78. potato salad (Puerto Rican style)

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Potato salad is a side dish made with boiled potatoes. The potatoes can also be bake, broil or steamed.

There are different versions to potato salad according to various regions around the world, and their local ingredients. Potato salad can be served heated, such as a German potato salad. In the USA, it is popularly served cold, such as Amish, ranch, picnic or deli style. It is often served with hot or cold dishes, whether beef, pork, venison, poultry, seafood, or any type of hot or cold sandwiches.

Potato salad is usually prepared with mayonnaise, seasonings and diced vegetables. Adding eggs or cold cut meat, is optional.

For the Puerto Rican potato salad, the very basic ingredients are:

  • onion
  • bell pepper
  • mayonnaise
  • salt
  • ground black pepper

According to your taste and preference, other optional ingredients may be added, such as:

  • carrots
  • celery
  • tomato
  • roasted red pepper
  • corn
  • green peas
  • string beans
  • cucumber
  • pickles
  • relish
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • cooked ham
  • salami
  • bacon
  • salad dressing mayonnaise (such as Miracle Whip)
  • vinaigrette
  • sour cream
  • buttermilk
  • vinegar
  • lemon juice
  • mustard
  • horseradish
  • parsley
  • tarragon
  • chives
  • olives
  • capers
  • paprika
  • adobo seasoning
  • cayenne

For my Puerto Rican potato salad, the following are the basic ingredients I add:

  • 1:1 ratio of regular and salad dressing mayonnaise
  • white onion
  • bell pepper
  • tomato
  • carrot
  • celery
  • Kosher pickle
  • hard-boiled egg
  • smoked ham
  • dry adobo seasoning
  • mustard
  • lemon juice

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Puerto Rican style potato salad with homemade angus burger

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77. roasted red peppers

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Roasted red peppers (known in Spanish as piquillo or pimentos) are made by fire roasting or cooking in high heat until fully charred. Once roasted, it is temporarily stored in a paper bag, sealed container or in a bowl with a plate to cover as a lid. This process allows the steam to further soften and separate the outer surface of the peppers for peeling. Once cooled, the charred skin is easily removed in a scrape motion with any preferred utensil – spoon, fork, knife, etc. Afterwards, it is preserved in oil.

The roasting can be done by using a:

  • gas burner
  • grill
  • broiler

Besides roasting with fire or a gas broiler, the peppers can be heated until charred in either a:

  • toaster oven
  • convention oven at very high temperature (400+ degrees)
  • electric oven under broil setting

Compared to flame roasting method, the process takes longer, since it is dry heat and requires 1 hour or more, until the skin is completely charred. A baking sheet is required, since the concentrated juice will drain out of the peppers, as it is cook in an oven. I have noticed cooking the peppers over a flame intensify the flavors to be more juicy and sweet.

Jarred roasted red peppers are available in most supermarket, in the condiment aisle. On the other hand, with time and patience, it is easy to make at home, as well as more affordable. Roasting pepper not only taste great using red bell peppers, but also using poblano,  jalapeno or any other type of capsicum annuum (bell pepper).

The roasted peppers can be stored in the freezer for a prolong time and maintain its freshness. If roasting a couple of pepper, it can be portioned and stored in zipped plastic bags, glass jars or plastic containers. The individual storage bags can be thawed out and use as needed.

To roast the peppers is easy and efficient to make. I only use 2 simple ingredients:

  • olive oil
  • red bell pepper

You can experiment adding other ingredients to your liking. Some prefer a:

  • brine or pickled flavor – adding vinegar, citric or pickling juice
  • sweet flavor – adding quaint amount of sugar, honey or other sweetening agent
  • spicy flavor – adding raw crushed garlic, hot sauce or hot pepper flakes

Altering to enhance the flavors are endless with options of your choosing. I prefer to keep my roasted red pepper mild and basic, and boost it, as needed with other ingredients at any given moment.

Roasted red peppers are delicious on any dish, such as:

  • crostini
  • pimento cheese
  • certain dips
  • condiments
  • sandwiches
  • salads (meat, poultry, seafood or vegetables)
  • ceviches
  • dense protein dishes (meat, poultry or seafood)
  • egg dishes
  • pasta dishes
  • rice dishes
  • savory pies
  • pizza
  • soups
  • stews
  • casseroles
  • as part of the cooking base (sofrito or mirepoix)
  • as a garnish on food

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roasted red peppers

76. tres leche cake

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Tres leche cake is a:

  • sponge cake drenched with a milk sauce, and topped with whipped cream
  • rich dessert, very high in calories and carbohydrates

The basic core components to make a 3 leche cake are:

  • sponge cake
  • dessert sauce made with 3 type of milk:
    • sweetened condensed milk
    • evaporated milk
    • heavy cream, half & half, or milk (cow, soy, coconut, almond, rice, etc.)
  • whipped cream topping

There are many variations to make 3 leche cake, according to cultural region, background and preference.

The sponge cake flavoring does not have to be limited to vanilla only. Other flavors can be:

  • coconut
  • pumpkin
  • chocolate
  • dulce de leche
  • guava
  • banana
  • cinnamon

Below, I share the reasons why I have chosen specific ingredients, the chemistry analysis, selected calculations, and preparation to create my recipe version for tres leche cake.

CAKE

To create the sponge cake, I use only cake flour.

  • Reason #1:  cake flour has a very low protein value compared to all-purpose, pastry or bread flour; the very low protein in cake flour allows the baked cake to be tender and light (airy).
  • Reason #2:  cake flour is bleached; this causes the protein (its gluten) to weaken, hence produces a finer texture and will not cause the cake to rise too much.

The protein percentage in flour is related to the amount of gluten it has. Gluten develops when the flour protein combines with liquid and form elastic strands. The strength and weakness structure of elastic strands are based on the enzymes from the type of flour being used.

Flour with higher protein percentage will cause the gluten to have more elasticity and to expand (stretch), especially in yeast products, and causes a more dense and chewier texture. High protein flour, such as all-purpose (10 to 12%), bread (13 to 14%) or gluten (45%) flour, is best for:

  • bread
  • buns
  • pizza
  • bagel
  • noodles
  • firmer textured cake

Lower protein percentage flour is made from soft milled flour. Most cake flour are bleached and causes the protein to form weaker gluten. Lower protein flour, such as cake (7 to 8%) or pastry (9%) flour, is best for

  • pie crust
  • pancake
  • waffles
  • biscuit
  • muffin
  • pastries
  • soft texture cake

I add baking powder to the cake flour, since it is a leavening agent, to help the cake expand or self rise a bit in volume. It also lighten the texture to be more soft and airy. Basically, adding baking powder, gives it a subtle boost to lift the cake. This is similar to self-rising flour, except, it has a lower protein percentage to make the cake a smoother and airy texture.

I sift the flour and baking powder together, to removes lumps and aerate it. This process allows the wet ingredients to easily moisten completely into the dry ingredients.

For my sponge cake, I separate the egg yolks from the albumen (egg whites). The reasons are as follow:

  • The flavoring for my cake is made with a “ponche de huevo”, which is raw egg yolks whipped with sugar until it becomes a creamy consistency (a process known as egg foaming). In the Puerto Rican culture, this egg foaming creamy mixture is mixed with a carbonated barley juice known as Malta, for a drink known as “ponche”, English translation is “eggnog punch”. For my recipe, the egg foaming and dry ingredients are combined, then blended with milk to create a cake batter.
  • The next process is beating the albumen (egg whites) until it becomes frothy and foamy. This helps the cake become light and smooth in texture, similar to angel food cake. The frothy egg white is gently folded into the batter, then bake in a preheated 350 degrees oven for 35 to 45 minutes. The reason for a 10 minutes difference, is due to weather temperature changes, barometric pressure, and also humidity affects the baking process. After 35 minutes, I check the cake by piercing a knife in the middle, if it comes out clean, the cake is done. After baking, the cake is cooled for 15 to 30 minutes.

One important thing, I only use stainless steel bowl to whip eggs, sometimes glass. I never use aluminum or plastic bowls.

MILK SAUCE

The tres leche sauce has 3 type of milk combination. Two are commonly known, which are sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. The 3rd milk is considered a variable. It can be any type of milk (regular, skim, low-fat, half & half, almond, coconut, soy, etc). My personal preference favorite is heavy cream. I like my milk sauce to be similar to a Puerto Rican coquito drink (minus the eggs).

