Shrimp Quesadillas w/ Guacamole

Quesadillas are basically toasted tortillas with cheese inside. The name in Spanish literally means ‘little cheesy thing’. What constitutes a quesadilla varies greatly between Mexico and its neighboring countries. They agree that the quesadilla and taco or burrito are different; the former being cooked after being filled or stuffed while the later two are filled with pre-cooked ingredients. Also they may be made with flour, corn or wheat tortillas as well as Mexican Masa (tamale version).

The quesadilla originated in central and southern colonial Mexico, beginning as a corn tortilla gently heated until soft enough to fold, then filled with cheese and toasted on both sides until golden and crispy on the outside and gooey with cheese on the inside. Over time, chopped, cooked vegetables and bits of roasted, shredded meat also found their way into these cheesy tortillas.

Influenced by the many micro-cultures of Mexico and Latin America, the quesadilla has been adopted and adapted by chefs and home cooks around the world, especially since the little cheesy things make it so easy to feed vegetarians and meat-eaters at the same table. A vegetarian quesadilla can be as simple as cheese folded into a tortilla. For the meat or seafood lovers, just add some shredded chicken, pulled pork or ‘roasted’ shrimp.

Speaking of shrimp …. to maximize the flavor, don’t sauté them – roast them! Much like roasting meat on the bone, roasting shrimp in their shells gives them a more intense flavor and keeps them from drying out as easily. The flavor from the shells penetrates the flesh, making them even tastier.

Something else I wanted to mention is a suggestion to help make your quesadillas nice and crunchy. Don’t use butter or oil to cook them in, use mayo instead. The fact that mayo contains a bit of sugar will promote browning and also give some extra crispiness.

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Shrimp Quesadillas w/ Guacamole
Instructions
  1. In a skillet, fry bacon to a cooked but not real crisp stage. Remove from pan to paper towel. Sauté mushrooms, zucchini & garlic until most of the moisture evaporates. Cut each shrimp in thirds & add to skillet with seasonings. Cook for another minute or until shrimp begins to turn pink. Remove from heat & add cooked bacon & combine.
  2. Grate cheese. Lightly butter one side each of 4 tortillas. Place on a griddle, & cook until warm & browned slightly. Remove 2 of them & keep warm. To each of the remaining 2, sprinkle with 1/4 of the cheese, top each one with 1/2 of the filling then sprinkle with remaining cheese over filling. Place the 2 warm tortillas on top of the filled ones.
  3. Place a lid (or a baking pan) over the griddle for a few minutes to give the cheese a chance to melt.
  4. Remove quesadillas to a cutting board & cut each one into 4 pieces. Serve hot with your choice of toppings.
Recipe Notes
  • As I mentioned in the blog article, roasting the shrimp really intensifies the flavor. If you have the time, try it instead of just sautéing them.
  • Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  • Place the shrimp (shells-on) on a lightly greased baking sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and minced garlic.
  • Sprinkle evenly with the seasoning (such as Old Bay) and arrange the shrimp in a single layer. 
  • Bake the shrimp for 8-10 minutes or until just pink and opaque throughout.
  • Remove from oven.

Lemon-Dill Salmon Stuffed Potato

The rustic and humble russet potato is a wonderful ingredient just waiting to be transformed in some mouthwatering and unique way. Many of my favorite recipes are those that make use of simple ingredients to create a full-blown meal filled with an abundance of coziness and comfort.

Salmon stuffed potatoes are a healthy dish that potato lovers will enjoy either for lunch or dinner. Broadening our horizons and experimenting with ‘stuffing’ that give you a whole meal in one big baked potato is well worth it. Think about it: you have veggies, protein and carbs packed into one easy-to-eat and delicious package, ideal for dining solo or serving numerous people.

