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Chinese glazed salmon with stir fried ginger bok choy, asparagus and fried garlic

Chinese Glazed Salmon with Stir Fried Ginger Bok Choy, Asparagus and Fried Garlic

This is one of those dishes that uses a lot of the same ingredients for each of the three components.  It’s simple to prepare, packs a ton of flavor and definitely serves its purpose in terms of how and why it’s gluten free.  It’s also inexpensive to prepare, takes very little time and very little time to eat all of it!

Let’s start by thinking about salmon.  When you shop for salmon at your regular market, there are likely two options at the fish counter.  You either can buy farm raised salmon or wild salmon if it’s in season. You will first notice the price and color differences. Even as a colorblind guy, I can easily see that farm raised salmon displays a more pinkish hue whereas wild salmon is usually vibrantly red.  The reason for this is actually pretty easy to identify and has to do with what the fish consume.
Farm raised salmon are fed a high gluten diet consisting of wheat gluten, cornmeal gluten and poultry by-products.  This is what is called “aquaculture”.  Fish farms use aquaculture to produce a larger product.  It’s similar to how some chicken farmers use unnatural farming techniques to produce unnaturally large birds.  This feeding process creates a product that is higher in saturated fats and calories and results in the dull, pink color.
Wild salmon provides much better nutritional content and brings that gorgeous red color.  The reason is because wild salmon feast on small crustaceans like shrimp which are full of carotenoids.  Farm raised salmon eat pellets that resemble dog food.
Carotenoids are naturally occurring pigments which exert antioxidant effects on the body that can help prevent cancer growth and also help the health of your eyes.
You will probably notice also at the market that the farm raised product is always “Atlantic” salmon and that the wild fished product is of the “Pacific”.  The reason being is basically that due to overfishing the Atlantic, that there just isn’t that much wild product so fisheries have to produce it themselves.  There just isn’t enough wild product.  This problem is less of an issue on the Pacific and there are a larger variety of species which thrive.
There are a few well known varieties of Pacific salmon, most notably, King, Sockeye, Chun and Pink.  Likely what you’ll find in your general market will be mineral dense Sockeye salmon and trust me, it’s worth the extra cost per pound so use this if it’s available.
Let’s move on to the vegetable sides.
One thing I’d like to note is that none of the recipes in this book will call for soy sauce.  Soy sauce almost always contains wheat, making it glutenous.  There are many replacement ingredients you can use instead of soy sauce like tamari, liquid and coconut aminos or even dried mushrooms that you can rehydrate and blend.  I like to use tamari which definitely is not soy sauce but it a satisfying replacement.  Tamari has Japanese origins and soy originates from China.  Tamari is thicker and less salty than soy sauce so whenever you use it, be sure to taste to make sure your salt level is appropriate.
When using tamari, make sure to check the label because not ALL tamari are gluten free.  Some contain trace amounts of wheat so if you are gluten sensitive or have celiac disease, it’s super important to be sure you’re using a safe product.
We will be using the tamari in our marinade and with the bok choy side.
Bok choy is one of the most nutrient and mineral dense plants on the planet.  It’s high in vitamins and calcium.  These are important, especially as you age, to help maintain bone density and to prevent diseases like osteoporosis.  It will also help promote white blood cell production which will aid in boosting immunity.
The other side we’re making is with asparagus which is full of minerals and fiber which helps your digestion.  It’s also high in vitamins like K which helps proper blood clotting but also A and E which are terrific antioxidants and also will ease premenstrual bloating.
Onto the recipe!
Ingredients:
Salmon
  • 1 pound skinless wild salmon – ask your fishmonger to remove the skin and cut into 3 equal pieces to save you time
  • 2 Tbsp tamari
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 Tbsp peeled ginger (minced)
  • 1 tsp diced chilies or 1/4 tsp chili flakes
  • 2 Tbsp good quality honey
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp chopped green onion (garnish)
  • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds (garnish)

Bok Choy

  • 1 pound bok choy  – rinsed, drained – stems and leaves (cut into 1 1/2 – 2 inch pieces)
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 Tbsp ginger (minced)
  • 1 Tbsp tamari
  • 1 tsp white pepper

Asparagus

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 3 clove garlic (sliced thinly)
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil

Directions:

Make the salmon marinade by combining all the ingredients (except the salmon).  Place the salmon in an oven safe fish and pour the marinade over.  Turn the fish with your hands a few times so it’s well coated.  Cover and place in the fridge.  You can marinate it for as little as a half hour but I prefer 2-3 hours.

Fill a medium pot of salted water and set to high heat.

Test a piece of the asparagus by holding it at each end and snapping it.  The point at where the asparagus breaks naturally is around the length you should cut the rest of the bunch.  The bottom piece will be unpalatable and tough.  You want to only use the tops which will be tender and delicious.

Fill a bowl with ice water.

What we’re doing here is blanching the asparagus.  This is how I like to cook most vegetables, especially those which I like to serve with bright green color but not overcook.

When the water comes to a boil, drop the asparagus and cook for about 30 seconds.  You’ll notice the color drastically change.  Remove the asparagus and place in the ice water to rapidly cool so it doesn’t overcook.  After about a minute, remove the asparagus from the water and set aside.

Set your broiler to high and uncover your salmon.  Place the salmon (in the marinade) as close to your heat source as possible.

