Friday, June 22, 2012

Creamy Corn & Tomato Salad

One of the true delights of summer is the appearance of fresh corn at the farmers market. I can make a meal of hot-from-the-pot-corn-on-the-cob with a knob of butter and some salt and pepper. Seriously. More corn than one should probably consume at one sitting. It's just that good, isn't it?

In second place, though, is skillet fried corn. Mmmmm ... diced onion, red pepper and corn cut fresh from the cob, sauteed in a cast iron skillet with a little butter and/or olive oil until it is juuuust crispy-crunchy brown. Oh yeah, I could eat the entire skillet full. And maybe I have, once or twice.

And until I had this salad, I would have said those were the only best ways to eat fresh corn. But I would have spoken too soon.

Several years ago, we attended a very lovely wedding reception held under a big tent and an even grander starry sky. That's where I tasted corn salad. There is not one other thing on the menu I remember, so enchanted was I by this corn salad. I remember thinking, at first, it was a peculiar dish to serve at a wedding reception. But then, with the next bite and the next, I decided it was a truly inspired decision. I was smitten, to say the least, with yet a third to-die-for corn dish.

For years I have searched for the recipe to duplicate the dish I enjoyed so much that night. I never quite hit on it -- until this one, inspired by that memory and a fistful of close-but-no-cigar recipes. It needed to have sweet bits of red tomato, cool white cucumber, spring green onions and cheese mixed stirred into sunny yellow corn -- and a creamy dressing.

So this is it -- or as close to it as I have come so far. And because this corn salad was a hit at the Father's Day Cookout last week, I've finally decided to blog-i-fy it here today.

Don't even think I'm finished fiddling with it though. It is very good and it is very close to the taste I remember, but it doesn't quite have the familiar feel of a warm Mississippi night or the canopy of stars above me when I tasted it ... not quite yet.

If you are familiar with anything similar to this corn salad, please, please comment and share. Or, if you have some notion of how to make it creamier, without losing the other flavors, do tell.

Because I want it to be just. that. perfect. again.

Of course I do.

24 ounces fresh corn, cut from the cob (or frozen corn)
1 ½ cups shredded mild or sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup peeled and diced English cucumber
1 cup sliced green onion
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, diced
¾ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
1 ½ tablespoons cider or white vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt, to taste (for table salt, use less)

Cut fresh corn from the cob; cook in boiling water, drain and cool. (If using frozen corn, follow package directions for cooking.) Blot cooked corn with paper towel to remove excess moisture. In a large bowl, combine corn, cheddar cheese, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, and toss to blend. In a small bowl, mix mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar and sugar with a wire whisk until well blended. Pour mayonnaise mixture over vegetables and stir until evenly coated. Taste and add salt, if needed. Cover and refrigerate until serving – a few hours, or overnight.

Monday, June 18, 2012

April Has Run Away With May and June Is Back Again

My Favorite Husband liked this card so much he had it framed
Where do I go when I'm not here sharing cooking and crafting stuff?

Good question ...

Here is the truth. Many days I am still here but ... my energy level is not ... my creative process is unreliable ... my ability to organize is non-existent ... my follow-through is hit-and-miss ... and I'm not good for much of anything.

It comes and goes though, and thanks to some serious short term meds I've been taking for a springtime allergy-induced upper respiratory infection, I've had the most welcome side-effect of feeling good  ... thinking more clearly ... working more efficiently ... and ... whatever else I could squeeze into a few serendipitous fatigue and pain free days. The cloud with the silver lining. Well, except I still have the coughing and wheezing of a lifelong smoker - which I am NOT! I expect the mild winter and the resulting early blooming season have taken a heavy toll on spring allergy sufferers.

Still, it is so nice to be able to pull it all together again ... even for a few days ... and a very pleasant reminder of how good it feels to feel good ... and how nice it is to be able to get a lot done for a change.

Enough about that though.

Sometimes when I'm away from here, it's because I am ... actually away on a trip -- like in Atlanta, having a long anticipated visit with our friends, Dixie and her husband, Jack. I fell completely in love with their "rustic, woodsy, campy" lake house! The gardens and setting are beautiful and Dixie tells me she has worked on the gardens even more since we were there. And the inside is filled with so many beautiful things, including this charming miniature saddle Dixie's grandfather made long ago from parts of a hand-tooled leather handbag -- so authentically detailed and well done! It was inspiring to see all the treasures Dixie has collected to make their home so cozy and inviting. I made tons of mental notes and took a few pictures - some I'll be sharing a little later.

April in Atlanta - This is the little saddle made from an old hand-tooled leather purse and them turned into a lamp.
Sometimes when I'm away from my computer and this blog, I'm really just in the back yard -- like I was when we had a special birthday party for my friend Nancy. We gathered a few friends and enjoyed an evening of making individual pizzas in the brick oven. That brick oven makes great pizzas and is a real party magnet!  Nancy is older than I am, by the way, but I won't say which birthday she was celebrating -- because mine is just around the corner! Look closely at the second picture below and you might be able to figure it out!

Still April - Happy Birthday Nancy!

