Over the past year, our family has started expanding. My brother, Osco, and his wife, Dana, celebrated their first anniversary this past October. We are so lucky that Dana decided to join us, she is the perfect addition (and anyone who can live with my brother and not be crazy is worth keeping around!). The growing continues this year, as Trev and I prepare to welcome our first child sometime, (hopefully!) in the next four to five weeks (I’m very ready!). We got a second great surprise when Osco and Dana announced that they would be blessing us with their first baby in July. Two new boys for 2015; we are one lucky family! So in the past year and a half, I have taken on the role of sister-in-law and this year I will become Mother (yes, I really want my baby to call me Mother 🙂 )and Aunt!
It’s always fun (or amusing for those of us not in your family, when it’s someone your aren’t exactly ecstatic about being related too) bringing new members into your family. My favorite part is learning about the new traditions that are being merged with my own. As always, food is at the top of my list. I am the first one to ask what you like to cook or eat, because not everyone cooks, but everyone eats! It was no different when Dana came into our family. She has Cuban grandparents, and growing up in South Florida, I had eaten my fair share of Cuban food. However, it wasn’t a cuisine I was familiar cooking. I knew I liked it, but I didn’t know the slight nuances that made it so special. The last time we were down for a visit, we were all lucky enough to get an invite to Dana and Osco’s house for dinner. Of course, I requested the Cuban dishes that I had been hearing my brother rave about. Osco has been eating off the regular menu at restaurants since before he was out of diapers and his morning ritual before school every day included asking my Mom what was for dinner that night. He couldn’t go all day speculating about what he was coming home to that night, the anticipation would have killed him! Needless to say, the boy loves him some good food. And why shouldn’t he? We were fed like kings growing up!
So…. dinner time arrives and we all sit down to eat. Let me just tell you, the room was silent, and in my family that doesn’t happen very often. It’s hard to talk when you are too busy putting food in your mouth! Trev didn’t say a word for most of the meal and as much as we love to eat, he loves to talk, so it was an added bonus for me . It was one of the best meals I can remember having anywhere, and I have been thinking about it ever since. What I think I loved most about it, was Dana was able to bring a side of her family to ours in a way that we can all appreciate. I loved hearing her talk about her Grandmother making this and other dishes while she was growing up. It was great to learn about how she was raised and what is important to her. We are all different and sometimes get too wrapped up in our own lives; we all need to sit down and pay attention to those around us and open up a little. This meal did that for my family and helped me to appreciate Dana even more than I already did. I can’t wait for my son to be born and get to hang out with his cousin and learn about the different cultures that make all of us who we are, and if I can convince Dana to cook, it’s an added bonus!
This past week, Trev had been traveling a lot for work and I wanted to make a nice dinner for him when he got home. I couldn’t think of anything better than Dana’s Cuban dinner (he talks about it all the time, so finally I took the hint!). While mine didn’t turn out exactly like hers, you can get the idea from the pictures as to what it should look like. I added homemade tortillas to my dinner, because as a southerner, I feel you can never have too many starches. Also, I wanted an excuse to use my tortilla pan that I got in Belize on our Honeymoon. I really enjoyed cooking this meal, and it will be added as a staple in mt go to recipe box. It also warms up great for leftovers!
What I’d really like you to take from this post is to look a further than the surface when your family expands. It doesn’t have to be in food. It could be something as simple as a quote that your new Son In Law says or taking an interest in a hobby that a new Grandmother is bringing to the family (this one actually hits home for me, because I have taken up crocheting, which is something my Mimi does, but that’s for a different post!). You never know what you’ll discover about the new person and yourself.
And now for the good stuff…..the recipes!
Picadillo (We call it Dana’s Cuban dinner, but this is the actual name for the recipe!)
Oil for the pan
1 Green Bell Pepper, diced
1 Yellow Onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 pound Ground Chicken (you can also use ground beef)
1-2 Bay Leaves
About 5-8 Green Olives, diced (you can add more if you like green olives, my Mom does, so we always put in extra for her)
1 can Tomato Sauce (this part is up to you, depending on how much sauce you like)
Cumin to taste
½ tsp. Vinegar
Rice, to serve over
Kirby Beans, as a side (see the pictures for the importance of Kirby beans and how I managed to make them not like Dana’s 🙂 )
– Heat oil in a cast iron skillet (ok, you can use a regular skillet, but I always have to give a shout out to my favorite kitchen item!) over medium high heat
– Sautee Green Bell Pepper, Onion, and Garlic
– Add ground chicken and sauté until chicken is cooked completely through
– Add the bay leaf and your preference on tomato sauce (I like a lot of sauce, so I used a whole 24-ounce can. If you like less sauce, you can add enough for color and flavor)
– Add the olives and a little water, just to keep everything moist
– Sprinkle with a little cumin and taste (I always add pepper and little salt at this point, but it’s my OCD nature taking over!) If you need more flavor, play around with the tomato sauce and cumin.
