Thanksgiving Dinner: The side

I know what you’re thinking. That doesn’t look like dressing and you’d be right. I was going for a non-traditional dressing-like dressing and this is what I came up with. Looks good, no? Let me tell you, it tastes better than it looks, seriously. I don’t know that I would call this a deconstructed dressing, but it does have all the elements of a dressing presented individually.

In Panama we eat corn tortillas for breakfast, they’re usually served with some sort of saucy protein. As you can see, our tortillas are different from what most people think of when they hear the word.聽 Ours are made with yellow corn, not white and they’re thick, about 1/2-inch. These discs are then deep-fried until crisp on the outside while they remain nice聽and creamy inside.

So, with that idea in mind, I set off looking for聽 a way to imitate聽my tortillas, but I didn’t want to聽find dry corn, cook it, grind it, shape it, etcetera, etcetera. Instead, I used polenta that I cooked in about 6 minutes then cooled and cut into discs.聽Frying them just before serving, provided a much needed聽textural contrast. Beware, polenta is feisty when being fried, because of the water content, it is very spitty!

For the topping my mind went聽straight to聽picadillo, the kind we make in Panama with olives and raisins. Instead of ground beef, I went for a traditional Thanksgiving ingredient:聽breakfast sausage. And I cooked fatty bacon to a crisp to聽have a similar texture to chicharr贸n. And, just like that, Polenta Tortillas with Sausage & Chicharr贸n Picadillo was born!

Polenta Tortillas with Sausage & Chicharr贸n Picadillo
serves 8-10

For the Polenta Tortillas:
5-6 cps water
1-1/2 cps dry polenta or coarse cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
1 ear of corn, shucked
1/2 cp queso fresco, shredded
Extra virgin olive oil for the pan and frying

Grease a 9×13 pan with olive oil and set aside. Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan, add the salt then whisk in the polenta. You’ll want to whisk briskly until the grounds have incorporated. You will continue to cook it over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes or so, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter, corn and cheese.

Pour the polenta into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly. Allow it to cool and set. You can make this ahead of time. When ready to serve, unmold the polenta and cut into squares or with a round biscuit cutter or a glass.

Heat some butter and oil in a frying pan, and fry the polenta disks until golden brown on each side. Set on paper towels to catch the excess fat. Set aside and keep warm until ready to serve.

For the Sausage & Chicharr贸n Picadillo:
1 cp fatty bacon, diced
1 cp breakfast sausage (about 1/2 of a Jimmy Dean package)
1 cp red onion, diced
1/2 cp carrots, diced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1/4 cp Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cp ripe tomato, finely chopped
2 tbsps ketchup
1/4 cp green olives, finely chopped
1/2 cp seedless raisins

Cook the bacon until golden and crisp, remove from the pan and pour out the excess fat, reserve. In the same pan, crumble the sausage and cook for a few minutes until it isn’t red anymore.

Add the red onion and carrots and cook until the onions have softened, then add the tomato, green onions, parsley, olives and ketchup, stir all the ingredients and allow them to cook for about 5 minutes. Add the raisins and also about 1/4 cp of water, stir and allow to simmer covered for another 5 minutes or so. Keep warm.

To assemble the dish: place the fried polenta at the bottom, top with 1 tablespoon of picadillo, and top that with a bit of the bacon chicharron.

For the rest of this meal, follow the link聽and visit the photostream for all the shots.

Cookingly yours,


My dog ate my post.

Actually, my dog almost ate聽the report I’ve been working on for over a week now, but her eating my post somehow seems funnier. I’ve聽come to believe she doesn’t appreciate my ‘working’ mode. She has attacked the laptop. Chewed printed copies. Body-slammed against me while I was sitting at the desktop. She’s a cutie, but she’s a handful!

In any case, I considered blaming her and not writing a post. Mamma’s tired. Mamma’s sleepy. Mamma’s got a buzz in honor of ‘Week Off’ week.

Aside: WHO is Ben Sargeant?!! I’m typing this and watching a new Cooking Channel show called Hook, Line, Dinner… and, Oh. eMM. Gee. Dude’s hot!

I digress. I’m taking a week off my ‘real’ job, using up my vacation time. But there will be no resting here. I’ll be working on my ‘dream’ job. Yep. Zee blog. Someone called me a blogging machine recently. Its not聽true, but I won’t reveal the real story, I look better in that one.

Anyway. Food. Holidays. Turkey Day. Side Dishes. That’s what we got here. I’m bringing some Latin-Caribbean sabor to your holidays with this one. This is a good replacement for the standard mashed potatoes, just giving ya some options, you see?

The Hubbz was really surprised by these. He expected them to be heavier somehow. The trick with these is to get the bananas just before you use them, they go ripe pretty quick, so timing is everything. You could pick them up the day before Thanksgiving, peel and boil them, then reheat and mash the day of. There is no need for a recipe here. Pretty easy stuff.

Green Banana Mash

Green bananas
Bacon, cooked聽& crumbled聽(reserve some of the fat)
Salt & black pepper

Similar to green plantains, if you soak these in water for a few minutes, peeling them will be a breeze. So trim the ends, score it along the sides a few times and let them soak in cool water for 15 minutes or so. Mind the sap, though. It will stain your hands and clothes.

Once you peel聽the bananas, cut them into rounds,聽drop them into a pot filled with water, add salt and bring it to a boil. It will take about 12 minutes to cook them to fork-tender.

Drain the聽bananas, in the same聽pot, add milk and,聽if you’re not opposed to it, use some of that bacon fat, it adds amazing flavor–1 or 2 tablespoons will do.聽I usually do 1/2 butter 1/2 bacon fat. 聽Return the bananas to the pot and mash away. Adjust the seasoning with salt & pepper. Mix in 2/3 of the crumbled bacon and top with some as you serve it.

That’s it folks!

For extra shots, check out the photostream.

Cookingly yours,

About those side dishes…

Remember the poll? The one from last week asking about side dishes you’d like to see redone. Well, it seems you want to inject some life into sweet potatoes, followed by dressing. So here we go. A fresh look at sweet potatoes. Well, fresh for me anyway.

Sweet potatoes are not my favorite. There’s something about the mildly sweet taste made into super-sweet, cinnamony聽side that just doesn’t do it for me. But since you guys wanted sweet potatoes and because they’re supposed to be so good for us, I’ve been thinking about how to ‘like’ them. I’m here to tell you that I loved these!

While am at it, I should say that I essentially applied very similar ingredients to the ones I used a few months ago for those Bacon Potatoes. By the way, if you want to change up regular potatoes, that’s a good way to go. Two medium-sized sweet potatoes will yield enough for about 6 generous servings.

Bacony Sweet Potatoes

2 sweet potatoes (approx 4 cps cubed)
3-4 bacon slices, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
3/4 tsp sea salt
3/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/4 cp water

Peel and cube the potatoes. Saute the bacon in a large saute pan–make sure it has a lid. It’s up to you if you want to crisp the bacon, we prefer it a bit on the soft side, cooked long enough to render the fat. Add the onions to the bacon & fat, cook until they begin to soften.

Add the sweet potatoes and stir in the salt & pepper. Stir so everything is well incorporated. Add the water, lower the temperature and cover with the lid. Allow the potatoes to steam for about 20 minutes, stirring it occasionally.

Serve warm. That’s all she wrote.

Cookingly yours,

Get in my Pork Belly!

I admit it. I just had an Austin Powers/Fat Bastard聽flashback. “I’m higher on the food chain. Get in my belly!” LOL

Ok, I digress. Pork belly seems to be all the rave these days. It is聽another cut of meat that used to be reserved for the commoners, but that the elite have found out about and want to claim as their own. It’s ok, we’ll share because we, the people, are generous that way.

This preparation method may not seem Latin inspired, but believe me when I tell you we love our fatty piggy. In Panama we eat chunks of pork that have the crunchy, crisp skin/rind, the ooey聽gooey fatty butter, and lightly seasoned meaty parts. It is often fried into chicharr贸n or cooked in its own fat, preserving some of its moisture. That’s what I did with this baby. I was so excited about it too. I did聽 my happy piggy dance. Yep. I did.

I opted to roast it in the oven because I’m chicken and I’m afraid of the angry stove top聽piggy. It sizzles, sputters and splatters聽everywhere, me included. Not wishing to sport third degree burns, I ovened聽it. I started out a day ahead with a dry rub to infuse it with flavors. There isn’t a ‘recipe’ here, you can really add just about anything you like and you will end up with crazy deliciousness. Look at him, ain’t he a beaute?

Rubbed Pork Belly

Pork belly slab (this was about 4lbs)
White pepper
Sea salt
Rosemary sprigs
Fresh ginger, slivers
Garlic cloves, whole
Onions, halved

Day before prep: Since this cut includes the outer skin of the pig, you’ll want to check it for residual whiskers. I usually take聽the flame from a lighter to any hairs that may still be around. Trust me, you want to get rid of these, they’re not pleasant to find when you’re eating. Rinse and pat dry.

Take a pairing knife and score the slab ever so often, about 2 inches apart. Do this on both, the skin and meaty sides. Piercing the skin will allow it to stretch instead of puffing up like a balloon.

In a small bowl, combine the allspice, pepper, salt and sugar. Sprinkle half of the rosemary sprigs at the bottom of a sealable container large enough to hold the belly in a single layer.

Now rub your belly. Your pork belly, I mean. Use that salt mixture and work it into the rind and meaty sides. Don’t be afraid of the salt, you will rinse it off before cooking, so be generous. Place it rind-side up into the container it will marinate in. Then top with the remaining rosemary sprigs. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Day of prep: Preheat oven to 375掳. Instead of using a rack, I used the vegetables to elevate the slab from the bottom of the baking sheet. I halved the onions, cut the carrots in 2-inch pieces and left the skin on the garlic cloves. I spread all of these, including more rosemary and the ginger slivers,聽on an aluminium lined sheet, I was thinking ahead to the cleaning stage.

Remove the pork belly from the fridge and rinse under cool water. Pat dry and lay it over the vegetables. Place it in the preheated oven and forget about it! After about 30 minutes, you’ll notice that the skin begins to develop bubbles.

I roasted this one for about 1-1/2 hours, before turning up the heat to 475掳 to crisp the rind. I allowed it to cook at this temperature for another 15 minutes or so, or until the skin was nicely golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow it to rest for about 15 minutes before slicing.

Slice and see if you’re able to stay out of this. Oh my. I want more!

GET IN MY BELLY! It’s like bacon on steroids!

Cookingly yours,

On the side: Potatoes & Bacon

I know. Not a novel combination, but sure it is a winning one! This is a pretty universal dish, I guess. I can’t claim as Latin cuisine, but it is something I grew up eating. My mom would often make this and add beaten eggs just before they were done. The result was a sorta scrambled Spanish tortilla.

This is another no-recipe side dish, just an idea to think of next time you’re serving potatoes.

Bacon Potatoes

Potatoes, peeled & cubed
Bacon, chopped
Green onions, chopped
Butter (optional)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

After cubing the peeled potatoes, toss them in a pot filled with cool water and salted. Bring them to a boil and cook until tender, but not completely soft–they will finish cooking later. Drain the water and set the potatoes aside.

While the potatoes boil, heat a skillet (large enough to hold the potatoes) and render the fat from the bacon. Cook the bacon until it begins to turn golden but before it is completely crisp. Add the green onions and stir to make sure they don’t brown too much.

Add the potatoes to the bacon & onion mixture, tossing the potatoes to coat in the bacon fat. If the potatoes seem too dry, add a bit of butter to fully coat them. Season with salt & pepper and serve!

The Hubbz聽and BBoy, being men and lovers of excess, decided that these were just a step away from being baked potatoes. So they topped them with crema聽fresca聽(creme fraiche聽or you could use sour cream) and shredded cheese. And you know what? They DID taste just like a baked potato and it was soooo good! Also, any leftovers are awesome for tacos, whether you add eggs or beans or neither. YUM!

Cookingly yours,