Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lazy summer day with a memorable menu

The summer is drawing to a close and with only a few lazy weekends left, I feel sad.   I love summer, I am sad to see it go away.  Somehow I still feel entitled to a vacation for the entire length of warm months, must be school kid in me.  The fact that I occasionally need to go to work in the summer irritates me as if I am being interrupted doing something really important ( like lounging around by the pool and drinking wine).  I still have a very great trip to look forward to, but then it will be over.  Hopefully a trip to Spain will fuel me with culinary and writing inspiration to last the winter months. 
Every spring I have the most ambitious cooking projects planned for the summer months, I even though I pretty much get to cook what I wanted, I had virtually no desire to write about them until now.
With August, comes the most beautiful produce of the season, and it is a shame not to capture those flavors.  Corn is sweet and young, figs are abundant and there are 30 pounds of peaches on my kitchen counter waiting to be jammed.  There is also a case of new gadget of mine, a brand new birthday gift of a smoker, which I need to master.  My friends must have had ulterior motives in picking it out, it is almost industrial size, not that I am complaining. 
To capture the season’s flavor and to play with my new toy, I decided on sweet summer corn chowder and a variety of smoked goodies.   The two recipes below turned out to be one of the best things I ever made.  The soup made such an impact that my children who do not like any soups had three helpings each and the ribs were everything a good BBQ should be… succulent, sweet, spicy and just a bit charred.
Any chowder by definition is laden with butter and cream but I had the most silky and beautiful corn chowder which was vegan when I dined in Finger Lakes earlier this summer.  I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the recipe to re-create this soup, but could not come up with any thickeners other than butter and cream, until I came upon a recipe for corn butter.  It is brilliant and simple and makes this soup (and other dishes) light and healthy.  I did not stick to a fully vegan version as I used chicken stock and crisp pork shoulder as a garnish, but it certainly can be made fully vegan by using vegetable stock and omitting the pork.
 Summer corn chowder.
12 stalks of corn peeled and cornels cut off.  I like the tri-color corn for this as it makes for a prettier color and I find it sweeter.
1 small white onion chopped very fine
2 garlic cloves chopped very fine
1 carrot chopped very fine or pulsed in a food processor to almost a paste
2 small celery ribs chopped very fine or pulsed in a food processor
2 tbs of olive oil
1 cup white wine ( optional)
4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
3 small or medium white or yellow potatoes
5 sprigs of fresh thyme
¼ tsp of cayenne pepper
Salt and white pepper to taste
Cubed smoked pork shoulder or bacon for garnish (optional)

Make corn butter.  Cut of the cornels of the corn stalks by running you knife a full length of the stock.  Reserve about 1/3 of the cornels to use in the soup.  Using the blender on Liquefy setting for good 3 -4 minutes, process the rest of the corn until it a very smooth paste.  You may want to do it batches.  Using a mesh sieve, strain the corn mixture into a heavy bottomed pot.  It is best to use the rubber spatula to push as much of the corn mixture through the mesh.  Cook the strained corn paste on low heat stirring constantly until it starts to thicken, about 5 minutes.  At this point you can store it in a fridge for up to a week and use it to flavor anything from sauces, pastas and risottos instead of butter.  The corn butter has an amazing flavor, it is sweet and savory and buttery and luscious. 
To make the soup, heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot, add the onions and the garlic and sauté until translucent.  Add the carrot and celery and cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes stirring occasionally.  Add the white wine (if using) and cook for a few minutes, until reduced by about half.  Add the corn butter ( you should have about a 1 ½ cups) and the stock.  Add salt, white pepper and cayenne pepper and simmer for 10 minutes.  Peel and cut the potatoes into a small dice (the size of the potatoes cubes should be just a bit bigger than a corn cornel).  Add the potatoes and the reserved corn cornels to the soup and simmer until the potatoes are al dente.  If you wish, you can add a few tablespoons of cream to the soup, but I find it unnecessary, the sweet corn butter really creates a wonderful texture.

To serve, crisp up some cubed bacon or smoked pork shoulder and add to each bowl.  This soup is wonderful served chilled or hot, but I liked it best at room temperature.
Smoked Ribs with Fig BBQ Sauce.
2 full racks of baby baked ribs, trimmed
For the brine
20 cups of water
2 cusp of kosher salt
1 cup of brown sugar
2 tbs of hot sauce
Fresh ginger cut up ( about 1 inch knob)
1 lemon halved
2 tbs of worstershire sauce
2 tbs of soy sauce
2 tbs of smoked paprika
2 tbs of Mexican chili powder
1 tbs of dry mustard
1 tbs of whole fennel seeds
For the Fig BBQ sauce
1 small yellow onion diced
1 inch of fresh ginger cut up
8-10 fresh figs preferably very ripe cut up
1 fire roasted pepper diced
2 tbs of honey
2 tbs of brown sugar
2 tbs of chili powder
1 tbs of hot smoked paprika
1 tsp of cayenne pepper ( more or less to taste)
2 tbs of salt ( less or more to taste)
1 can of pure fire roasted tomatoes
½ cup of ketchup
2 tbs of soy sauce
2 tbs of balsamic vinegar

Prepare the brine by combining all the ingredients in a stock pot.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.  Let the brine cool fully.  Place the ribs in the brine, making sure they are fully covered and refrigerate for at least 24 hrs.
Discard the brine before cooking.  Cook the ribs using a smoker or a grill on BBQ setting ( very low hear 200F to 250F) for 3 hrs ( or when the meat is tender and begins to fall off the bone), using whatever smoking wood you like ( I used apple wood, because that was all I had).  You can even cook them in the oven if you wish but you will not get the smoked wood flavor.

While the ribs are cooking, prepare the BBQ sauce.  Heat a few tbs of olive oil in a pot and add the onion and the ginger.  Cook stirring for a few minutes. 

Then add all the spices and all remaining ingredients at once.  Bring to a boil and let simmer on very low heat for 30 minutes.  Transfer to a food processor and pulse until smooth.  Check the seasoning and add salt if needed.

In the final 20 minutes of cooking, brush the ribs on both sides with the BBQ sauce.  Transfer to a grill ( or if cooking on the grill already, increase the heat to medium).  Cook for 2 minutes, flipping often and brushing with more BBQ sauce after each flip, until the ribs are nicely charred.  Serve right away with more BBQ sauce on the side.

These are pure finger licking goodness!

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