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  1. Life & Culture

Tired of the same old Thanksgiving pie? Try her signature dish: Pumpkin Flan

Who: Jo Hastings, 53, chef-owner of Habana Café, 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 (Sazón 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."

Emily Young, Times correspondent

Signature Dish is published periodically in Taste. If you have a recipe that you would like featured or would like to nominate other home cooks and their dishes, please email the information to features@tampabay.com with a name and daytime phone number. Include SIGNATURE DISH in the subject line. Nominations can be mailed to Taste, Tampa Bay Times, 490 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

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