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The word “orzo” in italian means “barley”. Orzo pasta (pasta shaped like rice or grain) is very versatile. It can be boiled, baked, used as a filler in casseroles or when making stuffed peppers.  Also, great in soups. The best orzo is made of durum semolina flour and is very popular in Italy, Greece and other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Countries.  I like this version of orzo pasta because it is very savory and not very heavy. Add as much spinach as you can and by all means… it has to be fresh!  Serve alone or as a side dish.  Orzo with Spinach is also great as a cold salad.  If you are going to serve it as a salad, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil before serving so that it looks shiny and fresh.

Enjoy!

Orzo with Spinach

Ingredients

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oi

3 ounces of thinly sliced pancetta chopped

1/2 cup of yellow or white onions cubed

1/3 cup red bell pepper finely cubed

2 fresh garlic cloves minced

6 cups of fresh spinach (lightly packed)

2 tbsp cold butter

2 tbsp dry white wine

2 tsp fine sea salt

pepper to taste

drizzle of white truffle oil

1 pound of orzo

fresh parmesan cheese

Procedure


1.  In a deep large skillet, heat extra virgin olive oil in medium.  Add pancetta and saute for about 5 minutes until pieces begin to cook. You don’t want pancetta to be crispy or burned. Stir occasionally.

2.  Add onions and red peppers and saute for about 2 minutes.  Add garlic and butter and continue to saute for about 1 minute.  Add white wine to deglaze pan. Immediately add spinach and stir until it has wilted.

3.  Meanwhile, in a med sauce pan, bring about 6 cups of water to a boil.  Add a generous pinch of salt and cook orzo according to package instructions.  Once cooked, drain and add to spinach mixture and saute for a few minutes.  Add drizzle of white truffle oil, salt and pepper to taste.  Add freshly grated parmesan cheese once you serve.

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It is no mystery that we like to entertain at home. When we have guests over for dinner, I like to offer at least one thing that they don’t have in their fridge or couldn’t readily buy in the supermarket.  A homemade appetizer, a twist on a traditional dish or something as simple as this Strawberry Butter, is what makes the meal memorable and different.  I have been making this butter for many years with much success and we have close friends that expect it to be at the dinner table when we invite them over (right Bertin!).

I had not prepared it for a while until a few weeks ago, while having lunch at Mariposa Restaurant (Neiman Marcus) with my good friend Carmen in Miami, I was reminded about it since they serve their traditional strawberry butter with popovers. So as soon as I returned home I made sure I had some Strawberry Butter in my fridge.  Hope you make some soon!

Enjoy!

Strawberry Butter

Ingredients

1/4 pound butter (1 stick at room temperature)

3 tbsp good quality strawberry preserves

Procedure

1.  In a small bowl whisk butter until fluffy.

2.  Add strawberry preserves and continue to whisk until fully incorporated.

3.  My favorite way to store it  is by making a “log” of butter and wrap it with clear plastic wrap to store in the fridge (like icebox cookies). Cut rounds when ready to serve. This butter should be served at room temperature. You may also put it a candy mold or piping bag to serve in individual bread plates, in ice cube trays or  in a large butter crock.  Delicious with warm bread or popovers.

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Lemon Meringue Pie should be creamy and tart, instead of gelatinous and too sweet, at least according to my tastes. Ja!  I have been making this recipe for 20 years now! WOW, I can’t believe I said 20 years.  It is inspired in a recipe from Gourmet Magazine April 1990.  The original recipe calls for key limes, but the taste was too strong for some people (I like it!).  So I have made some changes over the years to find the perfect balance between sweet and sour.  Large yellow lemons work great for this recipe.  This pie is also pretty easy to make.  I  like the fact that the crust is crumbly instead of like cardboard.  Serve with a little raspberry coulis on the side if you can make it.  I also make mini lemon meringue pies in a lined mini muffin pan (always a hit!). Place filling and meringue in piping bags to better handle the smaller portions.  Also, you can use the filling to make mini lemon tartlets (use store bought tartlets). You can make the night before and store in the refrigerator. Here goes the recipe for one of my favorite desserts!

Enjoy!

Click here to print recipe

Lemon Meringue Pie

Ingredients

Crust

1 1/4 cup zweiback or graham crackers crumbs (about 9 honey graham crackers, 5 oz.)

2/3 cup almonds (ground fine in a food processor)

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/3 cup sugar

Filling

3 egg yolks

14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 3 lemons )

zest of 1 lemon (about 1/2 tablespoon)

Meringue

3 egg whites (at room temperature)

pinch of salt

1/3 cup of sugar plus 2 tbsp

Procedure


1.  Put crackers and almonds in a food processor and finely ground them.

2.  Transfer to a bowl and combine with sugar and cooled melted butter by folding with a spatula.  It will resemble wet sand.

3.  Press mixture into the bottom and sides of pie dish (9-10 inches).  Bake the shell in middle rack of pre-heated oven at 350ºF for 10 minutes or until browned lightly. Let the shell cool on rack.

4.  Meanwhile, in a large bowl beat yolks with condensed milk (I use an electric mixer in med-hi for about 2 minutes).  Stir in the lemon juice a little at a time to combine filling well.

5. Spoon the filling into the shell, spreading evenly, and chill in the refrigerator for about 1 hour.

6.  When 15 minutes are left in the fridge, pre-heat again oven at 350ºF. Beat egg whites with pinch of salt until they hold soft peaks.  Add the sugar, beating, a tablespoon at a time until it holds stiff peaks.  Spread the meringue over the filling and bake the pie in the middle of rack for 15 minutes, or until it is just golden.  Chill pie for at least 2 hours and serve.

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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!

Salud!

Sangria

Ingredients

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)

ice

Procedure

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.

Enjoy!

Ceasar Salad Dressing

Ingredients

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

Procedure

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

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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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

Ingredients

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

Procedure

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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