Saturday, December 27, 2008

Beets Are Awesome!

Day after Christmas, we had... you guessed it, Christmas Leftovers. Yum! My mother-in-law left quite a bit of turkey and salad here, so I cooked up a pot of rice and we made a meal of it. The turkey had been roasted, plus re-heated in the oven here, and I was worried about it being a little dry if I stuck it in the oven again. So instead, I followed an old trick taught to me by my dear old grandma that also stretches your leftovers a little. I took all the meat off the bone and cut it into small bite-size pieces, then put it in a large sauce-pan. I had about a half cup of leftover 'juice' - drippings from the roasting pan - and I added that to the pan also. While that warmed up, I got down a handy packet of 'instant' turkey gravy mix and whisked it with a cup of cold water (following the directions on the packet). When the stuff in the saucepan was nice and hot, I dumped the gravy mixture in, and stirred just until it came to a simmer, then cut it off and let it sit while I finished up the salad. It was great over the rice, and very filling.

I mentioned the salad - we call it Ensalada Rusa, or Russian Salad. Russian salad is generally any salad made of a mixture of cut up veggies, and sometimes meat, bound with a mayonnaise dressing. Here's the low down on the Peruvian version of it, which ALWAYS contains beets:

4 medium sized beets
4 medium sized carrots
4 medium-small potatoes (around the same size as the beets)

You need to roast or boil all the veggies until soft, but not mushy. I do the potatoes and beets in the microwave and the carrots on the stove. You can peel and cut up the carrots before cooking, then it's easier to test the texture and how done they are.

Beets - trim the tops down to about 1", then put them in an inch of water in a 2 quart casserole and stick in the microwave. It takes me about 25 minutes in my microwave. I cook ten minutes, then roll the beets over. Once they're tender (you can stick a fork in easily and the skin should be loose) put them into cold water to cool down. Once they're cool to the touch, you'll find that the tops/skins slide right off.

Cook the potatoes the same way - unpeeled. They cook much faster, of course, cook them 5 minutes at a time and check. Poke a few holes in the skin with a fork or knife before cooking, so they don't 'explode'. Once they're cooked, again, the skin will peel off very easily.

Once all your veggies are cooked, you want them all cut up into small, bite-sized pieces.

Put your cut up veggies in a large bowl, and mix with your favorite dressing. Typically, mayonnaise is used for this. I like to make ranch dressing and use, others like with Miracle Whip (which I find disgusting!). The quantity of dressing is pretty much a matter of taste, feel free to play around with it. Just start with about a cup, and if that's not enough, add a little at a time.

This is another one of those things you don't want to stir real vigorously, or you'll end up smashing your potatoes and it just won't be as pretty. The juice from the beets mixes with the dressing and gives this a lovely color that perks up a plate in winter when served on a lettuce leaf.

My mother in law adds chopped up, tender-crisp green beans to hers, and a lot of people throw in a couple handfuls of peas.

(Yukon golds are good potatoes for this, as they don't get mushy - you can also use new red potatoes, if they're very small, use a few extra. You want basically equal amounts of the three veggies)
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Thursday, December 25, 2008

What a great Christmas Day

German painting, 1457Image via Wikipedia

Probably the best since I was a kid myself.

We had Peruvian style Christmas, which means roast turkey and fixin's at midnight - fairly simple this year, roasted potatoes and ensalada rusa. Of course, in true Peruvian fashion, we also had some thinly sliced red onion to go with it.

Afterwards, we drank hot chocolate and watched TV while the kids opened presents. The radio-control cars were a big hit with everyone, as was walking down to the end of the street and lighting some firecrackers. We finally got to bed around 3am, after going through a bit of 'some assembly required'.

This morning, we woke up and had paneton and hot chocolate for breakfast - around 11am. The boys woke up at 7 (!!!!) eager to play with their new toys again. Paneton (also spelled panettone) is a bread that originated in Italy. It's a sweet bread, the good one's are moist, that has dried fruit and raisins - like fruit cake. Most everyone picks out the fruit, of course, but the bread itself is awesome.

