Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pan de jamón (Venezuelan ham bread)

Pan de jamón (ham bread) is a traditional Christmas-time dish in Venezuela. You start seeing it in bakeries starting October and all through the season, and it is usually eaten as breakfast, snack or appetizer, and is a definite must during Christmas Eve and Christmas meals.

It is coincidentally also one of my favorite foods ever :) Ever since my success with the cachitos, I wanted to try my hand at this too. To my luck, it uses the same dough as the cachitos, and I had some leftover in the freezer.

The flavor profile of this bread is sweet (the dough and raisins) and salty (the olives and ham). Are you starting to see a pattern here? A lot of the food I love is sweet and salty at the same time!

Pan de jamón
Servings: 4 (3 slices each)
Prep time: 3 hours (including dough resting time)
Cook time: 40 min
Total time: 3 hours 40 min

1 part Venezuelan cachito dough (recipe can be found here)
1/3 cup flour
1/2 lb fat free ham in thick slices (you can use honey ham if you want too!)
handful of raisins
handful of green olives with red pepper filling
1 tbsp butter
dash of sugar
1 egg

Begin by making the dough. You can make a large batch, split it in 4 equal parts and store it in the freezer. This is what I did, so for this dish I just let the dough unfreeze in the fridge over night, and let it sit on the countertop to warm up to room temperature for an hour before preparation.

Before you begin working with the dough, place the raisins in a bit of water so they get a little moist. Add the olives to a colander and let their pickling liquid drain.

Coat the dough, the rolling pin and working surface with a little flour. Knead the dough a bit so it's soft again. Roll it out into a rectangular shape with a rolling pin. Mine came out to about 15 in by 10 in.

Melt the butter in the microwave and add a dash of sugar into it. Coat the dough with this mixture completely on one side (the inside).

Next, cut the ham slices in half and cover the surface of the dough. Be careful to leave about half an inch on each side, so you can close the roll later (I didn't, learned this the hard way!). Spread the raisins and olives evenly on top of the ham.

Begin rolling the dough, not too tightly. You want it to have an oblong shape, not be completely circular. Squeeze the ends together to close. Make sure the end of the roll faces down so it doesn't open while baking. I made the newbie mistake of NOT DOING THIS and paid the price for it in the oven.

You see the end of the roll on top there? DON'T DO THIS. It should be on the bottom, okay?

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place the roll on it. Cover it with a kitchen cloth and let the roll rest in a warm place for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 F.

When the oven is ready, whisk the egg and coat the roll thoroughly. Place it in the oven for 20 minutes. Feel free to re-coat with the egg during that time (I re-coated once). After 20 mins, cover the roll with aluminum foil and bake for another 20 minutes. This is to prevent the top from burning while the inside dough cooks.

It's ready when it is golden brown on top. Check out the repercussions of my newbie mistake. The roll was opening a little where the end is. Tastes just as good though :)

Cut the roll up into slices and serve warm or at room temperature. It is so good with coffee!

So pretty :)

And the Brunometer thinks:
8.1 / 10

Christmas in August!
To those of you that got here by blog hopping, thanks for coming and here's the 'keep on hopping' link!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Homemade strawberry jam on warm Brie cheese

My first experience with cheese and jam was a long time ago. There were these frozen boxes of breaded Camembert in Germany, which you were supposed to fry and eat with jam. At first I was skeptical of course, salty cheese with sweet jam?! But boy, once I tried it I have never been able to forget.

That German dish looks like this. But as you might be able to understand, with trying to keep my weight under control, and wanting to eat my allotted daily calories throughout the day and not just in one sitting, I can't bread and fry cheese, and then smother it with sugary goodness.

So, one day I was out in State College and we had dinner at Olde New York. On their appetizer menu, they have a Gebackener Käse - baked cheese served with fruits. You can imagine my excitement! I ordered it and thoroughly enjoyed it, and from that experience comes this concoction.

I am taking inspiration from the fried Camembert with jam, and the baked Brie cheese. And thus I present, baked Brie with homemade strawberry jam:

I've never made jam before and it was surprisingly easy! I used this recipe, with a few modifications.

Homemade strawberry jam
Servings: 10 (2 tbsp each)
Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 10 min
Total time: 15 min

6 oz fresh strawberries (about 13 pieces)
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar Splenda blend (if using real brown sugar, use 1/2 cup)
2 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice (no weird concentrate stuff)

Smash the strawberries in a bowl until you have small chunks and lots of liquid.

