Birthday!






It's my birthday today and I would like take a moment out to thank two very special people.

Thank you to Carlos for all of your support. You've eaten pretty much everything I've given you with much gusto. You get excited about all the meals and desserts I prepare and you are by far my biggest fan in cooking and in life.

Thank you to Jonas for all the recipes, cooking advice and the early morning chats that help get me through the day. I'll never be a fancy a cook as you but at least I have something to strive for.

In the picture above: The flowers are from Carlos. He also got my parents a rockin' fruit basket from Wilson Farms for Thanksgiving. The mortar & pestle are from Jonas.

Mortar and Pestle on Foodista

Chocolate-Chip Banana Bread




On Friday evening, Carlos and I ventured out to Flatbread in Burlington for some amazing food that we were sure was illegal in 48 states. Flatbread is all about keeping things local. They buy as many locally-grown and locally-produced items as they can for their menu. Even their beer, wine and spirits are as local as possible. We had a delicious pizza topped with free-range chicken, beans, corn, jalapenos, tomatoes and sour cream. Mmm... I really wish I had taken a photograph, it was a thing of beauty. After we nommed that, we reluctantly (yet willingly) took a look at the dessert menu and Carlos kept pounding his finger at the Chocolate-Chip Banana Bread option. So that's what we got! They took a slice of the bread, toasted it in their clay oven. Then they cut it on the diagonal, pour hot fudge sauce over the top and serve it with two scoops of vanilla ice cream and home-made whipped cream. It was heaven.

The following day, I decided to try to make my own Chocolate-Chip Banana Bread because that half-a-slice I had just wasn't enough! I really love Emeril Lagasse's Banana Bread recipe, so I altered a bit to create the Chocolate-Chip version. I took out the walnuts and replaced them with the chips and reduced the sugar from 3/4 cup to 1/2 cup.

Ingredients:

2 ripe bananas, chopped
1/2 cup of sour cream
2 eggs
2 teaspoons of vanilla

10 tablespoons of butter mostly melted and cooled

2 cups of flour
1/2 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of baking soda
3/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of chocolate chips
Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate ones are great!)

-----

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Add the chopped bananas into a bowl and mix with a hand-held blender or puree in a food processor. Or you could just mash them by hand with a couple of forks. Add the sour cream, eggs and vanilla and mix thoroughly.

In a separate larger bowl, add the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt and mix together. Add chocolate chips and toss to coat. This is an important step so that the chocolate chips don't sink to the bottom of the bread.

Add your melted and cooled butter to the banana mixture and incorporate thoroughly. Fold that into the dry mixture until no flour is showing.

Add it to a buttered loaf pan and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Take it out and cool for a good while before you attempt to take it out of the pan.


Slice of Chocolate-Chip Banana Bread

Bananas on Foodista

Plans for Thanksgiving

This year's Thanksgiving will be very unique because I'm splitting Thanksgiving between two families. First I will have a traditional Thanksgiving lunch with my parents, and my beau Carlos will be our special guest. Then I'll be traveling with Carlos to Thanksgiving dinner with his close family friends. I'm going to have to pace myself because there will be a lot of delicious food and I only have one stomach to contain it all. And fingers are crossed this year that I don't have a reenactment of last year's food poisoning (damn Dunkin' Donuts coffee with cream!).

I do almost all the cooking for Thanksgiving. My mother seasons the turkey (I help out a bit with that) and roasts it in the oven. I kick her out of the kitchen and take over. There are so many things I like to make for Thanksgiving that I often have a pre-Thanksgiving cooking & baking session. The night before I make a vegetarian (ish) meal and get a head start on the next day's desserts. The thing I look forward to most around Thanksgiving is going grocery shopping at Wilson Farms. I upgrade from the small basket to a small cart and have a field day buying all sorts of fresh produce. I get all giddy. I do this alone because no one could appreciate the joy I get from this experience quite like I can.

This is my cooking/eating plan for Thanksgiving. I'd love to hear from you what side-dishes and desserts you plan to make or if there is anything unique or unusual that you do for Thanksgiving. Hope you all have a safe and happy holiday!

