Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

I happily accept all stones being tossed my way at this moment. I know. I should be ashamed of myself for 1. watching this movie, 2. finishing this movie, 3. liking this movie. But you see, I was doomed from the beginning. Anything to do with the dirty streets and humid thickness of Havana, Cuba, I will love. Hands down. Not to mention that the lead dude in that movie is hot HOT. So when I decided to do a little freezer cleaning, one of the first things to go was the ham bone from Christmas. I don't like to throw away bones. I don't know, it's my thing. Its like my foraging instincts kick in and I must utilize all parts of the sacrificed animal or something. With bones, I am always looking to make a stock. Chicken stock, beef stock, fish stock... pork stock? Hmmm, it was so interesting to me that I'd never really heard of pork stock. Kitchen Basics didn't sell that one. Was I onto something?

I started with the same method I used for chicken stock. I roughly chopped a large onion, a few carrots and some celery stalks. I plunked the ham bone into a large pot because I was sure I could get quite a bit of fat off it to soften the veggies. I rendered the fat, then removed the ham bone. I added my vegetables to the pot and let them colour a bit deeper than I do for chicken stock, I thought it would add something. Anything. Midway through, I added the hame bone back to the stock. I lowered the heat to medium low and filled up my stock pot with ice cold water. Just like Anthony Bourdain told me to do. I let it simmer and never let it come to a boil. This was around 8pm. At 3am, I went down to the kitchen and turned everything off. I am not recommending you do this. It is not a culinary technique. It's worrywart laziness, pure and simple. If I weren't so neurotic, I might have let it go all night, but I'm the kind of girl who can't have something on the stove or in a crockpot while asleep or out of the house. It's never going to happen. Well, intentionally.

I let the stock cool, put a lid on it and stuck it in the 'fridge.

The next day, I had a stock with a thick layer of fat on the top. Because I wanted to keep the fat content to a minimum, this was the most fulfilling step of all. I could literally "peel" all the fat of the top! It was like being the best lipo surgeon in Hollywood and all that was left was dark, rich pork stock. I drained all the vegetables and leftover ham and put it aside. I strained whatever was leftover and into the freezer it went. Done and done!

OK, so while I used most of the first batch in my experimentation with Xiao Long Bao (post: "The Easy Way") and the glories of gelatin stock, homemade wontons and soup dumplings, I used the second for what I'd originally intended. To give flavour to my slow cooked beans.

For some reason, I really like practicing patience and cooking some foods slowly and deliberately over very low heat. Some talk about that "slow food" movement, but I think that's bullshit. It's just called cooking. Anyway, beans are one of these foods. I discovered the method by accident, actually... I hadn't "prepared" my beans by soaking them in water overnight, so I thought I'd just take my chances and simmer hard beans and see if they came out at all edible . I plopped a couple of handfuls into a pot of water and forgot about it. Literally. All night. I didn't remember until I smelled the beans cooking away on the stove early the next morning. Totally unintentional!

Dear Ed at State Farm Insurance,

You did not read this.



Due to my negligence coupled with the fact that I'd barely even turned on the burner, I was gifted with creamy, soft, red kidney beans. Creamy beans using only water! So when I decided to make this pork stock, I'd kind of already reserved some of it for making red beans. I could hardly wait to see the result I'd get.

Funny enough, I suppose I should have been keen enough to know exactly what I was going to get. It didn't hit me until my red beans with pork stock started to take on that soft, thick, creamy hand about them (the ultimate goal) that I realized I'd created nothing new. As the fragrant beans enveloped my home with a warm, familiar perfume, I became horrified.

Pork'n Beans

That was the familiar smell wafting from my kitchen. When I realized what it was, I burst out laughing. I'd slaved over what so many buy in a can. Buy in a can to feed cousin Cleetus and Junior. In my hoity toity attempt to breathe the humid streets of Havana into my culinary efforts, I'd managed to channel Appalachia instead and create probably the most laughable American side dish imaginable. No offense, Appalachia.

So I take away the humbling message that, no, this is not new, and no, Lesley, you are not the first to discover such things abut food and ingredients, namely pork stock. But I'll let the creativity keep coming and revel in the innocent wonder that comes from knowing a simple truth. That if you combine a, b and c, the result is divine. Not to mention, honestly, who doesn't like a side of beans at a barbecue? I'll have mine over brown rice with a bit of green onion, however.

Much more my style.


The Feast of the Jackass

"Just think, if the Indians gave the Pilgrims a donkey instead of a turkey, we'd all be getting a piece of ass for Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving!"

I shit you not, I got this text twice this year on Turkey Day. I laughed once. Thanksgiving is meant to be a holiday of giving and appreciation. In my house, it's both of those things, plus a big up to Indian Country. For as long as I can remember, my Mom and I put up a protest fist of militance and wear our feathers in our hair. We are Choctaw. My great grandfather was a full blood Choctaw "Indian" and on Thanksgiving, it all comes out. Before my grandmother died, she would take me to the Poarch-Creek Powwow in Alabama where all Poarch-Creek Indians of that area would gather and dance, eat, and celebrate native customs. This just happened to be on or around Thanksgiving. I was obsessed with the traditional dress, while my mom always made sure to pick up the hand ground grits they sell only in Atmore. You won't believe me when I tell you they are the best grits you'll ever eat. If Quaker Oats knew about these, they'd be shaking in their silver buckled boots.

We'd prepare all the basics that would grace our table again one month later. All the usual suspects were there. An insanely enormous turkey, stuffing, candied sweet potato souffle, collard greens, green beans, honey baked ham, cranberry sauce, cornbread, pumpkin soup, seasonal salads, creamed corn and whatever desserts my aunt had prepared. We'd go the round of first, second and third (football) servings and listen to my mom bitch about how she wouldn't be preparing such a laborous meal the following year.

Though the selection comes very close to what Native Americans prepared for the Pilgrims, this year I decided to go deep and try a few hardcore traditional/local dishes. I am a self identified Locavore now and have been obsessed with eating local foods. You will find no bananas or pineapple in my kitchen, as I do not reside in the islands. No papaya for me, as it's not indigenous to the eastern shore. I am fascinated with preparing dishes that incorporate only locally available ingredients. I love my friend Aisha's lemon roll, but they don't sell it at the Farmer's Market because the lemons aren't grown here. That's a bit extreme, but you get my drift.

Now that I work for the National Museum of the American Indian, I have no excuse NOT to know what my Natives were eating come the first frosts of the season. I live in D.C. It's the District of Columbia now, but before the Euros got a hold of it, it belonged to the Piscataway, Powhatan and Algonquin tribes. For the most part, it was all about corn, beans, and squash. Even in the award winning eatery at my museum, all the traditional Native foods are served. Baked oysters with a maple juniper cream, grilled venison with caramelized wild onions, wild garlic and dried berry sauce. That's just from the Northern Woodlands, not even mentioning Northwest Coast, Meso America, or the Great Plains.

My mother introduced me to a new grain that I'd heard of, but had not tried, called quinoa. I'm sure most of you are probably already on the bandwagon, but it's new to me, so try not to judge. Did you know that quinoa is a pretty good source of protein, despite the fact that it's a grain? I wouldn't go so far as to call it positively protein packed, but it can hold it's own against its couscous counterpart.

I didn't make up a recipe for quinoa, as I'm still experimenting with it, so I will recommend a recipe that went quite well with our Thanksgiving feast. I will say, this as a side dish and be sure to have a good source of protein with it. Maybe this recipe has convinced my Mom not to order pizza next year. We shall see.

The Deal (per serving):
Calories: 165; Fat: 7g; Carbs: 23g; Protein: 4g