This is not your usual community cookbook. My initial reaction to this bland looking, community designed cookbook was one of disappointment and boredom. I have at least 8-10 of similar “social/church/school group” fundraising cookbooks on my shelves at home. My collection is primarily from my grandmother’s Southern Baptist bible study group where they will print three different recipes for Cheese Balls. This book however had a caption which caught my eye, “Recipes from Around the World Cooked in Cambridge Kitchens”. This was much more interesting! I enthusiastically opened the first page and was delighted to see Malassadas (Portuguese Doughnuts p.3) in the Breakfast section and Native American Johnny Cakes (p.17), Japanese Sushi rolls (p.22) and Boreks/Empanaditas (p.20) under Appetizers. As I dug deeper into the cookbook I was overwhelmed by the sheer variety. There was no theme or particular order to the recipes, just a diverse collection from diverse parents. You really had to give each recipe your full attention. On one page you would read about Meeta Chaturvedi’s Mushroom and Peas Curry (p.50) and on the next page Buby Lee’s Kugel (p.51). There were recipes from every corner of the world. I tested two recipes, Flan (p.162), which is standard in my home and the other was completely unknown to me, Bistec de Pollo Encebollado with Black Beans (p.38)
If I had to write an autobiography it would be probably be called My Search for the Perfect Flan. In my 32 years I’ve had some outstanding Flan and a lot of disappointing Flan. This Flan was very simple to make in the blender and at first glance seemed to contain all the proper ingredients, evaporated milk, eggs, sweetened condensed milk and sugar. The tricky part to Flan is melting the sugar until it turns a deep golden brown and removing the cooked Flan from the water bath. Overall this recipe was a breeze to make and tasted very good. The texture was soft and creamy but not too sweet and the browned sugar sauce was thin and very flavorful.
On the other hand, I was worried about the Bistec de Pollo Emcebollado with Black Beans. This is a traditional Cuban dish heavy on lemon and garlic flavors served with black beans and rice. There were a few red flags in just reading the recipe: 1. the boneless chicken marinates in ½ cup of fresh lemon juice for 1 ½ hours! 2. The beans soaked overnight in salty water 3. 20 cloves of garlic! All I could do was follow the recipe and hope for the best. Needless to say, the chicken was VERY lemony and garlicky and nearly unpalatable for my taste. The chicken actually cooked in the marinade and developed a very grainy texture. The black beans were a little tough, but very flavorful. The beans will become a regular item but I would omit the initial salt. I would also make the chicken again, but next time I would try and marinate the chicken for only 20-30 minutes.
With over 100 contributors to this cookbook, it is hard to judge the overall quality of all the recipes, but what I can guarantee is a fun, unusual read. Who knows, you just may find a new family favorite!
Bistec de Pollo Encebollado with Black Beans
6 chicken breasts, skinned and deboned
12 cloves of garlic, crushed with a mortar and pestle
½ cup lemon juice plus 3T (about 6 lemons)
2T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup onions; roughly chopped
1 pound dry black beans
2 bay leaves
½ cup of olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
8 cloves garlic crushed, preferable with a mortar & pestle
1 sweet red pepper (optional)
¼ cup cooking wine or sherry
Salt and pepper to taste
Pound each chicken breast with mallet until ½ to ¾ inch thick. Salt each breast and lightly sprinkle with black pepper. Peel and crush 12 cloves of garlic and rub into both sides of breasts. Place in a glass container and pour the ½ cup of lemon juice over chicken. Let marinate for 1 ½ hours.
Place 2T extra virgin olive oil in skillet or frying pan. Turn heat to medium high. Just when oil begins to smoke, add breasts. Fry evenly and quickly on both sides. In same pan (after breasts are fried) add the onions. As onions brown, add the 3T of lemon juice and capers.
Serve with rice and black beans or over a bed of watercress.
To prepare the beans: sift through beans and remove any small stones or other impurities. Soak overnight in water to cover, with salt and bay leaves.
Heat beans to boiling and lower to medium heat. Add water occasionally and cover – always keep water level at least 1 inch above the beans. After beans are soft (usually at least 2 ½ hours) prepare the “sofrito” as follows:
Sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil. Note: some people like to add 1 sliced red sweet pepper to their “sofrito”. When onions are transparent add cumin. Then pour “sofrito” of onions and garlic into cooked beans. Stir mixture well. Salt and pepper to taste. Add cooking wine or sherry and allow to simmer for 20 minutes longer.
2 cans condensed milk
4 can evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put condensed milk, eggs and evaporated milk in the blender and beat very well. Next, bring sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan and cook until it turns to caramel. Pour the caramel into a baking dish and tilt dish to spread. Add milk and egg mixture. Bake in a bain-marie (another baking dish filled with water into which the baking dish with the flan is placed) for 40 minutes.
© '2004 by Good Cooking, Inc.