Buela’s Spaghetti

Spaghetti made in dutch oven

There’s something special about comfort food. There’s also something special about experienced family cooks. Combine both and you have a memorable, tasty, and hopefully saucy moment. At least, my grandmother’s spaghetti is.

As a child and early adolescent, my grandmother, V, moved around a lot. Her mother had five children to different men, and well, times were tough. Smack in the middle of the ‘60s, my great-grandmother traveled from Brooklyn to Chicago and back. Eventually, she settled in Puerto Rico and at a very early age her eldest daughter met, fell in love and married my grandfather. This year they celebrate their 50th anniversary – phew! Just thinking about it gives me the chills. Chills of admiration, of course ;-).

Spaghetti dutch oven

Yet, admiration falls short in the attempt of describing or determining my grandmother’s cooking style. You see, my grandfather is very fond of Puerto Rican cuisine. More accurately, he loves the rural, home-grown beans, root vegetables, meat and most of the traditional dishes over here. On the other hand, my grandmother embraced the industrial age of food at US, plus all the culinary diversity of having lived in the busiest cities. Now, how can someone so enthusiastic about exploring food, satisfy the classic-rural palate of a husband, while giving the kids a taste of different places? The answer came to grandma in a simple manner: Puerto Ricanize  – yes, I just made that up – signature dishes from different cultures. Hence, spaghetti criollo was born. I bet something about that combination really appealed to grandpa. I mean, they’ve been married for 50 years, so food (with love) definitely played a part here.

Spaghetti Saucepan 1

The way this sauce deviates from typical marinara is that it requires no fresh tomatoes (industrial America kicking-in), you start off with sofrito and swap basil with cilantro. Part of the awesomeness of this recipe is it’s simplicity and versatility in terms of ingredients. Timing, however, is key. After a couple of conversations with grandma over the phone, I realized that timing was important because it allowed the flavors to blend together particularly well at low heat. Being a fast-forward, impatient, and ever-hungry cook, I hat to struggle with it, but the end product is worth the wait. Enough chit-chat, let’s get saucy.

Serves: 4 – 6

Spaghetti Add-ins dutch oven

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp Sofrito

-OR-

3 Cloves of garlic, minced

1 8 oz Can of tomato sauce*

1 6 oz Can of tomato paste*

1 C Water

2 Tsp Italian seasoning

-OR-

1/2 Tsp Dried thyme

1/2 Tsp Dried oregano

1/2 Tsp Dried parsley

1/4 Tsp Dried basil

1/4 Tsp Dried sage

1/4 Tsp Paprika

1/4 lb Mushrooms, sliced. Use ones you like.

1/2 Lg White onion, thinly sliced

1/2 Yellow bell pepper, sliced

1/4 C Fresh cilantro, finely chopped

12oz Spaghetti (#8 is preferable)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Cilantro

The results of cooking this pasta, as with all other recipes, depends on the cookware. Interestingly, the differences in moisture are evident. If this dish is done in a deep pan, like a dutch oven, the sauce will be really moist, runny, even. If a shallow saucepan is used, the results are slightly dryer and the sauce tends to stick better to the noodles. In fact, it was this difference that drove eluded me for quite some time in trying to replicate grandma’s recipe. She used a shallow saucepan.

  1. In the cookware of your preference (see note above), sauté the sofrito in the olive oil at medium heat, until it turns light yellow and has absorbed some of the oil. Be careful not to burn it.
  2. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste and water. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Add the Italian seasoning or spice mix and lower the heat to medium low. Let the sauce simmer at medium low for at least 45 minutes – this is crucial.
  4. Taste the sauce! Dried spices vary in intensity, so it’s important to taste every step as possible. Add additional seasonings if necessary.
  5. In a large pot, bring water to a boil with the lid on. While the water heats up, add the goodies to the sauce.
  6. Stir-in the mushrooms. Cook for 15 minutes, without the lid.
  7. Add the onions and peppers. Cook for 10 minutes. Now’s a good time to add the spaghetti and cook for about or a little under the same time.
  8. Strain the spaghetti and immediately add to the sauce. Mix and set the saucepan on low heat, no lid.
  9. Add the cilantro and toss until completely mixed. Have some extra cilantro around to serve with. Enjoy.

Spaghetti Final 1

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Quinoa + Black Bean Salad

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It’s whats for dinner! Thou shall not waste food! Quinoa + Black Bean Salad, sautéed.

