Lemon Chicken Meatballs

As I mentioned in the previous blog, new year’s eve food = finger food. I thought I’d post one other recipe for the occasion. Meatballs seem to check all the right boxes. Crispy, savory, spicy and can be eaten in a single bite. These lemon chicken meatballs are kind of an interesting blend of chicken and bacon. The lemon sauce is a bit unusual in that it uses lemon jelly powder but rounds out nicely with some garlic and ginger spice.

The idea of being able to do some of the prep work ahead of time always appeals to me. These meatballs can be made anytime and frozen raw or cooked. Just perfect when you are ready to serve them.

I’ve probably said this before, but deep fried food never appeals to me. Baking these little morsels still achieve’s a great taste. Hope you give them a try!

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Lemon Chicken Meatballs
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Lemon Sauce
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Lemon Sauce
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Instructions
Meatballs
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Fry bacon until crisp & drain on paper towel. Crumble & set aside.
  2. To skillet, add onions & garlic. Saute & remove with a slotted spoon. In a large bowl, combine bacon, onions & garlic with remaining ingredients; mix well.
  3. Form into 1-inch size meatballs & place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
Lemon Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan, combine dry jelly powder & cornstarch. Add broth, dressing, garlic & ginger; stir until jelly powder is dissolved.
  2. Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes or until sauce is thickened, stirring frequently. Pour over meatballs & stir to coat. Serve with picks.

Roast Turkey with Bratwurst, Cranberries & Sage

Today, November 28th, our American neighbors 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, our Thanksgiving was celebrated on October 14th. When it comes to this occasion, some dishes are required eating. Turkey, gravy, cranberries and don’t forget the stuffing.

Stuffing can be whatever you want it to be. I love stuffing, dressing, filling or whatever you choose to call it. Something that has never left my food memories, was my mother’s turkey stuffing. Of course, I’ve tried to replicate it and I think I’m fairly close but then the ‘taste of a memory‘ equation comes in and ….

In the bottom of one of her cupboards she kept a brown paper bag. In it were dried herbs still on their stems. This seemed to be the magic ingredient whatever they were.

I can honestly say I love the stuffing almost more than the ‘bird’. Over the years, Brion and I have had stuffing that contained rice, cornbread, oysters, apples, mashed potatoes, bacon, various types of breads, etc., etc..

In acknowledgement to the USA Thanksgiving today, I am featuring a stuffed turkey breast. This particular stuffing is really what makes this recipe delicious. The white meat of the turkey has a tendency to be dry, so adding bratwurst sausage with its higher fat content, and not to mention great flavor, keeps the breast moist. The turkey, bratwurst and cranberry sauce are all wrapped in bacon to make a ‘all-in-one‘ main course.

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Roast Turkey with Bratwurst, Cranberries & Sage
Instructions
  1. Heat a drizzle of oil in a skillet & saute onion gently for 10-15 minutes until caramelized. Place in a large bowl & set aside to cool. Line a 9 x 51/2 x 3-inch (23 x 13 x 7 cm) loaf tin with a double strip of foil, leaving plenty overhanging on either end to use as handles once meat is cooked.
  2. Stretch each piece of bacon a little with the back of a knife. Arrange slices so the base of the tin is covered with overlapping bacon & the slices come neatly up the sides in a single layer, overhanging generously. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top of the bacon.
  3. Add sausage meat & sage to cooled onion. Combine well, then pack half the mixture into the loaf pan. Spread over about a third of the cranberry sauce.
  4. Cut each turkey breast in 3 strips. Layer roughly half the turkey on top of the stuffing mix, filling the gaps like a jigsaw, but keeping the turkey in one thick layer, then season. Spread over a little more cranberry sauce, then top with remaining stuffing, cranberry sauce & turkey in the same way, making sure there are no gaps between the layers. The parcel should be full to the top when you are finished. Fold over the overhanging bacon & wrap the tin in foil paper.
  5. Preheat oven to 325 F. Place the tin on a baking tray & bake for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the tin from the oven & allow to cool for 10 minutes. Carefully lift the parcel out of the tin, using the foil handles. Roll the parcel over onto baking tray removing the foil.
  6. Return to oven for about 15-20 minutes until the outside is crisp & browned. Test the internal temperature with a meat thermometer, it should read 170 F when its ready. Cover loosely with foil & leave to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh sage leaves if you wish.

