Friday, March 31, 2006

Basic Pastry Cream

Any dessert aficionado knows that pastry cream is essential in many desserts, especially in French pastries. Although I stink at making desserts, I was able to whip this pastry cream in no time. The key is to add the boiling milk slowly into the egg so that it doesn't scramble it. You can use pastry cream in éclairs, tarts, and as a basis for your rice or tapioca pudding. Mmmmmm!


  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 2 Tablespoons corn starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Place a saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the milk with approximately half of the sugar. Heat stirring frequently until boiling.

In a separate bowl, blend together the remaining sugar and cornstarch, then add the egg and whisk with a fork.

With a ladle or big spoon, slowly add some of the boiling milk into the egg/corn starch bowl while whisking constantly. You don't want to cook and "scramble" the eggs. Add about 1/4 cup of the hot milk.

Next, return the warmed egg/starch mixture back into the boiling milk. Stir constantly until it thickens and it reaches the consistency of pudding.

Place pasty cream in a glass container and cover the surface of the pastry cream with plastic wrap. Press the plastic wrap tightly onto the surface of the cooked pastry cream. This prevents it from forming a "skin". Put in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.

When cold, remove wrap, add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and beat until very smooth and creamy and use it on any recipe asking for pastry cream, or on this Pineapple Tart recipe.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

How to Cut a Pineapple

My lovely sister, Nathalie, came for a visit from Oahu, Hawai'i, and she brought me a huge, nice and ripe Dole® pineapple straight from the Dole® Plantation in Oahu. Immediately I began to think of recipes I could do with the pineapple but before I do anything, I would have to cut it first.

The pineapple came with instructions that Dole® suggests on how to cut it. I've also found other suggestions, such as this one from, however I find that the way my mom taught me is the best. I like this method of cutting the pineapple because I save a lot more of the "meat" of the fruit and it seems to yield more--but maybe it's just me.

  1. First, with a serrated knife, cut off the top of the pineapple.
  2. Stand the pineapple up and cut the skin from the sides in downward slices.
  3. Cut in about 1/8" deep, just enough so that most of the "eyes" are removed, however don't worry if some remain.
  4. With the tip of a peeler or a paring knife, remove the remaining eyes.
  5. Next, lay the pineapple on its side and cut it in half.
  6. Then, cut the halves in half again. You will be left with 4 quarters.
  7. Stand the quarters up and slice straight down the core of each quarter to remove the core.
  8. Finally, lay the quarters back down and slice them to your desired thickness. You can use fresh pineapple slices for fruit salads, or for a Pineapple Tart.

    If you'd rather have whole, round slices, skip steps 4 to 7 and simply slice the pineapple into rounds then cut out the core from each slice with a pairing knife.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Restaurant Review: Carnitas Uruapan

Carnitas Uruapan, Tijuana, Mexico Carnitas Uruapan

Bulevar Díaz Ordáz 550

Across from Plaza Patria, La Mesa, Tijuana

Phone: 664 681-61-81

Carnitas, which literally translates to "little meats," is a very well known and beloved pork dish in Mexico. Basically it is marinated pork simmered in huge copper pots with enough lard to cover it, often with the addition of garlic and sometimes fruit juices, until tender and crisp, then served in chunks with tortillas, salsa, cilantro, guacamole, and onions. The entire process takes from 3 to 4 hours and because of this, our family usually goes to well known establishments that specialize in carnitas rather than making it ourselves.Huge copper pot

The restaurant we like to go to, and coincidently it's one of the most well-known restaurants in Tijuana, Mexico, is Carnitas Uruapan. At Carnitas Uruapan the meat is served by the kilo at long, communal wooden tables to a mostly local crowd. There is usually a mariachi band in the premises; however at $10 a song, it can be costly if you want mariachi music accompanied while you eat. Family & friends enjoying the carnitas

A half kilo of carnitas is plenty for two people, and costs around $15. All of the carnitas include beans, freshly made tortillas, salsa, onions, cilantro and guacamole. It's a casual restaurant and a great place for tourists and/or large groups of people. I also recommend you order a bucket of beer and pitchers of margaritas as this is more cost-effective

Credit cards are not accepted at this establishment, so bring pesos or dollars. It's open daily from 7AM to 3AM. There is plenty of parking for patrons and most of the servers speak (some) English. If you're a vegetarian, this is not a place for you!

