“Leche condensada” and other things we had growing up Cuban!

Please listen to our Cuban food show with Marta Verdes Darby, editor of “My big fat Cuban family“;

Sonia Martinez, author of “Tropical taste“; and,

Frank Burke, friend of the show and contributor to American Thinker.

And we got to wish Marta’s mom “Happy 100th” birthday!

Last, but not least, we remembered “leche condesada” and growing up Cuban.


Cuban food between “San Giving”, “Noche buena” & “Fiesta de Año Nuevo”!

Please enjoy our annual Cuban food holiday seminar with Marta Verdes Darby, (My big fat Cuban family) and Sonia Martinez, author of “Tropical taste”.

Marta and Sonia are ‘tesoros del exilio”.   They cook and write about Cuban food.

In fact, Marta’s website is one “recipe after another”, as you can see in her latest from her blog post.

Sonia lives in Hawaii and has quite a cookbook of tropical recipes.

Let me say this:  You will love these ladies.  You will get hungry, no matter what time of the day you listen to our show.

Click here to listen:


A “Cubana” from Dixie who tells stories!

The Cuban American experience is diverse and very interesting.

On one hand, there are those Cubans who stayed in South Florida and grew up there.  They attended schools full of other Cuban exiles.  They walked on streets beaming with “Cubanismo” or the smell of “cafe cubano”.  They were never really separated from Cuba.

On the other hand, the rest of us settled in places like Chicago (Carlos Eire),  Virginia (Jorge Ponce), Louisiana (Humberto Fontova) or Wisconsin like me.  We had to find “cubanismo” by getting together with other Cubans or playing those Beny More LPs on our turntables.

Speaking of the second group, we chatted this week with Tersi Agra Bendiburg, a “Cubana” who grew up in Georgia.

Her family story is similar to mine, and perhaps yours:

“Tersi had vivid memories from her childhood in post-revolution Cuba.  She remembers soldiers walking through her house, taking inventory of everything her family owned.  A year later, when they were to leave the country with nothing –not even her parents’ wedding rings, the soldiers returned to re-inventory all the contents of the house.  She also remembers her father hiding a young man in their home  (who had been shot by soldiers) until he could be passed along safely.

At age, ten, Tersi’s family moved to Mexico City where they stayed with a distant relative while her parents applied for political asylum in the United States.  That Christmas was the first time Carmen, age 3, had ever seen Christmas lights because religious celebrations had been halted after the revolution in Cuba.

          It was a wonderland.  On the Dia de los Reyes, Three Kings Day, Tersi wrote to the kings to let them know Tersi and her family were no longer in Cuba, but were, instead, in Mexico City so they would know where to bring presents.  Her parents were so worried that Tersi had written a letter and they had no money to buy her a present.  It was then that she spoke with a relative from Decatur, Georgia who told Tersi that the kings had left presents for her and Carmen in Decatur, and that in the future she should direct her letters to Santa Claus because the kings said the coffee in America was too weak for men from the east and the icy streets were too much of a challenge for the camels.  Sure enough, when they arrived in Decatur, both girls had presents waiting for them.
In Decatur, the Agra family was sponsored by the First Baptist Church of Decatur.  They never needed welfare since they had a little furnished apartment and Mr. Agra began work almost immediately.  Tersi attended Oakhurst Elementary where she had the famous spinach incident, and many other adventures.
          That first Halloween in the United States Tersi ran home with a pillowcase full of candy.  She dumped it out and said, “You just say trick-or-treat and they give you candy!”
          “What a country!”  Her father exclaimed.”

Yes, what a country indeed!

Today, Tersi tells children the wonderful stories of Latin America and others:

