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WHO: Jo Hastings, 53, chef-owner of Habana Cafe, 5402 Gulfport Blvd. S, Gulfport

WHAT: Pumpkin Flan

ABOUT THE RECIPE: Hastings is a hands-on restaurant owner. Experimenting in her restaurant kitchen one day, Hastings transformed a traditional flan recipe from her family, who moved from Cuba when she was 4, into a delectable autumn dessert. A slice of pumpkin flan with golden syrup drizzled over the top may look gourmet, but Hastings says it's easy to make.

"The hardest part about this is caramelizing the pan because sugar gets to a point where if you overdo it, it gets burnt, and you have to start over." Once that step is done, if you premeasure your ingredients, "it goes just like that," she said, snapping her fingers.

"I substitute this for a pumpkin pie because it's so unique," Hastings says. "I mean, how many times have you heard of a pumpkin flan?"

TIPS: Don't be afraid of mistakes. "I don't care what kind of chef you are, you're going to mess up, and that's okay because you can turn it into something good," she said.

It happened to her the first time she made pumpkin flan. She said she didn't put in enough cornstarch or cook it long enough, so although it looked gorgeous on the outside, the inside "imploded." She spooned it into a wine glass, topped it with whipped cream and cinnamon, and served it as pumpkin mousse. "People absolutely loved it," she said.

ON THE SIDE: "Whipped cream, just like a pumpkin pie." To dress it up, garnish with cinnamon, edible flowers or even edible gold leaf.

CAN'T COOK WITHOUT: Badia Complete Seasoning (Sazon Completa), an all-purpose Latin seasoning with onion, cumin, garlic and other herbs. "The big joke around here is that I'm going to be embalmed in this when I die," she said. "You can get this at any store in the Hispanic section. I buy it by the jugful. It adds great flavor. In this kitchen, if I ran out of that, I would kill myself."

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Pumpkin Flan

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

1 (12-ounce) can condensed milk

7 egg yolks

5 teaspoons cornstarch

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin

2 teaspoons pumpkin spice

2 ounces brandy

4 egg whites

8 ounces cream cheese

3/4 cup sugar

Additional 2 cups sugar for the caramel

Place the first seven ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix well with a wire whisk. Drain through a sieve into another bowl and set aside.

In a blender, on medium speed, mix the egg whites, cream cheese and 3/4 cup sugar until all ingredients are smooth. Add this to the already prepared mixture. Mix with a wire whisk.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place a pan, large enough to hold a 9-inch ovenproof mold, into the oven and fill about 1/3 of the pan with warm water (a bain-marie). When you later place the mold in the pan, the water should reach halfway up.

Now, it's time to make the caramel. In a medium-sized, heavy saucepan, over medium heat, cook 2 cups sugar. When the sugar begins to bubble, stir with a whisk constantly for 2 to 3 minutes until it caramelizes into a liquid, golden brown in color. Be careful not to overcook because sugar burns very quickly.

Pour caramelized sugar into the ovenproof mold and swirl around to coat the bottom and sides of the mold with the sugar. Let mold stand until the sugar hardens.

Then, pour the flan mixture into the mold and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Set mold in center of the bain-marie and cook for 2 hours. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight.

To serve: Run a knife around the inside edges of the mold. Invert the custard onto a serving platter. Scrape out any caramel that may be left for extra caramel sauce.

Makes 8 servings.

Source: Jo Hastings, chef-owner of Habana Cafe in Gulfport