Christmas 2014 Recap

Hey all! Merry Christmas! I hope everyone had a lovely holiday full of warmth, happiness, and family. You probably noticed my absence all of last week. I took an unintentional blogging/baking break, by way of a stomach virus. I spent all of last week feeling absolutely terrible and nauseous at the sight of food. Not what you wanted to hear following Christmas wishes but it’s true! I had two more #CookieCraziness recipes planned, including one with a new gadget my plans were quickly brought down. I’m feeling much better, and have been slowly regaining my appetite for delicious things again. I’m glad too because as a food lover, not eating is blasphemous.

Christmas Tree

Anyway, let me tell you a bit about my holiday. In my house, we celebrate the 24th, not the 25th. It must be some Dominican tradition but that’s just always how it’s been. Back in the day, we used to have a full house but now it’s just us four plus our neighbors. I actually prefer it this way because there isn’t much pressure to be super social, and I can have more leftovers.

Besides the fact that there’s really only eight of us (plus/minus 1), my mom always cooks a lot. To be honest, Christmas Eve is basically a repetition of Thanksgiving in terms of food, except that the main protein changes. Instead of turkey, we have pork (or pernil for the Latin@ folks). I actually prefer the pernil to turkey but for tradition’s sake on Thanksgiving, we roll with it.

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From L to R: Pastelon, Pastelon de Verenjena, Moro de Gandules, Platanos Maduros, Cassava, Parker House Rolls, Pernil, Potato Salad, Basic Salad, Pastelitos.

On our menu this year:

  • Parker House Rolls: the same we had at Thanksgiving (from Bon Appetit), except that I doubled the recipe because of reasons. Still a winner!
  • Pernil (or pork): Star of the night. What Dominicans traditionally have on the table for Christmas Eve. Pray there’ll be leftovers.
  • Moro de Gandules: Rice with pigeon peas. Another holiday staple at my house. Super simple but delish dish, made with my mom’s secret sofrito (actually, almost everything has this stuff in it).
  • Pastelón: That starchy starch thing that has been at our table the past couple holidays. I still don’t eat it but there it is! (in depth description of it’s innards here and here)
  • Pastelón de Verenjena. Eggplant casserole, which is almost like a lasagna. This is my fave, and is always at the table specifically for me. Layers of tempura fried grafitti eggplant, ground beef, green beans, tomato sauce, and tons of mozzarella.
  • Potato Salad. Another holiday staple. I make the salad every time, this time was no different. (check out it’s ingredients here)
  • Basic green salad. About as basic as it looks/suggests. At the table for almost no reason as barely anyone eats this stuff.
  • Pastelitos or empanadas. “Appetizers” except not really. Two kinds: cheddar cheese, and ground beef mixed with hardboiled eggs.
  • Platanos Maduros. Last minute addition to the table of fried sweet plantains. Can’t no one say no to these.

As you can see, this is basically Thanksgiving part two. No one’s complaining, as basically everyone is all about that pernil (no turkey) (dang, couldn’t help that!). We had our littlest neighbor here, who’s eight and extremely hard to shop for. I don’t know but eight is such a weird age; not a teenager but not exactly a kid. That in between age is hard to gauge what they actually like. Strange, but we got her a password journal (which she LOVED), this super cute DIY jewelry box, and some trinkets from Claire’s. She and my sister decorated it in the kitchen. It was so fun to see her reactions to the gifts. One of the main reasons giving is the best!

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After all that, we had dessert. Since I was food adverse last week, I had nothing planned. Nothing, which is super unlike me. I asked my mom, which is moot as she never knows, what she wanted. Got nothing from her so I ran with my sister’s suggestion of making a tiramisu. I rolled with it for three reasons: my sister asked, easy to make, and was on my bucket list anyway. I made it the night before, which was awesome because that freed me up to bake bread the next day.

