Cuban Picadillo

Cuban Picadillo | Pinky's Pantry
Growing up, my Mom always made us Picadillo, but it was a soup. It had ground beef and potatoes swimming in a tasty broth and it was absolutely delicious. So the first time I went to a Cuban restaurant and saw Picadillo on the menu, I was very surprised to learn that their version was not a soup at all! It was completely different, but equally delicious. Served with white rice, black beans, tostones (fried plaintains) and mojo (garlic sauce), it was different and to die for. I asked a couple of my Cuban friends at work what spices go into Picadillo and was surprised to learn that both of them put cumin and cinnamon in it! Well, cumin wasn’t surprising, but I only ever use cinnamon in sweet stuff like pies and desserts. So… here’s my attempt to recreate the Picadillo I had at the Cuban restaurant. I think it turned out pretty darn good!

CUBAN PICADILLO

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 lbs. lean ground beef
  • 1 tsp. salt (add more or less, to your taste)
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 large green bell pepper, seeded and cut in cubes
  • 1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
  • 1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 3 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup pimento stuffed olives, sliced
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  1. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy pan set over medium high heat.
  2. Saute onions and garlic for about 2 minutes, then add ground beef.
  3. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until beef is browned through.
  4. Stir in green bell pepper, diced tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, vinegar, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, and bay leaf.
  5. Lower heat and let simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Stir in olives and raisins and let simmer for another 8-10 minutes more.

Spanish Croquetas (Croquettes)

Croquetas | Pinky's Pantry
My very first boyfriend was a friend of my brother’s. A tall, young man of Spanish descent, he was a fun guy with a great sense of humor. The first time I met him, he was completely bald. I don’t remember if he shaved his head on a dare or whether he lost a bet, but it was a pretty gutsy thing to do, especially in those days when being bald was definitely NOT the in thing to be. We were in high school and crazy about each other. But like many teenage romances, a long-term relationship wasn’t in the cards for us and we ended up going our separate ways. We’re both married with kids now, but we’re still friends to this day. He lives with his family in Spain where he works as a chef. This recipe is his. He wrote it out for me in a mixture of English and Spanish with the measurements in the metric system. I re-wrote it to make it a little more understandable and put in the American equivalents for the metric measurements.

Croquetas or croquettes are little fried dumplings which are very common all over Spain. Every tapas bar serves them and every housewife has her own favorite recipe. It’s my understanding that they sprung from very humble beginnings – it was a way to incorporate leftover scraps of ham or fish with cheap ingredients so they wouldn’t be wasted, but instead resulted in a whole new dish.

The most popular croquetas are made with jamón Serrano (Serrano ham), bacalao (cod), pollo (cooked chicken), or atún (tuna). However, croquetas are very versatile and lend themselves to almost any “add-in” you can think of, like carne molida (ground beef), setas (mushrooms), espinaca (spinach), camarónes (shrimp), queso (cheese), and so on. These little dumplings are so delicious with their creamy, soft interior and crispy, golden exterior. They practically melt in your mouth! Once you start eating them, it’s hard to stop at just one!

CHEF MARI’S CROQUETAS

  • 1 liter (4 cups) whole milk
  • 220 gms. (2 cups) flour
  • 220 gms. (1 cup) butter
  • 2 medium onions
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 300 gms. (⅔ lb.) jamón (ham), bacalao (cod), pollo (cooked chicken), atún (tuna) or 3 cups grated cheese (manchego, cheddar, gruyère, gouda, or whatever you like)
  • flour, beaten eggs, and breadcrumbs, for coating the croquetas before frying
  1. Finely chop the onions.
  2. If adding ham or chicken, mince the meat; if adding tuna or cod, flake the fish.
  3. Heat the milk in a saucepan over low heat.
  4. While waiting for the milk to heat, melt the butter in a large frying pan.
  5. Sauté the onions in the melted butter over medium-low heat.
  6. Once the onions are soft, add in the flour all at once.
  7. Keep cooking the butter-onion-flour mixture, stirring constantly, about 10-15 minutes.
  8. While the flour mixture is cooking, the milk should be almost to the boiling point.
  9. Once the flour mixture is fully cooked, pour in about ⅓ of the milk while stirring constantly. You will see it thicken almost immediately.
  10. When the milk is well incorporated into the flour mixture, add the rest of the milk, stirring slowly until well combined.
  11. Season with salt and pepper to taste. You will now have a thick bechamel.
  12. Keep stirring for another 2-3 minutes, then add whatever ingredient you’re using (ham, cod, etc.).
  13. Cook for another 3-5 minutes, then transfer to a pyrex dish and cover with saran wrap completely pressing out all the air.

