Saturday, October 14, 2017

Cedar Plank Salmon

If you still have the grill out, this is a great late season dish and so easy to make. The smell and flavor of the cedar with the salmon seems like a perfect combination.

Julian's Cedar Plank Salmon
I also do this with teriyaki marinade, but today it's just the lightly seasoned fish so we can taste a bit of the cedar flavor. I'm using the McCormick Grill Mates Salmon Seasoning, but any favorite seasoning or just salt and pepper will work fine. As you can see I'm serving it with a side of baby Brussels sprouts that have been par boiled and then finished in a skillet with butter and garlic. Add to that a side of roasted trii-color fingerling potatoes, and you have a lovely autumn dinner.

Salmon freezes well and they vacuum pack it now, so it really is quite good. In the photo above I'm using a piece of previously frozen sockeye salmon, skin on, from Costco. Sockeye salmon is less fatty that the classic farm raised, more pink, salmon, and we prefer it, although either type works fine.

Cedar plank
Olive oil
Seasoning of your choice
Salmon fillet (thawed if previously frozen)

Soak the cedar plank for 30 minutes to 2 hours, the longer the better. Preheat the grill until it reaches about 375F degrees. Rub the salmon on both sides lightly with olive oil. Place the salmon flat (and skin if still on) side down, and sprinkle with your favorite seasonings. Turn off the burner directly below the cedar plank and place the salmon on the plank in that spot. Close the lid and monitor temperature to maintain it around 375F degrees. Once the grill returns to temperature, then cook for 30 minutes. Remove salmon from the plank to plates and serve.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Bison Strip Steaks with Mushroom Sauce

Bison vs. buffalo. Is there a difference? There is, but in the United States, bison is sometimes called buffalo so usually in the U.S. it's all the same thing. In much of the rest of the world the term buffalo refers to water buffalo, a different but related animal.

Julian's Bison Strip Steak with Mushroom Sauce
Today I'm grilling a a bison strip steak that is full of favor without being over-powering. People often ask is bison gamey or smelly, chewy or tough. The taste of bison is very similar taste to beef. It has a coarser texture and a slightly sweeter flavor. It does not taste gamey and there is no aftertaste like some game animals such as moose. Further, it is very high in protein (much more than beef) and has half the fat of beef. It is because of this latter issue that you do not want to overcook bison, or it will become tough.

The mushroom sauce adds to its earthy flavor and as such I think it is an autumn favorite. The bison steaks I found were not exceptionally thick (about 1-inch) and weighted just about eight ounces each. So they were pretty easy to cook. If you have the sous vide equipment, you can use the device to get the steaks to just about five degrees below your desired temperature (medium-rare usually) and then finish them on the grill. This really is the best way to get any steak the exact temperature.

Today I'm grilling them without sous vide first because they are pretty thin and as such they are easy enough to get cooked consistently from side to side. Really thick pieces of meat benefit from sous vide treatment, as it cooks the meat very evenly. The grill cooks from the outside in and a thick piece of meat will be various degrees of doneness throughout.

Just right... .pink throughout yet not bloody.

You don't really need any recipe for the grilled steaks, other than to season them lightly with vegetable oil and a bit of salt/pepper or other grill spices, before quickly cooking them. Use a very hot grill and let them cook for 3-4 minutes per side if they are 1-inch thick. Test for doneness with a meat thermometer and remove to a serving plate and let rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Mushroom Sauce

This sauce can be used any time you're making steaks or other dishes for which you want a brown mushroom gravy. It tastes equally good on mashed potatoes.

Prepare the mushroom sauce at least one-hour in advance of dinner. The ingredients below do not need to be exact.

1/2 cup Sliced button mushrooms (fresh or canned)
4 ounces butter
small shallot or half a small onion, finely chopped
salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
2/3 cup red wine
1 cup beef broth/stock
1 tablespoon cornstarch


Place the clean sliced mushrooms in a medium sauce pan with the butter, onion, salt pepper and garlic. Place over medium heat and stir while cooking until the mushrooms release their liquid (about 5 minutes). Add the wine and and let the mixture heat until simmering. Cover and cook at a low simmer for 20-30 minutes, to let the alcohol evaporate and the mushrooms to cook down. Add the beef broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to very low simmer burner, cover and let cook for another 20 minutes or so. Taste and correct seasoning as necessary.

