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!

IMG_1152

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

Atlantic Beach Pie

IMG_1344

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

IMG_1341

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

Pineapple Carpaccio with Homemade Coconut Sorbet

So yummy, so fresh.

Those of you lucky enough to have eaten at Red Ginger Pan-Asian Kitchen, my long-defunct restaurant in Half Moon Bay, will recognize this dessert as one of my signature sweet offerings. It was a fan favorite, healthy and refreshing. And very easy to put together.

To make this dish I shave slightly under-ripe pineapple on a Japanese Benriner mandolin about an eighth-of-an-inch thick. I lay the slices of pineapple on a plate and top with minced crystallized ginger, some crushed (salted) macadamia nuts, and a scoop of homemade coconut sorbet. I drizzle a little honey over the whole thing and then usually add a little fresh hand-torn mint leaf (although I seem to have forgotten it this time around).

The coconut sorbet is easy. I take two cans of organic coconut milk and add one cup of sugar. I heat it over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. I stir in a tablespoon of Malibu rum and chill the mixture for about two hours. I freeze it in an ice cream maker until airy and creamy. It’s stupid-easy.

Anyway, this dessert is a keeper, a crowd-pleaser, and with a little planning (and some special but inexpensive equipment) a cinch to make. And, as an added bonus, it’s totally vegan!

Try it some time!

Super-Sweet Dried Pineapple

Glorious dried pineapple!

If you’ve been following this blog at all, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that I’ve been on this dehydrator kick. I got a new dehydrator at work to make a few things for a “raw” diet and I’ve also playing around with different dried fruit, beef jerky, and kale chips. I like the ease of the dehydrator (if not the clean-up) — you prep your fruit in a few minutes, you stick it in the unit, and you just dry it until it’s done. This pineapple was a snap to prep. The actual drying time was interminable, but for over a full day the house was filled with a fantastic, sweet, heady aroma of tropical fruit. My wife Regina said the house smelled like Hawaii.

The end result was just incredible and highly addictive. Everyone who’s tried it has loved it utterly; my boy Bennet was hooked instantly and I had to hide the container from him before he ate the whole damn thing. The pineapple was chewy and candy-sweet. The pineapple flavor was concentrated, robust, and almost caramel-like in intensity. This dried pineapple was truly epic.

It helps to start with super-fresh and tasty fruit.

It’s very easy to make.

I started with ten pounds of pre-cut pineapple. Of course if you start with actual fruit (peel it, core it, cut it) it’ll be cheaper, but I was less interested in economy than I was in ease of production. So I took fresh chunks of pineapple and cut them down to make sure they were of uniform thickness — about a half-inch.

I put the pineapple chunks into a big bowl and tossed them with three cups of organic granulated sugar. I let the pineapple sit for one hour and then placed the fruit chunks on the dehydrator trays. In the bottom of the bowl remained about two cups of sugary pineapple juice, which I strained. This delicious syrup I used later as a sweetener for a batch of amazing tropical iced tea. A yummy byproduct of this one project turned into another project — no waste!

I dried the pineapple at 135ºF for a staggering 30 hours! Pineapple has a lot of moisture to dry out, so be patient. After about 20 hours I started checking every hour or so. I would eat a piece and make sure it wasn’t too soft or wet. It should be dry but not brittle. Chewy but not tooth-threatening.

When it was fully dried I stored it in two airtight containers. My yield was eight cups of dried pineapple.

 

You might like this recipe too: dried cherries in the dehydrator.

https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/dried-rainier-cherries/

Sweet and chewy and tasty.

Chocolate Wafer Icebox Cake

Very sweet, very easy, very addictive cake.

Chocolate Wafer Icebox Cake has got to be the easiest cake to make in the entire history of the world. It’s got only four ingredients, you don’t have to bake it, and the end result is sublime and beautiful. The only challenging aspect to this creation is waiting a day before eating it.

Over the weekend Regina and I were hanging out with Mitch and Stef, great friends of ours who have a lovely little place in Venice. It was one of those breezy, early-summer days with  gorgeous sunshine and the warm air hinting of the sea not a block away. It was mostly a day for doing nothing much at all — eating a bit, drinking a bit, talking a lot. We talked about food, of course. Most of our friends are as nearly food-centric as we are. Stef mentioned their upcoming trip back east and how she always looked forward to her uncle’s Icebox Cake. Of course this intrigued me; I’m always interested not just in the food, but why people are excited about a particular dish. Nearly always there’s a deep emotional connection to a specific food, some sort of sense-memory that holds a dish dear to our heart and palate. Often there’s a place involved, and a very particular moment in time, and it’s these stories I love.

