The Cuban Table - A Giveaway

Last year I had the good fortune to participate in the  Cuban Cultural Center of New York's (Centro Cultural Cubano de Nueva York) 12th Annual Congress. You can read about that right here.

It was there that I met another one of the chefs involved in the event. Ana Sofia Peláez is the author of the very delicious food blog, hungry sofia. We shared a kitchen and chatted a bit as we made our own creations. That day she made Cucuruchos de Coco y Almendras for all of us (which were to die for!) and told the stories of how she had been traveling on a Cuban Food Adventure with the amazing food/travel photographer Ellen Silverman.

Together, Ana Sofia and Ellen went to Cuba and Miami (of course) and New York where they visited both Cuban home cooks and accomplished chefs who eagerly shared their stories and recipes and secrets to their own versions of favorite Cuban dishes. 

The culmination of all this traveling and eating and story-telling is the gorgeous cookbook: The Cuban Table - A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History by Ana Sofia Peláez and Ellen Silverman.

I received a few copies of this beauty earlier last week and have been delectably enjoying each story and every recipe. Rich with Cuban history and full of evocative photos of all the food that I desperately love, I have been slowly and carefully turning each page and taking notes and drinking it all in.

Part text book, part history book, part story book - believe me when I tell you that this is the quintessential must-have Cuban cookbook.

The photography and stories are so gorgeous and compelling that I'm conflicted about whether to keep it on my coffee table or to take it into my kitchen. Right now it's still sitting on my coffee table where I pick it up and commence reading where I left off yesterday. It's a beautiful thing.

I was delighted that she even included the recipe for make-your-own pastelitos de guayaba. Like my own recipe, but a thousand times more detailed and beautiful. Well-played, Ana Sofia.


I have an extra copy of this fabulous cookbook, The Cuban Table to give away. 

To enter this comment drawing, answer one or both of the following questions:

  • Who is the best cook in your family?
  • What's your very favorite Cuban dish in the whole-wide-world?

Leave one comment only, please! 

Remember that if you want to enter the drawing for this cookbook, you must leave a comment on this post and I'll choose ONE winner on Thursday, October 30th at 8 pm PST.

Gracias and Buen Provecho!

The Versailles Restaurant Cookbook - A Giveaway

I can't, in good conscience, end Hispanic Heritage Month without talking about my love of Cuban food and sharing a wonderful new Cuban cookbook. 

Obviously I'm a lover of all-things-Cuban. Particularly the food that so defines our culture. Platanos, black beans, tostones, lechón asado, picadillo, and of course, pastelitos de guayaba. Food just doesn't get any better than this.


I'm happy to report that the wait is over for this wonderful cookbook. My friend and Real Housewife of Miami Alum, Ana Quincoces has partnered with the Versailles family, specifically Nicole Valls to bring you a collection of all of your favorite Cuban recipes from the iconic Versailles Restaurant in Miami, with the forward by ...wait for it...(drum roll, please)... Andy Garcia. (Pinch me!)

Part history and lore of the Versailles Restaurant, part detailed cookbook, with a good dose of Cuban idioms makes the Versailles Restaurant Cookbook a must-have in the kitchen of any self-respecting Cuban cook.

Ana had originally contacted me a few years ago, asking for a quote about Versailles to include in the book, which I gave her. Read that story here: Happy 40th Birthday, Versailles! My quote didn't make the book (sigh), but it's still a beautiful Cuban cookbook, with every single recipe you want in there. Ham croquetas, anyone?

Ana has generously given me an autographed copy of the Versailles Restaurant Cookbook to give away today. 


To enter this comment drawing, answer one or both of the following questions:

  • When you celebrate a special occasion, what's on the menu?
  • What's your favorite thing to order when you go to Versailles in Miami?

Remember that if you want to enter the drawing for the cookbook, you must leave a comment on this post and I'll choose a winner on Friday, October 17th at 8 pm PST.

Gracias and Buen Provecho!

"You have to see this movie." Chef Movie Review and Cubanos

"You have to see this movie." 

I love conversations that begin this way. With a command. That means my friend, who knows me intimately, has something to share that I would love. And, in this case, MUST SEE. 

Further explanation comes: "It's got salsa music and Cuban food. You have to see this movie." There's an urgent tone in her voice.

