Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rosemary, Parmesan and Cracked Pepper Crackers

I don't know why I do not make crackers all of the time. They are ridiculously cheap and easy to make, taste way better than the store bought kind and are totally fun for a get together, holiday or otherwise. Flour, water, olive oil and salt make up the basic ingredients for crackers. You can use your imagination and create a normal Parmesan cracker or chop up some hot peppers, toss them in spices and cheddar cheese for a fiery Southwestern version. The best part is, they are pretty much foolproof. I made some basic Parmesan, rosemary and cracked pepper crackers this morning in anticipation of Christmas Eve.

To Make Crackers:

1 1/2 cup white flour

1/4 cup rye flour

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon sea salt

3 tablespoons EVOO

2/3 cup warm water

Preheat oven to 400.

Sift together flours and salt.

Whisk water with olive oil and slowly pour into flour mixture, stirring as you do so.

Stir dough until the mixture is fairly uniform.

Divide dough into 2 lumps.

Grease 2 cookie sheets, then roll out 1 portion dough over each cookie sheet, pulling the ends to cover the entire sheet.

Use a knife or pizza cutter to slice your crackers, mine were a bit haphazard today out of impatience, but those who desire may create beautiful uniform crackers.

Cook for 20-25 minutes...depending on how thin your crackers are, they may be done in 20 minutes...thicker crackers may take up to 30 minutes.

Remove crackers from oven once they become golden, place on platter and let cool before eating.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Carne Mechada

Carne Mechada is a kinder, more easygoing relative of Ropa Vieja. Less ingredients equate less chopping and less active cooking time. I love this dish. Tender, shredded beef, sauteed red bell pepper and smoky paprika make my mouth water before sinking my teeth into the dish. I had some as stew last night with avocado, limes and Cuban black beans with rice but today, it's all about the empanadas. What is it about food that you can pick up that is so appealing?

To Make Carne Mechada:
1 lb flank steak, cut into 4 pieces
3 Vidalia diced onions
Enough beef broth to cover meat pieces
1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
4 cloves minced garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste or 2 diced tomatoes
Paprika, to taste

In large stew pot, add meat, beef broth and 1 diced onion (making sur
e broth covers meat). Bring to a simmer and let cook 2 hours at this heat.

Remove pieces of meat from the broth (reserve for use later) and let them cool on a plate. When cool enough to handle, shred the chunks into thin strips using your fingers or a fork (I like doing it with my hands, easier to remove fat, etc).

Heat up olive oil in a clean stew pot. Add bell pepper, onion and
garlic. Let cook 5-7 minutes until translucent. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon paprika. Add tomato sauce and 1 cup reserved broth, let simmer about 15 minutes.

Add shredded beef and enough reserved broth to ensure the mixture is covered. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot and stir every 10 minutes or so to prevent the stew from sticking. The covered pot should just barely be boiling (to avoid drying out the meat). Cook an additional hour at this temperature.

Serve with rice, black beans, and a fried sweet plantain for pabellon crioll
o, Venezuela's national dish, by itself as a hearty stew, or in empanadas! You will love it any of these ways-it's just that delicious.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas Hot Chocolate

My parents bought me an amazing milk frother in Italy this fall (for those who don't have parents in Italy to buy them a frother, see the end of this post). As a result, I have become a highly caffeinated version of myself-and those who know me, know I don't lack in energy! To calm my heart and allow me to fall asleep from time to time, I used my frother to update my favorite Christmas hot chocolate.

To make 4 mugs of hot chocolate:

1/4 cup crushed peppermint candies (or 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract and 1-2 drops of red food coloring)
4 cups whole milk
1 cup skim milk
10 ounces good quality white chocolate (if preferred, dark is perfectly fine-Godiva, Ghiradelli or Lake Champlain are nice choices if you are feeling indulgent!)
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
Red sprinkles to garnish

Chop up chocolate. In medium saucepan, bring milk to simmer and whisk in chocolate pieces until smooth. Mix in peppermint extract. Remove from heat.
While cocoa is heating, microwave 1 cup skim milk for 2 minutes, until very hot. Pour into milk frother, go nuts, and then fold in crushed peppermint candies.
Pour cocoa into 4 large mugs (a ladle helps here). Spoon milk foam over each mug. Garnish with red and pink sprinkles.

*Add Bailey's, Godiva Liqueur or Peppermint Schnapps for a grown-up version of this cocoa!

Friday, December 4, 2009


Green beans on a sandwich? When my friend Laura first told me about Chacarero, I was a wee bit skeptical that it would taste good-in fact I think I wrinkled my nose and tried not to voice my disbelief. (I am not very good at hiding what I think...I may not always voice my opinions, but, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand worlds and my facial expressions make quite the picture).

Strangely enough, the end result of this sandwich is more than the sum of its parts (or something clever like that). The round bun is a traditional Chilean bread, I actually ate it daily during my visit to Chimbarongo, a small town outside of Santiago.

You can choose steak, chicken or both for your sandwich. Atop the meat is melted Muenster cheese, slices of tomato and green beans. The employees will warn you that their mojo sauce is very spicy, but don't let that scare you away, the cool avocado spread balances its heat.

Chacarero started out as an outside sandwich stand in Downtown Xing, but its immense popularity required a storefront, where lines run out the door and down the block during a busy lunch hour, but you rarely wait over ten minutes to get your food. Chacarero is a well-oiled machine, having perfected a handful of items and turning out a consistent product.

Chacarero is located at 101 Arch Street in Downtown Crossing, Boston.

Sandwiches are 7-8 dollars and enormous.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Marinated Olives

So the holidays are coming...very soon! These olives are simple to make and you can customize them according to your tastes. They make a very nice "thank you" gift for the teacher/employer/person you appreciate, and are the perfect snack to put out for guests. Here, I have a recipe for both citrusy green and herbed black olives.

Lemon-Garlic Green Olives:
1 1/2 cups green Greek olives in brine, liquid drained
Juice of 1 lemon
Lemon rind strips, white bitter pith removed
1/3 cup garlic infused olive oil

Citrus Herbed Olives:
1 1/2 cup good quality black olives, liquid drained
1 sprig fresh rosemary
4 strips of orange rind, white pith removed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/3 cup olive oil

Combine ingredients for each olive mixture in a mason jar. Seal tightly and wrap a decorative ribbon around lid. Make a fun holiday label for your jar. Refrigerate overnight before enjoying the olives!