After we relaxed and got fully awake, we got dressed and everything together to go to the park. We bought a rotisserie chicken with fried potatoes, some ceviche (a Peruvian staple I'll discuss some other time) and some snacks and had a lovely picnic in a park that was once an olive orchard. Huge, old olive trees in rows (in fruit!!), a lovely fountain and kids with new toys made it the perfect place to be today. The weather was perfect, as Christmas here always seems to be, and it was just amazing, laying in the shade under the trees.

The olive trees, as I said, were heavily laden with fruit, and the ground was covered. We laid our blanket down, and it wasn't long before olive oil started seeping through! It smelled so good. Unfortunately, all the branches low enough to reach had been picked clean. The doves and pigeons seemed to have made pretty quick work of all that hit the ground. I would have loved to have been able to get a couple dozen of those olives to take home and use!

We stayed at the park for about 3 hours, until the sun went down enough that it started to feel a little cool. None of us wanted the day to be over though, and we walked slowly through the side streets, looking at the lovely old houses, and daydreaming about one day being able to buy one.

I hope everyone had a Christmas as perfect as ours, filled with peace and love.
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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Candy for Christmas

Chocolate fudge with nutsImage via Wikipedia

Money's tight in the Borda household this Christmas, as I'm sure it is in many households this year. So, I'm going the home made route with some of our gifts. My favorite candy to make is a 'no cook' fudge that tastes nearly as good as something you'd slave over for hours, but all it needs is a few minutes in the microwave.

Basic Recipe -
2 Cups chocolate chips (milk chocolate, semi-sweet - whatever you like)
1 can condensed milk (and again, make sure you've got condensed milk, not evaporated milk!)
1 tsp Vanilla (this can be left out if you don't have it, and still be just as good)

Line a 8x8 cake pan with wax paper.

Put the chocolate chips in a 2 qt glass casserole, and put it in the microwave. Time will depend on your oven, but stir it every 30 secs or so, until they're 'mostly' melted. Add the can of condensed milk and the vanilla, stir thoroughly. Microwave again, no more than 30 seconds at a time, stirring until everything is smooth and well blended.

And that's the recipe, basically!

Now comes the fun part - what do you like in your fudge? Here are some ideas:
Crushed pecans or walnuts
Peanuts 0r a Tbsp of Peanut Butter
Tiny M&M's
Crushed pretzels

Any combination of these!

The quantity depends on you - 1 cup is a good starting point, depending on what combination you use - if you like it chunkier, use more.

Use your imagination - there are so many directions you can go with it. Some other ideas - try peppermint instead of vanilla. Substitute Butterscotch, white chocolate, or peanut butter chips for 1/2 cup of the chocolate chips.

If you go with mini marshmallows, the heat of the mixture may melt them when you stir them in. If you like it that way, great! If not, let it cool just slightly before you add them.

Anyway - once you have all your add-ins, um, added in, turn the mixture out into your lined cake pan, and put the whole shebang into the refrigerator. In a couple of hours, your fudge will be ready. Take it out of the pan, peel the wax paper off, and cut or break into pieces. Packaged in a pretty little bag or box, you've got a great gift for the mother-in-law or landlady.

Or.. eat it all yourself!
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Arroz a la Cubana

What is it? It translates to 'Cuban-style Rice' and it's my kids' favorite meal. I could cook it 3 or 4 times a week, and they'd never get tired of it.

It consists of a healthy-sized serving of rice, eggs fried over easy, and fried plantains. That's it! It's great for when we've got a lot of leftover rice. Plantains are plentiful here, so that's never a problem.

It's a very popular dish in Spain, from what I understand, although they serve it with tomato sauce over the rice.

Add a small fried steak to it, and it suddenly becomes 'Bistek a la Pobre' - 'poor man's steak'.

I use a rice cooker to make my rice. Before I moved to Peru, I never really made regular rice - I always bought Minute Rice. But the Peruvian diet consists of massive amounts of white rice, so it was necessary for me to be able to cook large quantities. I got a 4 qt rice cooker, and after a lot of experimenting, I got the 'Peruvian style' down pretty well.

I usually cook 1 kg of rice at a time. Put the rice in a strainer, and wash it under running water until the water runs clear (or mostly clear). Let as much water as you can run out of it, then put it in the rice cooker.

Next, I add about 2 tbsp of oil - a little extra won't hurt. I use soy oil, but you can use whatever you want. You may want to leave the oil out - it won't hurt the flavor. However, I find that the grains don't clump and stick with the oil.

