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.
Italian prune plums or sometimes called Empress plums, are different from the traditional round red and black skinned plums we see in the grocery stores. Sporting a dusky purple skin and a tart, lemony green flesh, these European fruits are ripe for harvest by the end of August to the beginning of September. This particular plum is prized throughout Germany and plays a big role in the German kitchen. Although it has a bit of a sour taste, it is very versatile in making juice, jam, cakes, dumplings as well as Slivovitz — a famous Schnapps.
I remember my mother making these plums as a stewed fruit to be served with yeast dumplings ( see my blog on German Hefekloesse from Nov. 6/2016).
Now that the Italian plums have come into season, I’m taking this opportunity to bake some for our dessert today. Top them with a nice simple crumble mixture, bake and serve hot. Of course, what would they be without ice cream!
Place plum halves, cut-side up, in a baking dish & drizzle with lemon juice. In a small bowl, combine topping ingredients, working with fingers until crumbly. Pile topping mixture into 'pit' holes. Bake about 20-30 minutes until topping is golden brown & bubbling. Serve hot with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Its already late August so BBQ’s and salads are in full swing. There’s just something about cooking food outdoors on the grill that we Canadians absolutely love. If your a true BBQ lover, it doesn’t matter if its a block away, you will still catch that glorious smell.
BBQ season is not only for meat eaters. Just about any vegetable as well as numerous desserts can be cooked on the grill. For me, I love seafood, fish & chicken, for Brion, I guess I would have to add a bit of pork and beef.
This meal is a nice combination of shrimp, Parmesan zucchini and pasta salad. I kept the pasta salad real simple since we already had a vegetable. To give it some extra pizzaz, I made a roasted red pepper sauce which the little orecchietti pasta cups nicely. Nothing fancy, just plain good!
In a food processor, blend red roasted peppers along with 2 Tbsp of liquid from the jar. Puree the peppers until smooth, adding a Tbsp or two of water if needed to help it blend ( avoid adding too much liquid from the jar as it can be very acidic). Mince the garlic & add it to a skillet with the butter. Saute for 1-2 minutes or just until garlic has softened but not brown. Pour in the pureed peppers; add basil & pepper & stir to combine.
Allow sauce to come to a simmer; turn heat to low & simmer about 10 minutes, stirring often, until mixture thickens. Add cream, stirring until smooth. Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente about 12-13 minutes. Drain & add to sauce. Serve warm or cold.
In a bowl, whisk together all shrimp marinade ingredients; add shrimp & marinate at least 30 minutes.
Prepare zucchini. In a bowl, combine Parmesan & garlic powder. Melt butter; toss zucchini slices in butter then coat with Parmesan mixture. On wooden skewers, alternate marinated shrimp with cubes of Parmesan zucchini. Roast in oven or on BBQ until shrimp is pink & cooked being careful not to overcook. Serve with orecchiette pasta salad.
This tomato-free sauce could also be used as an alternative to a traditional pizza sauce.
You guessed it —- more roasted fruit! It seems to be my addiction this summer. This time its not that I had fruit on hand but instead some mascarpone cheese. Who would dream of letting that go to waste?? Sometimes called Italian Cream Cheese, mascarpone is believed to have originated in the Lombardy region of Italy. Mascarpone is used in both sweet and savory dishes to enhance the flavor without overwhelming the original taste. Lombardy has a rich agricultural and dairy heritage. Farms that produce the cheese provide their cows with special grasses that include fresh herbs and flowers. This in turn gives a unique taste to the milk and a creamy texture to the cheese.
Some years ago, Brion and I visited the Lombardy region of Italy. We have great memories of the wonderful food but probably even more so the beauty of the architecture and history. We spent a bit of time in Milan. While there we visited the world renowned ‘La Scala’ opera house and museum as well as the glass roofed shopping arcade and giant cathedral, the ‘Gothic Duomo’. I’ve included some of our photos from Milan for you to enjoy.
In a skillet, toast almonds until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.
Preheat oven to 400 F. In a small roasting pan, toss together all prepared fruit, half of the sugar, the brandy & butter. Roast, stirring occasionally, until for tender, about 15-20 minutes.
While fruit is roasting, beat together mascarpone, remaining sugar, vanilla, ginger & cardamom until smooth. In a separate bowl, whip cream; fold into mascarpone mixture along with half of the almonds.
Divide mascarpone mixture into dessert dishes forming a mound in each. Spoon fruit & pan juices over top. Sprinkle with remaining almonds.
You can prepare the fruit & cream ahead. Just keep them in separate dishes; cover & refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
Definitely, roasted fruit is one of my favorite summer desserts. It becomes so intense when its been sizzling and caramelizing at a high temperature. Roasted strawberries are one fruit that can take any dish to the next level. Along with the fact that it will stain even the palest berries to a ruby red, the subtle use of aromatic ingredients like lemon, vanilla or rose water can breathe new life into your bland unripe berries. Another added bonus is that the seeds add a little crunch to the tender, supple structure of a roasted strawberry.
I wanted to make something quick and easy for dessert today. I just happened to have some strawberries on hand why not roast them. A while back I saw an idea on youtube.com with strawberries and of all things, the famous chocolate hazelnut spread, ‘Nutella’.I have to be honest, I have maybe only tasted it once or twice but what the heck! Of course, you guessed it, I would first want to read up on its history. You maybe know all this but—– It seems it all started with the same Italian family that gave us the glorious ‘Ferrero Rocher’ chocolates. Nutella was invented during WWII when the war had created a chocolate shortage.
In 1925, Italian chocolatier, Pietro Ferrero, perfected the so-called ‘pastone’ (pastry mesh) of chocolate and hazelnuts. The Piedmont region of Italy, which his family called home, is famed for its delicious and abundant hazelnuts. In 1946, he created pasta giandja (or giandujot) which was made in a small hard loaf or bar, wrapped in aluminum foil and could be sold at a cheaper price. This chocolate could be cut into slices to eat on bread which formed a big part of the diet at the time. In 1949, a spreadable version called supercrema gianduja was intoduced,which was later renamed ‘Nutella’ in 1964. The name gave the product international appeal. It said ‘nuts’ and it also said Italy — ‘ella’ being a common affectionate ending in Italian such as in mozzarella cheese, tagliatella (a form of pasta) or caramella (a sweet).
Fifty years on, the company is the number one user of hazelnuts worldwide. Interesting! OK, now on with the pastries.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Slice off blossoms; leave small & medium berries whole, cutting largest ones in half. In a glass baking dish, toss with sugar, salt & lemon juice.
Roast, stirring once or twice, for about 30-40 minutes, long enough for the berry juices to thicken but not burn. Remove from oven; add vanilla & rose water. Set aside until ready to use.
On parchment paper, lay out sheet of puff pastry. At one end of the pastry, spread hazelnut cream& top with cooled roasted strawberry 'jam'. Below the chocolate/strawberry mixture make 5 slices so you end up with six strips. Starting at top where the filling is, roll up pastry & join the two ends together to make a wreath.
Adjust oven to 400 F. Brush with egg wash , sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts. Lift wreath ON the parchment paper to baking sheet & bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Roasting intensifies the flavor of fruit and creates an appealing texture especially in unripe fruit. To often, many of our store bought fruits picked before they are ripe are quite tasteless. The fact that stone fruits like peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots are seasonal, makes them seem almost more valuable.
Whether you prefer to bake, roast or grill your fruit, the options for its flavor are only limited by your imagination. When it comes to the herbs and spices you can use, think beyond traditional choices. Consider star anise, ginger, cardamom or mint, sage and lemon verbena to name a few.
A summer favorite for me are those little sweet-tart fresh apricots. In comparison to other stone fruits they seem to be undeservedly, under appreciated. Even if baking is not a summertime pursuit, you can always make good use of your barbecue.
Apricots stuffed with crushed almond-flavored amaretti cookies and mascarpone, then drizzled with apricot brandy are absolutely ‘divine’. You can prepare the apricots before you sit down to eat then bake them in the oven or on the barbecue. They will be ready to top with a dollop of ice cream for dessert.
Arrange the halved apricots to fit snugly, cut side up, in a shallow oven or barbecue dish. Mix crushed biscuits with the mascarpone. Spoon into the cavity of the apricots & sprinkle with the brandy or orange juice.
Bake for about 15-20 minutes until tender & serve warm or cold with ice cream.
Stromboli has been around for over six decades. It all started with an ancient volcano that sits on the island of Stromboli off the coast of Sicily. Legend has it, during the filming of the movie ‘Stromboli’ in 1950, the director and a famous film star had an affair, etc. One Italian restaurant owner in Pennsylvania, USA claims to be the inventor of this much loved sandwich. But some feel that the Hollywood scandal that inspired it is much more interesting than truth.
There are many reasons why this under appreciated ‘sandwich’ is worth trying. It can be stuffed with practically anything, made to go and you can have as much variety in it as you choose. Most of the classic stromboli have either ham, turkey, chicken or steak with pepperoni, mozzerella & parmesan cheeses.
In my stromboli, I’m using bacon instead of pepperoni but use whatever combination works for you. Roll it up, bake it and you are ready to picnic!
In a bowl, place lukewarm water; sprinkle with yeast & allow to sit for 5 minutes. Add flour & salt to yeast/water mixture; stir together & knead on a floured work surface for about 5 minutes. Wipe bowl with a bit of oil; place dough in it & turn to coat. Cover with a tea towel & place in a warm area. Allow to rise for about 30-45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425 F. On a floured surface or a large piece of parchment paper, roll pizza dough into a 10-12-inch long rectangle. Sprinkle with crumbled bacon then shingle turkey, ham & cheese slices onto pizza dough. Roll the pizza dough up into a tight cylinder & seal the ends. Place on a baking sheet; brush with egg wash & bake about 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven & allow to stand about 5 minutes before cutting into slices. Serve with mustard of choice.
If your are short on time or maybe don't really want to go through the trouble of making pizza crust just use a purchased one. It will work just fine & give you more time in the sun!
Each year when summer arrives with its array of fresh fruits, so does the dessert ‘fruit’ pizza. How could you not love it — tender pastry shell filled with a custard and topped with colorful fruit! Fruit does have its rightful place atop pizza but it doesn’t have to be limited to dessert. When it comes to savory, we are all familiar with the ham & pineapple pizza. But you can’t just throw pineapple on pizza and call it done. The abundance of sweet or tart fruit has the power to give pizza a burst of flavor and add complexity to its profile. When balancing a fruit topping, cheese can make all the difference. Next, pair it with cured meats add heat and you have that glorious sweet and savory fusion.
Numerous times I have served roast pork tenderloin with a wild blueberry balsamic sauce. It never lets me down in taste or eye appeal. If that combo could taste so good, why wouldn’t a savory blueberry pizza work?!
The true origin of sun-dried tomatoes is unclear. Italians originally dried salted tomatoes on their ceramic roof tops in the summer sun. This process removes all the water content, resulting in the tomatoes becoming richer in color and taste with more concentrated minerals and vitamins. On the other hand, it is possible to oven dry tomatoes but the difference in taste is enormous. The fast drying process will not allow the natural acidity of the tomatoes to disappear, giving them a sharp acidic after taste. True sun-dried tomatoes have a sweet taste from beginning to the end.
The popularity of sun-dried tomatoes in North America surged in the late 1980’s to early 1990’s. At that time they were classed as a gourmet ingredient found only in the specialty isle of the grocery store. Today that is no longer the case. Their very unique flavor pairs well with a variety of dishes making them staples in our everyday cooking. My choice today, is to use them in stuffing for chicken breast.
In a small bowl, combine all stuffing ingredients. Make a pocket in the center of each chicken breast, divide stuffing mixture between them. Close with a toothpick or small wooden skewer.
On a sheet of aluminum foil, place chicken breasts. If you have extra stuffing, place it around the breasts. Bake for 60 minutes. If necessary 'float' a piece of foil over top chicken if it is browning to fast.
Creating interesting, flavorful meals with the smallest number of ingredients and the least fuss, lets you explore new avenues. Using roasted red pepper puree can do just that. To give an example, spoon some puree on a plate, lay a piece of grilled chicken or fish on top. Next sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs and you’ve got it — stunning and delicious!
Roasting red peppers not only makes them easy to peel but incredibly sweet and flavorful. When pureed, they give an amazing boost of flavor to whatever you choose to use them in.
I’ve always loved stuffed pasta shells, Brion probably not so much, but once in a while it works. Instead of using a pasta sauce in this version, I decided to go with the puree. Since a jar of roasted red peppers is a staple in my pantry, I’m doing a short cut idea. It actually worked out quite well.
Pasta Shells with Beef, Artichokes & Roasted Red Pepper
In a large stockpot, boil jumbo shells in salted water for about 15 minutes; drain & rinse under under cold water. While pasta is cooking, stir-fry ground beef & drain on a paper towels; set aside. Add oil & butter to saucepan & saute garlic, onions, mushrooms for about 2-3 minutes. Add chopped red peppers & sun-dried tomatoes; cook another 2-3 minutes.
Cool slightly, transfer to a food processor & process mixture ( you should still have some texture in the peppers when finished). Pour puree back into the skillet; add broth, spices & Roasted Garlic Alfredo Sauce, combine well. Add a small amount of sauce to ground beef; mix well.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread some sauce mixture over bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Inside of each pasta shell place a piece of drained artichoke; divide beef mixture between the shells.
Stand filled pasta shells, single file on top of sauce. Pour remaining sauce over all & top with grated parmigano-reggiano cheese. Cover with foil & bake about 35-40 minutes.