We’ll now start on the bok choy. Heat your wok to medium/high.  If you don’t have one, you can use a cast iron or large saute pan.  Add the coconut oil then add the ginger and garlic. Be sure not to burn it by stirring repeatedly.  Add the bok choy and tamari and stir fry for about 3-5 minutes, stirring often until still al dente but cooked through.  Turn off the heat and season with white pepper to taste.

In a medium pan, add a Tbsp coconut oil.  When hot, add your sliced garlic for the asparagus and cook for a minute or two until it is sizzling and show a little bit of color.  Add your blanched asparagus and stir to mix together with the garlic.  The garlic will actually fry into chips during this process which makes a great garnish.  Hit the asparagus with a bit of salt and remove from heat.

The salmon will be done in about 8-9 minutes.  It will caramelize on top due to the sugars in the honey.  Be sure not to overcook the fish here.  You can start checking it at 6 minutes in.

When the salmon is done, remove from the oven and get ready to assemble your plates.  You can put the plates in the oven for a minute or two before the salmon is done to keep warm.

Lay out 5 or 7 pieces of asparagus on your plate.  Scoop a few mounds of the bok choy on top and top with a piece of salmon.  Spoon over some of the sauce left in the roasting dish.  Garnish with the fried garlic, sesame seeds, green onion and enjoy!

 

 

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Vegan Pumpkin Chili

 

Vegan Pumpkin Chili 

(Gluten free, dairy free, vegan, paleo)

It had been staring at me on the kitchen counter for weeks. This large orange orb which most people use this time of year as a Halloween or Thanksgiving decoration had other plans than to have a scary face carved into, only to be discarded a few days later.

I remember the first time I ever actually ate pumpkin in something other than pumpkin pie.  I was in Jamaica sitting down for a lovely 3 course meal.  The butler brought out the soup course.  Pumpkin soup!  It was excellent and I thought surely was full of heavy cream as it was so rich and thick.  Upon asking the chef, she let me know it was just pumpkin, a splash of coconut milk and salt, all pressed through a mesh strainer to form a very smooth and delightful texture.  This was the first time I had ever eaten pumpkin that didn’t come from a can and I’m not going to say it was life changing, but it definitely got me to think differently about making healthy and silky vegetable soups.

This raised a question though, is pumpkin actually a vegetable or is it a fruit?

Based on the savory flavor profile, most would consider it to be a vegetable and just about any chef would agree.  But if you think about pumpkin from the point of view of a botanist, the definition of a fruit is the part of the plant enclosing the seed or seeds. This concept puts pumpkin in the same league as avocado or tomato but also apples and mangos as fruits while vegetables are more associated with flowers, roots, stems or leaves.  I’ll leave it up to you to decide!

It’s a real shame we don’t use unprocessed pumpkin more in our diets.  The convenience of buying it canned I suppose makes it easier to work with but we can do so much more than fill a pie shell with pumpkin and I hope this recipe helps get your mind moving towards different ways to use it.  Pumpkin is also very inexpensive and has an abundance of health benefits.

Pumpkin is an antioxidant that contains loads of vitamins and carotenoids like beta carotene which helps reduce your risk for stomach cancer.  Vitamins A and C are in a large concentration which help your organs to work properly and boost your immunity. Pumpkin is also high in fiber and is nutrient dense but low in calories so it’s a great item to regularly include in your weight loss diet.

We’re going to also be using a few types of beans and chickpeas in this recipe.  Really you can use whatever you have on hand.  I’m using kidney beans, black beans and chickpeas all of which are great for your digestion and help to maintain a healthy balance in your gut.  Gut health is one of those things not talked about enough in Western medicine and is a root problem for so many other medical issues.  The whole probiotic industry is fueled by the need for balance in your gut. Did you know that the world-wide market for probiotic products in 2018 was nearly $50 billion?

In my opinion, a major flaw in Western medicine and treatment plans is that they are designed to solve one problem without taking into account that they are causing another.  For example, 5 or 6 years ago, I was put on antibiotics for a chronic sinus infection.  I took many refills of these drugs and upon reflection, I realize now it was just a vicious cycle of doing more harm than good.  Let me explain.  Your gut health is an extension of proper digestion and your immune system.  Your lungs, throat and sinuses are an extension of your digestive system. It’s all connected.  So if you’re taking antibiotics to kill the infection in your sinuses but it also kills all the good bacteria in your gut, you may never actually improve because your gut health is never regulated.

There needs to be more education around rebuilding proper gut health, especially after taking prescriptions that strip your body of essential bacteria.  Western medicine could improve greatly with a post-antibiotic treatment plan to help heal the gut in order to really improve your overall health.

Now that we’ve had our science lesson for today, lets make some pumpkin chili!  A perfect dish for a cool fall day.  I will also note that the estimated cost for this meal is under $20 and you’ll easily have 6 portions.  We’re talking about around $3 per serving!  You’ll also have extra pumpkin puree leftover that you can use in a dessert, a soup or even as a replacement for coconut milk in a curry.  In addition, you should save the seeds and roast them in a little olive oil and salt.  Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) are not cheap and you’ll yield a few cups from a medium/large pumpkin. They are great as a topping for your chili or just as a tasty snack.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium/large pumpkin (1 quart of puree)
  • 1 medium onion (diced)
  • 5 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 bell pepper – any color (diced)
  • 1 jalapeno pepper (seeds removed – diced)
  • 1 quart canned tomatoes (if you don’t can your own, use 3 cans of diced tomatoes)
  • 1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas- drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 sweet potato (medium dice)
  • 2 TBSP cumin
  • 1 1/2 TBSP chile powder
  • 1-2 TBSP olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Cilantro leaves (for garnish)
  • Red onion (diced – for garnish)

Directions;

The most time consuming part of this recipe is roasting the pumpkin.  You can do this ahead of time and store the puree in ball jars or quart containers. It will last up to a week in the fridge.

