Flan, a variation

Anamaris 8 Comments

I’m not one to indulge in desserts too often, my sweet tooth is… lacking, but Flan is one of the few desserts I can’t keep my hands away from. Which means, I make it as infrequently as possible to keep that heart attack at bay.

I’m always reading about variations to flan, adding chocolate, pumpkin, coconut, it goes on and on. So, I thought of trying my own little tropical variation: Nance.

This is a very interesting little fruit, and it IS little, anywhere between the size of a blueberry and a cherry. In fact, they are known as yellow cherries in English. The fruit has some fat and is tart and becomes sweeter after picking. It grows on a tree and when they’re ready, they fall to the ground, collected, rinsed and thrown in a bottle with water for a few days. This allows them to ripen fully and develop its sweetness.

In order to get the pulp, you either have to use your hands and squish them or put them in the blender, liquid and all, and pulse them a few times to loosen the pulp. In this case, since the nance was sold in the frozen section of my grocers’, I thawed them and whirled them about in the blender with enough water to keep them moving. Strain and you’re ready to make a chicha–Panama’s pumped up fruit drinks, pesada or this to-die-for flan.

Flan de Nance

For the caramel sauce:
1-1/4 cp sugar

For the flan:
6 whole eggs
4 oz cream cheese
1-1/2 cps nance pulp
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cp granulated (white) sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt (bit less if using regular salt)
1-1/2 cps whole milk

Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare a Bain-Marie: you will need a baking  pan that is large enough to hold the dish you’re baking the flan in. Add hot water to the large pan and place in the oven.

 To make the caramel, following the directions I gave you before for a cheese flan; here’s the link.

Making the flan: Put all the ingredients except for the milk in a blender glass and whisk until smooth. To avoid foaming the eggs, do this by pulsating instead of letting the blender go for a long time. It shouldn’t take more than 5-6 pulses.

In the meantime, use the same saucepan you used to make caramel to scald the milk. There will probably be some caramel stuck to the pot. That’s fine, just add the milk  and simmer until you see bubbles beginning to form around the edges. Turn off and remove from the heat.

You will now incorporate the hot milk into the egg mixture, because the milk is pretty hot, start the blender on low and slowly drizzle in the milk/sugar mix. As soon as all the milk is added, turn off the blender. Pour the custard into the carameled baking dish. Place the dish with the custard into the pan with water.

If you bake it in a 9-inch dish, it will probably be in the oven for close to 45 minutes. You’ll know it is ready when the top is golden and it begins to separate from the sides, but there’s still a jiggle at the center. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes, then put it in the fridge to cool it all the way through.

When you’re ready to serve, run a table knife around the edge to help loosen the cooled flan. Then invert it onto your serving dish. Make sure you invert over your sink, you’ll be amazed at how much of that caramel melts away onto your serving dish and continues running down your arm and on the clean floors.

Cookingly yours,

A trifecta of goodness

Anamaris 2 Comments

Have you ever rediscovered the value of something long forgotten? Reacquainted yourself with an old friend? Isn’t it the best feeling in the world? I’ve had this little Panamanian cookbook for over 20 years–it has the wear, tear and stains to prove it–I think I’ve only pulled it out about 3 times a year for each year I’ve lived here. That’s like 60 uses in over 7,000 days! Crazy!

The cookbook is by Berta de Peláez, a well-known Panamanian cook and TV personality. She is Panama’s answer to Martha Stewart. I remember watching her show every morning with my Mami and my sister. Later my sister and I would get in the kitchen and re-enact our own show. Me as Berta, my sis as Maria, the assistant. Fun times!

Can you imagine how silly I felt after finding this little recipe? It really is a trifecta of goodness: rice, shrimp, garlic. Queue choir chants: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH” Yes. It is that good. It is also incredibly easy to make and terribly quick. Did I say it was DELICIOUS? Because it was. Yep. To die.

It’s almost like a fried rice, except you fry the rice in butter (my adaptation, because butter makes everything bettah) and add a generous amount of garlic. I had some leftover steamed rice from my delivery order of Chinese food, and that’s what I used. You could also make some fresh rice for this, but let it cool a bit before putting it all together. Ready? This is gonna go pretty fast!

Arroz al Ajillo (Garlic Rice)
adapted from El Arte de Cocinar

1/2 medium shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 tsp smoked paprika
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cp bacon, diced
4 tbsp butter
3-5 garlic cloves, crushed
3 green onions, diced
3 cps rice, cooked

I opted to slice the shrimp in half, lengthwise. Not sure why, but that’s what I did. Season the shrimp with the paprika, salt and pepper and set aside.

