The Secret Dipping Sauce

Puerto Rican Secret Dipping Sauce Recipe for Tostones, Sorullitos and More
Plate and bowl by Jim Shack. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
This simple Puerto Rican dipping sauce is traditionally served with fritters like tostones fried green plantains or sorullitos de maiz corn fritters.
Why do I call it “The Secret Dipping Sauce”? Well, many years ago I was serving tostones and, to Scott’s disappointment, I didn’t serve it with the sauce. Not knowing the name of the sauce, he asked for “the secret sauce” and the name stuck.
The dipping sauce is so simple that I’m not sure there is an actual name for it. In Puerto Rico we might just call it salsita (sauce). It’s a basic sauce of mayonnaise and ketchup, you can vary the proportions to taste. I always like it with a few shakes of Tabasco sauce and garnished with a sprinkling of paprika, but you can play with the basic ingredients and make your own variation.
Secret Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons ketchup
Tabasco sauce or 1/4 teaspoon finely minced garlic (optional)
1. Make the sauce by stirring the mayonnaise and ketchup until combined. Add optional Tabasco or minced garlic to taste. Serve cold.

Tostones Fried Green Plaintains

Puerto Rican Recipe for Tostones Fried Green Plantains
This beautiful little plate was made by Roger Baumann and the white sauce dish was made by Jim Shack. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
Tostones and a good plate of white rice and pink beans made by my grandma is what I call home. This side dish of twice fried plantains is as ordinary in a Puerto Rican household as french fries are here in the U.S., but I have to say that in my food memory, tostones are a delicacy, especially the way my grandma makes them.
On our last visit to Puerto Rico I asked my grandma, Mima, to teach Angelica and I to make tostones her way. She’s shown me how to make them a dozen times and I’ve watched her and helped her make them them since I was a little girl, but I still can’t manage to get them quite right. Mima’s tostones are soft on the inside and crusty on the outside with a salty crispy edge that makes them just perfect. Her secret is dipping them in salty water after they have been smashed flat.
Fried green plantains can be served as a side to almost any Latin meal. They are a wonderful side to soak up the savory juices of a flavorful asopao de pollo (Puerto Rican chicken stew). I especially love them served alongside a juicy bistek encebollado (steaks cooked in onions) or pernil (roasted pork). Tostones also make an interesting appetizer served with guacamole or stuffed with savory stewed seafood or ceviche.
A note about plantains: Plantains are a larger, starchier version of the banana and are usually sold by the piece. Grocery stores and most Latin markets will carry green plantains and ripe plantains. For tostones, pick plantains that are green or green with a hint of yellow. I prefer a plantain that is green with a hint of yellow as they will have just a hint of sweetness that is such a nice compliment to the salty exterior. Avoid using yellow plantains for this dish as a ripe plantain contains too much sugar and will burn in the first frying.
Tostones Fried Green Plantains
3 green plantains
2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons salt
canola oil for deep frying
1. Cut each plantain at either end and score them lengthwise three or four times by running your knife from one end of the plantain to the other to make a shallow line, deep enough to cut through the skin. Use your fingers to pry the hard skin from the plantain and peel. In a small bowl mix some warm water with enough salt to make the water salty, set aside.
2. Pour enough canola oil into a deep cast iron pot to make a 1″ deep pool. Heat the oil over medium heat until just a few drops of water sprinkled over the oil start crackling.
3. Slice the peeled green plantains on a slight diagonal into six even pieces. Arrange the plantain pieces in the hot oil (the oil should cover the pieces) and fry in batches until the plantain pieces are cooked. The pieces are cooked when they yield softly to a fork inserted into the plantain. Transfer the cooked pieces to a plate covered with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
4. Now proceed to smash the cooked plantain pieces into 1/4 inch thick wheels. Some people like to use a tostonera for this task, but I find that the flat end of a glass or bowl works just as well to flatten the tostón against your cutting board. As soon as you smash them, place them in salty water for about a half a minute to allow them to soak some of the liquid. Remove them from the salty water and pat them dry with a paper towel and immediately place them in the hot oil to fry. Please be careful as plantains with excess water might splatter.
5. Fry the tostones in batches and remove from the hot oil once crispy and golden yellow. Remove and drain once again in a plate with paper towel. Serve the tostones right away while still piping hot.
Makes 18 tostones.

