In Praise of the Pomegranate

Pom  Pom Salad

Snooping on someone’s desk can get you into big trouble. But I know of one case where it lead to great things.

There was no way you could miss it. The bright photo on the cover of this book was like a neon sign that screamed “calling all foodies.”

Tell me that you wouldn’t have spotted this book under a pile of papers in the office and had a quick little look? Well? Am I wrong?

So, if you did lunge across your colleagues desk to thumb through Modern Flavors of Arabia, you too would have been rewarded with page after page of beautifully photographed dishes. And you likely would have run right out to the bookstore to buy it, just like I did.

I was immediately sold by the drool-inducing photos and the fact that many of my favourite local celebrity chefs (Anna and Michael Olson, Susur Lee and Lynn Crawford) have provided testimonials for the book. Of course I had to buy it.

You’d also note that pomegrante molasses and pomegrante seeds are featured prominently in the book, along with other ingredients such as cinnamon, pistachios, sumac, za’atar, orange blossom water and rosewater.

Thanks to my blogging friend Sawsan over at Chef in Disguise, I am becoming more familiar with many of these ingredients and the wonderful role that they play in Middle Eastern and Arabic cuisine.

Two recipes really jumped out at me right away, so I started with them: Arugula Salad with Roasted Eggplant and Sweet Pomegranate Dressing and Spicy Chicken Wings . . . although I adjusted the wing recipe and renamed it Sweet and Sticky Pomegranate Chicken Wings. I was extremely pleased with the results of both recipes and look forward to making my way through the rest of this book.

If you’re not up for buying this book, I hope I can convince you to at least buy a bottle of pomegrante molasses. Widely available at specialty and Middle Eastern stores, it can also be used to make refreshing drinks, dips and glazes for meat. If you do take the plunge, this terrific article from Food52 will provide you with a range of ways to use up your bottle.

If you have trouble finding pomegranate molasses, you can always make your own with this easy recipe from Simply Recipes.

So, a big thank you goes out to my colleague Maria, who casually left this book on her desk, under a few papers, when I was visiting her in Ottawa. It was kind of like laying out a piece of cheese and then waiting for the mouse to arrive . . .

Sticky Wings

Arugula Salad with Roasted Eggplant and Sweet Pomegranate Dressing

Recipe from Modern Flavors of Arabia

  • 2 medium egglplants
  • 2 – 3 tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt
  • 2 tsp whole fennel seeds
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 large handfuls arugula, washed
  • 1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/4 fresh pomegranate seeds

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.

Peel and cut the eggplants into thick rounds of about 1 inch thick, brush both sides with oil, sprinkle with sea salt and place on a shallow baking sheet. Place in the oven to roast until golden and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Remove, cool completely and slice each round in half. Set aside.

Using a mortar and pestle, crush the fennel seeds and garlic to make a paste. Add the balsamic vinegar, honey, lemon juice, dijon mustard, pomegranate molasses and olive oil. Whisk together to emulsify the dressing. Set aside.

Place the arugula on a shallow serving platter. Sprinkle the onion, tomatoes, salt and pepper on top. Toss to combine. Scatter the egglpant slices on the salad.

Drizzle some dressing all over. Garnish with pine nuts and pomegranate seeds. Serve immediately.

NOTE: I found that the recipe made about twice the amount of dressing that I needed. Next time I’ll cut the dressing recipe in half.

Sweet and Sticky Pomegranate Chicken Wings

Recipe adapted from Modern Flavors of Arabia‘s Spicy Chicken Wings

  • 2 lbs chicken wings
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • juice of one lemon
  • 3 tbsp pomegrante molasses
  • salt and pepper

Make a marinade by mixing all of the ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. Add chicken wings and toss well. Cover and leave in the fridge for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350˚ F.

Cover baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place wings spread apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes. Increase temperature to 375 ˚ F and cook for an additional 20 to 30 minutes, until the wings are well cooked and the glaze is sticky and carmelized.