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It was super simple to make, and is actually super delicious too. I have to say, for such a simple dessert, it was really good. It’s also not very photogenic, if at all. I used this recipe and have a few suggestions. The main one is to mix the mascarpone with the yolks because this stuff is stiff and will never incorporate with the mix when folding. No one wants a lump of cheese in a supposed smooth dessert. Another is to only soak one side of the lady fingers. These things are literal sponges and they soaked up quite a lot. Do one side and hope there’s still some bite when serving. Finally, add booze to this. Every baker’s secret weapon should be in here. I threw a bit whisky in the cream and in the coffee but it could’ve used more.

All in all, it was actually a pretty nice Christmas Eve. There were a few minor setbacks that could’ve ruined things but others made up for it. If anything, this was a major upgrade from last year, and for that I’m most grateful. I hope everyone’s holiday was as uplifting as mine, and that this last week of the year is an awesome one!

Thanksgiving 2014: The Day After

WOW. Last night was pretty awesome. SO MUCH FOOD! We shook up this year’s menu a bit from last year’s. Like I mentioned on Wednesday, we aimed for a little more of an American Thanksgiving. I feel bad saying it but I try really hard to Americanize our food and household. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t because my culture is important to me and it’s something I want to keep going but I can’t help it.

Anyway, the table was pretty much half our traditional menu and the other was American.

On the menu we had:

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Turkey, obviously! (regular green salad in the bottom right corner that literally no one ate. Thanksgiving is not the time for “healthy” things)

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Parker House Rolls from Bon Appetit. So fluffy and so good! Spotlight may be coming soon!

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Macaroni and cheese. SO AMAZING. We added bacon and made the full recipe. This is that one time I am SO happy we have leftovers!

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Pastelón de viveres. This is my mom’s ~thing~; I don’t eat this at all. It’s basically a starch heaven casserole made with two kinds of taro root, green bananas (not to be mistaken with plantains but those can be used too), and kabocha squash. In the middle, there’s a layer of cooked pork. If you’ve ever had Dominican (or Puerto Rican? I’m not sure) pasteles en hoja, this is similar to that minus the leaves and the boiling part. It’s a weird culmination of things but my mom likes it and has been making it for the holidays lately, so I guess it’s here to stay.

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Salads and rice. On the left is my mom’s yellow rice with peas, below that is our potato salad, and next to that is macaroni salad.

The potato salad contains boiled and diced potatoes (duh) and carrots, diced hard boiled eggs, mayo, white vinegar, chopped cubanelle peppers and onions. The macaroni salad is almost the same as the potato salad; instead of potatoes, carrots, and eggs, it’s just tri colored macaroni.

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Behind the salads was my sister’s mashed potatoes. She made this on her own, without a recipe! Very proud of her efforts, and they were delicious.

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Pastelitos or empanadas! These were filled with ground beef and diced hard boiled eggs. Some were just cheddar cheese. Crowd favorite!

For dessert, we had this Apple Cranberry Torta from Cooking Channel TV. I made several changes to the recipe but it was a moist and delicious little cake. I feel like it was maybe a cross between a pie and a cake. I’m still trying to edge that in, obviously! Recipe will be posted below.

Overall, we had a tasty Thanksgiving. I can see mac and cheese in my future! I’m ready to get my tree up and move on to Christmas! Can’t wait to see what’s on the menu then 😉

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Full spread. And my mom’s arm.

 

Apple Cranberry Torta – adapted from Giada’s recipe on Cooking Channel TV

Makes one 8″ round cake

  • 1/2 cup Grand Marnier (or other orange liquer)
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 orange, zested
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups of diced apples

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the orange liqueur just until warm. Turn off the heat and submerge the dried cranberries and golden raisins. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and line the bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan.
  3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, beat the four eggs and add the melted butter, sugar, vanilla, and orange zest. Mix in the dry ingredients and beat just until combined.
  5. Gently stir in the apples, cranberries and raisins. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for up to 30 minutes. Cool slightly in the pan before inverting to peel off the parchment. Serve slightly warm.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I took the walnuts out of this and replaced it with golden raisins because half my family is allergic to nuts. 
  • I used one large Granny Smith apple but use any kind you’d like. 
  • I also soaked my dried fruit for quite a while, which helped them sustain the orange liqueur flavor. 
  • Technically the recipe didn’t state to line the pan with parchment but I don’t trust recipes that rely on just buttering the pan. /skeptic

Martha’s Mac and Cheese

Last week’s Polar Vortex inspired me to make something that wasn’t dessert. I have to be honest, I’m not much of a cook. I prefer baking because it’s formulaic, and that gives me reassurance that it’ll work every single time. I mean, it’s science; when has science ever been wrong? Anyway, I don’t like cooking much because it’s basically a free for all in a pot, while crossing your fingers that everything will taste good. I know that there are recipes for savory dishes but I feel like I have a bigger chance to mess up, which makes me nervous.

