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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Going Local

There’s been a lot of talk lately about eating local, locally sourced foods, or even being a “locavore.” (I’ve not made up my mind about the last term—sounds rather contrived to me.) Without sounding like I’ve hitched a ride on the latest bandwagon, the intuitive part of me tells me that there’s probably some truth to this. After all, I grew up in an age of mac and cheese from a box. So, I asked myself: do dishes prepared from local, in-season produce taste better? I put this question to the test this past weekend, and I think the answer is yes, even if it was all in my head—but that’s OK. 

This past Saturday morning, I hit my local farmer’s market, Pepper Place Saturday Market, in search of fresh, local ingredients that are in season here in Alabama: blueberries, tomatoes, and corn. I arrived about 8:45am, which I considered to be pretty early for a Saturday morning. But no, the place was packed! Some of these people must have camped out like groupies getting tickets for a Rush concert in 1982!

I started with the blueberries. I went to two different stalls, each had samples. I was surprised in the difference in taste. One of the purveyor’s blueberries were decidedly sweeter than the other. I really shouldn’t say who won this taste contest, but it was Petals from the Past. This is the second time in as many weeks that I’ve gotten blueberries from them, and both times I was not disappointed. (More info can be found at:http://petalsfromthepast.com). The blueberries were destined for a cobbler.

My next stop was for tomatoes, but not just any tomatoes, but heirloom tomatoes from Snow’s Bend Farms, located just outside of Tuscaloosa, Alabama (http://www.snowsbendfarm.com). They grow more than 50 vegetables destined for some of the best restaurants in Birmingham (Hot and Hot Fish Club, Highlands Bar & Grill, Bottega, and Bettola). These beauties were reserved for a tomato, mozzarella, and basil salad.

The final stop was for some sweet yellow corn. No respecting Southerner can go through summer without getting them some corn, whether in the form of fritters, cornbread, corn-on-the-cob, creamed corn, or even whiskey. When corn is good, it is real good. As Garrison Keillor once said: “Sex is good, but not as good as fresh, sweet corn.” I grabbed some cobs that were firm and had their silk still attached and had leaves still green. They looked promising. These were destined for creamed corn.

So, I had three ingredients for three dishes. And of the three, I must say that the creamed corn was my favorite. Creamed corn is a straightforward dish, as the name implies. But I wanted to try something different and tap into a cookbook I had not used before. 

© 2013 Chris Terrell
I recalled that a few days earlier I had been flipping through Thomas Keller’s cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home, when I noticed a recipe for creamed corn. The great Thomas Keller has a recipe for that humble Southern dish of creamed corn?! I pulled the book off the shelf and, sure enough, there it was! It turned out to be the best creamed corn I’ve ever had! (Except for yours Mom!)

So did all this fresh, locally-sourced, in-season produce taste better? Maybe it was all in my head, but you know what, who cares! Perhaps, walking to a local market and looking the grower in the eye and asking him or her about their produce made me pay a little more attention to technique; read the recipes more carefully; and, more importantly, take my time. All out of respect for the food and the people who grow it.

Here’s Thomas Keller’s recipe for creamed corn from Ad Hoc at Home (my comments in brackets):


6 ears supersweet white or yellow corn, shucked
1 large lime
3 tablespoons (1½ ounces) unsalted butter
Kosher salt
¾  to 1 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1½   tablespoons of finely chopped chives

With a sharp chef’s knife, cut vertically down each ear of corn to slice off the kernels. Put the kernels in a large bowl, then hold each cob over the bowl and use a spoon or the back of a knife to scrape any remaining corn and the milk from the cob.

Grate the zest of the lime, preferably with a Microplaner grater [word!]; set aside. Cut the lime in half.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the corn, squeeze about 1 tablespoon lime juice, or to taste, over the corn, and season with salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the liquid has evaporate, concentrating the flavor, and the corn is beginning to sizzle, 15 to 17 minutes. [This is where the patience comes in!]

Stir in ¾ cup cream, the cayenne, and lime zest. Continue to cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the cream is absorbed by the corn. Add up to ¼ cup more cream if desired for a creamier texture. [Yes, please!]. Add salt to taste and stir in the chives.

Serves 6 

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