Saturday, May 31, 2014

Baja Rice with Chipotle Hake Loin

The tastes of the Baja peninsula in northwestern Mexico come through in this easy to prepare meal. If you've been to this lovely area you know that its land mass separates the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California. It extends from Mexicali in the north to Cabo San Lucas in the south and encompasses 65 islands. Unlike much of the rest of the Mexico, meat is not the prime source of protein in the region, but rather fresh seafood. So today I'm cooking with hake.

Julian's Baja Rice with Chipotle Hake Loin
Hake are deep-sea members of the Cod family. Hake fillet or loin,which I'm using today, is cut from the fish and sold in vacuum packs frozen here in Chicago where I live. If you live on the coast, you may have access to fresh. I selected hake because it is largely used in Latin-American cuisine. Hake has soft white flesh with a mild, subtle flavor. Hake is considered one of the best fish in the whiting family because of its firm, sweet, white meat and medium flake. You could substitute cod or tilapia if you don't have access to hake.

Hake Loin in White Wine, Seasoned with Chipotle Spice
Ready for Baking. 400F for 20-25 minutes.
As the fish is so easy to prepare, I'm concentrating my recipe below on the rice dish. Simply rub the thawed fish fillet lightly with oil and sprinkle with your favorite seasoning. Today I'm using a spicy chipotle to keep with my theme. See my note below on chipotle seasoning.

The rice is equally flavorful and healthy, and uses a fresh long chili for a kick. You can substitute that with a more mild pepper if you prefer. Prepare the fish and serve it on a bed of this rice. No other accompaniment is needed, as the vegetables are combined with the rice.

2 teaspoons oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 fresh chili pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes, drained
1 1/2 to 2 cups brown rice (see note)
1 teaspoon paprika, smokey preferred
1/2 teaspoon cummin seeds
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
salt and pepper, to taste
cilantro, chopped as garnish

Rice note: Brown rice comes in two basic varieties. In the first variety, the rice is dry and usually in a box or bag. In the other, it is pre-cooked and packaged in a vacuum and shelf stable. It is in effect, ready to eat and doesn't require further cooking. In theory, you could eat it out of the bag, although I always dress it up with additional ingredients for flavor. Depending on which variety you choose, the cooking method is different. If you purchase the dry variety, the rice requires time and liquid to cook.

Pre-Cooked, Shelf Stable and Ready to Eat... sort of.
Heat oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers but is not smoking.  Stir in the chopped onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, until softened. Add the three types of chopped peppers and garlic. Saute 5 minutes to permit peppers to soften. Add beans, tomatoes, and the spices. Stir to combine. 

If the rice is pre-cooked as noted above, simply stir to combine, and cook for 5 minutes stirring regularly to allow flavors to blend. Let sit for 5 minutes, fluff the rice and serve.

If the rice is dry and not pre-cooked, add the rice along with the amount of liquid specific on the packaging (typically 1 1/2 to 2 cups). Substitute chicken stock for water. Simmer until rice is tender. Let sit 5 minutes, fluff and serve.

Julian's Baja Rice

Chipotle Seasoning
A chipotle pepper is a smoked, dried jalapeno pepper. From this they make a ground chipotle chile pepper, which is the basis for the well-known chipotle seasoning. You can purchase this pre-made or make your own from the recipe below. Simply mix all of the ingredients together, ensuring each is of approximately the same grind.
1 tablespoon ground chipotle chile pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons paprika (smoked paprika if available)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano (Mexican Oregano if available)
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Korean Beef ~ Quick, Easy, Flavorful

This is an easy weeknight dish that is full of flavor. If you've feared Asian cooking, start here. Nothing could be easier and taste more authentic. You can use an ordinary skillet to prepare it if you do not have a wok handy.

Julian's Korean Beef on rice with Fried Green Beans
With that said, I have been to Korea and have never had this exact dish. They do have a dish with similar flavors, but instead of ground beef they use beef top sirloin, thinly sliced. The beauty of the ground beef is that it cooks quickly and you can have this meal on the table in 30 minutes. Everyone will love it.

Begin by starting your rice cooking. I suggest serving it with white rice. If you have a rice cooker, that is the best method. Otherwise follow the package directions. As shown above, I wiped out the same skillet and fried green beans in it, and then topped them with slivered almonds. A great companion to this meal.

A Few Simple Ingredients
1 pound lean ground beef (95% lean if available)
1/4 brown sugar (dark or light)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ginger, minced (see note)
1/2 - 1 teaspoon crushed red peppers (to desired spiciness)
salt and pepper
3 green onions, chopped and separated light/dark

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add sesame oil and warm for 1 minute until hot but not smoking. Add hamburger and brown. Add the lower (white and light green) portion of the chopped green onions. Stir in and cook for 3-4 minutes. Toss in the garlic and stir together over heat for 1-2 minutes more. Spoon out excess fat if necessary. Add brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger, salt and pepper and red peppers. Stir to combine and cook to combine flavors, another 2-3 minutes. Set aside until rice and other dishes are ready. Top the beef with the remaining darker portion of the chopped green onions at serving time.

