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Sweet and Savory Churrasco (Skirt Steak, Grilled)

13 Jan

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!



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

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

Quickie Meatloaf Dressed Up with a Salty-Sweet Glaze

17 Dec

Anxious times call for simple home-cooking with a big dollop of comfort.

I had my first taste of meatloaf in the third grade at a friend’s house in the apartment block we lived in in Queens, NY. Having grown up until then on mostly Latin-Caribbean food — except for pizza and bagels and Thanksgiving turkey; I did say Queens, NY, didn’t I? — meatloaf was a revelation to me. I ran upstairs in excitement and demanded that it become a regular on our table, and it did, albeit with different seasonings and sauces.

Glorious glaze for a simple meatloaf

Glorious glaze for a simple meatloaf

Continue reading

Grilled Steak (and the secrets of spice rub penetration)

14 Jul

After several days of hospital cafeteria food (which is quite expensive, mostly awful, and just not home-made), my mom was hankering for some steak. So as soon as my dad got out of said hospital, she bought some U.S.D.A. Choice top loin and we planned a Fourth of July celebration (see Perfect Grilled Fish and Grilled Potato Disks).

The scoring of the meat is subtle, yet critical (a bit like the unsung heroes of the clean-up crew….)

And then I, who had a hankering to do some fun experimenting with my dad now that he was out of danger, proceeded to screw up her day.

Once the paste is on, give it awhile to adhere and penetrate

“There’s this interesting Cook’s Illustrated technique I want to try…” begins the conversation, and next thing you know, Pedro’s on it with me, we are mucking about (dirtying kitchen stuff which she is mostly in charge of cleaning, because he does the cooking – and gets the glory, I might add. The cleaner-uppers are always undersung.) and everything is fun again. For us.

And penetrate some more while you prep other things

Except that —  his crazy-ass diet means he’s not gonna eat it, and since he’s cooking the fish from across the street (see Perfect Grilled Fish), me and Leandro are not going to eat it, so really, none of us had any business getting elaborate with Myrna’s steak craving. A bit of pepper and salt and the woman would’ve been happy. But far be it for Natalia and Pedro to leave well enough alone…

So we did this gussied-up steak and she hated it. Hated it. Almost spun out. I almost spun out.It had been quite a week and we were all close to spinning out, except that it was Fourth of July and we reeled it in and had a wonderful day, once we remembered what we were about.

I really liked it and Leandro ate the leftovers the next day (once the fish was gone) and proclaimed it The Best Steak Ever, and Padushi and Mommy the Best Cooks Ever… so I am sharing it with you.

The important secret here is that the scoring and the paste add flavor and depth,  AND make the rub stay on! Feel free to experiment with your own spice rub combinations, but be warned that the fish sauce is salty, so UNDERSALT with the rest.

And the next time, I promise, promise, promise Myrna to Keep It Simple. KISS, KISS, KISS.

And for those of you out there, a reminder. Don’t hug the cook without hugging the people who clean up after the cook!

Yeah, baby

Grilled Spice-Rubbed Steak


1.5 lbs beef top loin in two steaks

Scored in a crosshatch, about 1/16th inch deep and ½ inch apart


2 tsp tomato paste

2 tsp fish sauce

1 tsp adobo powder

Spice rub:

¼ tsp rosemary

¼ tsp turmeric

10 black peppercorns

1 clove

Mix all ingredients of paste together. Spread evenly over both sides of steaks. Set aside to rest an hour. (In the fridge, if you must. On the counter if you don’t worry so much about such things).

Crush all ingredients of spice rub together in a mortar and pestle. When steak has rested, sprinkle evenly over all sides of steaks. Rub in (this is a rub, after all).

Cook on a hot grill, about five minutes each side, depending on thickness of steak, heat of grill and desired doneness. Allow to rest before serving and accompany with simple sides that don’t compete.

Albóndigas Variation (Meatballs: Eat some now, freeze some for later)

28 Jun

You would think that I came from hunger.

I stockpile like a squirrel in autumn. (And like squirrels, I sometimes forget where the hell I stockpiled my treasures, but that is another matter for a day when we are discussing organization. Today, we are not). I don’t feel safe unless there are plenty of foodstuffs laid by, whether for unexpected guests, an emergency supper,  the coming of The Apocalypse, or the nuclear winter. I’m a Cold War baby and that’s how I roll.

