Wednesday, October 19, 2011

College Cornbread

There are so many different ways to make cornbread that I am afraid to really expound on it as an expert and instead will channel the dark side, my “Semi-homemade” side.  I don’t usually like things that you start with a mix, or add in premade items and then call the whole shebang homemade and nutritious, but this is one place where I defer to my pantry.  Not that there is anything wrong with saving time and opting for ease, but for me it leaves me feeling guilty and depressed when I cut open a boxed cake mix or slice into refrigerator cookie dough.  Heck I don’t even like bisquick. 
But I do appreciate these items for their purpose – which is to be fast and easy.  And the one boxed starter I use is for cornbread.  Now, I have made cornbread from scratch, and I like the idea of how versatile cornbread can be.  Spicy, sweet, savory, soft, crunchy and so on baked in cast iron, papers, tins, molds and pans the permutations are endless.  However, it is to this recipe that I turn to the most when I make cornbread.
I got this recipe from a friend of mine in college.  After coming back from Germany, three friends and I sublet a very nice town house in Washington DC.  It was during this semester that I really started to get into cooking, and where I decided that it was a passion of mine.  Mostly, this was due to boredom.  I didn’t have a job, most of our other friends were studying overseas, I didn’t have a boyfriend and I didn’t study in the library. So instead, I learned all the words to 50 Cent’s ‘Wanksta’ and I cooked. 
In fact, I managed to win household MVP one night because I made chili and this cornbread.  Yes, that’s right we had MVP.  You only got bragging rights for it, and it was largely very arbitrarily determined who won MVP for some action he or she performed.  I won MVP for making dinner one night.  My friend won MVP for putting out the toaster fire we started while trying to warm up taco shells.  You see what I mean.
At any rate, this recipe is cheap, easy, and can be a pantry staple to have on hand at a moment’s notice.  I typically only make cornbread for stuffing or when I make chili.  And I must confess that I make the chili simply as an excuse to shove as much cornbread into my face as I possibly can.

Mat’s College Cornbread
I suppose you could use any brand of cornbread mix, but I like the Jiffy version.  There is something very comforting to me about how the picture has not changed on that box in decades.  Also, this can be halved easily, but I will give you the larger version, as the cornbread is very delicious, and you will want to eat a lot of it. Well, that and it’s so hard to find the small cans of corn, making a double batch is just easier.

2 boxes Jiffy Cornbread mix
1 15oz can sweet corn, drained
1 14oz can creamed sweet corn
2 eggs
2 teaspoons sugar

Preheat the oven to 400°.

In a bowl combine all the ingredients.  Stir to combine everything until just moistened and there are no clumps of cornbread mix left.

Pour into a lightly greased 9x13” pan.  Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the top is golden and the sides of the cornbread are lightly browned. 

Let cool slightly and serve.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Oh My It's Fish Pie

Yes, that’s right I am going to be sharing a recipe with you for something called fish pie.  But first I want to bounce an idea off of you.
I kind of want to test out a ton of cookie recipes for the upcoming holiday season.  Does that seem like something you all would be interested in?  I keep coming across recipes that seem like they would be wonderful, and so I stow them away only to choose 5 or 6 between all of them to actually bake.  I will typically spend an entire weekend baking cookies and then I hand them out to neighbors and family.
However, this method tends to lead to madness as most of the cookie recipes are new to me and can inspire foul language and flying objects if things don’t turn out exactly as I pictured them.  But, if I make many cookies leading up to Christmas, I can pawn them off on unsuspecting people and whittle down my choices through a well-documented pseudo-scientific method. (Although I will most likely just make a lot of cookies and still choose 5 or 6 new recipes that turn me into a hyperventilating monster a few weekends before Christmas.)  So, cookies? Cool?  It’s decided then.
Now, on to that fish pie.  This one of the many recipes I took away from working in the Scottish Kitchen at the Folk Life Festival.  It was the first recipe I successfully made on my own after learning it, and it is the only one I specifically asked one of the cooks to share with me. 
It sounds kind of gross, and it doesn’t look super appetizing, but I promise you – it’s good.  I like to use this with leftover cooked fish, but you could always cook your white sauce a bit longer with the fish in it to cook the fish. I have taken the liberty here to dress up the pie a bit, but feel free to pare it back and keep it very simple. Oh and when you do make this, the lighter your mashed potatoes are, the better they will sit on top and spread out over the pie.

Joyce McRaye’s Fish Pie
 Any white fleshed fished can be used here (and I have even seen recipes which call for salmon) such as flounder, haddock or cod. Also feel free to omit the crust; the pie will work just as well without it.

For the Crust
1 c flour
5 Tb cold butter, cut into small cubes
1-3 Tb cold water

For the Pie
1 large shallot, chopped
2 Tbs. Butter
¼ tsp. Thyme
¼ c. flour
1 c. milk
½ lb. cooked white fish, shredded
½ c. frozen peas
Salt and pepper to taste

For the Topping
4-5 medium red skinned potatoes, cut into 1-2” chunks
1 garlic clove, whole
1 Tb. Butter
¼ c. milk or cream
Salt and Pepper to taste

For the crust: cut the butter into the flour until it is course looking, and then slowly add water a teaspoon or two at a time, until the dough comes together. (This can be done in a food processor).

Shape dough into a ball, flatten it to a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare the mashed potatoes for the topping.  Boil cubed potatoes with the whole garlic clove in salted water for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until the potatoes can be pierced with a fork.  Drain the potatoes and mash with the butter and milk until well combined.  Add salt and pepper to taste. (Or you can use your favorite mashed potato recipe for this.)

Preheat the oven to 375°.  Roll out the dough and place it into 9 or 10” pie plate.  Prick the crust with a fork and pre-bake it for about 10 minutes. 

While the crust is baking, sauté shallot and thyme in butter over medium heat in a large pan for about 5 minutes.  Next, add the flour and stir constantly until the flour and butter have thickened and are smooth.  Slowly add in milk, whisking to avoid lumps.  Once all of the milk has been added, the mixture should be thick but not too stiff, if it is, add a bit more milk.  If the mixture is too watery, let it simmer for a few minutes on the stove.  Add in the cooked fish and peas, stirring to combine.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour filling into pre-baked crust and top with mashed potatoes.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the mashed potatoes are golden and the crust is browned.  Cool for 15 minutes and serve.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Something About Squash

Oh baby, it is squash season. Not the summer squash season where complete strangers will approach you and force overgrown zucchini upon you. No, this is winter squash season. I have resisted you in the past winter squash, but not anymore.
I have noticed that winter squash appeal is much bigger in New England than it is anywhere else. Even when I go home to New Jersey for the holidays, I can never find any interesting winter squash. But up here, squash is the predominant vegetable for the entire winter. And right now – I am very excited about that. (Talk to me in March and I will be ready to take a baseball bat to any orange hued storage vegetable that crosses my path.) So excited in fact, that I now have 2 different kinds of squash on our counter and another pureed variety in the freezer. I have been ripping out all recipes with squash or pumpkin I the ingredient list from magazines, and printing anything squash related from the web as I cross it. If you see with Joe or I later this winter, and you notice a strange orange glow about us, it’s not spray tan – it’s beta carotene!
Now, don’t panic like Joe is doing right now. Squash isn’t all that bad. It’s pretty, it’s sweet and it is very versatile. So if you are unfamiliar with winter squash or if your stomach turns at the thought of eating it, I’ll ease you in slowly. Butternut squash is one of the easiest to work with, and is most commonly found in grocery stores around the country. You can boil or roast it and then mash it, puree it, bake with it, and so on. But it’s always fun to try something new.
That, and everything with a crust tastes good in my book. This is a very pretty dish, and I saw it about 2 years ago in a publication by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. I have been pining to try it ever since. It definitely sounds like something that zealous vegetarians would be attracted to, but I promise that the average meat loving Joe I mean person will like it.

Winter Squash and Kale Tart
as adapted from Roberta Bailey’s Harvest Kitchen
This recipe takes a long time but it is fairly simple to assemble, especially if you use a premade crust. It also is a bit soft, and doesn’t cut super cleanly, so if you are using a smaller egg, I would recommend using 2.

For the crust
1 c flour
5 Tb cold butter, cut into small cubes
1-3 Tb cold water

For the Tart
1 ½ cups cooked pureed winter squash*
2 c kale
1 medium leek, chopped
2 Tb butter
1 egg
½ c whole milk
½ c pecorino, grated (or other hard cheese)
½ tsp dried thyme
1 tsp. dried parsley
¼ tsp. all spice
¼ tsp. nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

For the crust: cut the butter into the flour until it is course looking, and then slowly add water a teaspoon or two at a time, until the dough comes together. (This can be done in a food processor).

Shape dough into a ball, flatten it to a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425°.

Meanwhile, remove thick stems from kale and chop into ½” strips.

Once the dough has rested, roll it out into a 10” disc, and place into a 9” pie or tart pan. Press the dough in, and remove any excess. Bake crust for 10 minutes, then allow to cool slightly before filling.

In a large skillet, sauté leeks in the butter until softened, about 5 minutes. Add kale and a few tablespoons of water, cover and cook until just barely wilted. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool slightly.

Lower oven temperature to 350°. In a large bowl, mix together egg and milk. Then add in pureed squash, cheese, herbs, and spices. Stir in the leek and kale mixture, coating everything. Pour filling into par-baked crust and bake for 55-60 minutes, until the edges of the tart are golden and the center of the tart is solid. Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes, slice and serve.

*If you don’t just happen to have pureed squash laying around, take a small butternut squash (or something more fun like Hubbard, Winter Luxury or Kobocha), peel, seed and chop into 1” cubes.  Roast in a 375° oven for about 30 minutes, or until soft.  Toss into a blender or food processor with a tiny bit of water to get it going. Puree until smooth, and set aside for another use!