We’ve hit what I think of as the trifecta of harvest-season perfection: Tomatoes, sweet corn and peaches. Lots of other stuff, too, but I could (and at this time of year, often do) live on tomatoes, sweet corn and peaches.
I bought a half-dozen ears of pretty, yellow-and-white sweet corn at the market yesterday for two bucks, and ate two ears, buttered and salted, for dinner, with a sliced beefsteak tomato and a ripe peach for dessert. I went ahead and cooked the extra corn so I’d have leftover corn for one of my favorite savory side dishes, courtesy of good old Joy of Cooking, circa 1964 (the cookbook my mother sent away with me to college). If you love corn, you should try these; they’re quick, easy and really delicious.
- Enough sweet corn to make 1 cup of kernels (2-4 ears, depending on size)
- 2 eggs
- 6 Tbsp flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated if you’ve got it)
- 2 Tbsp butter
Cut the kernels off an ear of fresh or cooked sweet corn into a bowl , and scrape the cob with the back edge of the knife to get all of the germ and the sweet, milky corn juice. (If sweet corn isn’t in season, frozen corn works. “Joy” suggests canned, cream-style corn, but bleah.) Mash the corn a bit with a wooden spoon or potato masher.
Beat eggs until light and add to corn, along with everything else but the butter.
Melt butter in a medium-hot skillet. Drop big tablespoonfuls of batter into the pan and cook like pancakes, browning one side and then the other.
Eat hot. (“Joy” suggests topping with maple syrup, but I like these as savory side dishes, or by themselves – even reheated in the toaster-oven – for lunch). Yummy as is, or experiment with additives – I’ve made them with minced garlic and hot peppers, for a spicy version, and with a little grated cheddar, parmesan or gruyere mixed in.
Makes 6-8 fritters.
Note for the gluten-intolerant, such as my sister: I think this would work great with the same proportion of whatever gluten-free flour you prefer, or even with gf pancake mix (omit the baking powder).
Our little farmers’ market is getting more sophisticated by the month. One of the latest, and most welcomed additions: Brandywine Fisheries, a family fishing operation out of Charleston, trucking caught-the-day-before fish inland to satisfy my seafood cravings when I can’t make it to the coast.
Yesterday, they had whole albacore tuna loins for $7 a pound, which is an astonishingly good price. Could I resist? No, I could not.
Ever since my trip to New Orleans last fall, I’ve been day-dreaming about the fabulous meal I had at The Green Goddess – and all the enticing things on their menu that I didn’t have a chance to try. One, in particular, keeps coming back to haunt me: a dish of seared tuna and diced watermelon, of all things, called Tumblin’ Dice. Now, I don’t have access to the more esoteric ingredients – fennel pollen, for instance. But the basic concept, pairing warm, barely cooked tuna with cool watermelon, sounded like a fantastic high-summer meal.
Having acquired the tuna, I hit the supermarket and picked up a small, sweet seedless watermelon. After pondering flavor combinations, I came up with this. Call it a Pacific Rim tribute to a great New Orleans restaurant.
Seared Tuna and Watermelon Salad
(Inspired by The Green Goddess)
- Fresh (or shipboard-frozen and thawed) tuna loin
- 1/2 cup lime juice
- 2 Tbsp sesame oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
- dried hot chili peppers, crushed (I used two fiery little Thai chiles)
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 Tbsp sesame seeds.
- Seedless watermelon, rind removed, cut into cubes*
- Sea salt
- Tender greens of your choice (I used baby lettuce and chives from my garden)
- Pickled sushi ginger
- Wasabi mayonnaise (mix prepared wasabi into store-bought mayonnaise at a strength that suits your tastes).
In a large resealable bag, combine lime juice, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, chiles and black pepper. Add the tuna loin, seal bag and turn several times to coat the fish with the marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator for an hour or more.
When dinner time rolls around, prepare watermelon by cutting it in inch-thick slices, removing rind and cutting the slices into cubes. Place melon cubes in the fridge (or freezer!) while you prepare the fish.
Remove tuna from refrigerator and drain off marinade. Sprinkle sesame seeds in a plate, and roll the tuna loin in the to coat well.
Heat a large, heavy skillet on high until a drop of water sprinkled onto the surface sizzles and dances.
