From Nonna's Kitchen: Angela’s Magic Cuban Black Beans

I have always been fascinated with Cuba.  A place where the culture is dynamic and rich and yet, riddled with struggle and oppression causing so many to flee the country they love.   Upon arrival from Cuba, they flocked to where other Cubans had already landed, taking each other in, and helping until a family of aunts, grandparents, parents and children could carve out an American life for themselves. 

Angela Diaz Porta came to the US when she was seventeen years old.  She is an incredible person and talented cook.  Angela cooks traditional Cuban food for her daughters and grandchildren to this day. 

She cooks many delicious dishes, but for me, she made Cuban Black Beans.  A staple to any Cuban dinner table, served with rice, this dish is simple and yet spectacular.

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From Nonna's Kitchen (Mother's Day Edition!): Kousa Mahshi

My latest Heirloom Kitchen landed me in Lebanon with an Iraqi woman, from England.  Yes, you read that correctly, Scheherazade ‘Cherie’ Jafar was born in London, England and then moved with her family to Bagdad, Iraq until she was ten years old.  At that point, she returned to Bathe, to study.  At nineteen, she married and headed to America as a young bride. 

Because of her diverse background, Cherie is versed in a number of different cuisines.  She cooks dishes from her native England and Iraq but also makes a number of Lebanese dishes taught to her by her mother-in-law.  It was fascinating to go through her little recipe book with her.  A link to her well traveled past, her hand written recipes come from her homeland, her in laws and also her place of birth.  She can throw together an authentic tabboleh, Middle Eastern stew and finish the meal with an English bread pudding. 

Through our conversation, we got to cooking the most delicious zucchini dish from the middle east, Kousa Mahshi.  Savory ground beef with rice all stuffed into a zucchini. It was delicious, simple, and healthy.  Try this Lebanese stuffed zucchini made by an amazing English woman from Iraq and you will not be sorry!

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From Nonna's Kitchen: Nikki's Haitian Cashew Chicken

Recently, a quick road trip to Brooklyn landed me in beautiful Haiti with my culinary guide Nikki.  Nikki came to the U.S. in the mid 1980s to explore New York City, the art world, French literature and a new exciting life. 

She eventually settled in Brooklyn with her son and has called it home ever since.  While we cooked, she played Haitian music so that when I closed my eyes; the smells and sounds truly transported me.  We spoke about her life in Haiti, her family and favorite dishes her mother and grandmother cooked for her as a child.

Nikki made sure to teach me dishes that truly represented Haitian cuisine.  We made a rice with a very special mushroom, djon djon that only grow in Haiti.  In addition, we made Cashew Chicken, a very well known (and delicious!) dish.

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From Nonna's Kitchen: Magda’s Delicious Pork Adobo

When I had the opportunity to cook with a talented Filipina home cook in my Heirloom Kitchen, I knew exactly what we could make: adobo, which is considered the national dish of the Philippines. Magda was warm, sweet and incredibly willing to show me this dish she makes for her family on a regular basis.  I was excited to taste it to experience this popular dish. Adobo is typically made with bone-in chicken or pork ribs; what’s consistent is the sauce, always a blend of vinegar and soy sauce. Magda told me that Adobo is a matter of taste.  Some like it more tart and will add more vinegar.  The ratios in her recipe provide for a balanced sauce, but if you prefer more sweet or tart, adjust the vinegar and sweet soy until you create a sauce just for you.  As Magda said, the acid-sweet level of an adobo depends on the taste of the chef and her family.

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From Nonna's Kitchen: Janet’s Mexican Pork Tamales

One delicious Mexican dish I have always wanted to learn to make was tamales.  So, when I had the opportunity to cook with Janet, a wonderful Mexican woman.  I asked her if she would show me how they are made in Mexico.  She warned me that tamales are a labor of love and is certainly not a quick dish but she ensured me they would be worth the work!

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My Television Debut! Huevos Divorciados

This morning I was invited to be a guest on Channel 8 News, TNH out of New Haven, CT.  It was a great opportunity to promote my Heirloom Kitchen, talk about the incredible ‘Nonnas’ I have cooked with and also let any talented immigrant cooks out there to contact me for a ethnic cooking lesson.

I had a great time chatting about my experiences in the kitchen and was also able to cook a delicious Mexican dish I have learned.  Huevos Divorciados (Divorced Eggs) is an incredible dish of eggs, served on top of some lightly fried corn tortillas.  The secret to great Huevos Divorciados is the homemade salsa verde and salsa rojo poured over the eggs.  Now, one fried egg is covered in salsa verde and the other egg is covered in salsa rojo.  The sauces don’t mix.  That is why these two eggs are divorced!

Janet, the lovely Mexican woman that taught me this dish told me to garnish the dish with some sliced avocado.  Its not a super quick breakfast but I can guarantee those two eggs will reconcile in your stomach.  Unbelievably good!

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From Nonna's Kitchen: Fesenjoon (Walnut & Pomegranate Stew)

Each trip into my Heirloom Kitchen has become about so much more than the food.  Now, learning the cuisines and special dishes from around the world has been incredible.  I have been introduced to new flavors, techniques and am constantly surprised at how each woman I cook with can teach me something I have never seen before.

This time, I made a stop in Iran.  I met Sharareh Oveissi and I knew from the minute I walked through the door we would be fast friends.  Beautiful and warm, she quickly began showing me all that she prepared.  A beautiful table called a ‘Haft-Sin’ was set for Nourez, Persian New Year so she could teach me this sacred tradition. 

Nourez is celebrated all over the world.  For Iranians, Persians and Zoroastrians all of the items on the table represent hopes for the new year.  I love the idea of celebrating the new year by creating a table scape of items that will bring health, happiness, prosperity and all the other wonderful things a new year an offer. 

 

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Homemade Hamentaschen, a Purim Treat!

On Saturday, Purim will begin at sundown.  In order to honor this holiday, I decided to try making Hamentaschen, the filled cookie made by Jewish people for Purim.  After received a few recipes I decided to reach out to my husband’s Aunt Carol who graciously shared a recipe passed down to her by her grandfather after her grandmother’s passing.  It comes from the book, Love and Knishes.  Grandma Jeannie received this book as a gift in the early 1960s and has been in the family since. 

Since apricot and poppy seed are the most traditional, I started with those two fillings.  Then, since the book had a recipe for cheese, I made a few as well.  And, for fun, I put nutella in the last batch. Because, although not at all traditional, nutella just makes everything better.

So, this weekend, whether you are Jewish or not, channel your inner Bubbe and make a few.

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From Nonna's Kitchen: Bea’s Serbian Pita

While attending a holiday party I was lucky enough to sit next to Bea, a wonderful woman and begin a pleasant conversation about international food. After we chatted I told her about my project and how I hoped she would like to participate.  Without even knowing me 10 minutes she agreed to teach me a few Hungarian and Serbian dishes.

Cooking with Bea was great because aside from the fact that I love spending time with her, she is versed in both Hungarian dishes learned from her mother and also Serbian dishes they began to eat after moving to Belgrade at the age of two.  Her first language was Hungarian. Later on she learned Serbian, German, French, Italian and of course English. I was excited to learn Hungarian Paprikash as it is so well known but also really loved learning how to make pita, similar to burek, a very well known Serbian dish made with filo dough and a few different fillings.  Bea makes one with cheese and another with meat.  Equally delicious, now, when I make it, it’s hard to choose!

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Make This Year’s Mid Week Valentines Day Extra Sweet

This year, Valentine’s Day falls on a Tuesday.  So, having a romantic night out might not be in the cards. However, there is nothing stopping you from giving your love(s) a mid week treat that shows them how much you care.

If you have ever been out to eat on February 14th, there is a very good chance chocolate lava cake was on the menu.  Many times, the server will even point it out when you order your meal because if you want it, the kitchen needs to be told in advance.  So, of course, you commit before you have even sipped your cocktail to that delicious little cake that oozes molten chocolate out all over the dish.

While it might seem like magic, it’s really just an undercooked brownie and it only has five ingredients! So, if you are staying in this year, and might even be serving a ho hum dinner as it’s a weekday and the kids have activities and homework, you can still dazzle everyone with this spectacular little dessert. 

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'Suped-Up' Super Bowl Sunday

The super bowl is approaching and if your house is anything like mine, it’s the one day a year your husband and his friends take over the living room, get loud and have a good time watching America’s favorite sport.

I’m not a fan of football.  Sad to say, I’m still not very clear on the rules and haven’t invested much time trying to figure it out.  What I do enjoy though, is any excuse to throw together a fun party with really good food.

Now yes, you can throw some chips in a bowl and call it a day but seriously, where is the fun in that?  Instead, this year, get creative so that even if you’re aren’t interested in the game, you will still be having a good time…eating.

I can’t tell you who is playing in the game but what I can guarantee is that if you make a few of these delicious recipes, all of your guest will be well fed and happy regardless of who scores the winning touchdown.

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From Nonna's Kitchen: Nainai Tina’s Delicious Dumplings

Tina Yao is a Chinese immigrant I had the great honor of cooking with recently.  We met through her daughter-in-law, Katrina, who like me, feels it’s important to preserve family traditions and culture.  One morning, I headed over to learn how to make dumplings, a northern Chinese staple.  Tina graciously showed me how to make thin dough with two ingredients, flour and water, and a savory pork filling that she mixes up with chopsticks and quickly stuffs into the rolled out dough.  In a blink of an eye, she seals each one in perfect, identical pleats.  Needless to say, I still need some practice!

I loved making dumplings with her and listening to her tell stories about her village and how the woman would sit for hours in preparation for the New Year, making these dumplings all day long, eating and gossiping as they worked.  People coming in and out to chat and eat.

With Chinese New Year approaching, try Tina’s dumplings.  They can be steamed, boiled or pan-fried.  I know I’ll be practicing my pleats and eating some delicious dumplings as I go!

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From Nonna's Kitchen: Grandma Dorothy’s Potato Pie

For some reason, whenever I make a new Nonna recipe and place it on the dinner table, it’s the first thing to go. When it’s a true Nonna recipe, one helping is never enough.  Therefore, on Christmas day, I decided to try a recipe that was contributed to my Heirloom Kitchen by one of my favorite cousins-in-law, Jackie Novello.  The recipe comes from Jackie’s beloved grandmother Dorothy, an English immigrant.

Dorothy was an exceptional cook. Jackie lovingly remembers her cooking British classics like Yorkshire pudding and shepherd’s pie. One recipe that is still a favorite for Jackie’s family is a true British dish - potato pie. Perfect for holidays, special occasions or simply as an indulgent breakfast topped with a fried egg, it's not a pie at all, just some really cheesy delicious mashed potatoes. But, I must say, some of the best mashed potatoes this side of the pond.

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From Nonna's Kitchen: Oma Susanne's Appelkoken

One of the most magical aspects of an heirloom recipe is that it can transport you.  It can take you to a simpler time and place.  A time when you were young, and childhood was filled with love from doting grandparents and dishes that represent who we are.  A bite of a dish like this will fill you up with warmth, happiness and a sense of family.  Our grandmother’s kitchens were a sacred place where love was in abundance and the stove was always working hard, making something good to eat.

I especially felt this when a recipe for Appelkoken was shared with my heirloom kitchen by Susanne Kidd, a German immigrant. Her beloved grandmother, Oma Hildegard, taught this recipe to her.  Susanne remembers her important task of helping her grandmother on New Year’s Eve when these delicious little donuts are made.

Susanne’s job was to fetch the apples, left over from the fall harvest, from the cellar.  The apples may have been a bit wrinkled but with a good peeling, a fine chop, they were ready to drop in the batter with the rum raisins and fine vanilla sugar.  As baker’s helper, she had the important task to taste the first batch to make sure they were acceptable.  Still warm, they were showered with powdered sugar and served to the lucky New Year’s guests.

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