Monday, December 12, 2011

Thanksgiving Part Dos: Curried Batata Gratin and Mama's Cocktail Meatballs

Meatballs blending with the curry cream sauce. So good.

The best picture I can find of the Curried Batata Gratin.
Still leaves a little to the imagination. Can you just trust me on this one?

Welcome to Part Dos of the First Annual Gluten-Free, Mostly Vegetarian, Dominican-American Thanksgiving. 

I'm going to skip right to the recipes, because these babies deserve all the attention. Both of these dishes are equal parts sweet and savory, and on a plate, when the sauces mix together, it's pure perfection. Compliments abounded about these two, and I hope you'll try them out for yourself.


Curried Batata Gratin 
Thanks to 

In my case, I used batatas, the DR's version of sweet potatoes. Though they look different at the outset (pictures coming soon), they are very similar in taste, and you can substitute the batatas for sweet potatoes wherever you may be. The crunch of the almond gives this dish a remarkable spark - so don't skimp on this ingredient!

I doubled this vegetarian recipe, since I wasn't sure who would make it to the actual Thanksgiving dinner. 14 people showed up, I made enough for 16-20, and there were no leftovers of this dish. That says it all my friends.

1 quart heavy cream (I know, I know. Not my healthiest recipe. But the holidays are for indulging every once in a while, right?)
2 tablespoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic
1/2 bunch fresh fine-chopped cilantro
2-3 large batatas, or 4 large sweet potatoes
2 egg whites
2 cups parmesan cheese
1/2 cup toasted almond pieces
1 teaspoon salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole pan - a 9x13 baking dish will work fine.

Bring the cream, curry powder, turmeric, bay leaf, and garlic to a boil in a medium saucepan. Set aside and let the flavors steep for about 30 minutes.

Strain the bay leaf and garlic from the cream. Peel the batatas or sweet potatoes. Slice them 1/2-inch thick.

Whip up the egg whites in a large bowl. Toss the batatas, salt and pepper into the egg whites, and mix. You may have to do this in batches.

Place a layer of batata in the casserole pan. Spread parmesan cheese on top. Repeat until you are out of batatas.

Pour the cream on top of the potatoes until it is gone and evenly distributed.

Top the casserole with the remaining cheese and almonds. Cover with tin foil, and bake in the oven until it is golden and bubbly - around 30 to 45 minutes.

Top with cilantro and serve right away! Serves 8-10.

You can make this dish ahead of time, but I would say at most 4-6 hours ahead. Make it in the morning and re-heat it for your afternoon/evening meal.


Mama's Cocktail Meatballs

Just about every holiday/special occasion at my house is accompanied by these luscious, easy-to-make meatballs. In fact, my sister also made them this year for the fam's Thanksgiving in North Carolina.

1 lb. ground chuck
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 12oz. bottle chili sauce
1 8oz. jar grape jam

Combine the ground chuck, egg, cornstarch, onion, salt and pepper. Shape them into small meatballs. 1 teaspoon per ball = 50 meatballs. Brown in a large skillet and remove the grease.

Combine the chili sauce and grape jam in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir. Drop in the meatballs and cook for 15 minutes. Put top on pan and set aside until you are ready to eat!

Make this a day in advance and refrigerate, and the flavors of the sauce will seep into the core of the meatballs!

Serves 8-10.

a buen tiempo!

The First Annual Gluten-Free, Mostly-Vegetarian, Dominican-American Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving meant something extra special to me this year. I'm so thankful for exactly where I am in my life right now, and for the people that are in it with me. I am fully aware of how lucky I am to be saying that, and how rare it might be to feel that way. I say "might be" because even though I know that when "life" is on the upswing, it's almost impossible to imagine a downward slope, I really think this feeling of peace is here to stay. Who's the one maturing, biatches?

  I'm trying to bottle up this feeling for rainy days, because de verdadthings. are. good. 

An evening of food and friends was more than I could ask for, (even though it was exactly what I had asked for) and the 2 days of cooking that led up to it were so therapeutic after a it's-nearly-the-end-of-the-semester work marathon.

The First Annual Gluten-Free, Mostly Vegetarian, Dominican-American Thanksgiving Menu:
(I know what you're thinking - it sounds like a high maintenance Starbucks order, right? Wrong, it's my Thanksgiving. Remember the name for next year.)

1. Fresh Salad (clearly vegetarian): ripe tomatoes, avocado, and cucumber tossed with salt and vinegar

2. Caribbean Tortilla-Cornbread Stuffing (vegetarian, make ahead recipe): Gluten-free cornbread stuffing topped with shrimp

3. Curried Batata Gratin (vegetarian, make ahead recipe): The Dominican Republic's version of sweet potatoes, sliced and layered with parmesan cheese, baked in a sweet, curried cream sauce, and topped with almonds (that magical crunch)

4. Mama's Cocktail Meatballs (not vegetarian, make ahead recipe): Cocktail-sized meatballs cooked in a sweet and sour sauce

An important note: These recipes make for 8-10 people, and since I was cooking for around 15, and most of them were big guys, I doubled each recipe. 

Broken up gluten-free cornbread

In the process of making the Caribbean Tortilla-Cornbread Stuffing

Making the salad! Scary Mario!

Cilantro to top the Curried Batata Gratin

The spread.

Fresh Salad
Curried Batata Gratin

Caribbean Tortilla-Cornbread Stuffing

Mama's Cocktail Meatballs

Gettin' in there.



The evidence.

Today's Featured Thanksgiving Recipes: 
Fresh Salad and Caribbean Tortilla-Cornbread Stuffing, Vegetarian Style

Fresh Salad: 

Use your imagination for this salad. So much of it depends on what's in season, wherever you are. In the Dominican Republic, avocados are literally everywhere, and tomatoes/cucumbers are in season all year round.

Slice them up, sprinkle with salt, drizzle with vinegar, and toss. Keep it simple.


Caribbean Tortilla-Cornbread Stuffing, Vegetarian-Style

This cornbread stuffing recipe is based on this recipe from Food & Wine. What's the difference? Seafood stock instead of chicken stock, and an amazing shrimp addition.

Looking at this recipe once might be intimidating because of the various steps. You can make everything, except for the shrimp, ahead of time, so why don't you start a day or 2 early? Each "step" shows how long it will keep refrigerated and/or frozen, and honestly, it is all worth it in the end. This dressing is unbelievable, and no one will ever know it's gluten-free.

Step 1: Make the cornbread 

2 cups yellow cornmeal, preferably stone ground
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups butter milk (1 1/2 cups of whole milk, plus 1 1/2 tablespoons of vinegar, mixed well)
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-by-13 baking dish and put it in the oven.

Mix 1 1/3 cups of cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a bowl.

Pour  the remaining 2/3 cup of cornmeal and boiling water in a medium heatproof bowl, and stir well. Stir in the buttermilk and eggs. Then, add the dry ingredients and melted butter. Mix until it is blended. Pour the batter into the hot baking dish and bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Let the cornbread cool and keep it at room temperature for up to 2 days, or frozen up to a month.

Step 2: Make the Tortilla Broth

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Two 6-inch tortillas, chopped
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 medium onion, minced
1 can tomatoes, pureed
5 cups seafood stock
1 tablespoon paprika
1 bay leaf
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt to taste

In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Over moderately high heat, add the chopped tortillas and garlic and cook, until the tortillas are crisp and the garlic is browned. About 3 minutes. Add the onion and tomato puree and bring to a boil. Pour in the stock, paprika, bay leaf, and cumin and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes. The Tortilla Broth should be about one quart. Remove the bay leaf.

Working in batches, puree the mixture in a blender. Add a pinch of  cayenne, and season with salt.

You can store the Tortilla Broth for up to 3 days in the refrigerator, or up to a month in the freezer!

Step 3: Put it all together! Woop!

Vegetable oil, for frying 14 6-inch corn tortillas, halved and cut into 1/4-inch strips.
6 cups crumbled corn bread, or one 9 X 13 pan of the cornbread recipe above, crumbled
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the baking dish
1 large onion, cute into 1/4-inch dice
2 celery ribs, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
2 tablespoons finely chopped sage
2 teaspoons finely chopped time
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 quart Tortilla Broth

In a large saucepan, heat 2 inches of vegetable oil to 350 degrees. Working in batches, fry the tortilla strips over moderately high heat, until golden and crispy, about 3 minutes. Transfer the strips to paper towels to drain. Put them in a large bowl and add the cornbread.

In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and celery and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the cilantro, sage, thyme, and chili powder. Cook until the chili powder is fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the Tortilla Broth to the skillet and bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Pour the mixture over the tortilla strips and corn bread, season with salt, and toss gently. Let it stand until the broth is absorbed, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9x13 baking dish. Transfer the stuffing to the dish and cover with foil. Bake for about 20 minutes, until heated through. Uncover and bake for about 15 more minutes, until the top begins to brown. Put that foil back on to keep it warm, and jump to the shrimp step.

You can make the unbaked stuffing ahead of time for up to 2 days in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Step 4: Make the Shrimp:
Taken from How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman

This is also a great tapas recipe! It goes great with bread, with pasta, or in tacos. Super versatile. 

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 big cloves of garlic, cut into slivers
About 1 1/2 pounds of shrimp, 20-30 per pound, peeled, rinsed, and dried
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon paprika

First, warm the olive oil over low heat in a large, ovenproof skillet or baking pan (I used a 9x13 baking dish). There should be enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic until it turns golden, which should be 2-3 minutes.

Raise the heat to medium-high and add the shrimp, salt and pepper, the cumin and the paprika. Stir to blend and continue to cook, shaking the pan once or twice and turning the shrimp once or twice. Cook until they are pink all over and the mixture is bubbly, 5-10 minutes.

Spoon them on top of your baked casserole for a beautiful finished product!

You made it! Enjoy! Serves 8-10.

a buen tiempo!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

Well, in the Dominican Republic, it's not "cold." "Fresh" or "brisk" might be a better fit, and only at night. I'm sweating as I'm writing this right now. Either way, the temperature is dropping, and it makes me want soup and hot chocolate and Christmas tunes in the background.

If you haven't noticed, I love the holidays. It's never too soon to decorate the house, put up twinkling Christmas lights, wrap presents, and eat holiday treats. There were about five years when I was in high school/college that our Christmas tree did not come down, at all, between Christmas's. It was magical, until it was embarrassing. 5 years is the limit - if you don't take it down, you can't put it back up again! 