NOTE: The original recipe called for 1 tsp of cayenne pepper and 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro (chopped). It is also served with a hot tomato salsa. I modified the recipe to make it work for my two young girls. It also recommended cooking the wings for 35 minutes at 350˚, but I found they needed quite a bit more time to cook well and carmelize.


Jerk Chicken: No Problem, Mon

The Flavours of Jamaica

Flavours of Jamaica: nutmeg, whole pimento (allspice) berries, scotch bonnet peppers, lime and rum.

Does this picture immediately make you think of Jamaica?

The scotch bonnets and Appleton Estate Rum are likely to get you headed in the right direction. But did you know that allspice berries are also quintessentially Jamaican? It’s true! Jamaica is one of the leading producers of allspice, but it’s called pimento or Jamaica Pepper there. The spice came to be called allspice because it displayed the flavour and aroma of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper–all combined in one spice. Nutmeg is another spice commonly grown in Jamaica and it is encased in a hard shell which is easily cracked to get to the nugget of spice within.

So why the sudden interest in Jamaica? You’ve probably guessed that I’ve just returned from a Jamaican get-away . . . and as usual, you are right. Boy, the world looks a whole lot different after you’ve had a restful vacation, doesn’t it? I can’t begin to tell you what a difference it has made in so many ways. The best part was spending time as a family without cell phones, computers or television. We really connected and enjoyed our time together, but our favourite family experience was climbing Dunns River Falls. (Our tour guide Tammy made it her personal mission to get both of our girls to the top of the falls safely. They sure were in good hands with Tammy.)

The trip was a big success on all fronts. Beyond all the wonderful experiences, I was happy because I was able to load up on Jamaican spices and Rum Cream Liqueur . . . and the girls were happy because they came home with a souvenir that they love: braids!

Ponytails in jamaica

One of the trip’s highlights was our daily lunches at the hotel’s jerk pit, which overlooked the ocean. Of course I had hot dogs all week. Just kidding! It was all jerk, all week long for me.  I gradually worked my way up to the hell fire jerk sauce and boy was it spicy! They say that Jamaican jerk burns you twice: once on the way down and once on the way out. (Sorry!)

Jerk Pit at Grand Bahia, Jamaica

The Jerk Pit at the Gran Bahia Principe

After getting to know jerk so well in Jamaica, I had to recreate it for you when I got back home.

Jerk refers to both the cooking technique and the spice seasoning. I’ve opted for a wet marinade because it is known to produce jerked meat that is much moister and sweeter than dry rubs. Recipes for jerk marinades vary according to tastes and regional traditions. I’ve included all the key ingredients that are common in jerks–allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, scotch bonnets and soy sauce (yes, this is authentic and reflects the longstanding influence of the Chinese emigrants in Jamaica).

Jerk Chicken

My oldest ponytail helped with all steps involved in making this jerk chicken and side dish (red beans and rice), as she was working on one of her Brownie badges. But don’t worry, I didn’t let her touch the scotch bonnets!

A little helper

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp dark rum
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 scotch bonnet pepper, seeds removed and minced (be sure to wear gloves!) *
  • 6 green onions, chopped
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 tsp ground pimento (allspice)
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 3 to 4 lb whole chicken, backbone removed and quartered (see instructions for spatchcocking a chicken to learn how to remove the backbone)

* increase to 2 scotch bonnets if you like your jerk spicy

Directions

Mix all ingredients together in a food processor until well blended.

Pour the marinade over chicken pieces and rub in well. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of one hour, preferably overnight.

Preheat barbeque; grill chicken on low-medium heat for 45 minutes, turning once for the last 10 minutes, until juices run clear.

If using the oven, cook at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes until juices run clear. (Note: if you are cooking in the oven, you could add a bit of liquid smoke to your marinade to give the jerk chicken that authentic smoking flavour that comes from the barbeque.)

Source: I used this recipe from Epicurious as a starting point in developing this recipe.

NOTE: I marinated the chicken overnight and reserved some of the marinade to serve with the chicken when cooked (as you’ll note in the photo). However, while the flavour of the marinade was lovely, I didn’t like the consistency of the marinade the next day. I recommend that you eat the marinade the same day if you want to serve it with your cooked chicken.

