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So, If the Ceviche Is Made in a Blender, Is It Authentic?


The chef is from Peru, land of ceviche. But his background is also Japanese. And he uses a Vitamix to make his ceviche, not to mention ingredients that go beyond the usual lime-seafood-chile mix.  So, is the food he’s preparing authentic?

Diego Oka is a culinary ambassador of Pervian cuisine.

Diego Oka is a culinary ambassador of Peruvian cuisine.

The question of authenticity came up time and again Thursday during the annual Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus. The annual get-together, which draws celebrity and international chefs, leaders in the food industry across America and food writers, dealt with whether it was authentic to make tacos using truffles, a mole with hazelnuts, a flan that mixed the corn fungus huitlacoche and leeks or mango mojito shrimp with a kale topping?

The issue went beyond one of mere fusion to the issue of whether these creations were authentic representations of the countries they’re associated with.

The answers varied from speaker to speaker, as Southwestern food pioneer and educator Mark Miller explained in a wrap-up of the day. For some, authenticity means employing the greatest simplicity in preparation. Others see it as meaning a lack of industrialization in the food; little is processed, everything is fresh.

For celebrity chef Rick Bayless of Chicago, the definition of authenticity has evolved over time. Early in his career, it meant a look back at the traditions that formed the basis of his cooking. Then he learned that his food should “not look backwards only, but take the wisdom of the past” and allow it to evolve into cuisine that his customers want. Today, he believes that authenticity is simply food that rings true to him.

Rick Bayless stresses his own brand of authenticity.

Rick Bayless stresses his own brand of authenticity.

But he readily admits that his choices are built on his foundation. Too many of today’s younger chefs don’t want to pay attention to the traditions or stories of where food comes from, said Rick Lopez, a San Antonio native who’s now head chef at Austin’s La Condesa, even though he appeared to be no older than the chefs he spoke of. “Tradition is great,” he said. “It’s where we learn.”

That brings us back to Diego Oka, the Peruvian chef with a Japanese background. “In Peru, we eat more salty, more spicy,” he said. So, both had to be cut down for sweet-loving American diners. To do that, he boils his aji amarillos, the spicy chiles at the heart of Peruvian cuisine, three times to cut down on the heat.

But his Cebiche Cremoso would work perfectly for American tastes, especially those in a hotter climate such as San Antonio’s. “When you think of ceviche, you think of the beach and the sun,” he said.

He seems to have captured that in the sun-colored sauce that’s spread over the dish that also features scallops. Yes, lime juice is used, including in a traditional leche de tigre, which Oka said was the “base of all ceviches.”

People don’t know much about Peru, Oka said, so staying true to the heart of the ceviche is important.

“We show our culture through our food,” he said.

Cebiche Cremoso

Leche de tigre:
3 cups lime juice
1 cup fumet or light fish stock
1/2 rib celery
1/2 habanero, seeded and deveined
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup ice
1 cup raw fish, such as halibut
1/4 red onion
Cilantro
Salt, to taste

Creamy scallops leche:
5 scallops
4 tablespoons aji amarillo paste (see note)
4 tablespoons aji rocoto paste
5 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup iceLeche de tigre (recipe above)
Salt

Chalaca sauce:
1 red onion, diced small
1 tomato, peeled, seeded and diced small
1/2 habanero, seeded and deveined
1/4 cancha corn (Peruvian corn nuts)
1/4 cup choclo (Peruvian corn), boiled
1 tablespoon green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup lime juice
Salt

12 Alaskan scallops
Micro cilantro, for garnish

Cebiche Cremoso

Cebiche Cremoso

For the leche de tigre: In a restaurant-style blender, such as a Vitamix, put the lime juice, fumet, celery, habanero, garlic, fish and ice; blend it for 10 seconds. At the end, add the red onion and cilantro (if we put it at the beginning, it will turn the leche de tigre muddy, which is not desired), and the salt, to taste. Then strain and keep it cool.

For the creamy scallops leche: Put the scallops and ice in a blender on medium speed, the add the canola oil slowly; once it has a thick texture, add the aji amarillo and the rocoto paste. Season with salt and lime juice. Then add slow the leche de tigre to the mix.

For the chalaca sauce: In a bowl, mix the red onion, tomato, habanero, cancha, choclo, green onion, cilantro, lime juice and salt.

