December 2, 2016 Tuna Poke

dsc_8340aOne of the highlights of last summer was our trip to the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen Colorado. It is touted as America’s premier culinary event, and certainly lived up to those expectations. We enjoyed three days of cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and best of all, the grand tasting pavilion. It was there that we, and 5000 other fanatical foodies sipped, savored and sampled our way around the massive white tents. One area we were certain to stop at during each grand tasting was to sample the offerings of Food and Wine magazines best new chefs. Everything we tried was imaginative and delicious as well. Not coincidentally, the July issue of Food and Wine magazine offered recipes from each of these up and coming chefs.

With memories of the wonderful small plates we enjoyed at the classic, it was time to try some of their dishes for ourselves. This summer I tried the rather ambitious, summer squash with lemon curd and citrus vinaigrette from chef Brad Kilgore. Joe was more interested in the Tuna Poke on Nori Crackers. This very simple version is from Ravi Kapur, chef at Liholiho Yacht Club, a San Francisco restaurant with Hawaiian, Indian and Chinese influences.

If you are not familiar with it, poke, pronounced POH-keh is a raw fish salad. Poke, means chop or chunk, which refers to the bite sized pieces the fish is cut into. It is commonplace in Hawaii, found everywhere from the deli departments of grocery stores to fine dining establishments.

The first time we tried it just for ourselves and the poke passed our taste test with flying colors. The nori crackers are a nice “cheffy” touch but speaking on behalf of the cleanup crew, messy and not necessary for the home cook. For this recipe, make the poke with sushi grade ahi tuna from the most reputable vendor you can find. The spicy mayo has only three ingredients, tamari, sriracha and mayo. So it’s very simple, finely chopped tuna, scallion, ginger, jalapeno, tamari and dark sesame oil combined in a bowl and seasoned with salt. Spoon the poke on black sesame crackers, I like the ones from Edward and Sons, easily found in large supermarkets. Dollop or pipe some of the spicy mayo on top. Garnish with some Asian microgreens and a few toasted sesame seeds. We have served it at two parties so far this year, both to rave reviews.

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Tuna Poke

Serves 6-8

Ingredients for the Spicy Mayo

  • ¼ c good quality mayonnaise
  • ¼ t tamari
  • 1 t sriracha (or to taste)

Ingredients for the Poke

  • 12-oz sushi grade tuna cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 4 t minced scallions
  • 2 t minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 t seeded and minced jalapeno
  • 1 t tamari
  • ½ t toasted sesame oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Black sesame crackers
  • Asian microgreens and toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Directions for the Spicy Mayo

  1. In a small bowl whisk all the ingredients together until smooth.

Directions for the Poke

  1. In a large bowl, fold all the ingredients except the garnishes together; season with salt.
  2. Spoon the poke on the black sesame crackers and dollop with some of the spicy mayo. Garnish with sprouts and sesame seeds.

November 28, 2016 Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Walnuts

dsc_8394aA delicious side dish for holiday entertaining, canalized Brussels sprouts with apples and walnuts brings out the best in this often maligned vegetable. When Brussels sprouts are cooked in a heavy bottomed saute pan,(think cast iron)  they get brown and toasty. When they are cooked in some bacon fat, it even gets better. I save bacon fat in a container in the freezer for moments like this. If you don’t store up bacon fat like me, a combination of butter and olive oil will do just fine. Start by getting the pan hot and adding your fat of choice.  When I added the quartered Brussels sprouts, some of the leaves popped up in the pan like kernels of popcorn. Get some golden color on the Brussels sprouts before you add the chopped apple. I chose a Honeycrisp because of its super crisp texture and sweet juicy flavor. Feel free to substitute your own favorite, a Gingergold or Mutsu would work well here too. It will take a little more time in the saute pan to cook the apple and tenderizing the Brussels sprouts. Please note I said tenderize, not turn to mush, they should still have a bite. While the sprouts and apples are still warm, add the toasted walnuts and dried cranberries. Pour the dressing of sherry vinegar, honey, mustard and just a touch of olive oil over and lightly toss. Serve warm or at room temperature. Make it your own by substituting dried cherries for the cranberries, toasted almonds for the walnuts and a fruity balsamic for the sherry vinegar and honey. Maybe some crispy bacon too. Looks like I just created another recipe that I need to try.

Carmelites Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Walnuts

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T bacon fat (can substitute olive oil)
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, outer layer removed and quartered
  • 1 Honeycrisp apple cut into small dice
  • 1 c walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 2 T sherry vinegar
  • 2 T honey
  • 1 t Dijon mustard
  • 1 T olive oil
  • ¼ c dried cranberries
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

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Directions

  1. Heat a large heavy bottomed or cast iron skillet with butter and bacon fat over medium high heat. Add Brussels sprouts, season with salt and pepper and cook until the sprouts start to caramelize, about 4-5 minutes.
  2. Add apples, toss to combine and cook until the sprouts and apples are caramelized and almost tender, another 3 minutes or more. Remove from the heat and add the walnuts and dried cranberries, toss lightly.
  3. In a small bowl combine the sherry vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard and olive oil. Pour this over the Brussels sprouts and toss lightly.
  4. Remove to a platter and spoon any additional liquid from the pan over the dish.
  5. Season again with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

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November 23, 2016 Butternut Squash Quesadillas

dsc_8327aAn often requested hors d’oeuvre from my catering days were butternut squash quesadillas with chipotle lime dipping sauce. They were a lighter alternative to classics like miniature beef wellingtons or scallops wrapped in bacon. A recipe I originally found in Gourmet magazine and now on the Epicurious website, it seemed to be universally liked by everyone. Crunchy on the outside, sweet roasted butternut squash and melted cheese inside, they disappeared as quickly as wait staff could get them out to hungry guests. The flavors of the roasted squash, onion and garlic are a perfect combination with creamy jack cheese, and sweet red pepper.

