Archive for the ‘corn’Category

Local color lights up Toronto neighborhoods

Kensington Market street scene in Toronto
Toronto’s playful side is literally written on its walls. The city is full of murals created with a high degree of artistry and a witty sense of humor. The one above with the car-turned-planter in the foreground embodies the spirit of the Kensington Market neighborhood. Just west of Chinatown, most of its shops and eateries are found along Augusta Avenue and adjacent Nassau Street, Baldwin Street, and Kensington Avenue.

The eastern boundary stretches to Spadina Avenue in Chinatown, making a continuous colorful neighborhood of eateries and shops. Once the center of hippie culture in Canada, Kensington Market was where many young American men moved to avoid the military draft during the Vietnam war. The area retains its psychedelic patchouli vibe in the street art and even the graffiti.

burrito stand in Toronto Kensington Market The Kensington Market eateries also lean toward the inventive—be they Hungarian-Thai, Remixed Filipino, or Jamaican-Italian. The preponderance of small restaurants, however, have a Latin flair. NAFTA has opened the borders to Mexican immigrants, and they seem to arrive hungry for such Mexican street food standards as churros, tacos, and chorizo. The Latin presence makes Kensington Market a great area for a quick bite.

But one of the city’s best murals—and perhaps the best Mexican food—is at El Catrin Destilería (18 Tank House Lane, 416-203-2121, www.elcatrin.ca). We stopped for a meal after touring the Distillery District shopping, dining, and entertainment area with Will Ennis of Go Tours (www.gotourscanada.com).

Exploring whisky village


Main square of Distillery District in Toronto “This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city,” Will told us. Gooderham & Worts was founded as a grain processor in 1831 and expanded into making whisky in 1837. About half of the roughly 80,000 imperial gallons produced each year was exported, by the way. The rest stayed in the city of 10,000 residents. The story goes that workers’ wages were actually based on levels of drunkenness that ranged from “morning drunk” (or hung over) to “drunk as a pig.”

The brick distillery as it now stands was built in 1859. By 1862, it was producing a quarter of the distilled spirits in all of Canada. By the end of the 19th century, it was among the largest distilleries in the world. Prohibition in Ontario (1916-1927) put a crimp in the business. (The firm adjusted by canning denatured alcohol and antifreeze during World War I.) Whisky production ceased in 1990 and developers transformed the red brick industrial buildings into a shopping and nightlife district. It is crazy popular among wedding photographers, who love the atmospherics.

One good pour deserves another


Pouring sake at Ontario Spring Water Sake Two small establishments in the development carry on the tradition of making alcoholic beverages. Ontario Spring Water Sake Company (51 Gristmill Lane, 416-365-7253, www.ontariosake.com) brews sake in the “pure rice” style. The brewers use only cooked milled rice, water, yeast, and koji. (Koji is rice inoculated with the aspergillus oryzae mold, which imparts a distinct flavor.) You can watch the process through a large window. Better yet, for $10 you can enjoy a tasting flight of three styles.

In addition, Mill Street Brewpub (21 Tank House Lane, 416-681-0338, millstreetbrewery.com) opened in 2002. It was Canada’s first brewer of certified organic beer. The storefront brews small batch seasonal beers on site. The flagship beer is a Pilsener with a nice bit of hops. If it’s available when you visit, try the West Coast Style IPA. Made with 50 percent malted wheat and a nice dose of Cascade hops, it gives a less bitter impression than most IPAs. The nose has strong, pleasing mango notes. Mill Street also makes beer schnapps, a liqueur triple-distilled from beer and redolent of malt and hops. Mill Street is the only maker in Canada and the schnapps is only sold on site. “It lights a bit of a fire in your stomach,” a server told us as he poured small tastes.

A taste of Mexico


Mural in El Catrin in Toronto Distillery District
After that snort, we were ready for El Catrin Destileria (18 Tank House Lane, 416-203-2121, elcatrin.ca). This cavernous space with 22-foot ceilings opened in 2013. The tequilas and the food are authentically Mexican. Street artist Oscar Flores painted the two-story mural that dominates one wall. (The other consists of cubbyholes filled with tequilas.) Flores went wild with bright colors, decorative skulls, coyotes, sunflower, eagles, and armadillos.

Chef Olivier Le Calvez hails from Mexico City. His father is French, his mother Mexican. He spent his teens living in France and did his culinary studies there. As a result, he prepares Mexican food—even street food—with French technique.

Cuisine in the sun


Making guacamole at El Catrin During warm weather, diners and drinkers flock to the tables in the 5,000 square-foot outdoor patio at El Catrin. With a bright October sun shining, we did the same. A server brought all the ingredients for guacamole to the table and mashed it in a mortar as we watched. Several tortilla chip scoops later, we moved on to an excellent tortilla soup. Le Calvez’s version is rich with ripe tomatoes and pureed to make it as thick as a gazpacho. The tacos al pastor were delicious—filled with smoky pork, tiny blocks of sweet pineapple, and chopped red onion.

