Easy Red Lentils

Every culture has a food they believe will promote prosperity in the coming year. Some people ring in the new year by eating grapes, others by chomping down a bowl of black-eyed peas. For me, New Year’s Eve means whipping up some lentils. In many Spanish-speaking countries, lentils symbolize prosperity and good fortune.

This past weekend, I got hit with a whammy of a cold that left my head feeling foggy. Although I felt totally drained, I didn’t want to dismiss my tradition of eating lentils. I mean, what if I suffered a year of misfortune?? Instead, I whipped up a batch of Easy Red Lentils, adapted from a delicious Indian recipe from Aarti Sequeira. This dish is a cinch to put together, requiring just a few spices and a bit of time. The result is a delicious, comforting dish that will warm you from the inside out. Happy New Year!

 

Easy Red Lentils

Adapted from Aarti Sequeira

What You’ll Need:

1 cup red lentils, picked through for stones
2 cups water
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1-15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 jalapeno, sliced in half
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon canola oil
Kosher salt
fresh cilantro, for garnish

Put the lentils in a strainer and rinse in cold water. Place the strainer in a larger bowl and cover the lentils with water. Let them soak for 30 minutes, then drain.

In a medium saucepan, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the cumin and mustard seeds, then the spices. They should sizzle and the seeds may even try to jump out the pan. Heat the mixture for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, being careful not to let it burn! Add the onions, garlic and ginger. Saute for 3 to 5 minutes, until aromatic. Add the tomatoes, jalapeno and lentils. Mix everything to combine. Add the 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce heat to low and let the lentils simmer for about 40 minutes, until very soft.

Stir the lentils with a wooden spoon, mashing some so the mixture thickens.  Add salt to taste. Serve in small bowls and garnish with cilantro. Enjoy!

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Double Cut Pork Chops Smothered in Chipotle Mushroom Sauce

For my husband and I, the sight of double cut pork chops smothered in mushroom sauce always brings a smile to our faces. This month will mark our sixth wedding anniversary, and in November, we’ll have made 11 years together. Eons ago, when John and I had first begun to date, we tried hard to surprise one another with thoughtful gifts and memorable eating experiences. One Valentine’s Day, we drove down to SoHo for dinner. I had scoured the internet for a great Cuban restaurant in New York City and my research led me to Cafe Habana. Not only were the reviews promising, but upon further reading, I learned Cafe Habana was a fusion of Cuban and Mexican cuisine. This little fact caught my attention immediately. John is Mexican and I’m half Cuban. I took it as a sign that we were meant to eat there.

It took about 45 minutes to make the trip from White Plains to lower Manhattan. Armed with MapQuest directions, I played co-pilot while John navigated the car through the city. When we finally found our way to the corner of Prince and Elizabeth streets, John was the first to spot Cafe Habana. My jaw nearly dropped. The place was a hole in the wall. Literally. Bohemians were spilling out the door of this un-spectacular, teeny restaurant. I remember groaning and slumping down into my seat. Despite my protests, John parked the car and we made our way down the block. I suggested we find somewhere else to eat, somewhere that looked a little more substantial, but John convinced me to at least peer through the window. We stood on the sidewalk, watching the restaurant patrons. It was like observing sardines in a can. Tables were crammed together and people were practically sitting on one another’s laps. Next to me, I heard a gasp. I looked over at John, who was staring through the window with wide eyes. “It’s my corn!” he said. I followed his gaze. Inside, a couple were sharing a plate of corn on the cob. When a look of confusion passed over my face, John explained that in Mexico, street vendors sell corn on the cob, or elotes, with crema, cotija cheese, chili powder and lime. “We have to eat here,” he said firmly. So, we did.

Even after all these years, I can still remember our first meal at Cafe Habana. It was the first of many. We shared a plate of grilled corn, which was every bit as delicious as John promised it would be. We each ordered the same entree, Chuleta de Puerco a la Pimenta, which turned out to be grilled, double-cut pork chops in a mushroom and chipotle au poivre sauce. Putting it mildly, this pork chop blew our mind. The pork was juicy and flavorful, cooked perfectly. The sauce had just the right amount of spice to cut through the creaminess. It was heaven.

