Couscous Shrimp Paella

When it comes to the traditional flavor of paella, it all comes down to location. If you live by the sea, its common to use shellfish. For people living inland, other proteins are used that are readily available.

Confirmed as Spain’s best loved contribution to world cuisine, paella is typically prepared with rice, saffron, seafood, chicken and Spanish chorizo sausage.

In regards to the rice used, bomba rice absorbs the flavors of the oil, stock and other ingredients. Arborio will get a bit creamy, whereas jasmine and basmati add flavor instead of soaking others up. Long grain just doesn’t have the right texture for paella.

To put a little different spin on my paella today, I’m preparing it with Israeli couscous. Israeli or pearl couscous is a small, round pasta-like granule made from semolina and wheat flour. It should not be confused with the tiny, yellow North African couscous. Israeli couscous is twice as large and is toasted rather than dried, which gives it a nutty flavor and a hearty texture.It easily absorbs flavors, making it very versatile as a base for chicken and fish or in soups, salads, pilafs, etc.

I’ve made couscous with rice as well as the short vermicelli noodles. Today is the first time with couscous and we really enjoyed it.

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Couscous Shrimp Paella
Instructions
  1. In a large heavy saucepan, heat oil. Add onion, garlic & sweet peppers; cook until tender-crisp, about 8 minutes. Add all of the spices; cook 1 minute more, remove to a dish & set aside.
  2. In the saucepan, scramble-fry sausage meat. Add broth, water & couscous; simmer, covered 10 minutes. Stir in peas & shrimp; simmer another 5 minutes or only until shrimp is cooked. Add seasoned vegetables, gently stir to combine. Serve, garnished with olives.

Tortilla Crepe Stacks

To some of us, Mexican food terms get a little confusing. I mean there is the taco, burrito, quesadilla, enchilada and taquito just to name a few. Before anything, one needs to know what a tortilla is. Simply put, it is wheat or corn plain bread that is used as a wrapping material around different types of filling ingredients to make the various Mexican dishes. 

Masa Harina is a traditional flour used to make corn tortillas and tamales as well as other Mexican meals. To make masa harina, field corn (or maize) is dried and then treated in a solution of lime and water called slaked lime (or wood-ash lye). This loosens the hulls from the kernels and softens the corn. In addition, the lime reacts with the corn so that the nutrient niacin can be assimilated by the digestive tract.

The soaked maize is then washed, and the wet corn is ground into a dough called masa. It is this fresh masa, when dried and powdered, that becomes masa harina. Water is added again to make dough for the corn tortillas or tamales.

Cornmeal and masa harina are very different preparations of corn. Do not try to substitute cornmeal or regular wheat flour in recipes calling for masa harina as they will not produce the same results.

Today, I want to make some tortilla crepe stacks. Crepes as we all know, have always been a hallmark of French cuisine. So the question is, ‘how did they come to be in Mexican cuisine’? In the 1860’s, French forces invaded Mexico. They came, they conquered, they cooked and then they got kicked out. Cinco de Mayo commemorates that victory for Mexico from 1862. However, it took another five years before the French left Mexico for good. During their stay, the French left their mark on the country’s cuisine.

One of the reasons I have always loved crepes, is that they are so easy to make and taste so good. You can either roll the filling inside or just stack them with their fillings and make a ‘cake’.

These tortilla crepes are made with half masa harina and half white flour. Next, I made a mushroom rice & barley pilaf and some guacamole. You can pick and choose when it comes to the extra filling add-ons. I guess it did get a bit more involved but worth it —.


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Tortilla Crepe Stacks


Instructions
Tortilla Crepes
  1. In a blender, beat eggs with milk & oil. Gradually add masa harina, white flour & salt, beat until smooth. Allow to stand for 1 hour or longer. Heat an electric griddle to 350 F. Using a 1/4 cup measure, scoop batter onto griddle. With bottom of 1/4 cup, make circles in the batter, gradually enlarge to size of tortilla you wish to make. I made 3 for each crepe stack. Cook each crepe for a few minutes on each side then remove to a wire cooling rack.

Rice & Barley Pilaf
  1. In a saucepan, saute onion, garlic & mushrooms until tender crisp. Add chicken broth & bring to a boil. Add all remaining pilaf ingredients & reduce heat to simmer. Simmer until barley & rice are cooked & liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; place in a dish & set aside to cool.

Guacamole
  1. Mince onion & sun-dried tomatoes & mash avocados. In a small bowl, combine avocados, onion, sun-dried tomatoes, & remaining guacamole ingredients. Blend well, cover & refrigerate.

Crepe Stack Fillings
  1. Cook chicken & shred, Grate cheese & prepare all filling ingredients.

Assembly
  1. Spread 4 tortillas with guacamole, reserving a bit for 'decorating' the top of each stack. Over the guacamole, put a layer of rice/barley pilaf. Top each of them with chicken, green peppers, olives, corn, red onion, fresh tomatoes, zucchini, black beans & a sprinkling of cheese. On 2 serving plates, place one filled tortilla topped by a second one. Complete each stack with another corn tortilla. 'Decorate' each with remaining guacamole, salsa, sour cream & remaining cheese. Heat each crepe stack for a few minutes in the microwave before serving.

Tropical Papaya Scones with Vanilla Glaze

Scones were originally made from oats and shaped into a large round called a ‘bannock’. Each round was scored into four to six triangles and cooked on a griddle either over an open fire or on top of the stove.

A scone is not a cupcake. Making scones is like stirring together biscuits. A simple mixture of flour, salt, baking powder and/or soda, milk or sour cream, butter and sometimes eggs. Scones are the perfect blank canvas and can be flavored to taste and loaded with add-ons.

Many times, scones have been perceived as dry and boring. The classic scone is crusty on the outside and biscuit textured within. A cakey super moist texture should not be expected in a scone.

We found this dried fruit scone was excellent eaten slightly warm. The cardamom spice really enhanced the flavor of the papaya fruit in them. I used the flour/oatmeal combo, as I most often do because of the the nice texture and taste it gives. The glaze is optional as it kind of goes against the basics of a scone but what the heck!

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Tropical Papaya Scones with Vanilla Glaze
Servings
Ingredients
Papaya Scones
Vanilla Glaze
Servings
Ingredients
Papaya Scones
Vanilla Glaze
Instructions
Papaya Scones
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a food processor, pulse oatmeal for a few seconds then add next 5 ingredients & pulse a few more seconds. Add butter; whirl ONLY until mixture resembles coarse crumbs then place in a large bowl. Stir in chopped fruit.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream, milk & vanilla. Add to dry mixture blending only until JUST incorporated. Scoop onto baking sheet & bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven & allow to cool slightly.
Vanilla Glaze
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together glaze ingredients until smooth. With a small spoon, drizzle glaze over scones.

Baked Patacones with Guacamole

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!!

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Baked Patacones with Guacamole
Instructions
Baked Patacones
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
Guacamole
  1. In a small bowl, mash avocados. Add minced red onion, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, garlic powder, lemon juice, salt & pepper. Combine thoroughly & serve.
Recipe Notes
  • Just for interest, the special or tradional tool used to flatten plantain slices is called a 'tostonera'.

Baked Avocado Fries with Strawberry-Rhubarb Salsa

Taking vegetables and turning them into ‘fries’ isn’t a new concept. Through the years we have definitely  become more knowledgeable about nutrition and healthier eating. It seems we are always looking for a way to have that deep fried flavor without consuming so much of the grease.

Trends come and go, but you have to admit, avocados are still high on most of our priority lists. There seems to be endless ways beyond guacamole to unleash their true potential. Baked avocado fries are amazing. Crisp and crunchy on the outside while being smooth and creamy on the inside.

