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Brazilian Cornstarch Cookies

Between working for a couple of years with Maria Baez Kijac on her iconic cookbook The South American Table and my own interest in corn from my book, Midwest Maize, I knew I had to try these cookies as soon as I learned of their existence.

These tasty confections melt in your mouth. Popular in Brazil, they are generally served with hot coffee in the afternoon. They are easy to make—and they are gluten free. Plus they allow for a substantial amount of customization.

The most commonly used brand of cornstarch (aka corn flour) in Brazil is Maizena, so these cookies are often referred to as Maizena cookies, or biscoitos de Maizena, in Portuguese. Because the butter is a chief flavor component of the cookies, use good quality butter, and definitely don’t use butter you’ve had in the freezer for a long time (I did this once, and you can taste that smell things pick up when left in the freezer for too long). And use salted butter. If the only butter you have is unsalted, either buy some salted butter or add a pinch of salt to the recipe.

Ingredients:
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cups salted butter
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups cornstarch

Preparation:
Cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract, then add the corn starch and beat into the mixture. Once thoroughly combined and dough-like, let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes. While the dough rests, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Form the dough into 1-inch balls, rolling them in your hand. Place them on a cookie sheet that has been lined with baking parchment or a silicon baking sheet, or just lightly butter the cookie sheet. Then flatten the balls slightly with a fork, leaving the tine pattern in the top of each cookie. Bake on the center rack of your oven for 8 to 10 minutes. They should not brown on top, but a tiny bit of gold on the bottom is okay. Let them cool before handling, as they are delicate when hot. This should produce 36 cookies.

That is all that is needed to make them authentic. Brazilians sometimes toss a bit of shredded coconut into the dough before baking. I think a bit of grated lemon rind would be lovely, or use almond extract instead of vanilla. I thought the white cookies looked a little plain, so I grated a bit of fresh nutmeg over my first batch, cinnamon over the second. Both worked. With so few ingredients, the flavor of the cookie depends heavily on the quality of the butter and the extract.

In an air-tight container, these hold up very well—though I’ve never had them last long enough to find out how long they’ll last.

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Corn Silk Tea

Most folks are at least somewhat aware that corn has many uses. But I just encountered a new one (new to me, that is). An article in Plate Magazine reports that New York’s Atoboy Restaurant offers on their drink menu a beverage that is particularly suited to their cuisine: corn silk tea.

The article, written by Amy Cavanaugh, relates that the restaurant’s co-owner Ellia Park says the beverage reflects her Korean heritage. The article notes that the corn silk is dried for three to four days before it’s ready to be brewed, then just steep it in boiling for 10 to 15 minutes. It can be served hot or iced.

Cavanaugh shares Park’s description of the beverage: “There’s a natural nutty flavor with some sweetness.” Sounds nice.

If you like knowing what is going on in the restaurant world, Plate is a great resource. I have had the great good fortune of writing for Plate (a piece on the culinary history of the Caribbean), but I liked them before that. And now I have another reason to like them: they’ve introduced me to something else that can be made with corn.

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Corn Salsa

Staying busy these days, so it might be a while before I post further about my travels around the Midwest. But it’s summer, and good sweet corn is beginning to appear in farmers’ markets, so I figured I can at least help you use some of summer’s bounty. Thought this corn salsa from Byron Talbott looked mighty tasty.

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E-Z Pop

In the 1950s, Benjamin Coleman of Berkley, Michigan, invented a fuss-free method of making popcorn. The popcorn was packed in its own pan and had a foil tent that expanded as the popcorn popped. If the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that description is Jiffy Pop, you could be forgiven for the error, since it became better known, but Coleman’s product, marketed by the Taylor Reed Corporation, was called E-Z Pop.

Five years after E-Z Pop hit the market, inventor Frederick Mennen of LaPorte, Indiana, created a similar device and called it Jiffy Pop. American Home Products bought Mennen’s creation in 1959, and soon took it national. Not too surprisingly, Taylor Reed sued, because the products were so similar. Initially, they won the suit, but it was later overturned. Apparently, the two products were just enough different to satisfy a judge. E-Z Pop began to fade from the scene. (In all fairness to Mennen, almost every invention in history had lots of people working on the same idea at the same time. Nothing arises in a vacuum. Popcorn was popular and making it more accessible was on many minds.)