It’s been five years since we made the move from New York to Connecticut. I love the quiet and calmness of living on the Connecticut countryside. If there’s one thing I miss, one thing, it’s Cafe Habana. After that Valentine’s Day so many years ago, Cafe Habana became “our” spot. John and I shared our secret place with few and far between. Somehow, bringing other people there made it less special. Once, after finding out some friends of ours had eaten there, we admitted to being a bit envious. Silly, right?

Since trekking to SoHo is no longer an option for us, especially with a three year old, I decided to attempt to recreate “the” pork chop. After a bit of experimentation and tweaking, I was finally thrilled with the results. For a true Cafe Habana experience at home, serve with frozen mango margaritas, tostones con mojo, rice and beans. Prepare to die and float to heaven.

Double-Cut Pork Chops Smothered in Chipotle Mushroom Sauce

What You’ll Need:

4 pork chops, 1-inch thick, bone-in
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup flour
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 cups baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
2 chipotles in adobo sauce, finely chopped
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
parsley, for garnish

Put the flour in a shallow pan, add the salt and pepper, then mix with a fork. Pat the pork chops dry with a paper towel, then dredge them in the seasoned flour. Shake off any excess.

Heat a large skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat and coat with olive oil. Fry the pork chops for about 4 minutes on each side until golden brown. Remove the pork chops from the pan and set to the side. Add more oil to the pan, if needed. Toss the sliced mushrooms to the pan and saute for 10 minutes. Sprinkle some of the seasoned flour into the pan and cook for one minute. Add the chipotle peppers and chicken stock. Let the liquid cook for 5 minutes, allowing it to reduce and thicken slightly. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon black pepper into the sauce, more if you like it very peppery. Add the heavy cream and return the pork chops to the pan. Simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, until the pork chops are cooked through and the sauce has thickened. Serve and enjoy.

Savory Beef Empanadas

Empanadas are a savory treat that have been a favorite of mine since I was a young girl. My mother would make them often, as a midday snack or sometimes for dinner, filling them with chicken, beef, seafood or cheese. I usually preferred a combination of beef and cheese, biting into the flaky crust while it was still hot, then watching the cheese ooze out.

For those of you not familiar with empanadas, they’re basically turnovers filled with meat. In some Latin American countries, they’re often referred to as pastelitos. I grew up calling them empanadas, so that’s what I continue to call them! They make a great appetizer, snack or side dish. Many people make their own dough, but there are so many great, pre-made doughs out there that I save myself the time and purchase Goya Discos. Empanadas are also a great way to use up any leftover meat — shredded chicken, ground beef, pork — the possibilities are endless! Give this recipe a try. I guarantee your mouth will water at the sight of these flaky turnovers packed with flavor.

Savory Beef Empanadas Over Moros y Cristianos

Beef Empanadas

Beef Turnovers

What You’ll Need:

1 cup picadillo
1 14-oz package Goya Discos, thawed
vegetable oil, for frying

On a lightly floured surface, using a rolling pin, roll out each disco until about 1/2″ larger in diameter. Place 1 tablespoon picadillo in the center of each disco. Moisten the edge with water, then fold the disc in half, using a fork to crimp the edges and seal it.

Fill a deep frying pan with 2 inches of oil, then heat over medium-high heat. Fry the empanadas until golden brown, turning only once. Make sure not to crowd the pan or the temperature of the oil will drop, resulting in greasy empanadas. Fry in batches, if necessary. Transfer to a plate with paper towels to drain. Serve hot. Pairs well with moros y cristianos.

Note: These empanadas can also be baked, if preferred. After assembling each empanada, brush the tops with an egg and water mixture. Bake in a preheated, 375 degree oven for 10 minutes.

A Spanish Side: Moros y Cristianos

Moros y Cristianos, or black beans and rice, is a classic Cuban dish. The name literally translates to Moors and Christians, the “Moors” being the black beans and the “Christians” being the white rice. The name of the dish is a reference to the battle that began in eighth century Spain, between the Christians and Muslims. Spain has had a huge influence on the food and culture of Cuba.

This dish goes great with many beef, pork, poultry and seafood dishes. It’s a simple, one-pot meal that takes just 20 minutes to prepare.

