Tostones with Mojo


Tostones is a great snack or side dish. It’s basically fried, flattened green plantains, fried again. The mojo is a dipping sauce. The process for the plantains is a little time consuming, but it isn’t really hard. The mojo is basic and simple. I used yellow plantains instead of green, so they were a bit sweeter and less starchy than traditional…I’ll try green ones next time, but these were still delicious!

To prepare the plantain, cut off either end, and run the tip of your knife lengthwise down the plantain, front and back, just through the skin. Then peel the skin off and discard. The greener they are, the more difficult it an be to remove the skin…just so you know. Next, cut the plantains into rounds. about an inch and a half thick, more or less.

You can set up to fry with whatever you have. I used a pan on my stove, with a couple of inches of vegetable oil, heated to around 325-350F. fry the pieces of plantain, in batches, for 3 or 4 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Plantain pieces after first fry.

To flatten the plantain pieces, you can use the special tostones gadget that can be found in Latino stores, or online…and they’re pretty cheap.

Flattening the plantain pieces.

Or, you can just use the bottom of a pan or bottle.  The plantain should be placed with the interior facing up. If not using the gadget, you could use some plastic film or parchment, underneath and on top. The gadget automatically sets the thickness for you. Otherwise, you just have to get used to making them about 1/8″ thick, by pushing straight down on them with your flat bottomed utensil of choice. Use a spatula to slide under the flattened piece and move to a plate or tray.

Move the flattened plantain pieces back into the oil, in batches, and fry for another couple minutes on each side, until nicely browned.

Second fry.

Remove to paper towels and sprinkle with a little salt, while still hot. Serve warm, with mojo.

Draining the tostones. Bowl of mojo.

For the mojo, remove about 1/4-1/3 cup hot oil from the fryer and add to a heat-proof bowl. Finely chop 2 cloves of garlic and and some parlsey (usually, I would use flat-leaf, but I had curly still hanging on in the garden). Add to the oil. Also add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and salt/pepper to taste. Stir well. I find using a spoon gets more garlic onto the tostones, than dipping. Enjoy!

Tostones with mojo.



Basic Flan

Basic Flan. Yum!

Flan. Not what most kids want for dessert. But, if you can get them to TRY it, many will like it. As an adult, with more mature tastes, almost everyone will appreciate it. Flan is a custard that is pretty firm, and is baked with caramelized sugar that becomes a syrupy sauce.

Many cultures have a version of flan, especially Latino and Hispanic cuisines. The one I am doing here is a pretty simple, basic Mexican style flan. I ordered a flan pan via the internet to cook mine in; however, you can use an 8″x3″ deep cake pan or something similar, with or without the water bath. Using the water bath, I believe is supposed to give a more even heat and a finer texture.

Here’s the recipe:

Basic Whole Egg Flan

5 whole eggs

1 can of evaporated milk

1 can of condensed milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup granulated white sugar


Preheat oven to to 350F. Add sugar to a small saucepan, preferably non-stick, over medium heat. Pay close attention and stir often. Adjust heat as necessary.

Starting the caramel.

Sugar starting to melt. Stir!

In a large mixing bowl, add 5 whole eggs. (I remove the little white globs with a fork, or you could strain, after mixing in other ingredients.) Add condensed and evaporated milks and vanilla. Combine well, using a wire whip.

Eggs and milks.

When the sugar is completely melted, it should be a nice amber color. It will burn VERY quickly, so don’t push it too much and pay close attention! It will be extremely hot and sticky, so handle with care! I think I went just a bit too long, as some stuck to the pan and was hardened. (see photo below)

Caramel is ready!

Carefully pour the caramel into the flan pan or baking pan.

Caramel in the pan.

Ladle the egg mixture into the pan. I probably should have let the caramel set-up just a minute or two. We’ll see how it turns out. (see photo below)

Custard mixture added.

If using flan pan and water bath, affix lid to flan pan, place in a larger, oven safe dish, on a sheet pan or other larger baking pan. Add boiling water to the bath pan, coming halfway up the flan pan. Carefully transfer to preheated oven.

In the water bath and oven.

If not using flan pan  or water bath, just put baking pan on a cookie sheet onto the oven rack. Oven rack should be in the center of the oven. Bake for 60 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate for a least a couple hours prior to serving.

Out of the oven and cooling.

To serve, run a knife around the sides to release, invert a serving dish onto the flan baking dish. Make sure you have a dish that will hold the caramel liquid, without overflowing!

I used a pie plate to invert my flan onto.

Carefully, but quickly flip over, and then remove the baking dish.

Ta da!!! Looks like I should have let the caramel set for just a minute, but looks pretty good.

Some caramel hardened onto the pan. Next time, remove from heat sooner?

Heading to the fridge for a couple of hours.

Cut into servings, plate, spoon syrup over.

May be served with whipped cream and/or berries, if desired.

You can find versions of flan with various flavors, such as coffee, chocolate, pumpkin, almond, coconut, and more. Once you are comfortable with the basic recipe, try some variations! Enjoy!

UPDATE  (9/2/17)  Since the initial post, I’ve made a couple more flan and experimented a little. First, the hardened caramel kind of bugged me, so I’ve tried to remove it from the heat sooner…just trying to make sure its completely melted. I also have given just a couple of minutes before adding the custard mixture. I’m still getting some hardened caramel, though. But I’ve found that I can break it up, and either eat it like candy, or try to melt it in a sauce pan with a couple tablespoons of water and then pour it back over the flan, after it has cooled. Melting it again takes some time and constant vigilance, though.

Eat it,or melt it?

It has produced a better top surface…nice and smooth.

Nice smooth top.

Other experimentation, has been in flavoring variations. The above photo is actually a coffee flavored flan. I just dissolved some instant coffee, about 1/3 cup, into just enough water to dissolve it. I stirred than into the custard mix until well combined. I think it was very good.

The other variation, that I did today, was chocolate. For this one, I added 1/3 cup cocoa powder directly to the custard. It was a little messy and slow to get mixed in, but I worked at it and prevailed! Here are a few photos of that flan coming out of the pan:

Out of the oven and lid removed.

Smooth, glassy top!


Nice! Definitely has that cocoa powder chocolate flavor.



Pickled Red Okra

Red okra. I saw this somewhere and it sparked an interest. I made a couple of jars of pickled okra last year, and I entered one in competition at the State Fair. I had some winners, but my okra wasn’t one of them. I tried it, and I thought it was good; but I’m not a pickled okra “expert”, so…. How can I get the judges’ attention? How about some RED okra?!

I followed the basic recipe found here:  http://nchfp.uga.edu/

Our State Fair requires that the recipe source follow established and tested guidelines for submissions, and this is the site specified. I broke down the brine ratios for a small batch: 2 cups water, 2 cups white vinegar, and a little over 3-1/2 tablespoons of kosher (or pickling) salt, brought to a boil.

Into each prepared pint jar, I packed the cleaned and trimmed okra, then added a fresh, whole garlic clove, a couple small springs of fresh dill, and I eyeballed around 1/4 teaspoon each of dill seed, yellow mustard seed, and a dash of red pepper flakes.

Red okra packed in jars with flavorings.

Meanwhile, I had prepared my canner, jar lids and rings, and utensils.

Canner coming to a boil, brine, and lids.

To the jars of okra, I added the hot brine, leaving 1/2″ head space. I cleaned the rims, added the lids and tightened the rings.

I processed the jars for 10 minutes.

After processing, I removed the jars from the canner and made sure the rings were tight. Now, they will rest 24 hours. I have already observed the lids creating the “ping” sound for sealing. So, tomorrow, I will remove the rings, wash the jars, and store them in my pantry. I have one for competition and one to eat, after I see what the judges’ think (October). Fingers crossed.

I can already see that the color of the okra has faded and colored the brine. (See top photo) Not as striking, but hopefully still eye-catching!


Corn and Salsa Spiralized Zucchini Pasta

Southwest Spiralized Zucchini Pasta

A spiralizer has been sitting around in my closet for quite some time, gathering dust. Something recently caught my attention and prompted me to buy a couple of zucchinis and dust that puppy off. Being that it is Summer, and the height of fresh veggie season, now is the time to do it!

First thing I did was set up the spiralizer with the smaller of the string settings.

Spiralizer and a few ingredients

I washed and trimmed the ends off of two zucchinis and ran them through the process.

Zucchini “noodles”

The center remains as a long “rod”, about the thickness of a pencil. I cut those into little chunks and set them aside. I added two or three good pinches of salt to the “noodles” and tossed them well. I set those aside, while I assembled my other ingredients: about a half of a cup of corn (fresh, cooked on the cobb, and removed), a half cup of salsa, the zucchini core pieces, a minced garlic glove, and a few grinds of black pepper.

In a 10″ nonstick skillet (or wok, if you prefer), add a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter over medium high heat. When melted and bubbling, add the veggies, except for the “noodles”.

Corn, zucchini pieces fron core, garlic clove.

