Let me preface by saying I've had my share of 3 bottles of wine this evening- please excuse any particularly poor spelling, flubbed punctuation, or absurd hyperbole!
When I went grocery chopping on Monday, I knew i wanted to have a small dinner party some time this week- with that in mind I let my imagination wander a bit as I contemplated various cuisines and the merits of their preperation. Thinking back fondly to my last chef, I felt inspired to make a Cuban feast.
This evening's menu (as planned)
Appetizer- Quesadillias, stuffed with jalapenos, red onion, and cheddar, jack & chihuahua cheese; served with Rancharito (Mexican sour cream)
Salad- Mixed greans with cucumber, tomatoes, red bell peppers & queso fresca, served with a sherry vinaigrette
Ropa Vieja (stewed shredded beef) with cuban black beans, and rice
Dessert: Fresh fruit, and Ginger/Lime Flan
Wines- Ravenswood Chardonnay (It was already in the fridge) and Pillar Box Red (Cabernet/Shiraz)
A few things did change- read on, dear reader, read on!
On Wednesday night, after work, I began the Ropa Vieja. Though I have made this at home on several previous occaisions, I felt inspired to intensify the dish. I started with 1 1/2# flank steak which i cut in half and seasoned absurdly with S & P, Adobo, and a generous portion of ground corriander. (As a note- cilantro is traditional in most Ropa, but I just don't enjoy it... I do however, enjoy Corriander- go figure). In a 3 qt. straight sided saute pan, I seared off the beef pieces one at a time with a decent Spanish Olive oil, then set aside. Into the pan went 1/2 a spanish onion, coarsely chopped, and 4 cloves of garlic, lightly crushed. As the onions began to turn translucent, I deglazed first with 1/4 cup olive juice, then 1/4 cup Sherry vinegar. Then i added back in the beef, 4 small bay leaves, about 2 cups of water, and on a whim, 6 cloves. I brought the braise to the boil, then covered it, and threw it into a 350 degree oven for an hour.
After an Hour, I checked on my meat. The wonderful smell of simmering sweet vinegar combined with the beefy flank steak and the "Je ne sais quoi" of the cloves was wonderful, but the clove seemed a little strong... I pulled out 4 of the cloves, then recovered the braise and stuck it back in the oven.
After another hour, I tested the beef- success! Using tongs, I was able to start pulling off individual strands of the muscle. I pulled the beef out, set it in the fridge to cool, then strained the braising liquid through a china cap and began to reduce the resulting liquid. While the broth reduced, pulled the beef apart into fine shreds, about 1/8" pieces. When the liquid had reduced to a syrupy consistancy, I pulled it off the heat and reserved it.
I retuned the same pan back to the stove, added 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, then began to sweat the final veg (which I had prepared during the braise- 1/2 spanish onion, thinly sliced lengthwise, 1 ea. red & green bell pepper- seeds & ribs removed, sliced thin, 1/2 cup green olives (with pimentoes) sliced, and 1 tablespoon pickled Jalapenos, diced fine). First the onions, then the jalapenos, then the bell peppers, then the olives. I turned up the heat, deglazed with 1/4 cup of olive juice, a healthy splash of Sherry vinegar, then added in a 28oz can of pureed San Marzano tomatoes.After simmering for about 5 minutes, I had to separate out a portion for a vegetarion guest, so Input that potion in a small sauce pan on another burner and continued to simmer. Back in the main pan, I added the braising liquid reduction and then the beef. I simmered both portions for another 30 minutes, then pulled it & chilled it.
This evening, before the guests arrived, I diced up 1/2 spanish onion and 1 green pepper for the beans and prepped the rice maker with 2 cups of Jasmine rice. An hour before showtime, I assembled the Quesadillas, seared them and lay them on a sheet pan ready to go. I then began to sweat the onions and the green peppers for the beans, before eventually adding 1/2 teaspoon of ground corriander, 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, 2 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon of Sherry Vinegar, and the canned black beans to the pot to simmer for about 30 minutes. I started the Rice maker, chopped up the greens for the salad
and poured some of the white wine for my first guests.
15 minutes later, when the last guest arrived, I put the ropa vieja in a saucepan with a cup of water, covered it, and began heating it at a low simmer. I started the rice maker, then I served the salad & put the Quesadillias back in the oven.
As we finished our salads, I retreived the Quesadillias, the rancharito (garnished with greeen oinions) and killed the heat under the beans.
I served the main course family style- a big bowl of beans next to the rice with the vegetarian and meaty ropas side by side with bowls of chopped white & red & green oinion. By far the best ropa vieja I've made to date- savory with the meat flavors infusing every bite, perfect slightly chewy texture of the beef, excellent veg, pleasantly briny olive notes, and the "je ne sais quoi" of those whimsical cloves almost, but not entirely hidden beneath all of the other flavors (BTW, the cloves really add a little depth to the wines I served!). The beans were great, too, though next time I'll probably sweat the onions with some diced bacon, as I do for my refried beans (sorry vegetarians!) We ran out of rice befoe everybody got seconds, bet there were just about enough beans and nobody really missed the rice.
After dinner, We took a moment to digest, then I sliced up some bosc pear, some fuji apple and put out a plate with dried figs, some pieces of racalette cheese, and a small slab of Delice de Bourgenione (OK, I know I mispelled that, but damned if I can figure out how to spell after 3 bottles of wine!) I left my rammekins at my folks place a few weeks back, so i had to scrap the flan, but the cheese, fruit, and gummi bears I found in the cubord made up for its loss.
This was a special evening- we were celebrating a friend's soon to be permenent liberation from her old job, another's new job, and the passing of an old friend's father. We raised our glasses, shared a meal, and had a good time. I finished the evening with a Cuban cigar and now, full, drunk, and with pots and pans and dishes soaking in the sink, I'm sharing my good vibes with you all!
Good eating, everyone! Celebrate with friends and family whenever you can!