I know you’re used to seeing a staged professional food photo here, but this post is bringing something different to the table, so you get my thumb.
If you saw my Instagram story yesterday (on my highlights as ‘our picadillo’ now), you watched my daughter and I make dinner together. I make dinner with the family a lot… it’s not a unique thing that it happened, but yesterday I just felt like documenting it from inception to the finish line. I’ve started letting my kids have more control and ownership over our family meals. I have them pick a country or region in the world, and then we make a dinner inspired by that place. Sometimes it involves my kids closing their eyes and pointing to a world map, and sometimes it’s just because my daughter made a new friend from Puerto Rico.
And that’s what brought us to our dinner yesterday.
Ok. So, I think we all know by now that I keep a very stocked kitchen. My pantry is always loaded with dry goods to fill in any meal, and my freezer is packed with leftovers + freezer worthy veggies + meat on standby, etc, and I go to the store every few days for fresh veggies and meat when I can. So I feel very confident that I can spontaneously throw together a dish at least inspired by the flavors of whatever region my kids choose, without having to start from scratch with ingredients. Like yesterday my daughter didn’t pick the meal until after school and directly before we started cooking / filming it all.
It’s a fun way for the whole family to be in on the meal, and for everyone to sample new flavors we may not have thought about sampling before. We put on music that goes with the theme, and I try to set the table in some sort of festive way. It makes weeknight dinners a little bit more special.
As the story goes… My daughter chose Puerto Rico as her region yesterday when I picked her up from school, and I knew that the fresh meat I had in the fridge from a recent grocery visit was pork tenderloin and lean ground beef. So once I heard Puerto Rico, I went straight to Picadillo. I had my daughter pull out the laptop and do a quick google search for the dish so she could get acquainted with it, and she started calling out ingredients one by one…
Check. We had all that we needed to make our version of Picadillo. After looking at various recipes online, we came up with our own recipe based on what sounded best to us, and what we had on hand. Picadillo can differ slightly depending on who is making it, but it is essentially a ground beef dish flavored with olives and raisins and various spices, in a light tomato sauce served with or over rice or rice and beans. It’s also sometimes used as an empanada filling. It can be more stew-like, or thicker… thick and chunky, or finer.
Since I was letting my daughter help lead the way I knew we had to say no-no to chunky. My sweet girl does not love chunky. So we kept the tomatoes pureed, and I also decided to food process the sofrito base (soooo much easier than all that chopping, plus it’s not chunky 😉 ). We chose the spices that sounded best to us (her first request was ‘I want our recipe to have the MOST spices!!’… which, I was so incredibly proud to hear), and we just started cooking!
She was so proud of herself. So proud. She was involved in the entire process – she even wrote out all the ingredients and amounts that we used (something I never do and find myself having to recall it after the fact).
Reading all of that after the fact as I’m writing this post right now bring me the most joy.
So, even though neither one of us are Puerto Rican, nor have we been to Puerto Rico, we channeled our inner Puerto Rican home cook and came up with a dish to honor the culture using the things we had in our kitchen. We didn’t have enough raisins (‘one silly box’), so we bumped up the volume with dried figs. And guess what? I can’t imagine this dish without dried figs now. It was one of all of our favorite parts of the meal. We didn’t have spanish, stuffed olives. I am a hard core Castelvetrano Olive fan, and that’s essentially all you will find in my home, so we used those. And guess what? It’s the only olive my husband likes, my daughter doesn’t even like olives, but she LOVED them in this and was so proud of herself for that. I had a cup of leftover homemade tomato sauce from a dinner last week, so that was our tomato product… the point being – we made it our own. And that’s what was the most fun about it.
That, and the fact that we did it together.
And isn’t that how food and recipes even came to be? Our grandparents and beyond made food based on what was around. Recipes were initially created out of necessity. Whatever was local and THERE was what went in to that meal. And that’s also how this here website came to be. I started this blog 12 years ago when I was barely a mama. Purse strings were tight because they had to be. Now I’m an experienced mama and purse strings are tight sometimes because I want them to be.
And I’m proud of that.
In an extra large skillet / frying pan or sauté pan, on medium-high, with a good drizzle of light oil, add the following for a very quick ‘flash fry’ :
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
They can burn very quickly, so be ready to go right in and add the following :
- 2 ish pounds of ground beef (I used a pack of 93% lean, which I feel was the right move. But most recipes say chuck. I’m just not a fan of residual grease.)
Once the beef is spread out evenly in the pan, do not touch it for 3-5 minutes.
Season with the following :
- 3 tsp kosher salt (you can adjust / reseason later, so go light now bc you can always add… but you can never take away
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Once the meat has seared to a dark brown on the down-side, flip it around to brown the rest and evenly distribute the seasoning. Break it up with a wooden spoon / spatula to ensure all is of roughly even bite-sized bits.
Allow it to continue browning while you process the sofrito…
In the bowl of your food processor, add the following :
- 1 medium onion (I use yellow exclusively bc I can get them on the cheap in the bulk bags), peeled and cut into large chunks / quartered, stems, etc. removed
- 1 bell pepper (we used yellow!), halved, de-seeded and stemmed
- 4 cloves garlic
Process this until you get a paste. Feel free to keep this chunky if that’s to your liking. But we decided to have the flavors meld into the meat and all become one.
Add this to the browned meat.
Season again with a good pinch of kosher salt.
Stir to combine, and then let the veggies start to sear and work themselves into the meat. Leave it be and let it go for a couple minutes. Add more oil to the pan if it’s starting to stick too much.
Once the veggies have softened and all the meat is cooked and browned, add in :
- about 1/3 cup of raisins
- a heaping 1/3 cup chopped dried mission figs
^^feel free to go all in on raisins, per tradition or find your own fun mix!
- about 16 olives, pitted and chopped… that’s depending on the olive you use, but it should be about equal to the same amount as the dried fruit you used (heaping 2/3 cup)
Stir to combine.
It should now be dark brown, crispy and tasty.
Add in :
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 TB worchestershire sauce
- 1 cup tomato sauce / puree / crushed (or if you’d like chunks of tomatoes, use canned diced / whole)
- 1 cup water
Scrape up the stuck bits from the bottom of the pan now while the liquid is in there.
Season with :
- 2 TB dried oregano (Use only 1 TB if you have fresh)
- 1/2 tsp more ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp more ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp more ground cinnamon
- 1/2 ground cumin
Taste it. Does it need more salt? Add it. It should have a beautiful combination of salty/sweet/warmly spiced, with a hint of tang
And it’s done! We had ours like this, on the drier side over some simple white rice, but you can double the liquids if you wanted something more saucy.
Also… just so you know – the leftovers are super-fly reheated with a couple jammy eggs AND also inside your favorite pastry in a hand pie /empanada wanna-be.
thanks for reading, y’all. i hope you have as much fun as i did in your kitchen today. xx