Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Maque Choux Soup + What does Temper have to do with Cooking

Maque choux is a wonderful soup to serve as a transition between the end of summer and the beginning of fall. We’ve had a nip in the air the last few mornings, reminding us that fall will be upon us before we know it. It’s kind of bittersweet for me, because summer has and will always be my favorite time of the year. Soon the black-eyed Susans in our perennial garden, the prolific bunches of basil in the herb garden, the fresh summer home-grown tomatoes, sweet juicy peaches, and local corn will be a distant memory, only to be replaced by local apples, pumpkins, and crisp mountain evenings. Although with all of the rain we’ve had, locals say there won’t be many pumpkins this year and the few that will be available will be pricy.

Maque choux (pronounced “mock shoe”) is a creamy, rich Cajun dish from southern Louisiana, consisting of corn, green bell peppers, tomatoes and onions and finished with a dash of hot sauce, which is considered normal for Cajun dishes. The trick to making good maque choux, is using the freshest corn available. Epicurious has a very good recipe, link here. The maque choux soup shown here is a take on the original dish.

This is a more complex dish than you might think when you first read the recipe. There is a step near the end of the recipe when you add some of the hot soup to the sour cream that requires “tempering”. Temper, or tempering, is a cooking term for what you do when you add a small amount of hot liquid to a cool liquid to prevent the cool liquid from cooking or setting. According to Linda’s Culinary Dictionary, the word temper means “to slowly bring up the temperature of a cold or room temperature ingredient by adding small amounts of a hot or boiling liquid. Adding the hot liquid gradually prevents the cool ingredient (such as the sour cream in this recipe) from cooking or setting.” Tempering is often called for in sauce making when you incorporate raw eggs into a hot dish.

To give this soup more of a chucky texture, the first batch of corn is blended and the second batch is not. To process the first batch, I’ve used a hand-held immersion blender, which is a great kitchen tool. A blender or a food processor will both work just fine.

Maque Choux Soup
Adapted from Southern Living – makes 6 cups

3 cups fresh corn kernels (about 6 ears)
1 medium-size orange bell pepper, chopped
Olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
4 cups of chicken broth, divided into 2 cups each
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons plain white cornmeal
Few dashes of Tabasco, or other hot sauce
Fresh squeezed lime juice to taste
Toppings: cooked bacon, fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, fresh lime juice, and a few cooked corn kernels

Stir together the corn and peppers. Place a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add a little olive oil to the skillet and cooking in two batches, add half of the corn & pepper mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, about 4 minutes or until the vegetables begin to char. Transfer the first batch to a 4-qt saucepan.

Add remaining corn & pepper mixture to the skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, about 4 minutes or until vegetables begin to char. Stir in cumin and coriander, and cook, stirring constantly, 2 or 3 more minutes or until fragrant. Set aside the second batch, but save a few of the nicely charred corn kernels for a garnish.

Add 2 cups of broth to the corn mixture in the saucepan. Stir, then process with a handheld blender for 1 to 2 minutes, or until smooth. Add the second batch of the corn mixture and the remaining 2 cups of broth to the saucepan. Bring to a light boil over medium heat, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring often, 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, hot sauce, and lime juice to taste.

In a heatproof bowl, whisk together the sour cream and cornmeal, then whisk in 1/2 cup of the hot soup (this is called tempering). Then add that mixture to hot soup and simmer, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes, or until thickened. Garnish and serve right away.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, and Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper.

Have a great weekend everyone. 
Happy Labor Day to those who live in the States.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

BLT Cornmeal Pancakes – a breakfast twist on a BLT

This is probably the most fun breakfast I’ve made in a very long time. I was flipping through a magazine at the gym the other day and saw a picture here of a BLT corn cake and got the idea to make my own. This is a very creative and usual twist on a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, the all time best sandwich in the whole wide world as far as I’m concerned.

The day we made these we invited Meakin’s brother Stuart for breakfast. I’m the first to admit that this is an unusual breakfast and I could tell by the look on both of their faces that they weren’t so sure if they were going to like this for breakfast. Being a good hostess, before I served I asked if they wanted theirs stacked, or the bacon and tomato on the side. They chose bacon & tomato on the side. When we sat down, I took a couple of bites of mine, stacked like the pictures, and commented, “These are really good.” They took a few bites of their tomatoes and bacon with the cornmeal pancakes and agreed they were excellent and gave their stamp of approval.

Let’s deconstruct the stack.

These savory cornmeal pancakes are the star of this show and act as the bread for the BLT. I added lightly blanched fresh corn kernels to the pancake batter to pump up the corn flavor. If you’ve been reading My Carolina Kitchen for a while, you may remember these cornmeal pancakes from a previous post.

