Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cuban Week

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I come from a Cuban family. Both my Mom and Dad were born in Cuba and came over to the U.S. in their younger years, ultimately settling in South Florida where I was born and raised.

Though my sisters and I grew up very American, our Cuban background was still infused into our upbringing - mostly through food {and cautionary folklore. If you're from a Cuban family, you will know exactly what that means.}. And really, what better way to share the essence of a culture than by the spoonful.

If you've been following this blog for a while, you know that I get a lot of my culinary inspiration from Abuela {grandma}. We were extremely lucky to have our maternal grandmother play an integral part in our lives growing up. At 88 years old, we're beyond blessed to still have her around and very active.

In my opinion, her cooking could put most James Beard Award-winning chefs' to shame.

Abuela in the kitchen - circa 1940's.
I got to thinking about how I want my future children to be able to enjoy the same dishes that have become staples in my family, and how important it is to learn for myself just how to make each of them "Abuela style". 

So... I set out to do the impossible: Create actual recipes {with REAL measurements!} from Abuela's cooking.

I knew I would have my work cut out for me because, like many amazing family cooks who know how to add "a pinch of this, and a smidge of that", Abuela does not measure anything.

As well as this intuitive method works for her, it can be quite the challenge to recreate dishes with directions like, "Just add a cup and two fingers of water." WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?! {And yes, this was actually said to me upon asking Abuela how to make the perfect white rice.}

When I asked her to come over and teach me how to cook a few of our family favorites, I kept picturing myself running over and collecting each drop of liquid, pinch of salt, and grain of rice as they left her hands, before they hit the pot.

This is my sister, Mary, "helping out" while Abuela & I cook. She's eating Nutella off a spoon.
We are definitely related.

Luckily, it wasn't quite as difficult as I imagined. {Though we definitely had our moments - think Giada  & Aunt Raffy} And the results were fantastic.
My "You're driving me bonkers" face. Abuela's "I drive you crazy because I love you" face.

I learned a few things while cooking with Abuela:

1. Food tastes better when you make it passionately. {ie. You must stick your hands in things that you don't necessarily want to touch.}
2. Cuban women have curves for a reason. {Why, hello there, 5 lbs., how did you stick to my thighs?}
3. No matter how exactly I follow her "recipe", it will never be as good as hers.

And that's ok with me.

Over the next week, I'll be sharing a few recipes {appetizers, sides, mains, and - of course - desserts!} from Abuela's personal archives along with some from one of my favorite cookbooks that I thought captured the tastes I've grown to know and love.

I hope you enjoy this week's recipes as much as my family has enjoyed them throughout the years. Let's start off by toasting with these refreshing Guava Coolers. These aren't an "Abuela recipe", but guava and Cuban food definitely go hand in hand.

Here's to sharing recipes and memories with the ones you love.

Sparkling Guava Cooler

2 {1 liter} containers of guava nectar
1 {1 liter} bottle sparkling water* {such as Pellegrino
2 limes {one for juicing, one for slicing}
1/2 an orange, sliced

Combine guava nectar and juice of one lime in a pitcher. Add lime and orange slices. Stir. When ready to serve, add bottle of sparkling water and stir.

Pour into ice-filled glasses. Garnish with a lime if desired.

*To make this a cocktail, replace the sparkling water with your favorite dry champagne.


Trina said...

I love this post the MOST!!! I know the feeling about never tasting the exact same - its the same with my deda (grandpa) and his recipes! I can't wait to see the rest!!! :)

Heather (Heather's Dish) said...

this is such a great story - i can't wait to see all of the other recipes! cuban food is's going to be amazing, especially with such a fun story behind it :)

The Kitchen Prep said...

Thanks, Trina! Isn't it amazing how you can tell who made the dish by the way it tastes? It's the specific kind of love that goes into it, I'm convinced. :)

The Kitchen Prep said...

Thanks, Heather! Looking forward to sharing them... and definitely stay tuned for that garlicky recipe I mentioned. Time to bust out the breath mints! ;) {But it's sooooo worth it!}

Chineka said...

What a blessing it is to still have your Grandma around. I learned most of what I know about baking and cooking from my Grandma. I sure do miss her. She was blessed on this earth for 85 years. I plan to do a blog post soon on her peach cobbler recipe. Break out the vanilla ice cream I look forward to reading more of your blogs.

The Kitchen Prep said...

Aww, how sweet. I do count my blessings that I have been given the gift of having my grandma as a part of my adult life. I am sure your grandma treasured the time she had with you as well and she'd be proud to know that you carry on her memory by cooking the things she taught you. So special. I'll be on the lookout for that peach cobbler recipe, it's sure to be amazing! :) Thanks for reading!

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