Tuesday, June 19, 2012

roasted garlic and balsamic onion white bean dip

Beans.  I would say that this friendly legume is mostly absent form the diet of the average non-vegetarian.  But why?  They're packed with protein, fiber, and other nutrients, and make a great substitution for a starchy side dish.  Most importantly, they taste good.  Do not fear the bean!

Since it's rolling into cookout season, I thought it would be proper to introduce another option to share with your crew.  As much as I enjoy hummus, there's something cool about trying out different flavors....and types of beans.  This dip has a decidedly italian flavor when compared to it's tahini-laden friends, so step away now if that's not your style.

- 2 cans cannellini beans (I used the no salt added variety)
- 2 heads garlic
- 1 large red onion
- .5 cup olive oil (total for recipe)
- 1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- juice from 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon italian herbs
- salt, pepper, cayenne to taste  
- 1 package whole wheat tortillas (optional)

The garlic probably takes the longest, so I start by getting that prepped.  Peel away as much of the outside paper as you can, but be careful to not break away the individual bulbs.  Then, cut off the tops so that you are exposing a bit of each clove. Make sure to not remove the root end.

Coat the tops with olive oil, place into your favorite baking dish, and cover with aluminum foil.  Roast at 375 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes.  Through the magic of cooking, your raw, bitter cloves will be transformed into a sweet, buttery wonderland.

As your garlic goes through it's metamorphosis, you can do something similar to the onions.  Slice them thinly and toss into a heavy bottomed pan with some olive oil.  Leave the salt out for now, as you'll want to get some color.  Cook over a medium to medium-high heat for about 10-15 minutes, add a pinch of salt & pepper, and continue until they are dark with caramel color (about another 10-15 minutes).  Splash in the balsamic vinegar at the very end to finish them off.

Raw, spicy, onion:

Sweet, tangy, deep-flavored treat:

Now comes the easy part.  Drain & rinse your beans.  After allowing the garlic to cool, you can literally squeeze out the goodness like a tube of toothpaste.  Note how I said to wait until it's cool - trust me.  Add to a food processor or blender with the beans, onions, herbs, and lemon juice.  Pulse until it starts to come together, and then stream in the remaining olive oil.


Now, what to use to get this dip into your face?  Fresh pita chips, you fool!  All you have to do here is cut the pita bread into any sort of chip shape you'd like.  Spritz with some olive oil, and bake in the same 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.  You'll know they're done when they've gone from soft to crispy.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cayenne immediately after removing from the oven.  Boom.  Better than anything you can buy in the store.

Now, I suggest you don't make a corny garnish as I have below, but you needed an idea of how to not look fancy.  Just serve with your chips and maybe some vegetables.

There you have it - an introduction to bean cookery without even actually cooking your own beans.  As always, keep your mind open when it comes to flavors.  Try different combinations of beans, seasonings, and dipping instruments.  I even use this as a sandwich spread for a change of pace.  And don't complain, I know this takes a bit of effort.  Make it ahead of time and enjoy for a few days - if it lasts that long.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

blackened fish tacos with roasted pepper sauce

I must admit that I never really experienced fish tacos until I moved to Texas, which is a travesty.  Granted, the fish taco was likely born in California, but the mexican influence is pretty strong down here.  Since then, I've had more food in taco form than I ever thought existed.  This is a good thing.

This recipe takes pieces from the multiple variations I've had over the years.  I think my favorite part is simply the freshness in taste. The brightness of the cilantro and lime is nicely balanced with the spice of the fish and smokiness of the sauce.  This is a great alternative to the traditional burger and brat summer cookout, especially if you're looking for a lighter option.  Don't get me wrong, I love burgers and brats...I'm just trying to help you out with some new ideas.