Nothing says ‘summer’ like strawberries and rhubarb. Usually the combo appears in pies, crumbles and the like. But, I think the avocado fries are beckoning me to make a savory salsa out of them. This salsa is a great balance of sweet, tart and spicy — summer eating at its best!

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Baked Avocado Fries with Strawberry-Rhubarb Salsa
Instructions
Salsa
  1. In a small saucepan with boiling water, cook sliced rhubarb for about 1 minute or until tender crisp but not mushy. Drain. In a bowl, combine rhubarb, onion & strawberries. In a blender, pulse oil, apple cider vinegar & honey; combine dressing with chopped cilantro & rhubarb mixture. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Set aside until ready to use.
Avocado Fries
  1. Prepare avocado slices. Preheat oven to 450 F. Line a baking sheet with foil & place a wire rack on the sheet. Set aside.
  2. In a small dish, measure seasoning & combine. In 3 separate dishes place beaten eggs, flour & panko crumbs. Divide seasoning between them. Coat each avocado slice in the flour, then the eggs & finally the panko. Place on the wire rack & spray lightly with cooking spray.
  3. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until panko is lightly browned Cool about 10 minutes & serve with strawberry-rhubarb salsa.
Recipe Notes
  • Salsa also tastes great on a fresh summer salad or fish tacos.
  • Avocado fries can be served in warm tortillas topped with strawberry-rhubarb salsa or just as is with your favorite dip or sprinkled with Parmesan.

Stuffed Baked Potatoes with Garlic Shrimp

Shrimp makes for a unique and elegant twist on a stuffed baked potato. For most part, a baked potato with a pat of butter and a little salt is just great on its own. But stuff them, with an assortment of savory ingredients such as shrimp, oysters or ground meat and it easily constitutes a whole meal.

I think my first encounter with this idea came when the Wendy’s restaurant chain introduced the  Stuffed Baked Potato  to their menu in 1983. Their original goal was to give the customer another choice or alternative to the same old ‘fries’. I think it retailed for 99 cents at the time. The one I remember having a couple of times was with the cheese sauce and fresh broccoli. It tasted great to me, not being a fried food lover.  Of course, since then the whole concept has been ratcheted up in both flavor and eye appeal.

For Canadians, barbecue season lasts until the first snow falls (sometimes even a bit after). This is a meal that can easily be cooked on the BBQ as well as in the oven and it is soooo– good! 

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Stuffed Baked Potatoes with Garlic Shrimp
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, Ecuador
Servings
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, Ecuador
Servings
Instructions
Stuffed Baked Potatoes
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Rub potatoes with oil & place on a baking sheet. Bake about an hour or until soft to the touch. Let stand until cool enough to handle. Cut a slice off the top of each potato lengthwise. Scoop out pulp, leaving a thin shell. Place pulp in a large bowl & mash.
  2. In a small skillet, fry bacon until crisp. Drain on a paper towel & crumble. Saute green onions in 1/4 cup butter until tender. In a small dish, stir Ranch dressing powder (mix) into sour cream & add to potato pulp along with milk, salt & pepper. Fold in half of the cheese. Divide mixture between potato shells & drizzle with remaining butter. Place baking pan on BBQ where the heat is lower & warm potatoes through while shrimp is cooking.
Garlic Shrimp
  1. In a foil BBQ pan, Gently combine shrimp, olive oil, garlic, oregano, basil, parmigiana-reggiano, salt & pepper. Roast until pink, firm & cooked through, about 6-8 minutes.
To Serve
  1. On each serving plate, place a stuffed potato, top with shrimp & garnish with crumbled bacon & remaining cheese.

Teriyaki Pineapple Chicken

Victoria Day is the distinctly Canadian holiday that serves as the official maker to end winter. It is during this long week-end that many summer businesses, such as parks, outdoor restaurants, bike rentals etc., will       re-open despite the fact that summer does not officially begin until a month later. Gardeners in Canada regard Victoria Day as the beginning of spring as it falls at a time when one can be fairly certain that frost will not return until autumn.

