Tag Archives: easy recipes

Jam On! Fresh Strawberry Rhubarb Jam (no gelatin, no pectin, no sweat!)

21 Jun

Being part of a farm makes you really work with the seasons!

Take rhubarb. I’ve never actually cooked rhubarb before, as much as I love strawberry rhubarb pie (Briermere Farm in Riverhead makes the best I’ve had!). This vegetable is not part of my Caribbean repertory and, to be honest, I have been a little intimidated by it.

Silly me! It is simple! Continue reading

Stir-fried Vegetables (Faster and better than ordering out)

2 Apr

Saturday lunch -crisp and light and zippy

When I am in the mood for some crunchy, spicy Asian vegetables, my first instinct is not to pick up the phone, but to open the refrigerator door.

I am forever buying virtuous items that I mean to use right away, but that slip into the deep recesses in of my mind and the even deeper recesses of the fridge. A good stir-fry is a way to use up just about any crunchy vegetable in a way that will bring the virtue right back (nothing should go to waist or waste!).

Such was the situation today, when my dad started pulling out vegetables for a raw salad, and my mom and I convinced him it would have more flair in a hot and spicy variation.

So we got to chopping and measuring and whisking and in very little time (about 20 minutes) we were crunching and nodding and going for seconds. While there is a place in every household for Chinese takeout menus, it is so easy to make your own, without the gelatinous goopiness that passes for brown sauce, that this is really worth making part of your repertoire. I can see tossing in some peeled shrimp just as the vegetables have cooked in the first step….on this occasion, my dad seasoned and sauteed strips of chicken breast separately as the vegetables were cooking, rather than incorporate the chicken. As a result, the chicken played a gentle counterbalance to the sizzle of the vegetables.

Here’s what we did (adapted from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Stir-Fried Broccoli)

Stir-fried vegetables in brown sauce (serves four for a light meal or as a side)


1/2 Cup low sodium vegetable broth

2 Tbs dry white wine (or dry sherry, if you’ve got)

4 tsp low-sodium soy sauce

2 tsp olive oil (or one toasted sesame oil)

2 tsp cornstarch

2 tsp Thai chili sauce (can be increased, depending on your sauce AND your tolerance for hot and spicy; the one we used is already prepared as a marinade, so is sweet. If you use straight Thai chili – like a sambal – it could be stronger!)


6 cloves garlic, minced (you can play with this proportion, especially if your chili sauce has a lot of garlic)

¼ tsp red pepper flakes

2 tsp vegetable oil


2 Tbs vegetable oil

2-2.5 lbs mixed stir-fry vegetables, cut into ¾ inch pieces (we used onions, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, red peppers, green peppers, but you can play around with this!)

½ tsp sugar

Whisk ingredients in A (broth, wine, soy sauce, olive/sesame oil, cornstarch and chili sauce) in a small bowl. In another small bowl, mix up ingredients in B (garlic, pepper flakes, and 2 tsp vegetable oil).

Now for the ingredients in C. Heat the remaining two Tbs vegetable oil in a 12 inch skillet with a heavy bottom, until just rippling and just beginning to smoke. Add vegetables and sprinkle the sugar over, coat with the oil and cook, stirring frequently, for about eight minutes, looking for caramelization on the vegetables. Lower the temperature to medium if you get a lot of sticking.

Push vegetables to the side and add the garlic mixture (B), stir to heat, then mix with the vegetables. Add vegetable broth mixture (A) and stir for a bit less than a minute, or until warmed and the sauce gets a bit thicker. Serve with rice.


Banana Bread – Share the Love (Easy Family Baking!)

28 Mar

I’ve never been much of a baker – I’ve probably mentioned that I am no good at following instructions – but this banana bread is very forgiving of people who are more “more or less” than precise.

It’s very child-friendly. Leandro and I put it together often and he takes slices to school to dip in yogurt. I especially like to double it (using about 8 bananas total) and slice up some for his caregivers and my colleagues – everyone feels appreciated and esteemed when they are on the receiving end of home-baked loaves of something. I get a lot of requests for this recipe, so here it is! It also freezes well; check the bottom of the recipe for storing instructions.

