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Comfort Food

Comfort Food

No More “Gringo Rice!”

November 1, 2015

I’ll never forget when a an honored dinner guest, an educated hydroponics engineer type whom I was trying to impress — and who is given to social blurting — blurted out his obvious disappointment upon seeing the savory rice dish I was about to serve, exclaiming (a la “Oy Vey”) “Oh… Gringo rice.”

That was it. I had spent seven months in the Philippines and two years in Mexico and I still cooked rice like a Greenwich girl… all sticky and gooey and clumpy.

I had been taught that it was key to use exactly  twice the water to rice and also to never, ever, lift the lid of the pot while it steamed.  I followed this to a T every time, and for years, and still I got goopy “Gringo rice” every time.

Back in the 1970s,  my dad, who had is own ad agency, rejected the marketing of a brand called “Success Rice,” claiming that the concept was a ploy: that people all over the world found making fluffy rice easy breezy and would only  laugh at the little, holey, pre-measured, steam bags made for us WASPY white-bread types who bought into the idea that rice making was a mystery, that rice-making required a special touch.

The morning after my dinner party rice disaster, I marched over to my Panamanian neighbor Leticia’s house, refusing to leave until she showed me exactly how Latinas make their rice all light and fluffy. Since that day, never ever has as my rice been met with disapproval.

It is not a science so you don’t need measuring cups, and it is easy. I was recently back in the United States and a friend, another girl brought up on bread and pasta, cooked up a pot of white rice. It came out as I expected see photo below).   I took the very same rice, the same kind of pot she’d used, but instead I simply made two simple changes and whipped up my Latino style arroz blanco (white rice.)

The photos speak: you can see that the first batch, made by my friend, is sticky, clumped and gooey, while the same rice product, made by me, came out fluffy.

FLUFFY LATINO RICE — There are only two simple tricks!

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Gooey “Gringo Rice”

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Fluffy Rice, Latino Style

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Measure out a cup of uncooked, white rice and place in a bowl.
  2. Rinse this rice until the water runs clear. (Some save the first rinse-water for soups. See tip below).
  3. Drain/strain out the water in a colander.
  4. In your favorite pot for rice cooking, heat two tablespoons of oil or butter.
  5. Dump your rinsed and drained rice into the hot oil and start sauteeing.  
  6. Stir until the rice seems dry but does not brown, about a minute.
  7. Now pour water or chicken stock over your rice until the rice is covered and the water level measures about as high as your first knuckle above the rice…about 1/2 an inch.  I use my index/pointer finger knuckle and I do this by eye. It is not an exact science and this does not matter. 
  8. Bring the liquid to a low boil. Then cover and reduce heat to a simmer and let cook for about 15 minutes.
  9. Lift the lid and check by picking out a fork full and tasting.   Is it dry? Add 1/4 cup of water, cover and cook on low another 8 minutes or so.  When you feel your rice is done, just turn off the stove and let the rice sit in the pot.

TIPS:

  •  If your rice develops a hard, crusty and golden layer at the bottom, no worries! This is called the “dorado” and many people think it is a treat to get some of the crust.
  • A Filipina friend of mine sets aside her first, cloudiest rinse-water from her rice wash  — the starchiest batch –adding this to broth to an give her soups that, milky-cloudy, Asian look.
  • I have developed a liking for eating rice with breakfast eggs, especially fried or sunny-side up. When using your rice for making Fried Rice dish, or Arroz con Pollo, wait until your rice is cold, cooled or one day old to use for this type of dish.  Freshly cooked, hot rice will not give you the desired result.
  • For extra flavor, when you add your liquid, toss in a whole, peeled clove or two of garlic if you like. You can pick them out when your rice is cooked.
Comfort Food

Sweet Tooth, Vegan Style!

August 18, 2015

I’m addicted to sugar. And I mean just that — addicted.

I can pass up a glass of wine or a a tall, cold martini, but if I were in the throes of a serious sugar craving, I’d probably step over my first born child to get to the candy corn.

So anytime I can find a healthy way to satisfy my craving for sweet, I share it.
The trick is to be prepared.
Always, always have Stevia on hand. (You can grow it, but it is not as easy to process as some say. And you can purchase it in handy droplets.)
And something citrus, like lemon, lime, calamandron, mandarin or orange.
Finally, keep handy a good flavor essence, such as vanilla or lemon or coconut extract on hand.

DREAMY PLANTAIN & AVACADO TREAT

Into a large bowl, toss:

  • One large, sweet Plantain, or two medium Bananas, finely chopped
  • Add finely cubed, ripe Avacado, about 1/3 of the amount of your Plantains
  • Add a teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Add drops or packets of Stevia, to taste
  • Squeeze in 1/4 of a lemon, checking to see that it isn’t making your dish too tart
  • Mix all the above ingredients up, tossing well to fully coat with sweet, sour and vanilla
  • Spoon into a dish and douse with Coconut Milk
  • Garnish (not shown) with some fresh mint

FUN ALTERNATIVES:

Exchange Lemon for Lime, or Mandarin or any citrus of your choice.
Exchange Vanilla Extract for Lemon Extract for a really lemony taste… plus add some pretty zest!

For kids, blend everything together and spoon into individual dishes.
Chill, and then sprinkle with Coconut Flakes.
Voila! Banana/Avacado Pudding!

 

 

 

Comfort Food

Vegan-Ease …with Spice!

August 16, 2015

Taro Root has a surprisingly creamy, buttery taste on it’s own.
So when you do add some zip, it’s even better.
Taro is an interesting and different alternative to the white potato, plus, it’s easier on your blood sugar load.

To Prepare Creamy, Spicy Taro

  • Peel 4 good sized taro roots
  • Cut them into chunks
  • Cover with water, about an inch
  • Toss in a full tablespoon of fresh, or dried, rosemary
  • Add a teaspoon of hot red pepper flakes
  • Add a teaspoon of salt to the pot
  • Boil together as you would potatoes, about 20 minutes, or until you can pierce a chuck with a fork.
  • Drain away the water and don’t worry that much of the Rosemary and Pepper Flakes will wash away. Enough will remain.
  • Stir in a spoonful of Earth  Balance butter substitute

TIP: This would be easily just as yummy with Fresh Parsley, but tossed in at the end, after the boiling is done. I would use about 1/4 cup.

Breakfast

Easy, Fluffy French Toast

July 29, 2015

Here is how I make the fluffiest French Toast, with a good portion of healthy protein in each serving.

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PREPARATION  1 Serving

  •  Select 2 large pieces of your favorite bread, leaving crusts on. Any bread will do: White, whole wheat, French, it doesn’t matter.
  • Into bowl, break 2 fresh, cage-free eggs (one whole egg for each piece of bread!)
  • Add  2  Tablespoons of heavy cream. Half & Half will do, but I prefer heavy cream
  • Add  1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Add 1 packet of Stevia (or a teaspoon of sugar)
  • Beat the egg mixture up until well-blended and fluffy.
  • Pour the mixture into a shallow dish that will hold your bread  snugly,  without leaving too much space. You can use a small baking dish or rectangle cake pan. Something shallow and that will contain the bread without a lot of extra space.
  • Place your bread into the mixture and let it sit for a good 2-3 minutes.
  • Now, very gently, flip each piece of bread and allow to remain until all the egg mixture is soaked up.

COOKING IT UP

  • Melt 3 tablespoons of butter or butter substitute into your favorite skillet or frying pan.
  • When the pan is good and hot, but not enough to burn the butter, gently place your soaked bread into the  pan.
  • Immediately turn the heat down to medium low.
  • Leave the bread to cook for several minutes, until the bottoms of the bread are golden brown and you notice the center is becoming firm as the inner egg mixture cooks up.
  • You will know your bread is ready to flip over when the middle is firm enough that it does not sag or fall apart when lifted with a spatula.
  • Cook another minute or two, until the bottoms are brown and the center feels firm.
  • Cut bread pieces in half (I use scissors) and arrange nicely  on a nice plate.
  • Set a dipping cup along side filled with real Maple Syrup.
  • Garnish with whipped cream or….sift some powdered sugar on top!

This dish is definitely made With Love & Butter…

Breakfast

Low-carb potato substitute!

July 20, 2015

Two foods I love to eat with scrambled eggs are sliced, cold tomatoes and, of course, potatoes. Any style will do, but sliced thin and fried in bacon greese is tasty.

Ah, but I’m eating low carb these days. So instead of potatoes, I sliced up some Chayote from my garden.

Chayote, eaten cooked or raw, has about 1/4 the carbohydrates of potatoes, but offers up the same amount of fibre.

For the Chayote:

Peel 1 medium or 2 very small Chayotes under running water.

  1. Slice the entire piece into sticks, seed included, or in any shape you desire.

Now toss into a very hot pan laced with your choice of oil: olive oil, healthy butter, coconut oil, bacon grease.

  1. Toss in 1/2  thinly sliced  Onion. (set aside rest for later)
  2. Sprinkle with salt & pepper

Cook on medium heat until they begin to bown a bit.
Now flip then and leave to brown all over stirring occasionally.

NOTE: Chayote do not take long to soften.

For some Flavorful ScrambledEggs: (2 Servings)

While the Chayote is cooking, get your eggs ready to scramble. Into a favorite bowl, crack 4-5 large,  free-range eggs and to these add:

  • 1 Teaspoon water per whole egg
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 8 Drops Sriracha hot sauce (or fewer, but you will hardly notice the heat.)
  • Whisk this mixture up well
  • Chop 1 a cup of Broccoli into very small pieces.
  • Finely chop the other half of the onion
  • Toss broccoli & onion into a hot frying pan laced with hot oil or bacon grease or butter of choice and sautee for 1 minute.
  • Add your entire egg mixture right on top of you broccoli & onion, stir to incorporate, and wait until the layer begins to bubble. Then slowly draw the edges in toward the center to make a fluffy scramble. I like mine on the soft side, but plate up when they’re done your way.

Plate your eggs.
Garnish with Fresh Cilantro or Fresh Parsley or Chive.
Scoop on a healthy spoonful of your browned & seasoned Chayote sticks.
Crown your place with soe beautiful, sliced tomatoes & sprinkle with some seasoned salt.
Now dig in! You won’t miss the potatoes and your carb count will be low!

To you with Love & Butter, Elizabeth

 

 

 

Comfort Food

Key 2 World’s Best Roast Chicken!

June 10, 2015

Yes, I am boldly claiming to have been handed the key to making the world’s tastiest roast chicken!
But wait… Lest I be accused of arrogance, the recipe isn’t mine, but belongs to my little sister, Claire who is, in my opinion, the better cook.

image“Chicklet,” as she’s known within our family, has grown up in restaurants since the age of eight, when her mom (my stepmother) started the best hot dog truck in Greenwich, Connecticut, eventually graduating to a full on restaurant, one of several.  Like e all of us children of Billy Ballard, she too has the “feeding gene” and has been honing her recipes to perfection for years. We think her chicken is out of this world and we are serious, critical eaters!

There is a trick to how my sister turns an ordinary,  3- 4 pound chicken, into an explosion of tenderness and flavor. Here is exactly how she accomplishes this.

Chicklet’s Chicken & Tastiest Roasted Carrots

HERE IS THE KEY !
Before you prepare your chicken
, begin pre-heating your oven to a whopping 450°.
If you do not heat to this temperature, your chicken will not be the best in the world! Do not lower your oven temperature during roasting.

FOR THE CARROTS

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Roasted Rainbow Carrots

  • Peel 12 -15 medium carrots into thin strips. Claire uses a colorful array of Rainbow Carrots from Trader Joe’s, but your everyday orange variety will do just fine!
  • Place your carrot strips into a roasting pan.
  • Lightly douse or toss them with extra virgin olive oil.
  • Now sprinkle with your favorite salt and pepper to taste, and pop the pan, uncovered, into the oven, as it is heating up.
  • It does not matter if the oven is hot. Just leave these in the oven and they will be perfectly done when your chicken is cooked.

FOR THE CHICKEN

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1 Whole Chicken, generally 4-5 pounds, but adjust for size accordingly. (Claire always buys free-range and organic, which is not only humane, but the meat will be natural, not spongy and slimy, as factory-farmed chicken inevitably is. Ask any chef.)

Inside the Chicken’s Cavity, sprinkle:

  • 1 Tablespoon of kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder (not fresh, use the powder. We are doing this one Chicklet’s way.)
  • 1 Tablespoon of thyme, fresh is nice but Chicklet often uses dried, with a great result!
  • 1 Whole Orange, with the rind, cut into 4-6  sections. You may also add a lemon. The key is to add a good amount of citrus, but Claire swears by at least one orange!
  • Now, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil into the chicken’s cavity.

Outside the Chicken:

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1. Rub your chicken with olive oil so your spices will stick.
2. Sprinkle all over and around the chicken’s surface

  • 1-2  Tablespoons of kosher salt,
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Garlic Powder
  •  1-3 Tablespoons of Thyme

3.  Pour 1/2 cup olive around the chicken, right into the pan.
4.  Pour 1 cup white wine (any white variety, but not too sweet!)
5.  Add, around the outside of the chicken,  1 diced onion.
6.  Add 1/2 cup of chicken broth.

Roast, uncovered, until done, about 1 hour for a 3 pound chicken and about 1 hour, 20 minutes for a 4 pound chicken.

Important Tips!
Keep your oven at 450°.

About 40 minutes into roasting, check to see that there is enough liquid. If not, feel free to add some more wine and/or  chicken broth.

 

 

 

Comfort Food

Easy Veggie Comfort

April 22, 2015

I often feel that if I eat vegetarian or vegan, I’m going to be left wanting. I have nothing against the raw food champions, but me? I like my food warm and creamy.

This dish not only fills the comfort-food bill, it fills you up and it does so without dairy or meat. It’s vegetarian healthy (vegan if you use a pesto that does not include Parmesian).

Serve up a large bowl for lunch, or serve it as a side dish to a main course.

Mushroom Comfort

Lace the bottom of a your favorite frying or sauté pan with 1-2 tbsp. coconut oil (or substitute cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil, or half & half, mixing the oils), and heat.

Add to the pan, and  in this order:
2 Teeth garlic, minced
1 Medium onion, thinly sliced
Sautee onion and garlic about a minute, then add in:
2 Cups sliced mushrooms (any kind)
2 Cups sliced zucchini (I cut half-moons to match the mushroom shapes).
Salt & Pepper to taste.

Sauté together until the mushrooms are soft, but not limp,  and the zuchini is softening, but not going clear. You want it to hold a little firmness.

Add 3 tbsp of your favorite home-made or jarred Pesto (vegans, you will want to use a pesto that huses a substitute for the Parmesian cheese or incorporates extra nuts and basil).

Stir together until hot and then… add the juice of 1/2 a lemon.
This is going to really give the dish some zing and bring out the flavors.

Vegetarians and meat-eaters, top with grated Parmesian.
Vegans, opt out of the cheese and top with toasted nuts.

 

Comfort Food

Pesto Pasta “Fake Out!”

April 13, 2015

This dis has it all: Gluten- and Grain-free, fits Paleo, Vegan & Veggie. But meat-lovers won’t be let down.

I adore Pesto. I could eat it with a spoon  (in my nightie, sneaking a late-night taste by the romantic light of the refrigerator…)

For those of us who are avoid carbohydratess such as  pasta, or all the “white” yummy things that keep the sugar up and those extra pounds clinging to our frames, there is salvation!

I don’t like moderation, so you can imagine how I  handle deprivation.
Ah… but there is a way to have your Pesto  with a pasta feel… sans the guilt and the carbs.  Zoodles! Or zuchini noodles, also known as zuchini spaghetti, or zuchini pasta/noodles.  Serve it up as a main dish, or a yummy side. It’s also a fun way to get some veggies into the kids.  (Kids love Pesto!)

For the Fake-Out Pasta
2 Cups zuchinni, sliced into thin slivers, or julienned (you can purchase a “spiralizer” or noodle maker online. I like the Zen feel of slicing.)
1 Pot of boiling water, enough to take the zuchinni
Have a saucepan ready on the stove. warmed & with a pad of butter or a shake of Olive Oil
Have a strainer handy, near your sink
Blanch your zuchinni for only about 2 minutes in the boiling water, till the strands are limp but still have a tad of firmness.
Drain & strain in the sink. You can store these in the refrigerator for later, or use them right away, as follows:

Simply plunk all those lovely, soft zuchinni “noodles”  straight into your warming saucepan, the butter or oil having already been melted.
Using a fork, gently toss as you stir in in 4 tablespoons of Pesto (recipe below, or use a good jarred brand).

Options:
I topped mine, seen in the photo, with some tarragon & tarragon flowers. I enjoy the licorice-like flavor combined with the basil from the Pesto. You might want to top yours with some toasted Pine Nuts or Walnuts?  Some chopped Tomatoes could be nice, don’t you think? And the cool mixed with the warm would be interesting.  If you are not Vegan or Paleo, you can sprinkle on some grated Parmesian.  Salt & Pepper to taste, and dig in.

