Thursday, April 29, 2010

¡Lo Siento!

I know, I'm the worst blogger ever.  It's been way too long.  I miss y'all!  Here's what's been keeping me away from you:

That's right.  That is my doctoral hood.  I picked up my graduation regalia today because in 11 days, I will be Dr. Gringa!  Our research paper is done, we're finishing up our research poster, and I'm taking a 6-day course in vestibular competency.  Each day is about 12 hours long, so I don't have much energy left to write when I get home.  But to be honest, there isn't much to write about because they're feeding me so I haven't been cooking!

Again, loyal readers, I apologize.  I promise I will be back to cooking and back to writing as soon as I'm done with this madness!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Kitchen Fit for a Gringa

One of the very first things we did when we got engaged was get registered.  Hey, if people wanna buy us presents, I'm gonna give them that opportunity!  We were sure to include kitchen items that were conducive to Cuban cuisine.  I thought y'all would appreciate those ideas for your own cocinas!

A roasting pan is the cornerstone of any Cuban kitchen.  Why?  Because pork is the cornerstone of Cuban cuisine.  It is important to have a good roaster, and this one (by Calphalon) is rather inexpensive!

A muddle is essential to good mojitos.  Mashing limes and mint together perfectly blends the flavors together.  This muddle, by Crate and Barrel, is especially good because it's long enough to use directly in the pitcher.  Which brings me to my next point...

This pitcher is acrylic.  I know, I know, it's not as fancy as a glass pitcher (which is why we registered for one of those too), but it is a necessity.  Good mojitos need to be made directly in the pitcher and you need to be able to keep muddling them to refresh the flavors each time your guests would like a refill.  I've seen people try to do this in a glass pitcher.  It does not end well.  Get an acrylic pitcher or don't try mojitos at home.

Okay, so fun margarita glasses aren't really a necessity.  But look how fun these are!  A blender is also important, not just for margaritas but for mojito daiquiris (more on that later).

We did not actually register for a chip and dip platter because I have a really fun Florida Gators one, but I definitely think it's a necessary addition to a cocina.  Especially if you're into entertaining, this is a must have.

Source: CSN Stores
A mortar and pestle is critical to grinding fresh spices.  It's also very useful in making guacamole.  We'll have to ask our recent giveaway winner how this particular mortar and pestle worked out for him!

Source: CSN Stores
I cannot overemphasize the importance of a good skillet.  Not only that, but it's not a bad idea to have several skillets specifically made for specific dishes.  I have an omelet pan that I'm pretty much obsessed with.  This particular pan by Rachel Ray would be perfect for plantains.

I recently discussed the importance of a good cast iron skillet.  My favorite thing about this particular tool is that the older it gets, the better it is.  There's something really fun about that, and I love it.

An espresso maker is essential to good Cuban coffee (more about that later).  Some people use a stove-top kettle, some people use something as fancy as this.  We have one by Krups that I like a lot, but I couldn't resist posting this one because it's so pretty.

I always thought flan could only be served round, but I recently discovered that a loaf pan is a perfectly suitable and much easier choice!

Do you have a favorite piece of Gringa Gear in your kitchen?

Friday, April 9, 2010

And We Have a Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered our first sponsored giveaway!  A winner has been selected by a random number generator and that person has been notified.  We'll have a follow-up post as soon as the winner receives their prize!  Stay tuned for more giveaways!

Last Chance!

Don't forget!  Today is the last day to enter our first sponsored giveaway!

3 chances to win:
  1. Become a follower on here and leave a comment telling me which prize you'd like (you only get one...I know, I want all three too).  If you're already a follower, tell me that in your comment.
  2. Become a fan of Cooking for Gringas on Facebook (if you are already a fan and you live in the U.S. or Canada, you are automatically entered).
  3. Follow cooking4gringas on Twitter and retweet this contest. 
Good luck!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cast Iron Skillet Fajitas

I had a birthday recently, and one of the many fabulous presents I received from my wonderful and generous loved ones was a cast iron skillet.  The Southern girl that I am, I immediately made cornbread.  But then I got to thinking...maybe I could expand my cast iron horizons.  Maybe I could venture even further south.

