Sunday, June 19, 2011

Seasons Come & Seasons Go

One thing I honestly love about New England is the ability to experience the seasons.  Living in Miami where we are in eternal Summer, I never appreciated things like flowers or even the leaves on the trees themselves.

Sunrise taken in Scranton, PA on our drive to our new home in New England

When we first moved up here, La Suegra would go on and on about how much she loved the Spring since it was like a rebirth after the death of Winter. I wasn't sure what she was talking about but I took her word for it.  I was told that we had moved up during a relatively mild Winter and that I should not use it as an example.

Spring came and it was ok.  La Suegra set up a little garden and she planted flowers and a few vegetables -- an attempt at becoming self-sustaining.

Eh, what's up Doc?

Cilantro that I conveniently use in my Ropa Vieja recipe

A fly!

In a few weeks, that little green ball will be a ripe tomato!

Summer was nice, maybe only about a week or so of Miami-like heat.  My only complaint was the lack of central A/C in this old house.

Then Fall came.  Wow.  Nothing can compare to watching those leaves change color.  The weather was crisp and gave me a skip to my step.  I started craving pumpkin everything (for a while there, I thought I was pregnant - me wanting to eat calabaza?). This is what people had been preparing me for all year.  When people would find out that I had just moved here, they'd say, "You will LOVE the Fall!". They were right! Que belleza!

Gould Hill Apple Orchard, Hopkinton, NH

Winter came next.  What can I say? Coño que frio, mis amigos! I started to think that I was an extra in a movie titled Ice Age 4: Afternoon of the Popcicles! Let me tell you, when its 5 degrees below - you know! I loved it, though.  I think that every time it snowed, I would stare outside the window at the pretty  snowflakes coming down.  I only really got sick of it when it was still snowing mid-April.
Our driveway became an ice way. Ice-cleats were all the fashion at this point!

Got Snow?

Not a greeting card -- that's our barn!

Spring? Where are ya buddy? It came late this year, but when it did, I was wowed. La Suegra was right! You really start to appreciate something when it isn't there 24/7.

I never thought I would see the end of the ice and the snow, but soon enough, beautiful things started sprouting from the ground. The trees got thicker and the bugs started to buzz.

Arizona Sun Blanket

Who doesn't love roses?







The first day of Summer is just two days away and I am going to enjoy the season of my youth, but also mark it as my countdown to Fall.  I can't wait!

I love living in New England for all its beauty and nature and history.

Do you experience seasons where you live? 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Barriga Llena, Corazon Contento - Ropa Vieja

Mi Gringito loves to eat. This is good because I love to cook! When we met, I asked him if he had ever eaten Cuban food.  He said yes and that his favorite dish was Ropa Vieja.  Now, before a few months ago, I had never prepared this dish before.  No reason really -- maybe because Abuela's was so good I knew mine wouldn't even compare...

Regardless, I live to please my very loving husband and I set to prepare his favorite dish -- no pressure! I adapted the recipe for convenience and I make mine in a crockpot. Guess what! Abuela can retire because mine is that darn good! YUM, YUM, YUM!

Ropa Vieja
2 Cubanelle Peppers, seeded and sliced*
1 Small Onion, sliced*
1 can (14oz) Tomato Sauce
1 can (6oz) Tomato Paste
1 Tbsp each Olive Oil, Cider Vinegar and Minced Garlic
1 Tsp Ground Cumin
1 Bay Leaf
1/2 Tsp Salt
1 Boneless Chuck Steak (1.5 LB)**
1/3 C Pimiento-stuffed Olives
1/3 C Chopped Cilantro

* My grocery store also has pre-sliced fajita vegetables already packaged that is a mix of peppers and onions.  You can substitute that for the peppers and onion
** I buy anything in the range of 1.5-3 one has ever said no to more meat!!

  • Mix all ingredients except steak, olives & cilantro in a 3.5-qt or larger slow-cooker

  • Top with steak; turn steak over to coat with mixture

  • Cover and cook on low 8 to 10 hours until steak is very tender

Is it done yet?

  • Remove and discard bay leaf. 
  • Tear steak in shreds using two forks. 
  • Stir in olives and chopped cilantro

You know how I know I did good? Mi Gringito asked for seconds...a full plate of it!  It's a good thing I don't cook this way every day porque we'd have to roll ourselves up the stairs!!

