Make Room for Mushrooms

Cornbread has near universal appeal, although the particulars can be quite controversial. I’ve clumsily fumbled my way through this timeless debate before, the perpetual feud between the sweet and the savory, typically erring more on the sweet side of the fence. Given my penchant for pastry, this should surprise exactly no one, especially considering the fact that it took me over 10 years of recipe development to finally launch a cookbook of full meals, not just desserts, upon the world. Now, older and at least a little bit wiser, I realize there’s room on the table for both sorts of a-maize-ing dishes.

Not just savory but full on umami and sparkling with warm spices, this new approach may just hold the key to cornbread harmony, or at least win over a few more fellow sweet-toothed bakers like myself. A bold departure from my typical approach, I found inspiration from the Mexican flavors in BLENDABELLA, a ready to eat seasoned mushroom mix. Tempting as it was to just open up a jar, insert a fork, and call it a day, those tender portabella pieces combined with tomatoes, peppers, and plenty of piquant chili powder were a perfect addition to this humble side.

Tender, fresh corn kernels would be another welcome inclusion, but honestly, there’s no need to get all dressed up and fancy for soulful home cooking like this. Each bite resounds with a comforting warmth, amplified by the natural, earthy richness of everyone’s favorite fungus.

Here’s hoping that critics will be equally compelled by this divergent take on cornbread, since I’m entering the recipe into the Summer Blogger Recipe Challenge! For more information and inspiration, check it out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. BLENDABELLA Mushroom Blends are available for purchase online. (Please note that the Rustic Tuscan variety contains dairy, but both the Zesty Mexican and Coconut Thai Blends are 100% vegan.)

Where do your loyalties lie in the great cornbread debate? Sweet or savory? Simple or spicy? Or… given this new path to explore, downright umami?

Umami Mexi-Cornbread

1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Cups Coarse Yellow Cornmeal
2 Tablespoons Coconut Sugar or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Zesty Mexican BLENDABELLA
1 1/4 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1/3 Cup Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a 9-inch cast iron skillet or round baking pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and soda, paprika, and salt. Stir in the BLENDABELLA and toss to coat thoroughly with flour. This will help prevent all those luscious mushroom pieces from simply sinking to the bottom.

Separately, whisk the non-dairy milk, vinegar, and oil to combine before adding these wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Mix with a wide spatula just enough to bring the batter together smoothly, although a few errant lumps are just fine to leave be.

Spread the batter into your prepared pan, smoothing out the top and lightly tapping it on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown on top and edges just begin to pull away from sides. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out cleanly.

Let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Enjoy warm or at room temperature for the most savory satisfaction.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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A-Maize-Ing

Put down the pumpkin spice latte. Step away from the Halloween decorations. Summer isn’t over yet, for crying out loud! The kids may be back in school, but the days are still bright and warm, full of the very same glorious produce we were enjoying mere days ago. Why rush into the next season while there’s still so much to enjoy in this one?

Case in point: fresh corn. There’s simply nothing else like it, and it can never compare when purchased off-peak. Now is the time to get your fill or hold your peace for another year. That means an ear of corn a day by my estimate, if not more. I simply can’t get enough of the stuff, crisp and sweet, straight off the cob with a light pinch of salt.

Fresh corn doesn’t stick around long though; what remains after the height of the season is but a shadow of its former glory. Watery, starchy, a waste of valuable stomach real estate, corn eaten any other time of year guarantees disappointment. As threats of the approaching seasonal shift grow louder, it’s simply not enough to enjoy a few bites a day. To really get a proper fix that will hold you for a full year, you can’t hold back.

That’s why my current favorite corn preparation not only involves tossing crisp kernels with supple strands of homemade pasta, but incorporates the very essence of corn right into the noodles themselves. That’s right; fresh corn pasta.

No more difficult to fabricate than any other dough, this unique formula incorporates both whole corn and cornmeal along with the standard wheat flour base, yielding a satisfying, toothsome structure with a genuinely flavorful soul. No one could ever accuse this noodle of being bland, even when eaten straight out the boiling water.

