Despite our ever present nostalgia for the foods of childhood, tastes and recipes are always evolving. I came across this recipe in a Taste of Home magazine recently. It has all the flavors of a favorite casserole come together in the comfort of ‘mac & cheese’.
During the Great Depression era, the idea for boxed macaroni and cheese was born when a salesman used a rubber band to pair packets of the then newly developed, grated Kraft cheese with boxes of pasta and convinced stores to sell them. In 1937, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (known as Kraft Dinner in Canada) was introduced with the slogan ‘make a meal for four in nine minutes for the cost of around nineteen cents’. It was an immediate success in the USA & Canada.
Traditional mac & cheese is a casserole baked in the oven, however, it may be prepared in a saucepan on the top of the stove. This particular casserole recipe takes the whole idea to a new level. Chicken, bacon, macaroni, three cheeses and Ranch dressing! I had tasted ranch dressing on chicken and bacon pizza so why not? Brion and I loved the end result making it a ‘keeper’ in our meal rotation.
In a large pot, cook macaroni to al dente stage; drain & return to pot. Lightly butter a 13 x 9-inch baking pan; set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour, salt & pepper until smooth; gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; cook & stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in cheeses until blended. Stir in ranch dressing. Add chicken & sauce to macaroni, tossing to combine. Transfer to baking dish.
Toss bread crumbs with melted butter; sprinkle over macaroni. Top with bacon. Bake, uncovered, 30-35 minutes or until topping is golden brown. Sprinkle with minced parsley.
The best thing about quiche is their ability to taste just as good reheated as they do fresh from the oven. I love quiche, which of course, if you are following my blog you already know that. A classic dish made popular in the 1970’s, is so simple and yet can be the star of an elegant brunch or quick mid week supper.
Very often, quiche is thought of as ‘taboo’ due to all the fat it may contain. When you think about it, pizza is full of fat and we certainly don’t stop eating it. Quiche is totally customizable in terms of how healthy you want to make it.
As far back as I remember, I have always enjoyed ‘all things vegetable’. My mother grew a large garden on the farm, so vegetables always played a big part in our family meals.
Brussels sprouts seem to be an unlikely ingredient for quiche. It is one of those vegetables most people either love or hate. My husband, Brion, kind of ‘sits on the fence’ when it comes to both quiche and brussels sprouts. So I derived a plan to help make it work. I thought if I make the crust from rice, which he loves, that would be a good start. The sliced brussels sprouts, wild mushrooms and onions are all sauteed first to bring out the natural flavors. Add some bacon and Gouda cheese — what’s not to love?!
Preheat oven to 350 F. Blend crust ingredients. Using the back of a large spoon, press into a baking dish & bake for 15-20 minutes.
In a saucepan, cook bacon until nearly crisp. Remove bacon to a paper towel. Add sliced brussels sprouts, mushrooms & onions to bacon drippings; saute until until tender-crisp. Blot veggies on paper towel.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Layer bottom of rice crust with vegetables, bacon & cheese. Whisk together eggs, half & half & seasonings. Pour egg mixture carefully over veggies, bacon & cheese. Bake 40 minutes. Quiche should be puffy & golden & set in the middle.
For extra flavor you may prefer to roast the brussels sprouts instead of sauteing them.
Don't hesitate to use the cheese or cheese combo of your own choice instead of the Gouda in this recipe.
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.
Whether you celebrate Christmas culturally, religiously or not at all, it seems a good time to evaluate your priorities to make sure you are truly doing what matters to you most. Christmas comes and goes each year during which the ‘Christmas Spirit’ is alive and well. Wouldn’t it be nice if that same spirit was applied to our daily lives all year long.
Today, December 25th, we celebrate my sister Rita’s birthday as well as Christmas Day. Our family’s Christmas eve birthday ‘parties’ hold many fond memories for me. After attending Christmas eve church service, upon returning home, we would be joined by family friends to have birthday cake and some homemade root beer. It was very important to my parents that a special birthday acknowledgement was made to Rita apart from the Christmas festivities.
Christmas is a nostalgic time of year for many of us — recalling simple family traditions. When it comes to holiday decorations, the thing I remember most were the ‘multitudes’ of Christmas cards that our family received in the mail. My mother would fasten string between doorways and windows to hang them all on each time we would receive another one. There was a limited amount of other Christmas decorations. We used the same ones year after year and that was what made them so special. They all had their own special place where they belonged, and once they were out, it truly felt like Christmas.
Probably, the most cherished item was a Christmas Manger set. This cardboard tabletop Nativity was published by Concordia Publishing House in early 1940’s from illustrations first produced by artist George Hinke. A base was provided with special tabs to hold the 17 lithographed figures upright; each tab being carefully labeled making it easy to assemble.
George Hinke was born in 1883 in Berlin, Germany where he studied as a painter. He immigrated to the United States in 1923.
