Josh and His Dad Experiment: Vanilla Almond Snow Cream

Everyone has made snow cream in the winter, right? Well, we made it in the summer, which seems like a much more logical time to be eating frozen treats.

Honestly, we didn’t know we were making snow cream at the time, but that’s what it turned out we made, after we tasted it!

We were a little late in pulling out the ice cream maker this year. In the past, Josh and I have played around with a lot of different combinations, from the wildly delicious (peaches and cream) to the less-than-successful (candy cane slush). This time, we thought we would mess around with almond milk to see what would happen.

Normally, we favor custard-based ice creams in our house, but we weren’t really interested in investing the time in cooling down the base.

2 cups sweetened vanilla almond milk
2 cups half-and-half
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

There’s not much of a recipe here–combine ingredients until the sugar dissolves, then put it in the ice cream maker. Transfer to a container and allow to set in the freezer for at least an hour.

The texture we got out of this combination really did come pretty close to snow–something far more pleasant than the typically gritty mouth-feel of an ice milk, but nowhere near the creaminess of a true ice cream. For a quick fix frozen confection on a hot day, though, it was perfect!

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Fish and Grits

I like to joke that the first place I ever ate grits was in New Hampshire, which is arguably the southernmost state in New England.

In reality, though, I ate plenty of grits as a kid–we just called it polenta.

That said: fish and grits is an undeniably southern mash-up, a bit less upscale that its more sophisticated cousin, shrimp and grits. It’s a catfish meal, if ever there was one, but we all prefer a lighter fish–and I see no reason to be that much of a traditionalist.

And speaking of messing with traditions: the cheese grits below deviate from “true” southern grits in a few notable ways. First, I use quick grits, and if you know nothing else about cooking grits than what you learned from My Cousin Vinny (“What’s a grit?”), you know you should be using twenty minute grits. Second, I make my grits a lot looser than the back-of-the-bag recipe (4-1 water ratio, instead of 3-1). Finally, I use mascarpone and Parmesan cheese instead of cheddar–a combination that I picked up from one of Joshua’s recipes, when he went to cooking camp a couple of summers back.

For the Grits:
1 cup quick grits
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese

For the Fish:
1-1/4 lbs sole, flounder, or other thin filets
1/2 cup corn starch
1/2 cup white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3/4 cup water
canola oil, for frying

Heat 4 cups of water to just under a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and slowly add the grits, stirring constantly. When the grits start to bubble, lower to a simmer and continue stirring for about five or ten minutes. The grits will have thickened considerably, but should still look pretty loose. Let simmer for another five minutes, stirring occasionally, making sure to keep anything from sticking to the bottom. After five minutes, remove from the heat.

Heat about 3″ of canola oil in a cast iron pot. You want to get to around 350 degrees.

Combine the flour, corn starch, salt, pepper, and paprika in a shallow bowl. Add 3/4 cup water and whisk until smooth.

Wash and pat dry your fish filets. When your oil is at temperature, batter each filet individually and fry in small batches. Remove to paper towels when crisped and reddish-brown.

As your last batch of fish is frying, add the grated Parmesan cheese and mascarpone to the grits, which should have thickened considerably off the flame. The grits should still be plenty hot to serve, but letting them sit for five or ten minutes before adding the cheese will help keep the cheese from glomming together (less of a problem with Parmesan and marscapone, but an essential tip if you are using cheddar).

Serve with salad and a bottle of hot sauce and you are good to go.

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Yuca with Pork

There used to be a Salvadoran restaurant across town, with the rather creative name of “Restaurant El Salvador.” I had my first introduction to pupusas there–a life changing event, to be sure. It was also the place where I was introduced to yuca con chicharron.

While chicharron translates as pork rinds, what this restaurant served up was nothing like what you would get out of a bag at the Kwik-E-Mart. These little morsels had a good bite of meat on them and a crisped up fat that would put bacon to shame.

Unfortunately, that restaurant closed quite a while back–long before Josh was around for a food expedition. There are a few other Central American restaurants in our area to be sure, but so far I haven’t found a place that serves up this dish quite as well as Restaurant El Salvador did.

The recipe below was inspired by my memory of that dish, with one substitution and one addition. In place of pork rind or pork belly, I used a butt roast. I also added a sofrito of sorts to introduce a little moisture back into the yuca.

1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup cilantro, chopped
3-4 medium tomatillos, chopped
1 medium-sized lime
1 teaspoon salt
2 lbs yuca (cassava), peeled and cut into fork-size pieces
1.5 lb pork roast, either shoulder or butt, cut into fork-size pieces
flour, seasoned with salt and black pepper, for dredging
canola oil, for frying

This is another “fry things separately, then mix them together dish.” You could probably simplify this dish into a single pan recipe, but I like the extra crispiness and depth of flavor that you get from browning the meat and frying the yuca separately, and then mixing things together in the final step.