Jamaican-style Peas and Rice (Red beans and Rice)

  • 2, 19-oz tin red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup long grain white rice
  • 2 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions

Combine rice, water and salt in a medium sized microwave-safe bowl. Cook for 10-13 minutes in microwave until water is absorbed (I start with 10 minutes and then cook in one minute intervals until all the water is absorbed). On the stove top, combine kidney beans and coconut milk in medium sauce pan; simmer on low for 10 minutes. Add cooked rice and cook on low for 5 minutes until well incorporated. (Alternatively you could substitute 1 cup of the water with 1 cup of coconut milk when cooking the rice, rather than adding the coconut milk to the cooked rice. I prefer the former method because I find the rice has a creamier texture this way. You could also add sauteed onions and other spices, but my daugther preferred to omit the onions.)


Dinner With A Couple Of Little Rats And Roosters

Dumplings and Ribs

Dumplings, Sweet and Sour Sauce, Soy Dipping Sauce and Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the ponytails were fired up about Chinese New Year. My oldest daughter was working on writing a short play about it and was talking non-stop about how great it was to be a rooster (her Chinese zodiac animal). Meanwhile my youngest daughter was counting down the days until the Chinese New Year parade at school.

Don’t you love the way children find such joy in learning new things?

We really want to encourage and embrace this interest the girls have in different cultures and traditions. So, I bought them each a children’s book about Chinese New Year on my way home from a business trip and decided that we would celebrate it too.

Soon after that I asked my colleague Amanda if she could recommend a few authentic Chinese dishes. But she didn’t just provide me with some ideas—she surprized me with a very large carrying case full of all the essentials for a Chinese New Year celebration: decorations, candies, sauces and noodles. I was blown away by her generosity!

Treats

Some of the treats from Amanda: crunchy peanuts, candies and Korean crackers.

However, we did encounter a set-back. At the last minute, my husband was asked to go to an important work event on Feb. 1oth. But after Amanda’s kind gesture, there was no turning back. Close friends Carolyn and Glen agreed to join the girls and I for our celebration. With two young daughters the same age as the ponytails, it would mean an evening with two little rats and two roosters (according to their Chinese zodiac animals of course)!

Armed with a great dumpling recipe from Amanda, I set out to research some other ideas for our feast. Two bloggers came to mind immediately: Norma from Garden to Wok and Sissi from With a Glass. Norma teaches cooking classes and has written two cookbooks: My Students’ Favorite Chinese Recipes and Wokking Your Way to Lowfat Cooking. An avid gardener, she also keeps her loyal readers up-to-date on the adventures in her garden with regular Harvest Monday posts. Based in Switzerland, Sissi has a flair for creating innovative recipes that are inspired by her love of a diverse range of cuisines, particularly Asian and Hungarian cuisines. I met Sissi in the early days of blogging and I’ve been a fan of her site ever since.

When I saw Sissi’s Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce I knew that I had to make them. They looked sticky and fall-off-the-bone good. Well, I can tell you that they didn’t disappoint. Best. Ribs. Ever. OMG, you must make these ribs. The flavour combination of the dark soy sauce, star anise and cinnamon is really incredible. However, you MUST use the dark soy sauce (which I had never used before) because the regular soy sauce simply will not achieve the same result. The dark soy sauce is thicker and more intense in flavour than regular soy sauce.

Sissi’s Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce

I also returned to Norma’s Shrimp Stir-fry recipe that I’ve made a number of times with great success, but I used snow peas in place of the asparagus this time. This dish went really well with the Chinese noodles that Amanda gave us. Best of all, it’s a low-fat recipe!

Shrimp and Snow Peas

Norma’s Shrimp and Snow Peas Stir-fry

I also found inspiration from the online version of one of my favourite magazines, House & Home. The lemon sauce for this chicken is nothing like the version that you get at a restaurant or with your favourite take-out. You’ve got to try this Lemon Chicken recipe—the flavour is just amazing.

Lemon Chicken

Almond cookies are a traditional way to end a Chinese New Year celebration and kids love them. The texture of these cookies was spot on with what I’ve had in restaurants—they had a bit of a crunch but still melted in your mouth. Next time I make them I’m going to play around with the recipe, as I prefer not to use shortening in my baking.

Almond Cookies

And what celebration would be complete without a live performance? Our two adorable roosters and rats entertained us with original songs such as: We Are the Roosters; Sweet Love and a rap song entitled Hurricane.

Two Rats Performing

Two cute “rats” ham it up.

Performance

Rockin it out with the rats and the roosters!

It was a night of great food, with great friends. In fact, we had so much fun that I think this just might become an annual celebration for us. Now I just need to find a way to repay Amanda’s generosity. Any suggestions?

Recipes from Our Chinese New Year Celebration

Sissi’s Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce

Norma’s Shrimp With Snow Peas Stir-Fry

Lemon Chicken from House & Home Magazine

Sissi’s Baked Wonton Crisps and Sweet and Sour Sauce from Chow.com

Almond Cookies from Canadian Living

Pork Dumplings

Adapted from Amanda’s recipe

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp white wine
  • 2 tbsp chopped chives
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 package of dumpling wrappers

Dipping Sauce

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

Mix all ingredients (except dumpling wrappers) well in a large bowl.

Place a level tablespoon of filling in the centre of each dumpling wrapper. Moisten edges with water. Fold in half and pinch together to create a pouch that seals in the mixture. Alternatively, you could use a dumpling or ravioli maker as I did that automatically seals each dumpling. I did need to double check each dumpling and pinch any spots where it wasn’t completely sealed by the ravioli maker. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.

Steam the dumplings for 10 to 12 minutes. (Use a pan/wok of boiling water and bamboo baskets for steaming.) Alternatively you can boil them in water for 5 to 6 minutes. They can also be fried afterwards (but I didn’t do this).

For the dipping sauce, mix the soy sauce and sesame oil in a small bowl. Serve with the dumplings.

Prep work

Thanks to Sissi’s suggestion, I used my ravioli maker to make the dumplings.

Tips/Notes:

  • I followed a tip from Sissi and used a ravioli maker to make the dumplings. It worked really well. You could also use a dumpling sealer, but I didn’t have one.
  • I used 2 kg of pork ribs, so I tripled Sissi’s recipe for Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce. Be sure to cut the ribs into individual portions as this is key to the success of the recipe. However, I didn’t cut the ribs in half vertically as Sissi did and I was still happy with the results.

Lessons From A Puerto Rican Kitchen

Parenthood certainly has its ups and its downs. I would say that the ups far outweight the downs  . . . well, most days anyway. One of the unexpected ups has been all of the wonderful friendships that we’ve formed with the parents of our ponytails’ close friends. With no family here in Toronto, this amazing group of parents has become part of our “village” as we raise our girls.

There’s one member of our village who has taught us many things: how nothing helps you win an argument like speaking Spanish; how to style long hair into the perfect bun for a ballet performance; and the secret to light and fluffy rice. I’m talking about the one and only Mercedes, our friend from Puerto Rico.

Mercedes holding a Puerto Rican caldero, with her daughter

Mercedes is known for cooking a range of authentic Puerto Rican dishes when she holds a dinner party. Apparently though, in the early days of marriage, her husband affectionately nicknamed her Adobo the Alcoholic Chef because of her tendency to add adobo spice to everything she prepared, while sipping on a glass of white wine. She’s obviously diversified her cooking skills since then, but she’s still known to enjoy a good glass of wine now and then.

According to Mercedes, adobo is one of three main ingredients that are part of quintessential Puerto Rican cooking: adobo, sofrito and achiote. Anxious to learn more about the dishes that we’ve come to enjoy at her place, I asked Mercedes to teach me how to make Arroz con Pollo and Stewed Red Beans a few months ago. Her mom also showed me how to make Tostones while visiting Toronto a few years back.

