Tuesday, July 22, 2014

One Great . . . corn butter

Today's food front features 25 ways to top corn on the cob: Maple and mustard, tarragon and lime, cilantro and sesame.

Great timing for me: I've been holding on to a recipe and waiting for corn season to return for months. I stumbled on this recipe on the now-defunct website Gilt Taste and tried it last year just as the corn season was ending, when it was too late to share it. It isn't something to put on corn, it's something to do with corn.

I was well into adulthood before I looked at a yellow box of cornstarch and an ear of corn and made the connection. Yes, the powder that makes sauces silky starts as a liquid inside the kernels of your corn. If you get that liquid out, you can do silky smooth things with it.

That's the idea behind corn butter: You juice the corn, cook the juice and cool it. You end up with an essence-of-corn paste. Use it as a spread instead of butter. Stir a tablespoon into risotto. Drop a spoonful on a pan of cooked squash. Heck, spread it on corn and revel in pure corniness.

Great-corn season doesn't last long, people. Spread it around.

Sweet Corn "Butter"

Adapted from Gilt Taste. Can be doubled easily.

4 ears shucked corn
Butter, salt and sugar to taste, all optional

USE a corn stripper or a sharp knife to cut the kernels from each ear of corn. Use the flat side of the blade to scrape the ear, getting all the juice you can. (To "corral" the kernels and contain the mess, make a ring on a cutting board with a dish towel and hold the cob on its end, or stand it up in a pie plate. Some people like to stand the corn cob in the hole in a Bundt cake pan. That works too.)

PLACE the kernels and juice in a blender or food processor. Blend well, until completely pureed. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing on the solids, to extract all the corn juice.

PLACE the juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, until it stops bubbling and begins to thicken, then cook about 30 seconds longer. Remove from heat.

TASTE and see if it needs butter, salt or sugar to boost the flavor. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 days.

YIELD: About 1 1/2 cups. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

One Great . . . tuna white bean salad

We all have our weird hobbies, but I'll admit one of mine is especially strange: I collect tuna fish. Not the floppy fish themselves. No, I collect kinds of canned tuna.

While I do make a point of buying wild-caught, environmentally friendly albacore tunas, like Wild Planet or American Tuna, I'm also partial to Italian brands. I keep an eye out whenever I'm an Italian market or gourmet supermarket, particularly in New York. Tucking a can or two of good tuna in my luggage is a lot easier (and cheaper) than shopping for shoes or pottery.

One reason I do that is that I'm a fan of oil-packed tunas. While I understand some people prefer the lower-fat water-packed tunas, I have found that water-packed tuna just makes me load in more mayonnaise to keep it from being too dry. Instead, I lean toward dishes where the tuna is just one ingredient among many, like the French salad nicoise, a mix of green beans and potatoes topped with flaked tuna. I'd rather use a little good tuna than a lot of dry, tasteless tuna.

 On a recent hot night, I got a craving for an Italian-style salad featuring tuna and white beans. I adapted several recipes and came up with this.

Tuna and Cannellini Bean Salad

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (19-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup chicken broth
4 or 5 long sprigs of fresh thyme, plus 2 teaspoons minced leaves, divided
1 jar or can of oil-packed tuna (see note)
1 whole lemon

1 cucumber, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced onion (preferably red onion, although yellow or even a green onion would be good too)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Fresh lettuce leaves

WARM the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook briefly, until just fragrant. Add the drained beans, the chicken broth and the sprigs of thyme. Cook gently about 10 minutes, letting the beans absorb the flavors. 

IN A SERVING BOWL, whisk the oil from the tuna with the grated zest and juice of the lemon. Remove the beans from the saucepan with a slotted spoon and stir into the dressing. Let stand a few minutes, until room temperature. Stir in the tuna, breaking into chunks, along with the cucumber and onion. 

SEASON to taste with salt and pepper and serve on lettuce leaves.  

NOTE: I used a 7-ounce jar of Tonnino tuna fillets, but you also could use a 5- to 7-ounce can of another oil-packed Italian brand, such as Cento or Ortiz, or an American wild-caught brand, such as Wild Planet or American Wild. 

