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.

4691572302_9a721b3b67_b

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,

signature

A paella wannabe

This is another winning recipe from my old Panamanian cookbook, El Arte de Cocinar, by Berta de Pelaez. Berta must be Martha Stewart’s sister from another mother. I don’t remember if I saw Julia on TV when I was growing up, I do know Berta’s show was a daily event for my mom and I. She inspired my mom to expand her cooking and fueled her entertaining dreams.

I don’t believe I ever had this dish while I lived in Panama, but I’m definitely gonna make up for that with gusto! This turned out to be an easy, quick and delicious recipe, almost a quick take on a paella, really. I must admit, I made this a few months ago and didn’t share, it got lost amongst files and trips and lazy days. Now, I don’t want you to think it lacks luster, it really is a dish you should make. Soon.

I’m not sure about the name of the recipe, don’t really know what makes it ‘provincial style’, but it’s not my recipe. Also, the original called for fish pieces and salchichas–these would be wieners, instead, I opted for shrimp and soft Spanish chorizo. Enough of that, here’s the food.

Arroz a la Provinciana (Provincial style rice)

1 cp pork shoulder, cubed
1 cp Spanish chorizo, cubed
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 tsp cumin
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Salt & pepper
1 can stewed tomatoes, diced
1 cp white wine
1/4 lb squid, cleaned & sliced to rounds
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled & deveined
1/4 cp olive oil, approx
3 cps rice

Season the pork with the cumin, salt, pepper and garlic. Add a bit of oil to a medium saucepan, heat it over medium high and add the chorizo. Once the fat begins to render, add the pork cubes and brown for a few minutes. Remove from the pan, leaving the oil behind, then add the onions and bell pepper. Continue to cook until the onions are translucent, then remove from the oil and combine with the shrimp and squid.

Return the pork and chorizo to the pan over high heat, add the wine and allow it to burn off the alcohol before adding the tomatoes. Add about 1 cp of water and coo until the pork is tender. Remove pork mixture from the  pan and reserve any liquid. Add a bit more oil and heat over high temperature.

Rinse and drain the rice and add to the heated pan, stirring to coat all the grains with the oil and until the grains look white and not translucent. Stir in the pork and chorizo. Measure any liquid that you reserved and add enough water to measure 5 cps of liquid. Add to the rice, check and adjust the seasoning as needed. Do not stir once it begins to boil!!!!

Allow the rice to cook without disturbing it, until the liquid evaporates. When it is almost dry and you can see the top of the rice, delicately add the shrimp, squid and onion mixture, spreading it evenly across the top DO NOT STIR INTO THE RICE.

Lower the temperature to low and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Allow the rice to steam for about 15 minutes. At that time, you can feel free to stir with wild abandon, but be careful not butcher the cooked seafood. Now get a fork and start eating!

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

If by sea.

My seafood obsession is well documented. If you were to do a search on this here blog, you will probably find that fish and/or seafood appear more often than anything else. The Hubbz says I have the ocean(s) running through my veins and I suppose he’s partly right. After all, I grew up with quick and easy access to the Atlantic and the Pacific and to all the goodness harnessed within their waters.

Yesterday I made my required stop by the Asian market, the one place in Houston where I know I will find seafood-a-plenty, all on display, glistening and fresh. I had to stop myself from buying everything I saw and craved, reminding myself of my limited freezer. I can almost imagine that is how those midnight shoppers feel when they go into the stores on Black Friday. Frantically going through the options and picking up marked down items to fill their carts.

This time, I’m going back to one of my all-time-standbys: Al Ajillo (garlic sauce), with yet, another twist. The addition of cream to end up with a silky, creamy sauce. I also used cod fillets, instead of my usual snapper or red fish or shrimp. It was so good and super easy and it came together in a snap. This will work with almost any fish, I even think it would be great to sub the fish with chicken or pork cutlets.

Cod in Creamy Garlic Sauce

1 lb cod fillets, seasoned with a sprinkling of salt and pepper
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cp onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 cp parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cp sherry or white wine
1/4 cp heavy cream

You will need to use a saute pan with a lid. On medium-high, heat the olive oil and butter until melted, then add the onions. Cook onions until translucent before adding the garlic, bay leaf and parsley, cook for 2 or 3 more minutes.