It was finally time to put all of these lessons to the test. This weekend I would try my hand at making a few traditional Puerto Rican dishes (Arroz con Pollo, Stewed Red Beans and Tostone) and then have Mercedes and her family join us for dinner. Fortunately, I was also armed with a popular cookbook authored by an award-winning Puerto Rican chef that Mercedes gave me as a gift, which helped to fill in the gaps where my memory failed me:

Puerto Rico True Flavors by Wilo Benet
Thanks for this excellent cookbook Mercedes!

It is always nerve-wracking to prepare an authentic dish for an expert, so I was pretty nervous. After tasting one bite of my Arroz con Pollo, Mercedes shook my hand and said “now I’m going to call you Sofrito, My Puerto Rican Sister”. Whew. My rice wasn’t cooked quite perfectly, but the right flavours seemed to be there. Cooking rice perfectly really is an art form – one that Mercedes has definitely mastered! Fortunately, despite this, it  wasn’t difficult to get the kids to eat their dinner.

Miss M, my oldest ponytail (right) and her longtime pal Miss G (Mercedes’ daughter).

I’ve included all of the recipes required to make this Puerto Rican meal in this post. I recommend making the sofrito, the dry adobo spice and achiote oil a few days in advance – it’ll allow you to focus on preparing the Arroz con Pollo perfectly.

This meal may seem daunting because of all of the steps involved — hopefully not, but if so, then I encourage you to at least try the dry adobo rub. You can use it as a seasoning for so many things (meats, fish and beans) and it works well as a seasoning for beef tacos as well — just add some paprika, dried cilantro and chili powder to the meat along with the adobo. Judy at Petit4chocolatier used adobo recently as part of a coating for tilapia that I can’t wait to try.

Arroz con Pollo, Stewed Red Beans and Tostones

Arroz con Pollo [Rice with Chicken]

Recipe created using tips from Mercedes and Wilo Benet’s Puerto Rico True Flavors

  • 1 ½ lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into pieces
  • 1 batch of wet adobe paste, optional [see recipe below]
  • 3 tbsp achiote oil [see recipe below]
  • ½ onion, diced
  • ½ red bell pepper, seeds and inner white ribbings removed, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, pounded to a paste
  • 1/3 cup sofrito [see recipe below]
  • 3 tbsp tomato sauce
  • ½ cup small green olives stuffed with pimientos, sliced in half
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 3 cups long-grain rice
  • 4 ½ cups chicken stock
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup shelled green peas

Instructions

  1. Rub the wet adobe paste [see recipe below] on the chicken pieces and refrigerate covered for 2-3 hours, or overnight.
  2. In a caldero or dutch oven, warm the achiote oil [see recipe below] over high heat. Add the onion, red pepper, garlic and sofrito [see recipe below] and cook until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and olives, and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring so that the sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom.
  3. Add the chicken and cook for 6 to 8 minutes. Deglaze with the wine and cook until it evaporates, about 4 minutes. Add the rice and stir well to coat with the rest of the ingredients. Pour in the chicken stock, season with the salt and stir. Bring to a full boil and cook until the water evaporates and the surface of the rice is visible with some bubbling in between the grains, about 8 minutes.
  4. Lower the heat and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Cook until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice grains are loose and fluffy, about 15-20 minutes (check after 10 minutes just in case). Add the peas, cover and cook for another 3 minutes.

Sofrito [SOH-FREE-to]

From Wilo Benet’s Puerto Rico True Flavors

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 12 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 cubanelle peppers, seeds and inner white ribbings removed, roughly chopped
  • 10 ajies dulces seeds removed and roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro (leaves and tender stems only)
  • 30 leaves culantro (if not available, increase add extra bunch of cilantro)
  • ½ cup fresh oregano (leaves only), loosely packed

Instructions

  1. In a blender or food processor, combine the olive oil with the vegetable oils. Add the onion and garlic and process for about 30 seconds to obtain a pungent white puree.
  2. Add the cubanelle peppers and the ajies dulces, and blend for another 30 seconds to obtain a light-green puree. Add the cilantro, culantro (if using) and oregano. Pulse and then scrape the sides of the blender/food processor with a rubber spatula. Process for another 30 seconds to obtain an herbed-speckled light-green puree with a piquant taste and pungent aroma.

