Thanks for the memories! This phrase says it all when I think back to the wonderful time we spent in France. Although this holiday is now 20 years past, the memories remain very vivid and special.
My sister, Loretta had joined Brion & I on this French vacation which had made it even more special. Our journey began in Paris where we had rented a car, then travelled south (about 613 km/380 miles) to the sleepy little village of St Thibery. For this segment of our trip we had rented an apartment to use as ‘home base’ during our time in this part of France. Many of these houses are from the 14th,15th & 17th century. The apartment was quaint but adequate even having a roof top patio.
St Thibery is situated between the larger towns of Agde & Pezenas and is just a short distance from the Mediterranean Sea. On one of our day trips we visited the town of Agde. It is one of the oldest towns in France and is captivating by its maze of narrow streets. Agde was built of black basalt from a volcanic eruption thus the black color of its buildings.
It was here we discovered a nice restaurant where we enjoyed some classic French steamed mussels. It would be an understatement to say how much the three of us enjoyed this feast of fresh seafood.
During the time we spent in the area, we made the 20 minute drive from St Thibery to Agde just to have some more mussels on numerous evenings.
Brion & I decided to revisit the taste of those ‘French’ mussels today with our supper meal. Of course, nothing compares to the ‘taste of a memory’!
French Mussels w/ Bacon & Leek Risotto
Bring vegetable broth to a boil in a saucepan, then turn heat to low & keep at a simmer.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat; add bacon & sauté until crisp. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain & set aside.
Remove all but 2 Tbsp bacon drippings from skillet (add extra olive oil if necessary to equal 2 Tbsp) then add leeks, mushrooms & shallot. Turn heat up to medium-high; season with salt & pepper. Sauté until vegetables are tender & starting to turn golden brown, about 7-8 minutes. Add garlic & sauté for 1 minute. Add rice; stir to coat & cook for 1 more minute.
Turn heat back to medium; add wine & stir until absorbed by rice. Add hot vegetable broth; stir near constantly until rice is tender & all the broth is absorbed, about 25 minutes. If broth gets to a hard boil, turn heat down. Remove skillet from heat; stir in thyme, parmesan cheese & cooked bacon. Keep warm until mussels are ready.
Heat olive oil & butter in a large pot over medium high heat. Sauté the onion & garlic until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the mussels, wine, cream, butter & parsley. Season well with salt & pepper to taste.
Mix well, cover pot with a lid & cook until mussels are cooked through & opened, about 12-15 minutes.
Serve mussels along with the juices in the pan with risotto & crusty or garlic bread.
Meat and fruit pairings are delicious, yet the idea of using both fruit and meat in the same dish is undoubtedly a little controversial.
One of the things I enjoy about cooking is combining flavors to create a wholesome dish. Sometimes, its interesting just to combine ingredients and flavors that don’t seem like they should go together.
Chicken is a good match for a wide variety of fruits with peaches being one of them. Whether fresh or frozen, nothing partners better with peaches than fresh ginger. To enhance the flavor just a bit more, I’m making a fluffy, golden couscous, speckled with green onion and fresh parsley. Subtle cumin and ginger spices add a heady fragrance and warm flavor. Nothing fancy, just a great taste!
Chicken w/ Peaches & Ginger
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt & pepper & cook on one side until golden, about 4-6 minutes. Flip, cook for 1 minute then transfer chicken to a 9x13-inch baking pan.
Place peaches, sugar, thyme & ginger over & around chicken. Add the chicken broth & bake for about 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. While chicken is baking prepare couscous.
Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add green onion, cumin, ginger & garlic clove. Cook & stir for about 3 minutes until green onion is softened.
Add honey. Heat & stir for about 30 seconds until green onion is coated.
Add broth. Bring to a boil. Add couscous & 2 teaspoons oil. Stir. Cover. Remove from heat. Let stand for 5 minutes without lifting lid. Fluff with fork. Stir in chopped parsley & season with salt & pepper to taste.
Serve the chicken & peaches over couscous with any ginger sauce from baking pan.
A summer twist on classic French madeleines. Not quite cookies and not quite cakes, madeleines are a buttery seashell shaped treat that’s usually flavored with nothing more than a wisp of vanilla. With the addition of some fresh strawberry puree and lemon zest these strawberry madeleines are transformed into something quite special.
Fruit puree is the go-to companion for desserts. Who doesn’t enjoy the taste of fruit, accompanied by the backdrop of something sweet? Its hard to replace the taste of real fruit with fruit flavored extracts.
Fruit purees can be used for a range of different things although baking seems to be one of the most popular. The natural sugar in fruit, alongside the retained flavors, colors and smells help create some really good baked items. Purees can also be frozen to last longer.
Strawberry madeleines are simple and quick to make but special enough to stand out!
In a food processor, place strawberries & sugar. Process until smooth.
Butter madeleine baking pans. Sprinkle with some flour then shake off excess.
