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Party Snacks: Spanish-Style Tortilla (omelette) with leeks, potatoes, and peas

18 Sep

You say party, I say tortilla. I have loved Spanish tortillas since I tried them on my first trip to Spain a million years ago and have been making them just about as long.

Let us be clear. I am not talking about the bread-like Mexican tortillas that are used for wrapping burritos and quesadillas. I am now talking about Spain, where tortilla means a stove top egg cake, a thick omelette, a frittata. Many are vegetarian (and many are not). All of them allow you to play with ingredients!

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Serenata (a Lenten favorite that is a hot weather favorite too)

2 Jul

Bacalao — if you are not a fan — is an insulting thing to call someone; to the bacalao-averse it is a smelly, salty, fibrous fish; it is yucky and you can’t stomach it or even smell it cooking in the house.

Bacalao — if you are a fan — is the magical, durable, sustaining food of seafarers and coastal folks from far flung places; a protein source that won’t go off without refrigeration; a salty treat that tastes great with rice, in fritters, in any number of ways, the flavor of Lenten Fridays and Christmas buffets.

Bacalao is dried salt cod (called saltfish on many of the Caribbean Islands) and if you don’t like it, you may want to stop reading now.

If you do like it, I hope you will try it as serenata, a dish very popular in Puerto Rico, that I am told doesn’t come from Spain, but was developed in the Caribbean. It may have been the dish traditionally served to a successful suitor after he serenaded his intended under the window on a warm, tropical palm-swaying kind of evening.

Then again, maybe not. Since salt cod must be desalinated ahead of time, the intended must have known when her suitor was coming and what her answer would be, well in advance of the event. Hardly a romantic surprise. But I love me an apocryphal story as much as the next person!

If I were waiting for a suitor to turn up in order to eat serenata, it would be a long time before I had it again. But me being me, I don’t wait.

We eat serenata during Lent on Fridays, but I like it any time. It combines a strong salty fish with bland tubers (which we in Puerto Rico call viandas); I like to mush it up all together on my plate with abundant oil for a a dense and salty mashed potato-type of experience.

My dad found a breadfruit somewhere the other day (I suspect he shook someone down for it, but whatever you have to do in New York to get a tropical breadfruit seems justifiable to me. I asked no questions). Breadfruit is one of my absolute favorite things to eat in this whole blessed world. Set the dense creaminess of breadfruit against the power of bacalao and I am in heaven. So I started soaking my fish immediately. Chowing down was like mainlining the memories of so many amazing days and adventures…I felt almost drunk on the event!

Notes: Atlantic cod is on the naughty list of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch (for more info, click here) but I got Alaskan Pollock, which seems to be okay for the moment, although wild-caught Alaskan is the most recommended. I try.

For a delightful read on the fascinating history of cod, get Cod: A biography of the fish that changed the world, by one of my favorite food researchers and writers, Mark Kurlansky!

Full disclosure: My son will not touch bacalao, hates the smell and — every time he smells a funky smell somewhere, he calls it bacalao. He’ll grow into it.

For a variation on Bacalao a la vizcaina (with tomato sauce), click here

Serenata (desalination begins the night before or morning before cooking. The rest of the prep is only 15 minutes)

  1. Bacalao: 1lb. dried salt cod, desalinated and rehydrated according to the following directions: To desalinate: Place cod in abundant cold water in the evening or in the morning. Before going to bed or to work, change the water. Upon waking or returning from work, change the water again. When ready to cook, place bacalao in a pot with abundant water. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium, simmer for 3-5 minutes, drain and allow to cool.
  2.  Stodge: 1-2 lbs potatoes/yautía/yuca/breadfruit/malanga (taro) or other tuberous root vegetable. Peeled and boiled until fully cooked through (from 15-30 minutes, depending on density of tuber) and kept warm
  3. Dressing — 4 Tbs olive oil;1 tsp capers; 10 pimiento-stuffed olives, sliced; ½ cup red onion, chopped; 10 grape tomatoes, quartered (Plus additional olive oil for drizzling and salt to taste).

