Monday, May 24, 2010

Malanga Fiesta (Happy 2nd Birthday!)

The birthday parties of my childhood are a blur of piñatas (what I remember is the moment of panic as seemingly hundreds of children crushed down on me in a rush to get to the candy on the floor), freezer pops and frilly party dresses with matching panties underneath. These weren't just my parties, but those celebrating the birthdays of cousins and friends whose parents were so close with my parents that we called each other "cousins" as well. Somewhere there are pictures around of all of us Cuban kids from Philadelphia standing around with our hairbows and black-patent-leather Mary Janes, all lined up behind the birthday child blowing out the candles on his or her cake. And when I find them, I will try to post one or two on this blog or somewhere on the internet to amuse or embarrass the kids shown there who are all grown up now and doing fabulous things with their lives.

In the meantime, the one tangible thing I have to evoke the mass chaos of those parties, and I say mass chaos in the most positive sense, is the taste of the bocaditos that seemed to be ubiquitous party fare. These are simple enough to prepare, yet for some reason I hadn't made them in years. I knew, without a doubt, that I had to serve the bocaditos at Malanga Baby's second birthday party, a mass chaos affair of its own that involved 15 toddlers running around my living room. The rest of the menu, however, was something that I pondered long and hard. I had to make enough food to feed 15 toddlers and their parents late enough in the day to be practically dinner time. Here's what I came up with:

- Assorted sandwiches ("Cuban birthday party" sandwiches and PBJ)
- Tortilla Española (I made four of them and Malanga Baby even helped)
- Swedish Meatballs in the crockpot (this recipe made about forty meatballs)
- Audrey's Tortellini Salad

Plus, I had loads of:

- Peanut-butter-filled pretzels
- Earth's Best Letter of the Day Cookies
- Mediterranean Snack Food Co. brand Baked Lentil Chips & Hummus
- Blue Corn Tortilla Chips & Salsa

And in honor of the birthday girl:

- A very large ice cream cake

My cousin Raquel baked brownies, too. I considered making this cornbread recipe, which I made and served at Malanga Baby's first birthday party last year, but I seemed to have enough food with the above.

There was no piñata. Maybe next year.


Cuban Birthday Party bocaditos


1 can deviled ham
1 8 oz. package cream cheese (spreadable works best)


Mix deviled ham and cream cheese together.
Spread on white bread.
Cut off crusts.
Cut into triangles and serve.

(I highly recommend putting them in the fridge if you prepare them way ahead of time.)

Tortilla Española

Ingredients (for 3-4 tortillas)

3 potatoes
2 medium yellow onions or 1 large Spanish onion
Fresh parsley
Eggs, approx. 3-4 per tortilla
Garlic powder
Olive oil (for frying)
A plate about the size of a small frying pan (for flipping the tortilla)


(This one is trickier to explain because the real success of any tortilla depends on the egg-to-potato ratio and the ability to flip the tortilla successfully.)

Cut potatoes into cubes. Chop onions. Chop parsley.

Pour olive oil into pan. (I like to put in a lot, enough for the potatoes to be basically immersed. It seems to work better for me this way, then I pour off the excess later in the process.)

Throw potatoes into pan, enough to cover most of a small frying pan. Fry them for about 7-10 minutes on low heat, until they become softened, but not crispy on the outside. Add onions, fry for another few minutes until onions become soft.

While potatoes & onions are frying, beat 3-4 eggs in a bowl with a pinch of cumin, a pinch of garlic powder and a dash of salt. Add some of the chopped parsley.

Pour egg mix into the frying pan. Fry for a few minutes (this is really depending on how hot the pan has gotten, if you make 4 tortillas in a row like I did, everything starts cooking much more quickly as you go on.) Check to make sure the underside is cooked by inserting a wooden spoon around the sides.

Take pan over to sink (REALLY, if you have a disaster, you want to be over the sink, not the stove), place plate on top of frying pan and flip as quickly as you possibly can before slipping the flipped tortilla back into the pan.

Return frying pan to stove/flame and cook for another few minutes.

Slide out onto a clean plate to serve and slice like a checkerboard, inserting toothpicks in random different cubes of tortilla.

Audrey's Tortellini Salad

My cousin Audrey came up with this one years ago and I fell in love on the spot.


1 can black beans (make sure they say "Listos para Comer," meaning you don't have to cook or season them)
3 plum tomatoes or 1 box grape tomatoes
Small bag frozen corn- cooked
1 package frozen spinach- cooked
2-3 small bags of tortellini

For dressing:
Balsamic vinegar
Regular vinegar
Olive Oil
Vegetable Oil
A little bit of Mojo Criollo (a marinade available in the Latin groceries aisle)
1/2 big white onion
big scoop of sugar
Salt, pepper & oregano to taste


Make dressing in the blender, using 3x more vinegar than oil.
Toss with other ingredients.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How Sweet Life Is...

Malanga Toddler grew to love both ice cream and flan during our recent trip to Cuba. Lucky for her that it's already ice cream season in New York.

As for the flan, there are tons of great places to have some in our neighborhood (Cafe Salamanca and Pio Pio come to mind). However, I wanted to find a less sugary, but just as yummy, treat for Malanga Toddler to have at home. I was thrilled to come across this recipe in Lisa Barnes' "The Petit Appetit" cookbook. Everyone in the family enjoyed this one and it's so easy that I'll definitely be making it again.

Baked Ricotta Cake (Lisa Barnes)


1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 cage-free organic egg whites
4 tablespoons honey
2 cups mixed fresh organic berries (optional)


-Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place the cheese in a bowl and break up with a wooden spoon. Beat egg whites in a small bowl until soft peaks form. Add eggs, whites and honey to cheese and mix thoroughly until smooth.

- Lightly grease 4 ramekins. Spoon ricotta mixture into ramekins. Bakc for 30-35 minutes, or until cakes are risen and golden.

- Cool, turn out of ramekin, and top with berries, if desired.