Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Cream Corn

I bought some corn for the 4th of July, then decided that I already had enough food and it would be redundant to have corn for dinner and polenta for dessert.  So, I had to decide what to do with it.  The next week, I realized that I really like creamed corn and had never made it from scratch.  A blog post is born.

I started with scaling down the Neely's recipe, mostly because I had some saved bacon grease in the fridge.  I used a larger proportion of cream than they did.  It was almost a cream corn soup, which was pretty awesome, but required a bowl for serving.  I also accidentally made the sauce too thick and had to add a lot of water as things went along.  I'm hoping to fix that here so there isn't more sauce than corn.

2 ears of corn
1 Tb bacon grease
2 Tb flour
1/2 C heavy cream
2 tsp sugar
water as needed
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Remove husks from corn and scrub off silk.  Cut off tips and stand an ear upside-down in a bowl.  Holding the ear by the base and using a very sharp knife, cut straight down to remove kernels from cob.  Once the kernels are off, flip the knife to the dull side and scrape down again to get out any pulpy juice you missed.  Discard cobs.  Stir in cream, sugar, salt, and pepper.

2.  Melt bacon grease in a medium skillet.  Add flour and stir in to make a roux.  Add corn mixture and stir until roux dissolves.  Continue to cook over medium heat until mixture thickens.  Start to add water as necessary to maintain the consistency you want.  Simmer until corn is softened, about 30 minutes.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Cucumber Granita

Granitas are flavored ices.  They are sometimes served as a dessert, but more often as a palate cleanser between courses.  They can be sweet or savory, but even the savory ones usually have a bit of sweetener in them.  I made one with the leftover syrup from the nectarines.  That ran out the same day I picked a cucumber without any plans how to use it, other than the lime I had bought the week before with some vague ideas.  A quick investigation proved that adding lime to the granita was a good idea.

There are a surprising number of cucumber granita recipes online.  Surprising meaning more than two.  I settled on this one from MyRecipes and didn't tweak it that much.  Mainly, I cut back on the sugar.  My home-grown cucumbers are sweeter than what you get in the market, but I really did not want this to become about the sugar.  It's there to help in crystal formation.

I also decided that a wee bit of alcohol could bring out nuances in an admittedly light-flavored recipe.  Cucumbers aren't really known as flavor powerhouses.  This contains nowhere near enough alcohol to count as a cocktail, and most of it boils off.  I used Tanqueray because I still have Papa Smurf's huge bottle of it.  I've always loved the smell, but I don't really drink hard stuff.  Tequila would be another good choice for this savory recipe, and more likely to be in the average liquor cabinet.  Of course, going alcohol-free is always an acceptable option.

*1 English cucumber (about 1 lb)
*3 limes
1/2 C sugar
1 C water
1/4 tsp salt
*1 Tb gin or tequila, optional
*3 sprigs mint

1.  Grate zest from limes and place in a small saucepan with sugar, water, and salt.  Squeeze juice from limes and add to pot.  Add alcohol, if using, and stir everything together.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Boil for one minute, then remove from heat.  Add mint and allow to steep while you prepare the cucumber, about 10 minutes.

2.  Peel cucumber.  Cut in half lengthwise and remove seeds.  Chop coarsely and place in blender.  Remove mint and pour syrup into blender.  Run until very smooth, about 1 minute.

3.  Strain mixture through a sieve to remove any chewable pieces and pour into a shallow pan, like a loaf pan, and cool in the refrigerator.  Once cooled, move dish to the freezer.  Every 45 minutes or so, run a fork through the mixture to break up the ice crystals.  The process will take at least three hours.  The first couple of times you do the fork thing, it will be slushy.  By the end, you're raking up large, green crystals.  Serve in small dishes between courses, or as an ice near the end of a barbecue.  Garnish with mint, if desired.

Serves 6 to 8

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Grilled Polenta with Maple and Berries

This is what happens when foodies try to reinvent the hoecake.  The recipe isn't much different than the one for fried leftover cornmeal mush on the back of the Alber's box.  You just grill it instead, which was the point of the Times article about grilling dessert.  Papa Smurf once told me about breakfasts similar to this when he was a boy during WWII and rationing limited your food choices.

For taste, this is definitely a better product than the johnnycakes of 200 years ago.  The slow-cooked polenta creates a creamy cake.  I happened to sub Greek yogurt for the mascarpone because I had an open container in the fridge.  Any creamy, soft, tangy dairy product complements this dish.  Whipped cream doesn't have enough body and comes across as too sweet once you put maple syrup over everything.  Vanilla pudding or ice cream might work, but I didn't try it.

This is a half-recipe version, which made four generous portions if you consider the whole barbecue meal I had before it.