Add the strawberries, sugars and lemon juice to a deep pot and stir over low heat until the sugar melts. Then bring to a lively boil. Boil, stirring frequently, until the liquid starts to reduce and thicken, it was about 10 minutes for me.

Transfer to a clean glass jar and close the lid. It's so cool how it automatically seals itself! Since I will be eating this jam within the next few days, it's not necessary to do any fancy preservation process. Let it cool to room temperature and store in the fridge.

Now for the good part!

Baked Brie cheese
Servings: 2-4
Total time: 20 min (plus your oven's preheat time)

1 round of Brie cheese
salt to taste

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Cut some wedges on top of the Brie cheese and sprinkle some salt on it. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 18 minutes, then broil for 2 minutes or until barely brown on top.

Serve with crackers and the strawberry jam. If you like more options (we do), add different jams or preserves, or go for a salty variety. We included refried beans and pico de gallo a la molletes, and it was incredibly good! Just layer the beans on the cracker, some Brie, and pico de gallo on top. This combination was our winner tonight!

Oh, and don't forget the white wine!

The Brunometer gives this whole meal a:

8.0 / 10

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Simple and quick Caesar salad

I have a terrible memory. I honestly cannot remember half my life. However there are certain moments which are etched clear as day in my mind, even from a very young age.

One of these moments was at a fancy restaurant in Venezuela (figures it has to do with food!). I remember my dad ordered a Caesar salad and the waiter made the dressing right in front of us by cracking open an egg. That's all I remember but boy, did it cause an impression!

I love Caesar salad, but honestly the "from scratch" dressing is a little intimidating. Raw eggs, anchovies? Not to mention I don't even own a food processor!

Thus I present to you this simple and quick Caesar salad! Tastes just like the real thing, without the fuss (and it even has less calories!). This recipe was adapted from here.

Caesar salad
Servings: 2
Total time: 5 min

1/4 cup light mayonnaise
1/4 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp garlic powder (use less if you're not a big fan of garlic)
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1/8 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tbsp fat-free half & half
1 head heart of romaine lettuce, sliced

In a large container with a lid, or a small plastic container with a lid, combine all the ingredients except the lettuce. Shake it very strongly until everything is well mixed. If you're using a big container, add the romaine lettuce, cover and shake lightly to coat. If you're using the small container, add the romaine to a bowl, pour the dressing over it and toss to coat.

Serve with some croutons and if you're feeling adventurous, try some cubed Panela cheese. Sprinkle some additional Parmesan cheese on top and dig in! Light and delicious!

Bruno is not here but I think he'll really like this! I'll edit this post with the Brunometer score when he tries it :)

-- Edited 8:13 PM

Okay so Bruno tried it and the score is:

8.4 / 10

Caesar is his favorite salad though!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Döner kebap (lamb gyros on pita) with tzatziki sauce

My first exposure to this type of dish was in Germany while I was doing my undergrad. It is super popular, especially in student populations, because it is a lot of food usually sold at an affordable price.

I got to know it as döner kebap, and here in the U.S. it is more known as gyro*. That being said, döner, kebap, kebab, gyro or whatever you want to call it, is one of my favorite foods ever.

Before I got into all this cooking, I thought it was impossible to recreate this in my kitchen, mostly because I don't have a giant rotating roasting split thing to cook pounds and pounds of layered lamb meat :)

However, if there is anything I've learned (especially after making cachitos) is that you can get pretty close to recreating stuff in a tiny, crowded and understocked kitchen. So I gave it a go. And I was so, so successful.

I used this recipe from Tammy's Recipes with very few modifications. The recipe is magnificent. This will look a little intimidating, but it really isn't! It's just a lot of spices.

Lamb gyros
Servings: 2
Prep time: 20 min plus 1-6 hours marinade time
Cook time: 15 min

1 lb lamb shoulder steak
2 garlic cloves, minced

Marinade ingredients:
2 1/2 tsp olive oil
2 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Dry seasoning ingredients:
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp black pepper
dash red chili powder

Tzatziki sauce ingredients:
5.3 oz Greek yogurt (that's the container size)
1/3 medium cucumber, peeled and deseeded
2/3 garlic clove, minced
1/3 tsp olive oil
1/3 tsp red wine vinegar
salt and parsley to taste

To serve:
Pita bread, preferably the one you can fill! I used the one you have to fold in half.
To stay true to the typical fillings in Germany ("mit allem?" - with everything?), you can include: tomato slices, lettuce, red and white cabbage, corn, peperoncini, and onion.

