Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sweet Corn Cooking Methods and the Corn-Cucumber Salad

Questions about the best preparation method for sweet corn are common.  From my cooking experiences, the methods are many and none are really better than others. It really is more a matter of the result you are looking for and the other foods you are preparing.

Julian's Corn in a Water-Milk-Butter Bath
I've tried just about every cooking technique known regarding sweet corn on the cob. From microwave to classic boiling, they all have their place. So here are some tips on the various methods, including how to select and store your corn prior to cooking.

Selection:  The color of the corn is not related to sweetness. There are very many varieties of sweet corn today. When I was a child, all corn was not particularly sweet. But today most all supermarket varieties sold 'on the cob' are sweet. Many have sugar contents approaching 35 percent. Look for corn in the husk (don't buy peeled) with silk that is clean and not dried out, with a husk that is green and pliable. If you do peel back a little husk, check to make sure a kernel is plump and juicy with your finger tip or nail. The single most important thing about sweet corn, is getting freshly picked ears.  

Storage: Do store the corn in its husk inside your refrigerator, ideally in the higher humidity vegetable drawer. If space is not available, put the unhusked ears in a bag with a damp paper towel. Use the corn as soon as possible, but do not store more than four days as the sugars will convert to starch.

Taste Testing is a Great Job in Julian's Kitchen!
Cooking:  You can roast (in the husk or out), microwave (in the husk or out), boil in water or a water/milk/butter mixture.  If I'm grilling I roast the corn on the grill. Husked and dry roasting directly on the grates gives you some classic brown marking. When slathered with butter it is delicious. The dry roast seems to bring out the sweetness. You can also clean and wrap your husked ears in foil, which in effect steams them. Of course some people like them in the husk and you can do this by peeling the ears back, removing the silk and replacing the husks. Add some butter or oil under the husk on the corn if you like, along with any additional seasonings.

In the microwave, if I'm in a big hurry, corn will cook completely in just 5 minutes. For this I usually husk, clean and season the corn, then place it on a pate covered with plastic wrap.

Finally, boiling has two options.... water or the water, milk, butter combo shown at the top. I've tried both and don't taste any noticeable difference.

For 6-8 ears of corn,  bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Shut off the heat and add the corn and let the corn stand for at least 10 minutes and not longer than 30 minutes. This insures the corn does not overcook.

Sugar: Finally, what about adding sugar to your corn for any of these methods? Corn kernels are nearly impermeable at least for the short cooking time we are talking about for any of the above methods. You can add sugar if you want, but it won't effect the taste. Add sugar if needed (rarely) and other seasonings just after cooking.

If you've got good sweet corn, it tastes good no matter which method you choose.

Corn-Cucumber Salad (sometimes called Mexican Corn Salad)

This recipe is very flexible and can be adjusted to the ingredients you have on hand or prefer.

Julian's Corn-Cucumber Salad

4 ears of fresh sweet corn
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small diced red onion
1/2 red bell pepper
2 chopped seedless cucumbers
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons diced green chilies
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 - 4 ounces grated aged Parmesan cheese

Clean and husk the corn and cut it from the cob. Over medium heat in a large heavy skillet, heat the oil slightly. Add the fresh corn and cook, stirring regularly for about 3-4 minutes until the corn is tender.

In a large bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients. Add the corn and toss to combine. Allow salad to sit for about 30 minute too let flavors develop.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Grilled Knob Onions with Balsamic Reduction

Sweet grilled knob onions make an excellent side dish in the summer time when they are plentiful. Most any onion will grill nicely, but I prefer to use the knob onion (which is like a large scallion, and sometimes called a globe or bulb onion.)

Julian's Grilled Knob Onions with Balsamic Reduction
Although the term "spring onion" is used colloquially to encompass all onions with edible greens, and although nomenclature varies by English-speaking country, scallions and spring bulb onions are not the same. Knob onions are onions harvested as babies, usually with bulbs of 1 to 2 inches in diameter. If left in the ground, they would develop into mature onions. Scallions, on the other hand, would never develop a round bulb. So you are looking for a knob onion as pictured here.

Simply grill them until tender and drizzle with a balsamic glaze or reduction. I purchase my glaze pre-made at the store most of the time. If you want to make a balsamic reduction do the following.

Balsamic Reduction
Mix balsamic vinegar with brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer until glaze is reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Glaze should coat the back of a spoon. Let cool and pour into a jar with a lid; store in refrigerator.

