Cuban Picadillo

Cuban Picadillo | Pinky's Pantry
Growing up, my Mom always made us Picadillo, but it was a soup. It had ground beef and potatoes swimming in a tasty broth and it was absolutely delicious. So the first time I went to a Cuban restaurant and saw Picadillo on the menu, I was very surprised to learn that their version was not a soup at all! It was completely different, but equally delicious. Served with white rice, black beans, tostones (fried plaintains) and mojo (garlic sauce), it was different and to die for. I asked a couple of my Cuban friends at work what spices go into Picadillo and was surprised to learn that both of them put cumin and cinnamon in it! Well, cumin wasn’t surprising, but I only ever use cinnamon in sweet stuff like pies and desserts. So… here’s my attempt to recreate the Picadillo I had at the Cuban restaurant. I think it turned out pretty darn good!

CUBAN PICADILLO

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 lbs. lean ground beef
  • 1 tsp. salt (add more or less, to your taste)
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 large green bell pepper, seeded and cut in cubes
  • 1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
  • 1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 3 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup pimento stuffed olives, sliced
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  1. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy pan set over medium high heat.
  2. Saute onions and garlic for about 2 minutes, then add ground beef.
  3. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until beef is browned through.
  4. Stir in green bell pepper, diced tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, vinegar, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, and bay leaf.
  5. Lower heat and let simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Stir in olives and raisins and let simmer for another 8-10 minutes more.
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Corned Beef Tater Tot Casserole

Corned Beef Tater Tot Casserole | Pinky's Pantry
This is another dish that’s going on my Christmas Breakfast table this year. It’s a play on one I saw from the Food Network Kitchens a couple of years ago. It’s different because it’s made with tater tots instead of the usual hash browns. I use canned corned beef which is more readily available year round from my local grocery store. If you prefer to use fresh corned beef, by all means go for it! Just chop 1½ pounds fresh corned beef into ½-inch cubes and use it in place of the canned corned beef in this recipe.
Corned Beef Tater Tot Casserole | Pinky's Pantry

CORNED BEEF TATER TOT CASSEROLE

  • 1 bag (32 ozs.) frozen tater tots
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • ½ red bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cans (12 ozs. each) corned beef
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. pepper
  • 2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with olive oil or cooking spray.
  2. Set aside about 2 cups of the tater tots to use for topping.
  3. Arrange remaining tater tots in single layer on bottom of prepared baking dish.
  4. Drizzle a little olive oil over the tater tots or spray lightly with cooking spray.
  5. Bake about 25 minutes or until tater tots are golden brown. Set aside to cool.
  6. In large skillet set over medium-high heat, sauté onions, red and green peppers.
  7. Add corned beef and cook, breaking up corned beef with the back of a spoon and stirring together well. Allow to cool.
  8. Whisk eggs together in a bowl, then whisk in milk, mustard, salt and pepper.
  9. Spread corned beef mixture over cheese.
  10. Pour egg mixture over everything. If making ahead, cover the casserole at this point and refrigerate overnight.
  11. To cook, remove casserole from refrigerator at least 30 minutes before baking.
  12. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  13. Scatter reserved 2 cups tater tots over casserole.
  14. Top with shredded cheese.
  15. Bake until egg mixture is set and top is golden brown, 55 – 60 minutes.

Breakfast Corn Casserole

Breakfast Corn Casserole | Pinky's Pantry
This is a great casserole to serve for breakfast on a weekend morning. I’m making it for Christmas breakfast this year actually. It’s easy to do and better still, you can make it a day in advance. I like to serve this casserole with a bowl of salsa on the side. Yum!

