Isn’t it great when family members can help other family members with academics, college or careers? One of our nieces, Meg, reached out to her Uncle Jimmy for help with a skype interview for a summer internship. We’re so happy to learn she got it! When Delta Airlines made moves to open a reservations office in San Juan my aunt, Madrinita, helped me out and secured an interview for me. It was certainly no guarantee of being hired but it got my toe in the door. The rest was up to me. Hundreds and hundreds of people were interviewed for 13 positions. I was just out of college, young and foolish and completely unaware of any competition for these highly coveted positions. With the beauty and confidence of one in their early 20’s, I sailed through all my interviews happy to be on a mini-vacation during the day while spending precious moments with my family at night, secure in the knowledge that the world truly was my oyster. I scored that position myself but had my aunt not let me know, had she not set up the initial interview, that chapter of my life would have been rewritten. I lived with my relatives for some time and although we had a few disagreements, (for instance, how can I be home by 10:00 pm if I’m not leaving the house until 11:00pm. Right?), we all enjoyed this unexpected gift of time spent with each other. I gained a fierce loyalty and love of the island and its people, from the cool, wet mountains down to the white, hot beaches. I had some great times and, of course, some not so great moments but regardless, Puerto Rico is my safe haven, my refuge, the stuff of my dreams. My hope is that you’ll pour “dos dedos”, two fingers, of rum, crank the salsa and explore this island recipe. Buen provecho!
This recipe has so many Caribbean flavors. Sweet potato and pumpkin are huge in the islands and linger softly in the background tone of so many dishes such as beans, soups and curries. Coconut milk is used in both sweet and savory dishes while cilantro plays a major role in countless savory dishes. I put a whole scotch bonnet pepper in the the pot and fish it out before serving. If one of your guests mistakes it for a chunk of tomato they’re in for one helluva bad surprise. If you like your food screaming hot then, by all means mince two or three of the peppers and throw them in but I find one is just fine. This curry is served over rice and I prefer an organic, short grain brown. Short grain is sweeter than long and pairs well with this dish. Please know all these ingredient amounts are easily changed. If you’re not crazy about pumpkin then leave it out and double up on the sweet potato. Not a fan of zucchini? Add carrots or potatoes instead. And basil is brilliant in place of cilantro so play around with this forgiving dish until you come up with your own island version. Enjoy!
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.
What a week, huh? And it’s only Tuesday! I learned a dear, dear cousin of mine in Puerto Rico is sick. The family here stateside was devastated. My cousin in Tallahassee and I were in the process of planning a last minute trip to PR, furiously texting back and forth, when suddenly I received not a text but a phone call from her. She had been pulled out of her grad class and was on her way to the emergency room and would I please say a prayer for her. Her oldest of three had been hit by a car while riding his bike home. She knew nothing else of his condition but that. She heard my voice calm and soothing assuring her my siblings and I would immediately start a prayer circle. She heard my words of quiet strength and hope. She could not see my knees buckle with fear nor did she see my eyes fill up with tears. Hours later I received the text stating he was fine! His face and hands were all bloodied up. His glasses were lost and his bike mangled but he was more than okay. He had worn his protective helmet and it had done its job. I wanted to do something for them. I wanted to jump in my little car and 400 miles later show up at her door arms filled with baked goods. I wanted to wrap her entire family in my arms because family is everything to us.
And this is what I would have taken. It’s an easy quick bread that when baking fills your house with the warm smells of fall. The smells that make you feel cozy and safe from harm. Whether you have a slice with a cup of coffee or hot tea or even a glass of milk, this quick bread is satisfying and positively luscious. I use reduced fat cream cheese in the icing because it’s a bit tangier than whole fat and that tang is more than welcome in the rich frosting. It also marries quite well with the piquant ginger. Here’s to hoping the rest of the week is a little easier to handle. I heard a rumor today’s election day but after last night I can handle this hands down. Good luck everybody!
Pumpkin Spice Bread with Ginger Cream Cheese Icing
Cover a 1.5 quart glass loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, allspice and nutmeg. Set aside.
