During this time my father was in a labor camp, for the crime of wanting to leave the country. Alone, and with few provisions, as my mother struggled to care for us, she was struck with inspiration. One day she went out to the back patio to do the wash and saw a cute little frog sitting by the door to the kitchen. My mother has always liked frogs, and this little frog by the kitchen door gave her an idea...
My father and I were very close, but I did not always get along with my mother, so even though she was a marvelous cook, I had never been interested in learning her cooking secrets. However, after my father’s death, I witnessed my mother’s severe deterioration and overwhelming sadness. Looking for a way to engage her, I had the idea to ask her to teach me how to cook like her...
This is a very simple cake that comes with many memories. First the birthday parties when my sisters and I were very young. The cousins, aunts, uncles, friends. All the great party foods like bocaditos, croquetas, cangrejitos, etc. The music, dancing with my father, what great fun! The cake was usually from a bakery, but sometimes my mother made it. This was all before the Communists began to suck the fun out of life.
Later memories are different. My father was in the labor camp, because we were "worms" who wanted to leave the country. We were allowed to visit him once a month. The prisioners in the camp were nearly starving, so my mother would prepare food out of our meager rations, to take to our father. She would toast bread slices on a pan (the toaster no longer worked and in a Communist regime there's no such thing as going to the store and buying a new one), till they were completely dry. She would then store these in tin containers so they wouldn't spoil in the humid tropical weather. She would also make him a cake (no frosting), though she was not always able to obtain all the ingredients. She "baked" the cake in a pressure cooker, on the kerosene stove my father had built. Our gas stove and oven had not been operational for years, since we could not buy gas because there was none available. There was no need to try and preserve the cake, the men devoured it as soon as we got to the camp; sweet relief to their constant hunger.
Now Cuban cake always fills me with gratitude for freedom, my parents and the sweetness of life.
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour pans. Beat the first 5 ingredients with a hand mixer. Add flour, salt and baking powder and fold into wet ingredients, without beating it. Pour into pans, Bake for 30 minutes.
4 cups sugar
1 cup water
4 Tablespoons sugar
4 egg whites
First make syrup. Cook the 4 cups of sugar and 1 cup water to soft ball stage. (That’s when you drop a small amount of the syrup in cold water and it forms a soft flexible ball). Let it cool. Beat egg whites until they make peaks, add the 4 Tablespoons of sugar. Pour the syrup into the meringue slowly, and beat until spreadable consistency.
Frost cake and serve. Refrigerate any leftovers.
ACELGA- Swiss Chard
This is one recipe I am particularly fond of because it reminds me of both my parents. My father loved to garden, grow food. When we lived in Miami (and in Cuba of course) he grew platanos (bananas of many kinds), mangos, papaya, vegetables, etc. When my parents moved in with us in Utah, he continued to grow vegetables. Sometimes one garden was not enough, but fortunately we had kind neighbors willing to let him plant gardens in their yards!
Swiss chard was one of the vegetables my father really liked and always planted. Even in Utah it has a long growing season, withstanding heat and cold. Sometimes it would even come back in the Spring, after having been covered with snow for months. It is very dark green, so it has lots of nutrients and a strong taste. My mother prepared it this way and it's delicious. Sometimes I leave out the tomato sauce.
Prepare a Sofrito:
Olive oil to coat frying pan
3-5 garlic cloves
1 8 oz can of tomato sauce, you can use fresh tomatoes, but Mamina rarely did
A big huge double hand full of chard, it cooks up into almost nothing
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon cooking wine (optional)
Wash chard, cut off thickest part of stalks, chop and set aside. Chop the onions and garlic, sauté in olive oil for 2-3 minutes, then add the Swiss chard, tomato sauce, salt and cooking wine. Stir then cover it with a lid and simmer on low for 5-6 minutes. I like to serve it on rice.
ARROZ CON POLLO (Chicken and rice)
This is Mamina’s version of a very popular Cuban dish. She simplified it to please her husband and children who did not care for fancy spices, etc.
1 chicken or 5 chicken breasts, cut up
1 teaspoon dry oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
1-2 teaspoons Garlic powder
1-2 teaspoons salt
1 medium onion
5 cloves of garlic
½ green pepper
1 8oz can tomato sauce
3 cups Rice
1/3 cup cooking wine (optional)
5 cups water
2 teaspoons salt.
1 teaspoon of saffron (or you can also use bijol-also known as achiote or annatto
Roasted red pepper strips (optional)
Green olives (optional)
If you have planned ahead and have the time to marinade the chicken for extra flavorfulness, sprinkle it generously with oregano, cumin, garlic powder and salt. Cover and let it marinade for at least an hour, in the fridge. If you didn’t plan ahead and need dinner ready in less than an hour, just proceed and add the oregano and cumin at the end. It will still be good.
Brown the chicken in a little olive oil. Enough to barely cover the bottom of the pan. On medium high.
Chop in food processor onion, cloves of garlic, green pepper. Add to chicken and sauté for a few minutes, till onions are translucent. Add rice and stir for a minute or so, then add tomato sauce, water, wine, salt and saffron (to color the rice). My mother always used the tomato sauce can to measure the water, because it uses all the tomato sauce (plus it cleans the can for recycling). Turn heat down to low and simmer for about 35 minutes, till rice soaks up all the water. If you use brown rice, as I often do, cook it for 45-50 minutes.
You can remove the lid, put a spoon in to the bottom of the pan and see if there is still water there that needs to be absorbed by the rice, but don’t do it too soon, wait at least 30 minutes, even if the delicious smell is driving you crazy.
Garnish with strips of roasted red peppers strips and green olives, if you like. Serve with a green salad and if you are after a true Cuban experience, some plantains-in what ever form. Recipes to come in the future!