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Friday, July 30, 2010

Paradoxical Cold Tomato Sauce

This week's entry will be short but I would like to share some moments with you. This was a hectic week but I was able to meet my cousins in Manhattan this week. We went to the Cuban restaurant and tried the Zesty Corn recipe in it's original incarnation...and I think mine was much better in many ways. Their corn was too rich...dipped in mayonnaise and rolled in tons of grated cheese, to which had been added spices that were way too much for some tastes. I have to fine tune mine however, and will post the new recipe as soon as I can.

Meanwhile I remain committed to keeping a neat and clean refrigerator (within reason: all things in moderation, including moderation), and not overbuying when I can help it. To this end I discovered 8 plum and "vine" supermarket tomatoes that were about to go past their prime...what to do!!!! So I made the following, and boy was it good!!!

Paradoxical Cold Tomato Sauce

So I boiled some water, placed the 8 tomatoes in the pot, boiled them for a couple minutes, slipped off their skins, cut them in quarters and whirled them briefly in my food processor until they were not pureed but a nice small-chunky consistancy, like canned crushed tomato sauce. Not too chunky because it will be too watery. Then I poured them in a saucepan and COOKED (hence the paradox!) the liquid down until it looked like something I might want to pour over pasta, maybe 10 minutes.

I placed the sauce in a ceramic bowl and let it cool down. Then I added all my regular cold pasta sauce ingredients:

1-2 crushed garlic cloves
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic (or red wine) vinegar
salt and pepper
5-6 leaves of fresh basil. You can cut into strips or leave them whole if you want less basil taste
1/2 cup grated romano or pecarino cheese to add, and grated cheese over the sauce and pasta...

I also added fresh parsley, 3-4 whole leaves this time.

After I combined all the ingredients I covered the bowl placed it in my fridge. I ate it with rotini pasta and the flavor was outstanding...much better (less convenient though) flavor than canned. Imagine if I had used garden tomatoes!

Enjoy the lovely weather!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

One more A-maizing corn recipe and cold pasta sauce

Sorry about the continuing corniness...but again I couldn't resist...! This week was a challenge, as the humid and hot weather continues without letup! Right now cooking is the last thing most people want to do...but cook we must or suffer through endless and expensive restaurant food or takeout...other people's food, not as good as what you can create yourself!

Today I want to write about some more hot weather dishes that are easy to prepare: one more corn recipe, and what has come to be a staple around my house in hot weather: pasta with cold tomato sauce.

At a cooking demonstration I attended last week, I sampled a dish that the chef called Zesty Cuban Corn. This was a family recipe of his and sounded more southern than Cuban, then again, what do I know about Cuban food? Next to nothing...something to explore! Anyway, the corn prepared this way was simple to prepare, very rich tasting, and quite delicious. He used mayonnaise to coat the corn, which I found a bit over the top. I decided to adapt it to something less rich and fattening, and try it tonight for dinner. It was so good, I just had to share it.

Zesty Corn

2-4 ears of corn (see my former post for easy preparation)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2-4 tablespoons of grated pecorino or romano cheese
1 teaspoon sugar
several grindings of black pepper, or crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp of ground garlic & parsley (I use Badia brand spice)
or you can roast the garlic yourself: chop a clove of garlic very fine, and place in a hot pan
coated with a small amount of olive oil, sprinkle 1/4 tsp salt cook on a very low flame until
brown (not black) and crunchy. This will keep. Mix with red pepper flakes for a nice
home-made spice mixture.
1 tsp dry parsley. (surprising: dried is used instead of fresh for texture)

Combine the mixture in a flat pan or plate. After you husk the corn, break the ear in half. Coat each with a bit of olive oil. Roll each piece in the mixture.

That's it! The heat from the corn will melt the cheese. Warning: dig out those corn holders, it can be messy if you don't.

Cold tomato sauce over pasta sounds very strange, doesn't it? When I first found this recipe in a community newsletter many years ago, it sounded strange but worth a try. It seemed it might be an answer to a quandary: How do I serve my family's favorite food in the blistering heat? This seemed like a solution, and it was: I have been making this dish every summer for the last 20 years.

Pasta with cold tomato sauce.

1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes. I use Luigi Vitelli brand. It has the best consistency.
You can use fresh tomatoes but make sure they are very ripe plum tomatoes, peeled, without
too much juice. You don't want it to be watery.
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
5 leaves of fresh basil, cut into ribbons (chiffonade: roll up leaves and slice thin)
2 tablespoons of pecorino romano cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Combine in a ceramic bowl, place in fridge for several hours to combine flavors.

Boil pasta according to package instructions, 1 pound pasta al dente. I use Barilla pasta, fusilli or
penne. You can also use linguine. Barilla always seems to come out al dente!

Place 1-2 cups of hot pasta in plate, spoon over cold sauce. Garnish with more pecorino or
romano cheese.

Although you have to boil water for the pasta, you avoid having that hot bubbling tomato sauce heat up the kitchen. You can make the pasta in advance, making sure you undercook a bit to compensate for re-heating. I do that in one of two ways: heat it up in a saucepan with a bit of water, or microwave it very carefully.

Served with crusty bread and a green salad with vinaigrette, it's an easy and light meal for a summer night.

Off to the beach!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Corn-tastic! Fresh ways with Corn on the cob and Corn and black bean salsa

Corn-tastic? Very corny! Sorry about that.

Today I am writing about corn, and sharing some how-to's and some simple recipes. In summer, I try to cook seasonally, using locally grown fruits and vegetables. I also try to take the weather into consideration. Like many owners of older homes in this neck of the woods, central air does not exist. In order to get out of the heat, I have to escape to the air conditioned family room or one of the bedrooms. I try to keep the house as cool as possible, so in summer I try to use my stove as little as possible, my oven not at all, and try to be creative with the microwave or outside grill. Actually, I think its kind of neat cooking with the weather in mind. We are lucky here in the northeast to have seasons, and it does seem kind of strange to be able to roast a chicken or make a giant pot of tomato sauce (or gravy, whatever you prefer) in the middle of summer, which you can do in a house with central air. It doesn't seem right somehow.

The bounty from yesterday's treasure hunt at the farmer's market was spread all over my kitchen table and all over the counters. Of course, I overbought again. Did I really need 10 ears of corn? Probably not. But I have to live with my purchases, so in order to fit the newly bought veges in the fridge, I had to do some fridge cleaning...not a pretty job. And in the heat.

I am actually very proud of myself. I THREW OUT FOOD that was almost edible. Out went some questionable cheeses, little weird things wrapped in leaky foil, old and tired vegetables, and most satisfying, multiple half jars of salsa... I realized yesterday that I really don't like store bought salsa, unless it is combined with something gooey and fattening. So I buy it for guests, they eat some of it, and it just sits there. Then it goes to the back of the fridge, and I forget about it, and buy more. Since store bought salsa is tomato based, and somehow citrusy, it lasts nearly forever. I feel guilty about throwing those jars out. But yesterday, out they went. And after the purging, I actually had room for all my new vegetable friends. I vow to use them all this time!

So here are some ideas and some simple recipes for fresh corn:

Picking the perfect ear of corn is easy. Make sure you buy them with the husks on. Don't be tempted to husk them in the store, as so many do, or to buy the shrink wrapped variety...or God forbid, those mushy frozen kind!!!! Examine the silk and the husk. The silk can be brown at top but should be light green and fresh near the tip. If it is dry, avoid it! Husks should also be green and feel fresh and moist...alive, really. Peel down a bit of the husk to expose the corn. The kernels should be perfectly even and firm, and not dry near the tip. When inspecting a batch, I test one, which I intend to purchase, by popping a kernel with my fingernail. It sounds gross but it guarantees freshness if it pops and exudes juice. If it just splats with little or no juice, most of the sugar has turned to starch and it is old and will be tasteless and tough. Like I said, I keep that one.

Perfect Corn on the Cob:

Prepare corn by cutting off the stem end, peel off some of the husk, and cut off the silk down to the tip. For grilling, first pre-heat the grill. Wrap the corn encased in the husk in just enough foil to cover and twist each end. Place directly on the grill and turn every few minutes. It takes about 20 minutes to a half hour to cook it this way. The moisture from the husk will steam the corn to perfection. If you want, you can remove the husk and place the cobs directly on the grill to lightly brown them. I usually don't. But browning them lightly does bring out the flavor, caramelizing the naturally occurring sugars. Be careful, they can burn quite easily. Husking the corn is easy: under cool running water, which feels really good in a steamy kitchen, quickly peel the husk and rub your hand horizontally across the kernels to remove the silk, which will come off quite easily. If you try removing the silk before you cook them, it is almost impossible, so this is a very good way to desilk the corn. The corn will be so hot that the cool water will not affect the serving temperature. The interior seems to radiate out to the kernels so this is a very good method that does not burn your hands.

If you do not want to use a grill, I have experimented with my microwave. It comes out GREAT. I just prepare the corn as above, but do not wrap them in foil. I moisten the husks a bit with cool water and place two at a time on a microwave safe plate and let it go for two minutes per corn cob. Don't be afraid to experiment ...some may require more or less, depending on size and your microwave's power.

I eat them with no butter, no salt...not because of weight control but because when they are fresh, as I have said, I think they need no embellishment. Fresh and well cooked, the kernels burst in your mouth with delectable sweetness. However, if you insist, the butter and salt brings them to another level of deliciousness...and I do LOVE butter. And speaking of weight control, they are very low in calories, only about 60-100 per cob. Strange as it sounds, they are a great snack on their own.

You can eat them plain or use the cut kernels in recipes. Just place the corn on its flat end in the middle of a large bowl, and cut the kernels off the cob slicing downward with a sharp knife. Here is a recipe that I made up recently:

Corn and Black Bean Salsa (homemade, I like!)

This is actually more of a side dish, but its kind of like a salsa as you can pile it on a tortilla chip.

One can of black beans, rinsed
Kernels from two corn cobs
Medium red onion, diced
Medium tomato, diced (garden or farmer's market tomatoes...not those pale supermarket ones!)
1 medium clove of garlic, crushed
Extra virgin olive oil
1 or 2 tablespoons of fresh cilantro to taste, chopped fine.
lime juice, 1/2 to one lime's worth
Sprinkle of kosher salt
several drops of hot sauce: Cholula, Franks, Tabasco, whatever you prefer

Combine the beans, corn, onion, tomato and garlic. Add one or two tablespoonfuls of olive oil. Add cilantro, lime and rest of ingredients. Use as a side dish or with tortilla chips.

Try this and let me know how you like it.

Stay cool!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Still cooking after all these years!

Everyone's blogging, so I might as well join them! I want to share my joy of everything related to food: shopping, preparing, cooking, even reading about it! And all while trying to stay healthy and become slimmer. I am taking advantage of the relative quiet of my summers, which is a much appreciated break from counseling middle schoolers. Although I love my job, it is intense, and during the summer I can concentrate on other interests: travel, seeing more of friends and family, and of course, everything food.

Today I really appreciated living in my corner of New York City, visiting Arthur Avenue ("the real Little Italy), and the farmer's market at the New York Botanical Garden. I am planning a nice birthday dinner for my husband and son tomorrow, so I have enjoyed perusing the Arthur Avenue Market and visiting Peter's Meat Market for their excellent frankfurters, prepared wings, steak and burgers. During my last barbecue, one of my sons bit into the hot dog. The look on his face was priceless when he said, "This is probably the best hot dog I have ever eaten!" After a lifetime of hot dogs from probably the hot dog mecca, New York City.

At the butcher, I asked Mike if they made their own, and he told me that it is made for them, but according to their specifications. The natural skin frankfurter literally bursts with juiciness and flavor...God, it was so good. The same can be said for anything I have tried from Peter's. I also visited Mike's Deli (different Mike) for my favorite Prima Donna cheese... which I can find nowhere else. It is a medium soft, buttery almost parmagiana tasting cheese. It is way expensive but it is birthday time! I also bought a liter of olive oil made in Sciacca, Sicily for my younger, birthday son who is also a food lover...he will appreciate that gift, not many 24 year olds would.

Arthur Avenue, land of the dueling bakeries: My quest was to also find the perfect chocolate mousse cake for the birthday celebration. My son, his girlfriend and I visited the Arthur Avenue Caffe across the street from the Market about a year ago and enjoyed the chocolate mousse cake. They both declared that it was the best cake they have ever eaten and wanted to have it made into a wedding cake. Naively, we both thought that the Caffe somehow baked this lovely cake...and now when I tried to purchase it this week, I was told that 1. they no longer carry it, and 2. it was bought from a wholesale bakery!!! Very disappointing. So I went on a quest to find the perfect cake, but decided to keep my search to this small geographic area. The first bakery I tried was one I always frequent for their excellent St. Joseph's cakes which win the prize for the most creamy and delicious cannoli filled creampuffs, the Sfingi, which is what they are. They are only available during the month of March to Honor St. Joseph. There are also custard filled St. Joseph cakes, called Zeppoles, but they pale in comparison. Custard: BORING! Anyway, the person who owns the bakery is my neighbor, as are most of the people who own them in that area, but she is actually across the street from me...and of course, those St. Joseph's cakes.... I sampled their version of the mousse cake, but it was boring, very light color. After they promised to make a special one for me with all dark chocolate, I impulsively ordered one. Fortunately I did not pay for it as I suffered from (almost) buyer's remorse almost immediately after leaving the bakery.

After wandering around in consternation for about 20 minutes, I entered another bakery, who I avoid as this is my usual bakery's direct rival: they were formerly married! Right in the bakery's glass case, was the holy grail of mousse cakes: all chocolate, dark as could be, shiny dark chocolate icing, more like a ganache, over what they told me was dark chocolate sponge cake and fluffy light dark chocolate mousse. They had decorated it around the sides with thin triangular wedges of dark chocolate, towering several inches over the cake itself. Of course after having a sample I bought this paragon of chocolate... and told a white lie to the rival bakery and canceled the order. I feel bad but Oh, well!

I visited the NYBG's farmer's market to purchase their just-picked corn. I love the way new corn just bursts with juicy sweetness. I wound up buying also winesap apples, fresh onions with greens still attached, and a peach for a snack...amazing, so sweet! I also snacked on one of the winesaps, which is so juicy and warm from the sun. I realize that these were picked during apple season...I guess they keep well!

I must explain something: I also have a bad habit of overbuying. When I see fresh fruits and vegetables displayed so beautifully in their bins, I am a sucker. I also am a sucker for any food advertised in multiples: why get two bagels for one dollar, which is all I need, if I can get a dozen for five? So they go green, or I have to freeze them. Of course I have a problem with Costco...all those multiples and giant packs wind up in my freezer. Both my freezer and refrigerator section are always groaning with food. Since I cannot see throwing out good food, I find myself letting it go bad and then throwing it out! Pretty sick, right? It is definitely a security thing, but more on that another day.