Memories of my mami from my childhood all revolve around the kitchen. From the moment I woke up to the second I went to bed, she was cooking something up. The blender would buzz midday with the green swirl of her sofrito. The frying pan would sizzle with maduros in the evening just before dinner would be put on the table. Late into the night I could hear her picking out the bad seeds from a bag of frijoles. I’d wake up to a giant pot of something brewing and with the most amazing patience, she’d stir that pot from sunrise until dinner never rushing or raising the heat (like her inpatient daughter often does).
I imagined everyone’s mami was a maven in the kitchen. Imagine my surprise when I visited a good friend of mine and discovered otherwise. I was about to have dinner with my friend and her family when her mom asked me if I liked maduros. I smiled from ear to ear and said, “I loooooove them!” Next thing I knew, a box came out of the freezer and with a quick move of the hand it was placed in the microwave. A minute or two later a plate of juicy, ripe maduros was sitting at the table. On another visit to the same friend’s house, we were enjoying some croquetas de jamon. I asked her if they were difficult to make and she looked a bit puzzled. She said they were frozen and all she had to do was fry them.
Thanks to my friend I realized you could fake some of the amazing home cooking of my childhood. Good thing for me, too, since my mami was never one to invite me into her kitchen; it was her territory and hers alone. Despite not having much guidance from her, I always figured I’d inherited the Cuban gene for cooking and would one day turn into an amazing cook. Needless to say, without practice or guidance, I’m not that great of a cook. My Americano husband is much better at cooking some of my favorite Cuban dishes than I am!
I’ve learned to embrace the frozen Goya section at our local grocery store. When I first discovered it, I’ll admit I snubbed my nose at it. I thought my mami would disapprove (she does) and that I needed to learn to make everything from scratch. I thought somehow if I could cook everything from scratch I’d prove something. I’ve learned it doesn’t really matter how the food gets there. It’s about enjoying and sharing the amazing flavors of my island even if it’s a mix of microwaving and cooking from scratch.
Since I’m all for short cuts, what are some of your favorite shortcuts?