And since almost everyone in our high school graduating class is having the same big birthday this year -- funny how that works -- a bunch of us threw ourselves a big birthday party over Memorial Day weekend. The temperatures were hellish, but we sat around in the shade, ate barbecue and talked all afternoon and into the night -- and the next day too. If you look closely at the group shot, you will see that Sue will never be too old to pass up a bunny-ears-photo-op. Gotta love her for staying so young at heart!

May -  Happy Birthday CCHS Class of '70!

There is always something going on around here, some planned and some unexpected. And before you know it, April has run away with May and June is back again.

We had really great food at Dixie's house, but this dip was one of my favorites. Not only is it E-A-S-Y, but avocado lovers won't be able to get enough of it! The recipe says to add the avocados right before serving, but I was going to let it sit in the refrigerator for about 2 hours before serving, so I added them to the bowl with all the other ingredients and pressed plastic wrap over the surface of the dip -- not the bowl! -- so air would not cause the avocados to brown while the flavors blended together. Worked perfectly! I've added notes to Dixie's recipe indicating changes that I made. Enjoy!

1 package Good Seasons Italian dressing mix
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup light olive oil
2 tomatoes, chopped (I used 2 medium tomatoes)
¼ cup red onion, diced (I used ¾ cup)
1 can black beans drained and rinsed
1 can Mexicorn, drained (optional – good with or without)
2 avocados, diced and added just before serving (I used 4 small Haas avocados)
tortilla chips (I like Scoops)

In a medium size bowl, mix olive oil, vinegar and dressing mix. Add the tomatoes, red onion beans and corn to the dressing mixture bowl. Cover and place the bowl in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to allow flavors to blend. Dice and add avocados just before serving with tortilla chips. Note: I added the avocados when I made the dip, pressed plastic wrap over the dip and sealed it against the inside edge of the bowl and placed it in the refrigerator to marinate for a couple of hours. Looked fine (avocados still respectably green and delicious steeped the oil and vinegar marinade. Makes enough to serve 12 or more people.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Vinegar Coleslaw

Good barbecue is all about personal taste, as well as, tradition and style. That's why the term is usually preceded by a location or a name, or both. That's the tradition. Where it came from and who made it. And more often than not, personal preference is mostly about where you've been and how much barbecue you ate there. A particular kind of barbecue becomes a part of you over time, like an accent when you learn language. Talk about it or order barbecue and you reveal where and how you learned to speak barbecue. And you may not even be aware how much you love it, until you go somewhere else and eat the local version of barbecue. Sometimes it feels like you're not even talking the same language!

Now some people claim to love all barbecue and I guess there is some truth to it, but when pressed on the subject, it won't be long before their personal bias toward a particular tradition and style is obvious from the way they describe any other barbecue. There must be some measure of perfection before any other barbecue can be declared "too sweet" - "too dry" - "too smoky" - "too stringy" - "too chunky" - "too-too-too" fill in the blank.

When you speak barbecue, the nuances say it all -- the accent, if you will. Some of us will even go back to the process of making the barbecue to explain what we like and why. Like all the way back to the pig, and only the pig! -- whole pig, butts or shoulders. And the fuel for the fire -- wood, charcoal or gas. And the temperature and duration of cooking -- low and slow or ... well, however else you might think you can cook it. And the flavoring -- before, during and/or after cooking -- rub, sauce, mop and/or simply smoke. And the cut of the meat for sandwiches when it's done -- pulled, sliced, chunked or chopped. And the handle for the sandwich -- bread, bun or roll, regular loaf or Texas size, plain or buttered, raw or toasted. And the base of the sauce -- tomato, mustard, mayo or vinegar -- sweet, hot or mild. And served-sauced or sauce-your-own. And don't forget the condiments -- chow, mayo slaw, vinegar slaw or pickles.

See what I mean -- drawl, clipped, twang, nasal, broad, flat ...

My personal barbecue tradition is -- whole pig, cooked over wood charcoal, low and slow, just pig, just smoke, chopped, plain cheap grocery store white bun, and I like to add the vinegar and red pepper sauce myself, thank you very much. And one more thing -- I like slaw on top of the pork, but I go back and forth between mayo slaw or vinegar slaw. 

Lately I've been liking this vinegar slaw a lot. It is perfect for barbecue -- any kind of barbecue -- on the sandwich or on the plate!

I told you mine, now you tell me yours! How does my personal favorite Eastern North Carolina style barbecue compare to your own favorite regional tradition?

1 large bag coleslaw cabbage mix
1 cup red bell pepper, finely sliced, 1-inch long pieces
½ cup carrot, finely sliced, 1-inch long pieces
½ cup red/purple onion, finely sliced, 1-inch long pieces
½ cup sugar
½ cup apple cider vinegar
⅓ cup light olive oil
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1 teaspoon celery salt

Mix dressing ingredients in a large bowl and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add cabbage, red bell pepper, carrot and red/purple onion. Toss to coat. Place entire mixture in a plastic zip bag and refrigerate for several hours before serving. Turn bag several times to distribute dressing evenly.

Delicious served on or alongside pork barbecue sandwiches -- especially Eastern North Carolina Barbecue!