When I’m working in the yard, summer always tempts me to spend less time in the kitchen. As much as I love to cook, I find the ‘gardener’ in me takes over. I can’t simply just go out and do a bit of looking. The first thing I know, there’s a little weed that needs to be picked or a plant to prune and that does it — I’m hooked for hours. Nevertheless, one thing for sure and that is the fresh air and exercise builds an appetite which brings me to a fast-to-fix meal.
Today, I’m thinking some chicken fajitas for our evening meal. Before I even go outside, I’ll do a bit of quick prep work, that way it will be a ‘no brainer’ later when I’m tired.
Technically, only beef was used in fajitas, but the term has become ‘blurred’ and describes just about anything that is cooked and served rolled up in a soft flour tortilla. The origin of the fajita goes back to Mexican ranch workers living in West Texas (along the Rio Grande on the Texas-Mexican border) in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s. When a steer was butchered, the workers were given the least desirable parts to eat for partial payment of their wages. Because of this, the workers learned to make good use of a tough cut of beef known as shirt steak. The first print mention of the word fajitas anywhere in the world didn’t occur until the 1970’s.
The chicken breast I’m using in this recipe is marinated for a number of hours making it nice and spicy as well as tender. This is a great little, quick and easy hand held meal.
In a large resealable plastic bag, combine 2 Tbsp oil, lemon juice & seasonings. Add chicken. Seal & turn to coat; refrigerate for 1-4 hours.
In a large skillet, saute peppers & onions in remaining oil until crisp-tender. Remove & keep warm. In the same skillet, cook chicken over medium-high heat for 5-6 minutes or until no longer pink. Return pepper mixture to pan; heat through. Spoon filling down the center of the tortillas; fold in half. Serve with cheese & choice of other toppings.
Pairing pork with figs and pears may seem a little odd but believe me it tastes great. Pears are one of those fruits that are extremely versatile. Their subtle sweetness and juiciness makes them perfect for recipes from entrees to desserts. Figs could be considered the perfect fruit — low on calories, full of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Figs have always appealed to me since the first time I tasted a ‘Fig Newton’ cookie. Now that seems like eons ago! Figs also bring me back to a place that holds some wonderful memories for Brion & I. In 2014 we visited the eastern side of the Algarve region in Portugal. This coastline is a spectacular site, very similar to the Big Sur coastline of California, USA.
Portugal has an excellent climate for cultivating figs. In the Mediterranean region as well as the Algarve, you can see fig trees almost everywhere. From August until about the end of September, there are plenty of fresh figs ripening on the trees. The only thing, is they have a short harvest time and will go bad quickly once picked. After the season ends you can buy dried figs. Fig jam is a product of fresh figs whereas dried are used for cooking, baking and even in fig liquor.
Portugal possesses great charm in its medieval villages, walled towns and glorious monuments while at the same time embracing progress and modernity with a style all of its own. It was such a memorable experience that will not be forgotten for sure.
There’s very little fuss to preparing today’s recipe and the meat turns out extremely tender.
In a bowl, combine first 8 ingredients; set aside.
Make a lengthwise cut 3/4 of the way through the tenderloin; open and flatten to 1/4-inch thickness. Brush meat with Fig Balsamic dressing & sprinkle with salt & pepper. Spread pear mixture over tenderloin. Roll up from long side; tuck in ends. Secure with toothpicks.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Place tenderloin on a large piece of foil on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Nestle remaining filling around tenderloin, pulling up foil to make sides to keep it close to meat. Brush with Fig Balsamic dressing. Bake, uncovered for 40-45 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into pork reads 160-170 F. Remove from oven & brush with apricot preserves. Let stand for 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with the additional roasted filling.
A popular and versatile dish, risotto is served extensively in the kitchens and restaurants of the world. The history of risotto is naturally tied to the history of rice in Italy. Rice was first introduced to Italy and Spain by the Arabs during the middle ages. The humidity of the Mediterranean was perfect for growing shorter-grained rices.
A hearty rice dish, risotto is rich with the flavors of the stock used in its making, as well as saffron, and any of the hundreds of ingredients that pair so perfectly with it.