4. Optional: avocado slices, hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced

Flake cooled bacalao in to a bowl. Add all the ingredients in C. Mix well and serve with tubers, additional oil and optional avocado and eggs.

Kid’s Party Snack Alternative: Bagel Buffet, Starring Cream Cheese Two Ways!

26 Jun

My pizza party days are over. I used to like the occasional slice, but once you have a kid and start attending kids’ parties with alarming frequency, the whole pizza thing becomes tedious (and hard on the waistline), except for the part about not having to figure out lunch for your kid for a day. I like that part a whole lot.

Mind you, I have served pizza at a number of Leandro’s parties. Three regular pies, sliced in 16ths, for the kids. Another one or two pies for the parents. Guilty as charged.

Cream cheese with chives

By the time they get served, the waxy cheese is getting hard, the crust is soft, and chewy and the sauce, whatever it was, is gone. Besides, regular slices bore the hell out of me. Call me a snob, but if you lived in Italy for a couple of years and ate wood stove-crispy thin pies (slice? Cosa e? Ma scherzi.…) topped with seasonal veggies and homemade sausage with a carafe of the charming local plonk most Friday nights out with your charming boyfriend who didn’t mind your bit of flirting with the charming Italians who owned the place….well, a leaden slice of regular from a box choked down to the soundtrack of overexcited preschoolers and bounce-house kiddie-pop might also feel somewhat wrong to you.

Maple-Walnut Cream Cheese

Anyhoo, I wanted to change it up just a little this time around. It’s not just the pizza thing; it’s that I like to cook and entertain and this seemed to me to be an chance to manifest my own self in a more public forum than usual. It is all well and good to set yourself up as a food blogger because your child has been indoctrinated to believe that what you are making him is good stuff. It’s quite another thing to lay it out there for public tasting and scrutiny.

And of course, the other reason is that in my universe, you honor your guests by serving them nice food.

We celebrated Leandro’s birthday at the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center at Jones Beach. The time was from 10 am-noon on a Sunday. If you have ever been in downstate New York on a Sunday morning, you will understand that bagels are the only appropriate response. It’s like the venerable five o’clock cocktail, only heavier on the carbs. So I went with pre-sliced mini-bagels from Seaford Bagel – convenient, but with ample opportunities to prepare a few spreads of your own.

Buffet table note: cheese and ham slices and mustard and mayo rounded out the buffet. Not one of my 50 Shades of Martha moments on the decor, but it worked well enough. A Box of Joe, juice boxes, and bottles of water completed the spread.

In my own defense, I am not completely bonkers and did not bake the main event: The “birthday cake” was cupcakes, ordered from Stop & Shop. Yes. A chain grocery store. Did you really think I was going to bake an effen cake!?! They were, by all accounts, delicious, topped with butter cream and decorated with Spiderman, Hello Kitty and other rings. Eternal thanks to the wisdom of Marianne/Madrina, for her bagel shop and cupcake source recommendations.

Among the spreads were tuna salad and egg salad (click to get those recipes from earlier posts), and the following two easy cream cheese variations. The maple-walnut spread was especially popular (and so easy it’s almost embarrassing). The kids mostly ate straight-up butter or cream cheese. But the parents and big kids who came to show solidarity were All Over the buffet table and even made a few to-go bagels. (Hector and Sean, I am naming names!!!). We also had plenty of bagels left over to pack in the cooler for our glorious, post-party beach afternoon.

I hope you’ll try them next time you want to bring up your bagel buffet game without killing yourself. Don’t pay for store-made. These are too simple and the praise too gratifying.

Thanks to all of you who came and made this day one of Leandro’s best and most memorable ever. I will eat your party pizza every time and enjoy your company, so don’t fret or hesitate to invite us to the next one. Leandro needs the break from his mom’s obsessiveness!

Cucumber slices are an easy dress-up for cream cheese and chives or tuna salad

Cream Cheese with Chives

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

2 Tbs chives, chopped

1 tsp green onion, chopped fine (including white part!)

In a bowl, mix all ingredients thoroughly. Chill at least a half hour for flavors to incorporate.