In a separate bowl use a hand mixer to combine pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, butter, canola oil and vanilla. Mix until all ingredients are well combined and mixture is smooth.
Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir by hand until there are no more flour streaks.
Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 55-60 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
Place pan on a cooling rack for 15 minutes then turn bread out of pan and allow to cool completely on cooling rack.
Ginger Cream Cheese Icing
1 8-ounce block cream cheese, I prefer reduced fat, room temperature
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons ginger paste or finely grated fresh ginger. Ginger paste is in a tube found in the produce department of your grocery store.
1 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
Using a hand mixer, beat cream cheese, butter and ginger until completely combined.
Add the confectioners sugar and mix until smooth.
When the pumpkin bread has completely cooled mound the icing on top and smooth to your liking.
If you’re not serving the bread for a day or two keep the bread in the refrigerator. Just prior to serving mix up the icing, top the bread with it and serve. Or serve the icing dolloped on top of individual slices.
Okay, so I guess I slowly climbed on the pumpkin band wagon. It’s not the pumpkin flavored coffees at Starbucks. I can’t stand flavors in my morning coffee…too much like candy and certainly not enough kick. Nor is it the stand of cinnamon brooms whose scent assaults my olfactory system like a WWII blitzkrieg the moment I step foot in Publix. No. It was something as simple as two girl’s weekends, both with girls from college, one was sorority sisters and the other girls that I love. It got me to thinking about college days. And Fall. I went to Mercer University in Macon, Georgia where we had seasons. That’s where I saw leaves change color for the first time. I thought how I walked across the beautiful southern campus; orange, yellow and red leaves bouncing and spinning on gusts of wind as if doing cartwheels. Kind of like sorority sister Anne B. who, drunk and making her way across campus late one night, fell on her face in the middle of a cart-wheel and knocked out her big front tooth. The whole thing. Yup. Serves her right, though. She was never particularly nice to me plus she had borrowed a very expensive pair of gold earrings and when she finally returned them to me one had been completely destroyed. Apparently she had stepped on it. But she was very, very sorry. Anyway, where ever she is, she’s running around with a fake front tooth. Those Autumn nights were chilly for us Florida girls. In my mind’s eye I can see the wool plaid tweed car coat Daddy had special ordered for me. A soft, tobacco brown with ebony black and pumpkin gold flecks. It was sumptuous and luxurious. Striding across campus to get to class on time, I’d turn the collar up and dig my hands deep into my pockets to stay warm. In the dorm it was cozyand comfortable and on weekends music would spill out of our rooms into the halls as we got ready for our dates and went from room to room sharing cocktails before we went out. Those were the days of albums and turntables. We listened to everything! Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan, Marshall Tucker, Allman Brothers, the Eagles, Grinderswitch, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Wet Willie had us singing and dancing like you wouldn’t even believe. That was our kind of finger poppin’ music. As I walked out of my dorm with girlfriends or on a date with my boyfriend, you could almost touch the excitement in the darkness, the sensation of anticipation in the frosty, brittle darkness. Our eyes sparkled from the cold as we laughed, chatted and guzzled booze in the chilly night air. Fraternity parties were held outdoors on the patio of the lodges. Mammoth speakers were set up inside and out, as were the kegs and garbage cans filled with grain punch. More Atlanta Rythym Section, Doobie Brothers and Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Boston. Lord, I think back and laugh. Those days celebrated the folly of youth and the good looks that come with it. I’ll stop at the risk of divulging any ancient secrets. But, hey! Try this way easy bread pudding. It’s Fall and time for a little pumpkin!
It feels like fall, y’all! We’ve had major rain here in Lauderdale and the temperature has plummeted to 82°. It’s 3:00p.m. and the street lights are on…as well as the AC. Well, a girl can dream. And when I do, at times it’s of pumpkin. Nothing says autumn like pumpkin. Pumpkin bread, pumpkin cheesecake and, especially, pumpkin fritters. They’re like crunchy and soft bites of warm and sweet pumpkin pie. These fritters are quick, easy and cheap. You probably have all the ingredients in your pantry. It’s a great treat for your family or dessert for the casual drop-by company. There aren’t really any do’s or don’ts. After mixing it all up, letting the batter sit for a while undisturbed does enhance the flavor. And I found using a small melon ball scoop to drop the batter into the hot oil gives consistent size fritters which will cook evenly. They’re best served immediately after dusting with powdered sugar but I haven’t seen any refused the following day after preparing.
