The end of October! Seriously, it seems like we were just getting into spring and now its Halloween. Brion and I were in a store around the end of September that already had Christmas displays up. For me, that really doesn’t work. Maybe it just comes as we get older, but I really enjoy to try to stay in the ‘moment’ and enjoy each day, season and year as they unfold. That time will never come again, so why do we feel the need to rush it so. I guess you could call it, ‘making the most of your own personal journey’.
Nevertheless, it is time to think about some treats for the special ‘little people’ next door. We have just wonderful neighbors on either side of us. One family has two boys and the other side, two girls. I especially enjoy to come up with something unique each year for them on Halloween.
This year I decided to do some apple ‘mummy’ pastries (apple instead of pumpkin for kids, right?!), chocolate bats and black cat cookies. If these treats turn out they should look great! Fun! Fun! Fun!
FOR CRUST: In a food processor, pulse flour, salt & sugar, then add butter. Pulse until only until coarse meal texture is obtained. Add chilled water 1-2 Tbsp at a time. If your dough doesn't come together in clumps add remaining water. Divide dough into two portions & shape each into a 5-inch disk. Cover with plastic wrap & chill for one hour.
FOR FILLING: On a cutting board, chop apple pie filling into smaller pieces. In a bowl, soften cream cheese & combine with apple filling & 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Cover bowl & chill until ready to assemble cookies.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. On a floured work surface, roll out first disk of dough to about 13 X 11-inch rectangle. You will need to have straight edges so you may need to trim a bit. Make twelve 4 X 2 1/2-inch rectangles. Roll out second disk of dough & cut into 1/2-inch strips.
Space rectangles on prepared baking sheet & spread 2 heaping Tbsp of apple filling onto each one, leaving a rim on all sides uncoated. Brush uncoated edges with egg/water mixture. Top with strips to create a 'mummy' look, then seal edges with your fingertips & trim any excess. Brush strips with remaining egg white/water mixture & sprinkle with combined sugar & cinnamon. Bake about 10-12 minutes, until golden. When cooled secure edible candy eyes.
In a bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Gradually beat in powdered sugar; set aside. Remove wrappers from Reeses cups. Gently separate Oreo cookies & scrape off frosting. Cut cookies in half to form 4 bat wings. Fill a plastic baggie with cream cheese frosting. Cut off the tip of one corner & pipe frosting onto one corner of each cookie half.
Press one cookie piece on the left of the Reeses cup & another cookie piece on the right forming your bat in flight. Pipe frosting on the back of the edible eyes & secure on top of the center of the Reeses cup.
Black Cat Cookies
In a mixing bowl, cream butter & sugar until light & fluffy. Add egg, & vanilla; combine then stir in flour, dry pudding mix & nuts. Combine well but do not over mix. Roll out dough to about 1/4-inch thick between 2 sheets of parchment. Place in freezer for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Cut cooled dough into pumpkin shapes & place on parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake about 8 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool.
In a small double boiler, melt black candy melts. Pour melted wafers into a piping bag fitted with a fine tip. Place a large piece of waxed paper on a flat surface with a printout of black cats underneath. Trace cat shapes & fill in after. Allow to set completely, then peel shapes from waxed paper.
Ice cooled pumpkin cookies with orange frosting then lightly press a black cat on the top of each one. This recipe should make about 30 cookies.
Love it or hate it, pumpkin spice season is well underway. Every year our obsession with the ‘flavor of fall’ continues to grow with weirder, more unique, pumpkin themed products invading the bakeries, grocery stores, coffee shops, you name it—
It all started with the introduction of the famous Starbucks ‘Pumpkin Spice Latte’ in 2003. Strangely enough, as a kid, I wasn’t crazy about pumpkin at all. But that was then, now I’m one of those who loves everything pumpkin.
Some time ago, Brion had picked up a bottle of Pumpkin Cream Liqueur. It has a wonderful taste on its own but of course it only seems fitting that I would want to bake with it.
I believe one of the secrets of having incredible flavors in both savory and baked goods is with the use of alcohol. You can’t help but notice, over the last number of years how the humble little cupcake has been elevated to a whole new level. Many of these specialty cupcake stores that have popped up are featuring alcohol-inspired, adult-friendly options.
Now, today, I’m back to ‘recipe development’ to see what I can come up with.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper cups.
In a small bowl, combine all topping ingredients & set aside.
In a large bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt & spices. With a pastry blender, cut in butter until it resembles coarse crumbs.
In another bowl, whisk together egg, liqueur, milk & pumpkin puree. Stir into flour mixture JUST until moistened. Place a small scoop of batter in each cup. Divide topping. Using half of topping, divide evenly between cupcakes, creating the 'filling' for the cupcakes. Divide remaining batter between cups; top with remaining topping. Bake 15-20 minutes or until they test done. Remove from pan & cool on a wire rack.
