Post Writers Conference Therapy

Diagnosis – Writers Conference Fatigue

Contagion – Attending Chuckanut Writers Conference

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My first public reading.

Therapy – Exercise creativity through medium other than writing

Chosen therapy – Cook dinner

Find ingredients in the house, use creatively.

In freezer find main ingredient – Wild boar ravioli (plin) – bought at farmer’s market too long ago to remember (< six months ago).

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Garden – find fresh herbs, oregano, thyme and rosemary.

Pantry – find two cans of chopped tomatoes

Kitchen counter – find head of garlic and onion

Proceed to chop ingredients

IMG_5925Sweat onions and garlic

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Add rest of ingredients

IMG_5926Add salt, and pepper then stir, simmer for magical amount of time.

Use immersion blender to create saucy sauce.

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Boil frozen plin, then plate. Garnish with sprig of rosemary and slice of olive bread.

Post writers conference dinner. Books from local Seattle authors, Elissa Washuta, Erik Larson, Stephanie Gallos and Carol Cassella. Wine from Woodward Canyon - Walla Walla Washington.
Post writers conference dinner. Books from local Seattle authors, Elissa Washuta, Erik Larson, Stephanie Gallos and Carol Cassella. Wine from Woodward Canyon – Walla Walla Washington.

Note: The Chuckanut Writers Conference was an amazing experience. The faculty list was A plus list. I’m so happy to live in such a creatively rich place like the Pacific NW. Cheers! (With a bottle of Woodward Canyon 2013 Dolcetto)

Cocina Criolla cookbook

Cooking Cuban – Arroz con Pollo

I sat at the table watching my grandmother uncover the large pot sitting on the stove. As steam billowed from under the cover, the fragrance of oregano, garlic, onion, tomato, chicken and a hint of white wine, tickled my nose and made my stomach growl. I eagerly awaited my plate of arroz con pollo piled high chicken with rice dotted with green peas, bell peppers and red pimentos. Before I dove into my dinner of this dish, that I consider my childhood favorite, my grandmother placed a paper towel lined plate piled high with tostones, twice fried green plantains, sprinkled with the right amount of salt. The tostones would serve as part food item, part utensil, helping push the rice and chicken onto my fork before I took each mouth-watering bite.

This is the vision I have of Sunday dinner at my grandmother’s house. She lived in a townhouse, three blocks away from the apartment I shared in Chicago with my mom, dad and older brother. It was a  different world from my multicultural German, Cuban household. In her house Cuba was the root of everything, or so I thought in my child’s mind. Her cooking, the music she played and her language, was all Cuban. Thanks to her, I learned to cook tostones and arroz con pollo. And whenever I want to get in touch with my Cuban roots, energizing my Cuban DNA, and remember my grandmother I cook these two things.

Cocina Criolla cookbook
Some ingredients and Cocina Criolla by Nitza Villapol.

This time I needed some help to remember the ingredients. Thanks to inspiration from My Big Fat Cuban Family blog and the cookbook my grandmother left me, Cocina Criolla by Nitza Villapol, I began my journey towards feeling Cuban in Seattle.

Not only did I want to reignite my internal Cubana, I wanted to use up some food I had in the house. Nitza’s recipe calls for two whole chickens. I had two boneless, skinless breasts in the fridge, this was a problem. I recalled my grandmother loved cooking with chicken thighs, for flavor and for economic reasons, so I headed to the store to buy four chicken thighs plus strained tomatoes, plantain, an onion, dry white wine and bell pepper (red and green). The rest were in the pantry or cupboard.

chicken marinading
Marinade chicken in sour orange juice (made with orange juice with a splash of lime, since I can’t get bitter/sour oranges in Seattle).

The first step is to marinade the chicken in a cup or two of sour orange juice and several cloves of garlic (minced) for at least an hour. Since I live far from where bitter oranges grow, and have never looked to see if it is sold bottled anywhere in Seattle, my trick is to use orange juice and a splash of lime.

Charred pepper on grill.
Charring the red bell pepper.

While the chicken was marinading, I began prepping the rest of the ingredients. My grandmother never liked cooking with canned or bottled vegetables, but most recipes for arroz con pollo call for canned peas, asparagus and bottled pimentos. Since I grew up with a mother who cooked from a can, box and frozen meals, (she was a woman caught in the age of “easy food”), I too stay away from those things. So I made my own pimiento with red bell pepper (yes I know pimiento is different from red bell pepper), used frozen green peas (petite peas would be better) and fresh asparagus (which I just so happened to have in the fridge).

