Whey Cool: Lasagne with Homemade Cheese

There's nothing more fun than learning something new and then just doing it! So as 2010 draws to a close, I finally challenged myself to do something I had only lusted after until now. Yes, I made fresh cheese at home. It all started with a craving for lasagne (so many good things do...) but we didn't have any ricotta or even cottage cheese to make a filling. What we did have: almost a half gallon of organic milk. OK, on to the InterWebs we went....

The ingredients for making fresh cheese are remarkably few: milk, salt, and some kind of acid, usually vinegar or lemon. There are many recipes out there for making paneer or ricotta cheese at home and many declare that they are easy to do. Then I came upon what was truly the easiest recipe of all... no thermometers necessary, no threats of pots boiling over, and best of all, no messy milk-scorched pots to clean afterwards. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, you're my hero! Mr. Lopez-Alt, an editor and master food deconstructionist at Serious Eats, writes at length and in engaging detail on Serious Eats' Food Lab about the making of whole milk ricotta cheese at home: the different types of acids that are commonly used (buttermilk, vinegar, lemon) and how each affects both the texture of the final product and the flavor, the temperature to which the milk must be brought, and draining times. His final conclusion, though, is that fresh cheese is best made in a microwave, not the stove top! Love it! Suddenly, cheese-making is a much less daunting task, and so at 5:15 yesterday morning, I started to make ricotta-style cheese in my own kitchen.

I tripled the whole-milk ricotta recipe on the Food Lab site (BTW the recipe link is separate from the article link) to use the full amount of milk we had — to make certain I had enough for my lasagne (let's not forget, this is why the quest began, right?). As promised, the methodology Mr. Lopez-Alt describes was incredibly straight-forward and easy. If I can do this, Folks, any one of you can too!

The set-up: milk in a non-metal bowl,
colander set in bowl, and lined
with 2 layers of food-safe paper towels,
sea salt, white vinegar

After 5 minutes in the microwave on High (right), you can just start to see chemistry in action. Pretty cool, right?
After tripling the time in the Food Lab recipe as well, the curds and whey have fully separated.

Drain mixture in colander.
Draining time will depend on
what you plan to do with the cheese
(see Food Lab article).

Voila! Real Cheese!
The final product, after 35 minutes of draining.
I started with 6 cups of whole milk and ended up with almost 1-1/2 cups of cheese.
The whole thing, from set-up to the end of draining was about an hour,
but your time will be less if you want a softer cheese.

As someone who had only tried commercial ricottas, the flavor of this cheese was a revelation to me: sweet and clean, no aftertaste or bitterness. It was firm (the long draining time) but tender to the bite, and smooth — not at all grainy or coarse. I would have happily eaten the whole thing just as it was, if that lasagne wasn't still calling...

Even though lasagne was the driving force behind this project, this post isn't about the pasta... It's to encourage everyone to make this cheese for themselves early in the New Year! Were not big milk-drinkers but we'll be buying our milk by the gallon from now on so we have plenty on hand to make this tasty treat again. Think of the possibilities: blintzes, crepes, stuffed shells, and of course, just plain eating out-of-spoon... or bowl... Yummmmm.... And yes, it did make a darn fine lasagne, even with a bottled sauce.

We're left with about a half-quart of liquid (whey), which seems a waste to throw out, so I'm looking now for ways to use that too. Stay tuned to this bat channel in 2011....

Until then, Happy New Year, Everyone!


Sweet Potato Pie (with a Kiss of Likker)

All this talk about pie during the last few weeks while cajoling family, friends (we are still friends, right?), and colleagues to buy pies for the Food & Friends fundraiser brought to the forefront of my attention one sad fact: I've never actually tried sweet potato pie, which was one of the pies on offer during the "Buy Pies!" campaign.

Then the Universe, by way of our dear friends down the road, delivered unto us a sign that it was time to try sweet potato pie. A hard-to-resist sign. A huge sign. A really huge sign: a sweet potato larger than a spaghetti squash. See for yourself!

Crazy big, right? These sweet potato and spaghetti squash, along with 2 other of the squash's siblings, were delivered this weekend by the same folks who challenged us earlier to deal with the over-abundance of their CSA order. They also gave us a bagload of green tomatoes, but more on that next time. Of course, I washed and roasted everything — the sweet potato was roasted unpeeled and whole with a few well-placed piercings, and the squash were cut in half and de-seeded, and placed cut-side up on a baking sheet and drizzled with oil. After a little over an hour, everything was roasted and ready to keep. The sweet potato weighed in at a gob-smacking 1420g before roasting, and yielded over 7 cups of flesh scooped from shells! So not only did we have sweet potato pie this week, but we will also have mashed sweet potatoes as a side dish later this week, too!

This was a true sweet potato, as opposed to a yam — with firm, dense flesh even after roasting. Our favorite way to enjoy mashed sweet potatoes is with a kiss of liquor — whether it's bright purple Okinawan sweet potato mash with awamori or regular sweet potatoes with bourbon. So I couldn't resist slipping a little sour mash into the puree mix for this pie as well. The bourbon flavor was quite strong the first 24 hours after baking, but mellowed considerably after that. With fresh whipped cream, this was a scrumptious pie — perfect breakfast food! (Think about it... Pop Tarts are just toaster pies, aren't they?)

When looking up recipes for sweet potato pie, I was intrigued by ones that used buttermilk instead of evaporated or regular milk. We liked what buttermilk did for corn soup and thought this would be add a nice tang to this pie — it really didn't, or maybe the buttermilk tang was obscured by the bourbon. Either way, we could not taste the difference using buttermilk made, so I would say use evaporated milk, almond or soy milk, or whatever you have — but do try the bourbon! The crust, I confess, was not only commercial, it was pre-formed too! Pie crust and biscuits are 2 things which have largely eluded me — even after 9 months in a culinary institution. So I focus on the filling and leave the pie crust to the experts. (Yesterday, however, while handing out pies for the F&F fundraiser, a fellow volunteer shared her unusual pie crust recipe which she swears is fool proof. More on that soon, too.)

Serves 8-10 persons
While vaguely following the recipe on the back of a can of pumpkin puree, we were really trying for a pie that could not be confused with pumpkin in either texture or flavor. This is a dense pie whose sweet potato flavor really stands out — undertones of molasses and, of course, bourbon lightly sweeten and highlight the tuber's flavor.

1 prepared pie crust (use your favorite)
4 cups (about 700g) roasted sweet potato flesh, mashed well
2 eggs, beaten well
1 cup buttermilk, evaporated milk, almond milk, etc.
1/4 cup bourbon
3/4 cup raw sugar
2 TBL blackstrap molasses
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp sea salt
Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.
Combine all ingredients and blend well, about 2 minutes on the medium setting on your mixer. The mixture will be very thick and not really like a custard. Pour into prepared pie crust, and bake in middle oven for 45-55 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes back clean. Cool completely on wire rack.

