A Home-Reared Chef: Cook by Instinct, Recipe #2
I am a home-reared chef. And I have rightfully earned my title. And though I do not have a degree from a cooking academy, it doesn’t mean I never wanted one. Of course, I did! Who wouldn’t? But I’ve been busy taking care of my most important priorities: raising my children and taking care of my home and husband, our bread winner.
For a small part of my young life we lived in El Salvador, with my grandmother, Marta Roa, a wife to politician Carlos Roa, the country’s treasurer during the 1940s. And I practically lived in her kitchen, probably annoying her cooks to no end. My grandmother traveled wide and high in the circle of high society, so she entertained on a regular basis. I remember the dedication her cooks exhibited in the kitchen; though I was only five-years old, amidst the hustle-and-bustle I felt their energy and excitement.
I have since learned, however, that my grandmother was not a pleasant person to work for: very rigid and demanding of perfection—most unbending. Yet her cooks seemed happy-enough … well, to me. And I now know why: to cook is a joy beyond measure (it also helped that they were seen higher in status amongst the other servants!). And though my grandmother instructed what the menu would be and how the recipes were to be executed, the cooks looked forward to showing-off the finished dishes they’d created with their own hands. Always eye-capturing and palette-pleasing, the dishes awed Marta’s very distinguished guests. It was at this very young age when the seed of desire and passion to cook was forever rooted in my heart.
I grew-up in the United States, arriving at the age of eight. Here I continued to learn through my mother. She, too, proved to be a worthy cook. My lessons in the kitchen continued.
I have twenty-seven plus years of cooking experience. I have not only cooked for my family, but for friends, and church, and weddings, with short-term positions as sous chefs, as well as head chefs! So I know first-hand that it is a challenge to persuade finicky and snobby palettes. Having turned many skeptics and hard-to-please eaters (many unwilling to try anything new), I can certainly now brag about my cooking!
With the help of my perfect cooking partner, my husband Bob (my right and left hands), I will share a second recipe I learned from my mother (and I altered this, of course! I can never leave a recipe alone)—a very old recipe. Please note that we don’t measure or weigh ingredients unless it is vital to the recipe. Ratios are kept to a personal level—a secret! A pinch here, a hand-full there, a dash, a sprinkle … Any good cook would attest to this. For this is how I was taught; family tradition, after all, must be kept!
Cuban Black Beans and Pork
2–3 pounds pork shoulder or butt
To the pork (the night before) add ingredients 1–7 (below), coating entire meat. Place meat in a bag or bowl (covered) and leave in the refrigerator overnight to marinate:
1. Olive oil, extra virgin
2. Gray salt or sea salt
3. Fresh (chopped) Italian herbs of choice, (or dry herbs)
4. Red pepper flakes and or dry ground Chipotle
5. Garlic (fresh/chopped)
6. Onions (fresh/chopped small)
7. Light sprinkle of nutmeg
3 cups (dry) black beans
The night before
Clean beans of rocks and rinse. Place beans with plenty of cold water in a pot, cover and leave on the counter.
Take meat out of the fridge and let come to room temperature for about 1 hour.
Pre-heat oven to 450˚ F.
Place meat in a roasting pan and roast in oven for about 20 minutes.
Lower temperature to 350˚ F and continue roasting pork till meat thermometer registers 155˚ F to 160˚ F.
Take meat out, cover with foil and let rest for about 20–30 minutes.
Soaked Black Beans
Drain beans of water, set aside.
Sauté ingredients 1–7 till onion is translucent.
1. Bacon renderings (preferred) or butter, and, or olive oil
2. Bell pepper (chopped)
3. Garlic (chopped)
4. Onion (chopped)
5. Sage (fresh preferred)
6. Chile (type of, and fresh or dried, your choice), seeded and chopped
7. Bay leaf
To large (oven-proof) pot of beans add ingredients 8–9:
8. Sautéed vegetables
9. Chicken stock (enough to cover beans by over an inch)
On a medium-low heat, cook beans (covered) for about 2 hours (frequently stirring and checking for doneness), when done add salt if needed.
Cut rested pork meat in cubes (size to your liking).
Add cubed pork to pot of beans and bake in 350˚ F oven for about 30–40 minutes. This gives the flavor of the beans and meat time to marry!