The Kitchen Prep: May 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Creamy Coconut-Lime Ice Cream

Guys, I did something bad. Very bad.

I bought myself an ice cream maker.

It's a problem, really.

I have a real weakness for ice cream. And gelato. And anything that even remotely resembles either. {Honestly, who doesn't?! Please do not tell me you don't...}

To make matters worse, my tastebuds have totally kicked into summer mode. All I want to eat is berries, and ice cream, and popsicles, and things with grill marks. But since I can't combine all of those things {grilled berry ice cream popsicles, anyone?}, I've decided to take it one bite at a time and go from there.

Last week, after taking on a few major baking projects, I needed a little break from turning on the oven, and perhaps from cooking altogether. {And no, the smell of burning plastic eminating from my blender and accidentally crushing my perfectly good 2A piping tip in the garbage disposal wasn't a sign that I needed a little hiatus or anything...}

The only problem is, when I am not physically in the kitchen, I am more often than not obsessing thinking about what I'll be making next, so a "break" doesn't do me much good, now does it? Instead of taking a rest, I dreamed up this:

That's a Coconut-Pineapple Macaroon just hanging out on top.
Creamy Coconut-Lime Ice Cream

It's exactly what it sounds like. Creamy coconut ice cream. Tart lime curd running throughout. Summer in every bite.

Between the itch to use my new kitchen toy, the hot and muggy weather, and coming off of Cuban Week, my craving for tropical flavors won out over my plans to eat things that didn't require cooking, multiple pots & pans, and extensive prep time.

I'm not gonna lie, it's a sacrifice I'd be willing to make again.

As if the ice cream weren't enough of a treat, the Lime Curd that I made to add to it is a sweet and tart little delight in itself. {You can find a whole list of ways to use citrus curd, plus some wonderful looking recipes here.}

I have a feeling this ice cream maker is going to be put to good use within these sweltering months ahead...

Happy Summer, tastebuds. {And my apologies, bikini body.}

Creamy Coconut-Lime Ice Cream

1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
A pinch salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup lime curd {See below for recipe}

In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, combine whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, and shredded coconut. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat to allow to sit and cool{so coconut flavor infuses milk}, about 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk 3 egg yolks in a medium bowl and set aside.

When milk and coconut mixture has cooled, strain mixture using a fine mesh sieve pressing down on coconut shreds to ensure all liquid is removed. Whisk liquid into egg yolks.  Discard solids.

Return egg and milk mixture to saucepan, and cook on low to medium heat whisking constantly until slightly thickened, approximately 10-12 minutes. {Do not allow it to boil.} Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla extract and a pinch of salt.

Using a fine mesh sieve, strain thickened egg mixture into another bowl. Add heavy cream and coconut milk. Whisk together to combine.

Allow to cool, then cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for a few hours until cold. {Alternatively, you can place the bowl with the custard mixture over a larger bowl filled with ice and water and whisk for a few minutes to speed up cooling.}

Pour custard mixture into the bowl of an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer's directions.

When ice cream is thickened and nearly ready, pour a stream of lime curd into ice cream maker. {An easy way to do this is to place curd into a piping bag or zip top bag with a snipped tip, and squirt into ice cream as it churns.} Do not overmix. Remove ice cream and pour into a freezer safe container. Allow to harden up in the freezer for 4-5 hours or overnight for firm, scoopable ice cream.

Lime Curd
Adapted from Epicurious

1/2 cup {1 stick} unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lime juice {about 4-5 limes}
1 tablespoon finely grated lime peel
Pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks

Place a fine mesh strainer over a medium glass bowl and set aside. 

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter. Remove from heat and add sugar, lime juice, lime peel, and salt. Whisk to combine. Add egg yolks and whisk until smooth.
Return saucepan to stove over medium heat. Whisk curd constantly until it thickens slightly, about 10 to 12 minutes , or until it reaches a temperature of 165 degrees on a cooking thermometer. (When it's ready, the mixture will resemble slightly thickened sauce. Do not boil.} Remove from heat.

Strain curd into prepared bowl and discard any solids in strainer. Place plastic wrap directly onto surface of curd and chill overnight. Cover and keep chilled.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Flan de Naranja {Orange Flan}

When I think of flan, I think of Abuela in the kitchen coaxing dry sugar into the pefect shade of amber for the molten caramel that got poured into the bottom of the dish. No matter how quickly she moved, strings of hardening caramel always appeared as she scraped the last of it from the pot, creating the illusion of gilded strands of thread.

