87. empanada dough

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I have received many requests from my readers, if I can make a video on how to make Latin style empanada dough. I took for granted that ready-made dough disc would be easier to use, and similarly accessible to obtain. I did not take into consideration it would be a challenge to procure, even nonexistent in certain regions my followers are from, such as; Scandinavian countries, Scottish Highland, Manitoba Canada, or the Great Plains, Central Lowland and Midwestern sections of the United States.

Ready-made or prepared pie crust is not the same as an empanada dough in flavor or texture, since the ingredients are slightly different. I have rolled the ready-made pie crust to a thin dough disc, and was not satisfied with its result, once cooked into an empanda. Prepared pie dough is great for fried or baked sweet pastry type of individual size fritters. But, not for savory Latin style empanadas.

To record the recipe video on how to make empanada dough, efforts were made to include ingredients that are accessible globally. Vegetable shortening is available worldwide, although the name brand may be different.

  • USA – popular brands are “Crisco” and “Spectrum” (various chain stores carry their own brand name)
  • Britain – known as “White Flora”, “Trex” or “Cookeen”
  • Australia – known as “Copha”
  • France – vegetable shortening equivalent brand is known as “Vegetaline”, and made with coconut
  • Italy – vegetable shortening brand known as “Coop”
  • Finland – vegetable shortening is known as “paistorasva”

I like using chicken broth, either homemade or ready-made, as my liquid ingredient, instead of water.

The dough can be use for sweet or savory fillings.The empanadas (stuffed pie fritters) can be fried or baked, such as for:

  • beef empanada
  • pork empanada
  • chicken empanada
  • ham and cheese
  • hot apple pie
  • hot cherry pie

For hot apple pie, I flash fry it, then coat it in cinnamon sugar.

The hot cherry pie, I also flash fry it, then coat it with a glaze that becomes hardened icing.

I will create a video recipe blog for the fried hot apple/cherry pies, soon.

Whether sweet or savory, I bake my empanadas in a preheated 350 to 375 degrees oven.

After the dough has been filled and crimped, I coat it with an egg wash. It is then bake for 20 to 40 minutes. Whether fried or baked, with a meat or fruit filling, the empanadas have a thin crispy and flaky crust, with a tender and juicy filling.

fried apple pie (empanada dough crust; canned apple filling; cinnamon sugar-coating)

The basic tools to make the empanada dough is:

  • a floured surface
  • rolling-pin
  • a plate, bowl, saucer, opened tin can or biscuit cutter to shape dough into round disks
  • fork to crimp edges
  • knife, pizza cutter, pie cutter or crimper

Leftover dough can be reuse, flattened and reshaped into new dough disk.

It is very important to seal the dough edges securely to prevent leaking of filling, by pinching and crimping the seams. Sometimes, wetting the edge with water helps make a more secure seal.

Empanada is a type of food that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or as a snack or appetizer. With today’s technology, empanada dough is quick and easy to make with a food processor, and simple utensils.

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homemade empanada dough with pork picadillo filling

86. pepperoni pizza (NY style)

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My pizza techniques is inspired by the Neapolitano and New York style pizza.

I make it with 4 basic ingredients:

  • bread flour dough
  • marinara/pizza sauce
  • fontina cheese
  • sliced pepperoni topping

I usually create my own marinara sauce for the pizza. For this video, I forgo the homemade version that takes 2 to 3 hours to cook, and opted for the ready-made pizza sauce. I have tested many ready-made brands, and it taste just as good as the homemade ones. I wanted to keep the pizza making simple, time efficient, and straight to the point, without too many extra steps involved in its preparation.

UPDATE: I received many emails asking of all the ready-made pizza sauces available, if I have to choose only one, which would I considered as my favorite? If I have to choose only one ready-made, it would be – Prego Pizza Sauce, Pizzeria Style.

To make pizza, I use an 11″x17″ baking sheet. A round pizza pan or any type of non-stick low profile baking pan or cookie sheet can be use. Just make sure it is able to withstand extremely high heat, at least 500 degrees. If you have a small oven, the dough and other ingredients can be divided into 2 separate baking sheets or pans. You can cut the recipe in half to fit a smaller serving size pan.

Pizza will taste delicious whether it is plain with just cheese or enhanced with additional toppings. Mozzarella is the classic cheese of choice for pizza. Personally, I prefer fontina cheese. It has a creamy texture like the mozzarella, with a subtle sharper flavor, best described as a cross between a provolone and gruyere cheese. When added to pizza, it provides a slightly smoky edge to it. Although, fontina is an Italian cheese, the Swedish and Danish fontina cheeses are just as good.

