It seems the cauliflower craze has managed to last longer than just about any other that’s come before it. A total superstar when it comes to all the popular diets currently on everyone’s radar, including keto, paleo & whole 30. All signs point to cauliflower becoming the longest lasting food trend of all time.
Cauliflower ….. a naturally gluten-free food that just requires heavy seasoning, is healthy, versatile and ‘tasteless’. Its an entirely blank canvas for all your cooking needs because you can make it taste like ‘anything’ you want.
Last summer, Brion & I stopped for lunch at a popular take-out restaurant. He decided to try their much advertised ‘plant-based burger’. He was not impressed. Let’s say … it was not as advertised!!
In a previous blog, a while back, I had made cauliflower pizza crust and we had really enjoyed it. So today I am making meatballs stuffed with cauliflower in a cauliflower cheese sauce. I guess, this is my version of a ‘plant-based meatball’. Hopefully that works out better.
Bacon Wrapped, Cauliflower Stuffed Meatballs
In a large pot, cook head of cauliflower in salted boiling water for about 5 minutes. Remove the stem & cut off florets. Set STEM aside.
In a large bowl, combine ground beef, with eggs, onion, garlic, mustard & spices. Mix well. Divide meat mixture into 7 equal amounts & flatten each piece in your hand (one at a time). Place a cauliflower floret in the middle of each, then seal the meat around it forming a meatball.
Wrap a slice of bacon around each cauliflower meatball. In a saucepan, heat a small amount of oil over medium heat & cook the meatballs on all sides.
Chop the reserved cauliflower stem. Shred cheese & place in a food processor with milk, seasonings & chopped cauliflower stem. Puree mixture until smooth.
Pour the cauliflower cheese sauce over the meatballs in the pan & allow to simmer about 5 minutes or until cheese is melted & smooth. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired.
Rice has always been a staple at our house. I think Brion could eat rice almost everyday without problem. Although the steamed long grain would be his favorite, I can’t resist making a risotto periodically.
A properly cooked risotto should form a soft, creamy mound on a dinner plate. It shouldn’t run across the plate, nor should it be stiff and gluey.
Risotto’s signature tenderness is traditionally achieved by slowly adding spoonfuls of liquid while the rice cooks. This shortcut version eliminates most of the stove top stirring, but produces equally silky results.
Chicken & Mushroom Risotto
Heat 1 tsp oil in a LARGE POT or DEEP SKILLET over high heat. Add bacon & cook until golden. Transfer to a small microwave-proof bowl.
Leave about 1 Tbsp bacon drippings in pot & discard the rest. Add chicken & cook until browned through. Transfer to a separate bowl. Add mushrooms & cook until light golden. Add to bowl with chicken.
Turn heat down to medium & return pot to the stove. Add butter & melt; then add garlic & onion. Saute for 3 minutes or until softened. Turn up heat, add rice & stir until grains become partially translucent, about 1 minute (do NOT overcook).
Add wine & cook, scraping the bottom of the pot to get any brown bits, about 2 minutes. Turn down heat to medium-low; add about 3 cups of chicken stock. Leave, uncovered, stirring just once or twice, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
Check firmness of rice & add 1/2 cup of broth at a time, stirring in between until absorbed & rice is cooked to YOUR taste. Add the chicken & mushrooms back into the risotto towards the end, just to heat through. Right at the end when the risotto is ready, add a 'splash' more chicken broth to make the risotto slightly soupy, then take it off the stove.
Add butter & Parmesan cheese, then stir vigorously (this will activate the starch & make it super creamy). Serve immediately. Garnish with reheated bacon & extra Parmesan if you wish.
- Risotto is best made with Arborio rice which is starchier than other types of rice, making it essential to achieve a creamy risotto.
- In order to use this 'no stir' method of cooking risotto, you MUST use a large pot or deep skillet so the rice & liquid is spread out & not too deep.
Easter is synonymous with spring, it represents a time of renewal. The winter months are now in our rear view mirrors and we can look forward to those wonderful summer days. Fresh new buds are on the trees, just waiting to burst out as the season unfolds. Everything speaks of new life and fresh hope. Spring is so unique (even if we still have snow on the ground in our part of the country).
Though ham is traditional in many homes, there are just as many people who would prefer something different for dinner on Easter Sunday. Holiday cooking is all about making a meal that feels more special than what you would cook on a regular basis.
