Tag Archives: corn

August fixin’s

pasta and vegAUGUST REMINDS ME of my childhood: the sticky hot humid days in Chicago, barely relieved by the big swamp cooler in the basement. We had no air conditioning and my two sisters and I slept in an upstairs attic-type room, catching what little breeze we could from the open window and a fan. A thunderstorm was an evening’s entertainment:  From our screened-in back porch, we’d listen to the thunder, watch the streaks of lightning and smell the oncoming rain.

But best of all, August meant we would pack up the car (I always had a case full of books) and leave the city for a rented cabin in Ephraim, Wisconsin, or South Haven, Michigan, where we’d swim in Lake Michigan (Yes, we did that at home too, but here it was even better) and eat fresh peaches and blueberries, corn and tomatoes, trout and smoked whitefish, and bakery white rolls. And cherry pie.

Wherever you are, fresh produce is abundant this month, and dinner doesn’t have to be salad. On these lazy days, I love to center an August meal around corn on the cob. Or potato and green beans in a vinaigrette. Or cherry tomatoes, as in the photo above, roasted (or sauteed) with some garlic and oil and sprinkled with basil, to dress a pasta. With a side of green beans with lemon zest, and a simple salad with beets (dressed in another vinaigrette) and hazelnuts, it was a light but satisfying meal that didn’t take long at the stove.

blackberry cobbThis kitchen blog began in 2009 with Blackberry Cobbler No. 8, a recipe for the eighth version I had made of blackberry cobbler.

This week my daughter and I picked  blackberries (it’s been unusually hot here so it’s almost end-of-the-season) for a cobbler and decided that the No. 8  version is still hard to beat, with very tender biscuits with a touch of cornmeal. There’s not too much sugar in it, and a dollop of ice cream on the warm cobbler will suit it just fine.

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Filed under dessert, fruit, musings, summer, supper time, vegetables

Corn to the rescue for a lazy cook

Late summer colors from the farmers' market

Late summer colors from the farmers’ market

I had another cauliflower revelation when my farmer’s market vendor, Amy, convinced me to try Romanesko–that outer-space version of cauliflower. She described its flavor as “nutty” — and she was right.

We had a couple of lunches that were not much more than a bowl full of cooked Romanesko. One time I tossed it  with the basic lemon-olive oil dressing and tossed with roasted sunflower seeds.  Another time I melted a bit of butter over the hot vegetable and grated some Pecorino cheese on top.  Both times we just gobbled up our vegetables and no complaints.

Then I decided to go all-out on the colorful salad theme, and tossed together both the Romanesko and the purple cauliflower. And carrots. And potatoes. I think there were some roasted hazelnuts in this one too.

However, here’s a confession: A lot of times, I’ve been too lazy even to cut and cook all the vegetables and mix them up with some dressing. Too lazy to make a salad, that is.

That’s why I’m happy that it’s corn season. Steve shucks the corn outside on the deck (no, really, it’s just a carport, but it has a great view) and I throw it in boiling water for a few minutes. Add a bit of butter and salt at the table and we’re more than halfway to dinner, in my estimation. Especially if the corn is fresh, sweet and tender.

Corn, green salad and bread with fresh tomatoes

It could be as simple as adding a salad and some bread, as I did one evening.  (If your lettuce is as sweet and fresh as the lettuce I buy from Terra Verde Farms, that salad will make you happy too.) And fresh tomatoes–I never have enough of these. You could invite a vegan to share this meal.

Corn, salad and sockeye salmon

Another evening it was corn and salad with a piece of wild sockeye salmon I’d bought from Vis Seafood, Bellingham’s magnificent fish store. It’s pretty easy cooking when about all you have to do is shop at the right places…..

But back to corn. Even when I don’t have fresh tomatoes or sockeye salmon, I’m happy if I have some corn to put on the table.  Everything has been a little late around here this summer, so the corn is still a recent entry– and still very tender. I’m sure we won’t tire of it before the end of this month.