Next, add in your seasonings. For Peruvian style rice, it's important to add salt and garlic. I add 3 large pinches (maybe 1 tbsp or a little less) and about 1/2 tbsp garlic powder. HOWEVER - I found a new product from Maggi made just for seasoning rice, called 'SazonArroz' in Spanish, and I use that now. You can also put in about 1/2 cup of finely chopped onion.

Finally, the water. In the rice cooker, I find equal parts rice and water work fine - so 1 Kilo of rice = 1 Liter of water. But, if you're cooking a smaller amounts of rice, sometimes all the water evaporates before the rice is fully cooked - so, i usually add a couple tbsps extra of water. Dump the water in, and mix it with a wooden or plastic spoon, so as not to scratch up your non-stick coating.

Turn on the rice cooker, and let it run through it's cycle. I've got a simple one, with just a on/off switch, that pops up like a toaster when it's done. When the cooking cycle finishes, I use my wooden spoon to 'fluff' up the rice some, stir it around a little. Don't stir too vigorously, or you'll get broken rice that clumps and sticks. Just enough to scrape the bottom and move it around a little. Put the top back on, and leave it about 5-10 minutes. After that, it's ready to serve.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about cooking plantains.
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I must apologize (only to myself, most likely) for the lack of posts in the last week. We had a death in the family and so I had other things on my mind. I'll be back up to speed tomorrow, with some Christmas cooking.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Nothing to see here, Move along. ;p

We had leftovers yesterday. I cooked up a pot of rice, fried up some more sausage, and served that with the remains of the lentils from the day before.

Today, we had eggs and toast. And mango, grenadilla (passion fruit) and oranges. We're having Chinese take-out (which they call chifa here) for dinner tonight. It's been sort of a catch-as-catch-can weekend, as far as food goes.

More home cooking tomorrow, though - I think we're going to have arroz a la cubana. What is it? Do you know? Find out tomorrow!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Peeling Tomatoes

Cross-section and full view of a ripe tomatoImage via Wikipedia

I live in Peru, and a lot of things I took for granted when cooking are either not available or are so expensive they just aren't always worth buying. One of those things is canned tomatoes. They're here, but they're too expensive to use as a regular ingredient. So, I started using regular ripe tomatoes a lot more often, and it's actually so easy, I've come to prefer using them over the canned for most things. Here, then, is my way of preparing my tomatoes.

I start with a glass casserole dish (2 quart). Add water to nearly fill, then put the top on and stick it in the microwave long enough to get the water just to boiling. CAREFULLY remove it from the micro! While the water nukes, take your tomatoes and cut a X-shaped slice in the bottom of each one. (Of course, you can always do this on the stove top in a saucepan- I prefer the microwave because I have a super tiny stove, and am usually cooking other things while I do this)

Again, very carefully, using a spoon, lower the tomatoes into the water and leave them for about 30 seconds or so. Doesn't matter if you leave them longer, since usually you'll be cooking them later anyway. Take them out, run them under cool water so you can touch them, and then peel the skin off, starting at your little X-slice. You'll find the skin will slip right off.

Once you've got your tomatoes peeled, it's a simple matter to just crush them by hand and clean the seeds out of them. If you want, once you have the seeds out, use a knife to cut up the bigger pieces.

And there you go, fresh tomatoes, peeled and deseeded and crushed, ready to add to your recipe. You can add this to soup recipes in place of canned tomatoes. Just remember that you'll need to adjust seasonings, because this won't have any of the salt or other seasoning that canned tomatoes often have.
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Soup is Awesome.

Spinach and Lentil StewImage by cowfish via Flickr

Despite waking up late, I made grill cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate for the boys for their breakfast. I thought with exams starting today, they needed something a little more substantial than cold cereal.

Even though it's full on late spring here in Peru, my family loves eating home made soup. I decided to nourish that love today with some Lentil Soup. Man, is it tasty. All the 'flavor' ingredients here can be tweaked as you see fit - use more bacon if you like! I don't use a recipe or measure, so all this stuff is 'pretty close'. Nothing has to be exact! Close enough is close enough. ;)

1 tbsp olive oil
4 slices Bacon, cut up in 1" pieces
1 lb kielbasa or similar smoked sausage (1/2 Kilo)
1/2 cup diced onion
3 carrots, diced
1/2 tbsp basil
1/2 tbsp garlic (or crush a couple of fresh cloves)
2 bay leaves
2 cups of dried lentils
6-8 cups water
3 italian (plum) tomatoes - peeled, deseeded and crushed or coarsely chopped.
2-3 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup spinach, in thinly sliced
Salt/Pepper to taste

Around 6 servings
It's a good idea to have everything cut up and ready before you start.

