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.
Unlike some meats that are best served only as the main entree or at certain times of the year, pork tenderloin is perfect at anytime or occasion. You can grill, roast or bake it, making pork one of the most widely eaten meats across the globe.
Sometimes there is a bit of confusion in regards to pork loin and pork tenderloin. The truth is, they are cut from two different regions of the pig. Pork loins are thicker and are also referred to as ‘white’ meat. True to that name, they do turn white when cooked. Pork tenderloin is usually smaller in size, about 2″ thick. This is the softest part of the whole pig coming from the side under the back bone.
Pork is never served by itself, always being accompanied by various side dishes. I never fail to enjoy cooking pork tenderloin. It’s one of those reliable meats that is always tender, pairs with unlimited ingredients and can be ‘dressed’ up or down.
This particular meal uses a cornbread stuffing with red peppers and pears. Sort of unusual but has good flavor and is easy to prepare.
Make a lengthwise cut 3/4 of the way through the tenderloin; open & flatten to 1/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle with salt & pepper, minced garlic & 1/2 of the sliced green onion.
Spread cornbread stuffing over meat. Roll up from long side; tuck in ends. Secure with toothpicks. Slice red pepper & pears. Place in a plastic bag with a small amount of fig balsamic dressing & CAREFULLY turn slices to coat well.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a 13 X 9-inch baking pan with lightly greased foil wrap. Place stuffed tenderloin on it & drizzle with fig balsamic dressing. Surround with pear wedges & top with red pepper slices. Roast for 25 minutes or until meat reaches 160 F. on meat thermometer.
The season of squash and soup have arrived. As the days and nights get cooler, few dishes satisfy like a bowl of soup.
Roasting the chicken and squash before turning them into soup gives a deeper flavor that wouldn’t normally be there if you just simply simmered the ingredients together. You can go a number of ways with the preparation. If you have the time, roast a chicken (for a previous meal). That will give you both some chicken meat and broth needed for your soup. Second, you can roast some chicken thighs with the celery, onion, garlic and squash. Third, purchase a deli roasted chicken, roast the veggies and squash in the oven to caramelize them for flavor needed. In the case of the second and third options you will need to make some good, rich vegetable or chicken stock (from scratch or bouillon cubes). The pasta cooks in the soup to help bulk things out.
Whatever route you chose to go in making this soup, the results will be incredibly flavorful I’m sure. Imagine the aroma coming from your kitchen — pure comfort food!
Preheat oven to 350 F. On a foil lined sheet pan, arrange vegetable pieces & chicken thighs. Drizzle with olive oil & sprinkle with salt & pepper. Bake until chicken is cooked & veggies are tender-crisp. Remove from oven. Chop or shred chicken into soup size pieces.
In a Dutch oven, Place chicken broth, seasonings & pasta. Heat to boiling, add pasta & cook until pasta is almost done. Add roasted chicken & veggies & continue cooking to finish cooking pasta. Serve.
If you care to make some chicken stock from 'scratch', this ingredient list might be helpful--
1 chicken carcass with any bits of meat & skin left on it
2 whole stalks of celery
2 whole carrots
1 onion, halved (skin on or off)
1 head of garlic (left intact, skins on)
1 Tbsp salt
2 bay leaves
a dash of dried thyme, rosemary or any sprigs of herbs you care for
Potato pancake variations are present in National cuisines all over the world and considered by many to be pure comfort food. The nice thing is, you can create this great meal by using leftover mashed potatoes. It can be kept simple or you can amp up the flavor with cheese, onion, bacon or a variety of spices. I recall my mother making them. I think she just added some eggs, onion, a bit of flour and some salt & pepper to the leftover, mashed potatoes. They were made into patties and pan fried as you would a pancake.
Depending on which part of Eastern Europe you come from, the name varies — Kolduny, Zrazy, Kartoffelpuffer are just a few. Regardless of the name you call them, they are just simply delicious. The Russian version takes it a bit further. The potato pancake is stuffed with a filling and then fried to a golden brown.
After reading through numerous recipes, I decided to ‘meld’ some of them into my own creation. These are what developed — nothing pretty but really good flavor. Yes, truly comfort food.
In a bowl, combine pork filling ingredients; divide into 8 portions & form each into a patty shape. Refrigerate until potato pancake 'batter' is prepared .
