Smoking Light

I finally buckled and bought a small grill/smoker.  This little guy is the compromise I’d been dreaming about: a compact heavy duty grill geared for smoking.  Turns out, this odd-duck is the cast iron smoker box add-on to Char-Griller’s large premium model.  Their baby version is also designed as a stand alone tabletop grill.

Char-Griller Table Top Grill

I’ve been running it through its paces and yes, it holds optimum temperatures of 250-275°F.  Using the the offset smoking method, coals are fired up in a lower ash box opposite the main grill side. Two vents channel smoke up and around the food, constantly wrapping it in warm smoke.

I’m not interested in smoking food for hours on end, but I do want it thoroughly smoked and safely cooked within a reasonable amount of time. There’s a delicate balance between duration of time and establishing the proper interior heat for adequate smoking.  When planning for thorough cooking of most foods, the 250-275°F range seems to be it.

Acceptable internal meat temperatures can actually differ from traditional gauges and guidelines, such as cooking poultry until 165°F.  It’s been proven that holding meat at a prolonged lower cooking temp is perfectly safe, if it is held for a prescribed period of time.  For example with chicken, the USDA says that bacteria like salmonella is eliminated and chicken is safe once it fully reaches 145°F and is cooked at that temperature at least 13 minutes longer.

That’s more information than you may want. Especially if you have an electric or propane grill that monitors all of that for you.  But this approach works for the minimalist in me.

In my opinion chicken thighs are an ideal solution for a ‘smoking light’ session. With the bone-in and skin on they need little more to produce perfect packages of moist, blissful meat graced with just enough skin for those who may deem it important.

Thighs ‘Smoked Light’

My approach for smoked chicken thighs includes brining. A flavored salt solution acts to purify, moisturize and enhance the thighs. It gets the job done in four hours, but may be held longer with a saltier outcome.  If concerned, just dilute with more water.

After the brining, thighs air dry for 4 hours to aid in smoke adherence and absorption. To counteract flabby or rubbery skin, try a quick sear in a hot pan prior to smoking. Another solution is to sear them on the grill, but fat dripping onto coals also means flare ups and heat acceleration.

No time to brine? Try a light rub on the thighs prior to placing them on the grill—with a water pan below.  A simple rub with paprika and slight pop of sumac is included; it will punch up the flavor yet allow the smoke essence to flourish.

For smoke flavoring, I soaked a combination of mesquite and apple chips for 30 minutes and drained them well before placing them in a smoker box on top of white charcoal.  The coals  were replenished once to maintain the grill’s interior temperature.

After 1½ hours cooking time, thigh internal temperatures ranged from 145 to 155°F.  Within 15 minutes, temperatures maintained and stabilized from 148-155°F throughout.  The thighs had a beautiful burnished color and were firm when pressed.

Smoked Chicken Thighs

Done to perfection!

Smoked Chicken Thighs

Ingredients
4-6 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on
Brine
2 cups water divided
2 cloves garlic, smash and sliver
1 Tbsp each sea salt and granulated sugar
½ tsp peppercorns
bay leaf
Optional Rub
1 tsp each salt, white pepper,  sweet or smoked paprika, ⅛ tsp sumac

Directions

  1. Brine: combine 1 cup water and ingredients, bring to boil to dissolve salt and sugar. Add 1 cup cold water to the brine and set aside to cool.
    Wash the thighs and trim excess skin and fat. Place in zip lock bag covered with brine. Marinate 4 hours; it becomes saltier the longer it brines.
    Remove the thighs from brine, pat excess liquid.  Air dry on a rack for 4 or more hours in fridge. Bring thighs to room temperature before smoking.
  2. Soak chips: soak wood chips in water for 20-30 minutes, drain well and place in smoker box if using.
  3. Prepare the smoker:  ignite coals. Add a water pan below the offset smoker grill side and spray the grill. When coals begin to turn white, top with chips/smoker box.
  4. Optional thighs sear:  heat skillet to medium high and coat it with oil. Sear skin sides only.
  5. Optional rub:  If using rub, apply just before placing on grill.
  6. Smoke the thighs: when interior smoker temperature reaches 250°F place the thighs on the grill. Close the lid and set vents partially open for draft.  Smoke the thighs for 90 minutes to 2 hours, until 165°F internal temp, or a sustained overall internal temp of 150°F for 5 minutes.

