Foodie Tuesday: Does this Seem Corny to You?

photoMy big sister hates corn. Things made with cornflour or cornmeal are acceptable, but sweet corn in all of its forms disgusts her delicate palate. While I, too, in my sisterly fashion may have disgusted her delicate sensibilities from time to time, I do not blame it on my admiration for corn in nearly all of its edible forms. (Surely my two younger sisters have had equally ample opportunity to be mortified by me over the years, despite their sharing my appreciation for corn.) But I do love corn. Perhaps I am just a corny person.

photoIt’s a little surprising that I find the texture appealing, given that among the very few foods I don’t enjoy are berries or fruits that have an arguably similar texture, with tight skins that burst open to soft insides, but there it is, I’ve never claimed to be logical. It could also be argued that corn has little flavor, being fairly bland if sometimes quite sweet, but this is of course one of its attributes that I particularly like. After all, I am very fond of foods that can be enjoyed in a wide variety of ways and many sorts of dishes or meals. Corn is exceedingly versatile in this sense, able to be incorporated in both sweet and savory dishes without competing with other ingredients, and capable of being processed in a huge range of ways to create yet more uses for it. You can dry it, soak it, pound it, puree it, pop it, use it as a whole kernel or even a whole cob, roast or fry or boil or steam it. It’s hard to think of many ways you can’t use corn.

Still, I’ll admit that my favorite treatments for it are usually the simplest. A garden-plucked ear of sweet corn is so delicious that I will not only eschew my normal craving for twenty pounds of butter per meal and eat it plain when it’s so fresh, I will happily gnaw it uncooked from the cob in that state. I’ve probably mentioned here before that when I was young and Gramps had his garden in its grand proliferation, there was that harvest time of year when the greatest treat was to have a meal of nothing but corn straight from the patch.

photoI also love kernel corn, hot and buttered, and newly baked cornbread. Mom used to make corn cakes on the griddle for an occasional breakfast, and despite my preference for my pancakes to be thin and moist, I happily made exception for those corn cakes’ thicker and cakier character because their toasted cornmeal flavor and sweetness made them much more like slim slices of cornbread or even a piece of celebratory cake than like any typical pancakes. Come to think of it, they would be a perfect dessert cake if made larger in circumference and stacked with some fabulous penuche or chocolate or cream cheese frosting between. Uh-oh. Dessert alarm is going off noisily in my head (stomach).

Corn clearly makes a wonderful and uncomplicated addition to all sorts of casseroles, soups and hot dishes as well in its cut-kernel form. It’s good to remember, though, that corn is also lovely cold. Added to salads, whether as a part of a mixed, dressed kind of salad or simply added to any combination of mixed greens that make up your favorite tossed salad, corn is a wonderful jot of sweetness and light color in the blend. I’m particularly a fan of corn added to salads of ingredients common to hot-weather climes: avocado, black beans, tomatoes, olives or capiscum pieces; citrus, mangoes or peaches can add a dash of brightness; dry, salty cheeses grated in, cilantro or mint or basil snipped on, and sweet or savory spices sprinkled over the dishes can all help to customize the dish, and corn is friendly with all of them.photoAnd me, I’m pretty friendly with nearly anything that has corn in, on or with it.

Foodie Tuesday: Warm Up the Winter

There are plenty of good reasons to love winter eating. Every season has its particular pleasures and what appeals and tastes best varies with the weather, activities particular to the time of year, and winter–whatever challenges the season may present in terms of work and play–is rich in favorites too. What I tend to love in winter is mostly the kind of food and drink that spells comfort in colder weather: roasted, fried, grilled, hearty, spicy and/or deep flavored comfort is particularly welcome at my table.

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Roasted squash stuffed with artichokes and sage is complemented by roasted beetroot and rosemary. They can all go in the oven at the same time, too, with just a little supervision!

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Shredded slow-cooked or roasted meats like spicy chicken or [pork] carnitas are filling and satisfying. If there were roasted vegetables yesterday, a mash or puree of them can make a lovely accompaniment to today’s entree. Simple, silky carrot puree with lemon juice and butter, for example, works in companionable comfort with the coarser mash of guacamole–the latter, easily made on the fly when I keep some mashed avocado handy.

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A moist and tender pork roast, with a half avocado, some pan-fried green beans and red capiscum slivers, and potatoes roasted in the oven with butter, salt and pepper, smoked paprika, mustard seeds, and crushed cheddar cheese puff crumbs, makes a grand and gratifying meal.

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A good curry (at our house, nearly always nothing more than good coconut milk spiced with homemade sweet curry masala*) is a great way to combine any sort of roasted, grilled or sauteed vegetables, with or without seafood or meat. A couple of pieces of grilled citrus for drizzling into the curry to taste, adds a nice bright note that can bring a dash of sunshine to the winter, too.

KINCURRY
A curry masala recipe, courtesy of the late Quentin Kintner of Port Angeles, WA.
I think Q would approve of my sharing this, since he was generous enough to share it with our family in the first place!

