This is a meal that is as much about the process as the final plate. Most everyone has made ‘zucchini boats’ at one time or another and this is a lovely rendition of them.
I have learned from travelling across cultures, that one thing can truly bring people together, no matter where in the world you are from, and that is food.
No doubt, every culture has its own equivalent of ‘comfort food’. Stuffing vegetables is a Middle Eastern food trend that has been popular for thousands of years, combining spices and food groups in unique ways.
In truth, zucchini are simply immature cultivars of the squash family, eaten while the rind is still edible. Developed in Northern Italy, zucchini was not introduced to the rest of the world until the 1930’s.
‘Kousa Mahshi’ (Arabic for stuffed zucchini), is a type of yellow squash found in the Middle East which is hollowed out, stuffed with a meat/rice filling and steeped in a seasoned tomato broth. These were likely a reinvention of the ‘stuffed grape leaves’ common in the Mediterranean, Balkans and Persian Gulf.
I found the idea of hollowing out the small zucchini and stuffing them quite unique as opposed to just slicing them to make ‘boats’. Rather than using a meat/rice combo in my zucchini rolls, I used a ground turkey/mushroom stuffing and served them over a ‘simple’ Spanish Rice Pilaf.
This is not a difficult recipe, just one that takes a bit of time but is worth it in taste and eye appeal.
Wash zucchini & slice off stem end. Use a long narrow apple or vegetable corer to core zucchini, leaving 1/2-inch walls. Care should be taken not pierce the shell or the end. If you are cutting your zucchini in half, make sure to leave your cut end with a solid bottom. Gently remove all the pulp from the rolls & set aside. Reserve pulp for turkey filling.
In a skillet, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil. Saute onion & garlic until soft. Add mushrooms & reserved zucchini pulp; saute about another 2 minutes. Remove from skillet & set aside.
In the same skillet, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil; add ground turkey. Lightly brown, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Stir in reserved onion & mushroom mixture. Add chicken broth; stir in tomato, basil & rosemary & cook 1 minute longer. Drain off any excess fat, remove mixture from heat & set aside. When mixture has cooled, add cheese, egg, salt & pepper. Fill zucchini rolls with mixture.
Preheat oven to 375 F. In a Dutch oven, place stewed tomatoes & water. Arrange stuffed zucchini in the pot. Cover & bake for 25-30 or until zucchini is tender-crisp. With a slotted spoon lift rolls out of pot & serve on top of rice or serve in stewed tomatoes WITH rice, your choice!
'Simple' Spanish Rice
In a large pot, heat oil. Stir in onion & saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Mix rice into pot & stir until it begins to brown. Stir in chicken broth & salsa. Reduce heat & simmer (covered) for 20 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed & the rice is cooked.
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.
Bread pudding always gives me reason to remember good things. Why is it so beloved, aside from the extreme comfort food factor? It’s not that the dish was invented here — that honor likely goes to clever medieval or even ancient cooks in Europe and the Middle East who had a surplus of stale bread on their hands. The perfect embodiment of the virtues of frugality and indulgence: day old bread, too precious to waste, is bathed in a mixture of milk and eggs and made into either a sweet or savory bread pudding (with a few other additions) and baked into something sublime.
In 2015, ‘The Taste of a Memory’, a memorabilia/cookbook I wrote as a tribute to my wonderful parents, was published. It contained a compilation of stories, articles, recipes and reflections that evoke an intimate memory, special time period and fond emotion brought about by the aroma and taste of food. Writing them down not only puts them in print but allowed me to take a mental journey back to a gentler time. Hopefully this book will be enjoyed by future generations or just anyone choosing to read it. As with my other book endeavors, Brion’s strong support and technical savvy were invaluable.
For today’s blog, I chose a recipe from the book called APPLE-ANISE BREAD PUDDING. The licorice flavor of anise is one we both enjoy.
Anise seed is native to the Mediterranean basin and has been used throughout history in both sweet and savory applications. Anise seeds are not botanically related to star anise, but have nearly identical flavors and in ground form can be substituted for each other. For most part, Europeans use anise in cakes, cookies and sweet breads where as the Middle East uses it in soups and stews.
I don’t particularly recall my mother using anise in her cooking or baking but for my sister Loretta and I, it’s definitely one of our favorite flavors. I hope you enjoy this bread pudding recipe.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Pulse bread CRUSTS ONLY in a food processor to make bread crumbs. Reserve 1 cup for the topping. Butter an 8 x 8-inch baking dish & coat with 1-2 Tbsp of the remaining bread crumbs.
With a mixer, beat eggs & then add the sugar. Mix in anise seeds, cinnamon, vanilla & milk until combined. Pour into a large bowl & add bread bread cubes. Fold together gently with a spatula then pour into prepared baking dish. Top with diced apples & chopped walnuts.
In a small dish, combine reserved 1 cup bread crumbs with 2 Tbs melted butter & 1 Tbsp sugar. Sprinkle topping evenly over pudding.
Prepare a 'hot water bath'. For this you will need another pan that's larger than & at least as deep as the bread pudding pan itself. When you set the bread pudding pan in it and add water it should go about halfway up the sides. This will ensure even, slow baking for a smooth velvety result.
Bake about an hour or until it tests done. Pudding should be puffy & golden. Serve as is or with whipped cream, your choice!
ANISE SUGAR - for tea, on top of cookies or over fruit.
In a blender, combine 1 cup sugar with 1 T. anise seed
Blend on high speed until mixture is thoroughly combined
One of the most interesting facets of the culinary revolution is our growing fascination with culinary history. It seems the more I learn about the ethnic melting pot that makes up our dinner table, the more curious I become about regional cuisines and the origin of specific dishes.
