Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Corn-ucopia of Delectable Dishes

Now to sweetcorn, an alternative name is maize. Have to admit I could eat sweetcorn straight from the can, I love the crunchy sweetness. An interesting fact is that fresh sweetcorn should be cooked within minutes of picking 'which is why really perfect sweetcorn can never be bought in a shop'. It seems that canned or frozen corn is thus the best. In the Americas, in Italy, and many other countries, maize is ground and used as a flour, where we would normally use wheat. In Africa it is called 'mealies', and in Italy 'polenta', here we call it 'cornmeal'. An aside to this - semolina and polenta are often substituted for each other in certain dishes, but as semolina can be made from both wheat or corn, perhaps best to read the packet if allergic to wheat.

Sweetcorn is inexpensive enough, a 200g can (own-brand) can cost around 15p (in truth it was a pack of three for 46p) . Other (named) brands can triple that price. So here are a few recipes which use this sweet-tasting vegetable. You will note I have highlighted certain words in blue or green to draw attention to parts of the dish that can be frozen, or suitable for vegetarians.

Sweetcorn Dumplings: makes 8 (V)
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
pinch salt
2 oz (50g) butter, chilled and cut into cubes
salt and pepper
1 tblsp chopped chives
5 oz (150g) sweetcorn kernels
8 tblsp cold water
Put the flour and salt into a bowl and rub in the butter until like crumbs (or sling the lot in a food processor and blitz for a short time). Season to taste. Add the remaining ingredients, and mix together to form a smooth, soft dough. Form into eight balls. Twenty minutes to half an hour before the end of the cooking time of a oven-baked casserole, put the dumplings on the top and cook, uncovered, for the remaining cooking time.
Variation: Instead of butter, used suet grains (these can be vegetarian suet), and if cooking the meal on the hob, place on top of the stew but cover with a lid before the final cooking time.
Tip: If using canned sweetcorn, share between the above and one of the following recipes. Surplus canned sweetcorn can be frozen.

Smokey Fish Pie: serves 4
1 lb (450g) potatoes
4 tblsp creme fraiche
16 fl.oz (450ml) milk
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb (450g) smoked haddock
1 tblsp finely chopped parsley
1 carrot, diced
half a red bell pepper, diced
1 small onion, or a shallot, finely diced
3 oz (75g) frozen or canned sweetcorn
3 oz (75g) frozen peas
bare ounce (20g) of cornflour
Boil the potatoes until tender, drain and mash with 1 - 2 tblsp creme fraiche, adding a little milk only if necessary to make a smooth mash. Season to taste. Put the milk into a pan with the bay leaf, black pepper and the fish. Poach for about five minutes until the fish is just cooked. Remove the skin, flake the fish and place at the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Strain the poaching liquid and reserve. Boil or steam the vegetables until tender, drain and spread these over the fish. Scatter over the sweetcorn and peas. Make a white sauce by mixing a little of the fish liquor with the cornflour, then stir this into the remaining liquid. Bring to the boil until thickened, remove from heat, stir in the remaining creme fraiche, and the parsley. Pour this over the fish/vegetables and top with the creamy mashed potatoes, keeping the top roughly peaked (at this stage it can be kept chilled in the fridge to cook the following day). To cook, bake for 40 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for forty minutes until golden brown.

The following recipe is based on Jambalaya, and although intended for microwave cooking, would cook just as well (and probably in the same amount of time) on the hob.
Jumbleaya: serves 4
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
easy-cook rice
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into chunks
8 oz (200g) chorizo sausage, cut into chunks
1 x 200g can sweetcorn drained
sprinkling Cajun seasoning (or whatever you wish)
salt and pepper
Tip the tomatoes into a microwavable bowl. Fill the empty can with the rice and add that to the tomatoes, fill the can with water and pour this over the rice and tomatoes. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, season to taste. Cover bowl with cling-film, making two holes in it with a knife. Microwave for 10 minutes on High. Remove the cling-film, give everything a good stir (jumbling it all up together), then return the bowl, this time uncovered, to the microwave for a further 10-12 minutes until the rice is cooked. Remove from the oven, cover with a plate and leave to stand for 1 minute before serving. Good served with a dollop of creme fraiche.

Tuna and Sweetcorn Fish Cakes: makes 8
1 lb (450g) potatoes, boiled and mashed
2 x 185g cans tuna in oil, drained and flaked
4 spring onions, finely chopped
1 x 200g sweetcorn, drained
2 tblsp finely chopped parsley
lemon juice
salt and pepper
plain flour
Put the mashed potatoes into a bowl and add the flaked tuna, the onions, sweetcorn and parsley. Add the juice of a lemon, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine everything thoroughly. Divide into eight, using floured hands, form the mixture into fishcakes. Dust each with flour and then put in the fridge to chill for half an hour.
To cook - fry in shallow oil for five minutes on each side until crisp and golden and heated through.

Grasmere Gingerbread: has a shortbread like texture
8 oz (225g) flour
4 oz (110g) butter
4 oz (110g) soft brown sugar
2 oz (50g) candied peel or preserved ginger
1 dessp ground ginger
1 tblsp golden syrup
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
Cream together the butter and sugar, then add the golden syrup. Add the rest of the ingredients and press into a buttered tin and bake at 150C, 300F, gas 2 for 40 minutes until firm.
Note: suggest sifting the flour with the bicarb and salt before adding to the creamed mixture. If no golden syrup in the cupboard, substitute runny honey, not traditional but an alternative.

Lard is used in many old recipes, much cheaper than margarine it does work well. If you prefer use all margarine. In the old days margarine was hard and came in blocks, this is also cheaper than the soft margarine we use today, so worth buying a block for using in old recipes.
Westmorland Parkin:
1 lb (450g) medium oatmeal
8 oz (225g) demerara sugar
8 oz (225g) flour
8 oz (225g) black treacle
4 oz (110g) lard
4 oz (110g) margarine
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
milk to mix
Mix together the flour, oatmeal, ginger and spice. Melt the lard and margarine in a pan with the sugar and treacle. Once the sugar has dissolved remove from the heat. Pour into the dry ingredients. Mix the bicarb with the milk then add to the bowl. Combine all thoroughly. Put into a well greased tin and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until firm (the recipe didn't give times). Cut into squares when cold, or wrap and store for several days before eating.

Kendal Mint Cake:
1 lb (450g) sugar, white or soft brown
1/2 tsp peppermint essence
1/4 pint milk (5 fl.oz/150ml)
Put the milk and sugar into a pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Boil rapidly until soft-ball stage has been reached (118C/240F). Remove from heat and add the essence. Beat thoroughly until smooth and thick then pour into a buttered tin to 1/4" depth. Mark into squares as it sets.