With Victoria Day week-end upon us, many people will be thinking of outdoor events. For some reason, food just tastes better when it is cooked over a campfire (or barbecue).
To date, no one seems to know who actually started toasting marshmallows on a stick, over a campfire. S’mores have been a camp tradition ever since the recipe first appeared in the 1927 edition of the Girl Scout Handbook. No doubt it was given its name ….. short for ‘some more’.
It seems there are endless campfire dessert concoctions such as: dessert pizza, apple pie foil packets, monkey bread, pineapple upside-down cake foil packets, walnut chocolate burritos, cinnamon buns in orange peel cups, etc., etc.
Since Brion & I are not inclined to go camping, I baked these in the oven. The orange peels infuse the chocolate with a fragrant, citrus flavor. Nice!
Chocolate Cupcakes in Orange Peel Cups
Oranges & Cake
Cut oranges in half. Using a grapefruit knife, remove pulp from each half. Juice the pulp & reserve 1 cup for the cake mix.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, oil & 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice. Mix until batter has no lumps.
Place the orange cups into a muffin tin & fill with about 1/4 cup each of the chocolate batter. Bake 25 minutes. Remove from oven & allow to cool.
In a bowl, blend cream cheese, vanilla & orange zest with a hand mixer until smooth. Add butter & mix on medium-high for a couple of minutes. Add powdered sugar & blend until topping is uniformly smooth. Place a dollop of topping on each dessert.
If you wish to bake these desserts over a campfire:
- Wrap each orange loosely in aluminium foil, taking care to keep the oranges upright.
- Place the wrapped oranges on the edge of the camp-fire, out of the direct flame but close enough to the embers so the cakes will bake.
- After 25 - 30 minutes remove the cakes from the heat and carefully unwrap. You should see cooked cake peeking out of the orange cup. Leave to cool for 15 minutes before adding a dollop of topping or just eat as is.
When I think about Easter, one of the first foods that comes to mind are hot cross buns. I’m sure you think I’m going to have a nostalgic memory of my mother’s hot cross buns, but strangely enough, I don’t. The memory I do have from that time in my life is of some very yellow, cylinder shaped loaves. They were soft, sweet and yellow from the many eggs used in the dough. My mother just called it ‘Easter Bread’. It didn’t have icing, candied fruit and nuts or extra spices, it was just plain and gloriously good.
Each year, at Easter time, I really enjoy to make some version of Easter bread or buns (of course, trying to make it just a bit better than the year past). This year I’m going to make a hot cross bun ‘loaf’.
While hot cross buns are now sold and enjoyed throughout the year, they were once reserved for Good Friday alone. There is no one clear explanation … some theories rest in Christian symbolism while there are also more than a few stories that indicate hot cross buns were baked on Good Friday for superstitious reasons.
No matter what the reason, Brion & I have always loved these soft, spicy little buns. No doubt, this ‘loaf’ will probably make some good french toast for an Easter brunch.
Hot Cross Bun Loaf
In a large bowl, whisk together milk, oil, eggs & sugar. Sprinkle yeast over mixture. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.
In a bowl, combine 4 cups flour with 3/4 tsp cinnamon. Add to yeast mixture & combine. Mixture will be very sticky. Cover bowl with a tea towel & let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
In a small dish, combine 1/4 cup sugar with cardamom & ginger; set aside. In another small dish, combine paste ingredients for crosses, stirring until smooth. Transfer to a piping bag with a small opening; set aside.
In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/2 cup flour with baking powder, baking soda & salt. When dough has risen, add this mixture & combine. Move dough to a lightly floured surface. Press to slightly flatten dough.
Sprinkle 2 Tbsp spiced sugar & a third of the fruit mixture over the dough. Fold dough over on itself & flatten again. Repeat the process two more times, ending by folding the dough in on itself. Divide the dough into 12 pieces. With floured hands, quickly roll the pieces into balls.
In a buttered, OVERSIZE loaf pan, place 6 rolls then top with remaining 6 rolls. Pipe whatever cross design you prefer on loaf. Cover & allow to rise for about 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake for 30-40 minutes. If the loaf is browning too fast, place a sheet of foil over it to prevent this.
Combine sugar & lemon juice. When loaf is baked, warm glaze for a few seconds in microwave then brush over loaf.
