Merecumbé is my trademark, I chose it back at culinary arts school when I was working on my final project, creating a restarurant. It means a musical rythm, a fusion between Colombian Cumbia and the Merengue of the Caribbean. In Panama, my country, it has different connotations, usually referring to things that are a mess, but work well together... like jazz. A Merecumbé is likely to start before a bigger problem. In my culinary world everything is possible as long as it remains ordained by tecnique and discipline. It is by those two pilars that I support having the craziness around.

Friday, November 26, 2010

10 Minute Pasta!!!

     It's Friday and I am sick in bed with the flu, I've been craving veggies and something fresh but don't feel well enough to stand up through a long cooking process. Since I didn't go to the groceries store I have to fix a meal with whatever I have in the pantry, and I find: butter, frozen fresh ricotta raviolis, garlic, one big tomato, some mushrooms, and dried basil leaves. This is what I made:

Ingredients for 1 person:

5 large raviolis
1 large tomato, peeled and cut into cubes
5 mushrooms, cut in small dice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch pepper
pinch dried basil
Parmesan cheese

1. Put a small pot of water to boil.
2. put butter in a small pan with butter and garlic and heat on low for 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and cook for 3 minutes removing constantly, add salt and tomatoes and cook on high for 3 more minutes, don't leave it alone because it may now stick to the bottom. You want to cook it on high so you sauteé.
3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta so everything is ready at the same time
4. Finally add pepper and basil to add aroma.
5. Plate pasta and add the sauce with Parmesan cheese and voila!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lactose Free Carrot Cake Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting

       One of the things I love about teaching is the constant need of studying and searching I need to do to keep up with my student's needs and expectations. Private lessons are special because you really get to ask your teacher what you want to learn, and as a teacher you learn as well. I have a lactose intolerant student who doesn't take no for an answer and we've made the most incredible lactose free recipes. Fortunately you can find several lactose free products and substitutes in the market and with a little imagination the sky is the limit. Today I am sharing a lactose free pseudo cream cheese frosting recipe for carrot cake cup cakes, you can try it with other cakes such as red velvet and it would be lovely too. I will tell you the brand of the products I used because the result was like the real thing and even better!

3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup Earth Balance Vegan buttery sticks (sold at Organica, here in Panama)
 8 oz  of Toffuti Better Than Cream Cheese imitation cream cheese, plain (Riba Smith Supermarket)
4 teaspoons of vanilla extract

1. Beat all the ingredients together
2. Pipe a pastry bag
3. decorate cupcakes
4. enjoy

To place Xmas orders contact me, I can also make red velvet!!!



Monday, November 22, 2010

Light and Quick... Salmon with Potatoes and Asparagus

     Today I taught Aida one of my surviving glamorously and easy healthy recipes. I was inspired by Mediterranean cuisine, which is always fresh and nutritionally balanced. We made a  pan seared with olive oil salmon for protein which has rich omega fatty acids. Accompanied by potatoes that were sauteed with a pinch of butter,  for carbohydrates. Asparagus, red pearl onions, chives, and tarragon,  for veggies. You can cook all of it in 30 minutes and arrange it beautifully on a plate. Who said a fancy meal had to be complicated?

Contact me for Private Cooking Classes!



Friday, November 19, 2010

Obtaining Cacao from scratch...

Cocoa comes from the cacao beans that grow in the cacao tree. From cocoa we make cocoa powder, chocolate and cocoa butter. I am going to briefly explain how we process the cacao beans to get the pure cocoa powder.

1. Collect the cacao beans and toast them without burning them. This process can be made in a oven, a skillet or in the sun. This is how the beans look when they are unpeeled.

2. Peel the beans, I did it by hand. I am sure industries have other mechanisms but that is not my intention to show here. So here is how the beans look during and after they are peeled.

3. Milling and Grinding process, I used the same mill used  to process corn and it worked fine, I just had to process it several times adding more pressure as I advanced, it was fast.

4. Last stop is to sift it. To store I decided to freeze it vacuum packed because the nature of this process is so rudimentary. You can also use freeze Ziploc  Remember this is super concentrated unsweetened cocoa with all its fat content, it is great for mole sauce.

5. So this is what a real chocoholic chef does, learns how to get her real cocoa and have it to!


Panama Roots... The Embera Drua, What they Eat?

     Last summer my friend Arianne was here in Panama on vacations, she is Panamanian but lives in Italy right now. She is my most adventurous friend and I love traveling with her, we are like two Monica Gellers from the show Friends. We love having the perfect schedule, the route, the munchies, and the most important: the company. We decided to go to the northeast side of the rio Chagres where there is a reservation of indigenous people called the Embera Drua. The trip began at the Alajuela lake where we took a canoe.

Arianne and I

    The voyage was incredible, it was something like a little glance at our fauna and flora. We saw eagles, hummingbirds, herons... dragon flies flirting with the water, and butterflies fluttering all around. Not to mention the trees! If you looked closely you would see several Panama Trees, and a very tepid rainforest, part of the National Chagres Park. The Chagres River provides almost 50% of the water that is necessary for the Panama Canal to function, and it also supplies two of the biggest cities in the country, Panama and Colon.

When we arrived the Embera Drua received us cheerfully at the shore, they all gathered to welcome us. They took us to a ranch with wooden floor for visitors and gave us a brief explanation on how they arrived to the river. We were told that back in the 70's they migrated from Darien to the city, but never could adapt.  It is then when they established in this zone. They now conform about 20 families in this community.

Me with the Embera girls

They later explained to us their garments and the way they dress. Men wear a loincloths and women a top made with beads (originally was made with seeds), coins, and a skirt made with very colorful prints. Before they used cloth for their skirts, they used the bark of a tree. Now a days they go to the city and shop for fabrics. As part of their culture they paint their bodies with some sort of tattoos that last for weeks. The Embera Drua  make crafts with palm tree leafs that they dye, and with these fibers they make baskets, plates, vessels. They use a root called yuquilla to make yellow and green tones, achiote for orange, and teak leafs for read. For brown they use the bark of the cocobolo tree, mud for black, wild fruits for blue and different blends for shades of purple and pink. To make jewelry and sculptures they  work with the seeds of the Tagua palm tree, and dry it and paint it  They work very well with the cocobolo wood, and make a strong point not to varnish it, but to polish it to make it glossy. There is a small market in the community for visitors.
Indigenous women working her crafts

I was very interested to know what they ate in this community. I have to confess I had imagined a more diverse, seasoned repertoire. Their eating habits are based essentially in carbohydrates such as yucca, plantain, and rice. As a main source of protein they have fish such as Tilapia and Sargento which are from the river Chagres. Vitamins and minerals are supplied by fruits. The culinary techniques that are applied are deep frying, baking, and boiling. When I asked if they had any traditional dish they said no, that their diet was based on what natured supplied. Then a women made clear they had a ''rice bollo''. This dish was nothing more than unsalted boiled rice wrapped in a Bijao leaf that keeps it warm, so you can take it with you while you are working, like a lunchbox. Before and after each meal they wash their hands in a container that has water with basil.

  Water with basil vessel
The menu was fried tilapia with patacones (fried green plantain) and for dessert, fruits. The tilapia is a small river fish that looks more less like a trout, but with a more delicate flavor; it has white flesh and its very tender. The bones are very well structured and easy to find. My culinary discovery was finding out the tagua seeds are edible when they are fresh, and that their flavor resembles that of coconut water with a coconut texture. These are found during the rainy season, I am thinking... Ice cream!!!

I hope you enjoyed this culinary adventure, specially this month of November when we celebrate Panama's month, I think it is very important to remember who our people is and what are nature is.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fancy + Fresh + French

      Sea Scallops, Beurre Blanc and Puff Pastry with Baby Carrots, Wild Mushrooms and Baby Peas...Simple yet sophisticated, like most French food is. Butter, omnipresent, both in the sauce and in the puff pasty. Get your sea scallops from your local market, have them fresh, not frozen. Pan sear them, cooking them with olive oil! Buy frozen puff pastry if you don't want to make your own, I use the brand Pepperidge Farm whenever I don't have time to make it and it works for me. Eigther choose this veggies or pick the ones that are in season and just pre cook and sautee. Beurre blanc is very easy and fast, it is fresh and tangy. Here is a plating idea so you can indulge your family and friends with this delicious French stylish culinary idea.

From my cooking class with the Carles Ferrer  family

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Sexy Must Have... Individual Molten Chocolate Cakes

     Yes, its sexy... Yes, its individual. Off course you can share, but please have your own piece! This easy to make individual molten chocolate cake is a romantic dessert that will make you look and feel great.  You can decorate it with whipped cream, ice cream, berries, chocolate sauce... The secret for success in this recipe is to use really good dark chocolate and butter and to respect the temperatures and cooking times. You want to create two different densities, one is the cakey texture and the other one is the fudgy texture from the truffle we put inside the cake. Bake it just until it puffs in the oven and its warm inside, let it rest a little so you can unmold and it eat it warm. Here is how it goes.

Yield: 8
For The Truffles

4 ounces of dark chocolate (85% cocoa)
3 tablespoons half and half
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 cup of confectioners sugar

1. Melt the butter and chocolate with the half and half in the microwave.
2. Stir it constantly to cool.
3. Line a tray with parchment paper.
4. Pour chocolate in a Ziploc and make 8 truffles on top of   the paper. Cool in the refrigerator at least 15 minutes.

For The Cake

5 oz of dark chocolate (85% cocoa)
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 cup of sugar
5 tablespoons of flour
confectioners sugar to dust cakes
8 strawberries

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F
2. Cut 8 circles of parchment paper the size of the bottom of the ramekins.
3. Grease the molds with butter.
4. Put the parchment paper on the bottom of each mold.
5. Melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave, stir to cool.
6. Beat the sugar and eggs with the sugar until it is 3 sizes bigger in volume.
7. Add the chocolate mixture and slowly beat to combine.
8. Fold in the flour.
9. Pour the batter into the molds, filling them half way.
10. Add 1 truffle to each cake.
11. Bake 15 to 20  minutes. Allow them to rest for 10 minutes before unmolding. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and top with a strawberry.