In a medium-sized pan, cook the bacon  until crisp. Add the shrimp and cook them for a couple of minutes just until they don’t look translucent. Add 2/3 of the green onions. Remove the shrimp and bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving the bacon fat behind.

In the same pan, add the butter, once melted add the garlic and give it a quick stir. Don’t let it burn. Add the rice and stir well to make sure it is all coated with the garlic butter. Incorporate the shrimp, toss and serve topped with the rest of the green onions.

How do you like THAT?!

Cookingly yours,

Pupusas: little pockets of yum!

Anamaris 14 Comments

Around the holidays, I made some Mexican tamales, those were oh so good, we’re still eating on them. But I had a bit of the corn masa leftover… oh, what to do? What to do? The Hubbz loves Salvadorian pupusas and has been asking me to try my hand at them for a while. Leftover masa? Perfect opportunity.

White corn is very popular throughout all of Central America, except for Panama. In my little country, yellow corn is king, the white variety wasn’t really known until recent years.

Pupusas, a funny name for the Spanish speakers, but a seriously delicious treat. Salvadorian pupusas are similar to Venezuelan arepas and Mexican gorditas, except that pupusas are filled, then grilled. A sort of round corn empanada, really. Most commonly, you’ll find these filled with chicharrón (fatty, crisp pork), cheese and black beans. However, fillings are only limited by the cook’s imagination.

I opted to go for the cheese and chicharrón filling. Since I had rendered some pork fat, I was in possession of some choice pork cracklings and there’s ALWAYS queso fresco in da’ house! Check it out:

Pork & Cheese Pupusas

I mixed some of the fresh masa with a bit of pork lard and seasoned it with salt. It isn’t necessary to add either of those things, but I find the corn masa to be bland and dry and I wanted a flavorful, moist pupusa. If you’re using dry masa, simply follow the packaging instructions and add enough water to have a somewhat soft and pliable dough, season or not as you prefer. Shape the masa into balls.

Then flatten and begin adding the filling. I’ve seen this done from a single ball that is stuffed and flattened, but I found it a lot easier to use 2 flatten balls, put the filling on top of one and top with the other half. Seal the edges by pinching them together.

If you have a comal or a cast iron skillet, that’s the best way to grill these. If not, any non-stick skillet will work. Brown on each side over medium temperature. You want to make sure the dough cooks through and the filling is warmed up, so watch the temperature. They should sound kinda hollow when  you thump them, that’s how I know they’re cooked through.

Typically, these are served with curtido, a pickled cabbage salad. I’m not a cabbage fan, but I did have pickled carrots and I made a dipping sauce with crema fresca and homemade salsa. Yum!

Here’s more pupusa action here.

Cookingly yours,

Challenges, challenges, challenges!

Anamaris 4 Comments

I told you there would be an opportunity for you to play along in the Marx Foods challenge. It’s about that time, my friends. Voting time. Go check out all the incredible entries for the Ridiculously Delicious Challenge, there’s some really good stuff there. Then pick a recipe and vote for it. 15 participants will move on to the next round. Hurry, go vote!

aaaaaaaand…, it’s Wednesday! That means I have an entry for Shutterboo’s photo challenge. The theme this week was Large. What do you think? Go here to see this week’s submission.

There were rides and games.

Largely yours,


PS: Don’t forget to vote!

Raising the dead

Anamaris 4 Comments

I think I’ve hinted at the fact that Panama is a big seafood country. I may have also shared that we love to party. Overindulgence is quite common to us. When it happens, you hear of various remedies and traditions to  cure a persistent hangover. One such remedy: Levanta muerto (raise the dead).

I’m uncertain where the restorative quality of a caldillo de mariscos comes from, or if they are real. What I do know is that it makes for excellent cold weather, hot weather, bad mood, happy mood and comfort food food.

I love seafood soups, but I wanted this broth to be light and filled with the flavors from the sea without being too fishy. So when I went to my fish market, I picked up some mild fish and asked for the carcass to be bagged separately. I then used it to make a deliciously flavored broth.

