Category Archives: Sauces and Condiments

Sofrito

The base of all the best Puerto Rican dishes is sofrito, a brilliant blend of onion, pepper, garlic, cilantro and culantro.  I can’t believe in the five years I’ve been writing this blog I haven’t posted it yet.  I’ve searched high and low for the post but it ain’t there so here goes.  Sofrito is what makes Puerto Rican food dance in your mouth.  Simple and inexpensive to make, this is a Hispanic kitchen staple and should always be  in your kitchen as well.  Typically it’s prepared in large amounts then frozen in individual portions to be taken out of the freezer and used as needed.  You will taste sofrito in almost all of our chicken, bean and rice dishes.  Oh, and in soups and stews.  It is loved and used in Latin American, Spanish, Italian and Portugese cooking.  Every country, every town and every household has its own recipe.  Some use tomatoes, some don’t.  Some use bell peppers and cubanelles in addition to local sweet peppers.  In Puerto Rico a small sweet pepper called “aji dulce” is always used but as I’m unable to find them here in Fort Lauderdale I just stick with the cubanelles.

At the farmer's market in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. Here you can find everything from fresh beef and goat from the mountains to fresh tamarind, mavi bark and all the island herbs a girl could want!
At the farmer’s market in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. Here you can find everything from fresh beef and goat from the mountains to fresh tamarind, mavi bark and all the island herbs a girl could want!

Sofrito to Puerto Ricans is like oxygen to human beings.  The minute it hits the hot oil the onions, garlic and herbs open up.  There is always a head jerk reaction when a Hispanic smells this blend cooking!  It will perfume your home like nothing else.  As with most recipes this fragrant condiment is best homemade although it can be found jarred in most grocery stores in the international section.  If you try this recipe I’m pretty sure you’ll be adding it to many of your dishes.  Enjoy!

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Sofrito

  • Servings: 3-4 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 very large onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 heads of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cubanelle peppers, seeded and white inner ribs trimmed off, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, tough stems cut off, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch culantro, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh oregano leaves, (optional)
  1. Add the onion to a food processor or blender and process until it becomes a thick, smooth paste.
  2. Add the garlic cloves and pulse until almost smooth.
  3. Add all the remaining ingredients and process until smooth and the cilantro and culantro are lovely green specks.
  4. Store in individual portions in the freezer.  I portion the sofrito and store it in air tight baggies but ice-cube trays also work well after transferring the frozen cubes to an air tight freezer bag.

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Bacon Jam with Spiced Rum

Lately I’ve been leaning towards simple but satisfying weekend dinners.  I find Saturdays can be exhausting, whether one is grocery shopping, making Home Depot and dry cleaning runs or staying home to spend the day doing yard work.  I always seem to bite off more than I can chew  and pay dearly for it hours later with sore muscles or Sunday morning when the alarm goes off at 6:15 to get ready for 7:30 mass.  No, weekends aren’t always the restful breaks we want them to be.  In order to make life easier and keep my family happy, I often prepare some sort of grilled sandwich or panino, served with a salad and some fruit, for dinner at the end of the week.  This stuff makes a sandwich absolutely sing.  The jam may be cooked in a crock pot or stove top.  I feel the crock pot just makes the entire process foolproof plus one doesn’t need to check on it every half hour to make certain it’s not too dry or, worse yet, burning.  But it’s up to you as either way yields a gorgeous product.   On Thursday I prepared this bacon jam and we enjoyed it over the weekend.  Saturday night I roasted brussel sprouts  and tossed them mid-roast with a few spoonfuls of the jam.  I’m sorry to say they were so good they were eaten before I could snap a photo.  You’ll just have to take my word they were fantastic!  I made grilled cheese sandwiches with Monterey jack cheese on a rich, dark whole-grain bread and spread both slices of bread liberally with a swath of bacon jam.  They were delicious served with the brussel sprouts and cold apple slices.

