Sunday, March 23, 2008

Pastelon de Platanos Maduros

I made this last night and thought I'd share. :)

I will first say that it took a long time to convice my husband this dish would be something he would like. See, he has this rule that "I don't mix fruit with my meat." You know, like pork with apples and raisins? (although I can't say I blame him there.)

Pastelon is a Puerto Rican dish first recommended to me by one of my students, who is originally from Puerto Rico. Picture a lasanga, but instead of noodles for the separating layers, you use plantains.

It's SO good! Even my husband, with his rule against fruit and meat, loved it. And so did my three year old...but I think she likes saying it more than anything, hehe.

There are many variations, but this is how I prepare it. Plus, a lot of the common additions to Pastelon - like capers, olives or raisins - sweet husband would never touch.


Lean Ground Beef - about two pounds
White Onion - half a large onion, diced
Sofrito - can make your own or use Goya Sofrito
Plain Tomato Sauce- 1/4 c.
Goya Sazon - with cilantro and annato
Garlic - two cloves, minced
Olive or Veg. Oil
Eggs - two
Plantains - four-six ripe ones (you should see lots of
Cheese - optional (I've used cheddar and oaxaca)

1. Heat dash of oil, sofrito, Sazon, onion and garlic on medium heat until well sauteed.

2. Add ground beef and tomato sauce and stir until well cooked, but not dry. Drain any grease. Make sure ground beef is well ground, if that makes sense. No big pieces. I add the optional cheese to cooked beef (I use about 4-6 oz. cheddar or oaxaca.) We like the flavor, but it also helps to bind the meat together.

3. Peel and slice plantains lengthwise. If the plantains are large, you'll probably get about three-four lengths per plantain. Saute plantain slices in medium-hot oil for a few mintues, flipping halfway through cooking. Set slices on metal rack to cool, and allow the oil to drip off. Pat dry.

4. Layer plantains along bottom of greased 9x9 pan. Pour two eggs, beaten, over bottom layer. Top with ground beef layer. Repeat plantain and beef layers, making sure the plantain layer is the top.

5. Optional cheese layer on top.

6. Cook in 350 oven for about 35 minutes, making sure eggs are cooked and not watery.

So normally I would have lots of pictures for you of the cooking, assembly, etc. But the batteries on my external flash died.

You only get one picture...and I'm almost too ashamed to post it. But I can't blog about food and not post at least one picture, right?

Sunday, February 24, 2008


When I did my study abroad as an undergrad, I lived right next to the Ibarra plant in Guadalajra, Mexico. They are famous for their hot chocolate, but they also make a sweet chocolate bar that you melt into warmed milk for homemade hot chocolate. SOOO good!!

If you walked out the door at just the right time, all you smelled in the air was yummy Ibarra chocolate! My roomate, a self-confessed chocoholic, always said she must have died and gone to heaven, haha.

Today we went to our local international grocery store, and they had Ibarra chocolate! It doesn't get too cold her in our coastal Virginia town, I don't think we ever get nights that feel like a "hot chocolate night"....but tonight we'll be pretending.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Photoshop Friday: Vintage Film Effect Action

Okay, so it's Saturday.....shhh.

I typically don't use too many actions. To me, it takes away some of the fun of Photoshop....but I do love a good action. Especially when an artist is generous enough to share an action for free! ;)

Is it cheating or just plain lazy to share an action for Photoshop Friday? No, you don't mind? Because it's free you say?

There are so many different techniques to achieving that "vintage" look, depending on what "look" you are after. Some techniques simply use a sepia conversion and burn the edges or do a vingette. Others are more involved, with textures, etc.

I found this vintage action on Flickr (LOVE flickr) so I thought I'd share the link you for my Photoshop Friday. :)

Vintage Film Effect Action

Here are a couple of my examples.



Vintage Film Action. I reduced the action layer down to about 70% because I liked a more subtle look. But if you give the action a try, you'll see you can get much more drastic results.'s my bro. ;) I wonder if I should tell him I used his picture, haha.

Vintage Film Action. I reduced the action layer down to about 70%.

And a b&w conversion....just because I like it, hehe.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Photoshop Friday: Harsh Urban Lighting

I've been waiting all week to do this post! I'm definately having fun with Photoshop Fridays. I'll have to fight the urge not to start Photoshop Everyday. hehe...

