Raw Sweet Corn Chowder

I got impulsive about a month ago and bought a new high-powered blender – The Total Blender by Blendtec. Costco was featuring a live demo of these super machines in action and I was curious.I’ve been aware of the Vita-Mix brand of commercial blenders, and remember the ads they ran a few years back featuring hot, naked celebrity chefs posing with nothing more than a Vita-Mix and their birthday suit. But since I couldn’t imagine investing in a pricey machine that I’d probably use for little more than the occasional smoothie, I never even considered I might need or want one.

Some DinnerStyle clients of mine own a Vita-Mix, and I’ve been having fun “borrowing” it whenever I’m cooking for them by whipping up smooth soups and sauces for their dinners. The first time I turned it on I was a little amazed not only at its power, but also by how loud it was.

But here’s the thing: that baby made flawlessly creamy soup in about 15 seconds, like a mini cyclone in a jar. Needless to say, I found myself considering replacing my clunky old KitchenAid, which could barely manage to chop ice for emergency frozen margaritas, with a super new Vita-Mix.

When I saw the Total Blender at Costco, I borrowed my friend B’s iPhone and did a little research right there in the store, and found the price was right and reviews were mostly good. It compares neck-in-neck with the Vita-Mix, with a motor that is just slightly more powerful and a comparable 7-year warranty; the jar blade and motor base drive for a lifetime.

Blendtec has been around for years making commercial machines for places like Starbucks, and started marketing to home consumers. (I’d never seen the crazy “ Will it Blend?” infomercials until now, but they are somewhat entertaining) The great thing about buying things like this from Costco is that if the blender turned out to be a dud when I got it home, I could always return it. I love that.

So, I took my new blender home and it’s changing my life. Seriously! ( And no, I’m not even getting paid to say that) Now that its high summer and peak produce time, I’ve been making myself and my kids fresh smoothies for breakfast using organic berries, peaches and mangoes. I throw in entire vanilla beans and almonds and make creamy, dairy-free drinks for T, who suffers from a bit of lactose intolerance. No Chuck Norris action figures yet, but I might be tempted.


The makings for gazpacho in my new blender 

I’m also blending up some sweet local tomatoes for gazpacho and raw sauces for pasta.
When I came across this Ani Phyo recipe for soup using raw, fresh sweet corn in the June 2008 Food & Wine magazine, I put my new machine to work.

The soup is fantastic – sweet and creamy, with the cashews giving the soup plush texture, as if it were dairy cream. I like garnishing the smooth soup with whole, raw corn kernels. When you have the freshest corn of the season, there is no better way to eat it than raw!

You most certainly can use a regular blender to make this – just make sure to soak the cashews for a few hours before so they blend up nice and smooth.

Raw Sweet Corn Chowder with Cashews
(adapted from Ani Phyo in Food & Wine)4 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked and kernels removed with a chef’s knife
2 cups water, approximately
1/2 cup cashews, soaked 1 – 2 hours; drained
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small, peeled garlic clove

2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or cilantro
1/4 cup choppped fresh tomatoIn a blender, combine 2/3 of the corn with 1 1/2 cups water, cashews, olive oil, garlic and salt and puree until smooth, adding more water to achieve desired consistency. Taste for seasoning.

Pour the soup into bowls and spoon the remaining kernels into each one. Garnish with basil and tomato.

Makes 4 servings.

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Simply Roasted Beet Salad with Fresh Mint

Roast some beets for a jewel-box salad
Let’s talk about beet love.

The thing about beets is this: People tend to either devour them with joyful greed, like a dog might Hoover up a hunk of smoked turkey bacon off the floor, or spit them out in disgust after mistaking their glistening, jeweled beauty for some kind of exotic fruit. There’s no middle ground, no room for wishy-washy ambivalence when it comes to loving beets.

In the history of me, there was a time when I belonged to the latter camp. I found the curiously earthy nature of beets overwhelmingly and distractingly….dirty. Because let’s face it – along with the surprising sugary-sweetness of beets is the underlying, penetrating flavor of the earth in which they grow.

That combination of dirty-sweetness is kind of what I imagined a wad of mud rolled in honey might taste like.

It wasn’t until I worked the salad station in a restaurant kitchen that I became attached to beets in a more sensory way. One of the dishes I was responsible for was a salad topped with goat cheese and balsamic marinated roasted beets. I roasted, peeled and chopped umpteen pounds of beets, staining my hands a startling shade of magenta. I tossed and tasted all those beets to make sure they were cooked and seasoned just right.

Maybe it was that day-to-day intimacy with beets that converted me in the end, but I came around. I crossed over to the world of beet love.

I still prefer roasting to any other method of cooking beets; probably because it’s so easy to wrap them up and stick them in a hot oven, where they pretty much take care of business all by themselves. And I can’t resist beets that are colored vivid orange or the gorgeous candy-striped Chioggia varieties.

Beets have a particular affinity for things tangy; like fresh soft goat cheese, mild vinegars and citrus juices, making them perfect for salads.

I hesitate to call the following a recipe. Consider it more of a method, to ready your beets for a simple toss with olive oil, some fresh herbs, and your tangy ingredient of choice.

Simply Roasted Beet Salad with Fresh Mint

To roast your beets, trim off the greens (save those if they are in good shape and chop some up for your salad) and place them on a sheet of aluminum foil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a little drizzle of olive oil.

Roast at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. You’ll know they’re just about done when the kitchen takes on a pleasing aroma and the beets offer no resistance when you poke a sharp knife into them.

Let them cool a bit before slipping off the skin and slicing.

Toss the beets with some of your best olive oil, salt and pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon or orange juice. Sprinkle with chopped mint, some crumbled goat cheese and serve over salad greens.

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No-Cook Summer Recipe: Tabbouleh with Fresh Basil

What to make when it’s too hot to cook
Do you ever feel like you’re in a food rut?

I think we all get into a habit of cooking and eating certain things over and over again, either because your seven year old whines for it on a daily basis or simply because you can whip it up with your eyes closed and one hand tied behind your back.

Although my pantry shelves are sagging under the weight of a large array of boxes, bags and jars – all the interesting ingredients I can’t seem to stop myself from collecting for experimentation purposes, I’ve been watching myself reach for the same things to serve as the basis of a quick, one-dish meal when dinner time is nigh and I don’t have a plan; usually some kind of pasta or couscous.

Somewhere along the line I’ve strayed away from good old bulgur. Remember tabbouleh? All you need is hot water and it magically swells into a nourishing meal.

Way back before we made couscous the new “instant” side dish, there was tabbouleh to save the day. Many a college dorm room or apartment kitchen of mine was scented by that little spice packet that came in the tabbouleh box, with its telltale aroma of dried mint and slightly stale cumin.

I had a few friends over for a summer dinner party the other night, and wanted to have most everything made ahead. I had a Middle Eastern flavor theme going, so pulled out one of my favorite cookbooks, Spice by Ana Sortun, and there was a recipe for tabbouleh that jumped out at me.

It turned out to be the perfect thing to round out a summer meal – fast, fresh and I didn’t have to cook it! Well, not unless you count boiling water as cooking.

What I loved about this version was that it uses basil and walnuts, which was a nice twist on the usual parsley-mint-tomato combo.

Summer Tabbouleh with Fresh Basil

Adapted from Spice by Ana Sortun

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 small red onion or shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup fine or medium bulgur
1 packed cup fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
1 cup toasted walnuts or almonds
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a medium bowl, combine lemon juice, onion, garlic and salt. Let sit about 5 minutes to soften the onion.

Stir in the bulgur along with 1/4 cup hot water. Cover and let stand about 15 minutes, or until the bulgur swells and is tender. Add a bit more water, if needed, if the bulgur is still chewy, and cover until absorbed.

Pulse the basil, parsley, nuts and oil in a food processor until a paste forms. Season with salt and pepper. Add the paste to the bulgur and stir to blend.

Serve topped with grated sharp cheese (such as feta) and toasted pita bread.

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