Christmas Eve Lunch and Christmas Dinner


Sometimes the holidays can be a bit tricky when you want to spend time with more than one family. I split the holiday by visiting my parents on Christmas Eve and spending Christmas evening with Carlos and his dad. For Christmas Eve, my Dad cooked up his traditional octopus. However, he didn't quite remember how to make it so it wasn't quite like it was in previous years. It was still delicious though.





My mother made this vegetable rice with carrots, peas, olives, capers and mushrooms. It was delicious! 


We had some fresh salad, Portuguese olives and bread with our meal. For dessert, it was pasteis de belem (egg custard cups) from the local Portuguese shop (not as good as mine though!). 



Since I didn't do any cooking for Christmas Eve, I spent a lot of time planning a Christmas dinner. Most of the recipes come from My Colombian Recipes, a blog I recently discovered and adore. Lots of great Latin dishes there to try!


Appetizers were garlic stuffed green olives (from a jar) and homemade Black bean dip. I served the dip with tortilla chips. The dip was amazing and we scraped the bowl clean. 


For the main meal, we had a fresh salad of sliced cucumbers and plum tomatoes along with chunks of avocado, dressed in lime juice, extra light olive oil, salt and pepper. I also made fried sweet plantains. Carlos isn't a big fan of sweet plantains cooked with sugar, so these were naturally sweet plantains that I just fried in canola oil. I've been experimenting with frying tostones so it was nice to try another way of frying plantains.


We also had Breaded Pork Cutlets. These were tricky because we didn't pound the meat enough so it didn't cook all the way through. I ended up baking them in the oven so they would be fully cooked. However, baking them made them soggy. Oh well. They tasted fine but I really wanted crispy cutlets.


For a starch, I had Arroz con Fideos (Rice with Noodles). I didn't cook the noodles enough. You are supposed to brown them in the owl so that they are more visible against the white rice. Oh well. Tasted fine though and it was a great side with the pork, salad and fried sweet plantains.


For dessert, it was Mango Flan. It didn't come out clean as I cut up some of the edges with a knife. I'm still learning how to make flans so I'm not quite there yet. This flan had Mango and sweetened condensed milk which made it different from other flans. It was like cheesecake in texture and flavor (almost). I have to say, this surprised me! It was absolutely delicious. I put a slice of lime on top just to make it look pretty. The caramel came out better than expected. I'm still very nervous about cooking caramel so it was nice to have a decent color on the flan from the caramel I made. The mango isn't very noticeable in the flavor though. It might be because I didn't have mangoes that were ripe enough or perhaps the sweetened condensed milk overpowered the mango flavor.

I hope you all had a wonderful Holiday!


Portobello Mushroom and Orzo Salad



You know what I absolutely hate? Going to the grocery store with a list of ingredients to buy for a recipe and not being able to find that one crucial item you need! In this case, I wanted to make Real Simple's Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms with Feta and Almonds and I couldn't find barley, which was the bulk of the stuffing. Grrr!!! I had already purchased the Portobello mushrooms and green onions from Wilson Farm so I decided to improvise. I swapped the barley for cooked orzo. I had more dried orzo at home that I knew what to do with. Instead of almonds, I used some grilled corn. The result. Fabulous! A delicious orzo salad on top of roasted mushrooms. Carlos doesn't like mushrooms but he looked a bit jealous when he saw me diving into this plate of deliciousness. He asked for some and he enjoyed it, mushrooms and all!

Ingredients:

4 Portobello Mushrooms, stems and gills removed and tops cleaned
extra light olive oil

1 cup of dried orzo
2 ears of corn, grilled
4 green onions
juice of half of lemon
1/3 cup of extra light olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
crumbled feta

This makes enough for two people.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. 

Clean the tops of your Portobello mushrooms, remove the stems and scrape out the gills with a spoon. Brush the tops with olive oil. Add to a baking sheet top-side-up and bake for 10 minutes. Then flip them over and bake for 10 more minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

While the mushrooms are roasting in the oven, grilled your corn and bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the 1 cup of orzo and cook to package directions (about 6-8 minutes). Drain the water. Add the orzo to a bowl. 

Cut the corn off the ears and finely chop your green onions. Toss with the orzo. Add the lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and mix.

Plate two mushrooms, top-side-down, and spoon half of the orzo salad over the top. Sprinkle some feta all over and dig in!

Pizza Monkey Bread



I'm not sure where this recipe originated but the idea of making Pizza Monkeybread is genius! I wish I had thought of it. Monkeybread is a pull-apart bread which is generally sweet. What makes this a Pizza version is the pizza dough and the pepperoni and mozzarella cheese stuffing. Most other bloggers make their own dough and brush the stuffed pizza balls with garlic butter. I used a shortcut and made these with prepared frozen pizza dough. Also, I seasoned some light olive oil with garlic powder to make a garlic oil. I know this sounds ghetto but the garlic flavor is wonderful and I didn't see the need to make these with butter. Olive oil just seemed healthier. 