I add 1 1/4 cup heavy cream. It is OK to increase the heavy milk to 1 1/2 cup, instead of using 1 1/4 cup, or any other type of milk, you prefer. I simply like the creaminess heavy cream provides and the 1/4 cup difference will not alter the taste or texture, since not all the milk syrup will be saturated into the cake. Some will be set aside as a complimentary dessert sauce to serve with the cake.

In addition, I add 2 to 4 Tablespoon (1/8 to 1/4 cup) of Malibu coconut rum. Seriously, the fusion of rum with the milk mixture enhances the flavor. The Malibu brand is a smooth coconut rum, unlike Bacardi light rum, which tends to gravitate a bit strong when blended for this dessert sauce. Bacardi light rum taste great for drinks, but as part of the milk sauce for this cake, I prefer a more gentle tasting Malibu coconut rum. This is strictly my personal opinion. If serving 3 leche cake to minors, it is recommended to eliminate the rum liquor altogether. I tend to interchangeably use the word “milk sauce” and “milk syrup”, since both have the same meaning in regards to this type of cake.

Once the cake is cooled, it is flipped over and poked with a fork. The milk mixture is poured over the cake and allow to soak in. I cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate to blend the flavors for 2 to 3 hours. If the cake is to be served for a casual affair, I keep the cake in the baking pan. If it is a special occasion, I flip the cake over on to a jellyroll baking sheet with a lifted edge to prevent the sauce from spilling out.

I like to set aside some of the milk in a separate container, and add a small portion to the cake being served.

FROSTING

The frosting is usually topped with a dairy whipped dessert topping, such as the aerosol canned whipped cream (ie: Reddi-Wip), the frozen tub whipped topping (ie: Cool Whip) or homemade whipped cream (beaten heavy cream and sugar). I prefer making a homemade marshmallow creme frosting. This marshmallow topping enhances the flavor to the sponge cake.

First, I create a simple syrup using:

  • sugar
  • light corn syrup
  • water

This concoction is gently boiled until clear and bubbly, about 15 to 30 minutes. Once the syrup is bubbly, I whip egg whites into a meringue by adding cream of tartar. This helps produce volume and stabilize the structure to hold its shape and prevent from collapsing (this process is what makes it a meringue). Adding cream of tartar to the egg whites also prevents the hot simple syrup from crystallizing (harden) while blending together to create a creamy and silky smooth, thick frosting.

The marshmallow meringue creme is refrigerated for at least 1 hour before spreading on to the cake. Any leftover creme is stored in a sealed jar or glass container for future use as a topping for brownies, cupcakes, pies, dessert salads or ice cream. To make the creme into solid form to create marshmallow, I add 2 to 3 packets of Knox unflavored gelatin into the prepared simple syrup.

Once the cake has been coated with the marshmallow meringue, it is covered with aluminum foil that has been tented with enough gap to avoid touching the frosting. It is then refrigerated for another 2 to 3 hours.

Before serving, each cake is topped with a maraschino cherry.

Now you have the analytic reasoning and food chemistry to why I utilize specific ingredients and techniques to create my tres leche cake.

I have seen “tres leche cake” written and spoken as “tres leches cake” with an “s” added to the end of the word “leche”, in which is incorrect. Milk is milk, whether singular or plural, regardless if English or Spanish etymology. Milk is a non-count noun. This means 2 milk, 3 milk, etc., not 2 milks or 3 milks.

Using the plural form “leches” is considered incorrect linguistic of speech and improper grammatical word structure, in both languages. Leche or milk, whether by itself or more than one content, is written and pronounce the same, without the “s” added to the end of the word. It is spelled and pronounced as tres leche cake (three milk cake), not three milks cake or tres leches cake. Now, on to enjoy this scrumptious dessert.

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tres leche cake with Puerto Rican inspired coquito flavored milk sauce and Cuban style marshmallow frosting

 

75. snickerdoodle cookies

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Snickerdoodle is a crunchy or soft batch drop sugar cookie with a slightly cracked or crinkly top surface. The dough is rolled (or coated) with cinnamon and sugar, before baking.

Snickerdoodle cookies are made with basically 4 main ingredients:

  • butter
  • sugar
  • flour
  • cinnamon sugar

The difference between a traditional sugar cookie and snickerdoodle are:

  • sugar cookies are rolled or coated in white sugar
  • snickerdoodles are rolled or coated in a mixture of white sugar and cinnamon

I enhance the flavor and further soften the texture to my snickerdoodle by adding a small box of sugar-free Jell-O vanilla flavored instant pudding mix.

