Tag Archives: corn

Just Peachy

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We’re really hitting the peak of the produce season here in New England, and finally getting ripe peaches in the markets and farm stands.  Several years ago at around this time of the year, Roy took me to Fabulous Niagara Falls. Which were, certainly, quite fabulous and worth a story in their own right.  But one day of our trip we abandoned the Glory of the Falls and hared off cross-country to Niagara-On-The-Lake, which is a very cute town smack in the middle of a very surprising wine country.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t usually associate words like “Canada” or “New England” with words like “Vineyards” and “Good Wine”.  Martha’s Vineyard notwithstanding, but that’s got very little to do, at present, with grapes.

As it turns out, however, Niagara-on-the-Lake (I am told) possesses a micro-climate very similar to the Burgundy region of France, which makes for some surprisingly tasty wines.  And the ice wines, of course, are superb.  The denizens have chosen to make maximum use of this micro-climate and the vineyards by installing Sonoma-style wineries on site, including vineyard tours, shops, gorgeous buildings, and some very, very excellent restaurants offering dining right there in the vineyard.

We dined that night at Trius and had a meal to remember for at least, oh, five years based on the dates from my pictures for that trip. I remember the entire meal as ranking right up there with any that I’ve had in France, or Italy, or Manhattan, or San Francisco, or Houston – all dining heavens of the first water.  The first course, however, seized my attention as something I had never previously encountered.  It was some sort of corn-peach-white wine soup, and I spent the months after our trip to Niagara attempting to recreate it in my own kitchen.  I came close, but I never quite hit it.  The resulting dish is nonetheless one I turn to at least once a year, when the corn is high and lying in heaps of light green ears on the tables at every farm stand in the countryside, and the peaches are growing soft, ripe, and juice.

Here it is:

6 ears corn
1 onion, chopped finely
2 good cloves garlic, pressed, or minced
3 large ripe yellow (not white) peaches
6-8 C chicken stock
1 C heavy cream

If your peaches are not ripe enough to peel with your fingers, they’re not ripe enough to make this soup. Put a bowl in the sink, and peel the skins off with your fingers, catching all of the juices in the bowl. Pull out the pits. Use your fingers to crush the peaches up nicely, and put them in the bowl too.

Strip the kernels off of the ears of corn, and put both the kernels and the cobs in a large stewpot. Put the onion, garlic, peaches, enough stock to cover everything and bring to a boil. If you are feeling adventurous, add a generous pinch of cayenne pepper or ground chipotle.  Turn down to a fast simmer and cook, uncovered, for at least a half hour, although you can go quite a bit longer, and extract more flavor from the corn cobs every minute of it. Cool, then remove the cobs. Run everything else through a blender to puree. Stir in whipping cream and serve warm.

SOOOO GOOD.

While I was working on this one, and doing research on the web for it, I ran across another wonderful thing to do with peaches. This one is more of a stew than the previous recipe, but SOOOOO GOOOOD.

1 onion, chopped
2 T butter
2 lb ripe red tomatoes
2 big fat yellow peaches
½ C cream
½ t salt
tarragon

As before, if your peaches aren’t so ripe that the skins are basically falling off, they’re not ripe enough for this dish. Put a bowl in the sink to catch the juices, pull the skins off over the bowl, remove the pits, and crush the peaches with your fingers.

Pour boiling water over the tomatoes to loosen their skins. When the skins start to split and fall off, drain them, and holding the tomato over the bowl with the peaches, pull the skin off with your fingers. Be sure to catch all the juice and seeds. Pull the tomato cores out and discard, and crush the tomatoes with your fingers.

Heat the butter in a stockpot, and saute the onions until they start to turn translucent. Empty the bowl of peaches, tomatoes, and fruit juices (because, remember kids, tomatoes are a FRUIT) into the stock pot. Sprinkle a generous amount of tarragon into this, at least a tablespoon, maybe more depending on your taste. Add the salt and bring the whole thing to a simmer. Cook, covered, until the tomatoes disintegrate.

