Saturday, August 28, 2010


I helped my mother make flan all the time when I was little. Our family recipe: Royal Flan!

I told you my mom doesn't bake. That's what Pan Queso* Lady on the beach is for!

Yes--as I have affectionately named her, "Pan Queso Lady." At the beach near my mother's home is a women who sells flan, cheesecake and pies. I love her. So much. The first thing I do when visiting my mom in Mexico is track down Pan Queso Lady so I can enjoy a slice of flan or pie while tanning on the beach.

You stuff your face while tanning in a swimsuit?

That is correct and I'm not sorry.

The last time I stuffed my face with flan on the beach in Mexico, I thought to myself, I could probably make this. And as it turns out, I can. I am 100% sure that you can, as well.

Flan is a traditional Latin caramel custard that bakes crustless and in a pie dish. Pan Queso Lady sells hers by the slice in a pool of caramel sauce. Chocoflan one-ups regular flan by adding a layer of moist chocolate cake to the dessert.

Caramel, custard, chocolate cake: take that Pan Queso Lady!

(Just kidding please don't ever stop selling baked goods on the beach, Pan Queso Lady.)

It looks so complicated to make, but trust me, the method for chocoflan is very straight forward. I searched far and wide for a good recipe, and found one that is moderately easy and fairly traditional. I know there are a lot of steps, but that is no reason to shy away from chocoflan! I promise, the results are worth every single second it takes.

Adapted from Marcela Valladolid via
serves 10
What caught my eye about this recipe, in addition to its relative ease, is its use of buttermilk in the chocolate cake layer. Buttermilk has long been the secret weapon in my mother-in-law's chocolate cake as it produces extremely moist results. Make your life easier by measuring all your ingredients and prepping your baking pan before embarking on this culinary journey.

You will need:
• 12-cup capacity Bundt pan
• a roasting pan large enough to hold the Bundt pan
• Softened butter, to coat pan
• 1/2cup store bought cajeta, dolce de leche, or caramel sauce

For the cake:
• 10 tablespoons butter, room temperature
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 egg, room temperature
• 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/3 cup cocoa powder
• 1 1/4 cups buttermilk

For the flan:
• 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
• 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
• 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
• 3 eggs
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For garnish:
• 1/4 cup cajeta or caramel sauce
• 1/4 cup toasted chopped pecans

Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

Thoroughly coat your Bundt pan with butter, then coat the bottom with 1/4 cup cajeta. Place the Bundt pan in a large roasting pan. (The roasting pan will serve as a water bath during baking.)

For the cake: Add the butter and sugar to a bowl and using an electric hand mixer or stand mixer, beat until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa in a medium bowl. Beat 1/3 of the flour mixture, and 1/2 of the buttermilk into the egg mixture. Repeat, ending with the flour mixture. Blend until well incorporated.

For the flan: In a blender, combine the evaporated milk, condensed milk, cream cheese, eggs and vanilla. Blend on high for 30 seconds.

Scoop the cake batter into the prepared Bundt pan and spreading evenly. Slowly pour the flan mixture over the cake batter.

Cover with foil and add about 1-inch of hot water to the roasting pan.

Note: Don't worry about the cake layer being on the bottom of the Budt pan. The two batters will flip while baking so that when you invert your dessert onto a platter, the flan layer will be on top and the chocolate cake will be on the bottom, just as in my first pictures. If you have no idea what I'm talking about right now, just continue on with the recipe.

Carefully slide the pan into the oven, and bake approximately 1 hour 15 minutes, or until the surface of the cake is firm to the touch, or an inserted toothpick comes out clean. OVEN TIMES WILL VARY! Begin checking your flan with a toothpick at the 1 hour mark and continue to do so every 10-15 minutes until a toothpick, is indeed, clean when removed from your cake. Once the cake is done, carefully remove from the water bath and cool completely to room temperature, about 1 hour.

Invert a large, rimmed serving platter over the Bundt pan, grasp tightly together, giggle a little and flip over. Remove the pan and scrape any remaining cajeta or caramel sauce from the pan onto the cake. I add an extra 1/4 cup of the caramel once the cake is inverted for garnish. You may also add the chopped pecans to the top the cake at this stage, if desired.

Flan is traditionally served chilled, but I think it tastes just as yummy at room temperature!

*"Pan queso" refers to
cheesecake in Spanish, or at least it does in my family.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I love you, Larb

No, not lard. Not lard, everyone. Don't make that face... I'm trying to help you!

If you love Thai food you might know all about larb.

Ground meat--turkey, pork , chicken, beef or sometimes fish--in a savory citrusy fish sauce dressing typically served with sticky rice and sometimes eaten in lettuce cups. And hey, remember ceviche de soya made with reconstituted soya meat? You can substitute soya meat for ground pork, etc. and make this dish vegetarian. Vegan, even. There is no lard in this recipe. Now you know.

I saw Giada De Laurentiis make this recipe as a quick, weeknight alternative to take-out Thai larb and decided to give it a go. Believe it or not, it is just as good, if not better than any larb I've had in a Thai restaurant. Adam sure thinks so.

He set the table too. One spoon and a plate. Pretty good, huh?

So go ahead and try making larb at home on a Monday night like we always do. It isn't as complicated as many Thai dishes. It isn't like curry, for example, which requires 10 million ingredients. You can't mess it up, guys.

Closely adapted from Giada De Laurentiis via
serves 4
Adam thinks larb made with pork tastes best. On most nights, however, we try to cut down on fat by using ground turkey or chicken. If you do choose a leaner meat, keep in mind that you may need a little more oil to help it brown. Also, this recipe calls for lemongrass. Most Asian markets carry it (I actually found mine at Whole Foods) but if you absolutely cannot find any, go ahead and leave it out. This is supposed to be easy Monday night cooking, right? The lemongrass rounds this dish out and certainly makes the larb more delicious, but by no means does it make the dish. The fish sauce, however, does. Don't even think about leaving that out! It may smell weird out of the bottle, but trust me, it will all taste very yummy in the end.

• 1/3 cup fresh lime juice, from about 5 limes
• 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, from 1 large lemon
• 2 tablespoons fish sauce
• 2 tablespoons honey

• 3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
• 1/2 red onion, diced
• 3 shallots, thinly sliced
• 1 (4-inch) piece lemongrass, minced (about 1/4 cup)
• 1 Thai chile, such as prik kee noo, or 1 serrano chile, stemmed and thinly sliced
• Kosher salt
• 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey, pork, chicken beef, or reconstituted soy meat
• 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 1 head butter lettuce, leaves separated


Dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, lemon juice, fish sauce and honey. Set aside.

Larb: In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, shallots, lemongrass, chile, and salt, to taste. Cook until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the turkey and season with salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the meat and vegetables are cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add the dressing to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the mint. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Spoon the turkey mixture onto the lettuce leaves and arrange on a serving platter. Serve with sticky rice or plain white rice.
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