Note:  to maintain a steady heat level check coals 30 minutes into smoke, if dwindling add a few more hot coals to bed.     

Breakfast All Day

Frittatas are highly versatile and notoriously good hot, warm, or room temperature. They are equally good as a finger food snack cut into small bites.

Depending on the combination, a frittata is satisfying any time of the day. It makes an easy receptacle for fresh or cooked vegetables like potatoes, chorizo and other meats, and leftovers such as pasta—or just about anything that can be suspended in eggs—that familiar binder that keeps it all together.

A frittata is so adaptable it’s hard to screw it up.  As a habit, I tend to begin with vegetables, sliced or in a standard chop, and sauté them over medium heat for even cooking. Any other inclusions are added, followed by the eggs, and it’s finished on the stove with a quick flip, or baked in the oven until set.

Recently, I came across a photo of a frittata that featured bigger pieces of cut-up vegetables—not a hugely innovative idea, but it caused me to rethink frittatas in general.

Frittata with Mixed Vegetables & Cheese

For a slightly different approach, why not simply bump up the heat a little?  Start by searing vegetables cut to any size with a fast steam to further soften?  Add other ingredients including the eggs and cook until set, and finish under the broiler.

Frittata fast track

No big deal, but it does provide a faster, more consistent outcome.  Those lovely vegetables are no longer lost and buried filler.

just a bite

The eggs rise up and elevate zucchini, onion, pepper, and baby tomatoes  into tempting chunks wrapped in a cheese bath.

Mixed Vegetables and Cheese Frittata

Ingredients
1-2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tsp butter
½ medium onion, thickly sliced
1 small zucchini, thickly sliced
1 pasilla, poblano or bell pepper, seed, cut into 1” pieces
1 cup halved baby tomatoes
1 tsp combo fresh thyme, savory, rosemary or other
salt and pepper
6 eggs
⅓ cup thick dairy such as yogurt or ricotta
2 Tbsp water or milk
½ cup crumbled or grated ricotta salata, feta, or cheddar cheese
¼ cup grated asiago or Parmesan cheese
½ cup green onions

Directions
1. Preheat oven broiler to 400°F degrees.
2. Heat 8-9” skillet heat over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sauté the onion to soften for 1 minute. Increase heat to medium high, add zucchini, the green pepper, fresh herbs and a light dusting of salt and pepper.
3. Cook to color the vegetables, 4- 5 minutes. Add 1 Tbsp water and cover for 1-2 minutes to soften the vegetables.
4. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and liquid. Remove lid, toss the vegetables, add butter and a bit more olive oil if needed to coat bottom of pan.
5. Pour in the eggs and sprinkle with the cheese. Once the mixture begins to set, tilt the pan and gently lift the mass to loosen the bottom with a spatula and allow the egg liquid to run to the bottom of the pan. Continue to turn the pan, gently lifting to keep from sticking to pan and letting the loose eggs flow under.
6. When the eggs begins to set run the frittata under the broiler until the center is puffed and the top begins to brown in places. Remove and sprinkle with green onions or other fresh herbs. Serve hot, warm or room temperature, sliced into wedges. Serves 4.

Quintessentially laid back

I can’t believe I haven’t yet posted on Key Lime Pie, a favorite of many, including me. Once you’ve had a taste of its tart-sweetness, just thinking about this luscious pie makes your mouth water.

Key Lime Pie

This is a recipe that comes from my cheffing days based out of Florida—where  small, flavorful Key limes are readily available. If not, no worries, just substitute bottled Key lime juice or regular limes. It really doesn’t matter—it’s always good.  For a tropical climate with a laid back attitude, this legendary pie is one that everyone can wrap their minds around.

It’s a curious pie that hasn’t changed much in decades. One of its quirks comes from the inclusion of sweetened condensed milk. The knowledge that acid combined with evaporated milk could yield a thick filling was a boon to those living on the water or in remote locales. No need to fret over fresh milk or cream, and the addition of sugar in the canned milk made it even easier.

