Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sweet cravings

I cant really tell how I got into cooking. I can remember my grandma coming over to take care of me and my sister when we were younger. Grandma always cooked a good meal for us, and made sure we ate right. Later on when my mom retired she started baking, so we always had something sweet at home. I still need to ask her if I can post her famous Cheesecake recipe, maybe one day I will write about it.
Its very rare that I make something sweet, even though I have a sweet tooth. I'm an Oreo guy, going to DQ to get a Blizzard, or just bringing home some brownies is fine by me. However, if I want something sweet, and want to stay on the healthy side, I do make some no bake Apple Oatmeal cookies. I learned this recipe at the only cooking class I have taken. It was at a local organic store and it was about eating raw foods. I simplified the recipe a bit, and it is still tasty and so easy.
You will need:

2 medium Apples
2 cups Oatmeal
1 cup raisins
½ teaspoon of Cinnamon

As you can see there is no flour or sugar for this recipe. These cookies get their sweetness from the apples. Take 1 cup of oatmeal and put it in the blender so it gets pulverized. Mix with the other cup of oatmeal. Now shred the 2 apples with the skin on and mix in with the oatmeal. I use a wooden spoon to mix everything together. Finally, add the raisins and cinnamon. The moisture from the apples and the pulverized oatmeal keeps everything together.
Using a cookie dough scoop or a spoon, place the mixture on a cookie sheet. Press it down with either the back of the scoop or spoon to make them flat. Now the original recipe asked for a food dehydrator, however, since I don't own one I just set to oven to warm and put them in there to get rid of some of the moisture (about 45 minutes). Take them out of the oven and place in a container. Since you are actually not baking the cookies all the way, you need to keep them refrigerated.
We eat them sometimes in the morning like granola, or just when I need a quick sweet fix in the evenings.
If you are not a raisin person, you can replace it with your favorite dried fruit too, or just skip the raisins.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Cuban Night

Last week for Corina's birthday, we threw a party and she wanted it Cuban themed. I introduced her to Cuban food on our way to Panama a couple of years ago during a long layover in Miami. I was so excited to have Cuban that we left the terminal and looked for a Cuban restaurant near the airport. To me, Cuban food is the closest I can find to a good home cooked Panamanian meal. The flavors are so unique and different, without being spicy (hot).
It's hard for us to get Cuban food around here, so when we get a chance to go out of town, we usually “Urbanspoon” the nearest Cuban restaurant. Corina's inspiration for the birthday meal was an appetizer we ordered at Havana Rumba, a restaurant located in Louisville, KY. Surprisingly enough, this appetizer inspired eight different dishes for the party. Imagine my surprise when I heard I was cooking for 50 people. In Corina's defense it was her birthday gift. Thank goodness for other blogs and Google! Please visit La Cocina de Nathan for a great collection of Latin American dishes.
On the menu was: White Rice with Black Beans, Avocado and Pineapple Salad, Shrimp in Cuban Creole Sauce, Ropa Vieja, Munyeta (Soup), Tostones con Pollo, and Fried Ripe Plantains (my personal favorite).
The party was a great success. I have to admit that Corina is an awesome party planner. Here is the recipe for the Tostones con Pollo.

Tostones con Pollo

Tostones is a twice fried green plantain. Here is how you prepare them:
First peal the green plantain and cut into 1 inch pieces.
Fry the pieces in canola oil, just like french fries, until they are golden. Don't brown them.
After you are done pre-frying you will squish them so there are about half an inch thick and about the width of a silver dollar. There is actually a special tool for this, but I use a small wooden cutting board.
Fry them again until they are golden brown.
Assemble on a large tray by putting a layer of tostones down, covering them with Salsa Fresca, then adding a layer of baked shredded chicken and topping it with Monterey Jack cheese. Finally, stick them in an oven preheated to 325 F until the cheese is melted.
Like any other fried food, serve warm; it doesn't taste nearly as good after its been sitting out for a while.

I have a great time preparing Latin American dishes, especially when I get the chance to listen, dance and sing to some Salsa and Merenge music while I cook. I rewarded myself with a few Cuba Libre's that night, that's Rum and Coke with lime. Everybody had a great time and enjoyed the meal.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Our Perfect Chili

OK… Corina and I love Chili. We tried and tried to find the perfect recipe that would satisfy both of our tastes. She likes spicy chili and I like it hardy without adding any noodles. So after many failed attempts we found our perfect chili. Actually, I found the original recipe on Men’s Health Magazine, but I change a few things.

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 bag 15 bean soup (dry beans)
2 lb ground chuck (or ground turkey)
3 Chile de Arbol crushed (these are small red dried chiles that you can buy at the Mexican store or section)
1 yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 green bell pepper, diced
8 tomatillos, husked and chopped (don’t buy them canned)
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
4 cups beef stock
3 Tbsp chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp paprika
1 Tsp cumin
1 Tbsp Chili Powder
1 tsp Cinnamon
Salt and pepper

What to do…
I like to soak the beans overnight and cook them in the crock pot on high for about 4 hours. If you buy the HamBeens brand, save the Cajun seasoning for later use. Cook your beans and season with salt and pepper.

Heat a large heavy skillet (or just a big pot), add the olive oil and brown the meat. Cook until there is no liquid. Add the onions, garlic, green peppers and chiles. Cook on medium heat until the onions are translucent. Then add the tomato sauce, beef stock, cilantro, tomatillos, paprika, cumin, chili powder and cinnamon. Boil and simmer for about 30 minutes. Finally, add the cooked beans. I like to use a slotted spoon to add the beans and later if I need more liquid, add the liquid left from the beans. Season with salt and pepper.

