Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cookbook gets all hot and buttered

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The Morden Corn & Apple Festival, a free family event celebrating the corn and apple belt's late August bounty, is being held this weekend. Following a 47-year tradition, volunteers will be offering free apple cider and hot-buttered corn on the cob.

Former Winnipegger Marie Porter remembers waiting all year to gorge on that sweet, tender prairie corn. "That was my favourite corn ever," she recalls.

And this 34-year-old cake artist and food writer really knows her corn. Porter has just released Sweet Corn Spectacular (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 136 pages, $18.95). With more than 70 corn recipes covering everything from appetizers to desserts, this cookbook can help corn-lovers make the most of the end-of-summer crop.

Porter -- who spoke to the Winnipeg Free Press on the phone from Minneapolis, where she now lives -- was inspired to write the cookbook by her husband, whom she affectionately describes as "the biggest corn freak on the planet."

"I'm not even kidding," she says. "He could happily live on corn for the rest of his life and not eat anything else."

Several years ago, Porter decided to celebrate her husband's birthday with an annual rite she calls "The Day of Corn." On his birthday, every part of every meal involves corn. The cookbook grew out of that, and it covers everything. There's breakfast (corn muffins and corn scones), soups and salads (corn chowder and roasted corn and potato salad), main dishes (corn risotto and corn soufflé), preserves and relishes, drinks, even dessert (corn panna cotta and white chocolate sweet corn truffles).

Fortunately for Porter, corn is incredibly versatile. As she points out, it can work as a grain or a vegetable. It can function as a thickener or a sweetener. Porter, who started baking with an Easy-Bake Oven as a toddler and soon graduated to a real stove, begins with the basics: how to steam, boil, roast, grill and even microwave corn.

Corn can work with savoury flavours like sharp cheeses, spices and peppers. Or it can skew sweet. Porter -- who has also written two baking books, Evil Cake Overlord and The Spirited Baker -- says corn-based desserts were initially a hard sell but are beginning to catch on. "Corn ice cream has become a thing here lately, but it's still in the weird stage."

"It's a big thing at the (Minnesota) state fair here, but I think last year was the first year," she says.

Getting the best from corn recipes starts with the corn itself, according to Porter, and how you pick it and store it. "You want to observe the corn, the outside of it, actually" Porter advises.

"If the husks are nice and moist, not papery at all, that's a sign of freshness," she says. "If the stem end is a pale green, and hasn't gone white or brown or yellow, that means it's fresh. And if the silk is just starting to brown but isn't super-brown, that's also a sign of freshness."

Many people shuck the corn at the supermarket -- some stores put out big bins for this purpose -- so they don't have to make a big mess at home. That's a mistake, Porter says. You want to keep the corn in the husk until just before you use it.

"The husk keeps the moisture in," Porter points out. "As soon as you pick corn, it starts changing from sugar to starch. You don't want to help that along. You don't want to help (the corn) dry out."

Porter also advises using the corn within two to three days. With more than 70 wide-ranging recipes in Sweet Corn Spectacular, that probably won't be a problem. Here are three corn recipes to start with.

 

Cod and Corn Chowder

250 g (1/2 lb) bacon, sliced into small pieces

1/2 small onion, finely chopped

125-170 g (4-6 oz) button mushrooms, cleaned and chopped

1 red bell pepper, finely chopped

4 medium potatoes, cut into 1.25 cm (1/2 in) cubes

800 ml (31/2 cups) water

3 ears fresh sweet corn, husks removed

125 ml (1/2 cup) whole milk

375 ml (11/2 cups) heavy cream

1.4-1.8 kg (3-4 lbs) cod loins, cubed

Salt and pepper

In a medium saucepan, cook bacon over medium heat until cooked but not crispy. Add onion, mushrooms and red pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent and vegetables are softened. Add cubed potatoes and water. Increase heat to high, and cook at a rolling boil for 10 to 15 minutes or until potatoes are almost cooked through.

