Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Check out more recipe's at Huffington Post!

I have been bad about posting new recipes in this blog but all of my most recent recipes can be found at

www.huffingtonpost.com/claudia-castillo/

I don't know how long I'll be able to post there so I'll start to post more stuff on this blog.

Buen Provecho!

&

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hearty Soups with Red Swiss Chard


After my recent move from Queens to Brooklyn I picked up a cold with a bad bad cough.  It took a course of antibiotics and lots of cough syrup to make it go away.  But I wouldn't consider my medications the only contributing factor to my recovery.  I have to give my red swiss chard infused soups a little credit too.

I often cook with what I have on hand and this time I went out of my way, while sick, to pick up this nutritious leafy green.  I don't think many people in Latin America use it.  I certainly don't ever remember seeing it until about 4 years ago while wondering through a local NYC farmer's market.  It took me a while before I got the guts to buy it, but after I did I found that sauteed with some extra virgin olive oil was one of the simplest side dishes I have ever made.  Wrapping my head around the fact that a lot of people use it in their soups was quite difficult though.  I've just never been a fan of leafy greens in my soup.  In Colombia my family always used to make all types of soups with beans, plantains, vegetables, rice and even with eggs.  It could be that my mom and aunt never made me leafy soups because they knew I didn't like creamy soups or soups with soggy vegetables.  (I'm coming around to some cream soups).  As it turns out though swiss chard and other leafy vegetables like kale retain some texture even after they are cooked.  Not only that they also happen to contain a lot of the nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants that help keep you healthy.  As they say this was exactly what the doctor ordered!

With the health factor in mind, I decided to buy one bunch of red swiss chard to make myself soup enriched with tons of vitamins and minerals.  The moment I got home I cleaned and chopped what I was going to use,  and stored the rest in the refrigerator.  Then to make things very simple I used canned white bean soup and minestrone soup as pairings for my red swiss chard.  Both iterations were delicious and they lasted me the entire week!

Below is what you'll need for each recipe,

Buen Provecho! =)

Red Swiss Chard and White Bean Soup with Chicken Sausage

























Ingredients
One or two cups of chopped red swiss chard
One can of white cannellini beans
Half an onion and one garlic clove chopped
One or two links of chicken or turkey sausage
Two cups of low sodium chicken stock
Tablespoon of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Shredded Parmesan Cheese

Directions
Cut the sausage into one inch cubes and saute in pan.
In the microwave, heat the chicken stock until it boils.
When you see that the chicken is semi done, saute with the onion and garlic for two more minutes and add salt and pepper to taste.
Wash the cannelini beans and add them to the pan.
Let everything saute together for a couple of minutes before adding the chopped red swiss chard.
Let the chard wilt for a minute and add the chicken stock.
As you stir use the back of your spoon to press a small portion of the white beans to make a paste.  IT will give the soup a thicker consistency.
Let it simmer, serve, add Parmesan cheese to your liking.


Red Swiss Chard with Minestrone Soup


Ingredients
One or two cups of chopped red swiss chard
One can of organic minestrone soup
Half an onion, one garlic clove chopped
A handful of grape tomatoes cut in half
Half a pepper (any color) chopped
One cup of low sodium chicken stock
Tablespoon of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Shredded Parmesan Cheese

Directions
In the microwave, heat the chicken stock until it boils.
Saute chapped onions and garlic with extra virgin olive oil.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Add the chopped half pepper and sliced grape tomatoes and saute.
After a few minutes add the chopped red swiss chard, let it wilt and then stir.
Add the cup of chicken stock and the can of minestrone soup.
Stir everything together and let it simmer for a couple of minutes.
Not too long since the vegetable soup is usually ready to eat.
Add Parmesan cheese to your liking.

And voila! You just made some super delicious soup with swiss chard.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sofrito with Kale



Sofrito is quintessentially the most important ingredient in Latin cooking.  We use it to season, to marinade, to give everything that Latin zing.  Just like Italians have tomato sauce Latinos have their sofrito.  It is the foundation used to flavor everything under the sun.  I have noticed that the most prevalent type of sofrito in the United States is what Puerto Ricans call recaito.  You could pretty much find it in any grocery store that sells Goya products.  This is not the only type of sofrito available though.  Many other Latin American countries create their own type of sofrito to which they add spices that are native to their regions. I know Colombians call it hogao or guiso and it’s made by sauteing diced scallions with chopped tomatoes in oil.  We also add a touch of azafrán or saffron for coloring.  In this sense it differs greatly from Puerto Rican sofrito which is not sautéed in oil but made in a blender and refrigerated fresh. 


I have already demonstrated how to make guiso in my post about Tofu Perico, so this is my attempt at making a version of the Puerto Rican recaito but with a twist.  Lately I've been obsessed with kale, so I decided to add kale to my version so that it incorporates all of the healthy vitamins and nutrients that kale boasts.  I can tell you right now that you won’t even notice a difference.  To me it was excellent.  If not kale, you could also add beets if you want or maybe swish chard.  Just be careful how much you add.  Too much kale and it might be too bitter, just like too many onions might be too overwhelming.  I also added a stem of celery and a whole carrot to make it that much healthier.  What I forgot to add was some heat.  In the future I'm going to try adding a bit of jalapeño or some other type of hot pepper.



I really hope you enjoy making this version or your own version of sofrito with whatever ingredients you have on hand. It's really always about making it your own and doing the best with what you already have.

Buen Provecho! =)




Ingredients
1 half green bell pepper and 1 half red bell pepper seeded and chopped
5 small sweet peppers of various colors seeded and chopped
5 small plum tomatoes, skins removed
2 small yellow onions cut into quarters
5 scallions chopped in half
3 heads of roasted garlic or regular garlic
One stem of celery chopped
One carrot chopped
A spring of mint (could use some other herb like cilantro)
One large leaf of kale
A dash of extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Directions
  • This is the easiest recipe, you just dump all of the ingredients into a blender and you are done.  Just make sure you coarsely chop all of the ingredients before putting in the blender. 
  • If everything doesn’t fit in the blender try doing a portion of the ingredients and then gradually adding everything until everything is blended together.
  • To preserve the sofrito simply leave the small portion you are going to use right away in a container in the refrigerator.  You can store smaller ready to use portions in the freezer.  Another way to preserve them in the freezer is to store the sofrito in an ice cube tray.  You can take out as many sofrito cubes as you want whenever you are ready to use them.


