Monday, January 30, 2012

Cuban Chinese Food...Mandarin Chicken Thighs

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This recipe derives its name from the mandarin oranges (clementines) that are prevalent in most supermarkets at this time of the year and not from the traditional dish found at most Chinese restaurants.  It is an attempt, and a very successful one at that, to use up the remains of a box that was purchased during the Christmas holiday. You could classify it as elegant leftovers or Cuban Chinese Cuisine.

I use orange juice in a lot of my recipes, particularly in chicken and pork marinades, and the addition of a small amount of lemon juice as a substitute for naranja agria or bitter orange, is very typical in many Cuban dishes, perhaps as a result of the large migration of Chinese laborers who settled in Cuba in the middle of the 19th century. 

The Chinese first arrived in Cuba in significant numbers in the late 1850s to toil in Cuba’s sugarcane fields after the abolition of slavery in England led plantation owners in Cuba to search for workers elsewhere.

China emerged as the labor source following deep social upheaval after the First and Second Opium Wars. Changes in the farming system, a surge in population growth, political discontentment, natural disasters, banditry, and ethnic strife -- especially in southern China -- led many farmers and peasants to leave China and look for work overseas. While some willingly left China for contract work in Cuba, others were coerced into semi-indentured servitude.

On June 3, 1857 the first ship arrived in Cuba carrying about 200 Chinese laborers on eight-year contracts. In many cases, these Chinese “coolies” were treated just as the African slaves were. The situation was so severe that the imperial Chinese government even sent investigators to Cuba in 1873 to look into a large number of suicides by Chinese laborers in Cuba, as well as allegations of abuse and breach of contract by plantation owners. Shortly after, the Chinese labor trade was prohibited and the last ship carrying Chinese laborers reached Cuba in 1874.

Many of these laborers intermarried with the local population of Cubans, Africans and mixed-race women, although laws forbade them to marry Spaniards. These Cuban-Chinese began to develop a distinct community. At its height, in the late 1870s, there were more than 40,000 Chinese in Cuba.

In Havana they established “El Barrio Chino” or Chinatown, which grew to 44 square blocks and was once the largest such community in Latin America. In addition to working in the fields, they opened shops, restaurants, and laundries and worked in factories. A unique fusion, Chinese Cuban cuisine melding Caribbean and Chinese flavors, also emerged. (Wikipedia)

Dragones Street in Havana's Chinatown

Some famous Cubans of Chinese ancestry include former dictator Fulgencio Batista and one of Cuba's foremost painters, Wilfredo Lam.

While the following recipe is my own, it melds some of the distinct characteristics that make up what is known as Cuban Chinese food.

Serves 4


 8 chicken thighs with skin
4 clementines or mandarin oranges
1/2 lemon
2 TB soy sauce
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic
3 TB olive oil
2 TB butter
1 laurel leaf
Salt and pepper
chopped parsley

White rice


Pat and dry the chicken thighs and place them in a bowl. Cut the mandarins in half and squeeze the juice over the chicken thighs. Do the same with the lemon.  Add the soy sauce and the chopped onion. Add the mandarin and lemon skins. Cover the bowl and marinade the chicken for a couple of hours.

Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry with paper towles.  In a skillet melt the butter and olive oil.  Brown the chicken pieces on medium high.  Remove to a plate.  Add the mashed garlic and onions from the marinade and sautee until translucent.  Add the chicken pieces back to the pan, the clementine juice as well as the skins and a laurel leaf.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and cook until chicken is tender and cooked, about 30 minutes.  If the sauce begins to dry out add some water to the pan. At this point, you might also add more soy sauce if desired. When the chicken is done, uncover and add some chopped parsley on top.  Let rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Serve with white rice

Photos Lindaraxa

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sherried Mushroom Empanadas

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This recipe came from one of my old Gourmet magazines as part of a tapas buffet.  I couldn't wait for a party to try them so I served them last night as a light meal with a salad on the side.  Deliciosas!