Using tongs, place the tuna in the skillet (you may want to cut it in half to make it fit) and sear each side for about a minute, if you like your fish, as I do, cooked on the outside but pink and rare-to-raw inside. Feel free to cook it longer if you prefer, although it won’t be as luscious.
When fish is cooked to your taste, transfer to a cutting board. Remove melon cubes from freezer and pile on plates. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Cut inch-thick slices off the tuna, and arrange atop the melon, garnish with greens. Serve *now*, with wasabi mayo and pickled ginger.
Depending on the size of the fish, a whole tuna loin can easily serve 4-6 people. If you wind up with leftovers, as I do, the best bet is to wrap it in foil, pop it in a 350F oven and let it cook through (it should only take 15-20 minutes), then refrigerate. Me, I’m going to be taking fabulous tuna sandwiches and fresh watermelon cubes to work for lunch this week. (-:
- locallygrown.org, Internet home of the Albany and Corvallis Farmers’ Markets
- Brandywine Fisheries
- Green Goddess restaurant, New Orleans (also on FaceBook)
… because I don’t make promises to myself that I can’t keep, but I really do intend to ramp up the food blogging in the New Year. I’ve tucked away so many good recipes over the past several months with the intention of writing about them here, and never quite managed to get around to it. Chalk it off to a busy life (and, okay, perhaps a bit too much time in the tempting trap of short-form social networking – O FaceBook, how I love and hate you all at once!)
For now, I’m typing this as I prepare some tasty nibbles for the small group of friends who are coming over tonight to put a stake in the heart of 2010 with me (to say it hasn’t been a good year for some of them would be an understatement). We’re all a bit burnt out on sugary holiday treats, but as I do whenever there’s drinking ahead, I plan to lay out a spread of the kinds of food that can help me and my guests moderate the effects of what may well be Too Much Alcohol. Because I hate hangovers, and decided decades ago that I do not care to greet the New Year with a throbbing head and cranky stomach.
As another friend points out, the best way to avoid a hangover is - ta-daaaah - to Drink Less. But given that my friends and I all appreciate and enjoy good wine, and the mild buzz of convivial hilarity a few drinks can promote, using food to buffer the booze is also a good option. Specifically, food rich in fat and protein, two of my favorite food groups.
I also like traditions, and for me, New Year’s is a time to return to the traditions of my childhood as the daughter of Southern parents, which is to say: black-eyed peas to bring good luck. But a big pot of black-eyed peas, usually boiled with a little fatback and onion, isn’t exactly exciting party fare, so I’m changing things up this year with a variation on the theme: A spicy, smokey black-eyed pea salad served with miniature cornbread muffins. It’s very easy to make, although it does require a lot of knife work.
This is also an opportunity to haul out the canonical hot artichoke dip, a decadent, rich and cheesy dish that comes close to being too much of a good thing, but provides sufficient fat to help buffer our tummies from too much party. This also gets a new twist, thanks to my beloved, who knows me far too well and gave me a jar of Baconnaise for Yule. Bacon-flavored mayonnaise? It doesn’t get much better than that (although, astonishingly, it’s also vegetarian and kosher!)
I know, I know: The recipes come too late for you to prepare for your own New Year’s festivities. But they’re really good; tuck them away for future reference, whether you’re partying or not.
New Year’s Black-Eyed Pea Salad
- 2 cans of black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained in a colander
- 4 slices bacon, fried crispy and crumbled, plus 2 Tbsp of the bacon grease from frying
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1/2 medium red onion (about 1/2 cup) finely chopped
- 6 green onions, finely chopped (include some of the green part)
- 1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and finely minced
- 2 Tbsp finely chopped Italian parsley
- 1 can diced tomatoes, drained and chopped (reserve the juice for another use). I like Safeway’s fire-roasted tomatoes for this recipe.
- 1 1/2 tsp Creole seasoning, OR equal parts cayenne, paprika, dried oregano, dried thyme and garlic powder to make 1 1/2 tsp
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and toss well to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (better yet, overnight), stirring occasionally. Allow salad to come to room temperature for 30 minutes and toss well before serving.
Makes about five cups.
I’m serving this with nice, retro little Buttermilk Cornbread Mini-muffins, straight from good old Betty Crocker. The recipe as written makes a fairly sweet cornbread; I reduced the amount of sugar by half, and used 2 cups cornmeal to 3/4 cup Bisquick, because the cornbread of my yout was not sweet. Baked in greased mini-muffin tins for 12-15 minutes, this yields two dozen cute little bites of cornbread.