I made 2 soups in the last couple of weeks that satisfied my winter food cravings. Both soups have robust, creamy broths without using any cream. The Curried Vegetable Soup's blend of Indian spices are absorbed by the vegetables of your choice; I chose potatoes, carrots, auyama (pumpkin/winter squash), eggplant, tomatoes, onions and garlic.  Mama's White Chili is a recipe from my mom. White beans and corn, combined with chicken and seasonings, makes this the healthiest chili I've tried, as well as one of the tastiest. 

Choosing wine for a curry dish can be tricky. Because this stew is so thick and hearty, I think the Curried Vegetable Soup is best with a fruity red wine, like Tempranillo, or a fruity rosé, like White Zinfandel.  For Mama's White Chicken Chili, a Chardonnay pairs nicely because of its creamy, vanilla flavor.  It's heavier white wine, so it complements the dish without being overwhelmed by the chili's flavors. 

Curried Vegetable Soup

Mama's White Chicken Chili

I've got some exciting news this week, virtual world! Even though I'm in the DR, the international school I work for celebrates Thanksgiving, meaning that I have Thursday and Friday off from work this week!

You thought that was the exciting news, didn't you? 

Even though the vacation days are well received (trust me), the real jaw dropper is that...
I'm hosting my first Thanksgiving!

I'm taking advantage of both days to host Thanksgiving at my house on Friday night! The menu is already planned, and the invitations are out. It will be a Thanksgiving without turkey, but a delicious, thanks-filled evening nonetheless! Wish me luck (it's my first time).

Right now I'm in Step 1: "Pep Talk Mode". Patrick Swayze and Baby's Dirty Dancing scene as they land the big lift is repeated over and over in my head. Sylvester Stallone, jabbing and fist pumping in general, is an image I'm trying to focus on. You know, for inspiration. From the "greats".

The Amurican Flag is fitting for Thanksgiving, right? A nice touch.
Step 1: "Pep Talk Mode", also goes hand-in-hand with Step 2: Preparation: getting the shopping done at a reasonable price and preparing a schedule of how I'm going to get everything made for Friday evening. Jab those high prices! Go on! Fist pump with me!
Is it ironic that the first pictures that are not originally mine,
taken by the fiance nor I,
are of Sylvester Stallone?
To everyone else out there celebrating the day with their families and friends - Happy Turkey Day! Take pictures to share with us on La Buena Fe!!

Curried Vegetable Soup

3 tablespoons olive oil, separated
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 can diced tomatoes, stewed with preferred seasonings  (2 medium tomatoes peeled, seeded, and chopped would also work)
2-3 small potatoes, chopped into cubes
1 large eggplant, chopped into cubes
1 large carrot, chopped 
1 pound auyama/pumpkin/winter squash (butternut squash, acorn squash), chopped into cubes
3 cups chicken/vegetable stock
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
salt and pepper to taste 

First, place the potatoes, eggplant, carrots, and squash in a large mixing bowl. Add the curry, ground coriander, cumin, paprika, salt, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix well. The trick to vegetable soup is to make sure your vegetables are well seasoned!

Next, heat the last tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the onions over medium heat until they are soft.  Add the garlic for 30 seconds, and then stir in the eggplant, carrots, and whatever other vegetable you would like to add. Turn the heat to low and cover the skillet for around 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Make sure to stir occasionally so the vegetables do not burn.

Finally, pour in the tomatoes, chicken/vegetable stock, potatoes, and squash, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and the let the soup simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the potatoes and squash are tender. Add salt if necessary. Serve hot!

Serves 4-6.

Mama's White Chicken Chili 

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium chopped onions
2 cloves of garlic
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper sauce (hot sauce)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 (11 oz.) can of white corn, drained
1 (15 oz.) can of cannellini beans, drained
1 (15 oz.) can butter beans, drained
2 cups chopped cooked chicken breast

First, heat the vegetable oil in your cooking pot and cook the onions until they are beginning to soften. Add the garlic for around 30 seconds. Stir in the remaining ingredients, except the chicken. Heat to boiling, and then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.  Finally, add the chicken and cook until hot!

Serves 4-6.

*** Squeeze extra lime juice in both soups for a surprising kick! ***

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Eggplant Lasagna and a "I Just Might Bathe in This Pasta Sauce"

A couple of months ago, the fiancé and I had a few people over, and I made Eggplant Lasagna. 15 of our friends made it the most people I had ever cooked for, and I worked all. day. long. I mean it - I woke up and started chopping, sautéing, pureeing, preparing, and cleaning, and I didn't stop until it was time to eat.

Then, at the moment of truth, the most amazing sound pierced the air...


Everyone was eating. Not only eating, but going for seconds! It really was so good. When I was making the "I Just Might Bathe in This Pasta Sauce," I saved a cup and savored it while I finished cooking. Wish I was joking. The mix of flavors in the lasagna are perfect together. The ricotta cheese filling - thyme, oregano, ricotta cheese - are complemented perfectly by the natural ingredients of the pasta sauce - carrots, onion, tomatoes, basil, garlic. You can taste the individual flavors in each bite - and the textures! The distinct layers of the homemade marinara sauce, soft eggplant, and creamy ricotta mushroom mixture are divine.

