When Life is Perfect

We’ve had to travel at the height of European vacations because our window of free time was so limited. With Jimmy teaching in Tampa this summer and Boston in the fall all we had was now…so here we are! Where, pray tell? Well, after battling two hour lines in Athen’s airport we boarded our flight to Mytiline; a quick flight of only 45 minutes with sun shining through the windows reflecting off the waters down below. It’s truly one of the most enjoyable flights. Jimmy’s cousin, Athena, met us at the airport…with roses…to celebrate our anniversary. Is that incredibly thoughtful or what? We then met some more family members in a small water-front town by the name of Panayiouda. It’s a true gem of a town gleaming on the water but hidden from most. Here…..I’ll show you. The streets are cobble stone down to the sea wall. Small and medium size boats bob in the water as cats watch for kind restaurant patrons to toss them a fish bone or french fry. I didn’t tell you about the fish? I am so sorry! Well, I’ll tell you…it puts Fort Lauderdale to shame. There are more kinds of fish here than you can shake a stick at! We started lunch with platters of fried, thinly sliced zucchini so crisp they snapped at the bite. NOT easy to prepare! Right behind them came bowls of Greek salad full of deep, red tomatoes so sweet you’d think they had been sprinkled with sugar. We had fried calamaria, which we usually have grilled, and it was prepared to perfection. Barely a crunch of thin, thin batter covered the tubes and tiny tentacles. Hot, melted Saganaki cheese came out oozing and bubbling on the plate ready for a bright spritz of lemon and a chunk of crusty Greek bread. And just when I thought I could dig in I turned and saw another platter to pass…zucchini blossom fritters dusted with a fresh shaving of salty Mizithra cheese. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I didn’t know if I should eat everything, just gobble it all down or pace myself for more incredibly good food. That decision was made for me when a mammoth vessel of Red Mullet, just brought in by the captain of the boat bobbing at our feet, was set in front me in all its crispy, fried splendor. We all reached and passed. My first taste was heaven until my brain registered heat in my mouth and hands. Well worth it! Red Mullet, called Barbounia here, are small, local fish redolent with sweet, white meat. They are positively glorious and as in the song, “will make a blind man talk about seeing again!’ As I sat back, fat and happy, I took stock of my surroundings wanting to sear into my memory bank everything about the afternoon. The sun glittered on the water, the stiff breeze swept over me cool and fresh, and all these people were so happy to see us. Good food and contentment…this is MY Mediterranean Diet!

20140805-174404-63844800.jpg Panayiouda, an absolute jewel of a town.

20140805-180206-64926685.jpg Three perfect roses to celebrate our anniversary. Each representing a member from our family of three. From sweet, sweet Athina.

20140805-181023-65423758.jpg Grilled bread with a drizzle of olive oil and a shake of local oregano.

20140806-161351-58431558.jpg Zucchini chips, blazing hot melted cheese and calamari

20140806-161759-58679046.jpg. Barbounia! My favorite fish here.

20140806-161948-58788705.jpg. There is never too much watermelon!

And Finally Vacation is Here!

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Yes, Gentle Reader, it’s that time of the year again! So grab your passport, sunscreen, cute walking shoes and sunnies because we’re off to Istanbul! It’s been wonderful here. It’s hotter than hell but dry, not that muggy, sticky humidity we have at home, so your hair looks great! We’re going to put in 4-5 miles walking everyday. You’ll get in a decent workout and see some great things. I’ll put in the recipes when I get home and figure them out so in the meantime let’s go explore through photos.

20140801-230220-82940879.jpgHagia Sofia. Very little Christian Orthodoxy is left. Mosaics, icons, everything went when Christianity was outlawed.

20140801-231636-83796350.jpg The Grand Bazaar. I was in seventh heaven! Jewelry, scarves, shoes, books, hardware, pots and pans, leather goods, furs and for me…spices!

20140801-232237-84157551.jpg And, yes, I bought bags of sumac, za’ater, and an asssortment of herbs and spices I mixed together to use when I get home. Now I wish I had bought more.

20140801-232617-84377853.jpg Never in a million years did I imagine my beautiful, perfumed jasmine tea looked like this! Is this not gorgeous?

20140801-233107-84667184.jpg Liturgy at the Patriarchate. The seat of Christian Orthodoxy. Now I am at home!

20140801-233408-84848188.jpg Full of love, peace and joy.

20140801-233723-85043809.jpg Time to eat. I’m starving! We started with an assortment of dips. Cucumber and cheese with a real kick. Roasted peppers and cheese. Fava. The last one was the big surprise. Ground almond with cinnamon. On crusty bread. Fabulous! See you tomorrow!

Take it Easy Saturday

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Saturday was boiling hot.  The “Real Feel” temperature when I left to work out was 108°.  It was not a day for baking or watching over bubbling pots on the stove.  No, something cool and pretty for dinner was in order and while dinner was being assembled one hand needed to be occupied with a cold summer cocktail.  I didn’t want anything processed…y’all know that ain’t me, babe.  I wanted something cool and easy but substantial and rich in flavor.  I had almost all the ingredients on hand and most were already prepared.  Lemons, shelled pistachios, fresh thyme, garlic and whole grain bread are always to be found in my kitchen.  There’s about a 95% chance you’ll almost always find fig preserves in my refrigerator. The only thing I had to prepare was the ricotta.  For lasagne I’ll buy store-bought but for a dish more delicate I make my own.  I want the ricotta to sing with freshness AND it’s easier than getting in the car and driving to and from the store.  Here’s my summer secret.  It’s made in the microwave.  Isn’t that great?  No hot kitchen!  I’m going to post the recipe for homemade ricotta below but before I do let me tell you how I served it.  Lightly toast your bread and let it cool to room temperature.  Run a peeled clove of fresh garlic over the top side of each piece.  Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over each, slather each slice with a thick coating of ricotta and cut into serving sized hunks.  This is where they became different. On some I lightly pressed in shelled, salted, roughly chopped pistachios.  Over that I sprinkled fresh thyme leaves and a bit of fresh lemon zest.  Oh, man!  They were divine.  On the others, over the ricotta,  I spread a layer of caramelized onions, (I try to always have a jar in the refrigerator),  a generous dollop of store-bought fig preserves and a light scattering of lemon zest.  These were served on a large tray with juicy slices of peaches each wrapped with a pretty ribbon of domestic prosciutto.  Oh my gosh, the sweet and salty of it all.  It doesn’t get much easier.  It’s a meal that’s light but satisfying and pleasing to the eye.  If you make your ricotta on Thursday or Friday you’re really ahead of the game.  So go ahead, pour that second drink and get back in the pool!  It’s hot!

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Homemade Ricotta

yield: 2 generous cups

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk
  • 1/2 cup half and half (heavy cream is fine, it’s your choice)
  • 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar (I like vinegar over lemon juice because the ph of all lemons is different.  Vinegar is more stable.)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Place all the ingredients in a glass or non-reactive bowl in the microwave.
  2. Heat on high in 5 minute increments.  Do not stir.  Keep your eye on the milk to avoid boil-overs.
  3. Line a large plastic or non-reactive colander with several layers of cheesecloth, (buy it at any grocery store), and place the colander in the sink where it can drain.
  4. When the white curds have separated from the whey carefully remove the bowl from the microwave.  The whey is the watery stuff on the bottom and the ricotta is the thick, white layer on top.
  5.  Gently spoon the curds into the colander and when the bowl is cooler to handle continue by pouring all the remaining cheese and whey into the colander.
  6. The longer it sits and drains the thicker the cheese will be.  Done!

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.
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