The difference between the two are:

  • fontina is slightly aged cheese with a delicate tart flavor
  • mozzarella is fresh cheese with a very mild milky flavor

I decided to add pepperoni slices, since it is the most popular item requested at any pizzeria. Pepperoni is an item that is readily available for purchase at the supermarket. It is also an ingredient that is quick and easy to add with no mess or need to measure. There is no limit as to how many pepperoni slices or other ingredients, you want to add.

add as many pepperoni slices, as you like before baking

My pizza making has influences from the Neapolitano style of pizza making. Also, it is my favorite type of pizza that I have been making since I was 12 years old. The Neapolitano consist of 3 main ingredients:

  • tomatoes
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • pizza dough

The dough is made with 4 basic ingredients:

  • wheat or high protein flour
  • yeast
  • salt
  • water

The Neapolitano pizza dough proofing (rising process) and kneading is traditionally done by hand. Once proofed, it is flatten and formed into a very thin layer with no assistance of a rolling pin or other gadgets, only your hands. With the rack positioned to the lowest level in your oven, it is then baked at extremely high heat (500 degrees or highest temperature in your oven) to create a crispy bottom crust, while the toppings remain soft and chewy.

There are different type of pizza style across the United States:

New York Style – Neapolitano thin crust pizza made with a marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese.

my homemade NY style pepperoni pizza

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Chicago Style – deep dish thick and chewy crust pizza made with a chunky marinara sauce and cheese. The dough has oil and/or butter as part of its ingredient to create a crisp, yet chewy type of crust.

California Style – nontraditional pizza that uses toppings such as:

  • barbecue, chipotle, pesto, creamy garlic, peanut sauces
  • crushed nuts
  • mayonnaise, mustard, etc.
  • goat, gorgonzola,  feta cheeses
  • Thai chicken, fruit-smoked pork (ie: apple bacon), strip steak, bacon cheeseburger, etc.
  • fruit and salad vegetables (lettuce, bean sprouts, zucchini, pineapple, etc)

Detroit Style – twice baked, thick crust deep dish square pizza (similar to a Sicilian pizza) topped with:

  • pepperoni
  • kalamata olives
  • mozzarella
  • marinara sauce

Hawaiian Style – thick crust pizza with:

  • mozzarella cheese
  • marinara sauce
  • pineapple
  • Canadian bacon, sliced ham or bacon

Ironically, Hawaiian pizza is not popular or widely known in Hawaii. It was created in Canada.

New Haven Style – thin chewy crust pizza (also known as “apizza”). It is made with:

  • pecorino romano cheese
  • olive oil
  • chopped garlic
  • littleneck clams

New Haven Style pizza does not have any mozzarella cheese or marinara sauce.

St. Louis Style – thin crunchy crust pizza, similar in texture to a cracker and made with no yeast. It is topped with:

  • Provel processed cheese (a fusion of provolone, swiss and cheddar cheese)
  • marinara pizza sauce, heavily seasoned with oregano

Toppings for pizza is based on the individual’s palate preference, such as:

  • meats – beef, chicken, ham, bacon, sausage, pork, lamb
  • seafood – anchovies, shrimp, clams, lobster, tuna, etc.
  • cheeses – ricotta,  mozzarella, fontina, provolone, provel, feta, etc.
  • vegetables – onion, bell pepper, mushroom, broccoli, bean sprout, spinach, etc.
  • fruits – olives, tomato. pineapple, etc.

I refrigerate any leftovers (if there are any). I reheat it using the midway level toaster setting of my toaster oven, never in a microwave. I like the crust to remain crispy, not soft, when reheated.

homemade pepperoni pizza

85. homemade ketchup

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Ketchup is a sweet and tangy tomato sauce that is use as a table condiment. It is made primarily with:

  • tomatoes (whether fresh, sauce or paste)
  • a sweetener (sugar and/or corn syrup)
  • vinegar

and spices, such as:

  • onion powder
  • garlic powder
  • ground cloves
  • ground cinnamon
  • celery powder
  • salt
  • allspice

It is popularly added on:

  • burgers
  • frankfurters
  • meatloaf
  • grilled meat
  • chicken nuggets
  • french fries or tater tots
  • onion rings
  • knish
  • rice
  • meat pies
  • tamales/pasteles
  • sandwich spread
  • eggs
  • certain salad dressing and dips
  • sauces

Corn syrup and ground clove are required ingredients to make my ketchup recipe. If these 2 were not added, that distinctive flavor would be missing from my taste buds. It is a must and personal preference, I just can’t do without it. I prefer whole cloves to make into freshly grounded cloves, using a coffee grinder.

