Jimmy Crack Corn and I Don’t Care

IMG_9221Raised by an Iowan mother, I learned very early on that corn was like candy: grilled on the cob and smothered in butter in the summer, creamed into sweet casseroles with saltine cracker crusts for Thanksgiving dinner, and toppled in kernels over mashed potatoes next to meat loaf and barbecued ribs for dinner. My very favorite corn dish of all time was a hot steaming corn bread muffin, studded with jalapeno and drizzled with honey.

Even though I had been raised on the proper applications of the cob, I rejected corn in my early thirties, much like large amounts of sugar, empty carbs, white flour and candy, when high fructose syrup became touted as the root of all evil and corn started getting a bad rap. After a good solid decade without the golden vegetable, I slowly but surely, over the course of the last five years, opened my heart up to corn again. Part of this was due to the Cute Gardener’s crops that, although few and far between each season, produce an ear you can eat right off the stalk. Freshness like that is hard to argue with, criticize or ban. A bonafide lover of that distinct corn taste was reborn and I have come to eat my corn in moderation always seeking out special ways to do so.

Last year, after the CG took a business trip to New York he brought back Christina Tosi-created cookies from the Momofuku Milk Bar per my pleading request. Amidst the decadence of the Chocolate Chocolate and Blueberry Cream cookies was a perfect specimen called simply Corn. It was a beautiful dense disk the color of the sun, not too sweet and chewy in the middle while the edges remained crisp and buttery. It tasted like my favorite varieties of corn bread yet tarted up with the richness of burnt sugar. I fell head over heels in love and wanted another one ever since.

This year when the CG returned from his annual business trip, to my delight, he carried a box in his hands of the very mix to make these beautiful corn cookies. So, although I heartily wolfed down the indulgent corn flake chocolate marshmallow and compost cookies that were new to me this year from Momofuku, and equally phenomenal, it was the night he baked the corn cookies that made me swoon the most. They came out from the oven as if they were on crack. I carefully apportioned out my half of the dozen made so that I would be able to savor one per evening for six nights.

Unfortunately, I made a trip to my hometown with my bag of allotments in tow and my family and friends scavenged them up like a flock of vultures. Fortunately, I was able to find a recipe online for the cookies so that I can have them anytime I want. That is, if I am extra sweet to the CG, since he is the baker of our bunch.

Momofuku Milk Bar Corn Cookies
Makes 13 to 15 cookies

2 sticks butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1-1/3 cups flour
1/4 cup corn flour
2/3 cup freeze-dried corn powder
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg, and beat for 7 to 8 minutes.

2. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, corn flour, corn powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix just until the dough comes together, no longer than 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

3. Using a 2 3/4-ounce ice cream scoop (or a 1/3-cup measure), portion out the dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. Pat the tops of the cookie dough domes flat. Wrap the sheet pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 1 week. Do not bake your cookies from room temperature– they will not bake properly.

4. Heat the oven to 350°F.

5. Arrange the chilled dough a minimum of 4 inches apart on parchment- or Silpat-lined sheet pans. Bake for 18 minutes. The cookies will puff, crackle, and spread. After 18 minutes, they should be faintly browned on the edges yet still bright yellow in the center; give them an extra minute if not.

6. Cool the cookies completely on the sheet pans before transferring to a
plate or to an airtight container for storage. At room temp, the cookies will
keep fresh for 5 days; in the freezer, they will keep for 1 month.

 

 

 

Food is Love – Saffron Risotto

IMG_8852In my early thirties I had a girlfriend whom my friends and family used to call Fill. Many people upon first meeting her would ask if her name was really Phil and we would let them in on the acronym her moniker revealed which was “Food Is Lotsa Love”. For four years all of my friends would scramble for invitations to dinner at my house on the weekends in which they could be regaled with dishes from Fill’s repertoire of recipes handed down by the women in her Grecian family. These were things like fried chicken and lemon squares with dilled rice, zucchini stuffed with lamb, lamb spaghetti, potato and egg scrambles and tangy dolmadas. She also had her personal Southern California surfer girl’s roster of specialties that included pulled pork tacos on homemade half chewy and half crisp taco shells, enchiladas in deep green verde sauce and broiled jerk chicken sandwiches that put tropical islands to shame.

At the time, I was more of a professional work-a-holic with a high powered career who hardly set foot in the kitchen myself so I was hard pressed to understand an iota of how fueling the body for the day could equate to an emotional experience the likes of what I would see in Fill when she would spend hours prepping delicacies for my entourage and me that would be gulped down in mere minutes. I certainly didn’t want to waste any of my precious hours in the pantry when there were deals to me made and contracts to pursue.

When I was a kid I used to wonder why my mom would get so giddy on Thanksgiving and Christmas eves with the idea of waking up each holiday morn at five a.m. to start cooking a meal that would proceed to take the entire day as she slaved over a hot stove. Greyhound cocktails to ease the ride aside, she would steadfastly remain in her apron from the moment the stuffing fumes woke my siblings and I from sleep until the last slice of pumpkin pie mingled with our tryptophan comas near midnight.

Although I definitely enjoyed making meals for my daughter while she grew up, I prided myself on the quick and easy no nonsense choices. All of this was par for the course until five years ago when I really turned up my foodie radar a notch.

