Category Archives: sauce

Tequila Boom-Boom Spare Ribs Recipe

Tequila Boom-Boom BBQ Sauce Spare Ribs

¡Hola, amigos! Here’s something different for you to swirl with the set of ingredients from the lands of Aztecs and Maya: Tequila Boom-Boom Sauce Spare Ribs recipe. If you are looking for something new to try this Father’s day, this might be of an interest. These ribs will assure your papa’s (+ party) complete satisfaction.  We devoured them with gusto and had a good Mexican laughabout any rib sauce we’ve tried previously including the sickly-sweet and flat commercial sauces. For the secret ingredients, I basically added some tequila and a few new capsicum varieties to my staple Cajun BBQ sauce. The base sauce has a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity as well as and a long record of successful meat and poultry basting for all kinds of events in case you will be looking for a kids-friendly version and would wish to omit tequila. However, the new version layered with tequila, arbol, ancho chiles and Cholula makes it better and bolder for my adult taste.

Tequila Boom-Boom BBQ Sauce
Tequila shot added to the BBQ spare rib sauce

The upside of this recipe is that you can make the ribs and sauce way in advance of the event (fully cooked or par-cooked),  up to 48 hours ahead if you keep it in the fridge and/or up to a week sealed and kept in the freezer saving yourself time and headache of the party prep. It will also travel well and will make a centerpiece appetizer or main.

The downside is that you would have to allow at least 3.5 hours to make it.

The most popular tequila Jose Cuervo makes an excellent base for Tequila Boom-Boom drink
Tequila Boom-Boom is actually a Mexican drink made of equal parts of tequila and Sprite (or similar, like 7Up or ginger ale) served in a rock glass with a dash of Grenadine syrup.  Another name of this drink is a Tequila Slammer, because of the way the drink is taken:  the fifth of the glass is empty to allow the mix of tequila and carbonated drink to fizz. You then put your hand over the top of the glass and slam it onto the bar counter to mix it. This move causes the drink to foam fast, so you have to drink it immediately, or it will spill. This drink is strong; I didn’t want to get intoxicated early in the afternoon, so I decided to give a splash of it to my favorite my favorite BBQ pork rib sauce I was making the other day.  The result was amazing, definitely worth sharing.  I marked Seven Up  optional in the recipe to make the sauce stickier and to cut on evaporation and caramelization time for your convenience.
Several dried capsicums and ground coffee are used in the rub and added to the BBQ sauce

Capsicums and the spice rubs are all rage this summer with dozens of new varieties and combinations coming from all over the globe. I am more than willing to try them all.  This recipe obviously took Mexican direction, so in addition to tequila I used crushed arbol flakes, ancho chile powder and Cholula spicy sauce, all originating from the Bestico (aka Mexico).  Naturally, you can have tequila swapped with whiskey, bourbon, gin or vodka depending on your preference and give it some other cultural direction to Memphis, St. Louis, etc. (the recipe gives a choice of chilis if pure Mexican fare is hard to find in your area).

Perfectly cooked ribs should be tender, but still juicy and not falling off the bone.

The recipe below is the oven BBQ method, which I much prefer to the grilling method for both, time and quality results. Albeit, I often combine both by baking ribs in the oven until ready and almost falling off the bone; and finishing them on a low BBQ heat for the basting part of 15 minutes. FYI, the most appreciated ribs are not supposed to fall off the bone. According to the famous carnivore, Jay Rayner, the best tasting pork ribs should be tender, but still juicy and well attached to the bone. The falling off the bone is a sign of an overcooked, overfrozen or over-re-heated meat. Properly cooked ribs should still have some resilience and chew and would pull cleanely off the bone with your teeth.

Rubbing spare ribs with the mix of spices and herbs.
Makin BBQ sauce and ribs’ brushing stage
Cutting spare ribs into individual portions

Voila, our succulent out of this world ribs are done and ready to be served.
OK, one rib down already while I’m still taking pictures! That’s a good sign. Someone’s gonna be happy tonight…

For the summer side course, keep it simple: boiled/grilled seasoned corn and refreshing coleslaw salad (recipe will follow shortly).  For the corn seasoning, try the Lime Chili Butter, OR brush it with my new favorite: Honey-Cinnamon Butter -1 tablespoon of salted butter melted with a dash of honey (or maple syrup) and a pinch of cinnamon.
Tequila Boom-Boom Spare Ribs with Russian Slaw and Honey Cinnamon Corn Sides
For the colder days, pasta with simple tomato sauce made from the garden tomatoes would make an amazing companion to these ribs. I suspect, Daddy won’t trade it for the world’s best cupcake as this would be so much better than mac n’ cheese.

