Spicy Chicken, Bacon & Avocado Pizza

Ever since I made pizza with yeasted potato crust it has become a staple in our meal rotation list. It seems like all it takes to come up with an amazing filling combo is just a little inspiration so the influence of flavors Brion and I tasted in Mexico became a natural choice for me.

Although avocado on pizza may sound weird, if you are a guacamole lover, its glorious. When you think about it, tomato or tomato sauce is a big part of pizza most of the time. Often guacamole is made with tomato, so it compliments pizza well. I used all the ingredients you would normally fit into a tortilla for toppings. Spicy chicken, bacon, avocado, onion, tomato, cheese and GUACAMOLE!

When I make guacamole for pizza, I like to keep it simple: mashed avocados, onion, garlic, lime juice, salt and cilantro. Another thing I found, was that any left over pieces can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and placed in a freezer bag and frozen. When you want to use them, thaw at room temperature then heat slightly in the microwave. Most often pizza is frozen unbaked and needs assembly and baking. This pizza tasted just as good as when it was freshly baked!

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Spicy Chicken, Bacon & Avocado Pizza
Instructions
Pizza Dough
  1. Cook potato, peel, mash & cool. Combine yeast with lukewarm water; whisk until yeast is dissolved. Let stand about 3 minutes until foamy. Add butter, salt, sour cream & potato; mix well.
  2. Stir in flour, one cup at a time. When dough is completely blended, turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough about 10 minutes, until smooth & elastic. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a tea towel & allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Chicken Marinade
  1. In a large resealable plastic bag, combine all ingredients. Seal & turn to coat; refrigerate for 1-4 hours.
Guacamole
  1. In a large bowl, coarsely mash avocados with lime juice & salt. Stir in garlic, onion & cilantro. Blend well. Cover & set aside until ready to use. You will have extra for something else.
Pizza Topping Prep
  1. In a skillet, cook bacon until fairly crisp, drain on paper towels & chop coarsely. Wipe skillet with paper towel. Add marinated chicken, stir-fry until cooked then remove to a dish. Add peppers & onion to skillet; sauteing until tender crisp.
Assembly
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. On a large sheet of parchment paper, roll or press dough into a 16-inch circle. Transfer with paper to a baking sheet.
  2. Using some grated cheese, make a ring around the outer edge of the dough. Roll dough once over cheese ring. Carefully spread the 1/2 cup of guacamole over the bottom of pizza, then sprinkle with a bit more cheese. Layer with avocado slices, onion, bacon, chicken, tomato & remaining cheese. If you prefer, brush to top of the outside ring with egg wash.
  3. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown, Remove from oven & slice.
Recipe Notes
  • You may choose to prepare your marinated chicken & guacamole before you start making the dough.

Summer Sangria Parfaits

For years, Sangria has been enjoyed at many summer picnics and outdoor events. This Spanish wine punch has deviated so far from its simple origins it has become nearly unrecognizable. The concept seems endlessly adaptable not only as a drink but as dessert.

Tradition goes back a long way when it comes to sangria. Early Greeks and Romans mixed wine with sugar and spices because their water was bacteria filled and unsafe to drink. Adding a touch of alcohol made the liquid drinkable and mixing the watered down wine gave it flavor. This drink, called Hippocras, was likely the common ancestor of both sangria and mulled wine.

Our love of sangria in North America dates back probably to the sixties and it has never really fell out of vogue to this day.

These sangria parfaits let you enjoy some summer fruit combined with the flavor of sangria. You can make them either with or without wine —your choice.

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Summer Sangria Parfaits
Instructions
  1. In a small saucepan, bring wine to a boil over medium-high heat. In a medium bowl, stir boiling wine into dry gelatin mix for about 2 minutes until completely dissolved. Stir in club soda, lime & orange juice.
  2. Place bowl of gelatin in a larger bowl of ice & water. Let stand 10 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Stir in 1 cup EACH grapes & strawberries. Pour into 6-1 cup parfait glasses. Refrigerate 4 hours or until firm. Garnish with remaining fruit.

Kahlua Marinated Fruit

It’s summer and there’s nothing better than the simple sweetness of fresh fruit. Barbecues are the highlight of the season and no doubt you will be making numerous ‘cool’ desserts.

I realize fruit marinated in alcohol is not for just any barbecue but if it fits the occasion, it adds a nice finishing touch.

Marinating fruit in alcohol is nothing new. Many cuisines have special recipes that include dried fruits such as raisins, currants and prunes. You can create endless combinations using fresh fruit with wine, spirits or liqueurs. Of course, the added bonus is this dessert does not require you to turn on the oven.

This simple fruit salad uses Kahlua in the marinade. Fruit is thirsty stuff and will soak up basically any kind of wine or liqueur you chose to pour over it. Put together your own personal ‘magical’ concoction and enjoy!

