Friday, August 26, 2016

Nothing is Impossible

The Loretto Chapel Staircase
(The funny thing is that my camera died during vacation
and this is the only picture that came out clear! Kind of weird!)
I recently took a wonderful trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, specifically to visit the Loretto Chapel and its miraculous staircase. The Loretto Chapel was founded by Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy and the Sisters of Loretto who started a school and made plans to build the chapel. After raising 30,000 dollars, Bishop Lamy hired architect Antoine Mouly and his son, Projectus Mouly from Paris, France to build the chapel in the Gothic Revival-style patterned after King Louis IX's Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Construction began in 1873, complete with stained glass from the DuBois Studio in Paris. The chapel was completed in 1878 with the exception of a staircase to the choir loft, which was deemed impossible in the small space and that a ladder would be the only way to access the loft. That is until the Sisters made a novena (nine days of prayer) to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox.

Months later, the unknown carpenter completed the miraculous staircase which features two 360 degree turns with no visible means of support, made with wood not native to the area and only wooden pegs! Apparently the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. The Sisters searched for the carpenter, even placing an ad in the newspaper, to no avail. It then became legend that the carpenter was none other than St. Joseph himself, having come in answer to the Sisters' prayer. A true miracle!

Just as the staircase was deemed impossible, so is the classic Mexican dessert - Chocoflan (aka, Impossible Cake). This magic of chocoflan, a combination of cayeta (goat milk caramel), flan and chocolate cake batter miraculously separate into distinct layers during baking, which is why it's also known in Spanish as "pastel imposible," or impossible cake! I've tried many recipes for this delicious dessert, but have determined that the best one is also the simplest. Instead of making the batter from scratch, this recipe utilizes store-bought cake mix and cayeta, making it simple to put together. In addition, this cake needs to be refrigerated for at least 24 hours before unmolding and serving; however, I think it tastes even better if you allow 48 hours in the fridge before unmolding and serving. So, if you are looking for a miracle, perhaps the impossible is just one cake away.


Chocoflan (aka, Impossible Cake)

Ingredients:
1 cup cajeta, divided
4 eggs
1, 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1, 12-ounce can evaporated milk
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 package chocolate cake mix (2-layer size) (Plus whatever ingredients as directed on package.)

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray 12-cup Bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray. Spread 1/2 cup cayeta in bottom of pan. Place Bundt pan in large roasting pan. Set aside.

Beat eggs, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a large bowl with wire whisk until well blended. Set aside.
Prepare cake mix as directed on package, adding remaining 2 teaspoons vanilla. Pour batter over cajeta in Bundt pan. Slowly pour flan mixture over batter. Cover pan with foil sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Carefully pour hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up side of Bundt pan.
Bake 1 1/2 hours or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Transfer Bundt pan from water bath to wire rack. Remove foil and cool completely.

Refrigerate at least 24 hours. (I prefer 48 hours!) Loosen cake from sides of pan. To unmold, invert pan onto a serving platter. Remove pan. Warm remaining 1/2 cup cajeta and drizzle over the top. Enjoy!
Enjoy!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Rio Olympics: Epic Fail or Sweet Treat?

It's no secret that the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro is a trainwreck! With exposed wires, gas leaks, and a deliberately set fire in the Olympic village (used to rob athletes of their team shirts and laptops), it seems to be running as expected! If that's not enough, besides the collapse of the sailing venue's main boat ramp and water contaminated with raw human sewage "teeming with dangerous viruses and bacteria," I can't wait to see how the swimmers will perform without putting their heads under water! Ridiculous! There is no way I will miss the opening ceremony for fear of missing the next cluster that is Rio! 

If you are eager to watch the opening ceremony tomorrow like me, why not serve "Beijinho de Coco" ("Coconut Little Kiss"). Beijinho is a type of "brigadeiro" (Portuguese for Brigadier). Supposedly, the brigadeiro was invented after World War II when milk and sugar was difficult to obtain. So crafty Brazilians combined sweetened condensed milk with butter, cocoa powder, and chocolate sprinkles to create the national truffle of Brazil that is present at most celebrations, especially birthday parties. While I'm sure the chocolate version is delicious, I like the coconut version which can be rolled in caster sugar or grated coconut and then topped with a whole clove (don't forget to remove the clove before eating!). Just beware that these suckers are extremely sweet, so don't go crazy and make too many! Um mundo novo!


Beijinho de Coco ("Coconut Little Kiss")

Makes approximately 20-25, depending on size


Ingredients:


1, 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon butter, plus more for plate
1/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut for decorating
Whole cloves for decorating

Directions:

Bring milk and butter to a simmer in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the milk has reduced to half and thickened, about 20 minutes. 


