Author Archives: Jennifer Stempel

Jennifer Stempel

About Jennifer Stempel

Jennifer Stempel is a TV development executive, who lives in Los Angeles with her husband. When she's not developing new TV shows, she enjoys teaching cooking classes, and blogs about her experiments in the kitchen. To read more about her culinary adventures, check out: www.TheCubanReuben.com.

Crockpot Carne con Papas, An Alternative to Brisket

Yield:
6-8 servings

My Cuban family loves my American husband for many reasons, but high on that list is his appreciation for all things Cuban food. Of course, we do make it easy for my beloved Midwesterner, with dishes like Carne con Papas, which literally translates to meat and potatoes. This dish is an old family favorite, and is quickly becoming one of the most requested dishes in my household

Carne con Papas

The recipe I use is inspired by a dish made by my Tia Pipa (Aunt Felipa). She is used to cooking for an army, and she’s been known to prepare a mean Carne con Papas in a giant commercial caldero, or cauldron. Although I admire her back-to-basics approach of slaving away over the hot stove for hours on end to perfect this favored dish, I prefer a more modern approach with the use of my slow-cooker.

Imagine if you took all the best features of your favorite family brisket recipe – aromatic and tender chunks of slow-roasted meat, saucy overflow goodness – and paired them with creamy, bite-sized potatoes. What could be bad about that? Like the best brisket recipes, Carne con Papas has trouble staying intact at the mere hint of a fork. The slow-cooked nature of this dish also means that every delicate bite is infused with the typical Island flavors of garlic, onion, and bell pepper.

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Traditionally served alongside steamed white rice, I see no reason why this can’t be served with a good old-fashioned kugel to mop every last bit of flavor that the saucy overflow provides.  Carne con Papas is definitely one of those dishes where you won’t want to waste a single bit.

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Crockpot Carne con Papas

Posted on September 8, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Pineapple Coconut Coffee Cake

Yield:
8-10 servings

Like so many of my peers, Jewish summer camp played an integral role in my Jewish identity. It’s where I developed my appreciation for Israeli dancing, a deep respect for my surroundings in nature, and not to be outdone, my love of Shabbat breakfast. Every Saturday morning, before all the campers joined for services, we’d convene in the dining hall for a plentiful feast of crumbly and perfectly spiced coffee cake. It wasn’t elaborate, but it sure was special, and it was certainly on the list of things I looked forward to year after year as I awaited summer’s arrival. If I ever longed for a little taste of home while I was at camp, I just had to wait until the end of the week, since the combination of cinnamon and sugar in the crumb topping would remind anyone of home. Because of this experience and because it only gets better the day after it is baked, to me, coffee cake is synonymous with Shabbat morning, summer vacation or not.

Pineapple-Coconut-Coffee-Ca

Of course, as an adult, summer camp is no longer really in the cards for me anymore. These days, when we get through hiking the trails of all the nearby national forests, my husband and I long for a more tropical getaway. Since our next vacation seems light years away, I came up with a recipe inspired by my Cuban heritage that will be sure to satisfy until we can get ourselves to the nearest island.

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With its taste of the tropics, my Pineapple Coconut Coffee Cake hits the spot for a Shabbat morning treat. It has the cinnamon and sugar that I always remember from my camp days, but its layer of crushed pineapple adds a mild zing and just the touch needed to keep this cake moist for days. The coconut added to the crumb layer, suggested by my friend Dolly, acts as a tropical kiss and adds a nice crunch.

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Next time you’re in the mood for a reminder of Shabbat mornings at camp, or you’re longing for a quick getaway, try a bite of this coffee cake, and you won’t be disappointed.

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Pineapple Coconut Coffee Cake

Posted on June 10, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Cuban Chicken Soup: Jewban Penicillin

I think it’s safe to say that every Jewish grandmother who has proclaimed, “You should eat more!” has a mean recipe for chicken soup in her arsenal. For generations, colds and flus have gone to battle with bowls and bowls of Jewish penicillin made by these bubbes, and my abuela was no exception.