TIP – To remove the tomato skins simply cut a small cross on the bottom and drop on boiling water.  Leave them for a minute or so and then drop them in a bath of ice.  You can peel the skin right away, remove the seeds and then add to the blender along with the rest of the ingredients.





Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Refreshing Twist to the Classic Holiday Coquito

Hi Everyone,

Below is my Q&A with Cynthia Sepulveda the Founder and President of Flaco Coquito.
I truly hope you feel inspired by her desire to develop a healthier alternative to a drink that is so dear to her Puerto Rican roots and heritage.



Why is coquito so important to you? 
Coquito is a part of my culture and takes me back to when times were simpler, fun and more interactive with my family and friends. The taste of food and coquito and the sounds of music reminds me of my childhood in my grandmother's house celebrating with family.

What does it mean to you and your family? 
It means "nuestra familia" (our family).  Which I learned from my grandmother, who was the pillar of ours.  She would make non-alcoholic coquito for the kids, so to include us in celebration during family events.

Coquito can be a very time consuming drink to make, especially when made following the original recipe and that's the main reason it's made a few times a year. It's important to me and my family to keep tradition alive, and keep our culture thriving.

What got you thinking about a healthier alternative to coquito? 
My husband made it every year, but less and less family members were drinking it due to illnesses that affect many Hispanics; such as diabetes, cancer and lupus. I decided last holiday season to take over the coquito making and alter his recipe. My motivation was to attempt to make a lighter, healthier coquito while staying true to the taste.  I recently went to Puerto Rico to visit my family and made some for my 90 year old aunt Carmen. She took one sip and told me to keep pouring because it tasted just like my grandmother's coquito. She was so taken by Flaco Coquito, I had to make her a large batch before leaving back to NY lol.

How hard is it being a start up business? 
It is very difficult.  Starting a business is not an easy undertaking. Branding to me is the most important part of any business.  The girl with the coconut was my vision who was brought to life by an artist by the name of Anya Levkovich. Anya did an incredible job.  I also decided in the middle of July to add Sonia Pena to the company who is now VP of Marketing for Flaco Coquito.  Sonia has a wealth of knowledge in Hispanic media, and with my business sense and "Flaco Coquito" making skills we make a great duo!




How do you see your brand expanding?
My ultimate goal is to have Flaco Coquito distilled and sold in liquor stores. Right now we are marketing our name, concept and taste to create a demand. We have RED 58 Bar in Manhattan serving Flaco Coquito whose owner was taken by our concept and flavors.  The owner of RED 58 will serve Flaco Coquito Mango and Tropical Blend flavors all year round while serving our Original in the fall and winter.  

What do you hope to accomplish with this new drink?
We hope to accomplish CHANGE and people's perception of coquito. I want them to know that coquito can be consumed and enjoyed without feeling guilty all year around.  I'm fortunate that I have community leaders who live a healthier life style and enjoy Flaco Coquito such as Mia Roman (Artist/Activist), Edwin Vazquez (Artist,singer,songwriter), Carmelina Vargas (Singer/Songwriter/breast cancer survivor) and George Torres (sofritoforyoursoul.com).  Flaco Coquito recently came out in Carmelina's new video for her song "Alegria".

My family also helps me and they are simply amazing, especially my sister Monique & Cousin Gloria who believe in our product and work for Flaco Coquito. We also have so many other fans who help by spreading the concept of Flaco Coquito.

How would you like it to change or impact the way Latino's and others think about what they drink?
The evolution of all our traditional foods and drinks are inevitable especially with so many different illnesses that affect our community; particularly cancer.  Flaco Coquito wants to be a part of that change providing low sugar, low fat and vegan options, it was born from tradition but enjoyed in a lighter and healthier way. Flaco Coquito can be enjoyed all year round now, not just during the Holidays.  We offer 25 flavors which include our spring and summer flavors such as mango and tropical that are light, dairy-free and refreshing coconut goodness.


To contact Cynthia and/or to order some coquito visit www.flacocoquito.com

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Will be posting new stuff soon

I have stopped updates for a bit so that I can catch up to the posts that show up on Huffington Post.  I promise new content very soon.  Hopefully by this Thursday =)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dark Chocolate Sauce with Blueberries for Any Occasion



This post goes out to all chocolate lovers cruising the Web.  If at this moment, or at some point in the near future you get a chocolate craving.  I want to recommend that instead of purchasing your usual chocolate fix, you buy a block of broken Callebaut dark semi-sweet Belgium chocolate.  If you are in a tight spot and in desperate need of a quick fix of chocolate, then I probably wouldn't recommend this recipe.  If on the other hand you are willing to try a completely different way of both eating and drinking chocolate then I suggest you try buying your own block of chocolate the next time you shop.

Whether it's milk chocolate bars, chocolate syrup in our sundaes or cups of hot cocoa with marshmallows during the winter, most of us indulge in some type of chocolate on a regular basis.  What we may not realize is that the type of chocolate we buy here is not the same type of chocolate others purchase outside of the United States.  The quality of the ingredients in the United States, in my opinion, is simply sub par to other parts of the world.  With the exception of small businesses that really focus on the craft of creating chocolate.  Most of what you buy from name brands at most major stores barely passes for chocolate.   Whatever happened to milk & cocoa as the main ingredients?  We have become so accustomed to such a watered down version of chocolate that most of what we are getting are artificially flavored chocolates jammed packed with super sweet corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. 


