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Posts Tagged ‘corn’

In the immortal words of Nellie Forbush, I’m as corny as Kansas in August! – only in my case it’s the vegetable I mean. It’s high corn season in my greenmarket now, and I’m reveling in it.

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One day recently a Washington Post article called “Easy, Delicious Recipes for Sweet Summer Corn” gave me some new ideas for using my favorite summer vegetable. The first one that caught my interest was a corn soufflé recipe. The article’s headnote praises the recipe for eliminating “the stumbling blocks in making a soufflé – beating separate egg whites, cooking a base sauce, the anxiety of it not rising.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? I didn’t see how a soufflé could rise without egg whites beaten into peaks, but maybe there was something to be learned here. I’d try it for a dinner for two. I gathered my ingredients – fresh corn, poblano pepper, gruyère cheese, eggs, half-and-half, salt, pepper, and chives. (Forgot to put the chives in the picture.) That seemed like a tasty combination; despite my doubts we were off to a good start.
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The recipe wanted all the ingredients to be pureed in a blender, but that quantity would have filled my cranky old blender so high that at first pulse it would’ve shot liquid out past the lid. I used my food processor instead.
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The recipe recommended baking the mixture in individual half- or one-cup ramekins or in a larger four-cup dish. For our dinner first courses I always bake individual soufflés in two-cup porcelain molds, so that’s what I used, even though this was a recipe for four persons.
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With no need for last-minute preparation and addition of fragile aerated egg whites, I was able to do all this hours in advance, putting the molds in the refrigerator until nearly dinner time. Then I baked them for about half an hour at 400°. They puffed up somewhat, but barely to the rims of the dishes. Nothing magic had happened.
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They began to deflate instantly, before I could even get the camera to them, and by the time they made it to the dinner table, they had sunken much further. We tasted them skeptically. Surprise: They were quite good. Beautifully corny, rich and dense, with a subtle blending of the poblano, chives, and cheese flavors. They had become a creamy, nubbly, slightly sweet, slightly spicy, very enjoyable summery whole. But they were not soufflés.

The whole point of a soufflé is lightness. What we had here were savory vegetable custards, much like crustless quiche. They were rich and very filling: Even though we liked them, neither of us could finish more than half our portion. No wonder the recipe called for small ramekins!

The newspaper’s recipe was lightly adapted from one in the book Heart and Soul in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin, the celebrity chef, TV personality, and prolific cookbook author. I knew he had a reputation as a popularizer, but I’m still surprised that a professional cook – and a Frenchman to boot – would say something is a soufflé when it absolutely is not. He did, though: I checked his own recipe online, and that’s what he calls it.

I think that’s a disservice to people who don’t know what a soufflé really is, as well as to anyone who makes the recipe expecting it to produce real soufflés. However, at least the dish is a respectable one of its kind and a very pleasant use for high-summer corn.

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 A few coincidences set the stage for a very interesting dinner at home this week.

  • Beloved Spouse, having decided to write a post for his wine blog on a comparison between prosecco and champagne, brought home a representative bottle of each, first for a formal tasting, then to test with dinner foods.
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  • I had just read Fatal Pursuit, a detective novel by Martin Walker that has Perigord police chief/gastronome Bruno Courrèges making blinis of an unusual kind to serve with local caviar – a kind I wanted to try to make.
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  • We had a little jar of American transmontanus caviar in the refrigerator.

Everyone who reads the Bruno books knows that their lavish descriptions of the hero’s cooking are virtually narrative recipes. I’ve written about re-creating some of his dishes here. The blinis in this story are not the traditional Russian ones in several ways. Bruno doesn’t use any buckwheat flour; he adds chopped chives to his batter of flour, milk, egg yolk, and melted butter; and – because he doesn’t have time to raise the blinis with yeast – he beats the egg white into peaks and folds it in. I did the same.
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I dropped the batter by tablespoonsful into very hot butter in a frying pan. (Bruno remarks that this is one of the few places he doesn’t use duck fat!) They cooked quickly and neatly, making 20 fluffy 2-inch pancakes.
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After we’d had the formal tasting of the sparkling wines alone, we opened our caviar and sat down to find out how the champagne and prosecco would go with our dinner dishes. The blinis themselves were fine – light and delicate, an excellent vehicle for the caviar. I think the leftovers, which I froze, may be just as good with smoked salmon or sturgeon.
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We did the same tasting of the two wines along with the dinner’s main course, which was sauteed soft-shell crabs on toast and a summer vegetable mélange of okra, corn, and tomatoes (which I’ve also written about here).
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I’ll leave the detailed results of the wine-wine and wine-food comparisons for Tom’s blog post to report. What I’ll say is simply that Bruno’s blinis were a success, all the food was delicious, both the wines were delightful, and the entire evening sparkled like the wine.

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Corn season seems to be running later than usual this year. Maybe this is one of the effects of global warming? Past the middle of October, my local greenmarket still had lots of corn.

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I couldn’t resist one last fresh corn indulgence, so I bought some. These late ears weren’t as young and tender as high summer corn, so I browsed my cookbooks for recipes with interesting accompaniments to the main vegetable. Where corn originated seemed a likely place to look, and, sure enough, the Cooking of Latin America volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series offered several promising possibilities. I chose Humitas.

???????????????????????????????Humitas, I learned, is a standby of many South American countries, and the name is given to a large range of related dishes that derive from Andean Indian traditions. This recipe is an Argentinian one, translated as Pureed Corn with Scallions, Green Peppers, and Cheese. It particularly interested me for two reasons. First, unlike most versions of the dish that I’ve explored online for comparison’s sake, it isn’t steamed or boiled in corn husks, like a tamale, but is sautéed. Second, the scallions, green peppers, and cheese that it includes were just the kind of thing I was looking for to pep up my late-season corn.

blenderIn the afternoon I scraped the kernels off four ears of corn and pureed them in a blender, along with a little milk. (The recipe’s specification of a blender is a hint to the age of the cookbook. I’m sure I could have used a food processor instead, but I do have a blender, and I wouldn’t want it to think I don’t care about it any more.) Then I added an egg, a teaspoon of paprika, salt and pepper, and blended that in. It made a velvety puree, which sat peacefully on the kitchen counter until called for.

Toward dinnertime, I softened some chopped scallions and green pepper in butter in a skillet. I poured in the corn mixture and simmered it for just about five minutes, until it thickened a bit more. Finally I stirred in grated Parmesan cheese (which I guess has become a Pan-American ingredient now), which melted in nicely.

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It came out looking very like soft scrambled eggs! The flavor was definitely corn, though, and very tasty, though milder than I had been hoping for.

When I make it again – and it can be done with frozen corn, the recipe says, so I don’t have to wait for next year – I’ll increase the quantity of the other ingredients, because they worked so well with it. Maybe add some cayenne too. I’m sure the corn could hold its own among the other flavors.

In fact, since the scallions and green peppers had smelled so good as they were sautéeing by themselves, I prepared more of them to serve alongside the humitas. They all made an excellent combination with the simple sirloin burgers that we had for dinner that evening.

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This is a vegetable dish that will work well with any simple broiled or grilled meat – maybe even fish.

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No matter what the fusion cuisine people may say, my trouble with Asian cooking is that I’m not good at incorporating an oriental recipe into an otherwise-occidental meal. Therefore, I always end up “doing Asian” much more elaborately than I intended.

To wit: The other day I was browsing Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking, by Julie Sahni, hoping for just one interesting little preparation. As usual, one thing led to another. Here’s what I made for dinner the next night:

Spicy Mushrooms with Ginger and Chilies
Bengali Green Beans and Potatoes Smothered in Mustard Oil
Tomato Pilaf
Fresh Corn Breads

That’s a lot of cooking. It all started with that mushroom recipe, which I had made before and liked a lot. The headnote recommended them wrapped in bread as an appetizer or accompanied by a tomato pilaf. The book’s breads section provided an intriguing flatbread recipe made with pureed fresh corn kernels and said it was lovely with the green bean preparation. Three new dishes there, and it’s the height of local corn season: I couldn’t resist.

The Mushrooms

For Khombi Tarkari, mushrooms are snuggled up in a sauté pan with onions, ginger, garlic, hot green chilies, turmeric, roasted cumin seeds, and lemon juice. Tom, my chili handler, was uncharacteristically intimidated by the fierceness of our newly purchased chilies when raw, so we used less of them than the recipe called for. But cooking tamed them mightily, and they didn’t overpower the mushrooms. Altogether, these ingredients indeed made a spicy dish, good warm or at room temperature.

The Green Beans and Potatoes

I probably wouldn’t have tried Bangla Aloo Sem on my own, since I don’t keep mustard oil in my pantry. But the recipe said vegetable oil and dry mustard powder would be OK, so I made it. Cut in similar-sized pieces, the beans and potato are first sautéed in oil flavored with black mustard seeds, turmeric, garlic, and dried red chilies. Then they get the dry mustard and a little water, are cooked covered until tender, and are uncovered briefly to evaporate excess liquid. They were delicious, though you had to be careful not to get a forkful with lurking pieces of the truly fierce Arbol peppers.