To serve: In a serving bowl, place the scallops and top with the creamy scallops leche. Mix them and serve 2 or 3 pieces in a cold plate. Top with the chalaca sauce and finish with microgreens.

Note: Aji amarillo paste and other South American ingredients can be found at Las Americas Latin Market, 6623 San Pedro Ave., if you can’t find them at specialty supermarkets such as Central Market or Whole Foods.

Makes 4-6 servings.

From Diego Oka/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

 

 

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Rick Bayless’ Queso Fundido


Queso FundidoRick Bayless’ Queso Fundido
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1-2 fresh jalapeños, seeded and minced (or to taste)
1 small onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons tequila
1/2 pound Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add diced tomatoes, minced jalapeños, diced onion, and a large pinch of salt. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Pour in tequila and cook, stirring frequently, until skillet looks nearly dry, about 2 minutes.Reduce heat to low. Add cheese and cook, stirring constantly, until fully melted, about 30 seconds.Quickly transfer queso to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately with tortilla chips.
Serves 6.
From Rick Bayless

 

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Hungry for New Tastes? Rick Bayless Offers Chefs Some Advice


Rick Bayless

After a day of sampling and hearing discussions about Latin foods such as matalí, chaya leaves, siriguela and umbu, celebrity chef Rick Bayless had only one question: “Why are we not using some of that stuff?”

The answer, of course, is that most of these foods are not readily available in the United States, no matter how good they taste. Some are too perishable to travel in large quantities, others lack a built-in market or demand for them.

So, it’s up to chefs and food purveyors, like those who have come to the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus for the annual Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium, to help create a demand for them, the owner of Chicago’s Frontera Grill and Topolobampo said. Feature Brazilian cashew fruit on a menu, and people will love it enough to ask for it.

Don’t believe that? “Five years ago, nobody talked about coconut water,” he said. “But now we can get it all day long.”

The same could happen with yerba mate, which could be the new green tea, if it’s introduced to the public properly. Bayless admits he hated the taste the first time he tried it, but he felt the same about green tea, too. And he has grown to enjoy both.

Rick Bayless

“I’m  always, always, always challenged by the lesser-used cuts of meat,” Bayless said, adding that he loves the growth he’s seen in the use of anything far from the center. He included tripe in that list, though we in San Antonio have always known its appeal.

The secret to success with these new-to-American ingredients goes beyond using them, the Chicago chef said. Anyone can do that. The dishes have to be delicious. You have to leave them wanting more.

Iliana de la Vega, who teaches at the CIA, is working on a similar mission, which is to make the pasilla pepper from Oaxaca more popular in the States.

“There’s a pendulum quality to diners,” Bayless said. “What we need to do is figure out where the pendulum is already going.”

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SA Spices Up Latin Flavors, American Kitchens


Elena Hernandez discusses the foods of Panama.

In Panama, culantro is the herb that gives the canal country’s dishes their distinctive flavor.

That’s culantro, not cilantro, as chef Elena Hernández explained to a gathering of chefs, food purveyors and educators as the fifth annual Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium got under way Wednesday at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus.

She didn’t know if she’d be able to find the pungent herb in San Antonio either, so she brought it with her in her luggage. She did the same with her favorite types of chiles, too. And when she was stopped at customs, she informed the agent that it has all been blanched.

Laughs of recognition greeted that statement, as the crowd featured a number of chefs from Central and South America, who have traveled to other countries only to discover that they could not prepare their cuisine in an authentic manner because a dried chile or an exotic fruit was not available.

Yet Hernández, who organizes the Panamá Gastronómica International Fair, did find fresh culantro in San Antonio, a sign that the city’s ethnic markets and specialty groceries are growing to meet the expanding tastes of people within the city.

Honey Gingerbread

That same story is happening across the country, which is why the CIA presents the symposium. You’ll find Latin flavors throughout the celebrated cooking of Rick Bayless of Chicago’s Frontera Grill and Topolobampo or Maricel Presilla of New Jersey’s Zafra and Cucharamama as well as small kitchens in cities from San Francisco to New York.

