Archive for February, 2010

Sandwichitos de Mezcla- Pimento and cheese sandwich spread

These sandwiches are a must at birthday parties and school activities in Puerto Rico.  It is easy and savory and totally addictive for kids and their parents! Here I will post my recipe and a variation.  I have made both for many years and both have a “cult following”.  It is also great for picnics or as a snack on boat trips.  I usually cut them into squares or triangles but if you want to be creative, first cut bread with cookie cutters like circles or flowers (4 out of every slice) and put mixture in piping bags to make cute bite size sandwiches.  Also, you can make themed sandwiches like the ones I made for my daughter’s kindergarten Halloween party (these are a larger size).

Note:  Make sure you store the sandwiches between two layers of damp paper towel (top and bottom of tray) and cover with lid or foil paper so that the bread stays soft, specially if refrigerated overnight.


Sandwichitos de Mezcla- Pimento and cheese sandwich spread


16 ounces Velveeta cheese (or Longhorn style cheddar cheese or queso de papa) cubed

1  (12 ounce) can of Spam cubed

7 ounces can of pimentos (including liquid)

1/2 medium onion


1 cup of Kraft sandwich spread (This is optional. My original recipe has only the first four ingredients but some people like to add this spread to the mixture or use it as a substitute of the Spam if you want it without ham)


1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse a few times in the beginning and then continuously for a few minutes until a smooth paste forms. (enough mixture for about 2 pounds of club bread)

2.  Spread on club sandwich bread to make sandwich and cut corners with serrated knife. Cut into squares or triangles. Refrigerate any leftovers.

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Marinara Sauce

Marinara Sauce is mainly used for pasta, but it can also be used as the basis or complement for many other dishes like lasagna, vodka sauce, fried calamari and veal parmigiana among others.  Since making fresh marinara sauce is so easy, you have no excuse to make it homemade every time! Many of you might think I am crazy, but give it a try.  Its so light and tasty and fresh that I haven’t bought a commercial marinara sauce in years (well… maybe once. Ja!).

Marinara derives from the italian word “marinaio”  which means from the sea or sailor. From what I have read, it was often served to sailors in Naples with pasta as a welcome back meal from fishing or travel. Of course this was after the Spaniards had introduced tomatoes to the European diet from the New World. It does not necessarily include fruits of the sea, but you can serve with sauté shrimp or add anchovies if you like.   Sometimes, I like to add a few pinches of red pepper flakes (peperoncino) to make the spicy sauce for penne all’arrabiata (my favorite!!!!).  I always keep in my pantry canned whole peeled tomatoes so that I have at hand “in case of emergency”. They are so versatile! I like the sauce to be “chunky” so I crush the tomatoes with my hands, but if you want the sauce to be more liquid and uniform you can pureé the tomatoes in a blender before adding to the sauce pan.  With “chunky” sauces like this one or bolognese, I use penne pasta, bucatini or any pasta with texture and/or holes so that the ingredients in the sauce fill them up and you get an explosion of flavor in every bite. With white or creamy sauces I like to use flat and/or long pasta or filled pasta.  These are just suggestions and what I usually do, but nothing is written on stone; you can serve as you like.

Here is my recipe for Marinara Sauce.  Enjoy!

Marinara Sauce

This recipe is for about 1 pound of pasta (4 cups of penne) and serves approximately 6 persons.


2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 large clove of garlic (minced)

1/4 cup of white or yellow onion (finely chopped)

1/4 cup of carrots (peeled and finely diced)

2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes (14.5 oz each)

1/2 tsp dried oregano

2 tsp of kosher salt

pepper to taste (for cooking the sauce and when serving)

4 or 5 fresh basil leaves (chopped)


1.  In a medium saucepan, head extra virgin olive oil (med-low) and add onions and carrots. Sauté for about 5 minutes.

2.  Add garlic and sauté for about 3 minutes.

3.  Add hand crushed tomatoes (or puree tomatoes in a blender if you want the sauce more liquid than chunky), oregano, salt and pepper. Cover and let simmer for about 20 minutes stirring occasionally.

4.  Add basil and cook uncovered for about 5 minutes or until desired consistency has been reached.  Add to pasta. Mix well and serve immediately with fresh grated parmesan cheese. (If preparing as a complement for another recipe, store in refrigerator until ready to use.)