Begin the recipe by roasting squash cubes, an unpeeled onion cut in segments and several cloves of  garlic. Since we had a large butternut squash crop this year, I am getting faster at peeling and chopping my own squash. But if you don’t want to take the time, you can purchase butternut squash that has already been peeled and cubed. It is considerably more expensive for the convenience.  For the best results, roast cubes rather than baking squash halves . Although the roasted squash will be puréed before it is spread on the quesadilla, roasting cubed squash and the onion, allows the natural sugars in the vegetables to caramelize and enhances the flavor.

On a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle the squash cubes, onion and garlic with a neutral oil (vegetable, safflower) and toss lightly. Spread them out as evenly as possible so the squash will roast, not steam. Halfway through the cooking time use a plastic spatula to toss the cubes around a bit to maximize the surface area that gets browned. The garlic will be done first, use tongs to remove it to a work surface. Continue to roast the squash and onion until tender, as much as 15 more minutes, I like to check about every five minutes or so at this point. The squash will be soft and browned in places. Remove the peel from the onion and the garlic.

While the squash is cooking you will have time to chop the red pepper. Cut it into small dice, it will make for neater pieces when you cut the quesadillas. Place chopped pepper and jack cheese into separate bowls at your work station.

In a food processor or blender, purée the squash, onion and garlic until not quite smooth, leave it just a little chunky and transfer to a bowl. On a work surface spread out four tortillas. Next to the tortillas, place your bowls of squash puree, pepper and onion. Since you will be using one-fourth of each item on the tortillas, it’s relatively easy to “guesstimate” how much to use. Spread the puree first, evenly, almost but not quite to the edges, then sprinkle on the red pepper and then the cheese. Top with a second tortilla and press lightly to adhere. Spread a light coating of softened, not melted butter on either side of each tortilla. This step is little messy, you can put a sheet of waxed paper on two large baking sheet to cut down on the butter getting all over your work surface.

Heat a 7 inch non stick skillet over medium high heat until hot and cook the quesadillas. While the first side is cooking, press down lightly on the quesadilla so that everything sticks together, it will make the flipping easier. Cook the quesadillas about 3 minutes per side, you can lift up a little to see if you have achieved the light toasty brown color. I use a plastic spatula to flip them over, with a little help from my hand. Repeat with the remaining quesadillas and regulate the heat as necessary. Transfer to a warm oven while you are cooking the remaining quesadillas. Cut the quesadillas into 6 to 8 wedges, I have found a pizza wheel makes the neatest cuts.

Serve quesadillas with chipotle lime dipping sauce. Years ago when I first made this recipe it was difficult to obtain chipotles, now they are available at any supermarket. Chipotle peppers are smoked and dried jalapenos that are marinated in a tangy sweet red sauce. A little chipotle goes a long way. It is better to add a little at first to see how it tastes. The sour cream will mellow the chili out and the lime adds a nice contrast.

The dip can be made ahead, and even though the recipe doesn’t say so, the quesadillas can be made ahead. Reheat the quesadillas in a warm oven for about 10 minutes or until they feel hot. The important thing to remember whether fresh or reheated is to let the quesadilla rest for a few minutes before cutting. Too hot and the filling oozes out and is a mess to eat.

I have always used the recommended flour tortillas, I’m sure other varieties would work too. If you like your food spicy, pepper jack cheese could be substituted or any other good melting cheese. They would make a good vegetarian entree or a light lunch along with a green salad.

Butternut Squash Quesadillas

Makes 24 to 32 pieces

Ingredients

  • 5 c butternut squash, peeled and cut into ¾ inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, unpeeled and cut into eights
  • 1 large garlic clove, unpeeled
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 8- 5 to 6-inch flour tortillas
  • 1 c chopped red pepper
  • 1 c coarsely grated jack cheese
  • ½ stick unsalted softened butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Arrange squash cubes, onion and garlic in a single layer on a shallow baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and toss lightly to coat.
  3. Roast vegetables in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the garlic is softened. Transfer garlic to cutting board.
  4. Roast squash and onion for an additional 15 minutes or until tender. Discard peels from the onion and garlic.
  5. Purée the squash, onion and garlic in a food processor. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6.  On a work surface, spread out four tortillas. Spread one-fourth of the squash purée on each of the four tortilla. Sprinkle each tortilla with one fourth each of  the red pepper and the cheese. Top each quesadilla with a plain tortilla, pressing gently together. Spread each side of the quesadillas with a thin layer of softened butter.
  7. Heat a medium non stick skillet over medium high heat until hot and cook quesadillas, 1 at a time until golden, about 3 minutes on each side, transferring to a cutting board.
  8. Cut each quesadilla into 6 to 8 wedges and serve with chipotle lime dip.

