Prosciutto wrapped stone fruit

Prosciutto & peaches grilled

I prefer nectarines, or slightly underripe peaches. Make sure your fruit is not overly ripe or it will become mushy on the grill.

These little gems are one of my most requested appetizers …. and looking at all that snow outside makes me think fondly of summer days.  The only time I make this is when stone fruit is in season, and we can grill.

Prosciutto & peaches

Ready for the grill

Ingredients

  • stone fruit, pitted & quartered (you can cut them into 6 pieces if they are large)
  • goats cheese
  • prosciutto
  • apricot jam (optional)
  • pepper (freshly cracked)

Once fruit is prepared, place a tablespoon or so of goat cheese on a section, and wrap with a piece of prosciutto.

If you want to use the apricot jam, brush over pieces right before they hit the grill.  I’ve used it, or olive oil, or nothing and we love them anyway they are done.  Grill just until the prosciutto crisps up a bit and has grill marks.  Sprinkle with cracked pepper and enjoy.

Homemade Pita Bread

Pita bread

Pitas 3

Can you even imagine the joy when these pita’s puff up like this?  It’s a wondrous sight.

Pitas 4

Puffed, tender and delicious.  Make some hummus to enjoy or serve with dinner as a flatbread, or stuff with your own fixings.  You will be really happy you tried this.

Before you even read this recipe I have to give you full disclosure that it is copied, in totality, from Deb at Smitten Kitchen.  She has some amazing recipes, all created in her tiny New York kitchen, and if you haven’t visited her website yet, you must.  This is one of those recipes that I didn’t even have to tweak, we loved it.  

 

  • 3 cups plus a scant 1/4 cup (455 grams) all-purpose or bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons (13 grams) fine sea or table salt
  • 2 teaspoons (6 to 7 grams) instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cups (295 grams) water, at room temperature
About 1 1/2 hours before shaping, or for best flavor development, 8 hours to 3 days ahead, mix the dough:
Mixer method: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the ingredients with the paddle attachment just until flour is moistened, then switch to the dough hook. Knead for 10 minutes at low/medium speed. The dough should clean the bowl and be very soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. You can add a little flour or water if necessary, but when I use the weights above, I haven’t found this necessary.
Mix by hand: In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for a scant 1/4 cup of the flour. With a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until all the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together, then sprinkle a little of the reserved flour onto the counter and scrape the dough onto it. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, adding as little of the reserved flour as possible; it’s going to be very sticky. Invert your empty bowl over it and allow it to rest for 5 to 20 minutes, then knead the dough another 5 to 10 minutes, until it’s soft a little sticky to the touch.

Let the dough rise: Scrape the dough into a large oiled bowl. Press it down and coat the top with a little oil too. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark the side of the container at approximately where double the height of the dough would be. Let the dough rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours, or in the fridge overnight (or up to 3 days), until doubled.

Pitas 5

This little ball of dough doesn’t look like much now, but just let it sit for a while ….

Pitas 6

LOOK!  After sitting on the counter for a few hours (you can use it after an hour or so) the dough has more than doubled and ready to be turned into rounds.

To bake pitas in the oven: Preheat your oven to 475°F 20 minutes before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone, cast-iron skillet, or baking sheet on it before preheating. Do not oil the skillet or baking sheet.

Shape the dough: Cut the dough into 8 or 12 pieces. Work with one piece at a time, on a lightly floured counter, with lightly floured hands, shape each piece into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Cover the dough with oiled plastic and allow it to rest for 20 minutes at room temperature.

Pitas 1

If you’ve got a 5 year old around, put them to work.  Stella did a great job forming balls and flattening them for their 20 minute rest.

 

Roll each disk into a circle a little under 1/4 inch thick. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes before baking. Spritz lightly with water while resting.

Pitas 2

I don’t have a spritz bottle, so just brushed them lightly with a water moistened pastry brush.

Bake the pita: Quickly place 1 piece of dough directly on the stone or in the skillet or on the baking sheet, and bake for 3 to 4 minutes (less for small ones, longer for big ones). The pita should be completely puffed but not beginning to brown. The dough will not puff well if it is not moist enough. See how the pita puffs, then, if necessary, spray each remaining piece with additional water before baking.