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So, this Polar Vortex. It was freezing everywhere last week. In my house, there was a lot of hot and liquid dinners happening. My mom made a giant batch of soup for two reasons; this crazy cold and because my dad is sick. I’m not a fan of soup, so I was on my own. They ate that stuff for the entire week, while I had to figure out dinner myself. I’m not a stranger to making my own dinners, as I have been doing so for quite some time. They’re usually super simple, like a baked potato or a bowl of brown rice (which I still can’t make). The lack of formulas and rules in cooking scares me, which is why I am a baker. Having this blog has pushed me into the kitchen more often, which I love, but there’s more to cooking and baking than sweets (blasphemy!).

I trucked into my  kitchen, looking for something warm to make. I got sick of eating potatoes and dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets (don’t judge me; they’re delicious), so it was time for a real dinner. I’m kind of a fan of mac and cheese. I say kind of because I’m usually hot and cold about it. I love pasta and I love melted cheese but eating a bowl of mac and cheese can get old really quickly. The lack of tastes and textures usually found in mac and cheese is boring to me, which is why I rarely eat it. However, in a moment of freezing weakness, I decided to make up a batch and am really glad I did.

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This recipe, which I found through Smitten Kitchen (one of my favorite blogs), is actually Martha Stewart’s. If you don’t know, Martha is the queen. She knows her stuff, so I knew this recipe was a good one; a bonus because Deb had made it as well. I was intrigued because this recipe seemed to solve my monotonous mac and cheese issue with the homemade crouton topping. I love my carbs with more carbs; the more the merrier! I made half of the original recipe, and followed it pretty much verbatim. The only change was that I used yellow sharp Cheddar instead of white.

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This mac and cheese was amazing. It was so much better that that boxed stuff (anything is better than that, honestly)! Not only was it delicious but it was so easy to make. I set up a mise-en-place and breezed right through everything. It helped to have an extra set of hands, too. This was also my first foray into making a bechamel sauce, a.k.a one of the mother sauces. I was so nervous about messing it up but it was a lot easier than I thought. The result was a super cheesy and delicious pasta dish. Both of my parents, and even my lactose intolerant sister, loved it! The fact that my dad, Mr. “I hate melted cheese” liked it was enough of an indication that this recipe is a winner. The crispy cubes of bread was a welcomed texture change, in the mix of soft, and gooey elbows full of cheese. Accompanied with a salad, this is the perfect dinner for one of those super chilly nights.

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The success of this recipe has inspired me to continue getting in the kitchen to make things other than cakes and cookies. I hope to make and post a savory dish at least once a month. It’s important to face your fears, even if you were pushed into it by (freezing) outside factors.

Martha’s Mac and Cheese – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Serves six

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 3 slices of bread, with the crusts removed and cut into 1/4-1/2″ cubes
  • 2 3/4 cups of milk
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp coarse salt, plus more for water
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 1/4 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup grated Gruyére or 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1/2lb elbow macaroni