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I come from a family of strong women, so it is fitting that our recipe for chicken soup isn’t the clear-broth version with a lonely floating carrot slice. Ours is a stick-to-your-bones and prepare-for-war kind of soup, chock-full of nutrient-rich vegetables and flavors that awaken the senses. My favorite part of this soup is how the kabocha squash disintegrates into the broth, giving it a wholesome creamy texture without the heaviness of added butter or milk. Plus, the crunch of the bok choy and zucchini packs a solid punch of vitamin c, and makes it easy for me to eat my greens. Couple all of this with my mother-in-law’s recipe for the fluffiest, most light-as-air matzoh balls, and you’ve got yourself the better part of a seder.  Cuban-Matzoh-Ball-Soup-stamp

This recipe may be a mish mosh of the traditions of my husband’s family and mine, but it is certainly one I would be proud to share at any Passover table or year-round.

Cuban Chicken Soup with Matzoh Balls

Posted on April 9, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

A Uniquely Cuban, or Rather “Jewban,” Brisket

jewban

Ropa Vieja, which literally translates to “old clothes,” or as my paternal grandmother would call them, “schmatas,” is the Cuban answer to a traditional Jewish brisket. Both use inexpensive cuts of meat that are slow-roasted until tender and falling apart, but Ropa Vieja takes it a step further, and actually calls for the chunks of meat to be shredded to resemble rags. This may seem like it would diminish the allure of the dish, but as Jewish brisket is usually reserved for the holiday table, a good Ropa Vieja is truly cause for celebration. Additionally, as it is important in the Jewish culture to pass our traditions from generation to generation, most Cuban families have had a recipe for Ropa Vieja for ages. Get the full recipe on Jewish&>>

Posted on February 26, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Tostones for Hanukkah

Yield:
4-6 servings

The day I moved into my very first apartment was an important day for me. I was starting my senior year in college, and for what seemed like the first time, I was taking a leap towards independence. Sure, I moved halfway across the country to go to school where I knew only a couple people, but living on campus, there’s a certain safety net in place to catch (and comfort) the students if they fall.

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I remember taking great care to choose an apartment within my budget, and carefully selecting my roommates. We plotted and planned how we’d decorate, and made memories building our ready-to-assemble furniture from our favorite Swedish retailer. Not surprising, the part of apartment living I was most excited about was that I would finally have a kitchen of my own. While my roommates concentrated on finding art to decorate our walls and the perfect rug to tie the room together, I focused on stocking our kitchen with our favorite foods and the tools with which to cook them. I found mismatched sets of pots and pans at my local discount store, and piece by piece, built our little kitchen into a functional one our friends begged to come and borrow. It was nothing fancy, but it worked for us. Granted, we could never invite more than four people for dinner, because that was how many plates we had, but we made it work.

My mom noticed my efforts, and took it upon herself to stock our little kitchen with its crowning jewel: a tostonera. A tostonera is a device specifically designed to smash chunks of fried green plantains into crisp, golden coins, called tostones. And the fact that my mom was gifting me a tostonera was a really big deal, because this served as an informal invitation to join the culinary ranks of the matriarchs in the family.

Just about every Cuban person who cooks has a tostonera, and now, I did too. I was so excited to put my tostonera to use, and at the first Hanukkah party of the season, I surprised my friends with a new treat. I figured that in many ways, Cubans use plantain bananas the way Americans use potatoes, so swapping traditional potato latkes with savory tostones seemed like a natural choice.

Pressing Tostones

As my friends oohed and aahed while they crunched their way through the small plate of tostones, I smiled with delight, because I knew I was on my way to earning my culinary stripes.

Tostones for Hanukkah

This Hanukkah, if you’re looking for something outside the traditional latke box, take a cue from the Cuban cookbook, and serve tostones alongside your festive meal. And if your mother hasn’t gifted you with a tostonera, fear not. You can achieve similar results with the bottom of a frying pan.

Tostones

Posted on November 17, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Pumpkin Flan

Yield:
12 servings

I am a sucker for fall spices – I just love the warmth they bring to any dish. But pumpkin pie, in particular, with its creamy pumpkin custard speckled with warm cinnamon and nutmeg, encased in a flaky crust and dolloped with fresh whipped cream? Well, that is a can’t-miss dish for me, and I can’t imagine ending a festive fall meal without it. It’s no wonder that for generations, pumpkin pie has been the go-to dessert for American families.

pumpkin flan

That’s all about to change.

