Monday, February 27, 2012

Another Childhood Favorite

I have fond memories of this dish.  It's so simple and delicious.  Bear with me when I suggest a pinch of this or a dash of that.  Here's what you should know: A pinch equals a pinch.  Pour a touch of salt in the palm of one hand.  Then with the other hand, use your thumb and forefinger to pinch the salt.  That's a pinch!  And a little salt goes a looong way.

This dish is called Picadillo.  Say it with me now, peeka - dee - yo.  Just like that.  Well, kinda.  It's basically ground beef with seasonings.  And serve over rice.  I grew up on this and whenever I make it these days, it brings a smile to my face.  I remember being in a Spanish class in high school (or maybe middle school) and there was a section on foods.  It defined picadillo as a stew.  My picadillo is in no way, shape, or form a stew.  (I was pretty offended by that definition, in fact.)

Serves 6

1/4 green bell pepper, chopped
1 small or 1/3-1/2 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tsp olive oil
1 lb ground beef (I use 93/7 for pretty much anything)
pinch of salt
2-3 grinds black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp oregano
1-2 Tbsp water
2-3 Tbsp Spanish olives with pimentos, sliced (optional)


1. Cook up a sofrito of green peppers, onions, and garlic, sauteed in olive oil.

 2. Add ground beef and spices.  Break up into small pieces and cook until completed browned.

3. Add olives, and stir until they are warmed.  Serve picadillo over rice.

1.  Heat pan over medium-high heat.  When pan is hot, add just enough olive oil to coat pan.  (Tip: If you heat the pan first, you'll get more bang for your buck from your oil.)  Let oil heat, about 1-2 minutes, and chopped bell pepper.  Let cook over medium-low heat until pepper starts to brown, then add onion and garlic.  Cook 1-2 minutes more, until veggies start to soften.  Be careful not to let garlic burn. 

2. Add beef to pan and use wooden spoon to break it up into little pieces.  Season it with salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and oregano.  Let cook 5-10 minutes, until call meat has turned dark brown.  Continue to break up into small pieces with spoon, as necessary.

3.  Add 1-2 Tbsp water and stir to get with meat.  This will create a bit of a sauce, but not so much that the dish is "saucy."  Add olives (if desired) and stir until olives are hot.  This should only take a few seconds.  Serve over rice and enjoy!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Day at the Zoo

And we were not the only childless adults there!

Oh.  And I'm blonde.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Special Treat

I have a special treat for you today.  It's a recipe from my childhood.  It was the first family recipe I ever learned to make.  My friends might call this my specialty.  If we're having a pot luck dinner, or if I offer to make them dinner, this is a common request.  It is Arroz con Pollo.

For a large chunk of my formative years, I was raised by mom and her parents.  My mom worked full-time, and her parents were there after school to watch my brother and me.  They also did a lot of the cooking.  Some of my favorites were baked ziti (believe me, they put their Cuban twist on it, and perhaps I'll share that recipe soon), chicken fricase, and arroz con pollo.  When I was 19, I got my first apartment.  It was a 3-bedroom, on-campus apartment shared between 6 girls.  It was an apartment and not a dorm for one simple reason: it had a kitchen! I was so excited to be able to cook my own meals and not have to rely on the cafeteria.  One of the first things I wanted to make for my roommates was arroz con pollo.  So I called up my mom and I think she e-mailed me the "recipe."  I use quotes because when you have something that's so ingrained in you, you know the basics, likes how much chicken and how much rice to use.  But you lose track of how much of everything else.  Please keep that in mind, the spices are estimated.  The vegetables are adjusted to my tastes, but vary depending on the size of my pepper and onion.

I do have one very important note: This is NOT fried rice.  Please do not add soy sauce, or you risk breaking my heart.  (Though I did learn that a touch of Frank's Red Hot gives it a nice kick.)  I was still in that on-campus apartment, and was involved in a group project/competition with some classmates.  Since I was the only one with a kitchen, I told them if we won, I'd make them dinner.  We did, and I made them my very special arroz con pollo.  We're sitting around the table chatting and eating and there happen to be a few leftover packets of soy and ducks sauces in the center of the table.  This one guy, on whom I had a tremendous crush, reached into the center of the table, picked up a packet of soy sauce, and proceeded to ruin my beloved dish.  I never fewed him the same way after that.  Clearly, if he couldn't appreciate my cooking for what it is, we would not have any long term compatibility.

Arroz con Pollo
6-8 servings

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 Vidalia onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb chicken breast, cubed
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp garlic powder
dash basil
2 bay leaves
1.5 cups long-grained rice
1.5 cups water
1/2 packet "Goya Sazón con culantro y achiote"
1 can (15 oz) gandules/green pigeon peas


We start by making a sofrito.

Then cube your chicken.

Add chicken to sofrito, season with spices, and let brown.

Add rice and sazón.

Add gandules when rice is cooked.

1. Heat oil over medium heat in a medium sized pot.  When oil is hot, add pepper and cook just until soft, about 1 minute.  Add onion and garlic, and cook for another minute until all vegetables are soft. (This mixture of cooked peppers, onion, and garlic is called sofrito.)

2. Add chicken to the cooked vegetables.  Season with oregano, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and basil.  Stir everything in the pot and add bay leaves.  Cook about 5 minutes over medium heat, until chicken is browned.  Then reduce heat to medium-low and cook an additional 5-10 minutes until chicken pieces are cooked through.

3. While chicken is cooking, rinse rice until water runs clear.  Once chicken is cooked, add rice and water to pot.  Then add seasoning packet.  (Note: I am working on creating my own seasoning blend, but until I perfect it, I'll continue to use Goya, as that's what my grandmother used.)  Stir everything together and let rice cook for 20-30 min, stirring occasionally.  Cook until rice is soft.  Once dish is cooked, stir in gandules, until they are warmed through.  This only takes another minute or 2, as the heat from the rice will warm them up.

(Side note: If you use the wrong kind of pan, the rice on the bottom will burn.  However, I love to scrape it off with a fork and eat the burnt pieces.  We call it the raspitas.  This was always my favorite part of any rice dish.  Once you scrape all the rice off, pour a thick layer of table salt over the burnt surface of the pot.  Add a couple of inches of warm water.  Let it soak for at least an hour, overnight is better.  Then scrape the bottom with a spatula and all the burntness will go away like magic!)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Baked Potato Soup

I have been trying my hand at potato soups since the start of the fall.  So far I've made two: this one from Smitten Kitchen and this one that I found floating around on Pinterest.  Both were delicious.  But I kept searching. 

Hale & Hearty is one of my favorite places to get lunch when I don't bother to pack my own.  And they have amazing potato soups.  One of my favorites is their broccoli, cheddar, mashed potato soup.  Last time I had it, I vowed to find a way to make my own version.  One that wasn't so cream-laden, but still tasted awesome.  So I took the interwebs and did a little searching.  In the end, I ended up basing my recipe on a Weight Watchers recipe.

This is quite like H&H's, but it comes really close.  Maybe an immersion blender will close that gap.  Nevertheless, when I took my first spoonful, I decided this soup must be what heaven tastes like.  So, without further adieu...

Baked Potato Soup
serves 6

3 lbs potatoes (about 6 medium)
1 bulb garlic
4 cups chicken broth (I used homemade.)
1/2 cup sour cream
4 oz sharp cheddar, shredded
12 oz broccoli (I used frozen, the kind you steam right in the bag in the microwave)
favorite spices for seasoning (I found my chicken broth was so well flavored that I didn't need to add any spices, but if you use store bought broth, you may want to taste the soup and season as you choose)


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Wrap garlic bulb in foil.  Pierce potatoes with fork.  Place wrapped garlic bulb and potatoes in oven.  No need to use a tray; you can bake them directly on the oven rack.  Bake until tender, about 45 minutes for the garlic and 60 minutes for the potatoes.

2.  Allow garlic and potatoes to cool. Cut tip off of garlic and squeeze cloves into soup pot.  Peel potatoes, cut into pieces, and add to pot with garlic.  Mash up garlic and potatoes using a potato masher.  Stir in chicken broth and heat on medium and let cook until mixture is thickened, stirring occasionally.

3. Stir in sour cream, cheese, and cooked broccoli.  Season to taste, if necessary.  Serve hot.

Garnish suggestions: sour cream, browned butter, scallions, shredded cheese, chopped bacon