Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

Wishing you and your family a wonderful Easter.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Jax's Chili

Ground Turkey, chilies, onions peppers cumin, garlic
Jax's Chili

South Florida woke up to 47° weather on Wednesday and it's already late March! Personally, I was thrilled because my morning run was an easy 3 miler and I was in the mood for some chili - Jax's Chili that is! I used ground turkey, but you can use beef if you prefer. My chili is not a scorching hot jalapeño laden chili either. It's got a kick that comes from dried red California chilies, green chilies and from cachucha peppers. Cachucha peppers are widely used in the Caribbean and it's the chili Cubans use most. It's not crazy hot like a habanero, but it does look a lot like one, it just has a slight kick at the back of the throat. When they ripen from green to red, the flavor is quite sweet. I think cachucha peppers have a distinct smell and taste to them and I mean that in a good way. For me it emotes memories of my dad's "encortidos de cachucha" (pickled cachuchas) that he use to make and spoon over a bowl of steaming Cuban black beans. Of course you can change up the chilies to suit your taste but if you have a chance to get and try some cachucha peppers, I think you'll start using them in your everyday cooking.  And without further ado ... Jax's Chili.

Jax's Chili

Serves 4

20 oz of ground turkey seasoned with:
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
A pinch of cinnamon

4 dried red California chilies, soaked in one cup boiling water, stems removed (or your chili of choice). Once softened mince to pulp including seeds and reserve chili soaking water for use in recipe.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Fricase de Pollo Cubano - Cuban Chicken Fricassee

I am not a history buff by any stretch of the imagination, I leave that to my daughter. However, I've been told and have read that this dish has French origins because of a Haitian migration to Cuba during the 1800s. And so, today we have Fricase de Pollo Cubano or Cuban Chicken Fricassee. In this recipe, you'll find chicken that has marinaded in spices and sour orange juice and then simmered in a rich tomato based sauce with potatoes, olives and raisins. Hungry yet? Read on or better yet get cooking!

Fricase de Pollo Cubano

Serves 4 

2-4 sour oranges, enough to make 1 cup. See sour orange recipe substitute here.
1-2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon of salt
black ground pepper to taste

8 pieces of chicken or 1 whole chicken cut up into eight pieces.
1/4 cup olive oil
3 red medium potatoes, peeled cut into chunks
2 medium or 1 large yellow onion

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cuban Picadillo - Ground Beef Cuban Style


I am going on record ... this is my absolute all-time favorite Cuban dish - Picadillo! I learned how to make this dish from my mom and on my own I enhanced her recipe, which enhanced the flavor. So much so, that my mom preferred mine to hers. To this day I take that as the highest compliment, because in my eyes, my mom was the best Cuban chef ever. This wasn't just me saying it either, everyone we knew loved "la comida de Aida" (Aida's food). Picadillo is a poor mans' dish, peasant food, because the ingredients are cheap and readily available. Because of that, the recipe varies from family to family and that goes hand-in-hand with the region of Cuba that family hailed from. I have a dear friend who says her mom added "bijol" (a yellow food coloring) to their picadillo, frankly I was appalled. But hey - to each their own!

Cuban Picadillo

Serves 2-4

1 lb. ground chuck, 85/15 is best but 93/7 works well too.
**Seasoning for the meat:
   Juice of 2 limes** + the grated zest of the limes. Use 3 limes if they are especially dry.
   1/2 tablespoon ground garlic powder
   1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
   1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
   1 teaspoon salt

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Achiote Paste - Make Your Own

I've mentioned achiote paste in a few recipes and there is no doubt about my fondness for this seasoning. Aside from the beautiful red color it imparts on foods, it adds deep rich flavors to meats.  I find this is especially true with grilled meats. I've never made it myself, I usually by it at a local "mercadito Nica" (Nicaraguan market). But then I set out to figure out what's in it. After all, here I am writing out recipes that use this seasoning and I know that not everyone has a "mercadito" around the corner. Recent recipes where I've used achiote paste are Beef & Pork Marinade Version 1 & 1.1 and Carne Enchorizada Nicaraguense ("Sausage" Beef Nicaraguan Style)I purchased a bottle of achiote seeds at a local asian market, and I also found a packet of seeds under the "Badia" label of hispanic foods. Of course if all else fails ... you can find it on eBay. Take note that achiote seeds also go by the name of annato seeds. Several bottles and packets of achiote seeds later, I got it right! While my version is not as "pasty" as the one from the market, I am very happy with my results. This recipe makes about 1 cup. You can keep it in the fridge for about 10 days or you can freeze it in ice cube trays and then store in a freezer safe container or zip bag.

