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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

Lasagne, Lasagna, Lasaña: keeping it simple, making it Puerto Rican

14 Jan Perfect food for entertaining!

No matter how you spell it, lasagne is great food for entertaining and with the SuperBowl coming up, you may want to consider this version as an option for the buffet table!

This is a wonderfully homey dish

This is a wonderfully homey dish

In its original Italian version (which may actually be adapted from a Greek dish) from Emilia Romagna (if Wikipedia is to be believed and on this one I am not really sure), lasagne is pasta layered with ragu, bechamel (creamy white sauce) and parmigiano reggiano. Lasagne has since been adapted and changed and reworked in so many ways that it has as many permutations as there are cooks who make it.

I have to say, I do not love bechamel. It’s okay when someone else makes it, but I would rather not. So, I do what so many do: layer mozzarella and ricotta and grated parmigiano and I am at peace with this shortcut that results in a creamy gooiness, no doubt horrifying to the Emiliani, but they are far away living their Italian lives and are not doing my dishes for me here in New York. And with apologies to the late, great Marcella Hazan, I am not ready to be making my own lasagne noodles, even though she maintains it is heresy to do otherwise.

Layers of gooey goodness

Layers of gooey goodness

Continue reading

Smoked Salmon Spread: No-Fuss Festive Appetizer!

11 Nov Rich, creamy and salty!

Now that the holidays are coming in with the speed of a freight train, the panic begins. How do I entertain (or get a dish together for a potluck) in between work, activities, housework, paying bills, kids, parents, pets and all the other stuff, stuff, stuff that consumes our rapidly diminishing daylight hours?

Here’s one easy solution that takes just 5-10 minutes to prepare (factor in an hour of chill time), looks creamy and luscious, and can travel tidily with you everywhere! It makes about a pound of spread, so you can divide it up for different events. Mine has capers; I am riffing off an Ina Garten recipe that uses dill instead.

On a cracker, dressed up with some capers...

On a cracker, dressed up with some capers…

I made it this weekend for my Single Mothers by Choice meet-up and it went over very big with chips and crackers. And then I parked a bowl next to my dad (who is OFF the crazy-ass veganplus diet — by doctor’s orders — and is becoming a fun person to cook and eat with again, Hallelujah, Hallelujah) as he was recovering from his successful cancer surgery in a big chair in front of all the sports a man could care to consume…will he ever want to leave the living room? Continue reading

Grilled Pineapple Chipotle Black Bean Salsa

2 Sep Delicious!

Grilled pineapple is one of the joys of summer grilling. Searing thick slices of juicy pineapple brings out their sweetness and gives them a more rounded flavor.And when you have leftovers, you can dice them and add them to salsa for a sweet-tart surprise that marries so well with smoky, spicy chipotle and bright red onion,(you can use fresh raw pineapple too).

This is what pineapple looks like off the grill.

This is what pineapple looks like off the grill.

I also like to add black beans and corn kernels — both of which tend to be around in our summer kitchen.

I made this a few weeks ago and forgot to take a picture until it was too late.

I made this a few weeks ago and forgot to take a picture until it was too late.

You can mix and match as you please and play with the proportions…this is basically a good way to use up an extra scoop of this and teaspoon of that. I will be experimenting with grilled peach salsa soon and will let you know!

This finished product. Delish!

This finished product. Delish!

Pineapple Chipotle Black Bean Salsa

¾ Cup diced fresh pineapple (grilled, if possible)

¼ Cup black beans, cook, and preferably seasoned

2 Tbs minced red onion

½ tsp sauce from chipotle in adobo

¼ Cup diced green pepper

salt

Mix all ingredients except salt in a bowl. Salt to taste. Serve with tortilla chips or as a topping for Southwest style cooked meats.

Nine Super Bowl Tapas and Snacks (Easy and More Elegant than the Average Tailgate)

30 Jan Mussels vinaigrette
Chorizo on toast

Chorizo on toast

If you are getting ready for a Super Bowl party, I’ve got some styling, kickin’ tapas ideas for you! Just click on the picture for the recipe…they are all pretty easy (with the exception of the tortillas, which require a bit of derring-do, but are well worth it). They are also portable! Have a great Game Day…I’ll be back with more ideas soon!

¡Ole! ¡Fantástico!

¡Ole! ¡Fantástico!

Mussels vinaigrette (make em the night before)

Mussels vinaigrette (make em the night before)

Tortilla Torcal

Tortilla Torcal

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

Continue reading

Lasagna Latina: Tortillas, Beans, and Shredded Chicken

4 Oct 2012-09-23 03.56.54

The start of the semester for me and kindergarten for Leandro has me in a tizzy.

