Cooks Corner

Cuban sandwich ‘pocket’ leads Pillsbury Bake-Off pack

Pillsbury Bake-Off finalist: Cuban sandwich pockets are easy to make with ground pork and grainy mustard.
Pillsbury Bake-Off finalist: Cuban sandwich pockets are easy to make with ground pork and grainy mustard. Pillsbury

One of the four finalists for the $1 million prize in the 2014 Pillsbury Bake-Off is a Cuban sandwich.

When The Chew’s Carla Hall announced that at a ceremony in Nashville, Tennessee, last week, I was pretty skeptical. I’ve eaten a lot of Cuban sandwiches in my time, some glorious, some dry and atrocious, but none like this one.

Refrigerated dough. Stone-ground mustard. Ground — not roasted — pork. There was the requisite Swiss and piquant crisp pickle, but this was not a sandwich that would make it in Miami, I thought.

I was wrong. Once I tasted it, and talked with the judges and the creator, Courtney Sawyer of Bellingham, Washington, I understood why this stood out from the recipes of 100 amateur cooks who made it to the semifinals. No, this is not the version we are used to, with crisp Cuban bread, mojo-marinated roast lechon and yellow mustard. But it is certainly tasty and easy and would make great lunchbox or even party fare.

Sawyer once lived in Florida, and she loved Cuban sandwiches. She is a fan of handpies and meat turnovers and regional cooking. So she took Crescent Roll dough sheets and made an homage to the Cuban sandwich of her childhood influenced by Cornish pasties she had in Upper Michigan. She told me she would have been more authentic, but yellow mustard was too runny and made the bread too moist. And given the contest’s emphasis on quick and “doable,” she knew she couldn’t roast her own pork.

There are three other contenders for the top prize: Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers by Jody Walker of Madison, Mississippi; Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters by Beth Royals of Richmond, Virginia; and Chocolate Doughnut Poppers by Megan Beimer of Alexandria, Virginia.

For the first time, the public gets to help choose who wins. View the recipes and vote online until 10 p.m. Dec. 2 at

Reader Question: Gnocchi Soup

Q. Do you have a recipe for chicken-and-gnocchi soup like the one served at Olive Garden? We had it there and loved it. It was our first experience with gnocchi.

Dorothy Reynolds, Evans Mills, N.Y.

A. I’ve always been a fan of Olive Garden’s soups, which frankly are as good as soups I’ve tasted at Italian restaurants that cost four times as much. I’ll even admit that more than once I’ve stopped for a family-size portion to go when I’m too busy to cook. But since my copycat recipe for pasta e fagioli a la Olive Garden proved very popular with readers, I gave the potato gnocchi a go.

I figure no one makes homemade gnocchi anymore (and if they do, they don’t need a recipe from me), so I went for the shortcut of buying pre-made. Unfamiliar with gnocchi? It is a small Italian dumpling made from potatoes, flour and eggs. Most large supermarkets carry it now, either fresh or frozen. Need to cut back even more? Use leftover or rotisserie chicken and cut the sauté time.

Reader Response: Stone Crab Sauce

Anya A. asked if anyone had the recipe for the mustard sauce served with stone crabs at Chief’s Seafood on Key Biscayne. Peter Roberts writes that he, too, enjoyed that sauce and supplied the recipe here.

“Alas, I did not get it directly from the source before it closed, but did a lot of experimenting before landing on this formula,” Roberts said.

Roberts’ recipe is much more heated than I personally prefer with stone crabs, with their subtle sweet flavor. But if you like fire in your dip, this is appealing.

Send questions and responses to or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.

Side dish

Cuban-Style Sandwich Pockets

3 tablespoons coarse-grain mustard

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

2 cans Pillsbury Crescent refrigerated seamless dough

8 ounces ground pork

6 slices (3/4 ounce each) deli ham

6 slices (3/4 ounce each) Swiss cheese

18 dill pickle chips

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Coat large cookie sheet with vegetable oil cooking spray. In a small bowl, mix mustard and cumin. Unroll dough sheets on work surface. Cut each sheet into thirds. Press each third into a 7 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch rectangle. Spread mustard mixture evenly over each rectangle to within 1/2 inch of edges.

Shape pork into 6 (3-inch) squares; place over mustard on each rectangle. Top each pork patty with 1 slice ham, 1 slice cheese and 3 pickle chips. Fold dough over filling; press edges firmly with fork to seal. Prick top of each pocket 3 times with fork. Place pockets 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. Bake 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown and meat thermometer inserted in center of pockets reads 160 degrees. Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 433 calories, 24.2 g fat (9.9 g saturated, 7.2 g monounsaturated), 62 mg cholesterol, 32.5 g protein, 26.7 g carbohydrate, 0.3 g fiber, 952 mg sodium.

Source: 2014 Pillsbury Bake-Off.

Main dish

Chicken Gnocchi Soup a la Olive Garden

10 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons fresh rosemary

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 small sweet onion, chopped

8 baby carrots, julienned

2 ribs celery, sliced 1/4-inch thick

2 cups chicken stock

16 ounces heavy cream

1 pound fresh or frozen potato gnocchi, cooked according to package directions

1 pound baby spinach leaves

Salt, pepper and nutmeg

Freshly grated parmesan

Slice the chicken into 1/2-inch strips. Toss in a zip-top plastic bag with the olive oil, garlic, rosemary and lemon juice. Marinate at least 1 hour in refrigerator. Set a sauté pan on medium high. Add the contents of the plastic bag along with the onions, carrots and celery. Sauté just until onions are translucent and chicken is browned. Add chicken stock and stir to scrape up any browned bits in pan. After 2 minutes, reduce heat to low and stir in cream. Bring to a simmer. Drain cooked gnocchi and add to pan. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Add spinach, stirring and cooking just long enough to wilt slightly. Serve immediately, topped with parmesan. Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 528 calories, 40.9 g fat (22.4 g saturated, 13.7 g monounsaturated), 151 mg cholesterol, 18.5 g protein, 24 g carbohydrate, 3.2 g fiber, 473 mg sodium.

Source: Linda Cicero.


Horseradish-Mustard Sauce

1 cup mayonnaise

1⁄4 cup Dijon mustard

1⁄4 cup prepared horseradish

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

Whisk ingredients together and chill 1 hour before serving. Makes about 1 1/2 cups, 6 servings.

Per serving: 266 calories, 27.6 g fat (4.3 g saturated, 6.2 g monounsaturated), 15.5 mg cholesterol, 0.5 g protein, 1.6 g carbohydrate, 0.4 g fiber, 516 mg sodium.

Source: Adapted by Linda Cicero from a recipe by Peter Roberts.

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