21 August 2007

Bacalao Guisado

Last night, we had one of my favorites, bacalao guisado. Guisado is Spanish for stew.

For a picture and recipe, see Rican Recipies. What my mother-in-law makes is very similar to this, except that she serves avocado and panas (both from our finca) on the side instead of tostones, and she used canned tomatoes.

A similar dish is pollo guisado, made with chicken instead of fish, with the addition of potatoes and sometimes bell peppers and a beer. Here's mama's:

02 August 2007

Pan de Luis Redux

After exchanging email with my online buddy, Chef Bob del Grosso, I modified the first attempt at Pan de Luis to incorporate some of his advice. I got some vital wheat gluten from Hodgson Mill to make up for the fact that I can't get bread flour here. Bread flour contains more gluten than AP flour, so adding gluten helps. Since I bought the gluten online, I wanted to get enough to justify the shipping cost. My wife thinks I went a little overboard, as I now have enough for about 170 loaves of bread. I also bought some instant yeast from Hodgson, since I can't get that here either.

I'm sure Bob's recipe is better than this one, but I decided to keep it simple. I'll get to his at some point.

Since my last attempt, I bought a scale; I now measure dry ingredients by weight. Since I bake more often these days, I've switched from kneeding the dough by hand to doing it in my KitchenAid stand mixer using the dough hook.

Click on the image to see it full size.

Here is the modified recipe. It makes two 2 pound (900 gram) loaves.
  • 1 kilogram AP flour
  • 30 grams vital wheat gluten
  • 9 grams salt
  • 26 ounces room-temperature water
  • 8.75 grams instant yeast
First make a poolish:
  • 340 grams AP flour
  • 3 grams gluten
  • 13 ounces room-temperature water
  • 1.5 grams instant yeast
  1. Combine the gluten, yeast, and flour in the KitchenAid work bowl and mix.
  2. Add the water, mix well.
  3. Cover with a towel, and let sit at room temperature for 5 hours
  4. Stir well and refrigerate overnight
The next day, I make the dough:
  • 660 grams AP flour
  • 33 grams gluten
  • 9 grams salt
  • 13 ounces room-temperature water
  • the remaining yeast
  1. Bring the poolish back to room temperature.
  2. Mix the yeast, gluten, salt, and flour.
  3. Add 26 ounces room-temperature water and the flour mixture to the work bowl with the biga.
  4. Kneed on medium speed for 10 minutes.
  5. Let rise in a slightly oiled bowl for 1 ½ hours, or until doubled in volume.
  6. Punch down, and fold on itself several times to redistribute the yeast.
  7. Let rise another hour, or until doubled in volume.
  8. Divide into 2 equal parts, and shape into loaves, and transfer to a lightly-oiled sheet pan that's dusted with corn meal.
  9. Let rise another hour covered with a towel.
  10. Preheat the oven to 500°F with an empty oven-proof pan in the oven.
  11. When the oven reaches 500°F, pour a cup of hot water in the pan, and close the oven door.
  12. Slash the top of each loaf several times and put the baking sheet in the oven
  13. After 10 minutes, lower the temperature to 475°F.
  14. Bake for 30 minutes more, or to an internal temperature of 200°F.
  15. Cool on a wire rack for at least an hour.

Click on the image to see it full size.

This bread freezes very well.

Lest you worry, I vacuum-bagged the rest of the gluten, so it should keep for a long time.

29 July 2007

Simply Ridículoso

The Food Network has a new show featuring a latina cook, Ingrid Hoffman. I had high hopes for the show, but it's a complete disappointment. She has the requisite Food Network large breasts (she seems to favor the right one: she's bursting out of her shirt, but oddly, no cleavage), but the cooking, skillful as it is, is as far from latino as I can imagine. Bottled lime juice? Que lastima.

"Surfing up a wave to some tunes, hang ten?" Por favor.

I suppose the requisite Food Network large breasts are history now that Amy won the Next Food Network Star: seeing her in a bikini put me off my feed.

26 July 2007

PETA: You're Dead, Save the Fish

You killed a policeman, and now they're going to kill you.

But can't we save the fish?

Showing remarkable sensitivity, PETA is urging Troy Davis, currently on death row, to set an example by "going vegetarian."

They want him to "...empathize with the innocent chickens, pigs, fish, and cows who are currently on death row for nothing more than people's fleeting taste for their flesh...."