Stuffed peppers probably go further back than the 1890’s. Many cuisines around the world have a traditional stuffed pepper that has been passed down for generations. Here’s a few I found interesting: Denmark: Fyldte Peberfrugter – Bell pepper stuffed with bulgur, mushrooms and kale Hungary: Toltott Paprika – Bell pepper stuffed with ground meat, rice and paprika. Served with sour cream. India: Bharawn Shimla Mirch – Bell pepper stuffed with spiced mashed potatoes Korea: Gochu Jeon – Chili peppers stuffed with tofu Mexico: Chili Rellenos – Poblano pepper stuffed with carnitas meat, kielbasa and topped with cheddar cheese Phillippines: Pandak na tao pinalamanan peppers – – Bell peppers stuffed with shrimp, pork and water chestnuts Romania: Ardei Umpluti – Bell peppers stuffed with pork and rice and served in a creamy sour cream sauce Spain: Pimientos Rellenos de Arroz con Salsa de Tomatoes – Bell pepper stuffed with Valencia or arborio rice and saffron, then cooked in a tomato sauce Tunisia: Fil Fil Mashsi – Bell pepper stuffed with lamb, rice and sprinkled with nutmeg, saffron and cardamom United States & Canada: Classic Stuffed Peppers – Bell pepper stuffed with ground beef, rice and cooked in a tomato sauce
The recipe today, pairs flavorful bacon risotto with colorful sweet bell peppers. The fact that they can be frozen for up to 6 months sure makes for an easy meal on a busy day.
In a large saucepan, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Lay on paper towels, reserving 1 Tbsp of the bacon drippings in saucepan; set aside. Cook onion & mushrooms in drippings until tender; add rice, cook & stir 2 minutes more. Carefully stir in broth; bring to boiling & reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; stir in bacon & peas. Let stand, covered for 5 minutes. Stir in cheese. If desired, season with salt & pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut large peppers in half lengthwise. Remove membranes & seeds. Spoon risotto mixture into peppers. Place in a shallow baking dish. Cover with foil; bake, covered, for 30-45 minutes or until heated through. If desired sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese. Serve with heated zesty pasta sauce.
Can be chilled for up to 12 hours then baked for 50-55 minutes.
Can be frozen for up to 6 months then baked (frozen), covered, about 1 hour or until heated through.
In 2014, before returning home to Canada from a European holiday, Brion and I spent 12 days in the Dominican Republic. We stayed at a resort called Sanctuary Cap Cana. The beauty of the area was just incredible. This was a little ‘wind down’ to just enjoy a bit of sea, sun and sand. When we went to supper one evening, a chef was preparing a HUGE pan of Fideau`.
Anyone familiar with Spanish cuisine knows about paella, the saffron-flavored rice dish made with varying combinations of vegetables , meat, chicken and seafood. It belongs to the list of the most popular Spanish icons like bullfighting and flamenco dancing.
Fideau`, on the other hand is the lesser known dish but is very similar. Instead of using rice, it is made with short pasta and embodies a different texture. Both are cooked in a shallow, wide flat metal pan (paellera) which lets the starch cook evenly and the water evaporate uniformly. Good soup stock or seasoning sauce is a key ingredient to achieve the traditional deep flavor. Another important thing is to add hot water slowly at intervals while cooking to make sure the rice or pasta do not become too dry or too moist.
That was the first time either of us had heard about fideau`. It was a little spicy for me but Brion just loved it. This is my own version I made when we came home!?
In a 14-inch skillet or paella pan, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil on medium -high heat ; add fideo pasta. Sprinkle with salt & pepper; cook, stirring almost constantly until they darken slightly.
Add broth, clam juice, garlic, salt & pepper, saffron threads (turmeric), Italian herbs, hot pepper sauce; simmer for 5 minutes. Add onion, tomato & peas; simmer about 10 minutes until onion & pasta are tender.
Add shrimp & scallops; cook about 5 minutes, stirring gently. Adjust seasoning if necessary & serve with lemon wedges if desired.
When I’m working in the yard, summer always tempts me to spend less time in the kitchen. As much as I love to cook, I find the ‘gardener’ in me takes over. I can’t simply just go out and do a bit of looking. The first thing I know, there’s a little weed that needs to be picked or a plant to prune and that does it — I’m hooked for hours. Nevertheless, one thing for sure and that is the fresh air and exercise builds an appetite which brings me to a fast-to-fix meal.
Today, I’m thinking some chicken fajitas for our evening meal. Before I even go outside, I’ll do a bit of quick prep work, that way it will be a ‘no brainer’ later when I’m tired.
Technically, only beef was used in fajitas, but the term has become ‘blurred’ and describes just about anything that is cooked and served rolled up in a soft flour tortilla. The origin of the fajita goes back to Mexican ranch workers living in West Texas (along the Rio Grande on the Texas-Mexican border) in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s. When a steer was butchered, the workers were given the least desirable parts to eat for partial payment of their wages. Because of this, the workers learned to make good use of a tough cut of beef known as shirt steak. The first print mention of the word fajitas anywhere in the world didn’t occur until the 1970’s.
The chicken breast I’m using in this recipe is marinated for a number of hours making it nice and spicy as well as tender. This is a great little, quick and easy hand held meal.
In a large resealable plastic bag, combine 2 Tbsp oil, lemon juice & seasonings. Add chicken. Seal & turn to coat; refrigerate for 1-4 hours.
In a large skillet, saute peppers & onions in remaining oil until crisp-tender. Remove & keep warm. In the same skillet, cook chicken over medium-high heat for 5-6 minutes or until no longer pink. Return pepper mixture to pan; heat through. Spoon filling down the center of the tortillas; fold in half. Serve with cheese & choice of other toppings.