2 C water
1/2 C cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tb butter
vegetable oil
1 C mascarpone cheese
1 5oz (or close to it) container blueberries or other small berry
maple syrup

1.  In a small saucepan, bring water to a simmer.  Rain in the cornmeal, whisking as you go to prevent lumps.  Whisk in the salt.  Return to a simmer and cook over lowest heat, whisking occasionally to prevent scorching.  It's going to boil and spit like lava at you.  If it gets too hot, remove from heat briefly.  After about 20 minutes, it's going to get very thick and fall in clumps.  Remove from heat and stir in butter until melted.

2.  Grease and line with plastic wrap a small baking dish.  I used a 6" cake pan and it resulted in a thick cake.  An 8" would probably be acceptable, or a 6" skillet.  I wanted straight sides.  Pour the warm polenta into the dish and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.  This part can also be done a day ahead.
3.  When ready to serve, turn polenta out and remove plastic wrap.  Either spray both sides with oil if you have a mister or lightly brush on a thin layer of vegetable oil to reduce sticking on the grill.  Cut into serving-sized wedges and place on preheated grill.  The polenta is cooked; this part is to warm it and give it that charred crunch on the outside.  It will probably also pick up flavors from whatever you had on the grill earlier.
4.  After about two minutes (depending on the heat of your grill), carefully flip the cakes with a flat spatula.  You only get one flip, and the cakes are fragile.  If they came out lighter than you want, let them stay longer for the other side.

5.  To serve, place one or two wedges on a plate.  Top with a dollop of mascarpone and a handful of berries.  Drizzle with syrup and serve warm.

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, July 20, 2015

Banbury Tarts

I clipped this one out of the L.A. Times's annual Holiday Cookie contest.  I thought it was from last year, but the link says 2010.  Either way, they are very good.

Banbury Tarts are a variation of a thumbprint cookie.  It's a stiff cookie dough that you make a dent in and fill with jam before baking.  There is no leavening agent in these, as it would displace the jam.  They are traditionally made with a red jam, but I had the last of the guava jam in the fridge and decided to use that.  It made for an unusually tangy cookie, but saved me a trip to the store for jam when I decided to make them at the last moment for tea.

I'm posting a half recipe, as it still made over two dozen cookies.  I used the egg white in the biscotti instead of milk, which was the original recipe anyway.

3/4 C butter
1/2 C sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 C flour
seedless jelly or jam

1.  Preheat oven to 375º.

2.  Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Beat in egg and vanilla until smooth.  Add the flour gradually and beat in until smooth.  The dough will form a ball in the mixer and pull away from the sides.

3.  Form the dough into one-inch balls and place about 2" apart on a baking sheet.  Using your thumb or the rounded back of a half-teaspoon, press down on each ball to make a depression.  Spoon half a teaspoon of jam into the depression.

4.  Bake cookies until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.  Do not boil the jam, or it will harden when it cools.  Let the cookies sit on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes, then move to a rack to cool.

Makes about 2-1/2 dozen

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, July 17, 2015

Zucchini Bread

A new family moved in down the street and I still had extra zucchini from a different neighbor.  I decided to gift them with a bit of zucchini bread.  Because I have mini loaf pans and this recipe makes two full-sized loaves, there was plenty to go around.

The prevailing zucchini bread recipe, both online and in most cookbooks, uses three eggs and makes two slightly under-portioned loaves.  That was the best anyone could do.  It's also about one large zucchini's worth of shreds.

That brings up a point someone mentioned in the comments online.  Shred the zucchini, don't grate it.  Grating will cause it to lose too much moisture.  Even long shreds will soften and disappear during the hour of baking.  This is one of those recipes that makes you say "this is why I bought a food processor".

Like everyone else who commented, I found 1 cup of oil to be more than I could make myself pour, even though my head was telling me it was 1/2 C per loaf, which is only a little more than average for a quick bread.  While the nectarines were in their water bath, I made one apple's worth of applesauce to substitute for part of the oil.  Also from the comments, I used all 3 cups of shred and significantly less sugar.  I'm making this the official rewrite version, incorporating pretty much every alteration left in the comments.  They worked.

3 C flour
1 tsp each salt, baking soda, and baking powder
*1 Tb cinnamon
3 eggs
1/2 C vegetable oil
1/2 C unsweetened applesauce
1 C granulated sugar
1/2 C light brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
*3 C shredded zucchini
*1/2 C chopped walnuts

1.  Grease and flour two loaf pans or one loaf pan and two mini-loaf pans.  (Or 5 minis, if you're really into cuteness.)  Preheat oven to 325º.

2.  Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon.  Set aside.

3.  In a stand mixer, beat eggs until well-blended.  Add oil, applesauce, sugars, and vanilla and mix until combined.
4.  Gradually stir in flour mixture until just moistened.  Add zucchini shreds and walnuts and stir until mixture is uniform.  Do not over mix.

