It seems we never get enough of taking just about anything we do to the next level. Case in point would be pizza dough. It started as a very thin, crispy crust and evolved into whatever thickness you wanted to make it. Enter the ‘stuffed’ crust with a ring of cheese encased in the outer edges of your pizza! Then, of course, the actual pizza fillings can be virtually anything that you choose or have available.
Bread sticks, on the other hand, aren’t something that have remained unscathed either. Probably the original simple design was ‘grissini’ (as they are known in Italy). Today’s bread sticks come in many forms from super crispy, thin ones to the larger ones often served with spaghetti and used to mop up excess sauce. Now, here’s where it gets one step better. Enter ‘homemade stuffed’ bread sticks. For inspiration all you have to do is think about all of your pizza toppings. Use them as options for either mixing into your dough or actually stuffing into a bread stick.
Being shrimp and Parmesan lovers, the natural thing for me to do was incorporate both into some bread sticks. The next step was to pair them with a nice light broccoli-cheddar soup. A match made in heaven even if I do say so myself.
Parmesan-Shrimp Bread Sticks with Broccoli Cheddar Soup
Combine all ingredients, in the order listed, in a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on medium-low until the dough comes together. Continue to mix on medium-low for 5 minutes to knead. Dough is ready when it is stretchy & smooth. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap & allow to rise for about an hour or until doubled in bulk.
Bread Stick Filling
Peel, devein & slightly chop raw shrimp; place in a bowl. Grate & slightly chop fresh Parmesan cheese. Combine oil, minced garlic, spices & Parmesan cheese with chopped shrimp.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Punch dough down; on a lightly floured work surface, press dough into roughly an 8 X 12-inch rectangle. Top with shrimp filling & sprinkle with dill weed. Slice lengthwise into 8 strips; fold each strip in half enclosing filling. Twist each strip slightly & lay on baking sheet. Top each bread stick with some grated mozzarella cheese (or you could put it on as soon as they come out of the oven). Bake for 7-10 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with soup.
In a large saucepan, saute onion & garlic in olive oil until tender. Stir in flour; cook for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in broth. Bring to a boil; cook & stir for 1-2 minutes or until slightly thickened.
Add the broccoli, tarragon, thyme & pepper; return to a boil. Reduce heat; cover & simmer for 10 minutes or until broccoli is tender. Add milk; cook, uncovered 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat; cool to room temperature.
In a blender, process about half of the soup until smooth. Return to saucepan; heat through. Reduce heat. Add 100 grams of cheese; stir just until melted. Serve immediately, garnishing with remaining cheese.
When time is of the essence and you need to speed up the process, use a tube of purchased refrigerated pizza or bread stick dough instead of making your own.
Today, July 25th, is my sister Loretta’s birthday. I am truly grateful for having the privilege of Loretta in my life. More than family, she has always been a friend. Her support, encouragement and selfless love have always been a constant throughout my life. Loretta and her precious little Dachshund ‘Amigo’, have spent a lot of time over the years ‘house sitting’ for Brion and I so we could enjoy some holiday time. Her own ‘personalized’ bedroom at our house is there any time they can come to visit.
Loretta shares our love of seafood, so I’m making a shrimp etouffee for supper. This year, we have the pleasure of Loretta & Amigo being here with us on this date, making the meal extra special.
The word etouffee means ‘smothered or braised’. Classic seafood etouffee consists of butter, flour for a roux, onion, celery, green pepper, garlic & salt. One constant always remains in any etouffee and that is that it served over a plate of hot rice. Etouffee starts with roux, the color tends to be warm brown and most often butter is used rather than oil. The sauce will benefit greatly from using a shrimp stock.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LORETTA!
