I am feeling somewhat apologetic about tonight’s dinner’s inspiration and, apparently, so was Bon Appetit. See, I was biding my time in a waiting room, flipping through the latest issue which happens to feature Gwyneth Paltrow on the cover. There’s been plenty of buzz about her new cookbook and she’s definitely been making the circuit. But featuring a pretty actress on the cover of a prominent food magazine did seem odd and the editor devoted his entire piece to justifying that decision. From what he said and from the recipes I read, it seems the book is pretty good. And I even like Gwyneth as an actress.
So I can’t quite put my finger on why the idea of liking her as a cook is bugging me. It might be that I’m influenced by Anthony Bourdain’s disdain (calling her “the one bitch who refuses to eat ham”), or the notion that famous people can just choose to do what they want (actors in terrible bands or playing politicians, famous people who seem to be famous just because they are, launching clothing lines and opening restaurants). But it seems, at least with just a sneak preview, that “the bitch” can make some good looking, simple food. Or, at the least, she can inspire me to make a twist on that good food.
The dish is question was a corn vichyssoise. And other than late summer tomatoes plucked warm from my garden, sweet, fresh corn is my serious summer weakness. I’ve been working my way through the freezer and pantry trying to buy as little new things as possible that aren’t a vegetable or dairy. So I had pulled some chicken breasts from the freezer the night before. Originally I had planned to make it yesterday and serve it with chicken marsala over summer squash noodles. But when I got home I realized I had eaten all of the zucchini and only had a yellow squash left. So browsing the fridge for what was left, I pulled out a red onion, a sweet potato, some butter lettuce, chicken breasts and a variety of asian-y condiments deciding to postpone the corn (oh, the shame of a day in the fridge) and do a chicken in lettuce cups type dish.
I put the chicken back in the freezer while I prepped everything else so it would chop better in the cuisenart and got to chopping the sweet potato, squash, onion, garlic, green onion and some cilantro. I browned the veggies and set them aside and then pulsed the chicken in the cuisenart with some cornstarch, soy, this funky spiced vinegar stuff I can’t read and some salt. While I browned the chicken in toasted sesame and canola oils, I soaked some bean thread noodles and made a slurry of hoisin, chicken broth, soy and chili garlic. When the chicken was browned, I added back the veggies and sauce and simmered until it was almost all incorporated. I stirred in a spoonful of peanut butter to thicken the sauce a bit. I had also cubed some cucumber and tossed it with cilantro, chopped peanuts, rice vinegar and more chili garlic.
To assemble, I put some noodles into each lettuce cup and topped first with chicken and then cucumber and garnished with black sesame seeds.
So what about the corn? Well today I was thinking about that and what I wanted to serve with it. At first I thought I might get some scallops or shrimp, but I remembered my half-hearted pledge to deplete the freezer and that we had already tempura shrimp and so my plan once again veered asian and I didn’t have to go to the store at all.
I set my daughter up at the counter with some garlic chives and dull, toddler scissors hoping to buy enough time to get the soup started. I then started husking the corn and remembered, vaguely, that I had once bought some gizmo for removing kernels easily that we had never used. Just now as I am googling corn shuckers, corn kernel removing tools, etc. I am seeing all sorts of inventions that probably work better than this thing…including, I might add, a plain old mandolin. And while I have gotten pretty good at de-kerneling an ear of corn with a knife without sending kernels flying, I figured I’d try this Kernal Kutter and see how well it worked. At first it seems like it will never fit over the corn cob and then it seems like Wow! this thing will be awesome! and then, halfway down, when it is stuck and I feel like I’m just bruising and injuring the corn and bits and juice are everywhere and I can’t get it finish ‘kutting’ or get the damn thing off I am thinking….what the hell was I thinking? But I decided to try one more time and spun the last ‘kob’ through the device and it was pretty impressive what that kutter kould do.
So I then cooked some diced red onion with grated ginger until it softened, threw in half a diced potato and the corn (3 ears), stirred a bit, added some garlic, then a few teaspoons of the veggie boullion and four cups of water along with the cobs. It simmered for about half an hour. Once the potatoes were tender, I let the soup cool a bit, then blended it as best as I could without the fabulous Vitamix blender Gwyneth swears by (sigh) and strained it and chilled it. Later when I was ready to eat, I put together a salad of butter lettuce, avocado and cucumber in a tahini dressing (tahini, lemon juice, brown rice vinegar, honey, sriracha, pepper). I then heated up tempura shrimp in the convection oven. Tasting the corn soup I decided it needed a little salt and had a minor fit in the pantry when I could not find any dashi and had just run out of soy sauce. So I added a little salt and made a mix of chili garlic, toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar which I drizzled on top of the soup. I topped it with garlic chives and served the shrimp up with its very own built-in sweet soy sauce and voila- an asian-ified homemade plus frozen on-hand wonderful meal.