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Showing posts with label Farmers Market. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Farmers Market. Show all posts

Friday, July 7, 2017

Corn is Back. Let the Feast Begin.

Two weeks ago the first corn appeared in our local farmers markets in Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades. After the winter months without corn on our plates, we debated should we enjoy our first taste of corn, boiled or grilled? Both are delicious. Both are easy to prepare. We decided to embrace tradition.
We stripped off the husks and silks. Placed the cleaned ears into a pot of water and turned the burner on high. Every couple of minutes we gave the ears a spin so they would cook evenly. Once the water boiled we knew the ears were cooked.

Plucked out of the hot water, drained and placed onto a platter, we seasoned the ears with sweet butter, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Old School, simple and delicious.
Those first ears were good but not yet great. Early in the season, the ears' flavor is balanced between starchiness and sweetness. For the scales to tilt toward flavor-bursting sweetness, we'll have to wait for the summer sun to blast the kernels with more heat.

At the Palisades and Santa Monica farmers markets, corn commands a premium, selling for $1.00/ear or 3 ears for $2.00. When we visit my wife's mom in New Jersey, we shop at Wegman's, a local supermarket with affordable pricing and Whole Foods quality. There, the corn can sell for much less. Depending on the supply, the corn can sell for as little as 6 ears for $1.00. Whatever the price, Jersey corn is famous for being especially tender and sweet.

For July 4th, a friend splurged and brought a dozen ears of corn to our fireworks-watching picnic. With a great many dishes to share, we had left-over corn. I volunteered to transform what was left into other dishes.

Versatile corn

First thing was to cut the kernels off the cobs. Cooked corn can be added to salads, stews, soups and stir fries. I love mixing the sweet-crunchy kernels to egg salad and potato salad. As a side with charred steak or grilled chicken, butter poached corn with a dusting of cayenne is delicious.
The cobs have flavor too. Usually consigned to the compost bin, the cobs can be boiled in water to create a savory stock, perfect as a base for soups, sauces, and corn chowder.

With the July 4th corn, I made corn stock, corn chowder, braised chicken with carrots, mushrooms and corn, corn and parsley salad and roasted corn to use in a green salad.
Even with all those dishes, there were still several cups of kernels available which were easy to freeze. To avoid freezer burn, submerge the cooked kernels in corn stock and seal them with air tight lid before placing in a freezer.
Then, when corn has again disappeared from the markets, the defrosted kernels can be added to a cold weather soup of root vegetables to remind us of summer's bright heat during the darkness of winter.

Corn Stock

If a large number of cobs are not available at any one time, save them in an air tight plastic bag in the freezer. When a dozen or more are available, you can rinse off any freezer crystals and drop them into a pot of boiling water as described below.

Serves 4

Time to cook: 45 minutes

Ingredients

12 or more corn cobs, kernels removed

Directions
For every 12 cobs, place 2 quarts of water into a large pot. Add the cobs. Place the pot on a medium-high flame.

Cook uncovered and simmer 45 minutes to reduce the volume by half.

Taste. The stock should have a mild flavor. Drain and discard the cobs. Use stock immediately or place in small air tight containers and freeze for future use.

Corn Chowder

The vegan/vegetarian version made with corn stock has its own unique, clean flavor. You can also use clam, lobster or chicken stock, preferably home made.
Use either frozen or freshly prepared stock. Do not use powdered or canned stocks because of their high salt content.

Serves 4

Time to prepare: 10 minutes

Time to cook: 30 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Ingredients

4 cups cooked or raw corn kernels removed from the cobs

1 small yellow onion, peeled, stem & root removed, washed, finely chopped

2 cups shiitake mushrooms

1 cup Italian parsley leaves, washed, pat dried, stems removed

4 cups stock, preferably corn stock or homemade chicken stock

Dusting of cayenne (optional)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons sweet butter (optional)

Directions

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil on medium flame. Add onions. Stir and cook until softened but not browned.

Add mushrooms and parsley. Stir and cook until softened but not browned.

Add corn kernels. Mix well. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. If desired, add sweet butter and cayenne (optional). Cook 5 minutes to combine flavors.

Add stock. Stir well. Raise heat to a simmer. After 10 minutes, taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Reduce flame to medium. Cook another 15 minutes. Taste and make final flavor adjustments.

Serve hot with steamed rice, pasta, buttered bread, croutons or a salad.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Ugly Tomatoes Make Beautiful Meals

In the winter or spring farmers markets, you've passed them by with a disapproving look. Blemished fresh tomatoes. Discounted to a dollar or less, these unhappy looking suitors for your attention appear destined to become compost.
Occasionally you will see someone who has stopped at the bin looking through the misshapen mound and you probably think they are too poor to buy the perfectly red, perfectly shaped tomatoes grown in a hot house.

