Monday, March 29, 2010

Sopa de Calabaza (Pumpkin Soup)

The "Calabaza" (squash) used in Cuban cooking is the "Caribbean Squash" which is meaty, starchy, and sweet. However since it isn't readily available here where I live I often use Kabucha Squash (a Japanese variety of squash), butternut and Hubbard squash are also great substitutes.

In Cuban cooking we use "Calabaza" in most of our bean stews, steamed on it's own often served with "mojo de ajo" (garlic citrus sauce) spooned over it, and less commonly as a mash or soup, which here in my post I'm presenting it as a soup.

What makes this soup Cuban? Well doesn't use the "mirepoix" typical of creamy soups, instead what I believe sets it apart from other soups is that it sautee's garlic and onions in olive oil and is spiced with cumin, flavors which are very common in Cuban cooking, which in my opinion sets it apart from other cream soups in other cultures.

This is my version and I hope other's enjoy it :)


-about 4 lbs. peeled cubed Calabaza (I used Kabucha Squash, butternut, Hubbard, and Caribbean squash are all good choices)
-1 onion minced
-4 cloves garlic minced
-1/4 cup more or less extra-virgin olive oil
-1 teaspoon of ground cumin
-salt to taste
-chicken stock or water with bouillon enough to cover squash (I used about 2 heaping teaspoonfuls of chicken powder)
-3-4 tablespoons butter (optional)
-heavy whipping cream, or half-half even whole milk to add richness (optional anywhere from 1/2- 1 cup)

(1) Heat olive oil on medium heat, add minced onion and garlic, meanwhile peel and cube your calabaza (depends what you use, peeling a Kabucha squash is a pain in the @$$ for me, I use a potato peeler, cut it in half, scrape out seeds and cut into chunks)

(2) Keep an eye on your onions and garlic, you don't want it to burn, when caramelized and golden and add your ground cumin and stir about 30seconds until fragrant, add your squash, and add enough chicken stock or water or water with bouillon to barely cover the squash, season with salt to taste, raise heat to high and bring to a boil, lower back to medium and cover.
(3) Allow to simmer on medium heat until Calabaza is tender this took me about 20- 25 minutes. When tender, use a hand-blender to make the soup smooth and creamy, or in small batches blend it in the blender or food processor. I used my hand blender my aunt Helen gave me as a gift :)

(4) Bring back to a simmer, cream or half n half or whole milk if using and butter as well is using. Allow to simmer for about 5-10 more minutes.
(5) Enjoy, you can serve this soup to compliment any meal :)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mi Fricase de Pollo (My Version of Chicken Fricassee)

There are tons of versions of Cuban "Chicken Fricassee" in Cuban cooking a chicken "fricassee" is basically a tomato based chicken stew that includes wine and sometimes a combination of olives, capers and raisins which gives a "sweet and sour" taste created from the sweetness of raisins and acidity of capers and olives. Or some people just use olives which is slightly sour or pungent. Often times it includes potatoes :)

Personally I've tried so many versions of Chicken Fricassee... (including my grandmother's which I have on my blog)...

BUT I genuinely prefer this version which is very smokey and earthy, the smokiness and earthiness comes from smokey cumin, and black peppercorns in combination with the browning the meat in thundering high heat with no oil or very little oil which creates a smokey caramelized browned layer in the pan (in french they call this a "fond" which my grandma uses for some of her best stews especially her Carne Con Papa, Rabo Encendido and Fricase de Pavo), simmered in a rich wine and tomato based sauce with potatoes and carrots. I love the carrots in this because it lends a hint of sweetness and marries well with potatoes. You may add some whole or sliced pimiento stuffed olives to it towards the end if you'd like :)

I use the same method my grandmother uses for her stews I mentioned above just applied it to chicken and I just love it done this way :)

Serve this with some fluffy white rice preferably steamed with a bit of salt and some generous drizzles of olive oil and you have a very comforting meal.

-1 whole chicken 3-4 lbs cut into 8 segments or more (cleaned and washed, you could also use drum sticks and thighs)
-1 large green bell pepper minced
-1 large onion minced
-1/2- 1 head garlic peeled mashed to a paste
-1 can 8 oz. tomato sauce
-1 1/2-2 cups red wine
-3 cups water (depends how thick or thin you want your sauce)
-1 teaspoon ground cumin
-1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
-2-3 bay leaves
-salt to taste (at least 1 1/2 teaspoon )
-4 potatoes peeled and halved
-8 carrots cut into large chunks peeled or 1 large jumbo carrot (about 1 pound)
-1/2 a bunch of washed clean minced cilantro or parsley (about 1 cup after minced)
-about 2-3 tablespoons oil that can stand high smoking point to brown meat (like canola or other vegetable oil although traditionally lard would be used I assume I just used canola but next time I'll use lard ;) olive oil would smoke and get it's flavor destroyed, eh I'm not sure my grandmother just does it like this, or does it without oil if the meat has fat
-extra-virgin olive oil about 1/2 cup?

