Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Corn, Chiles, and Cream

I know, the picture isn't so great!  However, this Mexican style corn pudding with a poblano cream sauce was so delicious, I decided to post it anyway!
The original recipe for this dish used corn cut from the cob.  There's only *ONE dish I know of that is worth sacrificing the deliciousness of fresh corn ON the cob when you have it, so although I always wanted to try this recipe, I never did.  Then I thought about trying it with frozen corn, but doing something to make the frozen corn taste more "corny" so that it would do THIS recipe justice.  Also, the recipe calls for 4 cups of corn kernels, which takes a lot of corn on the cob, but no big deal when you're pouring it out of a bag!  So, what I did was "roast" the frozen corn in the oven before using it in the recipe.  All that meant was putting it in on a cooking sprayed sheet pan and into the oven for a few minutes.  This resulted in a drier, roasted-tasting corn that had a lot more flavor. 
The poblano cream sauce is my adaptation from another recipe also.  It is very tasty and worth roasting and peeling the chiles.  If you don't want to, just used the canned Hatch type chiles.  Buy them whole and slice them into strips.  It will still be good! 
When I make a more complicated side dish, I almost always serve it with a very simple main dish like grilled beef, fish, or chicken.  That makes a more complementary meal taste-wise and it's easier on the cook!
*If you're wondering what that is, it is called "fried corn" and it is, to me, the quintessential Southern dish.  The recipe isn't mine to give, but sometime I'll ask my friend if she'll share it when she seems in a good mood :)
Note:  This dish tastes fabulous the next day for a brunch type meal.  Re-heat the sauce, make thin slices of the corn pudding and heat them on a plate.  Top them with a poached or fried egg and then the poblano cream sauce.  Yay!

Roasted Corn Pudding

6 Tbl. salted butter (softened)
4 cups roasted frozen corn kernels (method follows)
1/4 cup milk
2.5 Tbl. flour
1.5 tsp. baking powder
1/2 - 1 tsp. salt (to your taste-- I like 1 tsp.)
3 eggs, separated

Preheat the oven to 350F.  On a PAM sprayed sheet pan, spread out 4 cups of frozen corn kernels (not the "super sweet" kind-- just the ordinary type).  Roast in the oven for about 10 minutes.  The corn should be somewhat dry and a few will be slightly browned.  Stir them around and roast for about 3 min. more if necessary.
Puree the corn with the butter in a food processor.  Add the rest of the ingredients except the egg whites (you do add the yolks) and process until well blended.  It will be like a thick batter. 
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Fold the corn batter into the whites until combined.  Pour into a PAM sprayed baking dish (can be a loaf pan or square pan-- it will rise about 1/2 inch).  Bake for 50 minutes, or until the center doesn't jiggle and seems well set.
Serve in slices topped with the poblano cream sauce.

Poblano Chile Cream Sauce

2 large poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and cut into short strips (method follows)
2 Tbl. salted butter
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbl. flour
1 cup half and half

To roast chiles:  Wash them well and put onto a foil lined sheet pan or cookie sheet.  Set the broiler on "Hi" and slide the chiles under the broiler.  Allow them to get blistered and blackened, then turn to get them roasted on all sides.  Take them out of the oven and fold the foil up around them to seal them in.  Let them steam for 10 minutes that way.  Open the foil and let the chiles cool.  The skin will rub off very easily.  Cut out the top stem and disgard.  Slice open the chile and rinse under water to remove all the seeds. 
Melt the butter in a saucepan.  Saute the onion until fairly soft, then mix in the flour and stir it around to coat the onions.  It will seem like a mess.  Add the half and half and stir constantly over medium heat until the mixture boils and thickens.  It will be smooth and creamy.  Taste and add salt as necessary.

I think my photo would have looked prettier with a sprig of cilantro over the top and that might be a nice garnish if you wanted to do that-- and you like cilantro!

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Farmer's Market Caponata

Here's the thing about going to the Farmer's Market:  When you buy all kinds of fresh, locally grown produce from the family that grew it, you feel WAY more responsibility to do something with it and not let any of get moldy or mushy at the bottom of the vegetable drawer!  That means sometimes when you don't really have the time or the inclination, the vegetables rule!