NOTE:  These instructions are for meat, fish or vegetable croquetas. If you want croquetas de queso (cheese), cook the mixture for 4-5 minutes in Step 12, remove the bechamel from the heat, add the grated cheese and stir to blend well, then transfer to a pyrex dish and continue on with the recipe.

  1. Let cool almost to room temperature, then place in the fridge to cool completely.
  2. Once the mixture has cooled completely, roll the croquetas into fat little logs about the length of your thumb. You will find that the bechamel is nice and easy to roll in your hands; not sticky at all.
  3. Set out 3 pie plates, one with flour, the second with beaten eggs, and the third with bread crumbs.
  4. Roll each log first in the flour to coat, then the beaten eggs, and finally the bread crumbs.
  5. Deep fry the croquetas until golden brown.

NOTE:  You should get 30-40 croquetas from this recipe. The croquetas can be made ahead and frozen. Whenever you feel like eating a few, just bring out however many you want from the freezer and let them defrost before deep frying. You could also pull some out of the freezer the night before and let them defrost in the fridge overnight.

Gazpacho Shots

Gazpacho Shots | Pinky's Pantry
I love Gazpacho. It’s such a cool, refreshing soup. So nice on a warm summer’s day. Gazpacho is a traditional Spanish dish. It’s popular all over Spain and is made from a mixture of fresh raw veggies that typically include tomatoes and cucumbers. The soup also includes oil and vinegar, and in many cases, stale bread is added. The ingredients are pureed into a soup and served cold.

I really like Ina Garten’s recipe from her classic Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I usually make it when we want a light lunch, or when the weather outside erases my perpetual eagerness to slave over a hot stove. Today I decided to serve the Gazpacho as an appetizer instead of a meal. I poured it into shot glasses and balanced a little parmesan crouton on top of each glass. Don’t they look cute?
Gazpacho Shots | Pinky's Pantry

GAZPACHO SHOTS

  • 1 hothouse cucumber, halved, not peeled
  • 2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded
  • 4 medium tomatoes
  • ½ red onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups (23 ozs.) tomato juice
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup good olive oil
  • ½ tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  1. Roughly chop the cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and red onions into 1-inch cubes.
  2. Put each vegetable separately into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until coarsely chopped. Do not overprocess!
  3. After each vegetable is processed, pour into a large bowl
  4. Add the garlic, tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  5. Mix well and chill before serving. The longer gazpacho sits, the more the flavors develop.
  6. Pour into shot glasses.
  7. Top each glass with a parmesan crouton on a small skewer.

NOTE:  To make the parmesan croutons, slice some hearty French or Italian bread into cubes and place them in a ziploc bag. Pour in a little melted butter and some grated parmesan cheese. Zip the bag closed and shake until the bread cubes are well coated. Spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake at 350ºF until they’re crisp and golden brown.

Carne con Aceitunas de Tita Elvie (Aunt Elvie’s Beef with Olives)

Carne con Aceitunas | Pinky's Pantry
Tita Elvie (Aunt Elvie) was my best friend Pooh’s mother-in-law. She was a deeply religious woman with a sweet disposition and a kind heart. Pooh loved her dearly and still misses her to this day.

There are some things about Tita Elvie that I always remember, like how she prayed the rosary every single day without fail and included a long litany of the names of each one of her dead relatives at the end of every rosary. She didn’t forget anybody! I remember how she quietly went about doing her housework without complaint no matter how tired she was. And she saved any and all leftovers, whether it was as big as a half a pan of lasagna or as small as two little shrimps. But most of all, I remember her cooking.

She had a repertoire of dishes that were her family’s favorites. This meat dish was my favorite. She didn’t have any measurements for the ingredients. She would just throw everything together. So these measurements are my own. She also didn’t have a name for this dish so I gave it a Spanish name because it always makes me think of something you might be served in Spain with a green salad and a nice glass of Tempranillo wine.

CARNE CON ACEITUNAS DE TITA ELVIE

  • 3 lbs. beef chuck or tri-tip, cubed
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • flour for coating beef
  • 1 stick butter or margarine
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ small onion, chopped
  • ½ cup white wine (I like sauvignon blanc)
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 3 tsp. worcestershire sauce
  • 1 small jar olives, drained
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  1. Season beef cubes with salt and pepper.
  2. Coat seasoned beef cubes with flour, shaking off excess.
  3. Melt half the butter or margarine in a pot or deep skillet and fry the beef in batches, adding more butter as necessary. Set cooked beef cubes aside.
  4. Once all the beef is fried, add olive oil to the pan.
  5. Sauté garlic and onions in olive oil.
  6. Add white wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the browned bits at the bottom.
  7. Add beef broth and worcestershire sauce.
  8. Return beef to pan and add olives.
  9. Cook until beef is tender.
  10. Thicken sauce with parmesan cheese.

NOTE:  My ratio of broth to wine is 1 cup beef broth : ½ cup wine. You make as much gravy as you like by adding as much broth and wine as you like following this ratio. My kids like a lot of gravy but I would start with 1 cup of broth and ½ cup wine, and then go up from there depending on how saucy you want the dish.

Spanish Chocolaté

Spanish Chocolaté | Pinky's Pantry
Churros are a traditional and beloved Spanish snack. They are often served with little cups of chocolaté (pronounced cho-ko-lah-tay) for dunking. There are churrerias all over Spain where you can get churros con chocolaté. However, the Spanish chocolate drink is nothing like our American hot cocoa. Spanish chocolaté is thick and when I say it’s thick, I mean thick. But it’s rich and creamy and oh-so-delicious. It’s the perfect complement to the crispy churros.

Growing up in the Philippines where the Spanish influence is very strongly visible in our food, I always had hot chocolate prepared the Spanish way. My Mom would buy these chocolate tablets or tableas as they were commonly known which were made from locally grown cacao beans. The brand we used most often was Antonio Pueo Chocolate which was founded by a Spanish immigrant and has been manufactured in the Philippines since the early 20th century. It’s easy to find here in the States but if you can’t find it, you could substitute Mexican chocolate in a pinch. Pueo chocolate tableas come in two forms – pure cacao tablets which are wrapped in gold paper, and cacao-and-milk tablets which are wrapped in white paper. I prefer to use the gold-wrapped tablets, though the white ones work just as well.

In the Philippines, traditional chocolaté (or tsokolaté) is prepared by placing chocolate tableas in a pot with some water and then setting it on the stove to boil until the chocolate dissolves. The mixture is then transferred to an iron pitcher called a tsokolatera, after which milk and sugar are added, and then it is hand-beaten with a utensil called a batidor which is like a wooden stick with a carved knob at one end. You hold the handle of the batidor between your two palms and then rub your palms together back and forth causing the batidor to spin left and right. This is the hard part. You spin and spin and spin and spin some more until you’re sure your arms are going to fall off, but as you spin the batidor, the chocolaté froths up into a creamy, thick, slightly grainy concoction that smells divine and tastes like heaven. Some people like to add ground peanuts to their chocolaté which gives it a delicious nutty flavor.

I make my chocolaté the lazy man’s way which is definitely easier on your arms than using a batidor though you still have to whisk. No getting around that. But first I pulverize the tableas until they’re crushed into small pieces because they dissolve much faster that way. I also add a little cornstarch to my mixture which helps ratchet it up to the Spanish level of thickness.

SPANISH CHOCOLATÉ

  • 1 pack (7.4 ozs.) Antonio Pueo Chocolate Excellent (in the gold wrapper)
  • 3 cans evaporated milk
  • 1 can condensed milk (you won’t use the whole can)
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in ¼ cup milk or water
  1. Crush the chocolate tablets in a food processor or place them in a ziploc bag and pound them with a meat tenderizer or rolling pin. It is not necessary to pulverize them to a powder. Just crush them into small pieces.
    Crushed Chocolaté | Pinky's Pantry
  2. Combine crushed chocolate and evaporated milk in a heavy-bottomed pot, stirring with a wire whisk to combine.
  3. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. This can take some time so just be patient and keep whisking.
  4. Meanwhile, taste the mixture for sweetness. If you think it’s not sweet enough, whisk in ¼ cup condensed milk and taste again. I would start with ¼ cup and go from there. If you want it still sweeter, just add more condensed milk, little by little, till it reaches the sweetness you desire. I find that ¼ cup is plenty sweet for me, but if my daughter Bashful had her way, she’d pour the whole can of condensed milk in!
  5. Once chocolaté starts to boil, reduce fire to low, and whisk in cornstarch mixture.
  6. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until chocolaté is thick and smooth. If the chocolaté doesn’t seem to be thickening, raise the fire a little to bring the mixture up to a boil again. Don’t forget to keep stirring so it doesn’t burn!
    Spanish Chocolaté | Pinky's Pantry
  7. Pour into demitasse cups and serve with churros. We also love it with hot pan de sal or ensaimadas. Yum!

NOTE:  I have made this with both the pure cacao in the gold wrapper and the cacao with milk in the white wrapper using my same recipe. Both work fine. Even though the white-wrapped Pueo tablets already have milk in them, there’s no need to adjust the amount of evaporated milk you use. That being said, I like the pure cacao in the gold wrapper better. It has a much richer, bolder chocolate flavor.