Chipotle Lime Dip

Makes one cup

Ingredients

  • 1 canned chili in adobo, minced
  • 2 t fresh lime juice
  • 1 c sour cream

Directions

  1. In a small bowl  stir the chili and lime juice into the sour cream until well combined. Can be made ahead,  cover and chill.

 

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Spread out squash, onion and garlic on a parchment lined baking sheet.
After roasting
After roasting the vegetables.
Process until not quite smooth, you want the butternut squash to have some texture.
Process until not quite smooth, you want the butternut squash to have some texture.
Spread the puree evenly over four tortillas to about a quarter inch from the edges.
Spread the puree evenly over four tortillas to about a half inch from the edges.
Next is the finely diced red pepper.
Next is the finely diced red pepper.
Top it with an even layer of Jack cheese.
Top it with an even layer of Jack cheese.
And another tortilla.
And another tortilla. Press down so everything sticks together.
Cook individual tortillas in a non stick pan on both sides until they are golden brown.
Cook individual tortillas in a non stick pan on both sides until they are golden brown.

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November 4, 2016 Pan Roasted Chicken with Harissa and Chickpeas

dsc_8239aI’ve been putting the harissa I made back in September to good use with this recipe that combines browned chicken thighs and chickpeas with a tomato broth infused with onion, garlic and harissa. Harissa is a spicy garlicky condiment native to the cuisines of the northwest African countries of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. The recipe varies by country, ethnicity and even neighborhood. My recipe for harissa included fresh sweet and chile peppers, fragrant spices like coriander, cumin and caraway, dried mint, lemon, garlic and olive oil. You can add some to bring an unexpected kick to a tomato sauce, toss with roasted vegetables, stir into hummus or make this middle eastern inspired chicken dish.

I love cooking chicken thighs for a week night dinner. They are not temperamental like the boneless skinless chicken breast that has its brief moment of juiciness, then dries out and disappoints when held for any length of time. Chicken thighs, no matter what preparation you choose, will wait patiently in a warm oven if dinner is delayed. A combination of chicken thighs and legs works well in this recipe also.

Begin this preparation by finding the correct pan. You will need a heavy bottomed, oven proof skillet that fits comfortably in your oven. No plastic handles please, many skillets are marked oven proof on the bottom. Keep a pot holder over the oven door lest you forget and touch the very hot handle with your unprotected hands. I know because I have done it. Preheat the oven to 425°F or as I do, 400°F for convection cooking. Heat the oil over medium high heat and swirl the pan around to evenly distribute the oil. Salt and pepper the chicken pieces and add skin side down to the hot skillet. You may need to do this step in two batches. If you crowd the chicken it will steam, not brown. Brown the chicken on the first side for about five minutes, or until golden and crisp, resist peeking too soon or the skin may tear. Turn on the other side and cook an additional four to five minutes. Add all the browned chicken pieces to a plate and keep warm. Empty all the drippings from the pan except about a tablespoon full into a small metal bowl or glass measuring cup. Hot oil will eat right through that empty plastic yogurt container you considered using and then you will have the additional clean up of hot drippings on your countertop.

Add onion and garlic to your now empty skillet, cook, stirring often until softened, about 3 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring until it begins to darken, about 1 minute. Add the chick peas, harissa and chicken broth and bring the pan to a simmer. As much as I love fresh chickpeas, canned ones are fine for this recipe. They soak up the flavors in this dish and take on a nutty quality. Harissa, can be found in different forms. I’ve seen a powdered version that needs to be reconstituted, a jarred version, a paste in a tube and one that comes in the kind of container hummus comes in. Whatever version you buy or make, it is important to taste it before adding it to the dish. The recipe calls for a quarter cup of harissa and even though the other ingredients round out the flavor a bit, it is best to hold back if you think it will make the dish too spicy. It’s easier to add more at the end of the cooking time.

I have made this recipe several times on a weeknight which classifies it as a keeper for me. I like the fact that it doesn’t have a lot of ingredients, and most are pantry staples. Since it is finished in the oven, you have time to make a salad or cook a vegetable while the chicken cooks. I have added vegetables when the dish goes in the oven,  for me, end of season baby eggplants, I think quartered Brussels sprouts or small florets of cauliflower would work as well.

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Pan Roasted Chicken with Harissa and Chickpeas

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 3 lb bone in chicken thighs (6-8 thighs)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 2 15-oz. cans chickpeas, rinsed
  • ¼ c or more to taste harissa paste
  • ½ c low sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ c chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Heat oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium high heat.  Season chicken with salt and pepper. Working in 2 batches, cook until browned, about 5 minutes per side; transfer to a plate.
  2. Pour off all but 1 T drippings from the pan. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until beginning to darken, about 1 minute. Add chickpeas, harissa and broth; bring to a simmer.
  3. Nestle chicken, skin side up, in chickpeas; transfer skillet to oven. Roast until the chicken is cooked through, 20-25 minutes. Top with parsley and serve with lemon wedges for squeezing over.

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October 30, 2016 Sweet Pickled Celery

dsc_8190aAs mentioned in my previous post, from day one, the traditional accompaniments for buffalo wings have been celery sticks and blue cheese dressing. Last week, we were pleasantly surprised with the sweet pickled celery served with the buffalo cauliflower at The Vault. It requires no special canning equipment and you can make it in small batches. No delayed gratification here, you can enjoy it as soon as the canning liquid cools.