Let it cool a bit, then puree it thoroughly in a blender. Stir in the cream. Serve hot or cold. Top with more chopped tarragon.

SOOOO GOOOOD.

Summertime: Let’s Pit And Strip!

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As summertime swings into High Gear with a crippling heat wave, the local farm stands are starting to break out the serious material.  We’ve been through Wave 1: Asparagus (a local specialty, according to legend and the Hadley Chamber of Commerce).  Then there was Wave 2: Strawberries and Rhubarb.

I’m a huge fan of the asparagus, love strawberries, and I can plumb do without the rhubarb.  I’ve never been able to abide that stuff.  Don’t like the texture, don’t like the flavor – no matter how dressed-up it is with other stuff.  Just can’t stand it.

So I’m happy to report that we’re getting in to Wave 3: Corn.  And in the grocery stores, Cherries.  I had a Produce-Buying Extravaganza this afternoon, bringing home four big shopping bags of veggies, and some other necessaries for soup-bases.  Roy has departed for Points South (New York City) to visit family, and I regard it as only right to honor his temporary departure with a spate of vegetarian cooking…because if there’s one thing Roy can’t stand, it’s a dinner without meat and potatoes.*

Tonight’s Festival of Goodness involves a corn risotto and a cherry pie.  As long as I was heating the house up by running the oven for the pie, I toasted a heap of bread chunks alongside it, so tomorrow’s Feast is going to be a Panzanella.

For now, I give you Corn Risotto With Basil Oil, and Cherry Pie With Coconut Crumble.  Bon apetit.

First, the risotto.  The original recipe is for a standard stir-till-you-go-blind babysitting risotto.  I’ve monkeyed with it substantially in order to use my load-and-go rice cooker.  If you like rice dishes at all –  risottos, rices, tapioca puddings, steel-cut oats, stewed fruit preserves, anything like that – I heartily recommend a rice cooker.  I hate single use appliances, and thought that rice cookers were one of those…until I saw the Rice Cooker Cookbook, which showed me the Error Of My Ways.  It’s now an indispensable part of my kitchen operation.  You’ll find the rice-cooker recipe for this dish below the old-fashioned one – and if you compare the two, I think you’ll find yourself taking a good hard think about acquiring one of these babies. In addition, the two recipes here feature some of the few truly single-purpose implements in my kitchen…both of which would be worth their weight in gold if they weren’t made of plastic. I wouldn’t be without either one.

3 ears of corn
2 T butter
2 leeks, sliced thinly
1/4 C dry white wine
2 C chicken stock
3 C water
1 1/2 C Arborio rice
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (you will need rather more of this than you expect to)
handful of fresh chives, snipped into little bits
4 T basil olive oil (find this with the olive and exotic oils at the grocery)
1/3 C shredded parmesan

Peel the corn and use the corn stripper to get the kernels off without making a mess or leaving most of the corn on the cob.  Throw the cobs away, keep the kernels.

Melt the butter in a big saute pan or risotto pan over medium heat, and add the leeks to the melted butter. Cook for about 5 minutes, giving a stir once in a while to keep the leeks from burning. Add the white wine.

Meanwhile warm the stock and water in a saucepan over medium heat. You should keep the liquid hot but not simmering.

Increase the heat under the leeks to medium, add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice is hot throughout, about 3 minutes. Begin adding the hot liquid 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and adding more liquid only when the previous addition has been absorbed. After 10 minutes, stir in the corn. It will take about 20 minutes of constant stirring for the rice to absorb all the liquid and achieve a suitable creaminess. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese, the chives, and the basil oil.

OR, IF YOU HAVE THE RICE COOKER…

3 ears of corn
2 T butter
2 leeks, sliced thinly
1/4 C dry white wine
3 C chicken stock (note this is not the same amount of liquid as above, because you are not going to be pumping any in the form of steam into your kitchen.
1 C plus 2 T Arborio rice (also note this is not the same amount of rice as above)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (you will need rather more of this than you expect to)
handful of fresh chives, snipped into little bits
3 T basil olive oil (also a different quantity than above)
2 T butter
1/3 C shredded parmesan

Peel the corn and use the corn stripper to get the kernels off without making a mess or leaving most of the corn on the cob.  Throw the cobs away, keep the kernels.