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Lemon-Dill Salmon Stuffed Potato
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil; place a wire rack over the baking sheet.
  2. Place the potatoes in a bowl & drizzle a bit of oil over them; sprinkle with salt & pepper. Rub oil/seasoning into their skins. Place the potatoes on the wire rack & bake for about 70 minutes or until tender when pierced with a knife. Remove from oven & allow to cool just until they can be handled. Roast salmon fillet at the same time until it flakes easily.
  3. While potatoes bake, place a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour about 1-2 Tbsp. veg oil in it & add the sliced onions plus a pinch or two of salt & pepper to caramelize to a deep golden brown, for about 20-25 minutes on a medium-low heat, stirring frequently.
  4. Once the onions are caramelized, remove to a dish & set aside. Add mushrooms to saucepan & sauté until moisture evaporates.
  5. Steam broccoli florets in microwave for about 3 minutes, just so they are tender-crisp. Grate cheese. Flake baked salmon.
  6. To prepare sauce, melt butter in a saucepan. Remove from heat, stir in water & sauce mix. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat & simmer 3 minutes.
Assembly & Baking
  1. Make a row of deep cuts in each potato from end to end, they should be just under 1/4-inch apart. Take care not to cut the potatoes all the way through. Place the potatoes in a casserole dish & sprinkle with salt & pepper to taste.
  2. Divide the salmon, onions, mushrooms, broccoli & cheese between the 2 potatoes. Pour the sauce evenly on top & sprinkle with smoked cheese.
  3. Lower oven heat to 350 F. Bake potatoes for about 30 minutes to combine flavors. Remove from oven. Garnish with fresh dill if you wish.
Recipe Notes
  • The secret to making hasselback potatoes is to use a large wooden spoon. Place the potato onto the spoon & cut thin slices across the potato. The edges of the wooden spoon will stop the knife from cutting all the way through the potato.

Vegetable Torte w/ Chicken/Turkey Sausage

There is so much to love about summer, not least of which is the amazing bounty of fresh produce. This summer vegetable torte is a great way to showcase flavorful late-summer vegetables and savory herbs that are available. It is similar to a crustless quiche or a frittata that makes a wonderful addition to a brunch or a backyard barbecue.  It can be served warm or cold.  Either way, it’s delicious. 

One of the baking pans I have found extremely useful over the years is the ‘springform pan’. The function of this pan is to make it possible to take out of the pan a cake which is too fragile to trust to the conventional method of turning it upside down. A pan with a removeable bottom eliminates the need to risk inverting the cake.

A cheesecake might be the best example of a cake needing such a specialty pan. This was just what the late Pierre Franey was thinking of when he introduced the springform pan to New York Times readers back in 1980.

The pan he had in mind was made by Kaiser, a German metal goods company founded in 1919 by Wilhelm Ferdinand Kaiser to provide quality equipment to avid bakers like his wife. The company claims to have invented the springform pan, which it calls ‘the intelligent round cake pan’, and is the world’s largest manufacturer of them. They make 30 types, including one with a glass bottom that can double as a serving plate.

Thinking beyond cheesecake, the springform pan works so good when used to make this torte. The high sides of the torte gives it such a special look. It bakes up firm, but still creamy and delicious. It can be served as a vegetarian main course with a side salad, or served alongside some grilled sausage as we did for our meal.

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Vegetable Torta w/ Chicken/Turkey Sausage
Instructions
  1. Place the zucchini in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for 30 minutes tossing occasionally. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a sheet pan with a rack. After the zucchini sits for 30 minutes, rinse off the salt, drain and pat dry with a few paper towels. Pour the zucchini slices onto the rack and place in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove and cool.
  2. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F. Brush the bottom & sides of a 9-inch springform pan with oil. Line bottom with parchment paper & brush parchment with oil. Wrap outside of pan with aluminum foil.
  3. In a skillet, heat oil & sauté onion & mushrooms until veggies are tender-crisp, about 10 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in eggs until combined ( can still be a bit lumpy). Beat in cream or 1/2 & 1/2. Stir in garlic, basil, Italian seasoning, salt & pepper. Using a slotted spoon to drain off any liquid on sautéed veggies, then add sautéed vegetables & zucchini to egg mixture along with drained sun-dried tomatoes & marinated artichokes. Add grated Swiss cheese; stir with a rubber spatula to combine. Spread mixture in prepared pan & set pan on a baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 1 1/2-1 3/4 hours or until top is puffy & golden brown & the center no longer jiggles when shaken. Remove from oven & allow to cool for 10 minutes in pan, then run a sharp knife around edges of torte to loosen. Gently remove pan sides. Serve warm, room temperature or cold.

