Do you recall the Monte Cristo sandwiches of ‘yesteryear’? There was a time when you could find this sandwich on most restaurant lunch menus across North America. Basically, its ham and cheese sandwiched between two pieces of french toast, smothered in egg batter, deep fried, sprinkled with powdered sugar and dipped in a side of jelly. It’s where salty meets sweet and savory.
It’s believed that the Monte Cristo evolved from the French sandwich called ‘Croque Monsieur‘. The original grilled cheese sandwich consisted of Gruyere cheese and lean ham between two slices of crust-less bread, fried in clarified butter.
This sandwich, although delicious, is neither health or diet food but sometimes its fun to just enjoy these kind of things in moderation, of course.
This ‘lasagna‘ turned out to be real tasty. It kind of puts a new spin on an old classic. Instead of french toast, the ham and cheese are layered in between a baked cauliflower mixture that resembles slices of bread or lasagna noodles. Serve with cauliflower sauce or a sauce of your own choice.
Cauliflower Monte Cristo Lasagna
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the tablespoon of salt & lemon juice. Cut cauliflower into florets, add to boiling mixture & cook until they are soft. Drain cooked cauliflower & roughly crush them into 'mush'. Add breadcrumbs, Parmesan, egg, garlic, Italian herbs, salt & pepper; mix well.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Press cauliflower mixture on baking sheet into a 9 x 9-inch square. Bake for about 15 minutes or until crispy. Remove from oven, cut cauliflower into 3 strips. In a buttered baking dish place the first strip. Cover with half of each of the ham & cheese slices. Put another strip of cauliflower on it & top with the rest of the ham & cheese slices. Place the third strip of cauliflower on top & sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Adjust oven temperature to 350 F. & bake 'lasagna' for about 30 minutes.
Add butter to a blender or food processor. Cook cauliflower according to package instructions. Using a slotted spoon, drain off any excess water, transfer to blender. Add the vegetable broth, Parmesan, garlic, milk, salt & pepper. Process until a very smooth consistency is reached. Serve warm over Monte Cristo lasagna.
Bread Pudding ….. its just bread plus eggs plus a sweetened, spiced milk mixture. What makes it special is the blend of spices mixed into it and the sauce.
When done right, bread pudding should have the perfect balance of gooey goodness and chewy texture. That’s why stale bread is important. The bread needs a degree of crunch otherwise you will have ‘mush pudding‘.
For today’s recipe, I started by making a loaf of Challah bread. This is an ‘eggy’ bread that can soak up custard without collapsing. It will toast nicely on the outside and leave you with a creamy pudding inside.
Challah is a very straight forward bread to make. The dough is enriched with eggs and oil, while a few tablespoons of sugar add some sweetness and it doesn’t require any fussy techniques. Because challah is traditionally braided, proofing is key…. if the dough is not properly proofed, it will tear in the oven while baking.
Here’s where it becomes ‘comfort food‘ made with glorious challah, tropical mangos and spices inspired by the world’s love affair with Indian chai.
Chai, which is sometimes overlooked, adds a distinct warm flavor and depth. It can include a number of different spices. Cardamom is the most common ingredient, followed by some mixture of cinnamon, ginger, star anise and cloves. Pepper, coriander, nutmeg and fennel are also used but they are slightly less common.
For the finishing touch, I made a rum sauce. Who says bread pudding has to be boring!
Mango Bread Pudding with Chai Spices
In a small bowl, place lukewarm water & sprinkle with yeast & a pinch of sugar; stir to combine. Let stand about 5-10 minutes until frothy. In a large bowl, place 4 cups flour, sugar & salt; whisk to combine.
Make a well in the center of flour mixture & add eggs, egg yolk & oil; whisk to form a slurry. Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry. Combine with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough that is difficult to mix forms.
