Summer Slow Cooking: Ropa Vieja

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This hot weather makes me hate my life. Like, I don’t really hate my life but any time spent outside involves me mumbling profanity under my breath while sweat. drips. everywhere.  I’ve been swimming a lot for sanity and whatever zen I achieve from an hour of monotonous laps is completely obliterated within 0.05 seconds of stepping outside. Cue the profanity.

I’m sorry if I complain about the heat. You know it happens every year. Just be thankful you don’t know me in real life and have to listen to me complain about it 50 times a day. Or endure my wrath when I just come in from my morning commute. 

Oh, the CTA.

Anyway, it is those days when its THIS HOT that none of us can fathom turning on the stove to cook things.  No stove! But we also want a real dinner that’s not a salad or a plate of cheese and crackers or a bowl of no-churn (oh, come on. I’m pretty sure you’ve done at least one of the above, if not all three, at some point in the past three months).  It’s those times when it’s a good idea to bust out the slow cooker.

Yup, summer slow cookin’. It’s a thing.   Or, at least it is now.

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Today’s summer slow cooker thing is ropa vieja, a dish popular throughout Latin America but most closely related to Cuban cuisine.  Yes, that translates to old clothes. No, it does not taste like old clothes. Far from it.

According to this, ropa vieja originated in the Canary Islands where, thanks to Spanish traders, the culture of the Canaries mixed and melted with that of the Caribbean.  The story goes that a poor man was expecting his family home for dinner.  Unable to afford ingredients, he prepared the dish with shredded clothes and after imparting his love on to them, the shredded clothes dish turned into the delicious beef stew that is popular today.

Cue the awww.

While it used to be considered a leftover dish, now it’s a starter dish!

I first discovered this tasty bite at one of my favorite Chicago restaurants, Carnivale, years ago, and just knew I had to do it my way when I finally got to the Caribbean part of this schtick.  Traditionally served over potatoes or rice, I’m working to do mine the Carnivale way as a sort of appetizer:  piled atop oven-crisped plantains with a drizzle of spicy avocado creme.

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Yes, I said oven-crisped.  I turned on the oven.   Don’t be mean about it-I’m not saying you have to do that to make the the ropa vieja.  The oven part is merely about presentation. The essence of the dish is still oven-free.  Keep it that way by serving with some tortillas.  

Recipe notes:  

I combined a few recipes:  This + this + my own genius = my recipe.

I was weary of the olives and capers. I’m sure you are too, but don’t be scared. It works.

Because I made this into more small bites rather than big bites eaten in a bowl, I wanted to make sure that those small bites got the goodness of all the big chunks of onions and tomatoes.  Therefore,  I pureed some of them with the broth to make a sort of sauce that coats all the meat real good.  If you’re doing this more tortilla style, this step isn’t really necessary, but I think it does add a nice bit of concentrated flavor that way.

I used fresh tomatoes because they were coming out of my ears thanks to the CSA.  Canned is a-ok.

The avocado cream calls for taco seasoning.  I have a bottle of my mix in a shaker jar that I just use whenever (thanks for the tip, Orange!).  Use your favorite. You do you.

Don’t like plantains? Like I said above you can serve this with tortillas as well. I also think regular russet potato disks would be good, and sweet potato ones will be even better. 