Can be sealed in a jar or a bag and stored in the freezer for up to one month. Because sofrito serves as a base for numerous recipes, no salt should be added to the mixture.

I didn’t make this as Mercedes gave me a bag of frozen sofrito that she brought back from Puerto Rico. It was made with culantro, so it was very authentic!

Annato seeds and achiote oil, which has been prepared from the annato seeds.

Achiote Oil [ah-chee-O-tay oil]

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2.5 tablespoons annato seeds

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, heat to achiote seeds and oil for 10 minutes without boiling until the oil has been coloured with the achiote. Remove heat, and steep for another 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and discard the achiote seeds. Allow the annato oil to cool then poor into a container with a tight fitting lid. (No refrigeration is necessary).

Making a wet version of adobo paste for the chicken.

Wet Adobo Paste [ah-Do-bo]

(This is an optional step when preparing this rice dish and it is my own take on the recipe. It adds another layer of flavour to the rice.)

  • 2 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Smash the garlic with the salt until it forms a paste. Add the pepper, oregano, olive oil and lemon juice and combine well.

Dry Adobo Rub

Dry Adobo Rub [ah-Do-bo]

Adapted from Wilo Benet’s Puerto Rico True Flavors

  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 2 to 3 tsp tumeric, according to taste
  • ½ tsp ground white pepper
  • 2 tbsp onion powder

Combine all ingredients in bowl and mix well. Store in a tightly sealed jar or bag.

Mercedes always uses Goya’s prepared Adobo all purpose seasoning; I’ve included this recipe since Goya’s version isn’t readily available internationally.

Stewed Red Beans

Recipe based on instructions from Mercedes

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp sofrito
  • 1 tsp adobo dry spice mix
  • 1 tsp salt
  • One 398 ml tin of tomato sauce
  • 2, 19 ounce cans of Mexican small red beans (or red kidney beans)
  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 tbsp cooked bacon, crumbled (or ¼ cup cooked ham, diced)

In medium-sized heavy bottom pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, sofrito, adobo spice and bacon/ham and cook for about 3 minutes until the onion is translucent. Stir in the tomato sauce and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beans, chicken stock and water and stir well. Lower heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

Mercedes fixed my version (pictured with the rice and tostones) by adding the water and chicken stock to make it more of a sauce. The recipe above incorporates this. She also typically uses Goya’s ham flavouring, so we developed the recipe with bacon or ham as a substitute.

The bottom of my small cast iron pan worked like a charm for smashing the fried plantain pieces.

Tostones [tos-TOH-nays]

Based on instructions from Mercedes; Makes about 32

  • 4 green plantains
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Salt water or garlic salt in a bowl of water; salt for sprinkling

Instructions

  1. Peel the plantains: cut off ½ inch from both ends of the plantains. Using a sharp knife, score the skin lengthwise in three different sections Slide the tip of your knife or finger under the skin and begin to pull it away, going from top to bottom.
  2. In a frying pan, heat about 2 inches of vegetable oil until sizzling hot. Cut plantain into 1-inch pieces and add to the hot oil. Fry for about 6 minutes until they start to turn golden and are tender inside. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Using the bottom of a frying pan (or tin can bottom/mallet), smash the plantains into thick tostones. If they stick to the pounding device, release them by quickly sliding a sharp knife under the tostones.
  3. Quickly dip the tostones into a bowl of salted water (but not too long otherwise they will turn soggy). Shake excess water off and carefully return to the hot oil (careful the oil will splatter). Refry for another 5 minutes until they begin to turn golden. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.

Mercedes’ mom likes to use garlic salt in place of regular salt in the salted water for dipping the tostones before frying.

Ingredients and Tools In the Puerto Rican Kitchen

Adobo [ah-DO-bo] is a widely-used all-purpose seasoning that is used to flavor and/or marinate meat, chicken, or fish. The key ingredients are garlic, oregano and black pepper. Other spices are commonly added based on regional preference. It can be made as a dry spice mix or wet rub paste. Adobo is used in Latin America, the Caribbean and Spain.

