Arepas are the stuff of weekend lunches

By far, my best way to use leftover chicken or roasted vegetables is to make arepas and stuff the leftovers inside. Arepas are the stuff of Saturday lunches when I do not intend to leave the house. They are hand-held cornmeal flat breads that are crispy, crunchy on the outside, and soft and warm on the inside. Split open, you can stuff them with your favorite shredded or ground meats, seafood, vegetables, cheese, beans, or any combination thereof.

Depending on whom you ask or what you read, arepas originated in Columbia or Venezuela and they are cousins to Salvadoran pupusas; all of which are generally street food. I would even say that they are a distant cousin to the Southern fried hoecake. While you can make arepas, pupusas, and hoecakes in varying sizes to your liking, the cornmeal, or corn flour, is what makes each of them different. To make arepas, you will need pre-cooked corn masa flour, which most major grocery stores now carry. I live in south Florida, so corn masa flour is staple item. It is important to use this type of corn flour to get the consistency and texture for proper good arepas. Once you have the corn masa flour, you only need water, salt, cooking oil, and the stuffing of your choice for the best weekend lunch.

My Recipe: AREPAS makes 6

3 c corn masa flour
1 c warm water
1 t kosher salt
1 ½ c stuffing of your choice: shredded chicken, beef, cheese, or pork; chopped or
ground beef, tofu, seafood, avocado, or roasted vegetables;
or any delicious combination that your taste buds desire
canola oil, as needed


In a large mixing bowl; add corn masa flour and kosher salt; make a well in the middle of the corn masa flour; add warm water; mix, by hand, until a soft, pliable dough is formed, adding additional tablespoons of water and/or corn masa flour as needed to ensure that the dough is not crumbly

Cover dough with plastic wrap and allow dough to rest for 10 minutes

Form dough into six equal golf-ball size balls; press each ball into a patty about 4” wide; cover dough and prepare griddle, cast-iron skillet, or large frying pan

Heat a griddle, cast-iron skillet, or large skillet, over medium-high heat; add 2 – 4 T of canola oil; add arepas, 3 at a time, and cook for 4 – 5 minutes until first side is crispy and browned; flip and cook until other side is the same; remove cooked arepas to a paper towels

Add more canola oil to pan as needed cooking the remaining arepas

Allow arepas to cool to touch; using a serrated knife, split open and stuff with your deliciousness; and serve

arepas stuffed with shredded chicken, chopped lettuce, tomatoes, and red onion

always in good T.A.S.T.E – cause you gottatastethis!

Posted in Beef, Bread, Fish/Seafood, Food .T.A.S.T.E., Pork, Poultry, Vegetables, Vegetarian/Vegan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Garden Grazing ‘12: Winter Edition: Meyer Lemon… a lone survivor

Some years ago, I read an article on a famed British gardener, whose name I have long forgotten, and he said that growing vegetables and herbs were rather easy; growing fruit, however, was a slow burn. So… this is how I am opening the first blog of 2012.

When we bought the house five years ago, I knew that I would plant my own vegetables, herbs, and fruits – all of which I would harvest and take into my kitchen and create in organically fresh and many delicious ways. The vegetables and herbs blessed the home quickly, and profusely. The fruit… yeah, the burn has been rather slow. The first year, we planted a strawberry patch, an avocado tree, a Meyer lemon tree, and a fig tree. The second year, a friend gave us a Julie mango tree and two raspberry bushes; we planted a blueberry bush and a blackberry bush. By the second year, we fought the snails and were able to salvage a small bushel of strawberries – sweet and tart. The third year we watched eight avocado flowers bud; and were able to harvest two big, creamy, and luscious fruit. Last year the most fragrant lemon blossoms covered the Meyer lemon tree. The scent of those blossoms wafted across the entire backyard before they fell off and sent forth five tiny buds.

The wind shook two of the tiny lemon buds from the tree; a neighbor’s pesky grandchild pulled off another while it was still very green; and a third fell to the ground overnight after a particularly unusual hard rain. I awoke that morning to find the fruit below the tree wet and mushy. After a slow and long burn, one lone Meyer lemon made it to maturity and was ready and ripe for picking.