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homemade snickerdoodle cookies

74. Western omelet

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An omelet (also written as omelette) is a fluffy egg dish made with:

  • beaten eggs
  • heated in a frying pan
  • cooked with butter or oil, or a combination of both

The omelet does not have a specific origin to its first whereabouts. Yet, its etymology can be traced through word association:

  • Latin origins with the word “lamina” (a thin plate)
  • From there, Roman Empire formed the word “lamella” (small thin metal plate)
  • In 1393 France, the word was revised to “alumete” (small round plate)
  • In 1651, Francois Pierre de la Varenne, founding father of French cuisine and author of “Le Cuisinier Francois” (French culinary cookbook), identify the fluffy fried beaten egg dish as “amelette”
  • Circa France’s 18th century Revolution-Modern Era, the French took the word “alemette” and decided to change the spelling to become “omelette”
  • During the 17th century, the British allowed the French word to be translated in English to be pronounced and written as “omelette”, as well as, in the shorter version “omelet”.

 There are many different types of omelets, such as:

  • Chinese egg foo yung
  • Denver or Western omelet
  • French omelette
  • Matzah brei
  • Italian frittata
  • Philippine torta
  • Spanish tortilla

The Denver and Western omelets are made with beaten eggs, onion, bell pepper and ham. The only difference, the Western omelet has cheese.

There are certain regions in the USA, that serves a Western omelet with cheese as a topping, and the Denver with none.

Other locations differentiate the Western omelet as having a cheese filling, not as a topping. The Denver omelet, as in other regions does not have any cheese added.

It all depends in the area where the Western omelet is being prepared, and according to cultural acceptance to how it is made to order, whether having a cheese topping or cheese filling.

I decided at the spur of the moment to use chopsticks as a cooking utensil, instead of my regular nylon flexible spatula and whisking fork. You can use a wooden, silicone, nylon or stainless steel fork, spoon, spatula, whisk or turner. Whatever you have available and are comfortable cooking with.

The Western omelet dish I like to make has:

  • beaten eggs
  • milk
  • onion
  • red bell pepper
  • green bell pepper
  • smoked ham
  • cremini (baby Portobello) or white buttoned mushrooms
  • cheese (I prefer American, Cheddar or Swiss)
  • oil and butter, to cook
  • Kosher salt
  • ground black pepper

Western omelet can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I enjoy my omelet as a sandwich, between 2 slices of nicely toasted and buttered sliced bread.

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western omelet with cheese and buttered toast

73. arroz con leche (Puerto Rican rice pudding)

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. Typical rice pudding is a dish made with:

  • rice
  • bovine milk
  • sugar
  • cinnamon
  • raisins

I am extremely selective on the flavors and texture of rice pudding. I prefer to make mine with strong influence from the Puerto Rican style known as “arroz con dulce”, translated into English as “sweetened rice pudding” or “candied rice pudding”. It is a flavor and texture that I love and enjoy to eat.

My rice pudding has 3 specific ingredient that is a must:

  • cinnamon (prefer 3 large (cut into half or quartered), or 6 small cinnamon sticks)
  • cloves (I pick the thickest whole cloves in the batch)
  • raisins

I love arroz con leche that has cinnamon, cloves and raisins. Hence, my signature dish can be known as a cinnamon raisin rice pudding.

The milk use for my version is a 2:1 ratio of

  • 4 cups half and half
  • 2 cup of milk (almond, evaporated or whole milk)

Almond milk provide a nice flavor and added protein. If using regular milk, adding 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract slightly enhances the flavors of the custard. I also add 1 Tablespoon butter to slightly boost the flavoring, as well as, a nice glossy smoothness.

The sweetness for the rice pudding derives from using:

  • 1/2 cup (lightly sweetened), 2/3 cup (my preferred choice) or 3/4 cup (sweet) granulated sugar
  • 1 can (8 oz) sweetened condense milk

Short grain rice is my preferred choice for making rice pudding. I particularly favor pearl rice.  Any other type of short white grain can be use, such as arborio or sushi rice.

