Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Its red, its round, its...

a tomato!!! and it is the season here in Miami for gorgeous red, flavorful tomatoes! I think we'll have tomato sandwiches today for lunch. Happy shopping!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Kathleen's Christmas cookies

These beautiful cookies were made by our good friend Kathleen K. Easy on the eyes and delicious too!

P.S. these were tiny, and the detail is amazing!

Merry Christmas!!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tasting Caviar

Well, to be honest I never have, but an article in today's Wall Street journal got me thinking. Mostly about how talking about food can be great, but too much description can get gross. For example, you want to hear about how something tastes, how great and silky your gelato was or even how to get the best mouth feel in a batch of polenta. However, there is a line, people. Thou shalt not venture into too much detail lest you nausate your reader. Take this quote from today's WSJ article on caviar (It's a bit long, but bear with me it's worth it) "When it comes to eating caviar, Mr. Petrossian likes to put about half a teaspoonful into his mouth and keep it there for a moment. 'The first taste is always very buttery,' he says. Then he likes to roll the eggs around his tongue so he can savor the flavor. 'You pop the eggs with your tongue, play with it a little and then you swallow,' he says" EWWWWW! Seriously.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

To Nog or not to Nog

For years, I considered Egg Nog the vilest of all holiday traditions. This thick, sticky, super-sweet liquid that smelled faintly of nutmeg and rum and left a pasty film on anything it touched. Personally, I could have left the nog out of the holiday without a second glance. Well, this weekend Vince picked up some Egg Nog at Trader Joe's, and I have to say I was absolutely converted! My interest was peaked when I saw my nieces and nephew greedily gobbling up the nog with Christmas cookies on Sunday night. If they liked it, then it couldn't be that bad. So I cautiously poured myself a half cup and took a sip. It was a revelation! This Egg Nog was delicious, creamy but still light, sweet but not overly so. It was like drinking in the season in a cup. The blockade against the nog is over. Let it pour, let it pour, let it pour!!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Chicken Pot Pie Casserole

On a cold winter's day, there is nothing more yummy than cozy comfort food. Chicken potpie is a classic example, but with the wedding countdown in full swing alterations must be made to the recipes or you risk having to make them on the clothes. For starters, forget the flaky tender pie crust. That's got to go! Substitution: Bread crumbs. Advantages: quick fix, lower in calories, still provide the carbs and the crunch. The second alteration: More veggies. I packed this pot pie casserole (which I forgot to take a picture of) with carrots and celery. Advantages: High in fiber, vitamins and flavor. Third and final change: chicken stock instead of heavy cream. This really cuts down on the calories, but still adds flavor. Disadvantage: You don't get the gooey-ness that usually comes with a pot-pie. Still, its not a bad trade-off when you need to look your best in a dress.

I made this recipe off the cuff so the proportions are approximate, but definitely reproducible!

Chicken Pot Pie Casserole (serves 4)

1 pre-cooked rotisserie chicken (huge time-saver)
3 carrots
3 large celery stalks
1 large onion
4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
1 cup of chicken stock
4 slices white or whole wheat bread, crumbled
1 pinch herbs de provence
salt and pepper to taste

Cube the chicken, carrots, celery, and onion. Mince garlic. In a large sauce pan, melt butter and add in flour, then saute onions and garlic. After a few minutes add in carrots and celery. Then add chicken cubes. Finally pour in the chicken stock and let it reduce down for a few minutes. Add salt, pepper and herbs de provence. Pour it all into a glass baking dish and add the bread crumbs on top. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until the bread crumbs are golden brown.

Serve and enjoy!

Power Food: Arugula Salad

One of my favorite side dishes in the whole world is a big pile of baby arugula lightly covered in an easy dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper with big shavings of parmesano reggiano on top. I tried it once at Bread in NYC and had to duplicate it myself (at 15.o0 a plate, it was an economic neccessity because I was addicted from the very first bite!).

It turns out that that very combination of greens, citrus and emollients is fantastic for your body. The arugula itself packs a punch with Vitamins A, B(almost all of them), C, as well as iron, magnesium, potassium, etc. The fresh lemon juice adds acidity and more Vitamin C, while the olive oil delivers that good for you monounsaturated fat we hear so much about. The parmesan cheese shavings are a luxury calorically and economically, so I often skip them and the salad is just as good.

If you've never tried arugula yet go for it. It's an awesome alternative to lettuce with a peppery taste that will keep you coming back for more.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Easy Peasy Applesauce

If you are in the mood for something sweet, but healthy, why don't you take twenty minutes out of your day and make yourself some fresh applesauce. In college, my old roommate used to make a big batch in the slow cooker. It would simmer all day while she was in class and when she got home it would be warm, steamy and comforting. When you are short on prep time, or just plain impatient, you can still get the goodness of applesauce from your stove top. I had two apples left from my Thanksgiving pie making, already peeled and cored (Yes!), so I chopped them into a medium dice, tossed them into a small sauce pan, added about 1/4 cup of water, a 1/3 cup of sugar and cinnamon to taste. Covered the pot and stirred occasionally. 20 minutes later I had enough applesauce for two. It tasted fresh and delicious and not overly sweet at all. I used Granny Smith apples for their nice bright flavor. Plus grannies keep a little better than other apples if you ask me.