5.  Either divide batter evenly between two regular loaf pans or fill one regular and two minis about halfway.  Bake 40 minutes for minis and about 60 for full loaves.  Check for doneness with a toothpick.  Cool in pan 20 minutes before trying to turn out.  If freezing, cool fully before wrapping.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pesto Deviled Eggs

I don't normally watch Rachael Ray, but I caught the last few minutes of an episode about different ways to devil an egg.  The one that stuck out the most was pesto.  It just seems like such a natural combination, I don't know why I didn't think of it before.  Maybe because I'm always pushing the limits of paprika usage when I make mine.

Eggs got expensive all of a sudden.  The avian flu has decimated bird populations across the country.  You're looking at well over $4 per dozen.  If I hadn't already made the pesto, I probably would have changed the tea menu.

I feel like it's a cop-out when a post is all links, but I've already covered a lot of this recipe.  For Rachael's original version, including her fresh-herb pesto recipe, here's the link.

1/2 C dried basil pesto
12 hard-boiled eggs
fresh basil leaves for garnish
mayo as needed

1.  Peel cooled eggs and slice in half lengthwise.  The ones in the link's photo are pretty, but you only get one serving per egg that way.  Also, deviled-egg trays are designed for a lengthwise cut.  Pop out the yolks into a bowl and place the whites on the serving tray.

2.  Mash the yolks with the pesto.  Whip mixture with an electric beater.  If you want it creamier, add mayonnaise in small quantities until desired consistency is achieved.  I used about one tablespoon just to get it into a paste.  For creaminess, you would require at least another tablespoon.

3.  Fill a plastic storage bag with the mixture.  Either simply snip off a lower corner to create a disposable pastry bag or insert a tip prior to filling, and then snip off the corner.  I'll be honest, the mixture was so stiff I popped two bags before switching to a proper pastry bag, which is much stronger.  Pipe filling into cavities and garnish with basil leaves.  Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Makes 2 dozen, about 12 servings

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Canned Nectarines

I went on a canning frenzy because Sprouts had all kinds of fruit for some of the best prices we're going to see all summer.  One day, I made strawberry vanilla and cherry vanilla jams (small batch, so they shared the bean).  The next day, the nectarines were finally ripe enough to use.

The original plan was to make pie filling, but I couldn't find ClearJel.  That's the thickener which works both when you can originally and when you bake the filling in a pie.  Some of the other thickeners will break down on the second heating.  I could have used apple cores, especially because I was making applesauce as an oil substitute for zucchini bread that day, but I personally find the apple flavor overwhelming and feel like you lose the flavor of the main ingredient.

Plan B was to can in syrup, since I am going to have to add cornstarch when I eventually make a pie, so I might as well just make an all-purpose canned nectarine.  Flipping to that page of the  Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, that turned out to be a better choice.  It's really easy to can stone fruit in syrup, far easier than I was expecting.  What the book didn't mention is how hard it is to get the pit out of a nectarine.  I was hoping it would get easier as I went along, or I would discover some magic trick.  The best I could do was make quarters and try not to bruise the fruit too much.  It explains why there aren't canned nectarines in the market.

This is the hot-pack method with a light to medium syrup.  You don't need to preserve in a full-strength 1:1 simple syrup.  You can even do it in plain water.  You just have to process longer and the finished product won't have as much flavor.

For those scared of canning, consider this the recipe for a poached nectarine.  You can have it drizzled with creme anglaise, over ice cream, with cottage cheese, with yogurt, or in a dish by itself.

1-1/2 C water
1 C sugar
2 lbs nectarines (about 7 or 8), pitted, cut in quarters or sliced
lemon juice to prevent browning

1.  For canning, start the hot water first and get your jars heating.  Lids go in a separate pot of warm water.

2.  Stir together water and sugar in a large pot.  Bring to a low boil, then reduce to a simmer until the nectarines are ready.

3.  As you slice the nectarines, place the pieces in a bowl with at least 1/4 C of lemon juice in it.  Make sure to toss them often so all sides get the juice.  This will prevent browning.

4.  Once everything is ready, place nectarines in the syrup in a single layer and turn up the heat slightly.  I got about half of them in at a time.  By heating the slices before canning, you get rid of some of the air in them and they will shrink less in the jar.  When water approaches a boil, the nectarines are heated and you can get the jars out of the water.

5.  With a slotted spoon, pack as many slices of nectarines as you can get into the jar.  They are still going to condense more (see photo).  Add syrup to 1/2" head space.  Poke out the air bubbles, wipe rim with a damp towel, and center lid.  Screw down finger-tight and process in a boiling water bath 25 minutes for pints and 30 for quarts.  Check seals after cooling and store in a cool place away from light.

