Fresh Corn Soup

This is a really easy way to take advantage of the fresh corn that's coming into season right about now. I used shallots instead of onions, and of course this was another great excuse to use my immersion blender. It's better to use yellow corn for this recipe -- some reviewers noted that using white corn caused the soup to turn out an unappetizing gray color. Either way, this soup came out creamy and was just heavy enough to be satisfying. I love summer!

Fresh Corn Soup
Bon Appetit

1 tsp corn oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 small fresh poblano chili or anaheim chili, chopped
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin

6 ears corn
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
cilantro, chopped

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, chili, garlic and cumin and sauté until onion and chili are tender, about 10 minutes.

Cut corn kernels from cobs. Add corn to pot. Stir in chicken broth. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until corn is very tender, about 45 minutes or less Transfer to processor and purée. Add enough milk to thin to desired consistency. Return to pot; stir to heat through (do not boil). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls; garnish with cilantro and serve.

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Strawberry Jam Two Ways

Have you ever heard of Weck? They originated in Germany, and make the proshest canning jars. The sealing mechanism is a little different from the Ball jars that you usually see; The lid and jar are made of glass, and there is a non-reusable rubber ring that fits between the two. You fill the jar up as usual, and use a pair of clamps to hold the lid onto the jar while the cans are processed. The jars must cool completely, and then you can remove the clamps. If a vacuum formed, you should be able to pick up the jar by the lid alone. The tongue of the rubber gasket should point down a little, too. To remove the lid, you just pull on the tongue. You should hear a little psssst sound as the vacuum is broken. More detailed instructions are available on their website, along with order information.

We took advantage of the break in the heat wave last weekend and went strawberry picking. It was a perfect day for picking - overcast and the temperature was just right!

This year, we held back and only picked 10 lbs! It made about 12 8oz jars of jam. I decided to tweak last year's recipe; this time, I made two batches. I substituted a combination of 1 tbsp lemon juice/2 tbsp balsalmic vinegar for the straight lemon juice of the original.

I added 6 mint leaves and 10 grinds of black pepper to the second batch near the end of the cooking time, removing the mint leaves before I ladled the jam into the jars (inspired by Chocolate & Zucchini's recipe).

The balsalmic strawberry jam added a deeper flavor to the jam. The mint and pepper can only just be tasted, and lend a fresh and midly spicy taste to the jam. It's really very good - don't let the mint scare you away!

Strawberry Jam

3 lb. ripe strawberries (4 1/2 pints), rinsed and hulled
3 cups sugar (you can use a little less if the fruit is very ripe)
Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Special equipment: eight or nine 8-oz canning jars with lids, funnel, clamp or tongs

To wash the berries, gently scoop them into a sink filled with water. Swish them around a little, and let them sit for a while. The dirt should fall to the bottom of the sink.

Hull and quarter the berries. Put them in a deep pot made of non-reactive material (stainless steel works well). Make sure that there is enough room in your pot! If there is less than 5" between your berries and the top of your pot, you might have a rather anxious time of it. When the jam boils, lots of air bubbles are trapped in the dense liquid, which will begin to rise very quickly.Pour on the sugar and lemon juice, and mix well with a wooden spoon. Cover the pot and let the berries macerate for about two hours. If you like your jam smoother, you can mash them with a potato masher instead.

While the berries macerate, wash your jars and set them in the oven. They should be in there for at least half an hour. Wash the lids and rings, and set the rings aside. Put the lids in a pot of boiling water to sterilize them, and to make the rubber around the edges a little more pliable.

Bring the pot of strawberries to a full boil (you need to boil off the liquid to achieve a jammy consistency). Make sure to stir often (with your wooden spoon) and skim off any foam from the surface. The foam will make your jam cloudy if it's left in the pot, although you can eat it separately.

After half an hour of boiling, your jam should be just about ready. Don't boil the jam for more than 40 minutes, however, otherwise the pectin in the fruit will break down and the jam will turn dark.You can test the consistency of the jam by chilling a plate in your freezer. Spoon a little bit of jam onto the plate, and check the thickness of the jam once it has cooled.

Take a jar out of the oven and ladle the jam in until within 1/4" of the rim. Wipe any jam off the rim with a damp towel, and use tongs to take a lid out of your pot of boiling water and put it on the jar. Quickly screw a ring over the lid (it has to be tight enough to hold the lid onto the jar). Repeat this process until you fill up all of your jars.

