Saturday, December 9, 2017

Baked Ham ~ A Holiday Classic

Baked ham is served on many American holiday tables. Today there are many options when purchasing your ham, from the cut, to curing method and of course optional spiral slicing.

Julian's Christmas Ham Dinner
with green beans, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. 
In most supermarkets, cured hams come in five forms: boneless, semiboneless, bone-in, whole, and half. Each of these types is available unsliced or “spiral-sliced”. In my many years of experience, a bone-in ham is always most flavorful, and I also do not prefer them sliced. I enjoy a meatier ham with a thicker slice, which you only get if you carve the ham yourself. If however you are putting the ham on a buffet for an evening of eating at leisure, then a spiral sliced ham that is thinly cut will do, especially if people are making sandwiches. You generally need about 1/2 pound of ham per person for a bone-in ham. When purchasing you're looking for a ham with natural juices and no water added.

Julian's Glazed Christmas Ham
Rarely do you need to purchase a whole ham. They feed a small army.  Half hams are available in two cuts: shank end and rump/butt end. If labeling is unclear, it’s easy to identify half hams by their shape—shank hams have a pointed end much smaller than the larger end, whereas the sirloin (or butt) end is rounded. Butt/rump (sometimes called sirloin) end is preferred because it is meatier and less fatty. It is slightly more difficult to carve, but the flavor and texture is worth the effort.

The ham you buy is ready to eat. Technically it doesn't require warming. But when serving it for dinner, most Americans prefer to heat it and often add a glaze. Your goal is to gently warm the ham through until it is between 110F and 120F degrees. Cooking the ham to a higher internal temperature dries out the the meat. To achieve this, bring a ham to room temperature by letting it rest on the counter for 90 minutes before cooking. Then roast the ham in a 250F degree oven covered or in a roasting bag.

Once the internal temperature of the ham reaches 100 degrees, uncover the ham (or cut open the bag) and increase the oven temperature to 350F degrees. Apply the glaze and bake the ham for 10 minutes. Remove the ham from the oven, apply more glaze, and then make a quick sauce with the remaining glaze and the drippings in the oven bag. Allow the ham to rest covered with foil for 15 minutes before serving.

The below glaze recipes are from the great cooks at Cook's Illustrated.

Maple-Orange Glaze
¾ cup maple syrup
½ cup orange marmalade
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

To Make Maple-Orange Glaze: Combine all ingredients in small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thick, syrupy, and reduced to 1 cup, 5 to 10 minutes; set aside.

Cherry-Port Glaze
½ cup ruby port
½ cup cherry preserves
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

To Make Cherry-Port Glaze: Simmer port in small saucepan over medium heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and mixture is thick, syrupy, and reduced to 1 cup, 5 to 10 minutes; set aside.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Southern Pan-Fried Cabbage with Bacon

Cabbage is a great fall and winter dish as it's always plentiful. I've made this dish many times and when it showed up next to corned beef last year here on the blog, several asked why I didn't provide the recipe.

Julian's Southern Pan-Fried Cabbage with Bacon
I guess I thought I had done so previously or more likely that everyone made this and didn't need a recipe. In any case, I'm glad to provide my version. It's quick and simple and I usually try to find a small whole head of regular green cabbage for this recipe. This seems like a lot and when you cut up the cabbage it seems like even more. But it does cook down and we also like it leftover.

Southern Pan-Fried Cabbage with Bacon

Cabbage cooking in my wok.

12 oz bacon, diced raw
1 head green cabbage, chopped
1 onion, diced
2 Tbsp Worcestershire
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp garlic granules or powder
2 Tbsp brown sugar
black pepper to taste

Add chopped bacon to a large pot or wok. Cook over medium heat until extra crispy. Remove bacon and reserve the drippings. Add onion and stirring regularly, cook until tender about 3-4 minutes.

Working in batches, add cabbage a handful at a time and cook over medium-high heat stirring the cabbage until it reduced a bit in volume. Continue adding and stirring until all the cabbage is in the pot, usually about 10 minutes in all.  Add Worcestershire, apple cider vinegar, garlic and brown sugar. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is tender. Add cooked bacon to cabbage and black pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Serve. Makes an excellent side dish for pork or corned beef.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Pumpkin Bread - Cream Cheese or Cinnamon Filling

Today I'm making two versions of this fall favorite pumpkin bread. My loaf is not overly sweet because I usually include one of these fillings which is more sweet. I love these for breakfast right through the winter.

