"Best Cuban Food"--Beach Life, 1998
"Best Cuban Food in Tampa Bay Area"--Tampa Bay Magazine, 1999-2003
"Reading this book is like sitting at the Gonzalez-Hastings kitchen table with a cup of espresso, exchanging favorite Cuban recipes with your best friend."--Pat Baldwin, retired food editor, St. Petersburg Times
The Habana Cafe's list of "Bests" began in 1997, soon after the Cuban family restaurant opened its doors on Florida's Gulf Coast and served its first steaming platters of homemade picadillo, arroz con pollo, and lechon asado--a mouth-watering dish of roasted pork seasoned with fresh garlic, oregano, white wine, and bay leaves and topped with grilled onions.
Culinary wizard and cafe owner Josefa Gonzalez-Hastings offers this extravagance of Cuban cooking as a celebration of her heritage. Many of the recipes were passed down to her from her mother and aunts; others are "nuevo Latino cuisine"--a fusion of traditional Cuban foods with modern dishes. Cuban food and preparation always has been varied, she says, flavored by the ancestry of the island, with contributions from Spanish conquistadors, African slaves, Asian laborers, and Indian natives.
Of course, she also includes Habana Cafe's standard sides of rice, black beans, and glazed golden-brown plantains. Customer favorites are all represented here in easy-to-follow recipes and colorful photographs--from appetizers and soups, seafood and vegetarian entrees, to classics (Cuban sandwiches and flan) and beverages (mojitos, sangria, cafe con leche, Cuba libre). Gonzalez-Hastings also provides a glossary explaining typical ethnic Cuban ingredients such as bijol, a condiment used to give rice a yellow color; naranja agria, the tart Seville orange often used to marinate meat and make mojo sauce; and malanga, a mild, nutty root that flavors soups and other sauces.
"In my Cuban family," she writes, "two things were always certain-- food and good times." Gonzalez-Hastings shares family stories and photographs of life in pre-Castro Cuba, re-creating the days when Havana was a dining mecca, Ernest Hemingway frequented La Floridita restaurant, and the island gave birth to the daiquiri.
Josefa Gonzalez-Hastings is head chef and owner of the Habana Cafe in Gulfport, Florida.