Maple Walnut Cream Cheese

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

2 Tbs real maple syrup

½ tsp vanilla extract (if you actually have maple extract, you can use it here)

½ cup chopped walnuts, plus walnuts for garnish

In a bowl, mix the cream cheese, syrup and extract. Stir in the walnuts and chill for at least 30 minutes. Turn the cream cheese into your serving dish and garnish with whole walnuts.

Duck Egg Frittata with Asparagus (Hen’s Eggs Can Also be Used!)

18 May

We spend our Mother’s Days in the North Fork of Long Island (where I expect I’ll end up living one day), Abu, Padushi, Leandro, and me. We had another beautiful time this year, eating and drinking and having fun with friends.

The Long Island Sound was our back yard!

And of course on the way home we picked up some farm fresh goodness to keep savoring the visit.

In season now: ASPARAGUS, so we got some from Sang Lee. Really, when asparagus is in season in the North Fork, it is worth the drive just for that, even if you don’t have anyone to visit!

Sang Lee asparagus

And we stopped for eggs at Ty Llwyd. Our friend Dave had four duck eggs available too, and since my last experience with them was so memorable, I took them all.

Unwashed eggs don’t require refrigeration – for a few days anyway….and these were definitely unwashed! (I rinse before cracking though…)

With ingredients this good, you don’t have to do much. In fact, the more you do, the more you get in the way sometimes (a lesson I never seem to have learned, some might say, but they can just hush up, because it’s my blog post and I’ll fry if I want to). However, if you would like to try a Hollandaise, click to visit my fellow blogger Mad Dog’s step by step instructions!)

So I went for something pretty simple and non-fussy, but with style. This frittata shows off the flavors of Spring, looks rustic-wonderful, and doesn’t take much doing. Sort of the kind of thing that Leandro should learn to do when he’s old enough to bring me breakfast in bed for Mother’s Day!

Gorgeous!

Duck Egg Frittata

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

½ onion, chopped (red preferred)

Approximately 10 asparagus spears, trimmed, and sliced thin on the bias (may be precooked; I used leftover roasted, which were lovely)

4 duck eggs (6-8 hen’s eggs if you want to substitute!)

¼ Cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or other good grating cheese

Pinch of salt

Heat oil in a small to medium ovenproof skillet at medium until loose and fragrant. Add onions, stir to coat and sauté for five minutes or more – until tender and browned. If using uncooked asparagus, add it one minute after the onions. If using cooked, add after the onions are tender and browned, then cook an additional minute. Either way, reserve a couple of the tops for garnish.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl whisk eggs, cheese, and salt together to mix thoroughly. Pour eggs over vegetables in pan and mix thoroughly. Preheat the broiler to high/450°F.

Using a flexible spatula, turn the egg mixture away from the sides of the skillet as the egg solidifies, allowing the uncooked egg to run to the bottom of the pan. Continue this until egg mixture is well set – 5-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the frittata (depth of skillet) and the stove top heat. Don’t rush this. You can stick a knife in the center to measure progress. 

Use the spatula to get under the frittata occasionally and make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Shaking gently every so often can also help.

As the top is almost set, stick the reserved asparagus tops into the surface so they look pretty!

When egg is set, put the whole skillet under the broiler for 3-5 minutes (longer if you frittata is thick) until the top is browned.

Let sit for five minutes, then serve.

Egg Salad…Amped

11 Apr

Have you ever seen the MTV show “Pimp My Ride” where a beat-up, tin-can of a vehicle gets a total tarted-up makeover- complete with features like aquariums and shoe racks and hydraulic surfboard lifters?

Well, sometimes I like to play culinary “Pimp My____________(fill in the blank with your favorite, but somewhat tired go-to everyday recipe).” You know, take a dull salad and add grilled shrimp and fruit, or top your morning toast with salmon and creme fraiche, or add truffle oil to any old thing to make it special.

The Chinese make cracks in eggs before hard-boiling in tea to make "1,000 year old eggs" -- that's my excuse for the rather oddly-colored post-Easter eggs you see here...

In honor of the ridiculous number of luridly-dyed hard-boiled eggs in my post-Easter fridge, today’s episode is “Pimp My Egg Salad.” Just add a number of tasty pantry items to a normal egg salad and voila! You have a hottie-hottie, hot-hot, lunch where before sat a bland and boring boiled egg.