After beating the odds and finally making it to my kitchen, we felt very strongly about creating something with that Meyer lemon to highlight the fruit. Unlike the Lisbon and Eureka lemon, the Meyer, thought to be a cross hybrid of a true lemon and a mandarin orange, is bigger, rounder, and sometimes more orange in color. The skin is thinner and the juice is abundant. My one Meyer lemon gave me almost a full cup of juice. The flavor and smell is sweeter than other lemons; having an almost floral taste with notes of honey and lemon thyme. I considered several ideas until, I arrived at lemon squares – simple, classic, and just the right vehicle for my lone Meyer lemon.

My Recipe: MEYER LEMON SQUARES serves 6

¼ c fresh Meyer lemon juice
2 T Meyer lemon zest
1 c + 1 T all-purpose flour
1 ¼ c granulated white sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and diced
½ t baking powder
1 pinch kosher salt
2 large eggs
powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 325 degrees; spray the bottom of a small tart pan with non-stick cooking spray set aside

In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup of all-purpose flour with ½ c granulated white sugar, baking powder, kosher salt, and 1 T Meyer lemon zest; add chilled butter; use pastry cutter of a long-tined fork to cut butter into flour mixture until mixture looks like wet sand; evenly press this mixture into the bottom of the tart pan; bake for 20 minutes

Combine eggs, Meyer lemon juice, remaining all-purpose flour, Meyer lemon zest; pour over par baked crust; bake for another 25 – 30 minutes

Lightly dust the top of with the powdered sugar while the lemon squares are still warm; allow to cool before cutting and serving

I was tempted to add fresh rosemary to the crust; I was tempted to add fresh berries to the lemony filling; and I was tempted to fold in shredded coconut into the filing as well. For the sake of the lone Meyer lemon, I exercised restraint and stayed the course for pure sweet, floral, lemony flavor.

Of course, if my tree proves prolific, I will experiment with absolute wild abandonment… a great mantra to take into each New Year.

Blessings and prosperity for 2012!!

always in good T.A.S.T.E – cause you gottatastethis!

Posted in Desserts, Fruit, Vegetarian/Vegan | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A yummy “rip-off” for the holidays…

First, the disclaimer… These Brussel Sprouts are totally a “restaurant rip-off” of the sprouts they serve at Sakaya Kitchen in Midtown Miami. There is nothing original on my part – and I am not even sure of the ingredients or their cooking method. This is, welp… this is just mere imitation… that is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery. Wow! That sounded cheesy in my head as it traveled from fingers that clicked the keys and allowed me to splash the corniness online. However, I am pressed for time during this holiday season and I wanted to share what I think is a deliciously different way to enjoy Brussel sprouts – with an Asian twist.


1 # Brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
2 T soy sauce
2 T rice wine vinegar
1 T fresh grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, grated
4 T canola oil
¼ t ground white pepper


Preheat oven to 400 degrees; line sheet pan with (for easier clean up)

In a medium bowl; combine soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, grated ginger, grated garlic, and 2 T of the canola oil; set aside

Toss remaining canola oil with Brussel sprouts; season with white ground pepper; spread in a single layer; roast for 20 minutes, tossing once

Remove Brussel sprouts from oven; toss with soy-ginger dressing; return to oven and continue roasting for another 8 – 10 minutes until Brussel spouts are tender and caramelized; pay close attention so that they don’t burn

Taste; adjust seasoning to taste; and serve

Forgive my corniness; make these Brussel sprouts; and enjoy!

Happy Holidays!

always in good T.A.S.T.E – cause you gottatastethis!

Posted in Vegetables, Vegetarian/Vegan | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Sweetest thing about sweet potatoes

People often ask me for recipes. Because I think that everyone should love cooking; some recipes I gladly share. However, there are some that I do not share and for various reasons. Sometimes the recipes are too complicated for the average home cook to attempt and I just rather not deal with a call from the frustrated and disappointed cook. Sometimes, as I start listing the ingredients; and their eyes glaze over, I realize that what they should have asked was “Can you make this dish for me and bring it to my home, family dinner, potluck, or wherever?” Then there are the times when I take a different flavor approach to a food that they just cannot wrap their taste sensory around without actually tasting the finished product. One such food is the sweet potato.