Achiote Paste
Makes 1 cup

1/2 cup achiote* seeds
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground

Don't Have Sour Oranges? Make Your Own!


Did you know you can make your own sour orange juice? We are lucky in South Florida that we have an abundance of places to buy sour oranges and as well as the bottled kind. Yet, I realize that not everyone has access to sour oranges, so I thought why not provide a substitute that will work almost or just as well.  After a few tests, this was the closest mix to sour oranges:

2 parts orange juice
1 part lemon juice
1 part lime juice

Mix together and you've got sour orange juice. Freeze in ice cube trays and transfer to a zip bag. Enjoy!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Easy Slow Cooker Boeuf Bourguignon for Two


The first time I made Beouf Bourguignon, I followed Julia Child's recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking to the hilt. It was, without a doubt, absolutely delicious! But it was a very complex recipe, it had a lot of steps and it felt like I spent the day in the kitchen. I was exhausted by the end of the day.  Nowadays it is just the Hub and I at home, so I wanted to make a small portion that I didn't have to spend hours on and I didn't want to heat up the house. I am in Florida and right now the weather is just right, cool, breezy, open windows and a hot oven would just ruin this little weather treat. Enter ... my new, just for two, mini-slow cooker... a present from the Hub. So I went about adapting and scaling down the portion to suit my cooking vessel, palette and budget. A nice bonus, since I didn't use a whole bottle of wine as the original recipe requires, we had the remaining wine with our meal!

Serves 2

For the meat
1 lb. chuck roast meat cut into cubes.
1 tablespoon oil (olive, hazelnut or grapeseed are good)
1/2 teaspoon butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ham and Potato Spanish Tortilla

There are days when you don't plan ahead or something comes up that changes what your plans were for the day. Dinner time is just a few hours away and you don't know what you are going to make. One of my "go to" meals is a Spanish Tortilla (Tortilla Española). This tortilla has nothing to do with tortilla chips or the Mexican flat bread known as a tortilla. It's nearest equivalent is an Italian frittata. This recipe is mostly my moms with a few tweaks from me. It's loaded with sweet onion, potatoes and ham and is perfect for an easy weeknight meal or Sunday brunch.

Ham and Potato Spanish Tortilla 
Serves 2-4

8 ounces ham 1/4" thickness, cubed into 1/2" dice
1 large Spanish onion
2 medium russet potatoes
6-8 beaten eggs*, sprinkled with 1/2 teaspoon of  sweet Spanish paprika, 1/4 cup of milk or water and a pinch of salt.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
Salt to taste

Monday, March 18, 2013

Cheesy Beef Stuffed Biscuit Empanadas


Saturday night's dinner was a casual, fun, watch a movie kind of dinner. If you've been following my blog you know I made my Super Moist Meatloaf this past week. It was a big one, about 2 pounds and it was enough for dinner and lunch for the Hub the next day. I still had over 1/3 of it left over. I got to thinking what I could do with it? And then the lightbulb went off ... I had bought some refrigerated biscuit ... "I'm going to make biscuit empanadas".  If you aren't familiar with what an empanada is, it's basically a pastry turnover.  Here's what I came up with:

So Yummy!
  Cheesy Beef Stuffed Biscuit Empanadas

  Serve 2-4
  For the meat mixture:

  1/3 to 1/2 pound of leftover meatloaf, 

  finely chopped
  1 tablespoon olive oil
  1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  5-6 large large baby bella mushrooms, 
  finely chopped
  1 teaspoon minced garlic
  1 generous tablespoon tomato paste
  1 medium tomato seeded and chopped
  1/4 to 1/2 cup of red wine or stock if you prefer 

   not to use wine
  3/4 teaspoon dried oregano, rub between your 
  finger as you add to release oils
  1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  1/2 teaspoon salt or season to taste

Saturday, March 16, 2013

I Confess ... I Have a Measuring Spoon Addiction

A small glimpse ...
I've been organizing my kitchen drawers and cabinets on and off for the last couple of weeks. Testing what works and what doesn't. What I found (and already knew) is that I have an addiction to buying measuring spoons. I am always on the hunt for cute, sexy, stream-lined, modern, vintage, unusual measuring spoons. They just have to have that certain "je ne sais quoi" that literally sets them apart from the rest of the other measuring spoons and talks to me.

