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Ah!  The traditional Northern Italian dish: Ossobuco; veal shank cooked in broth and wine and seasoned with vegetables and herbs. Mmmm!

Eleven years ago this week, one week shy of my first wedding anniversary, my husband Emilio attended a fishing tournament in the Dominican Republic, so I took off to a mother and daughter weekend getaway to the Spa at the Disney Institute in Orlando, Florida.   I believe this place is now open exclusively for corporate events, but at the time we attended, they had photography, animation, film, art and cooking workshops along with the typical massage, facial and exercise routine commonly found in spas.  Of course, foodies after all, we chose the 3 day cooking workshop which that weekend was devoted to Italian Cuisine.  We spent about 5 hours daily in the hands-on cooking classes and enjoyed olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar tastings.  The chefs were knowledgeable and the facilities superb. Each of us had our own cooking station, the ingredients were fresh and the assistants to the chefs always ready to lend a helping hand. From the basic fresh egg pasta to Ossobuco, we learned to make traditional italian dishes that I have used as guidelines to cook for my family and friends throughout the years.

Mom and I at the Disney Institute Spa and Italian Cooking Course May 1999

Ossobuco means “hollow bone” referring to the bone marrow of the veal shank used to make this dish.  Veal is the meat of young cattle (calves).  Its meat is tender, but the savory veal shank cut (lower part of the leg) can be a bit tough due to connective tissue and cartilage.  This kind of cut is best when braised (cooking method in which the meat is first seared or browned in fat in high heat and then cooked in broth and/or liquid in low heat).  When the veal shank is braised, the meat becomes very tender (you will not need a knife) and the bone marrow releases collagen which is then turned  into gelatin and along with the melted connective tissue helps in the thickening and flavor of the sauce.  The sauce also includes the “holy trinity” of italian cooking; onions, carrots and celery.

I only make Ossobuco when I have guests or for special occasions because it is a dish that takes a long time to make.  This is not something I would make during week days and I make sure I will not be rushed during the day I decide to make it.  After I cut and measure all ingredients, I start to sear the seasoned-flour coated veal shanks in a large roasting pan over my gas stove. Then I cover it with foil paper when ready to put in the oven.  If you make this recipe for 4 persons use a dutch oven or covered oven proof deep pan in which the shanks are close to each other and the liquid covers the meat at least half way up.  This modern version of Ossobuco Milanese goes well with mashed potatoes, polenta or Risotto Milanese.  I like to sprinkle it with Gremolata.  FYI, an older version of Ossobuco in Bianco (no tomatoes) is made with broth, cinnamon, allspice, laurel leaves, wine and Gremolata.

Buon Appetito!

Ossobuco

serves 4-5 persons

Ingredients

4 pounds veal shanks, about 4-5 pieces ( 1 1/2 inches thick and 5 inches wide each piece)

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp salt

pepper to taste

2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup of carrots

1 1/2 cups onions, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

5 garlic cloves, minced

1  cup of dry white wine

1 -14 1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes

1 1/2 cups of veal or beef stock

2 bay leaves

5 sprigs of fresh thyme

about 2 tbsp of coarsely chopped italian parsley (flat leaf)

1 tbsp freshly squeezed bitter orange- naranja agria (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

Gremolata

Procedure

1.  Preheat ovean 350º F.

2.  Mix flour, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Taste flour to ensure enough seasoning has been added.  Proceed to generously dredge the veal shanks coating them evenly.

3.  Heat extra virgin olive oil (medium) in stovetop just below smoke point.  I use my large roasting pan when I make it for a large group of people.  For this recipe, use a dutch oven, casserole or an oven proof sauté pan with lid where you can fit the veal shank close together and the liquids come at least  halfway up the sides of the meat.  Add the seasoned veal shanks to the hot oil to sear until golden brown on both sides (about 7 minutes each side).  Once veal is browned, remove the shanks to a clean plate.

