Yuca Frita Croquetas

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Yuca frita is the crisper, starchier, and creamier brother of the papita frita, and is undoubtedly a Cuban staple either fried crisp or soft and sautéed with garlic and onion. Yuca is one of my favorite Cuban side dishes whether prepared as yuca hervida or yuca frita and now as yuca frita croquetas.

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I first had yuca frita croquetas while I was interning for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival Rockin’ Beach Party made by Versailles– you can order them at their restaurant on Calle Ocho in Miami’s Little Havana, and they are amazing. I wouldn’t say it’s exactly a traditional Cuban dish, but it is freaking delicious and is made up of 100% Cuban elements. I couldn’t decide what to call these delicious wonders of the world…yuca frita rellena? Picadillo stuffed yuca frita croquetas? As you can tell I dig yuca, it is easy to make, tastes delicious, and its naturally gluten free.

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Picadillo stuffed yuca croquetas are wonderous for two reasons: they are ideal for leftover picadillo and they are the perfect receptacle for cilantro garlic sauce (<3 Pollo Tropical you’ll always be my #1). The salted crisp yuca with the creamy citrusy cilantro garlic sauce is a match made in heaven that will have you reaching for more. I am pretty passionate about croquetas and these are a great party alternative to add to your repertoire (especially since they are pretty easy to make and use leftovers to boot)!

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Yuca Frita Croquetas

Yuca frita croquetas are ideal with leftover picadillo, but you can make a fresh batch just for this and enjoy your picadillo before or after. I highly recommend using leftover since it is chilled and is easier to use as a stuffing.  Completely cover the yuca in salted water and bring the water to a boil (I did defrost mine over night, but the bag doesn’t say this is required). Cook the yuca on medium heat for 25-30 minutes until fork tender.

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Once the yuca has coolded down enough to handle, remove the fibrous center of the yuca root. Next mash the yuca with a potato masher or potato ricer. It is best to do this while it is still warm. Don’t let it cool completely. Form the mashed yuca into similar shaped balls. Now work the soft yuca into a patty the shape of your palm. Wet your hands with water constantly to avoid the starchy yuca from sticking too much to your hands while forming the yuca frita croquetas. Add a tablespoon or so of Cuban picadillo to the center of the mashed yuca patty. Close the yuca onto itself and do the best you can to eliminate a seal using water.

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Heat vegetable oil on the stove top. Fry the yuca frita croquetas till golden brown.* Drain on paper towels and garnish with sea salt right away. Before enjoying add a squeeze of lime. Yuca frita croquetas go best with pollo tropical inspirecilantro garlic sauce and a cold beer.

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*Make sure to rotate the croquetas slowly instead of flipping roll them till they are brown all around. Sometimes the filling of croquetas can ooze out of the sides if the top and bottom are crispier than the sides.

 

Goat Cheese Panna Cotta with Guava Sauce

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My love affair with guava continues this week. In pastries, cocktails, cheesecakes, bars, and baked with brie- guava is my jam. Guava and goat cheese panna cotta are like little pastelitos de guayaba con queso without the puff pastry and a little extra ‘je ne sais quoi‘. The goat cheese adds a richer, creamy texture without overpowering the palate, and the bright guava flavor cuts through the tang and shines in your mouth.

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Panna cotta is an easy and practically fool-proof dessert that can be made ahead of time, which is great especially if you’re entertaining. Cream, sugar, and gelatin is all you need to make this classic Italian dessert although my variation uses goat cheese, vanilla bean, and tropical guava. In less than 20 minutes I had six adorable individual desserts ready to pop into the fridge and become silky satin.

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Like Cuban flan, panna cotta is versatile, simple, and it just so happens to be gluten-free (if that matters to you).  Panna cotta’s simplicity allows you to add flavors and get creative with ingredients like coffee, almonds, rosewater, fresh berries, liqueurs, and pretty much any combination you can think of.

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Guava and Goat Cheese Panna Cotta

  • 1 package unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups half and half (1 pint container)
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 4 oz softened goat cheese
  • 1 vanilla bean

Guava Sauce

  • 2 cans guava nectar (or juice) mine were 9 oz each
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • Juice of a lemon wedge

Allow the goat cheese to soften at room temperature. Mix the packet of unflavored gelatin with ¼ cup cold water and allow the gelatin to soften for around 5 minutes or so. Heat the sugar and half and half in a sauce pan over medium heat making sure to stir occasionally. While the milk is steaming, scrape the vanilla bean. I scraped mine on top of the softening gelatin just because I didn’t want to wash another dish. When the milk is steaming and all of the sugar has dissolved turn off the heat and whisk in the softened goat cheese until smooth. Add in the gelatin and vanilla bean. My gelatin turned into a small puck in the ramekin yet quickly dissolved into the goat cheese panna cotta.

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I had enough of the goat cheese panna cotta mixture to fill six individual cups. I allowed them to cool at room temperature for 30 minutes before placing them in my fridge (mainly because my fridge is too tiny and it would have heated up its contents too quickly). If you are blessed with a large fridge pop those suckers in when they’re done and cover them with plastic wrap around an hour later.

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While the goat cheese panna cotta are cooling down and setting start the guava sauce. Mix 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with around ¼ cup of guava nectar and whisked until smooth and set aside. Heat the remaining guava nectar with 2 tablespoons of sugar until it was just simmering. Add the cornstarch guava mix and simmer 5 minutes or so longer until the sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon. Remove from the heat and squeeze in the juice of a fresh lemon wedge.

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This made around 2 cups of the guava sauce, although you likely only need a ½ cup or so for this recipe. Pour the guava sauce into smaller individual ramekins to cool and set faster. Once the goat cheese panna cotta has set pour the guava sauce on top. You can allow the guava sauce to set on top or garnish before serving.

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**The guava sauce tasted just like Conchita Guava Marmelade. If you want to take a short cut just spoon this marmalade on top of your goat cheese panna cotta.

 

Tamal en Cazuela

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Tamal en cazuela reminds me of my abuelo. He would enjoy this delicious Cuban stew with a croqueta preparada for dinner. Tamal en cazuela is sold especially on Sundays in Cuban restaurants, and I have even called ahead to make sure they still have an order since they can sometimes run out. Tamal en cazuela tastes like tamales in soup form: a glorious combination of savory corn meal with ribbons of tender mojo roasted pork shoulder throughout the thick corn stew. This traditional stew is like Cuban polenta with pork and is classically enjoyed with platanos maduros on the side or fresh sliced banana. Crushed up chicharrones on top add to the pork flavor and provides great crunch in each bite.

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When masa de puerco was on the menu for dinner my abuela always used the left over pork chunks (masa de puerco) for a tamal en cazuela the next day. You can use masa de puerco and left over roasted pork or you can quick-marinade ground or chopped pork and cook it for the tamal en cazuela that day. As fall descends and temperatures drop, tamal en cazuela was exactly what I was craving. The thick corn porridge with marinated pork and Cuban sofrito will instantly feel like comfort food no matter where you’re from.

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Tamal en Cazuela

For the pork:

  • 1 lb boneless pork shoulder cut into pieces or roughly ground (or left over roasted pork)
  • 1cup mojo criollo
  • Juice of half a lime

For the soup:

  • 1 medium onion ground in the food processor
  • ½ medium green bell pepper ground in the food processor
  • 2 cups corn meal
  • 1/4 cup of mojo (store-bought or homemade)
  • 1/4 cup white Spanish wine (vino seco)
  • 2 cups frozen corn (defrosted) or canned works as well
  • 1/3 stick of butter
  • ½ cup tomato sauce
  • 2.5 cups water
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • One package Goya with Saffron seasoning or chicken or ham bullion also work

To serve:

  • Salt to taste
  • Crumbled chicharrones for garnish
  • Lime wedges

If you are cooking fresh pork for this recipe, heat some olive oil in a pan and cook the marinated pork through set it aside. Preheat a pan on medium to low with olive oil. Once the pan is hot cook the white onion and green bell pepper until soft. The peppers are meant to be a subtle in this dish and be tasted but not seen.

While the onions are cooking take the corn meal mix. Pulse the defrosted frozen corn in the food processor just enough so you still have small corn pieces in the mix. Add the corn meal to the food processor and create a rough mixture.  Now return to the onions and peppers and add the tomato sauce and stir allowing it to cook for a few minutes. When the mixture is cooked enough that you can see to the bottom of the pot add the butter and melt with the sofrito you just created.

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Add corn meal mix, water, milk, salt and pepper in a large cazuela. Stir in the mojo and dry white wine (vino seco). Bring to a quick boil and immediately put to simmer. Continually stir the stew while it is coming to a boil. Since the mixture will be very thick the bottom of the pot can burn. Add 3 large left over masas de puerco or about a pound of roasted pork to simmer with the rest of the tamal en cazuela. These will easily shred while mixing the stew. Add the Goya seasoning packet or bullion at this point.

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Simmer for around half an hour depending on the thickness (you definitely want the corn meal to get soft). My abuela’s receipe called for simmering for an hour or so, but my tamel en cazuela thickened very quickly. Remember, you want it to be a bit thick, not too runny. If it’s not thick enough add more corn meal in ¼ cup increments, or conversely add water in ¼ cup increments if it is too thick. Remember, to stir constantly while it cooks. It will burn if it’s too hot or not stirred, but don’t stress it- you don’t have to stir the entire time. Just keep checking on it. When your wooden spoon can stand straight up in the tamal you know it’s thickened enough and is ready to serve. Enjoy the tamal en cazuela with platanos maduros on the side. Some like to top their tamal en cazuela with crushed up chicharones (pork cracklings).

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Notes: The fresh mojo that I had recently made gave the stew a strong acidic taste much to my horror. I added the slightest sprinkle of baking soda which according to my internet research helps to counteract overtly acidic foods as it makes them more basic with the increasing pH. The baking soda made the stew bubble and thicken temporarily. I stirred it until the bubbling subsided as the chemical reaction took place and then tasted again before adding more baking soda. It turned out amazing.