More than Latin men, I love Latin food. Nothing says ¡Ay, Papi!, and ¡que rico! better than a late night ropa vieja sandwich or a plateful of arroz con pollo after a sweaty romp with a Spanish caballero. For years, while I lived in Gotham, Cuban food – good, authentic Cuban food – was hard to find. I can’t describe to you the horror on my parent’s face when I took them to a Chino-Latino restaurant in Manhattan during one of their visits and they witnessed the infamy of patrons eating black beans with yellow rice. My mother was horrified; my father was offended. I had to translate for them the faux pas they were witnessing and apologized for the entire Upper West Side. Needless to say, they never returned to the establishment in subsequent visits.
Many former lovers were wooed and won over with Cuban food. My witch’s cauldron is indeed an olla, or cooking pot, where I’ve concocted tantalizing, bewitching dishes that delighted and enthralled men too weakened to put up a fight after an afternoon of sexual exertions. Armed with Spanish herbs and spices, I danced naked around my kitchen, adding a pinch of this, and a bit of that, until the aroma of a well cooked pork roast floated around the apartment, alluring and seducing a helpless man held captive in my boudoir.
It’s funny how taste changes over the years. While growing up, I didn’t care for my mother’s picadillo – a Cuban version of a Sloppy Joe. Whenever my mother made it for lunch or dinner, I bargained with her offering to do chores so I could be excused from the dinner table with a sandwich or a serving of canned spaghetti. None of it worked, of course, and over the years I grew to resent and avoid the dish whenever or wherever it was offered. Genetics is a funny thing, however, and now, as a man of a certain age, I’ve begun to revisit old family recipes, giving them a personal spin to enhance the flavor, look, or taste of the old classics. Some of my mother’s recipes have now become staples on my cooking repertoire. Others, not so much. But over the last few years picadillo has become a personal comfort food, good enough to entice gentlemen callers to agree to an evening of sensual peccadilloes.
For my version of Cuban picadillo, I like to start with a pound and a half of lean ground beef. In a deep cooking pot, I sauté chopped garlic, a chopped onion, and diced peppers in olive oil until the onions and garlic are fragrant. I then add the ground beef, stirring and crumbling it until it’s browned and well mixed with the other ingredients. As the meet cooks in medium heat, I add salt, pepper, oregano, bay leaves, cumin, and paprika to taste, and top it off with a generous splash of white wine, stirring it all until the aroma coming from the pot tells me the ingredients are perfectly balanced. I then let the pot simmer covered for about forty minutes, stirring the meat occasionally, while I steal a kiss or a suck from a handsome naked man awaiting for me on my divan. I like to serve picadillo with white rice and tostones – fried plantains; the meal goes down well with a cold beer or glass of sangria.
Later, before I siesta in the arms of a satiated lover, a cup of strong Cuban coffee wraps up a meal rather well before an afternoon or evening’s dessert. That treat, I shall leave up to your imagination. Suffice it to say every sigh escaping from my boudoir comes accompanied with many an, “¡Ay, Papi!”