The Versailles Restaurant Cookbook: A Review, A Recipe & Giveaway

 

 

Maduros (Sweet Plantains) | Flamingo Musings

Maduros (Sweet Plantains) – the classic side dish for every Cuban meal.

When I heard that Versailles Restaurant, the de facto epicenter of Cuban Cuisine & Culture in South Florida was publishing a cookbook of its famous, home-style recipes, I admit that I became a little giddy. I live about 20 minutes away from Versailles. With traffic.  In the 40+ years that I’ve lived in South Florida, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve indulged myself in, and dragged out of town visitors to Versailles. You want a taste of the real Miami? Skip South Beach – trek to Little Havana and Calle Ocho!

Versailles has been in Miami nearly as long as I have. The restaurant itself is a little like the Tardis – bigger on the inside than the outside. They don’t take reservations. Show up with a group of from 2 to 20, there’s always space for you. Not to mention the separate bakery area and the outside ventanita – the little window on the outside of the restaurant that serves Cuban coffee, pastries and other small bites.  Everyone from pop stars to politicians goes to Versailles. Don’t even think about running for any political office from local commissioner to President of the United States, without stopping and stumping at Versailles!

Savory with a touch of sweet, a bit salty balanced by a hint of acid, and the melding of the sofrito – the Cuban mirepoix (onion, bell pepper, garlic) – as the flavor base of so many classic dishes such as picadillo (spiced ground beef), ropa vieja (shredded beef in sauce), and arroz con pollo (chicken with rice), makes Cuban cuisine unique among many others.

Ana Quincoces, celebrity chef, guest cohost of ABC’s The View and former star of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Miami, has partnered with Nicole Valls of Valls Group, Inc. to release The Versailles Restaurant Cookbook. The Valls family began Versailles and grew it to include the equally delicious La Carreta chain of Cuban restaurants, as well as 5 kiosks scattered through Miami International Airport, so you’re never at a loss for a cafecíto fix!  The cookbook is filled with a history of the Valls family and the evolution of the restaurant, mouthwatering photographs, and recipes for very nearly everything on their menu, including a selection of popular beverages, and a glossary of some Spanish/Cuban food terms.

So, yeah, I can not tell a lie. I contacted the publisher and requested a copy of The Versailles Restaurant Cookbook to review and to give away a copy to one of you. I don’t do that a lot. And when it comes to cookbooks purporting to represent famous restaurants, I’m usually disappointed.  Not this time.

Which is not to say that I didn’t have one major bone to pick with the cookbook. While there are many classic and famous desserts represented, there is not a single pastry recipe in the entire book. In fact, whenever a pastry crust is required for something like an empanada, you are instructed to purchase refrigerated pie dough. The caption under the photograph for the Santiago-Style Chicken Pie on Page 37 explains it: “This recipe is a little different… in that it uses refrigerated pie crust. The pastry made at the bakery is too labor intensive to include here...” [emphasis added by me]. Personally, I find that statement to be a bit disingenuous and condescending. It assumes that the reader is either too lazy or incapable of making a pastry crust. Perhaps it’s a secret recipe. That’s fine, but my feeling is, either give us the complete recipe, or don’t include it in the book and insult the reader/cook simultaneously.

That logic extends to giving us the recipe for Picadillo (a Cuban-spiced ground beef dish), telling us that this is also the filling for the empanadas (beef hand pies or turnovers), then, under empanadas, giving us the exact same recipe for picadillo, but telling us to buy prepared refrigerated empanada discs! Why waste the space with the redundancy? Give us the pastry recipe, or skip the empanadas.

Overall, I prepared at least 6 or 7 recipes from the cookbook, and while (for my own personal taste) I might cut back a bit on the oil and salt, I was very happy with the results. I found the instructions clear and logical. Before long, I had a taste of Versailles coming out of my own kitchen!

The recipe I’m going to share with you is for the Mariquitas with Mojo Criollo – plantain chips with garlicky dipping sauce.  This appetizer is positively addictive, whether you order it at the restaurant or make it at home, so make lots! And it’s very easy to make. Be sure to choose firm and very green plantains and slice them very thinly. I find a small, hand-held mandolin slicer to be the perfect tool for the job. Be sure to use the hand guard or cut-resistant glove, for safety! The Mojo Criollo is a great dipping sauce for so many other foods like veggie chips or chicken wings, and leftover mojo can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Mariquitas (Plantain Chips) | Flamingo Musings

Mariquitas (Plantain Chips) with Mojo Criollo dip. Don’t skip the dip!

Mariquitas with Mojo Criollo

Ingredients:

  • 2 or 3 green plantains
  • 3 cups vegetable oil for frying
  • salt to season

Method:

Heat the oil to 375º F in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat.

Once the oil is hot, peel a plantain and cut into paper-thin slices, no more than 1/16 of an inch thick.  Immediately place the slices into the hot oil and fry the plantains for 3 to 4 minutes, turning them occasionally, until they are crisp but not brown.  Transfer the fried plantains to drain on a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle them generously with salt.

Let the oil return to 375º F before cutting more slices and frying each consecutive batch.

Mojo Criollo for Mariquitas

Ingredients:

  • 10 – 12 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • 1/4 cup grapefruit juice
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbs. white vinegar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 Tbs. of water or more to reduce acidity

Method:

Combine all the ingredients and mix well.  Taste, adding more salt and water as necessary. Allow to sit for 30 minutes to an hour before serving alongside hot mariquitas.

Note:  This mojo is uncooked and is generally used for fried vegetables. It will keep for up to a week, covered and refrigerated.