Turkey Empanadillas (Empanadillas de Pavo)

The day after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of leftover turkey dishes. From pot pies and turkey sandwiches to turkey soup – by the end of this weekend we will have had our fill of roasted turkey for the year.
This recipe is my offering to this post-Thanksgiving tradition of leftover turkey preparation: turkey empanadillas (empanadillas de pavo). It’s a savory Latin dish that gives turkey leftovers a Puerto Rican twist. Turkey empanadillas are half moon pastry pockets that are stuffed with a savory filling of shredded turkey, olives, raisins and cilantro. Unlike their fried cousins traditionally sold in cuchifrito stands around the island, these pastry pockets are baked.
Making the empanadilla pastry from scratch yields the best results, but if you are as tired as I am after days of preparation and cooking for the Thanksgiving feast, then use frozen empanadilla pastry disks from your local grocer.
If you like this empanadilla recipe, you may also like baked beef empanadillas.
Turkey Empanadillas (Empanadillas de Pavo)
2 cups cooked turkey meat, shredded
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 green bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup turkey broth
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 packet Sazón annatto seasoning
1/4 cup sliced pimento-stuffed green olives
1/4 cup chopped raisins
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
salt to taste
12 empanadilla pastry disks, thawed (pre-made or homemade)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup oil
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a medium heavy skillet over medium heat, heat the oil, then add the onion and cook until they begin getting glassy. Add the bell pepper and garlic and cook until fragrant. Do not allow them to brown.
3. Add the cumin and allspice and stir until well incorporated. Add the tomato sauce, broth, annatto seasoning and raisins and bring to a simmer. Add the shredded turkey and continue cooking until all the liquids have been incorporated into the mixture. Turn the heat off and add the olives, cilantro and season to taste. Set aside to cool.
4. Prepare your work surface to assemble the empanadillas by having the following handy: empanadilla pastry disks, baking sheet, fork, bowl of water, and the cooled filling.
5. Place a disk on your work surface and add 2 to 3 tablespoons filling. Moisten edges of disk with water and fold over to form a semicircle. Crimp the edge with a fork, turn over and crimp the edges with a fork again. Set the empanadilla in the cookie sheet and repeat.
6. Brush the empanadillas with oil and bake for 20 minutes or until golden.
Makes 12 empanadillas.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Pumpking Cheesecake with Sour Cream Topping and Ginger Crust Recipe
Anagama woodfired plate by Roger Baumann. Photo by Scott Bartolomei Edmonds.
This pumpkin cheesecake has been a family favorite for years. The crust has a gingery gooey bite, the pumpkin cheesecake filling is perfectly balanced and not too sweet and then it’s topped with a slightly sweet and tangy sour cream topping. It’s the kind of treat that makes you glad you saved a little bit of room for dessert.
If you want to make this cheesecake, I would recommend making it a day in advance as it tastes better over time and you will not want it competing with your turkey and other fixings for oven space the day of the event.
The recipe was originally published by Food & Wine Magazine many years ago in their Thanksgiving dessert feature. Thankfully, I had clipped this recipe as it seems that it is not available at foodandwine.com.
And on a personal note: I am so grateful to our friends who have supported and encouraged me to keep writing during this challenging year. Thank you friends, and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!
Pumpkin Cheesecake
2 cups gingersnap crumb (from about 1/2 pound cookies)
1/3 cup melted unsalted butter
3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups sour cream, at room temperature
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 1/2 or 10 inch springform pan and coat lightly with flour. In a medium bowl, toss the gingersnap crumbs with the melted butter until evenly moistened. Press the crumbs into the bottom and 1 inch up the side of the prepared pan. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the crust begins to color. Let the crust cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Beat in 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar and the brown sugar, then beat in the eggs in 3 additions until the mixture is thoroughly combined, scraping down the side of the bowl occasionally.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the pumpkin puree and heavy cream with 1 teaspoon of the vanilla and the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Add to the cream cheese mixture and beat until combined, scraping the bowl a few times.
4. Wrap foil loosely around the bottom and up the side of the springform pan. Pour the cheesecake batter into the prepared pan and set it in a large baking dish or roasting pan. Place in the middle of the oven and pour 1 inch of hot water into the baking dish. Bake the cheesecake for about 70 minutes, or until the edges are firm and the center of the cheesecake is still slightly shaky.
5. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream with the remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar and 2 teaspoons of vanilla. Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and pour on the sour cream topping. Gently tap the pan to spread the topping, and continue baking the cheesecake for 10 more minutes.
6. Transfer the cheesecake to a rack and let cool for 1 hour. Remove the foil and the side of the pan and refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Makes 16 servings.