Julian's Pumpking Bread Fresh from the Oven
My standard loaf pan measures 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inches. When I use that pan I do the optional streusel topping. When I'm using my fancy pumpkin molded pan, the topping isn't possible as it turns out upside down. This recipe is based on the technique from Cooks Illustrated, although I have modified it to add fillings.

Loaf/cake Ingredients (2 loaves)
Ingredients and Fancy Pan
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 cup packed (7 ounces) light brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 ounces cream cheese, cut into 12 pieces
4 large eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped fine (optional)

Cinnamon Filling Ingredients (for 2 loaves)
Making the Struesel Topping

1 cup Baker's Cinnamon Filling
4 tablespoon water
     or substitute
     1 cup granulated sugar
     1/3 cup dark brown sugar
     1/4 cup cinnamon
     4 tablespoon water, more as needed

Cream Cheese Filling Ingredients (for 2 loaves)
1 package (8-ounces) cream cheese (at room temperature)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 egg
2 teaspoons orange zest (finely grated)

Optional Streusel Topping Ingredients
Loaf with Topping Oven Ready

    for 2 Standard Loaves
5 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
finely chopped toasted walnuts (about 1/2 cup)


Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350F degrees. Grease two loaf pans with food release or vegetable oil or butter. Whisk four, baking powder, and baking soda together in bowl.

Combine pumpkin puree, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in large saucepan (large enough to eventually hold the dry ingredients as well) over medium heat. Cook mixture, stirring constantly, until reduced to 1½ cups, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove pot from heat; stir in granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, and cream cheese until combined. Let mixture stand for 5 minutes. Whisk until no cream cheese pieces remain and mixture is well combined.

Whisk together eggs and buttermilk. Add egg mixture to pumpkin mixture and whisk to combine. Stir the flour mixture into pumpkin mixture until combined. Fold in the optional walnuts.

Combine the ingredients for the Cinnamon Filling or Cream Cheese Filling. I typically use a hand-held mixer for the cream cheese filling, but you can do it by hand.

Pour half the loaf/cake batter into two loaf pans. Top with the filling of your choice. Today I'm making one of each. For the cinnamon filling I typically swirl it a bit with a knife into the pumpkin loaf/cake batter. Top the filling with the remaining loaf/cake mixture.

If using a standard, non-decorative pan, prepare the streusel topping below and sprinkle on the loaves before baking. As I'm using one decorative loaf pan today, the bottom of my pan will be on top so I will not use the streusel on that one. So I will dust decorative pumpkin loaf with powdered sugar just prior to serving.

Bake 45 to 60 minutes until a skewer inserted near the center comes out clean.. Let cool in pans on wire rack for 20 minutes after removing from oven. Remove loaves from pans and let cool for at least
2 hours. Serve warm or at room temperature dusted with optional powdered sugar.

Julian's Pumpkin Breads with Fillings
Streusel Topping Instructions
Mix all ingredients together in bowl until well combined and topping resembles wet sand.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Chicken or Turkey Pot Pies

This is my simple, fast recipe for homemade pot pies. We love them in fall and winter and serve them as comfort food. Works great if you have some left over turkey or rotisserie chicken. If you are tired of either as you just had them, freeze the pieces and use in this dish when you are ready to enjoy.

Julian's Chicken Pot Pie - Individual Size
As you will see below, I'm using a store bought pie crust, but you could make your own if you prefer. As I said, this recipe is made for speed. After Thanksgiving I don't want to do more cooking.  I've also used a store bought puff pastry dough, which works equally well if you just want a top crust.

Fresh from the oven.
My recipe below is for a standard 9-inch pie. But you can also make individual sizes if you have the smaller pie pans, like I do.


Ready for Top Crust
1 box refrigerated pie crusts
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 3/4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup milk
2 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken or turkey
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables, thawed


Heat oven to 425F degrees. Remove pie crusts from box and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. Line the bottom of a 9-inch glass pie pan with one crust. Set the other crust aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender. Add the white wine and cook 3-4 minutes until reduced by half. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until well blended. Gradually stir in broth and milk, cooking and stirring until bubbly and thickened.

Stir in chicken and mixed vegetables. Remove from heat. Spoon chicken mixture into crust-lined pan. Top with second crust; seal edge and flute. Cut slits in several places in top crust.

