Thursday, December 5, 2013

Grandma's Turkey Stuffing

Sure, Christmas is great. So is Valentine's Day. But the holiday that truly wins my heart is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the holiday that marks the start of the holiday season, and of course, the holiday food!

Of all the dishes I grew up with during the holiday season, my favorite has always been my grandmother's turkey stuffing. There is nothing like it. I could literally eat it on its own and be completely content with or without the turkey on the table.

Like most of my family's recipes, the recipe is simple, but the taste is definitely not!

So, without further ado, here's the coveted recipe. My suggestion is to double it the recipe. Trust me, you'll be glad you did!

1 - 6 oz can of black olives
1 - 6 oz can of green olives
1 - 8 oz can of tomato sauce
1/2 pound of ground beef
1/2 pound of ground pork
1 large potato
1 large onion
2 – 6 oz bags of stuffing mix
6 hard boiled eggs
1 envelope of Sazon Goya
Goya Adobo to taste

Place the ground beef and pork in a pot on low heat to start cooking. Chop the olives, onions, eggs and insides of the turkey into small pieces. Cut the potato into small cubes. Mix all the ingredients in a pot except for the stuffing mix. Cook mixture over low heat until the meat is cooked. When some of the juices have been released, mix in the stuffing mix until it is all moistened. You are now ready to stuff the turkey. If you do not use this mixture to stuff the turkey, place the stuffing in an oven-safe dish and cook until the potatoes are tender.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Pernil: Special Post by my Mami

Either the party's here or you have reached a Puerto Rican's home. How do you know? Well, you can smell the pork roast cooking. How can four simple ingredients give this meat such great favor and color? It takes salt, black ground pepper, cumin and an envelope or two of Sazon Goya. You prepare the meat two days in advance by cutting holes in the meat. (You can also prepare and cook the meat the same day, but it will taste better preparing it ahead of time.) You mix the salt, pepper and cumin in a bowl and then you add and rub the mixture into the holes that you made in the meat. Once you've done every hole you then spinkle some on the outside and give it a good rub.

The final touch is the Sazon, which gives it color because we love our colors especially in food. Don't be surprise that your hand will turn orange. The Sazon has annatto which gives it the orange color. You give the meat a final rub with the Sazon and you are ready to place it in a pan, then cover it with aluminum foil and stick it in the refrigerator. Every time you open the refrigerator you can smell the seasonings.

We prepare the pork roast for every occasion whether it's a birthday party, baptism and even weddings. But no Puerto Rican house is without a pork roast on Christmas Eve. It's almost a sin! This is one of the staple foods for Christmas. During a trip to Puerto Rico, we were driving along the road and on the side of the road they were selling pork roast of course we had to stop and get some. The taste was awesome. The pork was tasty and the bread was so soft. The aroma that the pork roast leaves take me back to my childhood. I remember the Christmas holidays and celebration that I went to as a child. The monthly trips to the meat market to pick up the side of pork. Give this pork roast a try and you will see how you will enjoy every bit of it. Some of the side dishes that accompany this roast is yellow rice with green pigeon peas and our unique style of potato salad.

Pork Roast

5 pound pork shoulder

3 tablespoons of salt

2 tablespoons of black ground pepper

1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon of cumin

1-2 envelope of Sazon Goya with culantro and annattao - found in the Hispanic food section.

Follow the instructions on top, then remove the aluminum foil and place the meat skin side up in a 425 degree oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until you cut the meat and it is not red or bleeding. Enjoy!!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Arroz con Pollo. Need I say more?

As soon as she said it I knew I had finally earned the right to write about it. “Your Arroz con Pollo tastes better than mine,” my mother said. As the words escaped her mouth I knew the torch had officially been passed.

If there is any Puerto Rican dish that I was to perfect, it is Arroz con Pollo. Arroz con Pollo isn’t just one of those dishes that you make when you can’t think of anything else to cook—although it serves well on those days— it’s one of those dishes that encapsulates Puerto Rican heritage and cuisine.