OUR FAMILY CELEBRATES YOU WITH LOVE ON YOUR SPECIAL DAY
Remove shrimp shells (heads & tails) & devein. Rinse shrimp & lay on paper towels & refrigerate. In a saucepan, pour chicken stock over shrimp shells & bring to a boil. Allow to a simmer & cook for 10-20 minutes; remove from heat. Pour stock through a wire-mesh strainer over a measuring cup. Add a little water if needed to equal 1 1/2 cups.
In a small bowl, whisk together SPICE BLEND mixture
In a heavy skillet, melt butter; sprinkle with flour & stir quickly to combine butter & flour evenly into a thick, smooth roux. Continue cooking, stirring often, as the roux turns from white to golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add spice blend, onion, green pepper, celery & garlic & stir quickly, mixing the vegetables into the roux. Cook until everything is fragrant & softened, 1-2 minutes more.
Slowly add the stock, stirring & scraping to mix it in evenly. When the sauce is bubbling & boiling gently, lower the heat. Cook, stirring now & then, until sauce is thickened & smooth, about 15 minutes.
Scatter in the shrimp & allow them to cook undisturbed until the sides are turning visibly orange to pink, about 1 minutes. Toss well & continue cooking, stirring often, until the shrimp are pink, firm & cooked through & nicely flavored by the sauce. Add green onions & parsley; stir well. Transfer the etouffee to a serving dish. Serve hot over rice.
Although rice takes top priority at our house, noodles (pasta) are always a staple nevertheless. Some years ago, we started using the ‘no yolks’ version of egg noodles.
Like many old world pasta products, there is a history. In 1976, Robert Strom created NO YOLKS. They would become the world’s first no-cholesterol egg noodle. They are made with Durum wheat semolina, corn flour, egg whites and have no problem cooking up firm and fluffy.
In Canada, they are the top selling noodle and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. In this recipe, I have paired them with my favorite Chia Chicken Meatballs. Does it get more healthy than that?!
In a small bowl, mix together chia seeds & water; let stand for about 20 minutes. In a large bowl, combine remaining meatball ingredients. When chia gel is ready, add to meat mixture. Using your hands, combine ingredients well. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with foil & lightly coat with baking spray. Scoop into 50 meatballs; place on baking sheet & bake 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven, cool completely if you are choosing to freeze half for a later meal. Set aside the amount you are using for this meal.
Sauce / Noodles
In a saucepan, melt margarine; saute zucchini & green onion until tender. Sprinkle with flour & seasonings. Add milk/broth & cook, stirring until slightly thickened. Meanwhile, cook no-yolk noodles as directed on package in salted boiling water to which 1 Tbsp of olive oil has been added. Drain.
In the pot you cooked the noodles, combine noodles with sauce & meatballs. Fold together & serve topped with some parmigano-reggiano if you wish.
I realize you have probably, long ago used up your (frozen) turkey leftovers from Christmas. Nevertheless, casseroles are always a good choice at this time of year. These satisfying blends of favorite flavors are easily assembled, can be made ahead and you don’t necessarily have to make them from leftovers. One-dish oven dinners are economical and can range from casual to elegant.
I recall making this particular casserole as one of the buffet entrees at a staff gathering. Wild rice is one of those foods you either like it or not, it seems to have no ‘middle ground’.
Wild rice is actually a semi-aquatic grass that has historically grown in lakes, tidal rivers and bays, in water two to four feet deep. It originated in the area of the upper Great Lakes which is both the USA & Canada. Because it is difficult to grow, with low yields per acre, wild rice usually costs more than other grains. To bring the cost down, it is often mixed with other grains (white and brown rice especially) rather than eaten on its own.
This casserole has a nice mix of ingredients. There seem to be numerous versions of the recipe but this is the one we enjoy the most. Hope it works for you.
Prepare wild rice mix, being careful not to overcook. In a saucepan, saute onions, mushrooms & celery in butter until softened. Add soup, sour cream, soy sauce & broth & heat through. Then add turkey, water chestnuts & prepared wild rice mix, stirring gently.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place mixture into lightly buttered casserole dish. Bake for 25-35 minutes, gently stirring once. After stirring, top with chopped or slivered almonds.
