Saturday, January 30, 2010

I found my Mojo (sauce) in Puerto Rico!

I have been absent for a week because the hubs and I went to San Juan, Puerto Rico for a nice little "sunnymoon". We had some Hilton points and enough miles for 2 free airfares, so we booked a nice much needed vacation at the Caribe Hilton. It was fantastic...warm, sunny, tropical breezes, mojitos, and GREAT food! This was our third time there, but it has been 5 years since our last visit.

I just OD-ed on all the wonderful fruits and superb cooking. We have a favorite restaurant that serves very homestyle food...simple, inexpensive... El Jibarito, that is frequented by the locals. You can see some of the great food we had, and a look at the place itself, by clicking on the link.

Our waiter, Angel, who has taken care of us on all of our visits to the restaurant, ordered for us.
When he brought us fresh red snapper that had been breaded and fried, it was like a picture!
We also had bistecca (cube steak) with onions and mofongo (mashed plantain and yucca). Before we went there, we sat at a sidewalk cafe. My husband had a mojito and I had a pina colada while we munched on some fantastic tostones (fried plaintains).

We did a lot of walking and exploring of Old San Juan. It is a beautiful, colorful city that is rich in history. There are forts to explore, a lush, tropical rainforest to visit and shops and sidewalk vendors galore. And of course, there is always relaxing by the pool or ocean to round out the perfect vacation.
It is certainly hard to come back to Central New York, because when we left yesterday it was early in the day and already 77 degrees. When we awoke today it was 4 below zero. Welcome back to reality!! The good thing is that we can replicate some of the great food we ate and think warm!!

3 green plantains
Vegetable oil for frying
Garlic salt or plain salt

Making tostones is easy….. Slice the peeled plantains diagonally into 1" slices. Fry the slices over medium heat until they soften. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Using a tostonera (a press), slightly mash each piece to about half an inch in thickness. If a tostonera is not available insert the pieces between a folded piece of brown-paper sack and press down using a saucer. It is best to press all the pieces first before going on the next step. Dip each piece in warm salted water and fry again until crispy. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Salt them. Tostones may be served with ketchup (kid's favorite) or with garlic sauce or mojo sauce. (Plantains are a member of the banana family. They are a starchy, low in sugar variety that is cooked before serving as it is unsuitable raw. It is used in many savory dishes somewhat like a potato would be used and is very popular in Western Africa and the Caribbean countries. It is usually fried or baked.)

MOJO SAUCE Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Good quality olive oil -- 1 cup
Garlic, crushed -- 6-10 cloves
Lemon or lime juice -- 1/4 cup
Salt -- 1/2 teaspoon
Place all of the ingredients into a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
Adjust the amount of salt or juice to taste.
You can also add some crushed red pepper to kick up the taste


Many people confuse plantains with bananas, some of the differences are noted above. Although they look a lot like green bananas and are a close relative, plantains are very different. They are starchy, not sweet, and they are used as a vegetable in many recipes, especially in Latin America and Africa. Plantains are sold in the fresh produce section of the supermarket, they usually resemble green bananas; ripe plantains may be black in color. Plantains are longer than bananas and they have thicker skins. They also have natural brown spots and rough areas.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Baking with my Grandson

My 2-1/2 year old grandson, Aidan, loves to "help" in the kitchen! His favorite recipe is cupcakes! I had him all day Sunday while his older brother and mom and dad were out, so part of our day we spent baking. Of course, the first on the list was a batch of chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles...everything from the box and the can! Who cares, he thinks I am a genius who creates wonderful things and allows him hold on to the hand mixer with me! Next up was a beer bread that is a Robin Miller recipe from The Food Network. Aidan's favorite part of that was mixing the dry ingredients first and then watching me add the foamy beer to those ingredients. But no drinking was allowed!
After that I made a fragrant and delicious French Onion soup which we were going to have for supper. He said his eyes were stinging so he lost interest in what I was doing!
When supper came around however, we were able to coax him into trying some of the soup broth . Lo and behold he loved it and wanted a bowl of his own. You just never know with kids.

Of course, after that we celebrated with those great cupcakes that he couldn't wait to get his hands on!! He eyed them all through supper!

Now here's the recipe for the cupcakes: Open the box of mix and dump it in the bowl....add the ingredients the box calls for...bake according to box directions...remove from oven and cool. Open can of frosting and frost the cupcakes...add some sprinkles!! So easy a(n) (almost) 3-year old can do it!

