Sometimes a girl just has to have a big, steaming bowl of lovely Asian-style deliciousness for dinner. How many times have we made our way home at day’s end after spending 10 hours working… working hard. To add to our woes often a last-minute run to the grocery store is required if we expect to have dinner. All of the ingredients for this dish are available at your grocery store and, get this, if you’re so beat you’re willing to take the easy way out, most of the makings called for are already cleaned, prepared and/or cut up. Yay for grocery store food prep! I don’t know about you but I’m slow as molasses in the kitchen and that’s on a good day. So if I can get a little help to speed things up I’ll take it. The recipe can easily be halved but I like to have leftovers for lunches the following day so take that into consideration.
This dish can be served over noodles, (rice, udon or cellophane are all fine), or it may be served over rice, (white, brown, jasmine or basmati), it all works. If you’re staying away from carbs altogether add more broth and the dish becomes more soup-like. Nice, huh? Most of the vegetables can be found already chopped in the produce section of your grocery store, the shrimp has been cooked and is in the seafood department and the sweet potato can be thrown in the microwave to “bake”. The sweet potato is SO good paired with the savory lemongrass! The spinach is tossed into the pan straight from the bag and the basil leaves are torn from the stalk and added without having to cut. Also, in the produce section, you’ll find tubes of fresh lemongrass, grated ginger paste and minced garlic in the jar. Oh, the glory of it all! Wait, wait! I almost forgot to mention that in the “international” section of the store are already prepared udon noodles in cryovac and, if you prefer glass noodles, just know they don’t have to be cooked. They soak in hot water for 15-20 minutes so they’re ready when you’ve finished the shrimp part of the recipe. Can you believe it? Again, if you’re trying to watch your weight, using “lite” coconut milk is perfectly fine. I try to have boxed chicken broth always on hand and it’s perfect with the shrimp but feel free to use what you have in the pantry. Speaking of pantry, the jarred herbs and all-ready-prepared noodles are great staples to stock up on as are a few bags of cleaned shrimp in the freezer, perfect for last-minute soups, salads and stirfrys. I know this recipe calls for a lengthy list of ingredients but please keep in mind, this is pretty much a “dump and stir” meal. I’m thrilled with the ease of it and I know you will be, too. Enjoy!
One of my favorite Christmas scents is alcohol breath at midnight Mass. It’s almost tradition for grownups to show up lit up. Consider this. If one sits down to Christmas Eve dinner at 7:00pm and the meal is concluded at, say, 8:30pm…well, there’s quite a bit of time to get into trouble before sliding into your pew to hear a few carols before the service begins. We started our tradition years ago. And when I say “we” I mean Pamela, my little sister, and me. Mama would have a Puerto Rican Christmas Eve dinner with many of the typical dishes shipped to us in dry ice. Remember, Mama didn’t cook. After a rich, heavy dinner we had to move so Pamela and I took off and met our friends at Mai Kai, a famous Polynesian restaurant and bar here in town known for their island dancers and rum drinks. It was great when Jimmy and I started dating because then we had a driver. The three of us would have two or three barrels of rum, (that was the name of the drink….lethal), and at 11:30 the three of us would stumble out of the bar and Jimmy would drive to church where Mama would be waiting for us.
Midnight Mass was always packed, standing room only, with all dressed in their holiday finery. If we had a cold snap a few furs would be seen. As we maneuvered through the crowd waving at friends and the parents of friends, our eyes scanned our beautiful church searching for Mom. And then, suddenly, there she was soaking in the exquisite music of the choir. The moment we laid eyes on her the ruckus began. We thought we were whispering but apparently not. “Mama! MAH-MUH!! I love you, Mama.” Her mouth set in an angry line she’d make room for us in the pew. By the time Mass ended we’d pretty much be forgiven but then Pamela always, always had to do cartwheels on the church’s front lawn. Boy, did we catch heck all the way home. “Your father and I have a name in this town! Are you trying to ruin us? Alicia, what are you thinking? You’re supposed to set an example for your sister, caramba!” Pamela and I laugh about it now but only because we truly believe Mama’s enjoying celestial, angelic music in Heaven. Though we miss Mom so much we ache, we do wish her a merry, merry Christmas!