Question: Has anyone ever made pear sauce? I wonder which pears would be the best for the making.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

One dish wonder: Taco Salad

With all the eating going on for the holidays, everyday dinners during December should be a bit lighter, but still festive. Last night I brought out one of my mom's proven easy, healthy, tasty dinners from the past to kick-start our Christmas slim-down. It's so easy to make you'll find yourself craving it all the time, plus it can even double as party food. So here it is: Carmina's taco salad.

1 head of iceberg lettuce
3 tomatoes
1 can of red kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 lb ground beef (browned, drained, and cooled)
1 package mix-it-yourself Good Seasons Italian dressing + 1 tablespoon chili powder

Brown the ground beef in a skillet. Set aside and let cool. Chop the lettuce and tomatoes. Place into a large bowl and add kidney beans, cheddar cheese, ground beef and salad dressing. Toss together and serve.

Unhealthy options: Add half a bag of crushed Doritos for extra flavor and crunch.
Healthy options: Slice up some scallions, cilantro or jalapenos for heat.

The Breakdown (c/o the Nutrition Advisor):
Lettuce: Folate, vitamin C, iron, potassium
Tomatoes: Vitamin C, folate, vitamin A, Potassium, Iron, fiber
Red Kidney beans: Folate, Fiber, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Thiamine, Vitamin B6, Zinc
Cheddar cheese: Calcium, Vitamin B12, Riboflavin, Zinc
Ground beef: Zinc, vitamin B12, Niacin, Iron, Riboflavin, B6, Potassium, Magnesium
Italian Dressing: Olive oil!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Flu-Fighters

One of my favorite sections in the Wall Street Journal is the weekly Health and Wellness supplement. This week's seasonal topic: The Flu, or more accurately, how you can eat your way to a healthier immune system. According to article writer Laura Landro, the key ingredients to fighting germs are: Vitamin D, Selenium, Vitamin A, Zinc, Vitamin C, and Vitamin B-6. These can be found among the usual suspects of a healthy diet, whole grains, beans and legumes, green and brightly colored fruits and veggies and fortified milk.

What this article tells me is that while winter may be a time for indulging in your favorite potato chips, cookies, and pies, it should also be a time for beefing up on all the healthy food as well. Our dinner last night was a case in point: an appetizer of edamame, main course of lean pork loin marinated with plenty of garlic and lime juice and a side of sweet potato cubes baked in the oven with olive oil. So far we got a few of the colors necessary for a healthy diet, green and yellow-orange, plus fiber and protein. But let's go to the video tape to be sure.

By the video-tape, I mean Prevention Magazine's Nutrition Advisor edited by Mark Bricklin, a recent Goodwill find that outlines all the vitamins and minerals in over 1,000 foods. So here we go:
Edamame: protein, folate (B vitamin), calcium, zinc
Sweet potato: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, riboflavin, fiber
Pork: thiamine, zinc, B vitamins, niacin, potassium

Not too shaby. Interesting fact also gleaned from Prevention, sweet potatoes have more vitamin a than most other vegetables. So go for seconds and thirds of the spuds this Thanksgiving!

Sources: Landro, Laura. "The Flu-Fighters-- in Your Food." The Wall Street Journal. 11/24/09
Bricklin, Mark. Prevention Magazine's Nutrition Advisor: The Ultimate Guide to the Health-Boosting and Health-Harming Factors in your Diet. Emaus: Rodale, 1993.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bangkok Bistro - Kantok platter

My favorite thing about eating Asian food is going with a big group, ordering a table-full of dishes, and tasting a little bit of each one. Now, when you eat out with just two or three, especially for lunch, your choices are a bit limited, but not if you order the Kantok platter at Bangkok Bistro. You get your own personal lazy susan with four different dishes: Pad Thai (possibly the best we have ever had), basil chicken, curry tofu and drunken noodles with just enough white rice in the center to soak up all the yummy sauces. If you order apps, this will be too much food, but for one person with an eclectic palate it is perfect.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Aunt Sandy's Chicken Wings

Ummm, chicken wings! Buffalo style, sweet and sour, salt and pepper, I'll take them any style. But when it's time to make wings at home, there is one recipe I know I can rely on for savory, sticky, delicious wings! It's a family recipe, handed down from Vince's mom to us (ok, so it doesn't have the longest history, yet!) But it is a favorite with all of Vince's cousins (hence the name), nieces, nephews and the in-laws. I made these wings a few months ago and I just ran across the recipe today and thought I would put it in a more permanently secure space and share it with you, my dear readers.

So, here it is:
2 lbs of chicken wings (cut in half, no tips)
7 oz. of Kikkoman soy sauce (it has to be Kikkoman, no substitutes, please)
1 tsp dry mustard powder
7 tbsp dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Mix all these ingredients together in a plastic freezer bag and add the wings. Smush around so that all the wings get coated and marinate for an hour in the fridge. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the wings on a baking sheet with raised sides and pour the marinade over the wings. Baste and turn the wings every 20 minutes and make sure they don't start to burn. Cook for 1 to 1.5 hours, or until the wings reach the desired level of gooey-ness. Serve and watch them disappear!
Correction!!!!! I just found out that the history of these wings goes back one generation further. Vince's grandmother Dolores, gave it to her daughter Aunt Sandy (my mother-in-law), so this is a third generation recipe! Awesome!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Northern Virginia Magazine: 50 Best restaurants

Northern Virginia Magazine recently put out their guide to the 50 best restaurants in the area. Although my criteria for the best restaurants in the area is definitely different from theirs (high marks for Eventide in Clarendon was the first tip off), I found out that Vince and I had actually been to quite a few of these without the benefit of the guide. One of the more surprising picks was Foti's in Culpeper, VA, not because the food wasn't good, but because it is so out of the way!