Moros y Cristianos

Black Beans and Rice

What You’ll Need:

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
5 ounces slab bacon, rind removed, diced
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium size green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 15-ounce cans black beans
2 cups long grain rice
4 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Cook the bacon for 5 to 7 minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper and garlic and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients. Cook until all the water has been absorbed and small craters form over the surface of the rice. Stir with a fork (using a spoon will result in mushy rice), cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until the rice is tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Please refrain from lifting the lid before then, which will only allow your steam to escape and lengthen the cooking time. Discard the bay leaf. Serve and enjoy!

Cheap Eats: Picadillo

Every culture has their own cheap eats. You know, foods that are inexpensive, yet delicious. Picadillo is definitely a cheap eat. For those of you who have never heard of it, picadillo is a beef hash traditional to many Latin American countries. The name comes from the Spanish word “picar,” which means to chop.

Picadillo is an extremely versatile dish. Growing up, I remember my Abuela serving it with white rice, black beans, a fresh salad and lots of Cuban bread. Picadillo can also be used to fill tacos or savory empanadas. Topped with sweet plaintains, it becomes the base for a Tambor de Picadillo y Platano.

I prefer to use ground chuck for my picadillo, which gives a good beef to fat ratio. Fat not only adds flavor, but also ensures your meat isn’t dry. If you’re a little more health conscious, feel free to use a leaner cut. Ground round is 85 to 90 percent lean; ground sirloin only contains 8 to 10 percent fat.

When you try picadillo for the first time, you’ll marvel at how such a simple dish can taste so good. This is comfort food at its best.

Picadillo

A recipe from my childhood

What You’ll Need:

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium-size onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pound ground beef, preferably chuck
2 packets Sazon Goya
1/2 cup tomato sauce (Recommended: Goya Tomato Sauce with Onion, Cilantro & Garlic)
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, roughly chopped

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over low heat, then add the onion and bell pepper. Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the onions and pepper have softened. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add the ground beef to the pan, using a wooden spoon to break apart any large chunks. Season with Goya Sazon. Cook the beef until brown, about 10 minutes. Drain off the excess fat.

Add the tomato sauce and red wine to the pan, gently stirring to combine all the ingredients and make sure the beef is well coated. Let simmer, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes, allowing the sauce to reduce . Add the chopped olives. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve hot. Goes great with rice and beans. Enjoy!

Stracoto with Porcini Mushrooms

Stracoto, Italian-Style Pot Roast


To me, nothing says “yum” better than a good ol’ hunk of meat. It fills your belly and leaves you satisfied. After watching “Giada’s Family Christmas” on Food Network, I made a mental note to make stracoto, which is an Italian-style pot roast, as soon as possible. Once I did, I was NOT disappointed! Even my husband, who tends to be wary of new recipes, absolutely loved this one. The meat was fall apart tender, the flavors were bold, and the sauce was thick and rich. Stracoto will be my “go to” pot roast recipe from now on.



This recipe calls for beef chuck roast, so please make sure to use just that. Don’t substitute, I beg of you. Don’t use bottom round roast or anything else just because it was sitting in your local supermarket. Chuck is a fairly inexpensive cut of meat. If your local butcher or supermarket doesn’t have it at the time, then go elsewhere or hold off on this recipe all together! A nice piece of chuck is what makes the difference between a delicious pot roast and a dry hunk of beef. Trust me, I’ve been there. You can ask my husband! ::rolls eyes::


Check out that marbling! Isn't it beautiful? ::swoon::


Once you’ve browned your roast and have gotten through the first few steps of this easy recipe, you can pop this baby in the oven and forget about it till later. After a few hours, you’ll have a tender pot roast ready to “wow” your dinner guests. Serve it with simple mashed potatoes or creamy polenta, a side salad, and dinner is done!




Stracoto (Italian-style Pot Roast) with Porcini Mushrooms

adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
yields about 6 to eight servings



What you’ll need:

1 (5-pound) boneless beef chuck roast
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
2 onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup red wine, such as cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir
1 (15-ounce) can low-sodium beef broth, plus extra, as needed
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 large sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Pat the beef dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. In a heavy 6-quart pot or Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook until browned on all sides, about 12 minutes. Remove the beef and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the remaining oil and the onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute until aromatic. Add the wine and scrape up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Stir in the broth and mushrooms. Return the beef to the pot and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the beef is fork-tender, about 3 hours, turning the beef over halfway through and adding more beef broth, as needed.

