Bites & Pieces: Barks and Bostons Edition

We bought Pinta from the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm last December. Just kidding–it was Howling Hill Kennel, a local breeder of small small breed dogs (Bostons and Pugs). I appreciated the advice regarding rescue dogs from NoVA and, I think Goose. Sadly, the local links ranged as far as N. Carolina and so there were very few Bostons available in this area.

Pinta means painted or spotted in Spanish. The name fit for a Boston Terrier. She’s actually named for a rice and beans dish from Central America called Gallo Pinto (spotted rooster). As ours is a female, the appropriate name was Pinta. All we need to do is pick up a boy, who will of course be called Gallo. Well, that or Bilbo. I figure hobbit names work well for small dogs.

Pinta came home from the kennel with a bag of kibble (which we later determined is Costco’s small breed dog food). We had been feeding her that for the first 7 months we had her along with treats. Then we went to Costa Rica for several weeks. A friend of ours cared for her until I returned. As part of caring for Pinta, she fed her a canned dog food to keep her happy. I returned on my own for four weeks. There were a number of containers left, so I took to giving Pinta a bit in the morning when I left and a bit more in the evening when I came back home. Then I ran out…

What to do? I didn’t want to buy a bunch of expensive dog food and it struck me that it’s something one could make. I hit the web and looked through a few recipes. This was going to be a supplement to her main diet, so I wasn’t worried about making a complete food. Just something that would be a bit of a treat when I left in the morning, but one that is nutritionally appropriate.

It takes a couple of hours to make, but there’s not much active work and one batch makes enough to last for a couple of months. The essentials are meat, rice, and veggies. I went with chicken for the meat. Chicken quarters are inexpensive and the bones are useful for making stock. I suppose I could break down whole chickens and save the breast meat for human food.

I got mixed messages regarding rice. Brown rice is good, because it has additional nutrients. No no no. Brown is bad, because it’s harder to digest. I split the difference in the end. I used a sweet brown rice (the bag your own bin at Whole Foods), but I cook it an extra step. I’m a fan of risotto, so I thought that might work. I cook the rice in our rice cooker and then cook it further with chicken stock so that it gets a risotto like texture. For veggies, I use carrots and peas. Onions are verboten as they can be toxic to dogs. I don’t use a commercial stock as onions are certain to be used and I’d rather not deal with doggie indigestion.Although this isn’t our dog’s primary food, I add a vitamin supplement and some Omega 3 oil. Once everything is mixed together, I freeze it in one cup portions. I can transfer one down to the fridge in the evening and it’ll be defrosted by morning. On days when she’s alone, I give Pinta about 1/3 cup when I leave in the morning and a similar amount in the evening.

The basic approach works pretty well with other proteins. I was cooking salmon recently and had some trimmings after I made filets. That made a nice small batch of Pinta food. Likewise, I had a chuck roast that I used for a Trieste goulash. Grind the smaller pieces and use them for a beef based version of this dish.


Five pound bag of chicken leg and thigh quarters

Two cups chopped or shredded carrots

One pound bag of frozen peas, defrosted

Two cups of sweet brown rice

Nutritional supplements


1. Cook rice. I put rice and three cups of water in a rice cooker and let the machine do the work.

2.  Remove skin from chicken quarters and separate meat from bone. Make stock from the bones, ~6 cups of water, several stalks of celery and a couple of carrots. Do not use onions as these are slightly toxic to dogs. Bring up to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for about an hour. You should get about four cups of stock. Strain and return to pot.

3. Use a meat grinder or food processor to make ground chicken. If using a food processor, cut the chicken into large pieces (1” – 2”) and put in freezer for 15 minutes. This is a method I use for ground beef (taken from Cooks Illustrated).

4. Add a bit of oil to a large, heavy bottomed pot and heat slightly. Add the ground chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes. No need to cook it completely, just take an edge off the rawness. Add the carrots and peas, stir and add a couple cups of hot broth. It’s not a bad idea to defrost the peas in the microwave and chop in the food processor.

5. When the rice is done, add to the pot with the remaining two cups of broth. Simmer until the broth is absorbed. You’re going for a risotto like consistency. I read conflicting information about digesting brown rice, so decided to break it down further. Whole Foods has sweet brown rice, which is short grain and hence suitable for this kind of dish.

6. Add the softened rice to the chicken and vegetables and stir. Cook uncovered until the broth is mostly absorbed. Stir in nutritional supplement. These vary quite a bit, so use your judgement as to the right amount. I use a combination of a NutriVet and Omega 3 oils.

This makes about four quarts of dog food. I freeze in one cup quantities. Move to the refrigerator the day before and it defrosts nicely. I reheat to room temperature in the microwave before serving.

Pinta at 3 Weeks


Pinta at 6 Months


Pinta at 1 Year


Open Thread Plus Bites & Pieces

I’m still catching up from last week’s news and propaganda but I did read a couple of pieces that I thought were pretty interesting.

This was from the AP Friday.

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Abortion is still legal but getting one in many states will be difficult if laws passed this year are upheld by the courts. In a march through conservative legislatures, anti-abortion Republicans passed a wave of new restrictions that would sharply limit when a woman could terminate a pregnancy and where she could go to do so.

