Thursday, July 26, 2012

Getting the Most from Corn While It's Here - July 26, 2012

I don’t think there is any fresh food that’s goodness is so tied to picking and eating it at the right time as corn.  Believe it or not, we grew corn this year in our yard which gets very little sun.  In fact, John dug up a grassy area in our driveway to find enough area with good full sun.  Then, we had to plant it twice and install a fence the second time because our yard bunnies watched from the bushes and jumped out to eat any small shoots of corn immediately after they came up.  We had two rows of six grow quite well and we even planted beans at the foot of each stalk to grow up the corn.  We planted a bi-color sweet corn and it did well, but not all the stalks fully pollinated.  Corn cross pollinates by air, so I think we’ll plant them closer next year. 

Our bigger problem was picking at the right time.  We picked half a dozen at the perfect time (when the ‘silks’ are brown and dry and you can pierce the kernels with a fingernail) and ate them the very same day.  They were delicious.  Then we got too busy and picked the rest when they had gotten tough and starchy.  If you have this problem of getting too many ears and not being able to eat them in time, there is a better solution.  Corn freezes well.  Just cut it off the cob and freeze in a freezer bag (some folks boil on the cob a minute or two before removing and freezing the kernels).  Or, you can make a great salad like this which is great as a side dish or a salsa with fish tacos or corn chips.

Corn Salad

5 ears corn, cooked and removed from cob              
½ c. finely chopped sweet onion
3 T. cider vinegar                                                      
3 T. olive oil
½ tsp. salt                                                                 
½ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. garlic powder or favorite seasoning mix
½ c. chopped fresh basil

But don’t stop there.  The kernels are not the only useful part of the corn.  In fact corn cobs have great flavor for several recipes.  I love corn cob jelly but have never made it.  Maybe someone will write in with a recipe.  But, if you’ve read my previous posts, you know how much I love making my own broths because it adds so much to home cooking.  Corn cobs make great broth.  You just place in a pot with fresh thyme, onion, bay leaf, salt, pepper and water to cover and boil.  Pour the infused broth into muffin tins and freeze.  Then pop them out into a freezer bag and keep until you are ready to make a great soup.  I know this sounds strange, but corn cobs also make great gelato.  Give it try:

Corn Cob Gelato
3 ears of sweet corn, preferably white, husked
3 1/2 cups (or more) whole milk
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 cup heavy cream
8 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Cut kernels from corn cobs and reserve cobs.  Break each cob into 2–3 pieces.  Bring milk to a simmer in a large saucepan.  Add corn kernels and cobs. Remove mixture from heat, cover, and let steep for 45 minutes.

Remove cobs from milk and discard.  Purée mixture in batches in a blender.  Set a coarse strainer over a large bowl. Strain mixture, pressing on solids.  Discard solids.  Add more milk if needed to measure 3 1/2 cups.  Bring corn mixture, 1 1/4 cups sugar, and cream to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar.

Set a strainer over a medium bowl; set aside. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup sugar, egg yolks and salt in a medium heatproof bowl. Gradually whisk in hot milk mixture and return to saucepan.  Stir constantly over medium heat until custard registers 175°, about 2 minutes.

Immediately pour custard through strainer.  Place bowl with custard over a large bowl of ice water.  Let stand until cold, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Cover and refrigerate custard for at least 6 hours or, preferably, overnight.  Process custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.  Transfer to a container and freeze for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Finally, you can also make use of the corn husks by making your own tamales.  Yum!!!!


2 cups masa harina corn flour
1 (10.5 ounce) can beef broth
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup lard
cheese, peppers, meat or other ingredients for filling
dried corn husks
1 cup sour cream

Soak the corn husks in a bowl of warm water. In a large bowl, beat the lard with a tablespoon of the broth until fluffy. Combine the masa harina, baking powder and salt; stir into the lard mixture, adding more broth as necessary to form a spongy dough.

Spread the dough out over the corn husks to 1/4 to 1/2 inch thickness. Place one tablespoon of the filling into the center of each. Fold the sides of the husks in toward the center and place in a steamer.  Steam for 1 hour.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Za’ Atar and Whey – July 13, 2012

As I forewarned in my blog last week, I decided that I needed whey to jump start my sauerkraut fermentation.  This ended up being a great thing, because it helped me learn about another fabulous product of separating yogurt, Lebnah.  Lebnah is the cheese that results from the yogurt once the whey is removed and not only is it easy, it is really yummy.  You simply buy a 16 ounce container of plain yogurt.  I just got Dannon from our local grocery.  You add a teaspoon of salt and stir to mix things up well.  Then, you place a cheesecloth or clean cup towel in a bowl and pour in the yogurt.  Fold up the corners and wrap with a string or rubber band and hang over the sink (or over a bowl if you are saving the whey that drips out).  After about 24 hours, the cheese is separated and you can scrape into a bowl.

When you are ready to serve the Lebnah, you just form into a ball and place on a platter.  Form a well in the top and pour good olive oil over this.  Then use pita bread for dipping.  I used Oliva Bella oil which is imported to Lexington, but can now be bought in Louisville and I added Za’ Atar spices someone gave me from Just Creations.  This is a Middle Eastern spice mix made primarily of sesame seeds and sumac.  You often see this on pita bread in restaurants.  I had been wondering how to use it, so now I know!

