Chicken Tenders w/ Pepita Seeds

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.

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Chicken Tenders w/ Pepita Seeds
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Tempura Batter
Chicken Tenders
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Tempura Batter
Chicken Tenders
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper & set aside.
  2. In a bowl, combine all tempura batter ingredients (except pepita seeds), whisking until smooth.
  3. Pat chicken tenders dry & add to batter. Turn in mixture to coat evenly. Allow to stand in refrigerator for 10 minutes.
  4. Place whole pepita seeds on a large tray or plate. Lift chicken out of batter & coat evenly with pepita seeds.
  5. Place chicken on baking sheet & bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown & cooked through.
Recipe Notes
  • Alternately, you could cook the chicken on a griddle using a combo of oil & butter. 

Herbs de Provence Shrimp

If you are not familiar with ‘Herbs de Provence‘, it is a mixture of dried herbs considered typical of the Provence region in Southeastern France. This region is known for endless vineyards, olive groves and its vibrant, purple lavender fields. Lavender is the herb that adds a distinctive scent as well as working beautifully with the rest of the herbs (thyme, marjoram, savory, oregano & rosemary) that make up this blend.

Prior to the commercialization of the product in the 1970’s, the person responsible for bringing the French phrase into the vocabulary of cooks around the world was non other than Julia Child (American-turned-French chef), who included it in a recipe in her classic cookbook ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking‘.

This iconic French spice blend can easily elevate any number of meals. Like most spice blends, there is no set formula for the ideal Herbs de Provence. While it uses ingredients that are found in the North American creation known as ‘Italian Spice‘ (with the exception of basil), it also includes lavender flowers and has a strong floral taste.

Although I am using the individual herbs in this recipe, you can easily substitute with bottled, dried Herbs de Provence with no problem. They are readily available in the larger grocery stores. This makes such a great tasting meal …. well worth your time.

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Herbs de Provence Shrimp
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, fry chopped bacon until crisp, about 3 minutes; remove from pan & blot on a paper towel. Saute mushrooms, onion & garlic in bacon drippings until softened.
  2. Add peas, basil, lemon zest & 1 Tbsp oil. Season with salt & pepper.
  3. In a bowl, combine shrimp, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, lavender & remaining tablespoon of oil. Add shrimp mixture to saucepan; cook, turning once, until opaque throughout, about 2-3 minutes. Place in a dish & set aside to keep warm.
  4. In the saucepan, bring vegetable broth to a boil & add couscous. Cover saucepan & remove from heat; set aside until liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add shrimp mixture along with cooked bacon, lemon juice & tarragon. Gently stir together with a fork. Serve immediately.

Apricot Lemon Chicken Breast w/ Couscous

The flavors of the meal hint of Moroccan cuisine to me. It wasn’t until Brion & I visited Morocco on a holiday one year, that I realized how many of their spices appealed to me.

Moroccan cuisine is very refined because of its interactions and exchanges with other cultures and nations over the centuries. Its dishes are layered with sweet and spicy, earthy and bright flavors that reflect the vast array of spices available in their local markets.

Often referred to as the national dish of Morocco, couscous is made of tiny balls of wheat semolina, steamed so they’re are soft and fluffy. Subtle cumin and ginger spices add an exotic flavor to it.

Pairing apricot and lemon flavors with the chicken breast and serving it over couscous makes this simple meal quite special.

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Apricot Lemon Chicken Breast w/ Couscous
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Instructions
Chicken
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. Beat egg & water slightly. Stir together baking mix, lemon pepper & garlic powder. Pound chicken breasts gently to achieve uniform thickness. Dip chicken into egg mixture, then coat with baking mix mixture. Place on baking sheet & drizzle with melted butter.
  3. Bake uncovered 20 minutes; turn chicken. Bake about 10 minutes longer until no longer pink inside. While chicken is baking prepare couscous & sauce.
Couscous
  1. In a saucepan, heat 1 tsp oil; add green onion, cumin, ginger & garlic. Cook & stir for about 3 minutes until green onion is softened.
  2. Add honey. Heat & stir for about 30 seconds until green onion is coated. Add broth. Bring to a boil. Add couscous & second amount of oil. Stir. Cover & remove from heat. Allow to stand for 5 minutes without lifting lid. Fluff with a fork & stir in remaining 3 ingredients.
Apricot Lemon Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine sauce ingredients, stirring occasionally, until warm.
To Serve
  1. Place couscous on a serving platter. Top with chicken breasts & drizzle with apricot lemon sauce. Serve.