Highly recommend large dollops (or two) of homemade whipped cream when serving.

More desserts for the Holidays: Pumpkin Cheesecake


Thank you for your support: Food & Friends Pie Sale Success

Pie Sales for the Food & Friends' fundraiser ended last Thursday on a particularly strong note, finishing just over the goal of 6000 pies! Thank you, thank you to everyone who pre-ordered their pies before Thursday and helped Food & Friends meet their goal, and extra hugs to those who ordered from Team Baker Boys! Below is a screen shot from the Pie Sales website showing The Fabulous Baker Boys' most excellent finish as the third highest selling crew. Most importantly, the Baker Boys sold 134 pies than their original goal of 200 — that's an extra 134 days worth of meals for Food & Friends' clients.

Please don't forget to pick up your pies tomorrow at the CVS location you chose when you ordered your pie — here is the List of pick-up locations.

If time got away from you and you forgot to pre-order your pie, you can still buy a pie and contribute to Food & Friends' mission of providing nutritionally tailored meals for our clients coping with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-challenging illness. Go to one the pick-up locations where pies will be distributed tomorrow, Tuesday, November 23, around Maryland, DC and Virginia — a limited number of pumpkin, apple crumb, sweet potato and pecan pies and chocolate cheesecakes will be available at each location for instant purchase at the same price as the pre-order sales ($25 for pies, $40 for the cheesecake).

Avoid the heartbreak of "Pie Regret"... come pick out your pie tomorrow!


Veggie Challenge: Tomato-Summer Squash Tian

I love it when friends include me in their culinary adventures. Whether it's finding exotic ingredients in our neighborhood ("There's an Indian grocery store where?"), or sharing ideas for how to tackle the latest CSA delivery ("What do you do with a snake gourd?!"), or spreading a habit of eating rice for breakfast — that sense of discovery and genuine fun that comes when someone's eyes light up with wonder is truly a joy for me. One of the reasons T. calls me a food evangelist.

Of course on a purely selfish note, one of the most fun ways to join in a food adventure is to receive foodstuffs. Some are homemade or souvenir gifts, some are pantry excess — but they are always appreciated and sometimes a culinary challenge. Since our most recent move, we find ourselves within hollering distance of our good friends who subscribe to a CSA. With weekly deliveries of fresh produce and precious little time to deal with their bounty, they will send us their bounty's bounty with pleas of not having time to deal with the veggies before they go bad. A few weeks ago this meant the equivalent of 2 Trader Joe's bags-ful of produce which included cauliflower, broccoli stems, green beans, eggplants, bell peppers, fresh pepperoncini peppers, red potatoes and yellow summer squash from their CSA, and mountains of tomatoes, basil, chives from their garden! This week it was 3 spaghetti squashes and a sweet potato that was as big as a spaghetti squash! This is what I tell them, and is, in fact, what I do with a great deal of fresh vegetables that we don't have a specific plan to use and which is threatening to give us the stink-eye: Roast Them!

Let your oven do all the hard work of softening, sweetening, and gently dehydrating your produce so it will keep through the week and provide you with gourmet-quality pantry staples that will make weekday meal prep a snap! Eat as is as a side dish to another entree; or toss with pasta, potato, rice, couscous or your favorite grain or noodle and you have an instant meatless meal. Add cooked meats or fish or beans for extra protein. Or with a little extra effort, a provencale vegetable tian/casserole materializes from grated veggies, cheese and eggs!

This is just a quick look for how we dealt with the 2 bags of produce we received over that first weekend. You can do this! I hope you try it soon.

Clean and cut, if desired, and drizzle all with olive oil. The potatoes are pared just for a bit of aesthetic value.
Pierce whole vegetables like the peppers to allow steam to escape.

Roast at 375F. I don't even preheat the oven to roast veggies.
Start checking the smallest veggies after the first 35 minutes.
Remove vegetables as they become cooked through:
Potatoes pierce easily with fork,
Peppers and eggplants collapse,
Broccoli, asparagus, and cauliflower will brown on
the edges and become tender.

Green beans were added to pan with potatoes after 35 minutes
and the whole pan was removed after another 25 minutes.
Bell peppers and eggplants were turned after the first 35 minutes, and left for another 30.

Pepperoncini peppers were left whole,
and bell peppers were seeded and peeled
and everything was covered in more olive oil.
Eggplants were peeled for use within 2 days.
(Try in Grilled Eggplant Salad with Coconut Milk)
Potatoes, beans and roasted cauliflower were eaten as they were.

While the first batch of veggies were roasting, the yellow squash and some of the tomatoes were quickly grated and tossed with cold leftover rice, chives, eggs and cheese as an adaptation of one of our favorite dishes from the Canadian cookbook classic,1000 Classic Recipes — a tian of tomatoes and summer squash.

(Adapted from 1000 Classic Recipes, by Hermes House publishing)
Serves 4 persons as an entree, 6-8 as a side dish
This is the perfect end-of-summer dish that puts to best use those less-than-perfect summer veg — the will-not-sun-ripen tomatoes and the monster squashes that were lurking under the blanket of leaves! The rice makes this surprisingly light in texture, but the parmesan delivers a wallop of satisfying savoriness under the herb mixture.

3 medium yellow squash or courgettes, coarsely grated (avoid seedy core)
3 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
fistful of chives, minced
3-6 cloves garlic, minced
3 TBL olive oil
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
3/4 cup cooked rice
3 large eggs, beaten
3 TBL full-fat plain yogurt or sour cream
3/4 tsp dried oregano, 2 tsp fresh
pinch of dried or fresh thyme
5 TBL grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Pre-heat 375F/190C.

Place squash, tomatoes, chives and garlic in tian, or baking dish, and season to taste. Toss with oil and spread in baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes, or until water is drawn from vegetables and they soften.

Meanwhile combine rice, eggs, yogurt, herbs, cheese and season to taste. Remove vegetables from oven, and take out about 1/4 cup vegetables from baking dish. Stir hot vegetables into egg mixture to temper eggs, then pour all egg mixture into dish and mix well with vegetables. Redistribute mixture around dish, then return to oven for another 15-20 minutes or until eggs set and knife inserted in the center comes back clean.

Cool briefly then slice to serve. Shown here with more roasted vegetables
from this marathon session: cauliflower, red skin potatoes, and asparagus.
Garnished with roasted basil.


Off, then... On again

After a very (very) long hiatus, during which we and the site have undergone some changes, I'm happy to finally get the site published and updated. At the same time T. convinced me to update the site template (in January), we also started house-hunting and preparing to move. Then came the move — and four months without a reliable internet connection. Then unpacking and settling into our first home of our own. We’re staying put for awhile now (*fingers crossed*).

