A Few Fun Latin Flavors

If you read my post yesterday, I left you with a little teaser about more things to come.  As I mentioned, I was in the kitchen all morning making some delicioso delights from our Southern neighbors.   You all know I made the dulce de leche brownies con pistachios, which were a big hit, by the way.   I also made some Puerto Rican pork empanadas, with salsa de ajili mojili, and of course, some guacamole.  When we arrived at our friends’ house, everyone thought I made too much food.  However, when it was time to leave, all the food had disappeared and everyone was happy and full.  So maybe I didn’t make too much after all.

My husband and I “inherited” a smoker from one of his brothers not too long ago, when his brother replaced his old smoker for a new one.  The first thing we made was some smoked pork.   I planned the meal based around the smoked pork, but knew I wanted to stick with a Latin theme, which wasn’t that difficult since pork is very popular in lot of Latin American cooking.   So I hit the books from my culinary library and looked for something just right for the occasion.  I found the recipe for Ajili Mojili Extravagante, which is a traditional Puerto Rican dip using their local chilies known as aji dulce, garlic (a lot of garlic, which is fine with me), vinegar and lemon juice.  The salsa is named after a famous restaurant in San Juan, and was dubbed by the the restaurant after which it was named, and the residents of San Juan, as the mother of all salsas.  Before using it for my empanadas, we also used it on our eggs for breakfast as well.  It is a very versatile salsa, often used on meats, fish, rice or beans.  It is almost a meal by itself.  It is bold and full of flavor, just the way we like it.

Empanadas de Puerca y Ajili Mojili Extravagante.

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Larry, on one of the rare occasions I actually let him in the kitchen, cutting his smoked pork.  He smoked it for about 7 hours.  It was very tender and flavorful.

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Making the ajili mojili salsa.

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Shredded pork with ajili mojili salsa and cooked sweet potatoes for the empanada filling.

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Making the empanadas.

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The guacamole.

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Jeanne’s Ajili Mojili Extravagante 

3 Roma tomatoes, diced small

1/3 cup white onion, small dice

3 TBSP green pepper, small dice

2 jalapenos, diced fine

3 TBSP garlic, minced

2 TBSP capers, drained

2 1/2 TBSP toasted almond slivers

3 TBSP cilantro, chopped

3 TBSP lemon verbena, chiffonade (optional)

2 TBSP parsley, chopped

3 TBSP red wine vinegar

3 TBSP lemon juice

salt & pepper to taste

ground aji amarillo chiles to taste

1-1 1/2 tsp each oregano, marjoram and thyme

 

Mix all the the ingredients together and chill for at least one hour before using.  Esta muy delicioso!  Desfrutas!

 

My empanada dough was just my basic go-to standard dough that I use for so many things.

3 1/2 cups flour

12 TBSP COLD butter, cubed small

1 1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

This made about 2 dozen empanadas that were about 3″ each.

Mix the flour, cold butter and salt in a food processor until everything is well incorporated.  Then add your eggs and cream and mix together until it forms a ball.  Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and chill for at least a half hour before using.  Then roll out onto a lightly floured surface and cut or shape as desired.

My secret for a light and flaky dough is to use cold butter.  I also like using heavy whipping cream because it gives it a real rich flavor.  Some people use water and some people use milk.  Both of these are fine as well.  It is all just a personal choice.  Whether you use water, milk or cream though, you want them to be cold.   I have even known some people that use vodka in their dough, but my favorite is the heavy whipping cream.

I rolled my dough very thin, about 1/4-1/2″ thick and cut them them in 3″ round circles.  After I cut my dough, I flattened them even more before filling them.  Use about 1-1 1/2 heaping TBSP of filling per circle.   If you over fill them, particularly if your filling has any liquid in it, the dough will get really soggy and mushy and it will become very difficult to work with.  Once the circles are filled, bring the ends together and pinch them tight.  Some people even roll them together as part of the pinching.   Use a fork to push down the edges to ensure the pockets are sealed.  Sometimes I fry my empanadas and sometimes I bake them.  Today, I baked them, so brushed an egg wash over the top to help them brown.  I baked them at 350*F for about 1/2 hour, or until they were golden brown.

