Friends (And Flan) From Brazil

Anyone still here? I have sort of an odd request. It involves flan. Could you make me some?

I'm not usually a big flan person - if I'm going the custard route, I usually choose something like crème brulée (crunchy crust!) or good, old-fashioned pudding (nostalgia!) - but never flan. ...Flan. The name alone pretty much says it all. Flahhhn. Blahhh. Cold and jiggly. Sort of weird, if you want to know the truth.

Apparently, though, not all flan has to be so... bleh. My friend Nadine introduced me to Brazilian flan yesterday, and it was decidedly not bleh. It was creamy and caramely (not a real word, just go with it) and the perfect texture. None of this cold and jiggly nonsense.

I met Nadine at school. She's Brazilian and hilarious and, for the past three months, we've been bonding over sweaty kitchens, funny french accents, and lemon tart. Nadine always looks at me and giggles whenever Chef D. says "remember," because we decided that, with his thick Parisian accent, it sounds like he's actually saying "Camembert." Which is actually sort of fitting. "And, uh, Camembert to strain your cuh-stahrd for de leh-mon tart beh-fore you bake eet, so eet gets, uh, nice and smooz." (Giggle.) Nadine taught me how to say "shut up" in Portugese. I introduced her to the Shake Shack burger. She taught me about Brazilian flan.

Louis, I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.

Nadine's Creamy Brazilian Flan (Pudim de leite condensado)

I still don't have a camera (damn you, greenmarket camera thief), so unfortunately we are still sans photos, but trust me when I say that this is one gorgeous flan. It looks good enough to... um... eat. Please do, and enjoy.

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350ºF. In a small saucepan, melt the cup of sugar over low heat, stirring. Once the sugar has caramelized, becoming a nice, golden brown syrup, pour it immediately into a baking pan (a glass pie pan would work nicely), swirling so that the syrup coats all sides of the dish. Set aside to to cool.

In a food processor or electric mixer on high speed, blend the egg yolks until thick and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add the condensed milk, regular milk and egg whites, and continue blending until all ingredients are combined. Pour the egg mixture into the pan with the caramel and cover with aluminum foil.

Line a roasting pan with parchment paper. Place flan dish in the roasting pan (on top of the parchment), and place the roasting pan on oven rack. Fill the roasting pan with boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the flan dish.

Bake the flan until a knife inserted 1-inch from the edge comes out clean, 40-50 minutes. The center of the flan will still be soft. Allow flan to cool before unmolding onto a plate. Cut into wedges, and refrigerate before serving.


Hot and Cranky

I'm pretty sure today is the hottest day of the year here in New York City. If it's not, it certainly feels like it. The Weather Channel clocks us in at 93 degrees (with a "feels like" of 98 degrees and close to 50% humidity), which means that, down in the Level 3 kitchen at school, it's about oh... a million bazillion degrees Farenheit. Which means wilted salad greens and grainy whipped cream and silly, long-sleeved marshmallow uniforms stuck to hot, sweaty skin. Appetizing, no?

To sum things up, it's hot. Damn hot. It doesn't help that in our new, more advanced (and more time-sensitive) Level 3 format I'm constantly running around like a mad woman, chopping and filleting and stirring and straining and spooning and tasting and plating and reminding myself to breathe. Today, one of the dishes I was responsible for was grilled salmon with white wine herb sauce. Doesn't that sound good? It does, until you find yourself sweating over a blazing grill, desperately willing the fish to go ahead and be done already, before you reach your boiling point and actually burst into flames. I wonder if that's possible. You know, to flambé yourself.

