It has been a long time since I’ve written one of these catch up posts. It’s probably only because we’re deep into the snow-globe months that I’m able to now. Seeing the links I’ve flagged over the last few weeks, it’s clear that each one has been an escape from black and white (or blue) days: Read more
Posts tagged ‘A Taste of Old Cuba’
I missed my kitchen. While there’s been plenty to post, it’s mostly been food that was blended or frozen, steamed or fried, quickly. In and out, I’ve avoided recipes that would force me to spend too much time in the warmest part of my hot apartment in my sweltering city. Though I couldn’t stand the heat, I wasn’t staying out of the kitchen much longer. Read more
I bought the malanga by mistake. I’d considered adding it to my garbanzos last week but left it out at the last minute. Not wanting to let it go to waste, I decided to try making fritters instead. I’d stopped by a friends house unexpectedly when he was finishing a batch for salt cod fritters, and it looked so easy and simple that I wanted to try this variation. They’re the kind of last minute side dish that could be whipped up in a few minutes. I looked through a few different recipes that were very similar – malanga, eggs, a little garlic, maybe parsley. Reading A Taste of Old Cuba, I was reminded that frying 0f any kind was always left for last so that the fritters, plantains or croquetas could be served hot and crisp, never greasy . I hadn’t thought about it before but realized that I do associate the crackle and sizzle of frying with a great meal about to be had – a little music drawing everyone to the table. Read more
With the holidays coming fast and furious, I had the uncharacteristically practical thought that it was time to make empanadas, an easy way to use leftovers. So sensible, but after a poor initial batch involving sirloin tips and too-buttery dough, I had to start from scratch. I was looking for something in a chicken, baked not fried, and maybe a little sweet. That’s when I found Anya Von Bremzen’s recipe for pastela moruna, Moorish chicken with dried fruits and Read more
This past week was my older sister Cami’s birthday, so I have been wound up planning an informal, low-key picnic in Central Park for 40 people. When I sent out the evite, I was worried that people wouldn’t be able to make it. When the RSVPs climbed, I was worried they all meant it when they said they were. I did my best to anticipate any logistical problems – were the bathrooms at the Delacorte Theater open, were leashed dogs allowed on the Great Lawn, were you allowed to hang a piñata from Central Park’s look-but-don’t-climb trees? (Answers: Yes, Yes, and Not if they see you). I prayed for sun but when I woke up to a gray Saturday morning, I was overwhelmed by the enormous number of things left to do for a picnic that was so obviously going be awash in early afternoon thunderstorms and soaked donkey piñatas.
I wanted Cami to have the classic Cuban spread – cangrejitos (crab-shaped puffs filled with sweet ham), crispy croquetas, meat filled empanadas, bocaditos (small white bread sandwiches filled with flavored cream cheese), and pastelitos de guayaba. Armed with 4 sheets of puff pastry, 3 bricks of cream cheese, ham and picadillo fillings, and the last of the homemade guava paste I’d brought from home, I set to work. To add a further complication, I was also settling in my mother and Chiqui who had arrived the night before for a two week stay (Chiqui being the 8 pound chihuahua who has replaced me in my mother’s affections).
The few hours I had given myself to prepare evaporated between finding extra closet space, outlets for chargers and rolling out emapanada dough. With just an hour to go, it seemed hopeless, and I started weighing the evils of less food versus having friends wandering the park looking for a spot that hadn’t been staked out. Then someone, probably Chiqui, set my iTunes to Celia Cruz. Now while listening to Celia cannot solve every problem, it does make unhappiness almost impossible. Somewhere Between Cao Cao Mani Picao and Oye Mi Rumba, time slowed enough for me to finish my first empanadas and my mother to cut the crusts of my sister’s favorite tuna bocaditos. By the time I climbed up the subway stairs to 81st Street & Central Park West with a box full of Cuban treats and five minutes to spare, I could finally see the blue skies I first felt when Celia started singing.
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