here and there

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What is Cuban Food????

Thinking about Cuban food as we flew into the beautiful tropical island, it just had to be seafood and wonderful tropical fruit.  Knowing the history of this island, colonization by the Spaniards and African being brought in as slaves, these influences should be seen in the cuisine.  

Chickens roaming everywhere including the streets of Varadero and seeing pigs in one’s yard along with cattle in the fields and some cattle carefully tied along the side of the roads to graze on greener grass.

           Although we are in a resort, which would cater to the western taste, local products should be in abundance on the menu.  We were told that rice was scarce, although this certainly was not apparent at the resort and made me think twice about leave any on my plate.  Although we had seen trucks with bags of potatoes, mashed potatoes and potatoes chunks were in some of the stews, potatoes did not seem to be a staple.  Steamed pumpkin with no seasonings was served frequently and was delicious


Pork was referred to as the national dish.  In travelling to Havana, we did see a pig on a spit that was being cooked for those camping in the cottages by our beach.  This beautifully browned BBQ pig looked most appetizing as a line of people stood waiting for a slice of barbecued pork.   

The resort did have a BBQ on the beach for Cuban Days. A leg of pork was roasted and served with a bun, coleslaw and roasted plantains.  


At Cuban Days, they used coconuts as containers to serve rum drinks.  I especially enjoyed the fresh coconut after the chef used a long craving knife to hack the coconut open. To my surprise the actual coconut was about 4 inches in height, very small. 

Mahi mahi fish that was in a batter or flour coating was served separately or in a sauce.  Arroz con Pollo, Rice with Chicken" in Spanish, is a classic dish of Spain and was served in Cuba.   At the dinner buffets, roast of beef, pork, ham and roasted turkey and chicken were featured at different days and portions were craved by a chef.  Overall the chicken was my favourite.

As hot dishes, rice and beans were served separately or cooked together, along with dishes of cubed pork, lamb, beef or chicken.  The hot dishes were served in red rectangle cast iron dishes and sat on element of heat and these dishes tended to dry out.   The dishes were delicious if you were there shortly after they were prepared.. The fish that was grilling that I took of the grill was most delicious, although the chef was most upset that I took it of the grill before he thought it was ready.  My thoughts are that they may tend to over cook food due to the tropical temperature and are concerned about spoilage.
At lunch time, one could have a self designed pizza, pasta dish or Panini as could one do the same for omelettes at breakfast.

A salad bar with sliced tomatoes, lettuce, sliced cucumbers, grated carrots, shredded cabbage and beans (navy, black or red kidney).  Prepared dressing such as ranch and vinaigrette with fresh herbs, along with balsamic vinegar and Olive Oil was offered.


The fruit bar did have tropical fruits, slices of pineapple, guava in quarters, along with slices of watermelon and melons.  The pineapples were small as were the bananas and not as sweet or juicy.  I learned that apples do not grow in the tropics!  I learned how to eat guava properly, one eats all the fruit, including the rind.  Now I still don’t know if I can accurately describe this fruit, tasted like creamy strawberries, not a distinct taste that jumps out at you, yet the texture is unusual as you see a pink center with creamy color and tons of hard seeds with  a green rind, a miniature watermelon.  I can’t say I enjoyed the taste, yet the fruit did intrigue me.   

This fruit was used in many desserts and as fillings in pastry much like apples would be. Overall, the fruit was a disappointment, although the papaya was not, it was sweet and juicy. 


Two types of cheese were always served, both sliced; a mild cheddar and soft young aged cheese with a tangy taste.

The desserts were lovely to look at and I did enjoy the rice pudding that was very similar to my Mom’s recipe, creamy and snow white!

The breads were attractively displaced everyday.  The dough was sweet with eggs and sugar although they did have savory bread with jalapeƱos.  

The wedding meal for Alicia and George was held in one of their smaller restaurant.  An attractive salad plate and rock lobster which was fresh but overcooked was part of their wedding menu.   

 Just had to include pictures for the reason we were here!!!

  I think this was one of the only time we ate inside, the rest of the time we at on the Patio. The tables were always set in white linens. The waiters were dressed in smart short sleeved shirts,yellow with black dolphins and black mini pencil skirts or pants for the men. Black fish net stockings seemed to be most popular.

 Overall, the food was delicious although not that differently from what we would have at home.  The dishes were mildly seasoning with most common spices used in Cuban cuisine being garlic, cumin, oregano and bay or laurel leaves.   I left thinking how globalized we are as I truly can not tell you what  is Cuban food! 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

