Blueberry Scones

This is just a quick follow-up to yesterday’s recipe for Cranberry Orange Scones, which Lolly wanted me to make.  Today my lovely daughter (who, by the way, at this very moment is on a plane back  to California after a 10 day visit) prevailed on me to make blueberry scones instead — Pete, she has one for you too, so don’t let her fool you.

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Again I’m working without a fixed recipe, just making adjustments to the basic proportions and ingredients from yesterday’s post to get where I want to go.  The basic method is the same, but of course a few ingredients are different and I decided to make this batch just a bit smaller than yesterday’s.  By the way, much of this post will assume you read the one from yesterday, Cranberry-Orange Scones.  Here are your necessaries to make about 6-8 blueberry scones:

  •  1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 5 tsp. sugar
  • 4 tbsp. chilled whole butter, unsalted
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Granulated sugar for sprinkling

We’re going to start by making the homemade buttermilk again with the milk and lemon juice.  You should notice more of a clabbering effect this time due to the higher acid content of the juice compared to yesterday’s OJ.

Sift together the dry ingredients and then work in the cubes of chilled butter with your fingers until you get the same sandy texture as before.  Now fold the blueberries into the mixture, then add the vanilla and 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp. of the clabbered milk.  After the dough is mixed, make sure you have some extra flour on your work surface this time because your dough will be noticeably stickier than yesterday, but that will make for a finished product that is a bit lighter and moister.  You may also need to keep your hands well floured to handle the dough.

Shape it, cut it and add the egg wash just the same as before, and finish with a generous sprinkle of sugar.  Bake in a 425° oven for about 13-15 minutes and you’re done.  Cool them on a rack and then munch them down warm with a big happy grin on your face.

Hopefully this little add-on recipe illustrates some of the flexibility you can achieve from the base method to make all sorts of yummies to fit your personal tastes.  Lolly wants me to make some chocolate chunk scones next weekend.  Should be fun.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

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Cranberry-Orange Scones

Lolly has been on me lately to make her scones for weekend breakfasts.   Scones are basically the Brit version of buttermilk biscuits, so it’s a simple enough matter. Last week I made them with cinnamon and raisins, but she kept pestering me to use cranberries and oranges instead. I developed this from a base recipe for plain, bland, tasteless scones – which they generally are unless you add some flavor components to liven them up a bit – and made the necessary modifications.

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Here are the ingredients to make 8-10 very yummy cranberry-orange scones, depending on how large you cut them:

  •  1 cup + 1 tbsp. whole milk
  • 1 tbsp. fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 6 tbsp. chilled whole butter, unsalted
  • Zest of 1 medium orange
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Granulated sugar for sprinkling

We’re going to start by making an impromptu buttermilk, in part because I don’t like to buy a big jug to use only a small amount, and in part because I want this one to be specially flavored for the dish.  Squeeze one tablespoon of fresh orange juice into the milk and let it sit out at room temperature for about an hour. The acid in the citrus juice will clabber the milk, and voila, you have buttermilk. This works even better with lemon juice, but I wanted the orange flavor here.

When your buttermilk is ready, preheat the oven to 400°, and lightly grease a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes, taking care not to let it get too warm, and add it to the flour mixture.  Work the butter through with your fingers until you end up with a sandy texture to the mix.  You’ll know you’re getting there when you can’t feel any butter chunks between your fingers anymore.

Next, add the orange zest, cranberries and one cup of the clabbered milk, and stir until everything is thoroughly mixed and pulls together into a rough ball shape. Turn your dough out onto a floured work surface and pat it gently into a rectangle shape of about 1/2-inch thickness. Using a sharp knife and a firm downward motion (as opposed to a back-and-forth or sawing motion), cut the dough into 8 to 10 triangular wedges. Arrange them on the baking sheet about an inch apart.

Now whisk together the egg yolk and remaining tablespoon of clabbered milk to make an egg wash, and brush it onto the tops of the wedges. Lastly, give them a little sprinkle of granulated sugar, and they’re ready to go into the oven.  Bake for about 15 minutes until you see some light browning.  Remove them from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. After 5-10 minutes of cooling they should be ready to enjoy with some butter or fruit preserves.

Aside from preparing the buttermilk, this whole exercise should take less than 30 minutes to get to the delicious results. These were a big hit with my whole fam (my kids were visiting too), and we all munched them down with a big happy grin on our faces. Hope you’ll try them and enjoy them just as much. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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Southwestern Style Improv

A couple days ago I had the privilege of teaching my first ever weekend cooking class at a local Williams-Sonoma store, thanks to an invitation from my new BFF, Pam Wilson.  We did several grilling recipes that produced some yummy results, and a good time was had by all.  So tonight on my way home from the office I stopped, as I so often do, at my usual grocery to brainstorm some ideas on what to make for dinner — I love the challenge of making it up on the fly.

As I was wandering around the store in a bit of an uninspired fog, I decided to riff on some of the dishes we had made during the class, which included ground turkey sliders with avocado and roasted poblano, and Mexican-style grilled corn.  I wasn’t feeling turkey, and I had forgotten to buy a can of the rub we used to season the corn, so I had to improvise.  The result was a Southwest grilled chicken with roasted poblanos and my own take on the grilled corn.  I also whipped up an impromptu guacamole for good measure.

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The chicken is quick and easy, and the corn even more so.  Here are your ingredients for the chicken …

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Juice of 1 fresh lime
  • 2-3 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • 2 poblano peppers
  • Fresh cilantro for garnish

… and for the corn.  By the way, both of these will serve 4 people.

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 4 ears of corn, husked
  • Fresh lime juice

For the chicken, whisk together the oil, dry ingredients, lime juice and chopped cilantro to make a marinade.  Pound the chicken to a uniform thickness of about 1/2 inch, add it to the marinade and toss to coat thoroughly, and let it bask in the goodness for at least 30 minutes.  For the corn, stir together the mayo and dry ingredients in a bowl, and brush a generous coating of the mixture onto each ear.

While you’re waiting for the marinade to work its magic, it’s time to roast the poblanos.  If you have a gas stove, you can place them on the grate directly on the flame, turning with tongs as needed until all sides are more or less evenly charred.  If you have an electric range like me, you can accomplish the same thing by roasting the peppers on a baking sheet about 3″ under the broiler.  When they’re done roasting, put the peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic for about 20 minutes to cool, after which you will find that the charred skin peels right off.  Remove the seeds, slice up the peppers and set them aside.

Next you will need to preheat your grill or, in my case, a stovetop cast iron grill pan.  When it’s good and hot, grill the chicken for about 5 minutes per side, and grill the corn for a total of about 10-12 minutes, giving it a quarter turn about every 3 minutes as the char begins to form on each side.  Just be aware that the corn will pop occasionally as it cooks, which can be both a little startling and messy.

Both dishes should get done close to the same time.  Garnish the chicken with some of the roasted poblanos and some cilantro leaves, and give the corn a sprinkle of fresh lime juice.  That’s it, you’re ready to serve.

This entire menu, including the guacamole, came together in under an hour and was, not surprisingly,  delicious.  As you might expect, we munched it down with a big happy grin on our faces.  I hope you will try these and do the same.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

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Strip Steak with Red Wine Sauce and Braised Asparagus

A couple nights ago Lolly wanted steak for dinner — despite her sweet demeanor she can be quite the voracious little carnivore sometimes — so I picked up a couple 12 oz. Angus strip steaks at the local grocery meat counter and decided to pan sear them and make a red wine pan sauce as an accompaniment.  On the side I did some potatoes Anna and braised asparagus.  The latter recipe came off very nicely so I decided to include it here with the steaks.

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Since I was cooking on the stovetop rather than the grill I gave the steaks a few drops of Liquid Smoke and a suitable dry rub, and let them sit out for a couple hours so the temperature could come up a bit.  In a rippin’ hot cast iron skillet with a splash of vegetable oil I gave them a hard sear for a few minutes on each side and finished them in a 400° oven for about 10 minutes, although you may not need quite that long depending on the thickness of your cuts.  While the steaks were resting I made the pan sauce with the following ingredients (which will serve 4):

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 4 tbsp. whole butter (unsalted)
  • 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. prepared Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup beef stock or low-salt broth
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and cracked pepper

Pour off the excess fat from the skillet, then sauté the shallot in the fond over medium heat for about a minute.  Stir in one tablespoon of the butter and the flour, and cook for about a minute to create a roux.  Stir in the mustard, then deglaze with the stock and wine, and whisk to ensure that the roux is fully blended with no lumps. By the way, any dry red wine will do for this recipe — I happened to have just enough leftover of a nice DOCG Chianti on hand so I used that.  Kick up the heat to medium-high and simmer the sauce until it reduces by half and becomes noticeably thicker.  Turn off the heat, swirl in the remaining three tablespoons of butter, along with the parsley and lemon juice.  Adjust your seasonings to taste with the salt and pepper, and you’re ready to rock and roll.  Spoon some onto the plate and over your steaks, and enjoy the results of your efforts.

Meanwhile, you’ll want to have your asparagus working as well — all good cooks need to multitask.  Here are your ingredients for that dish:

  • 1 lb. medium to thick asparagus, trimmed
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 3 tbsp. whole butter (unsalted)
  • Kosher salt and cracked pepper
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

For this you’ll want a large skillet with a lid.  Get the skillet good and hot, then throw in the asparagus spears and let them cook dry for a couple minutes, turning them occasionally, to develop just a little char.  Next add the chicken stock and butter — but be careful because when that liquid hits that dry, hot pan it will immediately begin to boil and put off a big cloud of steam.  Toss in a pinch of salt and pepper, then cover the pan and cook for 5 to 10 minutes until the asparagus is tender, depending on the thickness.  Your liquid should reduce to a glaze.  When you get to that point, sprinkle on the lemon juice and you’re ready to serve.

On a side note, the pan sauce will also work beautifully with chicken or pork — just substitute chicken stock and white wine.  We enjoyed both of these dishes immensely as we munched them down with a big happy grin on our faces.  Very tasty stuff indeed.  Until next we meet:  Eat well, my friends!

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Apricot and Olive Chicken

Today we have a gently roasted, Mediterranean-inspired chicken dish that pulls together a variety of flavor components to produce a lovely balance of sweet, savory and pleasantly acidic all in the same bite.  It’s especially good as a weeknight option if you make it in two steps:  mix the marinade in the morning, then bake in the evening.  That allows more time for the flavors to develop while you’re off at work.

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Here are your ingredients for two servings, but it’s easy to scale these for larger preparations.

  • 1 oz. olive oil
  • 1 oz. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 small bay leaves
  • Cracked black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup sliced green olives
  • 1/2 cup sliced dried apricots
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
  • 1 oz. honey
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine

In a mixing bowl whisk together the olive oil and vinegar to form an emulsion, then stir in all but the last three ingredients and mix thoroughly.  Just like that your marinade is ready.  Add the chicken and toss until it is well coated, then cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.

When it’s time to bake, preheat your oven to 350°.  Remove the bay leaves from your marinade, and place the chicken breasts into a glass baking dish.  Whisk the wine and honey into the marinade, then pour the whole mess over the chicken.  Bake for about 40 minutes, giving the chicken an occasional baste along the way, and you’re done.

This dish is light, healthy and most definitely tasty.  We served this with sides of sautéed zucchini and roasted fingerlings, and enjoyed ourselves immensely.  As always, we munched it right down with a big happy grin on our faces, and I’m sure you will too.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!