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.

Print Recipe
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.

Cardamom Fruit Cakes with Rum Sauce

No other spice more completely captures the essence of the exotic. Cardamom’s complex flavor is difficult to describe. There’s nothing subtle about cardamom, so when used in all but sparing amounts it will dominate whatever its paired with. Used properly, it elevates sweet and savory dishes, adding layers of flavor. 

A versatile spice, in that it can be used in everything from desserts to main courses. Relatively expensive, coming in after saffron and pure vanilla, but well worth the expense.

Today, I’m back to ‘recipe development’. My plan is to create some tender, little orange cakes and topping them with a fruit and spice mixture reminiscent of flavors from Morocco.


Print Recipe


Cardamom Fruit Cakes with Rum Sauce


Instructions
Fruit Topping Mixture
  1. In a small bowl, combine dates, apricots, raisins, apple & remaining orange juice & zest from cake ingredients. Season with cardamom & mace; mix well. Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly butter 6 custard baking cups. Divide fruit between them; covering bottom & pressing a bit up the sides. Set aside.

Cake
  1. In a small bowl, beat together eggs & sugar until thick; gradually beat in oil. In a small dish, combine flour, baking powder & salt. Stir flour into egg/sugar mixture, then add orange juice. Combine well then add zest & vanilla.

  2. Pour the batter over fruit in custard cups, dividing it evenly between them. Bake 15-20 minutes or until they test done with a toothpick. Allow the cakes to cool for about 5 minutes, then invert onto a rack to finish cooling. When ready to serve, place on individual dessert plates & drizzle with warm rum sauce.

Rum Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan, over medium heat, melt butter. Combine sugar & cornstarch; stir into melted butter. Slowly pour in milk, stirring frequently until mixture begins to lightly boil. Continue cooking until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat & stir in rum extract. Serve warm.

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!

Print Recipe
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.

Turkish-Style Stuffed Apricots

The majority of dried apricots available on the market come from Turkey. What sets them apart from others, is the way they are dried. Generally, Turkish apricots are dried whole, then pitted, resulting in a plumper, thicker fruit then apricots that are pitted before drying.

A velvety sweetness emerges from the golden orange disks, grown on the sun-drenched Mediterranean coast. Apricots are a relative of the peach with an ancient linage that reaches back to China.

These incredibly easy little hors d ouvers, evoke images of the vibrant colorful markets we saw when we visited the country of Morocco. The dried apricots are soaked, candied, stuffed with Greek yogurt and garnished with a unique glazed medley of pistachios, almonds, cherries, pomegranate-flavored apples, a touch of lemon and a dash of pepper. This all comes together to make a perfect, lightly sweet/spicy, one-bite treat with the help of a package of ‘Sahale Snacks’. Gourmet in minutes!

Print Recipe
Turkish-Style Stuffed Apricots
Instructions
  1. Soak the apricots in water overnight. In a small saucepan, combine apricots with their soaking water & sugar; bring to a simmer & cook for about 10 minutes. The syrup should thicken slightly; remove from heat & allow to cool. Once cooled, drain off any excess syrup.
  2. Slice apricots lengthwise 3/4 of the way through. Place about 1 tsp of yogurt in side of each one then press a glazed pistachio or almond into the yogurt. Repeat with the rest of the apricots & serve with the remaining glazed nut & fruit mixture on the side.

Rhubarb/Rose Turkish Delight & Rhubarb Cream Cheese Truffles

Anyone following my blog is well aware of my love for rhubarb. I think I’ve tried to use it in every capacity possible. Well, get ready for my next adventure — rhubarb Turkish delight! I refrain from eating a lot of chocolate bars, not that I don’t enjoy them, but seriously –. In Canada, the Nestle company sells a chocolate bar called ‘Big Turk’ for which Turkish delight forms the basic foundation. Of course, I love it!

Just a bit of food history background on the subject first. The Turkish name for the sweet comes from the Arabic rahat-ul hulkum which means ‘soothe or heal the throat’. This was abbreviated to rahat lokum and then lokum. The name ‘Turkish Delight’ was coined in the 18th century to make it easier to pronounce. As an improvement on the original recipe of honey or molasses, a mixture of water, flour, cornstarch and refined beet sugar were used to make a firm, chewy jelly.