But I am including the beer bread recipe which is very tasty and a great side with a bowl of soup!

Quick Fix Beer Bread
Serves: 4 to 6 servings

Cooking spray
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 ounces lager beer
2 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat an 8-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the center. Pour in beer and olive oil and mix until just blended. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake 45 minutes, until golden brown.

Friday, January 15, 2010

What Does Your Ideal Snow Day Say About You?

I was browsing through a magazine and had to tear an article out to share. The Personality Insight question of "What Does Your Ideal 'SnowDay' Say About You" was posed. A psychologist, Kathleen Nickerson, Ph.D., from says that snow days provide an opportunity to participate in activities you love but rarely have time for. So what are some of those activities? And where do you see yourself?

Baking Up a Storm (This is what I selected.) Nickerson states that bakers tell her what a release it is to create something out of flour, sugar and butter. Following a recipe's instructions zaps stress by turning off the analytical part of the brain and suggests that you crave an escape from a high-octane routine.

Sledding Nickerson states that the more action-packed the snow day, the more likely you are to be intoverted. Interestingly, introverts lean toward physical activites because they prefer to show what they're interested in rather than talk about their hobbies. Plus this is something you can do with your kids to keep them happy.

Playing Board Games If you like to match wits and enjoy seeing how people think, then this is probably how you would choose to spend your day. You love to strategize and this opens a door to conversation and something that is fun. And again, this is another opportunity to engage your kids to keep them occupied.

Cracking Open a Good Book Nickerson says here that reading activates the language part of your brain and the part for visualization. It is a workout for the brain, because it brings both halves of your brain together.

Curling Up With a Movie Watching a movie compels you to imagine what you would do if you were that character in a similar situation. Nickerson says you are a born problem-solver, artistic yet analytical and you have the ability to empathize.

Do you have other activities that keep you busy on a snow day? I hope that you are enjoying the gray days of winter by putting your own rays of sunshine in them! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cleaning out the Pantry Yields a Coffeecake!

It's a long weekend for our daughter who is a school counselor as there is no school on Monday. So she and her family are coming for a visit. I am in the process of trying to look through my pantry and use what I have rather than spending on new! I came across this recipe from a Cooking Light issue from 2000. I have posted the photo from the recipe because it was so enticing. I have one package of cranberries in the freezer to use up and I found one package of hazelnuts hiding among the baking supplies. The only thing I have to buy is sour cream!
When this time of the year comes around, I get in the mood to start CLEANING OUT! After the holidays, we tend to want to purge ourselves of "stuff" and turn our thoughts to spring cleaning. I like to start with the pantry because that is where I have my "extras" that I bought during the holidays. I hate to throw anything away, so I have been finding little ways to change up the leftovers with pantry finds!

How many others out there are doing the same thing? Have you found a surprise find that you forgot about and decided to use? As for me, I can't wait to take a taste of this coffeecake this weekend.

Cranberry-Hazelnut Coffeecake
1/4 cup sifted cake flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter or stick margarine, melted
1 2/3 cups sifted cake flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (8-ounce) carton fat-free sour cream, divided
1 large egg
1 large egg white
5 tablespoons butter or stick margarine, softened
Remaining ingredients:
Cooking spray
2 cups fresh cranberries, chopped
Preheat oven to 350°.
To prepare streusel, lightly spoon 1/4 cup flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine 1/4 cup flour and next 4 ingredients (1/4 cup flour through 1 tablespoon butter) in a bowl; toss well. Set aside.
To prepare cake, lightly spoon 1 2/3 cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 1 2/3 cups flour and next 4 ingredients (1 2/3 cups flour through salt), stirring well with a whisk. Combine vanilla, 1/4 cup sour cream, egg, and egg white in a small bowl; stir with a whisk. Place remaining sour cream and 5 tablespoons butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well-blended (about 2 minutes). Add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with egg mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
Spread half of batter into a 9-inch springform pan coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle cranberries over batter. Spread remaining batter over cranberries. Sprinkle streusel mixture over batter. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

General Mills Cereals for your kids~Coupon

Eat breakfast so that you don't pig out later on.

Recently General Mills announced a commitment to further reduce sugar in cereals advertised to kids under 12 to single digit grams of sugar per serving. The company has already been reducing sugar in cereals while increasing key nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D, and providing whole grain.