Toss to saute for a minute, the add salsa. Make sure it’s all heated through, then add the zucchini noodles.

Almost done!

If there isn’t too much salt, it should be okay to toss straight in. If you think you added too much, rinse and drain before adding to the skillet. Toss the mixture a couple of times, to coat the noodles, cooking for a minute or so. Cover and steam for a minute. Add the black pepper and adjust seasoning to taste. Sprinkle with cheese of your choice, if desired. If I had some fresh cilantro on hand, I would have added a handful of leaves at the last minute.

The Final product…yum!

And let me say, if you’ve never tried the spiralized zucchini noodle thing, you will be pretty amazed. They really do feel like noodles, with just a slight crunch. Both my wife and daughter thought I had mixed regular thin spaghetti noodles in with the zucchini. Of course, this could be sauced an endless number of ways, and with different veggies. Also, with or without meat. I might try an alfredo next….



Pressure Cooker Navy Beans

Fissler Stove-top Pressure Cooker


For some reason, I decided to buy a bag of dry navy beans the last time  went to the grocery store.  I guess I had the idea to use my Fissler stove-top pressure cooker and was having some nostalgic feelings about my Mother cooking a “big pot of soup beans”. She usually added a big ham bone from a recently cooked ham supper. I used to complain about these meals that had no “main dish” focus…in my mind, the should have been meat. Mom would say, “If you want meat, fish that bone out of the beans. It has plenty of meat left on it!” When I objected to that, she would say, “Then make yourself a hamburger.”

I think these meals were a piece of nostalgia for Mom, too. She’s a bona fide coal miner’s daughter from Harlan County, Kentucky, born and raised during The Great Depression. Sometimes, she would make navy beans, and sometimes, it would be pinto beans; but the way she ate them was always the same: the beans has a some generous dashes of Texas Pete hot sauce. A bite of beans, a bite of onion, and a bite of good ole’ white bread. Though I’m sure beans were a cheap way to feed a lot of people in hard times, you could tell that she truly enjoyed her beans ritual.

Years later, I would try my first “real” Boston Baked Beans. Of course, I had eaten Campbell’s pork & beans; but I had never really had baked beans, from scratch. My Mother in-law was from Upstate New York and did some dishes that I didn’t get much in North Carolina. She made rare roast beef, instead of pot roast. And she made baked beans. She even had the real deal bean pot to cook then in the oven. A few years later, she would learn some German recipes. She and my Father in-law lived near Stuttgart for a couple of years, when he worked for IBM. During that time, she bought her Fissler stove-top pressure cooker…which she recently gave to me, when she found it while cleaning out a closet.

So, here we are with a pound of dried navy beans, a pressure cooker, and years worth of memories from two families. I have to admit that, while I like a bowl of navy bean soup, really prefer baked beans as a side dish, when it comes to dinner. And I still want meat. Sorry, Mom. I’m probably going to make that hamburger.

I started by soaking the dried beans in plenty of water, overnight. I started yesterday afternoon, and changed the water before I went to bed. This morning, I drained and rinsed the beans, added them to the pressure cooker pot and covered them with water. I added a few carrots, a little onion, a couple of bay leaves, a tablespoon of oil, and some salt. I have been warned not to salt beans, before cooking them, because it would make them tough. I have recently heard that it is not a problem, and that the dried beans can even be soaked in brine. I didn’t go that far, but I did salt them for cooking.

Soaked beans, water(too much), bay leaves, carrots, onion, celery, garlic clove, and salt.

Consulting some online sources, I found that navy beans should be pressure cooked for six minutes. There were also cautions about not overfilling the cooker with water…no more than halfway for items that expand, like beans or rice. The oil, by the way, is supposed to help suppress the foam during the cooking process. At this point, I have to admit that I must have overfilled with the water. I thought it was about halfway, but a couple of minutes into full pressure, the cooker started sputtering and spitting. After the six minutes, I released the pressure and tested a bean. It was obviously not nearly done, so I’m assuming that the pressure had be lost for most of the process. I carefully poured out some of the liquid (I didn’t measure how much, but the beans were still covered.). After a little clean-up and washing the cooker’s lid and seal, I repeated the cooking cycle for another five minutes. Now, they are soft and creamy. I hope they are still going to hold up to the process for transforming them into baked beans.

Cooked beans.