Easy, Moist and Yummy Banana Bread

4-6 overripe bananas*

1 Cup sugar (1/2 light brown and ½ white works well, but any combination will do; we’ve used a bit of dark brown as well)

2 eggs, beaten

½ Cup vegetable oil

2 Cups flour (up to one cup whole wheat, but beware stone-ground as it may be too coarse)

1 tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350°. Mash bananas in mixing bowl. Add sugar, eggs and oil, one at a time, mixing well with each addition. Sift dry ingredients together (I use a big strainer) and add to banana mixture. Pour in greased 5×9 loaf pan (or 8×8 oven dish) and bake 55-60 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

*We eat a lot of bananas here, but sometimes I buy too many and they get overripe, even for my son, who likes them sweet and eats the dark spots. Or he just wants half of one and I don’t want the other half. Any overripe or half-bananas get thrown into a plastic freezer bag and when I have approximately six, I make banana bread!

Storage notes: Banana bread should be cooled completely before slicing (I know, fresh-out-of -the-oven warm is so cozy! But it slices much better later on). It stays fresh tightly wrapped out of the fridge for two or three days. The refrigerator isn’t great for it, but you can warm it up a bit before serving. To freeze, slice first, then wrap in foil or plastic wrap and then place in a freezer bag. It’ll keep for at least a month and you can take out a slice at a time when you need a treat.

Tuna, Apple and Macaroni Shell Salad – luncheon, potluck, picnic, or BBQ fare

22 Mar

Just like mom used to make!

I needed a quick dish for the first potluck of the season at our new CSA (Restoration Farm at Old Bethpage Restoration Village http://www.restorationfarm.com/). Normally I would do something more elaborate and planned, but the boy and I had been home sick for a couple of days and then busier than we should have been, given that we needed some recovery time, and then plain old sick of one another…just star-crossed and cross and no way was I going to a store to get any ingredients.

Then I remembered a  favorite warm weather dish that my mom would make for backyard barbecues and the like. This tuna and macaroni salad involves minimal prep and I usually have all the ingredients in. It’s creamy, but the apples provide crunch and tang, and each bite is texturally entertaining. My brother and I would just gobble it up (with extra mayonnaise, of course), delighted when two or three shells were cradled together for a really pasta-y morsel.

So I put it together in a jiffy and we took it on down to the gathering (where there were loads of other good things to eat that I need the recipes for!) and were so pleased to see many old friends of the good eating, farming persuasion…well, I was pleased, but it was not Leandro’s finest hour and we left in rather a messy, huffy hurry…anyway…the salad worked out fine and I had leftovers for lunch on Monday.

If you are observing Lent, consider it for a fast Friday fix that is balanced enough to be a one-dish meal. Thanks Mom!

Myrna’s Tuna and Macaroni Shell Pasta Salad

1 lb. medium macaroni shells

½ Cup of each the following chopped into fingernail size bits: carrots; celery; white or red onion

1 Cup Red Delicious/Macintosh/Granny Smith apple, unpeeled, chopped into fingernail size chunks

1 5oz can your preferred tuna, drained

6 Tbs mayonnaise

2 Tbs plain nonfat yogurt (low or full fat okay)

1-2 Tbs prepared mustard

Cook shells according to package directions. Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Serve at room temperature. You can also eat it as leftovers, but you will probably want to add a bit of mayo, as the pasta tends to absorb the mayo over time.

Cannellini and Chard Soup (with or without bacon)

15 Mar

Hearty, Dense, Soul-Satisfying (and great re-heated!)

I don’t know quite how it happened, but today’s accidental soup is one of the best I’ve ever made.  I just started pulling things that needed using out of the fridge and freezer, and dug around the pantry and about a half hour later, Leandro and I were slurping in happy ecstasy….Please note that the vegetable juice is a key element (a trick I learned from Cook’s Illustrated magazine) in getting a lot of veggie flavor that is more complex and not as sharp as straight-up canned tomatoes.

Tip for the peasants among us who hate waste and love flavor: if you are like me, you use a lot of real parmigiano reggiano and/or gran padano cheese. This leaves you with a lot of rinds after the grating is done. I save the rind in a plastic container in the fridge and drop it in the pot towards the end of cooking tomato-based soups like this one or minestrone. It lends a lot of richness, but must be removed before serving as it is not meant for eating!