Well, that was all so much fun, I couldn’t stop there.  I wanted to make my own pita bread.  Turns out, this is complicated when you decide what type of bread to make. Traditional pita bread is cooked in very hot ovens which causes the bread to puff up and create the pocket.  You can simulate this in your oven with a pizza stone at 500 degrees, but then you get a pita bread that is more crispy and not as good for dipping.  You can make the same bread and bake at 350 degrees and you get a soft bread great for dipping, but it no longer forms the pocket.  You decide which is what you are looking for.  Either way, it’s simple to make.

Homemade Pita Bread

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon of sugar
1/2 cup of warm water
4 cups of bread flour
2 teaspoons of salt
1 cup of warm water
1 tablespoon of olive oil

Dissolve yeast and sugar in 1/2 cup of warm water and set aside, covered, for 15 minutes. Dissolve salt in the remaining 1 cup of warm water.  In a large mixing bowl, add flour and make a well in the center.  Add yeast mixture and salt water to flour and knead with hands for 10 minutes in the bowl.  Add olive oil and continue to knead until all oil is absorbed.  Shape into a ball in the bowl, cover, and place in a warm area to rise until doubled in volume, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Punch down the dough and knead for 5 more minutes.

Preheat oven with lightly oiled pizza stone on bottom rack to 350 degrees if you want soft pita and 500 degrees if you want crunchy pita with pockets.  Separate dough into 12 pieces and roll three at a time to 3/8 to ¼ inch thickness (keeping other dough covered).  For effect, you can roll za’ atar spice on the top of your pita as well.  Place three pitas at a time on the pizza stone and bake 2-3 minutes, then turn the pitas over and bake for another 2-3 minutes.  You’ll know when the crunchy dough is ready because it’ll puff up.  You’ll need to carefully push it back down flat when you remove it from the oven.  Place pita on a tray covered with a clean dishtowel.  Pitas can be stored in plastic bags in the refrigerator or freezer.  Before using, brown in a lightly oiled frying pan for a few minutes until browned on both sides.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Cabbage Time! – July 6, 2012

I love cabbage, but a little cabbage goes a long way, so you definitely need several ways to prepare it if you plan to grow it in your garden.  Fortunately, cabbage will last several weeks in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator if stored in plastic bags with as little air as possible.  I love it cooked in soups and as a side.  I also like it cooked with potatoes and Amish noodles with a little sugar.  But, as much as I love all those warm weather ways to cook cabbage, all I can think about today is the fact that it is 103 degrees in the shade and I’m looking for a summer recipe.

I’m not a mayonnaise fan although I think making it in the blender is a blast, so I always thought I didn’t like Cole Slaw, but then I saw this recipe from the Neely’s of Bar-B-Que restaurant and Food Network fame and I became a convert.  This is the perfect compliment to Bar-B-Que:

Neely’s Sweet and Spicy Slaw

1 pound shredded cabbage
2 grated carrots (optional)
½ minced sweet onion
¼ c. mayo
1/8 c. mustard (I used Dijon)
1 tsp. cider vinegar
½ c. sugar
½ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. cayenne
salt and pepper to taste

Mix cabbage, onions and carrots.  Whisk other ingredients and pour over.  Chill 2 hours to overnight and serve.

I have also been experimenting with sauerkraut making.  I have made two batches now.  The first was just cabbage, salt and lemon.  It tasted fine but it took 10 weeks to ferment.  So, I read more and realized the secret ingredient is whey.  I bought a container of yogurt and separated out the whey and used to make the second batch (I’m sure you can already guess about next week’s blog since that left me with the yummy firm cheese from the yogurt to experiment with as well).  This time, it only took four days for fermentation to begin. 

Not only does sauerkraut allow you to keep cabbage in the fridge for weeks and freezer for months, it is really, really good for you.  It puts all those healthy enzymes in your stomach and helps you digest other foods.  And although it takes a good deal of time, it’s quite easy.


8-10 cups shredded cabbage, loosely packed (about 2 lbs), about 1 cabbage
10 juniper berries
1 tsp. caraway seeds
1 tsp. yellow mustard seeds
1-2 tsp. un-iodized or pickling salt
½ cup whey (optional)
1 c. filtered water mixed with 1 tsp. salt
1/2 lemon cut in half (optional)

In a clean, non-metallic bowl, mix cabbage, juniper berries, caraway, mustard seeds, and salt.  Stir cabbage to release juices, let rest 10 minutes, add whey if you have it and mix again.  Sterilize jar and lid by boiling.  Pack cabbage into a sterilized quart-sized, wide-mouthed jar, pushing down with a wooden mallet.  Add filtered, or non-chlorinated, salty (1 teaspoon salt per cup of water) water to rim of jar and cap loosely with a sterilized canning lid. You can also rub a lemon half around the rim to help sterilize.  Place jar on a tray to catch overflowing juices. Keep jar between 65°F and 72°F for 2-3 weeks.

After bubbling stops, check container and top off with salty (1 teaspoon salt per cup of water, warm slightly to dissolve completely) water if level falls below rim. Skim any (harmless) white spots or film from the top, close jar tightly, wipe off outside of jar and store in the refrigerator until you use it up.

One other idea when growing cabbage to extend your harvest!  After picking your mature cabbage heads from spring planting you can later enjoy a harvest of small heads commonly referred to as cabbage sprouts. The sprouts form on the stumps of the cut stems. You cut your mature head as close to the soil as possible leaving the loose outer leaves intact. The sprouts that will grow here in the loose leaves usually become two to four inches in diameter and should be picked as they firm.