A Taste of Cuba

Hola queridos amigos. Grab your bathing suits and scuba gear, because today we're all going to the Pearl of the Caribbean, the island of Cuba. We shall dine on the beach, where the rustling of the swaying palm trees and the sounds of the sea will transcend us from the rigors of our daily lives.

Stop. You know, I would love to bring this group together, and hang out at the beach and all, while being catered by the tanned, and scantily-clad Raúl, the cabana boy, but let's face it friends, I can't afford to fly you all down to Cuba, I'm sorry. We'll just have to make do with an Island Sounds CD, and a kiddie pool. I'll bring the Maracas...

...are you still with me?

Ok, what I can offer you is a little taste of the island. A taste of a delicious and comforting one-pot dish that is Arroz con Pollo. This will serve an army ... or a bunch of ravenous females who are now angry at me for cancelling a trip to the Caribbean. Forgive.

Arroz con Pollo

One 3-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 red [or green] bell pepper, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon toasted ground cumin
½ cup dry white wine, or dry Vermouth
1 cup beer
¼ teaspoon Saffron
¼ cup tomato paste or 2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups short grain Valencia rice *
½ cup frozen petite pois
1 bay leaf
salt and ground black pepper to taste
chopped, drained pimientos are typically used for garnish
Perejil (parsley), or fresh oregano can also be used to garnish this dish, but it is optional.

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and cook the chicken pieces until golden, but still pink inside. Transfer the chicken to a platter and pour out all but 2 tablespoons of the fat.

Add the chopped onion, chopped bell pepper and minced garlic to the skillet. Cook until onion is translucent (not brown), about 7 or 8 minutes.
Stir in the rice until it is well coated with the oil, and cook for a few minutes, until the rice grains begin to look opaque. However, don’t let the rice take on color.
Add the chicken stock, cumin, oregano, white wine or dry Vermouth, beer, saffron, tomato paste, bay leaf and salt and pepper to taste.
Make sure this mixture is fairly salty because the rice will absorb quite a bit of it.

Preheat oven to 350° F.
Stir ingredients to combine and arrange chicken pieces on top.
Bring it to a boil, uncovered, until most of the water is absorbed and small craters form on top of the rice, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat. Gently stir in the petit pois. Cover and place in the oven until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes.

You could finish cooking this dish on top of the stove, covered, over medium heat, but the rice will cook more evenly in a moderate oven.

Garnish Arroz con Pollo with finely chopped pimientos. Yields 4 generous servings.

*True Arroz con Pollo is made with Valencia rice[short grain rice]. Come closer, and I'll let you in on a little secret. While I use Valencia rice in many dishes, including Paella and even in some desserts, it has always been my personal preference to use long grain rice in Arroz con Pollo. I hope it won't make me any less Cuban. Btw, if you cannot find Valencia rice, Arborio rice is a fine substitute. Enjoy.


Want to see my bee-witching buns?

Here they are. Rejoice!

...the things I'll do for this blog.

I've been making these Honey Rolls for several decades, and to this day, their aroma -while baking- still makes me swoon. I found the original recipe in an old cookbook, which I misplaced long ago, but -thankfully- typed and saved the recipe before the book disappeared. However, I distinctly remember the aforementioned was written by men, for men.
Imagine that. There were actually men out there who not only cooked, but (successfully) managed to rise to the occasion in the kitchen. For the record, I'm still talking about bread. Focus people.

This dough is very easy to work with, and similar to the eggy Brioche, although not as rich. But these rolls are hardly lacking. They're full-flavored and light as a feather. Not to mention, your arteries will thank you.

They're ideal for breakfast, snack time, or any time you need a little indulgence. Served slathered with, what else, Honey Butter (1 stick [4 ounces] of softened butter, combined with 1 tablespoon honey). This dough also makes incredible Hamburger Buns.

Here they are, before going into the oven...

...and this is how they emerge. Haaaallelujah!

Honey Rolls

1 cup milk
½ cup honey
½ cup (4 ounces) butter
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 packets (about 4½ teaspoons) dry yeast
½ cup warm water, 110°F -115°F
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour

In a 2-cup measure, melt the butter, add milk and honey. In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, yeast and sugar. Allow yeast to dissolve 7-8 minutes. Add milk mixture to yeast mixture, stir. Add eggs. Beat in 4 cups flour and salt until combined. Add just enough of the remaining flour to make a soft, but not sticky dough. Knead dough until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Place dough in large, greased bowl, turning to coat both sides. Cover and allow to rise about 1 hour. Punch down. Let dough rise again, about 1 hour. Knead briefly. Shape into rolls* and place rolls (almost touching) in a greased 9" x 13" pan.
Allow to rise 1 hour more, or until doubled in size. Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake Honey Rolls 25 minutes or until golden. Makes 27-30 rolls.

