Monday, January 17, 2011

What to Do with Cornmeal

My friend Sarah came to visit last month and brought us a bag of yellow stone-ground cornmeal. Aside from being wrapped in an adorable sack (I'm such a sucker for packaging), the cornmeal has been the star of quite a few meals in our house. I've already made two versions of cornmeal spoon bread, which is a soft, pudding-like corn bread that you, er, eat with a spoon. Both renditions were great, but if you are willing to break out of the corn bread/corn muffin box a little bit, I suggest you try...
Arepas! I made them tonight and they're fantastic! Corn fritters, with a bit of cheese mixed in, arepas are very easy and delicious. I got the recipe from Mark Bittman's awesome Best Recipes in the World, and in the intro Mark says you can serve them for breakfast with scrambled eggs, tomatoes, and onions, or as a side dish with butter. They're a natural accompaniment to Latin food, though I know some people who would probably eat them with almost anything.
Arepas have become a staple at street fairs in New York City, where they are the size of pancakes and made with mozzarella. I made mine small--about the size of a half-dollar (when's the last time you saw one of those, btw?)--and used goat cheese, since I had some on hand. You mix the cornmeal with some salt, grated (or in my case crumbled) cheese, a warm mixture of milk and butter, and some corn kernels, fresh or frozen. You form the dough into little patties, and then fry them in a bit of oil (I used grapeseed), a few minutes per side. Hot off the pan, they are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. I topped mine with some sauteed cherry tomatoes and ate them like canapes. Because, you know, I'm fancy like that.

1 c yellow cornmeal
1/2 t salt
1/2 c grated mild Cheddar, Monterey Jack, or mozzarella cheese
1 c milk
2 T butter, plus more for serving
1/2 c fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels
3 T corn, grapeseed, or other neutral oil

1. Put the cornmeal in a food processor or blender and grind until fine. Transfer to a large bowl and mix with the salt and cheese.
2. Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until it comes to a steady simmer. Add the butter and stir until melted. Remove from the heat and stir into the cornmeal mixture to form a thick batter. Fold in the corn kernels.
3. Let the batter rest until it thickens into a soft dough, about 15 minutes. Form 1" balls from the mixture and flatten with your palm to 1/4"-thick disks.
4. Heat the oil in a large skillet and cook the arepas, working in batches, until golden brown, about 5 minutes, then flip and cook for 3 minutes on the other side. Serve hot with butter.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Resolve to Make These Blondies

I know: you ate a lot of Christmas cookies. I know: you drank a lot of champagne. And I know: you're supposed to be eating healthy.
But you really should try these Toffee Brown Butter Blondies. They're just so good. I first tasted them at a bake-off (yes, I attend bake-offs occasionally) in 2009. I loved their nutty, almost savory-sweet flavor. So I tracked down the recipe (thanks, Martha) and made them for a barbecue last summer. I was a little nervous about making sure the butter was browned and had developed a nice hazelnut-y flavor, yet wasn't burnt--but I kept an eye on it, and it turned out just fine. I also cut them into diamond shapes (I learned how here), which somehow makes them seem more sophisticated than your average blondie (the camera angle here doesn't really do their shape justice). In addition to the nutty flavor of browned butter, these blondies are enhanced with bits of chopped walnuts and chopped toffee.
I made them again for a baby shower recently, and well, let's just say that I was very glad that cutting the blondies into diamond shapes results in a fair amount of "outtakes," i.e., odd-shaped pieces that you might not want to place on a dessert platter for guests, but that are just perfect for nibbling.
Make these blondies! Do it!