This serves 4 – 6. I won’t lie. My husband and I polished off the entire batch, watching a baseball game!

I also made the Maduros (a fried sweet plantain that’s nearly always a side dish to any Cuban meal and pictured at the top), the Picadillo (pictured below), as well as the Arroz con Pollo (Chicken and Rice) and Black Bean Soup (not pictured), and a couple of the desserts. Each and every one turned out – and tasted – like the Versailles version.

Cuban Picadillo |Flamingo Musings

Picadillo – Cuban seasoned ground beef with olives and raisins. The basic dish by which I judge all Cuban restaurants – and Cuban cookbooks!

Drooling yet? Enter below to win your own copy of The Versailles Restaurant Cookbook, sent to you directly from the publisher! This giveaway is open to anyone, Worldwide, so go for it!

Versailles Restaurant Cookbook

You want this! Enter to win your own copy of The Versailles Restaurant Cookbook, below!

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I received a copy of The Versailles Restaurant Cookbook for review. Another copy will be shipped to the winner of this giveaway, directly from the publisher. I have received no compensation or anything else as an inducement to write this review, which represents my honest opinion. I received permission from the publisher to reproduce the recipe included here, as well as the photograph of the book. All other photos and text are original to me and is copyrighted material, not to be reproduced without express permission from RJ Flamingo and her real-life alter-ego. Links contained in this post may be affiliate links to my Amazon store. If you start here and buy anything on Amazon, I get a small commission. This does not increase your price, but does help me pay my web host. Thank you for your support!

By RJ Flamingo ~ 42 Comments

Eastern European Apple Cake

 

Eastern European Apple Cake | Flamingo Musings

The theme of apples and sweetness continues through the coming weeks, as we move from the Jewish Holy Days, on through the holiday of  Sukkot. Sukkot (or Succos), translates as “Feast of Tabernacles”, and commemorates the Jewish people’s 40 years of wandering in the desert between being released from bondage in Egypt to finally being permitted to enter Israel, their new permanent home. We are supposed to build a kind of impermanent dwelling outdoors, with a roof made of branches or palm leaves (depending on what’s available in your area), so you can still see the sky through it, and eat all of our meals during that week there.

This rustic Eastern European Apple Cake was always baked by my mother for the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana), and for Sukkot. Two layers of sweet sugar cookie dough sandwich a layer of cinnamon-spiced shredded apples. I guess you could think of it as the less-sweet Jewish equivalent of a deep-dish apple pie. Except that it’s not pie. It’s cake. And it makes a delicious ending to dinner or your Yom Kippur break fast, a tasty snack with a cup of tea or coffee, or even your regular breakfast in a pinch. I won’t tell.

This post is about three years overdue. If it were a library book, I’d own it by now.

Eastern European Apple Cake | Flamingo Musings

Eastern European Apple Cake

(Makes 8 – 12 servings)

Ingredients:

For the dough:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the filling:

  • 3 large apples (your choice)
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs. cane sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • About 1 Tbs. additional sugar for sprinkling over the top.

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Lightly grease (either a thin coat of oil applied with paper towel, or cooking spray) an oven-safe 8″ x 12″ rectangular baking dish (I prefer clear glass, but you can use a metal baking pan), set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center. Add the egg, sugar, oil, juice, and vanilla extract to the well. Stir together, drawing the flour mixture in a little at a time as you stir, then switch to using your hand to combine thoroughly into a firm dough.

Eastern European Apple Cake | Flamingo Musings

Divide the dough into 2 halves, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and allow to rest for about 10 minutes.

Roll one dough half into a rectangle about 1/4″ thick to fit into the bottom of the baking dish. Trim any excess dough and use it to patch any holes in the bottom crust.

Peel and core the apples, then shred them using either the large holes on a box grater or the shredding disc of your food processor. You should get about 4 cups of shredded apple. Mix the shredded apples with the cinnamon, sugar, and salt. When thoroughly combined, spread the filling evenly over the bottom crust.

Roll the second dough half into a rectangle about 1/4″ thick, as before. Lay the second crust over the top of the filling, tucking in around the edges. Trim off any excess and patch any holes.

Lightly score the top crust with a knife into 8 or 12 portions (see photo), and sprinkle the additional sugar evenly over the top.

Bake on the bottom oven rack for 55 – 60 minutes, or until both the top and bottom crusts are golden brown.

Jewish Apple Cake | Flamingo Musings

Notes:

Don’t prepare the filling until the bottom crust is in place in the baking pan/dish. If left to sit too long, the apples will start juicing prematurely. You can drain off the juices, but that will result in a drier filling, and if you stir them back in, you could wind up with a soggy bottom crust.

Eastern European Apple Cake | Flamingo Musings

By RJ Flamingo ~ 6 Comments

Mom’s Traditional Sweet Gefilte Fish

 

 

It was a tradition for Rosh Hashana, Passover, or whatever in between. No matter where the holiday dinner was hosted – my mother’s, my brother’s, or my place – Mom always brought the Gefilte Fish and the chopped liver.

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This was the benchmark against which all others were measured. In the grocery stores, shelves were loaded with jars filled with little beige loaves purporting to be gefilte fish. I passed them with idle curiosity. Occasionally, we’d be guests at friends’ homes where they busted out the jars and sometimes tried to dress them up, but they wouldn’t fool me. Hard as a rock, with a kind of tinny flavor and even stranger texture – this was absolutely not gefilte fish. No matter how much horseradish you dump on it. No. I still feel sorry for people who’ve never had the real thing, because most of them are haters without ever knowing that that’s not what it tastes like. I’m talking to you.

