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Two Hot Beverage Hacks: Cider and Cocoa

3 Feb

Yes, I am still here! It has been a good long while, as I have dedicated the last month to home and work (the kind that actually pays the bills!). But here are two quickie upgrades for two nonalcoholic winter drinks and it will only take a moment. In fact, I will steal this one from my own Facebook post of Jan. 5

 Action-packed back-to-school morning! First, the boy rages about having to go back at all, then loses a tooth, then spits out his lovingly prepared warm apple cider accusing me of trying to poison him…I was astonished, until it occurred to me that the cinnamon I’d sprinkled on the top was actually ancho chili powder…..‪#‎oneofthosedays‬
Find the long cinnamon sticks at groceries that ofer authentic Mexican products

Find the long cinnamon sticks at groceries that ofer authentic Mexican products

So, aside from more experimenting with chili and hot apple cider ever since, the usual kid-stamp-of-approval recipe is: Warm the cider in a saucepan, pour into a mug, sprinkle with cinnamon and garnish with a cinnamon stick if you’ve got!

My son thinks the disappearing candy cane is so cool...

My son thinks the disappearing candy cane is so cool…

The second is a way to stay cozy and add interest to your hot chocolate. Simply add one of those broken candy canes leftover from the holidays or a hard red and white peppermint candy from the last moderately priced family restaurant you were at to the mug. As it dissolves, it adds minty loveliness to the cocoa! And that’s all for today….stay warm and if you can, stay home!

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Juicy Herb-Roasted Chicken and Vegetables

3 Jan

I love a simple roast bird for a sit-down family meal. It looks so special, but is so easy to do and the vegetables are cooked right alongside the bird (getting all that juicy seasoned chicken stock as the bird releases it) and can be plunked as is on the table if you don’t want to put it on a platter, which means less clean-up. This is the dinner that cooks itself while you are doing other things, encourages family to linger around the table, and keeps on giving way after the meal is over.

2014-12-25 14.08.49 roast chickenIf there is leftover meat, you can make wonderful chicken salad that tastes so much richer than your average cooked chicken from the deli (I like it with sliced black olives and bits of sundried tomato). The carcass makes great stock too, simmered with a dozen peppercorns, a carrot and a celery stalk, a peeled onion and unpeeled garlic cloves sliced in half.

Here then, is a pretty basic version that is aromatized with herbs, spiked with citrus, and cooked relatively slowly for juicy tenderness.  There are as many variations as you have herbs in your arsenal; this is what I was in the mood for, but you could certainly substitute whatever seasonings grab your fancy. We had this one for a small family Christmas Day meal! Scroll down for links to more roast chicken recipes. Continue reading

4 Effortless Yet Elegant Party Appetizers for Busy People

20 Dec

I was recently invited to do a cooking demonstration at Nassau Community College (where my more usual role is as a full-time ESL lecturer in a language immersion program) for the Mom’s Club, a campus club for student-parents where they get support in their struggle to complete their college education while raising children and often simultaneously holding a full-time job!

So these are women who needed a fun mini-workshop that would include some nifty snacks, some honest conversation and maybe even a few ideas for inexpensive and easy appetizers they can easily prepare for their families. I think this line-up delivered.

All hands on deck!

All hands on deck!

It was a pleasure to cook for this small group — thanks to professors Beth Goering and Molly Phelps Ludmar for inviting me and also providing an electric skillet, bread and soft drinks.

Happy holidays ladies!

Happy holidays ladies!

Together — I put everyone to work, of course — we made Spanish-style garlic mushrooms, cilantro-sunflower seed pesto, black olive and walnut paste, and white cheese and red grape skewers. Everything was done within a half hour, so we had time to sit and eat, which is a rare treat for busy moms!

Not my best images ever, but you get the idea!

Not my best images ever, but you get the idea!

Here are the recipes:

White Cheese and Red Grapes (requires toothpicks!)

Cut Latin style white cheese into cubes about the size of the grapes. Skewer a single grape and a single cube of cheese onto each toothpick (this is a job kids love! and it keeps them busy while you are trying to do other things.) and arrange on a serving platter. The cubed cheese is the base.