“Latin American Folktales

Consists of a large collection of age-appropriate folktales and legends from Latin America. Tersi explains how these stories crossed the Atlantic from Europe and Africa centuries earlier and became part of the Latin American folklore. The use of songs and musical instruments moves the stories along. Students are encouraged to join in for songs and refrains during the stories. A workshop for grades 5-12 on how to research, collect, and adapt folktales can follow the presentation.
Georgia: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue
Offers a memorable collection of legends, stories, and anecdotes taken from the folklore and history of Georgia to bring its rich culture to life right before the students’ eyes. This program is especially suitable for eighth grade students who study Georgia history.
Coming to America: Red Clay Stories
Raises awareness and builds understanding about the difficulty immigrants face in adjusting to a new country and putting down roots through bittersweet stories.
Day of the Dead:  A Scary Name for a Beautiful Celebration!
Tells how this Mexican holiday of celebration and remembrance reflects the values and customs of the two very different cultures of Europe and the Aztecs. Tersi explores the roots of the Day of the Dead in All Saints Day from Europe and a number of celebrations of the Aztec and other indigenous peoples.
Our Holiday Table:  a Multicultural Feast
Tells how real holiday dishes inspire stories drawn from the three cultures that came together to make up the Spanish-speaking Caribbean: Native American, European, and African. “
What a wonderful lady!   Thanks to Fernando Hernandez for the introduction!     We spoke with Tersi on Friday’s show and learned that she was born in Florida, Camaguey or not too far from my mom’s hometown of Ciego de Avila!   As my mother loves to say:  “Que mundo mas chiquito”!
Enjoy the show:  CLICK HERE TO LISTEN!

Have a cafecito before we throw you in prison

USA Today’s fluff piece on the “World’s 10 best cities for coffee” features a stop in Havana:

[…] In Cuba, coffee is basically its own food group. A vital part of each day, steaming little cups of Cafe Cubano—espresso mixed with sugar as it brews—or Coradito—espresso topped with steamed milk—mark the morning, signal the end of a meal, and are a perfect excuse to stop and linger with a friend, new or old. To drink coffee in Havana is to join the rhythm of the city, and after a drop in Cuban coffee production, the country is now rebuilding its growing economy to meet the dedicated demand of its people. Cuban exiles in Miami have made the Florida city another great place for an authentic Cafe Cubano. […]

Nice. Cuban dissidents and the opposition always have a little cafecito before the Cuban Gestapo beats the shit out of them and throws them in jail…

Let’s talk croquetas.

Martas kitchen logo 1 copy-1

Every now and then I get invited to be a guest on someone’s radio show and talk about my life and about Cuban food. I never, ever say no, but that’s not important right now.

Tonight at 7 pm Pacific, I’ll be a guest on Silvio Canto Jr.’s radio show, along with the lovely and talented Sonia Martinez, another amazing Cuban cook who lives in Hawaii and knows everything there is to know about Cuban food. Go visit her wonderful blog, Sonia Tastes Hawaii. I’m honored to share air space with these two.

I’ve done Silvio’s show before and we can barely get through the first hour because we all get so excited talking about Cuban food.

Tonight’s show promises to be no different. I can hardly wait.

The first topic is…..*drum roll please*



If you’d like to call in to the show, the number is (646) 478-4933.

Again, that’s tonight,  Tuesday, September 4th. 7pm

I’m only about 5’4″ in person, but on the radio, I sound waaaay taller.

Call me. Let’s talk croquetas.

Cooking With the Troops or Meet Team Cubanaso

Martas kitchen logo 1 copy-1

I have spent the last three days thinking about what I want to say about our experience in San Antonio and Cooking With the Troops.

My family has talked and talked and rehashed almost every detail of our weekend, multiple times. And I’m still at a loss for words to describe all that we experienced. I’m just going to post lots of photos and try to give you a feel for what we experienced.

When I first received the invitation to join Cooking With the Troops in Texas in July, I didn’t hesitate before I agreed. I can think of no higher honor than doing what I do best to say thank you to those who have sacrificed everything for my personal freedom.

I don’t have photos of the troops we served because so many of those that we met over the weekend gave up their limbs and a normal life so we could continue to enjoy the freedoms that we do. Many were waiting for prosthetics. The Warrior and Family Support Center is a beautiful home-like healing facility with an air conditioned kitchen (Thank you, God!). I was grateful that we could be there to do this one act of charity for these, our best and bravest.

They are absolutely heroes and it was our great pleasure to serve them. What an honor!

But let me tell you about the Amazing Volunteers (or Team Cubanaso):

Team Cubanaso. Cooking With the Troops
The first thing I want you to know about these people, (including my own family) is that when asked if they were interested in doing this, (San Antonio, Texas in July, people!) not one of them hesitated. “Of course. What can I do?” And that was the attitude that carried through the entire weekend.

