Lus’s Authentic Mexican Choco-Flan

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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!

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Ingredients

Pans and extras

Bundt cake pan

13×9 glass pan

Tin foil

Nonstick cooking spray

1 ½ tablespoons of sugar

Cake

1 box of devil’s food or fudge cake mix

3 eggs

½ cup oil

1 can evaporated milk (14 oz.)

Custard

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.

Cook

  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!

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

Ingredients

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

 

Directions

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.

Simple Scratch-made Chocolate Crackle Cookies

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A great cookie is all about texture. Whether it’s the crunch of chocolate chips, the crackle of sugar or just the soft gooiness of the center, the texture makes and breaks (in a good way) any cookie we eat. And it’s that texture I’ve always loved about these Chocolate Crackle Cookies.

I also love that all of the ingredients for this cookie recipe are always in our pantry and fridge, and they’re likely in yours, too, which means no need to run to the store! On a recent Saturday afternoon, I scoured a few cookie sites for popular recipes, came up with this combination, and walked right into the kitchen and started mixing and baking. The result was about 30 chewy morsels of sweet, chocolatey goodness that we enjoyed throughout the following week.

One of our #FoodieScore Facebook friends even suggested adding a little green food coloring to the recipe around the holidays to create Grinch cookies. Great idea! That’s what we love about cooking: You can always take a recipe and adapt it however you want.

It won’t take you long to mix the dough and watch these cookies bake and crackle on top, so we hope you enjoy the rest of the time you spend on the best part of the homemade cookie process: Eating!

Ingredients

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease baking sheet(s)
  3. Add powdered sugar to bowl and set aside.
  4. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.
  5. In an electric mixer bowl, beat butter, granulated sugar and vanilla on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  6. Add one egg to the mixer bowl and mix until blended. Then add the second egg.
  7. Add the dry flour-cocoa mixture and mix on low speed until blended.
  8. Once all ingredients are blended, rest cookie dough in freezer for about 10 minutes. This will help cookies be less sticky when you form them for baking, which is important because you have to ball them up and roll them in the powdered sugar.
  9. After dough is cooled, use a spoon to scoop dough and roll into spoonful-size balls using your hands.
  10. Roll each ball in the powdered sugar in your bowl until each is covered well.
  11. Place the balls on the prepared baking sheet(s), about 2 inches apart, and bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, until crackled and puffed.
  12. Let cool on a rack and then enjoy!

A Meal in Memory of Grandma

housewife and cook

Food is more substance than just sustenance for me. For some people, cooking and eating are just necessary functions for life. For me, each meal’s preparation and consumption is an experience to relish and remember. Much credit for that goes to my maternal grandmother, Vember Christine Allred Quinn.

Grandma passed away on Oct. 20 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. She still continued to enjoy some of her favorite foods until the final weeks and days of her amazing 88-year life, even though she hadn’t been able to think through the process of making a meal herself in years.

I deeply miss Grandma Vember’s cooking, along with so many other things that made her a beautiful person. Meals at her house, especially at times like Thanksgiving, meant I got to sit around the table with her, Grandpa, Mom and Dad to eat and talk. Each one of us always sat in the same place, and my seat was to Grandma’s left, also next to Mom.

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Grandma’s passing has had me thinking about the dishes and recipes of hers that I recall most fondly. So I’ve decided to put together a meal at Grandma’s house, and I’d like to invite you to join me for dinner. No reservation or transportation is necessary. Just continue reading and enjoy this simple yet special table of memories with me in the plates below. Here’s what’s on the menu.

FLANK STEAK: Grandma cooked the most flavorful, tender flank steak—and we just called it steak—I’ve ever consumed. My own is not nearly as tasty or chewable. Flank steak has a tendency to be tough in consistency. Not grandma’s. As I remember, hers had a light but very meaty quality to it, with a slightly soft, slightly crispy coating that had a hint of pepper in taste. This was my favorite main dish for grandma to prepare, and I’d still take a pan of flank steak now over any other more expensive cut of meat.

HOPPY TOAD BISCUITS: Perhaps my favorite food prepared by my grandmother was her biscuits. I can still picture the containers of ingredients in the bottom kitchen cabinet and her hands at work in the dough on the counter above. She’d nestle the biscuits close together and they’d join in the sided pan in the oven. When they hit the table, we’d break them apart, and they’d seemingly hop from the plate and into our mouths. They were small biscuits, shaped by the pan’s sides and their neighboring pieces of dough, with a slightly crisp outside and a soft but completely done middle. I’ve never eaten a biscuit like Grandma’s.

GREEN BEANS AND POTATOES: Some dishes are more about the memories attached than the unique recipe in which they originate. That’s how I feel about a pot of Grandma’s green beans and potatoes. In my mind, I can see the glass pot and lid that she always used for her green beans and potatoes. Neither the beans nor the potatoes were any sort of premium quality, and they weren’t seasoned in any creative way, to my knowledge. But the combination of a can of green beans and a can of whole potatoes introduced to me the realization that food can be both simple and fulfilling.

OLD DRY CAKE AND CHOCOLATE GRAVY: This is just a basic cake with butter, milk, eggs, sugar, flour and vanilla, but there’s nothing ordinary about its story in our family. Grandma made the cake once, before I’d ever tasted it myself, when Great Aunt Kathleen was eating with my grandparents and Mom. Grandpa asked her how she liked it, and Kathleen answered that it was a little dry. It’s since been known as the “Old Dry Cake.” Sometimes when she made it she’d cook a chocolate sauce (also known as chocolate gravy) and pour it over the hot cake, allowing it to run over and into the cake. I dare say you haven’t lived if you haven’t had chocolate gravy poured over “Old Dry Cake.”

If I could have Grandma make one meal right now, those dishes are exactly what I would request. They’re emblazoned on my heart, and their memories have influenced my interest in cooking and zeal for how I feed myself and my wife Molly. Thank you, Grandma. I think of you every time I step into the kitchen.

In Memory of Vember Christine Allred Quinn (Oct. 11, 1929-Oct. 20, 2017)

Miss Ina’s Fudge Pie

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One of my favorite things in the world is baking pies, especially pies with a rich history behind them. Miss Ina’s Fudge Pie is a recipe shared with me years ago by a precious, sweet lady named Ina Doster. I attended church with Miss Ina for many years growing up and she was always happy to share the recipe with anyone who asked. As my pie baking skills have grown, I have still not found an easier, simpler, or more consistently delicious pie recipe in all my baking forays.

Miss Ina told us that the recipe was passed down from her grandmother, Lula Carrol, from the late 1800s. Originally, Miss Ina says, the flour was pure and you had to add baking soda to the recipe. Today, you don’t need the baking soda, which brings the ingredient total down to a mere 6 ingredients, not including the pie shell.

You truly can’t go wrong with this sweet delight. I wholeheartedly encourage any first-time pie baker to try it, as it’s the easiest pie I know how to make. At the same time, experienced bakers will love its simplicity and comfort. Miss Ina, thank you for all the beautiful things I have learned from you. And thank you, for your trademark fudge pie.

 

Ingredients
1 stick melted margarine
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
unbaked pie shell

Directions
1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Prick holes in the pie shell using a fork.
3. Pour mixture into pie shell.
4. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until no longer jiggly in the middle.