Sunday, June 5, 2016

What interns eat: Quick quinoa salad aka how I ripped off Whole Foods to save money

Yes, I do enjoy cooking: It is an outlet for stress relief, a way to express creativity, but it is also a necessary task to save money. Washington, DC is an expensive place to live...No matter which nebulous internet story you choose to believe, this city ranks in the top 5 most expensive cities in the US.  My friends in Texas might cry a little if they knew how much I pay for my almost 400 square foot box of an apartment. My studio apartment rent + student loans carves out the majority of my resident salary...and then there are all those other necessary costs to keep me happy like a gym membership, online yoga subscription, Netflix, Spotify, etc.  To have any money left over to actually enjoy living in Washington, DC, I HAVE to make most of my three meals a day, drink coffee at home and just be mindful of how I spend my money. But don't feel sorry for me. This Wednesday I'm going to a techno show at the 9:30 Club and next week I'll be seeing Taming of the Shrew at the Shakespeare theater. In the end, all my money gets spent, it's just a matter of how I want to spend it. (No, I have not been saving money as an intern. That comes later in life when I'm an attending.) 

Lunch for Monday

Sometimes I get lazy, and I run around the corner to my local, super yuppie, attractive, fit ( half the people are dressed in fashionable work out gear) Whole Foods to get a quick meal from from their ready-made-foods bar. I usually regret this move and just wish I had eaten fried eggs or a stale peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I can never gauge the weight accurately and end up spending $13 on food I could have prepared at home if I had more motivation.  I really enjoy ready made grain and pasta salads but now avoid buying at Whole Foods to avoid regret verging on guilt. 

Whole Foods makes a delicious fresh and sweet Quinoa salad with many elements including
edamame, red pepper, red onion, mango, almonds, raisins, coconut, lime juice and balsamic vinegar. Finally I copied the ingredients off of the To-Go container and told myself I would just make it and try not to buy it again. Full disclosure, I also make my own muesli cereal, so I have a lot of random ingredients on hand like dried coconut, raisins, dried cranberries and different types of nuts.  

So here you have it, a thrown together version of a great quinoa salad. The beauty of grain and pasta salads is you really can throw in random ingredients to a base of carbs and get a pretty good salad that will yield enough for 3-4 meals. I think the key to success is a common theme ie Mediterranean, Greek, antipasto, roasted vegetables, sweet additions. You can never go wrong with some crunch like almonds, pepitas or celery. I like to keep my dressings simple like citrus juice + vinegar + a touch of oil. 

A couple other tips: 
  • You actually have to rinse the quinoa or it tastes like soap. I use my french press to wash the quinoa. I pour in the cup of quinoa I plan to boil and add water and drain it three times before cooking. 
  • Let the edamame and quinoa cool before mixing all the salad components together
Final product
Sweet Quinoa Salad: 
(it is a lot of ingredients, but this salad comes together quickly) 
1 cup of uncooked quinoa--rinsed and cooked according to the instructions on the bag. The final product is about 2 cups of cooked quinoa
1 8 oz bag frozen edamame
1 red bell pepper diced 
4-6 green onions, thinly sliced including green part
(you can also use half a red onion, finely diced...this is what Whole Foods uses)
1/2 mango diced (you could definitely use the whole mango if you like sweet)
1/2 cup sliced or coarsely chopped almonds
1/2 cup or less of dried unsweetened coconut flakes
juice of one lime
(1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped is optional but encouraged)
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Rinse the quinoa, cook according to directions on bag. Once it is done cooking, fluff with a fork and let it cool until the grains separate easily
2. In a shallow pan, steam the frozen edamame for 5 minutes. Drain and let them cool. 
3. Slice the green onion, chop the peppers, dice the mango, slice or chop the almonds. Add these ingredients and the raisins and coconut to a large mixing bowl. Set aside while the quinoa and edamame cool. (I let mine sit for 30 minutes)
4. Into a jar, squeeze the lime juice, add the balsamic vinegar and oil. Shake the jar until the dressing is emulsified. 
5. Once the quinoa and the edamame have cooled, add them to the mixing bowl with the other ingredients. Gently mix to incorporate the ingredients. Then pour over the dressing and mix gently again, trying not to smash the quinoa. Add salt and pepper to taste. 
6. Eat alone as a salad for lunch or serve with a protein or roasted vegetables for dinner. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What Interns eat--Quick Vegan Meal: Tofu pancakes with rice noodles