Vince and I had a 1-month anniversary dinner there about a year ago and found it to be quite tasty. Although we didn't get any pictures of the food, here is a (blurry) one of the interior. It was pretty nice, not particularly memorable. I can't remember what we ate there, and I can probably still give you a bite by bite rendition of our first meal at Tosca. Still it was neat to see that our dining out instincts are still sharp, at least by NoVA mag standards. Willow Restaurant, also on the top 50 list, is quite delicious and centrally located if you live in the Arlington/Alexandria area.
If anyone else has read this issue of the magazine and eaten at one of the "top 50" leave a comment. What do you think? Do the restuarants live up to the hype??

Thursday, November 5, 2009

It's getting chilly!!!

The weather has really cooled down in the last couple of days. Bright sunny skies, but a definite chill in the air. Vince says it smells crisp, and I think it smells like the first gust of cold air that comes out of the freezer when you open the door. I know that might sound like a crazy comparison, but I really do feel that the coming of winter is like entering a sub-zero refrigerator, minus climate control.

Regardless of the sweaters, this is a great time of year to be enjoying warm and savory soups like this lobster bisque from Firehook Bakery in Alexandria, just the right thing when shopping on King Street downtown:

And yes, that's a slice of olive bread on the side, absolutely delicious for dipping and I must find the recipe.

Or a nice glass of red wine and some tapas like this piquillo pepper and buffala mozzarella sandwich from Grape and Bean also in Alexandria.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


So this is what I was talking about in my last post! Today is a beautiful day in Virginia. 72 degrees, sunny, and the trees are in their full glory. For all my Miami readers, here's a look at fall in the North. On days like today it is really stunning. So if you are in VA or the North and have similar weather, get outside! It's amazing.

This might even be a perfect day to grill out!
P.S. This is my 100th post! cool.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Finding fall in the kitchen

Here are some beauty shots (ok, I'm still working on my photography skills) of some Greek-style stuffed peppers I made with my family in Miami. I just love how the bright red, orange and yellow peppers contrast with my Mom's robin egg blue cast-iron pot, especially on these grey autumn days in Arlington. The peppers are stuffed with some grilled chicken, feta cheese, cherry tomatos, spinach, garlic, onions, salt and pepper. In true R-C style, we took no measurements so I can't pass on a recipe, but if I did, it would sound something like this: Heat up some olive oil in a skillet add chicken, feta cheese, tomatos, onions and garlic to taste. Stuff peppers, place in cast iron pot, top with more feta cheese and heat in a 425 degree oven until peppers are soft.

I think this recipe has a lot of potential, but it needs more work before it is blog ready. So the moral of this story is go out get some foods you like, throw them together and see what happens!

It's like having a sunny fall day all in one pot.

Monday, October 19, 2009

DIY Granola

This week I've been in Miami taking exams (I passed!) and hanging out with family and friends. It's been great to have an extended time at home to just chill and really enjoy quantity of time with my sisters and parents. The other great thing about being home is that you can enjoy the surprises that come with the daily rhythms of life. For example, every six weeks or so my mom's long time hairdresser and friend, Jan, comes to the house to freshen up Mom's do and this time, she brought a breakfast surprise along with her scissors and tints. Fresh homemade granola! Now, I'm typically not a huge granola fan. I like the crunch and the health benefits, but most of the pre-packaged stuff out there is just too sweet for me. Jan's granola, which she came to by way of another client, Nadine, has just the right amount of sweetness and crunch to make for guilt-free snacking and hearty breakfasts especially when paired with greek yogurt and fresh berries. We were so impressed that we headed out to Whole Foods to gather up the ingredients. Delicious and easy to make this granola also makes a great gifts for family and friends. Jan generously shared her recipe with us and I pass it on to you. Happy Crunching!

Granola Recipe
4 ½ cup Rolled Oats
1 cup Sunflower seeds
¼ cup white sesame seeds
1 ½ cup almonds
½ cup ground flaxseed
¾ cup apple sauce (unsweetened)
2 tbsp sunflower oil (or canola)
2/3 cup brown rice syrup
¼ clover honey
¾ cup brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp sea salt
2 cups raisins or other dried fruit
Mix everything except the dried fruit in a very large mixing bowl. Spray some Pam on the baking sheets. Then spread out the granola on two baking sheets with edges. Bake in 300-325 degree oven for 40 minutes, turning once about halfway through. Take out of the oven, sprinkle with the dried fruit and let cool before placing in a air-tight container. The granola will keep for about a week
Hands-on notes: Depending on how your oven heats, you may need to leave the granola in there for a little longer or vary the temperature. You want the granola to be golden brown and crunchy. If the granola doesn't look dry enough when you first take it out of the oven don't worry, it will set up a bit more as it cools.
Serving suggestions: Mix with greek yogurt and fresh berries. Heat up some milk and pour it over the granola for those chilly winter days.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gourmet Magazine folding

