Special, For Sure

So, I have a confession. It’s not something I’m proud of. It’s not something I’d want people to remember me by. But it’s something that you should know about me, regardless.

I sort of have a sort-of addiction to reality TV. But I’ve come a long way, really I have.

I used to watch The Apprentice, Dancing with the Stars, Real World,  The Amazing Race, Chopped, The Next Food Network Star, and pretty much anything on MTV and Food Network. Oh yeah, and The Bachelor/Bachelorette. Thanks for reminding me of that one, Caroline!

Now, I only watch Survivor and Top Chef. Well, and The Next Iron Chef. Duh. Yes, just three! Somehow, my ultra-long list of guilty pleasures was whittled down to just three lil’ ol’ shows. I consider myself fortunate, because I never got into the Real Housewives of Blank or the Extreme Makeovers or the Biggest Losers or the Kardashians or whoever the famous rich people shows are about these days. Heck, I only watched 1 little season of American Idol. And I could care less about The Voice because I don’t like any of the hosts. So….. maybe I’m not that addicted, after all?

Frankly, I could cut out Survivor, but Chris would just die. We’ve watched it for. so. long. that we just can’t stop now!, he says. And truthfully, there is always someone to laugh at, although this season I’m almost embarrassed to be a girl since these chicks can’t seem to get it together. But whatever.

But I can’t not watch Top Chef. Yes, sometimes it’s a train wreck. Yes, sometimes I wonder how certain people even make it to being on the show. And yes, I’d just love to see what happens when the cameras aren’t rolling on those judges because I swear they are three sheets to the wind every night. But I do look forward to it every week, and sadly the last season just wrapped up, so I’m Top Chef-less for a bit.

Ed Lee was one of my favorites this season. I think he made it to the final 5 before he got the boot, although I’d expected him to be in the top 3. I do think the final 2 were the ones who deserved to be there, but even so, Ed was always a favorite of mine and for good reason – he effortlessly combined Asian and Southern comfort food – my favorite cuisines. What’s not to love?

Anyway, Ed already gets plenty of media attention, because he’s awesome, so I’m sure that not winning Top Chef won’t hold him back in the slightest. A while back, he was featured in Food & Wine, and he shared a recipe for these corn griddle cakes that I could not stop thinking about. And since we aren’t usually up and cooking breakfast on the weekends, I didn’t want to wait until we had company to try them, so instead we just had them for dinner one night, and I froze the rest so I could have them on a special morning when we’re out of cereal and oatmeal.

The griddle cakes are so freakin’ tasty that I could probably eat them straight outta the freezer (well, with a little zapping…), but the orange-honey butter adds a perfect element of sweetness, reminding you that these aren’t just everyday breakfast cakes. They’re special, for sure.

Other cornmeal-containing lovelies:

Zucchini Cornbread (aka why my butt’s so big. go ahead, read the story..)
Hushpuppies (these didn’t help, either)
Cornmeal-Blueberry Cookies
Rhubarb-Cornmeal Tarts
Andouille & Sweet Potato Pie

Corn Griddle Cakes with Sausage and Orange-Honey Butter
adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2012; serves 8

time commitment: 1 hour

printable version

ingredients
orange-honey butter
6 T unsalted butter
1/2 c honey
1 1/2 T finely grated orange zest
salt and pepper

corn cakes
6 T (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cooking spray, or olive/grapeseed oil
3/4 c(about 7 ounces) breakfast sausage, casings removed
1 1/2 c fresh (or frozen, thawed) corn kernels
1 c yellow cornmeal
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 T sugar
1 t kosher salt
1 t freshly cracked black peppercorns
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 1/4 c buttermilk
2 large eggs
6 scallions, chopped

instructions
orange-honey butter
Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Whisk in honey and orange zest. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm.

corn cakes
Cook sausage in a 10-12″ cast-iron skillet or other large heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat, breaking up into small pieces with the back of a spoon, until browned and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a small bowl. Add corn to same skillet and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until browned, 5–6 minutes. Transfer corn to bowl with sausage and let cool.

Whisk cornmeal and next 7 ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk and eggs in a large bowl; add dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Fold in sausage, corn, and scallions.

Heat 1 T butter (or oil or spray) in skillet; working in batches and adding butter as needed between batches, add batter to pan by tablespoonfuls. Cook until cakes are crisp and golden brown, 2–3 minutes. Turn cakes over and cook until browned, 1–2 minutes longer. Transfer cakes to paper towels to drain. Serve warm drizzled with orange-honey butter.