Melt the butter in a big saute pan or risotto pan over medium heat, and add the leeks to the melted butter. Cook for about 5 minutes, giving a stir once in a while to keep the leeks from burning. Add the white wine.  Add the rice, and stir until the edges of the rice grains become transparent.  When each has a large white dot in the middle, you are done. Empty the pan into the rice cooker.  Dump the corn into the rice cooker.  Pour the chicken stock in, stir everything up, close it, and set for the Porridge cycle.

Go put your feet up, have a glass of wine, hang out with company, anything but stand there over a hot stove stirring until your arm wants to fall off. When the rice cooker beeps, put the butter in and give it a stir.  Wait a few moments, then put the chives, cheese, and basil oil in and give it a stir.  Serve.

Serve this with a simple salad.

Finish up with the pie:

Cherry Pie with Coconut Crumble

1 crust pie shell

For topping
1/2 C flour
1/2 C (packed) light brown sugar
1/3 C rolled oats (NOT quick-cooking or instant)
1/2 C coconut flakes
1/4 t salt
1 t ground cinnamon
1/4 C (1/2 stick) chilled butter, cut into small pieces

For pie
2.5 lbs fresh cherries
2/3 C sugar
juice of 1 good-sized lime
grated zest from the same lime
2 T quick-cooking tapioca (be certain that you have got the “quick cooking” type)

Mix first 6 ingredients in medium bowl. Add butter; rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Cover and refrigerate.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Use the cherry pitter to rid your cherries of their pits.  Wear an apron while you are doing this, because some mess is inevitable.  Be aware that your fingers and any dry cuticles on the nails will take on a crimson hue: if you’re having company that you’d rather not frighten, wear a pair of those cheap latex-free gloves that you can buy in a big sack from the grocery store.  Mix the pitted cherries with the sugar, lime juice, lime zest, and tapioca in a bowl, and dump the lot into the waiting pie crust.

Put the pie on a baking pan that you don’t care very much about, or use aluminum foil to cover the pan.  This pie will boil over.  If you use the foil-covered pan approach, I strongly suggest giving the pan a spritz of non-stick spray before covering it with the foil.  Sounds like belt + suspenders, but this advice comes from Ugly Experience. Bake the pie for 15 minutes. Pull it out, knock the oven temp down to 375°F. Pat the topping over pie. Bake until done (about 50 minutes).  Pie should be boiling over, as predicted. Coolat least 30 minutes if you don’t want to be peeling the skin off the roof of your mouth.

                                                                                                                           

*Hahaha, just kidding.  Roy is going to be reading this in New York and I’m counting on the vision of a table loaded with my vegetarian home-cooking to draw him home, maybe even a little early.  And if the vision of the groaning vegetarian board doesn’t do the trick, the fact that the air-conditioning is busted in his mother’s apartment in the City, where temps are up near three-digits, may speed his return.

Race Point Dunes

Race Point, Cape Cod. No good link with cherries and corn other than the powerful statement that It’s SUMMER!

Hey Kids! Come Shoot Pool With The Viper!

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So we were in Denver last week for a conference.  The town is much improved beyond the last time I was there, about 25 years ago.  Now it is billing itself in some quarters, at least, as “The Napa Valley of Beer”.  At least, this is how it was advertised on the guided pub crawl we signed up for (itself, advertised as a “Walking Microbrewery Tour”).  We did get a fine introduction to ten different kinds of beers on the tour, as well as a decent introduction to places we might want to visit later – for the purposes of redeeming the “free pint” coupon that came with the tour, for example.

