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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Simple and Delicious Harvest Chicken Roulades

I love Fall!  I hate the fact that it means cold weather is on its way, but I love those delicious harvest flavors.  I could eat buttercup, butternut, or kabocha squash every day!  All I need is salt, pepper, and garlic, and some time to brown in the oven, and squash is a meal fit for a king to me.  I am also a huge fanatic of tangy, crunchy apples.  Apple picking in the mountains has to be one of my favorite things to do all year long!  I love being out in nature in the perfect, just-cool-enough weather in early to mid Fall.  There's just something about apple picking that gives me calm and peace and brings out the best in everyone.  I get so excited about all of the delicious creations that I can create with all of those apples too.  My favorites are Sweet Tango, Jazz, and Fuji.  One of the easiest things to both make and enjoy with apples are these amazing muffins from my Jewish cookbook.  They have diced green apples, shredded carrots, shredded zucchini, shredded coconut, chopped nuts, cinnamon, and I like to add orange zest too.  Too good!  As much as I miss swimming in mountains of berries of all varieties, I always find the flavors Fall so inspiring.

My harvest chicken roulades are inspired by the delicious flavors and colors of Fall.  I mallet out chicken thigh fillets, stuff them with a filling of ground sausage, instant mashed potato flakes, onions, garlic, diced apple, and dried cranberries and sear them with a lovely coating of paprika in butter and oil before baking to tender perfection.  They are simple and they are amazing.  Though a bit of time is required, these are so easy and so rewarding.  It's nice to make the filling a day ahead to make the load lighter for weeknight meals.  The reduced sauce is a real treat.  The intensified chicken flavor is so amazingly rich and buttery that it beats the pants off of any gravy.  I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do!

Harvest Chicken Roulades
Ingredients
1 pack chicken thigh fillets, flattened with a mallet until even and thin enough to roll out
1 roll Tennessee Pride hot breakfast sausage
Salt and pepper to taste
Paprika to taste
A few dashes Trader Joe’s 25 Seasoning Salute (optional)
Olive oil to drizzle
1 TB butter plus a mixture of olive oil and vegetable oil for searing
Water or apple juice to cover bottom of pan during baking

filling
~1/2 – ¾ c instant mashed potatoes (Idahoan)
1 green or other tart, firm apple, cut into 1” cubes
1 small onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, smashed and minced (save one for the chicken seasoning)
1/4c dried cranberries, soaked in dark rum (microwave for 30 sec to 1 min, or until plump)
1 stalk celery, diced (optional)
Notes:
1. This is not a filling that will stick together like a stuffing.  If you prefer that, you will want to add in an egg or egg yolk to the filling mixture before stuffing the chicken.

2. You will have leftover filling with this recipe, so you can either choose to halve it, freeze leftovers, or use a second pack of chicken.


Procedure
1. Over medium to medium high heat, saute onions and celery, if using, until softened.  Add in apples and cook until tender.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant.  Stir in cranberries.  Reserve mixture in a separate bowl.

2. Take pan up to medium high and brown sausage until golden.  Add in instant mashed potato flakes until desired consistency achieved.  Add in vegetable mixture and adjust seasoning.

3. Fill chicken and roll up, secure with toothpicks.

4.  Sear chicken in butter and oil mixture over medium high heat until golden on all sides.

5. Place in a baking pan.  Pour in just enough warm water or warm apple juice or cider to cover the bottom of the pan.  Cover with foil.  Bake at 375 F for 15-20  minutes, or until chicken is fully cooked. 


6. Pour off sauce that forms in bottom of pan and transfer to a mug or small heat proof bowl.  Microwave for about 10 minutes, or until a thick, richly-flavored sauce is formed.  It should look almost like a gravy. Stir once or twice during cooking to avoid the formation of a skin.  Pour thickened sauce over each roulades and serve with white rice, mashed potatoes, or yummy biscuits!  Be sure to remove toothpicks before serving.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Real Deal Slow Cooker Eastern North Carolina BBQ from Start to Finish

I absolutely love a good tangy, zesty Eastern NC style pulled pork.  While I don't have the patience for smoking it over wood or coals, I do have plenty of patience for going to sleep while it cooks for me in a crock pot.  I'm pretty good at that ;).  

