If it’s September then it must be…Sweetcorn

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I’ve been sitting on this post for most of the last month meaning to sort some photos out…and now I’ve almost run out of the month so here it is anyway…

Memory 1  1994

It’s November and for once I have done my Christmas shopping early. There is a chill in the air and mist over the back garden and I am looking through Real Good Food by Nigel Slater which I have bought for my brother for Christmas.

My interest is caught by the chapter on barbeques and I am captivated and transported from this chilly midlands morning to a summer evening in a garden in London by Nigel’s description of how he uses a flowerpot filled with stones, charcoal and the rack from his grill to barbecue on… then follows a description of his way of soaking the sweetcorn and then placing the cob still covered by the husk on the rack and roasting it slowly over hot coals…eaten blistering hot with chilli flavoured butter…

Memory 2  1990 ?

I am watching a rerun of MASH and Colonel  Sherman Potter (photo from the monster mash wiki)

Sherman potter

is explaining how when he gets home he is going to go outside into one of the fields surrounding his house,  “Well, I like fresh corn. I mean real fresh corn. So I think maybe I’ll just take a hot plate out to the garden, make a pot of boiling water, then I won’t even pick that corn – I’ll bend that stalk till the ear dips into the water, and I’ll eat it right there standing up. Scrumptious! ”    

Doesn’t that just make you want to grow some so you can do it yourself ?

Memory 3 1976 or 1977

Hong Kong. Two travel weary parents take their children out into the streets of Wan Chai  (these days its quite a smart area full of hotels and conference centres, back then it was ah… interesting !) looking for somewhere to eat… although these children have been brought up to eat what is put in front of them, the parents are somewhat nervous, remember Chinese food was not as popular in the UK as it is today, and these 2 children, despite the culinary adventures of the parents still have very  british palettes.

As it turned out the place that the family eventually walked into started the set menu off with a bowl of soup, a bowl of chicken soup on top of which was a yellow sea of sweetcorn…and in this backstreet Hong Kong restaurant started a love affair which has lasted over 37 years.

For many years if asked what my favourite food was I would say without hesitation “chicken and sweetcorn soup”… and fortunately my Mum usually had a batch in  the freezer…and although it was not the soup of my memory it was usually pretty damn good…

Is it good for you ?

Well it’s a vegetable and like a lot of vegetables mainly water with just under 20% of it’s weight being carbohydrate (3% sugar), with about 3g out of 100g accounting for dietary fibre, 3g protein and a further 1g or so counting as fat. From a vitamin point of view it has some vitamin B, some vitamin c

A discussion about what technology has done to it and where it might appear as  a product in other food stuffs is probably one for another day but on balance I would say that on its own it can’t hurt you…and most areas of the world seem to have developed ways of eating it in combination with other things (beans) in order to get a balanced diet…

How you cook it and what you serve it up with is a different matter…I, like a lot of children no doubt,  grew up being served boiled sweetcorn slathered in butter…and given the choice that is usually how I do serve it up if there is no chicken in the house !

What goes with it ?

Most soup recipes (other than chicken) seem to involve sweet potatoes and chili…or they go down the chowder route…there are a large number of recipes involving mixing them with egg and either as a pancake, omlette or fritter or a corn custard. Salads tend to involve adding them to mayonnaise.

More interesting recipes I have seen of late involve adding them to Turkey Meatballs (Ottolenghi) and in Plenty More they get served up with miso, I quite like adding a squeeze of lime juice over my freshly boiled corn if I am trying to avoid the butter

So how did you serve it this time ?