By the way, to boil eggs perfectly, set them in cold water that covers by an inch. Bring to a rolling boil. Remove from heat, cover and allow to sit for ten minutes. Drain and shock the eggs in ice water (to help the peeling later). Using eggs that are not farm-fresh will make them easier to peel (more air between shell and membrane).

 

Look closely and you'll see that blue color....

Egg Salad…Amped

4 hard-boiled eggs

2 Tbs mayonnaise

1-2 tsps prepared mustard

1 tsp minced red onion (optional)

1 tsp capers, drained

Five large pitted black olives, sliced

1 Tbs roasted red pepper, diced

Salt to taste

Dash of sriracha or other hot sauce (optional)

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Salt to taste and add hot sauce if desired. Serve in a sandwich on toast or atop a salad.

Know Your Food: Egg-Sighting Adventures in the North Fork

17 Mar

Be advised: this post starts off a bit serious — grim, even — but lightens up fairly quickly and has a happy finish!

Stonyfield Farms-– the organic dairy company from which I buy a lot of yogurt and receive too many magazines thanks to their rewards program — is running a Know Your Food campaign (“This Year I Will Know My Food”) that has stuck in my head. As it happens, the USDA is doing the same thing (Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food). Both limit themselves to farmers they work with…still, it is a start, isn’t it?

Leandro and I know a fair bit about who makes what we eat – when it comes to seasonal local stuff – but it’s hard to know everything. And it gets scarier and scarier, what with the pink slime in school lunch meat (can we get any more cavalier – or gruesome — about how we feed children?) and arsenic in apple juice and e. coli everywhere…I am sick, not just because it’s a horrible thing nutritionally, but because I am sick of reading about it, sick of worrying about it, and sick of how complicated it has become to get simple healthy food on the table these days. Heavy sigh.

Can you guess what this is?

But, let’s brighten up and lighten up here.

Here's another look!

We recently spent an amazing couple of days out on the North Fork of Long Island (our Bordeaux on the Sound, as it were), picking up wine from Paumanok, spending quality time with Deborah Pittorino Rivera at The Greenporter Hotel  which she and her husband, Bill, own and where she also serves up incredible food at La Cuvee Wine Bar & Restaurant (see her blog, Seasoned Fork,  here), riding the carousel — Leandro learned how to grab the rings — and watching the Shelter Island ferries shuttle cars back and forth.

We  stopped by one of my favorite places to get fresh, organic eggs. Ty Llwyd Farm has the best fresh eggs (duck eggs too! More on that later), organic vegetables, and sometimes flowers (pussy willows right now!) in Northville on Sound Ave. They also have manure and hay – they do a bit of everything and are moving into dairy. If you blink, you might miss the homely wooden sign – look for a big nursery (van der something or another) across the road and you are close.

It is an egg sorter!

This time I hit pay dirt! The last few times I have stopped for eggs, Leandro was asleep in the car, so he didn’t get to see the cool old egg sorter in operation. This time he was wide-awake – on fire and crunchy from too much enforced restaurant sitting, in fact – and the sorter was in use to sort eggs for the cognoscenti stopping by for the their weekly supply. So owner David Wines was kind enough to let the little guy sort his own eggs…you roll them onto a little chute and they travel along a line of egg-sized scales measuring jumbo, extra-large, large, etc. and the egg rolls off when it tips the correct weighted scale.

We then proceeded to visit all the animals – you may remember that Leandro is very found of chickens – only the egg-layers, though — so we saw the pullets, the free-rangers (who came running to see my little hen-whisperer), the cows, the geese marching in formation, the ducks…

The henhouse...a pretty nice set-up if you are a hen!

When I asked Dave how long he has been there, he said, “Oh, about 300 years” or something like that. Turns out, his people were farmers from Cornwall who came to the North Fork via Connecticut centuries ago and the family still farms. The name Ty Llwyd (pronounced tee clewed) is from his Welsh wife, Liz, also from a farming family.

It was a wonderful couple of hours we spent and we came home with two dozen fresh hens’ eggs and two duck eggs ($0.75 each) which I fried up a few days later.

The duck eggs

The taste is very similar to chicken’s eggs, but denser and richer somehow. One egg on one slice of toast was enough to fill me for hours. Very satisfying!

So no recipe for today, aside from a teaspoon of vegetable oil heated at medium high, crack two eggs in, sprinkle with good salt, lower heat and cook for four minutes or until they reach your preferred doneness. I covered the eggs to make the heat more even to be able to cook them at lower heat and more slowly. As adaptable as eggs are, a lot of high heat doesn’t do them any favors.

So, duck eggs (which are said to pack more nutritional punch that hens’ eggs) were a great success. People bake with them, but I don’t think that is cost effective. I’d rather enjoy them on their own!

Spaghetti a la Carbonara (or bacon and eggs Italian-style!)

15 Feb

Nowhere does it say that Hot, Cheap & Easy means low-fat, low-carb or low-cholesterol. As it happens, a lot of what I prepare and eat is on the lighter, greener, and grainier side, but I am never averse to bacon and eggs; in fact, sometimes I feel that they are the only possible answer.

Bacon and eggs for dinner? Yeah.

Bacon and eggs and pasta for dinner? Double yeah.

Bacon and eggs and pasta and cheese for dinner? Bring It On.

Thus spaghetti alla carbonara, a dish from Rome that  shows once again, no matter the state of their government, economy or traffic, no one can as consistently make as many people happy with food as effortlessly as the Italians.

Leandro and I threw this dish together in less than 20 minutes. He is getting very handy with the egg-cracking and beating and whether it was pride in his own handiwork, or just the ineffable joy of bacon grease and cheese, he made short work of two heaping bowls of it. We will be doing this on our next camping trip; I may try to make it a one-pot affair and will keep you posted!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

1-2 Tbs olive oil

1-2 Tbs butter

4 oz bacon (about four rashers), or pancetta if you’ve got, cut into ¼ inch squares

1 lb spaghetti or other long pasta

4-5 fresh eggs*, well beaten

½ Cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano or, more typically Roman: Pecorino

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat the oil and butter in a skillet; add the bacon and sauté until golden and crisping up. Remove from fat and drain on paper towels.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Make sure you have the next step completed before that pasta is cooked so the pasta is piping hot when you turn it into the bowl.

While the pasta is cooking, beat the eggs, ¼ Cup of the grated cheese, and pepper in a large serving bowl. As soon as you drain the pasta, turn it into the bowl and toss well. (If you are worried that the egg hasn’t cooked enough, return it to the pasta pot and stir it around over the still warm burner or a low flame for a minute or two). Add the remaining cheese and serve.

*To make sure eggs are fresh, place them in a bowl of water to cover. A very fresh egg will stay completely submerged. A relatively fresh egg will float up on one end, while the other end remains on the bottom. An egg that floats is an egg that is rotten.

The Best of 2011 – closing the year with my Top Five

31 Dec

Thanks to all my visitors  – regular and occasional – for a great year of cooking!

Unlike the rest of the year, this week has been a slow one for culinary adventure (I’ll explain that one later), so rather than do nothing, I’ve collected this year’s top five recipes – the ones that get hit time and time again to let you know what other folks are trying out in their kitchens.

I hope you will give them a try…and I will certainly try to do more things using these ingredients that you loved!

Best wishes for a wonderful and delicious New Year!

Natalia

NUMBER FIVE

Oatmeal, Cranberry, Raisin, Walnut Cookies (click name of dish for recipe!)

NUMBER FOUR

Cheesy Broccoli and Chorizo Pasta (click name of dish for recipe!)

NUMBER THREE

No-Crust Broccoli and Feta Quiche (click dish name for recipe!)

NUMBER TWO

Pastelón de Yuca (Puerto Rican Shepherd’s Pie) (click name of dish for recipe!)

NUMBER ONE!!!!!

Yuca en Escabeche (Yuca Salad) (click name of dish for recipe!)

Long Island Turkey (and egg) Source: Makinajian Poultry Farm

10 Nov

This one is for my homies: my readers here on Long Island. All the rest, rest assured that once I fix the weird photo upload problem that is cramping my blogging style, I will have a bunch of new recipes to share!