Day Before Thanksgiving

Onion Tartlets
~ A few years ago, I came across Sandra Dee's recipe for Sweet Onion Tartlets and was flabbergasted. It looked so amazing and simple and delicious. Now I make it every year for my pre-Thanksgiving dinner.

Brussel Sprouts
~ They are a little too much for Thanksgiving lunch/dinner proper, so I cook them for the dinner the night before. I slowly cook onions separately in butter until they get nice and soft and set aside. Then I cook the brussel sprouts in butter and olive oil until they get nice and brown then I add chicken broth (or vegetable broth). Then I cook the brussel sprouts until they get soft. I drain the broth and smother the brussel sprouts with the buttered onions. This is so decadent. If you want to make this illegal, add some crispy bacon bits on top.

Salad
~ I'm not sure what to do here but I'm tempted to make a salad of mesclun mix, sliced pears, walnuts and feta cheese. Or maybe candied pecans? With a basic balsamic vinegarette. Bottled because I'm horrible at making balsamic dressings.


Brandied Pumpkin Pie (with Splenda)
~ My dad is border-line diabetic so I always replace the sugar content in my pumpkin pie recipe with Splenda. Also, it's been a couple of years since I made a brandied pumpkin pie so I thought I'd add a nice bit of brandy to the pie to give it a spicy kick. Not too much like that one year... Let's just say I got a bit woozy after a few slices. Oops!


Thanksgiving at my Parents


Turkey
~ I don't like Sandra Dee but she did give me a good tip for cooking a turkey. My mom seasons the skin of the turkey the night before and I make an herbed butter log. I chop sage and thyme and add some dried oregano, salt and pepper and mix it into some softened butter. I take the buttered mixture and spoon it into the bottom of a ziploc bag, creating a log and I freeze it overnight. The next morning, when we are ready to put the turkey in the oven, I cut slices of the frozen herbed butter log and put the slices in between the skin and the meat of the turkey. When the turkey cooks, the butter slices melt causing all sorts of deliciousness in the roasting process.

Homemade Stuffing
~ I buy sourdough bread from Panera the day before and then the next day I cut it up into chunks. I make a vegetable mixture of mushrooms, carrots, onions, celery and garlic and I cook it in butter and oil until the vegetables get soft. Then I add a bit of chicken broth and mix everything into a buttered baking dish with the bread chunks. I add a couple of beaten eggs into the mixture to help it bind then I baste the top with a bit of melted butter and make in the oven. Yum! I've tried making this with sausage but I just don't care for meat in my stuffing.

Cranberry Sauce
~ I didn't grow up with canned cranberry sauce, so I make my own. It's so simple! Cranberries, butter, sugar, juice from an orange and some orange rind. Cook it over medium heat until the cranberries start to pop and give away their structure. Delicious!

Mashed Potatoes
~ My only trick to this is butter and skim milk. I think cream takes away from the natural flavor of the potatoes. I like mine a bit chunky to remind the eater, that hey! these are potatoes you are eating!


Peas
~ As far as peas are concerned, I keep them simple. Frozen peas are parboiled then smothered in butter and topped with salt and cracked pepper. Yay!

Green Bean Casserole
~ I tried making Tyler Florence's homemade version but it was too much work. Cans of cream of mushroom soup, some green beans and some french fried onions. No cheese this year because of some stomach issues shared by myself, Carlos and my parents.


Canned Gravy
~ God knows I have tried to make homemade gravy but I can't get it right. There is a fine balance between flour, fat and broth and getting the roux dark enough for a good looking gravy. I just can't do it. So I buy canned. I figure, if anything, it's just one less thing I have to do.

Thanksgiving with Carlos & Friends

Chocolate Dipped Peanut Butter Cookies

~ I wanted to contribute something to the Thanksgiving dinner seeing as I'm a guest, so I asked Carlos what he thought I should bring. He was enamored with these cookies I had made during the summer. It was from a baking contest recipe from Betty Crocker. Peanut butter cookies, dipped in chocolate and dusted in powdered sugar. I can make them the night before and they are easily transportable. I may get arrested though because they are completely sinful. So please visit me in jail, I get lonely.

Raquelle's Kitchen-Sink Soup

I forgot to buy stew meat. And from the repercussions of that error, a new soup recipe as born. I bring you: Raquelle's Kitchen-Sink Soup. I was planning on making Betty Crocker's Slow Cooker Beef-Tortellini Stew for my I Haz Crockpot series but without the meat it was sort of a FAIL. I still had loads of produce and the tortellini so I decided to be scrappy and create my own soup.

A few things about this recipe. It's in fact two recipes. I wanted to make the soup for two special men in my life. First there is Carlos, my beau. Then there is Kevin, one of my best and closest friends. Carlos is a meat-eater and Kevin is a vegetarian, so I decided to simultaneously make two soups that suited each men. In both, I crammed as many vegetables as I possibly could because my boys need to stay healthy.

Ingredients

Vegetarian Version
serves 1
1/3 of the Vegetable mixture*
2 cloves of garlic
2 cans of vegetable broth
1/3 large packet of tortellini
Dried oregano, salt & pepper to taste
1/3 of a can of white navy beans

Meat Version
serves 2-3

2 linguica sausagues sliced
2/3 of the Vegetable mixture*
3 cloves of garlic
4 cups of chicken broth
2/3 large packet of tortellini
Dried oregano, salt & pepper to taste
2/3s of a can of white navy beans.

*Vegetable Mixture
4 carrots peeled and sliced
4 celery hearts chopped, leaves and all
1/2 red-bell pepper chopped
1/2 cubanelle pepper chopped
1/2 onion chopped
handfuls of green and wax beans, trimmed & halved


Since I was doing two soups simultaneously, I chopped all the vegetables, put them into a big bowl and mixed them by hand. This way I could separate 1/3 and 2/3s of the mixture to make sure I had an equal amount of each vegetable in either soup.

In a skillet I cooked the linguica over medium-high heat, with a little drizzle of olive oil. Just to heat through the sausage and to give it some nice color. Set aside.

I sauteed the vegetables in some olive oil in two respective pots. Cook until the vegetable's structure begins to give and they start getting soft.


Add salt, pepper, oregano, beans, garlic and the broths. I was careful to keep the meat and vegetarian versions separate. Bring pots to a boil.



Add your tortellini and cook until the pasta is done. I used fresh tortellini so this only took 5-6 minutes. Once the pasta is done, the soup is done!
Because I was bringing Kevin his soup separately, I didn't cook the tortellini in the vegetable soup. Instead, I put it in it's own container. The problem with pasta in soup is that the pasta keeps absorbing the liquid even after the cooking process is over. So I decided to give him the pasta separately so he can add it to the soup.

I put the vegetarian soup in it's own container. Kevin can add this to a pot, add some additional water and seasoning and heat it up with the tortellini.


For the meat version, I served up the soup by placing some slices of cooked linguica to the bottom of the bowl.


Then I ladled all the good soup on top. It was absolutely delicious and a perfect treat for a November day (albeit a rather warm November day). Enjoy!

Soup on Foodista

Arroz Con Pollo


Boston Globe Magazine recently had an article featuring two takes on classic Chicken with Rice recipes. The one that caught my eye and made my mouth water was the Latin-American Style Chicken with Rice, or as we Latinas like to call it Arroz con Pollo. It was so enticing that I knew immediately that I had to make it. I changed a few things in the recipe to make it more budget-friendly and a bit healthier. Most notably I swapped Saffron threads for Sazon Goya packets. Saffron is expensive and hard to find. Sazon Goya is everywhere and it contains saffron and turmeric, two key ingredients for turning the rice that wonderful golden color.


Note: You'll need a Dutch Oven or a pot you can put in the oven. This recipe makes a good 6-7 servings. You'll have plenty of leftovers.