*** If you can’t find any Chile de Arbol you can use jalapenos, Red Cayenne Pepper or your favorite Hot Sauce, this is what gives it the spice. If you don’t like spicy chili you can skip this ingredient.

I know I mentioned earlier that I don’t like my chili with noodles, however we do make some spaghetti and add chili on top. Good stuff!

Here is the original recipe from Men's Health

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Panamanian Sancocho

During the cold months, it’s always nice to have some warm soup to make you feel better. For some reason, soups gives us this comfort feeling when it’s so cold outside.

Growing up in Panama, where it doesn’t get cold at all, I grew up eating Panamanian Sancocho. Some people clain this soup has some magical properties and it is used to soothe anything from a hangover to the flu. I remember my grandma making it for me anytime I got sick, or going to Roly’s house on Christmas day after partying all night on Christmas eve.
Sancocho is a chicken soup made with onion, cilantro, oregano, salt and ñame (Yam). I have a hard time finding ñame around here, however I am able to find yucca root, so I use it instead. If you are unable to find either one you can use potatoes. I really don’t measure when I make this soup at home, I just add the ingredients as I go until it tastes good. If this is not your style then you can use the following measurements I found on Elena Hernandez blog:

1 whole chicken
½ cup onion finely chopped
8 cilantro leaves (considering that this is the cilantro you find in Panama, this is about 3 Tbs. of the cilantro you find in the U.S.)
4 cups of ñame cut into medium pieces
Salt and oregano to taste

It’s important to use a whole chicken, specially the dark meat which is going to add most of the flavor to the soup. Season the chicken with the cilantro, onion and salt. Place the chicken in the pot and cook covered over medium heat. The chicken will release its own juice and cook. Add enough water to cover the chicken and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and add the ñame until is tender. Serve with white rice and let the healing power of the sancocho begin.

Find more about ñame and its availability in your area here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Good meals on a budget

I really don’t want to talk about the economy, everybody talks about this situation and there is no reason to make dinner so depressive. I was talking to a friend of mine at work whose daughter is going to college next fall. She mentioned that she is going to start eating Ramen Noodles for the next four years. Remember the young years when Ramen Noodles were a must have in your kitchen? It was like a miracle meal; it’s cheap, quick and easy, and took care of the hunger right?
You can step it up a notch with Ramen Noodles and still have a great meal. I have to admit, I don’t keep Ramen Noodles in my kitchen. I am more of a fan of the rice and beans diet if I am feeling a little tight on money. However, one time after a camping trip I had a few packages left. While looking for a way to use these, I found this website: Budget 101. Little did I know they had so much potential. I found a recipe for Veggie Ramen, instead of cooking the veggies and noodles together I decided to cook them separate and mix at the end.
Veggie Ramen
Chop some veggies, whatever sounds good to you. Make a stir fry by adding a little bit of Canola or Olive oil (about a tablespoon) to a pan. Add your veggies and the seasoning from the package and cook as desired. I like my veggies crisp. If you feel you need to add more oil, add a tablespoon of water instead and cover. Bring water to a boil and add the noodles. Cook as directed, and drain. Add the noodles to the veggies and mix together.
You can find more ways to unleash the power of Ramen Noodles and make a nice meal and don’t break your budget at

Saturday, November 28, 2009

My take on the Monte Cristo sandwich

The first time I tried a Monte Cristo was at Benningan's in Panama City. I had it for lunch, but it reminded me more of a breakfast sandwich due to its sweetness.
There are different variations of the Monte Cristo, but basically is a turkey, ham and cheese sandwich that is either grilled, or dipped in batter and fried. With a sweet dipping sauce, it is delicious. You can simplify the sandwich by using french toast to make the sandwich instead of plain bread.
Here is my take on it today.
I spread some homemade blackberry jam on wheat bread then added honey roasted turkey and white american cheese. I didn't have any ham, no problem. Also, I didn't want my cheese to touch the jam so I put it in the middle. I used 1 beaten egg and added vanilla extract and cinnamon; dipped the sandwich in the egg, cinnamon and vanilla mixture and put it on a hot skillet. When it was nice and golden I took it off the skillet.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving: Tortellini Bean Salad and leftover broccoli

Thanksgiving. Probably the most famous family gathering. I'm sure our family is no different than your and we all have to bring that special dish to our thanksgiving dinner.
This year I made the same dish from last year. It is that good. It is a Tortellini Bean Salad and my wife Corina found it in the Taste of Home cookbook. I think the trick is on the salad dressing you use. Last year I used the Three Cheese Italian instead of the Creamy Italian that the recipe calls for. This year I decide to go back to the Creamy Italian, and I have to say the Three Cheese Italian is much better. You have to be careful with the red onion. I remember the first time we made it, we ended up picking off some of the onion. I usually use about half of what it asks for. You can add a twist to to it by adding some sweet corn. Also, this recipe asks to refrigerate for about 8 hours. You may want to stick to this, so plan ahead for a better flavor.
You can find this fantastic recipe here
Now its the day after thanksgiving and I am feeling a little guilty about the way I ate. What can I say, I love food as much as I love cooking it!. We dont have any leftovers here, but I have some leftover ingredients from the recipe. I saved the broccoli stalks and shredded them in order to make a slaw. Made a dressing with 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup canola oil, 1/4 cup white vinegar and 1.5 tsp. Soy sauce. Don't add it all! It depends on how much slaw you get from the broccoli. Just enough to get the broccoli nice and moist. Add some sunflower seeds, raisins, toasted ramon noodles and some slivered almonds.
There you go! a nice side salad for your meal.