Our Cuban Family
When we moved to Sarasota, Florida in 2001, we had been there for about two days when we discovered a Cuban Restaurant called, “El Habanero.” Well we had never had Cuban food, and knew we had to try it! We had been inside for all of maybe three minutes, when I noticed Michala was just giggling away. There was a man, Alfredo, waving at Michala from the swinging door by the kitchen, and playing peek-a-boo with her. Alfredo eventually became our “adopted” uncle, and we call him “Tio Alfredo.” As a matter of fact, their entire family became our “adopted family” and our home away from home. “Mama Alicia” would not allow us to be in her home more than five minutes without some sort of drink and food in our hands! Alina is my “Cuban sister” and her daughter, Aliana, is my “Cuban niece.” Anyway, after we had been in Sarasota for a while, I found myself getting rather homesick. When I would feel like this, we would always go over to “Habanero” for some comfort food, and home loving! You can imagine how the following scene tugged at my heart, and etched a memory that I will never forget. My parents came down for a visit, and we all went to Habanero for lunch. As we were leaving, our new family was walking my parents, husband and Michala out along with me. “Mama Alicia,” my Cuban mother, embraced my mother, and the two of them cried. The language barrier was there, but in that moment in time, there was no loss in translation. My mother cried, as she thanked “Mama Alicia” for loving and taking care of us. “Mama Alicia” hugged my mother, and cried … thanking my parents for “sharing” us with them. We still remain close, and always stay in touch … but we miss our Cuban family. They are not only friends for life, they are our family. The day we moved, we went by the restaurant one more time, to say goodbye yet again. So the following recipes are from Alicia, who we also call “Abuela Alicia” because she treated Michala like her own grandchild. So as you enjoy these recipes, know that they were given to us in great love.
The recipes are exactly as Alicia gave them to me. Enjoy!
ARROZ CON POLLO (Rice with Chicken)
You must start with Caldo de Pollo (Chicken stock) Cook a chicken in a large pot of water with salt, garlic, oregano, pepper, an onion, bay leaf, one can of tomato sauce, and any other seasonings you may want. (I personally will use Sazón Completa). Remove the chicken.
Place rice in a large bowl with water for half an hour. Put rice in a large pot with a little bit of the stock and cook as you would risotto (which means you ladle the liquid into the rice, as the rice is absorbed), salt, pepper, minced garlic, about a Tablespoon of cumin, and a pinch of ground saffron. (**You may want to add beer at this point). Continue to cook this over low heat for about two hours, but after one hour, add the chicken. Add a bag of frozen peas and pimientos and cook until the peas are heated through. Transfer to a large serving bowl and arrange the chicken pieces on top.