Turkey Zucchini Kebabs

The kebab idea is often said to have had huge impact in global cuisine, starting in the Middle East where initially they were simply grilled meat heavily seasoned. There are two particular varieties which those of us in the West are particularly familiar, being shish kebab and doner kebab.

Shish kebab is by far, the more commonly known term and while we usually see these dishes prepared with the vegetables and meat on the same skewer, they were initially done separately.

Almost every culture has its own take on skewered meat, but one theme connects them all …. whether simple or intricate, kebabs are uncomplicated and easy to cook and offer near instant gratification. I love any excuse to eat zucchini but these turkey slider-inspired skewers take my love to a whole new level.

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Turkey Zucchini Kebabs
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Instructions
Zucchini
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with foil paper. Slice zucchini into (18) 1/4-inch slices & place in a bowl. Add Italian dressing & gently toss. Remove from dressing allowing excess to drip off & transfer to the baking sheet, laying the slices in a single layer. Roast for 5 minutes to brown a bit. Remove from oven; drain off any excess moisture.
Turkey Sliders
  1. Wipe off dressing from foil paper on baking sheet. Place a wire rack over a foil lined baking sheet. Spray lightly with cooking spray.
  2. In a bowl, combine all of slider ingredients; mix ONLY until just combined. Form into (18) 2-inch patties; place on prepared baking sheet & bake approximately 15 minutes. Remove from oven & set aside until cool enough to handle.
Assembly
  1. On 6 soaked wooden skewers, alternately thread turkey sliders & zucchini slices (about 3 each per skewer). Dot with some salsa & sprinkle with grated cheese.
  2. Lay on wire rack over the foil lined baking sheet & return to oven to bake until cheese is melted & bubbly. sprinkle with a bit of extra parsley before serving if you wish.
Recipe Notes
  • If you prefer to make these on your barbecue, that works just as well.

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.

Turkish Borek w/ Beef, Leeks & Potato

Borek (buhr-ECK’) is an essential part of life in Turkey. They are made for any occasion and can be eaten at any time of the day.

There are many variations with different kinds of fillings (cheese, potato, meat), different ways to cook them (fried, baked), different kinds of dough (filo, puff), but in the end they are all called ‘borek’.

You might not have have heard of ‘yufka’, but you have probably already eaten it in the dessert called ‘baklava’. Yufka is used in a lot of traditional Turkish recipes. Some say that it may have been the earlier form of phyllo/filo dough.

The dough itself is made from wheat flour, water and a bit of salt. Yufka finds its way onto the table in the form of casseroles, strudel or a filled pastry roll as well as just flat bread. Traditional Turkish specialties such as borek are made from thin sheets of this wheat dough that are filled and rolled.

Brion & I have many wonderful memories of the holiday time we spent in Turkey some years ago.

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Turkish Borek w/ Beef, Leeks & Potato
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Instructions
Dough
  1. in a medium bowl, whisk together flour & salt. Make a well in the center & pour in the water & oil. Using your fingers, draw the flour in from the sides, working mixture into a sticky dough.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface & knead, adding more flour as necessary to prevent sticking, until the dough is smooth & elastic, about 3 minutes.
  3. Transfer to the mixing bowl, drizzle with a little bit of oil & turn to coat. Cover the dough with plastic wrap & allow to rest in a draft-free place for 4 hours.
Borek Filling
  1. In a saucepan, stir-fry ground meat with spices. Remove from saucepan, place in a bowl & set aside. Add 2 tablespoons oil to saucepan & sauté leeks & garlic until tender. Microwave potato, peel & mash with Parmesan cheese. Add leeks, garlic, potato & cheese to meat & spices. Season with salt & pepper to taste; combine well.
Assembly & Baking
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a round 11-inch diameter baking pan & set aside.
  2. Divide dough into 2 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, roll the balls into very thin rounds, using more flour as needed to prevent sticking.
  3. On one side of the dough, put a line of filling. Try to build a continuous line. Divide the filling between the 2 rounds. Roll the dough making sure filling is in the whole length of the roll.
  4. Form a spiral with the meat roll in the baking pan, starting in the center. Add the second roll to complete the spiral, filling the pan. Brush borek with egg wash, making sure to brush all visible surfaces.
  5. Bake on middle rack for 45 minutes or until pastry is golden. Let it cool for a bit before serving. Borek is best when freshly baked, however it still tastes great if stored in an airtight container for 2-3 days.

Rice & Potato Balls

The art of stuffing shouldn’t be reserved just for holidays. Stuffed foods let you combine different textures and flavors in every bite. They offer a unique presentation with one food acting as the dish for serving the other ingredients.