Proceed with the remaining dough, baking 3 or 4 pieces at a time if using a stone or baking sheet. using a pancake turner, transfer the pita breads to a clean towel, to stay soft and warm. Allow the oven to reheat for 5 minutes between batches. The pitas can be reheated for about 30 seconds in a hot oven before serving.

To cook the pitas on the stove top: Heat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Lightly, very thinly, grease the surface and cook the pitas one at a time. Cook for about 30 seconds, then rotate the dough slightly (about a quarter-turn) and continue cooking for 1 to 2 minutes more. Small surface bubbles slowly grow to larger ones, and then eventually “find each other” merge and that becomes your big balloon pocket. Make additional small rotations if the process stagnates. The entire cooking process for each pita should be about 3 minutes.

Whole wheat variation: For a whole wheat version, use half whole wheat and half white flour, or you can make these entirely with white whole wheat flour — for this last option, you’ll need 1/4 cup extra water.

Mushroom Turnovers

Turnovers 12

One of my old time favourite appetizers, I’m not sure why I haven’t made these lately, but so glad mushrooms needed to be eaten, giving us a bite this delicious.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

  • 1 8 ounce pack cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus 3 tbsp for the mushroom onion mixture
  • 1/2 pound mushrooms, finely diced (should yield about 3 cups once diced)
  • 1 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 egg, beaten

At least 2 hours prior to serving:

in large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer combine the 1/2 cup butter and cream cheese until smooth and well blended.

Gradually stir in the flour until just combined.  Gently knead in a bit more flour only if it is too sticky to handle.  Shape into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Turnovers 3

I love the way this dough feels, so soft and supple that it is also very forgiving.

Turnovers 4

Any type of mushroom works with this recipe, but we were happy to put these Crimini mushrooms to good use when friends cleaned out their fridge prior to a trip.                            Thanks Keith and Jean!

 

Meanwhile, in frying pan over medium heat, melt 3 tbsp butter and saute mushrooms and onions until tender, stirring occasionally.  Allow to cool, then stir in the salt, thyme, sour cream and 2 tbsp flour.

Turnovers 5

I love these silicone cutting boards for food like onions, garlic or meat.  When it goes in the dishwasher I don’t have to worry about my next item smelling funky or carrying germs.

Turnovers 6

Cook just until the mushrooms have released their moisture, and the pan dries out a bit.

Turnovers 7

Cut your dough ball in half, and work with 1/2 at a time, keeping the 2nd ball wrapped.  On a floured work surface roll out dough to about 1/8″ thickness and cut out circles (my cutter is about 2 1/2″ across).

Turnovers 8

Turnovrs 9

When you pinch the edges together make sure you can easily do so, otherwise remove a bit so the turnovers done burst.

 

Onto one half of each dough circle place a tsp of mushroom mixture. Brush edges of circles with some of the beaten egg, fold dough over filling.  Do not overfill or they will burst during cooking and you will lose all that flavour.  With a fork firmly press edges together to seal.  Place on cookie sheet, either non stick or with parchment or silicone lining.  Brush with remaining egg yolk and prick the top with the tines of your fork.

Turnovers 10

These freeze really well (before cooking).  Once you have pierced the tops of the turnovers, put tray in freezer until the turnovers have frozen solid.  Carefully remove and store in air proof container in deep freeze until ready to serve.  Brush with egg wash right before baking, and allow them to bake a little longer.

Bake for 13-15 minutes @ 425, until golden brown and glossy.  Remove from the oven, and allow to cool (if you can) before serving.

Turnovers 11

Brushed with an egg wash prior to hitting the oven, you will be rewarded for the task by the aroma filling your kitchen.  It won’t be easy to wait for them to cool before biting in.

Deep Dish Pizza – Chicago style

Chicago style deep dish pizza is an entirely different creation!  We traditionally make thin crust pizzas, with a light topping.  This situation calls for heavier amounts of all toppings, and naturally a heavier layer of dough.

Chicago 2

Ready for the oven, this dish features soft chewy dough, sweet & savoury toppings, and the tang of feta with olives – a little something for everyone.