Ingredients:

7 Skinless, Bone-In Chicken Thighs
Sazon Goya packet
salt and pepper
fresh lime juice

1 medium onion chopped
1/2 red bell pepper chopped
1/2 cubannelle pepper chopped
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
4 garlic cloves minced

Sazon Goya packet
1-1/2 cups of chicken broth
(or to save money, 1-1/2 cups of hot water and
3/4 of a packet of Goya Chicken Bouillion)
1 14 0z. can of Diced Tomatoes with juice
squeeze of fresh lime juice

3/4 cup of Goya pimento-stuffed olives chopped
2 tablespoons of Goya capers
1-1/2 cups of long-grain white rice (rinsed)

3/4 cup of frozen peas

lots of fresh cilantro

---------
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.


Chicken thighs seem the best option for the recipe. The original called for chicken pieces with the skin-on. I thought some dark-meat thighs with a little bit of the fat still on would work just as well and it did.




I'm using two packets of Sazon Goya in this recipe. 1 to season the chicken and 1 to season the pot.


Season the chicken thighs with salt, pepper and a whole packet of Sazon Goya. Let sit. Right before you use the thighs, spritz them with some lime juice.




Over medium-high heat, heat up some olive oil in your dutch oven. Add the chicken thighs in batches. I recommend starting off with 1 then doing batches of 2-3. Make sure the oil is hot and rippling before you add the chicken, or the meat will not sear properly. Cook each piece of chicken around 4 minutes on each side. Cover with tinfoil as you cook the other batches. Set aside.


Lovely lovely.


Chop your onion, 1/2 red bell pepper and 1/2 cubanelle pepper. You can use green pepper but I just like cubanelle better for its mild flavor.


Drain some of the oil from the Dutch oven, leaving around a tablespoon behind. Then sautee your onions and peppers until they start to get soft. About 4 minutes. Then add garlic and oregano and cook for another minute.



Add chicken broth, lime juice, can of diced tomatoes and the second Sazon Goya packet. Bring pot to a boil.


Nestle in your chicken pieces and cook for 15 minutes.

Latinas love their capers and pimento-stuffed olives. Mmm. Such a delight. These two jars make me so very very happy.
Make sure you rinse the capers and the olives to get a bit of the brine off. Just one quick rinse, don't over do it. Also, rinse your rice!

Add rice, olives and capers to the pot and mix thoroughly. Transfer the dutch oven to the oven and cook at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes, or until rice is cooked and has absorbed most of the liquid. Then add the peas and stir. Serve hot or at room temperature with a generous helping of fresh cilantro leaves. Enjoy!


Rice on Foodista

Hazelnut Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookies



While digging through my binder of printed Food Network.com recipes, I stumbled upon one for Giada's Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Cookies. I made some modifications and when I made them they turned out ridonkulously delicious. I'm glad I didn't have lunch that day because I scarfed down 3 almost immediately.

The modifications I made to this recipe are important to note. What I've encountered among many cookie recipes is that they call for way too much sugar. Sure you need sugar, but you don't need that much. A high amount of sugar will weigh down your dessert and cause it to burn quickly. It will make cookies crispy rather than soft. I reduced the sugar from Giada's recipe from 1 cup of brown sugar and 1 cup of granulated sugar to 1 cup of brown and 1/2 cup of granulated. It made a world of difference. And because these cookies were loaded with goodies (chocolate chips, toasted hazelnuts and toffee bits), too much sugar would have prevented these ingredients to shine. Also, it's really necessary to use oats in these cookies because the oat flakes help give the cookie structure to hold all the other ingredients together. So I didn't really bother with chopping the oats in the food processor. Not that I have a food processor anyways!


Ingredients:

1/2 cup of oats
2-1/4 cups of flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, partially melted until really soft
1 cup of packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar

2 large eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1/2 cup of Heath Milk Chocolate Toffee Bits
1 11.5 oz bag of Ghiradelli Milk Chocolate Chips
1 cup of Diamond Chopped Hazelnuts


I was so glad to discover that Diamond sold bags of Chopped Hazelnuts and that my local Market Basket carried them. Especially since I had a coupon.

