Sunday morning – I wake up; I get out of bed and walk to the bathroom. I *sigh*, look in the mirror and am momentarily startled by the sight of my hair in complete disarray. The right side is plastered to my skull while my left side is doing this funky Don King thing… *Sigh*… I jump in the shower, and as I begin to imagine myself sporting a Mohawk, something else grabs my attention – “What’s for dinner tonight”?
Man, I love Sunday dinners. Sundays usually allow me to be as creative or as intense as I want to be – And since I generally can’t sleep past 8:30 AM, I have all day. So with my Sunday sense of purpose and a smile on my face I begin scouring through my recipes – And there it was – Staring at me in all its beefy goodness was Ropa Vieja.
Ropa Vieja (Spanish for old clothes) is just one of those traditional Cuban dishes that you just can’t pass up. Braised shredded flank steak in a tomato sauce base, onions, garlic, spices and a colorful array of bell peppers – What’s not to love? I dare you to try good Ropa Vieja and not love it. Go ahead, I dare you!
I’ve made Ropa Vieja twice in my domestic cooking career. Why, you ask? Well folks, good Ropa Vieja is time consuming. We’re talking about 4-5 hours from braising the beef to putting that bad boy on a plate. Throw in a blog newbie / photo novice and it could take days… Days, people!
Well… Not exactly days, but it was an intense process. Nevertheless, I decided to I roll up my sleeves, wear my slightly inappropriate for cooking apron, throw on some salsa, and get down!
First, I braised my flank steak. Braising is a process of slow cooking tougher cuts of meat in liquid. It’s a great way to tenderize your meat and add flavor. Try it, you’ll thank me later.
In a 5 quart Dutch oven, I combined carrots, onions, garlic, cumin, salt and oregano, and whole peppercorns in two quarts of water. I also use my own special sofrito blend – A recipe that was passed down by the coolest chic in the world – My mom.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – Why is she cutting veggies on a cutting board shaped like a pig? Well… That cutting board was a gift from my mom, who to avoid cross contamination (coolest chic in the world, I tell ya), figured if it’s shaped like something I can never mistake it for cutting meat. The pig just so happened to be the only shaped cutting board in stock that day. Isn’t it cute? It’s sniffing my sofrito!
I braised that puppy for 1 hour and 45 minutes – Then I allowed the meat to cool in the braising liquid. Once cooled, I transferred the meat to a platter and covered it. I strained the braising liquid through a colander pressing hard on those veggies.
I returned the braising liquid to the Dutch oven and reduced it to about 3 and a half cups.
Now, all this time I am trying my best to take photos of the entire cooking process. I have a typical small NYC kitchen with NO natural light. I also have a point and shoot camera, so I tried to create better lighting conditions using a lamp.
I um, almost burned the house down.
What, you say? Almost burned the house down?!
Yes, my first blogging, cooking, pic experience and I almost burned my house down!! Its funny now, but it wasn’t very funny then.
OK, it was kind of funny – Even though I was shaking like a leaf in a hurricane wind.
Here’s the skinny…
I strained my braising liquid and put it back in my Dutch oven. While it’s boiling I realize I needed to take a picture – quick! I bring out my lamp and begin to move the pot to another burner on the stove. I completely underestimated how hot the handles were going to be and I burned my hand (typical). Instead of putting the pot on the opposite burner, I put it on its original burner (burnt hand, not thinking). I sort of didn’t realize the lamp cable was below the pot (typical “me” moment). I turn the stove back on and after a few seconds I hear a “pop”, followed by flames – So I hit the deck! I hear the popping sound again, see more flames, and hit the deck and scream!
Shaking, I get up to assess the damage. The lamp cable was charred to bits, the house had the aroma of burnt electrical wire, my heart was thumping out of my chest, but my braising liquid was ok… Phew!
Now, any other person would have given up; but oh no, not me! I’m a fighter – And I was getting hungry, so I was going to see this baby to the end!
Once my braising liquid reduced I transferred it to a bowl to cool. I shredding my flank steak and prepped my ingredients for the next portion of the dish.
Using one tablespoon of olive oil, I cooked the green peppers and onions until they softened. I added the shredded beef, my “almost burned the house down” braising liquid, chopped tomatoes, paste, garlic, cumin and oregano - And allowed it to simmer for 40 minutes.
In a skillet I cooked the yellow and red peppers in one tablespoon of olive oil until softened. I added it to the stew and simmered for 7 minutes. I then added my peas and olives and simmered for another 7 minutes.
Finally, it was ready!!!
Paired with black beans and rice, there you have it – Ropa Vieja.
YUM – And let me tell you, it was YUM!
Yes, I burned my hand, plus I ruined a lamp, almost burned my house down and my hair did that weird Don King thing again; but none of that mattered – Cause Mami just made Mambo – And it was GOOD!