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Archive for the ‘sides’ Category

grilled corn with miso butter

In eating in, sides, snacks, summer, vegetarian on 13 February, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Tonight I was actually going to get back to the next instalment of the pancake project (Parts 1 and 2 are here and here), and I’m sorry if you think it’s a bit repetitive of me to feature miso in two consecutive blog posts (sesame-miso cookies here!), but I couldn’t not share this, the most delicious of ways to eat corn on the cob.

The last couple days have been brilliantly sunny and for once I haven’t been moaning about the weather (er, sorry about that) but have been revelling in its gloriousness, running around outside at night bare-legged and bare-shouldered*, drinking cold beer and cider and eating salads and tacos and all the sweetcorn I can get my hands on. Doesn’t take much to make me ridiculously happy, apparently.

You know when corn is so fresh and sweet you can just bite into it raw, straight from the cob, each kernel bursting milky-sweet, slightly starchy juices into your mouth as you bite? The kind where you nearly eat the whole ear without bothering to cook it, only popping it in a pot of boiling water as an afterthought, “oh I bet this would taste pretty good cooked too”? This was that kind of corn.

Growing up I loved corn in the summertime. I mean, who doesn’t? But I never had it anything other than cooked until a few years ago, when I was back home in the States, and there was this guy at the local farmers’ market handing out raw sweetcorn for free. It’s so fresh and sweet, he was saying, just picked yesterday in Michigan, drove down this morning. I wasn’t sure whether the picked-yesterday bit was just a sales pitch but it worked; I was drawn in.** I didn’t know what was about to hit me but that first bite was a revelatory moment: cool, sweet, refreshing. If I could have drunk a glass of that juice, I would have; instead, I did the second-best thing I could think of and bought a half dozen ears of corn. I think I may have eaten one on the way home, peeling the husks off like a banana skin, though that could just be my imagination.

Ever since then, when summertime rolls around and sweetcorn starts getting cheaper and cheaper I’m always tempted to take a couple bites out of each ear, just in case it’s as sweet as that first bite. This summer, they’ve been pretty close. But I’m happy to cook corn, too.

In Japan in the summertime you often get 焼きとうもろこし (yaki-toumorokoshi) or just simply 焼きもろこし (yaki-morokoshi), sweetcorn usually flavoured with soy sauce and sometimes butter. The flavour’s so distinct that you can find chips, pretzels, even Kit Kats with yaki-morokoshi flavour. It’s got that addictive combination of saltiness and butteriness and the sweet, almost-caramelised crunch of the corn, the kernels just starting to crisp up at the edges. At summertime festivals when others would be headed for the takoyaki or shaved ice stalls I’d be on the lookout for some grilled corn. And in my own kitchen more recently, when I just need a snack, I’ll melt some butter on an ear of corn, drizzle some soy sauce over it, and savour that memory.

But I’ve discovered a new thing. Something even more glorious than soy sauce and butter: miso butter. I’d seen it mentioned in a couple forms in some Japanese cooking magazines (good old Lettuce Club and Orange Page again). I first tried it out a couple weeks ago on some corn I’d just boiled. I didn’t get the miso:butter ratio quite right, and I didn’t bother grilling the corn, but it was pretty damn good, an umami party on my tongue. I was sold on miso butter.***

This time I got it right. One part miso to two parts butter. Make sure the butter’s soft so the miso blends in nicely, but not melted, or it won’t blend in at all. Grill the corn, brushing miso butter over it from time to time so it melts right into the cracks and the surface gets all blistered and almost-charred and then, when you’re ready to serve, melt some more miso butter over the top and bite in and holy crap, YES.

*Who would’ve thought? In summer? My goodness.

**Actually, never mind, I’m drawn in by most samples, regardless of whether they’re accompanied by a tempting sales pitch…

***And, the next morning when I spread some on toast with a bit of honey? That was the reminder for me to make those miso cookies I’d been dreaming of. With great success.

MISO BUTTER

Mix 1 tbsp miso into 2 tbsp softened* butter, stirring well until all the miso is blended in and it’s a nice smooth consistency. You can make the quantity greater or less; just use the 1:2 miso:butter ratio – easy enough to remember! Keep stored in the fridge where it will firm up a bit.

