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Posts Tagged ‘easy’

If you have been following this blog, you already know we are “boat people”.  I grew up spending many weekends and vacations on my father’s boat. The freedom and liberty you feel while navigating the ocean is exhilarating as well as therapeutic. There is something about being in contact with nature, on the open water and a weird mix of vulnerability and control that is hard to describe.  If you haven’t had a boat ride up to now, I encourage you to do so and add it to your bucket list, because it is an experience you shouldn’t miss.

With my dad (I am with lifejacket) and my cousins Anibal, Priscilla and Gretchen. Circa 1978

My brothers Joaco and Manolo taking "boat showers". Circa 1992

"Fancy dinner" at Bitter End Marina 1994 with Lupe and Felo

Making guacamole with my brothers on the boat. 1994

As we were growing up, my brothers and I, enjoyed going to the boat a lot mostly because we like water sports and love the beach, but my parents liked it mostly because it was a chance to sequester us and have us all to themselves on the boat with nowhere to go for the whole weekend. Je, je!   Believe it or not, living in a small space with a group of people for many days in a remote bay or beach, help you acquire skills that will be useful in everyday life. You learn to share limited space with others, to be considerate and tolerant, to pick-up after yourself, about engineering and mechanics, improvising, assume roles, be responsible, respect authority (only one captain!), be safe, look after each other, encourage conversation, live in harmony with your surroundings, negotiate, meet new people, be self-sufficient, and help strangers in need.  All of these qualities are strengthened in “boat life”.

Canito, our mate, with my son 2002

2002

2004

2007

2007

Summer 2010

My parents summer 2010

Among the many great memories I have of that period in my childhood and adolescence, I remember we would get up very early while on the boat and, in order to let my parents sleep a bit more, Canito, our beloved mate for over 15 years, would always make these delicious Eggs on a Nest (Huevo al Nido) for breakfast.  Time passed, we grew up and started families of our own. Eventually, and not surprisingly, I married a “boat person” and I have my own “boat family “.  We still go on boat trips with my parents and my brothers, although now we each have our own. I proudly admit we also sequester our kids on boat trips for quality family time and feed them Eggs on a Nest for breakfast.  I guess some things never change…

Enjoy!

Eggs on a Nest (Huevo al Nido)

Ingredients

club sandwich bread (your choice of whole wheat or white)

butter (about 1/2 tsp for each serving)

egg

salt and pepper to taste

Procedure


1.  Cut out hole in center of bread with a 2 1/2 inch in diameter round cookie or biscuit cutter (for a fun twist, use a heart shaped cookie cutter on Valentine’s day). Save cut-out.

2.  Heat butter in non stick skillet over med-low heat.

3.  Meanwhile, crack egg and pour in a measuring cup or rameking. Set aside.

4.  Once butter is melted and evenly distributed on skillet place bread on skillet and let toast for about a minute.  Pour egg in the center and cover for just 2 minutes.  Flip with a spatula. Cover and let cook for a little under 2 more minutes).

5.  Meanwhile, toast cut-out bread in toaster oven or toaster.

6.  Once ready, season to taste and serve. Dip toasted cut out in middle of egg to eat. Then cut and eat remaining egg and toast as you wish.

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This sweet pie dough recipe is the best I have found so far.  Relatively easy to make, consistent results and so good!!!!!!!  I have been reading Cook’s Illustrated magazine for many years. I find this magazine’s detailed recipes, tips and experiments full of valuable information as well as fun.  If you haven’t had the chance to experience this magazine I invite you to do so.  This is where America’s Test Kitchen, located just outside of Boston, “play” with recipes in a lab-kitchen and then publish the results (they also have a TV show hosted by Christopher Kimball).  Its findings are illustrated (either with pictures or drawings) and provides its readers with bits of history, chemistry, culture and valuable suggestions.  After many trials and errors, I bumped into this recipe while reading one of Cook’s Illustrated editions about 2 years ago, which I have only altered by adding a bit more sugar.  I mainly use it for Blueberry Pie, but can also be filled with your choice of ingredients.  Sometimes I have left overs from the trimmings of the pie discs and use it to make a small oven empanada filled with spinach and feta cheese, picadillo, stewed chicken, shrimps or sauteed mushrooms with onions and cheese, mixing sweet and savory in every bite. Also, can be used to cover a fruit cobbler.

The tricky thing with baking and doughs is the fact that you NEED to know a little about chemistry.  The effects baking powder will have when reacting with liquids or the gluten formed when flour is mixed with water, all have to do with scientific reactions.  Your ability to know when, how much, at what temperature  and in what way to incorporate ingredients will determine how successful you will be in your culinary endeavors.  That being said, with this pie dough recipe, Cooks Illustrated “kitchen scientists” tried making many pie recipes with varying results (148 to be exact!!!).  Some were too hard, others too flaky, others too sandy, others just too inconsistent.  For your information, gluten, long chains of protein that form when flour mixes with water, is what gives pie dough its structure. The more you knead and the more water you add, the more gluten forms and the result is a tough pie dough. The recipes I had seen before, mostly keep a ratio of about 5-6 tbsp of ice water to every 2 cups of flour to ensure flakiness, but with inconsistent results which depended on that days humidity among other factors (too dry, too hard, difficult to roll out, dough sticks or tears, etc.) In short, they discovered that vodka lets you add more liquid to the dough (making it easier to roll out) without toughening the crust.  The simple reason is because gluten doesn’t form in ethanol (vodka is 60% water 40% ethanol).  As a result, this recipe gets the benefits of  8 tbsp of water but actually has 6 1/2, which limits the formation of  gluten and guarantees tenderness.  The same reasons account for incorporating vegetable shortening in the recipe.  Butter has about 20% water content and starts melting at 50ºF, as opposed to vegetable shortening which has no water and melts at very high temperatures, so a combination of both butter and shortening provided a balance between flavor and tenderness.  In addition, flour is separated into two groups; the flour which will be covered with fat (which in turn will not absorb water), and the uncoated flour (which will absorb water and form gluten).  For a consistent flaky recipe, you need the same ratio of fat coated flour to uncoated flour to ensure that when the dough is rolled out, the gluten stretches into sheets that are separated by gaps of fat which will melt while being baked and result in crisp, flaky layers in the crust.  The best way to do this is in a food processor.

There are 3 steps to ensure a delicious, tender, flaky sweet pie dough.

1.  Blend part of the flour mixture with the fats (butter and vegetable shortening) to make sure there is a consistent amount of flour covered in fat in the final dough.  Fats should be cold.

2.  Add remaining flour and pulse to ensure consistent amount of uncoated flour in final dough.

3.  Sprinkle mixture with water and vodka and fold mixture until dough sticks together.

Note:  You can feed this sweet pie dough to children because the alcohol will impart no flavor and evaporate in the oven.


Sweet Pie Dough

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surface

1 tsp salt

3 tbsp sugar

1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch slices

1/2 cup of cold vegetable shortening cut into 4 pieces

1/4 cup of cold vodka

1/4 cup of cold water

Procedure


1.  In a food processor, mix 1 1/2 cups of flour, salt and sugar by pulsing two or three times.  Add butter and shortening and process until there is no uncoated flour and forms cottage-cheese-like curds (about 15-20 seconds).

2.  Scrape bowl with spatula and redistribute dough evenly around blade. Add remaining flour and pulse until dough is evenly distributed around bowl and mass has broken up (4-6 pulses).  Empty mixture into bowl.

3.  Sprinkle with vodka and water over mixture and quickly fold with rubber spatula by pressing down until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together.

4.  Divide dough into 2 balls and flatten into disks. Wrap into plastic paper and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

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balsamic strawberries with zabaglione (sabayon)

The first time I tried these amazing strawberries, I was about 13 years old.  It was at my friend Elena’s house, where Ena, her mother, would prepare them for us as a dessert.  At that moment, they were going through a difficult time of mourning and loss of their father after a long debilitating disease.  I remember vividly how this family dealt with hardship with such grace, unity and acceptance.  At this time in my life, I still had my 4 grandparents and this experience changed my life as I felt how fragile and delicate life can be. Elena is still my friend and I have seen her blossom into a wonderful mother, sister, friend and wife. She always wanted to help other people, and recently started a foundation to help the parents of children with special needs in Puerto Rico called Horizontina.  Through this foundation, she helps parents pay for their children’s therapies to become independent human beings. I want to share this recipe with you, which I often keep in the fridge and serve alone or with zabaglione. It is simply refreshing, decadent and delicious with a distinct but pleasurable taste.

Elena and I in 6th grade 1985

FYI, the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena is produced  from cooked grapes (usually Trebbiano, sugary white grapes harvested as late as possible) that are matured by a long and slow vinegarization process through natural fermentation.   This is followed by progressive concentration through aging in a series of casks made of different types of woods without the addition of any other flavorings or spices.  The four characteristics of this vinegar are:

Color-  dark brown

Density-  Fluid and syrup like consistency

Fragrance-  complex, sharp and pleasantly acid

Flavor-  traditional sweet and sour in perfect proportions

Enjoy!

Balsamic Strawberries

Ingredients

3 pints of fresh strawberries

3 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar of modena

1 tbsp water

3 tbsp granulated sugar

fresh ground black pepper to taste

Procedure


1.  Trim leaves from the strawberries and quarter them.  Place in a mixing bowl.  Add the balsamic vinegar, water and sugar and stir to coat strawberries evenly with the mixture.

2.  Add fresh ground pepper to taste (optional).  Then proceed to let the mixture stand for about an hour at room temperature in order for the sugar to dissolve and the flavors to blend.

3.  Refrigerate until ready to serve alone, whipped cream, cake, vanilla ice cream or Zabaglione.

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My sister in law Frances is an expert at improvising in the kitchen.  For more times than I can remember, I have seen her juggle in the kitchen to feed a large group of unannounced guests with delicious homemade meals.  This rice is inspired in one of her trademarks.  She makes it in a rice cooker, but I don’t own a rice cooker so I make it in my caldero, chef’s pan or heavy bottomed sauce pan.  In addition, she uses extra-long grain white rice which I substitute with Jasmine Rice.  It is easy, colorful and a nice twist to traditional white rice. Also, this rice is aromatic and full of flavor. By making little changes like these in everyday meals we get inspired to get out of the routine and explore new possibilities.  Accompany with filet mignon, grilled chicken or bbq ribs.

Enjoy!

Arroz con Pimientos (rice with peppers)

approximately 8 generous servings

Ingredients

4 tbsp (1/2 stick) of butter

1/4 green bell pepper (cubed)

1/4 red bell pepper (cubed)

1/4 yellow bell pepper (cubed)

1/4 cup onions (coarsely chopped)

3 cups jasmine rice

1 tbsp salt

4 1/2 cups of water

Procedure

1.  In a medium size heavy bottom pan or caldero, melt butter (med heat).

2.  Sauté  onions and peppers until onions are translucent.

3.  Add jasmine rice and stir to coat all grains with the melted butter.

4.  Add water and cook uncovered until most of water has evaporated and you can see small holes in the top of rice.

5.  Stir with a slotted spoon or large fork. Reduce heat to low and cover until rice is cooked, about 15-20 more minutes.

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Arroz con Amarillos is nothing more than my Arroz con Cilantro recipe with fried sweet plantains, but boy, what a difference they make! YUMMY! Savory and sweet in every bite!  Plantains can be cooked green or ripe. Amarillos (what ripe plantains are called in Puerto Rico) or plátanos maduros (like they are called in other latin american countries)  are a staple dish in most tropical countries around the world.  They can be steamed, boiled, baked, grilled or fried. Nowadays,  fried plantains (green or ripe) come frozen and ready to eat, but of course, it is much better if you find fresh ripe sweet plantains. In order for the plantain to be sweet it must be yellow with black patches on the outside.  Green plantains, used for tostones, mofongo (mashed) or chips (mariquitas or platanutres), are “starchy” like potatoes and seasoned with salt, bacon, onions or broth.  On the other hand, sweet plantains, used for piononos and pastelón,  are naturally sweet and need no seasoning and go great to accompany savory/salty meals. When I use the frozen kind to make this rice, I thaw them and saute in a skillet with a bit of butter. If I make it with fresh ripe plantains I don’t add the butter since they are coated with the vegetable oil in which they have been fried.  When I make  this rice dish people always come back for more. My friend Alexandra loves this kind of rice! I have offered it to our guests in Thanksgiving with our traditional whole fried turkey as well as with Filet Mignon, Prime Rib or New York Strip.  Also, great with a side salad or sauteed veggies.

Enjoy!

Arroz con Amarillos

Ingredients

Arroz con Cilantro Recipe

3 ripe sweet plantains or 2 boxes of frozen Goya sweet plantains (11 ounce each)

Procedure


1.  If using frozen plantains, thaw and saute in about 2 tbsp of butter over med-hi heat.  If using fresh ripe plantains, slice very ripe plantains about 1/2 inch thick and fry over med-hi heat in canola or vegetable oil until golden brown.

2.  Cube fried plantains and stir into cooked rice.

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I know this might not be a pretty dish to photograph, but trust me it is very good. We all want to make recipes that are both tasty as well as convenient.  This recipe is inspired by my brother’s mother in law, Inés. A few years ago, I went to visit my brother and she had just arrived with a succulent homemade chicken pie.   She was kind enough to offer me a slice and I must tell you it was absolutely delicious!  She explained to me how she made it and which ingredients she used. The following week, I made my own version and the results were pretty good.  I had tried chicken pie before, but most of the time they had either a creamy or gelatinous sauce.  This version has a veggie-tomato sauce that adds more flavor and the potatoes give it structure.

Later on, I improved my technique when my father in law passed away and my mother in law came to live with us for a while. For many months, she received visits from friends that wanted to accompany her in this time of grief.  During this period, I always had Chicken Pie in the fridge for unexpected visitors which I re-heated in the microwave and served as a light lunch or mid-afternoon snack with a side of salad.  Most of the visitors asked for more.

This dish is also a great alternative for picnics and boat trips.  I bake it at home and cover it with foil paper and plastic wrap, then serve at room temperature or re-heat it in the oven or microwave a few days later.  Here is my version of Savory Chicken Pot Pie.

Enjoy!

Savory Chicken Pie

Ingredients

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 large chicken breasts cut in strips seasoned with salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 medium golden potato peeled and cubed (1×1 inch)

1 carrot peeled and finely sliced

1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion

1 garlic clove minced

1 tbsp cubanel or green pepper

1 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes (pureed)

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup sweet green peas frozen

2 pie crusts for nine inch pie dish ( I use Pillsburry brand or make your own)

egg wash optional

Procedure


1.  In a med-large saute pan, heat oil med-high.  Add seasoned chicken breasts to sear and brown a little. This will take a few minutes.

2.  Add wine to deglaze pan and add potatoes.  Bring heat to medium.

3.  Immediately, add carrots, onions, garlic and green peppers.  Saute  until onion is transluscent.

4.  Add pureed tomatoes, salt and oregano and cover for 20 minutes (in med-low heat) or until potatoes are tender when you press with a fork. Add sweet green peas and stir for a few minutes. Set aside.  Tip: Check a few times to make sure it doesn’t dry out. If so add more water.


5.  Heat oven at 425º F.  Place bottom of pie crust for a 9 inch pie dish in diameter and fill with chicken/vegetable “stew”. Bring sides in. Carefully place top of pie and press down to close “lid” of pie. Cut slits with a sharp knife to vent. Egg wash is optional.

6.  Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown. You may refrigerate up to 1 week.

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I’m back!!!! As you may have noticed, I like all kinds of rice.  When I started to make this recipe a long time ago for a Mother’s Day Celebration in my house, I chose to make it with parboiled rice because it is the best rice to use when cooking for a large group of people.  This rice dish is tasty, fragrant and easy.  It goes well with stir fry veggies, stews, braised or roasted beef, chicken or barbequed meats or seafood.  I also use it as my base rice for my “Arroz con Amarillos” recipe.

I want to know… how many of you know what parboiled rice is? All I knew was that when I cooked it, it took a bit longer to cook than white rice and that it was fool proof when cooking large amounts because it never became clingy or sticky. So I set out to find out what it really is and here are the facts according to http://www.rice-trade.com and wikipedia.

Parboiled rice is rice that has been partially boiled in its husk.  This procedure makes parboiled rice richer in nutritional value than processed white rice because the steaming seals most of the nutrients in (about 80% nutrients of brown rice).

Parboiled Rice is produced by a process of soaking, pressure steaming and drying prior to milling. Parboiling is a patented process. It changes the nutrients of the rice kernel. After undergoing this process and proper milling, the rice obtains a light yellow or amber color although the color largely fades after cooking. It cooks up fluffy and separate. It forms the main course of the meals for millions of people in Asia and else where. Many processed food such as popped or puffed rice products are produced from brown rice or parboiled rice for use as breakfast cereals and snack foods.

Process of Making Parboiled Rice

While in the paddy form, the rice is soaked and then steam cooked. This process does not allow the kernel to swell during the cooking and the moisture level does not exceed 40%. The starch granule is cooked (technically gelatinized), but not allowed to swell. The rice is then dried while still in the paddy form and then passed through a standard milling process to remove the hull and bran. This process has been going on for centuries in many countries and is believed to have started in ancient India.

Usage of Parboiled Rice

  • Parboiled rice has a higher vitamin content than raw milled rice.
  • Parboiled rice is quite nutritious, being an excellent source of niacin, a good source of thiamine and magnesium and a moderate source of protein, iron and zinc. Levels of vitamins and minerals fall between white rice and brown rice.
  • Parboiled rice is widely used in the catering industry as it is less sticky when cooked.
  • It is good in salads and retains its flavour and quality when kept hot for serving large numbers of people.
  • All rice comes from the field with insect eggs in the germ of the rice. These eggs hatch when the temperature is warm and moisture is available. The high temperatures occurring during parboiling kill any insect eggs in the rice and essentially sterilize it.
  • Parboiling also mends the cracks in the rice , that is, it glues broken rice back together and dramatically improves the milling yield of whole kernels in the rice.
  • Parboiling changes the texture of the rice. It becomes firmer and less sticky.
  • It is a much more durable kernel.
  • It takes just as long to cook (actually a little longer) as white rice, but is much easier to cook.
  • It can be overcooked without being mushy or losing its grain shape.
  • It is the only type of rice that can withstand the harsh treatment of most industrial processes that involve cooking and then freezing, canning, or drying.

Enjoy!

Arroz con Cilantro (Rice with Cilantro)

about 5-6 moderate sevings

Ingredients

1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil

1 small onion finely chopped

2 cups parboiled long grain rice

1 tsp kosher salt

1/4 cup of finely chopped cilantro

3 cups organic chicken broth

Procedure



1.  In a small-med caldero or heavy bottom saucepan, heat oil (medium) and sauté finely chopped onions until translucent.

2.  Add parboiled rice, cilantro and salt and sauté for about 1 minute.  Then add chicken broth (lower heat a a bit under medium to prevent rice from sticking to bottom of pan).  Allow liquids to dry up and then stir rice.

3.  Cover to finish cooking in low heat until rice is fully cooked.

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