Monday, March 30, 2009

Muffin Magic

although it's not spring here it is time for spring celebrations. Brunch is my favorite was to entertain because much of the food preparation is done ahead. Below is a link to Sally's Place where I just had an article and several recipes published.

Here's the link.
My Bacon Cheddar Muffins are perfect for spring brunches.

This week I'm traveling to Denver for the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) and I know I'll have many great experiences to write about next week. I was recently invited to join Les Dames d'Escoffier, an international organization of women culinary professionals. A reception Friday evening will be my first event.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Springtime Favorites for Two

The following recipe is one of my favorites because it captures the essence of springtime. I discovered halibut on a trip to Seattle several years ago and now I wait for it in the spring. The halibut season starts in March, so watch for specials at the supermarket. Because you can purchase it by the pound, a piece large enough for two isn't too expensive.You can use aluminum foil if you don't have parchment.

Halibut and Asparagus in Parchment

In the spring when fresh asparagus first begins to appear in the supermarket, it is also the beginning of the season for fresh halibut. Fresh asparagus is one of the easiest vegetables to prepare--just snap off the bottoms of the stalks and rinse well. Buy a thick piece of halibut so it isn’t overcooked when it’s baked.

Makes 2 servings

8 stalks asparagus
1 (8 ounce) halibut filet, about 1 inch thick
1 teaspoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon white wine or water
2 lemon wedges

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F, Snap off the bottoms of the asparagus stalks and place them in a microwave safe dish. Add 2 tablespoons water and microwave on high 1 ½ to 2 minutes. By precooking the asparagus it will be cooked tender crisp when the fish is cooked.

Place a 15-inch square of parchment paper on a baking sheet and fold in half. Place the halibut along the fold and cover with the asparagus. Sprinkle with the shallot, lemon rind, and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Dot with the butter and add the wine. Seal the parchment by folding the edges together several times. It’s important that you get the packet sealed so that the fish can cook in the steam inside.

Bake 18 minutes or until the paper is puffed and browned. Remove the packet from the oven and open carefully, allowing the steam to escape. Check the center of the halibut to be sure it’s cooked through. If it isn’t place the packet back in the oven for 2 to 3 minutes longer. Divide in half and garnish with lemon wedges.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Food Adventures in Chicago

We spent the weekend in Chicago with my daughter and seemed to do nothing but eat. We were staying in the 2500 block of North Clark and were amazed at the number of restaurants in the same block. We started with Thursday dinner at Tarascas (Mexican) and a pitcher of Margaritas. For lunch downtown we ate at The Mambo Grill- they're famous for their mojitos and Caribbean style food. I had Cuban Black Bean Soup and Chipotle Pork Tenderloin with a Pineapple Salsa. For dinner we had carryout from a local Italian restaurant.

My favorite of the entire weekend was Molly's Cupcakes. You can see the variety and colorful appearance from the photo. My Chocolate Cupcake was delicate and moist with a deep rich chocolate flavor, topped off with Buttercream Frosting. Other popular choices were Turtle Cupcakes and Peanut Butter Cupcakes (with a peanut butter filling.

Saturday was an adventure. We visited several wholesalers including JP Graziano (901 W Randolph)for bulk Italian spices, fontinella cheese and sopprasotta. He directed us to BARI (1120 W Grand)where we purchased the "best Italian sausage" in the city and an Italian sub for lunch. We also discovered Terry's Toffee (1117 W Grand) across the street. Their homemade toffee and has been featured on Oprah and served to VIP's at the Academy Awards.

Dinner at Brasserie Jo in the near north was good typical French provincial food. I actually had Floating Island for dessert.

Earlier that afternoon we explored the 2500 block of north Clark further and were fascinated by the many pastries and cakes on display at the Austrian Bakery. For Sunday lunch during our drive home, we purchased empanadas from Lito's Empanadas. We tried Beef with Potato (and olives and raisins, seasoned with cumin), Beef with Rice and Chicken Barbecue(shredded chicken with BBQ sauce and potato). Yummy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spring Brunch for Showcase Minnesota

I appeared on Showcase Minnesota (KARE 11) this morning with ideas for spring brunches. My Mediterranean Strata from Baking Basics and Beyond was a big hit. I've included the recipe below. This recipe is a unique twist to everyday Cheese and Sausage Strata. Here is the link:

Pat Sinclair’s Mediterranean Strata

Brunch is one of my favorite times to entertain friends and family, and this hearty brunch casserole brimming with sunny flavors from the south of France is always a hit. Because it can be refrigerated overnight, it can be in the oven as the guests arrive.


6 English muffins, split and cubed
12 ounces drained, cooked Italian sausage
1 (14-ounce) can extra-small artichokes, drained and quartered
1/2 cup chopped roasted red pepper
1/4 cup Kalamata olives or ripe olives, pitted and sliced
1 1/2 cups shredded Provolone cheese
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
3 cups whole milk
8 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons basil pesto
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

Lightly spray 13 x 9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Arrange muffin cubes in bottom of baking dish. Crumble sausage over muffins and top with artichokes, red pepper, olives, Provolone cheese, and feta cheese.
Beat milk, eggs, pesto, and salt until blended in large bowl and pour over other ingredients. Using a spoon, press ingredients down into the liquid. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Heat oven to 350°F with oven rack in middle. Uncover the casserole.
Bake 35 to 50 minutes or until set and a knife inserted near center comes out clean although it will be wet.
Letting the dish sit for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting makes it easier to serve. Cover and refrigerate any remaining.

