Sunday, August 29, 2010

Kinda Corny

Have I happened to mention this is my favorite time of year?  Once or twice or a thousand times on this blog?  The delicious, fresh produce is seemingly never ending.  We are literally gorging ourselves on corn and tomatoes right now, knowing we won't be eating them again for a very long time once the summer is over.  These are 2 vegetables that I'm pretty adamant about eating in season because the stuff that gets shipped in from California and Mexico the rest of the year is hardly worth eating.  Tomatoes can be salvaged by roasting so I do cheat occasionally, but I won't go near corn off-season.

So what have we been doing with the corn?  I had a double corn dose with some grilled empanadas.  The dough was made with masa, dried and limed ground corn that is used to make tortillas.  Which basically what these are - tortilla pockets.  Its very simple dough, just corn and water and a little salt.

The dough is divided into 4 balls and then flattened into tortillas.
Having a tortillas press really helps this process.  My mom picked one up for me in Mexico - just one of the many gadgets in my kitchen that gets used about once a year.  You can also use 2 heavy frying pans, that will work just as well.
For the filling I used...more corn!  Grilled and tossed with sauteed zucchini and summer squash (more abundant summer vegetables) and chopped queso fresco.

The reason you really need to make your own dough for this and not use store-bought tortillas is that you actually mold the dough around the filling so everything stays in when cooked.  

Traditionally empenadas would be fried, and you could certainly bake them for a lower fat version.  But since the grill was already on I decided to grill these.
They came out nice a crispy but a little on the dry side and in need of a sauce.  Luckily I had...tomatoes! I sauteed them into a spicy tomato sauce that was perfect on these.
The leftover filling made a great side salad.
Cheesy, corny goodness...

Grilled Corn and Zucchini Empanadas
Serves 2
1 cup masa flour
3/4 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
2 ears corn
1 small zucchini, roughly chopped
1 small summer squash, roughly chopped
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 cup queso fresco, chopped
1/2 cup monterey jack cheese, grated
2 large tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
1/2 tsp chipotle powder or 1 canned chipotle
1/2 smoked paprika
  • In a medium bowl, mix together masa flour and water until it forms a crumbly dough.  Gather into a ball, cover with damp towel, and chill until ready to use.
  • Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add zucchini and summer squash, sprinkle with salt and pepper and saute until lightly browned.  Transfer to a medium bowl.
  • Light a grill and heat to medium-high.
  • Husk corn and brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Grill until starting to char, about 10 minutes, turning occasionally.
  • Let corn cool slightly, then cut kernels from cob and toss with squash.  Added chopped queso fresco and toss.
  • In the large skillet, heat a little more olive oil over medium heat.  Add tomatoes and garlic and simmer about 10 minutes.  Stir in chipotle and and paprika and cook about 5  more minutes.  Remove from heat and cool a few minutes, then transfer tomato mixture to blender.  Blender until pureed but still chunky, keeping top of blender slightly open to allow heat to escape.  Return sauce to pan and heat over low.
  • Remove dough from fridge and divide into 4 equal portions.  Roll each into a ball.  It helps to have wet hands.  Cover with damp towel.  Working one at a time, press each ball between 2 pieces of plastic wrap using tortilla press or 2 heavy frying pans.  Press evenly until thin and about 5 - 6" across.  Set aside, using a thin spatula to transfer to another damp cloth.  Continue pressing all for dough balls.
  • For each tortilla, mound a small amount of squash and corn mixture on half of tortilla, leaving about a 1"space around edge.  Sprinkle a little monteray jack on filling.  With wet hands and thin spatula, carefully fold other half of tortilla over filling and press edges to seal.  Repeat with remaining tortillas.
  • Brush each tortilla pocket with olive oil, the transfer to grill.  Grill each side about 5 minutes, until crisp and slightly charred.  Top with tomato sauce and serve with remaining filling along side.
My next corn recipe was inspired by and amazing corn soup I had last week at my favorite Boston-area restaurant, T.W. Food.  Its tiny place that cooks local, seasonal food that is always unbelievably delicious.  We visited for Boston Restaurant Week, and for my appetizer I selected the corn soup with an heirloom pepper and maple relish as the garnish.  

When I decided to try this at home, I used fresh crab meat (perhaps inspired by Daisy?) as the garnish.  The sweet crab complimented the corn beautifully.

Corn Soup with Crab
serves 2
2 ears of corn, shucked and kernels cut from cobs, cobs reserved
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed or minced
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 white wine
1 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1/2 Tbs unsalted butter
2 oz. fresh crab meat
1 Tbs snipped chives
  • Heat a small amount of olive oil in a dutch oven or large pot over medium heat.  And onion and saute until softened but not browned.  Add garlic and all but 1/4 cup corn kernels, season with salt and pepper, and saute about 5 more minutes until softened.  Scrape pulp for corn cobs into pot.  Add white wine and scrape up any bits from bottom of pan.  Cook a few more minutes until most of the liquid has cooked off.  Add water to pot and simmer about 5 more minutes.
  • Remove pot from heat and let cool slightly.  Add soup to blender and puree until smooth.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve if you're a perfectionist, or just pour back into the pot if you like it rustic (like me).
  • Stir milk into soup and re-heat over medium-low heat.
  • Meanwhile, melt butter over medium heat in a small saute pan.  Add corn and saute about 4 minutes.  Add crab and saute until just heated through.  Stir in chives.
  • Serve soup garnished with corn and crab mixture.
Excellent with some tomato bruschetta on the side...