My egg wash was one egg and just a dash of heavy whipping cream whisked together, and then I brushed it over my empanadas.  Again, some people use water, or milk, and it is just a personal choice.  Because of the different sugar content in all of these, the browning will be a little different.  I like using the heavy whipping cream because it has a slightly higher sugar content, which gives it a little bit more of a browning effect.

 

*** Ground Aji Amarillo Chilies is from Savory Spice, based out of Denver, CO.  This has become one of my favorite spices.  I use it for a lot of dishes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dulce de Leche Brownies con Pistachios

We are visiting with friends later on today, and today’s theme is Mexican/Latin American.  When my friend Janet and I cook, we cook.  Both of us kind of feed off each other (pardon the pun, albeit true).   We bounce ideas off each other, and mix and match and just create whatever comes to mind for that day.  We both take themes and love to just run with them, seeing where our ideas will take us and what comes out.  When all is said and done, we always come up with some very delicious, very creative meals.  It is almost like a friendly competition between us, but we put everything together, and pull out some wine and enjoy the fruits of our labors.

I have been in the kitchen since 7:30 AM and just stopped about twenty minutes ago (Denver time, it is about 1:10 PM), making all kinds of things to take with us.  Be patient my friends; you will see all the goods that I cooked, just not all today.  I do have to pace myself, you know.  One of the things I made today was some very rich and decadent Dulce de Leche brownies with pistachios.   As always, I take recipes and change things around just enough to make them my own.  The recipe did not call for pistachios, but I had some chopped pistachios I was looking to use, and the idea just popped into my head to top the brownies with them.  The end result – delicioso!  And I wonder why I can’t seem to lose any weight.  HMMMMM.  Do you think there may be a connection between all the foods I cook and the scale not going down at all?  Especially when I make all of these decadently delicious desserts?  I don’t know;  I’ll have to think about that some.

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Layering the brownies with the brownie mix and the dulce de leche filling (dulce de leche means sweetened milk), which is very similar to caramel.

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My dulce de leche sauce got a little too thick and hard, so I reheated it and added enough milk to melt it all down again, so I could spread it over my brownie mixture.  I made the dulce de leche sauce ahead of time, which I won’t do again.  Next time, I will make it right before I am ready to spread it so it doesn’t harden too fast or too much.  See, I too make mistakes, and learn from them all the time.

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Once I added the last layer of the brownie mixture, I topped it with chopped pistachios and put it it in the oven to bake.

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Dulce de Leche Brownies

1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed tightly

4 eggs

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

1 cup flour

3/4 cup cocoa poowder

1/4 tsp salt

dulce de leche filling

1/2 cup chopped pistachios

 

Preheat the oven to 325* F

Spray cooking spray in a 9×13 baking dish

Mix all your dry ingredients together and set aside.  Cream the butter and sugars together, then add the eggs and vanilla and mix together.  Add the dry ingredients 1/2 at a time and mix until just blended.  Spoon 1/2 the mixture into the prepared baking dish and spread evenly.  Top with the dulce de leche filling and spread evenly over the chocolate mixture.  Spoon the rest of the brownie mixture and spread evenly.  Top with chopped pistachios (or your nut of choice.  Pecans would be very good too).  Bake for about 45-50 minutes and let cool completely before cutting.  They are going to be very moist and rich and gooey, so the toothpick test will not work.

