Growing up here in Fort Lauderdale I was lucky enough to attend a grade school close to home, with all my friends from kindergarten, boasting a killer baking staff. The East Side School cafeteria ladies didn’t open boxes when it came to cakes, pies and cookies for us kiddies. No ma’am. The predominantly black women who staffed the cafeteria were accomplished cooks and bakers who cranked out old school baked goods on a daily basis. They were kind to all of us students and we in turn bowed down to them with reverence and respect because they were grown ups…you watch your p’s and q’s around grown ups. These ladies were experts in the kitchen and coming from a home where Mama didn’t cook or bake I was highly appreciative and anticipated lunch every day knowing it would be far better than anything I would ever be served at home. Do you recall the peanut butter cake you had in grade school? The squares were heavy and thick in texture yet the cakes melted in your mouth leaving a certain salty sweet taste. Oh, heaven. Lately I’ve been craving that same salty sweet sensation and set about to have it. I came up with this. Alone in the house with two pans was virtual diet suicide. I took four squares over to my friend Rob’s house. He had fiddled with my father’s ancient bedside table lamp which wasn’t working. At 94 years old Daddy really depends on that lamp for the inordinate amount of reading he does. And after 5 minutes of fooling with it Rob had tightened it up, fine tuned the sockets and turned the on/off chains to a place where Dad could control the lamp with ease. Make my Daddy happy, make me happy. I made Rob take a bite of the cake and watched his reaction like a hawk. His first words after clearing his palate of the dense stuff were, “I’m sorry Miz Whitcomb, but I don’t have my math homework cuz I didn’t do it!” He was back in grade school and that’s what I wanted. Old school peanut butter cake will take you back…and in a good way.
This is a crazy simple cake recipe. It’s best served with coffee or milk. Iced water will do but coffee or milk are best. When the cake smells done it probably is done. I have light-colored baking sheets however if yours are dark keep an eye on them as they’ll bake your cake much faster. It’s a thin cake, not big and puffy and you don’t want it to burn. When preparing the icing you must stir continuously. I can’t stress that enough. Peanut butter scorches easily. But if you use a whisk and keep stirring until smooth you will be rewarded with a trip back in time. When you serve this to your children or grandchildren you can regale them with stories of how you had to walk 10 miles uphill BOTH WAYS to school. Enjoy!
Roasted tomatoes seem to always be lurking in my kitchen. I use them in soups, tuck them into panini and top them on bruschetta. They are both sweet and savory and can be used in a myriad of dishes. The beauty of this recipe is your tomatoes don’t have to be ripe to end up with gorgeous roasted ‘maters. My experience with grocery store tomatoes, and sometimes even the ones purchased at farmer’s markets, is a usually a huge disappointment. No flavor and a dry, mealy texture is the norm today. This recipe forgives the gassed tomato and the farmer that dared tout his product as “vine ripe from the farm”. Let me make clear though, nothing, but nothing, will save the rock hard, pale pink fruit if it is carted to market before it’s time.
But your average grocery store tomato will sing when prepared this way. I serve it as a side along side other vegetable dishes and my family is happy, happy. Any leftovers are roughly chopped and made into soup or bruschetta. The flavors ripen with a bit of time so the following day these roasted tomatoes are sublime…warm, hot or cold. They’re great on homemade pizza, in omelets and salads. Juicy and full of flavor, they pair well with grilled beef and fish, as well as grilled zucchini and stuffed into grilled portobello mushrooms. Over pasta? You’ll think you died and went to heaven. I hope you try these. So good and so easy!
Slice tomatoes lengthwise in half, slice out the core if you wish. I leave it as it softens and sweetens as it roasts.
Hold one half over the sink, cut side up and run your index finger through the tomato sections, scooping out and discarding the seeds and finish by placing in a large bowl. Continue until all the tomato halves have been seeded. Set aside.
In a small bowl combine garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and olive oil and mix well.
Pour the garlic mixture over the seeded tomatoes and, using your hands, toss well making certain the garlic and herbs cover all surfaces of the seeded tomatoes.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with tin foil and cover with non-stick spray.
Place the tomatoes cut side up on the baking sheet. Pour any garlic-olive oil mixture over the tomato halves and scatter the fresh thyme sprigs randomly over the tomatoes.
Bake 45-55 minutes.
Serve immediately or cool completely, store in an airtight container and refrigerate.
This is island comfort food. Served with red beans and rice, Sweet sliced avocado and juicy rounds of tomato, this stew will feed crowds and satisfy all. Pollo en fricase was served to my older sister and me at least once a week during summers spent in Puerto Rico. We couldn’t get enough of it. Having a mother who didn’t know how to cook and didn’t care to learn pretty much guaranteed bland at best, off-putting and unpalatable at worst, dinners at home in Fort Lauderdale. For Cynthia and me, Puerto Rico was a richness of flavors, a panoply of scents rolling out of the kitchen of our grandparents’ home, heady and overwhelming in their mystery and perfume. All sorts of rules were broken. As little girls we were served strong Puerto Rican coffee with steamed milk sweetened with all the sugar a child could want every morning with breakfast. I knew of no child in Fort Lauderdale given coffee with breakfast. In Puerto Rico it was unheard of to have a sandwich for lunch, something almost expected at home. Our midday meal was invariably the largest meal of the day with dinner being a much smaller serving of what had been prepared for lunch or we could choose to have soda crackers with butter and Quick, chocolate milk. Chocolate milk for dinner? Another rule broken. At our home in Fort Lauderdale chocolate milk was not allowed…ever. It was understood between my parents and Cynthia and me that our summer indulgences were allowed unrestricted. We weren’t aware at the time but it turns out whatever happened in Puerto Rico stayed in Puerto Rico. Buen provecho!
