Holiday Recap

For the holidays I really wanted some Egg Nog and Hot Chocolate but I came across two issues. First of all, everyone and their mother keeps referring to Egg Nog as drinkable pancake batter. This has disgusted me and I wish people would stop! So when I was at Whole Foods, I found this SO Delicious Coconut Milk Dairy Free Egg Nog. I thought I'd give it a try. It was pretty good, a lot lighter in texture and flavor than regular Egg Nog and it was pretty taste with a bit of rum.

My second problem was finding a Hot Chocolate mix that did not have High Fructose Corn Syrup. Forget finding that at your local grocery store! I looked at every Hot Chocolate mix at Market Basket and all of them had HFCS or some sort of Corn Syrup solids. Ugh. The tin in the picture above was from Whole Foods and the ingredients were: Sugar, Dutch Cocoa and Vanilla. That's it! Perfect, right? It cost $7.99! And it's only 6 oz worth of hot chocolate mix. I hope it cures cancer too because that price is outrageous.

I had Christmas lunch over at my parents house. Our Christmas lunch is always very unusual and this year was no exception. We had octopus, a potato-carrot-beet salad, green salad, avocado, hard-boiled eggs, broiled asparagus, my mom's rice and fruit salad.

The main focus of our meal is Octopus made by my dad. He has a very special way of cooking it that I still haven't learned quite yet but I did watch him make it this time and learned a few tips.

Including this one! In order to not over cook the octopus and to keep it tender, my dad puts a large baking potato on top of the octopus. He covers it with water (I forget how much) and cooks it. Once you can easily pierce the potato with a knife, the octopus is cooked.

My dad dresses it in olive oil and vinegar and onions. This year I think he just forgot to do it. He's turning 85 in January so his mind isn't always sharp but I am so very grateful to have another Christmas with him. 

When my mom moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 1979, the first two things she bought at the grocery store here were Asparagus and Strawberries. They are not common in her country and only the really wealthy ate them. She never did learn how to cook asparagus so I taught her my method. I snap the bottom fibrous part, lay them on a foiled baking sheet, drizzle them with olive oil, move them around so they are coated and then I broil them in the oven for 8-10 minutes until they start to brown and wrinkle. Then I shake some sea salt over them. This really is the best way to eat asparagus. Don't ever boil asparagus!

 I hope you all had a great holiday!

Easy Meatballs and Sauce with Rice

I have been making meatballs for years but always served them with jarred marinara sauce and pasta. The meal was delicious but way too filling and starchy. In fact, I'd almost always get sick because of the pasta! I wanted to try making a meatball dinner which was just as delicious, a little lighter and with a quick and easy homemade sauce. I like how the beef broth cuts the acidity of the tomato sauce. Also the sauce is really good with the rice and I like to dip my green beans in it.

1.5-2 lbs of ground beef
1/2 an onion finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves minced or put through garlic press
a small bunch of cilantro chopped (or parsley if you prefer)
1 egg
1/4 cup of dry bread crumbs
1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup of beef broth
salt and pepper to taste 
extra light olive oil

Cook rice Raquel Style.

While rice is cooking, heat up a large skillet with some extra light olive oil.

In a big bowl, add the grown beef and season with salt and pepper. Add an egg, breadcrumbs, the finely chopped onion, minced garlic and parsley. Mix well until all ingredients are incorporated. If you have a husband handy, have him mush the mixture with his hands. It's fun!

When the oil starts to sizzle, start forming the meat mixture into small balls and add to the skillet. Do this in batches. I advise doing half first then the other half next. You can transfer the first batch to a plate or push them to the side.

Tip: If you want to check the seasoning of your meatball mixture, test out one very small meatball, cook it up and eat it. If it tastes good, make the rest. If not, adjust seasonings.

Cool the meatballs until they are brown on all sides. I like mine a little crispy. Don't worry if your meatballs are a little pink in the middle. They'll continue to cook in the sauce.

