Sunday, May 31, 2009

In the 305


After a near-miss of my flight due to a predilection for Auntie Anne's pretzels, I am home in Miami, taking a long layover before my trip to Jamaica tomorrow. Although the tropical growing season is backwards from that of the Northern hemisphere, it does have its advantages: tomatoes and strawberries in January for example and lychees and mangoes in May/June. My parents had harvested the lychees from our backyard tree and spread them out on the kitchen table. One of their friends, Duque (truly a man with a green thumb), had also brought them a big basket of mangoes that I could smell as soon as I walked in the door. If you haven't tried a sun-ripened mango yet, I strongly urge braving the humidity, the thunderstorms and the mosquitoes to come down to the 305 and try them out. Deeeeelicious!!

Sun-ripened mangoes!

I'll try to post while in JA, but I can definitely promise pics upon return!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Real New Jersey

New Jersey usually gets a bad rap in the media. New Jersey, home of the mobsters, the landfills, the whiny housewives, the big hair. While all of this may in part be true, there is another side to Jersey that Vince and I love. It's the Jersey of good food, good music, boardwalk games and quirky ways to have fun. It's been awhile since our last Jersey trip (4 months to be precise) and we decided to do everything!

First and foremost, a trip to The Shore! Although it wasn't quite warm enough it was fantastic to be on the beach and smell the salt air. We gorged ourselves on salt water taffy and zeppolis, then burned it off with several rounds of skee ball and some mini-golf. (Vince hit up the real course with his dad that morning and has the farmer's tan to prove it!)

We followed this up with a trip to Freehold, home of the Boss and Federici's pizza, the best thin crust pie this side of the Mississippi if you ask me! The crust is thin and crunchy, but holds up to the meatiest of toppings (not pictured below)

Monday, Memorial day, we decided to beat the traffic by not leaving the Garden State until after dinner time. This left plenty of time to hit the track and place some bets on the ponies. We made some bets and won some cash then spent it immediately on ice cream at Jersey Freeze!

They do a decent peak on their cones, but I couldn't wait long enough to take the picture.

On our way home, we stopped at a local orchard to pick up some strawberries, but came home with some locally grown Jersey wine instead. (longer post on this forthcoming)

Throw that in with selling some stuff at the local flea market, shopping at the outlet stores with my mother-in-law, attending a bbq with the neighbors, and partying with a bunch of girls at a wedding shower (Vince drank beer and played whiffle ball with the men outside, but mostly drank beer), and an impromptu drive-thru Great Adventure and you have an action-packed weekend in Jersey.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Spicy Bridal Shower Games

My sister-in-law, Monica, came up with a really cute, simple shower game for her sister's wedding shower this weekend, and boy was it spicy! No, not that kind of spicy (mind's out of the gutter, please!). While the bride opened her gifts, Monica passed out little containers of unidentified spices. This was a great way to keep the crowd of ladies engaged as they oooh-ed and aah-ed over KitchenAid mixers and dish towels tied like lingerie. Some spices were unmistakeable, like cinnamon and garlic powder. Others kept us guessing. I have to say that in dehydrated form, oregano, sage, thyme, and coriander are practically impossible to place, which makes you wonder how much taste/smell are influenced by packaging. At the end of the game, results were tallied and those with the most correct got a little gift. This is a great game for a kitchen-themed shower or one for a bride who loves to cook.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Paladar CM: Frijoles Negros

On my recent Cuban-cooking foray, I decided on some comfort food, frijoles negros, black beans. This is actually a really easy recipe. It just takes some pre-planning as you have to soak the dried beans over night.

1. Sort through 1 package of dried black beans. Sometimes you find little rocks in the package. This is normal. Do not throw them out and start again just pick through them carefully. Making faces with the beans is optional.

2. Rinse the beans. This is not optional. The beans come to you a little bit dusty. The liquid in the white coffee cup is what came off the beans. Yuck! You don't want to eat this.

3. Add 6 cups of water to the beans and soak overnight. If you are pressed for time, just soak for 3-4 hours. Don't throw out this water when you go on to the next step.

4. Add a seeded green pepper to the pot and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to medium and stir occassionally. Cook for one hour.