Several years ago, during one of our many get-togethers, my mom pulled a fast one on the family, and replaced our much beloved pumpkin pie with the less traditional pumpkin flan. And while there were many skeptics in the bunch (myself included), once they had a single taste of the creamy, rich flavor and burst of spice from a little orange-tinged bite of the pumpkin flan, there was simply no going back. The verdict was in. We had a new fall dessert! Since then, serious jeers abound if we get together in the fall and there is no pumpkin flan in sight.

slice pumpkin flan

I understand that flan, in general, is a polarizing dish. Trust me, I’ve tasted my fair share of egg-y, rock solid, just plain bad flan. But if you’ve never tried Cuban-style flan, you’re doing yourself a disservice, as its thick, creamy custard with sweet caramel sauce oozing down the sides, is more akin to a crust-less cheesecake than anything else.

And when you combine that with the distinct flavors of fall that can only be found in a pumpkin pie, what results is an undeniably can’t-miss dish. It’s truly a perfect ending to any fall festive meal, whether it’s Thanksgiving, Shabbat, or in this year’s case, even Hanukkah. Promise.

Pumpkin Flan

Posted on October 10, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Grilled Artichokes

For centuries, Jews throughout the Mediterranean have made good use of artichokes. Most notably, in Rome, crisp and lightly fried varieties adorn many a holiday table. I’ve always loved the simplicity and approachable nature of Italian cuisine, so much so that my husband and I partook in a local Tuscan cooking class on our whirlwind honeymoon adventure through Italy. When I returned home, I was thrilled to observe that since the climate and terrain in California are so similar to that in Italy, I am spoiled by the riches in produce we get here that resemble true Italian fare.

Perhaps it is because I grew up in an image-conscious city, or because healthy eating and cooking is important to me, but I often like finding ways to lighten up a recipe while maintaining great flavor. Lucky for me, I prefer my artichokes grilled, rather than fried. I know that just about everything tastes better fried, but I love the smoky, crisp bite of a charred edge that only a grill can produce.

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Often times, artichokes act as a vehicle for rich, creamy sauces, but with just the right amount of seasoning and the slight kiss of the grill, these babies need no doctoring, and are exceptional on their own. And don’t be too intimidated about preparing and cleaning fresh artichokes. Once you try your hand at the first one, you’ll get the hang of it. Served hot off the grill or at room temperature, grilled artichokes are the perfect accompaniment to any summer meal.

To read more about Jennifer Stempel’s culinary adventures, check out her blog at The Cuban Reuben.

Grilled Artichokes

Posted on July 3, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Mojito-Scented Quinoa

Mojito-scented QuinoaHolidays are meaningful for a variety of reasons, but more often than not, because they include a gathering of family. This will come as no surprise, but in my family, that gathering always features two elements: a mouthwatering feast and a dance party. Without exception, if there is music playing in the general vicinity, there will be dancing. Regardless of the amount of space we have, someone always finds room to bust a move. And depending on how much alcohol was served at dinner, the elders have been known to cut a rug, as well.

On the rare occasion when I need a little liquid courage to hit the makeshift dance floor, one of my favorite cocktails is the classic Cuban mojito. Made famous by Ernest Hemingway, this literary favorite blends the distinctly clean, fresh scent of lime and the aromatic essence of sugar-bruised mint leaves with world-class rum only found on the motherland and the nose-tickling fizz of seltzer. Topped off with a splash of bitters, it’s clear why the mojito is favored by Cubans and Americans, alike.

Since we’ll soon be gathering as a family for Passover, and rum will certainly be off-limits due to the dietary restrictions that accompany the holiday, I thought I’d transform this citrus-y cocktail into a tasty bite suitable for any seder table. By seasoning naturally bitter quinoa, a longtime Passover favorite across the board, with the most memorable elements of a mojito, hopefully, all it will take is one bite to get the more shy family members to hit the dance floor.

Mojito-Scented Quinoa

Posted on March 12, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy