Banana Pudding for all my friends!

The tastiest banana pudding also happens to be the easiest to make!

The tastiest banana pudding also happens to be the easiest to make!

I’ve been on this banana pudding kick lately, which has greatly benefitted my friends and neighbors and their kids. Even though Regina and my own kids love the stuff, we simply couldn’t eat our way through the three huge batches I’ve made recently. We needed help and so Julie and Tim and Zach and Sarah have gotten containers in the past week; I believe they shared them with their kids but it’s possible they didn’t. This banana pudding has a way of making your forget your vows, disregard your children’s welfare, and consider committing higher crimes. Zach refers to the pudding as his “afternoon delight” which conjures up images better left unimagined.

The recipe for this banana pudding is old-fashioned and simple to make. You don’t start from scratch, you start from mixes, like lots of the great American comfort foods of the past fifty years. Canned milk and pudding mix and boxed cookies. Super-easy and super-yummy!

If you’ve ever been to Magnolia Bakery either in NYC or LA you might notice that their banana pudding tastes remarkably similar to this. Well, it should. It’s their recipe and I happily cribbed it. Because it is superb!

You will need:

  • 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 box (3.4 oz) Jello brand instant vanilla pudding
  • 1.5 cups cold water
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 4 cups sliced ripe bananas
  • 1 12-ounce box of Nilla wafers (use the Nabisco kind)

Now do this:

In a stand-up mixer whip together the condensed milk, pudding mix, and water for about two minutes at medium speed. You could use an electric hand mixer if you don’t have a stand-up Kitchen-Aid mixer, of course. Make sure after you’ve whipped it that you don’t see any yellow specks, which would be undissolved pudding powder; beat it a bit more if you need to. Pour pudding into a big mixing bowl and chill until completely set, maybe three hours.

When the pudding is set whip the heavy cream to stiff peaks. Fold the whipped cream gently but completely into the pudding mix. It should be well-combined and not streaky.

Into a big deep bowl put about a third of the cookies in a layer. Top with a third of the bananas and a third of the creamy pudding mix. Make three layers. Chill for at least four hours so the Nilla wafers can soften nicely.

I like to make it the day before. It improves with a full overnight chill-out. It will last three or four days refrigerated although I have no doubt you and your fam will polish it off before that!

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I like this cute pink pudding goblet. Thanks for the loaner Julie Semple!

Roast Beast Sandwich

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Leftovers make a lovely lunch.

I could make a hundred excuses of why I haven’t been posting to OMNIVOROUS lately and nearly half of those would be true, but the real truth is that I’ve been busy, busy, busy. What with two kids and a hectic work schedule (and an incurable addiction to Instagram) I’ve hardly had time to write a word. But recently I’ve been urged by a number of people to take up the quill again and resume my blogging. Apparently a few of you kind readers had missed my musings. Thank you for the encouragement; I’ll try to get back on the horse and ride it.*

Today’s brief post is about using leftovers to good effect. The night before I made this killer sandwich I’d cooked a large prime shell roast. If you’re not familiar with the term a shell roast is basically a huge New York strip steak roasted in the oven. This one was eight pounds, the equivalent of about ten big thick delicious New Yorks stuck together. I’d seasoned it simply and rubbed it with olive oil. I roasted it at 325ºF for about an hour. I pulled it out when I got a temp reading of 120ºF on my instant-read thermometer. This is considered rare but I knew it would continue cooking outside the oven for a little while. The shell roast was a huge success and mostly devoured; I’m glad a little was leftover because there are few things I love more than really great cold roast beef. Especially when it’s a superior hunk of roast.

So I shaved a little of the beef into thin slices and knocked out this delicious sandwich. I lightly toasted an onion roll and slathered homemade mayo on the bottom half. On the top half I smeared a bit of incendiary spicy mustard from Phillipe’s (the LA landmark restaurant which introduced the world to the French Dip sandwich). Two big slices of brandywine tomatoes went on the bottom bread and over that a mound of that shaved beef. I added a slice of Jarlsberg cheese and topped the cheese with a clutch of leftover salad (iceberg, arugula, radicchio, shaved fennel, and crumbled goat cheese). I put the top bread on the and closed up the sandwich, which I promptly ate without ceremony. And the sando was AMAZEBALLS, as they say.