*To make the broth, I added the fish carcass, shrimp peels (no heads), 1/2 an onion, a few garlic cloves, carrots and celery to a generous pot of water that was seasoned with salt & pepper. I allowed it to simmer for a few minutes, strained and reserved the broth. Here’s how it comes together:

Caldillo de Mariscos (Seafood soup)

Seafood broth*
Clams, scrubbed
Fish (red fish, tilapia or similar), cubed
Shrimp, peeled & deveined
Culantro leaves
Fresh thyme
Yuca, peeled & cubed
Sea salt & pepper

After straining the broth, I returned it to the pot, added the pieces of yuca, chopped culantro leaves (you can substitute with cilantro), a bit of finely chopped thyme, adjust the seasoning as needed. Allow it to cook until the yuca is fork-tender.

While the yuca is cooking, I seasoned the fish and shrimp with 1 tsp of Jugo Maggi (substitute with Worcestershire),  then reduced the temperature to bring the broth to a slow simmer and added the fish, shrimp and clams. Allow it to simmer for about 5 minutes, just until the clams open up. Serve with white rice or crusty bread.

Want to see more food porn? Follow this link. Yeah, baby!

Cookingly yours,

A Ridiculously Delicious Challenge

Anamaris 12 Comments

Here we are at the 2nd part of my first Marx Foods challenge of the year. The Ridiculously Delicious Challenge is divided into multiple rounds. The first one was to choose 3 ingredients we would like as our prize should we win the final. My chosen 3 were Wild Boar, Heirloom Potatoes and Saffron Strands. I really hope I get a chance to play with all of those.

This is the second round: create an original recipe using 2 of the ingredients sent to us in the mystery box we received as a gift when we made it through the first round. It was an interesting choice of ingredients, as usual. It included things like Iranian saffron, several types of chilies, juniper berries, dried cherries, grains of paradise and dill pollen. Several of the ingredients were a first for me, which is exactly why I love participating in Marx challenges.

I wanted to make sure I used the ingredients in a recipe that would highlight my Latin heritage. I really had to think about it: sweet, savory, sweet, savory. In the end, I settled on savory, a play on Arroz con Pollo. I wanted to use something more exciting than chicken, though. In the absence of duck, I went for lamb. As for the mystery box, juniper berries, grains of paradise and dried cherries would be the other willing participants.

This was an easy dish to put together, but it doesn’t taste or look like it. WOW! So much flavor. First let me tell you about the mystery ingredients. Grains of Paradise taste like herby peppercorns. Then there is the Juniper Berries, biting into one is like sniffing good gin, they have an inherent briny taste. Finally, Dried Tart Cherries. Exactly what they sound like, sweet and tart, perfect substitutes for raisins and prunes. I picked lamb shoulder chops, I wanted the flavor the bones would add to the broth and also a cut of meat with some fat. OK, let’s cook!

Arroz con Cordero (Lamb & Spicy Rice)
6-8 servings

Approx 2lbs lamb shoulder chops
For marinade:
12 juniper berries
1-1/2 tsp grains of paradise
1-1/2 tsp sea salt
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp cooking sherry
I put all of these in my grinder then rubbed it on the lamb and allowed it to sit for about 20 minutes or so while I prepared the rest of the vegetables needed to braise the lamb.

Braising broth:
2 tomatoes, quartered
2 carrots, quartered
1/2 cp cilantro, coarsely chopped
3 green onions, coarsely chopped
about 1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cp sherry

Heat a medium-sized Dutch oven over medium high heat and brown the lamb on both sides. Once all the lamb chops have been browned, deglaze the pan with the sherry, scraping the bottom to loosen the bits that are stuck. Add the vegetables and lamb and enough water to cover everything. Bring to a slow boil, lower temperature to a simmer and cook until the lamb is tender. Remove the lamb from the broth and allow it to cool.

Run the broth and vegetables through the blender to get everything smooth. Debone the lamb and chop it into bite-size pieces. Set aside.

For the rice:
3 cps long grain rice
1 cp baby carrots, halved
1/2 cp olives, pitted and chopped
2/3 cp dried cherries
1 roasted pepper, sliced
1/2 cp cilantro, finely chopped
3 tbsp vegetable oil
Reserved broth

In the same dutch-oven, add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Rinse and drain the rice before adding it to the hot oil. Stir well, making sure the oil coats all the grains and they turn from translucent to chalky white.

Add this time you can add 5 cps of broth, check the seasoning and adjust as necessary. Once the broth has almost completely evaporated, layer the remaining ingredients. DO NOT disturb the rice, don’t stir it or you’ll end up with unevenly cooked, mushy rice. Top with the lamb, carrots, peppers, olives, 2/3 of the cilantro and the cherries. Reduce the temperature to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid and allow it to cook/steam UNDISTURBED for another 20 minutes.

At the end of that time, remove the lid and mix in all the ingredients. Serve with a salad and top with fresh cilantro. Enjoy! Be sure to stop by MarxFoods.com to see the other contestants throwdown. Also, I’ll keep you posted, but you’ll get to decide which of the yummy recipes move on to the next round. Yep, it’s voting time…, soon. Not yet.

Cookingly yours,

If there’s wine…, they will come

Anamaris 5 Comments

A few weeks ago, The Hubbz, The Pup and I took a few days off to visit the Texas Hill Country. If you followed my tweets that week, you know that we started off in San Antonio. A required stop whenever there, is Chris Madrid’s. Who is Chris Madrid? I have NO clue, but they make the best burger in the world in his honor (or hers, if Chris is short for Christina).

The Tostada Burger is simply the most ingeniously delicious burger you’ll ever eat. It starts with the buns, which I think must be homemade and taste like a brioche. The buns are then stuffed with a homemade all beef patty (you can tell its homemade because the shape is all irregular and imperfect). Not much seasoning on the beef, just fresh, juicy stuff. Then comes a smear of homemade refried beans, a handful of broken tortilla chip pieces. Then it happens. Cheddar cheese. A thick, almost vulgar blob of melted cheddar sits on top. And to crown it all,  about a tablespoons of chopped sweet TX onions. Ay bendito! Its crazy; its good, its crazy good!

After stuffing our faces, we were Fredricksburg, TX bound. I made reservations a little motel just on the edge of town, this was my first time staying at a roadside motel. The Country Inn & Cottages was a simple, quaint little motel with tiny, but über clean and comfortable rooms and an open heart for dogs. ‘Nuff said.

That was the extent of my trip prep, another first for me. I usually know every attraction, restaurant, hot spot and gas station available at my intended destination. Not this time. I really enjoyed not having the pressure of a fully planned itinerary…, this time. One thing I did know, was there was wine. Lots and lots of local wine. Tastings began Saturday.

I’m going to list these as a countdown, leaving our absolute favorite for last. Before we get started, I want to say we did not have a single glass of bad wine. In fact, we bought bottles upon bottles at each of  these wineries, but there were definitely some incredible wines out there and each winery had a different feeling.

Grape Creek Vineyards ~ This is a gorgeous place, they’ve set it up to look and feel like a winery would in Tuscany. There’s a grand entrance and a beautiful patio with a fountain. The attendants were a bit stuffy for our taste, but the wine was lovely.

We each sampled a couple of different wines and settled on: the Cuvee Blanc, Mosaic and the Grand Rouge.

Fredricksburg Winery ~ this winery sits right on the main drag. Like many of the wineries in the area, it is a family business. We walked up to the counter and chatted it up with the attendant who was a Houston transplant (we bumped into lots of those here). We ended up with 2 bottles: one of each. A Vintners Cuvee and the most amazingly flavorful spiced red. I’ve never had spiced or mulled wine, you know, the stuff that is served warm? But OMG! I couldn’t stop smelling it or drinking it. Now I’m waiting for the temps to drop again so I can polish off  our bottle.

Torre di Pietra ~ This winery sits right next to Grape Creek, but it was much more low-key. After our tastings, we just sat outside enjoying the sun, the cool wind and wine. It was just heavenly.

They have this Tango Port that is just unbelievable, and I’m not even a fan of the stuff. However, for us, there were 2 clear winners here: Amore di Toscano, a lovely almost chocolatey blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Syrah. When he poured this one, he told me he called it ‘Trouble’, man, was he right. The second bottle we brought home was their Late Harvest Zin…, oh my. This guy is oh so yummy and kinda raunchy in the best possible way. Here’s a description of all of their wines.

The last winery is our favorite. Chisholm Trail Winery is located just outside Fredricksburg. It may be out in the middle of nowhere, but their wines are full of life, personality and sass. Rebecca was our tasting expert and she explained and answered every question we had and even the ones we didn’t ask.

She told us about Paula’s passion for wine and her very personal approach when mixing the grapes. She told us all about Lenoir grapes, a TX-specific crop, and how it tints the wines and makes them oh so dark and rich looking. She was honest about her favorite wines, about how some needed a bit more time to mature and come into their own. Rebecca left us unwilling to leave and wanting to throw caution to the air, pack our bags and never leave that little town. Thanks, Rebecca!

The Hubbz and I loved every wine we tasted at Chisholm, but were sucker-punched by 3 in particular.

