Saturday, August 31, 2013

Happy Labor Day Celebration Weekend


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Nicaraguan White Rice - Arroz Banco Nicaraguense

A Two for Tuesday Recipe 

The first time I had Nicaraguan white rice, I realized what I had been missing out on and what all the fuss was about. To me, white rice was white rice, you boil it, add some salt, cook it for 20 minutes and you're done. BOY was I wrong! I could eat this stuff all by itself, in fact, I do.

By slowly cooking the onions and the peppers in the oil first, the vegetables release their delicious juices into the oil, which is absorbed into the rice as you lightly "fry" it before bathing it in water, a little salt and the secret ingredient my father-in-law, Aurelio, told me about ... a tablespoon of sour orange juice. Don't worry if you don't have access to sour oranges, you can make your own. See my post "Don't Have Sour Oranges? Make Your Own!"
Like most every Nicaraguan recipe I post, I learned how to make this from my in-laws ... so a big ¡Gracias! (thank you) to both Aurelio and Lupe for sharing. This recipe isn't for plain old white rice, it's for white rice taken to a new and yummier level ... a Nica* level!

Serves 4

1/4 cup of canola oil (do not use olive oil for this)
1/2 an onion, cut in thick lengthwise strips
1/2 green pepper, roughly chopped
Pinch of salt
2 cups of white rice
3 1/2 cups of water
1 tablespoon sour orange juice
3/4 teaspoon salt

Nicaraguan Salpicón! Chopped Beef in Zesty Lime with Onions and Peppers

A Two for Tuesday Recipe 

Today I am taking you on a culinary trip down south to Central America, Nicaragua to be precise. The Hub and his family are from Nicaragua. Nicaraguans refer to themselves and anything Nicaraguan as "Nica". So if you see me using the term "Nica", now you know what I am referring too!

I was introduced to this Nicaraguan dish, like most of the Nicaraguan food I have come to love, at my in-laws. My father-in-law, Aurelio, is a fantastic cook and he taught me how to make Salpicón (pronounced SAL-PEE-CONE). And by taught, I mean he told me what goes in it (no exact measurements) and what the process is. That's the sign of what I call a "natural chef"! This dish is tooted as being dietetic because there is absolutely no fat in it, and uses a lean cut of meat ... eye round. When you look at the actual recipe you tend to think it's too simple and can't possibly be all that flavorful, but I got to tell you, it is! The lime juice breaks down the rawness and mellows the flavor of the onions and peppers and gives the finely chopped meat a light and tangy taste. Traditionally, Salpicón is served with Nica white rice and boiled or fried plantains. However, it's absolutely divine served in a lettuce wrap with pickled onions, radishes and cucumbers, sprinkled into a simple salad, or wrapped in a tortilla, preferably a Nica tortilla, with "crema" (similar to crème fraîche) and a little crumbled "queso ahumado" (similar to Feta, only smoked) over top. So pack your culinary taste buds as we head into the land of Nica food!

2 pounds eye round, trimmed of any fat, cut down into smaller chucks,
roughly 2"
2 quarters of water
1/2 of a head of garlic, cloves smashed and peeled
2 onions:

  • 1 onion, chopped into quarters 
  • 1 onion, finely diced about 1/8"  

2 bell peppers, 1 green, 1 red:

  • 1/2 a green and 1/2  red, chopped into quarters
  • 1/2 a green and 1/2  red, finely diced about 1/8"

1/2 - 3/4 cup of lime and the zest of the lime
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Monday, August 26, 2013

Creamy Cannellini Bean, Kale and Mini-Meatball Soup

The weekend has come and gone, and we are back to Monday. Mondays has become a soup and salad night for us. Not only does my creamy cannellini, kale and mini-meatball soup help getting over a weekend of over-indulging in too much food and drink, it helps soothe away the very long workday that Monday always seems to bring with it. What I love about this soup is that it is creamy but not to the point of over-indulgence, it's only a 1/2 cup of cream to five cups of soup. It's packed with lots of veggies, like sweet carrots, savory celery, earthy potatoes, creamy cannellini beans, the best source of beta-carotene ... kale, and mini-meatballs. It's a warm, homey meal, that's big on taste and satisfaction.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
3 stalks celery, sliced on the diagonal
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium red potatoes, peeled and diced
1 - 151/2 oz can cannellini beans
8-10 sage leaves, tied in a bundle
2 bay leaves
4 cups kale (or your green of choice)
8 oz cooked mini-meatballs (see notes)
4 cups herb and wine infused chicken stock (see notes)
1 cup of water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper or to taste
1/2 cup of heavy cream or half & half

Heat a soup pot over moderate heat, add the first 5 ingredients, cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the remaining ingredients except for cream, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cook covered for 30 minutes. Stir cream in, allow to simmer for 2 minutes just to heat through.

