Bless Your Spoon: Writing about food and art scene

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 23, 2023

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By Mandy Haggerson

On a recent trip to Asheville, I chose to stay in the heart of downtown where the city’s food scene was just a few steps from the hotel. But that wasn’t the only perk. I discovered the hotel had a restaurant serving such savory Cuban cuisine that I felt as if I’d been transported to Havana.

Not only did the restaurant offer delicious food but also touted killer views, a panorama that would take your breath away. And talk about ambiance — the noteworthy establishment served more than average portions of good mood vibes. As to whether the eatery lived up to the awards received — best rooftop restaurant and bar with sweeping views of the mountains — it did, indeed.

Asheville and Cuba are similar in that they both boast vibrant art and savory food scenes. There’s a beautiful mural on the side of the Hotel Cambria that depicts a streetscape in Havana, one with the famous writer, Ernest Hemmingway, on his boat — a stunning depiction, so don’t miss that while there.

As if the Cuban-inspired foods and prospects of grand murals and panoramic mountains weren’t enough. proprietors had to go and name the hotel restaurant after Hemmingway. Now, that’s right up my alley — speaking any writer’s language.

But do you know who else speaks our language? The authors of the Bible. As far as great writers go, the Holy Bible contains many different books written by various authors. Interestingly, many of the authors highly encourage writing things down as a way to remember God’s words.

In Jeremiah 30:2, the prophet, while sharing instructions from the Lord, encourages followers to write, saying, “Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you. The days are coming when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their forefathers to possess.”

In another passage, an afflicted man calls out to the Lord in Psalm 102:18, saying, “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.”

In a poem found in Psalm 45:1, one that was possibly written on the occasion of King Solomon’s wedding, the talent and gift of writing are referred to in these words, “My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.”

Oh, to be a more skillful writer — I have a passion for writing. Words communicate a timeless truth that’s relevant to our lives. By expressing our experiences through writing, God can use us to tell His story.

Many of you readers have lived extraordinary lives. I encourage you to begin to write and share your unique stories. This world needs your words.

Enjoy these full-flavored and vibrant Cuban recipes. You can reminisce about these long-ago sultry Havana nights — those steamy nights about which much has been written.

And you can get your mojo on — on the side, that is.   

Spice-Rubbed Hanger Steak

• 4 12-ounce trimmed hanger steaks

• 4 tsp. adobo seasoning

• 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

• ½ cup fresh orange juice

• 2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

• Canola oil

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Have butcher trim and separate steaks. Rub dry spice blend into steaks. Place in large glass baking dish. In a bowl, combine lemon and orange juices with vinegar. Pour over steaks and marinate 1 hour at room temperature. In 2 skillets, heat 2 Tbsp. of canola oil in each. While heating, prepare steaks by seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook 2 steaks in each skillet for 6 minutes per side for medium-rare and longer for more well done meat. Serve with relish or mojo sauce.

Caramelized Fruit Relish for Meats

• 3 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

• 2 cups ½-inch cubed pineapple

• 2 cups ½-inch cubed star fruit

• ¼ cup dried cranberries

• 3 Tbsp. golden brown sugar

• ½ tsp. salt

• 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

In a skillet, melt butter. Add all fruits, sugar and salt. Sauté for 5-6 minutes or until fruits begin to soften and caramelize. Stir in vinegar and simmer for 4 minutes while continually stirring until syrup thickens and sugar dissolves. You can substitute 2 additional cups of cubed pineapple for the star fruit if desired. Good served with pork or other meats.

Onion and Lime Mojo

• ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

• 2 halved, sliced, large red onions

• ½ cup fresh lime juice

• 2 cups fresh cilantro

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a skillet, heat oil and sauté onions for 10 minutes or until translucent. Add lime juice and simmer 5 minutes or until liquid is reduced. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro leaves. Spoon over meats.

Rice with Red Beans

• 3 slices chopped bacon

• 1 cup chopped onion

• 1 cup chopped red bell pepper

• 3 minced cloves garlic

• 3 cups long-grain white rice

• 2 Tbsp. tomato paste

• 3 bay leaves

• 1 Tbsp. ground cumin

• 1 Tbsp. Spanish smoked paprika

• 2 tsp. salt

• 4 cups water

• 15 ounces rinsed, drained kidney beans

In heavy saucepan, sauté bacon pieces for 5 minutes. Add onion, bell pepper and garlic, and sauté 5 more minutes. Add rice and stir for 1 minute or thoroughly coated. Stir in tomato paste, bay leaves, cumin, paprika and salt. Mix thoroughly. Stir in water with the beans and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium-low, cover pan and continue to cook 18 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to stand for 10 minutes while still covered. Fluff with fork, remove bay leaves, and serve.

Beef Empanadas

• 2 pounds lean ground chuck

• ½ cup raisins

• 1 tsp. ground cinnamon

• ¼ cup sugar

• 1 tsp. salt

• 1 tsp. garlic puree

• ½ tsp chopped pecans


• 3 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 tsp. baking powder

• 3 Tbsp. cold Crisco shortening

• 1 beaten egg

• 1 cup ice water

In a skillet, brown meat evenly and break apart. Add raisins, cinnamon, sugar, salt, garlic and nuts while mixing. Add water if too dry. Set aside. For the pastry, in a mixer bowl with dough hook, combine flour with baking powder. Cut in shortening with pastry blender until a coarse meal. Add beaten egg and mix just until blended. Slowly add enough water while mixing until a dough ball forms. Roll dough out on a floured surface to ½ -inch thick. Cut out circles with large biscuit cutter. Fill each circle with 1 Tbsp. of the meat. Fold circle in half, and crimp edges to seal. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes or until browned.