Enjoy and don’t forget to serve the paper towels!

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TEQUILA BOOM-BOOM BBQ SPARE RIBS
Yields: 4 main to 8 appetizer portions
Ingredients:

1 rack of pork spare ribs (2 pounds, or 1 kg)

Spice Rub:
2 tablespoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon ancho chile or cayenne powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coffee
1/2 freshly ground black pepper
Tequila BBQ Sauce 

1 small dried arbol pepper, crushed, OR , 1 teaspoon of regular chili flakes

1 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup Seven Up (optional)
juice of one lime
1 small onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced (optional)
1/2 cup molasses, OR honey, OR maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon Cholula chili sauce, OR Tabasco
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Trim the ribs of any excess fat or sinew.  Remove the thin membrane from the back side of the ribs and discard (PS: I’m not always doing it, but this would prevent the ribs from coiling). Optionally, cut the rack in 4 individual portions for a better fit into the baking pan.

Combine the paprika, ancho chile powder, coarse salt, paprika, oregano, marjoram, cumin, garlic, onion powder, ground coffee and black pepper together in a mixing bowl to make a rub.  Rub the mixture into the ribs on both sides and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Place ribs into a baking pan (I prefer the glass one), cover with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 45 minutes.  Remove the foil, turn the ribs over. Cover back with foil and bake ribs for another 45 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the basting tequila sauce (see the instructions below). When done, the ribs will be tender and the meat will have shrunk back from the bones.
Lower the oven temperature to 275F. Brush the ribs generously with the Tequila BBQ sauce and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the ribs over and brush with the sauce. Return to the oven for 7-10 minutes. Repeat coating the ribs on both sides for another 5 minutes each side. Remove from the oven. Brush with extra sauce if wish be. Let stand for a few minutes, cut in individual portions if necessary and serve.

Tequila BBQ Sauce:

Soak the dried chili flakes in a small bowl with a few tablespoons of hot water to rehydrate for 5 minutes.  Add the soaked flakes, ketchup, apple cider vinegar, tomato paste, brown sugar, tequila, Seven Up, lime juice, onion, garlic, molasses, hot sauce and salt and pepper to the blender or food processor.  Pulse few times until the mixture is smooth. Equally, you can grate the onion and garlic and just mix the ingredients in a bowl with the fork.

In Juniper Spirit: Ham in Pastry Crust (Jambon en Croute) Recipe

“All right, all right, I’ll give you a break for now, but we’ll have a serious conversation in January,” I promised my protruding belly’s mirror reflection a week ago.  Christmas is about tradition and comfort food, so it’s OK to feel or look a little pudgy…  Soon I will have all the time needed to martyr myself with celery and quinoa salad and the ideas of how to “look great in a minivan,” I thought to myself later that day, buying a naughty chunk of a Christmas ham to cook for the family dinner…
And what a dinner it was!  Even our most ferocious calorie-count members admired it. Not only that centerpiece ham expressed and celebrated Quebec’s oldest Christmas tradition, it tasted better, than ever and not just because of the wine was on a table. One secret ingredient made that magic. It was neither the ham itself, nor a crust, but a little crushed juniper berry I added to the mustard rub in between.  It infused the ham and crust with the touch of piney Christmas spirit and balanced the flavors wonderfully.
Earlier in fall we had to cut some old juniper skyrockets in our yard and I foraged an impressive quantity of juniper berries. Not that I didn’t know anything about juniper berry as a spice: it turns vodka into gin, improves the fermentation process of sauerkraut, and makes a great concoction for a hot bath…

However, that would pretty much limit my knowledge of its use. Seeing that quantity of unbelievably fragrant freshly foraged juniper berries was kind of a revelation to me. I wanted to know what else can be done with them and start experimenting right away.