Set your oven to 400 degrees.

Carefully cut the pumpkin down the middle with a large kitchen knife.  I like to put a kitchen towel on the cutting board to help stabilize it.

Scoop out the seeds and toss out the stringy part that holds the seeds together.

 

Now that you have cleaned the pumpkin, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Place flat side down on a rimmed baking sheet.  I like to use a silicone mat for easier clean up.

Place in the oven and roast for about 40-45 minutes. While the pumpkin is roasting, you can also toss the seeds in a bit of oil and sprinkle with salt.  Place on a cookie sheet and roast, stirring often until done. Start checking these after 10 minutes and then every few minutes after.  They will go quickly.

You can test the pumpkin doneness with a fork.  The pumpkin is done when the fork easily passes and the flesh is tender.

Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Make sure you give it enough time to cool so you can handle it without burning yourself.  It will be hot and may take 30-40 minutes to cool enough to process.

When the pumpkin is cool enough, scoop out the flesh and place in your blender or food processor.  Process until very smooth.

The rest of the cook on this chili is simple and pretty quick.

I like to use a large cast iron dutch oven but you can use any good quality large pot.

Heat the pot and add your oil.

Add the chopped onion, bell and jalapeno peppers and cook until they begin to soften (5-7 minutes).  Add the sweet potato then garlic and cook until fragrant.  Add your spices and be sure to coat the sweet potato.  Add your tomatoes (with juices), rinsed beans and the pumpkin puree.

Bring to a light boil then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover, stirring occasionally.

Cook for around 25 minutes or until the sweet potato has become tender.  Taste the chili and adjust seasoning with salt if needed.

Ladle the chili into a shallow bowl and top with some of your roasted pepitas if you cooked those.  These will add a nice texture and nuttiness.

Top with some chopped red onion and cilantro leaves.  You can also add a squirt of lime juice to really pump up the flavor.

Enjoy!

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Soy Ginger Chicken Thighs

Soy Ginger Chicken Thighs

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs, OH MY!

If you’re into batch cooking or meal planning, this is a very simple and easy way to prepare delicious protein that can be used in a variety of applications.

Use these chicken thighs as an entree with some rice or noodles and vegetables or even use them sliced in ramen!  You’ll be glad to have them on hand.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (trimmed)
  • 1 /2 cup soy or liquid aminos
  • 1/4 cup chopped ginger
  • 6 garlic cloves (chopped)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1-2 sliced jalapeno

Directions

Keep your chicken thighs whole but trim off any loose fat or skin.

Mix together all the marinade ingredients in a medium sized bowl.

Plage the chicken in a nonreactive pan like a glass casserole and pour the marinade over the chicken.  Mix well with your hands to be sure that all the chicken is coated with marinade.  Cover and place in the fridge overnight.  You can get away with doing a quick 4 hour marinade if you haven’t planned ahead but ideally this technique will work best if the chicken has had a nice back overnight.

Heat your oven to 400.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and drain but do not discard the marinade as we’re going to cook this down to make a sauce to toss the chicken in.

There’s no need to rinse the chicken after removing it from the marinade.  Simply place in a single layer on rimmed baking sheet and place in the heated oven.

Cook time should be about 25 – 30 minutes.  I suggest using a meat thermometer to check the temperature.  You are looking to get the thighs to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

While the chicken is in the oven, we can make the sauce.  Pour the marinade into a sauce pot and heat on medium/high heat.  We are going to cook this down to make a flavorful sauce to toss the chicken in.

Be sure to bring the sauce to a boil then reduce the heat and let it simmer and reduce while the chicken is cooking.

Remove the chicken from the oven when the internal temperature gets to 165.  Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes.

At this point you can do one of two things with the chicken.  If you want to serve the thighs whole, simply removed them from the baking sheet and toss with the reduced sauce. You can also chop or slice the chicken into strips, toss in the sauce and use in a rice or noodle bowl.  These are especially tasty with some steamed or roasted vegetables.  The sauce is so good it will pair with almost anything.

Posted on 1,102 Comments

Sweet Corn and Pepper Salsa

Sweet Corn and Pepper Salsa

It’s no surprise that I like making fresh foods that can be used in a multitude of ways.  It’s in that vein of thought that many of my ideas for recipes are born.  When you use ingredients that aren’t processed, you generally want to eat them up before they go south and having more than one way to use something you produce helps to be sure you’re not tossing any product in the compost pile or waste bin.

I would call this dish a salsa but I’d also call it a relish, a chutney or a condiment.  It really just depends how you’re going to eat it.  It’s so fresh and flavorful that you’ll want to eat it with chips, on your burrito bowl or tacos, (it’s especially delicious on grilled fish tacos) or even on a piece of roasted chicken.  I’ve even been known to stand there with the fridge door open, eating it plain with a spoon and I’m not ashamed to say so either.

Sweet corn is my favorite summertime vegetable.  It’s delicious raw and crunchy but I also like to roast it on the cob and smear a little mayo and tajin or old bay seasoning all over it.  If that sounds weird, you should try it and you’ll thank me later.