After much researching, I have combined a few things to come up with my personal favorite Eastern NC BBQ.  For those who are unfamiliar, this is a vinegar-based sauce.  There's no ketchup, no tomato at all present here.  If you think that sounds crazy, get ready to change the way you think about barbecue!  It's so delicious!  It's tangy, not sour, and oh-so-irresistible.  No, you don't top it with tomato-based BBQ when it's done, you just slap it on a bun, add more vinegar sauce if you like, and maybe a few splashed of Texas Pete hot sauce.  This is the easiest thing you'll ever do and probably one of the best tasting too.  

If you have to eat gluten-free like me, eat yours like a BBQ plate with the slaw on the side and a good hunk of buttery, sweet cornbread, mmm!!   A bit more along the lines of the less-than-traditional, I actually serve my with kale cole slaw.  It's too good!  I may post that recipe later, although it's stupid simple.  So, if you don't know what to contribute at the next potluck or cookout, well, here you go!  Labor day festivities, here we COME!  You can thank me later ;). 

Let me know how this BBQ recipe turns out for you, how you change it up, and how you serve it to your family and friends!  Enjoy!

Real Deal Eastern NC BBQ

Eastern NC Mop Sauce (cooking sauce for crock pot)
Cook on high for about 8 hours in crock pot, until fork tender.  Check the meat at 6 hours
Rub meat with seasoning below.  It’s ok if you can’t marinate it.  You can add it straight to the cooker.

The Piggy
1 pork shoulder, doesn't too much matter the size, but don't you dare trim the fat!

I like to prick mine with a fork or knife to get the seasoning in well, but it's not required.  Also, I have an oblong crock pot, so I actually doubled the dry rub, left all else the same, and stuffed two into one pot with a cast iron trivet to weigh the lid down.  You can freeze any leftovers in two or three portion sizes per bag.

STEP 1
Evenly rub your meat down with the delicious concoction below.  Just stir it and slap it on!  Sit the piggy in his cozy crock pot home when you're done.

Dry Rub
2 TB brown sugar
2-1/2 TB salt – maybe adjust to only 2 TB
1 TB paprika
1 -1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 rounded tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp or so dry mustard
½ TB Hungarian hot paprika
½ TB garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder

STEP 2
This little piggy isn't going to the market, he's going to the crock pot!  This is what we're going to bathe him in so that he gets nice and tasty!  Just stir everything together and dump it over your meat.  It's just that simple!  

Piggy Bath Water

Ingredients
1-1/2 c cider vinegar
½ c distilled (or all cider)
1 TB salt
1 TB red pepper flakes
1-2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 TB Texas Pete
1 TB brown sugar
1 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
*1 vidalia onion, sliced and spread on top of the meat.  Don’t toss these after cooking.  Mix them into the pulled pork for extra yum yum!

STEP 3
Set your crock pot to high and let it cook for 6 - 8 hours, or until the meat pulls apart easily with a fork.  It will pretty much fall off of the bone at this point too.  Set it and forget it!

STEP 4
Pull your meat out of the crock pot and off of the bone.  Grab two forks and pull or shred the meat by either pulling the forks in opposite directions or using one fork to steady the meat and one to hold it.  Shred until desired texture is achieved.  Be sure to shred in some of the fat, at least half, but you don't have to use it all if you don't want too.  Don't forget to include all of those onions from the bottom of the pot!

STEP 5

Piggy Perfume
Make the finishing sauce below by combining all ingredients, aside from the liquid smoke.  Toss in the finishing sauce, along with a tsp or two of liquid smoke, over the shredded meat until desired flavor is achieved.  Serve as desired between a sandwich bun or as part of a BBQ plate with cornbread and sides of your choice.

Eastern NC Finishing Sauce
1 c cider vinegar
1 c distilled vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
1 TB red pepper flakes
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 rounded TB brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 TB Texas Pete

liquid smoke **Add in a tsp or two of liquid smoke into you meat when you add in the finishing sauce and toss the pulled pork with it.  Do not put it in your finishing sauce for serving on the side.

Procedure:
Blend all ingredients and use to toss in with your finished pulled pork until desired flavor is achieved.  Serve the rest bottled for those who may want to add extra spice to their individual plates.

References
http://allrecipes.com/recipe/eastern-north-carolina-bbq-sauce/



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.

salpicon

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

Procedure

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.)

Procedure
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

Ingredients

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


Procedure

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!

Tips:
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.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Blog Name Change

Blog Name Change 


When I started this blog, quite some time ago now, my focus was different.  I wanted to combine restaurant reviews with recipes.  Now, times have changed, and there really isn't a need for me to post reviews on my blog anymore.  I want to focus more on bringing you great, approachable, global recipes so that you can bring the world right to your kitchen table.  You can still expect to find great versions of American classics, helpful techniques, and the same variety of foods from the world that you've always seen.  I wanted to change my blog title to reflect the changes that have already taken place over the years.  In the coming weeks, I'll be making a few tweaks here and there.  I hope that you will enjoy this blog just as you have before.  My new blog is called Little Global Kitchen.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Everything you Need to Know about Prepping and Cooking Dried Beans, Plus Tons of Recipes to Use Them in

I absolutely love any sort of legumes--chickpeas, lentils, red beans, navy beans, cranberry beans, the works!  I look forward to a good vegetarian meal based on beans, mmm mmm!  They're hearty, healthy, versatile, easy-to-make, and delicious!  For some reason, dried beans have gotten a bad reputation with even good cooks.  They've come to be known as finicky, difficult, or troublesome to make.    I hope that this recipe, along with some key tips will help change your mind and get you excited about putting on a pot of beans in your house.

How to Prep Dried Beans
The very first step when cooking dried beans is to sort them or pick out any deformed or split beans or any small stones that may be mixed in.  Once you sort the beans, give them a good rinse or two to clean them.  After cleaning, the next process is soaking.

When cooking dried beans, proper soaking is a must.  There are quick-soaking methods using boiling water and doing a thirty minute soak, but I find that for creamy, tender beans that remain whole during cooking rather than bursting out of their skins, a good, old-fashioned soak is best.  Quick soaks work in a pinch, but with a little planning, you can cook perfect, restaurant quality beans.

While salt is often discouraged during cooking because it is believed to harden the beans, it actually serves the opposite purpose during the soaking process.  For a 1 lb bag of dried beans, soak them in 10 cups of warm water with 2 TB of salt dissolved into it.  This trick comes from Cook's Illustrated and TheKitchn blog.  The salt makes for perfectly creamy beans with tender skins.  Be sure to soak for at least four hours, but overnight works just fine.  Even two days is okay.

How to Select Dried Beans
I found out the hard way that the date on beans matters, even if they aren't expired.  The closer the expiration date, the harder the beans, even if the date seems way far away.  Always, always, always check the date on your beans and get the one with the expiration date that is the furthest away.  That being said, at some stores, that doesn't help much because no one ever buys beans there.  Buy your beans where there is high turnover.  It makes all the difference.  Many times, I have cooked beans for hours upon hours and they never tenderized.  Thanks to a tip from TheKitchn, finally, I learned that the freshness of the beans impacts the cook time and their ability to tenderize.  On that note, don't go out stockpiling beans unless you plan on burning through them pretty quickly.  Don't buy beans unless you plan on using them with a reasonable amount of time.  Freshness matters, even with dried beans.

How to Cook Dried Beans
Before cooking your soaked beans, be sure to rinse off the soaking liquid.  This is important for ease of digestion, as the dried beans release a difficult-to-digest protein.  Rinsing helps to alleviate some of the digestive woes that some people face.  If you are one of those people, the more you eat beans, the less they will irritate your stomach.  The same is true of milk.

As far as cooking methods go, there are a few different options.  I will outline the advantages of each.

1. Pressure Cooker
This is my method of choice.  It's quick, it's easy, and it gives you creamy beans without the fuss.  I know you've all heard awful stories of pressure cooker mishaps, but these days, you can find them with a number of excellent safety features to prevent the horrible injuries of the past.  Just the same, be sure to follow the manual's instructions.  I strongly recommend the two burner method if you have an electric stove.  This means that you get the pressure cooker up to high on one burner as you have another burner going on low to medium, depending on what is being cooked and the type of cooker.  Once optimal pressure is achieved, move the pot to the lower heat burner and turn off the high heat burner.  The only disadvantage here is that you can't see how your beans are progressing.  This means that you have to find the cook time for your specific type of bean on one of the many pressure cooking time charts online.