Aji dulce [ah-HEE-DUL-say] – This small pudgy pepper has a similar shape to the Scotch Bonnet, but it is sweet. It is usually green, but can range in colour from green to orange or red. It is an important ingredient in sofrito.

Annato seeds are a deep orange in colour and have a nutty flavour. They are used to make achiote oil, which gives Puerto Rican rice dishes their colour, in the same way that saffron gives colour to the Spanish dish paella.

Caldero (cal-DAY-ro] – A caldero (aluminum pot with lid) is a mainstay in the Puerto Rican kitchen. I bought this 24 centimeter caldero from Amazon.com and it works really well.

Culantro [coo-LAHN-tro] — Culantro is cilantro’s lesser known cousin and is very hard to find outside of the Carribean/Puerto Rico. It has long serated leaves and is also known as long leaf cilantro.

Plantain [plan-tane] – This tropical banana is used for cooking and is larger than an eating banana.

Sofrito [soh-free-to] – An important ingredient in Puerto Rican cooking that includes onion, garlic, peppers and culantro.

Tostonera — A tostonera is  wooden tool commonly used in Puerto Rico to flatten/smash the fried plantain pieces when making tostones, although I found that my small cast iron pan worked like a charm.

NOTES:

  • Mercedes says that the key to preparing fluffy rice is to ensure that you bring the rice and liquid to a full boil and cook (over low heat) until the water evaporates and the surface of the rice is visible with a bit of bubbling, then close the lid to finish cooking the rice for the last few minutes (also over low heat). This process helps to ensure lots of pegao — crusty rice at the bottom of the pan — which she and her family members always fight over.
  • Mercedes’ rule of thumb is 1 cup of water or chicken stock for ever 1 cup medium grain rice and 1.5 cups of water or chicken stock for every 1 cup of long grain rice. I used long grain rice for the Arroz con Pollo recipe because I couldn’t find any medium grain rice.
  • It is important to use green plantains when making the tostones. I bought my plantains at Phil’s Place at St. Lawrence Market (lower level) in Toronto.
  • I found annato seeds in the spice shop (lower level) at St. Lawrence Market, although I didn’t need to buy any as Mercedes was kind enough to give me a few packages from Puerto Rico.
  • I adapted many of these recipes from Mercedes because she likes to use a variety of Goya spices and products, such as Goya Adobo, which are readily available in Puerto Rico. Unfortuntely they are not as easy to come by internationally.
  • Another great resource for Puerto Rican cooking is an old favourite cookbook Puerto Rican Cookery. I have a copy that was kindly given to me by Mercedes’ mom several years ago (thanks again!).

Lemon and Herbes de Provence Spatchcocked Chicken + Leftover Soup

How do you put together a meal, sign school forms and change the channel all at the same time? The answer is simple: heat up leftovers + get someone else to manage the TV remote (what are the odds I’d get control of it anyway?).

With three crazy nights of the week where we need to arrive home from school/work, eat and be out the door in less than 30 minutes, leftovers have become my best friend.

Now that September is in full swing, you’ll find me cooking in bulk on the weekends and freezing the leftovers for one of these crazy nights, or making a Sunday night dinner that will provide the key ingredients for a second meal. I’ve been doing this for ages, but I recently discovered a great blog written by Saskia called 1=2. Saskia’s site is brilliant, with every post delivering on this life-saving concept of making a meal and planning for leftovers to prepare a second meal. (Be sure to check out Saskia’s site for some great 1=2 ideas.)

A roasted chicken is the perfect start to a two-for-one meal, as there are just so many meals that you can make with leftover chicken. One of my favourite ways to roast or grill a chicken is to spatchcock it. Before you get any ideas, you should know that this simply means to butterfly a chicken, or to take out the backbone and flatten it. The key benefit is that the chicken cooks faster and more evenly than when it is left in tact. Apparently, spatchcock is the traditional word for the French term “poussin”, which means a young chicken. Years ago, these little chickens were frequently  butterflied for faster cooking, and eventually flattened chickens were called spatchcocks.