To the skillet add the beef broth and crushed tomato. Lower the heat so that the tomato doesn't spit everywhere!  Stir and let simmer until the rice is done and the sauce is thick.

Serve with some steamed green beans and some cilantro on top. Enjoy!

Add some chopped chipotle en adobo (include the adobado sauce) to the tomato sauce for a smoky and spicy kick!
Replace beef broth with red wine for a very decadent flavor
Replace cilantro and onions with lots of finely chopped scallions

Chicken in a Spicy Coconut Tomato Sauce

This is a very quick low maintenance meal. Serve the chicken with a scoop of white rice and some steamed vegetables on the side. The sauce is good on everything! I made this while having a terrible migraine and I liked that it was easy and quick to make so I could sit and nurse my migraine while the sauce thickened.

Adapted from an Utilisima recipe

Chicken in a Spicy Coconut Tomato Sauce
6-8 chicken cutlets cut into chunks
1 teaspoon of grated ginger
1 tablespoon of chopped pickled jalapeño
3 tablespoons of  tomato paste
1 13.5 oz can of Light Coconut Milk
Cilantro for garnish
salt to taste

Cook some rice Raquel-Style.

While the rice is cooking, heat up a large skillet with some extra light olive oil or canola oil. Don't use a lot or you will make the sauce greasy. If you end up with too much oil, blot some of it out with a paper towel.

Season the cut up chicken cutlets with some salt and pan sear. Once the chicken is cooked and has a nice brown sear, add the tomato paste, grated ginger and chopped pickled jalapeño. If you use fresh jalapeño, put very little unless you like your food super spicy.

Incorporate the coconut milk little bit by little, stirring all the ingredients so that the tomato paste dissolves. Bring the sauce to a bubble, then turn it down to medium-low and let simmer for 10 minutes or so. You just want the sauce to thicken a bit.

Serve with some rice and top with fresh cilantro.  If you don't like cilantro (what's wrong with you?), then substitute with some parsley. You'll want something green on top as the sauce and chicken are not very pleasant to look at on its own.

Chicken in a Spicy Coconut Tomato Sauce is a delicious and easy meal which makes for a great mid-week dinner.

How to Make Tostones

Tostones are pieces of plantain that have been fried, smashed and fried again. Tostones are very commonly found in Carribean, Central American and South American cuisine and are especially popular in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic where my mother is from. To make these double fried plantains you'll need a Tostonera which is a wooden paddle with a flap and an indent in the center. 

You can find these online for very inexpensive. If you live in Eastern Massachusetts, a lot of Market Baskets carry them and place them near the plantains (the Burlington, MA Market Basket is where I got mine). If you don't want to invest in a Tostonera, just use two flat surfaces like a cutting board and the back of a small skillet to flatten the plantains.

How to Make Tostones

Cook these Tostones in batches of 2, 4 or 6. You'll fry 2 plantains at a time so it makes sense to make them in even numbers. Six will give you quite a lot!

Add 36 oz of canola or vegetable oil to a wide pot and heat. In the meantime, prepare the plantains.

First make sure you bought a plantain and not a really green banana. Plantains are have a very tough peel and a starchy smell to them. Or ask your grocer for help. Also buy plantains that are green like the one above and not ones that have ripened. Those are yellow/brown and are too sweet for Tostones but delicious for other recipes.

Cut off the top and bottom of the plantain at an angle. Discard those pieces.

The peel of a green plantain is very tough to remove. It's not at all like a banana. My trick to getting the peel off is to cut open a slit lengthwise down one side.

And then down the other.

Get your thumb underneath the peel and start coaxing it away from the plantain. Discard peel.

Cut each plantain into six even slices at a diagonal. Above there are twelve pieces from two whole plantains.

When the oil is hot, add the chunks of plantains. I do this 2 plantains at a time. You can check to see if the oil is hot enough by testing it out with one piece of plantain and see if bubbles immediately for around it. If they don't, remove the piece of plantain and test a little later.

Cook the plantain for 2-3 minutes with the oil over medium heat. If you are brave, cook for 1-2 minutes over higher heat. Once the plantain starts to become golden brown, it's time to smash!

This process has to be quick so make sure you set up everything before hand. Get some paper towels down and put the tostonera on top. Make sure you have tongs handy too. Add the plantain to the tostonera.

Close the lid and SMASH!

This is what the end result looks like. Scrape off the smashed plantain with your tongs. Be careful not to break the plantain. Then add it back to the oil. Do this to all of the plantain pieces.

Fry for a couple more minutes.

Until they are crispy and golden.

Place them hot tostones on a plate with paper towel and salt them when they are hot. Continue with the other plantains if you are making more. You can add a paper towel over one layer of tostones to add the next batch so they all stay on one plate. Serve hot!

Tostones are great with
1) Ketchup or a Remoulade
2) Tuna (I know this sounds gross but it's really good)
3) Avocado slices or Guacamole
4) served alongside Rice, Salad and Steak or Sautéed Fish.

Buen Provecho!

To Make Tostones You'll Need
36 oz of vegetable or canola oil
a wide pot
a tostonera
2, 4 or 6 plantains
a pair of tongs
paper towels

1) Heat up 36 oz of oil in a wide pot over medium heat
2) Cut plantain top and bottom at an angle, discard
3) Cut a slit in the peel lengthwise on both sides
4) Coax peel away from plantain with your thumb, discard
5) Cut each plantain into 6 even slices and at a diagonal
6) Test oil with one plantain, if it sizzles it's ready
7) Fry two plantains at a time or 12 slices at a time
8) Fry 2-3 minutes or until it starts to get golden
9) Smash in tostonera and scrape off. Return to pot
10) Repeat with all of the plantain chunks
11) Fry smashed plantains until crispy and golden brown
12) Place tostones on top of plate which has been covered with paper towel
13) Salt while hot
14) Serve while hot

Buddha's Hand

I saw these Buddha's Hand fruit at Whole Foods today. I had never seen them before. I looked them up and they are an Asian type of lemon and they are also referred to as fingered citron. Buddha's Hand fruit is more edible than a traditional lemon and the pith isn't as sour. Apparently you can slice up the fingers and sautee them or use them in salad. 

Have you ever cooked with a Buddha's Hand?

Lomo Saltado

Lomo Saltado (Beef Loin Stir-fry) is a traditional Peruvian dish with an Asian twist. It consists of Beef Tenderloin stir-fried with vegetables and in a sauce made up of vinegar, soy sauce and beef broth. It's served on top of or alongside french fries or fried potato wedges and rice. Top it off with some cilantro for a delicious meal.

Lomo Saltado is one of my husband's favorite meals to eat. Every time we go to Machu Picchu, a Peruvian Restaurant in Union Square Somerville, MA, he always orders it and there are never any leftovers. It's a great dish that never disappoints.

Beef tenderloin can get a bit pricey. I try to buy the smallest package and sometimes I'll get the beef tenderloin in Kabob chunks as the packages tend to be $8 or $9 instead of $15. To stretch the dollar I added some sliced zucchini which is not traditional in Lomo Saltado but adds something extra to make up for the loss of meat. If you are not on a budget, just add more meat to the dish.

To save time I use frozen french fries instead of making them fresh. They'll bake in the oven while you are preparing the rest of the meal.

2 cups of rice, rinsed

1/2 a bag of frozen french fries

1 package of Beef Tenderloin cut into long strips
1 small onion cut into strips
1/2 green pepper cut into strips
1 or 2 plum tomato cut into strips
1 small zucchini cut into thin strips
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of vinegar
2 tablespoons of beef broth

cilantro for garnish

Preheat your oven according to the directions for your frozen french fries.

Cook your rice Raquel style. Cook frozen french fries according to directions. If you have to take them out before your done, you can always pop them in for a couple minutes later to heat them up.

In a large skillet add some vegetable or light olive oil. Season your beef strips with salt and pepper. Once the oil starts to sizzle, add the beef strips and stir-fry until they are a little browned (no pink is showing). Add first the onions and green pepper strips as they take longer to cook. Once those start to soften then add the tomato and zucchini strips. Stir until cooked (once all the vegetables are starting to get soft).

Add the vinegar, soy sauce and beef broth to the mix. Stir and lower the heat. Let cook for a few minutes. If you are still waiting on the rice and/or fries, cover the large skillet with some foil so that all the sauce doesn't evaporate.

Serve some rice and fries on your plate. Top with the Lomo Saltado and sprinkle on some fresh cilantro.

Buen provecho!

Taste of Treme Book Review

Taste of Treme
Creole, Cajun and Soul Food from New Orleans's Famous Neighborhood of Jazz
by Todd-Michael St. Pierre
November 2012
Hardcover ISBN 9781612430973
Ulysses Press

Take a culinary adventure in the comfort of your armchair to New Orleans, home to Creole, Cajun and good old Soul Food. Treme is a neighborhood or "ward" in New Orleans and Taste of Treme explores the cuisine of that particular region. For those of you who are fans of the HBO series Treme this book is a wonderful companion piece.

Taste of Treme seeks to inform and to tantalize its reader. It answers lots of questions.

For example: What is the difference between Creole and Cajun? Answer: Creole cuisine has Spanish and French influence whereas Cajun is French Canadian.

In this book you'll find lots of tasty New Orleans recipes along with articles about the people of the area, different locations of interest and the history of Treme all of which give the book and the recipes lots of great context. You'll learn a lot about the music of the area too! The author also provides proper pronunciation for key terms and informs us about the unique ingredients found in this particular cuisine. Each recipe is introduced with a few lines about its cultural or historical context or its origin story. These scattered sentences prove to be the most entertaining thing about the book, besides the mouth-watering pictures.

While not all of the recipes are accessible, a lot of them can be made at home. If you are on a diet, then this book may not be for you. Many dishes are fried or start with butter. If you have an adventurous palate or you enjoy the intricacies of Southern cuisines, Taste of Treme would make a great addition to your home cookbook library.

Some notable recipes in the book include:

Holy Trinity
Cafe Au Lait
Dirty Rice
Shrimp and Okra Hushpuppies
Oyster Po' Boys (there is even a recipe on how to make the bread!)
Crawfish Pastalaya
Creole Pork Roast
Crawfish and Brussel Sprouts
Mardi Gras King Cake
and more!

Image from
Tabby's Crawfish and Corn Beignets from pages 52-53

Some of the bigger recipes have smaller recipes preceding them so you get schooled in the proper way of making every element. Also, some of the more popular recipes are provided in their original form and variations are also given. This will make trying out the different foods a lot of fun for kitchen experimentation. This book proves to be a great resource for those of us who are determined to successfully make a proper Gumbo or Beignet or Roux.

A lot of the dishes are given fun names such as Your Gay Best Friend's Mardi Gras King Cake Cupcakes with Flamboyant Cinnamon-Mascarpone Frosting, SAINTsational Savory Crepes, and Rebirth Kickin' Chicken and Wicked-Ass Waffles which speak to the charm of the book and the region. All of the recipes seemed very intriguing and there were only a couple that turned me off (most notably Strawberry-Asparagus Salad). 

The book comes in hardcover with glossy color pages. Only a handful of recipes have pictures which in my opinion is a flaw of the book. I prefer cookbooks in which each recipe has a dedicated picture. The recipes are organized by category and there is an appendix with an index and conversion chart.

If you love the food of New Orleans or you are curious about the cuisine, check out Taste of Treme!

Thank you to Ulysses Press for providing me with a copy of the book to review. 

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