Tag Archives: A La Cubana

How To Make Paella

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Way back at the beginning of December, Living Social had a deal for a cooking class at The Wine Artist.

I saw it. Thought about it. Decided it would be more fun with a friend. Realized I couldn’t come up with someone I would want to cook with because that has always been such a special thing for me. I cooked for Kaima. I cooked with O.D. Churroman. I cooked alone. That was it.

So I got on with my day.

Two hours later, my salsa dancing friend (Donna Martinez – whose has one of those names that you have to say her full name… and in quite the nasal tone) sent me an email asking if I would be interested in taking a cooking class with her because Living Social had a great deal. Since I already knew I had wanted to do it, I decided to just go for it. We bought it, booked it for January, and spent the next few weeks talking about how excited we were.

On the day of our class, Donna Martinez updated her Facebook status talking about how excited she was for her cooking class and proceeded to enjoy the ensuing commentary of how amazing she was and how she MUST cook for everyone. It seemed, Donna Martinez forgot to mention that I would be joining her. Of course, that worked to my advantage because then I would not have anyone demanding I cook for them, especially since none of them know that I only cook for special people.

Because Donna’s heritage is Mexican and and I’m Cuban, we decided to take the “Taste of Spain” class where we would learn to make:
Sangría
Spinach & Cheese Empanadas
Gazpacho
And… Paella*.

The Wine Artist is a winery in Lake Forest. (Who knew that Lake Forest had one?) It is a charming little place where they make and bottle their own wine. They even have Wine Bottling Events where you can design your own label, pick your own wine, cork it, slap the label on, and take it home.

It is SO. COOL.

Plus, they have all kinds of cooking classes and there is wine with every class. Yes, you read that correctly. Wine with every class.

I am not the biggest wine drinker, but some of these wines were DELICIOUS!! And I am in love with the idea of creating my own labels.

The first thing the chef/teacher/owner (MJ Hong) did was ask “Red or White?” and pour us all a glass. She explained that she likes to keep the classes between 8-10 people so that the intimate and dinner party feeling isn’t lost. Besides, if you have as much fun as we did with total strangers, how much more fun could be had with a handful of your closest friends?

Everyone got a station and a job. Not that we were assigned jobs it went more like:
I’ll chop the bell peppers!
I’ll cut the fruit**!
I’ll handle the cucumber***!” (yes, of course that was Donna)

Once the sangria was … marinating?

Once the fruit was chopped and in a pitcher soaking up the wine and other alcohols and the gazpacho was chilling, it was time for the empanadas.

MJ explained that a ruler and a pie cutter were the easiest way to cut the dough into a good size for empanadas. She suggested we do triangles because it was easier and didn’t waste any dough, but that if we were going to make more than one kind of empanada (e.g. spinach and cheese, meat, mushrooms) that having one kind as a triangle and another as a half moon would be an easy way to distiguish the two.

Now that the empanadas were baking, we set down to “work” on the paella****.

And while our paella was cooking, we enjoyed our fresh-out-of-the-oven spinach & cheese empanadas and our gazpacho.

Did you know gazpacho can be served with tortilla chips?
I didn’t, but Kevin did.

So, Paella.
Just about the easiest thing ever to make.

You’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup of Olive Oil
  • 4 oz of Boneless Chicken – cubed into small pieces
  • 1 Large Onion – finely chopped
  • 4 oz Chorizo Sausage – crumbled and with the casing removed (or you could go with Traditional Spanish Chorizo and not crumble it)
  • 5 cloves of Garlic (although, we used 10 because I like garlic) – minced
  • 2 Bell Peppers (red or green) – cut into thin strips
  • 3 Tomatoes – seeded and chopped (you could cheat and use canned diced tomatoes if you wanted)
  • 4 cups of Chicken Broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon of Saffron
  • 2 cups MEDIUM grain rice (uncooked)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Dried Oregano
  • Salt & Pepper – as little or as much as you want
  • 8 oz of Uncooked Shrimp – peeled and deveined (or keep the ends on if you want, but peel them for sure)
  • 1/2 lb of Mussels – cleaned and debearded (or buy them cleaned and open already to save yourself time)
  • Chopped Parsley – for garnish
  • Lemon Wedges – to serve

Contrary to what you may be thinking, you DO NOT need a paella pan.

Does it make it easier? Maybe a little.
Does it look cooler? Sure.

You can make it in a frying pan, just remember that wider is better than deeper. 😉
You want a shallow-ish pan otherwise your rice won’t cook all the way through.
However, if you feel like you really want the Paella Pan in order to score “Cool Points” then don’t worry about spending hundreds of dollars on one. You can find a great pan at Target.com for around $30. OR, if you’re already going to special order the Spanish Chorizo, you could order the exact size paella pan you want from LaTienda.com.

So, how do you make paella?

Simple.