On a floured work surface, turn out dough & knead for about 10 minutes. If dough is sticky, add flour a teaspoon at a time until it feels tacky. The dough should be soft, smooth & hold a ball shape. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise, in a draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
Divide the dough into 3 or 6 equal pieces, depending on the type of braid you wish to make. Roll each piece of dough into a long rope about 16-inches long. If the ropes shrink as you try to roll them, let them rest 5 minutes to relax the gluten & then try again. For the 6 stranded braid as I made, the name of the game is 'over two, under one, over two'. Carry the right-most rope over the two ropes beside it, slip it under the middle rope, then carry it over the last two ropes. Lay the rope down parallel to the other ropes; it is now the furthest strand. Repeat this pattern until you reach the end of the loaf. Try to make your braid as tight as possible. Once you reach the end, squeeze the ends of the ropes together & tuck them under the loaf.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the braided loaf on top & sprinkle with a little flour. Cover with a tea towel & allow to rise about 1 hour. About 20 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 350 F. When ready to bake, whisk the reserved egg white with 1 Tbsp. of water & brush carefully over challah. Bake 30-35 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through. Remove from oven & cool before cutting up for bread pudding.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter an 8 x 8-inch baking dish; toss bread & mango cubes together in it. In a medium bowl, whisk the rest of the ingredients together & pour over the bread & mangoes; allow the mixture to soak for about 5 minutes. Bake about 1 1/4 hours, or until set.
In a small saucepan, over medium heat, melt butter. Mix together sugar & cornstarch; stir into the melted butter. Slowly pour in milk, stirring frequently until mixture begins to lightly boil. Continue cooking until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat & stir in rum. Serve warm over bread pudding.
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!
Stuffed Plantain Cups
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil & lightly butter.
IF YOU PREFER, PREPARE AVOCADO MAYO AT THIS TIME.
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.
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.
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.
Remove peel & pits from avocados. In a food processor, combine all ingredients & puree. Remove from processor, cover & set aside.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A while back, I was speaking with my neighbor, Meg, who told me about an ancient grain I had never known about. It is called Teff. This word originates from the Amharic word ‘teffa’ which means ‘lost’ due to the small size of the grain. An annual bunch grass native to the central highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea. It can survive both wet and dry climates, high temperatures and bright light as well as not being subject to as many plant diseases as other cereal grains. It’s high nutritional value and reliable cultivation have made it Ethiopia’s most important grain crop. Teff’s size makes it convenient because it doesn’t take a large volume of teff seed to plant a field.
Ground into flour, teff is used to make the traditional bread called ‘injera’, a sourdough risen flatbread with a slightly spongy texture similar to a crepe. It can also be found in many gluten-free options of pancakes, breads, cereals, pie crusts, cookies and other snacks.
Meg had given me a package of ‘authentic‘ teff flour so I was anxious to try it. I noticed a great looking recipe for seeded teff rolls on the computer so I was all set. To compliment the teff rolls I made some shrimp burgers w/ avocado aioli. Nice meal!
Shrimp Burgers on Seeded Teff Buns
Seeded Teff Buns
In a small bowl, whisk together water, yeast, honey, oil & vinegar. Let stand 3-5 minutes or until yeast is dissolved & beginning to proof.
In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Add yeast mixture to dry ingredients & mix on low speed until combined. Add in egg whites. Once combined, mix on high speed for 3-5 minutes.
Grease a 9-10 inch round baking pan. Scoop the batter into pan (with a spring release scoop) making about 6 buns. Place rolls right next to each other. Cover & let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 F. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven; cool slightly.
In a small bowl, combine all ingredients for shrimp burgers. Form into 4 patties & set on a plate with squares of wax paper between them. Put in fridge until ready to cook.
In a small bowl, Combine all ingredients for avocado aioli until smooth. Cover & set in fridge until ready to use.
In a large skillet, add 3 Tbsp oil & turn heat to medium-high. Gently place shrimp burgers on skillet & cook 3 minutes until golden, flip & cook another 3 minutes.
On each of the sliced, warm teff buns, place a shrimp burger with a generous dollop of avocado aioli. Don't hesitate to add some lettuce & tomato slices if you wish.
Today, July 25th is my sister Loretta’s birthday. The sibling bond is thought to be one of the most important and longest relationships in our lives. No other peer relationship involves a shared upbringing, shared genes and shared secrets. In childhood, an older sister is an admirable guide to the adolescent world. As we grow older, it is so wonderful to be able to reminisce about events or times you both recall even though to everyone else they are boring. Life events often change the dynamics of many sibling relationships. Thank you, Loretta for being such an amazing sister who has enriched my life in too many ways to count.
I chose this meal for today’s blog not only because Loretta is a seafood lover but from what I have read, it is also ‘St James Day’.
It seems, when you look for any food history that surrounds this meal there isn’t a lot available. The most repeated story is that a knight was saved from drowning by St. James. The knight emerged from the water covered with shells. Coquille St. Jacques translates as the shell of St. James with the origin dating back to the Middle ages.