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Caldo Gallego

One of my grandmothers is from Galicia, Spain so we grew up eating a lot of Caldo Gallego!  This soup has restorative properties when you get sick, have been partying too hard,  need to boost your iron or just want a savory hot meal in the cold weather.  Some ingredients are not easy to find outside of Spain. “Lacon”, “unto”, “judias blancas” are the ingredients that give Caldo Gallego its characteristic taste.  In Puerto Rico, I buy them at Panaderia La Ceiba, a spanish bakery in San Juan.  However, I will provide alternatives for those of you that don’t have a Spanish specialty food store nearby. I usually don’t add salt because the broth has enough salt for my taste, but add salt if needed at the end.

I like to make Caldo Gallego in large quantities because it freezes wonderfully!!!! My aunt and uncle, Lilly and Kas, who live in Houston, Texas know what I’m talking about. Ja!  For many years, after Mami Chelo became a widow, she would spend part of the year with them in Texas.  From what I’ve been told, she would set up a “cooking marathon” before she came back to PR and cook large quantities of Caldo Gallego for them to freeze.  Kas is now an expert making this dish.

Here is my version of Caldo Gallego.


Caldo Gallego


2 cups of dried “judias blancas” or navy beans (sometimes called white haricot beans)

8 cups of water

1 lacon (boiled shoulder pork or ham hock)

4 chorizos (about 4 inches each)

slice of  “unto” (cured salt pork) you may substitute with few slices of pancetta

1/4 of a head of cabbage (chopped)

2 baking potatoes peeled and cubed

1.5 pounds of collard greens ( frozen)


1.  Place the beans in a bowl and cover with about two inches of  water. Place in the refrigerator  overnight  so that they start to become soft. Thaw collard greens overnight in fridge.

2.   In a heavy deep saucepan pour 8 cups of water with “lacon” and whole chorizos to make the broth. Once the water comes to a boil put “unto” or pancetta in and take out what is left after 15 minutes and discard. Cover and allow to boil for almost 1 hour.

3.  After 1 hour add white beans, cover again and boil for about 30-40 minutes until beans are almost done and tender.

4.  Meanwhile, chop cabbage and peel and cube potatoes and add them to the soup after step 3.  Check if you need to add more water.

5.  Take chorizos out of pot and slice them and put back in.  Take “lacon” out of pot shred meat and take away bone. Put meat back into pot.

6.  Once potatoes are done (aprox. 20 min) add collard greens until fully cooked.  Add salt to taste if needed.

7.  Serve with crusty bread.

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Rice is one of the foods that most cultures around the world have in common.  The difference is the method each prepares or seasons the rice.  I like rice in any “way, shape or form”. Ja!  However, I make it only once or twice a week as opposed to almost every day like my mother used to while I was growing up.  As you can see… I like to mix things up a bit in the kitchen.

Jasmine Rice, a variety native to Thailand, is very aromatic and tastes delicious cooked just plain.  I also like to make it with vegetables as the main dish. It is a satisfying, flavorful and colorful dish.  Jasmine rice will cling but not stick too much due to a lower amount of starch in its grains compared to other varieties (of course when cooked properly).


Jasmine Rice with Vegetables


2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 carrot (chopped)

1/2 cup frozen green peas

1/4 cup yellow or white onion (chopped)

2 cups jasmine rice

1/4 tsp saffron threads

1 cup water

1 3/4 cupsvegetable broth

2 tsp kosher salt


1.   Warm up water a bit in microwave.  Place saffron threads in water and allow to bloom.

2.  In a heavy sauce pan or “caldero” heat (medium) extra virgin olive oil and add carrots, onion and green peas.  Sauté for about 3 minutes until onion is translucent.

3.  Add rice and sauté for about 2 minutes over medium heat. Add water-saffron mixture, vegetable broth and salt.

4.  Allow water to evaporate and then stir.   Bring heat to low and cover until done.

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One of my favorites snacks is homemade Mexican Salsa (Pico de Gallo) with chips. It is colorful, refreshing, savory and crispy. Also, it is very easy to make.  Coming from a family that never cooked or ate spicy (hot) food while I was growing up, as an adult I have become a spicy food lover wether it is in Mexican, Japanese, Peruvian, Thai or Indian food among others. My husband and kids love it too!  This salsa is a great complement to avocado salad, “cielito lindo”, tacos, burritos and nachos. Please, be very careful when handling hot peppers. Try not to touch with your fingers, use a paper towel to hold them, and if you do touch them, wash hands thoroughly. Do not touch your eyes or nose in a few hours after you have been in contact with them. The seeds of these peppers are very strong so remove and discard carefully at the beginning. Do not put your nose or eyes anywhere near them!!!!!!  Remember, this is my version of mexican salsa, let me know about your comments and ideas