Stuffed mushrooms or peppers are probably some of the most common along with a basic sandwich or burger. One of my favorites is clam chowder being served in a bread bowl.

Stuffed foods appear in almost every culture. The options of ‘food inside of food’ is virtually limitless. Any food that can be wrapped around other foods such as large leaves, pasta or pizza dough can also make amazing delicacies.

Basic rice isn’t quite so basic when its shaped and stuffed. These rice and potato balls are a meal all in one …. rice, potatoes, chicken & cheese.

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Rice & Potato Balls
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Shell Mixture
To Bake
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Shell Mixture
To Bake
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Instructions
Shell Mixture
  1. In a food processor, place cooked potatoes & (cooked) rice; process for a few seconds then add salt & pepper to taste. Add parmesan & beaten egg; process a few more seconds. Do NOT over process or the mixture will turn into paste. This can also be done with a mixer if you wish. Set aside.
Chicken Filling
  1. To a large saucepan, add ground chicken & cook for 5 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Add onions & garlic; cook for 5-8 minutes or until onions are soft. Add spices & cook for another 5 minutes. Turn off heat, add the cilantro & set meat aside to cool.
Assembly
  1. Have a bowl of cold water nearby. Handling with moistened hands, take a small amount of potato/rice mixture & shape it into a round ball. Hold the ball in one hand & hollow it with the thumb of the other hand. Fill with some chicken filling & close opening. Lay filled balls on a large tray as they are made & flatten slightly.
  2. Place flour in a dish, beaten egg in another & the panko crumbs on a flat plate.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F. & line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Roll each ball into the flour then dip into the egg & finally coat with panko bread crumbs. Place on baking tray, lightly spray with cooking oil & bake until golden, about 20 minutes.
  5. If you prefer, heat a combo of oil & butter in a skillet & pan fry balls instead. Alternately they could be deep fried as well.

Pearl Couscous w/ Wild Mushrooms & Herbs

If you follow my blog, you’ve probably noticed pearl couscous has become one of my favorites. There was a time when rice and pasta reigned supreme as a side dish staple in North America. But we have become more adventurous, probably due to world travel and the internet. Foods like couscous have come onto the food scene and never left.

If you have not tried it, pearl or Israeli couscous has a chewy texture with a warm, nutty flavor. Made from wheat flour and semolina, it has a ball-like shape and is toasted, rather than dried, after the granules are formed. Unlike common types of pasta or couscous, pearl couscous was factory made from the outset and therefore is rarely seen homemade from scratch.

Whether you like it hot or cold, savory or even a little sweet, the options are endless with this versatile ‘ancient’ food.

I find it pairs so well with the wild mushrooms & herbs. I wanted to make this dish as our main course so I added some bacon which really added to the flavor.

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Pearl Couscous w/ Wild Mushrooms & Herbs
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Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, fry chopped bacon until crisp, about 3 minutes; remove from pan & blot on paper towel. Add mushrooms, onion & garlic; saute until softened.
  2. To the mushroom mixture add broth, (salt if using water) & bring to a boil. Add couscous; stir to combine. Cover saucepan & remove from heat; set aside until liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes. Add herbs & bacon crumbles. Gently stir together with a fork. Serve immediately.

OM Ali – Egyptian Bread Pudding

The dessert name of Om Ali, means ‘Ali’s mother’, has its own story. To make a long story short, not wanting to bore you with the detailed war history of Om Ali ….. Ali’s mother, was a powerful feminist of the 13th century Egypt. Her husband tried to cheat on her so she kills him and celebrates with distributing Om Ali dessert declaring her son Ali as successor. As ever, food is a much more than just the act of cooking and eating. Food is culture, history and the stories of a given people and time.

You could think of Om Ali as the Egyptian cousin of bread pudding. Same idea of soaking some type of bread with milk or cream and sugar, then baking it in the oven. Om Ali skips the eggs though, which makes it lighter in texture, looser and milkier as opposed to custardy. Instead of bread, it is traditionally made with baked puff pastry, phyllo or Egyptian flat bread combined with milk and nuts.

Om Ali has become a well loved and celebrated dessert all over the Middle East, being served at many big celebrations and events.

Instead of using the traditional nuts, raisins and coconut, I’m using the ‘Sahale Snack Mix’ which has a very similar blend in my Om Ali pudding.

