It seems as though every culture has its own version of Chicken and Rice and Puerto Rico is no different. As a child, my older sister and I spent whole summers, Christmas breaks and Easters with my mother’s family. Our father spent a huge amount of time up and down the Amazon working on the genetics of a certain tropical fish in order to create his own strain. So as the weeks before he departed loomed before us my mother would start making noises to the effect of “I’m not staying here. Girls, what do you think if we go to Puerto Rico? Jackson, (that’s what she called my father), vamos a Puerto Rico. Girls? GIRLS! I want you to check your gloves and make sure they all match. Alicia, make sure yours are clean.” And off we went. We loved Pan American! The flight attendants were so glamorous and they would give us hot chocolate. Until my younger brother and sister came along, we were the only children in my grandparents house. And, boy, did we love it. Aunts and uncles spoiled us so we always had crayons and coloring books, china tea sets, wonderful dolls and books. Oh, the books! A few days after we arrived, for every visit, my aunt, the one who adored my older sister and looked upon me as though I was the ultimate bad seed, would take us to “our” bookstore in old San Juan. Libreria Campos was three stories of gorgeous books with glossy hardwood floors and an old-fashioned elevator. There, a gloved elevator attendant closed the solid brass door to the elevator before we lumbered up to our desired floor. I remember I would be left alone in the young reader/children’s section as my sister and aunt went off whispering, arm in arm… 1960’s style bff’s. After we had chosen our heart’s desire, the transaction would be finalized at the massive, dark polished wooden counter. Our books would be wrapped in their signature green paper then tied neatly with twine. They were beautiful. Every trip back to the house left me feeling a little as though I had somehow been tricked. In the taxi cab I’d be well into my one, single Nancy Drew thriller when I’d look over and there would be my sister sitting smugly with something like the entire collection of Anne of Green Gables. I received one book, she got eight. It just smacked of wrong. Oh, well. Afternoons found the two of us having tea parties with our dolls beneath our grandparent’s tall, dark, mahogany beds where we sat up straight while pretending to be aristocratic ladies. Chicken was the star of most of our meals and they, too, were a ritual. Our dinners were somewhat dressy affairs. At 5:00 p.m. sharp we were given baths, changed into little dresses and hair was neatly combed. We were allowed to watch a few episodes of Felix the Cat in Spanish and then we dined… alone. The grownups never dined with the children. And that’s where the chicken and rice comes in. Always perfectly seasoned, aromatic and glistening with olive oil coated capers, olives and peppers. It was just heaven. The traditional Puerto Rican accompaniment was, and is, red beans and pumpkin, either in the beans or steamed separately. Nothing makes Puerto Rican adults happier than children asking for more. And there was always, always more!
Arroz con Pollo, Puerto Rican Chicken and Rice
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 medium to large onions, finely chopped
- 6-7 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
- 2-3 tablespoons capers, well-drained
- 3-4 good tablespoons green olives with pits
- 1 6 oz. can tomato paste
- 6-7 fresh culantro leaves (Here in South Florida they can be had at all leading grocery stores. If unavailable, cilantro makes a suitable replacement.)
- 1 whole cut-up chicken or which ever chicken parts suit your fancy, 6-8 pieces. I always cut off all fat and the skin. But that’s just me.
- 1 16 oz. bag white rice, I always use medium grain but if you like long grain, have at it.
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 1 tablespoon salt or more to taste
- In a heavy Dutch oven or large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onions and cook until almost clear, stirring often.
- Add garlic, oregano and bell peppers and cook until almost cooked through, still stirring.
- Add capers, green olives, tomato paste and culantro. Stir well.
- Add chicken pieces, cook just to brown outside.
- Add rice, stir well to coat the rice grains with other ingredients, add water and salt.
- Stir so rice is equally distributed, tomato paste broken up and dissolved etc.
- Bring water to a boil, cover pot and drop heat to simmer.
- Cooking time varies depending on size of chicken pieces and whether they’re boned or bone-in. Just keep your eye on it and check the pieces to see if they’re done from time to time. Small pieces of boned chicken may take 45-60 minutes. Large pieces with bone make take 1 1/2-2 hours until the chicken is tender and almost falling off the bone.
