Day 81: That hour is lost forever

March 22, 2007

So today, L came home from work early because he has some kind of flu/ cold thing. Fortunately for me, he was well enough to chop some vegetables for this meal, or I might still be in the kitchen days later. Tonight we had the dubious pleasure of a meal inspired by the Estefan family based on some techniques they taught Rachael Ray. Mashed Plantains with Oh, Baby! Garlic-Tomato Shrimp on Top, Grilled Flank Steak with Lime and Onions, and Quick Rice with Black Beans [recipe] was a lot, a lot of work for a less than mediocre result.

This meal was not terribly complicated, but it was certainly labour-intensive, with a long convoluted set of instructions. The two pages of directions and the ridiculously long title gave us a clue that that may be the case. The problem with many of the longer recipes is that different elements of the meal are often ready at completely different times. Even under a tent of foil, we ended up with cold steak and onions, and lukewarm rice. The steak was seasoned with grill seasoning, cumin and lime zest, and was served on a bed of seared sliced onions. This was the best part of the meal, the only part we agreed was consistently tasty and good. The rice and black beans were flavoured with onion, cumin, thyme and chicken stock. If you like that sort of food, they were probably pretty good. Unfortunately, neither of us are rice and beans fans, so we weren’t too happy with the dish. We had a difference of opinion on the garlic-tomato-shrimp element. I though that it was ok, although I preferred it as it was cooking when it consisted of onions, green peppers, garlic and chopped shrimp. The addition of tomato sauce, lemon juice and parsley made it strangely pungent. L thought it was absolutely disgusting, I thought it was ok but I wouldn’t bother with it again.

The unmitigated disaster of the meal was the mashed plantains. Gloria Estefan apparently taught Rachael Ray how to cook plantains in the microwave. After slitting the skin, the plantain was wrapped in wax paper and twisted at the ends, like a novelty banana Christmas cracker. 90 seconds was supposed to zap the flesh enough to mash it. I put the plantain back in the microwave two more times, and it was still like attempting to mash a pile of wet woodchips. Yet more olive oil and some chicken stock did not really have an impact on the consistency, and I had to use my hands to mush it together enough to serve it on the plate. Having never cooked or eaten a plantain before, I had no idea what I was looking for in the grocery store. The plantains all looked like big green bananas- maybe the one I chose was too green and under-ripe. Who knows? It tasted like seasoned wood chips. We were highly highly underwhelmed.

This meal took forever to make and there is an enormous amount of clearing up to be done. I’ll concede that maybe Cuban flavours by way of Miami are just not tastes that we crave or enjoy, but this was disappointing for the effort involved. Many of the reviewers of the recipe on the Food Network website seem to have really enjoyed it; we are obviously in the minority who just didn’t get it. Tomorrow we’ll give the “Este-fun” family tribute another go with Ropa Vieja Josés (Cuban Sloppy Joes) with Smashed Yucca, Sliced Tomatoes, Plantain Chips, and Mojo Sauce. We have a yucca standing by, and will report back tomorrow. And don’t forget,

At night when you turn off all the lights
There’s no place that you can hide
Oh no, the rhythm is gonna get’cha

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  • Reply Joannie March 23, 2007 at 6:25 am

    I love plantains but you need different ripeness for different things. Green plantains are hard and bitter (which makes excellent chips when sliced and fried) and black ones are very soft and sweet (which makes them great for chunking up and baking with brown sugar and butter).

    Even though they are similar to bananas, you can’t eat them raw. They have to be cooked. I never thought of making mashed plantains. Seems like a waste of effort when there are tastier things you can do with them. I hope you have more luck tomorrow.

  • Reply Helen | One Year Project March 23, 2007 at 7:37 am

    Thanks very much, that makes a lot of sense- I’ll bear it in mind next time I need to buy a plantain- I had no idea!

  • Reply The Home Cook March 23, 2007 at 8:00 am

    I hate to say this, but I tried the Ropa Vieja Joses recently and they weren’t very good. Hopefully you’ll have better luck then I did, but just in case I recommend a stand-by meal so you don’t starve.

    I’ve found with RR recipes that simpler is always, always, always better. When she tries to combine a ton of different flavors and ingredients together it always turns out badly.

  • Reply Helen | One Year Project March 23, 2007 at 10:13 am

    Noooooooooooooo! Argh! I agree entirely on the simplicity front- the more she throws in there, the worse it usually gets. Thanks for the warning though, much appreciated.

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