The best way to do justice to such a simple, pure product is to leave it alone. In essence: don’t screw up a good thing. Toss the cooked noodles with good olive oil or just the barest veil of pesto, along with a handful of fresh seasonal vegetables, and let it do the rest of the work. Such unique noodles are special enough to speak for themselves, much like superlative fresh corn does in the first place.

Anyone else out there still clinging to summer, or simply feel that the autumnal push is just a bit too aggressive? Pull up a chair and have a bowl of pasta with me. You’ll forget all about that nonsense after one bite.

Fresh Corn Pasta

1/2 Cup Corn Kernels, Canned and Drained, or Frozen and Thawed
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Finely Ground Yellow Cornmeal

To Serve:

Pesto
Fresh Corn Kernels
Cherry Tomatoes, Halved

To make the pasta, place the corn kernels, aquafaba, oil, and salt in your food processor. Puree, pausing to scrape down the sides of the container as needed, until completely smooth. Add in the flour and cornmeal and pulse to incorporate. It shouldn’t take long before the mixture turns into a cohesive dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, press it into a ball, and cover it loosely with a clean towel. Let rest for 10 minutes to allow the gluten to relax before proceeding.

Divide dough in half, covering one of the portions once more with the towel. Focusing your attention on the other half, knead it lightly until smooth and press it into the rough shape of a rectangle. Break out the rolling pin and roll it out to about 1/8th – 1/16th of an inch in thickness.

Lightly flour the entire length before rolling it loosely and gently to make a short scroll to can be cut in one stroke. Use a very sharp knife to slice the noodles to your desired thickness; about 1/4-inch for fettuccine or 1/8-inch for linguine. Toss the noodles with additional flour to keep the strands separate.

Hang the fresh pasta on drying rack (in a pinch, I’ve used metal coat hangers) for at least two hours to dry. Repeat with remaining half of the dough.

If preparing the pasta well advance, allow it to dry completely, about 8 – 10 hours depending on the humidity in your kitchen, before storing it an airtight container or zip top plastic bag.

To cook, bring approximately 4 quarts water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for just 2 – 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until firm but tender. Drain but do not rinse.

Immediately toss with pesto and fresh vegetables and enjoy!

Makes 2 – 4 Servings (Paired with a Salad or Soup to Make a Meal)

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Ay, Chihuahua!

Inspiration is often found in the most unusual places. In the case of my new favorite cornbread formula, it came in the form of a four-legged, two pound pup known throughout the entire bay area as Strummer. This darling little dog truly has a fan club, famous both for her size and sweet, loving nature that could melt even the iciest of hearts. When this pup speaks, the world listens. To deny her anything would constitute an act of unthinkable cruelty.

Thus, as a notoriously picky eater, the temptation to spoil the old gal with human foods is a constant temptation. While her dietetic, all-natural, “premium” canned slop sits in her bowl, slowly crusting over, the urge to push all remotely viable foods her way becomes absolutely maddening. I know very well what dogs should and should not eat, but ever since I learned that tortilla chips are one of her favorite treats, well… Let’s just say I always just happen to have a bag on hand when she comes to visit.

On her most recent sleepover, Strummer and her brother were having a raucous good time, play fighting with each other and rearranging all of the blankets and towels within their reach, when the tiny princess grew suddenly despondent. Hours passed while she hid beneath a tangle of pillows, that bowl of healthy food remaining completely untouched. There was nothing that could convince her to eat.

And so, I was forced to break out my secret weapon. I couldn’t let my beloved Strummer go hungry, after all! The trouble is that now in her golden years as a senior dog, her teeth aren’t quite what they used to be, nor as numerous, truth be told. Scheming up a way to feed my finicky house guest, it was that strange source of inspiration that led to the creation of tortilla chip cornbread.

No cornmeal need apply. The chips themselves provide a surprisingly full-flavored toasted corn taste throughout, making the formula perfect for those days when the pantry isn’t entirely accommodating. Designed for mass appeal, humans can enjoy these treats just as heartily as the canines we love, should they be so lucky to steal away a few bites. Such a simple formula may look suspect at first glance, but the results speak for themselves. Their soft, moist crumb can rival the very best baked goods, no matter the intended audience. Just try to share a few morsels with all of your friends- even those who can only woof quietly in approval.

