Corn Ninja

I’m not really into the act of completing house chores with a smile on my face. Nonetheless, I think Hubs and I remain as the only condo in our building of 6 without a regular housekeeper. For me, it’s not a matter of time, it’s a matter of priorities and overall dislike for cleaning, or for having any chores for that matter.

Fortunately, Hubs and I are relatively fair in our division of labor, but it still doesn’t mean that I get excited about cleaning the bathroom just because I don’t have to take out the trash or clean the litter box. My mind constantly reverts back to the ‘old days’ and my parents’ ‘money system’ – rather than giving a weekly allowance, we had to earn it by doing chores. And not like these days where kids get 5 buckaroos for unloading the dishwasher – we were luckly to get 50 cents per chore. I therefore mark 1 point in the “reasons to have kids” column for the sheer geniusness of that system; I can’t seem to think of any more points for that column just yet…

I do remember racking up on my allowance cash though, and as a result I have to say we had a pretty clean house growing up, and some bathroom sinks that shimmered so much you hated to brush your teeth (which who didn’t, anyway?) for fear you’d spew on the counter, or drip a blob of sparkly pink Barbie toothpaste into the bowl. Then again, at that point it would be ‘dirty’ and I could rack up oh, 25 cents to touch it up.

All of the chore reimbursements went out the window at gramma’s house. You see, grandparents like to have grandkids around for more than just cheek-pinching and babysitting – they also like to put ’em to work. Those of you who are grandparents are probably nodding at this point, but it wasn’t all smiles over here, partner. For one, days spent at the grandparents’ house meant days of no income, which is bad. For two, there was no Nintendo, which meant that all the while our high-scoring Mario game was getting beaten by someone else. And three, we really worked. We had to clean all the debris outta s’mores gramma’s pool, and pick up pine combs (cones…), and often we were forced to go to the grocery store and the Hardees with her and her friends so she could “show us off”.

Pound cake gramma was a little less militant, but I can’t tell you how many ears of corn I shucked, and even though that was one of the only things she made us do, I probably hated it more than all of the other chores put together. It was hot out there, and we all had to sit on the back porch with buckets, meanwhile the piles of corn to shuck seemed taller than us, and neverending. I rarely shucked a perfect ear, and she (or my dad) always made me go back and get the silky pieces off. I swear they must have grown back, because to me, those ears of corn were as naked as could be.

As a result of those days upon days of shucking corn, I gotta say – I’m pretty damn good at it now, and fast, too. If there were a corn shuckin’ race around these parts, I’d win it, no doubt. Just call me a corn ninja, ok? Gramma would certainly be proud.

This here recipe is summer in a bowl, and will definitely have you practicing your shuckin’ skillz. Corn takes the place of basil in this play on pesto, and while you might think it’s loaded with cream and butter, there’s none to be had. You’ll taste sweet corn in every single bite, and if that’s not the best taste of this month, I don’t know what is.

After you’ve shucked all the corn, it’s time to cut it off the cob, and often times that looks like a crime scene in a corn field after it’s all said and done, and half the corn is on the ground, or down your shirt, and who knows where else. If you’ve got a bundt pan handy, position the narrow end of the cob into the hole in the middle of the pan, and slice downward; the corn will magically fall directly into the pan, with barely any stragglers.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say these two words again – corn. ninja. Please and thankee sai.

Psst! It is almost vacay time, folks! Before we head out at literally the crack of dawn on Friday (probably even before..), I’d love some advice/suggestions. We’re heading into Portland, Oregon and driving all the way down to LA along the Pacific Coast Highway, with a short stop in Napa and thanks to one of you lovely people out there, a visit to a magical magical place while we’re there (and some wineries, of course). If you have any advice, recommendations, or maybe a quick comment about how jealous you are, bring it on!! Vacation is way overdue, and it’s gonna be a blast! (and no worries, I’ll keep you occupied on this front, too!)

Tagliatelle w/ Fresh Corn Pesto
Adapted from Bon Appetit, August 2010; serves 4

printable version

4 bacon slices, cut into small pieces (lardons)
4 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about 6 large ears) 
2 large garlic cloves, minced
salt & pepper
1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving
1/3 c walnuts, toasted
1/3 c evoo
8 oz tagliatelle (or fettucine, if you can’t find tagliatelle)
3/4 c coarsely torn fresh basil leaves, divided

Cook bacon in large nonstick skillet (or Dutch oven) over medium heat until crisp and brown, stirring often. Transfer to paper towels to drain (it is at this time that you should give a nibble or two to your cat, if you have one…). Pour off all but 1 T drippings from skillet (save drippings for another time – don’t waste that bacon fat!). Add corn, garlic, & a pinch of salt and pepper to drippings in skillet. Sauté over medium-high heat until corn is just tender but not brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer 1 1/2 c corn kernels to small bowl and reserve. Scrape remaining corn mixture into processor. Add 1/2 c Parmesan and walnuts. With machine running, add olive oil through feed tube and blend until pesto is almost smooth. Set pesto aside.

