A cook's life: Fresh from Cuba

We are finally into snow season in Fort McMurray, and everyone’s thoughts are drifting to holidays and vacations in sunnier climates — I know mine are! I was lucky enough to have spent some time living in Havana, Cuba. Not the typical resort trip most experience, but living with locals in a suburb just outside the heart of downtown Havana.

My Cuban experience is part of the reason I am a cook today. I spent my days wandering through local markets, chatting with merchants and tasting things I had never seen before. My nights were spent in a kitchen learning how to turn simple ingredients into an amazing feast, not only for myself, but it seemed like half the apartment block surrounding us as well. It brings a smile to my face every time I think about those nights.

My life has become more hectic since and it seems like the chaos never ends, but when it comes right down to it, I love what I do and the chaos is part of the love. Every day I get to see the results of our team’s hard work.

One of my favourite dishes on those nights in Havana was Picadillo — an odd blend of ground meat, olives, raisins and tomatoes. A group of ingredients that just didn’t seem right in my head, yet once it stewed away for a bit on the gas stove the smells would have my mouth watering.

This is an easy, quick meal that everyone at the dinner table is going to love. Cuban comfort food at its best.


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large white onion (diced)
  • 4 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb ground pork (or Chorizo sausage)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ cup dry sherry
  • ½ cup sliced olives (3 tbsp brine out of jar)
  • ½ cup diced pimento
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 1 8-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ¼ tsp fresh black pepper
  • salt to taste


Over a medium fire, heat a large pot. Add the onion, garlic and bay leaf. Toss around till translucent. About four minutes.

Add the ground pork and beef then cook until browned. Drain off the fat careful not to lose any of the contents while doing so.

Throw it back on the fire then add the sherry. Stir for about another minute until the meat has absorbed the flavours. Then add the diced tomato, tomato paste, pimentos, olives (with brine), raisins, oregano, cumin and cayenne. Simmer over a low fire for about 10 minutes, giving it a toss every couple of minutes. Taste then season with the salt and pepper.

I served mine with traditional rice and beans and a fresh Ensalada Tipica (Cuban Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette). I bought some flat bread and threw on a wedge of lemon to add a zip to the rice. It makes a great stuffing for tacos for the kids. I wanted some fried plantains as veggies, but the stores were out. So the Bowie’s had a Cubana feast in front of the burning log channel on the television before I went out to shovel. Christina reminded me yet again that she has never been to Cuba. Maybe that will be our next escape.