Christmas is a time of Hope, Love, Joy and Peace...a time of reflection and the perfect time to think of all our blessings, big and small...a time to treasure our families and friends...Even though we're so far from our own, how fortunate we are to have a family that no matter what, or how long the periods of time that pass by without seeing each other, we love and embrace each other. We're also very fortunate in the friends we have made in this beautiful land so far from our roots...dear friends that have turned into family.
Our Christmas Eve this year was a quiet one. Just my son and I...but I still like to mark the passing of another Christmas and make it as special as I can...and I turned to our Cuban roots for our menu this year...Cuban soul food...which brings us warm and comforting memories.
Our table this year was a play on plaid. I love tartan plaids and I feel they just fit the Christmas season...Through the years I've collected a variety of plaid items (dinner plates, tablecloths, napkins, ribbons...even tree ornaments (not used this year) and I like to mix them together with other seasonal patterns.
The red goblets were some I gave my mother many years ago, sometime during the mid 60s! I love using them any chance I get, so they make an appearance on our table almost every Christmas.
Christmas is a time ripe for nostalgia...besides my mother's red goblets, I used old fashioned kerosene lanterns...two of the ones pictured were a gift from a young man who has since left us...they were his Cuban grandmother's and he thought I should have them.
Our Nochebuena menu was a simple one, since it was just the two of us. Roast pork Cuban style, white rice and black beans, yuca (cassava) with mojo sauce and turrones for dessert. Turron is a nougat type confection from Spain, typically made with almonds, but sometimes you can find other turrones. Our turron was the soft one (grounding almonds into a paste) from Jijona, Spain.
I tried an experiment...my Cuban style roast pork for Nochebuena dinner was cooked in the crockpot..
I made the mojo (mo-hoe, not mo-joe) sauce the day before and it had plenty of time to get 'really' garlicky...
Anthony cut me a banana leaf, which I cut in sections, washed, and used to line the porcelain crockpot insert and another strip to wrap the little roast after I had made knife insertions all over it and rolled it in some of the mojo sauce. It gave the pork a "roasted in an underground oven" typical taste of the old-style Cuban style pork roasts... I basted the roast with some of the mojo sauce a couple of times during the cooking. The roast was still slightly frozen when I started, but it turned out delicious and the meat melted in our mouths.
The following recipe can be found on page 75 of my From Soup to Nuts Cookbook - under Sauces & Dressings
Cuban Style Mojo Sauce
Pronounced moe-hoe (not moe-joe, the slang word for charm, spell, talent, or sex appeal . . . although our Cuban Mojo Sauce can be sexy!) The best mojo sauces are very garlicky! Since it can keep refrigerated for quite some time, it is best to make a large batch at one time.
Scant amount olive oil, best quality you can afford
Onion, sliced thinly
Garlic cloves, one whole head per cup of liquid, peeled
Hawaiian Alaea or other sea salt
Dried oregano, to taste
Pinch of cumin, or to taste
Sour orange juice*
Mash the garlic and salt into a thick paste with a mortar and pestle. Sauté the onion briefly, until barely translucent; add the garlic and salt paste, the oregano and cumin and quickly stir to heat it through. Add the sour orange juice and bring to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan to medium-hot and then remove from heat. Quickly whisk in the garlic-orange juice mixture; set aside to cool.
Can be kept in the refrigerator until ready to use; heat briefly before using. Mojo Sauce can be used as a marinade for pork and chicken and I love it served over plain boiled yuca (cassava).
* Sour oranges are just what they sound like. Used mostly for cooking and sauces in Caribbean countries. If no sour oranges are available, I use a half and half mixture of orange juice and lime juice, which is a close approximation of the taste.
For the above this time around, I used a mixture of OJ and Meyer lemon.
Besides the roasted pork, I also prepared the typical white rice and black beans...the beans are cooked from dry. I like to put them in a large pot and fill with water up to about 2 inches above the top of the beans; bring to a rolling boil, let boil for about 5 minutes and turn the heat off. Cover and let them soak overnight. The next morning I made a simple sofrito, by sautéing chopped onion, garlic, green bell pepper, bay leaf, cumin and oregano in a bit of olive oil, then added this to the pot of beans (I do not add salt yet at this point. My Cuban grandmother was a firm believer that adding salt to the beans before they were soft prevented them from getting soft no matter how long they were cooked) - when the beans are almost done, but already soft, is when I add salt, a touch of sugar and vinegar...Let them cook long enough for some of the beans to 'melt' into a nice thick and creamy potaje. Typically served with white, fluffy rice.
Before serving our plates, I lined it with a piece of banana leaf - starting from top and going clockwise: white rice and black beans, roasted pork Cuban style and yuca con mojo.
I wish you all much Hope, Love, Joy, Peace & Light during the Christmas Holidays and all through the New Year!