Mr. Irish… Meet Mexican Corn

When you have been married to someone for 15 years, you think you know that person fairly well.

That is a bad assumption. There is something new to learn at any given moment. Like say when you are on a little vacation and he orders something that seems so unlikely for him to order and he LOVES it.

By now you are guessing that my Irish plain-eating husband tried and loved Mexican street corn! We ordered it in a fun little Mexican place in Florida and sure enough he loved it. He asked me if I could make this at home and of course I was all like…”does a duck like to swim?” OF COURSE I can make this!

So one night after our return from Florida I whipped up a batch.

mexican-corn.jpg

I thought they turned out pretty well and he thought so too. But there are a few things I would fine tune for the next batch.

  • Use fresh not frozen ( Don’t judge – it’s spring in New England – there’s no fresh local corn for like another 2 months!)
  • Chop the Cojita cheese MUCH smaller as I realized it will coat better and more evenly.
  • Season the Mexican crema a little less aggressively and so the ancho chili powder that I forgot to sprinkle on top can stand out better.

As for a recipe…

It’s pretty simple and there are a thousand versions out there but here is mine.

Ingredients:

Mexican crema – you can you usually find this in the Mexican foods section of the grocery store but if you can’t find it, just use mayonnaise thinned with a little water.

Cojita Cheese – this is like a Mexican version of feta. Salty and crumbly. If you are worried about salt levels try the Queso Fresca instead – it’s still crumbly but less salty.

Ancho Chili powder – worth the investment if you don’t have this on hand. But you could probably use a little regular chili powder instead.

Fresh limes – cut for squeezing over corn.

Fresh Cilantro – final chopped is best here.

Fresh corn cobs, par-cooked – (steam them or boil them or roast or microwave or whatever first so they are just past being raw. Don’t over cook)

Method:

Mix up some crema with salt, pepper and pinch of the ancho chili powder. Grill the corn, roll it/brush it with the crema. Now sprinkle the cheese on it. Sprinkle it with some ancho chili powder and finish it with cilantro and a squirt of lime juice.

 

 

 

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Good & Strange

On a recent visit to my favorite 5000 square foot Italian market/restaurant empire I picked up a few new things to try. Some were good, some were strange, and one was actually strangely good.

just strange So these were just strange. I had high hopes for them but no. They literally are just corn flour dried into these long shapes. A snack to to crunch on or use to dip into things. They were scarily crisp (as in break your teeth crisp) and really didn’t taste like anything. I think you could find a better vehicle to get that onion dip into your mouth.

 

 

 

 

always good

 

This was just good. Afterall I was just following directions. “Winemaker notes: best enjoyed with fruit and cheese.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

strangly good

This one was strangley good. These crunchy little nuggets promote themselves as a snack to “sharpen the appetite.” They have 2 kinds of wine in them – red and white! To me they have a flavor that completely reminds me of stuffing. (Like thanksgiving stuffing!)  Strangley addictive too.  According to the manufactuer I should be sipping a glass of “Agricola del Sole Jazzorosso” wine while I snack on these. Maybe next time.

 

Leftovers

I found myself with an assortment of leftovers the other day – artisan bread that was a couple days old, cherry tomatoes that were starting to get a little wrinkly, some bits of steak, a nub of sweet onion, some fresh parsley just coming to its last days.

Of course my first thought was “Panzanella!”  That famous Tuscan salad of bread and tomatoes tossed with olive oil and vinager.

For seasoning, I keep it simple. I like the flavors of the good olive oil and red wine vinegar to shine through. In addition to that I use plenty of salt, pepper and some granulated garlic. I like the granulated garlic here because its far less aggressive then using raw garlic and it distributes evenly throughout. No one is going to bit into a piece of raw garlic when when you use the granulated garlic.

I usually mix all the ingredients except the bread and let it sit for a while. This time also allows the natural juices of the tomatoes to help with this dressing. By tossing the bread in last you can judge how much bread cubes you want to add, keeping the ratio of wet ingredients (dressing, tomatoes, herbs etc) to around 1-2. (1 part wet ingredients to 2 parts bread) I usually don’t toss in the bread till about 10-15 mins before serving. That way the bread gets moistened but not soggy. The dressing should just just barely coat everything in the bowl.

The beauty of this salad is that it is perfect served room temperature. Of course if you are adding meat like I did – keep the wet ingredients (including the meat) refrigerated till about 30 mins before serving time. You want to get the chill off before serving, and toss in the toasted, cubed bread about 15 mins before serving.

final

The simplicity of leftovers!

Author’s notes:

Basil is often used in a panzanella salad but really any fresh, soft herb you have on hand is great in this.

When it comes to the olive oil in this, make sure you break out the good stuff because it is gives a lot of flavor and richness.

Onions – I happen to have some sweet onion on hand. I wouldn’t use a red onion unless you dice it fine and keep the amount low. A red onion can sometimes over-power a dish. Shallots are natural excellent choice for this dish.

 

 

Living Simply

I had to take a long break from Cabinet Stew recently to attend to my mother who was ill and recently passed away. I have returned from this sad hiatus with a renewed respect for my time left on this earth and an appreciation for living more simply.

My mother was a 40 year vegetarian and a general health enthusiast. She never felt the need to “clutter” her plate with complicated ingredients, bold spices or fancy preparations. She felt nature was best left untouched as much as possible. At the same time she never passed up the chance to try something new, leading us as a family, to one “off the beaten path” bakery to another. By ten years of age I already knew where to get the best spanakopita (greek spinach pie) in my hometown.