Which is how the idea of using them in the rub came first and I made this little ham back in September. WHOA! It worked better than I expected.  I’m usually not a big fan of ham, reserving it to special occasions only, but this one came out really outstanding.

What a complex yet subtle flavor touch to the roasted ham in crust! It made me think of Christmas right away and so I reserved this recipe and juniper berries (both dried and frozen) for the winter holidays, and here I’m sharing it with you today.

I also researched extensively about the juniper berries and came up with this list of

What You Can Do with Juniper Berries in Your Kitchen:

  • Make spirits and bitters: primarily gin by adding juniper berries to vodka along with bunch of other botanicals (this DIY Gin recipe works great for me)
  • Infuse vinegars (bruise the berries and use this easy method): vinegars bring out the citrus element of the berries 
  • Infuse hot drinks: teas, tisanes, mulled wine, etc. with the enhanced piney juniper berries flavor (have also great medicinal effect on upset stomach, urinary tract infections, bloating, heartburn, etc.)
  • Infuse desserts, fillings, gels, creams and frostings 
  • Infuse salt or sugar
  • Use in brines for: brisket, turkey, pork, chicken or fish as flavor enhancer 
  • Add to game or venison stews and terrines (wild boar, hare, deer, etc.), as well as pork
  • Add to dressings and vinaigrette: works well with olive oil, apple cider or balsamic vinegar, horseradish, mustard, mayonnaise, ginger and garlic
  • Add to sauces and gravies: i.e. Madeira, White wine, Cranberry sauce, etc. and/or thickening dripping liquids into sauces
  • Flavor cabbage stews (German, Polish style Bigos, etc.) along with allspice berries and peppercorns
  • Use in fermenting veggies (sauerkraut, pickles, etc.):  works as stabilizer, adds crunch and flavor
  • Add to bird/meat stuffing 
  • Rub in curing meats (along with other spices) to make pancetta, pastrami, smoked meat, ham, game, etc.
  •  Add to stocks and soups included in bouquet garni: adds nutty-woodsy notes of flavor
  • Add to pasta, potato, couscous or polenta water
  • Recycle leftovers jams into glaze by mixing them with water/syrup infused with juniper berries.

Juniper berries are not exactly berries, but the tiny pine cones of the shrub that are so tightly clenched they look like blue-purple berries. They have strong tart, coniferous flavor with a hint of citrus and very small amount is used in particular recipes. If you remember, in one of the episodes of the fantastic comedy Bedazzled (with Brendan Frazer and Elizabeth Hurley) the major character is explaining at some point that the word `Gin’ is short for the French genievre or the Dutch jenever, both of which mean juniper, the main flavor in gin. Juniper berries have been used since ancient times and were especially popular in Greece, Rome and Egypt as medical remedy, to flavor dishes, or be used for spiritual rituals (some have been even found in the tomb of King Tut).

Back to our Christmas ham: this is a wonderful, festive, traditional Quebec recipe for frugal (and beyond) holidays. It keeps the meat juicy, yet well done. The juniper berries not only add flavor, but work as a natural anti-bloating agent. The juniper-mustard flavored pastry crust helps the dish taste and look elegant and exquisite.

Simply put: it’s a super easy, convenient and impressive centerpiece dish on a budget for many occasions. I do hope you will try it and like it and get back to me with your comments.

Final note: juniper berries are not hard to find on-line or in whole food/organic stores and only a small quantity is used in the recipe. The initial recipe however didn’t have juniper berries in it, so if you can’t get a hold of juniper berries, feel free to substitute with a tablespoon of crushed fennel seeds or dried tarragon.  

Happy Holidays and Enjoy Your Cooking!

