Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Birthday Boy
Pretzel is 5 Years Old Today

Here's Pretzy beside his home made coconut birthday cake. 
It was my first ever attempt to bake a cake. It's a work in progress.
Anyway... watch the video below. It's pretty crazy.

We had a little get together for little Pretz... just the family since I didn't cook much, just grilled some chicken.
But it was a lot of fun. In the meanwhile, celebrating pets birthdays will do since we don't have kids yet.
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

#12 - Cuban Food

{ Cuban Rice and Beans; Cuban Chicken }

Last week I invited my family over for dinner to taste my first Cuban dishes: Frijoles Negros (rice and beans), and Pollo de la Plancha (iron flattened chicken). The recipe was fun to make, especially the chicken. I pounded chicken breast with a heavy skillet until it got flat. What a great way to release negative energy! Nonetheless both recipes call for cumin, so if you're not into that spice, you probably will not like these recipes. But they turned out pretty decent. I'm sure I didn't do something correctly but the family loved it.

The recipes are below and pictures of our vacation in Miami last year where I tasted Cuban food for the first time. It was absolutely... won... der... ful...

Quick Frijoles Negros Rápidos

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Yield: 12 servings
The express train to beautiful black beans and rice in a quick and easy recipe!
1 large onion
1 large green pepper
3 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed, and chopped
3 tablespoons mojo criollo sauce or 3 tablespoons vinegar
Olive oil for frying
3 (16-ounce) cans plain, unseasoned black beans
1 bay leaf
3 teaspoons ground cumin (more or less to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

Make a sofrito by chopping onion and green pepper. Sauté onions and green pepper in olive oil until onions are translucent. 

Add crushed and chopped garlic and sauté another minute or so. Take about one cup of beans and mash them to make a chunky paste. 

Add this paste, the canned beans and the sofrito to a sauce pan. Add bay leaf and let simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes. 

Add cumin and salt and pepper to taste. Remove bay leaf. Serve over rice.

Pollo de la Plancha
 By Three Guys From Miami

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 8 minutes
Total time: 18 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
A Miami menu favorite you can cook the correct way at home.
4 whole boneless chicken breast
s fresh lime juice
salt and pepper
1/4 cup flour for dredging
1/2 cup white onion, chopped fine
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Sprinkle a little water on the chicken breasts and place (one at a time, please) on a piece of plastic wrap. Fold the plastic wrap over to make a little pouch. 

Place the pouch on a cutting board and beat with a smooth meat mallet or rolling pin until very thin. Don't go crazy with the hammer. You want a thin chicken breast, not ground chicken. If your chicken breasts are very thick, you'll want to slice them in half lengthwise before pounding them out.

Remove the plastic wrap and dry the chicken with a paper towel. Sprinkle it with a little lime juice. Shake on some salt, pepper, and cumin by eye.

Dredge the chicken breasts in the flour, shaking off any excess. You want a very thin layer of flour.

Sauté the onion briefly in a large sauté pan over medium heat – just long enough to heat through and coat with a little oil. Add a pinch of salt and a little pepper to the onions as they cook. Add the garlic during the last minute or two of sautéing. Use a slotted spoon to remove the onion and garlic and set aside.

Increase the heat to high. Toss in the chicken breasts and fry the chicken, browning on both sides.
The chicken should cook very quickly – do not overcook. Just a few minutes on each side should do it. Just make a small slice in one of the breasts to make sure it's cooked through.

To serve: cover each breast with the cooked onions and garlic. Add a squeeze of fresh lime juice and some fresh cilantro. Serve over rice.

Pictures of Cuban food
from our Miami Vacation
May 2010

We visited Grandma Jody (across from me) and friends in Miami last year.
We had a great time full of fellowship and memories.
This was at a Cuban restaurant called, Little Havana. Great food!

Dre, Izzy, and I went to another Cuban restaurant in South Beach.
This was actually the first Cuban restaurant we went to.
Once again, excellent food at the Bella Cuba restaurant.

And last but not least, more exotic things to add to my kitchen gadget. Someday I'll own it:

EZ Green Plantain Peeler and Smasher

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Quite Contrary

This year's flower garden is less than impressive. There are so many flowers that shriveled up and died (like the picture above) because of the extreme heat. The rabbits and critters do not help the situation since they eat the flowers and uproot them. I didn't have this problem last spring/summer. By this time last year, the flowers were blooming and were so abundant. But it seems like this year I'm outside more often watering, tending, and weeding - yet sometimes I feel like there's nothing I can do to save them or make them be fruitful and multiply.