For starters, sorry for the crickets over here in my corner of the blog-o-sphere, I've been studying for exams like a crazy person and haven't had the mental energy to devote here. But I had to post a quick comment after reading that Gourmet Magazine is getting the ax from Conde Nast. I just subscribed to this magazine and am really sad to hear that it is going. They have great recipes that test your culinary chops and teach you a thing or two in the process. Any suggestions?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Candy Blog

As a study break I have decided to surf the blog-o-sphere, something that I don't get to do often enough. But today, I found this really neat blog called, very simply, Candy Blog. Yes, you guessed it, its a blog about CANDY. Not just any blog about candy, but a one told by someone passionate about the subject, yet able to maintain a critical distance for proper analysis. If you are looking for a fun pastime, I suggest giving it a once over as the Halloween merchandise begins to invade drug store shelves.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Charleston, S.C. part II

At long last, part two of our South Carolina adventure. The first thing we noticed when we rolled into Charleston were the palm trees, palmettos to be exact, the state tree of SC. They were everywhere, lining the streets, nestled in parks and brought us a real sense of Southern flair. We didn't realize how much we missed palm trees in Arlington. After a quick drive down King street, we decided to park it and walk around downtown. Here's a shot of one of the beautiful fountains/wading pools on the river front. It's just the thing for hot tired feet on a steamy day in August.

The next day, we visited the beach on Sullivan's Island with Brendan, Angela and Jacob for some surfside R & R. After a good long morning of sunning ourselves and riding the waves, we were ready for some lunch at Poe's Tavern. The tavern offers appropriately themed eats like the Tell-Tale Heart, Amontillado and Gold-bug burgers. The food was really top-notch and the service is fast and friendly. The fish tacos are also exceptional (and I have these just about everywhere). I also found their logo especially clever, but that may just be the English major in me talking.

With some time to kill before the wedding, we strolled around Charleston and marveled at how relaxing it is to attend someone else's wedding (as opposed to being at your own!) This is a picture of the French Huguenot Church in downton Charleston where our friends tied the knot and below is their lovely wedding cake at the Charleston Country Club.

And as no visit to the Low-country would be complete without shrimp 'n grits, we brunched at High Thyme where they do up their version with spicy chorizo and scallions.

Charleston is a great city to visit for history, beaches, a laid-back atmosphere and world class dining with a Southern flair! (one more Charleston post to come about our visit to Cru Cafe.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Oysters at Old Ebbitt Grill

Here's a shot of our oyster dinner, or what's left of it, at Old Ebbitt. We had pacific something or others and they were absolutely delicious. As you know, I recently got over my oyster-squeamishness, and I just can't get enough of them now. At Old Ebbitt, they have so many types of oysters that they give you a little description of each on a menu, kind of like a wine list. Well, I thought an oyster, was an oyster, was an oyster, but when we got our batch, I was surprised to see that the description was right on: smooth and sweet with a mild briny finish. It makes me want to go back and order one oyster of each so I can taste the difference!

On an aesthetic note, aren't the oyster shells beautiful? I love their irregular shapes and pearly insides with pewter accents. No wonder Edouard Manet used them in his still lifes! Plus, then he got to eat them!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Peaches Three Ways

There is nothing like walking in the shade of the orchard with the heady smell of peaches all around you. The fruit hangs off of the branches tantalizingly within reach and just begging to be taken home and baked into a cobbler. But first you will have to grab one and take a bite, then you realize that there is nothing better than a ripe, sun-warmed peach eaten in the middle of the orchard. Of course, when you are intoxicated by this delicious taste, you will over-fill your bucket with peaches, realizing a few days later that you have a lot of peach eating to do!

Case in point, we had some that were about to go and some bananas to match so I threw them together in the Williams-Sonoma banana bread recipe I made a while back with chocolate chips. The banana peach bread came out great, just the right amount of sweetness from the bananas balanced by the tartness of the peaches.

We also tried making a peach cobbler, but this didn't turn out quite as well. Turns out that when you use fresh peaches instead of canned in heavy syrup, you need to add a lot of sugar to get it right. Using bisquick, as a short-cut was probably a travesty on these Battleview gems. Oh well, live and learn. We can't wait until next year when these babies are back in season.

Monday, August 31, 2009

I'm dreaming of a Miami Christmas...

The weather today makes me nostalgic for Christmas in Miami. I know that might sound crazy, but if you have ever experienced a Cuban Nochebuena, you know what I mean. On a perfect December 24 in the 3-0-5, you will wake up to a day like today, sunny, warm, zero-humidity, and the lightest breeze ruffling the palm trees. The smell of hundreds of charcoal fires being lighted in backyards around the neighborhood starts the anticipation for the juicy lechon (roast pork) to come when the sun sets.

Kids start their sugar rush early with candy canes for breakfast. Visitors start coming by with last minute gifts and cookie trays loaded with goodies. If the lechon is at your house, the anxiety begins will it be ready? Did you add enough salt? Maybe you should have pealed a few more bulbs of garlic? If the lechon-making is at someone else's house, its time to visit, maybe take the roasters some cafe cubano or pastelitos? You sit down and play a round of dominos with Abuelo and sneak a peak at the pig under the banana leaves to see how it is coming.

Before long, you shower, head to church, try to concentrate on what the priest is saying instead of your empty stomach, and FINALLY make it to the Noche Buena celebration. Gifts, family, and food in short sleeves and sandals!

I know its only August but on a balmy day like to day, I can't help dreaming...

It's just your friendly neighborhood pear tree...

This is a picture of a pear tree in my neighborhood. It lives in front of an apartment building not too far from mine and it is covered in fruit. I don't know why, but I find fruit trees fascinating. I've also heard that they offer the best bang for your buck as far as backyard gardening is concerned.

I grew up around mango trees and avocado trees and I love those too, but there is something about seeing a fruit you only know from the grocery store shelves out in the wild, even if that wilderness is just suburbia.

For an extreme take on neighborhood and city dining, check out this website on foraging (i.e. finding your food in an urban jungle). People actually do this!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pasta Eater: Allegory of Taste

Vince and I spotted this Luca Giordano painting at the Princeton University Art Museum. We just loved it! This brawny Italian has just finished toiling in the fields and has come home to a heaping plate of spaghetti lightly dressed in olive oil. No need for a fork, he dives right in and enjoys each slurp of homemade goodness.
oil on canvas c. 1660
photograph by Bruce M. White

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Julie and Julia

This weekend I had the chance to see Julie and Julia in the theater with a great group of girls, who coincidentally also blog about food.

We had a lovely time and completed our experience with a French dinner at Bastille in Alexandria. Yummy!

I came away from the movie with a few pearls of wisdom and here they are:

1. In life, its so important to have a mate (if you have one) that shares your values, nourishes your dreams, and will stand by you in your darkest hours. Stanley Tucci and Merryl Streep do a great job of portraying Paul and Julia Child's loving, passionate,and supportive relationship.

2. Sometimes not getting something you desire can open up opportunities you never imagined, but that ultimately make you the person you were meant to be. Throughout the movie, you realize how badly Julia wanted to have a child. It obviously pained her not to hold her own baby, but she rarely let herself wallow in dreams of what could have been. If Julia had been able to have a child, she might never have been able to give birth to Mastering the Art of French Cooking and that would have been a great loss to us all.

3. Live life to the fullest. This sounds cliche, and it is, but so often we need to be reminded that the petty details and annoyances in life are small compared to the beauty and fullness it has to offer. Not all of us can have the privilege of living in Paris, but we can find joy in our everyday situation and make things a bit more delicious for those who live with us.

Julie and Julia, a lovely story about a girl who sets out to conquer a cookbook and learns how to live life as well. This story is excellent for anyone who has ever found themselves at a crossroads in life, uncertain what to do next and worried about making a leap into what seems irrational or absurd. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly reccomend it. Take some tissues and go out to dinner after!

P.S. DC restuarant week starts today! Happy Eating!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Majestic

This is a picture of Vince's lunch at the Majestic in Alexandria. Fresh green beans with bacon as a side dish and Chicken liver mousse with crostini and poached figs. Everything was really tasty, but the figs stood out among the rest. The were juicy and sweet with a thin, crispy layer of caramelized sugar across the top.
I ordered a B.L.T with arugula instead of lettuce. What a great (and recreate-able) idea!
P.S. Loved the retro feel of the dining room.

Bitter melon squash

The bitter melon squash: a knobby cucumber-like vegetable whose slightly bitter taste is valued as a palate cleanser in some Indian and South Asian cuisine. Who would have thought it would turn up at the Shoppers (supermarket) in Arlington.

I picked it up on a whim and at the urging of a more culinarily adventurous friend than I on a recent shopping trip. Unfortunately, this post is prompted by the fact that I found it decomposing in the back of my fridge yesterday. It kind of reminds me of a sea cucumber or a spine-less cactus. What do you think?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pizza Party!

Vince and I both have pizza-making pops. We both remember our dads making dough, kneading away at a mass of flour, water, and yeast that would somehow come together in a smooth shiny ball and grow in a warm dark corner of the garage. Pizza days are special at my house, especially because it meant that dad had the day off from work and would be home early for dinner. It also meant that we would be able to sneak little bits of cheese slathered in papi's homemade sauce just before the pies headed to the oven.

When we were little, I remember that we used the big squares of Polly-O mozzarella, cutting it into uneven slices and eating almost half before it made it to the pie. As we got older and our tastebuds grew wiser, dad would experiment with toppings goat cheese, spinach, more grown-up tastes.

Inspired by a Gourmet recipe for pizza dough and a temporary bought of insomnia, I decided to make pizza dough a few weeks ago. (Dad usually makes a Cuban empanada dough recipe.) I let it rise overnight in the fridge (which is actually a good way to go with bread dough, less boozy smell from over-rising and "chewier, more airy crumbs", according to Cooks Illustrated #100).

We topped it with papi's sauce (garlic, olive oil, oregano, and salt run through the food processor, add that to the crust then pour on tomato sauce straight from the can and swirl around with your fingers, or a spoon if you must. Proportions, you ask? Papi doesn't use measuring spoons! He just knows.), pepperoni, italian sausage and onions on one and (our favorite) anchovies and garlic on the other, seriously flavorful! Pair this with a good salad and you are set for dinner. We were also able to cut up the leftovers into bite size pieces for an appetizer the next day.