In all honesty, it's not so bad. I mean, I did sign up for cooking school in August. Mostly I'm just cranky because I lost my camera this weekend at the Union Square Green Market. At least, I think I lost it. It could have been stolen... snatched up by a seedy young thief hidden among the throngs of people buying peaches and tomatoes and fresh herbs. I sort of like that idea better - it makes me feel like less of an irresponsible camera-loser. At any rate, I'm devastated. I've been feeling lost and, frankly, naked, since Saturday. Though I did pick up some wonderful heirloom tomatoes and a bunch of small, multicolored carrots at the market. They're really beautiful - knobbly stalks of purple and orange and white. Not that you'll get to see them. Or any of the other pretty pictures I took on Saturday - barrels of shiny, purple and white eggplants, wheels of yellow, raw-milk cheese, bunches of plump and pointy red radishes. Sigh. Such a bummer.

Luckily, before my poor camera was seized by a hostile market-goer, I was able to upload a few pictures from the fiery depths of Hades - I mean, Level 3 at school. Take a good, long look, because there's nothing more where those came from. Sob.

Lemon Tart

Sautéed Center-Cut Pork Chop with Green Peppercorn Sauce

My new Chef! Chef D., critiquing plates of Salade Niçoise, Lemon Tart, Grilled Salmon, Sautéed Pork Chops, Pots de Crème and Vegetable Soup
Here's to a cooler week ahead! And the miraculous reappearance of my camera! ...No? Well fine, but one of the two would be nice.

Roasted Rainbow Carrots with Rosemary and Mint

Colorful carrots are all over the farmer's markets these days - they're sweet and bright and beautiful, and I suggest that, if you haven't already, you give them a try. Just keep a tight grip on your valuables - I hear there's a camera thief lurking around 14th Street.

  • 1 bunch rainbow carrots, whole, scrubbed and trimmed
  • kosher salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • olive oil
  • fresh rosemary leaves, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350º. Toss the carrots with the olive oil to coat. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper, and place them on a sheet pan. Roast the carrots in the oven until slightly wrinkly and fork tender, about 10 minutes (depending on the size of the carrots). Remove from oven and immediately toss with chopped rosemary and mint, to taste. I prefer to use less rosemary and a lot of mint. Serve with a few slices of toasted bread and a hunk of sharp cheese.

Note: I like the look of these small carrots whole, but feel free to slice them up before roasting, if you prefer. Just be sure to adjust the roasting time accordingly (smaller pieces will roast faster than larger ones). Also, you'll notice I didn't mention anything about peeling the carrots - peeling removes the pretty, outer purple layer (of the purple carrots, anyway), so I opted to scrub them thoroughly and eat them skin-on. Yum.


Let's Talk About Books, Baby

Cheers, Aunt Marie!

My Aunt Marie, who you may already know about because she makes the most fantastic granola around, has a new book out today! Check out Ask Dr. Marie: Straight Talk and Reassuring Answers to Your Most Private Questions. It's a comprehensive on women's health and sexuality - it's got chapters on everything from "How to Get the Health Care You Need at Every Age" to "Sex Smarts: The Thinking Woman's Guide to Having Fun in Bed." Intriguing, no?

I think every gal (or guy who loves a gal) should have a copy of Marie's book. Then again, I suppose I'm sort of biased... she is my Aunt, afterall. Still, she is a rather remarkable Aunt. I mean, in her lifetime, the woman has gone from Nurse to Internist to women's health expert to guest on Oprah to ABC News Medical Correspondant... all while raising a family and being a wonderful Aunt and inventing a damn fine recipe for granola. And if that's not something to celebrate, I don't know what is. Congrats, Aunt Mur!

Celebration Cake

Okay, so, don't freak out. First, let me start out by saying that this cake is delicious. It's light, moist, flavorful, and, um... from a box. (!) Damn my eyes. I do have a "real" recipe for yellow cake, and it's actually quite good, but who wants to fuss around with measuring flour and sugar and blah blah blah and de whole freakin' zoo when you're at the beach on vacation and it's your uncle's birthday and it's an insanely gorgeous day and come on! Give a girl a break. That's right, I said it. It's from a box! And it tastes good! Sue me.

Ahem. Anyway, at least the chocolate frosting is homemade. I adapted the recipe from Lynn Kearney at The Food Network Kitchens.


