Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer Corn Salad

To me, there are two main reasons to have a garden. The first and most important one is for fresh tomatoes. I have no idea how modern agribusiness has managed to rob these miraculous fruits of their sensational earthy sweetness, but they have. From my perspective, those genetically altered red round things in the store should be called something else, not tomatoes. A fresh off the vine tomato can bring tears of joy to my eyes. A store bought one brings a yawn to my lips.

The other reason to have a garden would be to have fresh corn. Now, when it comes to corn, I have gotten some wonderful corn from our farmer's market. I have even bought delicious corn from the store. And corn does say "summer", in a clear, fresh yellow or white voice. So I have no problem with buying wonderful corn when it's in season.

But have I told you about when we had a garden in New Mexico and grew corn? When it was ready for picking, there would usually be tomatoes ready as well. Bob and I agreed that dinner should be corn and tomatoes. He would grill or saute the tomatoes with some fresh herbs from the garden and a little olive oil. I would place a large pot of water on to boil, add a touch of salt, and when it was almost boiling, I'd set out to the garden to pick corn.

We had a large compost pile back then, and I'd stop at the compost, shuck the corn, and then head in to the kitchen with my clean, freshly picked corn. Someone had told us that the sugar in corn turns to starch in the space of about 15 minutes. I have no idea if that's true, but I can tell you that those ears of corn had a taste that I haven't experienced anywhere else, because I've never gone through that ritual anywhere else. And I do believe that those ears of corn had more sugar in them than even the sweetest organic corn from the farmer's market. Perhaps it's merely my memory that makes them sweeter. But I also remember that we both were in agreement on this one - that those ears of corn were the best ever!

But there's a wonderful recipe that I got from Rachael over at Fresh Approach Cooking which I absolutely must share with you. I made it for some friends who were coming to dinner. One of them confessed to me at the end of the meal that normally he doesn't like corn. I stopped counting how many times he went back for more. He couldn't get enough, and neither could anyone else. People raved about this one, and you will too. Not only because it's so good, but because it's also fresh, light, and incredibly easy to prepare.
Cut the kernels off of 6-7 ears of corn. Place in a large bowl.
Cut the green parts off of 2 good sized leeks and clean
Slice the leeks in 1/2" slices
Put the leeks in a pan with some oil and butter and cook over medium high heat until soft - about 10 minutes
Cut cherry, grape or plum tomatoes in half.
After removing the leeks from the pan, throw the tomatoes in briefly - maybe 3 minutes.
Coarsely chop a handful of basil - you may use purple or green - it doesn't really matter
Toss all ingredients in a large bowl and add white balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.

If you plan on having enough to serve your guests, you might want to make extra. You will have a hard time stopping your taste testing.

Thank you Rachael!!! You are amazing!

Thursday, July 16, 2009


No time to post about food today. It's been a busy week with much of it devoted to food, and some of it devoted to photography - but not the making of extraordinary dishes, and not the taking of pictures. I've decided that it's actually time to learn more about photoshop, so I am actually spending time with the book I bought, trying to learn something about this monster of a program. I have assisted others in the preparation of extraordinary meals, and have benefited from having amazing leftovers. In other words, it's been one of those summer weeks.....

What do you do in the summer, when you're not turning out quick, fresh summery meals?

I wake up to the news each morning. These days the news has to do with the economy, with money and how it, or the lack of it, has been affecting people's lives. It has been such a drumbeat of fear, scarcity and gloom, that I find myself drifting back to sleep instead of listening to it. We, as a species, managed to survive the Great Depression. I suspect that we will also survive this thing - whatever it's being called these days. To that end I offer you, dear reader, this poem by John Updike, entitled "Money":


by John Updike

Money is such a treat.
It takes up so little space.
It takes no more ink
for the bank to print $9,998
than to print $1,001.
It flows, electronically;
it does not gather dust.
Like water, it (dis)solves everything.
Oceanic, it is yet as lucid
as a mountain pool; the depositor
can see clear to the sandy bottom.
It is ubiquitous and under pressure, yet
pennies don't drip from faucets.
Money is so tidy, so neat.

It is freedom in action: when you
give a twenty-buck bill to the cabbie,
you don't tell him how to spend it.
He can blow it on coke,
for all you care. All you care
about is your change. No wonder
the ex-Communists are dizzy. In
the old Soviet Union
there was nothing to buy,
nothing to spend. It was freedom
of a kind, but not our kind. We need
money, the dull electric thrill
when the automatic teller spits out
the disposable receipt.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Kaffir Lime Lemon Drop, Irma Rombauer and Balancing Joy and Recession

A friend of mine gave me a magazine the other day in which there was an article about the Joy of Cooking, and it's author Irma Rombauer. I've had this book ever since.....well....let's just say since before I can remember. It was the first book I used to bake French bread. I've relied on the conversion tables, and when I lived in New Mexico, the advice on cooking and baking at high altitudes. I didn't know much about it's author, Irma Rombauer. I wasn't aware, for instance, that her husband had committed suicide after the 1929 stock market crash, and that Irma turned to writing a cookbook as her way of coping with the loss. I'm not sure I ever realized that this book came out originally in the 1930s, and that it addressed the struggle of putting food on the table in economic hard times. I just used it as a reference book more than a cookbook, and for that purpose it worked very well.
The copy I've got was published in 1964 by Marion Rombauer Becker - Irma's daughter, and was "modernized" to include new sections called "The Foods We Eat" and "Know Your Ingredients". I absolutely adore the story with which she opens her section on the foods we eat. "We enjoy the cynical story of the old-fashioned doctor who insisted first on going straight to the kitchen of the afflicted household. Not until he had effusively thanked the cook for giving him a new patient did he dash upstairs to see how he could relieve the cook's victim."