Not to mention that my nerves, which had been leading to profuse sweating and self-hatred (maybe I would just tell everyone the oven broke and order pizza?), were more than relieved. I have a food blog for pete's sake! My food couldn't taste mediocre when most everyone I know here was at my house, gathered together, with the intention of eating something delicious.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was such a  rush. I loved every part of it. The planning, grocery shopping, hours of chopping and dicing, welcoming everyone into our home, and in the end, eating every last bite of that massively sized lasagna, plus the entire moro de gandules, and of course - the compliments! Cooking and sharing and then writing about it has not been a lifelong passion, but it's fun right now.

On that note, I'm throwing this idea out into the universe: November is National Novel Writing Month. NaNoMo promotes a "competition" in which you write an entire novel in 30 days, starting yesterday! It seems like such a romantic notion from the outset - having a novel written by December. But let's be real - I'm overwhelmed with the idea of it. Of course, with fear also comes doubt. Could I even do this? Should writing be something I consider pursuing?  Que sé yo. I'm not concerned with having something concretely finished in 1 month, because boundaries really aren't my thing - but this could be what gives me a little push in the right direction. My ideas are bound to my experiences living abroad, particularly the clash and/or assimilation of expats and their communities. What to do, what to do?

Until then - enjoy the recipe (taken from the Food Network). Try it, enjoy it, invite some friends over and pair it with a bottle of Chianti - a red wine made in the Chianti region in Tuscany from the Sangiovese grape. To match this dish, choose a Chianti Rufina or Chianti Clasico, which should be between $12-25. For a more economic option, you can find a more simple Chianti (look for bottles only labeled "Chianti") for $6-10.


Eggplant Lasagna

2 large eggplants, sliced lengthwise 3/4-inch thick (8 slices)
5+ tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1 cup sliced mushrooms (1 8 oz. can)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon thyme leaves, chopped
1 15. oz container ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons oregano leaves, chopped
2 cups Nona's Marinara Sauce (Or the "I Just Might Bathe in this Pasta Sauce" - Recipe below!)

1. Prepare the eggplant: 
Arrange the sliced eggplant on 2 sheet pans. Brush both sides of the eggplant using 3 tablespoons of oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast the eggplant for around 50 minutes at 400 degrees until the slices are soft and golden, but not burnt! After 25 minutes, turn the eggplant slices over, and roast for another 25 minutes. After roasting the eggplant, lower the heat to 350 degrees.

2. Prepare ricotta spread:
In a medium-sized skillet, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the sliced mushrooms. Sauté until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme, and cook for another 2 minutes. Set the seasoned mushrooms aside to cool.

In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, eggs, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, oregano, freshly cooked mushrooms, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Mix well!

3. Arrange the lasagna: 
Lightly oil an 8-inch baking dish with oil. Spread half of the marinara sauce (chunky, not puréed) on the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Place 4 roasted eggplant slices on top of the chunky sauce, and then layer with all of the ricotta cheese spread. Add the next 4 slices of eggplant, and then evenly pour second half of the marinara sauce (puréed!) on top.

Finish by topping the lasagna with the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown - about 30 minutes.


Nona's Marinara Sauce:
Or as I like to call it: It's so good that..."I Just Might Bathe in This Pasta Sauce"

5 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
1 (28 oz.) can crushed (or diced) tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle the cloves of garlic with salt and pepper and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Wrap up each clove in foil and place it on the oven rack. Roast the garlic until it is brown and tender, around 20-25 minutes. Once cool, squeeze the garlic from their skins and set aside.

In a large saucepan, sauté the onions and carrots over medium heat. Add the tomato paste and stir well. This will give it a nice orange color. Cook for about 10 minutes. When vegetables are softened, add the roasted garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, and stir until they are all mixed together. Pour in the tomatoes. Fill the empty can with water and add it to the pan. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 1 hour, uncovered. Stir occasionally. Once the sauce is ready, carefully pour 1/2 the sauce into a food processor or blender and purée until smooth! Keep both sauces - chunky and puréed, separate.

Serves 4-6.

a buen tiempo!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

I'm Back Motha'F! Fake Fall Frenzy: Pumpkin Gnocchi

I know, I know. I left without saying goodbye. I simply fled town, without so much as a note.

All's well with the world now.  Take a deep breath. In and out, in and out...  

Because I'm back Mothafocka! (Cue the intro music. Be creative - "Final Countdown" is so cliché.)

With the Juanddy

Two months ago I took on two new jobs, and it seems like it was too much for mama bear, i.e. me. I've since dropped one, and I'm back on track to normalsville/my happy place. Last weekend the fiancé and I had a couple of friends over and we made the house cut out for fall. And by ready for fall, I really mean ready for Christmas. What up Navidad!

I know what you're thinking - those lights are staying up all year round!

I made Pumpkin Gnocchi with a Tomato Sage Sauce that literally melted in our mouths. I've been craving all things fall related lately. The four seasons are so distinct in North Carolina that without the marked temperature differences here in la tropics, it's hard for me to identify when time is passing. Be that as it may, in the past month, the weather has been cooler at night, the sun is starting to come up a bit later, and it's beginning to go to sleep a bit earlier. The relief from the insanely intense summer heat has been utterly delicious. 

