Stuffed Plantain Cups

When it comes to cooking, plantains are really more of a vegetable than a fruit. Grown extensively in Ecuador, plantains are usually cooked before eating, both when green and at various stages of ripening. When they are ripe they turn yellow than black. Plantains are larger and firmer than their banana relative and not sweet. With their bland, starchy, somewhat potato-like flavor, plantains take well to many cooking methods.

In October of 2018, I had posted a blog on Baked Patacones w/ Guacamole. Patacones or fried plantains had been my initial introduction to this vegetable in Ecuador. After enjoying them there, I have since made them a few different ways. I understand you can add them to stews, boil and puree them like mashed potatoes or bake with sugar and cinnamon for dessert.

Today, I wanted to make stuffed plantains but decided to do it in individual servings as opposed to leaving them in their skins. Of course, you can’t eat plantains without some avocado mayo, right!

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Stuffed Plantain Cups
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, Ecuador
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, Ecuador
Servings
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Instructions
Plantains
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil & lightly butter. IF YOU PREFER, PREPARE AVOCADO MAYO AT THIS TIME.
  2. Using a sharp knife, cut both ends off the plantain. Slit a shallow line down the long seam of the plantain, peel only as deep as the peel. Remove plantain peel by pulling back. Place plantains on baking sheet & lightly spray with cooking spray. Bake for about 15 minutes, turn & bake for another 15 minutes or until golden & tender.
  3. While the plantains are baking, add 2 Tbsp of oil to saucepan, followed by onions, garlic & tomato sauce. Allow to simmer about 10 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning, add about 1/2 cup water if necessary. Add ground meat & seasonings. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes more then add the small pepper.
Assembly
  1. Adjust oven to 375 F. Butter 4 custard baking cups. Lightly mash plantains. Scoop 4 equal parts into custard cups. Press against sides to form 'cups'. Sprinkle a small amount of grated cheese in bottom of each cup then divide meat filling between them. Bake for 10 minutes; remove from oven & top with remaining cheese. If you like, place back in oven for another 5 minutes. Serve warm with Avocado Mayo.
Avocado Mayo
  1. Remove peel & pits from avocados. In a food processor, combine all ingredients & puree. Remove from processor, cover & set aside.

Sheet Pan Bratwurst with Roasted Vegetables

CELEBRATING OKTOBERFEST!

The end of September, when we are still trying to hang on to summer and its already Autumn. Seriously! On the other hand, this time of year brings Oktoberfest for 16 days from late September to early October.

Beer enthusiasts from all over the world flock to Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest, where they feast on everything from steins of beer to plates of sauerkraut, bratwurst, cabbage rolls, sausage and wiener schnitzel. Bavarian music fills the air to promote the fun atmosphere of Oktoberfest.

While the true celebration has to be experienced in Munich, there are actually some great Canadian events that try to duplicate the festivities without having to travel abroad. In different parts of the country, this is a fun and social sampling event featuring many local craft and authentic Bavarian breweries as well as authentic food, Oktoberfest music, dancers, games, etc.

Oktoberfest began as a wedding celebration more than 200 years ago (in Munich, Germany), when Bavaria’s, Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. The wedding was celebrated with multiple days of drinking, feasting and horse races. Everybody had so much fun that it was resolved to repeat the celebration, which has been done every year since.

This year, to acknowledge Oktoberfest, we are having a sheet pan meal with ‘brats’. Bratwurst is one of the most famous German sausages. Typically this sausage is made from veal, pork or beef and is usually grilled, pan fried or cooked in broth or beer. They are served in a variety of ways depending on the region in Germany, but sauerkraut and spicy mustard are often preferred as a compliment to their rich, meaty flavor. The recipe for the actual sausage varies from region to region with 40 plus varieties.

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Sheet Pan Bratwurst with Roasted Vegetables
Instructions
  1. Pierce the sausages with a sharp knife. Add the beer OR apple juice to a saucepan over medium-high heat & add the sausages & garlic. Bring to a boil, reduce heat & simmer for about 5 minutes. Drain & set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with foil & set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together apple cider vinegar, mustard & brown sugar until sugar dissolves. Prepare vegetables & apples & place in a large bowl; pour mustard mixture over them & toss to coat. Transfer veg mixture to the baking sheet. Top with brats. Season with caraway seeds, salt & pepper.
  4. Bake for 45-50 minutes, tossing once halfway through the cooking time (flipping the brats), or until veggies are browned. Remove from oven & serve.

