I brake for farm stands: smoky corn and shrimp chowder recipe

All may not be right with the world in these modern times, but some things still are. If you want to be reassured of it, just drive down a country back road in midsummer.

That’s what I found out last week when I travelled along memory lane—or should I say, lanes. I rambled off the beaten path on a leisurely drive through rural New Jersey close to where I grew up. Did I mention that I brake for farm stands? I had my eyes peeled, determined to haul back some famous Jersey corn before I hit the highway for my long ride back to Boston.

I didn’t find any farm stands, but what I did come across were side-of-the-road vegetables. You’ve seen them, the fruits of someone’s summer vegetable patch piled on a wobbly old card table, or in a basket set upon another upside-down basket, filled with corn or squash, cucumbers, tomatoes. You’d see a sign written on a piece of cardboard with a black sharpie, or sometimes a fancier white board: cucumbers, 2 for $1.00, cantaloupes, $2.00 each (and they are huge), white peaches in a cardboard basket—

please leave the basket

—$2.00. Dribble down your chin sweet peaches that make you want cry. Why didn’t I bring home more peaches?

Leave your money in the box, we trust you.

If that doesn’t restore your faith in human goodness, then I’m not sure what will.

The Jersey corn of my youth was just as sweet and tender as I remembered. I had enough to grill a few extra ears with

these shrimp skewers

, and then turned the excess into smoky corn chowder. Corn and shrimp, corn and lobster, these are summer indulgences that must be paired before the summer wanes. And when eaten together, for a few moments all is right with the world again.

You could add cream to this soup, but it’s really not necessary. Puree some of the soup in a blender and then add it back to the pot—all the creaminess you could want comes from the starchy sweet corn. Take a few extra minutes to boost the corn flavor with stock made from the cobs. You could make this chowder with any leftover corn, but grilled corn gives it a smoky, intense flavor


Size and sweetness of corn varies a lot at this time of year, so your yield may be greater if you use large ears. Leftover soup can be frozen. (If you leave out the shrimp, you can even make this a vegan chowder.) If you skip the shrimp, another option would be to  add some finely diced salt pork sautéed with the onion and celery; that would add a nice contrast to the sweetness of the corn. It's a very good recipe to tinker with.

Smoky corn chowder recipe

Makes 8 to 10 cups

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 stalks celery, finely diced

2 medium potatoes, (10 ounces total) peeled and cut into 3/8-inch dice

Kernels cut from 6 medium ears of grilled corn

5 cups water, chicken stock or corn stock (see below)

Salt and pepper, to taste

8 grilled shrimp

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and cook for 5 minutes, until soft. Add the potatoes, corn kernels, water, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

2. Puree 3 cups of the soup until smooth in a blender. Stir back into the soup pot. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you like.

3. Coarsely chop 4 of the shrimp.

4. Ladle the soup into 4 bowls. Garnish each bowl with some chopped shrimp and 1 whole shrimp. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

Once you have scraped away the kernels, you can use the corncobs for a delicious stock.

Corn stock recipe

Makes 5 to 6 cups

6 corncobs (without kernels), broken in half

1/2 onion, sliced

1 stalk celery, sliced

2 to 3 sprigs parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Place the corncobs, onion, celery, parsley and salt in a large pot. Add 8 cups water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Adjust the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 to 25 minutes. Strain.

How to grill corn on the cob

There are several ways to go about this, but I like the following. Grilling concentrates the flavors, and the cooked corn is often slightly drier than it would be if cooked in boiling water. When left on the ears, the husks insulate the corn and it more or less steams on the grill. Some people like to soak the corn in water for about 15 minutes before grilling, but I usually skip that step in pursuit of drier, charred kernels. Once the corn is cooked, peel back the husks. If the kernels are not charred to your liking, simply throw the ears back on the grill for a few seconds.


Prepare a charcoal grill, or turn on a gas grill to medium-high heat.


