April 27th, 2015

Bill’s Birthday Pie, no cheating!

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Bill’s favorite dessert is banana-coconut cream pie–and I make it for him every birthday. It combines two of his best-loved ingredients in a lush pudding, mounded in a flaky crust.

In the past, my method was what you’d call the cheater version, a trick that I stumbled upon years ago when I was deep in nightmare catering world. (um, like serving two concurrent dinner parties of 150 and 300 guests, after assembling 230 box lunches and feeding a crew meal of 60 for a music video.)

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I discovered that if you mix half-and-half instead of milk, along with glug of vanilla into instant pudding (I know, I know, blasphemy, how could I?) and stirred it thoroughly for 5 minutes, that it transformed (really, almost instantly!) into a remarkably smooth, rich and luscious pudding.

However, I’m not deep in nightmare catering world. (glory be.)

So I’m sharing the bonafide silken version. The version where you stand over a saucepan with a whisk and a wooden spoon, stirring, stirring. The version where you remember when you stood alongside your Nana, watching, watching, as she did the same. And you mustered all the patience that a child has, waiting for the mixture to thicken, waiting for the bubble and burp, waiting for that moment when you’d get to lick the spoon and clean out the pot.

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BILL’S FAVORITE BANANA-COCONUT CREAM PIE

One reason this pie is great: I place a handful of shredded coconut on the bottom of the pie shell before blind-baking it–while doubling (somewhat) as pie weights, the coconut toasts up beautifully.

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FLAKY PIE CRUST
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons very cold butter
3-4 tablespoons ice water
1/3 cup shredded coconut

Place flour, salt, and cold butter pieces in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a chopping or pastry blade. Pulse until the butter is cut into the flour and resembles little peas. Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, with the motor running. The dough will gather into a ball.

Remove and form the ball into a slightly flattened disc shape. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Dust the counter with flour. Roll out and place into a pie pan. Crimp the edges. Prick the surface with a fork. Sprinkle with shredded coconut.

Place on the center rack and bake for 15 minutes, until crisp and lightly browned.
Remove and cool completely before filling.

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Reason 2: Two egg yolks, whisked with half-and-half, sugar, and cornstarch, then added to the warming milk, make this pudding creamy-dreamy. I like to use part raw sugar and part granulated for deeper flavor.

SILKEN VANILLA PUDDING adapted from Cooking Light
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla (or scrape a vanilla bean)
2/3 cup sugar (can split it half demerara sugar/half granulated white sugar)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup half-and-half
knob of butter (optional)

Pour milk in a heavy, non-reactive saucepan. Add vanilla (or scrape seeds from vanilla bean.)
Gently warm on medium low heat.

In a large bowl, add both sugars, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk together. Add half-and-half and egg yolks to this mixture. Whisk thoroughly to combine well.

Add about one cup of the warmed milk to sugar mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Bring to just under a boil–still stirring. This could take a few minutes. Once the pudding begins to bubble and pop, cook for one more minute, then remove from heat. Whisk in a knob of butter until it is fully incorporated if you like.

Spoon pudding into a bowl. If you wish to chill it quickly, place bowl in a large ice-filled bowl for 15 minutes or until pudding cools, stirring occasionally.

Cover surface of pudding with plastic wrap; chill.

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ASSEMBLY
chilled vanilla pudding
2-3 ripe bananas
1 pint heavy cream, whipped with 3 tablespoons powdered sugar + 1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup toasted coconut

Put about half of the pudding into the baked and cooled pie shell. Slice the bananas (about 1/4 inch thick) and layer into the pie. Add remaining pudding. Top with banana slices. Cover with whipped cream. Sprinkle toasted coconut over the top. Cover and chill.

Serves 8-10

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And, just for fun:

EEK IN-A-PINCH CHEATER VANILLA PUDDING
1 3 ounce package instant vanilla pudding
2 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Dump the instant pudding mix into a large bowl. Bury the box in recycling.
While whisking, slowly add the half-and-half. Continue to stir for about 4 minutes.
Add the vanilla, and stir for another minute.
Cover and chill. Slink off and feel guilty. Then fill the pie, top with whipped cream and serve.
Smile sheepishly when someone asks for the recipe.

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Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 17 Comments »




June 18th, 2013

Some of Dad’s Favorites

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Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding with cocoa dusted whipped cream

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Maple-Mustard Glazed Salmon Steaks, roasted golden cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and sweet onions, scallion-jasmine rice

Always start with chocolate—then work backwards.

That’s my rule, when it comes to making my dad his special Father’s Day lunch. At a spry 87 years, he doesn’t want any thing, but a well-prepared meal capped by a deep dark decadent chocolate dessert insures a happy day for the man.