After cooking the navy beans, I discarded the celery, carrots, and bay leaves. The onions and garlic pretty much dissolved. To the beans and remaining liquid, I added about 2/3 cup molasses, 1/2 cup ketchup, a handful of thickly sliced onions, 1/4 tsp. black pepper, 2 Tbs. Dijon mustard, 1 Tbs. cider vinegar, and about 1/3 cup real bacon crumbles, and 1/2 cup brown sugar.  I also had a pinch of Coleman’s English dry mustard powder…I wanted to add a teaspoon, but ran out. I was going to use some kind of smoked or salted pork product, but didn’t have any; so I substituted the bacon crumbles. One last missing ingredient is Worcestershire sauce. I thought I had some, but I’m out. Wanted a couple of tablespoons. So, I mixed all of the ingredients thoroughly and poured everything into a deep, round souffle/casserole dish.

Ready to be covered and baked.

Now it turns out that we may not be at home all afternoon/evening, so I’m popping this into the refrigerator, for now. If I make it by the store, I’ll grab some Worcestershire sauce and Coleman’s English dry mustard. Otherwise, I’ll go with it like it is.

Game show countdown music….

Okay, so I never made it to the store for the additional ingredients, and I forgot to add the brown sugar. Ugh. But honestly, my blood sugar probably benefitted from that omission. I went ahead and baked the beans for an hour at 350°F, covered with foil. Then I stirred them and baked them another hour at 275°F, uncovered. They did not turn extremely dark, like some Boston baked beans that I’ve seen. With the omissions, they probably don’t qualify; however, they were tasty anyway! Generally,  I’m happy with the learning process, the lessons learned, and the results. I’ll definitely  give it another try, soon!



Pickled Mushrooms


I found a couple of packages of mushrooms on the bargain rack at the grocery store recently for about $2.50 total. One was standard white mushrooms and the other was cremini. Both batches weighed just over a pound and looked to be in perfectly good shape to me…especially if I were just going to cook them anyway. I didn’t really have a specific plan, at the time, but they were a great deal.

Free time this afternoon nudged me into the kitchen. I haven’t canned anything in awhile, since the house has been in turmoil with renovations for months (ugh), so I pulled out the pressure canner, rounded up some jars, and gathered the other supplies that I needed and set to work. I found a recipe for pickled mushrooms that looked good and wouldn’t require the pressure to can. I’m using the canner pot, but not the top.

I started the prep by washing and quartering the mushrooms.

Cleaned and prepped mushrooms

in addition to the other ingredients in the recipe, I decided to add a sprig of rosemary to each jar, because I think mushrooms and rosemary go together very well.


Note: I found that a pound of mushrooms ends up being about right per pint jar. I was hoping for more, but it didn’t work out that way. Benefit from my miscalculations! Next time, I’m buying a little over 5 pounds…and I might increase the brine ingredients to accommodate them. I knew I was going to bit short on mushrooms…the recipe only called for 3 pounds…but I cut mine into fairly big chunks and thought I’d get more than two jars. Ah well.

The recipe is originally attributed to Morton Salt Company and these are the proportions that were given:

3 lbs Mushrooms, washed, stems trimmed, quartered (I recommend 5 lbs, they reduce in size substantially while simmering i the brine.)

2-1/2 cups white vinegar

1-3/4 cups water

3 tablespoons kosher or pickling salt

1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns per pint jar

1/3 cup onion, sliced or chopped, divided between jars

1 whole garlic clove per jar

optional: 1 each 2 inch sprig rosemary per jar (my addition to original recipe)

Directions: Combine vinegar, water, and salt in a large sauce pan. Add mushrooms and bring to a boil.

Mushrooms added to boiling brine.

Reduce heat and simmer for 10-12 minutes.

Mushrooms after simmering.

Pack mushrooms into sterilized pint jars with other ingredients added to them. Leave a half inch head space and fill with hot brine to same. Remove any air bubbles and wipe rims with a clean cloth or paper towel. place prepared canning lids on the jars and screw on rings. Make sure water in canner covers the jars by 2 inches and is boiling. Process the jars for 20 minutes. Remove to a towel on a level counter for 23 hours. Check for good seal. Remove rings and store in a cool dry place.

Ready for 'shrooms

Pickling flavors in the pint jars

I’ve seen a recipe for marinated, canned mushrooms; but I decided not to go that route, because the oil can interfere with the seal. I believe it would be better to use some of the brine and make a vinaigrette  when I use the mushrooms, if I go in that direction. I also like that mushrooms these could be used in a cocktail or some other application where oil is not desired. I haven’t decided what I’ll do with them yet. I may enter one on the NC State Fair. I don’t have anything else yet, for competition. Either way, they should pickle for at least a couple weeks, so I’ll figure it out later.



