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

Book Review- Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese

So lately when I’m not cooking I’m reading about food. Sometimes I’m reading other food blogs, hunting down a specific recipe and other times I’m reading books like the Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan about food politics. I’ve certainly learned a lot about food, where it comes from, how it’s grown and how it should be grown. All of these things influence the current course that I’m on in my life. It influences where I choose to live and how I plan on living that life. I have to say, in general while I’ll read just about anything I’m not the kind of girl who can sit down and read a cookbook. Maybe I’ll read the table of contents, possibly the introduction to each chapter but certainly not the cookbook.

When I say I sat down the other day and read the entirety of “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter” it is no exaggeration. Ok, to be honest maybe I skimmed some of the the recipes but I did read the book. Which I don’t normally do with a cookbook. However, this is not just a cookbook. Reese examines whether or not you should make or buy many traditional comfort foods. Not only does she do a cost analysis on which is cheaper homemade or store bought (almost all things are cheaper to make), she also gives a fair run down of the hassle involved. This is perhaps where it differed from your ordinary cookbook. I felt there was a bit of narrative. You really get the feel of how her knowledge increased as she experiments with making different foods and going so far as to raise her own chickens, ducks, goats etc.

Reese has a great sense of humor and it really comes through in her tales of animal husbandry. I particularly enjoyed her Thanksgiving turkey experiment. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a cookbook that had a cast of characters both human and animal with such strong personalities. Heck, I don’t know that I’ve ever read a cookbook with characters period. By the end of the book I felt that I had been allowed a small glimpse into her home and her family. And she shares not only her successes but also her failures with a refreshing honesty different from the ordinary food blogs out there that present everything as easy.

So, anyway- if you have an interest in cooking from scratch I highly recommend this book. I can’t say I’ve tried any of her recipes but her experience make me feel less alone in my quest to do it all by hand.

You can order the book from Amazon.com.

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should (and Shouldn't!) Cook from Scratch to Save Time and Money

 

 

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