Spanish Churros

Churros con Chocolaté | Pinky's Pantry When I was a child growing up, there was a pastry shop called Dulcinea Cafe that served “Churros con Chocolaté.” My parents and grandparents would take us there occasionally for a special treat. Churros are a traditional Spanish fried pastry that is eaten as a snack, or for breakfast, or even dessert. In Spain it is served with little cups of thick, rich Spanish hot chocolaté for you to dunk your churros in.

Churro dough is simple to make with ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry. The dough is placed into a churrera, which is like an old-fashioned cookie press or an icing tube equipped with a star-shaped opening at the end of the nozzle. The dough is piped out into little sticks or loops straight into a pot of hot oil where it fries to a beautiful golden brown. The churros are then removed from the oil, placed on a paper towel briefly to absorb any excess oil, and then quickly rolled in sugar while still warm.

It’s important to use a star tip when piping the dough out into the hot oil because the ridges that are formed help to ensure that the hot oil comes in contact with more of the dough so the churros get cooked evenly through to the center. Also, the churrerías (churro shops) in Spain traditionally roll their churros in plain white sugar, but you could roll them in a cinnamon-sugar mixture if you like (1 cup sugar + 2 tsp. cinnamon).
Churros con Chocolaté | Pinky's Pantry

SPANISH CHURROS

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • canola oil for deep frying
  1. Stir flour and baking powder together in a small bowl; set aside.
  2. In a saucepan, boil water, butter, salt and sugar together.
  3. When boiling, remove pan from heat and add in flour mixture all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon until dough is smooth and forms a ball.
  4. Pour 2-3 inches of canola oil into a high-sided pot and heat to about 370ºF.
  5. Spoon dough into churrera and pipe 3-inch lengths over hot oil, cutting with a knife.
  6. Deep fry until light golden brown.
  7. Briefly remove to paper towels to absorb any excess oil.
  8. Roll churros in sugar.
  9. Serve with hot chocolaté for dipping.

NOTE:  This recipe makes about 60 churros depending on how long you pipe out your churros. You could easily halve the recipe if you don’t want to make so many.

When frying, if the churros burst open before they brown, your oil isn’t hot enough. But be careful. If your oil is too hot, the churros will brown too quickly on the outside and will be raw on the inside.

Churros can be made in advance and frozen. Just pipe the raw dough out onto a cookie sheet, cover with saran wrap and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the churros to a ziploc bag and keep them in the freezer until ready to fry. Churros can be fried directly from frozen.

Filipino Menudo

Filipino Menudo | Pinky's Pantry
Menudo is a dish of latin origins. Its Filipino roots probably stem from the Spanish who colonized the country in the 1500’s. Menudo is extremely popular in Mexico where the dish is traditionally prepared with tripe and is believed to be a cure for hangovers. We don’t make it with tripe in the Philippines, nor have I ever heard of anyone eating it to combat a hangover, however, the dish is just as popular on the islands as it is in Mexico. Many fiestas and holiday gatherings include a platter of Menudo on the table.

My family loves Menudo. In fact, it’s probably No. 1’s second favorite dish next to Mechado (which is a very similar stew except made with beef). We always serve Menudo with hot, white rice which provides the perfect backdrop to absorb every bit of the flavorful sauce. The tender morsels of pork and vegetables swimming in a rich, tomato-based gravy can be very addicting. It’s hard not to go back for seconds!

Yet for all its deliciously complex, slow-braised flavor, the dish is surprisingly easy to prepare. You can substitute Prego Sauce for the tomato sauce if you like which I usually do when I’m making a large amount for a party simply because Prego Sauce comes in those gigantic jars. You could also make this in a slow cooker. Just put all your ingredients in the crock pot and turn it on low for 6-8 hours.  Yum!

FILIPINO MENUDO

  • 3-4 lbs. fatty or well-marbled boneless pork (shoulder, butt, etc.)
  • 5 carrots, peeled
  • 6 potatoes, peeled
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 large can (28 ozs.) tomato sauce or Prego Sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (undrained)
  • 1 large red or green bell pepper
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Cut the pork into ½-inch cubes.
  2. Dice the carrots, potatoes and bell pepper into ½-inch cubes.
  3. In a large pot, fry the onions and garlic until soft but not brown.
  4. Add the pork, carrots, tomato sauce, water, and diced tomatoes (with the juice).
  5. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the pork and carrots are tender. If you think the dish is too dry, add more tomato sauce till the sauce reaches the consistency you like.
  6. Add the potatoes and bell pepper and continue simmering until the potatoes are soft.
  7. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.

NOTE:  The traditional Filipino recipe also calls for the addition of 1-2 lbs. of cubed pork liver, 1 can of garbanzo beans and 3/4 cup of raisins. I omit these ingredients because my kids don’t like them in Menudo, but you can certainly add them if you want to go the more traditional route.