Recipe: Wacky Rice and Beans

Just look at all that optional goodness.

I’ve named this recipe Wacky Rice and Beans because of my haphazard way of cooking. Unlike my popular Migliaccio (Italian Farina Custard) recipe where I give you exact measurements for all ingredients, this dish is a bit different. It’s virtually impossible to screw it up. It’s something you can throw together with whatever you have lying around, including leftovers, and it’s so comfy on a cold, winter’s night. Best of all, one pot makes for easy clean-up.

If you’re a cook who never follows a recipe, this one will make perfect sense to you. If you’re very structured in your approach to cooking, this recipe may ultimately prove that you can be spontaneous in the kitchen. However, I recommend keeping a brown paper bag on hand to aid in any episodes of hyperventilating that may occur as you read the ingredients list.

I’m part Cuban and grew up on yummy things like rice and beans, ropa vieja, and platanos. I no longer live in a neighborhood with convenient access to such foods, so when my blood cries out for a fix, here’s what I whip up in a pinch.

Recipe

Ingredients:

6 slices of bacon (Optional: I don’t usually put this in, but a neighbor bought a Costco supply of bacon recently and shared some with us, so I had it on hand.)

Olive Oil

½ small onion, finely chopped (or as much as you want)

Heaping teaspoonful of chopped garlic (or as much as you want)

Crushed red pepper flakes (or not)

Wine (Optional: I used red; you can use white or none at all.)

Oregano (or not)

Dried cilantro (or fresh, or none at all. See how flexible this recipe is. 🙂 )

2 packets of Sazón Goya con culantro y achiote (If you just exclaimed “say what,” then I’d guess you don’t live near a city or a latino neighborhood. In that case, season to taste with salt and don’t be jealous that your rice won’t have a golden hue. It will still taste yummy.)

8 oz. can of tomato sauce

½ 14.5 oz. can of stewed, diced tomatoes with liquid (I use the kind with Italian seasoning. Hey, I’m Cuban and Italian. I have to be fair about it.)

Heaping teaspoon of Goya Sofrito (Optional: I didn’t have it on hand this time, so didn’t use it. So, if you don’t know what it is or can’t find it, no biggie.)

1 can beans with liquid (I used Goya pink beans, but you can use black, or seasoned stewed (habichuelas guisadas) pink beans, or black bean soup, or whatever you want. I’ll go out on a limb here and say if you absolutely hate beans, don’t put them into your Wacky Rice and Beans and call it Wacky Beanless Rice instead. Gasp. Shocking, I know.)

Cooked chicken (Optional: I had some leftover roasted chicken in the fridge. I cut it in cubes and threw it in. What is old is new again.)

2 cups rice

3 cups water (usually, you use twice as much water as rice, but remember we included the liquid from some of those cans and used 8 oz. of tomato sauce)

Steps:

  1. In a covered pot (I use an enameled, cast iron Le Creuset French Oven pot, though in my younger days I used a cheap aluminum caldero from the corner discount store, which will no doubt be the cause of my future dementia), cook the bacon on medium heat and remove from pot to cool.
  2. If necessary, add olive oil to the pan and sauté onion, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes until onion is translucent.
  3. Add the wine to deglaze the pot, scraping up all those yummy brown bits from the bacon.
  4. Chop up the bacon in coarse bits and throw it in the pot.
  5. Add the remaining ingredients.
  6. If you like sticky rice, give it all a good stir. Otherwise, don’t breathe until you cover the pot. 😉
  7. Once it begins simmering, turn heat down very low and cook covered until all liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.
  8. Troubleshooting: If the rice isn’t tender but the liquid is all absorbed, don’t panic. Add a bit more water and continue cooking. All will be well. I promise.

You may notice that some rice is stuck to the bottom of the pan. In some latino families, a feud erupts over these highly desirable, slightly burned bits. Personally, I’m not a fan, but the Irish husband loves it.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Migliaccio (Italian Farina Custard)

Hellooooo…Migliaccio…Can you hear me down there? Next time I’ll use a shallower pan or hire a photographer.

With all the snow, my mind keeps returning to migliaccio, an Italian custard made from farina. In Italian, migliaccio would be pronounced meal-YA-choh. But it’s been generations since my Neapolitan relatives floated over to our shores and the word has been butchered into mul-YACH. Although I have studied Italian, I don’t bother pronouncing it correctly because no one would know what the heck I was saying. Case in point, I sent my mom an email about this recipe with the correct spelling and she didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. She thought I was referring to an old friend with that surname. So, mul-YACH it is.