Sauté onion and garlic in a saucepan, drop in frozen meatballs and a tin of crushed tomatoes with your preferred herbs and spices and in 20 minutes of lively simmer – gorgeous sauce for spaghetti and meatballs!

There’s nothing I like more than a pantry full of stuff with which to make meals, except a freezer full of stuff that is already made (by me, of course, because the supermarket has freezers full of simulated-food garbage I won’t pay for, cause it’s  simulated food garbage I won’t eat).

To freeze, place cooled meatballs in a freezer bag. Lay the bag flat on a plate and stick in freezer so the meatballs don’t freeze stuck together. When completely frozen through, remove plate, shake the bag to unstick meatballs, squeeze air out, and leave bag in freezer. Use within three months (or before freezer burn sets in!)

Thus, this meatball recipe – a variation on my dad’s excellent meatballs. We call them albóndigas and like to make them neutrally flavored for freezing, so that whatever the occasion you can drop them in an Italian-style tomato sauce, serve them with buttered noodles, make a meatball sandwich, stick them with toothpicks and call them hors d’oeuvres, do whatever, adding your favorite seasonings later.

Cheese, please!

Use some hot off the stove, and freeze the rest. You never know when they will save your life….

Cloudy, with a chance of meatballs!

Albóndigas (Variation on Pedro’s Albóndigas)

5 cloves garlic, peeled

1 generous Cup onion, chopped

2 Tbs olive oil

1 Cup mixed fresh herbs (or 4 Tbs dry), such as basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram, parsley

2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning

1 tsp salt

3 lbs ground beef (you can substitute 1lb of pork for 1lb of beef)

2 whole eggs (optional)

1 cup breadcrumbs (plain, or seasoned with similar herbs to those you chose above)

Whir garlic, onions, olive oil and parsley in a blender or food processor until minced fine. Add herbs, Old Bay, and salt and pulse a few times until it forms a paste.

In a large bowl place meat, seasoning paste, optional eggs, roasted red pepper, and bread crumbs. Mix well so that breadcrumbs are evenly distributed. Using your hands, roll into balls about 1.5 inches across. You can dip your hands in water to keep from sticking.

Heat 2 Tbs oil in heavy skillet at medium heat until the oil flows like water and a meatball dipped in it sizzles softly. Fry several at a time (use tongs to turn quickly) browning on all sides, then lower to medium low and cook for about six minutes, shaking the pan and turning meatballs occasionally. When they are cooked through, cool on paper towels. Can be frozen for three months in an airtight container.

Sauteed Mushrooms and Onions (Burger Topping Extraordinaire)

15 Mar

Now that I have recuperated from the trauma of car buying and am tooling around happily in my beautiful new (for me) automobile and impressing the neighbors — a bit like Toad, only better-behaved (extra points if you get the reference)  — a host of other little things are making life challenging.

You know, unexpected meetings (note the use of the plural – not one, not two, but many!); unexpected need to write recommendations; unexpected oily messes from poorly shut jars of sun-dried tomatoes that somehow tipped over in the fridge at 11 p.m. after one of those unexpected meetings; unexpected armies of black ants marching through the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen; just unexpected stuff that keeps popping up in the middle of attempting to actually finish something, just one thing, for the love of God!

Still life with mushrooms

So I am swamped and overwhelmed, but none of it is bad or life-threatening, and even though I haven’t kept you informed, we are still eating real food over here (and I am still washing heaps of real dishes, which is becoming a real problem because I have fisherman’s cracked hands). So, I’ll count my blessings and try to catch you up on some recent favorites.

The original topper from which this recipe is derived....YUM-Burger

I promised you this burger topper recipe weeks ago, from a mid-winter BBQ with Marianne & Co. when the weather was mild enough to warrant firing up the grill. It is still mild enough! I have since made it to dress-up black bean burgers – it really made me feel as though I was having a restaurant meal. And I needed that.

With black bean burgers

Onion and Mushroom Burger Toppers

2-3 Tbs salted butter

2 medium onions, sliced

8 oz. button mushrooms, stems trimmed and sliced (2-2.5 Cups)

1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce, plus more to taste (optional: from what I know Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies, so it is not vegetarian; other steak sauces like A-1 may be vegetarian. Check the label!)

Salt to taste

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a skillet on medium-high. When foaming subsides, add onions to skillet, stir to cover and lower heat. Allow to wilt and caramelize (at least five minutes; more if you have the time).

