Baked Scallops w/ Ritz Cracker Topping

The foods that stay always stocked, the staples of anyone’s pantry, hold the secret to understanding what makes each individual household special in its own way.

One of the most telling is where someone keeps their Ritz crackers: stocked as the go-to snack for the family, among the chocolate chips as a home baker’s secret to pie, or with the tinned fish, destined to be the base of canapés for a party. Keeping a box of Ritz crackers on the shelves means always having a welcoming taste on hand— easy access to a versatile staple that goes with anything and requires no effort to prepare.

Ritz Crackers are a universal favorite. They’ve been a comforting fixture in grocery stores for over 80 years. Simply put, these scalloped golden discs have an ideal level of saltiness. They’re tender, but not to the point of crumbling as soon as you take a bite. They’re toasty, buttery, and seasoned throughout (instead of just on the top) but not in a way that would overpower whatever toppings or dips you’d enjoy with them.

Cracker breading is the perfect complement for fish, seafood, chicken or a vegetable casserole, mashed potatoes and of course, macaroni and cheese.

The combination of flavors in this simple casserole make it such a classic — just scallops, lemon, butter, vermouth, and Ritz crackers. Taking a bite of baked scallops with Ritz crackers is like going back in time, an old-school pleasure. It’s purely delicious, and incredibly easy to make.

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Baked Scallops w/ Ritz Cracker Topping
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Place rack on the second to top position.
  2. Wash scallops & pat dry. Remove the side muscle if still attached.
  3. Arrange scallops in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. In a small bowl, stir together the cracker crumbs, garlic salt & pepper. Sprinkle the scallops evenly with the cracker crumb mixture, then Parmesan. Pour the butter over all, then sprinkle evenly with the lemon juice & vermouth. Cover the dish with foil & bake for 20 minutes, then remove foil & bake an additional 10 minutes.
  4. Turn the heat up to 'broil' & with the oven door ajar, brown the top for an additional 2 or 3 minutes.
  5. Serve hot, garnished with a slice of lemon & fresh chopped chives or parsley.

Pork & Turkey Pie w/ Spiced Liqueur Cranberries

Today, November 23rd, our neighbors to the south in the USA, are celebrating their Thanksgiving Day. It encompasses both religious and secular aspects … being both a harvest festival and a festival of family.

Here in Canada, we have already enjoyed our Thanksgiving in October, but I thought it would be nice to acknowledge their holiday with posting a special meal.

Savory Pork & Turkey Pie is an interesting combination of pork, turkey and stuffing. This recipe was born after a long-time love of homemade pot pies and some trial and error on various meat pies. It’s made with chicken, pork fillet, leftover stuffing, and a flavorful blend of spices and herbs all wrapped in a sour cream cornmeal pie crust. It’s incredibly tasty, even reheated as leftovers.

Of course, it wasn’t that the pie isn’t really good as it is, but the spiced cranberries are certainly the ‘icing on the cake’ you could say. Nobody goes to a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal and says, ‘I can’t wait to try the cranberry sauce this year’! But while it is not the center of the meal, it is certainly an important component of it.

Fresh cranberry sauce has become almost as important as the turkey itself. A Thanksgiving feast doesn’t feel complete without a bowl of cranberry sauce. Undeniably, the tangy condiment has become as much of a showpiece as the traditional turkey it’s served with!

This version of the cherished sauce brings a modern twist to the holiday table. Simmered in spiced cranberry liqueur, the cranberries acquire an exquisite depth and a delicate sweetness. Meanwhile, the cinnamon and orange zest, simmered alongside the colorful berries, bring a bit of nuance and extra layers of flavor. Once done, the sauce ends up having a compote-like texture, which makes it even more luxurious.

