An ear of corn speaks volumes

In October, we were subjugated to Mother Nature experiencing the indecisive phase of menopause.

It started seasonably warm during the day and comfortably cool for good sleeping nights. That was her version of sleeping with one leg outside of the blankets.

Suddenly, it became so cold that snow fell; then sort of cold with thunderstorms, and hail. Most days, we start out wearing a winter coat, switching to a lighter sweatshirt, only to be searching for that coat, once again, at night.

November is in-between the last harvest and the hibernation of winter. It is also the month to begin planning for the holiday feasting, presents, traveling, and making New Year resolutions.

While the various Hallmark channels are playing Christmas themed movies already 24/7, Black Friday commercials have been running for weeks.

Basically, while sitting in your Halloween costume, you can shop for Christmas presents and plan your Thanksgiving meal at the same time. Bah Humbug!

The past two years should have taught us all to savor every moment. Tomorrow is never guaranteed, but pushing everything together, just in case, leaves nothing to appreciate later on – like the simple things.

There are many things that are simply good as is. You do not need a good reason to want them. A bowl of steaming mashed potatoes, butter oozing over creamy spuds. A slice or two of toasted bread smeared with cream cheese and orange marmalade has a fruity, rich, and satisfying crunch on toast.

No matter the weather, no matter the season or what holiday rolls around, these things make us feel good and give us comfort.

Some of our most satisfying comforts come from a versatile vegetable, corn. Delicious freshly grilled and coated with garlic or honey butter; boiled in milk to bring out that rich sweetness; or added to casseroles for taste and crunch.

Around the world, corn is used in forms to create a basic staple or awesome gourmet dish.

In our southwestern states, white, yellow, or blue cornmeal is a mainstay staple found in almost every pantry.

Cornmeal is corn ground to a fine consistency and is used in baking such as cornbread or hushpuppies, for dredging when frying, or to make tortillas.

Grits is a word that comes from the Old English “grytta,” meaning a coarse meal. As the name implies, grits are gritty. They are a staple in most southern USA dishes for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner.

Grits have a creamy texture similar to porridge or moist oatmeal. This can be eaten alone, as a side dish, or as part of a larger recipe.

Polenta, known as a peasant food in Italy, is often cooked in a copper pot called a paiola. The grind is somewhere between the consistency of cornmeal and grits and is used in baking or as a side dish similar to mashed potatoes.

The milling process called “Stone Ground” retains some of the hull and germ of the corn, lending more flavor and nutrition to recipes. It is more perishable, but will store longer if kept in an air tight container and refrigerated.

Basic Grits

Ingredients: 4 cups water; 2 Tbsp. butter; 1 tsp. salt; 1 cup stone ground grits

Preparation: In large saucepan on high heat, bring the water, butter, and salt to a boil. Gradually add the grits and return to a boil. Reduce heat to low.

Cook the grits, stirring occasionally so they do not stick or clump. They are done when the texture is creamy, about 25-30 minutes. Season with additional salt and butter to taste, if desired.

Makes four servings.

Notes: Additional seasonings: ½ tsp ground black pepper or garlic

If adding cheese reduce water to two cups, add two cups milk. Cook grits according to instructions. Add ½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese plus two additional tablespoons of butter to grits; whisk to fully incorporate.

Basic Polenta

Ingredients: 6 cups water; 2 tsps. salt; 1 3/4 cups stone ground cornmeal; 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Preparation: Large saucepan on high heat, bring water to a boil; add salt. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal then reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add butter, and stir until fully incorporated.

Makes 6 servings.

Notes: Polenta can be served as is, or spread in parchment-lined baking pan, cooled in the refrigerator and cut into shapes.

Additional ingredients to make it more savory: ½ cup of minced mushrooms, red onion, or both sautéed in butter before adding. Use chicken broth instead of water for richer flavor.

Reduce water to 4 cups; add 2 cups milk, follow cooking instruction, and then whisk in ¾ cup shredded Parmesan cheese.

Cornbread

This is a basic recipe for cornbread. Chile peppers, such as jalapeno, and/or cheese can be added. The amount is up to the baker.

Personally, if making a cornbread with chile peppers, I only add one fine diced for each loaf made. I do not want the flavor of the cornbread to be overpowered.

Ingredients: 1 Tbsp. melted, unsalted butter; 2 cups all-purpose flour; 2 Tbsp. baking powder; 1 tsp. salt; 2 cups yellow cornmeal; ½ cup sugar; 1 cup unsalted butter, softened; 2 cups milk; 2 large eggs, beaten

Preparation: Preheat oven to 400F. Brush two 9”x5”x3” loaf pans with the melted butter.

Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add in the cornmeal and sugar, mix well.

Cut softened butter into dry mixture until it forms a coarse meal.

In a medium bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Mix with coarse meal until smooth batter forms. Divide batter between two loaf pans.

Bake 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes cleanly out of the center. Cool pans on wire racks for 15 minutes before turning loaves out.

The cornbread can be served warm or cool.

To store, wrap in plastic wrap. It will keep for two days in a cool, dry place. Or it can be frozen for up to two weeks.

Makes two loaves.

…if you look for a soup to serve at a holiday meal, something to warm up your bones, or even bring to someone feeling poorly, try:

Chicken Corn Chowder

Ingredients: 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts; 1/8 tsp salt; ¼ tsp. paprika and ground black pepper; 4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed; 2 carrots, peeled and large diced; 2 stalks celery, large diced; 1 small onion, diced; 6 Tbsp. butter; 4 Tbsp. flour; 3 cups milk; 2 cups cooked whole kernel corn; 2 hardboiled eggs, diced

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350F; spray roasting pan with nonstick spray. Season chicken with salt, black pepper, and paprika.

Roast for 15-20 minutes. Juices in chicken will run clear. Remove and cut into cubes.

While chicken is roasting, place potatoes, carrots, and celery in large pot, cover with salted water, and cook on high until potatoes are fork tender. Drain, retain one cup of water.

In the large pot, melt butter on medium-high. Add onion and cook for five minutes; add flour and mix thoroughly.

Continue to cook for five minutes, stirring to make sure the flour is well incorporated.

Add in milk, retained water and corn. Bring to a boil, stir, and continue to cook for 10 minutes. Mix in diced eggs and serve.

Makes six servings.

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