The place we chose to return to was the Wynkoop brew pub, which bills itself as the oldest brew pub in downtown Denver.  The concierge at our hotel billed the Wynkoop as the brew pub with the best food, and we’d already discovered a couple of their beers that we liked, so it sounded like a good idea.  I seized on the idea of ordering a flight, thinking that it would help me zero in on which beer I would like to get as my free pint.  Their offerings included one of the more…interesting and adventurous…beers I’ve encountered: a chili lager.  Now, I’ve had plenty of experience with lambics (cranberry, various other fruits) and I don’t like them.  Too much fruit flavor, too sweet, generally.  In recent months I’ve had a chance to try some of the newer fruit beers, which have typically been some kind of wheat (white) beer base with fruity essences laid on.  The 21st Amendment brewery has a SUPER watermelon wheat beer that I had courtesy of a very cool guy I met at the Mount Snow Winter Beer Festival in April.  The Salem Beer Works also has a terrific watermelon ale.  But the King of the group is unquestionably the Sea Dog Maine Blueberry beer.  We were in Maine last month with my friend Susan, who took one sip of that stuff and refused to drink any other beer for the rest of the week.  These fruit beers have a much lighter flavoring component, and one that plays a lot better with the underlying beer flavors, than do the lambics I’d experience before.

So my recent fruit-beer explorations favorably disposed me to the chili beer at Wynkoop, but still, I felt that I was not ready to commit to an entire pint.  The sample of that I received in my flight was enough to cause me to commit to a full pint, however.  It was absolutely delicious.  They have somehow managed to get all the flavor of the anchos and anaheims…without any of the heat.  Potent chili flavor without burning the tongue.  What a concept!

I was even more thrilled with the “logo” for the beer, and when I found out I could get it on a t-shirt, I just about went over the moon.  There isn’t a good rendition on the web – I wouldn’t make this available in the public domain, either, as it would certainly be stolen – but I think a verbal description will suffice.  Imagine a 40’s style pinup girl, with a curly blonde bob.  Now put her into a bright red cowgirl outfit consisting of hat, hot pants, long-sleeve shirt tied up over her belly, and cowboy boots.  Paste a Texas Beauty Queen smile on her face.  She’s riding something bareback, but it’s not a horse, it’s a big red chili pepper.  And she’s brandishing a whip over her head, but it’s a sheaf of wheat.  If you’re thinking “Sounds kind of cool, but I’m not sure it isn’t also extremely vulgar” you  have the right idea.  I loved it, and bought it, and I’d wear it out to the stable to ride in a flat second, except that Horse Camps are still going on, and I’m pretty sure it’s not the kind of thing I ought to be showing to 10 year olds.

Speaking of camps, the table at the Wynkoop had a little card advertising upcoming events, mostly pool or billiards tournaments.  At my table, though, the back side of this card was turned to face the table…and what that side was advertising was Pool Camp, for kids.   Specifically, for ages 4-18.  You get your own pool cue, and the first hours of camp is spent decorating the cue.  It appears that the camp is being run by a woman whose professional moniker is “The Viper.”  Yes, you can send your grade-schooler off to  camp at the pub to learn how to shoot pool from The Viper.

This is not the kind of thing that one sees advertised in New England, and I’m not even sure I’ve ever seen anything like it advertised in Texas…and that’s saying a lot. I went off into Deep Thought about the sort of parent who would consider it a good thing to send their 10 year old to camp at the pub with The Viper.  What brought this to a stop was a mental vision of the Horse Camps.  I’ve been riding before Horse Camp all summer – I want to get in my lesson before the horses are utterly exhausted by the little girls – and I remember the first day of the first Horse Camp of the year.  I was cleaning my horse up, taking my time so I could check out the Horse Camp.  I never got to go.  I don’t even know if they had Horse Camp when I was a kid, but I do know if they had and I’d known about it, I would have been desperate to go.  Anyway, there’s my teacher standing in the ring hollering out instructions to the little girls on a variety of steeds. She was wearing a cowboy hat, a button-down shirt with the sleeves hacked off, a pair of shorts, and cowboy boots.  And I suddenly thought, what kind of parent sends their 10 year old to camp in a barn to get covered with manure and filth, to spend hours interacting with a living creature the size of a Volkswagen Beetle and notorious for having…somewhat unstable temperaments and prone to sudden and explosive reflex reactions to seemingly trivial and/or unidentifiable stimuli…guided by the kind of person who wears shorts with cowboy boots?  And yet, this all makes perfect sense to me.  I am sure, therefore, that there exists a population for whom Pool Camp with The Viper makes total sense.

All the same, I cannot resist imagining, with what delicious horror my New England friends would face such a prospect.

Here’s one of my absolutely favorite go-to recipes for August and early September. This one is adapted from the Rice Cooker Cookbook – an amazing treasure trove of things you can do with a rice cooker (available from Amazon, and totally recommended by  me):

2 T butter
2 T olive oil
2 shallots, chopped finely
6 ears of corn, kernels stripped from the cob
2 C of cold, cooked brown/wild rice blend
3 T of chopped sundried tomatoes in oil
a huge bunch of basil, chopped up (or if you are lazy, like me, cut into little strips with a pair of scissors)
salt and pepper

Heat the butter and olive oil in a whacking big skillet.  Saute the shallots until they start to soften.  Thrown in the corn kernels and saute until you can start to smell them, 5 or 6 minutes.  Add the rice and bust up any chunks, and saute another 5 minutes.  Dump in the sundried tomatoes and the basil, and heat everything through.  Salt and pepper it, and then go straight to heaven as you dine.

Sunset

While I'm thinking of the blueberry beer, here's a nice picture of Southwest Harbor in Maine. Yes, it really was that color.

The Farm Stand Is Hitting Its Stride

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In Texas, fruit and vegetables come from the supermarket.  They might – if you are lucky enough to have one within an hour’s drive – come from a farmer’s market.  But mostly, they come from the grocery store.  Not that this is a bad thing – the produce displayed at my neighborhood HEB in San Antonio was as nice as anything I ever saw at my Whole Foods in Madison.

In Madison, fruit and vegetables came from the Whole Foods (if you needed something in particular, foreign, or out of season) because the supermarket produce was generally 1) limited and 2) disgusting.  If you had some leisure time and were willing to take what was ripe now, fruits and vegetables came from the Saturday farmer’s market on the square.  Everything has to be locally sourced – if you want to sell jam, it’s got to be local.  If you want to sell smudge sticks, baked goods, meat, or honey – same thing.  Local.  It’s a social scene, too – serious shoppers get in and out before 9am.  After that time, the entire town pours into the square, with their babies, dogs, Red Ryder wagons, sport-ute strollers, musical instruments, grandparents, and any out-of-town visitors they can find.  And there’s a reason for all this – this is a farmer’s market of epic proportions.  I estimate it to be 1 mile long.  You can get cider donuts and baklava.  You can get 10 kinds of heirloom apples.  You can get dried ears of corn that you stick in your microwave and they come out covered with popcorn.  You can get…and I will be willing to pay for, including FedEx charges, for anyone who is interested in helping me out…for a short two weeks in May, usually the middle two weeks…(shhh)…morels.  By the pound.  You can get sunflowers and bags of catnip and cheese curds with dill in them, and fresh eggs (and you can look at pictures of the happy cage-free chickens that laid your eggs), and bison jerky.  After my good friends, of course, the thing I miss most about living in Madison is the Saturday farmer’s market.  And the lakes, and miles and miles of bike trails, and skating outdoors on the ponds in the winter, and golf-courses in the middle of town groomed for cross-country skiing…and…and… well.  The Saturday farmer’s market makes the Top List.

It was a shock to me when I moved to New England because all of our local farmer’s markets here…well, not to put too fine a point on it, but they suck.  They’re tiny and – as far as I can tell – heavily geared towards people who want to buy bags of salad greens and flats of annuals to plant in the flower beds at home.  I wouldn’t even go to the one in Northampton, where I live, for a long time because it’s not inspiring in general, and when contrasted against my memories of the stunning market in Madison, it was simply pathetic.  So I resigned myself to getting produce at the Whole Foods.  This isn’t exactly grubbing the bottom of the barrel – the local Whole Foods is about 20% cheaper than the one in Madison, and it does carry a superb range of local produce.

