Saturday, April 21, 2018

Asian Inspired Pork Tenderloin - Sous Vide Technique

This recipe from chef Gregory Gourdet is inspired by the Chinese take out for char siu pork, which is basically tender pork with a sweet hoisin-based sauce. Here the sauce is used for both a marinade during the cooking and also as the serving sauce.

Julian's Asian Inspired Pork Tenderloin
Nothing is more simple to cook than a pork tenderloin, but you do have to be careful not to overcook. So that's why today I've chosen the sous vide technique, as it will render the pork to the perfect level of doneness and it will hold there until I'm ready to finish it. Today it will be finished on the cooktop in a skillet but you can also do this on the grill. The meat chars easily from cooking in the sweet sauce.

I've converted the chef's original recipe into more common measures to make it easier for the home cook.

1/2 Cup honey 
Cooking in the Water Bath
1 Teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 Teaspoon smoked paprika 
1 Teaspoon white pepper 
3 Tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
1 1/2 Teaspoons sesame oil 
1/2 Cup plus 2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce
2 1/2 Tablespoons molasses
5 Large garlic cloves, minced
1 Pork tenderloin, whole
1 Tablespoon canola oil
Cooked rice for serving

Set up your sous vide equipment and set the water temperature to 140F degrees and let it pre-heat while you prepare the sauce.

In a mixing bowl combine all of the above ingredients except for the tenderloin. Cut the tenderloin in half and place in a plastic bag suitable for the sous vide water bath. Pour two-thirds of the sauce into the bag coating the pork tenderloin all over. Seal the bag, removing the air so it does not float in the hot water. Submerge the bagged tenderloin into the pre-heated water and cook for 90 minutes. It may be held here for an additional 60 minutes if needed, as the sous vide will not overcook the meat. 

While the tenderloin cooks, place the remaining sauce into a small pan or butter warmer. About 10 minutes before you are ready to finish the tenderloin, turn the heat to low and cook the sauce to help the flavors combine. When the tenderloin is done, remove it from the bag to a cutting board covered with two layers of paper towels. Pour half the sauce from the bag into the reserved sauce on your cooktop, and heat to just boiling. Let the sauce cook, stirring occasionally to reduce and thicken. Discard the remaining sauce from the bag.

While the sauce cooks, use additional paper towels to dry the pork on all sides. Heat a cast iron or standard skillet (do not use a non-stick skillet) on your cooktop until hot. Add a tablespoon of canola oil and swirl to coat. When oil is just starting to smoke, add the dry tenderloin and char on all sides. This will take only a minute or two total, because of the sweet marinade. Remove the charred pork to a clean cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.

Cut the pork into medallions as shown, place atop cooked rice, and spoon the sauce over each serving.  Serve immediately.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Sauteed Beet Greens

While beets are best known for the sweet, red root, their dark green leaves are edible and shouldn't be wasted. They make an excellent side dish and can be used in place of Swiss chard, spinach or collard greens.Unlike collards like kale and mustard greens, you do not have to blanch beet greens before cooking.

Beet Greens
They really are simple to prepare and good to eat and healthy too. 

Selection:  When making your purchase look for bunches that have relatively the same size beet root. This aids uniform cooking. However, this is not always easy to find but do the best you can. Make sure the leaves are not too wilted and look moist and fresh. I prefer bunches with medium sized beet roots or even smaller ones, but the latter is perhaps more work for less result. 

Storage:  When you get the beets home, the first thing you must do is cut the leafy stems from the beet root. They should be stored separately. Cut the stems just an inch above the root and wrap them loosely with barely damp paper towels and refrigerate them in your vegetable drawer in an open plastic bag. Keep the roots stored in a separate open plastic bag. While the roots will hold for several weeks like this, plan to make the beet greens within 48 hour of purchase.