Having fallen in love with Nigel’s prose almost 20 years ago I had planned to grill it over charcoal but because of a busy month my corn wasn’t looking too good as we approached the end of the month so soup it was…one of the many sweet potato/red pepper/chilli combos but Tesco’s failed to provide me with a sweet potato… I did have a fridge full of slightly less than impressive vegetables (carrots, peas, a leek)…and there was left over chicken in the freezer so… yep, chicken and sweetcorn soup it was…

It’s a wrap

Last night I had a happy potter around the kitchen and made the Toffee Brownies – verdict ? Very rich, very addictive. Raspberry goes so well with chocolate. Not too sure about the toffee, think next time I might use some form of commercial toffee bits as I prefer my toffee a bit chewy and more caramel in taste.

Hidden Brownies
Hidden Brownies

Forgot to take a photo of these before I cut them up into small pieces for delivery to the lovely Mrs Zee and Mrs OD  – Mrs Zee is the main reason I can relax over Christmas and forget about my finances (despite the fact I paid too much off the credit card this month and am back to watching the pennies until payday), Mrs OD has been introducing colour back into my life with large doses of purple objects appearing on my desk…

Anyway hidden beneath the pink there are Brownies – the recipe says cut the tin into 15 pieces, these are very rich – I would recommend more pieces of a smaller size…would I do this recipe again, yes as a variation but I’m begining to think that its hard to beat my favourite Nigel Slater Brownie recipe…

Today has been quite quiet on the cooking front, but  large doses of Ikea has left me considering baking some cookie decorations for the tree and perhaps making a gingerbread house…what I will be doing this weekend is making a ginger cake as my entry into the office Christmas cake competition – the question is, which ginger cake ?

The main event today was watching Spider be 1 of 2 kings in the nativity (3rd king was a victim of budgetary pressures), I was in tears, for no reason, I mean there he was just being Spider, happy vivacious little Spider, and I’m in tears watching his love of life – it’s so weird this Mummy lark !

My name is…I am a shopaphobic

According to the news, it is expected that today will be the busiest day in the year for on line shopping with the busiest time being between 1pm and 2pm.

I am no good at shopping. I hate it. I do not have the girly shopping gene. But then if you asked people who like shopping you will probably find that they only really like certain types of shopping and my shopping interests are very very narrowly defined. In a book shop I can be happy, it is my oasis of calm from the storm of the high street, my cathedral, a place of worship, and in the case of Waterstones in Reading this is literally true as I believe it used to be some sort of methodist central hall or similar.

Milton Keynes yesterday really was my idea of hell on earth. My only reason for going was that I had a long standing agreement with a friend that we would take our children to see Father Christmas in his grotto – we did and it was fun, but as usual we needn’t have gone out of our way as when asked what was the best bit about the day Spider replied “going under the bridge and pretending to be a train” (in the carpark on the way into the town centre).

Anyway, as a result of the trip to MK I am behind with my cooking, had hoped to have another batch of Brownies ready today plus some biscuits for Spider’s preschool…I also now have plans for some Ottolenghi cupcakes as a present for luscious Lulabelle who heroically drove to MK despite her terrible cold, as I’m too much of a wimp to drive on icy roads.

Anyway, recipe for Brownies will go up hopefully tomorrow morning.

Leon

I came home the other night to discover that the book fairies had been and left a parcel under the wheelbarrow. I had been muttering about buying the Toddler the collection of “Harry and his Bucket full of Dinosaurs” books from the Book People and had been persuaded by my Mum to order them direct as she wanted to get my nephew the same books and “oh, I saw a cookbook there I thought you might like, could you get that too”.

I had spotted that the Leon cookbook is being sold at a discount by the Book People and I had been planning on getting it and reading it on the quiet. You see I am not supposed to be buying anymore cook books until we are solvent again (which is why I keep having to renew the Ottolenghi book I have on loan from the library).

Anyway, it has arrived. I have handed it over to Mum and now have to wait until Christmas before I can peruse it. I did sneak a peak though and it looks fantastic. The book is divided up into 2 halves. The first half is a sort of introduction or guidance to ingredients, when they are in season, varieties, cuts of meat written in an informative but chatty style. The second half is recipes, primarily for food served in the restaurant but with additions from members of staff who were asked to contribute recipes which had meaning for them.