Great with a cup of coffee or hot tea, these fritters welcome all the spices you like in your pumpkin pie. Don’t care for cloves? Don’t add them. If you’re not a fan of powdered sugar, roll them in cinnamon sugar. And if you’d like to fancy the fritters up a bit, warm some caramel sauce and drizzle it over the platter as you’re serving them. You might want to try serving them with fresh fruit, such as strawberries or blackberries, which cut the richness and really add to the flavors of the pumpkin pie spices. Hope you enjoy them!
These Pumpkin and Dulce de Leche Cinnamon Rolls are the stuff dreams are made of. They are a twice a year indulgence. These are the cinnamon rolls you fantasize about serving Christmas morning but are too exhausted from all the hustle and bustle to actually make them. But I’m going to tell you how you can. Huge, soft clouds of sweet golden dough are perfect to sop up the rich caramel sauce and barely tangy glaze. I don’t know what made me want to make them. I enjoy baking; I love working with dough. But I’ve got to tell ya, I had to make these over and over again. Without thinking I dumped cup after cup of flour into the mixer bowl and suddenly thought, “Wait…how many cups was that?” Into the garbage went butter, egg, sugar and who knows how much flour. Now, you can buy ready-made dulce de leche but let’s at least start out with homemade. Over and over I’d realize mid-way through baking the caramel that I had forgotten to cover the pan tightly with tin foil. Or I forgot to put the pan with the condensed milk into a larger pan filled with water. Or I just plain forgot what time I put the pan in the oven and cooked the milk way too long and, again, had to trash it. I didn’t remember the butter chunks had to be added to the top of the rolled out dough until the pans had been baking for a good 10 minutes. It went on and on like this. What could be so important that I couldn’t count 5 cups of flour? My boy. That’s what. My boy will be 25, twenty-five tomorrow. How did that happen? I’ll tell ya how. We blinked. Yesterday I was yelling at him that if he made me late for work ONE MORE TIME I was going to leave him at home and he would have to take a cab to grade school. A cab. When he was six. As if. Now he leaves for work in Miami and takes the early train, never late for that! Nuh uh. So the years have sped by…flown by actually. I’m certain all parents feel this way but when he was born we knew he was special. And there was nothing, NOTHING, I wouldn’t do for that boy. When it was snack day for us in Pre-K I agonized over what I would bake. Lemon muffins with a key lime topping and seedless grapes? Or would chocolate chip granola bars and apple slices be better? And I know some of his classmates parents thought we were the meanest parnts on the panet. We didn’t take him to Disney World until he was in, I don’t know, first grade? Awful, huh? No video games in our house, either. No, tennis, baseball and friends were priorities. And reading. Jimmy and I would get our cocktails and we took turns reading out loud to James. We read fabulous British and French story books, hooting and hollering all the while at the atrocities committed. Pirate fights, naughty children getting spanked and the odd child losing both parents at sea to be reunited months later in a Paris bistro were our favorites. Jimmy had James surfing the web at two years old. Our boy was expected to participate in the oratorical competitions at church…all of them. As a result he grew up relaxed and comfortable speaking before large groups of people and, to this day, holds his own quite well in all social settings, from the homeless shelter to Harvard’s Kennedy School. James embraced his Greek and Puerto Rican roots even when some of his classmates ridiculed him. As a parent it’s so easy to dismiss any schoolyard taunts by telling your child, “Oh, honey, just let it roll off your back. Don’t pay attention to them.” Now I know that boy’s not perfect but he held his head high and that’s not easy. He never started a fight but he never ran from one. And after all that school ridiculing he speaks Greek and Spanish. Jimmy teases me and says I’m James’ biggest cheerleader and guess what? I AM. I am so proud of him. He gives of himself unconditionally. He gives time to his elders. He respects and appreciates their opinions. He’s curious about the world and wholeheartedly receives other cultures with open arms. We pushed him to discover other countries and off he went. We’re just plain crazy about him. We like him and he likes us. So when my boy wakes up tomorrow, on his 25th birthday, he’s getting these decadent, crazy good cinnamon rolls. Happy birthday, boysie!!!