The truth is, there are treasures hidden there. Find tomatoes that are firm and only slightly blemished and you will have found diamonds in the rough. They lack summer's full-blasted brightness. but tomatoes grown during winter and spring's weaker sun grow thicker skins and develop a rich, deep umami flavor.
Oven roasted, these tomatoes find sweetness hidden deep within. The acid so prized in summer tomatoes is mellowed and sweetened in off-season farmers market tomatoes.

But treat these tomatoes with care. Brought home from the farmers market and left on the kitchen counter in the sun, they will quickly soften and turn bad. They are used to cold, so place them in the refrigerator and they will last days and even a week until you are ready to use them roasted as a side dish for braised meat, tossed with pasta, served on steamed rice or mixed into soups, stews and braises.

Roasted Winter/Spring Tomatoes

Check each tomato carefully. You want firm tomatoes. A few blemishes are ok because those can be easily removed with a sharp pairing knife. 

Heirloom tomatoes are especially flavorful.

Summer tomatoes can be roasted with a similar but different result. 

Serves 4

Time to prepare: 10 minutes

Time to cook: 30 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Ingredients

3 pounds tomatoes

1 medium yellow onion, washed, skins, root and stem ends removed and discarded

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon Italian parsley, leaves only, washed, finely chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F.

Prepare a baking tray with a small lip (about 1/2"). Lay a Silpat (non-stick silicone) sheet or a piece of parchment paper onto the bottom of the baking tray.
Using a sharp pairing knife, remove the stem and spot on the bottom where the blossom was attached. Remove any dark blemishes and discard.

Cut into 1" slabs. Place slabs onto the prepared baking tray.

Cut onion in half, cutting from top to bottom. Cut thin slices by cutting from top to bottom. Place in mixing bowl. Season with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix with Italian parsley.

Spread onion-parsley mixture over tomatoes.

Place baking tray into oven.

After 15 minutes, using a spatula or flipper, turn the slabs over. Keep onion-parsley mixture on top to brown. Return to oven.

Remove after 15 minutes.

The onion-parsley mixture should have lightly browned. Carefully remove the slabs which are now very delicate from the pan. Reserve the onion-parsley mixture and all of the liquid that has accumulated in the pan. This is full of tomato-essence
flavor.

To use as a side-dish, reheat and serve in a bowl. The roasted tomatoes are delicious when added to soups, stews and braises.

If not used immediately, keep the roasted tomatoes in an air-tight container. They will keep in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for a month.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Latin Flavors Spice Up Our Love of Corn

Piled high on tables at farmers markets and in supermarkets, sweet corn is everywhere. At the beginning of summer after a cold, dark winter, the sight of corn leads to a stampede of shoppers.
Every week we brought home bundles of corn because who can resist the fat ears with their light green husks and wispy tassels? And so, happily, we have cooked corn every which way--boiled, grilled on the BBQ and roasted in the oven. 

But now at mid-summer, we feel corn-fatigue.  We have begun to take corn for granted. We need a way to rekindle our love affair with corn.

The solution was easy. All we needed was some Latin excitement.
Elote Mexican Corn Salad
My newest favorite corn salad borrows from the flavors of Mexican street corn called elote where ears of cooked corn are skewered on sticks, flavored with grated cotija cheese and dusted with red pepper powder. I turned that street food snack into a salad, tossed with freshly chopped Italian parsley. 

The recipe is on Zester Daily, please try it and let me know what you think. I love it!


Turn Salsa into a Salad

Salsa and chips or salsa and tacos is the perfect summer light snack. Freshly made, salsa brings the best of the garden to the table. Personally, I like to use cherry tomatoes to make salsa because they have a good sweet-to-acid balance. Toss in charred or roasted corn kernels and the salsa brightens with sweetness.

Grilled Corn Salsa

Adding corn caramelized from light grilling gives this salsa its distinctive sweetness. When you buy corn from the market, look for plump kernels. Avoid ears with wrinkled or shriveled kernels. 
You can use any kind of ripe tomato you enjoy, but I prefer cherry tomatoes because they are sweet and they hold their shape after being cut up. For added color, select a basket with a mix of yellow and red cherry tomatoes.
Serves 4
Ingredients
1 ear of corn, husks and silks removed, washed
1 8-ounce basket of ripe cherry tomatoes, washed, quartered
1 large shallot, ends and skin removed, washed and roughly chopped
½ cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Lemon juice to taste (optional)
Directions
1. Preheat the grill to medium-hot.
2. Drizzle the olive oil on a large plate and season with sea salt and black pepper. Roll the ear of corn to coat. Using tongs, place the corn on the grill. Turn frequently to prevent burning. Remove the corn when all the sides have light grill marks. Let cool. Cut off the kernels and place in a large mixing bowl.
3. Use a rubber or silicone spatula to transfer the seasoned olive oil from the plate into the mixing bowl with the corn.
4. Add the quartered cherry tomatoes, shallot and parsley. Toss well and season with the cayenne. Taste and adjust the flavors with more sea salt, black pepper, olive oil and lemon juice (optional).

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Planning a Dinner Party and Serving Winter Squash

A lot of work goes into hosting a dinner party. No one likes wasted effort, so it behooves the cook in the house to find out what the guests like to eat and what foods to avoid. 

With pescetarians, vegetarians, vegans, shellfish averse and gluten-free friends all potentially coming to the same meal, putting together a menu can be a bit of a puzzle. Besides staying clear of food allergies and aversions, as with any menu, the dishes need to have a flow and there needs to be pairings and contrasts. All soft food would be unpleasant. Serving only crispy food presents the same problem. But a mix of flavors and textures enlivens the palate as the conversation twists and turns through different conversational topics.
Warming up a meal with winter squash
Writing about food when rain is hitting the windows and the wind pushes through the trees makes me hungry for hot, savory and filling comfort food. A salad anytime would be nice but what drives away the chill is a good bowl of soup, a nice braise or roasted vegetables.

Not being a squash-person, the great abundance of winter squash in the farmers markets hasn't much mattered to me. When we host a dinner party, included in the invitation are two questions: "What do you love to eat?" and "What do you prefer not to eat?"
Which is a long way of getting around to winter squash.

At a recent dinner party, one of our guests indicated a love of squash so I was encouraged to experiment with a vegetable rarely visited in our kitchen. In today's farmers market there were beautiful looking displays of acorn and butternut squash.
Versatile squash
Squash can be boiled, steamed, sautéed, roasted, stewed, pureed, braised and grilled. Because the seeds and pulp inside are not edible (although the seeds can be separated from the pulp, washed clean, tossed with olive oil and soy sauce and roasted for a snack), squash needs to be cut open. After that, the squash can be peeled or not, sliced, diced or left half or in quarters. 

Squash soup is certainly a good use of the vegetable, but I was more interested in retaining the texture of the flesh. Aiming for softness with a bit of char, I settled on a double method of cooking. Seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and pepper, the slices were first grilled and then finished in the oven to soften the flesh.

After cooking, the slices could be presented on a serving dish or, as I ultimately decided, peeled and large-diced, which made them an ideal side dish to accompany the rest of the meal, which consisted of brown sugar pork ribs, baked chicken breasts topped with parsley, roasted vegetable salad, Caesar salad, grilled romaine lettuce with Parmesan cheese shavings, Brazilian style grilled slices of picanha (beef top sirloin), roasted salmon with kimchi and brown sugar, chicken wing and leek tagine with preserved lemons.

For an easy-to-make side dish or tossed with pasta, roasted winter squash is a great way to go. In 30 minutes you can make pasta, the squash and a tossed salad for a healthy, delicious meal.

Grilled-Roasted Winter Squash

You can buy a large squash or, as I prefer, two smaller squash. They're easier to handle and are sometimes sweeter.

Serves 4

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds winter squash, washed and pat dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Using a sharp chefs knife on a wooden cutting board, cut off the ends of the squash and then cut the squash in half, lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the pulp and seeds, washing the seeds and reserving them for a later use, if desired.
Preheat the grill and oven to 350 F. Slice the the squash into 1/2" thick, lengthwise slices. Pour the olive oil onto a medium sized baking tray and season with salt and pepper. Coat the squash slices with the seasoned olive oil.

To get char marks on the squash slices, place them on a hot grill for 30-40 seconds on each side. Use metal tongs to turn them and put them pack on the baking tray.

Put the squash into the oven 10 minutes on each side and bake until al dente. Don't make them too soft. Remove and, using a pairing knife, remove the peel.

Serve warm.

Variations

In addition to sea salt and black pepper, season the olive oil with finely chopped fresh garlic (2 cloves, peeled).

In addition to the other seasonings, add finely chopped fresh rosemary (1 tablespoon) to the squash slices.

For heat, add 1/8 teaspoon cayenne to the seasoned olive oil.