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cheesy corn and kale bake

August 26th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

August is almost over.

And even writing that out doesn’t feel like it’s real. But it is; the month is over next week, then September comes and summer fades into the rear view mirror, leaving it’s fingerprints in our memory, waning like a summer tan. It has truly been an amazing and beautiful summer.

But it’s been a glorious August in Minnesota, a perfect end to this fleeting season. Despite June’s cool weeks, July roared in with it’s searing heat and choking humidity, and storm after storm after storm charged across the sky, darkening the hours, drowning us in rain. And what a delight too. I didn’t water my grass once this summer and it’s stayed lush and green through all the record-breaking heat. That’s pretty rare here. And the abundant rain has turned our surroundings in to a thick rainforest of growth, with a fresh earthy smell that’s nearly intoxicating. August ushered out the heat, and brought us gorgeous sun, endless blue sky and cool nights with fresh breezes. I’ve just fallen in love with August this year. If summer in Minnesota was like this month has been, no one would ever see the need to complain.

Then there’s the bounty, the amazing bounty sagging the tables at the Farmers Markets every week. It’s staggering how much produce is weighing down those tables, with over-loaded trucks parked behind, waiting to dispel their goods. I can take a $20 dollar bill and bring home two big sacks stuffed with food each week. My last trip was so fruitful that I could hardly stagger to the car with my load. And for only $28 dollars, I could have collapsed our kitchen island with the weight.

The one item I’ve been a bit disappointed with this season has been the sweet corn. I’ve had more misses with my ears than I’ve had wondrously sweet experiences, and one farmer I spoke to said that the intense heat and heavy rain can cause such quick ripening of the corn that it’s difficult to get it at that sweet tender state that so many people like.

A recent batch of corn that I purchased was a bit too starchy and dry for my liking, but mixed with red pepper, dark green kale and a few handfuls of good cheese, it turned in to a delightful dish that took the focus off the chewy over-ripe corn.

This cheesy baked dish was so yummy, rich with fresh summer flavor. I’d love to try it again, adding more vegetables to it, maybe change the cheese to something stronger, or try it with chard since I seem to have glided up and over the moon for this particular dark leafy green. Did you see in that photo that I bought THREE bunches of it? I am crazy.

But that’s what I need to do; dive head first into these seasonal delights and enjoy them while I can. Like summer, and August, they’ll be fading all too quickly, and I’ll be back in the produce aisle of the grocer, surveying my options, rubbing my arms from the cold, wishing I was dodging sunlight, an overstuffed sack slung on my bare shoulder.

Cheesy Corn and Kale Bake

1 red bell pepper, diced
1 medium leek, sliced thin (or an onion, if you wish)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large bunch of curly leaf kale, washed and spun dry then chopped
4 c. fresh corn kernels
2 T. unsalted butter
2 T. AP flour
1 c. milk (i used soy)
1 c. freshly grated cheddar cheese (or mix it up a bit with pepper jack)
1 T. cream cheese (I used sour cream)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375°

In a deep cast iron skillet, or other oven proof skillet, sauté the leek and pepper in a bit of olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about a minute or two. Add in the kale and stir until it’s coated with the oil, then cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring once or twice. Scrape veggies in to a bowl and set aside.

In same pan, melt the butter, then add the flour and stir to make a roux. Cook, stirring, for about two minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth, then cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is very thick. It may look a bit reddish brown from the pepper, but that’s just fine. Mix the cheese in a little at a time until you have a nice cheese sauce, stir in the cream cheese and cooked pepper mix, and then the corn kernels. It will be very thick. Season with salt, pepper and the cayenne and spread it evenly in the pan. Place the pan, uncovered, in to the oven and bake until hot and bubbly, about 30 minutes.


Original recipe is from The Kitchn website; I made heavy modifications.

You can use frozen corn in this if you wish, just be sure to run it under cold water to thaw it out, and shake all the extra moisture out before adding it to the cheese sauce mixture.

bean dip to knock your socks off

January 17th, 2011 | 9 Comments »

And I don’t just say that to reel you in. If you enjoy a good creamy and altogether crazy delicious flavorful spread for that corn chip addiction in your life, then look no further than this recipe. Because once you lifted that first chip to your mouth, dripping with this vegetable laden, kicky dip, my friends, you will never again look at bean dip the same way.