Plantain Lasagna Rolls w/ Guacamole

If you follow this blog, you have probably noticed numerous entries on plantains. For many years, prior to Brion & I living in Ecuador for three months, I saw them but didn’t take much of an interest. After tasting this veg/fruit, it definitely changed my attitude about them.

Plantains are like a cousin to the banana and depending on the ripeness you cook them in different ways. The main difference between bananas and plantains is that the former has more sugar and less starch, while the later has just the reverse and has to be cooked before eating. A plantain’s taste depends on how ripe it is. When it is almost black, that’s when its the sweetest.

If you like the combination of sweet and savory flavors, you will enjoy this meal. Basically it consists of a slice of baked ripe plantain, formed in a ring and filled with a spicy, ground turkey mixture, topped with cheese. Of course, you would never want to forget to serve them with guacamole!

It’s hard to experience another cultures food without something making an impact on your taste buds it seems. But, I guess that’s what is supposed to happen.

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Plantain Lasagna Rolls w/ Guacamole
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Guacamole
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Guacamole
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Instructions
Plantains
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. 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 peel by pulling it back. Slice the plantains horizontally into 6 pieces.
  2. Spray a baking sheet & place plantain slices on it in a single layer. Lightly spray over plantains with baking spray & bake for about 12-15 minutes. Turn slices over after about 8 minutes. Plantains should turn slightly brown. Remove from oven.
Filling
  1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, brown ground turkey in oil & season with salt & pepper. Use a wooden spoon to break it into small pieces. Add onions, garlic, green pepper & saute until tender crisp. Add tomato sauce, water, olives & spices. Reduce heat to low & simmer covered about 7-10 minutes stirring frequently. Remove from heat & cool slightly. Grate cheese.
Assembly
  1. Preheat oven (if it was turned off after baking plantains) to 400 F. Lightly butter a 9 X 13-inch baking pan. Cut 6 of the slices into 4 pieces each. With the remaining 12 slices form rings & secure each with a toothpick. Place the rings in baking pan then place 2 cut pieces in the bottom of each ring to form a 'bottom'.
  2. Using 1/2 of the turkey filling, divide evenly between plantain rings. Using 1/2 of the cheese, place some in each ring on top of the turkey then repeat, making another layer with remaining filling & cheese. Drizzle or spoon beaten eggs over stuffed plantain rings (it will help to hold them together).
  3. Bake 15-20 minutes or until plantains are heated through & egg is set. Remove from oven & allow to sit for 5 minutes then remove toothpicks before serving. Serve with guacamole.
Guacamole
  1. While plantain is baking, mash avocado & add remaining ingredients. Combine well & serve with stuffed plantain.

Wheatberry & Turkey Stuffed Cabbage Cake

For many of us, stuffed cabbage rolls bring back memories of a true comfort food. Historically this iconic meal has roots in ancient Middle East and spread to Eastern Europe as trade routes developed and people migrated.

Many cultures claim to have invented stuffed cabbage …. Persian, Russian, Ukrainian and Polish. As with many dishes, there seem to be hundreds of recipes. This humble food probably originated as most comfort food has, from leftovers and the ubiquitous cabbage.

Fillings vary from beef, lamb or pork seasoned with garlic, onion and spices. Other additions to the fillings consist of rice, breadcrumbs, eggs, vegetables, legumes, etc. The sauces used vary widely by cuisine or personal taste.

Instead of making individual cabbage rolls today, I thought it would be something different to make it as a layered cabbage ‘cake’. For the filling I went with ground turkey. What is unique about this filling is that it uses a combination of wheatberries and bulgur, some fresh herbs, leeks, celery and apples.

Wheatberries add such a nice chewy and nutty flavor. We both really enjoyed this savory cake.