Coconut Rice with Bok Choy

• 4 cups water

• 1 cup wild rice

• ½ tsp. salt

• 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

• 2 cups jasmine white rice

• 1½ cups water

• ½ tsp. salt

• 14 ounces can unsweet coconut milk

• ¼ cup dry flaked coconut

• 1 Tbsp. sugar

• Salt and pepper, to taste

Bok Choy

• 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

• 2 pounds halved lengthwise, bok choy

• ¼ cup water

• 2 Tbsp. soy sauce

• 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

For wild rice, in a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add rice and salt. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 50 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside. In a saucepan, heat oil. Add jasmine rice and stir 2 minutes. Add water, salt, coconut milk, coconut and sugar, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and cook 15 minutes or until rice is tender. Stir in the wild rice that was set aside. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. For the bok choy, in a skillet, heat oil. Add bok choy and water. Cover and cook 5 minutes or until tender. Drizzle with soy and lime juice. Simmer for 2 minutes uncovered. Season with salt and pepper. Serve rice alongside the bok choy.

Fried Plantains

• ¼ cup Wesson vegetable oil, plus

• 6 peeled, halved, semi-ripe large plantains

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• Chopped fresh chives

Cut plantains lengthwise in half and then again crosswise in half. In a skillet, heat oil over high heat. Working in batches, sauté plantains for 2 minute per side and until golden, using more oil if necessary. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve on a platter sprinkled with chopped chives.

Fruity Shrimp Salad with Vinaigrette

• 6 cups water

• ¼ cup fresh lemon juice

• 2 tsp. salt

• 1 pound prepared, uncooked shrimp

• 2 peeled, pitted, cubed large mangoes

• 2 cups peeled, cubed jicama

• ½ cup chopped red onion

• 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

• Boston lettuce leaves


• 3 Tbsp. thawed, frozen pineapple concentrate

• 4 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

• ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

• Salt and pepper, to taste

Peel, devein and half the shrimp, lengthwise. In a large saucepan, bring water, lemon juice and salt to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Add shrimp and simmer for 2 minutes or until opaque in center. Drain and transfer shrimp to a large bowl. Refrigerate to cool. Add mangoes, jicama, red onion and cilantro to the shrimp and toss. Pour vinaigrette over the salad and toss to thoroughly coat. Serve on lettuce leaves.

Corn Soup with Ham

• ¼ cup bacon grease/lard

• 8 ounces diced ham steak

• 1 cup chopped onion

• ½ cup chopped green pepper

• ½ cup chopped red pepper

• 2 chopped cloves garlic

• 2 cups fresh corn kernels

• 10-ounce ham hock

• 1 peeled, diced Yukon Gold potato

• 5 cups water

In a large pot, melt lard. Add ham, onion, peppers and garlic. Sauté 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in corn for 5 minutes. Add ham hock, potatoes and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer partially covered for 1 hour. Remove ham hock and season with salt and pepper.

Honey-Glazed Sweet Potatoes

• Nonstick olive oil spray

• 3 Tbsp. melted salted butter

• 3 Tbsp. pure honey

• 1½ Tbsp. fresh lime juice

• ¾ tsp. ground cinnamon

• 2 pounds peeled, thinly sliced sweet potatoes

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Spray rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. In a bowl, whisk melted butter, honey, lime juice and cinnamon. Slice potatoes into 1/3-inch slices and toss in butter mixture to coat thoroughly. Arrange potatoes in single layer on baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 25 minutes.

Quick Plantain Dessert

• Fully ripe black plantains

• Melted butter

• Brown sugar

• Freshly squeeze orange juice

• Whipped cream

Peel fully ripe blackened plantains. Cut in half lengthwise. Brush all sides with melted butter. Place cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet. In a bowl, combine brown sugar with orange juice to form a semi-thick drizzle.  Drizzle sugar mixture over plantains. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 20 minutes until glaze forms. Turn once during baking, and baste with juice mixture. Serve topped with whipped cream.

Chocolate Rum Cake

• ½ cup dark rum

• 2 sticks melted salted butter

• 9 ounces melted semi-sweet chocolate

• 6 beaten large egg yolks

• 1 ½ cups granulated sugar

• 6 beaten egg whites

• 2/3 cup all-purpose flour

• 1 cup whipped cream

• 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar

• 1 Tbsp. dark rum

In a saucepan, bring rum to a boil for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. In another saucepan, melt butter and chocolate until smooth. Set aside to cool. In a mixer bowl, beat egg yolks. Add sugar and mix well. Add the sugar/egg mixture and cooled rum to cooled butter/chocolate mixture. In a mixer bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold half of egg whites into chocolate mixture. Then fold entire chocolate mixture back into egg whites. Fold flour into mixture just until blended. Bake in a well-greased and floured 9-inch springform pan in a preheated 300-degree oven for 45 minutes or until tests done. Cool completely. For topping, in a mixer bowl, whip cream with rum and sugar until soft peaks form. Serve cake in wedges topped with whipped cream.