Books: Cooking by Cuisine -> Cooking Caribbean
The Habana Cafe Cookbook
University Press of Florida
Published: June 1, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Gonzalez-Hastings, chef and owner of the popular Habana Café in Gulfport, Fla., aims to blend a guide to Cuban cuisine, her own émigré family lore and today's fusion Nuevo Latino cooking. Alas, her slim volume fails to deliver:
Gonzalez-Hastings's personal anecdotes combine nostalgia with anger at Castro without fully evoking the world that was lost, and she presents her recipe instructions in a perfunctory style, with too many fundamentals relegated to a superficial glossary
at book's end. Novice cooks will be baffled by the absence of technical explanations, while Latino cooking fans will wonder why Gonzalez-Hastings includes dishes like Salmon on Mini-Bagel Crisps but omits Cuban staples such as annatto oil, calabaza and
boniato. And though immigrant cuisines are always transformed on American soil, this chef advocates the use of bottled mojo sauce, Badia spice mix and bouillon cubes without useful comparisons to homemade alternatives. Gonzalez-Hastings is on more sure
footing when she ties stories about the restaurant to specific dishes (e.g., the Cuban Sandwich or Moros y Cristianos [black beans and rice]), and there are buried treasures, such as her mother's Ham Croquettes. But when it comes to Nuevo Cubano cuisine,
readers would be better off with Joyce La Fray's andiexcl;Cuba Cocina! or Mary Urrutia Randelman's classic Memories of a Cuban Kitchen. Gonzalez-Hastings's illustrated paperback may be welcomed as a souvenir of dining in the café, but as a cookbook, her
mojo simply lacks mojo. 20 color, 10 bandw photos.
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The Habana Cafe's list of "Bests" began in 1997, soon after the Cuban
family restaurant opened its doors on Florida's Gulf Coast and served its first steaming platters of homemade picadillo, arroz con pollo, and lechon asado--a mouth-watering dish of roasted pork seasoned with fresh garlic, oregano, white wine, and bay
leaves and topped with grilled onions.
Culinary wizard and cafe owner Josefa Gonzalez-Hastings offers this extravagance of Cuban cooking as a celebration of her heritage. Many of the recipes were passed down to her from her mother and aunts;
others are "nuevo Latino cuisine"--a fusion of traditional Cuban foods with modern dishes. Cuban food and preparation always has been varied, she says, flavored by the ancestry of the island, with contributions from Spanish conquistadors, African slaves,
Asian laborers, and Indian natives.
Of course, she also includes Habana Cafe's standard sides of rice, black beans, and glazed golden-brown plantains. Customer favorites are all represented here in easy-to-follow recipes and colorful
photographs--from appetizers and soups, seafood and vegetarian entrees, to classics (Cuban sandwiches and flan) and beverages (mojitos, sangria, cafe con leche, Cuba libre). Gonzalez-Hastings also provides a glossary explaining typical ethnic Cuban
ingredients such as bijol, a condiment used to give rice a yellow color; naranja agria, the tart Seville orange often used to marinate meat and make mojo sauce; and malanga, a mild, nutty root that flavors soups and other sauces.
"In my Cuban
family," she writes, "two things were always certain-- food and good times." Gonzalez-Hastings shares family stories and photographs of life in pre-Castro Cuba, re-creating the days when Havana was a dining mecca, Ernest Hemingway frequented La Floridita
restaurant, and the island gave birth to the daiquiri.
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