January 31, 2018

Dear friends,

The worst part of Tony’s bad cold is what it did to my Cuban food fest. Oh, sure, I have been coddling and catering to him. But he still is in no mood to travel, and the closest Cuban restaurant is 45 minutes away from our campground in Okeechobee, Fla.

That’s what compelled me to make Cuban sandwiches Sunday for just the second or third time in my life. I had to have one, preferably a clone of the fabulous Cuban I got earlier in the week at Vicky Bakery near Miami. It was the only bright spot in a god-awful, traffic-snarled 10-hour drive to Key Largo and back that Tony insisting on taking.

Most Cuban sandwiches are pressed and contain roast pork, ham and melted cheese, but from there the details get hazy. Variations abound. Vicky’s Cuban had the requisite mustard and dill pickle chips, but it had two kinds of cheese and the filling seemed slightly creamy, as if it had been kissed by mayo. The Cuban bakery, of course, also made the Cuban bread that was the backbone of the sandwich.

I started my quest for the perfect Cuban with a 3-pound pork roast, a bottle of mojo criollo marinade and a jar of sliced olives. The olives were left from last week’s fling with Cuban picadillo and I thought, what the heck, I’ll dump them in the slow cooker with the pork roast and criollo sauce.

Wow. The olives tanged up the already-tangy sour orange-garlic criollo to liftoff proportions. The resulting pork roast was spectacular, with practically no work on my part. If you want to make authentic Cuban roast pork from scratch, as I did last February,  you can find the recipe by clicking on February 2017 in the Archived newsletters to the right, and scroll for the February 16 newsletter.

But if you don’t feel like cooking or have minuscule kitchen space, as I do in my camper, you won’t be disappointed with the olive slow-cooker version. Criollo sauce can be found in the ethnic food aisle of many supermarkets, or visit a Latin market.

I bought Cuban bread for my sandwich at a local supermarket, but I won’t be that lucky when I get back to Ohio. I have made Cuban bread in the past, but a good substitute for those who don’t want to turn a sandwich into a project would be any non-sliced, soft artisan-type loaf — not, for example, a French baguette or ciabatta. The loaf should be long, fairly low, and about 4 inches wide.

Except for the roast pork, the meats and cheeses for the sandwich should be bought at a full-service deli counter. Ask that they be sliced one-eighth-inch thick. The cooked pork roast should be sliced slightly thicker at home. It is easier to slice if it is made a day in advance and chilled.

Tony thought my Cuban sandwich was better than Vicky’s. He has a bad cold, of course, but even I thought the sandwich tasted like an authentic Cuban. I will make it often when we return to the vast Cuban wasteland of Ohio.

JANE’S SEMI-EASY CUBAN SANDWICH

Roast pork with olives (recipe follows)

• 1 to 2 loaves unsliced non-crusty artisan bread about 4 inches wide and 2 inches high
• 2 tsp. yellow mustard
• 4 large slices (1/8-inch thick) jack cheese, or enough to cover 12 inches of the bread
• 4 slices (1/8-inch thick) ham
• 4 slices (1/8-inch thick) Colby cheese
• Dill pickle chips
• 2 tsp. mayonnaise
• 2 tbsp. butter

Make the pork a day in advance if possible and chill. Trim fat and cut into slices between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. Set aside.

Cut the loaf (loaves) of bread into two 12-inch-long pieces, or long enough to fit into your largest skillet. Cut each piece in half horizontally. Spread each bottom half with mustard and top evenly with Jack cheese. The cheese should cover the bread in one layer. Top with enough pork roast to just cover the bread. Top with ham, then Colby cheese, then a layer of dill pickle chips. Spread one teaspoon of mayonnaise on the cut surface of each top piece of bread. Place on top of the fillings to form two sandwiches.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Place one of the sandwiches in the skillet and weight down with another, slightly smaller skillet filled with canned goods. The idea is to press the sandwich. Cook until the bottom starts to brown and the bottom piece of cheese starts to melt.

