Friday, April 30, 2010

Pineapple Upside Down Bread Pudding

It was time to clear out my freezer, and this is what I found.
Bags of pieces of bread. Time to make bread pudding. About a month ago I posted a recipe for bread pudding. I can't do that again, I thought. Unless, I make it a little different. I'm stepping out of my comfort zone, remember?

So I had some leftover canned pineapple from the Ensalada Guacamola, and I thought, how about a pineapple upside down bread pudding? Doesn't sound right does it, but I did it anyway.

To make this pudding we will need:
about 6 cups worth of bread cut into 1/2" cubes.
1 can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened condensed milk
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup sugar for caramelizing
1/2 cup of the liquid from the pineapple can

  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.
  3. Place 3 rings of pineapple atop the caramel side by side. Set aside to cool.
  4. Cut your leftover bread into cubes and place into a large mixing bowl.
  5. In a blender beat the evaporated milk, condensed milk, 4 eggs, and vanilla extract
  6. Pour this mixture into bowl with the cut up bread and stir. Let sit for a few minutes for the bread to absorb some of the liquid. If it appears too dry you may more of the pineapple liquid, if it's too wet, add bread.
  7. Place this mixture into the bread pan.
  8. Place this pan into a larger rectangular pan that is at least 2 inches deep.
  9. Place both of these into the oven and pour hot water into the larger pan to about half way full.
  10. Bake for approximately 1 1/2 hours, until a knife comes out clean when inserted into the center of the pudding
  11. Let cool and refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight.
  12. 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.


I learned to make Stromboli here in the Midwest. A lady I met up here that I became friends with taught me this recipe.

You will need one frozen bread loaf
1 lb sweet Italian sausage
8 oz mozzarella or Italian cheese mix
Non-stick cooking spray or olive oil

Let your bread rise according to package instructions.
Brown your sausage and drain the fat. Let cool
In a bowl, combine your cooled sausage with your cheese. Set aside.
Here's the fun part: spray you dough with non-stick spray or drizzle olive oil over it and punch it with your fist so that it collapses. Work the dough with your fingers stretching it to the edges of your large baking pan. (see pictures). Spread your sausage and cheese evenly on the dough. Now carefully starting at one end and sliding to the other end, start rolling your stromboli. Tuck in the sides, and try to not let any of the filling spill out.

Cangrejitos de Jamon: Ham Stuffed Pastry

Okay, so I felt bad that my camera wasn't working the other day when I made these with crab, but I wasn't going to repeat the crab, so I made them with the more traditional ham.

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

I used Pillsbury buttermilk dinner rolls. Flatten each individual dough roll with a rolling pin on a floured surface, and drop 1 tablespoonful of ham mixture (Click here
into each, rolling the dough into a crescent shape.Place on a greased baking dish and brush the tops with a beaten egg. Bake for about 20 mintues (keep your eyes on 'em). Remove when golden brown. (As an experiment I added one teaspoon of sugar to my beaten egg, to give it an ever so slightly sweet flavor).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cangrejitos de Cangrejo: Crab Stuffed Pastry

Let me start off by apologizing for not having photos of the steps I took to a make these pastries. The technology is just not cooperating today. The battery in my camera died, and I couldn't put off the baking until it recharged.  To make matters worse, I've been having trouble since last night uploading pictures to blogger, so I had to ask my daughter to upload for me from her computer.

Okay, so I was thinking of Cangrejitos. Cangrejo means crab, thus the name for these crab shaped pastries. Although usually filled with ham, I thought how cool would it be to fill them with actual crab! Cangrejitos are not something that are normally baked in Cuban households as they are readily available in Cuban bakeries, and are a staple at parties. Now remember I'm in the Midwest, so this is a variation of cangrejitos

The traditional dough is made with 1 1/2 cups flour, 8 oz cream cheese and 1 stick of butter. It's a relatively simple recipe that, although time consuming, is relatively easy to make, and I will make it another day.  
For these cangrejitos I pulled out a roll of Pillsbury butter dinner rolls. I flattened each individual dough roll with a rolling pin on a floured surface, and I dropped 1 tablespoonful of my crab mixture into each, rolling the dough into a crescent shape.

