Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sweet Corn Chowder

I know it's summer and I know it's hot out.  Still, I made soup.  Because, y'all, sweet corn.  And bacon.  And bourbon.  Yes, bourbon.  It's the new secret ingredient to making the best sweet corn chowder you'll ever have.  Honest to goodness.  You don't need much and it compliments the sweet corn, already at its peak, with just enough depth and smokiness to make the soup feel full-bodied without feeling heavy.  After all, bourbon is just more corn, right?

The soup itself is simple to make, doesn't take a terribly long time, and only requires one pot.  Plus, it used a couple of fun techniques like simmering the soup with the corn cobs to help it thicken and puréeing, which gave me an excuse to use one of my all-time favorite kitchen tools, my immersion blender.  I'm thinking it'll freeze really well, too, so I went ahead and made a full batch and froze three portions.  I know a month from now, when the school year is in full swing, the evenings are getting that first hint of fall crispness, and summer corn is long gone, I'll be so glad I did.

Sweet Corn Chowder
from Williams-Sonoma, New American Cooking

4-5 large ears of corn, husks and silk removed
4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-in. pieces
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 lb. red or white boiling potatoes, peeled and chopped
4 c. vegetable or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 TBSP fresh or 2 tsp. dried thyme
1 1/2 c. milk, plus more as desired
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1-3 TBSP whiskey (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste
red pepper flakes, to taste
1/4 c. chopped fresh flat leaf Italian parsley

1.  Using a very sharp knife, cut the corn kernels from the cobs.  You should have about 4 c. of corn kernels.  Set the cobs aside.  

2.  In a heavy soup pot over medium heat, fry the bacon until crisp, 5-6 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. 

3.  Add the onion to the bacon drippings and sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes.

4.  Add the potatoes, stock, bay leaf, thyme, 2 c. of the corn kernels, and the cobs.  Simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf and corn cobs and, either with an immersion blender or working in batches in a traditional blender, purée the soup until smooth.

5.  Reduce heat to low and stir in the remaining corn kernels and milk.  Add in the bell pepper, whiskey (if using), salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.  If desired, add more milk to reach your preferred consistency.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

6.  To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with reserved bacon and parsley.

Yield: 4 servings

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Espresso Chip Mini Muffins

If you're anything like me, you wake up with coffee on your mind.  On particularly rough days, I'm already looking forward to my morning coffee as I lay down for bed.  And now, I've got a new way for you to enjoy the most glorious of morning beverages.

Espresso chip muffins.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Espresso. Chip. Muffins.  You can drink your morning coffee while also eating it in soft, billowy baked good form.  With three tablespoons of espresso powder in the batter, the coffee flavor is definitely front and center.  A generous studding of semisweet chocolate chips really takes these muffins over the top.  These little gems aren't overly sweet, but you're still bound to feel like you've had your morning coffee and a very grown-up dessert right off the bat.  Day made.   

Espresso Chip Mini Muffins
from The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook
seen on Cook Like a Champion

3 c. all-purpose flour
1 TBSP baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
10 TBSP unsalted butter, softened (1 1/4 sticks)
1¾ c. plus 3 TBSP sugar
2 eggs
3 TBSP instant espresso powder
1½ c. plain low-fat yogurt
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

1.  Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 375º F.  Spray a mini muffin pan or a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick baking spray.  

2.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.
3.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  
4.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the espresso powder and yogurt. 
5.  Reduce mixer speed to low and add the yogurt and flour mixture in batches, starting and ending with the yogurt (3 additions of yogurt, 2 of flour).  Mix only until just incorporated.  Fold in the chocolate chips.
6.  Using a spring-loaded scoop, if possible, fill muffin pan wells 3/4 full.  Bake until muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, 12-15 minutes for mini muffins or 25-30 minutes for regular muffins, rotating pans halfway through baking. Invert onto a wire rack, stand upright and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
Yield: approximately 36 mini muffins or 12 regular-sized muffins

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cucumber-Lime Margaritas

So where have I been?  Well, that's a bit of a tricky question.  I've kind of been everywhere, actually.  I finished a very challenging school year, got a new job in my school district, went house hunting, started grad school, planned a couple of social events for my Sunday school class, bought a house, and went on two vacations.  It's been a pretty stellar summer.  

I haven't completely stopped cooking.  But with the help of wonderful friends, I've been able to put it on the back burner (and still eat well!) while focusing on all the other exciting changes and blessings I've been working on this summer.  I'd like to say I'll be back to regular blogging again in no time, but with grad school this year, I'm not sure I can make that promise.  My realistic(ish?) goal is once a week, with hopes of posting more often.

So I come to you today with a celebration and concession offering all in one.  Because if a really stellar margarita can't bridge that gap, what can?

These cucumber-lime margaritas, the brain child of one of my all-time favorite chefs and culinary bucket list member, Rick Bayless, are made for sipping all summer long.  They're cool, smooth, refreshing, and just the perfect amount of tart.  I saw them on my sweet friend Josie's blog and immediately knew I'd make them.  In fact, they were already on the menu the day I got my new job, a happy coincidence that made them even better.  Just a warning, though, just like summer, this pitcher of goodness will go so, so quickly.  You've been warned.   

Cucumber-Lime Margaritas
originally from Rick Bayless, Fiesta at Rick's
adapted by Pink Parsley

up to 1 c. simple syrup (from 1 c. water and 1 c. granulated sugar)
2 English (hothouse) cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced (for 3 c. slices)
1 1/2 c. silver tequila
1 1/4 c. fresh lime juice
lime wedge for moistening glass rims
coarse Kosher salt for glass rims
ice cubes
cucumber slices, for garnish, optional

1.  To make the simple syrup, combine water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Warm together, stirring frequently, until mixture is clear.  Cool completely, preferably overnight in the refrigerator, before using.

2.  In a blender, combine cucumber, tequila, lime juice, and 3/4 c. simple syrup.  Purée until mixture is smooth.  Strain into a pitcher.  Taste and add more simple syrup, if desired.  Cover and refrigerate until fully chilled, about 1 hour.

3.  To serve, moisten glass rims with the lime wedge and salt by dipping into a shallow plate of salt, if desired.  Fill each glass halfway with ice, pour in margarita, and garnish with a cucumber slice.  Enjoy!

Yield: 6 (6-oz.) margaritas

Friday, May 23, 2014

Blackberry-Bourbon Sorbet

No matter what the calendar says, Memorial Day weekend will always be the official kick off to summer in my world.  It's always plenty warm by then and that extra day off gives us all time to be with friends and family--often outside with the music and the grill going.  Hamburgers, hot dogs, fruit, chips, and potato salad are standard fare for many people, with ice cream often coming in for dessert.

I've got lots of great recipes for homemade ice cream, all of which I'd gladly make over and over again.  Instead of an old favorite, though, I've got a new favorite for you today.  In their April issue, Fine Cooking did a truly fabulous feature on homemade sorbets.  It shared a base recipe with countless combinations and endless adaptations.  They must know summer starts now, as well!  

Along with the recipe, the magazine showed a trick I'd never heard of before.  By gently placing the egg in a tall vessel filled with the sorbet base, you can check to see if you've got the correct ratio of sugar to fruit puree.  If it sinks, you need more sugar.  If it floats, your ratio is correct.  How cool is that?  My best friend's mom and I had so much fun with this new trick.  In fact, we made two kinds of sorbet so we could keep playing with the egg!  The teacher in me kept thinking what fun this would be to do with students as they learn about buoyancy and density.  With summer break fast approaching (happy dance!), you could certainly make this an entertaining way to get your kids in the kitchen!