YIELD: 4 servings. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Cook along with me: Cool corn dish

I was looking around for a good side dish to add to my July 4 menu when I spotted this in the new fried chicken book "Fried & True," by Lee Brian Schrager. 

Elote usually is a Mexican street food that involves grilling corn on the cob, brushing it with mayonnaise, rolling it in shredded white cheese and serving it with a squeeze of lime juice. It's crazy-good, but also crazy-messy to eat on a stick. This version, from El Taco in Atlanta, cuts the grilled corn off the cob, sort of like you'd do for a corn salad, and mixes it with the elote ingredients. 

I'm planning to run it next week for our One Great recipe, but first I have to make it to see how it turns out. If you need a summer side dish and you want to cook along, here it is. I'd love to get your notes and feedback, at kpurvis@charlotteobserver.com

Corn Elote

From "Fried & True," by Lee Brian Schrager (Clarkson Potter, 2014) and the restaurant El Taco in Atlanta. 

8 ears yellow corn, shucked
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon hot sauce (I'd suggest Texas Pete)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup grated cotija (dry, white cheese) or Parmigiano-Reggiano
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

HEAT a grill or cast-iron skillet over high heat and cook the corn, turning occasionally, until very slightly charred in spots and just cooked, 7 to 8 minutes total. Cool slightly, then cut the kernels off the cobs into a bowl. (You should have about 5 cups kernels; discard cobs.) 

WHISK together the mayonnaise, lime juice, hot sauce, salt, sugar, garlic powder and pepper in a large serving bowl. Gently fold in the corn kernels, cheese and cilantro just until combined. 

 YIELD: 8 servings. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Feed and Read: What we have for you this morning

Getting a really picture-perfect lattice top on a pie is harder than it looks. Take it from a veteran of lots of not-perfect food pictures: Those darn strips can break faster than old shoe laces. But stars and strips on a pie? Piece of, um, cake: Just cut out long strips of crust, then use the last strip to punch out a bunch of stars. Brush the stars with a little egg wash (an egg white whisked with about 2 teaspoons of water) so they'll stick to the crust, then brush the whole top and sprinkle it with sugar.

Here are our recipes for apple pie, including the genius Red Hot Apple Pie from John T Edge's 2004 book "Apple Pie: An American Story," a recipe he got from a baker named Cindy Deal in Iowa City, Iowa.

Elsewhere in our food pages, you'll find:

A shortcut way to get lots of shredded pork to use in other recipes.
A new delivery system for olive oil.
A jazzed-up burger recipe from the papers of Ernest Hemingway.
An idea for how to keep parchment paper from sliding all over your counter when you roll out delicate doughs.
A two-serving stir-fry for mango season.

And here are a few great reads worth your time that I've spotted in other places:

_ The excellent website Civil Eats has a fascinating piece on moving companies and a "reverse food truck" that are picking up wasted food and getting it to people who need it:
_ A look at an N.C. version of clam chowder (news to me, and I've been around this state for quite a while), from Leite's Culinaria:
_ It's not a read, it's a watch, but the website Munchies has a nice video on Sam Jones of the Skylight Inn.
_ And finally, New York Times writer Kim Severson put together a lovely rumination and slide show on the joys of hometown ice cream parlors. It will put you in the mood for a trip to one of the many N.C. classics, like Tony's in Gastonia, Cabarrus Creamery in Concord (sliced lemon!) and the Mooresviille Ice Cream Parlor.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

One Great . . . Key Lime cake

In Wednesday's food section, we'll have lots of apple pie for your July 4 picnics.  But what about the cake contingent?

I also know a few people who think it isn't a true summer pie if it isn't Key Lime. No problem. I reached back into my files and found something that will cover both groups. Even better: It's simple to make, and you don't have to decorate it.

Key Lime Cake

1 box lemon cake mix
1 (4-serving) box lime-flavored gelatin
4 eggs
2/3 cup each water and vegetable oil
1 teaspoon lemon extract
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (preferably from Key limes)

HEAT oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt or tube pan.

