July 29th, 2014

Summer Risotto with sweet corn and purple hull peas: a cook’s musings, while stirring

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As a first time author of a cookbook, having just passed a milestone birthday, I have found myself in a reflective mood. I’ve been thinking about my culinary evolution, how I got here today, how I’ve grown up and grown in the world of food. It had a shaky beginning: a girl, born in New York, who didn’t care for most foods at all.

Moving to The South made a big impact. It took time, but I came to embrace its culinary ways. There’s a real focus on vegetables that we never experienced up North.

The climate supports a greater variety, that alone surprised me. I had never seen or tasted okra, crookneck squash, pole beans, yellow wax beans, collards, turnip and mustard greens, October beans, or purple hull peas.

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Have you heard of purple hull peas? These are tender pulses belonging to the family of Cowpeas, Vigna unguiculata, whose relatives include black-eyed peas, crowders, lady peas, and field peas. High in protein (24%) and easy to grow: they actually thrive in poor soil, and hot, dry conditions.

Their history in the South has dark roots in slave trade. Their seeds were brought on ships, along with enslaved West Africans to the Caribbean and eastern Atlantic seaboard. Rejected by the Europeans as poor man’s fodder, fit only for cattle, they acquired the name “cowpeas.” Little did the Landed Gentry realize all the good they were rejecting.

Make no mistake, the lowly legume has far-reaching benefits for man, animals, and plantlife. Easy to grow and prepare, the peas are delicious. They are high in amino acids, lysine and tryptophan. According to Cooking Light’s notes on healthy living, they are among the foods that will help insure better sleep. (Ahhhhh.)

And, used in crop rotation, cowpeas infuse nitrogen in vast quantities into the soil. That’s important, as corn, for instance, consumes nitrogen greedily. (NOTE: read Dan Barber’s book, The Third Plate–which goes beyond “farm-to-table” detailing an integrated model for vegetable, grain, and livestock production that is truly sustainable.)

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As a picky child, I did enjoy corn on the cob–what self-respecting kid doesn’t? Once you got through the task of shucking (and avoiding any green worms!) the prospect of eating it was as fast as a plunge in the kettle of boiling, lightly salted water.

There’s nothing as blissful as sitting on a back porch stoop, chomping on an ear in the summer, hands and face sloppy with kernels, spurted “corn milk” and butter .

But until I came to Nashville, I had never eaten fresh fried corn–cut from the cob, scraped and skillet-simmered in butter and water. More a technique than a recipe–this is not “creamed corn.” No cream, milk, or flour.

I learned about the pure pleasure of this dish at my first restaurant job in the late ’70’s at a Southern style “Meat-and-Three” called “Second Generation” run by Anna Marie Arnold. Anna grew up cooking with her mother, first generation founder of The White Cottage, a tiny yet legendary eatery that vanished–closed and bulldozed in the ’90’s, when a city bridge had to be widened.

Silver Queen was the favored corn of the day–a small kerneled white corn that had candied sweetness.

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Peas–Corn–Rice

A delectable summer combination.

One of the shifts in my “food evolution” is using local ingredients in classic recipes. That practice makes good sense, but I didn’t awaken to that sensibility until more recent years. Nonetheless, a creamy risotto lends itself readily to accepting these Southern staples in the stir:

Purple hull peas, cooked in onion, garlic and red pepper
Sweet Corn, cut and scraped from the cob
Short-grain Rice, cooked in tomato-vegetable broth

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The tomato-vegetable broth is key too. Certain ripe tomatoes have high water content. When you cook summer tomatoes to make sauce, or chop them to make salsa, if you strain the pulp, you’ll have a lot of remaining juice, or “tomato water.” Use it, in combination with vegetable broth (made with trimmings of carrots, celery, onions, garlic)

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Stir—stir—stir. It can be a meditative process. You might find yourself reflecting on your own life in food!

As the rice becomes plump and savory, releasing its starch into the broth, a seductive creaminess results. Fold in the corn and its scrapings, and finally the purple hull peas, along with the “pot likker” in which they were cooked.

Garnish with fresh thyme, if you like, or a few curls of pecorino romano.
But it is not necessary–the risotto is rich with flavor, and wonderful texture. Enjoy it with spoon, to capture every luscious bite.

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SUMMER RISOTTO WITH SWEET CORN AND PURPLE HULL PEAS
3-4 ears fresh corn
1 pound purple hull peas (weight is unshelled)
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, slivered, divided
2 medium onions, chopped, divided
1 chili pepper of choice, split in half (cayenne, serrano, jalapeno)
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
2 tablespoons butter (may use oil to make this vegan)
1 1/2 cups short grain rice, like Arborio or Carolina Gold
8 cups tomato-vegetable broth
salt and black pepper to taste

Cut the corn from the cobs, scraping the cobs for extra “corn milk,” into a bowl and set aside.

Shell the purple hull peas, rinse, drain, and place into a bowl. Set aside.

Place olive oil into a 2 quart sized saucepan on medium heat. Add 2 cloves slivered garlic and 1/2 onion, diced, into the saucepan to saute for 2 minutes. Add chili pepper, purple hull peas and enough water to cover the peas by 2 inches. Season with a little salt and black pepper. Increase the heat to bring it to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, until peas are tender, yet still firm. Let the peas cool.

Place tomato-vegetable broth into a saucepan and warm.

In a large heavy duty pot, (such as an enameled cast iron Le Creuset) melt the butter over medium heat. Add remaining diced onion and minced garlic. Saute for a minute, then add the rice. Stir until the grains are well coated.
Begin adding the broth, a cupful at a time, stirring the rice, watching it plump up from the savory liquid, monitoring its creaminess from the released starch.

This process will take 30 minutes: stirring, pouring in more cups of broth, stirring, stirring, but I do not constantly hover over the pot. I’ll turn my attention to making salad, slicing tomatoes, visiting with my friends…

At the 20 minute mark, fold in the corn. Stir stir stir.
At the 25 minute mark, fold in the cooked purple hull peas. Stir Stir Stir.
At 30 minutes, turn off the heat. Taste for seasonings. Serve

Serves 8

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Posted in Casseroles, Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Soups/Stews, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 16 Comments »




February 7th, 2011

Hearts of Dark Chocolate

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Because my mom’s birthday is one week before Valentine’s Day, I always like to make her a dessert that captures both Birthday and Valentine Spirit.

For her–and for me—this means Dark Chocolate.

Each year, I seek to create that perfect chocolate delivery system-
a divine dessert that has both depth in nuanced flavors–
and lightness,
a dreamy melt on the tongue that reveals its complexities in layers.

One time, I made her fluffy mousse in martini glasses and for her 80th, it was that Amazonian multi-chocolate layered cupcake.

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This year, I decided to use these Le Creuset heart-shaped crocks, and make chocolate pots de cremes. I had some compelling contenders in my pantry—gifts from the holidays that included an 80% bittersweet bar from France, a lustrous Italian “Venchi” that makes a bright crack when you break off a piece, and some fine Ghiradelli Cocoa.

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Working with chocolate, I have learned about its receptivity. That different varieties combine well, and flavor profiles can be pushed by introducing fruits, extracts, liqueurs, coffee, caramel, cream, pepper, spice, salt. Its enjoyment is enhanced by these many layers of possibility.

But, it all begins with good quality chocolate–hard and glossy bars that, depending on the where their cacao beans were harvested, fermented, roasted, and blended, will impart pure pleasure.

We are fortunate that there are so many available in the marketplace!

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Pots de cremes are rich custards, oven-simmered in hot water baths.

Here’s what I know:
They are not difficult to make. The ingredient list is not long. Assembly time goes quickly. Baking time is under an hour. They improve as they cool, refrigerate, and therefore can be made up well in advance of serving.

For these pots de cremes, I laced the chocolate mixture with some strawberry preserves. Not a lot–just a couple of tablespoons to add a nice berry note. It seemed like the right red thing.

I also used brown sugar, sparingly, as a dark sweetener for the cocoa. Feel free to improvise here. Some espresso would be good. Or a glug of creme de cacao. Or some orange zest—citrus is sublime with chocolate.

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If you don’t have these (dare I say darling!) heart-shaped crocks, don’t worry. You can use white ceramic ramekins, or small souffle cups instead. I will tell you that I was very pleased with these LeCreuset baking pieces–not just for the sweet shape, but also for their convenient lids.

The pots de cremes must be covered while they bake. Instead of fitting pieces of aluminum foil over each ramekin, I could simply use the heart-shaped cover.