5. Make the sofrito. Sofrito is a sautee of onions, green peppers, garlic and olive oil. You can chop these finely, or use the food processor. My mom used the food processor for years because her kids didn't like chunky food. I like using it because it thickens the sauce and let's face it, sometimes I still don't like chunky food!

6. After you make the sofrito and cook it down in a frying pan until the onions and peppers soften a bit, add it to the beans and cook for another hour, or until the beans are tender, but not mushy.

7. Add one or two bay leaves, a tablespoon of sugar, a splash of vinegar, a sprinkle of oregano, and a pinch of cumin. Then add salt and pepper to taste. Another 20 minutes on the stove and you are ready for dinner.

These are the finished black beans. The beans are tender and the broth is a deep, dark brown. Although you can make this recipe much more quickly using canned beans, you can only get this color in the broth when you use dried beans and soak them for a long period of time.

Black beans freeze really well, so be sure to save some for later. I froze two of these bags and brought one over to Dennis and Tina. Who knew Paladar Carmen Maria would start out as a cantina. Unlike a Mexican cantina, which stands for a casual dining place, a Cuban cantina is a way to get home-cooked meals delivered to your house. My mom tried a couple of cantinas while we were growing up. I still remember the stacked aluminum tins they came in full of greasy Cuban goodness and a too-sweet dessert. Having an inter-familia cantina is a great way to share meals when things are too busy for sit-down dinners.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Postcard: Greensboro, N.C.

I got this postcard idea from a few blogs, here and here. I think its awesome, and in the spirit of the snail mail on which real postcards travel here is our Greensboro, N.C. postcard just a little bit late.

Dear cyber friends,

Went to Greensboro to see Boss and the E-Street band. Concert was a blast. Waiting in line for a chance at the pit was totally worth it. Noshed on dogs and veggie burgers in the parking lot. Ate way too many doritos.

Snagged brunch/lunch on Sunday at Natty Greenes', a brewhouse restaurant owned and operated by a group of former frat brothers. A Greensboro original. This place brews its own beers and serves up quite an eclectic menu. Don't try any dish that sounds like it could be found in NYC, stick to the barbecue! Delish.

Meandered home, 5 hour drive expanded to 8 hour wander. Totally worth it. Learned a few things. North Carolina is great for BBQ, not so great for wine. Tried 13 wines at IronGate Winery. Bought 0. Quote of the day: Wine tasting lady (read with a Southern drawl), "This is our dessert wine. It has 100% blackberry flavoring. The owner's sister calls this adult Kool-aid with a kick." Vince (under his breath), "This tastes like Dimetapp." Chris invented the Frito-Dorito sandwich. 100% chips.

Had a blast. Steensboro Rocks!

P.S. final picture courtesy of

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

And we're back...

It appears I'm becoming a Tuesday-Thursday blogger, but that's just as well. The past two weeks have been really busy with concerts, communions, and commuters. Well, not really commuters, but I needed one more C for the alliteration. Here's the update: 1st weekend of May, Bruce Springsteen concert (awesome, but more on that later), 2nd weekend, Dennis's first communion (really a beautiful event with a great spread!), 3rd weekend of May, Washington Post Hunt downtown (super fun!). Up next, a weekend in New Jersey where we are looking forward to some great Shore time and pizza from the Sawmill. Here's hoping the weather holds up! :)

Ok, I have so many things to share with you, I think I'll start with just one. Recently, I posted about the hectic-ness of life around here, and despite my cry for quick fix meals, I found myself craving the slow cooked goodness of comfort food. Now, I find this completely ironic, why is it that at our craziest times, we want the food that takes longest to make? For me, comfort foods are the slow cooked Cuban potajes, frijoles negros, and arroz con leche (rice pudding). Well, I gave in to my urge for comfort food. I put my to-do list on hold and set about the task of making a double order of savory frijoles negros (black beans). If I was going to give in, I was at least going to set up some dinners for the future. I have to say, making the black beans was great. Although, I increased my stress level that day, I now have 3 meals in my freezer ready to go whenever the anxiety monster strikes!

Stay tuned for the play by play on the frijoles and a postcard from Greensboro!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Food for thought

I was surfing the web today a bit as my substitute students worked on their classwork and I came across these two stories on MSN.

