Dominican Flavor

Pastelon

When I asked a friend to teach me how to make empanadas, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Four hours in, I had done so much eating, dancing, and laughing that my sides ached the next day, but we hadn’t even started the empanadas.

The real star was the pastelón de yuca, Liyibel’s favorite dish, beloved enough to have it served it at her wedding this past winter.

I think of pastelón as Dominican shepherd’s pie: a hearty comfort food made of layers of meat and a mashed starch, in this case yuca (cassava). Topped with melty cheese, it’ll give you the energy to dance Bachata all night!

Dominican-Reb

Yuca

Pastelon-c.gif

 

Pastelón de Yuca y Pollo

Yuca Puree:

morir

Morir Soñando

  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 cups evaporated milk
  • 2½ cups ice

Refrigerate the orange juice and milk until very cold. Add the ice to the milk and stir. Add sugar to taste. Slowly pour the orange juice in the milk, stirring constantly. Serve immediately.

Gracias

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Whitefish Salad

Whitefish Salad

Whitefish

Show up as early as you can get yourself to drag out of bed.

Wander around the industrial section of Greenpoint at dawn.

Sneak into the unmarked, graffiti-ed door, looking behind you as if you were trying to throw the mobster trailing you off your scent.

Buy pastrami lox and whitefish from the no-nonsense, lab-coat clad fishmonger – after much sampling, of course.

Rendezvous with the friend responsible for the bagels + cream cheese.

Plot your next Acme Smoked Fish heist between ravenous bites.

Whitefish Salad Ingredients

Salad Building

Whitefish Salad

Whitefish Salad

The following recipe is a variation of this recipe by Bobby Flay.

Whitefish Salad

  • 3/4 cup good-quality mayonnaise (I used olive oil)
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 pounds smoked whitefish, skinned, boned and flaked
  • 1 large stalk celery, finely diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely diced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Bagels, for serving (I used baked spaghetti squash)
  • Pickled Red Onions, for serving, recipe below

Pickled Red Onions:

  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced

Whisk together the mayonnaise (or olive oil), lemon zest and juice until combined. Add the whitefish, celery and onions, and gently mix until combined; season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

Pickled Red Onions:
Combine the vinegar, lime juice, sugar, salt, coriander seeds, mustard seeds and peppercorns in a small saucepan over high heat. Cook until the sugar and salt is dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

Put the onions in a medium bowl, pour the vinegar mixture over and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 48 hours before serving.

The Spatchcock

Spatchcocked Turkey
Spatchcocked Turkey

First spatchcocked.

Now on exhibit, bare-skinned and splayed. Disgraceful.

Spatchcock in Process
Spatchcock in process: removing the backbone

To spatchcock, the spine is completely removed from a bird so that the butterflied body can be flattened for cooking, usually on a grill.

My favorite explanation for the odd-sounding term is the theory that it is a combo of the words “dispatch” and “cock.” Fitting, since this is undeniably the quickest way to get the job done, with golden crisp skin and absolutely no dry meat, and the biggest miracle of it all…

A perfect bird in 80 minutes.

My single complaint about this experience is that manhandling bird carcasses pushed the limits of my work space. By NYC standards, my kitchen is plenty large, but flattening out a turkey calls for some serious real estate.

Supplies

Actual, real-thing poultry scissors – even kitchen shears probably won’t get it done
Step stool – to get the leverage needed to break the breastbone
Strong stomach – this is no job for the squeamish

Pumpernickel Bacon Stuffing
Pumpernickel Bacon Stuffing

I love Serious Eats’ nuts+bolts explanation and recipe on this technique, which I used as the foundation of my own spatchcocking experiment. Their gravy recipe is no less impressive; it is certainly the best gravy I’ve ever made.

Seafood Curry

Seafood Curry

This fantastic bowl of food was made using this Nigella Lawson recipe as inspiration. It’s from the “TV Dinners” episode of her show, and although it is overall a fairly simple dish to prepare, any dish that involves shelling and deveining shrimp isn’t in on my list of quick & easy. I’ll try pumpkin instead of butternut squash next time for a more carb heavy, filling wintry main.

Ingredients

1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk (about 1 2/3 cups)
1 tbsp red Thai curry paste
1 1/2 cups fish stock (I used broth from boiling the shrimp shells for about an hour)
3 tbsps fish sauce
2 tbsps sugar (I left this out)
3 lemongrass stalks, each cut into 1/3’s and bruised with the flat of a knife (I used a tsp of ground lemongrass)
3 lime leaves, stalked and cut into strips (I couldn’t find this in my grocery store)
1/2 tsp turmeric (I forgot this)
2 1/4 lbs butternut squash, peeled and cut into large, bite-sized chunks
1 lb salmon fillet, skinned and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 lb peeled raw shrimp
bok choy or any other green vegetables of your choice (I used peas)
juice of 1 lime
cilantro

I added:
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
4 finely chopped garlic cloves
1 medium white onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, julienned

Skim the thick creamy top off the can of coconut milk and put it into a large saucepan with the curry paste, over medium heat. Beat the cream and paste together until combined. (Here I added the onion, then the garlic and ginger). Stir in the rest of the coconut milk, fish stock, fish sauce, and lemongrass. Bring to a boil and then add the squash (and red pepper). Cook on a fast simmer until the squash is tender, anywhere from  5-15 minutes.