Everything’s Better With Bacon Hot Artichoke Dip:
- 1 cup Baconnaise
- 1 cup of drained, chopped artichoke hearts. If all you can find are the marinated kind, rinse them in hot water first to get rid of most of the oil, draink and chop. Frozen ones work, too – just nuke per the package instructions, cool, and chop.
- 1 cup grated or shredded parmesan cheese
Optional: 1 small can of green chiles, drained and chopped; sliced green onions (or crumbled bacon!) for garnish.
Combine all ingredients and place in a small casserole dish or pie plate. Bake at 425F until hot and bubbly. Serve with sliced sourdough baguette or chips or crackers or a spoon …
Happy New Year! And be safe out there…
I just got back from a trip to New Orleans – my first, and long overdue. I was there for a conference, and much of my four days there was taken up with meetings – but the organizers were smart enough to leave us free in the evenings, so I was able to do what I love best when traveling: Sample the local food.
“Sample” is an understatement, actually. I ate like an eating fool.
Seafood, of course. Oil spill be damned, I ate shrimp and blue crabs and oysters in multiple preparations. I ate traditional food, and modern takes on traditional flavors, and to be honest, the only bad meal I had was the lone conference dinner, and conference meals are just like that. You try preparing food for 300, all at the same time, and tell me if you’re able to get the chicken to be anything but rubbery.
I dined at a some of the tourist favorites – oysters at Deanie’s, which has the ambience of a big 50s diner and starts you off with a complimentary bowl of plain boiled red potatoes, and barbecue shrimp at Desire, a seafood bistro and bar on Bourbon Street. I had a muffaleta at the Central Grocery, and cafe au lait with beignets at Cafe du Monde.
And I had what qualifies as one of the best meals of my life at the tiny Green Goddess, tucked away in an alley between Bienville and Conti streets: a sophisticated modern take on crayfish with risotto and mustard greens, followed by a small but utterly decadent dessert of three green dates, roasted in vanilla essence and stuffed with a mousse of “humane” foie gras.
And I came home hungry for more. The flavors of New Orleans really speak to me: spicy, rich, savory, complex, with influences of France and Spain and the Caribbean and Africa.
So why not try New Orleans recipes with northwestern ingredients? After all, our seafood is not so very different from theirs; they have blue crab, we have Dungenness; they have Gulf shrimp, we have Pacific shrimp. Their oysters are a different breed than ours, but we have do oysters, and they’re tasty things.
Oh, Internet, how I love you. A quick Google turned up Emeril LaGasse’s recipe for shrimp etouffee, which is basically shrimp stewed in a roux-based sauce flavored with the Holy Trinity (onion. celery, green pepper), tomato and plenty of cayenne, served over rice. The hardest part about it is making the brown roux, and that’s not actually hard, it just requires constant stirring of the fat-and-flour mixture until it’s nut-brown. I even had a bag of shrimp shells I’ve been hoarding in the freezer, waiting for the occasion to make a seafood stock.
And so I did.
See the photo, above.
Here’s the recipe. Other than using local seafood and vegetables, I followed it to the letter.
It’s very, very good. I have enough leftovers for days. And if my limited experience is any test, it tastes just like New Orleans.
I first posted the recipe for pan-roasted mushrooms nearly two years ago; I’d got it from a LiveJournal friend, and found it among the most tasty mushroom side dishes I’d ever encountered.
But, as written, the recipe called for cooking the mushrooms in small batches until they’re dried and caramelized, then giving them a gloss of butter, garlic and parsley … then wiping the pan clean and starting all over again with the next batch. Which, let’s face it, is kind of a pain in the butt if you’re cooking a lot of mushrooms
This afternoon, looking at a bag of lovely chanterelles I’d bought from The Mushroomery via Corvallis Local Foods, it occurred to me that it should be possible to streamline the prep without losing any of the flavor, by simply roasting all the mushrooms, moving them to a bowl, and then giving them all the garlic-butter treatment at once.
So I did. And I’m hear to tell you that – served with leftover roast chicken reheated with a bunch of late cherry tomatoes from my garden and good bread to mop up the juices – the mushrooms were exactly as delicious as I remembered, and a whole lot easier to prepare.