Preparation:  I previously discussed the roasting of beets, which is my favorite way. So today I'm talking only about how to prepare the beet greens, and these I always saute. To prepare the greens, cut off the tough non-leafy part of the stems. For very large leaves with a large vein of stem, you may remove that as well or leave it in place. It is high in fiber and edible but a bit chewy as it will take longer to become tender than the leaves will to cook. Wash the leaves in cold water to remove any dirt. Spin or pat to remove excess moisture. For very large leaves, tear them into the size of the smaller, more tender leaves. 
Click to Enlarge

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
3-5 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 small minced shallot (optional)
3-4 bunches of beet greens, cleaned
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
pinch of sugar
pinch of red pepper flakes
pine nuts (optional)

Cooking:  Heat  oil in a large skillet over medium heat. I use my ceramic wok for this purpose, but any good skillet will do preferably with a non-stick surface. Add the garlic and/or shallot and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the greens and lightly season with salt and pepper. Stir in the vinegar and a very small pinch of sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally until coated and tender, 3-5 minutes. Stir in the red pepper flakes. Stir in the optional pine nuts. Serve warm.

Julian's Sauteed Beet Greens

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Better French Toast

Thanks to America's Test Kitchen for working out how to get really great French toast. Home made is often too soggy and tastes like scrambled eggs, unlike a good restaurant version.

Julian's Better French Toast
This version is crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, with rich custard-like flavor with just a hint of nuttiness. I prefer either using the challah bread or English muffin loaf bread. Today I'm using the latter. You can find Thomas’ English Muffin Toasting Bread which is pre-sliced or Pepperidge Farm House Bread, Hearty White at most American grocers. Today I have a loaf the English Muffin Bread. If you are looking for the classic challah bread, it looks like the below image and is available in many bakeries.

Challah Bread
Ingredients (serves 4, 2 slices each)
Half Batch

8 large slices hearty bread
     farmhouse hearty white, challah or English muffin toasting bread
1 1/2 cups whole milk, warmed
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg (optional)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
   plus 2 tablespoons more for cooking
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
maple syrup for serving


Note: I cook mine, all four slices, in a large non-stick skillet as I'm usually just making half the batch. However, if you are making the full batch or have a smaller skillet, you can do two slices at a time as noted in the recipe, or if you have a large griddle, you can cook them all at once, which will take an extra 2 to 3 minutes per side. For an electric griddle set the temperature to 350F degrees.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Place bread on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Bake bread until almost dry throughout, about 15 minutes, flipping slices halfway through. Remove bread from rack and let cool 5 minutes. Reduce temperature to 200 degrees for keeping batches warm if you are not frying them all at one time.

Warm the milk in the microwave or on the cooktop over gentle heat, until it's just warm to your finger (about 80F degrees.) Whisk milk, yolks, sugar, cinnamon, 2 tablespoons melted butter, salt, and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. Transfer mixture to 13 x 9 inch pan/dish. If making half the batch as I am year, use a 9 x 9 in pan/dish.

Soak bread in milk mixture until saturated but not falling apart, about 20 seconds per side. Using slotted spatula, pick up bread slice and allow excess milk mixture to drip off; repeat with remaining slices. Place soaked bread on a baking rack set over a rimmed sheet or directly a platter.

Heat about a half tablespoon butter in the skillet over medium heat. When foaming subsides, use slotted spatula to transfer 2 slices soaked bread to skillet and cook until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes on both sides. (If toast is cooking too quickly, reduce temperature slightly.) Transfer to baking sheet in oven if you are not frying it all in one batch to keep warm. If so, repeat cooking with remaining bread adding a little more butter to the skillet for each batch. Serve warm, passing maple syrup to drizzle on top.

Sunday Brunch

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Pan-Roasted Rabbit with Red Currant Sauce

Rabbit is the ultimate in sustainable meat, with a texture like chicken and equally mild in flavor. I use a farm-raised rabbit loin in this recipe, as they are plenty meaty and I don't have to deal with deboning.

Julian's Pan-Roasted Rabbit Loin with Red Currant Sauce
While a whole roasted rabbit is a traditional meal in much of Europe, often with mustard sauce, today I'm making rabbit with a berry sauce. While I'm using a little jar of red currant jam made with red wine, you can use any good berry jam in this recipe. Ideally choose one that is not too sweet.

Rabbit prepared in this way is quick and simple to make even on a week night. This dish is prepared in under 30 minutes.

Rabbit loins, deboned, skin on
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small shallot or onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
3 tablespoons red currant jam
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/2 cup vegetable (or chicken) stock

Thirty minutes before you plan to cook, place the rabbit loins in a salted water bath to brine. Approximately 1/8 cup salt in a bowl with water will be sufficient. Some prepared rabbit loins come with small, dangling pieces of meat hanging from the sides or bottom. Trim off these loose pieces and discard.

Remove the rabbit loin from the brine, rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with black pepper. In a large saute pan (skillet), heat the vegetable oil over medium-high until is is just starting to smoke. Add the loins, skin side down and cook 3-5 minutes until browned. Turn and cook on the over the side for 2-3 minutes. Remove to a warm plate.

Cook the shallot/onion for 1-2 minutes in the drippings and add the garlic. Stir for 30 seconds or so and add the white wine. Stir to combine and scrape up any bits stuck the bottom of the pan. Cook until the wine is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Stir in the jam until combined. Mix the corn starch with the stock. Add to the pan and whisk until combined and starting to thicken, 3-5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and return rabbit to the pan. Turn and coat each piece and set them skin side up. Cover and cook for 10-12 minutes until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat read 160F degrees. Remove the pan from the burner and let rest for 5 minutes, turning the rabbit in the sauce just before serving. Plate and spoon extra sauce over the rabbit. Serve.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Chicken Piccata

This is the famous Italian dish that really brings in the lemon flavor. Not many people make it at home because they think it's complicated, but really nothing could be further from the truth. I make this on weeknights after being at the office all day. It can be ready in under an hour.

Julian's Chicken Piccata with Buttered Noodles and Broccoli
However, not all chicken piccata is good and even restaurants can make a dry, tough dish. This recipe, originally from Cooks Illustrated, provides for excellent results. I have modified it to increase the ratio of the sauce to chicken, as it is delicious and you'll want more. The chicken breasts are easily pounded thin, lightly dusted with flour, pan-seared, and bathed in a rich lemon-butter pan sauce, with scatterings of capers. Add some fresh chopped parsley if you have it handy.

Julian's Tender Chicken Piccata
Ingredients (serves 4 adults)

4  boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
salt and pepper
2 large lemons
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 shallot or small onion, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine or sherry
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
2 tablespoons caper, drained
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley (optional)


Cut each chicken breast piece in half crosswise, then cut the thick half in half again horizontally, creating 3 cutlets of similar thickness. Place cutlets between sheets of plastic wrap and gently pound to even ½-inch thickness. Place cutlets in bowl and toss with 2 teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Set aside for 15 minutes.

Trim the ends from the lemons. Halve 1 lemon and squeeze the juice from the half into a small bowl. Discard the juiced lemon rind. Slice the remaining lemons and set aside.

Spread flour in shallow dish. Working with 1 cutlet at a time, dredge cutlets in flour, shaking gently to remove excess. Place on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until smoking. Place cutlets in skillet not crowding the pan and leaving some room between each cutlet. Reduce heat to medium and cook until golden brown on 1 side, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook until golden brown on second side, 2 to 3 minutes. Return cutlets to wire rack. Repeat with a little more oil for any additional cutlets that didn't' fit into your skillet for the first batch.

Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil and shallot/onion to the now empty skillet and cook until softened, 1 minute. Add the wine/sherry and scrape up any brown bits. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the lemon slices and cook for another minute, turning halfway through. Add the broth, reserved lemon juice and gently stir to combine.

Add browned cutlets to sauce and simmer for 4 minutes, flipping halfway through simmering. Transfer cutlets to platter. Sauce should be thickened to consistency of heavy cream; if not, simmer 1 minute longer. Off heat, whisk in butter. Stir in capers and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Pie Plate Selection

If you don't make pies often you might think the type of pie plate or pan you use doesn't really matter. You see them at the store made of all sorts of materials, of different depths and designs, from flat edge to fluted from decorative to utilitarian and in all colors. However, depending on what pie you are making all of these things do matter and sometimes matter quite a bit. I have a full collection as you will see below. I would say the pan I've used most over the years would be the glass.

Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch Nonstick Pan
Material:  The type of material your pie plate is made from really can make a difference, especially if a crisp, flaky standard pie crust is important. I've tested metal, glass, and ceramic on all sorts of pies. I would say if you can only have one pan and you usually make a standard pie crust, then go with the metal if you can find a good one. However, that isn't always easy if you want them made of steel, which is the best metal for the job. It's a better conductor of heat than ceramic or glass, both of which heats more slowly. Second, since steel is strong, the metal plates can be made thinner than plates of other materials (such as aluminum), which helps them heat faster quickly baking and browning your crust before your moist pie ingredients can make it soggy. For a fruit pie these pans work the best. However, be careful if you have a long-baking custard type pie (like pumpkin) as they can over-brown the crust because of their great ability to transfer heat. For a long-baking pie (say nearly an hour or more) in a metal pan I do not pre-heat the baking sheet like I do for fruit pies, and always do if I'm baking using glass or ceramic whether they are fruit or custard.

The shiny, inexpensive (under $10) stainless steel pans work well, but are not usually dishwasher safe and do scratch, although this doesn't affect their performance. However, they don't look very attractive. The newer professional-weight pie pan from Williams-Sonoma is a bit pricey (about $20) and is made from aluminum-coated steel and called the Goldtouch nonstick pan. It too scratches as you cut the pie, but again that hasn't reduced its performance and it is dishwasher safe. However, it's only available from Williams-Sonoma, making it harder to acquire.

Pyrex Glass Deep Dish (9 x 1 3/4)
My second choice would be glass (Pyrex or Anchor Hocking type, ranging from $5-$20 each.) But while glass does okay with a standard pie crust if placed on a pre-heated baking sheet, it doesn't do well with a graham cracker or cookie crumb crust. Both of these tend to stick to the glass. So while they cook up just fine, getting the pie piece out of the glass plate intact is not easy. Don't even consider trying a French pastry type crust (what they call pate brisee) in a glass pie plate. For graham cracker and cookie crust pies, the ceramic or metal pans release best. So while these are likely the go-to choice for most bakers, that is because most bakers make fruit or custard pies, for which they do very well as they use a standard pie crust.

Ceramic Pie Plates in Stand
But you may say, those ceramic pie plates are much prettier. Yes, they can be very attractive. But they have several issues. First, if you are making a creampie or other unfilled crust, they just don't work very well. When the empty shell bakes, even with pie weights in place, the slippery sides of the ceramic plate just don't keep the crust up well during baking. Over my many tests, at least half suffered from the dough sliding down the side of the ceramic plate as the empty shell baked. I had no problems baking empty shells when using my metal or glass plates. The secondary problem is that they don't transfer heat to the bottom and sides of the crust near as efficiently as metal, especially if they are light in color. Darker colors on the outside and inside tend to brown the bottom crust better, so if you are insistent on ceramic, get darker pans. I received as a gift an expensive (about $40) Emile Henry Pie Dish. These look lovely, with a big fluted edge and come in many designs and colorations. Unfortunately, mine was white. It doesn't brown well at all. For some recipes that may be okay (say cookie crumb or a very long custard pie bake that takes an hour or so), but if you are doing a standard pie crust with say a shorter baking fruit pie, which you want to be browned, crisp and flaky, a light colored ceramic pie plate is not your friend even when placed on a pre-heated baking sheet. This is especially true for wet ingredients like fruit pies where you need the crust to cook and brown quickly.

Now you might be asking 'is there a best of all worlds here?'  Perhaps. A relative newcomer is the Creo Smartglass Pie Plate which was created with the aim of combining the best features of glass pie pans and ceramic pans. In my use it bakes well and has all the features of glass from the baking perspective, but it has the decorative qualities of the ceramic dishes, that look so lovely on the table or buffet. So if you don't mind spending $10 more for a nicer looking dish, then this could be a good option for you. They are available on Amazon. I for one think I make lovely pies and they don't need a pretty pan to take away from their attention.

Aluminum foil disposable pans are also an option, but their flimsy construction makes them a poor choice for anything other than taking to a bake sale. Even then I suggest placing them inside a steel or glass pie plate before attempting to bake in them, as they often bake unevenly and it is very easy to spill the pie while moving it in a foil pan.

Edge: Look for a pie plate with a flat standard edge. While most all of the various plate materials comes with other, more decorative looking edges, they just get in the way when you are making your pie. Those big wavy edges you find on some of the high-end ceramic pans look beautiful sitting on the shelf. But when you try to crimp the edges of your top and bottom crust together, you'll be fighting the fluted edge all the way around. I make various edges on my pies, sometimes doing the classic pinched technique creating either a big or small ruffle. Sometimes I make fork edge. Other times I cut out dough leaves and make a border. For all of these, a flat standard edge plate is best. My deep dish glass Pyrex has a little fluted edge and handles, but these are not large enough to be bothersome. If you want to make a one-crust pie, and you want to make it lay around that big fluted edge that so many of the ceramic pans now have, you can do this. But even then, cutting the pie and getting it out is hard with those large wavy designs. So just buy a plate with a flat standard edge for maximum versatility.

Julian's Fresh Cherry Pie, Deep Dish Pyrex
Size: Purchase pie plates in the 9-inch size. This is a pretty standard size as most recipes are designed to make a pie in this sized plate. You can find 8-inch, 6-inch and even 10-12 inch sizes. But for making a classic dessert pie, the standard 9-inch size is best. Larger pie pieces are hard to get out of the pan in one piece with the filling intact. Stick with the standard.

But what about depth? I prefer pie dishes that are between 1 1/4 inches and 2 inches deep. The classic Pyrex pie dish is 9 inches wide and 1 1/2 inches deep, which is perfect for most recipes. My 'deep dish' go-to pan is 1 3/4 inches deep (shown above). I have a 2-inch deep pan that I rarely use because it is also 9 1/2 inches wide. This makes a large pie and takes more dough and more filling than standard recipes provide. A friend has a ceramic beauty of over 2 inches deep and nearly 10 inches wide. The only dessert pies he's made in it sit rather down in the dish, because he uses a standard crust, making them look a bit undesirable. He does however use it to make a top-crust only chicken pot pie, and it works well for that if you're feeding a big crowd.

Baking Sheets: As noted above most of the time you will want to pre-heat your oven with a baking sheet inside on the rack set in the lowest position. I often pre-heat the sheet at 400-500F degrees, then reduce the temperature 10 minutes before baking to the pie's regular baking temperature. I do this for all pies in all pans, except as noted above when I'm using the metal pans for a long-cooking pie. If the pie bakes 45 minutes or less, I use the preheated baking sheet to ensure I get a nice, brown, crisp bottom and side crust no matter what pie I'm baking.

Pie Crust Sheilds
Pie Crust Shields: If you bake pies regularly, you'll want to invest in a couple pie crust shields. These are useful for pies that tend to brown too much around the edge. You can of course also fold some foil strips for this purpose but having these handy works well if you bake regularly. I have the brand shown but there are many varieties available.

Fresh Peach, Lattice Crust, Deep Dish Pyrex

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Broccoli Soup with Cheese

The classic Wisconsin version of this recipe (called Broccoli-Cheese Soup) is mostly cheese and if you're lucky contains a couple small pieces of broccoli. It's really cheese soup sometimes made with beer. It's rich and thick and not my favorite. However when I came across this version from Cooks Illustrated, I thought i'd give it a try. It was at least green like broccoli.

Julian's Broccoli Soup with Cheese
I was pleasantly surprised. This soup actually tastes like a balanced combination of broccoli and cheese. It's easy to make and is really good and oh so much healthier than the 'classic' version. Note that to make a vegetarian version simply substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth.

The soup feels rich and creamy and pairs well with a light sandwich wrap. 


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds broccoli, florets roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces,
  stems trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 medium onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
2 medium garlic cloves, pressed through garlic press
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
pinch cayenne pepper
3–4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (see note)
2 ounces baby spinach (2 loosely packed cups)
3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (3/4 cup)
1 1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated fine (about 3/4 cup)
        plus extra for serving
Ground black pepper


Heat butter in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add broccoli, onion, garlic, dry mustard, cayenne, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently for 6 minutes. Add 1 cup water and baking soda. Bring to simmer, cover, and cook until broccoli is very soft, about 20 minutes, stirring once during cooking.

Add broth and 2 cups water and increase heat to medium-high. When mixture begins to simmer, stir in spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Transfer half of soup to blender, add cheddar and Parmesan, and puree until smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer soup to medium bowl and repeat with remaining soup. Return soup to Dutch oven, place over medium heat and bring to simmer. Adjust consistency of soup with more water if needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish and serve with croutons, black pepper and extra cheese. Serve hot.

Before the Puree