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Sweet and Spicy Jibarito-Style Grilled Cheese

The jibarito (pronounced “hee-bah-ree-toe”) is a very Chicago-style Puerto Rican sandwich. Instead of bread, the sandwich is held together with plantains. Traditionally, the plantains are deep-fried, not once but twice. That’s a little much for my home cooking – or at least a little too smelly for my kitchen. So for this version, the plantains are roasted, flattened and then pan-fried into a sandwich. The result isn’t quite as crispy as the original, but it’s a lot less mess and a bit lighter. This jibarito-style grilled cheese is filled with Monterey Jack that’s flecked with spicy habanero peppers and sweet, tangy guava paste.

Look for guava paste in Latin markets or the Hispanic ingredient section of your grocery store. As for the plantains themselves, choose the ripe yellow ones, not green. They’re sweeter and juicier and will provide a better texture for this preparation.

Sweet and Spicy Jibarito-Style Grilled Cheese

Makes 2 small sandwiches

  • 1 yellow plantain
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 ounce Wisconsin Maple Leaf Habanero Monterey Jack cheese OR any Monterey Jack with spicy peppers (about 2 slices)
  • 1 ounce guava paste
  • salt

Preheat oven to 400. Peel plantain and cut into four segments. Place on baking sheet and coat with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Roast for 25 minutes, turning twice.

Meanwhile, cut guava paste into 6 very thin strips, about 2-inches long. Prepare garlic and cut or tear cheese slices into 2 or 3 smaller pieces.

Remove plantains from oven and use a tortilla press to flatten each segment. Alternatively, cover each plantain segment with wax paper and flatten with a rolling pin.

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Coat with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place each plantain piece in skillet and cook for 5 minutes.

Flip plantain pieces and begin assembling the sandwiches in the skillet. On one plantain piece, place a layer of cheese and half of the guava paste slices. On another plantain piece, spread a thin layer of garlic and add another layer of cheese.

Flip this onto the first plantain piece to form a sandwich. Repeat with remaining two plantain pieces. Cook each sandwich for 3 minutes per side or until nicely browned. If desired, lightly sprinkle finished sandwich with salt. Serve.

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Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate and Vanilla

This time of year, I hear a lot of people say things like, “Wow, I can’t believe it’s Thanksgiving already.” And while it’s true that time seems to pass by more quickly as I get older, Thanksgiving is one holiday that never catches me by surprise. Because by the time it arrives, I’ve already been thinking about what I’m going to cook for months. Vegetable side dishes are usually my primary obsession. But this year, things are a little different.

This year, I’m not making any side dishes at all. I’m only making one thing – my very first turkey. A smoked beer can turkey with a spice rub and a tangy glaze, cooked on the grill. I’m going to be spending Thanksgiving morning camped out on the deck, tending to my bird, and leaving the side dishes to all the other capable cooks in my family. But while I’ve been a little preoccupied with thoughts of brines, beer and gravy, I can’t just ignore all the great side dish recipes out there.

So this past weekend, I decided to try out a few new side dish recipes, just for me. There were simple roasted sweet potatoes, some sourdough stuffing, but most of all there were Bobby Flay’s Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate and Vanilla Butter. I’m sure you’ve come across plenty of recipes that promise THIS is the one that will change your mind about Brussels sprouts. I’ve tried a few of those recipes and most of them are really good. But of all the recipes I’ve tried, this is the one that feels like it belongs on a holiday table.

The Brussels sprouts are roasted, so you’re already off to a good start. Then they’re drizzled with pomegranate molasses and roasted some more to create a sticky, tart glaze. (Note: side effects may include a very messy roasting pan and a bit of smoke in the kitchen. If you have a sensitive smoke detector like mine, you might want to open a window, or keep a rolling pin handy.) Next, the sprouts are tossed in butter that you’ve prepared earlier with the contents of one vanilla bean and chopped pecans. Finally, they’re topped off with a sprinkle of citrus zest and fresh pomegranate seeds.

This dish smells amazing and tastes just as good with an intriguing blend of flavors and textures. Plus, it’s really pretty. If you enjoy Brussels sprouts, consider adding this recipe to your holiday table. And if your family won’t touch them, well, you can always make them for yourself.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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Little words about my Tiger rice cooker

There’s goods reason why so many owners of a Tiger Rice Cooker find themselves keeping it in their kitchen for so many years. Offering perfectly prepared rice, renowned for durability and consistency each and every time, these are quite possibly the best rice cooker on the market. The steam function also allows a vast number of other foods to be cooked up too, and will be a delight for chefs of and level. Let’s take a look through the very best features of the Tiger Rice Cooker.

Superb Programmable Options

Rice cookers may not be the most complicated tools to be found in the kitchen, but it’s always useful to have easily programmable features so you can be sure the rice is perfect every time. Tiger offer their users not only seven computerized cooking menu settings but also include two memory options as well so you can plan your mealtimes just right every time. Extremely easy to set with just a tap or two needed upon the intelligent control panel, this is a rice cooker ideal for anyone.