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Footloose & Fancy-free

I’m typically a rather organized, methodical person. Which is not to say that I’m therefore, uptight, because that’s pretty far from the truth. But I do enjoy control, order, and the usual systematic process of time. At least, from time to time I do.

I realize that often, I contradict myself. I like calendars, but I’ve never worn a watch (except when the swatch watches were in style, and I probably wore those way past their prime). I like planning vacations, but I prefer to have a “destination” and go from there, with a limited agenda (this is making the upcoming vacation tricky, I’m finding). I have a list of restaurants to go to, but I hate having to make reservations and would prefer to just show up when I want to eat there (Rick Bayless doesn’t allow that, sadly. I still haven’t planned far enough in advance to go to Frontera.). And when it comes to food, I generally use recipes, but I never measure and I won’t pretend for a second that the recipes are followed very strictly.

So when our first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box came in last week, I was cautiously excited. I like to think of myself as an adventurous cook, but I also like to come home from work with an idea in mind of what I’m cooking for that night, and the rest of the week as well. We had a general idea of what was gonna be in the box, but just like a box of chocolates, you never really know what you’re gonna get.

At the same time, I was looking forward to ‘wingin’ it’ which, despite my culinary training, I seldom do. Though I certainly don’t adhere to the ‘anyone can follow a recipe’ mantra (believe me, it’s not true), I own so many cookbooks and read so many food magazines that I find myself feeling the need to use those recipes, at least as a guide.

Unpacking the CSA box reminded me of a story my pops told me the other day, one of many. He boasted proudly about his parents and the first few years of his life in the country, growing up on a farm and in absence of a phone, let alone electricity. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner consisted of what was available to them that day; bluntly – there was no grocery-shopping, no microwaving, and no Thomas Keller, Rick Bayless, or even Food Network to be inspired by. At first you think about how unfortunate they were to have never tasted a juicy Florida orange, a smooth and buttery California avocado, and for Pete’s sake, a bowl of those sweet Michigan cherries. But then, then, you realize how simple, how coveted, and how organic it all was.

I’ll tell you one thing: it makes that CSA box seem like one step in the right direction. Which, ironically, is backwards.

And while I won’t pretend to be hardcore when it comes to eating locally, I certainly appreciate those who do and with every season that passes and every dish I order, I am more conscious of it. My dad’s story the other day reminded me of how fortunate we are, but how forgetful we are as well.

The box and the meal that followed hit home in more ways than one. To top it all off, I reminded myself that not only can I cook, but I’m also not a bad chef either. So with that, here’s to CSA season, ‘the old days’, and cooking the way Rod Stewart might suggest: footloose and fancy-free.

In the Chicago area and wanna research CSAs? Start here. Summer CSAs are likely full or past joining times, but some have Fall sign-ups.

Linguini with Sausage, Kale, and ‘Shrooms
Inspired by the CSA box; serves 4

printable version

ingredients
8 oz whole wheat linguini*
8 oz spicy pork sausage, sliced into 1/2″ medallions
2 ‘strands’ garlic scape (or 2 garlic cloves), thinly sliced
1 T anchovy paste
8 oz shitake mushrooms, stemmed & sliced
1/2 bunch green kale, chopped
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/2 c semi-dry white wine (I used a Michigan Kerner, similar to Riesling)
1 T champagne vinegar
3 T butter
salt and pepper
2 T parmigiano-reggiano cheese

instructions
cook pasta in a large pot according to package directions and drain.

meanwhile, heat large saucepan to med-hi and cook sausage for about 5-7 minutes, flipping to cook evenly. set aside on paper towel-lined plate. in same saucepan, which will have a little oil from sausages, saute scapes with anchovy paste for 1-2 minutes. add mushrooms and most of the lemon juice and cook for about 5 minutes. add kale and cook until kale begins to wilt, about 2 more minutes. add sausage and cooked pasta to pan and toss until heated through and then move contents to large serving dish. add salt and pepper to taste.

add white wine, butter, and champagne vinegar to saucepan. let boil to remove cooked bits and incorporate into sauce. whisk until a smooth mixture forms; pour over dish. season with salt and pepper and any remaining lemon juice. top with cheese.

*can easily use gluten-free, if needed