Not only tasty, corn also is a great immunity booster.  It’s high in fiber which is good for digestion.  It’s a heart healthy vegetable that I like so much, I almost feel guilty eating so much of it in the summer.

I always prefer to use fresh vegetables but the truth is, corn is seasonal and sometimes I really want to make some of this in the fall or winter.  In a pinch, when fresh corn isn’t available, I have been known to use frozen sweet corn.  The best way to go this route is to buy up a bunch in the fall before it goes out of season, cut it off the cob and vacuum seal it and freeze in one pound bags for the winter.

If totally necessary, you can use frozen sweet corn from your grocery store as well and the best brand in my opinion is the 365 by Whole Foods brand of Organic Sweet Yellow Corn brand – unsalted.  If you’re using frozen corn, be sure to properly thaw it out and drain any liquid before using to prevent the salas from being watery or mushy.

To complete the salsa, we’re going to use red bell pepper, jalapeno and diced red onion.

I’ve discussed the benefits of capsaicum in other recipes.  Capsaicum is a component of chili peppers. The spicier the pepper, the higher the level of capsaicum.  Peppers, especially the spicy ones, boost your metabolism which burns fat.  As a bonus, they also will help curb your appetite so you won’t tend to overeat as regularly if you include them in your diet regularly.

Jalapeno peppers often vary in the level of heat they contain so for this recipe, especially if you’re concerned it may be too spicy, I would suggest dicing one jalapeno and starting off by using about half of it and taste the salsa before you add more just to be safe.

Red onions don’t just add flavor and color to a dish, they also contain an antioxidant called quercetin which aids your body by boosting your immune system and fight inflammation.  I almost always only ever eat red onions raw which has been linked to other health benefits.

To make this recipe easy to shop for, I’m going to simplify the portions so you don’t have any waste.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound sweet corn (cut off of 4-5 ears on the cob)
  • 1 red bell pepper (stem and seeds removed, diced)
  • 1 jalapeno pepper (seeded, diced)
  • 1 medium red onion (diced)
  • 3 Tbsp cilantro (chopped)
  • 1-2 Tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tps good quality honey
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • pinch of ground cumin

Directions

Very simple preparation.  Combine all the ingredients in a bowl.  Start with half the jalapeno and taste the salsa.  You can always add more jalapeno but you can’t take any out.

If the salsa needs more zing, add more lime juice and adjust the seasoning if needed with salt.

I like to store this in ball canning jars or in one pint plastic deli containers.  If you’re using the deli containers, it makes it easy to scoop out with a tortilla chip (or a spoon in front of the open fridge at 1 in the morning)…

 

Posted on 305 Comments

Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette

Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette

I could definitely write an entire cookbook of salad dressing recipes and who knows, maybe I will at some point. To start off with, I want to share my most favorite, flavor packed dressing formula and discuss some of the reasons why you should be making your own dressings at home.

It’s no surprise that most people would consider salads to be healthy.  Typically comprised of a variety of raw vegetables, nuts, lean protein and fruits, why would you think anything other than that you’re making a responsible choice?

If you aren’t making your own dressings, you should.  If you don’t, I encourage you to go take a look in the fridge at the ingredients in your favorite dressings.  I am sure you will be unpleasantly surprised.

Most premade dressings are made with a base of some type of oil.  Usually these are unsaturated fat (the good kind).  Some use olive oil but more often, they are bases using canola or soybean oils.  This is actually not the  root of the problem.

The main issue is that most of these products are extremely high in preservatives, sodium and processed sugar like fructose, sucrose and corn syrup.  Go ahead and check your labels.  I’ll wait… Did you also happen to see a load of saturated fat up in there?  Gross and unnecessary!

Many of these products are marketed as “low fat”.  This is generally a simple marketing ploy to make the consumer believe they are eating something that’s good for them.  Fat is not really the problem however and these products marketed as such typically are highly processed and contain loads of sugar and trans fats which are all linked to inflammation, obesity and heart disease.

One other thing you should take note of is the serving size.  Most dressings will suggest a serving size to be about a tablespoon so you should be getting 40-60 servings or more from one bottle but do you really use just a tablespoon?  I highly doubt it.  This is a marketing ploy that makes you feel better about using the product and if only a small amount is used then obviously the volumes of nasty stuff appears to be lower and much safer to consume. The reality is, you’re likely using 3-4 times the amount of the suggested serving size so it’s important to multiple all the sugar, salt and saturated fat numbers accordingly.

Also important to consider, especially with self stable dressings, is what kind of preservatives are used to make the dressing last through the apocalypse.  In my opinion, food should not be made or prepared to last forever.  It’s kind of disgusting when you think about it.  Check the born on date on your dressing bottles.  Were they even made this year?

There are two types of preservatives that food manufacturers use to keep their products from spoiling quickly — natural and unnatural preservatives.  Some examples of natural preservatives include oil, sugar and salt.  These can be used in more natural food preservation techniques like canning, curing or fermenting.

Unnatural preservatives are basically chemicals used to make food products last longer.  On your dressing label, these may be noted as “additives” or artificial preservatives.

Many of the serious health issues facing us as packaged food consumers stem from the mass consumption of processed food, natural and unnatural preservatives.  And while manufacturing foods like this may make life more convenient, it is leading to increased risk of various cancers and heart disease.

If you can’t pronounce an ingredient on your salad dressing label, please throw it away.  It’s not food.  It’s chemical and it’s hurting your body.

