Friday, March 4, 2011

The Cuban Dinner Crisis

I was beyond excited about my son's upcoming 9th grade Spanish project, laid out in detail in a letter home that we had to sign:

Spanish Cooking and Family Dinner Assignment
  1. You are to have a “Family Dinner”, Spanish style
  2. You are to cook Spanish or Latin American dishes. (Except Mexican; I’m sure you’ve tried it. Do not do Brazilian they don’t speak Spanish.)
  3. You are to make dinner and dessert.
  4. You are to have your parent/s read about this assignment before you start the project. Remember, most of your family has to be available.
  5. You are to set and clear the dinner table in a timely fashion. To wash dishes and clean kitchen on the same day! Parents will grade you on this point (A, A-, B+…. F)
  6. You are to consult with your parent/s, or make them aware if the recipe calls for an alcoholic beverage as one of the ingredients. It may be eliminated without any major change or consequences to the flavor of the dish.
  7. You are to have your parent/s write a candid and honest note with an evaluation about your special Spanish assignment.
Me:  This is so GREAT!!!  When do we start?  What do you think we should make?
Him:  Mom.  Read the paper you just signed.  See where it says I have to cook the dinner?  On my own?  Without you? So I can get a good grade for my class at school?  There is no we here.
Me:  Oh.  Right.  Of course.  Got it.  Sure, honey.  No problem.

I leave the room and come back carrying a huge stack of cookbooks, food magazines, recipe binders and and dog-eared class handouts.  I drop the whole pile with a thud next to his desk.

Me:  Here you go!  I thought you might want to get started with these to begin with, and I have more online resources if you need them.  I can highlight some options for you, or we can...
Him:  You are getting an F in understanding this project.   It's MY project. Go away.
Me:  OK.  But I would seriously think about something from Central America...maybe Costa Rica?  You know Daddy and I went on our honeymoon there and the food was really good.  They have this side dish called Gallo fact, I'm pretty sure I have a picture somewhere that I can dig up...

[The door slams in my face]

Me: (to the closed door) Or, you could do like a tapas kind of thing?

He walks in the door a few days later.

Me:  So, what do you think?  Peruvian food?
Him:  For dinner tonight?
Me:  For your PROJECT!  For Spanish!
Him:  No.
Me:  Argentinean mixed grill?
Him:  Arrgh!! You are driving me crazy!!!!
Me:  Now, how would you say "you're driving me crazy" in Spanish?  You need to practice your conversational skills, honey.
Him:  Mi madre es muy loco en la cabeza.

Choosing based primarily, I think, on the idea that a drink made with Coke is a matter of national pride*, he decides to go Cuban.   Leafing through the recipes from a Cuban cooking class I took, he immediately discards any dishes that have more than 10 ingredients, or where the instructions are longer than a paragraph.   I bite my tongue, even though I really want the whole baked fish with this amazing sofrito sauce with tomatoes and peppers and...

His project.  Not mine. Deep breath.

Me:  Sounds good.  So, we've got the pork, the rice, the beans, and ice cream and cookies for dessert?
Him:  No beans.
Me:  But...
Him:  No beans.  I don't like beans.  I don't need to make beans. No beans.
Me: (wailing) It's not Cuban food without black beans!   Come's not much extra work.  I'll help!
Him:  No. Beans.  And you CAN'T HELP!!!

And suddenly, this international goodwill project has escalated into the Cuban Dinner Crisis.  We are at a standoff.

Knowing I can't deploy the black beans made from scratch into his menu, particularly since I have been banned from food preparation, I sneak a can of black beans into the grocery bag.

He puts them away in the cupboard.

I take them back out, and mix them in as unobtrusively as possible with the other ingredients on the counter.

He glares at me.

I mention in passing that I will be grading him on this assignment.

We have beans. And an absolutely delicious Cuban dinner to go with them.

Making a garlic paste for the Mojo
Enjoying the use of the chef's knife a bit too much

Juicing oranges and limes

Seasoning the pork roast

Getting a nice sear on the meat

The savory, tender, and juicy finished product.  Que saboroso! 

Note the beans on the top left.  Wouldn't have been the same without them.

The perfectly clean dinner table.  He earned that A.

The Student Chef, enjoying his own homemade vanilla ice cream for dessert

A+ Puerco Asado with Mojo Criollo
Adapted from a recipe from The New School of Cooking

One 4 lb. boneless pork loin, trimmed
14 cloves garlic, (you will use 6 for the pork and 8 for the onion mojo)
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 bay leaves, crushed
3/8 c. fresh lime juice (1/4 c. for the pork, and 1/8 c. for the onions)
1/2 c. fresh orange juice (1/4 c. each for the pork and the onions)
1 c. red wine
1/8 c. fresh lemon juice
1 medium onion, very thinly sliced
1/2 c. olive oil, plus extra for browning the pork

For the pork:
Several hours before cooking, score the roast all over the surface with a sharp knife.  Place the roast in a non-reactive dish.  In a mortar, combine 6 garlic gloves, 1/2 tsp. oregano, and 1/2 tsp. salt and mash into a paste.   Rub the garlic paste all over the roast.  Season liberally with pepper, and sprinkle the crushed bay leaves on top.   Combine 1/4 c. of orange juice, 1/4 c. of lime juice, and the red wine, then pour the combined liquids over the roast.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours, turning several times.

Preheat the oven to 350.   Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in your roasting pan over medium high heat.   Remove the roast from the marinade, pat dry, and season again with salt and pepper.  Reserve the marinade in the refrigerator.   Sear the roast on all sides until nicely brown, about 2 minutes each side.  Transfer to the oven and roast for about an hour, until a meat thermometer reads 150-155.  Halfway through cooking time, add marinade to the roasting pan, and baste frequently with the pan juices.  Transfer to a serving platter, cover with foil, and allow to rest 10-15 minutes.  The resting is important, as the pork will continue to cook, and it needs this extra time.  Collect any remaining pan juices, cook over high heat for a minute or two, then serve with the pork and the Mojo Criollo, below.

For the Mojo Criollo (citrus-garlic fried onions):
Place 8 cloves of garlic and 1 tsp. salt into a mortar, and using a pestle, crush together to form a paste.  Transfer garlic paste, thinly sliced onions, 1/4 c. orange juice, and 1/8 c. each of lemon juice and lime juice to a mixing bowl, and allow to sit for 30 minutes at room temperature.

When pork comes out of the oven, heat 1/2 c. olive oil over medium high heat in a frying pan until very hot.  Add the onion-garlic mixture quickly, stir for a minute or two, then serve immediately with the pork, white rice, and black beans.

* The Cuba Libre, or Rum and Coke with Lime.   Or in our case that night, per point 6 on the assignment instructions, Coca Cola from Mexico, with lime.

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