Perfect Pairing:

A new element I'm adding to La Buena Fe is a wine pairing segment. I'm a beginner at wine pairing, but I'm hoping my research will lead me down the right path.  If not, I'm sure my friend Megan, my personal wine sommelier, and one of my oldest friends, will straighten me out. Hopefully I'll be able to start naming some specific bottles and not just the general types of wine.

This dish should be perfectly paired with a crisp white wine. Try a Sauvignon Blanc or late harvest Riesling, for something a bit sweeter.
Fun Fact: "Late Harvest" just means that the grapes have stayed on the vine longer than usually, allowing the sugar to become more concentrated.


1 1/2 pounds potatoes, about 3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, plus extra for topping
Pinch of allspice and nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground pepper
1 1/2 cups gluten free flour

First, boil the potatoes in salted water until very tender, which is about 25 minutes. While still hot, puree the potatoes and let them cool for a bit. You'll be mixing and kneading the dough with your hands, and you don't want them to burn!

Next, add the pumpkin puree, cheese, egg, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and pepper. This next step is very important! Gradually add the flour to the mixture, about 1/2 cup at a time, kneading it in as you go. You do not want to overwork the dough, or add too much flour. The dough will become heavy and taste like the flour, not like the pumpkin! 

Once the flour is mixed, cut the dough into 6 separate pieces. Roll out each piece so it is a long, thin rope, about 1/2 inch in diameter. The dough is pretty sticky, so you might need to add some flour - that's ok, but remember - not too much! Slice the rope into your pasta pieces, about 1/2 inch wide. For an extra flare that will really impress your friends, roll the tines of a fork against the dough so you have individual indentations on each piece.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and immediately add the gnocchi. Once they have risen to the top, cook each piece for 2-3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set them aside while you make the sauce. You should have no more than 1/3 of the gnocchi boiling at a given time. Once they are sitting out, sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon and sugar on top to bring out the sweet pumpkin flavor.

Important note: Test a few pieces and see how turn out. If they seem overly soggy, pop them in the oven for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees to crisp them up around the edges. 

Tomato Sage Sauce

2 lbs ripe tomatoes, about 2 large tomatoes, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup butter (I used fat free heart healthy fake butter and it still tasted wonderful)
1 handful fresh sage leaves, chopped roughly
1 tablespoon brown sugar
salt to taste

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until golden. Then add the tomatoes and salt. Turn the heat up to high and bring the tomatoes to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cover the mixture for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the sage, sugar, and butter. Let the sauce's flavors blend for about another 5 minutes. Pour over your freshly made Pumpkin Gnocchi and enjoy. 

Serves 4-6!

a buen tiempo!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dear Eggplant,

Eggplant Stacks

Curried Coconut Eggplant with Potatoes

Fried Eggplant layered with Vegetables

Eggplant Tomato Casserole
with a side of avocado salad and tostones

Eggplant Sautéed with Tomatoes

Dear Eggplant,

There's a lot we need to talk about. We've been spending so much time together lately, and there's still so much you don't know about me, nor I about you. We should really get everything out in the open. So, here it goes.

I know I'm using you in peculiar ways that you may or may not be comfortable with, but I think you should be proud of yourself for being so dynamic and open to new ideas. Honestly, I had no idea you could bend, broil, bake, and fry so luxuriously. Of course it has been hard for you, especially since I've virtually ignored your needs and desires, without consulting you before I begin to peel and slice you up. I've been selfish, I admit it. It's that when I'm with you, I lose control. Everything becomes cloudy and the next thing I know, I'm reaching into the oven and I see what I've done to you. Cut open and bleeding for the whole world to see, and me, shameless, mouth-watering with the flavors that I know are coming to me. It's pathetic, really, and I just can't seem to stop.

But, eggplant! Oh, eggplant! The color of your skin reels me in, but it's your flesh that makes me sweat. Full of Fiber, Potassium, and Vitamin B-6, I know you'll help keep me strong throughout the day. And the many ways you move! - Eggplant Parmesan, Eggplant Stacks, Curried Coconut Eggplant with Potatoes, Eggplant Tomato Casserole, Sautéed Eggplant, and Eggplant Lasagna. The sheer breadth of your range is a gluten-free lady's dream.

Enough! You know too much already.

With love and devotion,

Lizzy Loo


Eggplant Stacks

The fiance and I make this dish quite often. It's fast, easy, cheap, and it always tastes fresh and light. 

2 large eggplants, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1/4 cup salt, plus more for seasoning
extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
freshly ground black pepper
3 large tomatoes, cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4 inch slices

The first and most important thing I have learned about cooking with eggplant is its preparation. You MUST salt the eggplant before you use it. This step sweats out some of its naturally bitter juices and the eggplant becomes tender. To do this, place your slices in a colander that's resting over a large bowl.  Sprinkle the salt generously on each slice, and let it rest for about an hour.

Salting the eggplant.
This eggplant is sliced length-wise. For the purposes of this particular recipe, make sure you cut your eggplant in rounds, so they are small circles!

After the hour is up, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Wash the eggplant in cold water to get rid of the excess salt. Place each eggplant slice in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Brush one side with olive oil and then again with balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Prepare another baking sheet by lining it with aluminum foil and drizzling it with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Arrange the tomato slices in a single layer, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and top it off by adding the minced garlic.

Bake the tomato slices until they are soft and starting to brown, which is about 10-15 minutes.