I admit that I already have a biased opinion towards North American name brand chocolates.  Before coming to the United States I was already used to drinking hot cocoa made with blocks of chocolate de mesa or sweet dark baking chocolate and milk.  The hot cocoa comes out a little thicker and foamier, with a much darker and richer aroma.  In Europe, they tend to use cocoa powder and milk to make hot cocoa but the consistency is usually much ticker, like syrup, and served in smaller portions. According to wiki, and the various sources it quotes, it has a lot to do with the cocoa content of the chocolate used.  The United States only requires a 10% concentration of cocoa liquor to be present in milk chocolate and it mentions that most chocolate producers have lobbied to replace cocoa butter with other types of oils which include hydrogenated oils, and with sugars which include artificial sweeteners.  Yuck!  In other countries, the chocolate content is much higher and therefore you get a richer taste.  I don't know why Americans always end up with the short end of the stick when it comes to food products, but it's time for the blind fold to come off an for your life to get very chocolaty indeed.  



First, visit any large grocery chain.  You should find broken up blocks of Callebaut chocolate next to where they exhibit their imported cheese selection.  Don't buy the unsweetened dark chocolate.  It's great for baking but it's super bitter.  I don't want to you running for the hills just yet.  Make sure you buy the broken semi-sweet dark chocolate from Callebaut.  You should be able to find the Callebaut name engraved in the mix matched blocks of chocolate.  If you cant find Callebaut, look for baking chocolate that is semi-sweet.  I wouldn't buy chocolate chips, unless you find some that share similar ingredients with the Callebaut semi-sweet chocolate which contains 53.8% cocoa (sugar, unsweetened chocolate, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, salt, and pure vanilla extract)






Don't forget to buy some fruit.  I bough blueberries, which to me make the best chocolate pairing.  It also helps that they are super cheap during the summer months while they are in season.  Also, try buying New Jersey blueberries.  That's some very biased advise because I grew up in NJ, but NJ is one of the largest producers of blueberries in the country and at this time of year they are very fresh, sweet, and plump.






Let's get started!


Ingredients
block of broken Callebaut dark semi-sweet Belgium chocolate
Pint of blueberries
Your favorite type of nut or granola
Milk


TIP - Don't use a cutting board.  I find it easier to place a cloth kitchen towel on top of the kitchen counter, then place a large paper towel on top of the cloth towel.  It helps keep the shards of chocolate from spreading all over your kitchen counter, and it also muffles the sound from the cutting board.






Directions

  • If you kept your chocolate in the fridge after you bought it, make sure you leave it out for at least a half an hour so that it's easier to shave.
  • With a large non-serrated knife, start to shave the chocolate off the block.  Look at the images I posted. The chocolate can be cut into chunky pieces.  It looks like you are cutting shards off chocolate. 
  • Please be careful with your fingers.  You are using force when you cut.  This is a block of something hard, it's not as easy as cutting a strawberry.  I certainly don't recommend kids doing this without parental supervision. 
  • As you shave the chocolate you will notice that you will have to turn and flip your block of chocolate to get a better angle.  The more you cut, the more you run out of cutting real estate, so you just have to keep looking for the best edge to cut off. 
  • Cut as much as you like, but if it's just for you, cut about enough to yield 3 tablespoons.
  • Put the remainder of the block in the fridge in a sealed Ziploc bag.  I do this because the kitchen I use doesn't have AC and it tends to get very hot very quickly.
  • Make sure your fruit is cleaned and chopped up into chunks.  If you use blueberries you don't have to do anything but wash them and remove any stems.
  • * In a ceramic coffee cup, place your three tablespoons of shaved chocolate and put in the microwave for 30 seconds.  If you have a super strong microwave, make it 20 seconds.
  • Take it out and stir with a spoon.  You will see that it hasn't really melted, all you have done is melted a little around the edges.
  • If you are making 3 tablespoons of chocolate, then add one to one and a half tablespoons of milk to the same cup.  Try one tablespoon first, it's preferable to have a thicker consistency than to get something that resembles hot chocolate.  You want this to have a syrupy texture.
  • * Add to the the microwave for 20 to 30 more seconds.  As with before, it depends on your microwave's heat settings. 
  • * Take it out and then stir with a spoon.  It might look watery at first, but keep stirring until you see a chocolate colored texture.
Add your blueberries, mix, and then pour on top of some waffles, pancakes, dessert, but best of all ON TOP OF SOME ICE CREAM!  Just imagine how amazing this melted chocolate syrup will taste in a sundae.  If you have granola, then add granola.  You can pretty much add anything to this chocolate mixture. What's even better is that you can also pour it over anything too.





Instead of buying chocolate at the store, I have now become addicted with doing this exact procedure every time I'm craving chocolate.  It's just SO GOOD!  The difference is that I don't add the mixture to anything. I just eat the chocolate and the blueberries straight out of the cup.  For a quick, I put the blueberries in the freezer for a couple of minutes until they start to get really cold and frosty.  Then I proceed to add the hot chocolate syrup on top. I also mix the chocolate syrup with the blueberries and freeze the combined mixture together. I use cupcake paper as a mold and then I end up eating a delicious and cool dark chocolate blueberry bar.  And to think that all I added to the chocolate shavings was some milk.  It certainly has enough cocoa butter so don't go adding more butter.  It's also super fresh, without any preservatives or artificial sugars.  It's the way chocolate was intended to be eaten.

It might be more work than just buying a bar of chocolate at the store, but the flexibility you get in terms of ingredients, and to top it off the taste...It's really worth the wait.

I really hope you enjoy it alone and with the family.

Buen Provecho! =)


Monday, July 9, 2012

Summer Virgin Mango Mojitos



I love mojitos, they are hands down one of my favorite summer and all year round drinks.  The ingredients are simple, and you can easily make one with any type of fruit or vegetable imaginable.  I love my Cubans for this invention.  The combination of mint and lime is simply genius!

I know in most Latin American countries yerba buena or spearmint (a mint variety) is readily available.  You often find it growing wild like a weed, but because of winter and colder temperatures we don't get the privilege of year round access here in the United States.  Well, certainly not in the North East of the United States.  If you plant some in your backyard though you will find that the plant loves to reproduce.  When my sister, who lives in NJ, bought a house it came with its own supply of yerba buena in the backyard.  During the winter it was completely dead but the moment it got a whiff of spring it started to overpopulate her backyard.  She never has to replant it, it's just always there.  And the smell is divine.  Definitely a plant that everyone should grow in their backyard, it will reward you ten fold during the hot summer months.



Another great thing about mojitos is that you can use various ingredients to develop your own distinct signature.  I once worked near a restaurant where I used to buy cucumber mojitos.  They were amazing!   I still haven't come up with my own signature, but I want to tinker with making a ginger honey mojito, or a lychee mojito.  I'll figure something out eventually.  On the other hand, one thing I don't like about mojitos is how expensive they can be.  I usually find mojito's in the $8 to $15 range per drink!  That's New York City for you though.  So instead of paying up we can just as easily make our own virgin or regular mojitos at home.  All of the ingredients, except for the blue agave nectar which will run you about $5, will cost less than $8.  In total that's about $13 spent on ingredients that will yield more than enough for probably a group of 8.  This of course does not include the cost of alcohol...maybe you can get a friend to buy you some white rum as a gift! ::wink:: 

The key to this recipe is that we are not making individual mojitos.  The recipe below will help you if that's what you seek, but I was looking at making something that would be easy to prepare and serve as a concentrated mojito mixture.  You can then take the concentrated mixture to make a glass or a pitcher of mojito that you can serve at your next BBQ.  Whatever you have left over you can freeze into ice cubes that you can later drop in your seltzer water or you can save the mixture in a container and thaw it to make a pitcher at a later date.  What's great about this concentrated mixture is that it really lends itself to various recipes without having to make individual servings of mojito.



TIP 1 - If you want to make a different flavor mojito all you have to do is find all natural juice to substitute the mango juice in the recipe.  Try to find juice with no high fructose corn syrup or other ingredients that you don't understand.  If you can't find them, then I have an even better suggestion, make your own juice!  For example, if you want to make a lychee, strawberry, cucumber, or coconut mojito all you have to do is buy the fruit or vegetable and blend it with some ice cubes.  You want the mixture to be a little thick so just play with the fruit and ice combination. Make enough of the mixture so that you get about 4 ounces or half a cup per person. 

Ingredients
Mint Leaves (10 leaves per drink)
Limes (4 lime wedges per drink)
Blue Agave Nectar - Light or Dark (half a tablespoon per drink)
White Rum (1 1/2 ounces per drink)
2 Liters of Lemon Lime Seltzer - (half cup or 4 ounces per drink)
All Natural Mango Nectar Juice (4 ounces per drink)
Muddler if you have one if not a large wooden spoon
Ice (to your liking)
Mango (Not required, but if you have some laying around they can be used in this recipe)

TIP 2A standard bar pitcher in the US will hold about 32 ounces.  A liter container will hold about 34 ounces of liquid.  So on average you are getting about 4 eight ounce drinks per pitcher.  Keep this in mind before you buy your ingredients.  


Directions
  • Before you begin, make sure you keep the seltzer water and the mango nectar refrigerated so that you get a nice and refreshing drink, even without the ice.
  • Roll the lime with the palm of your hand to release some of the juice before you cut.  Cut each lime into 8 slices.  Estimate that you will use about 4 slices per drink.
  • Buy a bunch of mint leaves and just strip the leaves.  If for example you want to make enough for 4 people then strip 40 leaves.
  • In a container, squeeze half of the limes and drop the wedges in the container.  Add the remaining lime wedges into the container as well.  Break apart the mint leaves with your hands before adding them in the container.  This is a very helpful step in the case that you have to use a wooden spoon.
  • Add half a tablespoon of Blue Agave Nectar per drink.  The reason you only add half a tablespoon per drink is because Agave nectar is sweeter than sugar.
  • Add only 2 ounces of mango nectar per drink to the mixture.  
  • If you have mangoes laying around the house first remove the skin, cut up the mango into smaller cubes, then add to the mixture.  A lot of stores now sell frozen mango chunks that can be thawed.  Go with your gut, if you want a lot of mango pulp in your drink then go crazy.  If you need a number then add 2 to 3 cubes.
  • With your muddler or wooden spoon start to crush and mix your ingredients together.
  • You will discover that you just made a big mush of all of the ingredients.
  • If you think the mush is not too sweet then you can add a little bit more of the agave syrup. Remember that the mango nectar will tend to be on the sweet side so you don't over do it. 
TIP 3 - Buy some Wholesome Organic Blue Agave Sweetener or other type of agave syrup  and use it to replace your supply of white or brown table sugar.  Agave is a great substitute for table sugar because it's low in the glycemic index.  This means that the body will take longer to absorb the sugar into your bloodstream.  On the other hand table sugar is much higher in the glycemic index and will quickly absorb the sugar into your bloodstream causing spikes in your sugar levels.  Agave nectar is also sweeter than table sugar so you need less of it to sweeten you coffee or mojito.  I'll be writing a post devoted to Blue Agave Nectar very shortly.  It really tastes amazing with coffee.

