Corn made its debut at the farmer’s market this week. While it’s not yet at its best, I love fresh corn so I couldn’t resist buying a few ears. Corn, while not that beneficial from a nutrition perspective (low fat, but high carb), is a great summer vegetable for a busy person to have on hand. You can give it a quick boil for a simple corn on the cob. You can get a little fancier by spreading on an herb butter, wrapping it in foil and roasting it; or you can get more labor intensive by shaving it off the cob and incorporating it into a pasta salad. The next few posts will provide recipes illustrating some of these options.
Let’s start with the most involved, but most interesting option – a fresh corn salad. This recipe calls for a bit of prep work, but, in the end, you have a light but filling salad. The sweetness of the corn is tempered by the intense flavors of cilantro and garlic. With the inclusion of black beans, peppers, and feta, this salad takes relatively low nutrition corn and marries it with protein, dairy and antioxidants. I eat this salad as a main course since it covers so much nutritional ground and is filling. However, it would make an excellent companion to any grilled meat.
Orzo and Corn Summer Salad
(serves 4-6 as a side dish).
For the Pesto
1 bunch Cilantro
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1-2 cloves Garlic
Salt and Pepper (to taste)
1-2 dashes fresh Lime Juice
For the Salad
1 cup Orzo
1 ear fresh Corn on the cob
1/2 -1 large Red Bell Pepper
1/2-1 large Orange Bell Pepper
1/2-1 cup Tomatoes (preferably Cherry tomatoes), diced
1 can (15 oz.) Black Beans, unsalted
1-2 Tbsp. Cilantro Pesto
1 Tbsp. Fresh Basil, chopped (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Crumbled Feta or Grated Cheddar Cheese to taste (optional)
1. To make the cilantro pesto, separate the cilantro leaves from the stems and place oil, garlic, and cilantro leaves in a blender or food processor. Blend until the mixture reaches the consistency of a rough paste. Add a dash or two of fresh lime juice, to taste. Add salt and Pepper to taste. Cover pesto and set aside. Pesto can be stored in refrigerator for about a week.
2. To make the Orzo, heat a pot of water (about 3 cups) to a boil. Add 1 tbsp salt to the water. Add Orzo and boil for 8-10 minutes until soft but not mushy (slightly softer than al dente). Drain the water from the Orzo and rinse the Orzo in cold water until the Orzo is cold (this will stop any residual cooking). Drain off any excess water, place the Orzo in a bowl, mix in a dash of Olive Oil, cover and set aside.
3. Shuck the corn. Wash and dry the corn. Using a sharp knife, shave the corn kernels off the cob. Saute the kernels in a small saute pan with a little butter until the kernels soften but are still firm (about 3-4 minutes). Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside to cool.
4. Finely and uniformly (if possible) chop the peppers and tomatoes and mix together in a bowl. Set the bowl aside.
5. Open the can of beans. Wash and drain the beans. Briefly saute the beans with a little salt and pepper (about 1-2 minutes) and set aside to cool.
6. In a large bowl, mix together the Orzo, cooled corn, tomato/pepper mixture and cooled beans. Add cilantro and basil and mix gently. Add salt and pepper to taste.
7. Serve with cheddar or feta sprinkled on top, if using. Excess can be stored covered in the refrigerator for about a week. I wouldn’t recommend trying to freeze it.
It’s the first day of summer and the first day of the first official “heat wave” of summer for those of us on the northern east coast. While my appetite generally decreases when it’s really hot, my sweet tooth never lets up. Because I have only ever posted about savory dishes, I thought I would take a moment on this day of firsts to speak about something sweeter – Dessert! Macerated Strawberries are a lovely treat to come home to when the weather is sweltering (ok, a man with the sculpted proportions of a greek god wearing just an apron might be nice too, but that’s the subject for a different blog).
I was introduced to this dessert so long ago, that I can’t remember the origin or the exact proportions, but that’s ok because it’s so simple you can hardly go wrong (indeed, a brief web search reveals countless variations). It tastes best when ripe berries and a high quality balsamic vinegar are used. If you like a sweet and tangy combinations, then this dessert is for you.
Fresh ripe strawberries, washed, hulled and halved
Place the strawberries in a bowl, sprinkle a little sugar on the berries (really no more than a very light dusting), and then pour over a few splashes of balsamic vinegar. Use the vinegar like you’re dressing a salad – you want to wet each of the berries but not drown them in vinegar. Cover the bowl with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and let the berries sit for 30 minutes up to a few hours in the refrigerator. The berries will soften and give up some of their liquid as they sit in the vinegar in a process called maceration. When you are ready to eat them, take them out of the fridge, transfer the berries into a serving bowl using a slotted spoon. Enjoy alone or with yogurt.
Note: (1) The liquid, which by the end is really more of a syrup, is edible, but I generally find it too sweet. You may disagree so try it before throwing it out. (2) if you can get your hands on a chocolate flavored balsamic, use it, it’s delicious.