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For the Super Bowl game I kept my people entertained by giving them bacon jam palmiers made from store-bought puff pastry.  They were gone before you could say, “lickety-split”.  I spread the jam evenly over each sheet of puff pastry, rolled up the sides, sliced them with dental floss and baked them off.  What a luxury!  Even easier is to only roll one side and you’ll have pinwheels instead of palmiers.

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Monday morning as my son headed off to work I surprised him with the same grain bread toasted, bacon jam on both pieces of bread and a fried, organic egg nestled in the middle.  That’s some kind of treat, huh?  I hope you try this recipe.  I’m pretty sure you’ll find plenty of ways to enjoy it…including directly off the spoon!

Bacon Jam with Spiced Rum

  • Servings: 2 1/2 to 3 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 1/2 pounds thick sliced bacon, if the package is a few ounces less that’s fine
  • 2 cups yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/3 cup spiced rum, I use Captain Morgan
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup, I use dark amber
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 packed cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup strong brewed coffee
  • 1/8 teaspoon or 1 large pinch of red pepper flakes
  1. In a large skillet cook bacon over medium high heat until the bacon is crisp but not burned.  Transfer the bacon to drain on paper towels and drain the pan of all but 3-4 tablespoons of bacon grease.
  2. Lower the heat to medium and return the pan to the heat.  Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and cook until the onion begins to soften and turn clear.
  3. To the pan add all of the remaining ingredients except the red pepper flakes and stir until all the ingredients are well mixed and any browned bits of bacon are loosened and combined.
  4. Crumble the bacon by hand directly into the onion mixture and stir well.
  5. If cooking in a crock pot, transfer the mixture to your slow cooker.  Set the temperature to high and allow to simmer uncovered for 3 1/2-4 hours.  The liquid should be somewhat syrupy.
  6. If cooking stove-top drop the heat to low and allow to simmer for 2 hours uncovered.  Check the pan every 30 minutes and stir.  If the mixture is sticking to the bottom of the pan lower the heat a bit and add 1-2 tablespoons of water.
  7. From the crock pot or the pan transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender or use an immersion blender and pulse until the jam still has texture and a few small chunks.  Try not to over-blend.
  8. Allow to cool 30 minutes, add the red pepper flakes and stir well to combine.
  9. Spoon into clean jam jars and cool completely before storing in the refrigerator.
  10. The jam will keep 2-3 weeks stored in the refrigerator.

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Spicy Asian Peanut Dressing

With autumn settling in I am ready to bulk up.  Give me a salad with lacinato kale and Napa cabbage.  I want peppery sprouts, sweet shredded carrots and savory red onion.  No longer does a light lime vinaigrette dressed on romaine cut it.  This girl’s hungry and I have the perfect dressing to tame my runaway appetite.  My spicy asian peanut dressing marries well with the heft, sometimes tough and often leathery texture of kale and cabbage.  And when it starts getting dark at 5:30 in the evening I’m ready to tuck into an enormous salad topped with an organic grilled chicken breast or a spicy jerked Mahi filet.  The dressing keeps well for a week.  It’s also superb over cool noodles with grilled or raw vegetables or as a dip for meat or chicken.  Children love it but if you are serving it to little ones, definitely scale back on the chili oil as it packs some great heat. Gosh, I almost forgot.  All these products can be found in the Asian section of your grocery store.  Please, please try the fish sauce.  If you’ve not tried it before know it smells bad.  Really bad.  But only in the bottle.  You don’t taste it at all in the dressing but it adds a depth, a level of flavor that you expect in a quality restaurant peanut dressing.  Without fish sauce this dressing is flat and one-dimensional.  So go for it and enjoy!

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Spicy Asian Peanut Dressing

  • Servings: 1 1/2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter, I use one with no additives what so ever
  • 2-3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoons plus 3 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 teaspoons hot chili oil
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
  • salt to taste
  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor, blender or Magic Bullet and pulse until mixture is completely smooth.
  2. Refrigerate until ready to use.  Allow to sit out at room temperature for 10-15 minutes if dressing thickens too much in the refrigerator.