Peel back and discard a few tough outer leaves of the cornhusks, leaving a few layers of husks for insulation. Peel back the top third of the husks and pull out most of the silk; don’t worry if you can’t remove all of it. Fold the husks back to their original shape.

3. Grill the corn, turning often, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until it is black and charred all over. Cut off the stem ends of the ears and peel off the husks and silk.

You could also microwave it (watch 


) fun!

You might also like

grilled corn with chipotle mayonnaise


Soaked and grilled corn from the

New York Times

Posted on August 2, 2012 and filed under Main dish, Seafood, Soups, Summer food.

Grilled shrimp on rosemary skewers recipe: easy summer grilling

Hail summer. Are you grill-weary yet? I love grilling, especially ever since that job was delegated to Man of the House ages ago when he insisted on replacing our corroded gas grill with a charcoal-fired Weber. I’m not about to get into the fray in the charcoal vs. gas debate. My point of view is: when it’s hot, keep the heat in the great outdoors. If you want to use charcoal, be my guest. All I want is to turn the damn thing on and cook. Go ahead, be techy-geeky-analytical if you must, but I don’t want to talk about it. Like I said, all I want is to turn the damn thing on and cook.

So in the division of labor department, I came up with these easy shrimp skewers. The rosemary plant in my little herb patch miraculously survived a New England winter and it is now a bush. That gave me the idea of putting the overabundant branches to good use. Hence, shrimp on rosemary skewers. They impart a subtle piney essence to grilled shrimp. Note the word subtle here. Don’t get too excited. Since they’re essentially free and available to me, I’m using them. You could also use bamboo skewers as an alternative; both need to be soaked in water in advance of grilling.

The recipe, which I contributed to the Boston Globe recently, is a good one for a party. (It can be doubled or even tripled.) The shrimp need to steep in a lemon-mustard-honey marinade for 45 minutes, but if it is more convenient, they can marinate for a couple of hours. Save some of the marinade for the zucchini. The zucchini wedges are easy to grill without skewering. Add some grilled corn and you have a meal that is easy to prep ahead of time. Once the work is done, you can sit back and mix up a few gin and tonics, if that’s your poison.

Grilled shrimp on rosemary branches with zucchini wedges and corn

Serves 6

12 (10-inch) rosemary branches

5 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Finely grated rind of 1 lemon

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons grainy mustard

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

2/3 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

2 pounds large (16-20 count) shrimp, peeled, with tail shells left on

2 large (10-inch) zucchini, ends trimmed and halved crosswise

6 (or  more) ears of corn

1. Strip the leaves from all but the tips of the rosemary branches. In a baking dish, soak the branches in water to cover for 30 minutes. If using bamboo skewers, soak them for 30 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, lemon rind, garlic, honey, mustard, salt, pepper, parsley and rosemary. Whisk in the oil. Set aside about 1/4 of the marinade. Add the shrimp to the bowl and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 45 minutes. On each rosemary branch, thread 3 to 4 shrimp, piercing both the thick and curled ends of the shrimp.

3. Quarter each zucchini half lengthwise to make a total of 16 wedges. In a baking dish, arrange the wedges in one layer with the cut sides up. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and brush with the remaining marinade. Marinate for 30 minutes or longer.

4. Peel back and discard the outer tough layer of the corn husks, leaving a few layers for insulation. Peel back the top third of the husks and pull out most of the silk; don’t worry if you can’t remove all of it. Fold the husks back to their original shape.

5. Prepare a charcoal grill, or turn on a gas grill to medium-high heat.

6. Grill the corn, turning often, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until charred all over. Grill the zucchini wedges for 3 minutes on a side, turning once, until cooked through. Grill the shrimp for 2 minutes on a side, turning once, until shrimp are opaque and cooked through.

7. Cut off the stem ends of the corn ears and peel back the husks and silk. Arrange 1 ear on each of 6 plates with zucchini wedges and shrimp skewers.

Posted on July 26, 2012 and filed under Seafood, Main dish, Grilled.

