Quick & Cheesy, Artichoke & Spinach Dip

People in Texas love cheesy dips.

This recipe came as a complete accident a few weeks ago when I was suddenly asked to come up with an appetizer big enough to feed 8 people, two of them teenage boys.   After scavenging the entire kitchen looking for ingredients that made sense,  I realized there was very little, and nearly not enough to make a dish for that many people, or that would appeal the teenage taste.  That is, until I saw the package of Trader Joe’s Artichoke and & Spinach dip hiding in the freezer!  In no way is this an original recipe, but mostly a way to stretch that one package of dip, give it a nice injection of flavor and make everyone happy.   In this case, it saved the day!

 

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time:  4-10 Minutes 

 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 pckg – Trader Joe’s Artichoke Dip
  • 3 cloves – Garlic
  • 1/2 bulb – Shallots
  • 1 tbsp – Olive oil
  • 1/4 cup – Chopped Frozen Spinach
  • 1 pckg – Light Cream Cheese (Neuchâtel)
  • 1/4 tsp – Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/2 lemon – Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 cup – Mozzarella or Italian Blend Cheese

Instructions

  • Slightly defrost TJ Dip in the microwave – follow instructions of the package.
  • Cream cheese should be at room temperature
  • Crush or mince garlic cloves, finely chop the shallots.
  • While the dip is defrosting, bring the olive oil in a sauté pan to medium heat
  • Sauté the garlic and shallots together until translucent, about 4 minutes.
  • Add the Cream cheese to a large mixing bowl, then pour in the garlic and shallot mixture, mix by hand using a spatula until incorporated and smooth
  • Add the defrosted Spinach (no cooking necessary, just make sure there’s no additional liquid)
  • Add the lemon juice, cayenne, a dash of salt & pepper to taste.
  • Add the packaged TD Artichoke dip, mix well.
  • Continue to mix until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
  • Transfer into a serving dish, then top with Mozzarella / Italian Blend cheese.

 

Cooking Instructions:

In the Oven:  Broil in 425ºF for 8-10 minutes, or until the cheese is browned and bubbly.

If using a Microwave:  Cover and heat in Med / High setting for 4 minutes

Serve with thick tortilla chips and enjoy!

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My kind of cooking Party — Pastelillos de Carne

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Making pastelillos is way easier than you think.                 Dough + filling, frying oil and done.

 

I had a “Pastelillo” party the other night, we all rolled up our sleeves and got creative trying out different ingredients and fillings.  It was amazing to see everyone having so much fun, getting super involved and excited to try their own creations.

In Puerto Rico we have our own version of empanadas, called Pastelillos. They are kind of different from the empanadas out there, the dough is light, fried, and cut into small discs.  There is an endless supply of filling recipes.  Seasoned ground beef (picadillo), potatoes-onions & cheese, even left over chicken fricassee… My favorite pastelillos growing up were simply filled with just cheese or sweet guava.

I guess its like the original Hot Pocket… but healthier and way tastier (yes, even though its fried).  They can be filled with something savory, sweet, or both.   This recipe is loaded with flavor and is super easy to make, especially if you buy the pre-made dough from any specialty supermarket.

Here the recipe:

Pastelillos 

Ingredients

• Pre-made Empanada shells

Goya is a popular brand you can find at many Asian or ethnic supermarkets.

If you rather make your own dough, this is my go-to recipe http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Empanada-Dough-230786

 

Beef Filling (Picadillo)

Ground Beef, 80% Lean

1/2 green pepper, diced

1/2 small onion, diced

3 garlic cloves- minced

1 tbsp Sofrito

1 tomato, chopped

4 oz of tomato sauce

1 tsp. Adobo seasoning (Goya) or salt and pepper for seasoning

1 tbsp Annato seed infused oil

1 tsp. ground Cumin

1 tsp dried Oregano
½ tsp. black pepper
8 chopped or sliced olives

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp. golden raisins

2 tbsp Olive oil (to sauté the ground beef)

 

▪Veggie Filling (Vegetarian Option) 

1 whole Zucchini Squash- diced

2 cloves of Garlic minced

1/2 small onion, diced

Pinch of Cumin, pinch of Oregano

Fresh Cilantro, minced

Pinch of salt and pepper for seasoning

1/4 cup of Mozzarella or Fontina cheese

2 Tbsp of Olive oil

 

Cooking Instructions

Picadillo

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large sauté pan to a medium heat, add the onions, garlic and green peppers with a dash of salt and let stand for 3 minutes until the veggies start to steam stirring every other minute until the onions start to become translucent.  Add 2 tbsp of Sofrito and stir around the pan until incorporated.

Starts when Sofrito hits the pan

 

Add the ground beef (you can mix it with ground turkey, or chicken for a healthier option) to the pan to brown, season with 1/2 tsp. of Adobo.  Add the chopped tomato, oregano, olives and raisins, annatto oil (or Sazon Goya is a good substitute) , and tomato sauce.  Bring to a simmer stirring often, then cover and cook for 15 minutes over low heat.  Continue to cook uncovered for another 10-15 minutes.  Season to taste with the remaining Adobo.

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Ground beef filling (Picadillo), made with sofrito, peppers, onions.

 

You can totally make the meat filling ahead, its much easier to assemble the Pastelillos when the meat is cool.  Plus, it saves a lot of time.

Veggie Filling

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large sauté pan to a low-medium heat, add the onions, garlic with a dash of salt and let stand for 2 minutes stirring every other minute until the onions start to become translucent.  Add 1 tsp.  Sofrito, the dry spices, and the diced zucchini then stir until all incorporated, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Use the cheese to sprinkle on top of the filling when making the pastelillos.

 

How to put it together.

Pour cooking oil in a 3 quart pan, deep enough for frying.  I don’t have a thermometer, so my grandma knew when the oil was hot enough by watching the first signs of a light steam…

But, if you have one a thermometer , just make sure it hits 325-350º F.

Place the dough on a clean surface lined with wax paper (easier to clean up!)  Fill the center with a spoonful of the filling.  Sometimes I sprinkle some cheese on top of the filling for an added yummy creaminess.

 

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Here’s a trick! Run your fingers around the edges of the dough using a couple of drops of water to create tight seal

 

 

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Place the filling in the middle, make sure you don’t over-fill it. A small amount goes a long way, and it keeps your frying oil free of over-spills

 

Then fold disk in half, it should look like a half moon, then using a fork press the edges to seal both sides creating a nice rippled edge look.

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Fold into a half-moon shape, then press down on the (already moist) edges using a fork. This will keep your filling safe inside, and makes it look pretty.

 

Once your pastelillos are all sealed and ready, drop them in the heated oil one by one.  The filling is cooked, so the dough will only need a few minutes to cook, 2 minutes on each side—resist the urge to leave them any longer… they go from pale to brown in no time!  The pastelillos should have puffed up from the steam inside.  Then, try to resist the urge to eat them immediately…  let the pastelillos cool.

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You can use a deep frier, or a frying pan. Just make sure there is enough oil in the pan.

After they cool (preferably in a cooling rack), I serve them in a bread basket.  It gives it a little rustic look that makes you want to just grab one and go.

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Ok, so this is just delish. Crunchy dough, warm savory ground beef, with a sprinkle of cheese for the extra ‘umph’.


I seriously need an intervention, because once I start– I can’t stop. 


Ciao Bacalao!

Giving the old Bacalaitos recipe a little Asian twist from Shanghai with love.

 Bacalaitos Chinos – Salted Cod & Shrimp Fritters 

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Crunchy bites of Juicy sweet shrimp and salty cod with herbs. Yes Please! I served these one night when I had friends over for snacks and drinks and they were a hit.

A combination of Asian sweet savory flavors with salty crunchy warm bacalaitos from Puerto Rico.  Because these little fried treats are just easy to grab with a napkin, they make a super yummy quick snack.

A few months ago I was at the grocery store when I stumbled upon some salted cod. It immediately brought memories of every time I drive along the beach in Piñones PR where there are lots of roadside food vendors selling Bacalaitos, alcapurrias, piononos.

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Alcapurrias & Bacalaitos at the hands of one of the many beach vendors in Piñones, PR

 

A couple of years ago I found myself traveling in Asia often for work.  While in China I discovered a lot of different flavors and dishes with very common ingredients found in tropical climates like our own in PR. Bacalaitos are salted cod fritters that always came to my mind every time I filled my plate with all those delicious Asian goodies.

Crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside... dim sum, scallion pancakes, shrimp fritters with soy sauce.

Crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside… dim sum, scallion pancakes, shrimp fritters with soy sauce.

So there I was at the grocery store with salted cod in my hands. I really craved the Asian sweet savory flavors, and the salty crunchy warm bacalaitos, so I figured I could try to join them in holy culinary matrimony in my kitchen! Why not?

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Bacalaitos Chinos

Ingredients

1/3 lb. Bacalao / Salted Cod
1/3 lb shelled shrimp
1/4 cup green bell pepper minced
2 tbsp fresh cilantro
2 tbsp diced green onions (green part only)
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cup water
1 large clove garlic
1 tbsp sofrito
1 tsp of adobo
• pinch of pepper

Canola or Vegetable oil for frying

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Instructions:

Boil the salted cod in plain water for 10 minutes, discard the water and repeat the boiling process.  This will remove most of the salt content of the dried cod.  Taste a small piece to make sure its still somewhat salty but not too much.  After the cod has cooled down, mince the cod with your hands into small bite size pieces then set aside.

