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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Good and Good for You: Plums


So what happens when you mix an unexpected snow day with the first day of a free month of Netflix streaming? You end up with someone who plum forgot to do their post last night!  insert guilty sheepish grin here

In preparation for this weekend’s recipe, I did a little bit of research to learn more about plums.  I'd never really given them much attention before, but that was before I enjoyed the wonderfully delicious plum spice cake that Ximena and Ruth made for Christmas when I was in Guatemala. 


Turns out they are indeed good and good for you.  Plums come in a wide variety of colors – from deep reds and purples to pale yellow and white.  They range in taste from very sweet to very tart, though their smooth skin tends to the be tartest part of them.

The red and purples ones in particular are rich in anthocyanins which help with preventing heart disease and some cancers.

Plums are also full of healthy phenolic compounds that are effective in neutralizing free radicals as well as being good for good brain health.

Because plums are low on the glycerin index, they are very diet/dietary friendly.  They provide a good source of easily absorbed iron (good for the blood) and a source of carotenes (good for the eyes).

Plums in their dried state (aka prunes) are best known for their able to help regulate the digestive system and for their laxative properties (can you say prune juice?). 

Did you know that plums may have been one of the first domesticated fruits?  Along with grapes, figs and olives, plum remains have been tied to the Neolithic period thru archaeological sites.  Plums are native to Europe, Asia and North America, though they differ from region to region.  European plums are believed to be descended from wild plums that were developed and cultivated by the Ancient Romans while what are known as Japanese plums were actually native to China.

Plums are a drupe fruit, which besides being fun to say means that they have a hard stone pit that surrounds their seeds.  Plums are distant cousins of peach, nectarines, and almonds.

Plums can be consumed in many different ways – eaten fresh, baked, pickled, dried, preserved (as jam or jelly) or beveraged.  Plum juice is used to make plum wine or plum brandy, and from what I understand, in some parts of England they make a hard cider-like beverage using plums (note to self: check that out).

Interesting side note – plum pudding? Not really made of plums. In pre-Victorian England, “plum” was just another term for raisins.  Plum pudding is actually a mix of dried fruits, suet, spices, eggs and molasses and then “aged” for a month or so. 

When you buy plums, you want to look for those with smooth unblemished skin.  Don’t be put off by the waxy white bloom on their surface, that doesn’t mean they’re moldy, it actually means they are fresh.

And speaking of fresh, I’m hoping to track some down for the recipe on Sunday, but we’ll see what we can manage if I don’t.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

King Ranch Chicken

Tonight I have something yummy and filling and perfect for a chilly winter night -- King Ranch Chicken.  I had never heard of it before, but when I was in Guatemala, one of my new friends asked if I could make this for him, well, come up with a recipe for him.  Senor Jorgesito, this one is for you.

King Ranch Chicken is like a Tex-Mex lasagna (only without noodles) named after King Ranch, one of the largest ranches in Texas.  It's a very popular casserole dish and there are many, many variations to be found, but this is the one I came up with.  If you enjoy a slight tingling sensation in your lips while you eat, this is the version for you.  I would highly recommend a cold beer to go with it.

K2's King Ranch Chicken

1-1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pre-cooked
butter or butter spray (optional)
lime juice (optional)
chili powder (optional)
1 (10 oz.) can Ro*Tel Diced Tomatoes with Lime Juice & Cilantro
1 (10.5 oz.) can cream of chicken soup
1 (10.5 oz.) can cream of mushroom soup
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium green pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
2 small dried red chiles, de-seeded and cut into flakes
1+ cup pepper jack cheese, shredded
1+ cup cheddar cheese, shredded
2/3 bag bite-sized Tostitos

Shred your pre-cooked chicken and set bowl aside.

If you have the time to do you own, I cooked my chicken breasts by wrapping them in foil with a spritz or two of I Can't Believe Its Not Butter spray, a couple of squeezes of lime juice and some liberal dashes of chili powder. Baked it at 425 degrees for 35 minutes.  Removed it from the oven and cooled to handling temp so I wouldn't burn my fingies when I went to shred it.

In a deep sauce pan, combine diced toms with both soups and cook on low heat.

While sauce is warming, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat.  When ready, add diced green pepper, diced onion, and red chile flakes to pan.  Sauté until onions are translucent and green peppers are cooked through.