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Other Festive Recipes for Holidays:
Two years ago:  Crispy Cod Croquettes
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JUNIPER INFUSED HAM IN PASTRY CRUST (JAMBON EN CROUTE)
For Ham in Crust:
3 pounds (1.5 kg) smoked ham, boneless, fully cooked
1 bouquet garni with 6-8 juniper berries added
3 tbsp (45 mL) Dijon mustard
2 tbsp yellow mustard grains, crushed
1 tbsp juniper berries (about 8-10 berries), freshly crushed
1 pound (450 g) puff pastry
1 egg yolk mixed with 2 tbsp (30 mL) water for brushing the dough
For Madeira Sauce Infused with Juniper Berries:
3 tbs (45 mL) unsalted butter
½ cup (125 mL) shallot, minced
½ cup (125 mL) Madeira or Port wine
1 cup (250 mL) brown veal or beef stock
¼ cup (60 mL) 35% cream
Salt and pepper to taste
4-5 juniper berries for infusion
Instructions:
Cover smoked ham with cold water in a big pot, add bouquet garni and bring to boil. Simmer the smoked ham for an hour and half to two hours to remove some salt. Let cool.
Drain the liquid and pat dry the ham carefully. Mix the Dijon, crushed mustard and juniper seeds in a small bowl.  Rub the ham with mustard-juniper mixture all over.  
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Roll out the puff pastry into a sheet/s about ¾ in (1.5 cm) thick and transfer to the baking sheet. Place ham in the center of the dough sheet and wrap the ham with the dough completely. Add patches of dough when necessary to make sure all ham is well-covered for the juices not to drain out.
Mix the egg yolk with water and brush the pastry from all sides. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the crust is golden and puffed. Remove ham from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes for the juices to set before carving. Cut the ham with the knife long enough to cut the entire length of it. Serve with Madeira sauce, mashed potatoes, rice or fresh pasta.
Madeira Sauce with Juniper Berries:
Melt butter in a saucepan. Add chopped shallots and cook gently for 5 minutes. Add Madeira (or Port) and cook for 2-3 minutes longer. Add brown veal or beef stock. Add cream and bring to boil. Season with salt and pepper.  Add 4-5 juniper berries for infusion and set aside covered for 10 minutes. Strain the sauce from juniper berries before serving.
Adapted from: « Le cochon à son meilleur » by Philippe Mollé, Les Éditions de l’Homme, March, 1996

Shucking Oysters: Mighty Aphrodite Granita

Air chilled September has arrived to the East coast with the oyster season fanfare first in Montreal  and now in the New York City. If you’re an oyster geek or just an exploring amateur,  it’s time to learn a few new things about the little bivalve and the best ways to enjoy it. For those who can’t go to the Big Apple or line up for the new celebrity chefs’ oyster creations, there’s plenty to catch up with: dozens of fresh oyster varieties have just arrived into all major groceries and are now available for the price of a lollipop per pop. So if the shucking oyster party is your thing (which you can still enjoy outdoors as the current street temperature provides the best timing to serve and taste the oysters), it’s time to experiment with the new oyster condiments.

The New York Oyster Week founder Kevin Joseph has just declared a war on the traditional cocktail sauce from seventies (it’s about time someone bans that dreary creation out loud) and strongly encourages that people start using some freshly ground condiments like horseradish to bring the best out the fresh oyster. And here is when I pitch in with my latest granita, little icy Sicilian dessert that was first made with the snow from the Mount Etna.

Specifically, my new favorite, which I called Mighty Aphrodite Granita – a Lemon Ginger Cucumber Mint Granita. Don’t get me wrong, I still love classic Mignonette sauce  like any other person, and totally agree with Nigel Slater that ‘nothing quite takes the salty, iodine tang off a good oyster like the shallot vinegar, Tabasco and lemon.’ But there’s something I’ve discovered about granitas: they can make a really creative condiment (a little step up from just a generic lemon) that would not only complement the taste of the oyster, but would also make a perfect palate cleanser or an entremet between sampling different kind of oysters, so your palate’s capacity will be enhanced to actually catch the difference between say Malpeque from Kumamoto, or Raspberry Point, or many other varieties (check  Montreal’s La Mer for the local stock).

Granitas are very easy to make: the icy texture can be reached without any special equipment (like the one required for sorbet) – all you need is fork, tray and freezer. They make a stunning presentation. The melt fast, so your oyster will not be compromised with too much ice. And then there’s something else: there’s no particular proportion – you can customize your own granitas with your own amounts and preferred ingredients to reach the sweetness-sourness-saltiness balance according to your needs.