For me, sugar is one of the basic ingredients to make ketchup. To keep the amount of carbohydrates low, Splenda is my personal choice as a sugar substitute. Other sugar substitutes that can be added are: Stevia, Truvia, Ideal Sweetener, Xylitol, etc.

SofritoGirl’s ketchup ingredients (ground cloves not shown)

I like using ketchup as an ingredients to combine and create other food. Such as:

  • salad dressing (ie: thousand island, french dressing)
  • dipping sauce (ie: onion ring sauce, cocktail sauce)
  • flavorful condiment, (ie: remoulade)
  • cooking sauces (ie: barbeque sauce, , enchilado, sweet & sauce)

homemade ketchup

Ketchup originate from China, dating thousands of years, and was known as “ke-chiap”, a pickled fish sauce. It was made using anchovies, mushroom, kidney beans, and spices.

The British during their 17th century trading expedition, returned to England with the recipe on how to make ke-chiap. It was renamed in English as catchup, later to ketchup.

Europeans were first made aware of ketchup, in 1690 by Charles Lockyer, when mentioned as an entry in the “Canting Crew” printing.

The first ketchup recipe was published in 1727 by Elizabeth Smith in her book “The Compleat Housewife”. The ingredients included:

  • anchovies
  • shallots
  • vinegar
  • spices (cloves, ground ginger, mace, nutmeg, black pepper)
  • lemon peel

Circa late 18th century (approximately 70 years later), the New World (North America) colonists in New England added tomatoes to provide a tangy flavor, and what we know today as ketchup.

The first documented recipe for tomato ketchup was printed in 1801 in the USA, for a cookbook known as “Sugar House Book” by Sandy Addison. Her recipe called for riped tomatoes that are squeezed, then boiled for 2 hours with salt, while stirred constantly . Once hot, it is sieved, and 7 different spices were added for flavor:

  • allspice
  • black pepper
  • cinnamon
  • cloves
  • ginger
  • mace
  • nutmeg

It is boiled again until thick, while continually stirring. Once cooked to a thick consistency, it is cooled, then pour into a bottle. Addison declared, the ketchup has a shelf life of 2 to 3 years.

In 1837, the first ketchup condiment was produced and distributed for the public by Jonas Yerkes.

38 years later (1875), in Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania, Henry Heinz with his brother (John Heinz), and cousin (Frederick Heinz) started a company together to produce and sell ketchup to the mass public, known as “Heinz Tomato Ketchup”.

There has been slight controversy regarding the pronunciation and spelling of “ketchup” and “catsup”. Both are correct to identify the condiment.

What’s the difference? It all comes down to the US Government’s Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Omnibus Regulation Acts of 1980 and 1981. The regulations, under the Office of Management and Budget that allowed certain food items not explicitly listed to meet nutritional requirements.

One of these was the standard approval for the tomato ingredient in “ketchup” to be declared a vegetable in school lunches. Basically, 1 Tablespoon of tomato paste could be credited as 1/4 cup single-strength tomato juice. Hence, ketchup as a condiment, whose main ingredient is tomato would be equivalent to a serving of vegetable and approved for school lunches.

So, for the sake of USDA Government regulations for school lunches, the condiment:

  • “ketchup” is a tomato ingredient, declared a stand-in as an actual vegetable
  • “catsup” is tomato ingredient, considered a fruit and not a nutritional standard for school lunches

This legislation is food politics in writing for what is considered nutritional value for school lunches… actually it’s nothing more than what is known as political posturing.

bacon-cheddar burger with homemade ketchup; fries with homemade ketchup; salad with lettuce, shredded cheddar and creamy poppyseed dressing

.In honor to my Latin/Spanish heritage, flamenco music and of course, my love for ketchup:

The Ketchup Song, also known as “Aserejé”, sung in Spanglish

One thing I have to say… this song is loosely based from the 1979 Sugarhill Gang “Rapper’s Delight” song. Anyone from NYC who grew up in that era with the sounds of this first wave of commercialized rap music, was familiar with this song.

Rapper’s Delight actual lyrics:

I said a hip hop,
the hippie, the hippie to the hip hip hoppa
ya don’t stop rockin’ to the bang bang boogie
said up jumps the boogie to the rhythm of the boogie the beat

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the ketchup song and beat sounds with an international flair, in Arabic… I can groove to it.

84. chicharron de pollo (chicken crackling)

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Chicharron is basically pork or chicken skin crackling. Another word for crackling is rind, such as pork rind. Chicharron in Spanish, describes pieces of meat (mainly the skin) cut into bite size pieces, and deep fried to a golden crisp or crunchy texture.  It can be eaten as a snack, side dish or as an entree.

The chicharron de pollo are small pieces of chicken, marinated for a couple of hours in a citrus marinade, then coated with flour and fried. My version has influences from Puerto Rican that is marinated in rum, lemon and garlic. I add minced onion to the marination for added flavor. If non-alcohol is preferred, white vinegar can be substituted for the rum.

The chicken marinades for a maximum of 2 to 3 hours. Due to the large amount of lime added to the marinade, to brine for more than 3 hours will “pickle” or “cook” the meat, similar to a ceviche. Therefore, the chicken should only marinade for up to 3 hours. I usually start the flouring process after 2 to 2 1/2 hours after marination.

The flour is typically seasoned with dry adobo and paprika. I keep it simple by only adding salt and pepper, since I carry out the flavors by coating the chicken with salt, black pepper, dried oregano and ground cumin. I would season the flour with these 4 ingredients, but opted to directly season the meat. In addition, the egg wash has the lime-rum marinade added to boost its flavor.

In the video, I mistakenly forgotten to set aside 2 Tablespoon of the citrus marinade for my egg wash, prior to adding to the chicken. The marinade from the chicken does not worry me regarding any negative bacteria affecting the food, since everything is fully cooked in very hot oil. It would be the same as cooking or roasting the chicken in its marinade together in a pot or oven.

Chicharron de pollo can be eaten as a snack or appetizer by cutting the chicken small, about  2 to 3 bite worth. It can be eaten as a side dish accompaniment or main entree by cutting the chicken into larger chunks. Even though, chicharron mean fried skin, I prefer skinless chicken and opted to remove the skin. The chicken skin itself, marinated in the garlic-lime marinade and fried in oil is a type of chicharron known as cuerito.

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homemade rum-lime chicharron de pollo

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Nutrition wise, chicharron de pollo is high in fat and sodium. Yet, it is low in carbohydrate, and very high in protein. I would rather eat portioned size of these chicken nuggets as a snack food than a bag of potato chips, that has the same amount of fat, but hardly any protein and very high in carbs. In addition, chicharron de pollo is a great alternative for those who do not eat pork.

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homecooked meal: chicharron de pollo served with moro, and buttered corn

83. Pernil (authentic Puerto Rican style)

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I decided to go “old school” and prepare a roast pork known as pernil (made with pork shoulder or picnic pork), the old fashion way, in honor to my maternal side Puerto Rican heritage. It brings back memories of my festive childhood, my mom (whom passed away in 2013), and the taste of the traditional holiday food, Boricua style.

The basic flavoring ingredients to season an authentic Puerto Rican pernil are:

  • adobo wet rub
  • lime juice
  • adobo seasoning

This is it, 3 ingredients. simple and straight to the point with no fuss. The adobo wet rub and dry seasoning provides the flavor. The lime juice helps tenderize the meat to make it succulent and juicy. Red wine or vinegar can be use instead of lime juice.

The pork shoulder is rinsed with cold water, pat dry and randomly pierced with deep cuts, and filled with the wet adobo seasoning. It is refrigerated for 2 to 3 days, to allow the marination to absorb into the meat. The longer it marinades, the better the pernil taste. When removed from refrigeration, I allow it to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes to help relax the meat, before roasting in the oven.

The pernil is placed on top of a rack inside the roasting pan and positioned with skin side down. The roasting pan is filled with 4 to 6 cups of water to allow the steam to cook the meat to a tender texture, and not dry out. It is covered with aluminum foil and roasted in a preheated 450 degrees oven for 90 minutes. For this video, I had to roast the pernil without the v-rack, since one of my dear friends borrowed mine and did not return it in time.

After 90 minutes, the aluminum foil is removed, and the oven temperature is reduced to 350 degrees. Move the meat to prevent the skin side down from getting stuck to the pan. Continue roasting for another 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Although I did not mention it in the video, do flip the pernil, every 1 hour or so. This also helps the skin not to stick to the pan.

2 1/2 to 3 hours later, the pernil is turned to skin side up, and will continue to roast for another 1 hour. After it has roasted for 1 hour, the oven temperature is increased to 500 degrees and cook for another 15 to 30 mins. Timing will vary. This extremely high oven temperature allows the skin to become very crispy, known as chicharron. Tapping the skin with a large metal spoon or tong to hear a hollow sound, will let you know the skin is done to a crisp. The pernil is then removed from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Basically, my pernil takes approximately 6 hours to cook in the oven. There are times when I reduce the temperature to lower than 350 degrees (either 300 or 325 degrees) and cook for longer hours. Yet, 350 degrees for 2 1/2 to 3 hours is average time I cook my pernil and will result with a succulent outcome.

A traditional Puerto Rican holiday meal, consist of the following:

A traditional Cuban holiday meal, consist of:

I have linked some of the above with recipes I have made and shared on my SofritoGirl blog.

