Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It’s A “Corn”-ucopia Of Corn Dishes

It’s that time of year, yes, it is….just makes me want to burst out into song.  “When the corn is as high as an elephant’s eyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeeeee”...

OK, sorry.  If you know me, you don’t want me singing anything at all, let alone the libretto from “Oklahoma”.

Actually, even if you DON’T know me, you don’t want me singing anything at all, let alone the libretto from “Oklahoma”.

Trust me.  Ella Fitzgerald I ain’t.

But, as always, I digress.  This isn’t about singing, or 1940’s musicals, or simply the best female singer that ever lived (that'd be Ms. Ella thankyewvermush), it’s about corn.

Corn.  Specifically, summer sweet corn.  The last leg of that perfect triangle of summer-only goodness; tomatoes, figs and sweet corn.  A trifecta, if you will.  Oh yeah, stone fruits and melons and berries are important now, and certainly welcomed in the little kitchen (I just ate a perfect peach, and was again amazed at how wonderful a creature that is).  But summer without sweet corn, figs and tomatoes is unthinkable.

Since we’ve done our homage to tomatoes, and I shared the seductive glory of a fig upside-down cake with all y’all, it’s time to complete the trilogy.

Let’s talk corn.

Now, the batch of corn I used in these dishes was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the best summer sweet corn I’ve had. It was actually…..rather disappointing.

But it was still better than any pathetic poseur of an ear of corn purchased in February and imported from God-Knows-Where.  And this batch of five ears made several delightful dishes I’m about to share with you.

The first night gave us the header picture.  “Double-Corn Polenta”.  Oh.  Yeah.  Babe.  With, again I say…..*with* fresh summer tomatoes too.  What could be awful about that?

Here’s what'cha need.  Looks like a lot of ingredients, but it really comes together easily and quickly, and even in the heat of a late Summer, you’ll be happy you turned on the stove.

That’s tomato, olive oil, cream, butter, polenta (or cornmeal), fresh corn, mixed herbs (I used chives, basil, thyme and parsley) and Parmesan cheese.

First you want to core and coarsely chop the tomatoes.  Coring tomatoes….if you gots one ‘o’ these…

…it’s a piece ‘o’ cake.

That’s a tomato “shark”.  I bought it about ten thousand years ago for about a buck.  I think they’re a little more pricey now (like maybe five bucks), but you should get one if you don’t have one.

They do this with no fuss or muss.

They also pull the hulls and cores out of strawberries, so they are NOT a uni-tasker, so there Alton Brown.  I also use it to scoop the seeds out of jalapeno and serrano chiles.  Much less potential for later pain and discomfort using the tomato “shark” than from using my fingernails…..jus’ sayin’.

At any rate, tomato “sharks” are a cool tool that I recommend.  You can probably find them at any restaurant/cookware/gourmet store.

After you’ve got the tomatoes cored and chopped, put them in a bowl and toss them with some olive oil and salt and pepper.  Set those aside while you deal with the corn.

Husk and de-silk the ears, and cut the kernels off of each of the cobs.  I know most fancy-shmancy cooking blogs/books/magazines/Teee-Veee shows tell you to do this in a pie plate, or a deep bowl, or an inverted tube pan, or whatever, in order to contain the inevitable shower of kernels that results.

Balderdash, I say.

I haven’t found a method yet that contains the flying kernels better than just carefully and slowly slicing down the cob, on your board.  Plus, you don’t risk dinging the edge on your knife by hitting metal or glass.  Plus, the cob is more secure if you’re not balancing it on something narrow and slippery (like a bowl or a tube pan), so you’re less likely to have, shall we say, an unfortunate accident with Mr. Knife.

Besides, I got these

to clean up the overspray that hits the floor.  Who needs a Roomba ?

The stuff that spews over the counter I can deal with.

You should end up with this…

…and this.

If you’ve got plans for a veggie stock or a corn chowder in the near future, stash the shaved cobs in the fridge, in a zippy bag for a couple of days, or freeze ‘em.  They’ve got great flavor to add to those dishes.