When onions have cooked and browned, remove and set aside. Add mushrooms to skillet with existing butter (add more if desired) and cook at medium –high, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms have released their liquid (about five minutes), liquid has evaporated somewhat and mushrooms are tender and browned. Add more butter, if desired (I desire a lot of butter!), return onions to skillet and stir to incorporate. Add Worcestershire sauce to taste as desired, a teaspoon or so at a time. Serve atop cooked burgers, grilled meats or vegetable or veggie/bean burgers.

Buying a New Car and Cheesy Savoury Meatballs: a tenuous relationship

10 Mar

I bought a car today. Apparently people think congratulations are in order, but I feel a bit more like puking than celebrating.

I find these big purchases that require loans from the bank are among the most stressful of stressful things, right up there with realizing, as you are halfway down the aisle with your ivory Nicole Miller silk shantung dress, white knuckling your dad’s forearm under a beachfront palapa in the Dominican Republic, that you really shouldn’t marry this person; or signing a mortgage in a fancy San Juan neighborhood that you are terrified of not being able to keep up with; leaning over for your epidural as you are about to become a single mother by choice and realizing you’ve never even changed a diaper…you know, life-changing, oh shit, what have I got myself into moments, irreversible, irrevocable, the type that you can’t later walk away from with a shrug and an “Oh well, that didn’t quite work out as I’d planned, let’s go out for a cocktail.”

That’s how I feel about buying a car. It’s worse now that I have that baby (I am a diaper-changing expert now, but don’t ask me to do it because we are DONE with that).  He is almost five now and barely lets me complete a thought, much less a major financial transaction. But, I did what I could, and picked out the make and model I wanted, and went through the no-haggle credit union thing, and found the right vehicle and test drove it, and decided it was the one. Then I filled out the papers, had my sticker shock and signed anyway, with my heart and breath stuck high in my throat.

I was almost done.

It must be five o'clock somewhere (Lorraine's pina coladas would be very handy right now)

Then the saleswoman just wouldn’t quit trying to sell me other stupid insurance-type shit to protect me from all sorts of dire consequences of all the things that could happen to my car that I wouldn’t be able to afford to fix if I didn’t have the insurance (didn’t I just buy the damn thing because it was supposed to be reliable?) and I asked her to please stop, but of course she didn’t. So didn’t I just turn into a puddle right in that stupid office?

Yes I cried, much to the astonishment of the saleswoman (not to me; I felt it coming a mile off), but at least she sort of stopped with the sales pitch in her frantic search for a tissue and I was able to collect myself, get out of there and go pick up Leandro at his friend’s house where I was fortunate enough to be able to leave him for a couple of hours.

All of this is apropos of nothing, except that when we got home Leandro suddenly began to feel a cold coming on, so instead of going to our single mom’s meet-up which we were both really looking forward to and where I was going to tell my tale of woe to a sympathetic audience and then have a nice dinner with Pam and her kids, we stayed home and so now I am telling my tale of woe to you.

That feels much better, thank you.

If you have gotten this far, it is actually a beautiful 2008 Honda CRV in a Royal Blue Pearl, with a gray interior, with about 26,000 miles on it, perfect for our active, outdoor lives, so the car is exactly what I wanted. Now I just need some help to pick it up on Monday…

As far as the food tie-in, well this is going to be  the lamest transition I will ever write in my life. It is bad, really bad, but hopefully I will never ever ever write another one as awful. So, with my apologies, here goes….

Since I am limp from the emotional wringer of car buying and loan-signing, I don’t feel like making dinner. In the freezer I have these delicious meatballs, which I made with my cousin, Lorraine, a couple of weeks ago (to be honest, she did most of the making while I sorted out my son for bed) and I am very likely going to throw them in tomato sauce over spaghetti for a hearty, comforting dish. And then, from here on in, it will be beans, beans, beans, until I can reasonably fit a new car payment into my sad little budget.

I hope you love them!

