There are several ways to cook corn, none of which I spent too much time pondering until recently. For me, corn always goes on the grill and often gets treated with butter before biting into, straight off the cob.
It was pointed out to me though, during a series of semi-“deep” discussions regarding corn at our recent family reunion in Minnesota, that if you are not lucky enough to eat it raw when it is freshly picked, the microwave might be the most perfect method for it’s cooking. I was skeptical, but willing to listen and then, eager to give it a try. I also wanted to share a few other methods of cooking corn and an idea (or two) of what I like to do with it every summer (one of which I already did). However, I realize this might be less-than-timely seeing that the summer is coming to an end, for now, so perhaps I will pick that thought back up again next year…
As I ponder the subject of corn though, I turn to pondering the subject of eating. This brings me to food, which of course, is the center of this years International Food Blogger’s Conference (IFBC 2014) taking place at the Westin in downtown Seattle, which brings me to writing. Many of us attending the conference (obviously) write about food. My guess is that most of (if not all of) us enjoy food, more than might be considered normal. I am happy to fit into this category of “not” normal because it means I eat particularly well and who can complain about that?
What most excites me about the upcoming conference (beginning tonight), is the optional workshop I signed up to attend on Sunday. The workshop is about writing, creatively, concerning food, but also concerning memoirs (clarifying voice and story). This is of particular interest to me because I have been trying to write just that. Not just about food but also memories, and memories about food. Well, not just memories about food but memories that involve food (which is an extensive bank of memories). Actually, what I really want, is to write about those things in a way that captures my voice and makes you want to read what I am writing, enthusiastically.
Not only is the content of the workshop something I am looking forward to, it is being led by New York Times Best-Selling food writer Kathleen Flinn, author of “The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry” (which I have read and thoroughly enjoyed) and her third book “Burnt Toast Makes you Sing Good” (which I have not read, but will read as soon as I can buy a copy). The title of that one makes me smile because my father is a notorious burnt toast fan and I just sent him an after-surgery care package containing some burnt biscuits I made because they tasted of burnt toast. Needless to say, burnt toast doesn’t travel well and they went to the trash. Perhaps I will ring the hospital and ask them to prepare him some freshly burnt toast? Or not. In any case, I will ring him to share my experience after the workshop and if we are lucky, I will have learned a thing or two to make me a more engaging writer (when I share the experience with you). That is the plan.
If you haven’t read Kathleen’s writing, I encourage you to pick up a copy of one of her books; well worth the read. Also, if you are attending the conference, perhaps I will meet you there and maybe you are joining the workshop too, which you do not need be at the conference to sign up for, cost is $75, you can sign-up here). Until then, inspired by the title of Kathleen’s third book, I have gone to the kitchen in the hopes of recreating the perfect burnt toast without the “burn” (and come to think of it, without the toast). Curious?
Biscuits and “cream”
(Aka: not “burnt” toast)
loosely adapted from Molly Wizenberg (and Marion Cunningham)
I know what you’re thinking. I think I do anyways, because if Kathleen were writing this, I would be thinking “burnt toast has nothing to do with biscuits and certainly to do more with butter than with cream”. Hear me out though.
Biscuits are where I started and biscuits I am still trying to make. Ones that don’t taste of burnt toast (even though I think Dad would have liked them straight from the oven before being shoved into a wobbly envelope and flown across the country). I started out wanting to make buttermilk biscuits. I bought one from “Honest Biscuits” at the Pioneer Square Farmer’s Market a few weeks ago. It had butter dipped into the center and honey too, which oozed out the side. They were tall (double story tall) and slightly reminded me of the biscuits I missed out on at the Willow’s Inn. Almost, but not quite. I say not quite because they didn’t look quite as pretty. I never tasted the ones at Willow’s Inn and this one was a very good biscuit.