This is a meal that is as much about the process as the final plate. Most everyone has made ‘zucchini boats’ at one time or another and this is a lovely rendition of them.
I have learned from travelling across cultures, that one thing can truly bring people together, no matter where in the world you are from, and that is food.
No doubt, every culture has its own equivalent of ‘comfort food’. Stuffing vegetables is a Middle Eastern food trend that has been popular for thousands of years, combining spices and food groups in unique ways.
In truth, zucchini are simply immature cultivars of the squash family, eaten while the rind is still edible. Developed in Northern Italy, zucchini was not introduced to the rest of the world until the 1930’s.
‘Kousa Mahshi’ (Arabic for stuffed zucchini), is a type of yellow squash found in the Middle East which is hollowed out, stuffed with a meat/rice filling and steeped in a seasoned tomato broth. These were likely a reinvention of the ‘stuffed grape leaves’ common in the Mediterranean, Balkans and Persian Gulf.
I found the idea of hollowing out the small zucchini and stuffing them quite unique as opposed to just slicing them to make ‘boats’. Rather than using a meat/rice combo in my zucchini rolls, I used a ground turkey/mushroom stuffing and served them over a ‘simple’ Spanish Rice Pilaf.
This is not a difficult recipe, just one that takes a bit of time but is worth it in taste and eye appeal.
Wash zucchini & slice off stem end. Use a long narrow apple or vegetable corer to core zucchini, leaving 1/2-inch walls. Care should be taken not pierce the shell or the end. If you are cutting your zucchini in half, make sure to leave your cut end with a solid bottom. Gently remove all the pulp from the rolls & set aside. Reserve pulp for turkey filling.
In a skillet, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil. Saute onion & garlic until soft. Add mushrooms & reserved zucchini pulp; saute about another 2 minutes. Remove from skillet & set aside.
In the same skillet, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil; add ground turkey. Lightly brown, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Stir in reserved onion & mushroom mixture. Add chicken broth; stir in tomato, basil & rosemary & cook 1 minute longer. Drain off any excess fat, remove mixture from heat & set aside. When mixture has cooled, add cheese, egg, salt & pepper. Fill zucchini rolls with mixture.
Preheat oven to 375 F. In a Dutch oven, place stewed tomatoes & water. Arrange stuffed zucchini in the pot. Cover & bake for 25-30 or until zucchini is tender-crisp. With a slotted spoon lift rolls out of pot & serve on top of rice or serve in stewed tomatoes WITH rice, your choice!
'Simple' Spanish Rice
In a large pot, heat oil. Stir in onion & saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Mix rice into pot & stir until it begins to brown. Stir in chicken broth & salsa. Reduce heat & simmer (covered) for 20 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed & the rice is cooked.
Stuffed cabbage rolls are a unique blend of various flavors. The art of seasoning is about far more than adding a few grinds of salt and pepper. It’s more about sorting out the sweet, sour, savory and bitterness balance.
Food history tells us cabbage rolls have their roots in the ancient Middle East and spread to Eastern Europe as trade routes flourished with various ethnic groups migrating. Many countries lay claim to their origin, which accounts for the several interesting versions on the traditional recipe. For example:
Ukrainian holubtsi are typically vegetarian, filling pickled cabbage leaves with either buckwheat and wild mushrooms or a mixture of whole grains and root vegetables, braised in tomato juice or vegetable stock served with perogies.
Poland’s golabki, translating to ‘little pigeon feet'(named after the French dish that wrapped cabbage around cooked pigeon), stuffs the leaves with pork, beef, rice or barley, accompanied by sour cream and sweet paprika.
Romanian sarmale combines ground pork, caramelized onions and rice nested in a pickled sauerkraut leaf, then smothered in dill and tomato sauce. It is often topped with bacon or smoked sausage.
The Asian variation wraps Chinese cabbage around seafood blends, tofu and shiitake mushrooms.