Given the fact that puff pastry is substituted for the regular masa used in empanadas the final result, when sliced, is more like a streussel than anything else. 

The two empanadas, sliced as instructed, serve 8 to 10 as part of a tapas buffet.  I would say they serve 6 to 8 as part of a lunch or light dinner, depending what you serve them with.  Although the recipe does not say, check for salt and pepper.


2 medium onions, chopped fine

3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter

1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, chopped fine

2 small red bell peppers, chopped fine

a 6-ounce piece serrano ham* or prosciutto, trimmed and chopped fine

1/3 cup Sherry

1/2 cup packed fresh parsley leaves, washed, spun dry, and minced

3 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs

a 17 1/4-ounce package frozen puff pastry sheets (2 pastry sheets), thawed

an egg wash made by beating 1 large egg with 1 teaspoon water


In a 12-inch heavy skillet cook onions in butter over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened.

Stir in mushrooms and bell peppers and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until liquid mushrooms give off is evaporated and mixture begins to brown.

Add ham and Sherry and cook, stirring, until liquid is evaporated
In a bowl stir together mushroom mixture, parsley, bread crumbs, and salt and pepper to taste and cool, uncovered.

Preheat oven to 400°F
On a lightly floured surface roll out 1 pastry sheet into a 14- by 10-inch rectangle. Halve rectangle lengthwise with a long sharp knife and spread about half of mushroom filling on 1 half, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Brush edges of mushroom-topped pastry with some egg wash and put remaining pastry half on top of filling. Crimp edges of dough together with fork tines and cut several slits in empanada with a small sharp knife.

 Carefully transfer empanada with 2 spatulas to a large baking sheet, leaving room for second empanada, and brush with some remaining egg wash. Make another empanada in same manner with remaining pastry sheet, filling, and egg wash.

Put empanadas in middle of oven and reduce temperature to 375°F. Bake empanadas until golden, about 35 minutes.

Empanadas may be made 1 day ahead, cooled completely on a rack, and chilled, wrapped in foil. Reheat empanadas, uncovered, on a baking sheet in a preheated 375°F. oven until hot, about 6 minutes. With a serrated knife cut empanadas into 3/4-inch slices.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chocolate Stout Cake

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A dense rich chocolate cake perfect for company or baked individually for hostess gifts.  In this case, beer takes the place of milk giving an intensily nutty flavor to the batter. If you like chocolate, this is your cake!

Yields 1 large bundt cake or 12 individual


For the cake

1-1/4 cups stout, such as Guinness (don’t include the foam when measuring)
1/3 cup dark molasses
7-1/2 oz. (1-2/3 cups) all-purpose flour
2-1/4 oz. (3/4 cup) unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed); more for the pan
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
10 oz. (1-1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature; more for the pan
1-1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
6 oz. semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped

For the glaze:

3/4 cup heavy cream
6 oz. semisweet chocolate


Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 10- or 12-cup bundt pan (or twelve 1-cup mini bundt pans) and then lightly coat with sifted cocoa powder. Tap out any excess cocoa.

In a small saucepan over high heat, bring the stout and molasses to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand while preparing the cake batter.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

With a stand mixer (use the paddle attachment) or a hand mixer, cream the butter in a large bowl on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute.

Add the brown sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Stop to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.

Beat in the eggs one at a time, stopping to scrape the bowl after each addition.

With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the flour and stout mixtures, beginning and ending with the flour. Stop the mixer at least one last time to scrape the bowl and then beat at medium speed until the batter is smooth, about 20 seconds.

Stir in the chopped chocolate.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan (or pans), spreading it evenly with a rubber spatula. Run a knife through the batter to eliminate any air pockets.

Bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs clinging to it, 45 to 50 minutes (about 35 minutes for mini cakes).

Set the pan on a rack to cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cake onto the rack and remove the pan. Let cool until just barely warm.

Make the glaze:

Bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute and then whisk until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Let cool for 5 minutes.

Drizzle the barely warm cake with glaze and then let cool to room temperature before serving.