2. Slow Cooker
A slow cooker ensures tender, whole beans every time.  The problem, however, is that it takes all day.  If you're in no rush, go for it.  You can always set your beans at night and wake up to a pot of cooked beans or start them first thing in the morning to enjoy them once you get home from work.  The advantage here is that you can watch your bean's cooking progress.  If you are using a less common bean, this is a great way to ensure that you don't ruin them.  You can always cook them on a Saturday and check on them after four hours, then every hour after that to be sure that they cook properly.

3. Stove Top Conventional Pot
This is a method that I strongly discourage.  I see people do it online sometimes, but unless you live in an area with super fresh dried beans (Yes, I realize that's a bit of a contradiction), then your beans will require far too long of a cook time for this method to be practical.  If you choose this method, you'd do everything the same as anything else that you cook, and I'd recommend a lid.  I suggest going with medium heat, but I've seen people do high heat all the way and still get whole beans.  I think this has a lot to do with having fresher beans than I'll ever get where I live, so choose your method accordingly.

How to Season Beans
I change my beans up all the time.  While my all time favorite beans are Colombian, I sometimes do Jamaican, Haitian, Nicaraguan, or even Cuban.  Below is a go-to recipe that is inspired by the Colombian version.  My favorite beans are the plump, tender, soft-skinned, mildly-flavored cranberry beans used in Colombian frijoles antioquen~os or beans Antioquia style.

Best Colombian-Inspired Cranberry Beans
1 lb soaked dried cranberry beans (not the same as kidney)
2 medium carrots
Mix of red, yellow orange, and or green bell peppers (equivalent to amount of 1 total bell pepper)
1 medium onion
2 green onions
2 cloves of garlic


Variations
1. 1/4 c fresh cilantro (added in last few minutes of cooking.  You can chop it or leave it whole and pull it out)

2. splash of bitter orange juice or vinegar (added in last minute or two of cooking)

3. 1 cup coconut milk, added into cooked beans and cooked 8-10 min or so more.

4.  Dominican style - No green onion, 2 TB tomato paste, cooked with 1 red onion, green pepper, couple sprigs each of cilantro and parsley, good pinch of dried oregano, onion, and garlic until darkened .  Add in after beans are tender and cook 8-10 min.  Add in small cubes buttercup squash from beginning of cooking (optional).  Sub all peppers for 1 cubanelle pepper, if available.  Add in a splash of bitter orange juice at end of cooking.

5. Colombian style - Use ham hock and part of liquid chicken stock, Add in 1 tsp cumin, cook green onion with 1 cup  fresh tomatoes and 1 TB olive oil.  Add in 1/4c fresh cilantro at end of cooking.

6. Haitian style -  no green onion, 5 whole cloves, few sprigs fresh parsley, 1 tsp or so thyme or equivalent in fresh thyme.  Sub onions for a few shallots, if available.  Add in 1 can coconut milk to cooked beans and cook for 8-10 minutes.

7. Mexican style - Add in stove top dry roasted and peeled peppers like poblano, ancho, serrano, jalapeno, etc along with roasted garlic and roasted onion.

8. Cuban style - All green bell peppers, no green onion, 2 tsp cumin, 1 bay leaf, ham hock or other smoked ham, add in small cubes buttercup squash from beginning of cooking.  May add a pinch of sugar, depending on type of bean.

9. Jamaican style - 1 can coconut milk with 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme, and 1 whole habanero pepper.  Add in spinner dumplings in last 15-20 min, optional.  These are long, finger shaped dumplings made only with flour, water, salt, and pepper, and no or very little fat in the way of butter (1 -2 tsp).

10. American style - cook with ham hock or smoked turkey leg, one whole onion, 1 clove garlic, 1 bay leaf, salt and pepper.

What to Do with All Those Beans
Beans are so incredibly versatile.  While I am perfectly happy with a pot of well-seasoned beans, there are so many other things to do with them.

1. Hearty Bean Soup Bowls
In Colombian cuisine, there is a deliciously inventive treat called frijoles antioquen~os made from a base of bean soup that is turned into a complete, balanced meal.  Top your bean soup with any or all of the following toppings: chunks of avocado, cooked fresh or frozen corn kernels, chopped crispy french fries, small fried pork chunks (or you can sub in other great meats like cooked oxtail, pig tail, ham hocks, or neck bones).  It sounds crazy, but it's truly amazing!  You get savory meat, sweet, crunchy corn, creamy beans and avocado chunks, and crispy fries and pork, yum!