Oh, and hey, it’s zuchinni, so have some more!

Pesto, My Way
In a food processor, blender, or using a hand-blender, process:

2 Cups packed, fresh basil leaves
3 Teeth garlic, smashed
1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 – 1/3 Cup Olive Oil (or drizzle in a little more if you see you need it when you start blending)
1/3 Cup Walnuts, lightly toasted (or Pine Nuts, which is traditional)
Juice 1/4 Lemon
Salt & Pepper to Taste

Tip: If you find you don’t have quite enough sauce, you can make it “stretch,” do this:  just before serving , add to your Pesto 1/2 cup boiling water and 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese (not you, Vegans!).

Tip: Break the rules: don’t be married to using only the traditional Pine Nuts. I have gotten quite used to Walnuts, and I think it would be interesting to experiment with other nuts you have handy, such as Brazil or Pecan.( But not peanuts.)

Comfort Food

Hearty Veggie Bake!

April 4, 2015

What is a cook to do with left-over, deliciously roasted Squash & Taro Root?  (Or any roasted root veggies?)

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Line a baking dish with 4 corn tortillas warmed in a spritz of olive oil.
On top of these, layer on some smashed, already roasted squash & taro (any baked vegetables that you have, such as zuchini, carrots, potato, yucca, etc.). Season more if you like.

Next, chop up some Kale-Like leaf…stems and all! (I had something kale-like  from the market, but spinach, mustard greens, any heavy leaf will be fine!). Lightly sautee these with a half a sliced onion & one tooth of garlic, salt & pepper, just until wilted. Then strew on top of the layer of roasted roots.

Now, if you have some handy,  smash up a handful of garbanzo beans just using a fork and mix them with home-made Ricotta (or farmer cheese or even cottage cheese!). Add this to your layer.

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Next comes a colorful layer of sliced, ripe tomatoes. To these dab on a little  “natilla” which is a very light sour cream but it’s actually not acid, like a creme fraische

(Do not use yogurt, but something on the sweeter side.) Finish it all off with another layer of warmed corn tortillas, and slather across these some spicy red Mexican salsa (Salsa Verde would also be lovely!).

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Bake at 325 until hot and serve.
This is hearty, rich and delicious.  Even without meat, it tastes “meaty.”
Oh … No need to tell the kids what is in here.

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Comfort Food

Spicy Zucchini Pancakes

March 22, 2015

I awoke with a  renewed commitment to eating gluten- and grain-free today, so I whipped up this dish with left-overs from my kitchen and it was completely satisfying!

I like a little heat, and I love the flavor and intensity of Sriracha hot sauce, but feel free to leave out the bite if that’s not your style.

I blended my ingredients in my tiny, mini-chopper, the only food processor I possess! But I recommend something bigger.

Recipe serves 4:
In your food processor, blend together:

2 Medium zuchinni
1 Onion
4 Sprigs parsley

image 4 Ají Dulce peppers (these are little, sweet, red peppers commonly used in Latin America. If you don’t have this variety, use 1/2 a medium red pepper instead.)
1 Tsp salt
4 Dashes black pepper
1  Tsp. Sriracha hot sauce or Red Pepper flakes, to taste (optional).

After blending all the above together, add the following ingredients by hand, to form a batter:
3 Eggs, beaten
3/4  Cup Ricotta Cheese (I make my own. Crumbled white farmer cheese will also do as this is basically Ricotta, drained and pressed firm. You can also substitute Cottage Cheese, but not too watery. Don’t use a cheese that will be gooey when it melts, like Mozerella.)

Now, adding 1 tablespoon at a time, stir in some Quinoa flour (or any type of flour you prefer, but Quinoa has no gluten & technically isn’t a grain, but rather, a seed) until your batter achieves the consistency of traditional pancake batter, i.e, thick but pourable. I used about 4 tablespoons in all. Use your judgment. You don’t want your batter too watery because you will be flipping the little pancakes.

Melt 1 tbsp. healthy oil (I used Earth Balance butter substitute or light Olive Oil) into a frying pan and get the pan hot.  Gently spoon your batter into the pan to form little cakes. Turn heat down to medium/low. Flip when the bottoms are golden brown. When your pancake is firm and bounces back to the touch of a finger, it’s done! Garnish with Parsley & Cheese. Serve hot.