Posts Tagged ‘south american influences’

So, let me tell you what’s happening on Saturday:  The 1st 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational will be going on near Downtown Los Angeles, and I’ll be competing.  I was there last year (in fact, here’s a picture of Choo while I was grilling my sandwiches), and this year, I’m back and In It To Win It.  Or, something like that–it’s more about the fun and the cheese, especially since the prizes pretty much amount to plastic trophies and bragging rights. 

Now, I’m not going to tell you what my entry is, but I will tell you that I’m competing in the Honey Pot (the dessert category), and I’m going to share what one of the components of my sandwich will be:  Dulce de Leche. 

Caramel?  With cheese?  Oh, trust me, it works, I promise.  I will reveal all, along with any interesting cheese stories, come next week. 

Anyway, back to the Dulce de Leche. 

I love this stuff.  LOVE.  And if you have milk, sugar, a vanilla bean, a little baking soda and above all, patience, you can have your own, too.  I used Alton Brown’s recipe, even though I made plenty of it during my Border Grill days–it’s essentially the same thing except Alton uses a vanilla bean. 

If anything, do it to make your house smell AWESOME.  No candle could compare to the lovely caramel scent that comes from this. 

Dulce de Leche

  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 12 ounces sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda


Combine the milk, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds in a large, 4-quart saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the baking soda and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered at a bare simmer. Stir occasionally, but do not re-incorporate the foam that appears on the top of the mixture. Continue to cook for 1 hour. Remove the vanilla bean after 1 hour and continue to cook until the mixture is a dark caramel color and has reduced to about 1 cup, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Store in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to a month.


Read Full Post »

Over at Chef It Yourself, the lovely Anamaris has started a monthly Top Chef It Yourself challenge, and I decided to be a part of it;  I love a good challenge, and look forward to doing more of these in the future. 

This being the first challenge, it was really a “get to know you” experience–the only request for the dish to be made and blogged was that it had to be about me and my cooking style;  something that brings back childhood memories, or something that gets pulled out for special occasions–perhaps, something that I’m famous for in my circle of friends.  Growing up in Southern California with a Mexican stepfather and eventually marrying into an Ecuadorian family has left a definite imprint on my cooking style.  Many meals in our home reflect the Latin influences in our lives;  rice is ever-present,  holiday breakfasts mean tostones and panela on the table, and when it’s time to make desserts for a special dinner, that’s when I roll out the flans. 

I did a stint at Border Grill not too long after I graduated from Cordon Bleu, and spent my time there as a pastry cook making flans on a near-daily basis.  You know, after making flans after a few months, you get pretty good at it, especially when it’s expected for you to also make not only their signature vanilla flan, but to also make a weekly special flan of another flavor.  One of my successful flavors was this Chocolate Kahlua concoction (lest you think all were successful, the Mango one was an absolute disaster);  a few ounces of chocolate and a bit of Kahlua turns what’s a simple creamy dessert into something remarkably decadent.  

One of the key components of a flan is the caramel.  Don’t be afraid to let that caramel get dark, too–it’s that burnt sugar flavor that adds complexity and depth to the custard.  When preparing the caramel, I’ve found doing it in a skillet is easier and faster, rather than a saucepan, and start with a little water in the skillet, before adding the sugar.  I put in about 3-4 tablespoons worth of water, just enough to create a “wet sand” look once you’ve added the sugar.  Never stir the caramel, as that can cause crystalization, and rather having that smooth, glassy looking caramel, it’ll be a grainy mess–just slowly swirl the pan if the caramelization is happening unevenly (and it usually does–there will be a hot spot or two in the pan where the sugar darkens faster than the rest).  Once the sugar is a dark caramel brown, pour quickly and carefully into the cake pan.  I’m serious when I say to be careful.  This stuff is over 300° and unlike, say, boiling water, it’s sticky.  There’s a reason why pastry chefs have called caramel “napalm”.  I’ve come away with blistered fingers working with the stuff.  If you’re clumsy and new to caramel, keep a bowl of cold water close by if you get any on your fingers. 

Yes, I know, I need to replace my oven light. 

When it comes to baking flans, it is absolutely necessary to do it in a  water bath.  I know it’s an extra step, but the water bath buffers the custard from direct heat so the proteins in the milk and eggs coagulate slowly, creating that smooth texture–too fast and the proteins seize and the end result is rubbery, overcooked flan that tastes and feels more like sweetened scrambled egg.  All you need is a baking pan just a bit bigger than the cake pan, and fill with hot tap water (no need to boil it or do anything special) until the water reaches about 1″ to 1 1/2″ up the cake pan.  Of course, I don’t need to tell you that you need to be careful when you slide your pan in the oven after adding the water–having water splash into the flan kind of sucks. 

Flans are best done a day or two in advance, as they need a minimum of 6 hours in the refrigerator to set.  I think that’s one of my reasons why I like serving them at get-togethers, as all I need to do is take it out and turn it over onto a plate. 

It would be silly for me to say this goes incredibly well with a cup of coffee, wouldn’t it?

Chocolate Kahlua Flan

1 cup sugar

4 ounces dark chocolate

1/2 cup heavy cream

5 eggs

3 cups whole milk

1- 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1/4 cup Kahlua

  1. Preheat oven to 325°.
  2. In a small skillet, add a few tablespoons of water, and the 1 cup of sugar.  On medium-high heat, simmer sugar to a dark caramel brown and pour quickly into a clean 9″ round metal cake pan (2″ depth or deeper).  Set aside to cool.
  3. Break up dark chocolate into small pieces and place into small bowl with heavy cream.  Heat in microwave in 20 second increments, stirring each time, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.  Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk eggs until smooth, then add milk, condensed milk, and Kahlua;  whisk until incorporated.  Add chocolate and whisk until smooth again.  Strain custard base with a fine-mesh sieve to catch any possible lumps.
  5. Pour custard into prepared cake pan and place in larger baking pan for a water bath.  Pour hot tap water to reach at least 1″ high on cake pan, and place into oven. 
  6. Bake for about 1 hour 10 minutes.  To check doneness, give the pan a small wiggle;  a flan that is set will jiggle slightly like jello. 
  7. When done, pull flan from oven and let cool in water bath until cool to the touch.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 6 hours, and up to 48. 
  8. To serve, run a small knife along the edge of the flan to release.  Turn out onto a plate with a curved edge to hold the caramel.  Serves 8-10. 

Read Full Post »

As you may or may not know, today happens to be Three Kings Day, and Three Kings Day means cake.  Ok, we’re lapsed Catholics and we’re not from Louisiana, so I’m not talking about King Cake;  it’s because it’s my mother-in-law’s birthday;  Reyna’s name comes from the holiday she was born on (Reina is Queen in Spanish… aaaaand now you get the title). 

My in-laws, being from South America, love the traditional kinds of desserts that come  from the homeland:  tropical fruits, flans, and Tres Leches Cake.  Buying a tres leches (“three milks”) cake from a market can be kind of a crap shoot–sometimes it’s overly sweet with a grainy cake and sometimes it’s perfectly rich and creamy, with the cake almost pudding-like, but still standing up to the long soak in the milk mixture. 

My first experiences with Tres Leches Cakes were sad affairs:  mass-produced pieces bought off taco trucks or slices of store-bought birthday cakes at parties thrown by the family, and I wasn’t particularly fond of it.  Then, came the day I sampled the Tres Leches Cake at Border Grill, and all of a sudden, I was a convert.  

I wanted to keep it simple and traditional, but with a twist that I knew my mother-in-law would love:  the addition of coconut.  Coconut works perfectly with a creamy dessert, and it was the absolute right amount of tropical flavor that the whole family loved. 

So, let’s break down the three components needed for a Tres Leches Cake:  the cake, the milk mixture, and the topping. 

The proper cake to use would be a sponge cake;  to tell you the truth, I’m not a fan of the stuff on its own–it’s dry and bland–but, that’s what makes it perfect for other uses, such as being sliced and soaked with liqueur-spiked syrups and layered with jams or pastry creams.  Or, in this case, being soaked in milk.  A traditional sponge cake is simply eggs, sugar, and flour–no extra fats, no chemical leavening, maybe a bit of vanilla;  the rise comes from the eggs being separated, whipped full of air, and gently folded together with the flour. 

Once the cake is baked and fully cooled, the edges are trimmed (I find them a bit too hard).  I line a cake pan with plastic wrap with plenty of overlap, poke the cake full of holes, and begin to pour my mixture of condensed milk, coconut milk, and half & half onto the cake.

When I start pouring the milk mixture onto the cake, I go slow and steady, taking about a third of the mixture and lightly covering the cake.  After about 2-3 minutes, it’s been mostly absorbed, so I repeat the process two more times with the rest.  With the overlap of the plastic wrap, I just lightly cover the cake, and refrigerate overnight. 

The next day, the cake gets turned out on a platter; lightly sweetened heavy cream is whipped and spread on top, and a good solid dusting of toasted coconut to finish off the cake. 

(Yeah, I know, that’s not a “dusting”… we like coconut, okay?)

Ah, there’s the glamor shot.

Coconut Tres Leches Cake

6 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup vanilla sugar (or, 1 cup sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla extract)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 14-ounce can light coconut milk

1/2 cup half & half

2 Tablespoons Coconut Rum

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

3 Tablespoons sugar

2 cups shredded sweetened coconut

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Line a 13 x 9 metal cake pan with parchment paper and lightly spray with non-stick spray.
  2. Separate eggs;  beat yolks with 3/4 cup of sugar (add vanilla if needed) until pale yellow and leaves a ribbon when the whisk is pulled from yolks. 
  3. In a separate bowl (or transfer yolks to another bowl and wash mixer bowl, if using a KitchenAid), beat egg whites until just frothy, then add 1/4 cup of sugar and whip egg whites to a stiff peak.
  4. Gently fold egg whites into yolks until streaky, then sift in flour.  Continue to gently fold in flour and egg whites until flour is absorbed into batter.
  5. Spread batter into prepared pan and smooth top.  Bake until golden, approximately 22-28 minutes.
  6. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack and cool completely.
  7. Line a clean 13 x 9 cake pan with plastic wrap, leaving plenty of overlap (enough to gently fold extra plastic over cake, but well-lined so all the milk stays with the cake).  Trim edges from cake and set into pan.  With a fork or skewer, poke plenty of holes over the surface of the cake.
  8. In a pitcher, whisk together the condensed milk, coconut milk, half & half, and coconut rum.  Pour mixture over entire cake in thirds, waiting 2-3 minutes between each pouring to let the cake soak up the milks.  Fold over the plastic wrap to lightly cover the cake and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, up to overnight.
  9. When close to serving, toast coconut in a 350° oven for 7-10 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until golden brown.
  10. Unwrap cake and gently turn out onto a platter.  Whip heavy cream with sugar and spread on top of cake, and sprinkle the coconut on top of cream. 

Read Full Post »

Ok, I lied.  Last post, I said it was the last of the baking.  Turns out tonight is my father-in-law’s birthday party, and he requested I bring up his favorite cookie to share.  I’ve made these many times before for the in-laws, as they’re fast and easy to make, and they love coconut (and to tell the truth, so do I).  

Back when I was a teenager (oh, it hurts to say that was in the 80’s) my mother had a recipe for a simple macaroon–a bag of coconut, a can of condensed milk, dried cranberries, white chocolate chips, chopped macadamias–scooped into little balls and baked until golden.  They weren’t the lighter, fluffier macaroons that used egg whites; these were dense, chewy and caramelly–a cookie right up my alley.  The recipe was sadly lost until the day in 2001 when I was working at Border Grill as a pastry cook and I had to make a batch of their pajas (“straw” in Spanish, as they do resemble a pile of straw, or a haystack).  I laughed when I realized that it was essentially the same cookie, but their version was with chopped dried apricots, dark chocolate, and pecans.  I made hundreds of those pajas during my time at the restaurant, and the recipe is as natural as breathing. 

It’s an incredibly easy recipe–just five ingredients–and a cinch to adapt to your personal tastes.  Don’t like pecans?  Use almonds!  Can’t stand cranberries?  Swap them with dried cherries!  The possibilities are endless! 


adapted from Border Grill

1-7 ounce bag shredded, sweetened coconut

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup dried fruit–cranberries, cherries and apricots (chopped) are best

1 cup chopped nuts such as pecans, macadamias, or almonds

1-14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

  1. Preheat oven to 325°.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all 5 ingredients and stir until well coated with the condensed milk.
  3. Line baking sheets with parchment paper (I mean it, too–these will stick to an unlined pan!)
  4. Scoop dough into golf-ball sized pieces and place 1″ apart on lined sheet pan.
  5. Bake for 20-24 minutes, until coconut is a dark golden brown.
  6. Cool completely on pan, peel off from parchment paper. 

Read Full Post »

This is really the offical start of the holiday season, when I set aside a weekend to start cranking out the cookies and candies that will land into the hands of friends and co-workers in the coming weeks.  Half of the fun is the week before, as I go through cookie recipes and start planning:  do I make some old favorites?  Do I try to make few new ones?  I know I always like to try out one new recipe over the holidays, and my friend, Laurel pointed out this recipe from my former employers.  I’m a fan of these types of cookies, and with the combination of pistachios and cranberries (yes, I know the original recipe calls for cherries, but it’s an acceptable substitute), there would be a nice green-red-white color combination happening. 

Other than the cranberries, the only thing different I did was to make the cookies larger–I’m doing two batches, and to make the process a bit easier, I used my small ice cream scoop, which produces balls of dough approximately the size of a golf ball.  This does increase the baking time to about 20-22 minutes.  I personally like them larger–they’re cookies of substance.  Also, the recipe calls for buttered cookie sheets–save your butter and just line your pans with parchment–less hassle, less mess. 

Don’t forget to be generous while coating these with powdered sugar.  Like a good beignet, a Mexican Wedding cookie should leave you with a good dusting of powder after indulging. 

Pistachio and Cranberry Mexican Wedding Cakes (adapted)

Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill  ◊  Bon Appétit  | December 2006

  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup powdered sugar plus more for coating
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup shelled unsalted natural pistachios (about 4 ounces), chopped
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 3 1/3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 2/3 cups sifted all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 3 heavy large baking sheets. Using electric mixer, beat 2 cups butter and 1 cup powdered sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and salt, then pistachios and cranberries. Using spatula, stir in all flour (do not overmix dough).

Shape dough by generous tablespoonfuls into football-shaped ovals. Place on prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until bottoms just begin to color, about 16 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets 10 minutes before coating.

Pour generous amount of powdered sugar into medium bowl. Working with 5 or 6 warm cookies at a time, add cookies to bowl of sugar; gently turn to coat thickly. Transfer cookies to sheet of waxed paper. Repeat to coat cookies with sugar again; cool completely. do ahead Can be made 4 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Read Full Post »