Ropa Vieja

A few nights ago, we had old clothes for dinner - and it was delicious!

That meal was actually Ropa Vieja, which literally translates to "old clothes". I did a bit of research and found out that it was called such because the shredded beef in the recipe resembles old tattered clothes. All I can say is - this was the best old clothes I have ever had!

I looked at a hundred or so recipes of Ropa Vieja, and every recipe has something different to offer. I ended up just taking bits and pieces from each one, but I also tried to stay with the traditional way of preparing this Cuban dish. I even made Red Beans and Rice and Tostones to go with it. So good... 

What you need: 

1 pound flank steak
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into strips
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons thinly sliced pitted green olives
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon (Goya) adobo powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons sherry
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 cups beef broth
1 fresh tomato, diced
2 bay leaves 
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil

What to do: 

Coat a pan with cooking spray and place over medium-high heat. Brown your steak by cooking, one side at a time, for about 2 minutes.  Remove steak from pan and set aside.

Place a pot or large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add olive oil, then saute onion, garlic, and bell peppers for 7 minutes, or until tender. Stir in olives, salt and pepper, oregano, and adobo powder. Cook for 30 seconds, then stir in red wine vinegar and sherry, scraping pan to loosen brown bits.  Cook for about 2 minutes, or until liquid almost evaporates.

Stir in broth, tomato, and bay leaves. Add the brown steak and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 1 1/2 hours or until steaks are very tender.

Remove steaks from pan and shred with two forks. Return the shredded beef in pan and add cilantro. Serve with rice and fried plantains.

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks: 

1. You can use 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste instead of a fresh tomato. It might also make your sauce a bit thicker.
2. Traditional recipe calls for more cilantro. I used only a bit because cilantro has a very strong taste. 
3. If you don't have adobo powder, use ground cumin instead. 


Insalata Caprese

Tomato overload!

Insalata Caprese means "Capri-style Salad" and is from the Campania region of Italy. The name sounds a bit fancy schmancy, but it is actually one of the simplest salads I have prepared. Personally, I love basil, I love grape tomatoes, and I love mozzarella. So this dish is like the "ultimate" salad for me. I could eat this everyday! 

On a side note, I couldn't even begin to tell you how happy I am to have a "mini" herb garden. Gone are the days of buying a $4.00 pack of herbs and only using a few sprigs of it. Now, all I do is go to my garden and snip a few leaves. It is awesome! 

So I got the basil for this recipe from my herb garden. I couldn't say the same for the tomatoes - my two tomato plants died from the winter freeze last year. What do you think about getting a buffalo for my mozzarella in the future? Psyche!

What you need: 

8 oz fresh mozzarella
about 6 to 8 leaves of basil, julienned
4 oz grape tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste


What to do: 

Make sure the veggies are washed and clean. 

Slice the fresh mozzarella into 1" squares. Place them on a dish. Add the halved tomatoes and julienned basil. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Easy peasy. 

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks: 

1. You can use other tomato varieties! In fact, most recipes call for a larger variety like Roma or plum tomatoes. I opted for grape tomatoes because they are my favorite!
2. Some people like it with a splash of balsamic vinegar. 
3. Eat with crusty bread! Yummy!


Fried Spinach

I have been wanting to make fried kangkong ever since I first tried it several years ago. The closest I can come up with is fried spinach, since I couldn't find native "kangkong" here in the US. Kangkong, after all, is "Water Spinach." ;-)

The dish was very, very good, although it was really unnecessary to coat a perfectly good veggie with batter and deep fry it in oil.  But, as with Filipino tradition (which is mostly fried foods), I just had to do this recipe and satisfy my curiosity need to cook this dish.

What you need:

1 pack of Spinach
1 cup of water
1 cup corn starch
1/2 cup flour
1 egg, beaten
salt, to taste
oil, for frying

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce

What to do: 

Wash your spinach gently, either by placing them under gently running cold water or putting them in an ice bath. Pat dry and place on paper towels.

Meanwhile, combine water, corn starch, flour, beaten egg and salt. Mix well. The batter shouldn't be runny, else it wouldn't stick to the spinach leaves. 

Heat a wok or frying pan over medium-high and add enough oil to deep fry the spinach. Dip a spinach leaf in the batter and carefully drop in the hot pan. Fry for about a minute, or until coating turns light brown. Remove from oil and let drip on paper towels. Repeat until you have used up all spinach leaves.

For the sauce, just combine all the sauce ingredients and mix well. Serve with hot fried spinach.

Tips, Tweaks and Tricks: 

1. When prepping the spinach, leave a little bit of stem at the end of the leaf. This is what you would hold to make dipping it in the batter easier.
2. Use cold water! It helps retain the color and slows down the wilting of the spinach.
3. Make sure spinach is dry before dipping it in the batter.


