Ramped Up Corn 1

On the first day of spring this year I released my first in a series of seasonal e-book “This Spring”. It’s a complete collection of all the spring-related content from my site in an easy to read e-book format. Each year I plan on expanding the book with new content. I look for areas in which I think I am missing something and plan ahead so that next year I will have an even better book. In the first release of “This Spring” I talked about one of my favorite spring time delicacies – the Ramp. The flavor of the ramp has hints of garlic and onion. Read all about it in my anatomy of a ramp post. For this recipe I decided to pair ramps with another vegetable that makes its re-appearance around the same time – fresh corn on the cob.

One of the issues with corn on the cob in the spring is that you cannot count on it to be consistently sweet. Here in Michigan we get our corn from Florida and Georgia. That can be a ways to travel for a vegetable that converts it’s sugar to starch. Sometimes you luck out and find a sweet ear and some times you don’t. So I like to take out some “insurance” by stripping the kernels from the cob and sauteing the corn in butter. The advantage this gives you over steaming is that the corn will caramelize in the pan, allowing any sugar in the corn to be brought out.

Overhead view of sauteing ramps. You just want to do this until they begin to take on a little color, before adding in your corn.

Overhead view of sauteing ramps. You just want to do this until they begin to take on a little color, before adding in your corn.

The flavor of the ramps goes beautifully when paired with the sweet corn. I use the bulbs of the ramps at the start. Chop them and sautee them just like you would garlic. Corn goes in. Leaves of the ramps are chopped in and throw in right at the end of cooking. The heat will wilt the leaves like spinach.

Ramped Up Corn 2

"Ramped-Up" Corn
 
The perfect way to make unpredictable spring time corn into a delicious side dish.
Ingredients
  • 1 bunch of ramps (usually 6 to 8 ramps depending on size),
  • 5 ears of corn, with the kernels stripped from the cob
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Heat up a fry pan over medium heat. Add butter
  2. Chop the bulbs off the ramps. Set the leaves aside.
  3. Add ramp bulbs cooking until they take on some color, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Add the corn kernels. Stir to combine.
  5. Cook until the kernels are soft and start to shrink.
  6. While waiting chop up the leaves of the ramps.
  7. Remove from the heat and add in the leaves.
  8. Stir to combine.
  9. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

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Ina Roast Veggies 1

Preparing the Thanksgiving meal can be an overwhelming process, especially if you haven’t done it before. One of the best tools you can have to make life easier is a simple dish that will be easy to make yet deliver on flavor. Roasting vegetables makes such a great option. Roasting brings out such great flavors in vegetables it’s a wonder why we ever bother preparing them any other. One side dish recipe I suggest is one I recently tried out – Ina Garten’s Thanksgiving Oven-Roasted Vegetables. This is a combination of potatoes, fennel, and Brussels sprouts. For the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe, visit Food Network’s website. Below you will find my notes from this recipe.

Ina Roast Veggies 3

1. With my produce knowledge I found ways to up the flavor ante even more. I used four different varieties of fingerling potatoes, each with their own unique flavor profile. The Brussels sprouts I used I got at the farmer’s market. They were harvested after a frost which means their flavor is sweeter. We also had just finished cooking some bacon in the oven (best way to get it super crispy) and there was bacon fat remaining on sheet pan. So I threw the split sprouts right on top of that same pan to impart them with some smoky bacon flavor!

2. The recipe calls for 2 small fennel bulbs, but the only ones I found at the farmer’s market were large. So I sliced it into wedges as small as I could making sure a piece of the core was still attached.

Ina Roast Veggies 4

3. My Brussels sprouts cooked much faster than the fennel and potatoes. At the 20 minute mark they were ready to be pulled from the oven. The leaves in my sprouts were more open, less dense, so I think that helped them cook faster as well as helping them crisp up really nicely.

4. The potatoes and fennel were finished roasting at about the 40 minute mark.

Ina Roast Veggies 2

I wasn’t sure how I was going to like the fennel with my potatoes, but it all worked together perfectly fine – besides I found myself just eating the individual vegetable. It was a nice contrast in flavor and texture with each bite.

