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.

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
Servings
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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.

Baked Avocado Bacon Omelette with Salmon/Dill Scones

What to call it — an omelette, frittata or quiche? While this trinity of brunch egg dishes all contain eggs, the preparation methods vary. All are delicious but here’s what defines them.

The traditional French omelette contains eggs, a splash of water and a pinch of salt and pepper. The briskly whipped eggs are cooked in clarified butter then turned out of the pan when still a little custardy and unset. These (colorless) omelettes are rolled up like a business letter and served with only a few herbs. In North America, we seem to want to ‘clean out the fridge’ so to speak, adding just about anything and everything. This version is cooked until mostly dry on top and golden on the bottom. As a rule, they are folded over once, then served.

Frittatas are generally thicker than omelettes. The ingredients are mixed in, instead of sprinkled on. While started on the stove, sometimes they are finished under the broiler then served in slices like a pie.

Quiche, on the other hand, is a savory custard baked in a pastry crust or a potato crust. Quiche gets its richness from the addition of whole milk, half & half or even heavy cream. Just to add another twist to the mix — enter the ‘crustless quiche-omelette’.

This particular meal at our house, was one of those ‘clean out the fridge’ ideas that turned out absolutely wonderful. I had posted the salmon/dill scones on a blog a number of years ago. They made an ideal compliment for this meal.

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Baked Avocado Bacon Omelette with Salmon/Dill Scones
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Instructions
Baked Omelette
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a deep pie plate with cooking spray.
  2. In a skillet, saute bacon until cooked but not real crisp; dry on paper towel & crumble. Add onions, mushrooms & garlic to skillet, sauteing in bacon drippings until tender crisp. Chop tomato & 1 avocado. Grate cheese. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt & pepper. Add all prepared ingredients; gently stir.
  3. Pour mixture into pie plate distributing evenly. Bake 35-40 minutes, rotating once half way through. Let omelette cool for 5 minutes. Top with remaining sliced avocado & serve.
Salmon/Dill Scones
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 8 muffin cups with paper liners. In a bowl, mix together flour & baking powder. Add grated cheese, smoked salmon & dill. In a separate bowl, whisk egg, buttermilk & oil.
  2. Place half of the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients & stir well. Then add the rest of the wet ingredients & mix until completely combined. Spoon into paper liners until each is filled halfway, then place a heaping tsp of cream cheese in the middle of each scone. Divide the rest of the batter between the 8 cups.
  3. Bake for 10 minutes, rotate pan & continue to bake for another 10 minutes or until scones are just browning on top & test done.

Stuffed Chicken Leg Quarters

The versatility of chicken, as well as the ease and speed with which it can be cooked make it one of the most popular meats around.

Chicken leg quarters, also referred to as whole chicken legs, consist of both the thigh and drumstick. This cut is sold bone-in/skin-on and for most part, quite economical. Because they are dark meat and many people prefer white meat, chicken legs are often over looked by the consumer.

I like to purchase these with six fresh leg quarters to the package. Usually you will find a bit of extra fat on them which needs to be trimmed as well as the backbone rinsed out. Freezing them in a meal size portions makes it so handy when ready to use.

Roasting them in a real slow oven temperature with just a little oil, salt & pepper always produces tasty results. After they have baked for an hour you can always turn up the temperature for a few minutes to crisp the skin if you wish.

Today, I thought it would be nice to do something a bit more special. Stuffing them with a veggie-cheese mixture not only tastes great but they had a nice visual effect on our plates.

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Stuffed Chicken Leg Quarters
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
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Instructions
  1. In a saucepan, melt butter, add onion & peppers; saute until tender crisp. Add grated zucchini, continue to cook for 2 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat & place in a bowl. Add breadcrumbs, egg, salt, pepper & cheese. Refrigerate until cold.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F. Using fingers, loosen skin on chicken legs. Spoon some filling into each chicken leg working the stuffing down the drumstick. Combine the 2 Tbsp melted butter, dry mustard & Dijon mustard together & brush over chicken. Place the chicken in a shallow baking dish & bake for about 45 minutes or until cooked through. Remove from oven & serve.

