Thanksgiving dinner: The Dessert

Sopa de Gloria is one of the desserts you will find at every significant event/celebration in Panama. Sopa de Gloria would loosely translate to ‘Glorious Soup’, it is a rum-y, creamy trifle. My mom would make the syrup with raisins and prunes and would then add port wine, dark and light rum. As far as¬†the cream goes, it usually includes ground almonds, which makes the flavors all the more delicate.

I took the basic Sopa de Gloria and tweaked it with the flavors of Thanksgiving by omitting the almonds and adding pumpkin puree and seeds. The results… Phenomenal! This is the Jimmy Choo of desserts! The syrup and cream both benefit from being made at least one day in advance. This dessert is best served cold.

Pumpkin Sopa de Gloria
8-10 servings

For the raisin syrup:
1 cp sugar
1-1/2 cps water
2-3 cinnamon sticks
5 whole cloves
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2/3 cp raisins
1/2 cp dark rum (Myer’s is great)

Combine all the ingredients except the raisins in a small saucepan and bring to a slow boil for about 5 minutes. Add the raisins and continue to simmer until the raisins are plump. Turn off the heat and add the rum. Allow it cool and keep at room temperature.

For the pumpkin cream:
1/2 can condensed milk (7 ozs)
1 can evaporated milk (14 ozs)
1-1/4 cp pumpkin puree
1/8 tsp mace
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cp dark rum or bourbon

In a small pan, combine the condensed and evaporated milks, heat them over medium temperature until you begin to see bubbles around the edges. Do stir frequently, to avoid it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Whisk in the pumpkin puree, mace and vanilla, simmer at medium-low for another 10 minutes, again, stirring continuously. Allow it to cool and refrigerate.

In addition to the above, you will need about 1/2 cp of toasted and chopped pumpkin seeds, as well as a sponge cake, you can find an easy recipe here.

Put it together:
I made individual triffles, but usually this is served in one large punch bowl, you can’t go wrong either way. Start with a layer of cubed sponge cake, followed by a drizzle of the syrup and raisins, then topped with cream that is topped with pumpkin seeds. Repeat. And serve cold.

Check out this post to see the rest of this meal or click here for the photostream.

Cookingly yours,

Thanksgiving Dinner: The side

I know what you’re thinking. That doesn’t look like dressing and you’d be right. I was going for a non-traditional dressing-like dressing and this is what I came up with. Looks good, no? Let me tell you, it tastes better than it looks, seriously. I don’t know that I would call this a deconstructed dressing, but it does have all the elements of a dressing presented individually.

In Panama we eat corn tortillas for breakfast, they’re usually served with some sort of saucy protein. As you can see, our tortillas are different from what most people think of when they hear the word.¬† Ours are made with yellow corn, not white and they’re thick, about 1/2-inch. These discs are then deep-fried until crisp on the outside while they remain nice¬†and creamy inside.

So, with that idea in mind, I set off looking for¬† a way to imitate¬†my tortillas, but I didn’t want to¬†find dry corn, cook it, grind it, shape it, etcetera, etcetera. Instead, I used polenta that I cooked in about 6 minutes then cooled and cut into discs.¬†Frying them just before serving, provided a much needed¬†textural contrast. Beware, polenta is feisty when being fried, because of the water content, it is very spitty!

For the topping my mind went straight to picadillo, the kind we make in Panama with olives and raisins. Instead of ground beef, I went for a traditional Thanksgiving ingredient: breakfast sausage. And I cooked fatty bacon to a crisp to have a similar texture to chicharrón. And, just like that, Polenta Tortillas with Sausage & Chicharrón Picadillo was born!

Polenta Tortillas with Sausage & Chicharrón Picadillo
serves 8-10

For the Polenta Tortillas:
5-6 cps water
1-1/2 cps dry polenta or coarse cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
1 ear of corn, shucked
1/2 cp queso fresco, shredded
Extra virgin olive oil for the pan and frying

Grease a 9×13 pan with olive oil and set aside. Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan, add the salt then whisk in the polenta. You’ll want to whisk briskly until the grounds have incorporated. You will continue to cook it over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes or so, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter, corn and cheese.