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Fig and White Wine Jam

Yay! Fresh figs have hit the grocery stores and I, for one, am thrilled.  The season is short so I grab them when I see them.  I’ll figure out what I’m going to do with them later.  My father’s father, Grandpa, used to put up different jams, though as a child I remember looking at a bubbling pot of figs and being completely grossed out.  All those little seeds, millions of them…not going in my mouth!  However, now that same memory of the same simmering pot is beautiful.  And when sunlight hits those pretty, little jars of jars of jam they sparkle like Burmese rubies.  I don’t have Grandpa’s recipe and that’s okay because I’m pretty certain he didn’t use one.  Just kind of eyeballed it.   This fig jam is gorgeous and easy plus it’s one of those recipes that works well simmering it less time or longer depending on the consistency you want.  I enjoy my jam thick and chunky so I simmer it longer.

 

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The white wine brings another fruity note to the pot.  I use a Sauvignon Blanc but that’s what I drink.  Feel free to use any good white wine you have on hand.  The alcohol will burn off after its long simmer so there’s no need to concern yourself there.  With the jam I had prepared I served fontina, fig jam and honey panini for dinner…with a sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves.  OMG.  Alongside a big salad of baby greens, my boys were more than happy.  Enjoy!

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Fig and White Wine Jam

  • Servings: approximately 7 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 4 pounds fresh figs, stemmed and cut into 1/4″ pieces.  I used equal amounts of Brown Turkey and Kadota figs
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup white wine, I like a Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  1. In a large non-reactive pot place the cut figs and both sugars.  Toss lightly and let sit for 20-30 minutes so that the fruit will let out its juices.
  2. When the sugar has dissolved in the juices of the figs add the white wine and lemon juice.
  3. Simmer the jam, uncovered, over moderately low heat.  You’ll see slow, fat bubbles, you don’t want a furious boil.  Cook until the fruit syrup is thick and the figs are soft and have fallen apart, about 60-90 minutes.  I go for 2 hours as I like my jam thick.
  4. Spoon the jam into clean jars, leaving 1/4″ space at the top.  Close the lids tightly and allow to cool completely before storing in the refrigerator.
  5. Keeps well in the refrigerator 2 months.

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Citrus and Coconut Vinaigrette, your new favorite summer salad dressing

This is the summer of counting my blessings.  It’s a stay-at-home kind of summer.  And that’s okay!  I recently found myself thinking, “I wish we could go someplace a little bit cooler.  Eat buckets of rich food and wash it down with gallons of local wine.  Maybe do a bit of shopping after seeing the sights…”.  There were loud notes of complaint in that daydream and I had to remind myself that I am darn fortunate exactly where I am.  Even if it’s not the most exciting place.  Mama taught me that lesson a very long time ago; a lesson she learned when she was a little girl in Puerto Rico.  My mother’s family lived in a town called Fajardo, pronounced fah-HAR-do, on an enormous piece of land my grandfather inherited from his father who, in turn, inherited it from his father, etcetera, etcetera.  Mama had four sisters and five brothers and her mother ran a smooth household.  My grandfather, whom we affectionately called “Papa Pepe”, tolerated no misbehavior from my uncles although they all had near fatal adventures never known to him.  The boys all had their own horses and rode through the fields and stream on their land.  They chased animals, had races, swam, played Zorro and indulged in all usual hijinks of young boys.

My uncle, Tio Hector, playing Zorro. He was 17 at the time.
My uncle, Tio Hector, playing Zorro. He was 17 at the time.