Generally, I’m a big proponent of eating seasonally and locally, but the months of January through March in New York really test my principles. Go to your average farmer’s market during these months and it’s all tubers and meats as far as the eye can see with a few very very expensive hydroponic tomatoes thrown in. I’m one of those people that could live quite happily with only 2 seasons – spring and summer. So in a flight of fancy and in an attempt to alleviate the culinary boredom of winter, I bring you a recipe for a summery Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto.
The concentrated sweetness of the sun-dried tomatoes combined with the savory garlic cloves and pine nuts makes this sun-dried tomato pesto bright and packed with flavor. This is the ultimate in cooking after work because, if you’re organized, the pesto can be prepared in less than 15 minutes, and it’s extremely versatile. The most obvious use is as a sauce over pasta. Another easier use is to spread it on toast and top it with a little mozzarella and basil for those really late nights when it’s too late for a full meal, but you need a little something to quiet your stomach. If you feel like doing a little more cooking after work, sun-dried tomato pesto is very nice spooned over grilled chicken breasts (bringing total prep time to just under 40 minutes). Or, you can copy my dinner tonight, which was toasted challah bread topped with sun-dried tomato pesto, a few fresh basil leaves (yes – another out of season cheat, but I’ve really been craving spring lately), and slices of a grilled chicken breast. It was heavenly and took less than 40 minutes to prepare the sun-dried tomato pesto and cook the chicken.
This recipe makes enough for several meals so with a little creativity you can cook a variety of quick meals after work through the week with very little effort. Oh and I almost forgot – a spoonful of sun-dried tomato pesto mixed into or on top of scrambled eggs is excellent – although the garlic might not make you very popular in the office that morning!
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
makes about 1 1/2 cups (360ml)
|3/4 cup (180ml)||Extra Virgin Olive Oil|
|1/2 cup (114g)||Basil leaves|
|1 tsp||Kosher Salt|
|1/2 tsp||Fresh lemon juice|
|1 cup (227g)||Sun-dried Tomatoes packed in Oil|
|1/4 cup (57g)||Pine Nuts, lightly toasted|
|1/4 cup (57g)||Parmigiano Reggiano, grated|
- Toast the pine nuts and then set them aside to cool. Note: the toasting is not critical, but adds flavor; and walnuts make a cheaper substitute for the pine nuts, but will give the pesto a stronger nutty taste.
- Drain the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes, rinse the tomatoes with water and pat them dry with a paper towel.
- Place all the ingredients except for the Parmigiano Reggiano into a very powerful blender in the order listed. Pack the ingredients down into the blades, then blend on medium speed until the desired consistency is reached (it’s a pesto not a sauce so it should still be a little thick). The amount of oil varies a little every time I make this pesto depending on the tomatoes used and how carefully I’ve measured everything. If you find the pesto is too thick and dry to blend properly or for your taste, add more oil by slowly pouring in more oil through the opening in the cap of the blender while the blender is running on a low speed until the desired thickness is reached.
- Then add in the Parmigiano Reggiano and blend for a few seconds more.
- Store any leftovers in a freezer safe container under a thin film of oil. It will last about a week or so in the refrigerator or a few months in the freezer.
Note: If you don’t have a powerful blender, you can use a food processor. If using a food processor, it’s easier to process the dry ingredients together first until you have a very chunky dry paste then slowly pour in the oil through the tube while the processor is running until you reach the desired consistency.
Today is a good day! I’m so excited that CookingAfterWork is being featured as the “Food Blog of the Day” on Foodista.com. For those of you that don’t know, Foodista, in addition to being one of the leading sources of online food news, organizes the International Food Bloggers Conference, the premier event for food bloggers, and in 2010 released the “Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook,” the first cookbook of its kind. So, my friends, it won’t be long before the whole world catches on to what you already know – that this blog is freaking Awesome! 😄
There’s no question that some herbs are better (i.e., more flavorful) fresh. What most people don’t realize is that keeping fresh herbs on hand is actually pretty easy. Except for these deepest days of winter, I always have fresh Rosemary and Thyme around to flavor dishes. Here’s what you do: (1) lightly pat herbs dry with a paper towel; (2) place the herbs in a Ziploc (or other sealable plastic bag) and press excess air out of the bag; and (3) seal the bag and store in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. It’s as simple as that!
Depending on the freshness of the herbs when you bought them, the herbs may last up to 2 weeks. This method works well with other herbs too such as Sage, Oregano, Tarragon, Parsley, and Chives – all of which you should grab up if you see them fresh. So skip the dry stuff, which often tastes like wood-chips, and go for fresh when you can.
Note: moisture management is key here – check on the herbs every few days and dry off any excess moisture that has collected in the bag and remove any rotting leaves.
Ever wonder why a recipe specifically calls for kosher salt? Ever wonder why you followed a recipe exactly and the resulting dish was too salty or too bland?
First, some background. Kosher salt is so named because it was originally designed to help in the process of koshering meats. Like common table salt, kosher salt consists of the chemical compound sodium chloride. Unlike common table salt, kosher salt typically contains no additives. Kosher salt crystals are larger and coarser than table salt crystals. In most professional kitchens, and in most professional recipes, kosher salt is the standard. This is because (1) the coarse crystals are easy to handle and measure out with your fingers; and (2) some believe that kosher salt, which is not processed as fine as table salt retains more minerals (although there is considerable disagreement on the veracity of this point).
