Stuffed Onion Rings w/ Guacamole & Cheese

Before I get off the topic of Merida, Mexico adventures, I thought our readers would find this interesting.

Last year when we arrived in Merida, it became clear to Brion that a cap would not suffice in the 33 degree temperature. Our goal was to find a traditional ‘Jipijapa’ Panama hat. This is a soft, pliable hat made from the fibers of the jipijapa palm in several towns south of Merida.

Jipijapa requires a fair amount of water to grow to about 5-8 ft (1.5 – 2.5 m) tall. This evergreen is not a true palm. Each plant is a cluster of about 1-inch thick stalks topped by a dark umbrella-like leaf nearly 3 feet wide. Young leaves and shoot tips are edible and said to taste like asparagus. The plants need 2-3 years to mature before its youngest and most delicate light colored leaves can be harvested to make the famous white/cream hats. Older, tougher parts of the plants can be used to make brooms, mats, purses, baskets, small ornaments or earrings, ie. things that do not need the flexibility of hats.

Jilipapa is a Mexican version of the Ecuadorian ‘treasure’ called the panama hat. About the same time the hats were made famous in Ecuador, a priest introduced a wide variety of Guatemala palms to Becal, a village that is the center of the panama hat trade in Mexico.

The Mayas of the area quickly started weaving hats, the main difference was they were working in a much drier environment and had to devise a way to keep the fibers moist and cool. They started working in caves in their backyards. The cave environment allows the weavers to interlace the pattern more tightly without fear of tearing or cracking the ‘straw’. It also prevents sweat from the weavers’ hands to stain the fiber.

Hats can take anywhere from a couple of days to six months to make. To begin with, there is the picker of the young unopened palm leaves. The best strips are boiled, dried and whitened with a sulfur in a special ‘oven’. Next the brim’s edge is made by back weaving the straw. This prevents the hat from unraveling. It is then tightened. For some hats that takes 3 full circles around the hat, or finer work, 5 circles. This prevents the brim from puckering. The hat is then washed and bleached, then beaten with a special mallet or shell to soften its fibers. Now it is trimmed of any excess, ironed and blocked. The blocking process can take up to 2 weeks. Finally, a sweat band is stitched inside the hat and a decorative band applied on the outside.

Like most popular wardrobe staples, the demand for these hats has led to the industrialization of the hat making process. The process of hand weaving is a dying art that is worth appreciation. In 2012, it was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

Although the price was a bit steep, you get what you pay for. After being worn on 2 holidays and packed in a suitcase to travel back and forth to Mexico, Brion’s hat still looks great.

I realize I got quite far removed from the food aspect of the blog. Who knew there was so much to know about the Jipijapa hat! These onion rings really kick up the basic burger a notch. Well worth a try!

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Stuffed Onion Rings w/ Guacamole & Cheese
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Course Lunch, Main Dish
Cuisine American, Mexican
Servings
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Instructions
Guacamole
  1. In a large bowl, mash avocados into a chunky paste. Add red onion, tomato, lime juice & cilantro; stir until well combined. Set aside.
Onion Rings
  1. Cut large onions into 1-inch thick slices, pull out 15 - 20 rings & place onto a flat tray lined with parchment paper. Fill the inside of each onion ring using about 3 Tbsp of guacamole. Insert a cube of cheese into each ring & freeze for at least 30 minutes, or until solid.
  2. In a shallow dish, whisk together flour & spices. In another shallow dish, whisk eggs & in a third dish combine breadcrumbs & crushed tortilla chips. Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly oil a baking sheet.
  3. One at a time, dip frozen onion rings into flour, then eggs & finally breadcrumb mixture. Spread onion rings in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet. Coat with a baking spray or drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Place into oven & bake until golden brown & crispy, about 15 - 20 minutes. Serve with lime wedges & a dipping sauce or do what we did & put inside of burgers for a full meal deal!

Seed Encrusted Ham Cordon Bleu

Many variations exist to the basic idea of the French ‘cordon bleu’ dish. It would seem that its one of those recipes that has evolved over time, starting in the late 1840’s. Veal cordon bleu was created in Paris, France to later be swapped out for chicken in Moscow.

Chicken Kiev, stuffed with an herb butter was likely the meal that inspired chicken cordon bleu. In North America, the first mention of this upscale dish was in 1967. It consists of chicken breast, pounded thin, stuffed with a slice of ham and Swiss cheese then breaded and baked or fried.

Today, a lot of interesting versions are being made using everything from bacon, avocado, spinach, onions, cheese varieties as well as numerous ways in which to prepare them.

I have chosen to kind of reverse the basic idea by using ham slices and stuffing them with turkey, stuffing and cheese. The sunflower seeds in the breading added a nice flavor dimension.