I think of the vessel she always used for the flan - so well worn that it was slightly warped - and how it looked a bit like it had barely survived culinary combat.

I think of her skillfully flipping said flan onto it's serving dish with a flourish, the look on her face indicating a silent little prayer that it would stay in one piece and refrain from covering her and the entire kitchen in sticky syrup {which did happen on more than one occasion, as I recall}.

The audible "plop" of the flan belly flopping onto the serving plate, caramel syrup bathing the finished product and pooling around the bottom was confirmation that it was, indeed, a success and dessert was near.

Yet, despite being witness to the production, flan {like the yuca con mojo I mentioned earlier in the week} was one of those foods that it took me a while to warm up to. I kind of have this thing about gelatinous foods. Jello and sometimes even pudding sort of ick me out. And flan, with it's eggy consistency, can fall into that category depending on who makes it and how it's made.

I never had the heart to turn down Abuela's flan, perhaps because I saw how much attention she gave it. Even in serving it, she seemed to coddle each little slice, carefully tilting the dish and dipping a small spoon into the caramel syrup, and drizzling each piece as if she was preparing it for it's big debut. How can you say "No, thanks" to that?

This flan is given a little pizzazz by infusing it with orange zest for a subtle citrusy flavor. I liked the addition because it took some of the focus off of the texture for me {which isn't so bad now that my palate has matured a bit}. Hands down, my favorite part of making this flan was thinking back on the memories that come with taking a bite of a dish from your past.

This week of sharing my family's favorite Cuban recipes has been so wonderful. Like browsing an old photo album or watching home videos, bringing out recipes and flavors from your past is one of the best ways to both reminisce and explore your family history. And as always, sharing a meal brings family and friends together to create even more memories to add to the collection.

Thanks for being a part of them!

Flan de Naranja {Orange Flan}
From Memories of a Cuban Kitchen cookbook

1 cup sugar
2 cups half and half
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 large eggs
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
Pinch of salt
Orange slice for garnish {optional}

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Have your 2 quart oven-proof glass dish or mold on standby since you will have to move quickly with the caramel.

In a small, heavy saucepan, cook 1/2 cup of dry sugar over medium high heat until starting to bubble. Cook for about 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until it is light amber in color, careful not to burn {which can happen very quickly, so remove from heat as soon as the color gets to where you want it}.

Carefully {and quickly} pour caramel into oven-proof dish and swirl to coat the entire bottom and a little of the sides. Set aside to harden.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together cream and 1/2 cup sugar until steaming, but not boiling, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat. Add vanilla extract.

In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, orange juice, orange zest, and salt, and whisk until smooth and lightened in color. Slowly add the cooled cream mixture a little at a time, and stir until completely incorporated.

Prepare a water bath - Place your baking dish in a roasting pan or another larger pan. Fill with lukewarm water until about 2/3 of the way up the sides of the baking dish {careful not to get any water in your dish}. Using a fine mesh strainer, pour egg and cream mixture into baking dish. Discard solids.

Bake for 1 hour or until the tip of a knife or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. {Will still be jiggly, but set.} Remove from oven and allow to come to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until cold.

To unmold: Run a knife along edge of dish. Place a serving dish or platter upside down on top. Quickly invert {over a sink, preferably, so you don't cover your kitchen in syrup}. Garnish with orange if desired.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Pastel de Guayaba {Guava & Cream Cheese Pastry}

I have fond memories of guava pastries on weekend mornings when I was growing up.
We lived just down the street from a Cuban bakery. Often times I would wake up and find that my dad had started the day's rounds early and brought home breakfast, which would be waiting on the dining room table.

That white bakery bag, spotted and almost translucent in parts where the grease had saturated the paper {not the healthiest, I know, but so very delicious}, was an incentive to shake off the drowsiness a little faster; a tall order for the girl that would often stumble out of bed long after the rest of the house was buzzing with activity.

You couldn't talk to me in those first few minutes of morning lucidity, but you could sure diffuse the grumpiness by handing me a hot guava pastry. What a sweet wake up call.

