Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Corn Chowder

One (admittedly minor) thing I was worried about when leaving Indiana was the availability of fresh corn. I had grown used to getting corn from numerous cart vendors throughout town and it always being delicious. It’s what Indiana did well. Here in New Jersey, it seems they have taken the concept of a farmers market and turned it up a few notches. I can find lots of fun foods like fruits, vegetables, fresh breads, pastries, pickles, and so much more. It’s expanded my cooking options quite a bit.

As fall sets in, corn is becoming scarcer as its season ends. Unless you were smart enough to blanch your corn and put it in baggies for freezing (I was not). One of the last times I got some, I made this “lighter” corn chowder with bacon and potatoes. It’s quite a good recipe and uses blending part of the soup as the thickener for the remainder. I have a recipe for pot roast that does the same thing with the gravy, but that’s another post.

To get a bit more char flavor in your soup (it’s quite good), I recommend cooking one or two of the ears over a hot grill and then letting them cool before you proceed.

Corn Chowder
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated

8 ears corn, husked and silk removed (2-3 grilled)
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced
4 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup flour
5 cups water
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup half and half
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
salt and pepper

Using a sharp knife, cut kernels from corn and place in a bowl (~5-6 cups).  Holding the cobs over a second bowl, use the back of a butter knife or a spoon to firmly scrape the remaining pulp from the cobs (~2 cups). Transfer the pulp and any associated liquid to a kitchen towel set in a medium bowl.  Wrap the towel tightly around the pulp and squeeze until dry.  Once dry, discard pulp and save the resulting corn juice (~2/3 cup).

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat; add onion, bacon, thyme, 2 teaspoons salt and some pepper, cook while stirring often until onion is softened and almost brown, about 10 minutes.  Add flour and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.  Add water and stir, bring to a boil.  Add corn kernels and potatoes, bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat to a bare simmer and cook until potatoes are soft, ~15 minutes.

Ladle 2 cups chowder to blender and process until smooth (be careful of splashing).  Return puree to the pot, add half and half and return to a simmer.  Turn off heat and stir in corn juice, sugar, and dried basil.  Season with salt, pepper, and any more sugar for sweetness.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Thanks to finally getting moved into the house, I have regained possession of my grill. It pains me that the first time I was able to grill this summer was the end of July. And I probably shouldn’t have grilled that night, as it was in the face of a huge storm that knocked a tree onto the roof of our neighbor’s house.
I wasn’t going anywhere with that, I just wanted to show the picture. Back to food. Fajitas are a staple in my house during the summer, easy to make, grill, and throw together on pretty much any night. I prefer steak, though chicken, shrimp, or veggie work quite well. If you’re going for beef, stick to something thin and designed for grilling, namely flank or strip steak. NJ supermarkets thankfully carry both; I could never find strip steak in a grocery store in Indiana. However, if you are fortunate enough to live near a Mexican grocer with a meat counter, chances are they have some and it’s cheaper than anything you can get in the store.

For toppings, I keep it simple with just grilled peppers and onions, salsa, and maybe an avocado. A fajita should stand on its own, with little to get in the way of the meat and tortilla. Hope you enjoy.

Fajitas (Adapted from Alton Brown)
Serves 4-6 

1/2 cup olive oil 
6 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup lime juice
2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 pounds flank steak, cut into four pieces (with the grain)
2 onions, peeled sliced into thick rings
2 green bell peppers, stems removed and seeded
15-20 flour tortillas
Salsa and sliced avocado for passing

Combine first 8 ingredients in a bowl and mix until smooth. Pour marinade over steak in a zip-top bag or pan and marinate for 1 hour. Preheat gas grill to high (or get a charcoal grill nice and hot). Grill onions and pepper (you can lightly oil them first if you wish) until soft and slightly blackened. Slice onion rings in half for strips, and thinly slice the peppers. 

Place steak on grill, cooking on each side for 6-7 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 125°F (for medium rare) or 135°F (for medium). Let rest for 5-10 minutes, and then slice thin. Warm flour tortillas on grill (in foil) or in a low oven. Assemble and serve.