Since this is my first real catching up post this year, I had to find the right image to illustrate the month. It’s been such a mild winter that February didn’t really look like February, so I thought of valentines instead. My absolute favorite came in the form of Fernando Trueba’s Chico & Rita, set largely in 1940′s Havana, Paris and New York and scored by Bebo Valdes. Lovely from the first note, I can only say that the film is una joyita. Though it inexplicably lost the Academy Award to a movie about a lizard (full disclosure I’m both biased and haven’t actually seen Rango), there were some inspiring wins at this year’s Oscars like Christopher Plummer for Beginners and Octavia Spencer for The Help. On her fantastic new blog The Peacock Chronicles, my sister Carmen used a recent experience filming a commercial to write up her own take on the Help controversy in To Maid, Or Not To Maid. Read more
It seems that every time I look for a Colombian recipe, I fall into a soup bowl. With winter going fast and a long weekend to seek out hard to find ingredients, I was finally ready to attempt ajiaco Bogotano. Until recently, I’d only know the Cuban version – a heavy blend of root vegetables, plantains, pork and beef. In Bogota, ajiaco is a chicken only affair, thickened with three kinds of potatoes and flavored with cilantro, scallions and guascas, a pre-Columbian herb with medicinal properties and daisy relatives. When I tried it for the first time last year, I loved the ritual of adding your own dollop of thick cream, briny capotes, sliced avocado and even more cilantro from the garnishes brought to the table. Looking for a recipe, my friend Carolina’s mother, Mari Ines, tried to walk me through it on the phone but I wasn’t quite getting it. I knew I’d be home for a few days so I more or less invited myself over see it done first hand. Read more
It’s always strange to me when I see flan listed as special on a dessert menu. Far from specialized in Cuban restaurants, it’s not rare to find an all-flan menu – de leche, de queso, de calabaza, de mamey and of course – de coco. Yet somehow I never get tired of it. If it hadn’t been brought to the New World via Spain, Cubans would have had to invent it. Most Latin American countries have their own version of this dessert and, while I can’t pretend to be neutral, in the case of flan I think it has to go to Cuba. For me it’s about the caramel. Made directly in the mold, the sugar cooked long enough to go dark amber without becoming bitter (though personally I like it a little bitter). I love the ritual of holding it just over the flame and watching it go clear then dark. It can get away from you easily but it’s always fun to see how far you can take it. Read more
Just back from Miami where I spent the last week running for a great cause that was covered here and here, I’m still playing catch up. Fueled by countless cortaditos, I took advantage of my time there to start research on an upcoming project I’m really excited about, see friends, laugh with my family, and well eat…a lot. Heading to the gate, I had the disorienting feeling that I was leaving home to go home that always comes over me after a long visit. So while I get my bearings, I wanted to keep it simple with this repost of arroz blanco, including the plaintive email in the comments from my sister who inspired it.
Brought to the table in perfectly rounded mounds with an order of black beans, served in heavy chafing dishes on buffet tables, or ladled out of giant cookers from the kitchen counter, white rice hides in plain sight. Though a staple throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, white rice specifically anchors every Cuban meal. Its primacy partly due to large waves of Chinese immigration, I can’t imagine a better blank slate for beans, shredded beef stews, picadillos and plantains. I probably end almost every post with the words “serve over fluffy white rice” but had yet to include a recipe. When my sister texted me to find out how to make it. Rushed and reluctant to text back, I wondered why she didn’t just look it up here, then I checked and realized it wasn’t on my site. Oops. Read more