 

Bring the temperature to high and add the sherry, stirring constantly and allowing  the alcohol to cook down. Add the fillets, giving them a turn to make sure both sides enjoy the sauciness.

Allow them to cook for about 2 minutes per side (this may vary depending on thickness). Add the cream and swirl the pan around to distribute the cream evenly. Turn off the heat and cover with the lid, allow the steam and heat contained in the pan to continue cooking the fish.

Serve it over white rice or with steamed veggies.


Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Honey, I’m home!!!

Do you ever want to do so much you end up doing nothing at all? Constantly adding items to a mental to-do list that never comes to fruition? Meaning to share some wonderful experience, but never actually picking up the phone or sit before the keyboard? I hope I’m not alone in this crazy little world, but that’s where or what’s been going on with me. Work is crazy busy, they’re REALLY making me work for my money. Add to that new business responsibilities and last minute travel and you end up with a MIA blogger.

I’ve missed my times with you guys, I hope you’ve missed my updates too. Even The Hubbz finally said to me ‘Blog, baby, blog!’ Honey, this one’s for you.

I went to Portland for a bit over a week to attend a conference and I had so much good food and beer. I’ve been dying to tell you all about it, but I also wanted to share the pictures I shot of the scenery so I haven’t. Why you ask? Because I have about 600 shots to review and select the good ones before I can share them with you. That means that I haven’t finish picking, but then I haven’t posted anything else because I keep wanting to share the pictures! Do you see how this crazy cycle has been spinning? So, I decided to go back to what I promised you from day one. Food. I will talk to you about a few dishes I’ve put together in the past few weeks, a few dishes that will rock your world really hard. Promise.

Fish. I don’t know what to call this one, but I’ll tell you how it came about. Have you heard of fish a la Veracruzana? Usually snapper. It is a Mexican recipe, hailing from the province of Veracruz. It is fish cooked in a tangy and flavorful sauce that features tomato, herbs, olives, capers and  spices. I had some fillets in the freezer and started out thinking I would prepare them that way.

As the day progressed, I kept thinking about how to Caribbeanize the recipe. A bit of curry came to mind, a bit of serranos for spice. What the heck, let’s make it creamy and add a bit of coconut milk. Yep. That’s what I did, and let me tell you, The Hubbz and I ate more than we needed to AND fought over the leftovers… I won. I’m such a lucky girl! Wanna know the details? Yes you do!

Pescado a la Caribeña (Caribbean Fish)

1 lb fish fillets
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 serrano pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tomato, chopped
1/3 cp sundried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cp sherry or white wine
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp anise seeds
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cp coconut milk
Water
Fajita seasoning
Salt & pepper to taste

Season the fillets with a sprinkling of fajita seasoning, if not available, salt & pepper works just fine; set aside. In a large saucepan, heat up the oil and add the onions and bell pepper, cooking them until softened. Once the onions are translucent, add the serrano, garlic and continue to cook for a minute or so, just make sure the garlic doesn’t burn.

Lower the temperature to about medium and add the sundried and fresh tomatoes, curry, anise and cinnamon. Use the sherry to deglaze the pan and remove any bits that may have gotten stuck to the bottom of the pan. Allow the sherry/wine to evaporate before adding the coconut milk and water. Season as necessary.

This sauce will cook down for about 20-30 minutes to allow all the flavors to meld together, so you want enough liquid in the pan to allow the fillets to cook. I would say that by the time it cooks down you’ll want to have about 1/2-inch of liquid. I added about 1 cp of water in addition to the coconut milk.

Once this sauce cooks down, simply drop in the fillets, making sure to pour some of the sauce over each one. Cover the pan with a lid and cook the fish for about 5 minutes or until the fillets flake nicely. Serve over rice and wait until you have that first bite, YOU.WILL.NOT.BELIEVE.THE.AWESOME.

Did I mention I got a new camera? I’m still learning it, but here are a few more shots.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Raising the dead

I think I’ve hinted at the fact that Panama is a big seafood country. I may have also shared that we love to party. Overindulgence is quite common to us. When it happens, you hear of various remedies and traditions to  cure a persistent hangover. One such remedy: Levanta muerto (raise the dead).

I’m uncertain where the restorative quality of a caldillo de mariscos comes from, or if they are real. What I do know is that it makes for excellent cold weather, hot weather, bad mood, happy mood and comfort food food.

I love seafood soups, but I wanted this broth to be light and filled with the flavors from the sea without being too fishy. So when I went to my fish market, I picked up some mild fish and asked for the carcass to be bagged separately. I then used it to make a deliciously flavored broth.

*To make the broth, I added the fish carcass, shrimp peels (no heads), 1/2 an onion, a few garlic cloves, carrots and celery to a generous pot of water that was seasoned with salt & pepper. I allowed it to simmer for a few minutes, strained and reserved the broth. Here’s how it comes together:

Caldillo de Mariscos (Seafood soup)

Seafood broth*
Clams, scrubbed
Fish (red fish, tilapia or similar), cubed
Shrimp, peeled & deveined
Culantro leaves
Fresh thyme
Yuca, peeled & cubed
Sea salt & pepper

After straining the broth, I returned it to the pot, added the pieces of yuca, chopped culantro leaves (you can substitute with cilantro), a bit of finely chopped thyme, adjust the seasoning as needed. Allow it to cook until the yuca is fork-tender.

While the yuca is cooking, I seasoned the fish and shrimp with 1 tsp of Jugo Maggi (substitute with Worcestershire),  then reduced the temperature to bring the broth to a slow simmer and added the fish, shrimp and clams. Allow it to simmer for about 5 minutes, just until the clams open up. Serve with white rice or crusty bread.

Want to see more food porn? Follow this link. Yeah, baby!

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Chef Morimoto vs Chef It Yourself

Last week Houston enjoyed a healthy dose of real Winter weather (finally!), on Wednesday I was manning a booth for Dress For Success Houston at my neighborhood Whole Foods, the location was appropriate for food thoughts. There I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner, I knew that The Hubbz would enjoy something warm and comforting as much as I would, so a soup of some sort seemed in order. Something creamy, rich, with fish and Panamanian flavor, that’s what I wanted. CHOWDER!

I quickly started jotting things down, instead of clams, fish. No potatoes, let’s use chayote instead. Skip the cream and go for some coconut milk and some salty, fatty pork was mandatory. So I ended up with El Fish Chowder-o. It was delicious, I used some leftover rice to thicken it up a bit and should’ve ran it through the blender, but I got lazy and hungry. Aside: Hubbz, if I had a handy immersion blender I would’ve never skipped this step…, hint, hint. No matter. I took a whisk and made sure all the rice grains were completely obliterated and it was pretty velvety.

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with Iron Chef Morimoto. Well, let me tell you. I know you will have some doubts about this part of the story, but I’ve never lied to you and never will. On day 2 of El Chowder-o, The Hubbz and I were watching Iron Chef Morimoto battle Chef Mehta, the mystery ingredient: Coconut. Morimoto proceeds to work his magic with coconut in every conceivable variation and then it happened. He started making a clam chowder. He cooked a bit of rice in coconut milk and used it as a thickener for the chowder and added more coconut milk to make the broth. Of course my dish styling wasn’t as gorgeous as his, but I had a Morimoto genius moment!

El Fish Chowder-O

1 lb fish (I used some striped bass and salmon), cubed
Salt pork or bacon, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 culantro leaves or 3 cilantro sprigs
about 6 cps broth
1/2 cp rice, cooked
1 can coconut milk
2 chayotes, peeled & cubed
3 green onions, diced
Salt & black pepper

In medium pot, render the fat from the bacon, add the garlic and cook until soften, add the coconut milk, broth and rice, season with salt and pepper, simmer for about 30 minutes until rice disintegrates. At this point you can run it through the blender to get a smooth broth.

Return to the pot and add the chayote, allowing to cook until fork tender. Once the chayote is cooked, add the fish and 1/2 of the green onions. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes until the fish is cooked and flaky. Add the rest of the green onions and serve with crusty French bread.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Panama Culinary Tour: Guacho de Mariscos

This is one of two dishes I prepared to participate in Foodalogue’s Culinary Tour, this time visiting my stomping grounds, Panama! This dish came to be as a result of a ‘What’s in the Bag‘ challenge posed by my dear Hubbz. He went to the store and brought everything but the  butcher’s block, which I then had to incorporate into a Latin meal. 