Mexican Salsa


3 medium sized tomatoes seeded and chopped

juice of 1/2 lime

2 tbsp of finely chopped red onion

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1 tbsp chopped cilantro (tightly packed)

1 finely chopped habanero or jalapeño pepper (optional) CAREFULLY REMOVE SEEDS!


1.  Mix all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving to allow flavors settle or until ready to serve.  Serve with good quality “totopos” or nacho chips.  Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

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Cheese Fondue

Last night I invited my brothers for dinner to watch the premiere of the last season of the ABC’s television series Lost. We have been following this show for the past 4 years so we are excited the final season has finally started to give us the answers to all the mysteries and entangled stories that have us so confused.  We all have our theories and interpretations and have long discussions about the characters and the hidden meanings behind this and that.  Not since I was in college (early 1990’s) and followed Friends and Seinfeld in “Must see TV” on thursday nights in NBC, have I been so excited about a tv series.  This must sound silly, but I admit I don’t get to watch a lot of tv between work, parenting and being a wife, daughter and friend.

As part of our meal, I made my version of Cheese Fondue.  Swiss fondue originated in Switzerland in the 18th century in the canton of Neuchatel.  The word fondue has its roots in the french word “fondre” (to melt) and its past participle “fondu” (melted).  The traditional swiss fondue includes rubbing garlic in the botton of the melting pot (“caquelon”), and melting Gruyére (hard cheese) and Emmenthal (semisoft cheese) with white wine and Kirsh (cherry liqueur).  Some recipes suggest adding cornstarch or flour to help incorporate the ingredients to become a semi-liquid substance. Temperature is key because you don’t want it to be too hot that it burns or coagulates the cheese or too low that the cheese mixture becomes hard.

When Emilio and I got married, we got a fondue melting pot from Le Creuset as a present.  It took me several years to take it out of the box and use it.  Yes, I was afraid of it!  Now its one of my favorite things to use in the kitchen.  Its fun and easy for a small group of guests (maybe you can make it for the Superbowl!) but not for large parties.  Make your fondue in your gas stove top if you have one (simmer) and have your guests gather in the kitchen or use a gel alcohol burner under the frame to put it at the dinner table.  I don’t particularly like using tealights because its harder to control heat.  I use Cointreau instead of Kirsh.  Cognac will also do the trick. I mince the garlic and leave it in the mixture instead of just rubbing the sides of the pot.   Last but not least, don’t forget about eating “la religieuse” (the nun) or the thin crust of toasted cheese left at the bottom of the pot. Delicious!  Bon appetit!

Cheese Fondue


2 tbsp extra virging olive oil

1 large clove of garlic (minced)

1/2 pound Gruyére Cheese (coarsely shredded)

1/2 pound Comté or Emmenthal (coarsely shredded)

1/4 pound Muenster cheese ( coarsely shredded)

1 tbsp cornstarch

1/2 cup of white wine

2 tbs Cointreau

Crusty bread cut in cubes (bagette and ciabatta are my favorites)


1.  Put extra virgin olive oil and minced garlic in pot and allow to simmer a few minutes. Do not burn garlic.

2.  Add shredded cheese (in batches), wine, corn starch and liqueur and contantly stir until all ingredients are incorporated (for about 20 min)

3.  Have crusty bread cut in cubes and skewers or forks ready for dipping.

FYI, Marco Dettling, maitre fromager from The Cheese Market in Puerto Rico, has a ready-to-use fondue mixture of artisanal cheeses from Europe, in case you don’t want to go through the trouble of shredding the cheese. They deliver the shredded cheeses to your home and you do the rest. If you live on the island, here’s the contact info. (thecheesemarket@gmail.com  ; tel 939-389-4351)

Note:  I also make a version of muenster cheese and white cheddar which my kids adore.  Just substitute the gruyére and comte with these cheeses and follow the same directions.

The possibilities are endless.  You may also use Vacherin and Sbrinz as alternative cheeses.


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