For the crab mixture I chopped 1/4 of a medium sized onion and satueed it in olive oil, I added about 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley, and one can (6 oz) of lump crab meat, drained. I let this cool and added 1 beaten egg to hold it together.

You can brush an egg wash on the tops to give them a glaze. Into a pre-heated oven for about 20 mintues (keep your eyes on 'em). Remove when golden brown. They weren't "traditional" but they were yummy.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The One Thing

Do you remember this scene from City Slickers:

"Curly: You know what the secret of life is?
Mitch: No, what?
Curly: This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don't mean shit.
Mitch: That's great, but what's the one thing?
Curly: That's what you've got to figure out."

I've thought about these lines since I first saw that movie almost two decades ago. Believing at first that it was profound advice, but now I believe that old man was full of crap. How can you go through life just concentrating on one thing? I mean, aren't we supposed to be well rounded?

I like the challenge though of concentrating on one thing; it's the process –the evolution– of becoming really good at something. With cooking the end result, of course, is as important as the process. We want the food to taste good. I can understand how a person can become passionate about cooking, dedicating his/her life to just this one thing.  I'm not one of those people.

If I concentrated only on cooking, who would clean the toilets, mop the floors, do the wash, the groceries ... run the business? Not to mention, how boring would that be? I mean after a certain amount of years doing one thing, you should be able to master the one thing and move on to another. Shouldn't you? Yet, we have to eat every day. Oh what a paradox!

I believe I may come to master a particular dish or two; for everything else I'll keep trying. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Guiso de Maiz (Corn Stew)

My husband moved up here before me to get the house we were remodeling in order. Since we were apart for a period of a few months, I flew up to see him a couple of times. (really: I wanted to check on the progress of the house). He drove me around town and within ten minutes we were in the corn fields. Acres and acres, miles and miles. Isn't it beautiful? he asked. I sighed. Yes darling, it's beautiful. (really: Good Lord! I'm in the middle of nowhere!)  I had to accept reality. The amber waves of CORN were not ocean waves… but when in Rome … make Guiso.

To make this Cuban Corn Stew you will need:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
4-5 cloves of garlic, pressed
2 small spanish chorizos, skin removed and sliced
1 kielbasa sausage, cut into slices
about 2 cups worth of diced ham
1 can tomato sauce
1 bay leaf
1 can cream style corn
1 can whole kernel sweet corn (15 oz)
or frozen corn kernels
two fresh ears of corn, cut into one inch chunks (or you can slice the kernels off)
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
about a dozen small green pimento stuffed olives, whole
2 cups water or broth
4 hard boiled eggs 
salt to taste

I'm making this guiso with ham. Saute the onions, peppers and garlic in the olive oil, along with the ham, add the tomato sauce, bay leaf, creamed corn, sweet corn, potato, carrots, olives and water.  (The potatoes will thicken the stew, so you may need to add a little more water, use your judgement) Let simmer 20-30 minutes.  Remove bay leaf. Peal your 4 hard boiled eggs and add them whole to the stew.

Serve with white rice or bread.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Batter Fried Fish

I'm going on a diet starting tomorrow. As the Rolling Stones sang... what a drag it is getting old.  I used to be able to eat almost anything and maintain my weight. No more. This is it! No more fried food for a while.

I started out with 6 Tilapia fillets. I had never heard of this fish before I moved up here, but it appears to be quite common and is quite suitable for frying.  I seasoned the fillets with lemon, salt and pepper. I kind of eyeballed it for the batter but I mixed about 3/4 cup Aunt Jemima pancake mix (I had it sitting out from yesterday's experiment), about 1 cup flour, 1/2 tablespoon baking soda, 1 egg and 1 cup water (more or less) – you can substitute beer.

Into the heated oil they went. We ate them with a little tartar sauce, and Ensalada Guacamola on the side.

Pedro's Ensalada Guacamola

My friend in California commented on my BLTA suggesting I try an Ensalada Guacamola (not to be confused with Mexican Guacamole). Here it is.

"Peel and cube equal amounts of fresh (I used canned) pineapple and avocado, slice a red or sweet onion (Vidalia or Maui will do) very thinly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Dress with a simple vinaigrette. It's so fresh and to die for!"
Thanks Pedro!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Salsa de Aguacate: Avocado Sauce

To make this avocado sauce I followed the recipe in Memories of a Cuban Kitchen by Urrutia Randelman. The recipe call for 2 ripe avocados, but as it turns out, I only had one that was ripe enough; nevertheless, these are the proportions.

2 large, ripe avocados
juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup chopped pimento-stuffed green olives
1 tbsp Spanish capers, drained
6 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

In a non reactive bowl, mash the avocados to a paste. All the ramaining ingredients and  blend well. Place on avocado pit in the sauce to keep it from darkening and refrigerate until ready to serve as a dip.

Pretty simple.

Where's the Beef? Comfort Food

Comfort food refers to simple, familiar food that brings some form or measure of comfort, a sense of well-being and satisfaction.  It is basically pleasing and can have a nostaligic element either to an individual or specific culture.

This is a conundrum for me.  It's amazing how much food can define a culture, and what I eat makes me feel as misplaced as the bananas in my chicken noodle soup, or plantains in my omelet, the squid in my rice and the meat in my dessert.

When I married my husband, I realized how far from American I was. The biggest shocker was that growing up he ate beef everyday. I questioned him:

Pork?....Chops on Sundays
Chicken?....Not my favorite
Pizza?....With Pepperoni
Beans?....No thanks

Although I mostly post Cuban recipes for this blog, be assured that I DO NOT cook Cuban food everyday. Although I've weened my husband from eating beef all the time; I mostly cook the foods that he enjoys.

In the upcoming weeks, I'm taking my husband out of his comfort zone (he'll be sneaking out to Steak 'n' Shake, I'm sure).  I'm going to try new recipes... some Cuban, some not, most without beef. We'll see how he fares. Check back soon.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


My daughter is in California this week. She called yesterday and told me she was enjoying a BLTA. Must be avocado, I responded.  Seems like they put avocados in almost everything in California.  I have another friend from California who recently commented on this blog that he likes his double cheeseburgers with "lots of bacon, swiss cheese, avocado and if possible, grilled onions." I guess California did invent the California Roll with avocados, and they grow their fair share – approximately 90% of the nation's avocados are grown in California.

We had an avocado tree in Florida which made me bias to preferring the Florida avocados which are larger (often growing twice the size of the west coast fruit) and juicier with a light green, smooth skin. It is less buttery than the California avocado and contains up to half the amount of fat – plus because it was grown in my back yard it was free.

Tonight we're enjoying a BLTA with avocado from... California!
4 slices crisp fried bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado, bread mayo, Simple.

By the way the fat in avocados is the the "good" kind, so if you want to eliminate fat from this sandwich, eliminate the bacon!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Spaghetti with Meatballs (Albondigas)

It don't come easy.
I was discussing with a friend the other day just how complicated Cuban cooking is. I don't mean to scare anyone away, but the fact is that Cubans take simple ingredients and complicate them. We can't just grill a steak. No... we have to marinate it first, and chop onions and parsley to sprinkle on top.  We look at an ear of corn, and we can't just steam it or boil it; no, we have to slice off the kernels and grind the kernels and transform it into tamales. Can we just roast a chicken in the oven? No, we need to prepare a mojo and let it marinade for 24 hours. The list goes on and on. I personally need to simplify my life.

Take something relatively simple to make such as spaghetti with meatballs. This is a typical recipe for Cuban Albondigas (Cuban Meatballs) that I copied/translated from La Cocina Cubana.

1 lb ground beef
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp ground onion
2 tbsp ground pepper
½ cup milk
1 cup bread crumbs
1 tbsp salt
¼ tbsp black pepper
½ oil for frying

Mix all the ingredients except of the eggs and bread crumbs. Form your meatballs then pass them through the beaten eggs and next the bread crumbs. Heat the oil and fry the meatballs until they are golden. Remove from the oil.

That's just the meatballs, then you still have to make the sauce. My grandmother used to make them this way, and if you want to try them, they are very tasty. As far as I'm concerned it's too much trouble and way too fattening; after all, it's breaded and fried ground beef! Please, my cholesterol is already through the roof.

Here's how I make them for spaghetti
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 egg beaten
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
seasoned salt

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. (Yes, I boil my meatballs to eliminate the fat). Combine above ingredients and form into balls carefully dropping them in the boiling water as you go. Let the meatballs fully cook in the boiling water.

For the sauce.
1 can/jar spaghetti sauce, traditional flavor
4 cloves garlic, pressed
1 cup red wine
olive oil
a dash or oregano
a dash of basil
a dsh of rosemary
salt and pepper
1-2 cups water from the pot with the meatballs

Heat a little olive oil in a pot and drop in your pressed garlic. Cook on medium heat for just a minute or so and pour in your spaghetti sauce, add your herbs and spices. With a slotted spoon remove your meatballs from the water and drop into your sauce. Add one to two cups of the water from the pot of the boiled meatballs. Let simmer while your pasta cooks. You know how to cook pasta.

Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. P.S. It took me longer to prepare this post than to prepare the dish.

Cuban Buñuelos

Cubans will  make dessert out of anything.  My grandmother used to make a tomato dessert, my mom was famous for making dessert with grapefruit rind, dulce de toronjas, what a chore that was! But what dazzles me the most is making dessert out of yuca and malanga. I adjusted this recipe from Three Guys in Miami to fit my available midwestern can click here

2 cups ground yuca (one large yuca root)
2 cups ground potatoes (2 large potatoes)
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 egg yolks
2 cups flour sifted
1 tsp baking soda
vegetable oil for frying

Bring about five quarts of water to a boil. Peel the yuca and the potatoes and place in boiling water. Add lemon juice. Reduce heat to medium and cook until soft, but not mushy. Drain. Remove woody parts from the center of the yuca. In a food processor or food mill grind the cooked yuca and malanga until very fine a pasty. Remove any chunks.

Beat the egg yolks and blend in the salt, flour and baking soda. Add the ground yuca and potato. The dough should be thick enough to roll. Take about a tablespoon of the dough and roll on a l.ightly floured surface making a long strand. Twist it into a figure 8 or a small circle. See picture. (makes about 2 dozen, I refrigerated a batch for the next day)

Deep fry the dough pieces in hot oil until golden brown, light and fluffy.

Traditionally these are served with an anise syrup or they can be sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. I sprinked some with powdered sugar, and the rest we ate straight out of the fryer.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sarcasm at the Dinner Table

Growing up I had a difficult time understanding sarcasm.  I'm not sure if it was because I was struggling with two languages, or I was just that innocent; afterall, I always say what I mean and mean what I say. Although there are some very sarcastic people in my family, you know who you are, it wasn't until I met my husband that the sarcasm began to boil my blood. Sarcasm exemplifies higher intelligence, he would argue. Sarcasm is the epitome of passive-aggressive behavior, I would retort.

My mental response to so many years of sarcasm has led to paranoia at the dinner table:
—How's the meatloaf?
—Yeah, well excuse me, I thought it was good.

I have learned that if he goes back for seconds or requests it for lunch the next day, then my cynicism was uncalled for and I can put my mind at ease, but now he's trying to diet. Here we go again.

—Would you like some more?
—No, but it was good though.

I roll my eyes and sigh.

CRD's: Fried Donuts

Let me tell you about the birds and the bees
and the Cuban refugees.

I have coined these fried donuts CRD's – Cuban Refugee Donuts.  Donuts were a novelty to newly arrived Cubans.  Back in the sixties we couldn't afford to buy donuts at donut shops (or anywhere else for that matter), but that didn't stop us from attempting to make them at home.  We had a great aunt whom everyone affectionately called Tia Nena, and she was the one who taught me how to make donuts from what were then 9¢ Pillsbury dough rolls.

Separate your dinner rolls and knead them a bit with your fingers. Poke a hole in the middle. (or you can elongate and twist the dough). Bring a skillet with 1/2" of vegetable oil to medium high heat. Place your donuts in the oil 2 or 3 at a time. The donuts will inflate. If they brown too quickly lower the heat, we want the dough to cook through. Flip your donut and remove when golden brown to a paper-towel-lined plate.

Who doesn't like fried dough? Dust your CRD's with powdered sugar. You may enhance your donut experience by dipping into sweetened condensed milk.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Quick Tuna/Pasta Salad

I'm always in a hurry to make lunch. This is quick and serves 4-6

6 oz. boiled pasta
2 cans of tuna (10 oz)
1/4 cup onions, diced
1 celery stalk diced
1/4 cup tomatoes, diced
sliced olives, green and black
2 to 3 large dollops of mayonnaise
salt and pepper

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Full Pantry?

I never really kept a full pantry in Miami. Having experienced several hurricanes, some quite devastating, it made no sense to keep too much food in the house. Of course, one needs to be prepared with an abundance of non-perishable food, but in Florida without air conditioning everything is perishable.

Once I would hear that a hurricane was imminent I would stop buying food that needed refrigeration. Everything in the freezer needed to be consumed, not just because it would spoil when the electricity went out (notice I said when not if), but to make room to make ice. Any plastic container would do: tupperware, empty soda jugs, juice jugs, even styrofoam cups. Important things needed to be taken care of: getting business deadlines done, boarding up the house, filling the gas tank, getting cash out of the bank/ATM, standing in line at the grocery stores to get as many gallons of drinking water, loaves of bread and bags of ice you could get your hands on, filling the bathtub in case the water went, etc.

Then the frenzy would begin in the kitchen, trying to beat the clock. What time is it supposed to hit? Four? Five hours?  Into the oven went whatever roast or chicken had been in the freezer.  Prepare meatloaf with the ground beef.  Into the oven. Those eggs will spoil. Boil them.  Sandwich meats: stick them in the freezer they'll be thawed by tomorrow. What about the milk, the cheeses, the mayo, the orange juice? Eat it. Drink it. Deal with it. All of this was done in vain knowing that it could not all be consumed in the next 24-36 hours before all the ice had melted and the food started to rot in the Florida heat.  Of course, the beer could not go to waste; my husband took care of that.

Once the perishables were disposed of the "fun" would begin.  In Florida the majority of homes have electric ranges which, of course, are useless without electricity.  We had a charcoal grill, (and even the charcoal becomes scarce). So, what to make with just canned food and dry goods?  It takes a really long time to boil a pot of water with just a little bit of charcoal, but I have patience. In went the spaghetti noodles. Open a can of spaghetti sauce and one of canned ham, I think there's some onion and garlic that's still good. A little red wine will make everything better. Above a sterno flame I prepared the sauce, and eventually the noodles gave in and went limp. That night, eleven of us ate spaghetti by candlelight in the back yard among the debris of fallen trees, demolished fences and scattered sheds, roof tiles at our feet.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Shrimp Spring Rolls

Not long ago I was in line at a local pharmacy.  In front of me stood a slim woman, well dressed with tight jeans and heals.  I've never been a girly girl, but I admired her style, and especially her hair. I've always had bad hair days, and this woman's hair had no frizz, no split ends, it looked healthy and bouncy with a lovely color. Dare I ask what product she uses? As I contemplated approaching her, she turned around. To my horror, she must have been about 90 YEARS OLD!  I gasped!  This is an example of what I would call false advertising! 

This happens with food too.  Have you ever been into a fancy bakery where the confections are outrageously priced, but they look sooooo good that you're willing to take out your wallet for what you imagine must be delightfully orgasmic.  You take one bite and then it's F*!% S^&#;! This tastes like crap! What's on the inside matters.

I found rice paper for spring rolls at the market the other day, and I decided to try it out. I read online that you just have to dampen it to make it pliable. It's ready to eat as is, or you can fry them or steam them. I made these with cooked shrimp, lettuce, cucumber, avocado, and shredded carrots, and they are translucent so we can see what's on the inside! Oh, and of course it goes without saying, these are NOT Cuban.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Croquetas de Jamon: Ham Croquettes

Today my adventures lead me to croquetas de jamon – ham croquettes. Although commonly served at parties, these appetizers are consumed at any time of day. They can be served at breakfast, prepared in a sandwich at lunch, as an appetizer at dinner or as a midnight snack. Croquettes are difficult to describe if you've never tasted one or even heard of them. Basically they are made of ground ham, formed into small cylindrical shapes, lightly breaded and fried. This is a time consuming recipe, and few modern-day Cubans bother making them at home since they are readily available in Cuban bakeries, cafeterias, restaurants, and even packaged frozen; yet, I cannot find them here. So, if I really want them, I must make them myself.

