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Archive for April, 2009

I’m not one for prepared foods, more often I find something satisfying about learning what constitutes the different flavors and nuances in a dish. Certainly that’s subject to how involved of a process you want your food preparation to be, but I generally err on the side of start from scratch. That being said, this week I wanted to share with you one of my favorite pre-made spice blend bases, sofrito.

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Sofrito has its roots in Spain but variations of this spicy sauce blend are common in Latin, Caribbean, and Mediterranean countries. In Spain, the sauce is pre-made sauteed garlic, onions, and tomatoes in olive oil. In Italy it generally consists of chopped onion, celery, carrots and seasoning. Basically, sofrito is a time savor and if you get a good authentic blend it’s often a better flavor marinade than market supplies, time, and lack of cultural teachings will allow. This one that I use came directly from Puerto Rico by a lovely woman I know who has family there and was kind enough to indulge me during one of her visits. Puerto Rican sofrito has recao (a tropical member of the cilantro family), cubanelle peppers, onion garlic, tomatoes, and aji dulce peppers. See? It’s not often you come across these ingredients at the local Stop n’ Shop, making this jar decidedly worth the investmest. It seems to last a while, too.

Puerto Rican sofrito often makes its way into many stews, rice dishes (the famous arroz con pollo comes to mind), sauces, and soups. Although I haven’t sampled many other brands of sofrito, I can tell you that the one above is not too spicy to leave your taste buds singed for days, but it does give your food a kick.I don’t make a lot of stews, but I have used sofrito to flavor sauteed shrimp, pork and rice, and some black bean soups. Usually if I’m making a half a pound of meat, I’ll put in a full teaspoon of sofrito that I saute together with onions or garlic as the first step. For a soup, maybe a tablespoon…it all depends on how spicy you like things, so if you’re nervous go slow and add a little at a time until it tastes how you’d like it. This week, I’m going to sofrito up some ground turkey and avocado that I still have lying around. I’m making it up as I go, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it works out. Check back in for the results and if you have used sofrito before, share how you best like to use it!

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It’s supposed to be about 5,000,000 degrees here tomorrow and instead of prematurely pouting about this early onslaught of summer, I took advantage of the relatively mild evening we had here to crank up the broiler and use some of the wonderful produce hanging out in my fridge. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to make when I started so I just decided to prepare a few of my favorite things and see how they worked together.

Swordfish is kind of new on my rotation, but it’s popular around these parts and very easy to prepare. The taste is very mild and the pieces tend to be thick steaks that are resilient under many cooking techniques. One of the great tragedies of my life is that my apartment can’t accommodate a barbecue, but a grill pan or a broiler is a good option when you’re lacking the outdoor space. You can season this fish with some simple salt and pepper, or go with a marinade, rub or paste. I can’t remember where I saw this, but several years ago I got the idea to make a crude paste (I think this has an official name, but I have no idea what it is) by mashing some garlic and mixing it with lemon zest, parsley, and salt. Rub this stuff into the fish and it’s a really flavorful, bright, and easy way to enjoy this meal.

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Every now and then I get a little carried away in the produce aisle and end up in a frantic cooking spree necessitated by the many vegetables in the fridge teetering dangerously close to the edge of spoilt. This week I had all the makings of a Thai dish: snow peas, carrots, broccoli, ginger, basil and thai chilis. Of course in an effort to bring some color to these pages, I threw in red peppers for good measure.

Taste the rainbow:

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The great thing about a meal like this is that you really can throw in the kitchen sink. If you don’t have/don’t like the vegetables that I have chosen, you can use all sorts of alternatives. Mushrooms, cabbage, any number of meats, shrimp, or tofu, peanuts, squashes, even eggplant will all work. Traditionally, stir frys or vegetable blends might be served over rice but I chose to use quinoa here. Quinoa, as I’ll be sure to go into in more detail later, is a healthy whole grain prevalent in South America. It’s very light tasting when you’re looking for something carb-y but not heavy and can be used along with any number of flavors or ingredients. And it’s gluten free giving it wide appeal. The second greatest thing about this meal is that less than a half an hour separates you from sitting in front of a delicious bowl of this stuff.

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Live from Brasil!

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Okay, not really from Brasil, but this past weekend I was down visiting friends in New York (okay, it was actually the Jerse) and was lucky enough to sample some authentic Brasilian cuisine made skillfully by my lovely Brasilian friend Bruno. I have been hearing about his rice and beans for a solid four years with nary a bite. No longer, my taste buds have now been sated and what I have come to appreciate is that it doesn’t matter if you’re eating this meal on a balcony in Rio or in a kitchen in Jersey City, it will knock your socks off.

Bruno totally wins the presentation award too. Finally, some red in the blog:

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nyc-april09-075I find it very entertaining to analyze regional dialects and accents, and thus couldn’t be happier to be a west coaster transplanted to Boston, wonky accent capital of the U.S. Here my name becomes Christer and one is mocked mercilessly for calling Worcester anything other than “Wooster”. New Englanders commonly elongate the ‘a’ sounds, as evidenced by the great aunt/aunt pronunciation debate. I’m firmly in the “I don’t care if it sounds like a bug, you say it like ‘ant’!” camp. Which leads me to today’s main ingredient, scallops. Or should I say, scaaaaaullops. I don’t know why but for some reason saying it this way makes me feel like I’m clearing a hairball. Err…anyway. Moving right along.

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Carrot Oatmeal Cookies

Apparently I like green food. Everything on this blog so far seems to be green. Today, I aim to to mix that up a little with this recipe for some really tasty cookies…because green cookies would be more than a little disturbing.

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Yay for orange. These cookies were inspired almost directly from a recipe I yoinked off of 101 Cookbooks, one of my very favorite blog sources. The rad thing about this recipe is that there is no sugar in it. Yup, you read that right. I don’t know if these cookies are just an evil trick to get you to think you’re eating healthily or if they actually aren’t too bad for you, but either way I’m hooked. Now I don’t bake too often, but I lurve me some carrot in dessert…carrot cake, carrot muffins, etc. The cookie concept had to be explored.

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Spring Pizza

Wow, 66 people viewed the blog yesterday! In the grand scheme of internet viewership that’s probably a drop in the bucket but I’m jazzed. Thanks to all of you who made that statistic possible.

As promised, today’s entry is in regards to the  pizza I made on Sunday. One suggestion I have received asked that I actually explain how things taste, especially since some of these ingredients are obscure enough that many may not be familiar with them. Fair point. I hadn’t had ramps prior to Sunday, so as far as first-time exposures go these guys had a very peppery smell. They just smelled spicier than your average onion or leek. On the pizza, a bit charred, they were pungent like a cross between a red onion and a shallot so that the distinctive taste was balanced and subtle. Okay, I’ve just used every florid adjective I know.  That being said, I love onions and all related vegetables and I really appreciated that the taste of the ramps weren’t too much that I was embarrassed to be in close proximity to someone else for the next three days. Try the ramps, you’ll love them! Now for the pizza.

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