Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Skillet Corn Griddle Cakes

Mmmm....summer's most iconic vegetable makes quite the splash with these Skillet Corn Griddle Cakes. "Straight from the garden, corn is so close to perfection that I don't do much more than just buff up what's already there," says Scott Peacock, award winning Alabama-born chef. And yes sir do these wonderful little cakes taste Southern! Think equal parts cornbread, biscuit, pancake, and potato latke, and you have yourself a winner. Freshly browned corns' nutty sweet kernels create the ultimate flavor in this recipe. Fun colorful topings like chopped scallions, tomato, and feta cheese complete the delicious dish.
 Corn is a whole grain! Don't be fooled by its prevalence in the American diet- did you know that corn provides 21% of human nutrition across the globe? Corn's featured nutrients are Vitamin A- it has more than 10 times the quantity of other grains- plus significant amounts of antioxidants and carotenoids. Corn is also gluten free. When cooking with dried corn products, make sure your corneal, corn flour, grits, or polenta are labeled "whole corn" or "whole grain corns"- if it says "degermed corn", it is no longer whole grain.
My only tip for this recipe is to make sure to thoroughly brown your corn! It should cook undisturbed until well browned on one side, then you can turn. "Resist the urge to stir too soon!" cautions Peacock, and I almost had to sit on my wooden spoon to comply. My innate reaction was to stop the corn from burning, but after it starts to emit that wonderful rich nutty flavor you realize why its worth it.

Skillet Corn Griddle Cakes (from July 2012 Better Homes and Gardens)
Yield: 6 side-dish servings

1 Tbsp. vegetable or olive oil (If using vegetable, I suggest canola)
1 1/4 cups corn kernels, freshly cut from the cob*
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (can substitute whole-wheat or half whole-wheat half white)
1/4 cup course ground yellow cornmeal
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup milk, plus additional for thinning batter
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
1/2 cup sour cream (optional, I used nonfat yogurt)
1/2 cup chopped fresh tomato
1/4 cup sliced green onion
1/4 cup crumbled ricotta salata or feta cheese

*If you don't have access to a grill, you can roast the corn cobs in the oven. Peel back husks and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, turning over halfway through.

1. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. vegetable or olive oil over medium heat. Add the corn kernels in an even layer, sprinkle generously with salt. Cook, without stirring, for 3 or 4 minutes until the corn kernels are sizzling. Give the pan a shake and continue cooking about 16 minutes total, until kernels are browned. Reserve 2 Tbsp. of the browned corn for garnish.
2. Meanwhile in medium bowl whisk together flour, cornmeal, 1/4 tsp. salt, and baking powder. Whisk in milk, egg, and the 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil, mixing just until batter is smooth. Stir in chopped onion and remaining browned corn.
3. Wipe out skillet with a lightly oiled paper towel and heat over medium heat. Drop batter by 1 or 2 Tbsp. measures; cook until browned on one side and batter appears set, about 1 minute. Turn and cook 1 additional minute or less. Repeat with remaining batter. Set aside and keep warm.
4. Top each griddle cake with sour cream/yogurt if desired, chopped tomato, reserved browned corn kernels, sliced green onion, and the ricotta salata or feta cheese. Salsa verde also makes a nice addition.

"Corn – October Grain of the Month." Whole Grains Council. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 June 2012. <http://www.wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/corn-october-grain-of-the-month> 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sundried Tomato Pesto 3 Ways

 I could easily just eat spoonfuls of this pesto on its own, but this Sundried Tomato Pesto 3 Ways can potentially apply to three different dishes -crostini, cold pasta salad and hot pasta.
Although full of fresh Italian flavors (sundried tomatoes, quality extra virgin olive oil, garlic, hot red pepper flakes, and red wine vinegar), this pesto does not contained processed basil - which is actually not a required ingredient for the name. Pesto is derived from the Italian word pestare, meaning to pound or crush (think mortar and wooden pestle) and defined by the hearty consistency from its finely chopped ingredients. Sundried Tomato Pesto 3 Ways' versatility stems from both a variation of ingredients and texture flexibility, depending on whether you want to make a tapenade or a sauce.

