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Sara’s Weeknight Meals: Season 9

Episode 901: Havana Weeknights

Lovers of Cuban food love Miami and so do I. Today I’m in the Magic City to sample the best of Little Havana on a walking tour that includes a bracing Cuban coffee, delicious empanadas, ice cream, stone crab and conch fritters and of course, mojitos. Then I cook with a Cuban Abuela who shares an old school recipe for Shrimp Enchilados. Finally, I’ll make a Zucchini in Cuban Style Cherry Tomato Sofrito with legendary Cuban chef and cookbook author, Maricel Presilla. Delicioso, and easy enough for a weeknight.

 

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 THANKS to Patty Ruiz of the Mad Table (themadtable.com) for opening her home to us for filming.

ACCOMODATIONS PROVIDED BY:
The Gates South Beach
2360 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, Florida

https://www.gatessouthbeach.com

SPECIAL THANKS for extra video featured in this episode: VISIT FLORIDA, Ball and Chain -Miami; Library of Congress.

MIAMI CULINARY TOURS: Thanks to Grace Della and Miami Culinary Tours for showing us around Little Havana. If you’d like to take the same tour, visit: https://www.miamiculinarytours.com

Places we visited on our Culinary tour of Little Havana:

Me, with the owner of El Pub, Joe

El Pub
158 W. 8th Street
Miami, Florida
(786) 204-1597

Spot the six-foot rooster guarding the entrance and you’ve found the right spot. While less than memorable on the inside, this Little Havana mainstay serves up a sweet, steamy cafe con leche you won’t soon forget. You can tell that El Pub is a quintessential Cuban restaurant by its layout: One half of the space is a diner, while the other half is a proper dining room. Around since the early 1960s, Little Havana mainstay El Pub wears its history on its sleeve, with magazine, newspaper, and family cookbook clippings lining the restaurant’s walls. No wonder so many locals start their day there.

 

Azucar
1503 SW 8th Street
Miami, FL
(305) 381-0369
https://www.azucaricecream.com/

Cuba’s favorite food may be ice cream. In Havana, wolfing down 15 scoops of ice cream in about as many minutes is commonplace; that’s why ex-banker Suzy Batlle decided to open Azucar Ice Cream Company, Miami’s first store dedicated to Cuban spins on the frozen treat.

“The Latin people want their Latin food,” Batlle says, “and Cuban people love their ice cream.”

For Batlle, the sweet treat runs in her family. Her grandfather was a sugar mill engineer,   in his native Cuba, and all over South America. Along the way, her grandmother discovered tropical fruits to use in home made   ice cream. With ripe fruits like ruby-red guava, custardy mamey, and papaya, she didn’t even need to add sugar.

Battle is also big on far-flung fruit at her little Havana shop (she buys some down the street at the Los Piñarenos fruit stand) and she says it makes a difference because she doesn’t need to add sugar to many of her fruit flavors.

What is Cuban Ice Cream, exactly? She may put more simply: “What makes an ice cream Cuban is that I’m Cuban and I make it.”

Ball and Chain
1513 S.W. 8th Street
Little Havana, FL 33135
(305) 643-7820

www.ballandchainmiami.com

In the Jim Crow era of the 1950s Billie Holiday, Count Basie, and Chet Baker appeared consistently at the Ball and Chain. . Billie Holiday was a welcomed figure in the Schechtman household in the Tower Apartments, even babysitting for the family. On one occasion, after the 5 o’clock a.m. closing, Mr. Schechtman returned to the family quarters only to find the great black singer with a needle in her arm. Billie died a few years later. She had had a long standing heroin addiction.

(One of the alluring features of Ball & Chain bar and lounge for black musicians was the understanding that they could reside after their appearances at the Tower Apartments.)

By the end of the 1950s, a large influx of Cubans, fleeing, first, the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, and, later, that of Fidel Castro, poured into a neighborhood, which prompted many to refer to the area as Little Havana and to its main artery as Calle Ocho

The building was a furniture store and then stood vacant until the current owners renovated the space and opened it once again, as a restaurant and nightclub with it’s former flair.

Maricel E. Presilla is an award-winning author, chef, and restaurateur who is widely recognized as the nation’s pre-eminent expert on Latin and Caribbean cuisine. In 2013, her magnum opus, Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America, was honored as Cookbook of the Year by the James Beard Foundation and Best General Cookbook by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. She was named the Beard Foundation’s Best Chef-Mid Atlantic region in 2012 for her work at Cucharamama, her restaurant in Hoboken, New Jersey, and  was inducted into the prestigious Beard Foundation cadre of outstanding US food professionals  Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America in 2015. Besides Cucharamama, she is the chef of Zafra, also in Hoboken.

