Candidly Yours

Heavenly No Crust “Cheese Dreams”

August 12, 2018

My good friend, Helen, is on a Ketogenic diet, so no gluten flour for her!
She is also a wonderful hostess and the last time I popped over, she set out the most delicious, gooey, cheesy “non-pizza”  snack!  It was a bit like a pizza, a bit like a quiche, but no crust at all,… i.e., gluten- and mostly carb-free!.  What it reminded me of most was an extra yummy mozerella stick.

I wanted to make something like it as soon as I got home, but alas… I didn’t have all her ingredients.  I did however have sausage and some different cheeses. What emerged from my oven was equally tasty and I’m calling it Sausage Cheese Dreams. Below is my recipe

This dish is  ideal as an h’ordeuvres, a snack,  or even in a larger piece for breakfast. It’s also Keto- and Paleo- diet friendly.

You can certainly  make a vegetarian version by simply omitting the meat!

SAUSAGE CHEESE DREAMS
(Vegetarian Option Included!)

1.   Heat oven to 3752.
2.  Line a cake pan or similar shallow pan with butter, parchment paper, then more butterIn a medium bowl, beat 2 pasture raised eggs and to this, add:

  • 1 cup of riced cauliflower (you can purchase this already riced in the frozen section of your super market, or you can process it yourself.
  • 3/4 cup of grated gooey cheese. I used a 4-cheese Mexican mix but Monterrey Jack, Colby, or Mozerella will all do.
  • Add 3/4 cup grated or shaved parmesan cheese
  • Add 3/4 cup crumbled breakfast sausage meat, sautéd until just cooked, (Be sure it is cooled eoght before adding it to the egg mixture.)NOTE to Vegetarians: Omit the meat and replace with sautéd mushrooms.
    If your mix is too liquid, add 2 – 3 tbsp of gluten-free flour.
  • 15 freshly chopped basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • TIP! If your batter seems too liquid, add two tbsp. of gluten-free flour, or just enough to bind and absorb the liquid. 

3.  Once all your ingredients are incorporated, pour all of the mixture into the prepared pan. You do     not want the uncooked batter to cover more than 1/4 of an inch. It will expand as it cooks, but you are not making a quiche!

4  Sprinkle more cheese and a bit of basil on top and bake about 20 minutes, or until you see the top bubbling and the edges turning brown.

Batter, before the oven

Top is bubbling, edges are brown.

5.  Cool about 5 minutes. Then turn it out by pulling up the parchment paper and cut into desired bites or slices

.

 

TIP! : Try using different cheeses & experiment with different herbs. Add mushrooms & sautéd onions.
If you’re daring, toss in a pinch of cayenne pepper for a kick, or use Pepper Jack cheese.

Main Dishes

Delicious & Versatile Creamed Spinach!

June 5, 2018

Creamed spinach is a great way to add vegetables while keeping carbs and calories to a healthy minimum.  Plus… this recipe fits into almost any diet:  Not only is it grain- and gluten-free, but also Vegetarian, Paleo and Keto friendly!  It works as a side-dish, but I love it topped with a poached egg, a la “Eggs Florentine.”  When I’m really hungry, I top the egg with a slice of cheese and broil for a minute.

The recipe below yields about 6 cups, or …12, half-cup servings at 160 calories and very few carbs.

In addition to the ingredients featured in the photo, I also used about 1-1/2 tablespoons of Quinoa flour to thicken, which adds a negligible amount of carbs.

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 9-oz packages of baby spinach, chopped
  • 1 large Vidalia or sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (feel free to substitute Half ‘n Half)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp good butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (not shown)
  • 1-1/2 tbsp flour (I prefer gluten-free flour)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste (I ground about 20 times)

Preparing

  1. Melt butter and olive oil in a large skillet
  2. Add chopped onion and salt, then sauté until onions are soft and clear
  3. Toss in all the chopped spinach and sauté, turning and stirring until soft
  4. Add the cream, stir, then add the parmesan and incorporate well
  5. Simmer about 3 minutes, then sprinkle in flour to thicken, pepper to taste and simmer until the mix reaches the desired consistency.

TIP: Portion out the large batch into individual half- or one-cup servings for freezing!
They thaw quickly,  so you’ll always have a handy, healthy side vegetable!.

Candidly Yours

DID YOU KNOW? REFLUX MEDS CAN CAUSE DANGEROUS DEFICIENCY

March 31, 2018

Secretly, I thought I might be crawling toward death and I wasn’t at all sure why. I had been so depleted, for months, and I was quietly frightened enough that I began writing the names of my loved ones on the backs of treasured  heirlooms in case I kicked the bucket in the night.

Looking back, so much was going on but I never strung the issues together. It just felt like my body and my mind were going down like a slowly but inevitably sinking ship.

I’ve always had insomnia, even as a small child, but for months, I had been almost unable to sleep at all and, if sleep came in spurts, it was never for more than 90 minutes, a couple of times in one night.  Yes, I had been living and working on about 3 hours of sleep for over a year.

Even sexier,  I had developed creepy, wrestlers legs. And to add to the fun, my muscles started going into painful spasms, my  eyes felt like they had grains of sand in them but a trip to the eye doctor and liquid tears did nothing.  The heart was palpitating, I was dizzy, my hair was falling out and my joints hurt so much that I could hardly walk in the mornings. Beyond dragging my sad self to work, I couldn’t get out of bed or get enthusiastic to do anything at all. Not even dance, my favorite activity, ever. Ugh. This is not the stuff for an alluring dating profile page!

Those who know me, know I generally a happy chick,  high-strung for sure, even hyper, but still a happy lady and this helped me be able to  ignore for too long, or hide all the above from anyone around me. Then, on Christmas Day, my stress level and my ability to cope with the regular bustle of guests was so overwhelming I felt embarrassed. I was a freak!

Blessedly, a few weeks into the New Year, a shocking blood pressure attack forced a reluctant visit to the doctor where it was suggested I have my vitamin B12 level checked.

B12 is an essential vitamin. Without it, one can develop pernicious anemia, neurological issues, even Alzheimers. It is detrimental to go without B12 yet oddly, it is not part of a routine blood panel. Still, it is easily fixed if caught in time.

In countries that follow a mostly vegetarian diet, such as India, B12 deficiency and it’s consequences, is common. Vegetarians and vegans are told they must  take a B12 supplement or consume foods fortified with the vitamin if they are to maintain  healthy levels. A close friend of mine became vegan when in her 20s. After a time, she began passing out. It was discovered she was B12 deficient and today, decades later, has a permanent loss of feeling on one of her little toes!

Since today, B12 is easily obtained in supplements and  fortified foods such as cereals, vegetarians can make a good case for giving up meat altogether.  Still, doctors tell me that it is best to obtain essential vitamins through diet over supplements, if possible, and B12 is naturally provided only in meats, eggs and dairy.  Okay … well … Ahem! I eat meat, eggs and dairy. So why, then  did I become dangerously deficient? And could this be happening to you? Well, if you suffer from acid reflux, it just might!

What many don’t know, and what no doctor told me 12 years ago when I began taking acid reducing meds daily,  is that people who suffer from acid reflux and related issues, and who are on a prolonged regimen of proton pump inhibitors such as Nexus or Prylosec, can develop a B12 deficiency because the stomach is not producing enough acid for absorbtion. This is likely how I became deficient. If you are taking reflux meds, think about having your B12 checked with your next blood panel.

I am happy always to cater to my vegan and vegetarian friends. But whenever I have tried to go without meat, it just does not feel right for me. I don’t eat a lot of meat, and I am conscious about where my meat is produced, how it is fed and slaughtered. Ditto for eggs. But I just don’t feel well when I remove it from my diet completely. And it begs, for me, the question that follows…

If Vitamin B12 is not readily available in plants, were we ever intended to be 100% vegetarian, as some claim?  If our creator had wanted us to abstain from meat altogether, would he not have provided B12 in plant foods?”  

I started taking high doses of B12 daily, without fail. You can get your B12 in a regular vitamin but for me, a sublingual or liquid delivery is more efficient because of  malabsorption in the stomach.  After just a few days, I began to sleep! Within 2 weeks, or even sooner, every one of the symptoms described above had begun markedly to disappear. Within 4 weeks, I was out dancing again! And my stress level is noticeably down and manageable.

Today, I take a medium dose of B12 daily. About once a month, I add liver to my mostly Paleo diet.To make liver taste almost like a good filet mignon, I soak it for about an hour in milk which helps remove that metallic after-taste.  I lightly dredge the meat in Quinoa flour, then I simply sauté in butter with a little salt and pepper. I top it off with caramelized onions. Delicious.

 

 

Comfort Food

20 Minute Lentil Heaven

January 26, 2018

These days, it’s a challenge to find a dish you can serve to everyone, from your manliest meat-eater to your weight-watcher, the animal-conscious vegan or even a diabetic. Here’s a fast and tasty way to provide bowl full of heavily health in only 20 minutes that’s good enough and healthy enough for almost any diet!

Red Lentils are low in fat, loaded with protein and fiber, and chock full of heart-healthy folate and manganese. They are also pretty to look at, which makes them festive enough for company. The best part? They are extremely easy to prepare because, unlike green or brown lentils, red lentils are very quick cooking, i.e., no soaking,  no waiting.

With it’s fresh splash of lemon and bright mint, this recipe will bring a bit of the Mediterranean to your soup bowl and it will keep you feeling full for hours.

EASY RED LENTIL SOUP

In a small soup pot, boil 2 cups of salted water and add to it:

  • 1 Cup red lentils
  • 1 large, or 2 small, minced garlic teeth
  • 1 Tsp. dried, flaked onion

Simmer about 15 minutes, until lentils are soft. Now add:

  • 1 Can “no salt” diced tomatoes. Your choice, but I prefer to add & control my own salt.
  • 1 Tsp. fresh Italian flat parsley, chopped
  • 1 Tsp. fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 Tsp. fresh or jarred lemon juice. Use more or less, to taste.

Simmer soup about 5 more minutes. Add salt to taste and serve.

Notes:  Garnish with fresh Mint or Parsley. Use fresh tomatoes, if you like. Add carrots if that appeals to you.  I did not need to use any type of flavor “cute” or powder as the lentils, garlic, salt I used and fresh herbs created a lot of flavor!

Comfort Food

Caldo Verde, Gringa Style!

January 13, 2018

On a cold day, this soup will bring happy tears to your eyes and warm you to your socks.

I had read that Caldo Verde, a traditional Portuguese soup, was the considered by some to be the comfort soup of all comfort soups and, on this unusually chilly Florida day, it did not disappoint.

Traditionally, Caldo Verde is prepared with true Portuguese sausage called chouriço or linguiça and kale. Since I have never followed a recipe, (or for that matter any agenda one hundred percent), and as I don’t live near a Portuguese butcher, I decided to use the sausages available to me in my local store. I also went for  spinach over kale, because I thought it would appeal to my peeps.

I used both a smoked Polish sausage and a house-made Italian from Publix. I think the smoke factor matters here, but if you have liquid smoke, you could add a few drops of this.

When you create your version of Caldo Verde, try it with the traditional kale (removing the stems) or collard greens (again, sans stems), or a combination of these and/or spinach.

This soup turned out to be dreamy warm, hearty, filling and delicious!
It was a meal in itself.

PORTUGUESE CALDO VERDE, My Way

Into a pot full of salted, boiling water (about 4 cups), add:

  • 3 large, russet potatoes, chopped into big chunks
  • 1 large, white sweet potato, chopped into big chunks (this is non traditional)
  • 1 cube of chicken stock flavor
  • Pinch of salt & pepper to taste

Boil for 20 minutes, until the potatoes are fork-tender.

While the potatoes are cooking, into a heavy pot or Dutch oven, sauté together:

  • 3 slices of smoked bacon
  • 6 sliced or quartered large links of Portuguese or hot Italian sausage (or you can use Andouille, or any smokey, spicy sausage)
  • 3 Large teeth of garlic, minced
  • 1 Medium onion

Sauté until the fat is rendered from the bacon and sausage and the onions and garlic are clear.  You’ll notice the sausages are beginning to brown or caramelize. Now just set all this aside.
Do not toss the fat/oils!

Return to your pot of potatoes and with your favorite hand tool, smash them roughly, enough so that they are both creamy and chunky. Do not change the water! Just take your potato smasher and mash it all up until you see both creamy and chunky.

Place your pot of potato mixture on medium low and add all the sausage, bacon, onion and garlic mix to this,

Now, slice up 3 cups of baby spinach OR kale OR collard greens and add to the pot.

Cook another 10 to 15 minutes and serve with grilled, buttered bread.

 

Candidly Yours

How to cook (Yuck!) Liver

January 12, 2018

“Mom, is this filet? It’s delicious!” my son asked as he bit into a tender, juicy piece of … wait for it…liver.

I do realize this is not going to be my most popular post but I encourage you to read on…

When I was growing up, if one friend asked another for dinner, the usual reply — or rather the hesitant reply before the reply — was “What are you having?” and if the answer was “Liver,” the RSVP was a speedy and resounding “No!”

The liver my son had that day was during our years in Panama. It was fresh and grass fed, and it was indeed tender and resembled a filet mignon.

People don’t generally like liver because it has a strong, distinctive metallic taste that so many find off-putting. So…why eat liver? Because liver is chock full of nutrients like iron, vitamins A and B12 and so much more!

Like many people, I discovered that I have a serious B12 deficiency due to long-term, over-use of proton pump inhibitors from a reflux disorder. The overuse of PPIs had the eventual  effect of hindering absorption of B12 and make no mistake;  a B12 deficiency is serious business. So,  in addition to supplements, I am eating liver once a week.

HOW TO PREPARE DELICIOUS LIVER

  1. Purchase good quality beef liver, sliced very thinly, about 1/4 inch thick.
  2. Before cooking it, soak it in some milk. This seems to remove the metallic taste that is so off-putting to so many.
  3. Dredge it in a little flour seasoned with your favorite salt and some pepper.
  4. Melt some good quality butter in a skillet and sauté your sliced onions until soft, translucent and beginning to caramelize.
  5. Put the onions to the side (or on a separate plate), add butter, and sauté your liver, turning only once.  The liver will cook in just  few minutes. Some people like it a little pink in the middle. I’m good with pinkish or done through and through.
  6. If you like, deglaze the pan with a little water, add flour and make a quick gravy to drizzle over your dish.

 

Breakfast

Delicious, Easy Rice Fritters w/Basil & Parmesan

December 22, 2017

Don’t toss that old, cold rice!

Instead, turn it into tasty rice fritters good enough to serve as a starchy side dish or to pack as a  yummy snack that can be eaten warm or even at room temperature.

I whipped these up –f rom start to finish – in 20 minutes. Then I  packed up what I didn’t eat to take to my teen son who never lets a good munchie snack go to waste.

Here is all you will need to do.

In a bowl, mix together:

  • 2 Cups of cold, or room temperature, left-over rice.
    I always use Basmati but any white rice will do. Also, my rice was actually days old!
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 Medium sweet, white onion (Spanish or Vidalia), minced well.
    I ground up mine in a simple, $12 mini electric chopper. I don’t even own a food processor!

Now, into the mix, add the following:

  • 1/2 Tsp good salt (Kosher,  Himalayan, Celtic or Sea Salt)
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp Corn Starch (Grain- and Gluten-Free folk, use Tapioca Starch)
  • 2 Tbsp Flour (I used Quinoa Flour and Gluten-Free people will want to do this, but regular white works fine)
  • 1/2 Cup Italian Bread Crumbs (Gluten-Free eaters, substitute Quinoa Flour).
  • 1/2 – 3/4 Cup of Shredded Parmesan Cheese
  • 10 – 12 Fresh Basil Leaves,  finely chopped.
  • 1 Large tooth of garlic, or 2 smaller teeth, minced well

Mix everything above very until all your ingredients are fully incorporated.

 

COOKING INSTRUCTIONS

In a large skillet or frying pan, heat 1 tbsp light olive oil with 1 tbsp butter until very hot.

  1. Using a medium-size serving spoon, scoop and shape rice balls to the size of a ping pong ball.
  2. Place the rice ball in the hot skillet, pressing down with a fork or spatula until they flatten out a bit.
  3. Cook until one side is golden brown and crispy, about  1 minute or a bit longer.
  4. Then turn and cook again until crispy, about 1 minute or a bit more.

TIPS: Feel free to add more Parmesan if you like. Switch up your spices or used a seasoned salt. You might want to try dill, then serve with a dipping roulade sauce. This recipe is open to versatility and creative experimentation!

Comfort Food

You Won’t Believe it’s Vegan!

October 12, 2017

Okay people. I’m not gonna lie.
I can’t believe I made this and I also I can not believe it is vegan, gluten-free, low-cal, spicy and deliciously filling!

This soup was inspired by my beautiful friend, Sanchia, who, as a “Taoist Vegan,” abstains from eating the five pungent vegetables; green onion; garlic; onion; chives; and leeks.

I am not nearly as evolved as my friend so as I said, this is a “Sanchia Inspired” dish.
I did use quite a bit of garlic and even some cheap,  dried onion flakes.
I’m just not ready to give up the pungent…

Also, for meat-eaters who have a hard time getting excited about diving into a pile of vegetables, this is a truly delicious way to fill up on healthy squash that tastes smokey, spicy, and dare I say it? more than a tad Manly!

NOTE:  If you’re a vegetarian who consumes dairy, go ahead and use regular sour cream and even add some Monterrey cheese at the end, melted on top!

HERE IS WHAT TO DO:

  1. Turn your oven on to 400.
  2. Into any oven-friendly dish or tray of your choice, place:
    1 Spaghetti Squash (or any type of Squash of your liking), crudely cut into about 3 or 4 pieces, skin on. That’s right. No fussing with peeling.
    1 Large, Red Pepper, cut into about 3 chunks, pith and seeds removed.
    3 Large garlic teeth, skin on (you will easily remove the skin once roasted).
  3. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of White Truffle Oil OR Extra Virgin Olive Oil over the vegetables, and some Sea Salt.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes, or until fork-tender.
  5. Now, using a cloth to hold the hot squash, scrape out your softened squash meat with a large, sharp-edged spoon into a large soup pot.  This is going to go onto the stove.
  6. Pop the softened, roasted garlic teeth right out of their skin and toss them into the soup pot.
  7. Place the roasted peppers into the pot as well.
  8. Add 2 cups of water and two teaspoons of vegetable broth base or cubes.
  9. Now, into the pot with the Squash, Peppers, Garlic & Water, ADD:
    1/2 teaspoon of Chipotle Powder (or a teaspoon of Chipotle Chilis from a jar or can)
    1/4 teaspoon of Chili Powder
    1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger root
    1/4 teaspoon onion flakes (mine, no kidding, are from a Dollar Store)
  10. Take out your hand blender (or toss the concoction into a good blender) and blend until very smooth.
  11. Simmer on low until you are happy with the flavor, about 20-30 minutes.
  12. Ladle your soup into a bowl.
  13. Swirl of Dollop a tablespoon of Vegan Sour Cream.
  14. Shed a few fresh Thyme Leaves onto the top. If you don’t have fresh thyme, that’s ok. Just sprinkle fresh parsley or oregano for decoration and a bit of flavor.
    I have a sense that a bit of Fresh Mint could be very interesting!

TIP: To create my “swirl” design, all I did was spoon some of my sour cream mixture into a small plastic baggie. Then I snipped a corner and piped! Easy, breazy!

This would be lovely served with some warm, grilled herb bread.

SUBSTITUTIONS:

If you are not vegan, just use regular sour cream!
If you don’t have fresh ginger, use powder ginger! Ditto for the thyme, but try to grind it up before adding if it’s dry. This will bring out the flavor.

 

Candidly Yours

Remembering Frank Bravo, El Salsero

October 2, 2017

Remembering Frank Bravo

There was a rare and lucky era when I found my life suddenly unfolding in the middle of an extended, and completely magical moment in time, a moment that, because of my youth, I mistakenly assumed would last forever. I didn’t know then what I know now: That is, of course, that nothing stays the same.

In late February of 1984, I stepped off the rickety bus from Mexico City and into the richly beautiful pink city of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Now this was San Miguel before even the notion of a thing called “Starbucks” had been conceived, when only a handful of people had television sets, and absolutely no one had a cell phone.

I was initially there to learn Spanish and I was making friends — but not just any friends  — not your run-of-the-mill twenty somethings. The people I was meeting were bursting with talent, young talent infused with passion and comprised of artistic, poetic, painterly, powerful, musical, idealistic and creative energy. Life suddenly blossomed into an enchanted, mini-magical epoch. At the center of this was, of course, music, and at the center of the music was Frank Bravo and his band, La Propia Salsa.

Growing up in suburban Connecticut on classical music and show tunes, my scholarly mother didn’t allow any television except Ed Sullivan, on Sundays,. Absolutely no cartoons, and positively no Dr. Seus! By the time I was 18 I had never,  ever heard country music so you can be sure that, upon arriving in Mexico, the steamy rhythms of Salsa music were a far cry from anything on my radar. But the first time I soaked in that beat, the clanging cowbell and those super-hot rhythms that just move, I was hooked for life. This music that ignited me came out in the rich and gritty voice of the one and only Frank Bravo, a real talent from Venezuela.

In my opinion, Frank was one of the greatest salsa singers I have ever heard. Because of Frank and his love for classic salsa, I’ve heard the greats and Frank was, for me, one of the very best. It wasn’t just his voice, never off key, never bored or boring. Frank was the whole package. He simply had that ‘thing’, that star quality that comes from more than the having developed a craft or an art. It comes from love, and not just the love of the genre he clearly so appreciated and honored. With Frank, you could literally feel and see his deep affection, amusement and delight in his audience. He was clearly energized by not only the music but the audience he was entertaining.

Frank would watch his the people dancing with a delighted twinkle in his eye. No matter how many thousands of times he sang the same classic songs, they slid off his tongue as fresh as if he were just discovering them for the first time. Never once did I seem him tire of a song or of the people he was entertaining.

Frankie wasn’t doing any of this alone. In the early 1980s, San Miguel was bursting with young talents, both in Frank’s band and working independently. Willie Royal, a young soloist, steamed up the restaurant bar at Mama Mia restaurant, as he practically danced with electric violin. Wolfgang Fink performed in the main dining room, a really good flamenco soloist whose girlfriend, Diana, would sit by him and clap the “palmadas.” Both Willie and Wolf were later paired by Francesca Fisher, of Fisher & Paykel heritage, for a movie she produced, giving birth to the duo Willie & Lobo who enjoyed moderate international success. Also part of the band was Jose Luis Chagoyan, aka Hopalong, who still enjoys his long career in music. There were also Solomon, a jazz musician at heart but then part of Frank’s band, and a firecracker named Mauricio who was the hottest thing on cow bells, ever. There were others whose names escape me.

Frank was the center of the action and we were the ripples around him and his music. Not all were musicians. There were accomplished artists, Keith Keller and Dan Ruffert. Francesca produced the town’s first ever music video. And Frank’s talented wife, Victoria Robbins was at that time earning her masters in global education and would later go on to launch what remains today the very successful Victoria Robbins School.

I think Frank had an intrinsic grasp of the gestalt that is created between the stage and audience. The word “gestalt” is generally misunderstood to be something better than the sum of all its parts but this is inaccurate. A gestalt is something different that the sum of all the parts, and it can be different every time those parts come together. Frank not only understood this, he delighted in the possibility of what could be created freshly with each new gig.

I remember Frank as having a puckish, boyish grin, almost happily devilish at times, a bona fide sparkle in his eye, and a completely genuine love for people and for music. Never once did Frank make me, or I think anyone, feel bad. But his real true love, besides music, was Victoria.

The life of a musician is a noble one but it has its dangers. A musician’s routine isn’t routine at all; it comes with odd, late-night hours, emotional highs before and during performances that can be followed by sudden, echoing silences when the venues shut down. A musician’s schedule not generally ticking on the average 9 to five run and these pitfalls can take their toll. It is a life better held together when the singer has something solid to anchor and support it. And for Frank Bravo, that anchor was Victoria’s steadfast, forever love.

Frank’s gift to us came as much from God as it did from Victoria. She was there through it all and for decades, for the successes, failures, and ultimately illness. Victoria was Frank’s everything. I don’t think he would have flourished as the musician he was or have had the career he did without her. I’m certain of it and I feel certain so was he. Not only did Frank know this, he appreciated it when he was alive. He adored her and he would have been lost without her.

After only a few short years in San Miguel de Allende, I reluctantly moved away, visiting only twice, and I missed Frank and Victoria actively over all those decades. We all have people in our life whom we know will accept us back into their fold as if no time has passed, and Frank and Victoria were two of those rare people for me.

I can both see and hear Frank in my mind and have done so over all the years I missed him. In my memory, he is on a local stage, he’s wearing a fine white outfit, maybe holding a cowbell or some other hand instrument. He’s singing and stamping out those bad-ass salsa steps, vibrating his shoulders, a knowing and slightly devilish glint in his eye, the gritty voice, the joy, Victoria at times in the wings. This is how I will remember Frank Bravo.

I can’t find my old tapes of La Propia Salsa and the Propia Salas. I can no longer find on the net his wonderful voice but I found one link here. It doesn’t do him justice. I miss you, Frankie.

