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.
Whether you celebrate Christmas culturally, religiously or not at all, it seems a good time to evaluate your priorities to make sure you are truly doing what matters to you most. Christmas comes and goes each year during which the ‘Christmas Spirit’ is alive and well. Wouldn’t it be nice if that same spirit was applied to our daily lives all year long.
Today, December 25th, we celebrate my sister Rita’s birthday as well as Christmas Day. Our family’s Christmas eve birthday ‘parties’ hold many fond memories for me. After attending Christmas eve church service, upon returning home, we would be joined by family friends to have birthday cake and some homemade root beer. It was very important to my parents that a special birthday acknowledgement was made to Rita apart from the Christmas festivities.
Christmas is a nostalgic time of year for many of us — recalling simple family traditions. When it comes to holiday decorations, the thing I remember most were the ‘multitudes’ of Christmas cards that our family received in the mail. My mother would fasten string between doorways and windows to hang them all on each time we would receive another one. There was a limited amount of other Christmas decorations. We used the same ones year after year and that was what made them so special. They all had their own special place where they belonged, and once they were out, it truly felt like Christmas.
Probably, the most cherished item was a Christmas Manger set. This cardboard tabletop Nativity was published by Concordia Publishing House in early 1940’s from illustrations first produced by artist George Hinke. A base was provided with special tabs to hold the 17 lithographed figures upright; each tab being carefully labeled making it easy to assemble.
George Hinke was born in 1883 in Berlin, Germany where he studied as a painter. He immigrated to the United States in 1923.
I remember this Nativity scene vividly as the cardboard figures were so beautiful and accurately painted. It was sold in a cardboard box that contained assembly instructions. One of the trips Brion and I made to Italy was just after Christmas one year in early January. Thanks to the European mindset, the outdoor Christmas decor had not been tucked away for the season. The detail in some of the Nativity scenes was incredible. They brought back memories of that little ‘Christmas Manger’ set from many years ago.
For our Christmas dinner this year we are having something a little different from the traditional roast turkey. Turkey roulade lets you have all the traditional flavors of Christmas without having to go through the whole turkey cooking episode. Not only is it mouthwatering and tender, it’s easy to make, cooks quicker, a breeze to carve and looks super elegant. Now, there’s the matter of the stuffing. Equally essential to the holiday table, it’s a far more expressive medium than the turkey itself. You could say, it is the personality with countless options.
Today’s recipe is a turkey breast that has been flattened and stuffed with herbs, cranberries and hazelnuts. The roulade is wrapped with bacon to keep it moist and tucked into a half of a spaghetti squash. The drippings from the bacon and turkey flavor the squash perfectly as it bakes giving a tasty, earthy, vegetable side dish. Brion and I preferred some cranberry sauce and a traditional gravy with this meal but if you want to kick it up a notch you could serve a thin apple cider gravy instead.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, RITA! ENJOY YOUR DAY AS WE CELEBRATE YOU WITH LOVE
In a medium saucepan, heat 2 T. butter. Saute onion, garlic & sage leaves, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes. Add bread crumbs, toasted hazelnuts, cranberries, chicken broth, Italian seasoning, salt & pepper; cook for another minute or so. Remove from heat & cool completely.
Using a sharp knife, 'butterfly' turkey breasts. Cover with plastic wrap, flatten them slightly with a meat tenderizer. Divide stuffing between the two breasts & spread it out evenly. Roll breasts up, place cut side down onto work surface. Wrap each roulade with 6 slices of bacon, tucking the ends under the turkey rolls.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Slice the spaghetti squash in half & scoop out the seeds. Place both haves on a large roasting pan & drizzle with olive oil. Roast 30 minutes. Remove squash from oven & place the bacon wrapped roulades into the cavity of the squash. Return turkey/squash roulade to oven, lower oven temperature to 350 F. & roast until the internal temperature of the turkey roulade is 155 F., ABOUT 1 1/2 hours. Remove from oven & allow to stand about 10 minutes. Slice & place on serving platter.
Apple Cider Gravy
In a medium saucepan, combine turkey stock, apple cider & sage leaves; bring to a boil. Gently boil, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes until sauce is reduced & thickened slightly. Remove sage leaves & discard. Drop in butter cubes; whisk to incorporate, add pepper & remove from heat. Serve hot over turkey roulade.
