23 August 2010

Ready when you are

This week is a little slice of madness for me, and that's just the time when you need things in your fridge or pantry that are simply ready when you are.

Like pickled onions. Of course, this is nothing new, and excellent cooks have been filling their refrigerators with jars of the stuff for far longer than I've known how to boil pasta. The thing is, it's just not something home cooks do very often, despite the simplicity of it all.

Here's the rundown: Thinly slice onions. I like to use red onions and slice them on the mandolin, so I make quick work and get even, consistent slices. Stuff the onions into a glass jar or other non-reactive container. Then add vinegar to completely cover the onions. I like the combination of red wine vinegar and red onions. Cover, refrigerate and let cure for at least a day and up to a couple of weeks.

Check out this recipe for a great blend of spices to add. You can choose to simply do the vinegar and onions or play with your own spice mixture.

The best part is that once your onions are pickled, you can make any number of fantastic recipes. The onions turn a brilliant purple-pink color, and the taste is amazing. A bright, vivid punch of tang and slightly sweet. No harsh onion taste. Few other things bring so much color and flavor to finished dishes. Add them to salads -- everything from green to pasta to potato to rice salads. And don't forget sandwiches, humus plates, meat dishes and more. Take a couple of tablespoons of the brine, whisk together with equal parts olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Instant salad dressing.

Go do this now. Tomorrow you'll thank the brilliant cooks who came up with this insanely simple technique.

16 August 2010

Easy does it

For the sake of my sanity, I need to work harder at my goal of simplicity. I've been just a bit overloaded lately, and I wasn't going to let a potluck side dish derail my weekend.

Corn on the cob would have to do. I love corn on the cob, and frankly, unless you're a 13-year-old with braces sitting at the lunch table with your boyfriend, I can't think of a reason anyone would dislike it.

I remember watching my Grandma Peach boil corn picked from her garden, and if you've ever had really fresh corn, you know that it is something to wait 10 months of the year for.

If you are fortunate enough to live in a city with a farmer's market, there's no better place to buy fresh corn. Look for ears with their husks still tightly wrapped with plump kernels that squirt a bit of juice when pierced. Shuck and cook the corn while the husks look lively and green.

I often slice my corn into halves or thirds, so you can quickly feed a good-size crowd with a dozen ears of corn. This recipe is certainly a quick, easy method, but I also like grilling corn on the cob or slicing the corn off the cob and sauteing in a hot pan with olive oil and salt.

Corn on the Cob with Chili-Spiced Butter

9 to 12 ears of corn, shucked and cut into thirds
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of salt, plus more to season to taste
1/2 cup butter, melted
Chili powder
Cracked black pepper
Ground coriander
Ground cumin
Cilantro for garnish

Fill a large pot with water about three-quarters full. Add the sugar and one tablespoon of salt to the water. Bring to a boil. Add corn to pot and continue to boil for about four minutes. Remove corn from water and place in a strainer over the sink. Work in batches if your pot isn't large enough to hold all of the corn.

While the corn drains and begins to cool, combine the butter and spices in a very large bowl. Start with a good handful of chili powder, adding more based on the flavor you'd like. Then add a dash each of coriander and cumin and several turns on your mill of black pepper. Season with salt to taste. With a fork or whisk, combine the butter and spices. Toss the corn in the butter mixture, using your hands to turn the corn to make sure each piece gets evenly coated. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with cilantro. Serve immediately or refrigerate for service later at room temperature. Allow to stand on the counter for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Note: Recipe can be scaled up or down easily.

04 August 2010

A cool summer treat

About six years ago, I gave Seth an ice cream maker for his birthday. I didn't expect him to start making summertime desserts, but I thought the gesture was sweet because I could make him ice cream. He does help, taking the outdoor (or bath tub in the winter time) duty of packing the ice and rock salt and checking on the machine waiting for the gentle hum to turn to a slow whine when the ice cream is done.

Of course, they make quieter, more compact and less messy ice cream machines that do all that work just sitting on your kitchen counter. I don't mind packing the ice, it's the way my mom makes ice cream, so it always seemed to be the right way to me. Besides, hanging around outside watching the bucket sweat and a slow stream of salty water run away from the machine is part of the anticipation of the summertime treat.

Marionberries are an Oregon fruit similar to a blackberry.

Running the berry puree through a fine sieve will eliminate seeds from your ice cream. This step can be skipped if you don't mind the seeds.

Over the years I've tried several ice cream recipes. I tend to like fruit-flavors mostly, settling on a heavenly peach, blueberry, raspberry and just last weekend, marionberry. Some recipes have eggs, others don't. Some call for the eggs to remain raw, while others call for a slow heating, to make a custard. Those recipes are generally richer, and pretty darn delicious.

But sometimes you need a quick and low-pressure recipe. Folks, this is it. It doesn't get much simpler than this. The only downside I've found is that I don't think this recipe holds as well, meaning that a day or two after you make it, the texture just isn't quite as good as when it's fresh.
So, to remedy this, make it for a crowd, so you have nothing but an empty canister left when you're finished.

This recipe can easily be modified for any flavor profile, and because it's simply equal parts milk and cream, you can make as large or small a batch as you like.

Marionberry Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 pint of marionberries (or any other type of ripe berry)
Approx. 3/4 cup sugar (baker's sugar is best but white sugar works)
Pinch of salt

Rinse and drain berries. Puree in a food processor or blender. To eliminate seeds, press berry puree through cheesecloth or a fine sieve. Add sugar to the puree by the 1/4 cup and whisking until sugar is dissolved (This will happen more quickly with the baker's sugar because of its finer granules). Taste as you add sugar as exact amount will depend on the sweetness of the berries. Combine the milk and cream in a bowl and add berry puree. Add a pinch of salt. Stir.

Pour mixture into ice cream machine and follow manufacturer's directions.

This ice cream could be eaten immediately as a very soft ice cream. Or transfer to a freezer-safe container and allow to set up for 4 to 6 hours.