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.

Spiced Pulled Pork Tortillas w/ Orange Guava Sauce

This pairing of pork, corn tortillas and guava brings me back to some of the flavors we tasted on our adventures in both Cuba and Mexico.

Pulled pork sounds like a lot of work but it simply comes down to a gentle, slow cooking process so it can be literally ‘pulled apart’ when finished. Pork shoulder is the most commonly used joint. The long cooking could dry out some cuts but shoulder is quite a fatty joint, therefore providing a natural baste. During the cooking period, most of the fat will dissolve but most importantly its this long cooking process that breaks down the tough fibrous connective tissue called collagen that tenderizes the meat making it so easy to pull apart. Although smokers are very often used, slow cookers or even traditional ovens will do the job nicely.

When the pork is finally done, it needs to rest for 10 minutes and then it should be ready for pulling apart. Use two forks to shred the meat and you’ve got it! This meal not only has great eye appeal, but the taste is wonderful!

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Spiced Pulled Pork Tortillas w/ Orange Guava Sauce
Instructions
Dry Rub for Pork Shoulder
  1. Drizzle pork with 2 Tbsp of oil; sprinkle with spices & orange zest & rub into meat. Season with salt & pepper. Place in a plastic bag & refrigerate overnight (about 24 hours).
  2. Bring meat to room temperature. Preheat oven to 275 F. Place meat in a roasting pan & bake until thickest part registers 170 F. on a meat thermometer. Basically, roast until it's falling apart. Remove roast from oven & transfer to a large platter. Allow the meat to rest for about 10 minutes. While still warm, take 2 forks & 'pull' the meat to form shreds. Keep warm until ready to assemble tortillas.
Orange Guava Sauce
  1. In a saucepan, saute onion in 1 Tbsp olive oil until tender. Add water (or wine), frozen orange juice concentrate, soy sauce, spices & cubed guava paste. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat slightly & continue to boil gently until mixture reduces slightly. In a cup, combine cornstarch & water & add to sauce continuing to cook about 2-3 minutes more. Taste to see if any spice adjustments are needed.
To Assemble
  1. During the roasting time of the meat, prepare avocados, red onion, cilantro leaves, lime wedges. Drain canned black beans (if using) so they are ready to warm at serving time.
  2. When everything is ready, lay out warm tortillas, top with pulled pork, avocado slices, black beans, red onion, cilantro & drizzle with warm orange guava sauce. Fold or roll tortilla & enjoy!
Recipe Notes
  • If you would rather not have the corn tortillas, cook some rice to serve with pulled pork. Spoon sauce over the meat & serve it with the sliced avocados, red onion & black beans.

Baked Patacones with Guacamole

Until Brion and I had spent time living in Ecuador, I had never paid any attention to plantains. Really more of a vegetable than a fruit, plantains are larger and firmer than their banana relative but not sweet. They must be cooked to become palatable. With their bland, starchy, somewhat potato-like flavor, plantains take well to many cooking methods.

On one of the first meals we ate in a restaurant in Ecuador, I experienced the flavor of ‘patacones’. I had ordered an Ecuadorian ceviche and they were served as a side dish. The taste was like a potato chip but had almost a corn flavor. At the time I didn’t know what they were but the taste was definitely one that stayed with me.

In regions that compete for its origin, this specialty appears under two distinct names depending on the country. They are called  patacones in Ecuador, Columbia, Costa Rica and Peru. In Cuba, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Haiti they are called  tostones and in West Africa, just simply plantain chips.

The unripe plantain is traditionally prepared with a deep-frying method. The frying is done twice to ensure a crispy chip. You first peel the green plantains and slice them. Then the chips are fried on both sides, removed from the oil and blotted on paper towel. The tostones or patacones are now flattened somewhat and re-fried to provide extra crispiness. Salt may be used to add flavor to the chips. The thicker version (patacones) should be served hot or warm and are nice eaten with guacamole, garlic sauce, grated cheese or as a side dish.

As always, in my quest to bake rather than deep fry, I decided to make some patacones in the oven today. To add some guacamole = yum!!


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Baked Patacones with Guacamole

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Instructions
Baked Patacones
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Slice plantain into 1-inch thick slices. Place on baking sheet & drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt.

  2. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven & with the end of a glass, 'squash' each piece down flat. Thinner = crispier. Place back in the oven for another 10 minutes or until crispy to your liking. Serve with guacamole.

Guacamole
  1. In a small bowl, mash avocados. Add minced red onion, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, garlic powder, lemon juice, salt & pepper. Combine thoroughly & serve.


Recipe Notes
  • Just for interest, the special or tradional tool used to flatten plantain slices is called a 'tostonera'.