The recipe calls for pre-cooking the corn kernels, but, with fresh, sweet, summer corn, I find I don’t like to cook them much, if at all.  They’re so tender, and so sweet, that too much cooking takes away from their lusciousness.  If I use summer corn for corn on the cob, I’ll cook it…briefly, either in hot water or on the grill (still in their husks for the later).  But for dishes like this, or salads, or corn relishes, I usually leave them fairly raw.  There’ll be enough heat at the end when you add them to do the job.

Make your polenta as usual (and according to your package directions) using 1 cup heavy cream to 4 cups water.  That’ll be for 1 cup polenta (which will give you 6-8 servings).  Melt in some butter and salt, and then swirl in the cornmeal, slowly and steadily, whisking the whole time.  That’ll avoid any lumps (lumpy polenta=no good).  Cook until the polenta is thick and creamy, on low heat.  That’ll take about 20 minutes or so (check the package instructions for your particular brand).  Stir the mix occasionally to ensure it’s not seizing up on the bottom of the pan.

Take your mixed herbs

and go all postal on ‘em.  Really mince them on down pretty finely, but not so finely they turn to mush.  Do this by hand, not in the Cuiz, you don’t want herb paste.

When the polenta is at the consistency you want, add in the chopped herbs, the corn kernels and some Parmesan cheese.  Stir that around, and spoon into heated serving bowls.  To with the marinated tomatoes, and any juices from them, and additional basil leaves torn into small pieces.

That’d be really pretty, and really tasty, and with a salad a really nice, light late-Summer dinner.  It could also be a side dish to goodies coming off the grill.  Quantities of ingredients will follow.

Any leftovers can be pressed into a thin layer in a refrigerator container or sheet pan, covered and refrigerated.  Remove from the fridge, cut into small squares or triangles, and dust lightly with a bit of flour.  Sauté quickly in olive oil or butter, and serve as a side to grilled meat or fish.  Don't cook too long, or they'll disintegrate (don't ask me how I know this....).

Our next corny dish is a true side dish (and I honestly forget what I had it with, because the corn was so good it sort of eclipsed the main).  And…and….AND….it morphed into a lovely main dish with the leftovers.  How cool is that?  Let's make some "Creamy Stovetop Corn With Poblanos".

So, who didn’t make the class photo ?  Why, that guy, there.  That’s a poblano pepper, in the process of being “flame-roasted”.  Of course, *that* precise moment was when I decided to take the class photo….

Yeah, I’ve always been a day late and a dollar short.  Why do you ask?

So, take your poblano pepper, and, if you have a gas cook top, plop it down on the burner, and let the skin blacken and char.  Much like this:

Get all the sides of the pepper to look like that.  No.  You won’t burn down your kitchen doing this.  Yes, you have to stand there and watch it to ensure you won’t burn down your kitchen doing this.  It’s a tradeoff.  Do you want a roasted pepper, or a roasted kitchen?

If you don’t have a gas cook top, you can do this under the broiler, on a baking sheet, rotating the pepper so all sides of it get exposed to the heat source.  You can, obviously, also char the pepper(s) on a grill, either gas or charcoal.

How ever you get your poblanos black and charry, once they’ve achieved roasted-ness, either plop them into a bowl and cover them with plastic wrap

or drop them into a plastic zippy bag and seal it.  Let the charred peppers sit until they’re cool enough to handle, or until you’re ready for them.  It won’t hurt them to let them sit for a while.

When you’re ready to cook, take the charred peppers and rub and peel the burned skin off of them.  It will peel off quite easily.  I find a paper towel will help in the process, and it will not harm you (or the dish) if a few spots of burnt skin remain.

The roasting will impart a nice, smoky flavor to the pepper, and removing the skin will make it more tender.  Some people say to rinse the roasted pepper under running water to help to remove the skin, but I think that washes away that lovely smoky flavor we’ve just worked so hard to impart, so I don’t.

Melt some butter in a skillet, and add some chopped bell pepper and onion.  Sauté for a couple of minutes, then add some corn kernels, stripped from the cob as above, and the poblanos, which you’ve seeded, cored and cut into strips.

Check the seasoning at that point, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Let it cook down for a few minutes, until the corn is tender.  Then add some crème fraîche (or you could use Mexican crema, or in a pinch sour cream) and heat through.  Do not boil.  Squirt with some lime juice and check your salt and pepper.  Garnish with some sliced scallions and spoon into a serving dish and enjoy.

Save what’cha don’t finish from this dish and get ready for a real treat in a couple of days.

How about some Oven-Baked Chile Rellenos ?  Sound good to you, yeah, they did to me too.

Actually, before we got there….I used more of the leftover corn with poblanos in a quesadilla.  But I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how to make a quesadilla.  Let’s just say it was quite a tasty use of the corn…

Onto the chiles rellenos !

Chile rellenos are, typically, stuffed with cheese, battered and fried, and dressed with a spicy tomato sauce.  We'll eventually be visiting those, since they are one of my absolute favorite foods.  But not to be makin' in the little kitchen in the heat of summer.  This version breaks the mold in every sense, but are every bit as tasty.

Start off by charring/roasting and peeling those poblanos again.

This time, we’re going to leave the top intact, but pull out the seed pod and slit the chile all the way down the length of it.  Work carefully, so you don't tear the flesh of the chile or pull the flesh off too much from the stem.

Then we’re going to take that leftover creamy corn, mix in a bit of shredded cheese (I used a shredded pepper Jack) and some cilantro.  Stuff that mixture into the poblanos, and place them into a baking dish.

Sprinkle that with a bit more shredded cheese (more Jack or a little Cheddar would also be good), and toss into a preheated 400°F oven for about 15 minutes, or until it all gets heated through.  The run under the broiler for about 5 minutes to toast the cheese.  I had the rellenos with a bit of Mexican rice on the side, and again, it was a delightful, light Summer meal.  A salad would make it more hearty and satisfying, but the taste won’t let you down no matter what you serve with it.

Now, go out and pick some corn and enjoy it’s too fleeting prime season !  I’ll be getting some more tomorrow.

Here’s the quantities/instructions for the polenta and the creamy corn.

Double Corn Polenta
Serves 6-8 as a side dish, 4 as a main course
Adapted from The 150 Best American Recipes

2 ripe tomatoes (or 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups water
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup medium-grind cornmeal or polenta
1&1/2 cups corn kernels (from 3-4 ears) (can use thawed, frozen corn kernels)
2/3 cup loosely packed mixed fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, chives, basil) chopped
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese
4 large fresh basil leaves for garnish

Core and roughly chop the tomatoes (no need to core if using cherry tomatoes).  Toss with oil in a small bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

In a medium heavy saucepan, combine water and cream over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil.  Add the butter and salt to taste, and stir to melt the butter.  Whisk in the cornmeal/polenta in a steady stream.  Continue to whisk until all the lumps have disappeared.  Reduce heat to low, and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until the polenta begins to get thick and creamy, about 15 minutes.  Stir in corn kernels and cover pan.  Continue to cook over very low heat, checking to see if additional water is needed, for another 5 minutes, or until corn is tender.  Mix in herbs and cheese.  Spoon into heated serving bowls, and top each with tomatoes and juices.  Tear basil leaves into small pieces and scatter over top.  Serve immediately.

Creamy Stovetop Corm with Roasted Poblanos
Serves 4-6 as a side dish
Adapted from the "New York Times"

2 poblano chile peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded, cut into strips
2 tablespoons butter
1 small red onion, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
About 3 cups fresh corn kernels, cut from the cob
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup crème fraîche (or Mexican crema or sour cream)
1-2 limes, halved

Roast the poblanos over a gas flame, on a grill, or under a broiler until charred and blackened all over.  Place in bowl and cover with plastic wrap, or place in plastic bag and seal until cool enough to handle.  Remove charred skin.  Seed and core the peppers, and slice into strips.

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan and add the onion and bell pepper. Sauté 2-3 minutes, then add the corn kernels and poblano strips, stir. Check the seasoning and sauté until the corn is tender, no more than 5 minutes. Add the crème fraîche and heat through (do not boil). Squeeze lime over, and check again for salt and pepper. Serve as side dish or as filling for quesadillas or chiles rellenos.

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