4 T (tablespoons) ground turmeric
3 T ground coriander
2 T ground cumin
2 T ground ginger
1 T ground cardamom
1 T ground mace
1 T whole white peppercorns
1 T whole cloves
1 T whole fenugreek
2 tsp ground cayenne

Grind the spices together and store carefully away from light and heat; I use a dedicated small coffee grinder for my spices. That’s all there is to it! This masala freezes well, if you’re not fast enough to use a whole cup of it up quickly or are planning to give some away. I like to make a double batch (about 2 cups) since it does keep. It’s wonderful toasted in either a dry pan or a little ghee before adding to various dishes, savory or sweet.

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Even the standard steak dinner, sided with rice and vegetables, can be jazzed up a little for winter with some seasonal fruit favorites as garnish. Here, a perfectly ripe pear and a handful of brightly-sweet pomegranate arils please the eye as wonderfully as they do the palate.

Foodie Tuesday: From GM to GF without Prejudice

photoYou know I’m not a vegetarian, let alone a vegan, nor do I on a regular basis obey or enforce any dietary edicts in my kitchen regarding the consumption of meats, fish, dairy, eggs, or practically anything else in the edible universe. But since I do respect the lives, health and right to believe what they believe about foods that other people have–even if the belief is patently ridiculous, like one that would, say, eat anything but my cooking (okay, there may be fine reasons for that one, too, come to think of it)–well, it means that I do think about what I eat. Surprising though that may be to anyone who has seen me hunched over my food like a half-starved grizzly just because I like it so much. Aside from the notion that I don’t mind being associated with a creature bearing (please bear with me) the wonderfully mellifluous and magical name of Ursus arctos horribilis, I can’t really make that claim. My body does express its likes and dislikes more clearly as I age.

This means that despite my blissful youth of eating every triple-scoop of ice cream that appeared before my glistening eyes without experiencing a noticeable twinge on my elastic waistband, I now find myself questioning whether a single scoop ‘every so often’ might threaten me with an equal and opposite seismic event should I waver too close to any fragile chairs or ice-covered ponds. That a stick of butter should probably no longer be considered an after-school snack. (Well, I thought about it, I’m sure.) Maybe even that the dreaded concept of Portion Control might in fact be a useful, if not lifesaving, one, particularly when applied to foods with calorie counts exceeding the sum total of my age, my IQ, plus my life savings in number. I’ll leave you to contemplate which of these numbers alone is the highest or lowest. And don’t tell me your conclusions, thank you.

Meanwhile, back in my kitchen, I stand contemplating yet another set of conundrums. I’m not convinced that a dramatic decrease in my intake of genetically modified foods is going to wildly affect my remaining lifespan or health, unless foods marked GM are in fact made by General Motors as engine lubricants and exhaust system cleaners. I’ll leave it to the more medically fragile and environmentally astute to deal with those concerns if I must. But I certainly think that if I have a reasonable choice between things grown with or without gene alteration and chemical additives and other forms of production hocus-pocus, I’ll opt for the less adulterated versions. And my gut tells me (this, more literally than might be delicate for full discussion here; suffice to say that I’m talking about both digestion and the expansion of my middle acreage) that wheat is not entirely my friend anymore, if it ever was. This is expressed primarily in a recognition that most of the wheat-based eating I have most loved over the years is also full of (mostly processed) sugar and rather high in not-so-nutritious calories and is therefore wonderfully addictive to me. I just plain eat more of what’s less good for me because it creates further cravings.

Well, let’s get to the cheerier part of this equation, at long last. Dessert again, if you will.photo

I’m gradually working to go gluten-free, or approach it more closely than I ever have before anyway, to see what cutting down on wheat or just plain cutting it out of the diet might do to simplify this one aspect of my food-related health and happiness. I’m learning to work with a number of ingredients that fill most wheat gaps in my taste, and I’m finding new stuff to like. Or is that bad? New foods to like, when I’m so ancient that I can’t just eat willy-nilly and know that there will be no consequences?photo

Here’s a simple little dinner that arose out of the experiment just recently. Small, tender (erm, check out the torn one, damaged by soft pieces of cheese) crepes made of egg, water, a touch of vanilla and a pinch of salt, folded over an uncomplicated filling of cubed roasted chicken warmed with sautéed celery and red capiscum and a whole lot of sliced brown mushrooms, all seasoned lightly with the bacon fat and butter in which they were mingled, a splash of broth, a freckling of black pepper, and a dash of Worcestershire. My beloved dinner companion was not desirous of anything further in his, so mine was the only crepe that had the queso fresco added. I think it works pretty decently either way.photo

For another easy little breath of fresh air besides merely leaving the little bit of flour out of the crepe mix, I varied our frequent-flying slaw addendum to try out a slightly different salad. Thinly sliced celery, shredded carrots and sliced almonds. A spoonful of ginger preserves, the juice of half a lime, and a couple of tablespoons of macadamia nut oil. Crunchy and clean and fresh, and a strong contrast to the soft textures and savory warmth of the crepes.photo

I’m not sure of it, but I think perhaps the meal was satisfying enough that it removed one iota of my natural craving for an actual dessert to follow it immediately. One iota, mind you. I can still envy those who can eat all the floury goodies they want without serious guilt or consequence. But there will be dessert. Many and many a time to come. It’s just that the desserts will be smaller than a triple scoop of yummy scrummy ice cream. And contain lots less wheat, I’m guessing. We’ll just see how all of this goes.photo