Arroz con Pollo is a one pot meal that is just that—rice with chicken—but it is also so much more than that. In it are all the spices that differentiate Puerto Rican food from any other food. You start with a base of Sofrito, a staple nearly every dish, and then proceed to throw in all the other ingredients in the caldero, including green olives stuffed with peppers, Sazon Goya, Goya Adobo, tomato sauce, bay leaves and of course the chicken and rice. Sounds simple, right? It is, but “simple” certainly does not describe its flavor. As the mixture of all those ingredients simmer together for that wondrous half hour a transformation takes place, and turns our kitchen into a room of memories, where I can recall having the dish as a child, then at my grandma’s and at my aunts’ homes.

Nothing can perk up an appetite for a meal like the smell that emanates from the caldero minutes before the Arroz con Pollo is completely cooked. In our home, we never tire of the dish, and I make it almost once a week. It took me several years to perfect the recipe, and in that time I made friends addicted to it. One friend even made a special request on her birthday: “Please cook Arroz con Pollo for me!”

What perhaps makes Arroz con Pollo such a staple in Puerto Rican cooking is the fact that the dish encapsulates Puerto Rican heritage; it contains a little bit of everything that makes us unique. Puerto Ricans are a mix of Tainos, Spaniards and Africans, and the mix results in colorful, beautiful people. Like Puerto Ricans, arroz con pollo mixes in a variety of flavors and colors, and the end result? A dish that is wonderful to look at and even more wonderful to eat.

Titi Awilda's Arroz con Pollo


5-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

3 cups of long-grain rice

1/4 cup of Sofrito or 3 tablespoons of Goya Sofrito and 3 tablespoons Goya Recaito

2 packets of Goya Sazón with culantro and achiote

Goya Adobo with pepper seasoning

1 can of Goya Alcaparrado

1 can of tomato sauce

1 ounce of olive oil

2 large bay leaves

water (as indicated below)

salt to taste


Season the chicken parts with Goya Adobo seasoning. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or stew pot, and sauté the chicken and Sofrito on medium heat for about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. You may cover the chicken, only at this point, to help the chicken cook.

Add the tomato sauce, salt, and the bay leaf. Now, sauté the mixture for another five minutes.

Add the rice, water,
Goya Alcaparrado and Goya Sazón packets (water should be just above the rice, so that the rice is loose when you stir it).

Stir occasionally until the water starts evaporating. At this point cover it until the rice is fully cooked.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

¡No Te Pintes Las Uñas, Mañana Hacemos Pasteles!

I tried to experiment. I put extra masa and extra meat, thinking I would be able to make an even better pastel. Quickly, however, my idea was shot down. “That’s too big!” my grandfather scolded in Spanish. “How do you expect to fold that into a pastel?” Humbled, I scooped some of the masa off the wax paper and put it back into the pot. “Sorry, abuelo.” I replied.

If there’s one thing I learned during the eight hours I spent making pasteles with my grandfather, it’s that this is a serious business. Every single pastel you make must be carefully made, because in it, are the pride and flavors of our land, Puerto Rico. Also, because we were making the batch for this holiday season, we had to make them perfect, or else deal with the consequences of eating poorly made pasteles for several months. This time was only the second time I made pasteles, and this time I was more involved, I was actually in charge of forming the pastel, not just tying it at the end. I kind of like to see it as a promotion, now I was able to take a lead in how they’re made.

Our day started early, and began by peeling mountains of root vegetables, green bananas and green platanos. From the beginning, it was all a lesson. I learned that there’s a right way and a wrong way to peel a green banana. Do it the right way, and the peel comes off rather easily; do it the wrong way and you’ll be stuck with a broken banana with half the fruit stuck on the peel. I remember when I grabbed the first green banana and began to peel it like a normal yellow banana; I was quickly met with laughter. “Girl, you’re going to be there forever!” my mom laughed. It wasn’t until I pulled down on the nub that I realized what she meant. The nub came off, but nothing else did; I was still stuck with the rest of the banana. “Ok,” I conceded, “how do you do it?” What proceeded was a professional demonstration from my grandfather, who took his mini-machete looking knife and made a slit down the back of the peel, then with his fingertips opened up the banana peel, separating the fruit from its home.