Here is the press release with the letter they sent him. It brought tears to my eyes, and I'm sure to Troy's.

I suppose "going vegetarian" for three months won't kill him, and after that, he'll be dead anyway.

23 July 2007

Hugo-Size Me

McDonald's got rid of supersized sodas in 2004. Now, they proudly introduce the Hugo size: 42 ozs, 410 calories, and under $1.

As reported in the New York Times, it's for the customers: customers want choice claims Dayna Proud (no, really, that's her name); she does not want the Hugo compared to the identical Supersize sodas:

“That’s not what this is about,” she said. “You have to put it in context with the rest of our menu.”

Also from the article:

"Making matters worse, Hugo ads are available in several languages, making sure that minorities — who are disproportionately affected by the obesity epidemic — are aware of the budget beverage."

Fast food is very popular in Puerto Rico, and the fast food giants are all too eager to tap into this largely-uninformed market.

21 July 2007

Serious Pork

I read the Serious Eats blog every day. It's mostly silly, but occasionally, a good post shows up.

My problem with the site is their love of the the National Pork Board. Not only do they kiss up to this sponsor, they also have three or more huge and obnoxious ads on the Serious Eats front page. Distracting to say the least. This in not a problem for me; the best browsers (Firefox and Opera) make it very easy to block these ads.

When they do these kiss-up posts, they turn comments off. Why? Well, how likely is it that someone will comment "Yes! I love the National Pork Board!" And how likely is it that the comments would tend more towards "I hate these ads, please discontinue them with all possible haste?"

How can I enjoy a thought provoking post like "Crunchy or Soggy Cereal?" with all that pork?

I get it. I love pork. I eat it all the time. I don't need to be told how to cook it. Do we even need a National Pork Board? Until they start sponsoring my site, the answer is no.

20 July 2007


I make pizza every couple of weeks these days. When I started, I always did the dough completely by hand, under the misguided belief that what I was making was somehow more authentic. Now that I'm making pizza and bread more often, I've switched to my KitchenAid Ultra Power, which I haven't used in years.

What a fool I've been. Using the stand mixer makes the whole process much easier, and clean-up is the same. I doubt I'll be making dough by hand any timde soon.

These were done on a 23" baking sheet: the funny shape is so I can do 3 at a time. (Since I posted this, I was told by a chef friend that these are misshapen. Now I make one big pizza to fit the biggest baking pan I have.)

I also get much more consistent results since I started weighing the flour as opposed to measuring it by volume.

I usually cook pizza on a baking stone for best results, but if I'm in a hurry and want to make a lot of pizza, I cook it on a lightly oiled baking sheet dusted with corn meal.

To make pizza, you'll need:

  • pizza dough: buy it or use your favorite. Here's mine:
    • 750 grams bread flour
    • 3 grams yeast
    • 12 grams salt
    • 500 grams water
    • 48 grams olive oil
  • simple tomato sauce
  • toppings
The toppings I usually use include mozzarella and any combination of salume (Italian cured meat, almost always pork), mushrooms, sausage, peppers, and anchovies. I never use pineapple, chicken, bacon, goat cheese, or any other California affectation, because I'm going to hell as it is.
  1. Turn on your oven to as high as it goes. For me, that's 500F.
  2. Form the dough by hand into a rough round. If it springs back too much, let it rest for 10 more minutes and try again.
  3. If you're using a pizza peel to get the pizza onto a baking stone, dust the peel with coarse corn meal, and place the dough on the peel. If you're using a baking sheet, either lightly oil it and dust it with coarse corn meal, or cover it with parchment paper.
  4. Brush the dough with a little olive oil, avoiding the rim.
  5. Add enough tomato sauce to cover, but don't over do it.
  6. Add the toppings.
  7. Bake the pizza for 10 - 12 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly.

Chelada Estupida

The Miller Brewing Company makes a lot of crappy products, but this time they've outdone themselves. Introducing Miller Chill, a "chelada-style" beer with lime and salt mixed in.

Finally! A solution for those of you too stupid or too lazy to add lime to real Mexican beer!

Here's the Pacific Brew News Blog take on this fine new beer.

11 July 2007

Where Pork Comes From

Lechón asado is the national meat of Puerto Rico, and Guavate is the capital.