First I decide on his chocolatey treat, before formulating the rest of the menu. Sometimes I make mousse; sometimes, pots de cremes. Last year, I made chocolate sorbet.

This year, I chose something treasured from his past: chocolate pudding.

For many years, his mother, my Nana, would make chocolate pudding from scratch. She would make it in big batches–chilled in a pretty crystal bowl or served in individual ceramic crocks–at least once a week when he was growing up, a tradition she continued when she came to live with us.

My sisters and I knew we’d have to be patient—puddings take an eternity to make, by a child’s sense of time. But that patience would be rewarded with the pot and spoon–which we attacked, greedily running our fingers along the pot’s sides and bottom to lap up every delicious smidge. And licking that spoon ( the prize–who would get the spoon?) like it was a great chocolate lollipop.

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Chocolate pudding is uncomplicated: essentially milk, sugar, very good bittersweet chocolate, and a little cornstarch for thickening. Vanilla, coffee, creme de cacao, raspberry coulis: any other enhancements are up to you. The beauty of the pudding is in its basic premise: a delivery of creamy smooth chocolate comfort, easy-peasy to make.

The rest is all about hovering over the saucepan, stirring with diligence to insure that smooth texture, waiting for the pudding to bubble and burp. And by an adult’s time sense, it doesn’t really take that long. Maybe 15 minutes.

While the pudding cools, you can whip up the rest of the meal–beginning with the maple-mustard glaze for the salmon steaks.

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Simple components: country-style Dijon mustard whisked with maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and a splash of orange juice. It does wonders in a short time, imparting dark tangy sweetness to the fish. You can marinate the salmon for as little as 20 minutes, or several hours (more time is better).

I’ve had this recipe, courtesy of Cooking Light, bookmarked for quite some time, and earlier this year, my friend Faith over at An Edible Mosaic made a variation on the theme with chicken.

I’ve made it on three different occasions–a grilled fillet flaked onto toasts for cocktail party, whole roasted fillets for a large buffet dinner, and now these steaks for Dad.

The combination works really well-a bit of an update on those honey dijon tastes. Maple syrup comes across less sweet, with more complexity. You may use a smooth Dijon mustard, but I like the pop of the mustard seeds, especially when heated. This is a recipe whose elegant result belies its simplicity.

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To round out the plate:

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I found this pretty golden cauliflower at Smiley’s booth at our Nashville Farmers Market. With a cooler start to our spring, it’s been nice to have some of these cruciferous veggies available in June. My dad is not a big eater of vegetables, but he loves onions and (oddly) anything from the cabbage family is tops in his book.

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We’ve talked before about the ubiquitous roasting of vegetables–how it transforms the cauliflower into something crispy and sweet, the way the petals of Brussels sprouts become light caramel chips.

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MAPLE-MUSTARD GLAZED SALMON STEAKS (adapted from Cooking Light)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons coarse grain Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon orange juice
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

olive or canola oil
4 5-6oz. salmon steaks

Place the maple syrup, coarse grain mustard, balsamic vinegar and orange juice into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Stir in salt and pepper.

Place salmon steaks into a large zip lock bag. Pour in the marinade/glaze. Seal and refrigerate. Marinate for a couple of hours.

Prepare outdoor grill, broilerpan, or stovetop grill pan with a little oil. Heat.

Sear salmon steaks–about 6 minutes per side. Baste with reserved marinade. When the fish flakes easily with a fork, remove from heat.

Serves 4

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BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE PUDDING WITH COCOA-DUSTED WHIPPED CREAM
6 tablespoons turbinado sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch sea salt
2 3/4 cups 2% milk
2 tablespoons strong coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70%) chopped

1/2 pint heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon cocoa–to dust over the whipped cream

Whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan.* Turn on heat to medium. Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly, followed by coffee and vanilla. Stir-stir-stir! Over 15 minutes time, the mixture will begin to thicken, coating the back of a wooden spoon. When the rich chocolate mixture begins to burp and bubble, remove from heat. Keep stirring.

Using a heat-proof spatula, spoon and scrape the pudding into individual ramekins. Allow to cool slightly before refrigerating. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for a couple of hours. ( If you don’t want “pudding skin,” press plastic wrap directly onto the pudding surface.

Before serving: whip cream and dollop onto puddings. Dust with cocoa powder and serve.

Makes 6 individual ramekins.

*Many recipes call for using a double boiler, which I applaud–this works beautifully. But I will make just as smooth a pudding using my heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan on medium low heat, and that diligent hover-and-stir.

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Who wants to lick the spoon?

Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Fish/Seafood, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetables | 24 Comments »