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NOT your usual Carne Guisada

Anamaris 7 Comments

A guiso is one of those universal, one-pot dishes that exists in every cuisine/culture I can think of. Stew, cassoulet, kho, cocido, caldeirada, goulash–whatever the name and the main ingredient, it is a hearty soupy dish, slowly braised until the various ingredients are incredibly tender. There’s usually a meat/protein involved, though not always, as is the case in ratatouille. Stews or guisos will usually have a beef base, but lamb, chicken and seafood are common ingredients depending on the culture.

In this case, I decided to switch up my usual beef version or carne guisada and opted for lamb instead. I was at Phoenicia Market, my local grocer for all things Middle Eastern, when I spotted some beautiful lamb roasts. They were calling my name. I swear it! I could hear them say ‘Anamaris! Cook me. Eat me. Love me.’ And being the softy that I am, I did.

Instead of using the customary spices that accompany lamb, I went for my Latin roots. I introduced that roast to achiote, comino and habanero paste. The end result was delicioso. A rich, gamey, earthy and vibrant dish that seemed to waltz around our little kitchen as the aroma wafted around the room. As a good Panamanian, I served it with white rice and beans. The rice was the perfect backdrop to the saucy lamb, allowing us to savor the flavors from the guiso even without a bite of lamb.

This is not to say that the rice was boring, remember my feelings on that subject. I’m just saying that the rice was a perfect partner for the very flavorful and soulful lamb guiso. And check out the beans too, I made it my mission to combine ingredients that don’t always meet each other. Guess what? It worked!

Lamb Guisado (Cordero Guisado)

3 lbs boneless lamb roast (shoulder or leg), cubed
Achiote (annatto seeds)
Vegetable oil
1 tsp garlic, crushed
2 tsp sea salt
1-2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp Jugo Maggi or Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp cumin powder
1-1/2 cps broth or beer
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper (or green), chopped
2 – 3 ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 cp cilantro, finely chopped
5-6 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
2 medium potatoes, cubed
1 large carrot, cubed
1/2-1 tsp habanero paste

Achiote or annatto seeds are common in Latin-Caribbean cooking. It is the poor man’s saffron, used to infuse a similar color to dishes. It has a sweet peppery scent and taste, earthy; quite unique. To render its flavors and colors, we warm vegetable oil and add the seeds, then allow it to steep for a few minutes. In Panama, you’ll find a little bottle with this oil, seeds and all, sitting next to the stove. Every so often, it gets topped off with more oil until the seeds stop coloring it. Then you start over again.

You can make enough achiote oil for this recipe (about 3 tbsp vegetable oil + 1 tbsp achiote seeds) or a big batch as I do (about 1 cp oil to 1/4 cp seeds), or you can skip this altogether and just use plain or extra virgin oil.

After you’ve cubed the lamb, season it with 1 tbsp achiote oil, salt, pepper, garlic, Jugo Maggi, and cumin. Mix it all in and set aside while you get the veggies and aromatics ready.

Add the rest of the achiote oil to a large pan, preferably one with a fitting lid, and get it hot enough to sear to cubes of lamb. Brown the lamb in batches, trying not to crowd the pan so that you sear and not steam the meat. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Next, you will sweat the aromatics–add the onions, bell pepper and cook until the onions have soften and are translucent. Add the tomatoes after a few minutes, stir them in before adding the mint and cilantro.

Deglaze the pan with the broth or beer, use a wooden spoon to scrape off all the yummy bits that have gotten stuck to the bottom of that pan. This will not only enhance the flavor of the dish (so long as it isn’t burnt), but it will add an incredible depth of color to it.

Stir the lamb back in, then add the habanero paste, potatoes and carrots. Reduce the heat so that it simmers slowly. Allow it to cook covered for about 45 minutes or until the lamb is very tender. If the juices seem too runny at this time, remove the lid and allow it to cook down for another 10-15 minutes. Serve with rice and beans.

That’s one happy little lamb!

Cookingly yours,

The MasterChef experience

Anamaris 1 Comment


Gordon Ramsay wasn’t there. The end.

Ok, I didn’t really expect him to be there, but I had high hopes of it. Several friends have told me that I really need to share what the experience was like, so here it is. A mere 8 months later, but who’s counting?

The process begins a few months out; they announce the call for submissions and allow you to pre-register. I later found out that this pre-registration means you get to pick the time of day you want to show up for the audition, which can be especially significant depending on the city you’re going to. Anyway, I completed the application, about 12 pages of it, printed it and held on to it to carry it with me on audition day. You don’t submit it ahead of time.

The requirements to try out are pretty simple. No professional cooking experience, i.e., if you’ve worked in a restaurant you’re out. The availability to be their beck and call girl or boy for about 10 weeks, if selected. The completed registration. Oh, yeah, your signature dish, prepared before hand, ready to plate and be judged. No cooking, reheating, no plug-ins, nothing to be done on site. Just plating. That last bit sent me into a tissy.

First of all, signature dish? Me on a plate? I have this really, really bad habit of cooking a kickass dish, loving it, having The Hubbz rave about it, then never making it again. I’m on to something else. For weeks I deliberated over what to make, a decision made more difficult by the fact that it had to be something that would taste just as good if it wasn’t hot. Because, let’s face it, I’m not a dessert kinda chica. I didn’t decide on a dish until about a week before I was supposed to be in San Antonio. More on that later, first let me paint the picture of what was happening leading up to the audition on September 20th.

My day job was nuts and I was traveling to Oklahoma and New Mexico conducting training sessions for most of that month. Then, the weekend before the audition, I went home for this…


Auntie of the Bride – aren’t we cool?!

Yep. My gorgeous niece tied the knot and I just HAD to be there for the festivities. So, I made it back to Houston on Wednesday, to head on to SanAnton Saturday…, just a tad bit close. The last 2 episodes of the season played while I was traveling, so I caught up upon my return. In hindsight, I probably should’ve waited until after the audition because that’s when I realized that the grand prize was $250,000!!! For some reason, I had it in my head that it was 100K. That was manageable. But $250k just freaked the heck out of me. I almost wimped out. Don’t worry. I didn’t.

Once my little crisis had passed, I got busy figuring out a way to keep my dishes as hot as possible and shopping for said tools to accomplish that task. I know. I should’ve done that weeks, months earlier! I know. I bad. Finally on Friday I found what I was looking for and it was just a matter of getting my dish together. Raviolis de Otoe con Cordero Guisado. Is this my signature dish? I don’t know. Is this me on a plate? Oh, yes!

This is a dish I came up with a few months ago; I filled pasta with a mash of otoe, one of my favorite root vegetables which is also known as malanga, and a soft cheese flavored with masala spice. It is then topped with a lamb stew I made following my own recipe for Carne Guisada and pickled veggies over top to add another dimension and texture. The dish is me on a plate, without a doubt–I live to take traditional cuisines of the world and spin them a bit with the flavors and ingredients I grew up eating and the flavors on this dish are evocative of my youth in Panama.

So, Saturday morning comes, I wake up waaaay too early for my taste and proceed to cook the raviolis, reheat the lamb and sauté the veggies for the topping. I pack everything up, microwave the heck out of those jelly pouches that conserve the temperature, get dressed and off we go. San Antonio or bust!

Auditions were held at the Embassy Suites, I arrived right around 9am for the 10am group. First thing that struck me was how low key it all seemed. I expected to see a myriad of hopefuls standing in line outside the hotel, but I didn’t. Even the valet counter was readily available. Anyway, I walk in and get my official documents and I’m sent to the waiting room. There were about 100 or so people in the room and they would ‘audition’ you in groups of 20; I went in with the 3rd group.


We’re not in Kansas anymore!

