Thursday, December 29, 2011

Torrejas Especiales (Cuban French Toast)

I do not like French Toast. Seriously.

The eggy taste kills the dish and the soggy bread grosses me out.

I know. Very immature.

Enter Torrejas Especiales, the Cuban version of French Toast that is often served as a dessert.

I never knew that Torrejas were French Toast and if I would have known, there would have been some reluctance to try Recipe #457: Torrejas Especiales.

Good thing I didn't know. These things kill your eggy soggy French Toasts every day of the week.

And if you're just one step ahead of me already and love Torrejas, you've got to try Marta's Stuffed French Toast. She stuffs them with guayaba and cream cheese. Muérete.

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199: Torrejas Especiales


1 loaf of bread (can use a baguette, egg challah, egg and cinnamon or other similar loaf), sliced
3 egg yolks
1 can evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup dry white cooking wine
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup oil

For the syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 rind of a lime
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cinnamon stick

1. Beat the egg yolks and add the evaporated milk, sugar, dry white cooking wine, vanilla and cinnamon.

2. Soak the bread in the egg mixture for a few minutes.

3. Take one slice of bread out from soaking and place in a shallow dish with the beaten eggs. Coat both sides.
4. Place the coated bread in the pan with hot oil.

5. Fry on both sides until golden.
6. While the bread is cooling, bring the ingredients for the syrup up to a boil in a saucepan.

7. Dissolve the sugar and remove from heat.
8. Serve the torrejas cold or warm with the warm syrup.

Makes 16 servings.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

192: Pan de Jengibre (Gingerbread)

2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup dry white cooking wine

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease a square, 8" baking pan.
3. Sift the dry ingredients.

4. Beat the butter with the sugar, egg, molasses, milk and cooking wine. Mix well.

5. Add the wet to the dry.

6. Mix the ingredients well and pour into the greased baking pan. (The photo below shows a rubber baking mold that does not require greasing.)

7. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean after testing for doneness.

Makes 16 servings.

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Pan de Jengibre. Gingerbread.

Not gingerbread cookies. Not a gingerbread house. Not even Gingy, the gingerbread man.

Ginger Bread. Like a banana bread, but made with ginger.


This Recipe #528: Pan de Jengibre had me very curious. I had never tried it, nor heard of it. Not to mention that I had no idea how it ended up in a Cuban cookbook.

It was great. And it officially kicked off the holiday season.

Bring on the elves and chilly weather. We're officially ready.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Nitza-thon: A Tale of Thanksgiving Sides

If I would have tried to pick the three ugliest sides for my Cuban Thanksgiving table this year, I wouldn't have been as successful.

What ugly-looking dishes. Not bad tasting, just real feo.

This year, my goal was to find some make-ahead options. Not necessarily make-ahead by a few days, but rather just dishes that I could have ready in the morning before leaving to Tia Gladys' annual luncheon. And that I could make while hosting my cousin in the morning during our easy Cuban bakery brunch. Islas Canarias party croquetas, pastelitos and all.

Recipe #240: Pudín de Espinacas was first on the list to prepare and I started on Wednesday night. I completely cooked the dish through and it looked real pretty with it's bright green and butter yellow colors.

This dish is a spinach pudding, or maybe a spinach souffle. I'm still not sure. But after reheating it before dinner on Thursday, the pretty bright green turned into a dark green that resembled all sorts of bathroom jokes.

Next time, I'll prep until the cooking part and leave in the fridge overnight.

Half of it was eaten, but I'm not sure if it was out of pena (consideration), or because it was tasty. It tasted alright to me. I received one positive review from Jackie, that was actually looking for something green, as this was her third meal of the day.

Recipe #242: Papas en Salsa Blanca is a dish that had great potential. Potatoes and onions in a cream sauce. There should have been magic happening in that dish. I'm not sure what went wrong, looks-wise.

In doubling the recipe because of the large crowd, I had too many layers and too much cream. The black pepper stayed at the bottom of the blender, which created a gritty look as the black pepper came out last to cover the dish.

Maybe I should have increased the recipe by 50% instead of doubling it. Maybe I shouldn't have covered the dish? Nitza doesn't indicate whether to cover it or not. I covered it, which may have been why there was so much cream. Maybe this should just be baked in the oven.