My regular readers will already know of my love of Mark Bittman aka the Minimalist aka why did he leave the New York Times?  My most heavily used cookbook is Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  I bought it in 2011, the year I started medical school. In 2010, the UN released a report stating what we eat, specifically the amount of animal products, significantly impacts our environment and is accelerating man made climate change. From the report: "Agricultural production accounts for a staggering 70% of the global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use, and 14% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions."  When I started medical school, I had this grand idea that I would start my crusade to help the environment by becoming vegetarian.

As you can tell from my blog, which documents my cooking and eating around the world, I am not vegetarian. However over the past few years, I have cut out a significant amount of meat from my diet--not in small part due to having vegetarian friends like Jess in medical school. Now when I cook for myself, it is primarily vegetarian, and in this mix I also try out interesting vegan recipes. I have not yet given up animal products. I haven't kicked my yogurt habit. It is difficult to control my lust for fancy cheeses, especially queso Manchego or drinking red wine and eating brie and french bread with my mother. I do my tiny part for the environment by abstaining from meat 5-6 days out of the week. It will only make a difference if more of us can at least be as good as American elementary schools and have a meatless Monday or several meatless days a week.

So that's my soap box--now on with the cooking. I was excited to try this tofu pancake recipe because I am such a fan of the greasy orange Kimchi pancake that is served at most Korean restaurants. The kimchi pancake is spicy, crispy, orange, greasy and served with a tangy dipping sauce. I always want to know--how do they get it so orange and crispy?? (the answer is kimchi, chili garlic sauce, and tons of oil)  Why do  I like something so orange and crispy? These tofu pancakes are like miniature kimchi pancakes. Tonight I made them without kimchi, but this tofu pancake recipe can be dressed up many ways to keep it interesting.

This recipe is truly quick and can be made easily from things that I always keep on hand like tofu, chili garlic sauce, kimchi, and rice noodles.

Asian Tofu Pancakes adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian


For the pancakes:
1 box of tofu-firm
1/2 cup of water
3 tbs of chili garlic sauce
4  green onions, washed and thinly sliced including the green part
2-3 small cloves of garlic, finely minced
** (you can also substitute 1/2 cup of chopped kimchi for the green onions and garlic)
soy sauce
1/2 cup of flour
sesame oil-optional to add to the frying oil for taste
vegetable oil for frying
rice noodles--I usually use the MaiFun Rice sticks

For the sauce:
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
3-4 green onions, thinly sliced including the green part
optional-ginger, more garlic, lime

1) In a large mixing bowl or a food processor, crumble the tofu. To the crumbled tofu add 2-3 tablespoons of chili garlic sauce (depending on your desire for spice) and the water. Option one, run the mixture in the food processor until smooth. OR if you're like me and do not have a food processor, you can use an immersion blender and grind the tofu until it is nice and smooth.

2)  If you used a food processor, transfer the processed tofu into a mixing bowl. To the pureed tofu mixture, add the sliced green onions, garlic,  3 tablespoons of soy sauce and the flour. Stir until incorporated. This makes a thick batter. If you want crispier, thinner pancakes (but harder to flip), you can add water little by little until it becomes the consistency closer to breakfast pancake batter. I like to keep the batter thick because it is easier to manipulate and flip.
thick batter 

3) In a large frying pan, add enough oil to coat the bottom. Heat the oil over medium heat. When the oil sizzles with a drop of water, you are ready to fry.

4) Using a tablespoon, drop about 2 tablespoons worth of batter into the oil to make small pancakes. Fry each side of about 4 minutes or until golden brown. Really--just let them sit for 4 minutes. I get very impatient and try to flip my pancakes early. But this tofu dough falls apart easily and the pancakes will break and get everywhere if you don't wait 4 minutes per side. Don't flip them until they are golden along the edges.
just starting to get golden on the edges 

5) Flip and cook the other side at least 4 minutes. Once done, set aside and let drain on a paper towel

Dipping sauce and Noodles

Noodles: While the pancakes are frying--or as you were making the dough, bring a pot of water to boil for the noodles. When you have 10 minutes left of cooking, drop the packet of rice sticks into the pot of water. Turn off the burner and let the noodles sit for 10 minutes. At the end of 10 minutes, try a noodle to make sure it is soft. Then drain into a sieve or colander and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking.

Dipping sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and sesame oil. Feel free to add a dash of Sriracha or some diced ginger or more garlic. Season the dipping sauce to your palette. Add the sliced green onions to the sauce. Now you are ready to serve the tofu pancakes.

If I want more vegetables, I will also quickly steam a bag of frozen broccoli to serve with the noodles and pancakes.

Broccoli encouraged  

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Cooking with friends on a weeknight: Special feature--Mexican Food with Dr. Ortiz--Enchiladas Montadas

This time around in DC, I have spent much more time cooking in other people's kitchens.  Don't get me wrong, I love my closet sized kitchen, with its dinky burners and oven that reminds me of the easy bake oven I never had. However, in an effort cultivate friendships, I invite myself over to people's homes on a regular basis. That's how my psychiatrist recommended I make friends...just kidding. Sort of.

This year of blogging has been centered on surviving intern year. Amazingly, May 2016 is here--the first year of residency is almost over. In my co-interns, I've made great friends who love to cook just like me. Patricia is another wonderful GWU psychiatry co-intern and also a fellow Texan. By day, Patricia and I work side by side in a psychiatric unit in Virginia. The good news: I like my job most of the time. I enjoy the experience of becoming an "expert of the mind." At this point of the year, through my patients,  I've witnessed a large amount of the human experience.  I see  every thing: from a psychotic patient who is literally out of touch with reality and believes he is the Messiah to depressed folks who have decided that death is the only option. Yet, if that depressed person has the pleasure of seeing my smiling face, it means the suicide attempt either failed or was thwarted by fear of death, last minute self-preservation or thoughts of loved ones. It's quite an experience--some days more than others, I still feel like an amateur, like an adolescent pretending to be a doctor with my white coat and my developing demeanor of authority.

I visit the Ortiz kitchen on a regular basis and they are always game to cook and spend a week day evening hanging out. They just moved into a lovely home in Petworth with a great kitchen and a porch made for lounging.

By day Patricia and I are psychiatry interns, doing our best to learn and help our patients. In the evenings, we just need a glass of wine, delicious food and company to put the day behind us. Last Wednesday we spent our commute home reminiscing about the Mexican food we so dearly miss. Admittedly, being from central and south Texas, I am more informed about Tex-mex food; hence my love of nachos. Being from El Paso, Patricia and her husband, are well versed and well practiced in making authentic Mexican food. They have kindly allowed me to feature some of their recipes on the blog.  I see a new KitchenPulse feature in the works: Mexican Food with Dr. Ortiz.

On Wednesday, I skipped the gym for family dinner at the Ortiz household. When we arrived to the house, Stephen was already boiling the dried chiles, for homemade red chile sauce for enchiladas montadas.  Patricia doesn't have her recipes written down, so I photographed and will document the recipe as best as I can. Technically (according to internet searches) this recipe is for flat or stacked enchiladas aka Sonoran or New Mexican enchiladas. I like this concept because it takes out the extra step of rolling and baking the enchiladas as you would need for the more common Tex-Mex enchiladas.

