I am SO open to the power of suggestion!
Back when I was learning Spanish my profesora would say something in English and we'd have to repeat it in Spanish. I've forgotten most of what I learned but sometimes the old habit of repeating a phrase in Spanish still creeps up. I was watching TV one night and someone said something about "dirty laundry". In my head I automatically translated: "ropa vieja".
Then I got the craving. Ropa vieja is the name of a delicous Cuban dish that I've only eaten in restaurants. Beef is brasied and the liquid is then cooked down to a concentrated sauce that the beef is cooked in again. It's awesome! So I invited The Conductor over for a meal and, man, did we eat!
Ropa Vieja - I used this exact recipe from Epicurious
If a food looks a mess of dirty clothes, this sure does, no?
I followed the recipe exactly except for the braising liquid which is just spiced water. I kept the spice but used a jar of thick tomatoe juice - one of the first things I ever canned. The tomato added a nicer depth to the beef than the water would have done.
The recipe included a side of delicious Yellow Rice. I altered it only to add two teaspoons of turmeric which doesn't change the flavor but makes it really yellow.
We also had homemade cornbread muffins
I didn't link to the recipe because I didn't like how they turned out. I'm still on the hunt for the perfect cornbread. These were too chalky, even with the addition of jalapeno.
The tastiest thing for me was the Pineapple Salsa:
Cut all of these into same sized bits:
One FRESH orange - peel with a knife to remove the pith
About a cup of FRESH pineapple
About a cup of fresh melon (I used cantaloupe)
1/3 cup sliced green onion
1/3 cup sliced red onion
1 jalapeno pepper
One big handful of FRESH shrimp, pre-cooked
1. Cut the orange over a bowl to save the juice
2. Supplement the shortage of orange juice with lime juice
3. To one part juices add 2 parts olive oil. I ended up with about 3 Tablespoons total liquid. Whisk together and toss with salsa. Chill to meld the flavors.
(Steps onto soapbox) So why FRESH? Because there's no point in making things from scratch if they're just going to taste like crap. I could have used canned mandarin oranges and canned pineapple and (shivvers!!!) canned shrimp. But I like fruit that tastes like fruit. I like seafood that tastes like the sea. I don't like food that tastes like a roll of Reynold's Wrap.
Incidentally, a tunafish sized can of shrimp costs $2.79 for the cheapest brand and you get half a cup. I went to the deli counter and asked the guy for one man-sized handful of shrimp at $4.99 a pound. His one handful totaled a full cup of shrimp and only ran me $1.55. FRESH not only made my salsa taste better, but it was actually cheaper. So there! (Steps off soapbox)
Back to the menu, the most adventurous thing for me was the Fried Plaintains. I never attempted them before because they seemed so exotic and complicated. Actually, they couldn't be easier. Just look for plaintains that are about half covered in brown spots (the point of freshness that's best for frying them). Slice them into disks while you heat veggie oil to 350 degrees. Fry them til brown and either lightly salt or lightly sugar them. They were delicious!
I stuck with the Cuban theme and made a rum cake for dessert from my 1963 edition of Good Housekeeping's cookbook. It's faintly rummy - not overly boozy like some cakes can get.
The Conductor ate three big platefuls and took a pile of leftovers home so I think this whole menu is a keeper.