Taste Testing: "Viva la Vida"

Viva La Vida is not just a nifty Coldplay tune, it's also a fairly useful cookbook. Colombian chef Rafael Palomino's sophomore effort, Viva la Vida: Festive Recipes for Entertaining Latin Style, offers easy to follow recipes for entertaining—Latin style.  The brain behind Sonora restaurant, Chef Palomino's dishes takes his reader on a culinary roadtrip of Latin American flavors and traditions using a basic and accessible approach. The book's more exotic dishes also offer a springboard for experienced home cooks who are looking to branch out of the usual taco, quesadilla and arroz con pollo rut.

The Meal

Viva la Vida
gives us an interesting take on traditional Latin dishes, like empanadas with crabmeat and sweet plantain and Manila clams in a cilantro-saffron broth. Unfortunately, the Sweet and Sour Long Island Duck Breasts with Mashed Plantains and Potatoes we chose to serve as our main course fell flat. Amazingly enough, this duck preparation called for absolutely no salt. I'm all for "low-sodium" but NO salt whatsoever in such an overwhelmingly sweet recipe raised an eyebrow or two among all present.

Moments after it was served, our plantain mashed potatoes turned into a cloyingly sweet grayish purple mush. Not the most enticing color but fanning the duck breast over it and heaping an unhealthy spooning of pan sauce goes a long way in the beautification process. It would be worth it to try making this dish using maduros—it might add a richer color and depth of flavor. We'd also encourage anyone making this meal to feel free to add salt to taste.

Just as my faith in this book began to waver, Palomino provided a couple of knockout dessert options. We made crispy Churros drizzled with a sweet sauce and lacy Dulce de Leche Cookies. The cookie is a new spin on an Old World classic: the Florentine. This is a fairly simple cookie to make but requires time and attention as it burns quite quickly. Take care when dropping them on the aluminum foil and try to wait until they melt a bit so you can form them into perfect circles. The attention will assure the delicate result is a crispy caramel wafer of perfection.

I haven't made all of the recipes in this book yet and am enticed by the recipes for Yuca pasteles with Argentine sirloin and the Chino-Latino Tiradito. I remain hopeful that the next main dish I prepare using Viva La Vida will compliment our delicious dessert experience and satisfy both our salty and sweet spots.