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Traditional Irish Shepherd’s Pie with Lamb

18 Mar About to go in the oven!

So about this Anglo-Irish party.

I have long, long, loooong wanted to stage a dramatic reading of a play at someone’s home. You know, just get copies of a play for everyone, assign roles and read it. In my mind’s eye, it would be a wine-sodden affair (to ease stage fright and add to the hilarity), and there would be good food between the acts to keep the energy going (and keep the wine from creating utter chaos). I mean, I like a regular old dinner party as much as anyone, but since I can’t seem to leave well enough alone, I thought this would be a worthy way to imbibe in the name of Art.

A view of the early buffet items

A view of the early buffet items

This would, however, require a lot more space than I have in my little apartment. So I mentioned it to likely friends over the years, and everyone thought it would be a great thing indeed. A few even laid claim to having thought up the idea themselves (which I have most vociferously not allowed to happen…you know who you are and you are never-ever-ever going to get away with it).

Before the mashed potato topping

Before the mashed potato topping

But no one offered to have it at theirs.

Finally, I did what all of us high achievers must do when we have a great idea. I did it myself.

I set a date, commandeered my parents’ kitchen and living room in their absence (which in my teenage years would have been called having a party when your parents are away and sort of hoping it doesn’t go all Risky Business on you), invited a few friends, made an executive decision on the play (The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Play for Serious People by Oscar Wilde). I ordered multiple copies from the local library. Then I started menu planning.

This is where we wonder whether we've poured ourselves enough wine to last through Act One. We ended up bringing the bottles along...just in case

This is where we wonder whether we’ve poured ourselves enough wine to last through Act One. We ended up bringing the bottles along…just in case

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The Best Ever Slow Cooker Beef Stew

16 Mar 2014-03-14 beef stew

I’ll tell you more about the party I made this large amount of Beef Stew for, but I can’t tell you right now, because I am still recovering from the fun and therefore just going to do a workmanlike job on this post…can’t manage much more…

Brown those veggies...I don't even like celery, but this worked beautifully!

Brown those veggies…I don’t even like celery, but this worked beautifully!

(…let me tell you that getting the little man to soccer at 9 a.m. this morning was a testament to a mother’s love. Actually two mothers’ and one dad’s love, as right there beside me this morning were two of last night’s guests cheering on their kid in the freezing cold! We came home and ate this for leftovers!) 

Don't skip the browning of meat and veggies...it really draws out sweetness and adds complexity

Don’t skip the browning of meat and veggies…it really draws out sweetness and adds complexity

But for now, all you need to know about the party is that the theme was Anglo-Irish (Think St. Patty’s Day meets Oscar Wilde), the good cheer was flowing, and this beef stew – tender, rich, deep, complex, and hearty – provided much-needed ballast for a full sail kind of night! Do it, do it, do it!

2014-03-15 beef stew

Slow Cooker Beef Stew (feeds a crowd)

1-2 Tbs olive oil

2.5 – 3 lbs stewing beef, cubed

1-2 Tbs olive oil

2 Cups Vidalia onion, minced

1 Cup carrots, peeled and chopped to 1/4 “ chunks

½ Cup celery

1 Tbs or more of minced garlic

2 Cups potatoes, peeled and chunked

¼-1/2 Cup dry red wine

2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce

Pinch hot red pepper flakes

2 generous Tbs tomato paste

2 Cups low-sodium or homemade beef broth

1 bay leaf

¼ Cup white flour

½ tsp salt

Heat 1 Tbs of oil in a skillet to fairly high and brown the meat quickly in batches and turning often. The idea is to create some complexity, not to cook the meat, so work quickly and don’t be too much of a perfectionist. Add oil as needed, and put meat in slow cooker.

In the same skillet, brown onions, cooking for a minute on high then lowering heat to medium. Add carrots, celery and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened and golden. Add potatoes and cook another minute. Add to slow cooker.

In the same skillet, add a splash of red wine, Worcestershire sauce, pepper flakes and tomato paste. Stir to loosen browned bits in the skillet, then pour over ingredients in crockpot. Add broth and bay leaf, sprinkle with flour and salt, turn to combine everything. Cover and cook on low for 12 hours (or 4-6 hours on high). You’ll want plenty of bread for mopping up the gorgeous sauce.

