Thursday, August 25, 2016

Corn and Tomato Pie

My life is way busier than when I first started this journal, but I still have the strong desire to make the longer-prep recipes that keep my skills sharp and, better yet, are delightfully delicious. Occasionally, I actually get a chance to tackle one of these recipes, getting excited all over again about cooking and, more importantly, getting excited about the results.

Now, I’m not going to say the effort I made toward this Corn and Tomato Pie was perfect. As usual, it was pie crust that got me down. The pastry I attempted needed some help and I didn’t allow myself enough time for fiddling, so I punted and used a store-bought model from my friends at Pillsbury. (We’re not really friends.)

Anyway, this savory pie is kind of a quiche that’s stuffed with corn, preferably freshly cut from a freshly-harvested fresh cob (although frozen will do) and tomatoes at the peak of their very own delicious ripeness. I didn’t have quite enough large tomatoes (from my garden!) for this recipe, so I filled in the gaps with halved cherry tomatoes (also from my garden!)

This pie just bursts with the sweet, ripe flavors of these beautiful garden vegetables. The corn is a bit chewy, and, while tomatoes are naturally extra-juicy, they are well-balanced by the other ingredients in the pie’s filling, so they don’t make it soggy or mushy. There’s just enough egg and cheese to hold the filling together, so it cuts into fairly clean wedges, especially when you consider that they’re trying to hold together corn kernels and beautifully sloppy ripe tomatoes.

I always get excited about a dish like this, and each time I make one, I vow to make such dishes more often. Now that I’ve gone through this one at least a bit mindfully, I think I can see how I can approach this recipe, and others like it, with more efficiency, better planning, and perhaps a bit of advanced preparation. Until I can turn such ideas into something functional, however, please don’t judge me for using store-bought pie dough. Judge me based on what’s on the inside: the luscious late-season combination of sweet corn and succulent tomatoes. Yum!

Corn and Tomato Pie
Adapted from Eating Well magazine, July/August 2010

You can use an equivalent amount of halved cherry tomatoes in place of the sliced tomatoes.

Pastry for a single crust pie
3 large eggs
1 cup milk
½ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
¾ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Roll out the pastry to about a 12-inch circle. Loosely drape into a 9-inch pie pan. (Use a deep dish pan if you have one.) Gently press into the bottom and up the sides of the pan, being careful not to stretch the dough.

2. To blind bake the crust, take a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to cover the whole pastry. Spray it with cooking spray. Cover the pastry with the foil, spray side down. Cover the foil with pie weights. Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and the weights and set the pie pan on a rack to cool at least 10 minutes. (You can cool this up to an hour.)

3. To make the filling, combine the eggs and milk in a medium-size bowl. Whisk together until very well combined. Whisk in the salt and pepper.

4. Sprinkle half of the cheese on the partially baked pie crust. Layer half the tomatoes over the cheese. Layer the corn and basil over the tomatoes. Layer the remaining cheese over the corn and then the remaining tomatoes over the cheese. Pour the egg mixture over the top of everything.

5. Bake the pie at 400 F for 45-55 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean and not coated with undercooked egg. Let cool on a rack at least 20 minutes before serving. Leftovers can be covered and refrigerated. Reheat individual servings in the microwave.

Makes 8 servings.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Peach Pecan Muffins

Well, I’ve been away a while again. This time I had technical difficulties, a figurative computer kaboom that set me back a few days. Everything seems to be functional now, so here we go…

I made some muffins. I end up making muffins a lot when I want to make something new and exciting, and don’t have as much time as I thought I would. These were especially delicious, but not for the reason I thought they would be.

You see, a good peach is hard to find. Those of you who live in places where they are grown and can be had at their peak better darn well appreciate how good you have it. I do not live in such a place, and even when peaches are in season, it’s hard to get good ones here. They may look beautiful in the produce department or in a bowl on the table, but cutting into them and tasting them reveals the sad, sad truth. They are dull, bland, boring, uninspiring, often mushy in texture and decidedly un-peachy overall.