A plate full of carnitas

Monday, March 27, 2006

Beermaking with a Brew Kit - Part 1

The Mr.Beer Kit This may come as a shock to you, but I don't particularly like beer. I've never been a huge fan of beer and if I ever do drink it, it's usually hard cider or a light beer. However, a couple of years ago I had my first taste of home brewed beer and boy was it good! I tasted my friend Leo's brew and, although he makes darker ales, his beer is fabulous.

Then, a few months ago my father-in-law sent us some of his homemade Blaha brew. sterilizing powderHe has been making his own beer for years and years and he is always coming up with new flavors and recipes. Recently he sent us some of his sage beer and mead beer. His beer is quite tasty and refreshing that we can't get enough of it.

So, I decided to give beer making a try. Since we live in a small apartment I decided to buy the Mr. Beer Premium Kit. The kit comes with a plastic keg, tap, all of the ingredients, sterilizing powder and six 20 ounce plastic bottles. sterilizing the equipmentThe only equipment I need to provide is a mixing spoon, a plate, can-opener, a measuring cup and a 3-quart pot. The key to great homemade beer is cleanliness. You want all of your equipment to be sterilized because this creates a clean environment to your ingredients and giving you less of a chance to mess up your beer.

What I like about the Mr. Beer Premium Kit is that the steps are easy to follow and the entire process took about 40 minutes. Dissolve the corn sugar in cold water then bring to a boilThe bad thing is that now we have to wait. Fermentation takes a minimun of 7 days, after that we have to bottle the beer and condition it for another 7 come back in a couple of weeks to check on part 2 of my beermaking progress!

Adding the malt to the hot water/sugar mixture Adding the beer mix (malt) to the hot water and corn sugar mixture.

Mixing the malt mixture

Mix the malt and hot water until dissolved.

Add the hot mixture into the keg filled with 4 quarts of cold water Then add it into the keg which is filled with 4 quarts of cold water...

Add more cold water to reach 8.5 quarts; add yeast and we now have to wait!Finally, we add more cold water to reach 8.5 quarts and add the yeast. Tightly put on the lid and we have to let it ferment for 7 days in a dark, cool place.

to be continued...

Friday, March 24, 2006

Pasta Giardiniera

Oh, what to do when all you have is frozen corn and lima beans in the freezer? Pasta, of course! Pasta is such a great, versatile ingredient that one can experiment and create tons of different sauces. I came up with this recipe just last night. It super fast, just make sure your pasta is cooked al dente. Also, par boil your Lima beans before sautéing them.

INGREDIENTS (serves 2, maybe 3)

  • 1/2 pound Barilla penne pasta
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • 1/3 cup frozen lima beans, par boiled for 5 minutes then drain
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. butter, unsalted
  • 2 garlic cloves, passed through a garlic press
  • 1 tbsp. fresh tarragon, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
In a large pot bring lightly salted water to a boil. Add your pasta and cook according to package directions or "al dente." Reserve about 1 cup pasta water.

In the meantime, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet on medium. Add your minced garlic and fresh tarragon. Reduce heat to low and cook until garlic lightly browns and tarragon becomes fragrant, about 3 minutes.

Next, add the thawed corn and par boiled lima beans. Raise the heat back to medium. Add the tomato sauce, red wine vinegar and a few grinds of fresh black pepper and 1/2 cup pasta water. Cover skillet and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Add more pasta water if sauce dries out.

