Party at Chapel Thrill!

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When James graduated from high school we hosted a big, fat, fun party to celebrate.  It was fabulous!  So five or six months before his college graduation I decided to throw him another one.  This one would be more difficult because I was making all the arrangement and plans long distance, from three states over.  After discussing the party with James I began to hammer out the details.  And save my money!!  By the end of March I had the restaurant reserved, menu and drinks planned and contract signed.  The party was to be at a Greek restaurant on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, a restaurant the three of us had been enjoying since James had started school at Carolina.  Jimmy and I both feel that this particular Greek restaurant is the best we’ve ever eaten outside of Greece.  The inside has an edge to it while still being authentic; the food is spectacular and imaginative WITHOUT using foam or stacking and, what made me truly happy, was that our party was on the second floor balcony overlooking a patio.  The week before leaving for North Carolina Pamela mentioned that she and her crew were flying out the Thursday morning before grad weekend and suggested we all travel together.  Our original plans were to fly out Friday but why wait to party?  Jimmy changed our reservations and we were set.  I couldn’t wait to see James!  I knew he was feeling a little down about leaving all his friends compounded by the fact that he had picked up some kind of bug or cold or something.  Cynthia and Elizabeth were flying in on Friday to round out the celebration and family was just the ticket to brighten my boy up.  The Carras’ and Schloss’ flew in Thursday morning, we picked up our rental cars and split up.  They were checking into the hotel we were all staying and we were off to see our boy.  When we arrived at James’ house he said he felt so rotten he couldn’t come downstairs and let us in so he just gave me the code to get in.  His room was on the third floor.  We got to the top of the staircase and entered his room.  He was sick…really sick.  Mama and Daddy went into action.  I sent Jimmy for cold medicine, ibuprofen, Coke with shaved ice and Panera’s chicken soup.  I wiped James’ brow with a clean, cold cloth.  I made up his bed, picked up clothes.  I opened his graduation packet and hung up his gown, cap and cord.  After getting him settled in we told him we were taking him to the doctor tomorrow, first thing in the morning, so if they could do anything to make him feel better he would have a whole 24 hours to get back to normal.  That night Jimmy and I barely slept for worry.  The following morning James could barely make it down the stairs.  I was calm…after all, we were on our way to the doctor’s.  At the doctor’s office he would text us ever once in a while.  “I’m waiting for the doctor.”  “They’re giving me a chest x-ray.”  “Now they’re giving me a breathing treatment.”  The last text was “Pneumonia!”  Thank the Lord we got up there a day early!  We left the medical building laden with instructions and prescriptions…and each person had a job to do.  Jimmy was to get more soup, sweet tea and all the high-octane meds.  I was going upstairs with James to get him back in bed and clean that nightmare of a room.  And James was to get better.  I found him a clean tee-shirt and pajama bottoms, put him on the sofa and stripped his bed.  I washed all the bed linens, separated the clean and dirty clothes, washed the dirty clothes and folded 400-lbs. of clean ones.  In the kitchen I found a garbage bag and picked up all the tissues, napkins, dead soft drink cups, old mail and wait!  What’s this?  A large box of pizza with only one piece missing.  It had been there two days.  I moved to toss it in the garbage bag when James moaned, “No, Mama.  It’s good.  It’s just fine.  Don’t throw it out.” As I set it aside he sent a quick text and fell back in the bed.  Two seconds later we heard the pounding of racing footsteps coming up the stairs.  It was a fraternity brother/housemate happy as can be to take the two-day old pizza off James’ feverish hands.  Jimmy and I laughed and shook our heads.  Boys.  By then it was afternoon and James was all set to sleep for the rest of the day.  He had taken all his medicine, eaten and showered.  He was exhausted.  We left him to then stop by the restaurant and see what our options were.  I knew the antibiotics were super-powerful but there was always the chance he wouldn’t be better by the following day.  At the Greek restaurant we waited by the hostess stand for the young lady in charge of events and parties.I hadn’t met her yet; didn’t even know what she looked like.  But when I saw that dour, angry face making her way over from the back of the restaurant my heart sank.  This was NOT going to be fun.  Everything about her body language screamed irritation and inconvenience and we hadn’t even spoken yet!  After superfluous introductions I explained our situation, that James was sick, we didn’t know if we could even HAVE the party and when would we have to let her know if it was to be cancelled.  While she tightly crossed her arms and scowled at us she snapped, “NOW!  You’ll have to tell me now!  I need to know now!”. Just barely keeping my temper in check I asked if we could have a couple of hours to at least discuss this and she responded with a dismissive, “Sure.” not even looking at us but working on the computer in front of her.  We left the restaurant and made our way to the back of the building to a lovely garden patio which provided shaded quiet and elegance to the patrons of the neighboring restaurants.  We split a salad while trying to discuss the possibility of James getting better and which receptions, graduations and parties we had to attend versus which we wanted to attend.  It was hot.  It was the end of the day.  I felt beaten up and beaten down.  My heart ached thinking how James hadn’t been able to say goodbye to so many friends who had already left for the summer.   He just couldn’t get out of bed.  He hadn’t even seen the rest of the family yet.  There was a good chance he wouldn’t be able to walk at his own graduation and he had worked so hard for so long.  I couldn’t bear the weight of it all but I didn’t want Jimmy to see me crying.  As tears of frustration, anger and worry streamed down my face I just sat there quietly with my big sunglasses on not making a sound.  But you can’t fool my Jimmy.  He was about to put another bite of salad in his mouth when he put down his fork and brightly said to me, “You know what?  I’m going to go do something.  I’m just going to talk to “her” for a second.  Just see what our options are.:)”  I blew my nose with one of those crappy, sand paper rough paper napkins when he turned around, smiled sweetly at me and said, “I’ll be nice.  Really”.   I remember thinking, “Oh, shit.  She’s gonna get it now.  She doesn’t know who she’s messing with.”  He left and I called Selene.  She let me boo-hoo and have a pity party.  She knew how I felt!  She’s the best!  When I saw Jimmy round the corner I quickly said, “I gotta go!  Jimmy’s here!” and I turned my attention on Jim.   Well, apparently he DID tear her a new one.  That party planner was shaking when he left.  He told me everything and ended the story by saying, “When I looked over and saw you…well…NOBODY MAKES MY WIFE CRY!”  I have to tell y’all,  I’m strong and typically can fight my own battles and pretty well but I’ve got to say it felt really good hearing that.  At a time when I felt ineffective and vulnerable he made me feel completely protected.  And safe.  Nothing could hurt me or James.  The following day was wonderful!  The antibiotics had kicked in and James felt well-rested.   We went to his Entrepreneurship minor graduation and the receptions.  At the end of the day was our party and it was beyond perfection!  After Miss Party Pooper’s tantrum the staff was bending over backwards to please us.  There was a stiff breeze flowing through the beautiful balcony where the party was held.  The sunset scattered pinks, yellows and oranges across the sky.  Cocktails were mixed and hor’s d’oeuvre were passed.  We stayed all night and after the last guest left the whole family sat down and we had Greek coffees, green teas, and Greek desserts.  We laughed, had party chatter and told stories.  We made fun of ourselves and each other.  I was so grateful.  There IS something to be said for being rescued by a knight in shining armor!