(1)Wash and clean the chicken meat. Pat dry. Season with salt. Heat on very high heat the pan until it's really hot, add oil (not the olive oil just an oil that can stand high heat like canola, or other vegetable oil or lard) it will quickly heat to almost a smoking point, add meat and brown on all sides (about 4 minutes on each side or longer but be careful don't turn the bottom of the pan completely black just let it brown and a little black is not bad you will need the drippings to form the sauce and deglaze if it's all black then you ruined your sauce)
(2) Set chicken aside in a separate plate, now lower heat to medium and add extra-virgin oil, add minced onion and bell pepper, stir well scraping the bottom, let it cook down at least 5-7 minutes. Make some space pour more olive oil and sautee garlic with onion and bell pepper about 3-4 minutes. Now add ground cumin, black peppercorns and bay leaves and sautee another minute.
(3) Add red wine and crank up heat so it bubbles and deglaze the pan when the wine reduces somewhat add tomato sauce and cook down the tomato sauce for about 5-6 minutes on medium high stiring occasionally.
(4) Add water now and bring to a rolling boil, add chicken meat, carrots and potatoes along with any oil and drippings it released, spoon sauce over it and coat well. Cover and well and cook for about 30-45 minutes or until chicken, potatoes and carrot are tender
(5) When done turn off heat and add minced cilantro or parsley for color. Serve with lots of white rice to soak up the sauce this dish
Some story:
So if you noticed that's some gigantic carrot I have there in the picture, they are called "Jumbo Carrots" it's a very large variety (each one weighs in at around 1 lbs.) I've seen these at Asian stores and I went to "Seafood City" (a Supermarket chain of Filipino stores) they were 4 lbs. for 1 dollar and I was like, "These be wonderful in a stew with potatoes and meat" and heck even for a nice cream soup or something, and I just loved using them they looked so hearty in the stew and pretty :) here's some pictures so you get an idea how large it was:

I was going to add it to the stew cut this way but decided to halve those rounds of large carrot

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Flan de Coco (Coconut Flan)

I make flan quiet often at my house, it is always rich, smooth, and delicious. I wanted to make a coconut flavored flan, and let me tell you, it came out amazing. It was rich, dense, and had a buttery texture, somewhat firm yet melted in your mouth, heavy but light. It's so hard to describe...

It also helps that I am a big fan of coconut and flan so this marriage of caramel custard and coconut really appeal to my sense of taste.

Give it a try I hope you enjoy it as much as I do :)

Ingredients for custard:

-1 can of coconut cream (or thick coconut milk) unsweetened
-1 can sweetened condensed milk
-5 eggs (both whites and yolks)
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract (coconut extract would work great but I didn't have it)

Ingredients for caramel:
-1/2 cup sugar
-2 tablespoons water

(1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees with a oven pan/ mold bigger than the mold/ pan your gonna use for your flan. Add water enough to fill 1/2 way. Forget about it while making your flan.
(2) First thing is first, in a sauce pan put 2 tablespoons water and 1/2 cup sugar. Bring to a boil on high heat, mixing well, stir constantly, keeping an eye on it so it doesn't burn completely.

(3) When it turns into a golden color, pour into a mold, and move around in a motion that will make most of the bottom and surrounding area of the mold get covered with caramel. BE CAREFUL it is VERY HOT, and if you burn yourself with it... good luck... do not let your skin make contact with the caramel. Set aside.

(4) In a blender (or you can whisk by hand), add the coconut milk or cream (unsweetened), condensed milk, 5 eggs, and vanilla extract. Blend or whisk by hand.

(5) Pour into a mold, passing through a strainer (if you have one, but if you have one use it, I believe it get's rid of air bubbles and makes it more smooth). Cover the mold tightly with aluminum foil or some type of lid. This is your "flan mold" you can call it with the "flan" inside.

