Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cuba Libre- Parte 2

I’ve created a new life philosophy for 2010, and it has to do with adventure.

old pier 2

Instead of writing a list of all the resolutions and then being disappointed when I never complete it, I decided to have 1,005 adventures instead. The adventures can be anything… walking a new way to work. Being spontaneous and grabbing a drink with a friend you haven’t seen in ages. Exploring new corners of the city. It could be a million things…it’s all in the way you look at it, and how many adventure points you want to give to something. Here’s a sample of my scale:

Finally taking advantage of restaurant week: 1 point
Road trip to the coast: 2 points
Sky Diving: 10 points (at least!)

It’s a simple formula to look at the opportunity in every day for adventure, and I’m going to carry it through the whole year, my hope being that I’ll blow 1,005 points out of the water and have the best year yet. It’s gonna be good, kids.

The first adventure points I earned for 2010 technically happened in 2009 on New Years Eve, but that’s neither here nor there. Lets all hearken back to the…ahem… dinner of Cuba Libre Parte 1 over a year ago. And how only 1 out of 4 dishes worked, and to cope with our kitchen screw-ups, Terra and I got tipsy from multiple pitchers of Mojitos. Well now. It was high time to redeem ourselves (thanks to the recipes of Terra’s Mom), and boy did we ever. Success was ours! 3 adventure points in total!

From The Vagabond Table
Basmati Rice and Black Beans... a sublime meshing of cultures

Around 2pm, Terra and I started chopping, and I noticed again that nearly every dish was full of green peppers and onions and oregano, apparently the trifecta of Cuban food flavor perfection. We decided to prepare the black beans in a pressure cooker from which I ran away like a scared little girl at least 3 times. I’ve never used one, and man, that thing spits and whistles at you like a banshee. My mom’s words kept echoing in my head: DO NOT REMOVE THE WEIGHT AT THE TOP OF THE POT OR YOU WILL POKE AN EYE OUT but it looked like it was going crazy all by itself, and I was not about to have my eye rocketed out by a stupid pressure cooker on NYE of all nights.

Good news, though. My eye was NOT popped out, the beans were awesome, and ***newsflash*** I’m a huge wimp. But not any more because now I understand the pressure cooker and am not scared anymore and there you have it. Triumph! That alone counted for at least 1 adventure point.

From The Vagabond Table
Success! Post-taming of the pressure cooker beast.

We simmered the Ropa Vieja for hours until it was fork tender and shredded easily. The flavor was deep and layered, with a slight tang from the tomatoes and vinegar and a lovely richness from the splash of red wine we added at the end.

From The Vagabond Table
Doesn't look like much now, but hooo-eee, it's yummy.

The yellow (beer!) rice was came together well too, and was at least 20 times better than the rice last time we tried making it. Plus, I heart beans and rice and you can eat them for days. Days. In these lovely economic times, this meal is a winner, folks.

From The Vagabond Table
All four burners were being used...cause we don't mess around.

And finally, the Platanos. They were perfection: We bought ripe plantains a few days before the Cuban Food Showdown, lightly fried them in coconut oil, sprinkled them with salt, and they were heavenly. Crispy on the outside, sweet and soft on the inside with a hint of salt, the plantains were a solid winner as well. And, when the beans, yellow rice, ropa vieja and platanos came together on a single plate, it was Cuban Food Perfection.

From The Vagabond Table
Hi. My name is Samantha, I’m a plantain addict, and I’m not afraid to admit it.

Oh, and I still know how to make a good Mojito which everyone appreciated.

From The Vagabond Table

It put 2010 off to a good start, and really set the stage for more festive…festivities...later that night. Like my team winning Flip Cup six times in a row or playing multiple rounds of SPOONS (where thankfully no one was injured by my sister’s tackles). In short, our little culinary triumph started NYE off perfectly, earned me 3 adventure points, and really, you couldn’t ask for a better start to a New Year.

From The Vagabond Table
The NYE blue plate special.

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*As a very important note, the recovery efforts in Haiti need all the help they can get. Learn more about Partners In Health, and the work they’re doing to heal Haitians all over the country from the massive earthquakes and aftershocks these past few weeks.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Welcome Home

Over Christmas and New Year’s I flew home with my ever-trusty sidekick in tow, Roni, and we sailed from snow drifts to sunshine. My parents citrus trees had gigantor grapefruits hanging from them, and besides a brief adventure to go see the Nutcracker, the fam pretty much stuck around the house for the entire break and ate some of the 12 different kinds of cookies my Mom made, partook in Christmas Ales, sampled my Dad’s new Butternut Squash Soup with Gruyere Croutons, my G-ma’s stuffed brinjol (eggplant) and rice, prime rib and twice-baked potatoes, my Mom’s lamb risotto, and a whole host of other things that I was lucky enough to try. Sniff. I miss you family! And all of the good meals you gave me!

Every day was a challenge to see exactly how much coffee, beer, and wine I could drink, while balancing out all the holiday libations with some serious food. Home Food. And that kind of food ain’t light and fluffy, kids. It’s soul food, the kind of food that comforts you all the livelong day and rocks you to sleep at night.

From The Vagabond Table

It was the most relaxed I’ve felt in ages, and I’m excited to present the kind of dish that captures that feeling and also goes well with big dinners or small, the kind you can throw together after a long day at work (which I did on Monday. Which was no small feat considering the first day of work after a long vacation is, indeed, the longest day ever.) I even had it for lunch the next day and re-heated it for my friend Teresa that night alongside some Poached-Egg Salads for the two of us to munch on and catch up over.

From The Vagabond Table

This Sweet Potato Gratin is heavenly. I’m a big fan of sweet potatoes, and these ones are thinly sliced and layered with sautéed spinach, onion, and garlic. All this is cozily tucked between Parmesan cheese and creamy Bechamel sauce. Oh friends—2010 is here, and this is just the dish to ease you out of 2009 and keep you warm in these ARCTIC FRIGID WINDS that we are so lucky to be experiencing here on the east side. Sweet Potato Gratin is warm, cozy, and it makes you invite friends over to share the wealth.

From The Vagabond Table

I’m convinced 2010 is going to be the year of Adventure. I’ll let you into my 2010 Life Philosophy on the next post (nothing like keeping you on your toes!) And while Sweet Potato Gratin might not be the most exotic or exciting dish you’ll ever try, it’s a solid and sinfully good choice for these chilly days, and really…when is cooking ever not an adventure?

From The Vagabond Table