Often I’ll make a simple chicken pot pie with leftover chicken, or a chicken and brocolli quiche. Sometimes I just add barbeque sauce and serve the tangy leftover chicken with mashed potatoes (preferably leftovers also) and vegetables. I recently used my leftover chicken and corn (from a Sunday night dinner) to make Avocado-Corn Chowder with Grilled Chicken, which comes together in about 10 minutes using leftovers.

If you have some good recipes on how to use leftover chicken, please be sure to share as I see many more crazy nights in my future! How about you?

Lemon and Herbes de Provence Spatchcocked Chicken

  • 4 lb chicken, spatchcocked
  • 2 lemons: zest one and slice the other
  • 2 to 3 tsp herbs de provence
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

For instructions on how to spatchcock a chicken, you can watch this video (stop before cutting the flattened chicken in half) or follow the step-by-step photos here.

Rinse and thoroughly dry the chicken.

Breast side up, carefully separate the skin from the bird, taking care not to rip the skin. Insert two slices of lemon between the skin and the flesh on each half of the bird.

Using a pastry brush, coat the outside skin of the bird with the olive oil. Sprinkle the coated chicken with herbes de provence, lemon zest and salt & pepper to taste.

To Grill: Cook on a preheated barbeque for 45 to 50 minutes until internal termperature reads 180°.

To Roast in the Oven: Preheat oven to 425°. Place prepared chicken (spatchcocked, seasoned and stuffed with lemon as above) breast side up in a greased baking dish. Roast for 45 to 55 minutes, until internal temperature reads 180°. NOTE: When roasting, I like to use butter rather than oil to coat the chicken. I also like to mix a couple of teaspoons of butter with some fresh chopped parsley, thyme and rosemary and slip this between the skin and the flesh of the bird. This doesn’t work well when barbequing, as the butter drips on to the grill and catches fire.

Avocado-Corn Chowder with Grilled Chicken

For the orignial recipe, click here.

My modifications:

  • I reduced the water to 1 cup, as I find 1½ cups too watery and I reduced the orange juice to 1/3 cup rather than ½ cup.
  • Using left-over grilled chicken eliminates the need to follow the directions for cooking the chicken.
  • I used a couple pinches of crushed red pepper rather than ¼ tsp of ground red pepper.
  • I also omitted the chopped red pepper.

Wing Night!

There’s no longer a free inch of shelf space in my house to display even one more small little cookbook. It’s gotten so bad that if I open the cupboard above the desk in our family room too quickly, one of the books or magazines stuffed on the top shelf is quite likely to fall on my head. And yet, I keep buying them. Hey, there’s still some free space under our bed in the master bedroom.

Fortunately my need for a cookbook “fix” has slowed dramatically since I started blogging a couple months ago. I’m inspired almost daily by a never-ending supply of creative recipes and pictures from other bloggers that leave me feeling hungry at all hours of the day. I have to say that it’s the best aspect of blogging.

I’ve tried quite a few of the recipes that I’ve come across, and I have a long list of recipes that I still want to try. Today I thought I’d share a couple simple recipes for something just about everyone I know loves—wings! I tried two recipes on the same night because, well, I just couldn’t decide which to try. Thanks to Eva of KitchenInspirations and Kay at Pure Complex for the inspiration.

With about three pounds of wings in total, I started out by halving the Maple Garlic Chicken Wings recipe and shaking the sauce and half the wings in a large baggie. I dumped the wings on a baking sheet lined with foil (as per Eva’s suggestion) and then added the Maple-Mustard Chicken Wings sauce (halved also) and the remaining wings to the baggie. I cooked them all at 400° for about an hour.

Set your table with some carrot sticks, a bowl of edamame, potato wedges and you’ve got yourself a wing night! Although my husband would say that it isn’t wing night without a cold frosty one, so be sure to grab a beer for the adults. (I added some chunky potato wedges sprayed with Pam Olive Oil and sprinkled with seasonings on a second baking sheet to the oven with the wings for the last half hour. I also made a quickie dipping sauce by adding a bit of bottled honey mustard dressing to some sour cream.)

Here are the links to the recipes:

Maple Garlic Chicken Wings

Grilled Maple-Mustard Chicken Wings