Archive for August, 2011

Baby in a Corn Tree

August 2, 2011

If you are a parent and you live in the Seattle area, chances are you have heard of Caspar Babypants.  Mr. Babypants is the alter ego of Chris Ballew, otherwise known as the lead singer of The Presidents of the United States of America and also former schoolmate of mine.  (He was several years ahead of me so while I knew who he was, he had no idea I existed.)  Caspar Babypants has four CDs of music out that are extremely unique in that kids and adults alike know and love the songs.  I will get them stuck in my head for days.  My kids know the words and whenever we see him around town (he does frequent and free shows), I am always amazed at how the kids just dig him.

One of his songs is called “Baby in a Corn Tree” and has the lyric, “Baby in a corn tree, wants to wear a poncho, flying through the river on a steaming hot day.”  It makes no sense but it is catchy.  So catchy in fact, that whenever I contemplate making or eating corn, this very lyric pops into my head.  Seeing as we are barreling down the path to full-blown corn season, this could be a problem.

It’s worth it though, having a children’s song lyric that makes no sense stuck in my head for the next month or so, if it means I can eat things like this pie.

I had a, uh, moment last night with my husband over this pie.  I made it because I have been wanting to ever since it came out in Gourmet (sniff), because I needed to test it for some upcoming classes, because it sounded so incredibly good to me, and because I thought Randy would love it.  A tender crust, tomatoes, fresh corn, herbs, sharp Cheddar cheese – all right up Randy’s alley, especially the corn part.  But no.  He liked the crust but thought the filling needed more “oomph”.  What exactly have I created here?  Randy is, of course, welcome to his opinions and is generous with his praise when he likes something, but disappointed because of lack of “oomph” in a homemade savory pie on a Monday night?  People, can I get an amen here?

For the record, in my opinion, there was no lack of oomph.  It’s summer and that means that good ingredients speak for themselves.  There is no need for a thick custard filling when tomatoes and corn and herbs are at seasonal perfection.  The crust is super easy to make and is perfect for this particular pie – not too crust-like, more like a biscuit.  I wondered why a bit of mayo thinned with lemon juice made an appearance here but it was a perfect bit of creaminess without being too heavy.

As much as I loved Gourmet and as much as I miss receiving it in my mailbox every month, their recipes often seemed overly fussy to me.  I have streamlined this one a bit to make it more of a weeknight meal.

One Year Ago:  Holly B’s Fruit Scones
Two Years Ago:  Zesty Tofu Wraps
Three Years Ago:  Pasta with Cauliflower and Peppers, and Walnut Pesto

Tomato and Corn Pie
Adapted from Gourmet
Serves 6

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1¾ tsp. salt, divided
¾ stick cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes, plus 2 tsp. melted
¾ cup whole milk
1/3 cup mayonnaise (DT:  I used low-fat)
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, or more as necessary
2 pounds beefsteak tomatoes, sliced crosswise ¼-inch thick, divided
3 ears of corn, kernels cut off the cobs
¼ cup chopped fresh basil, divided
2 tbsp. chopped fresh chives, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1½ cup sharp Cheddar cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 400ºF.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, and ¾ tsp. salt, then blend in cold butter (¾ stick) with your fingertips or a pastry blender until is resembles coarse meal.  Add milk, stirring until mixture just forms a dough, then gather into a ball.

Divide dough in half and roll out 1 piece on a lightly floured surface, into a 12-inch round.  The dough is pretty sticky, so be sure to keep moving it around the surface and sprinkling lightly with flour as needed.  Roll the dough over the rolling pin and unroll it into a 9-inch pie plate.  Pat into place with your fingers and trim any overhang.

Whisk together mayonnaise and lemon juice.  You want a thick pourable consistency, so add more lemon juice if necessary.

Arrange half of the tomatoes in crust, overlapping, and sprinkle with half the corn half the herbs, ½ tsp. salt, and a few grinds of pepper.  Repeat with another layer of the same.  Sprinkle with half the cheese.  Pour lemon mayonnaise over filling and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Roll out remaining piece of dough into a 12-inch round in same manner, then fit over filling, folding overhang under edge of bottom crust and pinching edge to seal.  Cut 4 steam vents in top crust and brush crust with melted butter (2 tsp).

Bake pie until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes, then cool on a rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Julie’s Salad

August 1, 2011

Let me ask you this – do you think about salad?  Do you crave it?  When you serve yourself from the salad bowl, does a small mountain of greens appear on your salad plate?

If your answer is no, then this post will probably not make much sense to you.  No judgment; I understand if you say no.  Bad salad runs the gamut from agonizingly boring to downright disgusting.  In restaurants, especially in un-veg-friendly restaurants, salad is often my only choice.  I feel like I have had them all and most of them are bad.