B is for bacon. We chose thick cut apple-wood smoked bacon from Nueske’s, our family's go-to favorite for the apple-wood flavor. When we’re in the mood for a hickory smoked flavor, we always use Benton’s country bacon from Tennessee. We’ve actually toured Benton’s smoke house in Madisonville when were coming home from a blogger get-together at Larry’s, aka Big Dude’s Eclectic Ramblings, house one year, post here. If you’ve never been inside of a smoke house, do take a look. If you have reluctant diners, you might tempt them to eat this BLT stack by using candied bacon, recipe below. The sweetness of the candied bacon will make up for the syrup normally served over pancakes.

L is for lettuce. We replaced the lettuce with big leaves of fresh basil, picked straight from our herb garden. With all of the rain we’ve been having, our basil has grown like a weed.

T is for tomato. Cherokee purple heirloom tomatoes are our favorite heirloom, but any good homegrown or garden fresh tomato will work. As you will notice in the pictures (your eyes aren’t deceiving you), the Cherokee Purples are a purplish red wine colored tomato, instead of being a brilliant red.

You’ll notice that the stacks of pancakes lean slightly instead of standing up straight. As much as I tried to straighten them for the picture, the tomatoes keep sliding and it ended up looking like the leaning tower of Pisa. Oh well… not quite perfect makes them look more homemade.

BLT Cornmeal Pancakes
Inspired from Better Homes & Garden, serves 4 – 1 stack each

1 recipe of savory corneal pancakes, recipe below
8 slices of thick bacon, apple-wood or hickory smoked, or candied bacon, recipe below
8 slices of tomato, preferably an heirloom
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
A small bunch of fresh basil
For garnish, cooked corn kernels, grape tomato halves, and small fresh basil leaves
Sweet butter or syrup if desired

Prepare the cornmeal pancake recipe and keep the cakes warm in the oven while you fry the bacon and slice the tomatoes. Season the tomatoes with plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper. To assemble, start with a pancake, then a couple of big basil leaves, a slice of tomato (you may have to trim it to fit), and a half of a piece of bacon. Repeat and top with a cornmeal pancake. Garnish if desired and serve with butter or syrup. Recipe easily doubles if you have those who want more than one stack. Left-over pancakes keep well in the refrigerator for a couple of days using the method below.

Savory Cornmeal Pancakes
Adapted from Joy of Cooking – yield twelve 4” cakes

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon sugar
1 cup boiling water
1 large egg
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup cooked yellow corn kernels
Sweet butter for serving, optional

Combine the cornmeal, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over the mixture, stir well, cover and set aside for 15 minutes. In a separate bowl beat the egg, milk and oil until combined. After 15 minutes, add to the cornmeal mixture and stir until smooth. Meanwhile in a small bowl, combine flour and baking powder. Stir into the hot cornmeal mixture, then add corn.

Heat a pancake griddle or 12” lightly oiled skillet until hot. Drop the batter by spoonfuls onto the griddle. When the pancakes begins to bubble in the center and start to dry around the edges, turn and cook until done. The second side takes only about half as long as the first side and never browns as evenly, so serve them first side up.

Remove the cakes and keep in a warm oven while you make the remaining cakes. When all pancakes are done, serve immediately with sweet butter if desired.

For leftover pancakes: I cut small pieces of wax paper, place the paper between each cake and refrigerate them in a covered airtight container. The next morning reheat the pancakes on a sheet pan in a 250 degree F oven for about 10 minutes until they are warm. They are every bit as good as the originals.

Candied Bacon
From Better Homes & Garden

Line a 15x10x1 inch pan with foil. Arrange bacon strips about 1 ½” apart. In a small bowl, stir together 3 T packed brown sugar and ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, then spoon mixture evenly over the bacon. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, until bacon is browned & crisp. Transfer to a paper towel to cool. Halve slices. Great for nibbling.

* * *

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, and Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Monday with Meakin – a Butterfly & a Bee

It's been a long, dreary and wet weekend. Rain throughout the area caused us to postpone our petite weekend get-away that included a couple of French restaurants until later in the month. Mother Nature has a very strange sense of humor. We would get downpours, followed by long patches of sunshine as a tease to make us think the rains had ended, then the rain would return and start the process all over again. These photos cheered me up and I hope they will you as well. That pesky bee tried to follow me in the house yesterday with my bouquet of "his" flowers. He's a very possessive little fellow. 

This will be linked to Garden Tuesday at Sidewalk Shoes.

