Pollo Pibil!

14 Jan

PolloPibil Eddie and I had a grand time celebrating the New Year with our family in Veracruz and, as you might imagine, enjoyed some incredible meals. New Year’s Eve dinner was for 40, and one of the starring dishes was Pollo Pibil, a regional recipe from the south of Mexico. bananaleaves

The three principal flavoring ingredients in this recipe are achiote, a paste made from annatto seeds, Acuyo leaf, also known as Hoja Santa or Yerba Santa, and banana leaves. Banana leaves are used to steam meats and tamales in Veracruz, the YucatanPeninsula and other southern states, and add a delightful fragrance and taste to the filling.


The week prior to our visit my niece had been vacationing in Merida, Yucatan, and she brought home some achiote paste. She kindly gave me a bag of it,  and my godson’s grandmother also gave me a small bag of Acuyo leaves from her garden. I “smuggled” all this across the border and promptly went shopping for banana leaves at our local Mexican market. If you can find a store that sells banana leaves they will also carry achiote paste, and perhaps even Acuyo leaves. If you can’t find the Acuyo you might add a few sprigs of mint to the top of the dish before baking.

3 to 4 pound chicken, in pieces. Cut breast in 4 pieces
1 onion
Banana leaf
4 Acuyo leaves (hoja santa or yerba santa)

1/3 cup achiote paste
Juice from one orange
Juice from 3 Meyer lemons
1 clove garlic
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. ground pepper

Mix marinade ingredients in blender at high speed. Taste and add salt as needed. Place chicken pieces in ZipLock bag and add marinade. Seal bag and massage until chicken pieces are well coated. Refrigerate for 24 hours, occasionally massaging and turning to ensure chicken is well coated.


On day 2, cut banana leaves in sheets large enough to create 2 folding layers that will create a “boat” in a roasting dish. Quickly roast the sheets over a flame, moving across, until the outer part of the leaf becomes shiny. With a damp cloth, wipe both sides of the leaves and place them horizontally and vertically in the roasting pan.


Add marinated chicken pieces


Slice one onion in rounds and cover the chicken with rings.


Place fresh Acuyo leaves over onion.


Tightly close the banana leaves to seal the dish.


Cover roasting pan with aluminum foil and bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour.


Serve with Mexican Rice, black bean soup and warm corn tortillas. Buen provecho!



Comfort Food ala Francaise

8 Dec


I think meatloaf is the epitome of comfort food, and it is also fairly easy to “change it up” a bit. Yesterday I decided to put a French twist on it, using a sautéed mire poix (chopped onion, celery and carrots), Herbs de Provence (a blend of oregano, thyme, savory, lavender, basil, sage, and rosemary) and a spicy sweet glaze of catsup, Dijon mustard, brown sugar and Cabernet.


1 medium onion, diced
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup diced carrots
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 pound lean ground beef
½ pound ground pork
2 Tbsp. Herbs de Provence
1 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup gluten free Panko-style bread crumbs


In large skillet, lightly sauté the mire poix until onions are translucent. Remove from heat and let cool while preparing the rest of the mixture.

The key to a good meatloaf, or meatball for that matter, is not to over work the mix. Let meat stand outside refrigerator for about ½ an hour to bring up to room temperature.


Add mire poix and other ingredients to meat and use your hands to mix everything just until it all holds together. Place in loaf pan.


1/2 cup catsup
3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
¼ cup Cabernet


Mix well and spread glaze evenly over meatloaf. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375° for 45 minutes. Remove foil and set oven to broil. Keep an eye on the loaf and remove when glaze has started to caramelize.

Ooh-la-la! C’était parfait!


Nanaimo Bar Time!

3 Dec


My friend Denise introduced me to these scrumptious no-bake, three layer cookie bars many years ago. My kids loved them and I’ve made them every year hence at Christmas. They start with a graham cracker crumb, cocoa, coconut, and chopped nut base, followed by a layer of custardy butter cream, and are then topped with a shimmering layer of semi-sweet chocolate.

Nanaimo Bars are one of Canada’s favorite confections, named after the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia. It all began when Mabel Jenkins, a Nanaimo housewife entered the recipe in a magazine contest in the 1950’s. She won the contest with these tasty treats and made her hometown famous for them.

This year, after being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, I needed to adapt the recipe to be gluten-free (GF). No problem! In fact, this development made me even more creative in the kitchen. For the first batch I used GF graham crackers and really didn’t change the recipe. But while I was shopping at People and Planet yesterday I picked up some GF chocolate crisp cookies, which the shop owner told me his GF clients love for making alternative chocolate cookie-based pie crusts.

