Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cool as Corn

Summer is fast upon us here in the north east, and my jones-ing for summer vegetables has begun. It’s an odd spot to be in, when it’s 90 degrees outside but the only vegetables up are radishes, some spring onions and asparagus. I got so antsy in fact to pick the radishes growing in my tiny raised beds that I may have picked one prematurely.

To give perspective, Joe's pinky finger is closest to the radish and mine is next to his - to give perspective on his giant fingers.
But no matter, the grocery stores have some flown in corn from Florida to tide us over at this years’ BBQs, as long as you can swallow the food guilt associated with non-local produce. Growing up, we only ever got corn in August and to be honest I didn’t realize eating corn on the cob throughout the rest of the year was even an option. New Jersey isn’t a state well known for its produce, even if it is called the Garden State - but let me tell you, we take our corn and tomatoes very seriously. The variety of corn we would get at the Jersey shore was Silver Queen, which was a white sweet corn that apparently grows very well in NJ soil. This was when at the Jersey shore you could get fresh produce from the bicycle rental place. It wasn’t only about “gym, tan, laundry” then.
Typically we would eat the corn boiled on the cob, drenched in butter and salt. But perhaps dripping butter down your arms is not the most polite or calorie friendly way to eat corn.
A few years ago I found a recipe in Cooking Light for a corn relish that seemed easy enough without any indoor cooking required. When I made it, we instantly fell in love with the combination. I have found that this dish is also one of those “oooooo”-inspiring salads to bring to potlucks or picnics. It seems exotic, yet is pretty pleasing to most people. I brought it to an ‘end of the rowing season’ BBQ for seniors this year at the request of Joe (hence why it is in tuperware below) and it went over pretty well. Not only is this salad a crowd pleaser, but it is so easy to make, it’s almost shameful. But take no shame! This is a delicious and healthy recipe that should be enjoyed and shared.
Roasted Corn Relish
As adapted from Cynthia Nims, Cooking Light, JUNE 2007

My Mom has made this recipe with frozen corn and said it was just as good. Personally I like the carmelization the corn takes on once it is roasted. If you are desperate to make this and weather does not permit outdoor grilling, remove the corn from the husks and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes. If Anaheim chiles aren’t available, you can use Poblanos. I prefer the larger more mild peppers for this, so the heat doesn’t overpower the rest of the vegetables. Serve this salad a little warm for an interesting twist, but it also keeps very well in the refrigerator

2 Anaheim chiles (also called Italian peppers in the North East)
4 ears of corn
1 cup diced tomato
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Juice from 3 limes (about ¼ cup)
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pull the corn silks from the husks and remove and loose or brown leaves from the husk, but leave the husks on the corn. Heat your grill to a high heat (if you are using gas, medium-high). Place the corn on the grill but not over top of the heat source. The husks will blacken, but that is okay. Depending on the sweetness of the corn you may need to adjust roasting time - 10-15 minutes for very sweet corn or longer. (You can also grill the corn out of the husks for a shorter period of time, but be sure to use very ripe corn for that)

While the corn is roasting, place the whole Anaheim chiles onto the grill. Again, you want the skins to blacken so you can peel them off.

Once the corn and chiles are cooked, remove them from the grill and allow to cool before handling. Cut the corn off the cob into a bowl or large serving dish. Pull the seeds and stem out of the chiles, peel off any loosened skins, and dice the peppers. Toss the peppers, tomatoes, and cilantro with the corn. Add fresh squeezed lime juice, salt and pepper to taste. Add more lime juice or cilantro as desired.

Serve immediately, while corn and peppers are slightly warm, or cover and store in refrigerator until ready to use.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hazelnut Diplomacy

When I first got to Germany for my study abroad program, the other students I would be sharing the flat with hadn’t yet come back from summer break. Which means that the shared living spaces were absolutely disgusting. I do not want to turn your stomach since this is a food blog, but I will just say that I got very good at catching fruit flies one-handedly while eating muesli in the mornings.

