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.
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.
Apricot Lemon Chicken Breast w/ Couscous
Preheat oven to 425 F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
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.
Bake uncovered 20 minutes; turn chicken. Bake about 10 minutes longer until no longer pink inside. While chicken is baking prepare couscous & sauce.
In a saucepan, heat 1 tsp oil; add green onion, cumin, ginger & garlic. 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 & 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
In a small saucepan over low heat, combine sauce ingredients, stirring occasionally, until warm.
Place couscous on a serving platter. Top with chicken breasts & drizzle with apricot lemon sauce. Serve.
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.
Plantain Lasagna Rolls w/ Guacamole
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.
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.
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.
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'.
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).
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.
While plantain is baking, mash avocado & add remaining ingredients. Combine well & serve with stuffed plantain.
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.
Stuffed Pork Medallions w/ Cabbage & Apples
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Vegetable Mac & Cheese w/ Milkfish
In a pot of salted boiling water, cook macaroni until tender. Drain & rinse; set aside in a dish.
In a saucepan, sauté leek until tender. In the microwave, cook broccoli & cauliflower for about 1 1/2 minutes, or tender crisp.
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.
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.
Bake until hot & bubbly & cheese is melted, about 30 minutes.
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.
Turkish Borek w/ Beef, Leeks & Potato
Beef, Leek & Potato Filling
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.
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.
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.
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
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a round 11-inch diameter baking pan & set aside.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My love for noodles, dumplings, etc. probably could be accredited to my German heritage. This recipe for Russian pelmeni has been hovering in my ‘must try’ file for quite some time, so today’s the day.
It seems most food historians agree that these Russian dumplings originated in Siberia. Although pelmeni forms the heart of Russian cuisine and culture, it does have numerous look-a-likes in particular the Ukrainian vareniki and the Polish pierogi. The easiest way to spot the difference is to look at the shape and size; a typical pelmeni is almost circular and about two inches in diameter. The other forms are usually more elongated and larger in size. Also, the fillings in pelmeni are usually raw, while the fillings of vareniki and pierogi are typically precooked. Pelmeni will never have a sweet filling , unlike its Ukrainian counterpart. The recipe may actually be an adaptation of Chinese pot stickers.
Fillings differ but essentially they are ground meat (pork, beef or sometimes lamb), fish or mushrooms as well as being quite spicy.
The word pelmeni comes from ‘pelnyan’ which means ‘bread ear’, a reference to the food’s ear-like shape.
Although this meal was favored by hunters who were looking for light, easy to prepare, nourishing food to take with them on long trips in the winter, its also seen as Russian fast food among students or bachelors.
This recipe gives you the option of making traditional pelmeni or using an alternate method called ‘lazy’ pelmeni. Both equally as good.
For Cooking 'Lazy' Pelmeni
In a bowl, combine all dough ingredients & knead until a smooth dough ball forms, about 10 minutes. Cover, set aside & allow dough to rest until your filling is prepared.
In a bowl, combine ground meats, onion, garlic, salt & pepper. Mix well.
FOR THE TRADITIONAL PELMENI:
Divide the dough in half & roll each portion out into 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 2-inch diameter circles & place about a teaspoon of the filling on each circle. Fold the circle in half & crimp edges well, then bring the ends together & crimp. Repeat to use remaining dough & filling. It is best to refrigerate or freeze finished pelmeni before you are ready to boil them.
To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Place pelmeni in the boiling water & cook until they float to the top then cook for about 5 minutes more. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add butter & mix to coat. Serve with sour cream & fresh parsley.
FOR 'LAZY' PELMENI VERSION:
Once dough has rested, transfer to a floured surface. Roll out the dough into a large thin rectangle. Spread meat filling over the dough, leaving a 1/4-inch at the far side of the dough.
Tightly roll the dough up, starting from the wider side, forming a log. Put seam side down to seal the edges. Seal ends of the dough as well. Using a very sharp knife, cut the dough log into 2-inch sections.
In a large skillet that will accommodate all pelmeni, heat oil & cook onion until translucent. Add garlic & continue cooking until fragrant. Add carrot & 1 bay leaf; cook until the carrot is tender, about 1-2 minutes.
Place pelmeni rolls into the skillet with veggies, add the vegetable broth, salt, pepper & the other bay leaf. Cover with the lid & cook for 30 minutes on low heat. Check pelmeni from time to time, to make sure there is liquid in the skillet. Add more if it evaporates too fast. Garnish with fresh parsley. Serve immediately with sour cream if you wish.
Quiche is one of those meals that appeals to me at any time of the year. The choice of ingredients is truly only limited to one’s imagination and what’s in your fridge or pantry. In this particular quiche, I opted to use bacon as my ‘crust’ since it was filled with vegetables.
I have been wanting to make some savory ‘madeleines’ for a while and think they will compliment this quiche well.
The madeleine or petite madeleine was first created in northeastern France in the Lorraine area. Technically — they are tea cakes, not cookies and are nothing like scones, very light, puffy and soft — not heavy at all.
Madeleines have a distinctive shell-like shape acquired from being baked in pans with shell-shaped depressions.
The appeal of them is how easy they are to make, how cute they are and how light and airy they are. And while they’re delicate and generally a sweet cake, madeleines hold up to having cheese and onion added to them as well. Many savory versions exist so I decided to go with a cheese madeleine today.
Bacon Crusted Quiche w/ Savory Madeleines
Parmesan / Cheddar Madeleines
Bacon Crusted Vegetable Quiche
Parmesan / Cheddar Madeleines
Bacon Crusted Vegetable Quiche
Parmesan Cheddar Madeleines
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease depressions in madeleine pan. (If you are using a regular size it will have 12 or the mini size you will have enough batter for 36). It is a good idea to dust the pans with flour as well, tapping out any excess. Sprinkle dried thyme leaves in depressions of pans.
In a small saucepan, melt butter & honey; remove from heat & cool for 10 minutes. In a bowl using a hand held mixer, beat eggs until pale, thick & doubled in volume.
Using a large metal spoon, gently fold butter mixture into eggs. Next fold in flour, cheeses, yogurt & 1/4 tsp salt until combined. Divide between madeleine cups but don't smooth out.
Bake until risen & golden. The time will depend on whether you are using a regular or petite size madeleine pan. Cool in tin for 5 minutes. Firmly tap tin on surface to loosen the madeleines, then carefully invert onto a wire rack to allow them to fall out onto the rack.
Bacon Crusted Vegetable Quiche
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 8-inch round baking pan with foil paper.
In a skillet, fry bacon until lightly cooked but still pliable, 3-4 minutes. Remove the bacon from skillet & blot on paper towel. Drain all but one Tbsp of bacon drippings from pan.
Add the leeks, mushrooms & thyme; cook over moderate heat until veg are tender crisp but not browned, about 5 minutes. Microwave potatoes & slice; drain corn (or cook corn on cob & remove kernels). Grate cheese. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk & remaining spices.
Line the sides if baking pan with slices of bacon. Layer bottom with sliced, cooked potato & half of the cheese. Top with corn kernels & leek/mushroom mixture. Pour egg/milk mixture carefully over vegetable mixture. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
Bake for 40 minutes, until the quiche has puffed up slightly & browned. Test middle to make sure eggs have set. Remove from oven & allow to cool for 2-3 minutes. Remove from pan & serve with savory madeleines.
New Year’s Eve ……. normally this eve would bring about lots of parties and celebrations but the start of 2021 looks much more subdued. As expected, cities have cancelled or modified their plans due to the pandemic. Although tradition has been silenced this year, one thing that will never change is the ticking of time and the arrival of a New Year at midnight on December 31st.
When I was growing up, I recall one of the Christmas tree ornaments my mother had was a mushroom with a white spotted red cap. At that time, I remember thinking it seemed unusual as a Christmas tree ornament but never really questioned it. Many years later, through my interest in food history, I understand the connection.
In Germany and other parts of Central and Eastern Europe this iconic mushroom (Amanita muscaria) has long been considered a symbol of good luck and is intertwined with the Yuletide Season.
‘The Mushroom’ of Christmas and the New Year is frequently found growing underneath pine trees because the roots of this specific mushroom can only grow in the root zones of certain trees. There is some speculation that the red & white of Christmas and the use of pine trees may be linked to these humble mushrooms.
Even though the Amanita muscaria mushroom is toxic and should never be eaten it is still symbolizes the hope for good fortune in the coming year. The tradition of gifting mushroom imagery has stuck around, especially for those of German or Austrian descent who still exchange the pretty red & white mushrooms at Christmas time (often in the form of cards or other trinkets). Its not hard to understand why ‘meringue’ mushrooms are a popular decoration for the ‘Yule Log’ cakes.
After all these years, I understand the meaning of my mothers little mushroom ornament. New Year’s of 2020 seems like a good time to make a mushroom finger food in hopes of having the good fortune of Covid 19 coming to an end so we can all resume ‘normal’ life in 2021.
Mushroom, Caramelized Onion & Gruyere Finger Food
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large, heavy bottomed skillet, heat olive oil over medium-low heat; add onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to caramelize, about 20 minutes.
Add the butter to the pan. Once melted, add the mushrooms & sauté, stirring occasionally, until they are completely soft & all the liquid evaporates, about 20 minutes.
Add the garlic, sage & thyme; sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Season with salt & pepper to taste.
Add the broth, scraping the bottom of the pan to pull up all of the browned bits, & cook until all of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat.
Unfold the thawed sheet of puff pastry & cut out 36 circles from dough, placing them evenly spaced on the baking sheets. Using a very sharp knife, make four small scores around the perimeter of the dough, about 1/4 to 1/2-inch from the edge.
Top the rounds of puff pastry with a small spoonful of the mushroom mixture, trying to keep the filling within the score marks. Top with grated Gruyere cheese. Brush the edges of the dough rounds with the egg wash.
Bake until the pastry is golden brown, about 15-25 minutes. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley.