Five Things

Friday! Hope you have a good one. We are attempting to make that Tartine bread this weekend after spending the last 20 mornings feeding our starter. This won’t be the easiest project, but I hope it’s worth it. I’ll let you know how it goes! Here’s this week’s Five Things.

(1) Cuban sandwiches. I’ve been craving one. And although I’m from Miami, I prefer the ones from Tampa because of the bread and the salami.

(2) On an old Splendid Table podcast I heard recently, Lynne talks to British comedian George Egg, who cooks in hotel rooms. He makes pasta! And muffins! With the help of bibles, irons, and closet light bulbs. Check it out.

(3) How do you fry your eggs? I used to cook the hell out of them, letting the bottom and edges of the egg white turn crispy and browned, but I’ve always liked a runny yolk. Now I fry an egg at a gentler, medium-low heat and cover the pan for a minute or two to help the egg set. But now that I’ve seen how José Andrés fries his Perfectly Fried Egg, I want to try it this way, too.

(4) Italian prune plums have been on my mind since reading about them in Luisa’s book and seeing this beautiful version of her cake. I’d never noticed these plums at the store before until just the other day, and now that I’ve found them I’ve gotta bake this cake soon. Maybe next weekend. But I’ve yet to try a prune plum; have you had one?

(5) Do you drink beer? I’ve got a blog for you. My friend Jessica, a reporter and Tampa native, is also a woman obsessed with beer. She and her husband, Derek, have made their own beer at home (so good!) and always have a great selection of beer when I come over. Jessica recently started a beer blog called Pint Press, and you can check it out here.

Vaca Frita

Getting this recipe over the phone would not have been possible. The women in my family, particularly my Mom, my Tia Romy, and my Abuelita, cook by instinct and experience. To get one of their recipes, I have to act like I’m interviewing a source and question everything. I have to remind them to stop and measure the salt and everything else, which they never do. I have to be in Miami.

This recipe for vaca frita is the first one I’ve managed to write down. I’ll have to catch the arroz aguado, gallopinto, carne con papa, and arroz con pollo some time. But none of these have become as political as the vaca frita.

My Tia Romy, also my godmother, learned this Cuban recipe from her husband’s grandmother. We made plans to spend Saturday cooking it at her house so I could write down the recipe and take pictures. By coincidence (ha, not!) my mom made her version of vaca frita for dinner when I got in on Thursday night. She claims this was not intentional.

On Friday, I had leftovers for lunch and we made tortillas and turned the rest into tacos for dinner. On Saturday, I had my tia’s version and took the leftovers home on Sunday to share with Danny in Tampa. By the end of the weekend, and perhaps at the height of this rivalry, I was half vaca frita.

    

    

I, of course, can not pick a side between food made by mom and my madrina. I like both versions of the vaca frita, which translates to fried cow. My madrina showed my mom how to make it, and now they both make it often and serve it proudly, always with an impish smile and quip about hers being better than her sister’s.

My Tia Romy finely chops her onion so it’s almost hidden behind the meat, and she has a lighter hand on the garlic and lime to suit Tio John’s taste. This time she served it with fresh pineapple juice. My mom cuts her onion into long, thin strips to match the shape of the shredded meat, and the lime in her version is more intense.

Their homes are only five minutes apart, and there should really be a taste test with the two versions side by side or some kind of cooking competition. This great schism between two schools of thought on Cuban crispy, shredded beef, especially coming from two Nicaraguans, is all very amusing to my padrino. He’s agreed to be a judge on a future home cooking version of “Chopped” that would make for a truly hilarious home video.

This should also tell you that this is a forgiving recipe with a lot of room for tweaking it to your taste. My aunt used 1 and 3/4 pounds of skirt steak to show me the recipe step by step, but you’d be fine with anywhere from 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of meat. Use the cooking time as a guideline (as you should with any recipe, really, because all kitchens are different) and trust yourself to know when the meat is tender enough and later when it’s crispy enough. Add more garlic or lime if you’d like, and later play around with mixing in spices or fresh herbs. Definitely try turning the vaca frita into tacos and serve those with pico de gallo.

As for what else to serve it with, both my mom and my aunt usually serve this with rice and platanitos (or mariquitas), thinly sliced and fried plantain chips. No disagreement there.

vaca frita

My madrina learned how to make this Cuban dish from her husband’s grandmother. My Tia Romy then taught my mom how to make it, and it’s been a bit of a rivalry ever since. My mom tends to add more lime and garlic, and she fries the meat until it’s very crispy; my godmother chops the onion very finely rather than into long, thin strips. These are simple variations you can tweak according to your taste. This crispy, shredded meat is great for tacos. Vaca Frita (fried cow) will keep in the fridge up to a few days and this recipe can easily be doubled.

1 1/2 to 2 pounds skirt or flank steak, fat removed and cut into 3-inch pieces
1 medium onion, half sliced and half finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper
1 tablespoon salt, plus more (incl 1/2 tsp sea salt)
7 garlic cloves, minced
3 to 4 limes
3 tablespoons olive oil

Place the meat, the sliced half of the onion, bell pepper, and 1 tablespoon salt in a pressure cooker with just enough water to cover the meat. Cook on high for 20 minutes, letting the pressure cooker whistle. If you don’t have a pressure cooker (which is simply faster), place the meat in a large pot and bring to a boil, then simmer over medium heat until the meat is tender.

Remove the pressure cooker from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes. Do not try to open a pressure cooker when it’s still hot and under, you know, pressure because it will explode on you. After a few minutes of resting, speed things up by placing the pressure cooker in the sink and running cold water over the top for a minute or so. Nothing spectacular should happen here, but my madrina advises to stand back just in case. Running water over the pressure cooker will make the safety valves on the side drop down pretty quickly, and then you know it’ll be safe to open.

Drain the meat. Discard the onion and bell pepper. Let the meat cool until you can shred it with your hands. Squeeze the juice of 3 to 4 limes over the meat. Season with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the finely chopped onion and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the meat and fry until it’s as crispy as you like, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve warm with rice or tortillas and fried plantain.

Serves 4.

Quick Onion Jam

I’m back in Tampa with plans to spend most of today reading this book. Can’t wait. For lunch, I don’t think I can resist another one of these fried egg sandwiches with onion jam and cheese. Danny was nice enough to leave some for me, but that jam jar has not lasted long. I’ll have to make another batch soon. Caramelized onions are reduced to a sweet jam, and they’re perfect with a slice of cheese. If you try a similar fried egg sandwich, make sure to leave the yolk runny and give it a squeeze to let it ooze out from the center of the sandwich. I’ll be back Wednesday with a recipe from Miami.

quick onion jam

Less than an hour after slicing onions that always make me cry, I’ve got sweet onion jam in a jar. This jam tastes like it’s made for cheese and is great in a fried egg and brie sandwich. I bet it’d be also be great on a pizza. Onion jam keeps in a jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds (about 2 large) onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock
a splash of sherry
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
kosher salt

Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Cook onions in the covered pot, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 15 minutes.

Add water, vinegar, sugar, and brandy to the onions and cook uncovered until the onions are softened and caramelized, about 30 minutes. Season with salt. Let jam cool completely and store in a jar.

Makes 1 1/2 cups. Adapted from Whole Living.

Gimlet

Hi from Miami! This was my drink of the week before heading down Alligator Alley to visit family this weekend, which started with a surprise Lila pick-up after school. Those are the best. She spots me and in her surprise runs over yelling my name and crashes into me with a big hug. Like I said, the best.

For this drink we used a dry London-style gin. Save the Hendrick’s for a drink where it’s herbal notes will get more attention. This cocktail reminds me of limonada I’ve sipped in Santo Domingo, which of course is made with limes. For some reason, you don’t really see yellow lemons in Latin American countries, homes, or grocery stores. Limón means lemon but it was always the green little citrus.

Use 2 to 3 limes for this one, depending on how juicy yours are. You can strain the juice to remove some pulp, but I didn’t mind it and left it all in.

gimlet

Traditional gimlets use bottled sweetened lime juice, but I like this version with fresh lime juice. The flavor is intense and much more refreshing. If your limes aren’t giving up much juice, go for three of them. Best thing is this recipe makes enough to serve two.

1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
zest of 1/2 lime
juice of 2 limes, or 3 if they’re not giving much juice
1/2 cup gin

Combine water, sugar, and lime zest in a small saucepan. Bring to a low simmer for a few minutes, and whisk constantly just until the sugar dissolves. Remove pan from heat and let rest until it cools off. Remove the zest and the lime juice.

Combine the lime simple syrup and the gin. Divide between two short glasses and fill with ice. Serve each drink with a lime wedge.

Makes 2 drinks. Recipe from The Kitchn

Quick Ratatouille with Goat Cheese + big news

This blog’s name was inspired, of course, by the movie Ratatouille, which charmed me with its story, music, and message that anyone can cook. There was really only one recipe to feature today at the end of summer and the beginning of a project extended from a little saffron. Ratatouille — a savory, simple French stew that celebrates in-season squash, eggplant, and tomato.

So here’s the big, I-can’t-believe-this news…

    

    

I’m writing a column based on this blog for the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times) called In Our Kitchen. The first one debuts today with an introduction of the column, Danny, and me with recipes for carnitas tacos. The column will be similar to the blog while focusing more on cooking together as a young couple.

You can read it here or pick up a copy of the Times where you’ll see the first column on the front of the Taste section with some pictures of us. You can also read the column as it is in the paper by downloading these two PDF files — Tastecoverileana Tastejump.  After this first column, they’ll run my photos of the food we cook! It will be in the paper every other Wednesday. I could not be more excited about this and feel extremely lucky to be given this opportunity. I hope you’ll enjoy the column as much as you enjoy the blog.

This particular recipe for ratatouille is another one from Melissa Clark’s feature on French weeknight stews in last October’s Food & Wine. To update this classic with faster results, she advises to cook the vegetables separately before combining them. The eggplant is peeled to cut down on cooking time, too. I’ll revisit ratatouille with a more traditional method some time (or SK’s version of Ratatouille’s ratatouille), but for now this is a seriously good dinner that may taste even better the next day.

The cooking comes together fairly quickly after some time dedicated to chopping everything. It takes some time, but this step in making dinner slows you down and lets you appreciate the scents released when cutting garlic and basil. And don’t underestimate the power of a cooked onion, which sent its aroma down the hall to greet Danny before he made it to the front door.

quick ratatouille with goat cheese

Cooking the vegetables in batches makes this a quick ratatouille. Though eggplant isn’t cooked very long here, peeling off the vegetable’s deep purple skin cuts down on cooking time and it is pleasantly tender without being bitter. Eggplant will begin to brown almost as soon as you cut into it; make sure to dice it just before you’re ready to go with everything. Goat cheese is perfect with this. Serve warm with a few extra leaves of fresh basil and a white Bordeaux. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for a day or so.

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
5 large garlic cloves, minced
salt
black pepper
1 medium zucchini, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow squash, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large onion, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
2 pounds tomatoes, cored and finely chopped
1 cup loosely packed shredded basil leaves, plus a few whole leaves for garnish
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese

Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven. Add the eggplant and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until it’s almost tender and a bit browned, about 5 minutes. Then add a third of the garlic and a pinch each of salt and black pepper, and cook for 1 minute. Move the eggplant with a slotted spoon to a large plate or bowl to wait.

Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the zucchini, and the squash to the Dutch oven and cook over medium heat until some of the pieces are browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in another third of the garlic with a pinch each of salt and pepper, and cook for 1 minute. Remove the vegetables from the pot and set them on the plate with the eggplant.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the onion, and bell pepper to the Dutch oven, and cook over medium heat until softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the rest of the garlic with a pinch each of salt and black pepper, and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, two-thirds of the basil, and the squash, zucchini, and eggplant. Cook over medium heat until the tomatoes break down and the vegetable are tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the rest of the basil with the lemon zest and juice. Serve ratatouille on plates with crumbled goat cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, and a couple fresh basil leaves.

Serves 4. Recipe from Food & Wine.