Remove from the heat, stir in the 1/4 cup coconut, and allow to cool a bit before pouring into a buttered bowl or on a deep plate.


Chill in the refrigerator until cold, about 2 hours.

With buttered or oiled hands, form milk mixture into tablespoon-sized balls, and roll in coconut flakes.


Stick a clove into each beijinho as decoration.

Recipe from Allrecipes Magazine.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Home Away in Santa Fe!

Entrance to my charming adobe on Canyon Road!
I just returned from a spectacular visit to beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico! I started my visit with a walk along the historic plaza with it's overpriced and mostly imported goods for sale. I then strolled along the Palace of the Governers, which is the oldest continuously occupied government building in the US, built 1609-1610. The Palace of the Governers is your best bet to purchase authentic Native American jewelry, which is strictly regulated by law. Along with visits to the St. Francis Cathedral, the Loretto Chapel with it's magical staircase, the Santa Fe School of Cooking, the Blue Mesa Alpaca Ranch, endless art galleries, and a road trip to Taos, my favorite part was staying in a hundred year old adobe on Canyon Road! I found this authentic adobe gem online for a steal! Not only did it provide very comfortable accommodations for my family of four, having a kitchen provided a nice respite from what I felt were some pretty disappointing restaurant faire, except for The Teahouse, which was the best meal we had and steps from my adorable casita! 

After returning home with a heavy heart, a Navajo bracelet, and ristras in tow, I wanted a delicious meal that payed homage to the vibrant colors and flavors of my beloved Santa Fe. I searched through my spiciest cookbooks and decided to make "Seared Salmon with Spinach and Creamy Roasted Peppers" from Mexican Everyday, by Rick Bayless. While this recipe utilizes delicious roasted poblanos, it is the surprising addition of spinach that makes it truly spectacular! Rick suggests serving this with roasted potatoes, but I feel a light salad and baguette is all that's needed for a vibrant meal that echoes the Santa Fe experience! If I had a restaurant in Santa Fe, I would serve this!


Seared Salmon with Spinach and Creamy Roasted Peppers

Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 fresh poblano chiles
10 ounces cleaned spinach (about 10 cups)
3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1-2 tablespoons masa harina (Mexican corn "flour" for making tortillas) (or all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 cups milk, plus a little more if needed
Four 4-5 ounce (1-1 1/4 pounds total) skinless salmon fillets (snapper, halibut and catfish are also good here) (I didn't bother removing the skin.)
Salt and ground black pepper

Directions:
Roast the poblanos over an open flame or 4 inches below a broiler, turning regularly until blistered and blackened all over, about 5 minutes for an open flame, 10 minutes for the broiler. (See Techniques for more information.) Place in a bowl, cover with a kitchen towel (or plastic wrap) and let cool until handleable.

Place the spinach in a microwaveable bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, poke a few holes in the top and microwave on high (100%) until completely wilted, usually about 2 minutes. (If your spinach comes in a microwavable bag, simply microwave it in the bag.) Uncover (or open the bag) and set aside.

Turn the oven on to its lowest setting. Heat the oil in a very large (12-inch) skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium. Add the garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until soft and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the garlic into a blender. Set the skillet aside.

Rub the blackened skin off the chiles and pull out the stems and seed pods. Rinse the chiles to remove bits of skin and seeds. (Fyi: I was taught to NEVER rinse the chiles under water, so I never do!) Roughly chop and add to the blender, along with the masa harina and milk. Blend until smooth.

Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Sprinkle both sides of the fish liberally with salt and pepper. Lay the fillets in the hot oil and cook until richly browned, about 2-3 minutes. Use a spatula to flip the fillets, and cook until the fish barely flakes when pressed firmly with a finger or the back of a spoon (you want it slightly underdone), usually a couple of minutes longer for fish that's about 1 inch thick. Using the spatula, transfer the fish to an ovenproof plate and set in the oven.

With the skillet still over medium-high, pour in the poblano mixture and whisk until it comes to a boil and thickens, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes to blend the flavors. If the sauce has thickened past the consistency of a cream soup, whisk in a little more milk. Taste and season with salt, usually a generous 1/2 teaspoon. Add the spinach to the sauce and stir until it is warm and well coated with sauce.

Divide the creamy spinach among four plates. Top each portion with a piece of seared fish. (Or, if it seems more appealing to you, spoon the sauce over the fillets.) Serve without delay.