At this point you have two options you can either freeze the mixture or serve it to your guests.
  • If you want to freeze the mixture into ice cubes or in a container go ahead and save it for a later day.  Make sure you remove the limes if you want to make ice cubes.  If you are preserving the entire mixture just leave the limes in the mixture.
  • If you want to make individual servings, fill a cup with about 2 to 3 ounces of the mixture.   Pour the remaining 2 ounces of mango nectar and mix.  Add two or three ice cubes.  Then add the 4 ounces of seltzer water.  Mix with a spoon and serve.  Try using a larger glass so that you don't have to fight to mix all of the ingredients together.  It's also helpful so that the drink doesn't overflow.
  • If you want to make a pitcher we are under the assumption that you will be preparing enough for four people.  If that's the case pour the mixture until it covers 1/3rd of the pitcher.  That's around 8 to 12 ounces of the mixture or 2 to 3 ounces per drink.  Follow the same concept with the remaining ingredients.  Add 8 ounces of mango nectar and 16 ounces of the seltzer water.  
  • If you want to use alcohol, just add 1 1/2 ounces of run to your cup, or 5 ounces to your pitcher then serve.
  • Mix all of the ingredients and it is now ready to serve.
TIP 4 - I would personally refrain from adding ice to your pitcher.  I don't like it when ice dilutes my drink before it's even served. The same goes for Sangria.  I recommend that you instead add ice to your guest's cup and then pour the mojito mixture.  You might even find that by doing that you'll get more than 4 cups out of your pitcher.


I really hope you enjoy your virgin or alcoholic mango mojito with friends and family during your next BBQ, or random hot summer day.

Buen Provecho! =)


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Family Camping Reunion - Breakfast Campestre



This past weekend I got to celebrate our annual camping reunion with my family.  My cousins have been planning it since March and to see it finally come together and everyone having a great time was well worth the wait.  I have been counting down the days waiting for the craziness to begin and the festivities did not disappoint.  It was by far the largest turnout we've had since we began our annual reunions a couple of years ago.  We had about 60 people show up, mostly cousins and a few close family friends. When my boyfriend, my mom, my aunt arrived at the campsite on Friday night it was already 11:30pm and my family had already taken up an entire section of the campsite.  I called my sister, who arrived a little before we did, to figure out where exactly we were located.  All she told me to do was follow the road and the noise, and sure enough we arrived at our camping location.



By the time we unpacked and set up our tents it was probably close to 1am, that's when I started to hear my mom, aunt, and cousins clamoring for some fresh coffee (Yes, at 1am they were going crazy asking for fresh coffee).  We are not talking about a cup of some highly caffeinated coffee that makes you jittery.  We are talking about a very small cup of smooth, sweet, and hot tinto, just the way Colombians like it.  Very slowly, everyone started to settle around the biggest fire, drinking coffee, beers, and liquor.  The conversations lasted until the wee hours of the morning.  As the morning slowly started to catch up to everyone in the campsite you started to see those with kids drifting off to their tents, while the bunch that was drinking got louder and rowdier.  You have to love camping with the family! =)



When I got up the next morning I was ready to eat!  I woke to the sound of my nieces asking for their tetero or bottle, the rattling of pots and grilling grates, and the smell of logs and coal, burning in preparation for breakfast.  If there is one thing I love about camping with my family is that it's always a food fest.  Breakfast isn't your typical PB&J (peanut butter & jelly) or ham and cheese sandwich.  We are talking about a full out home cooked meal over an open fire.  That's why I love being the bystander, photographer, and part-time flame blower, I get to enjoy every minute of the experience knowing that what I am about to eat is going to be ridiculously amazing!



That morning's breakfast consisted of fresh Colombian coffee, agua panela con limon y canela or a whole cane sugar block with limes and cinnamon sticks, arepas con queso Colombiano or corn cakes with Colombian cheese, and huevos pericos or scrambled eggs with tomatoes and scallions, all made over burning logs and coal.  That's what you call a typical Colombian desayuno campero or a camper's breakfast.  When it came time to cook, no one really assigned tasks, everyone just volunteered to participate in preparing some aspect of the breakfast. While mom made fresh coffee using a reusable cloth filter or what we call a colador, my cousin boiled water in a giant pot and mixed the panelas with lime juice and cinnamon cloves.  At the same time, another cousin and a family friend where busy cracking and beating the eggs in constant harmony.  As the assembly line progressed more people joined in.  They were tasked with keeping the flames from burning out, stirring the huevos pericos so they don't dry out, flipping the arepas so they don't completely burn.  Let's not forget about our hungry bystanders, who huddled around the flames watching and waiting to get the first batch of food from the fire.






To make things simpler, the tomatoes and the scallions were cut ahead of time.  Cutting anything while you camp can be arduous, so making some aspects of the meal ahead of time is simply a lot less messy and a time saver.  As for the arepas, we bought them in bulk from the store and froze them.  Though my mom did prepare some arepas from scratch, she was only able to make enough so that a few of us could enjoy them for lunch.  It is possible to make them ahead of time and preserve them in the freezer.  You just need to be realistic about the amount of time you want to spend preparing enough for everyone.  My great aunt, who was one of the last living matriarchs of the family, might have balked at our new found laziness, but in today's day and age sometimes there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done.  I'm sure she would have still been proud at our attempt of keeping our cooking traditions alive.



At the end, the eggs, the coffee, and the corn cakes had that beautiful smokiness that you get when you cook outdoors over an open fire.  The agua panela turned out to be a sweet and refreshing treat that served as a breakfast dessert.  Everything was made in batches and all in all we must have used more than 8 dozen eggs.  The first batch of eggs dried out a little too much because of how close the pot was to the flames but that was corrected in later batches.  Never serve a Colombian dried eggs, I don't know how many times I heard someone pass by reminding whoever was stirring the eggs not to dry them out.



Once everyone was served, there were a couple of folk that went out looking for seconds.  Even after having seconds, we still had a pot full of leftover eggs that someone ended up eating for lunch, lol.  All in all, we had an amazing breakfast, and most importantly we ate as a family.  There were no fights and no arguments, only great food, great friends, and great times!


I really hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about my Colombian family and our breakfast cooking traditions.  Stay tuned as I'll be writing more about some of the other foods we prepared during my family's camping reunion.

Buen provecho! =)


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Grilled Vegetables For Your Next BBQ





During the summer months most of our weekends are booked with back-to-back barbecue invitations. Either you are inviting friends and family over for a barbecue or someone else invited you to the park, or the beach, or to their backyard for some grub.  The star of the menu is most often than not meat, meat, and dare I say more meat.  You always find your basic burger/hot dog combo with some chicken and some steak while fruits and vegetables are relegated to the side dish role in your BBQ.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my churrasco or skirt stake on the grill, but so much meat can be overwhelming.   Corn on the cob should not be the only non-meat food available at your BBQ.  So the next time you throw a BBQ remember that the summer months are when supermarkets and farmer's markets carry the freshest fruits and vegetables.  Just imagine how much better all of your fruits, yes fruits, and vegetables will taste on the grill. 

Unfortunately at the moment I don't own a grill, I've been looking to get this  Weber Q 100 Liquid Propane Table/Outdoor Grill - 386002.  It has some of the best reviews on Amazon and because I might not always have a backyard I want something that is easy to move around and will hopefully not take up too much space.  On the other hand, I also love charcoal grilling, so I also fell in love with the Weber Charcoal Go-Anywhere Grill.  This one also has amazing reviews and is thankfully in my budget range, so I think when the time comes this will be the one I get.  

Since I don't have a grill, I went with the next best thing and used the oven.  I also could have used a cast iron skillet to arrive at the desired charring effect but at least I still got the same juiciness and crispiness.  I'm learning as I go here so bare with me.





I have to be totally honest and tell you that I went about grilling my vegetables the wrong way.  I was making my Kale & Beet Leaf Chips recipe when I decided that I also wanted to grill some vegetables.  I placed the veggies in the middle rack of the oven and used the top rack for my kale chips.  Kale chips are prepared at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  After the chips were done, which took about 10 minutes, I moved my vegetables to the top rack and that's when they really started to get crispy.  The right way to grill vegetables in the oven requires that you set your oven at really high heat.  I didn't know this until I visited a couple of blogs online.  I still got the desired results, my veggies turned out crispy and juicy, it probably just took me longer at the temperature I was using.

The below recipe will work for your grill, your cast iron pan, and your oven, the main take away here is that we need to start grilling vegetables and enjoying them more often.  I bought beets, summer squash and carrots at the farmer's market which turned out really sweet and crispy.  The summer squash turned out crispy on the outside but the inside was just juiciness.   I also found some snow peas in the fridge but I didn't like how they turned out in the oven.  They lost their original crispiness.  At the end it really doesn't hurt to try any type of vegetable, you'll figure out if you don't like it afterwards.

Grilled Vegetables
Olive oil
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper

Alternative ingredients
Minced garlic
Cajun seasoning
Red pepper flakes
Adobo
Your choice of herbs (rosemary, basil, thyme, etc..)

Here is a list of veggies you could use for grilling: Asparagus, broccoli, beets, carrots, summer squash, any type of pepper, tomatoes, onions, the list goes on.

Directions
  • Set your stove top cast iron skillet or your grill to medium heat.  
  • For your oven, ehow.com recommends that you preheat your oven to between 500 and 550 degrees Fahrenheit.  The site recommends that you use a cast iron skillet or a grill pan, but I used a baking sheet pan and covered it with aluminum foil.  
Tip 1 - You shouldn't feel like you have to go run off and buy something you don't have.  I didn't have a grill, or a cast iron skillet, so I used a baking sheet and the oven.  Sometimes it's best to work with what you have.
  • Add olive oil to a small container, 1/4 cup should do, and with a brush start to coat your vegetables.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • If you have additional ingredients now is the time to sprinkle them onto your vegetables.
  • If you prefer, you can also mix the oil with your additional ingredients.  With the brush you will get an even coating of your seasoning on your vegetables.
Keep an eye on your veggies as they grill.  Your cooking time will range from between 5 to 10 minutes.  Peppers might take a little longer, while asparagus might take no time at all to cook.


Tip 2 - For dessert, why not grill some fruit instead of eating cake.  If it's a super hot day, take a scoop of ice cream or gelato and place some of your favorite charred fruit on top.  YUM!

LEFTOVERS IDEA - GRILLED VEGETABLE EGG STIR FRY





After I finished my delicious dinner of veggies and only veggies I ended up with a lot of leftover vegetables.  I knew I was going to be eating them pretty soon, so I stored them in a container in the refrigerator.  If there is one thing you need to know about my family is that we don't like throwing out food or leaving it in the fridge forgotten.  If you cooked too much, well then you can eat it for breakfast the very next morning or take it to work for lunch.  I went with option one and used my leftover ingredients to make a recalentado for breakfast.  You make a recalentado by "reheating" whatever you  made the day before.  This usually involves a mixture of leftover rice and beans with scrambled eggs.  I once had some leftover rice and mixed it with an egg for breakfast and my boyfriend's father thought I was nuts.  As a Latina, I say this with much love, but we need to start eating rice in moderation!  I love my curves but I don't need to add to them by gorging on rice all the time.  That's why I started to cut my consumption of rice to less than one cup (8 ounces) a day.  As an alternative to this recalentado, skip the white rice and make it with some brown rice.  You can also chop your vegetables a little finer or add some crumbled tofu to supplement the rice all together.  Either way the sweetness of these grilled vegetables will outshine all other ingredients and make for a perfectly healthy and filling treat.   
  • Chop your veggies into small or large chunks (whatever style you prefer)
  • Heat a frying pan with a tablespoon of olive oil, set to medium heat.
  • Let your vegetables saute for about 5 minutes.
  • If you have left over rice around add it to the pan after about 3 minutes, you want to give the veggies time to saute on their own.
  • Add eggs (cage free) - The number of eggs you use depends on the amount of veggies you chopped and the number of people you are feeding.  (I only like having one egg for breakfast so that's all I used).
  • Mix everything together and you have yourself a grilled vegetable egg stir fry.
Buen provecho! =)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Spaghetti Squash with Salmon and Basmati Rice


Oh Spaghetti Squash, Where have u been all my life?