The key components of this simple but elegant dish are: rice, stock (usually chicken), onions, butter, wine, parmesan and saffron. It can be served by itself or as an accompaniment to other dishes. The starchy component of the dry grain mixed with the stock creates a thick, creamy sauce.
Brion is a ‘wing’ man. He LOVES chicken wings and rice so it seems quite fitting to make a CHICKEN WING RISOTTO.
In a large skillet, heat butter & oil; add wings, cook until golden brown on both sides; Remove from skillet to paper towels & drain skillet.
In skillet, melt extra butter; add onion & garlic; cook until tender. Add pepper, shallots, zucchini, celery & saffron, cook another minute. Add wine, rice, water, chicken bouillon cube & chicken wings, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat & simmer for 20-25 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, stir in parsley.
Saffron is extremely expensive to buy in our part of the country. A good trade off would be turmeric or just use the spices that appeal to you.
Soups have represented cultural traditions while showcasing regional foods and cuisines long before recorded history. To give a few examples for instance — Russia makes borscht, Italy has minestrone, France with its vichyssoise, Spain has gazpacho and so on.
Food historians generally agree that recipes dubbed ‘chowder’, as we know them today, were named for the primitive cavernous iron pots they were cooked in. Each simmering pot is a season’s herald: hearty chowders are comfort food during winter; garden fresh vegetable soups in the spring; refreshing chilled gazpacho or fruit soups during the summer and pumpkin and squash from autumn’s bounty.
Today’s ROASTED PEPPER & CORN CHOWDER is an easy choice to prepare in that it uses bottled roasted red peppers. Nothing says you can’t roast some fresh peppers instead if you prefer. Some people serve corn chowder as a vegetarian alternative to clam chowder. Brion and I enjoy this soup accompanied with some warm garlic bread sticks.
The key components needed when preparing a baked pasta meal lies in selecting a good durum wheat pasta, tossed through a rich, creamy sauce with the addition of proper seasonings and the right cheeses.
Baked spaghetti is more accommodating to busy schedules than stove top pastas. Part of the charm of a baked pasta dish is being able to assemble it completely and refrigerate until time to bake. The results will be good but not great. You are better off making the components ahead of time — saute the vegetables, cook (meat) sauce, combine the cheeses, boil the pasta and then combine everything just before baking.
Oven baked pasta has a long history with many variations. Ingredients will vary depending on regional traditions and approaches. A few things that always work for me are; choosing a good durum or egg pasta, cook it al dente, season each element of the dish, be generous with the sauce but go easy on the cheese and if you choose to use a crumb topping, make your own and keep it coarse.
Today’s BAKED SPAGHETTI with MEAT SAUCE recipe is a very simple one I used many years ago in the restaurant industry. It was put out by the Campbell’s soup company and worked well in the commercial setting. It can be changed up with beef, pork or chicken, all with good results.
Its only March, so BBQ season is till a few months away. Some would claim that good ‘barbecued’ food can only come from the grill, not the oven. But what about during our winter months or times when you just don’t feel like firing up the grill or you’re out of propane? Let’s face it, nothing can replace a good outdoor barbecue, but..
The key to oven BBQ chicken is to start with bone-in pieces. Chicken leg quarters are fairly fatty in comparison to chicken breast so it takes a lot to dry a chicken leg out. Which brings me to a recipe I clipped from a newspaper back in 1970 for OVEN BARBECUED CHICKEN. The ingredient list is rather lengthy but all pretty common place items. Brion likes this meal served with roasted potatoes.
In the month of March our family celebrates three birthdays. Today, March 21st would have been my Dad’s. He passed away at the age of 92, 12 years ago. Our Dad was a man of discipline; love was closely associated with duty and commitment for him. He was confident in who he was and didn’t demonstrate any need to conform to what we might have wanted him to do. Everything he undertook was driven by his commitment to honor and provide for the family that he loved.
