Sunday, October 18, 2020

Island Life

Happy Fall, CT Readers!


I hope you are doing well.


Recently, a friend suggested that since we’ve been in Puerto Rico for 15 months now, I should do an update of life here. So, here goes - both the good & not-so-good.


The Good:

  1. I continue to be mesmerized by the gorgeous, HUGE, puffy cotton ball clouds. They are nothing like what I was used to in New Jersey. They seem to fill up the entire sky.

  2. The landscape is beautifully lush and green (conversely, see #11 on the not-so-good list).
  3. The almost-constant year-round 82 degrees.
  4. The relaxed lifestyle — if the ability to spend almost every day and night in shorts, t-shirts, & flip-flops, or possibly a bathing suit, or tennis/golf togs, speaks to you, then PR is the place for you.
  5. The drop-dead beautiful ocean views around practically every corner.
  6. Inexpensive (compared to NJ), but very good (in my experience) health care.
  7. Inexpensive (compared to NJ), but very good veterinarian care.
  8. The once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing baby turtles making their way to the ocean for the first time.
    Baby Turtles

  9. The adorable Puerto Rican parrots.
    Puerto Rican Parrots

  10. Being lulled to sleep by the ocean waves and a chorus of teeny-tiny Coqui (Puerto Rican frogs).
  11. Fabulous sunrises and sunsets.
  12. Proximity to the USVI & BVI.
    Morning in the BVIs, Feb 2020

  13. Great fresh pineapples, mangoes, and passionfruit!
    Fresh Passionfruit

  14. PR is very compact. If you wanted to, you could drive around the circumference of the island in three hours.
  15. The warmth & friendliness of locals.
  16. People regularly say “buenos dias” (good morning) or “buen dia” (good day) just in passing. 
  17. People sing and dance in the supermarket aisles! By themselves!

The Not-so-Good:

  1. Living with the threat of hurricanes between June & November. 
  2. Very high humidity - some days, the temperature & humidity are the same!
  3. The “Sahara Sands” from Africa that blow through here every year, and deposit micro-sand everywhere in your house. 
    Sahara Sands

  4. Although PR is a US territory, English is not widely spoken, which sometimes makes it difficult to complete certain tasks (such as renewing your car registration, or dealing with medical professionals, electricians, or hair stylists, etc). Thank heavens for Google translate!
  5. The lack of really good supermarkets (oh, how I miss Trader Joe’s, Wegman’s Whole Foods, & even Shop-Rite!).
  6. Forget ordering anything from Wayfair or Overstock or Food52 - they do not ship to PR.
  7. I’ve come to realize that living on an island is not all it’s cracked up to be (forget those deserted island fantasies!), especially during a pandemic. 
  8. The reason healthcare is so inexpensive here is because, on average, the population is very poor, and it’s evident almost everywhere.
  9. Almost weekly power outages. The power grid here was fragile before the double hurricanes of 2017, which pretty much destroyed the electrical system. They are still rebuilding it.
  10. Driving! I’ve come to describe driving here as the “wild west.” People regularly go through red lights, cut you off or go around you if they don’t think you’re turning quickly enough, and drive 30 mph in the left lane (and will not move over). You must drive defensively here.
  11. Really bad roads - I thought potholes in NJ were bad - not even close! 
  12. The lack of ethnic food. Being from the northeast, we were used to getting pretty much any type of cuisine or products in restaurants and stores. We were definitely spoiled.
  13. It rains alot here. Of course, that could be because El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the US National Forest Service, is on this side of the island (see #2 on the “good” list).

So if you’ve ever fantasized about living the island lifestyle or going “off the grid,” think twice. Depending where you’re relocating from, it might not be as easy as you think.  All in all, I’m glad we’re trying it, but it might not be the long term game plan.


Have a good week & don’t forget to make a plan to VOTE! 


Thursday, September 24, 2020

Brown Sugar Plum Cake


Before diving into this wonderful recipe, I must apologize for being AWOL the last month or so. I broke my wrist at the end of August & am still recovering. This accident definitely impeded my writing/typing ability. Even now, I am typing using the old "hunt and peck" method, which takes FOREVER and is a bit painful so this will be short post. 


But one must soldier on so here I am with a fabulous fall recipe for you. Regular Cook's Tour readers will recall that at this time of year, I almost always make my late mother-in-law's plum cake but Italian prune plums are not always available so I thought I'd give you another equally-good option. This recipe uses regular plums, which you can get anywhere. I baked this before breaking my wrist because baking is definitely out of the question for awhile!

Wishing you a healthy and delicious fall season!


Brown Sugar Plum Cake with Sour Cream (adapted from Honest Cooking)

Ingredients:

1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter - room temp

1-1/2 C + 2 TB AP flour

1/2 t baking soda

1/4 t salt

1/2 C packed light brown sugar

1/2 C granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 t vanilla extract

1/4 C sour cream

4 plums, halved, pitted, and cut into eighths

Confectioner's sugar for dusting

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Grease 9" round cake pan lined with parchment (note: I skipped the parchment and sprinkled a bit of granulated sugar after greasing the pan to add a bit more sweetness and a little crunch.)

3. Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy

4. In separate large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt

5. With mixer on low, beat in eggs one at a time until incorporated

6. Beat in vanilla

7. Add in half of flour mixture, then sour cream, followed by rest of the flour. Mix until just combined.

8. Spread batter in pan and smooth top with knife or spatula.

9. Arrange plums on top.

10. Bake 35-40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely.

11. Dust with Confectioner's sugar before serving.





Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Sheet-Pan Baked Feta with Broccolini, Tomatoes, and Lemon

Ready for roasting!


This recipe caught my eye while scrolling thru the NYT Cooking app because, you know, first you eat with your eyes. And the picture at the top of the post was gorgeous.

Ready for eating!
We just happened to have all the ingredients in-house, with a couple of minor modifications to the original recipe. I swapped in broccoli for the broccolini (have never seen that here in Puerto Rico), and crumbled feta for the block feta (another no-show here). I don’t think those two swaps adversely affected the recipe, because it came out great. Besides looking definitely picture-worthy, the melange of flavors was fabulous. I served it over orzo, but you could easily use rice or farro. I would leave out the lemon slices as they were a little bitter after roasting. Otherwise, highly recommend this dish!

Sheet-Pan Baked Feta with Broccolini, Tomatoes, and Lemon (NYT Cooking)

Ingredients:
  • 1 bunch broccolini, ends trimmed, thick stalks split lengthwise, or broccoli, stalks trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved (about 2 cups)
  • 1 small red onion, peeled, quartered and cut into 2-inch wedges
  • 1 lemon, 1/2 cut into thin rounds and the remaining 1/2 left intact, for serving
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 (6- to 8-ounce) blocks feta, cut into 1-inch slices
  • Cooked orzo or farro, for serving
  • ½ cup fresh basil or cilantro leaves and fine stems, roughly chopped (optional) 

Directions:
  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees with a rack set in the lower third. On a sheet pan, combine the broccolini, tomatoes, onion and lemon slices with the olive oil and toss. Add cumin and red-pepper flakes, season with salt and pepper, and toss again until evenly coated. Nestle the feta slices into the vegetables. (It’s OK if they break apart a little.)
  2. Roast 15 to 20 minutes, stirring halfway through but leaving the feta in place, until the broccolini is charred at the tips, the stems are easily pierced with a fork and the tomato skins start to blister and break down.
  3. Serve over orzo or farro. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with the remaining lemon half for squeezing. Top with fresh herbs, if using.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Pork Schnitzel


When presented with two less than stellar-looking pork chops from a Costco pack that were deemed unsuitable for stuffing or grilling, my husband resorted to plan B: debone and butterfly the chops to make schnitzel (yeah!). Schnitzel is one of my favorite dishes, going way back to  our trip to Vienna many years ago. I still dream of the incredible schnitzel we had in a small, dark tavern where each table had a little wooden pegged holder of warm, homemade pretzels that we gorged ourselves on while we waited for our meal. Must go back some day! 

Of course, in Austria schnitzel is primarily made with veal, but pork is a very good substitute. What’s not to love - it’s crispy, slightly salty, and the leftovers (if there are any!) make fabulous sandwiches the next day.

We used this recipe from the NY Times, and it did not disappoint. We also made the quick pickles from the same article and they were a terrific addition. Mr B (because he can never leave well enough alone, thankfully), also fried up some very thin (mandoline-cut) onions to add to the dinner.

You can buy pork cutlets almost anywhere so you don’t have to go through the deboning, butterflying process, but you will need to pound the cutlets very, very thin (don’t skip that step!).
As suggested in the article, a cold, crisp gruner veltliner or riesling is the perfect wine for this meal. I just happen to keep a supply of nice rieslings in my wine stock so that’s what I used and it was excellent. But you could also use a sauvignon blanc, or even a Soave. As noted by the NYT wine guru, Eric Asimov, champagne goes great with fried foods, so there’s that.

Have a great week! Let me know if you make this dish and how you liked it!

Be well!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Mango-Coconut-Banana Bread




What’s that saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade?” Well, how about when life gives you mangoes? Lots and lots of mangoes. 

We are lucky to live in an area with plentiful mango trees (in addition to passionfruit, guava, beach grapes, and other assorted fruits), and they have literally been falling out of the trees. Every morning when I walk with friends, we return home with armfuls of ripe, beautiful mangoes. Then I have to figure out what to do with our haul. Of course you can just eat the mangoes out-of-hand, but I generally like to add them to yogurt or a smoothie, or a baked good, which is what I have done today.

