Just appetizers

Been wanting to put together a post/blog for appetizers. Back in 2018 when I had to do my externship for culinary school, I worked at a catering company called Acquolina Catering. It was hard work, but personally I felt that having that experience was just as crucial as culinary school itself. At first, everyone I worked with treated me just like a newbie, and at one point I think I annoyed them, because my experience was below an entry level prep cook. However, I’m a tough cookie and I took whatever the chefs dolled out to me. Once I got some experience and continued to show up, (there was a point in time I was frustrated enough to just throw my hands up, and walk out the damn kitchen). However, I gained much respect, and I realized I was learning from the best. I settled in quite nicely after a while with the “Appetizer team”, one chef took me under her wing. Her name was Selsa (I’m sure I’ve spelled it wrong), however, she was the best teacher I’ve couldn’t of asked for. She was the best at what she did, and she never held back any thing she wanted me to know. I respected and appreciated her patience with me, because I learned things from her, I would of never got anywhere in the world.

Selsa, one of the best chefs in the business!

Anyhoo, I’ve put together some appetizers of my own. I think these appetizers are great for when you’re gonna just have a small, intimate gathering, and with cocktails you’ll be all set for a cozy evening. Or just to treat yourself after a hards day work.

First up:

Crostini with mango salsa and Brie with cilantro on top.

Crostini topped with a mango salsa, Brie cheese and olive oil

Spicy Deviled Eggs w/grilled shrimp on top

Baked Potato Skins

These are a few of my favorites! Recipes are as follows.

And, always remember to make a cocktail with these delicious appetizers!

Baked Potato skins

1 Bag of potatoes

Shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Sour cream

Bacon

Scallions

Directions:

Wash potatoes really good, and wipe off any access water. Cut potatoes in half, and use a small scooper to remove the inside of the potatoes, and leave a little on the skin.

Lay potatoes on a baking sheet with parchment paper skin side down. Add cheese, bacon and bake for 20 minutes to half hour.

Stick a fork in potatoes, if it goes through smoothly take out, let cool than add sour cream and scallions on top.

Quick and easy meals!

Linguine with mussels in garlic red pepper sauce

Yes! It literally took me 10 minutes to make this great tasting dish! This dish was so filling, and delicious! I’m bias anyways, because I love pasta! The sauce was made in the juice of the mussels! Add 1 stick of butter, red pepper flakes garlic powder and a half of cup of water. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes.

Boil the linguine for 7 to 8 minutes (or follow directions on the package.

Ingredients

Pasta linguine (packaged)

1 stick of butter (half a cup)

1 to 2 pound a of mussels (1 pound for this recipe)

Garlic powder

Red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

Parsley for garnish (optional)

Note: do not forget to salt boiling pasta water.

PICKLING! A new family tradition

I wish I could say, that pickling was a tradition that I did growing up, and that it had been in my family for years, (because, I love it). Considering, that my Mom was born and raised in the south, pickling would be something of second nature to her. And, it would have definitely been passed on to my sisters and I. Unfortunately, during my Mom’s childhood, she had to grow up fast! Growing up in the rural south, in the 1930’s and 40’s, money was tight, jobs were tight. Children had no choice but to work to keep the family afloat. Going to school was not an option for many families back than. You see my Mom left home at 13 years old, yes, I said 13 (she was the eldest of 6). She left for the big city, “New York,” to work as a cook, and nanny to send money back home to support her parents, and siblings. In my opinion, I don’t believe that there was enough time to pass down certain cooking traditions, because whole families had to sacrifice education over survival.

I say that, because having to explain why I love pickling so much, came from my training in culinary school. However, learning it opened my mind to adding flavor, and spices to food, that takes time to infuse, and that was fun for me. It’s like a kid who’s too anxious to go to sleep on Christmas Eve. This was different than just creating a dish, but for me, it was creating a food that’s like a sponge. Absorbing many hot and sweet spices.

Actually, I never had a interest in pickling. I assumed it would be boring, because it’s such a long process. However, patience is a virtue, and it is worth the wait. I think it’s because, I was never introduced to it early in my cooking life. Which began at the age of 16, helping my Mom prep food for the holidays.

Pickling certain foods, and adding them to a dish can make all the difference of how successful that dish can be. Or, the flavor it can add.

I love pickling cucumbers! It was one of the first things I pickled. I love pickles, and I’ve since pickled my own cucumbers at home.

I’ve pickled red cabbage, recently. I was looking for a certain flavor for my version of a Cuban pork hero sandwich. The dish tasted amazing. It was a burst of aromatic flavors, with all the ingredients I added.

Francie’s Cuban Hero Sandwich
Pickled red cabbage
Culinary school and my first pickling
Pickling pickles homemade

Ingredients/Brining liquid

Jars with seals

Dill

Garlic

Sugar

Vinegar

Salt

Red pepper 🌶

Water

Ingredients can be used to pickle cabbage, cucumbers, onions etc.

Toppings for sandwiches

Pickled red cabbage

Fresh cilantro

Jalapeños

Hero/Sub (any kind)

How to make

Boil 2 to 3 cups of water, add 1 cup of sugar, half cup of vinegar. Bring to a boil, then let cool.

Place dill, garlic and red pepper, and tablespoon of salt into jar with whatever you’re pickling. When liquid has cooled, add to the rest of the ingredients in the jar. Seal jar, not too tight, then add patience. Most times pickling is about a week. Red cabbage may take a day or two.

*check this blog for Roast Pork shoulder or Pene recipe

A Tropical Blast

I’ve been to the Caribbean humm, probably a half a dozen times. Whether it be a cruise, or actually visiting the island itself. I so enjoy the relaxation of the ocean waves, sipping an island cocktail, lying on the beach, sun in my face, and cooling off in the clear, aqua water.

Yes! I have deep day dreams of my travels to the Caribbean. Well, we are in full winter, and about this time of year, I’d be planning my “winter escape”!

Unfortunately, this covid pandemic (a word I thought I would never use in my lifetime), has prevented travel tremendously. But, here we are, a fear of getting sick or worse, fear of not recovering from the illness.

Although, my blog is also about traveling, that’s not happening right now. So I will talk about my food. I love talking about food, I love creating dishes, and I love deconstructing southern dishes my mom taught me how to make.

The dish I’d like to introduce is a dish I created, derived from my Caribbean travels.

“A tropical blast” is what a friend called it, (and hence the name of the dish) when I asked her to come over and be a taste tester for me. I added much exotic flavors that work well together and compliment each other.

Francie’s tropical blast

This dish consist of sweet plantains, grilled blackened shrimp and a mango salsa that will perk up your taste buds wanting more! 👅

Ingredients

Fresh Shrimp (large)

Garlic powder

Black pepper

Cumin

Turmeric

Sazon seasoning pack

Adobo

Medium Ripe Plantains

2 cups of canola oil

(Depending on the yields or # of plates. Each plate should consist of 1/2 a plantain, 2-3 shrimp, 3 spoonful of salsa on top, and a lime and lemon wedge for garnish.

Mango Salsa Ingredients

2 mangos

Cilantro

Jalapeños

Red onions

Red bell pepper

Fresh Lemon & lime juice

Salt to taste

How to make

This dish is made up of three components. The salsa should be made first, and put in fridge directly after completion of mixture of vegetable, peppers, mangos, and lemon and lime juices. It should all be small dice.

I used a grill pan for the shrimp. Large sauté pan for plantains. Use a cup of oil for shrimps and a cup of oil for plantains. More or less depending on how many shrimps and plantains you are making. Heat pans with oil.

Clean and devein shrimp. Use 1 tablespoon of each of the dry spices for at least 10 pieces of shrimp. Could be more or less depending on how many shrimps you use i.e. For 20 pieces of shrimp use 2 tablespoons of dry ingredients. After seasoning the shrimp, set aside.

Heat the sauté pan with oil, slice the plantains from top to bottom, then in half. When pan is heated add the plantains, cook till golden color. Set aside to cool.

Add oil to Grill pan, and prepare to grill shrimp. Shrimp should take no more than 3 to 5 minutes to cook. Please! Do not overcook the shrimp. Watch and flip them over accordingly. Once done, set them aside. It’s time to combine the dish.

To plate this dish, plantains are layered on bottom, about 3 or 4 half’s. Then about 3 or 4 shrimps on top of plantains, and last, but not least, spoon on top the mango salsa over the shrimps. Add a slice or lime and lemon for garnish.

I really enjoyed making this dish, because it took me back to fun times. And, it gave me pleasure watching my friends enjoy devouring it.

A little Ceviche, and falling in love with a spice called Cilantro!

The last time I was in Mexico, was 19 years ago. I wasn’t into my food dairy like I am today. Although, I have to admit, the moment I stepped off the plane in Cancun, I swear I smelled cilantro! It was a heavenly smell, I kept asking my friend who accompanied me on the trip, “do you smell that beautiful aroma?” It was like a perfume fragrance, it put me in a calm atmosphere. My best friend said “It’s cilantro!” And, from there, I’ve been using the spice ever since. Any who, on a particular occasion about a year and a half ago, one of my adult nieces picked me up from work on a cloudy afternoon, and suggested we go to this new, hip, cozy Mexican restaurant in her neighborhood. She had told me about it a couple months prior to this day, and she said, “the food and drinks are so delicious!” Getting off from a hard days work, having a drink sounded good to me! A short walk later, we were at “La Chula Taqueria Resturant, in Harlem.” The restaurant is a little small, but cozy, there was a free table and we sat down immediately. I ordered a margarita, ceviche and a pastor soft taco. My niece ordered the same, with the exception of the ceviche, and we had guacamole with fresh corn chips. Our food consisted of just appetizers, needless to say, it all was delicious. Unfortunately, the food and drinks were devoured so quickly, and the conversation was a pleasant distraction from a busy work day, that I hadn’t taken any pics of the meal.

Couple weeks later, I decided to have my own little homemade La Chula experience. I used fresh ingredients, I enjoyed using these ingredients, because I had not used a couple of them before. Putting the flavors together stimulated my palate. I enjoyed making these dishes.

Ceviche
Guacamole with Pita chips

Making ceviche for the first time, was a little intimidating, because I didn’t want to be over powering with the hot spices. Thank God for neighbors who don’t mind being guinea pigs! Also, them being of Spanish decent gave me great insight to being close or to far from how my ceviche should taste! My ceviche was spicy, just like La Chulas, but to me, also just as good. 😋

Ceviche ingredients

Fresh seabass

Shrimps frozen in the bag already cooked

Serrano peppers

Cilantro

Tomatoes

Red onions

Cucumbers

Fresh Lime juice or lemon

Salt

Pita chip ingredients

Pita bread

Fresh garlic

Olive oil

Salt

Guacamole ingredients

Avocados

Fresh garlic

Jalapeños

Cilantro

Olive oil

Fresh Lemon juice

Red bell pepper

Salt & pepper to taste

How to make

Ceviche

Please keep in mind for those who don’t know, ceviche is a raw dish. The seabass is cooked in the lemon or lime juice. However, the shrimp should be peeled, clean and boiled for couple minutes.

Peppers and vegetables should be cut small dice (for extra spiciness, leave some pepper seeds) optional of course. Seabass should be cut in medium size cubes.

Combine the mixture with fresh lime and/or lemon juice either one or both. Make sure you add salt for taste.

Serve chilled.

Pita chips

Instead of making corn chips, which would of taken hours. I made some pita chips for a more flavorful experience.

To make the pita chips, slice the bread in triangles. Place on a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Garlic should be cut small dice.

Brush olive oil over pita slices, then sprinkle garlic. Bake for 7 minutes.

Sprinkle salt over pita chips directly after coming out of oven.

Guacamole

Avocados should be nice and ripe. Peel and use a fork to gentle separate avocados. Especially, if you want it a little chunky. 😋

Jalapeños, garlic, cilantro, and red bell pepper should be small diced. Add to mashed avocados. Mixture should be thoroughly combined. Add a little olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Margarita recipe in the future!

Enjoy!

Friday Night Fish fry

Fried Tilapia

Growing up in Spanish Harlem was a wonderful experience! Some people may associate Harlem with the riots back in the 60’s. However, the urban culture of this place was full of life, love and good food! My childhood was far from what some may think this area should be. Poverty and drug addiction did not define my neighborhood, only love and families was and still is the front and foremost of what my neighborhood was.

One of my fondest memories of growing up in Spanish Harlem, and it was probably a tradition that was taken from the southern part of America, where my parents were born and raised. “Friday Fish Fry!” Every Friday my mom would fry up some fresh whitings that she bought from a heavy set man, that we referred to as the “Fish man!” Every Friday afternoon in the Summer time, the Fish man would fish all day, and by 3 or 4pm, in the back of his beat up station wagon, had the freshest fish for people to buy. My mom would always send me or my sister, (we were 8 or 9 years old) to buy some fresh fish. The Fish man would always gut, and scale the fish right in front of us. I use to think that that was awful to watch, however, from a culinary point of view, cleaning and scaling fish is a beautiful thing.

Watching my mom fry up the fish, and although I was a little girl, I remember my dad enjoying my momma’s cooking after a hard days work. The weekend always started out right with a Friday night fish fry.

The above picture is my take on a modern day fish fry. I added a couple of sides that not just compliments the fish, but I gave it a Spanish Harlem flavor to this southern dish! Coconut rice infused with cilantro, sweet plantains, with a soft avocado and spicy cucumbers.

I enjoyed making this dish, not only did it bring back special memories, but it also reminded of the love we shared growing up in my household.

Check out my IG: franb1965

Mediterranean Night!

Hello people! Sorry that’s it’s been awhile since my last post. The holidays, and pandemics don’t mix well for me. However, I have been busy with my cooking.

Speaking of pandemics, I decided to do something nice for two essential/hospital workers.

In the beginning of this pandemic, two relatives of mine that work, and continue to work in the hospitals, shared some real scary stories of covid 19 patients. Some were very sad, and some of their experiences were hopeful.

As we enter into a second wave of this pandemic. Although there is a small light in the middle of this tunnel, because of a vaccine having entered this bleak picture of our world now. I wanted to do something special for our frontline workers.

Rack of lamb
Mediterranean Buddha bowl with homemade
hummus
Greek roasted red potatoes with yogurt sauce
Couscous

I’ve always wanted to make Mediterranean food. Not as my niche, but because I love to play with spices and Indian and Asian foods do that for me.

I remember in culinary school when Asia was on our menu for the week. I had never really worked with spices like tahini, cumin, and turmeric. It made me proud that I used these spices for something I was making. And, I don’t want to brag, but everything looked and tasted so damn good.

My relatives were surprised what I made for them. But, I really wanted them to know how appreciative I was for their service. We had a great night! We ate, we talked, we drank a little wine. And, we relaxed. And, that is what I only hoped for for them.

If interested in any of these recipes, please email me at lucky1905@aol.com. Or check out my IG: franb1965

Day 40! Lemoncello is ready

Well, day 40 of fermentation of my lemoncello. These 40 days have actually went fast. There were days when I thought of just doing 10 days, or just 20 days, of fermentation, because I can’t wait anymore. But, I want it to be perfect. So, that meant 40 days, no more and definitely no less.

Day 39, mixed my fermentation with water, sugar and vodka syrup
Step by step complete mixture of ingredients, drain, fill bottles, then chill.

In Italy, this drink is served after a meal to refresh the pallet. About 80% of the country make Lemoncello, and they’ve been doing it for over a hundred years!

Ingredients

12 lemons

80 to 100 proof vodka 1 liter (any brand you like)

Sugar

Water

2 mason/fermentation jars (32 oz)

40 Days 😂

How to make

Peel the skins of the lemons, separate evenly into each jar. Pour half of the bottle vodka into each jar. Let the fermentation begin.

After 38 days, heat up 4 cups of water to 3 cups sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool, then pour/stir in 1 cup of vodka into the sugar/water mixer into each jar. Let sit overnight.

Day 39, strain the jars into a bowl, and with a funnel pour into air tight bottles (got mine from amazon) and chill overnight.

Day 40! You have Lemoncello!

My Lemoncello

I hope you’ll enjoy making this drink. I sure did!

Healthy & Hearty Winter/A Tasty, Healthy Lasagna

Low carb lasagna

So, I’ve be doing a 30 day challenge, and on the list of can’t have is: No potato chips, potatoes, ice cream, fried foods, fast food, chocolate, candy, donuts, juice or soda. Needless to say, I’ve had some great days, and some really weak days. I had to think about this for a moment, because I realized the foods I make are very carb and fried influenced. So I came up with a dish that is savory, low carb, but delicious.

Although my healthy lasagna has two types of delicious cheeses. I added less than an ounce to a serving.

Ingredients:

1 Eggplant

3/4 ounces Gruyere cheese (shredded)

3/4 ounces Gouda cheese (shredded)

Yields 6 (8 ounce) ramekins

Ingredients for bolognese:

Chop meat (80% lean)

Half a red onion (medium dice)

2/3 garlic (small dice)

1 jalapeño (small dice) clean out seeds, but leave a little white on the vein for some spice)

Basil (5 to 6 leaves)

Parsley (small dice) (save some for garnish)

Cilantro (small dice)

1 Jar of tomato sauce (go for it, if you want to make your own)

Adobo seasoning or salt & pepper to taste

2 packs of equal or Splenda or 2 Tbsp of sugar (I went for the sugar substitute)

How to make:

Slice the eggplant in medium cut slices, put to the side

In a pot, cook your chop meat all the way through.

Add the cut herbs, onions, garlic, jalapeños, and seasonings

Add tomato sauce

Let simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Taste often to know if you need to add more ingredients.

Prepare to layer the ramekins with the bolognese sauce first, then layer on a slice of the eggplant, then the shredded cheeses, then the sauce. Repeat process, however, you’ll only be able to do about two layers.

After ramekins are filled, place them on a sheet tray and put in the oven on 325 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.

Once they’re done, sprinkle some leftover parsley and serve. 😁

I enjoyed making this dish. I hope you do too!

Banana Pudding

I have to admit, I never liked banana pudding growing up as a kid. Even now being an adult, when I would go to parties, events etc., and if banana pudding was being served for desert, I’d always pass. However, going to culinary school, my pallet was developed to taste! Whether the foods looked appetizing or not. The lesson was to put all flavors in perspective. Basically, that means making a dish, and remembering flavors that I’ve come across to add to a dish, mixing or matching, combining with what taste great together, or not.

During this pandemic, my nice neighbor (again) was kind enough to look out for me, and spot me some groceries that she got from the food pantry. Because, I’m an essential worker, she worries about me and I appreciate it. So I rarely turn her down when she offers. I don’t like letting food go to waste, if y’all remember in my “Happy Fourth of July America” article. The same neighbor that had given me bags of apples, which I used to bake my first apple pie. She blessed me again with a bushel of bananas. What’s strange to me is my first thought was to make banana pudding. Yes, I’ve explain at the top of this article, I don’t like banana pudding. But, my goal was to not let these bananas go to waste.

So the decision was made, banana pudding it is. I told myself if I didn’t like it, my neighbors will have an awesome treat to enjoy. It was so simple, and easy to execute. After it chilled, I actually couldn’t wait to taste it. I swear, I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but it was the most delectable desert I’ve tasted. I was so proud of myself, couldn’t wait to share with my neighbor, and let her know, “this was your doing!”

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces vanilla wafers (approx. 1 box, may use more for trimming bowl)
  • 5 bananas
  • 1 box Jello instant vanilla pudding
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 large tub (16 ounce) Cool Whip

Mix sugar and pudding in bowl with milk and vanilla extract. Let thicken.

Add 1/2 tub of Cool Whip. Stir well until fluffy.

Layer bottom of bowl with vanilla wafers.

Next layer is 2 or 3 cut bananas.

Next layer is 1/2 of pudding mixture.

Next layer is vanilla wafers.

Next layer is last 2 or 3 cut bananas.

Pour rest of pudding mixture over that.

Top with final layer of Cool Whip.

Chill and serve!