That was the situation today.  I had purchased beautiful purple eggplants and gorgeous red tomatoes.  They weren't going to stay beautiful much longer, so I needed to commit them to something!  The other complication is that eggplant is not Ben's favorite vegetable.  Once, I made it when we were first married and after he ate it he claimed he "had to go lay down."  It's funny......now!  So anyway, one thing I love is eggplant caponata.  It is an Italian kind of condiment that is yummy on slices of toasted bread-- a type of bruschetta I guess, as a side dish to roasted meats, or as an addition on delicious sandwiches of all types!   It lasts several days in the fridge, so even if not everyone in your family likes eggplant, the ones that do can enjoy it over a few days!  If you think you don't like eggplant, you still might try this because it is fresh and zippy tasting-- not mushy.  It's a tasty, low-cal way to enjoy your veggies!

Note about eggplant:  Really fresh, firm eggplants are hardly ever bitter, but sometimes they are.  Taste it before you commit yourself to the recipe.  If it's bitter, don't use it and find something else to do!  There are all kinds of "tips" to remove eggplant bitterness:  salting, soaking, peeling, etc., but none of them have worked completely--for me anyway.   

Eggplant and Fresh Tomato Caponata
1, 1-lb. eggplant, diced into about 1/2" cubes
1 large stalk of celery, diced
1 small onion, chopped
1 lb. red, ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
3 Tbl. raisins (this is traditional, but optional)
1 Tbl. capers
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbl. sugar
1 tsp. dried basil
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
Saute the eggplant, celery, and onion in the olive oil over medium heat.  Stir often until the vegetables are starting to soften.  Add the tomatoes, basil, and raisins and simmer the mixture for about 20 minutes, until everything is soft.  Stir often to prevent browning.  Add a tiny bit of water if the mixture gets too dry before it's cooked, but most of the time you don't need to.  Add the capers, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper.  Stir well and taste.  Adjust seasonings to your liking. 
Allow the caponata to cool to room temperture and serve with toasted ciabatta or baguette slices.  Refrigerate the leftovers in something like a Tupperware container. 

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Sunday, May 20, 2012


Is there anyone that doesn't like pizza? 
If there is, I haven't met them.  We all have our favorite kinds, or a pizza ingredient we wouldn't touch, but there is SOME version of pizza that even the pickiest eater likes, usually!  Homemade pizza can be a special treat, but a lot of times, it is a PROJECT.  Making the dough from scratch, getting the ingredients together, rolling out the dough, and cooking enough pizzas so you don't have to feed everyone in 1-hour shifts are just a few of the challenges that I've had!  Pizza cooked on outdoor grills is scrumptious and worth the effort, I think, but hardly something you want to do on a busy weeknight! 
Most people that have tried to make their own pizza dough have experienced the frustration of trying to roll out the dough and having it "snap back" in the most annoying fashion no matter what you do.  The reason is that the gluten in the flour is causing the dough to be elastic, which is good for loaves of bread, but irritating when you're trying to make a nice, large, flat circle!  Even if you purchase dough from the market or a restaurant, you will probably experience this.  Once I was talking to a guy at a "Slow Food" meeting and he was all about pizza making, so I asked him about this problem.  He said you have to let the dough rest a LONG time, like overnight in the fridge, so the gluten can "relax".  Then when you take it out, you have to quickly stretch out the dough and get it right the first shot because if you work it any more than that, the gluten activates again.  Because I'm crazy, I went to all this trouble ONCE, and it did work.  But really, who has it together enough to keep up a regimen like that?  Pizza restaurants do, and that's exactly what they do!  They make lots of "one pizza" sized dough balls, put them in the fridge, and use them to order. 
Maybe you all have seen the pizza yeast I have pictured here, but I just discovered it in the grocery store.  It is a yeast produced especially for pizzas and it is a terrific product, I think!  If you follow the easy directions on the back of the package (add warm water, salt, olive oil and flour) you have a pizza dough ready to use in literally 10 minutes!  It is a breeze to press into whatever size or thickness of pizza crust that you want, and it doesn't shrink back at all.  It makes a delicious crust that is very crisp and you can add up to 1/2 whole wheat flour and still get a very good, easy to use dough.  It bakes up in 15 minutes.
So, I don't work for "Fleishmanns", promise, but this is a great product that I just thought you all might like to know about!  A pizza made at home can be healthy (you control the oil, cheese, toppings), inexpensive, and fun!  Here's how I made the pizza pictured at the top.  This is a "nothing fancy" weekday type of pizza, but I think you will like it!

