Month: February 2014

Cuba Cuba – Havana-Cartagena Culture Connections

A native from the Caribbean cannot help but look for any evidence of his/her colorful, unique culture, even if it’s in a sandwich bite along the Rocky Mountains. With that in mind, I had to visit Cuba Cuba. Simply, a Cuban Sandwich place. I was gladly surprise to see ’empanadas’ and ‘tostones’ (or ‘patacones’) in their menu as well. I had both as appetizers accompanied with a gloriously strong ‘cafe Cubano’ and a ‘Café con Leche’ (obviously.) The Cuban Coffee options were amazing: “Cafecito”(single or double shot), “colada” (triple shot), “cortadito” (single shot with evaporated milk) and “café con leche” (single shot with steamed milk.) Then the Cuban Sandwiches came. Fantastic!

Pictures of Cuban men playing dominoes decorated the walls. My eyes turned right away! Cartagena and Havana share a great deal of the picturesque but relaxed tone. To my point, in Cartagena (my home town), elderly gentlemen play dominoes all afternoon long, at the “Plaza Fernandez de Madrid” between the Inquisition Palace and the Cathedral. This tradition is as old as my dear 480 year old UNESCO world heritage city. When you walk by, time literally freezes… Consequently, worldly worries, stress and little vanities become meaningless. It’s contagious. You want to stop. Actually, you do. It’s quite relaxing!

As we were leaving Cuba Cuba, the shift manager told us that the restroom had an awesome picture of Cuban boys playing baseball in the middle of busy narrow streets. We took the picture and I had to include it in this post, without any doubt. The boys in the picture are wearing sandals. In Cartagena, kids go a bit farther and play baseball bare-feet, while keeping the same setting: Among cars awkwardly parked on the sides of the old city’s narrow streets. Also, a game can last a long time as it’s often interrupted by pedestrians, or passing-by cars. Amazingly, every one knows your name and where you live. This comes in extremely handy for when a “hit” manages to break one or two windows. 😉

Havana and Cartagena enjoy the same rhythm roots and wonderfully refined Latin jazz, salsa, fast as well as slow beat softer melodies, all often accompanied by honest, simple messages. Cuba Cuba had the music too, so I was truly enjoying a full taste of home. In the end, Cuba Cuba fed me great flavors and authentic familiar memories. 🙂

In case of emergency… Kids White Pizza! :)

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My youngest kid was feeling a bit sick earlier this week. To make him feel better I promised to make home-made pizza (his favorite!) Sadly, I spoke too soon. I only had a few (2 or 3) cherry tomatoes and no tomato paste. 😦  What could I do? White Pizza! My kids had never had white pizza and honestly, I had never made it at home. The challenge was there, right in front of me. After much encouragement and 10 online recipes later, I decided to come up with “my recipe.” By the time I was ready, the white pizza idea had become very specific… No vegetables. No greens. Just a simple white pizza. No more. No less.

So here it is.. A simple, white pizza. Perfect for those emergency moments!

Note: There is no pizza dough recipe in this post. With a sick kid at home, ‘thank  heaven’ for store-bought pizza dough! 🙂

Recipe

Ingredients: Pizza dough (store-bought) – 1 per pizza, mozzarella cheese slices (enough to cover the pizza surface), a generous drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Oregano (Optional.)

Directions:

Follow the store-bought pizza dough instructions for baking. Once the dough is on the pan, drizzle the olive oil on top of the dough. Place the cheese slices all over the pizza dough making sure the surface is covered. Sprinkle olive oil, salt and pepper. Add oregano (optional.)

Bake according to store-bought pizza dough instructions and enjoy! 😉

Some tempting images follow…

Pizza baking “in the oven”..

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Pizza is ready!

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I added a quinoa salad to go with my serving. It was spectacular! I had to thank my kids for the great white pizza menu idea.. 🙂

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Old-Fashioned Home-made Crackers

 

Little “tiendas” (corner home-based food stores) in Cartagena still carry old-fashioned home-made crackers. When I travel back home, I definitely make an effort to get them… Indeed, they bring back wonderful childhood memories!