Shrimp Kabobs with Orecchietti Pasta Salad

Its already late August so BBQ’s and salads are in full swing. There’s just something about cooking food outdoors on the grill that we Canadians absolutely love. If your a true BBQ lover, it doesn’t matter if its a block away, you will still catch that glorious smell.

BBQ season is not only for meat eaters. Just about any vegetable as well as numerous desserts can be cooked on the grill. For me, I love seafood, fish & chicken, for Brion, I guess I would have to add a bit of pork and beef.

This meal is a nice combination of shrimp, Parmesan zucchini and pasta salad. I kept the pasta salad real simple since we already had a vegetable. To give it some extra pizzaz, I made a roasted red pepper sauce which the little orecchietti pasta cups nicely. Nothing fancy, just plain good!

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Shrimp Kabobs with Orecchietti Pasta Salad
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Quick Roasted Red Pepper Sauce / Pasta
Marinade for Shrimp
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Quick Roasted Red Pepper Sauce / Pasta
Marinade for Shrimp
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Instructions
Red Pepper Sauce
  1. In a food processor, blend red roasted peppers along with 2 Tbsp of liquid from the jar. Puree the peppers until smooth, adding a Tbsp or two of water if needed to help it blend ( avoid adding too much liquid from the jar as it can be very acidic). Mince the garlic & add it to a skillet with the butter. Saute for 1-2 minutes or just until garlic has softened but not brown. Pour in the pureed peppers; add basil & pepper & stir to combine.
  2. Allow sauce to come to a simmer; turn heat to low & simmer about 10 minutes, stirring often, until mixture thickens. Add cream, stirring until smooth. Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente about 12-13 minutes. Drain & add to sauce. Serve warm or cold.
Marinated Shrimp
  1. In a bowl, whisk together all shrimp marinade ingredients; add shrimp & marinate at least 30 minutes.
Parmesan Zucchini
  1. Prepare zucchini. In a bowl, combine Parmesan & garlic powder. Melt butter; toss zucchini slices in butter then coat with Parmesan mixture. On wooden skewers, alternate marinated shrimp with cubes of Parmesan zucchini. Roast in oven or on BBQ until shrimp is pink & cooked being careful not to overcook. Serve with orecchiette pasta salad.
Recipe Notes
  • This tomato-free sauce could also be used as an alternative to a traditional pizza sauce.

Roasted Okra Fries with Chicken Wings

CELEBRATING CANADA DAY!

In Canada, July 1st marks the day for Canadians to show pride in their nations history, culture and achievements. From coast to coast, the country’s birthday is marked with colorful parades, firework displays and singing of the national anthem, O Canada!

This is the date of the historical event in which Canada gained its independence from Great Britain in 1867. 

Canada Day has been called a few names in the past. It used to be known as Dominion Day, the First of July, Confederation Day and July the First. 

Food and drink are almost as synonymous with Canada Day as the colors of red and white. Barbecues are definitely the preferred choice of food event for the day. For us it will be chicken wings with some tasty little roasted okra fries.

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Roasted Okra Fries with Chicken Wings
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Course Lunch, Main Dish
Cuisine American
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Roasted Okra Fries
Chicken Wings
Course Lunch, Main Dish
Cuisine American
Servings
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Roasted Okra Fries
Chicken Wings
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Instructions
Chicken Wings
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with foil & spray with cooking spray.
  2. In a large, resealable plastic bag, combine oil & spices. Add chicken wings; toss to coat evenly. Place wings on prepared pan & bake for 30-35 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink inside. Remove from oven, wrap in foil to keep warm until served.
Okra Fries
  1. Adjust heat to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place okra on baking sheet; drizzle with olive oil & massage into each piece. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes, turning once or twice, until lightly browned & softened.
Recipe Notes
  • If you prefer, okra fries can be breaded with cornmeal as well before roasting.
  • Both chicken wings & okra fries can easily be done on the BBQ if you prefer, rather than turning on the oven.

Roasted Parmesan Shrimp with Jicama Fries

Years ago, shrimp was low on my personal priority list among seafood. Breaded oysters would never fail to get my attention but somehow tastes change. Brion, on the other hand, loves shrimp and it seems to have rubbed off on me. Strangely enough, deep fried food doesn’t appeal to me and never has. I put it down to the fact that I spent many years in the commercial food atmosphere so that deep frying smell just doesn’t work for me. Now when it comes to oven baked ‘frying’ that’s another story.

Cooking shrimp in the oven preserves the natural flavors. Frying and grilling will cause flavor and moisture loss, which can make the shrimp turn out rubbery after it cooks. In this recipe the shrimp is prepared with a parmesan/garlic coating which bakes up nice and crispy. As a side, I’m making some  jicama fries. If you have never tasted this vegetable, it is very unique. A perfect description would be like a ‘savory apple’. A root vegetable, native to Mexico, sometimes referred to as a Mexican turnip or potato. Then to add a little pizzaz to the meal, I’ve made a garlic avocado ranch dip for both the shrimp and fries.

