Saturday, April 23, 2011

Egg Salad Sandwich

This is a really simple sandwich to make, perfect for those days when you don’t feel like cooking a whole meal. On the day I prepared this sandwich I’d been working for several hours in the backyard and was tired, hot and hungry. Less than 15 minutes after walking into the house, I was eating the sandwich. It helps that I like to keep at least 2 hard-boiled eggs in the fridge at all times.

Ingredients: (Makes 2 sandwiches)
2 hard-boiled eggs
1/4 tsp dried parsley
1/4 tsp dried dill
2 tbs mayonnaise
1 tsp mustard
1 tbs finely chopped onion
4 slices of your favorite bread

Remove both hard-boiled eggs from their shells and put into a medium-sized bowl. Cut into quarters and mash with a fork. Add all the remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix well. Let it rest about 10 minutes, so the flavors have time to blend.

Serve with your favorite sliced bread.

Recipe cooked on 2011-03-25 (Tulsa, OK), photographs by Michael Findley

Monday, April 18, 2011

Chifles (plantain chips)

Chifles are snacks I grew up eating. Whenever someone in my family would visit my grandmother in Peru, they’d always come back with 2 or 3 bags of chifles in their suitcases. Chifles are slices of plantain which are set on paper towels to dry, and then fried. As soon as they come out of the pot they’re lightly dusted with salt and laid on paper towels again to drain.
A plantain has a similar shape to a banana, but its skin only turns yellow for a short period, just before ripening. A fully ripe plantain has a black skin. It’s starchier and firmer than a banana, and not as sweet.
We usually eat chifles by themselves like you’d eat potato chips, but it’s also customary to serve them with certain Peruvian dishes like ceviche and soups. In Peru, plantains are available year-round, so you can always find them in my grandma's kitchen.
I’ve never made these myself here in the U.S. — not because I can't find the ingredients, but because (thanks to whoever goes to visit my grandma in Peru) we always have some laying around our house.

3 or 4 plantains
vegetable oil

Cut the plantains into 1/16- to 1/8-inch-thick slices. If you want to speed up this process, you can use a mandolin. Lay a single layer of slices on paper towels to dry for about 30 minutes.
Add 1/2 inch of oil to a pot (deep enough to prevent splatter) and heat to medium high. Toss in a handful of the plantain slices and turn them until they become a gold color. Remove the fried plantain chips into a bowl, sprinkle a pinch of salt and toss to evenly spread. Empty the chips onto paper towels to drain. Repeat this process until all the plantain slices have been fried, salted and drained. The plantain chips will absorb some of the oil, so add more as needed.

Store the plantains in air-free containers or plastic bags.

Photograph by Michael Findley

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Big Ol’ Breakfast Burritos

About 15 years ago, when I lived in Stillwater, Okla., I went to a restaurant called ‘Atomic Burrito’ (unfortunately it went out of business in 2000). That was the first time I’d ever had a burrito with rice in it. Since then I’ve made many burrito variations with rice.
This particular burrito I made one morning when I was especially hungry, which is probably why it was so large (the photo above is actually one burrito cut in half). You’d have to be a glutton if you ate more than those two halves. I ate twice that much!

Ingredients: (This recipe makes 4 burritos, about 1 1/2 cups of the mixture for each)
1/2 cup finely diced onions
1/4 cup finely diced celery
1/2 cup diced mushrooms
3 large eggs
3 large slices turkey bacon, thinly sliced
2 turkey sausage links, cut into small pieces
2 tsp crushed garlic
1 medium jalapeno, diced (optional)
1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
2 cups cooked rice
3 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp mild taco seasoning
2 tbs butter

Mix the eggs in a bowl with 1 tsp of garlic, 1 tsp of taco seasoning, about half the diced onions, and diced celery. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Heat a pan on medium heat and spray some nonstick oil into it. Add all the vegetables and the meats, along with 1 tsp of taco seasoning, 1 tsp of garlic and the cayenne pepper. Saute about 4 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Spray more nonstick oil into the pan and pour the eggs. Stir it often to make the scrambled eggs. Just before the eggs are fully cooked, pour the vegetable and meat mixture back into the pan and stir. Add the rice, butter and 1 tsp of soy sauce. Stir until the rice has heated through.
Heat your tortillas to help loosen them up for folding.
Place a large heaping mound on the tortilla (about a cup and a half).

Fold the burrito quickly before the tortilla cools down.

Recipe prepared on 2011-04-09 (Tulsa, OK). Photographs by Michael Findley.

Perfect Rice Every Time

Nothing has frustrated me more over the years than making rice. As a Peruvian, I’m used to having rice served with many of the dishes I eat.
When I started cooking rice for myself, I didn’t have instant success. I watched my mother make it with several, slightly different methods, and the rice came out perfect every time, (like it was pure magic). That only added to my frustration.
Well I’m happy to tell you all that I’ve finally figured it out — well almost.
  • Use a heavy pot (the heaviest pot you’ve got that also has a lid). 
  • Use oil (not only does it keep the rice from sticking to the pot, but it also allows you to use less water). 
That’s it really, but I should warn you, it may take a couple of tries until you get it right, because it really all depends on the pot you use. You can also modify the amount of water and oil. Once it comes out the way you like it, stick to the same ingredient quantities and pot forever.
For more flavor, you can boil the rice in chicken, beef or vegetable broth, instead of water.

2 cups white long-grain rice
3 1/2 cups water
1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp powdered garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried parsley flakes (crush in the palm of your hand)

In a heavy pot add rice, olive oil, garlic powder, dried parsley and salt. Stir until every grain of rice gets coated with oil. Add the water to the pot, then turn the stove to its highest setting.
Once the water begins to boil, scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen any rice that may have gotten stuck. Lower the heat to the lowest setting and cover the pot.
Simmer 20 minutes.
Remove from the burner and fluff with a long metal fork. Cover and let it sit for 5 more minutes.

Photograph by Michael Findley.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Tallarines Verdes (Spinach Pesto)

At my grandparents’ house in Lima, Peru, I had a green pesto-like dish called Tallarines Verdes. It’s essentially a green pasta dish with a green cream that tastes like pesto — but not exactly. Now, pesto is something I love to eat but it’s expensive to make and the ingredients are difficult to find. For example, fresh basil leaves are rare in American grocery stores. Then there are pine nuts, which are not really all that expensive, but are so rarely used that they sit in your pantry forever before you use them again (if you remember you have them in the first place).
My grandma told me she was making this dish, which I remember from my childhood in Peru, but for some reason I never made the connection to basil pesto until I saw it had a few (less than a quarter of a cup) basil leaves. I used to make pesto every week during the summer a few years ago when I grew basil in my back yard.
This is not a dish that is commonly served on its own. My grandma served it alongside breaded beef steak, with cut green beans and a potato.
I present to you 'Tallarines Verdes' — which loosely translated to English means 'Green Pasta' — although we can call it Spinach Pesto.

1 pound of sirloin or loin steak
1 cup of bread crumbs
1 pound fettuccine, or any string pasta
2 cups cooked spinach (about 5 cups fresh spinach, before its cooked) and 1 cup of the water it was cooked in
1/2 cup queso fresco (a white cheese commonly found in large American grocery stores)
2 large cloves of garlic
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large potatoes with the skin left on
1 or 2 hard-boiled eggs
1 cup raw green beans cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces.
salt, pepper

First, prepare the spinach pesto, since it’s the easiest to make. Basically, the only cooked ingredient is spinach; everything else is fresh.

You can add all the ingredients into a blender at once, although I usually start with the dry ingredients like basil, garlic and cheese, and pulse these a few times with the vegetable oil and about half the cup of spinach water. Add the spinach, a little at a time to keep it from clogging the blender, and add the rest of the water as needed (shoot for a more liquid consistency than the basil pesto you’re probably used to). Once this is done, set the blender aside while you prepare the rest of the meal.
With whatever method you use to steam vegetables, put the potatoes in first, since they take about 40 minutes to steam, and add the green beans about 30 minutes later.
While heating a thin layer of oil in a frying pan, pound the beef steaks to 1/4-inch thickness. Rub salt and pepper into the meat with your fingers and dip the meat into the breadcrumbs. Brown both sides of the meat. Since it’s thin, it shouldn’t take long (about 3 minutes on each side).
Cook the pasta with your own method, about 8 minutes does it for me. Drain and put it back in the pot. Add 3/4 of the pesto from the blender to the pot and mix it well.

Start by placing the green pasta on the plate, then layer some green beans on top. You can serve the potato slices on the side, leaning them up against the pasta, then pour some of the pesto on top of the potatoes and green beans. Add the meat. Garnish the whole plate with Parmesan cheese and a hard-boiled egg wedge.

More pictures in order of preparation:

Recipe prepared on 2011-02-11 (Lima, Peru). Photograph by Michael Findley.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sausage Meatballs

This recipe was actually simpler to make than I had envisioned. Despite the fact that I slightly overcooked them, these were the best-tasting sausage meatballs I’d ever had, even my sister thought so. Every bite brought a taste of both cheese and onions.
You could use these meatballs as side dishes, incorporate them into spaghetti, or do what I did -- stick toothpicks in and eat them like snacks.

1 pound of mild Italian sausage
1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/2 cup onion (finely diced)
3/4 cup plain pancake mix
1 tsp ground red pepper
1 tsp powdered garlic
1 cup grated mild cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
If your sausage came in links, remove the casing. Put the meat into a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and work it with your hands. Once all the dry ingredients are fully incorporated into the meat, start forming the balls. I recommend a diameter slightly smaller than a quarter but bigger than a nickel. Roll them tightly so they don’t fall apart when they’re cooking. Spray nonstick oil into a large frying pan and set it on medium-high heat. Barely sear the outside of the meatballs, then turn the pan over onto a large baking tray and spread the meatballs out so they don’t touch. Bake about 10 - 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
These can be frozen in a Ziploc bag.

Recipe prepared on 2011-03-25 (Tulsa, OK). Photograph by Michael Findley.