Happy Monday everyone.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Corn & Peppers with Sea Scallops– plus an easy way to make perfect rice & tips to selecting corn

This recipe is perfect to showcase fresh corn and is best made in the summer when corn is available in abundance. I’m of the opinion that corn is best when you can find it in the husks, straight from the farmer’s garden, or better yet from your own garden. However, it’s generally not considered kosher to pull the husks off before purchasing - meaning you buy the corn as is. I’ve actually seen customers get a dirty look from vendors at farm stands when they peel the husks, or in some cases, actually verbal reprimands from the sellers. So what is the best way to select corn? According to the website The World’s Healthiest Foods, “you should look for corn whose husks are fresh and green and not dried out. The husks should envelope the ear and not fit too loosely around it. Traditionally to enjoy the optimal sweetness of fresh corn, eat it the day of purchase. New varieties allow you three days to still enjoy its full flavor. Store corn in an air-tight container or tightly wrapped plastic bag in the refrigerator if you do not intend to cook it on the same day of purchase. Do not remove its husk because the husk protects its flavor.”

Do you have any tips on the best way you select corn?

I consider sea scallops to be a treat, primarily because they can be pricy. I think the most difficult thing about scallops is finding the correct ones. Dry pack scallops are the very best money can buy and I encourage you to seek them out. Here's a link that will explain all about dry pack scallops. I suggest that you avoid scallops that have been soaked in brine because they are very difficult to brown properly and to many people, including us, they leave a tangy aftertaste in your mouth. Scallops aren’t particularly difficult to prepare. You just need to be very careful not to overcook them, otherwise they turn out tough and chewy and very unappetizing.

We’ve seasoned the scallops with smoked sweet Spanish paprika, also called Pimenton de la Vera, to give the scallops a hint of smoked flavor. In the past smoked paprika could be difficult to find, but I’ve seen it from McCormick in my local supermarket. However, if you can find the artisan Spanish one in the red tin (La Chinta, available from La Tienda at gourmet shops and on line, link here.), I think it is superior to the supermarket ones because the artisan quality of smoked paprika is generally thought to be the best. Here’s a fun fact – Spanish paprika is grown, smoked and milled in the micro-climate of La Vera, not far from where Christopher Columbus presented the first plants to Ferdinand and Isabella.

My Mother's Easy Way to Cook rice that has never let me down 
My mother had a very easy but unusual way to cook rice and I’ll share her method with you. It always turned out perfectly, no lumps or sticky clumps, and no fancy cookers. She cooked her rice in lots of boiling salted water, the same way you cook pasta. Twenty minutes for white rice, 35 minutes for brown. After draining it well, she put the rice back in the pan, stirred in a pat of butter, and left it covered on the stove for up to twenty minutes before serving. She always used Uncle Ben’s converted rice and I’ve never used anything else, so I’m not sure how it would work with other brands. But I will add that this recipe for rice has never let me down.

My mother's perfect rice printable recipe

Fresh Corn & Sweet Red Peppers with Sea Scallops
Adapted from Sunset magazine – serves 6

6 servings of rice, prepared either according to package directions or my mother’s method above
3 ears of yellow corn, about 2 ½ lbs total, husked, silks removed
1 ¼ pounds dry pack sea scallops
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Smoked sweet Spanish paprika, also known as Pimenton
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1 to 2 small cloves of garlic, peeled & minced
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, plus some whole leaves for garnish
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Prepare six servings of rice. When cooked, drain well, stir in a little butter to coat the rice kernels, cover and briefly set aside on the stove while you prepare the vegetables and scallops. Right before serving, spray 6 small ramekins with cooking spray and mound rice into the molds, packing well.  Invert ramekins on the individual bowls that you plan to use for the vegetables and scallops, but do not unmold the rice yet. Let it sit in the ramekins while you prepare the vegetables and scallops.

Remove the corn from the cob with a sharp knife. I like to cut mine into a paper plate. Rinse scallops and pat dry, then sprinkle lightly with salt, freshly ground black pepper and smoked paprika.

Melt 1 tablespoons of butter with 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a 10 to 12” nonstick skillet over high heat. Add corn kernels, bell peppers, garlic and cumin and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are crisp tender, about 3 minutes, taking care not to let the garlic burn. Remove from heat and set aside.

Melt the remaining butter and oil in another 10 to 12” nonstick skillet over high heat. Cook until scallops are browned on the outside and barely opaque in the center, turning once, about 4 to 5 minutes total, depending on their size.  Take care not to overcook the scallops or they will be tough. When scallops are done to your liking, stir in the cilantro.

Just before serving, stir basil into the vegetable mixture and taste for seasonings. Spoon vegetables into wide, shallow individual bowls, gently remove ramekins off of the molded rice, then add the scallops and any pan juices and garnish with basil leaves.