For cake:
  • 2 boxes yellow cake mix (and various accoutrement - eggs, oil, etc.)
  • 3 9-inch, round cake pans
  • store-bought sugar flowers or candy, for decorating
For frosting:
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 to 8 tablespoons milk

Bake the cakes according to the instructions on the (gasp!) box. Let cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting: in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt the chocolate with the butter. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. In the bowl of an electric mixer, add chocolate mixter and sifted confectioners' sugar. Beat until well incorporated (despite the sifting, there may still be beads of sugar in the chocolate. This is fine). Add the vanilla and the milk, a tablespoon at a time, until the frosting is fluffy and has reached a nice, spreadable consistency.

Layer the cooled cakes, one on top of the other, with a thin layer of frosting in between. Ice the top and sides of cake, and decorate with flowers or candy.

Makes one 3-layer, 9-inch cake.


A Little List

I have a list. I think a lot of people do, actually. It's a list of things that, with very little persuasion, I could eat exclusively for the rest of my life and be perfectly content. Cheese, for example. Bread. (Grilled cheese, of course, goes without saying.) Guacamole. Reese's peanut butter cups.

Once, when I was a kid, I hid all of the peanut butter cups I'd collected from Halloween in a desk drawer in our living room, because, you know, they'd be safe there. I tried to ration them - one peanut butter cup a day... well no more than two, at least - so I'd have enough to be stuffed with chocolate and peanut butter for a full calendar year. I must not have realized that there are 365 days in a year, because I probably only had about 25 peanut butter cups. Which is actually a lot of peanut butter cups, but, as you may have guessed, not quite enough to last you (or me, in this particular case) a whole year. Especially if your dad, who also happens to love peanut butter cups, finds your hiding place. Oh well. At least my mother kept the fridge stocked with cheese.

This week at school we made cheese. Real cheese! And it didn't even involve live cultures or mold or anything. Apparently with ricotta, all you need is milk, citric acid, and salt;

and, for mozzerella, just some salt and a big hunk of cheese curd. See?

There's Nadine, working and stretching some curd for mozzerella. Little Miss Muffet would be proud.

We also did a full cheese tasting (complete with pieces of warm baguette from the bread kitchens), during which I discovered my appreciation for sheep's milk,

and we made pasta (fresh gnocchi and ravioli), which I bet is on lots of people's "food I'd eat exclusively" list. Probably lots of Italian people, anyway.

All in all, it was a good week at chef school. Cheese? Check. Bread? Check. Peanut butter cups? Working on it. Guacamole? Well, no. I'm not sure that's covered at the French Culinary Institute. Luckily, I already know how to make it.

Basil Peach Guacamole

I don't usually mess with the solid foundation of guacamole - avocado, onion, tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice - but sometimes I get curious. Like last weekend, when my aunt Marie and uncle Brad made fish tacos. I was put in charge of making guacamole, and when I saw a ripe, red tomato resting against a fuzzy yellow peach, I decided that they looked too nice together to be split up. I chopped the peach right up with the avocado and tomato and, on a whim, threw in a mess of fresh, chopped basil instead of cilantro. The result? Holy fish tacos - unbelievable.

Note: It's best to make this in the summer months, when peaches, tomatoes and basil are readily available.

  • 4-5 ripe avocados
  • 1/2 large tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1 peach, chopped into small pieces
  • large handful of fresh basil, chopped
  • salt
  • fresh ground black pepper

Cut the avocados in half lengthwise, working around the pit. Remove the large pit carefully, and scoop the avocado flesh out of the skin and into a large bowl (I find it easiest to use a spoon to scrape the flesh from the avocado skin). Mash gently with a fork, until the avocados are good and smashed but not completely smooth in texture.

Add the chopped tomato, onion, and peach, mixing to combine. Add the lime juice and basil, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with tacos or chips, or smear on slices of bread to liven up a ho-hum turkey sandwich.

Makes about 3-4 cups of guacamole.