Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cinnamon Rolls with a Guatemalan Twist

While at the store, we always keep our eyes open for things that are solely Guatemalan. When I saw "Jalea de Cafe" or coffee jelly manufactured here, I thought it looked really interesting. So we bought some. Ben wasn't super impressed with it on toast, and I immediately thought it would be great in a cinnamon roll. Sweet with a coffee flavor in a pastry sounded good to me!

First I had to find a good recipe. Since The Pioneer Woman is known for her good cooking, I looked for her recipe and found it here. (Follow the link for step-by-step instructions with pictures by PW.)

"1 quart Whole Milk
1 cup Vegetable Oil
1 cup Sugar
2 packages Active Dry Yeast, 0.25 Ounce Packets
8 cups (Plus 1 Cup Extra, Separated) All-purpose Flour
1 teaspoon (heaping) Baking Powder
1 teaspoon (scant) Baking Soda
1 Tablespoon (heaping) Salt
Plenty Of Melted Butter
2 cups Sugar
Generous Sprinkling Of Cinnamon"

Of course, my filling included this one, very Guatemalan ingredient:
coffee jelly.

PW also includes a frosting recipe with her cinnamon rolls that I did not use. The rolls tend to be sweet as they are, and the Mr. isn't fond of super-sugary treats. (That's why we get along so well.) Instead I just melted a little butter with brown sugar for the glaze.

When finished, I packed them into the only baking dish I had and baked them. PW recommends baking at 400 degrees 15-18 minutes, but here in the mountains of Guatemala City, I definitely needed to bake double that amount of time. It could also have something to do with the glass baking dish.

When they were finished, they were delicious! (Though really strange looking since they were all squished together and rose into interesting designs.) Not too sweet, but very tasty with a definite hint of coffee in the sweet insides.

There are also mango, strawberry, pineapple and other jellies made by this brand. Coffee seemed to be a good one for this filling, but I can think of a million other ways to use them.

Have you ever adapted a cinnamon roll recipe that you would like to share?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Semana Santa- Alfombras

Semana Santa, or Holy Week is a big deal in Guatemala. There are so many things that go into it, I won't even attempt to explain it all. (For that there's the book.)

One small, very colorful part of Semana Santa are the "alfombras" or "carpets" that the people create for the processions to go over. These carpets are usually made out of colored saw dust, but, no one hesitates to throw some creativity in there and the results can be anything!

Some alfombras are made entirely out of colored sawdust, with stencil like molds creating intricate designs on top of bright colors. Images of the pope, Bible figures or scriptures are as common as pictures of Mayan people, political leaders, flowers, detailed scroll work or typical Mayan patterns.

There is one place in Antigua that invites people to come and create an alfombra out of vegetables. I'm not sure how the procession avoids tripping or twisting their ankles on things such as radishes, but the resulting alfombra is a work of culinary art.

Alfombras can also include all sorts of accessories to add to the decoration. I have seen candles, figurines and even fountains in the middle of alfombras. Since the purpose of alfombras is for the procession, these decorations must be removed before the procession actually walks through it.

Some alfombras get a little 3D, like these banana dolphins captured by Guatemalan Genes. Or this cute Parrot made from fruit:

Or this lizard crafted from bread:

A more fragrant option are the alfombras made from a variety of flowers. I have seen some made entirely of different colored roses and others with every flower imaginable.

However fun and festive alfombras might be, all of the effort goes into ultimately making the procession a success. After the procession, this is a common sight:

All photos property of L.S. who was nice enough to let me use them. For a million more examples, try this google image search or flicker link.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Arroz con Leche

Before moving to Guatemala, all I knew about "arroz con leche" was that it meant "rice with milk" and that I had heard this song in Spanish class.

According to "The “arroz con leche” or “rice with milk” has a long history. You can taste this dessert in different Spanish speaking countries: Spain, Peru or Costa Rica, for example. It is basically a Latin dessert. Spaniards brought this recipe to America some centuries ago, but the origin of this dessert is not the land we call these days Spain; Moors, when conquering the South of the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain nowadays) brought their recipe and the art of mixing the basic ingredients with different spices."

Because refrigeration did not exist and people wanted to use their leftovers instead of wasting food, leftover rice was turned into this sweet dessert by ingenious and thrifty Moorish cooks.

Blanca showed me how to make it the other evening, so I now have a flavor to associate with those words.

We started with uncooked rice, of course, and added a stick of cinnamon, about a teaspoon of nutmeg, (optional) a teaspoon of salt and a cup of sugar.

Then we added water and cooked as usual.

When the rice had finished cooking, reaching its normal consistency, we added a box of milk. (For people who live where boxed milk is uncommon, that's about 4 cups.)

When the rice had cooked a little longer in the milk absorbing it and turning into a pudding-like consistency, we added about a cup of raisins and half a stick of real butter.

When the butter melted and the raisins plumped up by absorbing the liquid around them, we mixed it one more time and it was ready to serve! We put it in a bowl and sprinkled some cinnamon and honey on top. It was delicious. Some of my students have said they eat it cold, but I certainly prefer it warm.

This is a basic "arroz con leche" recipe, but there are several ways it is personalized. Some people may add some raisins, clove, butter or vanilla,lemon or orange zest to the final product. These additions are not very common in Spain. The Mexican recipe includes eggs and the Andalucia one adds some "agua de rosas" On the other had, another Spanish region, Asturias, includes some liqueur and yolks. states another variation: "A Chilean version adds two eggs toward the end of cooking; as the hot mixture cooks the eggs, the final product is more like a custard than arroz con leche made with milk alone." Play with what sounds good to you to find the right combination for your taste buds.

Most Guatemalans make their "arroz con leche" much thinner than this, almost thin enough to be a drink. Oatmeal is also treated this way. However, I like both of those dishes very thick; enough to feel that I'm eating them, not drinking them; so this recipe is a variation of the "Chapin." It's easy to customize, though. You just let it reduce less time or add more liquid if you would like it to be thinner.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Diversity of Rosa de Jamaica, (Hibiscus Tea)

Rosa de Jamaica, know in English as red Hibiscus, has some interesting uses in Guatemala and Central America. I wasn't aware of its use as Rosemallow or Hibiscus tea in the states until I saw it used for the first time in Guatemala. The leaves are supposed to have medicinal properties that help with cracked or sore skin. The seeds are said to have diuretic properties good for people with kidney trouble or water retention. The flower is even more diverse!

Central America is not the only country who uses the Hibiscus flower. It is also used in Hawaii, France, East Africa, Brazil, India, China, Thailand, Korea and I'm sure that's only a few of the places. Since we are in Guatemala, though, here are some ways I have seen it used locally.

This bright red flower is cultivated, picked and dried, then sold to be eaten or made into delicious drinks. At our house we buy the dried Jamaica and then boil it. When it is ready, we add sugar and have a drink that tastes vaguely like Kool-aid or cranberry juice.

It is also manufactured into wine.

Some people even make Rosa de Jamaica tacos: (click for the recipe.)

It has been made into jellies and syrups, sorbet, and is said to fight cholesterol and aid weight loss.

Have you ever tried Rosa de Jamaica? If so did you like it?