Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mashed plantains

I stopped by a Puerto Rican/international food market the other day just because I was in the neighborhood. Although there were tons and tons of interesting products stocked in the many isles of this deceivingly small market, my eyes were fixed on ripe pl├ítanos (plantains) from the moment I opened the door (and smelled the ever-present smell of dried cod). Plantains can be found in most big supermarkets around Cleveland, but they are smaller than the ones I grew up with and they don’t ripe as well. Plantains are cultivars of bananas; that means that plantains are to bananas what Brussel sprouts and cauliflower are to cabbage. Just like bananas, you can use them either green or ripe, but they make totally different dishes. The green plantains are starchy and savory, while the ripe ones are sweet, with a creamy texture, which makes it crucial to commit to one ripeness state. When you want a green plantain make sure it’s green, and when you want it to be ripe, make sure that the peel is yellow with black spots; just yellow won’t cut it. If a plantain is not ripe enough, its texture, its flavor and its sweetness will be underwhelming.

In Puerto Rico, most of the plantain recipes require deep frying. But my grandma, who was a fierce advocate of healthy eating back in the day when high fat and high carbs were still in, was not having any of it. She would instead, make us boiled plantains (they were terrific!). To this day, I prefer to eat plantains boiled rather than fried. They are so easy and simple to make too. You make some slits on the peel, and boil them in salted water until a fork can go through.

The boiled plantains have a beautiful sweetness to them that is unlike anything else. The main problem is that although they may be tasty and very nutritious, they don’t look too appealing. If I remember correctly, my sisters, my cousins and my parents were somewhat thrown off by the looks of these plantains, so they would often avoid eating them. (More plantains for me!)

To give these guys a little bit of a pick me up, and make them more appealing, I mash them. I use some butter and brown sugar to enhance their creaminess and sweetness, and I garnish them with fresh thyme to get a nice lemony aroma. That’s it. Now the boiled plantains remain delicious, but they are much more appetizing. They really look much more luscious and luxurious than their 3 minutes-ago counterparts. Easy, simple, delicious!

On the road shortcut

253 calories, 59 g carbs, 4 g fat, 2 g protein per serving (4 servings)

3 plantains
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon brown butter
Fresh thyme to garnish

Bring salted water to a boil. Make some slits on the plantain peel, on a spiral pattern. Add them to the boiling water and cook until a fork can go through easily.
Remove the plantain peel. (You may need to wait a few minutes so the plantains are easier to manage since they’ll be hot!) The peel should be easy to remove. I use to forks to pull them apart from opposite ends.
Transfer the plantains to a mixing bowl. Add the butter and the brown sugar. Mash the plantains. Transfer the mash to a serving dish, and garnish with fresh thyme.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


I had an incredibly great time last week. As I mentioned on my last post, Cleveland hosted the 9th edition of the Gay Games (GG9) - the world largest Gay oriented (and organized) athletic and cultural event in the world. The week-long event celebrated the triumphs of a community (peacefully) fighting for equality, and at the same time, it set the stage for an amazing display of civic engagement and city pride that many Clevelanders have described as unprecedented. I only saw three 1-person protests, and even they were peaceful. The games finished on a high note, with visitors praising the city and locals satisfied with the our hosting capacity.

Needless to say, I did not compete in any of the games. I did manage to attend at least one event per day to join the celebrations and to feed from that special atmosphere I've never experienced before. On my last post I already mentioned I attended the Horseshoe Casino for a GG9 Happy Hour on Sunday, and the first day of the water polo competition on Monday. Here's some of the stuff I did afterwards. 

I spent Tuesday watching wrestling. Don't judge me! It was fun, and I learned a lot from those guys, so be nice to me...

I took a break from wrestling, and went to see water polo again. Among the attendees there was this nomad group that moved as a cloud from event to event. At some point they couldn't help it, so they finally went into cheerleader mode.


I found out that Detox, a top 4 contestant on RuPaul's Drag Race season 5, was performing Downtown Cleveland at the "Festival Village" so I went to see the show...

Of course I had the date wrong so I saw Jenny Owen Youngs instead. I know some of her music via soundtracks (Buffy's musical episode anyone?), but I didn't realize it until the next day.

It was fun, but after a few songs I was kinda done, so I decided to go drinking instead. It took all my will power, but I resisted getting a bike-cab ride to East 4th Street.

My walk paid off, since I got to see great views of Terminal Tower lit up in rainbow colors.

I made it to East 4th St. and went "straight" into the Green House Tavern. They have amazing food there, but I was there for drinks instead. And why not? Not only their main floor is super cool, but their rooftop has amazing views of the neighborhood.

I took my workload to a coffee house Downtown, so I decided to go and watch some swimming competitions during a break. But when I made it to Cleveland State University the competition was over (the story of my life!). The basketball competition though was in full swing. It was a really good game.

I made it back to the Festival Village to see Detox. This time I had the date right (and I was there on time). Pandora Boxx (5th place on RuPaul's Drag Race Season 2) was the host(ess) so she introduced Detox.

Of course Detox couldn't help it and had to taste someone else's beer...

The audience loved it!

During a costume change Pandora Boxx sneaked in and introduced us to her "newest single". She even made us "imagine" she had dancers... It was actually a fun song.

I took  Friday off, and stayed Downtown Cleveland. I discovered my new favorite coffee shop, my new favorite tea shop, and numerous other cool places at the East 5th Arcades. We even found these people posing for donations...

I eventually made it to the darts competition as well. I was surprised to see they had electronic boards with magnetic darts, with sensors and everything. They did, however, keep the true spirit of darts and had a bar set up, and they had sips of beer as they played (not in the picture).

Unrelated to the games, there was some photo shoot going on as well. I did my best and resisted the temptation to jump in...

Finally, I went to Happy Hour at the Renaissance Hotel. Of course, even though they had tons of nice and fancy drinks, I went for the $2 beer.

I'm sad to say so, but I missed the closing ceremony. I went but I was too late, and people were leaving as I arrived...

I did manage to check the graffiti exhibit before they were taken out. Really cool stuff.

Instead of going to the official after-party, I went to this awesome (and really crowded) performance at the Renaissance Hotel. It was Lounge Kitty, a local, campy, cabaret-act, that was so much fun. The audience was so engaged, that Lounge Kitty had no trouble recruiting a couple of guys from the audience to join her for one of her acts.

And one of them was really into it...

And now, I'm back to normal. Work. Work. Work. Cook. Cook. Cook.  More food will be coming back soon! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Broccoli fritatta

August is usually a fun month in Cleveland, with tons of festivals I go to. You can say I like to "festival-hop" (or maybe that I'm just a festival troll, one or the other). Every year I must have my share of gyros and baklavas from the Greek Festival in Cleveland Heights, I must have some mamaliga cu branza (polenta-ish dish baked with cheese) at the Romanian Festival in Cleveland's West Side, and I MUST party at the Feast of the Assumption in Cleveland's Little Italy. But this year my tight festival schedule is bursting up with all the happenings surrounding the Gay Games (GG9) happening all around Cleveland and Akron.

Going downtown to do practically anything, feels totally different. "Gay Games" themed specials and cocktails are being served everywhere. Plus, rainbows colors look very good on this otherwise grey-ish and brick-y city. "Let the sunshine in..."

I went to a happy hour at the Horseshoe Casino last Sunday. While the regular crowd was doing its thing...

The Gay Games Happy Hour turned into a PARTY! There was socializing...

There were "Vegas' style" dancers and "Chipandeles" walking around so naturally, people were taking pictures with them. Also, the DJ had some killer mixes so the crowd went crazy dancing, and twerking...

And lip-synching...


I - on the other hand- spent my time taking bad selfies...

Monday and Tuesday, I attended some sporting events, mostly water polo. Some matches were not too exciting, but some others were amazing.

Since I'm adding all this things to my usual busy schedule, my plan for this week has been to cook foods that generate leftovers that are easy to handle. A good example was this broccoli tortilla or frittata. It was super easy to make too; I just sauteed onions and peppers, I tossed some broccoli and garlic in, and then added the eggs. The oven did the rest for me.

I had my first slice with toast and a teaspoon of cherry preserves.

And then I had the rest either on it's own, or in sandwiches. Easy!

On the road shortcut

2 tablespoons oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 stalk of broccoli, florets only
5 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon whipping cream
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 475F.
Beat the eggs with the whipping cream. Season with a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Set aside until ready to use.

On a heavy iron skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onions and peppers until they are soft (5-8 minutes). Season with a pinch of salt and pepper as they cook.

Add the broccoli and saute for a couple of minutes, tossing often to get them coated in the oils. Season with a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper as you toss the broccoli. Crush a clove of garlic into the pan, and saute for 30 seconds, tossing frequently.

Add the egg and whipping cream mixture to the pan. After a minute, transfer the pan into the oven and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until it settles.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Sweet cherry compote

I've been keeping an eye on cherries for a while now. I don’t rush and buy the first cherries that arrive in the market each year; I’m simply not willing to pay $9.00 per pound for cherries that are not at their peak yet. I just won’t. (You can call me cheap if you want to; it's all good.)  Now that cherries are fully in season, I’ve been buying tons of them. They’re price has gone down already, costing under $4.00 per pound.  And don’t even get me started on their taste; they’re bursting with flavor now, not something that could be said even a month ago. Now that I’ve bought so many cherries I’ve been eating them often (while they last!).

Normally I just eat the cherries on their own; they are gorgeous after all. But as I was planning on having pancakes for breakfast I thought that a beautiful cherry compote would go well with them, and making it would not take too much of my time. I kept the flavor profile simple; I only added brown sugar and lemon juice to my sweet cherries. They simmered (covered) until they were ready 10-15 minutes later. Easy!

To turn all of this effort (not!) into breakfast, all I needed was a stack of pancakes…

And then I just topped the pancakes with the compote.

This sweet cherry compote was really, really good. Because of the lemon juice, its flavor resembled the taste of sour cherry preserves or syrup (both of which I love as well). As a last note, if you want to know if you’re compote was good, keep an eye on the plate. If everything went well, and your cherry compote is good, your plate should look like this:

On the road shortcut

Nutritional info per serving (yields 2 servings)
86 calories, 22 g carbs, 0 g fat, 1 g protein

2 cups of cherries

2 teaspoons unpacked brown sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Core the cherries and add them to a sauce pan. Add the brown sugar and the lemon juice. Cover and bring the cherries to a simmer. Continue simmering for 10-15 minutes (until there’s enough syrup and the cherries are soft. If desired, you can reduce the syrup by removing the lid and simmering longer.
Note: Keep an eye on the covered sauce pan as it simmers. When the compote is close to done, the steam buildup may cause your syrup to overflow.  At that point you can stop simmering altogether, or you can remove the lid to reduce the syrup.