Calabaza Squash Pie (with homemade evaporated milk)

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I know I tend to talk about my Sunday cooking sprees but I don’t want to give the impression that Sunday is the only day I cook. I find right now that all my free time is spent either cooking or looking at recipes. Whereas before I tended to read books now I cook and if I am reading it tends to have some relation to food. For example, I just today finished reading “Under the Tuscan Sun.” It’s about a woman remodeling an old Tuscan villa and her experiences building and exploring the cuisine in a foreign country. Hmm, wonder why that appealed to me. I think it probably inspired me to make the No Knead 5 Minute Rosemary Artisan Bread that is rising right now. Probably the herb infused Olive Oils I plan to start when I finish this blog.

However this blog post is not about Rosemary Bread or Infused Oils. Nor is about the cheese I made yesterday. (I finally got some milk fresh from a cow and made some Queso Blanco- a vinegar cheese common in Central America.) I’ll save cheese making posts for another day. Today is about Squash Pie. So down here they have all kinds of crazy squash. I’ve mentioned this before in my posts about pumpkin and other side dishes I’ve made. One of the squash we have here is Calabaza. It looks a lot like a Butternut Squash but bigger. Tastes a lot the same too. The big difference is that the skin is much harder to cut on a Calabaza. Anyway, I roasted some the other night with a Rum Balsamic Glaze- super yummy, but I still had over half the squash left. So I decided to turn it into Squash Pie.

This Squash Pie was a bit bigger of an under taking than I initially expected. First I had to roast half the squash. I did that earlier in the week and it had been taking up space in my fridge for a couple of days. So yesterday I finally made the pie. Unfortunately the only recipe I had open on my computer yesterday (and the internet wasn’t working) required evaporated milk. Having just completed my first cheese making experience I dove right in to evaporating the milk. That took a bit longer than I anticipated. I also had to puree the roasted squash which I accomplished, despite the erratic power outages, with my trusty immersion blender. There is also the pie crust, which is always a pain in climate this hot. In the end the squash pie was made. And it’s super yummy. The recipe I used is calls for butternut squash, so it would be a great alternative to pumpkin pie for the holidays if you can’t find a pie pumpkin (I never managed in the states) and don’t want to use canned pumpkin puree. I’ll also include how to make evaporated milk so you don’t have to buy the can stuff of that either. I figure if you’re cooking “from scratch” it should be from scratch. Can’t wait till the squash come from my garden. Hopefully next year.

Evaporated Milk

For 3/4 cup evaporated milk slowly simmer 2 cups of milk of low heat using care not to scald the milk. Stir continuously to prevent the milk from burning to the pan. Takes approximately 30-45 minutes. Canned evaporated milk has had 60 % of the liquid evaporated.

Basic Pie Crust

1 1/4 cups of flour

1 tsp salt

1 stick (1/2 c) frozen butter

1/4 ice water

Stir together flour and salt. Cut in frozen butter with pastry cutter. When mixture resembles small peas slowly add water 1 TBSP at a time mixing until mixture forms a ball. Freeze for 30 minutes or over night. Make one 9 inch pie crust. Double recipe for a closed crust pie.

Calabaza Squash Pie

(adapted from About.com Southern Food)

1 9 inch Basic Pie Crust

1 1/2 c Pureed Calabaza Squash (Roast Squash at 450 degrees for 45 min – 1 hour, puree when cool)

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

3/4 evaporated milk

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp fresh grated ginger

2 TBSP melted butter

1 tsp vanilla

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat pureed squash and sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Add eggs, milk, spices, butter and vanilla and beat until well blended. Pour into chilled pie crust and bake 45-55 minutes until filing is set.

Banana Leaf Wrapped Snapper

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Banana Leaf Wrapped Snapper

One of the many things I love about living in the tropics is how easy it is to get ingredients that are “exotic” back home. My last post was about banana bread (which isn’t really very exotic). I’m going to continue the banana theme but use something that back home is a bit more exotic- Banana Leaves. One of the largest crops grown Isla de Ometepe, the island where we live, are bananas of all varieties. Everywhere you look are banana trees. I know in the states you can sometimes find banana leaves in the supermarket, but here we just cut them from the yard. And they weren’t the only ingredient in this recipe that came from our yard. The lemongrass was fresh from the garden as well. This was actually my first experience cooking with lemongrass and I was very pleased. I’ve only ever used it before in tea. We also have ginger growing on our property but it’s so cheap here right now it isn’t worth the trouble to dig the roots out of the ground. It costs me less the 50 cents a pound so I use it A LOT. Homemade ginger ale is great (and even better with Flor de Cana, the Nicaraguan Rum). The tumeric and limes we used were also locally grown.

Anyway, the inspiration for this dish was the banana leaves. We had the fish and I’m always trying to come up with different ways to use the same ingredients (we may get what’s exotic back home but we don’t get a lot of variety). Once we decided we wanted to cook the fish in the banana leaves I started looking for some recipes to get some interesting idea. I ended up adapting this recipe for Banana Leaf Wrapped Snapper from Martha Stewart. In the end it’s quite the adaptation because I didn’t have a good number of the ingredients so I used it more as a guideline. I didn’t have the fish sauce or shrimp paste, nor did I have tamarind pulp (though I can find that here). So I added the coconut and sesame oils and the soy sauce for the some richness and Asian flavors. I added the curry powder instead of chilli and I think we got sufficient kick. We did bake the fish instead of grilling it. I can’t say that I’ve tried the original recipe for a comparison but we were very happy with the end result.

We served the fish over a bed of veggie egg fried rice with a side of local squash. Yum yum yum.

Banana Leaf Wrapped Snapper

2 Snapper Fillets

Banana Leaves

1 Piece Fresh Ginger Peeled and Chopped (about 2 inches)

3 cloves of Garlic Chopped

1 Stalk Lemongrass Chopped (only the white part)

1/2 Onion Chopped

1 tsp Tumeric

1/2 tsp Curry Powder

1 TBSP Coconut Oil

1 TBSP Sesame Oil

1 TBSP Vegetable Oil

1/2 TBSP Soy Sauce

1 Lime Quartered

Pre-heat oven to 350 Degrees. Mix onion, garlic, ginger, lemon grass, oils, soy sauce and spices using a blender or food processor until a paste is formed (I use an immersion blender).  Place each snapper fillet on a prepared banana leaf. Spoon a generous portion of the prepared paste on each fillet and spread. Garnish with a lime slice. Close each banana leaf around the fillet and secure with a toothpick. Place in a baking dish and cook for 15-20 minutes.

Banana Leaf Wrapped Snapper

Banana Leaf Wrapped Snapper

Banana Bread

Banana Bread

I recently got my hands on a loaf pan and I have been dying to use it. I’ve had for about a week and a half now and haven’t had the time to do any serious baking since I bought it. In fact the only time I’ve used it so far is with some left over batter from some Brown Butter Pumpkin Cupcakes I made using my Pumpkin Puree.  Let me tell you that was delicious. Anyway, this week has been a nightmare of transportation problem and I just haven’t had the time (or gas for my stove) to do much cooking. However, knowing that our car won’t be fixed before Monday at the earliest, Friday we stocked up on lot’s of fruit and vegetables and all the stuff we’d need to get through the weekend without leaving the house. I might have been a little over zealous in my shopping. I’ve had a bunch of bananas sitting around for a few days now. We’ve eaten a few but they’ve begun attracting the fruit flies. Perfect for making banana bread, which is also super easy. And seeing as we planted over 50 banana trees on the property I figure I will need something to do with all those bananas.

Banana Bread

3-4 Bananas (I used 6 Bananitas they are much smaller than the standard stateside banana)

80 g butter melted

3/4 – 1 cup of sugar

1 egg beaten

1 TBSP rum

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 TBSP baking powder

dash of salt

1/2 c flour

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mash bananas leaving some chunks. Melt butter. In large bowl combined mashed bananas and melted butter. Cream in sugar. Add beaten egg, rum and spices. In med bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add dry mixture to wet mixture and stir with wooden spoon until mixed well. Pour into buttered loaf pan. Bake for 50 mins to 1 hour or until skewer comes clean.

Roasted Ayote and Pumpkin Puree

Ayote

So Sunday I went on a bit of a cooking spree. I had a few recipes I wanted to try out that I knew would take most of the day. Most days with the construction going on I don’t have four or more solid hours to spend in the kitchen. So these things have been piling up in my To Do list. Sunday seemed an ideal day to play in the kitchen since everyone here takes the day off. So I spent the day baking bread, making jam (it’s still not quite right) and roasting coffee.

But after the day of baking I still needed to make dinner. I’ve been seeing so many posts lately on facebook about pumpkin picking and pumpkin recipes on Pintrest I was feeling a bit jealous. So the other day, I had bought what is here called an ayote, and is a pumpkin. I had been hesitant to buy one before because they are large and I cook only for the two of us. But Pinterest has inspired me to be creative. So last night I decided to cut into it and roast it up. For dinner we had Sesame Encrusted Sea Bass with a Ginger Mango sauce and Roasted Ayote over brown rice.

I cut the Ayote in half and then into quarters. I coated the wedges with coconut oil (it’s warm enough here that it is liquid). Then I seasoned all four wedges with a little salt. I decided two would be enough for dinner and the other two I would puree. The two for puree, I only oiled and salted but the other two I added some cinnamon and some sugar. I put all for on a baking sheet and through them a 425 F over for about an hour until fork tender.

After dinner I shredded the cooled wedges with a fork. Then all I did was throw the shredded pumpkin into a mason jar and use my immersion blender to blend it until smooth. In the end it was super easy and the flavor is amazing. Now I just need to decide what to make with the puree.

Roasted Ayote

1/4 Ayote  (green  pumpkin) cut into wedges

Coconut Oil

Cinnamon

Salt

Sugar

Pre-heat oven to 425 F

Place pumpkin wedges on baking sheet and coat with oil

Sprinkle salt, sugar, and cinnamon on wedges.

Cook for 45 mins- 1 hour untill fork tender

Pumpkin Puree

Roasted pumpkin wedges oiled and salted

Scrape the roasted pumpkin from the skin from a pan

Put in blender or food processor (I used an immersion blender) and blend until smooth

You can add water to thin out the puree

Pumpkin Puree

Coconut Bread French Toast with Caramelized Pineapples in Sauce

Coconut French Toast with PineapplesWell, it seems like a lifetime since I last blogged here. For a while there I wasn’t cooking and then as they say, life just kind of got in the way. Since I last wrote we have bought property out here on Isla de Ometepe and finally started on construction of our dream, an organic farm with an Eco Bed and Breakfast. Part of the plan is to have a restaurant that will ultimately feature food grown on the property and locally. We’d like our menu to feature a fusion of American comfort foods re-envisioned with tropical flare. You can check it out at www.facebook.com/eljardinometepe

To that end I have been experimenting a lot with tropical fruits lately. Guava Balsamic Reductions for our steaks, Pineapple Mango Ginger Steak Stirfry, Sesame Encrusted Bass with Mango Salsa, that kind of thing. We have a guava tree on our property and currently we have guava coming out our ears, so I’m trying to master guava jam. When I get it figured out I’ll share it with you. Anyway, the other day I bought some fresh coconut bread from a small comedor (local restaurant) and I had been dreaming of putting guava jam on it. Unfortunately after four long hot in the kitchen I wound up with guava paste as opposed to guava jam. So the coconut bread has been sitting on my counter for a few days. Last night we sliced off a little to eat with the Pineapple Mango Ginger Steak but it was getting pretty stale.

So I decided this morning I would use the last of it to make some french toast. Since I can’t get real Maple Syrup here and I’m out of honey at the moment I thought I would fancy it up a bit. So I chopped up some pineapple and whipped up a syrup and viola- we have coconut bread french toast with caramelized pineapples in syrup. We enjoyed a lovely Saturday morning breakfast on the patio watching the butterflies.

Coconut Bread French Toast Recipe

I used half a loaf of local coconut bread for this. I would say in size and shape it most resembled a baguette but a bit denser. I sliced the loaf in half lengthwise and then in half again so I had four slices.