I apologize for the small deluge of back-dated posts that lay in various stages of preparedness for the last year until I had time to edit photos and tighten prose and that are now flooding your inbox at one time!

Thank you to everyone who has come through these changes with us.


Fried Rice Revisited

Now that we’re finally getting settled in, it’s nice to find time to connect with folks again and to catch up with projects long on-hold. One of mine has been answer numerous requests for clarification about one of the first posts I wrote, the one about how to make fried rice. At that time I had grand ideas about distilling recipes to an essence — a formula or template that could serve as a springboard to allow others, especially novice cooks, to let their creative culinary juices flow. Three years on, and I haven’t really followed up on this idea. Needs more work, I think. In the meantime, let’s just talk about fried rice.

I received an email this week from friends abroad whose daughter has developed what for a non-Asian family is a strange habit: eating rice for breakfast. “Did I have any ideas for ways to eat rice at breakfast?” Is the Pope Catholic? So in addition to sending them recipes for Arroz Caldo and Okayu, rice porridges from both sides of my cultural heritage, and packets of Ochazuke and Furikake, I decided it was time to follow through on the fried rice update, too. As you can tell, these photos were taken last year, which is when I first meant to do this — then the holidays came, the house-hunting started, yada-yada-yada, and now it’s almost a year later...

Anna, this one’s for you. I hope you have fun exploring the many joys of eating rice with breakfast, starting with this one!

Serves 5-6 persons as a meal, 8-9 as a side dish

So, in that earlier post I used Omu-Rice** as the construct for walking the reader through how to make Fried Rice. Today we’re using a more familiar-looking fried rice with these basic Components:
Rice: medium-grain white Rice,
Aromatics: onions and garlic,
Seasoning: soy sauce and black pepper,
Meat: Chinese sausage, and
Veggies: edamame and peppers.
If you keep in mind that you can substitute similar proportions of other ingredients for each of the main Components — say, using SPAM, instead of Chinese sausage for the Meat — you will find that you can adapt this basic recipe to complement what you’re serving as an entree, or to whatever you have as leftovers

Rice: 5-6 cups (800-950g) cold Rice (refrigerator-cold works best — hot rice, especially medium or short grains, can become sticky and difficult to work with)
Oil: 2-3 TBL (20-30 ml) light olive oil, or peanut oil
Aromatics: 1/2 medium onion, diced finely
and 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
Seasoning: 2-3 tsp soy sauce,
black pepper and
sea salt, if necessary
Meat: 2 links of Chinese sausage, about 200g,
or equivalent amount of SPAM, hot dog, char siu pork, beef, chicken, shrimp, etc.
Vegetable: ½-1 cup(125-250g) mixed vegetables, peas, edamame, peppers
pineapple, bamboo, bean sprouts, raisins, etc.
Optional ingredients: egg (hard-boiled, fried, or scrambled in)
green onions or chives

The Meat: In a large skillet or wok, fry Chinese sausage in 1 TBL of oil. (Chinese sausage is normally quite fatty, so a smaller amount of oil is used here. If substituting another meat, or beginning with an uncooked meat, start with 3 TBL. oil) When meat is browned and cooked through, remove from wok and set aside.

The Aromatics: In the remaining oil in the pan, cook onions until they are translucent and softened, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic, and continue cooking until the garlic becomes fragrant, about 45 to 90 seconds.

The Vegetables: Add Vegetables of your choosing (edamame and red pepper shown here), 1 tsp of soy sauce and black pepper to taste. Mix well with the Aromatics, and saute together for 3-6 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through or heated through.

Return Meats to the pan, mix to combine. Now push the ingredients up the sides of the wok, or to the edges of the skillet, so that the center of the pan is clear.

Check your pan, and add a tsp or so of oil if necessary, then the remaining soy sauce, and finally the cold Rice.

Using a flat spatula, GENTLY press down on the rice in the center, pressing the filling ingredients further up the sides of the wok...

... then push the fillings onto the top of the rice. Repeat the motion of gently pressing in the ingredients, and pushing everything towards the sides of the wok. Again bring over the ingredients that have pushed up the sides of the wok. Work all the way around the wok this way (the motion is similar to folding in egg whites to a cake batter). Repeat until all ingredients are blended thoroughly and rice is completely heated through, about 7-10 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning, adding soy sauce or salt as needed.

Garnish with green onions to serve.

In the Islands — both Guam and Hawaii — a fried egg (over-easy, as pictured, up or scrambled) on top of fried rice is a favorite breakfast item, with SPAM or ham for the Meat, and frozen mixed vegetables for the Vegetables in the rice.

(**Omu-rice, for the uninitiated, is the Japanese nursery favorite, but completely and totally unlike anything most people associate with Japanese food: a fried rice made with hot dogs and green peas, and seasoned with ketchup. Yes, I said ketchup. Clearly, a legacy of the post-war influence of the US military presence in the country. Everyone I’ve ever made omu-rice for will, at some later point, start to crave this dish and look for it again... You’ve been warned...)


Buy a pie!

Food. Friends. The unspoken thought that joins the two is Love. If you’ve sent an email to me at this site, you may have seen our motto: “Cook Food, but serve Love.” Now I’d like to introduce you to an organization that lives and breathes this sentiment every single day. One meal at a time.

Since last July I’ve been fortunate to volunteer with a local organization that puts love into action as friends provide food for friends they haven’t met, at an organization called simply Food & Friends. As a weekly “Slice and Dice” volunteer at F&F, I’m part of an enthusiastic team of volunteers that prepares, portions, seals and chills fresh meals alongside a team of kitchen professionals — meals that will be delivered along with nutritionally sound grocery items to folks struggling with life-challenging illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis.

Food & Friends serves over 1400 clients in the DC metro area, some as far as 20 miles from its headquarters near the Fort Totten metro (subway station). Clients are referred to the organization by their physician or social worker. After they meet with one of the staff dietitians and nutritionists, a complete meal plan is developed for them to support their treatment. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a snack or dessert, are provided every day so that meal-planning is one fewer worry for the client and their caregivers to think about during an already stressful period. Even more, if the client is the primary head of household, meals are also provided for every dependent family member.

It’s an incredible mission. And as someone who was the primary caregiver to a person given a cancer diagnosis, I can tell you that this service is a gift of incredible magnitude. My mother was diagnosed with multiforma glioblastoma — a type of brain cancer, in 2005. On top of the dizzying task of struggling to grasp the vocabulary and regimen of cancer treatment, I was also charged with meal-planning for someone I was told would be losing her appetite and with it, critical opportunities for the nutrition and proteins necessary to her successful treatment. I spent hours researching alone on the internet, in between doctor appointments, hospital visits, and clinic and home treatments. It was a frustrating and frightening challenge to comb through the data, look for recipes, and monitor Mom’s changes in appetite, with little or no help from a professional. I would not wish this for anyone. So when I first read about Food & Friends on, I knew I had to contribute to its mission.