Select about one onion per person. Clean them by removing any root end that exists and tear off any outer loose skin or damaged/dry stems. Cut the onions in half leaving on the leafy stem top. Coat with olive oil, salt and pepper and place on a hot grill with the cut side down and the tender green leaves over a cooler section of the grill. Alternatively, you can wrape the tops in foil to prevent burning. Cook until tender, only 3-5 minutes, turning once halfway through. Drizzle with balsamic reduction and serve.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Peruvian Grilled Chicken Skewers

This classic Peruvian recipe (Pollo a la brasa) includes flavors common to Asia, due to large migrations to Peru from the region and now account for nearly 5% of the population. Peru is said to have one of the world's most important cuisines because it is an exemplar of fusion cuisine, due to its long multicultural history.

Julian's Peruvian Grilled Chicken Skewers
Pollo a la Brasa (a rotisserie or roaster chicken) is one of the most consumed foods in Peru. The origins of the recipe for this dish date back to Lima in the 1950s, when two Peruvian residents invented and registered the patent  for the rotisserie grill machine used to cook the chicken. Traditionally, the dish is served with French fried potatoes, salad and various sauces (Peruvian mayonnaise, ketchup, olive sauce, chimichurri and aji (chili) sauces of all kinds).

Off the skewer and onto the wild rice.
The strongly flavored soy-based marinade used for this dish is lightened with lime juice and seasoned with a few spicy ingredients to give it a little kick. It's certainly not 'hot' but you'll know they are there, which is why I like to serve it on a bed of white or wild rice, as shown here. These spices are offset with brown sugar, which helps it to brown nicely on the grill.

In Peru you often find served as a half chicken per person, although their chickens run smaller than their U.S. counterparts. I've taken the standard recipe and used only dark chicken thigh meat and placed them on skewers, which I think you will enjoy, Dark boneless, skinless thigh meat grills nicely and doesn't dry out easily.


Marinade and Basting sauce:
4-5  large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoon smoked paprika
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup soy or teriyaki sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger

For the chicken:
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Vegetable oil for grill


Combine all marinade ingredients in a medium-size bowl. Reserve 1/3 cup for basting in a airtight container and refrigerate. Cut the chicken into 1-inch or so cubes. Add the cut chicken to a plastic zippered storage bag and add the remaining marinade. Turn the bag to evenly coat chicken with marinade. Refrigerate for 2-4 hours or even a bit longer.

Heat gas grill to medium high or start a medium hot charcoal grill. Thread chicken onto skewers (if using wooden skewers, soak them in water for at least 30 minutes.)

Clean grill surface and coat with an oil-dipped paper towel using tongs. Place skewers on grill and cook, turning one-quarter turn every 3-4 minutes until cooked through, about 10-12 minutes. Brush each cooked side with the reserved basting sauce. Chicken should be charred in spots.

Remove the chicken skewers from the grill, tent with foil and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve on a bed of white or wild rice.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Avocado Tuna or Chicken Salad

This smart choices replaces the mayonnaise you typical use in a tuna or chicken salad with avocado. I've made it several times now and served it to guests. To my surprise the guests didn't realize it wasn't mayo in the salad

Julian's Avocado Tuna Salad
If you are looking for a healthier alternative (vegetable fat-avocado vs. animal fat-mayo) or you have someone who is allergic (they do exist) to eggs, then this a great option. I however don't make it for either reason. I simply like the way it tastes!

You can use your own preferred tuna/chicken salad option or follow my recipe below. The key here is having really good canned tuna. Consider a premium brand like American Tuna.  I purchase this at Whole Foods and one 6 ounce can is good for two dinner salads. I used to only buy this brand. However, now Kirkland Brand (sold at Costco) is my go-to brand for white chunk line-caught tuna. It's as good as the American Tuna brand but more convenient. When you open the can you'll see why. A big firm, nearly single cut of tuna is inside. It's all meat and little water, and highly recommended.

If you're not familiar with how to pick or know if the avocado is perfectly ripe and ready for preparation, check out this webpage.

