How to properly store fragile herbs, like basil, cilantro, and parsley, has for most home cooks been a quandary and mystery. Here is a simple technique you can use for storing those precious herbs. I realize some people might say, if they go bad then I’ll buy fresh. Well, that may be true, but as a cook you have to figure out ways to keep cost down and maximize your bottom line. With a herb like basil, just cut off the stem just above the root level (re-snipping helps water absorption) and place into a quart container or something like it, glass is fine — then cover the whole thing with a clear plastic bag, or a zip-lock bag. Keep basil on the counter and never refrigerate. On the other hand, cilantro and parsley, can be kept inside the refrigerator, using the above method described. Simple efficient and it works. Harvest fresh herbs and change out the water occasionally and that’s it. I keep my basil right next to my hooch and sourdough starter. Enjoy!
How sweet the sound and taste of this amazing little dish, that some would never think to make for them selves. Sometimes these small and simple dishes can make all of the difference in ones day; it did for me. This one truly made me feel happy. It was everything I hoped it would be in a small package, wrapped in a simple yet complex sweet sauce, fraught with a huge amount of depth of flavor. Eggplant with spicy garlic sauce, is one of my all time favorite dishes to have with a simple bowl of white rice. This recipe did not disappoint.
So the past few nights have been for all intents and purposes, stressful, because of an unfortunate incident that took place recently. But without going into detail about any of it, suffice it to say that, I needed a good home cooked meal tonight made by yours truly. What was on the menu you ask!? Well in this case, I happened to have a can of Goya small red beans and a 4 oz fillet mignon. And of course, who can forget that ubiquitous accompaniment, a freshly made pot of white rice; made in typical Puerto Rican fashion. It was for me the only way to fly tonight! Lets face it, It’s what the doctor ordered. Well, that of course depends on the meal and the other accoutrements accompanying the meal. Cutting back, this was absolutely amazing and I was happy to make it for my self and very happy to share my recipe with you. This recipe is dedicated to my amazing sister Elaine, whom I love and adore with all of my heart. I am happy I had the chance to see you yesterday. Enjoy!
Typically Puerto Rican beans are not made with chipotle or jalapeno pepper, however, this is my take and spin on the recipe. It’s an amazing addition and one you should try.
1 can Goya small red beans
5 sprigs cilantro
1 1/2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion
2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
fresh cracked black pepper
1 small can tomato sauce (hot chili or plain)
1 small jalapeno pepper
1 tbs chipotle sauce
Prep your mis-en-place of onion, garlic, jalapeno pepper and cilantro by dicing and mincing all of the above ingredients. In a 2 quart sauce pan (pot), heat up the olive oil (low-medium heat), and add the onion, garlic, cilantro and jalapeno pepper and sautée for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and cook for another 4 minutes. Add salt and pepper and chipotle sauce. Add the small red beans. Now here is where there is some debate as to whether or not to discard the liquid that the beans are packed in or use the beans plus the liquid. I personally use the entire liquid and find that the flavor is more intense and better. The beans release their starch and proteins and the liquid is full of the bean flavor. It also, acts as a thickener. Once the beans are placed into the pot, fill the can with cold water and add the water from the can to the pot. It’s kind of old school cooking and was the way my mom taught me, and I still use this simple yet reliable method. (It just works!). Season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat, and cook for about 20 minutes till reduced and beans are cooked and tender. Check your beans for seasoning during the cooking process. That’s it! Enjoy!
To store parsley and cilantro, you must first rinse the leafy herbs under cold water, to rinse away any soil or small bugs that are collected in between the stems and leaves during the growth and harvest. Once rinsed, shake off any excess water from the leafy bunch and allow to drain over the sink in a colander or sieve. Once dry, (some moisture will remain but that’s okay) place the bunch on a cutting board and cut off the bottom of the plant just above the root end. Get a mason jar and add just enough cool water to cover just 2 to 3 inches above the cut end of the bunch. Place a clear plastic bag or zip lock bag over the leafy tops and place the whole thing into the refrigerator. (The idea is to create a small green house). That’s it! Now you will have fresh parsley when ever you need it for as long as the plant will remain healthy and this can be a very long time. I have kept some parsley in this state in my fridge for up to 2 months. (No joke!). You can treat cilantro in the same manner and have the same success with it. Just break off a bunch by clasping a few stems and tearing as little or as much as you need, and cover the rest. Change the water every few days (3-4 days) and the parsley will last even longer.