These are soft rolls, so to keep the crust that way, make sure to brush the tops with butter as soon as they come out of the oven.

*To keep rolls uniform in size, I use a medium ice cream scoop (#24 makes a standard size roll). For hamburger buns, you could use a larger-size ice cream scoop, although, I usually eyeball it.

All together now: Awww.


Daylight come and she wanna go home.

What do ice creams and sorbets have to do with a blog mainly dedicated to baking? Absolutely nothing. Nothing to do with baking and everything to do with memories.

Looks like I haf son splainin to thoo. You see, my mom just flew down to the Pearl of the Caribbean, Cuba (voluntarily, I might add), to spend a few weeks with her dear sister, my lovely aunt Carmelina. Mom will also be in the company of her brothers, nieces, nephews and a friendly mob of curious onlookers.
Mom and I have made these trips together in the past, but not this time. I just couldn’t part with my crew here at home, so I stayed behind.

Needless to say, but say I will, I’m feeling melancholy, and a bit nettled, thinking about the fun I could’ve had seeing everyone, enjoying unisonous conversations as we always do whenever we all get together; always too many stories to catch up on, and never enough time to cover them all. I also would’ve loved revisiting my old stomping grounds. Ay caramba. Today is one of those days when I could use a good Cuban Mojito, and I don’t drink.
And for those of you out there skim-reading this . . . I'M POUTING!

Pouting aside, I decided to try to get back some of that beautiful tropical island flavor and maybe a little ambience, by making and enjoying some of my favorite treats, Coconut Ice Cream and Mango Sorbet, which --by the way-- are all history now.
There are so many variations of ice creams using these two tropical fruits, such as, Mango/Ginger Sorbet, Coconut/Banana Ice Cream, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but, I wanted to indulge my taste buds with the true and purest of flavors, one fruit at a time. ¡Por favor!

These cool treats are put together quickly; they're delicious, and they’re (snicker) good for you too, which is why I felt so virtuous when I shoveled the entire thing in my mouth. Kidding!
I’m a firm believer that one should enjoy everything in moderation, and may lightning strike me if I’m lyi . . . Boom! Crash! Zzzzzap!

Mango Sorbet

2 mangos, peeled and roughly cut into chunks
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt

Make a simple syrup by combining 1 cup water with the ½ cup of sugar in a pan. Bring to a boil, and cook until sugar completely dissolves. Cool slightly. Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Chill mixture thoroughly. Then, freeze in ice cream maker, according to manufacturer's instructions.

If you like coconut, then I strongly suggest you try this one, and call me on your way to Heaven. Incidentally, the chocolate cup was made by painting several coats of melted chocolate into a small, round bowl. I let each coat set, before adding the next. The quickest way to do this is by setting the chocolate cup in the fridge between coats. The butterfly was made from sugarpaste.

Coconut Ice Cream

1 (15 oz. can) Coco Lopez Cream of Coconut
1¼ cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup shredded fresh and toasted coconut or dried unsweetened coconut
pinch of salt

Whisk all ingredients together in a large bowl and chill thoroughly. Freeze according to ice cream machine directions. Store in the freezer for 3-4 hours or overnight before serving.

And if you’ve been searching for a take-no-prisoners Hot Fudge Sauce, your search is over.

Rich Hot Fudge Sauce

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 cup sifted cocoa
½ to 1 teaspoon instant espresso (I use Medaglia D'oro), optional
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt

In a large saucepan, heat the butter and cream over medium heat until the butter is melted and small bubbles form around the edge of the pan.
Whisk in the brown sugar and corn syrup. Continue to cook gently, until the mixture is smooth and sugar has completely dissolved. Add the cocoa, instant espresso, vanilla and salt. Whisk again until smooth. Remove from heat and strain mixture through a fine sieve. Straining the sauce is optional, but I’m persnickety about such things. This will keep refrigerated for 2 weeks, but it won't last that long. Adapted from the book, At Blanchard's Table.