Egyptian mahshi kromb are simmered in an aromatic tomato-based sauce with mint, cumin and other Middle Eastern herbs and spices.
Jewish holishkls are a combination of ground beef, rice and raisins enveloped in cabbage leaves and simmered in a sauce of brown sugar, lemon and tomatoes.
Today’s blog recipe gives you some of those same traditional flavors without the fuss of rolling the cabbage and meat. Brion and I really enjoy this particular version. Of course, it’s a given that most recipes will always need tweaking to account for the different cooking conditions and personal tastes.
Remove 5 large leaves from a head of cabbage; steam until tender. When cool enough to handle, roll up & cut into 1/2" slices; set aside.
In a large bowl, combine beef, cooked rice, minced garlic, egg, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper & 2 Tbsp parsley.
In a large saucepan, heat oil. Cook onion & chopped garlic for a couple of minutes until fragrant but not brown.
Add sugar, lemon juice, tomatoes & pineapple juice; bring to a boil. Add 2 Tbsp parsley & cook for 15 minutes, breaking up tomatoes with spoon. Season with salt & pepper.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 2 L casserole with 1/3 of the cabbage slices. Spread with half of the meat mixture & 1/3 of the sauce. Repeat with cabbage, meat & sauce. Top with remaining cabbage & sauce.
Bake for about 1 1/2 hours until a meat thermometer reads at least 160 F. Sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp parsley & allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Appetizers, starters, hors d’oeuvers or whatever you want to call them, are such an important part of any gathering. They provide the ‘welcome’ and set the stage for what comes next.
A comfort food and party food all in one, Christmas and New years celebrations would not be complete without cheese. Brie, one of the world’s best known soft cheeses, originated in northeast France, but is now produced all over the world. A decadent cheese that evokes thoughts of sophistication and elegance.
Brie, a soft, creamy, off-white or yellow cheese with an edible rind is produced from whole or semi-skimmed cow’s milk. Typically described as tasting earthy, nutty, fruity, grassy and even mushroomy.
In France, Brie is very different from the cheese that is exported. ‘Real’ French Brie is unstabilized and the flavor is complex when the surface turns slightly brown. When the cheese is still pure-white, it is not matured. If the cheese is cut before the maturing process, it will never develop properly.
Possibly, the most incredible way to serve brie, is to bake it, but of course that’s just a personal opinion. However, it can be difficult to find the perfect balance between under and over baking. If you remove brie from the oven too soon, it will only stay melted for a few minutes. On the other hand, if it is left in the oven to long it will lose it’s shape and be difficult to handle.
There are a variety of brie options on the market and any of them technically work. ‘Double Cream’ (227 gm) is an excellent choice, whereas ‘Triple Cream’ will become too runny when melted.
After all these years, our memories of France, it’s food, culture, beauty and not to be forgotten — the wine (and Brion’s favorite goat cheese) have not lessened. My sister, Loretta joined us on that first trip any of us had ever made to Europe, which added to those memories of a lifetime.
I wanted to share a few BAKED BRIE recipes today that have been favorites of mine to use at this time of the year. Hope you will enjoy.
227 - 375gram wheel of Brie cheeseIf you plan to make all 3 kinds you will need 1 wheel of brie for each.
In a large saucepan, combine all chutney ingredients; mix well. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Boil 1 minute. Remove cinnamon stick. Cover & cool.
Gingered Grape Chutney
Slice grapes in half. In a saucepan, stir wine with cornstarch until dissolved. Add sugar, candied ginger & grapes. Stir over high heat until it comes to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, stirring often until liquid thickens, 4-6 minutes. Remove from heat & stir in green onion. Cover & cool.
Place fig jam/preserves in a microwave-safe dish. Microwave for 30 seconds to soften. In a small bowl, combine the sliced, dried figs with chopped pistachios & walnuts. Add half of the fig jam & mix well to coat the nut mixture.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Set the brie on prepared baking sheet.