At least I have those two sweethearts in the window to keep me company;
watching over me while I tend to the flower garden. They're so precious. 

In all other news. Jean-the-Cat had his annual vet appointment today. 
Cat is healthy, he lost a pound in one year but still needs to lose weight.
He is currently 15 pounds, have great lungs, great tummy, and have
insanely white and healthy teeth for a senior cat. He is 8 years old this year.
{ Pardon the mobile device photo }
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Friday, July 22, 2011

Maya & Binky Lou

{ Maya & Binky on the couch }
Maya and Bianca are my parents' girls. They're such darlings I love them. I wish I get to spend more time with them since they're so sweet, cuddly, and have such funny personalities. Pretzel & Colette love having visitors so it was a circus last night. Jean-the-Cat, not so much (ha ha) he likes to keep to himself. But that darn cat... he got up on the bed last night reeking of litter box. EEeeek... nasty. Time to change that sucker.

Nothing much is going on except everyone complaining of the recent extreme heat. I don't know about others, but I absolutely love the sun hitting my skin. I'm out everyday watering the flowers and I don't mind it whatsoever. It fuels me up and gives me energy. It will be raining for the next couple of days... which I still don't mind since it's cozy. Just turn off the lights, light up candles, put on some jazz, get  under the blanket, and read a book while sipping tea.

Anyway, the family came over dinner last night. It was the first time I've ever cooked Cuban food and it was interesting. Nonetheless, it was successful. I couldn't believe how well my black beans turned out. I'll post the recipes in my next blog.
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

#12 Home Baked Pretzels

Decided to cook some home made pretzels this evening. It was an easy recipe to follow, but not my favorite. Andrey absolutely LOVES it. I'm looking for the Auntie Anne's or Weltzel's Pretzels taste. Perhaps because this recipe is baked and not fried that it tastes different. But anyway... I'm still on the hunt for the perfect pretzel recipe. However, the experience was extremely fun considering my new kitchen appliance...

I have seriously been missing out on the magic of the Kitchen Aid. I suffered through arthritis (exaggeration) from kneading dough for hours... now my pink Kitchen Aid does all the work in 1/16th of the time. I'm smitten.

Next baking project, Sourdough Bread.

Making sourdough bread scares and intimidates me. 
Hope it will not be a disaster.

- - - - - - { UPDATE | 7.22.2011 } - - - - - -

I found a new pretzel recipe similar to that of Auntie Anne's Pretzels. Obviously it is not the original recipe since some secret ingredients are omitted to the public. But it was delicious. Dad was so impressed at dinner last night. He was already full from dinner, but still managed to eat two pretzels. I <3 this recipe.

{ New and improved Cinnamon Sugar sprinkled Pretzels. See recipe below }

Aunt Annie's Soft Pretzels Recipe
serves 12


1 1/2 cup warm water
1 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup bread flour
3 cups regular flour
2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons baking soda
to taste coarse salt
4 tablespoons butter (melted)


Sprinkle yeast on lukewarm water in mixing bowl; stir to dissolve. Add sugar, salt and stir to dissolve; add flour and knead dough until smooth and elastic. Let rise at least 1/2 hour.

While dough is rising, prepare a baking soda water bath with 2 cups warm water and 2 Tbsp baking soda. Be certain to stir often. After dough has risen, pinch off bits of dough and roll into a long rope* (about 1/2 inch or less thick) and shape. Dip pretzel in soda solution and place on greased baking sheet. Allow pretzels to rise again. Bake in 450 degrees F oven for about 10 minutes or until golden. Brush with melted butter and enjoy!

Toppings: after you brush with butter try sprinkling with coarse salt. Or for Auntie Anne's famous Cinnamon Sugar, try melting a stick of butter in a shallow bowl (big enough to fit the entire pretzel) and in another shallow bowl make a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. Dip the pretzel into the butter, coating both sides generously. Then dip again into the cinnamon mixture. Enjoy!

* The longer and thinner you can make the dough rope, the more like Auntie Anne's they will be. (Of course I don't have the counter space!)

*Sweet butter, not regular butter, is one of her secrets!

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Monday, July 18, 2011

#12 Panko Crusted Chicken Stuffed
with Ricotta, Spinach, Tomatoes, and Basil
(Vegetarian Version Included)

{ Chicken Breast Version: I made more than the recipe called for }

{ Vegetarian Chicken Version }

I found this recipe through the, For the Love of Cooking blog. I made two versions of it: real chicken breasts and vegetarian chicken halves. The vegetarian chicken halves can be purchased online, or at the Whole Grains Fresh Market in the International Plaza at Westmont, IL.

I apologize for the horrible pictures. I only had my mobile the day I served it at my parent's house for a supper get together. Nonetheless, it was really good. Many compliments from it. The recipe impressed me.

Panko Crusted Chicken Stuffed with Ricotta, Spinach, Tomatoes, and Basil

  • 1 cup of low fat ricotta cheese
  • Small handful of baby spinach, chopped
  • Small handful of grape tomatoes, diced (remove the seeds if possible)
  • 2 tbsp parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
  • Dash of oregano
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • Italian seasoned panko crumbs
  • 2 tsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the ricotta, spinach, tomatoes, parmesan cheese, basil, garlic, sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste. Mix until thoroughly combined.

Rinse the chicken breasts then cut a long horizontal slit along the center of the thin long edge of the chicken breast, nearly through to the other side. Fill the cavaty of the chicken breast with the ricotta mixture. Season each side of the chicken with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste. Carefully dip the chicken breasts in the panko crumbs until both sides are evenly covered. Close the slit together with toothpicks (or if you are like me and realize that you don't have toothpicks, simply break some kebab sticks in half and use them). 

Heat the olive oil in an OVEN PROOF skillet on the stove over medium high heat. Once the pan is hot, place the chicken in the skillet and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the chicken is golden brown, flip the chicken over and place the skillet into the oven. Cook for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Let the meat rest for 5 minutes before slicing. Enjoy.
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Monday, July 11, 2011

The Miracle of Russian Cooking
#12 Baked Potatoes & Mushrooms

On our vacation to Ukraine last September 2010, I fell in love with the Russian Cuisine. Dre's mom spoiled us with delicious Russian and eastern European food that sent my taste buds to a happy place far beyond my imagination. I savored each bite, tasted every flavor of such exotic miracle to my taste buds. I was determined to find a bookstore to purchase a genuine Russian cookbook. At the bookstore the sales lady thought I spoke Russian and I was Dre's translator. We got a kick out of that. But nonetheless, I finally cooked something from the cookbook, per Dre's request, the baked potatoes with mushrooms. I can read what is written but I can't translate it, so my darling husband dictated in English while I typed out the recipe. On the recipe, I added the cheese since it didn't call for it; I also used less potatoes and more eggs... but it was delicious in all of its wonders. The family loved it - it was a hit!

Baked Potatoes With Mushrooms
(Serves 12)

  • 6 Eggs
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 4-5 medium sized potatoes
  • 1 Onion Chopped
  • 2 packages sliced mushrooms
  • Green Onions or Parsley
  • 4 tbsp Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Shredded Cheese (optional)
  • Chives
  • Salt to taste

  1. Peel the potatoes and boil until tender. 
  2. In a large pan melt the butter and saute the onions and mushrooms. Add chopped green onions (or parsley) and caramelize for 10 minutes. Add salt to taste. Once cooked, set aside.
  3. Cool potatoes and cut in thin slices. Set aside.
  4. In a glass or metal bake-ware, coat the base with a thin layer of olive oil. Place a layer of potatoes to the base. On top of the potatoes, place a layer of the caramelized onions and mushrooms. Place a layer of cheese on top of the onions and mushrooms, then once again layer with the remaining potatoes. Place a layer of cheese on top of the potatoes.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix eggs and milk. Add a tsp of salt. Pour the eggs and milk mix to the dish. Sprinkle chives on top. Cook in the oven at 350 for 50 minutes.

Last night we invited my family for dinner. I love having dinner parties - even if its simple and even if it's just with the family. On the menu was pot roast, mashed potatoes, the baked Russian Dish (I call it Russian Quiche/Fritata), and mom brought a plantain dish and an eggplant dish (not pictured). It was an excellent dinner and I got great reviews on the Russian dish.

{ Photo provided by my HTC mobile }

Below are pictures of some of the food we had in Ukraine. Many are the dishes that Mama (Dre's mom) cooked. The other pictures are from the grocery store. Great food, excellent family time, good times, great memories. I miss Ukraine.

{ Our first meal in Ukraine at our rented flat. Mama cooked the delicious food }

{ At the grocery store }

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