How does one start a blog post during a worldwide pandemic? I guess you take a deep breath, and take it one step, or in this case one delicious bite of Challah bread, at a time.
The last time I posted, I was in my master’s degree program, in Boston, doing long distance marriage with my husband. That was three years ago.
Tonight, my 7-month old daughter is sleeping soundly in her crib, while my 1-year old pup is laying at my feet, and my husband is playing a video game. How quickly life changes.
The truth is, I have so many posts that I have been yearning to work on these last three years, but I have never found the time. I am so excited to share my stockpile of treasures with you now!
So, to really get into this properly, we have to go back many years, to when my love affair with Challah bread began – high school.
At a ridiculously easy distance of 15 minutes from my house, a tiny Jewish bakery graced our city. Full of delicious homemade meals, the temptations in that little shop were difficult to overcome.
Now, living in South Florida, we had the luxury of finding decent challah bread in most supermarkets. I had supermarkets just around the corner from my home, each offering their own version. But no, I wasn’t satisfied with just any Challah. It was worth that extra drive to have the fresh-baked, dreamy, dense real thing.
When I went off to college, I realized that much of the world in general outside of Florida was not privileged with access to stellar Challah. I learned to make Challah bread for the same reason I learned to cook many other dishes. I was craving something excellent, something delicious, and I couldn’t find it anywhere.
It took me three years and countless tries to find a Challah recipe I was happy with. One night, frustrated with my studies, and cautiously optimistic about yet another Challah recipe, I discovered a treasure. This recipe is a modified version from, wouldn’t you know it, an adaptation of Brizel’s bakery recipe in Jerusalem, from an old article many years ago. I like to make the holiday version, with raisins and rum, for a little extra love.
When I tell you that it has been a over a decade since we first tried this, and we’ve never bothered to look at another recipe again, I mean it. It is dense, delicious, soft (and stays that way for days). It has been vetted and devoured by many friends and family members. Most days, I won’t bake this – because I know I’ll eat it.
To this day, whenever I bake this bread, my husband and I stop to share in the delicious scent that we both agree “smells like home”. In these trying times, I hope this recipe can be a source of comfort and blessing to you and yours, and that you enjoy it as much as we have.
Another life change, another blog post. Remember some time ago (oh, say, two and half years?) when we exulted in the joy of my finally being in the same city as my husband? Well, here we are, and a few amazing coincidences later, we are back on the long-distance bandwagon. Honestly, I thought this would be a brutal experience. But, the combined effect of wonderful people, an incredible new city, and a truly great grad school program (did I mention I started my master’s degree?) – and I can only report happiness. But, here’s the real point of excitement – I finally have some time to post about delicious goodies!
I have to say, I’m so grateful for the friends that have guided my way around the Boston food scene. From dim sum, to coffee, to bubble tea, to blow-your-mind cannolis – there is so much goodness to experience. And it is impossible not to be inspired. That is one of the best and worst parts about it – do you know how difficult it is to be perpetually inspired, but not have any time to post? Today, we are going to begin our journey into an extensive backlog of recipes that I have been preparing for months.
You might know by now that I was born in Cuba – but what you probably don’t know yet is that my husband is a true Southern man, born and raised in the beautiful state of Georgia. I, too, spent part of my childhood in Georgia, and I’ve made it a point to find the best Southern recipes around, including his family’s breakfast sausage gravy. Now, I’ll share the recipe for the gravy in a future post, but today we are going to cover one of my personal obsessions: gravy biscuits.
Anyone who grew up in the South will tell you – biscuits are not just one recipe. They are a category of recipes. There are biscuits for tea, biscuits for gravy, biscuits for jam. There are sweet biscuits, flaky biscuits, buttery biscuits, savory biscuits. Because biscuits are not about just the biscuit – they about what they are eaten with. For years now, I have dedicated myself to a search for the “just right” gravy biscuit. Gravy biscuits can’t be too sweet to go with the gravy, or too crumbly to go against its weight. You need the perfect partner for the creamy, meaty gravy (I know, I’m taunting you) that will go on top. After an extensive investigation, I put together a recipe that has become our household go-to. It comes together easily, but it is most definitely “just right.” As always, if you find any delicious changes or modifications, or have any suggestions, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
I don’t know why this never ceases to surprise me, but most people I meet have never eaten Cuban food. Now, considering the sum total population of 11MM people on the island, you would think “hey, Damaris – that’s to be expected.” Now, whenever I meet someone, it feels like it is my mission from the universe to make sure they experience Cuban food, Thai food, Korean food, Japanese food, and Vietnamese food – at a minimum (and in that order). It isn’t always the simplest thing to quickly cook up some Cuban black bean stew or some ropa vieja – but gosh darn it, I will at least fry up some Cuban empanadas.