Four simple, affordable ingredients (at hand in most kitchens), and a straightforward recipe yields anywhere from 32 to 42 crackers, depending on how you decide to cut them out.

I make the dough by hand which works out just fine. If you prefer to use a mixer, that is OK too. You can make them look fancy and tidy, or not. In my case, I let my kids ( and their imagination ) be part of our home baking crew. Fun! That surely means… No fancy home-made crackers for me.  🙂

Recipe

Ingredients: 4 cups of flour, 1-1/2 tsp baking powder, 3/4 cup butter (or 1.25 sticks of butter), 1-1/2 cups water.

1. Sift the flour with the baking powder.

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2. Add butter cut into slices and mix in with the flour.

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3. Add water.

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4. Mix by hand until a dough is formed.

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5. Transfer the dough to a clean kitchen counter covered with some flour. Knead for 2-3 minutes. Roll out until a thin layer of dough forms. Transfer to an non-greased cookie sheet and prick with a fork. This is my kids’ favorite part! 🙂

Tip: You may also cut the dough into squares (or rectangles) on the counter, before transferring  the pieces to the cookie sheet.

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6. Bake for 12 minutes at 375 F degree oven.

Serve with jelly, chocolate hazelnut spread, peanut butter or simply by itself!

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My kids love them, especially as after-school snacks. Certainly, these old-fashioned home-made crackers are guaranteed to go fast! 🙂

Home Cooks and Culinary Schools? Cast your vote!

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Should home cooks go to culinary school?  Regardless of the reason (more skills, more fun recipes, meeting acclaimed Chefs, or going into food business), I have thought about this a lot. I have also read and researched the topic. In the end there seems to be some ‘common ground.’ Culinary schools recognize that home cooks bring hands-on experience to class. On the other hand, business entrepreneurs claim that customer satisfaction and food taste/quality is responsible for success. If that is delivered, they’re happy. In such a case, there is apparently no reason for diplomas or credentials to hang up on the walls.

Take a poll, I am curious to know what you think! 🙂

BBQ and ‘Other’ Bold Flavors

A friend recently shared an article on BBQ flavored chips and their history. I have to say that BBQ chip flavor is familiar and appealing today, but that was not the case years ago. Far more interesting than history, I was impressed with a discussion on how food brand marketing companies take the taste introduction process to the furthest extreme, to open remote markets. They learn from and adapt to foreign food, culture and regional likes/dislikes to better understand the target. The article also talked about chips and soda companies daringly reinventing products to win the Asian market. For example, one of  them recently came up with Chicken-Cola flavored chips in Asia. “It’s apparently a favorite flavor there!” What a concept! I was also greatly surprised to learn that there are 205 types of chip flavors available worldwide.

Two points in my post: ‘Adaptability and diversity.’ Thinking about these bold flavor combinations encouraged me to get into my kitchen, be creative, mix familiar ingredients with totally new ones, innovate, come up with different ideas and flavors. Kids are great for this! They’re creative, explorers, fun! When it comes to cooking, I am with them… After all, we should at least attempt to have fun cooking! 🙂

So, from BBQ chips to BBQ chicken… What could I do different this time? Since winter is still here, I went from outdoor BBQ to indoor BBQ on my electrical skillet! Talk about adaptability… It turned out to be a great (and super easy) recipe, I hope you agree.

Recipe

Ingredients: Boneless chicken thighs (1 or 2 per person), BBQ sauce (your favorite brand; Use 1 bottle), salt, pepper.

1. Add 1 TBSP of canola oil to the electric skillet. Place the thighs on the electric skillet.

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2. When brown, add salt and pepper. Add the BBQ sauce on top and cover with lid.

 

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3. Lower setting to 250 degrees on the electric skillet and let it cook for 20-30 minutes. Turn pieces so both sides cook well. Let it cook for another 20 minutes. Finally, check the chicken to make sure it’s cooked all the way through.

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Serve with rice and veggies or with salad greens. 🙂

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