Category Archives: Dinner

When you see Pasteles you know it’s Christmas in Puerto Rico


Christmas is the best of Puerto Rican culture.  There is nothing, NOTHING, like a Christmas party in Puerto Rico.  Our Christmas fiestas are epic, beginning early in December and really not ending until mid-January.  Growing up in Fort Lauderdale we had a conflict of loyalties at Christmas.  Leading up to the 25th of December was everything every little boy and girl dreamed of.  Christmas parties at school with Secret Santas.  Christmas on Las Olas where we got all dressed up, played in our Florence Eiseman dresses, white socks and black patent leather Mary Janes with our friends while our parents strolled the boulevard also decked out in their formal attire our mamas sporting big jewels with cocktails in hand.  Museum parties where, if you were lucky, you got your picture in the social column of the local news paper.  Every waking hour found vinyl spinning carols on the big, brown hi-fi.  Mama would let Cynthia and me play Burl Ives and Bing Crosby songs over and over while she sat and enjoyed our beautiful tree.  She let US set up the massive manger sent from Spain that her father in Puerto Rico had given her.  Mama bought us GALLONS of eggnog from Farm Stores, a convenience store known for their thick, rich Christmas drink.  There were tree trimming parties and cookie exchanges.  There was virtually no baking in our house so Mama would buy boxes and boxes of butter cookies with sparkling red and green sugar crystals at Jacobs Bakery.  Together Cynthia and I would hide in our room and, with heads together and low, secretive whispers, carefully open the presents we had for our parents.  We were so proud of them…we just HAD to look at them again.  Usually the presents consisted of some sort of pottery made and fired at school.  We still have our handprints we each made when we were in first grade.  And Mama always, always loved and treasured each and every handmade gift.  One year I made a small, squat, acid green pitcher.  Another, a dark, olive green snake rising from a rock as if to strike.  But Cynthia made the coolest gift of all.  It would have been the late 50’s or early 60’s and each classmate had been asked to bring in an empty glass bottle.  Clean, dry and labels taken off, brightly colored marbles were then inserted and the bottles were, somehow, fired in a kiln.  What came out was a large glass ashtray striated with brilliant ribbons of color throughout.  My parents didn’t smoke but that thing sat in proudly in our living room for an eternity.  Christmas morning was an astonishing extravaganza of thoughtful, magical gifts that stunned us year after year.  Mama was quite frugal year round but come Christmas, well, she let Daddy know in no uncertain terms that she was pulling out all stops and that was that.  Piled high and exquisitely wrapped were dollies, complete with wardrobes and wardrobe trunks from France and Switzerland, beautifully wrapped books from England, pen and ink drawings concealed between the heavy, linen paper pages patiently waiting to whisk us away to new lands and adventures.  There were gleaming bicycles and roller skates complete with keys tied with a string of yarn ready to be worn around our necks during a fast paced race down the street.  And that’s wherein our conflict of loyalties would lie.


Mama would allow us to play with our new toys for a few hours but then we had to clean up and give all our attentions to Christmas dinner with our grandfather, aunt, uncle and cousins.  Upon returning home we had a quick bath, story then bed, for the following morning we were flying to Puerto Rico and we wouldn’t see our toys and books again for another month.  Cynthia and I never wanted to leave.  Tell me the 4 and 6-year-old that doesn’t mind walking away from their NEW TOYS?  We never said much about it because Mama was so darned happy…she was going home.  HOME.  And she would be there for the happiest, most fun time of the year.  There was no discussion.  So off we went.  On Pan American.  With our little white socks on and Mama frantically asking, “Cielo, did you pack your veil as I asked?”.  That would be for all the Masses we would be attending on this VERY Catholic island.  Or, “Alicia, did you find your other glove?”.  Probably not.  I never had a matching pair.  One seemed to always be lost from each pair.  From the moment we landed it was color, music, laughter and clear-cut, point-blank, unreserved love.  The happy, exalted, pick-you-up-and-swing-you-around kind.  My mother’s family adored us, gave us everything we wanted and gave us that which we weren’t even aware we wanted!  Night after night, at my grandparent’s house, we were awakened in the middle of the night by “parranderos” made up of family friends and relatives singing Puerto Rican Christmas songs.  Still a tradition, the singers gather quietly at the unsuspecting family’s house sometime after 10 or 11:00 p.m. and, at a given signal, burst into song surprising the sleeping family.  Parranderos all play a musical instrument from guitars, tambourines, and maracas to palitos, short, hardwood sticks struck together to give off a deep rhythmic sound, and guiros, dried, hollowed gourds with parallel notches carved out on one side.  Scraping  a stick or metal tines across the notches of the guiro makes a raspy, sexy sound and all these instruments played together produces the kind of music that’ll bring your oldest grandmother or grandfather to their feet for some hip-shaking, hand-clapping music you’ll be thinking of with a smile on your face for a long, long time.  The awakened family is then expected to join the group for some song and then invite all into the house for some holiday food and a few fingers of fine Puerto Rican rum.

Pasteles that James and I made. A treasured mountain of homemade love!
Pasteles that James and I made. A treasured mountain of homemade love!

