To me, one of the most remarkable things about cooking is its ability to engage so many of our senses simultaneously. Sight, smell, taste…all entwined in just a single experience. It’s also touch…really feeling the ingredients that you’re working with: the sleek slice of a knife through an onion; the soft smoothness of pasta dough pressing against your palms; the smush of tomatoes, oozing through your fingers.
Something I’ve wanted to write about for a while now, however, is the sense of hearing. Music is so important to my cooking experience and I don’t think I’m alone here. When I find the right soundtrack to get my cook on in the kitchen, it can change the entire experience from a unidimensional one to a multidimensional one. In my kitchen, I use music to connect my emotions with the food that I’m cooking. If I’m photographing it for work or for the blog, I play music that encapsulates the feel I’m going for in the photographs, which also often mirrors my own emotions.
If I’m feeling dainty, I let the improvised tunes of early Jazz fill my kitchen. If I’m feeling moody, the strained cracked vocals of Kurt Cobain (and those he influenced) are the perfect accompaniment. Other times, when I’m feeling more playful, I’ll shake it to pop tunes all around my kitchen. In my head I dance just like J-Lo…and have an ass just like hers too LOL ;)
Yesterday, however, I was feeling just downright joyful. It was a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon and I was sipping on a crisp glass of rosé, the perfect end to a wonderful week. I wanted to create a meal that reflected that joy and allowed me to shimmy around my kitchen to something equally cheerful. What I landed on was one of my go-to Pandora stations, Cuban Radio, which I paired with a particularly fitting and colorful dish: Ropa Vieja Cubana with Saffron Rice.
The absolute best part of my musical experience as of late has been the addition of the Sonos wireless sound system in my house. Upon receiving two of these little magical speakers for product review, I promptly installed one in my kitchen and one in the open living/dining room area of my new home. I’ve only had them up for about a week, but I’m not kidding when I say that they’ve changed everything about the way I experience music in the kitchen. Not only were they ridiculously easy to set up (remember how I told you I’m not a tech-savvy person?), but they are also incredibly functional. I downloaded the app on my phone and my laptop so I can control what music plays easily and without even touching the speakers. I can also control the volume in the rooms they’re playing in straight from my iPhone. Crank it in the kitchen for me to bump to and keep it lower in the dining room for guests to easily converse? No hey problema. The speakers deliver a crisp, clear sound even at their highest volume; and if you had peeked into my kitchen yesterday afternoon, you would have most certainly found me happily shaking it at full blast to the bubbly yet sultry sounds of the Buena Vista Social Club. “Chan Chan” gets me every time.
Because this intersection of music, emotion, and cooking is so important to me, I’m going to post some music suggestions to accompany my recipes for the next couple of months while I review this Sonos system.
For today: I share with you my customized Cuban Radio station. (Just click the link and, assuming you have a Pandora account, you can listen to it while you cook your own dishes!)
Ropa Vieja Cubana with Saffron Rice
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil, divided into 2 parts
- 3 pounds of flank steak, trimmed (if not already)
- 1 tablespoon of flour
- 3 carrots, chopped coarse
- 1 large onion, chopped coarse
- 2 celery ribs, chopped coarse
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1 cup of water + 1 tablespoon of beef bouillon (or 1 cup of beef stock)
- ½ cup of red wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
- 1.5 teaspoons of ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- ½ teaspoon of black pepper
- 1 green bell pepper, 1 red bell pepper, and 1 yellow bell pepper; all chopped into ½ inch pieces
- 1 14-ounce can of whole tomatoes with juice, crushed by hands (juice retained)
- 3 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 1 cup of peas (fresh is obviously ideal, but frozen work too)
- ½ cup of pimento-stuff olives, drained and cut in half
Heat a large skillet (preferably, cast iron) over medium-high heat.
Pat meat dry with a paper towel and coat with salt and pepper. Add olive oil and meat to skillet. Brown meat on both sides; about 2-3 minutes per side.
Once meat is finished browning, transfer it to a dutch oven, sprinkle with flour, and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Add the celery, carrots, onions, and garlic to the same skillet that the meat browned in, along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 10-15 minutes.
Add the vegetable mixture to the dutch oven with the meat. Add the water, beef bouillon, red wine, bay leaves, spices, bell peppers, tomatoes and tomato paste to the dutch oven and cook for 2 hours, or until meat is tender enough to pull apart with a fork. (Check after 1 hour. It should look fairly liquid-y. If it looks like it’s drying out, add in more beef stock.)
Once meat is shredded, the dish should be juicy, but not like a soup. If it’s got too much liquid, strain the liquid through a colander and simmer it until it reduces and then add the reduction back to the meat.
Add peas and olives and cook for another 20 minutes.
Yellow saffron rice
- 2 tablepoons of olive oil
- 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon of saffron threads, crushed
- 2 cups of rice
- 1.5 cups of water
- ½ teaspoon of salt
Add olive oil to a saucepan and heat over medium heat. Add cumin and cook for 1-2 minutes. Be careful not to let it burn.
Meanwhile, rinse the rice thoroughly. Add the rice, saffron, salt and water to the saucepan. Stir and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer, cover with a tight fitting lid, and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. (Note: This can vary somewhat depending on what kind of rice you are working with. Be sure to check your package directions and adjust the cooking times/ingredient ratio if necessary.) Fluff with a fork and serve.
Note: Recipe adapted from Epicurious.