COMBINE cake mix, gelatin, eggs, water, oil and lemon extract in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes. Pour into the prepared pan.

BAKE 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

MIX the confectioners' sugar and lime juice until smooth. Remove cake from the oven (leave the oven on) and cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Invert the cake onto a baking sheet and remove the pan. Slowly pour the glaze over the cake, giving it time to soak in. Return to the oven for 5 to 8 minutes.

COOL completely on a wire rack, then use two flat spatulas to lift it onto to a serving plate.

YIELD: 12 servings. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Pork on your fork and bacon on a Sunday

I had a baco-licious weekend. On Friday, I started the day doing more work on the Perfect Bacon Bowl with staff members from Edison Nation (we'll have more on that story in a couple of weeks). And on Sunday, I stepped up to be a judge at the Bacon & Brews Cruise-In at Atherton Market on South Boulevard. It was a fundraiser for the Piedmont Culinary Guild, a confederation of chefs, farmers and food producers.

Along with my fellow judges Craig Diehl, the chef/charcuterie master of Cypress restaurant in Charleston and Bob Boll of Central Piedmont Community College, we tasted our way through bacon-focused dishes from 16 restaurants, bacon-themed or bacon-matched beers from four breweries, and admired classic cars on display in the parking lot. (I left the car judging to others who are more in tune with what's under a hood.)

Some of my favorite dishes: The bacon cheesecake from 300 East, which used a really clever bacon crust, the Asian-themed glazed pork belly and slaw from the Art Institute, Alyssa Gorelick's fermented strawberry that she served with her dish, and the "whole hog" BLT by David Quintana of Southminster. Quintana applied bacon curing techniques to every part of a pig to make his creation, which showed an amazing amount of work.

In the beers, some of my standouts were the Kings Breakfast Imperial Cream Stout from Sycamore Brewing, and the NoDajito mint-infused beer (much better than it sounds) from NoDa Brewing.

Take a look at my video for more sights and sounds. The winners: Brewer Fonta Flora of Morganton took the Brewer's Cup, and the bacon winners were Heirloom Restaurant (first, for the pretzel "spoon" with honey mustard ice cream and house-cured tesa), food truck Chrome Toaster (second, for the pork belly tostado) and Queen City Pantry (third, for a bacon bruschetta).

Monday, June 23, 2014

One Great . . . summery gazpacho

From what I saw Saturday morning, farmers' market season is in full swing. Corn isn't quite up yet, but everything else that makes summer worth waiting for was on hand, from cantaloupe to zucchini.

It's the perfect time to try a recipe I spotted recently in the magazine Vegetarian Times from blogger and author Tess Masters of "The Blender Girl" (Ten Speed, 2014). I love tomato-based gazpacho and will certainly make that soon. But Masters' version uses a base of watermelon, for mix that ends up with a complex flavor, sweet, spicy and salty.

With the hot days coming up this week, I know what I'll be packing for lunch at my desk.

Watermelon Gazpacho 

From "The Blender Girl" by Tess Masters.

4 cups roughly chopped seedless watermelon, plus 6 cups diced
2 cups seeded, diced tomatoes
1 cup peeled, seeded and diced cucumber (1 large or 2 smaller ones)
1/2 cup diced bell pepper
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
3 tablespoons lime juice (about 2 limes)
3 tablespoons chopped basil
3 tablespoons chopped mint
2 tablespoons diced red onion
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon minced green chile, such as serrano
Salt and pepper to taste

PUREE 4 cups chopped watermelon in blender for 30 to 60 seconds, until liquified. Pour into a serving bowl or large resealable bowl. Stir in the 6 cups diced watermelon and all the remaining ingredients.

COVER and chill at least 3 hours but preferably 12 to 24 hours to allow flavors to develop. Adjusting seasonings before serving.

PER 1-CUP SERVING: 74 calories;  2g protein; 18g carbohydrate; less than 1 gram fat; 0mg cholesterol; 6mg sodium; 2g fiber; 14g sugars.

YIELD: 8 servings.