And so, while I imagined that the fragrance of ripe peaches would dominate these fruity muffins, it was really the brown sugar streusel topping that stole the show. (That being said, the peaches were still good here, and this recipe is a good place to use up mediocre peaches!) The topping is sweet and flavorful, slightly caramely from the brown sugar, rich from the butter, and gently spiced by the ginger. It’s crunchy when the muffins are fresh, but still wonderfully delicious if it softens upon sitting for a while.

The pecans were also terrifically delicious in these muffins (much as they were in these muffins), and when peaches are out of their alleged season, I’ll probably make these with pecans alone. Of course dates, figs, raisins, or craisins might be good substitutes for the peaches and good companions for the pecans, too. Since I like a bit of ginger with peaches, I used it here, but other warm spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom or even allspice or Pumpkin Pie Spice would be good if different fruits or just nuts are used.

The original source (Moosewood Restaurant New Classics) of this recipe treats it as a variation on a base recipe, one of many possible improvisations, and I love that kind of thing. You can bet I’m going to go back to this one for delicious and satisfying combinations all year round.

Peach Pecan Muffins with Brown Sugar Topping
Based on a recipe in Moosewood Restaurant New Classics

For the topping:
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon ground ginger

For the muffins:
½ cup chopped pecans
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1 large egg, beaten
¾ cup light brown sugar
½ cup + 2 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cup finely chopped peaches

1.  To make the topping, combine the topping ingredients in a small bowl. Work the butter into the dry ingredients with a fork or with your fingers until it is well-distributed and the whole mixture is crumbly and will hold together if squeezed. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. (This can be done up to a few days ahead.)

2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare a 12-cup muffin tin by spraying each cup with cooking spray or smearing them with butter or oil.

3. In a small skillet, warm the pecans over medium-low heat. Stir or toss frequently and continue heating until a few spots on the pecans are toasted brown and the pecans are fragrant. Set aside to cool.

4. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Set aside to cool.

5. In a medium-size bowl, combine the 2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon ground ginger. Set aside.

6. In another medium-size bowl, beat the melted butter into the egg with a whisk. Whisk in the ¾ cup brown sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture. Stir gently until most of the dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in the peaches and pecans.

7. Scoop the batter evenly into the prepared muffin pan. Sprinkle the topping mixture evenly over each cup of batter, squeezing it to form clumps. Bake at 350 F for 30-35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool about 15 minutes in the muffin tin. Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack or enjoy warm. Leftovers can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for a few days, or frozen.

Makes 12 muffins.

One year ago: some Summer Recipe Love

Friday, August 12, 2016

Chopped Vegetable Salad

This seasonal salad, along with simple pasta dishes and stir fry, is a great way to feature whatever delicious fresh vegetables you can get your hands on. It’s also great for cooks like me with small gardens that might not offer up overwhelming amounts of produce that you feel you have to “put up” for the winter, but just enough to enjoy at the peak of freshness.

So, this salad is open to all kinds of tastes and improvisational skills. I like to make it with finely chopped green beans, sugar snap peas, radishes, bell peppers, and cucumbers. I also like to bump up the protein content by adding a drained can of chickpeas. You could add different beans, and you could add beans that you have cooked yourself from the dry state.

Other great additions to this simple, refreshing dish could be shell peas, edamame, jicama, scallions, celery, etc., etc., whatever you like. Harder vegetables like carrots could be shredded and tossed in. Crunchy greens like cabbage or radicchio might be good, too. You could also add fresh corn or even tomatoes, although I would serve a salad with chopped tomatoes right away to avoid the liquid from the tomatoes making it too watery, or use tiny cherry tomatoes, which would not have much of a mush factor.

I like this Buttermilk Herb Salad Dressing on this salad, and I don’t use very much. It’s a great way to go, and I highly recommend it. That being said, however, this is supposed to be a pretty lazy dish, so whatever dressing you like or happen to have on hand would be quite adequate as well. Even store-bought dressing. Yes. Feel free to save time and energy in these sultry days. And make something delicious while doing so.

Chopped Vegetable Salad
To preserve the fresh deliciousness of seasonal vegetables, I use just a small amount of dressing on this salad. You can use as much or as little as you like.

4 cups finely chopped fresh vegetables (see text above for suggestions)
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (about 1 ½ cups)
½ cup Buttermilk Herb Salad Dressing (or to taste)

Makes 6-8 servings.