Sunday, June 24, 2018

Excerpt from "Death Comes in through the Kitchen" (por Teresa Dovalpage)

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Cream of cheese: Memories of La Romanita

Today we will mangiare a dish that has Italian roots. Very Italiano, but with a Cuban twist.

This entree is called crema de queso. Our Cuban “cream of cheese” is basically a soup, but very thick.

The ingredients are easy to find: three tablespoons of butter, the same amount of all-purpose flour, three cups of milk, and five ounces of cheese. Plus salt, cumin, pepper, and nutmeg to taste.

Make a base by mixing butter and flour. Cook for five minutes, or until it looks golden brown. Add the milk and stir. After it thickens, add the cheese and go on stirring. I will soon be totally dissolved into the cream. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cumin. Go easy on the cumin!

Serve immediately, topped with shredded cheese. Don’t let it get cold. There are some dishes that benefit from a quick nap, but crema de queso isn’t one of them. If you do need to refrigerate it, add a bit of water or milk before reheating to prevent the soup from becoming too heavy.

When I think of crema de queso, the first thing that comes to my mind is La Romanita, a pizzeria located on 11th St., in the corner with 16th St., in El Vedado. I had just moved to Havana and part of my budding romance with the capital was discovering new places to eat every week. I lived at the students’ residence and used to take long walks around the neighborhood, sniffing the air until my nose led me to a little restaurant or a well-hidden cafeteria.

These walks were an adventure for a guajirita like me, a peasant girl fresh out of Cuba’s Cinderella, as Pinar del Río, my province of origin, is derisively called. I got lost a few times. There were no mountains to get myself oriented, only apartment buildings, and at first they all looked alike.

My best friends, Lili and Yusleidys, were also guajiras. Havana-born girls were too hoity-toity to hang out with us.

“Wait until they visit our provinces and then we will show them,” Yusleidys said.

Sadly, that never happened. “Cuba is Havana, and the rest is just countryside,” Habaneros would say.

Most restaurants were way over our budget—we did get a small stipend, but it wasn’t enough to eat at fancy places. Yet, for La Romanita, we would make sacrifices or ask our families for money. We would pool together our savings and share two pizzas, two creams of cheese and a flan.

Cheesy kisses to all my readers. Buona sera to you!


Taos Tonya said…
I plan to make it tonight. I am having some friends over and we will have a Cuban night. What cheese do you use for the crema? Gouda, Asiago?

Yarmi said…
Here we only have yellow cheese and white cheese. I use yellow. A Cuban night sounds like fun!

Cubanita in Claremont said…
My family is part Italian and I’ve never heard of that dish.

Maritza said…
I am Cuban too. My family left in 1979. I don’t remember being able to buy flour at the grocery store. It was sold through the ration card every two or three months. Does your Yuma buy it for you? (Wink). My grandma would make a similar dish out of spaghettis, which she boiled and then grinded. She used yellow cheese, whatever kind was available. Here, I would use Gouda.

Yarmi said…
The spaghetti base makes sense. I get flour at the grocery store, like everybody else.

Anita said…
I haven’t heard of crema de queso either, at least in California.

Cocinera Cubana said…
Juan, Anita, if you go to Miami, visit Marakas Pizza on 42nd Street. They have the best crema de queso. Ciao!


Set in Havana during the Black Spring of 2003, a charming but poison-laced culinary mystery reveals the darker side of the modern Revolution, complete with authentic Cuban recipes

Havana, Cuba, 2003: Matt, a San Diego journalist, arrives in Havana to marry his girlfriend, Yarmila, a 24-year-old Cuban woman whom he first met through her food blog. But Yarmi isn’t there to meet him at the airport, and when he hitches a ride to her apartment, he finds her lying dead in the bathtub.

With Yarmi’s murder, lovelorn Matt is immediately embroiled in a Cuban adventure he didn’t bargain for. The police and secret service have him down as their main suspect, and in an effort to clear his name, he must embark on his own investigation into what really happened. The more Matt learns about his erstwhile fiancée, though, the more he realizes he had no idea who she was at all—but did anyone?

Teresa Dovalpage: I was born in Havana, Cuba, and left the island in 1996.

I’ve been writing since I was a teenager. My first published novel, A Girl like Che Guevara (Soho Press, 2004), was written in English, a language that I didn’t start speaking daily until I was thirty years old. I hope this inspires my second-language students to never give up! (I am currently the ESL and Spanish professor at New Mexico Junior College.) I have a Ph.D. in Latin American literature from the University of New Mexico and have been an educator for over thirty years.

My other novels are Posesas de La Habana (Haunted ladies of Havana, PurePlay Press, 2004), Muerte de un murciano en La Habana (Death of a Murcian in Havana, Anagrama, 2006, which was a runner-up for the Herralde Award in Spain, El difunto Fidel (The late Fidel, Renacimiento, 2011, that won the Rincon de la Victoria Award in Spain in 2009), Habanera, A Portrait of a Cuban Family (Floricanto Press, 2010), La Regenta en La Habana ( Edebe, Spain, 2012), Orfeo en el Caribe (Atmósfera Literaria, 2013) and El retorno de la expatriada (The return of the expat, Egales, Spain, 2014). I also wrote three collections of short stories: ¡Por culpa de Candela! (Floricanto Press, 2009), Llevarás Luto por Franco (Atmósfera Literaria, 2012), and The Astral Plane: Stories of Cuba, the Southwest and Beyond (University of New Orleans Press, 2012). My novellas Las Muertas de la West Mesa (The West Mesa Murders, based on a real event) and Death by Smartphone were published in serialized format by Taos News.

In 2016 I tried my hand at mysteries. Death Comes in through the Kitchen (Soho Crime, 2018) features Padrino, a santero-detective. The best thing about writing this novel was coming up with the recipes—it includes real, true-and-tried Cuban recipes like caldosa, tocinillo, drunken salad, lobster enchilada and more. I made all of them before including them in the book! The problem was that I gained nine pounds in the process. I am back on the South Beach Diet to get rid of them.

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