Dulce de Leche Filling

1 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk

1 TBSP corn syrup

2 TBSP butter

Combine everything together and microwave at 1/2 power for about 12 minutes.  Stop the microwave and stir thoroughly every two minutes though.  You want the sauce to firm up and become thick with a nice caramel color.   You can also cook it all on top of the stove as well, stirring constantly.  It takes a little longer on the stove, but I think it comes out a little more evenly cooked.  Either way is fine though.  As I said, if it is too thick or hard, just add a little milk, as much as needed, and cook it down again until it is soft and spreadable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virginia Ranks #5 in Grape Production for the United States

Though the State of Virginia would not be one of the first places you would think of when thinking of wineries, growing grapes for wine has actually been a part of the state’s history since it’s beginnings.  Thomas Jefferson was the first person to introduce wine grapes to the state way back in the late 1700’s when he brought some vines over from France.  Now Virginia is the 5th largest grape producing state in the country.  Wineries are popping up all over the state of Virginia, just as they are everywhere else. And a lot of these wineries are surprisingly very good.  Currently, there are about 230 wineries located throughout the state, though mostly in the northern regions.  We stumbled across one of these fantastic wineries as we were headed back to Dulles Airport, in Washington D.C.  Our delicious find was the Willowcroft Farm Vineyards, located in Leesburg.  It is new to me because I have never really been through this area before, however Willowcroft has been around, “making award winning wines since 1984”.  Willowcroft is the oldest winery in Loudon valley, and is the 8th oldest winery in the State of Virginia.

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Willowcroft wines sits atop Mount Gilead with stunning views of Loudoun Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains.   Home to the winery and the tasting room is a charming,  old rustic barn that was built around 1875.  Willowcroft is Loudoun Valley’s original winery.  Willowcroft grows twelve types of grape varietals on approximately 13 acres of beautiful, rich, lush and fertile grounds.  They use mostly their own grapes but do use some of the varietals from some of the neighboring vineyards as well.  French hybrids varieties account for nearly 20% of total wine grape production in Virginia, while American varietals make up only about 5% of the total.   As of 2012, the top 5 varietals produced are Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Vidal blanc and Viognier.   One of the other varietals I was introduced to while at Willowcroft was their Albarino, which was a deliciously new experience for me.  Willowcroft offers flights that are pleasing to the dryer palette, like mine, as well as for those who prefer their wines a little on the sweeter side.  They have something for everyone.

The Winery and Tasting Room.

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The Grounds.

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The Medals.

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Making mew friends with the Staff and fellow wine enthusiasts.  Our wine expert Aaron.

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Mary and my new friend Dorthy Memelas.

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*** Willowcroft Farm Vineyards is located at 38906 Mt. Gilead Road, Leesburg, VA 20175  and can be found at http://www.willowcroftwine.com

*** Dorothy Memlas is a Remax realtor for the region.  So if you are looking for a place by the winery, or maybe even a winery to purchase as your own, Dorothy is the one to call or contact at http://www.MyMontgomeryHomeFinder.com

 

 

 

 

Herbilicious Popovers

I love cooking with fresh herbs, and try to do so as much as I can.  I use dried herbs too, especially when making heavier, heartier soups or sauces.  But when making salads, light dressings or marinades, breads, or even a lot of meats, I use fresh herbs whenever possible.  They just have a fresher flavor and using them really makes your dishes come to life.  If using fresh herbs when cooking, you want to put them in towards the end of the cooking process, so they don’t wilt and lose their flavors, whereas if you are using dried herbs, you want to put them in early into the cooking process so the flavors can reawaken and blend into the the flavors of the dish you are making.   However, when baking, you want to mix the herbs in with your dry ingredients and then incorporate them in when mixing everything together.  I love cooking with all kinds of herbs and I am always up for experimenting with something new.  I figure if I don’t like something, I’ve tried and and I don’t have to do it again.  But if I do like it, then I have been treated to a new culinary experience, that I will repeat again and again.   As I always say, don’t be afraid to try new things.  Think outside the box.  And yes, I give you permission to “play with your food”.

Herbed Popovers with fresh rosemary, oregano, marjoram, thyme and chives.  I love these popovers and make them quite often, as you can tell, if you could see this old, worn and well used cook book.  They are best when served hot, straight out of the oven, with or without additional butter.

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You only want to fill the pan about 1/2 way.  These light, airy popovers are supposed to pop up and rise.  If you fill the pan too full, they will spill over and will not turn out.