I have a cool effect that is VERY easy to achieve. I had decided I will get all high tech and start doing screen shots with my Photoshop Friday tutorials, but this one is so basic it doesn't even really need it.

I don't really have a good name for the effect, but it gives sort of a desaturated, urban feel to photos. It definately looks better on some photos than others, but have fun playing!

1. Open image you wish to apply effect.
2. Duplicate layer.
3. On duplicate layer go to Layer --> New Adjustment Layer --> Hue/Saturation
3. On the Hue/Saturation window, move the saturation slider all the way to the left to completely desaturate the image. Select OK.
4. In the Background Copy layer (they layer where you adjusted the saturation,) set blending mode to Overlay.
5. Adjust the opacity of the Background Copy layer to achieve desired results.
6. Flatten image.

Some examples. And you can click on any of the images to see larger sizes. :)

Before (are you sick of this picture yet? ;)






Monday, January 21, 2008

Making Gyoza

I simply love Japanese food. Love it. The hardest thing to give up during my pregancy wasn't the alcohol, and it wasn't the caffeine. It was the freaking raw fish of all things! I think I could survive on tuna rolls alone. Except there's one problem. Dear sweet husband despises sushi. He hates every part of it from the cucumber to the nori. Why do they have to put vinegar in everything, he asks. So he doesn't like it translates into I don't get to eat it very often.

I've known dear sweet husband for almost eight years now. And our entire time together I've been wearing him's one of my missions in life to get him to enjoy Japanese food. It been a slow process, but I have a few victories under my belt.

Victory Number One: Sashimi. Who would have guessed that he would enjoy plain raw fish? Huh.

Victory Number Two: Gyoza.

What is gyoza? These beautiful, dainty little japanese dumplings are now one of our family's favorite foods. Even our three year old absolutely loves them! We probably make them or order them a few times a month. Sometimes we buy the frozen potstickers at Costco made by Ling-Ling Sometimes we order take-out. But if we're feeling up for some time-consuming, frustrating, make you want to throw food at your spouse in your too-small-for-two-and-a-half-cooks-kitchen, we make them from scratch. Really though, it is a lot of fun to make. Promise.

Here are some instructions with some pictures in case you want to have some of the big fun describe above. *smile*

Equipment you will need:
large saucepan, with a lid (or bamboo steamer and wok)
Steamer basket thingie (kind that opens up and you place in the bottom of the pan)
Non-stick frying pan
Dumpling Press (optional)
Aluminum Foil (or greaseproof paper if you're using the bamboo steamer)
Bowl of water for sealing dumplings


Filling Options:
Ground Pork
Veggie - any combination of asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms, cabbage, water chestnuts, etc. Be creative.

Soy Sauce
Rice Vinegar
Sesame Oil
Fresh Ginger
Dumpling Wrappers
Vegetable Oil

*the key below is preparation and organization!*

(1) Prepare the fillings.
I used only one filling, but you could make a variety, some meatless, etc. I used ground pork, cabbage, mushrooms and scallions. I diced up the veggies and sauteed them. Then I let the mixture cool. Once cool I combined the mixture with a pound and a half of ground pork, soy sauce and rice vinegar (about 2 tbs each), a couple dashes of sesame oil, 1 tbs minced fresh ginger, and 1/4 cups finely diced water shestnuts.

(2) Prepare the dipping sauce(s).
I use a combination of soy sauce, freshly grated ginger, dash of sesame oil or hot chili oil, and rice vinegar. Other asian dipping sauces are an option as well.

(3) Prepare wrappers.
I buy the wrappers in the store (usually in the veggie/salad section with the tofu. Sometimes I can find dumpling wrappers (usually round) but often I have to buy wonton wrappers (square or slightly regtangular). Another option is to make from scratch, but that's too much work for me. The wrappers dry out very quickly, so only pull the wrappers out of their package as you go. I usually pull out about ten at a time.

