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As I have mentioned before, lasagnas are great alternatives for boat and fishing trips.  Last week, it was Club Nautico de San Juan‘s International Billfish Tournament, the longest consecutive fishing tournament in the world (57 years).  Anglers from all over the world come to Puerto Rico to this tag-and-release tournament and its a week full of action, fun and camaraderie. My husband Emilio has been involved in this tournament for over 20 years and is currently a board member.  Actually, I met him during the week of a tournament in August 1997 and we were married by June 1998.  So, I have been a “fishing widow” ever since…Ja!, although I join him fishing once in I while, like I did for Club Deportivo de Mayaguez’s Blue Marlin Tournament in the western part of the island, where I witnessed the most beautiful sunsets in my life and placed 1st in the women’s division and 3rd overall (among 500 fishermen, not bad!!)

This is me fishing at Club Deportivo de Mayaguez Blue Marlin Tournament October 2009

The week of the tournament is filled with fun events like the flag ceremony, excursions for the wives of the anglers, fashion shows, the Billfish Foundation’s Auction and of course the themed party.  This year the theme was Disco Night and I must tell you it has been the best party at the tournament yet!  Some members of the board along with other volunteers did a choreography to Dancing Queen and Fever Night mix which turned out to be spectacular and got everyone in dancing mode! There were also Donna Summer and Boy George impersonators.

The Marlin Dancers (I am the 6th one from the left)

Fishing goes on for 4 days with a rest day in between.  Emilio was assigned to bring lunch for two of the four days of fishing, so for one day I sent my Meat Lasagna with green salad and Amarillos en Almíbar (sweet plantains sauted in butter, brown sugar and cinnamon).  The boys (Frankie, Joe, Emilio and Ricky) loved it and left nothing on the plate!  To comply to their requests, I am posting this recipe today.  Here is my version of Meat Lasagna.

Enjoy!

Meat Lasagna

Ingredients

Picadillo Recipe

Basic Tomato Sauce Recipe (yields 3 cups)

8 ounces ricotta cheese or mascarpone

about 15 pieces of lasagna strips

12 fresh basil leaves coarsely chopped

4 cups of shredded mozzarella

Procedure


top layer has tomato sauce, cheese and basil only


1.  In a 13×9 baking dish, place one layer of lasagna strips. (I use the oven ready strips which do not need to be boiled but you may also use the traditional boiled ones.)  Spread 4 ounces of cheese, half of the picadillo-ground beef recipe (remove excess fat and liquid), 1 cup of basic tomato sauce and 1 cup of shredded mozzarella.  Cover again with lasagna strips and repeat procedure.  Place third layer of lasagna strips and cover with remaining cup of tomato sauce, chopped fresh basil and remaining mozzarella. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes at 390ºF. Uncover and broil until cheese on top is golden (about 7-10 minutes).  Serve with garlic bread, amarillos en almíbar, white rice or salad.

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In many cultures around the world it is said that to get to a man’s heart you first have to get to his stomach, so when I got married 12 years ago I set a goal for myself to learn to cook cuban food like a cuban. My husband Emilio is the son of cuban immigrants that moved to Puerto Rico in the late 1960’s.  Puerto Rican and Cuban food have many similarities since they are both a fusion of mainly Spanish and African influences along with the ingredients the tropical climate of the Caribbean region has to offer.  However, the cuban staple dish of white rice (long grain), black beans, breaded beefsteak (carne empanada) and yuca al mojo (boiled yuca with a dressing made of garlic, onions, oil and lime juice) is different form the Puerto Rican staple dish of white rice (medium grain), red beans, sauted beefsteak with onions and tostones (fried green plantains).  Probably these differences come from availability of the products or varying tastes from immigrants from different regions, but in order to impress my husband with the food he grew up with I had to give it try.

Of course, the first step was getting a cuban cooking cookbook.  My mother in law, Doña Martha gave me Nitza Villapol’s Cocina Criolla (not to be confused with Puerto Rico’s Mrs. Carmen Valdejully Cocina Criolla).  In this book, which has no pictures and is printed in old fashioned type writer font, I have found all of the recipes that are trademarks of cuban cuisine and more.  This book along with cooking tips from dear cuban family and friends like Doña Martha, Nene, Lilly, and of course Emilio, have been the wind beneath my wings to discover the pleasures and savour of cuban cuisine.  Arroz con leche, frijoles negros, yuca al mojo, arroz con pollo, maduros, ropa vieja, picadillo, carne empanada, mojito, congri and cafe batido have become part of my recipe repertoire and in my family’s dinner table for many years.  I must mention  there is another version of cuban picadillo which has raisins and or cubed potatoes if you like it.  It is also delicious!

Picadillo, which means to cut or mince in spanish, is the best way to make ground beef in my opinion.  As I have mentioned before in other blog posts, I don’t eat a lot of meat but I like to make Picadillo with organic ground beef and use as a filling for tacos, burritos, empanadillas, empanada gallega, relleno de papa (potato fritters filled with ground beef), pastelón, lasagna, alcapurrias, ravioli, Bolognese Sauce or just as a side dish with white rice.  Some people like to add Bijol powder or annato oil to give it more color but I don’t think its necessary. This recipe makes a large amount because it is generous enough to make a meat lasagna but if I only need half of it I have the option of freezing it or using it as a filling for argentinian oven empanadillas (which can also be frozen once assembled) or whatever dish comes to my mind.  I also use it for my mother’s recipe of one-pot-spaghetti in which the pasta is cooked in the meat sauce. Super delicious!  Here is my version of Picadillo.

Buen provecho!

Picadillo (cuban style ground beef)

Ingredients

1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil

1 cup of yellow onion finely chopped

1/2 cup of green cubanel pepper (pimiento de cocinar)

3 cloves of garlic minced

2 pounds approximately of organic ground beef (lean)

8 oz. tomato sauce

2 tsp fine sea salt

1  tsp homemade adobo (if you don’t have then use salt with a pinch of cumin)

1/4 tsp pepper

1/4 tsp dried thyme

2 recaito “ice cubes” = 3 tbsps

4 dried bay leaves

3 tbsp “alcaparrado” (mixture of capers and manzanilla olives)  or just manzanilla olives

1/4  cup dry white wine

Procedure

1.  In a heavy bottom sauce pan heat oil (med or med-low depending on your stove) and add onions, cubanel pepper and garlic.  Saute for about 5 minutes until transluscent (not browned or burned).

2.  Add rest of ingredients, except ground beef, and let simmer to make “sofrito”.  Stir occasionally.

3.  Add ground beef.  Mix well and cook uncovered for approximately 20 minutes stirring frequently so that the beef doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  Take out excess fat with spoon.

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