IT IS WITH MUCH LOVE OUR FAMILY IS HONORING THIS DAY IN THE MEMORY OF OUR WONDERFUL DAD
Preheat oven to 375 F. Have available a large baking dish that will hold chicken in a single layer. Combine flour, 1 tsp salt, paprika & 1/4 tsp pepper in a heavy plastic bag. Place chicken in bag & shake to coat evenly. In a heavy, large skillet, heat margarine & oil.
Add chicken & brown slowly on all sides; place in baking dish. Add onion & garlic to pan; cook gently for 3 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients, cover & simmer 10 minutes.
Pour this mixture over chicken, cover the pan & bake 15 minutes. Turn chicken legs, cover again & bake about 15 minutes more. Remove cover & continue baking until legs are tender, basting often with sauce, about 20 minutes.
Soups are for all occasions; from an elegant fruit soup at the start of a meal to a stick-to-your-ribs, homemade chowder or gumbo that is a meal in itself.
Homemade soups need need little attention, cooking by themselves. Most soups freeze well so they are an easy supper to pull from the freezer. At our house, we don’t eat a lot of ham but it’s nice once in a while. Even though there are just the two of us, I like to buy about 1.3 kg. This generally gives me enough for three different meals such as a glazed roast ham supper, pizza and a split pea/ham soup.
Split pea soup has been around for thousands of years. There are records of this soup being made and sold by street vendors in Greek and Roman societies.
This particular recipe has a delicious variety of healthful ingredients. Making it a day in advance allows the flavors to develop nicely. Of course, nothing rounds out a soup meal in winter better than a bread item. Warm, parmesan scones or bread sticks seem to be our favorites since they can be made and baked in about half an hour just before suppertime.
In a large stockpot, combine water, split peas, barley, bay leaves, soy sauce, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, sage, & cumin; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover & simmer for about 45 minutes. Add onion & chicken broth. Cover & simmer until onion is tender, about 10 minutes. Discard bay leaves & stir in diced ham.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line baking sheet with a small piece of parchment paper. In a small bowl, combine flour, parmesan, baking powder & soda. With fingers, work in margarine until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in sour cream OR buttermilk until a soft dough forms; gently kneading until no longer sticky.
Place ball of dough on the parchment paper & press into a 5" (12.7 cm) circle about 3/4" (1.9 cm) thick. Score top to make 6 wedges. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. Re-cut into wedges & serve.
The Christmas season makes us reflect on many different things; to live life a little more grateful, more hopeful and a little more peaceful. It is a time to connect with friends and loved ones to enjoy the traditions we grew up with.
Today, December 25th, our family celebrates my sister Rita’s birthday as well as Christmas. I have fond memories of her Christmas Eve family birthday ‘parties’. On the eve of Christmas, our family would go to church. After returning home, we were joined by some family friends to have birthday cake and homemade rootbeer. My parents wanted my sister to always have this special time to honor her birthday apart from the Christmas festivities.
As I write about this memory, something else comes to mind. Our church at that time, was a small, old building. For the choir it had a small loft. As long as I can remember, the same lady played the organ as well as directing the choir members in song. She in turn, had a teenage daughter gifted with an unbelievable voice. One of the highlights of the Christmas service was to hear her sing a solo version of ‘Oh Holy Night’. You could hear a pin drop, it was breathtaking how angelic and beautiful her voice was. I get emotional even now remembering it.
Brion and I have spent many Christmas seasons in other parts of the world. One of the many ‘scenes’ that has left a lasting memory was in Italy, in the town of Assisi. We arrived in late afternoon with the Trafalgar group. The town sits atop one of the rolling hills in the region. The Basilica is a massive structure that dates back to the 13th century. By the time we finished visiting the Basilica the sun was setting. Brion and I stepped outside and in the meadow of the church stood a huge nativity scene with human size, terracotta figures. It was just an amazing sight to see and especially right at that time of day.