This quick and easy recipe is courtesy of celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay. I have been enjoying the most recent season of Ramsay’s reality cooking competition, MasterChef, while I exercise on the elliptical machine. For some reason our new Xfinity cable box saved several seasons of MasterChef as something we might enjoy. Well I am happy to say “cable box, you get me.” With all of his swearing and in your face style with the contestants, I forgotten what an amazing chef he is.

This recipe is from Ramsay’s Ultimate Home Cooking cookbook and was an accompaniment for buttermilk fried chicken. Interesting, since the episode I watched today featured a fried chicken challenge for the losing team on MasterChef. No chicken here, just pickled celery.

Start with a head of celery, separate into individual ribs or stalks, remove any strings and wash and rinse well. Cut celery on the diagonal into one inch lengths and place in pint jars with lids that have been sterilized with hot soapy water. Over medium high heat make a simple syrup of equal parts 1 cup water to 1 cup sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add peppercorns, herbs and vinegar and bring mixture to a boil. Carefully pour the hot liquid over the celery filled jars. The celery will cook a bit, shrink and resettle from the hot liquid. You will be able to add more celery when this happens. When the liquid cools, the celery is ready to eat. It will be even better if you have time to refrigerate it overnight.

Great as an accompaniment to buffalo cauliflower, an antipasto platter or chopped finely and added to chicken or egg salad.

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Sweet Pickled Celery

Ingredients

  • 1 medium bunch celery
  • 1 c water
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 t black peppercorns
  • 1 t mustard seeds
  • 1 t fennel seeds
  • ½ t cloves
  • ½ t salt
  • 6 T white wine vinegar

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Directions

  1.  Cut celery into individual stalks, wash and cut into one inch long diagonal pieces and place into sterilized pint canning jars. Fill the jars to the top. Keep extra celery aside to add later.
  2. Create a simple syrup of one cup water and one cup sugar. Add to a medium size pot along with the peppercorn, mustard and fennel seeds, cloves, salt and white wine vinegar. Over medium high heat, stir to dissolve sugar and bring to a rolling boil.
  3. Carefully pour the hot liquid into the canning jars. Wait a minute or two, the hot liquid will cook the celery a bit and shrink it, leaving more room for additional celery left over from the first step. Pack the celery in tightly, covered with the pickling liquid.
  4. As soon as the liquid cools, the celery can be eaten.  Even better if you refrigerate it overnight.
The final product served with blue cheese sauce and pickled celery.
The final product served with blue cheese sauce and pickled celery.

October 26, 2016 Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

dsc_8213aInspiration for the recipes at Sue’s Seasonal Palate comes from many sources. Sometimes it’s a magazine article I’ve read, an intriguing recipe from the internet or a dish I’ve recently tried in a restaurant. The latter was the case for this recipe.

Last weekend we got together with some long time friends at a popular brewpub called The Vault. It’s located in a former bank built in 1889 in the historic borough of Yardley Pennsylvania. The owners of the Vault bring their own brand of sophistication to the brewpub concept and have turned it into an experience that is unique. No deafening pop or rock music or a bank of televisions tuned to the latest sports programs, they have chosen to feature live and recorded jazz that enhances the relaxed atmosphere and is more conducive to conversation. The beer is brewed on premises and the offerings from the kitchen are made in-house or sourced locally. Both the kitchen and the brewery are open to view. Though I am more of a wine drinker I really enjoyed the Sweet Potato Ale. The menu includes a nice selection of starters along with sandwiches, interesting salads and pizzas from their wood fired oven. The menu is definitely a cut above the average pub fare and one of their appetizers made me want to recreate it at home.

Our server suggested we start off with an appetizer of buffalo cauliflower to share for the table while we were pondering our other food choices. For a brief history of the buffalo wing we only need to go back to 1964 where they originated in, no surprise here, Buffalo, New York. The story has several versions but the most popular and my favorite, is that one evening, Teressa Bellissimo, co-owner of the Anchor Bar was challenged to whip up a late night snack for her son and his friends. “Mother Teressa” found some large chicken wings that had been deemed too meaty for the stockpot. Bellissimo chopped the wings into two sections, deep-fried them and tossed them with some hot sauce. She served them with celery that was part of the Anchor Bar’s antipasto and some of the house blue cheese dressing. The wings were reported to be an immediate local success and the first official Chicken Wing Day was celebrated on July 29, 1977. Over fifty years later they are a national favorite consumed everywhere from bars, to sporting venues to “competitive eating events” like the Philadelphia Wing Bowl and Buffalo’s annual National Buffalo Wing Festival.

It wasn’t enough for cauliflower to be a substitute for mashed potatoes, couscous and even pizza crust, the versatile vegetable takes the place of chicken wings in this recipe. The Vault’s buffalo cauliflower is described on the menu as buttermilk cauliflower, house buffalo sauce, chive sour cream and the real surprise, sweet pickled celery. The calorie count for six pieces of deep-fried chicken wings at one website I looked at was 616. Though I have nothing against traditional buffalo wings I also thought this recipe was worth the somewhat healthier do-over.

