Sunday, March 27, 2011

Charles' Pot De Creme

While my latest obsessions have been of the savory variety, my son Charles has been hooked on custard.  He has had some painful mouth problems in his young life and soothing cold custard has been his favorite treat for as long as I can remember. It comforts like no other dessert and making it is a breeze. Now, that's not to say it didn't take a few batches before we got the formula quite right for the texture and flavor we wanted. Charles enjoys cooking projects and since he loves this dish so much, I decided it would be a great beginners recipe to write. I had him start with a basic flan custard, which was way too eggy for our tastes. With less egg it needed a little more fat. Swapping out some of the milk for heavy cream was just the ticket. It was a little sweet, so he reduced the sugar and also experimented with cook temps and times, finding low and slow is the way to go. One happy accident came from not having quite enough custard cups the first time he made it, so we rooted out a case of 1/2 pint wide mouth canning jars and used a couple those. The next day when Charles wanted to take one to school in his lunch, John just screwed on the cap (he is so smart!). Totally portable. He now makes the whole batch in those jars. For Charles this was a tasty and rewarding project, all in all he made this about 10 times to get it right, keeping good notes on the changes he made along the way and can now make the whole recipe without any help from me. It makes me happy because I know it is a gift that will keep on giving his whole life (won't his girlfriends be lucky).  

For the Custard:
In a blender pour 
1/12 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1  14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
5 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla

Blend on medium speed until thoroughly mixed. Pour though a sieve into a large pitcher to strain. Then pour into 8 custard cups, or in our case wide mouth 1/2 pint canning jars. put jars into a 9 x 13 baking pan and fill the pan half up the side of the jars with warm water. Bake in a 300 degree oven for one hour and ten minutes. Ours get a little brown crust on top, which we like, but if you want them white on top, cover with foil while baking and reduce bake time by 10 minutes. They will still jiggle a tad but should not be liquidy in the center. Be careful pulling from oven. Set out to cool before removing them from the water. Once they are room temp refrigerate for four hours or so until completely chilled. Then all you need is a spoon...isn't that right, Chaz?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pho Chay

Pho Chay

In my winter haze I began fantasizing about travel to somewhere warm and cheap. Since actual travel was not in my budget, I satisfied my need by reading and cooking. I had heard of pho before, but for some reason this year it has gotten more press than ever. Maybe it's because of the clean, cleansing broth, or the slippery noodles and crunchy condiments that make you slurp and chew at the same time. Whatever it is, the pure satisfaction of this dish has had me in a trance all winter long. I found in my research that Pho is generally made with beef, Pho Bo. I knew that if I wanted to serve it as a regular dish on the bakery dinner menu, I would have to come up with a version that could be served as both a beef or a vegetarian dish. It may not be the classic, but it is delicious.

For the broth you will need:
4 ounces dried mushroom blend (preferably one that has shiitakes in it)
2 medium red onions skin on and whole
a fist sized knob of ginger
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon whole clove
1tablespoon whole coriander
1 tablespoon fennel seed 
3 whole star anise
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar ( or a half dollar sized hunk of palm sugar, if you can find it)
salt to taste

To finish the soup:
1 package rice noodles, the thinner ones
chopped cilantro
chopped fresh basil
fresh mung bean sprouts
scallions thinly sliced in the bias
crimini mushrooms very thinly sliced
Lime wedges
Sambal Olek

To make broth:

soak dried mushroom blend in 4 cups water overnight in the refrigerator

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Drain mushrooms reserving the liquid. Pat dry and toss with olive oil and salt. Spread mushrooms out onto a sheet pan lined with parchment and roast in oven for about 15 minutes until golden and even slightly crispy. 
While Mushrooms are roasting cut 2 red onion in half lengthwise and place on another sheet pan lined with parchment. Place whole knobs of ginger on same pan and roast them in the same oven
with the mushrooms. once the onions are caramelized and the ginger is soft, slide the onions into a large stock pot, chop the ginger into big chunks and put it in the pot along with HALF of the roasted mushrooms. Pour in 10 cups of water and bring to a slow simmer. As it's coming to temp, dry roast your spices in a clean dry saute pan and add them to the pot. Add salt and sugar and fish sauce. Let simmer gently for at least 1 1/2-2 hours. Strain broth and keep very hot until ready to serve, checking the spice and adjusting as needed. (or if your doing it ahead chill and store for up to one week)

Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add rice noodles cook, stirring frequently. boil until just tender then drain and toss with a tablespoon of vegetable oil to keep from sticking together. Set aside until ready to assemble.

To serve:
Put noodles in bottom of bowl. Sprinkle on some of the roasted mushrooms and some of the sliced fresh mushrooms. Ladle hot broth over this and serve at table with the condiments on the side, so people can put on what they like. Serve with a nice refreshing bottle of 'Red Saigon' (over ice, the way they do it down there!) and you'll feel like you've had a little trip to Vietnam, sans the jet lag.