Pork tenderloin is one of my favorite meats due to its tenderness and versatility. This meal started out with an idea to stuff a tenderloin and developed into so much more. I must say, I was even more pleased with the final results when we both enjoyed it.
Braided Pork Tenderloin w/ Pineapple Stuffing
Drain pineapple; reserving 1/3 cup juice. In a large saucepan, melt margarine. Add walnuts, celery & sage; cook stirring until celery is tender-crisp. Stir in green onions, pineapple & reserved juice. Remove from heat; toss in cornbread stuffing mix & set aside.
Using a sharp knife starting 3-inches from end, slice tenderloin lengthwise twice; making 3 equal strips. Carefully take the knife & cut pockets lengthwise every 3-inches in the center of each of the tenderloin strips. Spread the combined rub ingredients over meat & allow to stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes before continuing with preparation.
When meat is marinated, stuff each pocket with pineapple stuffing. Place a strip of bacon along each tenderloin strip. Braid the stuffed tenderloin/bacon by crossing the right section over the middle section then the left section over the new middle section. Continue until you run out of tenderloin.
Insert a wooden or metal skewer into the end of braided tenderloin to keep it together. Tuck in the remaining stuffing mixture in the folds of the braid.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Bake, uncovered for 25-30 minutes or until meat thermometer reads 160 F. Remove from oven & loosely cover with foil. Allow to rest for 3-5 minutes before slicing. Serve with pineapple salsa.
In a large skillet, combine pineapple, sugar, vinegar, lime juice, red onion, cumin, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil & cook over medium-high heat until thickened, 7-10 minutes. If there is still a lot of liquid left, use a slotted spoon to transfer the pineapple to a bowl & continue to cook the liquid over high heat for 5 minutes more, then pour the liquid over the pineapple. Mix in the onions & cilantro. Season with salt to taste.
The debate between chicken thighs and breast has been one that’s continued over generations. Juicy, inexpensive and highly versatile, chicken thighs are the unsung heroes of the protein realm. You can enjoy them baked, glazed or simply grilled.
In the flavor department, chicken thighs naturally have a more intense and flavorful edge to them. As for fat content … yes, there is more fat on a thigh than on a breast. However, the monounsaturated fat in chicken thighs can help aid in weight loss, control and reduce cholesterol numbers and even lower you risk of heart disease and cancer.
From an economical point of view, in our part of the world, chicken thighs are generally more affordable than breasts. Let’s face it, at the end of the day, both chicken breasts and thighs are good for you. It all comes down to personal choice.
This meal is good, homey, comfort food that’s easy to prepare using frozen puff pastry but elegant enough to serve at a holiday supper with friends.
Bacon & Chicken En Croute
In a skillet, cook bacon until just crisp, then remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain; chop when cooled. Remove all but 1 Tbsp of the bacon drippings from skillet.
Salt & pepper chicken thighs on both sides. Place in skillet with remaining hot bacon drippings & cook until browned. Remove & cut into bite-size pieces. Set aside on a plate.
Add butter to the skillet, cook onions, garlic & mushrooms, scraping up any brown bits, until the onions have softened & mushrooms have lost most of their size & moisture. Stir in the bacon & chicken thighs; taste for seasoning. Cook for another minute or two, then remove from heat & set aside to cool.
In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat, then add the flour. Whisk until flour darkens & begins to thicken then add broth. Season with herbs, salt & pepper (to taste) & continue to whisk until gravy boils. Allow it to boil for 2 minutes, stirring often, until it thickens. Remove from heat & cool.
Preheat oven to 375 F. At this point you can either make individual servings or bake as one long tart. Fit thawed puff pastry into tart pan or cut into 4 equal squares. You can roll the dough out on a floured surface to accommodate the size you need.
In a large bowl, combine cooled filling & gravy. Place evenly in pastry shell(s). Brush edges with beaten egg wash & bake for about 20 minutes until puffed & golden brown.
Salad season is upon us! Salads very often are misunderstood … an afterthought. A salad can be an amazing meal of various flavors and textures.
Funny how trends always have a way of coming back. You probably remember those unique bread bowl salads from the 90’s. They were huge, filled with all kinds of ‘goodies’ and loads of salad dressing. They looked so pretty, like having a dinner table decoration you could eat.
