Carmen’s Flan de Queso (Cheese Flan)


The one dessert that is always present at all of my family’s gatherings is this flan. My aunt, Carmen, makes it for every occasion. It is not your typical jiggly flan. This one is firm, creamy, and substantial.

The first time I wanted to make the flan, I called my aunt and asked her for the recipe. I never learned how to make the recipe because I had no need to. She always brought a flan to all events.

I purchased the ingredients needed and started making it. I noticed that the condensed milk can had a recipe for flan… my aunt’s recipe was pretty much the same. All these years I thought my family was making the most delicious and unique flan. It was like the moment when Phoebe and Monica from Friends realize that Phoebe’s cookie recipe was simply the Nestle Toll House recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag.

The only difference is that my aunt adds a little something extra to her flan: 1/4 cup of Amaretto or Grand Marnier.

I substitute the vanilla extract for the seeds from a vanilla bean. I love seeing the little specks of vanilla throughout the flan.

It might pretty much be the recipe from the back of a can, but it’s still my aunt’s recipe in my eyes. And a bite of it still reminds me of being home with family.


Carmen’s Flan de Queso (Cheese Flan)
Adapted from the recipe on the back of the Carnation condensed milk can.

1 1/2 cups sugar
8 ounces cream cheese cut into one inch cubes, and brought to room temperature
1 can condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
5 eggs
1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
1/4 cup Amaretto or Grand Marnier (you can substitute 1 teaspoon almond extract or 1/2 teaspoon orange extract)

You will need a bundt cake pan. I use a silicone one. Also, a deep roasting pan (about 13 X 9 inches) for a bain marie.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Place the bundt cake pan inside the roasting pan and set aside.

In a small saucepan, place the sugar over medium heat. You want the sugar to melt and turn a deep caramel color. Swirl the pan every once in a while to ensure that all of the sugar melts. Once most of the sugar has melted, turn the pan to low to avoid burning the caramel. Pour the caramel in the bottom of the bundt pan.

In a blender, place the cream cheese, condensed milk, evaporated milk, eggs, Grand Marnier, and Amaretto. Scrape in the seeds from the vanilla bean. Blend until completely smooth.

Pour mixture into bundt pan. Assemble bain marie: carefully add hot water to the roasting pan to 1 inch depth or 1/3 up from the bottom of the bundt pan.

Bake for 50 minutes to an hour. The flan should be firm at the edges, but still jiggle in the center. Remove pans from the oven. Remove flan from the hot water. Let come to room temperature. Refrigerate for 2 hours, until cold, or overnight. Remove from the refrigerator 10 minutes prior to serving. Gently run a thin metal spatula around the rim of the mold and invert into a serving dish. Pour any caramel around the flan. Remove any caramel pieces that have solidified.


Cassoulet Feast Wine Dinner at 2941 Restaurant in Falls Church

2941 Interior

(photo credit: 2941 Restaurant)

2941 Restaurant had its 5th annual Cassoulet Feast Wine Dinner this past Sunday and I had the opportunity to attend along with friends Kyle, Laetitia, Cecile, and Jess.


Chef Bertrand Chemel prepared a Catalan style cassoulet with lamb and saffron. Sommelier Jonathan Schuyler provided wine pairings from Chain Bridge Wine Cellars.

The evening started with a cava reception.


Our first course, jamon Mangalica and warm asparagus with olive oil. Paired with conceito, Contraste, Doura, Portugal (2012). I’ve had the opportunity to work with Mangalitsa in the past. It really shines in charcuterie.

Mangalica and Asparagus

Our main was the Spanish cassoulet, a simple presentation with a Spanish twist on the classic dish. It consisted of roasted lamb loin, lamb confit, homemade chorizo, morcilla, and saffron alubias. Two wine pairings were featured: Domaine Crox, Tradition, Monervois, France (2000), and Dom, Saint Etienne, les Molieres, Cote du rhone, Rhone, France (2000).


Dessert was a duo that consisted of Torta de Aceite, with olive oil ice cream and olive oil confit, and cinnamon & chocolate cremeux with almond and blood orange. Pastry Chef Caitlin Dysart’s torta de aceite was a miniature version of the classic Torta de Aceite from Sevilla (the brand Ines Rosales is available at some Whole Foods Markets). The olive oil ice cream was smooth and creamy, a perfect contrast to the crisp torta. I’m a fan of olive oil in desserts, so it’s no surprise that this was my favorite.