But, of course, we have pork all over the island. These pigs belong to my wife's cousin Jose about half a mile up the mountain from us. When it's time, he butchers them and sells them to the local lechoneras. I'm invited to the next slaughter, and yes, I'm going.

I'm happy to report that these pigs lead very happy lives (at least until that last day).

Cock Law

Yes, cockfighting is still legal here, but broadcasting it may not be. Even if it were illegal, how do you stop it? Roosters fight: it's what they do. This was my favorite rooster, a naked-neck. He won the fight. When it became clear that he wasn't going to survive our construction guy cooked and ate him.

Update: Lest people get the impression that I fight roosters, I most assuredly do not. This rooster was in a territorial fight with a neighbor's rooster.

07 July 2007

Demon Rum

This is Flaco, our neighbor from across the street (the picture was taken from our balcon). Apparently, he had a tough night, since it's now 8 AM. A reliable witness tells me that someone dropped him off, he took two steps, and collapsed. He's about 3 feet from the street. I hope he doesn't roll over.

I don't guess that concrete makes a very good mattress, but when I suggested to my wife that she get him a cinder block for a pillow, she declined.

Update: Flaco got up an hour later, and entered the house, apparently no worse for wear. I'm guessing he'll sleep most of the day.

30 June 2007

I Hate the Rich

I hate the rich. Mark Bittman, a food guy, writes:

"It seems it's necessary to visit Venice every few years"

I can't afford to go to Venice even once, let alone every few years. Thanks, Mark, for rubbing my nose in it.

"What I ate was super: black sea bass ravioli in mussel-clam broth, beautifully hand shaped and pinched on top, like dim sum; perfect black barley risotto with mushrooms, zucca (pumpkin) purée, and a couple of first-rate grilled scampi; grilled octopus on a bed of potatoes mashed with olive oil, along with cold, slow-cooked tomato — a surprising touch that worked — and a garnish of lardo (cured fat) tangled with a wafer of black bread; zucca saor (saor is the local marinade, usually of raisins, pine nuts, oil, vinegar and onion) with thin fried slices of artichoke and soft shell crab."

I know what zucca is, and I know what lardo is. I eat a lot of food that's "super," but I'll never get to Italy, my ancestral homeland.

Your obsession with black is freaking me out:
  • black sea bass ravioli
  • black barley risotto with mushrooms
  • a wafer of black bread
And how do you "tangle" bread with fat?

By the way, How to Cook Everything is my favorite cookbook.

29 June 2007

Puerto Rican Fruit Predudice

Does this guy hate Puerto Rican fruit?
  • Papaya: a dirty word in Cuba
  • Avocado: a chick fruit
  • Pineapple: like a retired uncle telling about the one that got away
  • Banana: Relegated to a lower class existence of crude, frat boy jokes and slapstick humor
These are all staple fruits in Puerto Rico (although I don't think any are native). We love the stuff.
  • Pineapple and Papaya: a little salt, and you're good to go. Best eaten immediately after picking.
  • Avocado: a great accompaniment to any meal. Slice and eat.
  • Banana: are you kidding?

Taking Food Saftey Too Seriously

The Department of Nutrition and Food Science College of Agriculture University of Kentucky seems to be a bit to cautious when it comes too food safety.

"The good news is this strain of E. coli is destroyed by heat.  Cooking ground beef products to 1600 F in the center will kill E. coli 0157:H7".

Just don't cook it in a glass baking dish: it will melt.

22 June 2007


Bacalaitos are salt cod fritters, a traditional Puerto Rican snack that we typically have as an entire meal. Bacalaitos are served at the beach, at ball games, and at festivals all over the island. Bacalaitos are crisp on the outside and dense and chewy in the inside. Many people use baking powder for a lighter fritter; we don't.

1/2 lb bacalao (dried salt cod) +
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup water
1 envelope Sazón *
vegetable oil for frying

  1. Soak the bacalao for 8 hours, or simmer in boiling water for 15 minute to remove some of the salt.
  2. Mix all ingredients to form a batter (about the consistency of pancake batter).
  3. Ladle the batter into a medium-hot frying pan with vegetable oil and cook until browned on both sides, turning once only.
+Bacalao is not the same as the Italian bacala, which is stiff as a board and requires a couple of days or more of soaking, with several changes of water. Bacalao is closer to ready-to-cook: it has been presoaked. Neither is it always cod. Cod supplies vary, so sometimes bacalao is pollack (a relative of cod).