Seafood Guacho at Las Tinajas in Panama

Guacho (pronounced Wah-cho) is a popular Panamanian specialty; a slightly soupy rice dish, similar to an Italian risotto or a Puerto rican asopao. Unlike risotto, guacho is made from regular, long grain white rice that is soaked in water for a bit before it is sautéed and simmered in the cooking liquid of choice. The dish is then flavored and augmented with an array of  local ingredients; there’s always some sort of meat or protein from pork, chicken, cured pig’s tails, or seafood, in addition to various beans and roots such as yuca and otoe.

Different from the way I’ve usually explained how to cook rice, the rice in guacho wants for more liquid and a longer cooking time, this allows for the rice starches to develop into a creamy, rich frenzy. I pretty much stuck to the traditional elements of the dish, only straying away in the preparation of the sofrito and by adding mushrooms to the rice itself.

Panamanian sofrito is generally made with onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic and a few other aromatics, this time I included dried chile ancho and guajillos. But enough chatter, let’s cook!

Guacho de Mariscos y Hongos (Seafood & Mushroom Guacho)
6-8 servings

For the guacho:
2 cps long grain rice, soaked
Water
1/2 cp bacon, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
1 cp mushrooms, diced
1/2 cp shallots, diced
About 8 cps seafood broth
1 cp shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 cp scallops
Sea salt
5 tbsps chile puree
2 cps sofrito

For the sofrito:
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cp yellow onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 green onion sprigs, finely chopped
3 ripe tomatoes, finely diced
6 tbsps chile puree
Sea salt and a pinch of sugar
In a medium pan heat the oil and add the onions, cook them until soften before adding the garlic and green onions. Then add the tomatoes, 1/2 cp water and chile puree, lower the temperature and allow it to simmer for about 20 minutes. Keep warm.

For the seafood broth: I used the skins from the shrimp, bringing them to a simmer with plenty of water, 1 clove garlic, one of the dry ancho chilies, cilantro (culantro, if you can find it), 1 carrot, salt & pepper. Strain and set aside.

For the chile puree: Rinse and seed the chilies–remember Panamanian food is not typically spicy hot. Put 2 ancho and 1 guajillo chilies in a small pot with 2 cps water, 1 clove garlic, a pinch of salt and simmer for about 10 minutes until the chilies soften. Allow it to cool before running it through the blender. Set aside.

For plating: Reserve a few shrimp and scallops to place over the finished dish.

Preparation – Guacho:

Rinse the rice, then add enough cool water to cover it and allow it to soak for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour. In a large pan, render the fat from the bacon, but don’t crisp it. Add the onions and allow to cook until they begin to soften. Then add the mushrooms and cook for about 3 minutes.

Drain the rice and add to the pan. If necessary, add a bit more olive oil, just enough to coat all the grains. Add 2 tbsps of the chile puree, 6 cps of the seafood broth and adjust the seasoning by adding sea salt as necessary. Lower the temperature to medium-low and allow it to simmer until the broth evaporates. Stir it every so often to make sure nothing gets stuck to the bottom of the pan.

While the rice is cooking, prepare the seafood: chop the shrimp and scallops to bite sizes (remember to save a few of each for plating). Marinate all the seafood (including those for plating) with 2 tbsps of the chile puree and a bit of sea salt and black pepper; set aside until needed.

Once the broth has evaporated, check the doneness of the rice grains. They should be fully open and swollen. If the liquid has evaporated completely, add a bit more broth or water, then add the chopped seafood. Stir in the seafood, bring the temperature to low and allowing to cook covered for another 5 minutes.

In the meantime, saute the reserved shrimp in a bit of olive oil, set aside. When ready to serve, spoon some guacho on the bottom of a bowl, top generously with a couple tbsps of sofrito and top with the sautéed seafood. Enjoy and Buen Provecho!

For the rest of the yummy guacho shots, follow this link. You can also see the other dish, Langostinos en Caramelo de Maracuyá  (Prawns in Passion Fruit Caramel) by following this link. And don’t miss the entries submitted by other food bloggers, visit Foodalogue for the tasty bits.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris