Cook The Books Julio

I managed to cook quite a few recipes from this months cook the books challenge. Check the challenge out here with grow and resist. The book Gran Cocina Latina by Maricel Presilla is seriously huge!  I did appreciate the background for the recipes, I was looking for traditional dishes that seemed like something the T-man and I would enjoy. I was determined to make as much as I could squeeze into my tiny kitchen and busy life. There were a few recipes that were home runs, but most were just okay.

Lets start out with the good stuff

The fried plantains were delicious and simple; both myself and the T-man gobbled them up so quickly I made them repeatedly throughout the month and will add them to my recipe repertoire for the future. So easy: simply slice the plantains fry for a bit dip in salt water squish flat (I used two paper plates for the squishing) then fry crispy and enjoy.

I also took on the task of making the cuban sandwiches including the bread. Having never made cuban bread and not reading the recipe completely (a common mistake I am destined to continue making) I arrived home from work at 5pm planning on making it for dinner that evening. Letting the dough rise overnight wasn’t an option, so I sped up the timing a bit. I took Maricel’s advice and instead of kneading I ran the dough through my pasta maker. The resulting sandwich was delicious. I am not that crazy about pork but the bread was amazing, it gets perfectly crisp when griddled. I will  be using that recipe again, hopefully with a little more advance planning 🙂

The Bread was amazing!

The Bread was amazing!

Moving onto the okay results

I made the recipe entitled “old clothes”, and thats kinda what the results look like, old grey clothes.

old clothes, kinda a good description

old clothes, kinda a good description

The flavor was decent but the beef a little stringy. We ate it taco style in flour tortillas, again with plantains.


I tried my hand at mole which was not as difficult as I thought it would be, but I wish there was a little more kick to the result. I also made the empenadas,  omitting the olives. They were pretty good, and convenient as you can refrigerate the dough and filling and then kinda make them on the fly, good for those late work nights. Although I think I will add cheese next time.

I made the nopales I always wondered how you were supposed to cook these, after reading the recipe and asking the hispanic ladies that I work with I set out to conquer these prickly leaves. Luckily the little market that I went to sells them already sliced and de-prickified. The resulting dish was reminiscent of green beans, although I should have rinsed a few more times because they were still a little slimy. We ate these along with chayote gratin; which was pretty good but would have been perfect if I had cooked the chayote a bit longer; and some cuban roast chicken which was a decent roast chicken in the end.

not a bad meal

not a bad meal

All in all most of the recipes were okay but not awesome. I am glad that I discovered a few to make again, and with such a large book, many more that I can try. It was nice to get into this cuisine living on the southern coast of Cali, this food is a great way to connect to the local culture. My favorite part was re-discovering the local hispanic market, what a place! I have been there a few times in the past but had forgotten how lovely it was, it was nice to get back there.

Santa Cruz Market

Santa Cruz Market

In the end it was a very productive cook the books month. Can’t wait to dive into Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones!!













When at first you do not succeed…

I apologize for being MIA for a bit, life seems to have gotten the better of me after the parents left. The T-man left for a conference in Baltimore over the last week; then work and a sudden illness consumed until his return. But I am well now and life seems to be slowing a bit so I wanted to share with you my latest cheese making endeavor!

While my parents were visiting I was bummed when it rained a couple of days, and we were stranded in our studio apartment.

But alas the rain gave me a golden opportunity to attempt the making of mozzarella with my mother. The first attempt was a total bust, and yielded next to no cheese, but at least I learned a few things. The first attempt I tried the traditional method of heating it in a water bath, the problem that we encountered (I think based on my limited experience) was not letting the rennet sit long enough, causing the curd to not fully set, which = disaster and sadly no cheese.

But when at first you do not succeed buy another gallon of milk!

After this discouraging experience we were determined to not be deterred and tried again the next day. The second attempt I decided on the microwave method (and then wondered why I even bothered with the water bath). We were successful, and it was so easy I will never buy mozzarella again.

Here is the recipe we used: Ricki’s 30 minute mozzarella

You will need:

  • one gallon of milk (we used whole, the recipe said you can use nonfat but it will result in a drier cheese, and potentially less flavorful)
  • 1 1/2 tsp citric acid  (I purchased this online at, It was cheap around $5 and was enough to make mozzarella many times)
  • 1/4 tab or 1/4 tsp liquid rennet

Delicious!!! I have already made it again and plan on a repeat performance tomorrow, Pizza Margherita anyone?

warming the milk with the citric acid

first attempt with the water bath = disaster

the completed cheese

Second attempt = Victory



That bloody orange marmalade

This past Tuesday I decided to try making a marmalade. Now I come from long proud line of preservers and am no stranger to pickling, preserving or jams and jellies. I spent many summers canning beans, beets, tomato sauces, and many other vegetables that our two giant family garden plots produced. Of course I never enjoyed or appreciated it then; I do now.