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When they emerge from the oven, you’ll notice a sheen, and a little surface cracking. They will be fairly firm–a little middle jiggle–but that will set up in cooling.

Before serving, whip up some heavy cream, scarcely sweetened with confectioners sugar, and garnish. Fresh strawberries would be pretty too–but since my dad hates fresh strawberries (they have “googies” but that’s another post–) I couldn’t use them here.

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And, if these weren’t for my mom, I’d scoop up a spoonful and show you the deep creaminess of the custard. In a perfect chocolate world, this could be your heart’s desire.

Oh, my.

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HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY FROM GOOD FOOD MATTERS

(and Happy Birthday, Mom!)

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CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY POTS DE CREME
2 Cups Half-and-Half
6 oz Bittersweet Chocolate (can be a mixture of chocolates, like 4 oz of 70% bittersweet and 2 oz semi-sweet)
1 T. Cocoa
2 T. Brown Sugar, divided
2-3 T. Strawberry Preserves
2 t. Vanilla
pinch Salt
4 Egg Yolks

In a saucepan on medium heat, warm the half-and-half. Stir in the chocolates, cocoa, 1 Tablespoon brown sugar. Continue stirring until the chocolate is melted throughout, and the cocoa powder is incorporated into the mixture. Remove from heat and stir in strawberry preserves, vanilla, and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the remaining tablespoon of brown sugar. Slowly pour the cooled (as in tepid) chocolate mixture into the beaten yolks. Beat well. Pour this into your ramekins. This will fill 4 8 oz containers.

Cover the ramekins with foil and place into a bain marie (water bath)

Bake in a 325 degree oven for 50-55 minutes. The pots de cremes will be set up, with a little jiggle. Uncover and allow to completely cool before refrigerating.

Serve with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream.

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Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes | 21 Comments »




September 8th, 2010

Sweet Bays

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When my mom was a little girl living on Long Island, summers meant vacationing out the island’s North Fork, on a little strip of smooth-stoned beach along Peconic Bay called Breezy Shores. Facing the waterfront were dollhouse cottages, white-washed clapboards with dark blue trim, each cottage hand built and a little different from one another.

Some had screened porches, perfect for starlit sleeping; others had small flowerbeds where scrappy rosebushes ambled up their windswept trellises; most had blue painted wood chairs, cracked and peeling, placed out front overlooking the bay.

You could see fishermen in the early morning make their stealth way in small boats, on their quest for a good catch. You could see Shelter Island and watch the ferries make their hourly chugs from the mainland and back. You could watch weather.

I know all this, because when I was a little girl living on Long Island, summers, too, meant vacationing at Breezy Shores. Often, we would stay in the same cottage that mom had. My sister and I would collect smooth stones on the strip of beach, hunt hermit crabs in little sand mounds, rig cryptic messages in bottles and clumsily launch them into the bay.

Breezy, in 1965, was not very different from Breezy in 1935.

After we moved to Nashville, visits to that charmed spot became infrequent.
I went a couple of times in my teens and later brought my daughter–ten months old at the time–for her first salt water and beach experience. Not far from Breezy we discovered a little seafood restaurant. It was near the legendary Soundview, but it was more of a shack. It might have even been called The Shack–thirty plus years ago, memory is not clear on that detail.

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No matter, the food memory is everclear! For five dollars, you could get bay scallops, sweet, small as the tip of your pinky, broiled in a buttery broth, served in an oval gratin. It came with slaw, steamed local corn on the cob, and a soft roll to mop up all that buttery broth. It was simple and fresh, gently sea-perfumed and bursting with sweetness.

I was reminded of that place, and that sumptuous dish, over the Labor Day weekend. Something about the crisp quality of the September air–at last no humidity–the end of summer conjures memories, and I saw some bay scallops, wild caught, for sale at the market.

That little seafood place doesn’t exist anymore, but miraculously, Breezy Shores does…in much the same way as it always has…and holds many stories for future posts….

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MY NORTH FORK BAY SCALLOP GRATIN
with thanks to Joseph and LeCreuset for the Enameled Fish Gratin

2 T. Butter
1/4 cup diced Onion
1 clove minced Garlic
1 T. Flour
1/2 c. White Wine
1 cup Milk
1 lb. Bay Scallops
Paprika
Chives
Salt ‘n Pepper
handful of soft Breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Coat the bottom and sides of a gratin dish (or small casserole, baking dish) with soft butter. Place uncooked scallops in the gratin.