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Grits with Bacon 1

Creamy, smokey, sweet, spicy. How do you like all four of those adjectives in one dish? Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Now what if I say grits? Wait…wait…don’t click the back botton on your browser. Feel better if I say polenta? If not, you still are going to wait to stay on this page. Because this isn’t your standard cheap, instant grits served at some greasy diner, that have the character of cardboard. No, these are grits that are taken to the next level – to dare I say main course status. Bacon. Hatch Chiles. Fresh Corn on the Cob. Do I have your attention now?

Stone Ground Grits

Choosing the Right Grits or Polenta
You need to start by choosing the right type of grits. You don’t want instant. The best choice is stone ground. I like the stone ground grits from Bob’s Red Mill, easily found at most supermarkets. You can tell it’s stone ground if the pieces don’t look uniform as in the above photo. This means better texture and flavor. Also you want it to say on the package keep cold or refrigerated. This means that the grits contain the whole grain, which can spoil if left out at room temperature. The whole grain has more health benefits. So don’t cheap on the grits. Get the good stuff. Your body and taste buds will appreciate it.

Whole Foods Black Forest Bacon

The Bacon I Chose
Pick your favorite bacon. The bacon I picked was a Black Forest bacon, made in house at my local Whole Foods Market. I do recommend finding a store that does make their bacon in house and sells it in bulk, so you can get the freshest product and get exactly the amount you want. The bacon I bought was expensive per pound, but I had the option of buying exactly what I needed. In the end I spend as much as I would have had a package of cheap, low quality bacon.

Hatch Chiles

Hatch Chile Peppers
A combination I love is when you add something spicy to something creamy. I first did that in my Hatch Chile creamed corn. Hatch and corn are a great combo. I got my Hatch Chile peppers directly from my friends at Frieda’s Produce. To maximize their flavor potential I always broiled them in the oven first (you can also do it on the grill). I freeze the leftovers to add to dishes throughout the fall and winter. Hatch peppers can vary in levels of heat. So slowly add to your dish until you taste what you are dealing with. If they are too mild for your liking, you can always add a dash or two of ground cayenne pepper or hot paprika. If Hatch peppers are not in season, you can opt for an Anaheim, Poblano, or just chop up a jalapeno and add it directly.

Grits with Bacon 2

While grits are normally seen as a breakfast dish, this is a way to make them your entire dinner. I ate this for dinner for two nights. It did very well reheated. And had all the flavors you would want in a dish.

Grits with Roasted Hatch Chiles, Bacon, and Fresh Corn
 
Ingredients
  • 5 strips of bacon
  • 2 ears of fresh corn
  • 1 roasted Hatch chile pepper (can also use a Jalapeno, Poblano, or Anaheim)
  • ⅓ cup Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups stone ground grits
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Instructions
Roasting the pepper
  1. *Skip this step if you are using a Jalapeno. They are a little small to be roasting in my opinion
  2. Set your oven to broil. Place your pepper on a sheet pan and into the oven.
  3. Cook until the skin has been blistering and is turning black about 5 to 7 minutes. Flip and repeat on the other side.
  4. Remove from the oven and place into a bowl. Then cover with plastic wrap.
Cooking the grits
  1. In a wide and deep pan bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Slowly add the polenta, stirring while adding. Simmer stirring often until thick about 20 to 30 minutes.
  2. Taste to see if done. If not soft enough, add a little more water and continue to simmer until softer.
  3. Stir in the butter and cheese until they melt.
  4. When finished, keep over the lowest setting on your cook top.
Cooking the bacon
  1. Place the bacon in a cold frying pan. Cook over medium heat.
  2. Once the bacon is browned on one side, flip it over. Cook until crispy. Set aside.
  3. Pour the bacon fat into a bowl and set aside, do not discard.
Cooking the corn
  1. Strip the corn off the cob with a sharp knife.
  2. Put enough bacon fat back in the pan to coat the bottom of the pan.
  3. Set to medium high heat and add the corn.
  4. Cook until the corn darkens and color and is browned just slightly. Remove from the heat.
Put the dish together
  1. Remove the skin from your pepper as well as the seeds. Slice and mix into the grits.
  2. Cut the bacon in bite sized pieces and stir into the grits. Then add the corn.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add cayenne pepper if you think it needs more heat (optional)

 

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No Peeling Necessary Mashed Potatoes

There are two things people really dread about the Thanksgiving meal. One is doing the dishes. Two is peeling the potatoes. Nobody really wants that job, it’s just part of the deal. I am sure more than one person has been standing in the kitchen with a big bag of potatoes wondering if their agony will ever end. Or is there a better way? I say this Thanksgiving, forget the peeling all together! Unless your hands are in need of a workout, there are ways to make mashed potatoes and not have to fear pulling out the peeler.

Just Don’t Peel Them
Sometimes I don’t mind the peels still being in the mashed potatoes. It adds texture and the skins are good for you. This works great with Yukon Gold potatoes as well as red skinned. I prefer the more rich, buttery like flavor of the Yukon. Or to get the “best of both worlds” look for the Klondike Rose potato. It is red on the outside but the inside yellow like a Yukon. Purple potatoes would work as well. I would not do it with Russets. The skin is thicker. The only way I eat the skin of a Russet potato is when it’s being fried up, so it’s crispy.

Try My No Peeling Necessary Mashed Potatoes | Click here for the recipe
If Russet is what you have on hand, you still can avoid the peeling. Instead of boiling the potatoes. Bake them as you would if you were making baked potatoes. When the potatoes are done, they are easy to remove from the skins, without having to peel. Then prepare them just like you would any mashed potatoes. The thing I like most about this method is that the actual flavor of the potatoes is better. When you boil them, you are adding water, diluting the nature potato flavor.

A No Peel Thanksgiving
This Thanksgiving I say forget the peeler. Just either choose potatoes you that are good with the skins on or try my baked method. Then all you will have to do is fight out who has to do the dishes!

For more Thanksgiving potato tips see why you should consider using a potato ricer!

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Bobby Flay Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

Everyone has their own idea on how mashed potatoes should be made. I love them as sorts of ways, chunky, smooth, creamy, smoky, cheesy, etc. I would love to try out everyone’s different methods. Each Thanksgiving I make sure to look out for another mashed potatoes recipe to try. This year I selected Bobby Flay’s Mashed Potatoes with Buttermilk. This recipe was from the new Thanksgiving special, Thanksgiving at Bobby’s, which replaced Thankgiving Live this year.

Check out some other mashed potato recipes I have tested from different Food Network personalities.

Click here to view the entire recipe.

Bobby Flay Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

Below you will find my cooking notes for this recipe:

1. I followed the recipe almost perfectly with one exception. I had to leave out the green onions. I can’t stand them. It always drive me nuts when you order something and they dump green onions all over it. But I do not think that this omission disqualifies me from telling you what I thought of the texture of the potatoes and the flavor with the buttermilk in it.

2. I didn’t even need close to the amount of buttermilk called for. If I would have added even the low estimate I would have had soup. I had the same issue last year when I tried his Smoked Paprika Mashed Potatoes. That one I wasn’t as careful with. Just slowly add the buttermilk until it’s the consistency you want.

3. The recipe calls for you to warm up the buttermilk mixture. This is important because then you aren’t adding cold dairy to your hot potatoes, especially if you are going to serve them immediately.

4. I love the flavor the buttermilk brings to the party. It’s a simple replacement for just using milk, yet add so much more flavor. Just as buttermilk does with pancakes and biscuits. Sometimes I skip it when I don’t have any on hand, but when I do go for it I was always satisfied that I did.

5. Running the potatoes through the food mill was simple and helped produce a better texture than just using a regular potato masher. You are less likely to overwork the potatoes making them gummy. You can also use a potato ricer (read my post on why to use a potato ricer). It is a little more work but I think it does an even better job.