Rub the minced garlic on the steaks. Combine the marinade ingredients and pour over the steaks, making sure you get enough on both sides. Let marinade in the fridge for 1-6 hours.

Continue with the tzatziki sauce. Mince or shred the cucumber using a food processor, a hand chopper or a grater. Mix all the ingredients together well in a plastic container and store in the fridge until ready to serve.

After the steak has marinated, mix the dry seasoning ingredients with a fork and lay out flat on a plate. Coat each side of the steak(s) with these seasonings.

Heat a griddle to medium heat and cook on each side for about 4 minutes. Then lower the heat to the lowest setting and cook for an additional 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the heat and let it rest 5 minutes before slicing very thinly.

Warm up your pitas in the oven and coat with tzatziki sauce. Layer the meat and whatever other filling ingredients you choose and fold in half. Take a bite and enjoy the most delicious thing ever!

Bruno wanted to wrap his in aluminum foil to get the 'street' feel, and he said it made it more delicious. I believe him, because this dish made it to #1 on the Brunometer's Top 10!

9.6 / 10

He said: "Our kids are so not going to want to ever eat out!"
I'm flattered :)

*For an in depth explanation of all the name variations and terms of this dish, check out this article.

Panquecas - Thick, sweet, crepe-style pancakes (family recipe!)

I've shared my crepes recipe with you here, and I love me some good old fashioned American pancakes with maple syrup as well.

However, the best pancakes in the whole world are my family's recipe. They are thick, buttery, sweet and absolutely delicious. My aunt Antonieta makes them the best out of our whole family, but we all keep trying anyway :) I can't deliver what she would deliver, but here is my rendition of my family's panquecas:

The pancakes themselves are sweet, and thus we love to fill them with salty things. The family favorite is ham and provolone cheese, usually rolled up like in the picture. I prefer to eat mine as a pizza with shredded panela cheese, it just seems to last longer :)

Servings: 4-5 pancakes
Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 20 min
Total time: 25 min

1 cup white flour
3 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup - 1/2 cup white sugar (depending on how sweet you want them)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp of butter

Whisk the milk and eggs together. Add the sugar and vanilla extract. If you want, you can taste it here and see if you want it sweeter, if so add more sugar. Finally add the flour in batches and whisk well until almost uniform. Some crumbs are okay.

Heat skillet to medium heat. I used a nonstick skillet, but my family uses a heavy-bottomed metal skillet. The pancakes come out darker, have more of a fried feel and are a lot more tasty. I was just lazy because the nonstick pan was clean and the other wasn't :) But if you want the full delicious experience, use a metal pan not a nonstick!

Pour a tiny bit of canola oil in the skillet and spread with a paper towel. Pour a ladle-full of the pancake mix and let it spread. Cook on one side until you see bubbles, then flip.

Once flipped, I spread about 1/4 tbsp of butter on it while it is still in the pan. Transfer to a plate and spread another 1/4 tbsp of butter on the other side. Now they are ready to be filled as you wish!

Add ham and cheese, turkey breast or anything salty and roll them up. Or add shredded cheese and cut them up like pizzas (kids love this!). Or just enjoy them with butter!

The Brunometer ranks these:

8.9 / 10

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Arepas asadas (Venezuelan cornmeal bread patties)

Arepas are the #1 traditional Venezuelan food. They also exist in neighboring countries in different variations. The most common arepas are either deep fried, cooked in the oven or cooked in a cast iron griddle or skillet over low heat.

You can cut them in half and fill them up with anything you want, or eat them open-faced, or eat them as a side to any meal as you would bread. They are very flexible and accompany almost every meal in Venezuela.

I personally really like them for breakfast, usually with butter, ham/turkey and cheese. And thus I bring you:

Servings: 2

1 cup cornmeal (preferably the Venezuelan brand Harina P.A.N.)
1 1/4 cup water
salt to taste

Mix the water and salt well. Taste the water, it should be a little salty. Add the cornmeal and mix well. The dough should be easily manageable and should feel a little wet. Split it into two balls and shape into patties.

Heat the griddle to medium-low heat and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Place the patties on the griddle and cook for 20-25 minutes, flipping them over every 4-5 minutes. You want to create a crust but not burn them. They will be ready when you tap them and they sound hollow inside.

When ready, grab them with a paper towel and cut them in half. Fill with anything you'd like, chicken salad, scrambled eggs, meat, ham, cheese, butter, tomatoes, jelly, nutella - anything you want for breakfast!

Today Bruno had turkey breast and american cheese, and I had mine open-faced. One half with chipotle cream cheese, tomato and panela cheese and the other half with butter, turkey breast and mexican cheese blend.

These are very delicious, but they are even better deep-fried. Just heat the oil to high and fry until golden on each side.

The Brunometer gives these a:

8.4 / 10

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Creamy rice, plantain and eggs hash (arroz, plátano y huevo)

Rice, plantains and eggs are very common in Latin American cooking. In Mexico, you sometimes see people having a fried egg on top of their rice as a second course, and in Venezuela and other tropical countries plantain slices are a must have next to your rice. Traditionally, the rice, plantains and/or egg are the side to some sort of protein. The dish I'm about to present to you however is a fabulous combination of those flavor profiles, and it is so heavy and decadent that it is a main course all by itself.

Now, I know it looks weird, but trust me this is delicious. When we were kids, my brothers and I used to beg my mom for this meal in a chorus of "Arroz, plátano y huevo!" (literally: "Rice, plantain and eggs!") around the kitchen and when we got it we were never disappointed.

When I first introduced Bruno to this meal he made a face just taking a look at it. I mean, it isn't pretty. But when he tried it, he couldn't help but join the ranks of extreme fans of this dish.

Now, just a little warning, when you eat this you tend to choke a little. It is so good you eat really fast, and don't chew enough, and choke. When we were little we ate this with a spoon and I think that contributed to the choking, so either use a fork or be careful ;)

Creamy rice, plantain and eggs hash
Servings: 2

2 cups plain instant white rice (makes 4 cups cooked rice)
1 large very ripe plantain
1 cup canola oil
4 eggs
1 tbsp butter
salt to taste

Cook the rice according to the instructions. When done, add the butter and stir well so it melts.

Peel the plantain like a banana and cut it into slices or wedges. Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over high heat. You should see the oil glimmering.

Add the plantain slices and cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side until golden brown.

Take them out and place them on a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb some of the oil. They will turn a little darker once they are out of the oil.

Next, fry each egg individually in a tiny bit of oil. Cook them until the yolk is almost completely cooked through, but still runs a little. When all eggs are done, cut them up into bite size pieces.

The final step is to mix everything together. Just throw in the plantain and eggs into the rice, add salt to taste and mix very well. The egg yolk and the yummy greasiness from the fried plantains will coat the rice, creating a plate of creamy goodness.

The egg is salty, the plantain is sweet and everything is so luscious you want to eat more and more. Really, trust me!

Bruno loves this dish, it is no surprise that it made it to Top 10 :)

8.8 / 10

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bacon-laced beef skewers

This is my first post back from my short Pittsburgh trip. I went to get my Zumba fitness instructor license so I can keep eating all the things I post here and exercise it off :)

Anyway, I decided to make something quick and easy that we both love very much: Introducing my bacon-laced beef skewers! The delicious bacon fatty goodness seeps into the veggies and meat, making it a juicy delectable beef-on-a-stick meal.

These are great on a grill, I make them indoors in my griddle, but be attentive to that smoke detector!

Bacon-laced beef skewers
Servings: 2 (5 sticks)

1 lb lean beef, cut into chunks
1 tbsp all purpose seasoning
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into 10 squares
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into 10 squares
1/2 yellow bell pepper, cut into 10 squares
10 grape tomatoes
1/4 small onion, cut into 10 squares
5 strips of bacon
5 wooden skewers, soaked in water
dash of salt and pepper

In a bowl, mix the beef with the seasoning, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Let it marinade for about 10 minutes. To assemble your skewers you will use 4 cubes of beef, 1 bacon strip and 2 pieces of each of the other ingredients. You might have some leftovers, just put them all on an bonus skewer :)

Start with a green pepper cube, then poke through one end of the bacon strip. Insert a grape tomato, a cube of beef and fold the bacon strip over them, poking through it once again. Continue the layering process in this order (or any order you wish, really): onion, yellow pepper, bacon, beef, bacon, grape tomato, onion, bacon, yellow pepper, red pepper, beef, bacon, red pepper, beef, green pepper. The bacon should end up interlaced through the veggies and meat, like in the picture. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on the assembled sticks if desired.

Heat the griddle to medium-high heat and grill for 4 minutes on each side for medium, and an additional 2 minutes while turning the skewers to cook all sides evenly for well done.

Serve with a side-on-a-stick to be playful! Just some cajun-seasoned potatoes, corn on the cob and toasted baguette :)

And the Brunometer says:

8.9 / 10

So easy and satisfying!

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