Chilled Out 

Still, there are many versions of Key lime pie.  I like to lighten the filling just a bit with a couple of  beaten egg whites.  An optional sour cream topping can introduce an interesting counterpoint to the sweetness of the pie.  Also included, a graham cracker crust alternative that bakes for only three minutes in the microwave.

Most Key lime pie lovers would agree that it is perfectly good morning, noon, or night—anywhere there’s a cool breeze and a little shade.  At times, I’ve been known to get further carried away by making candied lime slices ahead for garnish points. But that’s another story.

Key Lime Pie

Ingredients
1 recipe Graham Cracker Crust, baked (below)
Filling
1 – 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand is good)
¼ cup Key lime juice (6 small), bottled Key lime juice, or fresh lime juice
1 tsp grated lime zest
2 eggs, separated
½ tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
Optional:  Topping: 1 cup sour cream, ⅓ cup granulated sugar, 1 tsp vanilla; lime slices

Instructions

  1. Ahead bake the crust. Pre-heat oven to 325-350°F.
  2. For the filling, whisk condensed milk, lime juice and rind in a bowl to blend. Whisk in egg yolks and vanilla until smooth and thick.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the whites until soft peaks form, sprinkle on sugar and continue until stiff. Gently fold into lime mixture.
  4. Pile filling into the pre-baked shell and bake 15 minutes to set; remove to rack to cool while making the topping. If not using, bake a total of 30 minutes.
  5. For topping, gently combine sour cream, sugar, and vanilla and spread over the warm pie. Bake the pie with topping an additional 15 minutes.
  6. Cool and chill well. Slice into wedges and serve with a lime slice. Yield: 8 slices.

Graham Cracker Crust
1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (10-12 graham crackers)
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
⅓ cup melted butter

  1. Spray a 9″ pie plate with cooking spray.
  2.  For the crust, combine ingredients and pat into pie plate; chill for 15 minutes.
  3.  Bake the crust in the microwave for approximately 3 minutes, or in 375°F oven 6-8 minutes, until firm and crisp. Set aside to cool.

Mole, please

With the changing seasons I’m already thinking of more robust meals and nothing makes my heart beat faster than a high flavored mole, the national dish of Mexico. This unique dish is a throw back to esteemed concoctions originally made by the Aztecs and later nuanced by the Spanish nuns of Puebla.

Mole!

A traditional mole sauce can vary in color from red to green and in-between, depending on what it contains and where it is made, but often includes a range of chiles, nuts, seeds, spices, fruits, and even chocolate.

With all of these moving parts, this complex labor of love can require a day or longer to create—thus, it is often held for special occasions. Once prepared, the triumphant sauce is simmered with chicken, turkey, pork, or beef and served with plenty of warm tortillas, local vegetables such as chayote or squash, and rice.

North of the border, we are more likely to come up with a compromise meal solution that’s attainable in far less time—but just as festive. We could 1) devise our own “simplified” sauce, perhaps include dried chiles, spices, peanut butter, and chocolate, 2) run to the closest local Mexican market for their prepared house blend, or 3) pull out a jar of Doña Maria Mole, a dense paste found at your local grocery store.

Doña Maria Mole Sauce helps makes an impressive meal—even mid-week.  I still like to dress it up with more garlic, chile powder and seasoning before adding the mole base. It needs copious thinning with stock or other liquid and then the sauce is simmered briefly to blend flavors.

Turkey Mole

Browned-off portions of chicken, pork, or beef—or my favorite, turkey breast—are added to the sauce and simmered until tender. If you have an Instant Pot, this entire project can be accomplished in about an hour.

As you would expect, mole actually improves overnight, and reheats beautifully.  The sauce thickens mightily and goes much further than you would expect. Like a good soup, extend with more water.

