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!

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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Baby Vivian Eats A Godmother!

My baby’s got a healthy appetite!

Okay, okay, so my seven-month old child isn’t actually devouring one of the best sandwiches in Los Angeles, but she sure wanted to! Hell, she couldn’t even take a bite due to a conspicuous lack of teeth. But like her mom and me and pretty much everyone who’s ever eaten a Godmother, I’m sure baby Vivian would agree that it’s the best Italian-style sub (or hero or grinder or whatever) in the city. The bread is the key — crisp, chewy, and flavorful. If you haven’t eaten one yet, you should. And get it with the spicy peppers!

This pic was taken by my good friend Jen Kramer

 

Read more about it in my original Godmother post from 2011, which can be found here:

https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/the-best-sandwich-in-la/

Omnivorous Video #4: Frosted Flake French Toast (starring Bennet Gray!)

I shot this video with my son Bennet. It’s a very simple recipe for Frosted Flake French Toast. I won’t bother to post a recipe, since it’s so easy. You’ll just have to watch the video to find out how to make it!

And while you’re at it, check out my other OMNIVOROUS videos.

Feeding the Family

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A casual dinner by the Willamette River.

Regina, Bennet, Vivian, and I visited my father and step-mother in Portland, Oregon last week. Dad and Joan have an absolutely gorgeous place by on the east bank of the Willamette River. Their house is set on a bluff overlooking a wide expanse of perfect lawn that leads down to the river bank. My father is a dedicated plant man and he’s got stunning vegetable beds, fruit trees, and grape vines growing vigorously on their property. Kale and tomatoes, lettuces and potatoes, rosemary, lavender, fig, eucalyptus, red chard, bartlett pear, apples, and more. In the eight years they’ve been in Oregon they’ve managed to create and maintain a home that is inviting and charming and that’s a reflection of their progressive thoughts on nature, food, health, light, and community. And on a late summer afternoon there’s nothing better than sipping a glass of my Dad’s homemade white wine and watching rowing sculls flit across the river’s surface, competing occasionally with the wake-making antics of jet-skiers. Birds loop in the blue skies, adopted fuzzball cats get fresh with your legs, a breeze stirs the perfect green beans clinging from their trellis, the occasional passenger jet carves contrails impossibly high above us. It’s all so perfect. So perfect, in fact, that Regina and I got married on these fair premises last summer.

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Always superb salmon can be found in the Northwest.

When we visit I usually try to cook one good meal for my family; we only seem to have time for one as we always have so much on our plate — other friends and family to see, zoos to visit, and breweries to tour. We like to eat outside, watch the sunset, play board games as we nibble dessert, and perhaps sip a little cheap sherry (that would be only my father and me) as we yak about our lives, politics, and what-have-you. This past week talk of politics, the food industry, my much-missed absent sisters, and (naturally) The Olympics dominated. We try to make the most of what Dad and Joan’s garden has to offer, we take a casual pace, and we enjoy each other’s company.

Joan and Jeff (my bro) contributed some excellent Coho salmon — each filet about a pound, very lean, but very fresh. Full of pin bones, even though I yanked out most of them. I patted-dry the fish very well, cut the filets down to individual pieces, and seasoned them with sea salt, pepper, and a big pinch of some random Penzey’s spice mix (maybe like a poultry seasoning) that Joan had in her cooking arsenal. I cooked the filets by first searing the fish skin-side down in a very hot skillet with some olive oil. After the skin was crisped I then flipped the pieces and cooked the other side about a minute. I then transferred the par-cooked pieces to a baking dish. The baking dish I popped into the oven and finished the fish at 375º F for about five minutes.

The fish was just cooked through, moist and delicious.

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A simple salad — romaine, tomato, radish, etc.

Our salad was definitely a family affair. Jeff contributed a perfect large Persian cucumber from his yard-garden, Joan added a bulb of fennel and a head of fresh romaine from her lettuce bed, and just that morning I’d gotten a few excellent tomatoes, celery, and radishes from the small but very inviting Milwaukie Farmer’s Market. At the market I also picked up some great local and organic goat-milk feta cheese. I whipped up a simple cider vinaigrette with some garlic, shallot, and a bit of minced fennel frond (and S&P, of course).

I (mostly) peeled, seeded, and chopped the cuke. I shaved the fennel and soaked it briefly in cold water to firm it up. I cut, soaked, and spun-dry the romaine. Cut the tomatoes, finely cut some celery, shaved some radishes, crumbled the sublime and creamy feta. I tossed everything together with some of the dressing. Basically a Greek-style salad with no olives or peppers, it was light and refreshing and complemented the fish perfectly.

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Potatoes fresh out of the ground are the best!