My Blogspark provided me with coupons for some free boxes of cereal right before the holidays. Having the grandkids around, this was a nice help with the grocery bill! Our little boys love Golden Grahams and things like Cinnamon Toast Crunch. While I have always hesitated buying those cereals (especially at the request of their mom!!), I was pleasantly surprised to read the great nutrients these cereals can provide, even though they are pre-sweetened.

Did you know that ready-to-eat cereal eaters consume less fat, less cholesterol and more fiber than non-cereal eaters? Cereals also deliver important vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients, making cereal a top source of key nutrients in children’s diets. Other cereal benefits:
Ready-to-eat cereals, including presweetened cereals, account for only 5% of sugar in children’s diets.

Ready-to-eat cereal is the No. 1 source of whole grains in a child’s diet today.
More frequent cereal eaters tend to have healthier body weights and lower Body Mass Index measures. Studies also demonstrate the benefits of eating breakfast. A 1998 study showed that children who eat breakfast tend to perform better at school. Compared to children who skip breakfast, children who eat breakfast score higher on tests, are less likely to miss class or be tardy, have fewer reported discipline problems, and make fewer trips to the office. For more information about kids and cereals, please visit Cereal Health and Wellness.

So if you would like to give one of these cereals a try, here is a little perk for you. Right now if you visit here you will find a $1 off coupon for one of four General Mills cereals. Enjoy and get your kids off to school on the right start.
Free coupons, information, and online coupon link have all been provided by General Mills and MyBlogSpark.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Check out this Giveaway!

Ok my friends, if you love chocolate and you love coffee, pop on over to see Shelby at The Life and Loves of Grumpy's Honeybunch . She has a really great giveaway to start the New Year off right!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Apple Brie Quesadilla

We are cheese lovers in our family. And it seems that I am always attracted to appetizer recipes that include cheese. Many (OK...many) years ago in my earlier life of entertaining friends, I thought it was daring to put out a plate of cheese and crackers that included Harvarti, not just cheddar! Yes, that was thinking out of the box for me. As I became more attracted to cooking and baking and learning about new foods, wines and pairings, I found that if I was going to serve something to my guests, a plate of cheese and crackers was not going to cut it. I wanted different things, fun food, creative tastes. Those who know me best, know that I am an appetizer queen. I love to fuss with this course. This recipe is not only a great appetizer, it can be a good snack if you have some flour tortillas left over and don't know what to do with them. And it works as well with pears as it does with apples. Paired with a wonderful chilled, crisp white wine, this is superb to serve your guests. And it's not that boring plate of cheese!

Apple-Brie Quesadillas

Peel core and thinly slice a Granny Smith apple. Saute apples with 1 Tbsp butter.
Add 8 slices of fully cooked and cut-up bacon. Cook for 1 minute.
Spread 4-fajita size tortillas in a non-stick baking sheet.

Divide apples among the tortillas; top apples with 6 oz of sliced Brie cheese and 4 more tortillas. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, flipping halfway through cooking. (This is tricky, so use a couple of spatulas to do this.) Remove from oven and cut into wedges and serve.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Chicken and Red Bean Tostadas

Need some better ways to feed your hungry family in a pinch? Here is an idea for a quick Mexican meal. It can be prepped and done within 30 minutes. I cut it out of a magazine and not sure which one. But it is really good and I think it provides good nutritional value. If you have chicken during the week, prepare some extra to put away for this later in the week. Or make the chicken the night before and put in the fridge for the following day. If you don't have or don't like red beans, substitute black beans, or try a mixture of both. Also, you can shred the lettuce the night before and put in a zip-lock bag. You can also shave a few calories by using low-fat shredded Colby-Jack cheese. And using whole wheat tortillas will add some fiber! To add even more flavor, use a can of warmed vegetarian chili. Doing this will add more sodium to the dish, however.
Chicken and Red Bean Tostadas

4 10-inch flour tortillas (I buy the low-carb kind)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 grilled chicken breast halves, chopped (about 12-oz total)
1 15-oz. can red beans, drained and rinsed
1-1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
4 cups shredded romaine lettuce (from 1 head)
1-1/2 cups tomato salsa (mild to hot depending on your taste)
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream

Arrange racks in top and bottom thirds of oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with foil. Place tortillas on baking sheets and brush with oil. Bake until lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Divide chicken, beans and cheese among tortillas and return to oven. Bake until cheese has melted, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from oven and top each portion with 1/4 of the salsa and sour cream. Serve immediately.