(4) Fill wrappers.
Spoon out about a tbs. of filling and place in the center of the wrapper. Dip finger in water and wipe water around edges of wrapper to seal. Fold in half and pinch edges together. Now there is a fine art of gyoza presentation, with fancy pleated folds. I'm lazy so I skip that step. I use the handy dumpling press seen above. It's not as pretty as doing it by hand, but it works for me. If you're using the press, place folded dumpling in center of press, and See? Easy. As each dumpling is finished, dot a little vegetable oil on the bottom and lay on a non-stick surface. I use a sheet of aluminum foil.

(5) Steam the dumplings.
I don't have a bamboo steamer(on my fancy kitchen gadget want list) so I used a regular deep-sided pan and a steamer basket. I line the basket with lightly oiled aluminum foil poked with holes. Works fine.

Place the dumplings in the steamer pan and cover with lid, being careful not to let them touch. They will stick together like glue, and you will get a mangled mess of meat and dough, resembling nothing close to a dumpling. Depending on the filling, steam for about 12 mintues. Pork takes the longest, and I usually steam them for about 15 minutes. Once they are done steaming I transfer them back to the foil to await their turn in the frying pan to crisp.

(6) Pan-fry
This step is optional. We don't mind steamed dumplings, but we much prefer the crispy goodness a hot frying pan and a little oil brings. Again, be careful not to let them touch. This step just takes a couple minutes on each side.

(7) Combine dumplings with sake and chopsticks and enjoy!

*I won't even tell you how long it took to finish this post, so I hope I've at least inspired one of you to try making gyoza!!*

Friday, January 18, 2008

Photoshop Friday: Lens Blur

In an effort to become more involved in my blog, I've decided to start something new: Photoshop Friday! What could be more fun that seeing some of my favorite Photoshop tricks? hehe.

Today I will show you one of my new favorite techniques - the lens blur filter. Of course, one way to achieve that awesome depth of field is through the camera. But if you have no clue what aperture is, or don't have time to fool with those pesky manual settings while tearing around after your crazy three year old with your camera, Photoshop has just what you need: Lens Blur Filter!

Lens Blur Filter Instructions:

1. Open the image you want to adjust.

2. In the Channels Palette add an alpha layer.

3. With the alpha channel selected, use the eraser with the foreground set to black to erase the areas of the picture you wish to blur. Hint: anything the same distance from the camera as your subject you may not wish to blur, if you want to achieve a more realistic effect.

4. With the RBG channel selected, go to Filter--> Blur--> Lens Blur, select your alpha channel in the Source pop-up menu, and then adjust the blur focal distance slider until you see get the effect you want in the preview window. Apply.

5. Delete alpha channel and viola!

Here are some samples.



Before: (this one is straight from the camera)

After: (lens blur as well as some contrast and saturation adjustments)

Monday, January 7, 2008

Bluegrass, a Date and a Supreme

We went out on a REAL date last weekend and had a blast! We took a three hour drive up to Alexandria, VA to see a show at the Birchmere.

First, what an truly awesome place to see a show. I'm usually partial to outdoor venues - we have some particularly great ones around our Tidewater area of Virginia - but the Birchmere is now one of my favorites. It only seats five hundred, giving it a very intimate atmosphere. Plus, everyone is seated at restaurant style tables, and they have a full dinner and bar menu. We ordered a pitcher of Amber Ale from our hometown brewery, Starr Hill. I can't remember the last time I ordered a pitcher of beer.

So who did we see? Ricky Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder. Awesome. Just Awesome. You know when you see live music that's so good it brings tears to your eyes? Well this was it.

I saw Ricky Skaggs perform about five years ago, but my better half was deployed at the time and was insanely jealous he missed it. So this past weekend's show was particularly special.

It was the first time I'd seen Skaggs' fiddle player, Andy Leftwich, and WOW was he incredible. They played a version of "Minor Swing" from Leftwich's album...awesome! I added it to my iPod as soon as we got home from the show, hehe. You can hear a clip here.

So I've talked about our date and I've talked about the that leaves "The Supreme." Curious? Any guesses? Well about halfway through the show, Ricky Skaggs announced that there was a special guest there that night....Justice Scalia and his wife! Sitting only twenty feet from us enjoying the show. Now Justice Scalia and I have little in common when it comes to Constitutional interpretation, but apparently we do have similar taste in great music. Ha, who knew?