Sweet, Savory, Sweet-Savory, Savory-Sweet: Cuban & Miami Food

Pork Pop Tarts

Let’s start with the Pork Pop Tarts, shall we? 

These were inspired by the “Pastelito Burger” – chosen as the #1 food all Miamians should try in this article. The original is a cheesebury between guava pastelitos (pastries). I recommend reading the article so that you can feel quite virtuous, nutrition-wise, for eating a pork pop tart. 

Here is how you make them:

Begin with a half recipe of Masa Real – a crust made with both butter and lard (presumably one could replace the lard with shortening). I got the linked recipe from The Cuban Table. This is a pretty darn delicate crust. Just be forewarned when it comes to the rolling out stage. Wrap this dough well and chill it. 

Now, the filling. Pork belly or bacon chunks both work. What you don’t want is thin slices of bacon designed to crisp up, that won’t give you the right texture inside the pop tart.

The primary difference between bacon and pork belly is that bacon is has been cured, smoked, essentially preserved. If you got a big hunk of uncured bacon and used the fat would that be the same as pork belly? I thought the answer was “yes” but turns out uncured bacon is cured. Boy is that confusing. Here is a guide to bacon labels from The Huffington Post. And for good measure, here is a guide to pork belly preparations from Foodspin (warning: the language is explicit – which doesn’t make the cooking advice bad).

You have either hunks of bacon or pork fat and now dice them to a generous cup. Dice guava paste (available inexpensively in the Mexican aisle of Big Shaw’s in Berlin) as best you can to about 1/4 cup. You want to cook the pork in a hot skillet so that the fat begins to render and you get some caramelization at the edges – then, throw in the guava. Stir this, still cooking, so that the paste melts and coats the meat. Remove from heat. 

You should now have a gloopy mess of fat and guava. Ah, that sounds bad but tastes great. Let it cool a little so the guava-fat sauce begins to recollect from the liquid state but not so long that it fully resolidifies.

While it cools, heat your oven to 400 – degrees

Roll out the dough to about 1/4 – 1/8 inch thick. 1/8 is going to be best but, as mentioned at the top, it’s a very delicate dough and you shouldn’t worry if it needs to be 1/4 inch to hold together. Cut out into large squares. You should get 8-10 pastries (16 – 20 squares)

Put one square onto a baking sheet. Place one rounded Tb of filling in the center. Cover with a second square and pinch the edges shut. Repeat. Using a toothpick, poke a hole in the top square of each pastry. 

Bake these for 10 – 15 minutes. Checking and rotating every 5 minutes. When they are a nice golden brown remove. Let cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then place on cooling racks.

I was in the air about frosting these pork pop tarts. I decided against it and that may have been wimping out. Do as you see fit. There should be leftover fat in the pan which could be fashioned into a frosting (and perhaps later this afternoon I’ll do some experiments and update this post accordingly*). 

A Note on Chicken Empanadas: While making the Cuban / Miami menu, I had some of the sweet masa real dough onhand. Thinking back to the exceptionally sweet Moroccan chicken b’stilla pastries, which are really chicken dessert, I decided to give the sweet dough a try as empanadas. Gosh. I really enjoyed those. I did sell them at the end of the day on Tuesday (have you noticed yet that what’s sold on Tuesday and what’s sold the rest of the week aren’t necessarily the same thing?). I did also decide that it was wrong to have something that decadent on a normal, work week menu.  I really was wimpy this week. 

If you want to play around, here are the general guidelines for how I made the chicken empanada filling: take one 3 – lb chicken, rub under the skin with 3 Tb Emeril Lagasse’s Creole Seasoning, butterfly & brown. Braise this with about 1/2 cup tomato juice (from a can of whole tomatoes), 1/2 cup red wine, 1 Tb of the Creole Seasoning, salt to taste (notes on how I go about braising are in this earlier post). Shred the chicken. Fine dice 1 small onion, 3 stalks celery, 2 hot peppers, saute them with a generous pinch of salt. Add the shredded chicken. Whisk 1 cup of the braising liquid (strained) with 1 Tb of tomato paste. Add that and simmer to thicken. Add raisins (I just sprinkled them over top without measuring, which I realize isn’t helpful). That’s the filling. 

Vegetarian Cubanos 

The best midnight snack ever. I wish I hadn’t seen midnight quite so often this past week, but I won’t dwell on that aspect, it’s still a great snack.

Here are the assembled components:

Plantain-Scallion Bread (recipe below) – cut medium-thick

Avocado Spread (recipe below) – spread on both pieces of bread

Swiss Cheese

Sliced dill pickles

Pickled Red Onions – Thinly sliced large red onion mixed with 1 cup cider vinegar, zest of an orange, 1/4 tsp black pepper, pinch of salt and left covered in the fridge for at least 2 hours. 

Then  – to spread on the outside for toasting in a hot skillet – mayo with lime zest in it (or just mayo). 

Plantain-Scallion Bread – Use this King Arthur Flour recipe, but with the ingredients listed below:

1 1/2 cups water

1/4 cup nonfat dry milk (omit for vegan)

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

2 tsp yeast

3 Tb olive oil

6 oz mashed plantain 

3 cups all purpose flour

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

4 scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts*

1/2 cup sunflower seeds*

*The scallions and sunflower seeds should be mixed in halfway through incorporating the flour.

Avocado Spread – This is mashed avocado, juice from half a lime, pinch of salt, and a little bit of honey. Honey rounds out avocado so nicely. I know this only because I saw a picture of “Avocado Toast” on The Kitchn and thought they’d drizzled honey on top (it was really olive oil – the fact that this was a vegan breakfast should have clued me in). 

Pigeon Peas 

This week I discovered Pigeon Peas (which I’d read about but never tried) in the Mexican Aisle at Big Shaw’s in Berlin. It’s a great aisle. Pigeon Peas are a common ingredient in Caribbean, African, and Indian cuisines. They’re available here as a dried bean, similar in size and density to a black eyed pea. When you cook them, they smell for all the world like honey. I’ve seen their flavor compared to fresh boiled peanuts. I’ve never had fresh boiled peanuts, but I can see how that would be true – there’s a sweetness in peanuts similar to the Pigeon Pea. 

I can’t say I did anything terribly exciting with them except toss with rice to put under pork. Here are some recipes I’ll be trying out in the near future:

Coconut Rice with Pigeon Peas 

Pigeon Pea Curry

Pigeon Pea & Winter Squash Stew

Pigeon Pea & Sausage Rice

Cigar Cookies

Cigar cookies are easy to make, except that they require two special ingredients – Princess Cake Emulsion and Applewood Smoked Salt. Still. Delicious. 

Use this Animal Cracker recipe from King Arthur Flour. When you’ve mixed up the dough, press it into a quarter sheet pan or 9 x 13 pan (same dimensions) lined with parchment paper and cut into 1″ wide cigar-like rectangles. You’ll need to bake it a little longer. When you take it out of the oven, RECUT the rectangles (don’t forget like I sometimes do), then let cool, and then remove the cookies. 

Once the cookies are fully cool, mix 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips with 4 Tb unsalted butter in a double boiler, and melt together. Frost the cookies with this, then sprinkle liberally with applewood smoked salt. 

*Yes, if you want to go all the way with pork pop tarts, you can frost them. Put 1 1/2 cups of confectioners sugar in a bowl, whisk in 2 Tb of Bourbon, whisk in the bacon fat from the bottom of the pan (bits strained out). Adjust with bourbon or sugar if it needs to be thicker or thinner. 

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