Since the crumb crust was already going to be mighty chocolatey, I decided to add instant espresso to the first layer for a mocha twist. I also thought about my granddaughter, Lila Blue, and our shared love of French sea salt with chocolate. So, here’s the recipe for my latest version of Nanaimo Bars.


1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 TBSP dark cocoa powder. (For the original recipe use 5 TBSP cocoa and omit the instant espresso)
3 TBSP instant espresso
1 egg, beaten
1 3/4 cups GF chocolate crisp crumbs (place in large zip lock bag and crush with rolling pin). For the original recipe use graham cracker crumbs
1 cup shredded or flaked coconut; sweetened
1/2 cup dry roasted almonds; finely chopped. You can also use chopped walnuts or pecans.

Place butter, sugar, instant espresso and cocoa powder in double boiler over barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted. Slowly add beaten egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat and add to crumbs, coconut and chopped almonds.  Press firmly into ungreased 8″ square pan. Chill for 1 hour.


1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
3 TBSP heavy whipping ream
2 TBSP vanilla instant pudding or Bird’s custard powder
2 cups powdered sugar

Cream together butter, cream and custard powder in mixing bowl, and gradually beat in powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Spread over first layer. Chill for 1 hour.


4 oz bakers chocolate; semisweet (4 sq)
2 TBSP unsalted butter
Sprinkles of coarse sea salt

Melt chocolate and butter in top of double boiler over barely simmering water. Stir to combine. Cool to room temperature and spread evenly over second layer with spatula. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Store in fridge until chocolate topping begins to harden. Score topping into 16 small bars (bites). Cut before totally solid, use a hot knife, wiping clean between cuts. Store in fridge or freeze for up to 2 months.

This recipe is quite adaptable. If you love peanut butter you can use that in the buttercream, or mint chocolate lovers can add a few drops of peppermint extract to the filling. Here are a few options I found and intend to experiment with. You may have to adjust the powdered sugar to reach the right consistency when using liqueur.


PEANUT BUTTER FILLING– 2 TBSP softened unsalted butter, 3 TBSP whipping cream, 2 Tbsp custard powder or vanilla instant pudding, 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter at room temperature,  2 cups powdered sugar.

MINT FILLING — 1/2 cup butter, 3 TBSP whipping cream, 2 Tbsp custard powder or instant vanilla pudding, 2 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon peppermint flavoring, 1-2 drops green food coloring as desired.

GRAND MARNIER FILLING — 1/3 cup softened unsalted butter, 3 TBSP custard powder or vanilla instant pudding, 1/4 cup Grand Marnier or orange liqueur, 1 TBSP orange rind, coarsely grated, 2-3 cups powdered sugar.

BAILEY’S IRISH CREAM FILLING — 1/3 cup softened unsalted butter, 3 TBSP custard powder or vanilla instant pudding, 1/4 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream, 2-3 cups powdered sugar.

CHERRY FILLING — 1/4 cup butter; softened, 3 TBSP custard powerder or vanilla instant pudding, 1 tablespoon Maraschino cherry juice, 2 cups powdered sugar, 1/3 cup chopped Maraschino cherries, 1-2 drops of red food coloring.


22 Nov

Pheasant Run Golf Course in California’s central valley, where we are staying over Thanksgiving weekend….and where I experienced a real attitude of gratitude today. Nevermind my score, okay?

Today I played golf as a single (with Eddie as my Caddie Daddy for the first nine holes) and I was paired up with a young college student and her father. The girl looked like she was 15 years old and had an incredible golf swing. Her Dad is a low handicapper, former baseball player and obviously competitive, but he was engaged in his daughter’s game, encouraging her and trading barbs. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

Eddie was an excellent companion but he was freezing in the morning valley fog and headed back to the motor home after 9 holes.

At the turn, my golf partners were searching their bags for tees and I offered them some from my bag…apologizing that they were pink and explaining that they were for breast cancer. Dad said,  “We appreciate that. You may have noticed that my daughter has a deep cough. She has cystic fibrosis and we’ve done lots of walks for various diseases.”

I have a friend who lost a child to cystic fibrosis and I know a nurse who treated children with the disease. I was impressed with this young woman, who, in spite of her genetic disorder and short stature, had played softball through high school and is still an outstanding athlete. She and I shared the forward tees, I offered her my sand wedge and a little advice in the bunker, she rode with the old lady on one hole, and I called her Sweetie a couple of times. Rather than shaking hands on the 18th hole, we hugged.

I came back to the motor home and did a little research, which was very uplifting. The life expectancy of CF patients has been increasing over the past 40 years. In the 1980s, life expectancy of people with the disease was 14 years. Ten years ago, the life expectancy of a person with cystic fibrosis was around 18 years. Today it is 35 years and increasing.

Those four hours I spent today with father and daughter on the course was one of the most moving Thanksgiving Day moments  I’ve experienced in a long time…and with complete strangers! To see Dad motivating and inspiring his daughter on the course, knowing full well he might survive her, and seeing this young woman’s detemination and faith in the future reminded me that grace plays a huge part in our lives.

To learn more or donate to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and search for new treatments and a cure CLICK HERE

Chiles Rellenos ala Consuelo

18 Nov

From daybreak until late afternoon, my mother-in-law’s kitchen in Mexico City was a steaming miasma of spice and sweetness. Although she didn’t do a lot of the actual cooking, she supervised the elaborate meals and taught her cooks exactly how everything should look, taste and smell. She also taught me the basics of Mexican cuisine, and every time we visited she would make one or more of our favorite dishes while I stood by or helped with preparation.

Consuelo liked to get to market early to chose the freshest ingredients and often a bouquet of flowers.  Here she is in the San Juan market in Mexico City, 1987. Great times!

Chiles Rellenos is still one of my favorite Mexican dishes, and after years of making it, my recipe definitely has Consuelo’s “sazon”. The secret to really great Mexican food is time…letting things simmer, reduce and meld. One of the foundations of “comida casera” is a rich tomato paste that is used in sauces, soups, Spanish rice and other dishes.

1 pound ripe tomatoes, preferably Roma type
1 small onion
3 cloves garlic
½ cup water
4 Tbsp. canola oil

Place tomatoes, onion, garlic and water in food processor and mill gently. Heat oil to high but not smoking. Strain the vegetable puree through a food mill or sieve, to remove seeds and skins, directly into hot oil. Cook on medium heat until mixture is reduced by half. Lower heat to simmer and reduce until the oil is the only liquid in the pan. At this stage the paste should be watched closely. Add oil, if needed, to prevent scorching

Note: I triple or quadruple this recipe when tomatoes are abundant and freeze small containers of the tomato paste.

It may seem silly, but now we are going to add liquid BACK to the paste to create a soupy sauce for the Chiles Rellenos. In a large covered skillet, sauté 1 onion, sliced in thin half moons and 1 or 2 jalapeno chiles, seeded and sliced, until slightly softened. Add tomato paste and stir to coat vegetables. Add 4 cups chicken broth and simmer for half an hour.

Fire roast chiles over gas range, gas grill or under broiler until blackened. As they finish, place them in a covered dish to sweat.

4 large poblano chiles
4 eggs at room temperature
1/2 cup flour
1 cup Cotija cheese
1/2 pound Oaxaca cheese (you can also use String Cheese or Mozarella)
1 cup canola oil
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

When roasting is finished, start with first chile off the grill and, under cold water, slip the skins, trying to leave the pepper intact. Next, make a slit down one side of the chile and carefully reach in and remove the seeds and veins. This is easier to do under running water. Pat dry and stuff each chile with cheese. Be careful not to overstuff as they will leak. I like to leave a little overlap. Close and fasten with toothpicks and set aside.

To make the batter, start by separating eggs and lightly beating egg yolks. In stand mixer, whip egg whites on high speed to soft peaks. Gently fold in egg yolks.

In small bowl dust chiles with flour, then dip in egg batter and place in medium hot oil. (I usually do two chiles at a time, as they must be watched to prevent burning.) Turn chiles once so they are golden on both sides and then place them in the sauce and cover.

Cover and simmer chiles in sauce for 30 minutes, add cilantro and mix in. Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes. Serve with rice, beans and tortillas.

A dusting of grated Cotija cheese on the beans and lime juice on the rice is traditional.

Since I had harvested the last of my poblanos from the vegetable garden I roasted them all. I used the remainder of them to make pickled pepper and onion…another traditional side dish. Remove the chile tops, tear into strips and slice white onion in thin rounds. Add ½ cup cider vinegar and salt to vegetables. Mix well and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

We will be visiting Consuelo in Veracruz in January and I am really looking forward to getting a tune-up on my sauce and chile relleno recipes. Gracias, Suegrita!

Yazmin and her great grandmother Consuelo in Veracruz two years ago.

A British Tradition: The Sunday Roast

16 Nov

Boneless leg of lamb roasted on the Weber…YUM!

The roots of my mother’s family are in Great Britain, where leg of lamb is the traditional joint for a Sunday roast; yet she didn’t like it and never served it. Most folks either love or hate lamb…not too many “in-betweenies” on the fare. In spite of the fact that we didn’t eat it growing up, I have come to be one of the lamb lovers and am particularly happy with the fact that it is a pasture-raised animal.

We saw some New Zealand lamb at Costco last week and Eddie offered to roast a leg on the Weber. The roast was nearly 5 pounds, so we cut off 2 pounds and froze that to grind later for meatballs.

The boneless leg came neatly packaged in a string “sock”, which Eddie removed to trim the meat and stuff with about 6 cloves of chopped garlic, rubbing it in well with a little salt and pepper.

Then he swathed the roast in fresh rosemary stalks and we squeezed the whole thing back into the sock…a 2-person project. He started the charcoal in the Weber about ½ an hour before putting the joint on the rack and then roasted it for an hour and a half.

Alternately, you can use butcher string to bind up the leg before roasting.

It came out looking beautiful and after a 20 minute rest, he cut off a few thick slices of medium rare, tender and savory lamb, which I served with a brown rice pilaf and steamed brussel sprouts. I also served Gingery Wine Grape Jelly instead of the traditional Mint Jelly…an interesting twist.

Now, an entire roast is a lot of meat for two people and we are not averse to leftovers for a few days in a row, so on Day Two I made a gluten-free brown gravy and we had that with slices of lamb, leftover pilaf and steamed green beans.

On Day Three I added carrots, mushrooms, celery, chopped onion, the leftover green beans and brussel sprouts to the gravy, trimmed and diced the remaining lamb and made a Shepherd’s Pie. Actually, I had so much filling that I put half of it in the freezer, and the other half in a casserole topped with mashed potatoes and baked it for 45 minutes until the potatoes turned golden brown. And, yes, on Day Four we had leftover Shepherd’s Pie for dinner.

Cover the casserole with mashed potatoes and bake until they turn golden brown.

We truly enjoyed this traditional roast all week long, but I think we might be ready for something different this weekend!

Fruit of the Vine

31 Oct

Petite Sirah grapes have a high skin to juice ratio, producing wines with high tannins and acidity, giving them the ability to age well.

Three years ago we watched our neighbors plant 500 Petite Sirah grapevines, and then cut and discard the green grapes for 2 years in order to train the plants. This year was their first harvest and after the picking crew had taken the bulk of the grapes they asked us if we’d like to glean the vineyard for chicken treats.

We arrived with buckets and baskets and started to pick…and taste! Chickens Schmickens! There is some excellent juice in those berries, I thought. I looked for recipes online and found one for Gingery Wine Grape Jelly. My first batch didn’t gel, though it is a fine syrup, so I canned it like that. I have always made jams and preserves the French way, by cooking them down, but had never used pectin or made jelly, for that matter.

For the first batch, which became syrup, I used this list of ingredients.

7-1/2 cups wine grape juice
2/3 cup lemon juice
½ cup chopped fresh ginger
1 box SURE-JELL Fruit Pectin
7 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl

I started with approximately 10 pounds of grapes and got almost 8 cups of juice. The first step is to wash and stem the grapes. In small batches, in a fairly deep container, crush fruit with a potato masher. The deep dish is important, as the grapes pop and squirt quite vigorously when they are crushed.

Place grapes in a deep cookpot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.

 Let cool and then strain juice through a fine sieve to remove skin and seeds.

I used a sturdy water glass to press the juice out. The result is a rather pulpy juice.

Place 6 ½ cups grape juice in a deep stainless steel cookpot, reserving 1 cup. An extra large pot is best because when jelly starts boiling it wants to go up, up and away over the edge of the pot…at least mine did, leaving me a sticky purple stovetop.

Peel and chop fresh ginger. Place ginger, lemon juice and 1 cup of grape juice in blender to pulverize ginger. Strain this mixture through a fine sieve into grape juice. Stir in 1 package Sure Jell and bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer while you measure sugar into a separate bowl.

A full rolling boil is a boil that can’t be “stirred down” over high heat.

Stir in sugar, return to a full rolling boil and cook for exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and ladle into hot sterilized jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 5 min. Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with finger. (If lids spring back, lids are not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)

Gingery Wine Grape Syrup and Jelly

I had an abundance of grapes, so I tried it again after consulting the Sure Jell site, and the Joy of Cooking and Betty Crocker cookbooks. This time, to be sure it would gel, I reduced the amount of grape juice to 5 cups, lemon juice to ½ cup, used a little less ginger, and then cooked it at a higher heat for 2 minutes. This batch was perfect on pancakes!

Pamela’s Gluten Free Pancake Mix…highly recommend!

Today I was almost out of grape juice, but I had some pomegranates, so I decided to try that combo without ginger or lemon juice so that the pomegranate could shine. For this batch I used the following ingredients and cooked it the same way.

1-1/2 cups pomegranate juice
2 cups wine grape juice
1 box SURE-JELL Fruit Pectin
5 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl

Bottom Line: Wine grapes have a great deal more complexity than the Concord grapes typically used for Grape Jelly; and if you like ginger or pomegranate, both flavors pair spectacularly well with them.