The movie in question is called "Chef" and is the brainchild of accomplished director and actor, Jon Favreau. My salsa-dancing-Cuban-food-loving friend, Rosabelle dragged me to see it. 

I was not disappointed. In fact, I caught her urgent tone. Why hadn't I heard of this film? It's got a great plot, hilarious moments, clever storyline, wonderful acting.

And Cubanos.


This synopsis from IMDB: A chef who loses his restaurant job starts up a food truck in an effort to reclaim his creative promise, while piecing back together his estranged family.

That's the premise: a chef starts a food truck. But people, he starts by cooking CUBAN SANDWICHES. And yuca fries. And arroz con pollo. And he marinates the pork ("pierna") in mojo criollo. 

When was the last time a movie spoke our language as clearly as this?

If you can still find it in a theater near you, go see this gem of a movie. (Warning: lots of f-bombs are dropped, but not gratuitously. It makes sense to the plot.)


Immediately after I went to see Chef, (in fact, as I was leaving the theater) I text my daughter, Amy: ""You have to see this movie." 

I make arrangements to take her and Lucy. After the 3 of us had seen it, Lucy took her boyfriend to see it. "You have to see this movie."

Then I insisted that Eric and Jon go, too. "You have to see this movie." (Yes, I went to see it 3 times, but that's not important right now.)

It's difficult to explain without giving too much away, so I end up sounding like a crazy person. "He's a chef. And he gets a food truck. And he makes Cubanos! And the music! Trust me. You have to see this movie!"

We all became very enthusiastic about Chef. So much so, that Amy started following Jon Favreau on Facebook and came across this:


It turned out that Monday, July 21st, Jonathan had an audition just a few blocks away from that very spot, at 5:30. It didn't take much convincing on my part to get them to go. 

He and Lucy found Animal Restaurant on Fairfax and saw that a line had already started to form, so they just jumped in and started texting me the play-by-play.

"The line's not too long. You can smell the sandwiches from where we are."

And then...

"Mom, he's here. Jon Favreau is HERE. And he's headed our way." 

And then, these photos:



They said he was lovely and personable and funny and took the time to greet everyone in line, while they blurted out something to the effect of: "We're Cuban! And Mom cooks! And we loved the movie!" 

After they got over the fun celebrity encounter, and as they approached the front of the line, the smell, they said, became overwhelmingly intoxicating. My people, of course, have been raised to recognize the awesome that is roasted pork. 

"The Cubanos look amazing!"


"They're using real butter..." 


"...and a genuine Cuban plancha."


And so the texts and photos kept coming.

The world of the food they'd grown up with and the world of movie magic colliding in a wonderful explosion of the Best-Cuban-Sandwich-Ever-Yes-Even-Better-Than-Mami's. 

If you've never had a Cuban Sandwich, or Cubano, here's the recipe: The Sandwich Generation.




We're grateful to Jon Favreau for putting Cuban Sandwiches on the map with Chef. And I'm particularly grateful that he made those Cubanos accessible to my Cubanos via the screen and in person.

Well played, Mr. Favreau. Well played.


"You have to see this movie." 

The Best Graduation Party of The Year

My son, Jonathan, graduated from high school a few weeks ago. As I've done with each one of my four kids, I asked what type of celebration he'd enjoy. 

The four of them have asked for completely different types of parties and I have tried my best to comply.

in 2001, Amy wanted an All-Cuban theme, with all the family and her friends, Cuban music, and food. So that's exactly what we did. I made Arroz con Pollo for about 50 people. It was a wonderful success.

2004 - Adam wanted a really nice dinner with just his closest friends. And Lucy (class of 2011) wanted a "classy outdoor dinner party" with a showing of the Marx Brothers' film, A Night at the Opera. I have obliged them all.

Warning: This is going to be a super loooong post with lots of photos and detailed descriptions and some serious over-sharing. (You're welcome.)

The Invitations

Jonathan wanted to celebrate with his two closest friends and have The Blowout of the Year. He wanted "The 3-D's: Dinner. Dancing. Donuts." Of course.

We bantered ideas back and forth with his two best friends, Nathan and Tori (the girl next door) and finally came up with this - Their own take on Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

We would call it JON, NATHAN, and TORI'S DAY OFF.


