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Archive for April, 2010

Once again, you can see the colors of the italian flag in this dish. Insalata Caprese is one of my all time favorite salads.  I like to serve it over a bed of fresh spinach.  Refreshing and light!

The word mozzarella comes from the italian verb “mozzare” which means to cut.  Mozzarella di bufala is made from the milk of the domestic water buffalo, a bovine which has it origins in Asia but is now found in southern Europe, South America, Northern Africa and India among others.  Mozzarella di bufala is a bit saltier and softer than regular cow’s milk mozzarella.  The best quality is considered by many Mozzarella di Bufala di Campania made in the geographical areas of Lazio (near Rome) and Campania (Naples, Salerno, Paestum, Pompeii, including Capri) Regions which became protected by the European Union under Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC like in wines) in the 1990’s. It literally melts in your mouth!  In short, mozzarella is made by heating the milk (to separate the whey form the curds), resting, spinning and pulling the cheese curds to shape into balls. The cheese maker will knead the curds like bread by hand, pull-out and cut the mozzarella balls once the cheese curds have reached the desired consistency. This is a semisoft cheese and has a high moisture content. That is why it is sold in specialty food shops in brine and vacuum sealed.  On the other hand, good quality mozzarella di bufala is made in many other countries in Europe and the Americas.

Insalata Caprese (salad made in the style of Capri) can also be called Tricolore Salad which also includes avocado.  If you want to splurge (it is more expensive than regular mozzarella) and the best flavor and quality, use mozzarella di bufala when you make homemade pizza. Use it as a topping or make Insalata Caprese Pizza.  It is amazing!

Buon Appetito!

Insalata Caprese

about 6 servings

Ingredients

2   7 ounce mozzarella di bufala balls

2-3 roma tomatoes

2 tbsp fresh basil coarsely chopped

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

pepper to taste

drizzle of good quality aged balsamic vinegar (optional)

Procedure



1.  Slice mozzarella and tomatoes.  In a plate, alternate placing one slice of tomato over each slice of mozzarella.

2.  In a small bowl, place the chopped basil with olive oil, salt and pepper and stir with a spoon.

3.  Spoon mixture over mozzarella and tomatoes. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and serve.

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Bittersweet chocolate is a form of sweetened chocolate that does not have milk in any way shape or form. It is mainly chocolate liquor, sugar,cocoa butter and vanilla.  Often, lecithin is added as an emulsifying agent.  In the United States of America the Food and Drug Administration requires that bittersweet chocolate has at least 35% chocolate liquor. In Great Britain the amount required is higher (43%).  Contrary to what it may suggest, chocolate liquor does not have alcohol. It is basically ground cocoa beans turned into liquid.  The higher the amount of chocolate liquor, the stronger the taste of the chocolate. What we know as unsweetened baking chocolate is hardened chocolate liquor. Bittersweet chocolate and Semi-sweet chocolate can be used interchangeably for baking, the difference is that bittersweet has a higher amount of chocolate liquor and less sugar. They are sensitive to temperatures and humidity. Both the semisweet and bittersweet chocolates are occasionally labeled “couverture,” which indicates that the chocolate contains no less than 32 percent cocoa butter (fat) and that they have to be tempered.

Studies have shown that, when eaten in moderation, good quality dark chocolate has antioxidant properties that reduce blood pressure, is an antitussive and an aphrodisiac!  I welcome anything that is good for my heart, my health and my sex life!  Ja! However, take note that the same property of chocolate (theobromine) that gets you sexually aroused , is poison to cats and dogs, so keep chocolate away from your pets!  I know from personal experience because about 10 years ago I had some friends over for my husband’s birthday and someone dropped chocolate cake on the floor. Our dog Cosmo ate it and started convulsing and my friend Paola and I ended up at the veterinary clinic at 2 am! Cosmo survived, but the vet told us to never ever let the dog eat chocolate again.