This is great on sweetcorn, but also anywhere you might want something buttery and rather salty. I can think of a few:

  • on toast, with honey
  • on French toast, with maple syrup**
  • to brush over some fish before baking/grilling
  • with green beans, or asparagus when it’s in season, or brussels sprouts
  • tossed through hot pasta or some boiled new potatoes

*room-temperature or slightly softer, but not melted

**I actually think I’m going to try this tomorrow morning. Will update with the results…

GRILLED CORN WITH MISO BUTTER

Grill your corn how you like, but slather some miso butter all over it before you do so it gets in the crevices and makes everything all salty and buttery. Here’s my lazy/non-BBQ-owning method:

First, slice up the cob into halves or thirds (or just leave it whole). Bring some water to the boil and add the corn, cook for a minute or two until it’s an eyepopping sunflower yellow. Remove from the pot.

Preheat the grill/broiler in your oven. Heat a ridged grill pan* until nice and hot, almost smoking. Coat the corn with miso butter (a pastry brush works great here) and place on the grill pan. Let it start to sear a bit on the bottom, then rotate it a bit, brush with more miso butter, and stick under the hot grill in the oven. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn, giving it a turn every now and then and brushing with a bit more miso butter. When it’s nice and golden brown, almost-burnt in places and the miso stuck between the kernels is beginning to caramelise, pull the pan out from the oven.

Brush with more miso butter if you like. Go on, do it.

*a cast-iron one that can go in the oven is ideal. If you don’t have one, just heat the grill in your oven, skip this step and chuck your corn in there on a baking tray, making sure to rotate and brush with extra butter.

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quinoa salad with avocado, radish & lemon

In gluten free, salads, sides, spring, vegan, vegetarian on 9 November, 2011 at 11:35 pm

It’s rather predictable, really, but when spring rolls around all I want to eat is salad. There’s something about that raw crunch, the burst of flavour, the pure freshness of it all that’s missing over the long, dark winter stretch of Cooked Food (sure, you can have salad in winter, but is it ever as earnest as all the young leaves of spring?).

And I’d be exaggerating if I said everything I ate over winter was a monotonous succession of homogeneously-textured slop, because I certainly ate well throughout the winter months. But I can hardly remember the details of the stews, the soups, casseroles and curries that got me through. I’m too engrossed in trying all the different flavour and texture combinations within the realm of salads.

And as far as flavour and texture combinations go, this salad, which I’ve adapted only very slightly (and only to reflect the ingredients I had at hand) from Yotam Ottolenghi’s most excellent cookbook Plenty*, is a winner. Nutty, yielding quinoa. Hot, crunchy radishes. Smooth, mild avocado. Sour, juicy bursts in the form of lemon segments. Edamame adds a bit of nubbly texture and, um, more nutty flavour, and the baby mustard greens I used add just a breath of barely-there heat.

I wasn’t sure how it would all work together but I shouldn’t have doubted Ottolenghi. I should really be used to that oh-my-god-so-eye-poppingly-delicious feeling by now, but like every time I try something a little bit new and delicious I did a little personal squeal of delight (quiet enough for the flatmates not to notice… hopefully): all of the FLAVOURS! And all of the TEXTURES! And they all work so well TOGETHER!**

So this is a salad I urge you to try. It’s a little bit substantial, too, thanks to the quinoa, avocado and edamame: plenty of good stuff like proteins and amino acids and monounsaturated fats and whatnot. And it’s got that added bonus of being gluten-free, in case you were wondering. But enough of the health benefits. It’s just good, okay? And it tastes just as good, if not better, when you pack it up and eat it for lunch the next day (though I’d recommend letting it reach room temperature before serving).

Also while we’re on the subject of this salad can I just say I love radishes? Radishes thinly sliced with salt, radishes with butter and salt, radishes with butter and salt and crusty baguette, radishes in salads, radishes cut in wedges, radishes whole, radishes short, radishes long***, I am a girl obsessed. And in this salad the radishes in all their sharp crispness are the perfect foil for the creamy, luxurious avocado, so much so that I don’t know why I haven’t been consciously aware of this opposites-attract combination. And now I’m thinking about radishes, thinly sliced, with salt and avocado in a halved segment of very-fresh baguette.****

*it really hasn’t taken long for this book to become a favourite. Some nights I go to bed with it, waking up at 2am all confused as to why I’m clutching a hard, rectangular object… sad but true.