Please make this recipe today. Even if you’re not Jewish. It takes a little bit of time, but with a food processor, it’s easy to do. You (and your family) will never eat that stuff out of the jars ever again. At least, not willingly.

Gefilte Fish | Flamingo Musings

Traditional Sweet Gefilte Fish

(makes about 12 portions)

Ingredients:

Broth:

  • 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced into coins, or on the bias
  • 1 large onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground white pepper

Water (see preparation instructions)

Fish:

  • 2 lbs white fish filets
  • 2 large eggs, hardboiled, peeled, and cut in half
  • 1 small onion, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 3/4 cup ice water
  • 2 large eggs, raw
  • 3/4 cup matzo meal
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup granulated cane sugar
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground white pepper

Preparation:

Place the onions and carrots in the bottom of a 6 – 8 quart pot (not a tall-sided stockpot). Using a large measuring cup or a pitcher, slowly add water to the pot without disturbing the vegetables at the bottom, until the pot is about half-full.  Add the seasonings, and bring the water to a boil. Cover the pot and reduce the heat until the broth is just simmering.

Cut each fish filet into four pieces.

Have a large mixing bowl ready.  Using a large food processor fitted with the metal blade, and pulsing, chop the fish together with the hardboiled eggs, the raw eggs, and the small onion.  I like to put in several pieces of fish with a quarter of the onion and a half of the hardboiled egg at a time, alternating with 1/4 cup of the ice water, and finishing with the raw eggs, scraping down the side of the processor’s work bowl between additions.  If your food processor is not large enough, do this in batches, making sure that the end result is smooth and that there are no “chunks”.

Empty the contents of the food processor into the large mixing bowl.  Add the matzo meal, sugar, salt and pepper, and mix well. This is the point when we check for seasoning:  Take a bit of the batter, about the size of a nickel (or a Euro, if you’re reading this elsewhere), and drop it into the now-simmering broth. Let it poach for about 5 minutes. Remove it from the broth and let it cool for a few minutes. Now, take a bite. Does it need more salt? Is it sweet enough? Would you like another pinch of salt? Another tablespoon or two of sugar? If you add more of anything to the batter, make sure it’s well-incorporated and repeat the taste test. When you’re happy with it, cover the bowl and refrigerate the batter for at least one hour.

Form the chilled batter into patties about 1/2″ – 3/4″ thick and gently place them into the simmering broth. Use your hands. Fine. Wear gloves if you’re squeamish.  Using that measuring cup or pitcher, gently add more water, if necessary, to raise the broth level to just cover the fish patties. Avoid pouring water directly onto the fish patties! Aim for in between. Bring the pot back up to a boil, then partially cover the pot with its lid and reduce the heat until it is just simmering.

Cook at a simmer for 1-1/2 hours. Remove the pot from the heat, and use a slotted spoon to remove the fish patties from the broth, onto a platter. Use the “good” dishes. Blot up any liquid from the plate with a paper towel. Fish out the prettiest carrot slices from the pot and garnish each patty. Cover the plate with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly before serving.

If you wish to save the broth, strain it into a clean bowl, using a fine strainer lined with several thicknesses of cheesecloth.

Gefilte Fish Cooking

Serve chilled with red horseradish (horseradish mixed with beets) on the side.

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*Notes:

I call this “Mom’s Traditional Sweet Gefilte Fish”, but of course Mom never owned a food processor. She used a heavy meat grinder and then chopped it all yet again in a wooden bowl with one of those two-bladed choppers. That’s how she made her chopped liver, too.  To this day, I’m convinced that’s how she got bursitis in her shoulder. That, and hand-grating potatoes on a box grater for kugels and latkes. We have the technology, people. Use it!

This recipe is easily doubled for a big crowd. Or if you want lots of leftovers. Which you will.

You can make the Gefilte Fish several days ahead of time – it’s a sturdy dish and only gets better with time.

Recommended fishes are cod, whitefish, or pike, or any combination of these.  For this batch, I used all cod.

Of course you want the freshest fish possible. I will not, however, look down my nose at you if you bought frozen filets. I won’t tell anyone.  Just make sure that they’re thawed completely and wiped dry with a paper towel before you begin. If you happen to be buying the fish fresh, however, ask your fishmonger to put the skin and bones in a separate bag for you. If you have the fish skin and bones, put those in the pot first, then cover with the onion slices, followed by the carrot slices. This will mostly protect your fish patties from getting all that nasty junk all over them when they’re poaching, while adding a lot of flavor and body to your broth. This will also transform your broth into actual “stock”, which – if you’re very lucky – will gel when it’s refrigerated later. Really delicious when mopped up with chunks of challah! Don’t get all upset if the transformation doesn’t happen. Even Mom’s didn’t gel all the time. Sometimes it did, and sometimes it didn’t – don’t stress it.

Gefilte Fish | Flamingo Musings

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Your New Year just started tasting a lot sweeter. L’Shana Tova!

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By RJ Flamingo ~ 4 Comments

Honey Cupcakes for Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year)

 

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It seems that I write about this nearly every year. The classic Honey Cake for Rosh Hashana don’t get no respect. It’s the Rodney Dangerfield of cakes.  For my non-Jewish friends, it’s not unlike the Christmas Fruitcake in that you kind of have to have one – it’s traditional – but no one wants to eat it.

