Lus’s Authentic Mexican Choco-Flan


Google the words “choco-flan” and you will instantly find a dozen recipes for the famous Mexican dessert. Composed of two layers, one chocolate cake, one flan, the dessert is creamy, moist and absolutely perfect when it comes out of the oven. What you won’t find however is this story and this recipe.

One of my former students and I (I’m a high school English teacher) were talking about recipes one day and she was sharing some of her favorite Mexican desserts. Lus (her name means “light”) was born in America to parents originally from Mexico. She has learned to be an amazing cook from her family, as well as from Youtube videos. Now, let me backtrack a little. Last semester, Lus brought me a piece of choco-flan to try. The slice was the stuff of dreams – I had never tasted anything like it. I’m a flan and custard lover anyway, but the moist chocolate cake on the bottom and a little chocolate drizzle on top took the flan to the next level. I praised it so much that a few months later, she offered to share her personal recipe. So we sat down together at school one day (she was multitasking with some vocabulary homework) and watched a Youtube video for choco-flan. Lus translated (the video was in Spanish) and told me every step she does differently, so that I could write down her secret recipe.

No matter how many choco-flan recipes I’ve seen online, nobody’s is exactly like Lus’s. Even my first try wasn’t quite as delicious as hers, but it sure did come close. Here follows the choco-flan recipe of your dreams, as created by Lus, and written down by me. Enjoy!



Pans and extras

Bundt cake pan

13×9 glass pan

Tin foil

Nonstick cooking spray

1 ½ tablespoons of sugar


1 box of devil’s food or fudge cake mix

3 eggs

½ cup oil

1 can evaporated milk (14 oz.)


4 eggs

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1 can evaporated milk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 package cream cheese

1 pinch coffee


Prep the Pan

  1. Take a Bundt cake pan and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Melt 1 ½ tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan on low/medium heat. Then pour into the Bundt pan and coat all sides of the pan with the sugar mixture.

Make the Cake

  1. Mix in a large bowl: the cake mix, eggs, oil and evaporated milk. (The evaporated milk is used in place of water.)
  2. Pour into the Bundt pan.

Make the Flan/Custard

  1. Use a stand mixer, hand mixer or blender to blend the custard ingredients. It may be helpful to soften the cream cheese at room temperature (or in a microwave for a few seconds). I started with the cream cheese and milks, then added the eggs, vanilla and coffee at the end.
  2. Pour the flan mixture on top of the cake mix carefully. Do not be alarmed if the cake mix rises up a bit – everything will even out when baking.


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 and place the Bundt pan in a 13×9 pan.
  2. Pour 1 inch or so of boiling water into the 13×9 pan around the Bundt pan. You may cover the Bundt pan with a little tin foil, but be sure to spray it with cooking spray and tent it so it doesn’t stick to the cake mix as it cooks.
  3. Bake for 50 minutes, then check every 10 minutes until cake is fully cooked and a toothpick comes out clean. This may take up to 1 ½ hours, depending on your oven. The cake part will be on the top.
  4. When the cake is done, let it sit on the counter until cool. Then, refrigerate for a few hours.
  5. Finally, it is time to invert the choco-flan. Use a butter knife to go between the outer edge of the cake and the pan to loosen it a little. Put a plate on top of the Bundt pan and while holding them together, flip the pan. Jiggle it until the cake has come out of the Bundt pan and is on the plate. Slice and eat plain, or drizzle with caramel sauce or chocolate syrup. Enjoy!

Fresh & Fluffy Sun Drop Pound Cake


When you’re a kid growing up in the American South, you have the opportunity to contribute to shelves full of cookbooks. Your schools, churches, civic organizations and other community groups constantly compile and release volumes of recipes. At least that was true back in the 1980s and 1990s when I navigated grade school in western North Carolina.

Recently my mom introduced my wife Molly to a “Springfield Specialties” cookbook produced by my first elementary school, Springfield in Stanley, N.C. Children and their parents submitted recipes for the book, which was accompanied by student drawings of food and kitchen implements.

Cookbook Cover

Molly gravitated to the dessert sections of the cookbook, and she ultimately landed on a Sun Drop Pound Cake to make and sample first. Sun Drop has always been somewhat of a preferred drink on both sides of our family, particularly for our dads, so it seemed a natural choice to bake into a cake.


Here’s the Sun Drop Pound Cake recipe, straight from the book:

Sun Drop Cake Recipe

We discovered that the Sun Drop flavor is actually pretty subtle in this recipe. The impact of the cake flour it recommends is much more profound! Molly and I had neither one baked with cake flour previously, and we learned in this experiment that it produces a fluffy, spongy cake that is quite delightful in texture and flavor, much different than the result of regular baking flour options!


Our small town grocery stores didn’t offer many options for cake flour, so you might have to look closely or ask what’s available. I found this box hiding on a top shelf, the only one of its kind.

Adding the glaze over the hot cake leads to a very sweet, satisfying confection that we recommend you sample as soon as you make it for the best experience possible! We also found that, like many pound cakes, this Sun Drop Pound Cake pairs quite nicely with your favorite vanilla ice cream for an extra special treat.