Little has changed in the last 240 years. Although there are more than 24 different flavors, the biggest seller that still remains is a plain jelly studded with pistachios. Traditional Middle Eastern flavors include rose-pistachio, orange-blossom walnut, mint and rose-lemon.

Back to the rhubarb. Somewhere in my travels, I came across a recipe for rhubarb truffles that peeked my interest. After more research, I decided why not go right out on a limb and test my skills at making some rhubarb/rose Turkish delight. Actually, the end result was not bad. I have acquired a taste for the use of floral water in baking, Brion, not so much. It has to be used very sparingly or it becomes overpowering. I made three versions: Turkish delight plain or covered in white chocolate and a rhubarb truffle. A bit time consuming but a very unique flavor.

Print Recipe
Rhubarb/Rose Turkish Delights & Chocolates
Instructions
Rhubarb/Rose Turkish Delight
  1. In a saucepan, put 1 1/4 cups water with sugar, rhubarb & lemon juice. Cook over low heat , stirring until sugar has dissolved, then increase the heat a little; simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat; leave the rhubarb to infuse for 10 minutes, then pass through a sieve, reserving the juice & pulp separately (the pulp can be used in the truffles that follow).
  2. Line a baking dish with cling film (the size will depend on how thick you want your candy) & set aside. In a small dish, blend cornstarch with remaining 1/4 cup water until smooth. In a saucepan, add rhubarb juice, gelatin powder, dissolved cornstarch & heat gently, stirring until gelatin has dissolved, then bring to a rolling boil.
  3. Keep mixture at a steady rolling boil, stirring constantly, for about 12-14 minutes or until syrup reaches a soft ball stage. Cool slightly & then pour mixture into lined baking dish. Allow to cool at room temperature for about 12 hours or until the mixture is set; do not refrigerate.
  4. Once the jelly is set, cut into pieces. Combine 1 Tbsp cornstarch with 2 Tbsp powdered sugar in a bowl, then roll the jellies in this mixture to coat them. Keep jellies in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 3 days; do not refrigerate. If you want to dip some of your jellies as I did, I found using a mini ice cube tray as a mold was helpful. I just set the piece of jelly in each cup & poured the white chocolate over & around it. Can be frozen until needed.
Rhubarb Cream Cheese Truffles
  1. In a double boiler over medium heat, melt 55 grams of white chocolate chunks. Transfer to a bowl; add remaining ingredients EXCEPT milk chocolate & beat with an electric hand mixer until smooth. Cover & chill until solid enough to roll or scoop into balls.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt milk chocolate. drop balls of rhubarb/cream cheese mixture, one at a time, into milk chocolate to coat. Carefully remove onto parchment paper & allow to harden. Can be frozen as well until needed.
Recipe Notes
  • I also tried freezing the plain jellies without putting cornstarch/sugar mixture on them and it worked fine. They were actually nice tasting right out of the freezer.

Turkish Figs with Anise & Walnuts

We are definitely well on our way to the ‘holiday’ season. For some, there will be endless social events and family gatherings, all of which require those quintessential little bite-size  hors’d’ouvers. Being someone who loves to work with food, the Christmas season is like a blank canvas. Having spent a lifetime in the commercial food industry, I’m definitely no stranger to the endless hours of preparing these tasty little morsels. It gives you the ultimate presentation challenge when hundreds are required (as well as being tiring and a bit tedious at times).

One item that seems to always add a special note of elegance is the use of figs. Not for everyone, but for those who do enjoy them, they are irresistible. Figs can be eaten raw, grilled, poached or baked and can be paired with walnuts, honey, cheese, wine, citrus, cured meats and a variety of spices.

Turkey is the largest producer of figs in the world.  The Smyrna/Calimyrna figs arrived in California, USA. in the 18th century, along with a special breed of wasp once needed for fertilization. Today, the most widely grown types of figs, including  Black Mission, self-pollinate without any wasp labor.

The base of the fig plant’s flower, or soft pod, and little ‘seeds’ are the fruit’s structure and are all edible. Dried figs keep well without refrigeration and give you that concentrated, sweet flavor.

These ‘fast and fabulous’, three ingredient hors’d’ouvers are truly a must for all fig lovers!

Print Recipe
Turkish Figs with Anise & Walnuts
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Cut hard stem from the top of figs & discard. Slice figs in half horizontally & place sliced side up on a baking sheet. Using your finger, make a depression in the center of each. Place a 1/4 tsp of honey on each half & sprinkle with ground anise or seeds.
  3. Press a walnut halve into center of each fig the top with grated cheese. Bake until cheese melts & is bubbly, about 5 minutes. Serve.