Another option is to leave the cake in the ramekin, but be careful beacause it will be very hot!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

How to Keep it Healthy Arround the Holidays

     It is that time of the year. People at work will start thinking about food and bring extra goodies at the work place. You will start receiving extra invitations for family dinners, friends get together, co workers end of the year celebrations, and the list goes on. There are three turkeys in your freezer, a ham, frozen tamales... You are getting unexpected gifts such as: rum cake, fruitcake, decorated sugar cookies, kourambiedes, gingerbread, brownies, eggnog.... The traffic is terrible, you are tired... your schedule is all wrong, you are not working out... STOP!!!

1. You don't have to eat all those goodies this month of the year. Here is tip, get some plastic tupper wares and freeze whatever you can such as: cake, brownies, some cookies...

2. Do not feel obligated to eat Holiday treats, it happens every year. If it overwhelms you, drop it.

3. Try and make sometime to at least work out three times a week to release stress.

4. Think Green... Here is how.

    Have some salad to refresh your soul and cleanse your body and mind. You can add protein if you want to make it your main course. Here I give you two ideas to make green colorful and satiating.

Asian Marinated Tuna Tataky with Baby Greens, Cashew Vinaigrette and Red Bell Pepper Syrup

Grilled Asparagus, Cantaloupe, Mozzarella di Buffalla, Pine Nuts, Crunchy Serrano Ham and Spearmint Vinaigrette

For more salad ideas do not hesitate to consult me, remember keeping it fresh is always a great idea to maintain control of your eating habits. This way you wont feel as bad if you indulge your self with some guilty pleasures around the holidays. In the end, the best part is enjoying with your loved ones.



Working with Fondant... A great way to Relax

     This past November holidays I went to my Mother's house at  El Valle de Antón, a beautiful place here in Panama where the weather is chill and very very humid, not to good for fondant though. I had a week off so I packed some ingredients and tools and off course, my most important thing, my pets: Nina (chihuahua) and Oliver (my sister's, Mona Lisa, Pomeranian). I've been meaning to practice my cake decorating skills for a while now, but never find the time to do so. My family and friends have all been encouraging me to dedicate more time to baking and making sweet treats because they believe I have a special touch for it, I believe its called a sweet tooth.
   I do love making crafts and in order to decorate and finish some pastries and cakes you must like paying attention to details. Never forget that everything that   is edible should taste good. I really hate it when you grab a purple or fuchsia cupcake at a children's party or a beautiful fondant decorated brownie at a baby shower and they just taste like Pepto! What is the point of making it pretty if it tastes like %&$# ??? There is nothing better than finding that perfect balance between cake and frosting! For example:

Rose Buds Chocolate Cake
  • Flour less dark chocolate cake with chocolate ganache: sure, you have to be an admitted chocoholic like me  for this one, but here is how it works... inside it is rich, dense, fudgy. Outside it is creamy, refreshing, and decorative! To make it fancier: tiny gum paste pastel or white flowers, gold or silver powder, white or dark chocolate curls...
  • Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting: a classic! forget about extra sweet frosting or too buttery, keep it cheesy with a touch of a top quality vanilla extract. You can make a cake or cupcakes, and with this type of frosting you can play along.. Frost with an offset spatula in different shapes, pipe it, make flowers, color your frosting... add sprinkles, sugar crystals...
  • Yellow Cake with Buttercream: this is a classic birthday cake which you can actually layer and fill with more buttercream or try different fillings such as... .dulce de leche, ganache, berries, flavored buttercreams... The piping techniques are the best to decorate the buttercream frosting and you can color it and create multiple designs. You can of course make cupcakes too!!!

    So, when it comes to making cake decorating something more fancy the trend is to use fondant. I like to have my cake and eat it to, so if fondant is not going to taste good... I prefer a traditional buttercream cake. In fact, my all time favorite birthday cake is a very traditional one here in Panama from a very famous bakery called MOMI. It is the most inexpensive cake ever, the cutest 70's style buttercream frosted yellow cake, with three layers of ''manjar blanco'' which is our dulce de leche, it is to die for. My last birthday I order it with purple roses =)
    Since I am a curious chef and food lover I have tried many different types of fondant at weddings, parties, bakeries. I have done my research and the best thing I ever read about it is that fondant usually ends up in the plate like an orange rind, people just don't like eating it, but somehow love seeing it and most of all ordering and buying it. I told you I did my research didn't I? So there is a type of fondant that does taste good... It is homemade, It is not that expensive... and it is very fun to work with.. It is called marshmallow fondant. Its made with marshmallows, so it tastes like marshmallows. I made it in 10 minutes and you can keep it for weeks in your refrigerator.
   So on that rainy week at El Valle I melted my marshmallows, kneaded my fondant with powdered sugar, tinted different shades.. baked some cakes and played inside the kitchen like I did when I was 8. That's what I love about cake decorating, even though now a days one takes it more seriously... as a job.. one's inner child is always present reminiscent of those rainy days, when you where stuck inside the house. Nothing was better than baking goodies and dusting the entire kitchen with flour! Let it rain...