Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Platanos Maduros: Ripe Plantains

Okay, so I could have let my plantain ripen further 'til it was completely black (the riper the sweeter), but it kept tempting me every time I went into the kitchen. I just had to fry it last night. Whether they look like this or are completely black, this is how we slice and fry them.

Cut the ends of your plantains and discard. Cut a slit lengthwise down the middle of the peel. Remove the peel. Cut the plantain diagonally into 1/2 inch pieces (wider for riper plantains as they tend to fall apart if too thin).  In a frying pan on medium high heat 1/2 inch of vegetable oil and place the pieces in one at a time, reduce the heat if the plantains start to brown too quickly. Flip the plantains over until brown on each side. (riper fried plantains will turn a deep rich brown, almost black). Remove from the pan onto a paper towel lined plate. That's it.

Monday, March 29, 2010


I learned to speak English listening to the Beatles. Okay, I exaggerate, the Monkees and Batman helped too – but more so with the Beatles. I mean, it was the thing to do, memorize, dissect, interpret, play backwards, find the hidden meaning. At first the lyrics were relatively simple...She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah – although they threw me for a loop with Michelle (I was listening to French and using my Spanish brain to interpret into English). Whooo! Anyway, as the years progressed the lyrics got more interesting. And what, you might ask, does this have to do with my food blog?

There are food innuendos everywhere. I guess if I ever go to England I may be invited to take some tea, while enjoying a coffee dessert. I could try a sling of ginger with a pineapple heart. Or on Penney Lane I could buy four of fish. Cream tangerine anyone? A nice apple tart, coconut fudge? Or maybe I'd prefer to eat chocolate cake in a bag. They have Strawberry Fields there you know, and tangerine trees and marmalade skies, montelimat and savoy truffles. I don't think I'd want to try the glass onion, but everything else sounds pretty tasty.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pintones: Fried Yellow Plantains

There are many recipes for plantains, but I make the simplest. Fried. When the plantain is green, the fried plantains are called tostones. When the plantain is yellow, the fried plantains are called pintones, and when the plantain is black and looks almost rotten, that's when it's the sweetest and these fried plantains are called maduros.

I was hoping to be able to explain and show you how to prepare the plantains in the different stages of ripeness. So far, up here, I have only been able to find them yellow; however, the process of making tostones and pintones is the same.  (Maduros are cut differently to fry. I have a plantain ripening, so hopefully I will be able to post that soon)

Cut the ends of your plantains and discard. Cut a slit lengthwise down the middle of the peel. Remove the peel keeping it in one piece. Set aside. Cut the plantain into 1 inch chunks. In a frying pan heat 1/2 inch of vegetable oil and place the pieces in one at a time, reduce the heat if the plantains start to brown too quickly. Flip the plantains over once and slightly brown. Remove from the pan. We have to press them. Place one piece of plantain on a cutting board cover with the peel, place an oven mitt above the peel and press firmly with the heel of your hand. We don't want them flattened like pancakes. (see picture). Return to heated oil and fry 'til golden brown on each side. That's it. They are ready to eat, or you could sprinkle with a little salt.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Pastelitos de Carne: Meat Pastries

My mother taught me that throwing away food is a sin. You could only toss it out if it had spoiled or was inedible (i.e. tasted so bad that God would forgive us). I have no problem eating dinner's leftovers for lunch the next day, but someone in my household frowns upon leftovers. Little does he know that the leftovers are served to him in disguise.

If you recall last week I made picadillo. The next day I took leftover picadillo and made papas rellenas.  I still had picadillo leftover which I quickly froze until today. We shall use the remainder of the picadillo to make Pastelitos de Carne.

This is a meat pastry that is sweet.  Sounds like an oxymoron.  Meat in the middle and sugar on top... is it the main course or dessert?  Uh ... let's call it a snack.  Live a little; it's good.  Here we go....