One of the few dishes Mama made herself for Christmas Eve was flan. It was a traditional flan, the flavored ones had not yet begun to appear. This flan is silky smooth, redolent with the flavor of coconut and the more subtle notes of cream cheese. What I really enjoy about it is it never has that “eggy” taste many flans have. And since only coconut cream and milk are used there are no little flecks of grated coconut meat floating around in your mouth. Bleah. Most recipes call for a 10″ cake or round pan. I used an 8″ round cake pan with 4″ tall sides. If you use a pan smaller than 10″ make certain the sides are 4″-5″ tall. This dish needs to be made in advance, yay!, in order to set and chill. I’ve made it 2 days before serving and it’s perfection. It is like nothing you’ve ever tasted. My friend, Andrea, said it should be made illegal. Or at least made every Christmas Eve!
In a medium size pot pour the sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Do not stir! When it turns caramel in color pour into waiting baking pan. Immediately rotate the pan so the caramel completely covers the bottom of the pan. The caramel hardens quickly so move fast. Set pan aside.
Place cream cheese in a large bowl and using a hand mixer beat until fluffy.
Add the cream of coconut to the cream cheese and mix well.
Add the coconut milk to the cream cheese mixture and beat well until all ingredients are well incorporated. Set aside.
In a medium size bowl break the eggs and, using a hand whisk, gently beat the eggs until the yolks and whites are thoroughly mixed. You want to minimize the air bubbles so don’t use a hand mixer or blender.
Pour the eggs into the cream cheese mixture and using the hand whisk blend well.
Pour the cream cheese and egg mixture into the baking dish and place the filled baking dish into a larger baking pan, for instance a casserole dish.
Heat some water to the boiling point and carefully pour the water into the larger baking pan or casserole dish. The water should reach 3/4 of the way up the sides of the flan pan. In other words, you’re making a bain Marie.
If using a 10″ pan bake for 1 hour or until the middle of the flan is “jiggly”. For a taller 8″ pan bake for 2 hours.
Remove from oven, place on a cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature.
Cover with plastic wrap directly onto flan and chill overnight up to 2 days.
Right before serving remove plastic wrap, run a knife around the edge of the flan, cover the flan with your serving platter and quickly invert. The flan should slide right out onto your platter. If not, gently tap the platter on your counter or carefully shake the inverted pan. Once a little air gets around the flan it’ll come right out with the melted caramel syrup.
Spoon a bit of syrup over every slice prior to serving.
I should have known when I put sunscreen on my toothbrush that I was moving waaaay too fast. I was behind schedule, running late to take my father to a routine doctors appointment. I knew he would be uptight and, as many elderly people can be, ready to hit the road early. Dressed and clean-shaven, Dad would be watching and waiting for me to pull up. He’d be sitting on the sofa in the living room, eyes fixed on the big front window, on the lookout for my Mini to whip into the driveway and I was probably still racing around the house in my pajamas. Actually, I wasn’t that late. I would be a few minutes early however it meant no makeup (who cares?) and no breakfast. That, I knew, would eventually be a problem for me. I couldn’t go from 6:00am to 11:00am with only a cup of coffee and a spoonful of coconut oil. I just can’t. I get cranky and head-achy. I run stop signs and snap at people. So I needed to eat something. Fast. Anything. But I didn’t have any hardboiled eggs, avocados or apples. No quick bite of steak or chicken available either. I didn’t even have a banana! Then and there I realized I had to come up with a recipe for some sort of ready-made, nutritious, grab ‘n go breakfast. I was pleased with that revelation knowing my son, James, would be able to take advantage of some sort of grab n’ go and enjoy it on the train ride into work. When I got home from Dad’s doctor appointment, (and, btw, all went well), I set about making up a tasty but nutritious breakfast cookie that would keep in the refrigerator, be low in fat and tide me over for at least three or four hours. Plus it couldn’t crumble. I was thrilled with the outcome. Now I have plenty of time in the morning to poke around instagram, facebook, NewYorkTimes, and BBC!
These cookies are quite filling and I consider them a meal…not so much a snack. They are meant to be thick so as to be sturdy and not crumble into a handful of granola. I used my 1/4 measuring cup to make 9 equal portions then scooped the batter into my hand to pat into shape and finished with cookies about 1/2″-3/4″ thick. They were baked about 25 minutes but each oven is different so check them for doneness at the 20 minute mark. Gently touch the top of a cookie to check for firmness and also under the cookie to make certain they’re not browning too quickly. I used mini chocolate chips not only to distribute them more evenly but because regular sized chips will not allow the cookie to hold its shape. Enjoy!
Summer’s here. We’ve put down our bourbons, pulled out the tequila and now our blenders are humming happily on our kitchen counter and poolside in our tiki huts. Sunday nights find us with sunburned shoulders making lunches and gearing up to answer the 412 emails waiting for us at the office. I’m already thinking, heck, dreaming of the weekend ahead. I want pool time with my family and early morning workouts where I can marvel at creamy magnolias and gardenias with their thick, glossy leaves, brilliant bougainvillea and tropical orchids seemingly growing out of palm trees.
And although my clothes are sodden with perspiration 15 seconds into the workout, the damp sheen on my skin gives me perverse pleasure. I want plenty of local fish and vegetables on the grill, the soft “plop-plop” of flip-flops slapping my floors. Weekdays I take advantage of two major sales at our grocery stores… mangoes and Haas avocados are in season and dirt cheap. In this house, avocados are eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sliced and on the side, in salads, stuffed or made into guac, we love ’em. Mangoes, too. In salads, blender drinks or salsas, but especially in this summer favorite… warm Mango Coconut Upside Down Cake served with vanilla ice cream slowly puddling in the bowl.
My family loves this cake. Loves it. I’ve had to bake it three times for this post as the first two times the cake was eaten before I had a chance to take some pics. My boys had had a couple of long, stressful days and this was their reward for persevering. I added a bit of good rum to the butter brown sugar which intensified the caramel overtones and depth of the syrup. The alcohol burns off but know the rum is optional. The recipe calls for creamed coconut, a product found in the international aisle of your grocery store. The texture of the creamed coconut is that of hard wax. When ready to use, it is melted stove top with the coconut milk. Creamed coconut is unsweetened, has tee-tiny bits of coconut meat and adds a richness to foods that is unparalleled. I keep a box or two in my pantry and boost the flavor of soups and curries with it. Within the small box, the creamed coconut is in a cryovac bag so it keeps fresh for a good amount of time. You won’t really notice a coconut taste in the cake but rather a creamy, richness.
This Mango Upside Down Cake shines with a fat dollop of freshly whipped cream atop or a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream speckled with vanilla beans. I have found, though, that this cake is at it’s best when served warm. If it is baked in a 10″ skillet, the pan must have at least 3″ sides to avoid spill over. A nonstick pan is fine, however, I don’t recommend cast iron as the rum and/or mangos may react to the metal.
12 tablespoons butter, divided – 8 to melt, 4 softened to room temperature
2 tablespoons dark rum, optional
4 large ripe mangos, peeled and sliced, pulp and juices reserved
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 6-ounce box creamed coconut
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups cake flour, all-purpose will do to avoid a trip to the store
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pre-heat oven to 350°.
To a 10″-12″ skillet add 8 tablespoons of butter and melt on medium heat.
Add the brown sugar and rum, if using, and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
Cover the bottom of the pan with the mango slices, filling in any gaps with small pieces of mango. Layer the mango until all is used except 1/2 cup of small pieces, pulp and juice. Set that 1/2 cup aside.
In the microwave or stove top, heat the coconut milk with the creamed coconut and stir until the creamed coconut has melted. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl add the reserved 4 tablespoons of softened butter with the granulated sugar and beat with a hand mixer until fluffy and well incorporated.
Add the reserved mango pulp and juice and mix well.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add the cooled milk and coconut mixture as well as the vanilla and mix well.
In a separate medium size bowl add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix.
Add the flour mixture to the coconut-mango mixture and gently mix BY HAND until there are no flour streaks and all is incorporated. Try not to over beat the cake.
Pour the cake batter over the arranged mango slices in the skillet, covering all the fruit and smooth the top of the batter.
Bake 40-50 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
Remove from oven and cool on a rack 20-30 minutes.
Invert on a platter, replacing any mango slices still in pan back onto cake and serve warm with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
In preparation for The Prince to come home for spring break I made Hummingbird Bread Pudding with a runny Cream Cheese Pecan Sauce. People, it was crazy good! I wish I could take credit for the recipe but that would be outright theft. I’ve had Hummingbird cake a million times but I’m not a big cake baker. Then I saw it as a bread pudding as I was flipping through my “go to” channels on television. Hummingbird Bread Pudding? Brilliant. It’s easy, fast and oh, so satisfying. And just a computer search away. From the Cooking Channel, its proper name is “Donna Bell’s Bakeshop’s Hummingbird Bread Pudding”. I tweaked it just a little; for instance I used 2% milk instead of whole and I doubled the Cream Cheese Pecan Sauce and also made it a bit thinner…I like to drizzle my sauce rather than drop dollops. An old, old recipe with a brand new twist…and CREAM CHEESE! Making the first two of my spring break crew happy, happy boys.