Though E-Z Pop vanished, a few of us remember the name (my mom even remembers buying it) and the ads, which ran into the ‘60s. Playing on the rhyme of pop and bop, E-Z Pop used a jazzy presentation for their creation.

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2017 Eric Hoffer Award

The Eric Hoffer Awards for 2017 were announced yesterday. This is an award designed to recognize exceptional writing from small, academic, or independent publishers that don’t usually get the attention that the big publishing houses get. While Midwest Maize didn’t get the top prize, I was awarded an Honorable Mention, which, given the thousands of books submitted, is still gratifying.

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Three Layer Corn Bread

It’s always fun to run across a reminder of things from our past. A friend and fellow food historian blogged this today — three-layer cornbread. There are two firm layers, top and bottom, and the middle layer is custard. It has been forever since I had it, but I remember it’s being yummy. Time to dig out the stone-ground cornmeal and try this again.

Foodways Pilgrim

Not so Wicked Wayback….

Talking about 17th century cornbreads, some one recalled a 3 layer cornbread that her mother  used to make….and I recalled this one from Tassajara Bread Book

Tassajara Bread Book

  1. Three Layer Corn Bread

Easy, glorious and amazing!

1 cup cornmeal (fresh stone ground from your favorite local mill is best – natch!)

½ c. whole wheat flour

½ cup white flour

¼ cup wheat germ (not in the 1970 version)

2 t. baking powder

1 t salt

2 egg

¼ – ½ honey or molasses

¼ c oil or melted butter

3 cup milk or buttermilk (my fave)

  1. Combine dry ingredients
  2. Combine wet ingredients
  3. Mix together. Mixture will be quite liquidy.
  4. Pour into greased 9×9 pan
  5. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes or until top is springy when gently touched.
  6. As a variation, add a cup of grated cheese – Jack, provolone or parmesan.

Tassajara Bread Book 25th

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Memories and Nueske’s

Growing up in Illinois, it seemed as though our neighbor to the north, Wisconsin, was almost as big a part of my life as my own state. I spent summers for nine years camping in the North Woods. Cousins of my mother’s had a cabin in Wisconsin, and we visited them. Vacations when my brother and I were very young (even before my camping days) often involved Wisconsin, both at “attractions,” including the Wisconsin Dells, and relaxing escapes to small lakeside cottages, where swimming and fishing were the big delights. Much later, my parents lived in Wisconsin for a few years, when my dad was sent there to help build up a small candy company (it was during this time that I discovered the joys of Friday Fish Fry in Wisconsin). And I have always found something to draw me northward, from the Wisconsin State Fair to the House on the Rock to the places mentioned previously in this blog.

Food was also always part of the fun. Many folks may think first of cheese when they think of Wisconsin—after all, it is the dairy state, and it does create some absolutely sensational cheeses. A stop at the Mars Cheese Castle is a requirement. But many of us think just as frequently, and definitely as fondly, of the German influence so evident everywhere, including in the making of sausages and smoked meats. My dad loved dining out, and the famous German restaurants in Milwaukee were a big draw. I can still remember my first dinner at Mader’s—and I still have the cookbook dad got me on that visit. (We won’t talk about how long ago that was.)

On a recent drive across Wisconsin, as I neared Wittenberg, I turned my wheels toward one of the many German-influenced culinary delights the state offers: Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats. While Nueske’s is probably best known for their bacon, they make a wide range of smoked delights, some of which are only available at their handsome headquarters. Here, the original smokehouse, used by the first generations of Nueske’s nearly a century ago, has been kept as a memento of their history, because they smoke far too much meat these days for it to handle the demand. Still, it is a fairly small company, family owned and true to its heritage.

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In addition to an impressive array of meats inside, during the summer, there is a “mobile home” out front, a log cabin on a truck bed, that serves up great sandwiches and smoky baked beans for those who stop by.

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So while it’s not a “destination” in the sense that anyone would plan a trip there, it is definitely a great place to stop if you’re in the area.

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