Black Bean Pulled Pork Quesadillas

A quesadilla is a Mexican dish that dates back to the 16th century. Traditional quesadillas were made with a corn tortilla that was warmed on a griddle, filled with cheese and various other fillings (meat, vegetables), and then folded over to be eaten by hand. The addition of toppings like guacamole, salsa and sour cream seems to have come along later.

Quesadillas are simple and quick to make. Place the quesadilla in a dry griddle (or skillet) over low to medium low heat. That way, you don’t have to handle greasy tortillas with your hands. But more importantly, oil is a heat conductor which browns the tortillas faster than the filling heats through and the cheese melts. Tortillas are thin – and they cook fast!

If you cover with a lid, the filling heats through and melts the cheese faster, before the tortilla gets too brown. Cook until underside is golden and crispy, then remove the lid.

Pulled pork and savory black beans are a great match by themselves but adding creamy avocado takes it up a few more notches. 

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Black Bean Pulled Pork Quesadillas
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Instructions
  1. On a griddle, heat butter & sauté mushrooms until moisture has evaporated; add corn & green onions. Sauté for another few minutes. Remove from heat; transfer to a dish.
  2. Wipe griddle with paper towel; place 2 tortillas on dry griddle & top each with 60 gm of the cheese. Next, divide black beans, green onions, corn & mushrooms between the 2 tortillas. Top with another 60 gm each of the remaining cheese. Cover the tortillas with the 2 remaining tortillas.
  3. If your griddle does not have a cover, use a sheet pan to cover the 'quesadillas' until cheese melts & quesadillas are heated through. Remove from griddle onto cutting board. Cut into wedges & place on serving plates. Top with avocado slices & diced Roma tomatoes. If you prefer, sprinkle with additional cheese & green onion. Serve with your choice ... salsa or sour cream or maybe both!

Mexicali Quiche w/ Avocado & Roasted Tomatoes

There are so many great things to make with tortillas. You can load up burritos for breakfast, stuff some quesadillas with shrimp or make tortilla chips and cover them with cheese, guacamole and spicy salsa.

A tortilla quiche combines a classic breakfast quiche and a tortilla tart without having the traditional pastry crust.

Breakfast for supper is always good with Brion & I. Making this meal a day ahead of serving it allows the flavors to become exceptional.

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Mexicali Quiche w/ Avocado & Roasted Tomatoes
Instructions
  1. In a skillet, cook ground pork, onion, mushrooms & garlic. Cook until meat is brown & crumbly & moisture has mostly evaporated from the mushrooms. Stir in corn, beans, chili powder & cumin. Remove from heat.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  3. In a bowl combine eggs, milk, green chili peppers (if using), salt & pepper. Grate cheese.
  4. Lightly butter bottom of an 8-inch baking dish. Place one of the tortillas on the bottom of dish; sprinkle with a bit of grated cheese & top with half of the pork mixture. Tear other tortilla into pieces & place on top then sprinkle with a bit more cheese & remaining pork mixture.
  5. Carefully pour milk mixture over quiche then top with remaining cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes or until set.
  6. While the quiche is baking, place cherry tomatoes in a foil lined baking pan, drizzle with olive oil & roast until skins pop.
  7. On a plate, mash avocados; add salt, garlic & lime juice. When quiche is ready, top with avocado mixture & roasted tomatoes. Serve.

