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!!
Baked Patacones with Guacamole
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.
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.
In a small bowl, mash avocados. Add minced red onion, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, garlic powder, lemon juice, salt & pepper. Combine thoroughly & serve.
- Just for interest, the special or tradional tool used to flatten plantain slices is called a 'tostonera'.
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!
Shrimp Kabobs with Orecchietti Pasta Salad
Quick Roasted Red Pepper Sauce / Pasta
Red Pepper Sauce
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.
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.
In a bowl, whisk together all shrimp marinade ingredients; add shrimp & marinate at least 30 minutes.
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.
- This tomato-free sauce could also be used as an alternative to a traditional pizza sauce.
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.
Roasted Okra Fries with Chicken Wings
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with foil & spray with cooking spray.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
Roasted Parmesan Shrimp with Jicama Fries
Garlic Avocado Ranch Dip
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.
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.
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.
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!
Teriyaki Pineapple Chicken
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.
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.
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.
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.
Seafood Avocado Omelette
In a small dish, combine all guacamole ingredients; set aside.
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.
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.
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.
Sherry-Cream Parmesan Sauce
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Parmesan Shrimp Rice Bake
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.
In a small bowl, combine Parmesan & garlic powder. Melt margarine; toss zucchini slices in it, then coat with Parmesan mixture.
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.
We really enjoyed having this meal with warm cornbread.
Today, November 23rd, our American neighbors are celebrating their Thanksgiving Day. A public holiday, originating as the ‘harvest festival’, is now celebrated along with Christmas and New Year as part of the broader ‘holiday season’.
Here in Canada, our Thanksgiving was celebrated on October 9th. Generally at the heart of this feast is a roast turkey with all the trimmings. I thought I would get a little more creative today and break with tradition as well as giving an acknowledgement to the US holiday.
BACON WRAPPED, GUACAMOLE STUFFED CHICKEN BREAST seems like an interesting idea. Guacamole, an unlikely stuffing for chicken breast as it usually served as a cold tortilla chip dip. It’s one of those taste ‘sensations’ you have to taste to believe. Of course, you have to start with liking avocados —
As history tells us, the Aztec empire created guacamole spread with some of the same ingredients that we use today as far back as the 1500’s. Published recipes first started appearing in the 1940’s.
Along with the guacamole, I used some smoked Gouda cheese in these little delicacies. I was careful not to add any salt in the guacamole. Between the bacon and the Gouda, I felt it had enough for our liking. The meal makes a nice presentation as well as having a great taste.
Bacon Wrapped, Guacamole Stuffed Chicken Breast
Tender chicken breast stuffed with creamy guacamole & Gouda cheese all wrapped in crispy bacon!
Mash avocado with a fork, leaving some chunks. Mince onion & coarsely chop sun-dried tomato pieces. Combine all guacamole ingredients to blend.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut a slit into the center of each chicken breast to make a pocket. Lay breasts between two sheets of plastic wrap & pound flat to about a 1/4-inch thickness. On cut side of breasts, lay sliced Gouda cheese. Divide guacamole between breasts; roll up chicken breasts & wrap each one in two strips of bacon. Make sure bacon ends are all on one side. Use toothpicks to ensure all stays in one piece.
Bake for 20-30 minutes, until chicken is cooked & bacon gets nice & crispy.
From what archaeologists can determine, pita bread originated with peoples west of the Mediterranean. Pitas have been both a bread and a utensil throughout the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.It is a rather simple bread that could be made with limited technology. Pitas are cooked quickly at a relatively high temperature. The flat dough expands dramatically to form an interior pocket from steam.
Pitas’ popularity is partially attributed to using the pocket like a sandwich bread. Many traditional cultures use the pita more like a soft taco or the pita is pulled apart into pieces and dipped in a variety of sauces.
The possibilities of being able to pack, dip or wrap whatever you choose in the pita bread is limitless. Their taste can only be appreciated when eating your pita with different foods that will compliment them.
Although pitas are enjoyed all through the year, they seem like an easy summer meal to enjoy.
In a large skillet, cook beef, onion & green pepper over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Add the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, garlic powder, cumin & Italian seasoning; mix well. Simmer, uncovered, for 5-10 minutes.
In a small saucepan, bring all the sauce ingredients to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered for 5-10 minutes. Spoon meat mixture into pita halves; top with sauce, tomatoes & lettuce.