Dry toast the hazelnuts in a skillet at low heat. Do this while you are preparing the other ingredients. Once you get a whiff of that wonderful hazelnutty aroma, then shut off the heat and let the nuts cool.


Sure you can buy some Heath or Skor bars and chop them up yourself, but its easier to buy a nice back of Heath toffee bits already chopped! And Ghirardelli chocolate chips are my go-to for chocolate now. I don't bake cookies without them. (I promise I'm not sponsored by either company)


In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. I love the fact that this recipe has a substantial amount of both baking powder and baking soda. It made these cookies puff up beautifully. And the salt helps bring out the flavor in the chocolate. Maybe next time I'll add a bit of instant coffee granules.





Fun picture alert!

In a separate bowl, combine your sugars.


Add your partially melted butter and mix thoroughly. Okay, you could take room temperature butter and mix it with a hand-held mixer. That's fine. But I didn't want to. This shortcut didn't affect the cookies at all. It much easier just to melt the better and stir it into the sugar.


Add your chips, toffee bits and hazelnuts to the dry ingredients.



Coat the bits well. This is a crucial step. Coating them in the flour mixture will help all the chunks stay in place in the cookie, instead of sinking to the bottom.
Mix two eggs and vanilla into the butter-sugar mixture. Pour mixture into the dry mixture and stir until the cookie dough no longer has any signs of flour.


Drop spoonfulls onto a cookie sheet. I always use aluminum foil because it's easy to pop the cookies out and use the sheet again immediately. Plus, no clean up.

Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes but please make sure you check in on them at around 12-13 minutes in case they get too brown on the bottom.

Enjoy with a nice tall glass of milk!

Hazelnut on Foodista

I Haz Crockpot ~ Pot Roast

I have mixed feelings about my recent attempt at Pot Roast. Although Carlos ate it with much gusto, I thought it was a vertiable Pot Roast FAIL. My biggest problem with Crockpot cooking is timing. I don't like the thought of leaving the Crockpot on while I'm at work (what if my apartment goes up in flames?) and I don't quite have the time on Sunday afternoons to devote 8-10 hours to leaving the Crockpot on and cooking. Especially when I don't get home with fresh produce and my other groceries until noontime on Sundays. So when this recipe called for 10 hours and I only could give it 5, it was destined to fail.

Here is the recipe as it should be done.

Ingredients:

2-3 lbs of bottom round roast
(seasoned with paprika, salt, pepper and onion powder)

1 large onion chopped
2 shallots peeled and halved
3-4 garlic cloves smashed
3-4 carrots peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
a small bag of red-skinned potatoes
5-6 celery stalks from the heart with the leaves, chopped
mushrooms halved
dried thyme and oregano

1 5.5 oz can of V8 juice
1 10 oz. can of beef broth
a few splashes of white wine (optional)
1 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes (with juice)

1/4 cup of flour


Sear the roast by cooking it 2-3 minutes on each side in a hot skillet with olive oil. This picture is quite commical. See how my little skillet is trying sear this gigantic piece of meat? It did the job!

Add all the vegetables to the bottom of your Crockpot.

Don't forget your mushrooms!

Add the tomatoes, V8 juice, white wine and beef stock to the mixture. Season with thyme and oregano.

Nestle the behemoth piece of meat into the vegetables. I added the mushrooms on top because they couldn't quite fit into my 6-quart crockpot.

Cook for 8 hours. Then take out the meat and slice with a serrated knife if you have one. Set slices aside. Add the 1/4 cup of flour to a small bowl. Take 1 cup of the broth from the Crockpot and slowly incorporate into the flour. Whisk so you don't get any lumps. Pour the flour mixture into the Crockpot and stir. Add back the slices of meat and cook for another 30 minutes.


Serve hot! This picture would have been nicer with some fresh parsley sprinkled on top. Oh well!

Classic Pot Roast on Foodista
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