Category Archives: Erica

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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herb garden pesto

two basils & minttwo basils & mint bouquet

Nobody in the family has a green thumb, so I was shocked on a recent visit home when my mother’s formerly dinky Chia herb garden had overtaken an entire corner of backyard, all wild and green and begging to be simmered into soups and snipped into salads.  The thyme, rosemary, and oregano are plentiful, but it’s the summer basils and mint that are truly impressive.  Mom claims they tripled–if not quadrupled–with the first big rain, a la Jack’s beanstalk.  I half listened while daydreaming of my new mini-prep food processor and the delicious pesto I could make by mixing basils and perhaps a sprig or two of mint.

orzo pesto

It was as bright and and fresh as I had hoped, and made for a 10-minute weekday lunch or dinner served over orzo with diced tomatoes.

Recipe after the jump.

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mango salsa

They’re back.

ripe mango trio

They began falling early and in abundance.  Trees that lay dormant in past years are hanging low with the weight of fruit shining violet and green and all shades of orange like long forgotten Christmas lights.  While walking the dog in my parents’ neighborhood I spied an elderly couple tying extra support beams to their year-old sapling whose young branches bent earthward, the dozen or so absurdly large mangoes flirting with blades of grass.

For me, the beginning of summer is not defined by a holiday weekend or the end of school or the tilt of the earth but by two distinct smells: imminent thunderstorms and ripe mangoes.  This weekend, as Joanna and I watched grey-black clouds overtake Biscayne Bay from a bench swing in Stiltsville, our sweet-smelling fingers stained orange, my summer arrived.

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fried chicken

Generally, I’m not a fan of chicken (gasp!). The chicken widely available in American supermarkets is at best a bland slate for any number of sauces and flavors. Even for the chicken dishes I sort of like, my enjoyment is in spite of, not because of, the bird at the center. Fried chicken usually falls under this category, the bone-in poultry serving as a socially acceptable delivery method for the actual goodies: spicy breaded animal fat, deep fried to a crisp. I started work on my chicken frying skills this summer, and to my shock, have perfected the art of golden chicken pieces whose flesh tastes nearly as good as their skin.

frchx-flour1frchx-fryingfrchx-rack1frchx-plate

The secret is starting at least 48 hours ahead of the first bite, which takes special motivation if, like me, your best cooking results when precious free time meets creative culinary whim. But I promise, this is one dish worth the planning. What gives the flesh its flavor is a highly seasoned buttermilk brine or marinade. The technique is old news, but I think the level of seasoning and time spent soaking are the keys to making this chicken meat the most tender I’ve tried.

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a tale of two pizzas

American Pizza

Mediterranean Pizza

Miami should be the easiest place in the country to avoid gaining the 5 pounds the average American puts on during the prolonged holiday season. As frost descends on northern fields and produce markets fill with tubers, South Florida’s growing season begins (more on this soon).

But television ads and weather reports blow high definition snow into the living room; department store windows display faux hearths and cashmere gifts; and every food magazine arrives replete with sublimely photographed holiday recipes. So in the spirit of seasonal camaraderie, I’ve gone on a comfort food cooking binge. This weekend’s experiment was a duo of pizzas. Continue reading

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calm before the storm

I write this beneath a window being pounded by squalls of wind and rain from Tropical Storm Fay.  In these bunkered down conditions it’s hard to imagine that I spent the weekend in a swim suit bouncing from pool to grill.  I also faced another one of my culinary fears: whole fish.

Tucked between the freshwater Everglades and the turquoise Atlantic, Miami is a paradise for fishermen and fish eaters.  I’ve been accompanying my father on fishing trips since I could walk, but I tend to stick to rod and reel duty and avoid anything slimy and alive.  More often than not we released our catch, but when we did keep a fish for dinner Papi would prep it at the dock and return home with pretty filets as unlike their animal selves as store-bought beef or chicken.  At the store on Saturday I found myself eye-to-eye with a beautiful red snapper and decided that it was the perfect day for an honest and simple grilled fish dinner.

I enlisted Papi’s help with scaling and prep, and together we created two beautiful grilled snapper overflowing with lemon and bunches of fragrant thyme and fennel greens.  On the side, we grilled the sweet anise flesh of the fennel bulb.  The flavors were light and clean and sincere.  It tasted like a Provence afternoon.

Along with the snapper I served oven-roasted miniature bell peppers, zucchini, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and red onion with lemon zest and basil.

Though dinner was delicious, it was also bittersweet; Joanna returned to college in St. Louis and this was the first meal since the inception of mumble pie without my sister and blogging partner by my side.  Check back for future posts from the heartland!

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