Sunday, August 26, 2012


It's high tide corn and tomato season, time to glom in as much of local, pure, non genetically altered product you can scoop up at your local farmers' market or farm and binge eat. It's all going to go away soon.

If you're already weary of corn on the cob--steamed, boiled or grilled, and you've frozen all the blanched kernels your freezer will hold, here are some ideas for what to do now, in addition of course to the corn pudding recipe in my book, How to Fix a Leek...

Corn pancakes: yes there are corn fritters and they are seriously delicious but I'm thinking of the much easier, simple pancake. At your local supermarket either in the foreign foods or baking ingredients department, you are likely to find a small plastic bag of special corn meal called masarepa. Grab a bag, either white or yellow. The instructions on the package are very easy: you mix the masarepa with warm water, knead it into a dough and let it sit 10 minutes. I say: add 1/4 tsp chili powder, pinch of salt and for every cup of masarepa 1/2 cup corn kernels. After the 10 minute time out, you heat up a frying pan with 1/2" of corn oil, scoop up some corny dough, flatten it into a pancake--I prefer them 2-3" in diameter, and fry it on one side about 90 seconds or until it is crisp and starting to brown. Then flip it and do the same. These pancakes are great for breakfast, brunch or supper with black beans and/or salsa on top or a sunnyside up egg or a spoon of sour cream. They're also great served with spicy sausage, a bowl of chili or grilled flank steak.

Corn salad: slice cooked kernels off the cobs into a large bowl--figure a cob per person and let's do this figuring 6 people. Toss in 1/2 avocado chunked, 1 large tomato chunked, 2/3 small can red kidney beans drained well, 1/2 small green pepper minced, 5-6 pitted black olives thinly sliced, and 1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds. (If you are not vegetarian you can add some finely diced slices of pepperoni.) Dress with olive oil and fresh lime juice--2 tbsp oil to every tbsp lime juice. Add salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Then top with 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves. This is a very refreshing salad to serve with lobsters, grilled chicken or rice and pine nut stuffed peppers. (Spoiler alert: I made the salad in the photo with cherry tomatoes and green pimento stuffed olives because that's what I had on hand at the time. This salad is flexible!)

Corn soup: (with a nod to Steve Poses) there is chowder with corn, potatoes, onions, roasted poblano pepper and evaporated milk. And then there is this pureed soup for 6, which you can make faster. Cut the kernels from 5 ears of fresh corn and puree them in a food processor or blender. Melt 1/2 stick unsalted butter in a large, heavy gauge saucepan. Add one small minced onion and sauté it over medium heat until it's soft and translucent. Add 1/4 tsp chipotle chili powder or smoked Spanish paprika and stir to blend. Pour in the corn puree and heat it for 5 minutes. Stir in a pinch of salt, 1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper, a dash of hot sauce or 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes and 2 cups heavy cream plus 1 1/2 cups milk. Gentle heat over medium being careful not to boil (because of the milk.) Turn off the heat and stir in 1/2 lb. shredded cheddar. Then ladle the soup into serving bowls and top each with a smidgen of minced green chili.

Corn side dish: (this is Mexican) Heat oven to 350º and get out a 2 quart oven proof dish.
Cut the kernels from 5 ears of corn. Roast 5 poblano chilies, cool and slice them into thin strips.
In a heavy gauge saucepan, melt 1/2 stick unsalted butter. Add 1/2 medium red onion diced and 1 clove garlic minced. Over med/low heat sauté until onions are soft. Add the chili strips, cover and cook about 8 minutes until they are soft. Add the corn kernels, and 1 tsp salt. Blend everything and pour into the oven dish. Cover tightly (foil will do) and bake 20 minutes. Add 1/4 lb Monterey Jack cheese and continue baking another 20 minutes. Serve hot, if you dare with a dollop of sour cream. You can eat this simply with fresh tortilla or scrambled eggs or roasted chicken. It will not reheat or last so make the most of it right away.

Monday, August 20, 2012

More on blackberries

If you are feeling ambitious, here is a recipe for blackberry filled cookies, 4 dozen of them, adapted from an old "hippie" recipe that avoided the evils of butter, sugar and white flour. I love 'em all.

Blackberry Glaze filling
Bring 3/8 cup of honey with 3/8 cup of water to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.
Stir in 1 1/2 cups crushed blackberries. Cook i minute. Cool.

For the cookies:
1 egg
1/4 cup butter, softened and cut into pieces
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp buttermilk
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour, cake flour if you have it.

In a food processor or mixer, beat the egg with the sugar. Add baking soda, flour, salt and butter. Beat to blend.
Add the buttermilk and vanilla. Mix thoroughly.

Chill this dough for several hours.

Butter or grease a large cookie sheet. Heat oven to 325º.
Using a normal spoon, drop the dough onto the baking sheet and flatten slightly. Do not let the cookies touch as they will spread a bit.