**cue little shoulder-shrug and cheeky silent excited-smile and resisting the urge to do little handclaps even now, yes, it was that exciting.

***those ones came from the same Wairarapa-dwelling workmate who brought me the bag of Jerusalem artichokes that went into this soup, as well as the freshest eggs I’ve ever tasted. She’s awesome. And the radishes were deliciously hot.

****And now I’m thinking I should end this stream-of-consciousness rant about radishes and get onto posting the recipe. Sorry everyone. I’m very tired and bleary-eyed tonight, and I love radishes. Though maybe not as much as that I-love-cats girl (making the rounds on youtube a wee while ago) loves cats.

QUINOA SALAD WITH AVOCADO, RADISH & LEMON
(from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, with a couple minor changes)

Serves 2-4, depending on whether you’re eating this as a main course or a side dish, how hungry you are, that sort of thing.

Cook 100g quinoa using your favourite method. Ottolenghi recommends bringing it to a boil in a pan with lots of water, then simmering for 9 minutes, draining, rinsing with cold water and letting it dry. It worked for me.

Meanwhile, cook and shell (or defrost, or whatever you need to do) 250g edamame.* Let cool slightly.

Slice a lemon into segments by first cutting off both ends, then carefully removing all the skin and outer pith, then slicing between each membrane so you get pretty, jewel-like segments.** Do this over a bowl to collect the juices and chuck the segments in there as well.

Cut a small-to-medium avocado into thin slices and add to the lemon juice. Toss very gently just to coat it with the lemon juice, then add the quinoa, 100g radishes cut into wedges, the edamame, a handful of baby mustard greens***, a clove of crushed garlic, 1/2 tbsp ground cumin, 2-3 tbsp olive oil and a pinch of chilli flakes. Season with flaky sea salt and cracked black pepper and toss with the gentlest touch you can manage.

Garnish with some more baby mustard greens. Serve into bowls and eat with all the wide-eyed joy of a child discovering all the different flavours and textures at once. (Okay, maybe a little child would turn its nose up at this salad. But you get the picture).

*the original recipe used broad beans. If this is something you have in your garden right now, don’t hold back. USE IT. I just had no broad beans handy, and plenty of edamame in the freezer.

**Since first trying this technique when I made this salad (also roughly based on a Plenty recipe) I’ve become more convinced of its utility, despite the extra time. Not only do the citrus pieces look beautiful, they’re also free of the tough membrane you so often find in lemons.

***I was conveniently needing to thin the pot of mustard greens I’d planted some time prior to making this salad, and was glad, because I had none of the purple radish cress Ottolenghi lists in the recipe. If you have neither baby mustard greens or purple radish cress, don’t let it stop you from making this salad. Bits of peppery rocket would do, or any microgreens or baby greens would work, as would leaving them out altogether.

beetroot, orange & fennel salad

In gluten free, salads, sides, winter on 30 July, 2011 at 7:55 pm

I don’t normally post things the day I make them. I usually like to sit on a blog post for a day or two (at least), think about it a bit, maybe make the recipe again. But not this: the dishes are still all over the kitchen, my now-empty plate is sitting next to my laptop as I type, my fingers are still stained a brilliant hue of magenta from peeling cooked beetroot. This is one of those things that’s too good not to share immediately.

A couple weeks ago, I finally got myself a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Plenty. It was one of those purchases you plot out months in advance and think longingly of every time you hear it mentioned or see it on a bookshelf somewhere. Anyway, ever since I got it I’d been thinking about making Ottolenghi’s beetroot, orange & black olive salad, mostly because I had all the ingredients on hand and I’ve been trying to become the kind of person who doesn’t let food go to waste.

But it’s been too cold to think about salads, and I’ve been living off over-the-top hearty fare: braised short ribs, Ottolenghi’s winter couscous, creamy rice pudding. Yes, when it’s cold out I almost exclusively cook with a cast-iron pot. So the salad went unmade.

Until today: a burst of sunshine, a bit of cheer injected into the otherwise dull winter cynicism a lot of us have been experiencing lately. So with a bit of optimism I set about making the salad, only to quickly discover I was out of olives (had forgotten they’d gone into some olive & feta muffins I made for Week Two of the Wellington on a Plate Bake Club we’ve been doing at work). I also only had one orange instead of two, and in a fit of excitement hadn’t read the ingredients list carefully enough to remember to pick up an endive at Moore Wilson’s.

