Sunday, July 22, 2012


Often, the best dishes are those that are so simple, but using the best ingredients at their peak flavor.  Summer is especially good for this kind of cooking, because there are so many fresh, ripe, flavorful foods available.  There's just something about excellent ingredients, prepared in a way that honors the flavors, that I really admire and strive for.

A case in point is my favorite corn salad.  It's amazingly simple, yet everything blends so perfectly that it's the best tasting little salad you've ever had.  Honestly. It positively reeks of summer.  This recipe calls for fresh corn, and it's best if you make it with corn straight from the cob, but I've made it with frozen corn with good results as well.  Just don't leave out the basil, because it really makes the dish.

I have to confess that I didn't make up this recipe.  It comes from Ina Garten, who is masterful with bringing the full flavor out of a few simple ingredients.  I love her, even though I find her voice and manner on Food Network really irritating.  Maybe that's just the way they talk up in the Hamptons.  I've never been there. If you don't own any of her cookbooks, I highly recommend them. I have the first one, "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook," but I've looked at many, and they are all fabulous.

Ina Garten's Fresh Corn Salad:

5 ears corn, shucked
1/2 cup small-diced red onion (about one small onion)
3 Tbsp good olive oil (extra virgin)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chiffonade fresh basil leaves (that's just a fancy way of saying "cut the basil leaves cross-wise into thin strips" - I stack the leaves on top of each other, then slice cross-ways)

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the corn for 3 minutes, until the starchiness is just gone (How will you know the starchiness is gone? I have no idea, I just do what Ina says, so boil those ears for 3 minutes). Drain and immerse cobs in ice water to stop the cooking and to set the color (Congratulations!  You've just blanched your corn! When you see that term in other recipes, that's what it means: cooking briefly in boiling water.  "Shocking" is what you're doing when you immerse it in the ice water to stop the cooking process. It also helps veggies keep their color).  When the corn is cool, cut the kernels off the cob, cutting close to the cob.

Toss the kernels in a large bowl with the red onion, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Just before serving, toss in the fresh basil. Taste for the seasonings and serve cold or at room temperature.

Serves 4-6

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Recipe I Wanted To Hate

 There I was, planning meals for the week, when I asked my oldest son what he might want to have for dinner this week. I happened to be looking at my Southern Living cookbook at the time.  Big mistake.  He saw a picture of a recipe called "Smothered Enchiladas."  The son, who is a pretty healthy eater (actually chooses and eats salad at school for lunch) and generally does not like very gooey, creamy stuff, wanted these crazy creamy, smothered enchiladas.  I looked at the nutritional information per serving, which was one burrito: 712 calories (65% from fat), 51.3 g fat (nearly half of which was saturated). Gah! 

Against my better judgement and, because I love my son and he actually showed some interest, I told him I would make them.  Friends, I have to confess, this recipe made me do things.  Horrible things that I never thought I would ever do.  Like buy Cream of Chicken soup and use it with ground beef.  Like buy reduced fat cheese and light sour cream, in the desperate attempt to make this less fat-laden than a Big Mac with fries. The only redeeming ingredient in this thing was the green chiles, and it was a very small can.

 Here's the recipe from Southern Living for Smothered Enchiladas:

2 lbs. ground beef
1 (1 1/4 oz) package of mild taco seasoning
1 (4.5 oz) can chopped green chiles, divided
2 (10 3/4 oz) cans cream of chicken soup (I substituted 1 cup of 2% evaporated milk for the 2nd can of soup)
1 (16 oz) container sour cream (I used light)
8 (8-inch) flour tortillas
2 cups (8 oz) shredded cheddar cheese (I used 50% reduced fat cheddar)

Garnishes: salsa, sour cream, green onions, chopped fresh cilantro

Cook ground beef in a skillet, breaking up bigger chunks, until it crumbles and is no longer pink. Drain off any fat. Stir in taco seasoning mix and half of the chopped green chiles. Set aside.

Stir together remaining chiles, soup and sour cream.  Pour half of sour cream mixture in a lightly greased 9x13-inch baking dish.  Spoon beef mixture evenly down center of each tortilla.  Roll up and place tortillas, seam side down, over sour cream mixture in baking dish.

Here is my tortilla-filling and -rolling set up.

Spread remaining sour cream mixture over the tortillas and top with grated cheese.

Bake, uncovered, for 25 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  The enchiladas should be heated through and bubbling around the edges.  Garnish, if desired.  Serves 8.

I ended up only being able to fit 7 in the pan, but for my family of 4, it was plenty, with almost half left over. These are really filling, and actually pretty good.  You couldn't even tell I used reduced fat stuff.  And it was really good with salsa on top -- the acid from the tomatoes help cut through the richness.  Knowing that we needed vegetables with this thing, I made my favorite corn salad recipe.  I doubt I will ever make this again, unless someone asks for it for their birthday, maybe.  But I thought I would share, if only to serve as a cautionary tale: don't give your kids an open-ended question like: "What do you want for dinner?" You might not like the answer...

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Little Balls of Heaven

One of my favorite all time Saturday Night Live skits is the one about Schweddy Balls. If you're familiar with that skit, I hope you're laughing at my title!  Otherwise, you might just be scratching your head at my inappropriateness.

Anyway, I used to get a bunch of different food magazines, but now I've winnowed it down to just two: Bon Appetit and Martha Stewart's Everyday Food.  These are the two magazines where I consistently find recipes that I want to try.  To be honest, for all my "foodiness", I really try to avoid recipes that involve a gazillion ingredients or stuff that I don't regularly buy.  I hate having my cupboards and fridge cluttered up with half-used bottles and jars of stuff (rosewater, chickpea flour, chili lime pickle, anchovy paste...just to name a few).  Look for future blog posts that will utilize these ingredients.  :-)

But I digress!  Back to my balls.  So in the latest edition of Bon Appetit, I found a recipe for Cocoa-Date Truffles where the only sweetener is the dates.  I made them for the staff in the front office of our elementary school.  I made them instead of, say, cupcakes, because our school is labeled a "healthy foods" school (or something like that) where we can't have sweet treats (unless it's fruit) for parties and the daily snacks that the kids bring can't have sugar of any kind in the first 3 ingredients. It's not that big of a deal, and I get why they're doing it, but at the same time, not all of the food choices the school offers in the cafeteria are exactly packed with nutrition, either.  It would be nice if they were consistent, but I'll roll with it.  Ha! I am just full of ball puns today...

So I made these date balls to show the front office that you can have a sweet but healthy (or at least healthier) treat and that just because something's sweet, doesn't mean it's unhealthy. (I'm angling to get low fat brownies allowed, but not sure how that will go over).  The other great thing about this recipe is that it's dairy-free and doesn't have nuts (at least the original recipe), so it's safe to serve anyone who has a milk or nut allergy.

Now, I didn't have raw cacao powder and just used regular cocoa powder, so I'm not sure what the taste difference would be, but I wasn't about to go searching for raw cacao powder.  I just didn't have it in me.  So, here's the recipe from Bon Appetit, with my modifications noted after.

Cocoa-Date Truffles (from the June 2012 edition of Bon Appetit)
makes about 20

3 Tbsp. raw cacao powder
1 1/2 cups Medjool dates, pitted
3 Tbsp. (or more) unsweetened, shredded coconut or quick-cooking oats
pinch of sea salt

Flavoring Options (choose one)
1 Tbsp. unsweetened shredded  coconut
1 tsp. finely grated orange zest
1 tsp. instant espresso powder

Coating Options (mix and match)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup lightly toasted sesame seeds
1/2 cup crushed, lightly toasted pistachios
1/2 cup crushed, lightly toasted hazelnuts

Puree cacao powder, dates, 3 Tbsp coconut, and salt in a food processor until almost smooth, adding water by teaspoonfuls if too dry and crumbly and coconut by teaspoonfuls if too wet and sticky (the original consistently will be determined by how moist your dates are).  Add desired flavoring and pulse to combine.

Scoop date puree by the tablespoonful and roll  into 1" balls.  Can be made up to one week ahead. Cover and chill.

Roll truffles in desired coatings to cover.


From Bon Appetit: Raw cacao powder and unsweetened, shredded coconut can be found at natural food stores, specialty food stores and some supermarkets.

Marna's notes:  Instead of the coconut or oats, I added 2 Tbsp of walnut butter plus 1/4 cup of finely chopped, toasted walnuts.  Plus, as mentioned earlier, I didn't have raw cacao powder and just used regular unsweetened cocoa instead.  I ended up having to add about 2 Tbsp of water to get things to a consistency where I could shape the mixture into balls. In terms of servings, I used a tablespoon scoop and only got about 12 balls, so you could make them smaller to get more, or just count on this making less than you originally thought (or double the recipe).