Using the back of the 1/4 tsp measure, make a small well in the center of each cookie and fill this with 1/4 tsp of the blackberry glaze.

Bake 12-15 minutes until the cookies are firm and crisp.
Store in an airtight tin or freeze in an airtight container.


Sorry to have been absent but part of whatever ails me has become total loss of appetite and 12 lbs in 3 weeks.
But I am back to cruising farmers markets, determined to go on. Mid August is of course the height of the season for those favorite all-American crops, corn and tomatoes, but it's also blackberry time and since their season is much shorter and they are much less beloved, let's start there. After all those little black thimbles are full of antioxidants and fiber with a bit of calcium thrown in.

Blackberries don't make great jam unless you are willing to strain the seeds out of the hot, cooked jam. They are the stuff of the famed French brandy, cassis, but let's not go there. They are fine in a pie or crisp but most people tend to turn them into cobblers which have more cake and less blackberry. A few of these fruits go a long way. My absolute favorite is a simple Provencal clafouti and the real French housewife recipe, so simple a 6-year-old can make it, is in the book, How to Fix a Leek... Now available for $2.99 as an eBook if you want to download it onto your tablet or smart phone and take it with you to the market.

I got my hands on a pile of blackberries this past week and after staring at them for days, yesterday I decided to play with them and try something new. Not a crisp or cobbler, not a pie. Or at least a plain blackberry pie. And because I so love blackberries in that pudding-like clafouti, I came up with a blackberry custard tart. I had six people for dinner last night and it vanished from the dish five minutes after it was served.

So, if you want to go a step beyond the ridiculously simple clafouti, here you go:
For the crust, I made a cookie dough, the easiest kind to create.

In a food processor--and mind you, I did this in a mini one, so know you don't need fancy expensive equipment-- combine 1 1/3 cups flour with 1 stick unsalted butter cut into pieces. Process just until coarsely blended. Add 2 tbsp brown sugar, a pinch of salt, 1 egg, 2 tbsp milk and 1/8 tsp nutmeg. (Optionally, if you are a ginger fan, add 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped.) Process into lumps.

Preheat oven to 350º. Butter a 9-10" pie plate. If you have a metal one with holes in the bottom, this crust will be crisper. If you don't, you can try baking it empty for 10 minutes or not, as you see fit.

Press the dough into the pie plate all the way up the sides and a little over the top so you can crimp it between your thumb and first finger to make it look pretty. Be sure it is even all around. Now optionally you can bake it 10 minutes if you want to make it crisper in the end.

Otherwise pour in 3-4 cups of fresh, clean blackberries and distribute them evenly.

In a medium size bowl, combine 4 egg yolks, 1/3 cup white sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon and 2 cups of any combination of the following that produces a thick liquid: heavy cream, yogurt, ricotta, mascarpone, creme fraiche. I used up 1 cup of heavy cream I had on hand, mixing it with 1 cup yogurt. (As it happened 1/2 of that was lemon yogurt and it added a delightful tang to the pie.) Mix all this together with a hand beater or whisk.

Pour into the pie shell.
Bake this at 350º about 40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Serve warm or at room temperature just as it is or if you want to jazz it up and can take the calories, top it with whipped cream.

If you want to go even further, I found a recipe for blackberry cookies which I will post shortly.
Then onto what to do with corn when you can't face it on the cob one more time.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Uh Oh GMO where you least expect it

The latest list of the 10 most common GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) in the supermarket right now has tied in 9th and 10t place zucchini and yellow or crookneck squash. Yes those innocent looking cylinders in yellow and green. So if you are making ratatouille right now at the perfect time for it or planning to stuff squash for a light summer supper, if you are getting ready to grill zucchini or yellow squash with your other vegetables on skewers, get your squash from a trustworthy source like a local farmer or your next door neighbor. We all know the joke about trying to give zucchini away. ;-) It's so ridiculously prolific, the name we use for it is actually the plural. Zucchino is singular. So it's also ridiculous that big ag would play with zucchini genes to prevent viruses that lower harvesting and thus profitability.

How to Fix a Leek and Other Food From YOur Farmers Market, available now as an ebook on Ibooks, if you can't get the hard copy, has recipes for stuffed squash and zucchini pie so I won't repeat them here. I'll just throw out more easy, tasty options like zucchini sauce for spaghetti and zucchini mousse that really use up all that wretched excess.