Completely letting go of processed foods isn’t easy to do but if you can focus your diet more on lean protein, fresh organic fruits and vegetables and less on premade convenience foods, your body will thank you 100 times over.

The dressing recipe I will share can be multiplied if you’d like a large batch but keep in mind that you should use it up within a week or so which shouldn’t be too hard to do as this recipe is so versatile, you won’t just want to use it on lettuce.  You’ll want to use it on everything from noodles to tacos and roasted vegetables!  You can even blend the dressing with some avocado to thicken it and transform it into a healthy creamy version of the vinaigrette!

This recipe will yield one cup of dressing.

Let’s get started!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh cilantro leaves (packed)
  • 3 Tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup good quality olive oil
  • salt to taste

Directions

This couldn’t be easier to make.  Add all the ingredients except the olive oil to your blender or food processor.

Whiz on high to blend and incorporate.  If you’re using a food processor, use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides down to be sure all the cilantro and garlic is processed well.

Pour the dressing into a medium sized bowl and whisk in your olive oil.  Taste and adjust the seasoning by adding more salt or lime juice if needed.

If you would like to make this a thicker and creamy version, pour the finished dressing back into your blender or food processor and add one peeled, seeded avocado and process until smooth.

You can store the dressing in a ball jar in the fridge.

 

Posted on 50 Comments

Smoked Game Hen with Roasted Potatoes and Garlic Green Beans

Smoked Game Hen with Roasted Potatoes and Garlic Green Beans

Contrary to popular belief, a cornish game hen is not a baby chicken, rather it is a variety of boiler chicken that is processed at a young age, typically between 4 and 6 weeks old and traditionally at a weight under 2 pounds.

The flavor of game hen is similar to chicken but it’s more succulent and usually one entire bird would be considered  a serving size when prepared.

Most grocery stores carry frozen game hen which are packaged in full plastic, often is packages of 2 birds which is intended to be two servings.

The technique for this recipe will work great both for game hen and chicken so if you prefer using chicken, that’s totally up to you.  Also, if you don’t have a smoker, you can roast the birds for similar results.  I will discuss both cooking methods.

Since game hen are processed at a younger age than chickens, they contain less fat and are generally comprised mostly of white breast meat.   Generally as chickens age, they are become more tough and less tender, lending more appropriate cooking methods to stewing or to be used in soup.

Game hen are also high in niacin which is important for the body to help lower cholesterol,

Using a brine for the bird with this technique, you will help keep your game hen or chicken from drying out during cooking and also will help season the poultry to your liking.

I like to brine the game hen overnight for the best results.

You can pair your poultry with whatever vegetables you prefer.  I think roasted potatoes and garlicky green beans are a perfect compliment and are also simple to prepare while your birds are smoking or roasting.

Ingredients

Brine

  • 2 cornish game hen (or one chicken)
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 quarts apple cider or apple juice
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 20 whole peppercorns
  • 5 sage leaves
  • 4 cloves smashed garlic
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dry)
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dry)

Directions

Pour the water and apple cider in a stock pot and bring to a boil.  Add the salt and dissolve.  Add the remaining ingredients, cover and turn the heat off.  Let the mixture steep for 20 minutes then remove the lid and add a few cups of ice to help cool the brining solution more quickly.

Once the mixture has cooled, place the game hen in a container large enough to hold them plus the brine.  You can use a large pitcher or food grade bucket.

You really just want to be able to fully submerge the game hen in the brine.

Cover and place the game hen in the brine in the fridge to brine overnight.

The next day, remove your game hens from the fridge and rinse with cold water.  The herbs and salt in the brine will have penetrated the meat overnight so the rinse is really just intended to remove excess from the exterior.  Pat the game hen dry with a kitchen or paper towel.

Prepare your smoker at 250 degrees.  I would suggest using pecan pellets or wood chips for chicken and game hen.  If you’re going to roast the birds, set your oven to 375 degrees.

The cooking time will vary depending on the technique used but the goal for each method is to get the internal temperature of the poultry to 165 degrees.

Roasting these in the oven should take about 45-55 minutes.  Smoking them will take about an hour and a half to two hours.  The best way to check the doneness is with a meat thermometer.

While the birds are cooking, you can work on your sides.

Ingredients

  •  1 pound baby yukon gold potatoes (halved or quartered)
  • 1 pound green beans (trimmed)
  • 10 cloves garlic (chopped, divided)
  • 1 sprig chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dry)
  • 1 Tbsp salt (divided)
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 3-4 Tbsp olive oil

Directions

Set your oven to 375.  If you’re roasting the game hen, you can just use a different rack for your potatoes.

In a large bowl, add the potatoes, half the garlic, rosemary and half the salt.  Add enough olive oil to coat the potatoes and toss it all together.

Place in the oven and roast until the potatoes are tender and start to show some color.  This should take about 20 minutes.

For the green beans, you can use either a large saute pan or a wok.  Get your pan hot.  Add 1-2 Tbsp oil and then the garlic.  Stir quickly to be sure the garlic doesn’t burn.  Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add your green beans and cook very briefly, just until they start to become bright green (1-2 minutes).  Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.

Once your chickens have hit 165 degrees, remove from smoker or oven let rest for 5-10 minutes.  This will help the juices redistribute instead of running out of the birds when sliced.

To serve, cut the game hens in half and place on a platter along with half of the potatoes and green beans.  Garnish with fresh herbs if you have some on hand.  You can also serve this family style if you prefer!