The Tomato Pilaf

Most of Sahni’s pilafs are made with previously cooked rice. That was new to me, but I’ve noted it for days when I’ve cooked too much rice for another purpose. Tamatar Bhat is a very simple pilaf, with the rice stirred into a puree of tomatoes sautéed with chopped onion and crushed coriander seeds. The cooking time seemed long for already-cooked rice, and indeed the dish came out rather porridgy looking. But it tasted fine, though mild.

The Corn Breads

Bhutte ki Roti was, of the four, the recipe I had been most intrigued by. The flatbreads are made with pureed fresh corn kernels, a little salt, a little oil, and enough whole wheat and white flour to hold it all together. They’re rolled very thin and cooked quickly on a very hot cast-iron griddle. Alas, mine needed a lot more flour than the recipe had suggested, and they came out looking rather sickly. Also, they didn’t taste much of corn, even though we (Tom is also the griddle cook of the family) had finished them by holding each one with tongs directly over a high flame, which was supposed to intensify the roasted corn flavor. By that point, they had a nicely rustic look, but not the intensity of flavor I’d hoped for.

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So, after making all this, we sat to supper with the four dishes on the table at once and amused ourselves by tasting them in different combinations.

They went amazingly well with each other and with the lovely Hugel Alsace Gewurztraminer we drank with them. The two mild-flavored dishes, the pilaf and the breads, were excellent foils for the two spicy dishes. The spicing of the mushrooms was different from the spicing of the beans and potatoes, but all the vegetables harmonized rather than competing.

For both Tom and me, the star was the Bengali green beans. They were both sufficiently familiar and sufficiently different from any way we’d ever cooked green beans. These, I could actually imagine fusing into an occidental menu. All in all, this was a rich and satisfying combination of flavors, even for normally dedicated meat eaters.

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One day a week, at my local Greenmarket, the wild-mushroom man appears.

His tiny stand starts in spring with the first morels and proceeds through the summer and fall with chanterelles, black trumpets, ovoli, porcini, sweet clubs, maitake, chicken of the woods, blewits, lobster mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, and any others his woodland prospecting turns up. I’m addicted to these little treasures.

This summer there’s been an abundance of chanterelles – enough to interest me in some preparations more elaborate than a simple braise. My recipe for this week is from Elizabeth Schneider’s Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini. It’s actually called Chanterelles Braised with Corn, Summer Squash and Carrot, but the appearance of the finished dish led me to dub it Chanterelles with Confetti Vegetables. You’ll see why.

Chanterelles are as pretty to look at as they are maddening to clean. Their dimpling curves and the veiny gills on their undersides are like magnets for fragments of the forest floor (and tiny bugs). I thank my stars that sainted knife-wielding husband Tom has also appointed himself the mushroom cleaner in our house. He had a big batch to work on for this recipe:

The “confetti” part of the dish consists of ¼-inch dice of zucchini and onion, 1/8-inch dice of carrot, and corn kernels cut from the cob. Tom saintfully did all this dicing for me too.

What first intrigued me about the recipe is the broth you make for it. As each vegetable is prepared, you put into a bowl the mushroom trimmings, the carrot peel, the onion peel, some sliced onion, a whole sliced zucchini, the tender inner husks of the corn, all the corn silk (!), and the corn cob, chunked up. You sauté this mess in butter and oil until browned and season it with crushed coriander seed, salt, pepper, and tarragon. At this point it looks like something to put down the garbage disposal in the kitchen sink:

Nevertheless, you persevere, making an act of faith in your author and her recipe. You add wine and water, simmer for 20 minutes, and strain the result. Somewhat to my surprise, it made a nice, mild, tasty broth – totally unlike anything that comes from a vegetable bouillon cube.

From that point the recipe is simple. Start sautéeing the chanterelles and onion in butter and oil, add the carrot and shortly afterward the corn, then some of the broth; when that has evaporated, add more broth and simmer uncovered until the vegetables are tender and the liquid somewhat thickened. Finish the dish with lemon juice, softened butter, and chopped chives.

The finished product is not as attractive to look at as its raw ingredients were, but that’s the only disappointment. It was tastier than it looks. Each mouthful contained tiny bursts of the flavors of each vegetable, led by the star of the production, the chanterelles. The two of us finished well over half of the portion meant to serve four. The sweetness of the vegetables matched nicely with a broiled tilefish fillet and an unusual white wine from the Tuscan Maremma, made from Vermentino and Malvasia grapes.

