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.
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.
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.