The girls, on the other hand, were almost housebound.  My mother and aunts could read and do needlework.  They played with china dolls, sang songs and made up skits under the shade of mahogany trees.  One day my mother found herself standing alone in the house, looking out of a large window onto a splendid meadow.  Mama said the sun was shining, the grasses were green and there were butterflies.  Under the butterflies was a little boy, dancing and skipping, the happiest ever.  It was Miguelito, the youngest of Pedro, my grandfather’s driver, and Angelina, who helped my grandmother with the children.  My mother was  entranced….such freedom…such happiness!  Standing at the window she thought, “Oh, how I wish I was Miguelito!”.  She stayed looking out of the window until long after he was gone.  When suddenly came Miguelito’s mother, Angelina flying around the corner of the house, leather belt in hand, all the while roaring, “Miguelito! Ven aca!  Te voy a dar!  Miguelito!”, “Get over here! You’re gonna get it!”.  Crystal clear was the realization Mama had at exactly that moment that you never know what life has for you or anyone at any given moment.  Life can change on a dime.  She was practically limp with relief that she wasn’t, and never would be, that little boy, Miguelito,  whose happiness would end as soon as the leather belt his mother was waving around struck his scrawny legs.  This was what I told myself when I started grousing about not going away for the summer.  This was what I told myself when I whined about not being in Greece or France or England.  I quickly reminded myself of the beautiful neighborhood I live in and see every morning when I workout.  I thought of afternoon dips in our pool, wearing flip-flops every waking moment of the day, summer hours with girlfriends and cool drinks and foods we savor day in and day out.  No.  I’m blessed beyond belief that I have all this and more.  I’m happy to munch on mountains of cold, crisp salads, refreshing myself with tervis tumbler after tervis tumbler packed with ice and coconut water and doing this in my beautiful home.  Because life is very, very good.

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This salad dressing is a marvel.  Whether it’s plain field greens you are dressing or the combination of arugula and shaved fennel, this dressing will be a summer favorite.  The coconut oil will solidify as it is kept  in the refrigerator so I portion out the amount I’ll be using when I want it.  I allow it to come to room temperature on the counter or gently zap it in the microwave to liquify the coconut oil.  The dressing may be prepared with fresh orange and lemon juice or with just fresh lemon juice.  It is extremely thin and runny but somehow works really well.  The citrus is like a tonic and the coconut  oil gives the dressing a sweet smoothness like no other oil.  Every night I heap this salad on my dinner plate and I am happy, happy.  Hope you like it!

Citrus and Coconut Vinaigrette

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 2 navel oranges, juiced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, can be found at the grocery store
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Combine all ingredients in blender or magic bullet and blend until smooth.
  2. Taste for any needed salt or pepper and adjust as needed.
  3. Bring to room temperature to liquify coconut oil before serving.

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Cajeta – Goat’s Milk Dulce de Leche

 

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I have a present for you. Pronounced kah-HEH-tah, this sweet indulgence is Mexico’s version of dulce de leche. Made from goat’s milk, cajeta is a thick, luscious caramely sauce redolent with the scents of vanilla and cinnamon. Although it requires a bit of time to cook down, cajeta is impressively easy to prepare. After a long but gentle simmer, the initial 36 ounces of goat’s milk reduces down to a mere 12 to 14 ounces. The end product is a gooey, sweet confection that will send your tastebuds to heaven and back. Never cloying, the goat’s milk delivers its signature tang never lost even after two hours of softly bubbling stove top. In Mexico and all Hispanic countries, this treat is slathered on bread, perfect for breakfast on the run or as a favorite after school snack. Cajeta is drizzled on ice cream and fruit. Stirred into coffee, both hot and iced, you have a caramel indulgence. Pour it over flan or cheesecake for a decadent delight. A mug of hot chocolate with a fat dollop of whipped cream and cajeta dripped over the top gives new meaning to the drink. If you cook it down to a thicker consistency cajeta can be the caramel-like frosting on a cake or the runny insides of a hand pie. All you need is time so if you’re trapped in your house some rainy day or just have the afternoon off this is the ideal kitchen project. It makes a superb gift as well. Truly cajeta is a gift from God!