If you love mushrooms, you need to try this, whether you do it with wild mushrooms or tame. If the ‘shrooms are a touch dried out, as mine were, all the better. The result is chewy, dare I say meaty, savory, and rich with the gloss of butter and garlic. You won’t be sorry.
Pan-roasted Wild Mushrooms, Revisited
- Olive oil
- Wild (or domesticated) mushrooms, cleaned and thickly sliced
- Fresh-ground pepper
- Kosher salt
- Unsalted butter, about 1 tbsp per cup of cooked mushrooms
- Garlic – at least 1 fat clove per above
- Fresh Italian parsley, minced – a generous handful, ditto
In a large skillet, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Heat the pan on high until the oil shimmers but does not smoke, and glides easily across the pan when tipped.
Add a layer of mushrooms, one at a time, so they don’t touch. Season with fresh-ground pepper and a pinch of kosher salt.
After about 1 minute, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking – without stirring the mushrooms – for 3-4 minutes. Using tongs, turn the mushrooms and cook for 3 more minutes, until they’re browned and fairly dry. Remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon.
Repeat for each batch of mushrooms, adding olive oil if necessary.
After all the mushrooms are cooked, wipe out the pan with a paper towel and return to medium. For each cup of mushrooms, add a tablespoon of butter, (at least) a clove’s worth of minced garlic and a handful of parsley. Stir until the butter is all melted and the garlic is turning golden (but not burning!), then return the mushrooms to the pan. Toss with the buttery mixture until heated. Remove from heat and serve, hot, as a side dish with just about anything.
Leftovers keep just fine in the fridge.
No kidding: My friend (and the stage manager of the show I’ve been directing) came into an excess of beets and, after asking if I liked them (oh, yes!), brought in a bag of beets bigger than my fist, probably 2-3 pounds worth.
Young beets are great for raw preparations: julienned atop a salad, thinly sliced and sprinkled with a little salt. Older beets need cooking to transform their woody texture to something tender and delectable. And other than just roasting and eating them, my favorite thing to make with big o’l beets is a big ol’ pot of borscht.
Or borsht. Or borsh, or even barszcz, depending on which Eastern European language is describing this hearty vegetable soup. The “authentic” recipes are as varied as the cultures they come from, and you can find internet flame wars on various cooking sites involving people who swear that their grandmother’s recipe is the One True Borscht/Borsch/etc., and all others heretical nonsense. There are recipes that call for beef, recipes that call for pork, recipes that call for no meat at all. Some say cabbage is required, some say potatoes, and some even say you don’t need beets to make a borscht.
If you’ve read me long, you know I’m not a purist. I’ve made borscht with and without cabbage, carrots, potatoes, meat; I’ve even made it with duck leg confit because I had some on hand. I always use beets – without beets, I’d call it vegetable soup and be done with it. But otherwise, like many good dishes, my borscht is a matter of what’s fresh, what’s local and what’s in the larder.
This time I went the whole nine yards and started by spending Saturday making a big pot of home-made beef stock, beginning by oven-roasting a couple of pounds of “soup bones” - meaty beef shanks that the butcher had sawn in short lengths, the better to expose the tasty marrow – from Heritage Farms NW. There’s nothing like rich, flavorful homemade stock to add depth and character to a humble soup, and this may be the best batch I’ve ever made. I wound up with four quarts of stock; half of it went back into the pot this morning to make the borscht, and the other half is in the fridge, awaiting further reduction tomorrow evening to produce demi-glace, the syrupy, concentrated essence of beef that’s one of the serious cook’s best friends.
Stock isn’t hard to make. It does require attention – you don’t want any part of it to scorch or burn, because that adds an unpleasant bitterness to the stock. And you do want to simmer it long enough to reduce the liquid by a good deal and concentrate all the rich flavors – otherwise you might as well make your soup with water. Here’s a great little step-by-step tutorial for the uninitiated. Don’t be put off by what seem to be many, many steps; none of it is hard or even particularly labor-intensive, and the results are fabulous.
However: You could also make a perfectly good borscht with stock-inna-box, or even a good beef concentrate (Better than Boullon is a staple of my own kitchen). Vegetarians, look for mushroom stock if you can find it; good vegetable stock if you can’t. Just please, please, don’t use bouillon cubes – they taste of nothing much other than salt, and your soup will wind up much too salty.