Start with a large head of cauliflower and break into chicken wing size florets. I was aiming for 1½ in by 2½ inches in length, you should have 5 to 6 cups of “wings” and probably more. Some recipes I found called for the cauliflower to be roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper. I wanted the florets to have a bit more substance so I coated the cauliflower with a simple batter of flour, milk and spices. Substitutions can be made here, almond milk for vegans, rice flour for a gluten-free diet. If you use rice flour as I did, you may need to thin the batter out a bit more.

I tried at first to dip the pieces by using the handle at the bottom of my cauliflower “wing”. This turned out to be a very messy approach., It is easier to use tongs to dip the individual pieces in the batter. Dip each piece thoroughly, lift out and allow the excess batter to drip back into the bowl. To minimize clean up, line the baking sheet with foil or parchment. Since several of the blogs I read mentioned excess batter clumping up and sticking to the baking sheet, I chose to place the florets on a wire rack thoroughly sprayed with Pam over the baking sheet. Preheat oven to 425°F, (convection heat) and bake for about twenty minutes or until golden. I flipped the pieces halfway through the baking process.

While the cauliflower is baking, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the hot sauce and stir to combine. In a medium bowl, combine the cooked cauliflower and sauce, toss gently to combine. Place the cauliflower back on the baking sheet and bake for another 10 minutes, until the cauliflower begins to crisp. Serve immediately with plain or sweet pickled celery and blue cheese dressing or sauce.

Cauliflower pieces shouldn't be too small.
Cauliflower pieces shouldn’t be too small.
A simple batter of flour, spices and milk.
Ingredients for the batter.
A simple batter of flour, spices and milk.
A simple batter of flour, spices and milk.
Dip cauliflower pieces in the batter. Place on a wire rack above the parchment lined baking tray for easy clean up.
Dip cauliflower pieces in the batter. Place on a wire rack above the parchment lined baking tray for easy clean up.
While the cauliflower is baking, stir together melted butter and hot sauce.
While the cauliflower is baking, stir together melted butter and hot sauce.
After the cauliflower has baked to a golden brown, mix with hot sauce and butter.
After the cauliflower has baked to a golden brown, mix with hot sauce and butter. Bake until crisp.
The final product served with blue cheese sauce and pickled celery.
The final product served with blue cheese sauce and pickled celery.

Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

Serves four or two very hungry  people

Ingredients

  • 1 c flour, can be all-purpose, whole wheat, brown rice etc.
  • 1 c milk, almond milk or water
  • 1 t  garlic powder
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ t ground paprika
  • 1 head cauliflower,cut into florets
  • ½ c hot sauce (I used Franks Original)
  • 3 T butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Spray a large wire rack with cooking spray to place over the baking sheet.
  2. Combine flour, water, spices, salt and pepper in a large bowl and stir until smooth. Using tongs, dip cauliflower pieces in the batter. Coat well, lift out and allow the excess to drip back into the bowl.
  3. Arrange cauliflower in a single layer on the wire rack that is on top of the baking sheet.  Bake 20 minutes or until golden.
  4. In a small saucepan, melt the butter, add the hot sauce and stir to combine. Pour evenly over cauliflower. Toss gently until cauliflower is evenly coated.
  5. Bake 10 minutes or until cauliflower begins to crisp, rearranging florets occasionally if needed. Serve with celery and blue cheese dressing.

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October 13, 2016 Chicken and Butternut Squash Soup

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Joe begins planning the vegetable garden right after the Christmas holidays. As always, he asked me if there was anything I wanted to add this year. I knew right away I wanted him to grow butternut squash. They were never planted before because the vines need considerable room to grow. Since the ever-expanding garden now includes an area near the orchard and the berry bushes, there would be some more room available. Last year he grew some loofah and bird house gourds in that area but since they were not going to be repeated, butternut squash got the okay.

Butternut is a variety of winter squash. The name is a bit of a misnomer however,  since all winter squashes are frost tender (the plants will die with the first frost) warm season (seeds must be planted when the soil temperature is above 65°) annuals (plants that complete their life cycle in one growing season). With a growing season of 110-120 days for full maturation, they are harvested in the fall and can be kept well through the cold winter months, hence the name. Summer squash like zucchini and yellow crookneck are harvested all summer long while the fruit is still immature and the skin is still tender. Not counting the ones that “get away” and could fill in for baseball bats. And yes, botanically speaking, both winter and summer squash are fruit since they develop from a flower and are the part of the plant that contains the seeds. Winter squash should only be harvested when fully mature. When winter squash is mature, the stem end will turn from green to brown and will appear that the stem is beginning to dry out. The skin should look dull, not shiny and it should be difficult to dent the squash skin with your fingernail. Winter squash do not require refrigeration but should be stored in a cool dark area.

Last weekend the harvest was finally ready and Joe brought them in by the wheelbarrows full, 60 in all. Some of the squash were slightly damaged and they will be the ones I use first. Some I will give away to friends and the rest we are storing on shelves in our basement.

Low in fat and rich in vitamins A, C, fiber and antioxidants, butternut squash is a great addition to many recipes. I like to roast cubes of butternut squash to add to my fall salads.The butternut squash seeds can be tossed with olive oil and salt and roasted for a crunchy snack or a salad topper.

The creamy texture of butternut squash makes a wonderful soup and I have recipes for two on the blog from years past, butternut squash soup with cider cream and butternut squash soup with Asian pear and ginger, both unique and delicious.