Heat 3″ of oil in a cast iron pan. When the oil is hot, start frying the yuca in batches, careful not to overcrowd the pan. Remove the yuca to paper towels when the pieces brown.

While the yuca are frying, heat a small amount of oil in the bottom of a 12″ stainless steel pan. Dredge the pieces of pork in the seasoned flour and brown in small batches.

OK, now you have yuca frying and the pork browning. Time to prepare the sofrito.

Place the green pepper, onion, garlic, cilantro and tomatillos in a blender or food processor. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and the juice of one lime. Puree until smooth–about the texture of a pesto.Transfer this mixture into a sauce pan and heat over a low flame for about 5-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside when the sofrito changes color from bright to dark green.

By this point, you should have several batches of browned pork and fried yuca set aside. You are now ready for the final assemblage.

When you have finished browning your last batch of pork, transfer all of the pork and yuca back into the frying pan.

Let simmer for a couple minutes, allowing the yuca to absorb some of the pan drippings. Now add the sofrito to the pan and combine, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Let the dish cook for another couple of minutes, and then serve hot.

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(Leftover) Rice Pudding

OK, so what do you do with that leftover rice from the Chinese restaurant?

Once again, our fridge is home to an orphaned pint of steamed rice, its tasty main course counterpart devoured and long gone. More often than I’d care to admit, that rice usually ends up plopping out of its box and into the trash can, a hard, white brick of inedible rock. Ah, the power of starch! What was once fluffy goodness soon crystallizes into a substance that falls somewhere between feldspar and quartz on the mineral hardness scale.

But all that starch really needs is a combination of liquid and heat to coax those crystals out of their bonds and into a more tasty molecular arrangement. And what better way to do that, and keep from wasting all that rice, than to make a pudding?

1 pint leftover white rice
3 eggs
3 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cinnamon sticks
Ground cinnamon, to garnish

In a small bowl, beat the eggs and add the sugar. Continue to whip the egg and sugar mixture until the color and texture start to lighten.

OK, so now it’s time to make a custard. Heat the milk to around 110-120 degrees. Temper the egg-and-sugar mixture until you have added about 1/3 of your heated milk. Add the tempered egg mixture back into the heated milk, stirring continuously. Now add the rice, vanilla and cinnamon sticks.

Continue to heat the soon-to-be pudding over a low heat, stirring constantly and watching the temperature. When the custard has just about set, it will coat and adhere to your spoon–at about 150-160 degrees. Remove the cinnamon sticks.

Remove from the heat and transfer to a 9″x9″ glass pan. Garnish with additional ground cinnamon, if you desire.

What to do next is up to you. If you can let the pudding cool, it will set more completely. Then again, we always heat up our rice pudding when we serve it, so more often than not we will sneak a little taste (or three) before it even makes it to the pan.

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Linguica and Potatoes

While I may be half Italian and half Portuguese, when it comes to cooking, things don’t balance out quite so evenly. In fact, I can only think of a handful of dishes I ate growing up that came from my Portuguese side–and just about all of them had linguica in them.

On the off chance you’ve never hung around Portuguese fishermen in Fall River, Massachusetts, or your dad wasn’t born in East Cambridge: linguica is a pork-based mild, (almost sweet) sausage seasoned with paprika. It has just a hint of heat from the paprika, but nowhere near as spicy as chorizo.

Most of the time, if I make linguica, I simply fry it up and serve it on crusty rolls. But every now and then, I make linguica and potatoes. It’s more of a fall dish, really–the kind of thing I would expect to see on my Portuguese grandmother’s Thanksgiving table. The weather has been unusually cool for this past week, so I figured that was good enough reason to trot out this recipe.

The dish I had growing up was practically a casserole, cooked in the oven. I prefer this version because the potatoes stay crispy but still mix flavors with the linguica quite well.

1 lb linguica, cut into 1/2″ disks
2-3 medium potatoes, diced
canola oil, for deep frying
approx. 1/2 cup water

Add about 1/2 cup water to a 12″ non-stick frying pan (you want less than a 1/4″ of water on the bottom of your pan). Place the linguica pieces in the frying pan in a single layer and heat over a medium flame. When the water gets close to a boil, lower the flame, cover and simmer. You will want to flip sides about every five minutes. Cook until the linguica browns slightly on both sides and the liquid has just about evaporated. Actually, evaporated isn’t quite the word. I am not sure if it is the result of a sugar cure (though I thought linguica was a smoke-cured sausage), but as you get to the end of the cook, the last of your liquid will be something close to a syrup. This is a good thing!

While the linguica is cooking, heat about 3″ of oil in a heavy bottom pan. Fry your potato cubes in batches until they are golden brown. Salt and set aside.

