Secreto 1 collage

And so it begins


On a vacation trip with the Hubbz 3-4 years ago, we found out about this little eatery in Bocas del Toro, Panama, it is called Guari Guari. We had a phenomenal 5 or 6 course meal prepared by a husband and wife team and served al fresco, in an area that was not much more than their private patio. The ‘restaurant’ seats 10 people  each night and, as long as you don’t have special dietary requirements, you’re dazzled by the chef’s whim and exquisite palate.


I’ve longed dreamed of having a little place, maybe a B&B with a restaurant offering limited seating and serving dinners for our guests and maybe have a table or two open for locals. I have to admit that Guari Guari certainly stayed in the back of my mind until recently, when I began my Secreto dinner series. You can come here to get a peek at what I’ve been doing over the past few months, together with a few shots–taken when I remembered to leave the kitchen and grab the dang camera! I will also offer recipes for some of the dishes I’m preparing, I mean, this is a food blog, after all!

My very first menu and the beginning of the Hubbz and my homegrown adventure.

Welcome Cocktail and Appetizer:  Cava cocktail and Pasteis de Pollo (Pastry empanadas filled with chicken  / Wine pairing: Spanish sparkling wine cocktail)

1st Course:   Sancocho Panameño (A traditional Panamanian chicken soup with root vegetables and rice / Wine pairing: Kung Fu Girl Riesling)

2nd Course:   Filet of Grouper al Ajillo with Saffron-A-Roni and Chayote Gratin / Wine pairing: Felino Malbec

3rd Course:  Leg of Lamb in Star Anise Mole with a Potato and Leek Hash / Wine pairing: Chateux-Croix Mouton Bordeaux

Dessert:    Passion Fruit Napoleon (Phyllo sheets topped with a passion fruit curd and pistachio brittle) / Wine pairing: Urban Uco Torrontes

Secreto 1 collage


For the Passion Fruit Napoleon, which was a major hit, I baked phyllo sheets brushed with butter and with a sprinkle of sugar until golden and assembled them with passion fruit curd and topped it with candied pistachios and strawberries. Simply delicious!

Cookingly yours,


It’s not a secret, but it is Secreto

Amidst the what ifs, maybes and ultimately, not nows of my day job, I’ve found myself looking for an outlet, for a way to express my true self and take control of my future. I got back in the kitchen, inspired by the foods and spices I learned about through my travels and the Cooking Channel :) I started remembering dreams I had, promises I’d made to myself and slowly a new picture dream is beginning to emerge.

This past April I hosted my first pop up event at home, I’m calling it Secreto Pop Up Dinners. Essentially, I’m opening my dining table to 10 diners and preparing Latin focused dishes that are paired with wines from South America, Spain or Portugal. If you remember my recipes, you know that I usually take classic recipes and tweak them by adding Latin ingredients. I’m doing the same for these dinners. The menus thus far have included things like Beef Wellington using chorizo and sofrito instead of the traditional mushroom filling, otoe raviolis, lamb in a creole sauce, and a passion fruit curd napoleon. That last one was a serious hit!

I’ve been gleeful during and after the chaos of entertaining formal dinner parties and I’m slowly, though steadily, getting back on the horse. I promise to share the things I did, some of the foods I ate and the amazing places I saw, only this time I’ve also promised to be kinder to myself . What I will not offer us this time around are empty promises. think of me as that great friend you hear from every so often, but can’t wait until your next catch up session. You know the one. No matter how much time or spaces elapses, you have the certainty that the wait will be well worth it.

Ready? Go to the next post!


July Collage2


Guess who’s back?

One door closes...

One door closes…

It’s been 3 years since my last post. Life got hectic, nomadic and I just lost the joy that cooking and blogging brought to it because I always seemed to be chasing the clock. The pressure I put on myself made it feel like another job, it was no longer my time to envision, create and be delighted by the dance of spices and fire. As always, life is in constant flux and things have slowed down and are different. Day job priorities have shifted, new business decisions were made and with that I’ve refocused as well.

I might’ve shared this before, but part of the reason things were so out of balance these past years, was a possible move to the South America region to  grow the department I work in. That was certainly an exciting prospect, one that required a lot of travel to set the groundwork. It was crazy, I tell you! I traveled over 60k miles in 2012 and 2013, which allowed me to see some beautiful places, meet amazing people and eat incredible food.  However, as it often happens, goals were reexamined, departments were restructured and new decisions were made. So no transfer for me, at least not as a result of my day job. It has taken time to get over that realization, to let go of those dreams and plans for a life in a different locale.

As I mourned that loss, I found myself slowly getting back to that joyous space, back to the solace my tiny old kitchen so kindly offers me. Between the memories of my travels and my continued obsession with food channels, programs and books, my cooking is much more inspired and inventive. I remember everything I saw and ate and experienced in the past two years, so they weren’t a loss; instead, I’ve translated it all into the flavors that now come from my kitchen. A new dream is beginning to be dreamt and defined and it has something to do with a new way to share the joy of cooking and eating and visiting with people as obsessed with food as I am. Well, maybe not AS obsessed as I am, but still avidly curious.

Two different things will be happening here: I’ll post about the places, things and foods from my travels; so if you’ve always dreamed of visiting some of the countries in South America but haven’t made it yet, or if you moved away and are feeling nostalgic about home, or if you just love to hear stories and talk about food, then this is the blog for you. The other focus is molding an emerging dream, though I’m not sure what the final destination will be yet. A few months ago I began opening my doors to ten diners and serving them the dishes I create. I’m part of the underground, the pop up dinner circuit, I’m cheffing for strangers! At least, that’s the plan. I’m about to host the 5th of these dinners and my friends keep signing up for them. I’m surrounded by an amazing and supportive group of friends and I know that as these develop, more and more people will come into my circle and I’ll be able to share with them the fascinating food from this continent.