Add the pepper-onion mix and shredded chicken to your sauce and mix until everything is evenly combined.

In a small bowl, mix together the shredded pepper jack and cheddar cheeses.

To assemble -- we're making two layers so you'll want to make sure to divide all your parts equally between the two.

In a 9x13" baking pan (or as I did, two smaller pans so one could be given to the parental types), lay down a layer of Tostitos.

Cover corn chips with a generous layer of the chicken-veggie-soup sauce and cover with a layer of the mixed cheeses.

Repeat the layering.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until cheese is toasty on the top.  Remove from oven and serve up right away.


If you like Tex-Mex but aren't a big fan of the spicy, you can always omit the dried red chiles and just use a mild or medium cheddar cheese instead of the mix of cheddar and pepper jack.

The Ro*Tel tomatoes tend to be pretty kicky too so if you want to take it down a notch further, then just substitute your favorite Mexican-style tomatoes for those as well.

Would go great with a dollop of sour cream or guacamole on the side and you could always garnish with some shredded lettuce to help complement the lip-tingling sensation.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Chocolate Caliente, Mayan style

Now that the weather in NC has been snowy and chilly and very keep-indoorsy, I keep thinking back to my visit to Antigua where I was able to enjoy for the first time the wonderful treat of Guatemalan hot chocolate at the Choco Museo.

If you did not know, hot chocolate actually originated in Central America but which is not any hot chocolate you're familiar with, it was a whole different beast.

The concoction was made from the seeds of the fruit of Cacahuaquchtl, meaning not just the cocoa tree, but the Tree, the tree of the Mayan gods.  The seeds were roasted in earthenware pots and then crushed by rolling them between two stones to create a powder.  The powder was then whisked together with boiling water to make a beverage.  To this drink was added either chili, honey, musk, spices or ground maize (if you wanted a heartier beverage).  It was considered a sacred food and was used for royal or religious ceremonies.  It could be consumed hot or cold.

It was the Spanish conquistador, Don Hernan Cortes who, recognizing the commercial value of the product, brought the cocoa bean to Europe.  There's a whole long story to go with that as to how it evolved and changed over the centuries to become which is commonly recognized today as "hot chocolate" but that's a story for another day.

I haven't had a chance to get out and check myself yet, but rumor has it that you can buy the bars of drinking chocolate in the U.S., which are not like regular chocolate bars, but rather bars of pressed cocoa that is crumbly until mixed with boiling water.

The first time we were at the Choco Museo, I ordered a Chocolate Caliente, Mayan style with hot milk (though I had the choice of hot water), chili and honey.  It was rich and spicy (probably because I added three pinched of chili), but what I loved the most about it was the process.  As you see in the photo above, they brought each ingredient out in its own container.  You started by putting the chocolate paste in the earthenware mug, then added the honey, a pinch or two of chili and then stirred in the hot liquid.  SO GOOD!

My second visit, I tried the Chocolate Caliente, Conquistadore style with hot milk again, cinnamon stick pieces, and whole cloves.  Gotta admit, I liked kicking it Mayan style better, but the idea of being able to add other spices was intriguing and fun.

Since I've been home, I've tried a couple of K2 make-at-home adaptations. 

Faux Mayan:  since I had used cacao nibs before, I ground some up in a coffee grinder to make a base powder and then added hot water, pinch of chili powder, cinnamon stick, and honey.  Very savory, not very sweet, slightly grainy, but an interesting taste sensation. Very addictive.

So American:  the other one that you might want to try out is using Hershey's Special Dark syrup, pinch of chili powder, and honey with hot milk.  Closer to home, more on the sweet side but with a chili kick. Tasty.

If you're feeling adventurous some cold wintry night, try kicking it old-old school.  I think you'll have some fun.


Want to send a shout out to my friend Nicole who made me the ceramic cup with the skulls that is now my official drinking chocolate cup.  Thank you!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Avocado Mousse Tartlets with Honeyed Walnuts

Avocado and mousse are probably two words you would never think to put together, but here we are.  As I was slurping down my avocado-strawberry smoothie the other day, I was finding myself still a little taken with the notion of avocados as a sweet treat and wanting to explore that further.  That's when the idea for the tartlets popped into my head.  So here you go, a K2 original, parental tested, parental approved.

