The Huntington Hospital cafeteria cook lives in Huntington with her husband, Louis A. Gonzalez, and her son. She also has three daughters and seven grandchildren.
What's your culinary heritage? I was born in Puerto Rico and came here when I was 9. I cook a lot of Puerto Rican dishes. I learned to cook from my mother, the old-fashioned way. I was 11 or 12 when I started. She used to make rice and beans with fried chicken, pork chops and sancocho, a stew with beef or pigs feet and Spanish vegetables.
What are some family favorites in your household? I make arroz con gandules, rice with pigeon peas and pork. The kids love that with fried pork chops and plantains. I also do Chinese rice and fresh pork, barbecue chicken, barbecue ribs, yucca and cassava.
How big a crowd do you usually cook for when you entertain? Sometimes I have as many as 40 or 50 people. For the holidays I made 75 dozen pasteles -- which are like tamales -- to sell to people who work at Huntington Hospital.
What are some of your biggest hits in the cafeteria? On Thursdays, I make home fries with peppers sauteed in butter and cilantro. Everybody loves them; by 10 a.m. they're gone. And for lunch I invented a chicken wrap. I chop grilled chicken with lettuce, tomato, red onions and add Dijon honey mustard and hot sauce. I wrap it in a big tortilla and put it on the grill with mozzarella on top. Doctors, supervisors, even people from outside come and ask for the chicken wrap. It's the No. 1 seller.
When you're not cooking, where on Long Island do you like to eat out? There are no Puerto Rican restaurants on Long Island, so if I want Puerto Rican stuff, I do it. But I like TGI Friday's. And when I want Italian, I go to Olive Garden.
Rice with Pigeon Peas and Pork
11/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 chopped sweet cherry pepper
1 chopped small green pepper
1 chopped small red pepper
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 pound Goya pigeon peas
2 cilantro leaves
3 envelopes Sazon Goya with cilantro and achiote
1 teaspoon egg shade (yellow) food color
1/2 cup cubed pork or fresh ham
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
4 cups water
2 cups rice
1/2 cup stuffed olives, optional
1. In a medium pot over high heat, heat vegetable oil. Add peppers and onions and saute until soft.
2. Stir in pigeon peas, cilantro leaves, Sazon Goya, food coloring, pork and garlic and onion powders. Add water, stirring well. Then add rice. Cover and cook over medium heat until liquid evaporates.
3. Stir rice mixture, cover again, turn down heat to low and cook another 30 minutes, stirring up from bottom twice. When rice is tender, stir in olives, if desired. Makes about 6 servings.