From the beginning, Food & Friends and its dedicated corps of volunteers have left me humbled and amazed. I’ve met volunteers who were with the organization when it began in a church kitchen — that was in 1988! In fact, when I first started volunteering last summer, one crew member said, “Yay, now I’m not the newest member of the crew any more!” She had been there for 2 years already, but the others were 7-, 10- and 12-year and longer veterans. I now work with a different, though no less dedicated, crew including a crew leader who volunteers for 4 hours every Monday through Thursday. Beginning at 5:15 every morning. In fact, she was the one who had been the “newbie” on the other morning crew.

Do you want in? Do you want to help put the love in between “Food” and “Friend”? Volunteer if you can — yes, of course. But if you can’t slice, dice, pack or make deliveries — sharing the love is still as easy as pie: BUYING PIE, that is. “Slice of Life” is Food & Friends’ annual pre-Thanksgiving fundraiser — here’s how it works. For every pie you purchase, one full day of meals and groceries is available for one client, and you will have one less pie to fuss about for your Thanksgiving table! Or bring a pie to a party, surprise your neighbors or colleagues at work! More pies = more days of meals for a client, and happier guests/hosts/neighbors for you. For $25 you can choose from pumpkin, apple crumb, sweet potato and pecan pie — there’s even an ultra-decadent chocolate cheesecake for a $40 donation. Your pie(s) will be ready for pick-up on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 23) at one of 22 pick-up sites in the metro DC area that is convenient to you: there are 10 in the District, 6 in Maryland, and 6 in Virginia. Buy your pies by November 19th! Donations to Food & Friends welcome any time!

Buy wait, there’s more. You can join in the love even if you live too far to actually pick up a pie here, or (banish the thought!) you’ve given up carbs... On Thanksgiving Day, a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings will be delivered to every F&F client — you can buy pies and request they be delivered to a client with their meal! Imagine how much sweeter your own pie on Guam or Hawaii, in Germany or Washington, will taste when you sit down with friends and family on Thanksgiving Day, knowing you’re sharing that love with another family as they sit down to their Thanksgiving meal and one more chance to celebrate the holidays together.

Buy a Pie! Or two. And thank you from your 11,000+ new friends at Food & Friends!

Full disclosure: By buying a pie through this site, you will be buying a pie from the daring pie-selling duo, Team Baker Boys, who are Food & Friends pastry chef extraordinaire Tim Devine (R), and gourmet home pâtissier and volunteer Dan Kaufmann (L). A pair of cuties, no? Who wouldn’t want to buy pies from these two? As you might guess, I know them both from the F&F kitchen and have nibbled and gorged on many of their baked goodies in the last 16 months. No, they don’t actually bake the pies for this fundraiser — the F&F kitchens will be occupied churning out whole turkeys for many days before Thanksgiving! It’s all fun and friendly competition among pie-selling teams — nothing but bragging rights are at stake.

C’mon, you know you want to...


Dining In: Chilled Buttermilk Corn Soup

There’s still time to take advantage of sweet summer corn. Fresh steamed or grilled corn on the cob is hard to beat — and I admit I’ve had my fair share of the cob this summer.

But when I overheard a fellow volunteer at Food & Friends describing a corn soup she had served at her Fourth of July get-together, something caught my ear and imagination. Buttermilk. Buttermilk, she swore, was the key ingredient in her favorite chilled soups, including this corn one she devised for this party. Unlike other dairy products used in chilled soups — yogurt or sour cream, for instance, buttermilk, she told me, adds body without coating the palate. I had never used buttermilk in a chilled soup before so this was too intriguing to pass up. I begged the recipe from Dyane, which she generously shared, along with all her hints for tweaking the recipe.

This soup calls for 2 pounds (about 1kg) of corn, and I intended to use all fresh corn off the cob. Events conspired against me when we had a guest in town and I had to prepare the soup in advance but did not yet have fresh corn on hand. Instead I took Dyane’s cue to use frozen corn, namely Trader Joe’s Super Sweet Corn, for the base, which I cooked and pureed with the buttermilk, and chilled overnight. I added fresh corn off the cob and the reserved buttermilk (per Dyane’s tip) before serving — the tender kernels added texture and an extra touch of freshness to the finished soup.

We loved this soup, as did our visitor from Cyprus. Dyane was right about how buttermilk adds depth and creaminess without heaviness in texture or taste. I would like to make this soup again while fresh corn is in season, and try it with all fresh kernels. To be honest, though, the TJ’s frozen corn was pretty darn good in this soup and left no gummy kernel skins, which is what I was afraid frozen corn would do. Another nice note was the jalapeno — de-seeded, it added little heat, but really seemed to lift and highlight the buttermilk in a symbiotic way. Don’t leave it out even if you don’t like spicy foods — it really accents more than adds spiciness.

Best of all, this was easy enough I could do it in our tiny hotel kitchenette. So if I could do it here, you can definitely do this!

Thanks, Dyane, for sharing your wonderful recipe with us, and now everyone else!

Serves 6 persons
Except where noted, the rest of this post will be in Dyane’s voice, as I am reprinting her recipe (with her kind permission) as she sent it to me, with minor changes for syntax and to include metric measurements.

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium size onion coarsely chopped
½ lb (226g) tomatillos, husked, rinsed , and quartered
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
(I like a lot of garlic)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
3-1/2 cups (28oz/830ml) chicken stock (or vegetable stock would work)
1 teaspoon ground cumin, plus a pinch for garnish
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro, plus some for garnish
1 cup (236ml) buttermilk
(I increase the buttermilk by another 1/4 to 1/2 cup (60-120ml) depending on soup consistency while blending)
Kosher salt and finely ground pepper
2 16 ounce (1kg) frozen bags  of corn which were unthawed,
you could you fresh, can, whatever combination to make up to 28-32 ounces
Lime, lime juice
1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat if the onions being to brown (you don't want any brown color in this soup)

2. Add the tomatillos, garlic, and jalapeno and cook for 5 minutes. Add the corn cook for 3-5 minutes. Raise the heat to medium high, add the chicken stock, cumin, cilantro, and cook 5-7 minutes more. Remove from heat and cool.
3. Pour the mixture into a bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth. (Note from 3T: I used a hand, or stick blender) Add the buttermilk, salt and peeper and pulse to combine. Transfer to a bowl and chill in the refrigerator.
Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with cilantro and cumin.
When blending I did it in batches: 3/4 of the soup was blended with the buttermilk, 1/4 was not blended with the buttermilk and this was added to the end to not have the jalapeno diluted/cooled too much by the buttermilk. Also, because I like a little more heat I increased the jalapenos and increase the cilantro per my taste.  Adjust salt and pepper.Serve this chilled. Before you do hit it with a shot of lime juice to brighten the taste. Have lime also on the side so your guests can adjust accordingly.