Main Dishes

Make-Ahead Pear Bake (w/Vegan Option)

September 28, 2017

Entertaining is exhausting.  By the time I’ve done the planning, shopping, cleaning, arranging, last-minute cooking to have everything timed just right and served hot, not only am I filling the atmosphere with my nervous fussing, I’m  already on to onto the dishes and I’ve missed out on my own party. My solution? Delicious, make-ahead meals that taste out of this world.

I was able to make this entire dish, including my rice and salad, the night before my gathering.
The day of the party, with my meal cooked, tables set, I went to work a full day.

Once home, I simply popped  my make-ahead pear bake into the oven an hour before my guests were to arrive.  20 minutes before, I simple tossed 1/2 a cup of water into the rice (made the night before and  left on the stovetop, unrefrigerated), poured myself a glass of wine and waited for the eaters to show.

It turned out some people were arriving late but no need to panic! You can leave this dish in the oven until the cows come home. It only gets better. And the rice, once warmed, will happily stay that way on the stovetop, covered. Besides, you are going to spoon piping hot broth from the main dish onto the rice so it doesn’t have to be tongue-singeing hot.

My Goddaughter, Connie from New Zealand, inspired the  recipe below whilst visiting us in Panama.
She claimed it was an easy, fail-safe dish that company just adores. And she was correct.
In her recipe, Connie used local vegetables, pears and pork chops.

I decided to change it a bit, using sausage and chicken, and to brown my meats first.
It was a good call! This was absolutely scrumptious, the sauce had some sophisticated, developed flavors,  and the whole meal was an easy self-serve! So, I got to sit with my company and enjoy the conversation.

The bonus is that this dish is even better the next day and, it’s gluten-free if you omit serving with a roll!

Feel free to change this recipe up or down to suit your personal diet but whatever you decide, you must keep the pears, wine, sage and thyme. I am including a VEGETARIAN/VEGAN option below! So veggie folk, scroll down!  

My peeps and I are meat-eaters, so here is what I did.

Baked Pears with Sausage & Chicken

  • 3 Mild Italian Sausages, cut into halves to make 6
  • 3 Hot Italian Sausages, cut into halves to make 6
  • 4 Large chicken breasts, split into halves, making 8  (Or use 6-8 chicken thighs)
  1.  Brown all the meats in 2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil into a large frying pan
  2.  Set them into a very large baking pan. I used a big lasagna pan.
  3.  Now, into the lasagna or baking dish, and arranged evenly, add:
  • 6 small new potatoes, halved
  • 1 Sweet potato, chopped into large chunks
    (If you dislike sweet potatoes, don’t worry. You will like them in this dish. I promise!)
  • 10 or 12 chunks of  peeled carrots, cut to 2″ long pieces
  • 1 Large, sweet visalia onion, cut into 8 chunks
  • 5 Bartlet pears, sliced into half-moon wedges. Ripe is great but semi-ripe will work.

4.  Into the juices from the meats in your saucepan, sautée:

  • 4 large cloves of garlic, just crushed
  • 3 or 4 cups of white wine
  • 1 cube of chicken stock (vegetarians, just use a vegetable flavor)

5.  Pour the hot wine, garlic & broth mixture over the entire meat and pears dish.
6.  Sprinkle 2 tbsp. of fresh thyme and 1 tbsp. of fresh, cut sage over the entire dish
7.  Salt and Pepper to taste

Bake 335 for 3 hours.
Serve over rice, with a soft dinner roll for dipping into the delicious broth, and a side of salad.

TIP:  When laying an array of food for self-serve, or buffet style, arrange your table so that your guests can serve from both sides of the table. (In other words, do not have your table up against a wall.) All you have to do is add a utensil on each end of the dish. This speeds up service remarkably!

VEGETARIAN/VEGAN OPTION.  Instead of chicken broth, use your favorite vegetarian flavoring.  And in place of the meat, use large chunks of dried bread. Any type of bread you like but they must dry, in the style of a traditional stuffing.  

You don’t have to purchase packages of stuffing mix, but you can.  I prefer cutting up chunks of a favorite bread and place them on a tray into a low oven until they are very firm. Also, this  is a perfect way to make good use of older bread.

Add the dried bread  chunks in after you have cut and distributed your veggies in the pan.  Now, toss  the bread in with all your vegetables and distribute evenly.

Now you are ready to  pour your wine mixture on top.  It is essential that you add the very fresh thyme and sage. You might want to use more sweet potato as well. This will be delicious. I made something similar for thanksgiving last year.