I've been thinking about my first Halloween. Our family arrived in the US at the end of July in the late 60's. My father's family helped us find a place to live, work, schools, etc. They taught us about this wondrous country and new culture. A couple of months later, we started hearing about Halloween. Our cousins explained that children dressed up in costumes, then went door to door and people gave them candy! 

Wow, I loved dressing up in costumes. During our last few years in Cuba,  Mamina had let us use her pretty loungerie to play princesses. She knew we would be leaving everything behind when permission to leave the country finally came, so why not let the children have some fun with her pretty things. We did have fun and destroyed her gowns, climbing, running and having sword fights. 

So here we were in this new country I was still unsure about, and I find out there is a holiday for dressing up and pretending! Plus the candy. In Cuba we couldn't even buy candy, because there wasn't any to buy, and my cousins tell me that in the US the neighbors are going to give us candy just for dressing up and asking for it!!!!

I'm pretty sure I was thinking "What A Country" long before Yakov Smirnoff made the phrase famous! 
And so at 13 years old I got to go trick or treating for the first and last time....unless you count taking the children trick or treating.

Halloween has me thinking about pumpkins. Pumpkin in Spanish is Calabaza, but the calabaza I knew in Cuba is nothing like a pumpkin. Well, it is shaped like a pumpkin, but it is a green spotted squash with  yellow-orange flesh. I searched all over for a picture of the kind of calabazas we ate in Cuba but couldn't find a good one. This is the closest I found on the web: Calabaza Squash. It's also called West Indian Pumpkin You can buy it in Latin markets, usually already cut in pieces, because it's hard to cut. Papillo was always searching for the right variety of seeds to grow a proper calabaza in Utah, but was not successful.

My mother often cooked calabaza, because my father loved it.  She cut the calabaza in large pieces and cooked it in her pressure cooker, with a little water. It was soft in 5 minutes. While it cooked she sauted onions and garlic in olive oil. Sometimes just garlic. Then she'd take the calabaza out of the pressure cooker, pour garlic and oil over it, sprinkle with salt and scoop right off the peel to eat. 

I can't find any real calabaza where I live, but I  prepared some butternut squash in a similar way to how my mother cooked calabaza and it was delicious!  Acorn squash (or any other hard winter squash) also works. 
Butternut Squash


½ of a calabaza  squash, or butternut squash
3 garlic cloves
1 onion  
3-4 Tablespoons olive oil or butter
Salt to taste

Wash squash.  Cut into a few pieces, remove seeds. You can peel it at this point, but it is easier after it's cooked. Put the squash pieces in a pan with about 1 inch of water, cover and steam for 10-15 minutes, until tender. Just five minutes in a pressure cooker, let the pressure disipate completely before opening it. Peel the squash and cut it into smaller pieces

Pieces of butternut squash

Or leave it in large pieces
Acorn squash pieces

While the squash is cooking, slice onions and sauté them in butter or olive oil, on medium heat, until translucent

Mince or smash the garlic

Add to the sautéing onions and cook 1-2 minutes longer, the smell will be wonderful and permeate your whole house.

 Spread this on top of the squash and sprinkle with salt generously. 

This is good for you and yummy. Enjoy! 

"Calabaza, calabaza, cada uno pa' su casa"- a saying which basically means it's time to go home. Thanks for the reminder, Rosa! 


My friend Rosa Hernandez (read more about her on her previous post Bacalao Con Papas ) is guest blogging once again! Reading this you will find that besides animals, reading and cooking she also loves music. I am so excited to share this wonderful post with you all! Thank you Rosa!



Growing up in Communist Cuba we didn’t have much. No one did. But we had each other, we had good friends and neighbors and we had Music. We always had music.

Some of my earliest memories have musical backgrounds, in our house the radio played all the time. I remember being very small and playing in the tub with plastic toys while my mother hovered somewhere nearby. The radio in the next room was playing this: 

Orquesta Aragon “Los Pescadores de Varadero”

My father’s family all left Cuba early on but most of my mom’s family stayed behind. When I was growing up we would occasionally have family get togethers in our huge backyard. I remember my mom and her sisters-in-law in the kitchen cooking up Frituras. These were small fried morsels and always delicious. Typically they were made from grated vegetables but vegetables were hard to come by. They improvised by making what my uncle’s wife used to call “Frituras de Aire” Air Fritters. They were basically flour and water and garden grown herbs rolled into little balls and fried. They were delicious. 

At these get togethers, my grandfather and his brother Tio Felo would sing on their own or with the radio. I can almost hear them singing along to this:

Beny More “Maracaibo”

Oh so many memories associated with music! Songs I heard with my grandfather, songs I heard with my dad, my brother, songs my mom sang. With the passing of the years they should sound fainter…but they don’t.


Just like modern day potato chips, these very plain frituras are not long on taste but they are hot, crunchy comfort food.