Cilantro-Sunflower Seed Pesto (sunflower seeds are a terrific alternative to pine nuts or walnuts for those with nut allergies)

One bunch cilantro, rinsed and chopped (YES you can use the stems)

2-3-4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1/2 Cup sunflower seeds (roasted and salted seeds add a lot of flavor)

Squeeze of freeze lemon

pinch of hot red pepper flakes (optional)

extra virgin olive oil

abundant grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano or Locatelli cheese

salt to taste

Place cilantro, garlic, sunflower seeds, lemon, and optional pepper flakes in a food processor or blender and whirr until chopped. Add olive oil bit by bit (in a thin stream if you can pour while blending) until you achieve a thick paste. Add cheese to taste (start with about 1/4 Cup) and serve over pasta or as a spread for bruschetta, crackers or sliced bread.

For an easy basil pesto (my second grader makes it!) click here.

Black Olive and Walnut Paste (Tapenade)

1 can pitted black olives (or one cup good seedless black olives if you can afford them), drained indifferently

1/4 Cup walnuts (but add them Tbs by Tbs)

1 tsp capers drained indifferently

2-3 anchovies from a jar, rinsed and patted dry with a paper towel

leaves from 3-4 thyme sprigs

optional extra virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients (except optional olive oil) in a food processor and blend till smooth, adding olive oil as necessary. Serve as a spread for toast or crackers.

For another version heavier on the anchovies, click here.

Spanish style Garlic Mushrooms

2-3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

12 oz white or Cremini mushrooms, stems removed (and saved in the freezer for stock) and wiped clean with paper towel.

3 Tbs dry red wine (I took some mushrooms out at this point to accommodate someone who doesn’t consume alcohol)

1 Tbs chopped parsley

salt and pepper to taste

In a large pan, heat the oil until loose and fragrant. Lower heat to medium low garlic and cook gently until golden brown.

Add mushrooms and stir to coat., Allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms start to brown deeply and release their juices. Add wine and raise hand eat to a fast simmer for about 5 minutes, until alcohol has cooked off but there is still liquid. Sprinkle with parsley salt and serve with crusty bread.

For a more complex version of these mushrooms that includes butter, click here.

Gravlax: Salty-Sweet Salmon, Fragrant with Dill

3 Jan

You might not expect my Caribbean family to serve something so distinctly Northern European as gravlax, a salt and sugar-cured Swedish delicacy, but we are equal opportunity gourmands. And there are two important sources of inspiration for how gravlax has become a frequent element of our party buffets. I’ll tell you about those and then give you some nifty background on the dish itself!

Start with the freshest salmon you can find/afford

Start with the freshest salmon you can find/afford

We get ours from Two Cousins Fish Market in Freeport. They are very accommodating to kids and to folks looking for sustainable options.

We get ours from Two Cousins Fish Market in Freeport. They are very accommodating to kids and to folks looking for sustainable options.

One source of inspiration is my Swedish sister-in-law, Annika, who has introduced us to the joys of Scandinavian cooking over the years and whose recipes have become part of family tradition. Second is Frank Eldridge, the college mentor for both my parents who helped them get together at Springfield College more than a half-century ago and who apparently introduced them to gravlax as well. He is no longer with us, but his gravlax is; this is an adaptation of his recipe, sent to us by his wife. 

Be lavish with the dill

Be lavish with the dill

The etymology of Gravlax is pretty cool…and not just because it comes from cold weather countries or because it is a fish dish served chilled. Continue reading

Important Update: Walnut Cup Extra Filling Makes Great Crescent Rolls!

28 Dec

Many of you have undertaken one of my favorite cookie recipes ever: Walnut Cups (delicious walnut toffee inside a cream cheese crust)! And found, as we did this year — and so did my friend and colleague, Cara — that you had leftover filling that you didn’t know what to do with. Do NOT overfill your walnut cups to use it up.

Going into the oven

Going into the oven…this is the right height for filling. Any more and they will bubble over.