Avocado Mousse Tartlets with Honeyed Walnuts 
makes 4 (4-1/2") tarts

1 Pillsbury pre-made pie crust rolled sheet
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
4 tsp. honey
1 avocado, peeled, pitted
4 tsp. fresh orange juice
1 tbsp. sugar
1 cup whipped cream
orange zest, for garnish

Roll out sheet of pie crust.  Place tartlet pans on sheet and cut out a circle 1/2" wider than the pan.  Should be able to get two from original roll, then two more by re-rolling the dough.

Press the crust into each tartlet pan and press off the excess around the edges.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the finely chopped walnuts and honey.  Will have a thick paste-like consistency.

Divide the mixture equally between the four tartlet pans and spread out along bottom.

Place the tartlet pans on a cookie sheet and bake at 450 degrees for 9-11 minutes or until lightly golden brown along the edges. 

Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature.  If the centers are poofy, poke with a fork to de-poof.  The crusts made from the re-roll will be a bit puffier since they are technically made of layers of crust.  Just poke them too.

In a food processor, cream together the avocado, orange juice, and sugar until smooth.  Or at least very, very smoothish.

Put avocado cream in a medium bowl and fold in the whipped cream (I used cool whip) until fully incorporated.

Spoon the mousse onto the crusts, dividing equally.  Garnish with orange zest and/or an additional dollop of plain whipped cream.

You can either serve up immediately or put in the fridge to cool until ready to serve, can't go wrong either way.


A special shout out to Dad for some fabulous mousse brainstorming.  He helped toss around some ideas while Mom was whipping up a new taste sensation (to be featured in a future post) for dinner.  It good to have foodies for folks. :)

Post-Note about smoothies from the last post -- discovered that, unlike banana-based smoothies, if you have to store leftover avocado smoothie in the fridge, it does not separate overnight.  The avocado acts like an emulsifier and keeps the mix together even when refrigerated. So FYI on that.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Strawberry-Avocado Smoothie

Okay, since writing the post on Sunday, I have been intrigued by the notion of an avocado smoothie. So in the name of culinary science and kitchen experimentation (you know its all for you guys, right?), here is what I came up with.  And may I just say, good job me! :)

Strawberry-Avocado Smoothie

1 ripe avocado, skinned and de-pitted
1 cup fresh strawberries, decapitated (because I am forgetting the term for greens removal)
1 individual-size container (6-8 oz.) Greek yogurt, plain
1 tsp. honey
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups milk

Toss it all in a blender.


Pour a nice tall glass and marvel at the superfood goodness of it.


I keep all my ingredients cold so that I don't have to add ice, but you can add ice OR substitute 1/2-1 cup of milk for ice cream or frozen yogurt and turn it into a smoothie/shake.

I chose strawberries as my fruit of choice because I know they go well together from previous experience.  And I chose an avocado that was roughly the equivalent of a medium-size banana.

I added a 7 oz. container of Fage 2% plain Greek Yogurt.  I just put "individual-size" because the containers vary from brand to brand.

The best way to describe the taste is soft...I know that sounds funny, but its a good blend so depending on what you like, you may taste one thing more than another.  As always, feel free to adjust to your own taste.  The honey I used was the stuff I picked up from the Geechie Boy Market & Mill in Edisto, SC, which is really not that sweet.

Just in case you did not know, the easiest way to peel and pit an avocado is to cut it in half lengthwise and twist the sides apart.  Then (carefully) stick a knife blade into the pit and twist it out.  Scoop the flesh with a spoon and you are all set. FYI, this process works best if the avocado is RIPE! (meaning if it isn't I am not responsible for cuts and boo-boos, you were warned)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Good and Good For You: Avocados

As I get older, I find that each year I develop a taste for a new in that I never liked it before and then one day, it becomes a must-have.  Looks like 2014 will be the year of guacamole for me.  Never had a taste for it, but I find that the more I try it, the more I really like it.

Photo is from an avocado tree in the garden at a house I visited in Guatemala. Was still getting to know my new camera so not the best photo, but thought the image of pre-grocery avocados was too good not to share.


I'm kind of happy for this new addition to my food palette because as it turns out, avocados are a super food.  Something you might not know is that avocados are a fruit, though unlike other tree fruits, they are neither sweet, tart, nor sweet-tart, but rather creamy and buttery in taste.  And unlike other tree fruits, they are a great source of protein.