Esquítes at El Catrin We especially enjoyed the shot glasses full of roasted corn. Called esquítes, they are a table adaptation of Mexican street corn. Le Calvez roasts the corn whole in the husks over charcoal. It steams the kernels and imparts a smoky flavor. Then he cuts the kernels off the cob and sautées them with a little butter and chopped epazote. He mixes in a little chipotle mayonnaise, some crumbled cortijo cheese, and a squeeze of lime.

distillery-chef Le Calvez sees himself as something of an ambassador, introducing authentic Mexican food to Canadians. He makes recipes “that I enjoyed when I was young,” he says. As with the esquítes, he often brings street food to the table. He hopes Torontonians will adopt the Mexican attitude about a meal. “We love to sit down at the table and enjoy the food,” says Le Calvez. “That’s very important to us in Mexico. A meal lasts up to two hours.”

27

10 2016

Lexington chefs show true grits

Mac Weisenberger with millstone
The fried oysters with cheese-sausage grits at Nick Ryan’s (157 Jefferson St., Lexington; 859-233-7900; nickryans.com) were real eye-openers, since both the batter on the bivalves and the grits had striking corn flavor. Then we tried the shrimp and grits at Coles (735 Main St., Lexington, 859-266-9000; coles735main.com), and had the same epiphany. There was really something special about the grits these Lexington, Kentucky chefs were using.

grits at Nick Ryan's and at Coles in Lexington

Few restaurants have the luxury of using freshly ground, locally grown grains with the germ intact, which gives a much more profound flavor than nationally distributed products where the germ is removed to make them more shelf-stable. The difference is comparable to fresh sweet corn as opposed to corn picked a week earlier and shipped across the country. We were so intrigued that we decided to go to the source.

Weisenberger Mill (2545 Weisenberger Mill Rd., Midway; 859-254-5282; weisenberger.com) is just a little over 11 miles northwest of downtown Lexington. We admit to taking our time to get there, as there was too much handsome horse country to ogle along the way on Route 421. But when we turned a corner and began twisting downhill to South Elkhorn Creek, we could hear the falls even before we spotted the mill.

Weisenberger Mill on SOuth Elkhorn Creek in Midway, Kentucky The Weisenberger family has been grinding corn since 1865, has been at this location since 1870, and built the current mill in 1913. It’s a towering presence beside the mill dam—a big limestone building standing three stories above the creek bank and another extending below the bank to house part of the mill machinery. Safety concerns prohibit mill tours, but the 1913 equipment is still grinding away. Some of the grains go through roller mills, but the cornmeal, grits, and whole wheat are all milled on stones, not unlike the one that Mac Weisenberger is posing with above.

Mac’s son Philip is titular head of the business now—the sixth generation of the family—but Mac is in no hurry to escape his daily grind. “I’ve been here every day since 1973,” he admits, “and off and on since I was a kid.” Mac is proud that Weisenberger Mill buys all its grains from a 100-mile radius. “We put the county where it was grown and the name of the farm on every package,” he says.

Grits are the biggest seller for Weisenberger, with white grits outselling yellow three to one. Mac likes his prepared very simply, just boiled with salt and water and topped with a knob of sweet creamery butter. Cornmeal is another popular item, again with white leading yellow. “When I was a kid,” Mac says, “no one even ate yellow corn.” He notes, however, that white corn is not as white as it used to be either, so cornbread “has a kind of yellow tinge.”

Weisenberger mixes small Restaurants and other institutions represent the biggest part of the business for Weisenberger Mill, but the products are available in Central Kentucky at Kroger’s grocery stores and at many small independent grocers as well as on a rack in the mill’s office. In addition to cornmeal and whole wheat flour in larger sacks, Weisenberger also makes a number of packaged mixes, including fish batter, hushpuppy, spoonbread, pancake, and biscuit blends. All the products can be ordered through the web site www.weisenberger.com. We can especially endorse the white grits, which we used to make grits with black truffles and poached egg.

09

08 2015

Grits with black truffle and poached eggs

grits with black truffle and poached egg
As Pat and I developed ways to use black truffles, we generally opted for the simplest and most straightforward combinations. Keeping in mind that truffles pair well with corn—and that northern Italians sometimes eat truffles on polenta—we decided to try truffles with some of the best grits we’ve been able to lay hands on. We’ll be writing shortly about our food and drink visit to central Kentucky, where we had the good fortune to drive from Lexington out to Midway to visit Weisenberger Mill. This is a truly old-fashioned mill that has been stone-grinding grain for six generations, starting in 1865. Living in Yankeeville, we have a hard time finding good white grits, but now know we can order them online from Weisenberger at www.weisenberger.com. Their grits are ground from locally grown non-GMO corn. They even put the name of the farm on the package. Ours came from the Rogers Farm in Hardin County, Kentucky.

