Corn Cakes

August 25, 2016

So much of life is ridiculous, right? You’re driving while wolfing lunch. Suddenly the idiot in front of you, who you just know is texting, lurches to a stop. Your carefully arranged lunch, which you so artfully wedged into the cupholder, goes flying, landing upside down on the shirt you tore off two stoplights back, while in throes of a hot flash. Your Chinese noodles–hey, you are woman, you can eat anything while driving–splatter across the shirt. Hell, at least they’re contained.

You arrive home, still hungry. Your be-noodled shirt has been emanating enticing odors the entire way, reminding you there’s nothing lunchable in the house. Also you are dying to pee, another new and entertaining side effect of middle age. But wait! There is a tiny obstacle in your driveway: two men are riding about on small bulldozers.

You’d think, in this modern era, they’d have sent a warning. Perhaps a text. A robocall. Affixed a post-it to the front door (post-its were invented by Michael Nesmith’s mother. You know, the Monkee with the hat? Seriously.) But no. (Futher no: I am told that Mother Nesmith invented correction fluid, not post-its. Thank you to my corrector, and apologies to the very creative Nesmith family.)

The bulldozer operators are very apologetic. They keep calling you “Ma’am.” This makes you want to swat them with your be-noodled shirt. But other matters are more pressing: the need to pee, the de-noodling of what was a new-ish shirt.

It’s barely eleven a.m. You’re exhausted.

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You think, wistfully, that it is five o’clock somewhere. But where you are, it’s not even noon.

Scrape the noodles into the compost bin. Soak the shirt in stain remover. Then, make the foolhardy decision to be an adult member of society and listen to the news.

For whatever reason, your home doesn’t get normal radio reception. Never mind: you are woman.You have figured a way around this, firing up your ancient laptop, opening I-tunes, and calling up the local NPR affiliate.

Syria! Italy! Louisiana! You very own state, up in flames! By now it’s noon, and that pool of bourbon, the very deep end, of course, is looking positively enchanting, an intoxicating vista giving off an amber glow…

No! No! We’re adults. We’re going to behave in an adult manner! No texting while driving. No bulldozing without prior warning (what the hell are they doing out there?). No amber pools of bourbon before 5pm (most of the time).

We’re gonna cook. The Insufficient Kitchen, we’re a food blog. So let’s cook.

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We’re going to make corn cakes.  which come to us from Diana Henry’s A Bird In The Hand. They are adapted, because I made them incorrectly the first time, didn’t realize it, and they were terrific anyway. This says a great deal about Diana Henry’s recipes. I suppose it also speaks to my limited recipe-reading abilities.

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Getting back to A Bird In The Hand: I’ve wanted to make these little cakes since buying the book, but didn’t get round to it until last Sunday. The results were so successful that I replicated them immediately. Henry’s full recipe includes roast chicken and smashed avocado, and it’s great. You should make it. In fact, you should buy the book, which won a James Beard award. Barring that, make these corn cakes, and realize how amazing Henry is.

A few notes.

Henry’s recipe calls for three tablespoons of butter. The first time I made this, with no intention of blogging, I forgot the butter, to no ill effect; the corn cakes still browned beautifully and tasted wonderful. Will they be better with butter? Isn’t everything? So my advice here is, if you want to add the butter, by all means, go ahead. It can only make a great recipe transcendental. If you want to leave it out, as I did, go ahead. You’ll be happy either way.

Henry fries her cakes in peanut oil. Much as I like peanut oil for certain recipes, I used Spectrum Organics Refined High Heat Canola Oil here. It’s tasteless and hits all those pc/organic/earth-friendly notes Berkeley Freak Flag types–you know, people like me–look for. Use whatever pleases you.

I write in August, when fresh corn is still available. I’ve never made these with canned or frozen corn, though I suppose it’s possible. For now, to liberate fresh corn from its cob, I use the sharp knife/deep bowl method: grasp the cob by the stem, placing other end in a deep bowl. Using your sharpest knife, slice down the cob so kernels fall away in slabs.

I should have a photo demonstrating this. I do not. Instead, another moody corn still-on-the-cob photo.

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Cobs may be frozen and dumped into broth, if you are of a broth-making persuasion.

This recipe requires a food processor. Barring a processor, you could use a blender or handheld stick blender, but a mechanical device is necessary to achieve the required texture.

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It’s also helpful to have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go, especially easy in this recipe, as you can measure, dump directly into the processor, pulse, and that’s that. Don’t be like certain people, who needed to separate her ingredients to take pictures.

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She then tossed everything into the food processor–or so she thought–then wondered why the batter seemed rather thick. A glance into the living room/photo studio clarified matters. A key ingredient remained in her studio/living room floor. *Oopsie.

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*not what was said.

Corn cakes pair nicely with just about any dish. We’ve eaten them with chicken, of course, but also with pork chops and greens. They made a lovely brunch alongside smoked salmon. Or have a few for lunch with a salad of bitter greens. They’re pretty, easy to cook, and easy to eat. Life may be ridiculous, the news downright ghastly, but a few corn cakes will brighten matters, at least temporarily.

One more for the road.

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Corn Cakes

Minimally Adapted from Diana Henry’s A Bird In The Hand

Yield: approximately 16 corn cakes

Prep: Corn cakes are fast and easy: you pour the ingredients into the processor, pulse, then fry. The cakes cook quickly, needing only two minutes per side. Batter may be prepared and refrigerated a few hours in advance.

1/3 cup cornmeal

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 2/3 cups corn kernels (2 large ears corn)

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup milk (I used Half and Half)

3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or chile pepper flakes

2 scallions, trimmed of hairy tips, cleaned, roughly chopped

1 large garlic clove, peeled

3-4 ounces parsley

1 teaspoon sea salt (if using table or kosher salt, start with 1/2 tsp)

1 teaspoon black pepper

Optional addition:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Peanut or Canola oil for frying

Remove corn from cob by grasping cob’s stem in non-dominant hand. Place other end of cob in large bowl. Using a sharp knife, slice downward so kernels fall off in slabs.

Place cornmeal, flour,eggs, milk, red pepper, scallion, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper and optional butter in a food processor. Pulse a few times until mixture is well-blended but not completely liquid; you want the corn visible.

Pour batter into a bowl. Taste small amount for seasoning: add salt or hot pepper if needed.

Batter may be refrigerated at this point for several hours. Cover with foil or plastic wrap. Allow to come to room temperature before using.

To make corn cakes, film bottom of nonstick pan with oil. Heat to medium flame. Using a ladle or spoon, pour batter into pan. I like a cake that’s about 2-3 inches across. Watch the heat; these are easy to burn.

Corn cakes will cook quickly, needing only about 2 minutes per side. When cake is brown, flip and cook on second side. Repeat until batter is used up. You may need to add oil as you go.

You should get 16-17 corn cakes.

Corn cakes go with just about any food, or may be eaten alone with a green salad. Leftovers will get a bit soggy. They are best reheated in a low oven.

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