Monthly Archives: August 2011

Battle Corn Chowder vs. Corn Vichysoisse

I have been meaning to post about corn soup for a few weeks now but some tomatoes and blueberries got in my way! In a battle of epic proportions (well, epic in my mind anyways!), I pitted the legendary champion, Cook’s Illustrated against fledgling culinary newcomer Gwyneth Paltrow. Yes, that Gwyneth Paltrow. Academy Award winning actress, singer, wife of Coldplay rocker Chris Martin, mother to Apple and Moses and possessor of gorgeous hair. She recently released a cookbook called “My Father’s Daughter.”

Here’s how this battle came about.  When the July 2011 issue of Cook’s Illustrated came out I quickly leafed through it to see what caught my eye. I was stopped dead in my tracks by a recipe for corn chowder. You see, I love corn chowder. I used to make an incredible one, using  Imagine Organic Creamy Sweet Corn Soup as the base for the soup. But then the company went and changed the formulation of the product.  They slapped a big “New and Improved Taste” banner  right on the front of the box! Yeah right! New maybe, but improved? Only if you happen love the taste of dirty dishwater!

So imagine my joy when I found a new corn chowder recipe. I was all set to make the Cook’s Illustrated recipe when I came across a second corn soup, a cold corn vichysoisse in the July issue of Bon Appetit Magazine. This recipe was created by Gwyneth herself, from her new cookbook, “My Father’s Daughter.” Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will undoubtedly have seen Gwynnie making the rounds on all the daytime talk shows, promoting her book.

She has very sweet and touching memories of cooking together with her dad, and this book is a sort of tribute to her late father (Bruce Paltrow). It is a cookbook that celebrates family and togetherness. And try as you might to hate her, because she seems so perfect, she admits that her quest for perfection comes from self-doubt and insecurity. And who can’t relate to that?  And I must admit, I was intrigued. After spending all that time in Spain with Mario Batali and Mark Bittman, I wanted to see what she had learned.

To be honest, I fully expected to prefer the corn chowder from Cook’s Illustrated over the corn vichysoisse from Gwyneth. To level the playing field, I immediately omitted the bacon from the Cook’s version. After all, it wouldn’t really be a fair fight if only one side got to use bacon. Everything always tastes better with bacon. And besides, we keep kosher at home, so bacon would be a big no-no in my kitchen.

I made the corn chowder from Cook’s first. They used an intriguing method of stripping the corn from the cob. Fisrt. going over it lightly with a sharp knife to remove just the kernels and then going over the cob again with the back of a table knife to remove all the pulp. Then they instruct you to put all the pulp into a clean tea towel and wring it out. The liquid that comes out from the towel is referred to as the “corn liquor” and apparently it is what gives the final soup its bright fresh CORN flavour.

The corn chowder from Cook’s Illustrated was very good, although I expected a brighter corn flavour, and to be honest, I thought the  half and half cream kind of muddied the fresh corn taste I was expecting. Then I made Gwyneth’s vichysoisse. She suggests throwing the stripped corn cobs into the pot, while the soup is simmering, to add extra flavour, sort of like the vegetarian version of chicken bones I guess. The recipe calls for good quality vegetable stock. I used homemade vegetable stock, a fabulous roasted vegetable stock courtesy of Mark Bittman. I was blown away by the pure corn essence of this soup. Sweet and silky and tasting of pure late summer. Folks, we have a winner in battle Corn Soup. I

Final score: Gwyneth 1 and Cook’s Illustrated 0.

I have adapted Gwyneth’s recipe only slightly by using the Cook’s Illustrated tip of adding the fresh “corn liquor” and garnished the soup with some raw corn kernels for a bit of crunch.

Click here to print the recipe for Corn Vichyssoise.

Click here to print the recipe for Roasted Vegetable Stock.

And, if you’re keen to create your own Battle Corn Soup at home,

Click here to print recipe for Cook’s Illustrated Corn Chowder.

Marcella Hazan’s Genius Tomato Sauce

So, it’s been 12 days since my last post, and lest you (Cousin Mark) think I have been slacking off, and not cooking, nothing could be further from the truth. The problem is that I have been cooking so much, there is no time left over for blogging. It’s summer at the cottage and that means lots of company, and way too much eating and drinking and fun. But, today is a rainy Sunday, and there is a lull in the activity, so I’m back to work!

