Friday, July 31, 2009

Tuesday, July 28th

I know that I'm a few days late on posting this Frugal Foodies review, but as I was blessed with a fair amount of left-overs from Tuesday night, the recipes are still fresh in my mind. Please note that I'll be using the rating system described in the previous post, and all the recipes will be included at the bottom of the entry.

This Tuesday was our Special Guest Ingredient Night and we featured corn in all of the dishes. And while the corn was really fresh and wonderfully yummy, I must say that it's a tough night for recipes to shine because all of them are up against the same fresh and yummy corn, and it's rarely as diverse of a menu as on other nights. I do think that we had some really tasty dishes, but I wonder if I would have appreciated them even more had they be sprinkled in on other nights. With that caveat, here are my thoughts:

Corn, Ginger, and Kaffir Lime Soup--this was one of my favorite dishes, which surprised me a bit since we had cooked this soup a few years earlier. I loved the texture and the flavors, especially from the kaffir lime leaves and the lemongrass. I think that the base of this soup would be fabulous alone or with tofu as a main course, but the addition of the corn was simply delectable. I think that this soup would bring a smile to most faces and I give it a score of 7 bucks.

Roasted Corn Salad--this is a relatively easy, fresh-tasting salad that I think would make a good side for summer parties. This might have been one of the dishes that suffered a bit from there being too much corn in one place (we went through 34 ears of corn for a group of 11 people), and I'll be excited to see the comments from anyone who cooks this or any of the people in attendance. In any case, I thought that it was fine, but lacking in some way, and I give it a score of 4 bucks.

Corn and Zucchini Timbale with Roasted Tomato Basil Sauce--when we last cooked from the Green's Cookbook, I must say that I loved every single dish that we made, which is a real rarity for me. For people who've not cooked from this cookbook, none of the recipes are easy, and in fact most have at least two significant steps to them. These recipes are thus not for the lazy, but if you've got some time, I don't think you'll be disappointed. So we pulled out this timbale recipe for an encore as a main dish, and it didn't disappoint. The timbale is kind of like a quiche or frittata (what's really the difference, anyways?), but not at all eggy. Even after being well-baked, the corn tasted super sweet and had a nice crunch to it. It was a solid dish, but what really made it was the tomato basil sauce which was delicious, and which I'd recommend as a sauce for just about anything. Broken into pieces, I give the timbale 5 bucks and the tomato basil sauce 7 bucks, thus the overall dish scores 6 bucks.

Rich Mexican Corn--this was the last dish added to the menu and was my least favorite dish. It wasn't bad, but there was nothing to set it apart, besides the large quantities of cheese, of the cream cheese variety. I think that it's very likely that this dish could be resuscitated with some Romano or Fontina cheeses, or maybe as a four cheese format. But then you're looking at a queso fundido/fondue featuring corn, which would be an altogether different dish. As constructed, this dish reminded me of the type of dish that a uninspired caterer would make for a big party, and that people would like a little bit, but not so much that they'd eat it all up. And for that, I give it a score of 3 bucks.

Flan de Elote--this is also an encore performance of a dish from earlier this summer, and it is outstanding. I need to start by saying that I really dislike flan. I generally don't like the flavor, I don't like the texture, I don't like what it's probably doing to my body. So when Patty, my sister-in-law proposed this before her guest chef night, I was very skeptical. But the way that this flan is made, and the addition of the fresh corn simply transforms this flan into something absolutely delicious. And maybe that's it...that the corn changes all three of the things that I never liked about flan. And don't worry--I don't think that you have to dislike most flan to love this one. Nope, this is a dessert that just about anyone could love...and should. I give it a score of 7 bucks.

Overall--so when it's all said and done, this meal added up to a total score of 27 bucks, and all for $8. Not bad, not bad at all.