Demand for Latin food and drink continues to grow, which is why the symposium is able to draw top chefs and food writers, including Roberto Santibañez, Mark Miller and Anne E. McBride in addition to Bayless and Presilla. This year, a handful of San Antonio names appear on the speaker list, including Puerto Rico-born Nelson Millán of the San Antonio Country Club, Jeret Peña of the Esquire Tavern, and Elizabeth Johnson, Geronimo Lopez-Monascal and Iliana de la Vega, all of whom work in various capacities at the CIA.

Scallops in Recado Negro

The list of visiting chefs from abroad include Francisco Casto of the Panamá International Hotel School, Dante Franco of Espacio Dolli in Buenos Aires, Christian Bravo of Punta del Mar in Merida, Mexico, Hubert O’Farrell of O’Farrell  in Buenos Aires, and Rodrigo Oliveira of Mocotó in São Paolo, Brazil

Topics this year include The Latin Wow Factor Strategy, More Than Lettuce: The Versatile Salads of Latin America, Cuisines of the Southern Caribbean, and How Do You Do Latin Cuisines Outside of Latin America?

The following is a sample salad from Francisco Castro, which is part of the More Than Lettuce discussion.

Panama-Style Beet Salad (Ensalada de Feria)

2 pounds potatoes, boiled and peeled
1 pound beets, cooked and peeled
1 cup mayonnaise
4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup celery, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste

Panama-Style Beet Salad

Cut the potatoes and beets in 1/4-inch dice.

In a glass bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the eggs, onion, celery, parsley, and lime juice.

Add the reserved potatoes and beets; mix with wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 8-10 servings.

From Francisco Castro/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

 

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Celebrate Diez y Seis with Seafood Salad Tacos


After boiling, remove the heads, tails and the shells for this seafood salad.

“After many years away from the twisting, jumbled market complex in downtown Mérida, Yucatán, I returned with one thing on my mind: seafood salad tacos,” writes chef Rick Bayless in “Mexican Everyday” (W.W. Norton & Co., $29.95). “In the stifling heat that envelops the whole peninsula, a cool filling in a warm, just-made tortilla offers the refreshment of an oasis.”

We know something about heat here lately, which makes this treat more than welcome, whether you’re celebrating Diez y Seis de Septiembre or just in search of something light for dinner. And, yes, you can leave out the habanero, but serve these treats with hot sauce for those who want a kick.

Seafood Salad Tacos with Tomato, Radish and Habanero

1 to 1 1/4 pounds medium-small (40 to 60 per pound) shrimp, cooked, peeled and deveined OR 1 to 1 1/4 pounds mahi-mahi, halibut, bass, snapper or catfish fillets
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 small white onion, finely chopped
6 radishes, thinly sliced
1 fresh habanero (or jalapeño), stemmed and finely chopped, optional
2 large ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup (loosely packed) chopped fresh cilantro
Salt, to taste
12 warm corn tortillas

If using shrimp, scoop them into a medium bowl. Or, for fish, bring about a quart of water to a boil in a medium (3- to 4-quart) saucepan and add 1 tablespoon salt. (If I have a small lime, I’ll squeeze the juice into the water and even throw in the squeezed lime for more flavor.) Add the fish (it’s easiest to manage if the fish in 2 or 3 pieces. Let the water return to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium to let the fish cool in the liquid while you prepare the remaining ingredients. When the fish is handleable, drain and coarsely shred it into a medium bowl.

Add the lime juice, onion, radishes, habanero, tomatoes and cilantro to the bowl with the shrimp or fish. stir, taste and season with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon.

Serve with the warm tortillas for making soft tacos.

Variations: Instead of shrimp, try shredded slow-simmered pork shoulder or beef chuck or brisket (in Yucatán, they use venison); gently poached, grilled or roasted chicken; roasted or grilled asparagus (cut into 2-inch lengths) or mushrooms (shiitakes, oysters and portobellos are good choices). Though it’s not traditional, when tomatoes aren’t in season, I replace them with tomatillos — raw, chopped in small pieces. For the vegetarian versions, I usually serve crumbled Mexican queso fresco or fresh goat cheese. In any of these variations, 1 or 2 roasted poblanos, peeled, seeded and chopped, can replace the habanero, shifting the focus from brilliant heat and fruity aromas to rich roasted green chile unctuousness.