I absolutely love the buttermilk in the mashed potatoes. They still do not top my favorite mashed potatoes recipe ever, Alton Brown’s Whipped Potatoes, but these are quicker and easier to make that than recipe. I definitely would make these again, but under no circumstance will I ever add green onions! Leeks on the other hand 🙂

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Mulling Spiced Cranberry Sauce

One of my favorite parts of the Thanksgiving meal has always been the cranberry sauce. I spend years eating that stuff, straight from the can. As I grew older I learned how to make it myself. It’s so incredibly easy. Once I mastered the basic sauce, I have had a chance to play around with it. First I replaced making it with water, because let’s face water brings no additional flavor to the party. A nice strong ginger ale does. The ginger ale gave it a mild kick of ginger as well as the carbonation seem to improve the texture. I have also used orange juice which is a classic combination. I wasn’t ready to leave well alone. Last year I experimented with using mulling spices to make my cranberry sauce. I was inspired by a post shared by Frieda’s Specialty Produce on their facebook page. I was amazed at how that turned out. The spices add a wonderful dimension of flavor that elevates the sauce from ordinary to extraordinary. I just had to do it for the blog this year.

What are in Mulling Spices
While mulling spice blends can vary they normally include cloves, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, or orange peel. Star anise pods are sometimes included, even fenugreek. They are a combination of spices that really bring me into these cooler days, particulary since the weather here in Michigan decided to jump ahead about 8 weeks! Most often they are found in hot cider, a good choice. Going outside the boxes, I decided to brew some in some water, extract those flavor, and add it to my cranberry sauce. You can buy mulling spices at any grocery store. I recommend Frieda’s blend if you can find it.

The best thing about this sauce is that you can surprise your guests on Thanksgiving. The sauce doesn’t appear to be anything different by just looking at it. Once that get that first taste they will know you have done something, I almost guarantee it will be something that they will love.

If you need to make a double batch, just make sure to double everything. For best consistency the water and sugar need to be in a 1:1 ratio. If somehow you have leftovers (which I highly doubt) you can try make Cranberry BBQ Turkey Sliders the next day. It’s a Giada recipe and one of her best in my opinion.

Mulling Spices Cranberry Sauce
 
Ingredients
  • 12 oz fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 heaping tablespoon mulling spices
Instructions
  1. Bring the water and mulling spices to a boil in a large pan. Once you reach a boil, remove from the heat. Allow the spices to seep for 30 minutes. Strain out the spices.
  2. Add the sugar and bring back to a boil. Add the cranberries.
  3. Turn the heat down until the mixture is boiling gently. If you let the mixture boil too hard you may get burned.
  4. Let it boil for 10 minutes. You can check if the sauce is done by putting a little dab on a plate and placing it in the freezer. Wait one mintue. If it's firm then it's done.
  5. If you wish to make whole cranberry sauce, just pour it into a bowl.
  6. For jellied sauce: push the mixture through a sieve to strain out the skins. This will produce a sauce just like from a can.

 

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Why Potato Ricer

Mashed potatoes are as much a part of the American Thanksgiving experience as the turkey itself. While I have been spending time talking turkey with you, I have neglected to take about the mashed spud yet. It’s time for that to change.

Have you come across a mashed potato recipe that calls for a ricer? Did you think that this is some old fashion gadget that you find buried in the bottom of your grandma’s utilize drawer? Is it this a tool worthy of being passed down to the next generation.

Why Use a Ricer for Mashed Potatoes
I was given a ricer for Christmas one year, not sure what I was going to do with it. When I saw Alton Brown call for one in a recipe for Whipped Yukon Gold potatoes I was excited to try out. After I did I found out why this tool is so useful, it helps produce outstanding mashed potatoes. A food as comforting as mashed potatoes, make a ricer not just an ordinary kitchen tool, but dare I say a stress reducer! Forget the therapy sesssions, buy a ricer!

What Does a Ricer Do?
If you ever made mashed potatoes that turn out gummy – a ricer is the key tool to prevent this from happening. The reason is happens is that the starch in the potatoes are swollen, ready to burst. If you agitate the potatoes too much they will explode – thus gummy potatoes. A ricer helps break the potatoes into small bites. The starch in the potatoes will not swell up into huge chunks if you break them down into tiny piece. Then all you need is to get the potatoes a quick wipe with a hand mixer to smooth them out and you will have light and fluffy potatoes that are anything but gummy.

Other Uses
While mashed potatoes are the best reason to get a ricer there are others. You can use them for sweet potatoes and squash. I heard one person uses them to dry out their cooked spinach. You could use it to make apple or tomato sauce, to remove the skins or seeds, though I find a food mill works better for sauces. Could be useful for making baby food.

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How to Cook Purple Potatoes

Many years ago my potato world was pretty limited. Baking or Russet and red, sometimes gold is all I knew growing up. A lot of people I imagine are the same way. There is more to three options in the potato world. I hear more and more people asking for purple potatoes. Not only are these potatoes beautiful both inside and out, they are good for you. They are purple of course! Their popularity has increase even more ever since Dr. Oz claim that will help lower your blood pressure. Whether that is true or not I am excited none the less that purple spuds are making it to more American’s dinner tables. That leads me to a question. Do we know how to cook purple potatoes? What is the best way to prepare them? If you have made them what ways have you made them?

Purple Potatoes

I decided to do a little experiment. I cook purple potatoes three different ways – roasted, boiled, and pan fried or sauteed. I did not peel the potatoes for any method – I don’t feel it’s necessary.

How to Cook Purple Potatoes

Boiled Purple Potatoes
Let’s start with the easiest method – boiling. You can boil them with the skins on, give them a good washing first. The skin is similar in texture to a red skinned potatoes. You can cut them in half if they are too large to cook quicker. I covered them with enough water, brought them to a boil, then reduced to a simmer until tender.

Problems – Keep in mind there are multiple varieties of purple potatoes, so some may behave differently. The ones I bought from the farmer’s market held up really well. Ones I have gotten from the grocery store in the past have become more easily waterlogged and the color on the inside turned a not as pretty little purple or blue. If you are going to boil them watch them carefully, so you don’t overcook them. You can make mashed potatoes out of them, unless you have a variety that stays as dark as the ones I cook last were, the color of the mashers might be a little unappetizing but otherwise find to eat.

Roasted Purple Potatoes
I roasted or bake the purple spuds in a 375 degree oven until done through. Again no peeling necessary. I cut them in half to speed up the cooking time, but you can bake them whole as well, just make sure to poke holes in them to let out some steam.

Problems – If you are looking to replace your russet baking potato with a purple, you will be disappointed. The Russet is unique in it’s ability to bake up nice and fluffy. The purple potato will not be as fluffy. If you are going to roast I recommend doing so more for eating them as oven fries.

Sauteed Purple Potatoes
Of the three methods this was my favorite. I quartered the potatoes and put them in a frying pan with oil, salt, and pepper. Set them over medium high heat and cooked them until browned on each side. They brown a lot better this way than in the oven. You may find that you need to turn the heat down some if the begin to brown too fast or start to burn. Serve them up as it, or with ketchup, especially if it’s homemade (I will save that for another post!)

Problems – Didn’t have any real problems with this method – which is why it’s my favorite. Just again be careful that you brown them, not burn them.

Whatever way you decide to cook purple potatoes, I hope you enjoy them. Not only for their taste but for the health benefits. Anything that dark in color is loaded with antioxidant phytochemicals, that will help ward off all kinds of nasty things that your body comes into contact with.

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Purple Brussels Sprouts with Polenta

I have to admit I am a sucker for different colored vegetables. Anything that is different from the “norm” I like to mix green beans with wax, I seek out bags of carrots of many colors, I have even been know to purchase the occasional red turnip. I saw purple and yellow snow peas in a seed catalog and can’t wait until to try them in my garden this year. So purple Brussels sprouts, I am all in! I recently got some little adorable baby purple Brussels sprouts from Frieda’s Produce.

I have made Brussels Sprouts several different ways. Just pan frying them or roasting them by themselves would not be enough. A little bit ago, I tried making Brussels sprouts with lentils. The lentils I accidentally overcooked to the point where there were more like refried beans. I still combined them with my sprouts. The creaminess of the overcooked lentils was a nice addition to the Brussels sprouts. Trouble was the lentils were too dry, so I needed to swallow a gallon of water when I was done. I felt I was onto something here. This time around instead of pasty legumes, I decided to use some Frieda’s Organic Polenta. This polenta comes in a tube, already pre-cooked. All I needed to do was slice it up and pan fry it, to brown the outside to create that firm, browned, almost crispy outside and soft creamy inside. Top it off with the purple Brussels sprouts, I had a pretty looking, well balanced side dish.

Can’t find purple brussels sprouts, you can use green. Or you could grow your own? You can buy purple Brussels sprouts seeds online.

Baby Purple Brussels Sprouts with Polenta
 
Ingredients
  • 12 oz baby purple Brussels sprouts, sliced in half (you can use any Brussels sprouts)
  • 1 lb pre-cooked organic polenta
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • neutral tasting cooking oil (canola, vegetable, grape seed, sunflower)
  • maple syrup (optional)
Instructions
  1. Slice the Brusssels sprouts in half. Coat the bottom of a non-stick frying pan with your favorite cooking oil. Heat the pan up over medium high heat. Add the sprouts. Season with kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Cook until browned and al dente about 4-6 mintues, making sure to turn the sprouts to brown evenly. Add a splash of maple syrup if desired and remove from the heat.
  2. Slice the polenta into slices, as thin or thick as you like. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
  3. Add a little more oil to the pan and return to medium high heat. Add the polenta and cook until brown on one side and flip and cook the other side. Should take about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Cook in batches so not to overcrowd the pan.
  4. Top the polenta with the Brussels sprouts and enjoy.

 

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Buttery Roasted Carrots

I have been on a search. A journey. An expedition to find something very common, yet way too rare. Carrots. Yes I said carrots. What is so hard about finding carrots? It’s not so much the carrot, then it is the color. I am a sucker for carrots that look like a package of Skittles. It’s how I like to taste the rainbow! I just love the subtle, yet divine difference in the flavors of different types of carrots. The ones I tried to grow myself didn’t pan out as I missed getting them in the ground early enough. No one was really growing them at the farmer’s market. The store I found them at last summer, never had any during any of my visits. Finally I was saved by a guy named Joe (he is a trader!). I bought up 3 bags of multi colored carrots. I got them ready to use in a Thanksgiving recipe that I never got done in time for Thanksgiving, but you might still need some Christmas dinner ideas! From Trisha Yearwood’s Thanksgiving show, I bring to your attention these Buttery Roasted Carrots. You can print the recipe at Food Network’s website. Here are my cooking notes:

Buttery Roasted Carrots

1. Of course you can just use orange carrots, but I prefer my carrots of many colors. Peel them and slice them on the bias.

2. One whole stick of butter may seem like a lot, that is because it is. These are buttery carrots, not fat free, so get over it. They are more yummy this way.

3. For even butter distribution, I like to place the carrots into a large mixing bowl, pour the butter all over them, then place them onto my sheet pan.

4. She suggests 25-30 minutes with a good stir at the half way point. I prefer to go just a wee bit longer to get some nice color on the carrots – another 5 minutes or so. They won’t get as brown as they would without the added butter.

5. Some fresh herbs on top is a nice addition. Dill goes really well together as they should as they in the same family – Apiaceae.

These carrots are super yummy. When I tried it with my much sought after colored carrots, even better. Very simple side dish that is very rewarding. The butter starts to brown and just coat the carrots in goodness. They are perfectly cooked this way. I am glad butter isn’t super cheap or I might be making these all the time. A special occasion or two will suffice.

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WELCOME TO MY BLOG

I'm Eric. I live in Ann Arbor, MI with my wife, 3 kids, and a flock of ducks. I love grocery shopping, trying new fruits, farmer's market, and traveling.
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