Quick and Easy Cuban Black Beans Sprinkled with Cotija Cheese

I think Cuban foodie purists would chastise me for using canned black beans instead of the long, tedious process of using dried black beans to make this dish.  What would have taken me 24 plus hours only took me about 30 minutes to make.  I like fast results.   I’m an instant-gratification-kind-of-person.  However, I suppose I would disapprove, too, if I heard of a recipe calling for white rice from an Uncle Ben’s Minute Rice to be made into fried rice.  But I don’t judge… just sometimes.

But hey, we all need some shortcuts in life, right?  Especially for those lazy, I mean busy days when you (and by you, I really do mean I) get too caught up on the couch watching endless reruns of trashy reality TV shows, or just plain busy with life.  My excuse?  I forgot to buy the back beans the day before.  Oh, who am I kidding.  I succumbed to the comfiness of my couch catching up on my DVR’ed Celebrity Apprentice (don’t judge me) shows from the last two weeks.

Quick and Easy Cuban Black Beans Sprinkled with Cotija Cheese(from 3 Guys from Miami)

1 large onion, diced finely
1 large green bell pepper, diced finely
3 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed, and chopped
3 tablespoons mojo criollo sauce or 3 tablespoons vinegar
3 cans plain, unseasoned black beans, drained but reserve the liquid
1 bay leaf
3 teaspoons ground cumin (more or less)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Crumbled cotija cheese
Extra virgin olive oil

Take one can of the black beans, and mash them into a chunky paste.

Make a sofrito by chopping onion and green pepper. Heat extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet, and sauté onions and green pepper until onions are translucent.

Add the garlic garlic and sauté another minute or so.

In a sauce pan over low heat, add the beans, sofrito, bay leaf, mojo sauce (or vinegar), and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the reserved liquid from the canned beans to adjust consistency of the black beans to your liking.  Add cumin, salt, and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle with crumbled cotija cheese and serve with your favorite Cuban entrees.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Oven “Fried” Platanos Maduros (Sweet Plantains)

Continuing with my obsession of oven “fried” foods, I decided to try it with plantains.  I love fried sweet plantains especially with a good Cuban sandwich, or anything Cuban for that matter.  My first introduction, actually seduction, with fried sweet plantains was when a friend took me to Versailles, a Cuban restaurant in Los Angeles, CA.  When I took my first bite into a plantain, I thought it was just a banana.  But I soon realized that it was better than a fried banana.  It seemed sweeter and starchier… the perfect combo just like savory and sweet.

I’ve fried sweet plantains once before but I find frying foods too messy.  The smell of fried oil also seems to linger around the house for days, clinging to any fabric in the home.  So I try to avoid it at all cost.  So I thought the perfect way to get a fix of fried sweet plantains was to “fry” them in the oven.  It tastes good if you are looking for a healthier alternative.  It doesn’t caramelize the sugars of the plantains as well as frying, but it still sweetens it up.  I might have to suck it up once a year like a holiday and fry these suckers up the next time I want a real, authentic fried sweet plantain.  But this is definitely my “go to” healthier recipe for the rest of the 364 days in the year.

Oven “Fried” Platanos Maduros

2 very ripe plantains (yellow outer skin with black spots, somewhat squishy like a ripened banana when pressed)
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Peel the plantains, and cut on a diagonal into half inch slices. Place into a medium-sized bowl and drizzle extra virgin olive oil. Toss to coat.

Place the plantains onto a greased baking sheet (I found that the plantains stuck to the sheet even despite it being tossed in olive oil) and roast for about 15 to 20 minutes. Turn the plantains half way through the cooking process. Cook until the plantains are golden brown and tender.

Lechon Asado (Cuban Roast Pork)

I wish there was such a thing as “smell-a-vision” because I would love for you to smell the lechon asado roasting in the oven.  The smell of citrus, garlic, onion, and pork is permeating through the house.  It’s intoxicating.