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Butter a 2 quart pan/casserole dish and set aside. Cut bread into cubes and place into a bowl. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and pour onto bread cubes, toss and set aside.
  2. Warm milk in a saucepan over medium heat. In another medium saucepan, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. When bubbling, add the flour and whisk to prevent lumps; cooking for one minute while stirring.
  3. While whisking, slowly pour the warmed milk, a little at a time. Continue cooking, while whisking, until bubbly and thick (8-12 minutes).
  4. Remove the pan from heat. Stir in the salt, nutmeg, black pepper, and cayenne. Add 1 1/2 cups of the grated Cheddar and 3/4 cup of the Gruyére (or 1/2 cup of the grated Pecorino). Stir until cheese is melted. Set aside.
  5. Cover a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Cook macaroni until the outside is cooked but the inside is undercooked (about 2-3 minutes less than the time indicated on the package). Transfer the macaroni to a colander and rinse under cold water. Stir into the cheese sauce.
  6. Pour mixture into the prepped dish. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup of Cheddar and 1/4 cup of Gruyére (or 1/8 cup of Pecorino), and then top with the bread cubes. Bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack before serving.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I used an 8×8 pan, also known as a brownie pan, and it fit perfect. Any 2 quart pan/casserole dish will do for this amount. The original recipe that serves 12 needs a 3 quart pan/dish. 
  • Quick trick: use the butter wrappers to butter the pan.
  • I used a yellow sharp Cheddar, but I think any kind will work fine. 
  • I originally wanted to use whole wheat elbows but was unable to find some at my supermarket. Any short pasta with a hole should work well. 
  • If you’re not feeling wasteful, you can leave the crusts on the bread like I did. No one will notice.
  • To add more flavor to your croutons, consider adding some chopped garlic to the butter while melting. 

Thanksgiving: The Day After

Happy Thanksgiving! Or Black Friday, if you’re into that. I hope you all had a fabulous day full of awesome food and new memories with your families. At my house, we did it up like we usually do every year. We’re Dominican, so our Thanksgiving is nothing like the “traditional” American dinner. We don’t have green bean casserole, or mashed potatoes, or stuffing. Dominican Thanksgiving is actually interchangeable with Christmas dinner. The only thing that changes is the main protein; we have turkey (just like everyone else) at Thanksgiving, and pork for Christmas. Enough with the Christmas stuff, we’ll get to that next month. Let’s talk about yesterday’s dinner.

My mom and I are always the main cooks in the kitchen. My sister comes and goes, but it’s mainly us two. We plan a menu a week in advanced, but my mom always adds things last minute. My mom, or Mami as I like to call her, always says that she doesn’t know how to make small amounts of food. She’s right because even though we’re just a family of four, she always make enough food to easily feed at least 12. Thankfully, our neighbors join us for dinner, which helps take some of the food off the table and also gives us that ‘family’ feel that’s necessary during the holidays.

On this year’s menu, Mami and I made:

  • Moro de gandules: rice cooked together with pigeon peas (not pictured, unfortunately).
  • Eggplant casserole: a layer of tempura graffiti eggplant followed by tomato sauce, canned green beans, bell pepper slices, onion slices, mozzarella cheese, another layer of tempura eggplant which is finally topped of with more sauce and a final layer of cheese.
  • Pork pastelón aka starch casserole because it’s basically two thick layers of  shredded plantains, squash, taro root that have been mixed together with other seasonings, and a middle layer of cooked chunks of pork.
  • Potato salad aka my specialty: boiled then diced potatoes and carrots, chopped hardboiled eggs, diced onions and cubanelle peppers, mixed with mayo, salt, and vinegar.
  • Tri-colored macaroni salad: tri-colored macaroni, tossed with mayo, vinegar, salt, and diced onions and cubanelle peppers
  • Tossed green salad: shredded Napa cabbage, canned corn, chopped green and red tomatoes, and cucumbers
  • My whole wheat dinner rolls. I actually made them half white, half whole wheat.
  • Coconut macaroon and pumpkin pie from the Shiksa in the Kitchen, which is just me trying to introduce more “traditional” items into our holiday menus. It almost always fails, as my family doesn’t always like it. The pie was awesome, though. I just wish it were more coconut-y.
  • We also made piña colada; an amalgamation of canned pineapple rings in juice, canned pineapple juice, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, canned coconut cream, and as much Bacardi as you can handle (also not pictured).

Everything was awesome and I can’t wait to eat leftovers! I am just thankful for all the blessings I have and haven’t received. These past six months were kind of tough on me mentally and personally but I know that maybe things were just supposed to be this way for me, and that good things do come to those who wait ( I just need more patience). I’m also thankful for my mom’s awesome cooking!

Again, I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and that you creatively enjoy your leftovers!