Theme Dinner: Corn

We’ve had many a TC since the last post, and some of the highlights have included: Creamy green garlic soup (just like I had in Vienna!), negronis, raisin pie, stuffed mushrooms, pasta with creamy kale and walnuts, warm goat cheese salad, sparkling wine with lemon granita and berries, homemade Twinkies, and a casserole of tater tots and chicken nuggets.

Some evidence:

Which brings us to this week’s TC night.  Eileen suggested we should do corn as the theme.  Richard pointed out to Natalie that this had been done a year ago, but by that point we had begun plotting so the die had been cast.  I was OK with this, as I had a number of ideas for the week, some of which were shaped by my CSA, which currently has me very well stocked with summer squash and greens, such as kale and collards. As you will see ….

Dinner started with a visit from mom.  I was so glad she was able to visit.  She didn’t stay long, but we supplied her with dinner for the evening.

First course tonight: a corn consommé.  I had actually intended to make a corn risotto using corn stock rather than chicken stock.  I got up in the morning and put 3 corn cobs in the slow cooker with the kernels from two ears of corn and some onion, garlic, pepper, and bay leaves.  I filled the pot with water and left it to cook for 8 hours.  When I walked in the door that evening, the aroma of fresh corn had permeated my house, but as it turned out I just didn’t have the time to make the risotto and I knew another starch was coming.  So instead, I punted and strained the stock into a sauteuse (more surface area!) and started reducing.  In the end I reduced it by slightly more than half and added salt to taste.

How was it? I’m biased, but this little accident was magic.  It was corn distilled and concentrated. It was hazy day Americana, walking barefoot on the lawn, cool grass between my toes, and butter dripping on my chin.  It was summer in a cup.  I will make this on the shortest day of the year to beckon the sun on her way back to the northern climes.  The photo just doesn’t do it justice.  The only change I will in the future is that I will ladle the stock rather than pour it, so it will be clear rather than cloudy (either that or learn how to fine it).

Next up were Michael and Joe with creamy delicious polenta topped with broccoli rabe and pine nuts.  I remember being cautious about broccoli rabe as a kid – something about it being bitter.  This wasn’t bitter at all. It was sweet and green, with the bright flavor of tomatoes.  And physically, it was a stunning dish.  Overall, just wonderful.

This was served with corn muffins and honeycomb butter.  The corn muffins were really delicious, but the honeycomb butter just floored me.  It was a compound butter made with crispy airy sweet honeycomb candy.  Butter and corn are a match made in heaven, and in this case the sweetness and crunch of the candy made for an unholy trinity.  It was just delightful and I want more.

I made the protein of the evening.  In thinking of corn, I decided I wanted to avoid some of the classic dishes, and instead make something new.  This meant using other parts of the ear.  When I bought the corn, there was a bag with husks, and the farmer said I could take some.  So I took a big handful for the next concoction.  At home I dipped boneless skinless chicken thighs and dusted with salt, pepper, and chili powder.  I wrapped the thighs in corn husk and tied them into little bundles.  When I got home from work I put them in the smoker with a corn cob on the coals, as a source of smoke.  Two hours at 250-300 F, and the internal temperature of the chicken was 160.  When we unwrapped them, the bundles were a pale pink color, and the flavor of the corn was unmistakable.  The meat was moist and I was just giddy.  I had worried that the cob would give funky flavors but it hadn’t.  I spoke with mom later, and she said that while she usually doesn’t like chicken thighs, she loved this and might want me to make it again for a family event sometime.  That is high praise, indeed.

Next was Richard with a corn and bacon soufflé.  He took it out of the oven, and it was a dish of beauty.  Sadly, it collapsed a bit, and may have been wetter than he had hoped in the center.  Still, we were undaunted, and were rewarded for our perseverance.  The flavor was redolent of smoky bacon and sweet summer corn.   If not soufflé perfection, it was still utterly delicious, and better than any soufflé I’ve ever made.

The main courses being done, we moved to dessert and I was first at bat.  This is where the CSA came in – I had to get rid of zucchini and collards.  I used a recipe for zucchini cake that I had found in one of my Italian cookbooks, but changed it by adding corn kernels and creamed corn that I had scraped from the cob myself.  This cake had a great flavor, but just has a weird texture and I don’t know if I would make it again.  Or if I do, I will try to fix it.  With the cake I served a collard green candied bacon chip ice cream and a watermelon juice reduction.

The ice cream was clearly collard green (both physical and gustatory characteristics). It had the bitterness we associate with these greens, but with the sweetness of ice cream and the candied bacon this was an outstanding combination.  I was obviously inspired by Iron Chef, and I’m proud of this little concoction.  As far as the watermelon reduction – it was … different.  I extracted the juice from half a watermelon and boiled and boiled and boiled it.  It got clear before turning red again (strange).  I think some of the sugars caramelized, and after I added a little salt (not much, I swear) it tasted almost like ketchup.

Incidentally, I still have no idea where the flavor of watermelon candy comes from – not the fruit, I can promise!

Finally we had Mitch and Eileen serving a delicious corn cake with corn ice cream (sorry – I forgot to take a photo). Things baked with corn flour can be dry, but this absolutely wasn’t.    The cake was moist, sweet, and corny.  And the ice cream was just fantastic.  We should have corn ice cream all the time.  It shouldn’t be something we cook up for special events.  Back to our initial comment – this is the flavor of summer in ice cream form.  Simply wonderful.

And thats what we ate…

March 29, 2021

Corn night has always been special. We looked forward to it every year. We haven’t done TC dinners as a regular thing in many years now, but still tried to do corn, at least up until a few years ago.

Last year I had corn dinner with a different group of friends. I was labeled a cheater.

I remember a few things from this dinner. The corn consommé for one: I have made it many times since, and it has been golden yellow rather than brown. Over the years I have gotten it right

I also remember the ice cream, and have told others of it since. It was definitely unique, but enjoyable. On the other hand, I had completely blocked the watermelon reduction from my mind, and for good reason, as I now recall it with no fondness whatsoever.

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