I think the last jam that I made was a rhubarb jam (who needs strawberries!) back in the 90’s…yes it’s been a while. A marmalade however was new territory; I chose some organic blood oranges for my first attempt of this new frontier.

I was using a recipe from “The Art of Preserving” that the T-man had gotten for my last birthday.

After slicing my oranges and a few lemons, I boiled the mixture with some sugar according to the directions, then filled and processed my jars.

orange slices and juice at the ready

orange slices and juice at the ready

-Side note: if you don’t own a mandoline, I seriously suggest purchasing one, the nice ones can be a bit pricey but are well worth the investment.

After the marmalade was processed it looked really runny to me, but I was hoping it was maybe just still warm and would set while it cooled. much to my dismay, the marmalade was still runny when I left for work the next morning. So after work I went and picked up some pectin, came home and emptied all the jars back into the pot, added the pectin, re-boiled the mixture then poured it back into the re-sanitized jars and re-processed them. The mixture still looked runny after the jars had cooled so I Googled the problem, and discovered that marmalade can take days, or weeks to set.

not set yet

not set yet

So now I’m waiting, hoping to one day, wake up to some delicious blood orange marmalade for my toast!

Big Plans… Lessons in Cheese Making

So having Friday and Saturday off this past week I of course had some big projects planned, cheese making, blood orange marmalade, resume updating and job applications. Oh how plans change.

It would only happen with such excellent plans brewing that the T-man would get the flu, and subsequently infect me! I did put up a fight by drinking disgusting amounts of a certain vitamin c powder mix. But alas, this horrible bug got the better of me.

So I awoke Friday morning feeling mildly ill but hoping to power through and determined to accomplish all the awesome projects that I had in mind. I ran errands and gathered supplies for all of my projects. After returning to the apartment rational thought began to sink in and I decided that I had bit off a little more than I could chew. I don’t give up easily though, and decided to buckle down and tackle the cheese project first.

My lovely mother had gotten me the book “Home Cheese Making” by Ricki Carroll for Christmas and I have now finally gotten around to making my first cheese. I had decided to start with the fromage blanc recipe. So at 12:45 pm on Friday I started the cheese.

Step 1: Heat one gallon of milk to 86 degrees and then stir in the starter packet.

Milk Warming

Milk Warming

Step 2: Cover and let set at 72 degrees for 12 hours!!! – okay lesson learned, when making cheese or rather planning to make cheese, read the entire recipe not just the ingredient list!

Well at this point I was too far in to turn back, so no choice but to press on.

So at 12:45 am on Saturday (note I was feeling fairly ill by this point) I strained the milky cheese mixture through the cheesecloth. Now the recipe said to gently scoop the mixture into a colander lined with cheesecloth. By this time in the morning I was beyond sleepy and not feeling well so “gently scooped” turned into roughly dumped. As in i just dumped the whole pot into the colander.

Now as described in the recipe you are supposed to do some fancy thing like tie up the cheesecloth and let it hang so that the liquid can drip out. (I generally describe things as fancy when I just don’t think they are that important and can be accomplished in an easier way)  So I just stuck the colander over the pot and let the liquid drip like that. Then I happily went to sleep.

Still in the colander, but looking more cheese like and less milk like

Still in the colander, but looking more cheese like and less milk like

I woke up Saturday and checked the cheese, decided I want to “rush” the process a bit so I weighted the cheesecloth with a few soup cans to press out the remaining liquid.

At about noon on Saturday I was feeling awful and decided that it was time to finish the cheese project. I tasted the cheese and it tasted like something between cream cheese and greek yogurt. Not awful but I knew I could spruce it up.

I split the cheese into three bowls, adding honey to one; lemon zest, lemon juice and pepper to the second; and chopped rosemary, tarragon, and green onion (all from my window box garden) to the third. I have to say that for a first attempt I was mildly impressed with myself.

Delicious Herb cheese spread

Delicious Herb cheese spread

However feeling like a dead person waking I decided that all the other projects would have to wait. I am taking a sick day today, so hopefully I can recuperate today and maybe tackle the marmalade tomorrow… now off to sleep with my gallon of orange juice beside me.