A few days later, having guests to dinner, I used the leftover vegetables, pulsed in a food processor, as a stuffing for braised quails. It was excellent!

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Week 47: Hi-Rise’s Corn Bread

Thanksgiving’s food rituals are strong. In many families, woe betide the cook who introduces alien vegetables or exotic desserts into the time-honored menu. My holiday dining companions aren’t that rigid, but we all delight in the traditional dishes. I don’t host Thanksgiving; Tom and I go to the home of friends, who in turn come to us for Christmas. My role for the Thanksgiving feast is usually to bake two kinds of bread and an apple or pumpkin pie.

The breads I’ve made for past Thanksgivings are ones I know well, a crusty French or Italian type and something more strongly flavored, such as walnut or cheese bread. This year, in honor of my blog, I tried a new bread recipe from Maggie Glezer’s Artisan Baking Across America. For this admirable book, Glezer sought out specialties from good professional bakers all around the country and meticulously downsized the recipes for the home cook, including and explaining many professional techniques.

Hi-Rise’s Corn Bread (Hi-Rise is a Rhode Island bakery) is a yeast bread, nothing like the familiar cornbreads raised with baking powder, such as spoon bread or hush puppies. It’s not sweet like those, and it actually uses corn kernels, in addition to cornmeal. There’s an American ingredient the pilgrims and Indians might have approved of!

Another of the recipe’s attractions for me was the book’s two-page glamour shot of the golden-yellow loaves.

Need I say that mine didn’t come out looking like that? Really, I don’t know how they could have, since the recipe specifies white cornmeal. It also uses about three times as much white flour as cornmeal, so even if it had been yellow meal, the color couldn’t have been so strong. Hmm . . .

However that may be, it was a nice bread to make. It begins with a poolish – a batter made with yeast, flour, and water that’s left to burble along for two hours by itself and then is added to the other dough ingredients. Those are bread flour, cornmeal, yeast, salt, two ears’ worth of corn kernels, two eggs, some honey, and a little olive oil. My dough rose well, the two loaves shaped well, and with an egg glaze they baked up attractively.

Having baked my loaves a day in advance, I first tested a slice of one for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. I found that it’s excellent toasting bread. A good texture, just sturdy enough to the tooth, and a rich flavor that loves a slathering of butter and/or homemade strawberry jam. In the afternoon I brought the other loaf, along with a loaf of my regular French bread (also from one of Glezer’s recipes) and my pumpkin pie to Michele’s house for the dinner. The corn bread got along just fine with her mushroom soup, the turkey and its gravy, and even the cheese course. I just may have created a new Thanksgiving tradition!

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It’s been an unusually busy week for me, and I haven’t had much leisure to try something elaborate for my next new recipe. An easy preparation of a vegetable for dinner was about all I felt up to. Accordingly, I went looking in the Vegetables volume of my Time-Life Good Cook series.

This set is a great culinary resource. Each of the 27 tall, slender volumes covers a particular category of food, with intelligent, illustrated discussions of choosing and handling the ingredients themselves, chapters on the major ways to cook them, and an anthology of recipes from around the world. For example, the vegetable volume gives recipe credits to 139 other cookbooks, dating from 1662 to 1977.

My choice for this week, Indonesian Fried Corn, was originally from the 1975 Larousse Treasury of Country Cooking – not a book I’d ever heard of. The recipe’s Dutch name is Frikadel Djagung, which sounded exotic to me, but its components are very familiar to a Western cook and the process is simplicity itself. You mix together kernels cut from cooked ears of corn; chopped onion, celery, and cilantro; an egg, salt, and a little flour. Stir-fry over high heat in peanut oil for five minutes. That’s it.

Not a world-beating recipe, obviously, but fine for an everyday dinner. It was softly crunchy and fresh-tasting. I’d wondered if the egg was going to make a sort of fritter of the vegetables, but in fact they mostly absorbed it. It was just a loose binding. Subsequent online research told me that frikadel are indeed fritters, and apparently other versions of the recipe do become fritters. But I couldn’t have done something wrong – there’s no way that stir-frying will produce fritters.

I cooked the corn freshly for this dish (five minutes in boiling water while I chopped the other veg), but I think if I’d had day-or-two-old leftover cooked ears they’d have been OK to use instead. Now that we’re in the height of corn season, that’s not an uncommon thing in my refrigerator: I can’t always resist buying too many ears at a time.

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