After peeling what seemed like endless green bananas I was left with sticky, blackened hands. I itched to wash them, but soon realized that would be pointless. What’s next was to cut nearly 40 pounds of pork meat into ¼ inch cubes. The chopping seemed endless, but luckily, with the help of a friend we finished in only two hours. As we chopped, my grandfather ran the root vegetables through his most prized-possession, his food processor/grinder made especially for making pasteles. According to him, that machine can make masa for 300 pasteles in 20 minutes. For that reason, he totes it around wherever he goes, constantly asking for a towel to shine and clean it. Were it mine, I’d prize it, too. It’s either that machine or we get graters out and grate the vegetables to a pulp! My mom can tell numerous horror stories about doing it the “old-fashioned” way, and remembers it being time consuming and dangerous.

After the meat stewed in flavorful seasonings (the usual: Sazon Goya, Recaito, Adobo, olives, etc.), the assembly line began. Proud of my new seat at the head of the line, I took my job seriously –well, at least most of the time—and tried to make pasteles that resembled and tasted like those we had to rush order from NYC. First goes a little achoite oil on the wax paper, spread it around, then the masa, spread it around, then grab a spoonful of meat and plop it right in the middle and pass to your left. The next person in line folds it into its “pastel” shape, and then finally the string. My friend, mother, grandfather and I did this for hours. After the sun went down we realized how long we had been working. Occasionally, I’d ask how many we’d made already. “41” my mother would shout from down the line. Then, “86,” she yelled. We made it up to 138. Not bad for a rookie. My grandfather said he’s made over 300 in one day. I’m not there yet, maybe one day, but only if I have that coveted machine.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

La Otra Quesadilla

Not what you were expecting was it? I know what you’re asking yourself already. Why does that quesadilla look like a cake? Isn’t a quesadilla a tortilla filled with warm, melty cheese? Well, yes, that too is a quesadilla, but it’s a Mexican one. This quesadilla is Salvadorean, and there’s a big, big difference. About the only similarity is that both contain cheese, otherwise this dish is a world apart from what you’re used to calling a quesadilla. But, that’s not to say it isn’t just as delicious; it has its own unique flavor and texture, and I can almost guarantee you’ll not stop eating at just one piece.

It’s easy to get confused if you don’t understand the differences between Latin American cultures. Many folks believe that just because we share the same language, that everything else is the same. Want to test my knowledge? In Mexico, “pastel” means “cake.” Now, walk into a Puerto Rican establishment and ask for a pastel and what they’ll hand you is something that looks more like a tamale. Now, this would be just as welcome at a birthday party (if not more!), but it’s not what you asked for.

Differences being settled, now I can talk about the absolutely wonderful quesadilla Salvadorena. This dessert, made of humble ingredients, but packing incredible flavor, takes me back to the time I started dating my husband. My husband, Erik, is of Salvdorean descent and before I met him I had no idea about Salvadorean food or culture was like. Our first couple months dating were filled with excursions to the local pupuseria and then to the park to devour our meals. I absolutely loved pupusas and was open to whatever he recommended. One day we were feeling extra hungry and decided to get dessert along with our lunch of chicken, cheese and pork pupusas. I ignorantly questioned why he called it a quesadilla, it was the first time I’d ever seen anything called a quesadilla that a) wasn’t sold by a Mexican and b) didn’t have a tortilla. “Just try it,” he said. Everything else I had eaten was delicious, so I wasn’t worried. Then I took a bite. Lo and behold I was hooked. I begged my mother-in-law for the recipe, and when she came back to me with only a handful of ingredients and directions, I knew I’d be in trouble. It’s simply, too easy to make! As if you needed another reason to bake it!