Local, Fresh and (pretty much) Organic: We’ve been getting our eggs and Thanksgiving (and sometimes Christmas) birds from Makinajian Poultry Farm in Huntington for a number of years now. We didn’t discover them by ourselves; once we joined C.S.A. – first at Sophia Garden and now at Restoration Farm – eggs and Thanksgiving turkeys were optional shares. It’s a good thing, as a drive to their farm in Huntington is kind of a hike for us to do on a regular basis – 30-40 minutes from our house. It’s a nice place to go though – farm animals in the front yard, coops out the back and a sweet country-style store…Worth a visit!

The eggs and poultry, while not certified organic, are organically raised – no hormones, no antibiotics, cage free, and I believe they also get organic feed. Importantly, it’s all fresh – the organic eggs you buy in the supermarket can be weeks old (the USDA says eggs are fresh 45 days after being laid), while these are farm to table.

If you want a turkey for Thanksgiving, you should order it now! Click the link or here’s the number: 631-368-9320. And don’t forget to bring your order number when you pick up; it’s troublesome for them to find your order when the line to pick up is out the door…

I usually order extra turkey necks for the gravy and often pick up one of their homemade pies (still warm!) while I’m there. They also have organic produce…pretty much anything you might have forgotten to pick up for the Big Eat. Note: I do brine the bird overnight for extra tenderness and flavor and will probably do it again this year. I’ll let you know all about it!

 

 

Halloween Party Snacks for Kids (adaptable to any holiday)

3 Nov

My friends greeted the news with gasps. With disbelief. With wide-eyed incredulity.

Yes, it was true. I actually bought a loaf of sliced white bread last week, smeared it with variations of cream cheese, jelly and butter and served it to my son. I also bought cupcake mix from a box AND, horror of all horrors, two tubs of pre-made icing with all manner of indecipherable ingredients written on the side by the (seriously?) “nutrition” information. I had my reasons. And I have no regrets.

Halloween is Leandro’s favorite, number one, most-anticipated holiday, so we invited a few of his beastie besties for a Halloween get-together on the Sunday afternoon before Halloween. Between goody bag decorating, scavenger hunts, and cupcake decorating, I felt like I had the activities covered, but it was a challenge to make good-looking seasonal stuff that would impress the moms, be attractive to the kids and still fit with my food values.

In the end, I kind of compromised my values, but two out of three…well you know the song…and, thanks to bat, pumpkin and ghost cookie cutters, I felt pretty cool in the end.

The little white bread sandwiches looked very cute once Leandro and I used the cookie cutters on them. And Pam had given me a recipe that became the recipe below: apple party dip with baked tortilla chips — also given the cookie cutter treatment (you can call it overkill, but we had fun and Leandro was totally engaged in the prep).

Pam’s cool serving idea for a spooky “Witch’s Brew”

Pam also made a “witch’s brew” of hot apple cider, cranberry juice and cinnamon – hope to get that recipe soon — and other folks brought even more cupcakes and brownies…Thanks everyone! And I made some devilled eggs (how could you not?) with olive slices and capers for eyeball effect….It was a lot of fun! (P.S. Thanks to my dad, Pedro, for rescuing the pictures from a wormhole in the alternate universe that is my computer)

Apple Pie Party Dip and Tortilla Chips

(this tastes quite like apple pie…without the fuss of crust or lengthy baking)

Dip

2 Cups apples, peeled, cored and diced

1.5 tsp lemon juice

2 heaping tsp light brown sugar

¼ tsp cinnamon

2 generous tsp lingonberry preserves (can be substituted with apricot, blueberry, etc)

Combine all dip ingredients in a bowl, cover and refrigerate until chilled (may be made several hours ahead).

Chips:

5-6 large (8”) burrito-style flour tortillas (fajita-style are too hard for cookie cutters and little hands)

2 Tbs butter, melted

½ tsp ground cinnamon

1 Tbs light brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Using cookie cutters, cut tortillas into desired shapes, or simply cut into pizza-style slices. Arrange on a lightly greased baking sheet, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cool before serving.

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