What really make this dish is my tried-and-true secret ingredient: cottage cheese! I really like to sneak it in thicker sauces because it provides a creamy and cheesy element that is both filling and lowfat. It especially stands out in this recipe because it eliminates the need for too much olive oil- an over oily pasta salad is one of my kitchen pet peeves. The intense flavors of the sundried tomato are perfectly balanced with the mild cottage cheese, creating quite the tasty combo.

This recipe was inspired by The Pioneer Woman's Sundried Tomato Pasta Salad. I liked the idea of using tomatoes in two forms (fresh chopped and sundried pureed), and how refreshing a cold pasta salad can be on a hot day (yes I am thinking of you Thursday, 97 degrees? Really?) Another way to explore the versatility of this recipe might be to create the pesto as a tapenade for a baguette-based crostini, but make extra and thin it out with additional vinegar and olive oil to use later as a sauce for pasta.

Use the measurements in this pesto more as a suggestion; you should focus on achieving the right consistency in the food processor and that will require some flexibility. For the crostini, the pesto should be textured, choppy and free of liquid. For the cold pasta salad, aim for a thick sauce and firm veggies (you might want to blot the fresh tomatoes to rid them of extra juice before adding in.) The hot pasta variation is the only one where liquid is a good thing- feel free to sautee tomatoes and olives in chicken broth and/or white wine before adding to the dish; serve with a generous slice of Italian bread to sop up the broth.

Sundried Tomato Pesto 3 Ways
Yield: 2 cups; serves 8 with pasta

1 1/2 cups sundried tomatoes - if using oil-packed, skip adding additional olive oil and the pre-processing soaking in the directions)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup lowfat or nonfat cottage cheese
1 tsp hot red pepper flakes 
salt & pepper to taste

8 oz pasta (corkscrew or penne, fettuccine can be used for the warm pasta)
3/4 cup chopped, pitted olives (green, black or mixed)
1 large tomato
10 basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/8 cup chicken broth and/or white wine (warm pasta)
1/3 cup walnuts (crostini)
1 french baguette (crostini)
Parmesan Cheese (optional)

1. Soak sundried tomatoes in warm water for 20 minutes. Discard water. Combine sundried tomatoes, garlic, cottage cheese, red pepper flakes, salt & pepper, and walnuts (optional) in a food processor. Drizzle in olive oil and vinegar (start with 1/8 cup of each and work your way up to make sure the pesto does not get too liquidy.)
2. Serve on top of  1 1/2 inch slices of toasted baguette; garnish with finely chopped olives and parsley.

Cold Pasta Salad: 
1. Cook pasta according to package directions, but add the sundried tomatoes to the pot of water before bringing to a boil. When water boils, remove sundried tomatoes with a slotted spoon. Combine with rest of pesto ingredients in a food processor while pasta cooks.
2. Drain pasta and rinse with cold water until no longer hot. Combine pasta and pesto in a large bowl.
3. Chop the fresh tomato, olives, parsley and basil. Add to bowl and mix until salad is thoroughly combined. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese (optional.)

Hot Pasta:
1. Cook pasta al dente, but add the sundried tomatoes to the pot of water before bringing to a boil. When water boils, remove sundried tomatoes with a slotted spoon. Combine with rest of pesto ingredients in a food processor while pasta cooks.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Chop tomato and olives and add them to the saucepan for 1 minute. Add chicken broth and/or white wine until liquid begins to boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Drain the al dente pasta and add back into the saucepan, along with pesto. Mix together and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and toss with chopped parsley, basil, and Parmesan cheese (optional).