My father in contrast was a man who appreciated a sausage as another might appreciate a vintage car or rare wine. He was a connassuier of hot dog carts, hash browns and strangely, fresh radishes. (which he ate like candy from a bowl in front of the TV)

Having observed both of them my whole life, I shaped my own eating habits around a combination of them. I love bold flavors and never pass up a good hot dog. I think nostalgically of my father when I eat radishes. However I don’t think twice about having a meal that doesn’t contain meat – in fact I don’t even recognize it as a “vegetarian” meal – its just simply a meal. I never met a vegetable or fruit I don’t like. And of course I have to seek out the most obscure local joints to try something new.

Today I salute my mother and her simple tastes.

simple-breakfast

Toast spread with Ricotta di Pecora (raw sheep milk ricotta) – topped with maple syrup and Honey Dew melon.

 

 

 

 

Dilly Good

I think fresh dill is one of the most under-used, under-appreciated herbs. So every chance I get to use it, I do. And not just for pickles! or for Spanakopita!

This time I decided to use it in a quiche! My favorite way to use up stuff anyway is to pair it with eggs.

I decided instead of a crust to make more of  “Tortilla Espanola” or a Spanish style potato omelet. You typically start these on the stove-top and finish them in the oven, but feeling a little lazy I decided to do the whole thing in the oven. So I got out the trusty glass pie dish that I use for everything and layered the ingredients into it. I made sure to slice each ingredient thin so it would cook easily in the time I typically bake my quiches (about 45 mins at 425 degrees)

The layers of ingredients  – inspired by fresh dill – took on a decidedly “Eastern European” inspiration with red onion, potato and dill. A couple tablespoons of sour cream added to my standard quiche mix made everything extra light and fluffy! A little grated parmesan cheese on top never hurt anything !

 

 

 

Avocado Lottery

Picking out an avocado at the store is a little like buying a dollar scratch ticket. You never know what you are going to get. Big winner or just a waste of a dollar.

It’s a low investment so you are not too worried if it doesn’t work out. But the dream of choosing just the right one and scoring big is strong! Oh the things you could do with the winnings.

When I pick out a winning avocado I know immediately that it needs to be enjoyed simply. The buttery flesh of a perfectly ripe avocado only needs a little salt, some ground cumin, a splash of lime juice. That’s it unless you want just a hint of hot sauce.

The secret to my nachos is simplicity. Oh and put the cheese down first. I use the broiler to melt the cheese onto the tops of the chips first. That way you get no soggy chips under there, the cheese acts like a barrier between the wet stuff and the chips. Next some fresh diced tomatoes if you can get your hands on some this time of year. A pinch of salt and pepper. The final topping is the perfect lottery-winning avocado. Mashed up with the above mentioned and simply spread on top. The avocado all fresh and velvety on top of cheesy, crisp chips. Truth be told you could leave off the tomatoes but why would you ever want to do that!

The colors are rather appropriate for the season, no?

The colors are rather appropriate for the season, no?

 

 

 

Hot “Stuffed”

Stuffed Cherry Peppers are a popular item around these parts.

These are the small, bright red peppers sometimes known as “pimiento” but usually referred to as “cherry peppers” based on their size and color. (Capsicum annuum for those who are really into it) They have a fairly low rating on the Scoville scale of heat but this doesn’t mean they don’t pack a bite of heat. For me they have an initial “prick” of heat but it subsides pretty quickly. But everyone is different so proceed with your level of caution.

Here in New England you will find these little guys pickled and served up along side platters of lamb kebobs or even more popular… as part of an Antipasto platter stuffed with a bit of salty cheese and prosciutto.

After spying fresh ones for sale at the city farm market, I recently decided that these little guys might serve as a nice vessel for a meat stuffing thereby elevating their status to “hot appetizer.” Just imagine these guys feeding the masses at your next football party or even as part of a fancy “passed hors d’oeuvres” affair.

I used a bit of ground pork (fatty butt to be specific) but a more lean cut of ground pork or beef would be good. (or lamb, yum…)  I added only seasoned salt, ground black pepper and fresh minced basil to the meat before stuffing the peppers and pushing a little hunk of Havarti cheese into the center. (Instead of stuffing the cheese in, you could add it as a topping in the last 10 mins of baking instead using Parmesan etc)

Here was my process….

remove the tops and all of the seeds to keep the heat down

Remove the tops and all of the seeds to keep the heat down.

 

perfect little vessels

Perfect little vessels – They can only hold barely a tablespoon.

Pack in the flavor with seasoned meat and a cube of cheese

Pack in the flavor with seasoned meat and a cube of cheese.

baked for 20 mins at 400 degrees with a drizzle of olive oil

Baked on an oiled sheet pan for 20 mins at 400 degrees with a drizzle of olive oil.                                  Maybe top with minced, fresh basil if you are feeling fancy.

Production notes

A pound of ground meat would fill approximately 24 peppers depending on the actual size of the peppers. You would probably use about 1/2 cup of fresh minced basil per pound of ground meat. About 2 tablespoons of seasoned salt per pound of meat and some good healthy pinches of ground black pepper.  The cheese cubes were tiny at about 1/4″ x 1/4″ in size. Any cheese would be good here, but one that melts willingly would work best.