Bake 30-40 minutes or until crust is golden brown. During last 15 to 20 minutes of baking, cover crust edge with strips of foil to prevent excessive browning. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Cinnamon Bundt Cake

You won't find a cake with a better cinnamon flavor. The taste is bold and goes great with a cup of coffee. This is a recipe of my own making. Usually you see a yellow cake with a cinnamon swirl. This is a bit different as it's all about cinnamon.

Julian's Cinnamon Cake
I use Cinnamon Sweet Bits from King Arthur Flour rather than the larger standard cinnamon chips, as they aren't noticeable in the cake but add great flavor (i.e., you never bite into a big piece). But you could substitute. I also use their Baker's Cinnamon Filling for the swirl, but I've provided you with a substitute should you not have it on hand. With all that said, I am not pushing their products, but simply like using them because I get a great result. I pay for their products just like everyone else and get nothing to promote their brands.

Cake Ingredients 
Click to Enlarge
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup heavy milk or half/half
1/3 cup cinnamon bits, plus more for garnish

Cinnamon Swirl Ingredients
1/2 to 1 cup Baker's Cinnamon Filling
Click to Enlarge
2 tablespoon water  for 1/2 cup
     or substitute
     2/3 cup sugar
     4 tablespoons cinnamon
     2 tablespoon water

Cinnamon Glaze Ingredients
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare your Bundt pan.  You can either butter and flour your pan, or use a flour spray, or use a standard food release spray (Pam) with a thin layer of pecan flour (this is my preferred method, as it leaves a nice brown nutty outer layer instead of some white flour dust.)

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla and mix to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon. To the butter mix, add 1/3 of the flour, then 1/2 of the cream. Repeat until all combined. Stir in the cinnamon bits.

Then in a separate bowl combine the cinnamon swirl ingredients. 

Finally, assemble the cake. Spread half of the cake batter in the bottom of the prepared Bundt pan. Then add half the cinnamon swirl mixture evenly around the cake. Use a fork to gently swirl it into the cake batter just a little.  Add the rest of the batter and top with the remaining cinnamon sugar swirl mixture and again stir in slightly with a fork.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then turn the cake out onto a a cooling rack.

When the cake is cook, use a basting brush to brush off the loose (pecan) flour and make the glaze: Stir together confectioners' sugar, milk and cinnamon until smooth. It will seem thick but must be this way so too much doesn't run off the cake. Spoon glaze over cake nudging it along as necessary with a spoon. Immediately sprinkle with a few more cinnamon bits to decorate the cake.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Oven Roasted Turkey Breast

If you are having a small gathering or if you just have the taste for turkey any time of the year, consider roasting a breast. The all-white meat breast is the most popular part of the turkey in most households and they are much smaller and easier to cook than the whole bird.

Julian's Juicy Roasted Turkey Breast
Turkey Selection
If you can get a fresh bone-in breast (not frozen) that's always best. American white turkeys are bred to have large breasts so they typically come in big sizes. A typical breast half makes four adult portions with no left overs. A 5-7 pound whole breast serves 4-6 adults with left overs.

Julian's Plated Turkey Dinner
If you are using supermarket (non-local) turkeys, look for free-range, non-GMO birds. Vegetarian diets are preferred without antibiotics. All of these characteristics make for the best tasting turkeys in the Cook's Illustrated "Best Supermarket Turkey" tasting.  Also avoid birds injected with a salt-based saline solution. This 'pre-brining' as they sometimes call it, causes the tissues to break down and you end up with meat that has texture issues. Whether buying a whole supermarket turkey or just the breast, I would recommend the Bell and Evans, Plaineville Farms and Marry's Free-Range as among the very best. Today I'm using a fresh breast from my local butcher who gets them at a farm here in Illinois, so they are always flavorful and free range. Fresh is always preferred over frozen. 

Salted and Ready to Refrigerate for 24-hours
Advance Preparation (24 hours before cooking)
Roasting the whole breast in your oven is challenging as it wants to fall over. Therefore, it's best to cut it in half and remove the backbone and use that for gravy base. Today I'm only doing a half breast, so this isn't an issue. Like all poultry, I use a dry salt rub 24 hours in advance of roasting, as this dry brine technique insures a juicy result. It does not make the turkey salty tasting.To do this, place the turkey breast, skin side up on a cutting board. Using your fingers, carefully loosen and separate the turkey skin from the breast(s) without removing or damaging it. Then rub 1-2 teaspoons of course salt all over the meat, under the skin. Turn the breast(s) over and salt the rib cage side. Lastly sprinkle a light dusting of salt onto the skin and put the breasts on a plate in the refrigerator uncovered for 24 hours.