Diablo, what a devil this one is. A blend of Lenoir and Syrah grapes, it is spicy, rich, sweet, dark. Very, very dark.

Lone Wolf. This one got them a gold medal. It is made from 100% TX grown Lenoir grapes and it just explodes in your mouth. Un.be.lievable. Our third choice was a Bella Star a tasty white.

Beer is also big in this area, there are a few breweries in Fredricksburg and the whole Hill Country region. If you haven’t already, add it to your list of places to see. You will not regret it.

Oh, did I mention this…?

Buzzily yours,

How Fredricksburg, Texas changed my mind.

Anamaris 7 Comments

If you haven’t guessed it by now, I’m a city girl. Through and through, die hard fan of cramped spaces, tall buildings and a store for any and every whim within a mile. I’ve never subscribed to the phrase ‘the great outdoors’, understood the need for great open spaces or been able to relax out in small town USA. If there isn’t a Target within 2 or 3 miles from my home, I think I would break into hives and hyperventilate. Granted, I don’t know for sure if that would happen, because I’ve never taken that chance; there are 2 Target stores within 3 miles of my home.

That said, I have been known to pay the occasional visit to small towns. I check out the oft-manmade charming towns, hit the usual haunts and try to mingle with the locals. I usually get all this done in 2 or 3 days tops, any longer and I begin experiencing urban life withdrawals. But the Hubbz and I needed a few days off and I was due in San Antonio for business, the perfect segue.

Fredricksburg is one of many small towns making up the Texas Hill Country. We drove through San Antonio and the outskirts of a few of the hill country towns before coming up on our final destination. As soon as you approach San Antonio, you will notice how the terrain changes from flat open spaces to hilly irregular areas. This may seem like an insignificant point if you live surrounded by hills and/or mountains, but if you live in Houston, the only time you look up is to see the top of a building. There are no hills to speak of. Flatlands rule here.

I am dismayed to say I didn’t take a lot of pictures on this trip. Dodo, my bestie, still cannot believe it. *I* cannot believe it. Photos were an afterthought, if that. I came back with something like 15 shots total, but I was so happy, relaxed and thrilled here, that I didn’t find the need to take a single shot of the town. Why would I take pictures of the next place I plan to call home? After all, I’ll see it everyday in a few years. Here’s wishing.

Bottom line is, I LOVED Fredericksburg. It is quaint and quiet. It is full of charm, but most of all, it is real. It’s not another made up town, where every other storefront looks the same. The spirit of the community is live and well here. Everyone seems to know each other and they are so friendly and proud of what they’ve created preserved. Whenever I thought of a small town, I pictured some dilapidated, worn out, dried out town. But Fredricksburg is fresh and clean and cute without trying or even meaning to.

One of the big draws to this area is the Wine Trail. Yep, you heard it here first, there are over 50 wineries up and down the region. In fact, this area is being touted as the 2nd fastest growing wine region in the US. And if there’s wine, there is me. It’s a rule. We hit only 4 vineyards of more than 50 currently opened in the Hill Country. We managed to come up with some favorites, so check out my next post. It’salmost  all about wine.

Small town yours,

Week 6: FEAR

Anamaris 8 Comments

It is time for the Wednesday shot. The shot I submit to Shutterboo’s Wednesday Photo Challenge. I’ve been looking forward to Wednesdays this year. Well, I guess it isn’t Wednesday per se, just what it means. It means a new theme for the week, another chance to take my little cam out and shoot things. And since I’ve been taking photography classes, I’ve been working on using the manual settings on my camera. And that’s really exciting. It is also terrifying. Which brings me to this week’s theme: FEAR.

One of the reasons I didn’t try harder with manual settings was fear. Fear of missing the shot, of ending up with a blurry shot. Fear of not having a second chance. Fear of failure. I still feel it; every time I press the shutter button. Every time I look at the shot on my camera’s 2-inch display. Every time I hook the camera to my desktop. Every time I wait for the shots to upload.

On our trip to Fredericksburg (post to come), I told myself I wouldn’t shoot in anything other than manual, and so I did. Not all shots were winners, but I didn’t do too badly. FYI–These shots have not been enhanced to protect the integrity of my progress (except for cropping, in some cases).

Here are a few of the shots…, but, you know the drill.

For the winning shot, you gotta go to the photo challenge page here or you can go to the Flickr photostream with the rest of the participants here. Also, you should totally check out Brooke’s blog, Shutterboo and sign up for the challenge. It’s a lot of fun!

Come back next week, I wonder what the theme will be…

Click, click, clickingly yours,