Inspired by a recipe in Alice Medrich’s book Pure Dessert, these brownies are strong in flavor but delicate in texture.  My mother calls them “adult brownies” because of their deep, bittersweet lingering taste. One or two 2″x2″ inch pieces will probably be enough to get your chocolate fix! They have the traditional glossy top and moist center. More crumbly than fudgy. Best when eaten the same day you bake them. Lining the pan with foil paper is a great tip because it makes it so easy to take out, cut and serve, not to mention the cleaning of the pan…”nada”!   Like Michael Pollan says in his book Food Rules, “eat junk food as long as you make it”, so allow yourself this treat because it is home made with natural ingredients. I once heard that coffee brings out the chocolate flavors, so I always add a little bit of espresso to my brownies no matter which or whose recipe I make. As a general rule, never over beat brownies!!!! These brownies are dark, decadent and delicious!!!!! Serve as a snack with glass of milk or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and berries as desert. Yum!

Note:  In Puerto Rico I find good quality bittersweet chocolate in Bottles or La Hacienda.

Enjoy!

Bittersweet Brownies

Ingredients

8 ounces 70% cacao bittersweet chocolate

6 tbsp unsalted butter

3 eggs

1 cup of sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tsp fresh espresso coffee

generous pinch of salt

1/3 cup and 1 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour

Procedure


1.  Preheat oven 350ºF.  Line a square 8 inch baking pan with foil paper.


2.  In a double boiler melt butter and chocolate until fully incorporated by stirring with a spatula.

3.  Meanwhile, beat eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla for about two minutes until creamy consistency and the mixuture turns light yellow.

4.  Whisk in chocolate/butter mixture to egg/sugar mixture.

5.  Fold in flour and espresso just until fully incorporated. Do not overmix.

6.  Pour batter into lined pan and spread evenly with a spatula.  Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes at 350º F until toothpick comes out crumbly not “wet” with batter.  It will not come out totally clean when done.

7.  Let cool a bit for about 5 minutes and remove foil paper and “big brownie” from baking pan.

8.  Turn over a plate or flat surface to remove foil paper and carefully turn back up again in a cutting board.

9.  Cut with large knife into 16 2×2 inch pieces.  Let cool completely at room temperature.  Serve as a snack with glass of milk or as desert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream with mixed berries or raspberry coulis.

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I don’t know why it feels so good to get your hands dirty with soil and plant herbs in your home.  It can be done in apartments or houses and there is no doubt that dishes prepared with fresh herbs are more aromatic, colorful and savory.  I have had success stories as well as disasters with my gardening, but I keep going at it.

I have mentioned in previous posts that I have a fresh herb garden.  It was not very pretty, rather a bit wild, so last Monday I worked on it with my daughter to make it look appealing and more organized .   We transplanted the rosemary and oregano to pots and sowed new seeds for sweet basil, cilantro and italian parsley.   I have not been very lucky with my sweet basil, but have high hopes this time around.  I must tell you it is not an organic garden yet, but I am working on getting organic top soil and making compost in the near future when I start a bedding for my vegetable garden.

I was looking for a cool way to lable my herb garden when, tadah!!! Martha Stewart “personally” sent me an email with a great idea!  Ja, ja!!  So I went with the kids to my backyard and started looking for rocks approximately the size of the palm of their hands. We found really beautiful quarz-like smooth rocks that problably I had thrown away from a nice flower centerpiece I got as a present or something like that, because they where very different from the rest of the rocks in my backyard. Anyway, they were lovely,  so I took out a blue Sharpie and started to lable my herb garden. Turned out so nice and really pretty! Tomorrow Cristina and I will soil our hands to teach the girls in our Girl Scout Troop to pot and care for cherry tomatoes. By doing this, we will try to plant a seed in the hearts and minds of the next generation to love and care for our Planet and all living things.

Have a nice Earth Day!

Meet Rosemary. Ja! You can see Culantro (recao) in the back on the ground starting to spread its seeds.