I first tried spaghetti squash a couple of months ago and I couldn't believe how amazing the texture was, the subtle sweetness, the way it made the dish lighter and healthier than it otherwise should be. How could I have lived a good portion of my life without it? Can't say I know much about squashes, the only other squash I use with confidence is butternut squash. But still, I felt like a hermit having stumbled onto civilization.

I can just think of about a million things I want to do with it, and one of them is this very recipe. Like I previously said, it has been a while since I last saw one in the farmer's market or in the store. This squash is usually a winter variety, and not too long ago I almost bought one at a local grocery store until I found out they were trying to charge me $8 for a small one. I convinced myself that I would just have to wait for winter, until I saw it again last week while wandering through Whole Foods during my lunch break. I spotted this spaghetti squash for about $1.50/lb. I snatched it in a heart beat! I don't buy much in Whole Foods unless it's on sale and I was not going to wait for them to change their mind on the price. I was finally going to get my chance to make something with this beautiful squash.





That same day I also found some wild caught sockeye salmon fillet on sale for about $11.99/lb. That may sound expensive, because it truly is, but it usually goes for about $16/lb. I call it my once every three to six month treat, so when you see it on sale I highly recommend making the investment. Even if not on sale, cut out some of the junk food from your grocery list and get this baby instead. If you buy a half lb or 8 ounces you are getting two 4 ounce steaks. Believe it or not that's the recommended portion size for most meats, and it's perfect for this recipe. 

Another great thing about this salmon, besides the fact that it has a ton of omega 3's, is that it comes from fisheries that are certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. We sometimes forget about the impact we have on our environment, and how we choose the foods that we consume has as much an impact as anything else we do to help save the environment. I know most of the vegetables I ate as a kid in Colombian were bought at the local mercado or market which was sold by local farmers. Even grocery stores carried local produce. It might be a new trend in the United States but most of our families grew up buying local produce before it became a fad here. The greater the demand for healthier and environmentally conscious foods, the more pressure we put on major producers to make this the norm and not the exception.

Now that I finished my environmentally conscious rant, I will proceed to tell you how amazing this salmon is  in comparison to its plain vanilla counterpart.  It's just fresher and fleshier than what you are probably accustomed to buying.  From what I've read its bright pink color has a lot to do with the diet and the size of the salmon that grow in the Northern Pacific.  The wild ones tend to be larger and fattier, which also means juicier.  I think that's what sets them the most apart, that one is wild while the other is farmed, and that probably gives them that refreshing taste.   There's very little you have to do with this salmon, it's good all on its own.  Before I used to think that the bright pink color might mean it has more nutrients, but that might not be the case.  Some fisheries, the ones where you don't want to get your salmon from, tend to feed the salmon die to give them a pink color.  Something worth thinking about the next time you buy salmon.  


So now that we have two amazing ingredients I decided to make Spaghetti Squash with Sockeye Salmon. I added Basmati rice to this recipe because I was craving it, but a nice summer salad with a hint of lemon would be a better pairing for the salmon. Maybe even a simple diced cucumber and tomato salad with salt and pepper to taste plus the juice of half a lime.

I created this dish to celebrate my 5 year anniversary with my boyfriend Brian. He loved it, I loved it, and I hope you will love it too.

Spaghetti Squash with Sockeye Salmon
Serves 2

1 small/medium spaghetti squash
1/2 lb of salmon with skin
2 cloves of garlic (if you have also use roasted garlic)
1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese or crumbled feta cheese
1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil
A pinch of dried oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil, and/or red pepper flakes for some heat (anything you can find in your cabinet works)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit 
  • Cut spaghetti squash in half. With a spoon take out the seeds (don't throw them out, set aside) 
  • In the cavity of each spaghetti squash half place a table spoon of olive oil. Add a pinch of each of your favorite herbs. If you want some heat add some red pepper flakes. I used rosemary, thyme, and basil. 
  • Mince the garlic and add an even amount for each half. I also had some roasted garlic so I smashed a clove of roasted garlic in each cavity. 
  • Add salt and pepper to your liking 
  • With your hands mix all of the ingredients and rub them all over the inside and edges of the squash, don't rub it on the skin. 
  • Once the oven is ready, place each half with the cavity facing up and leave in the oven for 20 minutes.












Tip 1 - If there is one thing I hate more than anything when using an oven, is to use it and only make one thing at a time.  If I can make multiple things at once, then I'm spending less money on gas and being more energy efficient.  Here are a few of the foods you can prepare that won't cause any added stress to make.
Directions continued...

After the 20 minute mark you have a few choices and it all depends on how you like to eat your salmon.

If you like it well done, then this is the time where you take out your spaghetti squash and add the salmon.
  • Make sure you cut your salmon steak so that it fits into the cavity of the spaghetti squash. 
  • Rub some salt and pepper to your liking all over the salmon. Rub a little bit of olive oil on the skin, but only enough to give it a shiny coat. 
  • Place the salmon skin side up inside the cavity of the squash, this will enable it to get a nice and crispy skin, which I LOVE! 
  • You will notice some olive oil squash juice in the cavity, DON'T REMOVE!, that's only going to add flavor to your salmon. 
  • Place it back in the oven for another 20 minutes and you are done!
If you like your salmon medium rare, leave the squash in for 30 minutes and with 10 minutes remaining follow the steps above and leave the spaghetti squash with your salmon in the oven for another 10 minutes.
  



Once the 40 minutes are up, take out your squash and let your salmon rest separately on the side.
  • So you don't burn your hands, let the squash rest for a few minutes before you start to separate the strands. 
  • If you still see squash/olive oil juice that hasn't been soaked up by the salmon, use a spoon and save it in a small container so that you can add it to the finished dish. 
  • Once the spaghetti squash has cooled enough, take a fork and start to separate the strands of the squash.