I remember this Nativity scene vividly as the cardboard figures were so beautiful and accurately painted. It was sold in a cardboard box that contained assembly instructions. One of the trips Brion and I made to Italy was just after Christmas one year in early January. Thanks to the European mindset, the outdoor Christmas decor had not been tucked away for the season. The detail in some of the Nativity scenes was incredible. They brought back memories of that little ‘Christmas Manger’ set from many years ago.
For our Christmas dinner this year we are having something a little different from the traditional roast turkey. Turkey roulade lets you have all the traditional flavors of Christmas without having to go through the whole turkey cooking episode. Not only is it mouthwatering and tender, it’s easy to make, cooks quicker, a breeze to carve and looks super elegant. Now, there’s the matter of the stuffing. Equally essential to the holiday table, it’s a far more expressive medium than the turkey itself. You could say, it is the personality with countless options.
Today’s recipe is a turkey breast that has been flattened and stuffed with herbs, cranberries and hazelnuts. The roulade is wrapped with bacon to keep it moist and tucked into a half of a spaghetti squash. The drippings from the bacon and turkey flavor the squash perfectly as it bakes giving a tasty, earthy, vegetable side dish. Brion and I preferred some cranberry sauce and a traditional gravy with this meal but if you want to kick it up a notch you could serve a thin apple cider gravy instead.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, RITA! ENJOY YOUR DAY AS WE CELEBRATE YOU WITH LOVE
In a medium saucepan, heat 2 T. butter. Saute onion, garlic & sage leaves, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes. Add bread crumbs, toasted hazelnuts, cranberries, chicken broth, Italian seasoning, salt & pepper; cook for another minute or so. Remove from heat & cool completely.
Using a sharp knife, 'butterfly' turkey breasts. Cover with plastic wrap, flatten them slightly with a meat tenderizer. Divide stuffing between the two breasts & spread it out evenly. Roll breasts up, place cut side down onto work surface. Wrap each roulade with 6 slices of bacon, tucking the ends under the turkey rolls.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Slice the spaghetti squash in half & scoop out the seeds. Place both haves on a large roasting pan & drizzle with olive oil. Roast 30 minutes. Remove squash from oven & place the bacon wrapped roulades into the cavity of the squash. Return turkey/squash roulade to oven, lower oven temperature to 350 F. & roast until the internal temperature of the turkey roulade is 155 F., ABOUT 1 1/2 hours. Remove from oven & allow to stand about 10 minutes. Slice & place on serving platter.
Apple Cider Gravy
In a medium saucepan, combine turkey stock, apple cider & sage leaves; bring to a boil. Gently boil, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes until sauce is reduced & thickened slightly. Remove sage leaves & discard. Drop in butter cubes; whisk to incorporate, add pepper & remove from heat. Serve hot over turkey roulade.
Today, December 21st, ‘our’ precious little Amigo is having his 14th birthday. Technically he belongs to my sister Loretta, who adopted him when he was only two months old. If you are a dog lover and have ever been in the presence of a Dachshund, you will understand how easily they can ‘velcro’ themselves onto your heart. Brion and I are accepted by him as if we were his aunt and uncle, so I guess you could call us part of his ‘pack’.
The antics of a Dachshund are priceless. During visits to our house he could come up with all kinds of games. One such game was to put his ball in a chosen spot then sit, out of sight, patiently waiting and watching to see how long it would take you to find it.
To be loved by a Dachshund is truly a privilege of a lifetime never to be taken lightly.
For today’s blog recipe, I thought it would be nice to have roasted chicken breast with a savory-sweet stuffing of apricot and brie, accompanied with small roasted potatoes.
Preheat oven to 400 F. In a plastic bag, combine potatoes, olive oil, seasoned salt, pepper, garlic & lemon zest; toss well. Place on a foil lined large baking sheet & roast for 10 minutes.
Place walnuts, 1 cup fresh basil & garlic in food processor; slowly add 1 Tbsp olive oil until mixture becomes paste-like. Next add brie, cream cheese & egg to the food processor & pulse until mixed well. Season with salt, pepper & pepper flakes.
Place chicken breasts between 2 sheets of plastic wrap & carefully flatten with a meat mallet. Divide stuffing between the 4 breasts. Roll up or fold over, enclosing filling well. In a small bowl, combine apricot preserves, balsamic vinegar & remaining Tbsp olive oil.
Remove potatoes from oven & slide them around a bit to make room for the chicken. Place the chicken on the pan; brush apricot mixture all over breasts. Place the pan back in the oven & roast for 30-40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through & potatoes are golden. Garnish with fresh basil if preferred.
One of my all time favorite pasta dishes to make are jumbo stuffed pasta shells. They are easy to prepare and are perfectly portioned for individuals and groups alike.The best part is the multitude of different fillings you can make them with.