Pork tenderloin can be stuffed with anything, imagination is the limit. What’s not to like — easy to prepare, boneless and fork tender. The pairing of pork with cornbread seems perfect, add caramelized onions and you got it!
Cornbread is one of those nostalgic foods for me. It always brings me back to my mother’s kitchen. I remember very clearly that wonderful smell of fresh cornbread coming out of the oven and that small Pyrex, rectangle baking pan she always baked it in. Those special memories came to mind today as I was trying to come up with a supper ‘idea’.
I love stuffing or dressing, whatever you prefer to call it. Of course, my ultimate favorite is the one I grew up with. On the other hand when you just need a very small amount, I see nothing wrong with using a box of ‘Stovetop Stuffing’. Of course I can’t resist telling you just a bit of the history about the product itself —
In 1972, General Foods which is now known as Kraft Foods introduced ‘Stovetop Stuffing’. It was quick, convenient, tasty and therefore was an instant hit.
The secret lies in the crumb size. If the dried crumb is too small, adding water to it makes a soggy mass; too large, and the result is gravel. The nature of the cell structure and overall texture of the dried bread crumb used in this invention is of great importance if a stuffing which will hydrate in a matter of minutes to the proper texture and mouthfeel is to be prepared.
Ruth Siems, a home economist that spent more than three decades on the staff of General Foods was instrumental in arriving at the precise crumb dimensions — about the size of a pencil eraser.
That being said, here is my idea for this great little combination. We really enjoyed it!
Stuffed Pork Rolls with Cornbread & Caramelized Onions
In a large skillet, heat oil. Add onion & sprinkle with salt. Cook & stir about 15 minutes or until moisture is evaporated & onion is soft. Reduce heat; sprinkle with cider vinegar. Cook & stir until golden. Sprinkle with brown sugar; cook & stir until caramel brown color.
Prepare as directed on package.
Slice tenderloin into 4 pieces. Using a meat mallet, pound into thin slices. Divide caramelized onions between them and spread over meat. Top with a layer of prepared cornmeal stuffing. Roll tightly encasing the filling inside & tie with kitchen twine. Roll pork rolls in the 1/4 cup flour that has been seasoned with salt & pepper to coat lightly.
In a large skillet, heat butter & oil; brown pork rolls well on each side. Remove rolls to a platter,
Red Wine Gravy
Stir 'brown bits' remaining from frying rolls, with garlic, thyme & red wine. Simmer about 5 minutes. In a small dish, combine cornstarch with chicken broth; add to wine mixture, season to taste. Return pork rolls to the pan. Cover, simmer gently for another 8-10 minutes.
Place pork rolls on serving platter & stir fresh parsley into gravy. Spoon gravy over pork rolls & serve immediately.
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.
The humble pot pie was once the height of culinary style. During the Elizabethan era, these savory pastries — decorated with flowers, fancy designs, etc. were elaborate assertions of the chef’s skill in the royal households of France and England. Among the lower classes, pot pie were popular because the addition of a crust helped feed another mouth or two, while individual pastries, empanadas and perogies were well suited for sale by street vendors as portable meals.
Fortunately, the resurgence in so called ‘retro’ foods has brought pot pies back to the table. There is no reason why they shouldn’t do just as well in the 21st century. To some, chicken pot pie is a staple comfort food. The recipes mix of meat and vegetables in a chicken broth seasoned with herbs, produces a spectrum of flavors that’s like no other.
The trick is getting all the ingredients to the right degree of doneness at the same time. It may be these timing issues that led to the abandonment of the homemade pot pie in favor of the frozen variety. One thing for sure, is that they are definitely worth the time and effort. It makes good sense to make a big recipe, freeze them unbaked (if you choose) and there ready when you need them.
In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp oil. Add chicken, season with 1 tsp salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is no longer pink on the outside but not dry, 4-6 minutes. Remove from skillet & set aside.
Decrease heat & add remaining oil. When oil is hot, add onions, mushrooms, carrots, celery, garlic, remaining 1 1/2 tsp salt, pepper, dried thyme & savory; stir to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions have softened, about 5 minutes. Add margarine & melt.