Cheesy and Savory Meatballs

2 ¼ Cup plain breadcrumbs

1.5 Cup buttermilk

1.5 tsp unflavored gelatin

3 Tbs water

2.5 lbs lean ground beef and 1 lb ground veal or pork (or a 3-3.5 lb meatloaf mix)

1 Cup very finely minced cooked ham

1 oz (about ½ Cup) Parmigiano Reggiano, or Grana Padano

3 large eggs

6 Tbs minced parsley

6 cloves garlic, minced fine

1.5 tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

Put oven racks to lower-middle and upper middle racks and pre-heat to 450°F. Set wire racks or slotted oven rack on 2 rimmed baking sheets covered in foil and spray with vegetable oil spray.

Mix buttermilk and breadcrumbs in a large bowl and let sit until a smooth paste forms (about 10 minutes. You can stir and mash occasionally during the ten minutes. Meanwhile, put water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Allow to soften for five minutes.

Mix meat, ham, eggs, cheese, parsley, garlic, salt and gelatin into breadcrumb mixture using hands. Pinch off and roll mixture into 2-inch meatballs (makes 48 or more) and arrange on prepared baking sheets. Bake until well-browned, about 30 (if you plan on cooking them further in a sauce)  or 40 minutes, switching and rotating baking sheets halfway through.

Asian-Inflected Steak and Asparagus Bites

6 Feb

I was looking for organic steak at Fairway Market in Plainview – one of my favorite places to shop for higher-end yet still reasonably-priced staples like Spanish chorizo, olive oils, tomato in cans, organic eggs — but instead found an irresistible deal:  U.S.D.A. prime hanger steak for $6.99 a pound. The prime designation means a higher quality of steak with loads of marbling (yes, fat) and virtuous me didn’t stand a chance against cheapskate bloodthirsty carnivorous me, so I bought 1.5 lbs and started to plan.

My friend Ashley was coming over, so I knew I’d have some support staff for child care AND prep, so I chose to do something I’ve been hankering after for weeks: Asian-flavored steak with asparagus. It is just slightly labor-intensive, but a show-stopper and I really should have given it to you earlier as a Super Bowl option, but better late than never.

We did half the meat that night, after the little guy was down (with a belly full of pizza and a promise of steak the next day). Must confess, once the pretty pictures were taken, we heaped all of the bites haphazardly on a plate, each grabbed a fork, and fell in like starving raptors from the Cretaceous Period.

The rest – two small steaks — I cooked whole the following evening on the broiler at our friend, Pam’s, without the asparagus (Yes, Leandro got his!). They were just as tasty, but almost 24 hours in the marinade did leave them almost too tender. The following recipe can be jiggled; use the greater amount of asparagus if you want to do all of the steak in wraps.

Anyhooo, I will be doing these the next time I entertain. I hope you will too!

Asian steak and asparagus bites

(factor in minimum marinating time of 30 minutes)

3 cloves garlic, minced fine

2 inch of ginger, peeled indifferently, and grated (about 1.5 packed Tbs; add more to taste)

2 tsp sesame oil

2 Tbs rice vinegar

4 Tbs soy sauce

1 – 1.5 lbs hanger steak (or other fairly thin, tender boneless cut)

1 – 2 lbs asparagus spears, washed, woody stems snapped off, and chopped into 2-inch pieces

Mix all ingredients except meat in a plastic freezer bag or a bowl. Add steak, coat thoroughly and then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Reserving marinade, slice marinated steak ACROSS THE GRAIN* into thin slices and then cut the slices into strips suitable for wrapping artfully or not so artfully around asparagus spears. Lay steak and asparagus bites onto an oven rack with a catch dish underneath. Pour remaining marinade over and salt to taste. Cook for 5 minutes on each side (7-8 for well done) and serve.

*Cutting steaks across the grain cuts through the fibers that hold the muscles together and shortens them so the meat can barely hold together, thus, tenderness. This is especially necessary with my favorite muscle-y cuts: skirt steak (churrasco), flank steak and hanger steak. When raw, you will see natural lines across the meat. Slice against them (at a 90° angle, if I have understood Kenji at Food Lab (Serious Eats) correctly).

¡Churrasco! Padushi’s Grilling Secrets Revealed

4 Jan

My dad makes amazing churrasco and I have FINALLY got the recipe measured and on paper. This is a dish that our friends request constantly. I take it with me in the marinade to other people’s houses to grill. It is a recipe that many have hounded me for; one that I have long sought; in short – some of the best effing grilled steak you will ever eat.

It’s not like he was hiding it, but it is not until now that I have an actual recipe to share. I have had to watch him very closely many times to get it right….

Before I reveal his secrets, however, I must clarify what “churrasco” means to me.