General Use Steamer For Delicious Healthy Meals

Not many people nowadays use their rice steamer for rice alone, and with the tiger rice cooker owners will also be able to prepare essentially anything they can find in the pantry! Remember also that steaming is without doubt the healthiest way of cooking, as it allows the food to not only retain all of the nutrients that are lost with other methods. The best news of all is that not only are essential vitamins and minerals kept packed inside, but the flavors are too.

Wonderful Design & Features

Capable of holding up to ten cups of rice, and also featuring a flat base to ensure foods are cooked with consistent balance every time. The steam vents are easily removable for practical and swift cleaning, and likewise the unit’s handle allows for effortless opening too. So overall a fine product that in so rightly considered the best rice cooker out there.

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Homemade Prepared Horseradish

I don’t usually go for impulse buys at the grocery store. Trader Joe’s has certainly gotten me a few times with some sort of dark chocolate treat, but mini cookbooks of 100 Jello recipes and the “extreme values” that Jewel cashiers mumble about (like a crumpled bag of Teddy Grahams) are pretty easy to pass up. Sometimes, though, a totally random item will catch my eye and I have to have it. Like today, when I went to Gene’s Sausage Shop for eggs and yogurt and came home with a giant $10 horseradish root.

I’ve never even seen a fresh horseradish root before, let alone worked with one, but it seemed like the perfect time of year to give it a try. Horseradish is an important part of one family Easter celebration that I usually attend, eaten with ham, lamb and/or Polish sausage. There are always a few jars of it on the buffet and an ongoing discussion about where to get the freshest stuff. Well, what could be fresher than grating and preparing it yourself?

I used a pretty basic recipe to prepare my horseradish – grinding it in the food processor with a couple pinches of salt, some water and a few tablespoons of white vinegar. You can find exact proportions on plenty of other web sites, so I won’t bother with them here.

I will say that a sharp knife and a food processor are important to have on hand. First you have to peel the root, which can be very knobby. I found it easiest to use a knife instead of a vegetable peeler and, as Mark Bittman recommends in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, “acknowledge from the outset that you will lose some of the flesh.” The horseradish flesh that is, not your own – so long as you cut carefully.

From there, I used the food processor to grate the root and then used the chopping blade to grind it down even further and mix in the rest of the ingredients. You could skip the grating step though and just cut the root into pieces and grind them with the chopping blade. Whatever you do, though, don’t try to grate the root by hand. It’s a frustrating and pointless endeavor.

But having a big jar of super-fresh horseradish on hand is pretty satisfying. I’ve got a few dishes in mind for it, and I’ve already mixed it up with some grated beets for a recipe that is totally new to me: pickled eggs. We’ll see how that goes.

I’m sure there will be plenty leftover for Easter next weekend, where hopefully my jar will be the freshest on the table.

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Brie-Style Mac and Cheese with Mushrooms

Brie-style cheese might not come to mind when you think about macaroni and cheese. I often reach for the sharpest variety when making a batch, but a soft-ripened cheese like Crave Brothers Les Frères is a great, super-creamy alternative. Especially when it’s paired with earthy mushrooms and a little white wine.

Think about eating a Brie-style cheese on its own – it’s great with white wine, and its flavor is accentuated by walnuts and mushrooms. On a cheese board, I might pair it with a sharper cheese to add some variety.

I approached this macaroni and cheese the same way and incorporated these elements into the dish. If the other cheese we used aren’t available in your area, try something aged and a little nutty like Gruyère.

The result was wonderfully creamy and deeply flavorful. It’s comfort food that’s a little sophisticated and perfect for a cold winter evening.

The rind of Les Frères Cheese is perfectly edible, but best removed if you’re going to be melting it into a sauce. I wanted to save every last bit of the creamy interior, though, and grating the rind off with a microplane was the best way to do that.

I also took the extra step of pre-toasting our bread crumbs. Sure, it might be a little fussy, but only takes a couple of minutes and provides a really satisfying crunch with each bite.

Les Frères Mac & Cheese with Mushrooms

Serves 6

  • 1 pound package shell pasta
  • 2 slices whole wheat sandwich bread
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 8-ounce wheel of Crave Brothers Petite Frère Cheese OR another Brie-style cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound mushrooms, quartered
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) Saxon Green Fields or Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve, shredded OR Gruyère

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat; add pasta and cook to al dente texture, according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, using a food processor, grind bread slices into crumbs. Add the nuts and pulse until well combined.

In a skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add the breadcrumb mixture and cook for about three minutes, or until the breadcrumbs begin to brown, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat and set aside.

With a grater, remove the rind from the Petit Frères Cheese. Cut cheese into 1-inch pieces.

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add mushrooms and a pinch of salt and pepper and cook until the mushrooms begin to release their juices, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook an additional 2 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside.

There should be a small amount of liquid and some garlic remaining in the pan. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute over medium heat.

Add milk, and whisk the mixture until the flour has dissolved and the liquid begins to thicken.

Remove from heat and mix in Petit Frères and Green Fields or Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese, stirring until melted.

Add the cooked pasta to the cheese mixture and stir in the reserved mushrooms. Divide the pasta into 6 oven-safe individual-serving bowls.

