Taste Testing: Cuisine à Latina

Justice Sonia Sotomayor's appointment to the Supreme Court got me thinking about all the strong Latina role models I know. One of these women, Chef Michelle Bernstein, is the brain behind two of my favorite restaurants in my hometown of Miami, Michy's and Sra. Martinez. You have to love a beautiful dancer who willingly hangs up her ballet shoes and tutu in favor of an apron and the hustle and bustle of a commercial kitchen. At least, I do! So when I found myself back in the MIA, I knew I had to review her new cookbook, Cuisine à Latina.

During my time in Florida I was able to visit both restaurants and had the pleasure of meeting Bernstein, thanks to her lovely assistant Melissa Cala. I also got a chance to sample the dishes the way God intended them to be eaten, cooked to perfection under the watchful eyes of this wise Latina. With a signed copy of this marvelous book in hand, I rolled up my sleeves and attempted to recreate three dishes that made my heart sing.

The Meal

What comes to mind when you think of the word "tart?" Probably a woman with loose morals, or something sweet and fruit-filled. But Chef Bernstein's Creamy Onion Tart is a savory concoction. It was everything I love about a great vegetarian dish—hearty and guiltless. Thanks to all the yummy Fontina, Parmigiano-Reggiano and cream it wasn't obnoxiously healthy, either. As a stand-alone dish it could probably satisfy your hunger, but if you're cooking for carnivores it plays especially well against roasted meats or seafood. Add a little green salad and you can call it a night.

While I do enjoy a tasty fried empanada, all that oil is not good for my girlish figure. Aside from that, I'm pretty sure the meat fillings of most commercially prepared empanadas do not come from sustainably farmed animals. Sigh...it's always something. For a new spin on an old favorite, try the Corn and Shrimp Empanadas. Three tips:

  1. Forget about the 8-10 minutes suggested and stir your bechamel until it is so thick it almost hurts your wrist. That will ensure that the juices don't leak out of these tasty hot pockets.
  2. If you can find it, use organic corn and shrimp that was sustainably harvested and you can have a guilt-free empanada experience.
  3. Double the recipe and freeze the extra for an easy weeknight meal.

Now we come to Chef Bernstein's fabulous World's Shortest Dessert Chapter Ever. I love a lady who gets right to the point and the formula here is a straightforward one: Chocolate + Bread = Yum! I don't even really like bread pudding and go out of my way to avoid it but Michy's Bread Pudding is pretty perfect. Memorize the recipe and make it for the next person you want to fall in love with you. Pure culinary witchcraft.