Thursday, September 24, 2015

Late Summer Corn and Tomato Alternative -- Soup but not Chowder

There are only so many times you can have fresh farm stand corn cooked gently on the grill served naked without butter or salt because it's so sweet just by itself, accompanied by a simple plate of heirloom tomatoes harvested from the garden, perhaps with a light sprinkle of salt and pepper and a topping of chopped basil (also from the garden).  With a side dish of grilled chicken.  This is otherwise known as Sunday dinner around here, because I would make twice or three times as much corn as needed so that it could be eaten cold straight out of the fridge or cut into salads during the week (usually with tomatoes).  And two or three times as much chicken.  Only so many times.  Susan was starting to roll her eyes.  So was I.

In my defense, it was a hot summer.  Anything that involved turning on the indoor stove was off limits, and raw tomatoes needed no heat.  But still, there are only so many times.  The temperature had dropped, so a corn and tomato chowder would be perfect.

Here's what I had on hand:  Six ears of white corn from Wilson Farms (the white corn is here, shouted the signs...who could resist?), and some tomatoes from the garden.  The recipe surfing I did for inspiration mostly turned up chowders that relied on cream or milk, but I thought that much dairy would overwhelm the subtle flavors of the corn and tomatoes.  Bacon was a common theme, and I had a few slices in the freezer awaiting a mission.  Bacon would give the soup some depth.  One or two recipes had shallots, which I thought would work well.  I had a few Zavory hot peppers, "the first habaneros with mild heat" from the garden.  My experience with them so far this season was that they were very mild, so I intended to use six or seven, hoping for some mild heat.
An abundance of sage!!

The recipes I found without dairy called for using chicken stock.  My feeling was this would overwhelm the corn and tomato flavor, so I opted for making a corn stock from the denuded corn cobs.  Once I was well into the soup making I realized that some herbs would work well.  Basil would be my usual choice, but just outside the kitchen door was an abundance of sage, which I don't use nearly as often.  So at the last minute I piled up about 10 leaves of the sage on the cutting board, cut them once to open the insides, and tied the stack into a little bundle with a silicone band.  Kitchen twine would work too, or even just chop up the sage and add near the end of the cooking.

The result was a mildly flavored soup, heavily sweet from the fresh sweet corn, with some depth provided by the tomatoes.  Some labneh gave the dish a little tang, and when trying the leftovers the next night I added in a little Cholula hot sauce, and moderately hot vinegar-based hot sauce, where vinegar is an important part of the flavor.  Plain sherry vinegar would work well too if you don't want the heat.

Corn and Tomato Soup

Yield: Serves 4-6
Total Time: 45 min
Great for a late summer appetizer or main dish on a cool evening.  It keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days.


  • 6 ears corn, kernels stripped off, ears reserved for use in the stock
  • 4-6 small tomatoes, or 1-2 large
  • 1-2 habanero peppers (optional, more or less to taste)
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 3 strips bacon, chopped
  • 10 leaves fresh sage, more for garnish
  • 4-6 teaspoons of labneh or greek yogurt or creme fraiche or sour cream (one per serving bowl), or to taste
  • Vinegar based moderate hot sauce (such as Cholula) or sherry vinegar, depending on your taste.
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a large saucepan or dutch oven, cook the bacon on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes until the bacon is crisp.  Reserve the bacon for later, and pour off all but one tablespoon of the bacon fat.
  2. Saute the shallot and peppers in the bacon fat for a few minutes, until translucent.
  3. Put the corn cobs in the pan, and CAREFULLY add water to cover cobs (water and hot fat will spatter!)  If your cobs don't fit in one layer, only cover the first layer.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  Rotate the ears of corn so that they all get some time in the water.  Remove and discard the cobs.
  4. Add all but 1/2 cup of the corn kernels and all of the tomatoes.  Cut the sage leaves once to open them up, and tie with kitchen twine or a silicone band so that they can be easily removed. (Alternatively, cut them in a chiffonade and add them toward the end of the cooking time.)  Cook for 5-10 minutes, until the corn gets a little tender.
  5. Remove from the heat and use an immersion blender to buzz the soup to whatever texture you like.  Alternatively, use a blender and blend in batches filling to only 1/3 full to avoid overflow of hot soup (not good!)
  6. Return to the heat and add in the reserved corn kernels.  Cook for a few minutes.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Serve in soup bowls with a dollop of the labneh or sour dairy of your choice and some drops of the hot sauce or vinegar, if desired, to taste.
 Click here for printable recipe.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Pesto, without the nasty cleanup

It's September, and our three basil plants have been supplying us all spring and summer.  As long as I keep up with the occasional flower, they seem happy.  With the season winding down, it was time to give them a major haircut, which means it's pesto time!