I like the arroz con leche to have a thick and creamy porridge consistency, and the rice to blend (almost melt) with the custard’s soft texture, as eaten. I do not like the rice to be firm to the bite.

Adding a dash of ground cinnamon or nutmeg (or combination of both) as a condiment topping, is optional.

Overall, you need to have lots of patience with each step of the cooking process to make my style of rice pudding known as arroz con leche. The final culinary product is a dish that makes a delicious dessert.

arroz con leche (Puerto Rican rice pudding)

72. alcapurria de yuca

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Alcapurria is a Puerto Rican lightly textured, crispy fritter. It has no filler or coating, and made with a starchy grounded vegetable dough (masa), of one of the following combination:

  • finely grounded green bananas and taro root (yautia)
  • finely grated yuca only

The dough is stuffed with a well-seasoned grounded or minced dense protein filling that is savory, of either:

  • beef
  • pork
  • poultry
  • crabmeat

Any type of oil can be use to cook the alcapurria. I prefer peanut oil. Frying in lard does make the alcapurria taste the best.

Alcapurria originate from Puerto Rico, and is a fusion of Taino, African, and Spanish influences. Most alcapurrias are made with green bananas, that are unripe Cavendish banana, with a mixture of taro root or tanier known as yautia, for its dough. Yautia is a starchy tuber root vegetable with a taste similar to a potato.

During the time this video was being recorded, NYC was experiencing massive heatwaves of continuous 100+ degrees weather. Even though, my dough was refrigerated for almost 3 hours, once placed on the kitchen counter for stuffing preparation, it was unable to maintain its firm consistency to form into meat filled fritters. The high temperature caused the masa to return to an almost soft-moist texture. I could have gone back and forth to refrigerating the dough. But, that would have involved in time loss. I decided to continue and complete the entire meat filling process. The extreme weather and dense hot air also made us feel very lethargic and slow. I would use ready-made ground (finely grated) yuca dough that is available in the freezer section of certain supermarkets. For the purpose of filming this vblog, I wanted to do it from scratch. Next time, when I expect the weather to be an extreme heatwave, I will opt to using ground yuca dough.

We waited until the next evening to cook the alcapurria, when the heatwave temperature was expected to drop a bit. We could have redone the video under better circumstance with more comfortable weather. But, decided to leave it as it is, because these are unexpected challenges that do occur. All it takes is a moment to analyze the situation and re-evaluate what is the best approach to complete what was started, whether with food, a project, work or life itself.

My alcapurria version were done with a yuca dough, and ground pork blended with rum-infused raisins to carry out a sweet and savory meat filling. Salt can be added to the masa, but opted not to include any.

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alcapurria de yuca

71. arroz con dulce (Puerto Rican sweetened rice pudding)

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Arroz con dulce is a coconut flavored Puerto Rican style rice pudding. The English translation is known as: sweetened rice pudding or candied rice pudding. The thick texture and unique taste differs from other rice puddings due to its thick creaminess and coconut flavor, especially compared to arroz con leche, the traditional Spanish style rice pudding.

Arroz con dulce is made specifically with:

  • coconut cream

and 3 type of milk:

  • coconut
  • evaporated
  • sweetened condensed

The main ingredients to make arroz con dulce are:

  • evaporated milk
  • coconut milk
  • sweetened condensed milk
  • coconut cream
  • cloves
  • raisins
  • cinnamon
  • sugar

Other optional ingredients are:

  • ginger
  • vanilla (bean or extract)
  • butter
  • shredded coconut
  • lemon zest
  • nutmeg

The raisins can be soaked in rum for an extra added flavor, then cooked in milk with the cinnamon sticks. I usually remove the cloves during the adding of the milk cooking process. But, it is not necessary, just my option.

Arroz con dulce is a very labor intensive dish to make. The most important and vital ingredient is the texture of the rice. It has to be very soft, almost melt in your mouth with each bite you take of this classic coconut cream porridge.

DO NOTE: The rice needs to be tender to the bite when eaten, with no firmness. It should also blend well with the custard, that make this an out of this world coconut flavored rice pudding.

It is important to:

  • soak the rice with 5 to 6 whole cloves in cold water for 1 hour (do not soak too long or else texture becomes too mushy)
  • drain the water after 1 hour
  • set rice aside (do not allow drained rice to sit too long or it will dry out)

I only use thick short-grain rice to make my rice pudding, whether arroz con leche or arroz con dulce. My preference is short-grain rice to make any type of rice dishes. I love the Sello Rojo brand, especially their pearl rice.

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Sello Rojo – rice brand

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If you are unable to find Sello Rojo short-grain rice or any type of pearl rice, a comparable substitute is sushi rice, a Japanese short-grain, sometimes known as sticky rice. If gluten is an issue to make arroz con dulce, the best alternative is mochi, a gluten-free short-grain white rice.

I have calculated for the perfect texture and balance between rice and custard, a total of 6 cups of milk combination is needed:

  • 3 cups evaporated milk
  • 3 cups coconut milk

I save time and not spend time measuring anything, by using only canned milk:

  • 2 cans (12 oz each) of evaporated milk
  • 2 cans (13.5 oz each) of coconut milk

or for more coconut flavor:

  • 1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
  • 3 cans (13.5 oz) coconut milk

These 4 cans provide enough liquids for my recipe. Evaporated milk is the traditional milk to add to make arroz con dulce, along with the coconut milk.

The evaporated milk may be substituted with one of the following:

  • regular whole milk (skim, low-fat or fat-free doesn’t provide much creaminess; but is ok)
  • lactose free milk beverage
  • half and half
  • refrigerated coconut milk
  • soy milk

DO NOT USE:

  • buttermilk (gives it a bit sour aftertaste)
  • heavy cream (makes it kinda “greasy”)
  • almond milk (overpowers the coconut flavor)

I have never tested goat milk to make arroz con dulce. Therefore, I am unable to comment whether it compliments the flavors or not.

I do not like the flavor of soy milk. Therefore, I am also unable to provided feedback as to whether it compliments the flavors to taste good or overpower the coconut flavored rice pudding. If you want to use soy milk, give it a try to test it out. But, it is at your own discretion.

Arroz con dulce may be eaten at room temperature or cold. It can be warmed or heated in a microwave and taste just as great. Ground cinnamon and/or nutmeg may be sprinkled on top as an added condiment.

Cooking time may vary according to your gas, electric, radiant or induction stove. I have a high-end professional style gas range with a very powerful BTU burner, as well as a simmer burner, and what I based my exact timing on. If you have an electric stove, you may need to adjust accordingly to obtain the rice and custard process level for texture shown in each step of the video.

In addition, the type of cookware may affect the timing to cook the arroz con dulce. I use either a 3 quart 18/10 stainless steel with aluminum bottom base or all-clad aluminum saucepan. Although I own high-end professional stock pots, I prefer the 3-quart IKEA model 365+ that cost $9.99 (when on special). I have simply fallen in love with the IKEA 365+ series and it meets all the criteria I seek in cookware.

Seriously, the IKEA 365+ stock pot is one of the best pot I have ever used to make arroz con dulce (or any soup, stew or rice casserole). I highly recommend it, especially for everyday cooking. It has practically replaced many of my high-end expensive cookware.

IKEA 365+ stock pot

My 2 favorites IKEA 365+ stock pots are:

  • 3 quart – item # 301.011.54; price $12.99 (sometimes on special for $9.99)
  • 5 quart – item # 001.011.55: price $14.99 (sometimes on special for $11.99)

The important concept to remember in making arroz con dulce, you cannot rush or cut corners into cooking it. Have patience, lots of patience… and love.

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arroz con dulce

70. chicken fajita (NY style)

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Fajita is a Mexican-American dish that is traditionally made of grilled strips of beef (mainly skirt steak), that has been marinated in a mixture of lime juice (use as a meat tenderizer), oil and garlic. The meat is cooked, then rolled into a warmed and soft flour tortilla. It is a finger food, unless the tortilla is large (burrito size), then it can be wrapped up and eaten with hands or with a knife and fork.