When you think about it, bread bowls can be and have been, used in a variety of ways. During the colder months for hearty soups and stews and in the spring or summer for salads, dips etc. A bread bowl moves the meal from humdrum to unique. Of course, whether you use a solid or a weaved bowl will dictate your filling.
I’ve always thought main course salads, especially during the summer months, were great. No turning on the oven (unless you make a bread bowl), easy to prepare, gorgeous to look at and a fabulous taste. Main course salad can have anything in it you like, there is no wrong way to make one.
To keep it simple today, I’m making my bread bowls from refrigerated pizza dough. The salad turned out to be a bit more time consuming but well worth it.
Chicken Salad in Braided Bread Bowls
Chicken - Marinade & Dressing
Braided Bread Bowl
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside Spray the outside of a medium-sized metal bowl generously with cooking spray or wrap with foil. Unroll pizza dough & slice lengthwise into 1/2-inch strips.
On a work surface covered with parchment paper, lay out pizza dough strips so they sit about 3/4-inch apart. Beginning in the center of the strips, weave the second half of the pizza strips in and out to create a basket base. Make sure to reserve a few strips for the braid at the top of your bread bowl.
Using the parchment paper, gently flip the weaved bread dough over the inverted prepared metal bowl on the lined baking sheet. Take the remaining dough strips, braid them together, then drape along the bottom to give a nice design on the top of your basket. Repeat with 2 pizza crust dough for the second basket. Brush the entire surface of the baskets with melted butter.
Bake for 18-23 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven & cool completely before gently removing bread bowls from the metal bowls.
Whisk together dressing/marinade ingredients. Pour half the marinade into a shallow dish to marinade chicken fillets for 2 hours at least. Refrigerate other half of marinade to use as dressing.
In a non-stick skillet, heat a teaspoon of oil & grill chicken fillets on each side until golden, crispy & cooked through. Once chicken is grilled, set aside to cool.
Wipe pan with a paper towel; drizzle with another teaspoon of oil & fry bacon until crisp. Blot on paper towel after frying & crumble.
Slice chicken into strips & prepare other vegetables. Make a 'nest' of torn Romaine in bread bowl. Arrange other ingredients on top. Whisk 2 Tbsp of water into remaining reserved dressing/marinade & drizzle over salad. Top with crumbled bacon & season with salt & cracked pepper to taste.
This week we celebrate my husband, Brion’s birthday. Since we have never felt the need to mark such occasions by giving gifts, we would rather just make some memories together. In January of this year (2019), we enjoyed a wonderful vacation in Merida, Mexico. Known for its rich history in Maya culture and tradition, Merida is also the capital of the Yucatan.
Although referred to as a colonial city, Merida has distinguished itself from other cities in Mexico by having something that can only be seen in its originality in the state of Yucatan, even more in Merida. The ‘you & me’ chairs or the ‘sillas tu y yo’, bring unique quality to this beautiful city. These chairs can be seen all around Merida. When you sit down you are facing the other person. The origin of these chairs is unclear. Popular legend has it that an over-protective father in Merida created this chair design so when his daughter was with her boyfriend they could talk comfortably without having to sit next to each other. The chairs have become part of the city’s culture and individuality.
We had such a great time and felt wonderfully safe during our stay. As I mentioned in a blog from February (2019), one of Brion’s ‘bucket list’ items was to visit Chichen Itza. It was amazing!
As always, Brion had done a great deal of research on the area before we went. I am always grateful for the ‘flawless’ vacations we have enjoyed over the years due to his careful planning.
THANKS FOR BEING THE SPECIAL PERSON YOU ARE!
BIRTHDAY WISHES, TO THE LOVE OF MY LIFE
Bacon Weave Stuffed Chicken Breast
In a small bowl, combine avocado filling ingredients. Set aside until chicken is ready to stuff.
Place the chicken breasts between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet, carefully pound chicken breasts until an even 1/2-inch thickness. On 2 large sheets of plastic wrap, prepare a bacon 'weave' square for each chicken breast. Place 3 strips of bacon perpendicular to you. Weave 3 more strips parallel to you by folding down alternating strips (no different than a lattice weave pastry crust).
Divide avocado filling between the 2 flattened chicken breasts. Using plastic wrap, roll both bacon & chicken together to form a 'parcel'. Tuck in any loose bacon ends & secure with toothpicks.