Chocolate chip banana bread

GUINEO! Shouted the lady from across the counter. Local fruits and vegetables were stacked by levels in front of her. The woman’s skin told stories of countless years picking crops in the field. Her forehead had lines of worry and a shine that could result from enduring more than five consecutive hours at an 86°F temperature. Her eyes were alert and cunning, glancing; searching. A moment of silence and the faintest hints of conversation traversed her venue. Below her, but just above the lines of avocados, her grandson spoke to her and she replied in kind. Suddenly, she looked at the costumers walking by and she returned to her former stance. Apologizing to her grandson, she wiped the sweat from her face and gave him a kiss just above his hairline. From a pile of boxes she procured small, clear-plastic bags that swayed in her hands as she shouted “GUINEO” again. She caught my attention.

I already had a bag of vegetables. Enough for three meals and a batch of sofrito, and to be honest, guineos (read: bananas, say: gui – neh – ohs) are my least favorite fruit. Before I could decide, she looked straight at me. “¡Pruébalos!” (Read: Try them!) She was already pealing a banana and before I could greet her, she handed me a neatly cleaned and pealed banana. Wait.

The banana peal was still green! In fact, the banana itself looked rather small, by comparison to a supermarket’s average offering. Sensing my reluctance, the woman, whose voice was now soft, perhaps maternally so, said: “I’ve had more than five costumers today saying they won’t buy these bananas, until they try them.” I followed orders, as I’m sure the others did before me. Soft, sweet, and delicately flavored. I was sold. As she bagged my purchase, we spoke about the history of her organically grown bananas and she gave me useful tips on how to store them. She charged me a dollar, nothing extra. I left booth #34 with deep respect for that woman, sixteen bananas, and something to remember. After all, that’s what food is all about: memories and the people you share them with.

Sixteen bananas is a lot to go on. Although banana is still my least favorite fruit, I really enjoy banana bread. I’ve given away a few of them and used the really ripe ones in this recipe. Hopefully, in the future, I will visit the woman and share a slice or two.

This recipe is diary and egg free, as I’ve been on a plant-based diet for some time now. I do not, however, limit all my recipes in this manner, because some of the recipes are made for my family and friends. Not for myself. Since I had so many bananas, I made both with diary and egg, as well as without diary and egg, so I included the alternatives in the Notes at the bottom of the post.

Yields: 8 – 10 thick slices.

Tools and Equipment

Mixing bowls

Whisk

Electric mixer (optional)

9 x 5 metal bread mold

Ingredients

1 1/2 C Unbleached flour

1/2 C Brown sugar*

1/4 C Granulated sugar

6 Small ripe bananas (or 3 regular ones)

1/3 C Chocolate Chips

1/2 C Toasted and chopped walnuts (optional)

1/4 C Toasted and chopped pecans (optional)

1/4 C Canola oil

1/2 C Soy milk, unsweetened *

1 Tsp Baking powder

1/2 Tsp Baking soda

2 Tsps Fresh lemon juice

1 Tsp Mild vinegar*

1 Tsp Vanilla extract

1/4 Tsp Cinnamon (optional)

1/2 Tsp Salt

Pinch Cloves

Pinch Nutmeg

  1. Set the oven to 320°F and line the mold with a piece of parchment or grease.
  2. Combine soy milk and lemon juice in a cup and let it until required.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, cloves and nutmeg together into a small bowl.
  4. In a large bowl, combine bananas, sugars, oil, and margarine, as if creaming using and electric mixer. If doing by hand, start with a fork to work everything together and then switch to a whisk until the sugar crystals are barely visible.
  5. Add vanilla extract and the soy milk and lemon suspension prepared earlier.
  6. Combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients in the larger bowl, and quickly fold in the nuts and chocolate – without over mixing (Read: as soon as you feel resistance from the batter, stop). Gently mix in the vinegar.
  7. Transfer batter to mold and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let it cool in its mold for thirty minutes and then let it cool out of the mold for at least an hour before serving. Or just have a pice of it warm, like I did. =)

Notes:

* Brown sugar can be switched for regular granulated sugar, but the bread will be sweeter.

For dairy + eggs version:

Switch the margarine for unsalted butter, and the soy milk, vinegar, and baking soda for 2 eggs at room temperature. Whisk the eggs and incorporate them into the creamed ingredients along with the vanilla extract in step #5 above. This will result in a yellower bread.

Not Rightfully Tembleque de Coco

Childhood memories kick-in every now and then. The other day, my family celebrated my grandmother’s 76th birthday and even though I was not able to attend, I did talk to her over the phone for a very long while. The chief subject: a recount of comical memories since her childhood. One of the things we both agreed on: She got me into loving coconut, in every way. She wasn’t the only one though. My grandfather would climb, don’t ask me how, the palm trees in their backyard to fetch fresh, water-filled coconuts every single time we visited over the summer. He would skillfully chop the top layers and poke a hole in the center, from which deliciously sweet water poured. Inside the green coconut, one could scoop out delicate, yet tasty flesh. Delicious.