The sun was still streaming through the balcony onto my kitchen counter, though, and not to be deterred, I made a few adjustments to Yotam’s original recipe: I halved it, substituted capers for the olives, used fennel instead of red endive, threw in a handful of watercress for good measure.

The result was the most beautiful, fresh-looking thing I’ve eaten probably since I got back from holiday in the Northern Hemisphere summer. It’s exquisite: not just the jewel-toned beetroot juices staining everything in sight, but the flavours too – sweet, salty, earthy, fresh, soft, sharp. Everything’s exactly as it should be.

BEETROOT, ORANGE & FENNEL SALAD
(adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty)

Slice off the tops and bottoms of a couple beetroots (I used 1 regular-sized purple one and a handful of baby golden beetroot) and boil in salted water until you can stick a knife in them easily. Let cool.

Meanwhile, cut an orange into wedges. Ottolenghi suggests you do this by first removing all the orange rind and white pith, then using a small, sharp knife to cut the orange into segments by running a knife down the side of the membranes. It means you won’t have any tough membraney bits in your orange pieces, which is nice, but if you’re short on time and don’t mind too much you could just as easily cut the orange into wedges and slice the flesh away from the skin. Either way, do this over a bowl to catch any dripping juices.

Peel the now-cool beetroot and slice into wedges; place in a mixing bowl. Add the oranges and their juice, 1/2 a sliced fennel bulb, 1 tbsp or so of capers, 1 tsp orange blossom water, 1 tbsp each red wine vinegar & olive oil, a handful of watercress, sea salt & freshly ground black pepper. Toss very gently with tongs so that everything’s nicely coated but still keeps its colour more or less.

Serves 2 as a side dish.

(For a version of this salad that’s truer to the original: Mairi’s post on Toast)

PS. Part Four of my series of old airline cutlery is this old Ansett New Zealand fork. A relic! (For those of you reading this from outside NZ, Ansett hasn’t existed for a while now. I’ve flown with them once or twice, on my first visit to see my grandparents in New Zealand when I was six. Unfortunately I don’t remember too much about the airline itself, other than being in Auckland airport waiting to board the plane.)
Parts One, Two and Three are herehere & here.

brussels sprouts with toasted walnuts & pancetta

In autumn, gluten free, sides, travel, winter on 19 July, 2011 at 10:17 pm

The other night, I simultaneously burnt and overcooked-to-the-point-of-mushiness what should have been a delicious bowl of brussels sprouts (oh, internet with your myriad distractions).  Half out of sheer hunger/tiredness and half out of you-got-yourself-into-this-mess stubbornness, I smothered them in pecorino romano and butter and ate them. I’ll say this: the cheese was good. I’ll also say this: even without the acrid burnt taste they would’ve still conjured up childhood vegetable nightmares. Yep, they were that bad.

These are not those brussels sprouts. But I felt I had to do something to make up for the ones I did such a disservice to. Because brussels sprouts – poor things, they’re so maligned, and undeservedly so – need all the good press they can get. Cooked right, they’re a joy: nutty, almost sweet, tender-crisp. And cut in half they’re the perfect bite size, their little cabbage-leaves soaking up all the butter they can handle (which is a lot).

If you knew me at all as a child you’d know that I was ridiculously picky; the closest I’d get to voluntarily eating vegetables was poking at a few leaves of lettuce in a salad or dipping a carrot stick in miso (try it sometime!). And perhaps because no one in my family liked brussels sprouts except my dad, they appeared on the dinner table only once – maybe twice – a year, at Thanksgiving* and sometimes Christmas dinner, when we’d clear the dining room of all the boxes and junk that had accumulated from non-use (we were a family of kitchen-table eaters), set the table with a hardly-used tablecloth and the special plates we wouldn’t see for the rest of the year, and my dad would repeat his annual campaign to get us all to help him eat the brussels sprouts. We wouldn’t.