– Turn down the heat to low and let simmer while you work on the other accompaniments for dinner.
– Add the vinegar right before serving (believe me, it makes a difference!)
– Serve over rice (I like brown rice, but it’s your preference)
Something I learned from Dana….There are two different ways to cook plantains. When they are ripe, they are peeled, sliced and fried. These are called maduros and are what most of us are used to seeing when we think of plantains. To make tostones, which is what I made for dinner, you take the unripe plantains, peel them, and cut them into chunks. You then fry the chunks in a little oil on two sides until golden brown. Remove from the oil and smash them (this is a technique that I am still working on, so don’t worry if yours don’t smash correctly!) and return them to the oil and fry again, until they look almost like a thick potato chip.
Remove them from the oil and let them cool on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and they are ready to serve! By doing this dinner, I have a whole new appreciation for plantains and plan on using them more often, so be looking for them in upcoming posts.
I learned to make tortillas from one of the best cooks I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, while we were on our Honeymoon in Belize. We stayed at a private home, called Casa Blanca, and the couple who watched over the house for the owners would take you fishing and cook dinner for you. It was truly amazing. Mira, and her husband Palo were nice enough to teach us their traditional ways while we were there. Palo would take us fishing in the morning and Mira would cook whatever we brought back that evening for dinner. She always made tortillas to go with our fish, conch, or lobster. This is where I got my true appreciation for ceviche, which I will be enjoying again as soon as I pop this kid out!
Ingredients: (makes about 1 dozen tortillas)
3 cups All Purpose Flour
1 tsp. baking powder (do measure this or your tortillas will be too hard)
Pinch of salt
1 cup of water (if your dough seems too dry, add a little more water; too wet, add a little more flour. The great thing about making tortillas is that they are very forgiving in the mixing process!)
Oil for rolling
– Mix Flour, baking soda, salt, and water together with your hands. Add flour and water as needed to get the consistency of a nice, springy , well-formed dough ball. Set aside for about 10 minuets and work on something else.
– Separate dough into about 12 equal sized pieces. You can see form my pictures about the size that they will be. You probably won’t get an exact amount, so don’t worry. Also, if you have leftover tortillas that don’t’ get eaten with dinner, you can cut them into strips and fry them for tortilla strips that are delicious!
– Take each ball and squeeze it in your hand to get everything bound together nicely. This will help you in the next step.
– Now for the tricky part….take a little oil on your fingers and spread it out on your work surface. Take your dough balls and begin to work them under the palm of your hand on your work surface and roll them into balls. This is a technique that you will have to master over time, and don’t be upset if your dough doesn’t form into perfectly proportioned balls. You will get the hang of it. Poor Mira had a time helping me learn this! I also find it therapeutic to work with any sort of dough, so I find this part to be fun. Add more oil as you need. This is another one of those things you’ll have to play by ear.
– After you have rolled your dough balls, oil your surface again. Take each ball separately and begin to flatten it with the palm of your hand (yes, I know, you just put all that work into making them into balls, and now you’re going to flatten them out! I promise, it’s going to be worth it in the end). I like to work from the inside out and get them as thin as possible. If you get a tear, don’t worry about it, just smash the tear back together and continue to flatten. There are presses for this sort of thing, but I like the idea of doing it by hand :).
– Take your tortilla pan (if you don’t have one, any pan will do) and heat to over medium heat. Do not add any oil to the pan, you aren’t frying these, just giving them a quick cook. When the pan is hot, throw your first tortilla on. It doesn’t take long for these to cook, so don’t walk away! You’ll know when they are getting done by the bubble that you see starting to form. Given it a quick flip and do the same with the other side. After you burn the first few, you’ll get the hang of it!
– Cook each tortilla and keep them under a towel for warmth until ready to serve
There you have it….you’ve made your own tortillas to go with your Cuban dinner!
I wrote this post B.W. (before Will), and have just had the chance to get the pictures in and post it! I couldn’t resist adding a picture of him and Deacon for your viewing pleasure 🙂