As the other students came back and moved into their rooms, we determined that some form of mass cleaning was in order. Being the new American student I was not met with open arms, and maybe my less than stellar language skills had a role in that as well.
After an appointed time, it was decided that we would all meet to clean the entire flat and to schedule our “Putzplan” or cleaning plan. And that seemed oddly reminiscent of the chore wheel my mom had tried to institute when I was a child. The circle of chores would be moved once a week, while the names of all the roommates stayed stationary on the perimeter of that circle. Except for the condescending explanation I received about how the Putzplan would work and what it meant, I was looking forward to have a clean apartment.
Since I was new to the apartment and apparently some Europeans view all Americans as being vapid, self-centered egotists. Well, I wasn’t going to have that be the only impression of me, so if I had to prove to them that I was a worldly, knowledgeable egotist, then so be it.
I originally thought that a good way to practice some practical German language would be to buy a cookbook. I got a baking book on sale for 3.50€ - which here can be a gamble on the accuracy of the recipes, but Germans take their baked goods a little more seriously. The first recipe I decided to make was a pound cake. And what better time to make this pound cake than the apartment cleaning day we had scheduled?
The recipe in the cookbook was a base recipe with several variations. One of the variations was for a hazelnut pound cake, which seemed like a good option for bridging cultural differences. After scouring and fumigating, we managed to all sit down together as a group over some coffee and pound cake. And even if I only proved myself later during a wine fueled political conversation, I still believe that the pound cake was really my winning strategy.

Hazelnut Pound Cake

The texture of this pound cake is slightly different then the spongy dense pound cakes you buy in the store. I like to toast and chop the hazelnuts roughly, so that some of them are pulverized, but some remain in chunks. The pound cake may seem a little dry when it first comes out of the oven, but would do well to have a drizzle of macerated fruit and ice cream. Or if you can stand to wait, the cake tastes even better the next day – with or without the accompaniments.

250 g butter (1 cup)

180 g Sugar (3/4c)
Pinch of salt
1 packet vanilla sugar (2 tsp vanilla sugar, or 2 tsp sugar and 1 tsp vanilla)
4 eggs
250 g Flour (1 2/3 c)
½ teaspoon baking powder
100 g roughly ground, toasted hazelnuts (under 1 cup)

Preheat oven to 375. Cream the butter, sugar, vanilla sugar and salt together. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until just combined. Mix in the hazelnuts. Sift the flour and baking powder together, then add to the butter mixture, until just combined.

Pour batter into a greased and floured loaf pan. Bake for about 55 minutes. Mid-way through, cover the pound cake with foil, to stop the top from browning. Continue baking until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (mine took about an hour and ten minutes).

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Soccer Game Picnic


The chickpea is neither a chick nor a pea, discuss….

As many of you know, Joe is a rowing coach. Which means he is absent for many weekends in both the fall and spring. In order to combat my loneliness this past weekend, I invited myself along to a friend’s children’s soccer games. There were two games to watch with an hour break between the two, so a picnic lunch was in order.

I had seen once in Gourmet the idea to pack various kinds of salads into mason jars for picnics, and thought I might try out that method. And a hot day in the sun, sitting on soccer field “grass” (there’s not much grass left after rounds of 20+ soccer games every Saturday), calls for refreshing food.

Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of the salad while we were eating it. I need to become more comfortable and perhaps pushy when it comes to taking pictures of people eating food. You probably would have enjoyed seeing a seven-year-old delighting in the chunks of avocado she found in her mason jar. Maybe next time.
I think people have a misconception about eating tuna fish on hot days. Understandably you would not want to consume warm, left out to rot mayonnaise, but tuna fish itself is just fine packed away in a cooler. I also think that beans and tuna go well together, with any kind of ingredients you may have in the refrigerator and pantry. A salad like that can leave you full and refreshed without the need for a nap - although you may want a nap because who doesn’t like napping in the sun - but you won’t need a food-induced nap.

The funny thing is, I never really had beans as a child. Well, except for the dried out frozen lima beans found in a bag of mixed vegetables – which I actually used to love. I’m not sure why I thought beans would be a good idea, but I do.
In my ‘at work lunchtime leftovers’ pictures there is also a quinoa, cucumber, tomato etc salad that we had for dinner that evening. I can foresee many more of these salads to come as the weather warms up, especially if I keep inviting myself to soccer games and people’s houses. What could be better than good food, good company and the chance to root for the Unicorns and Blue Killer Dolphins on a warm Saturday?

Tuna and Chickpea Salad*

1 8 oz. can of oil packed tuna fish, not drained
1 15 oz can of organic chickpeas (look for low sodium varieties, so the chickpeas will have a more intense flavor), drained
2 stalks of celery, finely minced
1 carrot, finely minced
3 scallions, white and light green parts, chopped
1 small avocado, chopped
Small handful of cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil for consistency

Combine and toss all ingredients together. Add olive oil, if salad looks a bit dry. Spoon into serving containers, and refrigerator or keep in cooler until ready to eat.

*The beauty of this salad is that any and all of the above ingredients are interchangeable. If you don’t have cilantro, use parsley or basil. Lime juice, orange juice or vinegar can give the added note of sour. The basic formula in my mind for this is tuna + beans (white beans, or chickpeas) + vegetables + herb + tang = delicious. So feel free to improvise!