Here is the solution:

Marianne happened to have crescent roll dough in, the Pillsbury kind in the tube. so we put about a teaspoon of leftover filling at the wide end of each dough triangle, rolled them up and baked according to package directions.

just a little...

just a little…

Off. The. Hook.

Perfect for breakfast or afternoon tea…these were as good as those Cinnabon ones that smell so intoxicating and irresistible in an airport….

YUM!!!

YUM!!!

So, problem solved and here is a link to the original recipe for holiday Walnut Cups (with cream cheese crust..Lord have mercy!)

Delicious Walnut Cups

Delicious Walnut Cups

Elf on the Shelf Ideas….Which Was Your Favorite?

25 Dec

 

So the Elf on the Shelf marathon is over. For those who missed it or are not sure what in the world this is, it is a small figure of an elf who appears every day in the month preceding Christmas. The elf is charged with heading back to the North Pole each night to report on the behavior of the children in the house (So, he/she is a glorified – not golden – SNITCH).

Some elves appear each morning in a different spot, which is clear evidence that he/she spent the night traveling. Others scold their children through messages. Yet others are quite mischievous and wrap the house in toilet paper or paint on sleeping children’s faces. Ours, who is named Lucia, rummaged about the house each night and created little scenes with the flotsam and jetsam she found. We like to think of it as performance art, she and I.

The following are most of Lucia’s creations in no particular order. Some you may have seen before, but I thought it would be worthwhile to gather them all in one post for future reference, posterity and all that. I’d love to hear which ones were your favorites!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to you. I am so glad I can share our family’s new and old traditions with you!

Diamonds are an Elf's Best Friend 1

Diamonds are an Elf’s Best Friend 1

Diamonds 2

Diamonds 2

She must have been inspired by my niece who was the Lucia this year in her community's celebration of this Swedish tradition

St. Lucia – She must have been inspired by my niece who was the Lucia this year in her community’s celebration of this Swedish tradition of her namesake

Lucia celebrating sincretization of religions with some of her Cuban friends...Elegguá (as Saint Anthony), Oshún, and Yemayá. Aché!

Lucia celebrating syncretization of religions with some of her Cuban friends…Elegguá (as Saint Anthony), Oshún, Yemayá and Changó. Aché!

Sugar rush indeed....The pressure of constant travel and a duplicitous lifestyle gets to the elf and she self-medicates

Sugar rush indeed….The pressure of constant travel and a duplicitous lifestyle gets to the elf and she self-medicates…with disastrous results

Continue reading

Coquito: Puerto Rican Egg Nog (this one without eggs!)

22 Dec

2015-12-26 17.16.25In Puerto Rico, as soon as the Thanksgiving turkey is scraped off the plates, our collective thoughts turn to what we are going to eat for Christmas. But we are not just talking about Christmas Eve or Christmas day, oh no.We’re talking about every day for the next two months.

Recipes written by by late, great-aunt Titi Amida for my mother.

Recipes written by by late, great-aunt Titi Amida for my mother.

Christmas lasts from the day after Thanksgiving well into January, with the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings Day on January 6th, followed by octavas (the eight days after Three Kings Day) which are then followed by octavitas, which last for another eight days. And since we’re practically into February by then, you might as well keep celebrating until Valentine’s Day on the 14th….We have to do it this way, to give everyone who wants to have a Christmas party the opportunity. Twelve days of Christmas are just not enough to give everyone a turn at hosting.

Tasting in progress

Tasting in progress

That’s a lot of menu planning. We are helped by our Christmas songs, which are sometimes paeans to the birth of Jesus, but more often they are odes to the pig…that is.. lechón or spit-roasted suckling pig.

In small servings this homey cocktail can look quite elegant

In small servings this homey cocktail can look quite elegant

Some folks serve it on the rocks. I do like it a bit diluted. You could also top off with a bit more rum.

Some folks serve it on the rocks. I do like it a bit diluted. You could also top off with a bit more rum.