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Ropa Vieja
Serves 4
Slow cooker Cuban style shredded beef appetizers
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Total Time
6 hr
Total Time
6 hr
For the beef
  1. 1- 1 1/2 pounds skirt steak
  2. 1/2 large yellow onion, sliced thinly (about 1 cup)
  3. 2 bay leaves
  4. 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  5. 1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
  6. 1 tsp dried thyme
  7. 2 tsp cumin
  8. 1 tsp salt
  9. 1 tsp black pepper
  10. 1 TB red wine vinegar
  11. 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  12. 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and sliced
  13. 1 cubanelle pepper, seeded and sliced
  14. 1/4 cup green olives with pimento, coarsely chopped
  15. 1 TB capers
  16. 1 1/2 cup stock or water
  17. 14-ounces of tomatoes, canned or fresh
For the avocado cream
  1. 1/3 cup low-fat sour cream (full fat is fine, too. Use what ya got)
  2. 1/2 large avocado
  3. 1/2 lime, juiced (about 2 TB)
  4. 1 TB taco seasoning
  5. 2 plantains, peeled and sliced about 1/2" thick on a bias
  6. 1-2 TB olive oil
  7. 1/2 tsp salt
  8. Cilantro, chopped, to garnish.
Make the beef
  1. Add all the ingredients into the bowl of a slow cooker and cook on high heat for 5 hours until the beef is pull apart tender. Remove the beef and cool slightly, until it's cool enough to shred. Once it is, using two forks to shred completely (alternatively, if you have a Kitchen Aid mixer, throw the meat into the bowl with your whisk attachment and let it roll. Yes, it works. Trust.).
  2. Once the beef has been shredded, remove about 1 cup of the tomato/onion mixture and about 1 cup of the liquid and place all in a blender. Puree until smooth. Mix into the shredded beef and coat thoroughly.
Make the avocado cream
  1. Add everything to a blender and puree until smooth.
Make the plantains
  1. About 20 minutes before serving, preheat the oven to 450F.
  2. Place the sliced plantains in a large bowl. Add the oil and salt, and toss the plantain slices in the sugar mixture until completely coated.
  3. Place in a single layer on the baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes.
  4. Flip the plantains and bake another 10 minutes until crispy and brown.
  5. Assemble each bite by placing about 1 TB of the beef atop a crispy plantain. Drizzle with the cream and garnish with cilantro. And an extra squeeze of lime, why not.
Adapted from various
Adapted from various
The Hungary Buddha Eats the World http://thehungarybuddha.com/
PS: Another way I’ve managed to keep my zen and pleasant demeanor amidst the insufferable heat is by coming home at night and chilled to my Simon & Garfunkel station because I love it so much and clearly a 64 year old is strong somewhere within.  But, seriously. All oldies and goodies.  And perfect antidote to hot-blood.  What’s your favorite chill music?

PPS:  Lettuce and I leave for the lands of Ice and Eng this weekend! Keep up with our adventures and misadventures by following me on the Instagram with the hashtags #IceLondon and #AdventuresoftheHB.  I promise it’ll be fun.

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Call the Milkman: Cinnamon Tres Leches

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Many a long time ago, I first heard of this now seemingly ubiquitous dessert when Andouille raved about his aunt’s version of this sweet, milky cake.

“OHMYGODCHRISSY!  Tres leches is ugghhhh.  THE. BEST.”

I know you don’t know Andouille…but…really everyone should.  He is really just the most colorful person ever. Perhaps I’ll get him to guest post for me some day. He’s a very busy and important lawyer, so I’m not sure he would be up for it…but I’ll work on it.

Anyway, it’s no surprise that many a nation, specifically those in Latin America and the Caribbean, wants to lay claim to inventing this cake and each has its own version. Some use a base of butter cake (like this one), while others go for the sponge.  Some recipes use heavy cream, others regular milk. Some are frosted with whipped cream or a meringue, some are topped with nothing at all.  However, the consensus agrees that it’s the cake of three milks.  And all agree that it’s ugghhhh…THE. BEST.

Despite the uncertain origin, I knew that when it came time to pull out the cake pan and turn on the oven to make Andouille’s favorite dessert, of course I had to ask him for his aunt’s famous recipe.  Problem: she died.  And so did the recipe with her.

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Sunday Somethings

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Hello, Sunday.

Well, how’d the week go?  Mine was busy, but of full of fun and/or spontaneous things.  A delicious dinner at Moe’s.  Early morning SUP with Grape.  My fantasy football draft.  Book club.  And as I made my coffee this morning, a vanilla bean accidentally feel into it.  A sure sign of good things to come.

I leave for Iceland and London (#IceLondon) in T-5 days and I’m chomping at the bit with excitement. But first, the week must be earned with a few things left to do at work and at play before I leave on a jet plane.  

And oh dear, I must pack.

I found a few things here and there this week that made me not want to cry ugly tears, despite the seemingly horrible news everywhere.  Let’s discuss:

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Ten Years: Beignets and Coffee and Stories

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Hurricane Katrina.  10 years. 