In our house during the winter months, Friday nights mean one thing. Homemade pizza for my family and lots of brown likker for me. My husband and son are Greek Orthodox and years ago requested that I not serve meat on Friday so they could take communion on Sunday. Okay. I can do that. To honor their request, I began making pizza every Friday night, salsa or classic rock blaring from the kitchen radio. I love the Allman Brothers. The kitchen door’s always open since you have to jack your oven up to at least 450° and it gets some kind of hot down here in South Florida. And on the counter, on a pretty little napkin, will be a faceted, crystal DOF with 6 or 7 ice cubes cracking and popping around two fingers of brown. My, how I love that stuff. Anyway, it’s Friday, so before I begin pouring, and you know I will, let’s talk pie. Pizza dough is quite simple if you allow yourself enough time and space. The dough is versatile. I use several different types of flour from all-purpose to whole wheat to white whole wheat depending on my mood or what I have on hand. If you choose a heavier flour you need to make a few adjustments. First, I never use just whole wheat. The end result is heavier than a door stop. The ratio I use is equal parts, 1-1. The exception is white whole wheat. I’m using it tonight and I’ll use a full 3 cups. I think King Arthur makes an exceptional product and you can find it at all leading grocery stores. I make the dough first since it needs a good 1 1/2 hour rising time so while it’s rising in a warm corner, I can keep on working. I use one of two different kinds of sauce. My red sauce consists of tomato puree, salt and pepper. What I don’t use, I freeze. If I choose fresh tomatoes I add draining time. After they’ve been chopped finely, I drop them into a colander in the sink, sprinkle with just a little bit of salt and go on prepping my toppings. Tonight I’ve decided on chopped plum tomatoes with shredded fresh basil, grated mozzarella, slivered onion and turkey pepperoni. I know. That’s meat. But with the Greek festival coming up Jimmy doesn’t always make it to communion especially if he has a festival meeting on Sunday and he always does. And James is back at school in North Carolina. Go Heels. Back to toppings. I love chopped tomatoes, a sprinkle of fresh dill, crumbled feta, chopped Kalamata olives, a little scattered mozzarella, some cooked, drained spinach and a swath of good olive oil. Remember, cut all vegetables a uniform thickness and take comfort in knowing the combination of pizza toppings is infinite. P.S. Mint is outrageous with sautéed mushrooms, roasted garlic and grated fontina. I’m just sayin’.
Pre-heat oven 450°, 500° if it goes that high
- 2 cups tomato puree
- salt and pepper to taste or
- 8-10 ripe plum tomatoes
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- fresh basil finely chopped, to taste
- salt and pepper
- 3 cups flour, your combination of all-purpose, whole wheat etc.
- 1 cup water at 115°
- 1 packet yeast or 2 1/4 tsp yeast
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Toppings: any of the following
- fresh mozzarella
- crumbled feta
- grated fontina
- zucchini slices
- fresh tomato slices
- kalamata olives
- sautéed mushrooms
- feta cheese
- kefalotiri cheese
- mizithra cheese
- onion slivers, sautéed
- freshly basil, chopped
- fresh mint, chopped
- fresh dill, chopped
- fresh thyme leaves, chopped
- hot pepper flakes
- the ubiquitous bagged shredded mozzarella
- turkey pepperoni (fabulous. tastes exactly the same as conventional but not greasy)
- turkey sausage, cooked and crumbled
- Combine ingredients for tomato layer and set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour with yeast and warmed water and mix well. Add olive oil, mix well and add rest of flour. After mixing in bowl until incorporated, turn on to counter and knead until silky and smooth…5-8 minutes. Coat with a little olive oil, return to bowl, cover and put in warm corner to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
- While dough is rising, prepare sauce of choice and cut any vegetable or herbs for toppings.
- When dough has doubled, punch down (yeah. hit it.) and divide into two or more parts. Whatever strikes your fancy and let rest for another 15 minutes.
- Dust baking sheet or pizza paddle with cornmeal and shape the dough by flouring lightly and flattening the dough with your finger tips and the heels of your hands. Shape into disks, stretch and flatten to desired thickness. Don’t worry if the dough tears, just pinch back into shape and keep on going. Shake baking sheet occasionally to keep dough from sticking and add cornmeal as needed.
- Add sauce or tomatoes, toppings and slide into oven.
- Bake 10-15 minutes depending on toppings. Just look at it . You’ll know when it’s ready. Slice and enjoy!
What is the one dish I’m always asked to bring to family get togethers? Yup. Caesar salad. Especially birthday dinners. The kids love it. And you know when it is hot as blue blazes here a cold, crisp salad is just about all you want. Well, maybe a couple of glasses of Pinot Grigio, too. Pair that with whole grain, garlic crostini and, baby, you’ve got dinner. Sometimes I top it with thin, very rare slices of flank steak. Grilled breast of chicken slices are right at home. And garlic or jerked shrimp positively sing. I use Dijon mustard to emulsify the dressing rather than egg. I did that for my mother for health reasons then found the dressing lasts a good week in the refrigerator. Maybe more…it just doesn’t last in my house. At least twice a week I take the salad to work for lunch. Leftovers from the night before. I keep the dressing separate in a small food storage container and I put a crostino in a sealed plastic bag. The romaine has been washed, spun dry and dressed with just the parmesan and lots of black pepper. I simply assemble the salad and munch away. I thought of something else. You reaIly want to include the anchovies in the dressing. I know for some they can be foreign and scary but, trust me, you don’t want to leave them out. Because it’s not Caesar salad without anchovies. It’s Caesar salad food. Or in the style of Caesar salad. But it’s not Caesar salad. Second, and more importantly, you won’t even know they’re there. But you WILL if they’re not. It’s just some sad, tired salad thing without them. Okay? So, relax and add the anchovies. You’ll be fine. And so will your Caesar.
Caesar Salad with Garlic Crostini
- 1 large head romaine lettuce or 2 small ones, washed, dried and cut into large bite size pieces.
- 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese. You may want more or less.
- 3-4 tablespoons dressing, recipe below
- 2-3 crostini per person. Maybe one if this is the salad course. 2-3 if this is the main course.
- More black pepper, to taste
- Make dressing and crostini first. When they are done, put lettuce in a large bowl and pour 3-4 tablespoons dressing over, tossing well.
- Sprinkle with half of parmesan cheese and grind some black pepper over. Toss well.
- Add additional cheese, toss well, and serve on individual plates.
- Garnish with crostini.
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 lemons, juiced. If you’re lucky enough to have Key limes, 3 juiced
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 2-ounce tins flat anchovy filets
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Combine all ingredients in food processor, blender or process with immersion blender. Process until smooth. Taste for seasoning. It may need more lemon juice, mustard or Worcestershire sauce. Should be good, though. Set aside or chill.
- 1 baguette whole grain bread
- 1 large garlic clove, peeled
- 2-3 tablespoons good olive oil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 400°. Slice baguette into pieces roughly 1/2 inch thick and place cut side up on foil lined baking sheet. (Easy clean up)
- Bake in oven 15 minutes then remove from oven to cool.
- When cool to the touch, rub garlic clove over cut side of each slice.
- Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with a little salt and a lot of black pepper.
Tell my godson he’s having meatloaf for dinner and his face will fall. His shoulders will slump and his eyes will have that “dead man walking” stare. I understand. We’ve all suffered from CNMD (Chronic Nasty Meatloaf Disorder) at one time or another. But tell MY boy he’s having turkey meatloaf for dinner and all of a sudden the day’s getting much better. He always asks with anticipation “with whipped butternut squash and asparagus? Awesome!”. I love using turkey because it’s much lighter and no matter how hard you mix it, it will not toughen up. What is important is to season the mixture well because you know how bland ground turkey can be. I usually always use quick, not instant, oats instead of bread crumbs. Might as well make it healthful when you can. The oats just disappear into the mixture just like the bread crumbs. Last night, however, I found myself out of oats. Damn. And after a full day of work, I am NOT going back out into the dark for anything. Anyway, I knew there had to be something I could use and after rooting around…voila! Le Wheat Germ. Works great, loses itself in the mixture and, also, packs a healthy, nutritional punch. Last night’s meatloaf was covered tomato paste but I often make it with a peppercorn crust. Both produce a phenomenal sandwich the next day. And the recipe doubles well.
Preheat oven to 375°
- 1 20 oz. package lean ground turkey (1.25 pounds)
- 1 medium onion, grated using large holes in box grater
- 1 carrot, grated using large holes in box grater
- 1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced (I use a rasper)
- 1 egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
- 3/4 cup quick oats or wheat germ
- 1 medium zucchini or 1/2 cup cooked spinach, both optional
- 2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 /4 cup water
- 1 6 oz. can tomato paste or a thin layer of black pepper. I grind it directly over loaf.
- Non-stick cooking spray
- Mix all ingredients EXCEPT turkey, tomato paste and spray in a large or medium bowl. Incorporate well.
- Spray loaf pan or baking dish with non-stick spray.
- Mix turkey well into vegetable oat mixture and put into baking dish. Using a spatula or the back of a cooking spoon, shape mixture into a loaf.
- Spread tomato paste all over or grind pepper over turkey to make an even layer.
- Bake at 375° for 30-45 minutes.