From the folks over at food52.com, I found this gem. It sounded great as is, but since I’m living in the tropics I decided to add some flaked coconut, and I’m glad I did. It gives the bread a terrific texture, which it otherwise would not have had. If you’re coconut-adverse, just omit it. This bread is moist and flavorful, although I think next time I will up the mango ante to a whole mango instead of half, as it could have used a bit more mango flavor. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t have enough mangoes!

In addition, I tried a trick I’d read about awhile ago, where you sprinkle sugar over the greased pan instead of flouring it. It gives the bread just a hint more sweetness and a little bit of crunch.

Let me know if you make this recipe and what you thought! Have a great day!


Mango-Coconut-Banana Bread (adapted from food52.com)

Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients:

1 C sugar (plus a teaspoon for the pan)
1/2 C unsalted butter, room temp
2 large eggs
2 ripe bananas
1/2 ripe mango, cubed
1 TB milk
1 t ground cinnamon
2 C flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
3/4 t vanilla
1/2 C flaked sweetened coconut

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease or line a 9x5" loaf pan, then sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar over the bottom and sides of pan.
  2. Cream the sugar and butter in large mixing bowl until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. In a small bowl, mash bananas with fork.
  5. Mix in the milk, cinnamon, and vanilla until combined.
  6. Then gently mix in the mango, set aside.
  7. In another bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  8. Add banana mixture to creamed mixture and stir until combined.
  9. Finally, add in the dry ingredients and the coconut.
  10. Pour batter into loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake approximately 65-75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
  11. Let cool on rack before removing from baking dish.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger

Greetings!

I hope you are all healthy and doing well.

Like everyone else on the planet, we’ve been cooking and baking more than usual. Finding all-purpose flour during the early days of the pandemic was nearly impossible (forget about finding bread flour here in Puerto Rico). Now it seems the supply lines have been fortified and I can get all the AP flour I want. So this week, with quickly ripening bananas on my counter I set out to bake banana bread. But I wanted something a little different, and I found it in Molly Wizenberg’s (a terrific food writer) recipe from a few years back. She adds finely chopped crystallized ginger and that takes this banana bread from really good to WOW! It adds a dimension of spicy-sweetness and moisture you would otherwise not get. If you can’t get crystallized ginger, you could sub in ground ginger (use an 1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger for every tablespoon of crystallized ginger; you may need to add sugar, to taste, to compensate), but you won’t get that delicious gingery chewiness. 
You’ll notice the recipe calls for whole-milk yogurt (not low or nonfat); I could not find it anywhere so I used nonfat yogurt. Full fat yogurt will probably give you a more moist bread, but I did not find this version to be lacking in moistness (or anything) at all.

Try this recipe, I think you’ll really enjoy it!

Be well, stay healthy, stay safe.

Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger (Molly Wizenberg)

Makes 1 9x5” loaf or 1 8” round cake

Ingredients:

6 TB unsalted butter
2 C all-purpose flour
3/4 C sugar
3/4 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
3/4 C semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 C finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 large eggs
3 large ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 C well-stirred whole-milk plain yogurt (not low or nonfat)
1 t vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Set a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 350F. Grease a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan or an 8-inch round cake pan with cooking spray or butter.

2. Melt the butter on the stove or in a microwave and set aside to cool slightly.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips and crystallized ginger and whisk well to combine. Set aside.

4. In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the mashed banana, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well. Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir gently with a rubber spatula, scraping down the sides as needed, until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter with be thick and somewhat lumpy, just make sure all the flour has been incorporated. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top.

5. Bake into the loaf is a deep shade of golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 mins to an hour. If the loaf seems to be browning too quickly, tent with foil.

6. Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then tip out onto the rack, and let it cool completely before slicing. The loaf freezes well wrapped in plastic wrap and again in foil to protect from freezer burn.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Tropical Sunrise

Since I’m writing this from Puerto Rico, the title could refer to a literal “tropical sunrise,” of which we have beauties most mornings. Or, it could refer to my new favorite drink. I picked up this recipe during a visit (or two) to Casa Bacardi in Catano, PR, where I fell in love with this drink. Tall, cool, refreshing, in a beautiful shade of chino (orange), and a breeze to make, it’s my new go-to evening cocktail. Even better, it’s only got four ingredients! If you need a little taste of the islands (and who doesn't right about now?), whip up one of these babies and transport yourself to isla del encanto. (island of charm).
Tropical Sunrise (recipe makes one cocktail)

Ingredients:
1 orange slice
2 oz white rum
Passionfruit juice
Splash of grenadine

Directions:
In a tall glass, muddle an orange slice. Fill the glass with ice. Add rum, fill glass with juice. Transfer mixture to a cocktail shaker & shake it up good. Pour back into tall glass, add splash of grenadine. Enjoy!