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Kahlua Marinated Fruit
Instructions
  1. Cut up an assortment of fresh fruits. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar & kahlua; fold into fruit & allow to marinate for about an hour before serving.
Recipe Notes
  • Estimate about 1 3/4 cups fruit per person.
  • Fruit choices could include:
  • Pineapple, Mango, Papaya, Kiwi, Strawberries, Plums, Star Fruit, Grapes, Cherries, Apricots,  Peaches, Oranges & Tangerines

Baked Seafood Stuffed Avocados

Very often when you browse through ideas for preparing avocados the comment is made that they should never be cooked. Avocados are most often eaten raw, chopped up in a salad, spread on toast or made into guacamole. This is usually because they can very quickly become bitter once heated. However, if cooked just right, they are delicious.

Roasting avocados is more of an art than a science. If you choose to roast slices, adding some oil, garlic or chili powder with a little salt and pepper helps to draw out the natural flavor. If you want to slice them in half and remove the seed, you can add any number of fillings. Just bake and enjoy, knowing that the flesh just next to the skin, is the most nutritious part of the fruit.

These crab and shrimp filled avocados make an extraordinary Sunday or special occasion brunch entree. If you like avocados and seafood, this one’s for you!

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Baked Seafood Stuffed Avocados
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Slice & pit avocados. In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients; mix well.
  2. Spoon the mixture equally on top of each avocado half. Place in a glass 9 X 13-inch baking dish or 4 individual servings dishes. Make sure your avocados will not tip over during baking time. Bake for 25 minutes or until cooked. Serve immediately.

Baked Avocado Bacon Omelette with Salmon/Dill Scones

What to call it — an omelette, frittata or quiche? While this trinity of brunch egg dishes all contain eggs, the preparation methods vary. All are delicious but here’s what defines them.

The traditional French omelette contains eggs, a splash of water and a pinch of salt and pepper. The briskly whipped eggs are cooked in clarified butter then turned out of the pan when still a little custardy and unset. These (colorless) omelettes are rolled up like a business letter and served with only a few herbs. In North America, we seem to want to ‘clean out the fridge’ so to speak, adding just about anything and everything. This version is cooked until mostly dry on top and golden on the bottom. As a rule, they are folded over once, then served.

Frittatas are generally thicker than omelettes. The ingredients are mixed in, instead of sprinkled on. While started on the stove, sometimes they are finished under the broiler then served in slices like a pie.

Quiche, on the other hand, is a savory custard baked in a pastry crust or a potato crust. Quiche gets its richness from the addition of whole milk, half & half or even heavy cream. Just to add another twist to the mix — enter the ‘crustless quiche-omelette’.

This particular meal at our house, was one of those ‘clean out the fridge’ ideas that turned out absolutely wonderful. I had posted the salmon/dill scones on a blog a number of years ago. They made an ideal compliment for this meal.

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Baked Avocado Bacon Omelette with Salmon/Dill Scones
Instructions
Baked Omelette
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a deep pie plate with cooking spray.
  2. In a skillet, saute bacon until cooked but not real crisp; dry on paper towel & crumble. Add onions, mushrooms & garlic to skillet, sauteing in bacon drippings until tender crisp. Chop tomato & 1 avocado. Grate cheese. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt & pepper. Add all prepared ingredients; gently stir.
  3. Pour mixture into pie plate distributing evenly. Bake 35-40 minutes, rotating once half way through. Let omelette cool for 5 minutes. Top with remaining sliced avocado & serve.
Salmon/Dill Scones
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 8 muffin cups with paper liners. In a bowl, mix together flour & baking powder. Add grated cheese, smoked salmon & dill. In a separate bowl, whisk egg, buttermilk & oil.
  2. Place half of the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients & stir well. Then add the rest of the wet ingredients & mix until completely combined. Spoon into paper liners until each is filled halfway, then place a heaping tsp of cream cheese in the middle of each scone. Divide the rest of the batter between the 8 cups.
  3. Bake for 10 minutes, rotate pan & continue to bake for another 10 minutes or until scones are just browning on top & test done.

Balsamic Glazed Fig & Pork Kabobs

Thirty or more years ago, balsamic vinegar was relatively unknown outside of Italy. Due to our exposure to gourmet food magazines, television cooking shows and celebrity chefs, there is hardly a household without a bottle in its pantry these days.

Balsamic vinegar actually derives its name from the word ‘balm’, which refers to an aromatic resin or odor, as well as a substance that soothes, relieves and heals.

For hundreds of years, wealthy Italian families have made balsamic vinegar for their own consumption, nurturing their supplies over the years. Passed on from generation to generation, gifting small amounts to treasured friends and honored guests and perhaps even bequeathing some to a daughter as part of her ‘dowry’. Balsamic vinegar came to be considered a symbol of peace.

In about 1980, the popularity of balsamic vinegar soared due to Italian chefs discovering how intense flavors complemented modern Mediterranean cuisine. Local families couldn’t gear up production to meet the new demand. New producers developed imitation versions, consequently many of us have yet to taste truly authentic balsamic vinegar or ‘Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale’, as its known in Italian.