Bake the eggplant slices until they are tender and well browned, which is about 20-30 minutes.

Once the eggplant and tomato slices are cool enough to pick up with your fingers, it's time to make your stacks! Layer 1 eggplant slice, 1 tomato, and 1 slice of mozzarella cheese on one of your baking sheets. Return them to the oven until the mozzarella begins to melt. Top with chopped basil or oregano for an elegant look and a fresh taste! Serves 3-4.

a buen tiempo!

Curried Coconut Eggplant with Potatoes*

This Southeast Asian dish is one of my favorites. It is a perfectly filling vegetarian meal, but feel free to add a protein of you like! You'll be transported far, far away with this ethnic beauty.

2 medium to large eggplants (2 to 3 pounds total)
1 tablespoon neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sliced garlic
3 large tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded, and chopped (canned are fine! include the juices)
3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
minced fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

First, peel the eggplant and cut it into 1/2 inch cubes. Salt the eggplant, as explained in the previous step. After it is salted, make sure to rinse it in cold water to get rid of the excess salt.

Put the oil and mustard seeds in a large, deep skillet with a lid over medium heat. Cook the seeds until they begin to pop, which is about 2 minutes. Add the remaining spices, the ginger, and the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the ginger and garlic soften, about 5 minutes.

Next, add the tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, coconut milk, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cover. Leave it for about 30 minutes, only stirring once or twice, until the potatoes are just about tender.

Finally, uncover and turn the heat back up to medium. Add more coconut milk or water if the mixture is dry. Cook, stirring occasionally, until both the eggplant and potatoes are very tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the lime juice, adjust the seasoning, and garnish with cilantro.

Serve over rice or with tostones! Serves 4.

a buen tiempo!

Fried Eggplant layered with Vegetables*

This dish is like Eggplant Parmesan, but instead of cheese, you use cooked vegetables. It is so full of flavor and different textures that it is sure to impress even the toughest critic! 

2 medium to large eggplant (2 to 3 pounds total)
extra virgin olive oil as needed
All-purpose flour (gluten free) for dredging
Ground black pepper
1 carrot, diced
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and diced
20 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 celery staks, chopped,
1 large onion, diced

2 cups Fast Tomato Sauce:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 to 2 pounds canned tomatoes, drained and chopped (3-4 cans)
freshly ground black pepper

First, peel the eggplant and slice it into 1/2 inch slices, lengthwise. Salt the eggplant, as described in the first recipe above. Make sure to wash the eggplant afterwards in cold water to get rid of the excess salt.

Second, make and reserve Mark Bittman's Fast Tomato Sauce.  Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion when the oil is hot and stir occasionally until it softens, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to break down and the mixture thickens, which is about 10-15 minutes. Adjust the seasonings and set it aside.

Now it's time to fry the eggplant! Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, dredge the eggplant slices in flour one at a time, shaking off the excess flour before frying them. Put them in the pan, but don't crowd them - you'll have to fry the eggplant in batches. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until they are golden brown. Add ground pepper to the slices as they cook and add more oil to the pan as needed. Lay paper towels on a large plate to drain the eggplant slices of the extra oil when they are done cooking!

Once you have fried all of your eggplant slices, keep the oil in the pan and the heat on medium.  Sauté the carrot, red bell peppers, garlic, celery, and onion for about 10 minutes - until they are all soft and tender.

Finally, lightly oil a baking dish. Pour some of the tomato sauce into the bottom of the dish, and layer with eggplant slices. Now add a layer of the sautéed vegetables and another layer of tomato sauce. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up!

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. Top with chopped parsley for garnish! Serves 6-8.

a buen tiempo!

Eggplant Tomato Casserole

This dish is another one that is easy on the budget and on time. We loved this casserole - the layers of cheese makes it irresistible and its subtle flavors complement the richness of the tomato sauce.

2 large eggplants, sliced in 1/2 inch rounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 handful of olives, pitted and chopped
1 pound mozzarella cheese, grated

First, slice the eggplant into 1/2 inch rounds. Salt the eggplant, as described in the first recipe above. Make sure to wash the eggplant afterwards in cold water to get rid of the excess salt.

While the eggplant is salting, make your tomato sauce. First, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, and let it cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens, which is about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and olives and stir for about 30 seconds. Next, add the cans of diced tomatoes, undrained, and stir. Sprinkle in salt and pepper, and bring the tomato sauce to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 20-30 minutes.

Once the eggplant is salted and the tomato sauce is made, it's time to assemble the casserole! Lightly oil a baking dish, and pour in a small layer of the tomato sauce. Arrange the eggplant rounds in a single layer. Add another layer of tomato sauce, and then add a layer of grated mozzarella cheese. Repeat the layering until all the ingredients are used up.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. The dish should be bubbling hot, and the cheese on top should be nicely browned! Serves 6-8.

a buen tiempo!

Eggplant Sautéed with Tomatoes*

I've been savoring this dish all week for lunch, complemented by a side of rice and beans. Perfectly vegetarian, and not missing the meat for one second.

1 1/2 to 2 pounds of eggplant
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups chopped tomato (canned works fine)
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup or more chopped basil leaves

First, peel the eggplant and cut it into 1/2 inch cubes. Salt the eggplant, as explained in the first recipe above. After it is salted, make sure to rinse it in cold water to get rid of the excess salt.

Put the olive oil, onion, and all but 1 teaspoon of the garlic in a large, deep skillet, over medium heat. After 2 minutes, add the eggplant and stir constantly until the eggplant begins to release some of the oil it has absorbed, which will be about 5 to 10 minutes.

Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the eggplant becomes tender, which is about 30 minutes. Add the chopped tomato, and stir occasionally until all the tomato breaks up, for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 5 more minutes.

Sprinkle with pepper and salt, if necessary. Stir in the chopped basil leaves and serve! Rice is a great side to accompany this dish, as well as tostones! Serves 4.

a buen tiempo!

*The recipes with a star (*) are taken from the 10th Anniversary Edition of How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Delicious Date Nights - Skirt Steak Salad

Waiting for the "Tropical Storm Emily" has proved to be the most boring two days, ever. I almost don't care how petty this sounds, I've been sitting and waiting for the excitement of my first almost-hurricane  in Santo Domingo, and I can't take it anymore. Is it coming or not? The fiancé called me this morning, explaining how I should "tape up the windows" to prepare for the insane winds that were a'coming, but no, we've only had so much as a little bit of rain.

After a month of running running running, some downtime was definitely needed - but I get restless in the blink of an eye. I'm already bored writing this post.


I've been keeping myself busy by cooking, a lot. The Skirt Steak Salad has been one of the fiancé and I's favorite. I made it for an at-home date night, with martinis to match! The salad itself is light but filling enough thanks to the thinly sliced (and perfectly seasoned) steak. I made a big batch, assuming we would eat only half. As we were drinking and talking and laughing, we got carried away. By the time we looked back down in the salad bowl/my caldero, there were 3 tiny pieces of steak left and a few sprigs of arugula. It was divine.


Skirt Steak Salad

2 slices of gluten-free bread (Whole Foods' Prairie Bread is my favorite) or 1 entire gluten-free bagel (Glutino brand bagels are amazing), cut into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon extra virgen olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 red onion, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick rounds

1 lb. skirt/flank steak, cut into 4 pieces
3 tablespoons your Favorite Steak Seasoning (I went for it and used Garam Masala. Surprisingly - or not? - it was a perfect fit.)
2-3 tablespoons butter or butter substitute
salt and pepper

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgen olive oil
5 ounces baby or wild arugula

First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the gluten-free bread with 1 tablespoon oil and Parmesan cheese on a baking sheet, and then season with salt and pepper.  Also place the chopped chunks of onion, cut-side down, on the baking sheet and drizzle with oil. Bake the bread until it is golden brown,  about 7-10 minutes. Remove the bread pieces and let the onions roast for another 10-15 minutes, until the cut surfaces are golden brown, but not burned.

Second, on 1 side of the steaks, liberally season with your seasoning-of-choice, along with salt and pepper. Rub 1 tablespoon of butter on this side. Flip your steaks and season again with salt and pepper, and then rub in the butter. In a large skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of butter on medium heat. Cook each side for 3-4 minutes and remove. After they have cooled, about 5 minutes or so, thinly slice the steak by cutting against the grain at an angle. This step is important, especially if you are tempted to skip it because you've never done it before. Look at your skirt/flank steak. Do you see those lines running through it at an angle? Those lines are fibers that are very difficult to chew through. By cutting against the grain, you are cutting through those fibers and making the steak more tender and easy to eat.

Finally, in a large bowl, whisk together the dijon mustard, vinegar, and 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the arugula and season with salt and pepper. Add onions, steak, and croutons and toss to mix together. Top with more grated Parmesan cheese!

a buen tiempo!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Beach Vacation, Visitors, and Sausage and Vegetable Kebabs

View from the roof of my apartment at sunset.
Yes, that's the ocean you see in the background.
 I'm not sure what people think of when they hear the "Dominican Republic". I knew nothing about the DR before I landed here, with my only reference to the Dominican Republic being a documentary about gang violence in Haiti (the DR's island-sharing neighbor). It scared the shit out of me.

The DR and Haiti are completely different entities, with food, customs, and traditions that very rarely result in similarities, and Haiti is still somewhat of a mystery to me. However, I may or may not be becoming an expert on DR life and on what it has to offer in terms of internal tourism.This country is absolutely breathtaking. A new facet of this blog will be to show you what I see when I travel outside the city.

My mom was in town to visit, and while she was here we did a few different things. Wine on the roof of my apartment, laid back pool time at the hotel where we stayed a couple of days, dinner at the fiancé and I's favorite place, and then a weekend trip to Bávaro. Bávaro is located on the Eastern tip of the country, right next to Punta Cana.

We stayed in the Barceló Resort Dominican Beach. For about 50 dollars a night, you get the room, food, and drinks included. If you are looking for an easy trip, where you don't need to worry about Spanish or venture outside of the hotel area, Bávaro/Punta Cana should be your destination, due to its innumerable all-inclusive hotels and their beautiful beaches. There is even an airport in Punta Cana, so you can fly directly in without having to navigate through Santo Domingo.  

However, if you are adventuresome and want to see more of the DR, this probably isn't going to be your type of thing. For our purposes, it was exactly what we wanted. The resort offered everything we could need in the sense that we relaxed and shared each other's company without having to worry about food or drinks or "where to next?". To be clear, 12 of us went on this trip and we had a ball, but the all-inclusive hotels are not examples of Dominican culture in the slightest. On the other hand, the beaches. are. so. pretty.