Recao- Culantro

Sweet Basil starting to grow

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Our trip to Beaver Creek, Colorado last winter was a great success!  Even though our planes were delayed and cancelled on our departure date and our son had a snowboarding accident on the first day of skiing, we had a wonderful vacation.  As always, the first day was dedicated to grocery shopping, getting to know the village, organizing luggage and clothing, getting the kids to calm down about their excitement of being in a place with snow and having the ski equipment fitted to each person. We are very grateful to our travel advisor, Beatriz Martinez from Ski a la Carte, that she suggested Venture Sports delivery service.  They were on time and very patient with our group of eight, visited us at our apartment and did all the fittings in the comfort of our living room.  The two bedroom apartment that we rented along with the Fuertes family in Centennial Lodge was amazing! Big kitchen, porch with a view, cozy chimney, two large bedrooms, three full bathrooms, sofa bed, ski storage, daily cleaning service, complimentary breakfast and walking distance to the slopes.

My parents took me skiing for the first time when I was 9 years old to Sugarbush, Vermont and I have loved the sport ever since. The Beaver Creek Mountain was well groomed and not crowded at all. It was fun for the whole family.  Our five-year old daughter is a natural skier and fearless little girl.  She went down the mountain like a pro! Very proud of her.

Most of the nights we stayed in and my husband and I cooked for the whole crew.  We made risotto, veal saltimbocca, mustard chicken, salads, roasted vegetables, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, tortilla española, arancini, pasta with shrimp, new york steaks and jasmine rice with vegetables among others. Sometimes for lunch, we would go back to the apartment for left overs or pizza.  Other days, we went to 8100 Bar at the Park Hyatt Hotel where I tried a delicious selection of cheeses.  My favorites were the Sno Drop , with a creamy texture and mild taste and the Bleu cheese paired with a homemade strawberry jam, a blend of flavors that explode in your mouth. I also tried the mushroom soup which was delicious and mini-pizzas with goat cheese, chicken and bbq sauce.  The kids had beef sliders with homemade french fries, homemade ketchup and garlic mayo,  Yummy! The kids also loved making smores at the fire pit in front of the Hyatt where everyday at 4 pm they had a complimentary selection of marshmallows, chocolates and graham crackers for everyone to enjoy.

One night, we had dinner at Beaver Creek Chophouse.  I ordered shrimp with polenta as the main dish but what I liked the most was my appetizer; pommes frites with white truffle oil and parsley. The combination of flavors was amazing!!!  So earthy and aromatic. The chocolate cake was delicious too. Also,the kids had a blast with the in-house illusionist.  Another highlight of the vacation was having dinner at Beano’s Cabin.  It is a 15 minute freezing cold ride to get there in their big sleigh pulled by a huge snow plow half way up the mountain, but once you get there you feel right at home.  It has such a cozy and warm atmosphere with live 70’s american music (Cat Stevens, Carly Simon, James Taylor, etc.).  We made reservations for an early dinner (5:30pm)  because the later seating doubles in price. Our whole experience was delightful.  In the menu selection they had buffalo, elk, pheasant, scallops, blue nose bass, antelope, sweet potato gnocchi, saffron mashed potatoes, so it was not your traditional selection in a restaurant menu.  Of course, for the kids they had fruit salad, beef skewers, pizza, chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes and brownie a la mode.  I loved the open kitchen, chimney and the service was superb.  Another night, the Barbosa’s and Lockwood’s where kind enough to invite us over for dinner and had a great time playing cards with the “girls”.  In addition, another evening, the Cortés family delighted us with their company at our apartment and had a blast watching America’s Funniest Videos with the kids. Blue Moose Pizza was one of the places we went for lunch.  The Chupacabra pizza, with mushrooms, goat cheese, mozzarella , red onions and white truffle oil was out of this world. We also enjoyed the traditional cheese and pepperoni pizza.

Regarding “extracurricular” activities, we went snowmobile riding with Nova Guides. Our tour was at 8 am and it was great because our group was the only one there.  It was a chance for our family to enjoy nature and the views of the Vail Mountain Back Bowls were breathtaking. Our guide Chacha, took us from 8,000 to 10,500 feet above sea level. We took a break at a community log cabin in the middle of the national park and had hot chocolate and apple spiced drinks.  That afternoon we went to Vail to the Adventure Ridge Park with the Sánchez Family where we went tubing with the kids.  This was so much fun! I though this park was only for the kids, but the adults get a kick out of it too!  Thankfully, our return to Puerto Rico was smooth and simple. Happy to go home with wonderful new memories and new hopes for 2010.

Ever since we arrived back home a few months ago, I have not been able to get enough of this recipe and everyone that tries it becomes a fan. There’s nothing like homemade french fries and the white truffle oil makes them absolutely unsurpassable.  White truffle oil is expensive but worth it.  I also use it to drizzle a small quantity over my white bean cream soup and salads. So, here is my version of Natural French Fries with White Truffle Oil. Enjoy!

Natural French Fries with White Truffle Oil

Ingredients

2 large potatoes cut lengthwise (long and thin)

canola or peanut oil for frying

2 tbsp fresh parsley

2 cloves of garlic (mashed) optional

3 generous pinches fleur de sel or kosher salt (one for garlic mash and two for sprinkling over fried potatoes)

drizzle of white truffle oil

Procedure



1.  Wash potatoes and cut lengthwise.  Place in a bowl with salt and water.  This will take some of the starch out so that they don’t stick too much during frying and become crispier.

2.  Pour  canola or peanut oil in medium-large heavy bottom saucepan (enough to cover potato sticks). Heat in med-hi.

3.  Once the oil is very hot, drain potatoes, tap them dry with paper towel and begin to fry.

4.  Meanwhile, in a mortar and pestle, mash garlic with dash of salt.  Add finely chopped parsley and mix with a spoon.

5.  Once french fries are golden brown remove from pan and drain excess oil by placing them in paper towel for a few minutes.

6.  Transfer french fries to a bowl or large plate sprinkle evenly with parsley-garlic mixture, salt and white truffle oil.  Serve immediately.

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This recipe is from Jeannie, the mother of Maryse one of my best friends from childhood.  While we were growing up (approximately 11-16 years old in the late 1980’s), Jeannie and Jose would invite a group of 5 or 6 of their daughter’s girlfriends to spend the weekend on their boat the week of her birthday, usually the third week of april.  Jeannie would always come prepared with a few gallons of her homemade fruit punch, “sandwichitos de mezcla” and she would make eggs on a nest (“huevo al nido”) for breakfast.  For several years we visited different beaches and bays in Culebra and Vieques, beautiful islands off Puerto Rico. We had so much fun learning to kneeboard, snorkel and just being close to nature.  No DVD players, nintendos or cable tv, just girlfriends engaging in conversation, making jokes and playing cards and board games. I remember one morning I woke up to find that the girls played a joke on me by replacing one of the boat’s flags with one of my bras!  I was 13 and was so embarrassed!

Culebrita Island March 2008. 35th birthday trip.

Two years ago, I called Maryse (who lives in New York City) to plan a weekend boat trip to Vieques and Culebra to celebrate our 35th birthday.  After we got in touch with all the girls and the trip was a go, Jeannie called me to see if there was anything she could do to help in planning the trip since her daughter was arriving the night before and would not be able to pitch in with the food like the other girlfriends that were living on the island.  I didn’t ask for lasagna or  chicken pot pie, the only thing that came to my mind was her fruit punch.  So the night Maryse and Jorg arrived, which was at around midnight, she came to the marina with a bag of fruit and a gallon or two of her fruit punch specialty.  The taste tranported me to great childhood memories! In addition, I realized once again how lucky I am to have true lifelong friends.  Happy Birthday Maryse!

Jeannie’s Fruit Punch

Ingredients

makes a gallon

1 frozen can concentrated orange juice (12 0z) plus 3 cans of water

1 large can of pineapple juice (46 oz.)

1/4 cup of grenadine syrup

Procedure

1.  Prepare frozen orange juice concentrate according to package instructions (usually adding 3 additional water measurements)

2.  Add rest of ingredients and stir briskly.  Makes one gallon.  Refrigerate.  You may add maraschino cherries when serving.

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Simple whipped potatoes is a basic recipe that every cook should know.  Everyone big and small likes mashed potatoes and they go with almost everything.  Believe me, this is so easy and delicious you will never make those instant mashed potato packets again in your life! A few days ago I made a batch and served it to my family as a side dish to sea bass with olives and capers.   I also use this recipe as the starting point for my roasted garlic mashed potato recipe, my “relleno de papa” recipe, “tambor de papas” and potato and carrot puree among others.