- 1 pound firm white fish (I used tilapia, which was about 4 filets)
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- juice from 1 lime
- 1.5 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- pinch salt

Suggested Sidekicks

- tortillas (I prefer corn)
- shredded cabbage (red or green)
- chopped white onion
- chopped tomato
- cilantro
- avocado

Roasted Pepper Sauce

- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 poblano pepper
- 2 jalapeño peppers
- canola oil (very small amount for roasting)
- 1-2 teaspoons cider vinegar
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt & pepper to taste

Let's go ahead and start with the sauce since that can sit while you are dealing with the fish.  Roasting peppers can be done multiple ways.  I used the broiler in my oven this time around, but also really like using an outdoor grill when available.  Split the peppers in half, and remove the seeds and ribs.  This process actually makes dealing with the peppers after cooking much easier.  Lightly coat the peppers with canola oil.  The best way to do this is with a reusable pump oil mister.  If you can't get your hands on one of these, then simply apply a light coating with a brush or your hands.

Put the peppers under the broiler for 15-20 minutes.  Every broiler varies, so you'll want to keep a constant eye on them. You can go from roasted to burnt in no time.  You might notice your green peppers brown a little quicker.  If so, feel free to remove them from the heat and return the red peppers until they are done.

Transfer the roasted peppers to either a bowl covered with plastic wrap or a resealable container of your choice.  The steam generated will make the removing the skin off the pepper much easier.  After about 15 minutes, remove the peppers and use the back of a large knife to remove the skin.  It's okay if the peppers break apart since you'll be blending anyway.

Add the peppers to a blender with the vinegar and a pinch of salt.  Stream in the olive oil as you blend, and continue until you reach your desired consistency.  You could lighten this up a bit more by using vegetable stock or even water instead of olive oil.  However, I like the added richness.  Taste, and add more seasoning until it's to your liking.

That takes care of the most complicated part of this recipe, which is still not too bad.  If you find the sauce is too smokey for for your taste, you can leave half of the peppers in their raw form the next time around.  Also, I find this sauce is very flexible.  You can add in all sorts of things.  For example, toss in some roasted garlic and toss with some freshly cooked pasta.  Use it as a sandwich topping, or even thin it down a bit more for a great salad dressing.  I think that's why I enjoy cooking so much - the options are nearly unlimited.

Onward to the fish.  Mix together the canola oil, lime juice, chili powder, black pepper, and a pinch of salt.  Place the fish in the mixture, and allow to marinate.  The fish is pretty thin and delicate, so I generally don't let it go past 30 minutes to an hour.  The flavors are strong enough to make their presence known.

Cook over a medium to medium-high heat for about 2-3 minutes per side.  I actually like using a pan vs the grill here in order to get a crust all over the fish.  Once cooked, flake up the fish and assemble your tacos.  Use whatever toppings are calling to you, but the above recommendations won't do you wrong.  Not digging the tortillas?  No problem, grab some nice leaf lettuce and enjoy..

Dinner is served.  You're welcome.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

bonus sandwich time - chili rubbed turkey with kale

Alight, I admit it, this was somewhat of a set-up.  First, it was the bread.  Then, I teased you with the chili rubbed turkey.  And most recently, I basically taunted you with the kale sauté.  I already professed my love for the sandwich, so you knew it wouldn't be long before this happened.  You will get no apologies from me, but you will get a great meal.

This one is pretty easy.  Spread your favorite mustard on the top and bottom of the bread (ideally the spelt bread you made from my previous post).  Layer on a few slices of the chili rubbed turkey.  Finally, top with a serving of the kale sauté.  Serve with your favorite kettle cooked chips or a salad if you're watching that figure.  This all adds up to a killer sandwich made to please the tastebuds.

Sure, some may call this cheating as far as recipe writing goes.  I don't blame you for thinking that way, but that's why you get this post much quicker than my normal schedule.  It's still a neat idea to use leftovers, so you won't get a lot of sympathy.

Stop complaining, and go eat your sandwich.

Friday, May 25, 2012

spicy kale sauté with mushrooms, onions, and goat cheese

Kale.  I'm sure you've seen this floating around or even being touted as the newest superfood at your local natural foods store.  Sure, it is packed full of vitamins and other goodness, which would certainly warrant this title.  However, it is by no means new.  Similar to our friend  quinoa, this leafy green has been around since the middle ages.  Well, it's making a comeback, and I couldn't be happier to get away from the standard side of steamed broccoli.