Back to 3T:
More recipes with corn:
Creamy Ewa Sweet Corn Soup with Kauai Shrimp
Okra & Corn Stew with Jerk Salmon

Blueberries of Happiness

Recently my entire family came for a visit here to Maryland — that’s my dad, two brothers, two sisters-in-law, a niece and two nephews. One family, my brother’s family on Guam, I had not seen in over 4 years. And T had not seen them since they came to our wedding in Germany, and that was in 1997! There were also a few first meetings, as the cousins had never met each other, and T had not met his nephew from Guam.

It was a wild ride because not only were we still staying in a hotel, but while they were here we finally saw it: our elusive holy grail — the house we were going to buy. Yes, it was kind of a crazy week. We put in an offer on the house 2 days into their visit, which also happened to be my sister-in-law’s birthday. Mind you, this was the 4th offer we’ve made on a house, so we were both jaded and exhausted by the whole process. And for 3 of the 5 days of this visit, everyone wanted to spend their time in DC visiting the Smithsonians, touring the monuments, you know the drill... but at a pace too strenuous for our 83-year-old dad. T and I stayed with Dad, who was here last year and had done the tourist circuit at his own pace already, and instead showed him around the neighborhoods and towns where we were house-hunting.

Finally the word came down from our realtor: the house was ours. You would think there’d be joy in Mudville that night, but I was more in shock than anything. Six long months... over. At last. Assuming everything is copacetic with the inspections, etc. Wow. I call my sister-in-law our good luck charm now since our successful bid was made on her birthday! But the next day was the last full day of everyone’s visit, so it was a little sad, too.

For their last day we wanted a day of more low-key adventures that our Guam family did not have the opportunities to enjoy at home: picking blueberries and fishing for trout and bass in the country, away from the hectic pace of Downtown.

Picking a papaya or mangoes from a tree was old hat to the folks from Guam,
but berries and apples.... now THAT was exotic!

It was a warm day, but fortunately it wasn’t during
the record-breaking heatwave we had here this summer.

With 5 buckets and 9 pickers, we ended up with way too many berries!

A natural athlete, our niece brought her athletic grace to this new sport too.

It’s neither a trout nor a bass, but this little sunfish did spawn two new sport fishermen!

Then just like that, they were all gone! And even after everyone took a share for their respective plane trips home, we were left with 5-6 lbs. of blueberries. We gobbled many handfuls straight from the colander, and in cereal, yogurt and pancakes. Some were shared around the hotel (you get to know people after 4 months...). Soon, the berries were gone, too. (The photos are just food porn and only representative of ways to use blueberries, they weren’t taken while we at the hotel!)

I so enjoyed spending that almost full day with the family together, and hope it won’t be another four years before we see everyone again. In 21 days we will be closing escrow on a house (*knock on wood*), so we hope everyone returns soon to spend time in the house their good luck helped us find!


Dining In: Plasto Revisited, the slow-cooker version

When things get hectic and I don’t want to think too much about meal-planning, there are certain recipes I reach for, metaphorically anyway because some of them I can do from muscle memory — I’ve made them so often! Piccata-style chicken or pork is one such dish, and pasta with tuna and capers is another (we really do like capers, don’t we?). Fortunately, I can still rely on these stand-bys even when cooking on a hotel (yes, we’re still here) two-burner cooktop.

Lately, though, we’ve had a hankering for another favorite that normally requires an oven — the Greek cornbread layered with greens known as Plasto (see photo). Plasto has been a regular part of our menus since we were first introduced to it way back in 2007 by Laurie at Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska. Following Laurie’s recipe, wild and other leafy greens are long-cooked with onions, garlic and herbs, then mixed with cheeses and sandwiched between layers of cornbread dough and baked. It’s a scrumptious meat-less meal, and is equally good warm from the oven or cold while hiking or traveling.

But being oven-less here in a hotel, we needed a way to adapt the recipe for a slow-cooker. Actually, I often cook the greens in a slow-cooker anyway when I’m planning to make Plasto. Once the greens are cooked and cooled, they will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days until the day I want to bake, then I have only to add the cheese, make the cornbread dough, and bake.

Although I had never tried one, I had seen recipes for quickbreads made in a slow-cooker so I was certain I could find a cornbread or cornmeal dumpling recipe that would work. I knew I wanted to cook the cornbread with the greens — part of what makes Plasto so tasty is that the bread absorbs some of the savory liquid from the soupy greens while it bakes, otherwise we’re just be eating greens with a side of cornbread. Don’t get me wrong, I love cornbread and greens, too, but Plasto is a different taste and texture experience. Anyway, a long perusal of the internet revealed one key difference between breads/biscuits that are baked in an oven, and those baked in a slow-cooker on top of a liquid — be they stews, soups, chili, or whatever: and that was 1/3 less chemical leavening, as the added steam from the liquid below it gives the dough a helpful lift as it also bakes.

And it worked! Once the greens were completely cooked and filled the room with their savory aroma and whiffs of dill and oregano, I stirred in feta cheese, then topped it with my usual cornbread dough minus one teaspoon of baking powder. The result was perfect — just the right mix of greens and cornbread to satisfy our craving for Plasto. The biggest difference we noticed was in the texture of the bread — it was much lighter and more moist due to the steam-action, but that wasn’t a bad thing. It was also different not to have the corn-y flavor coming from both sides of the greens, and of course this version is not as portable as the original either. But it’s definitely a keeper for days when I know I can cook the greens the same day the dish will be served. It is also a nice alternative to turning on an oven during the hot summer months.

Another concession I made in this Plasto, given the limits of the micro-kitchen, is that all the greens (turnip, collard, kale) were frozen. A time-saver and sanity saver when counter space is nonexistent and colanders are limited. One of the things that we love about Plasto is the complexity of flavor that comes from using a mix of greens, especially if a couple of them have a bitter edge like the mustards, endives, or kales. At minimum I try to use 3 different greens but have been known to use as many as 5, and at least 2 greens in the mix will always have a bite.