2014: The Year of the Empanada (first in an occasional series)

18 Jan Lovely and light! well, as light as fired dough can be

I love empanadas. The “pan” part of the word comes from the word for bread in Spanish, and empanadas are basically stuffed bread pockets. That’s basically…they have many permutations and depending where you are from they might be made with corn dough, wheat flour, fried or baked. They may be stuffed with meat or chicken or seafood or vegetables. We also call them pastelillos in Puerto Rico, pastel referring to pies, much like meat pies are hand-held dough pockets in other places.

Entry-level empanadas...premade discs. Do not be ashamed! I am not.

Entry-level empanadas…premade discs. Do not be ashamed! I am not.

Regular readers know that my son and I are not big sandwich eaters, but empanadas actually do the same job and we love those. You can pack them up for a picnic, grab them on the run and eat them in the car, have them for an afternoon snack after school, serve them as appetizers with an aperitif when your guests walk in the door.

Improvised rolling pin. Yet another reason to enjoy wine responsibly

Improvised rolling pin. Yet another reason to enjoy wine responsibly (photo: Ashley Fifer)

Every country seems to have a version of empanadas; Jamaican meat patties, Indian samosas, even Chinese dim sum (potstickers) could be called empanadas.

Picadillo

Picadillo

This year I want to explore the world of empanadas. My friend Ashley and my godson Sean have agreed to go on this journey with me (and calling them out here is my way of holding them to it). Ashley was my cooking buddy for this first go and took the picture of me rolling the dough. Continue reading

Cocktail Meatballs (Fry for Now or Bake for Later)

8 Sep Easy to make and invaluable to keep around!

The school year has started for me (for those who don’t know, in my other life I am a college professor of English as a Second Language) and will start for my FIRST-GRADER (!?!) on Monday.

I love a little army of meatballs. I do them in my fancy toaster oven!

I love a little army of meatballs. I do them in my fancy toaster oven!

I like to start the semester with the first two weeks of my lesson plans prepped, photocopies made and ready-to-go, and….my freezer full of home-made dishes that I can pull out in a heartbeat and serve with an easy starch and a steamed vegetable. The older my son gets, the more activities we have outside school, and the harder it gets for me to get to the gym. When dinner’s already ready, I am more relaxed and have fewer excuses to keep me from the treadmill.

Cooked! Meatballs are one of my favorite things...

Cooked! Meatballs are one of my favorite things…

Meatballs are one of our favorites. If you bake them, you can freeze them. Then, you have loads of options, Drop them in tomato sauce to defrost and make delicious pasta gravy. Just heat them up and serve with rice or buttered noodles or pesto. Make a meatball hero. Serve to unexpected guests with toothpicks as an attractive appetizer. Yes, meatballs in the freezer make life much easier. So here they are, simple to make (the little guy helps with the smashing and meatball making) and yet very, very tasty.

Fry-babies

Fry-babies

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Big Bang Burgers: Four Ingredients, Deliciously Juicy

7 Jun Fresh air makes for big appetites and this is a quick meal that will satisfy!

Do you buy frozen beef patties for summer grilling? Really? Please tell me you don’t. Or at least, please tell me that you have done it for the last time! When you see how easy it is to make tasty, juicy burgers that are infinitely superior to those tasteless wooden slabs, and only use four ingredients, I know you will make your own next time. And your family and guests will be glad you did.

Destined for the freezer

Destined for the freezer

We certainly were. Several days before our recent beach camping trip to Hither Hills State Park here on the East End of Long Island, I made about a dozen burgers (which took all of five minutes, even with Leandro doing the burger formation), cooked a couple for dinner, then wrapped and froze the rest. Ours are a variety of sizes, as a certain almost-six-year-old was in charge of forming the patties. I like having many sizes actually, because it suits different appetities. Adjust cooking times accordingly.

Here's one we ate at home

Here’s one we ate at home

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Moroccan Spice Rub: We were sniffing it like glue

28 Feb Moroccan Spice Rub

Adriana and I love to cook together, but this time she gets sole credit for this intoxicating Moroccan Spice Rub and the juicy roast she marinaded it with.

Pork Roast with Morrocan Spice Rub

Pork Roast with Moroccan Spice Rub

From the moment she waved the deep brick brown paste under my nose when Leandro and I arrived at her home for a sleepover, I was hooked and dabbing  the sides of my mouth. And not because it looked a lot like hashish, because of course I do not know what a hunk of hashish looks like, do I? Continue reading

Basic Baked Meatballs: Simple, Adaptable, Freezeable

26 Jan 2013-01-19 06.47.00

Great Super Bowl party buffet idea!