For this truffle dish, we made the grits according to the directions on the package. It really doesn’t get any easier than that. The eggs that we poached had been stored in a sealed container with a truffle for about three days to pick up the truffle aroma. Along with being simple, it looks great on the table with sunflowers from the garden. Don’t forget to order your Australian black truffles from The Truffle and Wine Company’s USA office at truffleandwineusa.com/.

BLACK TRUFFLE GRITS

Grits

Serves 2

2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup grits
salt and butter to taste
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 eggs
10 grams black truffle

In a medium saucepan, bring water to boil and add salt. Stir water to create a swirling motion and pout in grits. Bring to boil while continuing to stir. Reduce heat and cover. Cook 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, heat 2 inches of water in a large, deep frying pan. (A cast iron chicken cooker is perfect.) Bring to boil, reduce heat, and cover until grits are done. When grits are ready, season to taste with additional salt and butter.

Add 1 teaspoon salt and vinegar to water in deep frying pan. Break each egg into a shallow bowl and lower into simmering water. Let cook about 3 minutes, or until whites are largely set and yolk is still runny.

Spoon grits into two serving bowls. Using a slotted spoon, lift each poached egg onto grits. Shave truffle over top and break the yolks to flow over grits.

30

07 2015

Corn ravioli with Australian black truffles

Corn and truffle ravioli
I received a shipment of truffles from the Truffle and Wine Company (truffleandwineusa.com) early this month. The truffles are spectacular, but it’s not like I can tuck them away to use weeks from now. They have to be eaten quickly, which means developing a bunch of ways to use them with summer produce. For the last 10 days, Pat and I have been cooking with black truffles, repeating some favorite dishes and trying to create some new ones. We’ll be posting new recipes in quick succession in case you want to order some truffles yourself before the season ends next month.

When I was working on the Robb Report story, I spoke to a number of American chefs who exulted in using the Australian black truffles with summer dishes, but few were as passionate as Craig Strong of Studio at Montage Laguna Beach, who says that the combination of sweet corn and black truffle “just explodes in your mouth.” Then he told me about the corn agnolotti he served last summer….

I knew I couldn’t possibly replicate the dish that Strong had made at Studio, but it wasn’t too much of a stretch to follow his principles to create a home version. In this case, I stuffed the ravioli with a mix of lightly sauteed onion and fresh corn kernels, cooled and mixed with a soft but tangy goat cheese and shaved black truffle. The sauce, following Strong’s concept, was a corn foam, which is easier than it sounds. In the picture, it’s topped with a sprig of basil. For a good overview of making ravioli with a power mixer and a ravioli tray, see Julie Deily’s demo on YouTube. The rolling process is exactly the same with a hand-cranked pasta machine, which I prefer for the additional control.

CORN RAVIOLI WITH BLACK TRUFFLES AND CORN FOAM


For pasta

190 grams flour (about 1 1/3 cups)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 large eggs, room temperature

For filling and sauce

6 ears corn
1 yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon butter
2/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
black truffle (20 grams)

Make pasta by placing flour in a mound on the counter, and making a well in the center. Add salt and olive oil to the well, then break eggs into the well. Using a fork, mix liquids into the flour, gathering up stray bits before they get away. Knead on counter until earlobe texture, divide into thirds, and roll through pasta machine until thin enough to drape over a ravioli form. Dust lightly with flour and reserve.

Cut kernels off the cobs. Reserve one cup and add the remainder to heavy duty frying pan with onion and butter. Cook on low heat until onion is translucent and corn is tender.

Place reserved kernels in saucepan with milk and bring to a simmer. Meantime, scrape the corn cobs to “milk” them and add this essence of corn to the simmering kernels. When corn is tender, remove to blender and puree. Dissolve the cornstarch in a little water and add to the puree. Blend briefly to mix thoroughly.

Grate truffle with microplane grater and add to corn and cheese mixture. Fill ravioli forms and drape another sheet over the top. Roll with rolling pin to release a dozen square ravioli. Repeat to make three dozen ravioli in all. (Save any leftover filling for an omelet.)

Bring large pot of water to boil. Add generous amount of salt and hold at vigorous simmer while preparing the corn foam.

To make foam, strain the corn-milk-cornstarch mixture to remove excess fiber and bring to a simmer in a small, deep saucepan, stirring constantly so it doesn’t stick. When the mixture has thickened, beat vigorously with an immersion blender, a whisk, or (my favorite) an old-fashioned egg beater. (The egg beater whips the most air into the mixture, creating a stable foam.)