Preheat oven to 400 F. In a heavy oven-safe skillet, heat 1-2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Sear the bacon wrapped chicken on both sides for a few minutes. Cover pan with foil & place in oven for 20-30 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165 F on an oven thermometer.
I think sometimes there’s a slight misconception that the main focus of the meal can’t be made using vegetables. A humble vegetable can turn into a gourmet meal with just a little stuffing.
Onions are the ‘workhorses’ of the kitchen and the foundation of so many dishes across the globe. Sometimes its easy to forget how delicious they really are. We tend to under value anything we have perennial access to. As far as red, white and yellow onions, they are generally interchangeable.
Yellow are the driest, good for long cooking. Red onions are faintly sweeter, good for caramelization and when you need a boost in color. White onions are highest in water content and the mildest, good choice for a raw garnish. When it comes to stuffing onions, all three will work.
Because of their layered structure, onions are really easy to hollow out with a spoon. Just keep spooning until you have a good sized cavity. To make use of the onion pulp, I chopped it and then froze it for uses later on. I preferred to bake these stuffed onions but they can also be cooked on the BBQ as well. Great little sweet/savory summer meal!
Bacon Meatball Stuffed Onions
Cut off the tops & bottoms of the onions & remove the exterior skin. With a spoon, hollow out onions to within about 2-3 outer layers. Set aside. Chop onion pulp & freeze for other uses later.
In a large bowl, combine ground beef, parsley, mushrooms, bread crumbs & all of the spices. Mix well with your hands. Preheat oven to 425 F. Stuff onions with meat mixture; wrap the onion meatballs with 3 strips of bacon each. Secure bacon with toothpicks to keep it from unraveling during cooking.
Place in a baking dish & bake for 40 minutes or until cooked through. Remove from oven & serve with BBQ sauce. Onions can be cut in half to make 4 servings if you wish after baking them.
CELEBRATING FATHER’S DAY!
Honoring your father on Father’s Day doesn’t require his physical presence. I feel what is more important, is just the act of doing it. I am very grateful to have had a father who was such a strong role model in my life. Everything he did was driven by his commitment to provide and care for the family he loved.
My father passed away in 2005 and Brion’s in 2011. Both our Dad’s loved to talk and tell stories from their lives. We often wish we could retrace that time and hear their voices again. It seems you never fully appreciate your parents until they are no longer on this earth. It is so important to appreciate every hour they are in your life.
My special meal to honor them on this Father’s Day, is a nice medley of pork, shrimp and mushrooms.
Seafood Stuffed Pork Medallions with Peppercorn Sauce
Shred zucchini, sprinkle with a little salt & set aside. In a bowl, combine the cheeses, crumbled bacon, egg & seasonings. Squeeze as much liquid from zucchini as possible. Add it to the filling & mix well. Divide the filling between mushrooms. Place a small amount of Zesty Italian dressing in a cup. Dip bottom of each mushroom in dressing & allow to dip off for a few seconds. Place stuffed mushroom caps on a small baking dish making sure they will stay upright. Place in fridge until ready to bake.
In a bowl, combine oil, garlic, oregano, basil, Parmesan, salt & pepper. Add shrimp & toss gently; thread onto skewers. Place on a plate & refrigerate until ready to cook.
Stuffing / Tenderloin
In a saucepan, saute garlic & shallots in 1 Tbsp olive oil for a few minutes. Add a few pinches of salt & pepper; stir in breadcrumbs. Add water; stir till all is combined & transfer to a bowl.
In a bowl, cream together butter & cream cheese. Add 1/2 of the capers, the parsley & stir thoroughly. Add the Gruyere & scallops, stirring gently. Set aside.
'Butterfly' tenderloin & pound making it all the same thickness. Spread stuffing evenly on flattened cut side. Starting with the long side, carefully ROLL the tenderloin as opposed to just FOLDING it over. On work surface, lay out bacon strips side by side. Lay stuffed tenderloin at one end & roll up in bacon strips, placing a toothpick at end of each strip.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a skillet, heat remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil, add the roast carefully & saute for about 3-4 minutes on each side to cook the bacon a bit. Place a rack in a shallow roasting pan & lay stuffed tenderloin on it; bake at 400 F. for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 F. & bake for another 20 minutes. Remove from oven, set the roast on a cutting board, cover loosely with foil, & let rest while the shrimp & stuffed mushrooms are cooking. When ready to serve, slice into 1 - 1 1/2" thick 'medallions'.