Because of fall’s chilly temperatures, I wanted to make a more substantial main course soup. I liked the idea of roasting the vegetables on the baking sheet to bring out their natural sweetness. For easy clean up, I lined the baking sheet with parchment paper. The leek, pepper and squash should be cut into pieces all relatively the same size so they cook evenly. A medium dice works best here, about 1 to 1 ½ inches. Toss the vegetables with olive oil and spread out evenly on a baking sheet, don’t overcrowd. Arrange the chicken thighs on top of the vegetables and season everything with salt and pepper. I think chicken thighs are the best choice for this recipe, the skin keeps the meat moist during the roasting process. Rotate the pan halfway during the cooking process to ensure even cooking.

Transfer the chicken thighs to a plate to cool and add the roasted vegetables to a pot along with the chicken broth and spices. Simmer over medium heat and use a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon to mash-up some of the vegetables to give the soup a thick, chunky texture. Shred the chicken into bite sized pieces, discarding the skin and bones. Add to the soup and stir in fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. When the soup is almost done stir in the kale ribbons and cook until they are wilted, an additional five minutes. Additional add ins for this soup could include cannellini beans and fire roasted diced tomatoes. The soup can be frozen or stored in the fridge for several days.

Roasted Chicken and Butternut Squash Soup

Serves four to six

Ingredients

  • 6 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 medium butternut squash, (2½ to 3 lbs) peeled, seeded and diced medium
  • 1 medium leek, sliced medium
  • 1 small red pepper, diced medium  (I added a red poblano too for a little kick)
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 c low sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ t ground cumin
  • ¼ t ground coriander
  • ¼ t smoked paprika
  • 2-3 cups of thinly chopped kale (avoid thick stems)
  • 2 T fresh lemon juice
  • Fresh parsley or coriander (optional)

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Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. In a large bowl toss the squash, red pepper and onion with the olive oil. Spread evenly on a large baking sheet. Arrange the chicken thighs on top, spacing out evenly. Season everything with salt and pepper.
  2. Roast until the squash and chicken are cooked through, rotating pan halfway through the cooking process.
  3.  Transfer the chicken to a plate, loosely cover and let cool. Transfer squash and onions to a medium pot and broth, cumin, coriander and smoked paprika. Simmer over medium high heat.
  4. With a potato masher or the back of a  wooden spoon, mash some of the vegetables until soup is thick and chunky.
  5. Discard the skin and bones from the chicken, cut meat into small pieces and add to the soup. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Stir in the thinly chopped kale and cook for five minutes more, until the kale is wilted. Taste and adjust seasonings, To serve, top with fresh parsley or cilantro.
Preparing the butternut squash.
Preparing the butternut squash.

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I used a leek from the garden but an onion will work as well.
I used a leek from the garden but an onion will work as well.
Lining the baking sheet with parchment makes for easy clean up.
Lining the baking sheet with parchment makes for easy clean up.
The "after" picture.
The “after” picture.
Kale ribbons only need about five minutes to wilt into the soup.
Kale ribbons only need about five minutes to wilt into the soup.

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October 5, 2016 Culinary Adventures in Orlando

Recently we spent a week in sunny Orlando Florida. The reason for our trip to this area after an absence of over twenty years was the FMX or Family Medicine Experience. It’s the yearly meeting of the American Academy of Family Practice to which Joe became a fellow this year. It’s an opportunity for him to obtain continuing medical education with just a little bit of a vacation. One of the highlights of the recreational part of our trip was an excursion one late afternoon/early evening to a Florida winery, Quantum Leap, followed by a cooking class conducted by Cuisiniers Catering Company at the East End Market in Audubon Park Florida.

“A winery in Florida?” you say. On a previous trip to south Florida we visited a winery that made from wine from tropical fruit. Quantum Leap is quite different, they describe themselves as a winery with “a sustainable focus and global reach”. They grow no grapes of their own, instead they buy sustain ably grown, good quality juices from producers all over the world and bring them to their facility. It is here the wine is made, the juices are blended and the wine making process is completed. Matt Uva, tasting room manager and brand ambassador for Quantum Leap was the very knowledgeable guide for our visit. He shared the history of the winery and lead our group through a tasting of several of the wines. one of which we purchased for later. We enjoyed the wine, the art on the walls and the fact that they are a dog friendly winery, with several rescues, AKA the Quantum Leap pack who might just be there when you visit.

The next stop on our trip was the East End Market, a food court/neighborhood market. On the first floor artisanal vendors offer up fresh-baked bread, gourmet cheeses, juices and smoothies, sushi, craft roasted coffee, local produce and much more. We spent a little time there checking out the vendors but  soon moved to the second floor to the kitchen of Cuisiniers Catered Cuisine and Events for a hands-on cooking class. Chef Jamie McFadden, award-winning executive chef and founder of Cuisiniers and his staff broke us off into teams and lead us through three different cooking stations. The instructors were informative and very patient. Even for experienced cooks like Joe and myself, it is always good to hone one’s skills.

One of the stations gave us the opportunity to work out our arm muscles with a mortar and pestle to make a garlicky achiote seasoning rub. Achiote, also known as annatto seeds, imparts a red color to foods as well as its earthy flavor. It has been dubbed “poor man’s saffron” in Latin American cuisine. For many years we have cooked annatto seeds in oil, and used the strained oil to brush on whole roasted pig. We donned disposable gloves so the annatto seeds wouldn’t stain our hands. All of the ingredients for the rub were pre-measured out in small disposable containers. As a former caterer I appreciated the efficiency of this step. We dumped the whole dried spices in the mortar first and crushed them into a powder, next the allspice and oregano were added.  Finally the whole garlic and orange juice were added to make a paste. The hardest part was keeping everything in the mortar, just wished it had been a little bit bigger.

