A Fruity Turkey – a new adventure for Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving I tried a new method for the turkey I made. After listening to how a friend was preparing her turkey, I thought…why not try a new style? So instead of placing stuffing in the turkey, I used orange slices wrapped in bacon and lemon in the turkey. It was tender and definitely delicious!

How did you bake your turkey this Thanksgiving?

Za’atar infused Turkey Picadillo with Carrots and Cilantro

Yes, it’s a Za’atar weekend! I love to make picadillo and using turkey makes it lighter and healthier, so I started off with one chopped red onion, allowed it to cook for a little bit with a dash or two of Himalayan pink sea salt and freshly grated black peppercorn, then included the ground turkey with a healthy tablespoon of Annato and Za’atar, and let it cook for a few minutes. Then added shredded carrots, plenty of freshly squeezed lime juice, and finally added in the cilantro.

I just love this dish! It’s great hot or cold, and even when I take it out of the fridge, I do not need to heat it up for it to be good. You can eat it by itself, or with plantain chips, which is how I like it, or you can serve it over basmati rice, pasta, or a potato. Lots of options with this versatile, quick and easy dish that is bound to be a favorite with many! Try it and let me know what you think…..

Hankering for Baking time in my kitchen!

Yes, that is homemade bread…and not just any kind of homemade bread; it’s the first homemade bread to which I have added the mighty Za’atar spice!

Za’atar is here to stay as a new go-to spice for adventurizing in my kitchen!

I followed the simple recipe for fresh baked bread but incorporated a heaping tablespoon of Za’atar into the mix….and me, oh my. Yes, it really ramped up the taste of the bread. It gave it a new perspective. And two slices with sharp cheddar cheese made me a happy camper!

What new thing are you trying in your daily diet?

If you are wondering what in the world is that green spread on the Za’atar homemade bread slice, it’s my spinach pesto! I found that the tanginess of the lemon-garlic spinach pesto went so very well with this new style of homemade bread, which I will definitely be making again in the future!

The Amazing World of Za’atar!

Sounds like a new mystical Disney world where the impossible is possible, right? What exactly is Za’atar and what makes it so special?

Za’atar is a Mediterranean spice used in vegetables and meat dishes. Badia, a wonderful seasoning brand, calls the addition of Za’atar to your dishes a “culinary experience”. I call it a door to a new flavor profile that awakened my senses to what it must be to wander through a Middle Eastern bazaar or open square, where dishes are made to order, and the combination of earthy flavors come together giving me quite the culinary experience, as it is not a seasoning that is well known in either Uruguay or Miami. It was one of my creative friends (Bless you, Marsha!) who knows just how much I love to “adventurize” in my kitchen that brought this seasoning into my life, and I welcomed it like a long lost friend.

Za’atar is commonly made from dried thyme, oregano, Sumac, and sesame seeds. But just like many other herb combinations, each Middle Eastern region has its own ingredient combination. The Badia brand Za’atar lists its ingredients as a mix of sesame seeds, sumac, spices, canola oil and sesame oil. How is it that this flavor composition resonates within me? I find an affinity with Middle Eastern foods, and in the last few years have truly enjoyed many Turkish dishes at Shiraz Bistro in Miami.

If you have never tried this spice, what could you compare it to? It is alike to a nutty flavor, so some may add it to their homemade hummus. I love making hummus, so the next time that I make hummus I’ll add some in and see just how it elevates the garbanzo flavor.

I was researching a bit on this spice and according to the Ham Towne Spicery, they state on their website that Za’atar has some impressive health benefits, including its ability to improve the immune system, boost skin health, build strong bones, increase circulation, and boost your energy, among other benefits.

Hippocrates, one of the forefathers of modern medicine, used Za’atar to treat “everything from the common cold to bronchitis as early as 5th century BC”. Years later, Maimonides, a renowned 12th century physician, had similar success with his use of Za’atar based treatments! This is quite fascinating.

So I found myself in my kitchen wondering what I could make with Za’atar….what I could add it to…..what could ramp up the flavors in one of my own recipes…

Stay tuned to read about my cooking adventures with Za’atar!

My love affair with Onions! aka Saturday Brunch Celebration…..

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What is it about this vegetable that even though it makes my eyes tear up, I still chop, chop, chop?! Its aroma, its amazing flavor….the wonderful accompaniment alongside other ingredients that elevate a simple quiche to an experience….quite simply, an onion’s caramelization makes me happy. Yes, onions make me happy, even though they make me cry. Quite a conundrum, wouldn’t you say? But I will not give them up!

In celebration that Hurricane Isaias is not going to visit South Florida, as soon as I came home from running early morning Saturday pre-storm errands, I found myself in the kitchen, chopping a large white onion as I envisioned an onion and potato Spanish style quiche. Off came the outer layer, and I continued cutting it, even though my eyes were irritated by the syn-propanethial-S-oxide the onion released when I chopped it.

I sauteed the onion and chopped some leftover mini red potatoes into small pieces, as well as a third cup of bacon.  As soon as the onion started caramelizing, in went the potatoes with a dash of Himalayan Pink salt, a teaspoon of ground rainbow peppercorns, and the bacon.  In a bowl, 5 large eggs were beaten with 3/4 cup of almond milk, as well as one teaspoon of salt and pepper.  As soon as the onions, potatoes and bacon were cooked through, they were placed in an oven safe quiche plate, covered  with half a cup of chopped parmesan cheese, and the egg mixture.  It cooked for 45 minutes at 375 degrees. I could smell the wonderful aroma emanating from the kitchen, as I did some housekeeping.

Needless to say, I rushed to put together a colorful plate so I could finally take a bite of this amazing onion quiche, and did not withhold a sigh of wonder at the flavors that burst on my palate.  The combination of the caramelized onions, with the potatoes, bacon, eggs and cheese was amazing and so filling! I will certainly make this again, as it was quite delicious. And yes, in case you are wondering, I just had one slice. It was enough, alongside 1/2 of a meat empanada, a few cherries, grapes and one kiwi. A cup of cafe au lait with almond milk finished this wonderful brunch.

What did you have for lunch today? Happy Weekend, everyone!

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The Father’s Colorful and Fragrant Love

FAVORITE FLOWER

There is something about this flower that beckons me closer to observe the beauty of each petal. The array of fuchsia with the stroke of white brightens God’s masterpiece, a vibrant display of His creation.

I know it is a real flower, but even up close it looks like a painting! How beautiful.

And it all began with a tiny seed. A seed planted by my mother, a lifelong gardener, who loves to care for her many plants and flowers that grace her colorful garden….a total rainbow of colors adorning each part of her home, from the front lawn to the backyard, a myriad exhibit of the love she has for gardening.

This flower did not bloom overnight. It took time for the seed to germinate, absorbing water from the soil, which triggered root growth. From the roots, shoots developed and as they started growing, they broke through the ground, allowing the plant to harvest energy from the sun.

What did it really take for this flower to bloom? Warmth, water and oxygen, and time, of course.

These flowers flourished under my mother’s care. On a daily basis, she watched over them, watering and moving the pots so they would receive the best lighting. I can only imagine her joy at watching the shoots grow and develop into tall stems, with small buds that later opened to become gorgeous colorful petals of flowers adorning her garden.

Joy. Yes, that is what I see when I watch my mother walk through the garden picking up leaves, making sure there are no snails munching on her plant’s leaves, alongside satisfaction when she mows the lawn. A well kept garden that appeals to both children and adults, when people walk in the neighborhood, they stop to take pictures, admiring nature’s beauty.

I see it as a glimpse into God’s love. Psalm 139 speaks of how “God made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed,” verses 13-16.

Just as God took the time to create a wide variety of seeds which transform into beautiful flowers, He decided to bring you and I to the world through our parents. How amazing it must have been for our mothers to have felt that very first inkling that led them to acknowledge they were carrying life in their wombs! And then to see and feel, on a daily basis, the changes in their bodies as they accommodated to the growth within. The changes were not just physical, but emotional as well. And then the day arrived when they were rushed to the hospital, as their bodies let them know it was time for their babies to be born. What a beautiful representation of a parents’ love, of God’s love.

And thus we came into the world, wailing at being thrust outside the womb into our own space. Just as the shoots broke through the soil and started to grow becoming stems, we also grew strong as we drank our mother’s milk, from crawling to starting to walk upright, until we’re running, having gained strength and confidence in our ability to balance, which allows us to make choices of where we want to be and how to get there.

Our physical transformation takes years until we become an adult; a flower’s full transformation to its peak takes weeks or months.

Where is the beauty found? Where is the love? It’s in the process. Just as the seed drank the water through the soil, and our cells reproduced.

We are a work in process. Philippians 1:6, And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Just as we physically came into the world, we also entered a spiritual world. When we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, we receive the Holy Spirit, Who lives within.

Some people struggle with the concept, as they say they can’t see Him or touch Him or have a conversation with God. I say He’s all around us.

He’s in the transformation process. He’s in the Bible, and He’s in the people that believe in Him. That is where you can see Him, and hear from and about Him.  He’s also in the still and small voice of silence.

Psalm 46:10 Be still and know that I am God.

Take a moment to take a deep breath, and release. He’s right there with you, in that space, in that moment. It’s His love that maintains you, just as it is the elements that He created that support flowers and plants.

Father, thank You for Your amazing love which You shower us with through nature and the people who surround us. Bring us to a deeper awareness of Who You are and Who we belong to. In Your Son’s most precious name, Jesus Christ, Amen!

 

Lemony Goodness in Homemade Blueberry-Cranberry Jam!

It was the perfect afternoon to make jam – after a hot and humid 94+ degree morning, I saw gray clouds forming on the drive home and knew rain was on the way. Wonderful opportunity to spend time in the kitchen!

I stopped at Aldi’s, where I found blueberries on sale – $1.99 per pint, so I picked up two pints.  I remember the last time that I made blueberry lemon scones and how quickly they disappeared….and thought, wouldn’t it be fun to make blueberry-lemon jam? But plans were just a tad derailed when I found a bag of frozen cranberries.

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An estimated three cups of blueberries and two of cranberries went into a large stovetop pot, along with the zest of one lemon and the juice of two lemons, with 2/3 cups of organic sugar sprinkled on top.  As the heat increased, the cranberries popped. I used a wooden spoon to keep the berries moving along for about half an hour. I pulled the pot off the heat and let it cool a bit, and then poured it into the Vitamix, mixing it well until the blueberries and cranberries were truly incorporated into a vibrant red shade that I poured right back into the pot, waited until it was back up to boiling point and then poured pectin into the mix, using the wooden spoon to keep it moving along to becoming one of the very-berry best jams ever!

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Of course I cleaned off the spoon…it was amazing. After pouring the jam into 3 large glass mason jars, the pot still had a little bit of jam left, so I couldn’t help but peel a banana and enjoy cleaning off the remains….it was amazing!

And then thought…..wouldn’t this make an amazing Berry-Banana Bread to celebrate the 4th of July? Stay tuned for that recipe coming up soon this weekend.

But I did happen to try something new and different this week as I contemplated all things lemon. I actually put fresh lemon juice into my coffee! Sounds insane, right? But when I researched this mix, I found that as both coffee and lemons are high with antioxidants, due to this combination, it could help lower belly fat. The taste was not bad – it was different, so I will be trying this out and will see if this truly helps. It is an acquired taste for sure!

What are you making for the 4th of July?

 

Which do you prefer….Lemon or Lime?