Carpe diem: Piccalilli recipe (also known as India relish)

I used to make this relish at the end of every August. It made sense when I had a garden with more than enough tomatoes, and a few green ones that would never live up to their red, ripe potential as the summer waned. But now I think, why wait? Barbecue season is at its peak now, and this is the condiment I crave to slather on just about anything that comes off the grill. By the end of August, the horse is already out of the barn, the ship has sailed, the toothpaste is out of the tube. Or as my mother used to say: “summer is over by the fourth of July.”

Now there’s a cheery thought. I guess that’s where my glass-half-empty outlook came from. Thanks, Mom. Never mind. It’s incentive to start pulling out the canning jars. Canning has always been grounding for me. Coming home from a trip after a lazy (or frenetic) summer vacation, the urge to ‘put something up’ inexplicably arises. Once the laundry is done and the house is put right, there I am in the steaming kitchen with a vat of boiling water and a mess of jars and lids and funnels. As if, as my mother predicted, summer will be over in the next few minutes.

Piccalilli is one of those summer foods that you actually don’t need to process in a boiling water bath because you probably will devour it soon after you make it. It can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of months (or longer, but it may taste a bit old.) If you are planning to give it away, it’s not a bad idea to process it so it doesn’t clog up the refrigerator, or disappear into no man’s land on the back of a shelf only to be rediscovered sometime around Christmas. A jar of it makes a great gift for the friend who is doing the grilling at her house. 

The British version of piccalilli, sometimes called India relish, often contains cauliflower, zucchini, and turmeric, while in the American South you will find cabbage among the ingredients and it is called chow-chow. Those are a few ideas you could play around with. Or you could stick with New England style piccalilli. It most likely came from India, brought by sailors on whaling ships, or on clipper ships in the China trade. Call it what you will, but serve it with hamburgers, hot dogs or a plate of ham, pork or cold cuts and you will not be disappointed.


Makes 3 pints

2 pounds green (unripened) tomatoes

2 large white onions

1/3 cup coarse kosher salt

2 cups white vinegar

1/2 cup water

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon mustard seed

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

3 large carrots, grated

2 sweet red peppers, seeded and grated

1 sweet yellow pepper, seeded and grated

1. Grate the tomatoes and onions in a food processor fitted with a coarse grater attachment. If you do not have a food processor, chop small by hand.

2. Layer the tomatoes and onions with the salt in a large bowl. Let stand for 4 hours.

3. Set a colander in the sink, and drain the tomatoes and onions. Rinse 3 times in generous amounts of cold water to remove most of the salt. Drain again. Press out excess liquid with your hands.

4. Stir together the vinegar, water, sugar, mustard seed, cloves, allspice, turmeric, red peppers, yellow peppers and drained tomatoes and onions in a large pot set over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Ladle the relish into sterilized jars, seal, and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. For room temperature storage of up to one year, process hot relish in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.


1. Fill a large, deep pot with enough water to cover the jars by 1 inch. Bring to a boil.

2. Inspect canning jars for cracks and discard defective ones. Thoroughly wash the jars in hot soapy water or run through the dishwasher.

3. Wash lids and screw bands. Use only unused lids each time to ensure a good seal.

4. Fill jars to within 1/4 inch of the top (headspace) with hot relish. Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean, wet paper towel before covering with the lid. Screw on the bands.

5. Set a rack or a thick folded dishtowel on the bottom of the pot of boiling water.

With a sturdy pair of tongs, place the jars in the pot.

6. Process the jars at a gentle boil for 10 minutes. If necessary, add more boiling water to cover the jars by 1 inch.

7. With tongs, remove the jars from the water and set on a dishtowel to cool.

8. After12 hours, check the jars to ensure that they are sealed. Press on the center of each lid; it should remain concave.

9. Label and date the jars by writing on the lids with permanent marker.

10. Remove the screw bands to prevent them from rusting and store the jars for up to 1 year in a cool, dark place.

 More summer condiments you might like:

Pickled beets and onions

 from this blog

Pickled jalapeños

 from this blog

Pickled Cherries

 from the Garum Factory 

Nectarine and Tomato Chutney

from A Foodcentric Life 

Roasted Corn and Black Bean Salsa

from Jeanette's Healthy Living

Posted on July 15, 2012 and filed under How To, Canning, Condiments and Jams.

Hot fudge sauce for when it’s too damn hot: Grunings hot fudge recipe

I come from a long line of sweet-toothed women. My twin great aunts walked up and down the length of Manhattan in matching coats and high heels, window-shopping, visiting the Metropolitan Museum, or just plain shopping. Where did they get their energy and stamina? Every journey ended at Schrafft’s on Fifth Avenue for a hot fudge sundae.

Speaking of sundaes, Sunday lunch at my grandmother’s, a regular tradition until I was about eight when we moved too far away to make the drive, culminated in more of the same. As soon as the clearing up started, Uncle Eddie was dispatched to Grunings Ice Cream Parlor for coffee ice cream and hot fudge sauce. In addition to aunts, uncles and cousins, my grandmother’s younger sisters were faithfully at the table. I couldn’t tell them apart, and anyway, we always referred to them as Twinnies. They had names—Bea and Vi—short for Beatrice and Viola; but to us, and I think even at times to themselves, they were a single entity: The Twins. Their love of sweets, along with their high heels and shiny red nail polish were woven into the fabric of family legend. Twinnies laughed and winked at me conspiratorially as I dug into the sundae that punctuated every Sunday meal. They greeted the pleasure of hot fudge that hardened over cold ice cream and then stuck to your teeth with fresh enthusiasm every single week.

Time, as is its wont, eventually extinguished the Sunday lunches. Even Grunings, a family-owned northern New Jersey ice cream haunt that held strong for some eighty odd years, bit the dust some time in the late 1980s. Luckily, I found at least four dog-eared cards in my mother’s old recipe box (they really, really, really liked it). All were attributed to various family members with more or less the same recipe (Grunings) in different quantities. I picked one and revised it slightly—oh how the younger generations just can’t leave well enough alone. But I didn’t mess with it too much. I swapped out the evaporated milk for heavy cream and bumped up the chocolate by an ounce.  I don’t think you’ll mind. So, if you have about ten minutes to spare and want to make something easy for a modern Sunday lunch cooked outside on the grill, this hot fudge is the ticket to assuage a raging sweet tooth when it’s just too damn hot to turn on the oven.

Grandmother’s (Grunings) hot fudge sauce

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 1/4 cups (8 ounces) light brown sugar

2 tablespoons butter

1 pinch salt

3 squares (3 ounces) unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Stir cream, brown sugar, butter and salt over medium heat in a small saucepan until the cream comes to a boil and the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat to low and stir in the chocolate. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, or until the sauce is “glossy.” You’ll know exactly what that means when you get there. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Serve hot. The sauce can be refrigerated and reheated in the microwave.

Posted on July 5, 2012 and filed under Sweets.

Dog days of summer: Watermelon salad recipe and how to store lettuce

It was official last week in the Northeast. The dog days of summer have arrived. Strawberries came and went at lightning speed. Too much rain, too much heat. Onward into summer. Then, just as I was getting a handle on the heat and humidity while harassing Man of the House about the air conditioners that needed to go into the bedroom windows, along comes a dreary, cool day like today that has me reaching for a pair of socks and a sweatshirt. 

No matter, the heat will return, and with it, a craving for something perky to keep the senses alert. This watermelon salad is what I crave on the hottest days. Salty feta, sweet and refreshing watermelon. sprightly mint. Every bite says, come on, wake up. It's good to eat with grilled fish. On a hot night, who wants to mess around? Just throw something on the grill and make a cool salad. Have a gin and tonic in between, and let the cold rosé flow.