In a large bowl, beat eggs & sugar until mixture becomes almost white & foamy. Add strawberry puree, flour, baking powder & lemon zest; whisk until flour is incorporated. Stir the butter gently into the batter using a spatula.
Using a pastry bag, fill each madeleine cup of the tray 3/4 full. Refrigerate the pan with batter for at least 30 minutes.
Remove the pan with the batter from the fridge & bake for 7-8 minutes. Remove from oven & allow to cool a little bit on a wire rack before serving. Dust with powdered sugar if you wish.
A Dutch baby pancake is a cross between a fluffy style pancake and a soufflé. Its less work than standard pancakes and less complicated than a soufflé.
If you follow our blog, you probably have seen other versions, both sweet & savory featured on it. Dutch baby’s are such an easy meal to make, they are a regular in our meal rotation, not to mention how delicious they are.
Dutch baby recipes work best in cast iron pans because they retain heat and cook evenly. If you don’t have cast iron cook-ware, I find pyrex bowls will work as a substitute.
Because of the delicate nature of the batter, you can only add your toppings once the batter has baked. For some toppings, this will require cooking these ingredients on the stove top while the eggy batter bakes.
Be careful with recipes that instruct you to mix chopped veggies and meat directly into the batter. The combination of weight and moisture will prevent the batter from cooking and puffing up as it should. One exception to this would be finely grated Parmesan cheese. To help create height, bring the eggs to room temperature before mixing into the batter.
Being seafood lovers, this meal really works for us.
Shrimp Dutch Baby Pancake
Dutch Baby Pancakes
In a bowl, whisk together eggs & milk. Add flour & whisk until incorporated then whisk in parmesan cheese, scallions, parsley, thyme, salt & pepper. Set aside in refrigerator until sauce & filling are made.
In a small saucepan, melt butter; sprinkle with flour & seasonings. Mix well; add milk & broth, stirring until sauce becomes thickened. Blend in cheese; set aside
Shrimp Filling / Baking
Peel & devein shrimp (you can chop into pieces if you prefer). Prepare filling veggies for cooking.
Place 2 Tbsp butter in each of TWO 7-inch pyrex baking bowls (alternately you can use one 10-inch cast iron skillet). Place bowls in hot oven to melt butter (and heat the bowls for baking pancakes in). Once the butter is melted & the bowls are hot, divide the batter between them. Bake for 25 minutes.
The Dutch Baby will puff up during cooking, but once its removed from the oven & starts to cool it will deflate slightly. At this point its nice to do the final sautéing of your filling so that when the pancakes come out of the oven you are ready to fill & serve.
In a large skillet, sauté zucchini, onion, mushrooms & garlic in oil until tender-crisp. Combine soy sauce with water in a cup; add to vegetable mixture along with shrimp. Gently stir fry ONLY until shrimp is cooked, then fold in Gouda sauce.
When Dutch Baby pancakes are finished baking, remove from oven & transfer to 2 serving dishes. Divide filling between the 2 pancakes & serve hot.
Bumbleberry…. an interesting word used to describe a Canadian mixed berry combination originating from the Maritime provinces. Since there is no such thing as a ‘bumbleberry’, as the name suggests, it is simply a mixture of berries that are in season (ones that you might ‘bumble’ upon).
Berries commonly used in this pie may include blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries. Other choices often used are apples, rhubarb, cherries, plums or fresh cranberries.
The bumbleberry concept has been used in various recipes such as cakes, crisps, soufflés or even in tiramisu. The most well known being the bumbleberry pie.
To make use of some bumbleberry filling I had leftover from a previous dessert, I made some quick little puff pastries …. worked out good!
Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
In a large bowl, combine fruit. In another bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, cornstarch & cinnamon. Gently toss into fruit mixture along with lemon juice.
Cut thawed, cold puff pastry sheets into circles or squares (your choice). Put a spoonful of filling in the center of each & bring the corners together enclosing the filling. Place pastries on baking sheet & sprinkle with coarse sugar.
Bake for about 12-15 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven & allow to cool for 5 minutes on baking sheet then transfer to a wire cooling rack.
- This amount of filling is enough for a large deep dish 9-inch pie. It can be easily halved for a small amount of pastries if you wish.
CELEBRATING VICTORIA DAY!
For many Canadians, Victoria Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer. It is Canada’s oldest non-religious holiday and although we still hang on to the British Queen’s name (for old times sake), this truly Canadian holiday has everything to do with the end of the cold weather and short days and a lot to do with some great food.
This holiday is called ‘May Two-Four’ in some parts of Canada, a name that refers both to the date around which the holiday falls (May 24th) and Canadian slang for a case of twenty-four beers (a ‘two-four’), a drink popular during the long weekend.
I’m sure, for many this weekend, barbecuing will be up front and center with burgers, steaks and ribs taking top billing. Brion & I decided to wait a bit longer to start barbecuing and have some turkey sliders today instead.