(With thanks to Laurie for introducing us to the original version, which is now firmly in our culinary DNA, and from which this is adapted)
Serves 4 persons

For the Greens:
3 lbs (1.36kg) cleaned weight mixture of greens: kale, spinach, collard, chicory, mustard, turnip, Chinese mustard, rapini, watercress, etc. (unless you’re using frozen vegetables that are already cleaned and weighed, you’re going to have to eye-ball the approximate pre-clean weight of each green: consider that kales, western mustard and turnip greens, and collards have heavy, thick stems that will be discarded; while almost the entire bunch of spinach, chicories, Asian greens, rapini and cresses is edible)
2-3 sprigs fresh oregano, or 1/2 tsp dried
4-5 sprigs fresh dill, or 1 tsp dried
1/2 cup (120ml) water or broth
sea salt to taste
fresh ground black pepper
1/2 - 1 tsp Aleppo pepper (Korean pepper flakes can substitute)
3 TBL olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thinly
3-5 cloves garlic, minced

Combine all greens, oregano, dill, water, salt, and peppers in a 6qt/L slow-cooker, and set on LOW.

Meanwhile, cook onions and olive oil in a separate skillet set over medium heat until the onions are translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking until garlic is fragrant, abour 4 minutes. Add cooked aromatics to the greens and stir in well.

Cover and leave greens on LOW for 7-8 hours. When cooked, you can continue with the recipe below, or cool the greens completely and refrigerate until needed, then mix in the cheese and sandwich between layers of your favorite cornbread dough in an 8” round cake pan and bake.

To Finish:
1 cup (8oz/240g) sheep’s milk feta
1 quantity Cornbread Topping (below)

Once greens are cooked, combine crumbled feta with greens. TURN Slow-cooker to HIGH.

Top with cornbread dough, keeping away from the edges of the pot to give the dough room to rise as it bakes. Cover, and do not peek for at least 30 minutes. Check with toothpick to see if cornbread is cooked through. May need another 10 minutes to finish.

Remove cover to allow steam to escape so it does not drip back onto your bread while it cools and sets for 15 minutes.

Serve with extra feta and olives, or your favorite green salad.

1 cup (100g) all-purpose flour (do not substitute self-rising) 1 cup (170g) medium-grind cornmeal 3 TBL (36g) granulated sugar 2 tsp (7.5g) baking powder 1/3 cup (78ml) olive oil, or melted butter 1 cup (236ml) milk 1 lg. egg, beaten

Combine dry ingredients and mix well. Combine oil, milk and egg and beat well to blend. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix just enough to combine — do not overmix.

Add as directed above, or use to top your favorite slow-cook chili, soup or stew. Cook as directed above.

To adapt this recipe for baking in a conventional oven, add 1 more tsp. of baking powder to the dry ingredients and bake in a square cake pan, or better yet, a pre-heated 8” skillet with 1 TBL of butter melted and swirled to coat the sides. Bake at 400F/200C for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes away clean.

Dining In: Pasta with Salmon & Tuscan Veggies

Pasta with Salmon & Tuscan Vegetables — sounds like something I could expect from my favorite Italian chain (no, not the one with the tree). Curly corkscrew pasta, with ridges to catch every bit of a garlicky, herb-rich sauce. Salmon marinated in garlic, parsley and oil. Broccoli, cauliflower and green beans bathed in garlic-butter sauce. With a glass of pinot grigio, this is a wonderful meal to enjoy al fresco with friends. What’s not to love, right?

Well, here’s more. What if all the hard work has been done for you, and this whole meal could come together in 20 minutes, not including pasta cooking time? It did for us with this meal, because the whole thing materialized with just 3 things in my shopping basket at Trader Joe’s: frozen “Bean So Green” seasoned vegetable mix, frozen salmon filets in chimichurri sauce, and pasta. Okay, this particular corkscrew pasta is not from TJ’s but you could substitute any of the bowtie, penne or rotini pastas that TJ’s does have and it will be as fabulous. Just slice the slightly frozen fish (it’s easier to slice that way) into bite-size pieces, and saute in a skillet with a small bit of olive oil. You don’t even need much oil because the marinade has oil too. Once the fish has taken on a little color, increase the heat to high, and add half the bag of frozen veggies and half the quantity of cooked pasta, stir together, cover and allow to steam and cook for about 5 minutes. Pour yourself a glass of that pinot. Stir through again about half way through the cooking time. Voila, dinner!

Normally, you would expect to see the fish and veggies seasoned from scratch on these pages, but these are not normal times. At least not for us. This was made in a hotel room. True, it’s a room with a fridge and kitchen cooktop (no stove, but at least I can boil water for pasta, and saute and fry in a skillet or wok), but it’s in a hotel nonetheless.

If you’ve stopped by here in the last few months, you may know that we have been house-hunting since January. Well, we’re still house-hunting. But the lease on our rental house ended in April and we did not want to be locked into another year lease, so we moved out. Nor did we want to be tied to an apartment lease either, so we opted for long-term hotel lodging. Judging from the quizzical looks we get from friends and colleagues, this option freaks a lot of people out. For us, though, it is usually part of every move we’ve made (5 in the last 14 years), so we know the drill: store your stuff, find a hotel with kitchenette, look for permanent solution — in this case a house to buy.

So with a few kitchen necessities, and in this case lots of fabulous products from a source we like and trust, we can at least keep ourselves fortified and our spirits up while we transition yet again.


Chocolate Chip & Maple Bacon Cookies

I know we’re a little late to the bacon-in-sweet-treats party that seemed to sweep the globe the last couple of years, but just at the tail-end of the year I saw this recipe for chocolate chip cookies with maple flavored bacon posted by Susan the Food Blogga when she hosted her third annual “Eat Christmas Cookies” event.

I had already made 3 different sweets to share with friends and neighbors, but still had not delivered treats to the crew at the neighborhood garage who diligently look after our car. The Brothers Magliozzi over at NPR’s Car Talk encourage their listeners to bring brownies and other treats to their dedicated auto mechanics often and in large quantities. I’ve taken this advice to heart and have plied our poor mechanics with heart-stopping quantities in the last year. Why stop now? Why not add another heart-clogging ingredient to the mix? Why not, indeed...

I knew I would love this combination so I made a double batch of Susan’s recipe for Maple Bacon Chocolate Chip cookies, following her directions for the thin and chewy variety. Instead of looking for maple-flavored bacon, I baked some bacon with a drizzle of maple syrup on them and used the cooled bacon crumbles in the cookies. There were enough to share with the team at the garage as well as many other cookie lovers. Not to worry — the guys at the garage also got plenty of the fat-free Cocoa Cherry Biscotti, as well as melt-in-your-mouth Kipferln on the holiday cookie platter!

As for the cookies, I did love them! I thought the touch of sweetness and salt came together in a unique and harmonious way. Mmmm... yum... chew, crunch...

But I did hear grumblings. Mutterings such as “Why ruin a perfectly good chocolate chip cookie that way?” (That was T.) Ruin?! Well, I guess one person’s enhancement is another person’s ruin...