We just got back from a week vacation to NYC visiting my brother and sister-in-law.  A restaurant that we were excited to cross off our NYC foodie bucket list was Cafe Habana in the Nolita (North of Little Italy) District.  The restaurant was featured specifically for their grilled corn (read the restaurant review) on Food Networks’ “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”  We went there for dinner and it ended up being one of the best meals we ate in NYC, and trust me, we ate a lot of great meals.  I had the cuban sandwich was to die for.

The sandwich inspired me to recreate this dish at home.  So I starting marinating the pork butt yesterday afternoon, and it is now slowly roasting in our oven.

Lechon Asado (from 3 Guys from Miami)

3 pounds pork butt/shoulder
20 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups sour orange juice (or use two parts orange juice to one part lemon juice to one part lime juice)
1 cup onion, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
1 cup Spanish olive oil

Mash the garlic and salt together with a mortar and pestle.

Add dried oregano, onion, and the sour orange juice to the mash and mix thoroughly.

Pierce pork as many times as you can with a sharp knife or fork.

Heat oil in a small sauce pan, add the mash to the oil and whisk.

Pour garlic mixture (save a little for roasting) over pork, cover and let sit in refrigerator for 2-3 hours or preferably overnight.

To roast in the oven, preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Place the pork, fattest side up, in an open roasting pan. Place pan in oven and reduce temperature to 225 degrees F. Spoon extra marinade over the roast occasionally as it cooks. Using a meat thermometer, roast should be removed from the oven when the internal temperature reaches 195 degrees F. — for fork tender, “pulled-pork” quality. (If you want a roast you can slice, remove when the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F.)

Immediately cover with foil and let rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing or shredding.

Serve with rice, Cuban black beans, and sweet plantains… or better yet, make a Cuban sandwich!

What’s your favorite way of enjoying lechon asado?

Caprese Bruschetta

caprese, caprese salad, caprese bruschetta, bruschetta

We love basil.  We love bread.  We love mozzarella.  We love garlic.  We love tomatoes.  We love all these ingredients combined into one little morsel of love.  We love a lot.

What do you love?

Caprese Bruschetta

One loaf of crusty Italian or French bread
10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
6 ripe roma tomatoes, seeded
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
8 bocconcini (mini mozzarella balls), cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive, plus extra for brushing bread
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Position rack to the center of the oven.

Cut the tomatoes into 1/2-inch dices, and the bocconcini into 1/4-inch cubes. Place the tomatoes and mozzarella in a bowl, and mix in the finely minced garlic, dried oregano, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. Mix well, and then adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to your liking. Lastly, toss in the chopped basil and incorporate into the tomato mixture.

Slice the bread diagonally into about 1/2-inch thick slices. Brush each slice of bread with extra virgin olive oil. Place the bread on a baking sheet and bake for about 5-6 minutes, or until the bread begins to toast.

Arrange the bread on a serving platter, oil side up. Spoon tomato mixture onto each slice of bread. The bread will get soggy, so this must be served and eaten immediately. Conversely, you can also have the guests spoon the tomato mixture if they desire to do so at their time and convenience, and to their liking.

Makes 12 slices of bruschetta.

Roasted Sweet Potato Cube Skewers with a Cilantro-Jalapeno Aioli Dip

roasted sweet potato, sweet potato, cubed sweet potato, roasted sweet potato skewers, sweet potato skewers

My first introduction to fine dining (which I wouldn’t call fine dining anymore nowadays) was when my parents took us to Max’s Bistro when I was in high school.  It was for no special occasion, but to try this restaurant that had just opened up, which was trying to introduce this town to “California cuisine.”  It was one of the only “upscale” restaurants that I could recall at that time when I was younger.  So we were all very excited.  We even got all dressed up for this non-special, special occasion.  We salivated as we looked over the menu.  I saw sweet potato fries with a cilantro-jalapeno aioli and begged my parents to order it.  They were a little reluctant partially because they aren’t too keen on appetizers, but also because the price tag on the dishes were a little high at that point in time for the city we live in.  But hellooooo?!  Fried sweet potatoes?!… Yes, please!  Anything with the word fries was magic to my ears (and it still is!).