Classically served in a scallop shell, this special dish consisted of scallops in a creamy wine sauce, topped with breadcrumbs or cheese and browned under a broiler. Scallops, because of their delicate, subtle nature, make a fine marriage with any number of foods and seasonings.
For our meal (in Loretta’s honor), I have used a seafood blend, mashed potatoes and a Gruyere/Parmesan topping. I wish you were here Loretta, to enjoy it with us.
OUR FAMILY CELEBRATES YOU WITH LOVE & AFFECTION ON YOUR DAY!
Coquilles St. Jacques
Cook potatoes in salted boiling water until fork tender. Drain & transfer to a bowl; add butter, milk, salt & pepper. Using a hand mixer, whip potatoes, cover & set aside.
Drizzle a tiny bit of oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, salt & pepper & cook until tender-crisp, about 3-4 minutes. Add flour & whisk until well combined with onions & garlic. Pour the milk slowly while whisking constantly, making short pauses from time to time to whisk until sauce becomes nice & smooth, then start pouring again. Once the milk has been added, whisk in the Dijon mustard, basil paste, dried dill & parsley. Stir in clams & set aside.
Drizzle a medium saucepan with a bit of olive oil. Saute mushrooms until liquid evaporates, set aside. Add a few more drops of olive oil to the saucepan, add the scallops & cook without moving for about 1 minute. Flip the scallops over & continue cooking until they form a nice crust on that side. Remove from pan & set aside.
Add the shrimp to the pan & quickly saute them until they just turn pink & opaque, not much more than a minute. Remove from pan & set aside. Add the salmon to the pan & cook until it just turns opaque, about a minute or two. Add the salmon to the reserved sauce & stir in. Set aside.
Grate cheese & place in a small dish. Add Panko breadcrumbs, parsley & melted butter. Combine well.
Assembly & Baking
Preheat oven to 375 F. Place Place a scallop in the center of each individual oven safe shell; surround with four of the shrimp. Cover with sauce, dividing it equally between each shell. Give the potatoes a quick stir & place them in a large pastry bag equipped with a star tip. Pipe a border around the filling; sprinkle topping mix over filling. Place in oven for about 15-20 minutes until golden & bubbly. Serve immediately. Nice to serve with garlic bread.
This pairing of pork, corn tortillas and guava brings me back to some of the flavors we tasted on our adventures in both Cuba and Mexico.
Pulled pork sounds like a lot of work but it simply comes down to a gentle, slow cooking process so it can be literally ‘pulled apart’ when finished. Pork shoulder is the most commonly used joint. The long cooking could dry out some cuts but shoulder is quite a fatty joint, therefore providing a natural baste. During the cooking period, most of the fat will dissolve but most importantly its this long cooking process that breaks down the tough fibrous connective tissue called collagen that tenderizes the meat making it so easy to pull apart. Although smokers are very often used, slow cookers or even traditional ovens will do the job nicely.
When the pork is finally done, it needs to rest for 10 minutes and then it should be ready for pulling apart. Use two forks to shred the meat and you’ve got it! This meal not only has great eye appeal, but the taste is wonderful!
Spiced Pulled Pork Tortillas w/ Orange Guava Sauce
Dry Rub for Pork Shoulder
Dry Rub for Pork Shoulder
Drizzle pork with 2 Tbsp of oil; sprinkle with spices & orange zest & rub into meat. Season with salt & pepper. Place in a plastic bag & refrigerate overnight (about 24 hours).
Bring meat to room temperature. Preheat oven to 275 F. Place meat in a roasting pan & bake until thickest part registers 170 F. on a meat thermometer. Basically, roast until it's falling apart. Remove roast from oven & transfer to a large platter. Allow the meat to rest for about 10 minutes. While still warm, take 2 forks & 'pull' the meat to form shreds. Keep warm until ready to assemble tortillas.
Orange Guava Sauce
In a saucepan, saute onion in 1 Tbsp olive oil until tender. Add water (or wine), frozen orange juice concentrate, soy sauce, spices & cubed guava paste. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat slightly & continue to boil gently until mixture reduces slightly. In a cup, combine cornstarch & water & add to sauce continuing to cook about 2-3 minutes more. Taste to see if any spice adjustments are needed.
During the roasting time of the meat, prepare avocados, red onion, cilantro leaves, lime wedges. Drain canned black beans (if using) so they are ready to warm at serving time.