The guys from Dos Cubanos Pig Roasts (Texas, you are sooo lucky!) brought their expertise, four pigs, and their families. (Yay! More Cubans!) I think that might just have to be a separate post altogether. (Go “like” them on Facebook right now, please.)

Dos Cubanos Pig Roasts

Pig Roasting is their specialty, but Joey Lay and Jorge Carmona were able and willing to help in the kitchen as well. (Yes, that’s Jonathan working on his professional photo-bombing skills, but that’s not important right now.)

Joey Lay and Jorge Carmona

Of course, Val from Babalú was there knee deep in Cajas Chinas and pig fixins.

Valentin Prieto

Because this was a service to the military, they named him Point Man on the Pigs. He proved more than capable in his role (thank you, Val and Caja China people)! They started preparing the coals at 5 am.

Caja China Pig Roasters

By 9:00 am, it was time for the Pig Flip.

Caja China Pig Flip

Pig in Caja China

The pigs were done by 10:30. And the aroma went out in a cartoon-like-smoke-with-a-beckoning-hand and by 11:00 the guys were gathering around to get their first taste of the lechón asado, Cuban-style.


Once the pigs were done, Val came in to help my sons, Adam and Jon cut (more!) onions & garlic for the mojo for the yuca.

Val, Adam, & Jon

Our menu? A typical Nochebuena feast:

Cuban Lunch by Cooking with the Troops

We spent all of Thursday and most of Friday morning prepping for our Friday lunch. Which meant cutting pounds and pounds of onion, garlic, and peppers for the Sofrito Que Se Le Perdio a Santa Barbara (as my mom would say).


We had 3 vats (VATS!) of Black Beans that turned out delicious thanks to the hard work by Val and Amy Kikita and the generosity of Conchita Foods. At this point, the aroma from the sofrito, the beans and the pigs had people wandering hungrily into the kitchen, which was great.

Valentin Prieto & Amy Hohneker

There was a lot of fun and camaraderie happening in the kitchen, along with a lot of hard work. (We Cubans would call it “relajo.” =D)

the Kitchen

Chef Ellen Adams of Red Hot Dish was responsible for dinner that night (couscous!) and Heather Solos of Home-Ec 101 was everywhere you wanted her to be. Both of these amazing women were so willing to lend a helping hand, and always with a smile. (When I grow up, they are who I want to be.)

Ellen Adams & Heather Solos

Here’s Jonathan helping with Ellen’s fabulous couscous.

Jon and the couscous

My family fell in love with these guys (yes, even you, Mike Russo!) and I’m pretty sure the feeling was mutual.

Mike Russo, Jorge Carmona, Val Prieto, Joey Lay

I can’t stress enough how every one of these volunteers pitched in wherever they were needed. We worked hard and long and shoulder to shoulder. And we bonded. We bonded in that gosh-that-was-exhausting-work-and-more-fun-than-it-should-be way. Every single person had that “What can I do?” attitude.

Val Prieto, Eric Darby

Let me just take a moment to talk about my kids.

Thing one: I was so happy they were all able to go on this trip. And I had all four of them with me all weekend – win!

Thing two: They all surprised and amazed me with how willing they were to step up and do whatever was required. What began as helping-mom-do-her-thing became a labor of love for them individually. I loved that they took ownership of the preparations themselves.

Adam Hohneker, Lucy Darby, Jonathan Darby

Thing three: No way would I have been able to prepare my share of the food without my family. I am completely at a loss. They went way above and beyond any expectations I had and I’m completely grateful and oh, so proud of them all.

My Big Fat Cuban Family

Let me introduce you to Jorge, who managed the beautiful Warriors & Family Support Center at Fort Sam Houston. He is Puerto Rican and provided us with our music while we worked (and managed to locate some espresso for us Cubans). In fact, it was a little emotional prepping all this Cuban food with support from Celia, Beny, and Willy. 😉 Thank you, Jorge! (He was still gushing about the amazing food we provided as we were saying our goodbyes.)

Jorge, Lucy Darby

I was quite proud that I managed (with lots of help) to prepare 300 of my famous Homemade Pastelitos de Guayaba.

Marta Darby, pastelitos de guayaba

Although the volume was obviously much, much greater than anything I ever make, I felt like I was feeding my own family. I know it sounds corny, but with every dish we felt that same way. Like we were feeding family. (Maybe that’s why everything tasted so great?)