Lucy got the three of them together to do the Ferris inspired photo shoot, and worked her magic with Photoshop to create the clever double-sided invitations.


They each invited friends and family. The RSVP's began immediately.

"We wouldn't miss it!"

"What a clever idea. Of course we're coming!"

"We will be there!"

At last count we had over 75 people including children and adults. 

The Preparations

As I wrote about in my last post, we decided, along with our neighbors (Tori's parents) to take down the fence between our yards. Read that story here: Tearing Down Fences.

We couldn't afford to pull up all the dying grass and create a cobblestone courtyard (my idea of perfection, but that's not important right now), so we grabbed all of the old pots that had once held plants that had long since died off, and Tori and I planted pretty color bowls to set around the neglected beds in our garden. 


Also, we had our old wooden patio furniture that still looks pretty cool, but we weren't so sure it would actually hold bodies anymore, so we re-purposed them as plant holders. I was quite happy with the results.



The day before the party we enlisted good friends and family to help with the heavy lifting and the addition of extra lights and things. One of the things that stresses me out the most when I'm entertaining is the idea that I have to be Superwoman and do it all, which, of course, is ridiculous. (It's also a Cuban thing, but that's not important right now, either.)

This time around I deligated, and practiced saying, "yes, thank you" when someone offered their help. This is new and unexplored territory for me. I must practice saying that magical incantation: "yes, thank you."

Remember those wonderful lights and flags we put up last year? Read about them here: Documenting the Magic. Well, the flags were a little sun-faded, but still very usable. (I was worried.)


Eric and crew hung them in strategic places. (I may or may not have made some sketches of where I wanted everything set up. Shut up. It's efficient.) Flags would go on either side of the "dance floor" (concrete slab), and along the garden's edge. 

While digging around for all my decorative things I came across a bag full of fabric. It was actually just rags. The triangular pieces left over from cutting the flags last year. I quickly decided that those would make an awesome 'rag banner' to drape over the dance floor. I enlisted the girls next door to just tie the rags onto twine and call it good. I wrote about the amazing twine here: Styling a Quick and Easy DIY Thanksgiving.

This might be my favorite decoration of all.


For those of you that are curious about the metal poles holding up those lights and flags. Eric got some 18" metal pipes that he pounded into the ground. Into these he inserted the long 10 foot metal poles. I think they can be found in the electrical or plumbing sections of Home Depot. At the top of the poles, he added some "S" hooks which are held down with white duck tape. I know. It's so much simpler than it looks, but the end result is stunning.

They look even more magical at night.


The Posters

Remember that our general theme was Ferris Bueller's Day Off? Lucy created some really fun poster designs for each of the three graduates with quotes from the movie and we had them mounted and hung them in different spots around the yard.


"The question isn't: 'What are we going to do?' The question is "what aren't we going to do?""

"You realize if we played by the rules right now we'd be in gym?"

"How can I possibly be expected to handle school on a day like this?"

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

So cute, right?

I also got dozens of plain black sunglasses as a lovely parting gift to give to the guests. These were quite a hit.



The Signs

We were going to be hosting such a large crowd and I didn't want our guests to be wondering where things were or what was going on, so I made signage. (People, this is what I was born to do.)

This first chalkboard was right outside the front door. I wanted my guests to feel comfortable right away. It was quite effective and they knew what to do immediately. I also had two friends stationed inside greeting and giving directions. Because is there anything worse than getting to a party and not knowing where to go? (I should teach a class in Cuban Hospitality 101. Thank you, Haylee and Marc!)


Also, we came up with our own hashtag. (I know. Shut up.) So if you were following along on Instagram or Facebook, you would just follow the #jntdayoff tag.

(Speaking of following, if you don't already, you should be totally be following me on Instagram. I'm Smrtqbn.)

As you walked into the back yard, almost the first thing you saw was the piece of our old fence, now painted with chalkboard paint and sporting directions.


The food had its own signage. And so did the desserts, which were located next door. (I should be crowned Signage Queen. Just sayin.')


This is the view from the far end of our house looking out over everything. Even before our guests had arrived I was feeling so pleased with our hard work.


 The Food

I decided to keep the food as simple as possible and decided to serve my own version of Southern California Mexi-Cuban. (What? Mexi-Cuban doesn't exist? It does now.)

First, we had a Make Your Own Tostada Bar.