Transfer the beef to a cutting board. Tent with foil and let stand for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, spoon any excess fat off the top of the pan juices. Using an immersion blender (or regular blender), blend the pan juices and vegetables until smooth. Add the rosemary and thyme. Bring to sauce to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Cut the beef into 1-inch pieces and place on a platter. Spoon some of the sauce over the meat and serve the remaining sauce on the side. Enjoy!

A Taste of Home

It’s been a while since my first entry. I haven’t lost interest or my passion for cooking, it’s just been hard find time to LEARN to  blog. Honestly, this entire process is new to me. I don’t like the feeling of not knowing how to do something. I’m not tech-savvy, so using WordPress is similar to me learning a new language. Funny enough, during a recent visit to the library, I came across WordPress for Dummies. It was like a sign! I immediately headed to the checkout desk and trotted home with my latest find. Now, I haven’t actually had time to open the book, but I’m sure the day will come. Until then, I’ve been cooking up a storm and wanted to share my latest meal.

When I want comfort food, you know, the type of food that warms you up, fills your belly and makes you want to curl up on the sofa because you’re so full, I usually turn to one of two ingredients: potatoes or rice. Today, it was the latter. I decided to cook up a taste of home and reached down to my Spanish roots. Tonight’s menu consisted of yellow rice, pink beans and roasted pork shoulder with mojo, a delicious garlic sauce. If you’re a fan of garlic, like I am, you’ll want to make this sauce again and again!

Yellow Rice

Arroz Amarillo

Adapted from Memories of a Cuban Kitchen by Mary Urrutia Randelman

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce (preferably Goya brand)

1 packet Sazon Goya with Coriander and Annatto

2 tablespoons Goya Sofrito Tomato Cooking Base

2 cups raw extra long-grain white rice (preferably Carolina brand)

4 cups water

In a medium-size saucepan over low heat, heat the oil until fragrant, and then add the Sazon and Sofrito. Heat for about one minute. Add the rice, water and tomato sauce, then raise the heat to high. Cook, uncovered, until all the water has been absorbed and small craters appear on top of the rice, 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, stir with a fork, cover, and cook until the rice is dry and fluffy, 10 minutes.

Pink Beans

Habichuelas Rosadas

1 can (15.5 oz) Goya Pink Beans

2 tablespoons Goya Sofrito Tomato Cooking Base

1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce (preferably Goya brand)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 packets Goya Sazon with Coriander and Annatto

½ cup water

Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Roasted Pork Shoulder

Pernil

Adapted from Memories of a Cuban Kitchen by Mary Urrutia Randelman

One 8 pound leg or shoulder of pork

10 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon salt

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground pepper

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ cup Goya Naranja Agria, Bitter Orange Marinade or ¼ cup orange juice combined with 1/8 cup each fresh lime and lemon juice

½ cup dry sherry

The night before cooking, pierce the meat all over with a large knife. In a mortar, combine the garlic, oregano, salt, and cumin, and mash into a paste. Rub the paste well onto the pork, making sure to put some in the slits of the meat. Place the pork into a large pan or plastic bag, whatever you will be using to keep the meat in overnight.  Add the Naranja Agria and sherry, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Remove the meat from the marinade and place in a roasting pan. Roast for 15 minutes, uncovered. Then, cover the pork and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Cook for another four hours. During the last 15 minutes, uncover the pork so the skin will develop a crunchy texture. When it is done, remove the pork from the oven and allow it to sit, covered with foil, 15 minutes before carving. Serve with Mojo.

Mojo

Garlic Sauce

10 gloves garlic

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons Goya Naranja Agria, Bitter Orange Marinade or ¼ cup orange juice combined with 1/8 cup each fresh lime and lemon juice

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

In a small food processor, pulse the garlic and salt until it forms a paste. Slowly add the Naranja Agria, then the olive oil, processing until smooth. This delicious sauce will keep about one week refrigerated, although I doubt it will last that long!