Summer Corn Chowder – perfect for a rainy day

Corn Chowder and Cornbread

I hope you’re getting rain.  We got a little bit last night and it’s threatening to rain, today.  The clouds are hanging low and the wind is a cool 65 and I feel for a minute that it could be late September instead of the middle of July.  I live for cold weather and I’m still a little perplexed by why I live here, in the desert.  I grew up around here – maybe that’s it.  We long for things unfamiliar or for the relief we feel on the rare occasions we get a break from our usual reality.  I hear people in Seattle long for the beach.  I bet they don’t long for the desert, though!

Another comforting thing about food is the ability to transport myself into a feeling or a mood simply by the dish I prepare.  Caprese salad makes me long for summer nights, spice cakes make me wish for Christmas, chocolate chip cookies make me think of home.  A warm bowl of chowder with a thick slice of cornbread and a cold slab of butter puts me in the mood for a cloudy day and cooler temps.  So, in the middle of the heat of the summer, on this cooler week with cloudy days and threatening rain, let’s make a memory with a warm bowl of corn chowder and pray the rain stays a while.

Summer Corn Chowder and the Perfect Cornbread*
serves 6

4 teaspoons bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 small onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice (1 cup)
2 ribs celery,cut into 1/2-inch dice (3/4 cup)
8 sprigs thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cups homemade or low-sodium canned chicken stock
3 ears yellow corn, kernels removed (about 2 1/2 cups)
5 ounces small fingerling potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 poblano chile, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 1/2 cups half-and-half

Place bacon in small stockpot over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until bacon is deep golden brown and all the fat has been rendered, about 4 minutes. Remove bacon with slotted spoon, transfer to paper towel, and set aside. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat.

Add onions, celery, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste to stockpot; cook over medium-low heat until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer 15 minutes.

Add corn, potatoes, and chile; cook until potatoes are tender, 10-20 minutes. Remove and discard thyme. Add half-and-half, and simmer until soup is hot. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and garnish with the reserved crisp bacon pieces.

*recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living

Cornbread

 

We only make one cornbread recipe, anymore.  The New Best Recipe is a wonderful encyclopedia of how to make every recipe basically, perfect.  We love this book and it never steers us wrong.  It’s quite bulky, but all the recipes are tested extensively and done in a myriad of ways, and they give a background as to why the recipes work.  It’s very trust-worthy and a definite go-to in times of need of a solid recipe!  Their Golden Northern Cornbread is our go-to cornbread recipe.  It’s light, fluffy, moist and slightly sweet.  Holds together beautifully to be a base for your bowl of soup, or just on the side with some cold butter.

The Best Golden Cornbread
makes 9 servings

2 tbs unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
1 cup (5 ounces) yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
1 cup (5 ounces) AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup milk

Adjust an oven rack to the center position and heat the oven to 425 degrees.  Grease a 9 inch square baking pan with butter.

Whisk the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt together in a large bowl.  Push the dry ingredients up the sides of the bowl to make a well.

Crack the eggs into the well and stir lightly with a wooden spoon, then add the buttermilk and milk.  Stir the wet and dry ingredients quickly until almost combined.  Add the melted butter and stir until the ingredients are just combined.

Pour the batter into the greased pan (we actually love to use our cast-iron skillet for this recipe). Bake until the top of the cornbread is golden brown and lightly cracked and the edges have pulled away from the sides of the pan, about 25 minutes.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool slightly, 10 minutes.  Cut and serve warm!

 

Cheesy Grits with Olive Pesto and a Soft-Boiled Egg

Cheesy Grits with Olive Pesto and a Poached Egg

Grits, Polenta, Cornmeal – whatever you call it and however you prepare it, it can take on many forms and flavors.  To us, slow-cooked grits is about as comfy as comfort food gets.  When done right, grits can be amazing.  Too often, people associate grits with the translucent, gel-like, flavorless substance they encounter at cheap breakfast houses the world over.  I often say that if you don’t like a particular food, you might have just had a bad version. I was this way with grits, apple pie, turnips, pork chops, just to name a few.  When I had a GOOD bowl of cheesy, smooth grits, I was hooked.  When I had an apple pie that was distinctly apple and had a good, buttery crust and wasn’t watery, I understood the appeal.  Sometimes you just have to give a dish a few tries before putting it in the “dislike” category.

This recipe for grits is one of my favorites, so far.  This basic, creamy grit recipe stays the same – just the toppings change.  This makes it one of the easiest weeknight meals to prepare because the grits cook for about an hour, which you inadvertently stir while you’re doing other things.  Then, when it’s time for dinner, you just spoon out helpings, add toppings of choice, and dig in.  I honestly think that it’s a healthy meal, too, because the grits are cooked with chicken stock and you don’t even have to add cheese for amazing depth of flavor, if you use good grits.  I use Lamb’s stone ground grits, (you can find these at United) and they are amazing.  Just a little seasoning and they are perfect.  So, the indulgence level is up to you with this beautiful, blank canvas!

I found a recipe for an olive pesto on this beautiful blog, and with the poached egg, she had me sold.  Only, I didn’t poach mine, I did a pretty fool-proof method of soft boiling the eggs, letting them cool, and then carefully peeling them.  Not so fresh eggs work best with this method.  I will post my own pesto recipe on this blog, soon, as I’ve made it quite frequently and it’s one of those things, like guacamole, that you should just know how to do and do well.  And by “well” I mean, keep it pure and simple!