I've eaten oodles of guava pastries in my day. From the corner bakery. From Miami. Even from our neighborhood Publix {one of the perks of living in an area with a heavy Cuban customer base}. So, in making my own, I had a feeling that it was going to be difficult to create something that met my standards.

This is a "jalousie" version of Guava & Cream Cheese Pastry. Hot, bubbly guava paste and cream cheese filling peeks out from behind puff pastry slats, daring you to resist the temptation. {It's impossible, I've tried.} While it's definitely a sweet treat, it's not uncommon to serve as a breakfast item for a sugary morning jolt.

The taste of this pastry brought back happy memories of the past as well as a glimpse of passing on tradition in the future - a winning combination.

Guava & Cream Cheese Pastry
Adapted from Gourmet

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
4 oz cream cheese
3 tablespoons sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten - 1-2 tablespoons reserved for egg wash
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 oz. guava paste, cut into 4 in. x 2in. x 1/4 in. pieces {or approx 2/3 cup guava preserves}
Coarse or sanding sugar {optional}

Preheat oven and a medium sheet pan to 425 degrees.

On a lightly floured surface, roll thawed puff pastry into a 9 1/2 x 12 inch rectangle. Cut in half lengthwise. Set aside 1 piece.

Fold the second piece in half and turn so that the folded side faces you {opening away from you}. With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, starting 1 inch from the edge, create slits every 1/2 inch or so, leaving a 1 inch border at top of pastry. {Don't cut all the way through, you want to create slits that are still attached} Unfold pastry and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar, vanilla extact and all but 1-2 tablespoons of beaten egg.  Beat until smooth.

Transfer bottom sheet of pastry {the uncut piece} to a sheet of aluminum foil. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly down the center, leaving a 1 to 1 1/2 inch border around the entire rectangle. Place sliced pieces of guava paste {or dollops of guava preserves} down the center of the cream cheese mixture.

With a slightly wet finger, trace the edge of the pastry lightly to moisten dough. Carefully lift cut piece of pastry, and place on top. Press down lightly around the edges to seal.

Combine remaining 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of beaten egg with about a tablespoon of water. Lightly brush pastry with egg wash, and sprinkle with coarse/sanding sugar if desired.

Remove hot pan from the oven and carefully lift and arrange foil with pastry onto pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes until pastry is puffed and golden brown.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Yuca con Mojo {Cassava with Garlic Sauce}

Yuca con Mojo always had a place at our special family dinners, much like mashed potatoes make an appearance as a go-to side dish on many tables across America.

As a kid, I never had any particular desire to make a space for them on my plate. They looked pale and mushy. Oily. They smelled too strong. And the grown ups liked them {which obviously meant they must taste like wallpaper paste.}

As an adult {if you can consider a girl who wears lambie slippers an "adult"}, some of the very things I hated about yuca are the things that I love about it now.

Yuca {also known as cassava} is a tricky thing to cook well due to its fibrous nature. It needs to be softened thoroughly in order to make it palatable, and stripped of the woody stem at it's core. It's not the prettiest thing you've ever seen in it's natural state, but I promise you... if you can get past it's ugliness and high maintenance qualities, you will be rewarded.

The good news is that many grocery stores {especially here in South Florida} now carry frozen yuca in the ethnic aisle of the freezer section. It comes peeled and chopped into manageable chunks, and even Abuela uses it most of the time for it's convenience.

If it's good enough for Abuela, it's good enough for me.

A note of caution: The garlic factor in this dish is not for the faint of heart. We're talking seriously garlicky. I love it, but immediately regret it after I eat it because I can taste it for about a full 24 hours after the fact, even post-brushing and Listerine-ing. If you have to be in close proximity to anyone you'd rather not attack odorously, are meeting people for the first time, or would be embarrassed to breathe your crazy garlic breath on someone... save it for another day.

Otherwise, make it now. You'll be stinky, but happy... and we all know that's exactly what you want to be.

Yuca con Mojo {Cassava with Garlic Sauce}
1 {24 oz.} bag of frozen yuca*
Water {enough to cover yuca}
Lime juice, optional

Mojo {Garlic Sauce}

1/4 cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
6-8 garlic cloves, minced or grated with microplane
1/2 a small onion, sliced thin

Place frozen or fresh yuca in a medium pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, reduce heat slightly and boil for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until very tender.