Heat the oil in the pan.
Brown the chicken.
Add the chorizo and onions. Cook for 5 more minutes.
Add the garlic, bell peppers, annd tomatoes. Stir fry for a few more minutes.

Meanwhile…
Heat the chicken broth in a sauce pan and, once heated, add the saffron. (This way, the saffron will color everything a bit more evenly.)

Stir the rice in to the paella pan and sauté for 5 more minutes.
Pour in the broth.
Add turmeric, paprika, oregano, salt, and pepper to suite your taste buds.

Add the shrimp on top.
Add the mussels on top.

Make sure just a bit of broth from the paella gets into the shell so the actual mussel cooks, but it still should be sitting on top of the paella, not drowning in it – you don’t want to take too much of the broth away from the rice.

Simmer for about 15-20 minutes.
(Until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender.)
The bottom will burn a little. That is the best part. It does not mean you failed.

Top with parsley.
Garnish with lemon wedges.

Serve.

Enjoy.

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*My fascination with paella first occured when I saw a Pinky and the Brain episode where Brain says, “Pinky, are you thinking what I’m thinking?
And Pinky replies, “I think so, Brain, but how are we going to get the Spice Girls into the paella?

**Fruit for the sangria.

***Cucumber for the gazpacho.

****Up until recently, no one could get me to eat anything that came out of the ocean. Up until the night we made paella, I had never had mussel before. Luckily, I’m not allergic. Oh, and I eat seafood now. 🙂

O.D. Churroman and French Toast a lo Cubano

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I love churros.

A. LOT.

I used to have a date with myself on Friday nights where I would go to Disneyland for a churro and a coke and then just sit and people watch. Sometimes I’d catch a parade, too. Sometimes I’d ride a ride or two. Sometimes I’d just walk around. But I always had a churro. I went for the churros.

And then I learned that Cuban churros are not the same as the churros that are sold at the Magic Kingdom. They are not as crunchy or as long. They don’t have the same taste. And Cuban churros don’t have cinnamon on them, just sugar.

Plus, you’re supposed to eat them with thick hot chocolate.  You know the saying “We go together like peas and carrots“? Well, in Cuban the saying is “We go together like churros and chocolate.”

Having learned about these churros, I was dying to try them, but here in Southern California they are impossible to come by. The only place to get them is from the kitchen of a Cuban who knows how to make them.

I found myself in Miami for a few days before going to Cuba. And some close friends of mine took me to have my first churros con chocolate in Hialeah. (Basically, it doesn’t get much more Cuban than that.)

Months later, I would be craving them again. So I asked Mami to make them… in August, which (apparently) is just not done.
Me: Mami, can you make churros?
Mami: Churros are a winter thing!
Me: Ok.

Me: I really want churros, but Mami says they’re a winter thing.
A Certan Stubborn Bear that shall hereafter be referred to as O.D. Churroman: She’s right, they’re usually a winter thing, but I’ll make you churros if you want. Nobody’s churros are as good as mine.

Of course, it didn’t happen. O.D. Churroman and I lost touch. Life moved on. And it was winter again. And I asked Mami for churros. And churros didn’t happen. And then Mr. O.D. Churroman showed up again, in January, and I still wanted churros.

He made me churros.
Not just any churros, either.
These were special.
He remembered that I was a lactard (SEE: Lactose Intolerant) and made the churros with Lactaid.
They were the best churros I’ve ever had.

In March, he made them again. And taught me how. And showed me his secret ingredient. And then we burned them.
In September things got complicated and came to an abrupt halt.

I asked Mami to make churros again because I can’t remember the measurements O.D. Churroman told me.
She said she would. And she also told me about an idea she had for Cuban-style French Toast using Crema de Vie (SEE: Cuban Egg Nog) instead of just eggs and milk. It sounded great, but (like the churros) it didn’t happen.

I haven’t made French toast since I was maybe 6 years old and my father was explaining to me how to do it, but I am being BRAVE this year.

I pulled out the Crema de Vie, bread, a frying pan, and I got to work.

“Work” is putting it loosely, it was one of the easiest things I’ve tried to make.

Mami had wanted to make it with Cuban bread leftover from Christmas.
I didn’t have any, so I used sourdough.

I can’t tell you how delicious it was.
Crema de Vie is a winter thing, (especifically Christmas), but if I crave French Toast a lo Cubano in August, I’m going to make it.

The Cuban French Toast definitely helped with my craving, but I can’t help it…

I still want churros.

 

A Christmas Miracle

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When I found the black dress for my Christmas party I was super excited.

It was a bit of a departure for me as far as dresses go. Tight and short black dresses typically just exacerbate the genetic betrayal that is my legacy; however, this particular dress looked pretty great. The top was black, but sparkly and I felt like the best way to make it a Christmas dress would be red accessories. I had this mental picture of red glittery shoes and red and gold bangles to match and really pull it all together. Because you can’t wear bright red shoes with a black dress and gold jewelry. Red has to be in the jewelry, too, in order to pull the eyes back up from the shoes.

