Saturday, June 17, 2017

Clams Casino

Clams casino is a clam on the half shell with breadcrumbs and bacon. The dish is popular with Italian-Americans, and when I was growing up it appeared regularly on the menus of every trattoria near and far.

Julian's Clams Casino ready for garnishing.
According to Good Housekeeping Great American Classics, the recipe for clams casino was originally developed in 1917 at the Little Casino in Narragansett, Rhode Island, by maître d'hôtel Julius Keller for Mrs. Paran Stevens who requested something special for her guests.  During this period in American history if a restaurant wanted to be noted, it came up with a dish that involved the baking of shellfish, and many did. However clams casino and oysters Rockefeller are among the few surviving dishes from this trend.

I've got my small clams on an escargot plate to hold them steady.
Preparing the Clams:  Before you try making this dish, watch a few of the online videos and read this step-by-step instruction on how to properly clean and shuck your clams. I do mine from the back the same as the guy in the video link I provided, but both methods work. It takes a little practice. Also consider how you will bake and serve the clams. As the bottoms of the shells are rounded, they don't sit easily and you don't want them to tip. Above I'm using an escargot plate. Anything with an indention will do, even a bed of salt (for cooking and serving) or seaweed (for serving only).

Clams Casino

The recipe makes 12 clam servings. If you are using them as an appetizer, than two-three per person is likely sufficient. 

Ingredients
Clams ready for fillings with clam juice preserved. 

4 slices bacon
12 large clams

1/4 cup minced shallot or onion
1/4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

4 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons butter

1/4 teaspoon paprika
Chopped parsley for garnish

In a small skillet, cook bacon until crisp over medium heat. Crumble, and set aside. Reserve bacon drippings in the skillet.

Wash and open the clams (as noted above) being sure to cut them loose from the shell after you have it open, but leaving each in the bottom half of the shell. Take care to preserve as much of the liquid inside the clam shells as you open them. Discard the top shell.

Preheat oven to 450F degrees.

Warm the reserved bacon drippings in the skillet, and place pan over medium heat. Add onion and pepper and saute until tender, 3-4 minutes. Add the bread crumbs and stir until golden brown, another 2-3 minutes. Remove to a separate dish. Stir in the oregano, parsley and cheese. Toss in the crumble bacon and combine. Set aside.

Wipe out the skillet. Melt the butter over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and saute 1 minute.

Spoon the butter/garlic mixture into the clams. Spoon the bread crumb mixture on top of each buttered clam. Sprinkle with paprika.

Place the clams on a cookie sheet or in any type of oven save dish that will hold them steady making sure they will not rock and spill the ingredients. Bake for 7 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Fresh Blueberry Lemon Cake

With fresh blueberries now in abundance and knowing they always pair well with lemon, I set off to find a cake that utilized both summer-fresh ingredients.

Julian's Blueberry Lemon Cake
The original recipe came from the NatashasKitchen.com website which is heavily filled with advertising which makes pages hard to load and read. In any case, the recipe turned out well, although I added the two sauces. (Recipes at the bottom of this page.)

Her recipe calls for a 9-inch spring form pan and as I only have a 10-inch version, I used that. The 9-inch pan would give you a better result. My baking time was also reduced to 40 from the 50 minutes she reported.

Ingredients
2 large eggs
1 cup (210 grams) granulated sugar
1 cup (8 oz) sour cream
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 medium lemon (zest and juice), separated
1/2 tablespoon corn starch
16 ounces (450g) fresh blueberries
Powdered sugar to dust the top, optional

Instructions
Lightly butter or spray with food release a 9-inch spring form pan and line the bottom with parchment. Preheat Oven to 375F degrees.

In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat 2 eggs and 1 cup sugar on high speed 5 minutes, or until light in color and thick. Add sour cream, oil,  vanilla, salt and mix on low speed until well combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour with baking powder. Add 1/3 of the batter to the egg/sugar mixture and on low speed, mix until combined. Add the remaining flour 1/3 at a time, mixing to incorporate with each addition. Finally, add 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and all of the lemon zest and mix on low until combined.

Rinse blueberries and drain well. In a medium bowl, toss blueberries with the corn starch and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. Toss to combine until there is no dry white cornstarch showing on the berries.

Pour half of batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Top with half of the blueberries. Spread with remaining batter then sprinkle the rest of the blueberries evenly over the top, pushing them slightly into the batter (about halfway).

Bake at 375˚F for 40 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Check at 40 minutes and test regularly. Do not over-bake.

Let cake rest in the pan 15-20 minutes then remove ring and cool until room temp or just warm. Carefully lift the cake off the pan base and peel off the parchment. Place the cake on your serving plate.  When ready to serve, dust with powdered sugar. Do not dust in advance.

Optional Sauces

LEMON CURD
4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put egg yolks into a medium heatproof bowl; set aside.  Whisk together lemon zest, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan. Add 1 1/2 cups water and the lemon juice; whisk until sugar and cornstarch have dissolved. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Cook 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low; gradually whisk one-third of the lemon mixture into the reserved egg yolks. Pour mixture into pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, 2 1/2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Pour into a bowl; place plastic wrap directly on surface. Keep at room temperature if using the same day to maintain the sauce consistency. Refrigerate for longer storage. Thin with some additional warm water if needed before serving.

BLUEBERRY SAUCE
1 pound fresh blueberries, wash and stemmed
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Place the berries into a sauce pan.  Add the sugar, lemon juice and corn starch. Stir to combine. Cook over  medium-low heat until the berries soften, stirring regularly until they make a sauce. Let cook down to desired consistency. The longer you cook, the thicker they will become.  Keep at room temperature if using the same day to maintain the sauce consistency. Refrigerate for longer storage. Thin with some additional warm water if needed before serving.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Beef Brisket - Slow Cooker Method

Most people only enjoy beef brisket when it is served as corned beef around St. Patrick's day, but this meat has a nice flavor on its own and can easily be prepared in a slow cooker. In fact, a slow long cooking is required to make the meat tender and to bring out its very beefy flavor.

Julian's Trimmed Beef Brisket
I got my brisket at Costco and like all things there you get a large piece. To fit it into the Crockpot I cut it in half. The recipe also calls for chili sauce and here any variety you prefer will do. I've used the classic Heinz Chili Sauce (not very hot) to the quite spicy Sriracha. I would say I prefer the less spicy in this recipe.
SrirachaIngredients
1 (3-4 pound) beef brisket, trimmed of fat
salt and pepper
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
 1 can beer (12 ounces more or less)
 1 bottle tomato-based chili sauce
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
Instructions
Preheat the slow cooker on the high setting. Trim excess fat from the brisket and cut it in half if necessary so it fits in your slow cooker. In a hot skillet with a little vegetable oil, brown on both sides.

Season the brisket on both sides with salt and pepper, and place in the slow cooker. Cover with a layer of sliced onions. In a medium bowl, mix together the beer, chili sauce, and brown sugar. Pour over the beef making sure both layers get coated. Close the lid.

Cook for 3-4 hours until tender. Remove the crockpot lid and let cook another 30=45 minutes to reduce the liquid. Remove to a cutting board and tent with foil. Let the brisket rest and cool slightly before slicing.

You may return the sliced meat to the slow cooker to coat in the sauce or plate the meat and spoon the sauce over. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Grilled Stuffed Lobster

Today I'm grilling lobster and this one happens to be of the warm-water Caribbean variety. That's because I'm staying at our St. Thomas villa where these lobsters are large and plentiful.

Julian with Grilled Stuffed Caribbean Lobster
I had previously discussed stuffed lobster and the various varieties and I'd given you the recipe from a great local restaurant in St. Thomas. But today I'm making these on the grill and stuffing them too, so I wanted to share a bit more on this topic.

Stuffed and Ready to Eat
Now whether you get cold water (Maine) lobster or warmer water (spiny Florida or Caribbean) lobster, they are all dispatched and cooked in the same manner. The primary difference between the cold and warm water varieties is the lack of pincer claws in the warm water lobster. It is for this reason you'll want to select larger specimens if you go with spiny lobster, as the only real meat is in the tail.