Ideally, you will have finished frying your last batch of potatoes just as your linguica is cooked and your liquid is getting syrupy.

At that point toss the potatoes into the frying pan with the linguica. Kill the heat, and combine the linguica and potatoes. Serve piping hot.

Linguica used to be hard to find unless you lived in a city with a large Portuguese or Brazilian enclave. It started showing up in chain grocery stores here in the Southeast a few years back, so I am guessing with a little effort you could probably find it in your area too. If not, Gaspar’s will ship directly to your house. Sorry, Dad–they don’t ship morcella!

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Grilled Cheese Goodness

First off: this is a sandwich not for the faint of artery.

I am not sure who is responsible for elevating the grilled cheese sandwich to its current culinary heights, but thank goodness. It probably has something to do with food trucks. At any rate, though, grilled cheese=goodness, and any foodstuff that can make everyone in the house happy with so little effort on my part is a huge win.

For every sandwich:

1 tablespoon butter
2 slices sourdough bread
1/2 cup shredded Gouda cheese
1/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1/4 cup shredded fresh mozzarella cheese

Melt a pat of butter (about a tablespoon) in a 10″ frying pan. Place one piece of bread in the melted butter for a couple of seconds, allowing the butter to soak in. Remove this piece of bread and replace it with the second piece of bread–move it around in the pan to make sure this second piece is equally drenched (yes, drenched) in butter. Toss the shredded cheese in a bowl until it is well mixed. Place all of the cheese (yes, all of it) on the bread. Cover the cheese with the second piece of bread, butter side up.

Let the bread cook on one side until it starts to color. Flip and cook on the other side. Repeat again on each side until each side is golden brown.

Every time I make these sandwiches, a little bit of cheese makes its way into the frying pan. That’s not a problem in my book. A little bit of quite literally grilled cheese crusted into the bread just adds to the goodness of this sandwich.

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Easy Fish

So work is getting hectic, which means no time for blogging–and barely time to cook. That’s when quick and simple kicks in, and this dish hits both requirements!

Maybe it’s because I grew up in Massachusetts, but I can get pretty excited over a nice piece of cod. Unfortunately, living where I do now, it’s hard to come by a good filet of cod. When I do get lucky, I keep it really simple with an oreganata prep.

2 thick cod filets, about 3/4 lb each
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, diced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Wash and dry your cod filets. Drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil in the bottom of a glass 9×12 baking dish and place your filets side by side, touching slightly. Salt your fish to your liking, then cover evenly with the diced garlic and oregano (make sure you crush the dried oregano between your fingers to help release the flavor). Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top of the fish. Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the filets.

And that’s it. The cod will start to flake when it’s cooked. As with most things, try not to overcook it.

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Will You Eat It if I Call It Melanzana?

What do you do when you want to serve up a vegetable that only you like?

What else? You fry it.

Better yet–fry it, then cover it with sauce and cheese!

That’s my solution for eggplant. We’ve been having some beautiful eggplants at the market lately, and no matter what I’ve tried to win over my family, I’ve had no converts. Seriously: the ratatouille I made not too long ago was worthy of a movie, but other than a polite nibble by everyone around the table, I was left with a lot of leftovers to eat all by myself.

So tonight’s eggplant parmigiana is my last ditch effort to serve up this beautiful veggie to everyone’s liking.

Two small eggplants, peeled and sliced into 1/2″ discs
Salt
Flour, for dredging
3 eggs, beaten
Seasoned breadcrumbs, for dredging
12 ounces mozzarella, grated
16 ounces simple tomato sauce

Spread out your eggplant discs in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. Salt both sides fairly aggressively, then cover with more paper towels. Weight a cutting board on top of the eggplant and set aside for at least a half hour.

Once your eggplant is ready, prepare them for frying–dredge in flour, dip in egg, and then dredge in breadcrumbs. Dredging stations are great places for kid helpers– Josh loves this prep work, and usually his little sister will get in the act as well.

Set aside the breaded eggplant for 10 or 15 minutes. Now is a good time to get that cheese grated.

Heat up about a 1/4″of olive oil in a frying pan and fry your eggplant until golden. Set aside until they are cool enough to work with.

Now comes the construction, another step that’s good for little hands.

Eggplant parmigiana is one of those dishes that I almost never make up a sauce for–I use whatever is leftover in the freezer. Usually that’s about a pint, more or less.

Sauce the bottom of a 9×12 glass pan and lay out your fried eggplant in a slightly overlapping single layer. Next apply the sauce–not super heavy, but enough to cover each piece. Next add the cheese–again: don’t bury the dish in it, but definitely have a liberal hand. Finally, dot the top with any remaining sauce.

Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the cheese is well melted and bubbling.

Serve with a pasta first course–spaghetti would be best, I’d say, but whatever makes you happy is fine by me.