I deep fried 6 inch flour tortilla shells into a "bowl" shape.


We provided 3 kinds of meat: Cuban-style pork, ground beef (really it was picadillo without the raisins and olives. Shh!), and a crockpot lime chicken (I promise I'll share that recipe another day). The pork and the chicken I made in two crockpots the night before.


We also had black beans (duh) and a blend of grilled onions and peppers (Shh! It was really a sofrito). The idea was to grab a tortilla shell, put in some beans and your own meat and your favorite toppings, which included lettuce, sour cream, olives, cilantro, scallions, tomatoes, lime, avocado, guacamole, cheese, and of course, salsa. (Thank you, Stacie, for all the chopping and grating!)

Are you feeling the Mexi-Cuban vibe? I'm on to something.


Everything was pretty easy and according to all the guests, delicious. 

The other (genius) thing we served - did I mention most of our guest were teenagers? - was the Walking Tacos.


1) You start off with a bag of Fritos or Doritos, which you crush before opening.


2) You open the bag and add meat and toppings.

3) Top this with Ranch Salsa. Basically half Ranch dressing and half salsa mixed together to make a wonderful yummy, rose-colored concoction. 

4) Grab a fork and eat right out of the bag. 

From the reactions we got to the Walking Tacos, you'd think we had discovered fire. (Win.)


My dear friend, Theresa of Sundrop Cottage (she is The Party Maven of Orange County) let me raid her storage area for all the fabulous and funky serving dishes, beverage dispensers, tubs, stands, covered glass cake stands, chalkboards, frames and every other wonderful party detail you see pictured in these photos. (Thank you, Theresa!)    

The Refreshments

It has been a long standing tradition at all of the parties we've ever had in the Darby home, to serve Real Ice-Cold Coca-Cola  ("it's the Real thing.") in the traditional glass bottles. They're made in Mexico with cane sugar instead of high fructose. You can totally taste the difference. 

We got cases and cases of Cokes. At the end of the night I think we had maybe two left. (Win.)




For the non-Coke drinkers, we also had a tub full of mini cans of other soft drinks, Perrier, carafes of water, beverage dispensers with lemonade and iced tea. Also, instructions on how to make Arnold Palmers.




The Sweets

Of course, we couldn't forget the desserts. To be honest, I debated making my pastelitos, but I was already cooking all the rest of the food, and besides Jonathan wanted donuts. So we got dozens of Krispy Kreme Donuts, elegantly displayed under glass. Jon was correct in his assessment that "his people are donut people." 


But I got a little fixated on having mustache cookies. (Please don't even ask me why. I was planning so many details and I got a little crazy here. Shut up.) Except my sugar cookies don't ever turn out very well. What to do? 

I enlisted the help of my talented next door neighbor, genius baker, and mother of Tori, Debbie and her other daughter, Tessia to make the sugar cookie mustaches. Remember me practicing the "yes, thank you?" This was one of those moments. 

Mustache Sugar Cookies for the win. (Thanks, guys!)



All that was left was for me to make the signs. (You know, I excel at signage.)


Tessia made a simple chocolate fondue and the rest of the dessert table featured All The Things That Are Awesome When Dipped In Chocolate:

  • Wavy Lays Potato Chips
  • Pretzels
  • Rice Krispies Treats
  • Ritz Crackers
  • Marshmallows
  • Strawberries
  • Bananas

 Here's the recipe from Hershey's Kitchens:

Chocolate Lover's Fondue

  • HERSHEY'S Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
  • 3/4 cup light cream or half & half
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Assorted Fondue Dippers

1, Combine chocolate chips, light cream and sugar in heavy medium sauce. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate chips are melted and mixture is hot.

2. Pour into fondue pot or chafing dish; serve warm. About 2 cups fondue.

The Photo Booth

We have the distinct privilege and pleasure to have, not one, but two talented photographers in our circle of friends. (All the photos that you see here are from them.) We decided it would work best to divide the picture taking between a photo booth and a roving photographer. (Seriously, I can't even believe I'm writing this. How lucky are we?) 

Rafael Guajardo (Tori's dad!) of Rafael Photography manned the Photo Booth.


Jonathan, Nathan, and the girls next door, Tessia and Tori

While Dan Shalaby and his son, Cameron shot the candids. 