For the Blueberry or Grape Chutney: You can either bake the cheese FIRST & then add the topping or TOP it & then bake it.
For the Fig & Nuts: Before baking, coat the brie with the remainder of the jam. Top the brie with the fig & nut mixture.
Bake the brie for 12-13 minutes. At this point it should be starting to bubble on top. The trick is to leave it in the oven for as long as possible before the wheel begins to lose it's shape. You may have to leave it a bit longer. Serve the brie warm with crackers.
For best results, allow the brie to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before baking as it will ensure that the cheese melts evenly all the way through.
Brie tastes equally wonderful with a mix of both savory and sweet toppings.
One of the most interesting facets of the culinary revolution is our growing fascination with culinary history. It seems the more I learn about the ethnic melting pot that makes up our dinner table, the more curious I become about regional cuisines and the origin of specific dishes.
Stuffed peppers probably go further back than the 1890’s. Many cuisines around the world have a traditional stuffed pepper that has been passed down for generations. Here’s a few I found interesting: Denmark: Fyldte Peberfrugter – Bell pepper stuffed with bulgur, mushrooms and kale Hungary: Toltott Paprika – Bell pepper stuffed with ground meat, rice and paprika. Served with sour cream. India: Bharawn Shimla Mirch – Bell pepper stuffed with spiced mashed potatoes Korea: Gochu Jeon – Chili peppers stuffed with tofu Mexico: Chili Rellenos – Poblano pepper stuffed with carnitas meat, kielbasa and topped with cheddar cheese Phillippines: Pandak na tao pinalamanan peppers – – Bell peppers stuffed with shrimp, pork and water chestnuts Romania: Ardei Umpluti – Bell peppers stuffed with pork and rice and served in a creamy sour cream sauce Spain: Pimientos Rellenos de Arroz con Salsa de Tomatoes – Bell pepper stuffed with Valencia or arborio rice and saffron, then cooked in a tomato sauce Tunisia: Fil Fil Mashsi – Bell pepper stuffed with lamb, rice and sprinkled with nutmeg, saffron and cardamom United States & Canada: Classic Stuffed Peppers – Bell pepper stuffed with ground beef, rice and cooked in a tomato sauce
The recipe today, pairs flavorful bacon risotto with colorful sweet bell peppers. The fact that they can be frozen for up to 6 months sure makes for an easy meal on a busy day.
In a large saucepan, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Lay on paper towels, reserving 1 Tbsp of the bacon drippings in saucepan; set aside. Cook onion & mushrooms in drippings until tender; add rice, cook & stir 2 minutes more. Carefully stir in broth; bring to boiling & reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; stir in bacon & peas. Let stand, covered for 5 minutes. Stir in cheese. If desired, season with salt & pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut large peppers in half lengthwise. Remove membranes & seeds. Spoon risotto mixture into peppers. Place in a shallow baking dish. Cover with foil; bake, covered, for 30-45 minutes or until heated through. If desired sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese. Serve with heated zesty pasta sauce.
Can be chilled for up to 12 hours then baked for 50-55 minutes.
Can be frozen for up to 6 months then baked (frozen), covered, about 1 hour or until heated through.
The humble pot pie was once the height of culinary style. During the Elizabethan era, these savory pastries — decorated with flowers, fancy designs, etc. were elaborate assertions of the chef’s skill in the royal households of France and England. Among the lower classes, pot pie were popular because the addition of a crust helped feed another mouth or two, while individual pastries, empanadas and perogies were well suited for sale by street vendors as portable meals.
Fortunately, the resurgence in so called ‘retro’ foods has brought pot pies back to the table. There is no reason why they shouldn’t do just as well in the 21st century. To some, chicken pot pie is a staple comfort food. The recipes mix of meat and vegetables in a chicken broth seasoned with herbs, produces a spectrum of flavors that’s like no other.