Here in sunny South Florida, tabbouleh is a salad prepared over and over when the temperature rises. It’s a year round, go to salad that is light and refreshing but with bulgur wheat as one of its main ingredients it’s substantial enough to act as a side AND as a vegetable. I make mine more Middle Eastern, that is with more parsley and mint than cracked wheat. Lots more. Lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and tomatoes unite the dish making it a tangy, garlicky joy. This salad is inexpensive and keeps well. We have it often with grilled chicken and fish. Last night we had it with grilled yellow fin tuna and it was fabulous. It pairs well with heavy meats, for instance lamb; the tartness of the lemons, tomatoes and parsley cutting through the richness. It can be served as an appetizer with toasted pita triangles to scoop it up and also as a sandwich stuffed in a halved pita. And last but not least, it’s pretty. Looks good, tastes good..it’s a win-win!
- 1 heaping cup fine bulgur
- 1 cup room temperature water
- 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2/3 cup good olive oil
- 2 bunches fresh mint, leaves coarsely chopped
- 2 or 3 large bunches flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
- 5 scallions, chopped using green tops
- 4 or 5 large garlic cloves, minced. I use a rasper.
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 6-8 ripe plum tomatoes, chopped
- Combine bulgur, water, lemon juice and half the olive oil in a large, non-reactive bowl, I use glass. Mix well and set aside for 30 minutes at room temperature.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and toss well. Adjust seasonings to taste. Cover and let sit another 30 minutes until the flavors marry.
In Greece there is a dish called Manestra which is somewhere between a stew and a soup. It started as a vegetarian dish when meat was scarce or too expensive. Here in the States, it’s been tweaked a bit as meat has been added to season the pot. Usually it is leftover roasted meat which has been added. Roasted lamb, beef or pork typically are used but I’ve even bought ground sirloin or ground lamb. And the vegetables, which make up the bulk of the meal, are varied. I use any combination of chopped carrots, mushrooms, zucchini or spinach. Just about anything in your refrigerator can be used. I try to have at least a 60/40 ratio of vegetables to meat. And, since pasta is added, it feeds legions. It’s so good the next day and a great winter dish. Feta is generally used to finish off the dish but when I’m caught without, parmesan works really well.
- 4-5 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1- 1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, button, baby bella or any assortment cleaned and sliced
- 5 or 6 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2-3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 1 large bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 pound organic carrots, peeled and chopped into “nickels”
- 3-4 medium zucchini, washed and grated, using big holes in box grater
- any other vegetable you’d like to add
- 2-28 ounce cans whole tomatoes, juices included
- 1-6 ounce can tomato paste
- 3-4 cups roasted lamb or meat of choice, chopped
- 8 ounces orzo pasta, that’s about half a bag or box
- salt and pepper to taste
- crumbled feta, to taste
- In a dutch oven or large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and add onion. Cook until clear, about 4-5 minutes, stirring often.
- Add mushrooms, again stirring often.
- When mushrooms begin to release their juices add garlic, rosemary and parsley.
- Cook 3-4 minutes and add zucchini and any other vegetable you wish to use, still stirring.
- Add whole tomatoes and juices, breaking up tomatoes with the back of your spoon.
- Add tomato paste, mixing well to incorporate.
- Add meat and stir.
- Taste mixture and season with salt and pepper as needed.
- Cover and drop temperature to simmer.
- Cook pasta according to directions and please, PLEASE salt your water well!!
- When pasta is tender drain and mix with meat mixture.
- Serve in individual bowls with crumbled feta scattered on top.
My boy’s leaving early tomorrow morning, back to Tar Heel country. I thought I’d put together a portable food send-off gift for him while I was drowning my sorrows. All you mothers out there sending off college students know what I’m talking about. How about some organic Banana Blueberry Oat Muffins?
Banana Blueberry Oat Muffins
yield: 9 to 12
- 2 ripe bananas, mashed
- 2 tbls canola oil
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup fat free milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup white whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup quick cook oats
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries
- cooking spray
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Combine bananas, canola oil, egg, milk and vanilla in a large bowl; mix well and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, and using a dry spoon, mix together all the dry ingredients. When well mixed add blueberries coating well with the flour mixture.
- Stir the flour mixture into the banana mixture until they are just combined.
- Spray muffin tin cups with cooking spray and spoon about 1/3 cup batter into each.
- Bake 16-22 minutes or until tester comes out clean.
I use a mixture of flours so the baking time is longer. I’ll use whole wheat, whole wheat pastry, unbleached all purpose, white whole wheat. I also add almonds, sunflower seeds, ground flax seed. I use organic ingredients as often as I can. You can really play around with this recipe and it freezes incredibly well.