Tag Archives: Corn

Blog Neglect and Corn Chowder

I certainly have been neglecting this blog, haven’t I? I started this blog many years ago, when I had a lot of extra time on my hands, I wanted to learn blogging, and I wanted to become a better cook. Keeping up the blog helped achieve those goals. Researching cooking techniques and writing down recipes reinforced them in my head, so that now I can do a lot of cooking without consulting a book or a recipe. I also feel more confident in the kitchen and more inclined to experiment or go off the recipe. But that kind of cooking isn’t very bloggable, especially since I’m not one to take a lot of photos of my food.

(Speaking of photos, my husband has taken up photography as a hobby. If he wanted to do some food photography, I would happily showcase his work on this blog.)

Let’s take last night’s dinner, for instance. It was cold and drizzly, and I wanted to make corn chowder. The first recipe I consulted sounded good, but it called for a pre-baked potato. I didn’t have any on hand, and I certainly wasn’t going to bake a potato for an hour just to put it in a soup. But I marked the recipe as something to try when I had leftover baked potatoes, and I also took note of some of the additions it suggested.

The second recipe was in Joy of Cooking. It was much simpler, but I didn’t care for the idea of a soup with a milk base. I’m trying to reduce my dairy intake these days. Still, it was a good base to build on. Here’s what I did.

I fried 3 strips of bacon until crispy and put them on paper towels to drain. I put a spoonful of the bacon grease into my soup pot, along with about half an onion, diced, and 2 celery stalks, sliced. I let them cook a little while over medium-low until they had gotten tender. Then I added 1 baking potato, peeled and diced, about 1 cup of frozen corn kernels, and about 2½ cups chicken stock. I use the word about because I didn’t measure; I just added things to the pot until I had what looked like a good amount of soup. I seasoned the soup with a healthy amount of Southwest seasoning mix (Penzey’s). I brought it to a boil, covered it, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes were cooked. Using a stick blender, I pureed the soup to thicken it up, but I left it relatively chunky.

To serve, I let each person add what they wanted: crumbled bacon; dollop of sour cream; and grated cheddar-jack cheese. It served 3 people with some left over. I thought it was pretty tasty, but when and if I make it again, I doubt I’ll make it the exact same way.

As a matter of fact, this basic formula would work for any potato-based soup. Instead of corn, you could add leeks, tomatoes, carrots, greens, peas–almost any vegetable you like, really. You could vary the seasoning and garnishes as you wish.

After you get experience and confidence cooking, recipes start to seem superfluous–at least for everyday cooking. I’ll still follow a recipe religiously when I’m trying a new and challenging dish. But when I’m trying to get dinner on the table, I tend to follow my instincts and build a dish as a cook, based on the ingredients I’ve got around and how much work I feel like doing.

How do you cook? Do you follow recipes to the letter, or do you improvise as you go along?

The Secret Ingredient Is Corn

Cornbread

Image via Wikipedia

If last night’s dinner was on Iron Chef, the secret ingredient would have been corn. For the main course, I served a warming corn and potato chowder, perfect for a snowy day. It was accompanied by a hearty cornbread. Why so much corn? I was mainly trying to use up the bag of frozen corn I opened (I didn’t quite succeed), plus the two dishes seemed to complement each other.

Since I started the soup early in the afternoon, I finished the corn and potato chowder in the slow cooker, but it would have worked just as well on the stovetop. My only issue was that I got hungry and turned off the slow cooker a little too early, so the potatoes were not as tender I would have liked (they were still edible, though).

This recipe is a little different than the previous one I used. I added bacon and thickened the soup with flour. Most chowders call for cream, but I omitted it, opting instead to stir in a spoonful of sour cream just before serving. The updated recipe is below.

To go with it, I made cornbread in a skillet (which is the best way, in my opinion). I wanted something hearty, so I added more corn and grated cheddar. It was delicious, and leftovers will be tasty as a snack or breakfast.

Corn & Potato Chowder

Serves: 4
Time to make: ~30 minutes

  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp. bouquet garni or dried thyme
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 3 cups chicken stock or water
  • 2 potatoes, diced
  • 2 cups corn, thawed if frozen
  • a few drops of Tabasco or 1 4-oz. can roasted chiles
  • salt to taste
  • shredded Monterey Jack and/or sour cream for garnish

Crisp the bacon over medium. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until translucent. Add the herbs and flour, and cook 3 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil, whisking. Add the remainder of the ingredients. Reduce to a simmer; let simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Alternatively, transfer the soup to the slow cooker and cook for 3 hours on high or 6 hours on low. Season to taste. Garnish as you like.

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How to Make Croquettes

I have been making croquettes — or little fried cakes — for a long time now. They are always popular, and for me they are comfort food. I usually make them with mashed potatoes or beans. It didn’t occur to me that I could use another vegetable until I found Mark Bittman’s recipe for spinach croquettes. But then I realized that the basic croquette is a versatile recipe that can be adapted quite freely. And since it requires cooked vegetables, it is the perfect vehicle for using up leftovers.

Last night I made croquettes with leftover cooked kale. They were surprisingly good, and even the baby ate three small ones. I would also try making them with other greens, artichoke hearts, broccoli, carrots, corn, peas, sweet potatoes or winter squash.

I served them dry, though, which I would amend for next time. Croquettes really need some kind of sauce to be complete. My husband suggested hollandaise sauce, which would be quite decadent and delicious. But even something as simple as a pesto, salsa or aioli would work. But even without the sauce, they are yummy and very quick to make. If you have time to chill them beforehand, all the better.