If you have experienced at least a simple (and incredibly, crazy delicious) street food from each of these places, I feel like my universe debt is paid. Because we need to cover our bases in order – we’ll start you off with Cuban. Empanadas were one of the first Cuban dishes I ever learned to make. My mom taught me, and this was one of our tag-team recipes, where she would prepare the filling, and then I would shape and close the empanada. If you have little ones of your own, you might find this is a great recipe for keeping those little hands busy without making a lot of mess.
There are so many different doughs and fillings you can use to make empanadas that this recipe is just the way to open a door to a world of creativity. You can go sweet, salty, gooey, crunchy. Our personal favorites use either picadillo, or guava paste and cream cheese. The Cuban kitchen is all about being resourceful – using what’s available, using up leftovers, making the most of everything. These are a great way to enjoy the heck out of some leftover meat, veggie, or rice dishes. Do me a favor – help me ease my debt to the universe, and go make yourself some empanadas. I promise this is one debt that’s actually very fun to repay.
It is almost September, and I am nearing one year of residence in Tennesse (wow!). These last few months have been a whirlwind. Between starting a new job, finally getting to move in with my husband, and buying a house, life has seldom slowed down. But the onset of Fall brings wonderful things, and this time it has brought a small spot of peace and quiet in an otherwise crazy life. Today, I want to share with you a recipe that I learned from my mother. When I was little, this was one of our “tag team” recipes. When you have to bread meat, it is a good idea to have a ‘little helper’ to be the dry hands or the wet hands, depending on your preference. It’s not only a great bonding experience, it’s also a good first lesson on working with raw meat (which, let’s face it, can be pretty off-putting at first).
Growing up, I was a little confused by the term “steak.” You see, in our household, steak was a very thin slice of meat, well-seasoned, and well-done. Imagine my surprise when I encountered the barely-seasoned, thick-cut steak that is the American standard. Where were the garlic, the onions – why was the meat so thick? Wait, people actually eat this stuff RAW (to me, ‘pink’ was raw)?! Needless to say, I have come a long way in my steak eating adventures. And, yes, now I will also eat medium-well steaks.
But, let me take you on a little trip to our Cuban home, where breaded and fried Cuban steak was the ultimate ‘treat’ meal. It’s an aroma that inundates the house – you know it as soon as you walk in. As a kid, the smell of ‘Bistec Empanizado’ triggered an instant run-to-the-kitchen-just-to-verify. It was glorious. To this day, I’ve never met a person who didn’t love this dish (save a few vegetarians who, to be fair, have never tried it). It is a staple at Cuban restaurants, and it is a traditional dish in Cuban homes.
Whenever I’ve tried to describe malanga to someone in the past, it’s usually limited to: “well, it’s kind of like a potato.” Do you like potatoes? If you don’t…I just, I don’t know what to do with that. But if you do, think of malanga as potato’s long, thin cousin (because we all have one). It’s a starchy root vegetable with a good deal of nutritional value and a lot of digestive benefits. In Cuban cuisine, this style of puree is typical for a lunch meal, and would commonly be eaten for lunch with an egg over-medium on top.
Growing up, I heard countless tales of the miraculous healing powers that this puree has for the stomach. You’ll have to be the judge on that, but, whether or not it has the power to heal, it can definitely be a deliciously fluffy side dish to many a Cuban entree. That being said, this is probably not the first thing I would make for someone trying Cuban food for the first time. This is more of a second-date dish (if you date your food, that is). My husband just laughed out loud at that last sentence – apparently “dating my food” is very me. Well, ain’t no disguising the truth.
