Browsing Category

On the Side

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.

 

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!

Breakfast

All Eggs are Not Created Equal

September 27, 2017

I love eggs.  I eat them poached, coddled, fried, boiled, scrambled or as an omelette. Sometimes nothing hits the spot better than a simple egg salad sandwich on squishy white bread with crunchy lettuce. (Okay not healthy, but this is one of my guilty comforts!) When I order Chinese, I always have the Egg Foo Young, basically a Chinese frittata.

Eggs are personal. Some people just can’t eat eggs. On the other hand, I once cooked for an ova-lactate vegetarian who could eat eggs all day long. Then there are my vegan friends who don’t eat any animal products at all. Others eat only the whites, but  I love the entire egg, especially the yolk. These are all personal choices and to be respected.

(Some of my vegans make the argument that they don’t eat eggs because all eggs are a potential life, a position that for me holds no water. Eggs are a byproduct of a hen. Whether there is a Rooster hanging around or not, that little lady is going to drop that egg no matter what. To my thinking, if the egg isn’t fertilized,  it’s not really a potential life, is it?).  

Before moving to Panama, I pretty much thought an egg was an egg was an egg. I couldn’t have been more wrong, but I only knew what was around me.  Before Panama, I had switched to organic eggs after hearing  the Buddhist monk, Thich That Hahn explain that “If you are going to eat an egg, eat a happy egg from a happy hen.”  But I learned that “organic”  doesn’t guarantee the hen is raised in a happy environment and these so-called organic eggs tasted and looked about the same to me with a very pale yellow yolk inside a runny liquid white.

It’s not all about taste for me.  No, I’m not an activist vegan for several reasons, but I do respect their cause and their commitment.  And, if you haven’t gone online to view how hens are treated at the big egg factories, please do. It is not pleasant. There is nothing remotely good,  appetizing or humane about factory farming.  It’s destructive and cruel. But it lines the pockets of the big companies and it does offer a less expensive product for people who need to shop economically.  The latter point I understand and I have chosen, on my tight budget, to cut corners elsewhere so that I can pay for my happy eggs. My local supermarket, Publix, now offers at least three farm-raised egg options, indicating, at least anecdotally, that the mainstream demand for fresher eggs seems to be increasing. (Links to some of these companies are posted, below.)  When I support a company selling “pasture-raised” eggs, I am supporting the local farmers who provide product for these labels. 

It wasn’t until we moved to mountains of Panama where my neighbors had hens that I had my Come-To-Jesus moment.  These eggs, even those from the supermarket, were delicious!  They were rich, rich, rich! The yolks were a deep cadmium yellow, brighter than a school bus, nearly orange and at first I was actually startled by the intensity of color.  These gorgeous yolks sat in a firm albumen that stood up on its own when you cracked it into a pan.

With fresh eggs, the white around the yolk will stand firmly after cracking. Note the color of the yolk.

All Panama eggs have brown shells.  I’ve never seen a white-shelled egg in Panama, but I think this speaks only to the breed of hen. In Mexico, eggs are white and often called  “blanquillos” meaning whites.  The only drawback to having brown eggs is that if you have little ones, it puts a damper on Easter Egg-dyeing fun … but my neighbor’s hens laid pastel colors eggs, shown in the featured picture for this post, and I was able to get some color on these.

Panama spoiled us forever. I could purchase eggs from my neighbor, Rumelia, for .15cents per. Further up the road, Grandma Gloria , who loved my cakes but who was reluctant to use her propane gas for baking, would share her pastel colored eggs in exchange for some of my oven treats. And at one point, we had a few hens of our own and Honey Bun, the prettiest, sweetest and cleanest hen ever, would come up onto my porch at 7 am, sit outside my kitchen, lay an egg and leave it for me under my table.

The flavor of an egg from a pasture-raised hen is so notably richer that my brother Nicholas, who lives lives in California where there’s a lot of conscious eating going on, exclaimed that the eggs he ate at my Panama house  were the best tasting eggs he had ever had. Ever. And he’s traveled the world.

When we moved back to the USA, my son William, who had grown up on Panama eggs, declared that he simply could not eat the supermarket eggs sold in the USA.  So I resolved to spend the big bucks!  A dozen eggs from pasture-raised hens will cost me anywhere from $4.50 to $5.99 (occasionally more). They are not quite as good as our Panama eggs, but they are noticeably better than the factory raised eggs with their pasty yellow yolks and runny whites.

Note of caution:  “Organic” does not mean cage-free. And “Cage-free” does not necessarily mean “Pasture-raised.”  “Free-range” might mean that a hen has one square foot of space.  So it’s best to get acquainted with the companies who are selling you your eggs. It’s not hard to do: A good company will have a website that answers all your questions under it’s FAQ section. Read on for links…

Here are links from two of the companies I purchase eggs from here in Florida.e Happy Eggs,  Nellies.  You will find good explanations of the differences between “free range,” “cage free,” and “pasture raised.”

 

 

 

Comfort Food

Left-Over Lift: Arroz con Pollo

March 5, 2017

Arroz con Pollo is a staple of many Latin American households and there are as many ways to prepare it as there are moms and grandmothers.  I make it the way I was taught by my neighbor in the Panama Interior, with a few spins of my own.

What’s even better is Arroz con Pollo is versatile; serve it hot or cold, and it’s easy to put your own spin on it using whatever feels right to you, or what makes sense from your fridge on any given day.  Leave out the chicken and bingo! Now you have a Vegetarian/Vegan dish! 

My recipe is perfect for both left-over chicken and left-over rice.  I don’t always make it with left-overs. I’ve been known to gently poach chicken breasts and then hand-shred them. But that’s just not necessary. And if you are using freshly cooked rice, chill it before blending it into the dish.

This past Saturday was “beach out like a whale” day which  in my house. means lots of binge TV and binge food, including super market fried chicken.

On Sunday, I was  left with an ample amount of tender chicken under the cold, crusty, greasy skins.  I also had a decend amount of cold, left-over chinese take-out rice (let’s not discuss that binge!) — perfect since this recipe uses cold rice.

I peeled and tossed the chicken skins, shredded the tender meat, and set it aside.

ARROZ con POLLO

  • Place two cups of cold, cooked, white rice into a large bowl. If you have freshly cooked rice, spread it out in a wide dish and refrigerate 1/2 hour.

    To the rice, add the following, adjusting quantities according to taste.
  • 1  or 1-1/2 cups of shredded chicken breast
  • 2 Tablespoons sliced green (or black) olives
  • 1 Teaspoon of caper berries
  • 1 Very thinly sliced or shredded carrot
  • 1/4 Cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 Teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 Cup green peas (Frozen…then run under warm water.)
  • 1/4 Cup corn (Frozen is fine, just run under warm water.)

As a main course, I was taught to serve this warm and always together with a light, crispy and simple salad with Russian dressing. Personally, I love the warm rice dish together with the crisp cold of the salad.

TIPS: This is such a versatile and deceptively filling way to eat rice and chicken so change it any way that works.

  1. Add chopped celery tops (the light green only) or celery heart.
  2. Make it without the chicken and you have a Vegetarian/Vegan dish.
  3. Toss in a little olive or caper juice, or even a squeeze of lemon or vinegar
  4. Some people add chopped tomato
  5. Remember: Use cold rice. It’s easy to quickly chill freshly made rice.
  6. Serve hot or cold, as a side dish or as a main course.

image

 

 

Comfort Food

Absolutely Delicious Spinach

August 9, 2016

Spinach is a funny vegetable. Kids and adults can claim to love it or loathe it, but for me, almost anyone will love it if it’s prepared in a tasty way.

When my son’s girlfriend, Sabrina, a self-proclaimed disliker of the green stuff, ordered and then devoured yummy, warm and cheesy spinach appetizer at a local restaurant, I put my mind to creating a spinach dish that would be just as tasty, but healthier.

Not every mom is as lucky as I am when it comes to kids and vegetables, especially spinach.
William eats just about anything, but when he was little, I didn’t know if this would hold when it came to something like spinach. So I would prepare what we simply called “green noodles” as my way of adding this healthy vegetable to his diet.

The recipe below blends my “green noodles” idea with the comfort of the creamy, warm and cheesy restaurant dip.  So it’s not just for kids.
It’s super as a side dish but also filling enough to eat on its own.
The bonus is that it serves up the warm comfort feeling of something like Mac & Cheese, but definitely healthier!

Here is how I prepare spinach for even the most finicky guest or visiting child.

Oh! And if you like gooey, creamy, hot spinach dips, you and your guests will devour this comforting and tasty side dish.

PREPARATION

Finely mince, and I do mean mince,  two cups of lovely, tender baby spinach (or one cup per person) until the leaves are teeny tiny. Do not cook. Just set the pile aside on the chopping board.

  1. Boil the right amount of tiny pasta until done. I measure out about 1/2 a cup, dry, per person.
    For the pasta here, I used Orzo, but you can also use little stars, or other really small pastas. I do not recommend larger noodles and wouldn’t suggest any thing bigger than an elbow macaroni.
  2. Drain pasta and return to the hot pan it was boiled in.
  3. Immediately add 3 tablespoons of good butter so it will melt into the pasta.
  4. Toss in all the uncooked, minced spinach.
  5. Add 1/4 fresh, grated parmesan cheese.
  6. Add 1/4 sour cream or creme fraische.
  7. Salt & pepper to taste.
  8. Stir until the butter, parmesan and sour cream are well combined.
  9. Top with fresh, grated parmesan.

image

TIP: If you eat gluten-free, simply substitute wheat pasta for a Quinoa or Rice pasta.

Comfort Food

Low-Carb Potato Alternative…

April 7, 2016

Cauliflower is very popular these days as a healthy replacement for not only carb-loaded potatoes, but as a meat replacement in dishes such as Tacos!