Julian's Roasted Half Turkey Breast
Preheat the oven to 325F degrees. Place the turkey breast(s) in a shallow pan, oven-safe dish or skillet. The breast should cover most of the surface without touching the sides. Do not use a deep roasting pan and do not put the breasts on a rack, as these will all for evaporation and burning of the drippings. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Brush melted butter evenly over the turkey and sprinkle with salt, pepper or other favorite seasonings.Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. Roast until the breast is 130F degrees, about 1 hour.

Optional Stock: If you are planning to make gravy, now is the time to get that started. Heat vegetable oil in a saucepan and brown the turkey back you removed from the whole breast. Add onion, carrot and celery (one small each, chopped) along with 4-5 cups of water to cover the bones. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer for the remainder of the turkey breast roasting time (about 1 hour). Strain through a sieve and reserve the broth off heat but not refrigerated.

Remove the 130F degree turkey breast(s) from the oven and increase temperature to 500F degrees. When temperature is reached, put the turkey back into the oven and roast until skin is brown and crispy and internal temperature is about 160F degrees.   Remove to a cutting board and let rest for 30 minutes.

Optional Gravy:  While the turkey rests, use the fat drippings from the turkey to make the gravy. To do this, you will need about 1/4 cup drippings. If the turkey didn't render this much fat, then add vegetable oil until you have 1/4 cup. Place the drippings in a skillet or sauce pan and heat until shimmering. Sprinkle 1/2 cup flour evenlythe fat and cooking, whisking constantly until flour is coated with fat and browned, about 1 minute. Add 1/4 cup dry white wine, whisking to scrape up any bits and cook until wine has evaporated, about 1-2 minutes. Slowly whisk in stock prepared previously and cook over medium-high heat until it is reduced to about 2 cups (which takes about 20 minutes.)  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Slicing the Breast

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Roasted Guinea Fowl

Nothing says fall like rarely prepared game birds on the dinner table, so today I am roasting a guinea hen.

Julian's Roasted Guinea Fowl
Guinea fowl are the bird of choice in most of Europe, and much preferred over chicken. These birds resemble partridges, but with featherless heads. Guinea fowl meat is drier and leaner than chicken meat and has a more flavor. Most American chicken, as you may know, is pretty flavorless.

I purchase my guinea hens at D'Artagnan, which are farm raised. They really are quite delicious and I'm doing this one on the rotisserie, but you could do it just the same in the oven. The trick to a great outcome is the advance preparation.

Guinea fowl/hen

6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
pinch of grated fresh or dried lemon peel
dried rosemary, finely chopped
course salt, about 2 tablespoons total
freshly ground pepper
fresh rosemary springs
butchers twine (for binding)

24 hours in advance, open the package (thawed if previously frozen) of the bird and wash and pat dry inside and out. Using your hand, gently separate the skin (slide your hand under) the two breasts and around the legs.

Mix together 4 tablespoons of the butter, the mustard, lemon peel, dried rosemary, 1 pinch of the salt and 4-5 grinds of fresh black pepper. Rub this mixture under the skin onto the breasts and legs using all of the mixture. Tie the legs together loosely and put on a plate and sprinkle the outside of the bird generously with more salt. It may look like a lot of salt, but this provides a dry brine. Place in the refrigerator uncovered for about 24 hours.

Remove the dry-brined bird from the refrigerator and let set at room temperature for about 40-60 minutes. Place the fresh rosemary sprigs inside the cavity and truss the bird so no parts will move around during cooking and stay tight to the body (provides even cooking.) Rub the bird with the remaining two tablespoons of soft butter. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and a little more dried rosemary.

Prehead the oven or grill to approximately 375F-400F degrees. Place the bird on a rotisserie spit or on a rack with a backing tray or pan underneath. Roast the bird until it is nicely browned and the meat thermometer reads 170-175F degrees when inserted into the the thickest part of the thigh. Remove and let rest for 20 minutes before caring and serving.

Julian's plated guinea fowl served with rice.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bang Bang Chicken Wraps - Super Simple Method

If you need a quick work-night dinner that everyone will love, give this super simply recipe a try. It;s a knock off of the Bang Bang Shrimp from the Bonefish Grill. Of course what makes it 'bang bang' is their secret sauce.