Pancetta, Olive, and Mushroom Pizza (serves 2 or 3)
olive oil
1, 1/3-inch slice (about) pancetta, diced
1/4 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced (about a cup)
1 small can of sliced, black olives, drained
1 jar of marinara sauce (save the rest for pasta-- I freeze mine in the same jar.) or pizza sauce
1.5 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Italian chile flakes (optional)
1 recipe pizza dough prepared according to the Fleischmann's Pizza Yeast package directions
Parchment paper
Pizza stone if you have it, but a rimless cookie sheet is fine (you'll need two-- you can use sheet pans upside down)
Note:  If you have a stand mixer, use that so you can knead the dough right in the bowl.  Also, be sure not to add too much flour to your dough.  It's better to make it too soft than too stiff.

Put the pizza stone or 1 cookie sheet in the oven.  Turn the oven to 425F.
Put a piece of parchment paper over the other cookie sheet.
Cook the panchetta in a small frying pan in a couple teaspoons of olive oil.  Once the panchetta is cooked and a little brownish (not much-- it will cook more in the oven), take it out and place on a paper towel to drain.  Add the sliced mushrooms to the same pan and saute the mushrooms until they are soft.  Drain off any liquid or oil from the pan. 
Turn the pizza dough onto the cookie sheet.  Drizzle some olive oil onto the dough (your discretion-- pretty hard to use too much, but that's extra calories, of course!).  Use your fingertips to press the dough out into whatever shape you want-- thick crust, thin crust, square, round or the state of Texas!  (We like everything to be "Texas shaped" around here!)
Add a few spoonfuls of the marinara sauce to the pizza and smooth it around.  Put the mushrooms and olives down next, a few chile flakes if you're using them, then the cheese, then top with the pancetta. 
Open the oven and carefully pull out the oven shelf.  Slide the parchment and pizza quickly onto the hot stone or cookie sheet.  Bake the pizza for 15 minutes, or until nicely bubbly and golden brown.   Be careful as you remove the pizza-- everything is very hot!  Let it sit and settle for a couple minutes, slice and serve! 


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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Lovely, Lovely Lettuce....

What a gift I received today!  My friend, Jane's, family owns and operates the wonderful, "Bluebonnet Hydroponic Farms" here in San Antonio.  They provide the glorious greens for some of the top grocery stores and restaurants in the area.  A few days ago I called to ask her if I could purchase "a couple heads of lettuce" and instead I was presented with this beautiful display! 
     There were also squash blossoms and watercress-- Ben's favorite!  That peppery green takes him back to his childhood when he could gather it wild from the cold stream that flowed through our neighborhood backyards.  I guess even young boys like their veggies when they can pick them that way!
Quality produce like this deserves to be center-stage, so that means a big salad for dinner!  I like to add warm, thinly sliced pan sauteed or grilled chicken breast for protein and only the tastiest homemade dressing (or two-- we all love options!) will do!
Here are my two favorite recipes for salad dressing.  They are easy to mix up and wonderful on all types of salads. 
I call this "Charleston Dressing" because I got it from an old Charleston Junior League cookbook.  Published in 1950, it is the oldest Junior League cookbook still in print.  I changed it a bit to make it more "2012 kitchen friendly", which is something I really enjoy doing with old recipes.  Anyway, it is a vinaigrette style dressing that is wonderful with a salad of mixed greens, chopped tomatoes, diced artichoke hearts, and diced avocado.  If you try it, I think it will be a favorite with your family!
Charleston Dressing
2 rounded tsp. salt
1 rounded tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. celery salt
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 smashed clove of garlic
1 cup olive oil
1/4-1/3 cup red wine vinegar (depends how tangy you like your dressings)

Shake everything up in a quart jar with a tight fitting lid.  Allow the ingredients to blend by putting the dressing in the fridge until you need it (at least a few hours).  Be sure to remove the garlic clove if it plops out onto your salad.  This makes about 1.5 cups dressing.  It gets used up quickly at my house! 

My other favorite dressing is this homemade buttermilk ranch.  It has such a fresh, "clean" taste-- you will absolutely think making your own ranch dressing is worth it.  Plus, it doesn't have all the chemical additives of bottled ranch or that kind of "gloppy" consistency.   Again, it needs to be made at least a few hours ahead to let the flavors develop.  It will keep in the fridge for a week. 

Homemade Ranch Style Dressing
In a food processor or blender, chop up around 1/3 cup red onion, 2 scallions (use about 1/2 of the green part), and a clove of garlic.  If using a blender, it will chop better if you add 3/4 cup buttermilk to help move everything around.  Otherwise, after chopping, add about 3-4 sprigs worth of fresh thyme leaves (about 2 tsp.), 1 cup sour cream, the 3/4 cup buttermilk (you've already added it if you used it with the blender), and 1/2 cup REAL mayonnaise.  Process to blend everything well.  Add salt and pepper to taste (I use 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. black pepper.).  Store in the fridge.  Makes about 2 cups dressing-- it gets used up quickly!
Note:  I suppose you can use low fat or "fat free" ingredients to make this dressing, but really, if you make a healthy salad it will have very few calories, so why not allow a few extra calories for the dressing?  Besides, I read that "fat free" can mean extra sugar, sodium and chemicals so that you don't gain much healthwise and I think you'll definitely lose something taste-wise!

I hope you try either or both of these dressings!  Homemade dressing makes a big difference in salads but it's quick and inexpensive to put together--AND you know what's in there!


Sunday, May 13, 2012

"Purist's" Carrot Cake!

What fun to have an excuse to make a big, layered cake with lots of icing and decoration!  It's a rare treat, but a welcome one at our house!  This time the birthday girl's favorite is carrot cake, and I've found that there are generally two types of carrot cake fans.  One loves the plain, straightforward, moist cake with the carrots and just a hint of spice.  The other prefers the carrots-raisins-pineapple and nuts cake.  I like the "carrots plus" cake, but it seems I'm in the minority and most of the time I've been asked to make the "Purist's carrot cake". 
I've been making this recipe for many years.  It is one of those no-fail, workhorse recipes that is mixed up in a jiffy and is always moist, tender, and tasty!  You can halve the recipe and make one layer also.  Sometimes I do that when I'm taking a cake over to a small family.
     I'm not much of a cake decorator, but I love to mess with it when I get the chance.  I've purchased a couple decorator tips with the screw type attachments.  They are easy to use with disposable plastic bags and that saves on the icky clean up of those pastry bags!  Once you get the tip on the bag and you want to fill the bags with frosting, set the whole thing in a tall glass and fold the plastic bag over the glass.  That makes it super easy to drop the frosting in without making a mess.  Squeeze the frosting out as you twist the top with one hand and guide the tip with the other.  It sounds difficult, but it's easy and fun!  If you want, you can buy the colored frostings in tubes and just screw different tips onto the tubes for decorating (They're sold with the frosting tubes).  I've used them before and they are quick and easy.  This is especially great when you're letting children do the decorating!
    Anyway, I hope you get the chance to stir up this easy, delicious cake, decorations or no!  It's also yummy with just a dusting of powdered sugar, or just plain!

Purist's Carrot Cake
4 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3 cups finely shredded carrots (very lightly packed)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
Cream Cheese Frosting (below)

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Generously grease and flour two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans (you can try baking spray, but that never works for me with cakes). 
If you have a food processor, use that to grate the carrots.  If not, be careful and watch your fingers when you're grating.  This isn't really a good job for young children, but they can help with the rest!
In a large mixing bowl, stir the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and baking soda together.  Add the eggs, carrots, and oil.  Mix on medium speed until combined.  I always use a stand mixer for all this, but a portable mixer works fine.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until they feel set and springy in the center. 
Cool the layers for around 5 minutes, run a knife around the edge of the pans, then invert them onto a rack to cool completely.
Frost with cream cheese frosting-- yummy!

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1, 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
2 tsp. vanilla extract
light cream or milk
5-6 cups powdered sugar

Beat the butter and cream cheese together until combined and light.  Add the vanilla extract and beat in.  Add the powdered sugar and beat, adding cream or milk until you reach a spreadable consistency.  I like the frosting to be a little on the softer side because it looks even more billowy and scrumptious on the cake, but that's just a preference! 
Place one layer upside down on a nice, flat, plate.  Put a thick layer of icing on the top of the layer.  Put the other layer topside up on the frosted layer.  Put a thin layer of frosting on the sides and top of the cake.  It will not look very pretty.  Put the cake in the fridge for around 15 minutes to "set" the icing.  Doing this seals in the crumbs of the cake and enables you to frost the cake cleanly and easily.  After removing the cake from the fridge, put another thicker layer over the whole cake.  You can just swirl it around to make it look pretty or you can decorate it further.
If you want to make decorations, save out some of the icing ( just around a cup is usually plenty)before starting to frost the cake.  Use food coloring to obtain the colors you want and have fun!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Roasted Beef Brisket: Very Popular!

Hi All!  Most families have "their" Chinese restaurant that they visit regularly.  Now it might be Thai, Vietnamese, or a sushi place, but you know what I mean.  When I was a kid, we used to go to a place called "The Forbidden Palace".  Seems like "forbidden" is not a wise marketing word for a restaurant, but nevertheless, it was delicious!  There was a certain dish on the menu and the comment for it was "very popular!".  I always wanted to order it just for that reason (popular = good, right?!), but my choice was always voted down by the majority.  Our family always shared all the dishes, so a concensus was generally required-- unless my grandpa was with us, and he just got whatever he wanted!  Anyway, now, for some reason, when I'm asked for the recipe a lot for a particular dish, I think about that phrase.  By far, this has been one of the most "popular" dishes I've made and have been asked for the recipe many times.  It's a brisket that is roasted in the oven, not the Texas, slow smoked, BBQ, but I generally serve barbecue sauce on the side.  It's great for parties because it feeds a lot and gives you plenty of time to do other things while it's roasting.  If you try it, I think you'll find that it is "very popular" !

Note:  Be sure to buy a trimmed brisket, not the huge things that come in the vacuum pack.  Those are good for the hours-long slow smoker cooking, but way too fatty and fibrous for the gentler oven roasting.  Also, you need to start the day before you want to eat the brisket.

"Popular" Roasted Beef Brisket*

One, 5lb, trimmed, beef brisket
4 peeled garlic cloves (smash on a cutting board with the side of a broad knife-- the outer layer will fall right off)
2 tsp. Kosher salt (this works best because it's coarse, but regular will do fine!)
1.5 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. black pepper
3 Tbl.  fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup water
1 sliced onion
3 bay leaves, fresh or dried

Mash the salt and garlic cloves together into a paste.  I use the blunt end of a wooden spoon and a bowl, but if you have a mortar and pestle-- even better!  Add the paprika, black pepper, and lemon juice. 
Put the brisket in a glass 13x9 dish.  Spread the above mixture all over both sides of the brisket.  Cover and place in the fridge overnight.  Don't put the brisket in the metal roasting pan for this part.  The lemon juice may react with the pan and cause a weird, metallic taste.  I used to be a chemistry teacher-- trust me :)
Next day:  Preheat the oven to 425F.  Place the brisket, fat side up, in a PAM sprayed, covered roasting pan.  It needs to be large enough for the brisket to lie flat and at least 3 inches deep.  Add 1/2 cup water.  Place the brisket in the oven for 45 minutes.
Reduce the oven to 325F.  Put the bay leaves on the brisket; cover the top with the sliced onions.  Add 1 cup water.  Cover the roaster with aluminum foil and then the lid.  I've found that if I do this, it keeps the meat moist and I don't have to keep checking it.  Check it at least once during roasting though, to make sure there is around 1 inch of liquid in the pan.  Roast the brisket for another 3 to 3.5 hours or until a fork slides in and out of the meat very easily.  There should be a good amount of cooking juices in the pan. 
Let the meat cool a bit in it's own juices.  Lift the meat onto a large cutting board and let it sit awhile.  Pour the pan juices into a large, clear glass measuring cup.  Spoon or pour off the fat that collects on the top.  Slice the meat against the grain and place on a serving platter.  Pour some of the meat juices over to moisten them.  I usually use a lot!
Serve with barbecue sauce if you want!  This makes the best sandwiches the next day if there are leftovers!
*  This recipe is adapted from an Amish cookbook that my daughter begged me to get when she was in elementary school.  She went through a period where she was obsessed with their lifestyle-- I think because she loved horses and she liked the idea of riding everywhere she went.  The "Amish period" passed, but we continue to enjoy this delicious recipe!

     I've also added the recipe for a different sort of potato salad. Potatoes are marinated in a dressing that contains lots of fresh herbs. It's tastes light and "spring-like" and provides a nice contrast to the rich taste of the beef.

Fresh Herb Potato Salad
3 lbs. potatoes (use the boiling type of potato:  red or white thin skinned or Yukon Gold is also good)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1.5 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth (sounds weird, but it will taste good!)
1/4 cup finely chopped mixed fresh herbs that you like (I use thyme, flat-leaf parsley, and chives. Be sure to use chives or green onion tops for part of the mix.)
3/4 cup olive oil

Scrub the potatoes and rinse well.  Cook in boiling, salted water just until tender.  Do not overcook.  It takes about 30 minutes for medium sized potatoes.  Drain and allow the potatoes to cool to lukewarm. 
Mix the rest of the ingredients in a jar. Shake well and set aside.
Peel the potatoes (the skin will slip off easily with a paring knife).  Slice them 1/4" thick and place in a non-aluminum bowl.  Shake the dressing again well and pour the dressing over the potatoes.  Toss gently to coat very well.  A silicone spatula is good for this.
Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.  Stir again well before serving.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Friendly Table Returns: The Best of Both!