1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup of water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
finely chopped fresh herbs of your choice.
(I am sure dried herbs would be fine too. I used about 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil. I think dried would take less amount)
Oil for frying

Mix all together in a bowl to make a pancake like batter and let it rest for about 5 to 10 minutes. Letting it rest will enhance the flavor. In any case, though, the flavor will not be over powering.

Heat up your electric fryer or heat oil in a skillet and drop the batter by spoonfuls. They will turn golden quickly. Flip them. When the second side is golden, remove them quickly.

Let them rest a few minutes. They are actually better warm than piping hot. At least I thought so. The flavor came through better.

And that's it.

I had a friend assist me and we loved these and will make them again. I don't own an electric fryer, it's hers, so I would have to involve her in the next Fritura adventure. She assures me she is game. Next I want to try using cornmeal.

I toyed with the idea of adding sugar, soy sauce, crumbled bacon, bbq sauce (one or the other not all) but that would have violated the original concept of the "aire" idea set out by my mom and her sisters-in-law back in the day. 

Maybe I will try my additions at some point but these were fine and didn't necessarily need to be altered.

Baking in a Pressure Cooker

Mamina's pressure cooker
For me, one of the most challenging things about cooking for my family every day is coming up with ideas of what to cook. My mother had the same struggle, "No se que hacer hoy", she would say. However, she was aware that this was a good problem because she had many choices, as opposed to when we were in Cuba and the challenge was to find something to feed the family, because even the most basic ingredients were scarce.  

On the flip side, she would get very excited when she had a new recipe or the grandkids wanted her to cook something special. 

I'm finding that blogging contains a similar challenge. I wonder which recipe to post when and just like with cooking dinner I love requests! 

So I am excited to respond to this email I received a few days ago from Tamara:

I was reading your recipe for puding de pan and I would love the directions for the pressure cooker method. My grandma used to do it like this but no one in my family ever learned before she passed away.  I would appreciate it tremendously. Thank you!
My mother, like many Cubans, cooked almost everything in her pressure cooker. I imagine this practice began in Cuba because ovens create a lot of heat, and who wants to heat up the house when you live in a tropical island. Using a pressure cooker also shortens the cooking time trememdously, and who wants to be cooking all day when you live in a tropical paradise... This practice also served well after Castro reduced the island to poverty and there was no gas for the stoves or ovens. 
My mother went through several pressure cookers in her life, they were all similar, not very fancy or expensive. When I decided to buy one, I researched them all and bought one I thought was much better than my mother's. It certainly was more expensive. But it leaks, and it doesn't build up pressure properly or cook evenly. Very annoying. I use Mamina's now... If you would like to do some research on pressure cookers, here is a great place to begin: 
 Top 5 Pressure Cookers for Quick and Easy Meals”

So this is how you bake in a pressure cooker:

Put the round metal rack (Isis says it's called a trivet) on the 

bottom of the pressure cooker. 

Pour the blended ingredients for Pudin de Pan, Cake, Flan (recipe still to come), etc. into any kind of oven proof metal mold that will fit into the pressure cooker. 

Here is a store bought one with a nice lid and clamps that keep the lid in place

My father usually made these molds for my mother. He used a #10 can, like the one in the picture, cut it in half and turned down the sharp cut edge so it was smooth and safe to touch. He liked to make all kinds of things and Mamina seemed to prefer to use his home made molds to the store bought ones.  

My sisters and I didn't appreciate his efforts, when it came to these metal molds, so we threw them away when we cleaned out her kitchen. 

The pressure cooker instruction booklet will tell you to cover the mold securely with aluminum foil, like this

Mamina would cover hers with wax paper and tie it with a string. I was called many times to put a finger on the string so she could knot it securely. I didn't have string this time, so I used a shoe lace. 

Then she would trim the wax paper. Yup, she really did. I asked her why a couple of times, but she changed the subject and did not answer. I think she just liked things to be neat. 


Pour a cup of water in the pressure cooker and set the mold on the trivet. By the way, my cousin MaConcha, who is a terrific cook, does not even cover her mold, so don't worry too much that it has to be perfectly sealed. 

Put the lid on your pressure cooker securely and heat on high until steam scapes from the little chimney (or vent pipe), then put the little pressure regulator on it. Or put the pressure regulator on from the beginning. 

I was hoping you could see the steam in the picture...

If you are using a canning pressure cooker, one of those that has a pressure gage, bring to 15 lbs of pressure. Otherwise wait till the pressure regulator is rocking to start counting the time. Turn heat down to medium and cook for 15 minutes. Let the pressure cooker cool and all the pressure dissipate before you take the lid or even the pressure regulator off. 

Or you can cook it for 20 minutes, and cool it under running water immediately and completely (you will hear the pressure escape).

Then you can take the lid off. It's going to be very hot, so be careful taking the mold out of the pressure cooker.  Chill before you take the Pudin or Flan out of the mold. Let it cool it if it's a cake. 

Thank you for this request, Tamara! 

Here are some yummy desserts that were made in the pressure cooker

Pudin de Pan

Pudin de Pan

Cake de Naranja