The secret to having a dough that doesn’t get all soggy is in the layering.  DON’T PUT YOUR SAUCE RIGHT ON THE DOUGH!!!  That’s it, basically.

preheat oven to 400 and generously grease your cooking vessel with olive oil

PIZZA

Prep everything ahead of assembling your pizza.  For this pizza I made 1 10″ deep dish creation consisting of:

  • 2 spicy Italian sausages, removed from casing and broke apart – cook until crispy on the edges.
  • 2 mild Italian sausages, (see above)
  • 1/2 cup sliced yellow pepper, flash fried until it has golden brown bits
  • 1/2 cup sliced red onion, sautéed until carmelized
  • 1/2 cup thickly sliced Crimini mushrooms, sautéed until browned and have lost some juice
  • handful of kalamata olives, (hopefully pitted)
  • handful of feta cheese, crumbled
  • mozzarella cheese, freshly grated

SAUCE

For one 10 “pizza:

  • 1/2 can (about 1 cup) fire roasted canned tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp fresh basil (if, like me, you live in an area where this is not readily available, I use the tubes – they most closely replicate that fresh flavour)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • salt and pepper to taste

I just stir this together as I like the chunks of tomato.

This whole thing is a lot easier if you buy pizza dough pre made, but when I get home from sitting at a desk all day and listening to people, I love the idea of working with dough.  Kind of like kitchen yoga, it washes away that day ….. (yes, I’ve been told that’s a bit odd but it beats drinking every night).  Or does it?

ASSEMBLY

Lay your pizza dough in the cooking dish, and gently stretch it to go right to the edges, and up the sides.  Let it rest if it doesn’t go easily, it will once it has had a moment to chill out.  This may take a few rest periods, but get a generous amount of dough to behave and fill your dish as well as up the sides.

Cover the bottom of the dough with mozzarella.  Sprinkle over the cooked sausage meat, then the mushrooms and onions, and finally the peppers.  Spoon the sauce over this, and top with feta and kalamata olives.

Chicago 1

Get all your toppings ready while the dough is rising in a warm, draft free spot.

Bake at 400 until you see the crust nicely browned and bit of sauce bubbling around the toppings.  This will take anywhere from 20-30 minutes.

Chicago 4

Make sure you allow it to sit, once out of the oven, for about 10-15 minutes so it retains its shape when you slice those pizza pies.

Chicago 3

The perfect balance of tender dough and toppings.

PIZZA CRUST (if you are so inclined)

(makes 3 10″ deep dish pizzas)
Ingredients:

  • 750 g white flour (use Tipo ’00 flour if you can or a strong bread flour)
  • 200 g semolina flour
  • 2 ½ cups lukewarm water
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. (or 1 x 8 oz packages) yeast
  • 2 tsp. sea salt
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil

Directions:

  1. Place your flour(s) and sea salt in a large bowl and whisk together. Create a well in the center.
  2. In a large measuring cup, mix together your lukewarm water and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Sprinkle in the yeast and let it sit for approximately 5 minutes, until the yeast starts to ferment.
  3. Pour the water/sugar/yeast mixture into the well along with the olive oil and stir together with a fork or large spoon until it is well mixed. Once it becomes too difficult to mix together with your fork or spoon, sprinkle extra flour on the dough and your hands and mix with your hands until the dough comes together in a ball.
  4. Place the dough on a well-floured flat surface and knead, pushing the dough using the palms of your hands, for approximately 10 minutes, until the dough looks smooth and stretchy. You may need to add extra flour as you go, being careful not to add too much to keep the dough from being too stiff.
  5. Place the ball of dough in a large bowl coated with olive oil, dust the top of the dough with flour, and cover with a clean dish towel and place in a warm draft-free area for about an hour, until the dough has doubled in size. Punch the dough down.  At this point you can either refrigerate the dough overnight (or up to 2 days, covered with plastic wrap and occasionally punched down) or divide the dough into 3-4 portions (depending on how big you want your pizzas).  I highly recommend making your dough in advance and letting it sit in the fridge as the longer ‘proof’ really makes a difference.   Ensure that your pizza dough comes to room temperature before cooking (bring it out of the refrigerator 1-2 hours before you are ready to cook).
  6. You can also use this recipe for up to 8 small individual pizzas.

Thai curry with duck breast

Thai duck curry 2

Flavourful Thai curry with plenty of vegetables and just a few slices of duck breast – serve with a handful of noodles.

We just got home from three weeks in Mexico, and that always makes me turn to Asian dishes in the kitchen.  Well, that and the old comfort foods like roasted chicken and mashed potatoes, which are always a family favourite.