Enjoy, mis amigos! Hasta la proxima!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Neapolitan Cheesecake Bars

I honestly wish that every recipe that churned out of my kitchen was 100% my brain child.  Sadly, its not.  I spend hours sometimes scouring the internet for ideas that I usually tweak with my own little dash of anything. I subscribe to at least half a dozen recipe newsletters ranging from Betty Crocker, Food & Wine Magazine, Kraft, and many more. Even if I don't use all the recipes, they are a great inspiration and starting place for at least 50% of my dishes.

I remember as a kid my mom would buy the Neapolitan Ice Cream from the store. I also remember how I would strategically eat all the vanilla and chocolate and leave the nasty strawberry behind. What can I say? I've never been a fan of fruit, let alone fruit in any of my desserts. (I will some day go into detail of my aversion to fruit in my yogurt). Que bueno that I at least grew out of my strawberry phase!

Mi Gringito works very hard and he comes home dead exhausted most days.  My greatest joy in life is to have something tasty waiting on the dinner table for him. When I think he needs an extra little oomph, I make him some sort of dessert.  I made this winner a few weeks ago for him and he made it a point to eat a bar (or two) at every meal. I admit, I snuck one (or two) myself and wowee!

I had the opportunity to make them again this weekend for a gathering of friends and I think Mi Gringito felt cheated because we left them at our friends house and I didn't make a separate batch for ours! Pobresito, but then again, we cannot have too much of this temptation in la casa or I will be forced to start wearing a muzzle!

Neapolitan Cheesecake Bars adapted from Betty Crocker
1 Pouch (1lb 1.5oz) Double Chocolate Chunk Cookie Mix
1/2 C Butter or Margarine, Melted
3 Eggs
2 Packages (8oz each) Cream Cheese, Softened
1/2 C Sugar
1 Tsp Vanilla
1 Container (12oz) Whipped Strawberry Frosting

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Line a 13x9" pan with foil and spray bottom and sides with cooking spray

  • In a large bowl, stir cookie mix, melted butter, and 1 egg until mixed well

  • Press dough in bottom of pan.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes

  • While the cookie is cooling, beat cream cheese, sugar vanilla and the two remaining eggs in a large bowl 

  • Use an electric mixer on medium speed until mixture is smooth

  • Spread over cookie base

  • Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until set
  • Remove from oven and let cool for 30 minutes
  • Spread frosting over cream cheese layer

  • Refrigerate about two hours or until chilled (I left it in the fridge overnight and it was easier to handle)
  • Remove from pan using the edges of the foil.

  • Using a wet knife, separate into 6 rows by 6 rows

  • I placed the bars in cupcake cups for easy handling at the party

  • Store leftover bars covered in the refrigerator

It got rave reviews at the party and I swear that Mi Gringito ate at least six!

Here's a note: the longer this delicacy sits in the fridge, the better it tastes! Let me know if any of you try it.  Also, feel free to substitute ingredients to make this one less sinful.  I used fat-free cream cheese in an effort to lessen the blow and have considered also trying it with either Splenda or Truvia.

Hasta la proxima! Un beso desde el Norte!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Try Anything at Least Once...

I've got to love La Suegra sometimes...she tries so hard to make me feel at home that its sometimes a little funny.  She will come home from doing groceries with a huge smile on her face and in a singsong voice will tell me, "I bought you something!!!"

"Oh no," is the first thought that crosses my mind and then I usually smile when I see the treat.  I've made it my mission to find Spanish staples on my shopping trips and she's just helping me out.  The other day she came home with 8 cans of Goya juices ranging from Guanabana to Mango, a block of guava marmalade and frozen empanadas.  She's done good by me!

Sometime last year, we went to a potluck party and I wanted to show these Americanos what I considered one of the best appetizers on this Earth. I found some Mahon cheese at Sam's Club and I had a block of guava paste that mom had sent me in a care package. I wouldn't say that it was a hit, but I sure as heck enjoyed eating the leftovers for the following week -- I can even recall Mi Gringito and I making a meal of it one day when I told him that we needed to eat it before it went bad.

La Suegra came home sometime last week and warbled, "I got something for you!" and I saw this huge block of cheese. Just by looking at it, I knew that it was either Manchego or Mahon (the rind gave it away) and I smiled.  Happy, but not.  I'm trying to avoid any and all temptations and that, my friends is a HUGE temptation! You're talking to the person that as a child would sneak into Abuela's fridge and take a bite out of whatever cheese was in there. Abuela would announce that there must be un ratoncito on the loose and I would giggle in a corner thinking I was the sneakiest thing this side of James Bond...but I digress.