Now that your pasta is ready, drain it and toss it into the skillet with the corn and lima beans. Add the last tablespoon of butter and toss to combine. Turn off the heat and add the grated cheese. Toss pasta again and serve immediately. A nice glass of Pinot Grigio compliments this dish.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Mashed Spicy Sweet Potatoes

The original recipe has one ripe mashed banana in it, however since my husband has an unusual fear of bananas, I ommited it from the recipe. It still tasted great!

INGREDIENTS (4 servings)

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 1 serrano pepper, seeded and finely diced
  • The juice of one orange
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 Tbsp. butter, unsalted
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper
Add the potatoes to a large pot of lightly salted water and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. When done, drain the potatoes and put them back in the same pot.

To the sweet potatoes add the diced serrano pepper, the juice of one orange, honey and one tablespoon butter. Mash with a potato masher. Season with salt and pepper and serve while still warm.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Chili Chicken Skewers with Cilantro Pesto

I have to admit when I first saw this recipe I thought that the flavor combos would not work. Surprisingly, the cilantro pesto goes very well with the sweet-chili chicken skewers. You may be one of those few people that don’t like cilantro. If this is you, you can substitute the cilantro with basil leaves or make the pesto entirely with flat leaf parsley. The chicken is so good by itself, though, that the pesto is really optional.

INGREDIENTS (makes 4 to 6 skewers)

  • 1 cup cilantro
  • 1 cup flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup roasted and unsalted peanuts (I used cashews because I had them available)
  • The juice of 4 limes
  • 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves, peeled (I used 2)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 package chicken tenders, about 1 to 1-1/4 lb.
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin
  • Bamboo skewers soaked in water for 30 minutes
Pre-heat your grill to medium-high for 15 minutes. In the meantime...

FOR THE PESTO: In a food processor add the cilantro, parsley, peanuts, lime juice, vinegar and garlic. Process until mixture is minced. Add the 1/2 olive oil and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Serve it in a bowl and set aside.

FOR THE CHICKEN: Rinse chicken with cold water; pat dry. In a separate bowl, combine the brown sugar, chili powder, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and cumin. Mix with your fingers to break up any lumps. Sprinkle each side of chicken tenders with the brown sugar-chili mixture.

Thread about 3 tenders per skewer. Grill them (direct-grill method) for about 6 to 7 minutes per side. Grill until the thickest part of one tender is no longer pink.

Serve immediately with a side of cilantro pesto for dipping. Mashed spicy sweet-potatoes will also compliment this dish.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Hummus and Cucumber Bites

Hummus is a dish we should all learn how to make. Yes, you can buy ready-made hummus at the store, but nothing beats the taste of homemade hummus. This tasty chickpea dish is quite versatile: you can use hummus as a dip for veggies or chips; or you can use it as a spread for sandwiches, pita or tortillas. You can also make quick hors douvres with hummus, such as this one.


  • 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 3 Tbs. Tahini (you can find this in the international isle of your grocery store)
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 large seedless cucumber, washed
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds
In a food processor, add the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, tahini, olive oil, cumin, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 2 tablespoons water. Process the mixture until smooth. Make sure you scrape the sides with a rubber spatula. Cut the ends of the cucumber. Run a potato peeler down the cucumber, skipping spaces to create a pattern. Then slice cucumber into 1/4" slices. Spoon (with a small spoon or melon baller) about a tablespoon of hummus onto each slice. Gently press down on the hummus to flatten a little. Then add a small dollop of yogurt on top of the hummus and sprinkle toasted sesame seeds over them. Serve in a large platter and enjoy!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Champagne Mojito

Okay, I admit I'm obsessed with mojitos. Ever since I had my first mojito back in 2000 in Cambridge, Mass, I've been experimenting with different mojito flavors. So, naturally, a champagne mojito was next in my list.

INGREDIENTS (1 cocktail)

  • 4 to 5 fresh mint sprigs
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • Wedge of a lime
  • Champagne, chilled
In a glass add the fresh mint sprigs, sugar, fresh lemon juice and lime wedge.
Muddle with the back of a wooden spoon until sugar dissolves, about 30 seconds. Strain the concoction into a champagne glass.

