Tag Archives: almonds

Cook with your Kids…

8 Jun

I have 2 “nieces” I have told you about… Mariana and Natalia.  “Nieces” is in quotations because they’re actually the daughters of my best friends – but to them I am their Titi Madelyn.

Fortunately and very grateful, they’re two very lucky girls whose parents can provide anything and everything to them.  So it became a challenge for me to choose a birthday gift for them every year.  Since last year, Titi Madelyn decided she would only provide experiences as gifts.  They do not need one more toy or one more t-shirt…  really.

Natalia turned 7 last month and as a birthday gift she got a cooking class by yours truly…  She had the choice of learning to make a cheesy lasagna, “pastelillitos de Shrek” or Italian Quesadillas.  She chose the cheesy lasagna, because I think in another life we were both mice…

I truly believe that when you get kids involved in preparing what they’ll eat, they’ll be more inclined to try new things and to eat whatever is on their plate.  I always tell Natalia and Mariana that if it wasn’t good tasting or good for them I would not even offer it.  They get it…

Natalia had to make several decisions to make her Cheesy Lasagna.  She had to choose between:

  1. Small or Large pyrex mold – she chose the larger one
  2. What ingredients to include in it – her choices were spinach, oven roasted tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, almonds and button mushrooms

She finally chose spinach, fresh tomatoes, mushrooms and skinned almonds.  She wanted it all…   She squeezed dry the spinach and I explained to her how all that green water would not be helpful for a cheesy lasagna.  She skinned almonds with me.  She arranged the almonds on a sheet to toast in the toaster oven.  She cleaned and sliced very carefully the button mushrooms and the organic heirloom tomatoes and placed it in separate dishes for the upcoming assembly.  She loved that the mushrooms looked like little trees.

                             Toasting almonds     slicing mushrooms 2

I explained to her we would make a cheese sauce to pour in between the layers we were going to assemble.  The cheese sauce was a mixture of every cheese I had in the fridge at the moment… I assure you I did not buy one cheese for this project.  We used cream cheese, ricotta, parmesan, shredded mozzarella, fresh mozzarella and goat cheese.  She tasted each cheese individually before adding them to the milk seasoned with sofrito, salt and pepper.  She already knew the cream cheese, parmesan and shredded mozzarella from making pita pizzas with me.   But she tasted ricotta and goat cheese for the first time. She LOVED the goat cheese… and ate 2 goat cheese toasts while we were making dinner.  Titi Madelyn tasted goat cheese for the first time about 7 yrs ago… figure that one out.

Natalia added each cheese to the cheese sauce pot and stirred it carefully to help the cheeses combine and melt together.  I was in charge of boiling the water for the Jerusalem artichoke pasta.  I just set some water to boil, turned the stove off and let the noodles soften in that water.  The cheese sauce would continue to cook the pasta perfectly when the lasagna is assembled and in the oven.

This is more a method of making lasagna more than a recipe per se… but if you would like to replicate what Natalia and I did, here’s the ingredient list:

Natalia Lasagna

NATALIA’S CHEESY SPINACH, ALMOND, MUSHROOM AND TOMATO LASAGNA

½ package of DeBoles Jerusalem artichoke lasagna noodles
½ cup defrosted cut leaf spinach
6-7 button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
3 small organic tomatoes, washed and sliced
a handful of almonds, peeled and toasted
1 tbs olive oil
1 tsp of sofrito
About 1 ½ cups of milk – I really used what was left in the carton so I didn’t measure it
½ brick of cream cheese
¼ tub of ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella – the one you use for pizzas…
½ log of goat cheese
About ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese – but you could also use pecorino romano, asiago, grana padano, etc.
Salt and Pepper to taste
3 slices of fresh mozzarella – to top the lasagna only
 

Natalia then assembled the lasagna.  She decided in which order she would add the filling components:

  1. We started with a layer of sauce, then noodles, then more sauce. 
  2. Now goes the filling layer – spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and almonds. 
  3. Add a sprinkling of more parmesan cheese before adding the next layer of sauce, pasta and more sauce. 
  4. Repeat until you create 3 layers of filling. 
  5. Then finish off of with the fourth and last layer of pasta covered with the remaining sauce you have and topped with pieces of fresh mozzarella. 
  6. I helped out with the hot noodles and the hot sauce, but Natalia did all the rest. 
  7. I baked the lasagna at 400F for about 25 minutes in my toaster oven.   We basically waited until the top got a nice brown color.  
  8. Filling

Natalia was super hungry by the time the lasagna was in the oven and I was in a hurry to feed her…We served her a nice piece with a side salad dressed with my Left-Over Dressing.  She ate so much; I had to give her a few papaya enzyme chewables to help her with her digestion and overfull tummy.  Her mom loved it too and took a great big piece home with her so daddy would also get a chance to try it.

Natalia Lasagna in PLate

The moral of the story…   Cook with your kids OFTEN.  Allow them to make decisions into what they’ll have for dinner, as long as they’re within what you believe is good for them.  Let them feel they’re part of the process and they will in turn reward you with the satisfaction of enjoying what they eat, enjoying foods good for them, raving all about it and asking you for more.  Natalia already wants us to schedule another “cooking class” when her Summer Camp ends.

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Tarragon Almonds

4 Jun

This is another recipe I made for my college get-together using ingredients from my CSA box, tarragon.

Tarragon is a new herb for me.  It’s not something you use in Latin cooking at all.  But it’s “licorice-y” taste gave me the idea to pair it up with something sweet and salty at the same time.  I already showed you my Rosemary Almonds, so I decided to give it a go with tarragon to see how people would receive them.

The test was a success… people were asking me what was in them.  Hold on… not just anyone was asking – my friend Mariví, the most finicky eater of all my friends, and Alejandro, the husband of my friend Angie, who always comes to my dinner parties after eating something before.   They were all over the bowl of almonds… 

I guess they don’t serve these at the Argentinean restaurant next door to my house…

 

 Tarragon Almonds

TARRAGON ALMONDS

1 cup of raw almonds
2 tbs maple syrup
2 tbs maple sugar
½ tsp kosher salt
A few grinds of the peppermill
1 tbs fresh tarragon, chopped finely

 

  1. I prefer to skin the almonds… so you need to do this in advance using the method I show you here.
  2. After the almonds are skinned and dry, toast them in a 350F oven for about 15-20 minutes.  Keep an eye on them… they will take a bit longer than skinned almonds because we’ve soaked them in water, but they could burn if left completely unattended.  The idea is to toast them a bit before you add the sugars because if not, the sugars will burn before the almonds get toasted…
  3. Take them out of the oven and let them cool a bit. 
  4. In a medium bowl mix together the maple sugar, syrup, salt, pepper and tarragon.  Add the almonds and toss to combine.
  5. Return them to the oven for about 10-15 minutes until the sugar and syrup dissolves and forms a caramel on top of the almonds.
  6. Take the out of the oven and immediately but very carefully place them in a shallow dish to cool.  BE CAREFUL THE SUGAR BURNS!!!

After they’ve cooled, you can separate them with your hands.  If you live in a hot humid climate like Puerto Rico, you might need to place them in the fridge so they do not get sticky…

Almond-Stuffed Dates

7 Apr

This is a dish I learned from Emeril Lagasse…  I have heard so much about dates wrapped in bacon on the internet that I wanted to give it as try using veggie bacon.

I brought this appetizer to one of our Les Francophones party.  And as always, these vegetarian experiments are usually a better hit with the non-vegetarians than with the true veggie people.  The husband of a friend was all over these, so much, I had to sneak a few out of the plate for Annie Mariel , my fellow “almost vegetarian” of the group, to get a chance to try them.