That’s okay. More for me...

More from the cookie jar: Cocoa Cherry Biscotti, Green Tea Shortbread, Molasses Crinkles, Nut Horns


Dutch Split Pea Soup

You might not guess it at first, but these are dried peas. Don’t they look inviting... Promising loads of nutrients and sweetness packed into their compact dehydrated form?

No? Is that just me?... Well, be that as it may, I’ve been remiss not to post this sooner. Our area has been repeatedly deluged with snow. Historic quantities, they say. We haven’t lived here long, but it does seem to be quite a lot. And we’ve been spending an unnatural amount of time in this cold, wet stuff while house-hunting every weekend in nearby Fredrick County. It’s hard work but someone has to help stimulate the economy by buying a house, right? Why not us.

So while doing our part for the economy (“You’re welcome.”), we often come home cold and hungry. What you really want when you feel this way is something waiting for you at home that’s hearty, and hot. Some rib-sticking goodness that warms you up from the inside out. One of our favorites is from the New York Cookbook by Molly O’Neill — a Dutch-style split pea soup with the astounding name of Snert. I’ve adapted this recipe to be prepared in a slow-cooker in two parts, first to make the broth, then to make the soup. Remember that ham bone from the guava-glazed ham we had for Christmas? It’s been biding its time in the freezer until now, waiting to provide its supporting role in this soup.

So let’s get cooking...

(adapted from New York Cookbook by Molly O’Neill)
Serves 6-8 persons

For the broth:
1 ham bone
2 smoked ham hocks
4 ribs of celery, or half of a medium celery root, aka celeriac
1 large onion studded with 3 spice cloves
2 large bay leaves
2 large carrots
6-10 whole black peppercorns
2 blades of mace
4 quarts/liters cold water (Note: if you’re not finishing the soup in a slow-cooker, use 3 qts/L water. I’ve learned to start with more water when making dried pulses and beans in a slow-cooker because I usually use the slow-cooker when I DON’T want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen (I know, but it happens) and bean/pulse soups have a way of thickening when you’re not paying attention)
Place all broth ingredients in 6qt/L slow-cooker. Turn on LOW for 8-10 hours. Skim surface of broth to remove impurities as they rise.

Remove ham bone and hocks, separate meat from bones. Strain broth into clean non-reactive container, return meat to broth and cool completely. (You can start this process the night before and in the morning strain the broth and add the dried peas directly into the still warm broth. This will reduce your cooking time by a couple of hours.)

Finish the Soup:
1 lb/455g dried green split peas, washed well and picked over to remove small pebbles
other half of celery root, if using (optional)
sea salt to taste
1-1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 lb/455g smoked sausage such as kielbasa
1/2 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, minced (about 1 cup)

Return broth to slow-cooker. Taste for seasoning and add sea salt as needed, and pepper. Add split peas, stir well, and set on LOW for 7-8 hours, or on HIGH for 4 hours if you want soup sooner.

Meanwhile, slice kielbasa into rounds and pan-fry until nicely browned and cooked through. Set aside until needed.

Check soup consistency about three-quarters of the way through cooking time — it should be thick but loose, not a dense mash. If it is thickening more quickly than expected, you can add a half cup of boiling water to the pot to keep it going for a little longer. Or if you’re ready to dine, go ahead and turn the cooker off. Stir in the parsley, and taste for seasoning. Add most of the kielbasa (I reserve a few pieces to garnish the soup).

Serve with your favorite bread, ours is Bruschetta, of course. And yes, that’s olive oil drizzled over the top, too... just because. Does this look like something that would make you forget even something being billed as “Snowpocalypse”? Here’s what we could see...

This was T. taking on the Sisyphean task of keeping up with the falling snow
in the middle of the first storm we got in December,
which was record-breaking for its time...

The next morning, still more shovelling!...

Now fast forward to February, and earlier this month: more snow.
Lots more. It kept coming all night and day.

And when it stopped, it really stopped. For good. We hope.
(The fence is almost 4 ft. high)


5-A-Day: Sesame Chinese Broccoli with Wolfberries

A whole bowl full of goodness: dark green Chinese broccoli, soft wolfberries, toothsome shiitake mushrooms, crisp slices of woodear fungus, carrot coins and fresh whole ears of sweet baby corn. A vegetarian’s delight that could make a believer of the heartiest carnivore!

The preparation could not be simpler. Fresh vegetables and rehydrated fungi are stir-fried together with a kiss of sesame oil, sugar and salt for a total cooking time of about 6 minutes!

Chinese broccoli, or gai lan, is a member of the mustard family (Brassica) along with all those other favorites: cabbage, broccoli, choi sum, Brussel sprouts, mustard greens, and rapini. It can be confused with its cousin, choi sum, but there are a few cues in telling them apart. Like its more distant cousin, the Western broccoli, the sweetest part of the vegetable is actually its stem, though I suspect the leafy greens contain the best of its nutritional goodness. No matter, you’re going to enjoy the whole thing!

Wolfberries (lycium barbarum) are commercially marketed as “goji berries” and are available both in Chinese and Korean groceries, and in most health food stores. Some high end supermarkets may also carry them in the natural foods aisle. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), wolfberries are thought to strengthen, or tonify, the liver and kidneys, and Western science has shown that they contain nutritionally significant amounts of important nutrients including the anti-oxidants Vitamin C, linoleic acid, thiamine, beta-carotene, and riboflavin. In TCM, wolfberries are included in tonics to boost immune system function and for certain eye disorders, but most interestingly, it is also prescribed for the treatment of dry winter skin! We usually buy wolfberries in Chinese groceries (where it may often be sold by its pharmacological name, Fructus lycii), and all the packaging I’ve seen recommend that the berries be cooked before eating — so this is not something we eat out of hand either plain or in trail mix. We do, however, add them to cooked oatmeal, substitute them for raisins in oatmeal cookies, and throw them in to soups. When cooked or boiled, as in soup or oatmeal, the berries don’t really have a distinct flavor, but baked in the cookies they retain a mild tartness similar to cranberry.

Woodear, or black, fungus (might also be labelled as mok-yee) is most often sold dried. Once rehydrated in cool or warm water for 20-30 minutes, the fungus swells to 2-3 times its dried size, so a little goes a long way. Woodear does not really have a distinctive flavor, but is mostly added for the pleasant crunch it adds to stir-fries and soups. TCM also recognizes that woodear is useful to treat high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Together with fresh baby corn and carrots for additional sweetness and chew, these ingredients join for a dish as colorful as it is nutritious. And tasty!