Top off the glass with chilled Champagne and garnish with a spring of mint.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Irish Blue Cheese Potato Cakes

Cashel Blue was developed in 1984 and it is Ireland’s original artisinal blue cheese. Ireland's Beechmount Farm in the town of Tipperary makes this superb blue cheese. Cashel Blue is a young, somewhat mild and extra creamy cheese that, unlike inferior blues, is not too salty. It is a fabulous alternative to Gorgonzola or Stilton. These potato cakes are nouveau Irish cuisine and the recipe is from The New Irish Table: 75 Contemporary Recipes by Margaret M. Johnson.

INGREDIENTS (12 servings)

  • 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 cup Cashel Blue cheese, or other blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
  • 2 eggs beaten with 1/2 cup 2-percent milk, for dredging
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs, for dredging
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups canola oil
  • Sour cream or crème fraiche for topping, optional

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 12 to 15 minutes or until they are tender. Drain and mash the potatoes. Set aside.

In a small skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Sauté the chives and garlic for 1 to 2 minutes or until soft. Stir into the mashed potatoes. Then stir in the nutmeg, salt, pepper, dill and parsley. Remove from the heat and cool completely.

Stir in the blue cheese and egg yolk. The cheese should remain in lumps scattered through the potatoes.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Shape the potato mixture into 12 cakes and refrigerate for 20 minutes to firm it.

Lightly dredge each cake in the flour, then coat it with the egg-milk mixture and dredge it in the bread crumbs.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the cakes to the hot oil and cook for 3 to 5 minutes on each side, or until browned. The cakes can be prepared ahead up to this point.

To serve, place the cakes on a baking sheet and reheat them in the oven for about 5 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie

My husband and I are planning a trip to Ireland and the U.K. in the fall and I got inspired to make vegetarian Shepherd's Pie. I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but it was really quite good. Unfortunately, I suck at making mashed potatoes, so I used instant mashed potatoes instead, however homemade mash 'taters or even left over mashed 'taters will make this dish delightful. And I bet your family will have no idea it’s vegetarian if you don’t tell them! I give an A+ to Yves Veggie Cuisine. All their products are top notch and quite flavorful.

INGREDIENTS (serves 4)

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, unsalted
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup sliced button mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup roasted red bell pepper, diced (you can substitute w/ a 4oz. can of diced green chiles)
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 2/3 cup vegetable stock (you can use chicken stock, but it will not be 100% vegetarian)
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • Pinch of Thyme
  • Pinch of dried Rosemary
  • 1 pkg Yves Veggie Cuisine Ground Round Original
  • 1/4 cup low fat milk
  • 2 large russet potatoes, peeled
  • 1/8 tsp paprika
  • Butter
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Cut each potato into thirds and cook in boiling water until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Reseve 1/4 cup of boiled potato and dice it.
  3. Meanwhile, in skillet over medium-high heat add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sauté onions for two minutes then add garlic and sauté 2 minutes more. Add the mushrooms and cook and cook over medium-high heat until soft, about 1 minute. Add the diced tomatoes, the reserved 1/4 cup diced potatoes and the diced red bell pepper.
  4. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of flour over veggie mixture and make sure all vegetables are coated. Add the vegetable stock and simmer until mixture thickens, about 1 minute. Add the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, thyme, rosemary, salt and ground pepper.
  5. Lastly, add the veggie ground round and cook for 2 minutes or just until it heats through. Remove from stove and set aside.
  6. Transfer the veggie mixture to sprayed or lightly oiled 9x9x2" casserole dish. Spread mixture and pack evenly.
  7. Mash the potatoes. Add milk, 2 tablespoons butter, salt, pepper; mash until fluffy. Spread potato over veggie mixture. Sprinkle with paprika and dot with little bits of butter.
  8. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until heated through and mashed potatoes brown slightly on top.