Pour the polenta into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly. Allow it to cool and set. You can make this ahead of time. When ready to serve, unmold the polenta and cut into squares or with a round biscuit cutter or a glass.

Heat some butter and oil in a frying pan, and fry the polenta disks until golden brown on each side. Set on paper towels to catch the excess fat. Set aside and keep warm until ready to serve.

For the Sausage & Chicharrón Picadillo:
1 cp fatty bacon, diced
1 cp breakfast sausage (about 1/2 of a Jimmy Dean package)
1 cp red onion, diced
1/2 cp carrots, diced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1/4 cp Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cp ripe tomato, finely chopped
2 tbsps ketchup
1/4 cp green olives, finely chopped
1/2 cp seedless raisins

Cook the bacon until golden and crisp, remove from the pan and pour out the excess fat, reserve. In the same pan, crumble the sausage and cook for a few minutes until it isn’t red anymore.

Add the red onion and carrots and cook until the onions have softened, then add the tomato, green onions, parsley, olives and ketchup, stir all the ingredients and allow them to cook for about 5 minutes. Add the raisins and also about 1/4 cp of water, stir and allow to simmer covered for another 5 minutes or so. Keep warm.

To assemble the dish: place the fried polenta at the bottom, top with 1 tablespoon of picadillo, and top that with a bit of the bacon chicharron.

For the rest of this meal, follow the link and visit the photostream for all the shots.

Cookingly yours,

NOT your usual Carne Guisada

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,

How to roast a whole chicken

The perfectly roasted chicken is like a mystical unicorn or an urban legend. It always seems to happen to a friend of a friend of your second cousin. A nicely roast chicken should be flavorful, juicy and should have a beautiful golden and crisp skin. Often times you manage the beautiful skin, but the meat is bland and dry. Today I’m going to share my secret for always perfect roasted chicken.

The beauty of it is that you can use any herb you like, or what’s available. The other wonderful thing about this chicken, is that… it is SUPER easy to make and requires no fussing about. I promise. Really. You can take my word for it or my name isn’t Anamaris! And it is.

The other¬† cool thing with roast chicken… leftovers! At the Price household, we’re not breast lovers, but the breast makes the most delicious chicken salad ever! I do have to admit that even I enjoy just eating the breast meat, and that’s saying something. Ok, I’ll stop gushing. On to the chicken business.

When it comes to roasting the bird, the first thing is to start on its tan early on. So you would roast it at a high temperature (450¬į) for about 15 minutes before reducing the temp to 325¬į for the long haul. On average, it takes about 20 minutes per pound to roast the chicken perfectly. If you have a meat thermometer,¬†you’ll want to insert it into the thick part of the thigh–avoiding the bone, and it should read at least 165¬į C.

Perfect Roast Chicken

1 4-6lb whole chicken
3-4 tbsp butter, soften
Chopped herbs–I used rosemary, Italian parsley, garlic
Sea salt
Fresh black pepper, ground
Smoked paprika
1 lemon, quartered
Rosemary stems
10-12 garlic cloves, whole & unpeeled
2 carrots, quartered
1 large onion, quartered

Preheat oven to 450¬į. First, remove all the innards from the chicken. Usually, they tuck the neck and giblets inside the bird; you don’t want to roast it with those in there.¬† You can save them to make the gravy or to make broth later. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Pat dry with a paper towel.

Combine the chopped herbs, about 1/2 cp all together, with the softened butter and season with a bit of salt & pepper.

Pull away on the chicken skin and insert bits of the herb butter between the  skin and meat. Rub the skin with a bit of olive oil or leftover herb butter. Combine the salt, pepper and paprika, use it to season the cavity and the skin of the chicken. Fill the cavity with the lemon, some carrots, rosemary stem and whole garlic cloves.