- If you do not have an oversized loaf pan, a bundt pan will work just fine.
One of the more interesting aspects of cooking is combining flavors to create something unique. Case in point would be meat and fruit. Some of the classic pairings such as turkey with cranberry sauce or lemon chicken are delicious, yet the idea of using both fruit and meat in the same dish is undoubtedly a little controversial. Nevertheless, these flavor companions with their sweet and salty relationship does work.
Pork for one, pairs well with an endless array of fruits. Pork comes in many forms so it gives us the opportunity to find the perfect combination.
In mid November, I had tried using some quince paste in some pastries. We quite enjoyed them so today I want to do the meat/fruit thing using the paste in a different context.
To make quince paste, the fruit is cooked in water and the strained pulp is then cooked with sugar. It turns red after a long cooking time and forms a relatively firm jelly. The taste is sweet but slightly astringent. Quince paste is usually sold in squares and is served by cutting it into thin slices to accompany cheese. It can also be served on crackers, spread on toast, used in baking or as a glaze for roasted meats.
With a fragrance that hints of vanilla, musk, pineapple and lemon blossom, quince deserves a little culinary exploration. Even if they are not a fresh fruit that is seen readily in our part of the country, I do think its worth enjoying some in ‘paste’ form.
Roasted Pork Chops w/ Quince Glaze
Preheat oven to 250 F. Rub pork chops with oil & place on a piece of foil on a baking sheet. Season with salt & pepper. Bake about 1 1/4 hours until very tender.
Add cider vinegar to a small saucepan over medium-high heat & bring to a boil. Add quince paste, honey & mustard. Whisk to dissolve the quince paste & blend the mustard. Continue to boil sauce until it reduces to around 1 cup & becomes syrupy, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from heat & pour into a small pitcher. Set aside.
Onions & Apples
In a large skillet over medium heat, add butter & saute onions, stirring often, until they are slightly translucent, about 5 minutes. Add apple wedges & thyme; cook until apples are tender. Add 1/3 of the quince sauce, tossing to coat both onions & apples well then simmer for about 1 minute. On each serving plate, place some apples & onions & top with a roasted pork chop. Serve with remaining quince sauce.
Not only does kiwi look and taste like no other fruit, its also available when some of the other fresh fruits aren’t. The month of February is a good time for this favorite duo. Ever since the 80’s, when the world first fell in love with the kiwi/strawberry flavor, the combo is in everything. I guess its because they are the perfect complement to each other’s flavor profile.
Since there are just the two of us at our house, I always like the idea of making individual desserts. Upside down cakes are so versatile, quick and uncomplicated. You can make them plain , fancy, sweet, savory, large, small …. your choice!
Today, my plan is to make some kiwi/walnut cakes with a strawberry coulis. A fruit coulis (pronounced koo-Lee) is a thick sauce made from pureed and strained fruit. They may also be made from fruit jams or preserves that are strained and diluted with water, liquor or simple syrup. Additional seasonings such as spices may be used as well as acids like lemon juice, but they are typically kept simple to avoid ‘muddying’ the flavor with too many ingredients. Coulis originally referred to the juices from cooked meats and may also be made with cooked vegetables.
Coulis can be used in many different ways such as plate decoration or just for a burst of complimentary flavor. My strawberry coulis certainly worked its magic on these little kiwi cakes.
Kiwi Walnut Mini Cakes w/ Strawberry Coulis
Preheat oven to 350 F. lightly butter 6 custard baking cups. From parchment paper, cut circles to lay on the bottom of each. Divide melted butter between the 6 cups. Sprinkle with the brown sugar & walnuts. top with kiwi fruit slices.
In a small bowl, beat together eggs & sugar until thick; gradually beat in oil. In a small dish, combine flour, baking powder, spices & salt. Stir flour mixture into egg/sugar mixture, then add orange juice & vanilla. Stir ONLY until combined.
Pour the batter over fruit in custard cups, dividing it evenly between them. Bake 15-20 minutes or until they test done with a toothpick. Allow cakes to cool for about 5 minutes, then invert onto a rack to finish cooling.
In a medium saucepan, combine strawberries, sugar & lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat & cool for a few minutes. Transfer to blender; puree until smooth, strain & set aside until ready to serve.
