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City of David is Going “Gourmet”!

Written on April 27th, 2010 by no shouts

Forty-five minutes south of Boquete is the City of David, the provincial capital of Chiriqui, Panama. The city is sprawled out for miles, with streets going every direction inside the “U” of the Pan-American Highway. Whichever way you drive, you’ll end up at this wide Highway, it’s very confusing. Until recently, there were no traffic lights of any kind, anywhere in Chiriqui, but now there are 3! There were no “5-star” hotels, large department stores, mega supermarkets or an International airport. But, that has all changed.

It was fun to arrange for 30 “recent” residents of Boquete to tour some of the new and developing areas in David, which we did last week. Touted as the “Gourmet Tour of David” was quite surprising, especially when being deprived of anything “gourmet” west of Panama City for years.

Ely’s Bakery isn’t exactly “new”, they have been supplying supermarkets in David and Boquete with fine baked goods for years. What was surprising, were all the varieties of breads and fancy cakes that are made in such close quarters, so quickly and so tasty. Owner, Danilo and Pastry Chef, Chomp, gave everyone a close-up tour of the facilities, including a giant, walk-in oven and each of us took home a loaf of his specialty bread. We’ll all be back for some of Ely’s delicate, gourmet pastries, and more.

We toured the Cuidad de David Hotel and inspected some of the beautifully decorated, “high-end” rooms and suites. One had a sunken whirl-pool tub, elegant fixtures and “5-star” amenities.

Chef, Jose Valdes, showed us some of his world-class cooking skills and everyone enjoyed a full “dinner” for lunch, including 3 delightful desserts presented by Swiss-trained Chef, Nicole. Thanks to Idu and staff for such a fine afternoon in this gorgeous, world-class hotel.

Another surprise was the huge housewares department on the 3rd floor of the new Conway Department Store. Thanks to managers, Mr. Taylor, clerks Roberto and Viedna, I was able to arrange 4 of the housewares department’s displays to depict French, Spanish, Italian and Asian cuisines, including recipes from each country. This is a photo of the Asian display, complete with a stone place mat. Everyone enjoyed seeing the extensive inventory of “gourmet” cooking items now available in David.

The final event of the day was a wine tasting at the new Felipe Motta Wine Store, located in the same shopping area as the Conway store.

Manager, Gina, provided the wine room of the store and 5 interesting wines for us to taste. The plum saki seemed to garner the most raves, but when Gina asked which was my favorite wine, she presented me with a bottle of Mouton Cadet Bordeaux 2007 from France. What a delightful way to end the perfect day in the upcoming City of David.

I can’t wait until David and I have a nice, fresh salad, a filete of beef to grill, and twice-baked potatoes for a candle-light dinner some evening soon. Of course, the star will be my “Bordeaux” wine from Felipe Motta. Talk about “gourmet”!


Boquete’s Sushi Madness

Written on March 8th, 2010 by 3 shouts

The nori was flying in my kitchen the last three days, as students patted sticky rice, sliced raw salmon and julienned perfect avocados. It was “Sushi Madness” time in Boquete, Panama, an unlikely place for sushi artists to gather.

Bistro Boquete’s Executive Chef, Lauretta Bonfiglio, has lots of experience in making fancy, one-of-a-kind sushi rolls and she shared her skills with 35 eager students ready to try their hand at it.

Most of the fresh ingredients came from local Boquete markets. Specialty items such as the nori seaweed, bamboo shoots and straw mushrooms were easily found in David at Casa Lisa’s Oriental Market, just past the old vegetable market in the David town center.

Each student was greeted with a taste of plum wine, a handmade sushi stand for presentation, rolling bamboo mat, chop sticks and a finger bowl of rice vinegar and water. A tiny dish of soy sauce, the essence of Japanese cuisine, pickled ginger root and miniature “volcano” of wasabi, Japanese horseradish, made each setting complete. The sticky rice was indeed sticky and ready to roll.

Sushi Rice

3 3/4 cups Japanese rice, such as Nishiki (or 5 rice maker cups)
3 3/4 cups water (or 5 rice maker cups)
1/2 cup rice vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, add rice and cover with lots of water. Stir rice in water with your hands, then pour off most of the water, and agitate 10 to 15 times by quickly moving your hand back and forth, swishing rice against side of bowl. Rinse the rice several more times, until the water that drains off of the rice is almost clear. Transfer the rice to a colander and let drain for 15 minutes, undisturbed. Transfer the rice to a rice cooker, add the water, cover, and cook as per manufacturer’s directions.

While the rice is cooking, bring rice vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan, add sugar and salt and stir until dissolved. Allow to cool to room temperature.

When rice is done, transfer it to a large shallow glass dish (traditionally a wooden tub, called a hangiri), so it forms a mound in the center of the bowl. Using a diagonal slicing motion, gently cut into rice with a wooden paddle (called a kijakushi), and pour cooled vinegar mixture over top. “Cut” rice several times to evenly distribute vinegar mixture. Spread out rice in the shallow pan and allow to cool. Gently turn rice over from time to time with paddle so that it cools evenly. You might want to consider using a fan if time is of the essence. When rice has cooled to body temperature, it is ready to use for sushi rolls. Can you see my paddle standing up in our perfect sticky rice? Ready to roll!

Chef Lauretta demonstrated several sushi techniques, including a fresh salmon hand-formed nigiri sushi, a popular California roll and a cream cheese, wasabi and shrimp maki roll.

Then all at once, the “madness” began. Everyone carefully patted the flavored sushi rice on the crisp nori seaweed atop their bamboo mat and designed their rolls using a variety of color, texture and flavors. There were dozens of bowls of fresh ingredients from which to choose, including crab, shrimp, wafer-thin cucumber, spicy mayonnaise, toasted, white and black sesame seeds.

The creativity was infectious, as just the right combinations were rolled into perfect, gorgeous and delicious sushi, as you can see. A little saki helped to make the evening even more "authentic" Japanese. Thanks to David for hand-making a sushi stand for each student and to Lauretta for sharing the "essence of Japanese cuisine" with all of us.


Are You “Crazy for Chocolate”?

Written on March 5th, 2010 by no shouts

Several years ago, David and I went to Sarasota, Florida to a “Chocolate Convention” and I’ll never forget it. We each had a card with 20 numbers on it and each numbered station offered servings of a different chocolate treat. We stayed at the convention until all 20 numbers were punched on our cards! It was an incredible experience and we’ve been “crazy for chocolate” ever since.

In Boquete, there is a “new” pastry chef in town, Richard Meyer. He opened Sugar & Spice Bakery in a new location on the main street, on the right side coming near the town center. Richard specializes in making delicious chocolate pastries using several varieties of chocolate. He also makes country breads, rolls, pies and almost every form of baked goods you’d expect to find anywhere in the world.

From the Sugar & Spice sign above the bakery door, you can tell from the loaf of bread and star-studded chef’s hat, that fine bread and a fine chef can be found there. Look carefully at Richard’s sign, it’s handmade and full of information.

I am very happy to announce that Richard will be the next Boquete Gourmet’s guest chef for April’s cooking class. He’ll make three very special chocolate desserts using 3 different chocolates and 3 different techniques to use with chocolate. His class will be held on Wednesday, April 7, 2010, beginning at 1:00pm at the Sugar & Spice Bakery.

The registration fee of $25 includes not only the class instruction, a serving of each of 3 desserts and unlimited “Boquete Gourmet” coffee, but a recipe book, paired wine tasting and “goodie bag” to take home.

If you love chocolate, or are actually “crazy for chocolate”, you won’t want to miss Richard’s very special “Chocolate Class” coming up April 7.

There are only 12 seats available, so email, call 6614-9514 or pick up your ticket today at Sugar & Spice. First come, first served.
Chocolate lover,

Filled Nubes de Chocolate

Written on February 26th, 2010 by no shouts

Guest Chef Renny Karnich presented a fun-filled cooking class in my kitchen earlier this month. Her menu included fajitas hot off the griddle, Pico de Gallo, and all the accompaniments. The fajita ingredients were sizzled on a red-hot griddle and stacked to make a steaming volcano. You can see her recipe for fajitas in a previous article.

For anyone not knowing, Boquete is situated high on the side of Volcan Baru, the tallest volcano in Panama, so Renny’s fajita technique is apropos. Then, she used her “volcano” technique in a totally different manner, to make Nubes de Chocolate, or “clouds of chocolate”.

At the end of the class, Renny piled filled cream puffs high on a footed cake plate and dribbled them with hot icing.  It was like another volcano had erupted, spurting hot chocolate all down the sides of the mountain.  Everyone cheered in delight as the chocolate kept flowing. “The more hot chocolate, the better!”, exclaimed Renny.

Here’s how Renny made the cream puffy clouds and put it all together:

Eclairs or Cream Puffs

½ cup water
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup flour
2 eggs, room temperature

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine water and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the dough leaves the sides of the pan and forms a ball. Remove from heat and cool 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time beating hard until the dough is smooth.

Place 12 rounded tablespoons of dough on an ungreased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart and bake 30 minutes or until golden. While still warm, carefully slice the tops off the puffs. Pull out the soft insides and discard them. Cool the puffs, then fill with cream filling and dust with sifted powdered sugar.

Creme Patissiere Filling

1 cup milk
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks, beaten
2 teaspoons flavored extract, vanilla, cherry, almond, etc.
OR 2 tablespoons liquor, Abuelo rum, Tia Maria, Curacao, etc.

Heat the milk in a saucepan until hot, not boiling. Whisk the sugar, flour and salt together in a medium bowl, then add the hot milk until well blended. Pour mixture back into the saucepan and continue to stir vigorously over low heat until very thick and smooth. Add the egg yolks and cook for a few more minutes. Cook, stirring from time to time, then add flavoring. You may add color, to make the filling more festive.

Now that you have the cream puffs filled with your favorite flavored filling, stack them on a pedestal cake plate and sprinkle them with slivered almonds. Heat half a container of ready-to-use fudge or double-chocolate icing in the microwave until it is runny, only about 15 seconds. Slowly drizzle the filled puffs (nubes) with hot icing. Wait for the compliments, then serve with a steaming cup of Boquete coffee.


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