Prepare the roast pan. Place the rest of the carrots, garlic cloves, onion, rosemary around the bottom of the roasting pan and rack. Place the chicken on the rack. I like to roast with the breast down, this way it benefits from the drippings from the skin and dark meat. Again, we are not breast lovers, so we choose to roast the breast at the bottom to keep it nice and moist, if you love breast and want the crisp skin on it, then roast it on top.

Pop it in the oven at 450¬į and cook it for 15 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 325¬į and cook for just under 2 hours (for a 5-pounder). Once done, remove the chicken from the oven and allow it rest for at least 15 minutes before¬† carving.

You can use the drippings to make a gravy.

Cookingly yours,

Spareribs with Tamarind Glaze

I love tamarind. In Panama we make a drink with it, this isn’t exclusive to my little country, of course. We also process the pulp, mix it with brown sugar and¬† make it into balls that are then dipped in sugar and sold. It is an incredibly good snack, just thinking about it¬†is making my mouth water.

Speaking of tamarind balls…, when I had just moved to Houston, I had probably been there for a little over a year, I was yearning for Panamanian treats. I used to go to a little store called La Michoacana, it was (is) a primarily Mexican store, but it was the only place I could find ‘some’ of the products and produce I needed for home-cooking.

On one of my visits to the store, I noticed they were selling tamarind balls. Oh Joy!!! I was so excited. A little piece of home…, or so I thought. I got back in my car, heading home after picking up all the essentials, unwrapped the little ball and took a nice, healthy bite of it. . . I almost threw up! They like the tamarind balls in Mexico too, but like many of their treats, they add chili peppers to it. Totally ruining that fix for me, just be happy you weren’t in the car with me that day. I sounded like a sailor.

In any case, I’ve had some tamarind pulp sitting in the pantry for a few weeks now, planning to get to it. The wait is over. I decided to cook with it, instead of limiting it to sweeter applications. These pork spareribs¬†turned out finger-licking OHMYGAWD¬†good! I recommend you plan ahead for these so you can marinate the ribs as I did.

Day Before Prep:

Dilute the tamarind paste in water. I used about 1/2 cp of the pulp and diluted it in about 3 cps of hot water. Let it sit there for a bit to help the pulp separate from the seeds. Once the water has cooled, strain it and use a spoon to help remove more of the pulp from the seeds. Discard the seeds and reserve the concentrated juice.

For the marinade:

In a bowl or large ziploc bag combine
1 cp tamarind concentrate
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp habanero paste (or habanero hot sauce)
2 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp honey
3 tbsp fresh ginger, slivered
2 tsp garlic paste (crushed garlic)

Mix all these ingredients well, then add the pork spareribs. For the recipe I used about 3 lbs. of bone-in pork spareribs. Make sure all the ribs are coated and refrigerate at least 12 hours, preferably overnight. Turn the ribs a couple of times to make sure they all soak up the marinade.

Day of – Cooking:

Preheat oven to 325¬į. Line a baking sheet with foil paper and lay out the ribs in a single layer. Make sure to remove any chunks of ginger you see. Cover with foil and bake the ribs for 1-1/2 hours.

In the meantime, prepare the glaze. Once the ribs have cooked for the first 90 minutes, remove from the oven and drain and reserve the liquid. Return them to the oven uncovered.

Tamarind Glaze
2 cps tamarind concentrate (whatever is left, plus some water)
1 tbsp fresh ginger, crushed
1/3 cp brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, crushed (garlic paste)
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 cp green onions, diced (greens & whites)
1-1/2 tsp habanero paste or hot sauce
Cooking juices from the ribs
Sea salt & black pepper, to taste

Heat a medium saucepan, add a bit of oil to coat the bottom, then add all the white pieces of the green onions and half of the greens. Allow to cook for 1 or 2 minutes, just long enough to soften, then add the rest of the ingredients, except for the salt.