Dad dug up some potatoes from a mixed patch that yielded some good glossy reds, some Peruvian purples, and a few starchy Russet-style baker-types. After hosing them down, drying them off, and cutting the spuds down to similar sizes (think 3/4-inch thick cubes, about) I tossed them (in a big bowl) in melted butter and olive oil. Over the top I sprinkled generous amounts of kosher salt and cracked black pepper. I also threw in some minced herbs from Joan’s herb pots — fresh rosemary, a bit of fresh lavender, lemon thyme, marjoram, and parsley. A couple large cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped, completed the potato seasoning. I spread the taters in a roasting pan and cooked them at 400ºF for about 35 minutes, until the potatoes were browned and crisp on the edges but soft in the middle. I turned and tossed and moved the potatoes around a couple of times during the roasting to ensure even cooking.

Everyone loved the potatoes, and it’s a good thing I made a whole lot as we ended up eating them the next day as well! The dish wasn’t particularly hard to make or inventive. It’s  all about fresh potatoes. Fresh potatoes are heads above your typical grocery store spuds. They are moister, richer, earthier, and butterier. Just excellent. And according to Dad, pretty much toil-free as a home crop.

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Very simple sauteed green beans.

Earlier that day Joan had picked some green beans. I trimmed these and blanched them in boiling salted water for about four minutes until tender. I shocked them in a ice bath to stop the cooking and then then drained them very well. I cut the beans into two-to-three-inch lengths. About five minutes before dinner time I heat up a big sauté pan and lightly browned (over medium-high heat) some chopped onion and garlic in a combination of butter and olive oil. I threw in the beans and cooked them for another minute. I added a splash of white wine (New Zealand Sauv Blanc), stirred the beans, and served them.

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Excellent lemon-garlic fettucine with butter, parmesan, lemon zest, and fresh breadcrumbs.

At the Milwaukie Farmer’s Market I also picked up a pound of very good organic linguine infused with lemon and garlic. First step in making this dish was toasting some homemade fresh breadcrumbs. I cut the crust off of a chunk of stale baguette and then cut the interior of the bread into smaller pieces, about a half-inch in size. I put the bread into a food processor and pulsed it down into crumbs. I then sautéed the crumbs in butter and olive oil until nice-and-crunchy; I pulled the crumbs from the pan and held them until later.

I set up a pot of salted water to cook the pasta. I set up another big sauté pan and melted a generous plug of butter in a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Into the oils I added two cloves of coarsely garlic & once minced shallot. I cooked the garlic and shallot about a minute until softened and then turned off the gas. When the water boiled I cooked the noodles to al dente.

I drained the noodles but I retained a half-cup of the pasta-cooking liquid in a measuring cup. I put the hot drained linguine into the butter-olive oil mixture and tossed it well. I turned the heat up to high and added the cup of pasta-water. I threw in a handful of chopped red chard and about 5 basil leaves, which I tore up by hand. Over the noodles I added two tablespoons of lemon zest and the juice of one lemon. Using a pair of tongs I mixed the noodles to get everything together and then tested for seasoning. I added a bit of salt, a whole bunch of black pepper, and 1 cup of grated parmesan. I killed the heat, stirred the cheese in, and transferred the pasta to a big serving bowl. Finally, as a garnish, I topped the linguine with a big handful of toasted breadcrumbs. Voila! Garlic & lemon linguine with butter, chard, basil, parmesan & crisp breadcrumbs.

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Sitting down to a fine meal with fine people (clockwise from left): Jeff, Bennet, Regina, me, Vivian, Joan. (Missing from this photo: Dad, who took the pic, and my sister-in-law Kate, who had to work.)

Jeff brought some homemade beer (pretty yummy!) and we also drank lemonade and one of my personal faves — Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc (pretty decent and relatively cheap NZ white). For dessert we had this delicious crostata made from organic nectarines and a partially whole-wheat crust, which came out a tiny bit tough. I made a basic pate brisée but I think I screwed up the proportions of fat-to-flour. C’est la vie. Even the best of us screw up from time to time. Best of all, we topped off the crostata with vanilla ice cream from Graeter’s out of Cincinnati. Good, ole-fashioned iced cream.

Seriously, is there anything better than good food and family? Well, the view helped too. And the wine.

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Fresh nectarine crostata. Yummy!

Strawberry Shortcakes Forever

Soul-satisfying old-fashioned strawberry shortcake.

My wife just pulled the pregnancy card. To be fair she hasn’t been especially demanding except for the occasional desperate and frantic request for trashy ice cream treats. A couple of days ago Regina told me unequivocally that she wanted, no required strawberry shortcake. And neither that phony, easy-to-make strawberry shortcake on the prepackaged spongecake you see moldering in the produce aisle next to the berries, nor some “shortcut” shortcake utilizing frozen Sara Lee pound cake, but real, honest-to-goodness old-fashioned strawberry shortcake with hand-whipped cream scented with vanilla, great berries, and warm sweet biscuits.

Of course she had to have it, and of course I had to make it. I got my son Bennet into the shortcake-making process and he loved it! He helped make the biscuits and assisted in assembly. As always, I encourage you to get your kids involved in the kitchen. The lessons learned are invaluable; it’s important for kids to garner an understanding of where their food comes from and how it’s made. It helps build self-confidence and the shared experience is critically important in building great family bonds. I could ramble on about this topic for hours, but you get the idea. Let’s make strawberry shortcake! Continue reading