Now, as a proper Cuban, I have a love affair with garlic. I do my best to dial it down for the sake of everyone’s breath, but let’s face it, garlic is a wonderful thing. I’ve included just a hint of garlic in this recipe, but it really makes all the difference between a bland puree and a tasty side dish – don’t skip it! As always, I’d love to know what changes/additions/subtractions you have found to make tasty twists on this recipe!
Ok, so first things first – I’m back! In the last three months, just about everything has changed in my life. I started a new job, my husband and I are finally working in the same state (wooo!), and I have happily kissed the days of long-distance marriage goodbye. Forgiiiive me for how long I had to be gone. As it happens, packing and unpacking can take forever if you happen to be starting a new job at the same time (and let’s not even talk about what happens when the winter holidays begin in the middle of that). But, in order to christen this happy new time – my husband and I worked on this post together!
Here’s a question – have you ever had ramen noodles in a non-college setting? Better yet, have you had ramen noodles that are not microwaveable? If you have, it’s quite possible you know just how amazing they are. Seriously. Ramen is one of those things you can either whip up with a quick broth and a few additions, or go all out and make a broth that takes all day. But I think it’s fair to say – there’s no good ramen without good ramen noodles. This is the first in a series of trials we will do, testing which noodles are the best. For this recipe, we did three variations, each time with a slightly wetter dough. Since I’ve had these noodles three times since making them (no, really, I’ll take this one for the team), I can say that all three variations taste the same once cooked – so it’s a pretty forgiving recipe.
While this is the first ramen noodles post – this is far from the first recipe we’ve tested. There are some great aspects to this particular recipe: the noodle texture holds up well once cooked. Some ramen noodle recipes, while tasting great, will give a noodle that falls apart more quickly (as in – you better start eating as soon as the noodles hit the broth). It’s a great recipe for freezing in individual-size portions; it’s also fairly quick and inexpensive; and, lastly, it doesn’t have the same numb-your-mouth level of salt that other recipes have. Since ramen broths can be fairly salty to begin with, these noodles are a great compliment to any broth!
I’m sorry – I really wish I could say there wasn’t a catch. There’s definitely a catch. This recipe requires a pasta roller and an angel hair cutter. If you have to do your cutting by hand, ramen noodles can become a big time investment. I will, however, say that I definitely used to cut my ramen noodles by hand. So, to me, it was still worth it. If you’re feeling a little bit out of the box tonight – this might be your night to make ramen! I’d love to know how this recipe turns out for you and what tips or tricks you might have to make it better!
It’s raining outside. And as the sun goes down in a long, white stretch across the sky outside my window, I can’t help but think that this is what peace looks like. There is some inexplicable thing about the sky and the rain that makes them seem to exude life. Or maybe they do actually exude life. I’m not sure I’ll ever know, but I’m pretty content to just sit here and watch. The thing is, life is just so exciting if we learn to explore new things.
This week has been a project for me. I’ve been challenged to limit my carbs to one meal per day, either breakfast or lunch. If you have any idea how much I cherish dinner, the one time day I actually have time to make a proper meal, you know this is a significant sacrifice for me. Well, at least, that’s what I thought, too. I spent most of Monday dreading dinner-time, sad that I would be missing out on a normal meal.
You see, it’s hard for me to think that any meal without carbs could be worth eating. It’s a mindset that has been proven wrong over and over again, but I have a hard time believing it each time. Anyway, as the day progressed, I thought of some of the things I enjoy the most that would be easy to make and would somehow disprove my skepticism. Cuban “picadillo” is a ground beef dish that I’ve made for many friends of many different backgrounds – and it always goes over well. The best part about it is that it goes together so quickly, but that you still end up with a meal that looks like it took hours of laborious effort. Typically, picadillo is served over white rice. But, in this low carb variation, the meat is combined with steamed napa cabbage, where the picadillo’s tasty sauce happily complements the flavor of the vegetable. I promise you, this is one dinner you won’t soon forget.
I’ve recently decided I would really like to avoid ever being called a “great person” or a “nice person.” I’ve found that every time I hear those phrases, they are swiftly followed by an insult. You’ve heard it, right? “She’s a nice person, but…” It is the northern equivalent to the Southern “Bless her heart. [insert backhanded insult here].” So, in support of that effort, I won’t bother explaining how addicting these things are. I won’t be nice and warn you that you’ll never want to go back to the frozen variety. I won’t do it.