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally (for tagliatelle, this happens fast – in ~4 minutes). Drain, reserving 1 1/2 c pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot. Add corn pesto, reserved corn kernels, and 1/2 cup basil leaves. Toss pasta mixture over medium heat until warmed through, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls to thin to desired consistency, 2 to 3 minutes. Season pasta to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer pasta to large shallow bowl. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup basil leaves and reserved bacon. Serve pasta, passing additional grated Parmesan alongside.

Redemption Song

{If you’re hoping for a recipe for the 4th, this probably isn’t it. But check here for a bunch of past summer recipe suggestions – there are plenty of things to be grilled, especially my favorite burgers!}

I’m not about to delve into my years as a young, semi-hell-raising teenager; on occasion, my mom reads this blog. But I’ll share a few tidbits.

In my family, I was the smart, oddly-dressed, middle child who, according to my sister, was never grounded and always got her way. Rightfully so, my senoir superlatives were as contrasting as apples and oranges: “most likely to be a millionaire” and “most retro”. Clearly, I failed to live up to the former, and in terms of the latter, I only occasionally wear polyester pants & platform shoes; in fact, the most retro I get these days is wearing a sleepytime t-shirt from the 90’s. And truthfully, I wasn’t grounded often. The key to avoiding such punishment is simple – don’t get your ass caught, sista.

I went through what you might call a hippie phase, and then a grunge phase, and then I couldn’t decide so I just went with both. Amidst the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin there was Pearl Jam and Nirvana. I rocked the “60’s retro-wear” on some days and my dad’s flannels and corduroy pants for the days I jammed to Jeremy and Porch. For a few months I shaved the back of my head and I still can’t figure out the point in that. Somewhere, Bob Marley fit into these crazy years too, but fortunately for me (and others) I never had the desire to abandon hygiene and “grow” dreadlocks. There’s still time for that…

I like to think that my musical choices haven’t changed, but have instead broadened. I still break out the grunge rock somewhat regularly, but less often do I find myself singing Sugar Magnolia or breezing through Songs of Freedom. I’m not sure I’d use the term evolve here, in fact I know I wouldn’t, because that implies a sense of improvement and lemme tell ya, you can’t improve upon that stuff. In fact right now I just changed my Pandora station to reggae. What the hell.

Now for the transition you’ve all been waiting for: in contrast to music, food choices do evolve, or mature. Remember the tomato story? Exactly. And sometimes you really get smacked in the face, front-on, by something you thought you hated, despised even, but then months later you realize how nutty you were, how naive, or maybe quite simply how horribly this certain ingredient was prepared.

This dish here is a perfect represention of food evolution, or redemption. The first time I made quinoa, I almost spit it out because it “felt weird”. Then I learned how to cook it. And remember my diatribe about escarole? Well, ignore it. When I pulled it out of the CSA box last week, I stared at it, wondering how many sleepless hours I’d endure if I just casually tossed it in the garbage. The answer? too many, because food costs good money and wasting it is lame. So I sucked it up and found a good hot preparation for some of it that was reasonably yummy (and not overly bitter), and then used the rest of it in the recipe below instead of the suggested spinach. Maybe I got a bad batch before, or maybe this batch from a local, organic farm was just better. Either way, both quinoa and escarole have redeemed themselves.

So now, if you’ll excuse me, I have leftovers to eat and jammin’ to do.

Quinoa, Bean, & Escarole Salad w/ Smoked Paprika Dressing
Loosely adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2010; serves 6-8

1 1/2 c red quinoa (regular works too), rinsed & drained
4 c chopped escarole or other bitter green
1 can garbanzo beans, drained & rinsed (or dried, cooked beans)
1 can white beans, drained & rinsed (or dried, cooked beans)
1/2 unpeeled English cucumber, halved and sliced
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
3 T fresh oregano, chopped
3 T fresh basil, chopped
1 c crumbled feta cheese (~5 oz)
1/4 c Sherry wine vinegar
1 T sweet smoked paprika
1/2 c olive oil
2 T lemon juice
salt and pepper

place quinoa in large saucepan and add water until quinoa is covered by 1 inch. bring to boil and reduce heat; simmer on med-low for 15 minutes. drain, if needed and let cool completely (toss out on sheetpan and refrigerate if needed).

combine lettuce, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, oregano, basil, and feta in an extra-large bowl. add cooled quinoa and toss gently.

in a small bowl, whisk vinegar and paprika together. slowly add olive oil, whisking constantly until incorporated. season with salt and pepper. pour over salad and mix. add lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.