Boiling and steaming lobster is perhaps the most popular method. That's because it is killed and cooked all in one step, by placing into the already hot pot. However if you are going to stuff, grill or bake lobster, you need to send them on to that great ocean in the sky (kill them) first. To do this it is best to put them in a cold, dark place and let them sit quietly for a while. Warm water lobster in a cooler with some chunks of ice will do the trick if left for about an hour. For a cold water lobster you'll need an even colder environment (more ice in your cooler or your freezer) for at least 15-20 minutes. The cold and darkness rather put them into a deep sleep and make it easier to handle them.

One Quick Cut and It's Done
Wearing a heavy glove, one at a time move the lobster to a cutting board. With a sharp tipped chef's knife, place the point just behind the head. On a cold water lobster there is a small hinge in the shell at this point. On a spiny warm water lobster, there is usually a small dot on the shell. With the blade facing toward the front of the lobster, plunge the point directly down through the shell and quickly push it forward cutting the lobster's head in half. The lobster is now dead. Turn the knife the other direction, insert into the same spot and cut the lobster tail end in half.

Then cut the other end in half.
Spiny lobster have a harder shell with spikes and you'll need some muscle to cut it in half. Heavy gloves are a must as the shell is after all 'spiny'. I sometimes use kitchen sheers especially for cutting the underside of the tail which is more of a thin but tough membrane.

One you have the lobster cut in half wash out the insides removing the internal organs and creating a place for your stuffing. Prepare any additional lobster one at a time.

While the grill is heating, prepare the stuffing below. Note it uses left-over rice of any variety. I usually have some white or yellow Spanish rush in the refrigerator. You can of course make fresh and include it after it is cooled.

Ingredients
1/2 green or red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 stocks of celery, finely chopped
3 green onions, all of the white and a little of the green, finely chopped
             (or substitute 1/3 of a yellow onion)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Tabasco hot pepper sauce, to taste, 3-6 dashes
1 egg
1 cup cooked rice (any type)
3/4 cup of lump crab meat

4 tablespoons melted butter for basting
Paprika for color

Combine all of the above ingredients except for the rice and crab. Stir in the rice and gently fold in the lump crab trying not to shred it completely. The mixture may seem a bit dry, but the lobster shells will provide more moisture while it grilling/baking, so do not be concerned. Stuff the lobster body cavity, brush the lobster tail meat with butter and give it a light dusting of paprika.

Basting with Butter before Grilling

Place on a pre-heated grill (about 400F degrees) meat/stuffing side up and close the lid. Grill for 15-20 minutes until the lobster tail is cooked through. The lobster is done when the meat is opaque and feels firm when pushed with your finger or the temperature reaches 145F degrees at the center of the tail when measured with an instead read thermometer.



Saturday, May 20, 2017

Bacon Brown Sugar Pork Tenderloin

This is any easy and fast weeknight dinner. Pork tenderloin can be both delicious and tricky. It is small and lean and if over-cooked can be dry and chewy. In this recipe the tenderloin is protected by a wrapping of bacon, which also adds fat to keep it moist and flavorful.

Julian's Bacon Brown Sugar Pork Tenderloin
I purchase an individual fresh tenderloin at my local grocer. If you get yours in those vacuum packs that are nearly as big around as your wrist, understand it is two pieces of tenderloin inside, which is twice what I'm using the recipe below. If you plan to make the two of them, double the recipe.

I'm using the popular Major Grey's Chutney in this recipe, which you can find at most grocery stores. However, you can substitute another chutney or jam of your choice. I've used peach preserves with success in the past.

Ingredients
S
erves 4
1 pork tenderloin (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked or regular paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 to 6 slices bacon
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
1/4 cup Chutney (Major Grey's preferred)
2 tablespoons whole grain or Dijon mustard

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove the silverskin (the silvery-white connective tissue running along the top) from the pork tenderloin with a sharp knife, if the butcher has not already done so. Pat the tenderloin dry with paper towels.

Lay the bacon strips parallel across a cutting board spread about the same as the length of your tenderloin. Place the tenderloin on the bacon.

Combine the brown sugar, salt, paprika, and cayenne in a small bowl. Rub all of the mixture into the pork tenderloin turning it as necessary to coat all sides. Wrap the tenderloin with the strips of bacon, securing along the sides with toothpicks.

Ready for Browning
Heat the canola oil in a large cast iron skillet, or other oven-proof skillet, over medium-high heat until sizzling. Add the bacon-wrapped tenderloin and sear — do not disturb it while it's searing — until deep caramel brown, about 6 to 8 minutes. Flip the tenderloin and continue searing until the other side is browned.