I knew I wanted to make this cake that Stef has such fond memories of. I knew it would be easy to make, as she described this as the sole dish her uncle can put together.  Of course I didn’t quite realize how ridiculously easy it is.

Perhaps the easiest cake to make in the entire world!!

The ingredient list is amazingly brief.

I’m pretty sure this recipe was created by Nabisco back in the heady, extra-creamy days of yore when people took recipes on boxes seriously and three cups of heavy whipping cream in a recipe didn’t give pause. It certainly does now, but hey, it’s not like you’re eating the whole thing yourself, right? Right?

It might be challenging to find these Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers; perhaps they were ubiquitous and more “famous” once-upon-a-time, but I can only find them on the shelf at Gelson’s, my favorite all-purpose, higher-end market. You might have to check online or make a couple of calls to source them. But they’re excellent boxed cookies with lots of applications other than super-easy, cheater-cake. I use them for ice cream sandwiches and crumble them for the crust of ice cream pie. And they’re yummy just dunked in whole milk. They taste just like the chocolate cookie in an OREO, which is no surprise since that’s also a Nabisco product. In fact, this cake sort of tastes like a giant Oreo cookie. And that’s not a bad thing.

Seven cookies per layer!

The only thing challenging is waiting until the next day!

You will need:

  • 3 cups of heavy whipping cream, preferably organic
  • 4 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 9-ounce boxes of Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers
  • shaved chocolate, chocolate sprinkles, cocoa powder, or tiny chocolate chips as a garnish

Now do this:

With a hand mixer or a stand-up mixer whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla to soft-to-medium peaks.

On a plate arrange seven cookies in a circular pattern, with one cookie in the middle. Carefully spread about a half-cup of the whipped cream over the cookies. The first layer is a bit challenging as the cookies aren’t adhered to anything yet, but as you create layers and the cake takes shape, it becomes quicker and easier. You’ll find that boxes of these fragile cookies will contain quite a few broken ones, so I place those in the middle, leaving the nicer cookies for the edge. As I add each new layer I stagger the cookies so that the cake edges show a nice alternating pattern. Keep layering (seven cookies, half-cup cream) until you have used all the cookies and the whipped cream, or until one of the two runs out. I created twelve layers and still had some whipped cream left, although all the wafers were utilized.

Now cover the cake with plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge. Allow it to cool overnight. It’s very important to leave it overnight, at least; as it sits refrigerated the cookies soften and become very “cake-like”. As a garnish, sprinkle some little chocolatey things on top. I used sprinkles.

The end result was delicious. A cold glass of milk washed down a big slice of this excellent, old-fashioned cake perfectly.

Icebox cake is a crowd pleaser!

When I looked up this recipe, I realized that it’s virtually the same from site to site. Smitten Kitchen shows the same recipe as Oprah.com. Apparently this is one of those recipes that has entered the American consciousness and remained intact. Well, mostly intact, since I reduced the sugar a tiny bit for this recipe.

 

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

Tangerine Sorbet

Great tangerines make for great tangerine sorbet!

I’ve been getting lots of fantastic tangerines lately — pixies, clementines, honey tangerines, satsumas, and sumos (although the sumo tangerines were larger and tastier last year). But the honey tangerines I picked up last week were exceptionally seedy, making them slightly troublesome to snack on. However the taste was spectacular! So using an old-fashioned press-juicer I squeezed a whole bunch of them until I had four cups of delicious, brilliantly orange-hued honey tangerine juice.

I poured the juice into a small saucepan and added 3/4 cup of white granulated sugar. I warmed the juice over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until all the sugar melted into the juice.

I poured the warm juice into a plastic container and placed that container into another, much larger container filled with ice water to try to cool the juice quickly. It took about 30 minutes to come down to room temperature. I covered the container with plastic wrap and popped it in the fridge to rest until it got very cold.

I froze it an ice cream maker until it was slushy and tangy and sweet and utterly refreshing.