1 package of Pillsbury puff pastry sheets
seasoned ground beef or picadillo
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
Non-stick cooking spray
Click on picture above to enlarge.

Defrost your pastry sheets and unfold onto a clean surface
Heat oven to 375 F
Slice each sheet in three along the fold lines.
Cut each of these strips into 2 (traditionally meat pastelitos are round, but we don't want to waste any pastry dough, so we'll make them rectangular)
Beat your egg with 2 tbsp of water
Brush the edges of your pastry rectangles with your egg wash
Place a couple of tablespoon of beef in the center of one rectangle and top with another
Press along the edges to seal
Repeat this process.
Grease a cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray or butter.
Place your pastelitos on the cookie sheet
Brush the top of each pastelito with the egg wash.
Bake in oven for 18-20 minutes.

In the meantime, in a small sauce pan heat the 1/2 cup water with the 1/2 cup sugar stirring frequently until syrup consistency, keep it on warm until the pastries are golden

Remove the pastelitos from oven and brush with the sugar syrup. Return them to the oven for another 3-5 minutes.  Let cool.  Enjoy.

You can divide these in half for a party size portion.

Spanish Style Omelet with Chorizo

This omelet is more about the potatoes than the eggs.

5 medium sized potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 small chorizos sliced, casings removed (you can substitute with kielbasa)
handful of sweet peas
1 medium onion, chopped
6 eggs
olive oil

I make my Spanish omelet fritatta style (finishing it in the oven) because in too many instances when it came time to flip a heavy omelet like this... well, it wasn't pretty. So, if you're going to do it this way make sure you use a skillet with an oven proof handle.

Note: I'm not putting onions in my omelet because I have a very picky eater in the house, but it's better with onions.

Set your oven to 350 F.
Coat the bottom of a non-stick skillet with olive oil and saute your onions and chorizos (to release some fat) on medium heat.  Remove the chorizos from the pan and set aside. Put in your sliced potatoes. You may need to add a little more oil. On medium heat toss the potatoes for a few minutes to coat with the oil. We don't want crispy potatoes, so after a few minutes of tossing the potatoes pour in 1 cup of water and cover so that the steam cooks the potatoes through.  While the potatoes are cooking take out your eggs. I like to separate the whites from the yolk, beating the whites first then incorporating the yolks. (I think it makes the omelet flufflier, but it may be my imagination, you don't have to do this step). When the potatoes are soft enough to divide with the spatula and the water has been absorbed, put your chorizos back in, drop in a handful of sweet peas and pour your eggs over the whole thing. Don't touch it! Let the eggs cook for a couple of minutes on the burner, then carefully place the pan in the middle rack of the oven to finish cooking the eggs. This won't take long about 8-10 minutes. Check for like you would with a cake by poking a knife in the center. If it comes out clean then you can remove the pan from the oven. Let cool. Flip the omelet over (good luck) and cut into wedges.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, March 26, 2010

They're baaack!

That retro crock pot that you remember from your mom's kitchen is hip again, and believe me, that slow cooker is a major time saver. Many years ago, I owned one that I used regularly. Then they fell out of favor when microwaves became an affordable home necessity (yes, I was around then). Between fast foods, instant foods and frozen pre-packaged foods, we stopped spending time in the kitchen; and who could blame us? No one wants to work all day, then come home and spend an hour or so preparing a meal that will be consumed in 10 minutes? So I donated that old fashioned crock pot to charity, and into the new modern culinary world I ventured … until last year. I went out and bought myself a new crock pot. You can literally drop a frozen roast in there in the morning and it will be thoroughly cooked and tender by dinner time. You don't have to check on it, stand over it, pamper it ... just go! The crock pot will cook it for you.  There are many recipes out there for crock pot owners and I have begun once again to use my crock pot to aide in my Cuban dishes. So here we go....

Rabo Encendido - Cuban Oxtail Stew

Oh the tale of the oxtail. The first time I made it for my husband, he turned his nose up at it and refused to eat it. The next time, I took the meat off the bone and served it to him. He eats oxtail now.