Mmmmm.  Sweet potato french fries.  I can still recall how amazing it was the first time I tried a sweet potato fry… crispy panko coating on the outside, and just the right about of tenderness on the inside.  It was perfect.  But then dip it into that aioli, and oooooooh weeeeeee!  It was 100 times even more amazing.  The aioli was tangy, cilantro-y, and had just the right amount of heat from the cilantro.  Yum.  Unfortunately, the only thing that impressed us that night was the sweet potato fries, and dessert.

Coming from a family history of the restaurant business, I grew up with the mantra of “the customer is always right.”  Service.  It’s a really important part of any business dealing with customer relations.  In my humble opinion, if the service sucks, then the food sucks.  I know the logic may seem oversimplified to some, but it can really ruin the mood of a great meal.  If the entree costs more than $25, I expect to be wined and dined by the wait staff.  And of course, the service that night was snooty and unattenative, which completely turned my parents off.  My dad actually vowed never to go back to the restaurant because of the poor service, and he still hasn’t to this day.

I have found myself at the restaurant a few times here and there over the years for business and pleasure, and find the food a bit of a hit or miss.  But it’s those sweet potato fries and the aioli that I crave.  So I did what any other foodie would do, and that was to recreate one of my favorite appetizers.  But in a more healthy matter.  I still haven’t been able to bring myself to fry anything in the house.  I’m afraid of the smell of fried oil lingering around the house for days.  So I’d rather not.  But trust me, I really want to fry foods like fries and chicken.  I’ve tried the oven-”fried” sweet potato fries, but we weren’t a big fan of them.

My solution… roasted sweet potato cubes.

Roasted Sweet Potato Cube Skewers with a Cilantro-Jalapeno Aioli Dip

3 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled
Extra virgin olive oil
Paprika
Salt and pepper
Skewers

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Dice the potatoes into 1 inch cubes.   Place the cubes in a medium sized bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and season with paprika, salt and pepper.   Toss with hands to coat evenly.  Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.   Roast for about 30 minutes, or until tender, but slightly crispy in the outside.   Stir the sweet potatoes once or twice during roasting.   Remove from oven, and allow to cool just enough to be easily handled.  Skewer the cubes, and enjoy with your favorite dip!

Cilantro-Jalapeno Aioli

1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise (we really like the Trader’s Joe brand)
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 jalapeno chiles, seeded (if you like it less spicy) and chopped
Juice of one lime, plus more to taste
Salt, to taste

In a food processor, combine the mayonnaise, cilantro, and jalapeno; pulse until smooth. Remove the mayonnaise and pour into a bowl. Add half of lime juice and salt, to taste. If you like it more citrusy, add more lime juice, which is how we like it. Cover and refrigerate for one hour before serving to allow all the flavors to develop. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days.

This is the perfect prescription for sweet potato fries, or with fish or shrimp tacos.

Makes about 1 cup of aioli.

Fresh Basil Pesto… the perfect prescription to doctor up pasta, grilled chicken or salmon, or as a dip!

pesto, basil pesto, fresh pesto, fresh basil pesto

Our basil and parsley have been growing out of control. Okay, that’s sort of an exaggeration. But it has been doing quite well since we planted the starter plants. We made it our goal to harvest and use everything from our small “farm” this year because we let everything die or go to waste last summer.  It’s true.  We had roma tomatoes, basil, key limes, and peppers growing up, down, and sidways, and we left it to die.  We always have so much fun with planting the starter plants, but rarely do we ever enjoy the fruits of our labor. It’s silly.  But I think it’s pure laziness, and partly because who wants to harvest stuff when it can get up to 115 degrees F during the summer months.  Blech.  But this year is going to be different.  I can feel it.  I intend to eat every darn thing that grows this year, whether I get sick of it or not.  Again, another exaggeration.  But you get the point.