Julia Child mentioned in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking that the French Royal Court preferred to pair the oysters with Sauternes, the famous sweet wine of the Bordeaux region. This inspired me to make a sweet, slightly acidic granita with a splash of dessert wine, sugar, lemon juice and the refreshing touch of ginger, cucumber and mint. The result was outstanding. And guess what, if you don’t have any botrytis wine at hand, you can successfully replace wine with a dash of champagne or rice vinegar. Or just omit the alcohol completely and your granita will still taste heavenly and will make a fun and clever condiment or an entremet.  And don’t forget to use some liquid leftovers to wet the rim of the shot glasses before dipping it in a lemon, celery or your choice of salt mixture for any chilled booze you would like to serve with your oysters (from sake to tequila to Guinness).  

As much as I’m for letting the imagination go experimenting with citrus granitas, a word of a personal warning: stay away from experimenting with soya or ponzu sauce granitas – they are too overpowering and completely kill the taste of the oysters. I made some on our last Valentine and they both ended up in a trash leaving us to a humble simili-caviar condiment only, but then of course the good ol’ mignonette arrived to help in a jiffy. 

Back to our feature Lemon Ginger Cucumber Mint granita: three -five minutes work, an hour in a freezer, basically all the job is about forming ice crystals with the fork every 15-30 minutes depending on the quantity you make. You can serve as a little refreshing adult digestive or dessert as well. Believe me, I wouldn’t waste my time on writing this if it wasn’t absolutely delectable condiment, dessert re-fresher and a palate cleanser. 

One nice slurp of a briny devilish oyster followed by the tiny spoon of this pristine pure-tasting granita will pair and separate both gracefully (‘with a bite of the buttered brown bread to follow to stimulate the papilles… and then of course, a fine mouthful a white wine’, as recommended by legendary M.F.K. Fisher). You will only wish to continue tasting that dance and at some point might actually start feeling one step closer to a mighty Aphrodite (with, obviously, cucumber green hair and a piece of ginger in her hand for this recipe), the Greek goddess of love, who sprang from the sea on an oyster shell. And then the myth of the little aphrodisiac was born… Which ultimately brings me to Jay Rayner’s advice to ‘never date a man with no taste for oysters’ from The Guardian’s article ‘If You Don’t Like Oysters,You Will Never Be a Grown-Up’, but that’s another story…

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‘Mighty Aphrodite’ Lemon Ginger Mint Cucumber Granita
Ingredients:
½ cup (125 ml) water
1 juice & few peels of a lemon
1 inch fresh ginger, sliced
3 tbsp (45 ml) granulated sugar (put more if desired)
1 small splash of dessert white wine (Sauternes at best, but cheaper dessert wines, or champagne, or rice vinegar can sub) (optional)
2 spring fresh mint
1 small cucumber, grated or liquefied
24 freshly shucked raw oysters on the half shell
Pinch of salt
Instructions:
Place water in a small pan with granulated sugar, ginger and lemon peel /juice. Heat gently to medium-high and lower the temperature. Mix until the sugar is dissolved. Boil for 3 minutes, remove from heat, add a splash of wine mint leaves, mix and set aside to cool down. Strain the liquid through a sieve. Grate cucumber with skin on the zester or liquefy it in the blender with a bit of syrup. Sieve if desired and pour into the rest of the syrup.
Freeze for one hour or until mixture is frozen around the edges in a shallow container or plate.
Draw the ice from the edges towards the center with a fork. Return to freezer. Repeat this process about 3-4 times, every 15-20 minutes, or until all mixture is formed of ice crystals. Serve immediately as condiment or entremet, or keep in the air tight container in the freezer until ready to use for up to one week.  When ready to serve, spoon the granita into wine goblets, shot or martini glasses.

A-Maize-N Corn Sandwiches (Arepas) with Guasacaca Sauce

First there was a cracker. Then nachos came from South of the Texan border some 50 years ago and the North American snack was re-defined forever. One of the perks of living in multicultural society is that today you can discover endless variety of comforting ethnic foods almost on a daily basis in any given big city. Take arepa, for example, the crispy corn flat bread originating from Venezuela and Colombia. Delicious and highly versatile in stuffing it makes a great gluten-free bread/sandwich alternative, a vegetarian trouvaille (catch) and nice and fresh step away from the usual boring food. You can make arepas in minutes during busy weeknights and kids just adore them. They are perfect to combine with any sandwich ingredients and most of the warm recipes of the fall and can be served as an appetizer, side, school lunch, main dish or a snack. Arepas also make wonderful party or potluck food on a budget with some pulled meats you can prepare ahead separately. Few years ago though I didn’t even know this food existed.

One sunny end-of-summer day, in a happy turn of events, we hopped sideways of the bustling St-Denis street of Montreal and discovered a tiny hole-in-the-wall Venezuelan eatery Arepera The place offered plethora of tasty corn flour cakes with all kinds of fillings at more than affordable prices. Ten minutes of waiting time (this place is actually quite popular in the neighbourhood) and we stepped into the little arepas heaven filled with the smell of the freshly pan-fried corn cakes and garlicky guasacaca (famous avocado & herb sauce to go with arepas). The Spanish-speaking buzz and background percussion of maracas instantly teleported us to some hot place in Venezuela. The hearty ambiance along with friendly and fast service made us fully enjoy the charred and crispy on top, fluffy and soft inside corn cakes stuffed with authentic vegetarian (black beans, avocado and fresh queso) and pulled chicken (pollo guisado) arepas with some fried plantain slices (tajadas), extra queso on a side.  We made a mental note to come back and try more things (not-surprisingly, this Arepera is consistently well-rated on the Tripadvisor). 

As you know already, I have a proclivity to test my kitchen skills every time I try some new exciting dish, so, naturally, upon few more visits to Arepera I was ready to make them a home. I googled the recipe of arepas and found the Areparinaspecial pre-cooked corn flour (P.A.N. corn flour in the US) used to make arepas in the nearest Walmart ($2.69 per 2 lbs). Fresh queso blanco cheese was harder to find, so I used the squeaky curd cheese in place of traditional queso (cottage and ricotta cheeses would be other close alternatives) and later even regular cheddar or mozzarella. Easy, fast and as delicious as any best street food can be. And they came out perfect from the first time! Even the ones I took a minimal effort to put a piece of cheese inside turned into super-savory patties with irresistible pan-fried crisp crust (the reason these little babies will always be a hit with diners).

Keep cooked arepas warm in a 300F oven as you prepare the next batch. Double or triple the amount of ingredients accordingly if you need to feed more people.  Serve with traditional avocado sauce or guacamole or just the dollop of sour cream.  For a more spicy adornment, feel free to use the lentil avocado spread, or salsa verde, or buttermilk sauce, or lime avocado mayo which I posted previously – all of them go very well with the neutral arepas taste.

Simply put, you can stuff arepas with almost any kind of sandwich layers or leftovers, from omelet to pulled meats, to bacon, to ham, to cheese, to shrimp, to fish and of course all their vegetarian equivalents.  Here is a nice and quirky graphic poster by Sorelis Liendo I found on Pinterest on the most popular kinds of arepas in Venezula with their names and ingredients in Spanish (funny, the one without stuffing is called a widow).  

Top Left: Infografía de “La Arepa” (vía @Sorelys Liendo)
Over time my experiments with arepas stuffing have stretched to umami fusion twists like the ones with roasted (pulled) duck, lobster or anchovies.

The party favorites are of course pulled meat arepas. Try the ones with the pulled pork recipeor the veal/beef pulled blade roast turned into Cuban Ropa Vieja, all of which I posted last year, and the famous Guasacaca avocado sauce (below).

Oh my, I think I’ve exaggerated my writing quota today (to compensate for my temporary absence). Are you still there or have I long lost you to the Facebook gossips? Anyways, if you are a nachos lover and like to have something different from time to time, I’m sure you will be positively surprised to discover how they can soothe you with the simple joy of street comfort food. 