...and one for al!

…and one for all!

Cucumber Gin Fizz

Yield: 1 drink

 

My favorite photograph of the weekend!

My favorite photograph of the weekend!

  • 2-3 ounces gin, Hendricks and Boodles taste great in this
  • 2-3 ounces fresh cucumber juice
  • splash of lemon juice
  • splash of simple syrup
  • splash soda water
  • ice
Say hello to my little friend.

Say hello to my little friend.

  1. Fill your cocktail shaker 1/2 full of ice.
  2. Add gin,cucumber juice and lemon juice.
  3. Shake vigorously.
  4. Add soda water to shaker.
  5. Fill a tall glass with ice, strain mixture and pour into glass.
  6. Garnish with fresh cucumber or lime slices.
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Cousin love!

 

 

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Puerto Rican Hand Pies

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IMG_7492 Pastelillos are almost bar food. They’re good at family get togethers, poolside and right now while we’re watching the World Cup. They’re all kinds of stuffings sweet and savory for these little pies. They can be made cocktail size or larger to stand in as breakfast or lunch on the fly. Just about all cultures have these. My niece, Elizabeth, just left a day or two ago for Delhi working on a 6 month project. She’ll find some spectacular hand pies there such as spicy curried potato pies, curried lamb and curried lentil. I made for this lazy, Sunday afternoon guava and cheese hand pies. They’re deep-fried, easy and delicious. Here’s the hook. The dough is already made, rolled out and cut into perfect rounds. All you have to do is stuff them and drop them into a waiting pan of hot oil. The guava paste can be purchased at the grocery store. It’s a gorgeous, deep garnet color, sticky and firm. It will melt in the pie while frying. Cream cheese is great in the pie as well as “queso fresco”, a crumbly, salty white cheese. It’s a savory-sweet match made in heaven. One day soon I will post a recipe for the meat filling, picadillo. Truly. I promise. Meantime, I’m dropping these bad boys in hot fat and rooting for Greece. Pame Ellada!   Well, as we all know now Greece did not make it.  These hand pies are perfect to drown your sorrows.  That and a tall, stiff drink.  They’re perfect for an impromptu get together because they’re easy and totally unexpected.  The sweet-salty mix goes well with all manner of drinks and people think guava’s so exotic.  And quite frankly, it is!  Back to the dough.  The pastelillo rounds are in the Hispanic frozen food section of your grocery store.  They come 10 to a package and should be defrosted in the refrigerator otherwise they can get a little soggy.  Goya makes them as well as some other companies.  Try to find guava paste in the tin; I find it to have the most flavor.  The outside of the fried pastelillos will look blistered and puffed up when finished.  Oh!  And let them cool a bit after draining on paper towels.  The hot guava paste is like molten lava in your mouth!  Buen provecho!

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GUAVA AND CHEESE HAND PIES

yield:  20 large or 40 cocktail size

  • 2 packages pastelillo dough rounds, each package containing 10, for cocktail size cut each round in half
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, minced into small cubes
  • 8 ounces guava paste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • vegetable oil for frying
  1. Place one dough round on your work surface, dip your finger or a pastry brush into the egg and lightly paint the egg wash on the edge of just one half of the dough.
  2. Onto one half of the dough round place a tablespoon of both guava paste and cream cheese or cheese of your choice.  For cocktail size use half the amount cheese and guava.
  3. Fold the pastelillo in half.  Using a fork press the edges together to form a tight seal.  If there are any holes in the dough makes sure they are pinched closed because if the paste or cheese leaks out into your pan you’re going to have a great, big mess.
  4. Repeat with all the rounds until finished and set aside.
  5. In a large frying pan heat about 2-3 inches of oil to 350° or medium high.  Add the stuffed pastelillos being careful not to crowd the pan.  Fry on each side 2-3 minutes or until each side is golden.
  6. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.
  7. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar to make them look pretty.

The Staff of Life

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I understand people going gluten-free but I’m a serious carb girl and that diet just is NOT going to enter my realm!  Both my mother’s and father’s families were bread people and growing up so was my family.  Dad, being almost vegetarian, forbade white bread in our household.  “No, no, a thousand times NO!”, as he would say, to any refined, fluffy bread.  We grew up on what was known at the time as “brown bread’.  No one ate it.  Just us.  And the Pangratz’ who lived one island over.  They were Catholic, too.  We all laugh now at the thought of being the “only” Catholics or the “only” kids who didn’t have white bread.  Both sets of parents were really strict.  Jane is the Pangratz’ daughter, our good, good friend, and agrees how it gave us all quiet comfort knowing we had a little company when it came to the following:

  1. Friends.  If our parents didn’t know your parents you weren’t part of our lives.
  2. Money?  You don’t need any money.  Money’ll just get you in trouble.  If you want candy you can go charge a bit at the “little store”.
  3. If everyone else got to be out until midnight we had to be home by 10:00.  Period.  (We still sneaked out.)
  4. We could not double date until we were 15 and single date until we were 16.
  5. If we stepped out of line we were grounded.  Unless we came home from school drunk and then we had to stand in the corner.  I shit you not.
  6. If you are a boy (i.e. Tommy) you can have all the fast boats you want.  If you are a girl “You can look cute in your bikini and sunnies on somebody else’ boat” and “I don’t want to have to tell you again but YOU ARE NOT GETTING A BOAT!”  Sigh.
  7. You will go to confession every Friday evening and Mass every Sunday.
  8. To keep you out of trouble, (it didn’t work), you will have tennis lessons, ballet lessons, sailing lessons, swimming lessons, music lessons, painting lessons and drama lessons.
  9. You WILL write thank you notes for anything and everything you receive in life.  And they won’t be mailed until Mama approves of what’s written.
  10. You will never have a pretty, pink petticoat.  Petticoats are for trashy little girls.  Nor will you EVER have a ruffle on your plain, white sock.
  11. Your forearms will never touch the table while dining AND you will put your fork down quietly on your plate after every single bite.
  12. Your date will never pull into the driveway and honk for you to come out.  He will ring the doorbell, come in and chat for a bit with Mom and Dad.
  13. When you’re outside playing and Mama calls you into the house you will immediately drop what you are doing and, while running home, call out, “Coming, Mama!’.
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Fresh mozzarella, basil and chopped heirloom tomatoes crown these pitas for a healthful summer dinner.

 

And the list goes on and on.  My parents ran a very strict household but we were happy and much-loved.  Really the only downside was the lack of edible food.  I’ve told you before Mama was a disaster in the kitchen and, to add to our woes, didn’t really care about food.  But we always had brown bread.  And margarine.  And lettuce.  I must have eaten hundreds of butter and lettuce sandwiches.  Tommy crawled on his stomach through the house one night all the way to the kitchen to steal half a loaf of bread he was so hungry.  Hopefully James will never have to do that.  And when he does reach for bread most probably he’ll find something like this.  Toothsome, soft pita bread.  Easy, fast and wonderful to have on hand.  And think of how happy your children will be when they go into YOUR kitchen and find FOOD!


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The recipe for pita that I typically use is from Susanna Hoffman’s brilliant tome, “The Olive and the Caper”.  It’s a fantastic cookbook brimming with all sorts of facts, tips and suggestions.  For me, it is the “Joy of Cooking” of Greek food.  As she explains, Greek pita bread is different from Near East pitas and flatbreads.  It doesn’t puff up in the middle nor open up to make a pocket.  Greek pita bread is wrapped around a filling, as in a gyro, or torn to scoop up bean dip, scordalia or taramosalata.  Or it can make a fabulous pizza or open-faced sandwich!

HOMEMADE GREEK PITA BREAD

yield:  20-25 approx. 4″-5″ diameter

  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 cups warm water no more than 115°
  • 2-1/4 ounce packages active dry yeast
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt, or more for sprinkling
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Stir together 1 cup of the water and the sugar in a small bowl.  Sprinkle the yeast over the top and set aside until bubbly, about 15 minutes.
  2. Place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Make a well in the center and pour in the 1/3 cup oil, the yeast mixture and the remaining cup of water.  Stir and knead until the dough can be scooped up into a ball.
  3. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and silky, about 5 minutes.  Lightly coat the dough with oil, return the dough to the bowl, cover with a cloth or loose plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free corner to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
  4. Punch down the dough and let it rest for 20 minutes.
  5. Divide the dough into 12 portions or how ever many you want.  12 portions will roll out to 8″-9″ rounds and, as I like mine smaller, I typically portion out about 20 pieces rolled out to about 4″-5″ in diameter and all should be rolled to about 1/8″ in thickness.  Without overlapping, place as many rounds as will fit on your baking sheets, cover them with a damp cloth and set aside to rest for 30 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.
  6. While the dough is resting preheat the oven to 500°.
  7. Bake the rounds for 5 minutes and check for doneness.  You want the bottom of the rounds to start to turn golden but not at all crisp.
  8. When done stack and wrap in a clean cloth.  Serve immediately or let the breads cool completely, wrap in plastic and refrigerate.  They will keep well refrigerated for up to 3 days.  They may be frozen up to 2 months.  Reheat before serving.

 

 

Beach Food Puerto Rican Style

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Doesn’t it seem as though the prettiest or most fun beaches always have the most delicious food close by? Beach food. Pick-up food. And it’s almost always hideously bad for you. But something about being in the hot sun, maybe under a thatched shack…a fruity rum drink or a cold beer in your hand makes it natural to throw caution to the wind and start ordering. Some sort of scalding hot, deep-fried, savory bit blanketed in a crispy, salty outside which will transport you to paradise with every single bite. Puerto Rico is no exception. The beaches are exquisite, some known for surfing others for sunning but all tempt with the king of naughty…hot fat. All manner of delectable morsels are fried to a golden perfection on those beaches; some amiably co-mingling with garlic or onion and cornmeal while some are happy to be fried naked with no breading what so ever. One of our favorite treats are fried, green plantains, Tostones. Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside these yellow speckled rounds are perfect with an icy beer or cold rum drink. They’re served in wax paper triangles, sometimes with a garlic and olive oil sauce drizzled lightly. Perfect for a hot, lazy day in the sun!  Every now and again my grandmother would make them for us.  Not often enough so tostones were a real treat.  And reason enough for a big, family get together.  Plantains must be cooked; they cannot be eaten raw.  They look like bananas but they’re not.  Bananas are high in sugar whereas plantains are high in starch.  There are hundreds of recipes for plantains but, typically, three stages of ripeness will determine how they are prepared.  For good tostones you want hard, deep green plantains.  As they ripen plantains will begin to turn yellow and that is perfect for frying and serving as a side.  As they darken and ripen they turn black.  Don’t throw them out!  At that stage the plantains are at their sweetest and are wonderful as dessert baked in butter, sugar and rum served hot over melting vanilla ice cream.  The plantain is truly your friend.

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TOSTONES

yield:  approximately 30

  • 4 large, dark green plantains
  • vegetable for frying
  • small bowl of water with 2-3 mashed up garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • sea salt for sprinkling
  1. Cut about 1″ off each end of the plantain.  Cut the plantain from end to end cutting only through the skin.
  2. Work your finger under the skin and pull the skin away from the plantain working from top to bottom.  The plantain will stain your fingers.  I’ve heard it said of a Puerto Rican newly arrived to the States, “She still has the stain of plantains” meaning she’s country or a hillbilly…”una jibara”.
  3. In a deep-frying pan heat 2″ of vegetable oil to 350° of medium high.  Cut the plantain into 1″ pieces or, if you want larger tostones, cut into 2″ pieces.
  4. Add them to the hot oil and fry until they are just starting to turn golden, about 5-6 minutes.
  5. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.  Leave the oil as you’ll be using it again.
  6. Place one piece of plantain on your counter and using a small plate, bowl or small pan press down firmly on the piece of plantain.  Continue with all.
  7. Bring your frying pan back up to medium high.
  8. Lightly dip each tostone into the salted garlic water and immediately but carefully return the smashed tostones to the hot frying pan.  Don’t leave the tostones long in the water or they’ll fall apart.  Just a quick dip is all they need.
  9. Fry the tostones again until they turn a rich, golden brown, remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.
  10. IMMEDIATELY sprinkle with sea salt and serve.