As much as I love to look at and appreciate the beauty of seasonal decorations, I’ve never been one who gets to involved with that aspect of the season. Food preparation has always been my calling and probably always will be. I hope you have enjoyed my pre-Christmas blogs as well as found them useful. I’m keeping it simple today with just two recipes. One is SAVORY STUFFING for your bird. This recipe is my best effort at a ‘taste of a memory’ from my mother’s stuffing. The second recipe is for MINI CHEESECAKES. These are my virtual ‘birthday cakes’ for you Rita. HAPPY BIRTHDAY –we love you — enjoy your day!
SEASON’S GREETINGS to anyone reading my blog.
THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS IS FOUND ANYTIME SOMEONE’S
DREAM BECOMES REAL BY THE KINDNESS ANOTHER EXTENDS!
In a saucepan, boil potatoes; drain & mash. Set aside. Saute onion, celery, garlic, mushrooms & seasonings in margarine. Remove from heat. Combine with bread cubes, mashed potatoes & broth. ADD ONLY ENOUGH BROTH TO MAKE A PROPER STUFFING CONSISTENCY. You may not need the full amount of broth. This will make sufficient stuffing for a 4 - 4.5 kg (9 - 10 lb) turkey.
Base for Mini Cheesecakes
Combine crumbs, sugar & margarine. In each of 36 paper-lined, mini tart pans (2 1/4" dia.), press 1 Tbsp of crumb mixture. Bake at 325 F. for 5 minutes.
With an electric mixer on medium speed, combine cream cheese, sugar, zest, juice & vanilla until well blended. Beat in egg; fill cups. Bake for about 25 minutes. Cool before removing from pan. Chill. Garnish as desired before serving. For the chocolate cheesecakes, blend beaten egg & vanilla with cooled chocolate before beating in cream cheese & sugar so the chocolate does not harden into lumps.
Today, December 21st, a very special member of our family is having his 13th birthday. He is ‘our’ little mini German Dachshund with the Mexican name. My sister Loretta, adopted Amigo when he was only two months old, so needless to say, they are inseparable.
Amigo is everything you could want in a pet. I’m pretty sure he feels his mission in life is to play ball. He has never been one to like being left alone or to play by himself. Being so incredibly smart, it only takes a few minutes for him to understand what you are doing, playing or even thinking!
On occasion, Loretta has put him in our care. He accepts Brion and I like going to stay with your aunt and uncle and very quickly adapts to our routine. Curious, charming, brave, stubborn and comical are all words generally used to describe Dachshunds and certainly they describe our ‘Miggy’. He has probably done more airplane travel than a lot of people. Although travelling in any mode is not his thing, if Loretta is going somewhere, no question, he’s going to.
Since this is supposed to be a ‘story and food‘ blog I guess I should get to the food part. Since Amigo loves chicken I decided to post STUFFED BREAST of CHICKEN with APPLES, WALNUTS & BRIE today. Now that’s not to say he’ll be eating any but it kind of fits the occasion.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO AMIGO!
Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Apples, Walnuts & Brie
In a large skillet, saute onion in 1 Tbsp. butter about 1 minute. Add apple; cook 2-3 minutes longer or until apple is golden brown. Remove from heat; add walnuts, rosemary & a dash of salt & pepper.
Flatten chicken breasts to 1/4" thickness; sprinkle with garlic powder & remaining salt & pepper. Place apple mixture & Brie on half of each chicken breast; fold over. Secure with toothpicks if necessary.
In same skillet, brown chicken in remaining butter. Stir in cider vinegar & 1/4 cup apple juice. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover & cook for 15-20 minutes or until meat thermometer reads 170 F.
Remove chicken to serving platter; discard toothpicks. Combine cornstarch & remaining apple juice; add to the pan. Bring to a boil; cook & stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Serve with chicken.
This recipe is another one of my favorites I acquired from the tasteofhome.com site.
Today, November 24, our neighbors to the south are celebrating Thanksgiving. Over the years, Brion and I have been in the USA numerous times on this occasion and enjoyed the food and holiday atmosphere very much. Today’s blog post acknowledges the American holiday with some special meal choices.
At the heart of a memorable dinner is the main entree, so why not make it just a bit more special by serving it ‘En Croute’. In the culinary arts, the term en croute(pronounced ‘on Kroot’) indicates a food that has been wrapped in a pastry dough and then baked in the oven. Traditionally the type of pastry used was a simple dough called pate pastry. Today, puff pastry is frequently used for most en croute recipes.