As the potatoes are cooking, use a sharp knife to carefully cut kernels off the ears of corn. Reserve half of the kernels, and add remaining kernels to a food processor or blender along with milk. Process until smooth.

When potatoes are about ready, add corn purée and heavy cream to pot and return mixture to a boil. Add cod and reserved corn kernels, and continue to cook for another 7 minutes or so, until cod is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 8.

Tester's notes: This hearty chowder comes together pretty easily, with a great blend of flavours and colours.

-- From Sweet Corn Spectacular

 

Sweet Corn Fritters, American Style

Vegetable oil for frying

250 ml (1 cup) all-purpose flour

5 ml (1 tsp) baking powder

15 ml (1 tbsp) granulated sugar

2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt

1 ml (1/4 tsp) cayenne, optional

2 large eggs

125 ml (1/2 cup) whole milk

3 ears fresh corn, husks removed

250 ml (1 cup) add-ins (see note)

 

Heat 5-7.5 cm (2-3 inches) vegetable oil to 190 C (375 F) in a heavy pot or deep fryer. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and cayenne (if using). In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and milk until smooth. Pour milk and eggs into the dry ingredients, stirring well. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut kernels off the ears of corn. Mix kernels and add-ins into the batter until evenly coated.

Use an ice cream scoop or two spoons to carefully scoop small amounts (less than 30 ml or 2 tbsp) of batter into preheated oil. Fry in small batches for a few minutes each side, until fritters are golden brown. Use a slotted metal spoon to transfer cooked fritters to paper towel-lined plate. Serve hot.

Serves 4.

Add-ins: Mix and match any of the following, in whatever proportions you prefer, about 250 ml (1 cup) total: chopped onions, red or green pepper, cilantro, parsley or green onions. While vegetables are traditional, you can include crispy, crumbled bacon if you like. Feel free to add seasonings to this base recipe: depending on your choice of add-ins, various dried herbs and spices will work well.

Tester's notes: As Porter says: "Frying makes everything better, doesn't it?" The key to fritters that are crisped and not greasy is to make sure the oil stays at a constant hot temperature. Using a thermometer is best.

-- From Sweet Corn Spectacular

 

Basic Corn Buttermilk Scones

500 ml (2 cups) all-purpose flour

125 ml (1/2 cup) cornmeal

10 ml (2 tsp) baking powder

5 ml (1 tsp) salt

90 ml (6 tbsp or 3/4 stick) butter, chilled and cut into small cubes

1 ear fresh sweet corn, husk removed

250 ml (1 cup) non-fat (1.5%) buttermilk

 

Preheat oven to 200 C (400 F). Line baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Cut butter into dry ingredients using two forks or a pastry blender until butter is evenly distributed and mixture resembles gravel.

Using a sharp knife, carefully cut kernels off ear of corn. Add kernels and buttermilk to dry ingredients and stir until just combined -- mixture will be a little sticky.

Turn out dough onto a floured surface, sprinkling some flour on top. Gently knead dough for a few seconds, then gather dough up into a ball. Press down to an even 2.5 cm (1 inch thickness and, using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 9 cm (3 1/2 inch) squares and then cut each square in half to form triangles. Transfer scones to prepared baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Serves 6.

Variations:

  • Add 250 ml (1 cup) shredded Cheddar cheese and 1-2 chopped jalapenos with the corn kernels.
  • Add 150 ml (2/3 cup) fresh blueberries with the corn kernels.
  • Add 150 ml (2/3 cup) sweetened dried cranberries with the corn kernels.
  • Add zest of 1 orange with the corn kernels (also works well with dried cranberries).

Tester's notes: Rich and tender, with a texture that calls up Southern buttermilk biscuits, these scones could go savoury or sweet. Porter suggests serving them with peach jam.

-- From Sweet Corn Spectacular

 

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 21, 2013 D1

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Updated on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:42 AM CDT: Changes headline, formats text, replaces photo

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