Corn, Ginger, and Kaffir Lime Soup

Adapted from The Millennium Cookbook by Eric Tucker, John Westerdahl, and Sascha Weiss

2 white or yellow onions, sliced
1 carrot, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
8 C vegetable stock
4 C corn kernels
2 stalks fresh lemongrass, chopped and tied in cheesecloth
3 T minced fresh ginger
1/3 C light miso
4 kaffir lime leaves, julienned
¼ C lime juice
1/3 t ground pepper
Sea salt to taste
1 lime, cut into very thin slices
Stemmed cilantro
Coconut milk (optional)

1. In a soup pot, combine the onions, carrot, celery, and ½ C stock. Cook over high heat until the liquid evaporates. Add the remaining stock, corn, and lemongrass. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
2. Remove the lemongrass, add the ginger, and whisk in the miso. Puree half the soup and combine with remaining soup.
3. Add the kaffir lime leaves and the lime juice. Add the salt and pepper.
4. Serve with lime slices and cilantro, as well as with optional coconut milk swirled in bowls.

Serves 6

Roasted Corn Salad

2-3 ears corn (use different colors if possible!), shucked
½ red pepper, chopped
½ orange pepper, chopped
1 jalapeño, chopped
2 scallions, chopped
2 limes, juiced
Small bunch of cilantro, chopped
6 sage leaves, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
Black pepper

1. Carefully cut the corn off the cob.
2. Place corn and peppers in a roasting pan alone. Add salt and olive oil and mix well. Roast at 425 degrees for 30 minutes or until it starts to caramelize. Stir once in the middle of roasting.
3. Remove from oven and add juice, scallions, cilantro to the roasted corn and mix well.
4. Season with black pepper and if needed, salt.

Serves 4

Corn and Zucchini Timbale with Roasted Tomato Basil Sauce

Adapted from The Greens Cook Book

Timbale Ingredients
4 to 5 medium zucchini (1 lb)
2 T butter
4 T yellow onion, diced into 1/4 inch squares
2 C fresh yellow corn kernels (about 4 ears)
4 T parsley, freshly chopped
3 T cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 C white wine
5 eggs
2/3 C heavy cream, warmed
1 C (3 oz) sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 t cayenne pepper
Tabasco sauce to taste (optional)
¾ C bread crumbs
Roasted Tomato Sauce (see below)

Timbale Instructions
1. Grate zucchini, toss it with salt, and let it sit for half an hour. Squeeze out with hands and drain.
2. Melt the butter, add the onion, followed a minute later with the corn, parsley, and cilantro. Stir and cook over medium heat for a minute, then add the zucchini and wine, lower the heat, and cook covered for about three minutes.
3. Remove the lid and cook off any of the remaining liquid. Taste and season with salt if needed.
4. Beat the eggs, whisk in the cream, then add the vegetables and cheese. Season with cayenne and Tabasco to taste.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter either 1 C ramekins or a large mold, and coat them with bread crumbs. Mix any extra crumbs into the custard and distribute evenly into either the ramekins or the large mold.
6. If using ramekins, set in a deep pan and add enough hot water to come half way up their sides. Bake until the tops puff up and are browned, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes before unmolding them.
7. Prepare the Roasted Tomato Sauce while the custard is baking.
8. Serve the timbale top-side up with the sauce on top or on the side.

Sauce Ingredients
6-8 medium tomatoes, about 1.5-2 lbs
2 T olive oil
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
Salt and sugar to taste
2 cloves garlic, pounded into a paste with 1/4 t sea salt
1 C loosely packed basil leaves
Pepper to taste
Balsamic vinegar to taste

Sauce Instructions
1. Wash the tomatoes and broil them whole in a baking dish until the skins are blistered and lightly charred.
2. Roughly puree the tomatoes, leaving a little texture.
3. Heat the oil, and sauté the onion until it is soft and translucent. Add the tomato puree and cook over medium heat until the excess water has evaporated. Taste and season.
4. Remove from heat and puree 1/2 C of the sauce with the basil and garlic until smooth.
5. Combine basil mixture with tomato sauce and season with balsamic and pepper.