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OM Ali - Egyptian Bread Pudding
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Instructions
  1. Allow puff pastry to thaw before using. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the puff pastry into squares & poke holes in each using a fork. Bake for about 15 minutes or until puffed & golden brown. Remove from oven & allow to cool.
  2. In a saucepan, whisk together milk, sugar, spices & whipped topping powder. Allow to come to a gentle simmer; add the vanilla & heavy cream. Remove from heat.
  3. Break the puff pastry into pieces & place half of them in either individual ramekins or an oven-proof baking dish. Sprinkle each with some of your fruit/nut blend, reserving a bit for topping. Cover with the other half of the pastry pieces.
  4. Slowly add the milk mixture, one ladle at a time until the milk mixture fully covers the puff pastry. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, you'll notice that the puff pastry absorbs some of the milk. Add milk again until it covers the puff pastry.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 F. then place under the broiler if you wish, for a couple of minutes to get a golden top. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Recipe Notes
  • When baking is 90% done, sprinkle the rest of the fruit/nut mixture on top so they don't burn & taste bitter. It gives a nice eye appeal.

Avocado Pancakes

Pancakes for me, are not just a breakfast food. I could eat them at any time of day … hot or cold. Originally, pancakes were made from wheat flour, olive oil, honey and curdled milk. At one point in time, they were often flavored with rose water, various spices, sherry and apples.

The name ‘pancake’ became a standard name in the 19th century. Before that, they were often referenced as johnny cakes, journey cakes, buckwheat cakes, hoe cakes, griddle cakes and flapjacks. Most early North American pancakes were made with buckwheat or cornmeal.

Pancakes exist all throughout the world, but each culture has their own unique way of preparing them whether its for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Avocado seems to be a trend that will ‘never’ die. This versatile fruit is found in guacamole, on toast, stuffed with fillings, etc., etc. Since I’m a lover of all things avocado, why not put them in pancakes?!

Finding a ripe avocado at the supermarket is hit and miss most of the time. Here’s a suggestion I hope you find helpful. Because ripe bananas or apples release a lot of ethylene, the hormone that triggers ripening in mature fruit, place one in a closed paper bag with your under ripe avocados and it will speed up the process.

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Avocado Pancakes
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small pancakes
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small pancakes
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Instructions
  1. In a blender, whisk avocado & milk until creamy. Slowly add the dry ingredients, blending & scraping sides down with a spatula until mixture is smooth. Add the whole eggs & blend just until combined.
  2. Heat a large skillet or pan on the stove to a medium-low heat. Melt butter & spread evenly across the pan (or spray with cooking spray).
  3. Pour or ladle batter onto the pan forming round cakes about 3-inches in diameter. Allow to cook about 3-4 minutes, flipping carefully & pressing down on each to get more surface area on the pancakes to cook. Cook opposite side for 3-4 more minutes, & flip one more time. Gently press pancakes down with back of the spatula. The avocado wants to remain in its creamy state, so the center of the pancakes may be just slightly doughy.
  4. Serve immediately with some crispy bacon & a soft fried egg.

Pearl Couscous Pudding w/ Poached Fruit

While names may be confusing, if you have never tried ‘pearl couscous’, you should. Because of its size and shape, Israeli couscous is sometimes marketed as pearl couscous. Yet in Israel, it goes by neither of these names … its called ‘ptitim’ which roughly translates to ‘little crumbles’. To make it even a bit more confusing … although it is called couscous, technically its not but more like a pasta.

Unlike the finely grained North African couscous made of semolina, Israeli couscous has larger granules, resembling tiny pearls. They are made from a paste of moistened, finely ground, hard wheat flour which is forced through a machine to make round pellets and then toasted dry in ovens. The toasting process seals in the starch to prevent the ‘pearls‘ from falling apart when later cooked in liquid. It also gives the pasta a bit of a nutty taste.

Whatever name you prefer, it is a tasty alternative to rice or pasta. Not only will it serve as a base for vegetable and herb packed salads, it can be stirred with stock to make creamy risottos or use it as a replacement for tapioca or rice in dessert puddings. Its even good just as a side dish tossed with oil or butter, lemon and fresh herbs.

I was able to buy just a small amount at the bulk store so I could make this pudding. The poached fruit makes such a nice topping for it as well.

