Thursday, February 28, 2013

Santa Marta

Last month in Colombia I spent a long, lovely weekend on the Caribbean coast in a city called Santa Marta and the coast-hugging national park adjacent to it, called Tayrona. This was all thanks to the people over at Colombia travel, which was pretty cool because I doubt I would have dragged my lazy butt out of Cali otherwise. I love Cali, I really do, but it's not the Caribbean, and it's never so green and breezy and chill that you just want to lay naked in a hammock watching the water as the afternoon turns to evening (ok, I didn't actually do this, but I really really would have liked to).

I forget how much my version of "Colombia" is really very specific to Cali-- in Santa Marta people look different, talk different, they even move different. There's something about living on the coast that seems to make everything move a bit slower, that makes everybody a bit more relaxed-- and at the same time makes life a bit more chaotic as nothing runs exactly the way you expect it to. Between the crazy drivers and the chill locals lounging around in flip flops and shorts, it really kind of reminded me of Rio.

This will only really be funny to Argentine readers, but this map of Tayrona shows the Bahia Concha, a.k.a. Vagina Bay in Argentinean Spanish (you can click on the picture if you need greater detail or, you know, actually want useful information). 

Between lazing around, we ate loads of fish and coconut rice at every opportunity. An American lady staying at the same hotel as us told me she was really enjoying the food "other than that weird mayonnaise that they serve with everything," which made me crack up-- she meant the suero, or homemade sour cream, which is extremely common all over the Atlantic coast (as a completely unrelated aside, suero also means saline solution, wtf?) Suero is served with boiled yuca, with vegetables, with fish. I like it on yuca but avoid it with vegetables (or avocado, like in the "salad" in the picture above...Felipe was happy to take care of it, though). I was thrilled at the amount of fresh juice stands on the street, lined up next to the booths selling what's called fritanga in Cali (fried deliciousness)-- which incidentally is not called fritanga in Santa Marta, but fritos, which, ok, makes a lot more sense than fritanga.

Santa Marta is where Simon Bolivar, that revered dude that liberated South America from the Spanish, died, and the quinta (ranch) where he died was (unsurprisingly) preserved as a museum, a must-see for all visiting dignitaries. There were huge iguanas running around everywhere, I was totally fascinated by them and nobody else seemed to care at all. Kind of like when Felipe and I were at the National Mall in D.C. and all he wanted to do was take pictures of the squirrels. On second thought, maybe our lazy butts don't deserve to travel...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Real Flan

So, I finally made real flan, the Argentinean version of it at least, and I've been super proud of myself and making Argentinean/Uruguayan housemates try it and at the same time being concerned that I didn't caramelize the caramel enough, but nobody seems to care and I should probably stop talking about it. It's great, it's exactly what I was looking for, though I probably will make a slightly darker caramel next time because I like the slight bitterness it gives to an otherwise sweet dessert.

Remember this? Which is not really flan, but kind of (I said)? I hadn't had "real" flan in quite awhile before making the Brazilian "flan", which is called pudim for the very good reason that they actually taste extremely different (also: Portuguese). Case in point: flan tastes like eggs, 'cause it has EIGHT of them in it, and it has an almost spongy texture on top. Pudim tastes milky sweet and not eggy...because it has a whole can of sweetened condensed milk in it. Still super delicious, but definitely not flan. Flan=also delicious. Lasted less than 24 hours in our house, and Felipe and I may or may not have had it for breakfast and afternoon snack, which the Argentineans would not have approved of. (Flan is for after meals. Served with a side of dulce de leche and whipped cream, if you like!)

Flan de Huevo (Argentinean Egg Flan)

     adapted from Jimena Monteverde

For the caramel:

1 c. white sugar
1/3 c. water

For the custard:

8 eggs
1 c. sugar
2 c. milk
1 tsp. natural vanilla extract
zest from 1/2 an orange (optional, I didn't use this)

You can use any oven-safe mold for this, I used a flan mold that holds 5 cups of liquid and it was full to the brim so you might want to use one with a slightly larger capacity. You could certainly use a bundt pan, brioche mold or individual ramekins if you like, and I would imagine that most Latin markets sell inexpensive molds for flan if you feel like searching them out (though I don't think it's necessary, even a loaf pan will work just fine, it's less pretty but it'll taste just fine). You will also need a larger pan that your mold(s) fit in because the flan needs to be cooked in a water bath-- a roasting pan or any pan with sides (I used a 8 x 8 in. brownie pan) will work fine.

Anyway, have your mold(s) ready, as well as a potholder to protect your hand from the heat of the hot hot caramel you're going to pour into it. Preheat the oven to 350F. In a small, white/silver-bottomed saucepan (so you can see the sugar change color), melt the sugar and water, stirring just enough so that you have a sugar slurry.  Continue to cook the slurry over medium heat without stirring until it begins to turn amber. At this point watch it closely as it will go from nicely caramel to burnt very quickly. This is judgement time-- when the caramel is a nice amber, you can take it off the heat and immediately pour it into the mold that you are holding in your pot holder-protected hand, or, if you like the slight bitterness a darker caramel will give you, you can let it go a little longer, just short of burning, and then IMMEDIATELY pour it into the mold (it will continue to darken if left in its pot, even if you have turned off the heat). With your potholder-protected hand, tilt the mold so that the caramel swishes up the inside walls, leaving a more or less uniform coat (most of it will end up pooling back at the bottom, which is fine).
In a medium bowl whisk the eggs and sugar together, then add in the milk and vanilla extract (and orange zest if using). Strain the mixture directly into the flan mold, using a spoon to help force through any egg that gets stuck in the strainer. I find it easiest to place the larger pan (for the water bath) in the oven first, then the full flan mold inside, then use a spouted cup to add water to the large pan, until it's about half way up the flan mold. Bake for 40 min. - 1 hour (depending on the size and shape of your mold the time will vary, and if you're using small ramekins you should start checking after 30 minutes). To check if the flan is done, insert a thin knife halfway in close to the center. If it comes out clean, the flan is done, if it comes out wet and slushy looking, continue to check every 10 minutes until it comes out clean. The top of mine formed a skin, and when I peeled it back (I couldn't resist) I could see the flan was no longer jiggly underneath. Carefully remove the flan from the oven-- use your judgement on whether it's easier for you to remove the flan mold from the water bath while it's still in the oven or if it's easier to lift out the large pan with the flan mold still inside-- and place it in the fridge to cool for at least 3 hours, or overnight. Many people say flan tastes better on the second day, so it's a good make ahead dessert.
When you're ready to serve the flan, run a knife around the periphery of the mold (and the inside edge too if you're using a tube mold like mine), place a plate face down on the mold (make sure the plate is larger than the mold!) and quickly flip the flan onto the plate, it should slide out easily. If there is still a bunch of caramel at the bottom of the mold, you can heat the mold a bit directly on the stove to melt it and then pour it over the flan-- let it cool down a bit before pouring it, so that it's still liquid but not boiling. Serve cold slices, making sure to spoon a bit of the caramel over. Serve with dulce de leche and/or whipped cream if you're feeling particularly Argentine that day.

Flan de Huevo

Para el caramelo:

1 taza de azúcar blanca
1/3 taza de agua

Para la cremita:

8 huevos
1 taza de azúcar blanca
2 tazas (1/2 litro) de leche entera
1 cucharita de extracto de vainilla natural
ralladura de media naranja (opcional, yo no la use)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Arepas de choclo

Because the equator passes through Colombia's southern tip, seasons are more or less non-existent, divided into the "rainy season" and "less rainy season." However, each city has its own distinct climate and micro-climates. Bogota is almost always cold, grey and rainy. Cali is almost always 85ºF, while Medellin is known as the city of eternal springtime, at 70ºF year round. Now, most of Colombia's cities are situated in the valleys between the mountain ranges. For a change in temperature, all you have to do is to pass the city limits and drive up into the mountains. Come long weekends and holidays, many city dwellers do just that as many have farming properties/homes in the surrounding mountains of their respective cities, called fincas.

But even if you don't have a finca, there are other reasons to leave the city-- to enjoy the cooler climate, to get a rest from the noise of the city, and (my favorite), to eat.  One of my absolute favorite Colombian foods is sold up in the mountains around Cali, called arepa de choclo, and our (Canadian) friend Vanessa was visiting from Brazil so we decided to make the trek.

Arepas de choclo are arepas made from ground fresh sweet corn, baked in clay ovens and filled with cheese. They are every bit worth the trip up, sweet from the corn and salty from the cheese, hot out of the clay oven. The roadside restaurants that sell these also sell two other cold-weather classics, agua panela and hot chocolate, with cheese if you like, as well as empanadas and other classics of fritanga valluna

Buses run up from Cali into the mountains-- if you're lucky you can grab a chiva, the iconic and terrifying/exhilarating bus with benches for seats and open sides. In order to collect the fare and give change, the driver's assistant hangs off the side of the bus, using the poles at each row to hold himself up. While zooming around the mountains with motorcycles whizzing by. Not even kidding.

We hopped into the back of one of the jeep-like trucks that runs people up and down all day, which was less scary than the chiva but still plenty bumpy.

There are, of course, places in Cali that sell arepas de choclo, but I find it much more fun to get out of the city to devour them in the cool mountain air. They even sell a kind of sweet corn flour to make them at home, and though they aren't quite the same they aren't bad, either. And yes, we totally brought a bag of it back to Brazil.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Carnaval 2013

Back in Brazil, just in time for Carnaval. One of the events I've most enjoyed was the bloco (street carnival band) in our neighborhood, which was definitely more "dress up with the little kids and dance in the street" than "get smashed, vomit in the street and make out with anyone in sight," as many blocos tend to be.

This bloco is called "Pinto Sarado" which means (straight face here) "Brave Cock."  See (below)? Not what you were thinking.


You can imagine what the streets look like after this many people drink and party in them. Now multiply that by 1,000 and you can begin to imagine what Rio looks like right about now, on the last official day of Carnaval. I'm oddly relieved for things to go back to normal tomorrow. Transportation that works! Streets that (hopefully) don't smell like pee and vomit! Open banks/supermarkets! Of course Carnaval is a lot of fun and I do love the fact that blocos are all-inclusive and often tied to the community. And Brazilians know how to have a good time maybe even more so than Colombians, which is no small feat.

Speaking of which, I'm still backed up with stuff from the Colombia trip, which will be showing up around here soon (including a trip to Santa Marta for the Colombian travel board), not trying to be confusing, but I am back in Portugueselandia for now.