Papaya, Mango & Pear Pie

A wide variety of fruit has be used to make pie, from crisp apples to juicy berries or tender stone fruit. Tropical fruit, not as commonly used, can make amazing additions to pie filling creations. One such combo is papaya and mango.

Once considered exotic, papaya can now be purchased pretty much throughout the year. A very versatile fruit which contains enzymes that help in tenderizing meat as well as using it in salads, puddings, yogurt, chutney etc. For the sweetest flavor, select a papaya with a yellowish-orange skin that yields to the touch. Green papaya can be peeled like a carrot. It is similar to winter squash and can be baked or barbecued in the same fashion.

Mangoes have a rich sweetness with an aromatic floral note that isn’t present in many other fruits. As well as holding their shape during baking, mangoes become extremely tender, which makes them an excellent choice for pie filling.

Regardless of what type of pie your eating, the general consensus is that it should have a base made of some kind of pastry. When people first began cooking food in ovens there was little to protect the filling from searing heat. As a result, juices would fizzle out and everything would burn rather quickly. As a solution, dough was used to protect the filling. The dough or pastry absorbed the juices, making the entire case and filling a dish in itself. Since then, many complex forms and fillings have evolved in the world of pie making.

My objective today, was to create a ‘tropical’ pie. I had picked up a papaya as well as a couple of pears on my last shopping trip. I already had some mango chunks in the freezer. I thought pears would compliment the papaya and mango well. Between the fruit and spice combos, the flavor was just incredible. I think I ‘nailed it’!

Print Recipe
Papaya, Mango & Pear Pie
Servings
Ingredients
Pastry Crust
Servings
Ingredients
Pastry Crust
Instructions
  1. Prepare pastry if making from 'scratch'. Line a 8-9-inch pie pan. Peel & core papaya, mango & pear. Cut & dice into 1/2-inch pieces. In a large bowl, combine fruit with lemon zest & juice. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch, sugar, spices & salt. Carefully mix 3/4 of dry mixture with fruit reserving remainder for later.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 F. Pour filling into pastry lined pie dish. Sprinkle with the rest of dry mixture & dot with butter. Roll out pastry for top crust. Make into design of choice or just place over pie; pinch top & bottom together to form a seal & cut 'vents'. Brush with egg wash & sprinkle with sugar.
  3. Place in oven & bake for about 10-15 minutes to bake bottom crust somewhat then reduce heat to 375 F. & bake another 30 minutes or until golden brown & filling is bubbling.

Basil Chicken Stuffed Eggplant

It goes without saying, eggplant is beloved in many cuisines. It has been considered the ‘queen of the garden’ with it’s almost purple-black, glossy skin and cap-like crown.

Eggplants are bitter when raw but develop a savory and complex flavor when cooked. The texture of the flesh is meaty and easily absorbs sauces and cooking liquids.

Native to the Indian subcontinent and the Himalayan area, they have been cultivated in Southeast Asia since prehistoric times. Cultivars in the 18th century were white to pale yellow in color and resembled hen’s eggs which explains the reason this fruit is called ‘eggplant’. There are dozens of eggplant subspecies grown throughout the world in many shapes and sizes. 

The most popular one we see here in North America is the dark purple ‘globe’ eggplant which ranges in weight from 1-5 pounds. When buying them, look for ones with smooth, firm, unwrinkled skin and a fresh looking green stalk or cap. Eggplant is commonly used in ratatouille, pasta dishes, spreads, dips, moussaka or stuffed and roasted.

Today, I’m making a stuffed version with an interesting fresh basil-chicken filling.

Print Recipe
Basil Chicken Stuffed Eggplant
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise; carefully hollow out each half. Roughly chop the removed flesh.
  2. In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil & saute onion until tender, about 5-6 minutes. Add the chopped eggplant, mushrooms & garlic. Cook until eggplant is tender, about 7-8 minutes. Add ground chicken, oregano, salt & pepper. Cook until chicken is no longer pink, about 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in in roasted red peppers, cooked rice & fresh basil; remove skillet from the heat. Place eggplant halves in a baking dish & fill with chicken/rice mixture. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds; drizzle with remaining olive oil & bake 30-35 minutes until tender.
  4. Remove eggplant from oven & top with grated cheeses.