And what better option to have on hand for the any upcoming major sporting events, you know, like Football or something? As I was making this, and then after that first heady bite, where I swooned and ‘Oooh’d and ‘Aaaah’d myself into a tizzy, I had this thought that it was too bad we weren’t football folks, because this dip would be a welcomed addition to any snack table, kept warm in a crock-pot, ready for copious scooping. So if you like throwing a big gathering to cheer on your favorite team, you can’t really go wrong with this.

The key for the extreme delicious flavor is two things: one, you use Chili flavored beans to make it, and two, you stir creamy mexican style cheese dip into the final product, creating a 1-2 punch of taste, worthy of swooning and lots of compliments. Not to mention corn chips. Although any gooey cheese dip will work, I can’t recommend enough making a cheese dip from scratch, and not only from scratch, but from the authority of all things Texan in style, please do yourself the Rio Grande favor of making Lisa’s Chile Con Queso as it too will knock your socks off. With that recipe bubbling on the stove, you make this fantastic bean dip, whisk some of the Queso into it and you’ll have not one, but TWO awesome options for the next party that graces your house. Or just a delicious snack to chase away a chilly winter evening.

Chili Bean & Queso Dip

1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 poblano pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cans chili flavored beans (DO NOT drain)
1/2 c. frozen corn kernels
1 can Hunts Fire Roasted Tomatoes (or equivalent)
1 T. chiopotle en adobo sauce (optional)
2 t. ground cumin
Approximately 2 cups Chile Con Queso cheese sauce, either scratch made or commercial.

In a deep skillet, saute chopped onion and peppers until very soft and beginning to turn brown in spots, about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beans with their liquid, scraping the cans with a rubber spatula, and stir them into the vegetables. Heat for about 5 minutes. Using a heavy spoon or potato masher, mash the mixture until most of the beans are broken up and smooth. Leave some pieces whole for good texture. Stir in the corn, tomato, chipotle and cumin. Heat until bubbling.

When bean mixture is hot all the way through, add in about 1 cup of the cheese sauce. Stir quickly to incorporate the cheese into the bean dip, making sure no lumps are left behind. Add the remaining cup and stir to mix this in as well. Heat through and taste to adjust seasonings. Make it spicier if you like it that way.

The dip can be kept warm in a crock pot, or on the stove. Stir occasionally to keep blended. This reheats beautifully.

Farro Pilaf with Gold Beets

November 21st, 2009 | 3 Comments »

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Pictures can be amazing, can’t they?

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I sometimes surprise myself when I am going through the photos I’ve taken of my recipes. There are, without a doubt, the ones that hastily cause you to hit the ‘Delete’ key, shuddering in horror; they’re too close or too cloudy or they just don’t allow for one to discern what’s on the plate. They’re overexposed. Ugly. But those tiny slips caught in the wink of the shutter are evened out by beauties that can convey taste, aroma, and feel with one glance. The beauties that make you go ‘Wow’ and when you place them in your post, they literally tell the story without you needing to do much else. But every food has a story. Sometimes the tale tells of a feet-first plunge headlong into love with a certain food, a single bite causing your taste-buds to explode while the endorphins engulf your brain. You’re whupped and there’s no going back. Or it may be a telling of how we find a food that quietly asserts itself into our life, a slow and deliberate culinary courtship. Maybe the first exposure isn’t mind-blowing, but it isn’t a dud either. You look forward to the next time. You know there’s more to it than this. After a few meetings, the quiver in your heart starts to build and when you spy your current food crush, it’s silly how your chest seems to collapse in relief that you’ll be together again.