The average American will look at you sideways if you mention anything about “ham paste” or “ground ham.” It’s a concept that’s different – but very normal for Cuban food. And it’s been my experience that the average American will also love these croquettes. Been there, tested it. Trust me. This recipe is tried and true, authentic, and delicious. For a typical Cuban lunch, grab yourself some amazingly soft rolls (or Cuban bread, if you have access to it), and make a sandwich out of these croquettes. Some people like to add ketchup or some other condiment to the sandwich. Personally, I like mine with the core ingredients: croquetas and bread.
I used to think these were so hard to make, or time consuming, or something! There had to be some reason even the best hispanic chefs I know kept buying the frozen croquetas, which almost always carried an unpleasant hint of freezer-burn. But no – the majority of the time spent in this recipe is just waiting for the filling to cool. Waiting. That doesn’t even count. These could not be easier to make. They require little to no ingredients, and there is absolutely no reason you shouldn’t go make them right now.
When you get done eating, let me know what you liked about them, what tweaks you made, how you made them your own. I’d love to know!
Today, I have another wonderful family recipe for you. It’s one of my all-time favorite foods (and let me tell you, I’ve tried a lot of food). But today, in return for this treasure of a recipe, I’m going to ask that you do me a favor. Go get to know one of your friends a little bit better, and let them get to know you better. Intentionally strengthen a friendship with someone you don’t naturally get along with. Why this request, you ask? Well, let me explain.
I used to envy watching guys in their friendships – it was so often like watching a band of brothers. They were loyal to each other, almost family. They were real and weren’t afraid to laugh, fight, and, in a way, to claim each other. They would beat their chests and play their stupid games, and the girls would roll their eyes (and do a jealous double-take in their own minds). How could they be so real and unaffected? As a young woman, I watched from the sidelines hoping to one day have that kind of friendship, too. But this year, I’ve discovered sisterhood. I’ve been challenged by a group of women who are both real and intentional in the relationships they create, a roommate who is so open she unknowingly has the power to break down every last defense of the reticent, and best friends who manage to make a difference in my life even from hundreds of miles away. And I’ve never felt anything like this.
To have a community of people that really knows you is as wonderful as it is risky. Yes, there are reasons people keep to themselves. If you ask me, those reasons aren’t good enough. This world needs more community, because community brings challenge, growth, hope. It encourages real love and not just the superficial affectations of the cowardly. So, do yourself a favor, go make a friend if you don’t have one. Start a real friendship with someone you’re only acquaintances with. It will take effort, but it will be amazing. And so you say, “But, Damaris, how can I possibly break the barriers with [insert name of stranger here]?” Easy! Make them some Ropa Vieja, some white rice, and head on over to their side with a homemade Cuban lunch, courtesy of you, their-new-best-friend-to-be.
***************RECIPE UPDATED 11/22/16***************
When I was first learning to cook, I used to follow my mom around the kitchen, writing down everything little thing she did. The difficulty of learning to cook from any seasoned Cuban chef is that they rarely measure anything. So, as she was about to toss a handful of something into the pot, I would grab her hand and pour whatever she held into a measuring cup. Believe it or not, these were the beginnings of my Cuban cuisine education. After years of learning through studying, cooking, and a lot of trial and error, I can at least say this: I finally understand my mom.
Admittedly, I have been delaying posting Cuban recipes – and this one in particular. It’s hard to explain, but the Cuban kitchen has a lot to do with learning how flavors complement each other and adjusting to your audience. It has very little to do with careful measurements. That being said, you will find over time that experience with Cuban cuisine will allow you to make your own adjustments.
Now, as this is a post about a black bean stew – let me start by saying this. I have known many people who claimed they didn’t eat beans – that they didn’t like them. To this day, I have never met a person who wasn’t converted by this dish. This recipe belonged to my grandmother. In Cuba, she was famous for her black beans. She passed it on to my mother, who passed it on to me. I am delighted to be able to share it with you. In Cuba, dishes vary by the region from which they originated. Some Cuban black bean stews include pork or other meats for flavoring, but this one (my favorite) is completely vegetarian and emphasizes the decadent taste of the actual bean without being boring like so many bean dishes are.