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A Tale of Two Rices

As I browse through my blog, I can’t help but notice how often rice seems to come up. I really can’t help it, I have a love affair with that little grain. My only hope is that I offer some variety for you. That said, this is a rice post. Yep. Mas arroz.

In Panama, we prepare rice in many different ways; sometimes with coconut milk, or various beans and peas. Anything you want, really. Two of my favorites are Arroz con Frijoles Negros (rice with black beans) and Arroz con Camarones Secos (rice with dried shrimp).

They’re both easy to make and follow the same process as the recipe for Arroz con Guandú. For the black beans, I used dried beans and cooked them in the coconut milk, as detailed in the recipe below, but you can use canned beans . For the one with the dried shrimp and guandú, I cooked both of those in the coconut milk first, then followed the recipe.

For the Arroz con Coco y Frijoles Negros (Black beans & rice)
2 cps rice
1/2 cp dry black beans
2 cps coconut milk
3 cps water
1/3 cp salt pork or bacon
1 tbsp vegetable oil

For the Arroz con Camaroncitos Secos y Guandú (Rice w/dried shrimp & pigeon peas)
2 cps rice
1 cp frozen guandú (pigeon peas)
1/2 cp dried shrimp
2 cps coconut milk
3 cps water
1/3 cp salt pork or bacon
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Method for both versions:
In a pot with a tight-fitting lid, brown the salt pork/bacon rendering some of its fat. Add the guandúes (pigeon peas), coconut milk. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat until it simmers. Cook it until the peas are tender, about 40 minutes. Strain the liquid and measure, add enough water to make 3-1/3 cps of liquid, set aside.

This recipe uses the frozen peas, however, if you are using the canned variety, just skip the step above. Instead, drain, rinse and strain the beans, then add coconut milk and water to  measure 3-1/3 cups. Fry the salt pork or bacon just before adding the rinsed rice.

Add oil to the pan with the peas, rinse the rice and add it to the pot stirring all the ingredients. Add the liquid, check the salt, stir this well. Make sure you remove any drippings that may have been stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring it to a slow boil; once the liquid boils do not stir it again. Keep the temperature on medium high.

Once the liquid is almost completely evaporated, bring the temperature to low and cover with the lid. Allow to steam undisturbed for 40 minutes. When you remove the lid, all the peas will be at the top, go ahead and stir them into the rice. You’re done!

Note: The flavor of the coconut milk will intensify with time. You can cook the peas a day ahead to allow the flavors to meld together.

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Is it soup weather?

Do you believe soups are better suited for a specific time of the year? Maybe when it is cold and dreary or rainy outside? For Panamanians, soup is on any day of the week and year. As a matter of fact, you’ll find it on the daily lunch menu at every restaurant or Fonda around the country.

When I was in Austin a few weeks ago, I saw an advertisement for Sopa de Arroz con Pollo (Chicken & Rice Soup). Even though I’ve heard about chicken & rice soup, I never really thought about it in a Latin context until then. Chicken & rice soup doesn’t move me in any way, but Sopa de Arroz con Pollo…? Now, that’s a completely different matter. I simply couldn’t get it off my mind. The possibilities. The potential goodness. Muy rico.

It turned out lighter than I had anticipated, even with the addition of the rice. Rich with the flavors of the chicken broth and culantro. I didn’t have any yuca at home, but next time I make it, I will use that instead of potatoes. And it was a breeze to make too!

Sopa de Arroz con Pollo
1-1/2 lbs of chicken on the bone (I prefer thighs) seasoned with 2 pkts Sazón Goya .

To your blender, add 1/2 onion, 1/2 red bell pepper, 1/4 cp cilantro or 3 culantro leaves and 2 crushed garlic cloves, add just enough water to puree all the ingredients; I ended up with about 3 cps of puree.

Put the seasoned chicken and the puree in a stockpot over medium-high heat and allow it to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. This will allow the flavors from the pureed veggies to infuse the chicken before adding all the water for the soup.

After about 10 minutes, add enough water to totally submerge the chicken, about 6 cps, add some chopped potatoes and carrots, season with salt & pepper, and 1 bay leaf. Bring it all to a boil, then lower temperature to allow it to simmer and cook for about 20-30 minutes or until the chicken is tender.

Remove the chicken from the broth and add 1/2 cp of rice to it, allow it cook while the chicken cools enough to remove the bones. Make sure to stir the broth every few minutes, making sure to remove any rice that may stick to the bottom. In the meantime, chop the chicken, if you’d like and return it to the broth. Cook just long enough for the rice to soften.

Serve in bowls and enjoy!
Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

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Foodie bliss

Every now and again I find myself enjoying what I describe as a gastronomical religious experience. I’m a food snob, I admit it. I love good food, the rest isn’t worth the calories. I recently had one of those meals in Austin, Texas.

Do you know who Tyson Cole is? Only the latest recipient of the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southwest, an honor that celebrates how he expresses his genius on plate after plate at Uchi and its little sister dining room, Uchiko.

On the recommendation of a local, I had a meal at Uchiko my last night in town. You can read all about it over at Eating Our Words. I thumbed through their cookbook while I ate my Fried Milk dessert, immediately knew I had to own a copy. Armed with the cookbook featuring fantastic cooking techniques and my lingering Uchiko-buzz, I attempted a new dish inspired by Cole and his cookbook (by the way, you really should a copy of it). You can click on this link to see more of the Uchiko food porn shots.

I came across a recipe for tuna steak coupled with compressed watermelon and other fancy accoutrements I chose to skip. I don’t really have a recipe for this, I’ll simply walk you through the method. This was very easy and quick to put together. I decided to allow the tuna steaks to marinate for about an hour and at the same time this allowed me time to dehydrate the watermelon slices.

Tuna Steaks with Dehydrated Watermelon
serves 2

For the steaks:
2 tuna steaks, marinated
Marinade:
2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
Crushed black pepper
Sea salt

Dehydrated Watermelon
4 watermelon slices (about 1/2-in thick)
Fish sauce
Cooling rack
Remove any seeds and sprinkle each side of the watermelon slices with a couple drops of the fish sauce. Then place them on the cooling rack over a cookie sheet and allow some of the liquid to drain out of the watermelon.

Peach & Habanero Sauce
2-3 ripe peaches, peeled & diced
Water
Pinch of salt
Habanero sauce, to taste
Throw everything, except the water, into a small saucepan. Add enough water just to come to the tops of the peach cubes, bring it to a slow boil/heavy simmer and cook until the peaches have softened to mush. Keep warm.

Sear the steaks in a nonstick skillet, we like ours medium rare, but cook it to your preference. Lay 2 slices of watermelon, spread a bit of the peach sauce and top with the seared tuna steaks.

I know this combination of ingredients may sound odd, but it really works. The tuna steaks were simply flavored, so you can really appreciate their flavor. The watermelon, which is always just mildly sweet, is accented by the complex saltiness of the fish sauce and all of this balanced out by the fresh sweetness and spiciness of the peach sauce. It was a perfectly harmonized dish.

Enjoy!
Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

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Following someone else’s lead

This is a recipe I found in Jorge Jurado’s cookbook, Sabores de Panamá. I should tell you it isn’t a ‘traditional’ Panamanian dish, but rather an interpretation by this talented chef utilizing ingredients commonly found in Panama. His recipe called for beef shanks, but I had just picked up some short ribs and decided to use them instead. It turned out beautifully.

The intense combination of spices, together with the deep and rich color of the final dish made this reminiscent of Mexican mole. I can’t really think of a traditional Panamanian dish that is even remotely similar to mole, but this is a rocking interpretation!

Costillas Braseadas con Cafe, Chocolate y Anis Estrellado (Coffee, chocolate and anise braised short ribs)

Marinade - a day ahead
2-1/2 lbs short ribs
1/2 bottle red wine (one you would drink)
3 garlic cloves, diced
1 tbsp instant coffee
2 carrots, sliced
1 bay leaf
12 peppercorns
2 star anise pods
2 tbsps olive oil
1 tbsp salt
Combine all the ingredients in a ziploc bag and allow the ribs to marinate overnight or, at least for a few hours. Turn the ribs occasionally.

Braising – day of
1-1/2 onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
Marinated ribs and the carrots
Extra virgin olive oil
Approx 2 cps broth (chicken/beef/veg)
1 tbsp sugar
1 oz bittersweet chocolate
Salt to taste

Remove the ribs from the marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. Meanwhile, heat a Dutch oven to medium-high and add the olive oil. Brown the dry ribs on all sides, remove from the pan and set aside.

Drain the excess fat, leaving about 2 tbsp of oil/fat in the pan. Add the onions, garlic and carrots and allow to cook until they begin to caramelize. Return the ribs to the pan and add the marinade liquid, broth, sugar and chocolate.

There should be enough liquid for the ribs to be completely submerged. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the temperature to low to allow for a slow simmer. This will continue to simmer for about 2 hours, until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.

I, of course, served it over rice. I love rice, sue me! I think it would be really nice with roasted veggies too, though. For more food porn, click here.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

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Breaking bread

I’ve always found that to be an odd expression. The phrase itself sounds innocuous to me, but the meaning behind it makes sense. To share, to open one’s home and/or heart to another, to be welcoming. Philosophically, the idea of breaking bread is a great one. In reality, the idea of having to share my bread with someone, elicits murderous thoughts. No. Really. Don’t touch my bread!

Luckily, when I bake bread, the recipe results in enough of it that I’m able to, even if begrudgingly, share it with one or two people. Tops. You get the picture. So, a few weeks ago I made some bread. Panamanian bread, something we call Pan Micha.

Rumor has it, this recipe was brought to my homeland by the French when they attempted building the Canal. I have no verification for that story, but I do recognize some similarities with French miche bread. Thin, golden crust and soft, light inside. What I do know for sure, if that you will find michitas anywhere there is a bakery in Panama. 

I remember walking to school and stopping by the corner bakery–the aroma of freshly baked bread wafting in the air–and ordering ‘una michita con queso blanco y mantequilla‘ (a buttered michita stuffed with white cheese). Aaaaah, the bread would still be warm, the butter and local cheese melting into the center. Heavenly.

I found a recipe for it here, so I won’t retype it, just follow the link. What I want to tell you about, is how we ate them, after all, eating them is the best part.

You know I’m a traditionalist, so mine had butter and Queso Fresco. Nothing else needed. I did toast them a bit.

The Hubbz is a different story. He’s a man of excess, so he added some roast beef we had in the fridge. In Panama, we would’ve used ham or chorizo.

The bread was good, but not as light and airy as I remember michitas being, my quest for the perfect recipe continues.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

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Salad days

With Spring almost over and Summer staring me right in the face and its heat chasing me around Houston, I’ve had no choice but to start thinking about lighter, cooler meals. I’m also supposed to be making an effort to eat healthier, which is always a battle for me, but I’m trying–get off my back already!

So, since I’m not the biggest salad fan, I have to find ways to get them in, but they have to be interesting. That’s how this one came about. For some reason I found thoughts of sofrito running around my head; I guess that’s not so unusual, since that is the base to almost every Latin/Caribbean dish. Onions, bell peppers, garlic,  tomatoes, culantro and sometimes carrots –standards in most sofritos. Then the lightbulb moment happened: I bet that would make for a good salad! Add some cheese, a vinaigrette, oooooh roast the veggies…YUM!

And so it happened. And, let me tell you. Oh.eM.Gee! This turned out so amazingly delicious! I roasted everything in the oven for a few minutes to bring out the natural sweetness of the ingredients and to tame the zing of the onion and garlic. You can opt to use them fresh, uncooked, but I do hope you take a few minutes to roast them, because, well, its just heavenly. No real recipe here, just a bit of this and that. Make it! Do it today!

Roasted Sofrito Salad

Sweet or red onion
Red & orange bell peppers
Garlic, whole
Baby carrots

I sliced the onion and peppers into 1/4-in or so pieces, not too big, not too small. Left the garlic and baby carrots whole. If you go for regular-sized carrots, then cut them into sticks. You want the veggies to still have a bite to them after roasting.


I threw it all onto a lined baking sheet, drizzled about 1-2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkling of salt & pepper and popped it all under the broiler. I tossed the veggies around after 5 minutes or so, when they starting caramelizing, I didn’t want them to burn. 10 minutes was enough. Allow them to cool, while you work on the vinaigrette.

Culantro Vinaigrette
Culantro/cilantro, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
White wine vinegar
Salt & fresh black pepper
Blend the culantro into the oil to puree. Remove from blender, add vinegar, then slowly drizzle in the culantro oil until creamy. Adjust seasoning as necessary.

Plating
Iceberg lettuce wedges, very cold
Tomatoes, wedges
Culantro vinaigrette
Queso Cotija or Fresco

Combine the roasted veggies with the lettuce, add tomato wedges and dress with the vinaigrette. Serve with crumbled Cotija or Queso Fresco. Ay, que rico!

Freshly yours,
Anamaris

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Off to the Press: La Finca

Hello my Bloggies!

No, I haven’t run off with the milkman. I’m still around, lurking,  throwing yummy looking food on the screen to keep you glued to your seats… Weird, all of a sudden my voice (in my head, yes!) sounded low and creepy as I typed that sentence. Uff!

Anyway. I have something for you to read, but you’ll have to follow me over to Eating Our Words. Remember? That’s where I’m leading my secret agent double life. Click here. Do it quickly, this message will self-destruct in 5 4 3

See ya after the jump!
Anamaris

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