Leftover pernil taste great for sandwiches. One of my favorites is a grilled cheese sandwich I make for breakfast that consist of:

  • sliced bread (either white or Challah)
  • Swiss cheese
  • pernil
  • mustard
  • dill pickles
  • garlicky mojo sauce

The mojo sauce is made by simmering in a small pot or pan with:

  • finely crushed garlic
  • dried oregano
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • butter

Leftover pernil is great for making Cuban sandwich or medianoche sandwich. The medianoche has the basic same ingredients as a Cuban sandwich, with the only exception, it uses a sweet egg bread, very similar in taste and texture to Challah bread. Personally, I use Challah bread all the time to make a medianoche and prefer to a Cuban sandwich. I also like mine with extra pickles and lots of mojo sauce.

homemade Cuban sandwich: Swiss cheese, smoked ham, pernil, mustard, dill pickles, and mojo sauce on homemade Challah style sweet bread

Hopefully for 2015, I will share my recipe on how to make Puerto Rican style pasteles and Cuban style lechon asado, as well as how to make:

  • alcapurria (meat filled green banana and yautia fritter)
  • croqueta de jamon (ham croquette)
  • yuca con mojo (manioc with garlic sauce)
  • platano maduro and tostones (fried sweet plantain and crispy plantain)

Puerto Rican style pernil

82. Pastelillo de guayaba (guava pastry)

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Pastelillo de guayaba is a Cuban style baked, flaky-puffed pastry filled with a firm marmalade fruit pulp known as guava. The pastelillo can also be filled with other type of fruits, such as:

  • pineapple
  • strawberry
  • apple
  • mango
  • coconut

Another variation to making guava pastry is adding soft cheese, preferably cream cheese. This is known as:

  • guava and cheese pastry
  • guava pastry with cheese
  • guava and cheese pastelillo
  • pastelillo (or pastelito) de guayaba con queso
  • Cuban guava and cheese strudel

The cream cheese for the pastry is similar to cheesecake, in flavor and texture. It is sweet and usually made by beating together cream cheese, sugar, vanilla extract with either an egg yolk or small amount of milk.

I prefer my guava and cheese entrée to be plain and simple. I do not add extra sugar, egg or milk to my cream cheese filling, nor do I process it to become extra smooth. I also, do not brush an egg wash, nor simple syrup on top of the pastry sheet before baking to give it a sheen or shiny top crust. Hence, I save a lot of steps, eliminate the extra carbs and calories, while maintaining a delicious outcome. Sprinkling confectioner sugar on the top crust of the baked pastry, is also optional. It simply makes it taste good, as well as, look aesthetically pleasing.

Although, having the same meaning, I prefer to use the spanish word for pastry to identify as follow:

  • “pastelillo” for the sweet filling pastry
  • “pastelito” for the savory filling pastry

This is my personal preference, not the rule of the norm.

The pastelillos can be cut into rectangular, round, square or triangular forms, and varies according to a person’s style in food preparation and presentation.

The baking time will vary based on gas or electric heating source. It is highly recommended not to bake the pastry puff sheets using a convention or toaster oven. It doesn’t provide the expected outcome desired.

You can make 16 or more mini servings instead of the typical 9 servings from the pastry sheet. You will need to cut the guava into small portions, about the size of your thumb, and take the extra step to cut the pastry into small rectangular or square bite size, then press down to seal the edges, before baking.
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homemade guava and cheese pastry

81. mofongo

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Mofongo is a plantain dish that originates from Puerto Rico with strong African and Taino influences. From the:

  • Africans – we get the mashed plantains
  • Tainos- the pilon (a mortar and pestle) to mash food
  • Puerto Ricans – sofrito (cooking base)

The mofongo is made with green plantains. If the plantain is soft or turning to a yellow color, it cannot be use for this dish. The basic method to make mofongo is:

  • slicing the unripe plantains
  • frying them to a crisp
  • mashing it with a pilon
  • using oil to help bind the mashed plantains

pilon (mortar and pestle)

I purchased an IKEA Adelesten mortar and pestle for $9.99. It’s made of heavy marble, instead of the traditional wood. It also has a wider circumference, compared to the traditional models that are very deep and narrow. Unfortunately, IKEA no longer sells it. Hopefully, they’ll bring it back into their inventory.

IKEA mortar and pestle

If a pilon is unavailable to you, a great alternative is using a potato masher. A food processor can also be substituted. Although, from experience, using a food processor causes the mashed plantains to have a different consistency than the desired mashing process by hand. Using a food processor requires adding more oil for the plantain to stick together.