Sommelier Jonathan Schuyler served us a pour of this amazing Pedro Jiménez jerez with dessert. Go buy a bottle now! It’s that good. It was intense, sweet, complex, and a revelation to all of us. A perfect ending to our evening.


Yes, this is how much wine we had at table 6. Also, after a full dinner, we still polished off the bowl of caramel popcorn that was brought after dessert.
Wine Tasting

2941 Restaurant has a Spice Dinner coming up on Sunday, March 23, eight courses for $68. Don’t miss it!

Disclosure: Dinner was complimentary. I was not required to write a post. All opinions are my own.

Rosemary, Pecan, & Raisin Crisps

Rosemary pecan and raisin crisps-5

Raincoast crisps have been a secret addiction of mine for longer than I care to admit. But as much as I love them, I always do a double take at the $10 price tag.

I first saw the recipe on the kitchn, and the recipe is much easier than you would expect. You are basically making a savory biscotti. The best part is that the recipe makes 72. Also, the crisps keep remarkably well. Mine kept well for close to two weeks in an airtight cookie jar. There were none left after that, so I don’t know if they will keep beyond that. That said, they won’t be as perfectly crisp as the same day that they were baked. I’d recommend that you bake them on the day you are going to serve them, or the day before.

My only regret is that I waited so long to try out the recipe. I made a few changes: swapped some of the AP flour with whole wheat, soaked the raisins in a warm orange juice and Cointreau mixture, and added a bit of orange zest. Also, added much more rosemary.

To get the perfect shape, you will need 3 mini loaf pans. Although there is no reason why you can’t make them in two standard loaf pans. Just make sure that the loaves are cooked through.

Rosemary pecan and raisin crisps-6

Rosemary, Pecan, and Raisin Crisps
Adapted from Dinner with Julie
(Makes 72)

3 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon Cointreau (or use orange juice)
1 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups buttermilk
finely grated peel of 1/2 small orange
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup whole pecans, cut in half
1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Pour the orange juice and Cointreau in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. When the liquid comes to a simmer, add in the raisins, turn off the heat, and stir well. Let the raisins plump up in the liquid for 10 minutes. The raisins should absorb all of the liquid after 10 minutes.
3. In a large bow, mix the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, and salt. Whisk to combine.
In another bowl or large measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, grated orange peel, brown sugar, and honey. Whisk to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula. Then add in the raisins (strain them if they did not absorb all of the liquid), and also add in the pecans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, ground flax seeds, and rosemary. Mix until combined.
4. Divide batter among 3 mini loaf pans (5.75 x 3.25 x 2.25 inches). Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on a wire rack until completely cool to the touch. Freeze until ready to make crisps.

Rosemary pecan and raisin crisps-2

5. When you are ready to bake them. Remove from the freezer and slice as thin as possible. Place slices on an ungreased cookie sheet on a single layer. Bake on the first side for 15 minutes, then flip them and bake for an additional 10 minutes. They will be crisp and golden brown. Let the crisps cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Rosemary pecan and raisin crisps-3

Rosemary pecan and raisin crisps-4

Happy Valentine’s Day! (and a decadent chocolate cake recipe)

Triple Chocolate Bypass Cake-1

Let me start by saying that I’m not a big chocolate lover. I ate enough chocolate for a lifetime during my childhood, my life quota of chocolate was filled long ago. Most of my friends, however, are huge chocolate lovers.

This recipe from Cooking Slow by Andrew Schloss is for hardcore chocolate lovers. It’s rich, decadent, and fudgy. It does take 4 hours to bake at 175°F, but it’s all unattended baking time.

A little sliver of this cake goes a long way. And if you are a fan of slow cooking then definitely check out the book. The cooking slow method is convenient but also produces great results: tender meats, softer custards, and creamy casseroles. There is a recipe for garlic ginger lobster in the book which is spectacular and delicious, will be writing about it soon.

