January 24, 2018

Dear friends,

My marriage to Tony has thrived when my others have failed in part because we’re both willing to compromise. Last week he drove 45 minutes so I could see the movie “The Post” and afterward endured rush-hour traffic for carryout from a Cuban restaurant.

A few days later I accompanied Tony to yet another flea market and kept my mouth shut when he carted home his fifteenth pair of hedge clippers, garish red rope lights to adorn the camper, and an 8-inch-high incense burner that looks like Stonehenge if Stonehenge were carved into naked women.

Ah, well, the Cuban food was good and “The Post” was spectacular. I even got misty-eyed when I saw the Post newsroom, which looked like every newsroom I’ve ever worked in. Editors and reporters shouted and cursed. Just about everyone smoked. A sense of urgency prevailed. We fought the good fight every day for our readers.

People ask me if I miss my career as a newspaper reporter. I miss about 12 years of it, not the last half when nobody swore, nobody smoked and the sense of urgency was tempered by middle-management editors who cared more about their careers than a good story. Ah, the good old days when a woman could enjoy the occasional cigar and no one even noticed.

On the plus side, food has changed for the better in the last two decades. The variety of fresh food available in stores has increased exponentially, and even small burgs are likely to have a restaurant or two that produce meals made from scratch with a bit of flair.

The one culinary failing of the area where I live is that no Cuban restaurants have opened yet. I have to cook the food myself or visit Florida, where I gorge on Cuban sandwiches, succulent marinated pork and fabulous Cuban bread until I’m sated. Last year I even bought, froze and brought home two Cuban sandwiches to eat later in the Ohio wasteland.

This winter I’m camping in the interior of Florida miles from a Cuban restaurant, I was aghast to discover. Enter Tony, the husband of my dreams, who doesn’t mind driving 45 minutes for dinner at my choice of restaurant.

This week at El Cubanito in Port St. Lucie I got picadillo, the best use of ground beef since meatloaf. The dish is simply ground beef sautéed with chopped olives and spices and served in a heap by itself or over rice. I like to eat it separately from the rice so the flavors remain concentrated.

Picadillo is so easy to cook that I made it later in the cramped kitchen of our camper. When I get home I think I’ll make a big batch and use some in a favorite dish of Tony’s, shepherd’s pie. Now, that’s a win/win compromise.

PICADILLO

Image

• 2 cups diced onion
• 1 cup finely chopped green pepper
• 2 tbsp. olive oil
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 pounds ground beef
• 3 canned plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
• 1 tsp. ground cumin
• 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
• 1 tsp. oregano
• 1/2 cup pitted green olives, chopped
• 1/3 cup raisins (optional)
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• Black pepper (to taste)

Sauté onion and green pepper in olive oil in a large frying pan until the onion is softened. Add the garlic and ground beef and mash the vegetables into the meat, sautéeing until the beef is no longer pink. Add the tomatoes, cumin, cinnamon and oregano. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add olives and raisins and simmer 5 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve hot beside or over rice.

GUT CHECK


What I cooked last week:

Grilled skirt steak with fig-balsamic vinegar, grilled hot peppers in olive oil, baked potatoes; scrambled eggs with country bacon and fried peppers; picadillo.

What I ate in and from restaurants last week:
No-sugar Dilly Bar from Dairy Queen; a Cuban sandwich from a gas station near Lake Placid, Fla.; a bento box of California roll, octopus tempura and chicken teriyaki over rice at Hokkaido Restaurant in Port St. Lucie; over-easy eggs, bacon, grits and toast at Gladys’ Restaurant in Okeechobee; picadillo, yellow rice and yuca fries with garlic sauce from El Cubanito’s in Port St. Lucie; oysters Rockefeller, a fried grouper finger and Tortuga Shrimp — large shrimp in a creamy garlic-lemon sauce — at The Cottage in Ft. Myers; smoky, juicy pulled pork and black-eyed peas from Honest John’s Log Cabin Bar-B-Que in La Belle, Fla; and a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Again.

THE MAILBAG

From Terri H.:

I’ve been enjoying your newsletters for years — always interesting posts and recipes. However, last week’s was disappointing — “Don’t hate”? If you’re going camping in Florida and enjoying the warm weather, good for you! I used to live in Tampa and appreciated the “snow birds” visiting from the cold, dark North. But your readers, especially those like me who live in Northeast Ohio, have been suffering with brutal, cold weather. We don’t need snarky posts about you enjoying the warm weather. I almost unsubscribed but your recipes brought back memories of my childhood in Tampa. Have some empathy.

Dear Terri:
I reread that post and I apologize. I remember just two years ago when my mood nose-dived in November and didn’t lighten up until the chives came up. Sometimes my attempts at humor bomb. This was one of them.

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