The quintessential food of Autumn, the pumpkin, is actually a Mexican native as well as an ancient food staple.
Thinking about Autumn itself, gives us the opportunity to recognize beautiful ‘moments’ in an imperfect world. Fall is an especially ‘magical’ season that is often overlooked with its stunning foliage,mild weather and pumpkin ‘everything’ food fare. It’s when the green around us is replaced by vibrant orange, bright red and golden yellows. We need to discipline ourselves to linger even if its just for a moment on those things so they will be embedded in our memory like a snapshot in a tattered scrapbook. Soon the color disappears as the frosty white takes its place as time slips away.
These symbolic associations are powerful reminders that Mother Nature has an incredible influence on our lives.
In keeping with ‘all things pumpkin’, I am making some pumpkin seed crusted pork chops today. Pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas by the Mexican-Spanish. Pepita de Calabaza, meaning ‘little seed of squash’, were actually discovered by archaeologists in caves in Mexico. Aztec cultures used them as both a ritual offering and food.
We found these pork chops real good with the pumpkin seeds giving them a real earthy, nutty flavor.
In a food processor, combine pumpkin seeds (saving a few whole ones for garnish), panko breadcrumbs & salt. Pulse for a couple of seconds then add melted butter & parsley; pulse a second more.
Arrange 3 bowls on work surface. Put flour in first bowl, whisked eggs in second bowl & pumpkin seed mixture in third bowl. Coat pork chops in flour, shaking off any excess then dip in eggs & last in the pumpkin seed mixture, pressing down on both sides.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a skillet, heat olive oil & brown pork chops lightly on both sides. Place pork chops on a roasting tray & bake for 12-15 minutes. Allow pork to rest 5 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with a few whole pumpkin seeds as a garnish.
When I was growing up, cornbread was one of my favorites. My mother always called it ‘Johnny Cake’. Because it is a little sweeter than most dinner breads, it seemed like we were having dessert along with our soup, chili or whatever our main course was. That’s the nice thing about cornbread — it can be whatever you want it to be from breakfast to dessert.
Tucked away in the freezer, I have a little stash of sour cherries. On this occasion I’ve decided to make a bit of ‘sour cherry chia jam’ and add a dollop to the center of some cornbread scones.
Chia seeds used to be a niche ingredient you could only come up with at health food stores. Then all of a sudden they began appearing at the grocery store in the bulk department. As time has passed, the price is becoming a little better as well as the availability of them.
Chia seeds are harvested from a flowering plant in the mint family, which is native to parts of Mexico and Guatemala. Good quality seeds are naturally black or white in color, not brown. The brown chia seeds are immature ones which haven’t had a chance to mature properly, resulting in a bitter taste. Having a long shelf life, chia seeds will keep for several years when stored in a cool, dry place.
These scones may seem a bit unusual, but are well worth trying. I always enjoy to incorporate a bit of oatmeal for some extra flavor.
In a saucepan, bring cherries to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low & simmer until the cherries soften, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat & stir in honey & chia seeds. Continue stirring for about 5 minutes until mixture thickens. Use in making the cornbread scones. Store any leftovers in a glass jar in the refrigerator. The jam will keep in the fridge for up to a week.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly butter mini loaf pans or whatever choice of pan is preferred. In a food processor, pulse oatmeal for a few seconds then add flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder, baking soda & sugar. Pulse for a few more seconds to evenly mix. Add cold butter & pulse just slightly to cut in; do not over mix. Place in a bowl, add buttermilk & combine ONLY until just mixed.
Divide dough into 10 mini loaf cups. Place a dollop of cherry chia jam in the center of each scone. Bake 15-20 minutes or until they test done with a toothpick. Nice to serve warm.
In Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving Day on the second Monday in October. Although, we seem to be more connected digitally than emotionally, it is a day meant to bring us together with our families and friends sharing in a thanksgiving meal.
Thanksgiving is about being grateful for having a roof over our heads, safety and security as we move about in our daily lives, clothes to keep us warm and for the family and friends we love and cherish.
Gratitude is not something that we talk about or think about but more about humanity. It is not just about what we do, but about who we are.
Most of us here in Canada, have far more things to be grateful for than not. I have fond memories of my wonderful parents, carefree childhood days with my siblings, having enjoyed a successful career, a loving husband, our home, the many wonderful world travels we have been able to enjoy together, but above all we are both in relatively good health. It is so important to just take the time and appreciate the blessings in our lives and make every day count.
