Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sesos Marathon

In 2011, I was on a mission to find brains (sesos) in Miami but no butcher, meat market or slaughter house would entertain my request. I had thought of throwing in the towel on the sesos recipes, which would have eliminated a total of five from my overall count of 629 recipes.

But in 2012, on a visit to a meat market in North Carolina, Mays Meats, I gave my five recipes a second thought and crossed my fingers.

There they were. Pig brains. All frozen and sanitary and not stuck in a pig's head.


Recipe #82: Receta Basica Para Cocinar Sesos is the base for all the recipes that call for sesos. There is a debate as to whether sesos are cow brains or pig brains. I'd venture to say that after Mad Cow disease, there is no chance of finding cow brains out there. Many have said that cow brains were used in these recipes in Cuba. But today, we will have to use pig brains.

Once you're done with the basic recipe, you can then move on to the ones that are built from it.

Recipe #83: Sesos a la Crema, an appetizer type of dish that requires you to first make Recipe #294: Salsa Béchamel or Recipe #298: Salsa Mornay, a béchamel sauce made with Patagrás (Gouda) and Parmesan cheeses. Once the Mornay Sauce is made, you toss in the sesos and serve them atop toast.

Tastes a little like a mushroom cheese mix. No kidding. Quite bearable and possibly delicious - once you move past the hang up of eating brains.

Recipe #84: Sesos Grille finally challenges the "bacon can make anything taste great" rule. It does not make brains taste good. Not in the least.

Recipe #193: Tortilla Sacromonte has potential. It is actually a great recipe, using 1T of all main ingredients. Very OCD-ish. The brains go back to tasting like mushroom, mostly because the other ingredients overpower the taste of the brains and all you get is the mushroomy texture. You can definitely serve this Tortilla, sans brains, and call it something else.

And finally, the best known of the five brain recipes, Recipe #288: Frituritas de Sesos. Many of you ate this recipe as a kid, until you realized what you were eating. Luckily, I was able to kill most of the taste with a good amount of lime juice. But it wasn't enough to make me have a second piece.

All eight of us adults tried at least one recipe along the way. Some of my more adventurous friends ate their fair share of sesos (read: Fred).

Others were just too darn grossed out (read: Eddie).

Bye bye, sesos. Relieved to cross these off the list and start 2013 sesos-free!

264: Frituritas de Sesos


Pork brains, approximately 4oz.
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup Cuban cracker meal (galleta molida)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Oil, for frying
Lime wedges

1. Prepare the pork brain (sesos) according to the basic recipe.

2. Once cooled, cut pork brains into bite-sized pieces.

3. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

4. Dredge each piece in flour, egg and cracker meal, shaking off all excess.

5. Heat the oil in a deep pan or deep fryer.

6. Gently drop each piece into the hot oil and fry until golden on both sides.

7. Place on paper towels to soak up excess oil.

8. Squeeze lime juice over each piece and serve immediately.

263: Tortilla Sacromonte


1 Tablespoon pork brains, basic recipe
1 Tablespoon ham, diced
1 Tablespoon French fries, chopped
1 Tablespoon pimentos, chopped
1 Tablespoon green peas
1 Tablespoon chicken giblets (menudos), cooked and chopped
1 Tablespoon onion, diced
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3 Tablespoons oil

1. Heat the oil in a small omelette pan.

2. Beat the eggs with the salt and pepper.

3. Drop the eggs into the hot oil.

4. When the eggs start to coagulate, add the rest of the ingredients onto one half of the pan.

5. Fold the egg over, covering all ingredients and forming a half moon omelette.

6. Cover the pot with a large plate and turn out the omelette onto the plate.

7. Slide the omelette back into the pan to finish cooking the other side.

Makes one serving.

262: Sesos Grille


Pork brains, approximately 4oz.
1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 strips bacon, uncooked
1 Tablespoon dry white cooking wine
Parsley, chopped

1. Prepare the pork brain (sesos) according to the basic recipe.

2. Once cooled, cut pork brains into bite-sized pieces.

3. Season the pork brains with salt and pepper, to taste.

4. Dredge each piece in flour and shake off excess flour.

5. Wrap each piece with bacon.

6. Place on a broiler pan, or any other pan that allows the drippings to collect underneath.

7. Cook in the oven, under the broiler, until the bacon is crispy and fully cooked.

8. Collect the bacon drippings in a bowl and add the dry white cooking wine. Mix.

9. Drizzle each sesos grille piece with the bacon wine sauce and top with the chopped parsley.

261: Salsa Mornay

2 cups Béchamel sauce
1/4 cup Patagrás (Gouda), shredded
1/4 cup Parmesan, grated or shredded
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1. Prepare the Béchamel sauce.

2. Add the cheese and black pepper once the sauce thickens.

3. Leave over low heat for a few minutes to ensure that the cheese fully melts.

260: Salsa Béchamel

Béchamel is a white sauce (Salsa Blanca) made with milk.

4 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of nutmeg

1. Melt the butter over low heat.
2. Add the flour and whisk constantly until you make a paste.
3. Slowly whisk in the milk, a little at a time.
4. Add the salt and nutmeg.
5. Keep whisking until sauce thickens.
Season with black pepper and dry white cooking wine, if desired.

259: Sesos a la Crema

1 cup Béchamel or Mornay sauce
Pork brain, approximately 4oz.
1Tablespoon dry white cooking wine

1. Prepare the pork brain (sesos) according to the basic recipe.

2. Once cooled, cut pork brains into 1" pieces.

3. Add the pork brains to the sauce, over low heat, for a few minutes.

4. Add the dry white cooking wine and mix well.

5. Serve on top of small toasts as an appetizer.

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258: Receta Basica Para Cocinar Sesos

Pork brains
2 cups water, boiling
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vinegar

1. If you are able to find pork brains frozen from your local meat market (I found mine at Mays Meats in North Carolina), just thaw them out in the refrigerator when you're ready to use them. If they are fresh, ask the butcher to clean them for you.

2. Drop the pork brains in the boiling water, salt and vinegar.

3. Reduce the heat to a slow boil and let the pork brains cook for 15 minutes.

4. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and place them in ice water to stop the cooking.

Now, your pork brains are ready to be used in any recipe that requires cooked pork brains.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Croqueta Batter: 4 Easy Steps

Croqueta batter, in 4 easy steps:
1. Melt 4T butter and fry 1T chopped onion.
2. Osterize 1c milk, 3/4c flour, 1/2t salt, 1/8t black pepper and some zested nutmeg and add to onions.
3. Mix together, over low heat, until it thickens and pulls apart from the sides, like dough.
4. Remove from heat and add 1t vino seco (dry cooking wine) and 2c your croqueta ingredient. Mix, toss into a bowl and let cool in fridge.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Healthy Cuban: Carne con Sweet Papas and Brown Rice

Trying to balance health and The Project isn't easy. So I've taken to running, to help my Weight Watchers POINTS plan. And in order to keep running, I've got to put better fuel in the tank, so I dreamt of Carne con Papas, with a twist.

I know that the tried-and-true Carne con Papas is always a hit, so for The Healthy Cuban version, I switched out the potatoes for sweet potatoes and the Jasmine rice (ack!) for brown rice.

The Carne con Sweet Papas was a big success. The Killer Rice without Jasmine? Well, we'll need to work a little more on that. If anyone has any good brown rice recipes to share, please send them my way.

Click here for the Carne con Sweet Papas recipe.

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Carne con Sweet Papas

3 lbs beef for stew, cut into 1"-2" pieces
1/4 cup Vegetable oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 white onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon Paprika
8oz can tomato sauce
1 cup cooking wine
Bay leaf
3 sweet potatoes

1. Season the meat with the kosher salt and black pepper.
2. Heat the oil in your pressure cooker.
3. Add the onion, garlic and green pepper to the oil.
4. When the vegetables have softened, place the meat in the pressure cooker, moving the vegetables around so that the meat sits directly at the bottom of the pot.
5. Flip the meat when it has turned golden on the first side.
6. Add the paprika over the meat.
7. Pour the tomato sauce into the pot.
8. Fill the empty tomato sauce can with water; add to the pot.
9. Fill the empty tomato sauce can with cooking wine; add to the pot.
10. Add the bay leaf and stir well.
11. Let all come to a boil while you peel and chop the sweet potatoes.
12. Add the sweet potatoes and bring to a boil again.
13. Stir and top with the pressure cooker lid.
14. Lock the pressure cooker.
15. Wait for the pressure to reach appropriate level (continuous rhythm of the pressure cap) and lower to medium (rhythm will continue, but at a slightly lower pace).
16. Cook for 30 minutes.
17. Turn off heat and wait for safety lock to come off. This lets us know that it is safe for us to open the lid.

Serve over brown rice. Makes 6-8 servings.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Pollo Frito a la Americana

Fried chicken comes in so many forms within The Project, I think of the Colonel's Original, Crispy, Extra Crispy versions. I also think of the Pickin' Chickin' or Kentucky Fried Chicken memories many of you have shared throughout the time I've been working on The Project.

