My sister Carmen has been asking me to make bistec empanizado for this blog for awhile. When I wrote about masitas de puerco, my favorite thing to order from Cuban menus, it seemed only fair to write about hers. Mine came with black beans and hers didn’t, so I’d always pass her my frijoles negros. This week we made a different deal – I’d finally make the bistec empanizado if she’d write the post. Here it is and I’m sure you’ll agree it was well worth the beans.
When I was little, the center of the universe seemed to exist at Casablanca. A bustling Cuban café on 8th street in the then sleepy little town of Miami. When my grandfather took me for lunch, I loved sitting at the counter where the vinyl covered, revolving stools gave me a 360 degree view of the action. When my parents took me at night, the same café was usually empty which gave my sister and I the odd run of the place. We’d feed quarters into the jukebox and play Donna Summer songs as my father talked about what life would have been like/could be like for us in Cuba. I don’t know exactly why I chose Donna Summer. I wasn’t crazy about disco (I didn’t want to dress like a that when I grew up) but there was something about her voice that kept me coming back. It was lonely and defiant. It spoke of another world I couldn’t possibly understand at that age. The boldness of it drew me in and it was endless. Very much like the breaded steak on my plate that I always ordered for dinner. Read more
I’ve wanted to make vaca frita for awhile. Literally translated as “Fried Cow”, I hesitate to order it at Cuban restaurants. While I love the combination of crispy beef and caramelized onions sprinkled with lime, too often it’s more fry than cow. Read more
I was at an event last week when a full tray of sliders slid right past me. While the waiter eluded me, it reminded me of a recipe I’ve wanted to try for awhile – carne fria. A combination of ground sirloin, pork, and sometimes fois-gras, it’s baked or poached then served cold with sweet preserves or sharp mustard. A favorite at family luncheons, it would sit next to the pastelitos, cangrejitos, and bocaditos, proud but ugly, the only adult at the buffet table. I’d wanted to make it last summer for a party but only had a vague idea of how to go about it. It was one of the those second nature recipes that everyone makes but no one writes down. With picnic season starting, I decided to try again and finally found it in Memories of a Cuban Kitchen: More Than 200 Classic Recipes by Mary Urrutia Randelman and Joan Schwartz. There in black and white, wasn’t getting away this time. Read more
I hadn’t thought of meatloaf as Latin food until recently. Butifarron, carne fria, albondigas, it was all there I just didn’t make the connection to the heavy cafeteria slices we’d get at school or the bacon wrapped loafs served at a friend’s house. When I found this recipe for butifarrón sabroso in Puerto Rican Cookery, I couldn’t wait to make it. Last week I gathered all of the ingredients and put it together quickly. I ended up with a smooth loaf floured and ready to…fry? Read more
With a long weekend ahead and no barbecues in site, I’ve been thinking about fritas. A Cuban-style hamburger with more spice than size, it’s pan-fried and topped with crispy shoestring fries. Miami even has it’s own Rey de las Fritas challenging Ronald, Wendy and the Hamburgler for drive-thru supremacy. It was my favorite after the beach snack growing up, and I made my first batch last night. The only missing ingredients to make it a perfect burger madeleine were 1970s strength sun tan oil and sand. Read more
I came across this recipe for an Argentinian matambre or “hunger killer” when I was reading about guachos in Savuer and had to try it. I was a little apprehensive about cooking it for three hours and so were the guys at Staubitz who butterflied the flank steak, but it worked well. There was another version on the site where the steak is seared first then cooked in the oven for a shorter time which I plan on trying soon. I choose this one first mostly because it was attributed to Rosa Angelita Castro de Flores from El Bordo de las Lanzas. I love a recipe with a landscape and with no immediate plans to go away this summer, it temporarily quieted my travel pangs.
When I asked my grandmother who’d taught her how to cook, her answer was always “el exilio”. Married in the 40’s and raising children in early 50’s Havana, she was very much a part of a generation that believed every modern convenience was invented to limit their time in the kitchen – a movement that if she hadn’t followed, she would have invented. Then like many women emigrating to Miami and starting over in a new country with less help and fewer resources to feed their families, the one guide they all shared was Nitza Villapol’s Cocina Criolla.
Known as the Cuban Julia Child (if those two things aren’t in fact mutually exclusive), her book became the center of every cuban kitchen in exile, providing a way for them to see their family’s through a difficult transition and begin recreating what they’d left behind. A controversial figure, whenever I have a basic question about Cuban cooking the first suggestion is always to check el libro de Nitza. Reading through it now, I find all kinds of idiosyncrasies. Cubans are unrepentant Francophiles so while they’re french terms sprinkled throughout, there’s an entire section that puts “pie” in quotes and names ingredients by their American brand names. Only available in a slight, paperback edition that looks dog-eared even when it’s new, it’s a popular gift even now for Cuban women who are either getting married or leaving home, whichever comes first. My own copy found me when I was helping to pack my grandmother’s belongings after she’d passed. I was shocked. First, that she owned a cookbook and second that it had clearly been used. Read more