Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Corny chowder

If you ask kids to name a favorite vegetable, it's a safe bet that half will say corn. And there's nothing wrong with that. While I join many others in being alarmed at the proliferation of sneaky corn-based products in our foods, a simple ear of corn is entirely different. Corn on its own contains vitamins, protein and fiber (one ear has about 10% of an adult's fiber needs). So if corn is what a kid likes, by all means give her corn.

In the height of summer, there's nothing better than corn on the cob, especially fresh-picked and local. We often throw unshucked ears of corn on the grill to steam alongside whatever else is grilling. But I recently developed a corn chowder for a kids' cooking class, and it brings corn to a new level with only a few more ingredients. Yes, it has a few pieces of bacon in it, but it's also made with low-fat milk and thickened with potatoes. Part of what makes the flavor so rich is using the cobs in the liquid. I will admit, it made a huge mess in class — the corn kernels were flying as the kids learned how to cut the kernels off the cob. But it was a huge hit, and all the leftovers went home with the kids to share with their families.

I'm still finding corn in my farmers' market, and it's tasting so good. So make a batch of this soup and stick it in the freezer, for a cold winter night when you are craving a reminder of summer. 

Corniest Corn Chowder
adapted from Joy of Cooking

Serves 6.

5-6 ears of corn, shucked
4 pieces of thick-cut bacon, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped fine
4 1/2 cups 2% milk
2-3 new potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
chives, chopped thin

Remove the corn kernels from the cobs with a small knife. Put kernels in a bowl and set aside. Save the cobs.

In a soup pot, cook bacon pieces over medium for about 10 minutes until they start to brown. Add onions and continue to cook another 10 minutes.

While bacon and onions are cooking, warm milk in the microwave or in a pan over medium heat. It doesn’t need to boil, but it should feel lukewarm.

After onions have softened, add potatoes, corn cobs, and milk to the soup pot. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, covered, until the potatoes are almost tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add corn kernels and cook another 5 minutes until potatoes are soft. Remove corn cobs and discard.

Using an immersion blender, blend about half the soup so that the soup is thick but still has whole pieces of potato and corn.

Serve with chopped chives on top.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How many scallions can fit into a scallion pancake?

This summer, I had the opportunity to embark on a substantial amount of travel. For long stretches I was untethered to electronics. I ate great meals in exciting restaurants, and faced the challenges of cooking in poorly equipped rental kitchens.

But then reality hits. The laundry mounts, the work looms, and I realize that I haven't posted anything here in a looooooong time. So I'm back, cooking in my own kitchen and sharing my best recipes. 

I've been meaning to post about scallion pancakes for a while, since they are near and dear to my heart. When I first set up house in Boston sometime in the last millenium, scallion pancakes were in heavy rotation at dinnertime. Mostly because they are insanely cheap. And quick. Because we didn't have a rolling pin, we kept a clean, empty wine bottle just for rolling out the pancakes. We also didn't have any counters in that kitchen, so the rolling happened on the table where we ate.

I've been fiddling with the recipe lately, and this version goes above and beyond my 20th century attempts in terms of crispiness and flavor. But one thing is the same -- I insist on a huge, and I mean huge, amount of scallions in my pancakes. I have little interest in the pancakes that we order in restaurants, which usually contain about 6 microscopic bits of scallion in them (although my son harbors a weakness for that version). Mine contain what may seem like a shocking amount of scallions, but trust me, these pancakes can handle it.

I found a fascinating exploration of scallion pancakes at Serious Eats, which essentially confirmed what I've been doing all along. The hot water is essential to a light dough that doesn't develop much gluten. And layers create crispiness. While you can spend a lifetime trying to figure out which precise rolling technique is the best, I keep it simple. Two turns of the dough and two layers of scallions. That's it. 

Pair these with a steamed veggie and you've got a meal that's quick and inexpensive, something I appreciate at any stage of life.

The Most Scallion-y Pancakes
Makes about 16 3-inch pancakes

2 c. all purpose flour
1 t. kosher salt
1 c. boiling water
2 c. scallions (about 2-3 bunches)
Sesame oil for layering
Canola oil for frying
3 T. soy sauce
3 T. rice vinegar

Mix flour and salt in a bowl. Add boiling water all at once and mix to form a dough. If the dough is not coming together, add additional hot water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough can form a ball. Turn onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes until smooth. Cover with a cloth and let rest 20 minutes.

While dough is resting, thinly slice white and green parts of the scallions. To make the dipping sauce, place soy sauce and rice vinegar in a bowl. Set aside. 

Cut the dough into four pieces. Using a rolling pin, roll the first piece into a square, roughly 10 inches across. Place 1-2 t. of sesame oil on the top half of the square, then cover the oil with scallions. Fold the bottom half over the top half, then roll the dough again into a square roughly the same size. Repeat adding the sesame oil and scallions, fold again, and roll the dough as thin as possible without tearing it. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into smaller squares (or rectangles, or whatever shape is speaking to you). 

Repeat with the other three pieces of dough. (If space is an issue, as it is in my kitchen, I start frying a batch and then roll out the next one). 

Place a sheet pan covered with paper towels in the oven and heat the oven to 200 degrees F. 

On high heat, heat 1/2 inch of canola oil in a large skillet until hot (if you drop a bit of water into the pan, it should sizzle). Fry pancakes, without crowding them, until bottom side is golden brown. Flip and repeat. Remove to the warm oven, and repeat until all of the pancakes are cooked, adding additional canola oil if needed. 

Serve with dipping sauce.