If you're new to the kale scene, you'll probably notice that it comes in multiple varieties.  Some are curly, some are flat, some are darker green.  I usually just go with what looks best that day.  Try them all, and figure out what you like best.

- 1 bunch kale (I used the Nero variety here)
- 1 medium red onion
- .5 pack (about 4 oouces) sliced baby portabella mushrooms)
- 3 ounces crumbled goat cheese
- 1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper to taste

I  begin by prepping all of the vegetables.  Slice your onion thinly, and get your mushrooms ready to go.  For me, this meant just opening the package....nice, huh?  Now it's time to attack the kale.  I rinse and dry the leaves, then move to the cutting board.  Depending on the variety, each leaf can have a pretty beefy stem.  I find the best way to remove this is to lay the leaf flat on your board, and then run a sharp knife right next to each side of the stem.  You can then apply a little pressure and the top of the v-shaped cut, and pull the stem away.  After the stems have been removed, I stack the leaves, cut in half, and then cut into smaller squares to make it easier to eat.

Start sautéing the onions and mushrooms until soft.  You don't really need to get a lot of color here, so it shouldn't take more than 10 minutes.  Add in salt, pepper, and about half of the red pepper flakes during this process.

Now, add in the kale and continue to stir everything up.  I like to re-season with a little more salt, pepper, and the remaining red pepper at this point.  The kale will begin to wilt after a few minutes.  Just stir until it's to your liking.  I've been known to toss in a splash of stock or balsamic vinegar , which will speed up this process.  I add a sprinkle of goat cheese to each serving individually.  I find it's better to do this in the event I have leftovers.  Microwaved goat cheese is no good.

Boom.  I present to you a nutrition packed side dish that is ridiculously simple to prepare.  From here, you can experiment with different ingredients and flavors to get something you really enjoy.  Think outside the box, and get out of your comfort zone.  I've been known to throw raw leaves into my blender as a vitamin booster for my smoothie.  Don't be scared.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

chili rubbed roast turkey breast

I love sandwiches.  They're compact, convenient, multi-textural, and can offer up balanced nutrition all in a handheld powerhouse.  What I don't love - modified corn starch, sodium lactate, sodium nitrate, and how about that mystery ingredient "flavor".  Seriously, I've seen that on an ingredient list.  Sure, there are plenty of good all-natural options, but most likely there is still some degree of processing that leads to higher levels of sodium and other goodies to keep the product from spoiling.  Also, do you think turkey is really in that perfect loaf shape on it's own?  I don't think so.

I first started making this as a rebellion to the fast food sandwich shops that claimed to be healthier than their burger-peddling counterparts.  Good riddance to you 110%-of-daily-sodium-intake-in-one-sandiwch phony health food.  I figured that I could make my own sandwich meat that would also be versatile enough to use in other recipes or by itself.  Also, I always say it can't be bad eating food that's closer to it's original form.

- 2-3 pound boneless turkey breast
- 2-3 tablespoons poultry seasoning (no salt added)
- 2-3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2+ cups chicken stock (low sodium, and even use turkey stock if you can find it)
- Your favorite chili powder (amount varies by how much of a crust you want)

My local butcher carries s nice boneless turkey breast that is already conveniently tied up into a perfect shape for roasting.  If you can't find one of these, you could easily use a bone-in version and slice it up after the cooking process, though it may take a little longer in the oven.  You could also get fancy and debone it yourself if you want to save a few bucks.

Start by creating a brine.  Turkey has a tendency to dry out during roasting, and the brining process helps keep the meat moist while passing on any other flavors you may add.  It's relatively scientific, but the basic idea is that the salt helps break down some of the proteins.  In this state, the meat can actually hold onto more liquid (and flavor).  Even though the proteins tighten up and squeeze out the water during the cooking process, you are still left with more than if you didn't brine.  Don't worry, the amount of time this is sitting in the brine won't allow for a ton of the actual salt to get into your end product.  You can skip this step if you are in a hurry, but you'll need to make sure to not cook past the recommended temperature.  Some purists argue that this step isn't necessary, but I get more consistent results this way.

The brine here consists of the stock, poultry seasoning, and salt.  I use about 1 tablespoon of each dry ingredient and a cup of stock per pound of turkey.  Mix these together and put in a resealable bag with the turkey.  I  put this in a plastic container that is not much bigger than the meat itself in order to catch leaks from a faulty bag, but also to make sure it's fully submerged.  Leave this in the fridge overnight.  I like to do this before bed and then cook around lunchtime the next day, but you could leave it for a bit longer if you want.

After you remove your turkey, wipe off the excess liquid with paper towel and place into a roasting pan.  Sprinkle liberally with the chili powder and rub it in until there is a good coating all around.  My chili powder doesn't have salt, so you can add a couple pinches and rub in if you like.  Personally, I'm pretty accustomed to lower sodium foods, so I leave it alone.  Try it out, and adjust to your tastes the next time around.

Cook in a 325 degree preheated oven for about 45 minutes per pound.  According the the FDA, the safe internal temperature for turkey breast is 165 degrees.  I pull this out somewhere between 155-160 and it will continue to rise to 165 as it rests. You could also start in a 450 degree oven for the first 15-20 minutes or so, and then lower the temperature.  This would result in a slightly better crust.  However, you want to be careful as to not burn the chili powder.

After resting for at least 15 minutes, go ahead and slice it up.  I usually slice the whole thing and keep in the fridge, but you could also just slice what you want and then cut off chunks as you need it.  

You don't have to reserve this just for sandwiches.  This will actually work quite well as a main protein for your meal.  Just whip up a few sides, and you're good to go. Lastly, feel free to play around with the ingredients in both the brine and coating.  I really like southwest flavors, so that is why I used the chili here.  Dive into your spice cabinet to see what other combinations work for you.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

spelt bread with flax and sesame seeds

I think I'd categorize this as more of a science experiment than a recipe.  I'm relatively new to baking, but I like the idea of controlling exactly what goes into my meals.  I also recently obtained a stand mixer, so I couldn't just let it sit in the box. This idea came to me after sampling spelt bread from a local bakery.  I liked the taste, but noticed they still cut the spelt flour with regular wheat.  I wondered, what would this taste like if I used 100% spelt?

For those not familiar with spelt, it's basically an older cousin to today's common wheat.  The main difference is that it has a higher protein content, which gives makes the texture much more chewy.  Some would even categorize the this as dense.  It also has a distinct nutty flavor, which I personally like a lot.

- 4.5 cups whole grain spelt flour (well sifted)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 pack (~ 2 tsp) dry active yeast
- 1.75 cups water
- 2 tablespoons agave nectar (substitute with honey if you don't have agave)
- .5 cup flaxseed
- .5 cup toasted sesame seeds

Start by toasting off your sesame seeds.  Heat a pan on medium, and then toss the seeds into the dry pan. Gently toss around until you can smell the nuttiness in the air.  They'll also take on a slightly brown color, but you don't need to get crazy.  No more than 5 minutes should be fine with an adequately heated pan.

Mix the agave with .25 cup of warm water.  The water shouldn't be any warmer than 100-115 degrees. After about 10 minutes, you should see some serious action going on.  This is just the yeast consuming the sugar in the agave and churning out carbon dioxide....this will help the bread rise later in the process.

Set up your stand mixer with a dough hook.  Add in all of the dry ingredients and mix for a couple minutes until everything is incorporated.  Pour in the yeast mixture along with the additional 1.5 cups of water.  Continue to mix until the dough forms a ball and everything pulls away from the bowl.

Transfer the dough to a well floured surface, shape into a ball, and place into a floured bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise to double the original size.  This will take about 1 hour.

Through the magic of time and yeast, your dough should now look like this.