I've made the Original (Pollo Frito a la Criolla) and Extra Crispy (Pollo a lo Miami) and just now made the in-between, or just Crispy (Recipe #145: Pollo Frito a la Americana).

My favorite? Well, it really depends on the mood that you're in. The difference in each is the coating but the one common factor is the frying.

The Criolla tastes like home with our traditional Cuban flavors.
The Miami reminds you of the fast food chicken you'd take to the beach.
The Americana falls right in-between and gives you a taste of both worlds.

Appropriately so.

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222: Pollo Frito a la Americana


1 chicken, 2 1/2 pounds, cut into pieces
3/4 cup flour
1 Tablespoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon garlic salt

1. In a brown paper bag, mix the flour and spices.

2. Add a few pieces of chicken to the bag.
3. Close the bag and shake in order to coat the chicken with the spices and flour.

4. Place coated pieces of chicken on a wire tray in order to let the coating adhere well to the chicken.
5. Repeat steps 2-4 until all pieces have been coated once.
6. If you have remaining dry ingredients in the bag, repeat steps 2-4 to create a second coat.
7. Heat a quarter inch of oil in one (or two) frying pans. It is best to cook all chicken pieces at once so use a second pan if all pieces don't fit in the first pan. Do not overcrowd your pans.

8. When the oil is hot, lay each chicken piece in the pan. The oil should begin to foam when each chicken piece is introduced.
9. Cook until golden over high heat, five minutes on each side.

10. After the ten minutes on high heat, lower heat and cover each pan.
11. Cook on low for 30 minutes.
12. Remove cover and cook for an additional 10 minutes so that the liquid evaporates and chicken is crispy.

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Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Brunch 2012

We're into the second Easter for The Project and it was quite a challenge to not repeat some of last year's favorites such as the Arroz a la Indiana and the Rollo de Jamón con Piña.

For brunch this year, I divided and conquered the full menu - beverages, appetizers and desserts were assigned to the family and I took care of the platos fuertes (main dishes).

Recipe #336: Ensalada de Pollo Suprema, a potato-less (yes, Cuban sacrilege) chicken salad.

Recipe #78: Ladrillo de Carne Fria is not the traditional Carne Fria that is mostly remembered as being served in round discs atop saltine crackers. This version is baked into a loaf and includes hard boiled eggs surprisingly nestled inside.

Recipe #400: Doble Delicia de Chocolate, a double-layer mint chocolate cake with a mint chocolate frosting between the two layers and on the outside.

All beautiful and delicious in their own right. The best part? I was able to make them all the day before so that I could enjoy the family and the kids' festivities.
Although my cousin and I have our Easter Brunch pact - she handles the outside (Easter Egg Hunt and crafts for the kids) and I handle the inside, I did want to step outside and enjoy her hard work with frenzy of a dozen kids.

What a crazy fun time they all had, and the food was just the backdrop. Just as it should be.

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219: Ensalada de Pollo Suprema


2 pound chicken, cooked and shredded from the bone
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup green peas
1 cup toasted almond slices (salted)
3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
5 sweet gherkins, chopped
10 manzanilla olives, stuffed with pimentos, chopped
12 oz cream cheese
1 1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 green apples, chopped into small cubes
1 Tablespoon lime juice

1. In a large bowl, mix the chicken through the olives.

2. Add the cream cheese and mayonnaise.

3. Add the salt, vinegar, apples and cover with the lime juice (to avoid browning).

4. Mix all ingredients well and place bowl in the refrigerator.

Serve cold

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221: Doble Delicia de Chocolate


For the frosting:
3/4 cup cream cheese (6oz)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon mint extract
6 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup hot water
4 pieces chocolate for baking
For the cake:
2 cups of the frosting
1/4 cup butter
3 eggs
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk

1. To start on the frosting, beat the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and mint in a bowl.

2. Melt the chocolate pieces in the hot water.

3. Alternate beating in the powdered sugar and melted chocolate to the frosting.

4. Set aside two cups of the frosting and put away the rest in a container. You can place the container with frosting in the refrigerator at this point if you are going to frost it later. Bring the frosting to room temperature before using it to cover the cake.

5. Using the same bowl, beat the two cups of frosting with butter.

6. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each one.

7. Add the dry ingredients, alternating with the milk, to finalize the cake batter.

8. Turn the batter into two 9" round greased and floured cake pans.

9. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.
10. Let cake cool.

11. Place one cake on a serving dish.
12. Spread the top of the cake with frosting.

13. Cover the frosting with the second cake.
14. Spread the frosting over the top and sides of the full cake.

15. Decorate with sprinkles, mint leaves, chocolate shavings or any toppings you'd like.

Serves 16.

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