When everything is ready, lay out warm tortillas, top with pulled pork, avocado slices, black beans, red onion, cilantro & drizzle with warm orange guava sauce. Fold or roll tortilla & enjoy!
- If you would rather not have the corn tortillas, cook some rice to serve with pulled pork. Spoon sauce over the meat & serve it with the sliced avocados, red onion & black beans.
I think sometimes there’s a slight misconception that the main focus of the meal can’t be made using vegetables. A humble vegetable can turn into a gourmet meal with just a little stuffing.
Onions are the ‘workhorses’ of the kitchen and the foundation of so many dishes across the globe. Sometimes its easy to forget how delicious they really are. We tend to under value anything we have perennial access to. As far as red, white and yellow onions, they are generally interchangeable.
Yellow are the driest, good for long cooking. Red onions are faintly sweeter, good for caramelization and when you need a boost in color. White onions are highest in water content and the mildest, good choice for a raw garnish. When it comes to stuffing onions, all three will work.
Because of their layered structure, onions are really easy to hollow out with a spoon. Just keep spooning until you have a good sized cavity. To make use of the onion pulp, I chopped it and then froze it for uses later on. I preferred to bake these stuffed onions but they can also be cooked on the BBQ as well. Great little sweet/savory summer meal!
Bacon Meatball Stuffed Onions
Cut off the tops & bottoms of the onions & remove the exterior skin. With a spoon, hollow out onions to within about 2-3 outer layers. Set aside. Chop onion pulp & freeze for other uses later.
In a large bowl, combine ground beef, parsley, mushrooms, bread crumbs & all of the spices. Mix well with your hands. Preheat oven to 425 F. Stuff onions with meat mixture; wrap the onion meatballs with 3 strips of bacon each. Secure bacon with toothpicks to keep it from unraveling during cooking.
Place in a baking dish & bake for 40 minutes or until cooked through. Remove from oven & serve with BBQ sauce. Onions can be cut in half to make 4 servings if you wish after baking them.
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.
Baked Avocado Bacon Omelette with Salmon/Dill Scones
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a deep pie plate with cooking spray.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bake for 10 minutes, rotate pan & continue to bake for another 10 minutes or until scones are just browning on top & test done.
Even if we are not quite at the peak of zucchini season, is no reason to forget about it. I love zucchini and because its such a mild flavored vegetable, you can find it in recipes from appetizers to dessert. Its versatility lets you steam, poach, saute and fry it but it also makes great cakes, bread, relish and sauce. In Canada, we use it extensively for just about anything you can imagine.
In Mexico, they prefer the flower to the zucchini bulb in soups and quesadillas.
In Italy, it is served in many ways, especially breaded and fried.
In France, it is the key ingredient in ratatouille or stuffed with meat, tomatoes and bell peppers.
In Turkey, zucchini is the main ingredient in pancakes or stuffed with ground meat, rice and herbs.
In Greece, there are numerous uses for zucchini such as fried, boiled, stuffed, hors d’oeuvers and main dishes. Sometimes the flowers are stuffed with white cheese or a mixture of rice, herbs and occasionally ground meat.
In Egypt, zucchini are cooked with tomato sauce, garlic and onions and the list goes on and on—
Today’s blog recipe uses a fresh zucchini sauce to compliment the cod fillets which have an herb and sunflower seed stuffing.
Stuffed Cod Rolls with Fresh Zucchini Sauce
Saute the garlic & onion in olive oil until softened but not browned. Remove from heat & toss together with the remaining stuffing ingredients. Prepare 6 fish portions in roughly 5 X 7-inch size rectangles. Overlap slightly if using two pieces of fish to prepare the portion.
Squeeze handfuls of the stuffing into sausage shaped portions the width of the fish fillet and place at one end, roll the fillet rectangle all the way around the stuffing.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Lay out bacon slices in 6 portions; place the prepared cod & stuffing at one end. Roll bacon tightly around the cod & place in a lightly oiled shallow baking dish. Do not crowd the portions; allow at least an inch or two between the portions for good air circulation in the oven.
Bake stuffed cod for about 25 minutes. Remove from oven & serve with warm fresh zucchini sauce.
Fresh Zucchini Sauce
In a skillet, saute zucchini, onion & mushrooms until tender crisp. Remove from heat; add flour & spices mixing well. Return to heat & slowly add milk & chicken broth. Cook until thickened & bubbly, stirring constantly. Remove from heat & serve over stuffed cod rolls.