Not pictured is the bottle of Asahi Black Lager that I drank with the sandwich.

* and maybe eat the horse afterwards. Hey, I’m OMNIVOROUS!

Frito Pie, Y’all!

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Would you believe that Frito pie is actually good for you? Well, it ain’t.

Frito Pie has been on my mind of late. The warm weather has me conjuring up thoughts of State Fairs and picnics and baseball games and other specifically American outdoor events that suggest foods eaten out of hand and foods that defy all conventional “healthy-eating” sensibilities. Frito Pie is one food that fits both criteria — it’s portable and well, disposable, and it’s virtually devoid of any redeeming nutritional value. However, it is super-yummy in all its gleefully white-trashy, grease-bomby way. I like it! It reminds me of my youth and my Southern ties, of hot weather and festival foods.

Now there’s a school of Frito Pie theory that suggests a baked casserole sort of construction, like some kind of bastardized Tex-Mex lasagna or ghetto-style enchiladas. Sure, you bake a bunch of Fritos (and no other corn chip is acceptable) with chili or ground beef with cheese and salsa and you know that’s going to be tasty treat. But to me that’s not really Frito Pie even if it kind of resembles a pie; to me Frito Pie is the so-called “walking taco” whereby you cut open a snack-sized bag of Fritos (the one and only) and you dump into it some hot chili (preferably beanless), some grated cheese, some sour cream and then maybe some other garnishes like jalapenos, hot sauce, chopped scallions, guacamole, etc. You scarf that down with a plastic fork (or spork, if you should be so lucky) and wash that down with an ice-cold PBR or Dixie (or Shiner Bock, if you should be so lucky) and that’s good eatin’, y’all!

For an afternoon snack today I made a totally delish Frito Pie. Because I had only a large bag of Fritos, I put it into a plastic deli cup and I ate it with a plastic fork. This presentation approximated the portability of eating out of a greasy plastic bag but was way neater. It went a little something like this….

  • 1 cup of Fritos dumped into a 16-ounce plastic container
  • 3/4 cup of basic meaty beanless chili put on top of that
  • 1/2 cup of grated “Mexican-style” cheese (jack & cheddar) scattered over the hot chili
  • 1/4 cup sour cream dumped into the container slightly off to the side
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh avocado, dumped into the container slightly off to the side
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro put on top
  • 1 tablespoon chopped green onion, on top
  • 1 teaspoon (or more!) hot sauce. I used Cholula, which is awesome.
  • stick a plastic fork in it
  • eat!

So, if you’re hankering for something that isn’t remotely healthy, try some Frito Pie. You can’t live on vegan kale salad alone, ya know!

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But it sho is yummy!

I’ve included a basic chili recipe. This is simple chili not meant to be eaten as a main course but to go on top of hot dogs, burgers, and things like Frito Pie.

Basic Chili:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped red or green bell pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup beer
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

To make the chili melt the butter with the oil in a 4-quart heavy-bottomed pot set over medium heat. Turn heat up to high and add the ground beef. Season beef with salt and pepper to taste and brown well. Add the onions and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes until softened. Add tomato paste and cook that, stirring around, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Sprinkle the flour over the beef and onion mixture and stir well. Add beer and cook until the alcohol smell has dissipated. Add all remaining ingredients. Stir well to combine. Bring to a low boil and then reduce heat to low. Simmer for a minimum of 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. I like to cook it gently for at least an hour until everything breaks down nicely and the excess water has evaporated. Keep in mind that this chili is better the next day, so plan ahead if you can.

Dungeness Crab & Avocado Omelet

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A decadent and lush omelet.