Rice Flour Crepes with Black Beans & Guacamole

Due to the fact that rice flour pairs perfectly with taco-worthy fillings such as avocado, beans, cheese etc. gave me inspiration for this meal. This flour is a staple of South east Asia, Japan & India. Rice flour or rice powder is very different from rice starch, which is produced by steeping rice in a strong alkaline solution.

The technique of frying with rice flour has become universal. Rice absorbs less oil than other flours while frying, resulting in fewer calories from fat and a less oily product. Even many fast food restaurants dust their french fries with rice flour to give them that characteristic, satisfying crunch. By blending traditional wheat or cornstarch batters with rice flour will lighten the batter up and reduces some of the ‘gumminess’.

Rice flour is well suited to crepes but it is important to make them in thin, crisp rounds. If they are too thick the most likely they will crack if you are wrapping filling inside.

The recipe I’m using for my crepe stacks is pretty much a basic crepe recipe with rice flour substituted for all purpose flour. For the classic Asian rice ‘crepe’, coconut milk and turmeric are generally used.

This combination of flavors was very interesting. The recipe seems kind of long but it comes together fairly quickly. It certainly will be a ‘keeper’ for us.

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Rice Flour Crepes with Black Beans & Guacamole
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, Asia, Mexican
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, Asia, Mexican
Servings
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Instructions
Rice Flour Crepes
  1. In a pitcher, whisk all ingredients together until smooth. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes while preparing the rest of the recipe.
Crepe Filling
  1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add turkey; stir-fry until no longer pink. Stir in water chestnuts, carrot, cilantro, garlic, apricot preserve, soy sauce, ginger & red pepper flakes. Remove from heat & set aside.
Guacamole
  1. In a bowl, coarsely mash avocados, lime juice, salt, garlic, onion & cilantro with a fork. Cover & refrigerate until ready to use.
Black Beans
  1. In a bowl, combine all ingredients except chicken broth (or water). In a food processor, pulse 1/2 cup of the mixture with broth until smooth. Add to mixture in bowl & stir to combine well.
  2. Heat griddle to a medium-high temperature. Using a 1/4 measure, pour batter on griddle. With bottom of 1/4 cup measure, enlarge crepe by making circular motion in the batter. Cook each crepe for about 2 minutes until bottom is lightly browned. Lay on a plate until ready to use making sure not to let them dry out.
Assembly
  1. On each serving plate lay one crepe. Spread each with some of the guacamole, top each with some of the turkey filling, black beans, diced fresh tomato & a sprinkle of smoked Gouda cheese. Repeat with 2 more layers on each plate. End with a swirl of guacamole for some eye appeal. Serve extra beans on the side if you wish.

Tortilla Crepe Stacks

To some of us, Mexican food terms get a little confusing. I mean there is the taco, burrito, quesadilla, enchilada and taquito just to name a few. Before anything, one needs to know what a tortilla is. Simply put, it is wheat or corn plain bread that is used as a wrapping material around different types of filling ingredients to make the various Mexican dishes. 

Masa Harina is a traditional flour used to make corn tortillas and tamales as well as other Mexican meals. To make masa harina, field corn (or maize) is dried and then treated in a solution of lime and water called slaked lime (or wood-ash lye). This loosens the hulls from the kernels and softens the corn. In addition, the lime reacts with the corn so that the nutrient niacin can be assimilated by the digestive tract.

The soaked maize is then washed, and the wet corn is ground into a dough called masa. It is this fresh masa, when dried and powdered, that becomes masa harina. Water is added again to make dough for the corn tortillas or tamales.

Cornmeal and masa harina are very different preparations of corn. Do not try to substitute cornmeal or regular wheat flour in recipes calling for masa harina as they will not produce the same results.

Today, I want to make some tortilla crepe stacks. Crepes as we all know, have always been a hallmark of French cuisine. So the question is, ‘how did they come to be in Mexican cuisine’? In the 1860’s, French forces invaded Mexico. They came, they conquered, they cooked and then they got kicked out. Cinco de Mayo commemorates that victory for Mexico from 1862. However, it took another five years before the French left Mexico for good. During their stay, the French left their mark on the country’s cuisine.

One of the reasons I have always loved crepes, is that they are so easy to make and taste so good. You can either roll the filling inside or just stack them with their fillings and make a ‘cake’.