Had enough corn yet?  I didn't think so.  Another vegetable that just started coming out of the ground (quite literally) is potatoes.  They're small and new, delicious and versatile.  I found a couple recipes recently for a corn pesto served with pasta, and decided to take it one step further  and make my one pasta.  Well, sort of.  How about potato gnocchi?
I know it sounds like a lot of work to make your own gnocchi, but trust me, it is terribly easy.  You just make mashed potatoes and stir in some flour to form a dough, roll the dough into ropes, and cut it into pieces.  Its fast and easy and totally accessible for a weeknight dinner.
I have to warn you, this is not a light dish.  Between the potato, corn and bacon, it is rather starchy and rich.  A little goes a long way, but it is indulgently delicious.

Corn Pesto with Bacon and Potato Gnocchi
serves 2
1.5 lbs potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
1/2 - 3/4 cup flour, plus more for dusting
2 slices bacon
1 small onion, diced
2 ears of corn, shucked and kernels cut from cobs, cobs reserved
1 clove of garlic, minced
salt and pepper
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 pine nuts
1/4 extra virgin olive oil 
small handful sliced basil leaves
  • Boil potatoes in a large pot of salt water until tender.  Scoop potatoes from water with slotted spoon and let cool a bit.  Keep water in pot.  Mash potatoes into a medium bowl with a potato ricer or masher.  Stir in 1/2 cup flour, adding more to make dough come together.  Season with salt.  Gather into a sticky dough.
  • Divide dough into 4 chunks.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment.  On a floured work surface, role each dough hunk into a long rope, about 3/4" thick, and cut into 1" pieces.  Lay pieces on parchment and continue with remaining dough.  Set aside.
  • Cook bacon in a large skillet until crisp.  Remove bacon and drain.  Pour off all but about 1 Tbs of bacon drippings from pan.  Add onion and saute until softened but not brown.  Stir in corn and garlic, saute about 5 more minutes.
  • Scrape corn mixture in food processor and add grated cheese and pine nuts.  Process until blended but still chunky.  With motor running, pour in olive oil and process until a uniform sauce comes together.
  • Return pot of water used for potatoes to a boil.  Add gnocchi in 2 batches and cook until gnocchi floats, about 4 minutes.  Drain and reserve some pasta water.
  • Add gnocchi to saute pan and pour in corn pesto.  Add a little pasta water to thin slightly and stir until gnocchi is coated.  Transfer to 2 plates, crumble a slice of bacon over each and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Garnish with additional parmesan cheese.
Its good to a be a lightly corny sometimes.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Setting up Camp

Those who know me know that I'm not exactly a roughing it kind of girl.  Despite having a crunchy hippie side I am most definitely a city girl who's preferred vacation excursions involve posh hotels and fancy restaurants.  That's partly because I am a spoiled brat who was lucky enough to have parents who treated me to these fancy vacations.  "Roughing it" meant going to our beach house that doesn't have a dishwasher.  My husband had a decidedly different upbringing.  His parents own a trailer that they drove (and still drive) all around the U.S., and would set the boys up outside in a tent.  When he was old enough to go on his own, he spent many weekends taking backpacking and canoeing trips.  But he hasn't done that in years, certainly not since I came into his life.  The closest he's gotten to camping was our New Zealand OCV, which was basically our apartment on wheels.
A few years ago, my parents returned to their hippie roots (being crunchy is in my blood) and started camping again.  For several weekends every summer they rent a site on Moon Island in Squam Lake, New Hampshire.  The island has no electricity, a composting toilet and is reached via kayak or canoe.  When they told me they wouldn't be using one of the weekends they reserved this summer, I knew I was in trouble.  It took me several weeks to tell Derek about the available site and he got so excited that I quickly needed to come to terms with the realization that I was going camping.  Real, dirty, roughing it camping.

Of course the only way for me to really get excited over this weekend was to approach it as I approach most life events - Top Chef Challenge!  Cook for 5 friends for a weekend using only what you can carry in 1 cooler cooking everything over a camp fire!  Does anyone doubt that I could pull this off?

There was a lot of preparation that went into this weekend, starting with hauling lots of boats.
We invited Lucy and her husband, Jon, and our friend Seth to join us for the weekend.  The plan was to row over with 1 canoe and 5 kayaks, 2 of the kayaks being towed so we could paddle around with them on Saturday.  