Sunday was Regina’s second Mother’s Day as a bona fide mom (and not just as a super-duper-stepmom). Naturally Bennet and I treated her to a day of yummy-delicious foods that would help make her feel special and loved. Breakfast was headlined by a dungeness crab & avocado omelet with a hollandaise sauce made with a pinch of cayenne and celery salt. Also on the plate was a toasted English muffin (from Bay’s, our favorite muffin maker) with a dab of Irish butter, a slice of crispy applewood-smoked bacon (from Applegate), and a fruit salad of diced pineapple, watermelon, and Hami melon (sort of an elongated Asian cantaloupe). A glass of freshly squeezed tangerine juice completed this perfect brekkie.

After the eggs are mostly set, add the warm crab and avocado on the half closest to you.

After the eggs are mostly set, add the warm crab and avocado on the half closest to you.

To make one omelet you’ll need:

  • 2 eggs
  • good unsalted butter, about two or three tablespoons
  • 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup freshly picked and cooked Dungeness crab
  • 2 or 3 slices of ripe avocado
  • salt & pepper
  • hollandaise sauce, recipes follows
  • cilantro leaves for garnish
  • a non-stick 9-inch omelet pan with a lid
  • a heat-resistant silicon spatula

Now do this:

First, make the hollandaise sauce and set it aside according to the directions below.

With a fork whisk the eggs in a bowl until very uniform in color and consistency. In a small pan (not the omelet pan) melt about a tablespoon of the butter over low heat. When the butter is completely melted add the crab. Warm the crab gently and thoroughly and then turn off the heat.

Now heat the omelet pan over medium-high heat and add about a tablespoon of butter. When the butter has melted tilt the pan in all directions to make sure the butter coats the bottom surface of the pan completely. Pour in the eggs and using your spatula gently push the eggs toward the middle. Again, tilt the pan in a circular fashion to spread out the whipped eggs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover with the lid. Cook the eggs (maybe 30 to 60 seconds) covered until just about set, but still slightly moist-looking.

Add the warmed crab to the eggs, spreading it out on half of the omelet surface, preferably the half closest to you. Top crab with avocado. Season with a bit more salt and pepper. Using your spatula gently flop the other half of the cooked eggs over the crab and avocado. Turn off heat and allow the omelet to warm through in the warm pan for about a minute.

Now gently slide the omelet out of the pan onto a plate. Top with about a quarter cup of warmed hollandaise sauce and a clutch of cilantro. Serve warm and eat immediately!

Hollandaise Sauce for Crab Omelets

  • 3 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • pinch of white pepper
  • room temperature water

Set up a double-boiler. That’s going to be a medium-sized pot with a stainless steel bowl that fits in the top comfortably. Use a deep enough pot so that the bowl has at least four inches of clearance below it. Fill the pot with 2 inches of water in the bottom. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

Put the egg yolks and cream into the bowl. Whisk gently together. Placed bowl over the simmering water and whisk consistently (but not too vigorously) until the eggs have thickened slightly. If the eggs get a little clumpy you can add a teaspoon or so of water to thin it out, whisking until smooth.

Now add butter, a few chunks at a time, until it melts. You need to whisk constantly after each addition in order for the butter and eggs to emulsify (combine smoothly). When you’ve whisked in all the butter (which should take about six to eight minutes) add the lemon juice and whisk it in until smooth. Add spices. Now check your consistency. Your hollandaise should be smooth, not too thick, and it should flow. If it seems dense, whisk in a little water.

Now, set aside the bowl of hollandaise (off the double boiler) until you’re ready to top your eggs. Keep your pot of water at the ready. You can replace the bowl over the water, turn the simmer back on, and reheat your hollandaise just before you’re ready to assemble. Again, when you reheat the sauce, if it thickens too much, whisk in a bit of water to thin and smooth it out.

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Yummy brekkie!

Easy Tasty Vegan Pizza

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Spicy veggie (and vegan) pizza is a snap to make.

This isn’t much of a recipe post, but more of a suggestion. I whipped up this lovely vegan pizza the other day and it exceeded expectations. Now I’m not a vegan (I’m OMNIVOROUS, baby!) and my tolerance for fake vegan cheese has its limits, but this pizza, notwithstanding the “cheddar-style” rice-based “cheese product” that melted inconsistently over the top, was just dynamite. I’m not going to measure it all out for you this time, but this what I did, more or less.

