Category Archives: dinner

corn chowder

Corn is cheap, fresh, and sweet now, so I’ve been using it a lot.  Raw in salads, featured in salsa, or tossed in lime juice, salt, and chili powder, it’s a quick and simple way to evoke summer.  Because it’s a million degrees in Miami, and so humid that the air dampens your skin on contact, I tend to use summer corn in chilled dishes.  Chilled raw corn is slightly sweet, very grassy, and pleasantly neutral.  But to experience the deepest, most concentrated, essential corny flavor the summer’s crop has to offer, I turn to chowder.  Yes, thick hot soup on a thick hot evening.  But, somehow, it works.

The ingredients and amounts represent what I had on hand.  The flavors worked, but the recipe is flexible.  Because I had whole milk about to expire, I used it for most of my liquid base.  The soup would be equally creamy, and much less caloric, if one were to replace the milk with chicken stock, use a full cup of potatoes (the starch helps thicken the broth), and add a touch of cream or half and half after blending.

Corn Chowder

Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as an appetizer

3 strips of bacon, cut into lardons

1 medium onion, diced

1 sprig of thyme

½-1 cup potatoes, cut into ½ inch cubes

4 ears of corn

½ tsp jalapeno, diced small

1 bay leaf

3 cups milk

2 cups chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut bacon, onion, and potatoes as directed.  To remove kernels from corn, cut bottom off ear and place the flat end in a wide bowl.  Cut kernels off cob from top to bottom, making sure to cut as close to the cob as possible to extract all the corn “milk.”  Reserve cobs.

In a large pot or dutch oven, cook bacon over medium high heat until dark brown and crispy.  Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon to a paper-towel lined plate and reserve.

Turn heat to medium low and sauté onions in bacon grease.  When onions become translucent (after 5-8 minutes), add thyme, sauté 1 minute, then add potatoes, sauté 1 minute, and finally, add the corn kernels (and any liquid from the bowl), jalapeño, and bay leaf.

Turn heat to high.  Add milk, chicken stock, and corn cobs.  When soup comes to a boil, cover and turn heat to low (so soup is barely simmering).  Cook for 30 minutes, or until potatoes are done, stirring every 10 minutes. 

Remove from heat.  Remove corn cobs to a large bowl.  Position flat side of cob in bowl as you did when cutting kernels; hold the top end (which will be very hot) with tongs or a kitchen towel and run the flat side of a knife or large metal spoon over the side of each cob to extract any liquid.  Return liquid to soup and discard cobs.  Discard bay leaf.

Ladle soup into a blender, filling halfway (as the rising steam creates upward pressure on lid).  Hold lid down with a folded kitchen towel, and puree on low setting until smooth, but still with texture.  Return blended soup to pot, and repeat process with blender until desired consistency is achieved.  [The soup pictured was blended twice, and still very chunky.  There were lots of fresh corn kernels and potato cubes, but I prefer a more even consistency, so I pureed the leftovers completely before saving.  Both taste great; my boyfriend prefered the chunky and I the smooth].

If soup isn’t sufficiently warm, return to heat.  Add salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.

Serve with reserved crispy bacon.  (Other good add-ons would be grated cheddar, green onion, basil, diced tomatoes, or even ½ cup of cooked chicken or shrimp to make a complete meal).

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paneer

I shouldn’t have waited so long to make this.

But turning milk into cheese sounds intimidating.  How could I tell when my curds were curdy enough given that all I knew about curds and whey I learned from Miss Muffet?  But this afternoon my craving for palak paneer – that Indian restaurant staple of creamy spicy spinach and pillows of fresh cheese – got the best of me, and soon I was walking from work to the market on a cheese-making mission.  Fortunately for my pocketbook, paneer consists of two ingredients: milk and lemon juice.  That’s right – no salt, no rennet, even the lemon gets washed away after it performs its job as an acidic catalyst.  Paneer is a perfect blank slate.  And, as I learned tonight, homemade paneer is airy, silky smooth, and fries up golden crisp outside and marshmallow soft inside.  Witch each bite I swooned, then regretted every bag of frozen paneer or paneer substitute (firm tofu, queso para frier) I had ever used in an Indian dish.

To make the paneer I followed the technique described by Julie Sahni in Classic Indian Cooking.  It so happens that making curds and whey is as easy as finding a heavy-bottomed pot, bringing milk to a boil, and stirring in some lemon juice.

I poured it all through a cheesecloth-lined colander, rinsed away the lemon taste with cold water, and was left with the curdly good stuff.

I then tied the cheesecloth tight around the curds, squeezed out as much liquid as I could, and hung it from the faucet using the hair-tie that’s perpetually around my wrist (and now smells like cheese).

After an hour and a half of drip-drying, I moved the whole bundle to a cutting board, and pressed it flat with a heavy dutch oven, turning the cheese ball into more of a cheese puck.  Half an hour later I removed the weight and unwrapped the cloth to reveal a perfectly cube-able disk of paneer.

I cut the paneer into cubes, froze the majority for future meals, and used the rest to make palak paneer, a recipe I improvised with help from here and here.  This is my go-to dish at every Indian restaurant, but I might have ruined that for myself, because mine was better.  Sublime really.  Unlike most restaurant versions, the cheese had no hint of ruberiness or greasiness.  Its crisp outside guarded a velvet interior; and it was light, much more so than I had ever tasted.  That milk and lemon alone can make this (in the time between work and dinner) seems like pure alchemy.  Delicious alchemy.  Alchemy I shall be performing again and again.

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Filed under dinner, Erica