2. Refried Beans
In 2 TB or so of oil, sautee about 1/4 onion and 1/4 green bell pepper, a clove of garlic, and, if desired, hot pepper.  Not all beans will need the extra seasoning, so if yours don't just use the oil and skip the rest.  Once veggies softened, if using, stir in about two cups of well-strained beans.  Cook over medium to medium high heat until any liquid evaporates, stirring constantly.  Smash beans with the bottom a flat, heat proof glass until smooth.  Stir beans until they form a big patty and no longer stick to the pan.  At this point, they're ready to enjoy!

I love refried beans with griddle tortilla, rice, and fried eggs for breakfast...or lunch, or dinner!  It's simple and satisfying.  You can use the refried beans as a side with rice or whatever else you like.  You could even make wraps as you would with hummus.  Just add in steamed veggies (broccoli, carrots, etc) either hot or cold,black olives, tomato lettuce, and even sour cream or cheese, if you like.

3. Cornmeal Country Bean Cakes
My mom was a skeptic, but she loves these.  In fact, everyone who has tried them does.  The crispy edges studded with creamy beans is the perfect textural juxtaposition, and the delicious corn flavor would please any good southerner.  If you like cornbread, you'll love these.  They're so easy and oh so very good!  Check out this great recipe from the Chickens in the Road blog.

4. Refried Bean Veggie Wraps
This is so easy and so very hearty and satisfying.  Once you make your refried beans, cover them and set them aside.  Using butter, lightly grease a hot pan over medium high heat.  Pass a flour wrap through the butter, being sure to coat both sides.  Be mindful, this is not even a tsp of butter.  Cook one side of the tortilla until bubbles up on the top and gets crispy, blistered and golden brown, spotted with dark brown on the bottom.  Flip the tortilla and repeat the cooking process.  Spread the pre-heated refried beans on your tortilla and top with steamed carrots, broccoli or whatever other cooked veggies you desire, along with  tomato, pickled jalapenos, and warmed and halved olives.  Feel free to add fresh herbs like cilantro or parsley here too.  Top with the shredded cheese of your choice, I used mozz.  Roll the wrap and griddle the seam and top in the hot pan until it sets in place and forms a crust and the cheese melts.  Here's the kicker, open up your wrap again and throw in cold chopped cucumbers.  They add a great crunch and a refreshing coolness.  Re-seal the wrap and enjoy!  Too good!

If you want something really hearty, spread the beans on thick.  It almost forms a meat-like texture and definitely gives you a full belly like meat.  If you're just too big of a carnivore, throw in some shredded chicken and call it a day.  Save your time and effort and just use a rotisserie chicken for an easy weeknight meal.  My carnivore husband loved this meatless and it fully satisfied his appetite without the double dose of beans.

5. Tostadas
Fry your own yellow tortilla or buy pre-fried tostadas at any supermarket.  Spread on a layer of refried beans then layer meat, sour cream, guac, lettuce, cheese, etc.  These can be an app. or a meal, depending on what you layer on it and how many you serve.  These are typically served with all cold ingredients, but hey, your food, your choice.  Be creative.

6. Bean Dip
We've all seen the 5 or 7 or 9 layer dips.  Think how wonderful yours would be with homemade, well-seasoned beans rather than some junk from a can.


How to Store Extra Beans
Finally, if you don't plan on using all of the beans within about five days, go ahead and freeze them on the same day as cooking.  Just pop them into a freezer bag.  It's worth making a big pot anytime you cook beans, and you'll be happy to be able to just thaw, heat, and eat them.

Let me know what you think.  How did you like the recipes?  Do you have any tips or tricks for beans?  How do you eat your beans?  What are your favorite beans?