I was there. Did I ever tell you that? Well, not there…not trapped in the Superdome for hours on end and not stranded on a highway somewhere.  But, I was living there that August, a second year law student.  I was one of the displaced.

An evacuee.

A refugee.

It’s a story that I’ve told countless times, and despite the passage of time, the details don’t change. It’s a week that’s been seared in my memory, and with each year, and each retelling, it’s like watching a grainy black and white movie in my head.  It was ten years ago, but it might have been yesterday.

Every story is different.  So sit back with a cafe au lait while I tell you mine.

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Out and About: Moe’s Cantina

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Earlier this week, I had the privilege of sampling new menu items from Moe’s Cantina in River North here in the Chi.  Let me tell you, I’m one lucky girl.

Now I know that some would argue that Mexican food is Mexican food is Mexican food, and to some extent, you’re right- a lot of it is the same.  However it’s how you make the same, different, and what really struck me about this particular menu was that the restaurant really made an effort to highlight the cuisine in Northern Mexico.  Since you know I’m all about the regional cuisine and spent a solid week cooking Northern Mexican food on my own, the menu at Moe’s is certainly worth a shout out.

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First, let’s recap the food of Northern Mexico.  Northern Mexico consists of an enormous area spanning dry and semi-arid regions from the Baja area on the Pacific coast to the Gulf of Mexico and expanding southwards toward central Mexico.  The climate and conditions in this region lends itself to cattle ranching and dependence on wheat. Therefore, in this area, the food actually is the familiar: flour tortillas, meat and for this dinner, we had a lot of the latter two.

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Be Nice: Jerk Chicken Drummies with Cool Mango Cilantro Dip

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This past Saturday and Sunday were two of my favorite days. Not necessarily because of what happened, which was not all that much, but because they were my favorite types of days.  A few errands, a little bit of exercise, quite a bit of cooking and a lot of reading.  Lost in thought, serenaded by Frankie Valli, Simon & Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

The best days.

One of the recipes that I churned out was this one:  Jerk chicken drummies with a cool mango cilantro dipping sauce.

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Nothing jerky about it.

While the traditional way to cook anything jerkified would be over sort of flame or seasoned planks of wood (so says my Jamaican coworker), an alternative would be to grill them.  Grilling, what a concept.  Have I used my grill at all lately? Not once. I forgot to buy gas in May and then never remembered at the opportune time. As such, no grilling for me so far this summer. #Fail.

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Sunday Somethings

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Hello, Sunday.

I’m going to say what everyone is trying to deny: Summer is almost over.  Backpacks are being packed and summer vacations are winding down.  

I’m leaving finally leaving for my late-summer vacation in less than two weeks and despite all the things I think I should be doing to set sail smoothly…I have done none. I’ve been out and about playing in the streets (in the non-prostitute sense) and trying to stay foot-loose and fancy free for as long as possible.

After some patio time Friday night, I did manage to run errands after a very long walk yesterday before a cooking lesson and movie time with Kettle Corn last night. Dance ’till Dawn, perhaps the best made for TV movie of the 80’s was the order of the day. If you can track it down, I implore you to watch it. You’ll love it, and maybe secretly hate yourself for how much you love it.  It’s the original She’s All That.

But really we shouldn’t be inside watching movies. That’s for November.  For now, let’s make the best of every last second of every sunny day and spend them outside on the beach, in the beer gardens, at the street festivals.

Go forth and play.

But first, I found lots at which to gawk this week. Here we go:

Having never taken engagement pictures, I’m not sure how I feel about them, but these couples nailed it.  Lettuce and Yam swear I’m #12.

Do we need more evidence for why we need family leave? Come on, people!

Ashely Madison. A sad state of affairs, no pun intended. Clearly those on it should have realized the humans are too stupid to pull that kind of thing off for long.

I’m sorry to admit that this did prompt discussion amongst me and the girlfriends. Apparently how you clasp your bra says something about your personality.  Lettuce and I are in the minority as back claspers.

I’m over thirty! Say it loud, say it proud.  #BadassWomen #ThisisThirty.

Speaking of #BadassWomen, Heidi Klum, my girl crush, is totally one.

…and so is Kerry Washington.

…and let’s not forget our new Army Rangers.  The most elite of all.

Call me cold-hearted, but I agree that participation trophies should not be a thing. Earn it!

Vacation ideas, for your back pocket.

and finally, Beauty and the Beast.  Life lessons.

Have a good week!

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Kickstarter: Jamaican Coffee

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One morning in recent weekends past, I simultaneously made myself breakfast while making my no-churn for the week (mint, in case you were wondering) and it turns out the coffee was done brewing just as I emptied the can of sweetened condensed milk.  Kismet, if you will.  The answer to this situation seemed obvious and my coffee had the oh-so-wonderful hint of the liquid heaven that lingers in the can after it’s been emptied.

A delicious way to start the day.

And with that, this drink also became obvious.

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Because coffee is great, can’t we all agree? I think that while it’s so necessary in the morning, sometimes it’s just as necessary at night. It’s these times though that a little sumpin-sumpin extra might be needed.

Obviously.

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Plantain-Crusted Red Snapper with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

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I started today’s dish with a pretty solid plan, and then it turned into something not at all as intended, despite the plan. Better though, says I.

Inspired by the same source that spawned the delicious Shandy Dandy (dandy Shandy? I can never remember…), the plantain-crusted chicken finger with a green seasoning turned into a plantain-crusted red snapper with roasted tomatillo salsa.

Loosely-inspired, more like.

Despite that fact that I’ve sort of accidentally shunned plantains through my Caribbean tastes, they are quite prevalent over in those parts, as well as in Central and Latin America and Africa, largely due to their versatility.  You can bake ‘em, broil ‘em, fry ‘em, sauté ‘em… you get the picture.  According to Wikipedia, they’re a big deal, and the tenth most important staple that feeds the world.

And today, they serve as the breadcrumbs for my gorgeous red snapper.

Though my world travels are extensive, I’ve yet to explore the Caribbean.  While at this point it’s all hearsay, I have it on good authority from my more tropic-minded friends that red snapper is a big thing down in those crystal clear Caribbean waters.  AND it just happened to be on sale this week at the market. So, obviously meant to be on my plate.  Coated in plantains. And topped with salsa.

The salsa came about because I had too many tomatillos from my CSA these past few weeks and they needed to be eaten. There is a more traditional green sauce that accompanies a lot of Caribbean cuisines, so stayed tuned for that later. Until then, a little bit of Mexican overlap for dinner.  Plus, it’s still green, so, like I said before…still loosely-inspired.

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Prep for this is pretty straight-forward. Flour, eggs and crushed plantain chips for the coating. Let’s get a little messy.

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As a youngin, one of the tasks that often fell to us as we helped mom with dinner was breading things: pork chops, chicken fingers because most kids** like to get their hands messy and it was the perfect way to do so, and to teach us that cooking is fun.  So, call in your youngins!

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Island Flavor: Chicken Pelau

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Today, a stew.

Yes.  I know what you’re thinking- that there’s something fundamentally wrong with me since I hate hot weather and here I go making a stew when it’s 90 bazillion degree outside.

In my defense, it’s not really a stew. It’s more like a chicken and rice pot thing, but depending on how much liquid you add, it really could be stew-like.  Whatever you want to call it, it’s definitely got that comfort food feel about it.

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Now, before you click away, hear me out.  I know that right now we all prefer to eat things like salads and farm-fresh tomatoes and juicy-juicy mangos and ice cream, and the thought of something rib-sticking is honestly a little horrible.  I thought so, too, until I ate cassoulet for lunch yesterday.

Not wanting to cook during my weekend of sloth/birthday, I resorted to the freezer stores for lunch.  Cassoulet, my fall/winter favorite meal, came forth. And despite the hot weather, I couldn’t get enough. Was sad it was gone. Contemplated making a huge pot when I got home last night.  I think it’s because I go outside as little as possible and spend most of my day in an office slightly chilled thanks to the wonderfulness of air conditioning.  And for those days, rib-sticking is welcome.

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