In a small dish, mix together the corn starch with 3 tablespoons of cold water. When well blended, turn up the temperature to medium and pour the cornstarch into the warm mushrooms and stir to combine. Continue to stir until the sauce thickens somewhat, taste and again and reduce temperature to as low as possible and keep warm until ready for serving.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Avocado Breakfast Toast

All the rage now, this breakfast dish is a variation on guacamole and served on toast.

Julian's Avocado (Guacamole) Toast
You really can serve it for breakfast, brunch or lunch. It seems every restaurant in Chicago that specializes in the morning meals has a variation on the menu. It's nice because it is vegetarian until you sprinkle some bacon on the top (delicious!) and it's also filling. If you think people will be turned off by the avocado title, call it guacamole toast and the'll be all in.

The ingredients are pretty much up to you and very open to whatever your family likes best and when you're serving it. Add a little cayenne pepper or Tabasco sauce if your family likes a little kick at brunch or lunch. Add some crumbled cooked bacon on top for the meat lovers in the house. Sprinkle with some grated cheese and give it 30 seconds under the broiler for the dairy fans.

My basic always-included items are:

  • chopped fresh seeded tomatoes
  • finely chopped onion/shallot
  • minced fresh garlic (don't over do it)
  •   (substitute garlic powde
  • Squeeze of a small lime or a dash of lime juice.
  • Italian/French bred for toasting
  • fresh, ripe avocado

Cut the avocado (1/2 per person) in half and remove the stone. Scoop the flesh into a bowl and mash leaving some small whole chunks. Add the above and your favorite ingredients and gently stir together being careful not to turn the mixture into a paste.

Toast (in the toaster or in the oven) some good quality, crusty French or Italian bread. If you like, rub a little olive oil on it and sprinkle on a little seasoned salt of your liking. When the toast is ready, cut into pieces easy to pick up.

Place the toast back together on a plate to form the original piece. Top with the avocado mixture and serve.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Pesto Brussels Sprouts

Looking for a new way to make the old sprouts have a bit of Italian flavor? The answer is, of course, add some pesto sauce.

Julian's Pest Brussels Sprouts
You can make your own if your basil plant is still producing. If you follow my Facebook page, you know I take all of the end-of-season basil and make a big batch and freeze it into single use cubes, that provide pesto sauce all winter long. Of course, you can use store-bought pesto sauce as well, but as in all things the final dish can't be better than the sum of its parts, so choose your pre-made pesto with care.

4 cups brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (about 2lbs)
1/4 cup pesto
Shredded or grated Parmesan cheese for topping
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine Brussels sprouts and pesto in a large bowl. Season with a small pinch of coarse salt and pepper. Prepare a cookie sheet with side by lining with aluminum foil and spraying with food release or olive oil. Spread the coated sprouts evenly and bake for about 20 -25 minutes, until browned and crisped. Give the baking sheet a small shake about halfway to turn a bit and insure they do not stick.
Once sprouts are nicely and evenly browned, pull out of oven and top with some Parmesan cheese. Turn off heat, and put baking sheet back into oven for about 5 minutes to let cheese melt.

Tossed with pesto and ready for the oven.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Rustic Peach and Cherry Tart

With peaches still in season and the stores having dark Washington cherries, today I'm making a simple dessert. The flavor pair exceptionally well together and everyone enjoys it especially with a scoop of good vanilla ice-cream.

Julian's Rustic Peach and Cherry Tart
You can make this with your own pastry crust or follow my recipe which is easy in a food processor. Or you can purchase a pre-made crust. It will be good too, but you may need to rough it up a bit to give it that rustic look. Make the crust a few days ahead and keep it in your refrigerator. It will actually be better than if you make it fresh and use it immediately.

Inside Slice View
I've given you the above photo, so you can see it's not quite the same as a traditional pie, which is usually deeper because of the pie dish. The rustic tart is formed on a cookie sheet and filled there, so it is called a tart because it is more flat.

Below I've given you some very basic ingredients with ways to change the recipe to use what fruits you have. Finding good tasting fruit is really the key. Peaches should be peeled, but as we know that requires a dunk in boiling water, a chill in an ice bath and then sliding off the skins. Nectarines don't need peeling. So use whatever good fruit you can find and whatever you have time to prepare. My favorite combinations are peaches/cherries,  plums/raspberries, peaches/blackberries, apricots/blueberries, and nectarines/raspberries.


1 pastry crust, my recipe or store bought.
1 pound peaches, nectarines, apricots, or plums
1 cup cherries or berries  or a bit more
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3-5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon corn starch or Clear Jel
1 teaspoon of flour
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon course sugar for sprinkling


Peel peaches if using. Halve and pit stone fruit and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges, leaving the cherries whole (but pitted) or cut in half. Gently wash and dry berries. Combine fruit in medium bowl (you should have about 3 cups) and toss with lemon juice. Combine the granulated sugar and starch., and sprinkle over the fruits and toss gently to combine.  Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees.

Prepare your crust and place on a flour-dusted parchment lined baking sheet with sides. Check the fruit mixture and see how much juice has been rendered. If it is too watery, drain off the excess juice or add more corn starch and combine. 

Mound fruit in center of dough, leaving two inch border around edge. Carefully grasp one edge of dough and fold up over fruit, leaving an open area in the center. Repeat around circumference of tart, overlapping dough and pinching together as necessary to secure, but do not press dough into fruit. Working quickly, brush dough with milk and sprinkle with coarse sugar. 

Bake until crust is deep golden brown and fruit is bubbling, 50 to 55 minutes. Cool tart on baking sheet on wire rack 10 minutes. Using wide metal spatula or pizza peel, loosen tart from parchment and carefully slide tart off parchment onto wire rack; cool until warm, about 30 minutes, or to room temperature, about 1 hour. Cut into wedges and serve with good vanilla ice-cream. 

Note: Tart does not hold up well and should ideally be consumed the day it is made.

Julian's Rustic Peach and Cherry Tart with Icecream

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Seared Scallops Recipe with Orange Rum Sauce

Scallops are easy and quick to prepare and so this dish is perfect for a weeknight. This sauce makes them a little different than other recipes you may have used and serves well over a variety of different side dishes. I'm using rice here but you could as easily serve over orzo pasta or even polenta.

Julian's Scallops with Orange Rum Sauce
1 pound scallops
3 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
freshly cracked black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1/4 cup rum (aged/dark preferred)
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 large orange
flat leaf parsley chopped

One hour before dinner, thaw scallops if frozen in cold water. When thawed or if fresh, rinse and pat dry. Set the scallops on 2-3 layers of paper towels and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of salt. Turn and salt the other side with one more tablespoon. Place a paper towel on top and let sit for nearly an hour. The salt will draw out excess moisture. When ready to prepare, use a clean paper towel to wipe off any excess salt and moisture that may be on the surface of the scallops. Set scallops on a plate.

Remove the zest from half of the orange and reserve. Cut in the orange in half and juice the entire orange saving the juice. Discard the remainder. 

Drizzle the scallops with a olive oil and sprinkle them all over with chili powder, red pepper flakes and freshly cracked black pepper. Just before placing in the skillet, sprinkle with sugar.

Preheat a cast iron skillet on medium-high heat until very hot (about 10 minutes). Add just enough vegetable oil (not olive oil), to coat the bottom of the skillet. Add the scallops one at a time with tongs working quickly. Do not overcrowd the pan. The scallops should not touch one another. Sear the first side for about 45-60 seconds until browned. (Once you have the last scallop in the pan, the first should be ready to turn.) Turn and sear the other side for 30 seconds and remove. Do not overcook or they will become tough. Transfer the scallops to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

Remove the hot skillet to a neighboring cold burner and take a step back and pour the rum into the pan. It may ignite. If so, let it cook down until the flame is gone. Put back on hot burner over medium heat and add the minced garlic. Stir and scrape any bits from the bottom of the pan. Saute for 2-3 minutes. Pour in the orange juice and bring to a simmer. Allow to reduce by about half (3 minutes or so). Remove from heat and stir in the butter until melted and half of the chopped parsley. 

Transfer the scallops into the orange rum sauce and coat. Serve over rice, polenta, or orzo pasta. Spoon remaining sauce over the scallops after they are plated and garnish with chopped parsley and the orange zest. .

Orange Rum Sauce ready for the Scallops

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Orzo Pasta with Pesto Sauce - Scallops Optional

With plenty of fresh basil around this time of the year, it's easy to make up a small batch of pesto. Or if you're like me, you may have some already in the fridge or frozen in cubes from last season. In any case, today I'm using it on orzo pasta. If you make a fresh batch and don't use it all, just put it in an air-tight container and use within a week or two.

Julian's Orzo with Pesto Sauce and Seared Scallops
If you haven't heard of orzo, it's a small rice-shaped pasta that works great in soups or even simulates risotto. Most stores carry it and most brands make this small noodle.

Simply cook the orzo per package directions and toss with a couple tablespoons of pesto. Top with grilled shrimp. pan seared scallops or whatever you prefer.

That's really all there is to it. So simple, no recipe or directions are required.