Chard and White Bean Soup

2 Tbs olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

½ cup celery, chopped fine

4 oz bacon, coarsely chopped (you can skip this for the vegetarian version)

8oz. chard, thoroughly washed, stems removed (and reserved for a later stir fry or sauté), chopped

16-24 oz low sodium vegetable juice (like V-8)

2 cups water

1 cup ditale or other chunky short pasta

15 oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley (or 1 Tbs dry)

leftover parmigiano/gran padano rind or several tbs good grated cheese

Salt to taste

In a soup pot heat olive oil on medium high until fragrant, add onions, stir and lower heat. Sauté until wilting, then add celery and sauté until softened. Add bacon (if desired), raise heat  and cook through, stirring occasionally. Add chard and sauté until wilting. Add vegetable juice, add two cups water, bring to a boil, and add pasta. Lower heat to a vigorous simmer. After 10 minutes, add beans and parsley and parmigiano rind, if you’ve got. You may need or wantto add more water. Heat through, adjust salt if necessary, test pasta and serve (with generous amount of grated cheese, if you didn’t have rind) with crusty bread.

Tuna and Caper Salad (quick Lenten lunch)

10 Mar

A different take on tuna salad; zippy for lunch during Lent!

In a bit of a hurry to make my brown bag lunch, I banged together some tuna salad, but without mayonnaise (although a dab of mayo would go well too!). This is one of my favorites for a picnic lunch any time, but as a Catholic during Lent, when fish is de riguer for Fridays, this is a true friend. I usually have it on salad, but you can sandwich it, wrap it, stuff it in a pita, mound it on crackers…very flexible! If you have ripe avocado, slice it up and add it to whichever way you are serving the tuna. The cool blandness plays well with the tangy tuna.

Tuna and Caper Salad

1 5 oz can tuna (whichever you prefer; because I am a maniac, I buy sustainably-caught), drained

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbs red wine vinegar

1/8 tsp your favorite prepared mustard

1 Tbs red onion, chopped fine

1 Tbs capers, drained

1 Tbs roasted red pepper (optional)

Whisk oil and vinegar together with a fork until blended. Stir in mustard. Pour over tuna, add red onion and mix well. Stir in capers and red pepper, if desired. Serve over green salad with chunks of avocado, or in sandwiches, with avocado slices.

No Crust, Less Fuss: Broccoli and Feta Quiche

18 Feb


I love eggs, I love broccoli and I love cheese. They are so flexible and useful that they are natural convenience foods and I usually have all of the above in my fridge at any given moment. Like today, when I got a craving for a simple dinner with some charm. Quiche would’ve been perfect, except that the crust is a big pain, and adds more dough than I really want after a long winter of indolence.

 Then I remembered a Vegetarian Times recipe that eliminated the crust. I thought, “Hey! Why didn’t I think of that?” and adapted it to what I had in the house.

Fifteen minutes of prep (and about 40 minutes in the oven) yielded a tasty and light combo of my favorite things. It was cozy out of the oven, but crumbly to cut proper slices. I will have more tomorrow morning for breakfast — quite possibly cold. My son is demonstrating great interest, so we’ll see if we can tempt him into giving it a try, ’cause it has potential to be good breakfast food for eating in the car (heavy sigh). If not, well I have the leftover yolks mixed with a bit of water and stored in fridge for scrambled eggs for his breakfast.

No Crust Broccoli and Feta Quiche

1 lb. broccoli crowns, cut into tiny little trees

½ Tbsp olive oil

1 onion, peeled and quartered

2 cloves garlic, peeled

5 oz. feta

2 large eggs

5 large egg whites

Preheat oven to 425°. Grease a 9”x5” baking pan (you will put it in the oven to warm up a few minutes before pouring in the egg mixture). Toss broccoli with oil in a bowl.

Put onions and garlic for a spin in the food processor until they are minced. Then add the feta and process until creamy.  Add eggs and egg whites* and process until smooth. Crack a bit of pepper over it.

Remove warmed pan from oven, add broccoli, then pour egg mixture over, stirring to mix. Cook about 35 minutes (40 if using a glass baking dish) or until the top is light brown and a tester inserted comes out clean.

*To separate whites from yolks, crack the eggs and gently pass the yolk from one half to the other, allowing the whites to drain into the bowl. Save the yolks for another purpose by mixing with water (just a bit) and storing tightly sealed in the fridge overnight.

Oatmeal, Cranberry, Raisin, Walnut COOKIES

17 Feb

Feeling my oats

The phrase “do it right the first time” is especially relevant for dealing with food cravings.

If you want a cookie, don’t pretend, don’t justify, don’t explain, don’t wait. Eat the damn cookie. And don’t eat anything that just pretends to be a cookie or pretends that it is a virtuous cookie; you will have to eat twice as many to get any real satisfaction, then you’ll eat the cookie you wanted anyway.

Let’s face it; most cereal bars are cookies masquerading as health food. So many of them contain an incredible variety and amount of sugars (high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose, etc, etc, ad nauseum) and weird processed ingredients and preservatives packed into in incredibly small and — to me — unsatisfying, serving sizes — bars the size of a couple of my fingers —  and they still get to say things like: “heart-healthy” or “0% saturated fats” on their tidy foil wrappers. Really. 

So, rather than futile attempts to make homemade cereal bars that would somehow be more virtuous, me and Leandro just make sugar-laden cookies that don’t pretend to be anything else.

Don’t let the oatmeal, nuts and fruit fool you: this is a sweet treat with plenty of sugar and butter, with tartness, chewiness and crunch to keep it interesting. Eat too many and you will get a tummyache. Eat them frequently and you will get fat. But make them every so often, pass on a few to neighbors, colleagues or the other people who make your life liveable, save a few for yourself to dunk in milk or tea or coffee and everything will be alright.

The recipe is an adaptation of the classic “Quaker Oats Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.” I dedicate it to Canadian comedienne Andrea Martin, (very) late of SCTV and recent of kid’s program, Dino Dan, where she looks weirdly young and smooth-skinned, with what appears to be a surgically modified schnozz, but who is as kooky and loveable as ever as the bizarrely attired art teacher who gets tends to get lost in her “creative zone.” Here is why she gets the dedication: My son — who loves Dino Dan and everyone in it — turned to me the other day and said, “When we bake you and me are in the same creative zone, right Mommy?” and everything felt right with the world.

Oatmeal, Raisin, Cranberry, Walnut Cookies

½ Cup plus 6 Tbs butter, softened

¾ firmly packed brown sugar (I like to mix dark and light brown, but use whatever is on hand)

½ cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 ½ Cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp salt

3 Cups quick or old-fashioned oats

½ Cup raisins

½ Cup dried cranberries

¾ Cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars until blended and kind of creamy (I don’t have an electric mixer – yet—so I just use a big fork). Add eggs and vanilla and beat well. In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Then add the oats and the fruit and nuts and mix well until all the oats are damp.

Drop rounded tablespoons of dough on ungreased cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes or until light brown. After a minute cooling on the baking sheets, move the cookies to wire cooling racks and cool completely. Store in tightly covered containers.

Super Bowl: Yuca en Escabeche- a bold alternative to potato salad

5 Feb

I’ve got nothing against potato salad; in fact, it is a big favorite of mine for summer barbecues, church functions, Christmas buffets or midnight raids on the leftovers.

But Game Day calls for a more assertive strategy: yuca en escabeche (or, as my friends and family know and love it: yuca salad) is the clear winner for full flavor, honking big texture, great colors and the ability to stand up to spicy wings and ribs. It has the heft to defend against the beer and alcohol blitz of Super Bowl Sunday, but is not so exotic looking or smelling as to scare off cautious diners. And of course it makes for more interesting conversation amongst those who are only really there for the food and the commercials.

The colors are very appealing

The colors are very appealing

Yuca (Manihot esculenta) is a rough-skinned root vegetable native to Brazil. It is also known as cassava, manioc and mandioca. The bitter kind has a poison that native Americans from the Caribbean on down used to tip their hunting arrows with back in the day. We’re not serving that kind. In fact, I have never seen it (although that is exactly the type that gets made into bland tapioca – go figure). Up here we get the sweet kind that simply needs to be peeled and boiled to share its goodness (just don’t eat it raw).

Continue reading

Zesty, Zingy, Zarela – Reinterpreting Pollo al Limón

4 Feb

Fab cookbook by my hero - ¡Zarela!

I have a weakness for what Puerto Ricans call limones del país or “local limes”, the ones you may know as Key limes, one of many varieties of Citrus aurantifolia, native to Southeast Asia. They are the small, thin-skinned ones, sometimes mottled, often more yellow than green, definitely more acidic and sweet than the thick-skinned ones more commonly found in my New York area supermarkets or as woefully tiny and bedraggled triangles of peel, drowning ineffectually in bar drinks. 

My great-aunt Titi Quicio used to make me limonada from the ones from the tree in her yard in Mayagüez — every yard worth a damn back then had a lime tree for luck and on principle — as well as chickens and any number of useful medicinal herbs planted in glorious, battered, colorful, rusting tin cans – and that sweet-tart zing of acid and sugar syrup in a glass clinking with ice cubes and sweating into the disintegrating paper towel wrapped inevitably around the bottom remains one of the most powerful flavor memories I possess. Anything that comes even close sends me straight back to childhood places from which I wish I didn’t have to ever return.

So whenever I see a green net bag of those little round babies in a store, I have to buy it, no matter the price. Once I get home, however, I have no idea what to do…My Cuba libre consumption (the difference between a rum and coke and a Cuba libre is that the Cuba libre has lime; a Cuban might tell you that the difference is that there is no such thing as a free Cuba, but we’ll leave that alone) has dropped to nothing in the years since I left Puerto Rico and the likelihood of my making limonada in the middle of winter is decidedly small.

So I slice one open and suck out the juice, prompting much pleasurable wincing and squinting and squirting of salivary glands. Then I agonize over how not to waste the rest.

Fortunately, last week when limones del país showed up in my local supermarket, I thought of my hero, mentor and friend, Zarela Martínez.

Zarela, who grew up killing rattlers with a lariat on a ranch in Mexico, toughed her way through a bad marriage to haul her twin boys to New York and make a dramatically wonderful and interesting career in restaurants (Her eponymous restaurant on NYC’s 2nd Ave @ 50th & 51 has been going strong for 22 years!), making PBS programs and writing wonderful books. I met her through the James Beard Foundation Awards when she and her son, Food Network hottie Aaron Sánchez, hosted a few years back, and I am grateful that we have been friends ever since.

She is utterly candid, hard-working, stylish and just fabulosa. And her book: Zarela’s Veracruz, was just the thing, because Mexicans know exactly what to do with limes without making life difficult.

So here is my adaptation of her Chuletas de Pollo al Limón, made with things I had around the house…I used my limes, but whichever kind you find in the supermarket will work just fine. Honestly, my adaptations resulted more from mistakes (I am not very good at following recipes), but that just proves how flexible and resilient this one is. And the leftovers – very adaptable too!

Pollo al Limón Verde – Lime Chicken

 (adapted from Chuletas de Pollo al Limon, Zarela’s Veracruz)

4 tsp soy sauce

2 tsp Worcestershire (chicken or classic) sauce

(if you have Maggi sauce, change the soy/Worcestershire  comb to 2 tsp soy sauce and 1 tsp Maggi sauce)

¼ cup lime juice

1/3 cup olive oil

1.25 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, pounded to half the thickness

Mix soy sauce, Worcestershire or Maggi sauce, lime juice and olive oil in a cover/sealable container big enough to hold marinade and chicken together and marinate for at least an hour (if you have time)

Heat a skillet until fairly hot and place thighs in it with room to spare (reserving marinade). Unless you have a pretty big skillet, you’ll have to do it in batches. Sear to white on each side, then cook an additional  5-6 minutes on each side, lowering heat to medium. When all the chicken is cooked, turn up the heat in the skillet, pour in reserved marinade and boil for a minute. Pour over chicken and serve.

(I loved this dish both straight from the skillet and as leftovers. I sliced it up and added it to a vegetable stir-fry at the end after adding a bit of soy sauce to the vegetables, just to warm up the chicken and it added great substance, texture and taste. This chicken is also good cold with mayo/mustard in a sandwich, wrap or salad.)

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