*A 100% natural and organic product from Goya which contains mono sodium glutamate, salt, dehydrated garlic, cumin, yellow dye #5, tricalcium phosphate (an anti-caking agent), coriander, annatto (color), red dye #40.

21 June 2007

Distant Drums in the Distance

Mario Batali is not happy with some food bloggers.

Adam Roberts, aka "the Amateur Gourmet" rebuts this with supreme elegance, in his post "In Defense of Food Blogging":

"Because of our varying voices, our palpable passions, and—most important—our lack of editorial control, we are the distant drums in the distance growing closer and closer, our torches waving, our laptops poised for posting. Mario will disagree, but I think food blogs are the best thing to happen to food journalism in a long time."

Saint Christopher protect us! The drums are coming! They have torches, and they're waving them! The laptops are ready to post without human intervention! Soon, desktop computers will join them! And - most important - we have no editorial control!

Clearly, food blogs are "the best thing to happen to food journalism in a long time." If this doesn't convince Mario, well, I guess I don't know what will.

14 June 2007

Batali Talks About Blogs

Mario Batali writes a blog for

He makes a lot of good points, and though he's talking about food blogs, a lot of it applies to other blogs.

09 June 2007

Organic Beer

There is a growing market for organic beer these days. Is that a good thing?

Probably not. In order to be labeled "organic." a product must contain 95% organic ingredients.

As reported in the LA Times, Anheuser-Busch is now marketing Wild Hop lager, an "organic" beer that contains hops grown the conventional way: with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

  • Update 25 July 2007: To their credit, Anheuser-Busch has apparently found a source, and now uses 100% organic hops in Wild Hop.

The USDA is in the process of evaluating 38 other non-organic ingredients that could go into organic foods. Only foods and beverages labeled "100% organic" are truly organic. So a sausage made with 100% organic meat but non-organic casing can be labeled "organic."

Kind of defeats the purpose, don't it?

02 June 2007

Papaya y Medalla

For you gringos, papaya rhymes with Medalla, a popular beer on the island. I don't usually drink beer when I'm eating papaya: the beer is there to show scale.

There are lots of varieties of papaya here, but these are probably descendant of the Mexican type. Our neighbor has a few papaya trees, and lets us take what we want. The big one in the picture is 17 inches long.

We're big fans of papaya, either as a snack, or made into a smoothie.

Here's a smoothie recipe:

2 cups chopped peeled papayas
1 cup mango
1 ripe banana
1/2 cup yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
juice of 1/2 lemon or lime

Mix in a blender until smooth.

31 May 2007

Yuppie chow, yuppie chow grow

According to this, buying food labeled "organic" does not mean what it used to. The big US agra-businesses now own most organic brands, and they handle, package, transport, and market it in much the same way conventional food is produced, with the same effect on the environment.

In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan makes the point that organic asparagus flown from South America on a jet is not the best thing for the planet, and kind of defeats the purpose of eating organic.

I'm sure there's plenty of locally grown organic food around, but I wouldn't look for it at your local Whole Foods.

29 May 2007

Latina Gets Food Network Show

Ingrid Hoffmann, born in Colombia and now living in Miami, has been cooking on Spanish TV for a couple of years. She now has her own English-language show on the Food Network: Simply Delicioso airs on Saturday mornings starting July 14.

Hoffmann's focus is on quick meals. She says "If it takes more than 29 minutes, I'm not interested," beating the much-hated Rachael Ray by a full minute.

Hoffmann is the first Latina to have her own Food Network show.

27 May 2007

Love Charcuterie, Hate Amazon

A couple of weeks ago, I ruined a 10-pound pork shoulder using an Italian sausage recipe I got on the Internet. Yes, there are many bad recipes out there, and this one was bad. I immediately ordered Charcuterie, the Art of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. It's a masterful work. I read the Italian sausage through a couple of time, and found out what I was doing wrong. Everything, from temperature of ingredients to mixing technique. I will try again in a week or so.

Ruhlman Inspired Me is a lovely parody story about the book.