Mix the chutney and mustard in a small bowl and brush generously over the top of the tenderloin.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook the tenderloin until a thermometer reads 140°F, approximately 10 to 14 minutes.

Remove from the oven and loosely tent with foil. Rest for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the tenderloin to finish cooking and for the juices to redistribute into the meat. Remove toothpicks and slice into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces for serving. Serve with any leftover chutney on the side.

Sliced and Ready for Serving



Saturday, May 13, 2017

Whole Wheat Caramel Pecan Cake

This is an old recipe and you may remember your grandmother serving you something like it. I take liberties with the recipe and usually make it when I have ingredients I'm trying to use up. You probably have all of these in your pantry today.

Julian's Whole Wheat Caramel Pecan Cake
I often find I have extra bits of nuts and coconut on hand from other recipes. Here you can use more or less of either of these. I used more here and the topping is more solid. The recipe below will give you a more moist sticky topping, which I actually prefer to the version pictured here. The original recipe card indicated the cake was baked in a 7 x 11 inch pan, which I do not have and have not seen. I make this in an 8 inch square baking pan.

Here it is made with more coconut and nuts than in
the recipe below as I had them on hand.

Whole Wheat Caramel Pecan Cake

Ingredients
Cake
1 1/4 cups water
3/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats
 1/4 cup butter, diced
 1 egg, lightly beaten
 3/4 cup brown sugar
 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
 1/2 cup all purpose flour
 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
 1 teaspoon cinnamon
 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
 pinch of salt

Sauce
 1/4 cup butter
 3/4 cup brown sugar
 1/4 cup half and half or whole milk
 1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
 1/2 cup chopped pecans
 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

Heat the oven to 350F degrees. Lightly spray an 8 inch square baking pan with food release (Pam). Set aside.

In a small saucepan add the water and butter and bring to a low boil. Add the oats and ook for 5 minutes over low heat stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat.

In a mixing bowl add the egg and the 3/4 cup brown sugar. Stir to combine. Spoon the oat mixture into the mixing bowl with the egg mixture and stir to combine. Fold in the flours, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

Spoon the cake batter into the prepared baking dish. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven, turning the broiler on.

While the cake is baking, make the sauce.

In a medium saucepan melt the remaining 1/4 cup butter. Stir in the brown sugar and half and half and stir until combined. Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut flakes, pecans and vanilla extract. Spoon the sauce over the warm cake.

Return to the frosted cake to the oven and broil for an additional 3 minutes or until the sauce starts to bubble and the topping is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the pan.
Serve warm or at room temperature.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Crockpot Chicken Tacos - Super Simple Dinner

Making a taco bar is simple, especially when you can prepare the meat in advance. I'm busy with other things today and so I'm making this in my slow cooker (Crockpot). It's pretty much a set it and forget it type recipe. This is also a great recipe for hot chicken sandwiches.

Julian's Chicken Taco Meat
The chicken can cook 4-5 hours and be ready when you want to serve dinner. It will hold longer as necessary. Then just prepare the other taco ingredients such as shredded lettuce, cheese, chopped tomatoes, sour cream and any other favorites and let the family build tacos themselves using warmed tortillas to hold the ingredients.

Julian's Chicken Taco Bar
I'm using the Hidden Valley Ranch dry mix in this recipe. You can get this in one ounce packets or a bigger container as I am showing below.

Crockpot Chicken Tacos

Ingredients
2-3 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 ounce taco seasoning mix (1 packet)
1 ounce dry ranch mix (1 packet)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 cup chicken broth

Instructions
Place the dried mixes into the slow cooker along with the optional pepper.  Add broth and whisk until combined.  Add chicken breasts and turn in the liquid mixture.

Cook on low setting for 4 hours or a bit longer depending on amount and thickness of chicken breasts.  When chicken starts to fall apart when pulled with a fork, it is ready for shredding. Using two forks, shred the chicken right in crock pot and stir to combine with the liquid. Continue cooking for another 30 minutes. If the chicken has too much liquid, cook without the lid. If the chicken is of the correct consistency after shredding, continue cooking with the lid in place.