I had a very clear picture in my head.

I looked for red glitter shoes and kept coming up empty.

So I settled for the gold glitter shoes and thought “Well, I can still do the red and gold bangles and earrings and it’ll keep it Christmas. Then I’ll just take out the red for New Year’s.”

I was fine with that plan. And then the red shoes found me. So I got them.

And that is how the Great Hunt for Red and Gold Bangles started.
Endless hours of walking from store to store only to be disappointed.

I finally found bracelets that were not quite what I had in mind, but they would work.

As I was leaving the mall, a necklace at a store that specializes in silver caught my eye. Now that my red and gold bangle mission was over, I allowed myself to go into the silver store. (Because, why would I go into a silver store when hunting for gold?)

I noticed that the store had branched out. There were many more colourful necklaces in there than I remembered and I was slowly pulled deeper and deeper into the store. (It’s actually not a very deep store, but it was a slow pull.)

And, there, along the back wall, were bangles. Every color of bangle. Red. Gold. Green. Blue. Purple. RED. GOLD.

I cried. (Ok, I didn’t CRY; my eyes filled with tears, but I held them back.)

I know that not having the exact accessories you want is a total “1st World, White Girl” problem, but that is not really the point.

I had a dream. A picture in my head.

I had been content with the gold shoes, but then I got the red ones I’d dreamed about. And I had been content with the red and gold bracelets I had JUST bought thinking that I was never going to find the bracelets I had dreamed about. I was still excited.

But then my dream came true.

It was such a little thing.

A small and simple wish, but it happened. And right about the time I was giving up. Right about the time I was settling for less.

Honestly? It felt like a personal Christmas gift sent directly from God. *blush*

THAT is why I cried.

Because if he is willing to give me my silly wish of red shoes and red and gold bangles, then there’s a good chance he’d be happy to give me some of my “real” wishes, too.

How Does He Know?

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I’m anxious.

Irritable.

My inner chick is getting the best of me.

I start to think, “What’s the point? He’s just not that into me. Does he ever pay me a compliment? No. It’s just that tough joking and maybe I’m just not tough enough… He probably doesn’t even like me. I’m sure he’s getting bored with me and …” You get the gist of it.

I invite myself over all the while thinking, “This is probably the last time since I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t even like me all that much and can’t even tell me I’m cute because I AM cute.”

Of course, if one expects to be called “cute” then one should dress accordingly. If we are constantly in sweats, even if we look cute in them, can we really expect people to compliment us on our sweats? I think not.

At the same time, if we know the plan is to curl up on the couch and watch tv, something nearly as comfortable as sweats is definitely preferable.

Enter long white flowing skirt, black t-shirt, and flip flops.
The real key to making this outfit (or any outfit, really) work is accesories.
Bangles are so “a la Cubana” it’s almost a sin to not wear them. On the right hand. And hoop earrings.
That’s all you really need and BAM!
“Honey, you look really cute today! Very Cubana, especially with the bracelets.”

How did he know exactly what I needed to hear from him without my telling him?
Because he’s kind of smart and he must like me more than I think.

A Traditional Cuban New Year’s Eve . . . Kikita Style

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This year, I was faced with a bit of a dilemma as to how to handle my New Year’s Eve.

Usually I enjoy being alone and celebrating with all the classic Cuban traditions. I eat twelve grapes, run outside with a suitcase, put money in my mailbox, wear yellow underwear (or am I supposed to wear red? I can never remember and usualy end up wearing both), dump a bucket of water out the front door, and toast to the New Year saying “El año que viene, estamos en Cuba.”

I have done the “alone” thing for years. I get all dolled up and then crack myself up trying to get all the New Year’s “business” finished in the first minute of the new year.

But I was feeling like I wanted to go OUT. I wanted to be dancing. I had no desire to kiss anyone… (in fact, I’ve never kissed anyone at Midnight on New Year’s and I knd of like it that way) I just wanted to dance!

I spent most of the day cleaning. I cleaned everything. I even mopped and saved the dirty water!

And I came up with a win-win plan: Celebrate New Year’s Eve on Cuban Time the Cuban way and then go dancing and not kiss anyone!

Perfect.

I was ready with my grapes and champagne and suitcase and yellow panties and at Midnight Miami Time I was cracking myself up and running around doing my thing. Afterwards, I got ready and went dancing. And since I was going to do things MY way, I switched out the two pairs of panties (one yellow and one red) for orange with white polka-dots and hot pink lace. (Hey, why not?)

I went to a nearby dance place (because I am not a fan people who drink and drive and I figured the less time I had to be on the road, the better) and found some fun people to dance with. At midnight, the gentleman I had been dancing with, much to his credit, did not try to kiss me and as soon as the next song started we were back on the dance floor.

Basically, my night was exactly what I hoped it would be which means this next year will be too, right?