I love pesto, but I loathe the mess.  Typically, I dump the ingredients--basil leaves, oil, garlic, pine nuts (or walnuts), salt and pepper into the food processor, give it a whir, rearrange the leaves several times, and repeat until I get a nice "paste" of tiny basil bits suspended in the oil.  (I typically add the Parmesan cheese later, because I often make enough to freeze, and pesto laden with Parmesan doesn't freeze well--or so I've heard).  But the result is an oily food processor with those tiny basil bits splattered all over the food processor parts--a chore to clean up.

So it was with great excitement that I read the following lines from one of the e-mail blasts from Kitchen Gardeners International (KGI):  "My preferred "presto with little mess-to" method is using a stick blender which I find easier to wash up and less wasteful than a food processor."  I assumed that a "stick blender" was British for an immersion blender, and was game to try this.  

I found the method worked best by turning the blender on and stirring it around the bowl to make sure to capture all the basil.  The stirring was the same motion you'd use for stirring anything else in a bowl.  After about a minute or so, I had a nice creamy pesto sauce, which I added to the homemade pasta dug out of the archives in the freezer (May 2015). and topped with some grated Parmesan cheese.

So thank you KGI!  And thanks for the video showing how to make TRUE pesto as done in Genoa, with a mortar and pestle.  (And if you need a pesto recipe, the proportions there are as good as any).  Some day I will try this, but until then, I'm sold on the stick-blender method.

Also, a by-the-way shoutout to KGI.  If you're at all into gardening, or think you might want to be into gardening if only you knew what to do, this is a must-have resource.  They have a great website with articles and videos.  But best of all have an online garden planner that lets you lay out your garden and it generates a planting schedule and shopping list.  It also keeps track of what you've planted for next year, so you can take advantage of succession planting concepts.  It costs $25 per year once you've used up your free month, but it's well worth it.  ESPECIALLY because they plow the money back into all sorts of good causes.  Last year, they gave grants to 200 community gardens around the world in their Sow it Forward Food Garden Grants!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The heirlooms are here!

This should be a festival day.  I have a garden with lots of vegetables -- eggplant, cucumbers, herbs, zucchini, butternut, snap peas, carrots, and peppers.  And I have a few hybrid tomatoes that were nice enough to give give fruit starting in late June.  But these are all supporting characters to the star of the show, the heirloom tomatoes.  There's nothing like ambling up the backyard stairs, plucking one of these off, and doing something simple, like hearty bread spread with thick Greek yogurt from Sophia's Greek Pantry in Belmont (labna if you can't get yogurt this thick--I'm pretty sure it's the same foodstuff), some fresh oregano, and thick slices of heirloom tomato. These are purple Cherokee, an all time favorite.  The Brandywine's are close behind.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Yes please, I'll have me some of that: A simple one pot pasta with tomatoes and basil

Here's a shout out to Food52.  They're an cooking-oriented website that covers a lot of territory, has a great attitude, and consistently puts out good content that I want to read (and recipes I want to cook).  I get their e-mail newsletter several times a week, and there's always something I want to try.  Check it out if you haven't.  It seems that they're pretty successful, and I hope that the appearances are true, because they deserve to be.  So, they don't really need a shout out from me, but today was special.

I was reading Food52 at lunch time, like I often do, and saw this "genius recipe" for one pan tomato pasta, clicked over, saw the lovely picture, and started reading.  The idea is simple, true genius, and I wished I'd thought of it myself. Turns out, it was Martha Stewart who thought of it.  Apparently, this was all the rage a while ago on the Internet, but I missed it.  It's dead easy and delicious.  And I just had to make it tonight. 

Here's why.....the garden tomatoes are starting to come in. And the basil is doing well.  I had onions and garlic in the pantry and a some whole wheat pasta spaghetti.  It was a no-brainer.

The recipe is indeed as easy as looks.  You just dump all the ingredients in a straight sided skillet (called a sauteuese).   There's enough water to just cover the pasta.  You boil it for 10 minutes (they say 9, but my spaghetti was whole wheat, and it said 10), and you've got a meal.  Top with a little Parmesan cheese and your set.  Yum. Go look at their recipe.  It works!  Prep time...5 or 10 minutes, tops.

A few notes.  When I looked at the quantity of salt (2 teaspoons for a dish that makes four servings), I was sure it would be too salty.  But it wasn't.  And I chiffonaded the basil leaves and tossed them in right at the end of the cook time so they just wilted into the dish rather than cooked.  It's better for fresh basil not to be cooked.  And you just use raw onions--no sauteing first--the 10 minutes of cooking in the starchy water was enough to sweeten up those onions so they were mighty tasty.

And click over to their link to other one pot pasta meal "spinoffs".  There's bound to be something tasty there!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Two Lost Years

I posted on July 4, 2012.  And then again on July 2, 2014.  Two years with no posts.  I had good intentions, but then two years slipped away.  I didn't stop cooking and I didn't stop taking pictures. 

There were some good dishes in there, some more memorable than others.  There's zero chance that I'll write about these pictures, but I might be inspired to try some of them again..

I hate to throw the pictures away, so I made a little assemblage of the neglected posts.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What the heck is that stuff?

I just finished breakfast yesterday morning out the backyard.  It's a peaceful spot, before the heat of the day.  Sip my tea and linger with the paper.  I looked up at the garden plot and noticed an enormous stand of green leaves where the cucumbers and eggplant are supposed to be.  "What the heck is that stuff?"   
A few sad radishes with a spectacular head of leaves. 
Plus and early tomato, the first of the snap peas,
and some mustard greens

Radishes.  I'd planted some radishes.  They were supposed to be long white radishes.  But the problem with radishes is that they grow underground, so how are you supposed to know when they're ready?  In the past, when I'd grown globular red radishes, they pushed their shoulders out of the ground when they were ready, so you knew. These hadn't done that.

We had a good rain last week, and it's been sunny and hot all weekend.  What had been a five foot row of struggling radishes turned into a forest of radish greens.  But were any actual radishes underneath?  One had pretty yellow flowers, so I figured those were long gone.

I pulled them all up and found six that looked like they could qualify as real radishes, but they were only a few inches long rather than the five inches promised on the seed packet.  And many more were just little scraggly radish wannabees. 

But while the radishes were disappointing, the radish greens had promise  Now, "what the heck do I do with this stuff"?   I was pretty sure I could eat them. 

The Internet to the rescue, especially, where I discovered that the leaves are a bit prickly, but once they're cooked the prickliness goes away, they're tasty, and they're not as bitter or peppery as you might imagine.  Comparisons were made to turnip greens.  And I like those.

I gave them a good wash in the sink to remove any dirt, pulled off the really thick stalks, put them still wet in a large sauteuse pan, covered, and steamed for a few minutes until they wilted.  Just like spinach.

And they tasted just like spinach.  No bite at all. Silky smooth, no prickles.  And the stems weren't tough at all.

Radish greens, leftover smoked pork, onions and garlic, with a touch
of passion fruit vinegar to brighten.
It was way too much for one meal.  So I took about a third of it to add to some of the leftover smoked pork from the weekend, a sliced onion, and a little garlic.  A meal for a hot day!  A little passion fruit vinegar brightened it up just  a bit.

The rest went into a ziplock bag, into the freezer for another day.

The garden's really coming in.  The Swiss chard has finally taken hold. The Portuguese kale and the collards are heading for their third pruning, and the single zucchini plant is going to produce plenty for the two of us.  More to follow.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Late June Market Meal

IMG_9137 The Medford Farmers Market has been going strong for a few weeks now this season, and getting better every week. They have a new location right in Medford Square. The vibe is good and so is the music. And lots to choose from. I couldn't make it myself this week, but Susan came through with a nice assortment of goodies to make a Friday night meal (and she stayed away from the sweets this time!)

I like to do serial dinners, and Susan's market basket was perfect.  The snap peas from Brigham Farm were sitting in the refrigerator already in that white bowl you see in the picture.  Nothing else needed but to put out a little bowl for the green strings.  Sweet and tender.  A perfect snack to have sitting on the table outdoors in the backyard for everyone to enjoy while I got the rest of the meal going.

The sweet corn from Spring Brook Farm were a pleasant surprise for so early in the season.  I couldn't believe they came from New England.  Rubbed with a light coating of olive oil and cooked over medium heat on a closed grill for about seven or eight minutes, and they were perfect.  A little butter and a squeeze of lime gave it a little zing.

Susan had bought these two veal steaks from Misty Brook Farm based on the RAVE reviews from one of the other market customers.  I don't know what cuts of meat these were, but I put them in the fridge overnight Thursday to thaw.  Given the rave reviews, I figured I wouldn't do too much to it.  The rule of steak is that if it's REALLY GOOD steak, a little salt and pepper is all you want.  I popped these babies on the grill for about 3 or 4 minutes per side, being afraid of overcooking them.  The small boneless piece came out perfect.  The larger bone-in piece was a little underdone (according to Susan, who loves underdone).  Either way though, these had to have been among the best pieces of meat I've ever eaten.  They each had a complex flavor enhanced by the salt and pepper.  And tender!

Finally, sliced strawberries also from Spring Brook Farm with blueberries from Clearview Farm with a little Grand Marnier.  (OK....I didn't get the Grand Marnier from the market!)  The strawberries were deep red throughout, tender, sweet and juicy.  The blueberries plump and sweet.  The Grand Marnier gave oozed the juices out from the strawberries a bit and gave both fruits a little more depth and a kick.

Susan can shop for me at the market anytime!


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