(adapted from Breath of a Wok by Grace Young)

2-3 pieces of dried woodear
4-5 dried shiitake or other black mushroom
1 bundle of Chinese broccoli, about 1lb/450g
4-8oz. (113-226g) fresh baby corn, washed and cut in half
1 medium carrot
1/2 cup dried wolfberries
3-4 medium cloves of garlic, minced

Prepare the vegetables:
Soak shiitake and wood ear fungi in separate bowls for 45 minutes to an hour, or until all are fully re-hydrated (will depend on the size and thickness of the fungus).

Clean gai lan, baby corn and carrot using a mild vinegar solution. Peel and slice carrot crosswise, at a slight diagonal. Separate leaves of gai lan from stems, and cut thicker stem pieces into 2” pieces.

I like to rinse the wolfberries, with a gentle rubbing action to loosen any grit that may have settled on them during processing.

Prepare the Sauce:


Ham with Guava Glaze

Our Christmas Day tradition includes a gift for the cook (me!): no cooking all day. Our celebration meal has migrated to Christmas Eve, so for Christmas Day we have cold meats, salads, breads, pickles and cheese prepared in advance to be nibbled on at a leisurely pace through the day. This year the centerpiece was a guava-glazed ham.

Last year we brought home a commercially prepared honey sweet ham, which was wonderful but pretty pricey. This year I wanted to try baking a bone-in ham at home — something I’ve never done before. (We definitely wanted that bone, of course, to make a soup later! )

The idea of making a guava-flavored glaze has been percolating in my brain for a while, the result of picking up a tub of guava puree at the supermarket last fall. A fellow shopper saw me pondering the tub and volunteered several ideas for how to use the paste — all of which involved pastries or other sweets. I asked if she ever used the paste in a savory dish and she said no. Hmmmm, that sounded like a challenge...

Guava is an aromatic fruit, with a green or yellow rind and seedy pink or white pulp. It is one of my favorite fruit flavors, and was always one of the syrup flavors I usually chose for shave ice or pancakes when we lived in Hawaii (sigh). We also used to find tiny strawberry guavas in early summer on one of our favorite hikes through Oahu. Surely it’s this yearning for tropical breezes and warmth as our area has been deluged with rain and snow and more rain for the last couple of months that spurred this idea to coat a large pork product in tropical guava sweetness!

And it works! We actually tried the glaze first with a pork loin roast — it was lovely, but the tangy sweet glaze really needed meat with some fat to highlight it. Next we tried wild salmon filets, brushing the glaze on the top of the filet at the last minute. That was better — the acidic sweetness cut through, then melted into the rich oils of the fish. But the ham was by far the best showcase for this fruity basting sauce.

Guava paste is a dense concentrated fruit puree, sweetened with cane sugar but not as sweet or loose as a jam or jelly. It is thick enough to be sliced or diced and has an incredibly intense guava flavor (at least the Goya brand does). Look for it in shelf-stable tubs or tins (21 oz) or vacuum packed squares ( XX oz) in markets specializing in Latin American foods, or in supermarket aisles (non-refrigerated) designated for products from the Caribbean or Latin America.


Guava Basting Sauce:
Enough for one 10 lb. ham + 4 salmon filets or a 4 lb. pork roast

1 tub (21oz/590g) guava paste
1/4 cup/60ml water
1/2 cup/120ml white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 TBL dijon-style mustard

Cut guava paste into 8 -10 rough pieces and add to 2 qt/L saucepan with water, and warm over medium heat. As paste begins to melt, stir well to loosen with water. Add vinegar, salt and mustard, and stir well. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the vinegar smell is no longer acrid but blends with the fruit. Cool, and keep refrigerated until needed. Makes about 3 cups Basting Sauce.

To Finish the Ham:
1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
2 bay leaves
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced in 1/2” rounds
1 9.5lb (4.3kg) ham with bone or larger
2 cups/ 470ml water
2 cups/470ml Guava Basting Sauce, above
(optional) 2 TBL rum, tequila or bourbon

Calculate total baking time for the ham to reach an internal temperature of 160F. We used a smoked ham with a bone that required 17-20 minutes of baking for every pound. It was a 9.5 lb. ham, so we were looking at a total time of about 2 hours and 40 minutes to 3 hours. But don’t rely just on this approximate baking time — it is important to use a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the ham to take its temperature and make certain it reaches the critical temperature of 160F to ensure it is fully cooked.

(9.5lb ham) x (17-20 minutes/lb) = 160 min (2hrs 40min.) to 190 min (3hrs. 10min)

Place onion, carrot and bay leaves in a roasting pan just large enough to accommodate the ham joint with the thick end down.

If desired, add rum, tequila or bourbon to Basting Sauce and warm in microwave or over low heat on the stove. Reserve half of Sauce to serve with ham.

Rinse and pat dry ham. Score fat around the joint. Place ham, cut side down over onions, cover with wax paper or parchment, then with foil. Put roasting pan in the lower middle of the oven, and heat oven to 375F. Roast ham (unglazed) for 40 minutes.

Turn heat down to 325F. Remove ham from oven and take off foil (keep foil to tent ham again while it rests). Baste ham all over with remaining Guava Sauce, and return pan to oven for 20 minutes. Baste again and return to oven. Repeat every 20 minutes until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the ham reaches an internal temperature of 160F. About 40 minutes before your calculated ending time, start checking the ham’s temperature when you baste to gauge how the baking is proceeding and adjust as necessary.

Once proper internal temperature is reached, take pan from oven, and loosely cover ham with foil again. Allow ham to rest for 20 minutes before removing joint for slicing.

Remove meat from bone and freeze bone for soup later.

We had this for breakfast with beet-pickled eggs and breads, and later for dinner with mashed sweet potatoes, extra Guava Sauce, slow-cooked collard greens and corn bread.

To Use Guava Sauce with Pork Loin Roast:

1 cup/240ml Guava Basting Sauce, above
2 TBL. white wine, water, rum or tequila

Combine Sauce and liquid, and warm in microwave or over low heat. Reserve 1/2 cup for serving.

Pre-heat oven to 400F.

Score fat around roast, and rub in sea salt and pepper.

In large skillet, heat oil just to smoking point, then add roast with fat side down. Brown well on all sides.

Lay roast in oiled oven-safe pan just large enough to hold the roast. Baste with guava glaze and place in the middle rack in oven. Roast for 20 minutes. Turn oven temperature down to 350F.

Remove roast, and baste again. Return to oven, and repeat basting every 15 minutes until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the roast reaches an internal temperature of 170F (about 20-30 min/lb.) — for our 3.5lb. roast, this took about 1 hr. and 45 min. total roasting time.

Cover roast and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

We enjoyed this with long grain rice topped with seasoned garbanzo beans (Goya brand preseasoned) and fresh cilantro. Reserved Sauce on the side.