I asked readers to share some of their “secret” convenience items and go-to ready-made sauces and condiments for making easy dishes that seem homemade. Some of the tips (we’ll pass along more as they come in):
Lou emails that he never learned to cook until five years ago, when his wife died. “I got tired of drive-throughs and TV dinners pretty fast.” His staple is a pouch of Vigo yellow rice mix. “It already has the seasoning, so all you add is water and olive oil.” He adds roast chicken from the store and then pours black beans on top. “You have to buy the Goya can that says black bean soup, not black beans,” he adds. “It’s not really soup, but the beans are cooked with onions and peppers and garlic so they’ve got good flavor.”
Sid Morris of West Kendall is a fan of the Giorgio brand cans of beef and mushroom gravy, “perfect for the rare sliced roast beef I buy at Publix Deli.” He buys the same brand of canned mushrooms because he finds them more convenient than perishable fresh ones. “Either can runs around a dollar.
“Another gem is the Virginia Brand of Vidalia Onion Vinegarette. Just add a bit of mayo, chili sauce and Worcestershire, and you have a home-made tasty salad dressing. One more helpful item — you don’t have to spend time chopping — is the frozen packages of sliced green, red and yellow peppers. Just remove enough for your recipe and return the rest to your freezer. They defrost fast in the microwave.”
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Catherine Malby of Miami Lakes says she uses a jar of Palak’s Butter Chicken to make “a really decent Indian dish with no fuss. I add a pack of boneless chicken tenders to the sauce, cook it on low till they’re done and put it over rice. Dinner in about 20 minutes, and everyone I serve it to thinks it is wonderful.” Malby adds that she knows Indian food because she moved here from London, “where good curry shops are always nearby.”
South Beach’s The Restaurant at The Raleigh is now serving brunch from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, with a creative touch from executive chef Jose Icard. Included is an inspired pulled-pork El Cubano Eggs Benedict, which he shares here. Don’t miss the vanilla French toast with orange dulce de leche. Or the bottomless mimosas.
Q: I lost my favorite Lent recipe, a Greek dish that made it a treat to be eating fish, rather than a sacrifice. I know I clipped it from your column. Can you find it? I think everyone who tries it will be glad. I don’t really like fish much, but this recipe was one I liked.
A: I believe this is the recipe, dating back to 1990; it was from Benson’s in Boynton Beach. I agree that it’s a grand recipe, easy but different. Gythion refers to a fishing village in Greece where the recipe originated.
Q: I enjoyed your piece on cast iron skillets. Can I use one on a glass-top range without scratching the top?
A: I have little experience cooking on a glass-top range so I turned to the folks at Lodge, the iconic company in Tennessee’s Appalachian mountains that has been producing cast iron at its foundry for more than 100 years.
“We are often asked if using cast iron is OK on a glass-top stove. In the Lodge test kitchen, we use our cast iron on glass-top ranges every day! As with any heavy cookware, we take care not to drop it or slide it across the surface.”
That seems to be the secret, from what I’ve read on various Internet postings — you’ve got to use common sense. Your skillet must be clean on the bottom, with nothing to abrade, and you’ve got to be aware of the weight when you put it down or pick it up off the surface. For recipes with a long cooking time at high heat you might consider using a diffuser between the cooktop surface and the skillet.
Send questions and responses to LindaCiceroCooks@aol.com. Replies cannot be guaranteed.
The Raleigh’s El Cubano Benedict
For the empanadas:
2 ounces virgin olive oil
2 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, diced in small cubes
1 medium onion, diced
4 ounces chopped garlic
4 tablespoons mojo seasoning, preferably Badia
2 cups water
8 ounces sliced ham, cut into 1-inch squares
8 ounces shredded Swiss cheese
4 ounces fresh lime juice
Zest of 1 lime
Cracked black pepper and kosher salt to taste
8 pieces each prepared empanada dough, preferably La Seltana
Mustard Hollandaise (recipe follows)
8 soft poached eggs
1 to 2 ounces cilantro, cut in chiffonade
Make the empanadas: In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add pork and brown on all sides, then add onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion softens, 5 to 7 minutes. Raise heat to high, and add mojo seasoning and water and continue to cook about 8 minutes. Place in oven at 400 degrees, covered, and roast pork until tender, about 45 minutes.
Once mixture is done allow to cool. Shred the pork with two forks and add chopped ham, shredded cheese, lime juice, lime zest, salt and pepper.
Keep oven at 400 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. On a floured surface, divide the empanada circles and divide the pork mixture into the center of each, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Brush edge of dough with water; fold top half over filling. Press edges to seal, then crimp firmly with a fork.
Transfer empanadas to two baking sheets lined with parchment. In a bowl, beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush empanadas with egg wash and top with thyme sprigs. Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through.
To finish: While the empanadas bake, prepare hollandaise and poach eggs, and reserve in a warm place. Remove the empanadas from the oven and top each with a soft poached egg, and hollandaise and scatter with chopped cilantro.
Yield: 8 empanadas, 4 servings
Though the recipe calls for grouper, you can use any mild fish that’s appealing in the market.
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup dry white wine
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon basil
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 large Spanish onion, sliced in thin julienne
1 large green bell pepper, sliced in thin julienne
8 large mushrooms, sliced
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 fresh grouper filets, about 8 to 10 ounces each
Olive oil (about 1 tablespoon)
1/2 cup (about) ground almonds
1/2 cup (about) fine bread crumbs
In a stainless steel or glass bowl combine the lemon juice, wine, garlic, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. To this add the onions, pepper, mushrooms and tomatoes. Toss well, cover and refrigerate for several hours or up to 1 day in advance.
To cook, place the fish filets on a large shallow pan, spaced 2 to 3 inches apart. Divide the vegetable mixture, including juice, evenly, and place on each fish in a mound. Drizzle each portion with a little olive oil, then sprinkle with a mixture of the ground almonds and bread crumbs.
Bake 20 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees or until fish is cooked through and vegetables have browned a bit on the ends.
Yield: 4 servings
6 egg yolks
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch kosher salt
About 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
Vigorously whisk the egg yolks and lemon juice together in a stainless steel bowl and until the mixture is thickened and doubled in volume. Place the bowl over a saucepan containing barely simmering water (or use a double boiler); the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl. Continue to whisk rapidly. Be careful not to let the eggs get too hot or they will scramble. Slowly drizzle in the melted butter and continue to whisk until the sauce is thickened and doubled in volume. Remove from heat, whisk in cayenne, salt and yellow mustard to taste. Cover and place in a warm spot until ready to use for the eggs Benedict. If the sauce gets too thick, whisk in a few drops of warm water before serving.