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.
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!
Last week we had a monstrous hurricane bearing down on us and after getting the house and yard storm ready all I could think of was the enormous amount of beautiful dolphin, wild caught shrimp, grass-fed beef and organic chicken lounging in my freezer. We lose power in our house about the time a storm picks up off the coast of Africa. It takes nothing for us to lose power. I hate it. A car can drive by and all of a sudden, flicker-flicker, and flat silence descends. No sound, no light, no cooling ceiling fans and no AC. The worst! And then, of course, things start thawing and dripping in my freezer. Not knowing if we would get a direct hit from Hurricane Matthew, and I thank God everyday that we did not, I figured I’d cook up a large portion of my frozen treasures and we would eat like kings for a few days. Here in south Florida we are blessed with a type of shrimp called Key West Pinks, so sweet, succulent and, yes, pink. And although their season peaks in June, they’re still quite easy to find in seafood markets. I quickly steamed a few pounds in a spicy lemony broth and set them aside for us to enjoy cold with cocktail sauce. I had all kinds of food items in my refrigerator that I was loath to toss. Bacon, peppers, milk, cream, butter, cheese…what’s a girl to do?
Well, I’ll tell you what this girl did. I prepared for dinner the most luxurious, creamy dish of Shrimp and Grits this side of heaven. I always have grits on hand, good grits. Slow cooking, stone ground grits. Not that highly processed, quick or instant, grocery store mess. All watery and bland. No. I like coarsely ground grits, loaded with texture and full of corn flavor that easily stand alone on their own merit. In fact, these are the grits you almost want to eat without anything on top but then I think of the sweet Pinks. I daydream of the bacon seasoned sauce puddling on top of creamy, white grits and I’m back on board. Oh, and by the way, Trader Joe’s store brand grits are really super if you don’t have a grist mill down the street. The shrimp will be gone in two seconds flat but you’ll probably have some grits left over. It can be gently warmed again the following day and eaten as is with nothing added but a quick grind of black pepper. The grits will take about 30 minutes to prepare so don’t start cooking your shrimp until the grits are almost done. If the grits get too thick it can be thinned out with a little warmed milk, half and half or cream. Pork is usually included in the shrimp mixture. Bacon, andouille sausage and Tasso are typically put into service. My first choice is bacon as its saltiness really brings out the sweetness of the shrimp. Andouille is good but I find its taste completely overwhelms the delicate flavors of both the shrimp and grits. Tasso is wonderful but it’s also strong plus can be difficult to find. This, Gentle Reader, is comfort food at its best. As there is such a difference in wild caught shrimp versus farmed so is there a vast difference in stone ground grits as opposed to highly processed, quick or instant. Make the effort to find wild caught shrimp and stone ground grits. You’ll be positively delighted at the difference they make in your dishes. I hope you enjoy these two recipes as much as my entire family does. They’ll do ya proud!
This is the cake of your childhood. This is the cake the sweet cafeteria ladies served you in grade school. I went to East Side School, as did all my childhood friends, and I positively loved it. Five minutes away from our house, East Side was our neighborhood public school. Mint green in color, the stucco two-storied building was connected by open air hallways so, although we didn’t have air conditioning, we could always enjoy our tropical breezes. Our playground was carpeted by thick, emerald-green grass and seemed immense to us. Dotted through the campus were mammoth ficus and banyan trees, perfect for shady rests after rousing games of “dodge ball” and “red rover”. The cafeteria was set away from the school connected by a lengthy open-air breezeway. I remember walking single-file in the heat of the day for lunch. Everyone bought. I don’t think I know of one child who brought his lunch. And we ALL had our favorite lunches. My older sister, Cynthia, loved fish sticks, always served on Fridays. I enjoyed them as well except the cafeteria ladies only gave you two and I was always left hungry. She also mentioned, as all the food was made from scratch and hand-made, they made a mean meatloaf and their mashed potatoes were the stuff dreams are made of. I called my best friends, Dana and Andrea, to find out what their best-loved meals were at East Side. Dana and Andrea both called me right back and it turns out we all have the same fave…spaghetti! It had such flavor; something we never, ever had at home. Dana’s little sister, Dawn, LOVED the tater tots. She also reminded me the absolute worst to eat was the spinach and pointed out we always seemed to have it after the grass was cut. To quote her, “Yuck!” But what we all agreed was the best was the selection of desserts, again all made from scratch and by hand. Thick, creamy chocolate pudding was scooped out of enormous bowls. Generous wedges of apple pie were cut. But the best had to be the chocolate cake squares with peanut butter on top. Oh man. The icing and peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth while the cake melted in your mouth, all washed down with a healthy gulp of cold milk. Heaven on earth and all for a whopping 35¢!
This is the Peanut Butter-Fudge Cake of your childhood. It is beyond sublime and puts all those fancy-dancy, beet for color, salted, chocolate with ancho chile, corn flake and beer creations to shame! This cake is simple, straightforward and ain’t nothin’ hoity-toity about it. I suggest using only regular, store-bought peanut butter like Skippy or Jiffy. A more “natural” or organic, grind your own butter is flat and bland tasting. The only change I made is I added two teaspoons of vanilla extract to the cake instead of one and also to the chocolate icing but only because I love vanilla. This recipe comes directly from a pulled out page of an old Southern Living magazine. The paper is stained and water marked. The article is titled “Make Mine Chocolate” and I treasure this recipe in the short collection. So thanks, Marian T. Talley from Huntsville, Alabama who contributed the recipe for this cake. You have a fan in Fort Lauderdale.
Combine first three ingredients in a large bowl; set aside.
Melt butter in a heavy saucepan, stir in cocoa. Add water, buttermilk and eggs, stirring well.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture boils. Remove from heat; add to flour mixture, stirring until smooth. Stir in vanilla extract. Pour batter into a greased and floured 13X9-inch baking pan.
Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Carefully spread peanut butter over warm cake. Cool completely.
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup cocoa
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 (16 ounce) package powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bring first three ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Pour over powdered sugar in a bowl, stirring until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Yield: 2 1/2 cups
I knew I wouldn’t go back to sleep when my body rebelled and I awoke at 4:00 Sunday morning. I lay in bed wondering what the day would bring…would I go to church or work out? Would it be a sunny day or a rainy day? I watched the silent paddles of the ceiling fan slowly rotate in giant sweeps, appreciating the cool, early morning darkness. When early morning sleep eludes me, I typically reach for my cell phone and peruse my favorite news outlets, NYT, BBC and CNN. This Sunday was no different until I glanced at all the screaming banners across the face of the phone. Now we know all the horrific details of the Orlando shootings. And my heart aches for all the friends and families of those whose lives were so brutally ended. As I write this I can’t get past the thought that those kids, and they were kids, weren’t hurting anyone. And now their loved ones are suffering indescribably and they weren’t hurting anyone either. Life for them, those left behind, will never, EVER be the same. When I want to give comfort or take away someones pain and helplessly can’t, I turn to food. Many an almost-strangers door I’ve knocked on with a pan of hot, buttermilk biscuit, a gentle and calming pound cake or a warm, reassuring casserole in hand. Whether my offering is for a close friend or neighbor or someone I’ve never met, food is always my contribution…my way of wrapping my arms around someone I may or may not know. So this is what I wish I could take to all those in pain. I’m not foolish enough to think it would ease their agony but it is all I have to give. That and my sincere and earnest prayers.
This recipe is incredibly forgiving. If you’re a little low on ingredients it rolls with it. Really the only part that can’t be played with is the broth/rice ratio. Feel free to add more or less of the vegetables or any combination you prefer. The final baking in the oven ensures the rice will be beautifully cooked. There’s enough for your family and another family. It always seems to be what a loved one with a cold wants. If you plan to take it to another household don’t bake it just include the baking instructions. That way it can be frozen and pulled out to bake when needed. It really should be served soon after baking.
Mardi Gras is coming to a close, people. Ash Wednesday is day after tomorrow and this is the time when suddenly I begin to crave pork and beef and chicken and all manner of dishes that will be given up by me once I get that black cross of ashes traced onto my forehead. Every year I say “Oh, I don’t care about meat. I don’t even like it! I never eat it anyway.” That’s right about the time when visions of $12.00 bacon cheeseburgers, spicy, homemade jambalaya and hot, crispy chicken wings begin to pop up in my head. I pulled out my giant pot, the one big enough to bathe a baby, and set about to make the best pot of jambalaya I’ve ever had. I’ve been making this for the longest time and I think I’ve worked out the kinks. That said, no shortcuts may be taken ie: frozen bags of the Trinity which always leave you waiting for the promised burst of flavor. This iconic dish begs, no, DESERVES, to be prepared properly…leisurely, and it will reward you by delivering that slow and sultry combination of Louisiana flavors that cause you to roll your eyes back in your head. Well-made jambalaya, good jambalaya, is like finger-poppin’ music in your mouth. Layer upon layer of ingredients make themselves known, some subtly others not so discreetly. It is a one-pot marvel of unpretentious components that ultimately yield a sophisticated dinner of comfort food while at the same time an over-the-top indulgence. And it is the best possible way to celebrate Fat Tuesday. So put on some boom-boom radio or zydeco, haul out your big pot and get to it. Laissez le bon temps rouler!
Jambalaya is a great dish for a crowd. It’s best prepared in a large, heavy bottomed pot with a lid that fits well. Having all your ingredients cut, chopped and ready to go will also ensure a fantastic meal. If you’re not able to locate converted Louisiana white rice just substitute it for a good quality, converted, white, long grain rice. What cannot be substituted is the Andouille sausage. I get mine from the butcher’s and if they’re out I use Aidell’s brand which is stocked at Publix. I find using sausage other than Andouille in this dish ends up tasting like hot dogs. Not a flavor I want after I’ve been standing in the kitchen for a few hours. So put off making jambalaya until you can find the real thing. I use a mammoth, wooden spoon to stir this dish. You’ll want to use the largest spoon you can get your hands on as the ingredients become heavy and bulky as you get further into the cooking.
Doesn’t it seem as though the prettiest or most fun beaches always have the most delicious food close by? Beach food. Pick-up food. And it’s almost always hideously bad for you. But something about being in the hot sun, maybe under a thatched shack…a fruity rum drink or a cold beer in your hand makes it natural to throw caution to the wind and start ordering. Some sort of scalding hot, deep-fried, savory bit blanketed in a crispy, salty outside which will transport you to paradise with every single bite. Puerto Rico is no exception. The beaches are exquisite, some known for surfing others for sunning but all tempt with the king of naughty…hot fat. All manner of delectable morsels are fried to a golden perfection on those beaches; some amiably co-mingling with garlic or onion and cornmeal while some are happy to be fried naked with no breading what so ever. One of our favorite treats are fried, green plantains, Tostones. Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside these yellow speckled rounds are perfect with an icy beer or cold rum drink. They’re served in wax paper triangles, sometimes with a garlic and olive oil sauce drizzled lightly. Perfect for a hot, lazy day in the sun! Every now and again my grandmother would make them for us. Not often enough so tostones were a real treat. And reason enough for a big, family get together. Plantains must be cooked; they cannot be eaten raw. They look like bananas but they’re not. Bananas are high in sugar whereas plantains are high in starch. There are hundreds of recipes for plantains but, typically, three stages of ripeness will determine how they are prepared. For good tostones you want hard, deep green plantains. As they ripen plantains will begin to turn yellow and that is perfect for frying and serving as a side. As they darken and ripen they turn black. Don’t throw them out! At that stage the plantains are at their sweetest and are wonderful as dessert baked in butter, sugar and rum served hot over melting vanilla ice cream. The plantain is truly your friend.
small bowl of water with 2-3 mashed up garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
sea salt for sprinkling
Cut about 1″ off each end of the plantain. Cut the plantain from end to end cutting only through the skin.
Work your finger under the skin and pull the skin away from the plantain working from top to bottom. The plantain will stain your fingers. I’ve heard it said of a Puerto Rican newly arrived to the States, “She still has the stain of plantains” meaning she’s country or a hillbilly…”una jibara”.
In a deep-frying pan heat 2″ of vegetable oil to 350° of medium high. Cut the plantain into 1″ pieces or, if you want larger tostones, cut into 2″ pieces.
Add them to the hot oil and fry until they are just starting to turn golden, about 5-6 minutes.
Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Leave the oil as you’ll be using it again.
Place one piece of plantain on your counter and using a small plate, bowl or small pan press down firmly on the piece of plantain. Continue with all.
Bring your frying pan back up to medium high.
Lightly dip each tostone into the salted garlic water and quickly but carefully return the smashed tostones to the hot frying pan. Don’t leave the tostones long in the water or they’ll fall apart. Just a quick dip is all they need.
Fry the tostones again until they turn a rich, golden brown, remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.