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Pork & Turkey Pie w/ Spiced Liqueur Cranberries
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Ingredients
Sour Cream Cornmeal Pastry
Cranberries w/ Spiced Liqueur
Servings
Ingredients
Sour Cream Cornmeal Pastry
Cranberries w/ Spiced Liqueur
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Instructions
Pastry
  1. In a small bowl, combine sour cream & ice water; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar & salt. Using a pastry blender or fingertips, cut in butter until mixture resembles both coarse crumbs & small peas. Sprinkle the cold sour cream mixture over dough, 1 Tbsp at a time, tossing with a fork to evenly distribute it.
  2. After you have added all the sour cream mixture, dough should be moist enough to stick together when pressed; if not add additional cold water, 1 tsp at a time. DO NOT overwork dough. Wrap in plastic wrap & refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  3. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface. Line the base & sides of an 8-inch spring form pan leaving about a 1-inch dough overhang. Refrigerate until filling is prepared.
Filling
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour, thyme, sage, savory, salt, & pepper. Add chicken broth and milk all at once.
  3. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Stir in cooked chicken, pork & stuffing, being careful not to overmix. Taste to adjust seasoning if necessary. Pour mixture into pastry shell.
  4. Bake, uncovered, for 30 to 35 minutes or until pastry is golden.
Cranberries w/ Spiced Liqueur
  1. In a medium nonstick saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until reduced and slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, take out cinnamon sticks.
  2. Top pie w/ cranberry compote.

Pork Tenderloin w/ Bulgur Apricot Stuffing

Just for a change of pace, I decided to make a nutty tasting bulgur wheat stuffing instead of the traditional bread version for our tenderloin today.

Bulgur is more than just something to make tabbouleh with. Its nutty taste and hearty texture work in so many dishes or you can just use it as a substitute for other grains like brown rice, couscous or quinoa.

This kind of wheat should not be confused with its less-tricky-to-harvest cousin, cracked wheat. While they are similar, cracked wheat is completely raw while bulgur is pre-cooked and has a much shorter prep time.

For me, if the recipe involves grain, I’m in! I guess you can take the farmer’s daughter off the farm but you can never take away her love for food with grain in it.

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Pork Tenderloin w/ Bulgur Apricot Stuffing
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Instructions
  1. In a saucepan, place bulgur & vegetable broth. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium low & simmer until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Add chopped apricots during the last 5 minutes. Remove from heat & drain any excess liquid. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together egg & spices. Add almonds, scallions & reserved bulgur & apricots; mix to combine.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  4. Butterfly pork tenderloin & pound with a meat mallet to an even thickness. Place on an oiled piece of foil paper on a baking sheet. Cover one half of the tenderloin with stuffing; press to flatten a bit. Fold other half of tenderloin over top stuffing. Secure with kitchen twine to keep stuffing from falling out during roasting.
  5. Brush with olive oil & season with salt & pepper. Roast about 45 minutes or until tenderloin has a slight pink color remaining. Remove from oven & allow to sit for a few minutes before untying & slicing.
  6. For the blog picture, I opened our whole tenderloin before slicing to show how nice this filling is. These flavors are so good!

Stuffed Mushrooms in Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce

Stuffed mushrooms are one of those items that can be an appetizer as well as a main course. They are as versatile as you can get. The number of different fillings are endless and can be anything from a simple bread stuffing to seafood, veggies or any kind of meat.

Portobello mushrooms are big, meaty and the ideal vessel for stuffing, creating a dish that is a meal unto itself. Few things can match the flavor of stuffed mushrooms.

Depending on the source, this unique dish has been around since the late 19th century or early 20th century. The fact that they resemble stuffed zucchini, it is likely that the Italians should receive credit for their creation.

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Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms in Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce
Instructions
Mushrooms
  1. Trim stems from mushrooms & finely chop them; reserve for sauce. Whisk the egg lightly in a shallow bowl. In a separate shallow bowl, combine flour, salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, paprika & garlic salt.
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high. Dip the mushrooms in the egg then in the flour mixture. Coat the outside of the mushrooms, trying not to get too much flour inside the 'cap'.
  3. In a skillet, fry mushrooms on both sides until lightly golden. Use a tongs to help fry the sides as well. Remove mushrooms to a plate. To the skillet, add a splash of water & Swiss chard leaves. Sprinkle with salt & pepper & saute until leaves are wilted, about 1 minute.
  4. Divide cream cheese between the 4 mushroom caps. Top with wilted Swiss chard; sprinkle with grated Parmesan & paprika. Set aside, keeping warm.
Sauce
  1. In a skillet , heat oil. Add onion & cook for 2 minutes until it starts to soften. Add reserved mushroom stems, garlic, oregano, paprika, sun-dried tomatoes, red peppers & zucchini. Cook for 2 minutes while stirring with a spatula. Add wine (or chicken broth) & allow to bubble for 2 minutes then add vegetable broth, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil & simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Stir the cream & Parmesan cheese into the sauce, then nestle the mushrooms on top. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley. Nice to serve with pasta or potatoes and/or a meat item.