1) Start with a 5-6 quart soup pot or stock pot.
Mine looks similar to this:
2) Over medium high heat, put in the olive oil, the bacon, and your sliced up sausage. Cook for a couple of minutes, until the bacon starts to look 'cooked'.

3) Add the onions and carrots, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to become transparent.

4) Toss in the basil, garlic, bay leaf and cook for another 2 minutes, making sure to stir everything together.

5) Dump in the lentils and tomatoes, and enough water to cover everything + a couple of inches extra.

6) Cook on high heat until it comes to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Leave simmering for at least an hour. I cook mine a couple of hours, because I like my lentils sort of disintegrated. Add more water if needed.

7) Add the tomato paste, and gently stir to blend it into the soup.

8) Taste it - add salt as needed. I don't want to give a specific amount, because it depends on your taste and how salty your bacon and sausage are. Here in Peru, the bacon isn't super salty, and neither is the sausage I use. I ended up using about 4 tsps of salt. Add pepper if you like that sort of thing. ;)

9) Right before serving, add the spinach and stir until it's wilted.

Enjoy this delicious soup! And don't eat the bay leaves ;)

Some changes you can make:
-Try using bacon flavor cubes (like chicken bouillon cubes) instead of bacon to cut a little fat.
-Instead of tomatoes and tomato paste, stir in 1 can of diced tomatoes. Hunt's has some good flavored diced tomatoes that can make some really subtle but tasty changes to the flavor.
- Leave out the meat completely and use vegetable bouillon cubes for flavor to have a really hearty vegetarian meal.
- Cook it down to a thicker stew consistency, and serve over your favorite rice for a complete meal.

I'm really sorry I don't have pictures of this, but my camera has decided to stop working. Sometime after the new year, I'll get that taken care of and start putting pictures of all the food we eat.
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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Home Cooking today

Elbow macaroni in a plate of macaroni and cheeseImage via Wikipedia

My husband cooked up some bacon this morning, and woke me up with a yummy bacon sandwich on potato bread. With a glass of fresh made lime-ade. Yum, and that limaid sure felt good on my sore throat.

For lunch today, I made what I consider 'white trash' cooking. My definition of white trash cooking includes anything where the majority of the ingredients come from boxes or cans - quick and easy, tastes good, not always low-fat/low-sodium ;) My boys love mac n cheese, (like most kids their age) so I decided to make a meal based around that. Armed with two boxes of regular Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and a 1/2K (appr. 1lb) of very lean ground beef, I set to making some cheeseburger macaroni.

(enough for a family of 4)

2 boxes Mac/cheese dinner
1/2K ground beef
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp seasoned salt
1/3 cup ketchup

1) Start your water boiling - you want want to use a large pot, since you'll need to boil 2 boxes of noodles. I used about 4 quarts of water - don't forget to dump a big pinch of salt in, and about a tbsp of oil. Put your noodles in when the water starts to boil. Remember, DON'T cover a pot of noodles while it's cooking, it'll make it boil over.

2) While the water's coming to a boil, put your hamburger in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add seasoned salt and chili powder and stir with a wooden or nylon spatula, breaking it up into small crumbles as it cooks. Drain the grease if there's a lot, then add the ketchup and stir well. (If you use a very lean ground beef, there's not going to be enough grease to worry about)

My skillet looks like this:

3) Noodles should be done or near done by now - you want them 'al dente', not mushy - about 8 minutes at a full boil. Drain the water out using a colander or strainer.

4) Dump the noodles on top of the cooked ground beef. Dump in both packets of cheese powder, 3 tbsp butter, 1/2 cup of milk.

5) Using the flat side of the spatula GENTLY mix everything together until the cheese powder is all incorporated and everything is well mixed. You don't want to stir it too vigorously, you'll smash up your noodles and make it all mushy.

That's it - and it tastes pretty much like a cheeseburger.