Stir well and adjust the seasoning with salt, if necessary. Allow it to simmer over medium low heat, stirring every so often until it begins to thicken. Once the glaze thickens to the consistency of heavy cream, add the rest of the green onions and remove it from the heat. Set aside.

After the ribs have cooked through and begin to get tender (about 90 minutes), raise the oven’s temperature to 450¬į and generously brush¬†the ribs with the glaze on one side. Return them to the oven and continue to cook for about 20 minutes. Flip the ribs, glaze the other side and return to the oven for another 20 minutes. Finally remove them from the oven, flip and glaze them once more, but just let them sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.

I sprinkled a bit more of finely chopped green onions just before serving and accompanied them with some Bacon Potatoes.  They were tangy, sweet and sticky good!

Cookingly yours,

Home is where the heart is

And my heart is still in Panama, will probably always be. My love is in Houston and that is where I live. But, currently I’m still in Panama caring for my mom.

Time is limited right now, and rather than fail my promise to you, I decided to dig through my archives and bring attention to a few posts from the beginning days of this blog. These speak specifically to my cooking identity. If you’ve just found me, there’s a very good chance you’ve missed them. So here goes nothing.

This first one speaks to my cooking habits, those things I do as second nature as prepare a dish. Cooking Un-science.

The next one takes a look at my spice cabinet. I promise you it is much more exciting than my underwear drawer :). Spice Me Up, Scotty.

Finally, shortcuts. If you spend a good amount of time doing a task, you always develop shortcuts. Tricks of the trade. A way to minimize or expedite steps. Here are my Shortcuts.

That’s it. A little blast from the past.

Cookingly yours,

How to peel a pineapple…, if you’re Panamanian

Just before we get into that business, why is it called a pineapple? It looks nothing like an apple, thought I guess it is pokey like a pine cone… OK, that’s over, back to the fruit at hand.

With Summer heating things up, the grocers and markets are filled with delicious fruits, particularly those from more tropical climates. Pineapple happens to be one of my favorite fruits. Love, love, love IT! Love it! Believe me, once you’ve had a taste of fresh pineapple, you’ll snicker at the canned stuff. I want to make sure you eat as many of these fresh babies as possible, so I’ll give you some pointers to help you break it down.

Picking Pineapples: Put your senses to work.

See:¬†It should be a bright yellow, maybe a bit of green here and there. As with any other fruit, make sure there are no visible blemishes–brown or black spots. If you¬†can only find¬†them with very green peel, then take it home and allow the sugars to mature over a few days.

Touch: It should be firm to the touch, but not hard. It should give a little

Smell: Go ahead, put your nose to it. Pay special attention to the bottom, it’ll be the most fragrant area. It should¬†smell sweet with a hint of tartness.

Pineapples can be prickly, if you have sensitive hands, you may want to use something to protect them. Now for the fun part, this is how we breakdown a pineapple in Panama.

Remove both ends. You can break off the leafy top or just use a knife to cut about 1/2-inch off the top and bottom of the pineapple. This serves 2 purposes: it will stabilize the fruit and make it easier when removing the peel with a knife.

Stand the pineapple on one end (use a cutting board) and with the knife, begin cutting off the peel of the pineapple. Move in a downward motion, always away from you.  Give it a clockwise turn and repeat until you have removed all of the peel.

Remove the eyes. Cut the flesh in a shallow diagonal cuts on either sides of each row–you’ll probably be able to cut across 3-4 at a time. Remove the cut outs and repeat.

The pineapple will end up looking like a spiral. Kinda cool!

Now it is ready to slice and eat. One last thing, though. You want to make sure not to eat the core, it tends to be tough and it has an enzyme that causes your tongue to feel stiff and weird. It makes my lips feel itchy. Just stay clear of it.

Eating fresh chunks of pineapple is great, but check out this cocktail. That’s what I’m talking about!

Cookingly yours,