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
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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
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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.

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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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.

Ravioli di Portobello Casserole

I guess its my German heritage that gives that love for anything that resembles a dumpling. Whether sweet or savory doesn’t seem to matter, filling between two thin layers of pasta or dough is just plain good to me.

Around the world, Italian ravioli has many culinary ‘sisters’ in other cultures. Kreplach, in Jewish cuisine, is a pocket of meat filling covered with pasta. In India, the dish Gujiya, has a sweet filling, rather than savory. There are many similarities between Italian ravioli and certain Chinese dumplings as well.

Although ravioli can come in many shapes, including circular and semi-circular, the traditional form is a square. The word ‘ravioli’ comes from the Italian riavvolgere, which means ‘to wrap’.

Not being someone who enjoys to eat ‘out’, its a rare occasion (when we do), for me to be really happy with my meal. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I cooked a lot of ‘commercial’ meals in the food service industry years back. I guess I just got ‘burn out’ to that kind of cooking you might say.

Nevertheless, whenever we have chosen to go to the Olive Garden Restaurant, there is a meal I really do enjoy. It’s called ‘Ravioli di Portobello’. Today, I am re-creating those flavors in a casserole and adding some ground chicken to make it a little more interesting from Brion’s perspective.

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Ravioli di Portobello Casserole
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Course Main Dish
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Instructions
Ravioli Filling
  1. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Saute onion until soft. Add mushrooms & saute for two minutes. Reduce heat & let simmer for 5 minutes or until liquid has evaporated & the mushrooms are fully cooked. Add seasonings. Set aside.
Ravioli Dough
  1. In a bowl, combine dry ingredients with eggs. Add water a little at a time, while stirring, until it forms a soft dough. Dough should be soft but not sticky. Roll out the dough, on a floured surface, into a rectangle that is 1/4-inch thickness. Place 1 teaspoon of filling about an inch apart in even columns & rows to cover half of your dough rectangle.
  2. Before adding the top layer of pasta to the ravioli, moisten the dough around the filling dollops. Carefully fold the dough (without any filling on it) over the half with the filling dollops. Using the side of your hand, press the dough together between the dollops, accentuating the pockets of filling in each ravioli. This is very important step to ensure your ravioli will not leak while cooking.
  3. Using a pastry cutter (or a pizza cutter), cut straight lines through the pressed down sections between the filling dollops. In a large kettle of boiling water, drop ravioli in a few at a time, being careful that they do do touch the kettle. When the raviolis float to the top, boil for one minute & then remove them with a slotted spoon. Keep warm in a covered dish, drizzling a tiny bit of butter or oil over them to prevent sticking until you are ready for them.
Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce
  1. In a skillet, melt butter & saute garlic, seasonings, sun-dried tomatoes for a few minutes. Add chicken broth & half & half; bring to a boil & continue to stir until thickened & creamy about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat, set aside until ready to use in casserole.
Assemble Casserole
  1. In a skillet, brown ground chicken until no longer pink; drain & place in a bowl. Add salt, garlic powder & pepper. In the skillet, melt butter, add onion & zucchini; saute until tender crisp. Stir in sun-dried tomato sauce.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a buttered 9 X 13-inch baking dish, spread 1/4 of sauce, layer 1/2 of the ravioli, another 1/4 of the sauce, half of the chicken & half of the cheese.
  3. Repeat again except OMIT cheese. Cover & bake for 35 minutes. Uncover & sprinkle with remaining cheese. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. If you wish to garnish, chopped green onion & diced tomato are nice.

Barley & Apricot Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

Grains and seeds have always been high on my priority list to cook and bake with. Now, you take barley, a humble grain with good nutrition even though it doesn’t get much credit for it. The first barley grown in North America was in Newfoundland, Canada in 1578. Production moved westward from there to the prairie provinces.