The meat can be:

  • grilled
  • barbecued
  • oven broiled
  • roasted
  • fried

The fajita toppings are assembled by the personal preference of the eater and their taste buds. It may be garnished with:

  • grilled or sautéed onions
  • grilled or sautéed bell peppers
  • grilled or sautéed mushrooms
  • salsa
  • guacamole
  • pico de gallo
  • sour cream
  • shredded cheese
  • seasoned rice
  • fresh tomato
  • scallion
  • avocado
  • jalapeno or other type of hot peppers
  • lettuce
  • olives
  • beans
  • lime juice
  • seasonings

Other meats to substitute for the skirt steak are:

  • rib-eye, flank, sirloin, bottom round, etc
  • chicken
  • pork
  • fish
  • shrimp

The difference between a fajita and burrito are:

  • fajita is a grilled marinated meat in a rolled or folded soft tortilla, and dressed with condiments of your choice
  • burrito is a self-contained tightly wrapped soft tortilla with both ends tucked in and pre-filled with meat, beans, sauce, seasoned rice and cheese

There have been many articles of people taking claim to being the first to introduce the fajita to the general public. The one that has official recorded documentation and will accept would be as followed:

In 1969, a cook for a cowboy ranch who made fajita for his employer’s workers as a necessity, began visiting county fairs and festivals to introduce his fajita dish, which was originally called “Tacos al Carbon”. When he applied to the Boerne Bergesfest committee in Boerne, Texas for a food booth in their annual festival, his request was denied due to a rule that a person was no allowed to sell an item that was offered by another social members, which were tacos.

The following year he returned, reapplied for a booth and stated he was going to sell “fajita”. No one within the Mexican social group knew what they were. It was confirmed and noted, it was not being sold by any other social member, and his application for a booth was approved. Hence, the fajita was introduced to the public at the 1970 Boerne Bergesfest, in Boerne, Texas.

In 1972, a local business man opened the first fajita eatery in an old, vacant, Dairy Queen drive-thru, on the corner of San Pedro and Hildebrand in San Antonio, Texas. It’s decor include a canvas top cabana in front of the building with tables and benches for his main customers, Trinity University students. The students demanded the establishment remain opened 24 hours a day. The small fajita bistro was named “Taco Cabana”, and success grew and expanded into a chain of restaurants.

Although fajitas are made mainly with steak, I prefer chicken breast. I add my personal Latin-Caribbean touch, by making the marinade with:

  • adobo wet rub
  • adobo dry rub
  • World Harbors fajita marinade

Fajitas are a terrific source of protein, iron, phosphorous and B vitamines (riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, and B-12). Fajitas not only taste good, but are more healthy in macronutrient values than chicken or burgers sold in any fast food eatery.

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chicken fajita – with chicken, grilled onions and bell peppers, guacamole, salsa, cilantro, sour cream, cilantro, and cheddar cheese

69. Cuban tamales

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A Cuban tamale (or tamal) is a type of meat pie made with a mixture of a corn-based dough (known as masa) and shredded pork. It is wrapped in corn husk and traditionally steamed.

Sunday’s dinner feast: Cuban tamale, pork empanada, platano maduro (fried sweet plantain) and arroz con gandules (chicken with pigeon peas)

 

All tamales, whether Cuban, Central American, South American or from any other Caribbean or Latin culture, derive from the Mayan and Aztec Indians. Although, the Cuban tamales have origins and inspired by the Mexican tamales, they are not the same. .

Mexican tamale Cuban tamale
made with dried hominy corn made with fresh sweet corn
has a piquant flavor is savory, not spicy
dough is stuffed with a meat filling. dough and meat are blended together.

.I am unable to buy fresh sweet corn in New York City during the winter. The best alternative and still have an authentic Cuban tamale taste is buying frozen sweet corn kernels. I have to emphasize that it must have “sweet” on the label, and not just any regular frozen corn. I learned this, through trial and error. It can be frozen corn, as long as it is the sweet type. The difference in tamale flavor is noticeable. Never use canned corn.

I prefer country-style pork ribs, buy 3 pounds worth and remove the bones, that equals 2 lbs or little more. Sometimes, I am able to find the boneless country-style ribs. It saves me time cutting and deboning it. I look for the ribs with good amount of meat and marbled fat on it. I parboil it with vinegar, fresh crushed garlic and water, and cook on simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.

I am not comfortable using a pressure cooker. It is ideal to use and cooks the meat in under 10 minutes. Pressure cooker makes the meat very tender and eliminates the step of using a mallet to tenderize before shredding into pieces. Maybe one day, I’ll overcome my fears and buy one to use.

I make a Latin sofrito base and infuse with the cooked pork before adding to the masa. It provides a delicious flavor. I also add a bit of Puerto Rican style sofrito, to give my cooked Latin sofrito, a subtle boost in flavor.