To serve sprinkle with Parmesan or feta, along with a crisp salad or crusty bread. ENJOY!

Recipe notes:
To infuse the chicken stock; add 4 cup of homemade or store bought chicken stock, one cup of dry white wine and a large bouquet garni tied bundle to a pot, bring to a rolling boil and simmer while you chop and saute the vegetables. The bouquet garni can be any fresh herbs you have on hand, I used sage,flat leaf parsley, rosemary, and thyme.
For the mini-meatballs, I like to make 5 pounds of meatballs and freeze them already cooked to have on hand for a quick meal or to add to recipes. I used the recipe featured in my post Cheesy Cheese Stuffed Meatballs, but when it came time to make the mini-meatballs, I omitted the cheese, and made the mini-meatballs about the size of the width of a nickel.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Stuffed Cuban Meatloaf

A Two for Tuesday Recipe 

My mom use to make Cuban Meatloaf when I was kid and I was always fascinated by how she got the egg into it and made it not only taste great but look so pretty. My mom would always wave me off when I complimented the dish and she'd say "eh that's just picadillo with an egg in the middle, nothing special", but it was to me! Her comment is how I figured out how she made it.

My parents came over from Cuba in 1960 and I am thinking this may very well be a Cuban-American recipe, not sure that I've ever seen this in a Cuban food cookbook, but I use to see it at a few Cuban restaurants. The flavors are reminiscent of a Cuban Picadillo, one of my favorite of Cuban meal, which is a ground beef dish that simmers in onions, peppers garlic and lots of seasonings in a rich tomato sauce. But I digress, so back to the meatloaf! The meatloaf stays very moist because of the cooked onion, peppers and garlic that are added to the raw meat. It packs a big flavor punch that is a result of the blend of spices in my homemade sazón completa seasoning.  When you cut into it, you see a perfectly cooked egg, hugged by a blanket of pimientos and dotted by Spanish green olives, it's really impressive and is just so flavorful and delicious! If you have leftovers it's great the next day in a sandwich or you can make my cheesy biscuit empanadas!

1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound of ground pork
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
2-4 garlic cloves, minced
2 small pinches of salt
1/4 cup dry white wine or Vino Seco
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablesspoons Cuban sazón completa {you can make your own*}
1/2 cup finely grated Cuban cracker or panko breadcrumb
1 egg
Grated zest and Juice of 1 lime

Monday, August 19, 2013

Herbs de Provence Red Lentil Soup

It seems that lately the Hub and I have been "over-indulging" on the weekends, and by Monday we are fed-up with food (HA, pun intended!). What we both tend to crave on Mondays is a warm soup and a fresh, crispy, crunchy salad. I especially love this soup because it's broth-y but you can thicken it by running an immersion blender through it if you prefer a thick soup. The broth gets it's flavor from a rich homemade chicken stock (although the carton variety is just fine too), a mire-poix of carrots, celery and onions, herbs de Provence, a splash of white wine and turkey bacon. It's homey, warm, satisfying and pretty much ready to eat in under an hour. It's definitely a great weeknight meal!

Serves 2 - 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 package of turkey bacon, diced
1 large onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, diced
4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon garlic
1 cup red lentils
2 medium red potatoes, peeled and diced
Handful of celery leaves and parsley, chopped, set aside 2 generous tablespoons
1 1/2 teaspoons of dried herbs de Provence
8 cups chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fleur de sel, sea salt or kosher salt
Pepper to taste

Friday, August 16, 2013

How to Make the Perfect Soft-Boiled Egg

I can't think of a more simple, yet satisfying breakfast than a perfectly soft-boiled egg. When done right the velvety, creaminess of the yolk is nothing short of amazing. I am craving one right now! A lot of folks are intimidated by making a soft-boiled egg but it is so very easy to make, I'll show you how.

Serves 2-4

4 eggs
6 cups cold water
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Salt & Pepper to taste

Place the eggs in a pan with high sides, add water, bring to a  boil and then immediately lower heat so that it is barely simmering. Simmer for 5 minutes, remove from water immediately/

Place in an egg cup, or in my case, I use shot glasses. With a serrated edge knife, carefully cut across the top 1/4 or so of the egg. The creamy yolk should be visible, if not just poke through with the tip of a spoon.

Salt and pepper to taste.

That's it... pretty easy huh?

Recipe Notes:
I know that traditionally soft-boiled egg is served with toast but I personally like it with a toasted, chewy bagel with butter slathered on it or some crusty french bread. I find that regular toast just buckles under pressure, i.e., dipping deep into the egg and scooping out that golden yolk. I also like to use a grapefruit spoon because it's pointy and slim enough to scrape out every last bit of egg, you better believe I am not letting any of it go to waste!
I cook my egg straight from the fridge, and not at room temperature. If you have them at room temperature I suggest you take them out of the simmering water at around 4 minutes or less.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Easy, Saucey Cube Steak

A Two for Tuesday Recipe 

Steak terrifies me. It is my culinary hurdle, that one day I must jump over, but for now I use cube steak to satisfy my cravings for big beef flavor in the form of a steak.

On a shopping trip with my mom, I stumbled upon this cut of meat and decided to try it. I really like it because it's so flat that I don't have to worry about the doneness plus it cooks up fast, and it is easy  to work with. This is certainly a great meal for busy weeknights. I have created this recipe for a  fast, easy way to dress up cube steak. It has a robust beefy flavor, the steak is tender and tastes like it is more of a complex dish, than it actually is.  I am a fan of broths or saucey meals because simmering the meat in these sauces helps it develop that extra layer of flavor and tenderness. Not to mention I love dredging my rice with the sauce of anything I make! If the sauce is too watery for your liking feel free to thicken it up with cornstarch; I personally like the sauce in any shape or form it comes in. One steak per person is enough but take out extra so you can take some for the lunch the next day!

Serves 2-4

1lb or 3-4 pieces Cube Steak
1 medium onion, sliced in rings
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic
2-3 tablespoons cornstarch
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons red wine
2 carrots, chopped diagonally
1 10.5 oz can Beef Consume

Turkey, Quinoa & Goat Cheese Stuffed Peppers

A Two for Tuesday Recipe 

I haven't made stuffed pepper in ages, but last week I was inspired by a recipe post on stuffed peppers and tomatoes by the wonderful folks at +Little CookingTips. I was inspired to revive and update an old recipe I developed a few years back. I use to make this recipe with ground beef, orzo and mozzarella, now I've switched over to ground turkey, quinoa and goat cheese.

The turkey lightens the heaviness that can come from beef, but because of the seasonings, it packs one heck of a flavor punch. The sauteed onions and sun-dried tomatoes added to the turkey, deepen and enhance the flavor, as well as, adding moisture. The soft creaminess of the goat cheese compliment the turkey and the simple, yet rich, tomato-based sauce the stuffed peppers are cooked in. The Hub, who is my culinary gauge as to whether a recipe is a success or not, had seconds and happily took the leftovers to have at lunch the next day. All in all, I can confidently say this revision was a smash hit. I hope you enjoy it too!

Serves 4 - 6

1 pound ground turkey*
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup water
1 cup cooked quinoa*
pepper to taste

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Simple Boiled Plantains

You may be wondering what a plantain is, or perhaps you've seen them at a market and didn't know what they are or what to do with them, or maybe you bought them thinking they were a regular sweet banana only to find they weren't.

Plantains are a member of the banana family, they are starchy and low in sugar and must be cooked before they are eaten. They are uneatable in their raw bitter form. Plantains are a big part of Hispanic cooking, as well as, in Caribbean, African and even Indian and Southeast Asian cooking. Plantains can be cooked and eaten at different stages of ripeness and will produce vastly different flavors. And if you are wondering plantains are packed with good for you nutrients and benefits, like vitamin A, B6, C, potassium (more than bananas), fiber, are a good source of carbohydrates and decreases homocystine levels (which cause coronary artery disease).

When cooked when the outsides are green they are savory. When cooked when the outsides are green and tinted with hues of yellow, they are somewhere in between savory and sweet. when cooked when the outsides are yellow and almost blackened they are very sweet. Think of them as the biscuit of southern cooking, the naan of Indian food, the tzatziki of Greek food, I think you get the picture. Plantains are not quite a side dish and not quite a dish on their own. Generally, they are more of an accompaniment to food. They are there to complement the food, they complete the flavor profile of a meal. For example, I can't imagine having Cuban Picadillo without fried sweet plantains, or Nicaraguan Carne Enchorizada without boiled plantains. That is not say you can't use them as a main dish or as an appetizer, it's just that on a day to day basis, this is how they are used. So next time you are in the market and you see a plantain, pick up a few and give them a try, I think you might be surprised at how good they are.

2 plantains, green to yellow ripeness, ends removed, cut in thirds, leave skin on
6 cups of water
2 pinches of salt

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Eryka's Weeknight Bolognese


A Two for Tuesday Recipe 

I am a big fan of Italian food, especially pasta. Pasta dishes are hearty, homey and the possibilities are endless. I do love a good tomato sauce; I make my own in a slow cooker and let it cook all day, but what if you come home from a long day and don't have time to stew a sauce but want that home made taste? I have created a weeknight bolognese sauce that is quick without sacrificing flavor or quality. A bolognese is a ragu, a meat sauce; it is very simple to make and doesn't need to stew for a long time. You will see that it has a lot of ingredients and that is the longest part of the recipe, chopping the vegetables. I find chopping therapeutic, fun as well as gratifying since I know what I'm adding to my food. Taking a closer look at the recipe, you will see a different ingredient: sugar! There is a theory that states that sugar added to tomato sauce will help cut the acidity. I have researched this claim to find that there is a 50/50 chance it is true. However, what I do know is that the sugar does bring out the sweetness in the tomatoes, thus adding a much needed slight sweetness to the sauce; I say that's a great thing! For those weeknight pasta cravers, I hope you opt out of opening a jar of tomato sauce to make this simple, satisfying bolognese sauce. Enjoy!