Pizza Dough Recipe (Gourmet Magazine, July 2009, p.86)

2 (1/4 oz.) packages of active dry yeast

4 1/2 to 5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided plus additional for dusting

2 cups of warm water (105-115 degrees) divided

2 tsp salt

Wisk together yeast, 2 tbsp flour, and 1/2 cup warm water in a measuring cup and let stand until mixture develops a creamy foam, about 10 minutes. (If this mixture doesn't foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)

Stir together salt and 3 cups flour in a large bowl. Add yeast mixture and remaining 1 1/2 cups warm water and stir until smooth, then stir in 1 cup more flour. If dough sticks to your fingers, stir in just enough flour (3/4 cup), a little at a time, to make dough just come away from side of bowl. (This dough may be wetter than other pizza doughs you have made.)

Knead doung on a lightly floured surface with floured hands, lightly reflouring work surface and your hands when the dough becomes too sticky, until dough is smooth, soft, and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Divide dough in half and form into two balls, then generously dust balls all over with flour and put each in a medium bowl. Cover bowls with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a draft free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Cook's Note: Dough can rise slowly in the refrigerator for 1 day. Bring to room temperature before using.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Yummy Ceviche

Just about a year ago, Vince and I had the best ceviche ever at the Finisterra Hotel in Costa Rica. Sweet and savory with just the right amount of acidity and a ton of flavor, we haven't had ceviche this good again any where else.

It was so good that we special ordered it to go on the last day that we were in Playa Hermosa.

...I wish we were there now!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Charleston, S.C part I

Vince and I just got home from a great weekend trip to Charleston, S.C. Even though it's only been a few hours since we left, I'm already thinking about our next trip back! We ate soooooo well in Charleston. Really, really good food. Stay tuned for pics and recs to come.

Thanks A, B, and J for a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Paladar CM: Camarones Enchilados

Whenever we had company growing up, I always remember having my mom's signature dish: Camarones enchilados. This was the Cuban equivalent of Boeuf Bourguignon (Julie and Julia lovers, you know what I'm talking about!). Always a crowd pleaser, always delicious, my mom knew she would get good reviews with this savory shrimp creole and the complementary plates of sweet plantains, a crisp green salad and plenty of mariquitas (fried green plantain chips).

On camarones enchilado days, I remember a frenzy of shrimp peels flying, parsley and pimentos being whirled together in the blender, the bustle of last minute cleaning, dusting, jamming stuff in closets (at least in the room I shared with my sister) and, best of all, sneaking bites of shrimp from the slow simmering pot on the stove.

Last week we had a lot to celebrate, friends coming home from across the pond, summer in its full glory and a clean apartment! It was camarones enchilado time. Believe it or not this slow simmered recipe and thick sauce come together in a little over an hour and a half. Serve with long grain white rice, maduros (sweet plantains), mariquitas (fried green plantains), and a fresh green salad and you are good to go.
Here is the recipe translated from my bootleg copy of Nitza Villapol's classic Cocina Criolla*
2 lbs of shrimp (peeled and deveined, I also take off the tail. It gets in the way of the eating.)
1/2 cup oil
1 onion
3 garlic cloves (these are called teeth, dientes in Spanish)
1 large green pepper
1/2 cup parsley (one little bunch (this is a direct translation, honest))
1 can of tomato sauce (I assume this to be 8 oz.)
1 can of pimentos (not spicy and not fire roasted)
1/2 cup of tomato ketchup (this is the secret to this dish, trust me!)
1/2 cup dry white cooking wine
1 teaspoon of vinager
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of ground pepper
1 teaspoon of worcester sauce (the cookbook calls this English sauce)
1 teaspoon of hot sauce
Equipment: 1 large stockpot, food processor.
Peel and devein the shrimp, remove tails if desired. Fry them in hot oil; when they are pink add the minced onion, garlic and chopped green pepper (I reccomend the food processor for this) and let it all simmer for a little while together. Add the well chopped parsley, the chopped pimentos with the water that is in the can (again I recommend the food processor), the tomato sauce, the ketchup, bay leaf, cooking wine, salt, pepper, worcester sauce, and the hot sauce. Let this simmer over a low flame for 25 to 30 minutes. Gives 6 portions.

I almost always double the recipe from the get-go, but then again, my mom usually fed a small army at every meal so it may just be force of habit. It really is a crowd-pleaser and you can count on at least a few people, if not all your guests, having seconds.

Clean shrimp

Sofrito (onions, peppers, garlic)

Pimentos and parsley

The rest of the ingredients (bay leaf not pictured)

*I say bootleg because I'm pretty sure that the copy I have is a direct rip on hers, minus the name of the author. After being the Cuban Julia Child for years, she pledged allegiance to the revolution, thereby meriting erasure from her own book. Ah, the tangled web of Cuban exile politics! But don't quote me on this as it's just a theory. If anyone has more info, please let me know.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Stuffed Zucchini

This week we made a lovely stuffed zucchini from one of the giants in the last post. Vince made an awesome Italian sausage and cremini mushroom filling that could not have been better.