Fried and Green

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IMG_7420 The person who thought to slice up a rock hard green tomato, dust it with a seasoned coat of cornmeal and deep fry it in fat is nothing short of genius.  You don’t often see green tomatoes at the grocery store.  You have to go to a specialty or outdoor market.  But they’re out there.  And I found some a few weekends ago on a typical Saturday morning on one of my outings with Dad.  A beautiful pale jade color, these tomatoes sang out to me.  They were big.  And plentiful.  I must have grabbed at least eight or nine.  They were perfect!  Not even the faintest blush of pink on this fruit and all were solid as boulders.  Yes, I had some fryin’ on my mind.  With James home it’s easier to justify food that’s not, well…all that good for you.  Poor Jimmy.  When James was at school it was fish and salad just about every night.  But with James home?  Mama gets to rattlin’ around in the kitchen and all MANNER of dishes come out!  That last post I wrote on homemade  dulce de leche was transformed into a tall, gorgeous Banoffee pie that was completely eaten before I could take the first photograph of it.  Gone.  Just like that.  The only reason I had a photo of the Key Lime Pie from an earlier post is because I hid a huge slice in the refrigerator.  Girl’s gotta do… anyway, treasure trove in hand I had plans for these ‘maters.  For those of you who’ve never had a fried, green tomato you’re in for an addictive treat.  FGT’s are salty and crunchy on the outside, tart and barely firm on the inside.  I peel the skin off the bottom of the tomato so the cornmeal will adhere to the flesh.  Too much skin and the cornmeal floats off into the oil.  The tomatoes have to be completely green as even a half-ripe tomato will dissolve into a watery, sputtering mess in your frying pan.  You really want to serve these warm so if you’re planning on these being part of your meal make sure the rest of your dishes are pretty much finished.  Also, as with anything fried, you want your flour, egg and cornmeal all well seasoned.  I served this batch of Fried Green Tomatoes with a buttermilk dipping sauce that can easily be changed up to the flavor of your choice.  So feel free to add a couple of tablespoons of Sriracha, (SO good!), two tablespoons of plain, bottled BBQ sauce or a packet of Ranch dressing.  I’ve not tried the Ranch, I’m just not a Ranch-style girl, but I’ve been told it’s pretty good.  Go ahead and experiment.  And let me know how yours come out! IMG_7436   FRIED GREEN TOMATOES yield: each tomato gives you about four slices, I use about 8-9 tomatoes for this recipe

  • enough oil to go half way up your frying pan
  • 8-9 green tomatoes, cut in half inch slices and seasoned on both sides with salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons garlic powder, divided
  • 3 tablespoons seasonings, I use Tony Chacere’s, divided
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs, well beaten
  • 2 cups cornmeal, preferably white, and more on reserve

Buttermilk Dipping Sauce

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Sriracha, BBQ sauce or Ranch dressing, all are optional
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1 bunch of chives, chopped

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  1. Place flour, eggs and cornmeal in a line in SEPARATE, shallow bowls on your counter.
  2. Season the flour with one tablespoon of garlic powder and one tablespoon your fave seasoning mix or Tony Chacere’s  and mix until well combined.
  3. Season the eggs and the cornmeal each the same way making sure the eggs and seasonings are well combined as is the cornmeal and seasonings.
  4. Dredge each tomato slice in the flour, then in the eggs and then through the cornmeal.  I use my left hand to dredge through the flour, right hand for the eggs and back to left for the cornmeal.  This avoids “fat hand” syndrome.
  5. Lay each slice over cooling racks, the ones you use for cookies or muffins, to air dry until you finish the dredging process.  This keeps the bottom from becoming soggy.
  6.  Heat oil to medium high, about 350°.
  7. Gently slip tomatoes into the oil being careful not to burn yourself or crowd the pan.
  8. After 2-3 minutes turn each slice over for even cooking.
  9. When light golden brown remove from pan with a slotted spoon or spider and drain on paper towels.
  10. Serve with Buttermilk Dipping Sauce.

Buttermilk Dipping Sauce

  1. In a medium bowl combine buttermilk and mayonnaise and whisk until smooth.
  2. Add remaining ingredients, mix well, cover and chill until ready to serve.

Dulce de Leche for my God-Girl!

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Today in Cambridge our family gained another graduate!  My older sister, Cynthia’s, daughter Elizabeth received her MBA.  We weren’t able to be at the receptions, parties and ceremony but I can envision her tossing her blond hair back, laughing and accepting compliments and attentions with a grace she’s always had.  Through her bewitching, Audrey Hepburn eyes she sees the world differently than we mortals.  She’s an achiever, strong in will and character.  I think her main attribute is she never looks back.  Oh, she’ll laugh at family stories we have of her but she ain’t nevuh, EVUH going to take that fateful walk down memory lane.  No, ma’am.  That girl looks ahead.  That’s not an easy thing to do and I admire her for it.  So the following recipe is for her.  Dulce de Leche.  One of her favorites.  And soon it will be one of yours! Two ingredients if you include the optional sprinkle of sea salt.  Dulce de leche is like ooey, gooey caramel or toffee.  It can be spooned over ice cream, drizzled over pound cake even layered with Nutella!  This recipe is easier than falling off a log.  Seriously. This is what you do.  Preheat your oven to 350°.  Into a Pyrex brownie or square pan pour one 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk.  Sprinkle with a little sea salt if you want salted caramel.  Cover tightly with tin foil and place in a larger pan that has been filled halfway up the sides with water.  Place gently in the center of the oven and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  You will see it turn from white to a gorgeous, caramel brown right before your eyes.  And that’s it!  Just be careful taking it out of the oven.  Now, won’t that change your life completely?