Makes 4 servings.

From “Mexican Everyday” by Rick Bayless

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Garlicky Habanero Macadamia Nuts


Garlicky Habanero Macadamia Nuts

“Most North Americans think habanero = fire,” Rick Bayless writes in “Fiesta at Rick’s” (W.W. Norton & Sons, $35). “I think habanero = aroma of tropical fruit and flowers … plus some pretty searing heat. By roasting habaneros (along with garlic) and blending them into seasoning, we’ve already mitigated their heat without doing too much damage to that beautifully aromatic flavor. Adding a touch of honey soothes the heat to a very manageable glow.

“Still scared about using habaneros? Try using two or three serrano (or two small jalapeño) chiles instead. And if your macadamia nuts come salted, cut the salt in the seasoning by half.”

These can be made a week in advance and stored in an air-tight container before servings.

Garlicky Habanero Macadamia Nuts (Macadamias al Chile Habanero y Ajo)

6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 to 2 fresh habanero chiles, stemmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups (about 1 pound) roasted macadamia nuts

Turn on the oven to 350 degrees. In a dry skillet, roast the unpeeled garlic cloves and chiles over medium heat, turning them regularly until soft and blotchy-blackened in spots, about 10 minutes for the habanero, 10 to 15 minutes for the garlic. When the garlic is handleable, peel off the paper skin. In a mortar or small food processor, combine the garlic and habanero. Pound or process to as smooth a mixture as possible. Add the oil, honey and salt and pound or process to incorporate thoroughly.

In a large bowl, combine the macadamias and flavoring, stirring to coat the nuts thoroughly. Spread the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake —stirring occasionally — until the nuts are toasty smelling and the flavorings have formed a shiny, dryish coating, about 20 minutes. Cool.

Makes about 3 cups.

From “Fiesta at Rick’s” by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless

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Chipotle-Roasted Almonds


Chipotle-Roasted Almonds

“Wanting a sweet-spicy nibble to set out for guests, I concocted this sweet chipotle glaze (though it works as well on peanuts and other nuts),” Rick Bayless writes in “Fiesta at Rick’s” (W.W. Norton & Sons, $35). “And you’re reading the ingredients right: I used ketchup as the medium to work the chiles, lime and brown sugar together into one pretty fine coating that’s easy to distribute evenly. When the nuts are ready to remove from the oven, they will no longer feel sticky — but they won’t be crisp. That’ll happen as they cool off.

“If the almonds you buy are blanched (peeled) but not toasted, spread them on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a 325-degree oven until they’re aromatic and lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes.”

I failed to do the last step and used raw, unpeeled almonds. The nuts came out sticky. In fact, they clumped in the bowl. But they broke apart easily and disappeared quickly, sticky or not.

Chipotle-Roasted Almonds (Almendras Enchipotladas)

2 canned chipotle chiles
2 tablespoons adobo (tomato-y sauce in the can of chiles)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons ketchup
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups (1 1/4 pounds) toasted, blanched almonds

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Scoop the chipotles, adobo, lime juice, ketchup, sugar and salt into a blender and process to a smooth purée. Pour into a large bowl along with the almonds and toss until the nuts are evenly coated. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and evenly spread the nuts on it. Bake until they are fragrant and no longer moist, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool the almonds on the sheet pan, then scoop into a serving bowl and set out for all to enjoy.

Makes 4 cups.

From “Fiesta at Rick’s” by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless

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A Trio of Spiced Nuts Brightens Any Fiesta


A trio of spiced nuts.

During Fiesta or any party time of the year, it helps to have a few recipes you can make ahead and be able to serve whenever guests drop by.

And what goes better with margaritas than something with a little bite?

I recently tried three spiced nut recipes from celebrity chef Rick Bayless, which he has included in his new cookbook, “Fiesta at Rick’s” (W.W. Norton & Son, $35). Each one can be made in advance and stored in an air-tight jar until needed.

A few words to the wise when it comes to making any candied or spiced nut. Don’t let your attention stray, or you could end up with a burnt tray of nuts. If you don’t know if the nuts are ready yet, err on the side of caution and removed them sooner than later. The heat of the cookie sheet will continue to cook the nuts even after it has left the oven.

