Thursday, October 24, 2013


It’s almost Halloween. I’m not sure why, but I’m excited. To be honest, as a kid I didn’t really care for Halloween; I didn’t get excited about wearing costumes and I didn’t really like candy that much either. Now that I think about it, I’m quite surprised that my parents didn’t take me to a psychiatrist or to some sort of counseling service during my childhood. A kid who doesn’t like candy? We’ve all seen Dexter; there's only so many ways this story can end… Just when you thought I couldn’t be any weirder, I feel compelled to confess I hated birthday cake too. People get a bit touchy when it comes to celebrating life events so I had to bite the bullet and eat the damned cakes, but every time I had to, I thought of how annoying it was the fact that there was always a cake. I would do my best to get rid of most of the frosting, “the worst part of the cake”, and I’d dig in. So I guess it won’t be hard to understand that I never insisted in getting the sugar flower either.

I’m glad to say that somehow I didn't grow up to be a psycho (although I can be very mean, especially when I’m hungry). Although I never developed a sweet tooth per se, I do enjoy deserts now. A few years back I visited our neighborhood’s bakery in Cleveland Heights and I discovered a simple dessert that stole my heart, the blondie. I am not a brownie person (no racism implied) so I was eager to try this “alternative”, but I did not expect to get hooked. Blondies are dense, flavorful, and you can whip them up faster than what it takes Cleveland to get cold (BTW, it’s still October and we already had at least 3 inches of snow, just saying).

I decided to make a special Halloween treat and share it with y’all in advance, hoping I can inspire you to make a special something for the grownups to enjoy on October 31st. In the spirit of Halloween, I’m somewhat ignoring the calorie aspect of these blondies and calling for moderation instead, although with these, it's a hard thing to ask for. I made two batches of blondies: M&M blondies, and Butterfinger blondies. They turned out so delicious and I must admit it is quite hard to eat just one.  I’m planning on making them again to eat while we hand out candy to the neighborhood kids . Enjoy, and Happy Halloween!

On the road shortcut

Recipe adapted from the Smitten Kitchen blog

Nutritional info per serving (9 servings):
M&M blondies:
240 calories,  30 g carbs, 13 g fat, 2 g protein

Butterfinger blondies:
251 calories, 33 g carbs, 13 g fat, 2 g protein

1 stick of butter, melted
1 cup of brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
A pinch of salt
1 cup of flour
A package of M&M (peanut M&Ms, about ½ cup, but it’s better if you use 1 cup, though), or 2 packages of Butterfingers (about ¾ cups), roughly chopped

Using an electric mixer beat the butter and the brown sugar until they are smooth. Add the egg and the vanilla extract and keep mixing. Stir in the salt and the flour. Pour the batter into a greased 8”x 8" baking dish and bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes (the M&M ones were done in less than 25, but the Butterfingers took close to 30 minutes).

Note: I've had great success mixing the ingredients by hand, so the electric mixer is not absolutely necessary.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Whole Wheat Muffins

We've made it. We have survived a government shutdown, we barely avoided going through a government default and we are on our way to prevent sinking back in a recession. Even though some of us didn't feel the direct effects of this political crisis, we all have suffered from all the nonsense going on in Washington, one way or another. I won't really get into a political discussion, but I will say one thing: If you are willing to push fellow citizens around and jeopardize their livelyhood for the sake of politics, there is something really wrong with you. 

Enough of Washington. Let's talk about Paris now. The French are getting seriously worried by one of the biggest crises France has seen since World War II: there's a decline in bread consumption by the French youth. It may sound funny, but the bread is an essential (and I agree) element of French culture and their lifestyle. Apparently the younger generations have been buying wonder-bread like bread more and more, at the expense of the more traditional baguette. A counterattack has been launched, via a public advertising campaign to urge people to go out and buy a fresh baguette (which ideally should be bought twice a day, once in the morning, and once in the mid-afternoon) so the traditional French lifestyle can survive and be preserved for generations to come.

I know very well how they might be feeling. For the last 30+ years my father has religiously woken up at 5:30 AM to go and buy fresh bread every morning. God, how I miss my daily fresh - still hot- bread. Honestly, few pleasures compare to that of eating fresh off the oven bread (especially Puerto Rican bread). However, I also understand how for many of us it isn't convinient to go out and buy bread every day. I buy "sandwich bread" once or twice a week, and maybe an afternoon baguette every so often.

Occasionally I bake my own bread. However, it is time consuming especially if you want it to be whole wheat. Sometimes I wake up wanting to eat some eggs and I realize I don't have bread (gasp) and I don't really feel like going to the bakery to buy some. So my solution is to bake a batch of whole wheat muffins that taste like whole wheat bread. I found the recipe a while back on, and had successfully baked them many times. I eat these muffins as bread with eggs, I use them as a substitute for "dinner rolls", and sometimes I crumble them and top them with homemade vanilla ice cream and a teaspoon of honey. They really are versatile little muffins, and I would love to share them with you. A word of caution though: they do taste like good whole wheat bread but you may not want to eat them as a "regular muffin"; you may feel a bit neglected if you eat them just by themselves. If you plan to do so, you may have to consider adding fruits or nuts to the batter, or plan on adding some sort of frosting or topping to satisfy your muffin cravings. They are quite easy and good for you!


On the road shortcut:

Nutritional info per serving (1 muffin; recipe makes 12 muffins):
120 calories, 19 g carbs, 4 g fat, 4 g protein

2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 beaten eggs
1 cup 2% milk
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter

Pre-heat oven to 375F. Stir together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, stir together the liquid ingredients. Combine both sets of ingredients, mixing only until the dry ingredients are moist. Bake in greased or papered muffin tins for 20 minutes.

Recipe adapted from

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cranberry-apple pie with a crumble top

The last two weeks have marked the appearance of fresh cranberries at my local market. In all honesty, I've never been a fan of cranberries. For the longest time, they were almost impossible to find fresh, dried or frozen in the Puerto Rican supermarkets, which is not too surprising since we don't even have a word in Spanish for them. The surprising part was that you could find cranberry juice easily, everywhere. In all the years I lived in Puerto Rico, I never heard anyone say they loved cranberry juice. Still, many people drink a daily glass in hopes of preventing, or even curing, their UTIs, especially women (antibiotics, anyone?).

During my first Thanksgiving in Cleveland, I discovered "cranberry sauce". Let's just say it didn't quite rock my world, and it certainly did not leave me trembeling with pleasure. It did though, leave me with some confusion as I wasn’t exactly sure of what was it I was actually eating, since no sauce I had ever encountered had the consistency, and the taste, of jam. Of course, I quickly learned that what I ate was canned cranberry sauce, a common "shortcut" people take while prepping the Thanksgiving dinner, which I'll agree, it can be a bit overwhelming if you are not a hardcore Thanksgiving fan (such as myself). When you prepare the real thing though, and I mean when you actually make it from scratch and using fresh ingredients, the results are totally different, and the sauce is quite good (although I would personally called it cranberry preserves, lol).

Last year we made cranberry "sauce" for Thanksgiving (it was amazing), and somehow we ended up with some extra cranberries that were never used. I was decided to use them for something else, and ended up making a delicious French cranberry-apple pie. I'm not sure what makes the pie French (it's the streusel, Monsieur Self), but it was a great tasting pie. This pie is a single crust pie filled with apples and cranberries, and an amazing crumble top. The pie left me gagging, and I could not wait to find fresh cranberries this year and go for it again. I hope you like it!

On the road shortcut

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, November 2009 (by Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez). Makes 2 pies. I bought my pie shells frozen, but leave me a comment if you want to know how to make it from scratch. 

Nutritional information per serving (makes 16 servings):

257 calories, 34 g carbs, 14 g fat, 3g protein  
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped (I have substituted with toasted walnuts with success).

Stir together flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl. Blend in butter with your fingertips until large clumps form, then stir in pecans. Chill until ready to use.

2 pounds Gala apples (about 5), peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (I have substituted with other apples sweet apples and semi-tart apples with success.)
8 ounces fresh or frozen (not thawed) cranberries
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (I have substituted with orange juice with success.)
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Stir together apples, cranberries, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and lemon juice in a large bowl. 

Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in lower third.
Split the fruit filling between the 2 pie shells and dot with butter. Loosely cover with foil and bake until apples droop slightly, about 30 minutes. 

Reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Sprinkle crumble topping over filling and bake, uncovered, until crumble is browned, filling is bubbling, and apples are tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour more (mine are usually done after 45 minutes). Cool completely, 2 to 3 hours.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Roasted chicken with carrots, potatoes and turnips

I was somewhat surprised this weekend when out of curiosity I decided to take a look at my car's odometer and saw the reading. After 22 months of owning my car, I finally reached my first 10,000 miles. I know, I'm like an old lady that only uses her car to go to church on a Sundays (FYI, I don't go to church). Most people probably put 10,000 miles in their cars like in 8 to 10 months, but not me. The gossipers, or how we call them back home, "las malas lenguas" - the bad tongues - may suggest that I'm too cheap and don't drive anywhere to save money on gas. But, what kind of cheap creature do they think I am? Really? I don't drive often to save money on parking. Come on! As a student I would have to pay around $90 a montn to park on campus. Who has that kind of cash? Who, I ask?

The real reason I drive so little, is that I try to bike to work most of the year plus my weekend fun usually includes a 30-40 mile bike ride throughout the Greater Cleveland area. Riding is fun, eco-friendly, and does wonders for my weight loss plan. However, during the last month or so I have not been riding my bike. I wish I could blame my schedule; being busy is after all what grad school is all about. I wish I could blame the crazy Cleveland weather; I mean the weather here is so insane that it makes look forward to global warming. But no; I actually had a very embarrassing reason not to ride my bike. I've been moronic enough to somehow puncture 4 tubes in the process of changing my tires. I have more mileage on my bike than in my car. I should know very well how to change a tube or a tire. Oh, at least it wasn't a car tire. I've said it many times; if I'm driving and get a flat tire, I will have no choice other than to call 9-1-1 since I have no clue as to how to handle that. Anyway, I grew a pair and went to the bike mechanic and in less than a minute (more embarrassment) everything was done. After all that drama I needed a ride PRONTO. I went through the Chagrin River Valley, following Chagrin River Road. It was beautiful. The leaves are finally starting to turn, so although the colors were not peaking, they were definitely on their way. The air was fresh, the road was nice, and the passing people, cyclists and motorists alike, were friendly. It was great and worth the shameful moments this bike had just put me through. 

Back at home, I was feeling great, and decided to go for a great, hearty, homey meal. I made baked chicken with carrots, potatoes and turnips. I made a bed of onions to infuse the chicken and the veggies with moisture and aroma. I topped them with the carrots, potatoes and turnips, and seasoned them with salt and pepper. Finally, I placed a small whole chicken on top of everything. The chicken had been previously marinated in a simple mojo (olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and rosemary) for 3 hours. I covered the baking dish with foil and cooked at 425F for 55 minutes. At that point I removed the foil, and added kosher salt to crisp the skin and cooked for 15 more minutes. When it was ready, I sliced the chicken and served the food. As a final touch I garnished with fresh parsely.

Wow. This was a wonderful dinner. The chicken was juicy, tender and fragrant, with a beautiful flavor. The carrots were sweet and, surprisingly, spicy (which I enjoyed). The potatoes were buttery and sinfully tasty, and the turnips were crisp and packing great flavor. I was surprised that the carrots were somewhat hot when the turnips are the ones that have the potential to be a bit "hot" if they are too old or too big. Could it be that the chicken juices facilitated some "heat" or flavor transfer between the two?

Whatever it was, it resulted in a very hearty and homey meal. I usually cook everything I eat, but there was something peculiar about this dinner that made it feel really homemade. Perhaps it was the earthy notes coming from all the roots in my dish, or the perfect temperatures of the bird and the roots. This dish was pure comfort, and a great memory to look back to in my future hours of need. 

On the road shortcut

3 teaspoons olive oil 
3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (plus more to crisp the chicken skin)
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon cumin
3 cloves garlic
3lb fryer chicken
1 large onion
2 large carrots, peeled
4 baby potatoes (red)
4 medium turnips, peeled
1/4 cup chopped parsley to garnish

To make the mojo marinade add 2 teaspoons of olive oil, 3 teaspoons of kosher salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper, the rosemary, the cumin and the garlic in a large big Ziploc bag. Rub the chicken with the marinade in the bag, seal it and refrigerate it for 3 hrs. 

Slice the onions in half and then in slices about 1/4 inch thick and use the slices as the first layer on the roasting pan. Slice carrots as 1 inch slices, the potatoes in half and the turnips in quarters. Layer them over the onions and sprinkle with the remaining salt, pepper and olive olive. Place the chicken on the vegetables, breast side down. Cover the pan with foil and cook at 425F for 55 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle the chicken with a pinch of kosher salt (to crispen skin). Cook for 15 more minutes uncovered. 

Nutritional info per serving (4 generous servings)
Eating the skin:
697 calories, 49 g carbs, 34 g fat, 44 g protein.

Without eating the skin:
533 calories, 49 g carbs, 12 g fat, 44 g protein.

Please, note that all the nutritional information has been estimated using the nutritional information for all the ingredients and then divided by 4. The actual values will vary depending on the actual cuts of meat you eat. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


I've been waiting for the good news for a while. You may or may not know this, but I'm a huge fan of Xena, Warrior Princess (and I've got the merchandise to prove it). In high school some kids (OK, most kids) called me Xena because of my hardcore devotion to the show. I had action figures, trading cards (which I never traded), comics, coloring books, actual books, CDs, VHS tapes, video games, posters and pictures, a t-shirt, and even a kite (who does that?). You get the picture: I was a nerdy fan, and I was proud of it. So, naturally the saddest day of my life was when I found out the show was going to end (in 3 years) and my life was never the same... so sad... (Why did you spoiled my innocence, you comic-store guy?)

Recently, Lucy Lawless a.k.a. Mrs. Xena herself, tweeted that she received an interesting call about reviving the Xena franchise, although it would have to be in a different form. My poor little heart came back to life, wondering when would my biggest dream come true. I imagined something like a Netflix original series or something of the sort, and started imagining all the different scenarios and story lines possible. To this day, I don't know what that tweet was really about, but my heart went like "oh, no..." when I realized that the newest "Xena Project" around is a Xena Porn Parody! I guess that's flattering (?) and shows there's still some interest in Xena, right?

All re-inventions and reinterpretations of the classics don't have to be so... hum...controversial (or naked). I was certainly hoping that wouldn't be the case with the goulash I was about to make. I have eaten goulash several times, but I have never made it myself. It was finally the time for me to pay homage to a classic and I was determined to make all the Hungarians and other Eastern Europeans who have been eating goulash for generations proud, but without the bad acting or the getting naked part getting in the way. I was so serious about making this goulash that I even forced myself not to use my Spanish paprika and went for the Hungarian one instead.  

Of course, making this dish takes some time (about 3 hours to be more precise) but it's not really too labor intensive. After all, there's 2 hours of simmering (in the oven). First I started by seasoning the meat using salt, pepper and paprika. According to "America's test kitchen" the flavors are deeper this way, as opposed to adding paprika only to the whole stew later on. After seasoning, I browned the beef in oil using a Dutch oven. I used beef stew-meat but you can start with a chuck roast and cut it into 1 1/2 inch-square pieces yourself. Just be sure to remove the excess fat.

I removed the beef from the pot, added more oil and sautéed minced onions, adding salt and paprika. After they were cooked (5 minutes or so) I added minced garlic and tomato paste, followed by flour and chicken broth. When it started simmering I covered and transferred the Dutch oven to the oven, and cooked at 300F for 1 hour and 20 minutes. At that point I added chopped Ancient peppers, and returned it to the oven for an additional 40 minutes. I removed the pot from the oven and took half a cup of the stew's liquid and used it to temper low fat sour cream before adding it to the stew in the Dutch oven. I stirred it in, and I also stirred in some chopped parsley.

I served my goulash with brown rice. That may not be the most traditional way of pairing goulash, but it is the one that makes the most sense to me. I just boiled brown rice in chicken broth, and it was ready in about 40 minutes. 

I loved the taste of the goulash so much!!! It was rich, and hearty, and very authentic tasting. I could even eat the sauce on its own! The rice was perfect and delicious as well. The best part is that this recipe has only 495 calories per serving, and it brings a good 40 g of protein with it (awesome!). Oh wait, I guess I was wrong; the best part of making this dish is that there were leftovers! Guess what's for dinner! Battle on! 

(Yes, that last part was a Xena reference.)

On the road shortcut

Steamed brown rice

1 cup brown rice
2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

Add the brown rice and the chicken broth to a small pan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Continue boiling until most of the chicken broth is evaporated (you will see "tunnels" going through the rice, about 10 minutes). Reduce the heat, cover the pan and continue cooking until the rice is soft, about 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork. 

Nutritional info per serving (4 servings)
95 calories, 19 g carbs, 1 g fat, 3 g protein


Adapted from "The American Test Kitchen Family Cookbook".

2 pounds beef stew-meat
Salt and pepper 
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, minced
4 garlic cloves
4 teaspoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 ancient peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley 

Pat-dry the beef thoroughly with paper towels. Season the beef with salt, pepper and 2 teaspoons of sweet paprika. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and use it to brown the beef on all sides, about 10 minutes. 

Remove the beef, and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the Dutch oven until shimmering. Add the onions, 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of paprika. Cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and tomato paste and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly stir in the broth, scraping off brown bits, if any. Stir in the browned beef (along with the realesed juices) and bring to a simmer. Cover and transfer the pot to the oven (medium-lower position) and cook for 1hr and 20 minutes at 300F.

Stir in the peppers. Cover and return the pot to the oven for 40 minutes (the beef will be just tender). Remove the pot from the oven. Whisk 1/2 cup of the stewing liquid into the sour cream and add the sour cream mix to the stew. Stir in the parsley, and add salt and pepper if needed. 

Nutritional info per serving (6 servings)
400 calories, 20 g carbs, 13 g fat, 37 g protein