4.  Immediately add onions, celery and carrots to the pan and sauté until onion is translucent and carrots golden brown.

5.  Add minced garlic and sauté briefly.

6.  Add white wine to deglaze pan. Scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon or spatula to remove all of the flavorful bits still clinging to the pan.

7.  Return veal shanks and its juices to the pan and reduce wine by 3/4.

8.  Add diced tomatoes, veal or beef stock and bring to a soft boil.

9.  Add orange juice and herbs.  Liquids should come at 3/4 up the veal shanks. Cover and place in the oven for 45 minutes. When timer goes off, check that enough stock remains to cover at least 1/2 of the veal shanks. Baste the meat with the juices which should be simmering gently. Reset time for 45 more minutes.

Braised Ossobuco

10.  Remove casserole/pan from oven and check for doneness.  Meat should fall readily from the bone. Taste the sauce and add more salt and pepper if necessary.  If sauce is too thin for your taste, remove meat form the pan to a serving dish or tray.  Place sauce in a small sauce pan and reduce to the desired consistency.  Transfer veal shanks to serving plates and top with the sauce.  You may also garnish with Gremolata, a mixture of lemon zest, garlic and italian parsley.

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We inherited flans from many cultural influences.  Back in Roman times people would make savory flans from the surplus of eggs and other ingredients in their “pantry” (spices, spinach, honey, eel, etc.).  Centuries later in Spain and France, sweet flans started to flourish with caramel syrup as well as with other spices and nuts like almonds that the Moors (north africans, muslims and arabs) brought with them to the Iberian peninsula. Now flans are popular desserts in Latin American countries and are known worldwide.  I dare to say that some sort of flan is offered in the dessert menu of almost every restaurant in Puerto Rico!

Note:  The detachable baking dish used for making quiche is called a “flan tin” because in England open pastries filled with savory fillings are also called flans.

This recipe for simple Vanilla Flan is the basis for many variations. There is cheese flan, coconut flan, pumpkin flan, pear flan, guava flan, basil flan, strawberry flan and the list keeps going on and on like Bubba (inside joke for those of you who have seen the movie Forest Gump).  Anyway, it is a simple dessert to make and a crowd pleaser. Of course, flan is always made in bain-marie to successfully make the custard.  FYI, the bain-marie allows the flan to cook evenly in the center without creating a crust on the outside.  I use a 9 inch round metal mold with a hole in the middle, but you may also use an 8- 9 inch round crystal Pyrex or metal mold or double the recipe and make a large rectangular crystal mold.  Serve with mint, berries, ice cream, whipped cream or alone. Sometimes I over beat mixture and the vanilla flan has small holes inside, but it won’t alter the taste just the texture.  The flans I make that include mascarpone or cream cheese are always creamier (like cheesecake) and also delicious (will post recipes in the near future).

About 5 years ago, we rented a house in Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic for a summer vacation.  Our beautiful house had great accommodations, a beautiful view and a great cook.  One day Josefina made vanilla flan for our group and, you know me, always looking to learn new things in the kitchen, saw that she splashed dark rum and lemon zest in the vanilla flan mixture. That detail elevated the flan from good to outstanding giving it a lovely after taste!  She made it almost everyday after that.  We returned back to Puerto Rico rested, relaxed and with about 2-3 more pounds!

Here is my recipe for Vanilla Flan (Flan de Vainilla).  Enjoy!

Vanilla Flan (Flan de Vainilla)

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

5 eggs

1 14 oz. can condensed milk

1 12 fl. oz can evaporated milk

1/2 cup fresh milk

1 tsp dark rum

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

dash of salt

Procedure

1.  Preheat oven 350º F.

2.  To make caramel put sugar in a sauce pan (I melt it directly in my metal mold in the stove top) and heat (med) until sugar starts to melt and turns light-medium brown in color. About 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Then pour into baking mold immediately making sure the bottom and sides of the mold are covered with some caramel.  Let rest for a few minutes to harden a bit.  Note:  make sure you are not distracted or have children running around in the kitchen while you are making caramel, it is very hot and can cause serious burns on the skin.