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Pearl Couscous Pudding w/ Poached Fruit
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Pudding
Poached Strawberries & Rhubarb
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Pudding
Poached Strawberries & Rhubarb
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Instructions
Pudding
  1. In a saucepan, combine coconut oil with cardamom spice over medium-low heat. Add couscous & toast, stirring occasionally, just until the couscous has turned a light golden brown.
  2. Add coconut milk, making sure to get all the fat from the can, along with the sugar & salt. The pan should be hot enough that the coconut milk will bubble up & fizz a little then add vanilla.
  3. Bring mixture to a simmer then turn the heat down to low & cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. After 5 minutes turn off the heat, cover & allow to sit for 5 minutes then remove the lid & stir. Pudding thickens as it cools.
Poached Fruit
  1. In a large saucepan, place water & sugar over high heat & stir until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low & add strawberries & rhubarb. Simmer for 10 minutes or until fruits are softened but still retain their shape. Cool.
Assembly
  1. Serve pudding at room temperature otherwise it becomes a solid mass when cold. If it's too thick you can stir in a bit more coconut milk to help thin it out, adding a tablespoon or so at a time until you have the desired consistency. Divide pudding between serving dishes & top with poached fruit to serve.

Spiced Papaya-Banana Muffins

A little touch of exotic seems like a good idea in late February. When you think of bananas and papaya, doesn’t tropical come to mind? I never seem to have much luck when I bake with bananas. I would rather eat them raw, in fact you might say they are a staple at our house. But, I have hung on to this muffin recipe for a long time and never tried it. Papayas are not something I usually buy, but that soft buttery texture and slight musky undertone paired with banana should work magic in this recipe.

You will notice the name of the recipe says ‘spiced’ and when you read it there is only one teaspoon of cardamom spice in it. A little bit of this pungent spice packs a big punch so it is good to use it sparingly. The flavor of cardamom is wonderfully complex … herbal, spicy, floral and slightly sweet.

Cardamom is a spice that’s used in both sweet and savory cooking in many cuisines all over the world. No other spice more completely captures the essence of the exotic and that exactly what I was aiming for.

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Spiced Papaya-Banana Muffins
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cardamom & baking powder. In another bowl, combine mashed banana, papaya, oil & beaten egg.
  3. Add wet ingredients to flour mixture, stirring gently, then fold in pistachios. Stir ONLY until batter is combined.
  4. Put batter in muffin tray cups lined with paper cups, filling each to about 3/4 full. Top with remaining chopped pistachios.
  5. Bake for about 18-20 minutes or until baked through. Remove from oven & let them cool in the tray for 10 minutes, then put the muffins on a wire rack to finish cooling.
Recipe Notes
  • This recipe makes either 7 large muffins or 14 medium size.

Cardamom Roasted Persimmons

Persimmons are in season between November and February. Mildly sweet and juicy with a slight crunch reminiscent of a cross between a peach and a pear. Since there is only a short window in which you can enjoy this exotic fruit, persimmons make up for it by working well in both sweet and savory recipes.

The two most commonly available varieties are Fuyu and Hachiyas. Some recipes prefer one over the other. Treat them like you would an apple and turn them into jams, puree, tarts and cakes. Paired with pork adds a nice fruity and caramelizing sweetness.

Fuyus are squat and round whereas Hachiyas are acorn shaped and have a pointed bottom. When buying persimmons, look for the unblemished skin with the green leaves and top still attached. The texture should be like a tomato-firm but a bit of give without being to soft. Persimmons are usually sold unripe, so leave them on the counter for a day or two until the skin deepens to a rich sunset orange.

Cardamom is a complex flavor that can be used in any of the usual autumn and winter recipes. There is nothing subtle about cardamom, so when used in all but sparing amounts, it will dominate whatever its paired with. Cardamom has been used in Christmas baking in Germany since the middle ages.

You can eat roasted persimmons hot or cold. For a quick breakfast, make a batch ahead of time, then just reheat in the microwave or eat cold.

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Cardamom Roasted Persimmons
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. In a small bowl, combine hot water with 3 Tbsp honey; stir until honey is dissolved. With a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise & scrape half of the seeds into the bowl. Reserve excess seeds for yogurt.
  2. Peel the persimmons, cut them in half lengthwise & then slice into 1-inch thick wedges. Arrange the slices in a baking dish, drizzle with lime juice & sprinkle with the honey mixture, cardamom & butter.
  3. Roast persimmons for about 45-60 minutes spooning the pan juices over top occasionally. When done they should be tender & easily pierced with a knife.
  4. In a small bowl, combine 1 1/2 Tbsp honey & yogurt. Add the remainder of the vanilla bean seeds; whisk until yogurt is smooth & well blended.
  5. To serve, divide yogurt between 4 serving dishes, top with a quarter of the persimmons, drizzle with any extra syrup & sprinkle the pistachios on top.
Recipe Notes
  • When using extract in place of vanilla bean in a recipe, use 1 teaspoon for every one inch of vanilla bean. Be sure to replace vanilla bean with vanilla extract and not vanilla flavoring or imitation vanilla, which are both a far cry from real vanilla.