The first part of the recipe is the basic steps of making any sauce from dried chiles--boil the chiles, grind them in a food processor, strain out the sauce and season. It's a good process to know and can be used with any type of dried chile.

Enchilidas Montadas aka Enchiladas with red sauce and an egg on top
This recipe requires a food processor or a blender

Ingredients for chile sauce:
One 8 ounce bag of New Mexico red chiles--though per Patricia, the type of dried chile doesn't matter so much. You can also use a mix of dried chiles
New Mexico dried chiles
1 can of plain tomato sauce
1 onion cut in quarters
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
salt, pepper and chicken bullion or Knorr granulated chicken bullion
chicken broth

Ingredients for the enchiladas:
corn tortillas, 3 per person
grated cheddar cheese
half an onion, diced
2 eggs per set of enchiladas
3 small (roma) tomatoes diced into small cubes

For the sauce:
1) In a large sauce pan or pot add the bag of chiles and the quarted onion, cover with water.  At a soft boil, cook the bag of chiles with the onion until they are soft. This was about 30 minutes. The color starts to lighten from the darker hue of the dried chile
The next few steps are done in batches:
2) Using a blender or food processor: Into the food processor, Add about half or a third of the chiles and include the onion. Also  add about half a cup of chicken broth to the food processor. You want to add just enough liquid to process the chiles into a paste
3) Once the chiles are ground to a paste, empty the food processor into a sieve that is placed over the pot where the sauce will be cooked.
4) Use a metal spoon and start stirring and pressing the chiles into the sieve. The goal is to get the liquid part through the sieve and what drips into the pot is the liquefied part of the mixture which is the sauce. Basically the skins and seeds of the chiles will remain. Patricia pressed each batch for about 5 minutes--it is hard work, her arm got tired

chile paste

pressing out the sauce

5) Repeat the above steps of processing the chiles with chicken broth and then pressing out the juices through the sieve until you've used up all the chiles.
6) To the pot of sauce, add in the can of tomato sauce, the 3 whole garlic cloves and season with salt, pepper and either 1 cube of chicken bullion or a few shakes of Knorr to taste.Over low-medium heat, simmer the sauce for about 20 minutes.  The sauce never gets to a boil

The result after all this processing and pressing is a thick chile sauce. According the Patricia if it is too thick it can be thinned out afterwards with chicken broth. Think of the consistency this way: the tortillas will be dipped into the sauce and you want the sauce thick enough to stick onto the front and back of the tortillas.

Assembling  the enchiladas:
1) In a small frying pan, over medium heat, warm up about 1/2 cup or enough to make a 1 inch layer of neutral oil, like vegetable oil

2) Once the oil is hot, fry each corn tortilla--they get fried enough to be light gold and still soft, but NOT browned and crispy. Lay the fried tortillas out on paper-towels
3) Using the oil from the tortillas, fry the eggs in the warm oil. This step was done masterfully by Patricia's husband. The goal is a soft fried egg with runny yolk.

During assembly and frying the eggs, keep the tortillas and cooked eggs warm in an oven at the lowest setting. Once all the tortillas and eggs are fried, it's time to start assembling.
4) Prepare the assembly line of tortillas, then sauce, then cheddar cheese, then diced onions, then diced tomatoes and the eggs last.

5) Using 3 tortillas per serving: Dip one of the tortillas into the pot of chile sauce, then use a spoon to cover the non-sauced part of the tortilla
6) Sprinkle the tortilla generously with cheddar cheese, diced onions to taste, then repeat this step for 3 enchiladas. Over all three enchiladas, sprinkle the diced tomatoes, and finally "mount" the enchiladas with 2 of the poached eggs. The enchiladas can be fanned out on a plate or stacked.
stacked vs fanned 
7) Serve with refried beans and/or Mexican rice.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Cooking in the Shenandoah Valley: Meatless Enchilada Style Burritos with salsa verde

I know, I know: it's been 4 months since my last post. January 2016 started with such potential and promise--I thought I would post a few times a month -- my friends and the internet would see just how easy it is to maintain an active, creative life as a first year resident. Yet, some resolutions are meant to fail and all I can do is try and try again keep up a regular appearance as the KitchenDoc. Just  because I haven't posted, doesn't mean I haven't been cooking. I've been cooking--a lot. There are lots of new interesting vegan and vegetarian dishes that I've wanted to share. Hopefully coming soon: tofu pancakes, orange glazed tempeh and baked falafel balls with tzatziki sauce.

This weekend I went to the Shenandoah Valley with old friends, and I was inspired to document one of our meals. I met up with Jess, her husband Matt and Jess's sister Alison, her husband Derek and another dear friend from VCU medical school. We spent our Saturday morning and afternoon trekking through the George Washington National Forest. Our portable hiking lunch was pimento cheese sandwiches prepared by the lovely Mississippi bred Wroten sisters--Alison and Jess.

The vegetarian dinner preparation was left to the husbands. Despite being given a pass on kitchen duties, I decided to document and help out with dinner. We were given all of the ingredients and general directions to make vegetarian "burrito-enchiladas." Our goal was to use up all the vegetables in the fridge and get dinner on the table while also relaxing and drinking our way through the weekend stash of beer.

It was a good time cooking with these modern cooking husbands. The main lesson I learned was how to roll a tight burrito--thanks to burrito roller extraordinaire Derek . Matt did a killer job chopping up sweet potatoes and filling burritos with just enough veggie filling for a full but not bursting burrito.

Here you have it.

Meatless Enchilada style burritos with salsa verde
(this can be a vegan recipe if you substitute the cheddar cheese for vegan cheese)

Ingredients: (this amount of ingredients yielded 10 burritos)
10-12 Flour tortillas "burrito sized"
Shredded cheddar cheese about 8-12 oz depending on your love of melted cheese-basically one of those small bags of shredded cheese
One jar salsa verde
One can vegetarian refried black beans
3 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
1 red pepper, diced
1 or 2 jalapenos depending on your spice tolerance, de-seeded and diced
Half a head of cauliflower cut into small florets
10 stalks or about half a bushel of asparagus cut into 1 inch pieces
1 bushel cilantro, washed and chopped
2 limes


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

Making the filling: 

  1.  Fill a large pot half way with water and bring to a boil.
  2. Wash or peel the sweet potatoes and then cut into small cubes
  3. Add the cubed sweet potato to the water, boil them until soft enough to easily pierce with a fork--about 10 minutes
  4. While the potato boils, chop the red pepper and jalapenos, add to a medium sized saute pan with olive oil. Saute over medium heat until they are softened but not brown. Turn off the heat once soft.
  5. Coarsely chop the asparagus and cauliflower and add it to a roasting pan--ideally the same one you will use to.bake the burritos. Dry roast these.vegetables for 10 minutes. These vegetables should remain crunchy to give texture to the burrito filling.
  6. In a large bowl mix together the sweet potatoes, red pepper and jalapenos. Mix well until the sweet potatoes are crushed but not smoothly mashed. Then add in the roasted vegetables and mix to combine. Season the filling with a few tablespoons of salsa verde, the juice of a whole lime, and salt and pepper.

Wrapping the burrito: At this point start to prepare assembly line.