Irma was apparently an excellent hostess. She could throw a party in a heartbeat and keep everyone entertained. The current edition of the book begins with how to set the table, and includes instruction for both formal and informal dining etiquette.
Her original edition also started with entertaining, and apparently began by extolling the virtues of cocktails. She declares that whatever mixtures you put together for your cocktail, you should keep the alcohol content of your drink up to 60% and never below half. It's pretty clear why she was such a successful hostess! She also admonishes us to remember that since cocktails are served before a meal, they should never be too sweet or overloaded with cream or egg. Their job is to stimulate the appetite, not to spoil it.

These days, there are many people struggling to put food on their tables. There are many more people trying to keep the roof over their heads so that they will have a place for that table. But the thing to remember is what the ancient wise men told the king when they were asked to sum up the wisdom of the world: And this too shall pass. Hard times call for an enterprising spirit. In other words, it's time to take those lemons that life just handed to you and make lemonade.

Well, I know that I'm one of the lucky ones because I still do have a roof over my head, and being self-employed means that I still have a job. So when one of my patients came in with a huge bag of lemons, I thought it wise to make lemonade. But wait! Why stop at lemonade? Why not put a twist on the old and create something new? Besides, I had some kaffir lime leaves leftover in the fridge, and I wanted to use them. So I came up with this and taste tested it. May I be the first to tell you that it was delicious?

I decided to start by making a simple syrup and flavoring it with the lime leaves. Basically equal parts sugar and water (or less water, depending upon your taste), heat to dissolve the sugar, and throw in a handful of lime leaves - probably at least 8 of them - then let them steep for at least an hour. Pull out the leaves and you can store this in a jar in the fridge.

For each Kaffir Lime Lemon Drop cocktail, you will need:

1 1/2 jiggers of vodka
3/4C simple syrup
3/4C lemon juice

Mix all the ingredients together and shake in a martini shaker. Strain into martini glasses and garnish with a lime leaf.
What's your favorite old fashioned cookbook on your shelf? Is there one you inherited from your mom or aunt, and you just can't let go if it's stained pages?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Every culture has it's comfort foods. For some people, it's a bowl of chicken soup that makes the world seem right, even in the pouring rain. For others, it's fried chicken. And for still others, it's a bowl of chili - winter or summer. We seek these foods out when we're stressed, when we're beginning to feel a cold coming on, or when the world just seems too much with us. Something about their smell, their texture, their taste - tells us that it's OK - we're OK. That this too shall pass.

Now, don't ask me how a nice Jewish girl originally from Long Island winds up with risotto as a comfort food. I mean, if I read the manual, it would probably say chicken soup - right? And chicken soup is great too - don't get me wrong. But these days, with a dislocated little toe and June gloom, I find myself turning to risotto for comfort. The texture is perfect. And someone gave me some sliced truffles which came in water. And I still have lots of dried shitaki mushrooms. So what's a girl to do?

I'll tell you what I tried to do. I tried photographing the risotto with the veggies I had grilled to go with it - red pepper, zucchini and eggplant. For some reason, not even Photoshop wants to open those pictures. They are, apparently, in an unrecognizable format. I see another learning curve in my future..........

Since I've made this kind of a dish before, I'm going to cheat a little and give you the recipe as it appeared here. Besides, I just went back and re-read that post, and in a heartbeat I was back in Rome. If you have the time and would care to take a quick jaunt to the Eternal City, be my guest!

What foods do you call comfort foods?

BTW - The black phoebe is using the bush outside my window as a culinary lesson for her young. Beyond fabulous!


2 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved, thinly sliced crosswise (about 2 cups)
3/4 cup whipping cream

1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, cut into 1/4- to 1/3-inch-thick slices
1 large onion, halved, thinly sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 tablespoon white truffle oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice or medium-grain white rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 cups (or more) hot vegetable broth
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons shaved or chopped black truffle (optional)
Chopped fresh parsley


For leeks:
Bring leeks and cream to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until leeks are tender and cream is thick, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm before continuing.

For mushrooms:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss all ingredients on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until mushrooms are tender and light brown around edges, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

For risotto:
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add rice; stir 1 minute. Add wine and stir until almost all liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute. Add 1 cup hot broth. Simmer until broth is almost absorbed, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Add more broth, 1 cup at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding next and stirring often, until rice is tender and mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes longer. Stir in leek mixture, mushroom mixture, remaining 2 tablespoons butter, cheese, and truffle. Transfer to large bowl, sprinkle with parsley, and serve.

Market Tip
White truffle oil is sold at some supermarkets and at specialty foods stores and Italian markets. Black truffles are available at specialty foods stores and from igourmet.com. A flavorful substitute for the shaved truffles is the Truffle Gatherers Sauce ($19), which can be ordered from fungusamongus.com.

Kitchen Notes:
I had truffle oil this time, but not leeks. I used scallions instead. And, as I mentioned, I used truffles that had originally come sliced and in a can with water. I have never looked for this type of can. The woman who gave it to me is the wife of a chef. It helps to have connections!!