Tortilla Chip Corn Muffins

4 Ounces Yellow Tortilla Chips, Finely Ground*
1 Cup White Whole Wheat or All-Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
2 Tablespoons Coconut Sugar or Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Teaspoons Coconut Oil, Melted
1 1/4 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar

*If you’re making these to share with your four-legged friends, I would recommend seeking out low- or no-salt chips. For humans, I happen to love the super-salty chips and think they really make these muffins pop!

Preheat you oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a medium muffin pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the ground tortilla chips, flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix well to distribute all of the dry ingredients throughout. Separately, whisk together the non-dairy milk, yogurt, sugar, melted coconut oil and vinegar until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the larger bowl of dry goods and stir gently, until just combined. Don’t worry if there are a few small lumps remaining.

Fill the prepared muffin tins with batter, about 3/4 of the way to the top, and bake for 20 – 25 minutes. They will be lightly golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the muffins should come out clean. Let the muffins cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature. The muffins can also be made in advance and stored in the fridge in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.

Makes 8 – 10 Muffins

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Frozen Corn is the Cure

Gathering up my bags and grocery list, I stepped out of my enclosed oasis of air conditioning and into the midday sun. Slamming the car door shut and turning to go, I suddenly found myself caught. It wasn’t unusual to find my shirt, or purse, or even hair entangled in a closed door, but when I looked down to the source, I was unprepared for what I saw. Oh… Shit was the only clear thought that passed through my mind upon discovering that it was, in fact, my right thumb being held captive, fully enclosed in the not only latched, but locked car door.

Forget about that quick, routine grocery run. Although it took a moment for the pain to register, it roared into clarity the moment I finished fumbling to extricate myself. Gritting my teeth and marching into the store, passing through the produce and going straight to the freezer aisle, I grabbed the first thing I found that might stop the swelling: Corn. Nature’s first aid, frozen corn, in all of its icy glory. Of course, I still completed my shopping, the bag of frozen corn draped stiffly around my mangled digit.

No bones were broken and miraculously, no blood was spilled, but the thumb remains black and angrily inflamed well beyond its usual size even five days later. Traditional pain killers have proven ineffective at best, incapacitating at worst, and so at the end of the day, I find myself curled up in bed with yet another bag of frozen corn wrapped around my smashed finger. It’s the only thing that brings any modicum of relief.

All of that is to say that I have found myself with a considerable stock pile of corn, both frozen and fully thawed after serving as overnight ice packs. Giving their all for the cause, these kernels exhaust their typically toothsome structure along with their magical healing qualities, making for some rather mushy bags of corn pulp in the morning. Sending them off in a blaze of glory, the best way I’ve found to appreciate the service of these vegetables is in a golden puree of rich, summery soup.

The term velouté typically refers to a silky-smooth sauce, but in this case, it was the only term that seemed sufficient to describe the creamy, luscious texture of such a full-bodied soup. Thickened not with added starches, gums, or flours, its the bulk of the corn itself that creates this winsome quality. It’s a good thing I’m so fond of this blend, served both piping hot and thoroughly chilled, because it looks like there will still be a lot more where that came from… At least until my thumb is on the mend.

Yield: Makes 4 - 5 Servings

Roasted Corn Velouté

Roasted Corn Velouté

The term velouté typically refers to a silky-smooth sauce, but in this case, it was the only term that seemed sufficient to describe the creamy, luscious texture of such a full-bodied soup. Thickened not with added starches, gums, or flours, its the bulk of the corn itself that creates this winsome quality. It’s a good thing I’m so fond of this blend, served both piping hot and thoroughly chilled, because it looks like there will still be a lot more where that came from… At least until my thumb is on the mend.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil, Divided
  • 5 Cups Corn Kernels (Thawed if Frozen)
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 Small Onion, Diced
  • 4 Small Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1/2 Medium Yellow Pepper, Diced
  • 3 – 4 Cups Vegetable Stock
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
  • 1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Combine the corn, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper, tossing until the corn is evenly coated. Spread the corn mixture out evenly on a large baking sheet. Roast for about 15 minutes, stirring at the 10 minute mark, until the kernels look lightly toasted.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a medium saucepan and begin to saute the onion. Introduce the garlic and yellow pepper next, stirring frequently, until all of the vegetables are golden brown around the edges. Add in 3 cups of the vegetable stock along with the lemon juice and 4 cups of the roasted corn, and let everything simmer gently for 15 – 20 minutes.
  4. Transfer everything into a blender and thoroughly puree, until perfectly smooth. Add cayenne pepper to taste, and the final cup of vegetable stock if you’d prefer a thinner texture. Stir in the remaining cup of roasted corn before serving.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