When I was in San Francisco this past fall, in the Chinatown district, I visited a few kitchen stores (no surprise there, right?). I was searching for a little something-something to take home. As I turned to leave the store, the Hub just slightly growing impatient, my eyes fell upon this adorable set of measuring spoons. It only had three spoons to the set but in my eyes it was instant infatuation! And that set was talking to me, man was it talking me! I know what you are thinking, what could possibly make a set of measuring spoons "adorable" and cause a perfectly "normal" person to become "infatuated" with this typically utilitarian object? They were in the shape of conical, miniature ladles. How unusual and different is that? I'd never seen a set quite like these. And to make matters more enticing, they were cheap ($2.95) and they were the last set! Did I buy them? Oh you bet I did!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Aida's Cuban Black Beans - Frijoles Negros Estilo Cubano

Aida's Cuban Black Beans
This recipe is very near and dear to my heart.  In the last few years of her life I was able to get my mom to sit down and give me a usable recipe for her famous and absolutely delicious Cuban black beans and a few others too! I say usable because I never saw my mom measure anything. All her recipes were add a little of this, a splash of that, or a handful of this. Her food never varied in taste, the flavor was always consistent. To this day I will not eat Cuban black beans at any restaurant. They just don't compare - they lack the "life and soul" that they need to be truly magnificent. So here's to my mom - Aida - thanks mom for being you and making the most mouthwatering meals ever!

Serves 4 - 6

To Cook Beans:

1 lb of black beans
6 cups water or stock

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Super Moist Meatloaf

Super Moist Meatloaf 
Today the weather (cloudy and cool) and the mood (a bit stressful) was just right for good old comfort food. I find that the weather and of course our collective mood set the pace for the type of food that not just our bodies, but our souls need. Comfort food is a big, warm satisfying hug ... and today it's needed.
If you have leftovers, try my yummy Cheesy Beef Biscuit Empanadas!

Serves 4-6

2 lbs of ground beef, I recommend chuck 80/20 or 85/15.
1 tablespoon of olive oil.
1 1/2 yellow onion, small dice.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Nicaraguan Cabbage Slaw or Ensalada de Repollo Nica

Cabbage Slaw Repollo Nicaraguan Food tomatoes carrots
Add caption

Cabbage is one of those vegetables that I think gets overlooked a lot.  It's pretty darn versatile and lends itself to so many different uses.  Here's a vinegary cabbage slaw that is a Central American staple at meal time.  Each country has its own take on it. This recipe, given to me by my father-in-law, is the Nicaraguan version I am most familiar and totally infatuated with. 

I can tell you it is great on just about everything. From grilled meats, chicken, and seafood to cheese and plantains - versatile is it's middle name.

Serves 4

1/2 a head of cabbage, cored and outer leaves removed, thinly sliced.
1 large red tomato, coarsely chopped.
1 medium carrot, julienned.
1/4 cup white vinegar*.
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar*.
1/8 cup of water
1 lime juiced.
1/2 generous teaspoon of salt.
Pepper to taste.

Mix all the ingredients together. Place in a storage bag or lidded container so that you can mix up or shake every so often. It is best after sitting a few hours in the dressing, even better overnight.  Store in fridge.
Serve with meats, cheese, tortillas, just about anything goes great with this simple but delicious slaw.

*Adjust vinegar levels to your liking.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Beef & Pork Marinade Version 1 & 1.1

The Hub and I are having a few friends over for a BBQ tonight. The weather is just right ... a nice, cool 65°F. I definitely wanted pork - the last BBQ was all churrasco - time for a change. 

So yesterday I prepared the marinade the pork would sit in until grill time.  I use this marinade for beef or pork.  It's a bit robust, really compliments and stands up to these heavier cuts. You may have noticed that the title to this post shows version 1 and 1.1 for the marinade and that's because when I grill pork, I add one extra ingredient ... achiote paste! I love how it enhances the flavor of the pork and it gives it a nice reddish tone which looks awesome once it is grilled!

Version 1.0 

Version 1.0

4 green onions, use all of it, white and greens
1/2 of a large onion
1 red sweet pepper
4 garlic clove
6 tablespoons white vinegar or cider apple vinegar
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
2 tablespoons worcestershire
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Pepper to taste

Thursday, March 7, 2013

To Brine or Not to Brine? That Shouldn't Even Be a Question

Do you brine? No?
Do you only brine the Thanksgiving Day turkey? Why only then?
Think it's too much of a hassle? It's not!
Or are you scratching your head wondering what the heck is brining? Read on!

Brining is the process of soaking a protein, such as chicken, in a salt & sugar water solution.  Ratios of salt to sugar vary but I prefer the 2:1  or 3:2 (salt:sugar). It's the secret many chefs probably don't want to share.  It's cheap and at it's very basic form requires nothing more than a container, water, kosher salt and sugar. Sometimes I will use brown sugar, honey, molasses in place of sugar. You can also use any type of juice, beer, wine, stock in place of the water or a combination of these liquids with the water. You can also add in onions, herbs, chilies or any other aromatics you have lying around.  Click here for a larger version of the chart.

Get creative and experiment - the possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Ground Beef Nicaraguan Style - Carne Enchorizada Nicaraguense

Ground Beef Nicaraguan Recipe Baby Corn Carrots

This recipe is a Nicaraguan dish. The name is deceptive - (enchorizada = sausage) because there is no sausage in the dish, it just looks like crumbled cooked sausage. 

I had this dish at my in-laws when I first started dating then boyfriend, and now my husband, back in 1980. It looks similar to my favorite Cuban dish ... Picadillo. Notice I said looks, the taste is completely different, not that there is anything wrong with that!
A few notes about the ingredients. I know what you are going to ask when you read the recipe, why the 85/15 ground beef? Simple ... taste, tradition and you will need the juices the beef expels as it cooks. You can use the leaner cut 93/7 but it will be drier and in my opinion not as rich in flavor.
One particular ingredient used in this dish, that you may not be familiar with, is Achiote paste. Achiote paste is made from the the seeds found inside the pods of the achiote bush and is a common ingredient in Nicaraguan dishes. Here's a link so you can see what the bush, pod and seed look like:
In some cultures it is also referred to as annato. Achiote paste is made by grinding the seed with spices, garlic, vinegar and few other ingredients into a thick paste. It is used mainly for color but I personally love the taste it gives to food, especially grilled meats. If you can't find it, skip it! If you are feeling adventurous you can make your own, read my post on Achiote Paste!

2 pounds 85% lean ground beef
Salt and pepper
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 generous teaspoons of yellow mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium or 1 large onion, chopped
2-3 potatoes, peeled, 1/4" dice 
2 carrots, peeled, 1/4" dice 
7 ears of baby corn, sliced,1/4" coins
1 teaspoon achiote paste (optional)
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup beef stock

Monday, March 4, 2013

In The Utensils Drawer


I am admittedly new and very green to blogging.  There I said it. Got that out of the way! Whew, that wasn't so hard! 
"Why am I here?" I am still trying to figure that out, I'll have to get back to you on that when I have a deep and complex answer. 
Nah ... the answer is quite simple. I want a place to store the recipes I create and I want to share them.  I hope to teach, motivate, inspire and learn along the way. After 30 years in the kitchen (my home kitchen) I think I have managed to learn a few things.
My cooking style is eclectic and by that I mean, a little of this and a little of that.  It's can be casual, fancy, frugal, international ... really it just depends on my mood and what's defrosted or in the pantry.
Like everyone I have a few utensils in my drawer that have a special place in my kitchen.  The big metal spoon belonged to my mom and she served up many a meals to so many people with this simple but generous spoon. The ragged, old, flat wooden "spatula" I've had since I got married. I ordered it from "Fingerhut".
I bet I just dated myself with that comment! Who remembers "Fingerhut"? And while not a utensil per se, this platter belonged to my mom and fed a bunch of adolescent family members that my parents took in during the mass immigration of Cubans to the States in the early 60's. The stories I have heard told about that platter and the battle for the last piece of meat or potato are just hilarious.

So I hope I can entice a few of you out there on the digital highway to come along for the ride. Let's find out why the Fork ran away with the Spoon.