  • 4 cups ham (ground or finely chopped in a food processor)
  • 1 small onion (finely chopped in a food processor)
  • 2 cloves garlic (pressed or chopped in a food processor)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk, scalded
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the breading:
  • flour
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • very fine bread crumbs or cracker meal
vegetable oil for frying

In a large skillet melt the butter and whisk in the flour, gradually add the milk whisking until the mixture becomes a smooth paste. Add the remaining ingredients and continue cooking over low heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat. Place the mixture into a bowl and let it cool thoroughly. Refrigerate. It's best to work with this mixture when it's completely cold. Okay, now to form the croquetas. First, you will need to sprinkle a light layer of all purpose flour onto a work surface. Line up to 2 shallow bowls. In the first one beat an egg (you can add a little water to it), and in the second, pour the fine bread crumbs. Scoop up 1 tablespoon of the ham mixture and roll it on the floured surface to form a cylinder about 2 inches long and 3/4 inches in diameter. Dip it in the beaten egg and then in the bread crumbs. Repeat this process over and over renewing the flour/egg/crumbs when necessary. At this point you can freeze those that you will not consume right away.

In a large heavy-bottomed skillet bring 1 to 2 inches or oil to medium high heat. Fry 5 or 6 croquettes at a time until golden on all sides, turning with a slotted spoon. Transfer them to a paper-towel lined platter. Keep in a warm oven until you have fried all that you desire.

Yields 30.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cuban Style Pot Roast turned Stroganoff

I can't cook Cuban food everyday, but most of my recipes have a Cuban flavor. This is basically a Stroganoff made with a Cuban-spiced pot roast ... sort of.  It's good. Trust me.

I pulled out the Crock Pot and in went:

3 1/2 lb roast
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, pressed
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup sherry
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp orgeno
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper

Once the roast is done, remove the broth (about 6 cups worth) to make a typical american gravy, and pull the roast apart with a fork. (The roast should be tender enough to do this without effort).

Boil 1 lb of fettucini noodles and drain. Set aside.

For the gravy:
In a large pot melt 4 tbsp butter over medium high heat whisk in 3-4 tbsp flour to form a paste and slowly add in your 5-6 cups beef broth whisking until thickened.
Add the pulled roast and fettucini noodles and mix together. I threw in some green peas for color.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Refrigerator Blindness

Wives and mothers beware! There is a common affliction that affects most men and many children.  Prolonged exposure to an open refrigerator can lead to Refigerator Blindness.  We see it all the time. Our husbands/children will walk over to the refrigerator, open the door and stare for a few minutes at which time we will hear a yell ...
"Where's the ketchup?" "It's in there!" "I can't see it." Refrigerator Blindness.

In my household Refrigerator Blindness has metastasized.
"We're out of sugar." "Look in the pantry." "I can't see it!" Pantry Blindness.
"Where's the can opener?" "In the drawer." "I can't see it!" Utencil Drawer Blindness.
"Where are my car keys?" "Look in the refrigerator." Alzheimer's.  

Monday, April 5, 2010

Quick Ham & Potato Salad

I bet you have leftover Easter ham. I made a quick salad for lunch.

4 ingredients:
potatoes, peeled, chopped and boiled
ham, chopped
onions, chopped
(salt and pepper if needed)

That's it. I didn't write the amounts, but you can eyeball it depending on how much ham you've got left.

Bocaditos: Finger Sandwiches

We've all arrived at our present destination via the decisions we've made in life.  It's astounding how two simple words led me on a thirty-year-long path of sleep deprivation, physical flagellation, mental debilitation, moral degradation and artistic suffocation.  Those two words were I do.  No, no, it wasn't the answer to that question. The question was "Do you want a job in advertising as a graphic designer?"  I do.

When I started out, I didn't have a car.  Working in Miami Beach and living over 20 miles away, I had to make two bus transfers followed by a mile walk to get home.  My boss would sometimes give me a ride to my halfway point.  As has always been the norm in downtown Miami, there are countless of homeless people who live under the overpasses of the expressways.  My boss would point and say, "That's what happens to old ad men."  I would chuckle, but believe me, ad men (and women) really are madmen.  It's the relentless deadlines and the unreasonable, inconsiderate, narcissist demands of the clients, and more importantly the biting of ones tongue that brings us to our demise.

But this blog is about food. So where am I going with this? For those of us who cannot speak our minds for fear of losing our income, I suggest we present those who annoy us and make our lives so impossible with the subliminal finger... the Finger Sandwich, that is.

To make a traditional finger sandwich make sure you choose thinly sliced bread of a tight grain. (Unlike what I used in the picture which was a soft white). Cut away all crusts, apply your spread and cut each sandwich into thirds to ensure that fingers alone can perform the task of lifting to mouth.

For the spread we start with a  base of
8 oz. cream cheese
3 - 4 heaping tablespoons of mayonnaise
1/2 cup pimento stuffed olives, chopped

6 - 8 oz canned
ham  or deviled ham or tuna or salmon or chicken

Mix all ingredients until smooth

The Cuban bocadito sandwich which one orders at bakeries for parties is made with small sweet rolls (I substitute the Hawaiian sweet rolls found at any grocery) and ham spread.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


I made Señoritas (see post below) which required 3 egg yolks. "Do  you want an egg white omelet?" I asked my husband. "No." Okay then I will have to make merengue.  I had never made merengue before, and I was surprised at how easy it was.

3 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of Salt
3/4 cup sugar
Baking parchment, sprayed lightly with PAM (I didn't have parchment so I placed them on aluminum foil. Worked okay.)

With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they reach the soft-peak stage. Add a pinch of salt and continue to beat. Add a small amount of sugar at a time until you've incorporated all of the sugar into the mixture. Don't be afraid to dip your pinky finger in there for a taste, there's no chance to add sugar once they're baked. The mixture should reach the stiff peak stage (test by scooping some onto a spoon or fork and when turned upside down it doesn't fall off).

Scoop dollops of merengue onto your parchment leaving space between them for expansion.

Bake merengues at 200° F for approximately two hours. The meringues should be dry and crispy,  not brown.


I had every intention of making these señoritas with a traditional filling of natilla (vanilla custard) which I wrote down from my sister's 1966 copy of Nitza Villapol's recipe book, but I chickened out and took the easy route using a recipe from Three Guys from Miami

I was a little apprehensive about the flavor of the filling possibly being too overpowering, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well they turned out.

I've copied the Three Guys from Miami recipe here. My personal notes are in red.


1 can condensed milk 
1 can evaporated milk 
1 can of water (use the evaporated milk can) 
3 egg yolks 
3 heaping tablespoons of cornstarch (combine this with the water until smooth) make sure you completely dissolve the corn starch in the water so there are NO lumps
2 tablespoons of powdered sugar for dusting the pastries

Add last: 
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of butter - softened to room temperature

  1. Combine the first five ingredients in a medium pot.
  2. Stir on low heat until mixture thickens to a pudding-like consistency. Stir with your right arm until it falls off, then continue with your left. This takes quite a while of continuous stirring, so go to the bathroom, send your text message, let out the dog, etc. before you start this.
  3. Remove from heat, add vanilla and butter and beat with a wire whisk until smooth. Refrigerate until cool.
1 sheet from 1 package of Pepperidge Farm Frozen Puff Pastry Sheets
1/2 cup powdered sugar (approximate)
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. My oven is temperamental, I set it at 375F.
  2. Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. I didn't flour my surface. Cut the pastry sheet into 3 strips along the fold marks. Place the pastry strips onto baking sheets. I sprayed my baking sheet with non stick cooking spray. Handle the pastry as little as possible!
  3. Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown. Remove the pastry sheets from the baking sheets and let cool on wire racks for 10 minutes. Split the three baked pastries into 2 layers, so that you have 6 layers in all. I cut them in half first then split them, (it's easier that way) so I had 12 layers in all.
  4. Sprinkle some powdered sugar to cover all of the layers. (I missed this step. I don't think it hurt any.) Assemble the señorita by spreading approximately 3/4 cup of the filling on the first layer. Top this layer with a second layer, again spreading the filling on top. Finally cover this layer with a third piece of pastry. I put the powdered sugar only on this top layer and I sprinkled a little cinnamon also.
  5. REPEAT this process with the remaining three puff pastry layers. (When done you will have (four) large pastries, each with three layers.)
Refrigerate your pastries for a couple of hours before serving. 

Click here for a link to the Nitza Villapol recipe for natilla. It is in English and it is halved, but I compared it to the original book and it is correct.