Here's the rub with salad: you have to wash the lettuce. Unless you buy what a friend of mine calls "yuppie greens." I am suspicious of cellophane-wrapped produce. Full disclosure: I am occasionally seduced by it. It seems so easy! It is so easy. It also usually smells of must (don't get me started on so-called baby carrots) and contains wilted, gummy leaves, too sad to be revived. The truth is, washing lettuce is a pain in the butt. That is why I was ready to kiss the feet of the same friend (of yuppie greens fame) who went to the farmers' market, bought an assortment of lettuce, washed it, dried it and brought it to me in a box. Who does that? 

Which brings me to what you can do for yourself (or perhaps for a friend who is recovering from an illness or needing some cheering up.) That box of lettuce was incentive enough for me to follow suit this week. I stopped by the market on Sunday, and though the lettuce looked a bit flagged and uncheerful by the time I got it home, a soak in some cool water revived it. 

Here is my lettuce washing tutorial (this is a blog called Cooking Lessons, after all.)

How to wash and store lettuce. (Seriously?) Yes, seriously. Read it!

If you are using a salad spinner (I recommend it), first, remove the insert. Fill the bowl with cool water. Detach the lettuce leaves from the core, leaving them in large pieces.

This is totally backwards from the way I used my salad spinner for years.

BUT, those little gritty bits of dirt that collect at the bottom of the stems need to be swished around in a large volume of water. So swish them around (don't crowd the spinner bowl) and wait a few seconds. The dirt will sink to the bottom. Carefully lift the leaves out of the bowl and place them in the insert. Dump the water out of the bowl. Repeat if the leaves are particularly sandy or gritty. You will notice that the dirt has collected on the bottom. Rinse the bowl and replace the insert. Spin the lettuce until dry. Line a plastic shoe box with paper towels. (Square boxes fit most conveniently in the fridge.) Fill the box halfway with clean lettuce, and add another layer of paper towels. More lettuce, topped off with more paper towels. Don't over-fill the box; better to use two that are loosely filled.  Put the lid on and store in the fridge. Use as needed, tearing the leaves into bite-size pieces when you make the salad. If the leaves remain large, they are less likely to wilt and brown around the edges. The greens should last about a week. 

This is not so much a recipe as an outline for a salad. Improvise. The key elements are the watermelon, feta, mint, and lettuce. If you want to add a few more things, go ahead, but keep them to a minimum. I added black olives because I craved salt, and pumpkin seeds, well, just because. Not necessary.

Watermelon salad with feta and mint recipe

For 2 people (just make more for more people, but you knew that)

1 large handful of washed greens

About 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

2 to 3 tablespoons vinaigrette

Salt and pepper, to taste

About 1 heaping cup of watermelon cubes

About 1/3 cup crumbled feta (not too crumbled)

About 1/4 cup pitted black olives, such as Kalamata

1 to 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

1. Toss the greens and mint with vinaigrette. Taste, and season with salt and pepper. Spread on a serving platter.

2. Arrange the watermelon on top of the greens. Sprinkle the feta, olives and pumpkin seeds on top. Drizzle with a little more vinaigrette. 

I never met a bottled dressing that I liked, and it is just plain crazy to buy it, when it is so easy to make. Spend a king's ransom on the vinegar and olive oil. It is a luxury that you can afford. I love all the Banyuls vinegars from Formaggio Kitchen, a local shop that ships to you if you are not close by. I also use a good Greek olive oil that I discovered at my favorite wine store. It can be ordered here. The main thing is to seek out quality producers. 

Really good vinaigrette recipe

Makes about 1/2 cup

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, such as Banyuls muscat vinegar (very mild)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

5 to 6 tablespoons olive oil

1. Whisk the vinegar, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the olive oil, to taste.

You may also want to try

Green goddess dressing from 

Simply Recipes

Caesar salad from

A Food Centric Life

Ginger sesame miso dressing from

Beyond Salmon

Posted on June 25, 2012 and filed under Salad, Salad Dressing, Summer food.