Friday, April 25, 2008

Mom's in Town

First let me begin by apologizing for neglecting my blog this past month. I can only excuse myself by saying that my mom's in town visiting and we've been spending time just enjoying each other's company. I didn't realize how much I missed her. It's great to have her to go shopping, to help cook dinner, to just sit and watch my dog play in the backyard.

Since I have a great source of Cuban food around me now, I've trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible. It hasn't been easy because even though I have repeatedly asked her to wait for me to start cooking, it doesn't always happen. I'll go outside to water the plants and she's already started dinner so I missed all the preparation. When I ask her what she put in the dish, she'll say, "a little bit of this and a little bit of that." I then ask what is "a little bit?" She says, "you know a little bit."

Like most great cooks there really isn't any measuring, everything is by instinct. Therefore, when I do have the opportunity to watch her in action, I have my measuring cups and spoons on hand. Having said that I have been able to write down two great recipes which I will undoubtedly share with you.

But today, I would like to share a few things my mom taught me about Cuban cooking these past few weeks:

1) A rice cooker is THE essential tool in Cuban cuisine. Every household should have one. Any size will do. My mom walked into my kitchen the first day and asked, where's the rice cooker? I said I didn't have one. She proceeded to turn several shades of pale white. When the color returned to her checks she took me by the hand and lead me to the nearest Bed, Bath and Beyond. Now I have a rice cooker and all is well in the Bandiero kitchen.

2) A pressure cooker saves time and helps soften pork and beef. It also makes a Flan in 30 minutes. I didn't have a pressure I do.

3) Yellow onions, garlic, green onions, green and red peppers, salt pepper, oregano and cumin. These seem to be the base for most Cuban dishes. It varies but that's what I see my mom preparing most of the time. Other important ingredients are, bijol, parsley, and cilantro.

4) MARINADE, MARINADE, MARINADE! For Cubans that would mean using mojo.

Finally, my mom taught me that it's not what you prepare for dinner, but that you prepare it with love. I feel guilty when I see her cooking us dinner. It is after all, my home and she's on vacation. But then I see her smile when she sets the table and calls us in for dinner. She's doing what she loves to do...taking care of her children, even though we are old and married. A child is a child no matter the age, and a mom is always a mom. Having my mom around is my greatest joy.

The picture on top is of my mom when she turned 15. That would be her Sweet 15. (Cubans don't do 16 they do 15). Obviously, the other pic. is of me when I turned 15.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Chicken in Sherry Sauce

In 1969, my mom, dad and I left Cuba for Spain and eventually the United States. At the time, my mom and dad thought they would never return to their beloved homeland. They believed they would never see their parents, siblings, or friends again. It must have been terrifying, especially for those Cubans who had never been anywhere outside the island of Cuba. My parents were like that. My mom and dad had never left their country, had never even been to Miami, only 90 miles away. I can only imagine the fear, the uncertainty and the desperation they felt when they boarded that plane in January 1969 bound for Madrid, Spain.
For many fleeing Cubans, Spain was just a pit stop on their way to the golden streets of the USA. We lived in Madrid for 2 years awaiting our US entry visa. During those 2 years, my mom and dad struggled to maintain a roof over our heads and I'm sure to maintain their own sanity. I don't remember Madrid. I have flashes of images but no cohesive memory. But my mom loves to tell me stories about our time in Spain, especially, my time at the Tapas bar located on the street level of the apartment building where we lived. Here is a picture of me sitting on my mom's lap at the bar. (European culture does not consider it a crime for a child to enter a bar or to take a sip of wine or beer.) My mom loves to tell me stories of how I would go downstairs, sit at the bar and order Tapas and beer. In reality, it was more like a plate of olives, crackers, cheese and a shot class full of the mildest beer available. She said there was never any fear that I would be kidnapped by some deranged psychopathic child molester. It was a different time and a different place from today's world.
Anyway, getting to the point of my blog, which is food, I made this recipe today from an old Tapas recipe book. The original recipe calls for chicken livers and much less Sherry. But there is no way I'm making chicken livers so I substituted it with chicken breasts. It works wonderfully. Here is my homage to Spain...OLÉ!

3-4 boneless chicken breasts, washed and cut into 3 inch pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion sliced into long pieces
3 garlic cloves crushed
1/2 cup Spanish Sherry
salt and pepper for taste
handful of green olives
handful of chopped parsley

In a large sauce pan eat the olive oil. Add the onions and garlic and cook until very soft.

Add the chicken, salt and pepper and cook until brown on all sides and well cooked.

Removed chicken from pan and place in a warm plate.

Add the sherry to the pan and deglaze using a wooden spoon to scrap the bottom of the pan. Add the olives and cook for 2 minutes. Add the chicken pieces to the pan again and stir together.

Serve the chicken over yellow rice. Toss the chopped parsley over the chicken and rice. Serve.

Easy to make and delicious!

This dish is really not fattening. Replace the yellow rice with brown rice or just serve with a salad.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Chicken Piccata

Today, I'm in an Italian mood. This is one of my time tested recipes that never fail. You can be assured that you can serve this dish at a dinner party or just on any old night. I first had this dish in Italy (of course) but with veal. I like it best with chicken. (If you are wondering, the picture is of Sorrento, Italy.)

3/4 extra virgin olive oil
4 boneless chicken breasts (each breast cut in 2 pieces for a total of 8)
1/2 cup flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 Chicken stock (or broth)
Juice of one lemon
Salt and Pepper
1-2 tablespoons of capers (drained of liquid)

Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, dredge the chicken pieces in the flour covering them completely. Place each piece in the oil and brown on all sides. When they are done, set them aside on a warm plate.

Drain the oil from the pan. Return the pan to the stove over medium heat and add the butter. Once the butter is melted, return the chicken and it's juices to the pan. Raise the heat and pour in the wine. Bring to a boil and then add the chicken stock or broth and lemon juice. Stir together.

When the chicken is cooked through, remove them from the pan and place on a serving platter. Add the capers (1 or 2 tablespoons, that's up to you. Remember, capers are salty so think before you add too many). Add the pepper and salt if you feel you need to. Cook for about 3 minutes over medium heat.

Pour the liquid over the chicken pieces and you are ready to serve.

I like to serve this dish with a fine spaghetti. You can serve it just with steamed vegetables or rice. Choice is yours.

Don't add the butter. Just use a little more olive oil. Avoid the flour and just brown the chicken in the olive oil. Sauce, however, will be thinner than the version with the flour. Serve with brown rice or whole wheat pasta.