Important tips to follow when making mashed potatoes:

a) cut potatoes into large cubes of similar size so that they cook evenly.

b)  place potatoes in cold or warm water to cook and then bring to a boil so that the potatoes cook evenly.

c) once the potatoes are whipped or mashed to your liking, place them in a double boiler or “bain-marie” so that they remain smooth and fluffy.  If you don’t do this, you will be eating the hardest mashed potatoes of your life! This is a great tip I learned from my late father-in-law Don Tony , this way I can make the potatoes ahead of time and not worry about their texture and fluffiness.  If you don’t have a double boiler, put a heat proof bowl over simmering water and cover.

Enjoy!

Simple Whipped Potatoes

Ingredients

5  medium potatoes (peeled and cubed)

1/4 cup of heavy cream

1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

2 tbsp butter

pepper to taste

Procedure

1.  Peel 5 medium sized potatoes and cut it into uniform large cubes.

2.  Put potatoes into medium saucepan that is filled halfway with water.   Add generous dash of salt and bring to a boil until done.

3.  Once potatoes are cooked, drain and put into a bowl with rest of ingredients. Mash potatoes roughly by hand. (I use my Kitchen Aid bowl with a hand potato masher)

4.  Whip mashed potatoes for about 3 minutes. Be careful because bowl will get hot.

5. Once you have reached desired consistency, place whipped potatoes into a double boiler or “bain-marie” over low heat until ready to serve.

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According to Foodimentary @ Twitter, April 8 was the National Empanada Day.  So immediately I took out the recipe journal my Aunt Toñita gave me as a present a few weeks ago with her favorite recipes in which she included my grandmother’s Empanada Gallega recipe and got busy in the kitchen.

Empanada means to coat or wrap in bread.  Immigrants form Galicia and Portugal brought this recipe to America. You can find many variations. This dish is a hybrid between a pie and sandwich.   My version is more like a sandwich because the dough is thick like bread, but I have seen thiner empanadas like a pie. You may substitute the meat filling with stir-fry veggies or with a tuna, pork loin or chicken filling.  It is nice to have for lunch or to take on a picnic because it is best eaten at room temperature. Olé!

Buen Provecho!

Empanada Gallega

Ingredients

dough

1/2 cup warm water

1 tbsp granulated sugar

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)

1/2 tsp salt

3 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour

5 tbs softened butter

2 eggs

egg wash

filling

2  1/2 cups of  “picadillo” recipe

Procedure

1.  To activate yeast for dough, mix warm water, sugar and yeast and let it rest until bubbles form on top (about 15 minutes). I do it in my Kitchen Aid stand up mixer bowl.

2.  Meanwhile, in another bowl mix the salt with the flour.

3.  Beat eggs and butter with yeast mixture.

4.  Add flour to liquids and mix with dough hook or by hand to make a soft dough ball that is not sticky (add more flour if it is too sticky).

5.  Knead by hand for a few minutes.

6.  Let dough rise in a bowl big enough for it to double in size.  I drizzle a bit of olive oil in the bowl so that the dough doesn’t stick.  Cover with a kitchen towel and place in a warm, dry, draft free area for 1-1 1/2 hour.

7.  Pre heat oven 375º f.  Punch down and knead the dough for about a minute. Split the dough into two, one piece for the bottom and one for the top or “lid” of the empanada.

8.  Shape each piece of dough into the shape of the baking mold with your knuckles (for a more rustic look) or a rolling pin.  I use an 11×8 inches rectangular pyrex crystal pan.

9.  Place the lower portion of the dough in the mold.

10.  Add ground beef picadillo (at room temperature) and spread evenly with a spoon.

11.  Place top portion of the dough.  Push rim down with a fork and make a hole in the middle to let out steam while it bakes.

12.  Let empanada rest for about 15 minutes before going into oven.

13.  Just before putting in the oven, brush the top with egg wash.

14.  Bake in middle rack until golden brown.

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