Ropa Vieja

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“Old clothes” make me salivate. Ropa vieja is a rustic shredded beef stew that all Cuban kids grew up eating. Ropa vieja is true Cuban comfort food and something my abuela would make weekly. Although named old clothes for its sloppy appearance, ropa vieja is a healthy (-ier) Cuban dish with peppers and onions simmered in tomato sauce, dry white cooking wine, and made with aromatic cumin, oregano, and garlic. My abuela’s ropa vieja was soft and tender flank steak cooked in a whistling pressure cooker with salt and onion. To kill two birds with one stone she would toss in a bag of garbanzo beans to have ready to make garbanzo frito for the next day.

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In her avocado green kitchen with its brassy worn fixtures and original 1970s trash compactor, my abuela fearlessly wielded the pressure cooker. I have always been intimidated by its high-pitched taunting whistle and haven’t dared to use a pressure cooker without her. As it is in my tiny nearly non-existent NYC kitchen I can’t afford to store one more cooking device. So I opted for the longer approach sans demonic pressure cookers.

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My apartment smelled like a Cuban household the instant I started boiling the flank steak. I was reminded how powerfully scent recalls memory as I felt the comfort and love that lingered in the air while the ropa vieja was simmering away.

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Ropa Vieja

  • 5-2 lbs flank steak (falda)
  • 2 qts water
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion cut lengthwise
  • ½ green bell pepper
  • 4-6 garlic cloves (or more if they’re tiny)
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 tsp salt divided
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1-2 bay leaves (hoja de laurel)
  • ¼ cup dry white cooking wine (vino seco)
  • ½ cup beef stock (from cooking the steak)
  • Olives for garnish (optional)
  • Pimientos for garnish (optional)

Reserve a quarter of the onion to add to the cooking water for the flank steak. I seasoned the water with the quarter onion, chunks of green bell pepper, 3 whole garlic cloves, cumin, salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a bay leaf. If using the pressure cooker allow to whistle 40 minutes. OR place in a pot on the stove top and bring water to a boil. Once boiling bring to a low simmer and cook for 2 to 2.5 hours. Add water as needed to avoid the pot from burning. DO NOT cover the pot while the flank steak is cooking and be sure to stir every once in a while so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot.

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Remove from the remaining beef broth and shred with two forks. I discarded the onion and garlic, but mashed up the green bell with the shredded beef for flavor. I am not crazy about green bell peppers but for some weird reason I do enjoy the flavor it imparts- just not eating pieces of one- if you want extra in yours saute some with the onions when you make the sofrito.

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Once the beef is shredded season with the extra salt and oregano and set aside. Start the sofrito. Slice the rest of the onion and mince the other 2-3 garlic cloves. Sautee the onions in the olive oil until translucent and tender. Add the garlic and cook for 3-4 more minutes. Mix in the shredded flank steak and stir with the dry white cooking wine and tomato sauce. Add the beef stock and stir again. My abuela’s ropa vieja is not as saucy as other varieties, but it is my favorite recipe there is. Simmer the ropa vieja for 20-30 minutes stirring occasionally. You can add olives in while it is cooking or as a garnish as I did, some people like to use red pimientos for a garnish as well. Serve with white or brown rice and platanos maduros, tostones, or even a fresh banana.

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Gin Lavender Lemonade

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The camphorous delicate buds of the lavender flower are intoxicating. I have been lusting after lavender lately. The soothing scent is familiar yet foreign especially when used culinarily. The restaurant where I work made a lavender panna cotta last season that awakened my taste buds and turned me on to this aromatic herb of love.

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Steeped in simple syrup, the sweet-smelling buds perfumed my entire apartment. The refreshing fragrance calmed and cleansed the air. Lavender reminds me of summertime in Europe. I learned to sit still amidst fat fuzzy bumble bees floundering about my head in Heidelberg. Their whirring wings intimidated me, but I relaxed knowing they were just foraging for sweet pollen.

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At the Union Square Farmers Market, I saw bunches of lavender with the same busy bumble bees bouncing from bud to bud. I bought fresh lavender bunches for décor, and dried lavender online for baking and boozing. I don’t want to inundate you with lavender recipes, but I’m thinking French 75s, lavender mojitos, and gin lavender lemonade- don’t get me started on the baked goods. All I know is in this cold city winter, gin lavender lemonade will make you wish for warmer weather and the buzzing of bumble bees around your head.

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Gin Lavender Lemonade

Serves 4

  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (5 large lemons)
  • 8 oz Hendricks (or gin/ vodka of your choice)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tbsp lavender simple syrup (see below)
  • Soda water
  • Lemon twist or Lavender sprig (or both) to garnish

Lavender Simple Syrup

  • 2 tbsp dried lavender buds
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

Bring the 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a boil until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and steep the dried lavender buds for 5 minutes. Strain and press the liquid out of the lavender buds (I’m saving the candied lavender buds in an airtight container to use as a garnish for baked goods; bake them at 225F for 15 minutes to dry them out). Allow the lavender simple syrup to cool.

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Juice the lemons (I like to peel the lemons and save the peel to make candied lemon zest or just lemon simple syrup to have on hand!). Mix the freshly squeezed lemon juice with the Hendricks, 2 tbsp sugar, 2 cups water, and 2 tbsp lavender simple syrup. Pour about 4 ounces of the gin lavender lemonade over ice. Top the gin lavender lemonade with soda water (or champagne if you’re feeling boozy) and garnish with a lavender sprig and lemon twist.

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Winter Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Winter-brussels-sprouts

Winter just began 3 weeks ago and after all the holidays are over I’m still celebrating winter veggies and their leafy, hardy deliciousness– starting with Brussels sprouts. Roasted, steamed, seared, and fried- Brussels sprouts can be sharp and savory or caramelized and sweet. I prefer my Brussels sprouts to be crisp and seared on the outside or roasted to perfection.

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There are so many combinations possible for these tiny cruciferous cabbage heads. I’ve braised them in balsamic and topped with creamy goat cheese, roasted them and added crispy bacon, or shaved them for a winter slaw. Ever since I had Trader Joe’s Blue Cheese and Pecan Spread (don’t worry Publix you’re still #1 in my book), I have wanted to replicate some of those flavors with roasted Brussels sprouts.

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Oven-roasted Brussels sprouts with red onions are tossed in lemon and maple syrup and topped with blue cheese and toasted pecans. You can add guanciale or pancetta as great alternatives to bacon (or just use bacon) if you like or dried cranberries for a sweeter approach. I served the roasted Brussels sprouts with Blue Cheese and Pecans with maple rosemary pork tenderloin.

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Winter Roasted Brussels Sprouts

  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • ½ large red onion sliced
  • ½ cup toasted pecan halves and pieces
  • ½ cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Add crisp pancetta, guanciale, bacon, dried cranberries, or orange segments (optional

Salt a pot of water and bring it to a boil. Once boiling blanch the Brussels sprouts for 3 minutes or so. Rinse under cool water or place in an ice bath to stop them from cooking. Preheat the oven to 400F. Trim and halve the Brussels sprouts. Slice the onion and toss with the olive oil, maple syrup, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Allow the sprouts and onions to sit marinating for 15-30 minutes. Drain the excess marinade and save for drizzling later.

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Roast the Brussels sprouts and red onions until golden and caramelized about 25-30 minutes. Serve the roasted Brussels sprouts warm topped with the toasted pecans and crumbled blue cheese (or any other additions you choose). Squeeze a little fresh lemon on top to garnish the roasted brussels sprouts and add some of the marinade on top.

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Mise-for-sprouts

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