German Potato & Cauliflower Salad

When I think back to my childhood days, I have a very fond memory of my mother’s potato salad. This is probably the case with many people, but one has to be careful. Trying to create the taste of childhood is a slippery slope filled with our adult expectations. Time and distance change many things such as memory, experiences and knowledge.

Potato salad is widely believed to have originated in Germany and was brought to America by German immigrants. The thing I remember most about my mother’s potato salad was that it consisted of only a small ingredient list and had a nice slightly sweet but tart dressing. If I’m not wrong, I believe she used a bit of juice from her bread & butter pickles in the dressing. The other magic ingredient was some of her new potatoes from the garden. As the saying goes, it was ‘to die for’.

I’m not sure how popular potato salad is anymore but since its the season, I wanted to share a couple of salad recipes.

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German Potato & Cauliflower Salads
Instructions
Potato Salad
  1. In a large pot, cook potatoes in salted boiling water. Cool, peel & cube. Boil eggs & coarsely chop. In a saucepan, fry bacon until crisp. Remove from pan & blot on paper towel reserving bacon drippings for dressing. Crumble bacon. Slice green onion & radishes. Place everything EXCEPT the radishes in a large bowl.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together reserved bacon drippings, light salad dressing, vinegar, sugar, mustard, salt, celery seed & dill weed. Blend well. Pour over potato mixture & carefully combine well. Cover & refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
  3. Just prior to serving, add radishes & add more salt if necessary. Carefully combine & serve.
Cauliflower Salad
  1. In a saucepan, fry bacon until crisp, Remove from pan, reserving bacon drippings.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil & coat with cooking spray. Spread cauliflower florets on foil; sprinkle with salt & pepper to taste. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until cauliflower begins to brown slightly. Remove from oven & cool slightly.
  3. While the cauliflower bakes, saute the onion in bacon drippings until tender. Set aside. Cook, peel & cube potatoes.
  4. In a small dish, combine salad dressing, cider vinegar, sugar, mustard & garlic salt. In a large bowl, combine potatoes, cauliflower, sauteed onion & dressing. Fold together & taste to see if more salt is needed. Serve as is or chilled.
Recipe Notes
  • I found, if you add the radishes just before serving keeps them crisp & prevents them from 'bleeding' their color into the salad.
  • In regards to the cauliflower salad, I have also made it leaving the cauliflower RAW & substituting the white onion for green. I liked that added bit of 'crunch'.

Baked Potato Skins

With the last day of December right around the corner, its time to focus on New Year’s Eve celebrations. Even if you don’t have big party plans, you will no doubt still want to enjoy a few finger foods to ring in the new year with. The fact that so much emphasis is placed on sweets over Christmas, now is a good time to enjoy something savory.

During the many years I worked in the commercial food service industry, new years eve was all about finger food. I remember making hundreds of these little bite size morsels. The thing about this type of food is, it takes hours of prep work but they can be devoured in a very short space of time.

Although the humble potato skin appetizer is pretty basic, its easy to make and quite tasty. Originally served as a clever way to repurpose food scraps, potato skins have been around since the 1970’s.

Today’s recipe works well in that you can prepare them the day before needed and refrigerate. Half an hour before you are ready to serve …. bake, sprinkle with toppings and bring on the new year!

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Baked Potato Skins
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Cuisine American
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Pierce potatoes 2-3 times. Bake directly on middle rack of oven for 50-60 minutes until tender.
  2. When cool enough to handle, cut potatoes in quarters lengthwise. With a spoon, scoop pulp from skins, leaving 1/4-inch thick shells. Place skin side down on ungreased baking sheets. Brush with oil; sprinkle with Parmesan, garlic salt & chili powder. The potatoes can be prepared up to this point one day ahead. Nest skins in rigid plastic containers, cover & refrigerate.
  3. To serve: Heat oven to 450 F. Bake skins 15-20 minutes or until hot & edges are crisp. Remove from oven; sprinkle with bacon, green onions & cheese. Bake another 5 minutes or until cheese melts. Serve with sour cream or Ranch dressing.