Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dreaming Of Sun, Surf & Cuban Food

I like surprises. Wait, let me correct myself - I like pleasant surprises. As I sit here thinking about the week-long vacation that DH and I will soon be on, I can't help but wonder what surprises I have in store for me. Because isn't that the basic point of taking a vacation, folks? To get away from the routine of your life for a few days, and let yourself be carried away by new experiences? Why yes, I do believe it is (sorry, there I go again, answering my own questions!). So I'm excited. I'm nervous. Periodically plagued with bouts of anxiety, but blessed with moments of anticipatory exhilaration. And the bizarre thing is that I'm only going to Seattle! Not exactly the most exotic, unknown locale out there. But still, it's a place where I've never been.

It's got me thinking about some other wonderful vacations DH and I have taken together. For instance, Key West was full of pleasant surprises. Especially when it came to their food scene. I'm telling you dear readers, I had some of the best food ever during that week we were there. There are so many restaurants I can talk about, but one that really stands out is El Siboney. DH and I had our very first taste of Cuban cuisine there. And no other restaurant we've been to since has lived up to that first tastebud-stunning experience. I remember it all so clearly too. The piping hot tostones, the cafe con leche, the grilled garlic chicken, the creamy flan, the guave cheesecake, and most of all, the ropa vieja. Man. Oh. Man. Ropa Vieja (pronounced ro-pa vee-ay-ha) is a Cuban beef stew (and literally translates to "old clothes") where the shredded meat is so tender that it literally melts in your mouth. I was ecstatic when I found Caitlin's recipe on her blog, The Alchemist Chef. I've followed her recipe pretty closely, and each time I make it, the taste takes me right back to our warm, sunny days in Key West. *day-dreaming of azure seas, tropical trees, and Hemingway's cats*

Ropa Vieja (Cuban Beef Stew)
Serves 6-8

Click here for the printable version

2-3 lbs skirt or flank steak
8 cups water
2 large carrots, chopped
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
6-8 cloves of garlic, cut into quarters
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine all the above ingredients in a large stew pot. Bring to a simmer, cover with lid, and cook for two hours, or until meat falls apart easily using a fork. Remove meat from liquid and cool. Strain liquid from pot, and retain it. Discard vegetables and everything else that remains in the strainer.

1 green bell pepper, cut into long strips
1 red bell pepper, cut into long strips
1 orange bell pepper, cut into long strips
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into long strips
1 Vidalia onion, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups leftover braising liquid (see above)
14 oz can whole tomatoes with juice, chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup chopped Spanish olives stuffed with pimento
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2. Clean and dry original stew pot. Heat up oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, green bell pepper and garlic, then saute for 7-10 mins.

3. While peppers and onions are cooking, shred the meat.

4. Add tomatoes to stew pot. Simmer 10 mins. Then add all the meat, cumin, paprika, oregano and the braising liquid. Bring to a simmer again. Then cover and cook for 1 hour.

5. Add rest of the bell pepper and cook for another 30 mins.

6. Add chopped olives and cook for a further 15 mins.

7. Serve with crusty bread or over saffron rice. This stew tastes even better the next day, and stores well in the fridge for 3-5 days. Or you can always freeze it.

Verdict: A really hearty, comforting, filling stew. I personally like eating it with crusty white bread to sop up all the flavorful juices. But you can also use this as a great filling for tacos, or slap it on a kaiser roll to make cuban sloppy joes. DH couldn't stop singing its praises when I made this recipe for the first time, and he still gets pretty excited when he sees me cooking it again. It's perfect for all the meat-lovers in your life, because not only do they feel satisfied, but you're also sneaking in a lot of vegetables without them complaining about it.

Back to Seattle. It will actually be my first time in the Pacific Northwest. I'll finally get to see some real mountains after a very long time. Not the dinky hills they call 'mountains' here in the Northeast. Pfffffffft. No offense my fellow New Yorkers, but you know I speak true.

If some of you are wondering, "Uhhh Seattle for vacation? Really?!", here's the thing. If you've been following my blog (bless you, kind hearts!), then you'll remember that my first criteria was that this year I had to plan a budget vacation. See? Making more sense to you already, huh? I had narrowed it down to Arizona and Washington state. And although Arizona was soooooooo tempting (I could kill for some real warmth right now - it's effin' 11 degrees C out here!), Washington state won out by a hair for three main reasons: 1) Budget 2) Mountains 3) DH. The first two are self-explanatory. The third, and perhaps most compelling reason, is DH. More specifically, DH's reaction when I told him that we should go to Arizona. I believe it went something like, "WHAT?? *whiny voice* you want to take me to the middle of a desert for my one vacation of the year?". I think I've told you this about DH, but the boy likes, nay loves, the cold. So we're going to Seattle and Mount Rainier. In May. *shaking my head*

I must say though, I am looking forward to spending a few days isolated from the world, in a cozy cabin at the foot of Mt. Rainier, soaking in a hot tub till I get all pruny - romantic, no?! I can only hope. And I figure my take-away from the whole experience will, at the very least, be some awesome food. I've only heard good things about Seattle's food scene. So if any of you are from the area and have some fabulous foodie recommendations, please enlighten me! I'm all ears. And where did Anthony Bourdain go when he travelled there, do any of you remember? I almost always listen to Anthony.


Cathy said...

I love cuban food...and could live on cafe con leche.

As for'll have a blast! I grew up in Vancouver and lived there until I was 30....Seattle was a regularly jaunt for us. If you can get to Pike Place Market do it - it's fun to watch the fish mongers tossing the fish back and forth.

Caitlin said...

I am glad you like the recipe : )

Anonymous said...

This cuban stew sounds wonderful! Seattle is a lot of fun too and you will definitely have fun there!

Anonymous said...

Great to see a Pakistani expat blogging! We have so less being heard from our people abroad in the blogosphere these days. The pictures on this post are mouth watering.

DocChuck said...

My wife and I LOVE the Northwest and travel there at least every couple of years. If interested, go to my website, click on "Pics", and open folders "Our Pacific Northwest" and "Our Great Northwest" for photos of our last two adventures, and a few possible places to visit.

Enjoy your trip.

Sophie Sportende Foodie said...

MMMMM......Excellent dish!! I want a full plate right now, ...please?

Varsha Vipins said...

Welcome to Seattle..Here it rains all the time n MT: Rainier is gorgeous right now..:)..I dunno about the restaurant scenario near the mountains,but yeah we do have some great places in downtown..:)
That stew is making me go type u knw..:D..Lotsa effort I see n I wouldnt have minded to take it ,if at all my hubby would share it as well...He dont eat beef..sobs..:(

Jamie said...

Lucky lucky you! I really want to go on vacation to Seattle, but not to a cabin in the mountains :-) Seattle is supposed to be a fabulous food city, so good bye budget vacation! I'd eat my way through that great city!

This Cuban stew looks fabulous and I must try it. And I think it would be delicious on a bun. Yum!

Have a great vacation!

Mike said...

I'm going to cook this Friday, let you know how it turns out. I'm really looking forward to it. Thanks.