I can't believe I'm saying this but ... thank goodness for Walmart. Yes I can find oxtail at Walmart. I'm not sure who buys it because most Americans I've met up here have never had it, and like my husband, stick their noses in the air about it, so I say "Good, more for me!" For those of you who are familiar with this dish and for those of you who are daring enough to try it, here is my version of Rabo Encendido which has won it's accolades... at least in my family.

4 lbs of oxtail (you're going to need about 1 lb of oxtail per serving because most of the weight is bone)
olive oil
2 large onions, chopped (red or yellow, whatever you have in the kitchen)
8-10 cloves of garlic, pressed
2 cups beef stock (read below)
1 - 2 cups red wine
2 - 3 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp capers (you can sustitue with green olives)
1 bay leaf 
a few liberal dashes of hot sauce
a dash of soy sauce
a dash of Worchestershire sauce 
salt and pepper to taste

The trick to make oxtail is to let the oxtail simmer until it becomes tender. This is where the crock pot comes in handy. In the morning I put the frozen oxtail in the crockpot, poured water to cover it, put the lid on and set it on low. (If you don't have a crock pot then you'll have to put it in a pot with water to cover, bring it to a boil and let it simmer for about 3-4 hours until tender, coming back to pour more water as it evaporates... believe me it evaporates even when it's covered.) By late afternoon my oxtail was tender.  I removed the fat from the meat, and refrigerated it overnight.  Friday morning I removed the extra fat that had risen and hardened at the top. Okay now, we have relatively lean oxtail sitting in a beef stock. (The cold stock will be gelatenous - that's okay).

Warm enough olive oil on medium heat to saute the onions until limp. Add the garlic and the oxtail. Saute for a bit and then add all other ingredients. Let simmer on very low heat uncovered for about 40 minutes. Serve with rice, and a side of tostones. (I'm going to get around to plantians in another post. I promise!)

you can click on the above photo for a better view

Thursday, March 25, 2010

For Luis: Pudin de Pan - Bread Pudding

My mother no longer cooks. Thank Goodness! The poor dear was never a culinary wizard! Do you remember that song by "Rapper's Delight" that said

have you ever went over a friends house to eat
and the food just aint no good
i mean the macaroni's soggy the peas are mushed
and the chicken tastes like wood

That describes my mom's cooking perfectly. But we must give credit where credit is due and she was fantastic at making desserts. My cousin in California is particularly fond of her bread pudding and when possible will devour it with Delight! 

In my house I freeze old bread, you know the heels that no one wants, that lonely hot dog bun or dinner roll or the leftovers of whole loaves that come wrapped in paper and the next day have hardened. Now and then I need to make room in the freezer; that's when it's time to make pudin de pan. (The recipe/instructions for this is very similar to the recipe for Cheese Flan that I posted a few weeks earlier.)

You will need about 6 cups worth of bread cut into 1/2" cubes. (you can use fresh bread, just don't use any bread containing seeds or nuts)
1 can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened condensed milk
4 eggs
1/2 cup raisins
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. cinnamon powder

1 cup sugar for caramelizing (check Cheese Flan post for more pictures on caramelizing)

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
  2. In an aluminum bread pan over medium-low heat, melt sugar until liquefied and golden in color. Carefully tilt the pan to evenly coat the bottom and sides. Set aside to cool.
  3. Cut your leftover bread into cubes and place into a large mixing bowl.
  4. In a blender beat the evaporated milk, condensed milk, 4 eggs, vanilla extract and cinnamon powder.
  5. Pour this mixture into bowl with cut up bread, add the raisins and stir. Let sit for a few minutes for the bread to absorb some of the liquid. If it appears too dry you may add milk, if it's too wet, add bread.
  6. Place this mixture into the bread pan.
  7. Place this pan into a larger rectangular pan that is at least 2 inches deep.
  8. Place both of these into the oven and pour hot water into the larger pan to about half way full.
  9. Bake for approximately 1 1/2 hours, until a knife comes out clean when inserted into the center of the pudding
  10. Let cool and refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight.
  11. Use a knife to separate the sides of the pudding from the pan. Invert onto a serving plate. The caramel syrup will cover the pudding.
    Variation: My mother would sometimes substitute the raisins and cinnamon with canned fruit cocktail or canned pineapple.

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    America's Love Affair with Bacon

    I avoid bacon and anything that is basically composed of lard, but it's another story for my husband. He will eat anything if it's wrapped in bacon, sprinkled with bacon or has a serving of bacon on the side. When I first met him he wouldn't eat spaghetti unless it was with meat sauce … until I made him Spaghetti Carbonara – with bacon. Up until last month, he wouldn't eat shrimp, until I wrapped it in – bacon. Of course, as far as he's concerned, the only thing better than a cheeseburger is a bacon cheeseburger. A turkey sandwich is better as a turkey club with bacon. What are green beans without a little bacon? And then of course there's the epitome of the bacon sandwich, the BLT! Sometimes I wonder if he even wants the L and the T.

    I'm not sure if this love affair with bacon is strictly American, but I cannot recall my grandmother ever having bacon in the house. It's not that we didn't eat pork (not eating pork in a Cuban household is sacrilegious) – it's just that we don't have that many recipes that require bacon. Actually I don't think we have any. The Cuban equivalent to bacon is Tocino. Tocino refers to the fat and skin cut from the back of the pork. It is neither cured nor smoked. Tocino is usually cut into small squares and fried until crunchy; although I've never cooked with it, and I'm sure they've never heard of it here, and why start now? I am, however, open to creating a Cuban dish that incorporates bacon. So if anyone out there can think of one, please leave a comment and if it sounds good, I'll be making it soon.

    Sunday, March 21, 2010

    Papas Rellenas: Meat Stuffed Potatoes

    I've been cooking all week. It's Sunday and even though it would be only temporary, I'd like to leave the kitchen spotless. My husband has been bugging me for papas rellenas for a while now. He loves this ... it's meat and potatoes, duh! Unfortunately, this is one of those recipes with which you could make a really big mess. You have been warned, but I'm going to try to make this as simple as I can.

    We'll start with instant mashed potatoes. Figure on 1 serving = 1 papa rellena. I'm making enough for 12 (to make it worth my while). Follow directions on the box. You want these mashed to be firm not creamy, so you may need to add a little more potato flakes than called for.  Refrigerate the mashed potatoes for a couple of hours.

    Take out the potatoes and sit them on the counter. Remember that picadillo from yesterday? Take that out and sit it on the counter. Grab 3 bowls and line them up: in the first, pour all purpose flour; in the second, beat 2 eggs, add 2 tbsp water; in the third, pour bread crumbs. Wash your hands well, this is a hands on project.

    To form a papa rellena, take a large tablespoon (or serving spoon) of mashed potatoes and put it in the palm of your hand. Make a dent in it. With a slotted spoon (we don't want the liquid from the picadillo) take some of the picadillo and press it into the dent. Now take another tablespoon of mashed potatoes and put it as a lid on top. Seal the sides with your fingers to form a ball. Set it down into the flour bowl, roll it around to coat all sides. Dip it in the egg wash (you can use a spoon for this). Gently roll it around then pass it into bowl #3 with the bread crumbs. Coat on all sides. Wash your hands and do the next one.

    Repeat this process until you've used up all the mashed potatoes. At this point you can refrigerate them, to fry at a later time or you can freeze them for another day.

    To fry, fill your fying pan with about 1/2 inch vegetable oil. Bring the heat up to medium high, Place the papa rellena in the oil. Let it brown on one side (if it's browning too fast, reduce the heat) then roll it, and then roll it, etc. Place on plate with paper towel. Don't fry too many at one time you need enough space to freely roll the papas in the oil.

