layer in remaining ½ onion, cucumber, and peppers.
Combine vinegar, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until the mixture comes to just under a boil. Pour mixture directly over vegetables and spices. Depending on the size container and the size of the vegetables you may not use all of the vinegar. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Cover or seal and store refrigerated, stirring occasionally, for at least 48 hours. Serve well-chilled.
How to Smoke Tomatoes and Goat Cheese:
When you’re already grilling something else, put these on at the end and you’ll have double the pleasure. You can make any quantity of smoked tomatoes or goat cheese with this easy method.
1. Prepare an indirect fire in your grill, with no fire on one side. For a charcoal grill, place about 1 cup wood chips on ashed-over coals. For a gas grill, place ½ cup of wood chips in a metal smoker box or in a homemade aluminum foil packet with holes punched in the top; place the smoker box or packet nearest to a gas jet.
2. Stem and core the tomatoes, brush them with olive oil, and put them in a disposable aluminum pan. Brush a log of goat cheese with olive oil and place it in a disposable aluminum pan. Place the pan(s) on the indirect side of the grill. When you see the first wisp of smoke, close the lid. The tomatoes and goat cheese take about 30 minutes or until they have a burnished appearance and a smoky aroma.
3. Peel and seed the tomatoes. To puree, put the peeled and seeded tomatoes in a food processor and puree until smooth.
Kansas is, literally, “home on the range”—at least it was to Brewster Higley, the Smith County settler who wrote the song there in 1871. Today, there are still deer and even a few antelope, but mainly beef cattle in the Flint Hills and the western prairie. To make your taste buds sing, get your outdoor grill a-smokin’ so you can rustle up this easy version of beef carpaccio. The beef gets a little tasty char around the outside, is very rare inside, and has a smoky sauce to finish. You can make the sauce and grill the beef a day ahead, then assemble the thin slices a few hours before your guests arrive and keep chilled.
For the Smoked Tomato Drizzle:
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon smoked tomato puree (see How to Smoke Tomatoes and Goat Cheese)
¼ cup bottled smoked chipotle pepper sauce
For the beef:
1 pound boneless eye of round, top loin. or beef tenderloin
Olive oil for brushing
Coarse kosher or sea salt and cracked black pepper
Drained capers and baby arugula for garnish
1. For the drizzle, whisk together the mayonnaise, tomato, and smoked chipotle pepper sauce in a small bowl until smooth. Transfer to a plastic squeeze bottle. Chill 8 appetizer plates.
2. Prepare a hot fire in your grill and place a cast iron skillet or griddle on the grill grate to heat for 20 to 30 minutes.
3. Brush the steak with olive oil and season the exterior with salt and pepper. When the skillet is very hot, sear the beef on all sides until blackened, about 1 to 2 minutes per side.
4. Let the beef rest until it is at room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap. To serve the same day, place it in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up. To serve the next day, place in the refrigerator, then in the freezer for 30 minutes.
5. Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, cut the beef into paper-thin slices and arrange on the chilled plates. To serve, drizzle the sauce on each plate in a cross-hatch pattern and scatter with capers and arugula.
Judith’s recipes and images from Heartland: The Cookbook by Judith Fertig/Andrews McMeel Publishing
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