Technically, pepitas and pumpkin seeds are the same thing. But pepitas (which mean “little seeds of squash” in Spanish) don’t have a shell and are found in only select pumpkin varieties.
Spring is definitely in the air, so bring on those fresh spring flavors. One that comes to my mind is lemon — zesty and full of some spring ‘zing’. My first thought is to pair lemon with some wild blueberries. I realize we are a long way from blueberry harvest time but the good news is that WILD blueberries are as good frozen as they are fresh. None of the nutritional values or antioxidant goodness is lost by freezing.
Canada is the world’s largest producer of ‘low-bush’ blueberries, which is another name for the wild blueberries native to eastern North America. They grow best on treeless land or on land that has been burned over. Growers do not plant them but instead manage wild stands that spread naturally by means of underground runners. The berries are often not uniform in appearance since managed fields can have several distinct runner systems.
The wild blueberries have a sweeter, tangier more intense flavor than their cultivated cousins. Harvest time comes in late August to early September, generally only lasting a few weeks.
This simple little dessert lets us get into the summer blueberry ‘season’ a little earlier and still has all the flavor.
In a large bowl, combine butter & powdered sugar; cream well then stir in vanilla. In a small bowl, combine dry ingredients, gradually add to creamed mixture; blend well. Line the muffin pan size of your choice with paper cups. Divide dough into balls, placing one into each cup. With your fingers, press dough evenly up sides & on bottom of paper cups. Refrigerate until filling & streusal are made.
In a small dish, combine streusal ingredients until mixture forms coarse crumbs.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Gently rinse & dry blueberries. In a small bowl, combine all other filling ingredients & whisk together until smooth. FOLD in blueberries. Divide filling evenly between pastry shells. Top with streusal & a spoon full of lemon curd. Bake about 25 minutes, (filling will rise slightly when set). Remove from oven. If you prefer, add a bit more lemon curd. Once tarts are cool, remove from pan. The paper cups will come off easily, leaving a pretty little corrugated design.
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.
How is it spelled? Portobello or Portabella – from what I understand there is no ‘right’ spelling. Both versions are accepted, but the Mushroom Council decided to go with Portabella to provide some consistency across the market.
The scientific name ‘agaricus bisporus’, for these giant mushrooms comes from the Greek word ‘agrarius’ meaning ‘growing in fields’. A portabella mushroom can measure up to six inches across the top. On the underside of the cap are black ‘gills’. The stems and gills are both edible, though some people remove the gills to make more room for stuffing or simply to avoid blackening a dish. Did you know that most of the table mushrooms we eat are all the same variety? The difference is just age– white are the youngest, cremini the middle and portabella the most mature. I really wasn’t aware of that for many years myself.
In May and June of 2016, I posted some recipes on my blog for a variety of stuffed burgers including a mushroom burger. They became very popular on the Pinterest site so I thought you might like to try some of them.
This recipe is for a roasted stuffed portabella mushroom. If you don’t care for salmon you can always change it up for ground beef or turkey using your favorite herbs and spices.
The thought of rhubarb is a nostalgic thing for me. I have memories of my mother’s neat row of rhubarb plants growing along the edge of her garden. Magically each spring they would reappear from what had been frozen ground only a few short weeks before. While other plants still lay dormant, the large fan shaped rhubarb leaves quickly gathered enough sunlight to produce some juicy stalks.
Tucked in behind the water fountain, in Brion and my flower garden, are three rhubarb plants. Originally we had put them there to show off that huge foliage as well as being used in my cooking. Time has passed and with our trees becoming more mature, they are getting more shade than they like. Nevertheless, last year they were still producing in late September.
I’m going to start off this season with some RHUBARB CHEESECAKE SQUARES, a favorite recipe that comes from tasteofhome.com
In a small bowl, combine flour, oats & brown sugar. Cut in butter until crumbly. Set aside 1 cup crumb mixture; press remaining mixture onto bottom of a greased 9-inch square baking dish. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a small bowl, beat cream cheese & sugar until smooth. Beat in salt, vanilla, cinnamon & nutmeg. Add egg; beat on low speed just until combined. Stir in walnuts & rhubarb. Pour over crust. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until set. Cool on a wire rack for 1 hour. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before cutting into squares.
If you are wanting to use frozen rhubarb, measure rhubarb while still frozen, then thaw completely. Drain in a sieve, but do not press liquid out.
Victoria Day is the distinctly Canadian holiday that officially wraps up winter. Even if the date marks the informal start of summer, you could be planning for a backyard barbecue or an impromptu indoor shut-in due to an array of snow, sleet, rain or hail.