I would have received the book earlier, but I ordered it from Amazon, and their shipping policy to Puerto Rico is nothing short of bizarre. Not only can you not specify  the shipper,  they won't even tell you who it is until after the shipment goes out. Puerto Rico is served by the USPS, as well as FedEx and UPS, but the address changes depending on the shipper. It's a PO Box for USPS, and a physical address for anyone else. Amazon also refuses to ship just about anything but books to Puerto Rico. There is no reason but laziness for this, since I buy kitchen gear from American companies all the time. I still use Amazon for books, because I have little alternative.

20 May 2007

Foodsaver 750

A friend of mine gave me this; she found it much to difficult to use, but as a techno-geek, I love it. I've wanted one for years, but my wife was always against it (she is not happy with many of my technological choices). Foodsaver no longer makes the 750, and that's a shame.

Still, it's great for freezing bananas, fresh bread crumbs, nuts, and anything not too liquid (tomato sauce does not work well). It sucks out all the air (the enemy of all food storage).

17 May 2007

What a Croc!

OK, this is not exactly about food, but since it features one of my heros, Mario Batali, it's close enough.

Mario is now endorsing a new line of Crocs™, the Bistro model, said to be designed for food service industry professionals. Mario, of course, has been wearing his signature-orange Crocs™ for years.

The original Crocs™ model is the Beach (I think this is what Mario has worn up until now) and I have three pair of these in the most fashionable colors:

These shoes are very comfortable on tile-over-concrete floors, which is nearly every floor in Puerto Rico. They are also ideal for harvesting bananas when the ground is muddy. Crocs™ are very popular here.

The new Bisto looks very much like the Beach, but it's $10 more per pair. I'll stick with the Beach.

16 May 2007

Have it Our Way

While Burger King is phasing out trans fats from its NYC and Philadelpha locations, and that's it, at least for now. The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest doesn't think that's enough. The CSPI is suing.

"Some of its meals contain three, four, or five times as much trans fat as is safe to consume in an entire day. I hope that this lawsuit will spur Burger King to quickly eliminate the trans fat and, in the meantime, to warn its customers that it's there."

This is a huge issue in Puerto Rico, where income is generally low, and fast food is considered by many to be a treat. With the availability of so much generally-healthy street food here, it's hard to imagine why anyone would buy this crap, but they do.

15 May 2007


Mark Bittman's review of the Portuguese restaurant Santo appeared in the NYT a couple of days ago.

I really like Mark Bittman, and his book, How to Cook Everything is one of my favorites.

He mentions bacalao several times as a Portuguese dish, but I believe, in fact, he means bacalhau. Bacalao is the Spanish version of the dish, and baccalà the Italian. As an Italian American, I grew up eating baccalà, and as a Puerto Rican resident, I'm very familiar with bacalao (most often served as bacalaitos, cod fritters).

14 May 2007

Guanábana Tea

Whenever I have stomach problems, which fortunately is not often, my mother-in-law make me Guanábana (soursop in English) tea, made by infusing the leaves in hot water. We have several Guanábana trees in our yard, so we have a ready supply of leaves all year long. Tastes awful. Works great.

13 May 2007


Manicotti is made the same way as Stuffed Shells, except the pasta is made as follows:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 eggs
Mix the batter, and let stand for twenty minutes. Ladle about 1/2 cup into a lightly buttered saute pan. Cook until the noodle firms up, flip, and cook for a few more seconds. You do not want the noodles to brown.

Use the cheese filling and assembly steps from the Stuffed Shells recipe.

Stuffed Shells

It's Mother's day, and that means stuffed shells.

I make both meat and cheese stuffed shells. The following amounts are for 3 pounds of shells, half meat and half cheese, and need about 8 cups of tomato sauce.

For the cheese:
  • 3 pounds ricotta
  • 2 pounds mozzarella
  • 1 pound Parmigiano Regiano
  • 3 eggs
  • salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and refrigerate.

For the meat:
  • 3 pounds ground beef
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 pound mozzarella
Cook the meat, onion, and garlic until the meat is brown and the onion is soft. Remove excess fat. Cool, then add the rest of the ingredients and mix.

For both:

  • 8 ounces Parmigiano Regiano to finish

    Assemble the shells:
    1. Cook the shells, half at a time, according to the package directions, then spread them out on a cookie sheet or aluminum foil so they don't stick together.
    2. Cover the bottom of a baking dish (I use disposable aluminum pans) with tomato sauce.
    3. Stuff the shells with a spoon, and add in one layer to the pan.
    4. Cover with more tomato sauce.
    5. Sprinkle with Parmigiano Regiano
    6. Bake at 350F for 45 minutes or until bubbly.
  • 07 May 2007

    NASCAR Cooks! Mario Helps!

    NASCAR is creating a brand extension for its food-related licensees and sponsors -- NASCAR Cooks! -- that will bring them together as part of a uniform selling platform.

    Dyer [NASCAR's vice president of licensing], anticipates that noted chef Mario Batali, who wrote "Mario Tailgates NASCAR Style," will figure into NASCAR Cooks!.

    First Mario publishes a book about tailgating. Then he endorses a line of Progresso frozen pasta products. What's next for America's best-know Italian chef?

    And do I really need cooking advice from NASCAR?

    13 April 2007


    Alcapurrias are fritters made with green bananas and yautia (a starchy tuber, similar to taro), and stuffed with a beef filling.

    Alcapurrias are made at home, and are also typically sold at little league baseball games, fairs, at the beach, and more. Alcapurrias are not difficult to make, but they are very time consuming (grating the bananas and yautia). They are inexpensive, since we grow the green bananas and yautia on our property.

    Carol is in charge of the food kiosk at the little league this week, and she found a woman who makes excellent alcapurrias in her home for a living. She sells them to small businesses in the area, and to anyone else who knows about her. She sells a box of 24 for $9; it's not likely that we will make them again ourselves. Nonetheless, here's how:

    • 2 pounds green bananas
    • 2 pounds yautia
    • 2 tablespoons salt
    • 2 packages Goya sofrito
    1. Peel and grate the bananas and yautia to form a paste.
    2. Make a filling of whatever you like; typically ground beef with onions, garlic, and olives.
    3. To form, put a little vegetable oil on a dinner plate, put about 2 tablespoons of the paste on the plate, make an impression in the paste and fill it with 1 teaspoon of the stuffing. Use a spoon to form the paste around the stuffing.
    4. Fry in vegetable oil over medium heat until golden.

    15 March 2007

    Banana Bread

    We grow lots of bananas on our property, and we often have more than we know what to do with.

    I decided to make banana bread using the recipe from How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman. This has become my go-to cookbook for all kinds of food. The recipes are simple, and always good. Bittman says that the dried, unsweetened coconut is the key to this bread, but I couldn't find any so I left it out, and added more banana to make up the volume. It's ironic that I can't find coconut, since I have a coconut palm not 10 feet from my house, but all the stores carry is the sweetened stuff. The recipe also calls for ½ cup of whole-wheat flour, which I didn't have; I used all-purpose.

    This makes 2 loaves using 5" by 7" baking pans, or 18 muffins.

    Dry ingredients:
    • 4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 3 teaspoons baking powder
    • 2 teaspoons salt
    Mix these in a large bowl

    Wet ingredients:
    • 4 eggs, beaten
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 6 very ripe bananas
    • 1 ½ cups sugar
    • 2 sticks butter, creamed
    For the end:
    • 1 cup chopped walnuts
    • 1 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
    Mash the bananas. I do this with a pastry blender, but you can also use a fork. Combine the banana with the other wet ingredients, then add the wet to the dry, mixing just enough to combine. Don't over mix.

    Mix in the coconut and walnuts.

    Divide the batter into 2 greased pans and bake for 45 minutes to an hour at 350F. When done, a toothpick sould come out fairly clean (sometimes not entirely, since the bread is so moist).

    Banana Muffins

    You can also make muffins using this same recipe. Butter the muffin tin, or use muffin papers.

    Makes 18 muffins

    02 March 2007


    Whenever I make tomato sauce, I also make meatballs.

    Note that I use only beef. Most people will suggest that you use some combination of beef, pork, and veal, but I cook the way my mother taught me.
    • 2 lbs ground beef
    • 1 small onion minced
    • 2 cloves garlic minced
    • 2 eggs
    • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Regiano cheese
    • 2 cups fresh Italian bread crumbs
    • extra-virgin olive oil for frying
    • salt and pepper
    I make meatballs in two different sizes: a little bigger than a golf ball for tomato sauce, or about the size of a marble for soup.
    1. Mix all ingredients except the olive oil in a bowl. Don't over mix.
    2. Brown meatballs on all sides in olive oil, or bake at 350F for 25 minutes.
    3. Finish cooking the meatballs in tomato sauce for an hour or two.