Julian's Bang Bang Chicken Wraps
You could also call it crispy chicken wraps or even crispy chicken fajitas. But what makes it most special is the sauce.  You can make your own and I'll give you a recipe below, but for tonight I needed fast and had a bottle of Dinni's Select Spicy Shrimp Sauce on hand, which is very similar.

Homemade "Bang Bang" Sauce
Mix together the following:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Thai sweet chili sauce
1/4 teaspoon Sriracha

Now you could bread and fry your own chicken, but again, I'm pressed for time. So I use the Tyson Chicken Breast Fillets or their Crispy Chicken Strips. Both work equally well. Baking time is under 30 minutes. Bake them per the package directions and then cut them into pieces.

For the remainder of the dish you'll need some flour tortillas, lettuce, chopped tomatoes and cheese.

As you can see from the image, I like to make a little station and let everyone assemble their own wraps as they want them. Simple, flavorful and always a crowd pleaser!

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.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Smoked Trout Appetizer Dip

With summer coming to an end, I like this simple, cool appetizer which goes great with cocktails. This tasty cold spread can be made with any of the smoked fishes, such as salmon or trout. I'm using trout today which I friend provided me and which I prefer. It's mixed primarily with boursin cheese. You can purchase this flavored cheese like I did, or you can make your own. If you decide to make it, I like Paula Deen's recipe.

Julian's Smoked Trout on Crackers
5 ounces boursin cheese (garlic and herb preferred)
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot (or green onion)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4-5 grinds fresh black pepper
2-3 dashes of hot sauce (optional, more or less)
5 ounces smoked fish (trout, salmon, etc.)
Chopped parsley, dried or fresh, for garnish
sturdy crackers or small cocktail toasts

With the cheese at room temperature, mix it together with the sour cream, shallot, lemon juice, pepper and hot sauce until well combined. If the fish is still on the skins (ideally and as shown here), flake it off into the bowel with the cheese mixture being careful to insure that no fish bones remain. If the pieces are too large you can give them a quick pulse in a food processor. Stir to combine the fish with the cheese mixture to the consistency you prefer. Serve with crackers or small toasts.

Tuscan Penne Pasta with Garlic Shrimp

This dish is rich and delicious. You can substitute the shrimp for chicken if you prefer, or even just leave it out all together. It contains a cream base, spinach, sun dried tomatoes, white wine and shrimp sauteed in garlic.

Julian's Tuscan Penne Pasta
This is an easy weeknight dinner which I make in a my ceramic wok. While I'm preparing the sauce I boil the water and cook the pasta. Then I simply transfer the pasta into the wok filled with sauce, toss and serve. Your family will love it.

Ingredients (serves 4 adults)
Ready to Plate
2 tablespoons salted butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
8 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 pound shrimp peeled and cleaned shrimp
       tails on or off, our choice
1 small yellow onion, diced
5 ounces jarred sun dried tomatoes,
       removed from oil and cut into strips
1/2 cup mushrooms stems and pieces, optional
2 teaspoons dried chopped parsley
2 teaspoons dried chopped oregano
2 teaspoons dried chopped basil
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
2/3 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
3 fist-fulls baby spinach leaves
1 pound penne pasta or similar noodle

Heat a large pot of water to boiling, adding 2 tablespoons of salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil. While the water heats continue with below steps. When water reaches a boil, ad the pasta and cook per package directions until just al-dente.

Heat a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Melt the butter and add 2 tablespoons of the garlic, reserving the remainder. Stir for about bout one minute until fragrant and add the shrimp. Saute on both sides until pink and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes. During the last minute, sprinkle with a little of the dried herbs (parsley, oregano and basil). Transfer to a bowl; set aside.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet/work and add the onion. Cook stirring regularly until the onion is tender, about 3-4 minutes. During the last minute, add the remaining garlic. Cook one minute more until garlic is fragrant. Add the sun dried tomatoes and optional mushrooms, and cook for 1-2 minutes to release their flavors. Add the herbs and then add the white wine. Cook stirring regularly until wine is reduced by about one-half.

Reduce heat to medium-low, add the cream and bring to a gentle simmer, while stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. When hot, add the cheese and stir in.  Add in the spinach leaves and stir into the sauce until wilted and combined

Add the shrimp back into the pan and stir in. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir to combine. Plate and sprinkle with extra shredded cheese.

Garlic Shrimp in Butter

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.