Apple and Oat Muffins

Add a little apple to your morning muffin:

Healthy Apple Oat Muffines

I don’t bake muffins often, but when I do, I try to make them healthy. This way they are on hand for an easy breakfast or a snack. My issue with muffins, is that they often resemble mini-cakes, packed with sugar and fat. To some extent, this can’t be avoided if you wish to eat a muffin that doesn’t resemble a hockey puck or bird food. But I adjust, reducing some of the sugar and fat and adding healthy grains or cereals, fruit and nuts to the batter. I also add grated fruit, which is a key ingredient for natural sweetness and moisture.

Grated apple is the star of this muffin recipe, which also includes raisins, chopped nuts, and oats for extra fiber. As muffins go, they are reasonably healthy, while sufficiently naughty to indulge a craving for something moist and sweet. You can tweak this recipe if you like – just make sure to follow the ratios. In place of apple, try adding grated carrot, zucchini, or pear; and bran can be substituted for the oats. There’s no need to peel the fruit. The nutrients in the skin add a little extra healthy boost – I’ll take my small victories where I can.

Apple Oat Muffins

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Makes 12 (2 1/2-inch) muffins

1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins
1 medium sweet and crisp apple, such as Honey Crisp, grated, about 1 cup
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Oil a 12-muffin tin (or line with paper liners).
2. Mix the sugar and oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the molasses and vanilla, and then mix in the buttermilk.
3. Whisk the flour, oats, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl. Add to the sugar mixture and mix on low speed until just combined, without over-mixing. Stir in the raisins, apple and walnuts, if using.
4. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin or paper liners, filling them. Transfer to the oven and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in the pan, and then remove and cool the muffins completely on a rack. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Roasted Carrot and Pearl Couscous Salad

Here’s a party-worthy salad layered with flavor, that you can call a main course or a sumptuous side:

Carrot Couscous Salad Platter

This salad does not hold back on herbs and spice. Handfuls of garden herbs and a shake of the contents of your spice drawer build layers of flavor and freshness into this bright and festive couscous platter. Israeli couscous (also known as pearl couscous) is made of wheat flour and semolina which is rolled into tiny “pearl” balls and then toasted. The dried couscous, once purchased, is simmered in a liquid to soften. I like to toast the dried couscous in the pan first, before adding the liquid to simmer, which essentially means the couscous is doubly toasted. This extra step adds satisfying nutty flavor and golden color to the sturdy little semolina balls.

Carrot Couscous Salad with Pine Nuts

Purchase rainbow carrots for this salad, if possible, since they add a brilliant array of color to the platter. Choose thin carrots of uniform size to ensure similar cooking time. If necessary cut thicker carrots in half lengthwise.

Roasted Carrot and Israeli Couscous Salad with Pine Nuts and Arugula

Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups Israeli (pearl) couscous
2 1/4 cups water
Salt
1 small red chile pepper, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 ½ pounds thin rainbow carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise if thick
Freshly ground black pepper

Gremolata:
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped dill
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Pinch each of salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 to 4 cups baby arugula
2 to 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1/2 lemon, plus wedges for serving

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet. Add the couscous and toast over medium heat until golden, 1 to 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover the skillet and simmer over medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer the couscous to a bowl and stir in the chile pepper, garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, cumin, coriander, and cayenne. Let stand at room temperature while you roast the carrots.
2. Heat the oven to 425°F.
3. Place the carrots in a large bowl, drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and lightly season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spread the carrots on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven until lightly charred and crisp tender, about 20 minutes. Remove and cool slightly or to room temperature.
4. Make the gremolata: Mix the parsley, cilantro, dill, garlic, lemon zest, salt, and black pepper in a small bowl.
5. Scatter the arugula on a serving platter or in a wide shallow serving bowl. Spoon the couscous over and around the arugula and arrange the carrots on top. Squeeze the half lemon over the salad and sprinkle evenly with the gremolata. Garnish the platter with the lemon wedges and serve.

Paella on the Grill – Recipe and Tips

Fire up the Paella Pan (and the Grill) for Father’s Day

Father's Day Paella - on the Grill

Father’s Day is around the corner, so get ready to fire up the grill and break out the big guns – or in this case, the big paella pan. Paella is always fun to make and of course, to eat. It’s a perfect way to feed a crowd and your family, and the best way to make it is over a fire. When it’s ready to serve, simply plunk it down in the center of the table and let everyone dig in. Family-style eating doesn’t get better than this, which is a perfect way to celebrate Dad.

Myriad versions of paella exist, depending on region and taste, but there are specific ingredients to use and techniques to follow for authentic results.

The pan:
Think wide, low, and flat. The key is to spread the rice in a thin layer, so that as many grains as possible are in contact with the bottom of the pan. This will ensure not only contact with the aromatics (soffrito) but the desired crispy bottom (socarrat) of the cooked paella. Paella pans are easy to find and affordable. I purchased my 15-inch pan for less than $30. Alternatively, a very large cast iron skillet will do the trick.

Rice:
Short grain rice will absorb the liquid, remain relatively firm during cooking, and crisp – long grain rice will not. Use short grain rice, preferably Spanish Bomba or Valencia. Risotto (Arborio) rice may be substituted, if necessary. Note: Depending on the rice, cooking times may vary slightly.

Soffrito:
An important blend of sautéed aromatics, typically onion, garlic, and grated ripe tomato, is used as a base to flavor the rice. It’s important to sauté the ingredients until the moisture from the tomato and the wine evaporate and the soffrito thickens, and let it deepen in color to build flavor.

Stock:
If possible, use a homemade stock, chicken or shrimp stock are ideal, although a good quality store-bought chicken stock is a fine substitution. A key step is to add a generous pinch of saffron to the stock to infuse a subtle perfume and a burnished golden-red color.

Socarrat:
This is the holy grail of paella, the coveted crispy bottom that forms in the pan while the paella is cooking. To achieve this, a few techniques are imperative. Do not overload the pan, or the rice will not be able to dry out and will not crisp. And, most importantly, do not stir the paella once the rice is spread in the pan and topped with the proteins. You will know if the rice is crisping when the paella begins to make crackling sounds. This is the sure-fire way to know when the paella is ready, so be sure to wait for the “snap-crackle-pop” before you remove the pan from the grill!

Grill it!
It’s important for the pan to cook over an even heat source. A grill can accommodate the size of a large paella pan, unlike many stovetops. Plus, the fire will add a smoky backdrop to the dish. And finally, Father’s Day really wouldn’t be replete without turning on the grill, right?


Grilled Paella

Active Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour, plus standing time
Serves: 6

4 plum (Roma) tomatoes, halved lengthwise
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 pound boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
Smoked sweet Spanish paprika
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound large (16/18) shrimp, shelled and deveined, tails intact
Extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces Spanish chorizo, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch slices

1 medium yellow onion, chopped, about 1 cup
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine

2 cups paella rice (Bomba or Valencia), rinsed

12 to 16 mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
Lemon wedges for serving

1. Grate the tomatoes, cut-side down, on a box grater. Discard the skins and transfer the pulp and juices to a small bowl.

2. Bring the stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the saffron and keep warm over low heat.

3. Place the chicken in a bowl and toss with 1 teaspoon paprika, and then lightly season with salt and black pepper. Put the shrimp in a separate bowl and toss with 1/2 teaspoon paprika, and then lightly season with salt and black pepper.

4. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat. Preheat a 15-inch paella pan or large cast iron skillet for about 10 minutes.

5. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the paella pan. Add the chorizo and cook until the chorizo is golden brown on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes, turning as needed. With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a bowl. There should be rendered fat from the chorizo remaining in the pan. If not, add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Arrange the chicken in one layer in the paella pan and cook until colored on both sides, 4 to 6 minutes, turning as needed. With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to the bowl with the chorizo. (The chicken will not be cooked all the way through at this point.)

6. If the pan is dry, add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Add the onion and sauté until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and 1 tablespoon paprika and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the grated tomatoes with juices and the wine, stir to combine, and simmer, with the lid closed, until the liquid evaporates and the mixture thickens and darkens slightly, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the rice and 1 teaspoon salt and stir to coat. Pour in the broth, stir to blend, and smooth the rice in an even layer in the pan. (Do not stir the rice after this point!) Arrange the chicken and chorizo over the rice and drizzle any accumulated juices from the bowls over the rice.

7. Cook the paella, with the lid closed, until about 3/4 of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is exposed, turning the pan occasionally to ensure even cooking, about 15 minutes.

8. Nestle the shrimp and mussels (hinge-side down) into the rice and continue to cook, with the lid closed, until the shrimp are cooked through, the mussels have opened, and the rice is making a crackling sound, 10 to 12 more minutes, turning the pan occasionally to ensure even cooking.

9. Remove the paella pan from the grill and discard any unopened mussels. Let stand for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the parsley over the paella and garnish with lemon wedges. Serve immediately.

Easy Rice Pilaf

 Homemade Rice Pilaf – Quick, Easy, and Delicious:

Homemade Rice Pilaf - easy and delicious

When I was young, one of my favorite side dishes was rice pilaf. It came in a slim box with a portion of rice and a sachet of spices, dehydrated chicken stock, and goodness knows what else – all set to prepare with water on the stovetop. The results were salty, addictive, and fragrant. My brothers and I would fight over who got to finish the bowl on the dinner table. One box was never enough.

These days, I make pilaf from scratch – and you probably do, too, without realizing it. The principle behind pilaf is that rice, or another grain such as bulgur or farro, is sautéed to lightly toast the grains, and then steamed in a flavorful broth, along with spices and a few aromatics such as onion and garlic. When ready to serve, the rice is fluffed to separate the grains and prevent stickiness, and handfuls of fresh herbs, chopped almonds, or chilies are added for extra flavor, texture, and color. You can choose to keep the rice simple or add the garnishes selectively to your taste. I tend to pile them on, because they add sensational flavor and freshness, while nudging an unassuming side into a stand-alone dish. So, before you reach for a box of pilaf in the supermarket with a long list of multi-syllabic ingredients, remember that it’s really quite easy – and much cheaper – to make your own from scratch.

Homemade Rice Pilaf

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Serves 6 as a side dish

2 3/4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock for vegetarian option)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
Generous pinch of saffron threads
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup orzo
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/4 cup basmati rice

Optional garnishes:
1 scallion, white and green part thinly sliced
1 small red jalapeño, finely chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped almonds
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

1. Combine the stock, 2 tablespoons butter, the salt, paprika, and saffron in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer and keep warm.
2. Heat the oil and melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a deep skillet (with a lid) over medium heat. Add the orzo and sauté until light golden, about 2 minutes. Add the onion and sauté for about 1 minute, and then add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rice and continue to cook, stirring constantly to coat and lightly toast the rice, for about 2 minutes.
3. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Cook, undisturbed, until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes
4. Serve with the garnishes sprinkled over the top.

Summer Pizza with Squash Blossoms and Sweet Peppers

Decorate your summer pizza with flowers – squash flowers, that is:

Grilled Pizza with Squash Blossoms

Squash blossoms might make this pizza sound pretty fancy, but it really isn’t. Delicate squash blossoms are everywhere at the farmers market at this time of year. I’ve been eyeing them, and contemplating ways to easily incorporate the floppy, sunny flowers into a meal. I’ve eaten blossoms fried and stuffed, but to be honest, I find them time consuming to prepare and often oily and rich. So I decided to simply layer them, with no other preparation, on a white pizza – or a pizza with no red sauce – and see what happened. The results were resoundingly good and a unanimous hit at the dinner table. The flowers shriveled and crisped while cooking, which concentrated their subtle and nutty flavor, which was nicely rounded out by sweet Jimmy Nardello peppers, onions, and a kick of heat from crushed red chili flakes. These fragile squash blossoms may be delicate, but it’s clear that they are no shrinking wall-flower.

For this recipe, you can make your own dough or purchase a good quality fresh dough from your supermarket, which is a simple shortcut for an easy meal. This recipe stretches one pound of fresh dough into a large rectangle, but you can also shape it into 2 smaller pizzas.

Squash Blossom Pizza with Sweet Peppers, Onions and Pecorino

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Makes one (10 x 15-inch) pizza

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt
1 pound homemade or prepared fresh pizza dough
1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced, about 1/2 cup
1/2 cup thinly sliced sweet red peppers, such as Jimmy Nardello peppers
8 squash blossoms, quartered lengthwise
1 (8 ounce) fresh mozzarella ball, patted dry and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the grill for indirect cooking over high heat (about 500°F for a gas grill) and preheat a pizza stone for at least 15 minutes. (Or preheat the oven to 500°F. Place a pizza stone on the lowest oven rack and preheat for at least 15 minutes).
2. Whisk the oil, garlic, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl.
3. Stretch the dough out as thinly as possible and lay on large pizza peel (or rimless baking sheet lined with parchment). Lightly brush with the oil. Sprinkle half of the Pecorino over the pizza. Top with the onions and peppers. Arrange the squash blossoms over the vegetables, and then place the mozzarella around the squash. Sprinkle the oregano, chili flakes and pepper over the pizza and lightly season with salt. Top with the remaining Pecorino.
4. Slide the pizza onto the pizza stone. Close the grill lid and grill until the pizza is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove and brush the crust with some of the oil. Drizzle any remaining oil over the pizza. Cut into serving pieces and serve immediately.

Alaska Memories and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Pearl Couscous

Alaska Memories and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Pearl Couscous

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It would have been simpler to meditate. Instead, I traveled to Alaska. More specifically, I traveled 3,000 miles on three planes of diminishing size, and one water taxi to Tutka Bay Lodge. Tutka Bay sits at the mouth of a rugged seven-mile fjord stretching into the glacier capped Kenai mountains, 125 air miles south of Anchorage. It’s not accessible by road, only by sea plane or a water taxi which multitasks as a mail and food delivery service, garbage collection, and all-purpose passenger shuttle to and from Homer, the closest town accessible by road. If you want to get away from it all, this is for you. It’s well worth the trip.

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Before you pack your compass, first aid kit, and water purification tablets, let’s be perfectly clear. This is not roughing it. This is not even glamping. This is wilderness isolation in extreme comfort. You will find yourself in a lodge, tucked into plush beds in cozy private cabins, waited upon 24/7 by an attentive staff, and dining in a first class restaurant. Sure, you are in the remote wilderness on a spit of land flanked by a rugged fjord and craggy mountains dotted with old growth Sitka spruce. Yes, that’s an ancient volcano looming in the distance, waiting ever so patiently for another opportunity to express itself. Indeed, you will be sharing your outdoor space with resident bald eagles, floating otters, and possibly an orca or two. You will also be pampered, fed and catered to in a lodge staffed with servers doubling as mountain guides, valets doubling as naturalists, and professional chefs doubling as culinary instructors in a teaching kitchen converted from a re-purposed two-story crabbing boat.

Widgeon Lynda Balslev

Tutka Cooking Class Lynda Balslev

Halibut

The point is that there is something for everyone at Tutka, with the most notable activity being nothing. Because, while your every whim will be addressed and serviced, your tummy fed, your fitness itch scratched, your need for nature connected, you will find yourself in the most spectacular vignette of nowhere, amidst staggering scenery and blissful solitude. Activities are plentiful, and peace is everywhere, which yields the treasure of perspective and balance. So, whether you crave a weekend or a week to find your center, this is the the place to be. Just leave yourself a day to get there.

alaska makos taxi

Tutka kayaks Lynda Balslev
Needless to say, the seafood is glorious in this part of the world. The following recipe is inspired by a meal I enjoyed at Tutka Bay Lodge.

Shrimp Kale and Pearl Cousous
Serves 4 to 6Alaska Shrimp Tutka

Ingredients:
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups pearl (Israeli) cousous
2 cups plus 1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest plus extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound large (18/20) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 bunch purple or curly green kale, tough ribs removed, torn into 2-inch pieces
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves, chopped fresh oregano leaves and chives

Method:
1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the couscous, stir to coat, and cook until the couscous is toasted light golden, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Carefully add the 2 cups stock (it will sizzle). Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet and simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest, the paprika, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Keep warm.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a clean skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp in one layer to the skillet. Cook until bright pink and lightly seared on both sides and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes, turning once. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate.

3. In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil and the red chili flakes over medium heat. Add the kale and garlic and sauté until the kale leaves begin to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the 1/4 cup stock and continue to sauté until the liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and season with salt.

4. To serve, divide the couscous between serving plates or shallow bowls. Top with the kale. Arrange the shrimp over the kale. Garnish with the fresh herbs and additional lemon zest.

Homer View Lynda Balslev

 

Quinoa Bowl with Tomato, Corn, and Avocado

Summer Salad Tomato Corn Avocado

When it’s too hot to cook, try serving a big summery salad for your main meal. Not just a simple garden salad, but a satisfying bowl layered with crisp veggies, grains or legumes, and fresh herbs. The combination is fresh, filling, and light – guaranteed to hit the spot on a warm day. This salad bowl includes the classic summer veggie trio of sweet corn, tomato, and avocado – tumbled together with protein-rich quinoa and mounded over a bed of kale. No need to cook the corn – summer corn is juicy and naturally sweet, and it’s crispness adds great texture to the quinoa. As always, you can tweak the ingredients to your taste. Feel free to substitute another grain for the quinoa, such as wild rice or bulgur. As for the kale, a quick rub of the hardy leaves with oil and salt helps to soften them and coax out their flavor. Alternatively, choose another more tender green, such as arugula or spinach, and skip the rubbing step.

Tomato, Corn, and Quinoa Bowl with Kale and Avocado

Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Serves 4

Dressing:
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 

Salad:
1 small bunch Tuscan/Lacinato kale, ribs removed, torn into bite-size pieces
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
3 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
2 ears of corn, uncooked, husked, kernels cut from the cobs
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup tricolor or red quinoa, cooked and cooled
1 small handful Italian parsley leaves, chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 small handful cilantro leaves, chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 ripe but firm avocado, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1. Whisk the lime juice, vinegar, garlic, mustard, honey, salt, black pepper, and Tabasco in a small bowl. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify.
2. Place the kale in a large bowl. Drizzle 1 to 2 teaspoons oil over the leaves and season with a generous pinch of salt. Rub the leaves until thoroughly coated (this will help to soften them).
3. Combine the scallions, corn, peppers, tomatoes, quinoa, parsley, and cilantro in a separate bowl. Pour about 1/4 cup of the dressing over the salad and gently stir to combine. Mound the salad over the kale. (Or divide between individual serving bowls.) Top with the avocado and drizzle with additional dressing to taste.