 

Posted on 53 Comments

Coconut Milk Brined Chicken Kabobs

Coconut Milk Brined Chicken Kabobs

If you don’t include coconut milk in your standard pantry stock, you definitely should!  As a dairy substitute or just to be used as a sauce or soup base, coconut milk is versatile, full of healthy fat and just plain delicious.

Like many of the ingredients I like to use, coconut milk can be found in the Asian section of any Western grocery store although I think there are better brands available at most Asian markets.  Usually you’ll find a generic store brand and also the Thai Kitchen brand available.

There are a few things you should consider when shopping for coconut milk and I’ll help briefly outline the differences and purposes.  You usually will first notice that there are three variations to choose from, Lite, Regular Fat and Coconut Cream which essentially is just a range from thin to thick.

Thin or “Lite” coconut milk typically is processed 2 or 3 times.  What this means is that the mature coconut flesh is grated and then strained through, usually using cheesecloth.  The pulp left it the cheesecloth is mixed with water and then is strained again.  Sometimes this may be done a 3rd time.

The regular fat coconut milk is also made from grated mature coconut and is the liquid product made from straining it the first time.  It’s thicker because it’s not watered down at all.

Coconut cream is the thickest and usually would be used to make a nice thick and rich sauce like in a curry.  It’s made by simmering shredded coconut in water and then cooled.  The coconut cream rises when cooled and that’s what’s sold as coconut cream.  Coconut cream is also found in regular fat coconut milk and is the solid part which rises to the top of the can.

I rarely use “Lite” coconut milk but it would be best used in a soup.  Even in that case, I would almost always still just go with the regular version.

For this application, since we are using the coconut milk as a brine or marinade, the regular fat content will work great.  You’ll just want to be sure to mix the product well to combine the solids with the liquid as the product tends to separate in the can.

You’ll often hear of fried chicken recipes, usually from the South, asking you soak the chicken overnight in buttermilk.  This technique is similar and serves the same purpose in a similar way as a traditional brine of salted water.

Brining chicken is especially useful when grilling as it will help retain moisture and keep the chicken from drying out during the cooking process.  It will also result in a more tender and flavorful product as the herbs and spices used will penetrate the meat and be more apparent.

You can really use any spice blend you like with your kabobs.  I went with something simple using ingredients you likely won’t need to run out and purchase.

One thing also to note before I get into the recipe is the grilling technique.  I like to use a hack, especially when grilling chicken thighs which can take a bit more time than breast meat but also is more forgiving.  We are essentially using the grill to mark the kababs and give them that nice char and color.  Once this is achieved, we will transfer the chicken to a 350 degree oven to fully cook.  This technique will help you get the beautiful color you’re looking for without burning the exterior while the inside still cooks.  It is a foolproof method to perfect results!

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks)
  • 2 cans full fat coconut milk
  • 2 bunches cilantro (chopped)
  • 1 head garlic (chopped)
  • 2 Tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 c worcestershire sauce
  • juice and zest of 2 limes
  • 2 Tbsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 4-5 bell peppers (variety of colors, cut into 1 1/2 inch squares)
  • 2-3 red onions (cut into petals)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 20 wood skewers (soaked in water)

Directions

In a large bowl, mix the coconut milk, cilantro, garlic, cumin, cayenne, worcestershire, lime juice and zest, salt and pepper.

Place the chicken in a non reactive container like a deep glass casserole.  Pour the coconut milk brine over the chicken.  Mix together well so that all the chicken is coated.  Cover and place in the fridge overnight.

Combine the cut bell pepper with the onion petals in a bowl.  Toss with olive oil and salt.

Remove the chicken from the brine and place in a colander or in a strainer in the sink to let some of the brine drip off.

Heat your grill pan or get your charcoal going and turn your oven on to 350.

While the grill is heating, make your skewers by alternating a piece of chicken with red onion and bell peppers.  If some of the pieces of chicken are bigger than others, it’s ok to fold them over to skewer.

Make the skewers as uniform as possible for the nicest end presentation.  I like to end each skewer with a piece of onion facing inward to hold them together better.

Once your grill is hot, place the skewers on and let them cook for about 3-5 minutes or until they start to char a bit then carefully flip them over and repeat on the other side.

When you have achieved the nice grill color, remove the skewers and place on a rimmed sheet tray and place the tray in the oven.

Chicken thighs are relatively forgiving so overcooking them isn’t as big as an issue as with breast meat.  You will want to cook them for about 10 minutes.  If you have a meat thermometer, you may remove them from the oven when the temperature hits 165.

Let the kabobs rest for about 5 minutes.  You can serve these family style, as an appetizer or they would go great with some saffron rice and a side salad!

 

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One Pan Chicken and Rice Bake

One Pan Chicken and Rice Bake

This dish I created for those times when you really just don’t feel like cooking or when you want to throw something together quickly and not have to fuss over much or spend a lot of money as the entire basically takes care of cooking itself in the oven and will feed a family for under $10.

The origin of chicken and rice or “arroz con pollo” trace to Spain where traditionally it would be served with yellow rice coming from saffron used to cook it yielding also a nuttier flavor.

This version we’re making today is a simplified version of the classic but if you wanted to doctor it up a bit, you could add some bacon and other vegetables.  I simply served this up with some steamed broccoli.  It would also go great with some garlic green beans or as the chefs in culinary school would also prefer to say, “haricorts vert.”