I did not want to recreate the Honest Biscuit. What I actually wanted was a cream biscuit. One that was fluffy and moist. One that tasted, well…of cream. What I didn’t want was to actually use cream. Or white flour. But that was a minor detail. What I ended up doing was going to Orangette to find Molly’s cream biscuits I had read about years before. She has a version by Marion Cunningham (no, not the one from Happy Days) that she swears “you can’t screw up”, yet I am here to tell you that I did (screw up), twice. I had only made a few alterations: I used quinoa & whole wheat flours + corn meal rather than all-purpose flour. I used honey rather than sugar and (most notably) replaced the cream and butter for buttermilk and yogurt. So you can see why I was surprised with the unforeseen outcome? No?
Well, I do confess that there were two attempts at this recipe, because after the first version, I was convinced that the flop was to do with my outdated baking soda (expired February of 2013) and I (reluctantly) had in-fact brushed the outside of the biscuits with melted butter (only 1 TB, but that was likely why it tasted of toast at all; their only redeeming feature). I thought the burnt part was to do with using honey (and perhaps that darn TB of butter that I diligently brushed on even the underside of the biscuit; the side that actually did burn)? In any case, as it turned out, this was the better batch of the two (yikes!).
The second batch received a freshly-opened can of baking powder (no, not the whole can), just 1 TB). I reduced the amount of quinoa flour and corn meal by half, replacing it with more whole wheat pastry flour. Then, thinking I needed some “cream”, rather than use actual cream, I used 1/2 cup cream on top, whole milk yogurt (which had already been depleted of said top cream) in addition to buttermilk (because I really didn’t learn the first time). I also opted to use sugar rather than honey but I brushed the tops with yogurt instead of butter (not advised).
So now that you know what not to do, this is what I just did. Just a few moments ago. I don’t have burnt toast and I don’t have (real) cream biscuits, but I do have something that looks more like a biscuit than a hockey puck, and tastes more like a biscuit than a (hockey puck) piece of burnt toast. Plus, it is healthier than a cream biscuit (although, full disclosure, it does use actual cream). If you didn’t read about my corn butter, I think you should. I replaced half of the cream with the same portion of corn butter. I used spelt flour rather than whole wheat. I kept with the quinoa flour (because I like the color and the sweet richness) and I replaced the cornmeal with fresh sourdough breadcrumbs (because it started out as bread, which is what we use to make burnt toast; you following?).
I made the breadcrumbs without toasting the bread, hence the term “fresh” bread crumbs. The bread I used was the sourdough from London Plane in Pioneer Square, but any good bread will work just as well.
1 cup spelt flour
1/4 cup *quinoa flour
3/4 cups fresh breadcrumbs (simply purée day-old bread inners, not crust, in a blender or food processor until coarsely crumbly; it will be warm and moist to touch)
1 TB baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 TB honey
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup corn butter (or another 1/2 cup cream)
Another bit of corn butter or melted butter for brushing
*quinoa flour can be purchased from some grocery and specialty stores (for a hefty price). When I discovered the Blendtec, I am now able to make my own (well worth the small investment).
Pre-heat the oven to 425-degrees.
Mix the flour, breadcrumbs, salt and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl. With a fork, blend in the honey, then add the cream. Continue to blend with a fork until it quits “shagging” (Marion and Molly’s term).
Lay it out onto a floured work surface (which I find helpful to have fall onto a piece of wax paper). Knead to pull it together (it will be wet and sticky). Roll it out with a pin. In order to keep it from clumping onto the pin, I had to throw a handful of flour onto the dough. Then, because it looked pasty, I threw over a teaspoon of corn butter to rub over too. Roll it to 1/2″ thickness.
Now, you could cut into 12 squares (as Molly says) but I prefer round. It was quite sticky and did not cooperate very well so my rounds were cattywampus and thin. This is where I had an epiphany. I took my thin discs and doubled them up with a layer of corn butter in between. I also left one or two single-layered and half of them were top-coated with melted butter, while the rest were coated with more corn butter; all of them turned out just fine. Better than fine, actually. They are quite good!
Sometimes it is about the food and flavor, not the…pretty. Think about that. (pretty gutsy for a lead in to a food bloggers conference…no food porn here)!
How ’bout a random cute photo of my cutie pies instead?