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VENEZUELAN CORN SANDWICHES (AREPAS) with GUASACACA SAUCE
Yields: 12 to 18 arepas (3 to 4 inch sizes)
Ingredients:
For Arepas:
2 cups pre-cooked cornmeal mazarepa (such as Areparina, or P.A.N. varieties)
2 ½ cups very hot (but not boiling) water
3 tbsp vegetable oil, plus extra for brushing and cooking
¾ tsp sea salt
For Guasacaca Sauce
2 small or 1 big avocado, peeled and seeded
1 small onion or shallot, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic, shelled
2 serrano or jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup red or white wine vinegar
1 lime, juiced
½ bunch fresh parsley leaves
½ bunch fresh cilantro leaves
1 cup olive oil
1 tbsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
Instructions:
Mix the pre-cooked corn meal with salt, add water and oil and stir for a minute until the mixture comes together. Cover with plastic or wet towel and set aside for 10-20 minutes. Note: you can make this mix up to two days ahead of cooking and keep it in the fridge till ready to cook.
Scoop around 1/3 cup of the mix and use your hands to form a ball and then flatten it into the round disc. If using cheese, insert a square (1×1 inch) slice of cheese inside the disc closing well on the sides. Pre-heat the cast iron (or equivalent non-stick frying pan) skillet to medium high. Brush each corn disc with oil on both sides and once skillet cook the arepas for 7 to 10 minutes on each side until they are golden brown. Keep cooked arepas warm in 300F oven while you make another batch.
For the guasacaca sauce, place the avocado, onion, garlic, pepper, vinegar and lime juice in the blender and pulse few times until the mixture is smooth. Add cilantro, parsley, oil, salt and pepper and give it a few other pulses. Scoop the sauce into a non-reactive bowl and check the seasoning. Cover and keep in the fridge till ready to use.
Open the warm arepas with a paring knife on the side to make sliders and fill them with the stuffing of your choice (pulled meats, eggs, beans, cheese, grilled veggies, etc.). Top with generous drizzle of guasacaca sauce and a sprinkle of crumbled cotija cheese (or Parmesan or Greek feta).

Brewing Your Own Specialty Vinegars


There are million ways to capture the essence of season. Home making herb flower or berry vinegar at the end of summer is my favorite. Not only it’s dumb-easy and fast to make, it can be a child’s play. You can enjoy the results as soon as within 3 days. Use it in variety of stews, dressings, sauces and gravies in upcoming fall and winter and they will always remind of the beautiful and warm summer afternoon you were making them. Give it as a surprise hostess gift to your guests, decorated with tag and nice ribbon and they will always remember you.  Add it to your home spa and it will relax and sooth you beyond imaginable.  Rinse your hair with nettle infused vinegar/water solution and it will shine better than after any L’Oreal professional product. And the list of benefits goes on. Sounds convincing? Great!
First though, a brief digression for fun and to challenge some fellow Montrealers.
This Sunday, August 24th foodie enthusiasts will have a chance to attend the International Gourmet Fair at Cosmodôme in Laval, where they can sample all kind of gourmet foods from local producers  or from around the globe, from Australia to Brazil, Europe to Africa, Mexico to Alaska.  Note: you can save a few bucks on specialty vinegars after this post, because from now on you’ll be able to make them yourself – ta-dah!
Another event (which is quite unusual) designed for singles with dogs is ambiguously called ’Finally, Speed Dating with Your Dog! . For only $5.00 participation fee it can lend you with a perfect match provided you have a dog and are ready to speed-date. That’s if your dog is a well-trained ice-breaker who makes strangers say: ‘God, he’s so cute!’ and wears no muzzle. In this case, I assume you can easily approach a similarly-looking dog’s owner who appeals to you saying: ‘Hey, do I know your dog?’ If the person responds: ‘Yes, it’s the same breed’ it’s a sign he-she is interested. You can now proceed to the ice-breaking topic on how to remove the fleas or make the coat shiny with home-made nettle vinegar and fatty acids  and see where it goes with his/her/dog’s reaction and body language… But if you don’t find your ‘Gerard Butler’ at this event, don’t despair, keep in mind that sometimes ‘a coatrack with a leather jacket on it’ (Tina Fey’s excerpt quote) can be a safer speed-dating option.
All right, enough with entertainment, let’s take a closer look at the infused vinegars. The infused vinegars take the taste and blush of the herbs/flowers/berries along with the part of their nutritional value.  

They can be made with practically any edible herb, flower or berry. Use the herbs you grow in your garden, balcony or you just bough at the farmers market, they are all good as long as you know they are fresh and organic.