Cheesy Shrimp & Rice Casserole

One of the first things Brion and I noticed when we lived in Ecuador for three months, was how much rice the grocery store had on its shelves. Brion is a true rice lover, so when we went grocery shopping, it was definitely on the ‘list’. To our amazement there was an entire isle, from top to bottom, dedicated to rice alone.

Rice has been a staple of the Ecuadorian diet forever, both along the coastal regions and in the mountainous areas. A large scoop of white, starchy rice accompanies most meals. In stores, you can buy brown rice, white ‘new rice’, aged rice (but not minute rice).

Shrimp rice is a classic Ecuadorian and Latin American dish. The fact that Ecuadorians love rice, anything you can think of, there is a rice-based dish for it, especially if it concerns any type of seafood. Because of the fertile soils and the humid, tropical climate of the coast, Ecuador also produces a stunning variety of fruits and vegetables, most notably bananas, melons and other exotic fruits like guava and passion fruit.

This is a short cut version of their ‘arroz con camarones’ (rice & shrimp) dish. Great little meal!

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Cheesy Shrimp & Rice Casserole
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Instructions
  1. In a large skillet, saute onions, peppers & garlic in oil until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce & salsa; simmer 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in shrimp & corn; simmer 2 minutes. Stir in bacon.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Spoon cooked rice in a buttered, 9 X 13-inch baking dish; top with shrimp mixture & cheese. Cover with foil. Bake casserole, covered, 35 minutes or until heated through, uncovering the last 20 minutes.

Chili Mostaccioli

Mostaccioli, known in Italy as ‘penne lisce’, are a specialty of the Campania Region in Southern Italy, which includes the cities of Naples, Capri and Sorrento. This pasta is smooth in texture, tube-shaped with angled ends cut to resemble a quill or pen point.

Without realizing it, the pasta shape we choose plays an important role in the outcome of the dish. Long or short, smooth or ridged, thick or thin, with or without curves and crevices, different shapes of pasta capture sauce differently.

Shaped pastas pair well with sauces that have some texture. The crevices and twists will give pieces of meat and veggies a place to nestle into.

Short tubular pastas are great for sauces that are thick and chunky.

Long, thin, dried pasta need lots of lubrication. Olive-oil based sauces will coat, but not drown the pasta. The thicker pasta, like fettuccine can stand up to cream sauces and ragus. If your adding vegetables or herbs, cut them string-like rather than in cubes for ease in blending them.

This is a quick, low-cost meal but has good flavor.

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Chili Mostaccioli
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Course Main Dish
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Course Main Dish
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Instructions
  1. In a bowl, combine meat, milk, crumbs, garlic, onion & seasonings; shape into 4-5 oblong patties. In a skillet, brown patties in hot oil. Remove to drain on paper towel.
  2. Drain any liquid from skillet & wipe with paper towel. In the skillet, combine soup with water & bring to a simmer. Add meat patties; gently simmer, covered for about 10 minutes then add drained & rinsed kidney beans. Simmer 5 more minutes until beans are hot.
  3. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Place on a large warm serving platter. Arrange patties over mostaccioli pasta. Pour sauce over meat & pasta; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese & serve.

Slow Roasted Baby Back Ribs

HAPPY LABOR DAY!

This is crazy! Where did those summer months go?? I remember as a kid, once we arrived at the Labor Day week-end all those ‘lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer were gone’. Back to school for another year.

One of my fondest memories from childhood summers was my mom’s ‘lunchtime’ family picnics. In the early 1950’s my father was able to purchase another piece of land about four miles (about 6.5 km) from our home place. Between the two farms it became the equivalent of a ‘section’. Before this time, the cattle had to be moved to a community pasture in the foothills where they would have enough grass to graze on over the summer. At that time to transport them, you had no choice but to herd them down the road allowance, to get to their ‘summer’ home, for approximately 20-30 miles (roughly 30-50 km) on foot. To say the least, it was a long grueling event for both the cattle and family members.

The ‘other farm’ as we referred to it, had originally been a slaughter house for the town meat market. It consisted of one large building, corals and a few other buildings. There was a slough on the land which dad had converted to a ‘dug out’ where the cattle could go and drink freely. The land was used for grain crops where in turn the cattle could be pastured on in the summer.

