From the Mixoloseum: a Food and Cocktail Pairing

blue cornmeal+sweet corn cakes with tomato+fennel relish

To those of you who made your way over here from Mike’s post at the Mixoloseum blog, welcome! He promised I’d have a recipe for you, and here it is. One thing I’ll make note of is that while this recipe made a dozen smallish corn cakes, the right size for a light starter with our Seelbach cocktails before dinner, you could definitely scale the size of your cakes up or down, making one-bite minis for a party hors d’oeuvre, or larger cakes to serve for lunch or a light dinner. Use the freshest sweet corn you can, and if you can’t find blue cornmeal, regular yellow or white cornmeal should work just fine.

Blue Corn Cakes with Tomato and Fennel Relish

For the corn cakes:
1 cup stone-ground blue cornmeal (we like Kenyon’s)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ tbsp baking powder
1 teaspoon of kosher or sea salt
1 cup water
1 cup fresh corn kernels, stripped from the cob
¼ cup diced red onion or shallot
oil, butter, or other fat for frying (I used rendered fatback for the flavor and the higher smoking point, but feel free to use whatever you like)

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (cornmeal through salt). Using a fork, gently stir in the water a little at a time, adding more if it’s too thick (it should have body, but be pourable like a pancake batter). Add the corn kernels and onion and stir to incorporate. Heat a couple of tablespoons of the fat in an iron skillet, griddle, or other frying pan, and ladle out 3 to 4 ¼ cup portions of batter. Cook on one side until the cake releases easily from the pan, adding more fat if necessary, then flip. Continue cooking until the second side is browned, then remove the cakes to a tray lined with paper towels. Repeat until you have used all of the batter. You can keep these warm in a low oven until you’re ready to serve them, or serve them at room temp.

Tomato and Fennel Relish

kosher or sea salt
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup diced fennel bulb
½ pint small grape, pear or cherry tomatoes, diced
fennel fronds for garnish

Whisk the sea salt and lemon juice together in a small bowl until the salt is dissolved, then whisk in the olive oil until the dressing is emulsified. Add the fennel bulb and tomatoes, toss gently, and let sit briefly before spooning onto the finished corn cakes. Garnish each dressed cake with a few feathery fennel fronds before serving.

Summer Layers

I have been battling a dreadful summer cold for nearly a week now, and the comedy of errors that was my Monday didn’t help matters at all. Rhode Island still celebrates V-J day, and because of the holiday the buses were running on a holiday schedule. There was another bus line that could get me to my train on time, but I reached the bottom of the very steep hill we live on just in time to see it whizzing by.

A sticky mile and a half later, I was at the train station, too late for my usual train but just in the nick of time to board the next commuter rail train. I arrived in Boston, trudged through the thick air to my building, and was greeted at my desk by stacks and stacks of files, all demanding my attention. I kept my head down, focused, and made a sizable dent in my backlog by the end of the day, then headed back to South Station, dreaming of home.

I’ll spare you details of the chaotic mess that my evening commute turned into, but suffice it to say that by the time I walked into the kitchen, only comfort food would do – comfort food, and the bottle of Domaine Tempier Bandol rose that had been chilling for days, awaiting the day that my sense of smell and my taste buds returned to normal.

Dinner:  August 10, 2009

So despite the heat, I turned on the oven and got to work on this summer vegetable gratin. I built many layers of colorful vegetables – thin coins of zucchini and blue potato, ripe red tomato, shaved fennel and sliced eggplant. I spread a garlicky opal basil pesto between each layer, covered the top of my baking dish (I used a loaf pan) loosely with foil, and slid it onto a baking sheet.

After about 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven, I removed the foil and added a mixture of fresh breadcrumbs, grated parmesan, and provencal herbs to the top. It went back into the oven until the topping was golden brown, then I pulled it out of the oven and let it rest briefly before slicing it up to serve. With a little arugula salad and that stunning rose, this meal was just what the doctor ordered.

A hill of beans

beans

I’m wading back in here, slowly, still trying to get my groove back as far as posting goes. I’ll be honest, the last couple of weeks have been difficult, made worse by the issue of a content thief who has yet to respond to me, and at times I seriously thought of just giving this blog up entirely. My extended weekend did me a world of good (who knew hanging out with cows could be such fun), and after a few highly successful meals at home (at least one of which is getting a do-over and its own post soon), I’m feeling a bit better about it all.

lemon, arugula, bronze fennel

What I cobbled together last night was just the sort of thing I love eating this time of year, a big salad with lots of varying colors and textures, and it gave me the chance to test out the 90-minute no-soak bean cooking method so many people are talking about.

tuna + lemon vinaigrette

While my beans cooked I whisked up a lemon vinaigrette with lots of chopped shallot, opened up a can of our favorite American Tuna and broke the fish up into the dressing, and got the remaining salad ingredients prepped: young arugula from Arcadian Fields, a few mixed radishes that had been lingering in the crisper, and beautiful bronze fennel from City Farm.

Dinner: June 17, 2009

After 90 minutes, the beans were as tender and creamy as promised, and after letting them cool just briefly, I tossed them into the salad. This may not have been the prettiest plate in town, but the combination of flavors and textures was exactly what I had hoped for.

