Friday, September 2, 2011

Eating Omily: Why God[dess] Made Zucchini

It has been quite a week. My career has moved into a place of major transition, which is both exhilarating, and frightening, but has left me with a lot of time for cooking and preserving!

I got three ears of corn dried and put up with the rest. Corn needs to be boiled for a few minutes to get it tender before drying; I tried steaming it, and because the cell walls of the kernels don't get broken down as thoroughly, it takes forever for the moisture to escape: eight hours or more of drying!! Once it's boiled for three to five minutes, let it cool, then cut the kernels off the cob. Spread them out on a sheet pan, and put them in a 170-degree oven to dry. It'll take between two and six hours, depending on how humid your house is. Use a wooden spoon to prop open the oven door, so the moisture can escape, and keep at it till the corn is shrively and brittle. It'll rattle around on the pan pretty distinctively when you shake it.
Let it cool on the pan, then transfer it to an air-tight container. The next day, check on the container. If there's moisture condensing on the insides of it, pour the corn back onto a pan and dry it some more. This batch is borderline; I would have left it another hour, except I really wanted to go to bed. The moisture was able to redistribute with the more thoroughly dried corn in the container, so it was ok. You can add oven-dried corn to casseroles and soups. Just like dried tomatoes, dried corn tastes super-sweet and rich, and as it absorbs liquid from what you put it in, it will release starch, acting as a thickener. You can also re-hydrate the corn in some boiling water before you use it, or make a big pot of warm, sweet corn chowder...with bacon! Mmmm...

The night before last, I commenced round three of my epic quest to learn to like beets. I boiled them in the water I boiled the corn in, got them peeled, topped, and tailed, and put them in the fridge. We had the beets sliced and layered with goat cheese (made fresh from the Farmer's Market; you have not lived till you've tasted this stuff!), and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. It tasted pretty good...mostly because the earthy sweetness of the beets was overpowered by the goat cheese and balsamic. Ah well. I'll have to crack open a jar of my pickled beets with cumin and cloves and see if I like those.

With that dinner, I felt like some bread was necessary, but instead of serving the whole-grain health loaf I bought at the Farmer's Market, I looked up a zucchini bread recipe! What an easy way to use up the squash super-abundance! Especially when you have a husband to do the grating for you. Even adding half again to the amount of zucchini the recipe called for, we only managed to use about half a dirigible-sized zucchini. I think that stuff magically reproduces as you try to eat it. The recipe made almost two-dozen deliciously moist muffins, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, and with a handful of walnuts thrown in for crunch. They're perfect with breakfast!

With a zucchini bread recipe, the batter should seem impossibly dry before you fold in the zucchini, because it will release so much moisture. If you go our route and make muffins instead of a loaf, cut your baking time in half, and check the muffins a few minutes before that to see how they're coming along. I am often fooled by muffins because they puff up so beautifully in the first ten minutes or so, and I'm so paranoid of burning them I want to pull them out right away. This will result in a collapsed and sad muffin!! They have to set through to the center! It's not like cookies where they're pretty awesome if you only cook them long enough for the dough to heat through to the center.

I put some beans onto soak the night before last, too, black soy beans from the Farmer's Market. They looked really beautiful to me, like caviar, or polished onyx beads...consider this photo a prime example of my unusual relationship with food: I think it's fandom.

I think the next preserving project is to grate zucchini and summer squash, and freeze it in appropriate amounts for zucchini bread...

~em

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