(6) Place the flan mold in a bigger pan that has been heating in the oven with hot water, in the center of the oven. Cook for about 1 1/2 hours. This procedure of cooking we call it "baño maria" (in which something is placed in a hot water bath to cook)

(7) Take out flan, allow to cool down, then let cool in fridge, when ready to serve invert it onto a plate, and slice and serve :)
I know the below picture didn't come out so well but I wanted to put it to show you guys how smooth it came out, with no air bubbles or anything :)

The coconut milk and or cream that I buy at stores is THICK and unsweetened. It is the first press when squeezing the milk out of the coconut. (which is made by finely grated a mature brown coconut, adding hot water to it, swishing it, and squeezing it through a strainer. This first press is very thick and rich, the second press is more watery and the presses after that even more so). I know this because my Filipino friend and her mother (Shantall and Herminia) occasionally make coconut milk for Suman (sticky coconut rice and ginger wrapped in banana leaves)

The brands I use are Chaokoh, Mae Ploy. The way you know if a coconut milk is thick is look at the fat content, the higher the thicker.

I know most Hispanic stores carry more watered down coconut milks like "GOYA" brand, which I use and prefer for some rice dishes sometimes. I usually buy coconut milk at Asian stores like "99 Ranch Market", "Seafood City", "Bangluck Market", etc. but for this flan I use a thick rich coconut cream (which is the rich fatty top that rises when you squeeze coconut milk and let it rest.) and or just thick coconut milk. I do not know how this flan will come out if you use a thinner one but it should work fine, I hope you guys enjoy it :)

If you wanna read up a little on the back round of flan/ cultural aspect check out my first post I made on "Flan" type desserts, my "Flan de Queso" (cream cheese flan):

Also some tips I want you guys to know that you don't need any special equipment to use flan, you can use ANY mold or pan you have that you like or whatever is on hand, heck I've made flan in loaf pans before, the important thing when cooking a flan is technique. As long as you coat something with the caramel, cover it tightly and bake it in a water bath you will get good results and of course the recipe is important :) it has to be rich and dense enough to hold it's shape :) another tip is sometimes (rarely) and this happened to me today, when I inverted my flan it wouldn't un-stick (I know this isn't a word but you guys get it), so I quickly put hot water in my sink, and gently dipped the bottom of my mold to loosen the caramel, took out, wiped then inverted it. You can make flan in individual ramekins too or oven proof dishes.

Another tip I want to add, I know the sauce pan where you make the caramel, you always have some caramel left that sticks to the sauce pan, what I do to clean it is I add water and bring it to a boil and cover it for awhile, the steam will loosen the caramel and any caramel will dilute into the water, then you can just pour out the hot water and wash as you normally would.

Lastly (yes another tip) if you are short on time and need to serve it immediately after cooking, put in in several ice water baths in your sink, I put water in my sink with lots of ice cubes, and put the flan in there, when all the ice melts I drain the water then make another ice bath until it cools well or at least to room temp. then invert it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Tamales de Piña (Pineapple Tamales)

These are basically pineapple flavored corn cakes dotted with pineapples wrapped in corn husk and steamed.

They can be eaten as dessert (though very filling), or breakfast with a cup of milk or hot coffee, or snack. It's up to you :)

I think it is best served with some Champurrado (Mexican Cinnamon Chocolate Drink)


-5 lbs. pineapple tamale dough/ masa de piña preparada (store bought prepared)
-1 can 8 oz. pineapple cut into small chunks, drained
-1 8 oz. packet "Hojas de Tamal Encochadas" (dried corn husk leaves)
(1) Soak the dried corn husk leaves 30- 60 minutes in cold water or room temperature water. Then remove and set aside
(2) Mix the pineapple dough well with the drained pineapple chunks/ pieces, set aside.
(3) Get a corn husk, put some masa on it, on the upper part like this. (sometimes some of the leaves may be too small so you may have to use two leaves

(4) Fold it so the two corners with masa stick, then tuck one side in

(5) Then fold the end upwards
(6) Set aside
(7) Get a deep enough pot, and line is with corn husk. (lol. I got this picture from my other tamale post, sorry I had just forgotten to take a picture of the pot lined with corn husk when helping my mother prepare these)

(8) In pot put tamales

(9) Tuck in leaves to form a dome on the sides, Place a corn husk on the center (please note this dome is formed so water from the pots lid does not fall onto the tamales, if this happens they drown and never harden, you will get a mushy mess. (PLEASE NOTE WE RAN OUT OF CORN HUSK SO WE PUT A WET SQUEEZED TOWEL TO COVER IT)
(10) Have water boiling in a separate pot and put about 3 cups of boiling water in each pot, but ladle the water in through the sides of the dome, cover and cook on medium high heat, for about 1 1/2 hours.

(11) Take one out to test if the dough is raw or not fully cooked, when done they are ready to eat.