Remove from heat. At 1 teaspoon of salt and allow to sit in salted water until slightly cooled. Remove woody stems {they should separate relatively easily} from the yuca and discard. Place yuca in serving dish.

In a small skillet , heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add sliced onion. Saute until softened, but not caramelized, about 4-6 minutes. Remove from heat.

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a small saucepan until warmed. {Or in a microwave safe cup for 1 minute}. Add garlic and 1/2 tsp salt, whisk together. Set aside.

Pour olive oil and garlic mixture over yuca. Top with softened onion slices. Squeeze fresh lime juice over yuca. Serve hot.

*You may also use fresh yuca, peeled, halved, and chopped into large chunks.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Arroz con Pollo Relleno {"Stuffed" Chicken & Rice}

I know what you're thinking. I've been teasing you with snacks and appetizers for days now, and you're ready for some real food. {Put down the pitchforks, guys, it's coming!}

Today we're getting to the good stuff. The recipe that I had to finagle from Abuela, Queen of Non-Measurement Cooking.
Me: Very seriously stirring. Abuela: "Measuring" with her hand. Sigh.

Around these parts, Abuela's "Arroz Con Pollo Relleno", as she calls it {though I'm not sure that's what it is usually known as. Potato, potahto} is somewhat legendary. I have yet to meet a person who has successfully taken a bite without their eyes rolling back in their head, happy eating noises escaping their lips. Soon after, civilized bites turn into face-stuffing, and "Thisissooogoooood." is the only thing that can be heard between rice-filled forkfuls.

While Chicken & Rice is a pretty traditional Cuban dish, this particular recipe is a fancied up version that often makes an appearance at special gatherings in my family. Abuela is the only one who makes it, most likely because everyone knows that their version just wouldn't compare.

Saucy, seasoned shredded chicken is nestled between layers of savory yellow rice, making for an impressive and unique presentation.

A not-so-impressive picture... don't judge, I was hungry.

There's nothing too crazy about the technique, really... you know saute, simmer, bake, yada yada.

But here's where I'm going to ask you to stay with me {because I can already hear some of you gasping and gagging in disgust}: The whole thing is covered in a super thin layer of mayonnaise. Yes, mayonnaise. {I should probably stop saying that word, huh?}

Mayo haters - before you decide to skip this step, or scrap this recipe altogether, I must tell you that my very own husband absolutely detests mayo. At least he thinks he does. It is a condiment that is banned from our fridge, and if I ever so much as utter the word, he scrunches his face up into a look of sheer disgust.

But guess what? He could probably eat the yield of this entire recipe in one sitting, he loves it so much.

Just a lil shameless self promotion...
What? Like you don't garnish your food with your blog's initials... ;)

So... I suppose you could leave out the last part if you really, really, really think you can't mentally get past it. But Abuela includes it in her recipe, so gosh darnit, I will always make it a part of mine.

Anyway, here's the recipe {straight from the source} for a dish that will no doubt be asked for again and again by anyone lucky enough to try it.

Arroz con Pollo Relleno {Stuffed Chicken & Rice}

4 large chicken breasts, poached & shredded* in 4 cups water {broth reserved}
1 small onion, rough chopped
8 large cloves garlic, rough chopped
1 medium green pepper, finely chopped
1/3 c salad olives & pimentos {I use Goya brand}, chopped
1/2 of a 15 oz can early peas {or a small can, if you find that instead}
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1b. box of Uncle Ben's rice
2 chicken boullion cubes {I used Knorr brand}
2 teaspoons bijol seasoning {yellow coloring, I use Badia brand}
1 {7 oz} can sweet red pimiento {I use Iberia brand}
1/4-1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Prepare "sofrito" - place chopped onion and garlic cloves in food processor. Pulse until most of garlic is chopped and large chunks are no longer visible. Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in large soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic mixture, and chopped green pepper. Sautee, stirring frequently, until softened and fragrant, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add olives/pimentos, peas, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and shredded chicken. Stir to thoroughly combine. Simmer for 5-8 minutes, then turn down to low and and allow to sit, covered, until ready to use.

For rice - Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In an oven safe casserole or pot, bring 4 cups of chicken broth {reserved from poaching chicken, or store bought} plus 1/2 cup water to a boil over medium high heat. Add boullion cubes and allow to dissolve. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, bijol seasoning {annato} and rice. Return to a boil, cover, and place in oven for 15-20 minutes, or until liquid is fully absorbed and rice is tender.

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly, about 20 minutes.

In a large {9x12} baking dish, layer half of rice and smooth out evenly over bottom of dish, lightly packing it down.  Pour chicken mixture over rice and smooth out in an even layer. Cover with remaining rice and pack down lightly.

Spread 1/4 cup mayonnaise in thin layer over top of rice, smoothing with an offset spatula or back of a spoon.

Garnish with sweet red pimiento in whatever design or pattern you choose. Serve hot.

*You can use the "2 forks" shredding method, but Abuela swears that shredding it by hand makes it taste better. I do what I'm told. :)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bocaditos {Tea Sandwiches}

Yesterday I posted about one of my favorite Cuban snacks: Croquetas. They are one of several bite sized nibbles that are often found on a classic Cuban party menu.

If you perused the recipe, you might have noticed that croquetas take a whole lot of work. Possibly more work than you feel like having to do when you're already spending time preparing for a party or other occasion.

Last weekend, I hosted a Mother's Day celebration at our place for my Mom, Aunt, and Abuela, and decided to make it a Cuban themed affair since I was in the process of gathering recipes for Cuban Week on the blog. {Is it still considered Cuban themed if everyone in attendance is, in fact, Cuban?? Haha!}.

My sister Caroline, my Mom, Me {with an "I haven't had time to do my hair today" ponytail}, & Mary.
After spending the entire day before making the more labor-intensive foods {seriously, folks, 10 hours on my feet in the kitchen. Ouch.}, I needed something quick and easy to round out the menu without sending myself hurdling head first into insanity getting too involved.

These Bocaditos {popular Cuban tea sandwiches that literally translate to "little bites" or "little mouthfuls"} were the perfect solution.

Bocaditos can be made with a variety of breads and spreads {ha, that rhymes!}, making them an easy addition to a party menu that can be customized to suit different tastes.

For our party, I made some mini Elena Ruz {Turkey, Cream Cheese, & Jam} sandwiches...

Along with Pasta de Pollo y Esparrago {Chicken & Asparagus Spread} finger sandwiches...

And finally the classic Pasta de Queso Crema {Cream Cheese & Olive Spread} bocaditos, which are my favorite of the three because they most closely resembled the ones I grew up enjoying at family celebrations.

Normally, bocaditos you get from a Cuban bakery come on slightly sweet little rolls {which I could not find a recipe for despite scouring the Internet}. To mimic that same flavor, I used Hawaiian Sweet Rolls and they were the perfect substitute for the real thing.

Here are the recipes for all three dainty little tidbits... which is your favorite?

Elena Ruz Sandwiches
All adapted from Memories from a Cuban Kitchen cookbook

10 slices of white bread, crusts removed
2-3 ounces cream cheese, softened
5-6 tablespoons strawberry jam
10 slices turkey breast

Spread a thick layer of cream cheese on 5 of the crustless white bread slices.

Spread about a tablepoon of strawberry jam on the other 5 slices.

Top cream cheese covered halves with 2 turkey slices each. Place jam covered slices on top to create 5 complete sandwiches.

Cut diagonally with a sharp knife to create 4 triangles out of each sandwich. Place on a platter, cover with a damp paper towel or clean kitchen cloth, and refrigerate until serving.

{Makes 20 finger sandwiches}

Bocaditos con Pasta de Pollo y Esparrago
{Chicken & Asparagus Spread Tea Sandwiches}

10 slices of white bread, crusts removed
1 large chicken breast, cooked, shredded & cooled completely
1/2 a {15 oz.} can of asparagus, drained
2 tablepoons shallot {or onion}, chopped
1/3 cup mayonnaise 
Salt & pepper to taste

Place shredded chicken, asparagus, shallot, and mayonnaise in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until mostly smooth and spreadable.

Spread a thick layer of mixture onto 5 of the bread slices.

Top with the other half of the bread slices to create 5 complete sandwiches.

Cut diagonally with a sharp knife to create 4 triangles out of each sandwich. Place on a platter, cover with a damp paper towel or clean kitchen cloth, and refrigerate until serving.

{Makes 20 finger sandwiches}

Bocaditos con Pasta de Queso Crema
{Tea Sandwiches with Cream Cheese & Olive Spread}

20 Hawaiian sweet rolls, sliced almost all the way through
1 {8 oz.} package of cream cheese
1/4 cup pimentos, drained*
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, drained

Add cream cheese, pimentos, and olives to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until smooth. {If the mixture is too thick, you can thin it out by adding 1 tablespoon of milk at a time until it reaches a spreadable consistency.}

Spread about 1 tablespoon of filling onto each sweet roll.

Place on a platter, cover with a damp paper towel or clean kitchen cloth, and refrigerate until serving.

{Makes about 20 bocaditos}

*I had almost exactly 1/4 cup of pimentos at the bottom of the jar of salad olives that I used for this recipe. When you purchase your olives, take a look at your jar and you may be able to skip purchasing a separate jar of pimentos altogether if it looks like the olive jar has enough.

All adapted from Memories from a Cuban Kitchen cookbook

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Croquetas de Jamón {Ham Croquettes}

Let's rewind to 1985 for just a minute. {Minus the clothing choices & hairstyles. Yikes.}

I am 4 years old. A tiny version of my current self with one common interest: croquetas de jamón.

At a Cuban birthday party, where most of the children are playing party games, eyeing the birthday cake, or finding ways to get into mischief, I am nowhere to be found in the aforementioned mix. I know better than that.

You could be sure to find me set up next to the food tables, happily munching on croquetas. {If it's a Cuban party, there are croquetas. It's just a given.}

Golden brown nuggets of pure, hammy heaven.

As an adult, I've learned to mingle politely, sample other food offerings, and take only a reasonable amount for my own plate {for the most part}.

But I've got to tell you, croquetas are still a major weakness for me.

Though I'm not usually a fan of anything deep fried, I decided to attempt these anyway because I could not fathom sharing Cuban recipes without including croquetas, even if it meant possibly burning myself beyond recognition. I am terribly frightened of searing hot oil. {These were the last things I fried. That was a long time ago.}

I am happy to say that I neither burnt myself, nor set anything aflame in my kitchen. And the final result brought me back to the salty, smoky treats that I remember fondly.

You might find me making friendly conversation at a Cuban party today, but don't be fooled; those croquetas are still calling my name. If you need me, you know where to find me.

Croquetas de Jamón {Ham Croquettes}
Adapted from Memories of a Cuban Kitchen Cookbook

1 stick butter
8 teaspoons flour
2 cups milk, warmed
3 ham steaks {approx 3 cups}, finely ground in food processor
3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten
2 to 2 1/2 cups fine bread crumbs
Canola or Vegetable Oil, for frying

In a large, deep skillet, melt butter. Add flour and whisk until smooth. Gradually add heated milk, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Simmer until mixture is thickened {should coat the back of a spoon}.

Add ground ham, lime juice, parsley, salt, and pepper and combine. Allow to cook for 3 to 5 more minutes, until mixture is thick. Remove from heat.

Pour mixture into a heat safe bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate and allow to chill thoroughly, approximately 2-3 hours or overnight. If your mixture does not thicken enough to be able to handle and shape, you may need to add 1/2 to 1 cup bread crumbs to thicken it up.

Set up a breading station with beaten egg in a shallow dish and bread crumbs in another. Line a sheet pan or platter with foil.

Using a tablespoon sized scoop, shape ham mixture into croquettes {about 1 1/2 inches long, 1/4 inch in diameter}. Dip each croquette into beaten egg, then roll in bread crumbs. Set on lined pan. Repeat until all ham mixture is used. {About 45 croquettes}

{Croquettes can be refrigerated overnight until ready to fry. In fact, I think they hold up better this way.}

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Heat about 2-3 inches of oil in a heavy bottomed skillet to 375 degrees. Line a sheet pan with paper towels. 

Add croquettes to hot oil in batches of about 5-6 at a time, turning often, and fry until deep golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and place onto paper towels to drain of excess oil.

If not serving immediately, keep croquettes warm in the oven until ready to serve. Alternatively, you can cool croquettes to room temperature, then reheat in a 350 degree oven {minus paper towels} for about 8 to 10 minutes before serving.

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.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Cinco de Mayo Recipe Collection

This weekend is sure to bring on lots of fun feasting and celebrating {not to mention boozing, let's be real} with Saturday marking both Cinco de Mayo and the Kentucky Derby.

Steve and I will be doing some celebrating in Clearwater for his cousin's wedding on the beach. With the big day taking place on May 5, the bride & groom decided to go with the Cinco de Mayo theme and run with it. I volunteered to help with the decor by making tissue paper fans to hang on each chair and, boy, has it taken a while. They aren't difficult to make, but it definitely takes some time to make 110 of anything.

As I folded, cut, and cursed stapled away, I got to daydreaming about creative dishes and treats {what else is new?} to go along with the theme.

It wasn't difficult to think of fantastic additions to a Cinco de Mayo menu... we LOVE Mexican {or Mexican inspired} food in this house.

There are Goat Cheese & Mango Quesadillas for an appetizer, lunch, or light snack...

Pardon the pic... this is from 1 year ago, BGC. {Before good camera} ;)
Or Bean & Cheese Tostadas with Nectarine Salsa for a crunchier tortilla treat...

A hearty and satisfying dish of Chicken with Tomatillo & Cilantro Sauce ...

Or a simple side of Pineapple Cilantro Quinoa...

Once again... super old pic.

So many options! And now let's get to the really good stuff: Dessert.

But first, let's start with a cocktail, shall we?

Um, yeah. That's homemade coffee liqueur. I had a little fun playing kitchen bartender and made my very own batch. There are lots of different versions out there {some vodka-based, some rum-based}, but some of the recipes I found required too much waiting... up to three weeks.

While I'm sure all that waiting produces a fabulous result, who has time for all that patience? Not me! This recipe is pretty much instantly ready for consumption. Or for adding as an ingredient to these:

What better way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo/Wedding weekend than with Chocolate-Kahlua Mexican Wedding Cookies?

These classic cookies are slightly sweet, crumbly, and perfect. While they are normally seen in the non-chocolate variety, I liked that the cocoa in this version added a unique twist to an old favorite.

Though I added two tablespoons of homemade coffee liqueur, the flavor remained very subtle. If you're looking for more of a punch, you could try adding store bought Kahlua. And for extra flair, 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon {oooh... and while we're at it... maybe a pinch of chili powder?! Sorry, carried away...} would bump up the Mex-factor. 

If you're still looking for some more dishes to satisfy your Mexi-cravings, there are oodles of recipes popping up on some of my favorite blogs {or in their archives} that look absolutely fiesta worthy:

Appetizers & Snacks:

Queso Blanco Dip from Mel's Kitchen Cafe
Black Bean Salsa from The Pastry Affair
Chili-Lime Roasted Chickpeas from Willow Bird Baking

Tequila-Orange Grilled Shrimp from Tracey's Culinary Adventures
Spicy Avocado & Chicken Enchiladas from The Novice Chef Blog
Albondigas Soup from Simply Recipes

Mexican Buñuelos from Mexico in My Kitchen
Mexican Brownie-Bottom Cheesecake from Pennies on a Platter
Margarita Cupcakes from Brown Eyed Baker

Pineapple Margaritas or Guava Margaritas from Confections of a Foodie Bride
Horchata con Cognac from 12 Bottle Bar
Mexican Chocolate Shots from Snappy Gourmet
Corona Beer Popsicles from Bakers Royale
{Non-alcoholic} Strawberry Agua Fresca from Eat, Live, Run

No matter what you are celebrating this weekend, these recipes should kick start some scrumptious foodie fun!

Quick Homemade Coffee Liqueur

3 tablespoons ground espresso {I use Cafe Bustelo - not instant}
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup dark rum {or vodka if you're not a rum fan}

Brew coffee using 3 tablespoons ground espresso & 1 1/2 cups water in your coffee maker {or french press or however you normally make coffee}.

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine hot coffee and both sugars. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for about 8 minutes, until sugars are dissolved and liquid is slightly syrupy.

Remove from heat and add vanilla and rum {or vodka}. Mix thoroughly.

Store in an airtight container or bottle in refrigerator.

Chocolate-Kahlua Mexican Wedding Cookies
Adapted from Southern Living

1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus 1 tablespoon
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur {or store bought Kahlua}
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder. Set aside.

In a dry add pecans and toast lightly until fragrant, 4-5 minutes. {Careful not to burn.} Remove from heat and add to a food processor along with 1 tablespoon flour. Pulse until finely ground, but not turned into paste.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar. Mix in coffee liqueur and combine. Add flour and 1/4 cup cocoa powder, then pecans until just combined.