In the summer when dad would be working on the land, instead of my mom just packing a lunch for him that he could take in the morning, she would fix a wonderful ‘picnic lunch’. At about 11:30, mom (with our help) would pack up lunch, complete with plates, silverware, a tablecloth etc., and we would head for the ‘other farm’. There was just the right amount of space between two grain buildings to set up a make-shift table and stools. We would put the table cloth down and spread out our little picnic ‘feast’. Dad would be so surprised and we would all enjoy our lunch immensely. Mom always knew how to make the most simple things fun for us.

Okay, so now that I’ve taken you on a little side trip down memory lane, here are some nice ribs for your Labor Day picnic.

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Slow Roasted Baby Back Ribs
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, German
Servings
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, German
Servings
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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Instructions
  1. In a bowl, combine soy sauce, brown sugar, water, garlic, green onions, sesame oil & seasonings, stirring until sugar dissolves.
  2. Place ribs in a large resealable plastic freezer bag. Pour marinade over the ribs, squeeze out all the air & refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  3. When ready to cook the ribs, preheat oven to 250-275 F. On the bottom of a large roasting tray place a wire rack. Over the rack, place a large sheet of foil paper. Lay marinated ribs ON foil, do not cover with foil. Instead 'crinkle' the foil close to the ribs leaving them open to SLOW roast. Pour any marinade left in the bag over them. Roast in this very slow oven for about 3 hours. You will find at this temperature your kitchen does not get hot, the ribs look after themselves & they are incredibly tender.

Savory Artichoke, Chicken & Mushroom Galette

Over the last few years, marinated artichokes have become one of the ‘go-to’ ingredients on my pantry shelf. Jarred marinated artichoke hearts add an instant burst of flavor and unlike fresh artichokes, they are available all year around. Might I add, they require zero preparation! Keep in mind, these are the ones in glass jars, not the canned ones that can be flavorless and soggy.

Some of the ways I have made use of them were: as a pizza topping, veggie dip, on crostini, with roasted potatoes, omelettes or in au gratin dishes.

As you have probably noticed if you follow my blog, I love savory pastries all year long. Spring through winter they showcase their ingredients so beautifully. If you’re someone who feels intimidated by pastry, galettes give you opportunity to make a free-form masterpiece. This recipe simplifies it even more by using frozen puff pastry. Yet another reason to keep a package on hand in your freezer.

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Savory Artichoke, Chicken & Mushroom Galette
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Instructions
Filling
  1. Slice breast & marinate in artichoke MARINADE (liquid only) for about 30 minutes. In a skillet, cook chopped bacon, onion, garlic & chopped mushrooms over medium heat until bacon is cooked & the mushrooms have released most of their liquids.
  2. Add the chicken & marinade & continue to cook until the liquid is evaporated. Remove from heat. In a bowl, beat together cream cheese, milk, egg & grated Parmesan cheese & fold into chicken mixture as well as the reserved artichoke pieces.
Pastry
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F. On a large piece of parchment paper, roll out thawed, puff pastry 'SHEET' into a rough 12-inch 'CIRCLE'. Sprinkle half of the mozzarella cheese over pastry, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Spoon cooked mixture over cheese then fold edges of pastry in about an inch, 'pleating' to keep filling in. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella cheese on top of filling.
  2. Brush pastry edge with egg wash & bake for 25 minutes or until puff pastry is golden & filling is slightly browning. Remove from oven; slice & serve.

Shrimp Burgers on Seeded Teff Buns

A while back, I was speaking with my neighbor, Meg, who told me about an ancient grain I had never known about. It is called Teff. This word originates from the Amharic word ‘teffa’ which means ‘lost’ due to the small size of the grain. An annual bunch grass native to the central highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea. It can survive both wet and dry climates, high temperatures and bright light as well as not being subject to as many plant diseases as other cereal grains. It’s high nutritional value and reliable cultivation have made it Ethiopia’s most important grain crop. Teff’s size makes it convenient because it doesn’t take a large volume of teff seed to plant a field.

Ground into flour, teff is used to make the traditional bread called ‘injera’, a sourdough risen flatbread with a slightly spongy texture similar to a crepe. It can also be found in many gluten-free options of pancakes, breads, cereals, pie crusts, cookies and other snacks.