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Strawberry-Shortcake Cookies

I have to thank my friend Ali for being the inspiration to this recipe. Knowing strawberry shortcake is her favorite, I wanted to bake something for her birthday - but didn't think an entire delicate cake could withstand my morning Manhattan commute. A quick Pinterest search yielded the perfect solution: Strawberry-Shortcake Cookies, miniature, scone-like renditions of a universally loved dessert.

 Strawberries are all the rage at farmers markets right now (yes, I used rage and farmers market in the same sentence.) Walk past those little cartons teaming with the fresh juicy berry and just when you've convinced yourself you don't need to spend $8 on something that will last 3 days, you catch a whiff of their sweet fragrance and are a goner. Luckily for me, my local strawberries had a mission!

I decided to make Martha Stewart's "portable version" of the classic dessert, but lightened up the recipe a bit. Generous portions of butter and heavy cream would make an uber rich cookie, so I substituted the heavy cream for nonfat Greek yogurt and skim milk. The substitution worked wonderfully- an evenly split switch of the ingredient (1/3 cup yogurt, 1/3 cup milk) preserved the fluffy interior of the cookie but adhered to the scone-like consistency. I also added a small drop of vanilla, which definitely enhanced the sugar cookie-like flavor. If the nutritious value of this recipe isn't really important to you, definitely top your cookie with whipped cream or crumble over vanilla ice cream.

Important note: these cookies must be eaten immediately after baking! Unfortunately, the watery nature of the strawberries softens the cookies, so after a few hours they get a bit damp. Soggy is too extreme of a word, but that scone-like crust is definitely gone. Even in this state though they still taste good- almost like a strawberry Christmas cookie.  I blotted my diced strawberries before adding to the batter to remove excess liquid, but clearly more remained.

Strawberry-Shortcake Cookies (derived from Martha Stewart)
Yield: Approximately 3 dozen cookies

12 ounces strawberries, hulled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (2 cups)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2/3 cup heavy cream 1/3 cup nonfat or lowfat Greek yogurt plus 1/3 cup skim milk
Sanding sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine strawberries, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 7 tablespoons granulated sugar in a large bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter, or rub in with your fingers, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in yogurt and milk until dough starts to come together, then stir in strawberry mixture, and finally vanilla.

2. Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment, spacing evenly apart. Sprinkle with sanding sugar (optional), and bake until golden brown, 24 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool. Cookies are best served immediately.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Easy Summer Gazpacho

I always order gazpacho soup when it's on a summer restaurant menu. There is something consistently refreshing about its chilled, tomatoey consistency, drizzle of a quality olive oil, and chopped summer veggies for some texture variety. Although I usually like to start my dining out with a salad, this all-vegetable Easy Summer Gazpacho soup easily takes the place of that plant-rooted (no pun intended) craving.

This recipe has been a staple in my family for years and consistently receives compliments by all guests when served at big party or family function.  I especially enjoyed making it this time around with a colorful assortment of heirloom tomatoes. I recommend serving with a sliced french baguette topped with fresh ricotta or goat cheese. If you own a quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar, I suggest using those here too. Craving some spice? Add a dash of hot sauce before ladling out portions.

One last thing: if you are not a cold soup lover but enjoy tomato sauce, definitely give this recipe a try. I'm not one for cold vegetable soups generally either, but this is just a really refreshing twist on tomato sauce (or tomato soup) for a hot summer day. Plus, the chunky vegetables give real substance to the soup. Enjoy!

Easy Summer Gazpacho (from Health Magazine Jul/Aug 2005 issue)
Yield: 8 Servings

4 cups tomato juice (such as Campbell's Organic Tomato juice)
2 cups chopped seeded tomato
1 3/4 cups chopped seeded unpeeled cucumber
1 cup finely chopped yellow bell pepper
1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1. Combine all ingredients except basil in a large bowl; cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (or up to 24 hours) before serving.
2. Ladle the gazpacho into soup bowls, top with basil. Optional: Serve with toasted sliced baguette topped with goat or ricotta cheese.