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Seed Encrusted Ham Cordon Bleu
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, French
Servings
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, French
Servings
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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Instructions
Filling
  1. In a saucepan, saute mushrooms, onions & seasonings in butter until tender. Add water & bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add stove top stuffing & allow to stand, covered for about 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork; cool slightly. Grate cheese.
Breading
  1. In a food processor, pulse sunflower seeds for a few seconds ONLY. In a bowl, combine seeds, Panko crumbs, grated Parmesan & melted butter.
Assembly
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9 X 13-inch baking pan. Set aside.
  2. On a work surface, lay out the ham slices & spread with mustard. Divide stuffing mixture evenly between ham slices. Top each with a turkey slice then divide the Swiss cheese between the 8 'cordon bleu'. Wrap each by laying one side over the other, securing with toothpicks. Carefully transfer each roll to the baking pan. Using your fingers, place some beaten egg on all exposed ham slices. With a spoon, sprinkle breading mixture over ham rolls, covering evenly.
  3. Place a pan of water on the bottom shelf of oven. Position the pan with ham rolls directly over your water bath. This will help to 'steam' the rolls as opposed to drying & over baking them since all ingredients are already cooked. The flavors come together nicely as a result. Bake for about 15- 20 minutes.
Mushroom Sauce
  1. In a saucepan, saute sliced mushrooms in melted butter. Whisk in flour & continue to cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes. Whisk in chicken broth, continuing to simmer mixture until sauce is thickened & bubbly. If you are using cream, whisk it in now.
  2. Top baked ham cordon bleu with mushroom sauce. Serve with mashed potatoes & a hot veggie of choice.

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.

Pumpkin Seed Crusted Pork Chops

The quintessential food of Autumn, the pumpkin, is actually a Mexican native as well as an ancient food staple.

Thinking about Autumn itself, gives us the opportunity to recognize beautiful ‘moments’ in an imperfect world. Fall is an especially ‘magical’ season that is often overlooked with its stunning foliage,mild weather and pumpkin ‘everything’ food fare. It’s when the green around us is replaced by vibrant orange, bright red and golden yellows. We need to discipline ourselves to linger even if its just for a moment on those things so they will be embedded in our memory like a snapshot in a tattered scrapbook. Soon the color disappears as the frosty white takes its place as time slips away.

These symbolic associations are powerful reminders that Mother Nature has an incredible influence on our lives. 

In keeping with ‘all things pumpkin’, I am making some pumpkin seed crusted pork chops today. Pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas by the Mexican-Spanish.  Pepita de Calabaza, meaning ‘little seed of squash’, were actually discovered by archaeologists in caves in Mexico. Aztec cultures used them as both a ritual offering and food.

We found these pork chops real good with the pumpkin seeds giving them a real earthy, nutty flavor.

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Pumpkin Seed Crusted Pork Chops
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, European
Servings
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, European
Servings
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. In a food processor, combine pumpkin seeds (saving a few whole ones for garnish), panko breadcrumbs & salt. Pulse for a couple of seconds then add melted butter & parsley; pulse a second more.
  2. Arrange 3 bowls on work surface. Put flour in first bowl, whisked eggs in second bowl & pumpkin seed mixture in third bowl. Coat pork chops in flour, shaking off any excess then dip in eggs & last in the pumpkin seed mixture, pressing down on both sides.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a skillet, heat olive oil & brown pork chops lightly on both sides. Place pork chops on a roasting tray & bake for 12-15 minutes. Allow pork to rest 5 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with a few whole pumpkin seeds as a garnish.

Baked Avocado Fries with Strawberry-Rhubarb Salsa

Taking vegetables and turning them into ‘fries’ isn’t a new concept. Through the years we have definitely  become more knowledgeable about nutrition and healthier eating. It seems we are always looking for a way to have that deep fried flavor without consuming so much of the grease.

Trends come and go, but you have to admit, avocados are still high on most of our priority lists. There seems to be endless ways beyond guacamole to unleash their true potential. Baked avocado fries are amazing. Crisp and crunchy on the outside while being smooth and creamy on the inside.

Nothing says ‘summer’ like strawberries and rhubarb. Usually the combo appears in pies, crumbles and the like. But, I think the avocado fries are beckoning me to make a savory salsa out of them. This salsa is a great balance of sweet, tart and spicy — summer eating at its best!

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Baked Avocado Fries with Strawberry-Rhubarb Salsa
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Course Brunch, Lunch
Servings
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Instructions
Salsa
  1. In a small saucepan with boiling water, cook sliced rhubarb for about 1 minute or until tender crisp but not mushy. Drain. In a bowl, combine rhubarb, onion & strawberries. In a blender, pulse oil, apple cider vinegar & honey; combine dressing with chopped cilantro & rhubarb mixture. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Set aside until ready to use.
Avocado Fries
  1. Prepare avocado slices. Preheat oven to 450 F. Line a baking sheet with foil & place a wire rack on the sheet. Set aside.
  2. In a small dish, measure seasoning & combine. In 3 separate dishes place beaten eggs, flour & panko crumbs. Divide seasoning between them. Coat each avocado slice in the flour, then the eggs & finally the panko. Place on the wire rack & spray lightly with cooking spray.
  3. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until panko is lightly browned Cool about 10 minutes & serve with strawberry-rhubarb salsa.
Recipe Notes
  • Salsa also tastes great on a fresh summer salad or fish tacos.
  • Avocado fries can be served in warm tortillas topped with strawberry-rhubarb salsa or just as is with your favorite dip or sprinkled with Parmesan.