Mole, please

EZ Turkey Mole

Ingredients
turkey breast, 2-3 lbs. boned, with skin (or equivalent cut-up chicken, pork or beef)
½ tsp both salt and pepper, or more
1-2 Tbsp canola oil
½ tsp chili powder
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup liquid: coffee or water
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 cup prepared mole blend (such as Doña Maria Mole Mexican Sauce)
3-4 cups approx., stock or water to thin
1-2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds, ½ cup cilantro

Instructions

  1.  Season the turkey breast with salt and pepper, heat the oil in a pot over medium high and brown the breast on both sides,10-15 minutes total. Transfer to a holding plate.
  2. Reduce heat to medium/low. If necessary add enough oil to yield 1 tablespoon in pan. Stir in spices, then the garlic; cook until fragrant, 30-60 seconds. Add liquid, stir to loosen and combine pan drippings. Blend in the tomato paste.
  3. Stir in the mole base adding enough liquid to thin into a medium sauce. Adjust seasoning and bring to a simmer; it will continue to thicken as it cooks. Return the turkey breast (and any accumulated juices) to pot.
  4. Set Instant Pot for 20-30 minutes (9 mins/pound) with 10 minute release, or simmer on the stovetop 45-60 minutes, until tender.
  5. Adjust seasoning, it may need a touch of orange juice or sugar. Serve sliced portions with sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds and fresh cilantro. Pass warmed tortillas. Serves 4.

Singin’ the Blues

When you’ve got fresh blueberries the world looks brighter.

Fresh Blueberries

Here in the beautiful state of Oregon, I’m reminded of that fact—while across the state we are under siege from uncontained fires and COVID-19.

I can handle this.  I am reminded I’ve survived the heat and turmoil of multiple hurricanes and their aftermath. Yet, after a week of approaching hellish fires capable of creating their own weather systems, we haven’t reached an end point. Thick, oppressive smog and particulates weaken our lungs—further exacerbating those threatened by the lurking COVID virus among us.

At this minute I am safe, and so I cook. I bake, use what I have on hand, and I keep it very simple.  Lucky for me it’s blueberry season and in my cupboard I find cornmeal.  A heavenly pair.

Food nourishes the spirit, the soul, and the body—and I become grateful as I cook. I give the gritty cornmeal a blast in the blender to eliminate any potential coarseness. It delivers a sweet earthy scent, a fine texture with a slight crunch.

I take my time, hand whisk the batter and meditate.  It develops a gentle lightness, just enough to  support the blueberries and allow them to float freely within. I love nutmeg with blueberries so I add a pinch for good luck. We need it.

Shareable Blueberry Cookies

I am rewarded with glorious, golden packages alive with juicy bites of blue goodness— shareable with neighbors.

Blueberry Cornmeal bite

I am restored.  Life is beautiful… even in this bleak cloud.

Blueberry Cornmeal Cookies

Ingredients
4 Tbsp butter
⅔ cup granulated sugar, or half brown sugar
1 egg
1 Tbsp plain yogurt
¾ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup AP flour
⅔ cup fine cornmeal or polenta
½ tsp each baking powder, baking soda and nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
⅔ cup fresh blueberries

Instructions

  1. Combine the flour through salt on wax paper and set it aside.  Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Beat the butter and shortening until light and cream in the sugars. Beat in the egg, then the yogurt, and vanilla.
    Fold in the blueberries, it will be thick.
  3. Drop rounded tablespoons of batter onto parchment line baking sheet 2” apart. Bake 11-15 minutes, until raised, golden and set on top; don’t overbake. Let rest 2 minutes then remove to wire rack to cool.
  4. Can be sprinkled with turbinado sugar before baking or dusted with confectioners’ sugar after. Store covered. Yield: 18-20 cookies.

Free! Green Onions

There was little doubt that my latest science project would work, but I wanted to know how long it would take and whether it was worth the effort.

I’d been reading that green onions will grow indoors in a mere glass of water with roots attached. Now, that’s appealing.  Rather than throwing trimming away, I love the idea of recycling onions for another growth or two.

This summer my doorstep garden has kept up a steady supply of my favorite herbs, but I’ve missed fresh picked chives or green onions. When I returned home from grocery shopping with another bag of very healthy green onions, I was more than ready.

I got busy, grabbed a handful of green onions, chopped all the greens off, down into their whites and set the pile aside for later use.

Scallion starts

I located a small jar, perched the 2-inch rooted starts around the edge and poured an inch or so of filtered water into the bottom. Like most sun loving plants they do best with at least 6 hours of sun per day, and my summer kitchen window supplies that and more. They get a daily change of water and grow so fast it’s like having a live YouTube channel for entertainment.

Free scallions!

By the end of week one, the green onions had grown from 2-inch starts to 6-7 inch lengths. Now, that’s cause for celebration! I cut 4 onions down to 2-inches again.

Scallion Pancakes

Enough to make a batch of scallion pancakes.

Scallion Pancakes

Ingredients
½ cup AP flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp Montreal Steak Seasoning or salt & pepper blend
2 Tbsp minced green onion
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup water, approx.
½ Tbsp canola oil

Instructions
1. In bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and pepper.  Add the minced green onion and blend well.
2. Beat the egg and stir into the flour.  Add enough water to form consistency of pancake batter.
3. Heat skillet over medium-high heat with oil.
4. Drop 1 tablespoon or more batter onto skillet, cook cakes until bubbles form on top, turn and cook 2-3 minutes per side.   Makes 6-12 cakes, depending on size.

Finish idea: top with thin sliced smoked salmon, salted yogurt, and a sprinkle of green onion.

Instant Ginger Beer, shockingly good

Summer coolers come in all sizes and shapes. Ginger beer is one of my favorites; I’m always on the lookout for an unusual one, and there are plenty—once you take notice.  Some are dark, sweet and spicy, while others are light and refreshingly tart.

Over this home-bound summer, I’ve gotten used to going with whatever food and drink is easily available.  While browsing old files recently, a short recipe caught my attention for an easy ginger-based drink. Labeled Indian Sparkling Panakam, it included ground dried ginger and very few other ingredients, with no resting or aging process needed.  An instant ginger drink.

I had the basics on hand so I gave it a try. I mixed dried powdered ginger, cardamom, a dash of salt, and lime juice together and combined it all with agave syrup.  Incredibly, the ginger syrup was full-flavored and packed a nice zap of heat.

Instant Ginger Beer

Either an individual glass or a full pitcher can be prepared by diluting the syrup to taste with sparkling or soda water. I was doubly excited as I am always ready for an opportunity to pull out my trusty soda syphon, on stand-by, poised and waiting in the fridge door.

A taster glass is a good way to check for flavor, balance, and sweetness. I pour one tablespoon of the ginger syrup into a glass and give it a short blast of soda water. The mixture suddenly comes alive, rises up out of nowhere, forming a brown, creamy head—an apparent reaction to the ginger. It calms down, I add more soda and have a taste.  For simple pantry items this is quite the concoction!

Since then, I’ve enjoyed this sassy ginger cooler at different times of the day with all manner of food.  It’s a bubbly and utterly refreshing instant spritzer.

Instant Ginger Beer 

A mildly sweet ginger drink; adjust to taste. Inspired by Sparkling Panakam from Super Natural Every Day, by Heidi Swanson.

Ingredients
¼ cup agave nectar or simple syrup
2 tsp ground ginger
⅛ tsp ground cardamom
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
⅛ tsp sea salt
4 cups seltzer, soda or sparkling water, chilled
ice cubes
Garnish:  mint, Thai basil, or lime slices

Instructions
1. Create the syrup in a container: combine ginger through sea salt and stir to dissolve, combine with agave.
2. For an individual glass, measure in 1-2 tablespoons of the syrup, add seltzer water to half fill, stir to muddle. Add ice, top off with more seltzer and garnish with basil, mint, or lime slice.
3. For a pitcher: place the syrup in a pitcher. Add a splash of seltzer and stir to dissolve. Add the remaining seltzer, stirring to mix well. Add more ice cubes to chill well. Garnish as desired. Serves 4, or 1 quart

This is personal…

The burger police say “No!” to rare hamburgers.  If I’m going to have a burger, I want it fat, juicy, and rare—not sawdust dry.

I’ve come up with a very workable solution. It requires a good quality, lean ground beef seasoned with a blend reminiscent of Spanish chorizo: equal amounts smoked paprika, garlic, thyme, salt and fresh ground pepper. It chills for a good 4 hours, as this needs time for the flavors to sink in and come together.

Seasoned beef

The meat is formed into thick patties—almost as thick as they are wide—call it ‘football’ shaped. They don’t need to be that big.  Just fat. The bread is moderately important—not a lot of it, a mere platform to hold the patty.

Actually, this small open-faced patty affair ends up becoming more like a bruschetta of sorts, also very good for appetizers and small party bites. This works for me because I can easily have T-W-O of them.

Bruschetta Burger

The toppings become key, because they are front and center. On the bottom, I like to spread a garlicy mayo or aioli. Then the hot grilled burger.  A crunchy finish is nice, like the previous charred corn salsa/salad.  A spoonful of avocado cream on the burger nails it and keeps it all together.

Just a bite….

A few microgreens are a nod to healthiness.

Bruschetta Burgers

Ingredients
1 lb excellent lean ground beef
1 tsp each: crushed garlic, smoked paprika, fresh thyme, sea salt, fresh ground pepper

1 medium baguette, sourdough, or other rustic bread
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp evoo

½ cup aioli, or ½ c mayonnaise or mashed avocado blended with 1 clove garlic, 1 tsp lemon juice
charred corn salsa
1 cup micro greens, ¼ cup sliced green onion

Instructions
For burgers, combine seasonings with burger meat and thoroughly blend. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours to blend flavors. Divide into 6 equal portions, shape into football shaped ovals and flatten slightly. Grill on medium hot grill 8-10 minutes for rare to medium-rare. They should be well seared, juicy and give lightly when pressed in center.

For bruschetta, cut bread at an angle into 12 ½” thick slices. Rub with garlic, brush with olive oil and grill to toast on both sides.

To assemble, set hot burger on bruschetta spread with aioli. Top with more aioli or avocado cream, finish with charred corn salsa and a dab of  microgreens and green onion. Makes 6 bruschetta.

Along comes Corn

Something was nagging at me as I headed into the home stretch, back from running errands. I ticked off my list, I was done and ready to get on with other business. Then it hit me.

It was corn.

Rumor had it that the neighborhood farm stand up the hill was selling fresh corn. Did I really want to go and see if it was true? Fresh corn sells out in a hurry.  I deliberated, and made a fast U-turn. Yes, it was worth it, nothing says “Welcome to Summer” like freshly picked corn.

freshly picked corn on the cob

Corn on the cob is fabulous, but I was also ruminating over a charred corn salad.  The basis was already in the fridge; it stemmed from 2 small fat red peppers picked from my new pimento plant.  Apparently, the same little peppers are dried and ground for paprika. They have a robust, sweet flavor with a slight heat—absolutely delicious.

Along with the luscious red pepper, there was crunchy fennel, celery, shallot and cucumber, plus fresh herbs and a light vinaigrette. Tasty, but I pictured it including charred corn.

With the beautiful fresh corn in tow, I returned home.  Later I fired up the grill and prepped the corn. I pulled back the husks, removed their loose silk, and twisted a handful of husk from each for convenient handles. Once well-heated, the corn goes on the grill.  The sound of popping corn is warning that the kernels are beginning to sear and near ready to turn. They are done when evenly charred on all sides.

After the corn cools, the kernels need to be carefully cut from the cob. To remove, hold the corn upright and slice downward from the top with a sharp chef’s knife.

Sweet roasted corn is addictive, it needs nothing.  Save one cup or more for the prepped salad; brighten with fresh lime and season to taste with more salt and pepper. For the height of enjoyment, serve the salad as soon as possible—but it’s still very good the next day.

Charred Corn Salad

This also makes a delicious salsa atop pork or grilled burgers; spice it up a bit more with hot pepper flakes. Add it to pasta for instant pasta salad…

Charred Corn Salad

Ingredients
½ cup fennel plus fronds, thin slice
½ cup celery plus leaves, thin slice
½ cup seedless cucumber, thin slice
½ cup red peppers, seed thin slice
½ cup shallots, or green onion, thin slice
⅓ cup cilantro, chop
2 Tbsp fresh herbs, such as thyme, marjoram, and/or savory
Vinaigrette
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp fresh herbs: thyme, marjoram and/or savory
¼ tsp each salt and pepper
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 ear corn, 1 cup charred kernels or more
1-2 Tbsp lime juice
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Prepare all vegetables except corn and toss with vinaigrette. Chill or set aside.
  2. To prep corn, peel the husk back and remove all silk. Save some of the husk to maneuver corn on grill.
  3. To roast the corn, heat outdoor or stovetop grill to medium/high to high. Place the corn on the grill with husks extending off the grill as a handy handle. Turn corn as needed to roast kernels on all sides; this will take 5-10 minutes depending on grill and heat. Remove the corn, and cool.
  4. To remove kernels, stand corn upright on board or in wide bowl and run a chef’s knife down the length of the corn, quickly cutting the corn off the cob and turning until all corn has been removed.
  5. Add the fresh roasted corn to the marinating vegetables and toss well. Drizzle with fresh lime juice, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  6. For salsa, add a bit more lime juice and spice it up with hot pepper flakes to taste. Serve fresh or chill. Makes 4 cups.

In Defense of Fat

This is a follow up to the previous post on keto-friendly Tomato Sauce.  In the process of developing and writing about the sauce from a higher fat, low carb perspective I realized my approach to fat has changed.

There was a time when fat was considered the enemy and popular nutrition made a shift away from fatty foods to no-fat, fat-free, and low fat alternatives. It took quite a while before we could accept that this wasn’t a solid nutritional solution and substituting fat for sugar or other chemical derivatives had its own problems. So I avoided fat as much as possible.

Somewhere along the line I finally grasped the concept that fat serves a purpose. I knew that fat made things taste better, but still held out, looking for ways to up my flavors without fat.  Then, I slowly and selectively eased unsaturated oils (and yes, butter) back into my cooking and noticed improved appearance, texture and flavor—in everything from salad dressing to cookies and cakes.

Fats serve many purposes. Current science tells us we need good fats for energy, that some vitamins and minerals actually need fat for the body to absorb and process them; that fatty acids can fight depression, improve eye care, and brain health.  Fats can improve blood cholesterol levels, protect our organs, and decrease the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

It gets confusing when sorting out the good from the bad fats. Rule of thumb on daily intake: 20-35% of total calories. Other than manufactured trans fats, it’s all good in moderation. Moving from best to worst: monounsaturated fat (15-20% of daily calories), polyunsaturated fat (5-10%), saturated fat (less than 10%), trans fats (none).

Take tahini for instance.  It’s a nut butter made from sesame seeds that’s high in omega-6 fatty acid, a polyunsaturated fat.  (1 tablespoon has 89 calories, 3 grams protein, 3 grams carbs, 8 grams fat, 2 grams fiber.)

It is all relative.

Tahini is not an oil, but it is oil-rich and a fortress of nutritional value. It is loaded with fiber, protein, vitamins B and E, and minerals including copper, phosphorous, selenium, iron, zinc, calcium. It’s good for the blood, bones, and the body, plus it aids in fighting heart disease and cancer.  Call it pro-active.

Here’s a quirky example of a bar that turns a simple sweet into an nutritional powerhouse.

Tahini Cocoa-Bean Blondies

It’s built with bland white beans, rich in minerals including potassium, and fiber for structure. Tahini is included for nutty richness, fiber, and moisture.  Chocolate looks like a candidate for flavor, but we opt for a small amount of cocoa powder.  It’s all we need, we can utilize tahini’s flavorful oil base to enrich the cocoa and bring it fully alive.

The result: a moist, mysterious fiber-rich bar with all the charm of a light butterscotch-amped blondie laced with cocoa nuttiness for sex appeal. What’s not to love?

Tahini Cocoa-Bean Blondies

Ingredients
⅓ cup AP flour
⅓ cup cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
15 oz can white beans, rinse & drain, @ 1 cup mashed
1 Tbsp butter
⅓ cup each brown and granulated sugar
½ cup tahini
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp demerara sugar (optional)

Instructions

  1. Line 8×8” pan with foil and spray well.
  2. Combine flour, cocoa power, baking powder and salt, set aside
  3. In 1 cup microwaveable measure, melt butter, stir in sugar, heat 30-60 seconds to melt. Transfer to mixing bowl and cool briefly.
  4. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  5. Meanwhile, mash beans well and set aside.
  6. Stir the tahini into the cooled butter/sugar mixture. Whisk in the eggs, then vanilla. Stir in the beans. Mix in the dry ingredients to lightly combine.
  7. Evenly spread batter into baking pan and sprinkle top with demerara sugar.
  8. Bake 20-30 minutes until set in center. Cool on rack 10 minutes, then remove foil and bars to rack and cool 10- 15 minute longer. Cut into bars; these should be light and moist but not gooey. Store lightly covered in fridge. Yield 12-16 bars