Place some coulis on individual dessert plates & top with a kiwi cake. Store any leftover coulis in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Despite having a fairly short history, Mexican fajitas are one of the most popular dishes in the world today. Apart from the fact that fajitas are incredibly tasty, they are actually very healthy not to mention the ease in cooking and assembling them.
As with many foods, time has changed the contents of the fajita and has evolved slightly from the original simplicity of the ranch worker’s dish, with different cuts of meat being chosen such as chicken or seafood. The vegetables have not changed as much as the meat, with peppers, onions & chilies still being predominant ingredients in the dish.
Probably, the most important thing when making fajitas is the marinade. It not only makes the ingredients incredibly tender but very flavorful.
Fajitas usually require some tortillas. While they are wonderful tasting, using zucchini noodles (or zoodles) as a base for the fajita chicken gives this meal an amazing flavor. Zucchini is perhaps the most popular choice for vegetable noodles. It’s long, thin shape makes it easy to spiralize and its neutral flavor allows it to pair well with almost any sauce or topping. This meal has such eye appeal along with a great taste.
Fajita Chicken w/ Zucchini Noodles
In a large resealable plastic bag, combine oil, lemon juice & seasonings (RESERVE a small bit of seasoning for zucchini noodles); add chicken, seal & turn to coat. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
Wash zucchini & trim off ends. Using a spiralizer, cut zucchini into 'noodles'. Set aside. Prepare peppers & green onion.
When chicken has finished marinating, Add 1 Tbsp oil to a griddle & saute peppers & onion until just tender crisp. set aside & keep warm. Add another Tbsp oil to griddle. Saute zucchini noodles for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, sprinkle with reserved seasoning & keep warm.
Grill marinated chicken strips until cooked through. Divide zucchini between serving plates. Top with peppers, onions & grilled chicken. Sprinkle with grated cheese.
Having just returned from Merida, Mexico and holiday memories are still fresh in our minds, we wanted to share a few of the city’s highlights.
Merida is the cultural heart and soul of the Yucatan with multiple museums, art galleries, restaurants, theaters and stores. Brion and I have made a point of staying in hotels which are a close walk to Paseo de Montejo. This main avenue of the city was named after the founder of Merida, Francisco de Montejo. Built at the end of the 19th century and inspired by the boulevards of France, Paseo de Montejo used to be the site of mega mansions belonging to the well-to-do families in the city. While many of them now are the headquarters of national and international banks and companies, they still retain the heritage of the city.
Music and dancing play an important role in the day to day life of Merida’s residents. Outdoor, live performances can be seen frequently around the city. Cultural activities are plentiful on Saturday and Sunday evenings. The main road is closed off to traffic on Sundays for ‘Family Bike Day’, a day when families are encouraged to get out and ride their bikes along Montejo avenue. This historic city offers a wonderful insight into its rich culture, incredible cuisine and friendly people.
If you care to read about some of the tours we took last year while we were in Merida, check out my blog articles on this site from February 2019.
Today’s blog recipe is called Mexican ‘lasagna’ due to the layering of tortillas in place of lasagna pasta noodles.
In a large saucepan, scramble-fry ground beef with celery, onion & green pepper. Add tomatoes, enchilada sauce, olives salt & pepper; simmer covered for about 15-20 minutes.
Heat oil in skillet. Cut 2 tortillas into quarters; cook remaining 6 tortillas & the quarters in oil till crisp & golden. Drain on paper towels. Set aside quartered tortillas & break up remaining six. In a bowl, combine cheddar, cottage cheese & slightly beaten egg.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a 9 X 9-inch baking dish, spread 1/3 of meat mixture. Top with 1/2 of the cheese mixture then 1/2 of the BROKEN tortillas. Repeat layers, ending with meat mixture. Top with quartered tortillas.
Bake for 30 minutes then allow to stand 5 minutes before serving.
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!
Stuffed Plantain Cups
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil & lightly butter.
IF YOU PREFER, PREPARE AVOCADO MAYO AT THIS TIME.
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.
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.
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.
Remove peel & pits from avocados. In a food processor, combine all ingredients & puree. Remove from processor, cover & set aside.
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!
Cheesy Shrimp & Rice Casserole
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.