Our Flan in Havana

Around the age of 6 or so, I dreamt of becoming a spy. I’d sit on the windowsill in my parents’ bedroom and watch cars and people passing by, writing down observations and descriptions. This was pretty dull work as we lived at the far end of a quiet residential block. Occasionally if I was ‘spying’ during the early evening, I would be able to record a groundbreaking “6:48 pm: Mr. So-and-So* comes home from work.” (*Name has been changed to protect Mr. So-and-So’s privacy.)

Graham Greene clearly had a better understanding of the world of espionage. In Our Man in Havana, he describes a world of political mission and international secrecy. Greene’s main protagonist, James Wormold, stumbles through the world of the British secret service on the backdrop of Cuba in the 1940s.

The flavors of Cuban cuisine carry plenty of heat. This roasted red pepper flan is light and airy, and to the naked eye, it is quite simple, but one taste reveals its powerful flavor combination of oregano, cumin, and chili powder. Perhaps my aspirations of trickery are better suited for the kitchen.

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Roasted red pepper flan:

6 red bell peppers

1/4 cup veg oil

1 tbsp oregano

1 tbsp cumin

1/2 tbsp chili powder (or more, depending on how much heat you like!)

1 clove garlic

Salt and pepper

Zest of 1 lime

1/4 cup heavy cream

3 eggs

Instruction:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the bell peppers in quarters and remove seed and whiteish flesh.

2. Make a marinade of oil, salt and pepper, garlic, and half of the oregano and cumin for the bell peppers. Coat the peppers on both sides with the marinade and roast in oven, skin side up, for twenty minutes.

3. Remove bell peppers from oven and transfer back to marinade bowl. Cover immediately in cling film and allow steam to continue to wilt the bell pepper skins.

4. When bell peppers have cooled, remove skin and put in blender. Blend bell peppers, lime zest, chili powder, and remaining oregano and cumin. Taste and add salt to season. Blend in egg and heavy cream. Transfer into miniature spring form pan or any mold whose shape you’d like your flan to take. Place mold in larger pan and create a waterbath.

5. Cook flan in oven until for about thirty minutes (until mixture is firm and toothpick comes out clean).

Enjoy roasted red pepper flan with Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, and check in at https://warandpeach.com/ for future recipes and book reviews!

The End of the Éclair

I remember as a child being unable to sleep one night and padding downstairs in the dark. My parents were on the couch watching a film. As soon as they saw me, my mom leapt for the remote and immediately pressed the pause button.

I was intrigued. What could be so bad that my parents wouldn’t want me to see? “We’re watching The End of the Affair. You can read or watch it someday… when you’re older.”

It was around this age that I began parochial school. Although completely dreadful in most ways, one thing I always looked forward to was lunchtime in the cafeteria. The school sold chocolate éclairs for 50 cents (which, looking back, weren’t éclairs at all as much as ice cream bars with a sophisticated name). The cafeteria treat and the scandalous content of Graham Greene’s work were both delicious, and fifteen years later, I still can’t get enough.

Graham Greene is one of my favorite writers. He captures the serious flaws and complexities of relationships without being too dense. His writing style is not unlike an éclair: the structure is simple and light, but it’s complexity comes from the internal flavor. Both a Graham Greene novel and a simple éclair are quite satisfying – you’ll find yourself filled to the brim but still wanting to come back for more.

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Body (pastry part of the éclair):

1/2 stick butter

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup flour

2 eggs (one whole, one white only)

pinch of salt

sprinkle of cinnamon

Filling:

1/2 stick butter

4 oz. block of cream cheese

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 cup confectioner sugar

dash of light cream

sprinkle of cinnamon

Instruction:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In saucepan, melt butter and water until just boiling. Take off burner and whisk in flour, salt, and cinnamon until blended evenly.

3. After the mixture has cooled, beat in eggs. If you do this too soon, the still-warm mixture will scramble the eggs.

4. When mixture is fully blended, use tablespoon to dollop dough onto a greased baking sheet. Should yield about six blobs of dough.

5. Bake for about 20 minutes in oven, or until light brown. Dough should puff up into light pastries.

6. With fork, mash together softened butter and cream cheese until blended. Add vanilla and confectioner sugar. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon and a dash of heavy cream, depending on consistency (should be like a thin frosting) and whisk again.

7. Assembly time. With a small knife, make small incision in each pastry. This should happen quite easily, as the pastries should puff up to be light to the point of almost hollow.

8. Using a piping bag (or your own makeshift piper made out of a plastic bag with a small hole cut in a corner), fill each pastry with the buttercream mixture.

9. Garnish as you like! For example, add a small dollop of leftover buttercream on top of each éclair and sprinkle a bit of cinnamon over the plate.

Enjoy éclairs with The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, and check in at warandpeach.wordpress.com for future recipes and book reviews!