Stuffed Turkey Breast with Butternut Squash & Figs
In a large skillet, heat olive oil. Add onions & saute for 2 minutes, until golden. Add butternut squash & 2 Tbsp water to cover; cook on low heat for 10 minutes. Remove lid & add figs, garlic, zucchini, salt , sage & pepper; cook for another 3-4 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Cut a pocket into the sides of the turkey breast tenderloins, do not cut all the way though. Season the inside of the turkey with salt. Stuff breasts with squash mixture. Wrap each breast with bacon slices.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Place turkey in a roasting pan fitted with a wire rack in the bottom. Roast for about 1 hour until meat thermometer reads 170 F. Remove from oven & allow to sit for 20 minutes, covered loosely with foil. Slice & serve.
Love it or hate it, pumpkin spice season is well underway. Every year our obsession with the ‘flavor of fall’ continues to grow with weirder, more unique, pumpkin themed products invading the bakeries, grocery stores, coffee shops, you name it—
It all started with the introduction of the famous Starbucks ‘Pumpkin Spice Latte’ in 2003. Strangely enough, as a kid, I wasn’t crazy about pumpkin at all. But that was then, now I’m one of those who loves everything pumpkin.
Some time ago, Brion had picked up a bottle of Pumpkin Cream Liqueur. It has a wonderful taste on its own but of course it only seems fitting that I would want to bake with it.
I believe one of the secrets of having incredible flavors in both savory and baked goods is with the use of alcohol. You can’t help but notice, over the last number of years how the humble little cupcake has been elevated to a whole new level. Many of these specialty cupcake stores that have popped up are featuring alcohol-inspired, adult-friendly options.
Now, today, I’m back to ‘recipe development’ to see what I can come up with.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper cups.
In a small bowl, combine all topping ingredients & set aside.
In a large bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt & spices. With a pastry blender, cut in butter until it resembles coarse crumbs.
In another bowl, whisk together egg, liqueur, milk & pumpkin puree. Stir into flour mixture JUST until moistened. Place a small scoop of batter in each cup. Divide topping. Using half of topping, divide evenly between cupcakes, creating the 'filling' for the cupcakes. Divide remaining batter between cups; top with remaining topping. Bake 15-20 minutes or until they test done. Remove from pan & cool on a wire rack.
Technically, pepitas and pumpkin seeds are the same thing. But pepitas (which mean “little seeds of squash” in Spanish) don’t have a shell and are found in only select pumpkin varieties.
Until Brion and I had spent time living in Ecuador, I had never paid any attention to plantains. Really more of a vegetable than a fruit, plantains are larger and firmer than their banana relative but not sweet. They must be cooked to become palatable. With their bland, starchy, somewhat potato-like flavor, plantains take well to many cooking methods.
On one of the first meals we ate in a restaurant in Ecuador, I experienced the flavor of ‘patacones’. I had ordered an Ecuadorian ceviche and they were served as a side dish. The taste was like a potato chip but had almost a corn flavor. At the time I didn’t know what they were but the taste was definitely one that stayed with me.
In regions that compete for its origin, this specialty appears under two distinct names depending on the country. They are called patacones in Ecuador, Columbia, Costa Rica and Peru. In Cuba, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Haiti they are called tostones and in West Africa, just simply plantain chips.
The unripe plantain is traditionally prepared with a deep-frying method. The frying is done twice to ensure a crispy chip. You first peel the green plantains and slice them. Then the chips are fried on both sides, removed from the oil and blotted on paper towel. The tostones or patacones are now flattened somewhat and re-fried to provide extra crispiness. Salt may be used to add flavor to the chips. The thicker version (patacones) should be served hot or warm and are nice eaten with guacamole, garlic sauce, grated cheese or as a side dish.
As always, in my quest to bake rather than deep fry, I decided to make some patacones in the oven today. To add some guacamole = yum!!
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Slice plantain into 1-inch thick slices. Place on baking sheet & drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt.
Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven & with the end of a glass, 'squash' each piece down flat. Thinner = crispier. Place back in the oven for another 10 minutes or until crispy to your liking. Serve with guacamole.
In a small bowl, mash avocados. Add minced red onion, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, garlic powder, lemon juice, salt & pepper. Combine thoroughly & serve.