Dice the shelled shrimp and add to the salted cod in a bowl.

On a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, adobo. Then add water and whisk until the lumps are gone and the mix has a smooth texture.  Add the salted cod and shrimp mix and the rest of the ingredients. The mix should look chunky and somewhat creamy.  If you like a crunchier flatter bacalaito, just add more water to thin out the mixture.

In a deep pot or a fryer prepare the canola oil until it reaches 350º – 375ºF.

You can use a spoon or a meatball/ice cream scooper to transfer the bacalaito mix into the frying pan.  You can make them as big or small as you’d like!   Turn them around the pan to ensure a golden crisp on both sides and around all edges.

Remove from oil and heat with a slotted spoon, set aside on a dish with paper towels to remove any excess oil and you are done!

Serve with a light mojito sauce (olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and cilantro).

Crunchy bites of Juicy sweet shrimp and salty cod with herbs. Yes Please!

Crunchy bites of Juicy sweet shrimp and salty cod with herbs. Yes Please!

 

 

Street food SXSW: The After-Action Report

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 12.48.15 PM   During the hipster invasion most commonly known and South by South West (SXSW) we embarked in a reconnaissance mission of sorts looking for great street treats. We saw amazing shows, the new, the unknowns and the popular. Armed with a “Secret” food crawl map on hand, we dusted off our bikes and zipped around Downtown Austin bouncing from music venue to music showcase, and snacking in between.

Birds of Tokyo

We tried the good, the greasy and the popular, and here’s our top picks.

  1. la Barbecue
  2. 313 Detroit Pizza
  3. Peached Tortilla
  4. East Side King
  5. Mulberry
  6. Tiniest bar in Texas

la Barbecue

La Barbecue –  Go here, not there.  ‘Nuf said. We did a head-to-head Battle of the Brisket between them and Franklin’s BBQ.  It was a glorious day filled with ridiculously long lines and incredibly smokey-juicy meaty goodness.  I can die happy now. 313 Detroit Pizza – Best thick crust Pizza in Austin… and it comes from a food truck. Really! It’s so good, there were rumors Jay Z fed his entire entourage while in town for SXSW.  This Square pizza has cheese all through the crusty edge.  The dough is plump, bouncy but very light, and these guys use the “best-est” of ingredients + crazy awesome combinations (sweet and salty, super meaty, high quality cured meats like Coppa).  This thing will make you wiggle in your seat as you eat. Try the Detroiter—and ask for extra cheese. Peached Tortilla –  How can you go wrong with Pork bahn mi tacos?  The cutest, girlie-est looking truck at Paul Qui’s South by South Bites park @ Rainey Street. There’s been all kinds of buzz thanks to their fantastic tasty sliders.  The formula is simple:  really innovative fusions with great flavors and fresh ingredients.

Peached Tortilla @ SXSBites Food truck park

Peached Tortilla @ SXSBites Food truck park

East Side King – Like you haven’t heard of them yet?  This review is overkill since everyone has written one thing or another about the super creative team lead by Paul Qui.  Ah, so this is Qui’s food truck?? Yes!  But don’t try to be-friend him on FB, the system will automatically rejected it.  I guess FB limits the number of friends one can have, and he’s got the max.  Who knew he was so friendly? Anyway, a few musts from this place:  fried brussels spouts & tongue steam buns.  But try everything if you can. It’s all THAT good. Mulberry – This is a very small wine bar with a super tasty menu. ALL great.  I’ve never had a bad meal there.  Solid brunch menu with a quaint patio on a quiet street.  Must order the Bacon wrapped dates. Nuggets of sweet, salty, crunchy and oozy goodness.  yea-huh.

Bacon Wrapped Dates at Mulberry WineBar and Bacon-ey  Brussels Sprouts  from Second Bar + Kitchen

Bacon Wrapped Dates at Mulberry WineBar and Bacon-ey Brussels Sprouts from Second Bar + Kitchen

Tiniest bar in Texas –  Basically its a tiny tiny bar with a giant patio. No food here outside of a sandwich truck, but this made the list as a destination for solid cocktails (Moscow Mules, anyone?) and it still has ‘proper Texas prices’, and a great atmosphere. They play vintage (ok, 80s) movies and live music sometimes.   Thanks to SXSW, we saw the coolest Korean rock band there. So yea, we ate, we rocked, we walked a ton, I thank my friends for sticking with me through it all…  got some good ideas after our “South-by” adventure.  I’m onto you, stove… we’ll be making tasty “music” together pretty soon.