The push brought the anti-abortion movement closer to a key milestone, in which the procedure would become largely inaccessible in the three-fifths of the country controlled by Republicans even if still technically legal under Roe vs. Wade.

But rather than continuing to roll across the GOP heartland in synch with the pro-life movement’s plan, the effort may now be hitting a wall. The obstacle comes not from opposing Democrats but from GOP leaders who believe pressing further is a mistake for a party trying to soften its harder edges after election losses last year.

The resisting Republicans include governors and top legislators in more than a half-dozen states, including some of the largest and most politically competitive in the party’s 30-state coalition. They are digging in to stop the barrage of abortion proposals, hoping to better cultivate voters not enamored with the GOP’s social agenda.


This one’s a little long but a fascinating read on our 40 year war against marijuana.  I don’t indulge but it’s pretty clear, I think, that it’s time to change our policies.  I loved this Nixon quote.

President Nixon had already made up his mind. In May 1971 he told H.R. Haldeman, “I want a goddamn strong statement about marijuana. Can I get that out of this sonofa-bitching, uh, domestic council? I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them.” And Nixon told Shafer directly, “You’re enough of a pro to know that for you to come out with something that would run counter to what the Congress feels and what the country feels, and what we’re planning to do, would make your commission just look bad as hell.”


I’m pretty sure this isn’t going anywhere but it’s the thing I’ve been talking about since 2009…………..jeeze.  Medicare for all.  Here’s the money quote that makes it dead on arrival.

“Paradoxically, by expanding Medicare to everyone we’d end up saving billions of dollars annually,” he said. “We’d be safeguarding Medicare’s fiscal integrity while enhancing the nation’s health for the long term.”

Friedman said the plan would be funded by maintaining current federal revenues for health care and imposing new, modest tax increases on very high income earners. It would also be funded by a small increase in payroll taxes on employers, who would no longer pay health insurance premiums, and a new, very small tax on stock and bond transactions.


And since we have peppers coming out of our ears (garden) here I thought I’d post my Baked Jalapeno Poppers recipe.

I use a combination of whatever peppers we have in the garden.  I can usually get about 15 to 18 poppers from this recipe.

Slice peppers in half lengthwise and remove seeds and membrane.  I like to leave part of the stem on.


8 oz cream cheese

1 1/2 cup mozarella, jack or pepper jack cheese

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp or less cayenne

Stuff peppers with cheese mixture.

Bowl one:  1/2 cup seasoned flour

Bowl two:  2 eggs

Bowl three:  1 cup seasoned bread crumbs (I use plain bread crumbs and season them myself)

Seasoning:  salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper and Mexican oregano to taste.  I just wing it and add to both flour and bread crumbs.

Roll peppers in flour, then dip in egg and finally dredge with bread crumbs.  Refrigerate several hours and then bake in a 350 oven for about 1/2 hour……………..yummy

Bites & Pieces…Weekend Edition

I learned something this week; Brent enjoys the Bites & Pieces posts.  Well, in that case here we go.

Oooops, he and I don’t have much in common except that he’s a Democrat when it comes to social issues, and I’m pretty sure our food tastes will be as out of sync as our belief in the free market.

I’ve described myself as a grazer and I wasn’t kidding.  I offered up my kale and pine nut salad and he didn’t jump at the offer so I think I’ll offer up my prime rib, Yorkshire pudding and spinach soufflé instead.  I’d throw in my blueberry cheese cake but he’d probably have a heart attack and you guys would blame me for the loss of our Morning Report.

I only serve this meal once a year……… maybe, and I generally make a big salad to go with it so I can keep from starving to death while I watch everyone else inhale their dinner.

Prime Rib

Minimum 3 rib standing roast of quality, we buy prime.  The weight doesn’t matter and I’ve actually purchased a roast of only 2 ribs before and the recipe works.  You can have the butcher cut the bones away and reattach with string if you want.

Generously season the entire surface of roast.  We like a Monterey seasoning but you can use anything you want as long as it includes some salt.  Be creative.

Bring roast to room temperature and pre-heat oven to 375.  Place roast in roasting pan with a rack under it.  Put roast in oven, uncovered, and roast for 1 hour.  Turn oven off.

Leave roast in oven, with door closed until guests arrive or about 45 minutes before you want to serve dinner.  Do Not Open Oven Door and the roast must be in the oven for at least 2 hours after first roasting before you turn the oven on to finish.  It can stay in longer though.

Turn oven on to 375 and continue roasting; 35 minutes for rare, 45 minutes for medium or 55 minutes for well done.

I leave it in for 45 minutes and the outside pieces are medium and inside is medium rare.  Everyone around here says that’s perfect.

Serve with creamed horse radish sauce.  I used packaged au jus mix or brown/onion gravy for the meat and the Yorkshire pudding.  There won’t be enough drippings in the pan to make au jus or gravy generally.

Yorkshire Pudding (makes 12 muffins)


1 cup milk

1 cup flour

6 eggs

1 tsp salt

Vegetable shortening


Mix milk, flour, eggs and salt until well blended.  Refrigerate for at least two hours.

Spray muffin pan with Pam and put ¼ tsp of Crisco into each muffin tin.  Place pan in oven and heat in oven at 400 until Crisco is melted and quite hot.  Ladle cold liquid evenly between 12 muffins, quickly while pan is hot.  Bake at 400 for about 25-30 minutes until the Yorkshire is puffed up and brown.

Let muffins sit in the pan for about 5 minutes before removing as it’s easier to get them out.  Don’t skip the Crisco or spraying the pan.  They will fall as they cool but that’s normal.  There will still be little hollow places inside.

Spinach Souffle


1 cube butter or margarine

6 eggs

6 tbs flour

2 boxes chopped frozen spinach (defrosted and drained well)

2 lbs. cottage cheese

½ lb. American cheese (cubed)

Combine all ingredients in a round and deep baking dish and bake for one hour at 350.

If you only have one oven (I actually have two) you can cook the spinach with the roast at 375 for a little less time.  While the roast and spinach sit put the Yorkshire in.

As I mentioned, this is not a light or diet friendly dinner so be warned, but our family and friends look forward to it every time I say “that’s what’s for dinner”.  It’s generally a holiday or special occasion meal.  If you want to cut back on the fat content, save the spinach for another meal and have green beans instead….hahaha

Bites and Pieces: Eat Your Sprouts

Brussels sprouts have a well-deserved reputation amongst children for being one of the nastier things they’re forced to choke down. They manage to combine insipid flavor with a mealy texture. You can imagine my surprise when my wife came back from a trip gushing over these amazing Brussels sprouts she’d had. She went to a place in Kansas City called PizzaBella. They roast Brussels sprouts with pancetta, cranberries, almonds, and vinaigrette. Looks a lot more appetizing than cream of Brussels sprouts, no?

Creamed Brussels Sprouts

Creamed Brussels Sprouts

PizzaBella Brussels SProuts

Sprouts from Pizza Bella

Brussels sprouts have been a fixture in our household ever since. You can find plenty of recipes out there for roasted Brussels sprouts. Here’s an example from the good folks at Epicurious (originally published in Gourmet magazine).

Roasted Brussels Sprouts


1 pound of Brussels sprouts, halved

2 oz. of diced pancetta

1 garlic clove, minced

½ tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper to taste


Combine everything and spread in a single layer in a baking pan. Roast in 450 degree oven, stirring after about ten minutes, until sprouts are browned on the edges and tender. Add a bit of water to the pan when done to get the brown bits . Serve warm.

Not bad. One could add the cranberries and almonds and get reasonably close to that served up by PizzaBella. I find a bit of sweetness works well in this sort of dish, so some pomegranate juice adds a nice touch. Still, one isn’t going to approach what you get from a good pizza oven at home. I wanted proper caramelization and wasn’t going to get that from the oven alone.

Enter my cast iron pan. If I want a good steak, I sear it on both sides and put it in the oven until it’s medium rare. [If I want a great steak, I’ll put it in a low temperature oven until medium rare and then sear it.] So, I sear the cut sides of the Brussels sprouts, toss in the other goodies, and then finish in the oven. It’s a pain to halve and place the Brussels sprouts, but the center gets pretty mealy by the time whole sprouts are cooked.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Almonds, Cranberries, and Pomegranate


1 pound of Brussels sprouts, halved

¼ cup of olive oil

¼ cup of slivered almonds

¼ cup of sweetened, dried cranberries (Craisins)

½ cup of pomegranate juice

salt and pepper to taste


Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put a case iron skillet over med-high heat and add olive oil. When the olive oil is shimmering (not smoking), add the Brussels sprouts, cut side down. Cook until they develop a good brown crust, several minutes. Add the cranberries and almonds (if using) and use a metal spatula to get the Brussels sprouts off the pan and mix briefly. Pour in the pomegranate juice and put into the oven until the sprouts are just cooked through. Serve with a bit of grated Parmesan cheese.

Some variation on this has been my go to dish until recently, when I started playing with unusual ingredients for different cuisines. I tried my braised squid concept, using an Indian recipe for chicken with tomatoes, yogurt, ginger, garlic and the usual spices. We had a big bag of Brussels sprouts in the kitchen and I decided to try cooking them with an Indian flare. And so here we have it.

Curried Brussels Sprouts


½ pound of Brussels sprouts, halved

¼ cup of ghee (I used two tablespoons each of clarified butter and canola oil)

½ cup chopped onions

1 teaspoon minced ginger

1 teaspoon minced garlic

¼ teaspoon red chili powder

½ teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ginger powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put a cast iron skillet over med high heat. Add the ghee until shimmering. Add the onions and cook until browned. Add the ginger, garlic and spices and cook until the fat begins to separate. You might need to add a bit of water, a technique known as bhunao.

Place the Brussels sprouts, cut side down, and cook for several minutes. Scrape the Brussels sprouts from the bottom of the pan with a metal spatula and toss slightly. Put the pan in the oven and cook until the sprouts are tender, about ten minutes. I’ll post a separate B&P update for the curried squid with coconut/saffron rice.

Since starting this post, I tried a third variation. The first two are good, but go into the category of anything tastes good if you add enough butter. I wanted to make sprouts that might be a bit healthier. Well, that and I was out of butter. But I did have cheese! I also had some leftover sliced and spiced apples from an apple pie that I’d made. As a slice of cheddar cheese is a classic topping for apple pie, I had my inspiration.

 Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Cheese

Sprouts no cheese Sprouts and Cheese

½ pound of Brussels sprouts, halved

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (I used canola)

1 Granny Smith apple

1 tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ginger

¼ teaspoon allspice

Optional: ½ cup of grated cheddar cheese


Peel and slice the apple, then toss with sugar and spices. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put a case iron skillet over med-high heat and add vegetable oil. When the oil is shimmering, add the Brussels sprouts, cut side down. Cook until they develop a good brown crust, several minutes. Add the sliced apples and use a metal spatula to toss everything together. Put into the oven for ten minutes.

Optional: After five minutes, sprinkle shredded cheese over the sprouts and apples and return pan to oven for another five minutes.

Note: use whatever combination of spices you prefer for apple pie. I actually used some leftover sliced apples from an apple pie. I had tossed the apples with lime juice to prevent them from darkening until I assembled the pie. You can also toss in some minced ginger and garlic if you like.


Bites and Pieces: The Book

Hi all,

I was searching through some old comment threads to track down a particular response of Scott’s awhile ago. In the course of doing that, I saw a lot of interesting Bites & Pieces posts. Some of which I’d completely forgotten about.

I was thinking about going through them and compiling the Bites & Pieces into one record for ATiMers, past and present. Perhaps an exercise for when I’m in Sequesterville. We are forbidden by law from doing anything work related while on furlough, so I may as well make some use of my time.


Bites & Pieces: Slow Squid

Squid has a lot going for it. The species grows rapidly and so is considered sustainable. It’s high in protein and low in fat. Well, at least until you bread it, deep fry it, and serve it with marinara sauce. As bar food goes, it’s a favorite of mine. The Carlyle in Shirlington has a particularly good version. My mother always has it when visiting town. One of the most interesting squid dishes I had was at the Green Street Grill in Cambridge, MA. It was made Provencal style with garlic and tomatoes. It was an eye opener and one of my favorite ways to make squid.

I wanted to do something different with the squid I bought at my favorite waterfront fish monger on Friday (Captain White’s). Squid can be tricky to cook as if you cook it for more than a minute or two, you may as well serve up a plate of rubber bands. There are various strategies to tenderize it, but it comes down to a fast cook. Turns out that squid shares a characteristics with some of my favorite cuts of beef. You can cook it fast, but you can also cook it slow. In the case of beef, the collagen gradually breaks down and a tough cut of meat becomes melt in your mouth tender. That didn’t happen with the squid, but it was tender and the recipe is easy enough for a weeknight meal.

I slightly adapted a recipe originally published in Gourmet, which can be found on the Epicurious web site.. NPR also has a story on slow cooked squid with some recipes that I plan to investigate in the near future.

The dish has a flavor I’ve never gotten out of squid before. I love linguini with clams or mussels for the flavor one gets out of the shellfish, but don’t really care for the meat. We served the dish over black rice. It’d be good with linguini as well. I think that one could add fennel or another root vegetable to the dish.

I adapted the Epicurious recipe slightly. The original recipe calls for cooking just the garlic and parsley, then adding the squid. I decided to cook some chopped onions with the parsley and then add the garlic. I used a can of chopped tomatoes; they suggested using whole tomatoes and chopping them. The original recipe calls for adding ¾ of a cup of wine and ¼ cup of water after adding the squid and simmering for 10 minutes to reduce the liquid. Then, add the tomatoes and simmer on the stove top for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. I wanted to make this a simple dish, so I added the wine and tomatoes together, brought it up to a simmer, and then braised the dish in the oven.

[Edit: I forgot that I added a teaspoon or two of capers to the dish as I thought they would fit and, well, I love capers.]

I had two half pound squid bodies rather than the pound and a half, but it was plenty for us. I cut them up into half inch squares, then rinsed, dried and coated them with olive oil. I thought that would give me more even cooking at the onset. They were about a quarter inch thick, so made good meaty bites. This would work well with smaller squid and I would encourage you to use the tentacles. Octopus might be good in this dish as well.


1 ½ pounds of squid, cleaned
1/4 cup minced onions or shallots
1 bunch of parsley, finely chopped
1 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon of red pepper flakes (optional or use to taste)
½ cup of dry white wine
28 oz. can of chopped tomatoes


Cut the squid bodies into pieces or rings. Combine with tentacles if you have them. Rinse and dry, then toss with olive oil to coat.

Once the squid is ready, it’s a good time to turn on the oven. I set mine at 350 degrees, but would probably use a lower temperature (perhaps 300) the next time.

Reserve 2 tablespoon of chopped parsley for garnish (which I forgot to use).

Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy pot or dutch oven. Add the chopped onion and parsley and stir for a minute. Add garlic and stir for another minute. Create a small open space, pour in a little olive oil, and add the red chile flakes. Mix everything together and add the squid. Cook for a minute or two and then add the wine and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and then throw into the oven, uncovered. Cook until the water evaporates, about 45 minutes to an hour.

Remove from the oven and serve over pasta or rice. Garnish with parsley.


¡Hot Tamales!

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a bites and pieces post, so I thought I’d offer up our annual party for making tamales. The singular is tamal, but even my Costa Rica born wife calls it a tamale. I think I’ve corrupted her.

Tamales are traditionally made in Latin America over Christmas. There’s a lot of work involved, so a family will make an enormous batch, many of which are given to neighbors and friends. My wife’s parents owned a small bakery in Heredia, a suburb of San José. Tamales brought to them were often dinner at that time of year as they were swamped with seasonal work at the bakery. I’ve continued that tradition by bringing tamales to my neighborhood wine shop. They too are swamped this time of year and the tamales are gratefully received.

Making tamales is quite an undertaking. It helps to have some like minded friends and a general to take charge. I’ve done a lot more cooking over the last ten years than my wife, but I’d say she has more the makings of a chef than I. This year, she largely demonstrated how to make the tamales for our crew and kept the process going. I worked as a prep cook for most of the day.

The recipe for our tamales derives from one of Keen’s aunts, Lijia. At the heart of tamales is the masa–liquid thickened with corn flour. We use Maseca, which is corn flour with lime (calcium hydroxide, not fruit juice). The twist for Lijia’s tamales is to use boiled and mashed potatoes in the masa. You get a somewhat softer texture than using just corn flour. One cooks chicken breasts in a lot of water, add the mashed potatoes, some condimento and cilantro. Condimento is a spice blend that generally has garlic powder, cumin, and a few other spices. We make our own as it’s fresher and has less salt (or MSG) than that from the store. Plus, you can’t find Costa Rican style condimento here.

My sole contribution was to upgrade the chicken and the stock. The original version called for boiling the chicken breasts for a long time to create the broth, then add everything else. There’s two problems with that approach. First off, chicken breasts don’t have a lot of flavor to add to the broth. Second, what little flavor they have is long gone once you’re done making the broth. I poach the chicken breasts and then make a stock.

We start with a dozen skinless, boneless chicken breasts and four whole chickens. Remove the breasts from the whole chickens and add to the others. Rinse, pat dry, and set aside. Remove the dark meat from the bones and set aside. I freeze it and use it for other recipes, especially curries. Use a cleaver to break up the bones and expose that lovely marrow. Roast the bones along with the back and wings (also cut up into 3” chunks with a cleaver). Roast the bones for about an hour at 350 degrees.

While the bones are roasting, bring a stockpot with two gallons of water up to a boil. Poach whole chicken breasts in a couple of gallons of water and set aside when nearly done. They’ll be cut up and sautéed later, so you needn’t worry about undercooking. Add the roasted bones to the poaching liquid and bring up to a simmer. Add a couple of quarts of chopped onions, celery, and carrots along with spices. This stock is a bit different from normal, so you’ll be using cilantro, cumin, and coriander. Simmer for 2 – 4 hours, strain, and set aside. As the great outdoors is an extended cooler in December, I strain everything into a big bowl, put back into the stock pot, and set outside for the night.

We’re only getting started. Peel a couple pounds of carrots and slice into match sticks. Do the same for some bell peppers. These will be sautéed later and added to the tamales.

Back to the chicken. Cut the chicken into half-inch pieces. Finely chop some carrots and the tops of the bell peppers. Finely mince a few cups worth of yellow onions. Heat up some oil in a frying pan, add one third of the minced veggies and onions, a couple of tablespoons and some achiote (used to color dishes in Latin America). Add the chicken breast pieces and stir fry until colored and fully cooked. Set aside and repeat. Do the same for the bell pepper and carrot match sticks.

The banana leaves will need to be prepared. Slice them into roughly 9” squares. Two are needed for each tamal. Avoid Goya brand (they were surprisingly bad). We went through 20 packages of prepared banana leaves. You might guess from the scale that we make a lot of tamales. We wound up using about a gallon of homemade turkey stock to supplement the broth (making 3 gallons in total) and wound up with over 150 tamales by the time we were done.

Now we make the masa. Take the chicken stock back from the porch and heat to a simmer. Add the riced potatoes and mix. Gradually add the corn flour (Maseca), and stir. You’ll want folks with some muscles and it’s going to get thick. Once it’s completely thickened (you’ll need a Latina to tell you when), take out to the table as you’re ready to make tamales.

At this point, you should have a honking big stock pot full of masa. There’s a big bowl of sautéed chicken breast chunks. There’s also a couple bowls of sautéed bell pepper and carrot match sticks. You’ll also have bowls of olives, capers, and raisins (we use craisins). Think Costco sized portions.

Now we’re ready to assemble the tamales. Put one banana leaf section on top of another, the smaller on top. Plop about a half cup of masa on them. Add two chunks of chicken, one on each end. Add a few match sticks of carrot and bell pepper. Put a few capers on one end, an olive or two, and some craisins. Wrap it up (you’ll need guidance) and set aside. Each pack has two tamales, set back to back and wrapped in twine. Hemp twine is in-effing-credible. Best stuff I’ve ever used.

Once the tamales are wrapped and tied, they need to be cooked. Fill as many pots as you have room for with tamales on their ends. Pour water into the pot until about halfway up the tamales. If you have a pot that’s taller than the tamales, you can stack a few on top and cover them. Boil/steam for about 45 minutes.

When it comes to eating the tamales, we microwave them and serve them with Salsa Lizano, a Costa Rican savory sauce. It’s the same type of sauce as Heinz 51.

Bites & Pieces: ¡Ceviche!

Raw fish is eaten round the world. Sushi and sashimi from Japan, crudo and carpaccio from Italy, and Gravlax from Scandanavia to name a few. Hawaii has contributed poke, a kind of tuna tartare. I was first introduced to it at the Yardhouse in San Diego. The best I’ve ever had was at the East Coast Grill and Raw Bar. A friend of the owner had caught a tuna off Cape Cod the day before and so they were featuring it that night. Then there are the raw oysters that I happily slurp at Clyde’s for happy hour. Anything from Prince Edward Island is worth a taste.

Latin America’s contribution to the world of raw fish is ceviche. I was introduced to ceviche during my first visit to Costa Rica. My then girlfriend had never had a serious boyfriend before, so much of her family was curious about the gringo coming down for her brother’s wedding. My Spanish was minimal back then and I remember being reduced to saying ¡me encanta Costa Rica! as folks chatted with me at the end of the reception. All in all, a good trip. We were married one year later to the day.

Ceviche is distinct from sashimi, carpaccio or tartare in that the fish or shellfish is “cooked” in lime juice. Citric acid alters the chemical and physical properties of the proteins in the fish. This process of denaturation turns the flesh firm and opaque, as if it had been cooked with heat. One still needs to use high quality fish as the marinade is not the same as cooking. Then again, if I’m having a medium rare steak, it should be high quality meat.

For this post, my starter material is a book on ceviche from Guillermo Pernot. He had a great restaurant in Philadelphia (since closed) and is now with the group behind Cuba Libre. That’s a rum and coke with some lime juice.

Let’s start with basic ceviche. First, create the marinade. Half a cup of fresh lime juice, a quarter cup of orange juice, and 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Fresh is key here, so juice them yourself. Next, cut up about a pound of fish into roughly quarter inch dice. Mahi mahi and red snapper are great choices. Tilapia is fine, if a bit bland. Let the fish marinate an hour or so and then add diced tomato, some minced onion or shallots, some minced cilanto, and some minced chiles (bell, jalapeño or Serrano peppers, depending upon your heat tolerance). If there’s something you think goes with this, enjoy! Serve with tortilla chips. Costa Ricans like to have a mix of ketchup and mayo on the side. I call it salsa tica and it’s good.

Shellfish is also good for making ceviche. If you’re worried about raw fish, parboil some prawns and cut them into small pieces. Shrimp cocktail from the South! Scallops make fantastic ceviche. Just toss whole bay scallops or sliced sea scallops into the marinade and let them sit for about 15 minutes.

Those are the basics. Now let’s get a bit fancy. I mentioned the Pernot book, which I should note is a gift of Natasha Bonilla, a family friend. The recipes are restaurant complicated, but I’ve tried a few at home and they rock. They’re also doable for the home cook. Here are a few of my favorites:

Hamachi Ceviche with Trio of Peppers Salad

This one looks great. There’s a fair amount of chopping involved, but it’s worth it. It’s terrific with an unoaked Chardonney. Heck, live a little and pick up a bottle of white Burgundy.

Citrus Dressing

½ cup fresh lemon juice

½ cup fresh lime juice

½ cup fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons oil, infused with garlic*

2 tablespoons annatto oil*

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Combine all the ingredients in a blender until emulsified and set aside.

*I take whole cloves of garlic, mash them slightly with the edge of a knife, and put on the stove over low heat. Let it go for about 15 minutes and then strain. Annato seeds are used to color oil. Traditionally, it’s made the same way that I make the garlic oil. Put the seeds in oil and heat up until colored. For this recipe, I can simply do everything in one batch. You can also find annatto seed powder, which simplifies the whole process. If all this seems a bit too much bother, use a flavored oil or neutral salad oil.

Assembling the ceviche

¾ pound skinless hamachi, sliced thinly (yellow fin tuna)

1 large, evenly shaped red bell pepper

1 large, evenly shaped yellow bell pepper

1 large poblano chile

1 cup of arugula sprouts or thinly sliced arugula

½ red onion, sliced very thin and rinsed under cold water

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the sliced fish with half the citrus dressing. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Slice the top and bottom from the bell peppers. Cut open along one side and remove the seeds and the white membrane. [Pernot instructs one to remove the top layer of watery flesh from the inside as well, but I’d say that’s optional.] Slice each pepper into very thin strips—a mandoline is very helpful here. Do the same for the poblano chile.

Toss the peppers with the remaining citrus dressing. Lightly toss the fish, pepper mixture, arugula and red onion. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Arrange onto 6 chilled salad plates. [Oh, did I forget to mention that you were supposed to serve on chilled plates? Sorry about that.]

Bay Scallop Seviche with Blackened Tomatillo Truffle Sauce

This one will bring the house down. The ingredients are widely available and it is great for a crowd. Truffle oil is pricey, but a little goes a long ways. Trader Joe’s used to carry truffle oil, but no longer. I find it at World Market. Wine stores often carry some. For this dish, I think black truffle oil makes the most sense.

Let’s start with the plantain chips. You can buy them and they’re quite acceptable. Fresh is best, though. For this, you need green plantains. Cut off the ends, remove the skin and slice into planks. The best way I’ve found is to use a cheese slicer. It makes even plantain slices. Heat up a half inch or so of vegetable oil in a dutch oven or cast iron pan. Fry the slides and set them on paper towels to drain. Toss with a bit of salt.

Blackened Tomatillo Truffle Sauce

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ pound fresh tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed

½ pound ripe plum tomatoes

1 red onion, quartered and unpeeled

4 cachucha* chiles

1 jalapeño chile

1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves

3 tablespoons truffle oil

salt & pepper to taste

There are two ways to cook the tomatillos, tomatoes, onion and chiles. Pernot does it on the stove top. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over med high and add the tomatillos, tomatoes, onion and chiles. Cook, tossing frequently, until the skins are blackened. I like to toss them all with the olive oil and use our toaster oven. I preheat it to 350, put the veggies on a tray, and then move it to broil until the skins blacken (about 10 minutes).

Once cooked, put them in a food processor and cool to room temperature. Add the cilantro and pulse briefly until the vegetables are chopped but still chunky. You can also put everything through a meat grinder. Finally, add the remaining ingredients, taste to check seasoning, and refrigerate.

*I don’t know where to get these either. It’s a native Cuban pepper that looks like a habañero, but has much less heat. I’m fond of Serrano peppers, so I just use 4 of them and skip the jalapeño. If you prefer to keep heat levels down, just use jalapeños.

Bay Scallop Ceviche

1 cup fresh lime juice

¼ cup fresh orange juice

3 tablespoons finely diced red onion (or a lg. shallot)

1 tablespoon kosher (or sea) sallt

1 pound fresh bay scallops

Combine everything but the scallops in a nonreactive (stainless steel or enameled) bowl. Add the scallops and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerator for 24 hours.

Drain the marinade from the scallops and discard. Combine the scallops with most of the sauce and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. When ready to serve, drain the excess liquid and add the rest of the sauce. A great way to serve this is to put the ceviche onto spoons and top with some crumbled plantain chips. Serve accompanied with plantain chips.

Tuna Ceviche with Roasted Calabaza

This is a three level ceviche. The base is roasted calabaza, a squash. You can use butternut squash for this and do well. On top of the squash is a layer of tuna. You’ll want high quality stuff for this. When I can get bluefin tuna, this is what I make. Thie dish is topped with a peppercress salad (watercress works just fine).

OK. For the base. Have one pound of calabaza (or butternut squash), peeled and cut into half inch cubes. Seasons with salt and p\epper and toss with olive oil. Roast in an oven at 425 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, shakng and tossing once or twice, until it’s browned and crusty on the outside. Remove from the oven, cover and chill.

Now the salad. Combine half a pound of peppercress (or watercress) leaves with a quarter cup each of lemon and lime juice, a tablespoon of pumpkin seed oil (you can find it at World Market), and some salt and pepper. I’d use a high quality nut oil as the first alternative and good EVOO as the second.

Last, the good stuff. Make an emulsion of a quarter cup each of olive oil, lemon juice, and lime juice, 2 tablespoons of pumpkin seed oil (or nut oil or more olive oil,. Reserve a quarter cup of this. To the rest, add a pound of diced, sushi grade ahi tuna. Season with salt and pepper to taste. I go light on salt and a bit heavy on pepper. The recipe calls for a quarter cup of pepitas, which can be found in Latin American markets.

Let’s put it all together. It helps to have a ring mold to do this. Make a half inch thick base of roasted squash, Put on top of this another half inch of the marinated tuna. Top with the salald and a bit of reserved emulsion.

It’s a fantastic fall dish.

Bites and Pieces: Perfect Chicken

I’ve mostly been on the road this week. My sons finished kindergarten (yay!) on Wednesday, which happens to be the day that my wife was starting a week long job for the US Forest Service. I’m transferring to a new job in July, so a family break seemed warranted.

I found a surprise along the way. There’s a pretty decent Italian place in Lewisburg, WV, of all places (Giovanni’s). I ordered lasagna for Secondo, pasta with greens and sausage for Primo (he’s on a health kick), and a roasted veggie salad for myself. I figured I could hoover up what they left behind. Well, the salad was terrific. A good balance of veggies and the roasted squash really added heart. The pasta and greens didn’t look like much, but looks can be deceiving. They used broccoli rabe for the greens and a mild sausage that balanced the dish. The pasta was penne and cooked al dente. The lasagna was simple–a couple layers of noodles with ricotta in the middle and marinara on top. I took a bite of it and got a surprise. The noodles were tender and the ricotta is as good as anything I picked up at the Italian Store in Arlington. Turns out they make everything in house. This is the kind of restaurant everyone wishes they had in their neighborhood. The total was $37, including two sodas.