But then there was the fiasco with the rice, because really, could everything go perfectly smoothly when you’re making lunch for these many people?


I confess that I had no clue how to make rice for 250 people (300 was the final count.). So Adam and I winged it and we got some rice that was cooked on top but hard on the bottom. We also managed to burn some. At 10:30, with the 12:00 deadline looming, the rice was a mess and I was close to having a breakdown.

Jorge Carmona’s family to the rescue! They had done congris before at a pig roast event and had encountered the same problems. “Just take small batches, add water, and cook in the microwave.” Without hesitation, they stepped up and did just that and rescued the rice. I don’t think I could be more grateful. What’s better than having a Cuban cook in the kitchen? LOTS of Cuban cooks in the kitchen. 😉

Serving line

Amazingly, we Cubans managed to get the food out and on the tables at 12:00 military time. This is quite a feat when you usually run on Cuban time. =D

lechon, frijoles negros, plantains, yuca con mojo

Food line

The warriors and their families came through the line and even though the food was foreign for many of them, they ooh-ed and aah-ed and came back for seconds and dove right into the yuca con mojo and the plantains (Thanks, Goya Foods!) without a second thought.


I was most pleased when the guys with the Hispanic surnames came through. They recognized the music. They recognized the food. “Is that guava??” And they were grateful for this “little piece of home.”

pastelitos 2

Much gratitude to the CEO of Cooking With the Troops, Blake Powers of Blackfive who pulled us all together for this amazing experience and gave us the opportunity to serve. Thank you, Blake and cwtt.org. We have all been forever changed by this experience.

Blake Powers

And to Mr. Bob Miller, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer and All Around Classy Guy.

Bob Miller

I thank you all for the privilege of serving side-by-side with you.

I don’t have words to express the gratitude and admiration I feel for the volunteers, the warriors and their families. Thank you all for your service.

Let it be known that we Cubans are very proud Americans.

Marta Darby, Valentin Prieto

Coffee Talk – from Marta’s Cuban American Kitchen

Martas kitchen logo 1 copy-1

Making Cuban coffee is more art than science.

I think I learned how to make Cuban coffee when I was about 8 years old and able to maneuver in the kitchen without hurting anything. It wasn’t just a matter of making the coffee itself, there had to be a frothy topping to that café and just the right amount of sweetness. Of course, like anything else, some people can make it happen with apparently less effort than others. Hence the artistry.

My dad always smelled of a pleasant mix of Vitalis, puros, and Bustelo. If Cuban music is the soundtrack of my life, the aroma of freshly brewed espresso is the fragrance.

Obviously, you can use a fancy espresso machine to get your café made for you at the press of a button. Or if you’re in Miami, you are probably within walking distance of your afternoon coladito. We who are here in the exilio-del-exilio have to make our own.

I’m from the old espresso-maker-on-the-stovetop school of Cuban coffee making.

Red cup


Because of the ESPUMA.  That’s what we call the frothy stuff on top. (I would say “espumita,” but the stuff I’m talking about is much more powerful than the diminutive suggests.) Killer Espuma – I should trademark that! – is a matter of personal pride in our family. Today, my daughter, Amy Kikita, who is The Official Family Killer Espuma® Maker will share her secret for the Perfect Cuban Espresso with Killer Espuma®.  😉

(By the way, she doesn’t really talk like that, but that’s not important right now.)

In keeping with today’s theme of All Things Coffee, I am grateful for the generous folks at IMUSA® for providing today’s fabulous giveaway gifts.

Thing 1) An old-school (of course!) Aluminum Espresso CoffeeMaker in RED. (It’s the same as the beautiful red one in the video.) Along with a set of four RED espresso cups & saucers.

Red cups and red coffeemaker

Thing 2) A nine piece Stainless Steel Espresso Set. Beautiful, no?

Stainless steel coffee set

They also have a wonderful and varied line of espresso related items. Check that out right here.

So, for a chance to win one of the two featured prizes above, please click over to My Big, Fat, Cuban Family and leave a comment on this post over there. (I love capitalism! *sigh*)

Happy Monday!

(cross-posted at My big, fat, Cuban family)