    Tomato Sauce

    I make two basic tomato sauces: a simple one without meat for pizza, calzones, and nearly anything else you can think of, and a long-cooking meat sauce for pasta.

    Simple Tomato Sauce

    I make a very simple tomato sauce for pizza:
    • 2 28 ounce cans whole, peeled tomatoes.
    • 6 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 large onion, minced
    • extra-virgin olive oil
    • salt and pepper
    1. Heat the oil and add the onion and garlic to soften. Do not brown.
    2. Add the tomatoes, and break them up with a fork.
    3. Add salt and pepper to taste.
    4. Simmer for 45 minutes with the pot loosely covered: you want some of the liquid to evaporate. If you want, puree the sauce with an stick blender (I always do). You can also do this in a counter-top blender.

    Here's my mighty 2-piece stick blender. It's a Cuisinart, of course.

    Sunday Tomato Sauce

    OK, you can make this any day of the week, but it takes a long time (5+ hours, mostly unattended), so Sunday is a good choice for me.

    This is an Italian tomato sauce as I've been making it for 30 years. It evolved from my mother's sauce: I still go to her constantly for recipes and cooking advice.

    I know it's bad karma to use dried herbs, but if it was good enough for mom, it's good enough for me.

    This long-cooked sauce (some might call it a sugo), of course, is for pasta. You can make a much simpler sauce for pizza (shown at the top of the page) and that sauce works for pasta as well.

    I'm often asked if this sauce can be made with turkey sausage. Of course not.
    • 3 large onions, chopped
    • olive oil
    • 6 cloves minced garlic
    • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
    • 1 tablespoon dried basil
    • salt and pepper to taste
    • 1 or more cups red wine
    • 1 6 pound 10 ounce can San Marsano whole tomatoes (I get these at Costco).
    • 3 lbs Italian Sausage (sweet, hot, or a combination)
    • 1 recipe meatballs
    Since I'm cooking for seven, I always make double this recipe. You need a very large sauce pot (I use a 16-quart with a thick bottom). It makes enough for at least 6 pounds of pasta. It's enough for at least four meals for seven people, with meatballs and sausages left over for sandwiches. I freeze sauce and meat in 1-gallon freezer bags.
    1. Heat the sauce pot, and add enough olive oil to about 1/8"
    2. Add the onions, and immediately add salt. You want to soften the onions, not color them, and salt will draw out water. Stir occasionally.
    3. Add the garlic. Stir.
    4. Remove the casings from four or five Italian sausages, and add the meat to the pot. Break up the sausage with a wooden spoon, and brown.
    5. Add the oregano, basil, and bay leaves. Stir.
    6. Add the red wine, and simmer for five minutes.
    7. Add the San Marsano tomatoes. This will cool the pot enough for you to crush the tomatoes with your hands. Work quickly, or take the pot off the heat.
    8. Brown the remaining sausages in olive oil and set aside.
    I generally cook this sauce (covered) for six hours (at least four), adding the browned sausages and meatballs an hour before serving. Use the lowest heat possible, and stir frequently. Add water when the sauce gets too thick.

    Serve the sauce over pasta; spaghetti, ziti, riggatoni, and most dried pastas work well. Serve with Parmigianno Reggiano and crushed red pepper to taste. Use left-over meatballs and sausages for sandwiches.

    14 February 2007

    Pan de Luis

    We have two basic fresh breads (pan is Spanish for bread) in Puerto Rico: Pan de Agua and Pan Sobao. Pan de Agua is a basic bread, similar to Italian or French bread, but with a softer crust, and a tight, soft crumb. Pan Sobao is richer, with shortening and sugar. Again, soft texture.

    While these are both fabulous breads, I am Italian-American, and I miss the crusty bread I grew up with. I decided to make my own.

    I've made bread many times before, but two things are different here: you can't get unbleached flour, and you can't get instant yeast. Instant yeast is fool-proof: you mix it with the flour and salt, add the water, and you're done. Here, I can only get active dry yeast, which is more temperamental. You need to proof it in warm water for 10 minutes before adding additional ingredients. If you don't get bubbles, the yeast is dead. Start over. As to the flour, I can only get bleached, enriched flour here. The nearest Whole Foods in 1,400 miles away.