I should say that there is an awful lot of local produce to carry – this area is densely packed with small, interesting farms that grow a surprising array of produce.  There are dairy farms making artisan cheeses.  There are some large corn fields, and quite a lot of tobacco farm – Connecticut Valley tobacco is acclaimed for its properties as a cigar wrapper.  But there are loads of what I always think of as Pocket Farms – compared to the vast agricultural zones in Texas, these are farms that would fit in your change pocket – and they grow many, many, many things.  So many pocket farms that I was surprised at the tiny scale of the local farmer’s markets.

Then I discovered that in New England, produce doesn’t come from the grocery or the farmer’s market.  It comes from the Farm Stand.  Yes.  At many of thesee pocket farms, the farmer will sell direct to the public, 7 days a week…if you know where to find them.  I am amused to find that a significant component to my weekly grocery shopping here involves driving around the countryside looking for trailers parked by the side of the road with hand-lettered signs propped against a wheel advertising the offerings of the day.  Sometimes there is a teenager hanging about in a desultory manner, ready to take your money, sometime there is a box with a slot in the lid for you to put your money in.  Sometimes there is an actual cash register, for farm stands that have actual buildings.  Some farm stands are just a little red wagon parked by the road, some are a full flat-bed trailer, some are a folding card table with a beach umbrella propped over it for shade.  Some farm stands have one offering – there is a covered wagon across the street from the Hadley Common that sells CORN! CORN! NIEDBALA’S CORN!  Some farm stands sell thirty different kinds of vegetables, plus pickles, jams, pumpkin and apple butters, and whatever else the household has managed to can.

It’s not exactly an efficient use of time – if I am in a hurry, I do one-stop shopping at the Whole Foods – but it is an effective use of my time, if effectiveness is defined as using my life and freedom of movement to get out into the world and see what it has to offer.  Also, the farm stands are usually a bit cheaper, and the produce is undeniably fresh.  They’re really starting to max out now, and I know – based on the last three years – that it will be nothing but pure pleasure to shop for my produce from now until Halloween.  In another month, they’ll be laying out the winter squash and root vegetables, and all of the permanent farm stands (plus an assortment of farm stands operating from the bed of a pickup truck parked in a roadside pullout) will be selling mums.  The ground will  become a carpet of yellows, oranges, purples, and some blues (Hubbard squash), and every mum color under the sun.  It’s really something to write home about!

What you can find at the farm stands now:  corn! peaches! tomatoes! basil! summer squash of every shape and color! the end of the season’s blueberries, and the raspberries and blackberries are coming in.  To honor the bounty of the season, I provide here my recipe for Corn and Peach Bisque.  This is a simple, light, elegant soup with a robust sweetness.  It’s fit to serve a kid, or a king. I don’t remember where the original recipe came from, but I’ve adapted it pretty thoroughly.

Corn and Peach Bisque
6 ears corn
1 onion, chopped finely
2 largecloves garlic, chopped finely
3 large ripe peaches
6 C chicken stock
Pinch cayenne pepper (this is very important! just a pinch, but it’s got to be there!)
1 C light cream

Try to use very ripe peaches for this.  If the peaches are ripe, you peel them the same way you peel a tomato:  boil a small pot of water, cut an X in the skin at the bottom of the fruit, drop it into the boiling water until splits appear in the skin and it starts to come off, then fish it out and plunge it into a bowl of cold water.  The skin will basically fall right off the thing at this point, and it will also be very easy to get the pit out without making a huge mess or throwing a lot of fruit away that is still attached to the pit.  If the peaches are not ripe, don’t make this dish.  Wait until you can get ripe peaches.  Chop the peeled peaches up into fairly small bits and toss them into the soup pot.

Strip the kernels off of the ears of corn, and put both the kernels and the cobs in the soup pot. Add the onion, garlic, peaches, stock, and cayenne and bring everything to a boil and cook it, uncovered, for 30 minutes.  Cool, then run through a blender to puree. Stir in cream and serve warm.

Serves 8 as a first course.

Mums

Typical scene from a farm stand, October. Everyone here decorates with these things, and corn-stalks, like Martha Stewart.