The screen that was the backdrop for the photos is where the movie would later be shown.

Here I am with my dear friend and best neighbor, Debbie. This is pretty much the only proof that I was actually there at the party. I was mostly behind the scenes making sure there was food and everyone was happy. (Also, my curls were winning that night, but that's not important right now, either.)


Here's Debbie with her husband, Rafael. How cute are they? 


(The antique picture frame was also provided by Theresa at Sundrop Cottage. (Admit it - I have the coolest friends.)

The Surprise

Jonathan's girl, Amy, flew out from Texas to surprise him for his graduation party. You can tell by the look on Jon's face that he is indeed surprised. It took him a while to process that she really was here. We may or may not have had to re-start his heart from the shock. (Win.)


The Music and Dancing

Lucy volunteered to be the DJ and our brother-in-law, Corey provided the speakers and microphone for this event. Let me just interject right here that all I had wanted originally was just a microphone to make "dinner is served," or "it's time to dance" type announcements. Corey took it up a notch with an amazing state-of-the-art sound system. (I know. Charmed life. Thanks, Corey!)


And Lucy entertained us all with her intelligent mix of current favorites and extremely danceable songs. She took us from hip-hop to Cuban (Benny Moré and Celia, of course) to swing (Glenn Miller). Once the dancing started, almost no one stayed in their seats.


Amy Kikita was the one who instigated a lot of the craziness on the dance floor. Is anyone surprised by this?


A traditional Cuban conga goes from side to side, people. I just thought you should know.


 The guys donned their shades and totally got into One Direction, much to the delight of all the girls.


"You don't know you're beautiful..."

The dance floor was pretty much a blur from all the movement and happy sounds. (Also, can you tell this photo is from my iPhone? Not quite up to par with the quality of the others, is it? But look at how much fun they were having!)




"It's fun to stay at the Y..."

The lights. The music. The happy chatter. The magical glow. I loved everything about this night.




We wrapped the dancing up around 10:30 and moved all the chairs out to the far end of the yard (you can see the big screen up against the house). The kids grabbed blankets (it was a cool, but comfortable 66 degrees that night) and settled in for a showing of... what else? Ferris Bueller's Day Off. 


I can safely say that a good time was had by all. 


My youngest, Jonathan has graduated high school and we celebrated in great style. I was so delighted with how everything turned out and how comfortable everyone was. I was grateful for all my friends who stepped up and helped turn our sketches into a reality. (High five, Debbie! We did it!) I feel like we honored our three graduates in a way that was perfectly fitting, surrounded by family and friends and their extended support networks.


However, I neglected to to mention to those assembled that this was actually, in fact, my retirement party, but that's not important right now.  

Cooking on a Budget - Pastelitos de Guayaba

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I have perfected the simplest recipe for making pastelitos de guayaba (Cuban guava pastries) at home.

Porto's, which is the closest Cuban bakery to us is still miles and miles and a half day's road trip away. So, when the craving for pastelitos hits, I just make my own. It happens a lot more often than I'd care to admit, but that's not important right now.

The pastelito recipe is in my cookbook, of course, which, if you don't already have it, you should get it, because you're being supportive and everything. (Was that the weirdest, clunkiest sentence ever? Yes, it totally was.)

Marta darby cookbook

Me and my cookbook. Photo Credit -

Anyway, my good friend, Carlos de la Vega who is one of the co-creators of the show "Wassup En LA?" and is a whiz with graphics and video has recently been a bit obsessed (in a good way) with making my pastelitos at home. 

My big fat cuban family cookbook

'Wassup En LA?' co-creators Rudopho Zalez and Carlos de la Vega crushing on their copies of "My Big, Fat, Cuban Family Cookbook."

So much so, that he has created a most awesome video sharing the ease and magic of how to make your own DIY pastelitos de guayaba a la Marta. Also, here's the recipe:

Marta's Homemade Pastelitos de Guayaba

Pastelitos de guayaba

This is the first in what promises to be a really fun cooking series, "Cooking on a Budget. How to make Pastelitos de Guayaba."

Cooking on a Budget Carlos de la Vega

Please notice my Naturally Curly Self at about the 1:18 mark. (Thanks for the shout out, Carlos!)

You didn't really believe homemade pastelitos were this impossibly easy, did you?