Chicken & Leek Calzones

Like their Italian cousin pizza, calzones originated in Naples, Italy during the 18th century. The calzone’s original purpose was to serve as a ‘walk around pizza‘ that were not meant to be eaten with utensils. This Italian style turnover is created by folding a pizza in half. When correctly prepared, the calzone’s outer crust is baked to crispy perfection while the inside filling contains a warm, gooey blend of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses along side an assortment of hearty meats and vegetables. The crust of calzones, traditionally made with yeast, olive oil, water, flour, and salt, makes them extremely portable. Calzones, are always baked.  The original calzones of Naples, were most likely much smaller than the modern calzones seen in North American restaurants today, because the pizzas created in 18th century Italy were for a single person to enjoy.

Calzones are similar to stromboli and the two are sometimes confused. Unlike calzones, which are always stuffed and folded into a crescent shape, a stromboli is typically rolled and folded into a cylinder. Both are pizza derivatives. They utilize the same ingredients to achieve different versions of a sealed, portable meal. Calzones are traditionally stuffed with cheese, tomatoes, and marinara. But much like the pizza, any sort of toppings can be added inside the calzone.

Today, I wanted to put a bit of a different spin on the calzone idea. I’m making a potato/leek yeast dough, filling them with chicken & mushrooms & adding a bit of pizazz to the shape. What’s old is new again!

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Chicken & Leek Calzones
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Course Lunch
Cuisine American
Servings
Course Lunch
Cuisine American
Servings
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Rating: 5
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Instructions
Leeks
  1. Rinse & slice leek. In a skillet, place oil, sliced leek, sage leaves, garlic, salt & pepper. When the garlic is fragrant & the leek is tender, turn off heat & transfer to a dish to cool.
Dough
  1. In a small dish, combine yeast with lukewarm water; allow to stand for a few minutes until frothy. In a large bowl, combine butter, salt, sour cream, cooked, mashed potato & 1/2 of the leek mixture. Beat together well.
  2. When yeast is ready, add it to the wet mixture. Mix in flour, one cup at a time. When dough is blended, turn onto a lightly buttered work surface. Knead dough about 10 minutes, until smooth & elastic. Place dough ball in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap & let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. While dough is rising prepare filling.
Filling
  1. In a skillet, fry bacon to a cooked but not real crisp stage. Transfer to a paper towel, reserving bacon drippings to sauté mushrooms in. When mushrooms have cooked & released most of their moisture, remove from heat.
  2. In a bowl, combine remaining other half of cooked leek mixture, bacon, cooked chicken (or turkey), & mushrooms. Add Ranch dressing & salt to taste. Set aside.
Assembly & Baking
  1. On a lightly greased work surface, divide risen dough into 8 balls. Roll each ball into an OVAL shape, about 7 x 6-inch size. Divide filling into 8 portions. On each oval, place a portion of the filling in a straight line on the middle of the dough.
  2. Keep one side free & cut the other side of the dough into thin strips using a knife. Fold the uncut side over the filling first, then continue rolling over the cut side.
  3. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper & place the 'calzones' on it, curving them into a C shape. (Place the side with the 'strips' curving to the outside). Brush calzones lightly with egg wash; cover with plastic wrap & allow to rise for about 20 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  5. Bake calzones for 40 minutes until a golden brown. Serve hot or room temperature.

Cauliflower Pizza Crust w/ Barbecued Chicken

According to writer Mark Twain, ‘cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education’. This uniquely versatile veggie has graduated above its many cousins, …. broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, kale and kohlrabi to become the sophisticate darling of the species. Delicious raw, fried, grilled, pickled, riced, roasted, steamed or sautéed.

Cauliflower ‘rice’ came on the scene as a popular grain-free alternative to rice. As with many food trends, the ‘riced’ craze has continued using other veggies like sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, onions, and peas.

The grocery stores have jumped on the bandwagon with fresh and frozen products and in a variety of plain and flavored versions.