Chicken Pot Pies and many memories

May the 7th, snow is still on the ground and Mother’s Day is fast approaching. As I think of this day thoughts of my Mother in law come to mind. I remember with the fondness the dinner party she hosted for her son and roommate in Winnipeg while they were visiting from the Mari times. Bill and Peter his Australian friend were renting a fully furnished apartment from a couple on leave for a year. The apartment was Winnipeg’s newest high rise apartment tower. . Alice, Peter’s girlfriend and I were their invited guests. Mom K had set the table using the owner’s fine chine, glassware and linens. The Dining Room sparkled in the candle light and crystal.
Lately Kitchen Blogs are revisiting the beauty of a perfectly set table with flowers and bringing out the fine chine, crystal and linens. For example; Setting a Beautiful Mother’s Day Table
Mixing and matching vintage chine and glassware adds to the nostalgia, yet brings a newest to the dinner table. The guests truly feel special when the host not only serves delicious tasting food but takes that extra time to set the perfect table
The meal began with freshly scooped red grapefruit that had been replaced into half of the grapefruit shell that had been cut out in a decorative manner. This simple yet elegant dish sparkled in the crystal sherbet glass and was served with a sprinkle of granulated sugar and a maraschino cheery on top
The star of this dinner was Chicken Pot Pie that was proudly served and baked in a clear rectangular shaped Pyrex dish. Pastry cut ornamentally floated on top of the chicken filling. Freshly baked buns accompanied this savoury hot pie. Mom K always took great pride in serving this delicious work of art.
Although I do have her recipe, I have never attempted making this recipe mainly because of all the steps involved in her original recipe. I did see her preparing the dish while visiting in New Brunswick.
Chicken breasts were first steamed in a pressure cooker. A Kitchen pot that has always terrified me as did watching her remove the lid from the hot pot. The chicken was cooled, skinned and cut into small cubes.
Carrots and potatoes were diced into small cubes and also steamed. Later in her life, she added frozen diced carrots and peas to the pies.
A white sauce using a flour and butter as the thickening agent for milk was made. Although I do not remember the seasoning, I would think that a small onion would have finely diced and added to the sauce. Salt and pepper to taste and chopped parsley would have been added. Seasoning in the seventies was added with a light hand.
The Chicken Pie was assembled by mixing up cooked chicken and carrots along with green peas into the white sauce and poured into an oven proof dish. Decorative pieces of pastry were added to finish the pie.
The pie was baked just before serving at 325 degrees until hot and bubbly with the pastry a golden brown color.
The meal ended with another of her specialties, Lemon Chiffon Pie, a shimmering light fluffy lemon dessert!
Although both of these recipes used pastry, the chicken pie only used a small amount of pastry. In making her pastry, Mom K used a pastry cloth on her rolling pin to roll out the pastry dough. Left over pastry was also used up by adding sharp cheddar to the pastry and making bread stick out of this mixture.
To me, Chicken Pot Pie is not just a delicious comfort food with it come all the beautiful memories of meeting this fine lady, being welcomed into her family and feeling oh so special! My only hope is that my two daughter in laws feel the same love!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Nellie's awesome Butter tarts for Mother's Day!

Mother Day is around the corner! Reading an email from Paula Dean reflecting on her Mom! left me thinking about my Mom and her impact on my life.
To me my thoughts were of the home she had made during and after the death of her husband at an early age. Home revolved around the kitchen, memories of good conversation, and food. The door was always opened to friends and relatives!

What was her specialty? She did everything so well! Jonathan her grandson talked of her soups in his eulogy. A birthday treat for me was her delicious walnut or lemon poppy seed chiffon which froze so well and were such a treat when slices were cut and eaten frozen!! Yet as I sit at my kitchen table and look at the snow covered yard, pastry, in particular Butter Tats come to mind!

Flaky, tender golden brown crust filled with oozy buttery filling as you bit into this delicious treat! How could one resist this butter tart! Coming home from work and being greeted by the sweet buttery vanilla smell of freshly baked tarts especially when I was able to take them to work knowing that Mom would easily make another batch without asking!

Yes, I have made butter tarts but somehow have never perfected the flakiness or the gooey goodness of the perfect butter tart!.

Here is a recipe close to Mom’s recipe, although I doute she ever measured anything that accurately!
As far as the pastry working in a hot kitchen during harvest season along with canning and making pies for the workers during threshing season and then working in kitchens at restaurants, she did not follow any of suggested rules in making pastry. Rules such as icy cold surface for rolling out the pastry, careful handling and so on. Her butter tarts were legendary in a northern Manitoba town when she worked at a Bus Depot, where her baking such as tarts, pies, buns and muffins were shipped daily further north in Manitoba to The Pas and Thompson on Grey Hound. In fact, my husband heard about Mom’s culinary skills in Winnipeg from a co worker while working in this Northern town was proudly taken by Manitoba Hydro to their regular soup and sandwich spot for lunch followed by coffee and a butter tart! My husband was proud to tell him that the cook was his mother in law!
I had previously scanned a hand written recipe by my Aunt that she had from my Mom.

The recipe I use comes from Blue Ribbon cookbook, 13th edition-1970. My Mom had looked over this recipe and felt it closely followed her recipe as the recipe used corn syrup which has a rich buttery taste.

¼ cup butter
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup Corn syrup
2 eggs
1 tsp Vanilla extract

Cream butter and sugar add corn syrup, eggs, extract and vinegar. Beat with a whisk or hand mixer until fluffy and lemon color. Mom would drop raisins into the bottom of the tart shells Spoon butter filling into tart shells. This mixture rises when cooked so only fill 2/3 full. Mom used the medium sized muffin tins. Her pastry over lapped slightly and then she would pinch it in three places. Her pastry was flaky and tender using lard, flour and water. . The closet I’ve come to her pastry recipe is using 2/3 cup of lard, 2 cups flour and 7 – 8 tablespoon of ice cold water. Yes, it is lard! My rationale is how often does one eat pastry and lard makes it most flaky! Mom use to say rendered duck fat made the best pastry! She always baked her baking at 325, thus at a lower oven temperature but longer!

CBC has archived an interesting show on what makes a great Canadian Butter tart!

I believe that my mom had perfected the Butter Tarts and truly made it her own. This she did by finding a sense of pride in what she did no matter where she was. Happy Mother Day Mom!