Here is a before picture:

And an after! All the juices from the filling ran down and into the zucchini giving it a really sweet and mellow taste that perfectly balanced the the savoriness of the sausage and mushrooms. He pretty much eye-balled the whole recipe, but if we can remember how we made it I'll be sure to give you the recipe!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fruits from Chris' garden

My brother-in-law Chris has been keeping a backyard garden for the last three years and this year, it has really taken off. Here are some GIANT zucchinis, extra-large cucumbers, and a bumper crop of tomatoes. I don't know what he put in the soil this year! The little cherry tomatos are super sweet and delicious.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rating Cooking Magazines

I just got my first copy of Gourmet magazine this week and it got me to thinking about cooking magazines I have encountered in the past. There is something relaxing and tantalizing about flipping through the glossy pages and seeing beautiful images of food you could make in your very own kitchen that I just can't get enough of. So in the spirit of Cook's Illustrated - one of my favorites - here's an off the cuff rating of cooking/food magazines I have encountered in the past; although, I have to admit I am nowhere near as methodical as Cooks.

Highly Recommended
Cooks Illustrated: This non-glossy, non-frilly magazine takes top honors for their straightforward approach and well-investigated articles. Explanations of gadgets, chicken parts, and the best way to grill a rib eye accompany accounts from the test kitchen that will encourage any home chef, no matter how infrequently they enter the kitchen. The magazine does not include any advertising (another perk) which bolsters their objectivity and my trust in their product reviews. This is the perfect gift for any serious or aspiring chef in your family. Issues come out bi-monthly, but are chockful of recipes and will keep you busy for the duration.

Gourmet Magazine: The fabulous photography in this glossy monthly will make your mouth water. Between the covers you will find over 50 recipes interspersed with stories about cooks and cooking that are funny, inspiring, or just plain entertaining. Gets a number two spot for a minimal amount of advertising.

Food and Wine: Another great magazine, this periodical branches out from the kitchen to cover restaurants, chefs, and the fruit of the vine. Glossy pictures, a good number of recipes, and lighter content.

Not Recommended: There are two magazines out there that I think are over-hyped and really kind of boring.
Food Network Magazine: I realize that we all love our celebrity chefs, but really they do much better on television. The magazine is light on content and feels like a multi-page Food Network advert. Save the trees and stick to the tube.

Bon Appetit: More like Bore Apetit, the beautiful pictures can't make up for the plethora of advertisements. Plus, I'm not sure I like the recipes that I see in there. Can't say I've ever been inspired to make them, so it might be a hasty judgment on my part, still I'd say your money is better spent elsewhere.

Do you have a favorite cooking mag? Any suggestions? Disagree with one of my rankings? Let me know in a comment!

Buen Provecho! (that means bon appetit in spanish, but I thougth that it would be wrong to use that term since I just slammed the glossy!)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Maranatha Nut Butters

Ok, a quick post and a plug. Lately, I've been trying different kinds of separated peanut butters, you know the kinds where the oil sits on the top and you have to stir and stir and stir it to get peanut butter again? I'm trying to avoid the trans-fats. Well, first I tried Smuckers version and it was tough to stir and dry as paste. This can happen with organic and unmixed butters, hydrogenated oils to wonders for mouth feel. Then, I decided to spring for the slightly more expensive Maranatha unseparated peanut butter. Wow, what a difference. It actually felt like peanut butter. Even better, it is the most peanut-buttery peanut butter I have ever tried, even without the hydrogenated oils!. So right now, I'm enjoying this awesome peanut butter on an English muffin with a little drizzle of honey on top and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Happy Tuesday to you all and may your breakfasts be as tasty!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cape Cod Postcard

Hey all... went to Cape Cod for the Fourth of July! Beautiful area. The Cape is casual and even though we stayed in Hyannisport unpretentious. Ate seafood galore, oysters, clams, scallops, and of course...Lobster.

Took the Island Queen ferry out of Falmouth to Martha's Vineyard and rode bikes to South Beach and through Edgarton. Lovely little town of shops, candy stores, and restaurants. Had our first Lobster Roll at Newes from America.

Perfectly cooked lobster with just the right amount of mayo, a hint of lemon and some capers.

Vince ordered a rack of beers to taste the local brews.

Here is a picture of the Bridge seen in Jaws which was actually filmed in Martha's Vineyard. The water lets out of the ponds on the island to the sea which makes jumping in much more pleasant.

Back on the mainland for the Fourth. This was our favorite lobster roll from the Raw Bar in Hyannisport. Just look at that huge claw crowning the top of a that pound of lobster. It dwarfs the bun! Had my first oysters here as well. The trick is to swallow them down and enjoy the briny aftertaste.

Can't forget...Ice cream from the Four Seas (3rd oldest ice cream shop in New England)...creamy, custardy goodness...watching fireworks from the beach...swimming in an icy cold Atlantic...and hanging out with friends new and old.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Stuffed Artichokes

After being stuffed all weekend in Cape Cod (more on this later), we decided to stuff some artichokes for dinner last night. My in-laws make stuffed artichokes all the time, but I've been wary of the prickly little veggies. So I did some searching on the net and found this video by Tracy Porter on how to prepare artichokes. It is a really easy to follow video that takes the mystery out of the artichoke. We tweaked Tracy's recipe, and it was delicious! If you've never tried stuffing your own artichokes or even cooking with them at all, I highly recommend it! It's much easier than it looks and totally worth the effort. Happy eatings!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Road Trip Munchies

With the Fourth of July just around the corner and summer in full swing, a road trip may be in your future if it hasn't already happened yet. When I was a kid, my mom always let us splurge on candies and salty snacks when we took our long East coast drives. I couldn't imagine being in the car for longer than three hours without a bag of Twizzlers by my side. These days, I'm a little bit more careful about my snacks, mostly because I'm a grown-up and occasionally share in the driving, which means sugar highs lead to speeding tickets and lows lead to swerving. No, I needed something that wouldn't send my blood sugar all over the place like gravel from a truck bed.