Peeled and sliced - reserving some for garnish.
Peeled and sliced – reserving some for garnish.

To make my version of bottled pimiento, I fire-roasted the red bell pepper to char the skin, about 10-15 minutes, turning every few minutes, to get an even char. Then I place the roasted bell pepper into a paper bag to continue steaming the pepper, about 5 minutes. Now the pepper was ready for pealing, the skin should come off fairly easily with your fingers. What I love about this method, is you get a nice smokey flavor on the bell pepper and the consistency is just like the bottled pimiento.

Making sofrito
Making sofrito.

I browned the chicken in some olive oil using a large, deep skillet. Once browned, take the chicken out of the pan and deglaze pan with white wine, getting all the flavor-filled tidbits off the bottom of the pan. The pan is now ready for making the sofrito. Add the green bell pepper and onion, stir until they are soft. The smell of the sofrito will transport you to my grandmother’s kitchen. Find an album by Paquito D’Rivera (I was playing Havana-Rio Connection album playing in the background) and you may get a nostalgic vision of Cuba B.C. (before Castro)

Rice bathed in sofrito
Adding rice.

The sofrito continues to cook by adding the tomato sauce (about 1.5 cups), white wine (1.5-2 cups), cumin (1 tsp), and oregano (hefty tsp).  Once combined, the pan is ready to add the rice (3 cups), chicken stock (2 cups), two bay leaves, and annato for color (1 tsp).

Ok, here is another place where I deviate from Nitza’s and other recipes. Many recipes ask you to add Accent or some spice pack from Goya. I don’t add these because their main, if not only, ingredient is MSG (you know the stuff you don’t want to eat at Chinese restaurants, monosodium glutamate). Instead, I add a little more salt than the recipe calls for, and then put it on the table.

beer
Adding beer!

Since I used a deep skillet, I was able to place all the chicken in the pan without having to use a dutch oven. Cover and let cook until the rice is done – about 20 – 30 minutes. To finish I added some beer I had in the fridge. I then placed the garnish of fresh asparagus, thawed peas and fire-roasted red pepper. And voila dinner is served.

finished product.
Final result.

Moving right along… Shrimp Ceviche night!

Let’s take a gastronomic trip to a place far from the cold and dreary Pacific NW. Yes, our winter started today, our 3 months of sunshine and dry weather is over. Ho hum. So let us venture south of the border or to the south Pacific with a simple healthy meal.
In the fridge I had two pounds of cold water shrimp harvested off the coast of Oregon.Sustainable? yes! Healthy? yes! Local? yes!

I already had some avocados, and frozen lime and lemon juice at home. So on the way home from work I stopped at my local produce place and got some vine-not-so-ripened-tomatoes, cilantro, red onion, Serrano chiles and garlic.

ingredients
The ingredients.

I’m a no nonsense type of cook. I don’t have any fancy gadgets, like a garlic peeler. My number one tool in the kitchen is my chef’s knife. (Yes, I need a larger cutting board.)

No nonsense cooking
Just the basics.

I chopped all of the veggies first, defrosted the lime and lemon ice cubes.

ingredients ready to be mixed
Ingredients before mixing.

Dumped them, along with the shrimp into the bowl, then mixed them up.

dump
Premixed ingredients.
mixed ingredients
Ingredients mixed, except for the avocado.

I sliced up the avocado halves vertically and horizontally using my chef’s knife. I could’ve used a smaller knife, but I didn’t want to get it dirty. I used a silicon spatula to scoop out the avocado pieces into the bowl and to gently stir the ingredients together.

Shrimp ceviche
Shrimp ceviche served with tortilla chips.

I like to serve ceviche with tortilla chips, the crunch and added salt make a great pairing. You can make this into a south Pacific variety by adding seaweed and a drizzle of sesame oil.

Ingredients:
2 lbs small shrimp
2 tomatoes
1 bunch cilantro
1/2 red onion
2 serrano chiles
3 cloves of garlic
Juice of 2 limes and 2 lemons
salt and pepper to taste

Once items are chopped, mix together, taste, mix one more time, then marinade in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. The longer the ceviche marinades, the more the flavors of the ingredients come together. Enjoy on a salad, on a tortilla chip or alone in a bowl.