I really love sweet potatoes… baked in the oven, split open, and devoured with little more than a sprinkle of salt and, for a dash of the extraordinaire, some cinnamon and fresh cracked black pepper. I love them as chips; mashed with a little orange zest and butter; roasted with herbs and garlic; mashed and gently folded into biscuit dough; and tempura battered and fried. Fiery chili-spiked roasted sweet potato salad or in a light coconut-curry broth, sweet potatoes are near and dear to my heart – stomach and taste buds for that matter.

As for candied sweet potatoes, sweet potato pie, and sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows and/or pecan streusel topping – I am just not a fan… and never have been. I have tried several versions by many different people – all promising to make me a convert. To no avail, my taste buds recoil at the sugary sweetness that buries the earthy natural sweetness of the sweet potato. For me, sweet potatoes are plenty sweet on their own and all that sweetness needs is a little something to play against their sweetness to bring complexity to the tuber. Sugar, especially too much of it, only amplifies the sweetness which, in my opinion, is like a loud errant chord in the middle of a luscious melody.

These are two of my favorite ways to prepare sweet potatoes, after the aforementioned simple bake. The first, Rosemary Brown Sugar Sweet Potatoes, is my ode to the traditional candied sweet potato – a lost less “candied” but with a lot, more flavor. For an elegant take, I buy sweet potatoes that are close in size and shape, slice them thin, and put them in a swirl pattern in the casserole dish before baking. You can use a mandolin or a sharp chef’s knife to slice the potatoes. Alternately, you can cut the sweet potatoes in medium chunks and proceed.

The second recipe, Roasted Sweet Potato Salad, usually gets questioning looks when I describe it; however, those same faces smile approvingly after asking for a second helping. Any chili pepper will work for this second recipe and you can adjust it to your taste. I like it spicy. This recipe is actually Terra Spiced Sweet Potato Chips in salad form – as I got the idea for it while eating a bag of chips. It is a regular on my Autumn catering menu and a recipe that I get asked for a lot.


4 medium unpeeled sweet potatoes
¼ c light brown sugar
¼ c wildflower or orange blossom honey
1 t fresh ground nutmeg, optional
1 – 2 T fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
2 T chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 t kosher salt
½ t cracked black pepper
non-stick cooking spray


Preheat oven to 350 degrees; spray the bottom of the casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray

Thoroughly wash the sweet potatoes, do not peel them; thinly slice each sweet potato without taking the slices out of order; carefully fan out the slices and place them into the casserole dish in a swirl pattern

Combine the brown sugar, kosher salt, cracked black pepper, nutmeg, and chopped rosemary; sprinkle over the sweet potatoes

Drizzle the honey over the sweet potatoes; dot the top with the chilled butter; cover with foil and baked for 35 minutes; remove foil and bake for another 10 – 15 minutes until lightly browned on top

My Recipe: ROASTED SWEET POTATO SALAD serves 6 – 8

6 large sweet potatoes, cut into 1” chunks
1 – 2 jalapeno, serrano, Thai chile pepper, seeds removed and finely minced
1 large sweet red bell pepper, seeds removed and quartered
¾ c olive oil or canola oil
¼ c apple cider or red wine vinegar
1 T ground cumin
1 garlic clove
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced, about ¾ c
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped, about ¾ c
kosher salt, to taste
cracked black pepper, to taste


Preheat oven to 400 degrees; toss sweet potato chunks in ¼ oil; season with kosher salt and cracked black pepper; spread in a single layer on a roasting pan; roast for 35 – 40 minutes until potatoes are crispy on the outside and tender inside

Combine sweet red bell pepper, red wine vinegar, cumin, and garlic clove in a food processor; process on high until smooth; turn processer to low, and drizzle in the remaining the oil into the food processor; set aside

Toss warm sweet potatoes in large bowl; add finely minced chile, green onions, and cilantro; pour dressing over everything and toss gently until well combine; season with kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Serve the salad at room temperature for best flavor

I usually serve this salad as is, but you can also mix in dried raisins, dried cranberries, and/or fresh-diced pineapple, or top with chopped toasted walnuts, pecans, or cashews for more texture.

always in good T.A.S.T.E – cause you gottatastethis!

Posted in Salads, Vegetables, Vegetarian/Vegan | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Simple ethereal sustenance… vegan.

There is nothing simple about soup.

Humble, nourishing, comforting, delicious, silky, filling, creamy, chunky, tasty, warming, chilling, classic, inexpensive, delectable, seasonal, and special – All are good words to describe the time and care it takes to make the most basic of ingredients elevate to ethereal sustenance.

To which, I give you Cream of Cauliflower Almond and Sage soup.

Though cream is in the title of this soup, there is no actual cream in this soup… and no butter for that matter. The almonds, once toasted, provide a rich flavor. Once pureed, the almonds and potato give the soup a creamy texture. Seasoned with sage and smoked paprika, this soup is vegan ethereal sustenance.

My Recipe: CREAM OF CAULIFLOWER w Almond and Sage serves 6 – 8

1 large cauliflower head, green stemmed trimmed; roughly chopped
1 c blanched almonds
1 medium white potato, peeled; roughly chopped
1 medium yellow onion, peeled; roughly chopped
1 stalk celery; roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic; peeled
10 fresh sage leaves
2 T olive oil
½ t smoked paprika
10 c vegetable stock or water
kosher salt
cracked black pepper


Preheat oven to 350 degrees; toast almonds on an ungreased sheet pan for 8 minutes until lightly browned; set aside to cool, reserving 2 T of the almonds for garnish

Heat a soup pot over medium heat; add olive oil; sauté onions, garlic, and celery until vegetables begin to soften, approximately 5 minutes; add toasted almonds and 4 sage leaves; sauté for 3 more minutes

Add cauliflower, potato, and 4 cups of vegetable stock, or water, to pot; bring pot to a boil; lower heat; and simmer, uncovered until vegetables become very soft, approximately 35 – 40 minutes

The vegetables and almonds will absorb the liquid while they cook and the liquid will evaporate; do not allow all of the liquid to evaporate

Carefully puree vegetable-almond mixture in a blender in batches using remaining room temperature vegetable stock to help in blending; add 4 more sage leaves to the blender while blending


Pour pureed soup into a clean pot; season with kosher salt, cracked black pepper, and smoked paprika; warm soup over medium- low heat while stirring; the soup should have a rich, velvety consistency; use vegetable stock to adjust the consistency if soup is too thick; remember to taste and adjust seasoning after each addition of more stock, or water

Finely chop reserved toasted almonds and remaining 2 sage leaves; set aside

To serve; ladle warm soup into bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of almond-sage mixture

Another word… Elegant! This soup is elegant enough to start an autumn dinner party or a simple vegetarian meal with homemade bread on a rainy evening.

always in good T.A.S.T.E – cause you gottatastethis!

Posted in Soups and Stews, Vegetables, Vegetarian/Vegan | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Salmon croquettes, southern-style grits, and nostalgia…

Each year at the cusp of summer end/autumn begin, I get a little nostalgic about my childhood and the meals that I remember and loved the most. We kids were going back to school; our parents were re-establishing our school year routine; the memories of summer were starting to fade; and the time change from daylight-savings time was looming. The weekday breakfasts would become quick and filling to get the kids off to school and the parents off to work. There was no time to linger. However, on the weekends, there was time to linger… and time to enjoy heartier breakfasts of which my favorite was Salmon Croquettes and Grits.

