Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Corn Spoon Bread

Early one morning while looking for something to watch on TV I stumbled upon a cooking show on the new Oprah network called Anna & Kristina’s Grocery Bag that I now can’t stop watching.  So far, I am not a big fan of Oprah’s new network, but like everyone else, I have high hopes. This show is the only one I like.  Like many on the channel, the show is an old series that originated in Canada replayed for U.S. viewers. The premise of the show is to review cookbooks. It stars two former television reporters from Canada (Anna and Kristina) and personal friends who prepare an ambitious sampling of usually 6-8 recipes from the episode’s featured cookbook within a hurried 3-4 hour timeframe. The finished meal is then reviewed by an invited local, professional chef.  

The show is a real hoot! There are no real cooking lessons involved and because so many dishes are prepared within the half-hour segment, only small snippets of preparation (mostly mistakes) is shown. What I like about the show is that neither Anna nor Kristina is a professional or trained chef and both plod through the featured book’s recipes like the rest of us in the real world. They encounter problems with vaguely detailed recipes; dishes requiring unusual or unfamiliar ingredients; preparations that don’t look anywhere close to the photographs in the cookbooks; or require cooking skills (in most cases, basic skills) which neither star possesses. In spite of their limited skills, they valiantly try recipes I’m not sure I would attempt. The invited professional chefs typically find fault in the preparation or presentation (DAH!), but give high marks for taste, which in the end is really all that matters.  The real lesson of course is that you don’t need to be a professional chef to prepare a meal that is interesting and tastes good

In the episode reviewing the cookbook Bon Appetit, Y’all, both stars really liked the taste of the food they prepared, more so than usual and for that reason fully endorsed the book. Written by a French trained chef and Southern native, Virginia Willis, the cookbook is a compilation of recipes from the author’s grandmother and mother, plus many of her own. Though not into Southern cooking myself, based on the endorsement of the two stars I had to have the book. It features a nice cross section of recipes and lots of expected Southern dishes – black-eyed peas, greens, fried okra, biscuits, barbecued meats, etc.  While I tend to associate Southern food with having lots of fat the author was careful to adjust the recipes by either eliminating or reducing the expected hog jowl, bacon fat or butter.  With the addition of several French inspired dishes there are plenty of recipes I am inclined to try from the book.   

Given the abundance of fresh corn now in the markets I selected the book’s cover recipe Corn Spoon Bread for this post. This is a custard-like dish made in a souffle-like fashion. Not as sweet as a creamed corn casserole it's quite delicious and enhanced by the fresh sweet corn kernels in the dish. Replace the fresh corn with frozen corn and it is a great side dish anytime of the year.

Corn Spoon Bread

2 T. unsalted butter melted, plus more to coat the pan
2 cups whole milk
1 cup very fine yellow cornmeal
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Scraped kernels from 2 fresh ears of corn (about 1 c.)
2 T. chopped fresh chives
2 large eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter an ovenproof casserole or round 2-qt. soufflĂ© dish.

To prepare the batter, in a medium saucepan, combine the milk and cornmeal over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, whisking rapidly and constantly, until very, very thick, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Add the corn kernels, chives and the 2 T. of melted butter. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.  Add the egg yolks, one at a time, stirring after each addition.

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the warm cornmeal mixture.

Transfer the lightened cornmeal mixture to the prepared pan; smooth the surface with a spatula.  Bake until nicely puffed, about 35 to 40 minutes. The inside should be firm, but moist, and the top golden brown.  Serve immediately while puffed and risen.

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