Thursday, June 23, 2011

Roasted Vegetable and Tomato Pasta Sauce

There are always fresh vegetables here in the D.R. - the tropics provide the perfect temperature for growing cubanelle peppers, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and every kind of fruit you could possibly imagine. I bought gluten-free pasta the other day, but I decided I wanted to make my own sauce, without using any meat.

The sauce I made was easy, cheap, perfect for summer, and bursting with flavor.  The sauce was so chunky and full of texture that the fiance and I did not miss the meat one bit.

The only thing you need is time to roast the vegetables in the oven - 1 hour for each pan-full.  In my first pan, onions, peppers, garlic, and carrots roasted. In the second, I roasted the tomatoes, a couple of carrots more, and cilantro:


Roasted Vegetable and Tomato Pasta Sauce

5-6 large tomatoes, halved
1 red onion, cut into large, even chunks
2 large peppers, seeded and cut into large chunks
5 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 carrots, peeled and cut into thirds
1/3 cup olive oil
1-2 tablespoons fresh basil or cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place all of your vegetables into 1 pan or 2.  Sprinkle the oil evenly and add oregano, salt, and pepper.  Toss the vegetables with your hands so everything is coated with the oil, salt, pepper, and oregano. Roast each pan for an hour, until the vegetables are soft, lightly browned, and the edges of the tomatoes have turned in a little.

Add the roasted vegetables with the cilantro or basil to a food processor or blender and pulse until you have a chunky sauce. Add a little more olive oil if you want, but the sauce should be thick and chunky, not watery.

Finally, add the sauce to a shallow pan and heat through. Add more basil, oregano, salt, and pepper if you want. Taste it, and add the sugar if you wish - which I always do!

Hint: Add mushrooms, zucchini, hot peppers, or other vegetables you think might be a great addition, in the last steps on the stove.

Serve over your favorite pasta and add freshly grated mozzarella or parmesan cheese on top! The next day, it tastes even better!

a buen tiempo!

Aunt Clara's Pastelón de Harina de Maiz (Cornmeal Goodness)

It's been over a week without a post, but don't fret! I've been cooking up a storm. Fresh tomato sauces, green salad with tuna in a lime-honey vinaigrette, thai curried sardines, rice cooked with vegetables...and it has all been delectable, healthy, light, and gluten-free. Perfect summer foods, and in my charming new apartment, with my muse, the fiance.

After the triumph of the first pastelón, I looked in my pantry and fridge and decided I would tackle the Cornmeal Pastelón. Why stop while I was on a roll, right? I'm glad I tried it, because it turned out to be one of those meals that melts in your mouth while you eat it slowly with your eyes closed - without realizing it. Heaven is what that is.

However, it took forever to make. I mean it, this was not an easy meal, nor was it my healthiest invention, but it sure as hell tasted good. This meal is so Dominican - there's something about the mixture of sweet (the layers of sweet polenta) and savory (the ground beef mixture in the middle) that screams the Dominican Republic. The recipe is going to look odd right up until you take your first bite. Take my word for it, and try making this recipe! You won't regret it.

A few tips: I made my own polenta from the cornmeal, which was the longest part of the process. If you can find some quick-cooking polenta, you are home-free.  This would be an excellent meal for a potluck or a party - wherever you need to feed a lot of people. And, it's guaranteed to impress.


Pastelón de Harina de Maiz (Cornmeal Goodness)

2 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup grated cheddar or mozzarella cheese (I used mozzarella)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup raisins

Fresh Tomato Sauce
6 cups fresh or canned tomatoes, peeled and diced
3+ tablespoons of sugar (add to make it as sweet as you like it)
1 1/2 cup of water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed and minced
1 small onion, diced

Ground Beef Filling
1-2 pounds ground beef
1 red onion, diced into small pieces
1 green pepper, diced into small pieces
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons olive oil

**Before starting to cook, soak the cornmeal and raisins in 6-8 cups of water for an hour.**

1. Make the Tomato Sauce:

If you are peeling your tomatoes from scratch, there's a shortcut that Aunt Clara has on her website, and it is brilliant! Wash your tomatoes, and then slice an X with a knife on the bottom and top parts of the tomatoes. Drop them in boiling water, and watch as within a few minutes, the skin begins to peel back. Remove, rinse in cold water, and place them in the fridge until you are ready to dice them - so you don't get burned!

After everything is washed and diced, heat the oil in a pan. Sautée the tomatoes and onion with a 1/2 teaspoon of oregano. Once the onions are tender, add the garlic for around 30 seconds so it doesn't burn. Add water and sugar, and simmer over low heat until you have a thick, chunky sauce.  Add salt to taste!

Set this sauce aside for now.

2. Make the Ground Beef Filling:

Heat the oil in a shallow pan. Sautée the onions and pepper until they are tender, and then add the garlic for around 30 seconds so it doesn't burn. Add the ground beef on medium heat and stir so it cooks evenly and slowly. Add a ton of oregano! Go on, dump it in there! Don't be scared! Oregano is such a good herb to use with ground beef - especially if it is not great quality or not super fresh - because it masks that meat-y taste and gives it a fresh flavor. When the meat starts to release liquid, add 2 cups of the tomato sauce you just made. Also, add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, and stir, stir, stir! Once the tomato paste melts, simmer over low heat until most of the liquid is evaporated but the meat is still juicy.

When you get to this point, taste it. What is it missing? Add more tomato paste if you need to, as well as more oregano, with a little bit of water. Let it soak up the liquid again, and taste. Add salt to taste. You shouldn't need too much, but it will bring out all the flavors, so don't skip this step (or any step, for that matter!). Remove from the heat and set aside.

3. Make the Cornmeal:

In a big pot, mix the cornmeal, raisins, sugar, salt, and olive oil.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. This is the hard part. Please, just keep stirring. When it starts boiling, lower the heat and keep stirring until it the cornmeal mixture starts to lift itself from the pot. This is going to take at least 30 minutes, and probably more. I lost track of time while I was doing it, my bad. When your cornmeal begins to lift from the pot, it will have the texture of polenta and it becomes doughy. Add salt to taste, if necessary. It should look like this picture:

4. Assemble:

Grease a baking pan with spray and heat your oven to 300 degrees.  Spread 1/2 of the cornmeal mixture on the bottom of the pan.  Make the middle layer by covering the cornmeal with 1/2 of the grated cheese and then add all of ground beef filling.  Finally, spread the remaining cornmeal on top, and cover with the other half of the cheese. Bake until it turns golden brown!

Let it sit for around 5 minutes, and then serve.

a buen tiempo!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Aunt Clara's Pastelón de Papas

Ah, the lovely concept of pastelones. I love pastelones maybe more than any other food in this country. You might hear me say that more than once on La Buena Fe, and it's always going to be true.  Why do you think I want to master Dominican cooking? I can tell you that it isn't because I hate the cuisine.

There are so many forms of pastelones - made with mashed yuca, mashed sweet plantains, mashed potatoes, eggplant, cornmeal, spaghettis, or rice.  They can be made for meat eaters or vegetarians, and they are frequently smothered with cheese. In short, they are basically casseroles, but that boring English word says nothing of the joy they can bring. The Pastelón de Papas that you see in the picture was created with mashed potatoes and ground beef with vegetables, and it was made directly from the fat kid that lives inside of us all - with too much butter, evaporated milk, and cheese, cheese, cheese! If you are watching your diet, forget about it, because you won't be able to resist this dish for long. 

Trust me, I tried...and failed.

I failed so hard that I ate one piece, which started small and then grew little by little to an enormous square of love, and then I gave the rest of the pan to my fiance. "PLEASE," I said, sweating with self control, trying to stop myself from devouring the entire pan, "do something with this. I can't have it in the refrigerator." Luckily, it turns out that he stayed home from work the next day, with a few other people, because he was working on some of his artwork.  

He's a painter, and he's a part of the skateboarding community here in Santo Domingo - so naturally the recycled materials he uses are recycled skateboards and surfboards:

 ...See that Lizzy in the corner? Muahah! This one is mine.

A few friends came over to help out with a current project, and this is how they left their plates, and my pan: 



Pastelón de Papas

6 cups potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes 
1/2 cup butter
1 cup light evaporated milk
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced and mashed
2 eggs
1 tablespoon of parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 pound ground beef
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon (or more) oregano
1/4 cup water
salt to taste
6 slices mozzarella cheese 

First, put the peeled and cubed potatoes to boil.  While they are boiling, season the ground beef by mixing the raw ground beef, onion, green pepper, oregano and pepper together with your hands.  Heat the oil and then add the ground beef mixture.  Cook the meat, and add water and tomato paste after it begins to brown. Stir frequently until the tomato paste has melted. Add more water if it is necessary to finish cooking the meat, and then continue cooking until all the liquid evaporates. Turn off the heat and set it aside.

After the potatoes are tender, drain the excess water and mash the potatoes. With the potatoes, mix the milk, butter, parsley, eggs, garlic, and salt to taste.  Pour half of this mashed potato mixture into a greased baking dish. Then, add all of the ground beef mixture evenly. Top it with a final layer of the mashed potatoes.  Place in the oven on 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until the top of the pastelón is golden.  Remove from the oven and add the cheese slices.  Return the pastelón to the oven until the cheese melts. Serves 6+.

a buen tiempo!

Aunt Clara's Pan de Batata: Sweet Potato Brownies

Living in a country that is not my own opens my eyes to a million new things everyday.  For example, stuffing 7 people in a tiny beat-up car is the D.R.'s version of public transportation.  And women look like they are going to a club to go dancing at all hours of the day - especially at the supermarket.