As a #FoodieScore Pro Tip I learned from my parents during my childhood, you can rejuvenate slices of cake after it’s several days old by cutting hunks and toasting them lightly in a toaster oven or conventional oven. A slightly browned piece of pound cake with freshly and slightly melted icing is a nice surprise when you expect it to become much drier as it sits. The method really preserves cake nicely!


Thank you to my elementary schoolmate Marinda Teague and her family for sharing the recipe all those years ago. When the Springfield cookbook debuted in 1991, my wife had just been born. The experience of baking the cake together is a reminder of the timeless beauty of cookbooks, family and community recipes, and food that connects generations of people.

Movies We Love Because of the Food


Perhaps there’s a reason the cliché date of choice has long been dinner and a movie. Food and film just fit together well. And what’s better than enjoying one after the other? That’s right, consuming both at the same time. Here are some movies we love—in addition to other reasons—just for the food!


A Christmas Story (1983) For starters there’s “mommy’s little piggy.” Then throughout latter parts of the movie, Ralphie’s mother works tirelessly to prevent his father from sampling the turkey before it’s done, only to watch the neighbor’s dogs enter the house and tear the bird apart before Christmas dinner. That relegates the family to a Chinese restaurant for a unique meal that includes a duck that’s “smiling” at them—until the staff chops the head off in front of their eyes.


Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) This animated favorite is predicated on food that falls from the sky. Need we say more?


Elf (2003) Will Ferrell plays Buddy, an elf who leaves the North Pole for New York City to find his real father. We assume he also needs diabetic testing supplies due to the extreme amounts of sugar he consumes. After all, elves prefer to “stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corn and syrup.” Buddy pours syrup in his spaghetti. He adds candy and crushed toaster pastries to his leftover spaghetti for breakfast. He downs a whole two-liter soda in one massive gulp. Oh, and he eats ABC (already been chewed) gum from public railings, too.


Good Burger (1997) One of several cult classics from the 1990s on this list, Kenan & Kel star in this movie that forever has us craving cheeseburgers and repeating, “Welcome to Good Burger, home of the Good Burger, can I take your order?”


Julie & Julia (2009) Before Paula Deen, Rachael Ray and the Pioneer Woman, there was the legendary Julia Child. This movie tells the story of how she became Julia Child and, in turn, how she inspired Julie Powell to become a food blogger and learn to cook. In the movie, Julie says, “You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day when nothing is sure, and when I say nothing I mean nothing, you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk it will get thick. It’s such a comfort.” Ahh, that’s when we knew we were kindred spirits with this movie.


I Love You to Death (1990) Kevin Kline plays a pizza parlor owner whose serial womanizing leads his wife to attempt to poison him with spaghetti. Do you need another reason to grab a bowl of popcorn and watch? Eh, with that plot teaser, maybe say no to the popcorn for this one.


Matilda (1996) A great family-friendly movie starring Mara Wilson (of Mrs. Doubtfire and Miracle on 34th Street remake fame) that includes a particular scene in which schoolmate Bruce is commanded to eat an entire chocolate cake in front of the entire student body. It’s not the most appetizing food scene in film, but it certainly is memorable.



Michael (1996) John Travolta trades his Saturday Night Fever dancing shoes for angel wings and a roadtrip in this touching story also starring Andie MacDowell, who hails from Gaffney, South Carolina, right down the road from #FoodieScore’s home base. In one scene, the movie’s main characters visit a shop, order basically everything on the menu, and MacDowell’s character sings, “pie, me oh my, I love pie.” That’s enough to hook us.


My Blueberry Nights (2007) This beautifully filmed movie stars Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz and Norah Jones, who also performs much of the music on the soundtrack. Much of the movie is a depressing story of a soul-searching woman and the other sad souls she encounters, but it repeatedly sets scenes in a diner managed by Law’s character, who serves up blueberry pie a la mode. It makes us crave blueberry pie every time we watch.


The Big Lebowski (1998) Another cult classic from the 1990s, one in which the Coen Brothers broadcasted the delicious Western U.S. wonder that is In-N-Out Burger to the world. There are many other entertaining reasons to watch this movie, but all you really need to know is “Those are good burgers, Walter.”


The Green Mile (1999) Likely the most well-produced, Academy Award-worthy film on this list, it was nominated for Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Screenplay and Best Sound. It’s a strong, memorable story adapted from Stephen King’s serial novel of the same name, and it lacks nothing in the realm of food either. There’s death row trusty Toot-Toot’s (Harry Dean Stanton) “fried chicken dinner with gravy on the taters…” And there’s miracle-healer John Coffey’s (Michael Clarke Duncan) final meal request of “meatloaf, mashed taters, gravy, okra…maybe some of that fine cornbread your Misses makes.” And in between, there are meals at both warden Hal Moore’s (James Cromwell) and cell block boss Paul Edgecomb’s (Tom Hanks) houses. With all the power in the story and the acting, the food packs an almost equal punch.

Foodie Travels: The Dillard House, Dillard, Ga.


“If you tell me I can only have salt once from now until the end of time, I would drive up to Dillard, Georgia, and go to The Dillard House, and I would have the country ham.”