Any who, it was my grandmother that got me into coconut sweets. Among them, tembleque de coco, was the easiest to find, as well as to eat. Not surprising, since this coconut pudding of sorts, is embedded to the very culture of Puerto Rico. I don’t think there’s a bakery in the island that does not offer a variant of this dish lightly dusted with ground cinnamon. The variants I refer to mostly differ in the rigidity of the pudding. The word tembleque actually alludes to the jiggling motion (yes, that is an actual word) that the pudding has as you poke or move it along its sides. Some people prefer this rigid version, as opposed to a softer one. The first time I remember trying tembleque de coco, I asked my grandmother if it was coconut Jello®. Indeed, it looked like white gelatin. Not that I did not like it, but a few months later I tried another variant, a more pudding or mousse-like tembleque; and I loved it. Of course, my grandmother enjoyed it too. ;-)

In light of the recent occasion, it seems right to make this mousse(y) tembleque de coco. In fact, I’ll be making some again as a gift for my super grandmother this weekend. Hopefully, we won’t eat all of it before the rest of the family arrives. Then again, it will be her gift. No reason to share, right?

This recipe yields enough pudding for 6 – 8 people. To make the gelatin-like tembleque de coco see the notes at the end of the recipe.

Tools and Equipment

Mixing bowl

Whisk

Stove

Pot or medium saucepan

Electric mixer (optional)

Ingredients

2 1/2 C Coconut milk, divided (Not coconut cream!)

1/4 C Coconut cream *See notes below.

1/4 C Granulated sugar

1/4 C Cornstarch

1/4 Tsp Salt

1/2 Tsp Vanilla extract

1/4 Tsp Almond extract (optional)

Toasted coconut flakes and/or cinnamon, for garnish.

  1. Combine half the coconut milk with the cornstarch in a separate bowl and whisk until smooth, though small clumps may set in the bottom. Not to worry.
  2. In a saucepan, pour the rest of the coconut milk and set to medium heat. When it starts to boil, add the sugar, salt, and coconut cream. Let it reach a boil once more.
  3. Add in the cornstarch slurry in a slow, steady stream, while vigorously whisking the heated mixture until it starts to thicken. Add the extracts.
  4. When it starts thickening, lower the heat to medium-low, and let it sit for 20 seconds, without whisking. Then whisk again for 10 seconds. Repeat this two times. It should thicken significantly.
  5. Transfer to serving recipient and refrigerate for at least three hours.

– OR –

For a more fluffy, delicate coconut pudding, transfer the mixture to a cold metal bowl and chill for at least three hours. Before serving, whip it using an electric mixer and serve.

Notes: * An alternative I prefer to use, instead of coconut cream, is to chill a can of coconut milk over night and remove the cream from its almost-solidified state at the top of the can. I use the rest in making sauces and soups. This makes for not-ridiculously sweet cream.

To make the gelatin-like tembleque, double the amount of corn starch, let it sit on low heat for 2 extra minutes after thickening to your desired consistency and refrigerate in a shallow bowl or serve ware.

Sofrito: The base of Puerto Rican cuisine.

If you ever ask a Puerto Rican what is the staple food over here, the reply will most likely be “Rice, beans, and _______.” The last of which will be filled with the name of some animal protein that can vary immensely. Rice and beans, however, are always constant.

When we say rice, we mean white rice, unless we specify otherwise. When we say beans, we mean beans cooked in tomato sauce; but this sauce is special not because it requires rare ingredients or complex techniques, but because it has an extraordinarily flavorful and simple base: sofrito.

I guess most cultures have their own bases. The French came up with mirepoix and I’ve heard that people in the south of the US call their base creole. Every base is comprised by different ingredients that, I suppose, are not only easy to find, but also cheap in each region. In fact, I believe that the recipe for sofrito will most likely differ from family to family, or maybe from town to town. Whatever the case, sofrito is the foundation of most Puerto Rican, and perhaps even Caribbean, dishes. We use it to flavor virtually everything and anything savory. This base is so fundamental to Puerto Rican cuisine, my grandmother makes spaghetti sauce with it – and it is delicious.

This recipe was given to me by my grandfather, and though it is extremely simple, it is packed with flavor. It is something of a miracle, really, that this recipe of just three ingredients elevates “OK” beans to “YUM! What did you put in this?” beans.

Abuelo Ismael’s Quick Sofrito

This recipe yields about about 4-1/2 cups of sofrito, but it will vary with the size of the processed goods.

Tools and Equipment

Sharp knife

Cutting board

Clean towel

Clean jar or container

Strainer – optional

Ingredients

1 lb. Garlic heads = 5 – 8 garlic heads

2 lbs. Spanish onions = about 3 – 5 onions

1/4 lb. Cilantro (or cilantrillo) = about a handful

  1. Peel, separate, and cut the stem ends off the garlic, exposing the cloves. Peel the onions and cut off the root ends. Cut the cilantro stems near the root. Discard all the inedible ends.
  2. Wash all the ingredients thoroughly, but make sure to pat them dry, at least until all the excess water is removed. I like to leave them about an hour or two over a clean towel, just to make sure they’re dry and clean.
  3. Cut the cilantro into 3-inch long segments and place in a food processor. Layer the garlic cloves evenly over the cilantro in the food processor. Cut the onions into an appropriate size to fit the food processor and layer over the garlic. You might have to do this by batches. I was lucky enough to borrow my mom’s huge food processor, but my grandfather makes this by batch and it works just fine. Even better, because he does it ;-). If you do make it by batches, though, make sure to split the ingredients, such as to have approximately equal amounts per batch. You don’t want to stir this much after it’s done.
  4. Pulse in the food processor until the desired garlic and onion size is reached. The cilantro should be processed thoroughly, though.
  5. Transfer sofrito to the clean container and seal as tight as possible. This can hold up for two weeks. Though the flavor changes slightly as time progresses, this is not a bad change. You can certainly freeze it, but that will mellow the flavors down considerably. I like to keep mine in the fridge for two weeks maximum. The rest, I give out as a gift. Really.

Note: If there is a lot of liquid when you process the ingredients, get a fine-mesh strainer, like those used to sift flour, for example, to remove as much of the liquid as possible. Runny sofrito goes bad faster and does not cook as well as mildly-chunky-and-not-as-wet sofrito.

How to use it. With a little amount of oil, sauté as much sofrito as you believe necessary until the onions and garlic turn golden and the smell is irresistibly delicious. Proceed with your intended recipe as usual, but this time, you have a base layer of flavors to build on. =)

Any questions? Feel free to ask.

On Roasting Garlic. An awesome fundamental.

“Garlic.” After hearing the word, I’m immediately transported to a time when Emeril Lagasse would “add just a little” of the good stuff to hot pan. You could hear the garlic sizzle, but nothing could compare to the smell that must have emanated from there. No wonder he often spoke about how we, the viewers, should demand for “smellavision.” Speaking of smells, roasting garlic is one of those things that will have you, and your neighbors, crazy with the amazing aroma of deliciousness. Really.

I had never tried roasting garlic until very recently. It was so simple and delicious, I ate six garlic heads with toasts and had a lovely-garlic(y) breath afterwards. It also proved to be a taste-changing element in most of the recipes I used to make with raw garlic. For the better, of course. Since this is the first recipe I post, and because I have some stuff from lab to get done, I will omit the measurements. It is so intuitive and versatile, you don’t really need anything other than the time, the temperature and a couple of tips here and there.

First off, set the oven to 300°F and make sure you have a pan where you can accommodate the garlic. I bought these rather small garlic heads at the supermarket today, so I placed them in the pan just to see how many would fit.

Cut the top off the heads and season with generous amounts of salt and pepper. Douse with some extra virgin olive oil.

Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour at 300 °F. Once the time is done, remove the top foil and place the pan on the topmost rack of the oven. Increase the temperature to 375°F and roast for 20 minutes. Let it cool off for 15 – 20 minutes. WARNING: The aroma of roasted garlic will take over your entire kitchen area, and if your apartment/living space is as small as mine, then get ready to have the smell of garlic in your clothes, computers, oh, and cake, if you happen to have any around, like I did. Alas, not to worry. Leave a window open and the smell dissipates very quickly.

Squeeze out the garlic cloves into a clean container. I don’t know if it’s the lab rat in me, but using nitrile gloves felt perfect for this job. No mess, no fuss, just clean squeezing.

All I can say, is that roasted garlic is amazing. It works for families and for far-from-family-students, as they can be stored in the refrigerator for quite a long time. The flavors of roasted garlic blend so well, that they make anything and everything taste delicious, without the overpowering-OUCH raw garlic gives food. That’s why I think it can serve as part of a base for other ingredients/flavors to build upon. Like avocados, lime, and jalapeños, for example. Now, if I just had cherry tomatoes.