Anyway, getting back to this post.  So what not a better way to use up the basil and parsley than to make a pesto. Especially since I had extra parmesan, lemons, and garlic lying around from my latest obsession with caesar salads. We also always have an abundance of a variety nuts in our freezer for salads, desserts, and what not.  Basil pesto is our favorite prescription to doctor up pasta, over grilled chicken or salmon, as a sandwich spread, and as a dip for our caprese “salad” skewers for party hors d’oeuvres.

What’s your favorite way of using pesto?

Fresh Basil Pesto

3 cups fresh basil, packed
1 cup fresh Italian parsley, packed
2/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
3 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more for tasting
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt, to taste

In a medium sized pan over medium heat, toast pine nuts until they get fragrant. Watch these carefully as these can get toasty fragrant to burnt very quickly.

In a food processor, combine the basil, parsley, pine nuts, garlic, solive oil, and lemon juice. [But not the parmesan cheese. We'll get to that in just a little bit.] Pulse until the mixture has a smooth, but thick paste-like consistency.

Poor the basil mixture into a medium-sized bowl, and fold in the parmesan cheese. Mix until the cheese has been thoroughly incorporated.  Add more lemon juice and salt to taste. But trust me, you really won’t need anymore salt after this because of the saltiness from the parmesan cheese. However, do add more lemon juice because it really livens up the pesto sauce. But then again, we like lots of lemons in almost everything we eat :)

Makes 3 cups of pesto.

Raspberry Fruit Birthday Tart

Ah, rx4foodies’ 32nd birthday. A time for fun, celebration, and piles and piles of good food! If only birthdays were not so fettered with emotion at my house. Yes, rx4foodie and I each have our own uniquely complicated relationship with getting older and celebrating birthdays. This year, for rx4foodie, it came in the form of critical self examination. It was the year of “what now?” and “is this all there is?” The days leading up to her birthday were filled with the sounds of Dr. Chang’s own unsettling version of an existential, quarter-life crisis.

So, as her loving and doting partner what was my answer to ease her pain you ask?  What else, lots and lots of food. Food for days. We invited a friend over for dinner Friday night, went out with another couple for sushi Saturday night, shared breakfast at a favorite local spot Sunday morning, and then the coup de grace.  Birthday night dinner.   Like most households, our most steadfast tradition for holidays and events is a very large and laborious meal. For obvious reasons, this time around I opted for comfort food.

The menu: roast beef with a garlic and herb rub, mushroom risotto with truffle oil, roasted broccoli, and a berry tart equip with burning candle on top.   I won’t bore you with the gory account of my day in the kitchen.   Unlike you dear, rx4foodies reader, I am not adept in the culinary arts and limit my time in the kitchen exclusively to sous chef duties as needed.   Below is the recipe for my berry tart, the only part of the meal that is my own and not followed line by line from a recipe, enjoy.

Tart crust

1 cup whole wheat four
1 and ¼ cup all purpose flour
1 cup unsalted butter (chilled)
2-3 tablespoon ice water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a food processor combine flour, butter, salt and sugar and pulse until combined into pea sized balls.   Slowly add in the ice water until the dough forms into a large ball.   Remove from the food processor and refrigerate in a glass bowl for 30 minutes.  Roll out the dough to ¼ inch thick. Cut into 12 inch circles and pat into tart pans, leave some excess dough around the edge as the dough will tighten and shrink in the oven.   Put in the freezer for 5-10 minutes and then bake frozen for 12 minutes, or until it is a light golden brown.

Pastry Cream Filling

8 ounces Tofutti cream cheese (you can use cream cheese, but we prefer the taste)
4 ounces heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar (we like it less sweet, so add to taste)
1 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
1 bar of dark chocolate
Fresh raspberries

Melt the chocolate over a double boiler until melted and then spoon a thin layer on the bottom of each cooled tart shell and set to cool in the refrigerator.   In a food processor or electric mixer, beat the tofutti, whipping cream and sugar until the mixture is aerated but still firm (like loose pudding).  Scoop the mixture into the tart shells and top with fresh berries.   I suggest that you let them set in the refrigerator for 10-20 minutes before serving.

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