May 30, 2011

Lemon Ginger Muffins

Muffins are a very rewarding thing to make. They don't take very long to mix up or to bake, they don't generally have a long list of ingredients, and they deliver a satisfying portable munchable that works for breakfast, lunches, snacks, etc. Best of all, they don't require a sophisticated technique in order to turn out great.

These Lemon Ginger Muffins were developed because I had some milk to use up, and a lemon that was starting to soften. At the very last minute, I remembered that I had some extra Apple Crisp topping in the fridge, so I decided to sprinkle it over the unbaked muffins to make a streusel-type finish.

Lemon Ginger Muffins

Makes 12 regular-sized muffins

1 lemon, zest and juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup 2% milk (minus 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup pure canola oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons light sour cream

Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.

Grease the bottoms only of a 12-cup regular sized muffin tin (or spritz with canola spray).

Mix the milk, sour cream, and lemon juice, and let stand.

Peel the yellow zest from the lemon using a vegetable peeler (long strips). Put the lemon zest pieces into a food processor with the sugar, and pulse until the zest is finely chopped into the sugar. Add the egg, oil, vanilla, and milk, processing after each addition until smooth.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and ginger. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour the contents of the food processor in all at once. Stir rapidly with a fork until any dry bits are gone. Don't worry about small lumps, though, the batter doesn't need to be smooth. Divide the batter between muffin cups. If you like sprinkle a teaspoon of streusel topping over each muffin before baking.

Bake in preheated oven for about 15-18 minutes. Let stand in pan for five minutes, then run a knife blade around the edges to loosen each muffin so that you can remove them to wire racks for cooling.

Store cooled muffins in a sealable container in the fridge to keep them fresh. You can also wrap them individually in plastic and freeze. Reheating a muffin for 10 seconds in the microwave works beautifully, and makes them taste oven-fresh, or as we say "freshly killed".

This was a definite winner. I'll be making them again.

May 21, 2011

Hot Sauce! (Hot Orange Pork Skillet Dinner)

Oh, hot sauce. At any given time, my fridge holds anywhere from six to thirty hot sauces. It's really my go-to condiment (closely followed by mustard), and it can be used in oh-so-many different applications, from deep in the cooking process to the finishing flare, to the rescue of deeply questionable take-out.

The four lovely hot sauces that you see above were sent to me recently by the good folks at Cholula, who either stumbled upon my blog post in '06 for our Hot Sauce Tasting Party, which featured Original Cholula as the third sauce in the line-up, or they saw my back-in-the-day essay extolling the virtues of hot sauce. Either way, a quick glance at this blog undoubtedly suggests that I'd be interested in trying the new flavours, and rightly so! I was pleased to accept the offer, since I already like and buy the original Cholula hot sauce.

One of the reasons that I stock Cholula Original in my fridge is that it is a very versatile sauce, adding a little zip (it's not too hot) and has a pleasantly peppery, yet neutrally "Mexican" taste, without significantly changing the flavour profile of whatever you are adding it to. It's very good for a quick quesadilla, or to jazz up some chicken wings (or legs...), or even just on top of cheese-and-crackers, and it sometimes adds just the right note to a simmering pot of chili that wants a little something. It's perfect for making buffalo-wing pizza. But, I already knew all that. That's why I buy it. The other flavours were launched throughout North America last year.

First up: Cholula Chili Lime - a no-brainer for someone like me, who loves citrus almost as much as hot sauce.

Straight up, Cholula Chili Lime tastes just as you would expect it to. The same basic flavour profile as Cholula original (the same pepper blend, in fact, of pequin and arbol chiles, plus guajillo and paprika), punched up with lime flavour which leaves more citrus-y aftertaste. The lime flavour comes from "natural flavor", I assume, as there is no mention of lime in the ingredients. The bad news (and there is some) - the somewhat odd choice to put sugar and dried tomato into the sauce, in combination with the unspecified natural flavor/lime, gives a faintly metallic tone and aftertaste to the sauce. A lot of folks I know aren't affected by that (whatever it is that creates that particular sensitivity), but if you are someone who really dislikes lime-flavoured tortilla chips, this may not be the sauce for you. For me, it just means that I am more likely to use it as an ingredient, where that faint aftertaste can be burned away by other flavours, than as a finishing sauce for something delicate, such as scrambled eggs.

I did crack it open in time to use with a recipe that I am currently developing - Hot Orange Pork Skillet Dinner. The "Hot" in the name is from the two habanero peppers in the recipe, and they nicely blast away any aftertaste. The Cholula Chili Lime was used in the recipe itself, and as a finishing garnish.