Increase oven temperature to 400 F. Remove stuffed mushrooms from refrigerator, bake for 20-30 minutes or until filling is golden & mushrooms have softened. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with foil, place skewered shrimp in oven for the last 6-8 minutes of cooking the mushrooms.
This can be made earlier or while the last items are cooking in the oven. In a hot skillet, add butter, shallots & peppercorns; stir until shallots are golden, about 1 minute. Add broth & thyme sprigs; reduce heat & allow sauce to simmer for a few minutes. Remove thyme sprigs. Add cream & salt & pepper to taste. If you wish to thicken sauce, combine cornstarch & water in a small dish, stirring until smooth. Add a bit at a time to your hot mixture, stirring until desired thickness is achieved.
From what I understand, the global dish called chicken parmigiana is a variation on the Italian entree known as eggplant parmigiana. Simply put, you deep fry eggplant, add cheese and tomato sauce and bake it. At some point in time, various regions in the world with large Italian immigrant populations, realized chicken would be an excellent alternative to the eggplant and chicken parmigiana evolved.
In America, the dish became popular around 1958. Often the name has been simplified to just ‘chicken parm‘. Usually composed of fried or breaded chicken fillets, smothered in mozzarella (or provolone), parmesan and tomato sauce all of which is then baked. Another version is using veal instead of chicken. Parmigiana is traditionally served over hot pasta as the main entree but it has also become a sandwich filling favored in subs, hoagies, etc.
In today’s recipe, I’m using parmesan cheese but omitting the mozzarella-tomato sauce. I wanted to accent the flavor with fresh basil in the sauce instead. We quite enjoyed it.
Chicken Parmigiana with Basil Sauce
In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, cheese & parsley. Chop bacon finely & fry until crisp; drain. Add bacon to breadcrumb mixture.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a saucepan, melt butter, add minced garlic, Worcestershire sauce & dry mustard. Mix well. Dip chicken fillets in butter mixture & place in a shallow ovenproof dish. Press crumb mixture on top of each fillet.
Bake, uncovered for 20 - 25 minutes.
In a saucepan, combine oil, vinegar, minced garlic, finely chopped basil leaves & cream; stir until heated through. Add egg yolk & stir until sauce thickens. Do not boil. Season with salt & pepper. Serve over chicken parmigiana.
Potato pancake variations are present in National cuisines all over the world and considered by many to be pure comfort food. The nice thing is, you can create this great meal by using leftover mashed potatoes. It can be kept simple or you can amp up the flavor with cheese, onion, bacon or a variety of spices. I recall my mother making them. I think she just added some eggs, onion, a bit of flour and some salt & pepper to the leftover, mashed potatoes. They were made into patties and pan fried as you would a pancake.
Depending on which part of Eastern Europe you come from, the name varies — Kolduny, Zrazy, Kartoffelpuffer are just a few. Regardless of the name you call them, they are just simply delicious. The Russian version takes it a bit further. The potato pancake is stuffed with a filling and then fried to a golden brown.
After reading through numerous recipes, I decided to ‘meld’ some of them into my own creation. These are what developed — nothing pretty but really good flavor. Yes, truly comfort food.
Potato Pancakes w/ Pork Filling
In a bowl, combine pork filling ingredients; divide into 8 portions & form each into a patty shape. Refrigerate until potato pancake 'batter' is prepared .
In a skillet, fry bacon until crispy; drain on a paper towel until cool. In skillet with remaining bacon grease, saute onion & garlic until translucent.
In a large bowl, crumble bacon into small bits. Add cold mashed potatoes, onion, garlic, beaten egg, cheddar (if using), flour, salt & pepper. Combine well. Using a large piece of waxed paper, form 16 patties. On top of each one, place one of the pork patties & then top each with the remaining potato patties. With a pair of scissors, cut waxed paper to separate filled potato pancakes so it will be easy for you to place them on a griddle for frying.
Lightly oil a frying pan or griddle. Using the waxed paper remaining under each pancake, carefully flip each filled pancake onto the griddle. Flatten a bit & press edges to enclose filling better. Fry first side to a nice golden brown then carefully flip with a spatula & brown second side a few minutes. Cover with a lid (or foil) for remaining cooking time to ensure pork is cooked through.
Once cooked, remove from griddle & serve with sour cream or Ranch dressing.
- Don't hesitate to make the pancakes the size that works best for you.