After the plantain are crush down and mashed well to bind, it is shaped into a dome or half round ball (flat bottom), using either a:

  • pilon
  • deep small bowl
  • spoon
  • hands

The dome shaped plantain is then inverted onto a plate. A pork mix, usually chicharron (pork crackling) is blended into the mashed plantain. Mofongo is usually served with a protein based criollo sauce, stew or broth to moisten the crispy plantain and richly boost its flavor. It can also be eaten as is, without any type of sauce. If serving the mofongo as a main entree, a nice accompaniment is to plate it on a bed of lettuce.

Other alternatives for dense protein to compliment the mofongo are:

  • beef chuck
  • steak
  • pernil
  • shrimps
  • crab
  • lobster
  • chicken

My preference is boneless country pork ribs cooked in a criollo sauce. The dish is known as cerdo guisado or lechon guisado. The English translation is pork stew.

There are 2 types of mofongo:

  • mashed plantain with dense protein blended in, then rolled into a ball, inverted and serve on a plate
  • mashed plantain shaped into a concave well, stuffed with a dense protein filling, then inverted onto the plate

I prefer to steam, boil or pressure cook the plantains before frying into a crispy, dark golden brown. The reason: it helps the inner portion of the plantain to be well cooked.

The stew for the mofongo varies according to what I have available to flavor at the moment. There are times I add:

  • stuffed olives
  • Sa-son Accent Original seasoning
  • fresh cilantro

Other times, I add:

  • more tomato paste to make the stew a thicker consistency
  • more water for less viscosity
  • chicken broth to further enhance its flavor, while providing a lighter textured broth

Mofongo is usually blended with an oil and garlic infusion. This provides structure when shaping the plantains into a dome. My garlic sauce to blend with the mashed plantains, is based on the mojito dipping sauce, similar to a mojo sauce. I love mofongo with lots and lots of garlic.

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homemade mofongo with pork stew, rice and sliced avocado

80. cheddar betta biscuit

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I have been making homemade garlic biscuits, since I was 13 years old. Back then, my ingredients were:

  • all-purpose flour
  • baking powder
  • buttermilk
  • cheddar cheese
  • butter
  • garlic powder
  • parsley flakes

All ingredients were blended together and baked in 400 degrees oven for 15 minutes. Through the years, I have altered and adjusted the recipe according to my liking.

This was way before I have encountered Red Lobster serving complimentary biscuits as part of their entree menu. After that first eating experience of having theirs, it inspired me to adjust my recipe to have an:

  • airy consistency
  • moist texture
  • slightly salty
  • laced with a melted garlic butter topping

Every time I would go to Red Lobster, I would dissect the biscuit to see if I can decipher what ingredients and method were adopted.

One thing I kept experimenting with, was the liquid ingredients. I have always use buttermilk to make my biscuit. But observing their texture was very light and airy, I began to believe, no milk was use in theirs. It inspired to revitalize my recipe using water, then trying out various type of white wine. Prior to that, I tried different type of milk, but it made the biscuit’s have a density, not the ethereality I wanted. Whether using buttermilk or different type of milk, it did not provide the taste or texture I was seeking. I went through many trials and errors, before I met my expectation using pinot grigio. Pinot grigio is an Italian white grape wine, that is light and crisp, and provides an outcome, close to what I wanted in specific taste and texture. Pinot gris (a French white grape light wine) made the biscuit have a slightly spicy edge that did not fancy my taste.

During my early years of making biscuits, I use flour and baking powder. Every now and then, I would use self-rising flour as an alternative, since it is a blend of flour, baking powder and salt. My mom like using Bisquick to make pancakes and for other type of food. One day, I discovered it had a recipe on the back to make biscuit that save time, money and eliminate extra steps. Bisquick is a pre-mix made with flour, baking powder and shortening. After becoming aware I can use Bisquick and add my personal twist to it, and never went back to using flour and baking powder, or self-rising flour. The extra shortening ingredient added to Bisquick makes the biscuit have that right texture and taste that I seek. I have began a new era to use only Bisquick to make my homemade biscuits. I can break it down to add my own:

  • flour
  • baking powder
  • shortening (whether oil, lard or butter)

But, the ratio in the Bisquick product is just right, and again saves me time and extra steps.

During the 1980s, Red Lobster biscuits were known as “complimentary hot cheese garlic bread”. It was actually a freshly baked garlic biscuit, and found it misleading identifying it as a garlic bread. Years later, the “hot cheese garlic bread” was renamed to “Cheddar Bay biscuits”. All I can say is, before receiving my main entree or even my appetizer, I could not get enough eating those biscuits. It was addicting and all you can eat, at no extra charge!