It started with a Christmas dinner I made from scratch in my small Venice Beach bungalow for some visiting Austrian artist friends, my brother and the Cute Gardener when our relationship was nary a month new. 48 hours of cooking started with turkey brining and sourdough bread frying for a sausage sage stuffing and ended with hand-whipped cream for special sweet potato casserole cup desserts. As my friends laughed and imbibed in my tiny living room for two days, I wiled away the hours with John Coltrane Pandora in my miniscule kitchen. The smiles on my guest’s faces were the cherry on top of the cake of satisfaction I felt after whipping up that meal. I realized while doing so that food really is love and there is an extreme squirt of ecstasy that is released in the brain when you know you are putting effort into making those you are fondest of feel content in the belly—delivering umami to their most primal necessities.

Of late, my love has turned up in various pots of saffron risotto. Risotto is truly one of those foods made with affection. No person in their right mind would stand over a hot pot for up to an hour, stirring constantly, unless they were doing it from the heart. But there is something magical that happens when I start the first burner going for the chicken stock up until the moment I swirl in the accentuating Parmesan cheese at the last minute before serving that can only be described as love—my pain in my right wrist goes away, time disappears, and moments pass swiftly just like they do when I am in the zone painting or writing a short story. My chest swells with delight and I am given the privilege to see the smile alight the lips of the first person who takes a steaming bite. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

IMG_8851

Food Is Love – Saffron Risotto
Serves 4

Ingredients

5 cups chicken stock
1 pinch saffron
6 tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer.
  2. Ladle a little stock into a small bowl.
  3. Add the saffron threads or powder and leave to infuse.
  4. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucepan until foaming.
  5. Add the onion and cook gently for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened.
  6. Add the rice.
  7. Stir until grains start to swell and burst, then add a few ladlefuls of the stock, with the saffron liquid, and salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Stir over low heat until the stock is absorbed.
  9. Add the remaining stock, a few ladlefuls at a time, allowing the rice to absorb all of the liquid before adding more, and stirring constantly.
  10. After 20-25 minutes, the rice should be al dente and the risotto golden yellow, moist and creamy.
  11. Gently stir in about two-thirds of the Parmesan and the rest of the butter.
  12. Heat through until the butter has melted, then taste for seasoning.
  13. Transfer the risotto to a warmed serving bowl or platter and serve immediately, with the remaining Parmesan sprinkled on top.
  14. Enjoy!

 

The Awesome Alchemical Avocado

IMG_9146Our avocado tree is flush with fruit this November!

The Cute Gardener and I have been talking recently about the word “awesome”—something that has become completely overused and diffused in contemporary society. We, as well as the rest of the human population, seem prone to give everything from the latest episode of Gotham to the morning drops of dew on a leaf to a brand new pair of shoes that moniker. David Sedaris has joked that if anyone in his presence says the word awesome, they immediately owe him a dollar towards the proverbial tip jar. There was a great TED Talk by comedian Jill Shargaa on this topic recently called “Let’s put the awe back in awesome.” In it, she says, “When you use the word awesome to describe the most mundane of things, you’re taking away the very power of the word. So in other words, if you have everything, you value nothing. There’s no dynamic, there’s no highs or lows, if everything is awesome.”

One aspect of my life where I have completely overused this word is with food. The butterscotch pot de crème at Gjelina is awesome. The lamb neck at Bestia is too. But every pork belly that I have met in the past year is not, even though I have most likely gushed that word out after each forkful being the pork whore that I am.

The very definition of awesome is “inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear; causing or inducing awe.”

The one food that instantly comes to mind for me that fits this definition is the avocado. I have an overwhelming feeling of reverence for it because there is nothing quite like it—it stands alone in the fruit world as its own breed. Rough leathery skin surrounding smooth, oily and edible flesh and a large stone is not exactly what we think of when we hear the word fruit. Yet there it sits classified in a sea of sweet or juicy things on its own in the lone wolf color of green that for its genus sisters and brothers typically denotes “unripe.”

The “admiration” part of the avocado comes when it is mashed and used for its texture, which again, defies traditional classification because it is not quite cream, not quite butter, not quite pulp and not quite puree, but a silky unmistakable combination of all four. Without this unique and discernable texture, the world may never have known the fantastical deliciousness of guacamole.

IMG_9144But the truly “inducing awe” aspect of the avocado comes when it is used in a way that seems to completely go against its grain, as an additive in smoothies. There is something magical that occurs when an avocado is whipped with cold ingredients that completely mystifies. It turns everything into an ambrosial form of ice cream that is lusciously whipped yet densely creamy which lacks the customary avocado taste yet maintains its undertones of sumptuous richness. Since discovering this, I have gone completely smoothie crazy. My latest favorite recipe below is just the tip of the iceberg in this avocado awesomeness.

PEPPERMINT CHOCOLATE AVOCADO SMOOTHIE

1 cup almond milk
½ frozen banana
¼ avocado
2 tablespoons Ovaltine or cocoa powder
1 teaspoon organic maca powder
4 mint leaves
Bee pollen to sprinkle on top

Throw everything in a Nutribullet or other type of blender for 20 seconds and voila!