Flan: Round One, KO!!!

Before I made the flan, I was just going to call this post “Flan: Round One”, expecting that I wouldn’t get it right the first time.  You see, everyone has their own recipe of flan.  It’s all about the proportions of milks and preferred consistency and sweetness.  My mother made an awesome flan years and years ago but couldn’t remember the recipe so we had to start from scratch.  We did have a list of ingredients my grandfather got from his restaurant-owner friend but it didn’t have directions and it makes two huge sheets of flan, a little too much.  After doing some research I decided to adapt a recipe from the internet.  “Adapt” meaning I didn’t have an extra can of condensed milk so I substituted a can of evaporated.

The great thing about flan is that it’s cheap and pretty easy to make.  It’s a fixture of any Cuban special event.  I remember Aya (my grandmother on my father’s side) making so much of it for holidays that it required using the extra fridge downstairs.  Some cubans have it with a side of shredded coconut in heavy syrup, increasing its sweet toothrotting goodness by tenfold.  A lot of recipes just call for regular milk but many others, including this one, used a mixture of condensed and evaporated milk.  The ingredients are simple and readily available: a cup of sugar, 8 eggs, 1 can of condensed milk, 3 cans of evaporated milk, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, and a dash of cinnamon (optional).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  First, you have to caramelize the sugar in a pan over medium heat.  The sugar will get brown and chunky as you move it around and eventually turn into a brown syrup.  (Use a wooden spoon or something that won’t melt in the syrup like plastic.) Careful not to burn it.  Then you CAREFULLY pour the sugar syrup into the mold for your flan (in fact wear oven mitts or something) and CAREFULLY move the pan around to coat the bottom and sides as much as you can.  You have to work quickly because the sugar cools fast.  DO NOT get the syrup on your skin.  It will burn it off.  My dad used to work in a bakery and he knew a guy that spilled it all over his hand and when he took it off his skin peeled with it and he passed out from shock.  But you’re not supposed to leave it on if it gets on your skin or it will burn through the layers of your skin.  Ok, now that I’ve adequately frightened you, let’s move on.

Next, you want to combine all the ingredients in another bowl (milks, eggs, vanilla, and cinnamon).  We were worried about the cinnamon because it wasn’t mixing in very well but it didn’t affect the final outcome, not even the taste.  I think next time I’ll leave it out.  Anyway, afterwards many people strain the mixture to get a smoother outcome.  (When we strained it we got egg globs, foam, and chunks of cinnamon.)

Afterwards, pour the mixture into the pan with the caramelized sugar and put in Maria’s Bath, which means put it in a larger pan filled with about 2 inches of water.  (I’ve always thought it was a weird name. I wonder where it came from.)  Then put it in the oven and cook for an hour.  You’ll know it’s done when a knife comes out clean.  (It’s okay to have some custardy chunks on it.)  When it’s done let it cool completely in the fridge for a while and later invert it onto a serving dish.  And there ya go!

Our flan came out remarkably well.  My dad said it was awesome and considering he’s the family flan expert (i.e. very picky about flan) that’s an accomplishment.  It came out creamy and not TOO sweet, which means it would have been great to have some coconut on the side. *mouth waters*

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Inauguration of the Summer Cuban Cooking Project

Here I go again. Restarting this blog.  This time, however, I have a project, a mission:  To learn to cook Cuban cuisine.  Why?  Well, I want to be able to cook it for my kids someday so they can be in touch with their heritage, and I need to get a little closer to my heritage as well.   When I was a kid I didn’t appreciate Cuban cuisine.  In fact, I suffered through countless plates of rice and beans, but especially the meat.  I’ve always been picky about meat.  I would chew and chew and chew those chewy chuletas and thin fried steaks until I gagged.  It was enough for me to declare myself temporarily vegetarian.  I used to think American kids got to eat burgers and macaroni and cheese every night.  My mother always said I would like Cuban food when I was grown-up, but I didn’t believe her.  Now, I must begrudgingly acknowledge she’s right. 

I’m still not a fan of porkchops and steaks, but I love foods like Moros y Cristianos (black beans and rice cooked together), tostones (twice-fried plantains), arroz con leche (rice pudding), and more.  I miss the nostalgia, pride, and comfort those foods bring me when I’m away at college and I’d like to bring myself and others those feelings by learning to cook them.  Eventually as I grew up more and more non-Cuban foods were a part of my diet until I didn’t eat any at all unless my grandparents came to visit and my grandmother cooked them.  But now…now I’m going to make them and make them great. 

This blog is inspired by Julie Powell’s book Julie & Julia.  She kept a blog about her attempt, successful attempt I should add, to cook 524 Julia Child recipes in 365 days.  My goal is to master classic Cuban recipes this summer.  I will be trying several each week and blogging about it.  (I’ve already done flan, which I will write about.)  I’ll be taking most recipes from various cookbooks here at home or the internet.  I’m not so sure if I’ll be cooking recipes that involve meat.  The only meat I’ve ever cooked is ground beef and I’m just getting over my raw meat phobia so we’ll see if I actually cook some.  Perhaps towards the end of the summer I’ll be making Rabo Encendido (Oxtail Stew) :D.  Ready or not, here I come.