We Must Be Busy When the Corn is Ripe

For the second year in a row, I was tickled to be asked to judge the Broome County Legislature's Fresh from the Farm Cook-off again. This year's featured in-season produce was corn, quite a difference from last year's blueberry throwdown, but the point of the event was the same: help local kids get excited about real food, grown in their own community, and give them a positive experience within which to learn about cooking. They get to learn about foods grown right here in the Southern Tier, and the competition gives them the opportunity to develop their own cooking skills along the way. When you think about those lessons, the honor of judging is even greater.

We had two Girl Scout troops competing this year, plus a summer youth employment program called VINES, and Cornell cooperative Extension's Citizen U group. I was hoping for some killer hoecakes, which were not in the cards, but nonetheless I was blown away by the cuisine cooked up by these phenomenal kids.

My fellow judges were the esteemed Paul VanSavage, co-founder of SpiedieFest and secretary of the new Southern Tier Independent Restaurants organization, and Ed Wesoloski, owner of Remlik's, and therefore, dude who gets the credit for my favorite local cocktail, the Elderberry Fizz. We settled right in to tasting, impressed by the exquisite presentation of all the dishes this year. Here's what we came up with:

Best presentation: Girl Scout Troop 30510 (Nina Collavo, Genevieve Picciano, Maeve Verity) for Corn Avocado Salad

How pretty is that? This salad was comprised of fresh corn, avocado, tiny brunoise of sharp cheddar, cilantro, and lime. I loved the crunchy texture of the corn in this refreshing salad, but I would have liked to see more cilantro, more salt, and more lime - basically more assertive flavors. The tiny bits of cheese were a nice surprise, but I thought more tasting and more tinkering would have brought this dish up to a higher level.

Most Local Products: VINES (Saarah Abdur-Rahim, James Montgomery, Gabrielle Shepard, Destiny Sposito, Jordan Walker, and Elijah Yard) for Fried Polenta

So, these guys grew their own vegetables. Show offs! I'm kidding, because I was so impressed by the enthusiasm they had for this challenge, the audacity of serving collard greens in Yankee country, and the mature, developed flavors in this dish. The aromatics in the collards, the gorgeous summery freshness of the tomatoes, and the well seasoned polenta indicated a more experienced chef's palate. Paul and I agreed we would have loved a little spice or acid to finish this dish off, and I would have loved the polenta cake to be finished off on a griddle, to add a pleasing golden brown exterior, but I'm mincing hairs here - it was delicious.

Best Taste and People's Choice: Citizen U (Macalah Frink, Desiree Keys, Embroidery Williams) for Cornbread with twisted maple butter and corn soup

I was hoping for corn soup! This silky, glorious one was a hair on the salty side, but that was a totLly ninja move, because the butter on that moist cornbread was super sweet. Once I tipped that tiny spoon of optional hot peppers in my soup, this dish came alive and was popping on all cylinders. Adding those peppers on the side was inspired - big ups to whomever figured that out! There were chunks of corn in the cornbread, which maintained the theme of the event, as did this group's adorable booth, adorned with. Real corn stalk and a festive bowl of fresh produce from CCE's gardens.

Most Creative and Best Overall: Girl Scout Troop 30292 (Natalie Novak, Christy Sherman, Shannon Tolomei) for Corn Surprise

The surprise here is that these little geniuses made us delicious, refreshing popsicles out of corn! They came up with this idea and recipe on their own and tinkered with it until it was perfect. The caramel sauce drizzled around the plate was smart, adding more sweetness to these delicate, subtly-flavored pops. Because corn already has that starchy milkiness to it when it's fresh, as well as a good amount of sweetness, the recipe of pulverized sweet corn with milk, sugar, and eggs totally made sense. We were I awe of how young Natalie, Christy, and Shannon are, given the creativity and skill put into this fun dish. Well done and congratulations, ladies! 

Corn Surprise

2 C fresh corn (about 4 ears)
1 C Half & half
2 C Milk
2/3 C Sugar
3 Egg yolks

Husk corn and cut the kernels off the cobs. Combine corn and half & half in a blender and buzz up until it's smooth. Pour puréed corn mixture into a sieve over a large bowl to get rids of all the solids. Into the remaining liquid, add milk, sugar, and yolks; stir with a whisk. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring, for 10 min (do not boil). 

Let mixture cool, then pour into ice cube trays and freeze, adding toothpicks when partially frozen to serve as handles. Popsicle molds work, too! Once they are completely frozen, they're ready for a caramel drizzle and some hungry mouths!

I also want to thank the local farms that supplied all that corn: Castle Berries, Country Wagon Produce, Farmer Ground Flour, and North Windsor Berries! Check these places out, folks, and cook up you own corn creations before the season's over!

Thank you as well to Jerry Marinich, Chris Dziedzic, and the BC Legislature, for inviting me back for this fun event. It's really so joyful for me to see young people in our communiy all jazzed up about cooking, food, and the farm to table movement, and to be a part of encouraging them to flex their culinary creativity is a privilege. I want to commend and congratulate everyone who participated - you're all rock stars in my book!

My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

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