Cranberry Ropa Vieja

When new friend people come into my life and learn what I do for a living, the next comment is usually something along the lines of "Wow! I wish I could have dinner at your house every night!"

And while I am admittedly an amazing cook (and modest), it's not really the way that people picture it. There usually is something awesome coming out of my kitchen, but it's not always what one would ideally want for dinner.

For example, this past June, I spent a few weeks working on holiday dessert and cocktail recipes for the current issue of Cosmopolitan for Latinas (for which I'm the food & drink writer). Awesome in theory, but the reality is that for about 2 weeks, the only thing I was making was batch-after-batch of things like Puerto Rican bread pudding, arroz con leche, guava pastries, and polvorones.

There were also a lot of Pisco Sours and Mexican Christmas punch.

What there wasn't, was a normal dinner.

"Is there anything to eat besides rice pudding??" Eugene would ask upon arriving from work to find me standing barefoot in the kitchen covered in a light sheen of sweat and powdered sugar.

"No. No there is not."

Exhausted from the day o'baking in 100 degree heat, dinner on those nights was usually a choice between delivery sushi or take-me-out-somewhere.

In other words, probably the same thing YOU had for dinner last night, new friend person!

Something like this happened again this month. Between Sandy, Thanksgiving, my latest Cosmo for Latinas deadline, and the amazing dinner party I hosted for sponsors Foods from Chile (more about that soon!), the meals around here were super irregular.

Think things like bacon egg sandwiches, party leftovers, cucumber salads, and several baguette-and-burrata dinners.

We also went out to eat--a LOT.

So much so that on Monday night, as I started doing that thing I do when I basically jump on Eugene's lap and assault him with kisses until he agrees to take me out to dinner, he agreed (God bless him) with the condition that I would "please cook something real for dinner tomorrow."

So I obliged.

This is my totally not-authentic (please don't kill me if you're Cuban), but still super delicious riff on Ropa Vieja. In Spanish, “Ropa Vieja” means “old clothes,” a reference to the tattered look of this shredded beef stew.

Typically made with a tomato base, I reinvented it for the holidays by using a mix of fresh cranberries and unsweetened cranberry juice as the braising liquid. I kept the traditional flavors of garlic, onion, bay leaves, and cumin, but also tossed in a few cinnamon sticks for a woodsy, spicy twist.

Like most braised dishes (my favorite, favorite style of cooking!), this one is EASY. Just sear the meat, add the ingredients to the pot, and let your stove take over while you busy yourself with other things. It's a great winter weekend dish, and you can double the recipe so that you have easy dinners throughout the rest of the week.

Typically served over white rice, I actually paired this one with my Cinnamon Coconut Couscous for a truly ambiguously ethnic meal.

Buen provecho!

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Cranberry Ropa Vieja Recipe

2lb flank steak, cut in half
Kosher salt
Black Pepper
Oil for frying
3 cups fresh cranberries (frozen is OK)
3 cups unsweetened cranberry juice (not cocktail)
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
1 cup water
2 large yellow onions, quartered
12 large garlic cloves, crushed
2 whole cinnamon sticks (use canela, if available)
1 tablespoon oregano
4 bay leaves
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Prepared white rice or couscous, for serving.

Pat flank steak dry and season liberally with kosher salt, black pepper, and cumin. Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pot (such as a Dutch oven) and sear the steaks halves on each side until they develop a crust (about 10 minutes total--you may need to do one at a time). Return the steaks to the pot and add the cranberries, cranberry juice, tomatoes, onions, garlic, cinnamon sticks, oregano, bay leaf, brown sugar, and red wine. The liquid should just cover the meat--if necessary, add the cup of water to bring the level up (you can also use beef broth). Bring to a boil then lower to a very gentle simmer and cover. Let braise on the lowest setting possible for about 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender.

Remove the meat from the pot and use a fork to shred. Remove the cinnamon sticks from the braising liquid and use an immersion blender or regular blender to puree the sauce until it is smooth, then let simmer for 5 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and slightly reduced. Return the shredded meat to the pot and stir in the cranberries. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.

Serve over white rice or couscous.

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