In a saucepan or small skillet, melt the butter. Saute onions and garlic until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add white wine, a little sea salt, a few grindings of black pepper, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Mix flour into milk until well blended, and pour the slurry into the saucepan. Stir until mixed well with the wine and onions. Add snipped chives and a few pinches of paprika. Taste for seasoning. Remove from heat when slightly thickened, and pour over scallops in the gratin.

Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top, dust with paprika, and place into the hot oven. Bake for about 8 minutes–the top will get brown and bubbly.
Do not overcook–you want the scallops to stay tender.

Get out your best bread to mop up the rich goodness.

Serves 4

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Posted in Fish/Seafood, Recipes | 19 Comments »




November 24th, 2009

And The Winner Is…

another beefy hero

Recently, Whole Foods and Le Creuset co-sponsored a pre-Thanksgiving fundraiser at our Second Harvest Food Bank. For a mere $5.00 donation to Second Harvest, you got to sample quite the array of T-Day mainstays and sides, as cooked up by the Whole Foods catering department.

Tasty stuff, too–including free-range heritage bird and gravy, green bean casserole, potatoes au gratin, sour cherry and pecan pies.

And, you got a raffle ticket–for which, Le Creuset donated a 5 1/2 qt. Dutch Oven as The Prize.

The luck of the draw: I won the raffle! I couldn’t believe it. Happy, happy. I was so tickled by this, I felt like a big goofy kid. Sometimes, it’s really nice to win.

The Le Creuset store manager, Joseph, let me pick out the color. I had get the Fig. Isn’t it gorgeous? This is my second raffle win in as many years (in the spring of ’08 I won 2 blueberry bushes in a drawing at our farmers market) so, I guess you could say that I’m on a roll…

the raffle prize

And, I must say that this wondrous Dutch Oven came into my possession at the most timely of moments–our Third-Thursday Community Pot Luck Dinner was coming up, and I had wanted to make some winey-frenchy-stewy dish using beef rump roast I purchased from Walnut Hills Farm. The recipe is part Boeuf Bourguignon, part Boeuf à la Mode–we’ll call it Boeuf à Ma Mode..(that’s beef, my style)

in the marinade

The heavy enameled cast iron pot went right to work, marinating the meat overnight.

Marinade (for about 5 lbs. Beef Roast)
2 cups Red Wine
1/4 cup Olive Oil
4 cloves Garlic, crushed
several sprigs fresh Thyme
Salt and Black Pepper

Mix up these ingredients and pour over the beef. Marinate overnight in the refrigerator, turning the meat at least once, after several hours.

browning the meat

The next day: Remove the beef from the marinade—save the marinade—and brown it well on all sides. While it’s browning, you can get your veggies ready.

Boeuf à Ma Mode
Marinated Beef
2 Shallots, chopped
2 large Onions, diced
3 ribs Celery, small dice
4 Carrots, small dice
2 Bay Leaves
Reserved Marinade
2+ cups Red Wine
2+ cups Vegetable or Beef Broth
1 lb. Cremini Mushrooms, chopped
2 T. Butter
Salt and Black Pepper
2 Tablespoons Dark Roux
Fresh Thyme and Rosemary

sauteeing the vegetables

Sauté the vegetables in the browned drippings left by the meat–add a little more olive oil, if needed. These sturdy ones will go far in forming a rich flavor foundation for this stew, and will actually cook down so far —over time with the meat—as to almost disappear.

add broth

After you return the meat to the pot, pour in the wine and broth, and toss in the bay leaves.

Then, just cover, turn the heat down low, and forget about it for four hours. In the meantime, you can get your mushrooms ready.

mushrooms

Brown the mushrooms in butter, salt, and black pepper in a separate pot. Enhance with red wine.

When the meat is tender, remove it from the pot and cut into bite-sized pieces. (discarding any fat or gristle.)

Thicken the stock with your roux, stir in mushrooms and meat. Simmer and serve.

This rich savory stew served a lot of folks at the Third-Thursday dinner.

pot of beef tips

Delicious spooned over noodles or rice, this beautiful beef stew also makes a special, hearty meal when served with this colorful roasted winter vegetable medley. A real winner!

beefy hero

Posted in Meats/Poultry, Recipes, Soups/Stews | 9 Comments »