There's probably other things you don't know about Cuban Cooking. Don't worry. I'm here to help.

Click on the image for the link to My Big, Fat, Cuban Family Cookbook. Buen Provecho!

My big fat Cuban family cookbook

Cuban Picadillo Pies®

I have a recipe today that was kind of a happy accident.

Ever since I went up to San Francisco a few months ago to cook my Picadillo, my family has been clamoring for it. Yes, there's been clamoring. For the past few years I've been making my picadillo with ground turkey. It's just become a thing.

When I cooked for the Blurb Food Fair, I used fresh ground beef. And here's what I found: it definitely tastes different. Better. In fact, I'm so sorry, ground turkey, but ground beef totally wins.

I mentioned this tidbit to my family and immediately they started asking for it. Clamoring. I had already sung the praises of the ground beef vs the ground turkey. I couldn't just leave them hanging.

Fine, I said. I'll do it, I said. And I did. And there was much rejoicing in the land.

Last week Eric's family was having a Christmas party and we were asked to bring appetizers for the buffet.

Eric: "Why don't you just make the picadillo? With the beef, of course."

Me: "Because it's a main dish, not an appetizer. That would be weird."

Then the brainstorming began and the result was the making of individual personal meat-filled pies. Cuban Picadillo Pies®. Not empanadas, but muffin-tin sized pies. Enough that you get a good portion of picadillo and the perfect proportion of crust. In fact, a couple of these beauties and a salad is practically a complete meal.

They were the hit of the party, by the way. But I sort of knew that would probably be the case. Hello? Cuban. Picadillo. Pies. It's genius, right?

After some experimentation, I decided the picadillo filling needed to have a little more substance and not be too runny, so I added more tomato paste. I added an envelope of Golla seasoning with saffron. I just love the taste it adds, but it can be made without it.

Also, I came to the cataclysmic decision to not use the olives. I know. Call me a rebel. The pie filling is therefore thicker and sweeter than regular picadillo, which works with the slight saltiness of the crust.

Picadillo pies 2

You love me now, don't you?

Picadillo Pie

Cuban Picadillo Pies

  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • ½ green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, pressed
  • 1 ½ lbs. Ground beef
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • ½ tsp. Pepper
  • ½ tsp. Cumin
  • ½ tsp. Oregano
  • 1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
  • 2 small cans tomato paste
  • 1 small envelope Sazón Golla (with saffron)
  • ¼ cup dry white wine (the cheaper, the better!)
  • 1 small box of dark raisins
  • 2 packages Refrigerated Pillsbury Pie Crust
  • A small amount of butter to grease the muffin tin

1) Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion, green pepper and garlic until the onion is transluscent.

2) Add the ground beef and brown over medium heat.

3) Add the rest of the ingredients and continue cooking until meat is tender and completely cooked through. About 25 minutes.

4) Let picadillo cool completely.

5) Grease muffin tin slightly with butter. Mostly just around the bottom.

Lightly greased tin

6) Cut approximately 5" round circles from pie crust. (I used what I had handy in my kitchen. I'm going to run out and get proper circle cookie cutters for next time, but that's not important right now.) You can get about four 5 inch crusts out of the pie crust and then I combine and roll out the remainder for the tops.

Cut circles from dough

7) Stuff these into the greased muffin tin.

Dough circles in muffin tin

8) Spoon cooled picadillo into the pie crust.

Stuff circles with picadillo

9) Using the leftover dough, roll it out to seal and Cut 3" circles from the scraps of the pie crust.

Cut smaller pie crust circles

10) Stretch these out just slightly to make tops of the pies.

Vent holes for pies

11) Press the top and bottom edges of pies together to seal. With a knife, make some slits on the top to vent. You can also just poke a hole in the middle. That works, too, but isn't as cute.

12) Bake in a 425 degree oven for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until crusts are brown. Allow to cool for a bit before serving. Makes 12 pies.

Picadillo pies

Now they're clamoring for my Cuban Picadillo Pies.®

I totally called it.

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I talk about Cuban food. A lot. Listen in.

I had the privilege of discussing my love affair with Cuban food and how my family and I celebrate Cuban holiday traditions on Silvio Canto Jr.'s Blogtalk Radio show the other day.

This is what I looked like. (Don't judge.)