For the french toast batter I mixed two eggs, a splash of milk, about a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Whisk together. Dip the slice in the egg mixture one at a time until saturated. Make sure you coat both sides of the bread. Then cook on hot skillet. Cook each side until golden brown. When ready put on a plate, add caramelize pineapples and drizzle with syrup.

Caramelized Pineapple in Sauce

1 in slice of fresh pineapple cored and diced

2 TBSP butter

3 TBSP sugar

2 TBSP water

2 Tsp cinnamon

splash vanilla extract

I just added everything to small sauce pan and cooked it down until the pineapples were soft and the syrup was a beautiful golden color. I think next time I’ll melt the butter first, then add the sugar and pineapple and judge how much water is needed based off how juicy the pineapple is. However it turned out great just dumping it all into a pan.

I started the sauce and then made the french toast and both were ready at the same time. It was super quick, super yummy and it looks really pretty.

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Mediterranean Night- Hummus and Falafel

Hummus

I remember the first time I ever ate falafel. It was freshman orientation when I attended University of RI. An upperclassman took each orientation group for a tour of the campus and one of the obligatory stops was a shopping center, right next to- but not technically on- campus. As we were herded passed the coffee shops and pharmacy, we came upon Falafel Dave. Falafel Dave was standing outside his little stand with an enormous grin from ear to ear saying, “Come in, have a sample of my falafel.” We freshman dutifully lined up to receive our sample of falafel dipped in hummus.

“What is it?” people mumbled.

“It’s good,” said the upperclassman.

“Is it vegetarian?” I asked. At the time I was loosely vegetarian.

“Yup.”

“And it’s good?” I asked. I had had very little vegetarian food that most people would say tasted good. I didn’t like veggie burgers or anything in that whole classification of what I think of as vegetarian food- lentils, beans, stuff that comes out as a brown mush. That falafel changed my mind about classic vegetarian foods. Well maybe not entirely. I still don’t like lentils or brown mush. However, I did learn that if you look outside American vegetarian cuisine there’s all kinds of good things you can enjoy.

Another favorite of mine, that goes hand-in-hand with falafel is hummus. No party is complete without hummus. It goes great with veggies, it goes well on chips or bread. For years I’ve been buying tubs of hummus in the grocery store, never knowing that hummus is one of the easiest things in the world to make. You just dump all the ingredients into a food processor and blend. I started making

hummus a couple of months ago and now I’m amazed that I ever bought it in the store. And the great thing about making it yourself is you can balance the flavors yourself. I personally like lots of garlic. I’ve been buying my chickpeas in cans and using those for my hummus. While I do reuse the cans, in the interest in cutting down on waste (and cost) this last time I bought dried chickpeas.

Since I had all these chickpeas we decided to have a Mediterranean night, with falafel and hummus. I was going to try to make pita bread as well but the recipes we a bit daunting based on what time I started prepping for dinner. So instead I whipped up some flour tortillas which worked as a nice flat bread substitute. We topped it with some slices of tomatoes and cucumber (the cucumber came from our garden). It was so filling we had leftovers for the next day.

Falafel and Hummus

For this I used half a 14 oz bag of dried chick peas. I intended to soak them over night but forgot. So instead I boiled 4 cups of water and added the chick peas. I let them boil for about 2 minutes then set them aside covered to soak for one hour. Then I drained the remaining water off (into my garden) and used half the chickpeas for the hummus and half for the falafel.

Hummus  -yields about 8 oz

2 cups of chickpeas (you can 1 16 oz can as well)

1/4- 1/2 cup Olive Oil

1 TBSP Tahini (you can skip this if you don’t have it- but it adds to the flavor)

2 cloves of garlic

salt to taste

Add all ingredients to your food processor, blender or I used an immersion blender and blend until smooth.

Falafel- makes 4 falafel balls

2 cups of chickpeas (canned chickpeas may result in soggy falafel)

1/2 small onion

a few sprigs if parsely

1/4 tsp cumin

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 TBSP Flour

Add all ingredients into your food processor (again I used my immersion blender, not the right tool) and blend until a coarse crumbly consistency.