Barley has a chewy texture with a slightly nutty flavor. It absorbs liquids in soups, stews and salad dressings, capturing their flavors. Barley flour gives baked goods a lovely rustic taste and look.

The difference between pot & pearl barley has to do with the milling process. Pot barley has most of the barley bran still intact whereas with the pearl barley, most of the bran is removed. Barley bran is found throughout the kernels so both are still healthy options.

There is absolutely nothing fancy about mushrooms and barley except for its flavor. This recipe combines the duo with dried apricots and almonds to make one amazing stuffing for the pork tenderloin. Yum!

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Barley & Apricot Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
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Cuisine American, German
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Instructions
  1. In a saucepan, heat oil, add onion & mushrooms; saute until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in barley & chicken broth. Bring to a boil; cover pan & simmer about 15 minutes. Allow cooked barley mixture to cool, then stir in almonds, apricots, parsley, sage & thyme.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Slice tenderloin down the center, cutting just slightly more than half way through. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Spoon barley stuffing on one side of the tenderloin then cover with the opposite side. If necessary, tie or skewer tenderloin to keep filling in during baking.
  3. Place tenderloin on a rack in a roasting pan and roast in the oven until inserted meat thermometer registers 160 F. Any excess stuffing can be spooned into a small buttered baking dish & baked for the last 20 minutes to serve as a side.

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.

Mushroom Wellington

Mushroom Wellington is a vegetarian spin on the French classic ‘beef wellington’. The original is an elegant meal, using a beef tenderloin covered with liver pate’, wrapped in pastry and baked. The key to preparing items in this fashion, is that however long it takes to bake the pastry to a golden brown is how long it will be in the oven. In other words, the filling needs to require less time to cook.

A plant based filling makes that even easier to achieve than its meat filled cousin. The use of different types of mushrooms cut into varying sizes gives the dish texture and heartiness along with an earthy flavor. The secret to a deliciously juicy yet flaky mushroom wellington is to drain everything dry and make sure it is completely cold before wrapping it in the puff pastry. Skip this step and your pastry is not only going to be soggy, it will tear when you try to wrap up your wellington. Believe me — ‘bin there, done that’!

Although this would probably be the center piece of a vegan meal, it works beautifully as an accompaniment to meat and roast veggies as well.

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Mushroom Wellington
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Instructions
Mushroom Wellington
  1. In a skillet, fry diced bacon until crispy. Remove bacon to paper towels & blot dry, leaving drippings in skillet. Chop mushrooms, onion & garlic. Saute veggies with spices in bacon drippings until moisture has evaporated. Remove from heat, add bacon & drain or blot off any excess moisture. Cool mixture completely then add cold, cooked Basmati rice, stirring to blend. While the mixture cools prepare vegetable gravy if you are using it.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line your choice of preferred baking pan mold with thawed puff pastry. You should have excess enough to fold over the 'top' of filling. This will form the bottom of your wellington when baked. In each wellington, place 1/4 of the filling, topping each with 50 gms of the cheese. Divide remaining filling between the two wellingtons & fold the excess pastry over it.
  3. If you choose to make a decoration for your baked wellingtons, cut it from some of the excess before closing them. Bake the decorations on a separate pan. Place molds on a baking sheet & bake for about 35 minutes or until pastry is cooked. Remove from oven. I like to flip them onto paper towel at this point just to blot off any excess butter from pastry. Do what you prefer in this case.
Vegetable Gravy
  1. In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add bouillon powder, garlic, carrot, celery & onion. Cover & simmer until veggies are very soft. Remove from heat & cool slightly. Puree in food processor or blender. Combine cornstarch & water in a small dish. Stir into puree; return to heat & stir until boiling & slightly thickened. Stir in sour cream IF USING. Serve over mushroom wellingtons.
Recipe Notes
  • If you prefer, omit bacon & use butter to saute your veggies in making it a more vegetarian friendly entree.