The book itself is beautifully designed and I’m not sure I would actually want to cook from it in the kitchen and risk it getting into the usual splattered state of all my other well used volumes. The only complaint I do have is just a general one about Allegra Mcevedy’s recipes which do tend to have a long list of ingredients

Anyway only another 57 days until Christmas. In the meantime if I need a dose of Allegra there is always the Guardian’s website once a week. The library unfortunately only has The Good Cook

Birthday Party: Small numbers are best…

I have had a lovely day (saturday). I was invited to a birthday party by a young man… OK Toddler was and I was just the chauffeur. But I made a new friend and Toddler had fun.

I have also agreed to help with a Halloween party which is no big hardship as I love Halloween, especially as I bagsied the helping with the food… anyway, in expectation of a cake overload at the end of the week I give you, meatballs ! The other week a friend came for dinner, and despite serving her the apple cake mentioned below, which has had the most hits so far on this site, our friend would like the meatballs recipe…

These meatballs are from the Ottolenghi cookbook. Below is the recipe as stated in the cookbook. However, the variation today used coriander instead of parsley as that is still alive in the herb bed. Turkey mince was replaced by chicken breasts as they were left over from yesterdays stir fry (had to add an extra slice of bread as the mix was too runny due to blitzing the chicken breasts in the food processor).

Other changes are that I didn’t do the red pepper sauce as the family won’t eat chili. I didn’t oven cook the meatballs either as I dropped them in a home made tomato sauce that I made, to cook until ready (onions, passata and a spoonful of Rals el hamout or whatever its called)…oh and we served it over rice. I made 2 thirds recipe as there were only 2.5 of us for tea and only 300g of chicken leftover from yesterday.

Ingredients

100g sweetcorn kernels (fresh, frozen or tinned)

3 slices stale white bread (crusts removed)

500g turkey mince

1 egg

4 spring onions

2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

2.5 tsp ground cumin

1.5 tsp salt

1/5 tsp black pepper

1 garlic clove, crushed

sunflower oil

If you want the sauce also

4 red peppers

3 tbs olive oil

1tsp salt

25g coriander leaves and stalks

1 garlic clove peeled

1 small mild chili, deseeded

2tbs sweet chili sauce

2tbsp cider or white wine vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 200 deg c. Quarter peppers with a knife, shave off white parts and seeds. Put in roasting tin. Toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and .5 teaspoon salt. Roast in oven for 35 minutes or until soft. Transfer peppers to bowl. cover with clingfilm. Once cooled. Peel peppers. Place in blender with roasting juices and remains of sauce ingredients. Process. Add more salt if necessary. set aside.

2. Place corn kernels in non stick frying pan. Toss them for 2-3 minutes until blackened. Remove and leave to cool.

3. Soak bread in cold water for a minute then squeeze well and crumble into a large bowl. Add the rest of the meatball ingredients except the sunflower oil. Mix well

4 Roll mince into small teaspoon size meatballs. Fry 5mm of oil in frying pan. Fry the meatballs in small batches. Fry until meatballs are golden brown. Transfer to an oven tray. Place in the oven and cook for about 5 minutes. Serve hot or warm with pepper sauce on the side.

We had this over rice, which I just can’t seem to cook properly at the moment without it going stodgy.

Toddler and I have had another chat about the importance of letting Mummy have at least one lie in per week, especially this sunday morning if no other…

THAT apple cake…hallelujah!

This Wednesday another meeting, this one in Bristol with 2 changes of train. Took my MP3 player along for once, not used it for awhile so had forgotten that it was chock full of the downloads from the evening we decided to find the definitive version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.

So I had 2 hours of the same song over and over again, however in amongst the warbling were a couple of Nigel Slater Podcasts. I exited Temple Meads station on a happy cloud of foodie thoughts having had the joy of Nigel extolling the virtue of Autumn produce…despite his recommendation for Autumn cake being coffee and walnut (nuts being in season) I still have that apple cake lurking around in my head… I am also now in a “good place”, no blues despite it being 10 days ’til pay day and despite having sat through the same Leonard Cohen song (interspersed with the Sugar Plum fairy and the theme from Shaft played on a ukulele) for 2 hours straight.

So that Apple cake then ? Well I made it, and well it wasn’t a very restful experience, having come home in a good mood I was feeling distinctly frazzled by the end…

Firstly it turns out that I could have made this one last Wednesday when I was fantasising about it… it seems that I accidentally turned a page or two and had started reading the recipe for the carrot cake, secondly I messed up separating eggs as I was trying to concentrate on keeping the kitten out of the batter (omelette tomorrow then ?) and then finally, as I was smoothing out the batter across the top of the cake tin and fretting that I might have used slightly bigger than stated apples, I realised that my plastic spatula was half the size it was when I started the cake… anyway, all sorted now, cake is cooking gently in the oven and I wish I could say the house was filled with the sensuous smell of apples marinade in cinnamon, but truthfully all I can smell is virgin olive oil, but I guess I should look at the bright side, it could have been the acrid smell of sauteing plastic !

Recipe to follow tomorrow with a verdict as we have a friend for dinner (actually we have meatballs, as eating people is not recommended)

Dead Slug Baking

I was in a meeting last wednesday when I was struck by a need to make cake. I just knew that if I didn’t go home and make a specific cake then I would not be able to get through the rest of the week without shouting at someone or bursting into tears.

And WHAT a cake ! On Tuesday I collected a library a book I had ordered, The Ottolengthi Cookbook (Ottolenghi for those of us who don’t live in London is a dei/cafe who make some truly amazing cakes). I devoured the book in one sitting on tuesday evening, read it cover to cover and spent the rest of the night trying to decide which of 3 cakes I would try first…and who I would give them to as all 3 are gloriously sticky, oozy and fattening.

The rest of the day was a blurr, the 2.5 hours on the motorway were hardly noticed. Ten miles from home I dived into the supermarket and bought cream cheese, apples and butter, stopped at my parents to borrow maple syrup, put Spider to bed and got the ingredients out…I was inspired.

Now with some cakes I follow recipes to the letter and this was to be one of them (needed to be). It was here that I hit a problem. I had no ground cloves. Glumly I put everything back in the cupboard and sat back on the sofa to sulk.

Not for long though, I felt too twitchy to sulk. Returning to the kitchen I went hunting for things that needed using. For once nothing, except some unrefined icing sugar that had gone solid and needed blitzing in the food processor…this gave me an idea.

I have made Nigella’s Winter Plum cake before without the icing and hadn’t been overtly fussed about it, however since she specifically states that it needs the fudgyness of the unrefined icing I thought I’d give it a go, substituting ground cashew for the almonds and guessing the amount of almond extract using some measuring spoons Toddler had got out of a christmas cracker.

Verdict: Cake itself nice but uninspiring, but then I’d spent the day dreaming of cake nirvana and this brown blob clearly wasn’t that, it wasn’t even “Miss Amelie’s famous plum cake”. The problem was the chopped tinned red plums, the sensation they left in the mouth was of eating cold dead slugs. The almond essence was overpowering but when I checked the cracker measures later I discovered I’d underestimated not over…the occasional chunk of not quite ground cashew added a note of interest. All in all a let down. Personally I think I would serve this hot as a dessert, substitute dark sugar for the light and add spices. As the family are still eating this cake almost a week later I am not going to post the recipe !

Postscript: Searching through Nigel Slater’s “Kitchen Diaries” last night for a pumpkin recipe I came across his version of plum cake which was very similar to the one above. I tend to trust Nigel’s judgement and descriptions of things so I was very surprised. I can only assume that using fresh plums and the addition of walnuts makes a significant difference.