Although we are well into the 21st century, in Canada we still celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday 117 years after her passing. She was born on May 24th which is why Canadians celebrate her birthday in late May.

Canadians jokingly refer to Victoria Day as May ‘two-four’ day. This is an inside joke which refers to a case of beer, containing 24 cans. For most Canadians, this is the first warm-ish  long week-end since Easter, so they head to campsites armed with a 24 case of beer. Although we hang on to the Victoria Day name for old times sake, somehow it seems we are really celebrating the beginning of the summer season.  May ‘two-four’ is probably the more accurate moniker.

In keeping with the spirit of a ‘seasonal barbecue’ on this holiday, Brion & I are doing some Teriyaki Pineapple Chicken Thighs. Have a great day!

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Teriyaki Pineapple Chicken
Instructions
  1. Preheat barbecue grill to 350 F. In a bowl, combine first 5 ingredients; add bacon slices & chicken thighs. Allow to marinate for about 15 minutes; drain. Reserve marinade.
  2. On a large sheet of foil, place the bacon to form 4 crosses, top each with a pineapple slice in the center. Next, lay a chicken thigh on pineapple slice, fold bacon ends over thighs. Carefully flip over so that the bacon ends are on the bottom.
  3. Lay foil on barbecue (with the wrapped chicken thighs on it). Close lid on cook until internal temperature reaches 165 F. and the juices run clear. If you prefer, use some of the excess marinade to baste meat as it cooks.

Parmesan Shrimp Rice Bake

In 2015, Brion & I spent sometime living in Cuenca, Ecuador. We had rented an apartment in the central part of the city. Over the three months we were there, I compiled a little diary of ‘recipes’ I developed, that would work for me. The criteria had to be: foods that were available, seasoning that tasted familiar and meals that could be cooked with the limited kitchen equipment and pots/pans. 

Something we realized early on when shopping for various spices, was how important it was to know what the spice was called in Spanish. Such as  Cumin- ‘Comino’, Marjoram- ‘Mejorana’, Ginger- ‘Jengibre’. It seems that they had most of the spices if you knew what to look for. Probably the only one that couldn’t be found was Chili Powder. When it came to Soy Sauce, even the familiar brands had a different taste. In the process of trying to replicate flavors we were used to, I decided to make my own versions.

Here’s where a little ‘recipe development’ came into play. Normally teriyaki sauce would have a little ‘mirin’ (sweet cooking rice wine) or sake in it. I was able to come up with a fairly good ‘stand in’ with a few simple ingredients. Fresh shrimp were always available at the seafood markets. You could buy half a kilo for $4.00 Canadian. Rice, as long as you were not looking for the ‘minute’ variety, was in huge supply. Anyway, to make a long story short, today’s recipe was one that became a favorite of ours during that time.

If you care to read a few more articles I have posted in my blogs about our time in Ecuador check out ‘Dutch Apple Pie’ in April 2016 & ‘Fresh Cherry Scones’ in July 2016.  

Print Recipe
Parmesan Shrimp Rice Bake
Course Main Dish
Servings
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, marinate raw, cleaned shrimp in soy sauce, honey, water, ginger & garlic powder for at least 30 minutes or longer. Cook rice in chicken broth.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  3. In a small bowl, combine Parmesan & garlic powder. Melt margarine; toss zucchini slices in it, then coat with Parmesan mixture.
  4. In a round, 8" baking pan, alternate drained shrimp (reserve marinade) & zucchini slices to form bottom layer. Top with cooked rice. Drizzle marinade from shrimp over rice. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
  5. We really enjoyed having this meal with warm cornbread.

Vintage Pineapple Pie

This week we celebrate my husband, Brion’s birthday. Family birthdays forever bring me back to my childhood days. My mother always made the birthday person’s favorite meal on their day along with a cake. Although she excelled at cooking in general, her creative talent was put to good use when she decorated our birthday cakes.

Brion has always loved pineapple pie. I’m not sure where it came from but could possibly have been from time spent in the Cook Islands years ago.

In 1950, the Pillsbury company (General Mills) came out with a pie crust mix. Their promotion read that ‘the quality was assured by the finest ingredients, scientifically blended and perfectly balanced’. All you had to do was add water and mix. To further promote their product they included a recipe for Pineapple Pie supposedly having been written by ‘Ann Pillsbury’. This was a fictitious home economist created for marketing purposes. She essentially represented the members of the Pillsbury Home Service department. Unlike Betty Crocker, Ann Pillsbury did not catch on and was replaced in 1965 by the Pillsbury Doughboy who we still see in their current advertising.

My blog recipe is a bit different from the vintage one but is one of Brion’s favorites. Over the last six months, Brion’s love and support have helped me recover from shoulder replacement surgery for which I’m very grateful.

                                               BIRTHDAY WISHES WITH LOVE!

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Vintage Pineapple Pie
Servings
Ingredients
Pineapple Filling
Crumb Crust
Meringue Topping
Servings
Ingredients
Pineapple Filling
Crumb Crust
Meringue Topping
Instructions
Pineapple Filling
  1. In a saucepan, combine cornstarch & sugar. Gradually stir in water until mixture is smooth. Add lemon zest & undrained crushed pineapple. Stir constantly over medium heat until mixture starts to boils; reduce heat slightly & continue to boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat; quickly stir in butter & beaten egg yolks, mixing well. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature.
Crumb Crust
  1. In a food processor or with a rolling pin, crush biscuits finely & evenly. Melt butter; add to crumbs, mixing well with fork. Press evenly over bottom & up sides of a 9-inch flan or pie pan. Refrigerate crust while filling is cooling.
Meringue Topping
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. In a small bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form, gradually add sugar. Beat until sugar is dissolved. Spread filling evenly into crust; top with meringue making sure to spread it to the edge of crust to form a seal.
  2. Bake for about 5-10 minutes or until surface of meringue is evenly golden brown.

Chicken Kebabs

With the passage of time, Kebabs have managed to find a very significant place in modern day cuisines. Although kebabs have their roots in the Mediterranean and Middle East, they have been able to make their way around the world.

There is something special about warm weather and the smell of grill aromas saturating the air; it just seems to take food to a whole new level.

Tradition has it that kebabs were invented by medieval soldiers who used their swords to grill chunks of freshly hunted animals over open field fires. The word kebab means ‘fry’ but is also synonymous to ‘burning’. The first kebab dates back to 17th century BC, Greece. Akrotiri, a settlement on the Island of Santorini  was buried in volcanic ash which preserved the remains of many objects, etc. In 1967, the site was excavated and unearthed stone sets for barbecuing. The stones were carved to resemble long dog-like animals that would have slots for skewers to lay in. These were called ‘firedogs’.

The nice thing about this meal is that its simple and easy. I guess you could say ‘the pizza of the grill’. The picture at the end of the blog is a very common sight we saw in the streets of Ecuador. Brion and I were never brave enough to try them but it sure smelled good in the open air.

I am using chicken breast for my kebabs today. Nothing fancy, just good eating. Enjoy!

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Chicken Kebabs
Instructions
  1. Cut chicken breasts into 18 lengthwise strips; place in a large resealable plastic bag. In another resealable plastic bag place green peppers, onions & mushrooms.
  2. In a large bowl, combine salad dressing, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce & lemon juice. Remove 1/3 cup; cover & refrigerate. Divide the remaining salad dressing mixture between chicken & the vegetables; seal both bags & turn to coat. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight, turning occasionally.
  3. Drain & discard marinade from chicken & vegetables. Alternately thread chicken & vegetables on 18 metal or soaked wooden skewers. Grill over medium heat for 12-15 minutes or until chicken juices run clear, turning & basting with reserved marinade occasionally.
Recipe Notes