So this hunk of cheese has been sitting in my fridge for a week now and I hear it calling to me sometimes at night.

" me! You know you want to! I'm so yummy!"
I finally gave in on Wednesday and pulled it out of the fridge when I was hit with the munchies. Now, I'm a weirdo in the sense that I will not eat any type of dairy without inspecting it thoroughly (expiration date, smell, look, ingredients) -- If I don't know how long its been there or what's in it, there's no way its going in my mouth. For some odd reason, I didn't do this with this particular hunk of cheese.  Maybe it was because I knew when it was brought home and I was the one who put it away, but whatever the case, I just grabbed it and cut into it. I stuck a huge morsel of it in my mouth and instantly said, "WOW!" as well as, "This is NOT Manchego nor Mahon!"

I grabbed the cheese and peered at the label as I popped another chunk in my mouth (readers, this stuff was DELICIOUS!) and saw that it was called Iberico. Ingredients: Cow, goat and sheep's milk.

Thinking back on it now, had I read the label first, I might not have been so keen to taste this cheese.  I'm glad I had a lapse in weirdness and gave it a go.  It's a sharp cheese, but its creamy with almost a buttery taste...After about two or three more morsels, I went back in the fridge and grabbed the guava paste and paired it with the cheese.  OH WOW! Party in my mouth!

I think I now have a new favorite, but I also know I need to eat this delicacy in moderation.  A 1oz serving  is about 120cal and 10g of fat. Who in their right mind would only eat 1oz of this yumminess??

So my readers, what I want you to gather from this is to be open to new things.  Maybe something you've said you would never eat might be pretty darn good.  Give it a shot!

Hasta la proxima! Un beso!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Traiga La Camilla Que No Aguanto Mas...

I've never been outdoorsy...not in the least.  I don't like to be hot, I don't like to sweat and I'd be much happier if bugs did not exist.  In reality, though -- there will be times when the temperature will rise above fifty degrees in New England (for a minute in May, I was skeptical!).  With rising temperatures, you will inevitably sweat (or just swell up like a giant tomato, like me!) -- and those pesky bugs will buzz all around you.

So, why on God's green Earth would I even contemplate a walk, let alone a HIKE, in this wilderness? Exercise. Plain and simple.
Not pesky, but I don't consider a butterfly a bug!

My friends, I've been blessed like many Cubans to be "big boned" and I've realized that I'm not getting any younger nor am I ever going to get any thinner just sitting like a Buddha in from of my computer. It's not for lack of equipment...I have it all!  Treadmill, workout video's, Wii Fit, Zumba for the Wii, Dance Dance Revolution.  Just because I have the tools doesn't mean I will utilize them. As my thirtieth birthday looms in a little over a month, I know that I have to step up my game if I want to ever give Mi Gringito the little guajiro's he wants!
You think I will look like her if I do this daily?
So how does one vaga get off her butt and exercise?  I find some sort of motivation and trick myself into doing something.  Now I will be honest -- the motivation isn't always the best, but I look on the bright side that it got me moving.

I decided sometime in late winter/early spring (was there even a difference this year???) that what I wanted to do for exercise this spring and summer was to hike. I am in no way conditioned to scale Mt. Washington, or anything, but I figured that if I started small and slow I could eventually take on more advanced trails and maybe someday I could take on a mountain.

The first thing I did was buy a good pair of hiking boots and hiking socks. I then did some research on local trails as well as hiking tips and tricks.  I don't want to end up being supper for a rabid squirrel or chipmunk out there! Mi Gringito and I planned to drive all around New Hampshire starting with the easy trails and maybe working up to moderate one's by summer's end.
Fashion & function! 

All this planning got me hungry, sad to say, and I mentioned to Mi Gringito that what I really wanted more than a good walk was a huge scoop of ice-cream. I then asked him if he thought it was too ambitious of me to want to walk to the Beech Hill Farm & Ice Cream Barn. He said not at all; that it was about three miles round trip if we cut across our yard onto a hiking trail. So...yesterday afternoon, we put on our hiking boots, sprayed bug spray and sunscreen, filled a backpack with some water, an umbrella and my camera and decided to hike all the way to the barn and back.

The way there was pretty easy and uneventful except when I asked Mi Gringito if he new what poison ivy looked like and he said no. We must have been a sight trying to avoid EVERY leaf in our path. We survived so I guess we didn't run into any. That, or we've got some really tough skin.
EVERY set of leaves looked like these!

