Thursday, July 24, 2008

Glorious Corn

By some strange coincidence, I found out I was not allergic to corn and started reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma around the same time. The significance of this is that I have been allergic to corn for most of my life, always wearing a frown around corn on the cob season, missing out on mouthfuls of buttery popcorn at the movies, and suffering from asthma attacks when I just couldn't take it anymore, and ate a whole bag of Doritos (okay, so this may have happened a few times).

So I went to the allergist, got 60 shots (yes, that is 6-0 as in SIXTY and yes, it hurt), and found out I’m allergic to about 25 new things, but I’m no longer allergic to corn!!!

Enter The Omnivore’s Dilemma- a book about the American food chain, all of which can be inevitably linked back to corn. Now, there are some pretty disturbing facts about corn in this book; how it’s been chemically manipulated, how it’s fed to the cattle (which are not naturally corn eaters) to fatten them up for slaughter, and why corn is actually making farmers poor.

So yeah, not necessarily a happy story about corn, but in conjunction with my major life discovery, I've been thinking about corn a lot... and now all I want to do is eat corn!

In the past month since the tests and since I began the book, I’ve had corn on the cob five times, popcorn, nachos, canned corn, corn salad, corn cakes, polenta, Texas caviar, and I think there was some corn in the quesadillas prepared for me last weekend.

If you are what you eat, then for the first time in 20 years, I have become corn.

So in honor of this momentous occasion, I’d like to share one of my favorite corn recipes, found in Bon Appetit’s February issue: Corn and Bacon Pie (because if you’re going to eat corn, you might as well eat bacon and Gruyere cheese, too).

Crust:1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup fine-grind whole grain cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons chilled solid vegetable shortening (preferably with no trans fats), diced
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
Nonstick vegetable oil spray

Filling:1/2 pound bacon, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Maui)
1 cup chopped red bell pepper1
12-ounce package frozen corn kernels (2 1/2 cups), thawed, patted dry
1 1/2 cups half and half
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chopped green onions
1 1/2 cups (packed) coarsely grated Gruyère cheese (about 6 ounces)

For crust:Whisk first 3 ingredients in large bowl. Using back of fork, cut in butter and shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 3 tablespoons ice water. Toss until dough comes together in moist clumps, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Shape dough into disk. Wrap; chill at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish with nonstick spray. Place large piece of parchment paper on work surface. Place dough in center; cover with second sheet of parchment. Roll out dough to 12-inch round. Peel off top parchment. Using bottom parchment as aid, turn dough over into prepared pie dish. Carefully peel off remaining parchment. Fit crust into dish, sealing any tears. Fold excess dough under and crimp edges, forming highstanding rim.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.For filling:Cook bacon in large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 1/2 tablespoons drippings. Add onion and pepper to skillet. Sauté until almost tender, about 8 minutes. Add corn; sauté until very tender, about 3 minutes longer.Whisk next 6 ingredients in large bowl to blend. Mix in green onions, then corn mixture. Sprinkle bacon, then cheese over bottom of crust. Pour in egg mixture.Bake pie until filling is golden and just set in center, about 55 minutes. Let pie cool at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. Serve slightly warm.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Baltimore Chefs and Wine Experience

Like Salmon? You should have been at Baltimore’s Chefs and Wine Experience last weekend. Area chefs, local foodies and national celebrities gathered to eat, drink and talk about gastronomy. And salmon.

The pink, omega-3 rich fish took center stage on Benjamin Erjavec’s (Oceanaire) demonstration table, as he filleted it and prepared it three ways for an eager audience. Ted Allen served salmon (and hilarious banter) to his audience after a cooking demonstration that also included roasted chicken and a cauliflower puree debacle, spurred by a broken food processor. His wit and of course, the taste of his dishes made up for any misfortune on stage.

And the salmon de resistance – The Grand Tasting, reserved for event VIPs included whole tables and platters full of delicious smoked salmon, garnished with cipolini onions, olives, roasted tomatoes and toasted bagel chips.

A few gems of wisdom from the event (that may or may not include salmon):

-Ricotta cheese isn’t just for pasta. Nick from Piacci recommends piling into mushroom caps and topping it with roasted peppers, or blending it with spinach and parmesan cheese to add to an omelet. Piacci’s was on hand to promote their new mozzarella, provolone and parmesan cheeses. So far, the cheeses are only available in a select number of grocery stores (like Roots Market in Olney) and the company’s web site isn’t up, but when people find out how buttery Piacci’s parmesan cheese is it’ll really be in demand.

- Pesky fish bones can make or break a dish. If you’re having trouble removing them from raw filets, Chef Benjamin Erjavec recommends keeping a small pair of needle nose pliers in the kitchen. Bend the filet in half and pull the bone from the bottom with the pliers.

-Nonstick pans are great for….nonsticking, but do you miss those juicy brown bits? Ted Allen explained that nonstick pan users often miss out on those brown bits left to linger in more traditional cookware after foods are browned. The benefit of the bits? They make a delicious sauce. Next time you find yourself with bits (or glaze) at the bottom when you’re done with your pan, add a little wine or stock (and maybe some butter) stir it around and viola- a perfect topping for your meal.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Like Buttah

I love butter.
Ok, I love just about anything you can eat, but there's nothing like fresh baked goods smothered in butter. Or lobster poached in butter. Or butter on a baked potato. (Sheesh, I'm starting to sound like Bubba again.)
Point of this post- butter is really easy to make! Check out my column on for a simple, quick way to make your own butter.

fish tacos

I returned from a week in the Outer Banks with a great tan, good memories and about two pounds of fresh mahi mahi. It seems a lonely fisherman got his 4 wheel drive stuck in the sand, and when my sister and her boyfriend helped pull him out, they were rewarded with an abundance of fish. I was lucky enough inherit some of it. Isn’t that what family is for?
This was a beautiful filet- thick and red, bones mostly removed. It was screaming to be grilled, maybe with a ginger glaze, maybe served with chutney. And there’s always sesame seeds… But I couldn’t get my mind off fish tacos.
My obsession with fish tacos started on my honeymoon in Maui, at a place called Hula Grill. Three nights in a row, my husband and I bellied up to a table, half drunk on newlywed bliss and coconut rum, and enjoyed these fresh bites of warm tortilla wrapped around fresh fish, cabbage and some sort of tropical sauce. Add an acoustic guitar player by candlelight and we had heaven.
As you can imagine, this is the sort of scenario one wants to recreate whenever possible. So to me, that filet was screaming to be wrapped up in a warm tortilla, smothered with a creamy lime sauce, topped with sweet corn and ripe tomatoes. Shared with my husband as we reminisce about beautiful Maui beaches.
So that’s what I did. And here’s how you do it:

-cook the fish in olive oil in a pan on your stove. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and lime juice.
-while the fish is cooking, mix together half a cup of sour cream with a two tablespoons of lime juice. Add ginger, cumin and cayenne pepper to taste.
-when the fish is done, serve it in warm flour tortillas. Top with the sour cream mixture and shredded cabbage.
-If you’re feeling ambitious, mix up some homemade salsa. I created mine with corn, tomatoes, onion, black beans and avocado. I also added salt and pepper, a little garlic powder and some balsamic vinegar. This is a great way to top your tacos, or eat as a side.

You’re practically in Maui.