You can cook the curry up until this part in advance, maybe leaving the squash with a tiny bit of bite to it (it will soften and cook as the pan cools). Either way, when you’re about 5 minutes from wanting to eat, get ready to cook the seafood.

So, to the robustly simmering pan, add the salmon and shrimp (if you’re using frozen shrimp they’ll need to go in before the salmon). When the salmon and shrimp have cooked through, which shouldn’t take more than 3 to 4 minutes, stir in any green vegetable you’re using – sliced, chopped or shredded as suits – and tamp down with a wood spoon. When the bok choy is wilted, or other green vegetable is cooked, squeeze in the juice of half a lime, stir and taste and add the juice of the remaining half if you feel it needs it. Take the pan off the heat and pour the curry into a large bowl, and sprinkle over the cilantro; the point is that the cilantro goes in just before serving. Serve with more chopped cilantro for people to add their own bowls as they eat, and some plain Thai or basmati rice (I used brown rice).

Cold-Weather Northeastern American Comfort Food

Thanks to Tim Sturges, guest chef
and author of this post!

Collard Garbanzo Sausage Stew

  • ½ lb. (med-large) yellow onion
  • ¾ – 1 lb. crimini mushrooms (select mushrooms with white undersides that haven’t separated from the stem)
  • ¾ – 1 lb. pork sausage (links or ground)
  • ½ lb. fennel bulb
  • 1 lb. celery
  • 1 lb. carrots
  • 1 ½ lb. sweet potato
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 1 ½ lb. (large) bunch collard greens
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup dried garbanzo beans
  • 1 cup uncooked wild rice
  • parmesan cheese
  • fresh parsley
  • fresh basil
  • bay leaf
  • rosemary
  • dried chili
  • salt
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • Aleppo pepper

Since the weather is cooling down, I have become fixated on cold-weather northeastern American comfort food. Nothing beats the cold like a voluminous, and piping-hot serving of stew.

I thought first of a more conventional stew, like sausage white bean and kale, but I wanted to experiment a bit, so I added and replaced some ingredients. Garbanzos seemed like a logical alternative to the white beans, and I am partial to collard greens. They are handily on par with kale, in terms of nutrient density and texture, but I too often see them prepared severely overcooked, their texture subdued, and their flavor obliterated by ham (although that can be a beautiful thing in its own regard).

I also wanted to start from scratch as much as possible, so this recipe forgoes the less labor-intensive option of using a store-bought stock for the base, and begins with the preparation of a vegetable stock by first roasting vegetables in the oven. Also, I used dried garbanzos, which required me to soak them overnight, although there is a method for speed-soaking them, or you may choose to use canned.

Start by chopping the celery and carrots, sweet potato, and fennel bulb into approx ¼” long pieces, halve the cherry tomatoes, and place these ingredients in a roasting pan. Be sure to remove any green stalk and frond from the fennel bulb, and retain for Jessica to play and stage shots with. Also, remove the leaves from the stems from the collards, chop the stems into ¼” pieces, and add them as well.

Thankfully, Jessica pointed out to me at this point that I was overfilling my roasting pan, and it is desirable for the vegetables to roast, rather than steam. Had she not been there, I would totally have crammed them all into my 3-quart pan. If you find you are overfilling your pan, use a second one, or a larger one, or remove a portion of the vegetables and freeze for later use. You do not want more than two layers of vegetables on top of each other.

Add three garlic cloves to the roasting pan, then coat, but do not drown, the vegetables in olive oil, toss, and season with salt, fresh ground black pepper, rosemary, and Aleppo pepper (red pepper flakes will do if you do not have Aleppo pepper on hand). Insert baking pan into an oven, preheated to 450 degrees F (230 C). Remove the vegetables every 15 min and stir them, making sure to scrape the sides of the baking pan as you do. That brown crunchy stuff on the sides pays big dividends!

After you put the vegetables in to roast, wash the wild rice with cold water, then add to six cups boiling water. Reduce to low boil after 2 min and leave for approx 45 min. Kernels will be tender and split when done. Drain in a colander if necessary, and set aside.

While the vegetables are roasting, and the rice is cooking, dice the onion, and begin caramelizing in a frying pan over medium heat. I prefer cast iron in general, but especially for this purpose. Do not stir the onions. Do not raise the temperature. You will be tempted to stir them and raise the temperature. Don’t do either. If you stir them they will cook down to an uninspiring floppy translucence. If you raise the temperature you will burn them. In fact, as I was caramelizing them myself, I got impatient and raised the temperature. As the pan started to smoke, Jessica said to me “I want to get a shot of the onions perfectly caramelized,” which was no longer possible. Although I burned the onions, we did discover that this recipe is pretty forgiving, so don’t sweat it if you do burn them, but if you can, it’s better to exercise patience; nicely caramelized onions are worth it!