References: http://www.mycolombianrecipes.com/how-to-make-frisoles-antioquenos, TheKitchn.com, http://chickensintheroad.com/cooking/country-bean-cakes/

Friday, July 17, 2015

Portuguese-Inspired Poached Fish in Tomato Sauce

So my husband decided that he was going on a diet, and he wanted to try his hand at baking fish to get more lean protein.  Inside I sighed the biggest sigh ever, and I said to him "Don't you dare leave me stuck with this bag of frozen fish.  You know how I feel about that stuff."  Anyway, a couple months later and nothing has been done with that fish, of course.  Humbug!  After living in Miami, I got really picky about seafood being fresh.  I can taste it when restaurants serve frozen seafood, and it's a huge pet peeve for me, so I definitely do not buy it for my house.  The only time it's tolerable for me is when it's fried, and I almost never fry food, so that wasn't happening either.  Well, my husband changed all of that for me because here I was, stuck with a family size bag of frozen Whiting.  *Hmph*

Time to get creative!  I was not about to do baked fish sitting in yucky frozen fish juices, so that was out.  I certainly wasn't frying fish either, so I had no idea what to do with the stuff.  I looked online to get my creative juices going, and I saw some fish baked in tomato sauce, tomato-based fish soup, fish in New Orleans Creole tomato sauce.  Okay, now that I can work with.  So, I decided to create something with my roma tomatoes and add lemon to hopefully mask the frozen fish taste.  Aha! Portuguese-style seafood!  So, I decided to create my own recipe inspired by Portuguese flavors.  I added my own twist, and below is the result--a delicious, fresh, lemony seafood in a bright tomato and wine sauce splashed with lemon.  SOOO good!  Not only was the frozen fish edible, but it was delicious and high-end restaurant quality.  It was a complete win!  Thanks to my husband, a stellar dish was born!

This dish is very informal in terms of quantities.  Everything is to taste.  There's no need for strict measurements here.  Feel free to adjust quantities to your preferences.

Portuguese-Inspired Poached Fish in Tomato Sauce
4 whiting fillets

1 red onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, mashed into a paste or finely minced

1 can of Hunt's no salt added diced tomatoes (crushed would work great too) or equivalent amount of Roma tomatoes

zest of about 3/4 of a lemon

fresh lemon juice

~1/2 c of dry white wine (I used Chardonnay)

1 sprig of fresh rosemary

sea salt and white pepper to taste (white pepper is smoky and much less abrasive in flavor than black.  Leave pepper out of the sauce completely if you don't have white.  Black is okay for the fish only.  Trust me here.)

olive oil for sauteing


Procedure:
1. If frozen, thaw the fish completely and drain any liquid that remains.  Cut the fillets in half, lengthwise.  Season with salt, white or black pepper, all of the lemon zest, and a good drizzle of lemon juice on both sides of fish pieces.  Set aside.

2. Saute the onion over medium heat, being sure to salt them well, in olive oil until softened.  Once softened, add in the tomatoes, rosemary, and garlic, adjust salt, and cook until the sauce is thick and the tomatoes have broken down and become saucy.

3. Once the tomatoes break down, add in the wine.  Just add until you reach the desired amount of sauce.  Allow the wine taste to cook out for about 2 minutes or so.

4. Drop the temperature to medium low, add the fish directly on top of the sauce, cover, and allow it to poach for 10-12 minutes.  Check it towards the end to avoid overcooking.  You know when the fish is done when it flakes easily with a fork.  It should not be hard, but tender and juicy.

Serve this delicious, super quick, gourmet delight with mashed, roasted, or fried potatoes, or white rice and the veggie of your choice.  We had my roasted squash and tomatoes.  YUM!  Tell me how much you love this dish!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Cuban Frita Burgers

When I lived in Miami, there were burgers of all kinds--Korean Fusion burgers from Sakaya Kitchen and their delicious food truck, there were Colombian burgers with sweet and savory sauces of all varieties imaginable, and Cuban burgers, called fritas.  While Colombian burgers were probably my favorite, the frita (free.tah) is the most practical to make at home with ease.  These burgers are smoky and garlicky with a nice sweet zip from the ketchup.  You definitely do not need any sauces or anything like that on these burgers, as they are packed with flavor.  Cheese is optional, but potato stix are a must.

These red-tinged burgers are aromatic and irresistible and are sure to please your guests.  Even the pickiest eater will be won over by this Cuban treat.  If you're lucky, you can go old fashioned and sub the ground pork for Spanish chorizo.  Be careful here as it must be Spanish, not Mexican chorizo.  You want that nice paprika-laced sausage that isn't the least bit spicy.  In Miami, they sell ground Spanish chorizo in the pack, just as you can buy ground beef here.  If you can find Spanish chorizo around, it's even better.  Either way, you're in for a real treat!  I hope this delicious frita becomes a staple in your home, just as it is in mine.  For me, it's the only way to eat a burger at home, well...this and portabella mushroom and beef combo.  Enjoy!