My mom and the fiancé on the beach at the resort.

Our 7:00am walk on a Sunday morning meant an empty beach was guaranteed.

We made a friend and named him Gofyto.


Sausage and Vegetable Kebabs

When my mom came to visit, I wanted her to be able to feel at home in our apartment. With so many differences between North Carolina and the Dominican Republic, I think it's hard to imagine that the feeling of home is universal. One night we ate this dinner, Sausage and Vegetable Kebabs, and drank wine on the roof. It was a special night, and the food just made it that much better (it was awesome).

2 sausage links of your choice, cut into chunks
2 red onions, quartered
1 bell pepper, cut into 1 inch squares
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
Juice from 1 lemon or lime
salt and pepper

First, mix the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, garlic, basil, and lemon/lime juice in a small bowl. Toss the vegetables and this marinade together in a large bowl or tupperware and cover for at least an hour. Add other vegetables if you want - squash, eggplant, and mushrooms would all be great additions. 

Once the vegetables are done marinading, get your skewers ready and pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Season the sausage with salt and pepper, and then place your vegetables and sausage evenly on the skewers. Place each skewer on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes. Turn them and bake for another 10-15 minutes. The kebabs are done when the sausage is cooked all the way through and the vegetables are soft and starting to brown - but not burned!  Transfer your kebabs to plates and finish by spooning more of the marinade right on top to add to the flavor.

a buen tiempo!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Greetings From A Much Needed Vacation!

I was sitting in my kitchen in High Point, NC, the day before I left for Santo Domingo, when I left wrote this post. I may or may not have been watching the Food Network and making potato salad to leave behind for my dad, as my mom got ready to return with me to the Dominican Republic for a week. Some delicious food and unforgettable moments have occurred since then, but I'll leave that to later and let this go on, even if it is a little bit late...

Man, what a legit trip. The change of pace breathed new life into me - going from the big (and dirty as ****) city of Santo Domingo, to calm, quiet, and oh so green High Point,  How did I not notice how lush High Point always has been? I was desperate for time with friends from home, and it feels like these moments recharged my battery. Sometimes you need to feel connected to those people who really know you - I am one of the lucky ones that can say that I know exactly where my home is.

...Or, I know where it has been until this point in my life. I'm assuming that for many people, something that goes along with growing up should be being able to be "at home" wherever you are. "Home is where the heart is," right? My new home is with Mario, wherever that may be. It felt so renewing to be around the support network that I know and love so deeply, but it's time to take a deep breath and jump into what is waiting for us.

Tomorrow I'm going back to the Caribbean to be with the fiancé in my brand new casita, and my mom is coming with me to spend some time with us. As sad as I am about saying goodbye again, I know this time that I'll be back at Christmas, and hopefully with the fiancé in tow. I'm crossing my fingers and toes that we will be able to come back together.

While I've been home, I've been cooking up a storm for my parents. I'm going to share a recipe that the fiancé and I love for Sunday lunches - Baked Fish with Rice and Pigeon Peas. I made it for my mom and dad, as well as teaching it to my mom - should that have been the other way around? Whatever, I'm more than happy to break tradition. 


Baked Fish in Foil

2 fillets of whatever fish you're into
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 handful scallions, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
aluminum foil
baking pan

First, measure the thickness of the fish.  For every inch of fish, plan for 10 minutes of cooking. Fish cook at high temperatures, so preheat the oven to 425-450 degrees.

Second, cover your baking pan with aluminum foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Place each fillet on a piece of aluminum foil. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper to each, 1 teaspoon of sweet paprika, and 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Top with the chopped scallions, and sprinkle each with the juice of 1/2 lime. Wrap the aluminum around each fillet like an envelope and place them on top of the aluminum covered baking pan. You can always add chopped vegetables if you wish! Change the seasonings and cooking juice depending on your cravings. Be creative - onion powder and cayenne pepper, lemon and orange slices with parsley and garlic, or dress to impress by cooking it in white wine.

Bake for the time you decided based on the thickness of the fillet.  The fish is ready when it is white and flaky. Squeeze another 1/2 lime on each of the fillet and pretend you are at a restaurant by the water, watching the yachts sail by in the distance. Make your own vacation.



Moro de Gandules (Rice with Pigeon Peas)

1 14 oz. can gandules verdes (green pigeon peas)
2 cups uncooked rice
3-4 cups water
3 tablespoons salt
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil

First, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium-high heat in a medium-sized pot. Here in the Dominican Republic, I use a "caldero" or a "cast iron cooking pot" (picture to the left), with a perfectly fitted top.  Add the onions and stir. When they are translucent, add the garlic for about 1 minute. Then, add the can of gandules and salt. Stir so that the onions and garlic do not stick to the bottom of the pot. Scoop your uncooked rice into the pot along with the water and stir again. 

Let the pot boil on medium-high heat for about 20 minutes, or until the rice has soaked up all of the water. Then, take a large spoon and scoop the rice off the sides of the pot so that it is mounded together in the center. Sprinkle the second tablespoon of oil on top of the rice, lower the heat to low, and cover. Let the rice sit for another 15-20 minutes. When you take off the cover, the rice should be moist and fluffy.