I know I usually make this from scratch but I will repeat like I did in my other Tamale post:

"Here in the United States I feel safe to say NO ONE makes the dough from scratch, especially here in Southern Mexifornia I mean California we have so many good Mexican stores that sell quality Mexican ingredients, and prepare fresh dough daily, they sell by the pounds. The best dough down here in my opinion is from "La Amapola" a Mexican deli when we visit my aunt in Huntington Park we always stock up on Masa. But when we aren't in teh area and run out of their dough, then Vallarta (a chain of Mexican stores down here) and "El Gallo Giro" (a Mexican bakery) sell good masa.

The other option is to buy "Masa Harina" sold under the brand "Maseca" it is made of pure all natural corn, it is dried ground to a powder corn treated with lime to release the nutrients, the directions are on the packet for making the tamal dough, but I believe it's inferior to the fresh dough from the stores but still delicious."
In addition... if interested in the savory meat versions of tamales, check out my post for:

Tamales Mexicanos de Puerco en Chile Colorado y Pollo en Chile Verde (Mexican Red Pork Tamales and Green Chicken Tamales)


There may be a way to make Pineapple Tamales from scratch with "Maseca" but I honestly don't know maybe follow the directions on the packet for the savory one's and replace broth with pineapple juice, replace lard with butter, and add sugar to taste, and some chopped pineapple? I don't know.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Natilla (Milk Custard)

Growing up my Tata (grandmother) use to make these cute little rich Natillas pronounced "na-tee-ya" (milk custards) her version was infused with lots of cinnamon and vanilla, dotted with raisins, and served in these little Styrofoam cups dusted with cinnamon powder.

For winter we would eat them warm and hot, but I remember in hot summers she'd cool these custards in the fridge, and I just couldn't get enough of them, they were rich, sweet, cinnamon y.

However my grandmother would always make 2 batches, one with raisins, and one without since my father HATES raisins, and occasionally the Natilla was poured into a large container/ mold to eat family style with everyone spooning into their plate as much Natilla as they wanted.

Natilla is one of those desserts that always brings me fond memories of my Tata's cooking, and child hood sweets. Natilla along with "Pudin de Pan" (Cuban style bread pudding smothered in syrup) is something I grew up eating lots of, and we still make them several times a year :)


-4 cups of whole milk
-1/2 stick butter (optional)
-1 cup of white sugar
-1 large or 2 small sticks of cinnamon
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-peel of 1 lime, or lemon or 1/2 an orange (optional my older sister HATES citrus in natilla)
-5 egg yolks
-1/2 cup cornstarch
-1/4 cup water or milk (a little more or less to dilute cornstarch)
-1/2 cup raisins (optional)

To garnish:
-dust with a few pinches of cinnamon powder

(1) In a medium pot, add whole milk, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and citrus peel if using. Leave at medium high heat, stirring occasionally.

(2) Meanwhile in a medium bowl add cornstarch. add water little by little to dissolve cornstarch whisking with fork until the cornstach dissolves into a white milk like constistency, whisk in egg yolks, and set aside. This will be your "cornstarch and egg yolk slurry"

(3) By now you milk should be hot and kind boiling, keep an eye on it while your preparring the slurry or it may over flow, if it boils lower heat to prevent spillage.

(4) So now that it's bubbling, quickly whisk in cornstarch and egg yolk slurry, with a large whisk, and whisk non stop in one direction or else your custard will lump up and break, raise the heat, and when it starts thickening

(5) The first boil it gives up, like bubble or burst, quickly turn off heat, remove and pour into a mold. Or pour into small individual serving bowls.
(6) Dust with cinnamon :)

(1) If you want a richer custard you may add 1/2 a stick of butter to heat together with the milk, my grandmother sometimes does this sometimes doesn't

(2) The egg yolks I used were from my friends house, her chickens produce beautiful strong golden yellow egg yolks that color everything a strong yellow which is why I used them, if using typical store bought egg yolks you won't get this color unless you use a lot of egg yolks which is unnecessary. This may sound like taboo, but my grandmother and me, we use "Bijol" (anatto seed powder) or "Colorante" (coloring) to make the natilla yellow if we use store bought eggs to give it a rich color. When doing this be sure you add the coloring when your simmering the milk so it dissolves completely.

(3) I know 1/2 cup cornstarch may seem like a lot for some cubans, but it's actually "4 cucharadas grandes" which is the measurement my grandmother uses, which is 4 regular eating tablespoons with humps on them what we in Spanish call, "cucharadas colmadas" (peaked tablespoons) I measured them out and it was actually 1/2 cup. So I guess the cornstarch to milk ratio is 1 heaping tablespoonful per cup.

(4) The one I made in the picture, had no butter, or raisins, and I left out the vanilla and only used cinnamon and orange peel, it was delicious and light yet rich :)

IF YOU LIKE THIS RECIPE... you may want to check out my post for "Leche Frita" (fried milk custard squares)