I was planning to write a post all about corn, specifically  corn chowder. But, then I made this:

And after that, it’s all I could think about. I was like a junkie, worrying about getting my next fix. I actually licked out the pot. This recipe has been around since 1973 but somehow it had never entered my sphere of consciousness. I am certainly not the first food blogger to write about this sauce. Jaden at Steamy Kitchen blogged about after meeting Marcella and Viktor Hazan . Deb over at Smitten Kitchen loved it best unadulterated without any grated cheese over the top. It came to Molly’s attention over at Orangette  in 2007.

Thanks to the incredible crew at Food52, my life has been enriched immensely with the knowledge of this recipe. Every Wednesday, Food 52 unearths a recipe that they deem “Genius”. Columnist Kristen Miglore explains:

“There are good recipes, and great ones — and then there are genius recipes. Genius recipes surprise us and make us rethink cooking tropes. They’re handed down by luminaries of the food world and become their legacy. They get us talking and change the way we cook. And, once we’ve folded them into our repertoires, they make us feel pretty genius 

Now you may be wondering, what is so genius about tomato sauce. But, I’m telling you, there is something akin to alchemy when these 3 simple ingredients come together. Just tomatoes (fresh or canned), 1 onion and 5 tablespoons of  butter. That’s it! The first time I looked at the recipe I thought there was a mistake.

Where were the garlic, the olive oil, the oregano, and the basil? And, this is the part where you will have to take a leap of faith and just trust me; yes you must put in all 5 tablespoons of butter that this recipe calls for. Do not skimp on the butter, or even think about substituting margarine. I will find out about it and hunt you down!

I know that 5 tablespoons of butter seems like an ungodly amount for a tomato sauce. But if you do the math (and you don’t have to, I have done it for you – no need to thank me, it’s what I’m here for), you will se that this recipe makes enough sauce to feed 6 people. One tablespoon of butter contains 100 calories, so that makes 500 calories in butter for this recipe. But divide that by 6 and each person is only getting a measly 2 1/2 teaspoons or 82 calories from butter.  A small indulgence when you consider the flavour payoff.

In what seems like a culinary sleight of hand, these three simple ingredients create a thick, full flavoured velvety sauce. It is pure and rich and luxurious. The butter gives a soft creamy note while at the same time tempers the acidity of the tomato. The onion adds a slight savory note, just hidden in the background of this sauce.

I added an additional step and pureed the sauce with a hand-held stick blender. I served it with Paccheri, a large hollow pasta, similar to rigatoni but bigger. It sort of resembles short pieces of a garden hose.
I finished it off with some grated Parmesan.

Just in case you don’t follow my advice and make this sauce right now while tomatoes are at their peak, you can still make this sauce in the winter with canned  Italian plum tomatoes. You will thank me profusely.

To print the recipe for Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter click here.

Wild Blueberry Coffee Cake

On Highway 7, in Ontario, about halfway between Perth and Madoc, there is a stretch of road, about 20 kilometers long, that is dotted with blueberry farm stands, every 2 kilometers, just like this:

I know this because we drove this route mid-July every summer for 10 years, to visit our son at camp. The first few summers we drove the route there was much discussion and bickering about which of the 10 stands would have the best wild blueberries and whether we would look too eager or desperate if we stopped at the very first stand. Then, in 2006 we made a startling discovery. All the berry stands along that stretch of highway are owned and operated by one woman – Isobel Wood. She lives in the tiny town of Cloyne, and the stands are all staffed by her kids and grandkids.

Our kids no longer go to camp but we discovered we can take that same route to visit our friends, The Monkees, at their cottage in the Muskokas. So our wild blueberry tradition is safe.

For those of you who have never tried wild blueberries, it is an experience you will not soon forget. They differ from cultivated blueberries in several ways. Wild blueberries are smaller, sweeter and more flavourful than their cultivated sister. They hold their shape, texture and colour better during baking. As an added bonus, they are higher in antioxidants. And, they are more expensive! (But so worth it)


They also sell bluebery pie and blueberry jam, but for me, the main attraction is the wild blueberries.