I served it with corn on the cob via the microwave. If you have fresh corn, break the ears in half, put them in a glass casserole with about an inch of water. Put the top on, and stick it in the micro for 5 minutes. Turn the corn over half way through the cooking. After the 5 minutes is up, check - depending on the size of your corn, you may need another minute or so. Usually, leaving it in the casserole with the top on is enough steam to finish it up.

And there you go - that's what we ate today.
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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Not-so-auspicious Beginning

Lomo saltadoImage by jumbledpile via Flickr

Of course, my first day of blogging my food, and it's a day we went to the restaurant. :D However, I also did some shopping, so we'll talk about that a bit, too.

The boys got out of school early today, so we walked to Alex's restaurant together. I actually don't know if this restaurant has a name - there's not one posted. But, the cooks name is Alex, so I'll call it Alex's restaurant - not to be confused with Alice's. ;) Actually, it's a family run business - Alex and the two servers are brothers. They have a lot of kitchen help, and the place is always packed. It's only open for lunch - they open around 11:00, and close when the food is gone, usually around 3pm. I love going there. All the meals include soup or an entrada, and then a main course (segunda). The entrada is often papas a la huancaina or papas ocopa. I'll have more information on these another time, when I either cook them, or have them at the restaurant.

Prices at Alex's are extremely reasonable, even by Peru standards. A full meal of soup/entrada, main course and drink runs from 3.50 soles to 5. soles. Today's exchange is about 3.10 to a dollar, so we get each meal for well under $2USD each.

To start, we all got the soup, which was a chicken soup with semolina (sort of like grits, but made from wheat - like cream of wheat). It's mostly broth, with giblets, neck and feet, and a little bit of celery, carrots and potato. However, we didn't eat it - we had it packaged to bring home. It keeps for a couple days, and I often give it to the boys for their 'lonche' in the evening.

David had pollo frito. This is his favorite meal from this restaurant. It consists of a single piece of chicken (usually a breast or thigh) that is flattened, seasoned and pan fried (frito means fried) - not breaded. The plate includes a good salad (romaine, tomato, beets, carrots, onion, broccoli with a lemon vinaigrette), rice and french fries. He ate every bit of it today.

Franco prefers the suprema de pollo, and that's what he had today. It's the same meal as David, except the chicken is in the form of a breaded cutlet. He didn't eat all of his rice today, but did pretty well with the rest of it. Not bad, considering they had a bunch of junk food today at school - it was a party day.

I opted for the lomo saltado today. 'Lomo' is loin - in this case, beef loin. It's a Peruvian/Chinese fusion dish. (There is a very large Chinese community in Peru, and they've had a big influence on the food) It's basically a stir-fry, with finely chopped beef, potatoes, chopped tomatos and onions quickly sauteed together with soy sauce. Cilantro is added at the last moment. This is one of my favorite Peruvian dishes to eat AND to cook. The next time I cook it at home, I'll take pictures and post the recipe proper.

After we ate, it was time to hit the supermarket. I didn't buy much, just enought to get us through the next few days - about $25 worth. I bought the boys a frozen pizza, and some bacon to put on it. Bacon here is leaner and not as smoky as bacon in the US, but it's still pretty good. I saved some of the bacon to use for the lentil soup I'm making on Friday. I don't usually buy bread at the grocery store because the bakery is cheaper. But today I was tempted by the sight of fresh potato bread. It is a delight - thick crust, and super chewy with a heavy, earthy flavor. Super stuck in the oven for a minute and then served with a little butter. That with some of the soup we brought home is what I had for dinner tonight.

So there it is - a day in the food. ;)
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A Little Background

I've been blogging for a few years, but have never really been good at keeping up with it. I've been thinking what I really need is a topic that will give me something new to talk about every day. It's not really a matter of trying to get readers, as much as having some sort of record of my life and days. So I thought - what do I do every day?? Shop for food, cook and eat! I love reading cooking blogs, I like finding new recipes - so, I'll talk about my shopping in the markets here in Peru, how I cook and share recipes. Now, to be honest, there are many days when I don't do any of that. See, there's a super tasty yet super inexpensive restaurant about 2 blocks from my house, and we get food from there several times a week. But - I can talk about that too, right? And this will give me the excuse I need to try lots more new things. So... to start!