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Herbed Popovers

3 eggs

1 cup milk

2 TBSP melted buter

3/4 cup flour

1/8 tsp salt

about 1 tsp each of your choice of herbs.  I used chives, thyme, rosemary, oregano and marjoram, but you can use whatever herbs you like.  Mixing things up a bit will give you new flavor varieties.

 

Preheat the oven to 425* F

I used a muffin pan, but you can also use ramekins if you prefer.  Spray the inside with cooking spray.

Mix the eggs, milk and melted butter together and set aside.  Mix all your dry ingredients and herbs together, then add the egg mixture and mix thoroughly.  Fill the pan only half full and bake for 25-30 minutes or until light and golden brown.  DO NOT open the door to the oven while baking or your popovers may fall.  These are real light and airy, with a lot of air pockets inside.  If you like cheese, you can also use your choice of cheese as well, either with or without the herbs.

 

When cutting fresh herbs like basil or spinach or greens, roll a bunch of the bigger leafed herbs and greens tight, like rolling a cigar, starting with your larger leaves outside and small leaves inside. With your French knife (your big, main knife), slowly rock or slide your knife along the edges of the rolled herbs or greens.  This is called a chiffonade.  The result will be thin strips of your herbs or greens.

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Ever Feel Like You’ve Had Too Much Wine? Me Neither

Normally, I do not do more than one post a day, but I was having too much fun with this one not to share it with all of you.  As most of you know, I love my wines.  And these pictures will show that it is kind of a running theme in my house, my art, and my life in general.  I am doing my part to help save the planet one wine bottle at a time, as well as recycling as many corks as I can into something fun and useful at the same time.  Life is way to short to take things too seriously.  Have fun.  Enjoy.  And while enjoying life, take time to enjoy the wines as well.

I painted both the pictures, the wine bottle and the wine glasses.  The bottle of Pinot Blanc is my own label of wine that we bottled, and if you look closely, it is the same photo as one of the pictures.  It is one of my Saint Bernards, Vinnie, with “his own glass of wine”.  I also made the serving tray and the trivet.  Most of the other items were made from other friends of mine.  There is a plant holder filled with succulents, a place card holder, a Christmas reindeer, and two serving dishes, and some other fun festive decorating ideas to boot.  One of the flattened wine bottles I use as a  butter dish, and the other I just put some jellie bellies in so you could see the versatility.  I like things that are fun and functional at the same time.  I hope you have as much with this post as I did putting it all together.

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Check out the shoes.  Two of my favorite things, dogs and wine.  Who knew?

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A partial sampling of my “wine cellar” downstairs.  We have more upstairs in the kitchen too.  My house always has wine.

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Just one glass of wine a day, right?!

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Eat Like the Pros

We tend to eat a lot lighter when the warmer weather is here, and this recipe for pasta with lemon and garlic is a perfect, light summer dish.   You can use it as a side dish or add your favorite protein and make it more of a meal.  You can make it vegetarian or non-vegetarian.  It is your choice, as are most of the recipes I cook.  Either way, however you make it, it is a delicious light meal for the warmer weather.   I started with the recipe from Matt & Susie Light, and then of course, I mixed and matched and added to it to make it my own.  It is one of the recipes in my new cookbook, Cooking with the Pros, by David Ortiz and some of his fellow New England athletes.  This is a really good book with quick, simple, delicious meals that are some of the favorite dishes from the athletes who contributed to make this book.  So with this book and these recipes, you can eat what the pros eat, and help others in need at the same time.  All the athletes who contributed to this book believe in helping others and do a lot of charity work.  The proceeds from the book go to the David Ortiz Children’s Fund, which helps kids from the Dominican Republic who are in need of heart surgeries and also provides support for the families of children in New England who live with congestive heart disorders.  

David Ortiz, also known as Big Papi, played for the Boston Red Sox  from 2003-2016.

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Matt Light played for the New England Patriots from 2001-2011.  This is the vegetarian/vegan version of the pasta that I would use as a side dish.  If you are making it vegan, substitute a vegan cheese for the Parmigiano cheese.