One of my all time favorite Puerto Rican dishes from my childhood, has to be arroz con pollo, that’s right this dish. I don’t get to make it very often, and in fact haven’t made it in years, but when I do, it’s like going back to my childhood and those wonderful years and memories, spending time and hanging with my brothers and sisters. We would sit by the television watching Charlie Brown or some other memorable cartoon from that period. My favorite has always been Rudolph the Red Nosed Rain Deer. Oh well, what can I tell yuh!
So while I wasn’t sure what to make for dinner last night, walking by the poultry section of the market made it a no brain-er. I thought at first that fried chicken would be the way to go, but with very little thinking, I re-thought the menu and recalled this amazing dish; arroz con pollo. Bing that was easy! I did make some changes to the original recipe, but boy am I glad I did. I used a classic mire poix, instead of the usual sofrito or recaito recipe, to prepare my dish and it made all of the difference. It was like night and day literally. The choice to chef out and veer off of the beaten-path, was just the thing that this recipe needed to kick it up a few notches, and bring it to the next level. Typically the dish begins with frying or sauteing some sofrito in some cooking oil, usually something like a corn oil, or more commonly now days, canola oil. But for me, olive oil is the way to go. Also, some tomato sauce in the form of a libby’s or goya tomato sauce. I’ve changed so much about my cooking style and technique that making this dish, has I think finally reached its zenith or pinnacle, at least for my taste buds. In place of the tomato sauce, I used tomato paste, and also, omitted the perfunctory sofrito. Not that this is wrong by any means. I’ve just been playing with different flavor combinations and introducing them into my traditional Puerto Rican dishes and seeing what if any improvement or enhancement, they can lend. The one thing I wish I did have with this dish, was some sweet plantains. And I do mean “sweet”! Here’s how I did it.
For this recipe I used:
2 chicken legs (included thighs and drumsticks)
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
3 cups water
2 medium carrots
1 medium onion
4 garlic cloves
1 large celery stalk
2 fresh bay leaves (laurel leaves)
fresh cracked pepper
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp red chilli flakes
3 tbs minced cilantro leaves
1 Knorr chicken bouillon (or 3 cups chicken stock)
1 1/2 tbs tomato paste
3 tbs cooking oil (olive oil)
Cut the chicken thighs in half, separating the drums sticks and thighs. I took an extra step and removed the drum stick nubs, by cutting or slicing with a sharp chef knife along the circumference just above the nubs, and hacking the nubs off. It looks better this way for presentation purposes, but not a necessary step. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder all sides of the chicken. Prepare your mis en place of carrots, onion, celery and garlic by dicing and mincing and set aside in a bowl. Preheat a skillet and add the cooking oil. Once heated, add your chicken pieces skin side down. This part is very important as this provides huge flavor. (I use a 10″ lodge blackened cast iron skillet). Sear all sides till browned, but not cooked all the way through. About 4 minutes each side. (Brown food is flavor) Remove from the heat and set aside to rest on a plate. Bring to a boil 3 cups of water. In a small bowl, crumble or break up the chicken bouillon and add 1/4 cup of the hot water to dissolve. In a 4 quart dutch oven cast iron pot (I use le creuset 4 quart), heat up 3 tbs of olive oil. Add the mire poix (carrots, onion, celery and garlic) and a pinch of salt and pepper to season. Sautée till lightly colored and onions are translucent. Add the tomato paste and sautée for an additional 2 minutes. Add the rice, chilli flakes and ground cumin, and stir to combine with the tomato paste and mire poix, stirring till thoroughly combined and the rice has absorbed the color of the paste, about 3 minutes. Add the bay leaves and the chicken pieces to the pot. Add the dissolved chicken bouillon and the remaining hot water. Season the broth to taste. (Bouillons do contain salt, so taste as you go). Do not over salt but do not be afraid to season! Stir the pot once and do not cover. Allow the water or broth to reduce till there are small bubbles remaining on top of the rice. Once most of the broth has been absorbed, reduce the heat to low and stir the pot once more, mixing the rice from the bottom to the top. (You want to form a small mound). Cover the pot with aluminum foil and place the pot lid on top of the foil to form a tight seal.
Cook for an additional 20 minutes till the rice and chicken are cooked and the rice is fluffy and the chicken is tender. Turn off the pot and allow the rice to rest with the lid on for 5 minutes before serving. Serve and garnish with the minced cilantro and a bit of finishing salt (Maldon’s Sea Salt) for that delicious crunch and amazing texture (optional).
So tonight was a great night I thought for a warm hearty soup, as the weather is truly frightful out there, and it’s so warm in here. I thought that the perfect cheap and inexpensive way to make a quick comfy and cosy soup, would be to use up what ever is laying around in the fridge. Well, I didn’t have to look far nor hard, as this perfect belly warmer is just what the doctor ordered to nurse my self back to health. It’s a warm potato soup or as the French call it a vichyssoise.(This soup is typically served cold). This soup is also, typically made with leeks and of course, potatoes. I omitted the cream and instead finished it with a knob of butter and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. But like I said, I used what ever I had in the fridge and found some onions that could in a few short days, become fodder for my pictorial project I call, “dead food”. I much prefer to enjoy this soup while lounging in bed, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to shoot some pictures and turn it into a blog post: about this easy and delicious soup. It hit the spot tonight just perfectly and I can’t wait to get off of this computer and have a bowl of it. This serving has a Fontina cheese floating island (Ile flottante au fromage) and is garnish with a couple of cilantro sprigs. It just melts in your mouth when you spoon it up. What a perfect addition and flavor surprise this little piece of cheese adds to the soup. I invited my good friend and neighbor over for a bowl and I served it with a wonderful tuna melt, that I jazzed up with chopped cilantro (theme here), and lemon zest and juice, some fresh cracked pepper and kosher salt. I will follow up with the recipe later today. Right now I must take a break and nurse my self with some soup.
This recipe is a special one to me, and I hope I do it justice describing it’s many layers and complexity of goodness. This is a recipe that holds a special place in my heart and life. It was after all, my mom who taught it to me and it was she that nurtured my culinary interest and curiosity from a very early age. Okay! I digress. Sofrito, in short, is a melange of several savory vegetables (aromatics) and herbs, in combination that are pureed in either a food processor or blender or cut or chopped on a cutting board like I do or make mine most times, and used in most savory Puerto Rican dishes (from my childhood). I must also add, that this staple of Puerto Rican cooking, is by no means exclusive to Puerto Rican cuisine. The Island of Cuba and Dominican Republic, also lay claim to their own versions of this most amazing condiment of aromatics that also act as a base or foundation for savory cooking. Even Mexico in the Yucatan is said to have its own version. No meal is cooked without it in the Puerto Rican tradition.
Side note: Louisiana’s New Orleans or N’orleans as the locals call their beloved city (Cajon country), also has its own version of sofrito they call the “holy trininty”. It consist of bell peppers, onions and celery.
“The “Libre de Sent Soví” (circa 1324) is one of the oldest cookbooks in Europe. It had a great influence on French and Italian cuisines. It is common to find similar sofrito techniques in France (mirepoix), Italy (soffritto or battuto), Portugal (refogado) or other Mediterranean countries. The Spanish also took the technique to their colonies throughout Latin America, where it is still called sofrito, and to the Phillipines where it is called ginisá. -Hector Rodriguez about.com
A trito is the same as a battuto but doesn’t contain pork. It’s very finely chopped vegetables, usually including some combination of onions, celery, garlic, carrot, and parsley. Other cuisines use this same technique: refogado in Portuguese, sofrito in Spanish, sofregit in Catalan, mirepoix in French, and “holy trinity” in Creole cooking.
What is better than chicken soup when you’re nursing a cold or feeling under the weather?! Not many things! This soup is my take on a few recipes that I have learned along the way with the exception of the cilantro garnish. That’s mine. I love fresh cilantro in just about anything brothy. Or how about fresh parsley for another take on a fresh herb. Fresh herbs like cilantro, either for garnish or for waking up an ingredient or recipe is simply put, perfect!