Serves 4

1lb ground beef
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 celery, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 green or red pepper, chopped
4-5 pieces dried sun dried tomato (optional)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3-4 fresh tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
5-6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 14.5 oz can stewed tomato
18-20 oz crushed tomato
2 tablespoons red wine

1. In a large sauce pan, heat oil on medium heat. Brown meat. Set aside.

2. To the same sauce pan, add the onion, celery, carrot, pepper and sun dried tomato pieces. Cook until onion is translucent about 8-10 minutes.

3. Add the garlic and fresh tomatoes. Cook for about 3 minutes.

4. Add the oregano and basil leaves. Cook until fragrant.

5. Carefully, add the tomato paste, stewed tomatoes, crush tomato and the red wine. Cook until bubbling for about 3 minutes then lower to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes.

6. Using an immersion stick blender, run it through the sauce using quick pulses, this will further thicken the sauce. Leave as smooth or as chunky as you like.

7. Add the ground beef back into sauce pan and stew with the sauce for 20-25 minutes. You can stew it for as long as you'd like (check and stir sauce constantly) but it will be ready in the 20-25 minute range.

Serve over your pasta of choice, salad and garlic bread. Enjoy!

Pollo al Ajillo Español / Spanish Chicken and Garlic

A Two for Tuesday Recipe 

I visited Spain a lot with my parents when I was a teenager. I wasn't a finicky eater, I just didn't have a fully developed and appreciative palette. I think this is true of most teenagers. I remember going with my parents and their friends to a tiny family owned restaurant, in Madrid, and looking at the menu, not understanding anything that was on it, my Spanish was pretty dicey back in those days.
I remember picking Pollo al Ajillo (pronounced poe-yo al ah-he-yo) because I knew pollo was chicken, I liked chicken, and chicken is safe. I knew ajillo meant garlic, I liked garlic, so how bad can it be? Chicken and garlic. Right? As luck would have it I made the right choice and ended up not only eating all the chicken, but mopping up the tangy, garlicky sauce with the bread.

Fast forward 20 years, and I am back in Madrid, at the same restaurant, with my mom, aunt and then 4-year old daughter, and with the same friends. This time, my Spanish was flawless and my palette had finally grown-up! We ordered a little bit of everything, including Pollo al Ajillo, which my 4-year old daughter, Eryka, devoured, just like her mom had 20 years before. It was as good, if not better, than I remembered, the sauce was still infused with the sweet pungent garlic, and tempered by the lemon and sherry. I asked Nena, my mom and aunts friend, how the dish was made and Nena called over the owner, who was also the head chef. He gave me a very detailed description of the ingredients, and how to make the dish. I wrote it all on the back of a museum brochure , I think it was for the Prado Museum, I wish I had kept it! Once I got home I started the process of recreating that dish and it took a bit of finagling but I finally got it right. I dedicate this dish to my mom, Aida, and aunt, Nereyda, who have since passed on, and the bittersweet memories of that crazy trip to Europe with two old ladies and a well-behaved 4 year old!

Serves 4-6

2 pounds of bone-in chicken breast and thigh, skin in tact. Break down the breasts and thighs into chunks, bone and all, use your kitchen shears, it is much easier.
1/2 cup olive oil
1 head of garlic, minced
1 hot pepper, I use thai chili, cut in half. (Optional)
1 lemon zested and juiced
1 cup of extra dry sherry*
Salt and pepper
A handful of flat leaf parsley roughly chopped

Salt and pepper chicken on all sides.

In a small sauce pan, like a butter warmer, add the oil, garlic and pepper. Heat oil over very low heat, so that it is barely simmering. This step is to infuse the garlic flavor into the oil.Let the garlic steep for 5-10 minutes.

Take 1 tablespoon of the infused oil and add it to a large skillet, over moderate heat. Increase heat and brown chicken on all sides. Work in batches to avoid braising the chicken.

Add all the oil to the skillet the chicken cooked in and raise the heat, add all the chicken back in,  all the ingredients, except parsley, and cook covered over low heat for 30-40 minutes or until all pieces are cooked.

Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

Traditionally served with fried potato rounds. I prefer to serve it with boiled root vegetables, such as carrots, potatoes,and parsnips. I don't think you can go wrong pairing with most starches and certainly with a simple salad and bread. ENJOY!

*This dish is classically made with sherry, but if you can use dry white wine if you do not like it or do not have it on hand.