BREAKFAST CORN CASSEROLE

  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 4 ozs. chopped fresh kale
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves (can substitute dried)
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. pepper
  • 2 cans whole kernel corn, drained
  • 2 cans cream-style corn
  • 1 lb. ham, diced
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 box cornbread mix (like Krusteaz or Marie Callenders)
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×13 pyrex glass baking dish.
  2. Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat.
  3. Add onions, kale, thyme, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until kale is soft and onions are translucent.
  4. Add corn, ham, and sour cream, and cook until hot and bubbly.
  5. Pour corn mixture into prepared baking dish; set aside. If making ahead, cover and refrigerate overnight at this point.
  6. Next day, remove casserole from refrigerator at least half an hour before baking.
  7. Prepare the cornbread batter according to directions on the back of the package.
  8. Stir 1 cup cheese into cornbread batter.
  9. Pour cornbread batter over corn mixture in baking dish.
  10. Top with remaining 1 cup cheese.
  11. Bake for 35 minutes or until corn is bubbling and corn bread topping is done.

Sausage Apple Stuffing

Sausage Apple Stuffing | Pinky's Pantry
Every year, when Thanksgiving would roll around, I would try a new stuffing recipe to serve with our turkey. I tried making chestnut stuffing, cornbread stuffing, caramelized onion stuffing, ciabatta stuffing, cranberry nut stuffing, sundried tomato stuffing, you name it. The kids never liked any of them! Then came the year when I finally gave up and said, “I’m not making stuffing this year.” Strangely enough, everyone went up in arms when they heard that. So at the last minute, I sent Old Goat to the grocery to buy some Stove Top “instant” stuffing. Well wouldn’t you know it, for the first time in years, there wasn’t a lick of leftover stuffing in the bowl!

Well I’m nothing if not a quick learner. Stove Top was the key! Since then, I’ve made Stove Top stuffing every year. I just doctor it up with a few ingredients to make it fancier and no one ever guesses that the stuffing wasn’t made from scratch. The empty bowl each Thanksgiving is a testament to how yummy this stuffing is. And my big smile is the testament to how easy it was to actually make.

The amount of stuffing you make depends on how many people you’re having over for dinner. I usually make 6 boxes for our family shindig, but we have a large family. I’ll post the ingredients for one box of stuffing and you can just multiply it as you need to.

EASY SAUSAGE APPLE STUFFING

  • 1 box (6 oz.) Stove Top stuffing
  • ½ lb. bulk sausage
  • ¼ medium onion, diced
  • ½ stalk celery, sliced
  • ½ – 1 apple, peeled and cut in cubes
  1. Prepare stuffing according to package directions in a large pot.
  2. In a skillet, brown sausage with onion and celery.
  3. Stir in the apple and continue to cook until apple is beginning to soften but isn’t mushy. You can use a half to a whole apple, depending on how much you want.
  4. Drain and discard any grease rendered by the sausage.
  5. Pour sausage mixture into the pot with the prepared stuffing.
  6. Stir to combine well.

Mango Lassi

Mango Lassi | Pinky's Pantry
Mango Lassi is a popular drink in India where the climate is frequently sweltering. The yogurt-based drink makes a great treat on a hot day and is perfect for cooling down those spicy Indian curries. My understanding is that traditional lassi is actually a savory drink, made by blending plain yogurt with water, salt, and spices like cumin or mint. I’ve only ever had sweet lassi which is made by blending yogurt with sugar, fruit, and sometimes rosewater. My favorite is mango lassi, though you could use other fruit if you like.

Mango Lassi is so refreshing and addictive. It’s also very easy to make. The hardest part is getting your hands on some good mangoes like the ones from the Philippines. They’re thin-skinned and juicy and very sweet, unlike the fibrous ones that come from South America. Alphonso mangoes are a good choice and can be found more easily in the U.S., especially in Asian food stores.