    That's it. They're ready to eat or you can make these in advance and warm them later in the oven, and my kitchen is now clean ... at least until dinner!

    Saturday, March 20, 2010

    Picadillo a la Criolla

    I'm making a large quantity of Picadillo to ensure leftovers to make 2 more recipes that I will post later on. Cut this recipe in half for a smaller portion.

    • 2 lbs ground beef
    • 4 tbsp olive oil
    • 2 large onions, chopped
    • 1 large green pepper, chopped
    • 8-10 cloves of garlic, pressed
    • 2 cans tomato sauce
    • 1 tbsp tomato paste
    • 1 or 2 bay leaves
    • dash of oregano
    • dash of ground cumin
    • 1 cup Sherry or dry white wine
    • salt to taste
    • about a dozen pimento stuffed Spanish olives
    • 2/3 cup raisins (optional)
    • 1 cup water
    • 1 tbsp capers (optional)
    • 1 medium potato, peeled and diced
    • 1 carrot, sliced

    Brown and strain the ground beef. Set aside.
    Warm olive oil on medium heat and saute onions, peppers, and garlic until limp. Add the tomato sauce, water, tomato paste, bay leaves, oregano, cumin and Sherry, add the ground beef, capers, olives, potatoes and carrots. Cover and let simmer for about 30-40 minutes. Turn off heat. Let sit about 10 minutes before serving. Serve with white rice and plantains.

    Friday, March 19, 2010

    Pollo a la Plancha: Grilled Chicken Breast

    When I would order Pollo a la Plancha in Cuban restaurants, I always wondered how they managed to bring out this wide flattened chicken breast. What was the explanation to this mystery? Did they put it through some kind of machine? No, no, no, they pound it with a mallet! Oh my ... this is a menopausal woman's dream! I get to hit something, over and over, it turns out tender and delicious and it's simple too!

    Depending on how many you are cooking for, you will need:
    1 whole boneless chicken breast per person
    Lime juice
    Salt and pepper
    Garlic, fresh chopped or garlic powder
    Olive oil

    Place the chicken breasts (one at a time) on a piece of plastic wrap. Fold the plastic over. Place on a cutting board and beat with a meat mallet or rolling pin until very thin. (If the breasts are thick, butterfly them first). Remove plastic and sprinkle with lime juice. Season with salt, black pepper and garlic. Lightly flour the chicken on both sides. Coat the bottom of a frying pan with olive oil and bring the heat to high. Fry the chicken for a few minutes browning it on both sides. Check for doneness. Serve with white rice, black beans and plantains or if you prefer with French Fries.

    Thursday, March 18, 2010

    Dream On: Enchilada de Mariscos

    In the middle of winter sometimes I will dream I am lying on an exotic island. I am wearing a thong bikini (my blumers are probably giving me a wedgie), on the hot sand (I only have about six comforters on top of me), at the water's edge (if my husband nudges me any further, I'll be on the floor). I can feel the ocean breeze (probably the furnace kicking in), and the scent of tanning lotion (my anti-wrinkle cream). I am young and my body is firm and slim (that's when I know for sure I'm dreaming.) I wake up and I think ... SEAFOOD!

    Okay, like I've been saying, I'm  in the middle of the country. Landlocked. I'm not going to find fresh shellfish unless it's flown in, and then who can afford it? Forget about it, and good luck trying to find octopus/mussels/squid/cockles, etc. What to do, what to do? We have to make do with frozen ... (my grandmother is rolling over in her grave). 

    I happened to come across already cooked frozen snow crabs (large cluster) on sale at my local supermarket. Of course finding frozen raw deveined shrimp is simple enough (1 lb), frozen scallops (1 lb) - ditto.

    For this recipe you will need
    4 tbsp olive oil
    2 large onions, chopped
    8-10 cloves of garlic, pressed
    2 cups fish or chicken stock
    1/2 cup Sherry or dry white wine
    3 tbsp ketchup
    1/4 cup capers
    2 tbsp hot sauce
    1 tbsp soy sauce
    1 tbsp Worchestershire sauce 
    salt and pepper to taste

    We start by defrosting it all, peeling the shrimp and cracking the snow crab. Set aside.

    Saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil until the onions are translucent, add all the other ingredients except the snow crabs and let simmer until the shrimp and scallops are cooked (the shrimp will turn pink). Remove the shrimp and set aside (the shrimp will harden if cooked too long). Add the snowcrab and let simmer uncovered on low for about 30-40 minutes until the sauce reduces by 1/3 and the flavors meld. Drop your cooked shrimp back in and let simmer another 5-10 minutes. Serve with white rice and tostones. (I'll be making tostones soon, check back.)

    Saturday, March 13, 2010

    What's for Lunch: Cuban Sandwich

    Most Cuban-Americans have at least one parent or grandparent who worked at some point or another in the "factoria." In our household it was my mother who took the bus at dawn every morning to the sewing factory. On a good day, she could pack a lunch with a leftover slice of Cuban sandwich.

    A Cuban comes home from the "factoria" with a big smile on his face. His wife asks in spanish:
    —How was your day?
    —The boss told me I was sizzling!
    —What words did he use? 
    —You're fired!

    Un Cubano llega a la casa sonriente después de trabajar todo el dia en la "factoria." La señora le pregunta:
    —¿Como te fue? 
    —Estoy muy orgulloso porque hoy el jefe me dijo que yo era la candela.
    —¿Como te dijo?
    —You're fired!

    Soon after arriving in this country, the children were pulled front and center to translate. To our parents our second grade English was better than no English at all, but at seven years old, we barely had a grasp of our native Spanish! Ahh the frustration, the misinterpretation, the incomprehension, the futile attempts at communication. But alas, we had our Cuban Sandwich and we ate it too!


    Cuban bread (yeah right, like we'd find Cuban bread in the middle of nowhere, we'll substitute with a French bread -NOT a baquette- or as in this picture home baked from a frozen bread dough)
    Roast Pork (I made a Hormel boneless pork roast - onion and garlic flavor - threw it into a crock pot until done)
    Sweet Ham, thick sliced
    Swiss cheese
    Dill pickles
    Yellow mustard (optional)

    To prepare the sandwich slice the bread horizontally and spread butter on both inside halves. Lay the pickles on the bottom half followed by a layer of roast pork, then ham and swiss cheese. You can spread mustard on the inside top half.  Close the sandwich, spread a little butter on the top and place it on a Panini press (okay, I know you don't have one, but I bet you have a George Foreman grill which works the same, if not then place the sandwich on a hot (not too hot) lightly greased frying pan. Place a heavy iron skillet on top of the sandwich to flatten.) The sandwich should be compressed to about 1/3 its original height.

    Grill the sandwiches, until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden. Slice the sandwich in half diagonally and serve.

    Friday, March 12, 2010

    Fritas Cubanas and the story of the Humdinger

    I had Cuban relatives that ended up straight out of Havana in Highpoint, NC. It was the early 1960's and the population in the surrounding areas was sparse. My uncle had bought himself a car, and with his wife and two daughters decided to explore their surroundings on a Sunday morning. Unaware that all commerce was closed on Sundays, out into the woods they went without packing a picnic. After a few hours of trying to decipher maps, they found themselves totally lost, hungry, and disappointed at finding "closed" signs at every venue they visited. With starvation eminent, they saw a road sign that read Home of the Humdinger! Open two miles ahead. "Hamburgers!" — my English illiterate family exclaimed. Their mouth watered in anticipation of the meal they were about to consume. They arrived at the diner and sat down. A young woman came to take their order. My uncle in his broken English proudly exclaimed "Four humdingers please." Soon the young woman appeared with four huge bowls of overflowing ice cream sundaes. Their chagrin was unparalleled as they slurrped the last bit of their melting slop. This story leads me to the Cuban Hamburger … Fritas Cubanas.