Salmon and Strawberry Salad

I was feeling a bit experimental one night and decided to have a salad with whatever was in my pantry/fridge. I ended up with this Salmon and Strawberry Salad, and I have to admit, it was pretty good. 

The salmon was just an afterthought, since I wanted to add protein to my salad. Some people might not like it, as it was a contrast to the tangy-sweet dressing, but I think it went well with the leafy greens (of course, I love salmon so I might be a bit biased).

What you need: 

Spring Mix veggies
Raspberry vinaigrette
1 tablespoon Almond Accents (honey roasted variety)
3 strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 pouch (3 oz) smoked salmon, shredded

What to do: 

Wash vegetables thoroughly and dry them in a salad spinner. Put desired amount on plate and drizzle with a tablespoon (or more) of raspberry vinaigrette.

Add shredded salmon and strawberries, then top with almonds. Enjoy!

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks: 

1. Don't like salmon? Try other protein like boiled chicken or shrimp.
2. Italian dressing will taste good too. I used Raspberry vinaigrette because it works well with honey-roasted almonds.

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Pineapple Beef Stir-Fry

I had a bag of frozen mixed veggies and I thought it would go well with beef. I decided to make pineapple-beef stir fry for a quick meal. The result was delicious, however, I realized the dish could have been better had I used fresh instead of frozen vegetables - mainly because the broccoli kinda' broke down into miniature florets.

The taste was still good, though. I loved the pineapple in the dish because it was a contrast  to the savory ingredients.

What you need:

1/2 cup lightly sweetened pineapple juice
1/4 cup unsweetened pineapple tidbits
2 tablespoon white wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3/4 lb top sirloin steak, cut into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 small onion, sliced thinly
12 oz mixed stir-fry veggies
dash of cayenne pepper

What to do: 

In a small bowl, combine pineapple juice,  white wine, soy sauce, cornstarch and cayenne pepper. Set aside.

In a large non-stick skillet or wok, heat the olive oil over medium-high and stir fry the beed slices. Cook until no longer pink; remove with a slotted spoon and keep warm. The reason for this is so you don't over cook the meat.

Add in the frozen veggies and stir-fry for 3 to 5 minutes or until vegetables are crisp tender. Stir the cornstarch mixture and add to the pan. Bring to a boil, cook and stir for about 4 minutes or until thickened. Add beef and pineapple and heat through. Serve with rice.

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks: 

1. I've mentioned it already - use fresh veggies if possible. Carrots, broccoli, snow peas, baby corn, etc!
2. Throw in a few cashew nuts - they always go well with stir fry!
3. Don't overcook the meat - you don't want chewy beef!
4. If you don't like saucy stir fry, just marinate the beef in the sauce mixture (minus the cornstarch) and discard the sauce.


Ice Cream Cake

This was my mother-in-law's cake last Mother's Day. It was from Baskin-Robbins, and it was called "Delectable Designer Bag Cake." Aptly named, because it was delectable indeed!

 This was a made-to-order cake, and you can find several designs at the Baskin-Robbins website. You get to choose which cake and ice cream flavor you want. My mother-in-law's cake was devil's foodcake and the ice cream was Gold Medal Ribbon. You can also choose between blue or pink frosting. 

Cross-section of the cake

I remember eating the same "purse" for Mother's Day last year, but the handles back then were made of Twizzlers (which son devoured eagerly). This year, it was made of plastic which they coated with icing. Oh well. I still think it was cute. The dots were white chocolate drops. I think I plucked about 3 of them before even cutting the cake. ;-)

Price depends on the size. This cake was good for 8 people, and it was around $20 - $24. 


Lemon-Broccoli Rice with Chicken

*This is NOT a sponsored post. I have never made a sponsored post.

I love trying out new products, especially if they are on sale! So when I chanced upon this new Philadelpia Cooking Creme at its introductory price (plus my coupon = I got it for about 75 cents!), I thought that I couldn't pass it up.

This recipe came with the container, and I immediately wanted to try it since it had lemons! I LOVE lemon in savory dishes - so long as it is not overpowering. The tangy kick of the lemon leaves you wanting for more! And of course, it is a complete meal already - protein, veggies and rice. What more could you ask for?

What you need: 

1 tablespoon Canola oil
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into cubes
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tub (10 oz) Philadelphia Original Cooking Creme
2 cups frozen broccoli florets, thawed
2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 cups hot cooked rice

What to do: 

Heat canola oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat.  Add the chicken, garlic and pepper, cook for 5 to 6 minutes or until chicken is done, stirring frequently. 

Add cooking creme and broccoli; cook and stir for about 2 minutes. Stir in lemon zest. Remove from heat. Serve over rice.

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks: 

1. If you want tangier sauce, spritz with some more lemon juice before serving.
2.Try it with beef instead of chicken.
3. Add other veggies like baby corn or carrots!


