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!

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!

Tapas Partay!

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A little blurry, but oh, what a spread!

Last week Regina and I had a couple of great friends over for an early dinner. Well, all dinners are early when you have an infant, but luckily our friends are obliging and understanding. Of course when I put out a spread like this of course they are obliging! Mitch supplied the wine and Stef made a excellent blueberry pie to finish the meal with.

Starting from the bottom left and travelling a meandering path up the table in a vaguely clockwise direction the dishes are as follows: garlic aioli with a touch of saffron, garlicky sautéed mushrooms, paprika-dusted fried chicken wings, roasted purple cauliflower with shallots and a hit of sherry vinegar, marcona almonds, pickled peppadew peppers (say that five times fast!), lightly sweetened olive oil crackers (in the wax paper), assorted olives, patatas bravas (crispy fried potatoes), grilled lamb riblets, grilled ribeye with roasted garlic, lobster with saffron sofrito, grilled bread for pan con tomate, membrillo (Spanish quince paste), assorted cheese platter including cabrales, idiazabal, some kind of hard Basque cheese that I’ve forgotten the name of, and some nice Spanish chorizo (not to be confused with the Mexican stuff), clams with garlic and white wine and diced chorizo, and finally at the bottom right a plate of hand-shaved slices of one of the world’s great cured meats — Jamon Iberico “pata negra” — a dry-cured ham made from these cute little black pigs that feast on acorns.

Eating like this — with a wide assortment of small plates with complementing and contrasting flavors and textures and colors — is so enjoyable and delicious and fun and communal that I wish we could feast like this every night! I’d be 300 pounds, but I’d be happy as a clam cooked with white wine and chorizo.

Ad-hoc Asian Salad

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Today’s salad is a simple (yet miraculous) combination of leftover cold ramen noodles (the fresh kind, not the fry-dried variety), cold grilled skirt steak cut into thin strips, napa cabbage, iceberg lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, carrots, watercress, scallions, crispy garlic, crispy wontons, and a simple sesame-miso dressing (canola oil, shiro miso paste, sesame oil, rice vinegar, Chinese mustard, salt and pepper). It was yummy!

Get Your Greens!

Get Your Greens!

Gailan (Chinese Broccoli) is tender, tasty, and highly nutritious.

My body tells me when I need veggies. And I listen to my body. Certainly for my work I try to have an understanding of basic nutrition; ya know, the simple stuff like what vitamins and minerals are present in common vegetables and grains and meats. For the people I cater to I need to have a modicum of nutritional understanding to help create balanced diets and meals and not sound like a fool while I do. But in my own life I try to have a sensible and more intuitive approach to eating.

I really try to pay attention to my body’s needs, at least when it comes to the basics. Sometimes I crave fish and I think maybe that implies low levels of fatty acids and good cholesterol. Likewise when I get a hankering for oysters maybe I need a dose of magnesium. Sometimes I feel an urge for hot chicken broth or broccoli or salad or artichokes or spinach and I try to identify the need. I’m not sure what specifically my body requires when I crave gailan (Chinese broccoli) but it’s rich in all kinds of things vital to life — iron, dietary fiber, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B6, vitamin A, folic acid, zinc, magnesium, and calcium. Not only that but it tastes great — like broccoli but more so: richer, deeper, slightly more bitter, and sweeter. It’s an all-around winner for taste and nutrients.

To cook it I first wash it well and dry it. I cut off the leafy top halves and I shave off some of the exterior of the dense, thicker bottom halves with a veggie peeler. I like to stir-fry it with garlic and ginger and finish it with Chinese oyster sauce (sub with hoisin sauce or black bean sauce to make it vegan). Of course this is my favorite method, but you can do lots of things with it; just treat it as you would regular broccoli.

For the gailan in this pic I used about a half pound, which I cleaned as described above. I sliced two large cloves of garlic and minced fresh ginger until I had about one big rounded tablespoon. I heated up some veggie oil in a very hot wok (over high heat) until it was just barely smoking. I threw in the garlic and ginger and stirred it around. I tossed in the gailan and added some cracked black pepper and a large pinch of kosher salt. I stir-fried the veggie for about 2 minutes, moving it around frequently. I added two tablespoons of xao xing (Chinese cooking wine, although cheap sherry or white wine will do) and let that steam the veggie. When the liquid was nearly evaporated I added a big dollop (maybe one and a half tablespoons) of Lee Kum Kee brand Oyster Sauce. I killed the heat and stirred to make sure the gailan was fully coated with the sauce. I checked for seasoning and added a bit more pepper. It was perfect!