Stir in the flour & cook for 1-2 minutes; gradually stirring in chicken broth & milk. Bring to a simmer, continue stirring until sauce thickens, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat & stir in peas, thyme, mustard & reserved chicken. Cover & set aside while preparing pastry.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder & salt. With a pastry blender, cut in white & yellow Crisco. In a measuring cup, place the egg & vinegar; add enough cold water to make 1 cup & whisk together. Make a well in flour; pour in all of the liquid & combine.
Roll out pastry. For 6 individual pies, prepared in mini foil pot pie pans, cut 6 - 8" (20 cm) circles for the bottom shells & 6 - 5 1/2" (14 cm) circles for the tops. Preheat oven to 350 F.
Place pastry lined pans on a baking sheet & divide chicken filling among them. Moisten edges with milk or water; place pastry circles on top, crimping edges with a fork. Whisk together 1 egg & 1 Tbsp water; brush tops of pot pies with egg wash. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden.
This amount of pastry will actually make enough for a double recipe of filling or just some extra for another time. If wrapped tightly it will freezes well.
When I think about Autumn here in Canada, it could be likened to a vanGogh painting. The landscape transforms into a beautiful tapestry of red, gold and yellow. As the days grow shorter and the mornings darker, your tastes turn from salads and cool drinks to your favorite comfort foods. Smells that bring you back to your childhood……. evoking so much from one moment in time is the sheer essence of Autumn.
The truth being is that fall just gives us a different perspective. The word Thanksgiving itself makes one pause and ask, what am I thankful for this year? We start to reflect on the year we have had with it’s inevitable highs and lows.
Fall also represents a time of change. As nature bursts with it’s fabulous fall foliage, it gives us a little bit of extra time to make the most of what we have left in this year before the grand finale.
For the last 60 years, Canada has celebrated Thanksgiving Day on the second Monday in October. It’s one of those holidays that tend to bring families together, both physically and emotionally. Unfortunately though, in this highly technological age, it seems as if we have become more connected digitally than emotionally. Thinking about the food aspect of this holiday, sweet potatoes have become synonymous with Thanksgiving (and Fall).
Native to Central and South America, sweet potatoes are some of the oldest vegetables on the planet. Distantly related to commonplace, starchy Russets and Yukon Golds. Western markets have tagged some sweet potatoes with the deceptive name ‘yams’ to differentiate the southern from the northern crops. True yams are rough-skinned tubers, related to lilies.
Enter the ‘Candied Yam Casserole’. It seems to be the most divisive of the side dishes served, a real ‘love-it-or-hate-it’ kind of thing. Definitely not a venerated Thanksgiving tradition but more of a marketing promotion that caught on. It was 1917 when the first instance of sweet potatoes baked with a coat of marshmallows appeared in a recipe booklet commissioned by Angelus Marshmallow Company. The recipes in the booklet showed you how to incorporate marshmallows into everyday dishes so that their product wouldn’t fail and ‘viola’, the classic and capitalistic pairing was born.
I do remember my mother making this casserole for our special Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, being a kid that loved sweets, it tasted real good. At this point in time, I would rather just have them with salt and pepper for most part.
My blog recipe is one I came across in a Pillsbury booklet from 2010 ( pillsbury.com ). We have enjoyed it several times as it fits in perfect with a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil; spray with cooking spray. Pierce sweet potatoes with a fork & rub with oil. Place on baking sheet & bake 45-55 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork.
In a large skillet over medium heat, fry bacon until crisp; remove & drain on paper towel. In bacon drippings, cook onion & celery about 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened. Add broth & 2 Tbsp butter; heat to boiling. Stir in stuffing mix, cranberries & 2 Tbsp of the walnuts. Remove from heat, cover & set aside.
Remove sweet potatoes from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 375 F. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out potato flesh, leaving a 1/3-inch thick wall on inside of shell; set aside. Place potato flesh in a large bowl. Add 2 Tbsp syrup, remaining 2 Tbsp butter & the nutmeg; mash. Spoon about 1/2 cup of stuffing mixture into each potato shell; spoon mashed sweet potato mixture over stuffing, leaving some stuffing exposed around side of shell.
Line a baking sheet with foil again & spray with cooking spray. Place potato boats on sheet. Bake 15 minutes or until hot. Sprinkle potatoes with crumbled bacon bits & remaining 2 Tbsp walnuts; drizzle with additional syrup.
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.
Lemon chicken is the name of several dishes found in cuisines around the world which include chicken and lemon.