MANGO LASSI

  • 2 cups mango puree (3 to 5 mangoes, depending on how big they are)
  • 6 ice cubes
  • 2 cups plain yogurt (not Greek yogurt – it’s too thick)
  • ¼ cup sugar (omit if mangoes are very sweet)
  • pinch of cardamom powder
  • mint leaves and extra mango cut into cubes, for garnish (optional)
  1. Peel mango and cut into pieces.
  2. Put mango in blender and puree until smooth.
  3. Add ice cubes, yogurt, sugar, and pinch of cardamom, and blend all together well.
  4. If it seems too thick to drink, add a little water to thin it out to the consistency you want.
  5. Garnish with a mint leaf and 2 or 3 little cubes of mango, if desired.

Cherry Cobbler

Cherry Cobbler | Pinky's Pantry
It’s cherry season and the cherries are out in full force. I see them everywhere – at the farmer’s market, in the grocery stores, on street vendor’s tables – and they’re absolutely delicious! So dark and sweet and juicy.

I picked up a sackful from the store yesterday and decided to make them into a fresh cherry cobbler. I love fruit cobblers, don’t you? Especially when they’re just out of the oven and served warm with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on the side. Yum! As an added bonus, they make the house smell so good while they’re baking, too!

If you have a cherry pitter, use it. It sure makes the work of pitting each cherry a lot easier. I used to be the Room Mom for my kids’ kindergarten classes and one year, as a thank you gift, the children gave me a pretty white basket filled with fresh cherries. Tied to the basket’s handle with a red-and-white checkered ribbon was a silver cherry pitter. I still have that same cherry pitter to this day. It’s proven to be a mighty useful contraption over the years.
Cherry Cobbler | Pinky's Pantry

FRESH CHERRY COBBLER

  • 4 cups fresh cherries
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 can evaporated milk (or 2 cups fresh milk)
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • ¼ cup demerara sugar (or plain white sugar), optional
  1. Wash, stem, and remove the pits from the cherries. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter a 9×13 pyrex glass baking dish.
  3. Using a wire whisk, whisk the sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl.
  4. Empty the can of evaporated milk into a measuring cup and add enough water or fresh milk to make it amount to 2 cups.
  5. Add the milk and melted butter into the flour mixture and whisk together well. Batter will be thin.
  6. Pour batter into prepared baking pan.
  7. Scatter the cherries over the top of the batter, distributing them evenly so you get a cherry in every bite.
  8. Sprinkle the top with the ¼ cup demerara sugar, if using.
  9. Bake for about 50 minutes or until top turns light brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  10. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

NOTE:  You can make this cobbler with blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, peaches or any other fruit you like.

This recipe can easily be halved and baked in a 9-inch square pan for a smaller cobbler.

Spinach Feta Quiche

Spinach Feta Quiche | Pinky's Pantry
I’ve had this recipe for years but hadn’t made it in a long time. One day, my daughter, Tissi, decided she wanted to make herself some quiche. She’s a veggie eater and she loves quiche so I dug up my recipe for her. The problem was when I wrote it out for her, I said it only needed one pie crust. Needless to say, she ended up with a ton of extra filling. It wasn’t until a couple of attempts later that I realized my recipe was actually for TWO pies! Poor Tis. She couldn’t figure out why the recipe wasn’t working for her. LOL! If you want to make just one pie, cut the recipe in half. Otherwise, make sure you have two pie crusts ready.

SPINACH FETA QUICHE

  • 2 ready-made frozen pie crust shells (or make your own)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups half-and-half or whipping cream or milk
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper, or to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 pkg. (10 ozs.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 6 ozs. (1 cup) crumbled feta cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Line pie crusts with foil, fill with rice, beans, or pie weights, and bake for 10 mins.
  3. Remove foil and pie weights, return crusts to oven, and bake an additional 4-5 minutes or until crusts are set and dry.
  4. Remove crusts from oven and set aside until ready to use.
  5. Lower oven temperature to 350°F.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, half-and-half, salt, and pepper, using a wire whisk.
  7. Sprinkle in flour, whisking vigorously back and forth to break up any lumps. If you have a few tiny lumps left, don’t worry about it. They’ll disappear into the quiche.
  8. Stir in spinach and feta cheese.
  9. Divide mixture evenly between the two crusts.
  10. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. If necessary, cover edge of crusts with foil to prevent over-browning.
  11. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.

Three-Cheese Garlic Bread

Three Cheese Garlic Bread | Pinky's Pantry
When you’re looking for a nice accompaniment to a bowl of hot soup or a refreshing salad, you need look no further than this cheesy garlic bread. I even just eat it by itself for a light meal. It’s so yummy and addictive. It’s hard to stop at one slice.

If you want, you could also slice your loaf in half horizontally, then spread the filling on each bread half and bake them till the topping is hot and bubbly. When done, cut the bread into one-inch slices and serve warm. M-m-m!

THREE-CHEESE GARLIC BREAD

  • 2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 3 stalks green onions, chopped
  • 1 loaf French or Italian bread (not sourdough)
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl, combine the cheeses, mayonnaise, butter, garlic, and green onions.
  3. Slice bread into ½-inch thick slices.
  4. Spread cheese mixture on each slice of bread and arrange on baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cheese is hot and bubbly.
  6. Serve warm.

Fluffy Tapioca Pudding

Fluffy Tapioca | Pinky's Pantry
My mom used to make tapioca pudding for us all the time when we were growing up in the Philippines but since fresh cow’s milk was not very easily obtainable, she made it with evaporated milk or evaporada as we called it. I have to say, we love tapioca pudding made with evaporated milk more than fresh milk. The evaporated milk gives it a creaminess and a rich flavor that you just don’t get from plain, bland cow’s milk. Give this recipe a try and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

FLUFFY TAPIOCA PUDDING

  • 1 egg, separated
  • 6 tbsp. sugar, divided
  • 3 tbsp. MINUTE tapioca
  • 2 cups evaporated milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  1. Beat egg white in small bowl with electric mixer on high speed until foamy.
  2. Gradually add 3 tbsp. sugar, beating until soft peaks form.
  3. Mix tapioca, remaining sugar, milk and egg yolk in medium saucepan. Let stand 5 minutes.
  4. Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to full boil. Remove from heat.
  5. Quickly fold egg white mixture into hot tapioca in saucepan until well blended.
  6. Stir in vanilla.
  7. Cool 20 minutes; stir.
  8. Serve warm or chilled.
  9. For creamier pudding, place plastic wrap on surface of pudding while cooling.
  10. Stir before serving.

NOTE:  Store leftover pudding in refrigerator.

TO PREPARE DIFFERENT SERVING SIZES:

To Double:  Use 1/3 cup tapioca and double all other ingredients.
Makes 6½ cups or 8-10 servings.

To Halve:  Use 1 egg and 1/2 of the other ingredients.
Makes 1¾ cups or 2-3 servings.

Oven Roasted Crispy Pork Belly (Lechon sa Hurno)

Crispy Pork Belly | Pinky's Pantry
Filipinos eat a lot of pork. They’re really good at cooking it, too. Lechon is one of the national dishes of the Philippines. It’s basically a whole roasted pig. The pig is skewered on a bamboo pole and slow roasted over hot coals while being continuously hand-turned like a giant rotisserie till the skin turns a crisp, reddish-brown and the meat becomes juicy and tender.

Lechon Kawali is made from pork belly that’s boiled until tender, then dried overnight, and the next day, is deep fried in a kawali (Filipino wok) till the skin is puffed and crunchy. However, cooking lechon kawali can be a dangerous endeavor. The pork belly pops and can splatter hot oil (or make talsik” as they say) quite violently and can cause some pretty serious burns if you’re not careful. Not to mention making a greasy mess. Few are the Filipino cooks who have escaped unscathed from a bout with a slab of frying pork belly.