Meg had given me a package of ‘authentic‘ teff flour so I was anxious to try it. I noticed a great looking recipe for seeded teff rolls on the computer so I was all set. To compliment the teff rolls I made some shrimp burgers w/ avocado aioli. Nice meal!

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Shrimp Burgers on Seeded Teff Buns
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Instructions
Seeded Teff Buns
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together water, yeast, honey, oil & vinegar. Let stand 3-5 minutes or until yeast is dissolved & beginning to proof.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Add yeast mixture to dry ingredients & mix on low speed until combined. Add in egg whites. Once combined, mix on high speed for 3-5 minutes.
  3. Grease a 9-10 inch round baking pan. Scoop the batter into pan (with a spring release scoop) making about 6 buns. Place rolls right next to each other. Cover & let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 F. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven; cool slightly.
Shrimp Burgers
  1. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients for shrimp burgers. Form into 4 patties & set on a plate with squares of wax paper between them. Put in fridge until ready to cook.
Avocado Aioli
  1. In a small bowl, Combine all ingredients for avocado aioli until smooth. Cover & set in fridge until ready to use.
Assembly
  1. In a large skillet, add 3 Tbsp oil & turn heat to medium-high. Gently place shrimp burgers on skillet & cook 3 minutes until golden, flip & cook another 3 minutes.
  2. On each of the sliced, warm teff buns, place a shrimp burger with a generous dollop of avocado aioli. Don't hesitate to add some lettuce & tomato slices if you wish.

Chicken Salad in Braided Bread Bowls

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.

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Chicken Salad in Braided Bread Bowls
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
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Instructions
Braided Bread Bowl
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Bake for 18-23 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven & cool completely before gently removing bread bowls from the metal bowls.
Salad
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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.

Potato Crusted Asiago Sausage Pizza

The customization of pizza crust has undoubtedly been one of the biggest innovations in the (pizza) industry. The crust you choose to make helps to dictate taste, texture, thickness and your selection of toppings.

Pizza has taken on many different forms since its original inception — especially when it comes to the crust. For example:

Thin Crust is characterized by its light, slightly crispy texture. This is the perfect crust for those who want an authentic Italian pizza.

Thick Crust is characterized by its buttery, pan fried taste and texture on the outside, with a soft chewy center.

Flatbread Crust – health conscious people feel less guilty about eating this pizza because it isn’t as filling as other crust types.

Focaccia is a thick, ‘bready’ dough infused with herbs and brushed with olive oil before baking, then covered with cheeses, herbs and spices and minimal toppings.

Wood Fired Crust – it’s characteristics are defined by their deep, smoky taste derived from using real wood to heat the baking oven.

There are endless ways you can create a custom crust for your pizza. Such as using pita bread, English muffins, rice cakes, tortillas, potato slices or chips. I experimented with making a yeast crust with mashed potatoes and sour cream in it. Without trying to sound boastful, it was probably the best pizza crust I had ever made to date. I think I nailed it!

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Potato Crusted Asiago Sausage Pizza
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Cuisine American, Italian
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Cuisine American, Italian
Servings
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Instructions
Potato Pizza Crust
  1. Prepare mashed potato. In a dish, combine yeast with lukewarm water; whisk until yeast is dissolved. Let stand about 3 minutes until foamy. In a large bowl, combine butter, salt, sour cream & mashed potato; mix well. Add yeast mixture & stir again.
  2. Stir in flour, 1 cup at a time. When dough is completely blended, turn onto 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 size, about 1 hour.
Dijon Mustard Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan, saute garlic in butter until tender but not brown. Stir in flour, mustard & crushed thyme. Season with salt & pepper; add broth & cook, stirring until thick & bubbly. Continue to cook 1 more minute the remove from heat & set aside to cool.
Pizza Fillings
  1. In a skillet, saute red pepper & onion until soft; remove to a dish. In the same skillet, scramble fry sausage meat until cooked; drain on paper towel, set aside. Drain, sliced olives & grate cheese.
Assembly
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Remove risen dough from bowl turning onto a large sheet of parchment paper. Press or roll dough into a 16-inch circle. Using some of the grated cheese, make a ring around the outer edge, & fold over to make a 'stuffed crust'.
  2. Carefully spread mustard sauce over bottom of pizza, then sprinkle with another portion of grated cheese mixture. Layer with red peppers, onions, sausage meat & olives. Top with remaining cheese.
  3. Bake for 20 minutes or until crust is golden. Remove from oven & slice.