The family is invited to join the group as they go on to the next unsuspecting household for more surprise and song.  You can leave the parranda to go back home any time you like but most parrandas go on until 4 or 5 in the morning.  Mama would hurry into our room and, gently shaking Cynthia and me on the shoulders, whisper, “Girls!  Girls!  Wake up!  Come to the balcon!  Come see!”.  In our cotton nightgowns, barefooted with eyes half-shut, we’d hurry to the front balcony and looking down there would be friends of the family, a few neighbors and a handful of uncles, dressed up, playing their instruments and singing their hearts out.  Our grandfather, Papa Pepe, would be holding court in one of the mammoth cane-back rocking chairs, the rich smoke from his cigar curled off in long wisps and disappeared into the black night.  Mama would be dancing in place, singing and clapping as if it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon.  Too young to know how to swing our hips, Cynthia and I would clap our little hands, jumping up and down in perfect syncopation with the latin beat.  My grandparents always smiled and welcomed the carolers but never continued on with the parranderos.  It was back to bed for us after they left.   Well accepted and custom in Puerto Rico, this practice is routine weekend AND weekday!  For family parties whole pigs were roasted on hand-turned spits at our Tio Enrique’s farm.  He and my other uncles always had a substantial supply of “pitorro”, illegal rum made from a still, and made certain that the farm worker hired to sit and turn the spit all day was well oiled with a discreet sip and maybe a slightly off-colored joke or two.  Along with the roast pork, or lechon, was served the ultimate of Puerto Rican holiday dishes, pasteles, a tamale-like treat of blended of root vegetables seasoned with tasty chunks of savory pork wrapped in banana leaves, incredibly tasty but labor intense beyond belief.  Alongside the lechon and pasteles was served our island’s version of rice and pigeon peas or arroz con gandules, spicy blood sausage called morcilla, garlicky cod fritters known as bacalaitos, crispy, salty fried plantains or tostones and, of course, the Puerto Rican egg nog drink, the Coquito, which is a creamy coconut cocktail spiked with a liberal amount of island rum.  While the grownups relaxed and visited my sister and I would swing as fast and high as we possibly could on strung up hammocks.  Our uncle would gather the both of us onto one of his horses and, machete in hand, cut down a good-sized piece of sugar cane, one for each of us to munch on, and off we’d go to explore his property and, essentially, run free.  His gated house was set far off the road, surrounded by mountains and studded with palm and mahogany trees.  My favorite, the scarlet flamboyan, offered delicious shade where Cynthia and I wiled away hours playing fairy and in later years sneaking cigarettes and having boy-talk.

Plaza del Mercado, where all good city girls could pick up their holiday party fixins’. Built in 1910, Plaza del Mercado not only has it’s own coat of arms but also boasts an extensive selection of local produce, meats and fish. My grandfather, Papa Pepe, used to stroll down here to pick up his lottery tickets. When I asked where he had been he always gave me the same answer, “Mi hija, fui a misa!” “My child, I went to Mass!”

New Year’s Eve brought more parties and Cynthia and I were permitted to stay up although when our family rang in the new year we were then in our nightgowns and close to going to bed.  There were countless toasts, hug and kisses for all and, of course, good wishes.  In the tradition of the island, one of my aunts or uncles would fill a bucket with water and with everyone standing back, cheering and whistling, the water would be flung with abandon off the second story balcony onto the street below signifying renewal and washing away all bad luck.  Cynthia and I bounced up and down and climbed from lap to lap, skittish with excitement…this behavior was crazy!  At the threat of something worse than death, we weren’t ever allowed to throw anything off the balcony.  Our eyes were big as dinner plates at this display of dangerous living.  Each of the grownups had had a sip or two, possibly three, and emotions were running high.  My mother’s family rejoiced that she was with them, they were ecstatic that their girl was back if only for a month.  Emotion washes over me when I think of how much my mother must have missed them and they her.  Mama NEVER complained, she was raised in a world which dictated that complaining was common and unrefined, but I know it must have ripped her heart to pieces to have to leave.  January 6th was Three King’s Day, the most important of holidays in Puerto Rico, when the Magi traveled all over the world on their camels leaving gifts for all good little boys and girls.  The evening of January 5th would find children in the city, in the country and the mountains, outside with cardboard boxes in hand eagerly searching to fill them with the greenest grasses and most tender and loveliest of flowers to offer the camels who had journeyed so far.  Cynthia and I, without fail, asked our aunts for a shoebox for each of us to fill with the prettiest of flora and they never let us down.  We’d follow closely in their footsteps  to their closets with eagerness because their closets were veritable treasure troves.  Out came the big, brass keys they wore.  The doors swung open and we caught sight of delicate fans made of lace and balsa wood, jewelry boxes with small, brass padlocks and fragrant rounds of soaps from Spain delicately wrapped in pleated, red tissue paper finished with a stamped coat of arms.  Their leather high-heels were neatly lined up on the floor but all the prettiest, dress-up heels, were wrapped and stored in their ornate boxes.  Both aunts would pick out the loveliest of boxes because you only put out your best for the Three Kings.  The boxes were left at the foot of each child’s bed in the hopes that while the camels ate the flowers and greenery, the Three Kings, Los Reyes, would reward the children with wonderful presents.  Like Santa, the Three Kings came in the middle of the night.  It never occurred to Cynthia or me to question how those elaborately designed boxes ended up BACK in their respective closets but they did and without a scratch on them.  January 7th through the 9th are holidays as each king has his own day and then, hard to believe but it’s gospel, the next 8 days are known as Las Octavitas with continuous celebrations all over the island.  Sometime towards the end of Las Octavitas would be when we returned home to Fort Lauderdale.  I won’t even go into the overwhelming sadness and yearning felt by all.  I know Mama would have given her right arm and one eye to stay but Cynthia and I had usually already missed a good week of school.  Through all our heartfelt hugs and tears we consoled ourselves knowing that soon we would be back for summer vacation, three whole months, for new adventures and memories to be made.  We’d had a magnificent time and we knew it.  Again, Mama, thank you for the most perfect, blissful childhood a little girl could ever want.  This glimpse I give you all into a past time, my world, is not only a precious, treasured memory but my Christmas gift to you.   And so I say Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad!

Taken in Fort Lauderdale, this is the only photo that I know of which shows Cynthia and me gathering grass and flowers for the Three Kings camels. I don't recall what I was thinking but it looks to me that I might be stealing some of Cynthia's flowers when she's asleep. And I'm really loving that bowl-cut my father gave me!
Taken in Fort Lauderdale, this is the only photo that I know of which shows Cynthia and me gathering grass and flowers for the Three Kings camels. I don’t recall what I was thinking but it looks to me that I might be stealing some of Cynthia’s prettier flowers while she’s asleep. And I’m really loving that bowl-cut my father gave me…said no one ever.

Pasteles are easiest made with two or three people helping and in stages, over two days.  The achiote oil can be store-bought or homemade.  For the most part I prepare the meat and grate the root vegetables the first day and the second day is spent preparing the banana leaves and wrapping the pasteles.  Frozen banana leaves may also be purchased at most large grocery stores.  The outer paper is also available at grocery stores or online.  When peeling the green bananas and plantain I strongly suggest using disposable gloves otherwise the juices will stain your cuticles and under your fingernails and you will look like you have farmer hands.  James and I assembled the pasteles at our dining room table which we covered with thick layers of news paper to avoid not only sticky messes but achiote oil stains.  Please know, achiote stains permanently.  So it’s probably not a good idea to wear your favorite pajama top.  Jus’ sayin’.



yield: 30-35


  • 3 pound boneless lean pork picnic, fat off and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 3 tablespoons adobo powder, I use “light” for less sodium and Goya brand
  • 4 tablespoons achiote oil
  • 1 1/2 cups sofrito, homemade or store-bought
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 15.5 ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed, drained and skinned
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 cup green olives, I use olives with the pit for more flavor
  1. Mix the pork with the adobo until the meat is evenly and completely covered.
  2. Add olive oil to a heavy bottomed pot and over medium heat cook the pork until the meat begins to release its juices stirring all the while.
  3. Add all the remaining ingredients, stir well, and cook covered over medium low heat for 1 hour or until the meat is tender.
  4. Remove from heat and set aside.


  • 9 pounds very green bananas, peeled and maintained in cold, salted water until grated
  • 5 pounds yautia or malanga, peeled and rinsed clean
  • 1 large green plantain, peeled then put in the salted water with the bananas
  • 2 envelopes of Sazon Goya with Culantro and Achiote
  • 4 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 cup achiote oil
  1. Using the large grater side of a box grater, grate all of the bananas, yautia and plantain.  They will grate down to a sticky, runny paste, very loose and smooth.
  2. Mix the root vegetable paste well then add the Sazon Goya, salt, achiote oil and the meat mixture, juices and all.
  3. Mix well then take one or two tablespoons of the mixture and fry it up in a little olive oil to taste for seasonings.  This will give you a really good idea of what the final product will taste like.  Season accordingly and refrigerate, covered, until ready to assemble the pasteles.  For me that’s Day Two.


  • 1 pound frozen banana leaves, washed, trimmed and cut into 5″X7″ or 8″ pieces, Publix carries them
  • 30-35 sheets paper for pasteles, I get mine at Sedano’s
  • 30-35 pieces of cotton string measuring about 60″ in length
  • achiote oil, maybe 1/2 cup
  1. Heat a large skillet or griddle to medium high heat.  Place a cut banana leaf on skillet and warm the leaf for maybe 30-60 seconds moving around to avoid burning.  With tongs flip leaf to the other side and continue wilting.  This wilting process will make the leaves much easier to work with.  Set aside when finished.
  2. Set up your work stations however it’s most convenient for you.  I put a stack of pastel papers right in front of each person and assemble the pasteles from there.
  3. To begin, place one banana leaf in the middle of the pastel paper and spread a scant teaspoon of achiote oil all over the leaf.  It doesn’t have to be all the way to the edges.  This keeps the pastel from sticking when it comes time to serve it.
  4. Place 1 cup of the pastel mixture in the middle of the leaf.
  5. Take the pastel paper with the leaf and mixture in it and fold in half towards you so the edges of the paper meet.  Hold the edges down with one hand and with the side of your other hand press the mixture away from you, back into the leaf.  You’re going to often press the mixture back into shape as you fold.
  6. Take the edges in front of you and make a tight, 1/2″ fold.  Make the same fold two more times, tightly and the same 1/2″.
  7. Place the tightly creased fold over the pastel mixture.  It will look like a torpedo with a fold running lengthwise.
  8. Pressing the pastel mixture to the center of the bundle, make two 1/2″ folds at one end of the torpedo and, where the mixture begins, fold that entire end over towards the center.
  9. Repeat with the other end and you’ll finish with a small bundle.  Set aside, folded edges down.
  10. Fold another pastel and tightly tie the two pasteles together placing the folded edges facing each other.  I tie the length and width both two times.
  11. Freeze until ready to cook.  Because of the high fat content they freeze marvelously.  We just ate the last of the pasteles I made last year and they were sublime!
  12. When ready to eat, heat a large pot with one inch of water and a steamer, bamboo or stainless steel.
  13. If fresh, gently steam for one hour, covered, and add water as needed.  If frozen, steam for two hours, again, adding water as needed.
  14. To serve, cut string, unwrap, discard paper and banana leaf and slide pastel onto waiting plate.



Crispy Roasted Chicken Thighs…a shawarma flavor bomb at the ready!


Oh, how we suffer when our children are not well, when they stumble and fall or when life deals them an unjust card.  As mothers we do everything in our power to right the wrong but sometimes… well, it’s just not up to us.  And when our hands are tied we support them in every possible way we can.  Often food is the tool to bring comfort, the sense of safety, the warm blanket of security and sanctuary.  Whether it be a long day or week for our precious ones or something more serious, I find I turn unwaveringly to comfort food .  No matter what, the old American diehards, chicken and dumplings, biscuit, mashed potatoes, pot roast, often take the leading role.  A cake, a pie, spinach artichoke dip… any number of dishes make the perfect offering.  These offerings are our way of saying, “I want to help.”, “I understand.”, “I’m on your side.”.  Many years ago when my husband, Jimmy’s, mother died, an extended family member baked some blondie-like bars, beyond belief luscious.  Here’s the relationship.  Jimmy’s brother-in-law’s brother’s daughter.  The family came from New York to Boston to give comfort and this young girl, Anastasia, baked that sweet to offer comfort.  I’ve never forgotten that kindness, or how crazy scrumptious they were, and when I thanked her she replied, “It’s nothing.  It’s what I do when I’m sad.”  Today she is the head of a successful company which produces only American-made chocolate sauces and candied nuts by the name of Old School Favorites.  When she ships out her product she still provides comfort and happiness to countless kids who arrive home to the delights of an after-school hot fudge sundae to the person who wasn’t promoted and needs a late night, emergency chocolate shot while wrapped in their flannels alone in the kitchen.  Anastasia’s Blondie Bars were the best I have EVER tasted.  I cannot forget them after all these years, but sadly, she has forgotten and has no earthly idea what it was she baked.  So here’s the thing.  When you’re in trouble, when things have gone terribly wrong, when your world has come crashing down and you’re hurting, LET YOUR FRIENDS HELP YOU.   When your girls, your posse, your circle, reaches out to you accept their offering.  They want to help.  They want to make things better.  To ease your pain.  And so often dinner and a bottle of wine in a basket is the only comfort they can provide.  As I write this I have a best friend, divorced, whose son suffered greatly this past week with some highly critical medical issues.  He’s somewhat out of the woods but the stress and worry are monumental.  Lack of sleep and the feeling of helplessness compound her physical and mental exhaustion.  Her son spoke of dying…and heaven.  Tough words for a mother to hear.   I can’t, no, I don’t want to imagine what it was like to be in her shoes this past week.  I texted her that I was still out-of-town and that I’d be home the following  night.  That I’d like to take them dinner several nights a week.  I asked if I may do that for her, that it would be one small chore she didn’t need to bother with.  And then I held my breath watching the little “bubbles” moving about my cell phone screen indicating she was replying. “YES!!!”  was her answer.  I’m elated.  I can’t heal her boy but I sure can feed him!  Gladly, GLADLY I can do that.  And this is what I’m taking.  Shawarma-style chicken.  Rich, oven-roasted chicken thighs well-seasoned with a warm middle-eastern touch using, along with other aromatic spices, turmeric, cumin and cinnamon, the chicken then cut into strips topping a cold, crisp salad of organic greens dressed with a homemade creme fraiche dressing.  And to heighten the flavors of the chicken I’ll throw in some sweet and tart apple…maybe a chopped Macoun.  Did I mention the crunchy, savory lardon, (fancy French term for bacon bits or match sticks), I’ll be scattering over that salad?  Or the warm, homemade pita bread I’ll tuck into the basket?  Well, that’s what I’m taking.  It’s all easy and pretty.  So when you want to do something for a friend that’s hurting, take an old classic and make it a new classic.  Prepare one of your favorites you know your friend will appreciate.  Or make this outrageous dish of chicken thighs.  And keep on giving.  It’s the season!

The sultry, earthy spices of the Middle East.
The sultry, earthy spices of the Middle East.

Shawarma is an Arabic meat preparation popular all through the Middle East including Greece (gyros) and Turkey (doner).  Traditionally large chunks of chicken, beef, lamb or pork are roasted on a rotating, vertical spit.  As the meat rotates, crispy, thin shavings are sliced and served on pita bread or plated with all manner of fresh and pickled vegetables and, of course, yoghurt sauce, tahini or hummus.  When we order gyro in Greece often they are prepared with lettuce, tomato, tzatziki, mustard, ketchup and hot, salty french fries all wrapped up in a warm pillow of pita.  Somehow it all works! Often I serve these chicken thighs whole over a salad or sliced on soft pita bread with shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, the caramelized onions the chicken baked on and tzatziki, that mouth-watering, garlicky yoghurt dip.  I thought I had posted a recipe for my tzatziki but, apparently, slacker that I am, I haven’t.  I don’t have set amounts but it’s an incredibly easy and forgiving sauce/dip.  Peel a cucumber and, over a clean tea towel, shred the cucumber using the large holes of a box grater.  Gather up the tea towel and, over the sink, squeeze the water out of the cucumber.  Squeeze out as much liquid as you can.  Transfer the cucumber to a medium bowl.  Grate one or two garlic cloves into the cucumber.  Add 2-3 tablespoons of good olive oil and 2 cups of Fage brand plain Greek yoghurt.  Here’s the deal.  I’ve found that a “Greek-STYLE” yoghurt is, typically, thin and watery and your tzatziki will be proof of that.  The only yoghurt brand I use is Fage.  It’s what they use in Greece.  It’s thick and creamy the way yoghurt is supposed to be.  If you can pour the yoghurt you don’t want it!  And I use fat-free.  It’s so rich and lush you’ll not see the difference.  Mix the tzatziki well and season to taste with salt.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill until serving.  There.  You got a two-fer!