In a skillet, fry bacon until crispy; drain on a paper towel until cool. In skillet with remaining bacon grease, saute onion & garlic until translucent.
In a large bowl, crumble bacon into small bits. Add cold mashed potatoes, onion, garlic, beaten egg, cheddar (if using), flour, salt & pepper. Combine well. Using a large piece of waxed paper, form 16 patties. On top of each one, place one of the pork patties & then top each with the remaining potato patties. With a pair of scissors, cut waxed paper to separate filled potato pancakes so it will be easy for you to place them on a griddle for frying.
Lightly oil a frying pan or griddle. Using the waxed paper remaining under each pancake, carefully flip each filled pancake onto the griddle. Flatten a bit & press edges to enclose filling better. Fry first side to a nice golden brown then carefully flip with a spatula & brown second side a few minutes. Cover with a lid (or foil) for remaining cooking time to ensure pork is cooked through.
Once cooked, remove from griddle & serve with sour cream or Ranch dressing.
Don't hesitate to make the pancakes the size that works best for you.
Once again, the last long week-end of summer has arrived. Here in Canada, families with school age children, take it as the last chance to travel before the end of summer. Others enjoy the company of family and friends at barbecues, picnics, fairs, festivals and fireworks displays. Canadian football fans may spend a large portion of their week-end watching the Labour Day Classic matches live on television. Whatever your choice of relaxation is, you know good food will be a part of the holiday.
For some reason, the classic Reuben sandwich came into my thoughts for a tasty choice. If you’re barbecuing, it can be wrapped in foil and heated on the grill. If a picnic is your preference, add a nice potato salad and of course, a beer. Perfect, easy and delicious!
I can’t quite remember when my love for sandwiches began. I have memories of my brother and I having cold, leftover mashed potato sandwiches with my mother’s homemade bread after school.
The Reuben sandwich turns 104 this year. Its origin has definitely be contested, but it is universally acknowledged as an American invention. It brings together Irish corned beef, Jewish rye bread, German sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing to create the perfect balance of interesting flavors and textures.
In a colander, rinse & drain sauerkraut. In a large skillet, melt butter; stir in caraway seeds, salt & pepper. Add diced onion & saute for 3 minutes; add sauerkraut & combine well. Continue to saute, stirring frequently for 6 minutes; remove from heat & set aside.
Butter one side each of 8 slices of bread. Divide shredded cheese, corned beef & sauerkraut between 4 of the slices (on the unbuttered side) Top with remaining 4 slices. Heat an electric griddle to 350 F. Transfer sandwiches to griddle & grill until cheese is melted. Remove from griddle on to serving plates; lift top slice of bread from each sandwich & drizzle with Russian dressing. Close Reuben & slice. Serve with pickles & potato fries or chips.
Thousand Island & Russian dressings are similar. If you want to make your own Russian dressing just add 1/2 cup chili sauce to 3/4 cup Thousand Island dressing for a simple fix.
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!
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.
Prepare avocado slices. Preheat oven to 450 F. Line a baking sheet with foil & place a wire rack on the sheet. Set aside.
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.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until panko is lightly browned Cool about 10 minutes & serve with strawberry-rhubarb salsa.
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.
Shrimp makes for a unique and elegant twist on a stuffed baked potato. For most part, a baked potato with a pat of butter and a little salt is just great on its own. But stuff them, with an assortment of savory ingredients such as shrimp, oysters or ground meat and it easily constitutes a whole meal.
I think my first encounter with this idea came when the Wendy’s restaurant chain introduced the Stuffed Baked Potato to their menu in 1983. Their original goal was to give the customer another choice or alternative to the same old ‘fries’. I think it retailed for 99 cents at the time. The one I remember having a couple of times was with the cheese sauce and fresh broccoli. It tasted great to me, not being a fried food lover.Of course, since then the whole concept has been ratcheted up in both flavor and eye appeal.
For Canadians, barbecue season lasts until the first snow falls (sometimes even a bit after). This is a meal that can easily be cooked on the BBQ as well as in the oven and it is soooo– good!
Preheat oven to 400 F. Rub potatoes with oil & place on a baking sheet. Bake about an hour or until soft to the touch. Let stand until cool enough to handle. Cut a slice off the top of each potato lengthwise. Scoop out pulp, leaving a thin shell. Place pulp in a large bowl & mash.