Friday morning quarterbacking.

Finally, for dessert, Recipe #485: Flan de Calabaza.

I had been warned. I had been told there wasn't enough cornstarch in the recipe. I even had one of our resident Cuban home-cooked meals experts telling me she uses up to 10 Tablespoons of cornstarch (recipe calls for 6T).

But, I follow each recipe to the letter as part of The Project, to make sure I follow it as Nitza designed. I didn't alter it to avoid breakage.

So, while I thought I was break-free at the pre-flip, a la hora de los mameyes (when push came to shove) and it was time for the flip, it broke.

I can only imagine what you're saying to yourself right now. "En Cuba, esto no pasaba". I know, this would have never happened in Cuba.

The spinach would have been greener and the potatoes would have been golden. And the flan, well, the flan wouldn't need any additional maicena (cornstarch), my dear. Not one bit. The maicena in Cuba would have avoided all possibility of breakage.

Ay Cuba. Tus niños lloran.
Dear, Cuba. Your children miss you and your better ingredients.

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191: Flan de Calabaza (Butternut Squash Flan)

1.5 pounds butternut squash
1 can condensed milk
2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons cornstarch (can use up to 10T)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Peel the butternut squash, cut into cubes and boil until very soft.

2. Mix the water (use the same water from boiling the squash) and condensed milk.

3. Take half the liquid and pour into a saucepan over high heat.

4. Add salt and the cinnamon stick and heat through.

5. Puree the squash and add it to the other half of the milk, along with the cornstarch and sugar. Mix well.

6. In a blender, add the hot milk mixture to the squash mixture.

7. Pour the liquid into a pot and heat through, until it starts to thicken.

8. Prepare the caramel for the bottom of the pan.

9. Pour the custard into the caramel-lined pan.

10. Let the flan cool until it sets.

11. Flip onto a serving dish with raised edges.

Makes eight servings.

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190: Papas en Salsa Blanca (Potatoes in Cream Sauce)

2 pounds potatoes
1 large white onion
2 cups milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

1. Slice the potatoes and onion in rings.
2. In a heavy pot or casserole dish with lid, place alternating layers of potatoes and onions.

3. Mix the milk, oil, salt and pepper.

4. Cover the potatoes and onions with the liquid.

5. Cook over low heat, without stirring, for an hour.

Makes four servings.

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189: Pudín de Espinacas (Spinach Souffle)

2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons onion, chopped
3 cups spinach, chopped, cooked (can use frozen)
1 cup milk
2 Tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon dry white cooking wine
3 eggs

1. Melt the butter and fry the onion until softened.

2. Dry the spinach by squeezing all the liquid out with paper towels.

3. In a blender, mix the spinach, milk, flour, salt and pepper.

4. Pour the spinach mix into the butter onion mix and heat through.

5. Once it thickens, remove the pan from the heat and add the cooking wine and mix well.

6. In a bowl, beat the eggs and gently fold in the spinach mix, adding a scoop at a time after each mixing.

7. Pour the mix into a greased bundt pan.

8. Place the bundt pan into a large Pyrex and pour hot water into the Pyrex until it comes up the sides of the bundt pan by at least 1".

9. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick or knife and having it come out clean.

10. Let cool for 30 minutes before flipping out onto a serving dish.

Makes six servings.

This dish can also be made with a layer of camarones enchilados (shrimp creole) in the middle of the spinach.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

103: Croquetas de Langosta

4 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon onion, finely chopped or minced
1 cup milk
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon seafood seasoning (such as Old Bay, not red)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dry white wine
2 cups lobster meat, boiled and ground
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup Cuban cracker meal (galleta molida)

1. Heat the butter in a medium-sized sauce pan.
2. Fry the onion in the butter until softened.
3. In a blender, mix the milk, flour, salt, seafood seasoning and black pepper.
4. Use a wooden spoon to stir the blended ingredients with the butter and onions, over low heat.
5. Stir constantly until mix forms into a loose dough-like consistency.
6. Remove from the heat.
7. Add the dry white cooking wine and cooked, ground lobster meat.
8. Mix the ingredients well to form the batter.

9. Set the batter in a shallow bowl and place in the refrigerator until it cools completely.
10. Once the batter has cooled, take a spoonful and form it into a croqueta shape (cylindrical, about 3" in length and 1" in circumference) with your hands.
11. Roll the shaped batter in the egg, then the Cuban cracker meal.