Julian's Easy Korean Weeknight Dinner
Ginger Note:
You can keep fresh ginger in the freezer because it is hard to use a full piece before it goes bad, and it is easy to grate when frozen. But lately I've been buying the Dorot frozen ginger cubes. I don't use a lot of ginger in cooking so these are an excellent option. The flavor is good and the package is excellent. Dorot has garlic too and it is good, but I use quite a bit of garlic and so just keep fresh on hand all the time.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Banana Nut Whole Wheat Muffins

Easy, healthy and tasty; these muffins get their goodness from whole wheat, sweetness from banana and crunchiness from nuts. This recipe produces a hearty muffin with a heavier texture. So why bake with whole wheat? I personally prefer the texture in these to a cup-cake type breakfast muffin. They are also healthier for your heart, digestive system and blood sugar levels.

Julian's Banana Nut Whole Wheat Muffins Ready for Delivery
Eating foods made from wheat flour contributes to your grain intake, helping you reach the six 1/2-cup servings recommended daily. One of the primary nutritional differences between whole-wheat and white flour is the food’s fiber content. The refining process associated with making white flour separates the fiber-rich bran from the rest of the grain, so white flour contains less fiber than its whole-grain counterpart. Dietary fiber has a number of health benefits; it prevents constipation, lowers blood cholesterol and helps you maintain a healthy weight.  It also absorbs more slowly into the blood stream and as such helps to regulate blood sugar better than white wheat flour. It also contains several vitamins, including folate, riboflavin and vitamins B-1, B-3 and B-5. White flour contains lower levels of these vitamins, since the processing involved in making white flour destroys the grains’ vitamin content.

So if you are now convinced to make these delicious breakfast treats, follow the easy instructions below. The topping is optional, as are the nuts, although I never skip either one. If you want a lighter muffin but still with some healthy whole wheat, try my sugar-free carrot, honey, applesauce muffins.

Ingredients (12 muffins)
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup  brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

3 teaspoon canola oil
1 egg, beaten
2 egg whites, beaten
1/3 cup Greek yogurt

3 ripe bananas
1 cup uncooked quick oats
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
2 tablespoons butter, direct from refrigerator, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional
Sanding or other course sugar for decoration

Muffins ready for topping then baking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix dry ingredients and then stir in wet ingredients. Mixture will seem dry. Mash the bananas with a fork or your hands. Then mix the banana until smooth using a hand mixer. Add mashed banana and oats to the dry/wet ingredients and mix together with hand mixer. Stir in the optional nuts if using.

In small bowl, mix together the topping ingredients except for the nuts coating the butter pieces very well.  Using a hard bladed (not wire) pastry blender/knife, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it forms small pieces. You can also pulse in a food processor if you prefer. Stir in the chopped walnuts if using. If using whole walnuts as I often have on hand, simply use the pastry blender to chop the walnuts right into the topping mixture until they are at the size you prefer. Set aside

Spray muffin pan with cooking spray or use tall muffin papers as shown and fill each cup 2/3 full distributing the batter equally between 12 cups. Divide the topping mixture on each muffin. Sprinkle with the optional sanding sugar.

Bake for 20-30 minutes. Insert toothpick at 20 minutes and if it comes out dry, they are done. Test every five minutes and do not overbake. Remove when done. Let cool in the muffin tin for 10 minutes, then remove to a serving basket or try.

I use Golda's Baking Cup Papers

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Pasta with Cauliflower and Bacon ~ Herb Mills

Is it the bacon in the title that got your attention? I bet it was! In any case, it does add a bit of interest in both flavor and texture, although this recipe is really much more about the pasta with cauliflower which even without the bacon in the topping, is extraordinarily good.

Julian's Campanelle Pasta with Cauliflower and Bacon
This dish has become a restaurant favorite and you may have wondered how they manage to get the creamy goodness of pasts and nutty flavors of cauliflower to combine into something that is more than the sum of the parts. If you've tried it home, you find you have too many pots to wash afterwards and the results are less than you experienced at the restaurant.  I had given up trying to make it until Cooks Illustrated advanced a method I have now used with great success. I've made some minor modifications but in all it is their technique that carries the day.

3 slices bacon or 4 ounces of pancetta, diced
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large head cauliflower (3 pounds)
1 onion, chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound campanelle style dry pasta
5 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley*
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Notes: You can use bacon cut into 1/4 inch pieces or pancetta (Italian style bacon) also diced. I purchase the pancetta already diced at my Italian deli. Either bacon or pancetta works fine.

The pasta you didn't know existed.
With regard to the pasta, you can use campanelle as shown above, or bow-tie or any similar sized pasta. I would not however recommend a long noodle. I found the campanelle in my grocery store isle and had no doubt passed it by for several years. It's a short curly elegent pasta and if your grocer carries it do pick up a box.

Cook bacon in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until crispy. With the bacon still in the pan, add the panko bread crumbs and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring regularly, until panko is well browned, 2-4 minutes. Transfer mixture to a bowl and wipe out the skillet.