I have always thought of myself as a good salad maker.  We eat one with our dinner several nights a week (or more) and I made endless varieties in the three years I worked as a personal chef.  But I have now met my salad match.  This recipe which, as you will see below, is one I am obsessed with.  I can’t get enough.  My dear friend and former neighbor Julie brought this over for an impromptu dinner this past spring and I have asked her to make it several times since then.  I have also started making it on my own although I never like it as much as when Julie makes it.  You might not know Julie but you probably know Ashley and this salad is originally her creation.

Each post I write suffers through several edits.  In an early version of this one, I totally geeked out.  I detailed out what Julie and I agree upon and what we do differently and where we both stray from Ashley’s original vision.  It was not, ahem, interesting reading.  So let me just streamline it for you and then offer you the recipe for how I make The Salad, which is how Julie and I refer to it.

Some musts:  Good lettuce – Julie is partial to the butter lettuce mix at Trader Joe’s, I am obsessed with the basketball size heads I find at my farmers’ market.  I buy two of those babies and they last me all week.  A high proportion of herbs to lettuce is necessary – I say 1 part herbs to 3 parts lettuce and Julie uses even more.  Dill must be in there as well as tarragon – otherwise use whatever you have growing in your garden or whatever bits and pieces are lying in your crisper drawer.  Radishes lend a wonderful bite here but if you want them to be on the mellower side, do as Julie does and slice them with a mandoline.  If you prefer more crunch and more bitterness, thinly slice them with a knife.  Yes, it makes a difference.  Yes, I am a salad geek.  Finally, once everything is in the bowl but before you dress the salad, sprinkle a healthy pinch of kosher salt over the leaves.  Lettuce is a vegetable and vegetables need salt – this step will make this or any salad taste loads better and will require less dressing.

Some options:  On our Lopez trip last weekend, I found the sweetest English peas I have ever tasted and couldn’t resist buying a huge bag of them.  I added them raw to the salad and they fit in perfectly with the mix.  I have since started adding thawed frozen peas and am kind of on the fence about whether I want them in there or not.  Since fresh peas are probably long gone from your markets, keep this step in mind for next spring.  Julie adds nubs of goat cheese to the greens and while I do love the cheese in there, I think it is equally delicious without.  Use about 2-3 ounces of the soft stuff for salad for 4.  (She also made it once with a log of herb studded goat cheese on the side so that people could serve up however much cheese they wanted onto their plate.  Genius.)  Ashley makes her dressing with a bit of crème fraîche, Julie doesn’t, I’ve tried it both ways and also with an egg yolk instead of the crème fraîche.  All good.  Just make sure your proportion of vinegar is higher than a traditional vinaigrette.  You want a lot of bite here.

So yes, I have written 692 words about salad.  You probably think I am crazy, obsessed, or just downright weird.  Try it and then decide.  You can find Ashley’s original post about this salad and much better photos here.

One Year Ago:  Grilled Summer Vegetable Soft Tacos
Two Years Ago:  Muhummara Dip

Soft Lettuces with Herbs and Avocado
Inspired by Ashley Rodriguez and Julie Hubert
Serves 4

You might spy a couple of sliced olives on my salad plate.  I had a handful left over from making the kids pizza and thought I would throw them in.  Mistake.  With the possible exception of the peas, this salad needs no embellishment from other “stuff”.  The amounts here are obviously fluid – Randy and I polish off this amount between the two of us.  Finally – finally! – Julie chops her lettuce so that the overall feel is more like a chopped salad, but I can’t bring myself to take a knife to those beautiful leaves so I tear them into big pieces.

For the salad
1 head soft butter lettuce, leaves washed and torn, spun dry
One cup roughly chopped herbs, such as tarragon, mint, dill, basil, chives, etc.
4 large radishes, thinly sliced
1 medium avocado, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 small handful fresh peas, optional
Kosher salt

For the dressing
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp. water
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ cup Champagne vinegar
1 tsp. honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup olive oil
1 large shallot, minced

Make the dressing
Place the egg yolk, water, mustard, vinegar, honey, a large pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Whir to combine.  Open the feed tube and slowly add the olive oil and process until the dressing thickens.  Stop and taste adjust seasoning to your taste with more honey, salt, pepper, or vinegar.  Pour the dressing into a bowl and stir in the shallots.  (This recipe will make more dressing than you need for one salad.  Cover and store in the refrigerator I keep my dressing in recycled salsa or jam jar with a lid.  Good for shaking.)

Make the salad
Place the lettuce, herbs, radishes, avocado, and peas in a large bowl.  Sprinkle the whole mix with a pinch of kosher salt.  Pour on the dressing carefully (you probably won’t need much) and toss gently to combine.  Serve right away.

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