In keeping with some food history ….
The name ‘slider’ originated in the 1940’s when sailors in the US Navy would refer to mini-burgers as sliders because of their extreme greasiness. In just one or two bites, the burger would just slide right down. Fortunately around 2007, sliders evolved from miniature ‘grease bombs’ to elegant culinary creations that now appeal to people of all backgrounds and tastes.
There’s something inherently appealing about a small burger. For the diet-conscious, the idea of a small gourmet burger is more feasible. When dining out, ordering sliders instead of an average sized hamburger also allows you to try several different varieties as they are often served in pairs.
The modern day slider has been reinvented from the traditional beef patty to being made from chicken, pork and veal as well as various seafood options. Having our turkey sliders in stuffing biscuits definitely added that gourmet touch.
Turkey Sliders in Stuffing Biscuits
In a large skillet, heat oil on medium. Add all stuffing ingredients & cook about 15 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a bowl & cool completely.
Preheat oven to 450 F. Spray two 12-cup muffin pans with baking spray.
In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda & salt until blended. Add butter; with finger tips, combine until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in buttermilk & one third of cooked, cooled, 'stuffing mixture' until JUST blended.
Divide among the 24 muffin cups (about 3 Tbsp each). Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown; transfer biscuits from pans to wire cooling rack.
Line a baking sheet with foil paper. In a bowl, combine turkey, salt & remaining cooked 'stuffing mixture'. Form into 24 patties (2-inch width); place on foil-lined baking sheet & bake for 15 minutes or until cooked through.
Slice warm biscuits in half. Add turkey patties & dollops of mayo & cranberry preserves.
Stuffed pork tenderloin is an amazing way to amp up a simple cut of meat. Pork tenderloin is incredibly tender since it is essentially the ‘filet’. Because there is very little fat in a tenderloin, its perfect to stuff with all sorts of tasty things to bring in both moisture and flavor.
The ‘old-fashioned’ idea of surf & turf seems to still retain an odd appeal. Having seafood and meat on the same plate lets you alternate bites and flavors from two realms, but there is a better way of mixing ‘sea & land’. Actually, combining seafood and pork so they cook together produces something quite amazing. Pork with its mild but rich taste complements the clean, delicate flavor of seafood.
This seafood stuffing uses a blend of rice and barley along with crab, shrimp and some veggies. The seasoning brings it all together into a real special meal.
Pork Rolls w/ Seafood Stuffing
In a saucepan, cook rice & barley in vegetable broth until tender; transfer to a large bowl. Sauté onion, celery & mushrooms in 2 Tbsp butter until tender-crisp.
Combine sautéed vegetables with rice/barley mixture in large bowl. Stir in shrimp & crab meat; sprinkle with seasonings & toss to combine.
Using a meat mallet, pound out the tenderloin strips very thinly, then divide stuffing between them. Roll tightly, encasing the filling inside. If necessary tie with kitchen twine.
Roll the pork rolls in seasoned flour to coat lightly. Heat the butter & oil in a large skillet & brown the rolls well on each side. Remove rolls to a plate.
Add veg (or seafood) broth to skillet, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer making sure to stir in all browning bits from pork rolls; cook for 5 minutes. Season the broth with salt & pepper to taste, then pour into a casserole & place stuffed rolls on top.
Bake for about 45 minutes. Serve.
Pepita seeds might not be what you ordinarily think of as chicken coating material, but these nutty, chewy kernels are every bit as tasty and versatile as almonds or pistachios in cooking.
Many people use the words pepitas and pumpkin seeds interchangeably, but they are actually two different things. A pepita is harvested from specific hull-less pumpkin varieties, known as Styrian or Oil Seed pumpkins. Any other variety of pumpkin produces a hulled seed that’s slightly fibrous and less tender.
Pepitas are more versatile in the kitchen than traditional pumpkin seeds since they’re not as tough. Aside from using them as a garnish or a snack, pepitas make good pesto, or as a crust for meat or fish, as a topping on muffins, mixed in granola, baked in focaccia bread or made into brittle.
Crunchy pepita seeds are little powerhouses of nutrition, so using them instead of breadcrumbs along with a light, spicy ‘tempura’ batter to prepare this chicken breast, really takes it from ordinary to special. It’s the whole package …. moist, crisp with the toasty appeal of pepitas.
Chicken Tenders w/ Pepita Seeds
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper & set aside.
In a bowl, combine all tempura batter ingredients (except pepita seeds), whisking until smooth.
Pat chicken tenders dry & add to batter. Turn in mixture to coat evenly. Allow to stand in refrigerator for 10 minutes.
Place whole pepita seeds on a large tray or plate. Lift chicken out of batter & coat evenly with pepita seeds.
Place chicken on baking sheet & bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown & cooked through.
- Alternately, you could cook the chicken on a griddle using a combo of oil & butter.