My New Kitchen Toy: Sous Vide Cooker


I’ve seen a few people doing sous vide cooking at home for awhile now, on some cooking forums that I follow. I’m not sure of the full potential, but I’m intrigued. With a little Christmas cash to spend, I decided to buy a portable sous vide cooker that I believe was a good buy. After a little research, I settled on a model made by Gourmia that seems to get good reviews. The model number is GSV-140. Amazon was selling it for $99.00…retail is supposedly $199.00, which I probably would not have been willing to pay. A Foodsaver vacuum sealer is handy to have as well, though you could get away with using zippered storage bags…they just would be a little more likely to leak, and the vacuum makes the sous vide process more effective, I think. I’ve had a vacuum sealer for 20+ years. Disclaimer: I am not in any way sponsored by or reimbursed by either Gourmia, Foodsaver, or Amazon.

Okay. So, the sous vide cooker arrived and I unpacked it, and read through the quick start-up guide and some other literature that came with it. I’m not going to cover the definition of sous vide, or all the technical stuff here. You can find tons of information online. This is just to document my experiments and share them, if anyone is interested.

I had a vacuum sealed bag of chicken drumsticks and thighs on hand and decided to make that my first foray into sous vide.

Vacuum sealed chicken pieces.

Vacuum sealed chicken pieces.

It was pretty simple: follow the directions for clamping the cooker to a container (I’m using a stock pot), add water between two marks, using the bagged chicken to get the amount right with volume displacement. Remove the bag. Enter the time and temperature according to the instructions for the cut of chicken I used, and start. When the water is up to temperature, I added the bag back in, and clipped it to the side of the pot.

Dial in the time and temperature.

Dial in the time and temperature.

You will find that sous vide recipes often give a wide range of time for cooking. Without getting bogged down in the technicalities, what you are doing is a long, slow poaching; at a very accurate temperature. You cook for a minimum period of time required, to reach the target temperature throughout the product being cooked. At that minimum time, the food is safe to eat, but you can go to the maximum time in the recipe, without seriously affecting texture and quality of the product. Passed that time, some foods could get overcooked…mushy.

I set the temperature according to directions, at 158F. I cooked it for three hours. I could have stopped at two or gone for five, but I decided to do three hours. It was a bit unsettling that the juices in the bag were not “running clear”, like other cooking methods use as a gauge for chicken being “done”. They were still a murky, dark reddish color.

Chicken, unbagged.

Chicken, unbagged.

Cooked chicken

Cooked chicken

However, when I opened the bag and pulled a piece of meat apart, it was cooked through. It was very moist and had a good texture. At this point, I could have finished on a grill or in a saute pan, if I wanted to brown the meat. I decided to just eat one of the thigh pieces and put the rest into the refrigerator for a later recipe.

Checking to see if cooked through.

Checking to see if cooked through.

Day two, I have done some reading on sous vide cooking eggs. I’m doing four eggs currently at 147F for an hour and a  half.


The result should be like an over medium egg, or a medium boiled egg. I like a set white…no slime, and a yolk that has begun to gel, but not solid. If I were cooking in a pan, the result should be a yolk that is starting to solidify on the outside and still runny in the middle…so that, when I cut it up, there is enough runny yolk to coat the cut white pieces…but not runny enough to pool on the plate. I get pretty specific about how I like my eggs…I know!  Will update later today.

Egg update: Holy mackeral. The egg yolks are perfect. The texture is creamy and amazing! The whites were a little underdone for my liking, but from my reading, I know that some may remain watery…and I was able to dribble that little bit off. So, now I just need to experiment with adjusting the temperature up a couple of degrees and/or try adding another half hour to the time. It was fairly easy to get the eggs out of the shells. I just cracked them on the large end and removed enough shell to allow the egg to be tipped out into a small bowl.

Tipped out into a small bowl.

Tipped out into a small bowl.

Carefully opening the egg.

Carefully opening the egg.

After I checked the yolk texture, I gently lifted the eggs onto some awaiting toast, leaving that little bit of watery white behind.

Sous vise eggs on toast. Yum.

Sous vise eggs on toast. Yum.

Yolk test...oh, MY!

Yolk test…oh, MY!

I will say that, while the whites were very soft, there were not what I would call “slimy”…that really repulsive stuff on eggs when someone under-cooks the whites. I would just like them set firmer. Overall, I’m very impressed. I have seen sous vide recipes for creme brulee and hollandaise sauce. I haven’t gone through them yet, but I’m betting the texture is remarkable. We’ll see!