    Tonight I'm making this variation of the hamburger for 8, To make less cut the measurments in half.

    You will need:
    2 lb ground beef
    4 Spanish chorizo sausage, ground up
    (If you can find them—good for you, but up here, they've never heard of it. When you ask for it they present you with Mexican chorizo. They are not the same. Spanish chorizo gets its distinctive smokiness and deep red color from dried smoked red peppers (pimentón/paprika). Mexican chorizo usually has the consistency of ground beef, though drier, due to a higher chile and spice content.) 
    I'm using 1 lb Italian sausage, so there!
    2 tablespoons ketchup
    1 cup bread crumbs
    1 egg, beaten
    1 medium onion grated
    2 cloves fresh mashed garlic
    1 tsp ground cumin
    Salt & pepper to taste
    1 tbsp. sweet Spanish paprika
    2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

    Hamburger buns

    Mix all ingredients and form into patties. Cook on the grill or in a frying pan. Top with shoestring potatoes and serve on a traditional American hamburger bun.

    Normally Fritas Cubanas are topped with shoe string potatoes, but if you prefer, you can grate them as you would do with hash browns.

    4 large potatoes, chopped or finely grated, fried crispy.


    Thursday, March 11, 2010

    Tuna Cakes

    Okay, this is not a Cuban recipe. Today I couldn't decide what to eat for lunch. As I opened my can of tuna and grabbed my saltine crackers and a bit of mayonnaise, I stared down at the boring lunch I was about to prepare for myself. Then a thought occurred to me ...Tuna Cakes!
    I grabbed another can of tuna (to make it worth my while), and I poured the tuna into a bowl, I crushed about 8 saltines and dropped them in, a dollop of mayonnaise and an egg to hold it all together. I poured a little oil at the bottom of my pan, formed a few patties and in they went. Brown a little on one side, flip them over. .... voila! (I later thought I could have added onions — next time) I mixed a teaspoon of mayo with a squirt of ketchup, a wedge of lemon, and my boring lunch turned gourmet.

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010

    Goodbye City Life!

    With the census upon us, I was wondering what constitutes a city?  "In the US, a city is that part of a state which has incorporated itself as a city to organize various extra services over and above those provided by the state. These can range from sewage treatment and extra police to a mosquito-abatement service." A city can range in population from millions to just a handful such as Maza, ND population 5. 

    Many years ago my aunts from Los Angeles stopped in Miami on their way to and from Cuba. Having left all their belongings to their needy family on the island and knowing they had to spend a night in Miami, they arrived with only the clothes on their backs and their nightgowns. That night they were staying a couple of blocks from my grandmother's house, and they decided that evening to pay my grandmother a visit … in their nightgowns! Upon their arrival in Los Angeles and after recounting their whole trip, my aunt told me about this little adventure. You walked the city streets of Miami in your nightgowns? I exclaimed. City? What city? Miami is a small country town. (Miami es un pueblo de campo.)

    Everything is relative to what you compare it to. I presently live in a city, but really…c'mon?

    Two summers ago my aunt and uncle flew in to see us. She doesn't refer to Miami as a small town anymore!

    Sunday, March 7, 2010

    Sofrito Cubano

    My grandmother gave me advice when I first started dating: Stay away from the good-looking ones, she said. El hombre es como el oso, mientras mas feo, mas hermoso – Men are like bears, the burlier and uglier the better. I didn't pay much attention, and set my sights on the handsome ones. The irony is, that thirty years later, they all pretty much ended up burly and ugly. Thank goodness I did follow her advice when she told me to learn how to cook, and she was a great teacher.

    Most Cuban recipes start with a base called Sofrito. To the following Sofrito you can add meat, or chicken, or fish, or just about anything. It would be difficult to find a Cuban kitchen lacking the following ingredients. How much Sofrito you make depends on the amount of food you're cooking, but the basic recipe requires:

    4 tbsp olive oil
    2 large onions, chopped
    2 large green peppers, chopped
    8-10 cloves of garlic, pressed
    2 cans tomato sauce
    1 or 2 bay leaves
    dash of oregano
    dash of ground cumin
    3/4 cup Sherry or dry white wine
    salt to taste

    The secret to a good Sofrito is to let it simmer a while so all the tastes meld. Warm oilive oil on medium heat and sautee onions, peppers, and garlic until limp. Add the tomato sauce, bay leaves, oregano, cumin and Sherry and let simmer. If you add the salt, taste beforehand as you might not need it at all.

    Saturday, March 6, 2010

    You Say Potatoes, I Say ... Rice!

    If it were up to him, my husband would eat potatoes three times a day: hashed in the morning, fried at lunch, and mashed or baked at dinner. I am Cuban. I eat rice.

    There are as many ways to prepare rice as there are to prepare potatoes, but before we can elaborate on rice, we must know how to cook it, and I am a failure at that! The only way I can successfully cook rice is in a rice cooker, and I recommend it to anyone who regularly cooks rice.

    In a typical Cuban household rice is consumed daily. Cuban ladies wash their long-grain white rice before cooking by rinsing it several times in cold water. This process removes excess starch which makes the rice cook more evenly and it makes the cooked rice less sticky; however, rinsing the rice washes away vitamins, minerals, and iron.

    Washing rice reminds me of a story of a young Cuban bride who calls her mother for directions on how to make rice in the rice cooker. The mother tells her, "first wash the rice, then add water to the rice as directed, a little salt and olive oil." That evening the young bride served her husband the rice which tasted awful. She called her mother in tears and explained that she followed every step.  "I washed the rice as you told me mother, I even used Palmolive."

    Washed or not washed, the ratio of water to rice is 2 to1 with the optional addition of olive oil and salt. Skip the Palmolive!

    Cheese Flan

    Flan can be traced as far back as ancient Rome. The Romans, having domesticated chickens, found themselves with a surplus of eggs for which they developed new recipes, one of which turned out to be a custardly concoction known as flan. Flan survived the fall of the Roman Empire and the transition between ancient times and the Medieval.

    Eventually, flan found two different outlets: In Spain it became a sweet custard generally made with caramelized sugar. The Moors introduced citrus and almonds which are commonly found to flavor flan. Once Christopher Columbus found America the rush to the riches of the region brought the richness of flan with it. Nearly all of Central and South America loves flan in its various custardly forms. England, with its love for pastry crusts, went its own way and developed a different kind of flan. This one makes use of a pastry shell with an open top filled with custard and often mixed with nuts or fruit.

    I have found that Americans are not too fond of flan, they don't like the consistency or the "egginess" of it; however, they do love cheesecake. The following is a variation of Flan ... Cheese Flan which is delicious and a proven success with Americans.

     6 oz. cream cheese
    1 can evaporated milk
    1 can sweetened condensed milk
    3 eggs
    1 tsp vanilla
    1 cup sugar for caramel syrup

    1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (I like to bake Flan at a low heat for a longer time period).
    2. In an aluminum bread pan (you can use any other aluminum baking dish) over medium-low heat, melt sugar until liquefied and golden in color. Carefully tilt the pan to evenly coat the bottom and sides. Set aside to cool.
    3. In a blender beat all ingredients until smooth.
    4. Pour mixture into cooled baking dish.
    5. Place the baking dish with the flan mixture into a larger rectangular pan that is at least 2 inches deep.
    6. Place both of these into the oven and pour hot water into the larger pan to about half way full.
    7. Bake for approximately 2 hours, until a knife comes out clean when inserted into the center of the flan.
    8. Let cool and refrigerate.
    9. When ready to serve, carefully invert the flan onto a serving plate. The caramel syrup will cover the flan.