The other day I posted my recipe for fancy-cheesy meatballs. Here now, as promised, the basic meatballs that I did just in case we had a child who wanted something more simple (we did not). Baked and basic, you can add any seasonings or sauces to them to make them suit your mood. (Try Roasted Red Pepper Dipping Sauce)

(You can also try my albóndigas variation which is pretty easy and includes Old Bay, or Pedro’s pan-fried  albóndigas, or Ham & Cheese meatballs in the oven. I do like my meatballs!)

I now have a bunch of basics in the freezer, and will very likely pull them out for Super Bowl…and serve them with toothpicks. If I can find the right passionfruit juice, I will soon post a passionfruit sauce recipe that my friend Mayra used to do in PR. I just found the recipe among some old papers and I am eager to try it.

Otherwise, any BBQ-type thick dipping sauce will do!

Basic Baked Meatballs

Basic Baked Meatballs

Basic Baked Meatballs

1 egg

1 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped (or 2 tsp dry)

1 Tbs grated onion

1 tsp garlic, minced

1 tsp Adobo powder

1 grating black pepper

1 lb. ground beef (can include ¼ lb. ground pork)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix all ingredients except meat until combined. Add meat in chunks. Mix lightly until well combined and roll into 1.5” balls. Place on a foil-covered rimmed baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into one reaches 160°F. Serve as cocktail meatballs with your favorite sauce, add to pasta sauce, or make into sandwiches. They will adapt to just about any flavor palette.

Meatballs for Good Friends (and a full freezer) Part 1 (with cheese)

23 Jan 2013-01-19 06.07.35

(Three hundredth post!!!!)

Cooking a nice meal for both parents and kids does not have to involve making two separate dinners.Well, not exactly, anyway.

I confess to getting cold feet halfway through my prep and making myself a safety net, so let’s say this time I made one-and-a-half meals, but in the process, I really stocked the freezer for the new semester.

The juicy, savory, binding

The juicy, savory, binding

I made some “fancy” meatballs and some basic ones (that recipe later in the week) for a Single Mothers By Choice-three-family dinner here at home last weekend…pasta, meatballs and red sauce…can you really go wrong? My friend, Pam, brought the salad fixings, and Kim brought a sinful dessert (which one pretends is for the kids, but is really just as much for the growns) and everything went swimmingly! And everyone liked both fancy and plain.

On their way to the oven

On their way to the oven

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Sweet and Savory Churrasco (Skirt Steak, Grilled)

13 Jan 2013-01-03 04.43.42

You may ask whether I am cooking at all lately, seeing as I have been posting more of my dad, Pedro’s recipes than my own.

Truth is, I have been cooking as much as usual, but sticking to my go-to recipes like Spinach Pasta, Pollo Guisado (Stewed Chicken), and the like. I am prepping  for when my semester begins, taking my Leandro-free vacation time to catch up on many things and stocking the freezer!

Churrasco

Churrasco

But during the holidays we were on family vacation in Puerto Rico and between the holiday dishes like Perníl (Roast Pork Shoulder) and Better Than Perfect Latin White Rice and the rare opportunity for me to have the time to really watch him go…well I did  a lot of looming over his shoulder thrusting measuring implements at him and observing and taking notes (which is what we should all be doing around our favorite family cooks). And now I am catching you up on some of my favorite Padushi recipes. (and scroll down for one of my favorite images from our trip!) Continue reading

Perníl al horno (Puerto Rican oven-roasted pork)

6 Jan With a crackling skin and moist salty insides, this is the breaker of many a diet.

There is no better time to be at the top of the food chain than during Christmas in Puerto Rico.

Perníl made with pork loin (I think; the dad threw away the label before I could get the info!) proves that the recipe can enhance any pork roast

I know many of my readers (and friends) are vegetarian, vegan even, and I respect your choices — except of course my dad’s crazy ass diet because it is so crazy. I prefer a mostly plant-based diet myself, and will go as far as to make accommodations at my table for you, but at Navidades, this girl embraces her carnivorous side and all protests to the contrary will be regarded with impatience and disdain, if regarded at all.

The imposter was actually pretty good!

The imposter was actually pretty good!

Perníl is in my D.N.A., and that, mi amor, is that. Continue reading

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