Shawarma Style Chicken Thighs

  • Servings: 4-6 with a bit of leftovers
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 3 medium onions, sliced and set aside to line the baking sheet
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 large clove of garlic, grated
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon cardamom
  • 1 tablespoon coriander
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, (I use 2 but we like it spicy)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  1. In a large bowl drizzle olive oil, lemon juice and grated garlic over chicken and mix well so the chicken is covered evenly.
  2. In a small bowl combine all the spices: cumin, cardamom,coriander, paprika, turmeric, red pepper flakes, salt and cinnamon.  Mix well and sprinkle on chicken, turning the chicken over to coat evenly.
  3. Cover chicken with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator allowing flavors to marry at least one hour but better overnight.
  4. Remove chicken from refrigerator 30 minutes before preparing to bring to room temperature.
  5. Pre-heat oven to 425°.
  6. Line a rimmed baking sheet with tin foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  7. Place onion slices in one even layer on baking sheet and chicken thighs on top of the onions.  Leave space in between thighs.
  8. Bake 35-45 minutes depending on the size of your chicken thighs.  Check at 25 minutes for doneness.  You want little crispy edges.
  9. Remove from oven and let chicken rest 10 minutes if slicing for sandwiches or serve immediately topped a spoonful of the onions from the roasting pan.


Fresh and Spicy Salmon Burgers


Here in Boston it seems that spring has sprung.  Everybody’s out walking, with dogs or pushing baby strollers.  Young girls are out sporting tank tops, sandals and legs so lily-white that I have to remind myself that staring is impolite.  I find myself quickening my pace as I walk to see if the girl in front of me is wearing white hose.  I catch myself thinking, “Can there possibly be any blood in those limbs?”.  And go back to my original thought, “That’s not very nice, Alicia.” to which the other side of my brain responds, “Well, I’M not very nice”.  Flowers have bloomed everywhere; the Public Garden and the Common are a riot of color with purple globes of allium, banks of roses and borders of pansies.


Toddlers run every which way on soft beds of grass as the sunlight bounces brilliantly off the emerald-green leaves of massive elm trees.  This is the weather that begs for clean food, light food, tasty, healthful food.


I started craving fresh salmon burgers for dinner a few days ago and set about to fulfill that desire.  Here in Boston at the beginning of summer finds me without a fully equipped kitchen.  At home I would pulse fresh salmon through the food processor a few times and not give it a second thought.  Luckily for me salmon is soft and delicate and with the aid of two dinner forks I easily scraped the fish off of the skin leaving a lovely coral mound with the same texture as that of ground beef.  In fact, I much preferred the fish I flaked by hand as it’s just too easy to over-process it in the food processor.  I added panko crumbs to lighten the dish; I didn’t want a heavy, dense burger plus I knew that addition would help the burgers keep their shape.  I mixed the bread crumbs with all the herbs and seasonings so I could taste it and check for seasoning adjustments before adding the salmon.  That done I shaped four large patties, covered them with plastic wrap and set them in the refrigerator to chill for a few hours.  That, too, would help them retain their shape while cooking.


After a workout on Commonwealth Mall and catching up with all my SoFlo peeps it was time to prepare dinner.  I put together a quick Asian style slaw to serve with the open face burgers so we wouldn’t miss the buns.  Totally fooled my stomach!  And they came out great.  I’ve since discovered uncooked salmon burgers freeze extremely well so keep that in mind when salmon goes on sale.  Make some for dinner and throw a few in the freezer for the nights you come home too tired to cook.  Life is good.

Fresh and Spicy Salmon Burgers

  • Servings: four large burgers
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 1/4 pounds salmon filet, SKIN ON!
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 3-4 thinly sliced scallions, all of the white and 3/4 of the green
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger root
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, finely grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil


  1. Combine all ingredients except salmon in a medium-sized bowl and mix well to combine all flavors.  Taste for adjustments and set aside.
  2. Place salmon filet skin side down on a non-skid surface such as a wooden cutting board.
  3. Use a dinner fork in one hand to hold fish in place and holding a dinner fork in your other hand gently scrape fish off skin working from one end to the other.
  4. Without overworking fish, combine salmon with panko mixture until all ingredients are evenly combined.
  5. Gently form into four patties, cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to chill for at least one hour.
  6. Heat a non-stick pan over medium high heat.  Cook salmon burgers for three to four minutes per side for medium rare.
  7. Serve immediately open face or on toasted buns.  If you go with the buns, drop a little heat or sesame oil into some mayonnaise and slather that on one side of the bun.


Flatbread – it’s not just for happy hour!

Flatbread with za'atar, a Middle Eastern condiment made from a mixture of dried herbs, sesame seeds and sumac plus a quick scattering of sea salt. Divine to munch on with a glass or two of wine and your special someone.
Flatbread with za’atar, a Middle Eastern condiment made from a mixture of dried herbs, sesame seeds and sumac plus a quick scattering of sea salt. Divine to munch on with a glass or two of wine and your special someone.

Of course everyone loves flatbread, that little triangle of flavor, a pretty tidbit to savor while sipping on that weekend glass of champagne.  Well, how about homemade flatbread for dinner?  Now stay with me.  Don’t run away scared at the idea of making dough.  The last two weeks I’ve had major computer problems.  I had to get a new computer and people, let me tell you I loved my desktop.  If I can go from an enormous, gorgeous screen to a tiny 13″ laptop you can pull on your big-girl panties and rustle up a little dough.  It’s easy, forgiving and a great way to relax and unwind.  So pour yourself a nice glass of wine and let’s talk.  Here are some things you’ll appreciate about making your own dough.  The most obvious is you know exactly what’s going in AND what’s not.  Have you ever looked closely at the list of ingredients in a loaf of bread at your grocery store’s bakery?  What’s fumeric acid?  Do we really need sodium stearoyl lactylate?  Or azodicarbonamide coating?  I think not.  And don’t kid yourself into thinking anything is baked there.  It’s all brought in baked and frozen then warmed up in their ovens to look and smell good.  Even the frostings for their cakes are trucked in.  The frosting comes packaged in big, plastic buckets.  With a laundry list of chemicals, preservatives and artificial colors that you don’t even think about when you pick up little Taylor’s “Elsa” birthday cake from the movie “Frozen”.  How do I know all this?  Well, I did a little poking around on the computer and Chiquita in the bakery told me the rest.  No lie.  I’m hoping that homemade is looking a tad more attractive to you now.   Many of us don’t have the need anymore to order birthday cakes at the grocery store; I’m just advocating awareness regarding what you’re eating and what you’re giving your precious family.  Shall we move on to taste?