Remove sandwich from skillet and melt another tablespoon of butter. Return sandwich to skillet, flipped over, and weight as before. Cook until golden brown. Remove from skillet and slice cater-corner into two large triangles. Repeat with remaining sandwich. Serve immediately.

MOJO-CRIOLLO CROCK POT PORK WITH OLIVES

• 1/2 of a large onion, sliced
• 1 pork shoulder roast, about 3 lbs.
• 1 bottle mojo criollo marinade, about 20 oz., or enough to come halfway up sides of roast
• 1 jar sliced green olives in brine (about 1 1/2 cups with liquid)

Spread onion slices in the bottom of a slow cooker. Place pork roast on the onion slices. Pour the mojo criollo marinade around the roast. Dump the olives (with juice) over the roast. Cover and cook on high power for about 6 hours or until tender but not falling apart, turning roast twice.

GUT CHECK

What I ate out last week:

Grilled chicken breast, cottage cheese and fruit from Pogey’s Restaurant in Okeechobee, Fla.; Cuban sandwich, empanada from Vicky Bakery in Miami, Fla.; cheeseburger from McDonald’s; egg McMuffin from McDonald’s; Vietnamese egg roll, grilled pork banh mi from Saigon Restaurant in Okeechobee; a cake doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts.

What I cooked last week:
Criollo mojo-marinated Cuban pork with olives in the slow cooker; Cuban sandwiches; shrimp with garlic-lemon butter sauce and cilantro.

Shrimp with garlic-lem butter sauce and cilantro


Food moment of the week:

While bobbing in a pool ringed with palm trees —
Tony: Why aren’t there any coconuts?
Me: Because those are cabbage palms.
Tony: Wow! Really??

THE MAILBAG

From Cheryl S.:
A lot of recipes call for bay leaves, which don’t seem to do much flavoring. For brothy soups, I’ve had luck by breaking up the leaves and putting them in a screen tea ball and hanging it in the pot, which I’m not inclined to do with pasta sauce, etc. I was thinking of buying a bay laurel this spring and wonder if there is a difference when using fresh bay leaf instead of dried.

Also, I remember you moved your rosemary plant indoors to your unheated porch with lots of windows. How did that work out? Mine always die within a couple of months of moving them indoors, whether in direct or indirect sunlight.

Dear Cheryl:
My rosemary always died indoors, too, which is why I started wintering the bushes in our mud room. The first year, the rosemary survived the winter. The second winter, when temperatures dropped below zero and stayed there for a while, the bush died. I gave up for a few years and just replanted rosemary every summer. I’m trying to over-winter my third bush this year.

For years I, too, spurned bay leaves. The aroma and flavor of dried leaves seemed so faint that I left them out of many recipes. Then I tasted a blanc mange flavored only with fresh bay leaves. The flavor was haunting. Later, a friend gave me a few leaves from her live plant and I used them in various dishes as they dried. Since then, I have exchanged old for new dried leaves regularly and use them when called for, trusting that they provide an undercurrent of flavor. Each winter I vow to hunt down a live bay bush in the spring, but haven’t so far. If you find one, let me know. Like rosemary, it must be brought inside for the winter.

From S.H.:
I will surely try your picadillo (from last week’s newsletter); but when I checked over your photo of the plate (of food), I could see the picadillo, the rice and what was the other yellow food?

Dear S.H.:
Those are yuca fries with garlic sauce. They have a texture similar to potato. The flavor is mild. I am obsessed with fried yuca. Yuca is also known as “cassava.”

From Noreen Stone:
There is a man in Port Clinton who sets up a food truck in the summer at 480 SE Catawba Road and sells Cuban sandwiches. He used to have a small restaurant in Marblehead which I miss greatly. He would whip up great vegetarian options for us. Oh, and if you’re nice to him, he’ll sing a bit of Elvis for you. He is also an Elvis impersonator.

Dear Noreen:
How can you lose with a one-two hit like that? Elvis and Cuban sandwiches?! I’m in love.

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