Recaito: The Puerto Rican cousin of Sofrito

Growing up I hated doing chores (who doesn’t?), my least favorite was pulling weeds.   Sometimes as I cleaned the yard, I would stumble on one or two wild plants of Recao.  Recao is a local herb  that looks just like any other weed, but its aroma is floral and spicy.  When its used in its full leaf form it makes every stew or rice just sing with layers of flavor, but If you pull one with your bare hands… like, when cleaning out the yard, you will be smelling like recao for an entire day.  This thing is powerful stuff  especially if consumed raw.
Recao

Recao

Recaito is the most basic component of Puerto Rican food, it anchors any stew-based dish  and helps develop different layers of flavor.   Its a simple blend of mostly raw peppers, onions, garlic, herbs and Recao that is pretty common in some Latin American countries, where its widely called Sofrito.  Sofrito usually incorporates tomatoes,  Recaito its mostly all about the herbs.
By no means I claim this to be the official recipe, this is just the one that grew up with, the one that has been handed down from generation to generation.  I remember my mom had an old clunky mill that looked more like a medieval device of torture.  It was hard to use,  but it made THE smoothest recaito.   The smell of pureed sweet peppers, onions and cilantro filled the house with the most herbolicious scent!  Once the mix hits the bottom of hot pan all that steam is released, your dish starts to really sing.
Makes about 16 oz.    Prep time: 25 mins
Ingredients:
1 Green or Anaheim pepper
1/2 lb of sweet green peppers (ajies dulces)–be careful, they look like habaneros!
1 head of garlic
1 small yellow onion
1 bunch fresh recao (culantro) leaves
1 bunch of  fresh cilantro
1/2 bunch of fresh oregano
How to:
Chop all peppers to medium sized cubes, clean and scrape off seeds.
Chop onions, fresh herbs, garlic just enough to fit the food processor easily.
Using a  food processor, puree peppers and onions first then add the rest of the ingredients.
Pulse ingredients together in medium / high speed until all ingredients are well incorporated and the consistency is smooth.  Use a little water or olive oil if the mixture needs to be smoother.
Pour mixture in a glass container like a mason jar, refrigerate or freeze if you want it to last longer.
Awesome Tip from Mom
Pour mixture in an ice tray and freeze until set.  The cubed size mixture makes a perfect size for using Recao in every PRican dish as its base.  Easy breezy!
Easy as 1-2-3

Easy as 1-2-3

Here’s a picture of the Scotch Bonnet peppers, so they’re easier to spot in the super market.  These peppers are mostly green but they can turn yellow and red with no huge flavor variations.
Sweet scotch bonnet peppers

Sweet scotch bonnet peppers

Y tu abuela, donde esta?

Hola!  Here’s a little intro post to kick start this adventure.  Sofrito Chic  incorporates two words that inspired this journey and what my social cooking is all about:  Good Puerto Rican soul food with a twist of chic.  Sprinkling ingredients and tricks here and there taken from my travel experiences adding that eclectic twist my kitchen has always had.
I grew up  between the mountainous jungle where my grandmother was born, and the busy and colorful microcosm of the capital city of PR, San Juan, hiding under my grandma’s “muumuu” playing with corn fritter dough stuck between my fingers.
I learned my best tricks by helping her cook almost every day from the age of 4 until my college days when she prematurely passed away.  Her approach to food and her attitude of never taking shortcuts in the kitchen taught me that hard work always pays off at the end.   As a city kid, my mom understood the importance of keeping us grounded and connected to our culture and past, so we often visited our close relatives in the country side, running around fields of coffee bushes,  plucking chicken feathers, or feeding baby piglets at my grandfather’s pig farm, all before heading home to traffic lights and MTv.
Abuela Goyita making pasteles on the kitchen table

Abuela Goyita (left) making pasteles on the kitchen table with her daughter Titi Margarita

My grandma and my mom instilled in me a deep appreciation for home-grown, fresh produce and the strong connection our food has to our  roots and the island culture.   As I  became young woman, I left my little island-universe and  found myself in far and away places exploring new parts of the world and picking up tricks and flavors in between never forgetting the lessons in life my grandma passed on to me.

Styling Abuela's hair was one of my favorite things to do

Styling Abuela’s hair was one of my favorite things to do

From the Plaza del Mercado in Rio Piedras, PR to the food market on the side of a small road in Krabi, Thailand; Sofrito chic documents the journey of that little girl with golden locks helping grandma pick pigeon peas from the back yard, to the woman I am today.   Infusing these flavors into every day meals, sharing them with friends from my small home in Austin, Texas.
Here’s a humble piece of me, and a bow to all the strong and amazing women that came before me.  I am happy to share the bits I’ve learned from my adventures in life with the hopes it makes you eat well and smile along the way.

Today is the 18th anniversary or your passing, so here’s a toast to you Abuela.  I miss you.