Hot Orange Pork Skillet Dinner

Makes 4 servings
Total Prep and Cooking Time: 45 minutes

1 lb pork sirloin steak
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1½ cups diced red onion
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 habañero peppers, 1 minced, 1 whole
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon hot sauce of your choice (I used Cholula Chili Lime)
1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons lime juice
200 grams parboiled rice
2-3 cups diced zucchini*
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
1 cup hot chicken broth
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ cup cold water

Cut the pork steaks into 4 equal pieces, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper on each side. In a 12" skillet, quickly sear the pork, and remove to a separate plate as soon as it is golden. Add the oil to the emptied skillet, and once the oil is hot, add the onions, garlic, cumin, and habañeros, cooking and stirring until the onions are softened and a bit translucent. Add a splash of water (or tequila!) if needed to prevent burning.

Add the zucchini and the bell pepper and stir again. Add the rice to the skillet, and add the hot sauce, orange juice and lime juice. Stir well so the rice grains get thoroughly coated and loosen any stuck-on bits. Add the hot water and chicken base and stir again. Stir the cornstarch into the cup of cold water, until smooth. Add to the skillet and stir carefully (your skillet will be quite full) until thoroughly incorporated and bring to a simmer.

Top with the pork in a single layer over top of the rice, cover tightly, turn the heat to the lowest setting and cook for 25 minutes. Garnish with extra hot sauce, and maybe some cilantro, if you like.

Serve with a sliced avocado, or maybe a jicama salad.

Estimated Nutritional breakdown (via online calculator) per serving: Calories: 445, Fat 10.76g; Saturated Fat 2.98g; Cholesterol 73mg; Sodium 312.57mg; Total Carbohydrate 59.77g; Dietary Fiber 5.14g; Sugars 6.03g; Protein 26.66g; Est. Percent of Calories from: Fat 21%, Carbs 54%, Protein 24% Please note: your mileage may vary.

*If you are wondering what the heck kind of zucchini is in the photo, I actually used a chayote squash, instead. Big mistake. The pieces were too large, the texture too much like apple, and the flavour contribution almost non-existent. Zucchini, my first thought, should have been the way to go. Maybe corn. I'll keep you posted.

Next up: Cholula Chili Garlic. Looking forward to it!

Are you a Cholula fan? Check out their Facebook page for contests and recipes.

May 09, 2011

Caldo Verde

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we're used to equating Spring with rain. We're not so used to it being so ridiculously cold, however. So, maybe soup is just the thing, to warm us up and tide us over until the nicer weather finally arrives.

Caldo Verde is the quintessential Portuguese soup, and considered by some to be the national dish of Portugal. Potatoes, onions and kale provide a hearty base, and often a touch of pork (in the form of sausage, sliced on the side or diced in the soup pot) to add a little extra something on those days when the soup is the whole of the meal. Add a nice chunk of bread (or, in these parts, a grilled cheese sandwich), and you've got a peasant meal that's fit for a king.

There's a lot of versions and variations, of course, from the fundamental to the fancy-pants. In its simplest form, it's often served as a starter course, both in restaurants and in fancier celebratory meals. It freezes well, although the greens lose their emerald brightness. The flavour is still delicious, though, and you can always add a little more greenery to perk it up again if you like.

Caldo Verde

You can make this creamy-textured, dairy-free soup in advance, right up to just before adding the kale. Simply prepare the kale and hold it in a sealed plastic container in the fridge until you are ready to finish and serve the soup.

Serves: 2 - 4
Total Prep and Cooking time: 60 minutes

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium yellow onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 large potatoes*, peeled and sliced
100 - 200 grams linguica or chouriço, sliced into half-coins
4 cups cold water
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper to taste
100 - 150 grams kale, cleaned, stem removed, sliced into chiffonade
Dry sherry, to garnish

In a medium soup-pot, over medium heat, cook sausage slices until the oil is released, but do not allow to dry out). Remove sausage to a plate and reserve. Drain most of the fat from the pot, and the olive oil (obviously, start here for the vegetarian/vegan version). Over medium heat, cook onion and garlic for 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in potatoes and cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes more. Pour in water, add the salt, bring to a boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes, until potatoes are very soft.

Mash the potatoes in the pot or puree the potato mixture with an immersion blender. Stir the reserved sausage and the pepper into the soup and return to medium heat. Cover and simmer 5 minutes on a medium-low heat. Taste and add more salt if needed. Stir in the kale and gently simmer 5 to 10 minutes more, just until kale is tender. Serve with bread, garnishing individual bowls with a sprinkle of sherry.

A very popular way of finishing this soup is to drizzle extra virgin olive oil into the soup in its last few minutes of cooking (or with the kale). I haven't tried that myself, yet, but I think the next time I make this soup I definitely will give it a try.

*Yukon gold potatoes work very well, as they puree to a very smooth and creamy consistency with an immersion blender.