The cultural surprises of living abroad are no exception in the kitchen. Growing up, I would have never thought of sweet potatoes as an after-meal treat, but here in the Dominican Republic, they are two peas in a pod.

The direct translation of the dish Pan de Batata is Sweet Potato Bread, but my spin on them makes them more similar luscious Sweet Potato Brownies. Here in the D.R., there is also Jalea de Batata, and that is like a Sweet Potato Pudding. The Dominican mixture of sweet potatoes with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, sugar, sweet milk, and cloves, which can result in two different kinds of mouth-watering desserts, surprised me so much that I had to give away as many of these brownies as I could to prevent myself from eating them.

Thanks to Aunt Clara for this recipe, which I only slightly tweaked.


Sweet Potato Brownies

1 large sweet potato, peeled and grated
1 egg
1 teaspoon clove powder
1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of milk
1/4 cup of butter
1/2 cup of coconut flesh, finely grated (Look for canned coconut flesh mixed with sugar in the grocery store - it's much easier and much tastier)
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg powder

Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl, except for the grated coconut. Pour the mixture into a greased baking pan and place in the oven for about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven when it is almost done, add the grated coconut, and place in the oven again for 3-5 minutes. Pinch with a clean knife, and if it does not stick to the knife, remove it from the oven. Let it cool before taking it out of the pan.  Makes 12-15 medium sized brownies.

As Aunt Clara says, "Serve as dessert or as accompanying hot cocoa or coffee."

a buen tiempo!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Thank You Cream Cheese and Chives Potatoes for Success in the Midst of Catastrophe

Man, I've been so frustrated in the kitchen this week. This Cream Cheese and Chives Potatoes side dish was one of my few happy moments. In the last few months, I've been lucky in that after afternoons of chopping and stirring and cooking that most of my inventions have turned out to be delectable. Until last week.

First, I made a flavorless Spanish tortilla with potatoes, eggs, ham, and tomatoes.

Second, I wanted to make Niños Envueltos, a typical Dominican dish that consists of ground beef and rice wrapped in cabbage and baked in a made-from-scratch tomato sauce. I 've never bought cabbage before and I bought it too green, making it impossible to wrap up the filling. The Niños Envueltos ended up as soft tacos, albeit delicious tacos, but it wasn't what I really wanted. However, the tomato sauce was just right. I'm making a pasta dish this week, so I'm hoping to make this sauce again so you can be included in its delight.

Third, I spent most of Sunday preparing conch, a seaside delicacy here, only for the end result to be...bitter. Who knew cooking with lime rinds leaves a painful aftertaste? (Evidently everyone at my house invited for lunch, except for me.) To make it worse, this was a meal shared with four other people. Ahh! *%#@^!!!!! *$%$*%* #@#**&!!!!

Instead of frustration, this time with the conch, I was embarrassed.

The lesson for last week's disasters is that I have to be patient with myself. I'm learning something new everyday about cooking, primarily by reading extensively online in my free time - blogs, recipes, cooking websites and magazines, and more, more, more, - but also by talking and asking questions to the fiance, coworkers, friends, and my mom. It's a process, and with every "mistake" that I make now, it is one less that I will make in my next attempts. Right? RIGHT?!

One thing I'm realizing is that my cooking style is all over the place. I really want to stick with the theme of my apprenticeship of Aunt Clara with her Dominican recipes, but then I get cravings for things like cream cheese and I shoot it all to hell. So, I'm making peace with the fact that I'm developing and learning about what I like and don't like in the kitchen, and you all just happen to be along for the ride. So...wear a seatbelt?

Case in point: Cream Cheese and Chives Potatoes. Really? Could anything be less Dominican? I used the ingredients I had left over from the Stuffed Chicken last week to make these potatoes, and they turned out to be unbelievably good. They should have lasted for a few days, but we ate them in just about 48 hours. And in silence, while looking at each other in disbelief.

If you are trying to impress, make these potatoes. They will be great for a party or a potluck. I'd even go so far as to say to invite people over and only serve them these beauties because they are that good.

So, thank you Cream Cheese and Chives Potatoes. As I was remembering each of the said catastrophes, I remembered you, and sighed in the remembrance of your deliciousness.


Cream Cheese and Chives Potatoes

2 lbs. potatoes, quartered
4 oz. light cream cheese
1 small onion
1 large handful of chives, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced finely
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon paprika

First, boil the quartered potatoes in water with a generous amount of salt for around 15-20 minutes, or until tender. While the potatoes are boiling, make the cream cheese and chives sauce. In a saucepan, add the milk, cream cheese, garlic, 1 teaspoon of salt, pepper and chives. Stir until the cream cheese is melted and it is all thoroughly mixed together.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spread out the boiled potatoes evenly in a lightly greased pan. Pour the sauce evenly over the potatoes and then top with 1 teaspoon each of salt and paprika. Bake for around 20 minutes, or until the potatoes have absorbed almost all of the liquid of the sauce. Top with more fresh chives. Serves 4-6.

a buen tiempo!