In a small skillet, fry bacon until crisp. Drain on a paper towel & crumble. Saute green onions in 1/4 cup butter until tender. In a small dish, stir Ranch dressing powder (mix) into sour cream & add to potato pulp along with milk, salt & pepper. Fold in half of the cheese. Divide mixture between potato shells & drizzle with remaining butter. Place baking pan on BBQ where the heat is lower & warm potatoes through while shrimp is cooking.
In a foil BBQ pan, Gently combine shrimp, olive oil, garlic, oregano, basil, parmigiana-reggiano, salt & pepper. Roast until pink, firm & cooked through, about 6-8 minutes.
On each serving plate, place a stuffed potato, top with shrimp & garnish with crumbled bacon & remaining cheese.
It seems that the exact origin of five-spice powder is unknown but there is some speculation that the blend was created in traditional Chinese medicine. A very unique spice blend that represents a wide range of flavors from sweet, salty and bitter to pungent and sour. Rumor has it that the Chinese were trying to create a ‘miracle powder’ that was representative of all the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Then again, its possible that a cook accidentally stumbled upon this particular combination of spices and realized its power to improve on a bland dish. In any case, it is very versatile and can be used not only in cooking but also adds a unique flavor to baked goods.
Many recipes for five-spice powder exist but there is no one traditional recipe. Often the ingredients and amounts can vary from region to region and are different depending on the household and individual tastes. The original blend contained star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, fennel seed, cinnamon and cloves. A staple in Chinese cuisine but has also found its way into other international cuisines such as Vietnamese and Hawaiian food.
This is an interesting recipe combining pork with a spicy rhubarb sauce. Definitely a keeper!
In a saucepan, combine rhubarb, water, honey, hoisin, garlic, ginger, 5-spice powder & crushed red pepper. Bring to a simmer; cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced & the rhubarb is very soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat & stir in soy sauce & lemon juice. Transfer 2 TABLESPOONS of the sauce to a saucer; set aside the remaining sauce until serving time.
In a resealable large plastic bag, combine soy sauce, honey, oil, 5-spice powder, salt, pepper & the 2 Tbsp of reserved 'rhubarb sauce'. Place ribs in the bag; seal & marinate in refrigerator at least 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 275 F. Place ribs & marinade in a baking dish. Place in oven to SLOW roast for about 1 1/2 hours until VERY tender. Remove from oven, garnish with sliced green onion & serve with remaining rhubarb sauce.
Using creamy avocados instead of tortilla shells puts a healthy twist on tacos. Most people think guacamole when they hear the word ‘avocado’. True, guacamole is great but that’s just a mere beginning of their potential. Avocados can stand in for mayo, replace butter in baked goods and even become a creamy base for ice cream or smoothies. Beyond that, you can grill, stuff, batter and fry them or turn them into cake frosting. For many people, avocados make everything they just a bit better.
Avocados are a fruit that ripen off the tree so they are often sold unripe. The tree carries two crops on them at a time, and on average an avocado will stay on the tree for 12-14 months.
This versatile fruit is a true Mexican staple, bringing flair to practically any dish its used in. If you enjoy tacos and avocados, this is just a great, easy lunch or light supper.
Okra, that seasonal summer vegetable that many love to hate. But, cooked properly it is definitely worth eating. While the origin of okra is often disputed, it grows well in a wide variety of warm climates. It is adaptable to both humid & dry conditions and is largely unaffected by pests and disease.
Okra is a member of the Mallow family, related to cotton, hibiscus and hollyhocks. An upright plant with hibiscus-like flowers gives okra an ornamental value as well.
Probably the most unusual feature that this vegetable has is the gummy, gelatinous substance released from its pods when cooked. The thickening agent makes it a popular ingredient in gumbos and soups. But, there’s much more to okra than soups and stews. Roasting at a high temperature will turn it into crispy, flavorful okra fries.
Since it pairs well with most any meat or seafood, I decided to make some braised beef short ribs with stir-fried okra and Jasmine rice.
Preheat oven to 300 F. In a Dutch oven, place all short rib ingredients. Bring to a boil, cover & place in oven for at least 1 1/2 hours or until meat is VERY tender. Stir periodically, adding more water if needed. If preferred, skim off excess oil before serving.
In a large saucepan, add oil; when oil is hot add okra & stir-fry for about 8-10 minutes. Okra should be tender but NOT mushy.