There are a few steps in making these, but I believe they’re worth it.  The amount of stuffed dates are contingent upon how many slices of veggie bacon you have… so I will give you the method here, not so much quantities.

 stuffed-dates

ALMOND-STUFFED DATES

Pitted dates
About 1/3 of an 8oz pack of cream cheese
Almonds, with skin removed and toasted
1 package of veggie bacon strips, cut in half
Toothpicks
Canola oil spray

 

I first soaked the almonds in water to remove the skin… afterwards, I toasted them lightly in a 350F toaster oven for about 15 minutes, until the almonds start to smell a bit and turn a slight darker beige color. You can do this in advance if you want…

  1. Leave the oven at 350F or pre-heat it to that temperature if you made the almonds in advance, which I recommend so you can handle them better.
  2. Create an assembly line…  Take a date and make sure it does not have the seed inside… this might be a not so nice surprise for your guest’s teeth.  Take an almond and pick a bit if cream cheese with the tip.  Insert the almond into the date using the pointy end of the almond as a guide.  After the almond and cream cheese is inside the date, wrap the date with a ½ strip of veggie bacon and secure with a tooth pick.
  3. Be careful using the tooth picks because they can tear the veggie bacon… remember this is a soy-based product and does not have the same fat content of the original…  now, place the stuffed and wrapped dates in a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and spray with canola oil spray.  This will prevent the veggie bacon to get too dry in the oven.
  4. Bake in oven for about 10-15 minutes…  when you like the color of the veggie bacon, take them out.

Let them cool off a bit and take off the toothpick before serving…

Rosemary Almonds

16 May

I love almonds.  They’re one of my favorite nuts, next to cashews, pistachios and hazelnuts.  I love almonds, not only for their flavor and crunchy texture, but also because they’re a great source of protein.  I read somewhere that eating 5-10 almonds a day gives you all the protein you need for that day.  Great news for me… because I rather eat almonds than beans any day of the week.

I wanted to treat the mothers in my life with something I made… instead of something bought.  I read this recipe in the Barefoot in Paris Cookbook where Ina uses cashews to re-create these bar nuts she ate at Union Square Café in New York.   I decided to go with almonds instead of cashews because I needed to make a large batch and almonds tend to be less expensive than cashews. 

I loved the results…  and as Ina says in her book, these taste best when they’re still warm.

 

ROSEMARY ALMONDS

3 cups peeled raw almonds
2 tbs minced fresh rosemary
½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tbs kosher salt
1 tbs unsalted butter, melted

 

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread thee almonds on a baking sheet and toast for about 10-15 minutes, particularly if you soaked the almonds to peel them.  If you prefer to keep the almonds with their skin, toast them for a shorter time to avoid burning them.
  2. While the almonds are in the oven, combine the rosemary, salt, pepper, sugar, and butter in a large bowl.
  3. Add the toasted almonds to the large bowl with the salt/sugar/rosemary mixture.  Toss well to combine.
  4. Serve warm if possible.

 

These are great as a snack, as a hostess gift… you name it.  They’re super delicious.

 

How to Peel Almonds

10 May

I feel the need to apologize… I have not been posting and sharing with you as frequently as I would like to.

I have been quite busy with a cooking project – trying to evaluate if cooking for hire is a career move I really want to make.  I’ll let you in on more information as it becomes available.

In the meantime, another project I took on was to make something for Mother’s Day, as opposed to buying something.  So I decided to make something with nuts… something to nibble, to snack, to entertain your mouth in between serious food.  My mom is a serious snacker so I decided to indulge her with my Rosemary Almonds.

I personally prefer peeled almonds to those with skins, plus my mom is always shying away from hard to chew foods…  you know, the story that at her age (which she does not represent at all…) her spare parts do not come cheap.  So to please my mom, I soak the almonds to make them a tad softer and to be able to peel them too.

What you need to do is:

  1. Soak the almonds in filtered water for about 2-3 hours.  The almonds will plump a bit and the skin will soften.

 

2.  With the help of your fingernails, clip the tippy tip of the almond and the skin will peel right off, just like peeling an orange with your fingers.

3.  Don’t soak them for too long or they’ll loose some of their oils and won’t roast well. 

4.  If you can’t peel them all in one sitting, drain all the water, let them dry and re-wet them when you’re ready to peel again.

This is how the almonds will look like after they’re peeled.  You’ll still be able to roast them on the stovetop or in the oven for that toasty almond taste, it’ll just take a little longer. 

After you do this, you really learn to appreciate why the cost of blanched, slivered almonds…  it’s a bit of a hassle, but I like them that way.

Enjoy your skinless almonds!!!

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