Because kosher salt crystals occupy more volume than table salt crystals, when substituting kosher salt for table salt in a recipe or vice versa, you cannot do an even exchange – you must adjust the amount of salt. Kosher salt crystals can vary in size considerably from one brand to another so it is recommended that you use the conversion guidelines which are generally provided on the package. If there is no guidance provided, use roughly 2x more kosher salt (by volume) to replace table salt. Another reliable technique is to use weight measurements rather than volume measurements (i.e., grams rather than tablespoons). In addition to variations in the size of crystals, the density of the kosher salt crystals may vary between brands. As a result, you can use the exact same measure of kosher salt called for by a recipe, but end up with a much more salty dish. When that happens, the chances are that the recipe writer used a different brand of kosher salt. The two most common brands of kosher salt sold in the U.S., are Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt and Morton’s Kosher Salt, and they have a noticeably different impact on a dish. Diamond’s salt crystals are larger and less dense so, for the same volume, Diamond’s salt will pack less of a salty punch.
By now, you’re probably thinking something like “who the hell has time to worry about buying and storing multiple salts.” Despite having written this post, and having read a whole book just on salt (o.k., I’ll admit that I can get pretty geeky sometimes), I don’t make a big fuss about salt in my everyday cooking. I generally use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, because of its purity and because it’s a lot easier to add more salt to an under-seasoned dish than to correct an over-seasoned dish.
So what should you do? When in doubt, go kosher and adjust your measurements accordingly. If preparing a dish on the stove top, don’t add all the salt called for by a recipe at the beginning. Add some salt at the beginning to open up the flavors, but reserve adding more until closer to the end of cooking when the flavors have come together and you can get a truer sense of how much salt you personally feel the dish needs. The phrase “salt to taste” is not just put there to be vague and annoying – it’s your food so season it as you like.
It’s the middle of winter – the time of year when hearty stews and warm soups call to us and New Year’s resolutions to eat better start to fail. Well, here’s a hearty simple salad, that will stick to your ribs just as well as any stew, while at the same time being relatively heart and diet healthy.
This salad is derived from a salad served at Northern Spy Food Co., one of my favorite restaurants. I’ve made a few adjustments and substitutions to suit my taste and to decrease preparation time. It’s now become a regular in my kitchen. It’s simple (only 6 ingredients) and packs a big nutritional punch (Kale is low in saturated fat and cholesterol; is a good source of dietary fiber, protein, folate, iron, magnesium; and is a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese).
This salad is also surprisingly robust and well balanced flavor-wise. The slight earthy bitterness of the raw Kale is perfectly offset by the freshness of the lemon juice. The creamy nuttiness of the cheddar nicely balances the tartness of the apple and is complimented by the almonds which give a crunchy contrast to both the apples and cheddar. Because this salad has such a strong combination of flavors, I find it completely satisfying as a stand alone meal. I’ve eaten this salad for lunch and felt full and energized for the whole afternoon. I’m not a certified nutritionist, but I suspect that because the Kale is raw, it takes longer to digest.
Prep ahead / Lunch tip: This salad can be prepped the day before. Don’t add the apples and lemon juice/walnut oil dressing until just before serving. If you really want to add the apples in advance then I recommend that before adding the apples, you rub/sprinkle the apples with a little bit of lemon juice to retard the browning of the apples.
Winter Kale Salad
serves 4 as side salad or 2 as main course
|1 bunch||Lacinato Kale (also known as Cavolo Nero, Tuscan Kale, Dinosaur Kale or Black Kale)|
|1/4 cup (60g)||Raw Almonds|
|1/4 cup (60g)||Tart apple, cubed|
|1/4 cup (60g)||Raw milk cheddar, cubed|
|1-2 tbsp (15-30ml)||Fresh lemon juice|
|1-2 tbsp (15-30ml)||Walnut Oil|
|Salt and Pepper to taste|
- Wash the Kale and then shake or wipe off any excess water. Remove the white ribs from the Kale and discard the ribs. Thinly slice the Kale leaves and place the slices into a large bowl. Raw Kale can be a little hard to digest so I recommend slicing it thinly to make it a little easier to digest.
- Place the almonds on a tray and lightly toast the almonds in a toaster oven or regular oven until they just start to give off a nutty aroma. You can toast them in a dry pan on the stove top, but watch them carefully as nuts burn quickly.
- While the nuts are toasting, prepare the apple cubes. I recommend a semi-tart apple such as Jonagold, but any firm apple that you like will do.
- Slice the cheddar into cubes. I use a raw milk cheddar because I believe the flavor is richer, but if you’re uncomfortable with raw milk products (i.e., unpasteurized milk), any high quality cheddar would work just as well (this generally excludes the neon orange commercial brands).
- Toss the Kale, almonds, apples and cheddar with lemon juice and walnut oil to taste (go easy here – the leaves should glisten with dressing, not drown). Add salt and pepper to taste.