Of course, because it was Cuba Libre night and we’d invited Terra’s friends Jen and Chris over, we decided to start the evening out with a pitcher of Mojitos. For some reason, I’ve really disliked Mojitos for the majority of my drinking life, and I’m not sure why, because now I think they’re absolutely fabulous.
Mojito time! I crushed mint leaves with lime juice and sugar at the bottom of a pitcher, added some rum and ice, poured it in glasses, and finished it off with a nice splash of club soda. Very refreshing, and it made everyone talkative, happy, and not angry at all that they now had to wait for the meal from scratch. I must say, time seems to fly when you’re having a Cuba Libre night and food is cooking and the Gran Hotel Buenos Aires album by Federico Aubele is humming in the background. And YES I know Buenos Aires is in Argentina. And sounds nothing like salsa music in Havana, but don’t hate. Anyway.
We decided to make Natilla, a Spanish egg-custard because it would need time to set if we wanted it for dessert. Terra’s mama had given strict instructions to CONTINUALLY STIR the milk, egg, vanilla, and sugar mixture…which I did. However, it was put into a too-small saucepan, and boiled over and everything smelled like burnt marshmallows. Terra argued that it had boiled over, thus it had boiled to the point of being able to set and thicken in the fridge. I argued that it did not actually boil, but got all hot and bothered and had just runneth over. We decided to try our luck and put it in the fridge and kept our fingers crossed. More on the Natilla That Refused To Set later! (Hope I didn’t give too much away.)
Next came lots of chopping of onions, tomatoes, green peppers, and garlic. Terra was in charge of the Yellow Rice and I was pleasantly surprised when the recipe called for beer. Who’s ever had beer rice? Not me! Unfortunately, our fridge only offered Corona or Bud Light (nice… thanks go to Natalie, my sister, for those choices). Terra sautéed all the veggies, added some Corona, chicken broth, and the rice and let it cook. By now the burnt marshmallows smell was taken over by the Beer Rice, something we all preferred.
Meanwhile I kept chopping the exact same veggies for the Picadillo, which is basically just ground beef cooked up with lots of delish things and typically served with potatoes or Yellow Rice. So, I sautéed said veggies, added the meat, lots of seasoning of garlic powder, salt, pepper, bay leaves and oregano. We let that cook a bit, added half a can of tomato sauce and some white wine vinegar, and let the liquid boil away as we continually tasted it for seasoning and salt. Terra also cut up some plantains and fried them in veggie oil, then salted them after they turned a beautiful coffee-brown color in the pan.
At this point, the Natilla had not set in the fridge, so we put the old gal in the freezer for good luck, which it needed a lot of. I hoped that my magical sprinkling of cinnamon would do something for it (which it did not. Ugh.)
The rice, it turned out, had too much liquid in it and had gotten kind of mushy. We decided at this point that it was because we had not accounted for the beer in the recipe and had put a cup too much of liquid, which might have well been my fault as when Terra was adding chicken stock to the rice, I started an argument about how many ounces were in a cup and how many ounces were needed for the recipe and what “use as much water as you would rice” would translate to in measurements. As this is only the second time I’ve made rice and completely forgot everything my G-Ma had taught me with the Pulao, I think I distracted the undistractable Terra. My bad, big T!
The food: was okay. The yellow mushy rice, while it had a good flavor, was just that. Mushy. I got a little tired of the texture after a few bites. The plantains needed to have been really ripe, which they were not. I was hoping they’d be like the soft plantains I’m obsessed with from Ghana, but these little guys were too hard and more like a thick, chewy, chip. The Picadillo came out the best, and I can only imagine how good it would be if I wasn’t an idiot and could make rice correctly. The Mojitos made everything better, by the by, I HIGHLY suggest making a pitcher (or two, like we did) when you have your own Cuban food night.
And the Natilla? We decided to drop the idea of eating it that night, and thought maybe an entire night in the fridge would edge it along to custard heaven. The next morning I noticed it had kind of set on top, but never did anything more than that. It did taste good when I dipped my finger in it, but alas! I ended up having to throw the whole thing away and it made me sad for what-could-have-been, and how me and the Natilla just didn’t find a way to make it work. Sniff. Maybe the timing just wasn’t right, and maybe our paths will cross again in the future, but for now I have to just let it go and hope for the best…and the foresight to use a bigger saucepan next time.
Overall, I’d say it was a really FUN night rather than a culinary success. Mostly I’m looking forward to making some more of Terra’s Mami’s recipes without destroying them. Of the 4 dishes we scored a hit with One, and one outta 4 ain’t bad, folks. Unless you understand math, and then it is, but whatever, I was an English major.
Up next…. Not sure. I’m transitioning to DC and my BFF Erjona has promised me some sweet Albanian recipes, so I think it's time we trekked our tasted buds to that fun and surprising land across the sea! Or whatever else I feel like eating over the holidays. I love surprises.