Serves 4-6

Rich Mexican Corn

8 oz. cream cheese
½ cup butter
½ cup milk
16 oz. frozen corn
1 red bell pepper, diced
8 fresh jalapeño peppers, diced

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the cream cheese and butter, and mix with the milk until smooth and bubbly.
3. In a medium casserole dish, mix the frozen corn, red bell pepper, and jalapeño peppers. Pour in the cream cheese mixture, and toss to coat.
4. Bake 35 to 45 minutes in the preheated oven, until bubbly and lightly brown.
5. Serve with tortillas or chips.

Serves 8

Flan de Elote

From the June, 2009 Guest Chef night of Patricia Santos

3 ears corn
1 can sweetened, condensed milk
1 C milk
4 eggs
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 t vanilla
½ lb butter, melted
2 t baking powder
½ C sugar

1. Pre-heat oven to 375.
2. Husk corn and cut off kernels.
3. Blend the corn and milk together with a blender. Then place in a large mixing bowl and add all the remaining ingredients except the sugar. Mix well until everything is uniform in consistency.
4. Grease a baking dish with butter.
5. In a small saucepan, add sugar and place on low heat until sugar is caramelized. Immediately after it has caramelized, pour into lined baking pan. Add mixture to pan and bake for 45 minutes or until ready.

Serves 8-10

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Note About the Rating System

As some of you may know, Frugal Foodies costs $8 per participant, at least at the time of this writing. So instead of using stars or forks or some other proprietary thing like "froogs" as the rating metric, why not use a range of 0-8 bucks? I'd love it if no dish at any restaurant cost more than $8, so I'm going to refer to something really fabulous as an 8 buck dish. And since we serve 4-6 dishes at every Frugal Foodies, this will give us a sense of accountability, just to be sure that everyone's getting their money's worth. And my hope is that at every Frugal Foodies, attendees are getting at least $25 worth of food, and I think that's generally the case. So the new metric will be as follows:

0 bucks = a very bad dish, verging on vomitocious. Memorable for being so bad!
1 buck = boring, forgettable, and really shouldn't have been made in the first place
2 bucks = someone might like this, but I certainly don't
3 bucks = a dish that is somewhat disappointing--either poorly prepared or not quite what it could be. Something's missing
4 bucks = a truly average dish, and is only saved by better dishes being around it. Otherwise, totally forgettable
5 bucks = it's starting to get good. Still missing something (to be great) or a very nice complimentary dish
6 bucks = this is a very solid dish with good flavor. Garners some compliments wherever it goes!
7 bucks = you can't ask for much more than this. An excellent dish that truly excites the senses
8 bucks = the absolute best! Everyone loves it. Would be featured at fine restaurants. Truly unforgettable!

So that's that. Now for the review of some recipes...

A Long Time in Coming

I've been meaning to do a blog for Frugal Foodies for a long, long time. Fact is that blogging has scared me, and it wasn't until six months ago that I jumped into the blogging fray with the better-than-expected travel blog, And now it's time to start publishing something about the mostly tasty treats that are cooked in my home just about every Tuesday night.

For those of you who don't know about it, I run a quirky community cooking group on Tuesday nights called Frugal Foodies. Each week, 10-20 people come together to meet, eat, and be frugal, hence the url for this blog. While people come to Frugal Foodies for many reasons--and there are certainly lots of stories that could be told about the characters who walk through this door--this blog will be much more about the food itself, perhaps some notes about the making of said food, and then of course some of the recipes.

I started my travel blog not so much to share stories with readers but to help me remember the stories. Likewise, the motivation for starting this blog was to help me remember which dishes I really liked and those that I liked less. We've made close to 800 dishes at Frugal Foodies over the four plus years that this has been going on, and a lot of the recipes have started to blur for me. So this will be my tool for remembering which dishes I love and which I could do without, and at the same time a way for all of you who say "could you send me the recipes" from such and such a night to easily find them. Or at least that's my hope.