The classic Ranch dressing has been around since the 1950’s. While very popular in Canada and the United States, it is virtually unknown in other parts of the world. Typically made with buttermilk, onion, garlic, herbs and spices all combined into a mayo based sauce. This low-fat version of  garlic avocado ranch is perfect for this oven fried meal.

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Roasted Parmesan Shrimp with Jicama Fries
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Course Lunch, Main Dish
Cuisine American, Mexican
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Instructions
Garlic Avocado Ranch Dip
  1. Peel, core & mash avocado. In a food processor, add avocado, yogurt, garlic, herbs, onion powder & lime juice. Pulse a few seconds until well blended. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to serve.
Jicama Fries
  1. Peel jicama & cut into french fry pieces. In a saucepot of boiling water, sprinkle 1/2 tsp salt; add jicama fries & boil for 10 minutes. Drain well. In a large bowl, combine fries with oil, 1/4 tsp salt, garlic powder, cumin & smoked paprika. Coat well, blending spices. Preheat oven to 400 F. Spread fries onto a lightly oiled baking pan & bake for about 30 minutes, turning halfway through baking time, until fries are crisp.
Parmesan Shrimp
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. In a bowl, combine oil, garlic, oregano, basil, parmesan, salt & pepper. Add shrimp & toss gently & thread on wooden skewers. Line a baking pan with foil & lightly oil. Place shrimp in oven & roast JUST until pink, firm & cooked through, about 6-8 minutes. Serve immediately with lemon wedges. jicama fries & dip.

Teriyaki Pineapple Chicken

Victoria Day is the distinctly Canadian holiday that serves as the official maker to end winter. It is during this long week-end that many summer businesses, such as parks, outdoor restaurants, bike rentals etc., will       re-open despite the fact that summer does not officially begin until a month later. Gardeners in Canada regard Victoria Day as the beginning of spring as it falls at a time when one can be fairly certain that frost will not return until autumn.

Although we are well into the 21st century, in Canada we still celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday 117 years after her passing. She was born on May 24th which is why Canadians celebrate her birthday in late May.

Canadians jokingly refer to Victoria Day as May ‘two-four’ day. This is an inside joke which refers to a case of beer, containing 24 cans. For most Canadians, this is the first warm-ish  long week-end since Easter, so they head to campsites armed with a 24 case of beer. Although we hang on to the Victoria Day name for old times sake, somehow it seems we are really celebrating the beginning of the summer season.  May ‘two-four’ is probably the more accurate moniker.

In keeping with the spirit of a ‘seasonal barbecue’ on this holiday, Brion & I are doing some Teriyaki Pineapple Chicken Thighs. Have a great day!

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Teriyaki Pineapple Chicken
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Instructions
  1. Preheat barbecue grill to 350 F. In a bowl, combine first 5 ingredients; add bacon slices & chicken thighs. Allow to marinate for about 15 minutes; drain. Reserve marinade.
  2. On a large sheet of foil, place the bacon to form 4 crosses, top each with a pineapple slice in the center. Next, lay a chicken thigh on pineapple slice, fold bacon ends over thighs. Carefully flip over so that the bacon ends are on the bottom.
  3. Lay foil on barbecue (with the wrapped chicken thighs on it). Close lid on cook until internal temperature reaches 165 F. and the juices run clear. If you prefer, use some of the excess marinade to baste meat as it cooks.

Seafood Avocado Omelette

I had no idea when I completed my studies in the commercial food industry that there would be some food items I would make so many times. One such item was an omelette. 

In the early years of my career, my first position was a short order chef. It all sounded pretty easy until it came to the weekends. On Sunday morning alone, you could use anywhere from 90-120 DOZEN eggs. A large percentage of them were made into omelettes with various fillings. All this would be made and served in the course of 4-5 hours as individual breakfasts in the hotel restaurant. That job definitely taught you the perseverance you would need to survive in the industry. 

Omelettes have a long history dating back to 16th century France. Most are made with just simple egg and dairy ingredients. The fluffiest omelettes use whole eggs or all egg whites, which are beaten with a small measure of cream, milk or water. I even recall adding just a tiny bit of pancake batter to give them more body.

Legend has it that when Napoleon and his army were travelling through the south of France, they spent one night near Bessieres. Napoleon ate an omelette prepared by a local cook and enjoyed it so much that he ordered the townspeople to gather all the eggs in the village and prepare a gigantic omelette for his army the next day.  Since 1973, every year on the Monday following Easter, people in Bessieres, France make a giant omelette, using 15,000 fresh eggs.

I have added some pictures of this huge omelette as well as one of a cook dumping egg shells in a pile.