Sure, they get a bad rap for a high fat content, but some fats are actually not a bad thing.  Because they have a low water content, they are rich in monounsaturated fats and fat-soluble nutrients.  They contain vitamins A, C, B and E and minerals like iron, magnesium, folate, and potassium.  Since they contain all of these good things, it makes avocados good for your skin, eyes, heart, bone and liver.  The oils in avocado are actually great for the skin and often used in moisturizing products.

In many countries avocados are a food staple.  Never really gave them much thought beyond knowing they are eaten raw or mashed into guacamole, but there are a lot of different ways you can serve them up.

Because of their texture, avocados make a good substitute for bananas in smoothies.  And added bonus, because of it's high fat content, it helps slow down the release of sugar from any fruits that are added to the mix making your smoothie a much more substantial beverage.

And speaking of sweet treats, avocados can be used for pies, puddings, cakes and ice creams too.  In fact, there may be something of that nature coming your way on Sunday.  I've got some baking to do and am curious to use avocados in a new and different way.

When you buy avocados you want to pick one with unblemished skins and no soft spots.  They are ready for eating when you press them and the flesh yields.  If your avocado is not quite ripe yet, toss it in a bag with a banana or an apple for a couple of days (the other fruits contain a plant hormone called ethylene which is key in the ripening process).  Once you remove the flesh, you can use vinegar or lemon juice to keep it from discoloring like you do with an apple.

So avocados, YAY! And welcome to my food world.


Just a fun/weird little didyaknow...the word avocado comes from the Spanish conquistadors version of the Aztec word ahuacotl, which means "testicle" that refers to the shape of the fruit which grows in pairs on the tree.

Avocados have also been called "alligator pears" due to their shape, color and the texture of their skin.

English sailors in the tropics used to refer to them as "poor man's butter" since it was used as such.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Holiday Tamales

So this is not a recipe post, but a show-and-tell piece from my recent culinary adventures.  I may tackle this beast someday, but haven't had enough time since I've been back in town to take on the challenge of making tamales from scratch.

During my vacation, I spent both Christmas and New Year’s with my old friend Sofia and my new adopted family in San Lucas.  As it turns out, Christmas is one of the two most widely celebrated holidays in Guatemala (Easter being the other) and there are many traditions to go along with its celebrations – fireworks at midnight, decorating the house with small yellow fruits called manzanillas, drinking a special hot holiday beverage called Ponche Navideño made with fresh fruit and fruit juices, and enjoying delicious tamales.

string of manzanillas -- like little tiny apples

On Christmas morning we sat down to enjoy fresh-made tamales for breakfast.  I had never had a tamal before so never really understood – or appreciated – the amount of time and effort that goes into making them.  It’s not just a food, it’s a whole process.  Sofia’s mother Ruth and sister Ximena spend numerous hours carefully making these wonderful treats, only to have at least one consumed within minutes by the hungry extranjera (foreign chick) sitting at the end of their table.

In Guatemala, a tamal consists of masa (starchy dough usually made from corn, potatoes or rice) topped (or filled) with various pieces of cooked meat, fresh fruit, nuts, and/or veggie bits and sauce which is then wrapped in a leaf (usually plantain or banana leaves which you don’t eat) and steamed or boiled.  As with many foods that I share with you, components and prep are done according to taste, so what I enjoyed was the traditional tamal made by Sofia’s family.  Ours had pieces of pork, raisins, prunes, almonds, peppers and a nice rich salsa (sauce) in it.
The masa alone takes several hours to make because it must cook down and thicken before it is used in the tamalOnce the tamal is assembled, the leaves are folded over and it is tied up like a little green parcel.

sorry about the fuzzy shot, thought I'd taken more than one, but no

The tamales are then placed in a deep pot and boiled for up to 2 hours.  Once they are done, they are allowed to sit so that the masa can set.  When it’s ready, each is unwrapped like a little present and presented for consumption with frijoles (beans), queso (cheese), and more salsa on the side.  Nummers!

Tamales are a long-standing staple, originating in Mesoamerica as early as 8000-5000 BC.  Because they can be made ahead of time and do not have to be eaten right away, it seems that both the Aztecs and Mayans used tamales as travel food – for armies, hunters and travelers – anyone who needed portable food.

There are many different varieties of tamales, many named according to the type of masa (e.g., yellow v. white corn), filling, flavor (savory v. sweet) and every country has its own varieties. 

If you have never tried one before, I recommend you expand your eating palette by giving one a spin.  It was like nothing I had had before, but like everything I ate in Guatemala, it was fresh and delicious, and in this case, made with much love and care.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Citrus Muffin-Cupcakes

Hola and Happy New Year!  I hope that everyone enjoyed a great holiday season.  It's 2014, holy moly, how did that happen?

I'm really excited to share these next couple of posts with you.  For my holiday break, I spend an amazing two weeks in Guatemala with a dear friend of mine, Sofia, and her wonderful family.  Her mother and sister are fabulous cooks and as it turns out, her young daughter Belen is a budding baker.  So to start out my good eats from Guatemala posts, I'm going to begin with the muffin-cupcakes that Belen and I made while I was there.

If you're wondering about the "muffin-cupcakes" thing, it's because they fall somewhere in between.  I was going to shorten it to muffcakes or cupfins but neither of those names sounded particularly appealing.  No matter what you call them they're going to be pretty delicious.  The recipe makes 12 muffin-cupcakes but we made two batches since we were expecting guests that night.

Now the process we used in Guatemala to make these may be a little different from what I usually do, but you can certainly adapt to your own way of getting them done. :)

Citrus Muffin-Cupcakes
Magdalenas de Citricos

Step 1:  Go to the garden and pull an orange, a lemon, and 2 limes from their respective trees.

Step 2:  Make sure you have fresh eggs.

Step 3:  Translate the recipe.

Step 4:  Begin.

If you need to, you can skip Steps 1-3 and go straight to Step 4.  If you can, it's best to use a kitchen scale for your measurements, but should work with standard measuring cups as well.  We converted the recipe from grams and MLs as best we could.  Good luck!

batter (la masa de pastel)
12 oz. (1-1/2 cups) flour, sifted
1 tsp. powdered yeast
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
4 oz. (1/2 cup) sugar
2 medium eggs
9 oz. (1 cup + 1 tbsp.) plain yogurt
6 tbsp. sunflower oil
2 tsp. orange zest
2 tsp. lemon zest
2 tsp. lime zest

glaze (glace)
6 oz. (3/4 cup) powdered sugar may need to add more, but this is the measure to start out with
3 tsp. hot water
1 tsp. fresh lime juice
1/8 tsp. lemon extract can substitute fresh lemon juice instead

For the batter, in a large bowl, mix together the flour, yeast, baking soda, and salt.  Add in the sugar and set aside.

In a smaller bowl, lightly beat together the eggs, yogurt, and oil.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the egg mixture.  Combine the two until the batter is just moistened.  Fold in 1 tsp. each of the citrus zests. The rest of the zest will be used for garnish.

Line a muffin-cupcake tin with paper baking cups.  Divide the batter evenly between the 12 cups.

Bake at 400 degrees (F) for 20 minutes or until the muffin-cupcakes are golden brown and firm to the touch.  Remove from oven.

Remove muffin-cupcakes from the tins and allow to cool completely to room temperature.  Otherwise they will be too warm and make your glaze run.

For the glaze, blend together the powder sugar, hot water, lime juice and extract.  Adjust ingredients as needed to suit your taste and to reach the desired consistency.  You want the glaze to be thick enough to spread easily with a butter knife, but not so runny that it will immediately drip down the side of your muffin-cupcakes.

Frost each muffin-cupcake with a nice hearty coating of the glaze and garnish them with the citrus zest mix.  Belen added an extra little dollop of the glaze on each to capture the zest because the glaze had already firmed up by the time it came to garnishing them.

Display beautifully for your guests to enjoy and serve with your midday coffee and/or favorite tea.


I realize that not everyone (including me stateside) will not have the luxury of popping out to the backyard for fresh fruit and fresh-from-the-hen eggs, but market-bought ingredients will work just fine, I promise.

For those who read Spanish and are wondering how we managed to translate the glaze recipe so poorly, we actually used a glaze from another recipe to complete our treats so it's not what's listed on the page in the photo above.

At Sofia's house, everyone wears hair nets or chef hats while they cook or bake as not to be adding any "extra" ingredients to the mix.  While not necessarily flattering, they are effective.