If you’re eating Paleo, Vegetarian. Grain-Free, or just wanting a new way to get your veggies, this super simple preparation is for you!

No bacon needed!

CAULIFLOWER SMASH!

  1. Split or quarter  1/2 of a large head of Caulifower, leaves included, except for those really thick, tough leaves that don’t steam up well.
  2. Have 1/4 cup loosely chopped onion handy but don’t add yet.
  3. Cover your Cauliflower with salted water (2 tsp salt) and simmer until easily stabbed with a fork. About 3 minutes before it is really soft, toss in the onion!
  4. When fork-soft, drain and place in a large bowl.
  5. While still hot, chop or break the cauliflower it into smaller pieces with a scissors or a knife. This should be easy.
  6. Toss in 2 tbsp butter
  7. Toss in a 1/3 tsp of Oregano. (Any fresh herb could do, such as Tarragon, Sage, Thyme, but stick with one flavor.)
  8. Puree all the Cauliflower & Onion with a hand blender, or whatever blender/food processor you use. Leave a few lumps for a nice consistency.
  9. Once pureed,sprinkle in about 1/4 cup of Italian blend cheese or a very mild cheddar, or any mild cheese. Now stir in the cheese until combined and melty.

Spoon your puree out and garnish with fresh herbs.

TIPS:  To treat this more like traditional mashed potatoes, add a little Half & Half to the mix as you puree. You can also top with gravy or, on each serving, top with a dollop of  Sour Cream, Chives, and extra Cheddar. Cauliflower is influenced by the flavors that surround it.

Comfort Food

Paleo Veg Surprise

January 23, 2016

Everything is better with bacon. And teensy cabbages are no exception. Oh, you think you don’t care for brusel sprouts…but ah, you haven’t tried this dish. I dare you to serve this up to even the most reluctant eater, and I encourage you to cheat; Don’t even tell them what it is. You’ll see.

To Prepare

  • With your favorite scissors, dice up 4 slices of bacon and stir fry until crispy.
  • Set aside and drain, leaving about 3 tablespoons of the bacon greese in the ot pan.
  • Cut about 8 fresh brussel sprouts in half. Then quarter them.
  • Toss these into the pan along with the hot bacon grease and stir fry until the edges feel crispy and begin to brown.
  • Toss brussel sprouts and bacon bits together, adding salt & pepper to taste.(If you can find Truffle Salt, try some!)

image

 

 

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!

image

Gooey “Gringo Rice”

image

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.
My Daily Kitchen

Decadent Pesto Pâté

September 13, 2015

I could eat Pesto sauce all day long, but I tire of having it on wheaty, fattening pasta. So I am always trying to come up with other ways to give my food the delicious taste of pesto sauce, such as tossing it with vegetables (try cauliflower or zucchini) or using it as a sandwich spread on wraps or break. But as I said, this gets boring.

I am a hedonist; I do not do well with deprivation.  I wanted be able to eat something rich and smooth, something I could enjoy in the same way I used to savor a silky liver pâté, or dig a petite knife into a ripened, warm, gooey, pungent  Brie, but without the meat or dairy.  In other words, I want a low-carb Pesto decadence and I found a way to have it!

I came up with this delicious and satisfying Pesto Pâté, good enough to serve to company.

Here is how I prepare it.

Dedadent Pesto Pâté

In a food processor (mine is only a tine $10 food chopper) add:

  • 2 Cups fresh basil, tightly packed (or 3 cups loose leaves)
  • 1/2 Cup extra virgin olive oil, best quality
  • 3 Garlic teeth/cloves (or 3, 1/2 tsp crushed garlic from the jar)
  • 1  Tsp freshly squeezed lemon or citrus
  • 1/4 Tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/8 Tsp salt

Process the above by pulsing until reduced … but not puréed!
Fancy food processors might mince too finely, so go bit by bit.  You do not want this to be soupy, but rather you want it chunky while still spreadable. Think about cutting hair; once cut, you can’t put it back,  but you can always cut more. So take your time and before you think your are there…
… This is when you want to add:

1 Cup whole, salted cashew nuts (if using unsalted, you’ll need to add more sale to the mix)
1 Cup grated Parmesan cheese (Vegan? Use a cheese substitute).

  • Process until the mixture is chunky but still spreadable. 
  • Taste it. If you want a tad more lemon, or cheese, or salt, just adjust until your taste buds are dancing.
  • Now, pack your mixture into any container and either freeze this…  or chill.

SERVING:
If frozen, just set the container on the counter for a few hours counter until you can tip it, intact, onto your platter.

If refrigerated, tip & scoop onto your serving platter. Don’t worry if the shape comes out goofy because this mix is malleable and easily sculpted after it is on the plate.
Keep refrigerated on the platter until you are ready to serve. Then place your crackers at the last minute.

TIPS:

  • If you are Vegan, omit the Parmesan and replace with a vegan option.
  • Gluten Free? Just find a good rice cracker in place of wheat.
  • Slice large pieces of tomato or zucchini and use these in place of crackers for spreading.

image