These tortilla crepes are made with half masa harina and half white flour. Next, I made a mushroom rice & barley pilaf and some guacamole. You can pick and choose when it comes to the extra filling add-ons. I guess it did get a bit more involved but worth it —.


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Tortilla Crepe Stacks

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Instructions
Tortilla Crepes
  1. In a blender, beat eggs with milk & oil. Gradually add masa harina, white flour & salt, beat until smooth. Allow to stand for 1 hour or longer. Heat an electric griddle to 350 F. Using a 1/4 cup measure, scoop batter onto griddle. With bottom of 1/4 cup, make circles in the batter, gradually enlarge to size of tortilla you wish to make. I made 3 for each crepe stack. Cook each crepe for a few minutes on each side then remove to a wire cooling rack.

Rice & Barley Pilaf
  1. In a saucepan, saute onion, garlic & mushrooms until tender crisp. Add chicken broth & bring to a boil. Add all remaining pilaf ingredients & reduce heat to simmer. Simmer until barley & rice are cooked & liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; place in a dish & set aside to cool.

Guacamole
  1. Mince onion & sun-dried tomatoes & mash avocados. In a small bowl, combine avocados, onion, sun-dried tomatoes, & remaining guacamole ingredients. Blend well, cover & refrigerate.

Crepe Stack Fillings
  1. Cook chicken & shred, Grate cheese & prepare all filling ingredients.

Assembly
  1. Spread 4 tortillas with guacamole, reserving a bit for 'decorating' the top of each stack. Over the guacamole, put a layer of rice/barley pilaf. Top each of them with chicken, green peppers, olives, corn, red onion, fresh tomatoes, zucchini, black beans & a sprinkling of cheese. On 2 serving plates, place one filled tortilla topped by a second one. Complete each stack with another corn tortilla. 'Decorate' each with remaining guacamole, salsa, sour cream & remaining cheese. Heat each crepe stack for a few minutes in the microwave before serving.

Chicken Parmigiana with Basil Sauce

From what I understand, the global dish called chicken parmigiana is a variation on the Italian entree known as eggplant parmigiana. Simply put, you deep fry eggplant, add cheese and tomato sauce and bake it. At some point in time, various regions in the world with large Italian immigrant populations, realized chicken would be an excellent alternative to the eggplant and chicken parmigiana evolved.

In America, the dish became popular around 1958. Often the name has been simplified to just ‘chicken parm‘. Usually composed of fried or breaded chicken fillets, smothered in mozzarella (or provolone), parmesan and tomato sauce all of which is then baked. Another version is using veal instead of chicken. Parmigiana is traditionally served over hot pasta as the main entree but it has also become a sandwich filling favored in subs, hoagies, etc.

In today’s recipe, I’m using parmesan cheese but omitting the mozzarella-tomato sauce. I wanted to accent the flavor with fresh basil in the sauce instead. We quite enjoyed it.

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Chicken Parmigiana with Basil Sauce
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, Italian
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, Italian
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Instructions
Chicken
  1. In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, cheese & parsley. Chop bacon finely & fry until crisp; drain. Add bacon to breadcrumb mixture.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a saucepan, melt butter, add minced garlic, Worcestershire sauce & dry mustard. Mix well. Dip chicken fillets in butter mixture & place in a shallow ovenproof dish. Press crumb mixture on top of each fillet.
  3. Bake, uncovered for 20 - 25 minutes.
Basil Sauce
  1. In a saucepan, combine oil, vinegar, minced garlic, finely chopped basil leaves & cream; stir until heated through. Add egg yolk & stir until sauce thickens. Do not boil. Season with salt & pepper. Serve over chicken parmigiana.

Mashed Potato-Meat Cups with Cheese ‘Gravy’

There is no one way to create ‘meatloaf’ and it is precisely this capacity for re-invention that has allowed meatloaf to maintain a continued place on our dinner tables. The limitations for the iconic dish are none. The criteria is ground meat primarily and whether it is beef, pork, chicken, turkey or a blend of, doesn’t matter. The meat must be cut with a filler or the loaf becomes to dense. Bread crumbs, oatmeal, crackers, Japanese panko crumbs, rice, minced vegetables are all good choices. Egg and/or dairy of some kind is essential to bind and moisten. Seasoning is definitely a personal choice. The loaf shape is classic but the top can be glazed, sauced, as is, or baked with strips of bacon over it.

