May 30, 2015

Bacon Corn Chowder

I stepped outside this morning and my hair instantly tripled in volume from the humidity. Welcome to summer in Georgia, I suppose. But the weather is no reason to stop making soup, especially if such amazing soup-making ingredients are in season. Corn makes wonderful soups, and it's even better when you add bacon.

Unfortunately, many people think corn soups automatically mean tons of cream, and my waistline just isn't ready for that kind of commitment. Luckily, I've found that a combination of milk and potatoes yields a thick, creamy texture that eliminates the need for cream and all its extra calories.

The corn also works to thicken the sauce since it's so starchy. I start by cooking it using my usual method (bringing water to a boil, add salt and baking soda, turn off the heat, add the corn, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes). Once it's cooked and cooled, I remove the kernels and try not to let the juice go to waste. Removing the kernels can be a little tricky, but I bought this tool that's like a vegetable peeler but for corn. It has little teeth that remove the kernels as you "peel" the cob, and it's really convenient. If you don't happen to have one of those, a sharp knife works almost as well. I prop the corn up on an upside-down bowl for leverage and use the knife to slice the kernels off.

While the corn is cooking, it's time to cook the bacon. I cook extra for me to snack on, but all you want to do is cook it in a big pot until crispy and chop when cool, making sure you leave all the delicious bacon fat in the pot. I use that fat to cook the onions and garlic in until tender. They soak up the salty deliciousness so it doesn't go to waste. Once they are tender, I add diced potatoes, chicken broth, and herbs. That mixture simmers together until the potatoes are tender.

To combine everything, I stir half the corn kernels plus the milk into the soup base, simmer it for a few minutes, and puree with an immersion blender until smooth. It should be thick and velvety; you're not adding any more liquids after this point, so if it's too thick for your taste, go ahead and add some more chicken broth.

Once I'm satisfied with the consistency, I stir in the remaining corn kernels and bacon and simmer it all together for a few minutes. I like to see the kernels in my corn soup, but if you don't, you can add all the corn before you blend it so you have a perfectly smooth soup. I don't recommend blending the bacon, however, because the texture would not be pleasant. I don't recommend omitting it either since it adds a nice saltiness to counter the sweet creaminess of the rest of the soup. Don't be scared off by the fact that this is a summer soup, too; great food is great food regardless of the season.

4 Strips Bacon
1 Yellow Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 1/2 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes, Peeled & Diced
2 Cups Chicken Broth
1/2 tsp Thyme
6 Ears Corn
2 Cups Milk
1 tsp Baking Soda

Heat a large pot of liberally-salted water to a boil. Stir in the baking soda. Add the corn, turn off the heat, and let sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the corn and cut off the kernels when cool.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a large pot. Remove and chop when cool.

Cook the onions and garlic in the bacon fat until translucent and tender. Season with salt and pepper. Add the potatoes, chicken broth, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes or until tender.

Stir half the corn kernels and the milk into the soup. Simmer for 5 minutes, then puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Add the remaining corn kernels and bacon and simmer for 5 minutes.

Serves 4-6

May 23, 2015

Apple Pie Shortcake

Now that I'm back in Georgia, late spring finally feels like late spring, which means I'm even more excited to make seasonal dishes. With Memorial Day almost here, I can't wait to grill everything and make a million sides. I love to have these apple pie shortcakes on the table as well since they can be a breakfast, snack, or even a dessert, though I would advertise them as apple pie biscuits for breakfast. My family will eat these all day, and for good reason. The sweet biscuits are filled with spiced apples, making a strawberry shortcake-style treat that tastes just like apple pie without the lengthy baking time and pie crust skills.

I start by cooking the apples. Since the baking time is so short, they need to be sauteed until almost tender so they reach the proper texture overall. This is also an excuse to saturate them with buttery, sugary, cinnamony goodness. You do have to be careful not to overcook them since they will continue cooking while you make the biscuit dough and, of course, while in the oven. I find that relatively thinly sliced apples take about 3 minutes on the stove; when served, they will be tender but not mushy.