3. In a bowl, beat eggs with a whisk or electric mixer with whisk attachment.  Add milks, vanilla, salt and rum and beat until fully incorporated.  (DO NOT OVER BEAT SO THAT  YOU DON’T GET AIR BUBBLES INSIDE THE FLAN). Pass mixture through a strainer.  Add lemon zest and lightly mix with a fork or spoon into mixture.

4.  Pour mixture over caramel in baking mold.  Place mold in lower portion of broiler pan or roast pan and fill with hot water that comes almost half way up the sides of the baking pan to create a bain-marie or “baño de maría”.

5.  Bake for 45-50 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a knife in the middle. It should come out clean.

6.  Let cool on your counter top a bit before you cover with foil paper and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

7.  To serve, take out of refrigerator and let rest for about 15 minutes. With a knife or spatula carefully separate flan from sides of the pan (inside as well if using pan with a hole in the middle). You will notice caramel will come up the sides once it is separated and ready to turn over.

8.  Place serving dish on top of baking pan and turn over quickly.  Scrape remaining caramel with a spatula and pour over flan. Serve chilled.  (If you are going to put it in the refrigerator, cover so that it doesn’t become dry or hard).

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A few months ago, we travelled to Orlando, Florida to attend a tradeshow related to my husband’s business.  My brother and sister in law who live in South Florida, Mandy and Frances, met us there.  One afternoon, Frances and I took a break from the show to go shopping in Orlando’s world famous outlet malls as well as browse at upscale shops.  One of our stops was at The Mall at Millenia where we got hungry, so we went to a California Pizza Kitchen Restaurant for lunch.  We shared a white bean hummus as appetizer topped with tomatoes and flat bread and a pizza with mozzarella, fontina and gorgonzola cheeses, thinly sliced pears, caramelized onions, hazelnuts and baby greens (something to try with my bbq homemade pizza recipe with a little white truffle oil of course!).  It was delicious! I had tried white bean hummus before at other restaurants like Cien Vinos in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico and often made traditional chickpea hummus at home.  This variation, is a great appetizer or light lunch. In the months following our trip, I started experimenting with recipes and quantities to make the white bean hummus at home and here is the outcome.  So far, I’ve had great reviews from family and friends!  I want to hear your comments and suggestions.

Enjoy!

Tips:  Before juicing the lemon, grate the lemon zest and use it to make Nieves’ Lemon Bread.  Also, sometimes the solids and oil in tahini (ground hulled sesame seeds) separate, so make sure they are fully incorporated to form a paste by mixing with a spoon before adding to the recipe.


Tuscan White Bean Hummus

Ingredients

white bean hummus

30 ounces canned Cannellini Beans or Alubias (drained)

1/4 cup tahini

6 cloves of garlic peeled (8 if you like it extra garlicky)

1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (1 yellow lemon approximately)

tomato topping

2 roma tomatoes cubed

1 tbsp fresh basil coarsely chopped

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

pepper to taste

pita bread or pita chips

Procedure

1. Place all hummus ingredients in a food processor and pulse a few times to chop ingredients roughly. Then turn on for about 2 minutes until smooth paste is formed. You may add a bit of cold water if you want to reach a smoother consistency.

2.  Meanwhile, mix all the ingredients of the tomato topping in a bowl.

3.  To serve, spoon and spread white bean hummus in a serving plate and top with tomato mixture.  Serve with pita bread, flat bread or pita chips.

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For this family recipe I had to travel a long way to get it. One of those dishes that is one person’s trademark and she makes it without a written recipe. When you ask for the recipe he/she lists the ingredients but cannot tell you the exact amounts…  what a nightmare! Ja, ja!