Top with breadcrumb mixture.

Place on a cookie sheet and bake 15 minutes.

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Smoky Red Lentil Soup with Dukkah

I wrote about this soup two years ago when I first found the recipe in the New York Times. Since then, I’ve made it many times, making a few tweaks here and there. It’s definitely remained a favorite – in fact, it’s one of two soups that I constantly go back to. You know, the ones I know I can really nail.

That’s why I decided to take this soup to The Hideout’s Soup & Bread night this week. If I was going to be manning a Crock-Pot next to other food bloggers and even some professional chefs, I didn’t want to mess around with something untested.

But then I picked up a copy of the Soup & Bread cookbook and read some of the recipes from last year. There were all kinds of interesting broths and dumplings and garnishes. And the lineup of soups this week was equally impressive. My little red lentil soup started to seem a little … pedestrian.

I decided a garnish was in order.

Lately, I’ve been pureeing this soup completely, so a little something crunchy would add some nice texture. Emily’s recipe for Dukkah at The Kitchn seemed intriguing and I loved that you can really adapt it to fit a specific dish or use whatever you have in the pantry.

The mixture I chose echoed some of the flavors in the soup itself – cumin, smoked paprika and lemon – and added a nice crunch with hazelnuts, pistachios, coriander and sesame seed. It’s incredibly easy to whip up and can make something so simple – like red lentil soup – a little more sophisticated.  But most importantly, it’s really, really tasty.

Smoky Red Lentil Soup

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • juice of 1 lemon

In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Mix in garlic and cook for another 2 minute.

Add tomato paste, cumin, salt, pepper and paprika. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add stock, lentils and carrots. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Once it’s bubbling, reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Once lentils are cooked through and carrots are fork-tender, remove from heat. Using an immersion blender, puree soup completely. Stir in lemon juice.

Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve topped with a spoonful of dukkah, if desired.

Dukkah

  • 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts
  • 1 1/2 cups pistachios
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup coriander seeds
  • 1/4 cup cumin seeds
  • zest of 4 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Toast all nuts and seeds in separate batches. Reserve 1/2 cup hazelnuts and 1/2 cup pistachios.

Combine remaining ingredients in food processor and pulse until finely ground. Pour into a bowl.

Add the reserved nuts to the food processor and pulse until just roughly chopped. Mix into the finely ground mixture by hand.

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Spring Vegetable Chopped Salad

In the world of salads, the chopped salad is one of the more labor-intensive varieties. The ingredients are usually simple enough, most if not all of them raw. But as the name suggests, it requires spending some quality time with your knife. Do it right, though, and the payoff is big.

Something happens when you break a bunch of vegetables down into similarly sized pieces and mix in a few other carefully selected ingredients. They become – trite as it may sound – more than the sum of their parts.

This particular chopped salad is all about spring. It’s got seasonal standbys: fennel (chopped up from bulb to fronds), asparagus, radishes, spinach, mint and lemon. And some special add-ins: Castelvetrano olives, chunks of Grana Padano cheese and pink peppercorns. These three are good party guests – they’re not too loud or brash, and they bring something interesting to the conversation.

Castelvetrano olives are bright green in color, but their flavor is mild and buttery. They’ve become quite popular, and if your grocery store has an olive bar, you can probably find them there. Grana Padano cheese is a softer, milder and cheaper alternative to Parmesan. Pink peppercorns, which aren’t really peppers at all, bring a sweet and subtle peppery flavor, and a nice burst of color.
But enough swooning over ingredients – let’s get chopping!

Spring Vegetable Chopped Salad

serves 2-4

  • 1 fennel bulb, with fronds
  • 8-12 asparagus spears
  • 2-4 radishes
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • small handful of mint leaves
  • 2 ounces Grana Padano cheese, or Parmesan
  • 10 Castelvetrano olives
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon pink peppercorns

* Obviously, there’s a lot of chopping involved here. Try to cut the vegetables into pieces about a half-inch in size.

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. This will be used to blanch the asparagus. If you prefer to leave it raw, just skip this step.

Wash the asparagus well and peel the bottom half of the spears to remove the tough skin. If the spears are thick, slice them in half lengthwise before chopping. Set aside and prepare an ice bath. When the water comes to a boil, add a good pinch of salt and blanch the asparagus for about 30 seconds. Drain and place immediately in the ice bath. Drain and set aside to dry.

Remove the stems from the fennel bulb and set aside. Cut the bulb in half and remove the core from one of the halves. Slice lengthwise and then chop into half-inch pieces. If it’s a large bulb, save the other half for another recipe. If it’s small, go ahead and chop it up. Chop the stems and fronds.

Chop the radishes and spinach. Finely chop the mint leaves. Chop the olives, getting as much of the flesh away from the seed as possible. Crumble or chop the cheese into pieces. (Chop, chop, chop, chop, chop.)

In a bowl, combine the asparagus, fennel, radishes, spinach, mint and olives. Zest the lemon into the bowl, then cut it in half and add the juice from one of the halves. Add the oil, salt and black pepper, and toss well. Just before serving, top with cheese and pink peppercorns.

Enjoy.