As the years went by and the internet has become the information superhighway for research, I have seen thousands of recipes online to clone, copycat and recreate the Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay biscuits. I have noticed a common attribute with these versions using either buttermilk, milk or plain water. As stated above, when I started to make my original garlic biscuits, I added buttermilk. Nowadays, I will not consider using any type of milk for my exclusive biscuit recipe.

As years went by and figuring out their ingredients and method, I concluded, I did not want to blend the garlic and parsley into the dough before baking. To make it moist, I decided to make the dough with just the flour, cheese and wine, then pour 1 Tablespoon of melted garlic butter on top before baking. If I use a mini muffin pan, I add 1 1/2 teaspoon to each dough before baking. This chemistry help provide a mild garlicky flavor, moist texture and toasty crust as it bakes.

After the biscuits were baked, I felt it still needed an extra boost and decided to top it with a little more garlic butter. The amount of garlic butter added to the freshly baked biscuit is a variable. I figured, it should not be more than 1 teaspoon per biscuit. Sometimes, I add 1/2 teaspoon of melted garlic butter, other times just 1 teaspoon.

I usually top the biscuit with just the melted butter (sans the garlic powder and parsley that is in the dish), since the baked biscuits are already flavored. Other times, I add the melted butter with the garlic powder and parsley, it has. Either way, it is a personal choice, and depends on the moment if I want add the extra visual components in the butter that will give the biscuits more presence, and still taste great.

adjust the amount of garlic butter to your taste; once baked, up to 1/2 Tablespoon per biscuit.

The Red Lobster Cheddar Bay biscuit gave me the inspiration to recreate my recipe to be more moist, and have a light and airy in texture. I never considered my biscuit to be a copycat or a clone to theirs. Mine was developed using my creativity and perfect it through the years, to what it is now. I gave my signature biscuit the name, Cheddar Betta Biscuit.

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cheddar betta biscuits

79. Cuban paella

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Paella is a saffron and olive oil based rice casserole. Paella is pronounced “pah-ay-jah”, NOT “pah-ella”.

There are different versions to make paella, according to culture and regional ingredients. My paella has strong influences from Cuban cuisine, in which is distinguished with the following dense protein combination:

  • chicken
  • chorizo
  • 2 type of seafood (shrimp and lobster)

The paella has certain inspirations from Valencia, Spain. But, an actual Valencia paella does not have any seafood or pork in it.

All paella made today, have origins from the Moorish Mediterranean coastal region of Spain. The Moors brought with them a variety of new foods, including rice. The word “arroz” derives from the Arabic word “arruzz”.

During their 780 years rule of Spain known as the Islamic Golden Ages (711 to 1492 AD), the Moors establish the custom of eating rice during their occupancy and often made casserole with rice, fish and available spices, especially saffron. Pork has never been part of their dietary laws or culture to eat. Their casserole of rice, seafood and spice dish was not known as a paella.

300 years later, during the 19th century in Valencia, Spain, the Moors’ rice and seafood casserole (recognized today as seafood paella), was modified using local ingredients and cooked in a large shallow pan into the dish that is known presently as a Valencia paella. The Valencia paella did not contain any seafood. The actual ingredients for a Valencia paella are:

  • chicken (or duck)
  • rabbit
  • snails

Again, a true Valencia paella although has the same spices (especially saffron), it did not have any seafood or pork added.

The large and shallow pan to cook the paella is identified as a paellera, and dates back a few centuries beforehand.

Paella derives from the Latin word “patella” (meaning pan). The 14th century Romance dialect known as Old French, modernize the word to “paelle” (also meaning pan). During the 18th century, Valencian use the word “paella” for all pans, including the specialized shallow pan for cooking the paella. However, in Spain and throughout Latin America, the term pallera is common for a very large round and shallow pan.

To distinguish its difference, there are 3 known paella and its dense protein:

  • Valencia (Spaniard) – chicken, rabbit and snail; eel is sometimes added
  • Seafood (Moors) – shrimps, fish and lobster; scallops and mussels are generally added
  • Mixed (Cuban) – chicken, Spanish sausage (chorizo) and shrimps; lobster and mussels are customarily added

Every now and then, I buy 4 lobster tails. For the video, I opted to using canned lobster. It taste very fresh and just as good. It also saves time steaming, cracking shells and cutting into pieces.

Personally, I do not eat mussel. I do add it to my recipe, since my husband and guests enjoy eating it with this dish. My preference is buying pre-cooked frozen mussels marinated in butter garlic sauce.

frozen pre-cooked mussels in butter garlic sauce

A few reasons I like frozen pre-cooked mussels compared to purchasing fresh mussels are:

  • no need to remove the beards
  • no need to deal with dead mussels, since it is pre-selected and pre-cooked

Adding Puerto Rican sofrito and olives are optional. You can omit it.

I love adding Budweiser beer to my paella. Other times, I add wine.

If adding beer, the ratio is 1 regular can of beer to 2 cup of chicken broth.

If adding wine, it is 1/3 cup to 3 cup of chicken broth.

I also replace the chicken broth with shrimp stock. I boil the shrimp shells with 4 cups water, filtered it through a strainer to remove the shells, and add the shrimp stock as my broth. Whether shrimp or chicken broth, both taste just as good.

In regards to the rice. I like using Goya paella rice mix. The seasonings are pre-mixed into the rice and taste delicious. It saves me time with no need to sort out which spices to add or measure.

Bomba (also known as calasparra) is a pearly round short grain rice from Calasparra, adjacent to the town of Valencia. It is the authentic type of rice to make a paella. One of the properties to why it is the best is due to the ability to absorb liquids and flavors very well, while its texture stays relatively separate (not sticky) during cooking.

Valencia rice (sometimes called paella rice) is short grain pearl rice from the town of Valencia, Spain. Bomba (calasparra) and Valencia rice only difference is based on the region it comes from. From my personal experience, bomba rice is a slightly better than Valencia rice in regards to the texture and how it absorbs more flavor, once it’s cooked. Basically, they are cultivated the same way. Overall, they are both high quality short grain pearl rice with great taste and consistency to make authentic paella.

If using short grain rice, the ratio is 1 1/2 cup of rice to 10 strands of saffron. Due to saffron being very expensive, I prefer to buy the Goya prepackaged paella rice mix that has all the seasoning in it and cook it with annatto infused oil. The prepackaged paella mix also saves time calculating how much other seasonings I need to add to the rice cooking process.

I have difficulties finding bomba rice in my area. The best replacement is Sello Rojo pearl rice. It absorb the flavors of other ingredients, especially the stock (liquids), and doesn’t become starchy or sticky. Pearl rice is my preferred choice, especially when I choose not buy the Goya paella mix.

Arborio is an Italian short grain rice. Due to its glutinous  starch, if stirred too much during cooking, it tends to become creamy-like in consistency. Hence, it must not be stirred too much and why arborio rice is best for rice pudding. Therefore, arborio rice is ok for paella, just don’t stir it too much, while cooking.

Basmati is a Persian/Indian long grain rice. This type of rice is aged to decrease its moisture content that allows it to have a fine texture. Due to this, basmati rice is unable to absorb the flavors and liquid for making into a paella.

You can use medium grain rice, if no other options are available. It is not my preferred choice to cook for a paella. But, it is an accessible alternative.

After the paella is fully cooked, I always garnish the dish with:

  • sliced fresh lemon (slice on side to rim, then twist opposite sides for a decorative look)
  • sliced roasted red peppers
  • sweet green peas

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Cuban paella

78. potato salad (Puerto Rican style)

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Potato salad is a side dish made with boiled potatoes. The potatoes can also be bake, broil or steamed.

There are different versions to potato salad according to various regions around the world, and their local ingredients. Potato salad can be served heated, such as a German potato salad. In the USA, it is popularly served cold, such as Amish, ranch, picnic or deli style. It is often served with hot or cold dishes, whether beef, pork, venison, poultry, seafood, or any type of hot or cold sandwiches.

Potato salad is usually prepared with mayonnaise, seasonings and diced vegetables. Adding eggs or cold cut meat, is optional.

For the Puerto Rican potato salad, the very basic ingredients are:

  • onion
  • bell pepper
  • mayonnaise
  • salt
  • ground black pepper

According to your taste and preference, other optional ingredients may be added, such as:

  • carrots
  • celery
  • tomato
  • roasted red pepper
  • corn
  • green peas
  • string beans
  • cucumber
  • pickles
  • relish
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • cooked ham
  • salami
  • bacon
  • salad dressing mayonnaise (such as Miracle Whip)
  • vinaigrette
  • sour cream
  • buttermilk
  • vinegar
  • lemon juice
  • mustard
  • horseradish
  • parsley
  • tarragon
  • chives
  • olives
  • capers
  • paprika
  • adobo seasoning
  • cayenne

For my Puerto Rican potato salad, the following are the basic ingredients I add:

  • 1:1 ratio of regular and salad dressing mayonnaise
  • white onion
  • bell pepper
  • tomato
  • carrot
  • celery
  • Kosher pickle
  • hard-boiled egg
  • smoked ham
  • dry adobo seasoning
  • mustard
  • lemon juice

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Puerto Rican style potato salad with homemade angus burger

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