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Today Show’s Natalie Morales shares family recipes

Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja with Classic Brazilian Black Beans & Rice (c) Alanna Hale

Glamorous and globetrotting, Natalie Morales, West Coast anchor for the Today show, could easily be forgiven for ordering take-out for family meals. But Morales, who with her sisters helped her mom cook almost every night when growing up, believes good food can bring a family together.

“I’m a busy mom always on the go and the way we connect is around the dinner table, where we have conversations and talk about what’s going on,” she says.

Morales also finds chopping and sautéing as therapeutic and relaxing after her busy work days which often start at 3 a.m. The meals she prepares are an amalgam of her life experiences, one that she captures in her just released cookbook, At Home with Natalie: Simple Recipes for Healthy Living from My Family’s Kitchen to Yours (Houghton Mifflin 2018; $30).

“I’m Brazilian and Puerto Rican and an Air Force brat–we lived in Central and South America and I spent ages 12 to 17 in Spain,” she says “Now, getting to try new foods is one of the great parts of my job.”

Indeed, Morales who recently was in PyeongChang covering the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, spent her spare time there sampling Korean barbecue.

“For me, food is the foundation of a culture and tradition–you get a real idea of the country when you’re eating their foods,” she says.  “I  remember going to Cypress–best night ever–I ended up dancing on the table and so did whole crew. I went to Chile to report on 33 miners trapped 2,300 feet underground for over two months and was there when they were rescued. There was all this food on the tables waiting for them and sitting and eating helped us break through the barriers.”

Morales says she was inspired to write her cookbook after watching chefs such as Giada De Laurentiis, Bobby flay and Ina Garten demonstrate how to cook on her show.

“Their recipes were easy enough for me to do and that inspired me to create a book with simple, but exciting  recipes,” says Morales. “The book is also  a way of honoring the  legacy of my own family by including dishes I ate when I was young.”Summer Berry Tarte Tatin (c) Alanna Hale

These include her  late grandmother’s recipe for ropa vieja—shredded meat, peppers and onions (she’s modernized it by using a slow cooker) and the chicken empanadas her mom makes.

“These are all part of my heritage,” she says. “I wanted to pass that on.”

Ifyougo:

Ifyougo: Natalie Morales book signing

When: Wednesday, April 18 at 8 p.m. EST

Where: Anderson’s Bookshop, 26 S. La Grange Rd. in downtown La Grange

Cost: Tickets required and can be ordered at nataliemoralesandersons.brownpapertickets.com; $34.00 ($36.18 w/service fee).

This ticket admits one and includes a copy of the new book and admission to the signing line.

FYI: (708) 582-6353; andersonsbookshop.co

Ropa Viejo

Serves 6 to 8

1½ pounds flank steak

Sazón seasoning, such as Goya Sazón (see note below)

1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced1⁄2 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper

½ cup thinly sliced green bel

l pepper

1 (14 ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 cup beef broth

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon ground cumin

½ bottle beer, such as a pale ale

Tabasco sauce (optional)

1 cup halved pimiento stuffed Manzanilla olives (optional)

Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

Season the flank steak with Sazón, then put the meat into a slow cooker. Layer the onion and bell peppers on top. Add the crushed tomatoes, broth, tomato paste, vinegar, garlic, oregano, and cumin, stirring to combine.

Pour in the beer and a splash of Tabasco, if desired. Spoon and stir the seasoned liquids over the beef and vegetables. Cover and cook on Low for 8 hours or High for 4 hours. Toward the last hour, add the olives (if using).

When done, shred the beef using two forks. Top with cilantro and serve.

Notes:

Sazón is a Spanish seasoning found in Latin aisle (Goya makes a popular version)or if you can’t find it, a combination of salt, pepper and garlic salt will do. If you prefer a crispier ropa vieja, you can sear the flank steak first in 2 tablespoons olive oil before placing it in the slow cooker.

Summer Berry Tarte Tatin

Serves 6 to 8

DOUGH:

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled

¾ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

¼ cup whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon sugar

Pinch of salt

1 large egg yolk

2 tablespoons ice water

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (this makes the crust flakier)

FILLING:

¼ cup sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

8 ounces fresh strawberries, halved

8 ounces fresh raspberries, half chopped and half left whole

4 ounces fresh blackberries

In a large bowl (or in a food processor, but it’s quick and I think a bit better by hand), combine the butter, flours, sugar, and salt, using your fingers, until the butter is distributed throughout, smaller than pea size. Add the egg yolk, ice water, and vinegar and stir using a spatula or wooden spoon, until the dough has just come together—do not overwork it.

Dump the dough onto a floured surface and form it into a disc; add more flour or water, if the dough seems too sticky or too dry. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Make the filling: In a small saucepan, stir together the sugar, 1 tablespoon water, the lemon juice, and vanilla over medium heat. Stir gently until the mixture simmers and cook until it is the color of a light caramel, being careful not to let the syrup get too dark, about 5 minutes. Carefully stir in the butter and continue stirring until the sauce is smooth. Pour the caramel syrup into an 8- to 10-inch oven-safe skillet, pie dish, or cake form, tilting it to coat the bottom.

Arrange the strawberries, whole raspberries, and blackberries in a concentric pattern over the bottom of the dish. Fill in the gaps with the chopped raspberries.

When the dough is sufficiently chilled, roll it out into a circle that is about 1 inch larger in diameter than the skillet or dish.

Lay the dough on top of the fruit filling, then tuck the sides inside the pan or baking dish. Using a paring knife, cut four 1-inch slits across the top to release steam as it bakes.

Bake the tarte until it is lightly browned and the berries are bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 15 to 20 minutes.

Take a large round plate and place it on top of the tarte tatin. Over the sink, hold the plate and tarte dish or pan together tightly and flip them over quickly. The idea is to keep the juices as much on the plate as possible and the berries in place. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche, light whipped cream, or frozen yogurt.

The above recipes were excerpted from AT HOME WITH NATALIE © 2018 by Natalie Morales. Photography © 2018 by Alanna Hale.

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