The biscuit part is like a traditional biscuit but a little bit sweeter. It absolutely has to have buttermilk, and it will bake up fluffier if the butter and buttermilk are as cold as possible. Working the dough until it is just combined will make the biscuits fluffier too; overworking the gluten in the flour makes the biscuits tough.

I combine the apples and biscuits by rolling the dough into a pretty thin rectangle and spreading the apples onto half of it (and drizzling the leftover sweet cinnamon butter mixture on top). I like to make my rectangle pretty oblong so that way all pieces are end pieces. I'm usually not an end piece person, but here that means more biscuit, so I'm pro-corner. The other half of the dough is folded over and pressed to seal, then it's cut into squares and baked until golden. This whole process is actually very simple, which means it's even easier to make double (or triple) batches to feed your whole barbecue crowd.

1 Granny Smith Apple
4 T Butter, Chilled & Cubed
2 T Butter, Softened
1 tsp Cinnamon
3 T Sugar
2 T Dark Brown Sugar
2 Cups Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp + Pinch Salt
3/4 Cup Buttermilk
1 Egg
2 T Cream

Peel, core, and slice the apple. Melt the softened butter in a large skillet, then stir in the cinnamon, dark brown sugar, and a pinch of salt. Gently stir in the apple slices and cook until they just begin to soften, about 3 minutes.

Whisk the flour, 2 T sugar, baking powder, and remaining salt together. Rub the chilled butter in with your fingertips, then stir in the buttermilk until just combined. This may also be done in a food processor.

Roll the dough out to a 1/2" thick rectangle on a floured cutting board. Spread the apple slices on half, fold the other half over, and cut into squares. Refrigerate until cold.

Heat oven to 375F and line a cookie tray with parchment.

Whisk the egg and cream together. Place the biscuits on the tray and brush with the egg wash. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Bake until golden, about 12 minutes.

Makes 12
Recipe Adapted from Joy the Baker

May 16, 2015

Chili Dogs

My spring semester (and freshman year) is finally over! I'm back in Atlanta, where it is even more hot and humid than I could have possibly imagined. The one upside is that it's definitely grilling season, and there's no better way to eat a hot dog than by smothering it with chili. Let's get one thing straight: I wouldn't necessarily call this 'real' chili and eat it with a spoon. This is hot dog chili, which means it's simple ground beef with lots of spices in a yummy sauce. It can be piled on other things besides hot dogs, too; I'm happy to eat it on burgers, toast, mixed with scrambled eggs, or even on pasta, as the folks in Cincinnati do.

It all starts with some onions and garlic, which are sauteed until soft. You'll notice soon that this whole recipe is extremely customizable, and the first opportunity to do so is by adding other veggies to this step. Bell peppers in particular would be welcome here, and diced jalapenos would add a nice kick. Ground beef is added next. Again, it is extremely easy to add or swap ingredients; virtually any ground meat or combination of meats could be used here, including pork, chicken, turkey, chorizo, or other sausage.

Once the meat is browned nicely, I start adding the ingredients for the sauce (or I suppose it's just the liquidy part of the dish that makes it chili). I use chicken broth, ketchup, barbecue sauce, tomato paste, mustard, and Worcestershire. I add the tomato paste first so it coats the meat and dissolves better. The other ingredients can be added in different proportions; I'm not a huge fan of mustard, so I don't add too much. You can also use whatever barbecue sauce you prefer. You can even make it yourself, though you don't use that much and it's not one of the standout flavors, so it might not be worth it here.

That whole mixture simmers together with some spices until all the flavors combine and are fully developed, about 10 minutes. From there, you can pile it on your hot dogs or whatever else you feel like putting it on. This is really easy to make in advance so you don't have to slave over the stove while everyone else is outside enjoying the sun; simply make it a day or two before you want to eat it, refrigerate it, and reheat it over the stove (or on a pot on the grill) until hot again, about 10 minutes. These will get pretty messy when you eat them, but that's half the fun!

10 Hot Dogs
10 Hot Dog Buns
1 lb Ground Beef
1 Medium Onion, Minced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 T Tomato Paste
1 Cup Chicken Broth
1/4 Cup Ketchup
1/4 Cup BBQ Sauce
1 T Mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Chili Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Paprika

Heat some oil in a large skillet.

Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft. Stir in the beef and cook until mostly cooked through, about 4 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Add the chicken broth, ketchup, BBQ sauce, mustard, Worcestershire, onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, salt, and paprika. Turn the heat to low and cook until thick and bubbling, about 8 minutes.

Cook the hot dogs and warm the buns. Spoon on the chili.

Makes 10
Recipe Adapted from Tyler Florence

May 6, 2015

French Onion Tart

It's almost Mothers' Day, but don't panic if you don't have a gift (yet). I can assure you that impressing your mom with a lovely meal will mean a lot to her, so I have another recipe to contribute to your fancy menu (it also goes well with scallops): French onion tart. It's like French onion soup but with bacon and a buttery crust, so basically it's a million times better.

I start with a simple savory pie crust, which is just flour, butter, and a smidgen of salt and sugar. Everything is minimally pulsed together in a food processor until just combined, and the dough is kept cold right up until baking. Having small bits of cold butter makes the pie crust flaky since they melt to create steam and therefore flaky bits. For this recipe, I blind bake the crust before baking the whole tart so that it doesn't absorb too much moisture from the filling and become soggy. I chose a rectangular tart pan to maximize the number of end pieces, but any shape or size will do, though you may have to adjust baking times and serving sizes. Immediately after it comes out of the oven, I sprinkle it with the gruyere, which melts and forms a barrier between the crust and the filling to prevent moisture migration and sogginess. I prefer gruyere because that's what is traditionally used in French onion soup, but any mild melting cheese will work.

The filling starts with bacon, and lots of it. I always make even more so I have some to snack on while cooking the rest of the tart. However much you decide to make, cook it all in a big skillet until it's crispy and most of the fat is rendered off. Remove it with a slotted spoon so you save all the drippings (this is very important) and chop into small pieces when cool.

The reason it's so important to save the bacon fat is so you can cook the onions in it. This eliminates waste, saves you from buying/using other ingredients, and, most importantly, adds even more bacon flavor to the tart. I suppose you could saute the onions for only a few minutes until tender and translucent, but I let mine fully caramelize like French onion soup onions would be. One of my cooking secrets is adding a little bit of baking soda to caramelized onions towards the end; as I've said in earlier recipes, it makes the system more acidic, promotes Maillard browning, and makes the onions much darker. It's a great alternative to having only semi-caramelized onions. I recently tasted a product that caramelizes onions almost instantly, but unfortunately that's a top-secret recipe only available to restaurants and processed food producers.

Most of the work is done once you've finished the crust, bacon and onions. The only other ingredients in the tart are eggs and sour cream, which I whisk together before adding the onions. That mixture is poured into the crust, sprinkled with the bacon and remaining cheese, and baked until golden brown and set. You may have some extra filling, but it can be refrigerated for a day or two until you have time to make more crust to bake it in. You could also go the crustless quiche route and bake it in greased mini muffin tins for a quick snack. I still prefer the big tarts since they just look so elegant and pretty, perfect for Mothers' Day!

1 Recipe Savory Pie Crust Dough (Below)
3/4 Cup Shredded Gruyere
1/4 lb Bacon, Diced
2 lbs Onions, Sliced Thinly
Pinch Baking Soda
2 Eggs
2/3 Cup Sour Cream

Blind bake the crust in a tart pan. Sprinkle immediately with 1/2 cup cheese. Leave oven at 350°F.

Cook the bacon in a skillet until crispy. Drain, reserving the fat, and chop.

Add the onions to the skillet with the bacon fat and cook over low heat for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, adding the baking soda halfway through. Season with salt and pepper.

Combine the eggs and sour cream. Stir in the onions and season with salt and pepper.

Spread the filling into the crust and top with the bacon and remaining cheese. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden.

1 1/4 Cups Flour
1 1/2 tsp Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
1 Stick Butter, Chilled & Cubed

Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor to combine. Add the butter and pulse until small lumps remain, then drizzle in cold water until it clumps together.

Recipe Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Gourmantine's Blog