Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fresh Corn Chowder

I admit it, I'm a corn snob. I refuse to eat corn-on-the cob in winter. I turn my nose up at those plastic wrapped-packaged ears you see throughout the year in grocery stores. For me, corn has to be just-picked from the farm. The good news is that local farm stands have been stocking fresh Long Island corn for the last couple of weeks and my CSA doled out its first batch of corn this week.

Usually, I just boil corn-on-the-cob for five minutes, butter it, sprinkle a little salt on it and eat it quite happily, but I also like to use fresh corn in a few recipes. One of my favorite recipes is one for corn chowder. This particular batch was made with sweet white corn, which is highly coveted by most corn hounds. I may be in the minority, but I prefer ears with both yellow and white kernels. While yellow and white corn may not be as sweet as white corn, I think it has a better corn taste.

Fresh Corn Chowder
Adapted from The New Basics Cookbook
5-6 ears of corn (about 4 cups kernels)
3 strips of bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups chopped onions
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken broth
2 medium/large potatoes (russet or yukon gold), peeled and cut into 1/4 dice
1 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Salt, to taste
1 red pepper, cut into 1/4 dice
3 scallions, cut into 1/4-inch slices
Chopped cilantro for garnish
1. Boil or steam ears of corn for about 4 minutes. Cool. Slice kernels off cob (hold cob vertically in shallow bowl and slice down cob, cutting off kernels)
2. In large pot, wilt bacon over low heat about 5 minutes to render fat. Add butter and melt completely.
3. Add chopped onions and wilt for 10 minutes over low heat. Add flour, stir over heat for 5 minutes.
4. Add chicken broth and potatoes. Raise heat to medium and cook 12-to-15 minutes until potatoes are just tender.
5. Add half-and-half, corn, black pepper and salt. Cook 7 minutes, stirring occassionally.
6. Add red pepper and scallions and cook another 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning, serve with cilantro (or not).
Serves 6

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wild Blueberry Scones

The path in the woods, where I walk my dog daily, is lined with hundreds, maybe thousands, of blueberry bushes. This year's crop was a bumper one; I guess the blueberries, unlike me, appreciated the cool, rainy weather in June.

I do, however, appreciate the wild blueberries. They're smaller and more tart than commercial berries, perfect for jams, pies and other baked goods. After making a batch of jam and some blueberry pancakes, there were still some berries left over. Not enough to make a pie, so what to do? I saw a recipe in a magazine for blueberry scones and, even though I hardly ever eat scones and have probably made them only once in my life (probably after a trip to England), I decided to try it.

I had a few obstacles: First, my kitchen was undergoing some repairs, which made baking a challenge (although after living in Manhattan I've gained expertise in cooking in tight spaces) and second, I was short some ingredients. The recipe called for buttermilk and even suggested using plain yogurt with a couple tablespoons of milk as a replacement for buttermilk, but I didn't have either and I was too lazy to drop everything and go to the store. Apparently you can also replace buttermilk with two tablespoons of lemon juice and enough milk to make a cup (let sit 5 minutes), but I didn't have lemons. Maybe I should have gone to the store afterall, but I did happen to have sour cream and it work beautifully.

A tougher problem was my lack of parchment paper. I googled "substitute for parchment paper" and found suggestions of wax paper (I didn't have any), silicone baking mats (nope, don't own one) and brown paper bags (but they sometimes catch fire in the oven -- no thanks, and there was some concern about some of the chemicals in the paper -- double no thanks). So, I just greased some tin foil and prayed to the cooking goddess . . . and it worked. The result? Delicious wild blueberry scones.

Wild Blueberry Scones
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

2 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter
cut into small pieces
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup sour cream (or buttermilk)
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Cut in cold butter pieces with a pastry cutter (or rub in with fingers) until mixture has the texture of course meal. Stir in blueberries.

3. In separate bowl, mix together sour cream, 1 egg and vanilla; Drizzle over flour mixture and stir lightly with a fork until dough just comes together but some flour remains in bowl.

4. Put dough on work suface and gently knead a couple of times to incorporate flour. Pat dough into 1-inch high round and cut into 12 wedges. transfer to baking sheet. Lightly beat second egg and brush dough wedges with egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for about 22 minutes, until golden and baked through. Cool.

Makes one dozen

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

My ice cream maker sat idle for years, stuffed in the far back corner of one of my kitchen cabinets. But this summer, I've become obsessed with making ice cream. It's my husband's fault. We were watching an episode of Top Chef, the one where the challenge was to make a "final meal" for a celebrity chef, and I turned to him and asked, "what would you choose for your final meal?" Without hesitation he answered "ice cream." So, I thought, geez, I really should make some ice cream.

My first attempt, a salted butter caramel ice cream, was, sadly, a failure; the mixture tasted great but refused to freeze (I do plan to attempt this recipe again). Next, inspired by just-picked strawberries from my CSA, I made a really successful batch of fresh strawberry ice cream. Encouraged, I made nutella ice cream, which was great but a bit rich for my taste.

My latest effort is mint chocolate chip ice cream. A confession: It's not my husband's favorite, it's mine. Plus I happen to have a nice patch of mint in my herb garden, so I searched the web -- accepting some ideas, rejecting others (no green food coloring please) and came up with the following recipe:

3 cups fresh mint (leaves only)
2 cups whole milk
2 cups cream
1 cup sugar
Pinch salt
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon rum (*optional)
6 ounces good quality dark chocolate

Whisk the milk, cream, sugar and salt in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Heat just until it begins to bubble around the edges, then remove, add the mint leaves, and cover. Let steep, covered for at least an hour - preferably two. Strain out the mint leaves and reheat cream mixture to just under a simmer.

Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl and slowly mix in a cup of the hot cream to temper the eggs. Whisk eggs back into the saucepan and cook, stirring, until the custard reaches 170-174F (coats the back of a wooden spoon). Stir in the vanilla and rum, if using. Pour into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight. Chop the chocolate into chunks and flakes. Refrigerate chocolate.

Freeze the custard in your ice cream maker the next day according to directions. Add the chocolate bits about halfway through. Transfer ice cream to a bowl or plastic container, cover, and freeze for at least four hours before serving.
*The addition of rum (or perhaps a mint liquor?) helps keep the ice cream soft.