Make Ahead Tips

Wrapped tightly in plastic, the cake keeps for up to a week, or you can freeze it for up to a month. If you’re making the cake ahead, wrap it while still barely warm without the glaze. If you plan to freeze the cake, don’t glaze it until you’re ready to serve it or give it away.

Recipe Fine Cooking 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tagliatelle With Morels And Pancetta In a Cream Sauce

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The trick to this recipe is to make enough sauce to save for the next day's lunch over toast!

You can make the sauce earlier in the day and cook the pasta at the last minute.The perfect dinner for two with leftovers to die for or an elegant first course for a formal dinner party.


1 ounce dried morels (that's a handful in my book!)
1/2 cup pancetta, diced in small cubes
2 tbs olive oil
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 cup Mornay Sauce
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup Gruyere cheese
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Salt and white pepper

Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1/2 lbs tagliatelle or fettucine

Soften the morels in warm water for 30 minutes. When soft, remove from the water and place in a colander to dry.  Dry thoroughly with a towel and cut some of the big ones in half.

In a skillet, cook the pancetta in the oil until crisp.  Remove and set aside.
Cook the diced shallots and the morels in medium heat for about 3 minutes..  Add the parsley. Add the wine, raise the temperature and reduce to about 2 TBS. Set mushroom mix aside in a plate.

Make the Mornay Sauce. 

To the skillet add 2 TB. butter.  When melted, add 2 TBS. flour.  Mix well and cook for 1 minute.  Add slowly 1 cup of milk, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, salt and white pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally until sauce thickens and almost comes to a boil.  Add 1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese.

Add the mushroom mix to the sauce and keep in very low heat until pasta is cooked.

Cook pasta in water as per package instructions.

Drain pasta.  Serve in individual plates.  Add sauce on top and Parmesan cheese before serving.

Recipe Photos Lindaraxa

Friday, January 13, 2012

Southern Cornbread

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The traditional Southern cornbread is not sweet and is baked in a very hot cast iron skillet.  These are the main differences from the cornbread most of us grew up with.  Both are equally delicious and it's just a matter of preference as to which you choose to make at any given time.

I have to admit that until a week ago my preference was for the kind I grew up in the North...yellow and sweet.  My daughter always keeps a box or two of the Jiffy Cornbread mix and although not as good as homemade, it works in a pinch.

When Mother was here, I bought some magazines to keep her entertained and among them was a copy of Southern Living's Best Recipes of last year.  I had it close at hand on the night I served split pea soup and rather than go rummaging for my old recipe, I decided to try theirs.  It was one of the best decisions I have made in my world of food.  Not only was it to die for, it converted me forever to the Southern camp.  The crustiness of the top is what takes this recipe over the top.  It stays like this even after you reheat it the next day. But in order to get this crustiness, you must use a cast iron skillet and preheat it before the cornmeal is poured in.

I used White Lily white cornmeal which is available in every Southern supermarket but may not be available where you live. I know this makes a lot of you very jealous and we have gone through very lively discussions on the merits of White Lily flour when making biscuits;  but this is cornmeal,  so it is not a tragedy.  In this case you can use any brand of self rising white cornmeal and it won't be a sacrilege.

Serves 8

2 teaspoons canola oil
1 3/4 cups self-rising white cornmeal mix
 2 cups nonfat buttermilk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar


Preheat oven to 425°. Coat bottom and sides of a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with canola oil; heat in oven 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together cornmeal mix, buttermilk, flour, egg, melted butter, and sugar. Pour batter into hot skillet. Bake 25 to 30 minutes until golden.

Recipe Southern Living


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Crab And Avocado Salad On Spring Greens

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The key to this scrumptious salad is to buy the best and freshest crabmeat money can buy.  I have mentioned before that Costco sells a 2lb can of Premium lump crabmeat from Five Star for around $12.  If you are cringing at the price, let me tell you this can serve two people for a Crabmeat Gratin one night and three for a crabmeat salad the next day. Do the numbers, not a bad price for two extraordinary meals.

When you have good ingredients, forget the fancy recipes.  Do as little as possible and enjoy the freshness and quality of the dish.  That is exactly what I did in this case.

Serves 2 to 3 people


1 lbs. best lump crab meat
1 TB. mayonnaise (Hellman's)
1/2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
a few drops Worcestershire Sauce
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp. dried tarragon (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste.

1 ripe avocado split in half
Olive Oil
Tarragon Vinegar
Salt and Pepper
Spring Mix

Mix all the ingredients above being careful not to break up the crab meat too much. Set aside.  Split the ripe avocado.  Set on a plate over some of the salad mix.   Drizzle with a little oil and vinegar.  Fill with the crameat salad.

Serve with Iced Tea!

Photos by Lindaraxa

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dinner At Downton Abbey...Entertain Like A True Edwardian

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If you live anywhere on planet Earth, you know that tonight's THE night! Yes, friends, the second season of this wildly popular series begins at 9:00 p.m. and not a minute too soon.  The date could not be more appropriate as this weekend has been designated Rest Fest by the crowd at the lake.  Rest Fest? Before the holiday madness began, I decided that the weekend after the final guest departed (Madame Mere) would be a time of rest and pajama parties.  Nothing was to be done, except lay around all weekend watching movies and reading good books.  No decorating, no unpacking and no cooking.  Rest Fest!

So that's what we have been doing and tonight I am looking forward to laying on the couch, turning off the phone and enjoying two hours of someone else's problems. 

After looking at the blogs I follow on my sidebar, I see that a few have already beaten me to a post on the series but none of them talk about the food or the etiquette of the times.  I did a little research and found an interview with the creator and writer of the series, Julian Fellows, on the subject.  It looks like the producers did a lot of research to create authenticity to the smallest details, most of it coming from the book Mrs. Beeton's Book Of Household Management, the premier authority on cookery and etiquette of the times.  The book is out of print but, fortunately, the whole manuscript has been lovingly saved for posterity online.

Mrs. Beeton's Roast Wild Duck Recipe

1022. INGREDIENTS - Wild duck, flour, butter.

Mode.—Carefully pluck and draw them; Cut off the heads close to the necks, leaving sufficient skin to turn over, and do not cut off the feet; some twist each leg at the knuckle, and rest the claws on each side of the breast; others truss them as shown in our Illustration. Roast the birds before a quick fire, and, when they are first put down, let them remain for 5 minutes without basting (this will keep the gravy in); afterwards baste plentifully with butter, and a few minutes before serving dredge them lightly with flour; baste well, and send them to table nicely frothed, and full of gravy. If overdone, the birds will lose their flavour. Serve with a good gravy in the dish, or orange gravy, No. 488; and send to table with them a cut lemon. To take off the fishy taste which wild fowl sometimes have, baste them for a few minutes with hot water to which have been added an onion and a little salt; then take away the pan, and baste with butter.—See coloured plate, G1.
Time.—When liked underdressed, 20 to 25 minutes; well done, 25 to 35 minutes.
Average cost, 4s. to 5s. the couple.
Sufficient,—2 for a dish.
Seasonable from November to February.

THE WILD DUCK.—The male of the wild dock is called a mallard; and the young ones are called flappers. The time to try to find a brood of these is about the month of July, among the rushes of the deepest and most retired parts of some brook or stream, where, if the old bird is sprung, it may be taken as a certainty that its brood is not far off. When once found, flappers are easily killed, as they attain their full growth before their wings are fledged. Consequently, the sport is more like hunting water-rats than shooting birds. When the flappers take wing, they assume the name of wild ducks, and about the month of August repair to the corn-fields, where they remain until they are disturbed by the harvest-people. They then frequent the rivers pretty early in the evening, and give excellent sport to those who have patience to wait for them. In order to know a wild duck, it is necessary only to look at the claws, which should be black.


In this article reprinted from The Daily Mail, those responsible explain the painstaking work that goes into staging a Downton dinner party.

Although the new series of Downton Abbey is set against a backdrop of war, appearances must be maintained.

Lavish dinners hosted by the Crawley family continue, complete with the finest crockery, table linens, silverware and antique adornments money can buy.

To recreate such scenes, the Downton production team scour vintage markets, costume houses and etiquette books for inspiration. Little wonder that every episode of the drama costs an estimated £1million.


A footman’s wages depended on his height, as tall staff created a better impression. The preferable height was 6ft. A short footman could earn £30 a year, while a taller colleague would receive £40.


Each crystal glass is an antique from the era, as are the silver candlesticks, salt cellars and other condiment dishes. Some of the most stunning props actually belong at Highclere Castle, where Downton is filmed. Many others are sourced by the production team.

‘I travel the world to get the best prices for props,’ says art director Charmian Woods.

The 25ft-long damask tablecloths are used only once or twice because food and drinks are spilt on them by the actors. As for the kitchenware, such as the authentic pans used for cooking below stairs, Charmian says: ‘We couldn’t afford antiques, and the cost of copper soared, so it was lucky we had most of the kitchenware from the first series.’


The pink, yellow and white roses adorning the table were among the era’s most popular flowers. Pretty but simple, and modest by today’s standards, they would have come directly from the stately home’s gardens.


Every piece of china used in Downton features the family crest, which was designed by Charmian, who had transfers made and stuck by hand on to ordinary Spode crockery.


‘Huge care is taken with seating plans,’ says Downton’s historical adviser Alastair Bruce. Lord Grantham sits at the centre of the table – in what was known as the ‘hot seat’ – closest to the fireplace. Principal guests are seated alongside him and would also be kept warm. In a tradition dating from the Middle Ages, the salt cellar – lavishly decorated as salt was a valuable commodity – would be kept in the middle of the table. Those guests seated ‘below the salt’ were not allowed any.


The food is the most expensive part of a Downton dinner. Dishes are gleaned from recipe books from the period. Popular starters were watercress soup or turbot, followed by rabbit or veal, and a main course of stewed beef

or boiled ham. Dessert could be meringues or jelly, and the meal would be finished with cheese. Here, guests are served salmon but, Alastair says, ‘the actors rather resent fish because it tends to change the atmosphere in a hot room rather negatively’.


The cards in silver holders are menu cards, which would have been handwritten in French.

‘French was once the language of the British Monarch’s court, and aristocratic houses reflected what happened there,’ says Alastair.

‘Menus written in French were a tradition that continued among the upper classes, unless there was a single item that could not be translated, in which case English was used throughout.’


Despite the painstaking effort that goes into sourcing every prop, some inevitably ended up as rather expensive casualties of filming. ‘Glasses costing £75 per pair got chipped, a student on work experience spilt water on a sacrosanct table, and within half an hour of arriving on the first day, I’d knocked an antique box on the floor that cost hundreds of pounds to repair,’ confesses art guru Charmian.


A hot topic of debate on set was which foods would have been eaten with fingers during the Edwardian period. On one occasion when Alastair was absent, the crew were unsure as to whether asparagus should be eaten by hand or with a fork so eventually they chopped it up and pretended it was green beans.

‘Those around the table would use their fingers to eat certain foods such as fruit, and there would be a water bowl in front of them to wet the fingers and dry them on their napkin if needed,’ he explains.


Rather than buying complete evening dresses from the period, which sell for £1,500, designer Susannah Buxton worked with costume houses in London and Madrid to find the female characters’ exquisite gowns.

‘I went to vintage markets every week to source original fabric panels, beading and embroidery, and visited specialist museums and dealers for reference,’ she says. Susannah reveals she wanted the characters to wear original leather shoes, but the actresses found the tough old leather painful. ‘They’d usually try on at least ten pairs,’ she says.

It helps to have a staff like this...

...or a relative who looks like this!


The Daily Meal has a wonderful slideshow on how to recreate your own Downton Abbey Dinner Party.

So there you are, everything you always wanted to know about entertaining like a true Edwardian!

Articles fron The Daily Mail, The Daily Meal
Photos Google, PBS

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