One month in, the days seem never-ending and yet never long enough. I am up at 5:30 a.m. every day. Eighteen hours later, I still find myself vertical, eyes open, preparing food, washing dishes, cleaning the bathroom (!), folding clothes, laying out everything for the morning in a semi-headachy fog, wrinkling my nose and wondering, in the words of David Byrne, “How Did I Get Here?”

Scenes from the Farm

So when — oh s**t! — the Restoration Farm End-of-Summer-Potluck came roaring up, I was sort of astonished, and not a little dismayed. Continue reading

Inside-Out Guacamole

16 Jan DSC04195

I invented this recipe for my beloved Single Mothers by Choice support group; we meet up once a month at someone’s home and our kids go mental playing, while we bring snacks — often home-made — drink tea and coffee, and discuss — among other momentous questions — whether a date for Valentine’s Day is possible, do-able or desirable (Some women have married out, so the answer might just be yes).

I joined the group when considering embarking on single parenthood and started going to the local meetings when I got pregnant(!), so it’s been about five years, and let me tell you, there is nothing better than a supportive and understanding peer group to help you navigate your ups, downs, and angst. Leandro considers some of the kids among his best friends and we share times with them outside regular meetings, so it is really important to us.

So thus inside-out guacamole – a speedier way to the same great flavor.

And this guac without the mashing is not just for single chicks…It’s got NFL cred…try it on Sunday when Big Blue shows that team from San Francisco where they can put that candlestick….

Inside-Out Guacamole (can be doubled or tripled)

2 ripe Haas avocados (unpeeled flesh should give a bit when pressed with a finger), peeled and chunked

Juice of half a lime

½ Cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half

¼ red onion, sliced very thin

1 clove garlic, minced or pressed

¼-1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/8-1/4 tsp salt (to taste)

Place avocado chunks in a bowl and sprinkle with lime (for flavor and to prevent browning)

Add the rest of the ingredients, mix gently and serve with large tortilla chips or tortilla scoops.

Party Snacks: Oven-Charred Tomatillo, Tomato and Hot Chile Salsa

22 Aug 2011 August Roasted tomatillo salsa 005

If you are lucky enough to get a handful of tomatillos in your CSA share or find them in your grocery store, this recipe for a small amount will make your tastebuds very happy (or scream in agony if you overdo it on the hot peppers) and won’t take you very long at all.

There are very few commercially prepared salsas that I like; most are too sweet or too tomatoe-y or just boring, so making my own makes a lot of sense. Once you see how easy tomatillos are to char, you will probably become adventurous with your own flavor combinations.

Tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica) is indeed in the same family as the tomato, as well as the ground cherry (or cape gooseberry), which it actually resembles more, in looks, if not flavor. Native to Mexico, tomatillo has green or sometimes purple fruit, surrounded by a husk that gets papery as it ripens; it has always reminded me of a Japanese lantern.

When you buy, look for firm fruit with the husk still on (they will keep for a month in a paper bag). When you buy green ones, avoid any that are yellowish.  To prepare them for cooking, remove the husk and wash off the stickiness on the skin.

Although tomatillo is most often used for salsa verde (green sauce), I used purple ones in this recipe. I charred them under the broiler with red tomatoes and mixed them together for a deep and satisfying color.


Roasted Tomatillo, Tomato  and Chile Salsa

7-8 tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut in half

Tomatoes of your choice, in an equal amount to the tomatillos, sliced in half (if using cherry-types) or chunked to the same size as the tomatillo halves

1 fresh hot chile pepper of your choice (I use jalapeño)

2 Tbs red onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbs cilantro, chopped

1/8 tsp lime juice

1/8-1/4 tsp coarse salt

Place tomatillos, tomatoes and whole chile pepper on a baking sheet and broil, turning once (carefully!) with a spatula when the tops start to char (my sturdy, but not so high-powered toaster oven took 10 minutes on each side {!} but a stronger oven could do the job in half the time, so watch out!)

When the vegetables are charred, let them cool until you can peel them (over a bowl to catch the juices). Discard peels and add tomatillo and tomato to bowl. Also peel the pepper and BE WARNED: this is a small amount of salsa, so you don’t want to go overboard on the heat. I use only half a jalapeño and remove the seeds and it is still pretty searing on the tongue. So…add roasted chile at your discretion/peril.

I break my salsa up with a fork – unnecessary if you are going to use a blender at the end. Stir in remaining ingredients. For a smoother texture, pulse a few times in a food processor or blender (I prefer chunkier and I hate extra equipment to wash, so I skip it). Garnish with cilantro and serve with tortilla chips.

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