Refrigerate for one hour.

Add 1/2 inch to 1 inch of oil to a cast iron skillet and heat up the oil.

Form small balls using about 2 TBSP of the falafel mixture.

My wonderful husband mans the fryer

My wonderful husband  mans the fryer

Add the falafal to the pan and fry for about 3-5 minutes per side.

Remove from oil and drain.

Serve with pita or flat bread, hummus, tomatoes, or whatever you fancy.

Enjoy!

That cucumber is from my garden

That cucumber is from my garden

Bagels… Need I Say More?

Yum

Yum

If there is one thing I can always count on my mother having in her kitchen it’s bagels and cream cheese. I remember when I was a little girl on special Sundays we would get up early and drive all the way to Cranston (which in RI is far) to go to Rainbow Bakery to get real bagels and deli cream cheese, not the frozen Lender’s bagels that came from the grocery store. When you got there early enough the bagels were still warm and that lovely warm yeasty smell filled the car on the ride home. It was definitely worth the drive in my opinion. As time when on and bagels grew in popularity, the local bakery in town decided to send their baker off to bagel school. Apparently bagel school took MONTHS and required they buy special equipment. Perhaps this is why I never considered the possibility of making my own bagels until recently.

While I traveled Central America, one of the things I missed most in my diet was bagels. It has been my go to breakfast food for as long as I can remember. Whenever I found a town with a place that had bagels I can guarantee you, we ate there everyday we were in town. By far and away the best bagel shop I found was the Bagel Barn in Antigua, Guatemala. They have a witty, quirky menu, real cream cheese and amazing bagels. Plus they have super speedy wifi, which is almost equally as important. I spent many hours sitting there drinking nice iced coffee drinks, full of yummy bagely goodness surfing the web. Ahh, the Bagel Barn.

Recently, I have begun looking into baking things I would never had considered. Since I made my own wedding cake, I though maybe I was up to tackling bagels. Just because I live on an island in the middle of nowhere is no reason a girl should have to go without bagels. And so today I did it. Bagels. From scratch, not the freezer. After reading many recipes I found on the internet I used the recipe for New York Style Bagels I found at The Sophisticated Gourmet.  She does such a good job of explaining I recommend checking it out. It takes a few hours to make them but in the end it’s not that bad and SO SO worth it.

Now I just have to conquer cream cheese…

Bagels- Makes 8 medium sized bagels

2 tsp yeast

1 1/2 TBSP sugar

1 1/4 c. water

3 1/2 c flour

1 1/2 tsp salt

In 1/2 cup of warm water pour sugar and yeast. Do not stir. Let sit 5 minutes then stir yeast and sugar until it dissolves.

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in the sugar/yeast mixture.

Pour in half the remaining water and mix. Stir in the remaining water as needed for your climate. You want a moist and firm dough.

Knead dough about 10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. It should for a stiff firm dough.

Lightly brush a large bowl with oil and turn dough to coat.

Dough

Cover with a damp dish cloth and set in a warm place to rise for one hour. The dough should double in size.

After the dough has risen it should be double in size

After the dough has risen it should be double in size

Punch down dough and let rest for 10 minutes.

Carefully divide the dough into eight pieces. Shape each piece into a round dough ball.

Divide dough into 8 pieces

Divide dough into 8 pieces

Coat a finger in flour and gently press into the center of the dough ball to form a ring. Stretch the hole about 1/3 the diameter of the bagel and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Uses your finger to stretch out a hole

Uses your finger to stretch out a hole

After shaping bagels, cover with a damp towel and let rest for an additional 10 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bring a large stock pot of water to boil. Using a slotted spoon lower bagels into the water.

Within seconds the bagels should float to the top. Boil for 1 minute per side. Two minutes per side for chewier bagels.

Boil one minute per side

Boil one minute per side

Once the bagels are boiled transfer to the parchment paper covered baking sheet.

At this point you can add toppings with the addition of an egg wash. I made plain bagels.

Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.

Enjoy!

Golden Brown

Golden Brown