Chilied peanuts with toasted pine nuts

When I made Garlicky Habanero Macadamia Nuts, I left them on the tray for a second or two too long, and the color darkened. They weren’t burnt, but they weren’t as pretty as they could have been.

My test of the Chipotle-Roasted Almonds also had a little too much sauce on them, which make the nuts sticky in the humidity. The flavor was great, but make sure your almonds are sparingly coated. If they feel too gooey going into the oven, then you may want to add a few more almonds into the mix. (You might also want to blanch the almonds first, a step I forgot somewhere along the way.)

Most importantly, get creative. Recipes are guides, not blueprints. For the Chilied Peanuts and Pumpkin Seeds, I didn’t have pumpkin seeds to go with the spiced peanuts, but I did have pine nuts. I toasted the same amount and tossed them into the mix. You could use anything from buttery Chex Mix to tiny pretzels to fried peas, and get good results.

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Chilied Peanuts and Pumpkin Seeds


Chilied peanuts with toasted pine nuts

“You can buy tangy chilied peanuts from street vendors all over Mexico,” Rick Bayless writes in “Fiesta at Rick’s” (W.W. Norton & Company, $35). “The vendors will likely have salted toasted pumpkin seeds, too, which I like to mix with the peanuts. A very good (and quite good for you) snack — so good, in fact, that we’ve set a bowl of the stuff on every table in Frontera Grill for nearly two decades.”

If you want to work ahead, use fresh, preferably vacuum-sealed peanuts and pumpkin seeds. “The finished mixture will keep for several weeks in a tightly closed container,” Bayless writes. “For longer storage, keep them in the freezer (I’d vacuum-seal them with a Food Saver or the like if one is available).”

I didn’t have pumpkin seeds on hand when I made this dish, and it was approaching midnight, so I made do with what I had on hand: pine nuts. I toasted them lightly and tossed them with the peanuts. The end result worked well, especially for the pine nut fans, who loved the heat that the chilied peanuts brought to their favorite nut.

Chilied Peanuts and Pumpkin Seeds (Cacahuates y Pepitas Enchilados)

2 cups roasted peanuts (preferably without salt)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons ancho powder or guajillo powder, plus a little árbol chile powder if you like it spicy
Salt, to taste
1 cup hulled, raw pumpkin seeds or pepitas

Turn on the oven to 250 degrees and position a rack in the middle. In a medium bowl, toss the peanuts with the lime juice until all the nuts have been moistened. Sprinkle evenly with chile powder, then toss until the chile evenly coats the nuts. Spread the nuts into a shallow layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Slide into the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the chile has formed a light crust on the nuts. Remove from the oven and sprinkle generously with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon.

In a large skillet over medium heat, toast the pumpkin seeds. Spread the seeds into the skillet and, when the first one pops, stir constantly until all have popped from flat to oval, about 5 minutes. Scoop on top of the peanuts, toss the two together, allow to cool, then scoop the mixture in a serving bowl.

Makes 3 cups.

From “Fiesta at Rick’s” by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless

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Want to Make Your Own Flan? Give It a Practice Run


Making flan is easy once you get the knack of it.

When a friend from church announced that she was being deployed to Afghanistan, it was time for a dinner to send her off in style. What would Erica want for her last meal with us?

Boil the syrup until it turns a deep amber.

Tex-Mex, she said. And Tex-Mex she got.

Everyone in the group pitched in with a lengthy array of delicious dishes from beef enchiladas and tacos to fresh guacamole and borracho beans. I decided I would make flan, simply because I had never made it before.

I had certainly eaten enough of this caramel-topped custard in my years, but making it was another matter. I experienced a little trepidation about making it, though, because I’ve failed at making caramel and melted sugar candies in the past. It was time to try it again, if only for Erica’s sake.

The first thing I had to do was find a recipe. I turned to the original “Joy of Cooking” and found one of the oddest recipes for flan I’ve ever seen. The dish in the book is actually called Custard Tarts or Flan with Fruit, and the recipe reads: “Fill Prebaked Tart Shells … with: 1/2-inch layer of Baked Custard. Top the custard with: Strawberries or other berries, cooked, drained apples, drained cherries, peaches, bananas, pineapple or coconut.”