Browned Pancetta and Panko Break Crumbs
Core and cut the cauliflower into 1-inch pieces. Heat about 5 teaspoons of oil in the now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until simmering. Add the cauliflower and 1 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until it is brown in spots and still crisp, but somewhat tender. Taste for doneness. It should not be overly soft or it will break up while combining with the pasta.

Fried Cauliflower ~ Good even on its own!
Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in a Dutch oven or other large heavy pot until shimmering. Add onion, thyme and a pinch of salt. Cook stirring frequently, until onion has softened about 5 minutes. Increase heat to high, add dry pasta, broth and wine and bring to a simmer. Cook pasta, stirring frequently until most of the liquid is absorbed and pasts is al dente, about 8-10 minutes.

Remove pot from heat; stir in parsley, lemon juice and cauliflower. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with panko/bacon mixture.


*Microplane Herb Mills
Here is another of my kitchen gadgets. They call it an herb mill.  It was a gift but I do use it from time to time, as it does give a good result when you want leafy herbs finely chopped. You simply place fresh parsley, cilantro, dill, sage or mint in the mill, then twist the handle. The blades quickly mince even large quantities of herbs without tearing or bruising the leaves. Be warned however that the leaves, as is true when chopping with a knife, should be very dry which means washing them several hours in advance. After use, the device is surprisingly easy to clean out under running water. Let dry thoroughly before storage.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Mother's Day Brunch with Low Sugar Blueberry Breakfast Bread

If you are looking for an easy, prepare-ahead brunch for Mother's Day, look no further.  This brunch is easy enough for the non-experienced cook (husband) to prepare.  And if your mother is supposed to be eating low-sugar foods but still has a sweet tooth, I've given you my recipe for a delicious blueberry breakfast bread that is low in sugar.

Blueberry Breakfast Bread - Low Sugar/Low Fat Version
You can make the bread a day ahead.  Simply wrap with plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter but out of the sun.  Full recipe shown below.  The egg casserole is a rendition of my Farmers Breakfast Casserole.  In this version I've substituted the ham for bacon.  If you do this, you'll want to cook it in advance then chop it into bite-sized pieces.  These were relatively large casseroles with two eggs per person, but you certainly do them half the size if Mom doesn't have a big appetite.  As these use frozen shredded hash browns, they are simple and quick to assemble.  You can even assemble them an hour or so ahead and refrigerate, then pop them in the oven for baking when ready.  If you do so, add 10 minutes to baking time to accommodate the cold ramekin.

Country Breakfast Egg Casserole, Baked Tomato,
Nectarine and Blueberry Bread
The casseroles bake about 45 minutes. A knife inserted in the center should come out clean when done.  In the foreground you can see a baked tomato.  About 15 minutes into the baking of the casserole, add the tomato to the the oven as they only take about 30 minutes to cook.

Baked breakfast tomatoes are a staple in England but you rarely seem them here in the USA anymore. I've never given a recipe for them as they are so simple to make.  If you are making them and have never done so before, simply cut the top off of a tomato.  Use your finger or a knife to push out the seed pods.  Melt 1/2 tablespoon of butter per tomato.  Add to that 1 tablespoon or a pinch more of seasoned breadcrumbs.  Add chopped (fresh or dried) parsley and/or basil to taste.  Lightly fill each tomato and place in a baking dish.  They bake at 350F degrees, just like the breakfast casserole.

Blueberry Breakfast Bread
This was a recipe I picked up on PBS.  I've modified it to reduce the fat and sugar.  I've also given you the substitutes if no one is watching their girlish figure!  I use four mini loaf pans here, as it's likely we won't eat more than one of two and I can send the rest home with the ladies.  You can as easily use a single standard loaf pan. (See footnote on loaf pan sizes.)

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup Splenda Sugar Blend (or 1 cup sugar)
3 eggs
1 pint blueberries (about 10 ounces)
zest of one lemon (about 2 teaspoons)
1/2 cup low-fat yogurt (or full fat if you prefer)

Preheat your oven to 350F degrees. Spray four small or one standard loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together your flour, baking powder and salt. Add the lemon zest and toss to combine.

Cream together the butter and Splenda Sugar Blend until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the yogurt then the dry ingredients, mixing only until incorporated. Gently turn in the blueberries.

Scoop batter into the prepared loaf pans. If you are not making the low sugar versoin, sprinkle the top with large crystal sugar.  Bake until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Small loaf pans will take about 40 minutes and one large single loaf will bake for about 60-70 minutes.   If you substituted the full sugar version they will be more browned than those shown here.  Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before inverting gently onto a plate.

Mini Loaf Pans vs. Standard Loaf Pan
A standard loaf pan is 9" x 5" x 3" and referred to as an 8 cup loaf pan.  The mini-loaf is usually 5 1/2" x 3" x 2 1/2" and is a 2 cup loaf pan.  I find the easiest way to test both by cup volume.  Anytime you have a recipe that is for a standard 8 cup loaf, the four mini 2-cup loafs can be substituted.  I often do this as they look more presentable to send to home with guests or to work when you can't consume a full loaf at home.