  1. At one end have the bowl of sweet potato filling, the opened can of refried beans, then the tortillas, an open space for.rolling and finally the roasting pan for baking the burritos. 
  2. Smear a heaping tablespoon of refried bean into the middle of the tortilla
  3. Then add a large serving soon amount of filling to the middle--about 4 tablespoons of filling
  4. Now for the rolling: I have a video embedded but I can try to explain as well--Lay the tortilla on a flat surface, then lift up the eddges to meet and smash together the filling, then lie it flat again, bring up the left and right edges, then fold them over, and use your thumb and index finger to softly pin them down, then with your middle fingers, pick up the upper edge of the tortilla and flip it over the pinned down side edges and tuck it under the filling, then keep tucking and rolling until you sort of flip the burrito over the seam. Place the burrito seam side down in a pyrex or roasting pan. Repeat this step until you use up all the filling 
Smush it all together

Gather the edges and pin them down with index finger and thumb

Tuck the sides and start the roll the top edge over

Keep tucking the top edge under the filling
After tucking in the top edge, roll the whole burrito over so it lies flat on its seam

Place in pan, seam down

The final steps: 

Cover with salsa verde and cheese
  1. Cover each burrito with a tablespoon or two of salsa verde, then sprinkle the whole dish with cheese. 
  2. Bake the burritos for 10-15 minutes at 400 until the cheese melts. 
  3. Serve with cilantro and lime for garnish and topping
    Bake until the cheese melts

    Garnish cilantro and lime

Sunday, January 3, 2016

What interns eat: Chick Pea and Carrot Tangine

The "what interns eat" theme is meant to bring you recipes that encompass the basic truths of being an intern:  we are broke and overworked, but still need to eat (preferably something healthy and fast). Most months I'm broke because I pay too much in rent, and I'm paying almost a fourth of my paycheck to my student loan payments. I know the rent issue is my own fault, but I really love my neighborhood and living alone in my well decorated box of an apartment.

cheap and health ingredients ready for tangine 
It's January, and probably like the rest of American population, I participated in both the materialistic and spiritual part of Christmas. I bought nice gifts to demonstrate affection for the people I love and then spent the remainder of my money on throwing a party to bring in the new year (and some nice gifts for myself...). Thus when it came time to go grocery shopping, I looked at my bank account and realized to save money I would need to eat my way through my pantry and the old stuff in my refrigerator. 

(Other New year's resolutions: exercise regularly; read more for leisure; join instagram; try to hedge my growing cynicism of our broken health care system; volunteer once a month; give away 1/4 of my overflowing closet) 

Beans are the quintessential example of cheap and healthy eating. As previous posts indicate, I eat a lot of curry based foods because they are easy to make, difficult to mess up, and I can make a huge amount, freeze half and have dinner for the next time I am broke. 

Currently, my refrigerator is full of food left over from my new year's party which is more snack food than dinner foods. Luckily these left overs do include some fresh foods like berries and grapes; I also have some left over vegetables from a veggie tray. In my mind, the way to bridge these left overs was BEANS. My pantry always has lentils, kidney beans, and garbanzo beans. Now that I have mastered the art of the pressure cooker, I rarely buy canned beans since I can make tender beans in less than an hour. 

Tanjine: picture from
 Even though I have a food blog, and some days I can get it together to improvise something delicious from random ingredients, I often end up googling different ingredients to see what the internet brings me. This morning I entered "chick peas + carrots + recipe" into google, and near to top of the results was an easy for tangine. Tanjine (or Tangine) refers to a North African stew cooked with a tanjine, but when it comes to recipes on the internet, it mostly means a slow cooked north African stew that I think of like a curry with North African flavors. 

Flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to eating from what you already have in your fridge and pantry. You have to be open to substitutions in your cooking. I didn't have onions or currants, so I used celery and chopped dried apricots and the finished product came out just fine. I'll be eating it topped with sour cream since I don't have yogurt. 
celery instead of onion

Chickpea and carrot tangine, modified from Vegetarian Times

olive or vegetable oil
1 cup thinly sliced celery
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
5 carrots peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup currants or 6 dried apricots, fig or dates, chopped into cubes
2 cans of chick peas or 3 cups of cooked chick peas
1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp cayenne
2 tsp honey
2 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup yogurt or sour cream
parsley or cilantro for garnish