In Canada, we usually either use breading or batter to coat the chicken before cooking it and serving it in a sweet lemon flavored sauce. A completely unrelated dish from Italy, also called lemon chicken is where a whole chicken is roasted with white wine, fresh lemon juice, fresh thyme and vegetables. In France, lemon chicken generally includes Dijon mustard in the sauce and is accompanied by roasted potatoes. I would presume the German version would be a chicken schnitzel with fresh lemon.
Having an inherited love of ‘sweet things’, lemon chicken has always appealed to me. I prefer to make a tempura batter to dip the chicken strips in and then fry them on a griddle. I’m not big on anything deep fried so this is as close as it gets for me. Some years ago I came across a recipe on a kraftfoods.com site for a very unique and easy ‘lemon sauce’ for chicken. It might not appeal to everyone but we enjoy it every so often.
Prepare vegetables & saute in 1/2 cup chicken broth until tender-crisp. Drain broth & reserve for later.
In a bowl, whisk together all batter ingredients. Slice chicken breast into thin strips & place in batter; mix well. Heat griddle to 325 F. Add a small amount of oil; remove chicken strips from batter & place on griddle. Fry on each side until cooked & golden. Lay on paper towel to blot off oil.
In a small saucepan, combine jelly powder & cornstarch. Add 1 cup chicken broth, dressing, garlic & ginger; stir until jelly powder is dissolved. Simmer over medium heat until sauce is thickened, stirring frequently. Add reserved broth from vegetables.
Combine vegetables chicken & lemon sauce. Serve over hot cooked rice, if desired.
Savored for centuries, crepes are popular not only throughout France but worldwide. Crepe making has evolved from being cooked on large cast- iron hot plates heated over a wood fire in a fireplace to pans or griddles that are gas or electrically heated.
Around the 12th century, buckwheat was introduced to Brittany, France from the east. Buckwheat could thrive on the desolate, rocky Breton moors and was high in fiber, protein and essential amino acids. At that point, all crepes were being made from buckwheat flour. White flour crepes appeared only at the turn of the 20th century when white flour became affordable.
Almost every country in the world has its own name and adaptation of crepes including Italian crespelle, Hungarian palacsintas, Jewish blintzes, Scandinavian plattars, Russian blini and Greek kreps.
Although crepes are simple in concept, by creating fillings that are complex in flavors, takes this entree to a whole new level.
On July 25/2016, I posted a blog featuring both sweet and savory crepes you might enjoy to read. For something different today, I made ‘crepe stacks’ which have a savory filling of my own ‘design’. Hope you find time to make some.
In a large container with a cover, beat eggs well on medium speed. Gradually add dry ingredients alternately with milk & oil. Beat until smooth. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before cooking.
In a saucepan, melt margarine; add flour while stirring for a couple of minutes. Gradually whisk in milk, chicken broth & spices. Add cheese; cook, stirring until cheese is melted. Set aside to cool slightly then place in food processor. Process until smooth & fluffy.
In a bowl, combine water & seasonings. Add ground pork & mix well. In a skillet, saute mushroom slices in margarine; remove from skillet & set aside. Scramble fry pork until no longer pink. Spoon onto paper towels to drain. Add to Gouda sauce.
Place one crepe on each dinner plate. Top with slices of sauteed mushrooms & some pork/Gouda sauce. Repeat 3 more times on each plate. Garnish if you prefer. It may be necessary to reheat for a couple of minutes in the microwave before serving.
Soups have represented cultural traditions while showcasing regional foods and cuisines long before recorded history. To give a few examples for instance — Russia makes borscht, Italy has minestrone, France with its vichyssoise, Spain has gazpacho and so on.
Food historians generally agree that recipes dubbed ‘chowder’, as we know them today, were named for the primitive cavernous iron pots they were cooked in. Each simmering pot is a season’s herald: hearty chowders are comfort food during winter; garden fresh vegetable soups in the spring; refreshing chilled gazpacho or fruit soups during the summer and pumpkin and squash from autumn’s bounty.
Today’s ROASTED PEPPER & CORN CHOWDER is an easy choice to prepare in that it uses bottled roasted red peppers. Nothing says you can’t roast some fresh peppers instead if you prefer. Some people serve corn chowder as a vegetarian alternative to clam chowder. Brion and I enjoy this soup accompanied with some warm garlic bread sticks.