    I found several recipes for bread on the Internet and settled on this:

    I made a biga, with 1/2 teaspoon of yeast proofed in one cup of warm water, and one and 1 1/2 cups of flour. I let this sit at room temperature for five hours, then put it in the refrigerator overnight.

    The next day:

    1. Proof one package of active dry yeast in two cups of warm water.
    2. Add five cups of flour, a little at a time, along with two teaspoons of salt.
    3. Add the biga, knead for 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.
    4. Let rise in a slightly oiled bowl for one and 1/2 hours, or until doubled in volume.
    5. Punch down, and fold on itself several times to redistribute the yeast.
    6. Let rise another hour, or until doubled in volume again.
    7. Shape into a loaf, and transfer to a lightly-oiled sheet pan that's dusted with corn meal.
    8. Preheat the oven to 375F with a oven-proof pan of water in the oven. Bake for an hour. The internal temperature should be 200F.
    9. Let rest for at least 20 minutes. Slice and eat. This bread freezes very well.

    03 January 2007


    As luck would have it, shortly after I finished my first blog, my mother-in-law (Carmen) sent me up the last of the Christmas pasteles. Pasteles are somewhat similar to Mexican tamales, but instead of corn for the massa we use Puerto Rican staples.

    Pasteles are incredibly time consuming to make, and are therefor typically served only around the holidays, especially Christmas and Three Kings Day. This particular batch was made by Carmen's niece, who lives half a mile up the mountain from us.

    Pasteles start with the massa, or paste. This is made up of grated green bananas, yautia, platanos, calabaza, and potato. All of these (except the potato) come from our property, and are our contribution to the feast. You then add achiote for color.You smear some of the massa onto a banana leaf into a rough rectangle, and spoon some pork filling into the middle. The pork filling has green olives with pimentos, tomato, garlic, garbanzos, and spices. You then fold up the banana leaf so that the massa completely encloses the filling, then tie the leaf with string.

    You cook the pasteles in a pot of slowly-boiling water for about half an hour. They freeze beautifully (unwrap them first).

    Here is a reasonable recipe at Rican Recipes. It's slightly different from what we do, but close enough, except they suggest using a food processor to save time. I tried that with my trusty 11-cup, and it's now in Cuisinart heaven.

    You either love pasteles or you hate them. I love them; my Puerto Rican wife hates them. I can't wait until next year.

    01 January 2007

    About Cocina Luis

    Cocina means both kitchen and cookery in Spanish. My name is Lou, but everyone here calls me Luis.

    This is about food in Puerto Rico. It's not necessarily about Puerto Rican food, although there's lots of that, but more about what we eat here. Food is a challenge here for me, an Italian-American having lived in the Boston area for the last twenty years. Now that I live in Puerto Rico, I realize the wealth and diversity of ingredients I took for granted. The nearest Whole Foods is 1,400 miles away, and all my salumi and Italian cheeses come shipped over night from sympathetic family and friends on the mainland.

    Not that we don't have abundant and wonderful ingredients here: we do. On our six acres alone we have pineapple, yuca, bread fruit, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, plantains, yams, and several types of bananas. All the grocery stores carry pork, beef, and chicken, but we're lucky to find Italian sausage once a month.

    Why the lack of culinary diversity? I suppose it's because of the lack of cultural diversity. Nearly everyone here is Puerto Rican. We don't have Italian, Greek, Armenian, Chinese, Korean, or middle-eastern neighborhoods here, so there's no real demand for the food of those cultures.

    We also don't have ethnic restaurants (I don't count the fast-food faux Mexican and Chinese places). I haven't had pizza in two years, let alone gyros, falafel, pad Thai, dim sum, bagels, lox, and many, many others. Oddly enough, I can get great Sushi.

    I should mention that I live in Aguas Buenas in the central-mountain region of Puerto Rico. I'm sure many of the foods I mentioned are available in San Juan and some of the bigger cities, but we seldom go there. Caguas is the closest "big" city, and that's where we do most of our shopping. Caguas also has a lot of American fast-food restaurants, such as McDonald's, Burger King, Churches Chicken, and more, but I was never a fan of fast food; I simply won't eat that stuff.

    As I mentioned, this as about what we eat here. My mother-in-law is a great Puerto Rican cook, and I have my Italian-American specialties. Now that I'm retired (at the tender age of 50), I am experimenting with any kind of food I can make with the ingredients available.