 

I'm lovin' that orange, Tory, Princeton shout out!

I’m lovin’ that orange Tory, Princeton shout out!

The Best Key Lime Pie

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My two friends, Dana and Selene hate most pies but give them an ice-cold slab of Key lime pie?  There’s no denying it.  Key lime pie is a dream to swoon over.  Cold and tart while at the same time velvety sweet it’s a hit every time it’s served.  And this is the recipe you want to serve for Memorial Day weekend.  Why?  Because this recipe is simply the best.  It’s as good if not better than the Key lime pie at a world-famous Miami crab house.  Oh, yes it is!  The recipe is ridiculously easy but as it calls for so few ingredients one has to stay true to product.   Substituting will just NOT give you good results.  So please resist the temptation to maybe use fat-free condensed milk or something other than butter in your pie crust.  This recipe has been tweaked a bit by me but is pretty close to the original printed in the 1968 Miami Herald’s “Food with a Florida Flair” cookbook.  I reduced the number of yolks from six to three and upped the amount of Key lime juice from 1/2 cup to 2/3.  I’m most definitely NOT a traditionalist when it comes to my Key lime pie.  I much prefer a graham cracker crust over pastry and don’t even talk to me about meringue!  Not on any pie do I want that mess!  But I WILL happily take a bit of freshly whipped cream.  I like to chill my pie overnight to make sure it sets well and I freeze the whole pie for a good 15-20 minutes prior to serving so every slice arrives cold and firm.  Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

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Key Lime Pie

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 2/3 cup freshly squeezed Key lime juice, that’s about ripe 20-25 Key limes
  • 1 baked and cooled 9-inch graham cracker crust pie shell
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Using a hand mixer beat the egg yolks for 5-10 minutes or until they’re pale yellow and quite fluffy.
  3. Add the condensed milk and mix well.
  4. Slowly add the Key lime juice and hand mix it in until just combined.
  5. Pour into the pie shell and bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes.  If you double the recipe to make a deep dish pie bake for 25-30 minutes.
  6. Let cool then chill in the refrigerator at least 8 hours, better overnight.
  7. Freeze pie for 15-20 minutes prior to serving.

Graham Cracker Crust

  • 5 ounces graham crackers, that’s one of the three packages in standard boxes
  • 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  1. Process crackers in food processor until you have fine crumbs or make them by hand by putting the crackers in a large, heavy-duty plastic bag and hitting them with a rolling pin.  An empty wine bottle works well, too.
  2. Mix the cracker crumbs with the sugar then butter and mix until well combined.
  3. Pour the crumb mixture in your pie plate and gently press crumbs into the bottom of the plate and up the sides making sure the  crumbs are even.
  4. Bake the shell at 350° for ten minutes.

In Celebration of The Graduate

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It seems like yesterday that James was graduating from Pre-K and going to the “Big School” across the street.  He and his classmates were to have lunch in the cafeteria of the big school in order to familiarize and acclimate them to higher education.  As you can well imagine, there was great excitement in the Rainbow and Explorer classrooms.  All of the children made the transition to the “Big School” and now, this weekend, that class will be graduating from college.  COLLEGE.  And here’s the recipe to help you celebrate.  Southern style.  Deep Fried Pimento Cheese Balls.  They are truly to die for.  Please enjoy the photographs of our future leaders.  I know I do!

Class of 2014

Class of 2014

 

This appetizer is a bit time consuming but well, well worth it!  There are some guidelines that I strongly suggest you follow so the cheese balls don’t fall apart mid-fry.  Prepare this in a food processor.  Sure, you can mince the onion by hand and then grate all the cheese by hand but this dish takes a little time already so why add more work? I buy the small jar of chopped pimentos.  It’s about 1/4 cup and again, it’s saving time, not to mention energy.  I don’t substitute sweet milk for buttermilk.  Buttermilk adds a welcome tang before the onslaught of drippy, spicy, gooey cheese.   This is really important.  DON’T use panko!!  Plain ol’ regular unflavored bread crumbs are the best.  I started this recipe with panko thinking I would try them out.  I’ve always used plain breadcrumbs.  Thank goodness I ran out and finished the recipe using the plain.  You see, once you start you can’t undo your mistakes.  The balls are always double dipped but, in spite of that, one minute into frying the panko balls began to spring leaks, cheese flowed into the hot oil causing a messy, sputtering mess.  You HAVE to get them out of the oil ASAP or the oil will begin to pop so violently that you will most certainly get burned.  And you will be left with greasy, empty bread crumb shells and a pot of cheese oil.  Your cheese balls will be ruined AND that throbbing burn you just got under your eyebrow looks like it’s going to blister.  Okay? Other than that you’re good to go.  Oh!  I use Braswell’s Red Pepper Jelly.  Damn good stuff.