Churrasco is a famous Argentinean and/or Brazilian cut of beef  – although the Argentineans and the Brazilians don’t necessarily agree on which cut of meat it is. For the Argentineans, at least, it seems that any thinly sliced grilled beef can be called churrasco (and feel free to weigh in on what you think churrasco is).

In Puerto Rico, however, churrasco is always skirt steak, a cut off the top of the ribs, just behind the front legs of the steer. It is fatty, which makes for great grilling, but is also muscular, which makes for more flavor. It should be cut with the grain for greatest tenderness. It is my all time favorite cut of meat, and my dad’s salty and herb-y version, with a hint of sweetness, is my all time favorite marinade. Churrasco is often marinated in Puerto Rican tradition (not that my dad is Puerto Rican, but that is another story; his name is Pedro and that is all the boricua street-cred you need right now).

Churrasco in Puerto Rico is often served with a chimichurri – a raw onion-y, green sauce – but  that is superfluous here. In fact, I find all side dishes superfluous when it comes to my dad’s churrasco. Do some potatoes if you must; I am sticking with the meat.

If you can’t get skirt steak, flank steak or hanger (flap) steak are worthy substitutes. In all cases, look for a lot of marbling; you want the fat for the grill.

Pedro’s Famous Churrasco

(this recipe is per pound and can be multiplied as you see fit)

1 lb churrasco (skirt steak)

Two cloves garlic, roughly chopped

¼ tsp coarse salt

10 whole black peppercorns

¼ tsp dried oregano

¼ tsp ground coriander

1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp sugar (light brown preferred)

Rinse and pat dry churrasco. (If cooking right away, heat your grill to quite hot)

Meanwhile, in a mortar and pestle, grind garlic and salt until beginning to get mushy. Add peppercorns and continue to grind. Add in coriander and oregano and mix. Add olive oil and sugar and mash to a pulp.

Massage churrasco with pulp. If you have time, marinate for a couple of hours in the fridge, either in a covered bowl or freezer bag. If you are freezing for later, freeze in a freezer bag and thaw completely before grilling.

Lay churrasco on a hot grill for five minutes on each side. You can play around with folding the pointier, skinnier ends under or over the fatter sections. Ideally, you will have well-done ends and rare centers.

Let rest for five minutes (or not), slice along the grain and serve.

Roasted Baby Lamb Chops – Straightforward and Perfect

25 Dec

“Mommy, I love these! I just love them!”

Here is yet another cameo appearance by Adriana, whose baby lamb chops sent Leandro over the moon (not least because he could grab them by the bone in his hammy little fist and tear meat off with his teeth like a caveman) and very nearly knocked me and Padushi off our pedestals in his culinary pantheon.

Adriana is a serious carnivore who likes the flavor of good meat to shine through. The mild flavor and tender texture of today’s baby lamb chops from Australia and New Zealand lend themselves to that kind of light hand in seasoning. Roasted potatoes and asparagus rounded off the meal – simple, straightforward, and balanced.

The meal was also festive — our celebration of the beginning of the holiday season —  so we grown-ups opened with a pear and goat cheese appetizer (which will be familiar to regular readers) and some prosecco, which I mention only because the photos are so nice that I’ve decided to include one here! The kids…well they opened with some sort of Trader Joe’s-type semi-virtuous cheese doodles, so we’ll just leave that one alone! And they did great justice to the real food, so not to worry!

Wishing you happy and delicious holidays!


Adriana’s Baby Lamb Chops

7 cloves garlic

1 tsp whole black peppercorns

2 medium springs rosemary – stems removed and leaves minced

¼ tsp salt

3 lbs Frenched baby lamb racks (two racks)

Adobo powder to taste

½ Tbs extra virgin olive oil

Pound garlic, peppercorns, rosemary leaves and salt in a mortar and pestle until they form a paste.

Rinse lamb racks and pat dry. Sprinkle liberally with adobo powder on both sides. Massage both sides with garlic rub, concave side first.

 Preheat oven to 425°.

Heat  olive oil in a cast iron pan or other heavy pan on medium high. Sear each rack, starting with the meaty side down, about 3 minutes each side.

Place racks on roasting pan, meaty side up and cook in oven until meat thermometer reads 125° for rare ribs or 130° for medium rare, about 20 minutes.

Serve with roasted vegetables.

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