Island Magic – Caribbean Inspiration

(Courtesy photo)

Each time I travel, I return home inspired by the people, food, drink, sights, sounds, and history of the region I just visited.

I’m passionate about sharing my travels with friends and fans through new recipes, table décor, and gatherings that reflect favorite aspects of a trip, so I was particularly excited about the chance to visit Puerto Rico for six days this spring. I discovered that this U.S. territory has much to offer visitors, and it’s an easy flight from Dallas.

My husband, Randy, and I were invited to Puerto Rico to experience Saborea, an annual four-day culinary extravaganza celebrating the flavors and chefs of Puerto Rico. First, however, we set out to explore. We saw lovely beaches, sugar cane fields, dense mountain vegetation, rushing rivers, and the picturesque town of Ponce on the southern coast. Once a significant producer of sugar cane, Puerto Rico’s central region is now dotted with coffee plantations, and we tasted some amazing locally grown coffee.

One of my favorite activities was an all-day tour of the breathtakingly beautiful El Yunque National Forest, which is a must-see for any visitor. The rainforest produces 80 million gallons of water each year, and visitors are welcome to splash in several natural pools fed by a series of spectacular waterfalls. Almond, banana, and breadfruit are but three of the 250 species of trees, and cilantro grows wild throughout the forest. Paved pathways and wooden bridges made the tour accessible in an otherwise natural setting.

Bubbles & Bites was Saborea’s kickoff event to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

Under a starry sky on the Sheraton Convention Hotel rooftop, with light tropical breezes, views of the ocean, and upbeat music with Caribbean overtones, this taste, sip, and stroll event was one of the most elegant and festive events I’ve attended in recent memory. Many women wore gorgeous gowns, and I took note of the palm trees lit with colored lights, square light boxes employed as cocktail tables, and upholstered sofas and chairs arranged in outdoor conversation areas.

Champagne flowed freely, but it was the rum cocktails that held my attention. Puerto Rican rums are now distilled to match the flavor profiles of whiskey, vodka, tequila, and other liquors. One of my favorites was Don Q Grand Añejo rum, which reminded me of cognac.

The following evening, 20 talented local chefs were joined by a lineup of celebrity chefs from the U.S. and Canada for “A Privileged Taste” — a night of exquisite multi-course dinners with wine pairings, prepared tableside by the chefs.

Chef Lorraine Colón, of Always Fabulous Food, wowed our table with herb-crusted sea bass in a delicate citrus broth, petite duck and brie cannelloni, and coffee-rubbed sous vide short ribs with celeriac mash and tamarind sauce. Every bite was sheer magic. As the evening progressed, what started as respectful quiet conversation transitioned into whoops, hollers, and raucous applause as guests tried to out-do other tables in showing their appreciation to their chefs. It was grand culinary fun!

I was pumped for the final two days of Saborea that were centered around a large tasting pavilion, libation stations, celebrity-chef cooking demos, sponsor booths, mixology venues, and live music in a picturesque park setting overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The atmosphere was fun, educational, relaxed, and flavorful with stylish Caribbean flair. Many of the chefs featured smoked pork or seafood, but we also tasted beef sliders, chicken, and vegetarian dishes. A gigantic pan of shrimp paella reflected Puerto Rico’s Spanish roots and was popular with guests, but I stopped by Chef Roberto Espina’s booth three times for his rice and vegetable sauté, cooked on a large griddle and topped with smoked, shredded pork. I’ll be creating my own version of this tasty recipe in the near future.

For easy summer desserts, my recipe for Puerto Rican Rum Cake with Tropical Fruit and Coconut Flakes captures the celebratory mood of Puerto Rico, its friendly people, and mouthwatering flavors. Enjoy!

Christy Rost is a lifestyle authority, author of three cookbooks, public television chef on PBS stations nationwide, and a longtime resident of the Park Cites and Preston Hollow. For recipes and entertaining tips, visit her website at www.christyrost.com or follow her on Facebook and Twitter @ChristyRost.


Puerto Rican Rum Pound Cake With Tropical Fruit & Coconut Flakes

(Courtesy photo)

Ingredients:
• ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
• 1 ¾ cups sugar
• 3 eggs, at room temperature
• 3 cups flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• ¾ teaspoon salt
• ¼ teaspoon baking soda
• ½ cup milk
• ½ cup Puerto Rican añejo rum
• 2 teaspoons vanilla
• Slices of kiwi, mango, and pineapple
• ¾ cup coconut flakes

Directions:
Place the oven rack in the middle position and heat to 350 degrees. In large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy for about eight minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda until they are well blended. Gradually beat the flour mixture alternately with the milk and rum into the creamed mixture. Stir in the vanilla.

Spoon batter into a tube pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray and dusted with flour. Bake 60-65 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and cool 30 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Carefully remove the cake from the pan and place it on a rack over parchment paper. While the cake is still warm, pierce the top with a skewer at one-inch intervals and slowly spoon the rum and sugar syrup over the cake.

Rum And Sugar Syrup:
• 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
• ½ cup Puerto Rican añejo rum

In a small bowl, gradually whisk rum into the powdered sugar to form a thin syrup. Slowly spoon the syrup over the top of the cake so it trickles into the holes. Gently brush any remaining syrup over the sides of the cake. Set it aside until the syrup dries, and serve with sliced tropical fruit and a sprinkle of coconut flakes.

Yield: 1 cake

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