Not a help. And certainly not the flan I remembered that was an egg-rich custard topped with a silky caramel that ran down the sides and flooded the plate.

I thumbed through a number of other cookbooks that were unfortunately no help. “Make a caramel …” would be the full extent of directions offered. Mexican chef Rick Bayless was no help. His new cookbook, “Fiesta at Rick’s,” features a flan recipe, yet it is far from traditional. Instead of caramel, the coffee-flavored “Café de Olla” Flan calls for pre-

Spread the caramel quickly before it solidifies.

made cajeta. Bayless’ introduction offered no comfort, either: “This recipe is an unorthodox approach to flan, since the caramelized sugar — a kitchen terrorist if ever I have seen one — is replaced by store-bought cajeta (goat milk caramel) and the custards are baked in flexible silicone muffin molds for easy removal.”

“A kitchen terrorist”? Oy, what had I gotten myself into?

So, I pulled out the 1997 edition of “The Joy of Cooking.” If you are a cookbook foodie, you know this is the much-maligned edition of the otherwise beloved cookbook, the version that was deemed too hoity-toity for the general populace. Yet the description of how to make a traditional flan, or crème caramel, as the French call it, was written in plain English.

To make the caramel, you had to pay attention. Watch the pot of water and sugar boil, and you’ll do fine, the authors seemed to be saying. So, I gave it a shot. I made sure I had all my ramekins ready and handy before I filled a small saucepan with 3/4 cup sugar and topped it with 1/4 cup water. I didn’t stir the pot but swirled it as it cooked over medium heat. Eventually, the mixture cleared, just as the book said it would.

So far so good. I raised the temperature and brought the mixture to a boil, then covered it for what seemed like an eternal 2 minutes. Any moment, the syrup would boil over, I feared, because the lid was making an angry racket. Then I uncovered it and continued to watch it boil. And watch it and watch it. I swirled it regularly to make the time pass. After a few minutes, the mixture started to get somewhat darker. No matter how long you’ve been watching the syrup, do not let your attention wander at this point. Watch it closely as it gets darker and darker in a matter of seconds. When it’s the color of a fine bourbon, it’s time to remove it from the heat.

Some of the egg custard has spilled into the water bath, but it doesn't matter.

I was so excited to see the syrup turn dark that I almost let it go a little longer on the heat than it should. Get it too dark and you’ll burn the sugar and the caramel will solidify in the bottom of your pan.

Be ready to work quickly at this point. Grab a ramekin and swirl a little in the bottom and slightly up the sides. The book said to get it halfway up the sides, but I wasn’t fast enough for that. The caramel had solidified in seconds, and I had more dishes to coat. So, I divided the lot equally among the dishes and let them set.

At this point, it’s time to make the egg custard, which seems easy in comparison. Yet it is also easy to mess up, if you are not careful. Don’t let your milk get so hot that it cooks the eggs before you bake them in the oven. Use one hand to pour the milk into the egg mixture slowly while whisking constantly with the other. Divide the egg mixture among the caramel-lined ramekins, then place the dishes into a large pan and fill halfway with boiling water. Place the pan carefully in the oven to bake.

I somehow jostled the tray as I was sliding it into the oven and the egg mixture spilled over the sides. It baked to the outside of the ramekins, but it was no great problem, because your guests won’t see the ramekins anyway.

The stress of making the caramel had made me somewhat anxious. My thought was, is all this worth it? Do I really need to do all that?

Though the flans look great just out of the oven, let them chill before eating.

After 50 minutes or so, the custards looked good enough to eat. But I couldn’t. The recipe said to let them chill first.

Plus, my work wasn’t done. I had another recipe to make because of how many would be at the dinner. For the second batch, I decided to try the Orange and Tequila Flan from “The Golden Book of Desserts.” The description of how to make the caramel was a little too basic, so I used the knowledge I had gained from the first recipe and put it to work.

This time there were no problems, no kitchen terrors. The procedure went flawlessly, even though the recipe was a little more involved. Having made the first batch, the second seemed positively easy.

Inverting the flans proved to be simple, too. Thanks to the help of a friend, a knife and a pot of almost boiling water, each serving came out beautifully with that caramel bath covering each plate.

Best of all, Erica seemed to enjoy it. I’ll have to make it again when she comes back in six months. God keep her safe.

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