Hi All!  It's been awhile (almost 3 years!), but I'm so happy to be starting up "The Friendly Table" again!  I developed some trouble with osteoarthritis and it became so difficult to type that I had to stop the blog.  At my daughter's suggestion, I took up Bikram yoga, and now I can type away again!  Sounds crazy, I know, but whatever....!
Anyway, what a fun time to begin a food blog-- the beginning of summer (at least in Texas) with all the delicious fruits and vegetables of the season!  I went to the Farmer's Market Saturday and one of the growers had the most beautiful blackberries I'd seen since I'd left Colorado (sorry, Texas!) !  They were plump, juicy blobs of yummy, so I had to buy a couple pints.  I also bought some gorgeous red tomatoes, "vine ripened", but in the greenhouse.  It's too early for the real vine ripened tomatoes, even for Texas.  There also were lovely green tomatoes, so I had to have those also.
Now, the dilemma.  What is better:  the fresh taste of an uncooked blackberry, or the more pronounced, complex flavor of cooked berries in a pie?  What's better:  freshly sliced, red ripe tomatoes, or the slightly tart, scrumptious, crispy fried green tomato?  These are tough decisions!  The season for blackberries is fleeting in Texas and the good tomato season isn't much longer.  We don't have the luxury of making them all kinds of ways for months and months until we're tired of them.
So, why not get the BEST of BOTH?  Why not make fried green tomatoes and serve them with fresh, red ones?  Why not make a pie that incorporates fresh and cooked blackberries?  Yay!  Yum!

Here's what to do!

"Best of Both" Blackberry Pie
1 9-inch, very slightly under-baked pie crust
1 beaten egg
2 pints fresh blackberries
3 Tbl. sugar
1 Tbl. cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 425F.  Brush the inside and rim of the pie crust with the beaten egg.  Put it into the oven for about 5-7 minutes, or until the crust has a golden, glazed, shiny look.  This glaze helps the pie crust from getting soggy and will keep it crispy even with the juiciest berries.  Set aside to cool.
Put one pint of blackberries into a small saucepan.  Add the sugar and the cornstarch.  Add about 1 Tbl. water.  Stir over medium heat, smashing the berries as they cook.  Let the mixture come to a boil.  Mash the berries with a potato masher or a large spoon if necessary.  It should look like syrupy blackberry jam-- maybe a little thicker.  Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
Stir in the other pint of berries.  Fold very carefully to keep the fresh berries as whole as possible.  Turn into the pie shell.  Refrigerate a couple hours to make sure the filling is "set".  This will give you nice slices that hold their shape, but the pie will have both a deep blackberry taste and a lighter, fresh quality all at once!

"Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla" ice cream, optional........but not really!  Ben said this might be the best pie he's every had!  Might....

Fried Green and Fresh Red Tomatoes
2 medium sized, green tomatoes (under-ripe, not the green heirloom variety)
1.5 cup cracker crumbs
1 beaten egg
3/4 cup flour
cayenne pepper, salt, granulated garlic
2 ripe red tomatoes

You need a wire rack that fits over a cookie sheet and a deep frying thermometer.

NOTE:  Be very careful when deep frying.  Don't plan on doing anything else at the time.  It requires your undivided attention to be safe.  If you have young children, lock them out of the kitchen (not an exaggeration) and ask someone else to watch them for a few minutes!
Slice the tomatoes into thick slices cross-wise.  I learned that they were supposed to be thick by watching the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes".  They ate them like cookies and they were big!  Anyway, season the flour with about 1/4 tsp. cayenne, 1 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. granulated garlic.
Put the cracker crumbs into one shallow bowl, the beaten egg in another, and the seasoned flour in another. 
Dip the tomato slices, one at a time, into the flour.  Shake off the excess,  dip into the egg, then into the cracker crumbs, making sure to coat completely.  Repeat with each slice and put on a wire rack.
Heat about 1 inch vegetable oil to 350F.  Fry the slices in the oil for about 1 minute each, or until golden brown and crispy.  Stay at the stove the whole time.  You can't walk away for anything when deep frying, so plan accordingly!
Slice the red tomatoes, not quite as thickly as the green, but almost.  Alternate on a serving plate with the fried green tomatoes.  A final sprinkling of sea salt is a tasty touch.  Serve at once!

So fun to be back!  Happy cooking!