I served it with some steamed broken jasmine rice and some hoisin-glazed roasted salmon. After dinner my body felt rejuvenated, like I’d given it a big boost of nutrients. And it was delicious. And way better than a multi-vitamin.

Chef Baby Chow

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Chef babies eat very well! For an early lunch Vivian had a lovely soup I knocked together from a variety of tasty leftovers.

Leftover pho broth, steamed broken jasmine rice, Savoy cabbage, gailan (Chinese broccoli), baby arugula, cilantro, scallions, and Japanese flowering fern. She loved it!

For dessert the Viv had fresh strawberries and some very sweet red grapes.

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Crispy Fried Frog Legs!

Krispy Kermit

Krispy Kermit

When I was in the South Carolina Low Country last week I managed to get my hands on some absolutely fresh and delicious frog legs. Most commercial frog legs (at least the ones I’ve managed to get) are sold frozen and are usually imported from China. Once frozen the tasty little legs lose much of the sweet tenderness that makes them such a fine treat; the flesh gets a little rubbery and loses flavor. Now, about that flavor — everyone says they taste like chicken, but I don’t really buy into that description. That’s only an excuse to get the slightly squeamish to try something that superficially seems a bit weird — I mean, you’re eating a slimy, mud-dwelling amphibian, right? To me, frog legs taste like, well, frog. The meat is tender, almost gentle in its yielding texture, and a bit sweet with a faint butteriness that’s reminiscent of fresh scallops or mild fish like dover sole. The meat is nearly white, and the legs do bear a superficial resemblance to a chicken drumstick. If you fry them “chicken-style” like I did you could certainly make a case that they “taste like chicken”.

My friend Martin took half the batch and sautéed them French-style (you’ve heard the French being referred to as Frogs, haven’t you?), which means in a hot pan with garlic and herbs and a splash of white wine. They were incredibly delicious, but I prefer frying them because I find that a crisp breading plays wonderfully against the tender meat inside, making for a fantastic textural contrast. Crispy critters are yummy!

Now, I’m not sure exactly where these froggies were “gigged” although the marshy Low Country could certainly produce a bumper crop of our amphibious friends. I’m pretty sure they were local, although the seafood purveyor was a bit cagey about the actual source. Maybe something not entirely above-board in the supply chain? I don’t know, I don’t care, the frogs were exceptionally good. Heck, it’s not like I was buying whale meat.

I got the legs and separated them from the lower half of the frog torsos with a couple of sharp whacks with my knife. I’d never seen them still attached to the body, and the tiny exposed vertebrae and frog ribs had a Sam Raimi-George Romero-David Cronenberg kind of grotesquerie that gave me a brief pause. But I continued and with the same blade hacked off the feet (flippers?). The resulting “drumsticks” I soaked in whole milk for three hours in the refrigerator.

I whisked together a simple breader from one cup all-purpose flour, one and a half cups yellow corn flour (not to be confused with corn starch or corn meal), a quarter-cup of semolina flour, a generous tablespoon of kosher salt, a teaspoon of celery salt, a teaspoon of garlic powder, a teaspoon of ground white pepper, a teaspoon of onion powder, a half-teaspoon of finely ground black pepper, a half-teaspoon of Old Bay Spice, a half-teaspoon of granulated sugar, and a half-teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder.

I set up a fryer for 375ºF and breaded the frog legs by gently shaking off any excess milk and dredging the legs in the seasoned flours. I placed the legs on a rack over a sheet pan and let them sit for about five minutes. I fried the legs five or six at a time until golden brown, about three minutes per batch. I served them simply with lemon slices although a simple tartar sauce or remoulade wouldn’t have been out of place.

They were spectacular — hot and crisp and juicy and tender. Utterly delicious.

They don't really look like chicken, do they?

They don’t really look like chicken, do they?