It took us about 45 minutes to get there and I don't think that chocolate ice-cream ever tasted so good to me. We sat in the air-conditioned room for a good half-hour and I wondered if Mi Gringito was dreading the hike back as much as I was! But alas, what other choice did we have? Los Suegros were in Massachusetts for the day so we really didn't have a Plan B on getting home.
Pay no attention to the hot pink blob in the middle of your screen!

Has anyone ever noticed that walking downhill is much, much easier than uphill? Oh that trek back was killer! It could have been because of the pint of chocolate brownie ice-cream that now sat like a lead weight in my stomach combined with the hill -- all I know was that we hadn't reached the trees yet and I was severely out of breath.  We made it home in one piece and actually took less time on the walk back (I think its because I was leading the retreat).  After a long and cold shower, I was aching but it felt good.  So what if all the calories I burned washed out with the ice-cream? The fact is that I voluntarily walked almost 3 miles! That's big!

4 minutes by car; 45 minutes by foot...
I hope to be able to chronicle other hikes that we decide to take this summer -- I didn't pull out the camera even once on this hike and now I regret it because it was very pretty and the butterflies were everywhere!

Stay cool, my friends! Hasta la proxima!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Lechon Asado con Tostones (sort of...)

I woke up yesterday feeling pretty good...
New England runs on Dunkin'

I started my morning with my fuel (b.k.a. Dunkin' Donuts Coffee) and nice chat with Mami & Abuela...forget the fact that a windstorm the previous night had knocked a tree down, which in turn knocked out our power, internet and phone line. Oh yeah, and the water decided to shut off in the middle of my shower leaving me a soapy mess and on the hunt for bottles of water to rinse off...but I digress!

I started last night's supper early in the morning -- maybe because I was so excited to be making it.  Whoever knows me might be shocked to see that I make pork very frequently (never ate it back home and Mami on more than one occasion had to make me something separate).  What can I say?  Price is right and a pierna can feed you for days if you buy one big enough.

Trying to get the most bang for my buck, I noticed that the local grocery stores mark down their meat one day before it reaches its "best by" date...that don't bother me none since we have a freezer in the garage and I can freeze the stuff until I am ready to use it. The beauty that I roasted last night was a whole $2.50 off...I think I ended up paying like six bucks for a 6-lb roast. Ka-ching!

Here is last night's supper: Lechon Asado con Tostones (sort of...). Why sort of, you ask?  Well, it was the first time that yours truly had ever touched a platano, let alone smashed and fried one.  Abuela's pep talk and good Juju wasn't strong enough, I gather.  The flavor was there but--well, read below and the pictures can tell the tale!

Lechon Asado
1 Pork Shoulder (4 lbs or more)
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
**Remember that I don't really measure--It must be ingrained in me from Abuela!

  • Place pork skin side down in a 13x9" glass pan
  • Pierce pork with a sharp knife all over

  • Sprinkle garlic powder, cumin & onion powder all over the roast -- enough that it is completely coated

  • Pour mojo on top of roast, making sure it is seeping into the pierce marks and filling the pan approximately half way up

  • Cover roast with foil and let sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours (if you're in a hurry, you can marinade right before sticking it in the oven -- the flavor just won't be as prominent)

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
  • Place roast in the oven for 2 hours
  • Remove roast from oven, uncover and turn roast (skin should be facing up). Sprinkle top with spices again and add more mojo (or water) to the pan so that it's again halfway full. Return to oven for an additional 2 hours.

  • Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes.

  • Tear meat from the bone and shred it into bite sized pieces...the pieces will soak up the liquid in the pan and make the pork moist.  

2 green plantains

  • Cut off ends of the plantains and with a sharp knife, score a line across each of them

  • Place plantains on a microwave-safe plate and microwave for 4 minutes (they will be hot, be cautious!!)
  • Peel off the skin and cut the plantains into sections
  • Place the cut sections into a salt water bath

  • Using a tostonera (Thanks Mami!!) smash the plantains. You can also place the plantain pieces between some paper towels and smash with a can or a bowl or long as it flattens the sucker, you're doing OK!

  • Fry the plantains in oil until they are a golden color -- approximately 6 minutes.

  • Remove from oil and let them drain on a paper towel
  • Sprinkle salt on them when they are still glistening with oil.  Serve immediately.

I think I cut the plantains too thick and that's why they fell apart.  They ended up being plantain fries, but tasted just as good.

I got lazy towards the end and instead of making black beans and rice, I opted for the Minute rice individual cups--I swear by these and each one comes with a $0.50 coupon for your next purchase! What do you think, my friends?