The recipe I am including is an adaptation of an omelette I enjoyed at a restaurant called Mariah’s sometime in the eighties. At the time it was located in the seaside town of Carlsbad, California, USA.

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Seafood Avocado Omelette
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Course Brunch, Main Dish
Cuisine American, French
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Course Brunch, Main Dish
Cuisine American, French
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Instructions
Guacamole
  1. In a small dish, combine all guacamole ingredients; set aside.
Omelettes
  1. Preheat an electric flat griddle to 325 F. Saute mushrooms, green onions & shrimp in margarine keeping each separate from each other. Remove from griddle. Carefully pour beaten eggs onto griddle forming two large circles. Divide guacamole, mushrooms, cheese, crab meat & shrimp between the two omelettes.
  2. Cover with a large sheet pan for a few minutes until all is cooked, being careful not to over or under cook. Fold each omelette over & place on serving plates. Top with sauteed green onions. Add some fruit for a garnish if you prefer.

Shrimp Tetrazzini

Food historians have all agreed on the fact that this retro classic dish is not Italian. Truth is it was named after the Italian opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini. Chef’s often named dishes after prestigious clients at their restaurants. 

Tetrazzini is a rich dish combining cooked spaghetti tossed with either cooked poultry or seafood (never red meat) and a tangy sherry -cream parmesan cheese sauce. Sauteed mushrooms (a must), along with steamed peas, asparagus tips or broccoli florets are common additions.

Whether it is made individually or as a casserole, it is sprinkled with sliced almonds and additional parmesan, then broiled or baked until crunchy and bubbly with a golden top.

Time and home cooking have stripped away many of the dish’s continental flourishes, with modern versions of tetrazzini being more sturdier and less grand. The recipe means different things to different people with shortcut recipes sometimes using canned cream soups. Although tasty, they never quite measure up to the original iconic dish.

Brion and I absolutely love this meal. It might be a bit more expensive but using the Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano as opposed to generic parmesan cheese is well worth it in this recipe.

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Shrimp Tetrazzini
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Instructions
Pasta
  1. In a large stockpot, bring 2 1/2 liters of water to a boil & add 1 1/2 tsp salt. Break pasta in half & add to boiling water. Cook pasta until slightly less than al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain well & return to stockpot. Add the butter, Parmesan & pepper. Toss until butter is melted & pasta is evenly coated. Transfer to a large bowl & set aside.
Shrimp
  1. In the same stockpot, bring water, wine, lemon juice, lemon rinds & bay leaves to a boil. Add the shrimp. Start timing immediately & cook for 3 minutes. By the time 3 minutes are up, the water should be boiling. Drain immediately & rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Squeeze any remaining juice from the lemon over all. Toss into spaghetti & set aside.
Vegetables
  1. Slice the mushroom caps. In a saucepan, melt butter over low heat; add mushrooms, garlic powder & salt. Increase heat & cook until mushrooms are losing moisture & mixture is juicy, about 6 minutes. Add unthawed peas; cook until almost no moisture remains, 5-6 minutes. Stir into pasta mixture & set aside.
Sherry-Cream Parmesan Sauce
  1. In the saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Increase heat to medium & add flour, salt & cayenne pepper. Using a whisk, stir constantly, cooking until mixture is thick, smooth & bubbly, about 30 seconds. Add cream, in a slow stream, stirring constantly, cooking until smooth, thickened & drizzly, about 2 minutes. Turn off heat. Sprinkle in the Parmesan, stirring until mixture is smooth, adding milk/broth if necessary. Add the sherry, to taste. Add & toss into pasta mixture.
Topping
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Transfer mixture to individual dishes or one casserole dish that have been sprayed or lightly buttered. Without pressing down on top of the mixture, use a fork to evenly distribute tetrazzini. Sprinkle the almonds evenly over the top, followed by the Parmesan cheese.
  2. Bake, uncovered, on center rack for 25-30 minutes. Top should be golden brown & casserole will be bubbling around the sides. Do NOT overbake. Remove from oven & allow to sit 10-15 minutes before serving.

Parmesan Shrimp Rice Bake

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.  

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Parmesan Shrimp Rice Bake
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Course Main Dish
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Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, marinate raw, cleaned shrimp in soy sauce, honey, water, ginger & garlic powder for at least 30 minutes or longer. Cook rice in chicken broth.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  3. In a small bowl, combine Parmesan & garlic powder. Melt margarine; toss zucchini slices in it, then coat with Parmesan mixture.
  4. In a round, 8" baking pan, alternate drained shrimp (reserve marinade) & zucchini slices to form bottom layer. Top with cooked rice. Drizzle marinade from shrimp over rice. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
  5. We really enjoyed having this meal with warm cornbread.