Friday, April 2, 2010

My Kind of Town: Chicago Is

The first time I visited the Windy City was in October of 1992, and it was as if I had always known it.  Everything seemed so familiar.  I felt at home.

I now live a two hour drive away, but unfortunately it has been almost two years since I've been there. My husband says my attitude changes as soon as I see the silhouette of the city come into focus from the expressway.  I become unusually happy.  My visits to the city in the last few years have consisted of hectic one day tours in the summer.  We park the car and walk, or take the free trolleys.  I've seen all the museums, and although I don't like to shop, I just adore Michigan Avenue.  I love the water taxi rides on the Chicago river and on Lake Michigan.  I have gone to the top of the Sears Tower and have seen the curvature of the Earth. (Yes, you can see it from up there. Notice the picture I took above, summer 2008).

I've eaten Chicago style pizza, and Chicago style hot dogs, but I still haven't found a Cuban restaurant. Oh, I know they exist. I can google you know, but from what I've read online, non of them sound authentic. So if you can recognize true Cuban food, and know of a restaurant in Chicago that serves it, please leave me a comment. If I'm lucky enough to get there this summer, I will definitely check it out.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Breaded Steak stuffed with Ham and Cheese

Breaded steak stuffed with ham and cheese with a side of yuca fries with mojo and salad.

Okay, I don't know where this recipe came from. I think it may have been my mother's invention – a culinary spark that extinguished almost as soon as it arrived, but we somehow managed to grasp it and store it into memory. Making this steak is relatively simple. Although Bistec Empanisado or Breaded Steak is very common in the Cuban kitchen, this differs with the additions of ham and swiss cheese (sandwiched between the steak and the ham).

You will need:
Palomilla Steaks (thinly sliced sirloin)
Seasoning (whatever you would normally season your steak with, I use seasoned salt and a little lemon)
Swiss cheese
Sweet ham
All purpose flour
1 egg
bread crumbs
vegetable oil 

I halved my steaks to make them easier to handle. I would have prefered thinner, but these turned out fine.
Lay one slice of swiss cheese on top of each seasoned steak and a slice of sweet ham above that. Now to hold it all together weave a toothpick through it at both ends.

To bread it, you will need three shallow bowls. Pour some flour into the 1st bowl, in the next one beat an egg (you can add a little water to it), and in the third, bread crumbs.

From left to right: flour both sides of your steak, drag it through the egg (both sides), and finish it off in the third bowl by coating it on both side with the bread crumbs.

Pour vegetable oil into a frying pan about 1/4 inch high. Bring the heat up to medium high and carefully place your steaks (steak side down) in the hot oil. If it starts to brown too quickly bring the heat down to medium. Let it fry for a few minutes before flipping. (This is where it gets tricky because you cannot tell how done your steak is, it takes experience and trial and error; however, depending on how thin your steak is, you could probably judge the cooking time correctly.)

Remove the toothpicks before serving. 

Yuca Frita: Yucca Fries

Hmmm, it seems like my last few posts have been all about fried food. I say why stop now? Let's make YUCCA FRIES.

Yuca (cassava) is a white starchy tropical root widely consumed in Afrida, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. Yuca is firmer than potatoes and starchier and can easily be substituted for potatoes in soups and stews. It is usually boiled or steamed, but also fried as chips or in thicker chunks (as shown here), and eaten as a substitute for french fries.

I have been able to find fresh yuca here in the summer, but more often than not, I find it in frozen packages. I am making my yuca frita from frozen, but I am placing a picture here of what it looks like fresh. If you find it fresh, you must first peal it and cut it into large chunks before boiling.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the yuca and boil until tender (when you can easily slide a fork into it). Strain the yuca and let cool on a paper towels to absord the moisture.  Remove the woody center by slicing the cooled yuca vertically. Cut your yuca into thick strips.

While the yuca is cooling we will prepare a mojo. 
To the juice of 2 limes (you can use lemons) add 2-4 cloves of pressed garlic and 1 tsp salt. Stir. Set aside.

Heat enough oil to deep fry your yuca strips. Fry the yuca in batches until they reach a golden brown. Place on a paper towel lined plate and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Hold in a warm oven while you fry the remaining batches.

You can now sprinkle the hot fried yuca with the mojo, or serve the mojo on the side for dipping.