Corn: these days, it’s the main course.

P.S. When my dad came to the U.S. from Germany in 1939, he was shocked that people were eating corn. In Europe, it was only fed to livestock. It didn’t take long, however, for him to become a great fan of corn on the cob.

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An autumn appreciation

I shook off the melancholy of summer’s ending last week with a drive over the mountains to Cashmere and a wonderful time spent with Aviva, both in the kitchen and outdoors. We baked three types of lemon pie and invited friends for a sampling.

Before I left, friends gave me some Bartlett pears, Jonathan apples, cucumbers and tomatoes — and on the way home, I stopped to buy a rustic loaf of German rye from a bakery in Leavenworth, and corn and potatoes sold from the back of a truck.

The leaves were just starting to turn on Steven’s Pass, and with my car piled up with gifts of the harvest, I realized my mood had turned as well. There’s a reason that our harvest festivals are seasons of thanks-giving.

Supper at home was really easy: cucumber salad, tomatoes with basil, corn on the cob (last of the season) and bread, along with delicious smoked wild salmon that Steve bought from our wonderful local fish store, Vis Seafoods.

Lately, one of my favorite meals is a simple beans-and-greens dish with garlic.  I was inspired to start cooking beans again by some very nice looking cannellini beans I found at  Conte di Savoia , an Italian grocery in Chicago. Yes, you could use canned beans, but trust me: these are better.

Beans and greens

The beans: You just soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water; drain and put them in a large saucepan with fresh cold water to cover (and more), bring the water to a boil and then cook at a low boil for about 30 to 40 minutes or so, until they are tender but not mushy. Turn off the heat and then add some salt to taste.

The greens: Wash a bunch of greens — chard, kale, beet greens, or any other type–and leave some of the water clinging to the greens. Remove the stems, slice the greens into strips, then cut them in half.

The dish: Dice a few garlic cloves (as many as you like); heat some olive oil in a skillet, and fry the garlic until it’s golden and fragrant. Add the chopped greens, and saute until they are tender; then add some of the beans, with a little of their cooking water and cook, stirring the beans and greens together, until it’s hot and the greens are cooked as much as you like. Salt and pepper to taste, adding some red pepper and/or grated Parmesan, Romano or Pecorino cheese if you like. Serve with some crusty bread on the side. (You could also serve with grilled sausages, as Lidia Bastianich suggests with her version of this dish.)

More beans: Of course, if you have leftover beans, they can go in a tuna salad, a soup, or a tomato sauce to serve with pasta.  Or you could  just mash up some beans with lemon juice, olive oil and garlic, and serve as a dip.

Now, about that pie. It really isn’t lemon pie season, and I recommend that you make a dessert with late plums or peaches, or pears, apples, pumpkin–something in season–and wait till winter to make a lemon pie. But I was testing recipes for my book, and it just had to be done now. Fortunately, I had Aviva’s help, and help from the pie-sampling friends as well. Here’s how they looked:

Lemon meringue pie, French lemon tart, Shaker lemon pie

If you love lemons (and rich desserts–lemon desserts are deceptively rich and caloric), you’ll love the French  lemon tart recipe, and I have really easy methods for making both the tart dough and the lemon curd filling.  Shaker lemon pie, with the double crust, had nearly as many votes, and Aviva tried out a traditional pie crust recipe with egg and vinegar.

The lemon meringue pie tasted good; however, it was a stressful baking experience (too many steps, not to mention failures) and collapsed as soon as I cut into it.  I will be sure to remedy both these factors before posting a recipe for you–

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Keeping it simple

It’s hot here — finally. I know the rest of the country has been baking, but it’s taken till mid-August for it to feel like summer around here. It’s not the best time to be turning on the oven, and we don’t own a grill, so besides making the usual bulgur salads, I’m cooking a little less and keeping things simple.

Who says you can’t have a meal of mostly vegetables along with a good slice of bread? (I love carbs). Corn on the cob, new potatoes, fresh string beans with a little lemon zest….to me, that’s a great summer supper.