Food in the City

Favorite New York City Food
Photo by Scott Bartolomei Edmonds.
New York City terrified me when we first moved here nine years ago. Everything about the city was overwhelming: the noise, smelly streets (it was August after all), tall buildings, signs everywhere and everyone on a mission. I wanted to hide out in the tiny studio apartment where we had landed. I didn’t want to open the curtains, poke my head out the window, or step outside. Scott would have to drag me out of the apartment those first few weeks after we arrived.
What got me over this deep need to hide? Well… it was doughnuts. I was flipping through a Time Out New York and a page caught my eye. It was their eating out page and it pictured Isabella Rossellini. She was talking about her favorite ice cream place. Right next to this feature there was a tiny little paragraph on a place called the Doughnut Plant. This little place in the Lower East Side was taking something as common as fried dough and making it a fine food item. The promise of a doughnut with fresh raspberry glaze, Valrhona chocolate or vanilla bean glaze was the motivation I needed to plan my first expedition into the city.
Doughnuts are not my favorite thing. They are delicious, but they have never been an item I sought out. So far, my favorite doughnut experiences consisted of a few early Fall Sunday mornings when my dad would drive us to an apple farm in upstate New York to get fresh apple cider and apple cider doughnuts. Oh, and then there were those times when my grandma would take me shopping with her to K-mart. The K-mart in Ponce, Puerto Rico had one of those cool doughnut fryers that would mechanically drop rings of dough into hot oil. I loved watching the frying dough get golden as it was carried through the oil and onto a conveyor belt cooling rack – all without the aid of a human being. This machine was truly amazing and the hot doughnuts in a little paper bag were such a treat.
I started planning my trip to the Doughnut Plant by consulting city maps, transit maps and writing the directions, phone numbers, etc. on my notebook. I found a bus that would take me fairly close to it and that Saturday morning, I gathered up all my courage, enlisted Angelica as my expedition partner and we embarked on the quest of the perfect doughnut. Of course Angelica and I got lost. It was an adventure. We walked through Sarah Roosevelt Park on the edge of Chinatown where young men played a fierce game of basketball, the aging practiced tai chi, men played chess, birds were kept in cages and children ran, screamed and laughed in the playground. There was a great concentration of activity for such a small space. We eventually found the Doughnut Plant. Thankfully they still had some doughnuts left! They were the best I ever tasted and well worth the trip.
This was my introduction to the city. A very simple challenge: to taste the city’s best doughnuts. Most days I still want to hide in my apartment, draw all the blinds and ignore the noise, the energy, the people, but only in New York City can something so simple and ordinary be made into an extraordinary food experience. That is what keeps me coming back for more.

The Daily Bread

Going to a bakery after pulling a 20-hour work day in a long week of 10 to 15 hour work days is the best kind of mistake a person can make. As I walked home this morning from a client presentation with a heavy bag of goodies from Le Pain Quotidien I felt a great sense of satisfaction at the heavy load I carried.
Yes, I did get a little frenzied as I started pointing to things in the case, and the bread shelf. And, yes, I did have them slice a loaf. Yes, I enjoyed a cup of cooked sweet brown rice with soy milk, agave and fresh berries almost too slowly – my first meal of the day at 11:30 am after an all night marathon. I just sat on the ledge by the window and slouched as I slowly scooped little mounds of wholesomeness into my mouth with a biodegradable disposable spoon. Perfect.
I marveled at how light my cup of cappuccino felt, as if they prepared it knowing that I like my cappuccinos dry.
Yes, I even bought lunch there – for Angelica. A sandwich of grilled chicken curry with cranberry harissa chutney on five grain raisin bread. As I stood at the register pointing at things, I thought, “I could feed my whole family here! I should buy this and that for tonight and tomorrow and the next day”. I prevented myself from eyeing cookies and I had to fight my impulse to go and look at the fruit preserves, but I could not resist a rustic apricot and almond tart that caught my eye, a gorgeous thing.
I guess any other day, I might have feelings of guilt about spending almost fifty dollars in a bakery. Probably I would be giving myself a talk about how I “should” save money and “shouldn’t” buy a large apricot and almond tart that looks like it was baked by old hands by a lady in a small village in France. But today is a good day. My late night work session turned out to be an antidote to a sense of restraint that sometimes prevents me from truly enjoying simple things.

Sweet Egg Yolks

Egg Yolks
Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
The simple things made the biggest impression. After my parents divorced, my mom and I lived with my grandparents, Pito and Mima. Their kitchen was at the center of many a childhood experience. As I searched for memories of my mom on this Mother’s Day morning, I was reminded of a particularly sweet and fleeting moment.
I walked into Mima’s kitchen and Ma had been cooking. I don’t remember what she was cooking, but she walked toward me with a little white CorningWare bowl, a spoon and a smile. Her eyes were beaming as she handed me a spoon and offered me a taste. Delicious! A burst of pure happiness that starts at the tongue and then spreads to every part of you. This delightful treat was simply made with leftover raw egg yolks sweetened with sugar, but to me that treat was a pure infusion of my mother’s love.
These simple moments are the ones I treasure most. These memories are the ones that remind me most what mother’s love feels like: spending a minute or two together, sharing something sweet and discovering something simple and new. For these little moments I am so grateful.
Happy Mother’s Day, Ma.
If you find yourself making meringue or have a few leftover egg yolks, try this simple treat.
Sweet Egg Yolks
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon sugar
1. In a small bowl beat the egg yolk and sugar until the mixture becomes light yellow and creamy.