Thai curries come together very quickly, and are very easy if you take a few moments to get everything ready first.  This is one of those recipes that works more like a guideline – we made this for dinner for two, but double it up for a group.

Cook noodles according to the package directions and set aside.

Duck breast is really easy to cook, and not something to be intimidated by.  I don’t know why I didn’t take a moment for a photo doing this …. maybe next time.  Score the fat on top of the desk breast lightly, not through to the meat.  Set in a cast iron skillet (or non stick if you don’t have cast iron) and gently heat on med/low so the duck fat can release and the top gets nice and crispy.  Every stove top is different, so just watch yours.  When it has reached that golden layer of crispy goodness, flip it over and cook until preferred doneness.  170 degrees is the golden rule, but if you prefer medium rare, go a little less.  Whatever temperature you desire, make sure to remove it from the heat and allow it to sit and rest – distributing the juices evenly.

While the duck is cooking – slice and set aside the vegetables you have chosen.  The only thing that is important is that you separate the vegetables based on how long they take to cook.

Heat a saucepan, add some peanut oil (or any neutral oil with a high smoke point).

Saute one onion until soft, then add:

  • 2 tbsp Red or Penang curry sauce
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp thinly sliced Thai red chili pepper
  • 1 tsp galangal (minced if you can get it fresh, powder if not)
  • 1 tbsp lemongrass (minced if you can get it. fresh, powder if not)

Stir until the curry is fragrant – just for a minute or two.  Add 1 can of coconut milk and 1 cup of stock (chicken or vegetable).  Add the vegetables, and as soon as they are lightly cooked, but still crisp remove the curry from the heat and stir in the holy trinity of Thai curries ….

  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp raw sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
Thai duck curry 1

Without the duck breast you’ve got a perfect vegetarian dinner.

 

 

One Magical Day

We left our B&B at Santa Elena after breakfast, ready for a day of adventure in our rented car.  Good thing we were ready because it was one full day.  It seems that everywhere you look in this region you will spot ancient pyramid structures.  The town of Izamal  has 3 of them in the midst of town – it could be right beside a house!

Our first stop was at Labna,  I love the ruins that are so quiet, it allows you to feel the peace, the energy, and to just listen to the birds.  This is one site believed to be very important as it housed around 3,000 Mayans in the 9th centre.  Don’t miss this on the Ruta Puuc as the architecture is truly Puuc style and very interesting.   They were well known for their cisterns, at their peak they had 60 around the city.  As many ruins as we’ve seen I’m always impressed with what they were able to do in ancient times with so few tools.  There is something about wandering around these structures without crowds of people that allows you to feel the vitality of civilizations past.

Kabah 1

Just loved the magnificent old trees, Vivi loved the natural swing!

Kabah 3

Kabah 4

These beautiful structures were spread over quite a large area, and they haven’t even restored it all.  In 2006 they completed the restoration work we were able to see.

Kabah 2

No, we aren’t allowed to climb on the structures, but I think sitting for a photo is okay ……

 

Kabah 6

So many years later, the structural integrity of this building was still intact.  The only restoration needed was in the arch and stairways.  Obviously a brilliant civilization to be able to accomplish all this.

Kabah 8

Kabah 5

Kabah 7

It was hard to tear ourselves away from this beautiful setting. BUT, caves are waiting!

Loltun Caves “Grutas de Loltun” were just down the road, and an amazing experience.  That road though!  After driving miles in the Yucatan it is so refreshing to drive down a road with something to look at – lined with lush orchards, banana and palm groves.

Loltun 1

Yes, we are going down in there.  Some of us under duress.  (no, I’m not looking at you Vivi)

Loltun

It is necessary to take a guided tour through the caves.  Our guide, Ricardo, was full of information, including the fact  that we would only be seeing 2 k of the 10 k trails.  They are very protective of these caves, and understandably so as they are the most important cave system in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Loltun 5

Loltun 6

Can you see why we didn’t want to tell Vivi why we were so far underground?  These stalactites were enormous!  No stalagmites form here as the minerals get washed away during the flooding in rainy season.

Loltun 7

This particular stalactite is hollow!  The cave structure received it’s name from this. When you hit it in one area it makes a “lolllll” sound, and a second area makes the “tunnnnn” …. lollllltunnn.  We were able to replicate this ourselves, and felt the reverberation right through us.

Loltun 8

The light is coming from a hole above.  Mayans didn’t live in this cave structure, but rather used it for worship, or protection from either animals or enemies.  They would also use it to drive animals to it, who would then fall to their death in order to be eaten.  Standing here, surrounded by energies from civilizations past, it was one of those moments both Vivi and I thought would be imprinted on us.

Loltun 9

These hand prints on the walls are just some of the evidence found here – a treasure trove for archeological studies.  Evidence has been found that has been carbon dated to over 2,200 years ago.  That boggles my mind.

Same day, can you even believe it is the same day?  We are off to cenotes.  You know Grant, when we’ve got a rented car it is not going to sit around …..

Just outside of Izamal is a series of cenotes called Santa Barbara.  In the Yucatan peninsula there are over 6,000 cenotes – natural sinkholes.  They are formed when the limestone bedrock, forming the roof of an underground cavern collapses, exposes the ground water underneath.  Not when a meteorite struck as some believe …..

This one in particular is fun to go to, as you can choose to walk between the cenotes, ride a bike, or get pulled by horse on a rail track.  You know with Vivi we are always going to go the horse route, as with Hayley, Sloan and Stella when we were here last.

Cenotes 1

Seated on a cart, these little horses pull us along at a pretty good clip to a series of 3 cenotes.

Cenotes 2

The water is crystal clear and so refreshing.

Cenotes 3

Some cenotes have quite a large opening above to let in light, but others just have an opening large enough to have a ladder going down, and enough room to climb it!

Cenotes 4

This cenote is largely an open area, just look at the roots on the trees above us stretching for water.  In rainy season they are underwater.

At long last we are ready to find a place to stay in Izamal.  Only 70 k from Merida this entire historical district is painted with a bright, vivid yellow giving the city a nickname of “the yellow city”.  This is a beautifully quiet little place, lovely to walk around.  Right next to a home you might see the remains of a pyramid.  The town centre has 3 pyramids around it that are easily accessible.

We found an amazing little B&B to stay at.  Juan and his staff were amazingly friendly and attentive.  Not only was the place a beautiful spot to relax, it was quirky enough to have us wandering around looking at it all!

Izamal 2

This Franciscan monastery is at the centre of town.  There are so many images of Mayan gods in the town, on the ruins, that it provoked the Spaniards to build this large structure overlooking Izamal.

Izamal

 

Izamal 3

These beautiful little carts and dressed up horses are available to use as a taxi, or to just have a tour of the area.

Izamal 5

We loved this beautiful little spot!  Viv and Wilson had the blue bungalow, and we had the pink.

Izamal 1

The owner, Juan, was very friendly.  This is the jungle room, and the entire room is painted like this!  Incredible to view, but I’m not sure how restful ….. I might have been apprehensive about getting attacked!

Kinich .JPG

And ….. that’s a wrap on a simply magical day.  We finished at Kinich Restaurant, traditional Yucatecan food.  This dish of chicken on a white bean puree, with tomato and nut sauce was lip smacking good.  That glass of green hovering on the edge of the photo is a Chaya drink, an herb somewhat like spinach.  Delicious and refreshing.

Time to return the rental car to Merida, so we headed to Progresso first for lunch, and a search for some flamingo winter resting grounds.  We did find them but not close enough to be photo worthy.  In spite of that, we loved seeing them in the mangrove – so beautiful and graceful.  This was the moment I wished for a real camera instead of my phone! Maybe someday.

Progresso 3

The 7 km pier at Progresso is ready to welcome cruise ships …….eek.

Progresso 2

I don’t understand why Mike hasn’t insisted I get a selfie stick yet.  Maybe because he knows Grant won’t carry it?

Progresso 1

Crabster Restaurant – how’s this for a mile high crab & shrimp burger?

After this we returned the car to Merida, staying for one night at a slightly sketchy hotel with a quirky host …… Grant blocked the doorway with his pack!  Funniest part was trying to find it, we got to the right address but no hotel.  So off we went, walking down the road with our bags.  Eventually I phoned the hotel and got an English accented Canadian who said “oh, are you the people with bags that were at the door”????  Should have been our first clue and kept us walking but it all adds to the adventure.  Or, so I tell myself.  Its time to hit the beach.