This is kind of like a baked paella without seafood.  It’s simple and rustic and balances very well naturally and with such little effort or guesswork.

I like to use some of the olive brine as the part of the liquid to cook the rice and a handful of good quality olives for extra depth in flavor and salt.

Olives are good for your heart health and contain loads of the healthy fats found in olive oil.  There’s no question that olives and products made with olives are trending as a vital component to the Mediterranean diet.

My diet excludes dairy and in this case, you could use butter or olive oil depending on your preference.

To make things even more simplified, you can use a dried Italian seasoning blend if you like.  I didn’t have anything like that so I used the individual died herbs.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 3 Tbsp good quality olive oil or butter
  • 1 medium onion (diced)
  • 5 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 lemon (zested)
  • 2 cups medium or long grain rice
  • 2 cups good quality chicken stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp olive brine
  • 1 Tbsp dried basil

Directions

Set your oven to 350.

Trim the chicken thighs and season with dried rosemary, oregano, chili powder, salt, pepper and lemon zest.  Set aside.

I used a cast iron to make this.  I find it easiest to only have to work with and clean one pan instead of using something to saute and then pouring into a casserole to bake.

Get your pan hot and add your fat (olive oil or butter).  Add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes or until it becomes soft and translucent.  Add your garlic and cook until fragrant (about 1 minute).  Stir often to be sure it doesn’t burn.

Add your dry rice and stir it well to coat in the cooking fat.  Stir often for about 2-3 minutes.  You will start to smell a nutty aroma of the rice.  That’s what we’re looking for.  We don’t want to give the rice any color during this process.

Add your liquids now.  Pour the stock, water and olive brine into your pan.  Add the dried basil and give it all one last mix.

The next step is important and will help speed up the cook time on the rice.  Bring the pot to a boil. When you do this, cover it and place in the oven, the rice will cook faster and at an even pace with the boneless chicken thighs. If you decided to use bone-in chicken, you can skip this step because bone-in chicken will take longer to cook and actually will time perfectly with the rice if not started at a boil.

Once your pan is at a boil, add the chicken thighs on top and scatter some good quality olives around the pan.  It’s ok to use olives with the pit.  It just will add another rustic component.  Pitted olives are also fine.

Cover your pan either with an oven-safe lid or with foil and place in the oven.

After about 25-30 minutes, check on the rice.  It should be fully cooked.  If there is still any liquid in the pan, leave it in the oven, uncovered, for another 5 minutes and it should evaporate entirely.

Remove from oven and let your pan rest for about 5 minutes.

To serve, scoop out a nice portion of rice with one or two chicken thighs.  Add a steamed vegetable of your choosing and enjoy!

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Butternut Squash Red Curry

Butternut Squash Red Curry with Roasted Pistachio

Although available year round, eating butternut squash definitely reminds me of the Fall.  Maybe it’s the orange pumpkin color or the gourd-like appearance that reinforce that feeling of the season or perhaps the warmth and satisfaction felt when eating it is indicative of weather becoming cooler as the leaves start to fall.

The simplicity of this dish screams for use as a weekday meal as the total cook time is less than half an hour and from a cost perspective, one squash can easily feed a family of four for under $10.

The star of the show here is the squash which many would wrongly consider to be a vegetable but in actuality is a fruit.

Butternut squash, like other fruits bearing its bright, orange sheen, is sweet and versatile and can be used in soups and stews or as a puree.  I’ve even had it transformed into a coconut ice cream which perhaps I’ll test out and write about another time.

This delicious orange fruit is a heavy hitter in concentration of Vitamin A.  I’m talking 4-5 times the daily suggested amount per day in each serving!  Vitamin A is fat-soluble and works wonders for your immune system.

To make this quick curry, I’m going to be using a pre-made red curry paste.  The most readily available product on the market is the Thai Kitchen brand which you can find in just about every major grocery store chain.  While I have included curry paste recipes in other dish recipes, I also like to use pre made to save time and also if I don’t have all the ingredients on hand like lemongrass or lime peel.  This paste does mesh with chilis but it’s very mild.

Ingredients:

  • 1 butternut squash (peeled, seeded and cut into one-inch dice)
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 cup chopped shallots (you can use onion also but I like the flavor of shallots in this dish)
  • 1 Tbsp chopped garlic
  • 1 Tbsp chopped ginger
  • 3 Tbsp Thai Kitchen Red Curry paste
  • 1 can full fat coconut milk
  • 1/2 – 1 cup vegetable or chicken stock (depending on if you want it to be vegetarian)
  • 2-3 Tbsp fish sauce (you can use salt or liquid aminos if you want it to be vegetarian)
  • 2 limes (juiced and zested)
  • 1/2 c pistachios (roasted and chopped)
  • Cilantro for garnish

Directions:

You’ll need a large large saute pan or wok.

Heat your pan and add the oil on medium-high heat.

When the oil is hot, add your shallots or onions.  Saute for 3-4 minutes or until the start to become translucent.  Add the ginger and cook for about a minute and then add the garlic.  Cook until fragrant.

Add the curry paste and fry for about a minute before adding the diced butternut squash.  Stir well to incorporate and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add the coconut milk, bring to a boil then cover and reduce heat to a low simmer.  Cook until the squash is tender.

If the sauce is too thick, add some stock to thin it out.  If the sauce is too thin, you can strain out the squash so it doesn’t overcook and then reduce the coconut milk to the desired consistency.  I like the sauce to be nice and thick, almost the consistency of heavy cream.