Blackberry-Bourbon Sorbet
from Fine Cooking, April 2014

1 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 c. light corn syrup
1 c. water
1 lb. fresh blackberries
2 1/2 TBSP fresh lemon or lime juice
3 TBSP bourbon (optional)
1/8 tsp. guar gum (optional, but makes for a creamier texture)
1 raw egg, in its shell, washed and dried

1.  To make the sugar syrup, combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in a small pot over medium heat.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until all ingredients are combined and sugar granules are thoroughly dissolved.  Set aside to cool to room temperature, then place in the refrigerator until cold, about 30 minutes.

2.  In a blender, puree the blackberries and lemon juice.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds.  Place in a covered container and refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.

3.  Put the blackberry puree, 1 c. sugar syrup, and bourbon and guar gum, if using, in a blender.  Strain mixture, once again, to remove any remaining seeds.

4.  Check the density of the sorbet base by gently lowering the egg into the container with a slotted spoon.  If it sinks, remove it and stir in and additional 2 TBSP of the sugar syrup, repeating as necessary until the egg floats just below the surface with a quarter-sized exposed area of shell.  When density is right, pour sorbet base into a covered container and refrigerate until very cold, at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.  For a visual, click here.

5.  To freeze, pour base into an ice cream maker and run according to manufacturer's directions.  Alternately, pour the base into a tightly sealed container and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.  Sorbet will keep up to two weeks.

Yield: 1 quart

Monday, May 19, 2014

Meatless Monday--Savory Cheddar Cheese Bread

I was recently in charge of bringing breakfast for my Sunday school class and, being the blogger I am, couldn't wait to peruse recipes and choose just the right ones.  I knew I wanted to bring a sweet muffin or scone and a more savory bread option.  As soon as I saw this recipe on the King Arthur Flour site, I knew my recipe search was over.

At first glance, the recipe looks a bit time and labor intensive because you actually make two separate batters and marble them together, but that couldn't be farther from the truth.  Both batters are super simple.  I made each of them in one bowl in about five minutes.  With just one simple ingredient swap, I made the recipe a bit more summery, but you could easily adapt it, just as I did, to include your most favorite dried herb or herb blend.  I'm sure I'll do just that, as well as experiment with using different cheeses.  The end result was a savory loaf of bread with an almost biscuit-like texture that was a big hit with my Sunday school class.  I think you'll like it, too.

Savory Cheddar Cheese Bread
slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour

For the herbed whole wheat batter:
1 large egg
1 c. milk
1/2 stick thoroughly softened unsalted butter
1 TBSP baking powder
1 TBSP your favorite dried herb (I used summer savory, but you could use rosemary, basil, dill, whatever!)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. white whole wheat flour or King Arthur stone-ground whole wheat flour
1 c. (4 oz. by weight) grated cheese (cheddar, swiss, whatever you'd like)

For the cheese batter:
1 large egg
1 c. milk
1/2 stick thoroughly softened unsalted butter
1 TBSP baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp. black pepper, plus more to taste
2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

1.  Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Grease two 9" loaf pans.

2.  To make the herbed whole wheat batter, beat the egg, milk, and softened butter in a bowl until combined.  The butter should be in very small pieces, which will contribute to the bread's texture.

3.  In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the baking powder, herbs, salt, and flour.  Form a well in the center of the flour mixture, pour in egg mixture, and stir to combine.  Set aside.

4.  To make the cheese bread batter, beat the egg, milk, and softened butter in a bowl until combined.  Again, the butter should be in very small pieces.

5.  In a separate medium bowl, mix the baking powder, salt, cayenne, black pepper, and flour.  Stir in the cheese and toss to coat.  Form a well in the center of the flour mixture, pour in egg mixture, and stir to combine. 

6.  Put half the herb batter in each of the prepared pans.  Add half the cheddar batter to pan, filling in spaces around and on top of the rosemary batter.  Put a butter knife, point down, into the batter in each of the pans.  With the tip gently touching the bottom of the pan, drag the knife through the batter in curving motions to marble the batters.

7.  Bake the loaves 50-60 minutes, or until nicely browned and a cake tester inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean.

Yield: 2 loaves