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Balsamic Glazed Fig & Pork Kabobs
Instructions
  1. Cut pork into 1-inch cubes. Combine next seven ingredients; place pork cubes in a plastic bag. Toss to coat well; refrigerate until ready to grill. In a small dish, make a glaze by whisking together vinegar, honey, mustard & oil. Set aside.
  2. On water-soaked wooden skewers, thread pork cubes & figs. Grill, covered, on a greased rack over medium-high direct heat, turning occasionally, about 8-10 minutes. During last half of grilling, brush cooked surfaces frequently with glaze.
  3. Let skewers stand 5 minutes; add a tomato to each. Transfer to serving platter & sprinkle lightly with Gorgonzola & basil. Serve some of your Blueberry & Blackberry Rustic Tart for dessert.

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.

Cherry Marzipan Cookies

The origins of marzipan, much like many other pastries that contain almonds, cannot be pinpointed to any one place. Some believe it came from Persia, others speak of Germany and Italy, yet others name Toledo, a medieval city southwest of Madrid, Spain. Whatever its history, today marzipan is a fixture of Spain’s Christmas time celebrations.

Toledo’s first recorded marzipan recipe dates back to 1525, and in the hundreds of years since then, it has been traditionally made by the nuns in Toledo’s countless convents. Marzipan is a paste made by grinding and kneading, almonds together with sugar. As well as using it in pastries, it can be shaped into various figures that can be glazed and decorated.

Along with marzipan, Toledo is famous for Swords and Damascene. Brion and I had the opportunity of visiting this quaint, little medieval city one year. It was such an incredible and interesting experience.

The metal-working industry has historically been Toledo’s economic base, with a great tradition of manufacturing swords & knives.

Damascene is the art of inlaying different metals into one another. Typically gold and silver are placed into a darkly oxidized steel background to produce intricate patterns. Traditionally, damascene designs focus on two distinct patterns. Either Renaissance motifs with birds and flowers or Arabesque and geometric designs.

In the spirit of Christmas and Toledo’s marzipan, I wanted to make some nice little cherry marzipan cookies. The vanilla and dried cherries are a trade off for the usual rose water used.

I am adding a few pictures from our time spent in Toledo. It was around Christmas time that year so we saw a lot of marzipan goodies. Take note of the miniature marzipan figurines of the nuns in the bakery scene. This was in a store window display. Wonderful memories!

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Cherry Marzipan Cookies
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl, combine almond flour, powdered sugar, extracts & egg whites; stir well. Stir in dried cherries. Scoop mixture into balls then roll in sliced almonds to coat. Place on baking sheet.
  3. Bake for 20 minutes or until JUST done. Let cool & sprinkle with additional powdered sugar.

Ham & Olive Bread with ‘Spanish’ Omelettes

About six years ago, I tasted this popular French cake au jambon et aux olives for the first time.  The word ‘cake’ in France refers to a baked savory cake made with ham, olives and cheese. They are exclusively rectangular in shape and made in a bread pan. The texture is between a bread and a cake, making it it good for picnics, cubed as an appetizer with drinks or served with a soup or salad.

This savory cake/bread has endless possibilities when it comes to ingredients. Apart from the original ham, olives and cheese, you can use cooked chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, sweet corn kernels, spinach or really any personal choice you have. Well wrapped, it will keep for a few days in the fridge, reheating it or just enjoying it cold.

In this recipe I used  a mix of black and green olives, ham, bacon and a Gruyere/mozzarella cheese combo. I decided to pair it with a Spanish omelette which complimented the savory bread well. The ‘cake’ I had the opportunity of trying the first time was made by a ‘very’ French lady. It set the bar high for my own to turn out as good. We loved it so I guess this recipe is a ‘keeper’.

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Ham & Olive Bread with Spanish Omelette
Instructions
Olive Bread
  1. In a skillet, saute finely chopped onion with bacon until slightly cooked. Drain on paper towels to avoid soggy dough. Slice olives & chop parsley & ham.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9 X 5-inch loaf pan. In a large bowl, whisk together wine, oil, eggs & salt. In another bowl, sift flour & baking powder. Stir into liquid mixture along with rest of the ingredients. Pour into prepared loaf pan & bake about 1 hour or until bread tests done.
Omelette Topping Sauce
  1. In a saucepan, heat olive oil & saute onion for 3-4 minutes. Add green pepper & garlic; continue to cook another 3-4 minutes. Add tomato sauce, salt & pepper; reduce heat & simmer about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover & set aside to keep warm.
Omelettes for Two
  1. Grate cheese; set aside. Slice onions, zucchini & mushrooms, On a medium-hot griddle, saute vegetables just until tender crisp in 1 tsp of butter. Remove to a dish until ready to use. In a small bowl, whisk eggs with salt & pepper. Make 2 circles of beaten eggs on griddle. Top each with 1/2 of refried beans, veggies & grated cheese. Carefully fold each omelette in half enclosing filling; add a tiny bit of water to the griddle (in between the omelettes) & cover with a large lid. When omelettes are cooked remove to serving plates & top with the tomato sauce. Serve with warm olive bread.