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Wheatberry & Turkey Stuffed Cabbage Cake
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Instructions
Stuffing
  1. Place wheat berries in a saucepan & cover with about 3 inches of water. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat, stirring once or twice. Cover, reduce heat to medium low & simmer until tender, about an hour. Drain & transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, put bulgur in another saucepan & cover with about 3 inches of water. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium low & simmer until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Drain & transfer to same bowl as wheat berries.
  3. Heat 1 tsp of oil in a skillet. Add turkey & cook, breaking up into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in 1 Tbsp of sage, 2 tsp of thyme, 1/2 tsp salt & 1/8 tsp pepper. Cook, stirring, until turkey is coated with herb mixture, about 1 minute; transfer to bowl with wheat berries & bulgur.
  4. Heat remaining teaspoon of oil in same skillet. Add leek & celery; sauté until vegetables are almost tender, about 6 minutes. Stir in apple & sauté until apple is light golden, about 4 minutes. Stir in broth; bring to a simmer until apples & vegetables are tender, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in remaining herbs & spices. Add to the bowl of wheat berries & bulgur mixture; combine. Set aside
Parmesan Sauce
  1. In a saucepan, combine flour & broth until smooth; gradually stir in the milk, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook & stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Add 1/2 of the grated cheese, stirring to combine. Add to wheatberry/bulgur filling mixture.
Cabbage
  1. Core & separate leaves from the head of cabbage. Place in a steam basket over boiling water & cook until tender. Drain, pat dry.
Assemble & Bake
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Grease bottom & sides of a deep casserole dish & arrange the largest cabbage leaf on the bottom. Place another leaf on top of that & up the sides of the dish all around. Place about a 1/2 an inch of filling on top the cabbage leaves on the bottom of casserole. Place a layer of cabbage leaves on top & repeat until you run out of filling.
  3. Finish with cabbage on top making sure to tuck it in the dish all around. Drizzle the top with oil & a sprinkling of salt & pepper. Bake for about 40-50 minutes. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Place a serving dish over casserole; flip over to release cabbage cake. Top with zesty red pasta sauce & sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cut into slices & serve.

Leek, Turkey & Mushroom Quiche w/ Rye Crust

At one time, the typical North American pantry included a single cannister of flour. Today, supermarkets stock a host of milled options, reflecting increased consumer demand for diversity in the baking aisle. Whether you are exploring health trends, culinary interests or ethnic cuisines, when it comes to flour, there are more choices than ever.

I chose a mixture of rye and all purpose for my crust today because I think rye pairs well with these quiche ingredients. Rye flour is almost malty and sweet in flavor with hints of molasses. Rye also has the benefit of being lower in gluten than wheat flour, which means the dough can be handled longer before becoming tough as compared to traditional pastry. Rye pastry, besides being flavorsome and flaky, is great paired with both sweet and savory fillings.

One of the things I find most fascinating about working with food, is that even if you’ve been doing it for a long time, there’s always something new to try, or a new way to try something you’ve already perfected. Food is amazing!

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Leek & Mushroom quiche w/ Rye Crust
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Rye Pastry
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Rye Pastry
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Instructions
Rye Pastry
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together flours & salt. Using your fingertips, rub in butter until coarse meal forms & small lumps remain. Slowly sprinkle dough with cold water, 1 Tbsp at a time, quickly stirring with a fork or your fingers until the dough becomes sticky & begins to clump together.
  2. Form dough into a disk & wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least one hour. Once chilled, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface. Carefully transfer the dough to a quiche pan & neaten edges.
  3. To avoid a soggy quiche crust, prebake the crust on 400 F. Using a fork, lightly prick the bottom of the crust. Take a sheet of aluminum foil & layer it on top of the pie crust, gently nudging it down so its snug on the bottom & the sides. Fill the foil covered crust with pie weights to hold it in place. Bake 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven & remove pie weights & foil.
Filling
  1. Cook rice; set aside. In a skillet, brown ground turkey. Transfer to a plate & set aside.
  2. Wash & trim leeks well. Dry with paper towel & slice thinly. In the skillet, heat oil & butter combo. Add the leeks & a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic & mushrooms & saute until browned.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk & seasonings. Grate cheese.
  4. Place cooked ground turkey on bottom of crust. Top with cooked rice & a small bit of the cheese. Next add the leek/mushroom mixture. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Carefully pour egg/milk mixture over the entire quiche.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes or until set & just beginning to brown on top. Remove from oven & allow to sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Recipe Notes
  • I divided my pastry & made 2 individual quiches instead of one 9-inch size. Just a matter of personal preference.

French Tian w/ Chicken & Turkey Sausage

A tian itself, is a no-frills round earthenware dish that goes from the oven to the table. Its usually filled with layered, overlapping vegetables and sometimes a sauce, baked in the oven and served as a main or side dish.

The classic vessel is a truncated cone, flattened at the base and flaring outward to a wide rim. It is traditionally glazed on the inside but is unglazed on the outside.

As far as the ingredients go, tian and ratatouille generally share a lot of similarities. Both use some combination of vegetables such as squash, potatoes, onions and tomatoes, etc. The difference between the two is largely found in how they are prepared and cooked. With tians, thinly sliced vegetables are aesthetically arranged in a casserole baking dish. Ratatouille, on the other hand, usually involves cooking cubed or thinly sliced vegetables in olive oil until they create a hearty stew.

If your a vegetable lover, this recipe will work for you. We rounded it out with some nice chicken/turkey sausage but I’m sure just adding a loaf of French bread would be just great.

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French Tian w/ Chicken & Turkey Sausage
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Cuisine French
Keyword French tian
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Coat a baking dish with olive oil spray.
  2. In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Sauté onions until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add garlic & cook for another 60 seconds. Spread onion mixture on the bottom of the greased baking dish.
  3. Slice potatoes, zucchini, squash & tomatoes in 1/4-inch thick slices. Layer them alternately in the dish on top of the onions, fitting them tightly into a spiral, making only one layer. Season with salt, pepper & dried thyme to taste. Drizzle the last Tbsp of olive oil over the top.
  4. Cover the dish with foil paper & bake for 35 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Uncover & sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top & bake another 25-30 minutes or until browned.

Stuffed Pork Medallions w/ Cabbage & Apples

Tenderloin has always been one of my favorite ‘go to’ meats. Lean, tender, tastes great, so what more could you ask for?! I’m forever pairing it with another kind of stuffing or roasting it with different glazes or marinades.

Today I wanted to roast it with the classic combo of cabbage and apples. The perfect accompaniment probably because you really don’t need to add much else to the meal to make it taste great.

Cabbage isn’t glamorous. It doesn’t have a fancy name but it is common, versatile and lasts forever in the refrigerator. Even the smallest head yields enough for at least two or three meals.

When cabbage is roasted, a caramelized sweetness comes out, giving it such a nice flavor and especially when paired with apples.

Sometimes, cabbage is avoided because when cooked, the sulfur that it contains multiplies, giving off an unflattering odor. It helps to avoid using aluminum pans when preparing cabbage; aluminum reacts strongly to the sulfur present in the leaves. Stainless pots make a much better choice.

You can neutralize the odor by adding 1 teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice. Certain ingredients will also help absorb the odor. Try adding a bay leaf or a couple of ribs of celery to sautéed cabbage. The sulfur odor will be absorbed without changing the taste of the cabbage. Simply discard the bay leaf or celery before serving.

No doubt about it, the flavor in this meal doesn’t lack for anything.

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Stuffed Pork Medallions w/ Cabbage & Apples
Instructions
Tenderloin Stuffing
  1. Cook rice. Place in a bowl & set aside. In a skillet, heat oil & sauté onions until tender crisp. Add garlic & mushrooms & sauté for another 3-4 minutes. Add all herbs & spices; cook another minute than transfer to bowl with rice. Add Panko crumbs & egg, stirring to combine.
  2. Remove silver skin from tenderloins. Cut a slit all the way down the long end of your tenderloin, making sure not to cut all the way through. Open the tenderloins like a book, cover with a sheet of plastic wrap & pound with a meat mallet until they are about 1/2-inch thickness.
  3. Divide filling mixture between the two tenderloins & spread evenly over the surface of the tenderloins, leaving 1/2-inch at the borders. Roll tightly starting with the long end & secure the ends with toothpicks. Season all over with salt & pepper.
  4. Preheat oven to 400 F. Heat a large oven proof skillet with 2 Tbsp oil. Once oil is hot, place tenderloins in the skillet & sear about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the skillet with the tenderloins to the oven & bake for about 18-20 minutes or until thermometer reads 145-150 F. in the thickest portion of the meat. Transfer to a cutting board, brush with pan drippings. Cover loosely with foil & allow to rest 10 minutes before slicing.
Cabbage & Apples
  1. While tenderloin is roasting, prepare cabbage/apple mixture. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook onion in butter until soft & translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic & continue cooking just until fragrant, 1 minute more.
  2. Add the cabbage & continue cooking until wilted, 6-8 minutes. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Continue cooking until cabbage begins to caramelize, 4-5 minutes longer.
  3. Add the cubed apple, cider, mustard & brown sugar; carefully combine. Cover & cook until any liquid has evaporated & apples are soft. Place on a serving platter. Top with sliced tenderloin medallions & serve. If you wish, you could also serve the tenderloin with some mashed potatoes & oven roasted carrots.

Vegetable Mac & Cheese w/ Milkfish

Bangus, the (unofficial) national fish of the Philippines, is called ‘milkfish’ in English. Milkfish has a distinct flavor; its not a neutral bland white fish. It’s natural flavor is mild enough that it can be cooked in the manner of white fish but it tastes best when its flavor is selectively paired with complimentary ingredients and cooking methods.

Milkfish is usually cooked in soups, fried, grilled, barbecued, stuffed or stewed in various spices, ginger and vinegar. Although milkfish is one of the bonier fish species, its a good source of protein and is rich in omega 3 fatty acids so it shouldn’t be missed.

Brion & I had never tried this kind of fish before so we picked some up that were smoked. The flavor was real nice and paired well with this simple veg mac & cheese meal. Its always great to try something different.

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Vegetable Mac & Cheese w/ Milkfish
Instructions
  1. In a pot of salted boiling water, cook macaroni until tender. Drain & rinse; set aside in a dish.
  2. In a saucepan, sauté leek until tender. In the microwave, cook broccoli & cauliflower for about 1 1/2 minutes, or tender crisp.
  3. In the cooking pot, melt 2 Tbsp butter. Add flour; stirring until flour is cooked & slightly browned. Slowly whisk in chicken broth & mustard. Stir in about a third of the cheddar cheese & season with salt & pepper. Carefully fold in macaroni, veggies & milkfish.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  5. Spoon mixture into a baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining cheddar cheese. Arrange diced tomatoes on top & lastly sprinkle with the tablespoon of parmesan cheese.
  6. Bake until hot & bubbly & cheese is melted, about 30 minutes.

Scallop Shell Pies

Scallop shell pies are a nice touch in the savory pie world, I guess you could say it’s a seafood inspired twist on a classic!

We are only in the month of March, so there’s plenty of time to savor comfort food at its finest. Typically, pot pie does not have an abundance of ingredients so it is imperative to build a good flavor profile.

When making the sauce, I always use stock as opposed to water. Any thickened sauce depends on a roux. Making sure its cooked to a light golden brown helps to avoid the ‘flour’ taste and allows the other ingredients to come to the forefront.

Within the loose definition of a ‘pot pie’, its easy to add (or remove) flavors that interest you. Its all about creative expression!

When choosing the pastry, there are no right answers, just numerous possibilities that depend on the maker. Modern convenience embraces the use of puff pastry as a flakier, more delicate solution. You could call it a weeknight comfort food’s best friend.

This pot pie is made with a puff pastry ‘scallop shell’ lid and no bottom crust. The golden crust acts like a piece of bread and soaks up some of the decadence with every bite. Adding scallops to a creamy vegetable based filling creates an amazing meal.

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Scallop Shell Pies
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Servings
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Instructions
Pastry
  1. Thaw puff pastry. Leave on parchment & cut out 2 shell shapes to cover your ramekins. Mark with the lines on them to replicate sea shells. Place in fridge until ready to use.
Filling
  1. In a saucepan, fry bacon until crisp; remove & drain on paper towel. Sauté leek, mushrooms & garlic in bacon drippings for a few minutes. Add cooked, diced potatoes, flour & seasoning.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  3. Sauté for another minute, making sure to coat everything with the flour. Add chicken broth, stirring well to dissolve the flour; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, add scallops, crumbled bacon, cream & salt & pepper to taste; gently stir to combine.
  4. Remove filling from heat & divide between ramekins. Top with chilled puff pastry & brush with egg wash. Bake for about 20 minutes or until nice & golden.
Recipe Notes
  • When I have some pastry scraps leftover, I make a bit of cinnamon/sugar to sprinkle on it. It makes a few little tasty sweet snacks to nibble on.