Pork Medallions w/ Apricot Brandy Sauce

This is a meal that has a lot of interesting flavors going on. First you are marinating dried apricots and figs in brandy, then rubbing the pork medallions with a cumin-ginger spice combo.

Some years ago I became interested in using the cumin spice. If you have not yet tried it, the flavor is very distinctive. It could be described as slightly bitter and warm with strong, earthy notes. Cumin is an essential ingredient not only in Mexican and Southwest-inspired dishes but in the more trendy foods of North Africa, India and the Middle East. This delicate looking annual plant has slender branched stems. It is fast growing, with tiny white flowers that yield the cumin seeds. Farmers have to manually harvest the seeds by pulling the whole plant out of the ground and thrashing the seeds off of the plant onto a sheet. They are then sun-dried and hand sifted over a screen to separate out stems and twigs.

Although you need very little cumin in most recipes, it gives a great flavor. Like most spices, you must develop a taste for it to really enjoy it.

Print Recipe
Pork Medallions w/ Apricot Brandy Sauce
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, marinate figs & apricots in brandy. Slice pork tenderloin into medallions. Combine cardamom, cumin, ginger, salt & pepper in a plastic bag; add pork medallions & toss to evenly coat with spice rub.
  2. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add pork, brown nicely on each side & remove to a plate. Return skillet to medium-LOW heat & add butter & onions. Gently saute onions for 5 minutes; add figs & apricots but NOT brandy. Saute 1 more minute.
  3. Turn heat back to medium-high & pour in the brandy & allow to simmer 1 minute. Add chicken broth & return pork to skillet. Cover & cook until pork medallions still have a hint of pink. Best to not overcook.

Wild Shrimp & Red Pepper Pizza

One thing for sure — pizza worldwide, never gets ‘old’. The fact that pizza can be topped with almost anything, creates some of the most unique flavors.

But, first we must think about the cheese used as it has been a part of pizza forever. Food experts seem to agree that mozzarella is the best choice. There are four different kinds of mozzarella used for pizza: fior di latte (made of cow’s milk), mozzarella di bufala (made from the milk of water buffalo), burrata (a fresh Italian cheese with a creamy filling), and the type most commonly used in North America, pizza cheese (whole milk or part skim mozzarella). Of course you can always opt for a kind that you favor more personally.

Around the world, regional ingredients and local foods create some interesting combinations such as:                                                                                      Australia: bacon, ham, egg, shrimp & pineapple                                                          Brazil:        green peas, corn, raisins, boiled eggs & hearts of palm                      China:        mini hot dogs                                                                                                          Costa Rica: shrimp & coconut                                                                                                France:       bacon, onion & fresh cream                                                                          Germany:  canned tuna                                                                                                            Greece:       feta cheese, olives, oregano, onion, tomato, green pepper &                                 pepperoni                                                                                                                India:           tikka chicken, minced mutton, pickled ginger, paneer cheese &                          tofu                                                                                                                              Japan:          squid, eel, teriyaki chicken, bacon & potatoes                                        Netherlands: lamb, as well as the so-called ‘double Dutch’ – double meat,                            onion & cheese                                                                                                    Pakistan:    tikka chicken, achari chicken & curry                                                        Portugal:    local garlic sausage or chorizo                                                                      Russia:        a combination of several types of sea food with onions called                             ‘mocaba’                                                                                                                  Sweden:      chicken, peanut, curry powder as well as pineapple & banana

This wild shrimp pizza uses a light garlic-lemon sauce with a mozza-parmesan cheese combo. We love shrimp (or seafood), so what’s not to like!

Print Recipe
Wild Shrimp & Red Pepper Pizza
Instructions
  1. In a large skillet, melt butter & add oil over medium heat. Add garlic & lemon zest, cook for 1 minute. Add broth (or wine) & lemon juice, simmer for 2 minutes. Add shrimp & red pepper. Saute ONLY until shrimp is pink. Remove from heat; place shrimp & red pepper in a dish & set aside. Add Parmesan cheese & Italian seasoning to broth remaining in pan; combine well. Cool slightly.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a large pizza pan with parchment or sprinkle with cornmeal. Press out pizza dough evenly in pan & brush with slightly cooled 'sauce'. Top with shrimp, peppers, mozzarella cheese. Bake 8-10 minutes, until cheese is bubbly.