On our second date I invited him over to my apartment for dinner. I'd prepared chicken cooked in a spicy, smoky tomato sauce served over slices of salty boiled plantains. It was the first time I'd ever cooked for a man who was not a friend or family, and I remember not being able to sit still as I waited for him to arrive. I paced the kitchen anxiously; polishing and re-polishing the counter tops, setting out plates, swallowing huge gulps from the bottle of wine I'd used to cook.
He arrived, finally, and attacked me within seconds of entering my door, leaving the chicken I'd made to stew a bit longer. When we finally emerged from the bedroom, disheveled and ravenous, the sauce had thickened and darkened, and the chicken had become a shredded mass of perfection. We ate wrapped in a bed sheet, swallowing gulps of Chianti like it was water. In the morning, I woke to find him standing naked in my kitchen, pulling pieces of chicken cold from the refrigerator.
"I want to watch you cook next time," he told me seriously when I asked him what he was doing. He looked at me then, without removing his hand from the pan. "I think you must cook the way that you kiss."
He was still a stranger at that moment, but he knew something about me that I didn't yet understand. A meal can be as intimate and revealing as a kiss. At the time, I wasn't really sure what he meant, but I suspected it had something to do with passion.
I have a tendency towards excess when cooking. I'll use two vanilla beans in recipes that call for one, heavy cream instead of milk, and regularly toss in an extra ¼ cup (to make up for what gets stuck to the bowl, I say). I zest an entire fruit and call it a teaspoon. I add almond extract to just about everything. I marinate things for days.
I believe in generosity of flavor. I believe in richness, in decadence. I believe in butter. I don't want to make food that merely satisfies; I want to make food that consumes and leaves you a little bit dizzy. The kinds of flavors you dream about, crave, and ask for again and again. I want to spoil you.
I think I cook the way I like to be kissed…
There are a few flavors that I find completely irresistible. Warm, sensual flavors that swoop up and grab me, heating me through and through with their intensity. Bitter almond is the first and favorite of these, followed closely by black cherries, raspberries, passion fruit, and guava. I love these flavors in my food, and often choose perfumes and lotions that allow me to soak them into my skin. (Another college boyfriend used to joke that every beauty product I owned was edible. “You always smell like food!” he told me as he led me through the perfume aisle at Sephora in search of a slightly less esculent scent.)
I've been playing around with these tastes, combining and recreating them in ways that I haven't before. The latest of these dalliances resulted in a decadent guava flan, which (as I mentioned yesterday) begs to be shared with a hungry lover by the light of the refrigerator door. A few of the slightly naughty looking guava shells heaped on top are what give this flan its sensual look, but the secret is really in the musky, tropical flavor of the fruit-infused cream.
Candied Guava Shells in Syrup (casquitos de guayaba)
These will keep refrigerated in the syrup for a few weeks. Serve with "queso blanco," or slightly salty cream cheese as dessert or use in savory recipes. Goes especially well with pork.
4 fresh guava fruit
8 cups of cold water
8 cups of granulated sugar
1 tablespoon of red food coloring
1 tablespoon of almond or vanilla extract
1. Wash and trim the ends of the guava fruit, then peel as thinly as possible. Cut in half and scoop out the seedy pulp. Reserve the pulp and peels for later (you will use these to make the flan).
2. Combine the sugar and water in a large heavy saucepot and place over high heat.
3. When the mixture starts to boil, add the extract and food coloring and stir thoroughly.
4. Add the guava shells and allow to boil for 10 to 15 minutes on each side. They will start to soften and collapse into themselves. Test by pressing gently with a spoon. If they fold easily, then they are ready.
5. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a glass bowl. Top with the remaining syrup and allow to cool completely at room temperature.
To store, transfer to an air-tight container and cover with syrup. These will keep at room temp for a few days and in the fridge even longer. They can also be canned following proper procedure.
Midnight Guava Flan
Pulp & rind of four fresh guava fruit
2 or 3 candied guava shells (recipe above or can be purchased canned)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 cups heavy cream
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped or two tablespoons of Mexican vanilla extract
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
A pinch of salt
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F and set a pot of water (for the bain marie) on the stove to boil.
1. To make the caramel: have ready a round flan mold or deep dish pie plate. Place 1 cup of sugar in Combine 1 cup of the sugar in the center of a skillet and add the water on top. Do NOT stir. Place over medium high heat and let cook until the sugar begins to melt and turn slightly amber colored. (about 5 minutes). Swirl the pan (Do NOT stir) to combine the bits of uncooked sugar. Once completely melted, remove from heat and add lemon juice. Swirl again (No stirring) and then immediately poor into your mold. Swirl the dish so that the caramel completely covers the bottom.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, guava pulp and rinds, and vanilla beans over a medium-low flame. Let the cream simmer, stirring occasionally to blend the pulp in and all the while taking care to not let it come to a full boil (it’ll boil over and make a terrible mess. Even worse, you’ll lose lots of delicious cream!) Strain the mixture completely to remove the seeds, peel, and vanilla beans. Note that it will be a little bit thick from the natural fruit pectins. If too thick, feel free to add a bit of cream to thin. It should be just thick enough to coat the back of the spoon.
3. In a large bowl, cream together the eggs and yolks with the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and the pinch of salt, until the mixture is pale yellow and thick.
4. Temper the egg mixture by gradually whisking in the hot cream mixture. Take care to not add it all in quickly or your eggs will scramble. Pass the mixture through a strainer a second time to keep the consistency as smooth as possible.
5. Pour the custard into the caramel-coated mold and let sit for 20 minutes to an hour to let the foam and bubbles settle (the longer it sits, the fewer bubbles).
6. To prepare the bain marie (water bath): Open your oven and pull out the middle rack. Set a large roasting pan large enough to contain the flan mold in the center of the rack (I actually use a cake pan inside a large cast iron skillet). Place your mold in the center and then fill the water so that it comes up about halfway up the side of the mold (watch that none spills into the custard). Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the custard is just set (it will jiggle a little). Remove from the oven and let cool in the water bath. Once cool, cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (or overnight!).
7. When you are ready to serve, run a wet butter knife around the inside of the mold to loosen from the sides. Place a dessert plate on top of the flan mold and with one hand firmly on each side, flip quickly. The flan should slide out easily and the caramel will melt over the sides.
8. Top with two or three candied guava shells and drizzle a circle of guava syrup around the outside of the dessert.
Enjoy (preferably not alone...)