I had half an Italian eggplant, which was peeled. I diced the eggplant and salted it with a sprinkle of kosher salt. I let that sit for about 20 minutes and then I rinsed the eggplant and dried it well by squeezing it gently with a paper towel. I then sautéed the eggplant in olive oil until nicely browned. Also, I blanched some Tuscan kale in boiling salted water for two minutes. I dropped that into an ice bath to cool it down and then I drained it. I chopped it up nice and fine. I then chopped a little onion and browned that quickly in a pan. I preheated the pizza stone in my oven for 30 minutes at 550ºF (do it on a sheet pan, totally fine).

I took a nice, very flat whole wheat pita and I drizzled a little bit of olive oil over one side. I then spread over it a little homemade tomato sauce (a good jarred one is fine) and then added sparingly a little of each topping: kalamata olives, cooked eggplant, sautéed onions, blanched kale, fresh tomatoes, and pickled jalapenos. I added a few torn pieces of pre-sliced cheddar-style rice (or soy) cheese. I baked it on the pizza stone for about ten minutes. It was, how you say, AMAZEBALLS!

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Yummy and satisfying.

Roasted Paprika-Rubbed “Rock N Roll” Chicken Wings

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Overnight marinating makes these wings super-flavor-flav!

You guys know how much I just LOVE chicken wings, don’t ya? To give you some idea I’ve already published five other posts about wings and I’m sure I’ve alluded to wings in at least six other posts (I’ve linked to the good ones below.) There’s not much more I can add to the pre-existing wing conversation; however, I will reiterate that I absolutely love crisp & chewy skin, I adore the moist tender meat within, and I find irresistible what I like to call the “primal gnaw”, that nearly instinctual desire to chew cooked meat off of bones, using only your hands, in a greasy-fingered manner that recalls primitive man. It’s primal and messy and communal and well, fun.

My usual M.O. when making wings is to par-cook them; first I’ll bake them at a low temperature until about 80% cooked and then I’ll fry them until crisp. This two-pronged approach yields perfectly crisp wings every time. However, cooking them this way means you can’t really infuse the chicken itself with a lot of other flavorings (dried spices and marinades will dissipate the instant the wing hits the hot oil) and you need a finishing sauce of some kind to add some zest — classic Buffalo sauce, bbq sauce, honey-soy sauces, etc. I love the sauces, don’t get me wrong, but the longer the wings are saturated with sauce the father away they get from the skin-crunch ideal.

And of course you can achieve very flavorful wings with other methods — low-oil skillet-frying, grilling — but they don’t come close to deep-frying for crispy skin. I wanted a wing that was shot-through with flavor but came close to the great crispity-crunchity of fried wings. After a little tinkering I found a method that was worth sharing: high-heat roasting wings that have been coated with a moist dry rub, finished under the broil. The results were awesome — crisp and flavorful with no moist sauce to undercut the crunch. I ended up drizzling the still-hot wings with a wee bit of honey and they were AWESOME!

You’ll need:

  • 12 largish chicken wings (tips removed) cut into 24 individual pieces
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground sage
  • 1 tablespoon mirin (Japanese cooking wine) or anything similar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus a little extra when you cook them
  • honey for a last-minute drizzle

Now do this:

Put the cut wings into a large mixing bowl. Mix all the dried spices together and dump it over the wings. Using your hands coat the wings thoroughly with spices. Add the mirin, the soy sauce, and the oil. Coat wings thoroughly with wet ingredients and stick them into a ziploc bag. Wait impatiently for 24 hours. Preheat oven to 525º.

Place wings on a rack set over a sheet pan. Roast wings for 10 or 12 minutes or until the edges of the wings look crisp but not charred. Remove the pan from the oven and allow them to rest for about 15 minutes. Set the oven to broil and place a rack about six inches from the heating element.

Drizzle a little vegetable oil on the “up-side” of the wings. Broil 1 or 2 minutes or until nicely crunchy and a bit charred. Flip the wings and repeat the oil and the broil. Congrats! Your wings are finished.

Drizzle with a little honey if you wish.

Why are they called Rock N Roll Wings? Why not? They rock.

Check out my earlier wing-related posts:

Crispy Wok-Fried Wings: https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/crispy-wok-fried-chicken-wings/

Honey-Ginger Chicken Wings, Again: https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/honey-ginger-chicken-wings-again/

Late-Night-Guilty-Pleasure Wings: https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/late-night-guilty-pleasure-chicken-wings/

Chicken Wings & The Primal Gnaw: https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/chicken-wings-the-primal-gnaw/

It’s Game Time:     https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/its-game-time/

Atlantic Beach Pie

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Amazing Atlantic Beach Pie!

My good friend Margaret turned me on to this recipe, knowing how much I love to make pies and eat pies. One of my favorite pies is Key Lime and this interesting riff on the citrus custard pie turned out to be truly phenomenal. And a breeze to make.

I’m not going to get into a long dissertation on the origins of this pie. I’ve included a link to the original recipe below. Check it out if you want a bit more backstory. But in short, apparently it’s a local specialty of the North Carolina coast. This recipe is from a restaurant called Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill. The proprietor, Bill Smith, says it takes all of four seconds to make. Although it wasn’t quite that quick, it was incredibly easy.

The most intriguing aspect of the pie is the salty-sweet crust made from crushed saltines. You pair that with a tart lemon-lime custard and pillowy whipped cream and the pie just sings.

This is Bill Smith’s recipe with my notes:

Atlantic Beach Pie

For the crust:

1 1/2 sleeves of saltine crackers

1/3 to 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter

3 tablespoons sugar

For the filling:

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup lemon or lime juice or a mix of the two

Fresh whipped cream and coarse sea salt for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Crush the crackers finely, but not to dust. You can use a food processor or your hands. Add the sugar, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough. Press into an 8 inch pie pan. Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 18 minutes or until the crust colors a little.

While the crust is cooling (it doesn’t need to be cold), beat the egg yolks into the milk, then beat in the citrus juice. It is important to completely combine these ingredients. Pour into the shell and bake for 16 minutes until the filling has set. The pie needs to be completely cold to be sliced. Serve with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt.

————————–

I didn’t have an eight-inch pie pan. Nine-inch pans are much more common, so I extended the recipe for the crust a little to make a bit more. I used a full two sleeves of saltines, which I put into a big ziploc bag and crushed with a meat mallet. I left the cracker crumbs pretty chunky. I increased the butter to a little over a half-cup (one stick plus another tablespoon or so) of unsalted butter. I used four tablespoons of sugar in the crust and added 2 tablespoons of water to help make the crust more paste-like and easier to press into the pie pan.

For the filling I didn’t adjust the quantities at all, but I did use a mixture of fresh lemon juice and fresh key lime juice. The end result was excellent — smooth and sweet and tart all at the same time. 

After I baked the pie and the filling was fully set, I set it on a cooling rack to come to room temperature. And then I chilled it for about twenty minutes in the fridge. Meanwhile I prepared some whipped cream to complete the pie. 

Bill’s recipe calls for whipped cream but he doesn’t provide any measurements. I whipped two cups of heavy cream at medium speed until I got medium peaks. I then added two tablespoons of powdered sugar to the cream and beat it at medium-high until I got stiff peaks. A quick tip: when making whipped cream always chill the whisk attachment of your mixer and the mixer bowl with the cream already in it. The cream will whip up faster and fluffier if everything starts chilled. 

Finally, for the finishing touch on each cut slice I sprinkled a bit of Maldon Sea Salt, that lovely large-flaked sea salt from England. It adds a bit of saline crunch on the palate that kicks up the sweetness of the pie.

The original post:

http://www.npr.org/2013/04/11/176279512/a-north-carolina-pie-that-elicits-an-oh-my-god-response

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The chunky-style saltine crust is what differentiates this stellar pie from any old boring lemon pie.