Of course we bought way too many blueberries, so I had to bake then into something before they ended up in the compost heap. I am not a huge blueberry pie fan, although I do recall some amazing blueberry buns from Open Window Bakery when I was growing up in Toronto. I opted for wild blueberry coffee cake.

I know that blueberry coffee cake does not sound like the most exciting dessert, but trust me on this one. This cake is moist and dense thanks to the addition of sour cream. It is studded with tons of little blueberries and the topping is a crunchy concoction made from pecans, oats, butter, brown sugar, flour and maple syrup. And the crunch from the topping is still just as crunchy on day 2, should there be any leftovers.

                                         I put together a little video showing how to prepare the crumble topping. Not that video instruction is necessary, this is a simple cake to make, but just because I am having too much fun playing around with iMovie on my new Mac!

Resist the urge to eat this immediately out of the oven. Give it at least 2-3 hours to cool. You can even make it a day ahead of time, as the flavours seem to improve. It also freezes quite well. I made it last week when we had friends visiting. Everyone was full after dinner so we each had a small piece. There was still almost 3/4 of the cake left. I wrapped it up, put it in the fridge and went to bed. When I got up in the morning only about 1/4 of the cake was left. Either I have fridge mice who know how to use a knife or someone was doing some midnight snacking. I’m not accusing, I’m just saying!

Click here to print the recipe for Wild

Blueberry Coffee Cake.

Rye Galette

When I started this blog over two years ago, I never imagined that it would be read by college and university students. Yet, somehow, I seem to have garnered a following among the 20 something crowd. It started with the daughters of my friends. One young woman, my god-daughter, has set my blog as her home page and was worried about me when I went 10 days without blogging.  She actually called her mom to ask if everything was ok with me . How sweet is that?

Then it grew to include my daughter’s friends. She was quite proud of her mom and told her friends about my blog. I am sure they checked it out, just to be polite, because they are such nice young women!

However, I think they kept returning to the blog because they loved to read stories about my daughter and then tease and embarrass her. This was when they were in high school. Over the past 2 years they have moved onto university and have just recently moved out of residence and into their own apartments. Now they are interested in cooking, so they read the blog for recipes. And they have told their friends about it. So a big shout out to all my girls at McGill, Queens, Emerson and Ryerson!

My daughter’s best friend, spent many hours at our home when they were in high school. She loved eating at our house, especially when I made peanut butter bark, as her brother has a peanut allergy, so she couldn’t have it at home. Once she moved into her own apartment, she began asking me for recipes. She has turned out to be a wonderful cook (one minor mishap with vegetarian chili – but we won’t talk about that). She became obsessed with my galettes (free form tarts) and in May she made a Roasted Tomato and Gruyère Galette for her mom for Mother’s day and told me it was one of her proudest moments! It makes me so happy to see the next generation taking an interest in cooking and baking.

My sons, by the way, do not tell anyone their mother is a blogger. The oldest, probably for fear that his friends will read something humiliating about him, and the youngest because he can’t imagine his mother has time for anything but him!

Flushed with success at my recent venture into whole grains baking, I decided to try Kim Boyce’s Rustic Rye Dough and create a galette with that. In her book, “Good to the Grain”, Kim gives a lyrical description of this dough.

“The method for making this dough is similar to that for a rough puff pastry, a method I learned while working with Sherry Yard at Spago. It calls for letting a rough dough, made from chunks of butter and moist clumps of flour, rest in the refrigerator to give the gluten time to relax and the flour time to absorb the water. After an hour, the dough is rolled and folded a few times to create long “laminated” layers of butter throughout the dough, which give it its flakiness.”

Of course I waited to make the galette until my daughter’s galette obsessed friend was coming for a visit to the cottage. I filled the tart with spinach, corn, Asiago and provolone cheese and sliced tomatoes. The nutty flavour of the rye dough was perfect with that filling. Now of course my daughter’s friend wants to know how to make this, so here is a step by step tutorial, with video, to help her on her way.

Click here to print the recipe for Rustic Rye Dough .

Click here to print recipe for Asiago, Spinach, Corn and Tomato Galette