Remove from heat and add in the fish sauce or salt and stir in the lime juice and zest to taste.  You can adjust the seasoning to your personal preference.

You can serve this curry alongside steamed rice or on top of noodles.

Roughly chop your roasted pistachio and top the curry with the nuts and cilantro.  Give the dish another squeeze of lime juice on top and serve.

 

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Seared Tofu Steak with Miso Ginger Soba Noodles

Seared Tofu Steak with Miso Ginger Soba Noodles

(Gluten Free, Vegetarian, Vegan)

It’s not that I don’t commonly use tofu in my personal diet, but it’s not often that I write about tofu as the star ingredient in a dish.  In this one however, tofu shines bright and the cooking technique achieves something special in texture and flavor.

This is one of those quick and bright weekday meals that you can whip up in no time using pretty much whatever you like or have on hand using a few pantry staples and any variety of fresh vegetables.

Tofu is a product of soybean curd and is a popular component of vegetarian and vegan diets because it’s high in protein.  Tofu also contains zero cholesterol and is a good additive to an anti-inflammatory diet.

Whenever I use tofu in a dish, the first thing I do before starting anything else is to dry it out.  I will first cut the tofu into the shapes I want to serve then arrange in a single layers in a casserole on top of a few layers of kitchen towels.  I then top with more towels and top that with a small cutting board that press down with some heavy cans or whatever heavy kitchen item will fit on top.

Tofu is kind of like a sponge and since it’s packed in water, it absorbs a lot of liquid.  By pressing the water out of the tofu prior to cooking, it will take on the flavors of whatever you’re using.  These flavors will replace the liquid in the tofu.  You can press it as long as you like and even change out the towels halfway through to absorb even more liquid.

One of my favorite ingredients miso.  Miso comes in many varieties and creates that 5th flavor profile of umami that Japanese food embodies.  You can find miso in the Asian section of any Western grocery store.

Miso is fermented soybean.  Fermented probiotic foods like miso, kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir promote proper digestion and gut health.  Optimal gut health is a building block for the overall health of your body and these fermented foods will help regulate the good bacteria in your gut crucial to well being.

In this recipe I’m using white miso, also known as shiro.  White miso is aged only for a short period of time, generally less than 8 weeks.  This is unlike red miso which can be aged up to 3 years.

Another Japanese ingredient I always have on hand are buckwheat noodles.  Although it sounds like a grain, 100 percent buckwheat noodles are actually produced with a gluten free, grain-like seed.  Soba noodles are traditionally either eaten cold with a dipping sauce or hot in some type of soup.

It’s important to note that not all soba noodles and products labeled as soba are totally gluten or grain free.   You need to check the ingredients to be sure they’re marked as 100 percent soba as many products on the market will be partly comprised of wheat flour at a lower concentration.  This is critically important to check if you’re gluten sensitive or suffer celiac disease.

The key to this dish as I mentioned is the cooking technique for the tofu.  The combination of vegetables is at your discretion or based on what you like or have on hand.  Other vegetables that could be used are beans, snap peas, asparagus, diakon, zucchini, etc..  Use this recipe as a starting point but feel free to be creative.

Ingredients:

  • 1 block firm tofu (cut into 4 steaks and dried as mentioned above)
  • 4-6 ounces 100 percent soba noodles
  • 2-3 Tbsp vegetable oil plus 1 Tbsp divided
  • 1/2 cup white miso
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp grated garlic
  • 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp liquid amino or coconut amino
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1-2 medium carrots (peeled, cut into rings)
  • 1-2 cups broccoli (cut into florets)
  • 1 1/2 cups purple cabbage (shredded)
  • 2 green onion (green parts, sliced thinly)
  • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds for garnish

Directions:

Dry the tofu as previously written.

The soba noodles should be served cold with the other ingredients on top.

Bring a pot of water to a boil.  There is no need to salt the water.  Cook the noodles according to the package directions or until just tender.  Strain the noodles and rinse with cold water thoroughly.

While the noodles are cooking, mix the 2-3 Tbsp oil with the miso, ginger, garlic, vinegar, aminos, sesame oil and honey.

Once your noodles are rinsed, take about 4 or 5 Tbsp of the miso mixture and mix with the noodles using your hands.  Set the noodles aside to plate later.

Use a cast iron and set to medium high heat.

Add the remaining Tbsp vegetable oil and when hot, gently set the 4 tofu steaks into the pan.  Do not touch the tofu once you drop them.  You want to cook them undisturbed until you start to notice some color on the corners and sides.  Only when they easily lift from the pan, you can flip them over and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes.  There is no exact time for this process.  You need to trust yourself not to touch them like if you were searing fish.  If you try to turn them too early, they will break apart and you won’t obtain the beautiful texture and flavor you’re going for.

Once the steaks are nicely browned on both sides, add a few tablespoons of the miso mixture to glaze the tofu then remove to a plate and keep warm on the back of your stove.

Add the last of your oil, maybe another tablespoon or so.  Add the thickers vegetables first like carrots and broccoli and cook for a few minutes or until slightly cooked through but still al dente.  Add the purple cabbage and toss for 30 seconds or so.  Add the remaining miso mixture and combine well.

To plate, mound half of the noodles in a shallow bowl.  Add half the vegetables and then top with 2 pieces of tofu per plate.  Garnish with your sliced green onions and sesame seeds.