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Cajeta

  • Servings: 2 1/3 cups sauce consistency, thicker and less if reduced longer
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  • 36 ounces goat’s milk. I use 3 12-ounce cans Meyenberg Goat’s Milk
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 vanilla beans, split and seeds scraped out.  Do not discard split beans.  You’ll use them.
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  1. Over medium high heat place all the ingredients except the baking soda in a large, heavy bottomed pot.  Make certain the milk mixture goes no more than half way up the sides of the pot as the mixture will foam up drastically when the baking soda is added.
  2. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to the boil.  As soon as it comes to the boil remove from heat, immediately add the baking soda and stir vigorously.
  3. Drop the heat to medium low or low, depending on your stove, return to the stove top and allow to simmer gently uncovered.
  4. Keep your eye on the pot to avoid spillovers and adjust the heat so the milk just simmers.  You don’t want a roiling boil.  Stir every 10-15 minutes to avoid the bottom scorching.
  5. Simmer two hours again stirring occasionally.
  6. Every stove is different therefore  at the two hour mark check the consistency.  The cajeta will thicken a bit after cooling and at two hours will have turned a beautiful, deep brown color.  If you want it really thick, for instance to ice a cake, you’ll need to continue gently cooking and stirring it.
  7. When desired consistency has been reached, discard vanilla beans and cinnamon, cool to room temperature then transfer to non-reactive airtight containers.
  8. The cajeta will keep up to a month in the refrigerator.

 

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Smoky Chipotle Dip, the best last minute party dip

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I don’t know about y’all but I can’t count the times I’ve been caught off-guard with last-minute guests especially during the holidays.  I run to the store and pick up frozen sweet potato wedges and already cooked jumbo shrimp.  Chances are I’ll throw a couple of pints of grape tomatoes in my basket.  And another box of crisp bread sticks…can’t have too many of those.  I’ll head to the taco aisle and grab a small can of Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.   Back home I’ll throw the sweet potatoes in the oven and head to the bathrooms with tubs of Lysol wipes in my hands.  Two or three quick swipes, fresh towels, a new candle and I’m done there.  I turn down the lights in the house and turn on my current favorite battery operated candles, the nice ones…the ones made of wax.  I put them all over.  With the lights low and candles lit no one will see any dust or gently rolling dog hair balls.  I grab an empty laundry basket and run through the house filling it with everything in sight that’s supposed to be put away; stacks of papers, mail, recipes, the little box of washers I haven’t returned to Home Depot yet, stacks of books, an errant running bra, anything that falls in the clutter category and then I tuck that mountainous basket in the bedroom closet.  I clean myself up as best I can then head to the kitchen to prepare the most simple dip on the planet.  Spicy, smoky and creamy, Chipotle Dip is my bestie.  Two ingredients.  That’s all.  Two.  Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and mayonnaise.  It’s fantastic!  I drop one cup of mayo in the blender or mini-chopper and, depending on my guests tastes, one or two peppers with a tablespoon of the adobo sauce from the can.  That’s it.  The sauce from the chipotle tin adds such flavor because of the roasted tomatoes, onions and spices.  So blend until smooth and taste it for heat.  Add more peppers if you really want to see stars.  I have a hard time staying away from it.  James and Jimmy are crazy about it.  I put the dip in a pretty bowl, lay out a tray with all my vegetables and shrimp in bowls or glasses that show them off and I’m ready for guests.  Done.  Boom.  You’re welcome.

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Smoky Chipotle Dip

  • Servings: one cup
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 cup of mayonnaise, reduced fat or light is fine
  • 1 or 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce plus 1 tablespoon sauce.  I buy the small 7-ounce cans and freeze the peppers and sauce I don’t use.
  1. Place 1 cup of mayonnaise in a blender or mini-chopper.
  2. Add 1 chipotle pepper and 1 tablespoon of adobo sauce.
  3. Blend until smooth.  Taste for heat and if you prefer hotter and one more pepper.  Blend, taste and adjust.
  4. Serve at room temperature with roasted sweet potato wedges, cold poached shrimp, grape tomatoes, crudite and bread sticks.

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