Tuna-Vegetables Stir Fry

After salmon, tuna is probably my second favorite fish. Being a healthy alternative to pork, I try to incorporate seafood in our diet just to break the monotony of the usual meat dishes. 

Alton Brown featured tuna in an episode of Good Eats, where a trip to the "afterlife" made him realize the health benefits of tuna and referred to it as "the other red meat."  Not surprising, as tuna is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, and is a good source of niacin and phosphorus. Too bad it is getting a bad rap nowadays, what with the radiation scare from Japan and all.

Anyway, I loved how the fish went very well with the dish. We will definitely be making more of this!

What you need: 

2 pieces tuna steaks (about 850 grams), cubed
8 oz portobello mushrooms, quartered
1 carrot, coined 
1 can (8 oz) sliced water chestnuts
1/4 yellow onion, sliced
5 cloves of garlic, coarsely minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks
1 block of tofu
salt and pepper, to taste
canola oil for frying

For the sauce:

1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce
1/2 tablespoon black bean sauce
1/4 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar

What to do: 

Cut tofu into 1 inch blocks. Fry in canola oil until the edges start to form crusts. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

Meanwhile, combine all the sauce ingredients and mix well. Set aside for later use.

In a wok, heat about 2 tablespoons of oil (I used the tofu oil!) over medium-high heat. Saute carrots, water chestnuts, and mushrooms for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In the same wok, saute ginger, garlic and onions. Add the cubed tuna and cook for about a minute. Add in the carrot-mushroom mixture and the sauce. Season according to taste. Cook for around 2 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Stir occasionally. Serve hot.

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks: 

1. Cook tuna like you would a steak- medium. If you overcook it, the meat would be as hard as a brick. ;-)
2. Fry tofu to your desired doneness. However, keep in mind that you will cook it again when you mix it with the rest of the ingredients. 
3. Add a dash of red pepper flakes if you want it a bit spicy.
4. Don't like tuna? Try mahi-mahi, halibut, or any firm-fleshed fish.
5. Make sure you cut ingredients the same size for even cooking.


5-Minute Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberries are in abundance! They are plump, juicy, sweet, and oh so cheap! By the way, did you know that strawberries are closely related to the rose family? So are blackberries, raspberries and boysenberries. So I guess this is a "flowery" dessert. ;-)

I wouldn't really call this a "recipe" since all I did was put ingredients together. It would take 5 minutes (or less!). Easy peasy. I love that the whipped cream was not so sweet, and it lessened the tartness of the strawberries. It was so good that I had it for breakfast! 

What you need: 

12 dessert shells
12 medium-sized strawberries
8 oz Cool Whip

What to do: 

Rinse the strawberries and dry with a paper towel. Slice into 1/4 inch thick slivers. Place on top of dessert shells and top with a dollop of Cool Whip. Enjoy!

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks: 

1. Can't find dessert shells? Try it on pound cake!
2. Use other fruits - mango, blueberries, etc!
3. Drizzle with ice cream topping. Mmmmmmm!

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Penne-Chicken Soup

This for me, is truly comfort food. It's one of those dishes that I want to eat when I'm sad, or during bleak, rainy days. It wasn't really raining when I made this, I just wanted some hot, piping bowl of soupy goodness. 

On a side note, when my husband saw that I was adding evaporated milk to my bowl, he thought it was a bit strange. I tried to make him add milk to his bowl too, so he would know how good it would taste, and he did so but sparingly. Really, he missed out on a lot! The milk made the soup creamier and tastier. Do you add milk to your soup too? 

What you need: 

2 large chicken breasts
4 hotdogs, coined 
about 2 cups penne noodles
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
4 cloves of garlic
1 large carrot, diced
2 tablespoons of butter
3/4 cup evaporated milk (plus more for serving)
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
grated parmesan cheese (for garnish)

What to do: 

Boil the chicken in a pot with lightly salted water for about 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool, then shred. Save the broth.

In a separate pot over medium-high heat, melt the butter and saute the garlic and onions. Add the carrots and shredded chicken, cook for about a minute, then pour in about 5 to 6 cups of the saved chicken broth. Season with salt and pepper, according to taste. Add the penne and coined hotdogs, lower the heat to medium, and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes or until pasta is soft (not al dente). 

Remove from heat and add evaporated milk and dried parsley. Stir. Ladle to bowls and garnish with grated parmesan cheese and more milk. Serve hot.

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks: 

1. When boiling the chicken, make sure it is submerged completely in water.
2. Use pre-packaged chicken stock or water if you don't have enough saved from boiling the chicken.
3. Other types of pasta would also work for this dish.
4. I prefer the noodles a bit soft for this recipe. You may want yours al dente. If so, lessen the cooking time to about 9 minutes.
5. Add more evaporated milk for a yummier soup!

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