12. Repeat #11.

13. Heat the oil in your deep fryer to 375 degrees.
14. Fry the croquetas, without overcrowding the fryer basket, for about 3 minutes per batch.
15. Remove croquetas from the oil and place on paper towel-lined plates.

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Croquetas de Langosta (Lobster Croquettes)

I had promised my friend, Sef, that our next cooking session would be around croquetas, since my hubby gave me a rockin' deep fryer for Mother's Day. Since Sef is a meat guy, and my deep fryer was starting to collect dust, I went around my promise by making Recipe #271: Croquetas de Langosta (Lobster Croquettes) and saving all the meat ones for Croquetapalooza: Burger Beast visits La Cocina de Christina, round two.

On a visit to the Keys, I made friends with a fisherman that nearly keeled over when I told him I wanted to buy lobster meat to make croquetas.

¿Croquetas? No, eso no usa la masa de la cola. Eso usa la masa de la cabeza.

Lobster meat in the head? From the head? What do I have to do with the head? No way.

For free? You'll give me the heads for free?

Bring on the heads.

When I showed up at home with lobster heads all excited to make croquetas, my husband gave me a look I knew. This wasn't the good idea I thought it was.

Getting meat out of lobster heads take lots of patience, muscle and cutting. Cutting those sticks off the top of its head (antennae), cutting through hard shell to get to the meat and then patience to scoop out the meat, and discard all the yucky gross brains (or whatever they are).

Once you boil the meat, you know you're on the right track, but before then, during those three hours of cutting meat out of lobster heads, I wanted to find that fisherman and give him a piece of my mind. For free.

Making the béchamel sauce made me feel super Cuban. But I was scared, let me tell you. That sauce comes together fast and furious so you best be on your toes as you add, osterize, mix and heat. I thought for sure I had burnt the sauce since it came together and thickened so quickly. But no, it was right on point.

One comment about the wine I used - Pinot Grigio. Not a good wine to use because it seems to be less salty than the dry white cooking wine I typically use. Maybe Fred Tasker will read this and enlighten me on my theory, but I'm not taking any chances. Use dry white cooking wine for the béchamel.

There were a few monster croquetas, similar to, er, Frankenstein fingers, for example, but after all, it's what's inside that counts.

Except when it comes to lobster brains. Those shouldn't count.

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Minestrone Soup and the Tureen

Last Christmas, when my mom and I had taken a trip to Williams Sonoma to pick up my family Secret Santa gift, the rolling pin, we stopped by the tureens and she told me how much she liked them. I hadn't given them a second thought before then. I had known of soup tureens but had never imagined owning one. They look so fancy, so formal.

For mother's day, my mom gave me my very first soup tureen. I had no idea what to do with it. Back to the soup chapter we went.

Recipe #29: Minestrone Soup

This recipe calls for a soup bone. Of course, I had no clue that soup bone was an actual item that could be purchased. Thank goodness my neighbors were at the grocery store when I got there. They showed me where to get the bone (by the meats, duh).

My Facebook friends, especially Jami, helped me decipher that "guisantes frescos" are fresh legumes. Do people in Miami say "guisantes frescos"? I don't use that term, but thanks to Jami and a few others, I was on my way to making Minestrone Soup, a la Nitza, after the thorough trip to the grocery store.

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Latina Cook-Off : Pistachio & Bacon Challenge

To get something done, you just have to do it.

Behind schedule in The Project, kids back to school, deciding to become a homeroom mom, two soccer kids, piano and jazz. And my still new job. And the house. And before all that, the hubby.

And so, with pure enlightenment from above, I present the appetizer that can be made in less than 10 minutes and will keep people talking for months.

Latina Cook-Off Recipe: Guayaba y Queso Bacon Pistachio Pastica

I'll always thank Maray for introducing me to the original version of the recipe - cream cheese, guava marmalade (or preserves) and crumbled bacon. For the cook-off, I added sea salt and black pepper flavored pistachios for that extra savory kick.

Spread the guava over the cream cheese.

Top the guava with crumbled bacon.

End with the pistachios, roughly chopped and sprinkled over the top.

Serve with Cuban Crackers.

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