In the second room, they had set up tables into a U-format and you just lined up around it in numerical order. Someone from the team walks in and gives you instructions about what is and isn’t allowed, then starts the timer and you have 5 minutes to plate and clean up your area. No pictures allowed, so the shot above is from my test run.

Round 1: a local chef, I believe, comes by and tastes your food, then asks you questions about the dish. Mine wanted to know if I’d made my own pasta: Yes, Chef, what were some of the flavors in the lamb, I mumbled them off. Then he said I should’ve cut the veggies a bit larger, as they were slightly overcooked; Damnit, Chef! I’m sorry, Chef! In the end, he complimented me on the dish, saying, and I quote, “This is very good, I really like it and great presentation.” Yup, uh huh, that’s what he said! I was very happy with my plating, but a bit disappointed in the veggies. Nonetheless, it was good enough to secure me a spot on the 2nd round; the interview with the talent people!

Round 2: The Panel of Personalities Experts. Five of us went in at once. My competition was a cute mom of a toddler, who was also an Army wife, had tried out for several endurance type shows in CA and had a penchant for wearing clothes she made herself out of Disney motif fabrics. :| Then there was the guy who had taught himself how to cook in a year and documented his weight loss on Instagram and had something like 200k followers. He wasn’t sure if it was because of his cooking skills or the fact that he often took bare-chested selfies with the food he made. At least I had 1 more personality than the other 2 people in the room at the time, still, I didn’t make the cut.

He's not Gordon, but he was super sweet!

He’s not Gordon, but he was super sweet!

It was a really fun experience, though. After I was done hyperventilating for weeks on end and even though my nerves got the best of me as I spoke to the various selection people, I loved it. I would do it again and will likely do so this year, if travel permits. I learned that rejection isn’t as painful as regret or wondering what might’ve been. I won’t lie and say I don’t still sell myself short, I do, but not as short as I used to.

There’s a big wide world out there and I’m part of it!


PS: oh, I did have a brush with celebrity…

PS2: I haven’t seen any of the people who were in my group either. There’s always next year!


This is how we do it

Anamaris 4 Comments

Do you like beef? Do you like beef stew? When was the last time you made stew? I like, no, I love beef. Beef stew in its traditional way, not so much. I don’t really care for the boiled in potatoes and carrots. I don’t know what it is about them, the mushy texture, the taste they develop. I don’t know. Anyway. I make stew a bit more latinized, is that even a word? Carne guisada is what I make and what I like.

It may be a culture thing, but I prefer my meats fatty, especially when they’ll undergo a fair amount of braising. For this dish I would suggest using something like a shoulder or butt roast, these cuts are very forgiving. You will notice this has no root veggies, feel free to add some if you prefer them. I’m partial to onions and bell peppers which go in fairly early and will essentially dissolve into the sauce, so you don’t have to worry about fancing cutting. This recipe is pretty easy to make and I hope you will try it!

Carne Guisada
2-3 lb shoulder roast
3 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp garlic puree)
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp Jugo Maggi
1 tsp oregano, crushed
1 tsp black pepper, ground
3 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cp cilantro, finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cp dark beer

Chop the roast into cubes, about 2-inches wide; season with garlic, salt, oregano, black pepper and Jugo Maggi. Set aside and chop the rest of your vegetables. In a medium pan or dutch oven type, heat up the oil then brown the beef cubes on all sides, you may need to do this in batches. Once done browning all the beef, set it aside. 

Add onions and bell peppers to the oil in the saucepan and cook until onions are translucent. Stir in the cilantro and tomato paste, then the beer. Incorporate all of this and check the seasoning. Keep in mind you don’t want it to be salty, it will braise for a while and the flavors will intensify. Add the beef and stir to make sure it is all covered in the braising liquid. Allow it to come to a boil, then lower temperature to medium low and cover. Simmer it this way for about 45-60 minutes, stirring it ocassionally.

When the beef is fork tender, remove the lid and allow it to cook for another 15 minutes. This allows the sauce to thicken a bit. You’re done, serve with rice.