Marta darby

If you want to hear what I sound like, you should click on the following link. I swear, I sound much taller on the radio. (Be kind.)

ALL the Picadillo at the Blurb Books Food Fair

I am a Cuban mother. And I cook. I love that I get asked to cook at different foodie-type events. See here. I always love doing those.

But the real story is that I basically like to eat Cuban food, so I cook it. And I have a family to feed, so they appreciate that I cook. Also, I really enjoy oversharing, hence this whole blog thing. So, in a nutshell, I cook Cuban and I share my food and I write about making and sharing Cuban food.

I know that not everyone wants to print out every single recipe I have (and, believe me, it's all really good), so I've collected my favorite recipes along with the stories that go with them into a you-can-actually-hold-it-in-your-hand cookbook.

Mbfcf cookbook

I self-published my first collection of recipes and called it My Big, Fat, Cuban Family Cookbook through Blurb Books. I have made other personal books with Blurb and the quality is always wonderful. Publishing with them was a fabulous experience. I highly recommend them. Also, you should totally get my cookbook!

Last month, Blurb hosted a group of us foodie/cookbook/bookmakers for the Blurb Book Bash in San Francisco.

Blurb Book Fair

When I arrived at the Blurb offices I met the photo and video crew who would be filming me all day and can I just tell you that I fell in love immediately. Plus, they totally made me feel comfortable in front of the camera. I felt like I was just telling my story to friends.

Me and my cookbook

Let me give a shout out right here to the fabulously talented folks at TR Proz for the gorgeous photos and video. You made me look so legit. (They also very kindly mentioned me on their blog. Thanks, guys!)

Marta in the kitchen

I cooked picadillo, people. Lots of it. Which meant lots of sofrito and lots of meat and lots of my favorite spices. Look at me go! I was a picadillo-cooking fool!

ON A SEMI-RELATED, BUT TANGENTAL SIDE NOTE: My eyes disappear when I smile or laugh. It has been like this my entire life. I still remember school photographers telling me to smile and then scolding me for closing my eyes. "No! They're open! I promise you!" These guys just let me be me. I'm so grateful for that.

Marta in kitchen

Look at ALL the picadillo.

Marta's picadillo

This beautiful video will give you a feel for how much fabulous food and fun was to be had at the Blurb Book Bash. (Look for your favorite Cuban Food Blogger at about the 17 second mark.)

These talented folks followed me around all day with all kinds of cameras like I was "somebody." (It was kind of surreal and totally awesome all at once.) The other author/foodie/bookmaker people who were also featured were quite talented and I was humbled to be included in this amazing group.

Marta darby. jpg

They interviewed me. I like to talk anyway, but let me tell you that it's weird seeing yourself talking (so much!) on camera. And I knew that I talked with my hands, but wow! I didn't know I was so....what's the word? Expressive.

I explained how much I love my Cuban culture and how I've tried to pass that on to my kids via our music, our language and of course, our food. I shared how family and food have always been intertwined for me. I talked (and demonstrated) the beauty of a perfect sofrito.

I'll be completely honest here, I was nervous about how I would come across on video, but you know what? This is me. This is how I look and how I sound. (Also, I was having a really fantastic curly-girl hair day, but that's not important right now.)

So here's Marta Darby, Cuban Cook. Unplugged.

Of course, the video happens to catch my weirdest face for the still. *sigh* So, I'm not quite ready for the Food Network, but then....maybe they're not quite ready for me.

Leave a comment and tell me your thoughts. Be kind.

Also, here's the recipe for Papi's Favorite Picadillo.

Thanks again, Blurb Books and TR Proz for an absolutely wonderful time.

Arroz con Salchichas Recipe

From the MBFCF Archives. Back by popular demand...

Smells Like Cuban Food

You know you’re in a Cuban home if, when you walk in, you can smell The Smell. You know what I’m talking about - that unmistakable, mouth-watering, oh-so-inviting, my-mom-is-amazing, God-I-love-Cuban-food smell.

It all begins with a simple onion, a luscious green bell pepper and some garlic cloves – The Trifecta of Cuban Cooking Perfection.

Grab your olive oil and sauté those three until the peppers are soft and the onions are transparent, add a can of tomato sauce and you’ve got yourself a perfect “sofrito.” The sofrito is the basis of all that is good and holy in a Cuban kitchen.

The Unmistakable Smell travels upstairs and through the entire house, exactly like in those old cartoons where the smell of a fresh baked pie becomes a long, smoky arm attached to a beckoning hand, and when it reaches the unsuspecting noses of my fortunate family it leads them helplessly down to my kitchen.
“Cuban food!” they exclaim and hover around long enough for me to start giving the “set the table” orders.

They comply quickly and without complaint. Cuban food is its own reward.

It doesn’t get any better than this.

Arroz con salchichas

Arroz con Salchichas

  • 2 cups uncooked parboiled rice (Uncle Ben’s is best, but NOT the instant kind)
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • Olive oil
  • 2 drained cans Vienna sausage cut into 1 inch slices
  • 1 med yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 med. green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 (8 oz.) tomato sauce
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 1 small jar diced red pimientos w/ liquid
  • Bijol -just a pinch to color the rice
  • 1 small can peas, drained

(NOTE: You don’t have to add salt, unless you want to. The broth and sausages usually add enough saltiness.)

1) Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat.

2) Add the onion, garlic, and green pepper and sauté about 5 minutes or until onion is translucent.

3) Add tomato sauce, white wine, pimientos with their liquid and bay leaf and simmer together over low heat for about 10 minutes.

4) In a large stockpot, bring water and chicken broth to a rolling boil.

Arroz con salchichas 1

5) While the liquid is boiling, wash rice and drain well.

6) Color the wet rice with the Bijol powder. (you just add a pinch to quickly color the rice.)

7) Add the rice to the boiling water, stir well, and reduce heat to medium low.

8) Add the sliced sausage to the tomato mixture and stir well.

Arroz con salchichas 2

9) Add tomato mixture to the rice.

Arroz con salchichas 3

10) Continue cooking over low heat for about 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

11) After the rice is done, quickly add the can of peas, stirring them into the cooked rice - let it sit for a minute or two, just until the peas get hot.

Arroz con salchichas 4

Serve with maduros, galletas and ice-cold Materva. Nope, it really doesn't get any better than this.

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This recipe was originally published on Babalú blog. January 17, 2008.

Cuban Bruschetta. Believe it.

I know what you're thinking. You saw the title of this post and you said out loud, "There's no such thing as Cuban Bruschetta." 

That's also what my mom said. (But then she's a Cuban Mother and it's part of her job description to argue recreationally, but that's not important right now.)

Lucy (who is the Bruschetta Expert of the family) asked, "So what makes it Cuban?"

Well, let me tell you. It's the extra garlic butter. And maybe the splash of vinegar. Or the cumin. And the tomato/sweet onion ration. Also, as with all Cuban food, the flavor is seriously sublime.

Jonathan: "Can I have another?" (Win!)

Allow me to introduce you to the awesomeness that is Cuban Style Bruschetta. Because that's what I'm here for.

Cuban bruschetta copy

Cuban Bruschetta

  • 3 chopped Roma tomatoes (ripe, but firm)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped sweet (!) onion
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • A splash of vinegar (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced (separate about a third for the garlic butter)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1) In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, onion, olive oil, vinegar, cumin, 3/4ths of the minced garlic.

Cuban bruschetta tomato mix copy

2) Add salt and pepper to taste.

3) Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (or longer) to let the flavors blend together.

Cuban Bruschetta Toast

  • 12 slices Cuban bread (French bread will work, but it should have a soft crust.)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 stick of butter, softened, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1) Slice the bread into 3/4 inch thick slices.

Cuban bruschetta slice the bread copy

2) Mash the remaining garlic into the softened butter.

3) Compress each slice of the bread with a spatula.

Cuban bruschetta smash the bread copy

3) Butter both sides of the smashed bread with the garlic butter.

Cuban bruschetta spread the garlic butter copy

4) Fry up the slices of buttered bread in a frying pan, over medium heat, until lightly toasted on each side. Be careful with this. The garlic and butter combo can quickly burn if you don't watch it.

5) Spoon the tomato/onion mixture on each slice of toasted bread.

6) Sprinkle with chopped cilantro. (The cilantro is not just a garnish. It adds a lovely flavor to the bruschetta. Trust me.)

Cuban bruschetta serve copy

7) Serve immediately.

8) Email me and tell me how much you loved it.