Using a tablespoon or small cookie scoop, scoop out dough and quickly roll into approximately 1 inch balls. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until just set. Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool slightly.

While still warm, roll each cookie in powdered sugar/cocoa powder mixture and set onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Strawberry Blondies, Two Ways

I do not function well in gloomy weather. No, siree, I'm a solar powered Florida girl through and through.

Unfortunately, the "Sunshine State" has not held up to the promise of it's name for the past few days. Cloudy days = lazy me. And that's not good because I have far too much to do to sit around in my pj's and rearrange my Pinterest boards... not that that's what I did all weekend, or anything.

So, to distract myself from the blusteriness going on outside {and avoid doing all the other important stuff I actually need to get done}, I spent some time whipping up some strawberry treats. Because what could possibly brighten your days more than sweet, fresh strawberries??

You know when you find a recipe that excites you so much that you keep putting off making it because you want to save it for the perfect time? {Or is that just me?} That's how I felt when I found the recipe for Fresh Strawberry & Cream Blondies. It was sometime last year, past strawberry season and I remember thinking, "I'm going to make these next spring when the strawberries are beautiful {and cheap}."

With this past weekend's weather in a funk, I couldn't think of a better time to bring these little beauties into existence and add some strawberry sunshine to my day.

But here's the thing: They didn't exactly turn out how I imagined. All that time fantasizing about them, and - while they were quite delightful - I couldn't bring myself to really consider them true "blondies" with their super cakey texture. Because of the fresh strawberry pieces in the batter, they retained so much moisture {teetering on the edge of gooey, in fact} that it made them rather messy to eat with anything other than a fork.

To me, blondies mean chewy, handheld goodness.

Since it didn't seem that I'd be getting to play outside by the look of things outside my window, I stayed in the kitchen and worked on another batch that would suit my Strawberry Blondie fancy.

And guess what? This second batch did the trick.

Chewy, sweet, jammy... swirled with strawberry goodness... ok, maybe not "fresh" like the others, but still satisfying the strawberry quotient I desired.

Each recipe had it's own distinct charm... sort of like sunny days versus rainy days.

I'm posting both recipes so you can decide for yourself. Which makes the better Strawberry Blondie?

Strawberry & Cream Blondies
{Barely} Adapted from Taste of the South

1 (16-ounce) container fresh strawberries, cut into small pieces
1 cup sugar, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided

Strawberry Cream Frosting:

4 ounces 1/3 less-fat cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350˚. Prepare an 8x8-inch square baking pan by lining with foil, and spraying with nonstick cooking spray.

Reserve approximately 1 cup of cut up strawberries for frosting. Add 1/4 cup sugar to remaining 1 1/4 cup strawberries in a medium bowl, and combine gently. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, add remaining 3/4 cup sugar, flour, and salt. Add eggs, oil, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and combine until smooth {try not to overmix}. Gently stir in strawberry & sugar mixture. Spoon batter into prepared, foil lined pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract with a mixer until smooth. In a separate bowl, whip heavy cream and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar together until stiff peaks form. Add whipped cream to cream cheese mixture, folding in gently until combined. Stir in remaining 1 cup strawberries.

Spread frosting over cooled blondies evenly. Refrigerate to store.

Chewy Strawberry Blondies
Adapted from Food Network

4 tablespoons unsalted butter {and about 1 tbsp extra for the pan}
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons strawberry jam {I used good old Smuckers, but you can get fancy if you want}

Preheat oven to 350˚. Prepare an 8x8-inch square baking pan by lining with foil. Butter foil with 1 tablespoon butter.

In a medium microwave safe bowl, place 4 tablespoons butter and the brown sugar. Microwave about 1 minute, until butter is melted. Add vanilla and stir all together. Cool slightly, then stir in the egg.

Whisk together flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl. Add to the butter mixture, and stir together until just combined. Pour batter into prepared baking pan.

Drop jam by the tablespoon on top of batter and swirl using the tip of a knife. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until set and slightly golden brown. 

Allow to cool for about 15 minutes on a rack, then lift out foil and transfer the blondies to the rack to cool completely. Remove the foil and cut into bars.