Simple how-to: fill the glass container half-way with herbs/flowers/berries (wash them only if see necessary, otherwise use them as is). Pour the vinegar of your choice (from regular white to wine to rice to apple cider to champagne vinegar) to the top. Cover and store in a cool dark place for three days. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, discard the herbs/blossoms and pour vinegar back into the bottle. Cover tightly with non-reactive plastic or cork. Store the infused vinegar in a cool dark place for up to two months.
Tips for the stronger and better quality infusion: warm the vinegar up to the hot, but not boiling point before pouring over the packed herbs/blossoms. Let cool, cover tightly with the cork or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 weeks, shaking from time to time to blend the flavors. Equally, you can skip warming up the vinegar and store it for brewing in the sun on the window seal, however, expect the color of the vinegar to fade a little in this case. Final tip from the folk magic: collect your herbs, berries and flowers either in the morning or later in the afternoon to attain the best flavor results.
Below I am giving three recipes for herbal, flour and berry infused vinegars, respectively.
I selected the stinging nettle for herbs because of its versatility. Not only it makes a great, nutty tasting, refreshing component of the salad, stew or soup dressing, it is an amazing skin and hair product for the anti-bites of the insects, soothing baths or the hair rinse (50/50 mix with water). For centuries stinging nettle has been known to add life and vibrancy to weak, distressed and dull hair and help the skull dryness issues as well as the hair loss. Use organic or homemade apple cider vinegar for an extra goodness. And don,t forget the doggie’s coat if you really love your pet!
The rose petals vinegar of an amazing fragrance and lovely magenta color has properties similar to nettle vinegar, except of course you would not add it to the soup (well, a cold almond gazpacho maybe?)  It adds a wonderful floral touch to baking goods, pancakes (try blueberry pancakes with it), fruit salads. It has a cooling and anti-inflammatory effect on insect bites (anti-itch), sunburns, small cuts and even rosacea (mix of 3 parts witch hazel water and 1 part rose petal vinegar). It can be successfully used as a rub to bring down the fever. As for the home-made spa soaks and baths I would only compare it with the luscious lavender vinegar.
Finally, the mix of herbs and berries in vinegars is also an outstanding way to bring the best out of both. My current favorites are: currants & mint (recipe below); juniper berries and sage; blackberries, lemon balm mint and lemon peel.
Good luck brewing your own herbal vinegars!
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One Year Ago: Grilled Sardines 
 
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STINGING NETTLE INFUSED VINEGAR
Ingredients:
2 cups fresh stinging nettle leaves
2 cups white or apple cider vinegar
Glass jar with wide mouth
Instructions:
Pack the glass jar with the stinging nettle leaves wearing the gloves. Warm up the vinegar in the non-reactive container in the microwave for 30-40 seconds, or on the stove up to the hot, but not boiling point. Pour over the packed leaves. Mix well gently.  Let cool, cover tightly with the cork or plastic wrap and refrigerate or keep in the cool dark place for 2-3 weeks, shaking from time to time to blend the flavors. Use in salads, baths, or as a hair rinse (mixed 50/50 with water).
ROSE PETALS INFUSED VINEGAR
Ingredients:
2 cups fresh organic rustic rose petals
2 cups white or apple cider vinegar
Glass jar with wide mouth
Instructions:
Pack the glass jar with the rose petals. Warm up the vinegar in the non-reactive container in the microwave for 30-40 seconds, or on the stove up to the hot, but not boiling point. Pour over the packed leaves. Mix well gently.  Let cool, cover tightly with the cork or plastic wrap and refrigerate or keep in the cool dark place for 2-3 weeks, shaking from time to time to blend the flavors.
BERRY MINT VINEGAR
Ingredients:
1/4 cup fresh and clean mint leaves
2 cups white wine or rice vinegar
1 ½ cups raspberries, blueberries, currants or blackberries
Glass jar with wide mouth
Instructions:
Chop or slightly rub the mint leaves between your palms. Pack half of the leaves into the jar, add berries, then the rest of mint. Place vinegar in the ceramic or glass container and warm it up in the microwave for 30 seconds. Pour hot vinegar over the berries and mint, gently stir to combine. Set aside to cool. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-4 weeks. The longer the vinegar stands, the stronger the flavors will be. Gently stir the vinegar every few days to blend the flavors.
The last recipe was adapted from: William Sonoma