Tamara

|Tamara Lukens

About Tamara Lukens

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My Ecuadorian Christmas and My Mom’s Cheeseball

By |December 21st, 2011|

I love Christmas!  As a kid, I looked forward to it every year, mainly because of the toys.  Can you blame me?  Look at us!  My sister and I were practically swimming in toys.  Christmas meant dressing up to the nines to celebrate. Mom and nana Gloria would begin cooking the meal two days in advance, as we prepared for our tribe to come over.  What was our Christmas dinner?  Mom’s delicious relleno (AKA stuffing), cookies, fruitcake (blech), gallina (hen), some ponche (punch – virgin for us kids, and spiked with rum for the grownups), and other accoutrements.  Of course, before eating the big meal, we had to have mom’s mandatory cheeseball and crackers.  There was not one Christmas where mom didn’t make this cheeseball, and I remember thinking it was the most delicious thing EVER.  My sister and I now laugh about this cheeseball.  It’s like a jello mold.  Needless to say, this cheeseball holds a dear place in our hearts.

Everything for our Cena Navideña was made from scratch; nana Gloria even killed the hen herself.  Everything, except for the nasty fruitcake, which mom received every year in her Canasta Navideña (Christmas food basket) her employer gave her.  To this day I don’t understand the value of this Panetón.  I honestly think my family used to eat it out of guilt.  I think it is just plain gross and it should be eliminated out of the Christmas food pyramid.

You may be asking: Why did you eat chicken during Christmas?  Eating turkey during Christmas was something wealthy families did.  Turkeys were very expensive for my mom’s budget, so we always ate hen, or a ham as in a leg of ham, like a pernil.  Mom’s stuffing was sweet, as it was made using pan de dulce, a delicious Ecuadorian sweet, sugary bread; recortes, which are the odds and ends left from deli hams and cold cuts; shredded chicken and minced beef; prunes and walnuts.  Was there a side vegetable?  Maybe.  But I was too busy stuffing myself with relleno to remember.  Not to mention how full I already was from the cheeseball.

THE CHEESEBAAAAALL!!!

My family ate Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, and we opened our presents at midnight.  But waiting for midnight was an eternity, and us kids were usually pretty sleepy by then, so we moved opening present time to 10pm.  Ten o’clock could not come by fast enough, and we could not wait to see what El Niño Dios brought us for Christmas.  The next hour was sort of a blur, as we tore through the wrapping paper and the boxes, played with our toys and fell asleep on the floor.

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I’m Moving!

By |November 30th, 2011|

Hey my little bits!  I just wanted to let you know that I am moving!  El Señor Hubs, Shadow and I have decided that after 9 years of living in the New York/New Jersey area, it is time to go somewhere warmer.  We both love the Southern charm of this country […]

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How to Make Chicharrón

By |November 28th, 2011|

I spotted this at the supermarket the other day.

So I decided to make these.

And they were delicious.  I missed my cervecita on that day, but I played pretend.  I pretended I was at the beach in Ecuador, sitting at a little huequito not far away from the ocean, eating cebiche de camarón and chicharrón.  I want to play pretend everyday.

Back to reality.  Let me show you how to make chicharrón, also known as pork crackling.

Chicharrón has many different meanings and variations depending on who you ask, and where you are.  I grew up knowing chicharrón was this kind, as well as the one that magically happens when you make Fritada; this one is also known as cuero reventado, or exploded skin.  Gnarly, huh?!  I have a hard time choosing which one I like best.  It’s like asking a parent who is your favorite child.  You just don’t do that.  This chicharrón is great as a snack – like bar food.  The chicharrón from the fritada is more like a main course.  I like to refer to the chicharrón in the fritada as pork candy.  Because it is.

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Quinoa, Brussels Sprouts and Chickpeas Stuffed Butternut Squash

By |November 21st, 2011|

Recently I went to lunch with a dear friend of mine to one of our favorite spots in our neighborhood, Marco & Pepe.  This cozy, little restaurant has some fantastic seasonal fare, and I have never had one bad meal.  On that particular day, I ordered a BLT sandwich, which actually ended up being more like a pulled pork sandwich.  OH, I was so disappointed.  NOT!   My friend was feeling the need to eat some veggies, so she went for this butternut squash stuffed with quinoa, and all sorts of vegetables.  I tried some of her meal, and as much as I love me some pork, I wished I had gotten her meal instead.

I decided to recreate this meal for El Señor Hubs and I, and I think it came pretty close.  Naming this meal was a mouthful, not to mention the meal itself:  it is SO MUCH FOOD!  I could not eat the whole butternut squash, so I had lunch the following day.  The quinoa stuffing I made, easily stuffs four butternut squash halves, or you can eat it as a salad on its own the next day.

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Caldo de Albóndigas de Carne y Plátano Verde: Plantain and lamb meatball soup

By |November 17th, 2011|

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I recently made this soup because it reminded me of an old *almost* favorite soup I used to eat back in Ecuador.  And I say, *almost* because this soup has cabbage.  I don’t like cabbage.  Well, I thought I didn’t like cabbage.  I didn’t like it when I was a little girl, and I made my nana puree the soup, otherwise I would not eat it.  Turns out, I do like cabbage, and I ate the heck out of this soup.

This recipe is adapted from this book I cannot live without, Comidas del Ecuador, by Michele O. Fried.  This soup is traditional from the province of Manabí, located on the coast of Ecuador, between the Guayas and Esmeraldas provinces.  I found it fascinating to make meatballs using plantains in a combination of cooked and raw, which reminded me of  bolones de verde (Warning: these old pictures of bolones de verde are unappetizing, but the bolones de verde ROCK!).  The soup I ate back home in Guayaquil had just regular meatballs, or albóndigas, made of ground beef, with no plantains.  For this soup, I decided to use ground lamb to give it a different flavor – more earthy, as well as brown the meatballs before cooking them in the broth so they would hold together.  A basic refrito is used as a base for the soup and for the meatballs.  With winter around the corner, this simple soup is a must.

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