Slice (or separate) the sausage into ½” chunks, and add to frying pan. You can squeeze it out of the casing if you like, but I prefer to keep it in. We used Piccinini Bros Hot Italian Pork Sausage, although I was tempted to use a lamb merguez. Slice the mushrooms, and add once the sausage is nearly cooked. Cook mushrooms down, being sure to do lots of scraping and stirring. There is nothing disposable in that pan. Be sure to test your poison-test your mushroom, sausage and onion combo, for safety, and not because it’s amazing and you could totally stop right here and eat the contents of that frying pan, over some toasted bread or something. Remind yourself that you are making stew, and losses due to too much poison-testing will adversely impact the stew’s spirit-healing magick.

Add garbanzos to bottom of stock pot (I used a lobster pot), cover with water to approx twice the height the garbanzos, and bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer after 2 minutes. Add the roasted vegetables, the sausage, onion and mushroom combo, chopped parsley and basil, bay leaf, and 2 dried chili peppers. Simmer for 1 hour. You will need enough water for the garbanzos to soak up, but if you find you want to thicken the stew, simmer uncovered for a bit. Stir in coarse chopped collard leaves only soon enough to wilt before serving, approximately 2 to 5 minutes. Put some wild rice in a bowl, cover with stew, garnish with coarse slices of parmesan, and serve.

This recipe serves approximately four people. Also, we noticed when we finished that this recipe is gluten-free!

Anticipating Thanksgiving

It’s a remarkable thing to cook an animal the size of a housepet in it’s entirety. But man, talk about a commitment. Limited to a mere once a year investment, my satisfaction and patience are seriously tested by this situation.

Behold, a solution for those with a level of patience comparable to mine:

A bacon-wrapped, intensely flavorful mini-Thanksgiving feast

Bacon Wrapped Roasted Turkey Breast with Veggies
  • turkey breast, approx. 2-1/2 lbs.
  • 1 package bacon
  • 4 to 6 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • Cheese cloth and butchers twine
  • Assortment of root vegetables (I used small yukon gold potatoes, purple onion, and carrots- enough to lay in a single layer around the meat in the pan)
  • Olive oil

Butterfly turkey breast. Combine sage, thyme, garlic, shallots, red pepper, salt, and pepper in small bowl. Rub mixture evenly over turkey breasts. Lay out cheese cloth, a bit larger than the size of the breast, and place bacon, slightly overlapping edges, in a column down the center of the  cloth. Roll turkey breast into a tight roll and place in the center of the bacon. Braid bacon back and forth over the top of rolled turkey breast. Wrap turkey breast with cheese cloth and tie with  twine at ends and in middle. Toss veggies, chopped where appropriate, in olive oil, salt and pepper, and put in the pan. Roast at 375 degrees till the meat is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees (approx. 90 min). Remove from oven and let rest for 15 min. Unwrap and slice to serve.

Brenna’s Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken

As my mother’s first-born, I am the only one of my siblings who has any substantial recollection of the cabinets in our childhood home aflame, my mother literally tossing my sister into the grass of the yard, and the neighbor dragging the garden hose from the yard, through the living room and into the kitchen to extinguish the danger before the sirens even arrived. Which is why, for me, fried chicken is a tad anxiety provoking despite its claim as the trademark of wholesome, down home, Southern hospitality.

Fortunately, my sister, perhaps a whopping 30lbs at the time, has no memory of flying through the air out the front door. Nor does she suffer from the same qualms about deep-frying in home kitchens.

Which is fortunate because fried chicken still always feels like a feast. And, I must admit, is steadily transforming into a symbol of sisterly generosity and the heroics of neighbors.

Brenna’s Fried Chicken

  • 1 (3 pound) whole chicken, cut into pieces
  • Italian bread crumbs
  • salt to taste
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • vegetable oil for frying
  1. Season chicken pieces with salt, pepper, and paprika. Roll in bread crumbs.
  2. Add about 3/4 inch oil to a large, heavy skillet. Heat to approximately 365. Place chicken pieces in hot oil. Cover, and fry until golden, turning once, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder

Although I am an unabashed fan of pork, this recipe is just about the biggest bang you can get for your buck: an inexpensive cut, little preparation, utterly delicious. Homesick for Savannah, Georgia, I served this beast with collard greens and corn muffins. Leftovers make terrific pulled pork sandwiches and carnitas taco filling.

1 bone-in, skin-on fresh pork picnic shoulder (mine was 8.5 lb)
1 head garlic
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground Cheyenne pepper (or seasonings of your choice)

1. Rinse pork and pat dry. Score skin in a crisscross diamond pattern, making 1/8-inch-deep cuts about 1 inch apart. Separate and peel garlic cloves. In a mortar and pestle, crush garlic, salt, and pepper into a coarse paste (or mince garlic, then mix with salt and spices). Rub garlic paste all over roast. Set roast, skin side up, on a rack in a roasting pan, preferably on a rack.


2. Roast in a 450° oven until deep golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes.

3. Reduce oven temperature to 225° and bake until a thermometer inserted through the center of thickest part at bone reads 170° to 175°, 8 to 9 hours