Making your own riced vegetables is even easier than in days gone by. Just trim, chop and pulse your veggies in a food processor. Cook with a quick steam or sauté and flavor with some fresh herbs and spices. Of course, you can always change it up with other chopped veggies, nuts, or a sprinkle of cheese.

Riced cauliflower makes an interesting pizza crust. A different texture than the traditional bread dough crust but loaded with flavor. It’s sort of firm, chewy and soft all at the same time. I had tried this idea some years ago and we quite liked it so why not try it with a different topping and have it again!

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Cauliflower Pizza Crust w/ Barbecued Chicken
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Instructions
Cauliflower Crust
  1. In food processor or blender, pulse cauliflower until it reaches consistency of coarse crumbs.
  2. Place cauliflower and 3 tbsp water in microwaveable dish and cover with plastic wrap, leaving one edge lifted. Microwave on high, stirring once or twice during cooking time, until cauliflower is tender, 5 to 7 minutes; let cool. Drain cauliflower in colander lined with cheesecloth or thin, clean tea towel. Wrap cauliflower in cheesecloth and twist while pressing to remove all liquid (this step is essential).
  3. Place pizza pan or baking sheet in oven and preheat oven to 425°F.
  4. In bowl, combine cauliflower, egg, mozzarella, Parmesan, garlic powder and oregano, season with salt and pepper. Using your fingers, transfer cauliflower mixture to piece of parchment paper and press into 12-inch circle. Slide parchment paper with cauliflower crust onto hot baking sheet from preheated oven. Bake until crust is golden brown, 13 to 15 minutes.
Toppings
  1. In a saucepan, sauté red onion & mushrooms until tender and moisture has evaporated.
  2. Evenly spread half of the barbecue sauce over baked cauliflower crust, leaving 1/2-inch border. Top with half of the mozzarella cheese & all of the onion & mushrooms . In bowl, toss chicken with remaining barbecue sauce; evenly arrange over crust and top with remaining mozzarella. Bake until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with green onion.

Hasselback Stuffed Pork Loin

The ‘hasselback’ style of cooking originated many years ago in Stockholm, Sweden. Overtime many variations have been made and are simply products and preferences of the individual preparing them. It is the slicing and roasting that distinguish the style rather than the variations on seasonings or toppings.

Today, I wanted to do a pork roast in this manner using some mushrooms and ‘pancetta‘. An Italian specialty, pancetta is made from pork belly that is spiced, salted and cured for about 3 months. Often seasoned with spices like fennel, nutmeg, garlic, dried ground hot peppers and peppercorns to create pancetta’s distinctive spicy flavor.

After it has been cured and dried for a few months, it is often rolled into a spiral so that the fat and meat form a cylinder, alternating each other. Pancetta is also sold as a slab so that most of the fat is located only on one side.

Although, both pancetta and North American streaky bacon are from the same raw cut of pork, in taste, texture and uses they have two key differences. Pancetta is cured, not cooked over heat while bacon is a smoked meat. Pancetta is described by the spices used to flavor and cure the meat whereas bacon’s many varieties are derived from the different wood pellets used to impart its signature smoky flavor.

This is such an easy way to make such a flavorful roast.

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Hasselback Stuffed Pork Loin
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Instructions
  1. Pre-heat oven to 425°
  2. In a medium frying pan add 2 tablespoons olive oil, mushrooms, salt, pepper, oregano, rosemary, parsley and garlic, sauté for approximately 10-15 minutes.
  3. Make approximately 6 x 1/2 inch slices in the pork loin, be sure to not slice right through, place 1 slice of pancetta between each slice and divide mushroom mixture between the 6 slices. Stick 3 long kabob sticks through the meat to hold the mixture in place.
  4. Drizzle a little oil on baking pan, Place stuffed pork on pan and sprinkle with more oregano, a little salt and pepper and a sprig of rosemary.
  5. Bake for approximately 50-60 minutes or meat thermometer reads 155-160° F. Let sit 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Scalloped Potatoes w/ Mushrooms

Every person who makes a homemade version of scalloped potatoes usually has had that recipe passed down to them from their mother, their mother’s mother or even further in their history, so the emotional attachment to the recipe immediately precludes any other scalloped potatoes from contention.