The trick is getting all the ingredients to the right degree of doneness at the same time. It may be these timing issues that led to the abandonment of the homemade pot pie in favor of the frozen variety. One thing for sure, is that they are definitely worth the time and effort. It makes good sense to make a big recipe, freeze them unbaked (if you choose) and there ready when you need them.
In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp oil. Add chicken, season with 1 tsp salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is no longer pink on the outside but not dry, 4-6 minutes. Remove from skillet & set aside.
Decrease heat & add remaining oil. When oil is hot, add onions, mushrooms, carrots, celery, garlic, remaining 1 1/2 tsp salt, pepper, dried thyme & savory; stir to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions have softened, about 5 minutes. Add margarine & melt.
Stir in the flour & cook for 1-2 minutes; gradually stirring in chicken broth & milk. Bring to a simmer, continue stirring until sauce thickens, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat & stir in peas, thyme, mustard & reserved chicken. Cover & set aside while preparing pastry.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder & salt. With a pastry blender, cut in white & yellow Crisco. In a measuring cup, place the egg & vinegar; add enough cold water to make 1 cup & whisk together. Make a well in flour; pour in all of the liquid & combine.
Roll out pastry. For 6 individual pies, prepared in mini foil pot pie pans, cut 6 - 8" (20 cm) circles for the bottom shells & 6 - 5 1/2" (14 cm) circles for the tops. Preheat oven to 350 F.
Place pastry lined pans on a baking sheet & divide chicken filling among them. Moisten edges with milk or water; place pastry circles on top, crimping edges with a fork. Whisk together 1 egg & 1 Tbsp water; brush tops of pot pies with egg wash. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden.
This amount of pastry will actually make enough for a double recipe of filling or just some extra for another time. If wrapped tightly it will freezes well.
Stews have been an important food for most of the world’s people for thousands of years. They are wonderful concoctions, savored for their flavorful combinations as well as their reminders of home and family.
Geographical location plays a big role in how beef stews are made from different regions. In areas where the cold season is longer, the stew will usually be thicker in sauce, cooked longer and have heavier or more flavorful ingredients. In areas that have a warm climate, stews will be a lot spicier in flavor for inducing perspiration to cool the body.
In the Western world, meat stews are categorized as ‘brown’ or ‘white’. This means that the meat is browned in fat before liquid is added for brown stew; meat for the white stew is not cooked in fat before liquid is added.
The culinary history of both Canada and the United States includes numerous examples of stews brought by European settlers. Beef stews have been the most popular recipes among this legacy. In addition to being versatile in their ingredients, stews can also be used as filling for pastry shells, over mashed potatoes, rice or biscuits.
Brion and I have always enjoyed the combination of beef and barley. To my knowledge, the idea originated from the ‘Scotch Broth’ soup. In today’s particular stew the vegetables are roasted, using their natural sugars to caramelize, helping to create additional flavor in the stew.
In a large bowl, combine flour, 1/4 tsp salt & 1/4 tsp pepper. Add meat; toss to coat. In a Dutch oven heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add half of the meat; cook until browned, stirring occasionally. Remove meat from Dutch oven; set aside. Repeat with another 1 Tbsp oil & remaining meat.
Add onion, garlic & thyme to Dutch oven. Cook & stir for 3 minutes. Add 1 3/4 cups broth, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from bottom of the Dutch oven. Add remaining beef broth & water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered, for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375 F. In a shallow roasting pan combine potatoes & carrots and/or parsnips. Drizzle with the remaining 2 Tbsp oil; sprinkle with 1/4 tsp each salt & pepper. Toss to coat. Roast, uncovered, for 35 - 45 minutes or until vegetables are tender & lightly browned, stirring once or twice.
Stir barley into beef mixture. Cook about 35 minutes more or until barley is tender.Stir in roasted vegetables. If desired, sprinkle with fresh parsley.
Stew can be placed in an airtight container, covered & refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.