Yellow heirloom tomatoes with fresh rosemary, oregano, garlic and shaved parmesan cheese.
Yellow heirloom tomatoes with fresh rosemary, oregano, garlic and shaved parmesan cheese.

There is nothing…NOTHING that can hold a candle to the flavor of “made at home”.  You know exactly what went into your baked good and how much.  Plus, many bread recipes, this one included, can be played with.  Different flours, the addition of herbs and spices plus the variety of toppings make planning dinner a breeze and, if I may say so, a pleasure.  Let me point out as well that YOU dictate the thickness of the flatbread so if you enjoy thin and crispy you can have it.  Thick and chewy is right at your fingertips…literally!  With meat or without it is your choice.  Here are some combinations we enjoy.


An herbal marriage we enjoy is fresh rosemary, oregano, garlic and lemon or orange zest.
An herbal marriage we enjoy is fresh rosemary, oregano, garlic and lemon or orange zest.

Fresh mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in olive oil, spinach, cooked, drained and chopped, roasted garlic, fresh marjoram and mint leaves and Gruyère cheese.

Caramelized shallots, roasted peppers, crumbled Feta cheese, orange zest, fresh thyme leaves and a drizzle of olive oil.

Fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, Italian sausage (turkey or pork), hot chile peppers.

Ground lamb, a little tomato, some sautéed eggplant and onions, toasted pine nuts, raisins and a pinch of cinnamon.

I chose sauteed mushrooms, fresh marjoram and mint leaves roasted garlic and Gruyere this this flatbread.
I chose sautéed mushrooms, fresh marjoram leaves, roasted garlic and Gruyère for this flatbread.

With a choice of seafood, meat, vegetables and cheeses the combinations are endless. Keep in mind that the flatbreads can be baked with nothing on them but a faint spritz of olive oil and maybe a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  From there they can be cut into triangles and used to dip into hummous, eggplant dip or, my favorite, the salty, creamy taramosalata.   Store the cooled flatbreads in a zip top bag with the air squeezed out.  In the following days you can crisp them back up again by placing them in a 300° oven for a few minutes.  If they’re not eaten in a day or two keep them either in the refrigerator or freezer  as they don’t contain any preservatives so their shelf life on a counter is pretty short.  Here’s the recipe for your basic flatbread.  Feel free to play with it.  After you’ve tried it out or now if you feel like it, mix up your flours.  I don’t recommend using all whole wheat because the bread will come out kind of hard and incredibly heavy.  The more whole grain flour used, the more toothsome the final product will be.  Therefore, if soft and fluffy is what you’re after then stick with the all-purpose.  My family and I prefer a crisper, nuttier bread so I typically use 3 cups all-purpose mixed with 2 cups white whole wheat.  When you’re ready to bake them off have your family or friends top their own flatbreads from the topping bar you so generously put together for them.  So have fun with it.  And have another glass of wine!


  • Servings: 10-12 individual
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 envelope yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2-1 2/3 cups warm water, no more than 115°
  • 1/2 cup Greek yoghurt
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour plus more to spread or your combination of flours totaling 5 cups
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • olive oil to oil resting bowl and later to spread
  1. Combine yeast, sugar and warm water in a large mixing bowl or stand-up mixer bowl.  Gently mix and set aside for 10 minutes or until foamy.
  2. Add yoghurt to yeast mixture and mix to break up yoghurt.  If using a stand-up mixer use the paddle to mix.
  3. In a separate bowl mix flour and salt together.  Add to the yeast/yoghurt mixture and continue mixing with the paddle if using the stand-up mixer.  If mixing by hand, it will be very wet and sticky but the more you mix the drier the dough will become.
  4. If making by hand continue kneading vigorously until smooth.  If using a stand-up mixer, change from paddle to dough hook and continue kneading for 5 minutes until smooth.
  5. Lightly coat a large bowl with a bit of olive oil, place dough in bowl and turn dough over so both top and bottom are lightly covered with olive oil.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise for 1 1/2 hours of until at least double in size.
  6. After dough has risen, punch down and divide into 10-12 equal pieces.  Using your hands, and you can oil them if dough is still a little sticky, roll into smooth balls and set aside, covered, for 20 minutes to rest.
  7. Lightly cover work surface with some flour and roll out dough to desired shape and thickness.  Place on baking sheets covered with parchment paper.
  8. Add toppings, or if baking plain flatbreads, drizzle with a bit of good olive oil and a quick scattering of sea salt.
  9. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until barely golden around the edges.  Keep an eye on them if your baking sheets are dark.  They cook WAY faster.

Homemade Ricotta for an Easy Saturday



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!



Homemade Ricotta Cheese

  • Servings: 2 generous cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 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!