On our last road trip to NJ, I unexpectedly stumbled upon the answer. Trying to clean out my fridge of perishables, I found a half-used English cucumber, some celery sticks and a bag of baby carrots. "Hmmm, these will have to come along," I thought. So I tossed them in with the half-eaten bag of Doritos and set off to conquer (I mean crawl) along the Beltway. It was a success, not only did the veggies taste good, but they kept us hydrated and cool. Although, I still missed the Twizzlers, as we head off to Cape Cod for a beach weekend, I'm sure my waistline will thank me.

P.S. Parents, this might be a good trick to try with your kids. Fewer sugar roller coasters mean less fighting and fewer are-we-there-yets. Plus, you can save the candy as a reward for x-amount of miles of good behavior.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Two Punch Meal

Hey there! It's been a fun andbusy week in Capital City-landia, but I just had to share two awesome meals. They stack up so if you are also going to be having a busy week this is just the thing. Plus, it will feed you and yours for 2 nights. The first is my mom's slow cooker pork loin with garlic, oregano, and lime juice. Pork loin is on sale frequently at the markets and you get two pieces of loin per package so it's a really good deal. First, you set your slow cooker to high and depending on the size of the loin set it to cook for 3-8 hours. Then, you dry the pork loin (remove the silver skin if you like), then salt it generously and sear it in a hot pan with a lil bit of veggie oil. After it is seared transfer it to the slow cooker and add the juice of a lime and a quarter cup of white cooking wine. Mince up about 7 cloves of garlic and spread them on each of the loins in the slow cooker, sprinkle each with some dried oregano, add a bay leaf, and ignore until the timer dings. You can serve this with any side dish: rice, beans, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, squash.

Now, if you have leftovers, and when you are cooking for two you will, just pop them in the fridge until you need another quick fix dinner. This one is even easier than the first. Buy a loaf of Cuban bread or French, if you are in non-Cuban area, something long and soft-ish. Then chop up the remaining pork and sautee it with some onions and oil in a frying pan until the onions are translucent and the pork is warmed through. Split the bread down the middle and stuff with the pork mixture. Voila a quick and easy pan con lechon (bread and roasted pork sandwich) Plate and enjoy! This really needs no side dish, but if you must, I recommend an arugula salad or something crunchy.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Apples in July?

Sure! What could be more American during Independence month? I just found this recipe on a blog and I had to post it so I could find it again.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tapas and Treasures

One more Miami post for you all! This one is close to my heart. My great-aunt Hilda passed away a few years ago, but she has not been forgotten. A music teacher and choral leader, she was also the archivist and historian of the family. She saved newspaper clippings, photos, curios, and best of all, pictures of our family. While I was home, my RC cousins and I got together to sift through a few boxes full of memories and try to figure out who the heck all these people were. (Props to Andy and my dad for recognizing the most!) To fortify ourselves for the walk down memory land, we had some tapas from Delicias and a delicious chocolate chocolate chip poundcake by Lucila. Those of you who live in the Greater Miami area are sooooo lucky! You can pick one of these up at your local Publix or Milam's stores. Those of us who are far away will just have to fantasize about them and hope that some one wants to send us one by mail! (hint, hint!) If you have an archivist, scrap-booker, or memory saver in your family, I encourage you to talk to them now! I'm sure Hilda could have told us great stories about her life and our family history. Even though she couldn't be with us, her presence was definitely felt, and she brought us all together, helping us make more memories.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Paladar Teresita

My great-aunt, Tia Tere, is a phenomenal cook and host. She knows just how to plan a multi-course meal that will make your mouth water at every bite. Even when you drop in on her unexpectedly, while her stove is out, like I did last week, she will not disappoint you. On the contrary, she will stuff you with Cuban lasagna, salad, awesome empanadas (more on these later), hearty soup, and plantains. And this is what I want to tell you about, mmm-mmmm-mmm, the plantains. This is a Cuban dish I have yet to master because it requires an ingredient I need to cultivate - no, not a banana plant, PATIENCE. Low and slow is the secret to making plantains, a.k.a tostones, as is making things in small batches and enjoying the process. Tia Tere's talented kitchen assistant, Loli, kindly let me take pictures of the process and pass them on to you.

First, cut up a green plantain into 1 inch pieces. This plantain should be really green, no yellowish or brown spots. Fry the plantains in about an inch of oil on low heat. The plantains need to soften, but not get too crispy.

Then, you pull the plantains out of the oil and get ready for the squashing.

Loli used a flat bottom glass to squash the plantain into a thin disk.

Like so.

Then its back into the frying pan, this time at high heat to get the edges nice and crispy.

Once they are finished, sprinkle with salt, let cool just a bit, and enjoy your delicious crispy tostones.