5

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 289Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1815mgCarbohydrates: 41gFiber: 4gSugar: 11gProtein: 7g

Corn Porn

The simplest elements of a meal, those unassuming side dishes that are all too often overshadowed by flashier, more expensive, or more complex mains, serve up far more nuance than they’re given credit for. A perfect example of this is the humble ear of corn. As summer marches on and those golden yellow kernels swell larger, juicier, and sweeter underneath the hot sun, truly sumptuous fresh corn is a rare treat despite its ubiquity. That’s because few cooks truly value this starchy staple as more than just plate filler. A whole world of flavor can be found within those pale green husks, just beyond the tangled forest of corn silk, if only one knows how coax it out.

Finesse is the key to letting such a pared-down dish shine, accentuating the inherent flavor of is base ingredients without covering them up with a heavy-handed smattering of seasonings. Elote, served up either straight on the cob or sheared off and mixed up in the humble “corn in a cup” presentation, is worth getting excited about. The concept is hardly a new one, appearing as classic Mexican street food for countless decades, and yet it’s still nearly impossible to find a vegan rendition to indulge in. Mayonnaise, sour cream, and/or cheese typically binds the creamy corn concoction together; an easy fix for the home cook, but good luck finding an accommodating eatery. That’s why eating my way through the menu at Cool Beans was such a revelation. Clearly, the chef at the helm here knows how to treat an ear of corn right. Not only do they make their own corn tortillas, placing the resulting tacos easily near the top of my list, but they’re perhaps the only ones outside of California that offer a proper vegan elote.

Tempted as I was to wheedle the recipe out of them, elote really should be so simple that only a basic formula is required. Start with sweet corn at the height of its growing season, prepared soon after it’s picked, and you can’t go wrong. Consider what follows more of a reminder to reconsider corn this summer, giving it a place of honor on the plate. Tweak seasonings as your heart desires; you truly can’t go wrong with either a spicier or subtler blend.

Do me a favor, would you? Stop taking corn for granted this summer and at long last, do the common cob proper justice with at least one big batch of elote.

Elote

8 Ears Sweet Corn, Husked
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Cup Raw Cashews, Soaked for 3 Hours and Thoroughly Drained
1 Clove Garlic, Roughly Chopped
1/4 Cup Lime Juice
3 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
1 Teaspoon Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Minced
Chili Powder, to Garnish (Optional)

It’s easiest if you can simply toss the corn on a hot grill, but you can also take it indoors by heating up a large griddle over high heat. Depending on the size of your cooking surface, you may need to work in batches since the corn must make full contact directly with the surface of the vessel. Lightly brush the corn with oil and grill the corn until lightly charred, turning as needed. This process should take approximately 10 minutes, but let the color of the corn serve as your guide. Set aside to cool.

While the corn cools, turn your attention to the creamy accompaniment. Place the cashews, garlic, and lime juice in food processor, and pulse to combine. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl with your spatula so that the nuts are all fairly well broken down. Add in the nutritional yeast, agave, paprika, cayenne, and salt, pulsing to incorporate. Allow the motor to run while slowly drizzling in the water, blending thoroughly. The sauce should still be a bit coarse in texture, as the small pieces of cashew that remain will more closely emulate the traditional curds of cotija cheese.

Cut the kernels off of the corn cobs and place them in a large bowl. Pour the cashew sauce on top and mix thoroughly. Add in the fresh cilantro, tossing to combine. Divide the elote into 6 – 8 cups and top with a sprinkle of chili powder, if desired.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

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