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The ingredients.

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Lemon pasta with lemon-herb grilled chicken to make it more of a meal.  I also served it with an herbed pop-over and a light, crisp and refreshing Pinot Blanc.  This is a wine we bottled, from our favorite winery here in the South Denver Metro area of Colorado, InVINtions, a Creative Winery.   The label is one of our dogs, Vinnie, enjoying “his” glass of wine after a long hard day of play.

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Jeanne’s Pasta with Lemon and Garlic

1 box of cooked pasta.  I used orzo, but you can use whatever you like.

3 cups spinach, chopped (you can also use kale, Swiss Chard or other greens of your choice)

2 TBSP olive oil

2 TBSP lemon juice

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

red pepper flakes to taste

salt & pepper to taste

baby portabella mushrooms, sliced

tomatoes, chopped

lemon verbena, chiffonade (Optional.  This time of the year, it grows wild in my backyard, so I use it in as many dishes as I can.  It has a real lemony flavor and adds a little more zip and zing to your dishes.)

Parmigiano cheese (optional.  You can both cook it in with the spinach and/or top the dish with it.)

 

Cook your pasta choice according to the directions.  Saute the spinach (or greens of your choice), mushrooms, garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes together until cooked.  If you are adding Parmagiano cheese to your dish, add it after the vegetables are cooked, along with the toasted pine nuts and tomatoes.  Add the lemon juice and your pasta and mix everything together.  If you are using this dish as a main meal, add your meat or protein choice on top of the pasta and vegetables and top with more Parmagiano cheese if desired.

 

***InVINtions, A Creative Winery is located  at 9608 East Arapohoe Road, Greenwood Village, CO 80112.  You can find them at http://www.InVINtionsWine.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maryland Crab Cakes

Maryland is famous for it’s crab cakes, and you can’t visit without trying them.  Maryland crab cakes are different than a lot of other crab cakes that are out there because they have more actual crab in them, whereas others have more breading in them and are often referred to as “deviled crab cakes”.  I like them both, and both are tasty, but once you have had the original; the best; it is hard to go back to something different.  When we travel, we love to eat the local foods, and the best places to go are where the locals eat.   So we asked the residents of Havre de Grace where to go and we were told MacGregor’s had the best crab cakes in town.  They were scrumptious.  We actually split one crab cake meal between us, and we each had some Maryland crab soup as well.  My husband had the Maryland crab soup with a tomato base, vegetables and potatoes, while I had the creamy crab soup that was more like a crab chowder.  Both were delicious, and added to our crab cake plate, it made the perfect Maryland meal.  MacGregor’s is located at the very most northern tip of the Chesapeake Bay, and the back of the restaurant faces the Bay.  So you get a fabulous, authentic seafood dinner with a fantastic view of the Chesapeake Bay all at the same location.

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Havre de Grace is a town located at the northern most tip of the Chesapeake Bay.  It is  rich with history, dating back to the days of George Washington and the French troops of 1781.

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Maryland Crab Cakes

1 lb lump crab meat

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup mayonnaise

lemon juice to taste

1 TBSP garlic

1 cup onion, chopped fine

1 cup red pepper, chopped fine

1 1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs

1 TBSP Worcestershire Sauce

1 TBSP malt vinegar

1 tsp paprika

cayenne pepper to taste

1 TBSP dry mustard

1 tsp parsley, chopped fine

salt & pepper to taste

 

Preheat oven to 375* F

Mix the eggs, mayonnaise, garlic, and lemon juice together and mix well.  Then add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly.   Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.  Form the crab mixture into patties that are palm sized and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Spray the top of the crab cakes with additional cooking spray.  Bake for 20 minutes, then broil for an additional 5 minutes.  Serve with lemon and tartar sauce.  MacGregor’s served their crab cakes on top of a large cracker.

 

 

***MacGregor’s is located at:

331 Saint John Street, Havre de Grace, MD 21078

You can find them at Macgreghdg@aol.com or http://www.MACGREGORSRESTAURANT.com