The key to preparing items en croute is that however long it takes to cook the pastry until it is golden brown is how long the item will spend in the oven. Some of the best choices are beef tenderloin, salmon or a brie cheese, due to the fact they require less time to cook.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, Beef Wellington or as the French called it, ‘Boeuf en Croute’, became very popular. It was an elegant meal, using a beef tenderloin covered with liver pate and wrapped in pastry. My first introduction to this meal was a much more low key version. It was simply achieved by making a nicely seasoned meatloaf, wrapping it a basic pastry and baking it. My mother would serve it with a tomato soup sauce. Definitely good but not quite the elegance of the true en croute entrees.
Two favorites of mine are variations of the classic ‘boeuf en croute’. One uses boneless turkey breast topped with a cranberry, hazelnut stuffing and baked in a tender puff pastry then served with a citrus-fig cranberry sauce. The other one is a seafood en croute using fresh salmon. The salmon is topped with shrimp or scallops in a seasoned egg/cream mixture and baked in puff pastry. A dill cream sauce is served to compliment this entree. Having a few alternatives to change out your traditional holiday meals always keeps it interesting.
Saute garlic & onions in olive oil & butter 1-2 minutes. Add bread crumbs; toss until they begin to brown slightly. Add hazelnuts, thyme, cranberries, salt & pepper. Add only enough turkey stock to make stuffing hold together.
Place the first pastry sheet on a parchment lined baking sheet. Place turkey breast along the center line of the pastry sheet. Brush the edges of the pastry with egg wash. Place stuffing on top of the turkey. Place the second pastry sheet over the turkey & stuffing. Trim the edges to form an oval shape. Save the trimmings in the fridge.
Bring the edges of the dough together & seal by pinching them. Roll the dough from the bottom layer over the top layer & press down all the way around the perimeter of the pastry. This creates a tighter seal. Brush egg wash over the entire surface of the pastry. Decorate, cutting leaf shapes from trimmed pastry & score leaf veining into them with the tip of a sharp knife. Cut four 1/2" slots in the top of the pastry to let steam escape. Chill for 20 minutes or longer in the fridge before baking. This helps the pastry to puff.
Bake at 400 F. for about 15-20 minutes then reduce the heat to 350 F. Use a meat thermometer to make sure that the center has reached at least 170 F. to be sure the turkey is completely cooked, about 35-45 minutes longer. Let rest for 10 minutes before cutting into servings.
Citrus - Fig Cranberry Sauce
Simmer all ingredients together slowly for 30-40 minutes or until the cranberries are fully cooked & the mixture reduces & thickens to a jam-like consistency. Stir the sauce often as it simmers. Remove the star anise (if using). Store in a plastic container in refrigerator until serving time.
Seafood en Croute
On a lightly floured surface, roll each pastry sheet into a 12 x 10-inch rectangle. Cut each sheet into four 6 x 5-inch rectangles. Place a salmon fillet in center of four rectangles.
In a small bowl, combine the shrimp (or scallops), cream, onions, parsley, dill, garlic, pesto, salt & pepper. In another small bowl, beat egg white on medium speed until soft peaks form; fold into shrimp mixture. Spoon about 1/4 cup over each fillet.
Top each with a pastry rectangle & crimp to seal. With a sharp knife, cut several slits in the top to let steam escape. Place on a 15 x 10 x 1-inch parchment lined baking sheet; brush with egg wash. Bake at 400 F. for 20-25 minutes or until a thermometer reads 160 F.
Dill Cream Sauce
Mix all ingredients & refrigerate until serving time.
The original recipe source for the Cranberry Hazelnut Turkey & Citrus Fig Cranberry Sauce can be found at rockrecipes.com
The cranberry sauce uses star anise or extract but feel free to omit it if you do not care for that flavor.
The Seafood en Croute recipe is one that is featured on tasteofhome.com which has always been my favorite 'go-to' recipe company forever.