Put the jars into a deep pot filled with boiling water; make sure the water reaches above the rim of the jar lids. Cover, and let the jars boil for ten minutes. Remove the jars with tongs and let them cool on the counter. The lids should begin to pop within minutes. If you have any lids that didn't seal, throw them out or eat immediately.

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Avocado and Watercress Salad

I've been on a bit of a health kick recently. Been going to the gym every day, taking spinning classes twice a week and I've been trying to eat healthier, too. This salad just oozes healthfulness, and makes for a pretty amazing light lunch when eaten with a couple slices of toasted six grain bread.

It's all in the dressing; the onion and apple give it the hint of sweetness, and also add a little texture. The soy sauce and rice vinegar base really contrast well with the spiciness of the watercress and the creaminess of the avocado -- it almost tastes like the wasabi/soy combo you get with sushi. The crisp/creamy contrast of the watercress and avocado isn't bad either.

Instead of going to the bother of grating the apple and onion, I just tossed everything into a tall glass and used my immersion blender.

Avocado and Watercress Salad
Gourmet, May 2008

1/4 cup rice vinegar (not seasoned, although seasoned won't kill this recipe)
1 tbsp grated sweet onion (use large holes of a grater)
1/4 cup finely grated peeled Gala apple (use small holes of a grater)
4 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp vegetable oil
6 cups watercress (thin stems and leaves only)
1 firm-ripe avocado

Stir together vinegar, onion, apple, soy sauce and sugar until the sugar has dissolved, then stir in oil.

Just before serving, toss watercress with enough dressing to coat. Quarter, pit, and peel avocado, then cut crosswise into 1/4" slices. Gently toss with watercress.

Makes 6 servings.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Rhubarb season is drawing to a close, and strawberry season is beginning to warm up in Ohio. There is only one thing to do in such a situation -- and that is to make a kick-ass pie. I toyed with the idea of buying a ready made crust, but decided to tackle home-made pie crust once more (my previous attempts were all dismal failures). This recipe from Bon Appetit came highly recommended (4 forks, 129 reviews) on epicurious.

Well, I think I finally cracked the pie crust. The key was to make sure all the fats were COLD, and to add water until a workable dough formed. My pie dish flares out at the top, and the base of my pie crust wasnt quite large enough to wrap over the latticing, so I had to improvise.

All in all, it was a good recipe -- very easy to do (for a pie!), although my filling was a little tart. Many of the reviewers noted that the baking time (a total of 1 hr 45 min) was far too long, and a little over an hour was just fine for the pie. If you're going to bake for the whole time, you might need to protect the crust by covering it with foil for part of the baking time.

Lattice-Topped Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

Bon Appetit, April 1997

For Crust:

3 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 tsps sugar
2/3 tsp salt
2/3 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsps chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
10 tbsps ice water

For Filling:

3 1/2 cups 1/2" thick slices trimmed rhubarb (1 1/2 lbs untrimmed)
1 16 oz container strawberries, hulled and halved
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

1 large egg yolk beaten to blend with 1 tsp water for glaze

Make crust:

Combine flour, sugar and salt in processor. Using on/off turns, cut in shortening and butter until coarse meal forms. Blend in enough ice water 2 tbsp at a time to form moist clumps. Gather dough into ball; cut in half. Flatten each half into disk. Wrap separately in plastic; refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled. Let dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling.)

Make filling:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine first 7 ingredients in large bowl. Toss gently to blend.

Roll out 1 dough disk on floured work surface to 13" round. Transfer to 9" diameter glass pie dish. Trim excess dough, leaving 3/4" overhang.

Roll out second dough disk on lightly floured surface to 13" round. Cut into 14 1/2" wide strips. Spoon filling into crust. Arrange 7 dough strips atop filling, spacing evely. Form lattic by placing remaining dough strips in opposite direction atop filling. Trim ends of dough strips even with overhand of bottom crust. Fold strip end and overhang under, pressing to seal. Crimp edges decoratively.

Brush glaze over crust. Transfer pie to baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Bake pie until golden and filling thickens, about 1 hour 25 mintues. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely.

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