Turns out, we needed every single inch of boat space to haul all our stuff.
We battled some choppy waters but arrived safely on the island.  And I had to admit, it was really pretty up there.
While everyone unpacked and assembled tents, I started setting up my kitchen.  We picked up a great camp kitchen at REI, on sale for only $30, and my dad had a kitchen setup as well.  So we brought both!
Seth happily started a fire while the rest of us started drinking.  That's a camp activity I can get behind.
Per usual, I was cooking for a variety of food tastes.  Seth is a vegetarian, and I was happy to accommodate him.  For our first night, I heated up some of my dad's gumbo over the fire for the carnivores and a very seasonal veggie stew for Seth.  I also heated up some cheesy cornbread on the side.
My parents got those camping pots as a wedding present 40 years ago.  They're still going strong (the pots and my parents).
A little in-studio shot of the veggie stew

Dessert that night was, for me, the highlight of the trip.  Campfire s'mores made with my own homemade graham crackers.  God bless Smitten Kitchen for posting this amazing recipe.  Unfortunately, we were too busy toasting marshmallows in the dark to take any pictures, but I got some glamour shots at home. Turns out, you can make a mean s'more under the broiler.

Check out these fun marshmallow flavors I ordered from Whimsy & Spice in Brooklyn.

Saturday morning I whipped up our usual weekend breakfast - blueberry pancakes.  Lucy picked wild blueberries on the island to add to the pancake batter I made the night before we left.  Leveling the griddle over the campfire proved a bit of a challenge, but the boys were up to the task.
Well fed, we suited up and set off for a day of kayaking.
Quite a look, huh?  My sunglasses broke just before we left the house, but luckily Seth had these back-ups in his car.  They're very Daisy, don't you think?

We spent the day exploring the other little islands on the lake.
And stopped to eat ham and cheese sandwiches on a tiny island Seth declared his own.  We called it Blueberry Clam Island.  For the blueberries and clams on it.

Then back to the site for more eating and drinking!  I'm starting to like this vacation.  For Saturday night dinner, I faced a piece of beef shoulder tender that required me to slice off the thin layer "silver skin" on either side.  I definitely need to work on my butchery skills.
We grilled some corn over the fire and threw some potatoes wrapped in foil in with the coals.  Then grilled the beef with some delicious chipotle-cherry BBQ sauce I made.
Jon taught me the very scientific technique of testing the meat's doneness by poking it with your finger.  Well, it worked.  The meat was perfect with a nice crust from the sweet and spicy BBQ sauce.
My favorite part of this meal was the delicious panzanella I made by grilling leftover cornbread and tossing it with tomatoes, grilled onions and arugula.  Give it a shot!

Cornbread Panzanella
adapted from Epicurious
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

4 large tomatoes, chopped
1 small bunch of arugula, roughly torn
2 medium onions
olive oil for brushing
  • For Dressing: whisk together, vinegar, mustard and honey.  Slowly pour in olive oil while whisking to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Can be made a ahead of time and stored in fridge.
  • For Salad: Light a grill or get some coals going on a campfire.  Halve onions and brush with olive oil.  Brush both side of cornbread with olive oil.  Grill onions and bread until lightly charred.  Be careful not to burn the bread!
  • Thinly slice onions and toss in large bowl with tomatoes and arugula.  Slice cornbread into bite-size pieces and add to bowl.  Toss with dressing and serve.  Can be made up to an hour ahead time and kept at room (or campsite) temperature.
Dessert was gooey brownies warmed by the fire.  And Sunday morning it was time to pack up again!  But first I scrambled some eggs and threw in whatever was left in the cooler.  One pan scrambled in a little bacon fat with corn, tomatoes, potatoes and steak and the other in olive oil with just the veggies.
Please ignore the day 3 greasy hair.
Lucy and Jon brought this amazing Peanut Butter and Co. Dark Chocolate Dreams.  Pure chocolate peanut butter heaven.  Then it was time to pack up once again and paddle our way home.  Derek stayed hydrated as he towed.
And almost lost one more hat in the lake.

So how was my first real camping experience?  Overall, I had a lot of fun.  Yes, I accumulated more dirt under my fingernails than I thought possible but I got to share good food with good friends, enjoy some gorgeous scenery, and see more stars than I knew existed.  And we most definitely ate well.  We even came home with some watermelon-tomato gazpacho that we didn't get to eat!  But you definitely should.
This is great for camping because it can be eaten cold (or at whatever temperature your cooler is) and is a wonderful hot weather dish to make at home because no cooking is required.

Watermelon-Tomato Gazpacho
2 cups watermelon cubes
4 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 medium cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 medium bell peppers, chopped
1 small sweet onion, diced
2 Tbs red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
a few dashes of sriracha (or hot sauce of choice)
salt and pepper
  • Add watermelon to blender and blend until pureed.
  • divide tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and onions in half.  Place half of vegetables in a large bowl, and add other half of vegetables to blender and blender until pureed.
  • Add vinegar, olive oil, sriracha and salt and pepper to taste in blender and blend until combined.  This dish needs a bit of heat, but don't go overboard on the hot sauce.  You can always add more.
  • Pour blended vegetables into bowl over chopped vegetables, cover and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.  Serve chilled.