Over the years, I have given you my favorite honey cake recipes that actually taste good. They’re moist and fragrant with honey and spices – a treat I always look forward to on our New Year table. Here’s one. Here’s another one. Here’s one made with agave, if those are too sweet for you (*Bonus* – this post also contains my favorite Round Challah recipe!). Here’s one made with pumpkin, for pity’s sake, no sugar, no oil, and sweetened only with honey.  You can’t say that I haven’t tried! But I can’t leave it alone. One more attempt to bring the oh-so-delicious-but-much-maligned Honey Cake into the 21st Century: The Cupcake.

I know. I don’t make cupcakes. Or frosting. Okay, exactly once before. That I’ve told you about. But I was inspired, people! I’ve taken one of my favorite recipes and made it a bit lighter in texture and flavor. And I think, a little bit healthier, using coconut oil and almond milk instead of the vegetable oil and coffee that I generally use for the full-sized cakes. Not that I’m abandoning my traditional honey cake, mind you, but I believe that you need to shake things up a bit, every so often. And when is it better to try something new, than a New Year?

Of course, they’re non-dairy – yes, even the frosting! – so they’ll make the perfect finish for your Rosh Hashana dinner, or for the lactose-intolerant.  You can make these cupcakes ahead and freeze them in heavy duty zip-top freezer bags, but don’t make the frosting or frost them until the same day as you plan to serve them.

honey_cupcake_5488_600

Honey Spice Cupcakes with Honey Meringue Frosting

(Yields about 16 regular-sized cupcakes)

Ingredients:

  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. table salt (or fine sea salt)
  • 2-1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice*
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup honey (preferably local to you)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup plain almond milk

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Place cupcake liners into muffin or cupcake pan(s) and set aside.

Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, and spice) in a medium bowl. Set aside

In a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer), beat the coconut oil on high speed for about one minute. Reduce the mixer speed to medium, and add the sugar, followed by the honey, then the eggs, and finally the almond milk, beating thoroughly after each addition and stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally.

Turning the mixer to low speed, add the flour mixture a little at a time, until the dry ingredients are completely moistened (or you’re reasonably sure that it’s not going to fly out of the bowl at you). Mix on medium-high, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, for an additional two minutes, or the batter is completely smooth.

Fill each cupcake liner about 3/4 with the batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until tops are springy to the touch and a skewer or cake tester inserted into the center of one of the “middle” cupcakes, comes out clean and dry.

Cool completely before frosting.

* I used Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice. I don’t usually use commercial pre-mixed spice blends, but in this case it contains exactly what I would put in my honey cake, anyway, and is pretty fresh this time of year. If you don’t have or don’t want to use pumpkin pie spice, substitute: 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon + 1 tsp. ground ginger + 1/2 tsp ground cardamom + 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg + 1/4 tsp. ground cloves.

For the Honey Meringue Frosting:

This is going to make about 5 cups of frosting, which will be more than you need.

  • 4 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
  • pinch of table salt
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract

Decor and/or toasted almond slivers or slices for garnish – optional.

Make the Frosting:

Put about 2 inches of water in a medium pot, bring to a simmer.

Whisk together the egg whites, sugar, honey, cream of tartar, and salt, in a medium glass or metal mixing bowl. If possible, use the bowl from your stand mixer (if you have one).

Place the bowl onto the pot of simmering water – don’t allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water.

Whisk the egg white mixture briskly over the simmering water, until it becomes hot to the touch.

Fit a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Place the bowl onto the mixer and beat on medium speed for one minute. Turn up the speed to high and beat for an additional 5 minutes, or until very stiff peaks form when you lift out the whisk.  Add the almond extract and beat on high for an additional one minute.  If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can use an electric hand mixer.

Scrape the frosting into a piping bag fitted with whatever tip you like. Or, if you’re like me, a gallon-sized zip-top plastic bag. Snip off one of the corners and pipe the frosting onto the completely cooled cupcakes.

Garnish with candy confetti, toasted slivered or sliced almonds, as you wish.

Honey Cupcake with Honey Meringue Frosting

My husband found these elegant, disposable, bake-safe, dessert wrappers at the Container Store, awhile back, and I couldn’t resist using a few of them here for kind of a classy take on cupcakes.  I thought it would be fun to set these special holiday honey cupcakes up in several different sorts of wrappers so you could see how they might go from fun for the kids to elegant for the adults.

 

By RJ Flamingo ~ 13 Comments

Grilled Turkey Tenders with Hatch Chiles

 

As one of my friends on Twitter noted recently, our grilling season in South Florida doesn’t begin until, say, around October.  August and September days typically run in the 90º F range, with humidity well above 60%, making an ambient (feels-like) temperature around 100º F. Then, just about the time you want to start supper, the storms come around. Guessing at exactly what time that will happen, is a fool’s game. As the old Yiddish expression says, “People make plans, and G-d laughs.” It rhymes in Yiddish.

No, in the summertime, most of my grilling gets done in the Great Indoors, in the coolness of the air conditioning. I’m not jealous of the rest of you. When y’all are hip-deep in snow, come December, I’ll be outside in the backyard with the barbecue grill, trying out some new rub, or tossing on some burgers in the twilight, and enjoying 75º days and cooler nights. I can’t wait!

I tell you all this, because you’re going to look at these pictures and say, “Hey! That’s not a barbecue grill! That’s a stove!”  Right. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And when the snows of January blanket your backyard, there’s no better way to bring back some of the flavors of summer than with a grill pan on the stove.

The husband loves turkey and is always after me to make more of it. Short of roasting a whole one a la Thanksgiving (which he wouldn’t mind in the least, by the way), the turkey tender (boneless, skinless breast meat), is an easy, no-fuss way to bring turkey into a variety of meals during the rest of the year.  Turkey tenders are more dense than their chicken counterparts, too, and because of that, lend themselves well to higher heat cooking, like grilling.

This is a simple, weeknight dish that’s quick to put together, but really flavorful with the spicy addition of the Hatch chiles, and using a grill pan on top of the stove is an easy way to bring out the sweetness of the onions and garlic.

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Grilled Turkey Tenders with Hatch Chiles

(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 Hatch chile peppers
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 clove garlic (optional)
  • 2 turkey tenders (about 1 to 1 1/2 lbs)
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:

Roast and peel the Hatch peppers. (See the tutorial if you need instructions).  Cut off stems, slice open and remove seeds. Slice the peppers into thin strips. Set aside.

Peel and quarter the onions, then slice the quarters into 1/4″-ish slices. Smash and peel the garlic, chop coarsely.

Heat a grill pan (or frying pan) and brush a little of the oil onto the hot surface. Add the onions and garlic to the hot pan, sprinkle with a little salt and, stirring occasionally, saute until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes.  Remove the onions and garlic from the pan. and set aside.

Brush the hot pan with a little more oil and add the turkey tenders. Sprinkle the raw side with a little salt and pepper. Cook until they are golden brown (or acquire golden brown grill marks), about 6-7 minutes, and turn them over. Cook for an additional 6-7 minutes. They will still be raw in the center. Cut the tenders in half and then split each half. If this were steak, it would be called “butterflying”. Put them back in the pan with the undercooked sides down on the hot surface and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, or until no longer pink.

Add the cooked onions, garlic, and roasted Hatch chile strips back into the pan with the turkey, and cook until the onions turn a light golden color, just a few minutes longer.

Serve over rice, pasta, noodles, or even mashed potatoes for a delicious change of pace! You can even brush the cooked turkey tenders with Spicy Watermelon Jam to kick the flavor up another notch!

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Roasting Hatch Chiles

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Everything’s in the pan to get those flavors working!

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Let’s eat!

 

The Hatch chiles used in this dish were sent to me by Frieda’s Specialty Produce, just because they love me. I was not paid or given any other consideration. Grill pan link is an associate’s link to my Amazon.com store, Flamingo’s Favorites. If you buy something through this link, I will eventually receive a few cents commission which does not increase your price, but might help me continue to pay my internet host and keep this blog going. For you. I do it for you.
By RJ Flamingo ~ 9 Comments

Calphalon Pan Giveaway! Happy Blogaversary To Me!

 

Amazingly, Flamingo Musings is 8 years old, this week! And, the Flamingo Musings Fan Page on Facebook, has just crossed the 1000 “Likers” mark!  To celebrate both milestones, I’ve decided to give away this gorgeous Calphalon Contemporary 13″ Deep Skillet!

Calphalon Contemporary 13" Deep SkilletJust to be clear, much as I love them, Calphalon is not sponsoring this giveaway, and I’ll be paying for shipping to the winner out of my own pocket, so I’m sorry, but this giveaway is limited to U.S. addresses only.

This pan was part of my swag package (too big to fit in the swag bag!) from the Eat, Write, Retreat food bloggers’ conference in Philadelphia, a couple of months ago. Why aren’t I keeping it for myself? Because I already own two of them. For the last couple of years, I’ve been phasing out all of my old cookware and replacing it with Calphalon products. That I (mostly) buy for myself with my own money. Aaaand – I’m out of space!

This guy is the workhorse in my kitchen. I’m a lazy cook and I love one-pan meals. So I only have one pan to wash. Get it? ;-)  It’s large enough to accommodate those, or if you need to cook for a large family or a party.  Here are some favorite one-pan meals I’ve cooked in this pan:

Orzo & Veggie Skillet | Flamingo MusingsOrzo Pasta & Veggie Skillet

 Vegan Taco Salad | Flamingo MusingsVegan Taco Salad (w/non-veg options)

Farfalle Pasta & Chickpea Toss | Flamingo Musings Farfalle Pasta & Chickpea Toss

 Kaju Mutter Paneer | Flamingo MusingsKaju Mutter Paneer (Indian Cashews, Peas, and Cheese)

 Black Bean Chili | Flamingo Musings15 Minute Black Bean Chili / Sloppy Joes

This brand new, state-of-the-art, still-sealed-in-original-packaging covered skillet is PFOA-free, dishwasher-safe, and much more. Read all about it here.

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By RJ Flamingo ~ 100 Comments

Spicy Watermelon Jam

Spicy Watermelon Jam

Give me fruit and I’m going to make jam. In under an hour. That was the culinary challenge I accepted at an Eat, Write, Retreat food bloggers conference, several years ago. The fruit? Watermelon!  Now, there was something I’d never done before. And since our theme at the time was Cinco de Mayo, it called for a bit of Mexican flare.  Thus, Spicy Watermelon Jam was born!

It has since become a real favorite at Freakin’ Flamingo and the farmers markets I bring it to, and now, after three years, I’m sharing the recipe with you!  It’s easy and pretty quick to make (compared to a lot of other jam recipes), very low added sugar, and I think it really highlights the versatility of watermelon!  After the jam recipe, I’m also sharing some ideas for a variety of fun and tasty uses for it, that I and some of my customers enjoy, so don’t forget to scroll down for some delicious options.

Watermelon is at its peak of the season right now – my grocery store’s prices are at their lowest. And you can buy watermelon in your grocers’ produce department already cut up, all year long, so there’s nothing to stop you when you want to make some of this spicy fruity goodness for your holiday or football get togethers!  If you’re into canning and preserving, you may want to make an extra-large batch and water-bath can the jam in Mason jars so you can keep it on the shelf, ready and waiting for your next inspiration!

Give it a try and don’t forget to Think Outside The Jar! Let me know what you come up with, too!

Spicy Watermelon Jam

Spicy Watermelon Jam

(yields about 3-1/2 to 4 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups ripe watermelon, cubed and seeded
  • 1 or 2 jalapeño peppers (depending on heat desired)
  • 4 tsp. Pomona’s Universal Pectin + 5 tsp. calcium water *
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt (about 1/8 tsp)
  • 1 – 2 large limes (yielding about 2 Tbs zest & ¼ cup juice)
  • 2 tsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro

Preparation:

Place a couple of small plates into the freezer.

To adjust the heat in this recipe, taste your jalapeños first.  These days, I’ve found that they vary in heat from extremely mild to very hot – sometimes in the same lot. Knowing the heat of the peppers you’re using will affect just how hot this jam will be, and you can adjust it to your taste.

Using tongs, roast the jalapeño pepper over gas flame until blackened. Place the pepper into a small dish, cover with plastic wrap and allow to steam for about 5 minutes. Peel under cool running water. (See Roasting Peppers Tutorial for alternate methods)

While the pepper is roasting and steaming, puree the watermelon. Pour the puree into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.  Cook for about 5-10 minutes, or until the puree is reduced by about 1/3. Add the calcium water and continue boiling.  *Important: If you are canning this jam, add 1 Tbs of lemon juice to the jam recipe when adding the calcium water!

Slice open the jalapeño and remove the pith and seeds. Finely chop and stir into the watermelon puree.

Combine the pectin powder with the sugar & salt. Stir into the boiling watermelon mixture until dissolved. Boil for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Perform a gel test by placing a teaspoon of the mixture on one of the frozen plates and return to the freezer for 2 minutes.  If the mixture wrinkles when pushed with the tip of a spoon, proceed to the next step.

Add the lime juice, lime zest, and chopped cilantro to the watermelon mixture, return to the heat and bring back to a boil for another minute. Pour into a heat-safe container, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Use within 2 weeks.

*(Recipe Note:  I only use Pomona’s Universal Pectin in my jam and jelly recipes. Each box consists of 2 packets: one smaller packet that contains the calcium powder to be mixed with water – 1/2 tsp. calcium powder mixed with 1/2 cup of water  (that’s the “calcium water”), and one larger packet that contains the pectin powder.)

Small-Batch Canning Instructions:

*Important: If you are canning this jam, add 1 Tbs of lemon juice to the jam recipe when adding the calcium water! This is so important, that I’m repeating myself!

This recipe may be doubled if you want to make more to give as gifts or for future use.

  • Place a stock pot filled about 2/3 with water on the stove and bring to a boil. Make sure that there is a rack or a pot holder in the bottom of the pot, so your canning jars do not come into direct contact with the bottom of the pot, itself.
  • Sterilize the appropriate number of jars by placing them in the boiling water. Boil for 10 minutes.
  • Heat the jar lids in the boiling water for a minute or two.
  • Empty the water out of each jar, then fill with the hot jam, leaving 1/4″ to 1/2″ headroom at the top. Place a hot lid on top of the jar and screw on the lid ring, finger-tight.  Place the filled jar back into the pot of boiling water and boil for 5 minutes.
  • Remove the jar(s) from the boiling water and place on a towel or newspaper-covered surface to cool and seal. You should shortly hear the *ping* or *pop* of the lid sealing. When completely cool, store on a shelf or in a cupboard, away from heat and direct sunlight. If a jar does not seal within 24 hours, refrigerate and use within 2 weeks.

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Okay, now what do I do with it?

I’m so glad you asked!

Snacks:

Spicy Watermelon Jam Snack

One of my favorite snacks is cream cheese and pepper jam (or jelly) and crackers.  It’s as easy as spreading a bit of cream cheese on your favorite cracker and topping with a small dollop of jam!

Salad Dressing:

Spicy Watermelon Jam Dressing

To make 1/2 cup of dressing, whisk together:

  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
  • 2 Tbs. white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. Spicy Watermelon Jam

Alternatively, you can put all of the ingredients into a small jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake it up vigorously.

Watermelon Glazed Fish:

Watermelon Jam Glazed Fish

Timing depends on the size and thickness of the fish you use, as well as your chosen cooking method, so follow your fish monger’s instructions or the package directions for cooking times and your favorite method.

Season a fish filet of your choice with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Bake, grill, or pan-fry for several minutes on one side. Turn the filet over and generously brush Spicy Watermelon Jam on the cooked side. Continue cooking until the fish is cooked through. Brush with additional jam, if desired.

Here, I pan-fried, over medium heat, Red Snapper filets about 1-inch thick in about 1 Tbs. of grapeseed oil for 2 minutes on the skin side. After turning them over, I brushed the jam on the skin side and allowed it to cook for about 4 minutes more.

Hot Wings or Spicy Chicken Tenders:

Spicy Watermelon Jam Hot Wings

Fry or bake the wings according to your preference.  When they’re cooked through, but still hot, put them in a large bowl and toss with several spoonfuls of Spicy Watermelon Jam to coat well. Serve with additional jam on the side for dipping.

Here, I dredged six boneless, skinless chicken tenders in 1/3 cup flour mixed with 1/8 tsp of freshly ground black pepper and 1/4 tsp sea salt. I then pan fried the chicken in about 1/4″ of grapeseed oil for about 3 minutes on each side, drained them on paper towels, and tossed them with 2 Tbs. Spicy Watermelon Jam.

You need to try this, because I know you CAN.  (See what I did there?)

  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For dozens of more beautiful watermelon recipes, both sweet and savory, and more information about this incredibly delicious and versatile fruit, visit Watermelon.org. They also have all sorts of promotions, contests, and more, so be sure to “Like” and get notifications on their Facebook page, and follow @All4Watermelon on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, for the latest inspirations!

This post was sponsored by the National Watermelon Promotion Board. All opinions and recipes are my own, as always. So, what else is new?
watermelon_logo

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By RJ Flamingo ~ 12 Comments

Baked Barbecued Tofu

 

We’re omnivores at our house, and well-made tofu and seitan dishes turn up as regularly as meat does, on our lunch and dinner table. We’re even apt to tell people who tell us that they “hate” tofu, that old saw: “Oh, you just haven’t had it prepared properly, that’s all.”  This Baked Barbecued Tofu shows up on salads, sandwiches, and even as a TV snack, all year round, and is a virtually fat-free way to get a nice hit of protein, as well as a myriad of other health benefits that soy and tofu can supply. Not to mention that it’s delicious and has a great “meaty” texture, too!

BBQ Tofu at Flamingo Musings

We’re partial, of course, to our own Freakin’ Flamingo Mango Chipotle BBQ Sauce, a 50/50 blend of local mangoes and tomatoes, plus roasted & smoked jalapeõ chipotle chili peppers and local avocado honey… plus a few other things. ;-)  It’s vegetarian and available in both Hot and Mild, so no one has to miss out!

Freakin' Flamingo Mango Chipotle BBQ Sauce

Here’s how you do it:

Baked BBQ Tofu

Ingredients:

Preparation:

Drain the block of tofu. If you own a tofu press (and there are less expensive ones available than this one), simply place the block of tofu in the press according to manufacturer’s instructions, and leave it for about 30-45 minutes.  Dump out the water and proceed.

If you don’t own a tofu press, wrap the block of tofu in a clean kitchen towel or several layers of paper towels, and place it on a rack or a plate tipped at a slight angle, and add some weight. A large can of tomatoes, or a foil-wrapped brick will do nicely. Again, allow it to be pressed for about 30-45 minutes, draining off into the sink.

Preheat the oven (or your toaster oven) to 375ºF.

Line a small cookie sheet with non-stick foil or a silicone baking mat.  Slice the now-drained block of tofu into 1/4″ slices and lay out on the prepared cookie sheet.

Brush each slice liberally with some barbecue sauce. Place the cookie sheet in the hot oven and bake for 12 minutes.

bbq_tofu.5173_600

After the first 12 minutes, remove the cookie sheet from the oven, turn all the tofu slices over, and brush the other side with the barbecue sauce. Return the cookie sheet to the oven and bake for an additional 12 – 15 minutes, or until the edges look dry.

You can now either give them another coat of barbecue sauce, or eat as is. When cooled, the slices can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for future use.  Here, I prepared a simple green salad, topped with a few slices. But, as I mentioned earlier, these are great on sandwiches or alone as a snack!

BBQ Tofu 5195, Flamingo Musings

Serve this as a thoughtful and delicious vegetarian option at your next cook-out, or give it a try as your introduction to what tofu can be.

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By RJ Flamingo ~ 10 Comments

Roasting Peppers For Now and Later – A Tutorial

 

Sweet bell peppers in all sorts of jewel-like colors from green to yellow to orange to red to chocolate and purple.  Fiery jalapeños and serranos, fruity and spicy Hatch chiles and banana peppers, mild Cubanelles, and everything in between, above and below on the Scoville Scale.  They’re calling your name.

Pretty Peppers peppers_3982_400You picked a peck of peppers at the farmers market over the weekend, didn’t you?  Or maybe you went a little overboard at the U-Pick, or maybe your own garden is especially abundant.  It’s okay. Admitting that you have a problem is the first step. And the immediate problem is how to save them all for future use. Aside from pickling and canning them (and we’ll cover that in a future post), the easiest and best way to preserve your pile o’ peppers is to roast and freeze them.

 

You don’t have to live in New Mexico or own a ton of special equipment. A pair of long, metal-tipped tongs (don’t use the ones with plastic or silicone tips – they’ll melt), an old metal cake rack, and the top of your stove (if you have a gas range), will do. Or your barbecue grill. Or your oven.  Plus a bowl or storage container with a lid. And just a very few minutes of your time.  We’re going to need some roasted peppers for several things, this week, so let’s get started!

Start by washing and drying your peppers.

Gas Range/Cooktop:

Place an old metal cake rack (bent-up is okay, rusted is not) on top of the largest gas burner. Turn the burner up to High and use the long metal tongs to place your peppers on top of the rack, so the peppers are over the flames. As the peppers’ skins begin to blacken and blister, turn them with the tongs to roast all sides.

Roasting Hatch Chiles 2These are Hatch chiles.

Roasting Hatch Chiles

When the peppers are almost completely blackened and blistered, remove them from the rack and place into a bowl or heat-safe container and cover immediately. Repeat with the next batch of peppers, and so on.

When all the peppers have been roasted, allow them to cool in the covered container(s) for a minimum of 10 minutes. The steam generated from the hot, roasted peppers will loosen their blistered skins and make later peeling easier.  *Some people will say to put the hot, roasted peppers in a plastic bag to cool. I don’t trust plastic bags for this purpose and prefer covered bowls or – even better – heat/freezer-safe storage containers.  Just me?