6.  There will be leftover syrup.  Don't toss it!  It is now a nectarine-flavored simple syrup.  Use it in iced tea.  I froze some of it up into a granita.  Be creative.

Makes about 2 pints

Difficulty rating  :-0

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Zucchini Spread

I ended up with a little over three pounds of zucchini and did not feel like making zucchini bread.  It wouldn't have used up all of it anyway.  Then I remembered Marisa's recipe from last year for a thick zucchini spread and figured it would work for the tea party.

I am not a fan of zucchini.  Everybody hates some kind of veggie.  I'm the weird kid who liked broccoli and lima beans.  This recipe has enough other stuff going on that I can ignore what the base tastes like.  The recipe would probably work just as well with yellow or Italian squash.

*2 pounds zucchini
1 Tb butter
2 Tb olive oil
*3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Cut the unpeeled zucchini into 1/2" cubes.  Peel and smash the garlic slightly, then chop it coarsely.

2.  In a large saucepan, melt the butter and oil together.  Add the cubed zucchini and garlic, and cook over medium until the cubes start to wilt, about 20 minutes.  Stir every five minutes or so.  The squash will start to give off water and start to look like soup.
3.  Add the thyme and a little salt and pepper, but not as much as you plan to add by the end.  Turn down heat to low and continue to cook until water has mostly boiled off and you're left with a spreadable, chunky zucchini mush.  Make sure you stir at least every five minutes.  If you start to notice browning, either stir more often or turn down the heat.
4.  Taste spread.  If you plan to serve it hot, this is what it will taste like.  If it's going to be cool or room temperature, that will dull the salt and pepper flavors and you may need to add more.

5.  This spread/dip has multiple uses.  Aside from the obvious, you can add spoonfuls to a soup, stuff a chicken or a pork cutlet, or spread over a piece of fish.  Use it as a layer in a lasagna.  Instead of serving spinach & artichoke dip, heat it back up and stir in mozzarella.  I happened to spread it on some bread for the tea.

Makes about 2 cups

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Summer Salad with Calamari

I guess what I mean by a "summer salad" is going out back and seeing what's ripe.  It's about putting all fresh ingredients together into something that feels good.

My neighbor got into the act.  He was over and couldn't believe how great the cucumbers smelled.  So he ran home and grabbed a handful of things out of his herb pots to round out the meal.

And yes, that is matzoh in the background.  I'm on the last box.  The calamari makes this non-kosher, but a salmon version would be KLP.

* 1 large cucumber
* 1 large tomato
* 3 stalks green onion
* 1/2 lb raw calamari
*1/4 C celery leaves
*juice of 1 lemon
2 Tb olive oil
*1 tsp grated ginger
*1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper
2 oz crumbled cheese such as gorgonzola or feta

1.  For the dressing, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, ginger, and garlic.  Add salt and pepper to taste and whisk a bit more.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

2.  For the calamari, heat a pot of water to a simmer.  Slice the squid crosswise into rings and the tentacles in half so everything is bite-sized.  Drop into the simmering water for about 3 minutes, until opaque.  Drain and refrigerate.

3.  Peel and chop cucumber into bite-sized pieces.  Finely chop onion.  Chop tomato into pieces somewhere in-between and remove the seeds.  Tear celery leaves off the stem.  Toss all veggies together.

4.  To assemble the salad, combine veggies, calamari, and toss in dressing.  Refrigerate for at least half an hour, to let flavors meld.  Sprinkle top with crumbled cheese before serving.  Serve cold.

Serves 2 to 3

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Tea Party 2015

I kept the menu a bit simpler this year and more traditional.  That did not stop me from one afternoon of intense baking.  Two batches of cookies, a cake, and the scones.  Plus, I had made the buckwheat loaves for the open-faced sandwiches several days before and frozen them.  Tea is a very carb-intensive endeavor.  All this do-ahead, including boiling the eggs a day before, meant I only had to "cook" for about two hours that day, including cutting up a mini watermelon and assembling sandwiches.

I kind of forgot to take photos of the table, but I did get one of that baking day.  I wasn't sure how many would show and made a bit more than necessary.  Two more people would have kept the leftovers to a minimum.  One 4-year-old did eat three thin slices of cake.  That helped.

First Course
Pesto Deviled Eggs
Cucumber Sandwiches
Open-faced Zucchini Spread and Dried Tomato Sandwiches

Second Course
Whipped Cream
Strawberry-Vanilla Jam
Blackberry-Rhubarb Jam

Third  Course
Lavender Cake
Banbury Tarts
Cranberry Biscotti

Assorted Hot Teas
Sun Tea
Cold-Brewed Iced Tea