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In my research, I was fascinated by the fact that Lemons and Limes come from the same family and have similarities in their benefits, both low in calories and hosts of Vitamin C, but have a different flavor with a distinctive taste, and originally were grown in two different continents.  Limes, which originate in Southeast Asia, come in two varieties, sweet and sour.  I read how they were first grown in Assam, northern Burma, now Myanmar, and China.

Lemons, known as Citrus limon, originate from limes, Citrus aurantifolia. They were originally developed as a two-step hybrid, first between the lime and the citron in India and Pakistan, and the second lime with pummelo in the Middle East, with the lime being significantly smaller than the lemon, with its bright green peel versus the bright yellow of the lemon.

According to the National Geographic, researchers have used the DNA of today’s citrus trees to trace them back to some time in the late Miocene epoch which means that wild citrus trees have been growing for around seven to eight million years. That’s pretty amazing!

It was in 1493 that Christopher Columbus took lemon seeds to Hispaniola, which is when the lemon was introduced to the Americas.  The first substantial cultivation of lemons in Europe began in Genoa, Italy in the middle of the 15th century.  And lemons have been grown in Florida since the 16th century, becoming a million dollar industry.

It was in 1747 that James Lind discovered that lemons and oranges wouldn’t just prevent scurvy, a disease that caused mouth hemorrhages, internal bleeding, and tooth decay, but cure it!

One of my favorite types of lemon is the Meyer lemon, a mix of citrus and meyeri, a hybrid fruit native to China, which is sweeter and rounder than the traditional lemon. Limes are in season from May to October, and lemons are best from May to August.  I travel to Aldi’s for well-priced lemons or limes, but if I’m thinking of making lemon scones, as the Meyer lemon is much sweeter than a regular lemon, I’ll go to Trader Joe’s. The Meyer lemon ripens from November to March.

It was not until I moved to South Florida that I tried key lime pie for the very first time. Having always loved a mix of sweet and sour, the flavorful key lime pie became my preferred Miami dessert.

I had no idea how adding fresh lime juice to a ground turkey dish would elevate the flavor, adding a special zing to it! There are innumerous dishes in every style of cooking which use lemons or limes, from the juice to the zest, as a means to add that amazing citrus flavor.

I admit I was floored, just floored, when I read that you can create “invisible ink” with a mix of lemon juice, onion juice, milk and vinegar. If you write a message on a piece of paper and let it dry, it will not be seen, but under heat the acid in the lemon weakens the fibers of the paper, so it turns brown, in other words, legible!

And let’s not even think through the myriad of options of using lemon juice as a cleanser or as a skin softener. My maternal grandmother, as well as my mother, always kept a cut lemon near the sink on a little plate, so that after she finished washing the dishes or working in the yard, she would use the lemon on her hands to clean and soften them.

My grandmother also had the biggest lemon tree in her yard in Carrasco. The lemons were as big as my hands and they were delicious.  Those were the only lemons that I actually bit into…yes, supremely tart, but delicious nonetheless.

So lemons can be used in so many options, from marinades to salad dressings, or to be the main ingredient in sweets, such as the cake shown below.  This is what I call my ‘Naked Lemon Cake’, as it is not covered with frosting.  In the mix I used fresh lemon juice, as well as lemon zest, and created a lemon cream, which I used between the layers and to decorate the cake.  This cake was oozing lemony goodness throughout each bite!

Tune in soon for another segment of Lemons or Limes!

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Sumac-Jalapeno-Chicken Omelette!

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It’s Saturday morning and there are things to do, clothes to wash, things to put in place, and Brunch to be had, so while the clothes were washing, I scavenged through my fridge and out came:

1 piece of chicken, which was cooked in a Sumac-Tomato-n-Bourbon sauce earlier this week

3 eggs

1/3 cup organic shredded Mozarella cheese

dash of sea salt, dash or two of freshly grated black peppercorn (I love pepper!)

1 small slice of chopped jalapeno

All these ingredients went into a bowl and after mixing them well, in they went into a small stovetop pan, where the omelette cooked till it was browned on the bottom after I  sprinkled some Sumac on top – I have to just say a huge “Thank You” to Marsha, a great friend, who always happens to bring me an interesting ingredient to work with. I have fallen in love with Sumac! The flavor it brings to any dish is incomparable to any other spice I have cooked with – it superbly enhances the overall taste, from the amazing chicken cooked in a Sumac-tomato-n-bourbon sauce, to the delicious omelette for this morning’s brunch!

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What exactly is Sumac? The sumac bush, native to the Middle East, produces deep red berries which are dried and ground into powder. It can literally be used in just about anything, but it does have a tangy lemony kind of taste, and as I adore lemons, it’s my new favorite spice to use.

In the meantime, had my fun going through the fresh fruit I bought at Aldi’s. I washed a few grapes, strawberries, and blackberries; sliced four pieces of sharp Cheddar cheese, and in a small bowl placed 2 dollops of the strawberry-nectarine sauce.  As I love crispy English muffins, I toasted it twice and put a spoonful of the strawberry-nectarine sauce and the fresh fruit on top….alongside a good cup of coffee with almond milk, and what can I say?

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It was an Amazing Saturday Brunch! Brunch is one of my all time favorite meals to put together because it’s fast, delicious, and so practical. And because I used chicken in the omelette, I know it will be hours before I’m hungry, which makes it super practical when you have a long “to do” list.

What did you have for breakfast this morning?

 

Strawberry-Nectarine Sauce!

I love the dish a friend gave me – a heart shaped plate, engraved with 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, which reads as follows:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless.

But love will last forever!

And another friend gave me the beautiful bowl with Psalm 46:10, Be still and know that I am God!

Even in the kitchen, I can praise God! I love these practical reminders of His Word, which encourages and reminds me of God’s love and how He wants us to put it to practice.

So what did I make today for a special Sunday brunch?

I went ahead and used the strawberry-nectarine sauce I created Friday on the fruit salad, as well as on the English muffins! Talk about delicious….

1 lb. of chopped strawberries

5 chopped nectarines

1/2 cup turbinado sugar

1/2 cup refined white sugar

a healthy dose of ground ginger

I put the 5 ingredients in a pot and let it cook down for about 2 hours, and then let it cool, before pouring it into a blender, and then back into the pot, where I placed a package of pectin, which allows the sauce to become denser, more alike to a jam. Needless of its consistency, I admit that I couldn’t reach well enough to lick the pot it cooked in, but I cleaned it off and enjoyed the spoonful, as it was quite tasty.

What can you do with a mix such as this? I have no qualms about doing a sweet and savory mix, so when I went to scramble some eggs this morning, I popped an English muffin in the toaster and toasted it twice, yes twice. There’s something quite yummy about slightly overly toasted bread in the morning, and placed a dollop of the strawberry-nectarine sauce right smack in the middle, and licked the spoon before washing it!

For the scrambled eggs, first I cooked 1/3 cup of a white onion; then in a bowl placed 3 eggs whisked with a little bit of almond milk, a heaping tablespoon of bacon bits, two handfuls of organic mozzarella cheese, freshly grated black peppercorn, and finely chopped some fresh broccoli.  Love making a healthy portion, as it leaves leftovers for the week.

When the scrambled eggs were done, I put a heaping tablespoon and then some on top of the English muffin and the strawberry-nectarine sauce. It was delicious.

A side was a mix of fresh fruit, including strawberries, pineapple, grapes, nectarines, and tomatoes, and a spoonful of the sauce on top, alongside a cup of coffee. It was spectacular! Brunch is one of my all times favorite meals to put together, as it’s a fast and filling meal that you can create with any ingredients in your pantry and refrigerator.

Have a blessed Sunday afternoon!