Ajiaco

September 14, 2009

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The best word to describe this wonderful Colombian chicken stew is silky. From the way the grated potatoes disintegrate into the broth to make a rich, thick sauce, to the fresh avocados that melt in your mouth at each bite, silky seems to capture it all. I’ve been dreaming of this recipe since it first appeared in Gourmet’s September 2007 issue (which was a glorious issue on South and Central American cuisine if I may add), intrigued with the idea of avocado and whole slices of corn being part of a soup. The soup is easy to make, and a great way to use a small bony little chicken. It warms up well, and the flavours are fresh and surprising (pops of cilantro and salty capers) at the same time as being homey and soothing (it IS chicken soup after all…) The one difficulty in eating this soup is that you do have to fish the corn out of your soup bowl with your fingers which makes for a messy eating experience. But then there is the delight of slurping the broth from the corn cobs as you eat the kernels.
I’ve modified the recipe a bit, but otherwise it is very much straight from the recipe book.

Ajiaco (Columbian Chicken Stew)– Gourmet Sept 2007, p.74

1 whole chicken

2 qt water

2 cups chicken stock (or 2 cups hot water and one bouillon cube)

1 large white onion, chopped

1 tablespoon oregano

1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes

1 lb red skinned potatoes

3 ears of corner, cut into 1 inch rounds (careful, I broke my knife chopping these up. Use a bread knife and saw instead of hack)

¾ cup chopped cilantro (divided)

½ cup heavy cream (optional)

¼ cup drained capers

2 -3 larger firm rip avocados, cut into cubes (I like the big pale green ones you find in the West Indian markets)

Put chicken in a 6-8 quart pot with water, broth or bouillon, onion, oregano and 1 ½ tsps salt. Bring to a boil, skim off foam, then reduce heat and simmer covered until chicken is cooked through (about 40 minutes.) Transfer chicken to a plate to cool, reserving broth in the pot. Grate the red skinned potatoes (no need to peel) and add to the broth. Simmer uncovered about 20 minutes until potatoes are falling apart and soup is becoming thick. Meanwhile chop up the Yukon Gold potatoes into 1 inch pieces and add to pot. Let simmer another 15 minutes till just tender. Add corn, ¼ cup cilantro and 1 tsp coarse ground black pepper and simmer covered until corn is tender, about 5-10 minutes.

While corn cooks, coarsely shred chicken, discarding skin (I save the bones and wings in the freezer for future stock). Add chicken to stew and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Season with salt.

Serve stew with a drizzle of heavy cream, capers, chopped avocados and remaining ½ cup of cilantro. Add these fresh to each bowl just before serving.

So yum!

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Elizabeth, Amrita and baby Lucien came over for brunch on Friday. It was a perfect opportunity for me to try out a new recipe I tore out of this month’s Gourmet magazine: fresh corn pancakes. One of the things I positively adore about summer time is the appearance of fresh, sweet corn in the markets. I’ll buy a few ears at the farmer’s market or at my local Korean grocery round the corner, but it is rare that the corn ever actually makes it into a cooking pot because I munch the kernels raw off the cob or slice them off into salads. This recipe for pancakes is quite simple, except for the extra step of blending a half cup of corn kernels with milk before adding other ingredients to make a batter. Unless I am making a soup or puree, my heart tends to sink when I see “blender” in a recipe—this means the machine will need to be hauled out of the cupboard, assembled, used, and then washed and put away.

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I might have to play with the recipe in the future and see how it turns out without the blending. As it was, it was delicious—a piping hot cake of light, doughy goodness filled with generous mouthfuls of tender, just-barely cooked corn kernels that still had a bit of crunch to them. All this slathered with sour cream and a crisp, not too spicy tomato salsa. When next I make these cakes, I think I will try adding a handful of chopped cilantro for some more colour.

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One of my other favourite summer dishes is a salad with fresh strawberries. Since I won’t buy a fresh tomato until they hit the farmers market or come up in my garden, strawberries in season are a welcome addition of colour, flavor and juiciness to a standard salad. My quickest concoction involves a mix of lettuce and whatever tasty salad greens are in the garden (arugula, baby spinach, mache), about a cup of sliced strawberries, a sliced cucumber, the raw kernels off an ear of corn, and a handful of toasted pecans. If I’m making a meal of it I’ll add some sliced roast chicken to give it some protein. Dress with a generous drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper. For brunch with A, E and baby L I used toasted pinenuts instead of pecans, skipped the corn, added a bit of goat cheese, chopped in some fresh mint and made a proper vinaigrette.

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And of course I was trying out a new cupcake recipe: a luscious banana cake with a cream cheese frosting topped with walnuts. The secret to these lovely cakes is sour cream, butter and lemon peel. Am definitely offering these for order on the website.

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Fresh Corn Pancakes (adapted from Gourmet Magazine, July 2009. )

1 cup all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
3 ears of corn
3/4 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, and 1 tsp salt in a medium bowl. Cut enough kernels from cobs to measure 2 cups. Using back of a knife, scrape pulp from cobs and transfer to a blender with milk and 1/2 cup corn. Purée until smooth, then strain through a sieve into another medium bowl, pressing on and then discarding solids. Whisk in eggs, oil, and butter. Add to flour mixture with remaining 1 1/2 cups corn and whisk until just combined.

Heat a griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat until hot, then lightly brush with oil or butter. Working in batches, pour 1/3 cup batter per pancake onto griddle and cook until bubbles appear on surface and undersides are golden-brown, about 2 minutes. Flip with a spatula and cook until undersides are golden-brown, about 1 minute more
Serve warm with salsa and sour cream, or for a sweet, with warmed maple syrup.