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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Key Lime Pie with Gingersnaps

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Key lime pie is the quintessential Florida dessert. One bite of key lime pie will transport you to sandy beaches and sunny days. A delicious crust, tart filling, and a whipped cream or merengue topping is all one needs for a perfect pie. I have always had a love-hate relationship with key lime pies. They vary in tartness and execution from one establishment or household to the next. Lots of Floridians make their pies with store-bought crusts or bottled key lime juice, but in my opinion, when a dessert is so simple, with so few ingredients, you shouldn’t skimp where it counts.

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Don’t get me wrong, squeezing all those damn tiny key limes is quite a feat, after about 10 key limes I was cursing myself for deciding to take the seemingly difficult route. Take my advice here, do NOT use a juicer. The tiny key limes fit perfectly into a garlic press, and this will save you a considerable amount of time and stress- unless you have a citrus press– then by all means do your thing. Life became easier with the garlic press and we were well on our way to creating the perfect key lime pie filling.

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Gingersnap cookies make an excellent key lime pie crust; the ginger adds a nice hint of spice and sweetness and is a great twist on the classic graham cracker crust. If you are a key lime pie purist and swear by a classic graham cracker crust then add an 1/8 or a ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon to jazz it up a bit, and a half cup of ground pecans for more depth. Key lime pie with gingersnap crust, fresh whipped cream, and candied key lime zest will surely make it into your dessert arsenal and have your guests asking for the coveted recipe. Wake up your taste buds with this sweet and tart Florida classic, and treat yourself to a taste of the keys.

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Key Lime Pie with Gingersnap Crust:

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1 cup freshly squeezed key lime juice (around 20 key limes)

¼ cup key lime zest

2 egg yolks

12 ounces (or 1 box) gingersnaps

1 stick of butter

1 tablespoon sugar (for the ‘candied’ zest)

For the Whipped Cream:

1 cup heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons sugar

Preheat your oven to 350F. Zest around 7 key limes and set aside. Juice enough key limes to make one cup of juice. The bag of key limes I bought said it took around 14-15, but I believe I used nearly 20. The garlic press doesn’t do the best job at getting every last drop of juice out of the limes, but it is sure a hell of a lot easier than trying to juice the each tiny lime! Strain juice through a sieve to remove any seeds and excess pulp.

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Grind the entire box of gingersnaps well in a food processor and pour into the pie dish. Add one stick of melted butter and mix with a fork. Press the crust into the pie trying to maintain an even thickness; set aside.

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Next pour the sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, and fresh key lime juice together and mix well with a KitchenAid or handmixer (I made a little extra pie filling to make some cupcakes, but only use 2 egg yolks for one pie!). Add 2 teaspoons of the key lime zest to the pie filling. Pour into the gingersnap crust pie shell and bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until set.

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Allow the pie to cool on the counter top to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator to cool completely for several hours or overnight. When you are ready to serve the pie make the whipped cream. Place a bowl and whisk in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes or until very cold. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar and one cup of heavy whipping cream to the bowl and whisk on high until the cream forms stiff peaks- around 3-4 minutes.

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Mix the remaining lime zest with a tablespoon of sugar to sprinkle on top of the key lime pie as a lovely bright garnish. Top with whipped cream, candied key lime zest, slice and serve!

 

 

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Honey Banana Bread

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Honey banana bread will have you questioning all other banana breads that came before this recipe. Honey banana bread is oh-so-moist, sweet, healthy, and delicious. I have been trying to perfect this recipe for weeks with no such luck- my test recipes for the honey banana bread varied from excessively dense and overtly sweet to dry and bouncy. At long last I finally perfected the ratio of honey: sugar: bananas to create the ultimate banana bread.

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This honey banana bread is inspired from a classic banana bread recipe from Cooking Light magazine that I have been making for years. I still have the original tattered magazine featuring dozens of banana bread recipes. While I have loved this recipe for years, I have felt like it needed some tweaking and could use a little less sugar. It began to taste dull and dry over the years, and I felt like orange blossom honey would be the answer to my banana bread woes.

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I tried this recipe for honey banana bread using 2, 3, or 4 ripe bananas. Perfection was achieved with 4 very ripe medium sized bananas. When the bananas are very ripe you are able to use less sugar while still maintaining the right balance of moisture and sweetness. Serve this delectable and moist honey banana bread with homemade honey butter for a real breakfast treat.

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Honey Banana Bread

¾ cup sugar
¼ cup orange blossom honey
¼ cup butter; softened
2 eggs
½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 very ripe bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup vanilla yogurt

Honey Butter

¼ cup softened butter
2 tablespoons orange blossom honey

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a separate bowl add the flour, baking soda, and salt and stir together; set aside. Add the softened butter, honey, and sugar to a bowl and mix well. I used my KitchenAid mixer which mixes everything incredibly well.  Now add the eggs one at a time until well incorporated, followed by the bananas one by one, vanilla yogurt, and vanilla extract.

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Next add the flour mixture slowly to the batter until just mixed. Scrape along the sides of the bowl to make sure all of the ingredients are incorporated. If you like nuts in your banana bread feel free to add a handful of chopped walnuts at this point. Pour the batter into a greased 9 x 5 loaf pan or greased muffin tins.

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Bake the honey banana bread for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. I had to cook the honey banana bread for an hour and 10 minutes. While the bread was baking I placed the half stick of butter for the honey butter on the counter so it would soften. Mix in the honey with the softened butter and slather on fresh warm slices of moist honey banana bread and enjoy with a steaming cup of coffee or black tea.

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