Bridging the Seasons

I’m writing this while wearing my slippers, which I had to dig out of the front hall closet. The cat is curled up like a cinnamon bun in Rich’s lap, hoping to enjoy his body warmth (and vice versa).  This week’s CSA box had both a butternut squash and six ears of corn – one box, two seasons. Summer is tiptoeing its way out and fall is tap dancing its way in.

Fresh corn pudding, I have discovered, is the perfect mix of late summer and early fall. Each creamy bite of this comforting dish is both sweet and savory, a reminder of why this time of year is my favorite food season. This recipe is from Deborah Madison’s America: The Vegetarian Table, which is where I found the persimmon pudding recipe. What can I say, the woman knows her puddings!

Fresh Corn Pudding by Deborah Madison

Ingredients

18 saltine crackers, or ¾ cup cracker crumbs or fresh bread crumbs

6 large ears of corn

1 ½ Tablespoons corn oil or butter

1 cup finely diced yellow onions

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup evaporated milk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups loosely packed orange Colby or mild Cheddar cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Paprika

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly butter a 6-cup shallow casserole or gratin dish. If using saltines, put them in a bag and roll over them with a rolling pin to make coarse crumbs. There should be about ¾ cup. Set aside. Shuck the corn and pull of the silks. If you slice your corn in a deep bowl, you’ll keep it from spattering all over. Holding an ear of corn stem end down and using a sharp knife, carefully cut off the top halves of the corn kernels; do not include the fibrous base, the part that gets caught in your teeth. Then turn your knife over and, using the dull side, press it down the length of the cob, squeezing out the rest of the corn and the milk. You’ll end up with a mushy substance in the bottom of the bowl along with the kernels. Repeat with the remaining ears.

Warm the oil or butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook just until limp, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes without letting the onions brown. Add this to the corn and stir in the milk, eggs, 1 cup of the cheese, and ½ cup of the cracker crumbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to the prepared dish and top with the remaining cracker crumbs and cheese. Bake on the center rack of the oven until puffed and golden, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle paprika over the top, and serve.

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

A few months back, I attended the kickoff event for the Boston Food Bloggers website. Rachel, the mastermind behind the website, had teamed up with Christine from Urban Spoon, who waved some sort of magic wand and made it rain free samples and restaurant gift cards. The event was hosted at The Gallows, who plied us bloggers all night with sliders so big they barely slid and paper cones of poutine.

But it was the massive bowls of spiced, caramelized popcorn that were the hit of the night. I grabbed a handful and started munching. “Rich, try this popcorn,” I said between bites. “It’s the strangest thing, but there’s a flavor that I can’t seem to put my finger on. It’s sweet, but salty, and there’s this smoky flavor. What is this? Why don’t I recognize this taste?” I asked to no one in particular and wandered off in search of more free samples.

A few minutes later, Rich came up to me. “Um, honey?” Rich began. “What?” I asked as I popped another fistful of the mysterious popcorn in my mouth. “The taste? The one you’re having trouble with,” Rich said with a sly smile creeping across his face. “Yes?” I stopped crunching. “That’s bacon.”

Argh. Stupid bacon. I dumped my fistful of the porcine popcorn and wandered off to wash my mouth out. Along the way, I spotted a fellow blogger I knew to be vegetarian who was popping the kernels into her mouth. “Stop!” I said. “That popcorn has bacon in it!” “Oh, I know,” she said with a shrug. “”It’s just so good!” And she wandered away to top off a bowl of SoCo Creamery ice cream with some of the illicit popcorn.

I’ll be so happy when the bacon trend is over and people stop putting it into everything from cupcakes to mixed drinks to popcorn. As I write this, there’s an advertisement for something called “Baconalia” at Wendy’s on the television. It haunts me, I swear.

I’ve wanted to make my own spiced popcorn after the bacon debacle, and last week, when I catered my vegetarian friend Jonathan’s 30th birthday party, I deemed the Kentucky Derby-viewing portion of the evening, complete with fancy hats and mint juleps, the perfect time to give it a shot.

There’s no super secret to this recipe. I took a Martha Stewart one and dabbled with it a little bit. I used fresh thyme instead of ground, because that’s what I had in the house. I added some sugar to give a layer of sweet to the spice. I pop my corn in a large pot, but you can just as easily pop a bag in the microwave and toss in the spices and give it a shake. I used butter, but to keep things vegan, you can use margarine. It’s also a great pantry recipe. Gourmet popcorn, minus the stupid bacon.

Sweet and Spicy Popcorn

3/4 cup corn kernels

1/3 cup oil

3 tablespoons shortening, melted

Spice Mix

In a bowl, mix together:

1 1/4 teaspoons paprika

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

3/4 teaspoon onion powder

3/4 teaspoon ground pepper

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

3/4 teaspoon ground thyme (I used fresh and was very pleased)

1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons sugar

Directions

Heat the oil and one kernel in a large pot. Once it pops, add the rest of the kernels to the pot. Wearing potholders, lift the pot occasionally, holding onto its lid and give it a shake. Once your popcorn has popped, pour in the melted shortening, give it all a shake, then add the spice mix and shake it like a Polaroid picture.

This stuff is crazy addictive. I ate most of it while trying to photograph it and had to make great efforts to make sure there was some left for Rich.

Stupid bacon.