We were then able to enjoy the fruits of our “labor” with a delicious buffet style dinner in the well-appointed dining room. We started with a wonderful salad of field greens, dried cranberries, cashews with blue cheese and honey vinaigrette. It reminded me of a salad I would make at home. Our main courses were an Indian curry rubbed rack of lamb, jerk chicken and salmon with the achiote rub we just made. Whipped potatoes and grilled vegetables rounded out the dinner portion of our meal.

Our final lesson was a mixology session. At each place setting was a glass of blackberry shrub, often referred to as a “drinking vinegar”. This version is cold process, which means the berries are not cooked. They are mixed with sugar and refrigerated for 24 hours. The berries are strained out and red wine vinegar is added. Pour this into a clean glass bottle and refrigerate this mixture for four weeks (patience please!) Your efforts will be well worth it, the vinegar mellows out and blends nicely with the fruit. It’s a refreshing sipper on its own mixed with some club soda, but a little vodka, rum or vermouth make it a delicious cocktail. Our meal finished with a dessert of sticky toffee pudding, another personal favorite of mine.

We left the Cuisiniers kitchen and boarded our bus back to the hotel, full and happy with not only a recipe sheet to recreate some of the evenings dishes but with a container of garlicky achiote rub. What we needed to remember here was; #1 be sure that this perishable rub was kept in our hotel room refrigerator and #2 with all the flurry of last-minute packing, not to leave this wonderful rub behind for the hotel maids!  I am happy to say that we brought home both containers and we used it the evening we got home for some veal chops on the grill the first night and salmon the following night.

Garlicky Achiote Seasoning Rub

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 2 T annatto or achiote seeds
  • 2 t ground allspice
  • 1 T black peppercorns
  • 2 t dried oregano
  • 3 whole peeled garlic cloves
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • 2 T orange juice

Directions

  1. Place the dry whole spices into a mortar and crush with a pestle until they become a fine powder.
  2. Add the other spices and grind again.
  3. Add the whole garlic and orange juice and make into a paste. Store in a covered container for several days.
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As Jimi used to say, “are you experienced?”

 

The logo for Quantum Leap winery.
The logo for Quantum Leap winery.
Behind the scenes at Quantum Leap.
Behind the scenes at Quantum Leap.

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Matt Uva, our guide for our visit to Quantum Leap.
Matt Uva, our guide for our visit to Quantum Leap.
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Uva is the Italian word for grape, coincidence? I think not!!

 

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Ready to cook!

 

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Chef Jamie leading a group at the knife station.

 

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Achiote or annatto seeds are popular in the cuisine of Latin countries.
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All of the rub ingredients were measured out and ready to go. We took our rub home in cute little canning jars.

 

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I kept most of the rub in the mortar.

 

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It made a delicious rub for the salmon.

September 15, 2016 Harissa

dsc_7983aThe challenge facing us in late summer/early fall is preserving the harvest.  A prime example is hot peppers. In tropical climates they thrive as perennials and can grow for many years. It would be great if I could just walk down to the garden in January to pick a few fresh jalapenos. But given the fact that January temperatures where we live are below freezing and pepper plants prefer a daytime temperature of 65-80°F, it won’t be happening anytime soon . So it is necessary to find methods of preservation now to enjoy them later while the peppers are at their peak. Every year I freeze whole peppers, dry them, make chili flakes, pickle jalapenos, I’m even making sriracha now, but a new method is always welcome.
A very simple recipe I found for eggplant, another garden stalwart, suggested topping grilled slices with prepared harissa and yogurt. In the past I purchased harissa in a jar or a tube at the middle eastern stand at the local farmers market. This time I decided to see if this was something I could make myself. Harissa, is a garlicky spicy condiment found in the Northwest African countries of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. It can be used as a condiment for meat or fish, roasted vegetables, stirred into soups and stews and served alongside couscous. Think sriracha with more complexity. It’s ingredients can include roasted peppers, garlic, chile peppers of all varieties, fragrant spices such as coriander, cumin and caraway, dried mint, lemon and olive oil. There is no one master recipe for harissa. The ingredients in harissa vary by country, ethnicity, even neighborhood. You can adjust the heat by the number and type of chilies you use, just remember, harissa is supposed to be hot.

My recipe is a little different from most since I used fresh hot peppers, not dried ones that need to be reconstituted. This meant using double the amount of peppers. I used one red bell pepper, four mild poblano peppers and a mix of jalapeno, cayenne and ancho. I added a little tomato paste for sweetness, preserved lemon peel with just a little juice, chopped garlic, smoked paprika and an aromatic spice blend. I think the spice blend is what really gives this dish its unique flavor. Whole spices, coriander, cumin and caraway are toasted in a small skillet until the fragrance fills your kitchen. I find it easiest to grind them in a mortar and pestle, a mini food processor doesn’t quite give the consistency you are looking for.

All the peppers need to be charred to remove the skin. I did this in a hot oven, turning occasionally to blacken all the sides. I put the charred peppers in a bowl and covered it tightly with plastic wrap to steam the peppers. It is important for to wear rubber gloves when removing the skin, seeds and stem from the hot peppers. Conventional wisdom for years has said that the hottest part of the pepper is the seeds. A recent study however has shown that even though the seeds pack some heat, it’s actually the placenta, the white tissue that holds the seeds that is the source of the most heat. As you peel the peppers put them into piles, no heat, some heat and hottest. That way you can hold back on some of the hottest peppers until you are certain the sauce will be palatable for you.

Combine the chilies, toasted spices, garlic, salt and other optional ingredients in a food processor. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until you have a smooth, thick paste. Scrape down the sides occasionally. Taste, now is the time to add that extra pepper if desired. As I said before, harissa is supposed to be hot. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer harissa to clean jars, top with a thin layer of olive oil and store in the refrigerator for several weeks. Since I freeze pesto I may try to see if harissa can be frozen too.

As a postscript, the harissa received immediate approval from Joe who topped cucumber slices with harissa as an after work snack.

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A harvest of both bell and hot peppers.

Harissa

Makes 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 medium bell pepper
  • 8 to 10 ounces fresh chili peppers of varying heat, poblano, ancho, jalapeno, cayenne
  • 2 t cumin seed
  • 2 t coriander seed
  • 2 t caraway seed
  • 3 to 4 cloves of peeled garlic
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 1 t preserved lemon peel
  • 1 t juice from preserved lemon
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 3-4 T extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.Line a baking sheet with foil. Place all the peppers on the baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes.
  2. Turn the smaller peppers over and roast for another 10 minutes, until the skins are blackened. Remove them to a bowl. Turn the bell and poblano peppers over and roast for another 10-15 minutes, until the skins are blackened.
  3. Remove all the peppers to the bowl and tightly cover with plastic wrap to steam the skin.
  4. Place the cumin, coriander and caraway seed into a dry skillet over medium heat. Toast until seeds have darkened a bit and have become fragrant.
  5. Pour toasted seeds into the bowl of a mortar and pestle. Crush seeds to a powder.
  6. Using rubber gloves to protect your hands, stem, skin and seed the peppers.
  7. Place the peppers (hold back a few hot ones if you are concerned), toasted seeds, garlic, tomato paste, preserved lemon peel and juice, smoked paprika into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine the ingredients, scraping down the sides.
  8. With the food processor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream until you have a smooth, thick paste. Taste, add salt and pepper to your liking and pulse in the extra peppers if desired.
  9. Transfer harissa to clean jars and top with a thin layer of olive oil. Store in the refrigerator for several months.
Place the peppers on a foil lined baking sheet for easy clean up.
Place the peppers on a foil lined baking sheet for easy clean up.

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Cumin, coriander and caraway seeds are toasted in a dry pan.
Cumin, coriander and caraway seeds are toasted in a dry pan.

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Pulverize the seeds in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Smells great.
Pulverize the seeds in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Smells great.
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Stem, seed and skin the peppers. Be sure to wear gloves to protect your hands from the hot peppers.

 

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I added some preserved lemon peel and tomato paste.
Everything is combined in the food processor.
Everything is combined in the food processor. Add olive oil to make a thick paste.

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September 9, 2016 Grilled Chicken with Lemon, Garlic and Oregano

dsc_7944aOur summer barbecues often include the combination of ribs and chicken. The ribs are sourced locally from a pork farm less than ten minutes from our home. The rich, succulent meat pairs very well with a sweet hickory barbecue sauce. I didn’t want to duplicate the same flavor profile for the chicken. I was thinking of a nice contrast, lemon, garlic and herbs. My need wasn’t for a method of cooking the chicken, Joe has mastered that quite nicely, I just wanted a different way to finish the chicken.

I found this very well reviewed method from a 2002 issue of Gourmet magazine. What makes this recipe unique is that the chicken is only seasoned with salt and pepper, grilled, and THEN tossed in a dressing of lemon, oregano, salt, pepper and olive oil. My husband was a bit skeptical but was willing to give it a try.

Sounds too simple but resulted in a surprisingly moist and flavorful dish that we will definitely be making again. We had plenty of fresh oregano from the garden for this, I would imagine that fresh rosemary or thyme would work as well. It’s a dish that can be done out of season as well. Put the chicken, skin side up in a shallow baking pans in the upper and lower thirds of a 500°F oven, switch the pans halfway through baking. Bake until the skin is crisp and chicken is cooked through, about 40 minutes. The lemon slices can be grilled in a grill pan. Toss the chicken pieces in the dressing and serve.

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Grilled Chicken with Lemon, Garlic and Oregano

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 2 lemons cut crosswise into 1/3 inch slices
  • ¼ c fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ c finely chopped oregano
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • ½ t kosher salt
  • ½ t coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/3 c good quality olive oil
  • 6 lbs or more, chicken parts, breasts, thighs and legs

Directions

  1. Whisk together lemon juice, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Whisk in the olive oil in a  slow stream.
  2.  Season chicken parts with salt and pepper. Grill chicken according to your usual method on a gas or charcoal grill. Transfer cooked chicken to a tray and keep warm.
  3.  Transfer chicken parts to the bowl and turn to coat the pieces
  4. Grill lemon slices until grill marks appear, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer to platter with the cooked chicken.

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