Falafel, Bible Fast Food


I have a great recipe for those who can’t eat anymore rich, holiday food.  And I am one of those people.  I CANNOT choke down another butter cookie and, believe me, I’m your carb-girl so if anyone could it would be me.  But I can’t.  I just can’t.  Take away the beef tenderloin, the hot crab dip, the egg nog.  Away with the cheesecake bites and the whole ham stuffed with greens.  I need clean food.  I crave it.  That said, I made falafel the other night.  Crispy on the outside, green, warm and crumbly on the inside.  Falafel date back to the bible and it is pretty much agreed that it is a Middle Eastern food.  But that’s where the agreeing stops.  Arguments abound with a plethora of countries claiming the birthright of falafel.  Whether if sprang from Egypt, Syria or Israel…well, I give thanks!  I’ve long left canned beans for everything except hummus.  I’m not going to soak and cook dried chickpeas to then puree them into a spread.  But for just about all my other bean dishes I use dried beans.   Canned have way too many additives, are processed too much and end up mushy.  Canned beans, quite frankly, have very little flavor left.  I used several recipes more for guidance than anything else as you don’t have to measure if you have an eye for general amounts.  I wanted clean food with flavor.  I thought falafel served with tsatziki, freshly sliced radishes and cucumbers and warmed, whole wheat pita for those who wanted, was just the ticket.  In my largest mixing bowl I put a 1 pound (16 oz.) bag of chickpeas and covered them completely with room temperature water.  There was probably 3″-4″ of water covering them.  I did this on Friday to make the falafel Saturday night.  But when Saturday night rolled around we decided to go out.  I changed the water in the bowl and aimed for Sunday night.  But lunch on Sunday was so late in the day we never wanted dinner.  Monday it is.  I rinsed the chickpeas and changed the water again.  When I made them they were gorgeous!  I’m crazy about fresh herbs and sometimes double or triple the amount called for in recipes so feel free to hold back a bit if you’re not too crazy about a particular flavor or add more if you like.  If you’d like to cut back on some more calories feel free to place the balls or patties on parchment paper lined baking sheets, cover lightly with a canola or olive oil spray and bake in the oven at 375° for approximately 15-20 minutes depending on their size.  The end result is still crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.  This recipe makes a ton of them but they freeze magnificently.  I always freeze half of the falafel once they cool for a quick dinner on that rainy night when I get home late.  To reheat just take them straight from the freezer and bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until hot all through.  I like mine with tsatziki but if you’d rather have a tahini sauce, (sesame sauce), I’ve posted a quick tahini at the bottom of this page.




  • Servings: 6-8 or 14 to 15 patties. Or 40 small balls
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 pound (16 ounces) dried chickpeas
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 3 large clove garlic
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley leaves finely chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro leaves finely chopped
  • 1 heaping tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 level teaspoon cayenne pepper, (optional but I love it)
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • about 3 cups canola, sunflower or vegetable oil
  • salt, a couple of good pinches
  1. Place the chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with 3-4 inches of cold water.  Soak them for 24 hours and check every now and again to add more water in the event the chickpeas have absorbed it.
  2. When ready to cook put the drained chickpeas, onion, garlic, parsley and cilantro in the food processor and process until contents are minced or grainy looking but not mushy.
  3. Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time if the mixture gets “stuck” in the processor.  Try to keep the mixture as dry as possible.  Transfer the chickpea mixture back to the large bowl.
  4. In a small bowl mix cumin, pepper, coriander, cardamom, baking powder and flour.
  5. Pour the dried herb mixture into the large bowl with the chickpeas and using your hands mix well.  Blend it well until the mixture is smooth and uniform and all ingredients are completely integrated.  Taste for salt, pepper or spice adjustments.
  6. Pour the oil into a heavy medium-sized  frying pan or saucepan until the oil comes 3 inches up the sides of the pan.  Heat to 350° or medium high.
  7. Keeping your hands wet, form the mixture into balls or patties using a tablespoon or a melon ball/ice cream scoop.
  8. Fry the balls or patties in batches for 4-5 minutes until well browned and cooked all the way through.
  9. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.

Tahini Sauce

  • 5 tablespoons tahini paste
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 lemon juiced or 1-2 tablespoons
  • 1 garlic clove, mashed to a paste
  1. Mix all ingredients well in a small bowl adding a bit of salt to your taste.  The consistency will be slightly runny.

Roast Beef


Beginning in Junior High I was fortunate enough to fit into the smallest size at my father’s clothing store.  The Tack Room was a clothing store for women which in its heyday was the hottest thing in Fort Lauderdale.  There was no Galleria Mall or any other mall for that matter!  It was Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale and Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.  I remember cars pulling up with Palm Beach plates driven by liveried chauffeurs.  They pulled right in front of the store, the doors would open and laughing, excited teenage girls would come spilling out followed by their wealthy mamas.  Dad always chuckled when he saw them.  He liked that.  A certain electricity cracked in the shopping air.  When I was a little girl I begged Dad to give me something to do, some work…anything in the store.  In 8th grade I no longer wanted to work.  Dad had decided that I was responsible for the display in the front window.  It had to be changed completely at least every two weeks; every week was better.  The problem was that it had to be changed when the least number of people would be window shopping or strolling the boulevard.  And that meant Sunday after church before Sunday dinner.  That was also prime beach time.  I took a little consolation in the fact that Dad said Cynthia had to drive me AND help.  I have always been inclined to feel if I have to go to hell at least let me drag someone, ANYONE, with me.  True to form, we were predictably in dark, surly moods often snapping at each other before we even got in the car.  Ah!  Teenage girls.  Ya gotta love ’em.  Dad would give me the keys to the store, we would park in the back and let ourselves in.  Unfailingly, we would be assaulted with heavy, muggy air that would put us in fouler moods knowing that our hair would also not be happy.  Dad had entire walls of fish tanks encircling the back room bubbling away with his priceless Discus breeders serenely gliding through the water.  The store was hot.  The AC had been off since Saturday afternoon, it smelled of…well, hundred gallon fish tanks and we were missing choice beach time and maybe even the chance to win the hearts of our secret crushes.  No, we weren’t happy.  I flipped on the air and we went through the double doors to the front of the store.  Lights on I took a quick inventory of which merchandise was new and which pieces went with which.  Then I needed music.  Dad didn’t play music in the store.  “Not necessary” was his sentiment.  However, there was a small tape deck with one (1) cassette tape.  Yes.  It was the original score from the musical “Hair”.   And, truly, if you need jump up-get-damn-creative-indignant-move-your-ass music then THAT is the soundtrack for you.

When we were older there were NO smiling faces when we had to change the window. Cynthia and I are in the middle with Mom and Dad behind us. 1960
When we were older there were NO smiling faces when we had to change the window. Cynthia and I are in the middle with Mom and Dad behind us. 1960

We had to get all the display merchandise out of the window, steam and fluff all the pieces and hang them back up.  Tops, shorts, dresses, belts, shoes and bags.  Everything back.  Slowly we would turn the music louder and louder.  We loved it.  I loved the fact that there are ALL kinds of bad words and dirty words and I could sing my heart out and not get into any trouble.  And we danced.  Boy, did we dance.  The front display window was raised up on a platform and we would sail off and jump back up all the while gyrating to “Donna” and his “sixteen year old virgin” or “Ain’t Got No” with some of Daddy’s favorite lyrics that we still quote to this day.  He’ll say “ain’t got no money” and in unison, whoever is around him, automatically responds “ain’t got no underwear!”  I’d toss Cynthia a pair of white Bernardos and ask for the new navy pair that just came in.  She’d chuck back the sandals along with the navy, jewel-neck, sleeveless, cotton pique top and madras Villager shorts I’d pulled.  The window was taking shape.  All the while singing and dancing to the delight and entertainment of the passersby.  We were tanned, barefoot and, though loathe to admit it, happy.  By the time “Black Boys” and “White Boys” came on we were adding the finishing touches.  A straw bag at the foot of the white, navy and green, sleeveless color-blocked Villager dress.  White canvas and hemp espadrilles over there.  And don’t forget the belt on the shorts.  Then to the finger-poppin’ beat of “Abie Baby” we’d put away the empty shoe boxes, careful not to muss the pretty, patterned tissue inside.  While wailing, “Bang?  BANG?  Shiiiiit, I ain’t dying for no white man.”, we’d make sure the final product was perfect.  Collars were popped or straight.  No pins showed.  And the final detail?  No smudges on the glass.  Dad would just have a fit if there were smudges on the glass although he regularly told me how popular our windows were based on the number of nose prints he had to wipe off Monday morning.  Tape deck back in place, AC and lights turned off we’d jump in Cynthia’s VW and drive home.  To Sunday dinner.  And, if we were lucky, this is what we would have.

I served my Roast Beast with Provencal Roasted Tomatoes and a Ragout of Wild and Domestic Mushrooms.
I served my Roast Beast with Provencal Roasted Tomatoes and a Ragout of Wild and Domestic Mushrooms.

One of the two dishes Mama just rocked.  Roast beef.  I don’t know how or why but it ALWAYS came out dark and black on the outside, red and juicy on the inside and always tender.  Actually, I know how she did it it’s just she was so unbelievably bad in the kitchen and then she would come out with this gorgeous piece of beef?  Anyway, I know most of us eat very little meat now, some of us eschewing it altogether.  But my boy Jamesy loves it and I want him to have this receipt because the preparation is supremely easy and from this one dish you can make at least three more meals.  Obviously, sandwiches but how about a Cold Beef Salad?  Thin, thin slices of rare roast beef on top of a cold and crunchy romaine salad tossed with a Dijon mustard and walnut oil dressing?  Or Shepherd’s Pie?  Or throw it in the crock pot with a chopped onion and either homemade or your favorite bottled BBQ sauce?  Saute some vegetable and make fajitas.  If you have a restrained portion the damage is minimal to your digestive system.  Especially if you never have it.  But, again, this is for the young, meat-lovers in the family.  So, enjoy, and “Let the Sunshine In”!



  • Servings: 2-3 servings per pound
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 eye of round, sirloin tip or rump roast.  Today I’m roasting a 3 1/2 pound bottom round roast.
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Kitchen Bouquet or Gravy Master (totally optional!  Mama used it, I use it!)
  1. Remove roast from refrigerator 2-3 hours prior to roasting.  It needs to be at room temperature when it goes into the oven otherwise it will steam and come out looking grey and nasty.
  2. Preheat oven to 550°.
  3. Place the meat fat side up in a shallow roasting pan sprayed with non-stick spray.  If your roast has a very thick cap of fat, place the meat still fat side up but on a rack.
  4.   If using, rub the roast all over with Kitchen Bouquet or Gravy Master.
  5. Pat on salt and pepper.
  6. Place in the middle of your oven and immediately lower temperature to 350°.
  7. Roast 18-20 minutes per pound for medium-rare.  140° for rare and, (please tell me you wouldn’t do this!), 170° for well-done.
  8. Towards the end of roasting insert your meat thermometer into the thickest part of the roast not touching the fat or bone if your roast is bone-in.
  9. After removing from the oven let the beef rest for at least 30 minutes.  If you wish you can lightly cover or “tent” with tin foil.
  10. Carve into thin slices AGAINST the grain for a more tender result.
  11. And that’s all there is to it!!