Zucchini Mousse au Gratin

6 medium zucchini, coarsely chopped
3 tbs butter
6 scallions, minced
1/4 c parsley, minced
1/4 c fresh dill, minced
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper, ground
2/3 c sourcream
4 tbs bread crumbs
2 tbs grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350º.
Steam zucchini 20 minutes. Drain, shred and drain again.
Melt 1 tbs butter in a skillet and saute scallions until wilted.
Add zucchini, herbs, salt, pepper and sour cream, stirring to blend well.
Saute 4-5 minutes.
Oil a 1 1/2qt casserole.
Spoon skillet contents into casserole. Top with breadcrumbs, cheese and 2 tbs butter.
(YOu can wrap and freeze the casserole at this point to cook at a later date.)
Bake at 375º for 30 minutes.
Place under broiler for 3 minutes to brown the top.
Serve with a tomato, arugula salad and perhaps warm farro cooked with celery and carrots.
If you are not vegetarian, serve this with grilled chicken.

Zucchini Sauce for Pasta

1/2 c fruity olive oil
4 lg garlic cloves peeled
1 tbsp dried basil and 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 lg onion, diced
3 medium zucchini, sliced into thin disks
1 red pepper, roasted (a jarred one will do just fine), chopped
1 tbsp pine nuts (if you can find ones NOT from China)
1/4 tsp salt
dash nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper to taste (probably 1/8-1/4 tsp
1/4 c parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated

In a heavy skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic, dried basil and parsley.
Saute 1 minute to flavor oil.
Add onion, zucchini, fresh basil, roasted pepper, pine nuts and salt.
Saute over medium low heat for 30-35 minutes or until zucchini is thoroughly wilted.
Cool 10 minutes.
Pour skillet contents into a food processor. Add nutmeg, black pepper and cheese.
Puree into a thick sauce.
Serve on pasta. A tomato or spinach pasta makes this more colorful because the sauce is whitish.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Catching Up to August

From early April to the end of June I was away doing cooking service first in Vancouver, Canada and then Ulan Baator, Mongolia. The result was extreme exhaustion. Also sadly, something mysterious but debilitating has prevented many activities, including at times going to the farmers' market. But I'm trying and my physical struggle, which may be the result of eating toxic garlic, onions and other produce sent to Mongolia from China--or may not be, makes me want to shout louder and louder: only buy the local food. Shake the hand that feeds you.

I don't care what the local farmers charge for garlic these days: sometimes $2 a head, sometimes $6 a pound. I also like it better if it has a purplish or even gray hue, for that means it's not been toyed with cosmetically. Since it is a bulb that grows in the ground, and is a heavy feeder from the soil around it, garlic is one of the most tainted foods coming out of China where the soils are contaminated with heavy metals, sewage and toxic pesticides. There have even been reports that the Chinese marinate their freshly pulled garlic in formaldehyde to turn it white. American supermarkets are full of garlic from China these days--read those bin labels-- because it's cheaper than what used to come from California where the growers have been decimated. Don't touch it! As my grandmother used to say: you get what you pay for. Garlic has remarkable health properties--all that smelly sulfur at work--but now an equally remarkable chance of destroying your health. That makes cheap garlic very costly.

Beware of anything that grows under the ground because whatever is in the soil it will absorb. That's why leeks, onions, carrots, etc and mushrooms which sprout from the soil all contain trace elements of minerals like iron. Trust your local farmers, even one not certified organic, because if they don't use pesticides--and most at markets these days don't--the soil will be clean.

Everything in the East was two weeks early this year so corn, tomatoes and blueberries are nothing new any more. Even the eggplant is here so you can make all the ratatouille you want: all ingredients from garlic and basil to zucchini and onions are on sale now. If you get tired of eating it plain hot or cold, throw it over penne or rigatoni. If you're not vegetarian, chop some spicy sausage or pepperoni in too.

One organic grower, Small Wonders Farm, introduced me to the heritage smoky Paul Robsons, which are blackish red with a bit of green peeking out around the stem. "I like them better than Brandywines," she said, referring to my and many peoples' favorite heirloom. She also had some very tasty almost lookalike Black Krims, but they didn't have the romantic smokiness of the Paul Robsons.

Cleaning out my fridge last week I came upon some languishing Hakuri or Tokyo turnips, sweet enough for salad, and a few baby carrots. So I grated them together into a refreshing slaw dressed with fresh chives, lemon juice and olive oil.

But my main activity, when I have strength, has been to recycle all the unwanted carrot tops, celery leaves, beet greens, pea shells and wilting chard into very useful vegetable broth. I don't have to pay $2.95 for a box any more. I just pile all that refuse into a pot, cover it with water, add salt, cover the pot and boil it on low heat for 30 minutes or so. Once it's cool, I pour it into jars or freezer containers. It's made my rice, farro and ditalini pasta exceptionally tasty. I've even cooked corn in it to give it flavor so I don't rush for butter. There is no need to measure and no way to mess this up, if you simply put in enough water to cover what's in the pot.

And last week, I recycled some raw milk from local farm into incredible yogurt, perfect for all the berries coming off the vines right now. More about that when I have strength again.