Now it's time to shape into a loaf.  I'm sure there are many ways to do this, but I rolled the dough out into a sheet approximately 9" x 14", rolled tightly from one end to the other, and then folded the ends under.   Practice on some play-doh if you aren't comfortable.  Transfer this to a lightly oiled loaf pan (I used a 1.5 pound pan), and let it rise again (covered) for about another hour.  Note that the shape of your loaf doesn't have to be perfect.  The yeast will help take care of some imperfections.

After the hour, make some scores with a thin knife.  You could also make one gash straight down the middle of the loaf if you wanted a more traditional bread shape. See, I told you the yeast would take care of any sloppy loaf-shaping skills.  If if it doesn't, I assure you that it will still taste good.

Bake at 450 degrees for about 35 minutes.  The bread will make a nice "thud" sound if you flick it.  If that's not good enough, then use your thermometer for an internal temperature of 180 degrees.

You'll notice that this loaf doesn't exactly rise a whole lot more during the cooking process.  From my research, this is due to the lower gluten content.  Neat facts aside, you still get a great end product.

As mentioned before, I love the texture of this bread.  The dense, chewy, nutty, sometimes crumbly deliciousness makes it perfect for pairing with your favorite jam or nut butter.  My spread of preference is currently a maple almond butter.  This also makes a mean sandwich if you so desire.   Science rules.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

mediterranean quinoa salad

Unless you forgot how to read a calendar, you probably know that it's now the month of May.  To my friends up north, this hopefully means that winter is finally gone...though, I've known my home state of Michigan to dump a few inches of white stuff later than expected.  More importantly, this marks a true beginning of grilling season.  I can already imagine seared meats, cold beers, and general gastronomic enjoyment.

Along with the enjoyment also comes the disappointment of boring side dishes.  I'm looking at you, potato salad.  Don't ruin that perfectly cooked burger with a pile of goop.  Yes, it's easy to just run to the market and grab a container of "grandma's best", but is it really what you want to present to your fellow diners?  I say no.  I challenge you to think outside the box, and bring this to your next outdoor event.  I promise that you'll be a hit (though still probably 2nd to the guy who brought the beer).

- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 2 cups vegetable stock (I use low sodium)
- 1 can chick peas (garbanzo beans - drained and rinsed)
- 1 large red onion, diced
- 1 large green bell pepper, diced
- .5 cup chopped kalamata olives
- .25 cup chopped fresh parsley (I like the flat leaf, but use curly if you want)
- 1 6oz container feta cheese


- 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- .25 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Start by cooking the quinoa.  For those who haven't used this ancient grain before, it's pretty similar to cooking rice.  Two parts liquid to one part quinoa.  I buy mine in bulk, so before cooking I give it a rinse in a fine strainer to get rid of any residue or dust from production.  Bring the stock to a boil, add the quinoa, stir, turn down the temp and simmer for about 20 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed.  I stir it every now and again to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.

While this is cooking, it's time to utilize your knife skills.  I like a medium dice on the onion and bell pepper to give a good balance of textures.  The olives and parsley are more on the finely chopped end to ensure they mix well throughout the salad.

Depending on how fast you are with the knife, the quinoa should be finishing up. Transfer this to a large mixing bowl.

This is pretty tasty on it's own, but next is where the magic happens.  Whisk together the lemon juice, oil, and vinegar.  Now, gently stir in your chopped goods, chick peas, and feta.  If your pepper and onion are of the overly large, genetically modified variety, you may want to hold off on tossing it all in.  Just use what you think is a good proportion, and save the rest for making an omelette later.  Pour in the dressing, and continue to stir.  Since the quinoa is still warm, it will absorb the dressing as it sits.  You could probably add additional seasoning at this point, but I find the saltiness from the feta and olives combined with the tang of the dressing is more than enough to satisfy.

See, that wasn't so hard.  It tastes great both warm and cold, but I serve it cold most of the time because I make ahead.  Although this is a perfect dish for a cookout, you don't have to wait for somebody to schedule one in your honor.  Make this on a Sunday, and continue to enjoy throughout the week.  I've been known to warm it up, crack a couple fried eggs on top, and call it breakfast.  Stop judging me, and return your focus to putting boring side dishes to rest.