I grew up in Ozone Park, New York, just a few blocks away from my Aunt Margaret, the daughter of Grandma Margaret of Italian Cheesecake fame. Every night after dinner, we’d walk around the corner to have coffee. The Pyrex glass pot would be on the stove, the coffee inside having been reheated many times that day. Some of you are wincing, I’m sure, but we liked it strong. Never mind that I was under ten and drinking coffee that would put hair on your chest. These days Child Protective Services would be all over that in a heartbeat. Times have changed.

The first snow of the winter season always filled us with glee because it was Aunt Marg’s tradition to make migliaccio. And no matter how high the snow, Aunt Margaret, who possessed better snow navigation skills than even the postman, would always get it to us.

Neither rain nor snow nor coffee klatch will keep Aunt Marg from delivering mul-YACH. 🙂

Most everyone in my family prefers mul-YACH after it has set in the refrigerator and can be neatly sliced. Not bad on a hot summer afternoon, but this is snow food and I’m impatient and in need of inner warmth. So, I tend to scoop my bubbling serving out with a big spoon while it’s all soft and pudding-like. Do I hear an um num num?

A word about the pan you use. If you want to slice it neatly, don’t use the one featured in my photo. The sides are too high and you’ll never get it out in one piece. But if you’re planning on slurping it down using a bowl and spoon, then who really cares, right?

I eat mul-YACH as a snack, but with farina, milk, and eggs in the ingredients, it could count as breakfast.

Give it a try, mangia mangia, and let me know what you think. And see if you can refrain from making it the next time it snows. Bet you can’t.

Recipe:

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Ingredients:

2 cups cold water
1/2 cup farina
1/8 lb unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups milk
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Steps:

  1. On the stovetop, cook farina in water, stirring until thickened.
    (I use ceramic-glass bakeware (e.g., CorningWare), which can go from stovetop to oven, thereby saving me from washing an extra pot. Good times. 🙂 )
  2. In a separate bowl, beat eggs with the milk.
  3. Remove farina from heat and add butter, sugar, milk/egg mixture, and vanilla.
  4. Mix until thoroughly combined.
  5. Place in oven, and lower temperature to 350 degrees.
  6. Bake 1 hour or more until bubbling and brown.

(If you’re like me, immediately spoon some out into a bowl and take a big mouthful, burning every damn cell in your mouth and making it impossible for you to taste the spoonfuls that come next.)

Enjoy! While you’re eating, take a peek at my recipe for Farina Muffins. Yum.

Recipe: Italian Cheesecake

“Mom, quick, I need a photo for my blog.”

Merry Christmas! This recipe is an old family favorite, handed down by my Great Grandmother Margaret. Actually, her name was Immaculata, but my Great Grandfather decided he preferred the name Margaret. I’m happy the name change happened before my birth since I was named after her. Immaculata Reyes Dempsey just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Grandma Margaret was quite the cook and took the handing down of the recipes seriously, apparently. My Mom had just arrived home from her honeymoon in 1964 when Grandma showed up to teach her how to make this cheesecake. The quickest way to a man’s heart… 😉

Originally, she made it at Easter time and it featured a crust and criss-cross strips across the top. However, none of us has been able to recreate Grandma’s tender touch with the dough required for that top. What should have been elevated train tracks over a ricotta cheese filling always ended up as a cheese cake with subway tracks below. However, being a gambling family, we had many a fun time peering through the oven window and wagering on just when those strips would begin sinking into the cheesecake. 🙂

Never fear, we’ve been making this version, sans subway tracks, for 46 years and for all occasions. It will be one of the two dozen desserts on our Christmas table, and it’s always a winner. Hope you enjoy it.

Recipe:

For best results, have ingredients at room temperature.
Preheat oven to 550 degrees.

Ingredients: 

1 dozen large eggs
1 – 48 oz. container ricotta
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 tbsp. each extract: vanilla, orange, lemon
1 tsp. anisette  

Steps: 

  1. Beat eggs until foamy and set aside.
  2. Beat ricotta with sugar until blended and add 4 flavors – beating until thoroughly mixed.
  3. Pour eggs into ricotta mixture and beat just until blended.
  4. Put mixture into a 2 1/2 qt. Pyrex dish or springform pan. (We prefer Pyrex.)
  5. Place in oven, and lower temperature to 325 degrees.
  6. Bake about 1 1/2 hours or until top seems firm except for center, which should be slightly soft.
  7. Leave cake in oven with door slightly ajar for about 1/2 hour after turning the oven off. This prevents the cheesecake from sinking.