2 bags of frozen pizza dough
slices of pepperoni, cut in half
mozzarella cheese
extra light olive oil
garlic powder
marinara sauce

I could give you measurements but honestly I don't know! Just buy a ball of mozzarella cheese (not packed in water) and chop it up or buy a small bag of shredded mozzarella. Half of a regular sized bag of pre-sliced pepperoni should do. For the Marinara Sauce, I use Newman's Own. For the olive oil I used Bertolli's Extra Light Olive Oil and for every 1/2 cup of oil I did about 1 teaspoon of garlic powder. If you have garlic-infused oil, or want to infuse your own oil with fresh garlic, by all means go-ahead!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. 

You'll need a bundt pan that's be greased with cooking spray or brushed with oil.

In a bowl, add some oil and garlic powder. Mix and set aside.

Break off pieces of the pizza dough into 1 inch chunks and roll into a ball with your hands. Create a well in the center with your thumbs and add 2 half slices of pepperoni and as much mozzarella as you can fit. Roll the ball and twist to close so you have a pizza dough ball and the filling is sealed in. 

Dip the ball in the garlic oil and roll until lightly coated. Add to the bottom of the bundt pan.
Keep repeating this over and over again until you run out of dough. Make sure each of the pizza balls are uniform in shape and in size in relation to the others. Place them evenly in the bundt pan making sure you are creating even layers of pizza balls.




Add the bundt pan to your oven and cook for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Heat up some marinara sauce and serve it with you pizza dough. You can either the monkeybread as is in the bundt ban. Or let it cool for 10-15 minutes, then carefully remove from the bundt pan and serve on a plate or platter. I'm usually too impatient for that and I like to eat the pizza monkeybread while hot.

The prep is a bit time consuming. Carlos helped me assemble this last one. He had fun with the pizza dough and it was a nice thing to do together as a couple. Hope you'll try this modified version of a food blogger favorite!







Christmas Bark - Two Kinds




These recipes were originally posted on my Thoughtful Eats column at the Woburn Patch.

 Candy Cane Bark 

Ingredients:

2 11-oz bags of White Chocolate Chips
10 candy canes

Remove the wrappers off your candy canes and break into pieces. Place the pieces in your food processor and pulse until you only have small chunks of candy cane. You’ll have a lot of candy cane powder so don’t be discouraged if you see this. Set aside.

 Set up a baking sheet and cover with one piece of wax paper so that it covers the entire sheet. Add an inch or so of water to your pot and bring to a boil. Place your heat-resistant bowl into the pot and add your white chocolate chips to the bowl. Stir and fold the chocolate continuously until it’s all melted and there are no chunks of chips left. White chocolate melts differently than milk or dark chocolate. You’ll have a lump that looks and feels sort of like very soft clay. Immediately transfer the chocolate to the wax papered baking sheet.

With spatulas, spread the chocolate evenly over the entire baking sheet. You may need to hold the wax paper taut as the chocolate can be tricky to deal with. Sprinkle the crushed candy cane over the top of the chocolate.

Refrigerate for 45 minutes.

With a sharp knife, cut the sheet of chocolate into uneven sections.Don’t worry if some of the candy cane will fall off, only some will stick. Pack and keep in the refrigerator.

M&M Peanut Butter Cup Bark 

Ingredients:

2 11-oz bags of Milk Chocolate Chips
mini peanut butter cups, chopped into quarters
red and green M&Ms

 Follow the same instructions as above with the following changes. Omit the candy cane. Cut the mini peanut butter cups into quarters. I recommend a generic brand of peanut butter cups instead of Reese’s as they’ll be sturdier and will lend themselves to chopping.

You’ll also need about half a small bag of red and green M&Ms. This time you’ll be melting milk chocolate, which is easier to melt and handle than white chocolate. Once melted, add to a wax papered baking sheet and smooth out evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle the peanut butter cups on top then fill in the spaces with red and green M&Ms.

 Refrigerate for 45 minutes and cut into uneven pieces.

Keep refrigerated. Enjoy!