La Bombonera

La Bombonera Restaurant, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
One of the things I love about visiting the Old San Juan is breakfast at La Bombonera. On the first day of our recent trip to “my home planet”, I get up early and drag Angelica out of bed with anticipation for what is about to come.
La Bombonera Mallorcas
Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
As is our tradition, we start our first day with breakfast at La Bombonera, a century old bakery and restaurant best known for its fresh baked mallorcas. Mallorca is a sweet, egg based bread found in most Puerto Rican bakeries and with origins in the island of Mallorca, Spain.
La Bombonera Restaurant Review
Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
We sit at the long bar and order our usual mallorca with butter, cafe con leche (coffee with milk) and jugo de china (fresh squeezed orange juice) made with sweet Puerto Rican oranges. The cafetera (coffee maker) is a center piece of this restaurant. It’s a great big machine bearing a Cafeteras Nacional label. Cafeteras Nacional is an espresso machine maker originating in Cuba at the turn of the 20th century. This cafetera bears the signs of age, pieced together after many years of repairs, but it can still brew a great cup of Puerto Rican coffee.
Cafe con Leche at La Bombonera
Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
We sit at the bar and watch the wait staff, in red apron and white shirt, dance around eachother in a mad but elegant rush to get everyone served. We can’t sit still with anticipation for the mallorcas as we watch our waiter slice and place them in the ‘plancha’ to toast. Our faces wide with huge grins.
The mallorcas are perfect, slathered in butter and dusted with confectioner’s sugar, they melt in our mouths. We order another and some to take with us for our journey to Ponce to visit my grandparents.
Read what the New York Times says about La Bombonera.
La Bombonera
Calle San Francisco 259
Viejo San Juan, PR 00901
(787) 722-0658
La Bombonera Restaurant Review
Photo by Angelica Bartolomei Edmonds.

The Best Chocolate Cake

The Ghirardelli semi-sweet baking chocolate wrapping that this recipe was printed on is completely crusted with dried batter, chocolate prints and a generous dusting of flour. I’ve kept it in a folder labeled “cakes” that is stuffed full of great recipes, but nine out of ten times when I want to make a chocolate cake, this is the recipe I reach for. It is the best chocolate cake recipe, period. It’s rich yet super moist and light with just the right amount of chocolate and not too sweet. I have made it many times with very stable and delicious results, even at high altitude in Montana.
This chocolate cake is heavenly on its own and needs no frosting. I enjoy it most with a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar. If you are making a birthday cake, consider frosting it with a good buttercream frosting. Or, what about filling it with raspberry preserves and frosting it with chocolate ganache for Valentine’s day?
The secret to this cake is whipping the egg whites to stiff peaks and folding them into the batter just before baking. The egg whites create air pockets that are going to make this cake light and delicious. This video from epicurious.com has some good tips on beating the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites in two installments is key. Chef John Mitzewich demonstrates proper folding techniques in this video.
The Best Chocolate Cake
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup water
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups unsifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk or strong cold coffee
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Line three 8″ or 9″ round cake pans with parchment paper, set aside. Chop the chocolate and place in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Add the water and stir until melted. Set aside until cooled to room temperature. Cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in the melted chocolate and vanilla.
2. Sift flour with soda. Add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk or coffee to the chocolate mixture. Mix until smooth.
3. Beat egg whites with salt until stiff peaks form. Fold one third of the egg whites into chocolate batter until well incorporated. Fold in the rest of the egg whites until well incorporated.
4. Spread into the prepared round cake pans. Bake at 350° F for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on rack for ten minutes. Remove cake to cool completely.
Makes 3 cakes or one triple layered cake

Crispy Brown Rice Treats

Crispy Brown Rice Treats Recipe - Wheat Free and Sugar Free Recipe
Plate by Roger Baumann. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
These wholesome bars have been a favorite in our home for the past fifteen years. Crispy brown rice treats are a healthier version of the Rice Krispies Treats you might have grown up with. We got rid of the marshmallow and butter and replaced it with toasted almond butter and the gentle sweetness of brown rice syrup. For fun, we’ve also added some carob chips. These bars are well balanced and lightly sweet, making them a healthy snack any time of the day. What’s best is that they are super easy to make.
Crispy Brown Rice Treats
1/2 cup brown rice syrup*
1/2 cup almond butter*
2 cups crispy brown rice*
1 cup carob chips (optional)*
1 teaspoon vanilla
oil for greasing
1. Oil a 9″ x 13″ pan and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the brown rice syrup, almond butter and vanilla. Add the Rice Crispies and carob chips and fold into the brown rice syrup mixture.
2. Pour the rice crispy mixture into the oiled pan . Rub a little oil in your hands and press down firmly to flatten the mixture. Cut into 1.5″ squares and enjoy.
Makes 48 bars
*Visit your local health food store for these ingredients.