That endorsement by popular television food show personality Alton Brown was what initially alerted us, like so many other foodies, to the culinary wonder that is The Dillard House, a now 100-year-old restaurant in the north Georgia mountains, just across the North Carolina state line.

When we investigated the place further, we learned The Dillard House offers overnight accommodations, as well as horseback riding and other activities. Seeking the perfect anniversary getaway, we decided to take advantage of both the opportunity to stay a few nights and to enjoy a farm ride from the stables. But just like our initial discovery, our visit to The Dillard House started with the food. (Big surprise, right?)


The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the year. A switchover from lunch to dinner happens about 5 p.m., and we arrived shortly before, still able to take advantage of the slightly less expensive lunch prices and the menu posted on the wall at the entrance.

After drinks were delivered, a cold tray of slaw, marmalade and apple butter arrived at our table. Then came the feast. We found our table suddenly and beautifully covered by fried chicken, pork chops, turkey pot pie, cream corn, lima beans, cabbage casserole, fried potatoes, squash casserole, fried zucchini, yeast rolls and corn mini muffins. Room barely remained for our plates and our elbows.

At this point, if you didn’t get lost in the list of delicious dishes, you may be wondering: Where’s the country ham? Well, it’s available by request, and servers will gladly deliver a plate to your table. It turns out, the ham is delightfully salty, just as Alton Brown advertised, and also has a slightly sweet quality to it.


As for the rest of the plates and bowls on the table? Everything was scrumptious. The fork-tender fried chicken had a soft and crispy breading to it, which surrounded a meaty and juicy interior. The bone-in pork chops were massive and tender. Every vegetable was fresh, well-seasoned, and the buttery lima beans may have been Molly’s favorite item of everything on the menu. We enjoyed it all from our little two-person table in the corner, which was a nice surprise.

Most seating at The Dillard House is family-style, which means you may dine with strangers around a big table where everything on the menu is delivered. Since we were on an anniversary getaway, it was nice to have our own space. We even enjoyed an apple betty—slightly crisp and tart apples paired with a crunchy topping—a la mode.

There was only one problem at the end of our meal. We couldn’t finish even half of our food.

Luckily, like the table, The Dillard House has that covered, too. You can request a few takeout boxes and carry the remaining part of your meal home with you. The leftovers provided a great dinner the next night, easy to reheat in our microwave in the chateau in which we stayed in Dillard. Being able to take food with us was nice because it makes The Dillard House an even better value for your money, and we never like seeing food go to waste!


So, if you’re looking for a good, filling meal to enjoy with your spouse, a few friends or your whole family, do as Alton Brown does. Drive to Dillard, Georgia, and enjoy a meal at The Dillard House. Don’t forget to ask for the country ham!

The Dillard House, 768 Franklin St., Dillard, Georgia

Simple Dark Chocolate Hummus Dip

Dark Chocolate Hummus

Who doesn’t like to snack? Even if you eat filling meals, there are times when you crave a little something to keep you from fighting intense hunger until the next one. Growing up in our Southern home we called snacks or small meals something to “tide us over.”

Sometimes we desire something salty like a chip or cracker. Other times we want something sweet like a cookie. Well, I have good news. This recipe can offer a little bit of both.

There are many ways to make hummus, but you typically need a few basic ingredients to start, regardless of your intended final product of savory or sweet. Most folks begin with chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) and tahini, a nutty, buttery, pasty substance that helps provide a lot of the smoothness we enjoy in hummus.

Tahini isn’t the easiest ingredient to find in all our local grocery stores. The one place I did find it, a small jar was $7, not friendly to my constant-cooking budget. I couldn’t justify it. So, I did a little research on some favorite fellow food blogs and discovered peanut butter is an acceptable substitute for tahini in a hummus recipe. It also fits perfectly in this particular version because the point is to create a slightly sweet and very cocoa-chocolatey treat. Otherwise, I kept the recipe on course with others I found, with just a few slight modifications.

NOTE: Many cooks even argue you should call such a mixture a “spread” because hummus, they say, actually translates quite literally to ground chickpeas. I disagree, opting for the western world definition of hummus that includes all the mixture’s ingredients.

You can serve this hummus with most plain crackers (i.e. butter or saltine), pretzels, a plain cookie (such as a vanilla wafer) or with fruit (most common, strawberries or apple slices). And other than adding the calories for those accompaniments, it’s pretty healthy at just 55 calories and 2 grams of sugar per 1/4 cup.

Dark Chocolate Hummus


1 15-ounce can chickpeas

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/4 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons water



1. Drain the chickpeas.

2. Puree the chickpeas, peanut butter, syrup, cocoa, vanilla, salt and 2 tablespoons of the water in a food processor for about 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl.

3. Add more syrup if you want a sweeter mixture, but be advised that the bitterness will subside just a bit once you chill the hummus in the fridge. It will still be a bit bitter like dark chocolate, however.

4. Add another 2 tablespoons of water and puree again, about a minute or two, until you get a creamy consistency.

5. Store in the fridge in an air-tight container for up to 10 days. You’ll have about 5 cups of hummus total, enough for 10 half-cup servings or 20 quarter-cup servings.