Cheesy Grits with Poached Egg and Olive Pesto

Cheesy Grits with Olive Pesto and a Soft Boiled Egg*

For the Polenta:
2 cups stone ground grits (do NOT use instant grits)
8 cups water/chicken stock (I did half and half)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, or any other hard cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste

Get the water and/or chicken stock boiling on the stove.  Gradually whisk in the grits, careful to break up all the clumps.  Lower the water to a simmer and stir, occasionally, for about an hour.  You can test to see if they need more cooking by tasting a bit for crunchiness.  Shouldn’t be too crunchy – think of it like cooking rice.  Stir in the cheese till it melts and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Cover and set the burner on low and get on with your toppings.

For the Pesto:
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup green olives, coarsely chopped
1 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh oregano or marjoram (I discovered they are wickedly similar)
1/4 cup fresh thyme, coarsely chopped

Put all this stuff in a blender, food processor, or tall cup with an immersion blender and pulse till chunky and well combined.

For the Eggs:
1 egg per person, room temp (To make them room temp quickly, simply put them in lukewarm water for about 10 minutes)
a big ol’ pot of water
tablespoon of white vinegar
salt

Get a big pot boiling with water and salt it and add the vinegar.  Carefully lower the eggs into the boiling water.  Boil for 5 minutes.  Remove from the water and let them sit in lukewarm water till cool enough to handle.  Veeeerrrrrry carefully peel the eggs and set aside.

Assemble!

Spoon grits into each bowl (they may need to be stirred a bit from sitting there.  They form a skin, but it’s okay, it stirs back up just great) and top with a poached egg, a spoon of pesto and extra pepper.

*adapted from thekitchn.com

Blackberry Jam Tart – I get pie with a little help from my friends…

Blackberry Jam and Toasted Almond Tart

Blackberry Tart with Cornmeal Crust

This tart was made because I bought three packages of fresh blackberries at 99 cents a pack (usually $3) and after we had some for a snack, I realized they would probably mold by the next day, and I would have wasted them.  So, looking up blackberry recipes on Martha Stewart Living online, I found a wonderful recipe that calls for a cornmeal crust, a jar of jam and some blackberries.  Perfect.  And I JUST happened to have the most perfect jar of blackberry jam in my pantry, made by my friends in Seattle, who have an entire acre, basically, of wild blackberry bushes beside their house.  I think jams and preserves are one of those treats that should be enjoyed in season.  It’s so much more satisfying to get a jar from the literal fruits of someone’s labor, than to just go pick up any ol’ flavor you want at the grocery store.  I think eating this way is another way of naturally limiting one’s sugar intake.  My friend, Brynn’s dad, makes this blackberry hybrid batch of jam each spring/early summer, and sometimes, there’s no fruit and we’re all sad, and sometimes there’s an abundance and I get one, coveted jar.  This stuff is the most amazing jam I’ve ever eaten.  So we wait, excitedly, all year for it.  Tell me that’s not better for the soul than having exactly the flavor you want, any time of the year?  Cook seasonally, bake seasonally, and natural moderation will follow.

My cousin, Kathleen, and her daughter, Hannah, stopped by earlier this week to pick up the disc from a senior session I did for Hannah.  Hannah’s boyfriend was with them, too, and when I asked if they’d like a piece of the berry tart I’d just made that afternoon, this precious boy’s eyes lit up and he just said, “uhhhh.”  All it takes is one in your group to say “yes” for you to feel comfortable to take a piece, as well!  They all stayed and ate and chatted and kept Matt and me company as we started prep for our dinner.  I was in my little piece of heaven.  Just wish it happened more often.  I don’t always have a piece of pie or tart or cookies, but I ALWAYS have coffee.  Always. So stop by any time.  You might get pie, if you’re lucky!

A Piece of Blackberry Jam Tart

Blackberry Tart with Blackberry Jam, Toasted Almonds and a Cornmeal Crust

Blackberry Jam Tart*

For the crust:  (I didn’t have enough butter, so I just halved the recipe. It makes two crusts, anyway, so it worked out!  I’ll post the full, two-crust recipe. This recipe also uses a food processor, which is easier, but you don’t burn as many calories and you have a food processor to clean up. Sometimes I’d rather pull a muscle than have to clean gadgets)

2 cups AP flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Place the flour, cornmeal, salt and sugar in a bowl and whisk until combined.  Add the butter and cut with a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles coarse sand.  Add a few tablespoons of water and continue cutting it into the mixture until the dough holds together when pressed between your fingers.  Knead it inside the bowl about 10 times until it all holds together in a ball.  Divide the dough in half and wrap in plastic wrap and press into a nice disc.  Refrigerate for at least one hour, up to one day before using.

For the Tart:

AP flour, for surface rolling
half a jar (about one cup) of blackberry jam
12 ounces fresh blackberries (about 3 cups)
1/4 cup toasted, sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll out the crust into an 11 inch round (about 1/4 inch thick) on a floured surface.  Press dough into the bottom and up the sides of a 10 inch springform pan.  Trim the edges to come 1 inch up the sides using a paring knife.  Use the trimmings to patch up any thin areas or holes in the crust bottom.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Prick the tart shell all over with a fork.  Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Immediately spread jam into the tart shell, top with blackberries, sprinkle with almonds and bake for 10 minutes more.  Serve warm.

*adapted from Martha Stewart Living

Blackberry Tart