Just for interest, the special or tradional tool used to flatten plantain slices is called a 'tostonera'.
Even if it is a little hard to admit summer has ended and fall is officially here, Oktoberfest seems like a great little celebration to ease into the coming winter months.
Oktoberfest began as a wedding celebration more than 200 years ago in Munich, Germany, when Bavaria’s, Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12,1810. The wedding was celebrated with multiple days of drinking, feasting and horse races. Everybody had so much fun that it was resolved to repeat the celebration, which has been done, every year since.
Beer enthusiasts from all over the world flock to Munich for Oktoberfest, where they feast on everything from steins of beer to plates of sauerkraut, bratwurst, cabbage rolls, sausage and wiener schnitzel. Bavarian music fills the air to promote the fun atmosphere of Oktoberfest.
While the true celebration has to be experienced in Munich, there are actually some great Canadian events that try to duplicate the festivities without having to travel abroad. In different parts of the country this is a fun and social sampling event featuring many local craft and authentic Bavarian breweries as well as authentic food, Oktoberfest music, dancers, games, etc..
To acknowledge this holiday we are having a corned beef, cabbage & potato pizza with a rye bread crust. It seems a good mix of German-Canadian food to me ?!
In a bowl, combine flours & salt. Pour 1/2 cup water into a microwave-safe bowl; heat for 30 seconds. Stir brown sugar into water until dissolved; add yeast & stir. Let mixture stand about 10 minutes, until bubbly. Pour yeast mixture into flour mixture. Pour remaining 1 cup of water into microwave-safe bowl; heat for 30 seconds.
Stir olive oil into warm water; pour over flour mixture. Knead flour mixture, adding more all-purpose flour if dough is sticky, until dough is smooth & holds together. Form dough into a ball & place in a buttered bowl. Cover with a tea towel & let rise in a warm place about an hour or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Toss thinly sliced potato with 2 Tbsp olive oil in a plastic bag. Combine paprika, rosemary, garlic powder, salt & pepper; add to potato slices & toss again. Roast in a single layer on a baking sheet about 10-15 minutes. In a skillet, add sauerkraut with juice & diced onion. Simmer for a few minutes until onion is tender. Drain well; set aside to cool slightly.
Punch down dough. Sprinkle a 14-inch pizza pan with cornmeal & press dough out to fit pan. Top crust with monterey jack cheese, corned beef & onion/sauerkraut mixture. Lay roasted potato slices to cover pizza then sprinkle with mozzarella & Parmesan cheeses. Bake pizza for 12-15 minutes or until golden & crispy. Once pizza is done baking, drizzle with Russian dressing & slice.
Basic bread pudding is one of those desserts that has become lost in the shuffle it seems. Truly a comfort food for those of us that remember it from childhood days. Most of my memories are of the classic recipe— a simple mixture of eggs, milk, sugar, flavorings, raisins and of course, some stale bread.
Bread puddings date back centuries. For the vast majority of human history most people could not afford to waste food, so numerous uses for stale bread were invented.
Today, bread puddings are still being made but they are far more luxurious, often using gourmet breads, vanilla beans, bourbon, expensive cheeses and nuts.
Having a German heritage, German recipes and food history are especially interesting to me. It seems in Germany there are two versions of bread pudding, one with apples and the other with sour cherries.
It just so happens I have some of both which has inspired today’s blog recipe. All things are possible with bread pudding so if you don’t like either, just substitute blueberries, raspberries, canned peaches, pears, dried apricots, cranberries or whatever you like because you know its all going to be good!
Butter an 8 x 8-inch baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk together brandy, milk, eggs, sugar, butter, cinnamon, salt & vanilla. Add bread cubes, cherries & apples folding together with a rubber spatula. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish, flatten with spatula , making sure fruit is distributed evenly. Cover with plastic wrap & refrigerate for about 15 minutes so bread absorbs all the liquid.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake pudding about 55-65 minutes or until top is golden & center is set. Nice to serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
When I think of stuffed peppers, quiche never ever came to mind. I have always enjoyed quiche anytime of day, with or without crust. The idea of using a pepper as your ‘crust’ certainly puts a new twist on the traditional quiche.
I wanted to make these pepper cups for a supper meal and since there was no pastry involved here, bread sticks seemed like a good accompaniment.
Quiche is like making pizza– there are no limits to what the filling can consist of. For our meal today, I just put together a variety of items I had on hand for both the quiche and bread stick twists. It turned out to be real enjoyable and so easy.
