Friday, September 5, 2008


I have always had a fascination with Cuba. I don't know where it comes from, but it's definitely there. I can't wait until Castro is dead. I feel that once he is gone, the relationship between our countries might be able to be repaired and then someday I can finally visit. It's my hope anyway. I know there are ways around it, but as an American, I wouldn't feel comfortable going until it's legit.

I originally bought this book because I love Cuban food. I got it on Amazon, and after reading reviews, I just blindly picked this one. I had no idea it would be so full of soul and would make me want to sit down and just read it like a book -- forgetting that it was originally intended to be a cookbook.  

I love the romantic stories of Cuba back in the day -- when it was in it's prime. Bright lights, that Afro-Cuban music, Ernest Hemingway, fancy hotels, nightclubs filled with movie stars and packed sidewalk cafes. Things are much different now.  The author of this book was born in Cuba into a well to do family. She's a great storyteller, and makes you feel as if you were in Cuba with her, in the 50's. In the summertime they had a break from boarding school, and her Aunt would often take her and her cousins into town with her; Buying couture dresses and having American style chicken salad sandwiches on white bread at the Woolworth's lunch counter. She talks about the restaurants, the shops, the people and the parties. Then there are stories of their family life and daily life in Cuba, and of course, the food!  The stories she tells of her family, and their life in Cuba have a bit of magic to them -- the memories you have as a child are often storybook like, and this is no exception. It pulls you in, and you feel connected. It definitely makes the food seem that much more special, and this is one time I had no trouble making a recipe exactly as it was written.  She wrote the book with her mother's and aunt's original recipes. It is the food that was made in every home in Cuba. Authentic as it gets. 

In June of 1958 they made one stop during their busy day that would forever change the life of the author and her family -- the American Embassy in Havana. She thought they were going on a vacation. She never saw Cuba again.  She was 10 years old, and she loved Cuba and was heartbroken. Her perception of Cuba is nonpolitical; A child's memories of family, food, a beautiful country, and a city full of magic. Those are my fantasies too ... so I am really enjoying reading this book. Some day, I will visit Cuba. Until then, I will just have to go there via my imagination, and through the picture books I have, and of course ... Cuban food. :) 

Today we are making Picadillo, from Memories of a Cuban Kitchen.

(Click to enlarge)

My ingredients are simple things most kitchens have stocked. I bought the grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid and ground the beef fresh at home, and it was excellent.  

The setup; The book and a cocktail. Baby was in the high-chair having her dinner, and I prepared the "grown up dinner" for us to have later. Earlier today I had bought some sweet lemons at the Farmers Market. I had never heard of them before, and they were quite tasteless honestly, but mixed with blueberry vodka and some seltzer water, it made a pretty refreshing cocktail!  

First, you saute the onions, garlic and bell pepper.  

I wasn't paying attention and burnt mine, so I had to toss it and start over. Ugh. 

After about 10 minutes, add the ground beef and cook until brown.  

Add the tomatoes, sherry, salt, and if you like -- Tobasco and Worcestershire.  She mentioned that the traditional recipe did not have Tobasco or Worcestershire, so I left it out. IMO, it would be good with the Tobasco, but the Worcestershire would change the taste of the dish too much. Just my opinion. 

I had a can of diced tomatoes, but since it called for crushed, I used my food mill to puree the tomatoes because I wanted the texture to be consistent with the written recipe. I love my food mill, it makes killer tomato sauce, and gives a texture you can't get from a food processor. 

I had fried the diced potatoes earlier (not pictured) and set them aside. After you add the tomatoes and sherry and it has time to cook down a bit, add the cooked potatoes, the olives, and raisins. Correct seasoning if needed, and let cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed. 

To finish -- add the chopped eggs, and peas. 

Picadillo is a traditional filling for Empanadas. Layer it with mashed potatoes and it becomes Tambor de Picadillo. Top it with a sweet plantain crust and you have Tambor de Picadilla y Plantano.  

In prosperous, postwar Cuba the nightclubs were jumping with locals and tourists alike and the author was lucky enough to come across an old bar book from the most famous bar in Cuba, La Floridita. I thumbed through the drink section, and there are definitely some unique things in there.

I chose the HAVANA BEACH: 2 oz pineapple juice, 2 oz Bacardi light rum, 1 tsp sugar and crushed ice. Shake, and pour. It's interesting. Obviously it's just a Pina Colada without the coconut, but it tastes so unique.