At an early age, I remember my mother ‘teaching‘ me the art of making scalloped potatoes. It came down to very thinly sliced potatoes sprinkled with flour, salt & pepper then covered with scalded milk and baked. I think it was dotted with butter and quite possibly topped with bread crumbs. For that matter, there might have even been a few thinly sliced onions involved but I have to admit, I’m a bit fuzzy on that. As plain and simple as it was, it tasted glorious to us.

This scalloped potato recipe starts with Yukon Gold potatoes. They have loads of great flavor and are a beautiful color both when they are raw as well as when they are cooked. For this particular recipe, keep the skin on the potato as it will add loads of fiber to the dish.

Food trends come and go and nothing highlights this more than looking up old recipes. Still eaten today, scalloped potatoes were the prolific side dish of the 1920s. Dairy was no longer rationed and the rich casserole took full advantage of this.

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Scalloped Potatoes w/ Mushrooms
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Instructions
  1. In a large saucepan, place potatoes & cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cook, uncovered until tender, 8-12 minutes. Drain.
  2. In another saucepan, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms & onion; cook & stir 6-8 minutes or until tender. Stir in garlic; cook 1 minute longer.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish; set aside.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk flour, broth & seasonings until smooth; stir into mushroom mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; cook & stir until sauce is thickened, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in sour cream.
  5. Thinly slice potatoes. Arrange half of the potatoes in baking dish. Spread half of the hot mushroom sauce over top; sprinkle with 1/2 of the cheese. Layer remaining potatoes , sauce & cheese & sprinkle with French Fried Onion Toppers if using.
  6. Bake, uncovered, until heated through & cheese is melted, 12-15 minutes. Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving. Top with sliced green onions to garnish.

Pork & Cheesy Parsnip Bake

Parsnips are one of those vegetables that very often gets over looked as being bland and tasteless. The unassuming parsnip has neither carrots’ obvious sweetness or potatoes mashable, fryable, butter-loving appeal.

I’ve always loved their sweet, mellow, complex flavor. To me, parsnips have a taste reminiscent of hazelnuts, cardamom and a gentle peppery spice. They are at their best after a few autumn frosts, which converts the tuber’s starches into sugar. In fact, if they are left in the ground over winter and dug at the first sign of spring, parsnips are nearly as sweet as carrots.

Over the years, I have used them in many different applications. Pork with parsnips is a common savory pairing but grating them into breads and spice cakes is equally good. Making cakes with vegetables used to be a necessary economy, while today we use it as a way to improve the quality and it adds a range of flavors we’d forgotten about.

Using some fresh root veggies at this time of year seems to be a good choice. This cheesy parsnip bake makes such a flavorful meal.

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Pork & Cheesy Parsnip Bake
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Instructions
Parsnips
  1. Peel parsnips & cut into chunks. Cook in salted boiling water until they are tender, about 20 minutes.
Casserole
  1. In saucepan, heat oil & sauté onion until tender crisp. Add the mushrooms & cook gently for an additional 5 minutes. Stir in pork & fry, breaking it up as it cooks, until lightly browned.
  2. In a small container, combine vegetable broth with cornstarch. Carefully add to meat mixture, stirring until it starts to thicken. Add extra broth if needed. Stir in chopped zucchini & cover. Turn heat to low & cook gently while preparing the parsnip topping.
  3. Turn oven on to broil. When parsnips are soft, mash thoroughly. Stir in butter, milk & grated cheese. Spoon pork mixture into an ovenproof dish. Evenly spread the cheesy parsnip mixture on top. Place under a broiler until the topping starts to brown. Serve immediately.