In a skillet, saute mushrooms & onion in butter until tender. Add thyme & salt; cook 1 minute longer or until blended. Remove from heat & cool slightly. Roll pizza dough into a 16 X 8-inch rectangle. Sprinkle cheese on half of the dough, then top cheese with HALF of the mushroom/onion mixture. Fold un-topped half of dough over topped side; slice into 8 strips to form twists.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Carefully lift & twist each strip before placing on baking sheet. Sprinkle with garlic powder & salt to taste. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
Pepper Quiche Cups
In a skillet, place ground pork, water, salt, rubbed sage, black pepper, red pepper flakes & ground ginger. Stir-fry until no longer pink. Remove from heat & drain on paper towel. Chop sun-dried tomato pieces & shred cheese.
In a large measuring cup with a spout, place 1/2 & 1/2 milk, salt & pepper. Add eggs & beat well. Remove stems, seeds & membrane from peppers & stand in a roasting dish that will hold them upright & level. Divide cooked pork, remaining mushroom/onion mixture & sun-dried tomatoes.
Top each pepper with some grated cheddar, then carefully pour in the milk/egg mixture. Bake until eggs are set. If you prefer, 'float' a piece of foil over peppers for the first part of the baking time. It will help the cheese not to over bake.
Figs, another symbol of Autumn, begin to ripen in late summer. Native to European and Middle Eastern regions but today are widely available around the world. This tear-drop shaped fruit is singular in appearance and flavor. From their characteristic perfumed fragrance to their fragile skin, that is often slit from ripeness, revealing drops of honeyed nectar.
I love the sweet earthiness of figs with all their little seeds, whether they are fresh or dried. Any recipe that calls for peaches, pears, prunes or dates can be substituted successfully with figs. Pairing them with the aromatic anise flavor of fennel is a great compliment to salmon as well as other entrees or baking.
Fennel has been a favorite of Italians for many years due to its mild sweet anise flavor. All parts of the fennel plant, including the bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds are edible.
This recipe is simple but has a wonderful flavor. We enjoyed it served over Jasmine rice.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut outer leaves of fennel off & discard. Remove stalks, reserving a few fronds for garnish if you wish. Cut the fennel into quarters leaving root in tact. Place a large oven-proof pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil & allow to heat. Place fennel into the pan ; cook & sear to a golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. Season with salt & pepper & add the chicken broth. Place in preheated oven & roast for about 10 minutes or until slightly soft but still holding quite a bit of firmness in center.
In a small saucepan, combine honey, vinegar & chili powder. Heat & simmer for 3 minutes. Quarter figs & place them on a baking sheet. Drizzle figs with the honey mixture. Place in the oven & roast for 4 minutes or until warm, bubbly & caramelized but still holding their shape.
Season salmon fillets with salt & pepper. In a large non-stick skillet, add vegetable oil & heat. Place salmon in skillet & fry on each side until flesh is opaque & translucent in the center. Do not overcook. Serve immediately with the roasted caramelized figs.
Over centuries the unique cooking technique combing rice with other ingredients was developed resulting in the classic Italian dish known as ‘risotto’. The key ingredient for authentic risotto is Arborio rice.
Arborio rice is named after a town in Italy called Arborio, located in the Po Valley where the rice is grown. Its characteristics and cooking properties allow it to absorb the flavors and retain a certain firmness through the unique risotto cooking procedure.
In this recipe, I used a chicken sausage made with Asiago cheese and roasted red peppers. One of the grocery stores in our area makes the sausage in store so you can purchase them fresh in the quantity you need. The flavor of this meal is amazing. The tomatoes totally disintegrated and the rice took on a great smoky flavor from the bacon. The mushrooms added earthiness and the sausage gave the risotto a tiny kick of heat.
In a skillet, brown sausage & set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, slice crosswise & set aside. In skillet, saute onion & sliced mushrooms; stir in rice & toast for 20 seconds. Add the diced tomato & start ladling in the broth 1 ladle at a time. Once that broth is absorbed, continue adding another ladle of broth & so on. The rice should take about 30 minutes to cook over a medium low heat. About half the way through, add bacon. When there is about 10 minutes left add sausage & shrimp so the sausage warms & the shrimp cooks ONLY until done. Do Not overcook shrimp. Garnish with parsley or basil if you wish.