Cuban fritas

Ingredients
1/2 - 3/4 lb ground pork
1 lb ground beef
2-3 TB ketchup (or 2 TB tomato paste can also work)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 onion, finely diced
1 tsp cumin
1-1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 TB cilantro leaves (measure before chopping) then chop (most people don't use this, but I love it)


Procedure
1.Mix together by hand all ingredients above and grill as normal.

2. Top the burgers with shoestring potato stix, a slice of cheese.  Typically, you use American cheese, but I like provolone too.  In fact, I like to use one slice of each, yum!

References for inspiration
http://insightcuba.com/blog/2013/02/08/recipe-of-the-week-frita-cubana-the-cuban-hamburger

Monday, January 19, 2015

Homestyle Chicken and Dumplings with Rotisserie Chicken (Gluten-free and Traditional Recipes)

Chicken and dumplings is, hands down, my favorite dish of all time!  It's simple, warm, comforting, and hearty.  Having a bowl of chicken and dumplings is like a warm hug from grandma.  It just melts away the troubles of the day.

When I was younger, my mother would make chicken and dumplings, and it was delicious!  Whenever she didn't make it, I would ask my grandma, and she would always cook up a pot of her yummy chicken and dumplings.  I loved both versions, but my mom tended to make the soupier version, while my grandmother would make the thicker soup with more flour in it.  I was always partial to the thicker version and it's comforting creaminess, although there is actually no cream or milk in it.  If I am not mistaken, they both used cream of celery or cream of chicken for their base.  I know for sure that my mom does.  However, in the interest of cutting sodium and preservatives, I say try making the thick soup base yourself.  It takes no time, and you know exactly what's in it.  

Due to having to be on a gluten-free diet, I went without this dish for two years.  After much trial and error, my mom finally came up with  this trick for getting cornstarch to create results much like those of a flour roux.  It works great, and I was finally able to have chicken and dumplings just like my mom and grandmother used to make again!

While both my mom and my grandma used a fresh whole chicken, this version uses a rotisserie chicken to save time.  With this small adjustment, you can have chicken and dumplings for an easy weeknight meal, and it will be ready in a flash!  To adapt this recipe for a fresh chicken, just cut the chicken into pieces (I would also remove the skin) and cook until it is falling off the bone.  I hope you fall in love with this delicious classic soup, just like I did.

Ingredients

Soup

All dark meat of a medium rotisserie chicken, pulled in medium chunks (by hand, simple and rustic, remove skin)
6 c homemade chicken or turkey stock
½ onion, diced
2-3 stalks celery, cubed
Two carrots, sliced into 1/4" rounds
1/3c – 1/2c frozen green peas, thawed
1 stalk fresh thyme
Trader Joe's 21 seasoning salute to taste
Salt to tastes
Generous amount of coarsely ground black pepper (fresh is ideal)
1 TB butter (for finishing)

Slurry

2 cups water
about 3 TB cornstarch (can skip this and simply whisk 2 TB flour into a cup of soup broth and whisk in before adding back to soup for traditional recipe)

Dumplings

2 c flour (sub with gluten-free AP flour mix for gluten-free)
1 TB baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 TB butter
1 c milk

Procedure

1.       1. Add chicken chunks, celery, thyme, and onion to stock, cover, and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Allow to continue cooking.
2.        
2. Meanwhile, begin the slurry by whisking cornstarch into water and bringing to medium heat in a small pot.  Season with salt and pepper and whisk constantly, until thickened.

3. Once thick enough, stir in a few ladles of broth until homogeneous and add to soup.

4. Prepare dumplings by stirring together all dry ingredients and cutting in butter with a pastry blender to form a coarse sand. 

5. Form a well, pour in milk, and gradually blend in flour until well blended.  On a floured surfaced, knead until smooth, uniform dough forms.  Will be slightly sticky.

6. Roll dough out to about ¼” thickness and slice into strips about 1.5” – 2” wide and 2-3” long.

7. Add carrots to soup and stir in dumplings.  Adjust salt and pepper.

8. Cook covered for about 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

9. Stir in thawed peas and cook for 5 minutes more. 


10. Stir in butter, adjust seasoning, and serve.