For The Flan Of It... (Part 1)
In the months leading up to our Farm to Table feast that was held at Trilogy, my friend Laura and I and her business partner, Audrey spent hours upon hours that soon added up to days concocting a menu, venue, and the feel that we wanted our first farm to table dinner to have. We never expected it to be as big of a deal as it was and were pleasantly surprised when we sold out of all of our tickets before the event. Someone from our hometown magazine publication showed up and photographed and interviewed us, and the local newspaper and social media outlets were abuzz with tales of our joint endeavors.
When Laura approached me in the months prior to the event with her idea, I was enthusiastic and knew we had to get started planning right away as an event of this magnitude was going to take careful consideration and good planning to pull it off. I was excited at the prospect of getting people from our local area to taste what food tastes like that is local to the area and practically all organic, without the USDA labels. You would be shocked at the difference in taste just of a "lowly tomato" that is grown and allowed to ripen on a vine and picked right before consumption, versus being picked green and shipped across whole countries, then sprayed with chemicals to accelerate the ripening process. It might LOOK the same on the outside, but when you cut into that baby, the sweetness and goodness of something freshly picked is immediately apparent...especially to a foodie like myself.
The dinner consisted of five courses all paired with specialty drinks from local wineries, breweries, and distilleries. We used ingredients that were in season, like lemons for our twist on the Mojito instead of the usual lime, because lemons were in season and the limes weren't ready yet. We also sourced our wine from a local winery, Island Grove, and our beers from Infinite Ale Works, right here in Ocala, Florida. The spirits were sourced from Fish Hawk, a distillery right here in Ocala too...and because it was my husband's birthday, and he is a whiskey lover, we bid in the silent auction for that bottle of first edition limited whiskey...haven't opened it yet, don't know if we will soon, as we may just let it hang out in the bottle and forget about it until a few years from now...but the proceeds went to a good cause and who knows, that $120 bottle of whiskey may end up being something special.
I was honored to be preparing the dessert course of the meal and because the other chefs were paying homage to Cuban cuisine, I decided to make Flan...with a twist, of course. Originally it was going to be a Goat's Milk Flan with a Strawberry Mint Compote. I made it months before to test the recipe and then a week before the event for a friend's birthday...but days before we had the event, we called the goat farmer for the milk and she had bad news...the goats were dried up for the season. Laura reassured me she could call her cow farmer and get regular milk and that's when I went back to the drawing board.
Flan is one dessert I have mastered and I am able to play around with the flavor profiles of it. And trust me when I say it didn't happen overnight. If there's one thing you should know about me, my husband says I am, "Art Deco" and it really shows because people walk up to me and just start talking Spanish to me all the time. When I politely speak to them in Spanish to tell them that I don't speak Spanish (at least not fluently, as I am self conscious about it), they are even more confused. So I decided to do something about what I could control... my skills as a Spanish cook (or lack there of) and I enrolled myself in a night class at the Community Technical Adult Education school here in Ocala.
Chef Jose was my instructor and was teaching the basics of Spanish Cuisine when he asked each person what one dish we would like to make and we would make it. I said FLAN! I said Flan because I wanted to see if I really did hate it, or if I had just been eating badly prepared Flan my whole life. Well, I found out my answer after taking the class, I had been eating badly prepared ones my whole life, which I could imagine is why a lot of people don't especially like it either. We learned the basics in class and made a basic recipe. Then he tasked us with duplicating it at home and possibly improving on it with experimentation. By the end of the class, my husband never wanted to see a piece of Flan as I was making a small one about twice a week...but by the end of the 6 or so weeks, I had my own really amazing recipe...and the greatest compliment was when the chef asked for it at the end of class.
Flan should not be sugary, egg tasting and grainy, it should be delicate, smooth, creamy, satisfying and melt on your tongue when you put it in your mouth...at least that's what I think, and that's how I make it. For this particular event, I ended up making the Flan from total scratch. I went to the Trilogy kitchen, early afternoon the day before the event, after their lunch rush and began reducing the whole, fresh milk down to evaporated milk, and cooking the other whole milk with the local honey and vanilla beans to make the sweetened condensed milk. The process of evaporating and condensing takes hours...like 2-3 to be exact... and you have to stir those every five minutes and make sure they don't boil over.
A happy accident happened in the kitchen that day. I had a bad pot, and I noticed the milk was evaporating very quickly and not at all slow like at my house. When I switched pots and tasted the milk, I realized that it had scorched a bit giving it a slight smokey flavor like the hickory smoked sea salt I was adding at the end, so I went with it and added some hickory smoke flavor into the sweetened condensed milk and called it a day. The result was fantastic! I made individual flans in 4 ounce mason jars for each guest at the event and topped them with Strawberry Mint Compote with Hickory Sea Salt. I have never seen Flan disappear so fast in my life. I didn't even get the chance to watch most people eat it, which is what makes me feel happy.
When someone eats my Flan, I want to see them take a bite of it, close their eyes, and savor in the texture and flavors of it. I want to see their eyes roll back in their head and hear the "mmmm" escape from their lips. Bringing happiness to others through food is the greatest joy when you cook. Food brings people together and has the ability, if even for a single moment, to make them forget about the bad things that may be going on in their present, or it can evoke memories of times past, or it makes a memory that one can later call upon. If you come to my house, or eat my food and either forget the bad or recall the happy, I have succeeded!
This love of cooking and being together with friends and family essentially carved the way for Shoogie Company products. The special thing about them is they are made with food grade ingredients, which means when I am making a batch of deodorant, I am using the same kind of organic, unrefined coconut oil in it that I am using to cook my batch of Thai Coconut Soup that I have on my stove right now (which the house smells glorious from it, by the way). The Shea butter is sourced from Africa, and I can almost see the ladies harvesting and squashing everything into the creamy Shea butter when I get my batch, open, and smell it. It is unrefined and in its beautiful, natural, squashed up state, which means every once in a while you might get a piece of the plant or husk in a batch of deodorant, face shield, or sunscreen. www.shoogiecompany.com And the organic sweet almond, apricot, and grape seed oils...well, you guessed it, I cook with those babies also.
If you have ever read the labels on my products, it has a funny warning on it. It says, "Although these smell good enough to eat, one lick will tell you that it works much better than it tastes." And when people ask me if they could eat their deodorant, or sunscreen, or shaving cream, I tell them they most certainly shouldn't. The addition of essential oils that are used to give fragrance and other properties to the products are not all edible, therefore, you shouldn't go around eating your hygiene products... now for a funny story about that...(To-be-continued... in Part 2)