Now you understand why they call it spaghetti squash!
  • When you separate the strands try not to puncture the skin of the squash. As you can see from the pictures you can use the skin as your plate and it holds up well to the task. 
  • Put all of the spaghetti squash strands in a separate container. You could add a pinch of salt and pepper to give the squash some flavor, BUT, I would actually recommend that you use grated parmesan cheese or feta cheese. The warmth of the squash will melt the cheese away and it will taste amazing! 
  • Whatever squash you have left over simply save in a container and leave in your refrigerator. You can use it for lunch, or if you happen to be making this dish for 4 people, then I would say that it will yield enough for everyone without any leftovers.


Tip 2 - If making Basmati rice try making it earlier in the day.  It will reduce the amount of time you spend around the oven.  Follow the instructions in the bag, but add a clove of garlic or the stem of one scallion for flavor (My mom and aunt do this to regular rice and it makes Basmati rice even more flavorful!). When you are ready to reheat, simply place your rice in a microwavable container, wet and strain a paper towel, just make sure the paper towel stays moist.  Use it to cover the rice and microwave for a minute.  The rice comes out as if you had just finished cooking it.


Now that your dish is ready to plate and serve I hope that you enjoy it with a beer growler of your choice (which I did) or maybe a nicely chilled glass of your favorite white wine.

Buen provecho! =)

































Monday, June 11, 2012

Kale & Beet Leaf Chips

This past Tuesday I visited the local farmer's market by my job and as always I saw a lot of veggies I haven't dared to try.  One of the workers in the Migliorelli Farm stand recommended that I try their kale.  He boasted that it was the best kale you could find in NY.  So I had to give it a try.  (To find a farmer's market near you simply search online, or visit GrowNYC for a listing of NYC farmer's markets.)

I went ahead and bought a head of kale for $3.50 as well as one bunch of beets with its leaves for $3. The farmer said that if I had never tried kale before, to try making kale chips.  He said buying them in a place like Whole Foods will cost you around $8 which is ridiculous expensive, plus they are easy enough to do on your own.  Though you definitely get a lot of kale for the price you definitely may want to save your kale to make something other than chips.  Saute the kale with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper, or a dash of low sodium soy sauce, and you can use them as a side dish to any meal.  


Even though this is my first time trying kale, I had heard the rumors that it was supposed to be amazing for you.  I think I need to personally introduce my aunt and mom to this.  Check out organicauthority.com's article on the 7 Reasons Kale is the New Beef for more information about this amazing leafy green.  You will  definitely see this ingredient popping up around this blog more often.  It's anti-inflammatory and claims to have more iron and calcium per calorie than your favorite choice of beef or milk.

Beet leaves may not be quite the superstars like kale, but they are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals that beat most of the other junk food we eat.  Check out livestrong.com for more information on the Nutritional Content of Beet Leaves.  The reason I picked beet leaves for this recipe was one because they looked so pretty, and two because it would have been a crime to toss them out and only use the beets.  Plus, I remember my mom telling me that whenever she bought beets with the leaves she would use the leaves to make vegetable soup.  I was taught not to throw away food, and if it's edible, then why not make something with it.  So this is me making good use of them but instead of soup I'm making chips.

I really hope you enjoy making them as much as I know you will enjoy eating them.  Make them as snacks or as appetizers, either way they will be one of the healthiest snacks you will ever enjoy.


TIP 1 - Preparation for making these chips is fairly simple, just use your imagination on the seasonings and go for it!  I made one batch with parmesan cheese and another with Cajun seasoning and they were to die for!!


Kale & Beet Leaf Chips
1 head of Kale
Leaves of one bunch of beets
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Sea salt and Pepper to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons of seasoning, depends on the seasoning used.

Seasonings:
  • Parmesan Cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano di Parma is the best!!)
  • Cajun Seasoning
  • Adobo Seasoning
  • Minced Garlic and/or Ginger with a few drops of Soy Sauce
Directions:
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Wash and dry the kale leaves.  You can cut out the ribs of the kale.  I happen to like the ribs so I kept them on.  Remove, wash and dry the leaves from the beets.  Mix ingredients in a bowl and make sure everything is well coated.  
  • Place leaves on top of an aluminum sheet pan. Try to give each leaf its own space on the pan so that they dry quicker.  Placing them on top of one another delays the process and only cooks the leaves instead of making them crispy.
  • Check back after 5 minutes then turn them.  Wait 5 more minutes and remove them from the oven.  If you think they are still not crispy enough, leave them in for a couple of more minutes and then remove.
  • Try to use all of the racks in the oven so that you can make as many as you can in one batch.

TIP 2 - I like to use any type of vinegar, could be apple cider vinegar if that is all you have, to wash vegetables and leaves.  I add a tablespoon of vinegar to a large glass of water and then use the water to wash the leaves making sure they all get a good coating.  Then I let them marinate with the vinegar water for two to three minutes before washing off the vinegar and patting them dry.  You can also use baking soda if you don't have any vinegar. 




TIP 3 - Don't leave them in the oven for too long, otherwise you'll get chips that look brown (see image below).  You want them to still look green when you take them out of the oven.  I found that the batch below turned out dryer and they didn't preserve the taste of the parmesan cheese which I used as my seasoning ingredient.



Picture Links

About This Blog

I started this blog because I want to introduce new and healthy ingredients into my everyday meals. Living in the NY, NJ, CT tri-state area you find a plethora of local grocery stores that service a number of diverse neighborhoods. Every time I visit one of these stores I find fruits, vegetables, and ingredients that I have never used, or that I am afraid to use. I want to incorporate these ingredients to create new and healthier ways to experience Latin food, as well as other types of cuisines. I think it's important to love and continue our cooking traditions while also testing and incorporating new and healthier ingredients and techniques.

One of the most distinct ingredients that I know is not widely used in Latin cuisine is tofu, and it’s a shame. I have had tofu at Chinese and Thai restaurants before, but I never gave the ingredient a second thought. Tofu is such an amazing alternative to meats and it’s super healthy and cheap! This one ingredient got me thinking about all of the other healthy and fresh ingredients I could be using to develop Latin infused dishes that everyone in my family will love. That’s why I decided to name this blog Tofu con Sazón!

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