Nieves showing me how to make her traditional lemon bread Summer 1998

It is a simple lemon bread that reminds me of frequent trips to Spain during my childhood. In the summer of 1997 my younger brothers, in their teens at the time, spent about 3 weeks visiting relatives in Spain in which they asked Nieves (my great-grandmother’s housekeeper, family-nanny, cook and companion for over 60 years and whom we consider to be part of our family) everyday to make the lemon bread for them . I only had the chance to join them for about 1 week and a half because of work, but it a was a summer I will never forget.  We got a chance to spend time with our Spanish cousins, listen to family stories and get to know the Spanish countryside.  In addition, our group of about 15 family members travelled throughout the region in a bus and stayed in “turismo rural” or country homes from former well to do families that had been renovated with government money and turned into bed and breakfasts.  It was a well planned family trip full of history and natural beauty.

Monastery on the Galician countryside Summer 1997

When I got back to Puerto Rico, I met my husband Emilio and by next summer we were already married. So, for part of our honeymoon, we decided to go to Spain since my husband had not visited the country.  One afternoon, upon arrival to our beautiful historic hotel, Hostal de los Reyes Católicos in Santiago de Compostela, Nieves called and invited us for a late lunch.  I said I would go but with the condition that she taught me how to make her world famous lemon bread (I could not return to America without the recipe because my brother Joaco would kill me!). She accepted and in June 1998 she showed me (Emilio recorded the event) how to make it.  It was in a tiny kitchen in the third floor of my great-grandmother’s house on Marina Street in Villagarcia with a small gas oven and in a beaten cake pan with a hole in the middle that wobbled.  She took the sugar, flour, salt, vegetable oil and baking powder from her pantry and eggs, lemon and yogurt (her secret ingredient) from the small fridge.  She did not use measuring cups or spoons. Instead, she used the same cup in which the yogurt came in to measure all ingredients and a soup spoon to measure the baking powder. She used a lot of baking powder in relation to the amount of flour used which for some reason (I will be researching that soon!) makes it more rustic and crumbly, like the texture of corn bread but moist at the same time I guess because of the oil and yogurt (which is why I call it lemon bread instead of cake). I have tried using a lot less baking powder and the result is a delicious smooth fluffy lemon cake, but that’s another recipe. Anyway, she mixed all ingredients with a hand mixer and was very specific about not over mixing and first cooking the cake at approximately 400º f for the first 15 minutes and 350ºf for the remaining 30 minutes to get that golden brown finish.  Once I got back home, I converted the measurements and created a recipe that could be measured in cups and teaspoons and the results were very similar to the original according to my “tasters”.  Great for breakfast on a weekend morning (my kids love it!) or as a snack with coffee or tea.  Also, good with a glass of milk or a scoop of vanilla ice cream for desert…yummy!

Here is my version of Nieves’ Lemon Bread.

PS:  As many of you know, I was in the hospital last week for 4 days, I have no words to thank my family and friends for their company, support and words of encouragement during tough times.  However, I can show them by making this lemon bread for some of them to tell them how grateful I am that they are in my life.

Enjoy!

Nieves’ Lemon Bread

Ingredients

4 eggs

250 g of lemon or vanilla yogurt

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 tbsp baking powder

pinch of salt

zest of one yellow lemon

1 tbsp butter for greasing pan (approximately)

Procedure

1.    Turn oven on 400ºf.  Butter standard loaf pan (approx. 10 x5)

2     In a bowl put flour, baking powder and salt and mix well.

3.  In another bowl, beat eggs. Then add sugar, vegetable oil and yogurt and continue to mix with a whisk or mixer until all ingredients are incorporated for about 2 minutes.

4.  Add flour, salt and baking powder mixture in batches of three. Do not over mix.

5.  Add lemon zest and mix by hand with a spatula or whisk.

6.  Bake at 400º f for 15 minutes and lower to 350ºf for the remaining 30 minutes in middle rack. Do not open oven at any time until finished baking.  Ovens vary so pay attention the first time you make it to make any adjustments.

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