Guanabana (Sour Sop) Sweets

Bubba got a cool job that requires occasional traveling and on his last trip he brought me some guanabana sweets from this quaint little shop outside of Roldanillo, Valle del Cauca.

Wikipedia does a good job of describing the flavor of guanabana as, "...a combination of strawberry and pineapple with sour citrus flavor notes contrasting with an underlying creamy flavor reminiscent of coconut or banana."

Sounds delicious doesn't it? The citrus notes get a little lost in this candy version but I think I can identify a bit of strawberry and banana on the palate? Or maybe not. Either way they're mighty tasty...


Get Your Tamal at "La Puerta Falsa"

"La Puerta Falsa" is a tiny little restaurant located in La Candelaria - Bogotá's beautiful colonial sector. The building itself is around 400 years old but the restaurant opened its doors in 1816. Since then, the family run business has been serving traditional "santafereño" cuisine like tamales, hot chocolate, agua panela, and just a few other local specialties.

I had heard about this historical landmark and regional culinary hotspot for so long but never knew where it was located. It turns out that I had walked right by it on several occasions never even knowing it was there. The tiny, unassuming entrance just blends in with the centuries-old architecture.

The dish that makes "La Puerta Falsa" so famous is the tamal. Within Colombia you'll find that there are several varieties of tamal depending on what region you're in. Some of the typical components include cooked yellow corn dough (as a base), and then add-ons such as rice, chicken, pork, vegetables, capers, eggs, and much more. All of this is then wrapped in a banana leaf, tied up with some twine, and steamed.

So about a month ago, after visiting one of the wonderful museums in the area, I finally had my first visit. I didn't know exactly what or how to order so, on this occasion I took my dining partner's lead - a tamal (of course) and hot chocolate - a very typical combination here in Bogotá.

What I didn't realize was that the chocolate came accompanied by two slices of buttered bread, an almojabana, and a large slice of fresh cheese. I could have just had that for lunch and been fine but I still had a huge tamal coming too! It was all delicious and well worth it but next time I'll know to order either one or the other - but not BOTH!

In my opinion, La Puerta Falsa is a must if you happen to be in La Candelaria. The food is really good, plentiful, inexpensive, and the location is an important part of Bogotá's culinary heritage. Just don't forget to keep your eyes open so you don't miss it and make sure to bring a large appetite.

Buen Provecho!

La Puerta Falsa
Calle 11 no. 6-50


Chocafé Fudgy Cookies

Saturday September 19th was Día del Amor y la Amistad here in Colombia as well as in several other countries. That's basically the same as Valentine's Day - so, I thought it'd be nice to make some cookies for my beau.

The recipe was originally from an old Cooking Light magazine and my mother and I were drawn to it because in the picture they looked moist and chewy plus they sounded incredibly easy to make. They are in fact very easy to make and even easier to eat!

This time I decided to make an addition of coffee just for the sake of experimentation and to make them a little more "local", seeing as I am in Colombia after all. To my very pleasant surprise they were a success. Still moist and chewy but with an added depth of flavor.

Try them with or without the coffee - either way, they are delicious...

Chocafé Fudgy Cookies
Yields about 3 dozen

1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons butter
7 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/2 tablespoon instant coffee (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C).

Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
Gently melt the butter in a medium saucepan, remove from heat and stir in the cocoa powder and both sugars. Dissolve the instant coffee in the yogurt (optional) and add to the mixture in the saucepan. Stir to combine. Add the flour mixture to saucepan and stir until thoroughly combined and moist.

Drop by 1 tablespoon onto a greased cookie sheet or silpat (about 2 inches apart) and bake for 8 minutes (don't overcook these or they will lose their chewy fudginess). Once removed from the oven, cool for 2-3 minutes then transfer cookies to a cooling rack.


My Menu Collection: or a mild case of kleptomania

One day about 10 years ago, Adam, my friend from culinary school, mentioned something about collecting restaurant menus and ever since then I thought it sounded like a pretty spiffy idea. Now, whenever I visit a new restaurant I try to take home one of their menus as a memento.

How do I get my hands on these menus? Well,  the average restaurant usually has an old menu or two lying around and if you ask nicely and bat your eyes, they'll let you go home with one. Others unfortunately are really protective of their menus and they leave you with very few options - lie, cheat, and steal.

As a result of this kind of unreasonable attitude I have had to pilfer (to steal stealthily in small amounts and often again and again) a menu or two. I don't feel too guilty and usually I don't act alone. In order to carry out my plan I usually have to enlist the help of a family member, a friend or a large coat. 

My collection now consists of about 68 menus from 5 continents - some are photocopies, some are take-out menus, some are originals, and all are full of yummy memories....


Here are some of my favorites, listed in no particular order (the ones marked with an asterisk are the menus pictured above and below...):


The Sala - Bangkok (Thai dinner and traditional dances)
Heichinrou - Hong Kong (first time I ate chicken feet)*
Formula One Paddock Club - Shanghai (my first F1 race)
Yong Foo Elite - Shanghai
Courtyard - Beijing (overlooking the Forbidden Palace)
Ying Chow - Adelaide's Chinatown
Bridgewater Mill - South Australian winery
Carnegie Deli - NYC
Tony Jr's - Philadelphia (Philly Cheesesteak)
Michy's - Miami*
Azul - Miami (worked here for one year)
Alegria on Sunset - L.A. (my first mole sauce)
YO! Sushi - London (my first conveyer belt sushi)
The Angel in the Fields Pub - London (my local pub)
Pizza Express - London, Hong Kong and Shanghai
Belgo Central - London (the place for mussels and frites)
Villandry - London (amazing food)
Wagamama - London (always a favorite)
Local - Bogotá (my coat was my accomplice here)
Wok - Bogotá
Los Arrieros - Camino Tunja, Colombia
Restaurant du Senat - Paris (culinary school field trip)
Le Clou - Strasbourg (an experience in dining alone)*
Izote de Patricia Quintana - Mexico City
Taquería El Califa - Mexico City (lots of taquitos al pastor)
Sushi Itto - Mexico City (soy sauce with chile toreado)


The Secret Life Of Veggies

Artist Margaret Dorfman uses everyday fruits and veggies to make these incredible works of art.

"Bogotá Vegetariana"

It's always seemed that being a vegetarian in such a meat and potatoes place like Colombia would be a bit tricky. Thanks to a tip from The City Paper I found a link to this site: Bogotá Vegetariana.

You won't believe how many vegetarian restaurants there are around town! Even if you aren't a vegetarian or are just trying to incorporate "Meatless Monday's" into your life, then this should serve as a pretty useful guide...

King-Size Chicken Feet Save the Day

The NY Times reports that although China has been threatening to cut off U.S. chicken imports, their taste for chicken feet won't ever let that actually happen. The article quotes Poultry economists and consultants (didn't know they existed) and sites other important factors in the ongoing trade issues between the U.S. and China.

The feet and wings of the chicken are delicacies in China and Hong Kong, so they will pay up to 80 cents a pound. Other markets tend to prefer white meat and don't pay more than a few cents for what I guess they would consider the "scraps".

Why are U.S. chicken feet so scrumptious? Well, chicken experts believe that because of North America's love of white meat and thus the breeding of chickens with abnormally large breasts, the chickens naturally develop large and robust feet - finger likin' good!

I ate chicken feet once in Hong Kong. The sauce they were in was pretty tasty, but they were really difficult to pick up with chopsticks and then the act of nibbling in between the bones and biting them off at the joints was a bit weird. You have to sort of suck off what little meat and sauce was on them, then spit out the little bones onto your plate.

I don't know if I'd order them again, but I am glad I tried them at least once...


Indian Restaurant Flor de Loto in Bogotá

Indian Restaurant Flor de Loto has been around for about 6 years but I only just "discovered" it a few months ago as I was walking down the street with my sister. I think our reaction went something like, "Does that sign say Indian restaurant!!??? Here? In Bogotá? OMG, we have to go!" 

I've always loved Indian food and even more so since I got to go there in 2007 but, I don't cook it very often because sometimes the list of ingredients just seems a little too overwhelming. However, if there is a chance to eat it already prepared, I am more than happy to indulge.

We learned from our waiter that Chef Pankaj Kunar prepares all the dishes himself and quite well, I might add. Everything we ate was great and I would definitely recommend it even if it wasn't the one and only Indian restaurant that I knew of in the city.

So here's what we ordered on our first visit: to start, Vegetable Samosas served with spicy mango sauce and cilantro chutney. For the main course we had Chicken Vindaloo, Lamb Rogan Josh, Mushroom Masala Curry, and Malai Kofta Curry (meatballs stuffed with raisins and almonds). Out of all four, the Malai Kofta Curry won - hands down. The flavors were incredible, the little meatballs were moist and tender...really good stuff.

To accompany all these delicacies we had a couple of baskets of delicious Indian breads like paratha, chapati and naan. And finally for dessert a typically sweet Gulab Jamun. I love this dessert because it kind of reminds me of mini buñuelos except that they are completely soaked through with an aromatic, spice-infused syrup (just sweet enough for a sweet-tooth like me!).

So, there it is. Great Indian cuisine in Bogotá. Flor de Loto, I am so happy to have found you.

Calle 90 # 17-31
Tel: 617-0142

Check out Flor de Loto's group page on Facebook....


Dining 101: How To Eat Like An Executive

How important is it for business men and women to know how to handle themselves at a dining table? 

Well, to me it's pretty important and I'm not even an executive. I am just someone who holds good manners in very high regard. I'm sure that at some point though, a dining faux pas or some heinous act that induced a gag reflex cost someone a raise, a promotion, or something.

Well, that's precisely why The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed a few online and DVD courses that are available to teach people some tips on dining etiquette. It's rather interesting that this kind of thing needs to be taught to adults but I'm pretty sure we've all been witnesses to some pretty revolting and/or just plain rude table manners.

So, I guess I shouldn't really question why some people never learned basic etiquette in the first place and just be thankful that there are people out there fighting the battle against bad manners.

An interesting read on the subject of the evolution of table manners is The Rituals of Dinner by Margaret Visser.

The Not-So-Argentinian Rice Salad

This rice salad recipe is definitely a family favorite and an all-around crowd pleaser. At a glance though, you'll see that there is absolutely nothing about it that really ties it to Argentinian cuisine...no beef, no chimichurri, no alfajores or empanadas? Nope. Nothing that screams Argentina.

So, why is it known in our family as the Argentinian Rice Salad? Well, because my parents tasted it in a restaurant in Buenos Aires a few decades ago. They loved it, replicated it, and baptized it so. That's the story.

The Argentinian Rice Salad qualifies as one of those go-to, "kitchen sink" recipes (pardon all the clichés) because you can sort of throw in any number of ingredients you have on hand in the pantry or fridge.

This is the basic idea for the recipe but like I said, you can substitute as much as you want for any other ingredients laying around. For example, fresh tomatoes, peas, tuna, bell peppers, cheese, shrimp...

Maybe the one thing I'd recommend is not tossing in more than, say, 5 or 6 ingredients. I have never tried it but I can just imagine that it would be a pretty busy dish. Keep it simple and delicious and you'll be right!

Argentinian Rice Salad
Serves 4-6

5 cups cooked rice, room temperature
1 cooked chicken breast half, shredded
1/3 cup ham, cubed
1/3 cup raisins
2/3 cup chopped celery
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup plain yoghurt
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
½ tablespoon curry powder

Combine the rice, chicken, ham, raisins, celery, and sun-dried tomatoes in a large bowl.

Separately, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, yoghurt, milk, salt, pepper, and curry until you have a thin yet creamy sauce.

Gradually add the sauce to the rice mixture and fold in gently. If salad dries out, add a tablespoon of milk at a time and stir in until moistened.

Best if prepared at least one hour before serving and served at room temperature.

The blog is back! With news of the Sydney International Food Festival • October 2009

Here's a link to a web site where you can take a look at the really creative Edible Food Flag publicity campaign for the Sydney Food Fest. Each country has its flag made with foods typical to that country's cuisine.

I'm going to make my own Colombian one this weekend. I have the yellow and red all figured out....but what to do about the blue?

Any suggestions?