Although we are well into the 21st century, in Canada we still celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday over 100 years after her passing. The only other country in the Commonwealth to observe this celebration is Scotland. This is our oldest statuary holiday in Canada and is celebrated annually on the Monday preceding May 25th. In the maritime provinces it is a non-statuary ‘general’ holiday and in Quebec, ‘National Patriots Day’ is observed instead.
While we might hang onto the British queen’s name for old times sake, the tradition of Victoria Day is truly Canadian and has everything to do with the end of the cold weather and short days, and a lot to do with some great food.
My choice of food for today’s blog should work well with your own ‘barbecue’ meal. It is APPLE-TURKEY SAUSAGE ROLLS and STUFFED POTATO SKINS.
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, saute apple, onion, sage, thyme & allspice in olive oil for 5 minutes. Apples & onions should be soft but not browned. Remove from heat & set aside to cool for 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine cooled apple mixture with ground turkey, salt & pepper. Using your hands, gently mix until everything is evenly combined, making sure not to overwork the mixture.
Unroll the puff pastry sheet onto a lightly floured work surface, cut crosswise to make three long, strips ((about 10 x 3.5" each) Brush a line of mustard down the middle of each strip. Divide filling into 3 equal portions. Roll into sausage shapes & place down the middle of each pastry rectangle. Brush edges firmly to seal.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Arrange the rolls, seam side down, on prepared baking sheet. Brush with remaining beaten egg, & sprinkle with poppy seeds. Cover with plastic wrap & place in the freezer to firm up, about 15 minutes.
Using a very sharp knife, cut each roll into 8 bite-sized pieces & arrange 1" apart on baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown & sausage is cooked through.
Stuffed Potato Skins
Microwave potatoes, uncovered, on high for 14-17 minutes or until tender but firm, turning once. Let stand for 5 minutes. Cut each potato in half lengthwise. Scoop out pulp, leaving a 1/4" shell ( pulp can be used elsewhere).
Combine oil & hot pepper sauce; brush over potato shells. Cut each potato shell in half lengthwise again. Place on baking sheets coated with baking spray. Sprinkle with the tomato, bacon, onion & cheese. Bake at 450 F. for 12-14 minutes or until heated through & cheese is melted. Serve with sour cream.
In the quest for a real good fish burger I turned my thoughts to using ground ‘fresh’ salmon. Living in the ‘prairie’ Province of Alberta, here in Canada, the most economical way to buy fish is either canned, frozen or smoked. The fresh fish we buy in our grocery stores here has to travel somewhat before it gets to us. Definitely, it goes without saying that the flavor is not going to be what people living on the coast experience. Nevertheless, with a little ingenuity we make it work. Brion and I both enjoy to have fish or seafood at least a couple of times a week.
To complete my ‘stuffed burger series’, I’ve made a a serious attempt to come up with a Mushroom-Cheese Stuffed Salmon Burger. I like the idea of putting a filling in between the salmon meat patties. So often fish burgers are deep-fried and overcooked, resembling the taste of what I imagine cardboard would taste like. Using fresh mushrooms and cheese certainly makes for a nice moist burger. Then just to make it a little more ‘gourmet’, top it off with a dollop of Fresh Cucumber-Dill Sauce.
Hopefully, out of the seven options, you were able to find at least one that will become a favorite at your house. By using some of these strategies to save you time, effort and money you will be able to get the most out of those wonderful days of summer ahead.
Stuffed Salmon Burgers with Fresh Cucumber-Dill Sauce
In a small bowl, combine all sauce ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
In a saucepan, melt butter & saute mushrooms with onions until golden. Add the garlic & saute for one more minute. Season with thyme, salt & pepper. Remove from heat, drain any excess liquids from sauteed mushrooms; chop the cooked mushrooms into small pieces. Add bread & cheese to mixture. Set aside.
In a bowl, combine all salmon patty ingredients; mix well. Shape into 12 patties. Divide filling among half of the patties. Top with remaining 6 patties & press gently to seal edges enclosing all the filling.
Preheat barbecue grill to a medium heat. Place salmon burgers on a sheet of greased aluminum foil or in a foil baking dish. Set pan on barbecue & cook for 6-8 minutes on each side or until burger is cooked through. Serve on lightly grilled Ciabatta buns with Cucumber-Dill sauce.
Like in the case of some of the other burger choices, I made up a double recipe of the salmon patties ahead of time. Scoop them into an air-tight plastic container; cover them well with plastic wrap & freeze. When you want to serve, make the stuffing & sauce for however many your cooking, thaw some salmon 'scoops' & flatten into patties. Fill & cook as directed. Fast & easy, works for me!