Sonia’s Quesadilla Salvadorena Recipe

2 cups of Bisquick baking mix
2 cups of sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
1 stick of butter (4 ounces)
16 oz of crema Mexicana (can be found at most Latino food markets in the refrigerated section)
1/3 cup of sesame seeds

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In one bowl mix the dry ingredients and in another mix the wet. For the dry ingredients first mix the Bisquick and sugar, then mix in the parmesan cheese. For the wet ingredients first mix the cream and butter, then add the eggs. When both wet and dry ingredients are ready, mix both together and beat until smooth. Pour the mixture into a greased 13x9 inch pan and sprinkle the top with the sesame seeds, adding more or less as desired. Bake for about 30 minutes and check every five minutes or so until a knife or toothpick comes out clean.

See, I told you it was easy!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Ying and Yang of the Caribbean: Guayaba y Queso Blanco

It’s quite possibly the world’s greatest combination of flavors: white cheese and guava. It’s like the ying and the yang of the Caribbean world, and it never fails to please. There are several ways you can enjoy this unique combination of flavors, it just depends on how much time and what ingredients you have. My mother vividly remembers eating the simple, yet satisfying hors d'oeuvre at Christmas parties that consists of a Ritz cracker, a slice of white cheese and a slice of guava. It’s a delicious pairing, both for the eyes and the palate. The deep red of the guava heightens the whiteness of the cheese, creating a picturesque image that brightens any spread! Although often associated with Christmas for many Puerto Ricans, these can be served anytime, anywhere and is perfect for a dinner party. There’s no fuss, no mess, and it’s completely delicious.

Now, if you find yourself with a little more time on your hands, or with a craving for sweets that just won’t quit, pastelillos with guava and cheese are a must! Pastelillos are essentially an empanada-like pastry that instead of meat is filled with guava paste and cream cheese. They are almost too easy to make, lending themselves to become addictive. I remember the first time I tried a guava and cheese pastelillo, it was in Kissimmee, Florida, at a local Latino market that sells a variety of traditional Puerto Rican items in their “fast food” corner. My husband Erik and I tried one out of curiosity, and it smelled so good we had to take a bite out of it as soon as we left the store. Needless to say, we completely devoured it before even turning on the car! I was determined to find or make a recipe to recreate the experience, and luckily with my mother’s fond memories of them, and our collective ingenuity, we came up with a simple recipe that won’t leave a Puerto Rican native questioning its authenticity!

Once you try this combination, you’ll understand why it’s so popular in the Caribbean, and why you really need will power to avoid eating too many pastelillos!

For the simple version:

Ritz crackers
White cheese (A Hispanic brand like Cacique is good)
Guava paste (Usually sold at Latino markets and is called Ate de Guayaba)

Cut equal sized slices of the guava paste and white cheese and place atop a cracker.

To make Pastelillos:

8 sheets of puff pastry
Egg wash
Flour (To make the puff pastry easier to work with)
1 package of guava paste
1 bar of cream cheese

Optional: Powdered Sugar

Set the oven at 375 degrees. On a flat surface, spread some flour so that the puff pastry does not stick. If needed, make the puff pastry thinner with a rolling pin (you’ll need some room for the guava paste and cheese to fit). Be careful, however, not to make the pastry too thin. Cut 1/8” inch slices of the guava paste and cream cheese and put a slice of each in the middle of the pastry square. Brush the inside edges of the pastry with the egg wash and either fold triangularly or by bringing each edge to the center. If you choose to fold it triangularly (the shape should resemble an empanada), brush the outer edges of the puff pastry and with a fork press the edges together. This will keep the pastry together and give it that “empanada” look. Once you’ve done this for all 8 pastries, brush the outside with the remaining egg wash and place on a baking sheet. Bake the pastries for about 10-15 minutes, until the outside is golden brown and flaky.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired. Let cool for several minutes.