1. Prepare the vegetables: Thinly slice and then chop one small onion or 1 cup of celery. Smash and mince 3 cloves of garlic. Peel 5 carrots and slice into thin rounds
2. Chop the dried fruit into small pieces
3. In a saute pan, over 1/4 cup oil over medium heat, add the celery/onion and garlic, and saute until soft about 2-5 minutes.
4. Then add the dried fruit, carrots, 3 cups of chick peas, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, cayenne pepper, and honey.
5. Pour over the ingredient, 2 cups of water. Stir to combine.
half way done
6. Simmer the mixture, half covered, over medium heat (gently bubbling at the edges of the pan) for 20 minutes or until the carrots are soft and the ingredients have melded. Stir every 5 minutes to check if the tangine is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
7. Season with salt and pepper to taste (about 1 1/2 tsp for me, as I added a bit too much honey)
8. Cook uncovered for 5 more minutes for some liquid to evaporate.
9. Let sit for a few minutes to cool and meld.
10. Serve over rice or plan, garnished with sour cream or yogurt and cilantro or parsley.

Ready for lunch on Monday 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas day Tradition: Cuban Sandwiches

Dad slicing the pork and our white German shepherd
longing for some scraps
I love cooking at home in Texas, both the fact that the kitchen is large, well stocked and I get to cook with my mother. I've posted about Noche Buena in the past (and also a short post about Cuban sandwiches in 2010), but this year's Christmas was a little different. Usually we celebrate Noche Buena on Christmas Eve, but making a pork leg, yucca, black beans, plantains, watercress salad, and flan.  A true Caribbean feast. However, this year we decided to take it easy and ordered a honey baked ham and made all American sides like macaroni and cheese and Brussels sprouts.

My Dad on Christmas Eve, discussing the
intricacies of Spanish brandy

No matter happens on Noche Buena, we make Cuban sandwiches on Christmas day. This year we roasted a pork loin and used our special order ham to make our Cuban sandwiches. There are two camps for Cuban sandwiches: Either you can use mayonnaise OR mustard. Never both. If you order a Cuban sandwich and it has mustard and mayonnaise--It's a FAKE! (Albeit a delicious fake)

My family is in the yellow mustard camp. Seriously, none of this fancy whole grain or dijon mustard--yellow mustard only. So this post is a review of the Posada family Cuban sandwiches. These sandwiches are a Cuban tradition that have thankfully spread all over the United States to every swank deli, yet probably one of those specialties that is not easily found in Cuban--for now anyway.

Lay out the ingredients
Bolios (small loaves of bread) or Hoagies
Roasted pork
Swiss cheese
Dill pickles, sliced
A panini pan or a sandwich iron or a frying pan with a press

1. Thinly slice the meats: in this case the honey baked ham and the pork loin
--For the pork loin, I marinated a medium pork loin overnight in a dressing of olive oil, lime juice, garlic and red onions. Then I seared it for five minutes on each side in a cast iron dutch oven, and roasted it in the oven for 45 minutes at 350.
2. Slice the bread open and lay out as many loaves as you want to assemble into sandwiches.
3. On both sides of the bread, spread or squirt a thin layer of yellow mustard.
Progression of the sandwiches
 4. Start to layer the ingredients: I put pickle on one side of the bread (pat the pickles dry first), Swiss  cheese on the other, then layer the ham and pork in the middle.
5. Close the sandwich, pierce it with toothpick to keep in the bread together so it stays closed with pressing

6. Smear a nice thick layer of butter on both sides of the bread.
Butter the bread
7. Heat the pan over low heat, place the sandwiches on the grill and press for about 3-5 minutes, until you see grill marks on one side and then flip and press until you have grill marks on the other side.
8. Once you have nice grill marks and the cheese is soft, slice the sandwiches in half on a diagonal. Serve with potato chips or even better, fried banana chips, aka mariquitas.

Grill Marks