This was my idea of a buffet lunch: crackers and cheese, marinated artichokes and olives, melon and blackberries, and a little salad of green beans and garbanzo beans with red pepper and lemon and olive oil dressing.

About the most complicated (i.e. not very) dish I made recently was a lemon-basil recipe that I adapted from Nigel Slater.

I love what Slater writes about lemons:

“Few sights lift the spirits like a crate of lemons with their glossy leaves intact. Lemons are as much a part of the kitchen as pepper and salt.”

I didn’t have linguine so I made it with fettucine in the photo above. Delicious, but the linguine is even better at soaking up the sauce — I tried it later. I’m still adjusting the recipe proportions, so if you try it and think it needs a little more or less of something, please let me know.

Lemon and Basil Linguine (serves 2)

  • 1/2 pound of linguine
  • grated zest and juice of one large lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup grated Parmeggiano or Pecorino cheese
  • handful of basil leaves, torn into small pieces
  • salt and pepper

Bring a big pot of salted water to the boil and cook the linguine until done (7 or 8 minutes).

Meanwhile, put the lemon juice, olive oil and zest in a warm bowl and whisk till emulsified; then add the torn basil and the cheese and whisk again. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Drain the linguine, and toss together with the sauce until each strand is coated evenly with the sauce. Serve immediately.

I made this version without the cheese, and added some sauteed chicken pieces and cherry tomatoes

Pasta cooks quickly so it’s a good choice for a summer evening, and this is also a nice way to use fresh basil especially when those fresh tomatoes are in short supply….

One could finish such a supper with the best summer dessert of all: fresh fruit (with or without vanilla ice cream).

Bowl with Peaches and Plums, Giovanna Garzoni (1600-1670)

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Cornmeal cakes

Whether it’s polenta, cornbread, spoonbread, grits, johnny cakes or cornmeal pancakes– I love the taste and texture of cornmeal.

In Berkeley, Zak and Tara introduced me to a great breakfast cafe called Meal Ticket, which makes terrific buttermilk cornmeal pancakes.

At home I tried to replicate the recipe by taking my regular hotcake recipe and replacing some of the flour with cornmeal.  Results were disappointing…. Just not as tender or corn-y (I sense a country-western song coming on).

Then I came across a technique of making a kind of cornmeal mush, which is then added to the pancake batter. This makes the pancakes nice and moist, and I added a little uncooked cornmeal for texture.

I’m usually reluctant to whip egg whites, as that extra step is a bit of a bother. You could just make the cornmeal pancakes with whole eggs, and they would still be good, I’m sure. The recipe below is still in progress, so if you try it with more uncooked cornmeal or whole eggs or some other adjustment that you think is good, please let me know.

But as to that extra step of whipping the egg whites– it’s really what makes these cakes so light and, well, heavenly, that I think it’s really worth it. For a special occasion, anyway. Like a Sunday morning.

Cornmeal Pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons medium-grind cornmeal
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup buttermilk*
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup white or whole wheat pastry flour*
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 egg whites, beaten till stiff but not dry

Slowly pour 1/2 cup of cornmeal into 1 cup of boiling water in a small pan and cook over low heat, stirring, until the mixture is smooth and thick, about 3 minutes. Cool slightly and put in a large bowl.

Add buttermilk and melted butter to the cornmeal mixture and whisk till smooth.

In another bowl, mix dry ingredients — flour, 2 tablespoons cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add these to the cornmeal mixture.

Gently fold in the beaten egg whites.

* Note — You may find that you need a little less than 1 cup of flour. If the batter seems too thick, add more buttermilk.

Cook large pancakes (about 5 or 6 inches across) in a little butter or oil or combination. Top with butter if you like, and warm maple syrup. Serve them the way they do at  Meal Ticket, with some chopped fruit on top or on the side.

Perfect for a Sunday morning, with maple syrup and a little fruit -- and perhaps a cup of coffee made in a 1950s Coffeematic percolator

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