These are just a few personal touches to create my signature dish, Cuban tamales and keep it authentic, as possible. The cooked masa is firm, yet pliable with a hint of fresh sweet corn, and the meat is succulent and savory with the combination of the Latin holy trinity sofrito.

I steam the tamales for 2 to 3 hours on low to simmer heat. After being cooked, it can be eaten right away. The tamales can be frozen for months or stored in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days. The refrigerated one, I heat in the microwave on high for 1 minute without removing from its wrappings. The frozen ones, I prefer to defrost them first, in the refrigerator, then microwave. I do not like going from freezer to heating. It’s just a personal choice.

A lot of controversy has surfaced using lard and the concern of trans-fat in particular. Armour is a brand that makes lard with ZERO trans-fat. Trans-fat hardens the artery vessels in which leads to stroke, heart attack and heart disease.

Armour makes lard that is close to the type and flavor I know and grew up with. I honestly use lard on rare occasions to make certain type of food, such as Cuban tamales, Cuban bread or flaky pie crust. On extremely rare occasions, I add a small portion of Armour lard to my peanut oil that I cook deep fry food in, to bring out the flavors, such as french fries and certain homemade cuchifritos (fried snacks).

In the culinary world, there are basically 3 types of lard:

  • leaf lard – obtained from the visceral fat of the pig surrounding the kidney or inside the loin area; this is considered the highest grade quality.
  • fat back – obtained from the subcutaneous fat from the back skin and side muscle of the pig; this is considered second grade quality.
  • caul fat – obtained from the greater omentum, a thin membrane that surrounds the stomach organs and small intestines; this is considered low-grade quality.

Overall, lard has:

  • 20% less saturated fat than butter
  • is higher in monounsaturated fats which lower LDL cholesterol
  • has ZERO trans-fat compared to shortening that does have trans-fat

Cuban tamales, like pastelon and Puerto Rican pasteles, is very time-consuming to prepare. In the end, it is worthwhile, and you know exactly what ingredients it has, and all fresh.

I have demonstrated the basic steps on how to make Cuban tamales. From the basic, you can adapt and alter it to your own preference and likings, whether it is making the meat chunkier size to eat or replacing the pork with chicken. You can also add sliced stuffed olives that is equal to the amount of sofrito. If you want to add more than 2 lbs of meat, extra Puerto Rican sofrito, or roasted red pepper, go ahead. I sure do. Overall, the taste and texture of my Cuban tamales are far better than any high-end restaurant can offer.

My condiment of choice to have with a Cuban tamale is a mild hot sauce. It can also be eaten:

  • plain with no condiment added
  • ketchup
  • mojo or garlic sauce
  • thinly sliced roasted red bell peppers
  • any other condiment of your choosing

Advice #1: To make all the tamales evenly in large sizes or same quantity, I recommend buying 2 packages of the dried corn husk, since they are not all the same size and many tend to be smaller. NOTHING goes to waste, take the smaller or narrower corn husks, place 2 layered side by side or on top of each other to make the length longer or the width wider.

Most Mexican grocery stores sell dried corn husk. I find the Mexican dried corn husk sold by a Mexican grocer near my area have a very wide and large surface area to stuff my blend masa. I love buying his corn husk product, but NYC has been experiencing an unusual wintry season with back to back non-stop snowstorms, causing it to be quite a challenge to travel to the next neighborhood where he is located. I opted to buy the dried corn husk available at my local supermarket. The only reason: it was a very short walk from my home, and was the type I demonstrated in my video.

Advice #2: If you live in an area where it is impossible to purchase corn husk or unavailable, a comparable substitution is using aluminum foil or large rectangular sheets of parchment paper with the butcher string (as per video) to secure it. To use either aluminum foil or parchment paper:

  1. cut a large enough piece to hold the masa in the middle
  2. fold the end of edges of longest length first, then the short ends together to create a tight seam
  3. it is very important to keep folding the seam edges in until it meet the bulk of masa, in the same manner as you would for Puerto Rican pasteles. It prevents the masa from leaking.

Steam tamales accordingly and as explained on the video. The best way to determine if the tamales are done, is to press on it and it should feel firm and not mushy. .

Cuban pork tamale