But that’s not important right now. I’m writing about chicken. The day after I arrived at the lake, my brother made a beer can chicken. I’d never tried it before. It was quite good, but he misjudged the timing (we didn’t have a thermometer) and so the inner portions were undercooked. That’s the eternal problem with roasting a chicken. Undercooked meat or dried out breast meat (or in the worst of all cases, both). How to solve it?

One of my sons was wanting chicken and I know my parents enjoy it. So, what to do? On a whim, I decided to try a butterflied chicken. Cut out the backbone, flatten the thing, and roast it. As a bonus, you can use the wings and the back to make a nice mini batch of stock. I did a bit of hunting about and came upon Kenji Alt’s blog. He used to appear on America’s Test Kitchen. The method seemed straightforward and dispensed with turning the chicken. The ideal is 150 degrees for breast meat and 170 for dark meat. I was shocked when the meat thermometer registered the perfect temperature both times. And the chicken was perfect! 

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Take a 3 1/2 – 4 lb. chicken. Brine it if you like (I do) and air dry. Cut out the backbone with some kitchen shears. Flatten the beastie. Spread a tablespoon of vegetable oil (sesame oil is tasty) over the top and season with salt and pepper. I shoved a couple tablespoons of butter between the skin of the breasts and the meat. It may be gilding the lily, but what the hey.

3. Slide up a half dozen small (1″) potatoes. Toss with oil and put in the bottom of a roasting pan. Put a flat rack on top and place the chicken on it. [Note: don’t use a V-rack for a butterflied bird. If you don’t have a flat rack, just put it right on the potatoes.]

4. Roast the bird for about 45 minutes, until the breast meat registers 150 degrees and the thigh registers 170 degrees. As I noted above, it worked perfectly for me.

5. Let the bird rest for 5 minutes and then enjoy!



Bites & Pieces OR Do Alpha Males Eat Quiche?

I have a basic quiche recipe that can be adapted for all sorts of dietary restrictions and preferences.  I’m trying to gradually add a few pounds back on that I misplaced this year and I can make this once a week and add a few calories to my diet.  On the other hand, it can be made with lower fat/calorie ingredients and still be delicious.

Basic Ingredients:

3 whole eggs, you can substitute egg whites for part of them or all, two egg whites equals one whole egg

1 can evaporated milk, you can use low fat or non fat and honestly you won’t be able to tell the difference

2 1/2 TBS of flour

Salt, pepper and other spices depending on the rest of your ingredients.  I use thyme, parsley, basil and herbs de provence  pretty frequently, but please experiment.

Additional Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups cheese, again low fat versions are fine and I frequently use a combination of mozzarella, parmesan and feta.  Of course you can use cheddar, swiss or really any kind of cheese.

5 to 6 diced green onions

2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1 to 2  cups of veggies.  I generally use a combination of broccoli/cauliflower or a variety of summer squash.  Experiment.

1 cup of  meat (cooked).  If you use meat, cut back on the veggies.  For a breakfast quiche the obvious meats are ham, bacon or sausage.  For dinner, chicken would probably work fine.


Beat the eggs, milk, flour and spices until well blended.  Sir in the other ingredients, adding the cheeses last and pour into greased 9″X9″ baking dish and bake for about 45 minutes at 350 or until center is set.

By the way, my husband loves this recipe.


And from okiegirl, who is still finding gorgeous asparagus at an even more gorgeous price, a couple of faves.

Asparagus with Curry Butter


2 teaspoons butter, melted

1 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 shallot, finely diced

1 bunch asparagus, (about 1 pound), trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces


Combine butter, curry powder, lemon juice and salt in a small bowl.  Omit salt if your curry powder has salt in it already.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add asparagus and cook, stirring, until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir the curry butter into the asparagus; toss to coat.

Yummy with grilled salmon!

Spring Pizza


3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

3 cloves garlic, minced (or to taste — this is a lot of garlic)

2 medium tomatoes, sliced

1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound)

1/2 cup snipped fresh chives, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 pound whole-wheat pizza dough

1 cup shredded fontina or mozzarella cheese


Position rack in lower third of oven, place a pizza stone or large pizza pan on the rack and preheat oven to 450°F for at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine 2 tablespoons oil and garlic in a small bowl; set aside. Trim asparagus spears to about 6 inches long; slice any thicker stalks in half lengthwise. Toss in a bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, 1/4 cup chives, salt and pepper.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to about a 14-inch circle.  (I cheat and buy ready made pizza crust.)

Carefully remove the pizza stone or pan from the oven and set on a heatproof surface, such as your stovetop. Place the dough on the stone or pan and brush with the reserved garlic-oil mixture. Cover with a layer of tomato slices.  Arrange the asparagus in a circular pattern on the dough with the tips facing out (like spokes). Top with cheese and the remaining chives.

Carefully return the stone or pan to the oven and bake the pizza on the lower rack until crispy and golden and the cheese is melted, about 15 minutes.

This makes a lovely spring supper, but also is a nice (if unusual) side dish.

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