I think that my Mother makes THE best salmon croquettes. Her croquettes always fried up crisp on the outside; moist on the inside; and they never had a strong fishy odor or flavor. She always used Royal Pink Wild Alaska canned pink salmon. If you have never used canned salmon, beware that when you open the can, this stuff does not look pretty and bright coral like fresh salmon. It may even have the bones and skin still attached; but that is okay. The bones and skin are rich in omega 3 fatty acids – a nutritional powerhouse. Once you mash the skin and bones up into the batter, you will not be able to discern them in the croquettes.

I was an adult before I would make salmon croquettes. After a few heavy dull croquettes, I found that there are three tricks to making the best croquettes. First, use a light and deft hand to avoid over mixing. Second, make sure the oil is nice and hot before frying to ensure a crispy crust. Third, and lastly, do not over crowd the pan while cooking, which will reduce the oil temperature.

Growing up, my Mother only used diced onions to her croquettes. I have added diced capers to my version. I have also switched out the white grits for the more festive colorful yellow grits. I also serve this dish with lime wedges and sriracha. As for cooking the grits, I adhere to the mantra that “no self-respecting Southerner uses instant grits.” (My Cousin Vinny)


For Salmon Croquettes:
1 – 7.5oz can Royal Pink Wild Alaska salmon, do not drain
¼ c finely diced yellow onion
1 T finely diced capers
3 – 4 T all-purpose flour
1 large egg
ground black pepper
canola oil, for frying

For Grits
½ c yellow grits or white grits, not instant
2 ½ c water
1 t kosher salt
1 T unsalted butter, optional

lime wedges, optional
sriracha, optional


For the Grits: (Use a pot with a tight-fitting lid.)

Add grits, water, and kosher salt to a saucepan over medium-high heat; stir with a whisk until pot comes to a boil; immediately lower heat to a simmer; cover pot with a tight fitting lid; cook on low for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent lumps from forming

When grits are creamy and thick; remove from heat; stir in butter; and season to taste

For Croquettes:

While grits are simmering, pour enough canola oil into a frying pan to coat the bottom by ½ “ in depth; heat over medium-high heat

Combine ingredients for croquette – LIGHT AND DEFT HAND, AVOID OVER MIXING; croquette batter should be thick, but not stiff; if it is too loose; add a teaspoon more of all-purpose flour

Spoon batter, 2 tablespoonfuls per croquette, approximately 1/8 of a cup, into the hot oil; fry for 2 minutes until the edges began to form bubbles and pop; after bubbles stop forming, gently flip the croquettes over and cook for another 2 minutes until golden brown

Remove cooked croquettes to a cooling rack over a sheet pan or to a plate lined with towels; serve immediately with lime wedges and sriracha, optional

Unlike my childhood, I sometimes make salmon croquettes and grits for dinner… with a side of garlicky sautéed broccoli rabe, turnips, or kale. I could make the dish more “elegant” with seared fresh salmon and creamy polenta enriched with Parmigiano Reggiano…. But WHY? I find the taste and smell of fresh salmon too fishy and I really dont like texture and flavor of fresh salmon.

Besides, too many modifications make the dish less about the comfort and the nostalgia that evokes the memories of childhood.

always in good T.A.S.T.E – cause you gottatastethis!

Posted in Breakfast, Fish/Seafood, Food .T.A.S.T.E. | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Having a summer fling….

My new love summer fling happened quite by accident… or maybe out of urgent necessity. My catering company – A TASTE Experience – was hosting a private dinner and one course included fresh white nectarines. I love nectarines. Summer, for me, does not officially start until I have had a perfectly ripe, juicy, and fragrant nectarine. They are one of the few fruits that I usually eat raw – out of hand or in salads. Heat destroys the delicate aroma and taste of nectarines. Some years, the crop does disappoint… and, even worse, the markets disappoint. The nectarines I purchased for the dinner were mealy… mushy… as if someone froze the fruit during their transport from trees to market. I could not serve them. With less than an hour from service, I sent out for more nectarines… and my catering assistant, not finding nectarines, brought me back peaches. I rinsed the fruit; cut a slice to taste; and I swear I heard a harpsichord.

The peaches tasted incredible!

