By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
I would be remiss if I didn’t write a column about our contractor and friend, Javier, known to his inside circle of friends as Vince. Vince is a true Renaissance man. According to Merriam-Webster, that’s the proper way to describe a person who has wide interests and is expert in many areas. There was never a truer statement about anyone I know. Building? Plumbing and electrical? Solar energy? Car repair? Motorcycles (he has 7)? Flying his own plane? Fishing? Hunting? Gardening? Cooking?
A little history to further illuminate Vince’s amazing abilities: He and his family escaped from Cuba when it was obvious that it was going to be unbearable to live there with Fidel Castro in charge. They “illegally” went to Madrid first, then moved to New Jersey. Picture this: Vince arrived in a new country, age 12, during the dead of winter, and was sent off to school even though he didn’t speak English. This did not go well. Ultimately, Vince was sent to live in California where he learned English from his cousins. He never left the state.
Fast forward. Vince is now 65 and a licensed contractor. He has created a successful building business. He literally can do anything. Or he’s “got a guy.” Vince built our whole Fishman Family compound from the ground up. It was fascinating and fun to collaborate with him daily on the project during my house construction. Did we talk about the house all the time? Heck no! We talked FOOD!
Vince is my cooking muse. We share recipes, cooking techniques, and ingredient procurements. Do you want fresh milk to make cheese? No problem, Vince knows where one of the few certified dairy farms is located that sells unpasteurized milk, which he buys weekly. Is the milk for morning cereal? Heck no. He makes his own herb cheese, butter and buttermilk, and uses the whey to make his bread. Vince is so inventive, he decided he wanted to make salted butter. Regular salt, you ask? Heck, no. He smoked his own Himalayan sea salt before blending it into the butter.
How many people do you know who raise their own meat? Vince. He has had goats, rabbits, chickens, lambs. I was complaining one day how hard it was to find lamb stew meat around here. He pipes in “I got one up in my field that I can have butchered. You can have as much as you want.” Geez.
One of my favorite stories about our friend still makes me laugh out loud. Last year during bird migration, flocks of geese were consistently flying over his ranch. He decided to keep a two-gauge shotgun by the back door. One morning, he hears the geese approaching. Vince grabs the shotgun, takes aim and BOOM! A goose lands 10 feet from his BBQ grill. He slaps that puppy on the grill for dinner that night. What a guy, so resourceful.
Vince also owns an ocean-worthy fishing boat, moored in Monterey Bay. One time, he calls us up at the compound to ask if we like to eat sand dabs. Sand dabs are small fish that thrive in the waters off the West Coast. We all say, “sure!” Within an hour, Vince is sitting on an overturned bucket in our driveway with a small table and his trusty knife, scaling and gutting sand dabs for our dinner. Resourceful.
If there’s one word that I would use to describe Vince, it would be “generous.” To quote Theodore Roosevelt “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” That is our family friend. Besides his breadth of knowledge, Vince is a deeply caring person. But don’t tell him that! As a gesture, when my husband Bob and I were back in Michigan for three months last year, Vince built us a raised cedar box vegetable garden, fully planted and irrigated. We came back to California to a lush variety of veggies.
In the spirit of his generosity, Vince provided me with a classic Cuban recipe of black beans and rice. He takes great care in making this dish and hovered over me to make sure I got it right. The dish is usually served as the major portion of your dinner plate, with a small side of protein, such as pork, chicken, beef, or fish. Often you see fried plantains next to it. There are no short cuts in making these beans–you must use dried black beans, not canned. Look for shiny, even-sized, small ones. Whatever you do, do NOT salt the water when cooking the beans or they will take forever to soften.
Feel free to use this versatile dish as an accompaniment to anything you see fit. This week I paired it with Tajin sautéed shrimp and an avocado, mango, lime and cilantro salad. Delicious!
Let us know at The Insider what you come up with. Buen provecho!
Cuban Black Beans on Rice
Yield: 8-10 servings
1 lb. dried black beans
1 green pepper, seeded and cored, quartered
1 bay leaf
1/3 c. olive oil
1 lg. onion, finely chopped
7 garlic cloves, minced
1 green pepper, seeded, cored, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground oregano
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
6 oz. Golden cooking wine, Edmundo or Goya (substitute white wine with a good pinch of salt)
1 Tbsp. sugar
Put the beans in a 5-6 qt. pot. Cover with 2” of water. Allow the beans to soak overnight.
Add the quartered green pepper and bay leaf to the pot. Add additional water to cover by 2”. Bring to a boil; turn down to a simmer. Cook for about 1 1/2 hours, adding more water if needed. When the beans are barely soft but not split, remove from heat.
Make the sofrito: In a large skillet, heat the oil over moderate. Add the onions, garlic, and green pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the cumin, oregano, salt, and vinegar. Turn down to low and cook 5 more minutes.
Take 2 ladles of beans from the pot and put them in the skillet. Using a meat pounder or a potato masher, mash the beans into the sofrito until they are broken up. Transfer the contents of the pan back into the beans.
Add the wine and sugar. Return the beans to a boil. Turn down to simmer. Cook for another 30 minutes or so until the beans are tender. Stir often. You want to have some liquid in with the beans so they soak into the rice. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Yield: 7 cups
3 c. long grain white rice
4 c. water
1 1/2 tsp. salt
Put the rice in a fine strainer and rinse under running cold water until the water runs clear. Put the rice, water, and salt in a saucepan. Cover. Bring to a boil; turn down to a low simmer. Cook for 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed.
Fluff with a fork before serving.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.