Triple Chocolate Bypass Cake-2

Triple Chocolate Bypass Cake
Adapted from Cooking Slow by Andrew Schloss

vegetable oil spray
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 lb semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
8 large egg yolks
raspberries and blackberries for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 175°F.
2. You will need an 8 inch round springform pan. Coat sides and bottom with vegetable oil spray and line bottom with parchment paper. Place pan on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
3. Add heavy cream and brown sugar to a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the chocolate, turn heat off, and stir until chocolate is completely melted. Add in the salt, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Stir well. Add in the egg yolks and mix until combined. Pour mixture into prepared pan.
4. Bake for about 4 hours, or until surface of the cake is solid but still soft and jiggly in the center. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack. Refrigerate until firm.
5. When you are ready to plate, run a knife or small spatula around the sides of the cake, remove ring, invert onto a plate and remove the parchment paper. Then invert again on a serving platter. Serve with fruit and a dusting of cocoa powder or powdered sugar.

Triple Chocolate Bypass Cake-3

Hope you have a happy Valentine’s day! The chocolate cake is long gone, but I will be indulging in these petit fours & macarons.

Petit Four macarons vday-1

Disclosure: I received a review copy of Cooking Slow, all opinions are my own.

Washington, DC: Bidwell at Union Market


Last week I had the chance to visit the new Bidwell at Union Market. My friend Olga was invited to check it out and took me as her +1. We arrived early in the evening on a Tuesday. It was fairly empty when we got there, but it quickly started to fill up.

The restaurant is named after General John Bidwell, an Army General in the 1800’s who was an avid farmer and developed the Bidwell melon. The restaurant’s logo is inspired by a cross-section of the flower shaped melon.

Chef John Mooney’s dishes feature local & sustainably sourced ingredients. In the spring, they will start growing some of their produce right on the roof of Union Market.

The menu is diverse and features light dishes such as fluke sashimi and lobster tacos, but it also includes more filling comfort food like braised short ribs over mashed potatoes and raclette grilled cheese.

Scott, the restaurant manager, and Inez, the kitchen supervisor, expertly explained the dishes and pointed out the featured ingredients. The staff was warm and friendly and really on point with service despite it being a brand new restaurant. They really run the kitchen like a well oiled machine.

My favorite dishes were the delicate fluke sashimi, the flavorful lobster tacos with avocado cream sauce, the crisp and tender pork belly, the perfectly grilled lamb chops, and the roasted oysters.

Also, I really liked the canella margarita. The cinnamon does not overpower the drink, it just gives it a hint of warmth and spice. Another hit was the house-made thousand islands sauce, a great combo of tart and sweet, colored with beets. It’s perfect for dipping your french fries.

Both Olga and I agree that we must go back soon. Bidwell already started serving brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. We were advised to get there early for brunch, as it quickly starts to fill up.

On the list for my next visit: the raclette grilled cheese with a slow poached egg, the house-made burrata with roasted beets and hazelnut, and the fish and chips which seemed to be one of the most popular dishes.

Check out some iPhone photos of the dishes we tried:

The canella margarita: a perfect mix of sweet and sour, with warming cinnamon.
Bidwell Beverages

Inez, expertly demonstrating how to use their vintage meat slicer that dates to the 1920s. If Bidwell ever wants to get rid of it, I’m happy to take it off their hands.
Vintage Hand Cranked Meat Slicer

Charcuterie and cheese platter, with toasted flatbread, crisp bread, and honey.

Pear and Point Reyes blue cheese salad with pecans and raisins. Lobster taco with a creamy avocado-tomatillo-jalapeño sauce.
Bidwell Pear Gorgonzola Salad Lobster Taco

Fluke sashimi with chives, cilantro & mint, a hint of jalapeño, grapefruit segments, and citrus marinade. Delaware oysters.
Fluke and Oysters

Roasted oysters with garlic butter, bacon, and Parmesan.

Crisp pork belly and arugula. Grilled lamb chops.
Pork Belly and Lamb

Braised short ribs with mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, and pan juice. Brussels sprouts with bacon.
Short Ribs and Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Caramelized banana bread pudding with vanilla bean creme anglaise.
Caramelized Banana Bread Pudding

Thanks to Olga for inviting me to come along, and to Bidwell and Gail Schoenberg PR for a great evening.

Bidwell at Union Market
1309 5th St NE
Washington, DC 20002

Disclosure: Our dinner was complimentary. I was not required to write a post. All opinions are my own.