Until one year not so long ago, when I returned home for the holidays and my dad did something we brussels-sprouts haters had never heard of: he cooked the brussels sprouts with bacon and almost-caramelised onions. I secretly think he would’ve done this ages ago if he had actually wanted to share the brussels sprouts with the rest of us, because between my brothers and me, they flew off the table. (It might’ve had something to do with bacon’s magical ability to make everything taste Damn Good, but I like to think that’s where my brussels sprout appreciation started…)

Now I can’t wait for brussels sprouts to appear each year and I’ve been eating plenty while they’re in season and cheap. I love them braised or sauteed but I’m just as likely to make a simple snack of them by quickly boiling or steaming them just til fork-tender and eating them with butter, sea salt and cracked pepper.  This time I’ve sauteed them with pancetta and shallots, sort of a throwback to that first eye-opening brussels sprouts experience. Thanks Dad.

Funny how we turn into our parents, how we start doing the things we swore we’d never do.** But when I have kids, I won’t be relegating brussels sprouts to a once-yearly cameo.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH TOASTED WALNUTS & PANCETTA (serves 2-3 as a side dish, depending on how much everyone likes brussels sprouts)

Take 10-12 brussels sprouts, trim off the bases and the outer leaves, slice in half vertically. If you’re using particularly big brussels sprouts it may pay to parboil these for a couple of minutes, but I try to pick smaller ones

Dice 1 good-sized shallot (or 2 smallish ones) and saute in butter over medium-low heat until it starts to get soft. Cut up 1-2 slices of pancetta (or bacon) into little pieces and add those to the pan, saute until they start to firm up, then add the brussels sprouts. At this stage I like to add more butter, plenty of it, the more the better. Saute until they’re just starting to brown, but don’t overcook them: when you can just stick a fork through them with little to no resistance, they’re done.

Meanwhile, toast a handful of walnuts (you could just as easily use pine nuts): you can do this in a skillet, or chuck them in a tray under the grill in your oven. Just don’t burn them: keep your nose on alert for that awesome nutty smell. Toss with the brussels sprouts and season with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Grate some parmesan over the top to serve. Eat immediately.

*Yep, I grew up in North America.

**It’s not just my dad I’m turning into (food-wise, anyway). Last month I was in Tokyo searching for this steamed-bun cafe, had forgotten to make myself a little map in my notebook (Tokyo streets are notoriously difficult to navigate if you’re looking for something down a little alleyway – the address alone usually is of no help), and, half-determined to find it and half-enjoying wandering around, spent a couple of hours walking up and down the main street in Kagurazaka. I never found the cafe, though I did find an eerily cosy coffee bar straight out of 1980s Japan, serving drip coffee to rival the likes of Customs or Lamason, and I found a little shop selling the most delicious taiyaki (this one filled with sweet purple yam paste:

But it was my last day in Tokyo, I had only hours left to do all the things I had planned on doing, I hadn’t had breakfast (!! I know), it was raining, my feet were soaking wet, I was tired and hungry and still hadn’t found the cafe I came all the way to Kagurazaka for. And then I found something far better: an unassuming Japanese restaurant serving a few different kinds of teishoku – set meals with rice and miso soup – and something pulled me in, some weird instinct which told me to forget about the steamed-bun cafe. This was what I needed. Before I even sat down I ordered the yakizakana teishoku almost without thinking.

It’s not something I would’ve gotten excited about five or ten years ago when visiting Japan. In fact, I wasn’t even that excited about it this time, except for this gut feeling that I knew I was doing the right thing. And I couldn’t quite pinpoint why, until I thought about what I was eating. Grilled fish with grated daikon, rice and miso soup, some pickled vegetables – exactly the meal my mum would cook for herself when we’d eat Japanese at home (pretty frequently, since Mum grew up in Japan). As a kid I’d stick with the rice and miso soup, turning my nose up at everything else.

I’ve long since started eating fish and tsukemono but I never gave much thought to how much I was turning into my mother until the moment last month when I finished this meal and thought the thought I never thought I’d think: whether I’m hungry, tired or frustrated, there’s nothing that puts me more at ease than a simple meal of rice and miso soup, salted grilled fish, pickled daikon.

I’m sure I’ve heard that exact sentiment from my mum so many times while growing up, and always thought she was nuts: there’s so much food (Japanese or otherwise) that’s way more exciting and comforting (what about the mac and cheese, mum?!). But somehow, in some way, she was totally right all along, and that simple, humdrum meal was the most special of my trip. Thanks Mum.