I have never cared for fresh peaches because of the fuzz that covers them. I could not get around that cottony, dry, fuzzy texture on my tongue – especially since there was often a smooth-skinned nectarine waiting in the bin alongside the peaches. Years have come and gone and I have ignored seasons and seasons of fresh peaches. I am reliant on frozen peach slices for daiquiris, pies, smoothies, sorbets, and cobblers… and I had been okay with that – until now! The sweet, slightly acidity tang of the fresh fruit greatly outweighed the fuzz. I am not even sure if I felt the fuzz on my tongue that day. But I do remember the flavor. I remember how the flavor offset the richness of the crispy pork that it accompanied. I also remember thinking how I was now having a summer fling with fresh peaches.

I have been eating fresh peaches much like nectarines all summer – fresh, in salads, and occassionally on top of a bowl of cereal; shying away from heat and over processing. Somehow, the thought of baking them escaped me until just this past weekend. I knew their flavor would hold up better under heat than nectarines because I remember my Great-Grandma Alberta’s fresh peach preserves inside flaky fried pastry dough; I remember my Great-Grandma Emma’s peach cobbler. Some friends were coming for Sunday dinner and, while perusing the farmer’s market, I planned a peach and blueberry crostata for dessert. A crostata is a free-form rustic tart.


1 ¼ c all-purpose flour
1 stick unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
¼ c sliced almonds, optional
1 t kosher salt
2 – 3 T ice cold water
3 med fresh, ripe peaches, stone removed and cut into 8 wedges
¾ c blueberry compote
1 t fresh lemon zest
¼ c granulated sugar
2 T cornstarch
1 vanilla bean, split in half and seeds scraped out
1 egg, lightly beaten


In a food processor, combine the flour, kosher salt, vanilla bean seeds, and sliced almonds; pulse until the almonds are chopped; add chilled diced butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse beach sand with some bigger pieces of butter visible, approximately 10 seconds; slowly drizzle in iced water while pulsing until mixture looks like damp coarse beach sand, approximately 20 seconds; turn dough out onto a clean and lightly floured surface; quickly form into a ball; wrap in plastic; chill in the refrigerator for a hour

NOTE: You may not need all of the ice water; so do not add it all at once. You are just trying to dampen the flour to help the dough come together. You do not want to make batter and you do not want to over mix the dough.

Preheat oven to 375-degrees.
In a mixing bowl combine: peach slices, lemon zest, granulated sugar, and cornstarch; toss well until all peach is coated

After dough has chilled; roll it out on a lightly floured surface, parchment is ideal to assist in moving tart to a baking sheet after form: move the dough around to get a round shape; transfer the rolled out dough to a low rimmed baking sheet

Pour blueberry fruit compote in the middle of the dough; leaving a 2” border; pour peaches on the top of the compote, mounding the peaches in center of the tart

Fold border over edge of fruit; pleating all around the tart, press down gently to seal

Combine the beaten egg with a tablespoon of water to create an egg wash; brush the top of the dough with the egg wash; sprinkle with sugar

Bake crostata for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the fruit is bubbly and crust is a golden brown

Allow to cool or 30 minutes before serving with fresh whipped cream; ice cream; or soy vanilla ice cream

You do not need blueberry compote to make this crostata. I had some on hand and I did not want it to go to waste. You can easily substitute one cup of fresh blueberries or even blackberries and increase the sugar to 1/2 cup. The almonds in the crust are optional; leave them out or use another nut; sprinkle some on the outside of the crust as well, if you so desire. Once you master the method, which is super easy, you can exchange the fruit each season and get great results. You can even get fancy… and incorporate sweetened ricotta cheese into the filling or frangipane. Or, combine fresh tomatoes, herbs, and goat cheese to make a savory crostata.

Or… since they are only round for a limited time… and this season they are absolutely incredible… and since the opportunity to have a fling is about seizing the moment and enjoying the ride…. make a simple peach crostata.

always in good T.A.S.T.E – cause you gottatastethis!

Posted in Desserts, Food .T.A.S.T.E., Fruit, Vegetarian/Vegan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment