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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Homemade Vidalia Onion Poppy Seed Vinaigrette

1/4c rice vinegar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 egg yolk
1-1/2 TB dijon mustard (I used Koop's)(Grey Poupon not recommended for this particular recipe)
1-1/2 TB white sugar
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper (coarse ground is ideal)
1/2 medium clove garlic, grated
zest of 1/2 lemon
one 1-1/2" to 2" wide wedge vidalia onion, grated
1 TB blue poppy seeds
1-1/2c good quality olive oil

1. Whisk together all ingredients but the olive oil and the poppy seeds until well-blended.  This mixture may get foamy.  That is okay.  It will dissipate.

2.  Continue  whisking, being careful to whisk continuously and in a circular motion.  Meanwhile, pour in a thin, steady stream of olive oil into the mixture while continuing to whisk in the same manner.

3. Continue this process until all of the olive oil has been blended into the dressing.  You should have a nice creamy emulsion.   Continue whisking while adding in the poppy seeds.

4. Once all ingredients are uniformly incorporated, taste to be sure that you do not need to adjust the salt, sugar, or mustard level.  Pour into a mason jar, refrigerate and enjoy.  This recipe is great the day of, but even better when made a day ahead.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fricase de salpicon cubano -- Cuban Meatballs in Creole Sauce

I love good Cuban food.  When I lived in Miami, I tried lots of different dishes and tried to re-create them at home.  One of my favorite take-out dishes was chicken fricassee (fricase de pollo cubano).  Fricase de pollo was chicken braised in a delicious creole sauce, a tomato-based sauce with tomato sauce, green peppers, onions, and plenty of garlic!  This yummy dish included a variety of veggies like cubed potatoes, carrots, green olives, capers, and raisins fort the perfect touch of sweetness.  After trying so many different dishes and learning to cook them myself, I even used some of those delicious Cuban flavors--the tomato, the cumin, the pork, the capers, the oregano, and lots and lots of garlic-- to create my own flair.  This dish is a new spin on the traditional Cuban fricase creole sauce combined with my take on Cuban meatloaf, salpicon, but turned into meatballs.  I give you fricase de salpic├│n!  You'd be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn't love this one.  It's an easy, home-run-of-a-dish!  Enjoy!

Fricase de salpicon cubano

1 onion, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
2-3 cloves garlic - sauce
1/4c raisins
1/8 cup green olives
1 TB capers (optional)
tomato sauce - ~ -1-1/2 cups
3 cubitos maggi
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp paprika
1 or 2 bay leaves, depending on size
~1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp adobo
2 TB naranja agria or bitter orange* (or mix orange and lime juice)
salt to taste
pepper generously
 frozen peas

*found on international aisle of supermarket or in Latin market.  I recommend Badia or Goya brand.


1.5 lbs ground turkey
1/2c oatmeal (processed a bit in spice grinder until it resembles bread crumbs)
1 egg
6 slices crisp bacon, crumbled (reserve bacon fat)
3 TB tomato sauce
1 heaping tsp dried onion (or do the work and chop 1/4 onion)
3 cloves garlic
Goya adobo to taste (the blue capped bottle)
1/2 tsp bijol
1/2 tsp paprika
salt (about 1 TB)
generous amount of pepper


1. Form flat meatballs or mini meat loaves using the salpicon ingredients.  Be sure not to overwork the meat mixture, or you'll get touch mini meat loaves.

2. In bacon fat over medium heat, brown meat on all sides until almost cooked

3. Remove from pan and set aside

4. Sautee onions and peppers bacon fat until translucent

5. Add in garlic until fragrant

6. Cook sauce over medium heat until thickened, 10 mins or so.

7. Add in meat and frozen peas cook until meat is done and peas are thawed.  Do not overcook peas.  They should still be firm and vibrant in color.

8. Serve with white rice and, if you fancy, twice-fried green plantains or fried ripe plantains.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Tangy, Spicy and Vibrant Indonesian-Inspired Stir Fried Noodles (Mee-Goreng-Inspired)

At times, I have been guilty of over complicating weeknight meals.  I often fail to realize what I've gotten myself into until I'm too far in to turn around.  I've gotten much better at this, and I have developed a great arsenal of quick and flavorful dishes for weeknights or those days when you just don't feel like cooking.  Yes, I have those days, and nothing ever seems to turn out right when they come around.  There are, however, exceptions.  A great stir fry is my exception.  No matter how rough of a night it is and no matter how much I am dying NOT to have to cook, something about stir fries just makes me happy.

This particular stir fry is like joy on a plate.  It's bright, it's colorful, it's nutritious, it's addictively tangy, and it has the perfect spicy kick.  It's just a can't lose kind of meal.  I promise!  This is my own creation that was inspired by a very popular Indonesian stir fry called mee goreng, or stir-fried noodles.  I first tried this at an international food day at UVA years ago.  That dish was so good that it stuck in my brain ever since, and it was many years later before I tried my hand at making it at home.  It's super easy, and you have most of the things right in your pantry.  What's more, if you don't have it, don't sweat it.  No tamarind?  Add more calamondin juice and fresh tomato.  

This is such a great dish for making use of the garden's bounty.  That's actually part of the reason for my making it.  Don't be afraid to switch some things up.  It's a versatile, easy, and delicious dish.  If you're vegetarian or want an even lighter meal, cut the meat and add more veg.  Carnivores, replace the chicken with shrimp or use both.  I've even done this dish with two different types of noodles, rice noodles and sweet potato, but not at the same time of course. The celery sweet potato noodles are great and add to the flavor and gorgeous color of this dish, but the regular clear ones work fine too.  Have fun with it!

Indonesian-Inspired Stir Fried Noodles

1 pack Korean Sweet Potato Noodles (if available, the ones with Celery Extract, which are a gorgeous green!) boiled with a clove of garlic until al dente, strained, and tossed with sesame oil*

Tomato ketchup (maybe around 1 cup or so), add more as needed

About ½ TB or so dark sweet soy

1 tsp tamarind paste (not the watery kind, make your own from the block, if needed)

1 red onion, thinly sliced

Half zucchini, julienned (peel on, no seeds)

1/3 orange bell pepper, julienned

1/3 red bell pepper, julienned

About 1 cup – 1/2 c or so cooked leftover meat (ham, chicken, turkey, or a mix), chopped into thin strips or 1” cubes

3 garlic chives, in 2” slices***

¾ pack frozen calamansi juice, thawed

2 green onions, green parts only, sliced into rounds

Splash of sesame oil

Vegetable oil for stir frying

*Roasted sesame seeds for sprinkling over final dish before serving (optional).
*Another great garnish is fresh cilantro (optional)

Seasoning paste – pound the following into a paste in a mortar and pestle.  In a pinch, food processor.
2 heaping tsp frozen minced lemongrass***

1 slice fresh ginger

2 dried Thai peppers

2 fresh Thai peppers

4 cloves garlic

1 medium ripe tomato, in chunks (Cherry or Roma tomatoes have great flavor for this.)

1. Heat a large wok over high heat.

2. Add 2 -3 TB oil and begin cooking seasoning paste, stirring constantly, until fragrant.

3. Stir in onions and peppers and sautee until translucent.

4. Add in liquid seasoning ingredients—ketchup, dark soy, tamarind, calamansi juice.  Add in carrots and cook a minute or so.

5. Add in meat, zucchini, garlic chives and sautee until zucchini is soften, continue stirring constantly

6. In last minute or two, add in green onions and adjust seasoning.  Drizzle with fresh lime juice or more calamondin juice.

*You can also use the flat rice noodles (called rice stick).  You want the size used in pad Thai, size large.

**Found in frozen section in any Filipino market and in most SE Asian markets.  It’s a sack of ketchup-packet-like juice packets.  This can be subbed with lime or lime and pineapple juice, but you’ll definitely be missing out.

***Available at any Asian market.  The lemongrass may be in the freezer or refrigerator.  It's in a small, plastic container.

Tips for Newbies to Stir Fried Noodles

In terms of procedure, you must always keep ingredients moving in a stir fry because the heat is so high.  Never ever walk away.  Have all ingredients in bowls, chopped, poured, and ready-to-go.  Mix all of the onions and peppers together in a small bowl, all liquids in a small bowl, and keep the seasoning paste together in a small bowl.  Keep the bottles of liquid out and within arm's reach, as you will likely want to adjust to your preference.  Once you get to adding the noodles, use two wooden spatulas to toss gently, moving from the sides and pushing down toward the bottom of the bowl, then pushing up through the center.  Toss gently until noodles are tender.  NEVER use plastic tools with a stir-fry.  The pan is too hot.  Have a pan or heat-safe bowl ready to catch the cooked stir fry because it goes from cooked to over-cooked quickly.  Have a trivet ready as well to move the pan off the burner.  I use a cast iron wok, but if you don't have a wok, get a deep skillet for frying, but not a pot.  You'll get an unevenly-cooked mess with a pot.  You need low sides for good air circulation and movement of ingredients.  Also, do not reduce the oil or you'll have a sticky, burnt mess.  No oil, no movement; no movement = uneven cooking and tons of sticking.  You can add a TB more oil, if needed, but don't reduce.  I reduced the typical amount already, so this recipe is cutting it close on oil as it is.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

15 Minute Hearty, Healthy Meal --Hummus and Fresh Veggie Wraps

I don't know about you, but my week is typically pretty busy.  I love to cook, but cooking when I'm stressed is no picnic.  Cooking when my heart isn't in it just never seems to go well.  Nonetheless, I believe in preparing your own food at home with quality, fresh ingredients.  Every now and then, throwing in a very select few canned ingredients, however, can make you a rock star in the kitchen in mere minutes.

The only two things that I buy in a can are tomato products of all kinds and chickpeas.  The tomato products--crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, whole plum tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste--are for making pasta sauce, soups and stews, or to make up part of a number of Latin creole sauces, particularly in the case of the tomato paste.  Why the chickpeas?  First off, I loved chickpeas, and they're an excellent source of protein.  The canned chickpeas allow me to throw together a batch of hummus in no time.  I usually try to keep two cans on hand at any given time.  Yes, I do make chickpeas from dried beans as well, but having a quick meal option on hand is a must for me.

For my hummus, I use the about.com Greek recipe.  It's flavorful, delicious, and beats the pants off of any junk from a supermarket, premium or not.  Trust me, there's no comparison to homemade hummus.  My all-time favorite thing to do with hummus is my hummus veggie wraps, an idea inspired by a delicious meal that I had with an old teacher of mine who used to invite me over for dinner when I was in college since she too had moved for her husband to attend business school.  The concept is simple--fluffy naan, pita, or flour wraps spread with hummus, topped with lettuce, steamed veggies, and any other veggies or herbs of your choice.  Wrap it all up and, voila!  Dinner is served!  I can't think of a better way to make quick use of the garden's bounty!  If you're gluten-free, I highly recommend the pliable, tender Toufayan gluten-free regular wrap.  The spinach one is quite a bit more brittle.

Before you go scoffing at vegetarian meals, let me tell you that this meal is not only healthy and balanced, but it is hearty, even when made with super thin wraps.  My carnivore husband hated vegetables when we got married, and he is now a true convert.  He asked me to make him fresh veggie wraps every day for a week!  That's how much he loved them.  Do you know what else?  My husband enjoys a good, quality beer after the most stressful days at work, but he told me that the veggie wraps were so light and refreshing that they were his beer after a stifling hot and humid day.  As a wife who wants to see her husband eat well, that truly made my heart smile.

This is a super easy, very flexible recipe.  Change it up and make it yours.  Use whatever you have around.  Don't hesitate to take this delicious meal with you on your next picnic or pack it in your work or school lunch.  You won't regret it!

Hummus and Fresh Veggie Wraps


naan, pocketless pita, or flour wraps (gluten-free use Toufayan)

green or red leaf lettuce (or romaine with hard end removed)

Steamed broccoli, chopped into thirds or quarters lengthwise

steamed carrots, sliced

black olives, halved (I also like Pearls brand fresh cured green olives)

Fresh cucumber, sliced and cut into thirds

Fresh roma tomatoes, sliced (halved cherry tomatoes are great too)

Palmful of whole, cooked chickpeas (optional, sometimes I want to keep another full can on hand)

a few sprigs fresh cilantro, optional

salt and pepper to taste


1. Microwave or griddle wrap until tender and pliable.

2. Spread on a fairly thin layer of hummus

3. Top with desired veggies and season well with salt and a touch of pepper.  Roll, wrap in parchment for minimal mess, and enjoy!

Spice it up!
Never be afraid to make changes.  Sub the hummus with refried beans and add in pickled jalapeno  and cheese and griddle your prepared wrap with butter.  Add the cucumbers after heating.

Make a different type of hummus.  Add in roasted red peppers, roasted garlic, or roasted tomato.  I've even seen a pumpkin hummus.

Change up the herbs.  Try basil or parsley instead of cilantro.

Add in pickled banana peppers or sun dried tomatoes.

Throw in a few raisins for a tasty touch of sweetness.

Spread on a streak of fig preserves down the middle.  The touch of sweetness is great!

You can find tahini, hummus, and pocketless pita at your local Indian or even Middle Eastern market.

I always rinse my canned chickpeas twice to reduce the amount of sodium.  I do the same with my olives, before storing them in a container.