BAKER’S NOTE: You can let the dish stand at room temperature about 1/2 hour until the milk is absorbed if you don’t want to make it the day before serving.
SECRETS TO SUCCESS: I like the texture of English muffins, but cubed French bread or other chewy bread creates variety.
Unless you make your own pesto with fresh basil from the garden, purchase it already prepared. You can also purchase roasted red peppers in a jar.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Irish Soda Bread for St. Patrick's Day

It was easy to decide what recipes to post today. This recipe is from Baking Basics and Beyond (2006)and very easy to make. When I met Catherine Fulvio at the Cordon d'Or-Gold ribbon Awards in 2007, she said in Ireland this recipes would be called Spotted Dog because of the raisins. But I think this is what Americans expect Irish Soda Bread to be.

Irish Soda Bread

Traditional Irish soda bread usually contains currants or raisins, and which is authentic is a hot topic of debate among purists. I prefer golden raisins because their sweetness contrasts with the tangy buttermilk and adds an extra layer of flavor to the bread. Every year I bake this bread in March to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.


3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups lowfat buttermilk
1 cup golden raisins

Heat oven to 375°F with oven rack in middle. Lightly grease a large cookie sheet.
Combine flour, whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.
Cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some pea-sized pieces.
Add buttermilk and stir until clumps form, making a sticky dough with ragged edges. Stir in raisins.
Place dough on a well-floured work surface. Dust your hands with flour and knead gently 8 to 10 times or toss dough a few times like a pizza until it just holds together and is no longer sticky. Add a little flour as needed.
Gather dough together and cut roughly in half. Pat each half into a round loaf about 7 inches across. Place both loaves on the cookie sheet.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until deep golden brown with pebbly tops, no longer moist on the surface, but moist inside. Cool loaves on wire cooling racks. Allow loaves to cool at least 10 minutes before slicing.

BAKER’S NOTES: You can substitute two 9-inch round cake pans for the cookie sheet to help the loaves keep their round shape without changing baking time.
Because this is a sticky dough, you may need to add 1 to 2 tablespoons more flour than in other recipes.
SECRETS TO SUCCESS: You don’t need to mix very much when adding the raisins, as the kneading will distribute them.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Dinner for Two in Lent

Because it's Lent, this time of year there are lots of recipes in the magazines and newspapers featuring fish. Keeping economy in mind, here is one of my favorite fish recipes. Tuna is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and olive oil (a healthy oil) adds Vitamin E. Since I usually have a fresh lemon in my refrigerator, for me this is a 'pantry dinner'. It is easy and fast for a last minute meal. A salad and garlic bread complete dinner.

Tuscan Tuna Pasta

Capers are the pickled berries of a Mediterranean bush. Because they are packed in vinegar they keep a long time in the refrigerator when they are covered in the pickling liquid. To remove some excess salt, rinse them before you add them to the sauce. Together with the lemon rind they add a fresh spring flavor to this easy and economical pasta dish.

Serves 2

4 ounces rotini or penne pasta
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can (15 ounces) diced red tomatoes
1/4 cup white wine
1 package (6.4 ounces) tuna packed in water
2 tablespoons capers, drained
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain and keep warm

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a 9-inch skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook until the onion is tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and wine and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 4- 6 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Stir in the tuna, capers, lemon rind, salt, pepper and pasta. Continue cooking until heated through. Serve warm with grated Parmesan cheese.

Cook’s Notes: I have recently started using whole grain pasta because of the nutritional benefits. Whole wheat pasta is more nutritious but I don’t like the flavor or texture. Either choice has more fiber than traditional pasta.

Copyright Pat Sinclair, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Do you eat Five a day?

Here's some more ideas for healthier eating and ways to add more fruit and vegetables to your diet during National Nutrition Month. Don't just do it this month. Simple changes can have long lasting effects.

Start with Breakfast- instead of orange juice, eat on orange. When you have an omelet add a vegetable such as spinach or mushrooms. Make toast from whole grain bread. Choose cereal that is high in fiber.

Add more vegetables to dinner. Don't just serve one veggie, serve two. Always serve a salad. i admit I use a lot of the bagged salad greens but I don't like to wash lettuce.

Make different choices in restaurants. Ask to substitute a vegetable for French fries or order a baked potato instead. Ask for salad dressing on the side.

Make good snack choices. This is the perfect place to nibble on fruit. If you crave something crunchy and salty, look for low fat snacks like pretzels or crackers that are high in fiber.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

March is National Nutrition Month

There is so much information available on "how to live a healthy life" it is difficult to keep it all in your mind, especially when you are planning meals.

Here are some simple ideas that can lead to big changes:

Make your calories count by eating foods high in nutrients such as lean protein, whole grains and fruits and vegetables.

Certain food groups such as dark green leafy vegetables, brightly colored fruits and vegetables (sweet potatoes, berries)and fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acids provide extra value so include them often.

Add more whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat couscous and multi-grain pasta as they are high in fiber and packed with nutrients.

Limit fats, especially the saturated fats in animal products (meats, eggs, dairy products). This also helps with weight control.

Because it takes a lot of work to obtain all the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals in your diet, I recommend a daily multivitamin. In these dreary months in Minnesota (and other northern climes) there is not enough sun for your body to produce adequate Vitamin D.

Exercise daily or at least several times a week.

Healthy eating and exercise are directly related to physical fitness and improved health. Try making changes, just a few at a time, in National Nutrition Month!