At one time, trying to find a casual restaurant that didn’t serve meatloaf would have been like an Italian one that didn’t serve pasta. Some believe meatloaf was born during the Depression of the 1930’s. To stretch the small amounts of meat people had, it was ground and mixed with stale bread crumbs. At times, these loaves actually contained more ‘loaf’ than meat.

Whether you love meatloaf or hate it, the fact that it is still around after all these years is incredible. Today’s entree puts another spin on this old classic. This a recipe that was published in a  Better Homes & Gardens  magazine in the 70’s. Interesting!


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Mashed Potato-Meat Cups with Cheese 'Gravy'

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Course Lunch, Main Dish
Cuisine American, German

Servings


Ingredients
Meat Cups

Mashed Potatoes

Cheese Sauce

Course Lunch, Main Dish
Cuisine American, German

Servings


Ingredients
Meat Cups

Mashed Potatoes

Cheese Sauce

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Instructions
Meat Cups
  1. In a skillet, heat oil & saute onions & garlic until translucent. Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, combine ground beef, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, Parmesan, parsley, cooled onions & garlic, egg, breadcrumbs & milk. Combine well.

  2. On 4 squares of waxed paper, shape into 4 patties with a 5-inch diameter. Shape each over an inverted custard cup; discard paper. Chill about an hour.

Mashed Potatoes
  1. Peel & cook potatoes. In a large bowl, combine cooked potatoes, butter, seasonings, Parmesan & a splash of milk. Mash & add more milk gradually until potatoes are desired texture.

Cheese Sauce
  1. In a saucepan, melt butter; whisk in flour, salt & pepper until smooth. Gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil; cook & stir while adding cheddar cheese. Cook, stirring constantly until thickened. Cook frozen peas.

Baking & Serving
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Place inverted meat cups on a shallow baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes or until meat is cooked. Lift baked meat cups from custard cups & turn upright; fill with mashed potatoes. Place on serving plates, spoon cheese sauce over filled meat cups & top with green peas.

Seven Grain Date Roll Cake with Apple Cream Cheese

Sometimes a favorite recipe just begs for an update. Many of us will remember the ‘vintage’ jelly roll cake. A nice tender, golden cake with strawberry jam rolled up inside and sometimes sprinkled with powdered sugar. Probably considered unique for its time. Food, like fashion, music, design and architecture are reflections of our culture. I’ve always found it interesting to rethink previous recipe ideas, use spices and seasonings from other cultures or try contrasting ingredients that don’t typically go together. The most important thing is not to veer so far from the original that the end result is unrecognizable.

This recipe is one that has been in my muffin recipe collection for over twenty years. A multi-grain batter with dates and nuts. I was trying to think how I could do an update on it to transform it into a unique cake roll. With a few adjustments to the original batter as well as adding apple cream cheese filling, it turned a grainy breakfast cereal into a very tasty dessert.

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Seven Grain Date Roll Cake with Apple Cream Cheese
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Course Brunch, dessert
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Course Brunch, dessert
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Instructions
Apple Cream Cheese Filling
  1. In a saucepan, combine apples, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon & water. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until apples are soft & caramelized & most of the water has evaporated but it's still syrupy. Pour into a bowl, cover & refrigerate until completely cooled. In the meantime, begin preparing cake roll. When ready to use filling, whip the cream cheese in a bowl with sour cream, yogurt, extract & powdered sugar until smooth. Fold in cooled apple mixture & spread on cake roll.
Cake Roll
  1. In a small bowl, combine 7-grain cereal, boiling water, instant coffee granules & chopped dates. Allow to cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a 15 X 10-inch jelly roll pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, brown sugar, oil, extract & above prepared 7-grain mixture.
  3. In another small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt & nuts. Fold dry mixture carefully into wet mixture, mixing only until just combined. Bake about 12-15 minutes or until cake tests done.
  4. Turn out onto a tea towel sprinkled with a little powdered sugar. Starting at narrow end, roll up cake & towel together. Cool. Unroll & spread with apple cream cheese filling. Re-roll & chill. If you prefer, you can sprinkle with powdered sugar before slicing & serving.