Cucharamama
233 Clinton St, Hoboken, NJ 07030
(201) 420-1700

Zafra
301 Willow Avenue,
Hoboken, New Jersey 07030
(201) 610-9801

Me with Lucila Jimenez

Lucila Venet Jimenez

I don’t want to claim that I am one one of those glamorous model-like cooks that now seem to recall that their grandmothers taught them all they know. Every one in Cuba was exposed to grandmothers, mothers, aunts and nannies and “tatas”. Nothing unusual about that.

What was different about me is that I had a mother that was a frequent flyer to all the cooking classes that she could find and that somehow she took me along and I happily followed. We were both pleasantly plump, as opposed to skinny cooks. Of course many Cuban girls had chosen the schools of home economics (Escuela del Hogar), an excellent idea, by the way, that was part of the pre-1959 school system. In exile, I traded memories and classes with the teachers and survivors such as Ana Dolores Gomez de Dumois, more about her below, and my old teacher Marta Bosque, who died in her nineties and was still cranky.

And I must have learned something when I was able to save myself from starvation when I lived with Margarita Lacedonia Mitchell in Key West. A wonderful woman and my inspiration in many ways, but I had to teach her to remove the covering from the ham before she put it in the oven. But that is all kiddie stuff.

In 1969, I took cake decorating classes at the Lindsay-Hopkins school. It was located in an old building in or near downtown Miami in the NW section. My husband drove me there and studied in the library while I took the classes. With a cousin of my husband and a relative we had a carpool and they took classes with me, along with a Haitian couple who were planning to open a bakery. Why did I do that? By now you can tell that anything having to do with cooking pulls me as a lightbulb pulls the moths.

My real learning happened when I was the apprentice to Ana Dolores Gomez de Dumois. She was kind of like the Cuban version Julia Child and had a TV show of her own. After she came from Puerto Rico she gave cooking classes, but I went beyond that. I stayed as her sort of apprentice for four years, day in and day out, to the point that I helped her with the weekly dinners that she took to the embryonic “Big Five Club”, an enclave of the nostalgic former members of the most renowned country clubs of the old Havana elite . At the end of those four years I helped her put together much of her work and she and I created the first edition of Ana Dolores Cocina con Usted. My name is on the first edition.

Then sometime 1975-76 I took the Wilton cake decorating courses, first to learn and then to teach. I taught for a year or two at the Sears store in Coral Gables.

I also worked briefly for Lawry’s products applying and demonstrating their products in Hispanic dishes.

And throughout all that time I was attending classes all over the place. Some of them in stores and others in more formal cooking school settings, such as Bobby and Carole’s Cooking School that later became Ariana’s Cooking School. In those settings I had the memorable experience of seeing first hand the arts of people such as Julia Child, James Beard, Ken Hom and Jacques Pepin. In the case of Chef Jacques Pepin I took week-long classes with him for ten years. My children came to dread and my husband to love those week-long gastronomic experiences when I practiced everything I learned in the evening.

I started making cakes out of my house in 1987 when my oldest son graduated from high school. When I started doing this, my efforts gravitated more toward the field of pastries. I started attending classes with well-known masters in the field of cake decorating, including Geraldine Randlesome on a cold January in Toronto. I was also enrolled in a course with Colette Peters.

When I opened the business in 1992, I started going to shows and conventions in several places including Las Vegas, Italy and France. While in France I met Sylvain Leroy who was then the Pastry Chef for Valrhona and more recently was the Captain of the US Team at the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie in Lyon, France. Of course I could not miss that. Sylvain introduced me to Valrhona chocolates and I took a course in their headquarters in Tain-L’Hermitage in France. I also took pastry classes with the Matinox company then very prominent in France. Both Sylvain Leroy and the Matinox technicians came to Miami to teach at our store. Also in France I attended courses at the Lenotre school (Ecole Lenotre) and an observer course at the Ritz-Carlton.

I have been retired from active business activities but I remain as a friend and consultant to Lucila Cakes, the bakery that I founded and which has continued to make the most excellent rum cake in the area, and my husband would say, in the world.

There are two bakeries now and the correct website for the bakeries is:

www.lucilacakesmiami.com

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