There’s nothing like the scent of caramel and cinnamon baking to make you smile and be glad you’re alive. These pillows of sweet delight can be almost completely assembled the night before and, while they’re chilling in the fridge and you’re asleep, they’ll also be rising, ready to be baked the following morning.
These rolls can now rise overnight covered in the refrigerator or in a warm corner of your kitchen for 20 minutes. In one of my kitchen drawers I keep a thin, plastic ruler to measure dough, the size of pans etc. This is my favorite ruler because it has measurements on one side and the presidents on the other. I know… geeky. Anyway, mark off your dough so that all the rolls are the same size thus baking evenly. This recipe yields 12 colossal cinnamon rolls or 24 regular servings.
And this is the only way I cut them. With unwaxed, unscented dental floss. Any knife you use, I don’t care how sharp it is, will smash the soft dough and, to add to your woes, force out the dulce de leche filling. After lightly scoring the dough to mark your 12 or 24 portions, slide the dental floss under the dough “log” and align the floss to the first marking on either end. Cross both ends of the floss as if you were going to tie a knot but instead of looping the floss to tie it continue pulling both ends and the floss will slice the dough cleanly and evenly. For the dulce de leche, it may be store-bought but it’s so simple to make that I strongly suggest you try it, if you haven’t already, and then you won’t be giving your family all those chemicals we all like to avoid. A quick recipe is in the archives. Just put in “dulce de leche” in the search box toward the upper right of this page. When the rolls have finished baking and have cooled just slightly, slide them whole, not pulled apart, out of the baking pan onto a large serving tray, preferably on with a lip. Drizzle the glaze all over the hot rolls and let it ooze down the sides. Heaven! To re-heat after they’ve cooled completely 10-15 seconds in the microwave will have them tasting as though they just came out of the oven.
Pumpkin and Dulce de Leche Cinnamon Rolls
Servings: 12 colossal rolls or 24 smaller single portions
Place yeast and warm water in a small bowl and allow yeast to bloom or “foam”, 5-10 minutes. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl or stand-up mixer cream the 1/2 cup butter and pumpkin until light and fluffy.
Add the sugar and beat well.
Add the yeast mixture and mix well.
Add the salt to the flour and mix well then add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture. Beat well.
Knead the dough with a dough hook or by hand until it’s smooth and satiny, about 5 minutes.
Lightly butter a large bowl, place the dough in it, cover and allow to rise in a warm corner of your kitchen for 1 hour or until double in bulk.
Punch down the dough and, on a lightly floured counter, gently roll the dough into a 24″X12″ rectangle. It doesn’t have to be perfect but you do want the height to be even and flat.
Spread the dulce de leche evenly over the dough leaving a 1″ border around the rectangle.
Sprinkle the cinnamon evenly over the dulce de leche followed by the cold cubes of butter.
Working from the long side, tightly roll up the dough. Pinch the dough to make a seam along the loose length.
Measure and mark your dough. Cut with floss into even pieces; either 12 or 24.
Place in a buttered 9″X13″ pan, 2 buttered 9″X13″ pans if you’re making 24 rolls.
Loosely cover pan/pans with wax paper and allow to rise in a warm corner for 20 minutes or place, covered, in the refrigerator to rise overnight. Let the dough warm up outside the refrigerator 15 minutes or so prior to baking.
Place in a pre-heated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until they are golden brown on top and fully baked.
Remove from oven and, in pan, cool on rack for 10-15 minutes.
Transfer from baking pan to serving tray and pour glaze over the tops of the rolls allowing to spill down the sides.
1/4 cup cream cheese, room temperature
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 cup confectioners sugar
With a whisk, combine cream cheese, butter, milk, vanilla extract and salt.
Add confectioners sugar and whisk until completely smooth.