Some years ago, Brion and I had the pleasure of eating lunch at Gayles Bakery & Rosticceria in the little seaside town of Capitola, California (see my blog article from July 2016 for Fig & Gorgonzola Chicken Breast). It was there I tasted Spinach-Gorgonzola Pasta. Until then I had never even tasted this kind of cheese. With a strong dislike for Blue Cheese, it looked suspiciously similar. Long story short, it seemed everyone was ordering this pasta so I decided to try it. It was just incredible! The combination of Gorgonzola, ricotta and parmesan make this dish especially decadent and delicious.
Info I found on Gorgonzola Dolce reads like this — Imported from Italy, this sweet or ‘dolce’ Gorgonzola has the characteristically creamy texture and nutty aroma Gorgonzola is known for, yet is milder due to a shorter aging period. A great option for those who normally shy away from blue cheese.
The fact that Brion and I are both seafood lovers, I decided to incorporate this kind of pasta with a little seafood medley. The end result did not disappoint, bringing back that ‘taste of a memory’ once again.
In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, heat milk until hot but not boiling. Meanwhile, combine flour & butter in another heavy saucepan. Stir over medium heat with a wooden spoon or whisk until the mixture has gently bubbled for 2 minutes, being careful not to brown flour.
Begin to add the hot milk to the flour mixture a little at a time while whisking vigorously. Continue to add the milk until it is fully incorporated. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low; simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 6-8 minutes. It should resemble heavy cream. Crumble the cheese & add to hot bechamel sauce, whisking continuously until smooth. Add nutmeg & pepper & stir. Remove from heat to cool.
Pasta & Filling
Cook the pasta shells in salted boiling water to which a small amount of oil has been added for 8-10 minutes. Drain & set aside.
In a large skillet, melt butter. Saute spinach & mushrooms until spinach is wilted. Remove to paper towels. Add shrimp & scallops to skillet; saute for 3-4 minutes until opaque & just barley cooked; set aside. Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a large bowl, combine spinach, shrimp, scallops, crab meat, ricotta cheese, garlic & salt & pepper. Fill pasta shells. Spread some sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Lay filled shells single file in pan. Pour remaining sauce over all & top with a sprinkling of parmesan. Bake 20-30 minutes, until the cheese becomes a little brown.
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.
Early turkey burgers were definitely not the most exciting of meals. For most part, they were dry, tasteless, fat free patties with an unappealing beige color. In the 1970’s, people became aware of the fact that by substituting ground turkey for ground beef made a burger that was a whole lot healthier.
The ‘secret’ we all know, to cooking moist and flavorful turkey burgers is by adding enough moisture to replace the fat they lack. Eggs and breadcrumbs, traditionally used to moisten and bind are good, but a little imagination can add a whole lot more flavor as well as eye appeal. Before adding vegetables, saute them for a few minutes and use a heavier hand with fresh herbs if you choose to use them. Turkey burgers require delicate handling so a heavy, cast iron skillet or one of those ‘Gotham Steel’ copper grills you can place on your barbecue would work great.
I came across this recipe for BACON TURKEY BURGERS on website called lisasdinnertimedish.com It combines the turkey with bacon, zucchini and onion. I found it to be real good — not to dry with a hint of the smoky bacon flavor. Well worth trying.
In a skillet, cook bacon until crispy; drain on paper towel. Reserve 1 Tbsp bacon grease. Finely chop bacon, onion, garlic & shred zucchini. Heat bacon grease that remained in skillet & saute onion & garlic until tender.
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients & mix with your hands until everything is combined. DO NOT OVER MIX as it tends to make the burgers tough. Form mixture into 8-10 patties.
TO BAKE; transfer patties to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 F. for 15 minutes or until cooked.
TO FRY: saute patties on a large griddle or in a large skillet over medium heat for about 3 minutes per side, until browned.
TO BARBECUE: refer to blog information above.
There is definitely more to rhubarb than just dessert. While rhubarb is generally treated as a fruit, it has also made many popular appearances in recipes of the day as a savory ingredient.
Braised in chicken stock with a little brown sugar makes a nice side dish for pork, lamb or fish. In sauces, it teams well with onion, sugar and star anise and tarragon for salmon or trout. If your serving pork, onion, sugar, cinnamon, allspice and cloves all pair well with rhubarb.
In September, 2016, I posted a recipe for Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Chutney. It became real popular with my blog followers so I thought I would share another pork/rhubarb idea. This recipe was one of those newspaper clippings from yesteryear that is still in my ‘file’ today.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Trim excess fat from short ribs; cut into serving size pieces. Place some of the fat in a heavy skillet & heat until skillet is well greased. Discard any remaining pieces.
Combine flour, salt & pepper in a plastic bag. Place short ribs in bag & shake to coat evenly; reserve any extra flour. Place ribs in skillet & brown slowly on both sides. Transfer to a shallow baking dish, making a single layer.
Top ribs with slices of onion, orange & celery. Toss rhubarb, sugar, reserved flour mixture & cloves together & sprinkle over all. Add water to the baking pan. Cover tightly with foil. Bake 35 minutes or until ribs are tender. Uncover & continue baking 10 minutes longer.
The original recipe used pork chops but our preference is with pork country style ribs instead.