Turn up the hot water to a vigorous boil and cook ravioli about three minutes after they float to the top.

Remove from water, drain quickly, and serve with hot corn foam.

17

07 2015

What to eat at the airport: Chicago O’Hare

Tortas Frontera at Terminal 3 in ORD
Maybe it’s the feel-good endorphins released when we eat chile peppers, or perhaps it’s just the simple combinations of strong flavors, but when we’re truly stuck at the airport, nothing soothes our frazzled nerves better than good Mexican food. When American canceled our flight from Dallas to Albuquerque, we had time to discover the healing power of the chicken and green chile tamales at Pappasito’s Cantina at DFW. (See this post for details.)

Yesterday, when American summarily canceled our flight from Chicago O’Hare to Lexington, Kentucky, we headed directly to Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless. We’ve been fans of his food for years, and find that the recipes in his cookbooks are among some of the best for reproducing authentic Mexican dishes at home. It’s nice to find a friendly face, so to speak, at the airport.

Tortas Frontera, as you might expect from the name, is basically a sandwich joint. But what sandwiches! We settled in at the food court with a spicy albondigas torta (a meatball sandwich), a smoked pork mollette (an open-faced sandwich), and a bowl of creamy corn and poblano chowder that was practically the definition of comfort food.

And we knew what we were getting, as Bayless lists the ingredients and often the local farms where he gets them. The food may be Mexican by culture, but it is, as his souvenir shirts say, “Hecho en Chicago.” The meatballs incorporated pork and bacon from Gunthorp Farm in nearby LaGrange, Indiana, and they were served with Bayless’s classic roasted tomato sauce and a little melted soft Cotija cheese. The mollette was a harmonious stack of sliced pork loin, melted Jack cheese, chipotle-fig spread, Cotija cheese and a little cilantro on half a bun. And that sublime chowder contained sweet corn, roasted green chiles, caramelized onion, and Cotija cheese. When we get home, we’re going to check his cookbooks for the recipes.

We can recommend them all, with the caveat that when American is canceling flights willy-nilly, the lines get long and the service a little slow. But we could wait. We weren’t going anywhere for 24 hours.

Branches of the restaurant are located in Terminal 1 at B11, Terminal 3 at K4, and Terminal 5 at M12.

23

06 2015

Sweet corn tamales with black truffle

Australian truffle
During last July’s research trip to Australia, I babied a single prize black truffle all the way home. I kept it cool inside a rigid plastic box wrapped with absorbent paper that I changed every 12 hours so it wouldn’t get too moist. When asked at Border Control if I had any fresh food, I said, “yes, a black truffle.” The agent said, “OK,” and waved me through.

shaving a truffle The real question was what to make with this spectacular faceted lump (see above) that was an 80-gram culinary gem? How could I stretch it as far as possible without skimping on the flavor in each dish? After an indulgent meal of black truffle sliced over buttered pasta (see last post), I decided to set aside the truffle shaver in favor of a microplane grater that could produce gossamer ribbons of truffle. As I learned in Australia, maximizing the surface area pumps up the flavor.

Many top North American chefs rave about truffles with sweet fresh corn—one of our first tastes of summer at the market. But I had never seen truffles with sweet corn tamales. It seemed logical enough. After all, the Mexicans have been eating tamales filled with huitlacoche (an inky corn fungus) for centuries. As it turns out, truffle and corn tamales are a match made in culinary heaven.

This version is adapted from Mark Miller’s original “green corn tamales” that he used to serve at Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe. I’ve changed the dough a little and filled the tamales with soft goat cheese blended with black truffle. We serve them without a sauce, but with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche on the side.

Sweet corn tamales with truffle

SWEET CORN TAMALES WITH BLACK TRUFFLE


With apologies to Mark Miller and millions of Mexican chefs, I abandon the colorful corn husks or banana leaves for more practical aluminum foil to wrap the tamales for steaming.

For dough

3 large ears fresh corn, shucked
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup butter (one half stick) cut into pea-sized pieces
2 cups masa harina
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup warm water

Cut kernels from cobs and transfer to a large bowl. Blend 1-1/2 cups of the kernels, the sugar, and the butter until it forms a chunky purée. Return to bowl with remaining kernels and add masa harina, salt, baking powder, chopped parsley, and water. Mix by hand until a soft dough forms, adding a little extra water if the dough is crumbly.

For filling
190 grams soft goat cheese
10 grams of finely shaved truffle ribbons

Mix truffle ribbons into cheese.

Divide dough into eight equal pieces. Flatten each and put one-eighth of cheese in middle. Fold over from two sides to seal. Wrap in aluminum foil and seal tightly. Repeat until you have eight tamales.

Steam for 50 minutes. Unwrap and serve with crème fraiche or sour cream.