The borscht itself is easy as can be, and (once you’ve got stock) pretty quick to make; it’s also infinitely adaptable to suit your own tastes and those of your diners. Except, perhaps, the ones who are averse to beets – and if they’re willing to try it, they may be surprised.
- 2 pounds of fresh beets, trimmed and scrubbed
- Olive oil
- 2 Tbsp butter (or more olive oil)
- 1 cup carrots, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup chopped onions (or shallots, or leeks)
- 4-6 cups thinly sliced cabbage. I like to use purple, because it intensifies the hue of the final dish, but green is fine.
- 2-6 cloves of garlic, minced
- Some potatoes, peeled or not, and coarsely diced (optional)
- 1 Tbsp minced fresh dill, or 1 tsp dried. Additional fresh or dried herbs as you prefer
- 4-6 cups beef (or vegetable) stock
- Cooked beef from the stock-making, shredded – or sliced sausage, diced pork chops, or other meat that won’t require long cooking. (Optional, but it turns the soup into a hearty meal).
- Leftover rind from a hunk of good parmesan cheese (optional)
- Juice of two limes, or a few tablespoons of red-wine vinegar.
- Salt (if needed)
- For garnish: sour cream, sprigs of fresh dill
Toss beets in olive oil, put them on a baking sheet and roast in a 350F oven for 20-30 minutes, until they’re tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool, then rub off the skins and trim off any tough bits near the stem. You can roast the beets the day before; if so, refrigerate overnight. When it’s time to make borscht, cut them in bite-sized pieces.
In the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot or dutch oven, melt butter or olive oil until it sizzles. Add onion and carrots; sautee, stirring frequently, until onion is softening. Stir in the cabbage, garlic, potato (if you’re using it; I don’t), herbs and meat, and add stock to the pot to generously cover all the ingredients. If you happen to have a rind of parmesan on hand, toss that in – it will melt into the soup, adding an extra touch of tang and umami to the soup. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until carrots are tender. Stir in the lime juice or vinegar (I prefer lime, but vinegar seems to be traditional). Taste to see if salt is needed. If your stock is home-made, it probably won’t be (the natural saltiness of beef gets concentrated in the stock-making).
Ladle into bowls, garnish with a swirl of sour cream and a sprig of fresh dill. Serve hot, with crusty bread to mop up the bowl. Serves a bunch, and like so many soups, it’s even better the next day.
This soup freezes beautifully, especially if you leave out the potatoes (I’m never happy with how potatoes fare when frozen). Half the batch I made this morning will go into freezer containers for cold-weather meals!
I haven’t quite reached the point where I have so many ripe tomatoes that I need to start cooking them, or to where I’m bored with the basics (BLTs!), but I’m getting 3-4 ripe ones a day out of my modest garden, and I know some of you have a lot more.
So here’s a quick rundown on some great things to do with “excess” tomatoes while they’re ripe and ready to eat. I’m going to link to other people’s recipes, because (a) I’m feeling lazy and (b) it’s almost time for dinner, which will include a helping of …
Tuscan Bread Salad. This is a late-summer staple at my house, and it’s not bad in the winter made with good-quality canned tomatoes, well-drained. There are lots of variations on the recipe, many of which call for soaking the bread till it gets mooshy. I prefer it this way, sometimes substituting balsamic vinegar for red-wine vinegar and I like to use rustic whole-grain bread. Add some chopped cucumber if you like, or even canned tuna to make the dish a meal. Fast, easy and absolutely delicious.
Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille – Classic ratatouille is a vegetable stew; I prefer this version, which roasts the vegetables and then combines them in a rich, smoky-sweet dish. The tomatoes and eggplant are central; everything else is optional, and you can experiment with adding mushrooms, pearl onions and other seasonal veggies.
Grilled Heirloom Tomato and Mozarella Sandwiches with Green Tomato Gazpacho – I stumbled onto this a while back and it’s a great new harvest-season take on good old grilled cheese and tomato soup. Make one, the other or both, depending on how many tomatoes you’re blessed with.
And then there’s the Easiest Pasta Dish in the World: Chop up some room-temperature tomatoes. Add fresh basil, a little salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Cook the pasta of your choice and top with tomatoes. Cheese is optional.