Basic Croquettes

Yields: about 6 croquettes

  • 2 cups cooked vegetable, either mashed or chopped fine
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup cheese, grated
  • ¼ cup breadcrumbs, plus more for cooking
  • seasonings of your choice: chopped onion, fresh herbs, seasoning mix, etc. plus salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tbsp. oil
  • ¼ lb. cooked, flaked fish or ground meat (optional)
  • Hollandaise sauce, pesto, salsa, aioli, or other mayonnaise or dipping sauce to serve

Combine the vegetable, eggs, cheese, breadcrumbs and seasonings in a bowl, and mix well. Add the meat, if using — these will make the cakes more of an entree than a side dish. If the cakes aren’t holding together, add more breadcrumbs. If they are too dry, add more beaten egg to bind.

Form the croquettes into cakes. You should have at least 6, or you can make mini-cakes to get more. Lay on a sheet of wax paper on a plate and cover with wax paper. Chill for at least half an hour and up to a day.

Heat the oil over medium-high. Dredge the cakes in breadcrumbs. When the oil is shimmering, fry the cakes until well browned, about 5 minutes per side. You may have to cook the cakes in batches depending on the size of your pan.

Serve with the dipping sauce on the side.

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Corn Fritters for Breakfast or Anytime

When I was growing up, corn fritters were one of my favorite comfort foods. They were like miniature pancakes, but we usually ate them as a side dish to a regular meal, so it was like getting an extra treat. Now I prefer to make corn fritters for brunch with sweet toppings like a little jam or maple syrup. But they remain a tried-and-true side, such as for an old-fashioned ham dinner. Or just eat them for a snack — they’re that good.

Corn Fritters

Yields: 12 (2 per serving)

  • 2 cups corn kernels, thawed
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 3 tbsp. cornmeal
  • 2 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp. onion, minced
  • Salt and cayenne to taste
  • Oil for pan-frying

Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor. Pulse to form a thick batter. The batter can be refrigerated up to 4 hours before cooking.

Heat the oil over medium-high. Drop in the batter by the tablespoonful. Fry until browned, then flip and brown the other side. Drain on paper towels.

Simmering: A Technique for Cooking Flavorful Vegetables

There are probably two main ways we all learned how to cook vegetables with liquid: boiling and steaming. But both of these techniques have disadvantages. Boiling vegetables in a lot of water often yields overcooked, mushy results that many of us remember (and hate) from our childhoods. And steaming all too often lets the flavor and moisture escape into the air rather than keeping it in the vegetables.

Lately, I have been simmering vegetables in an attempt to retain moisture and flavor without cooking the vegetables to death, and I’ve loved the results. Simmering is a hybrid of boiling and steaming that takes advantage of the best aspects of both.

Simmering involves cooking vegetables in a smaller amount of liquid than boiling them, and at a lower temperature, enough to keep a gentle simmer going. The pot is covered, trapping the steam and cooking the vegetables in less time so that their vibrant colors are retained.

Liquids other than water can be used to add more flavor. My favorites have been chicken stock, apple cider and orange juice. Flavorings can also be added to the liquid, such as soy sauce, herbs or garlic. Once the vegetables are cooked, if you like, raise the heat, uncover the pan and reduce the cooking liquid to a sauce to retain every bit of flavor.

Here are the basic steps for simmering vegetables:

  1. Cut the vegetables into smallish pieces, if necessary, such as cubes.
  2. Add the vegetables to the pot with enough liquid just to cover them halfway.
  3. Add a pat of butter or a small amount of olive oil, salt and other seasonings as desired.
  4. Bring the liquid to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot and simmer until the vegetables are just tender (see below for suggested cooking times).
  6. If desired, uncover the pot, raise the heat and let the liquid reduce for a sauce.
  7. Serve as is or with the cooking liquid, or toss with a vinaigrette, flavored butter or a little lemon juice and fresh herbs.

Not all vegetables lend themselves to this cooking method, but many do. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Simmer less than 5 minutes: asparagus, bok choy, corn (off the cob), green beans
  • Simmer 5-10 minutes: artichoke hearts, broccoli florets, brussels sprouts, carrots (baby or cut into rounds)
  • Simmer 10-15 minutes: cabbage, summer squash, baby zucchini
  • Simmer 15-30 minutes: new potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, winter squash

Southwestern Corn & Potato Chowder

I’ve been craving soups lately, and it’s not just because it’s winter. (It’s going to be in the 70s here this weekend!) After all that holiday indulgence, soup is the perfect rebalancing food. Broth-based soups are comforting, healthy and generally chock-full of vegetables. Because they take longer to eat, you feel full faster and don’t eat as much, so soups help you lose weight. All in all, soup is good food.

Here’s a simple but tasty recipe that I have been eating for lunch this week.

Corn & Potato Chowder

Serves: 2
Time to make: ~30 minutes

What you need:

  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 russet potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups corn
  • 1 4-oz. can roasted chiles
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp. Southwest seasoning
  • shredded Monterey Jack for garnish
  • blender
  1. Heat the oil over medium
  2. Saute the onion and garlic until translucent
  3. Add the remainder of the ingredients
  4. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer; let simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes
  5. Remove half the soup to a blender and puree; return to the pot and heat through
  6. Garnish with shredded Monterey Jack, if you like
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