This past year I crushed, big time, into total infatuation with gold beets, and their greens. It didn’t take much. By routinely visiting the organic farmer at the local markets who carried these burnished lovelies and allowing them to roast to their full potential, I became fully acquainted with their earthy solid personality. We just clicked, those beets and I. It was quality time well spent. Mike gave me an enthusiastic endorsement for sauteed beet greens and we never looked back. Beets were in the recipe box, finally. We ate them so much that it was a turgid and satiated overkill. We sighed a lot during those dinner meals. Then high summer came, the corn took hold along with eggplants so shiny and purple, followed by a parade of tomatoes and zucchini and endless grilling adventures. Beets were nearly forgotten, sad as it was. But I was sold on the roasting method, and most days couldn’t even consider turning on the oven. They simply had to wait. I realized after a while that I missed them a great deal but I knew, like any solid friendship, that we would endure through our separation.

Then I found this recipe. It was the way back to my summer love of beets and caused me to drive across town just to find a bunch, greens attached, that would do this recipe justice. The moment we connected again was like any friendship renewed after absence. No lapse of time could remove the bond and the oven, once more, shared it’s warmth with my old friends and turned them soft and supple.

I was enamored…no, scratch that… bewitched by the flavors that came from this dish. It’s simple base of whole grain farro is more than capable of standing up to the lusty flavor and texture of beets and their greens, and the beets happily share their colors with the grain to diffuse the entire dish in sunshine-y warmth. Since 2007 I’ve been experimenting with whole grains, and I found farro to be an amicable and easy friend to bring into my life, a chewy and simple grain that mimics wheatberries and a heartier barley. Never mind that it was costly. Or that only one store I knew carried an affordable brand. Of all the whole grains I’ve encountered in the past two years, this one has become a good and trusted companion, steadfast, reliable and so so good for me. We all need friends like that in our lives, in both our hearts and our pantry.

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The original recipe for this dish was in salad form, but for a November meal, a cold offering wasn’t going to cut it. Even with the warm sunshine that’s been poured upon us, the chill and darkness comes quickly with the descent of the five-o’clock hour, and something steaming, whether a bowl or a plate, more appropriately fits the season. I’ll revisit the salad option next Spring when the markets open again, and I can once more hone in on that stand, with the kind bearded farmer behind the table, the dirt still stuck to his knuckles. For this time of year, and especially with the brisk wind that came up after several days of that limpid sunshine, a pilaf was exactly what we needed.

Farro is not a quick grain to cook, and you’ll find many recipes call for it to be soaked ahead of time, but I’ve discovered that to be unnecessary. Washed and placed in boiling water, the grain cooks up deliciously chewy in 35-45 minutes, and once cooked to that al denté stage, it freezes really well with little loss of texture. And maybe it’s the way it is with you too, but I roast my beets or I simply don’t eat them. Call me picky, but I never met a beet I wanted to devour before being introduced to those that mellowed in the oven, swaddled in foil, and so perfectly tender that the skins slipped off with hardly any effort. Again, this isn’t quick. I made both the farro and the beets the day prior to creating this pilaf. It worked for all of us.

Farro Pilaf with Gold Beets
originally from The New York Times recipes for Health and Nutrition, March 27, 2009; adapted by Kate

3 large gold beets, roasted and diced, with greens washed, de-ribbed and rough chopped
2-3 c. cooked farro (can sub brown rice)
1 red pepper, seeded, cored and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small shallot, diced
1/2 c. crumbled feta or goat cheese
1/3 c. pecan pieces
salt and pepper to taste

{{Farro can be cooked like any other grain, with a 2:1 ratio of water to grain; 1 cup uncooked will yield the amount needed for this recipe. It should be tender to the bite, not too firm with a texture similar to barley. Be sure to rinse it thoroughly in a wire sieve prior to cooking. It can be very dusty.}}

In a deep skillet with a tight fitting lid, heat oil of choice and add red pepper, cooking for about 5 minutes. Add shallot, cooking until soft and slightly browned, maybe 5-8 more minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds or so. Add the chopped greens and cook, stirring continually until just barely wilted. Stir in the cooked farro and diced beets. Add about 1/3 cup of water and combine. Cover the pot, turn heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally until heated fully through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve topped with cheese and nuts.

The mellow flavors of the beets and farro simply beg for a good salty and robust cheese. Feta is perfect, goat cheese would be great but blue cheese and gorgonzola also would work nicely.