Kernels of Hope

Irony: noun \ˈī-rə-nē also ˈī(-ə)r-nē\IMGP4936

A generally cold Chicago summer where the hottest days turn out to be the most humid days and, consequently, the stormiest days. Which means the Sausage Fests and the Food Truck Fests and the half-baked plans to pursue any one of the abundant social summer outdoor activities are scrapped in favor of the new Daniel Radcliffe just-endearing-enough romantic comedy inside. With popcorn. And a half a Twix.

California is literally gasping for rain and instead they get a disruptive West Napa Fault. Chicago gets drenched.

This late summer soak interferes with one’s ability to engage in summertime traditions, including but not limited to:

  • Wearing white blouses to work without the fear of getting stuck umbrella-less in a lunchtime shower
  • Making consistent trips to the beach lake to build up your skin’s UV defense and avoid a one-time awkward side butt burn
  • Camel rides at the Taste of Greektown

Meteorological phenomena, fortunately, haven’t had as severe of an impact on the season’s prime produce.

Which is to say I’m almost a little bit over corn.

More irony: You struggle through the brutal winter months until the mere sight of a brussels sprout makes you want to smother the produce guys, and throw aisle two tantrums in late spring because the only “fresh” corn comes in 10 packs (who buys corn in tens??) Then all it takes is a few weeks of constant shucking and boiling and butter slathering to take the thrill out of summer’s sweetest grain.

It’s probably my own fault for building entire meatless meals around corn cobs and hummus, and taking every opportunity to pair it with every protein possible on carnivorous nights.

As it often does, The New York Times was able to shed some much needed light on a dire situation. Because no one should be stuck in a maize monotony with weeks left of summer to go, and, quite frankly, what better way to rekindle your passion than with breakfast for dinner?

Corn and pancakes are better together and (obviously) everything’s better with queso fresco.  These cakes apply to all meal times, and you should plan to be eating them for multiple days (if you have only two mouths to feed).

In terms of food hybrids, are these as transcendent as the cronut? No.
Are they as accessible as the pretzel bun? Likely not.
But they’re a refreshing way to get your summer produce fix without being boring, because before you know it there will only be brussels sprouts.

Corn Cakes
Makes ~12+ silver-dollar sized cakes; Adapted from The New York Times

1.5 c cornmeal
.5 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1.5 c buttermilk (remember the pro tip)
eggs, lightly beaten
6 tbsp melted butter or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing griddle
c shucked corn kernels (around 4 ears)
small poblano pepper, finely chopped
3 tbsp finely sliced scallions

1 small red or white onion, chopped
1.5 c chopped bell peppers (any color, maybe not yellow)
Juice from 2 limes
1 c crumbled queso fresco (or feta or cotija)

For the batter: mix all of the dry ingredients (cornmeal, flour, baking powder/soda, salt and sugar) in a large bowl, and the milk, eggs and butter in a separate one.  Set aside until right before you’re ready to start cooking the cakes.

In a small pan, sauté the onions and peppers (with some salt/pepper) until the onions are translucent. Take off of the heat and let cool before tossing with the lime juice.IMGP4937

Set a griddle or large pan over medium heat (no higher unless you’re into burnt cakes). As the pan gets hot, mix the two wet batter ingredients with the dry, folding in the corn kernels, poblano and scallions. The batter should be pretty thick. When the pan is hot enough, brush/grease the surface lightly with butter.

[Pancake making/general life tip: Melt a couple tablespoons of butter in a  small dish to keep next to your griddle pan. You’ll want to brush this in the pan between each round of cakes to ensure even cooking throughout.]

Spoon less than 1/4 cup of batter per cake, fitting as many as your pan will allow without crowding. Adjust the heat levels as necessary if the cakes are browning too fast. These should cook for around 1 1/2 minutes per side. Remember: just because the batter bubbles up doesn’t mean it’s flip-time, you need to wait until those bubbles actually start popping. #Science.

I typically put a baking sheet/oven-proof plate in the oven (heated to below 200º) to keep the finished cakes warm while I finish the rest.

Serve with the onion/pepper mixture, cheese and perfectly delicious jarred salsa. Black beans would be an excellent accessory, but keep in mind that these are approximately 3x more filling than a typical pancake (I still ate five and  a half in one sitting…)


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