A Not-So Dominican Breakfast


Breakfast and Brunch are a big deal in the United States but not so much internationally. We have an entire culture of breakfast foods: cereal, oatmeal, pancakes, waffles, french toast, bacon, sausage, hash browns, eggs, coffee, tea, cakes, etc. But in other parts of the world, breakfast is completely different. When I would visit my father's family in Portugal, torradas (thick cut toast with butter) and galao (steamed milk with coffee and sugar) is the most common breakfast you'll find served at cafes. I asked my mother, who is from the Dominican Republic, what she would have for breakfast growing up. Dominican breakfast sometimes includes mangu (boiled and mashed plantains) topped with salami and cooked red onions (belch), or fried cheese with salami. The most common breakfast though was bread served with hot cocoa or coffee. I decided to pay homage to a simple Dominican bread and hot cocoa breakfast by expanding it into a full brunch.

Hot Cocoa (made from scratch)
Challah Bread Rolls (from Wilson Farm)
Mango Jam (from Goya)
Scrambled Eggs
Fresh Strawberries and Bananas, sliced

My mother told me that grandma made hot coca by melting some dark chocolate and water in a pan, then slowly mixing in some milk. She would then heat up the milk, stirring along the way, until the hot chocolate was done. I used Ghirardelli chocolate (dark), almond milk and a dash of cinnamon. The almonds in the milk gave the drink a nice nutty flavor. The big surprise with this meal was the mango jam. On a whim, I picked up a jar of Goya's Mango Jam and was pleasantly surprised by how delicious it was. It's got great mango flavor and isn't too sweet. With the challah rolls, they are divine. While this isn't a Dominican breakfast by any means, it did make me think differently about traditional breakfasts.

What kind of breakfasts did your parents grow up with? How do you switch up brunch?

Hello Dolly Bars




This recipe was originally posted on my Thoughtful Eats column at the Woburn Patch.


Ingredients

1 sleeve of Honey Graham Crackers (about 8 or 9)
4 tbsps of melted butter
¾ cup of chopped hazelnuts
1 cup of butterscotch chips
1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup of shredded coconut
1 small can of sweetened condensed milk
cooking spray or parchment paper

This makes enough for a 9 X 13 or 9 X 9 baking pan, depending on how thick you want the bars. 
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Add the graham crackers to your food processor. Pulse until there are no chunks left and you have perfectly ground graham cracker crumbs. In a separate bowl, add the crumbs and the melted butter. Mix thoroughly.
Take your baking pan and spray with cooking spray. If you prefer, you can use parchment paper for easy lifting and clean up. Add the graham cracker-butter mixture to the bottom of the pan and press and spread until it covers the bottom of the pan. Don’t worry if it’s a little loose.
Now it’s time for the layers! Sprinkle the hazelnuts, butterscotch chips, semi-sweet chocolate chips and shredded coconut one at a time creating layers. Take the can of sweetened condensed milk and drizzle all over the top evenly.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until it’s lightly golden brown on top. Remove from oven and let cool for 15-20 minutes. Loosen the edges with a knife and cut into squares. Enjoy!

Birthday Dinner at Casa Portugal - Take Two


Last year Carlos took me out to dinner for my birthday. My choice restaurant was Casa Portugal in Inman Square (Cambridge, MA). This year? It was Casa Portugal again. The difference? This year he also gave me a new camera as a birthday present (along with a fabulous mini photo studio, more on that to come). So the pictures I took of our dinner came out far better than last year!


To start off, Casa Portugal always serves black olives, in a traditional Portuguese Olive Dish complete with  a section for the pits, as well as a basket of broa, Portuguese corn bread, and bread rolls. Always so delicious! Carlos went straight for the bread rolls until I reminded him that he should be eating the Broa instead. Broa is very common in Portugal but is a rare treat here in the states.



Of course I had to have some Vinho Branco da Casa (House White Wine) with my Broa.


There were only two other couples when we arrived but when we left the place was packed!



We had some romantic moments of course.


Carlos asked me what he got last time he was there. I reminded him it was the Febras Grehladas (Grilled Pork). It comes in a spicy garlic sauce and is served with traditional Portuguese potatoes, rice and vegetables.


He was so hungry he couldn't wait to dive in!


My absolute favorite dish to get at Casa Portugal is Arroz Mariscada (Seafood Rice). It's a pot of rice with a tomato-wine broth which is topped with a half lobster, clams, mussels, shrimp, squid and scallops and served with a side of potatoes. OH MY GOD it is so delicious. My parents and I used to go to a seaside restaurant in Aveiro, Portugal and we would always get a family sized order of Arroz Mariscada. I have fond memories of this dish. This particular pot, although for one person, was too much food for me but I tried to eat as much as I could.





I tried not to let anything go to waste!


We couldn't finish dinner without ordering some traditional Portuguese chocolate mousse. The Portuguese have some secret talent for making chocolate mousse. It's so delicious. 



Every bite is...


ectasy!



I was so glad to be able to celebrate another birthday with a superb dinner at Casa Portugal! It definitely made me nostalgic for Portugal.
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