This stew could be served alone it is that hearty. With the addition of potatoes and/or pumpkin it is a complete meal. Both white meat and dark meat work well in this dish, however, if white meat is used make certain the stew never heats up to more than a simmer. A healthy, boiling pot will guarantee dry, tough meat. I take the skin off of all the pieces of chicken because the skin becomes incredibly unappealing after having been simmered in the sauce. I usually prepare boneless chicken as it can be difficult to maneuver around a slippery bone with a fork and knife. The cup of sofrito called for in the recipe is necessary for a spectacular result so make sure you don’t leave it out. It can be bought in the international section of your grocery store but better would be home-made. That recipe can be found at http://wp.me/s264J2-sofrito and is easy as can be. If your family isn’t wild about olives they may be left out. I try to find green olives with the pits still in as I think they add more flavor to the recipe. Please don’t feel you have to use your best bottle of wine, either. Jimmy went out and $7.00 on a bottle of Pinot Grigio, it was perfect and didn’t break the bank.
2 tablespoons adobo seasoning or the seasoning blend of your choice. Adobo is an all-purpose blend of salt, garlic powder, oregano, black pepper and turmeric.
3 tablespoons achiote oil (optional) This may also be found at the grocery store on the international aisle or on the blog at http://wp.me/p264J2-EB.
1 cup of sofrito
2 1/2 cups of onion, chopped
2 large cubanelle peppers, cleaned of seeds and inner white ribbing, chopped
1 bunch of cilantro, washed, dried and leaves chopped
1 head garlic, minced
1 heaping tablespoon dried oregano
1 standard 750-ml bottle inexpensive Pinot Grigio or dry white wine
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4″ rounds
2 pounds calabasa or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
3/4 cup small green olives
1/3 cup capers, rinsed and drained
salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl combine the chicken, lime juice and adobo and mix well making certain all surfaces of the meat have been competely coated. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to marinate for an hour if you have the time. An afternoon or overnight is ideal for the best flavor.
In your largest saucepan heat the achiote oil over medium, add the chicken with the surface that would have had skin facing down, and brown for 5-6 minutes.
Add the sofrito, onion, cubanelle pepper, garlic, oregano and cilantro and cook until softened stirring all the while.
Raise the heat to medium high and pour into the pot the bottle of wine. Continue to stir and scrape the cooked bits from the pan as the wine evaporates, 4-5 minutes.
Add the carrots, pumpkin, if using potatoes add them now, tomato sauce, olives and capers. Stir well to combine all the flavors.
Taste for any needed salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
As soon as the stew begins to boil, cover and drop the heat to simmer. Cook for 1-1 1/2 hours or until chicken is tender to the fork.
My father is 94 years old. He lives at home, in the house I grew up in. He takes no medications. None. His preventive regimen consists of vitamins, little or no red meat and more green, leafy vegetables than one can imagine. And it’s all organic. His Achilles heel is his sweet tooth. He has commanded no more cakes or pies to be baked for him. He has no self-discipline. These cookies are different. Not too sweet and pretty clean. I believe he’ll embrace and enjoy the fruits of this recipe. I’m almost certain I’ve developed a wheat allergy so I’ve been trying to figure out how to have the occasional treat without sneezing and coughing. I’m done with red, watery, old-lady eyes and a constant, bothersome post nasal drip.
I fashioned these based on my breakfast cookie. That said, these cookies rock. Made with dark chocolate, they satisfy sweet cravings at first bite. Even Daddy loved them. I replaced conventional white, bleached, wheat flour with almond and coconut flours. In lieu of white sugar, (so bad for you!), I used coconut sugar. The result is a thick, chewy, healthful cookie studded with gorgeous, dark chocolate chips all gooey and soft. I don’t bake them often, they may contain good fats but they’re still fats, however, these make a wonderful occasional indulgence. And my family loves them. Hope ya’ll do, too!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
Crumble the bacon by hand directly into the onion mixture and stir well.
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.
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.
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.
Allow to cool 30 minutes, add the red pepper flakes and stir well to combine.
Spoon into clean jam jars and cool completely before storing in the refrigerator.
The jam will keep 2-3 weeks stored in the refrigerator.
Winter in Florida means citrus…jacked up citrus. It’s the season for heavy with juice, dimple skinned, brilliantly colored oranges, lemons, limes and kumquats all begging to be juiced, baked or eaten out of hand. I had a hankering for a crunchy dunking cookie and this is the end result. I debated whether to drizzle a little icing or dark chocolate over the tops, both go so well with orange, but I opted for neither and went for a more European, unadorned cookie. And healthful. No white flour allowed today. In working with the recipe I used pecans in some batches and walnuts in others. Both are excellent but only if toasted prior to baking otherwise the nuts are bland and lost in the biscotti. It’s a simple recipe and easy.
As I’ve written in other posts, I strongly, strongly suggest using parchment paper to line your baking sheet. It can be found at the grocery store but the paper is in a roll like tin foil or wax paper which makes it tricky to work with. The ends of the paper curl imitating the roll in the box. Flat sheets are found in many food warehouses and are much, much cheaper. Leave them to cool completely before storing them and the cookies will remain crisp. Dunk in a cup of coffee, hot tea or a glass of milk for a satisfying treat.
100% Whole Wheat, Orange, Nut and Olive Oil Biscotti