Cook’s notes: I suggest doubling the recipe for the corn & peppers if you like a lot of vegetables and especially if are are going to serve more than 4 people. You could also substitute a small pasta, such as orzo, for the rice.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, and Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Spicy Black Bean, Corn and Shrimp Salad – a simple supper, ready in under 30 minutes

The spicy black bean salad with the corn & tomatoes, the base of this dish, is one of my all time favorite beans salads. Not only is it colorful and full of flavor, the recipe can easily be doubled or tripled. It’s bursting with summer flavors and is great for a covered dish affair. People ooh & ah over it at a party and always want the recipe.

When I saw a very similar bean salad on the internet that was garnished with shrimp and served over a bed of chopped romaine lettuce with crunchy tortilla chips on the side, it inspired me to try my version of the bean salad in the recipe. By the way, the salad that inspired this used an avocado. My recipe does not normally include an avocado. If you are taking the salad to a party where it will sit out for a while, I would omit the avocado as it might turn brown.

The recipe calls for cooked shrimp. We seasoned our peeled shrimp with Hungarian paprika, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and sautéed them in a tiny bit of olive oil. Grilling the shrimp would also be very nice. Ina Garten has a super easy recipe for shrimp that I’ve used many times. She seasons the shrimp, then roasts them in a preheated 400 degree F oven on a sheet pan for about 8 to 10 minutes and they turn out perfectly every time. So you have lots of choices on the shrimp.

I find that cutting corn off of the cob to be messy. Invariably a few of the kernels fly across the counter or end up on the floor. Some recipes tell you cut the corn into a bowl, but that can be tricky with the knife and worse yet, damage your knife blade. So I’ve been cutting the corn directly onto a paper plate and found that not only did it not damage the knife blade, but most of the kernels actually stayed on the plate for a change. Give it a try the next time you need to cut corn off of the cob and see how it works for you.

Spicy Black Bean, Corn and Shrimp Salad
Inspired by All You, serves 4

2 ears of freshly cooked yellow corn
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained & rinsed
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro (or fresh basil if you don’t like cilantro)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons canola oil, or other neutral tasting oil
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons minced red onion
2 tablespoons chopped scallions, including some green tops
½ cup chopped tomatoes, well drained, grape tomatoes cut in half are nice
1 avocado, preferably Hass, peeled, pitted and cut into ½” dice (optional)
Kosher salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper
¾ pound cooked, peeled shrimp, cooled, either left whole or cut into chunks
4 cups chopped romaine lettuce
Tortilla chips for garnish, either purchased or homemade

Cut kernels off ears of corn and add to a large bowl, along with the beans, cilantro, lime juice, oil, cumin, red onion, scallions, tomatoes, and avocado if using.  Season the mixture with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper to taste. If preparing in advance, add the avocado & tomatoes at the last minute. Arrange lettuce on a serving plate, spoon bean salad on top, garnish with the shrimp, and serve with tortilla chips.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, and Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mango and Corn Salad with a Lime Vinaigrette

Mangos and corn are plentiful at the market right now and this salad is a great way to take advantage of them. This colorful salad combines mangos with corn, baby yellow and red tomatoes, cucumbers and basil, tossed with some arugula and dressed with a simple and light lime vinaigrette. Here is a helpful link on how to pick out mangos.

As you read the instructions, you’ll notice that the corn is not cooked in this recipe. If you prefer to cook it, I would suggest you just quickly blanch it with some boiling water and cook it ever-so-slightly for only a minute or two. Along with the cucumber, it is the corn that gives this salad a nice crunchy texture. If you can find yellow and red baby tomatoes, so much the better for presentation. This salad would make a great summertime entertaining dish. Enjoy!

Mango and Corn Salad with a Lime Vinaigrette
Adapted from Southern Living – serves 6 to 8

2 mangos, peeled and cut into thin slices
1 ½ cups fresh corn kernels
1 ½ cups halved, seeded, and sliced English cucumber
1 ½ cups halved baby tomatoes, preferably heirlooms
½ cup diced red onion
½ cup chopped fresh basil
4 cups fresh arugula

Lime vinaigrette:
¼ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 garlic clove, minced
½ cup canola or vegetable oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl gently toss together the mangos, corn, cucumber, tomatoes, and diced red onion. Cover and chill two hours. In a jar with a tight fitting lid, make the vinaigrette by adding the vinegar, sugar, lime juice, garlic and canola oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Shake well to combine and set aside. Just before serving, toss the basil with the mango and corn salad, then toss with arugula and the vinaigrette. Serve right away.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, and Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper.

Have a great weekend everyone.