Enter Lechon sa Hurno (Oven Roasted Pork Belly). Lechon sa Hurno is prepared similarly to Lechon Kawali except instead of being fried, the pork belly is baked in the oven. No oil splatters, no greasy mess, and no visits to the urgent care clinic. Just some tender pieces of pork topped with a delicious crunchy skin.

This recipe differs from traditional Lechon sa Hurno in that you don’t boil the pork first before roasting. My cousin, Ana, has a business in the Philippines selling crispy pork belly and she said she uses lemon grass and bay leaves for “aromatics.” Meanwhile, I’d heard of roasting pork belly with a salt crust, kind of like the way they do with prime rib or whole fish, and decided to try the salt crust method of roasting the pork belly with aromatics underneath it for flavoring. Success! The meat was so tender and tasty. And the skin was to die for! Nicely seasoned and so crisp, you could hear the crunch across the kitchen as you sliced it.

LECHON SA HURNO (OVEN ROASTED CRISPY PORK BELLY)

  • 2½ – 3 lbs. boneless, skin-on, pork belly
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks lemon grass, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 4 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup salt
  1. The day before you plan to roast your pork belly, wash it in cold water and dry it very well with paper towels. Then put it on a platter, skin side up, and place the pork, uncovered, in the fridge to dry overnight.
  2. The next day, take a long sheet of foil, fold it in half so you have a double thickness, and press it into your roasting pan.
    Crispy Pork Belly | Pinky's Pantry
  3. Lay a bed of chopped onions, lemon grass, and garlic on the foil, then place the oregano, thyme and bay leaves on top. These are your aromatics. If you’re not sure how to work with lemon grass, you can read about it here.
    Crispy Pork Belly | Pinky's Pantry
  4. Place the pork belly, skin side up, directly on top of the aromatics in the pan.
    Crispy Pork Belly | Pinky's Pantry
  5. Look at your pork belly skin. If one portion of it seems to dip lower than the rest, take a piece of foil, scrunch it up, and tuck it under the lower part to raise it. You want the skin on top to be as level as possible so that it crisps evenly. (I learned that the hard way after the sides of my pork belly starting browning faster than the center portion which was lower.)
  6. Pull up the foil to enclose the bottom and sides of the pork belly, pinching the corners to fit the foil around the meat. Leave the top open to expose the skin.
    Crispy Pork Belly | Pinky's Pantry
  7. Carefully pour water against the foil along one side of the pork belly so it runs underneath the meat and mixes with the aromatics. This helps keep the aromatics from burning. If any water gets on the skin, dry it quickly with a paper towel.
  8. Pour the salt on top of the skin and pat it smooth to make a salt crust.
    Crispy Pork Belly | Pinky's Pantry
  9. Bake at 350ºF for 1½ hours. Remove from oven and raise oven temperature to 425ºF.  Pull foil open to expose the sides of the pork.
    Crispy Pork Belly | Pinky's Pantry
  10. Using a pair of tongs, carefully lift off and discard salt crust.
    Crispy Pork Belly | Pinky's Pantry
  11. Usually, the salt crust lifts off in one piece. If it breaks like mine did, don’t worry about it. Just throw away the broken piece and carefully remove what’s left.
    Crispy Pork Belly | Pinky's Pantry
  12. After discarding the salt crust, pick up the pork belly with the tongs, hold it over your sink, and brush off any excess salt that may have spilled onto the skin.
    Crispy Pork Belly | Pinky's Pantry
  13. Place a wire rack over the pan and place the pork belly on the rack.
    Crispy Pork Belly | Pinky's Pantry
  14. Return pork to oven and bake an additional 30 minutes more.
  15. Turn off oven, turn on broiler to low, and broil for about 15-20 minutes or until skin is completely puffed up and golden brown all over. Watch carefully that it doesn’t burn!
    Crispy Pork Belly | Pinky's Pantry
  16. Slice into 3/4-inch strips. Then cut the strips crosswise into 1-inch pieces and serve.
    Crispy Pork Belly | Pinky's Pantry