When it comes to beverages, the Queen of Christmas Toddies is coquito, a sweet and sometimes lethal combination of rum, cream of coconut, and condensed and evaporated milk in its more basic form, but which can also include egg yolks, different types of alcohol, more or less cinnamon, vanilla, and much more.

These bottles from IKEA look great for hostess gifts

These bottles from IKEA look great for hostess gifts

Today’s recipe (thank you to my former San Juan Star colleague Todd Michael Jamison for sending me the original that this is based on several years ago) is quite basic and contains no egg (in the recipes from my great-aunt Titi Amida in the images, she used loads of egg yolks, but she used to get farm-fresh eggs. Now most of us don’t have that kind of access). I like to make a big batch and portion out some into decorative bottles for gifts. When I actually serve, I add a bit more cinnamon and froth individual servings up with some ice in a cocktail shaker – coquito should be served really cold and the ice thins it a bit too, which I like. Continue reading

Help! Are Candy Houses Meant to Be Eaten?

18 Dec

Soooo, my little guy made a candy house at school this week (mostly on his own, as I was at work, but fortunately 1) he likes to work independently and 2) the other parents who were there kindly kept an eye on him and sent me pictures of the proceedings (Big thanks to Kerry, Kerri, Melissa, and Janice! Also to Fairy Godmother Mimma who picked up supplies for us).

Flat roof

Flat roof

My question is…once it is home, can you eat it? And are you supposed to refrigerate it? (The frosting is from a tin and the sides are made of graham crackers). Thanks to all who comment with some advice….architectural dessert projects of this nature are not my forte….

Happy Holidays!

Natalia

Puerto Rican Food Translated: My eBook, Just $5, and a perfect gift!

16 Dec

Just a reminder that you can gift my e-dictionary book to friends and family who love food. Called Eat Your Way Through Puerto Rico, it is a digital guide to Puerto Rican food, basically what to eat and how to ask for it.

It’s fun to flip through. In addition to straightforward translation of common food items, it also includes useful phrases for getting reservations, talking about food allergies, and finding out where the bathroom is. The biggest plus is the background, origins and ingredients of some of our most beloved and iconic dishes. And you can load it onto your iPhone.

If you want to gift it to someone else, you can also get it on Amazon – Kindle for iTunes is a free app.

So, buy it or gift it this holiday season and buen provecho!

Click Here to order through Amazon.

Click Here to order through Amazon.

 

The Elf on the Shelf Shenanigans Continue….

16 Dec

The Elf on the Shelf antics continue. (for previous reports, click here)

Date Night with Snoopy. I found them asleep in front of the T.V. in the morning. He had the remote. Of course.

Date Night with Snoopy. I found them asleep in front of the T.V. in the morning. He had the remote. Of course.

An earlier date with Iron Man doesn't appear to have worked out.

An earlier date with Iron Man doesn’t appear to have worked out.

Our elf has been all over the map with her silliness (fortunately == or wisely == she has not chosen to be naughty like some other elves who are posting pictures of themselves on the internet in all kinds of compromising positions that will make it hard for them to find legitimate employment in the future should the Santa gig come to an abrupt end) and has been quite amusing.

Duck Dynasty!

Duck Dynasty!

Duck Dynasty…apparently those duck calls do work….
Teacher elf. She is bilingual as all the best elves are.

Teacher elf. She is bilingual, as all the best elves are.

Some tricks are fairly typical of the species (see fishing and snow angel), but others she likes to think are original. And certainly the raid on the crappy candy stash was a mistake she will regret, but we all have those in our closet.

Snow Elf Angel

Snow Elf Angel

Unfortunately for our elf and her generation, their mistakes get the full social media treatment whereas those of us from previous generations got to eff things up a bit less conspicuously….

The Elf succumbs to the pressures of constant travel and self-medicates.

The Elf succumbs to the pressures of constant travel and self-medicates.

We hope you are having fun in this run-up to the Christmas and New Years holidays. We certainly are!

Goldfishing

Goldfishing

Aerial dancer? Or cat burglar? You make the call

Aerial dancer? Or cat burglar? You make the call

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