These are best out of the oven, but be careful, the heavenly melted mixture inside could be very hot! Enjoy!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sofrito: The Reason We Cook

It looked like she had just vanished. On the kitchen table was an open checkbook, a calculator, a pen and her purse. Even her cell phone was still on the table. But she was gone. She never leaves the house without her purse. Extremely curious, I asked my father what happened.

“She’s running down the street, in search of the mailman,” he said.

“The mailman?” I questioned.
“Yes, remember the Sofrito ingredients were supposed to come in today,” he said.
Apparently, in our family effort to look out for the mailman who would bring our treasured ingredients, no one managed to hear the knocking on the door, so he took off, box in tow. Just one more day in that box and the ingredients would have spoiled, making my Titi Awilda’s efforts to bring us fresh Sofrito in vain.

Nervously, I awaited my mother's arrival. My stomach began to turn; we had just used the last of our Sofrito a week ago. Our supply was completely gone.

Twenty minutes later my mother entered the door, prized box in hand.

“Oh, I am so glad I found him!” She said, with her extraordinary efforts written all over her face. “I would have died if this didn’t come in!”

My dad laughed, but only because he didn’t understand. In California you can’t find the ingredients to make fresh Sofrito, you have to get them shipped from sympathetic relatives on the east coast. Had my mother not rescued this Floridian package from the unclaimed section, we would have gone without Sofrito for months! She had to run after the mailman.

I understand though, and would have done the same. With Sofrito there is no compromise. There is no substitute. If you want your food to be flavorful, colorful and be truly Puerto Rican, you need Sofrito. I grew up on Sofrito, and my mom insisted on putting it in every dish, be it Puerto Rican or not. “A esto le falta algo,” she would say, and in went the Sofrito. It went in meatloaf, beef stew, and of course traditional dishes such as Arroz con Pollo and Pollo Guisado. It can become addictive, so much so that my husband, a Salvadorian, also caught the Sofrito bug, and recently suggested we put it on homemade pizza! One day I’ll give that a shot, and if it comes out good I’ll post our recipe!

As I mentioned, Sofrito isn’t just a staple in Puerto Rican cooking, it is absolutely necessary. In our home we make enough Sofrito to last us several months, we freeze whatever isn’t used that day and the rest can last for up to six months in the freezer. Living in California, however, has posed a serious problem for my family. Seeing that the state is dominated by a Mexican population, finding the ingredients to make fresh Sofrito is impossible. My mother and I have searched and searched with no avail. There are no ajicitos dulces or culantro, ingredients for which there are no substitute. So to escape this dilemma we’ve had to contract the help of family in New York and Florida, who send overnight packages full of the aromatic ingredients.

Sofrito is made up of a variety of ingredients. It is essentially a cooking base that adds that traditional Puerto Rican flavor to our dishes. Sofrito is available in a can, but nothing compares to homemade Sofrito. Even just making it fills the kitchen with a fresh, enticing scent that comes from the mixture of culantro, cilantro, sweet peppers, garlic and more. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area that carries the essential ingredients, I suggest you try out our recipe. And if you’re not, contact your friends and family on the east coast and tell them to ship you ingredients!

Remember, Sofrito doesn’t have to go into just Puerto Rican dishes, but anything! Like I said, we’ve put Sofrito in American dishes, and are even going to try it on pizza! Be creative! You can’t go wrong with this, I promise!
Godmother Maria Medina's Sofrito Recipe

2 Envelopes of Goya Sazon Seasoning with Achoite and Culantro
½ cup of cooking oil
2 tablespoons of Goya Adobo Seasoning
2 Large white onions
2 Heads of garlic
1 bunch of cilantro
4 oz of culantro (Sawtooth Herb)
1 Green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
8 oz (approximately 38) Ajices dulces (Chinese capsicum)

Once you have all the ingredients peeled and cleaned start to blend the ingredients in a food processor. Start by adding a little of each ingredient at a time so that way each batch made has the same ingredients in it. Store the Sofrito in plastic bags or in Tupperware. Sofrito will keep for six months when frozen.