 

 

 

 

The graduate

The graduate

 

Deep Fried Pimento Cheese Balls

yield: approximately 75 a bit smaller than walnut size

  • 1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/2 pound pepperjack cheese, grated
  • 1/4 pound cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1 small onion, liquefied
  • 1/4 cup mayonaise
  • 1 small jar chopped pimentos, drained
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper, optional
  • 2 tablespoon seasoning salt, I use Tony Chacere’s
  • 2 cups flour, more if needed
  •  2 cups buttermilk, more if needed
  • 4 cups plain bread crumbs, more if needed
  • 2 quarts peanut oil
  • red pepper jelly for serving
  1. Combine cheddar and jack cheeses in a large bowl.
  2. In food processor blitz cream cheese, pimentos, 1 tablespoon seasoning salt, and mayonaise until smooth.
  3. Pour food processor mixture into the large bowl with cheeses and combine all well with a rubber spatula.
  4. Taste for seasoning, cover with plastic wrap and chill for a few hours until mixture is stiff.
  5. Using a melon ball scoop roll pimento cheese mixture into balls a little smaller than a walnut and place on parchment paper lined cookie sheets.  Make sure the pans fit in your freezer.
  6. Mix second tablespoon of seasoned salt in flour.
  7. In three separate shallow dishes place flour, buttermilk and breadcrumbs.  This will be your breading station.
  8. Dip each cheese ball in the flour, then buttermilk followed by the breadcrumbs.  Make certain each ball is completely covered with each of these three ingredients.
  9. Again, roll the ball in flour, buttermilk then breadcrumbs.
  10. Place trays in freezer and freeze until solid – overnight is fine.
  11. In a large pot, like a Le Creuset dutch oven, heat oil to 350°.
  12. This goes fast so pay attention.  Fry 6-8 balls 2-3 minutes until golden.
  13. Remove from oil with a spider or slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
  14. Best served immediately with red pepper jelly.

Ha Haaaaa! It’s Summertime!

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I may be wrong, I usually am even though I pretend I’m not, but with the temperature already creeping into the very high 80′s I think summer may have just hit south Florida!  It’s a good thing and it’s a bad thing.  Thankfully, we have ocean breezes and central AC.  I hadn’t quite noticed that the heat was upon us but when Jimmy pulled out his bathing suit, rummaged around on his tobacco table for the perfect Sunday cigar and headed out to the pool for the second day in a row it dawned on me.  Time to start REALLY working out again and, by the way, a bikini wax wouldn’t hurt.  I got my suit on, slung my towel over my shoulder and joined him.  Let me make myself clear.  It’s not really MY towel.  When I get in the pool I only take the towels in James’ closet…the boy’s towels.  Let THEM get bleached out by chlorine or get dirt on them.  Any way, the pool looked, well, not quite party ready.  And the water was still too cold.  I stood on the bench seat in the deep end and I wasn’t happy.  I could feel myself getting crabby and peevish.  I hate it when I get that way; I feel it coming and sometimes I can head it off and sometimes I can’t but today is my complete day off and, dammit, the pool looks like shit.  There.  I said it.  I just stood there watching tiny, brown Royal Poinciana leaves slowly drift by as Jimmy was cleaning the pool, happily puffing away on his cigar, and I thought, “No.  I don’t want to waste my day being bitchy and frustrated and stupid.  There’s GOT to be something I can do to ward this off.”  And that’s when Jimmy said, still cleaning the pool, completely unaware that there was a potential hissy fit a brewin’, “Man, I’d do anything for one of those bullfrog drinks right now.”  I perked right up at the idea of outside day drinking.  “Now you’re talkin’.”, I thought happily drying off thinking, “There’s GOT to be something frozen in that house I can blend with rum”.  Task designed and assigned I headed off to the kitchen to see what we had.  I knew we had a handle of Bacardi Lemon Rum living under the bar but what to flavor it?  I tore through the freezer past the now brick-like Tsoureki bread, moving aside the broad beans, the broccoli, the yuca.  Geez, there’s GOT to be something in here.  My hands, now blue with cold, raked through the bottom drawer looking for that peach or strawberry canned drink mix that I knew in my heart of hearts was long gone.  “Damn,” I muttered to no one, “Disappointed!”, I yelled fully aware that only the dog would witness my tantrum.  But, wait.  What’s that acidy yellow plastic corner peeping out?  Well, well, well.  There is a God after all and He has given me a frozen solid pack of pure Lulo puree!  For those of you who are not familiar with the magic of Lulo it’s a fruit from Colombia that imparts a lemony, citrus taste with a pineapple sidecar finish.  I am happy now!  In the blender I combined half of a 14-ounce pack of frozen Lulo pulp with too much of the lemon rum, probably a cup and a half.  I get carried away so pour the rum as you see fit.  I added a bit of sugar as the fruit is unsweetened and packed the blender with ice.  After 60 seconds or so on “liquify” it was perfect.  Smoother than a slushy from 7-11.  I tasted it.  Nooooo!  It was too raw and sharp.  This frozen mess needed something…anything.  I had some far gone bananas for my smoothies but, no, THAT’S NOT WHAT I WANT.  Wait, wait!  There are half a dozen very tired strawberries killing time in the refrigerator until someone throws them out.  Perfect!  I tossed them in after lopping off their tops, added a few more ice cubes and some sugar and a star was born!  After another 45 seconds swirling through the blender I ended up with a gorgeous, incredibly smooth, not too tart-not too sweet summer drink.  I closed my eyes and savored the icy perfection slide down my throat.  The afternoon was saved!  So get to the grocery store and stock up not on the drink mixes in the can but frozen packets of fruit pulp.  The hispanic section will have a treasure trove of flavors so have a party and experiment.  Even if it’s only the two of you!  Guaranteed fun and you’ll be nice to the world.

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Greek Stuffed Grape Leaves…Food of the Gods

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Spring lasted all of 15 minutes here in SoFlo and as I prepared dolmades, or Greek stuffed grape leaves, it occurred to me what a perfect summer food it is.  As the temperatures steadily climb dolmadakia are the ideal snack or side; not too heavy and chilled, tailor-made for the steamy days ahead.  They can be enjoyed warm but we prefer them cool or even cold.  It’s best to make the dolmades the day before serving thus giving them plenty of time overnight in the refrigerator.  Stuffed grape leaves are incredibly simple to make; don’t listen those pessimists who make such a big fuss and complain about how back-breaking they are.  They DO, however, take time.  A considerable amount of time at that.  3/4 of the time spent making them is in the stuffing or rolling.  I find if you set up an assembly line at your dining room table where you can sit the time flies by and you’re not on your feet inviting a back ache.  The most difficult part of making the stuffed grape leaves is deciding meat or no meat.  In our house we have a saying, “ANYONE can make good dolmades with meat!”.  Without the addition of meat you need to pay attention to the herbs and seasonings.  You really can’t add too much but add too little…and you’ve just spent a couple of hours making a big pot of bland rice with grape leaves in it.  Not fun.  So make sure you really crank on the onion, dill, mint and lemon and you will have a pot filled with dark green, glossy little jewels!  They don’t freeze well but they last a good five to six days in your refrigerator.

Dolmades, Greek Stuffed Grape Leaves

yield: approximately 60

  • 1-1 lb. jar grape leaves in brine
  • 2-14 ounce bags arborio or any short grain rice
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 1 large bunch fresh dill, finely chopped, stalks set aside
  • 1 large bunch fresh mint, finely chopped, stalks set aside
  • 1 large bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped, stalks set aside
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2-3 tablespoons lemon zest, finely minced
  • juice of the zested lemons
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

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  1. Heat a large pan to medium and add olive oil.
  2. After olive oil heats up add onions and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add dill, mint, parsley and lemon zest.
  4. Stir well and add rice stirring so all the grains of rice are coated with the olive oil.
  5. Set aside until rice is cool enough to handle.
  6. Carefully take grape leaves out of jar, rinse well under tap water taking care not to tear leaves.  Set in colander for excess water to drain off.
  7. Cut stems off leaves at the base and reserve any torn leaves.  You’ll use them later.
  8. Using a big pot line the bottom of the pot with half of all the reserved stems and half of the torn grape leaves.
  9. Place a grape leaf, vein side up, on your work surface, I use a dinner plate, smooth out and place one teaspoon of the rice mixture in the center of the bottom.
  10. Fold the bottom of the leaf up, pressing the rice mixture down.
  11. Fold the left and the right sides towards the middle.
  12. Roll the leaf up, all the way to the top.
  13. Place the stuffed grape leaf in the pot on top of the torn leaves and continue to roll, placing the dolmades in the pot in a concentric circle, fitting the smaller ones into any gaps.
  14. When you have no more perfect leaves place the other half of the torn ones on top of the dolmades and the other half of the stems on top of that.
  15. Pour the juice of the lemons into the pot along with a good drizzle of olive oil.
  16. Gently pour water into the pot just up to the top of grape leaves.
  17. Place a sturdy luncheon plate inverted on top of the pot to weight down the dolmadakia, cover, bring up to a boil and immediately drop down to a gentle simmer for one hour.
  18. Taste a grape leaf and if done remove from heat.  If not, continue cooking  until rice is tender to your taste.
  19. Chill overnight in refrigerator.  Serve with freshly cut lemon.

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