As for you, unless you’re in Houston and can come to one of my dinners, I invite you to sit with me while I rediscover my old digital files, recollect life changing moments and tell you about the food. Oh, the food of South America and mine.

Cookingly yours, again,



We’re moving on up…

Not to the East side, but to our own private Idaho. Ok, not there either. We’re moving to our own piece of the internet. Yes, we are! I’ve done all the packing, no worries. The movers have come by, loaded the boxes and unloaded at the new location. The walls are painted and the place is cozy, though I’m sure I’ll find new trinkets and improvements to make as we do our living there.

All that’s left, is to have a housewarming. That’s where you come in. Take note of the new address: Make the necessary changes in your little black book, then just drop by and say HOLA!

Can’t wait to see you on the other side!

Cooking elsewhere,

A Tale of Two Rices

As I browse through my blog, I can’t help but notice how often rice seems to come up. I really can’t help it, I have a love affair with that little grain. My only hope is that I offer some variety for you. That said, this is a rice post. Yep. Mas arroz.

In Panama, we prepare rice in many different ways; sometimes with coconut milk, or various beans and peas. Anything you want, really. Two of my favorites are Arroz con Frijoles Negros (rice with black beans) and Arroz con Camarones Secos (rice with dried shrimp).

They’re both easy to make and follow the same process as the recipe for Arroz con Guandú. For the black beans, I used dried beans and cooked them in the coconut milk, as detailed in the recipe below, but you can use canned beans . For the one with the dried shrimp and guandú, I cooked both of those in the coconut milk first, then followed the recipe.

For the Arroz con Coco y Frijoles Negros (Black beans & rice)
2 cps rice
1/2 cp dry black beans
2 cps coconut milk
3 cps water
1/3 cp salt pork or bacon
1 tbsp vegetable oil

For the Arroz con Camaroncitos Secos y Guandú (Rice w/dried shrimp & pigeon peas)
2 cps rice
1 cp frozen guandú (pigeon peas)
1/2 cp dried shrimp
2 cps coconut milk
3 cps water
1/3 cp salt pork or bacon
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Method for both versions:
In a pot with a tight-fitting lid, brown the salt pork/bacon rendering some of its fat. Add the guandúes (pigeon peas), coconut milk. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat until it simmers. Cook it until the peas are tender, about 40 minutes. Strain the liquid and measure, add enough water to make 3-1/3 cps of liquid, set aside.

This recipe uses the frozen peas, however, if you are using the canned variety, just skip the step above. Instead, drain, rinse and strain the beans, then add coconut milk and water to  measure 3-1/3 cups. Fry the salt pork or bacon just before adding the rinsed rice.

Add oil to the pan with the peas, rinse the rice and add it to the pot stirring all the ingredients. Add the liquid, check the salt, stir this well. Make sure you remove any drippings that may have been stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring it to a slow boil; once the liquid boils do not stir it again. Keep the temperature on medium high.

Once the liquid is almost completely evaporated, bring the temperature to low and cover with the lid. Allow to steam undisturbed for 40 minutes. When you remove the lid, all the peas will be at the top, go ahead and stir them into the rice. You’re done!

Note: The flavor of the coconut milk will intensify with time. You can cook the peas a day ahead to allow the flavors to meld together.

Is it soup weather?

Do you believe soups are better suited for a specific time of the year? Maybe when it is cold and dreary or rainy outside? For Panamanians, soup is on any day of the week and year. As a matter of fact, you’ll find it on the daily lunch menu at every restaurant or Fonda around the country.

When I was in Austin a few weeks ago, I saw an advertisement for Sopa de Arroz con Pollo (Chicken & Rice Soup). Even though I’ve heard about chicken & rice soup, I never really thought about it in a Latin context until then. Chicken & rice soup doesn’t move me in any way, but Sopa de Arroz con Pollo…? Now, that’s a completely different matter. I simply couldn’t get it off my mind. The possibilities. The potential goodness. Muy rico.

It turned out lighter than I had anticipated, even with the addition of the rice. Rich with the flavors of the chicken broth and culantro. I didn’t have any yuca at home, but next time I make it, I will use that instead of potatoes. And it was a breeze to make too!

Sopa de Arroz con Pollo
1-1/2 lbs of chicken on the bone (I prefer thighs) seasoned with 2 pkts Sazón Goya .

To your blender, add 1/2 onion, 1/2 red bell pepper, 1/4 cp cilantro or 3 culantro leaves and 2 crushed garlic cloves, add just enough water to puree all the ingredients; I ended up with about 3 cps of puree.

Put the seasoned chicken and the puree in a stockpot over medium-high heat and allow it to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. This will allow the flavors from the pureed veggies to infuse the chicken before adding all the water for the soup.

After about 10 minutes, add enough water to totally submerge the chicken, about 6 cps, add some chopped potatoes and carrots, season with salt & pepper, and 1 bay leaf. Bring it all to a boil, then lower temperature to allow it to simmer and cook for about 20-30 minutes or until the chicken is tender.

Remove the chicken from the broth and add 1/2 cp of rice to it, allow it cook while the chicken cools enough to remove the bones. Make sure to stir the broth every few minutes, making sure to remove any rice that may stick to the bottom. In the meantime, chop the chicken, if you’d like and return it to the broth. Cook just long enough for the rice to soften.

Serve in bowls and enjoy!
Cookingly yours,