So how did the dish go over?

Mixed results: I won over two out of four family members–not bad in my book. At least now I have a couple of others around the house to help me with leftovers.

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Variations on a Stew: Garlic, Cinnamon, and Paprika

We’re running out of winter here in the South–not that we really had a winter this year! Stews are fine throughout the year, I suppose, but for me they definitely fall into that category of dishes that just taste a heck of a lot better when it’s cold outside.

Stews are about as simple as they get too. After all, isn’t every stew recipe basically the same: brown your meat; add liquid, veg, and herbs/spices; cook until the meat is tender. How hard is that, right?

I love a classic stew–beef with carrots, onions, and celery, seasoned with bay and allspice. But it’s fun to mix it up as well. I am not sure what really inspired this particular variation–other than the fact that I was craving to cook some cracked wheat as a starch and was in search of a main course to pair with it. There’s nothing particularly North African about this dish, but that was the direction I was heading with this stew (in my imagination, at least).

1/3 cup canola oil
3 lbs bottom round, cut into large (1-1/2″ x 1″) pieces
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large onion, sliced
8 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups water
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 small potatoes, finely chopped

Heat your oil to medium-high in a heavy-bottomed pot (I estimated the oil–you want to have about 1/8″ across the bottom of your pot ). Combine 1 tablespoon of the salt, the black pepper, the cinnamon, and the flour. Dredge your beef cubes and brown on all sides in small batches. Set aside the beef.

Next, add your sliced onions and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt to your pot. Cook your onions until they are soft and starting to brown, making sure to scrape the glaze off the bottom of the pan.

When your onions are cooked, add your chopped garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Return your meat to the pot, then add your remaining ingredients.

Cover and lower to a simmer. Cook until your meat is tender and your potatoes and onions have all but dissolved–around two hours.

Like I said, I am a fan of a classic stew served over a slice of bread, with lots of chunky vegetables. For this stew, however, I really was looking for something to showcase the meat and spices, with a really thick sauce to accompany it. The dish paired really well with the cracked wheat, by the way, and the leftovers made some rather tasty empanadas.

But that’s another recipe!

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Ponyo Soup

By now you should know just how much Josh loves a good soup. This one makes everyone happy, especially Josh’s baby sister. Why? In a word, and to quote Ponyo:

“Haaaammm!”

One of the few things in this world that Josh loves more than a good bowl of soup is the work of Hayao Miyazaki. We have watched every film of his available in English, and most of those multiple times. His favorite is Spirited Away, but his younger sister has two equal faves: My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo.

Without going into too much of a plot summary: Ponyo is the story of a little, magical fish who is rescued by a young boy, and who decides she wants to become a little girl. It is an extremely cute and wonderful film. Early in the film, Ponyo tastes her first bite of ham and falls madly in love with it. Later on, Ponyo (now a little girl), eats ramen soup garnished with egg, veggies, and of course…ham.

As it turns out, Josh’s baby sister loves ham just about as much as Ponyo does, so when I decided to make a ramen-inspired soup one night, Josh and I knew that we had to include ham in honor of little sister and magic fish alike.

8 cups water
2 tablespoons red miso
2-3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
About 2″ of daikon, cut into 12 discs
6 oz firm tofu, cut in small cubes
8 oz. udon (or somen, if you prefer)
4 slices of ham, sliced thick
4 eggs
1 bunch choy sum or other Asian greens
mung bean sprouts
kim chee

Whisk the miso into 1/2 cup of warm water, then add it, the soy sauce, the diakon, and the remaining 7-1/2 cups water to a soup pot. Bring to just under a boil and reduce to a simmer. Add the tofu cubes and the four slices of ham. You should start a separate pot of water to boil for your noodles around now as well.

Poach your eggs in the egg-poaching vehicle of your choice. I use small, glass ramekins in a boiling water bath, but use whatever you like, as long as your finished product is a nice, round disk of egg. You will want to poach your eggs hard. While they are cooking add the choy sum to the soup–whole leaves, but with stems removed. Continue to simmer.

By now your noodle water should be ready. Salt the water and add your udon or somen. Cook according to package directions. When the noodles are finished, strain. You are now ready to begin building bowls.

Laying out the soup is about as much fun as eating it. Portion your noodles in each bowl. Remove the greens and the ham slices from the soup and set aside for a moment. Ladle in the soup, making sure to get some diakon and tofu in each bowl. Next, cut the large ham pieces in half, placing two slices in each bowl, to one side. Add a portion of greens, then one egg, some kim chee, and a pinch of bean sprouts.

Not everyone likes all of the ingredients in this soup, so by all means adjust to your tastes (honestly, I am the only one who likes the kim chee). Serve with sriracha, and eat while watching the Miyazaki film of your choice.

Anyone want to guess which movie we saw last weekend?

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