I know I usually focus on Caribbean cuisine, but in honor of my friends in Cozumel, I decided to whip up some fajitas in my new skillet!  In the past, I've marinated my fajita steak at least overnight.  This time, I added alcohol to my usual marinade, allowing it to tenderize the meat during cooking.  I love when my experiments allow me to be impatient efficient!


1/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup sweetened lime juice
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound skirt steak, trimmed, not yet cut!
1 green bell pepper, julienned
1 medium yellow onion, julienned


Combine all ingredients through olive oil in a large bowl.  You may be wondering what I mean by sweetened lime juice.  I suppose you could just use regular lime juice, but the sweetness mixed with the tequila and the spices made for a killer combination.  I recommend something like Rose's...
...which you should have on hand if you like making good mojitos. 
More on that later.

Once all of your "marinade" ingredients are combined, throw the steak in there and toss a few times until fully coated.

Heat cast iron skillet on medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles off of it.  Add steak and half of the remaining "marinade."  If you use thin cuts like I do, you won't need to cook it for long...I did about 2-3 minutes on each side.  Once brown, remove from pan.

Look at that tequila bubble!

Pour remaining "marinade" into the pan.  Add veggies to the pan and toss to coat.  Cook until onions are soft.

Slice the cooked steak into strips.  Slicing it against the grain and on the bias will help to make it more tender.  Reduce heat to low, and add steak to the skillet.  Stir everything together until evenly combined.

Serve immediately with tortillas (white corn tortillas pair nicely with this recipe), cheese (sharp white cheddar again, pairs nicely) and guacamole.
Using an ordinary skillet would work too, but this color only comes from cast iron!

looks good enough to eat

Mexican food is one of the most popular genres of food in America.  What's your favorite Mexican dish?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I've always been your biggest flan

Also nominated for blog post title: "you should have put him in custardy."  If you know where these references are from, you are my new hero.

Flan is a type of custard.  You may find savory varieties throughout Europe, but flan is dulce in Latin America.  And it is good.  There are only six ingredients in most recipes, yet flan can be very difficult to make.  In fact, I have been quite intimidated by the flan for quite some time.  It doesn't help that my future in-laws make fabulous flan...such big shoes to fill!

Fortunately, I have a friend who, too, is a gringa.  We met through our men, as her husband is also a Cuban Knight (that is, he is of Cuban descent and attended the University of Central Florida).  We figured with our gringa powers combined, and with the help of her suegra, we could tackle the most daunting dessert in all the land!

Here you have it, folks.  Flan, courtesy of Señora M:


1 can condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
4 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water


Combine flan ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
Sra. M cracking some eggs

Next, combine sugar and water in a medium pan over medium-high heat.  Do not over-stir.  Just make sure the entire mixture is the same color (no dry sugar allowed).

This next part is hard.  Just watch that pan and let it sit there.  Do not touch it.  While you are waiting, get a water bath going, as you would for cheesecake.

Sra. M's mother-in-law told us to "wait until you can smell it" or "until it turns golden brown."  Well, that's the kind of vague, mystical instructions that I feel most gringas can't handle.  I'm a scientist!  I need numbers!  I want exact amounts!  A few minutes later, we started to smell it, but it still wasn't the right color.  As we debated what to do next, the mixture magically changed color to golden brown...almost instantaneously.


The boys can smell it.  Don't they look like meercats here?

That step is the trick.  If you get that part right, you're good.  Next, pour your new caramel into an ungreased loaf pan.  ¡Cuidado!  This stuff is hot!  Tip the loaf pan back and forth so that the caramel covers the entire bottom and as much of the sides as possible.  This is tricky too, because the caramel cools quickly.  It's much easier to move liquid around than it is to move molasses around, so try to work quickly.  Every time I've had flan with my future in-laws, it's round.  This was hard enough to get it in a loaf pan, and I think it would be much more difficult to cover a round pan effectively.

Our covered pan

Next, pour your flan batter over the caramel.  Place in a roasting pan and pour the water bath around it.  Place in the oven and bake at 400˚ for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

When it's done baking, it should look like this:


Let it cool overnight in the fridge.  Serve it cold.
Custard's last stand...for it shall soon be eaten.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Florida's Finest

Y'all know that I am a Florida girl, and this is one of the many Floridian habits that I just can't shake (along with craving fresh squeezed OJ and ditching the lines at Disney...FastPass anyone?)  I think it's high time that I introduce to you one of my absolute favorite secret ingredients...

Everglades Seasoning is amazing.  You use it instead of salt and pepper, but it adds a little something extra beyond that.  It has natural tenderizers in it, so it's great on meat.  It also has several other spices in it, but even the manufacturers won't reveal what those secret spices are.  ¡Que misterioso!  Everglades Seasoning also makes a low-sodium version of their spice jar, as well as a version with no MSG.  I have to admit that I have not yet purchased either of these healthier options.  A little bit of Everglades Seasoning goes a long way, and I've been working on my bottle of the original stuff for a while.

One disclaimer I will say about this stuff is that unfortunately it's not available everywhere.  It's available in most stores in the South and along the east coast.  If you have Publix in your area, you're in good shape.  Fortunately for those of you who live further away from Florida, Everglades Seasoning products are available on their website.

So what exactly can you make with Everglades Seasoning?  Allow me to introduce you to my Quick and Easy Guacalmole!

For every ripe avocado, add:
  • 1/2 teaspoon Everglades Seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Then combine in a mortar and pestle and serve.  It doesn't get any easier than that!

And speaking of mortar and pestle, don't have until this Friday, April 9th to enter our first sponsored giveaway!

One thing I love about Everglades Seasoning is the response I get when I introduce it to non-Floridians.  Do you have a secret ingredient from your hometown that you like the share with people from other areas?  How about a recipe unique to your home state?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Give Your Cocina Some Color

Y'all know I love to cook, but did you know that I also love to shop?  Not necessarily buy.  Shop.  I grew up summering in a tiny town in Massachusetts and when I wasn't at the beach, I spent my days browsing window displays of quaint New England shops.  This love has stayed with me throughout my life, and I can frequently be found strolling through the Virginia Highlands looking at little boutiques.  You know where else I like to window shop?  On the internet.

My recent find has everything from corner tv stands to cardstock (can we say printable wedding invitations?) to dog beds toys.  Yes, CSN Stores was a great find.  Not only do they have a wide variety of stores with ridiculously good deals, they have lots of great customer reviews so you can educate yourself before you buy a product...which I think is very important with online shopping.  And luckily for you, CSN Stores found me too!  Gringas y gringos, may I present to you Cooking for Gringas' first sponsored...

Readers, you have the opportunity to win one of these three fabulous prizes:
A ceramic mortar and pestle by Le Creuset, perfect for grinding fresh Caribbean Blue

 A stainless steel muddle by Rosle, great for making mojitos

  A 10" open skillet by Rachel Ray, excellent for cooking Yellow

Unfortunately, this contest is only open to residents of the U.S. or Canada.  I sincerely apologize to my Mexican readers, and I promise I will find you a giveaway soon!

3 chances to win:
  1. Become a follower on here and leave a comment telling me which prize you'd like (you only get one...I know, I want all three too).  If you're already a follower, tell me that in your comment.
  2. Become a fan of Cooking for Gringas on Facebook (if you are already a fan and you live in the U.S. or Canada, you are automatically entered).
  3. Follow cooking4gringas on Twitter and retweet this contest.
You're welcome to use all three options to enter!  One winner will be selected next Friday, April 9th at 5:00 PM.  Good luck!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Great Plantain Ripening Experiment

I've heard that you can get plantains to ripen faster by placing them in a brown paper bag with an apple.  I've also heard that you can get plantains to ripe faster by placing them in a brown paper bag with an orange.  Maybe I've been working on my research study too much, but I felt like experimenting last week.

the control, condition A (apple), and condition O (orange)

I didn't have any brown paper bags around, so I used these grocery bags from Trader Joe's and stapled closed.

1 week later: not much of a difference between the control and the two conditions

So there you have it.  A failed experiment that left me with nothing but an overripe orange.  In conclusion, you can't alter time.  That only works on Lost.