Does Home-Cooked Mean Healthy? by Karen Collins M.S., R.D, C.D.N. - Collins reviews findings that suggest that cookbook recipes have drastically increased portion sizes, fat content and salt grams as compared to those of yesteryear, raising the title question. It seems that its not just restaurants that tend to over-size portions. However, this next article is a great guide for making your everyday homecooking a little healthier.

Inside a Healthy Pantry by Lisa Drayer R.D. - This is a really great list of staples to have on hand for making healthy meals and snacks anytime. Just looking at the list makes me hungry!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Quick Fix Meals...

Does anyone have any ideas???? May is looking to get hectic, June is heating up and July has guaranteed fireworks! The ideal meal: short ingredient list, yummy, different. Feel free to post a comment or shoot an email!

P.S. I promise proper posts (soon!) despite the madness!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Chorizo and Manchego Stuffed Peppers

In Miami, my family often ate dinner really late to accomodate sports practice, piano lessons, and Dad's work schedule, so we got in the habit of having pre-dinner tapas. We always had some Manchego cheese, chorizo and Spanish olives in the house. Missing our pre-dinner ritual here in Arlington (we eat much earlier!), I decided I could make a tapas inspired dinner. Mom and Dad had brought us a full wheel of Manchego and a log of chorizo from Delicias de Espana, our favorite Spanish place in Miami. So with a little help from Safeway and Harris Teeter, we had tapas for supper. Check it out!

The ingredients: Bread crumbs, olive oil, traffic light peppers (ok, so there isn't a green, but in Miami people often cross intersections during red, yellow, and the ever elusive orange light), garlic, onions, manchego and chorizo.

Cube the chorizo and sautee it with a little olive oil. Then chop the onions and garlic and add them to the chorizo. Preheat the oven to 350.
After the onions and garlic have softened add in the bread crumbs and some more olive oil for flavor and texture.
Stir this all together and take it off of the heat. Then add the cubed manchego and an egg (I actually forgot to add the egg, but it would have helped it all stick together.)
Decapitate the peppers and stuff with the chorizo-manchego mixture. Try to get a few extra cubes of cheese towards the top for browning.

Place in a baking dish. I love my pyrex because it doesn't burn the bottoms and it is so easy to clean. Place into your 350 degree oven and wait for 20-25 minutes.

Once they are golden brown and the peppers have softened you are ready for tapas that eat like a meal. I suggest pairing this dish with a red wine: Rioja from Spain, Pinot Noir because it goes with everything, or even a Malbec from Argentina. A nice light side salad of arugula with lemon vinagrette would be pretty tasty too.

Friday, May 1, 2009

What came first the chicken or the ravioli?

Last week, I had a Rachel Ray inspired idea -- stuffed chicken breasts wrapped in prosciutto. Sure that sounds like the title of a recipe, but the fact of the matter is, I am often too lazy to print out a recipe and follow it straight through. So stuffed chicken breasts it was: ricotta, frozen spinach, a little grated parmesano reggiano, all of RR's usual suspects. Wrap in prosciutto, sear (on both sides), pop in the oven for 20 minutes, then in the micro for 3 more to ease the irrational Cuban fear of juicy chicken (there is still liquid in it, it's raw! You are going to get salmonella and die!) The result, a surprisingly tasty dinner, and a bowl full of left over filling. Not following a recipe often leads to extra ingredients, or too few, however if you read the Easter post, you know that's not likely in this house! After debating our options-- lasagna, more stuffed breasts, the garbage, eating it straight from the bowl-- we settled on ravioli. Semolina flour having been a recent impulse buy, it would be homemade ravioli. Vince channeled his Italian ancestors and I drew on childhood memories and voila! Homemade ravioli. Granted, our techinque needs some tweaking, but if this keeps up we may just have to open up a fusion restaurant specializing in the cuisine of Southern Italy and Northern Cuba. Below is a photo montage of our adventures in Ravioli! Buon Apetito!

The Ingredients: Olive oil, salt, eggs, semolina, water (not pictured)

The Wet and the Dry

OMG! What is the matter with your hands!!!!

Now that's more like it!
Time out.
The rolling...
Ta Dah! The finished product. Abstract ravioli in different sizes and shapes.