Barbecue Grills:

Grills run a lot hotter than the burners on your stove, so if you have the ability, either use the lowest temperature setting or keep the peppers on a cooler area of the grill. The blackening/blistering process will also go a lot faster, so don’t walk off to answer the phone or play with the dog.  Keep those tongs handy!  Place the peppers in a covered container to cool, as above.

Oven Roasting:

Place the rack in your oven in the upper 1/3 position.  Preheat the oven or even your toaster oven to 500ºF.  Lay out the peppers in a single layer on a rack that’s been placed over a rimmed cookie sheet. Roast in the oven for several minutes, until they begin blackening and blistering, as above, turning with the tongs as necessary.   If using the broiler, place the peppers on a broiler pan and proceed.  Again, place the roasted peppers in a covered container as above.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you want to use the peppers right away, wait until they’re completely cool and peel under a gentle stream of cool, running water in the sink. The now-loosened skins and most of the blackened parts will slip right off.  Blot with a kitchen towel or paper towel to dry them off a bit, and proceed with your recipe. Do I need to remind you that it would be a really good idea to put on some gloves, before handling hot peppers?

If you want to freeze the peppers for later use, just lay them in a freezer-safe storage container or freezer storage bag, and put them in the freezer without peeling.  Initially, the peppers will stick together in a clump. Don’t be alarmed! After several hours in the freezer, remove the clump o’ peppers from the container and pull them apart. They will separate again. Really. Put the separated peppers back into the container or bag, then back in the freezer. They should last about 6 months.

To use the frozen peppers, just take out whatever amount you need, and as above, run them individually under a gentle stream of cool, running water in the sink, peel, blot, and use.

Whether you need some sweet bell pepper for pastas, soups, and sauces, or spicy hatch or jalapeño peppers for salsas or other fun uses, if you roast and freeze at the peak of growing season, you’ll always have that special ingredient at your fingertips.

 Now, we’re ready to get cooking!  We’ll be using our roasted peppers for a couple of delicious and fun dishes and treats, this week, so be sure to stop by!

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By RJ Flamingo ~ 16 Comments

No-Cook Jam and Buttermilk Ice Cream

 

jam_buttermilk_icecream5221-400

This No-Cook Jam Buttermilk Ice Cream was inspired – as many of my recipes are – by craving some ice cream, not having any in the house, and by being too lazy to leave the house to go get some. And by what was available in my fridge and freezer.  You were expecting something nostalgic, maybe?

I’ll admit it – I’m not a big fan of the super-premium ice creams. For me, the flavor is undercut by what I can only describe as kind of a waxy feeling on my lips. I hardly ever wear lipstick, either. I just don’t care for the sensation. All the heavy cream and eggs may be “premium”, but I’m afraid that it’s lost on me.  So, I added a bit of my own Freakin’ Flamingo® jam to enrich the creaminess of the texture without adding any fat!

jam_buttermilk_icecream5251-400

No-Cook Jam and Buttermilk Ice Cream

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups buttermilk
  • 1 cup light (or single) cream or half-and-half
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup strawberries, sliced and frozen (or other fruit of your choice)
  • 4 Tbs. Freakin’ Flamingo® Strawberry Vanilla Jam (or other complementary favorite flavor)
  • Pinch of table salt
  • Special equipment: small food processor and ice cream maker

Preparation:

If your ice cream maker has a separate core that needs to be frozen, put it into your freezer well ahead of time. Personally, mine lives in my freezer 24/7, this time of year.

Whisk together the buttermilk, cream, and sugar. In a small food processor, combine the strawberries and jam. Whisk the strawberry mixture into the buttermilk mixture.

Ice Cream Base

Turn on the ice cream maker and pour the ice cream base into it while it’s running.  Process until it’s the consistency of soft-serve ice cream. This takes about 20 minutes in my old Krups ice cream maker. Turn it out into freezer containers, cover tightly, and freeze for an additional minimum 2 hours or more.

Yields 2 quarts.

Jam Butermilk Ice Cream

Notes:

I use my electric hand blender / immersion blender and its attachments (the chopper processor and the whisk attachment on lowest speed) to do all the work. If you don’t have one, you should get one. It’s the single most-used tool in my kitchen, except for spoons and knives!

If your ice cream maker holds only 1 quart, you can either halve the recipe, or run it in two batches. It comes together so quickly, you shouldn’t even have to re-freeze the ice cream maker core.

I think you’ll love the simplicity and easy way this ice cream comes together. And, because all of the ingredients are already cold, you don’t have to chill the base before putting it through the ice cream maker! That cuts at least 2-3 hours off of your wait time to dig in! Score!

“But I don’t want to wait 2 hours for it to firm up in the freezer!” Fine, Little Miss (or Mr.) Instant Gratification. Be that way. (I love you!)  Here’s a secret:  After running it through the ice cream maker, just pour it into tall glasses (or what I call “grown-up sippy cups”), stick in a straw, and get ready to have one of the best milkshakes you’ve ever had! ;-)

Even my husband, who is not normally a huge strawberry ice cream fan, loves this version.  The slight tang from the buttermilk makes it refreshing, while adding another dimension of flavor to the fruit. It’s sweet and creamy enough to satisfy the dessert-freaks, but light enough that you can still feel good about serving it to your family and friends. Give it a try!

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By RJ Flamingo ~ 4 Comments
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