The Boricua kitchen . . .

A modern Puerto Rican cook should have several different sizes of calderos with lids. These pots are versitile and can be used to cook a lot of other foods besides rice. You can make beans and use them as deep fryers.

Microwave . . . for fast dinners. You can make simple Puerto Rican rice in the microwave. You can cook a frozen pastel in the microwave by popping into boiling water for only 12 minutes on high.

You should have at least one good pilón. How can you make mofongo without one?

Today's cooks don't have much time to spend in the kitchen or time to prep before actually having to cook a meal. Our criollo kitchens should have the following:

Sofrito frozen in ice cube trays and stored in freezer bags. That way you can use one or two cubes and leave the rest in the freezer. The small cubes defrost fast.

Store bought minced garlic. It is better than having to handle all those little pieces yourself. When you need garlic just open the jar and use what you need. The garlic keeps for a very long time and is preserved in oil. One teaspoon minced garlic is approximately 1 garlic clove.

Either store bought or homemade diced onions. Dice them and freeze them. Use what you need and reseal the bag. One small onion measures roughly ½ cup.

Diced and sliced bell peppers, red peppers, and yellow peppers. They keep well in the freezer. Use a freezer bag for diced peppers and one for sliced peppers.

Make sure you press out all the air and seal the freezer bags well to keep the contents fresh. Vegetables and herbs keep in the freezer for about 3 months, no more.

We should also have ready to use pieces of bacon to replace the traditional tocino. Buy large boxes at the grocery store and divide into portion and put in baggies then put the baggies in a large freezer bag. That way they won't be frozen together and you can use what you need.

When you find plátanos verdes, buy plenty and prepare tostones for the freezer. Just process as usual but stop once you have fried them the first time and have mashed them down. Then store portions in baggies and put the baggies in a large freezer bag.

You can do the same thing with ripe plantains. Fry them a bit then cool and freeze. Just make sure than you divide them into portions in baggies before freezing in large freezer bags.

For those who can't find platanos, guineitos verdes, and yautias easily, just buy them when you find them. Grate them and freeze them in 1 or 2 cup freezer bags. Once you have all the ingredients defrost and make pasteles or alcapurrias.

When using plantains and guineitos verdes, cut off both ends, cut a slit lengthwise, then drop them into hot water. This will make peeling a snap!

If you are making pasteles and have left over masa, you can freeze it and use it to make alcapurrias later. And you can freeze left over meat picadillo (stuffing) to make rellenos de papa later, which are delicious even when made with dry potato flakes (a great time-saving short-cut). Or you can save the picadillo for pastelillos de carne.

You can cook the tripe for mondongo in a crockpot overnight or during the day while at work. You can also use the crock pot to boil meats for soups and rice dishes.

For fast and equally delicious arroz con pollo, use canned chicken and chicken broth.

Save leftover rice in the freezer for great tasting Boricua style refried rice. Fry some bacon pieces down (DON'T discard the grease), when the bacon is almost done add diced onions and bell peppers. Then add one or more types of meat, diced into small pieces (steak, chops, chicken). Add the rice last. You'll never throw out left over rice again. You can even use different kinds of rice together like chichen and rice, plain white rice, or yellow rice.

Our pantries should always have short-grain rice (Canilla is a good brand), canned beans to make a quick pot of habichuelas guisadas, tomato sauce, capers, sliced salad olives with pimientos, jars of roasted red bell peppers (pimientos morrones), garlic powder and flakes, oregano, achiote, Sazón Goya, adobo, and cans of beef and chicken broth for great tasting rice. We should also have canned garbanzo beans and gandules, as well as corned beef for "carne bif," plus canned diced tomatoes with and without onions (we prefer Italian style), olive oil, Vienna sausages for great arroz con salchichas, sardines and salmon, boxed bacalao which last a long time in the fridge, plantain chips, ingredients for flan and rum cakes, and dry coconut flakes for besitos de coco.

Are you hungry yet?