A simple Spring soup

Dinner:  May 12, 2009

I’m a big fan of soup any time of year, but there’s nothing like a light, brothy bowl of springtime veggies to take the chill off an early May evening. I tossed this together mostly from odds and ends: first, a lone leek which had been lingering in the crisper drawer, then some thinly sliced fennel stalks, both cooked with a sprinkling of salt and a knob of butter until soft. Next I added some cooked flageolet beans and their cooking liquid, plus a few additional cups of water, some sweet young carrots, and a half cup or so of carnaroli rice. While the broth bubbled and the rice plumped, I thawed some leftover cooked asparagus and peas from the freezer, adding them to the pot to just warm through. I tasted the soup for seasoning and added a few finishing touches, in the form of fresh spinach, chopped fresh tarragon, and shards of Pecorino Romano. A little toasted bread on the side (with more of that Pecorino), and we were good to go.

Wading back in

We got back to Providence on Sunday evening, but since I had made a point to use up most of our fresh food before our trip, and since we weren’t around for Saturday’s farmers’ market, we had to make a quick trip to Whole Foods for provisions. I’ve gotten so used to buying the majority of our food at the farmers’ market that I was a little frazzled when we got to the store, but the seafood counter saved the day. I grabbed some sardines for Sunday night’s dinner, and a beautiful whole trout for Monday.

Dinner:  May 10, 2009

We had hoped to grill the sardines on Sunday night but it was a bit too chilly out, so after Mike cleaned them, I dipped them in a little bit of seasoned flour and fried them. I made a quick stew of fennel and tomatoes, one of my favorite partners for fish of any kind, and our Sunday supper was complete.

fiddleheads and chanterelles

Monday’s trout dinner was equally simple: our butterflied trout went into a grill basket rubbed with salt and a bit of olive oil, and Mike took care of cooking it while I worked on sides.

Dinner:  May 11, 2009

I had spotted some Massachusetts fiddleheads at the store, which I snapped up along with a few gorgeous chanterelles. I sauteed them in butter with thinly sliced spring onion until the mushrooms were a bit caramelized and the fiddleheads were tender, then I spooned them onto our plates with the grilled trout and some boiled, smashed new potatoes. I finished the fish with a spritz of fresh lemon juice and some thin slices of the bright green onion tips, and simple as that, dinner was served.

Comforting Layers

sliced

I think Mother Nature missed the memo. I mean, according to the calendar, Spring has sprung. The flowers know it – the trees, too. I just don’t get why it’s still so darned COLD outside. She’s a stubborn old broad, that Mother Nature.

layers

The persistent chill in the air has made it a bit difficult for me to move beyond hearty wintertime dishes when planning meals for the week, so I come to you today with another gratin. I suppose I could use the excuse that, since we now have a wonderful source of delicious local cream at our farmers’ market, I was duty-bound to show them some love, but honestly? My belly demanded creamy, crusty comfort.

Though the cream is really, really good.

adding the topping

As with most gratins, this was a breeze to throw together: I made a few layers of thinly sliced fennel and a few small red-skinned potatoes (also thinly sliced) in a buttered baking dish, seasoned them with salt, and bathed them in some of that luscious cream. I had whisked a good amount of sharp dijon into the cream before pouring it over the vegetables – a quarter cup or so – which added a nice tang.

I wrapped the dish tightly with foil and baked it in a 400 degree oven for just about half an hour, then removed the foil, grated on some Parmigiano Reggiano, and added some fresh soft breadcrumbs to the top. I dotted on a little butter before returning it to the oven for a final bake – another 15 minutes or so.

Dinner:  April 7, 2009

We ate this with delicious pork chops from Stoney Hill Cattle, but I think it would be great on its own, too.

One Fish, Two Fish

One of the reasons I’m so happy that Mike is as big a fan of seafood as I am is because it’s so darned quick and easy to prepare, and this week, quick and easy is about all I’ve had in me. I’ve been anxious to get back to the cutest fish market ever, and on Tuesday, the weather was finally (sorta) warm enough for me to make the walk up to the North End and pick up a few provisions.

I came home with two beautiful filets, one cod and one wild striped bass. I cooked the bass on Tuesday, portioning out a couple of pieces for our dinner and packaging the remainder to freeze. I stewed half of a fennel bulb, thinly sliced, along with some sliced onion, canned San Marzano tomatoes, a glug each of white wine and olive oil, and some Herbes de Provence, and when the mixture had cooked down, I sauteed the striper in a little olive oil until the skin was crisp and the flesh just cooked through. I spooned the fennel and tomato mixture into shallow bowls, placed a filet on top of each portion, and finished with a few fennel fronds, sprigs of flat leaf parsley, and lemon zest.

Wednesday night’s cod was even easier: I used this recipe as a jumping off point, but added my own spin by tossing the potatoes with a bit of smoked Spanish paprika before putting them in the oven to roast. After about 40 minutes, I added the cod (again, I portioned out two pieces and froze the rest), turning it on the baking sheet to coat it with paprika oil and sprinkling a little salt over it, and placed it back in the oven until the cod was just cooked through, about 15-20 minutes or so. I served the cod and potatoes on a bed of picked flat leaf parsley leaves, and sprinkled a little Sherry vinegar, snipped chives, and Basque herbed salt over each serving.

Both of these seafood suppers were incredibly simple and incredibly good, allowing the flavors of the super-fresh fish to shine through. We’re lucky to have access to such great seafood around here, and as the weather warms up and we crave lighter fare, you can bet we’ll be taking full advantage of it.