Ingredients (serves 2)

1 ripe avocado, cut in half, pit removed, diced, skins reserved
8 cherry tomatoes,
1 small stalk of celery, chopped
1/2 small onion or 1 shallot, finely chopped
1 small handful of parsley, chopped, about 2 tablespoons
1 6-ounce can solid white albacore tuna in water, drained
Juice from half a lemon/lime
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Spinach leaves (or you choice of lettuce)
Olive oil and vinegar dressing
Fresh chopped parsley for garnish

Prepare the ingredients as noted above. Note that you do not have to be exact. Add the avocado, celery, onion and parsley to a small mixing bowl. Stir them together mashing portions of the avocado to create a mayonnaise like base. Leave a few chunks of avocado so you can see and taste it in the mixture. Now gently turn in the tuna and add the lemon, salt and pepper. Don't over mix or it will make a paste, which is not preferred. We want to see and taste some chunks of tuna as well. Make a bed of spinach or lettuce that has been tossed in a light dressing. Stuff the avocado half and place on the bed of spinach/lettuce and sprinkle with the remaining chopped parsley. Serve.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Sore Muscle Summer Smoothie

With summer here and lots of gardening going on, I have some sore muscles. This anti-inflammatory smoothie does the trick and helping to relieve the pain. It also tastes good!

Julian's Sore Muscle Summer Smoothies
All ingredients are known to help to reduce inflammation in the body, and have a “cooling effect” as well. Pineapples have a long tradition as a medicinal plants, and are known known for their pain relieving enzyme bromelain.   Today I'm making a double batch, as shown above. Below recipe makes one drink.

As I noted in a prior posting, you do need a good quality blender to make smoothies. For more information on that read my post on Nija vs. Vitamix. I also give you some other great smoothie recipes on that page.

1 small rib celery
1 cup cucumber
1/2 cup pineapple
1/2 lime wedge (peeled and seeded)
1 cup coconut water

Place all of the ingredients in your blender and select the "smoothie" option. Alternatively, select puree, which you may need to start and stop a couple times to ensure the ingredients are fully blended.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Tomato Watermelon Salad with Gorgonzola

Popular recently, the flavors of the sweet watermelon, acidic tomato and salty cheese go amazingly well together to make a perfect summer salad.

Julian's Tomato and Watermelon Salad
The success of the dish of course depends on having the very best and most flavorful local ingredients. If you can't get them, better to make something else or substitute as necessary.

1 part fresh rip tomatoes
1 part fresh sweet seedless watermelon
fresh basil leaves
crumbled Gorgonzola or Feta cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar reduction
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Clean and cut the tomatoes and watermelon into equally sized pieces. Wash and dry the fresh basil leaves. Place the tomatoes, melon and basil in a serving dish. Sprinkle with the cheese. Drizzle a little olive oil and Balsamic vinegar reduction over the salad and top with a pinch of salt and a couple grinds of fresh black pepper.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Olive Tapenade

This spread, often used as an hors d'Ĺ“uvre and spread on bread or crackers, is a provincial recipe of the region surrounding Europe's Mediterranean sea. This area, which grows many olives, make use of them in many ways, but perhaps the most popular is tapenade. The classic tapenade includes various types of olives, capers, olive oil, garlic and sometimes anchovies.

Julian's Olive Tapenade
The word tapenade comes from the French, but it's equally popular in Spain and Italy. Sometimes Americans refer to this as muffuletta, because they've had it on Sicilian bread called muffuletta which became popular with Italian immigrants in New Orleans, Louisiana who spread the bread with tapenade. But the true name is olive tapenade not muffuletta.

I purchase pitted olives of several varieties and I do all of my chopping in the food processor, which makes it quick and easy. My sister does the chopping by hand, which insures the ingredients are not processed into a paste. We both prefer a small, fine chop to a puree but in Europe you find it both ways. If using the food processor like I do, make sure to just do one ingredient at a time and quickly 'pulse' so as not to puree the olives.

My Sister Hand Chopping Olives
Make a large batch if you are expecting guests to drop in during the week. It's popular and they can eat a good bit, piling each cracker or small bread piece with a teaspoon or more of tapenade. I find a large bowl like the above will hold in my refrigerator for about a week.

I have no specific recipe to provide you but my most common ingredient list looks like the below. Once all of the solids are chopped I just mix together some olive oil and vinegar and toss with the mixture. Add salt if necessary after tasting.

Black Olives
Green Olives with/without pimentos
Kalamata Olives
Castelvetrano Sicilian Green Olives
Garlic (2-3 cloves only)
Red pepper (small or half)
Capers (optional)

Olive Oil
Red Wine Vinegar

Chop all of the ingredients one by one into a very fine small chop (but not puree). Stir gently together. Mix together 3 parts olive oil to one part wine vinegar and toss. Only a light dressing is required. Add more dressing and salt if necessary after tasting. Refrigerate and let flavors combine for several hours before serving on crackers or small pieces of bread. Makes an excellent spread on toasted panini sandwiches.