Posts Tagged ‘food’

Beans are a great source of protein, complex carbohydrates (the good carbs that give energy to brain and muscles) and dietary fiber.  Also, beans have the “good fat” your body needs and a low glycemic index, meaning they have the ability to give you energy over a sustained period of time by slowly releasing its nutrients into your blood stream. In Latin American and Caribbean dinner tables, beans are always present.  Most of the time they are stewed or refried.  I really like my version of three bean salad which is easy, healthy and full of flavor.   Also, beans are inexpensive and easy to store for long periods of time (canned or dry). I use organic canned beans when I find them. Serve this salad with your favorite lettuce, baby greens or over toasted bread as quick snack like a “bruschetta tre fagioli”.  They always taste better the next day when the flavors settle! Be mindful I add olive oil and not extra-virgin olive oil. My aunt Evamari makes a wicked three bean salad similar to this one.  Keeps in the fridge for about a week.


Three Bean Salad


1 15.5 ounce canned black beans

1 15.5 ounce canned pink beans

1 15.5 ounce canned chickpeas

4 tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro

4 tbsp finely chopped red onion

2 fresh garlic cloves minced

2 tbsp finely chopped red bell pepper

2 tsp fine sea salt

pinch ground cumin

pinch smoked sweet paprika

2 cups of olive oil

pepper to taste


1.  Open cans and drain beans in colander.  In a large bowl, mix all ingredients and refrigerate.  Serve with green salad, alone or over toasted bread.

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I use this basic tomato sauce for many dishes including as a dipping sauce for mozzarella sticks, fried calamari, for meat or eggplant lasagna, spaghetti with meatballs, penne all’arrabiatta, vodka sauce, pizza sauce, soups and Mom’s one-pot-spaghetti among others.  It is very simple and versatile, just use your imagination.


Basic Tomato Sauce

(yields 3 cups)


2  14 1/2 ounce cans of diced tomatoes

1 tsp dried oregano or italian seasoning herb mix

1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt (up to 2 tsp if you want)


1.  Puree tomatoes in blender or with hand blender. Add to a small saucepan and simmer for about 15 minutes in med-low heat with herbs and salt. for a spicy sauce add a generous pinch of peperoncini or red pepper flakes.

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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


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


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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Sangria is the best antidote for a hot summer afternoon.  My recipe has never let me down and is always a great success when I prepare for my guests. Easy, refreshing, not overly sweet and mild alcohol content.  This drink can be served in a pitcher, punchbowl or a classic beverage dispenser with spigot.  I usually make it in large quantities because in Puerto Rico, Sangria is a very popular drink and people would drink Sangria over beer or hard liquor anytime.  Here, most informal family restaurants offer Sangria as part of their menu. The important thing is to make it fresh! If you choose to make it ahead of time, prepare the mixture and leave out the lemon soda and ice until the moment you are going to serve.  For best results choose a young, fruity, unoaked, inexpensive wine. Most of the time, I buy and inexpensive wine from the Rioja region in Spain made from Tempranillo grapes, but you may use a French boujolais, Italian dolcetto or lambrusco.  My suggestion is that you serve over ice instead of adding the ice to the mixture so that it doesn’t become diluted.

This wine punch typical of Spain has been popularized in many countries in the Caribbean and Latin America.  A similar version known as Sangaree can be found in the West Indies.  There is also a simpler variant of Sangria called “Tinto de verano” ( red wine of summer or wine spritzer) which is part wine, part “gaseosoa” (a mixture of carbonated water and lemon juice) garnished with lemon slice.  I like to make this version when I am on the boat because it is so simple to make and you know that boat kitchens have limited space.  There are hundreds of recipes depending on the regions, the ingredients at hand and the preferences and creativity of the person preparing the Sangria.  However, what makes a Sangria a Sangria is that it has all of the following:  young fruity red wine, chopped or sliced fruit, fruit juice,  sweetener and a small amount of liqueur like brandy or Cointreau.  In addition, most Sangria recipes add carbonated lemon soda.  Here is my version of Sangria!




1 bottle of young, dry, inexpensive red wine (750 ml)

1 1/2 cups of orange juice

1/4 cup sugar

4 tbsp Cointreau, Grand Manier, Brandy or Rum

1 can of Lemon Sierra Mist, Sprite or 7-up, 11.27 ounces (If you don’t have any of these make a mixture of “gaseosa”, made with sparking water and fresh lemon juice)

1/2 red apple (diced and diced)

1/2 orange (thinly sliced and halved)

1/2 half a yellow lemon (thinly sliced and halved)



1.  With a large spoon, mix all ingredients in a large pitcher, punchbowl or beverage dispenser with spigot a few hours before serving to allow flavors to settle.  If you are going to make it ahead of time, leave out lemon soda and add just before your serving.  Serve Sangria over ice.

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Ceasar Salad is near the top of my list of favorite lunch or side dish alternatives.  I admit I am very picky about the way the dressing should taste so the solution to this problem is to make my own dressing.  Simply put, some restaurants have very bad commercial Ceasar Salad Dressings!  Others are heavenly! Some are too creamy others too liquid, too strong or too mild and the ones with excess of anchovy fillets…. well, I am not a big fan.

Ceasar Salad’s creation is attributed to Italian restauranteur Ceasar Cardini in his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico on 4th of July 1924.  The story goes that he ran out of supplies and improvised with the ingredients at hand.  The original recipe for the dressing includes eggs, olive oil, worcestershire sauce (which in part is made with anchovies), fresh garlic cloves and lemons but no anchovies, they were later added by “recipe revisionists”.  The salad first appeared in the continental USA in the menu of a restaurant in Los Angeles, California in 1946 and the Cardini family registered a trademark in 1948.  I remember when as a young girl in early 1980’s, I went on a cruise with my parents (the Galileo Galilei) through the Mediterranean, and for dinner the waiters would make the dressing tableside which added to the whole experience and drama of ordering Ceasar Salad.  Originally, the leaves of the romaine lettuce were served whole in order to eat with your hands by grabbing through the stem and take a bite of the crisp lettuce covered with the dressing, croutons and shaved parmesan cheese.  I coarsely chop the lettuce or you can tear it with your bare hands.  Try making your own croutons with bread that is a few days old, it makes a big difference.  Make sure the eggs you use are clean and to coddle them (cook them partially in hot water) before you use. Also, you may serve with grilled chicken strips, churrasco (skirt steak) or grilled shrimp to make it more hearty.  I created my recipe by watching friends and family make their versions, reading cook books and magazines, and tasting Ceasar Salad Dressing in many restaurants.  Here is my version of Ceasar Salad Dressing.


Ceasar Salad Dressing


2 eggs (cooked in very hot water but not boiling, for 1 minute)

1 cup of extra virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp anchovy paste (optional)

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce

1 tsp dijon mustard

2 fresh garlic cloves (remove germ)

4 tsp fresh lemon juice

pepper to taste


1.  Carefully place eggs in hot water (just below boiling point) for 1 minute.  Take out of hot water and put under running cold water to stop cooking.  Take out of shell scraping inside with small spoon.

2.  In a blender or with a hand blender, beat eggs for about 30 seconds.  Add anchovy paste, garlic cloves (remove germ for better taste and make sure they are fresh), worcestershire sauce, salt, mustard, pepper and lemon juice. Pulse until mixed.

3.  With the machine on, start to pour olive oil in a steady stream. The result will be a creamy dressing. Store in a sealed dressing container in the refrigerator up to 1 week.  Serve over romaine lettuce, croutons, chopped cilantro and top with shaved or grated fresh parmesan cheese.

Important note: There is potential risk of infection by salmonella bacteria occasionally found in raw egg from cracked or improperly washed eggshells.

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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


Balsamic Strawberries


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


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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Tostones, twice fried green plantains or breadfruit (pana) patties, are a staple in caribbean cuisine and often served as a side dish, appetizer or snack.  They are called “patacones” or “tachinos” in some south american countries and can be made fresh or nowadays they also come frozen. Some people season them with plain salt, garlic mojito or mayo-ketchup, but I like to serve with this sauce which I call Mojito Caribeño.  All you need is a sharp knife to finely chop ingredients and a mortar and pestle to bring it all together.  This dipping sauce has a strong aroma and irresistible flavor. Simply spread over tostones and enjoy.  If you want to make it spicy, add a pinch of red pepper flakes or a few drops of “pique” (hot sauce).

click here to print recipe

Mojito Caribeño


2 large culantro leaves (recao) finely chopped

2 garlic cloves

1 tsp very finely chopped yellow onion

1 tsp very finely chopped cubanel or green pepper

scant 1 tsp salt

pepper to taste

1 tsp vinegar

pinch of ground cumin

pinch of dried oregano

4 tbsp tomato sauce

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp lemon juice


1.  In a mortar and pestle (pilón) mash garlic with some of the salt.

recao- culantro leaves

2.  Add finely chopped culantro (recao), onions and green pepper.  Mash with the pestle.

3.  Add cumin, oregano, salt and pepper. Mash a bit more to create a coarse paste.

4.  Add vinegar, tomato sauce, olive oil and lemon juice and stir with a spoon until all ingredients are incorporated.  Serve with tostones de platano o pana (fried plantains or breadfruit).  Refrigerate if you have any leftovers.

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“San Isidro, labrador, quita el agua y pon el sol.”  This is a phrase that Catholic farmers in spanish speaking countries say to one of agriculture’s patron Saints when they want the rain to go away and the sun to come out.  This summer in Puerto Rico it has been raining a lot as opposed to bright sunny days typical of the season. The weather has been crazy, like in many parts of the world, and we have missed the traditional trips to the beach. For us, the best comfort food for a rainy day is Asopao.  A stew made of chicken or seafood with rice which is heartier than a traditional chicken soup. I usually accompany my Asopao with a side of avocado and tostones (fried green plantains).  So, for those of you that will be sequestered in your homes during this weekend (due to the rain or the cold), here is my recipe for Asopao de Pollo (Chicken Asopao).


Asopao de Pollo


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

6 drum sticks or large chicken wings (season with a little adobo or salt and pepper)

1/2 cup of yellow onion finely chopped

1/4 cup cubanel or green pepper finely chopped

3 garlic cloves minced

6 grape tomatoes chopped or 1 small tomato chopped

1 recaito frozen cube homemade or 1 1/2 tbsp store bought recaito

10 spanish olives stuffed with pimento (manzanilla olives)

1/2 cup of dry white wine

1/4 cup tomato sauce

1  can (7 0z.) pureed pimientos morrones (roasted red bell peppers in brine)

1/2 tbsp fine sea salt

2 cups of good quality chicken broth

3 cups of water

1 potato diced or 6 baby potatoes peeled and cut in half

3/4 cup of white rice or parboiled rice

1/2 cup frozen sweet green peas


1.  In a med-large heavy bottom sauce pan, heat olive oil (med) and saute the seasoned pieces of chicken. About 5-8 minutes.

2.  Add onions and green pepper and saute for about 3 minutes.

3. Add minced garlic and saute for about 3 more minutes.

4.  Add recaito ice cube, tomatoes, olives and tomato sauce. Saute for about 5 minutes.

5.  Add white wine, pureed pimentos and salt. Let simmer for about 5 minutes.

6.  Add chicken broth, water and potatoes. Let stew simmer for 25 minutes covered.

7.  Add 1 cup of rice and cook for 15 minutes covered.

8.  Add sweet green peas and cook for 5 more minutes covered. At this point add more water if you want the Asopao to have a more liquid.  Serve with side of tostones and avocado.

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In a few weeks I will be attending a family reunion of the Arbona side of the family. My great-grandfather came to Puerto Rico from Mallorca, in the Balearic Islands (Spain) in the late 1800’s.  In short, he went back, got married, had his children and they returned to Puerto Rico due to the Spanish Civil War during the 1930’s.  We are a large group! (one of my great-uncles had 10 children, they all had children and their children have children, etc.).  In honor of this gathering,  I got inspired to publish my recipe for Ensaimada Mallorquina.

To give you a little background, Ensaimada is a typical sweet bread from the island of Mallorca .  They are usually large (about 12 inches in diameter) and sometimes filled with fruit preserves, “angel hair” (pumpkin confit), sobreasada, almond puree, cream or apricots.  For hundreds of years, like many countries in South America, Puerto Rico had a large group of immigrants that came from different parts of Spain (including the beautiful island of Mallorca) looking for work, fortune and a better quality of life. My grandfather, Papi Bartolo was one of them. Therefore, Puertorican culture is highly influenced by the traditions of many different regions of Spain.

In Puerto Rico there is a version of Ensaimada called “mallorca”, like the island of its origin. It is usually the size the palm of my hand, so no wonder as a little girl, I was in awe of the size of Ensaimadas on my visits to Mallorca.  Also, they can be found in every bakery shop in Puerto Rico and even American fast food restaurants have incorporated it in their breakfast menus to adapt to the tastes of the locals. However, although they have a similar shape, they are not rolled up twice like traditional ensaimadas and its dough is more similar in texture to “brioche” (flaky french bread) or challah bread, depending on the place where you buy them.  The most popular mallorcas in Puerto Rico are the ones from La Bombonera in Old San Juan (to me the closest texture to ensaimada in PR) and from Panaderia Pepin (absolutely delicious, but not similar in texture) in Guaynabo and San Juan.

The name ensaimada comes from the arabic word “saim”, which means pork lard.  The first accounts of ensaimadas are from 17th century writings.  There were not written recipes to make ensaimadas. However, there was a method.  According to Mallorcan Web,  ” to explain how ensaimadas were made 200 years ago and nowadays is one and the same thing. The process is completely artisan and can take up to 24 hours to complete. To make the dough old measures are still used: almudes and ounces. To get some idea, in Mallorca an almud of dough contains a kilo of sugar, a dozen eggs, a liter of water and all the ‘strong’ flour it can take (thereby is the secret, no measurement for the flour!). To these ingredients yeast is added which can be either natural yeast or in powder form, and the kneading starts. In former times this was done by hand. Although nowadays machines are used, to do so by hand the dough is placed in a bowl and kneaded until it is soft. After more or less half an hour, it is smooth.” This dough is kneaded and rolled very thinly, then rolled and spiraled to form the traditional shape of an ensaimada which is like the house of a snail.  Lately, I’ve been told that for some reason the ensaimadas that are sold in large boxes at the airport of Palma de Mallorca are not allowed to fly with you on the plane, you have to put it in your suit case and send it through cargo.

Ensaimadas can be served warm or at room temperature for breakfast, as dessert, with coffee or tea or as a snack. They are a bit crusty on the outside and flaky on the inside. Also, you may heat ensaimada that is a few days old in the griddle with butter or ham and cheese like a panini. I had never found a recipe that I felt confident I could follow, but over a year ago I found this recipe in a german website (germans flock to the island of Mallorca in large groups throughout the year) and adapted it.  It is fairly easy to make, just takes time because of the wait to let dough rise.  Remember the oven must be very hot and to use common sense since ovens vary.  I like to let them rise overnight and bake them on a weekend morning for my family to enjoy. Here is my version of Ensaimada de Mallorca.


Ensaimada de Mallorca

Recipe adapted by:  Aleida L. Arbona from www.deliciousdays.com who adapted it from www.kuechengoetter.de


5 cups bread flour or unbleached all purpose flour

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1 packet dry yeast(2 1/4 tsp) (1 cube fresh yeast)

1 cup warm milk (add a little over one cup)

2 eggs

approx. 2/3 cup pork lard or vegetable shortening

powdered sugar for dusting


1.  Mix flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Make well in the center and add 1 packet of dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp) or 1- 40 gram block of fresh yeast (crumbled) , a large pinch of sugar and enough warm milk until the yeast is covered.  Stir the yeast and milk a bit with a fork.  Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let rest for about 15 minutes or until the yeast has bubbles.

2.  Add other ingredients and knead by hand or with your dough hook in your electric stand-up mixing machine.   If the dough is too sticky add a bit more flour.  Cover the bowl again  and let rest in a warm place for at least 30 minutes or until dough has doubled.

3.  Punch it down softly, and place the dough on a well floured surface.  Cut into 10 equal portions and form into neat balls before letting them rest.  Sprinkle with flour and cover with kitchen towel  for at least 30 minutes.

4.  To shape the ensaimadas, flatten dough ball and roll out with a rolling pin (use flour as needed) until you get a thin disc. Brush it generously with lard or vegetable shortening.  Roll up cautiously and set aside on lined baking sheets (either with parchment paper or silicone mats).

5.  Coil up each piece of dough until it resembles the house of a snail tucking the outer end under (some people pull the rolled up dough a bit to make it longer and thiner, but that’s optional). Do so loosely because the spaces will fill up as the dough keeps rising.  Place 5 ensaimadas in a baking sheet, leaving space between them. Lightly brush with lard or shortening and cover up again.  This is the final rise which is done from 4 hours to overnight (you choose, I do it overnight).

6.  To bake, preheat oven 390ºf and bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden (do not let brown too much).  Let cook in a wire rack for a few minutes.

7.  Generously dust with powdered sugar

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For a couple of years I have been daydreaming about visiting Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in New York. Every time I read a new article about the farm or about its renowned restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns, my imagination started to fly and wished one day I could visit this place and eat at the restaurant.  An unexpected trip to New York City came up and I found myself looking for my computer to contact Stone Barns and arrange a visit.

As one would imagine, the Blue Hill at Stone Barns Restaurant was fully booked. It turns out that if you want to go to have dinner at this restaurant, you must make reservations exactly two months ahead of time!  The hostess I spoke to was kind enough to give me some pointers and told me that they had a full service bar area with a first come first serve policy and if we arrived early (meaning when they opened at 5pm), we had a good chance of having dinner at Blue Hill’s bar. So I arranged our visit in a way that we could enjoy nature, tour the property, and sample what the farm had to offer.

pain quotidien

grand central station

Everything turned out better than planned! It was on a Saturday morning in late May that my mother, my friend Maryse and I had a delicious organic breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien in Manhattan ( 922 7th ave. corner 58th st. ) and immediately headed to Grand Central Station to catch the next train to Tarrytown.  Once we got off the taxi cab and entered Grand Central Station to catch the Metro North line, I felt bombarded with “food stimuli” as we walked through a large arched hallway that lead to the train tracks filled with endless stations of food specialties on both sides for the convenience of daily commuters.  I though I had died and gone to heaven!  Anyway, we took the 11:45 am train in which we could appreciate beautiful views of the Hudson River.  Tarrytown is a quaint village about 25 miles north of Manhattan, near Sleepy Hollow, where Washington Irving’s story was inspired.  Once we got to Tarrytown,  we hopped into a cab to Pocantico Hills, where the farm is located (about a ten minute ride).

Stone Barns is located in Pocantico Hills, a hamlet in the town of Mount Pleasant, on 80 acres of Rockefeller’s Park Reserve (4,000 acres in total). Once you start walking around the property, you get a sense of freedom and community.  I noticed many visitors bring their dogs, families with small children, and couples, maybe on a first date, but we all had one thing in common and that was to enjoy the outdoors, get away from the city and learn first hand about sustainable farming. Dan Barber, executive chef and creator of the concept of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and co-owner of Blue Hill Restaurants, has been promoting for many years the concept that people should be more conscious about their food choices and how those choices affect your health.  The farm is a non-profit center for food and agriculture education and for city dwellers to come learn about the farm-table connections. They even have a camp for children to get their hands dirty and learn about farming and growing good food.

maremma sheepdog

We arrived early, so we had time to take a walk on our own towards the livestock areas of the farm since our tour would be focused on vegetable farming.  On our way to the open hilly pasture fields, we could reckon the fringe of the forest of the Rockefeller Park Reserve which surrounds the farm. Further ahead, we began to see little white heads popping from the tall grass.  They where a group of sheep guarded by a docile Maremma Sheepdog, and italian breed of dogs with a thick white coat that protect sheep from predators. Then we walked towards the grass-fed cattle. On the way, we also saw Berkshire pigs resting in the shadow of a large tree, natural honey being harvested and lastly, we visited the free range chicken coops.

free range chickens

At 2 pm, our tour met at the farm’s courtyard which is surrounded by the Blue Hill Cafe, Blue Hill Restaurant, event rooms and the Stone Barns gift shop.  The building is made of gray slate stone,  hence its name, and is also available for private events. At the farm, they don’t harvest seeds.  Instead, they buy them from heirloom seed banks. The farms crops and products are sold to the Blue Hill Restaurants (the original Blue Hill Restaurant is in Greenich Village in New York City) and Café, at their farmer market on weekends and if there are any leftovers, sold at other farmer markets no further than 250 miles away, to comply with the Locavore (those who prefer to purchase locally produced goods and services) movement.


farmer at work

cornstarch tarps to protect crop and prevent weeds

where compost tea is "brewed"

First, stop was the four acre farming area which is seeded according to the four seasons and with an 8 year rotation system.  I was told by our tour guide, that spinach and winter greens taste better when planted in the winter because in order to strive they turn starch into sugar yielding sweeter greens. Crop rotation is a practice that promotes a more fertile soil, diminishes pests and pathogens and obtains better yields.  The dissimilar crops are rotated every year to replenish nutrients in the soil.  For example, in the area where crops like nitrogen-hungry spinach was harvested, nitrogen-replenishers like legumes are used as fertilizer or as the next crop.  In addition, what they call Compost-tea is produced on the farm with the restaurant scraps, organic material, non-edibles and farm and forest leaves to fertilize the soil. As you walk though the field you notice a dark “plastic” that covers some parts of the crop which is actually a tarp made of cornstarch used to prevent weeds and protect the crop. Throughout the farm there is a marriage of old style farming tradition and modern technology in order to produce the best outcomes without the need of artificial chemicals, hormones, antibiotics and/or pesticides. Garlic, onion, spinach, beets, potatoes, carrots, grapes, tomatoes among others, are grown at Stone Barns. It is from the top of the small hill where the vegetables are farmed where you glance over your shoulder and get a majestic view of the barn with a beautiful small garden which, we were told, is a tea garden.

view of stone barns from the 4 acre vegetable field

view of the half acre green house

Furthermore, we had the chance to tour the awesome half acre greenhouse. The seeds are planted into the soil (instead of raised beds) and has a sophisticated irrigation system.  Everything planted in this hi-tech greenhouse is for consumption and follows a 2 year rotation.  It has automatic sensors that open up when it gets too hot or at the time of day it needs direct sunlight.  We had a chance to sample some arugula and enjoyed the aroma of rosemary.  As an interesting fact, in the summer, the yield is about 300 pounds of greens per week.  Also, we took a quick look at a small cabin where they dry herbs.   Nearby, there is a chicken slaughter house and a livestock slaughter house where the stress-free pastured animals are taken to be turned into the ingredients used to delight patrons at the Blue Hill Restaurants. Everything in the farm is grown for food in a natural way. However, they have not been certified by an organic food organization and do not seek to. In addition, there is an area in the woods where the pigs that are for procreation are kept.

We had a couple of hours to kill after the tour, so we took a break for our tired little feet to rest at the Blue Hill Café where you can find outdoor communal tables for visitors to relax and sample some of what the farm has to offer.  Everything there is compostable or recyclable and the waste bins are clearly labled.  Even my water cup was fully compostable!  I had a savory potato focaccia as a snack and enjoyed a lively conversation with Maryse and my mother about what we had just seen and heard. In addition, we met a couple from upstate New York who came to the property to learn how to expand their family farm into a sustainable and eco-friendly local business.  Later, we curiously watched as the guests of a wedding arrived and as the visiting farmers and natural foods bakers packed after a long day selling their goods.

Finally, fifteen minutes before 5 in the afternoon! We entered the Blue Hill Restaurant at Stone Barns and immediately its friendly maitre d’ came over to greet us.  As I explained that we didn’t have a reservation, that we wished to have dinner at the bar, he was still gracious enough to invite us to take a view at the empty grand salon where the people that had made reservations two months in advance would have dinner that evening.  It was a medium sized room with high ceilings, bright, simple and crisp white linens.  He asked where we were from and started telling me stories about how much he liked Puerto Rico and the places he had visited in Condado, Ponce and Isla Verde.  Finally, he brought us to our seats at the bar near the fireplace and we met our waiter/bartender.

menu of ingredients available that day

At Blue Hill many drinks are made with natural rhubarb sugar which we saw our bar tender use to prepare virgin cosmopolitans and the Mojitos ordered by the couple sitting next to us.  My mom and I ordered red wine.  Then, our waiter proceeded to explain how things are done at the restaurant.  First, he brought us a menu with a list of all the ingredients available that day.  Then he asked if we were having the 3 ($55), 5 ($105) or 8 ($175) course meal. We chose the 5 course meal and although pricey, the experience was worth every penny.  Finally he asked us what we don’t want or can’t eat from the list in the menu and to choose a preference from the two alternatives for appetizer, main course and dessert.  The way our meal was prepared and the “amuse-bouche” in between, were entirely up to the chef’s desires.  This gave the whole experience an element of surprise and excitement. Everyone, according to their tastes and selection of ingredients, got different servings. Ah, and we got the best view from the bar, because from our seats we could watch the kitchen staff work their magic! Fantastic!

switzi city spritzer and mixed greens

button head mushrooms burgers amuse-bouche

amuse-bouche of aparagus and sesame seeds

The first thing we tasted was called a Switzi City Spritzer, a sparkling concoction that had Anise flavor. The next waiter brought (yes, there was a different waiter for each entré!) a selection strange greens sprayed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper staked in a wooden base with nails.  They were crunchy, fresh and delicious. On the other hand, our neighbors got baby carrots and greens for this course. In addition, since asparagus and mushrooms were in season, we were served “amuse-bouche” of asparagus tips dipped in egg batter and covered with sesame seeds and mini hamburgers made of a mix of button mushrooms, garlic and herbs with sweet bread.  Following, the first course was served in a glass bowl.  A salad of mixed seasonal greens, parsnips, rhubarb, asparagus, strawberries and flowers like johnny jump up violets and broccoli flower with a foamy goat cheese-yogurt dressing.  At this moment, a selection of flavored salts ( asparagus, carrot and black trumpet mushroom) was placed in front of us to sprinkle over the butter on the heavenly caramelized onion bread.

mixed greens, flowers, fruits and vegetable salad with goat cheese yogurt dressing

flavored salts and butter for bread

black sea bass

poached egg with mushrooms

peruvian purple potato gnocchi in lettuce broth


The second serving was a black sea bass (some ingredients are outsourced if they cannot be found in the farm) in a bed of sauteed greens with fresh chives and a delicate butter-white wine sauce. Next, was a poached egg served in a “green soup” with sauteed button mushrooms, onions and garlic. Since Maryse couldn’t eat egg, she was brought peruvian purple potato gnocchi with spinach broth and shiitake mushrooms. She loved it! Fourth was a piece of farm raised Berkshire pork which seemed to be tenderloin.  However, our waiter didn’t confirm or deny if it was a pork tenderloin.  What he did say was that sometimes other pieces of the natural, stress-free pork, if butchered and cut properly and cooked delicately or with special techniques like “sous-vide” (sealed in a vacuum in low heat for a long period),  the meat cuts will become as smooth as tenderloin.  Whatever cut it was, it was tender indeed and full of flavor served with morel mushrooms, asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, red vein sorrel, chives and chickpeas with a sultry butter-wine sauce. Finally, for dessert I was served a chocolate-hazelnut crunch bar with ice cream, cocoa nib and caramel.  Presentation and service was superb.  The creativity and quality of the food was exquisite.

Bar at Blue Hill Restaurant at Stone Barns

After some tea and almost 2 hours of delectable dining and wonderful company, we headed back to the Tarrytown train station. On our way to the station, we passed the Union Church at Pocantico Hills where there is one Matise and several Chagall stained glass windows and enjoyed beautiful water views.  During our train ride back to New York City were felt satisfied both emotionally and physically. Running south on the east bank of the Hudson River, I admired the sunset and reflected on the wonderful opportunity we had that day to slow down and recharge in communion with nature and simplicity.

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