Cuban-inspired food from Key West

Honeymooners in Key West - The Lush's Blush blog
The newlyweds in Key West

A month ago my husband and I were enjoying our honeymoon in Key West. Though we are settling in to married life now, I think both of us are still pining for Florida. For the food mostly, and the cocktails. We had some of the best food while honeymooning in Key West. We ate fresh seafood nearly every meal. Another cuisine that we came to love while in Key West was Cuban food. As you probably know, Cuba is only 90 miles away from Key West and as such there is a huge Cuban influence, especially on the food in the Keys and throughout southern Florida.

Most every morning we began our day with pan

Cuban Coffee Queen in Key West | The Lush's Blush blog
Cuban Coffee Queen in Key West

Cubano (Cuban toast) and cafe con leche(Cuban coffee with milk) from this little place called the Cuban Coffee Queen. Their slogan is “Drink more Cuban coffee, do stupid things faster.” We got a real kick out of that and we loved the coffee. We’ve been trying desperately to recreate it since we’ve been back home, but it’s not quite the same. I guess everything always tastes better when you’re on vacation.

Cuban dishes are typically served with black beans and rice. One of the places Morgan and I ate while in Key West, El Meson Del Pepe, had the best black beans we had ever tasted. We begged to know the secret. The server told us that most all Cuban dishes begin with what is known as sofrito, which is sautéed onions, garlic and peppers. The beans also are simmered all day with bay leaves, salt, and a little cumin.

Cuban food in Key West | The Lush's Blush blog
Dinner at El Meson de Pepe in Key West

I remember Mamma putting bay leaves in things like soups and stews, but to be honest it’s not a seasoning I use often. I may have to start using it more though, because those beans were out of this world. You wouldn’t think something as simple as black beans could taste so delicious, but they did.

We have fixed some Cuban dishes several times since we’ve been back home. We have cheated, of course, and used black beans from a can instead of simmering them all day.

Cuban cuisine in Key West | The Lush's Blush blog
Ropa Vieja at Juan Loves Lucy in Key West

My mother-in-law came for dinner a few weeks ago and Morgan prepared a Cuban-inspired citrus marinated pork tenderloin with rice and beans. He said a pork tenderloin is one of his new favorite meats. He sliced the pork into pieces and put it in a bag with fresh lime juice. The small tender pieces of meat quickly soak up the citrus flavors and it’s a marinade that doesn’t take very long to prepare.

Although we didn’t cook our beans all day, he did jazz those up a bit with a dash of lime juice and he added some sautéed onions, lime zest and lime juice to the rice as well.


Morgan’s Cuban-inspired citrus marinated pork
Ingredients

• Pork tenderloin, sliced into half inch pieces
• juice of two limes
• juice of one orange
• two to three cloves of garlic, chopped
• pinch of cayenne pepper
• salt and pepper to taste
• tablespoon of olive oil

Directions: Combine juices, garlic and seasonings. Allow pork slices to marinate in mixture for half an hour to an hour. Do not marinate longer than an hour. Remove pork from marinade and sauteed in olive oil pan until browned. Serve with rice and beans.

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Bacon in Key West

Just a quickie about one of our favorites places we visited in Key West while on our honeymoon. We love, love, loved this little bar called 2 Cents. During happy hour they give you free bacon. What more can I say? You also get to roll dice to see what kind of drink special you’ll get for Happy Hour.

If you’re ever in Key West, this is a must-do! They have delicious cocktails also!

I love surprises

Sunset in Fernandina | The Lush's Blush blog
Sunset in Fernandina Beach, Florida

You know those people who say “I don’t like surprises,” well, I’m not one of those people. I love surprises. My Mamma was the surprise queen. Over the years she planned surprises parties for me and she would always keep one special Christmas present as a surprise for that night. Some years she actually found Christmas presents months later that she had hidden away so I would even get a surprise well after the holiday.

Click here to skip to the recipe for Leighanne’s Tangy Pot Roast

My fiancé is also good at surprises, although he is one of those who claims not to like them himself. For my birthday this year we weren’t able to celebrate together on the day of my actual birthday. He surprised me later in the week, bringing me lunch to my office. One of the Arby’s bags he set down on the desk was our lunch, in the second bag was my birthday present! He and my mom often colluded to surprise me. For our two-year anniversary he got me a piece of jewelry I had seen while on vacation and really wanted. My mom helped him contact the shop and order the ring for me — a huge pink agate druzy. He showed up unexpectedly at my house two days before our anniversary with two dozen roses and the pink druzy ring. He really surprised me this past Christmas when he proposed. Though we had been together more than five years and had talked seriously about marriage, I still wasn’t prepared when he dropped to one knee and opened up that ring box.

A golden sunset in Florida | The Lush's Blush blog
Sunset in Fernandina Beach, Florida

My bridesmaids are also good at surprises. One of my bridesmaids, Amanda, lives in Texas and wasn’t able to be here for my bachelorette celebration at the wine festival. Instead she surprised me by sending me a hand-painted wine glass to use for the day. A few weeks ago my other two bridesmaids pulled off a pretty epic surprise. They had told me a few months ago that they were taking me to Charlotte for a spa weekend at the end of May. The day arrived and we piled in the car to head to Charlotte. As we passed through Charlotte I noticed that no one seemed to be paying attention to the directions and so I asked what exit we needed to get off.

“Oh, we have a while longer,” said Leighanne. A little while later when we were no longer even in North Carolina I said “ok, what have I missed.” The spa weekend had been a hoax all along and they we were really taking me for a beach weekend at Amelia Island in Florida!
My bridesmaid Leighanne’s sister has a place there and I had been to visit before. It is a beautiful place. Leighanne and Sarah said they were a little worried that I might be disappointed that I wasn’t going to be getting a massage and pedicure, but I wasn’t at all. Not that a spa weekend wouldn’t have been nice, but the beach trumps about everything in my book.

Cocktails in Fernandina | The Lush's Blush blog
Sipping on fun and fruity drinks in Fernandina

We had a great time relaxing on the beach and just enjoying each other’s company. Of course, eating some good food was also on our agenda at the beach. We enjoyed appetizers at a beach-side restaurant called Sliders and a really great meal at a little pub where we dined al fresco under beautiful live oaks draped with Spanish moss.

Leighanne also prepared us a great meal to enjoy the night before we left. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I love my Crock-pot. With just a little prep work you can have a meal simmering and cooking all day and ready when you arrive home. Most of the meals I typically prepare in a slow cooker are very rich, warm and comforting foods. As such, I tend not to use my Crock-pot as much in the summer when lighter fare is what’s more enjoyable.

Leighanne’s roast she prepared in the Crock-pot though was the perfect dish after a long day at the beach. Though the meat was hearty, there are lots of carrots in the recipe which give a nice summery flavor and she paired it with a lovely fresh green salad with fresh berries and goat cheese. Sometimes a typical winter comfort food like pot roast can surprise you with its deliciousness on even a hot summer day. Leighanne has graciously shared her recipe.

Leighanne’s Tangy Slow Cooker Pot Roast

• 1 boneless beef chuck roast, about 3 to 4 pounds
• 2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
• Salt and pepper
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 cup beef broth
• 1/2 cup red wine, such as cabernet or pinot noir, or more beef broth
• 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
• 1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar
• 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
• 1 large onion, quartered, sliced
• 6 large carrots or a bag of baby carrots
• 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

Directions
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Generously sprinkle the roast all over with salt and pepper, then rub the paprika into all sides. Cook the roast for about five minutes on each side to brown. Meanwhile, combine the broth, wine, tomato sauce, vinegar, and honey; set aside. Put the sliced onions, carrots, and garlic in the bottom of a 5 to 7-quart slow cooker. Remove the roast from the heat and place it on the vegetables in the slow cooker. Pour the broth and wine mixture into the hot skillet and use a spatula to scrape up any browned bits; pour over the roast in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for one hour. Reduce to low and cook for 7 to 9 hours longer, or leave on high and cook for 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours.

Starlight dinner in Fernandina | The Lush's Blush blog
Starlight dinner in Fernandina

A wedding roadtrip

This weekend my lovely sorority sister got married in Asheville, NC. Her ceremony was at Lake Junaluska (which is actually in Waynesville, NC) and it was so beautiful. The lake is absolutely gorgeous, as was the adorable stone chapel where the ceremony was held. Of course, I cried.

Lake Junaluska
The wedding reception was held at a trendy venue, aptly called The Venue. Highlights of the reception included a dance off between the Groomsmen and Bride and Bridesmaids and a mashed potato bar. I have been hearing that mashed potato bars, were the new “thing” when it comes to wedding reception food. This is definitely a trend I support. I am a fan of anything that allows me to add my desired amount of bacon and cheese. Another sorority sister’s husband joked with us that we should have a bacon bar where you can add small amounts of potato, chives or cheese to your bowl full of bacon. Again, another amazing idea! I’m pretty sure all good ideas start with bacon.
As a North Carolina native I am sad to say this was the first time I had ever been to Asheville. We didn’t get to spend a lot of time touring the city, but we did make the time to eat somewhere cute and shop. The main reason I like going ANYWHERE is to eat and shop! Come to think of it, I live to eat and shop!
The Bride and Groom had thoughtfully created little goody bags for guests staying overnight in Asheville and included a list of their favorite places to visit. Tupelo Honey Cafe and The Early Girl Eatery were on the list and the concierge at our hotel also recommended having brunch at one of these places. Unfortunately (or fortunately as it turned out) both of these places had long wait times and so we bravely ventured out to try something else. By chance we parked near a place called Chorizo. I did a double take when I saw the name. I love chorizo about as much as I love bacon! We were seated right away and it was toasty warm inside, since it was very chilly outside this was a huge perk.
Morgan ordered the homemade chorizo and a “cheesy pancake” served with apples and eggs. I had the tortilla plate with bacon, cheesy grits and the freshest pico de gallo, black beans and guacamole I’ve ever had! I was very thoughtless, my dear readers, and starting hogging in all this good food without even thinking to take a picture for you. With just a few bites left, I remembered so here you go:
The best part was really the pico. I don’t know how in the world they had still had such fresh tasting tomatoes this late in the season. I’m just crazy about tomatoes and let’s face it, the kind from the grocery store never taste as good as the home grown kind. The guac and beans don’t look that appetizing, I know, but I promise they were yummy! I ate all of my food and what was left of Morgan’s.
Being the material girl that I am, I just couldn’t leave town without purchasing some sort of memento from my first visit to Asheville. I got two adorable pairs of earrings (made in the USA, can you believe?) and some books from a super cute bookstore. Jewelry, food and books, yep my day was complete!
I will leave you with this last photo of the awesome wall decor at Chorizo.