Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Coconut Milk Flan with Ancho Chile Caramel

I'm always looking for new ways to challenge my creativity in the kitchen. It is so much fun to take a simple concept and elevate it with new flavors and dimensions. Recently Whole Foods partnered with Cook Taste Eat, a recipe website focused on helping home cooks create inventive meals with their fabulously produced demo videos, to put forth a challenge for food bloggers: create an appetizer or dessert using Whole Food 365 brand Coconut Milk with a Cinco de Mayo theme.

My first instinct was to do an appetizer because that is usually my forte. However the more I mulled over concepts and flavor profiles the perfect answer came to me- Flan! Awhile back I learned a technique to make caramel with coconut milk base and coconut milk is also the perfect texture to include in a custard. With the key ingredient doing double duty how could this recipe not be a winner! Of course I couldn't just settle there so I took the caramel up yet another level adding some spice and flavor of Ancho Chile to make this the most unique flan ever to grace your Cinco de Mayo table.

This recipe makes 8 servings in 7 oz Ramekins 
Prep time: 1 hour 
Bake Time: 1 hour 
Cool time: 1 hour (can be made the day before and cooled overnight)
  (Total 3 hours)


1 Can Whole Foods 365 brand Coconut Milk (13.5 ozs)
1 Dried Ancho Chile, rough chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground Chipotle pepper
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Agave Syrup
1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt

1 Can Whole Foods 365 brand Coconut Milk (13.5 ozs)
1 Can Sweetened Condensed Milk (14 ozs)
3 Eggs


In a medium saucepan over high heat bring 1 can of Coconut Milk to a boil
As soon as it begins to boil remove from heat and stir in rough chopped dried Ancho Chile, loose seeds included, stem and pod removed

Cover and let steep for 10 minutes so the chile can impart flavor into the Coconut milk
After 10 minutes strain a 3/4 cup of the coconut milk for use now, set aside the remaining liquid continuing to steep and gain more flavor
Add the 1/4 teaspoon of chipotle pepper to the reserve liquid that is steeping
In a medium saucepan over low/medium heat (3 out of 10 if 10 is high heat) whisk together the strained 3/4 cup of Coconut milk, cup of sugar, Agave syrup, & salt.
Simmer, gently stirring occasionally, until the caramel reaches the soft ball stage (235* F, should take between 25 minutes to half an hour)
Strain the reserved Coconut milk and stir gently into the caramel
Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the caramel reaches the hard ball stage (another 30 minutes or so)
While caramel continues to simmer preheat oven to 350* F
Arrange your ramekins on a baking sheet with at least a 1/2 inch lip or edge (you don't want your ramekins sliding off!)

In a large mixing bowl beat eggs, once beaten add your second can of coconut milk & can of sweetened condensed milk
Caramel should be reaching the hard ball stage at this point. Remove from heat and pour into a glass pouring measuring cup for ease
Evenly distribute the caramel amongst your ramekins arranged on the baking sheet. Turn each ramekin in your hands coating the sides with the caramel
Pour in custard mix filling to the inside lip of each ramekin
Cover the whole sheet with Aluminum foil and transfer to your preheated oven to bake for 1 hour
After baking for one hour remove from the oven and remove tin foil allowing to cool at room temperature for 30 minutes then transfer to the fridge for another 30 minutes (you can make this the day prior and refrigerate over night, in this instance you will want to allow the flan to come to room temp before serving, you may even choose to microwave it for 30 seconds so caramel warms and it is easier to plate)
To serve slide a knife around the edge of the ramekin, invert a small plate over the top of the ramekin and holding both sides flip it over and give it a good couple shakes loosening the flan and allowing it to land caramel side up on the plate! Spread any of the caramel remaining in the ramekin over your flan. Enjoy!

Eating this dish you will get a wonderful warmth from the chile in the caramel, the tropical sweetness of the coconut milk in the custard, and that homey texture we all love. Forewarning this dessert is very sweet! If you prefer an option to lessen the sweetness you can add 1 Tablespoon of lime zest to your custard mix. This lends a very unique flavor to the dish and is a fun variation! In tests the preference was split straight down the middle so try it both ways and let me know what you like best.

The most enjoyable part of the recipe testing process is always sharing with family and friends. Gathering their input and introducing them to new flavors and techniques is what motivates me to keep challenging myself!

 In exchange for writing this blog and tweeting a link to this blog, I received an entry into the Food Blogger to Media Star Promotion. For the Official Rules, visit http://www.cooktasteeat.com/food-blogger-media-star-official-rules.

Pliny the Younger Release & SF Beer Week festivities!

I think I drank my weight in beer last week. It started with an early Saturday morning drive to the Russian River Brew co on February 9th.... and ended with a very hung over drive home from SF Sunday morning the 17th. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Russian River Brew Co for Pliny the Younger :

A little background to start. Russian River Brew Co is a family run brewery initially opened with the support of Korbel Champagne Cellars. Vinnie Cilurzo the Brew-master and his wife Natalie have run the business from it's inception 2003. In 2004 they opened the brewpub in downtown Santa Rosa which sets the scene for our February 9th adventure. Now for the cause- Pliny the Younger. Released for a limited 2 weeks per year at the Brewpub with single kegs distributed locally to the very special few. Named by Beer Advocate as the Best Beer In the World, it truly is a special experience.Using Triple the standard hops of your typical IPA the time and space required to brew this heavenly elixir are what keep it's quantities so limited. For those with true determination however, your prize awaits. And by true determination? I mean a willingness to wait 6 hours in line...
RRBC pours Younger beginning the first Friday in February. Rumor has it the first people in line the first morning arrived at 3am. With a 2 hour drive to get there from San Jose we weren't quite that bold. I had wrangled Abbie into coming with me after two sets of guys friends were being non-committal with their plans. Initially we talked about leaving San Jose at 9 am to arrive at 11, assuming that surely things would be tapering off going into the second weekend. However after scaring ourselves with some online reports we decided to opt a little earlier for an 8 am start. Thank goodness we did. Even arriving at that time as we drove past the brewpub observing the line that stretched a good two blocks and was beginning to accumulate around the corner... I'll be honest we got a little nervous. After finding parking (all the parking is two hour limits... so we did a lot of taking turns to move the car or pay for more time) we dutifully got to the back of the line up. Thankfully just across the street there are 2 coffee shops along with a bookstore so we weren't at a total lose. As Abbie returned from a trip to procure some pastries for breakfast I saw her signaling me to get out of line. Is she crazy? Nope! It turns out our good friend Jared and a group of other college buddies were just around the bend from where we were waiting and we were joining them! They had only arrived about 20 minutes ahead of us however joining them probably cut our wait time for later by an hour. And thankfully gave us a little more flexibility to get out of line and stay entertained. I'll keep the stories of the wait short because I don't want to bore you as much as we were bored (let's just say the last hour of the wait where you stand next to the patio full of revelers is basically torture, I watched a drunk girl spill her Pliny all over the place and I told her she was ruining my life...) Finally at about 4:15 we made it in!
As soon as we made our way to the end of their very long bar the rounds of Younger were ordered and the true festivities began! With cloying aromas of wild flowers and a viscous yet refreshing mouth feel the Younger's flavor is many layered with hints of grape fruit, wild honey, nuttiness, minimal bitterness and basically everything that is amazing about beer. Oh and also at 10% abv... your buzzed almost immediately and you've never felt happier. Although I have never given birth I feel like that first sip is like the first time you hold your child... suddenly those 6 painful prior hours drift away. Ok that is I'm sure an incredible exaggeration. Regardless by the time I was 3 deep I was on top of the world.

RRBC has an extensive portfolio of beers that they produce and you are able to sip them all in their sampler, a STEAL at $15. I appreciated the many unique styles the showcase such as 3 variations of sour style beers, their IPA's, Belgian Style beers and what felt like everything in between. It's no wonder that once people make it inside they aren't exactly eager to leave. After enjoying the many beers, pizza, & wings we finally bid adieu to Russian River Brew with our Growlers filled with Elder, a day not soon to be forgotten!

SF Beer Week: Allagash tasting & 7x7 Bar/Brewery Crawl:

Wednesday night found my roommate and I on dash up to the city after work to the Mission area bar The Sycamore for their Allagash brewery night.  A cozy space with red walls and a chalk board of beverage choices the Sycamore boats a small 6 seat bar, some tables in the main room, and an adorable patio out back. The place was packed to the gills when we arrived. After some wiggling and maneuvering however we lucked out and grabbed a corner of the bar where we set up our tasting. There were no official flights however they were pouring 8 different varieties in your choice of a 4 oz or 8 oz glass. Shannon and I decided to each pick the 2 that we were most intrigued by and share our own custom flight of 4 oz pours!
Pictured were our 4 pours- The James Bean (a Bourbon Barrel aged Tripel with cold pressed coffee added, 10.3% alcohol amazing depth of flavor sweet and smokey my favorite of the night), the Dubbel (tradition Belgian double hopped beer, it was nice but not particularly interesting), the Interlude (a Belgian style farmhouse beer aged in wine barrels with a unique almost cider type flavor, fun and different), and Allagash's most well know beer the  White (a traditional Belgian Wheat beer with the additions of coriander and tropical orange peel, always one of my favorites) we enjoyed sipping tastes and comparing all 4 beers while also sampling their kitchens offering of the night (to celebrate the Portland, Maine brewery) a traditional Lobster roll. ( I took a picture but it was way to dark to make it worth posting). Simply dressed on a traditionally grilled bun with huge chunks of sweet lobster meat it was a fun treat along with these exceptional beers. After doing our flight and lobster roll we grabbed a pint of the Trippel and headed out to enjoy the unseasonably warm night on the patio. Inside there were signs promoting their Sunday brunch specials and we look forward to another warm weekend to spend out on the patio with some mimosa's!

7X7 North Beach Bar Crawl

The last event I attended was the 7x7 bar crawl featuring 7 local breweries set up at 7 different bars in the North Beach neighborhood. We didn't end up going to all 7 (we got a little bit later start than intended thanks to construction traffic on the Embarcadero) but had a great time at the ones we made it too! The entry fee was $10 pre paid (you got a tee shirt!) and each bar charged $4 for your tasting flight of 3-4 beers (my educated guess was 4 oz pours, they all had the same little plastic cups they were using specifically for the tasting). Check in was in front of Northstar so of course they had the biggest initial crowd, we decided to save them for later and headed across the street to Boardroom for so Speakeasy beers. I was so caught up in conversation with my Lil' Bro Arthur who I attended with that I have to admit to not taking notes or pictures. However you can never go wrong with Speakeasy beers! From there we headed over to O'Reilly's for some Magnolia beers. They were the only ones I saw pouring 4 and they had some great flavors particularly the Imperial IPA. Next up was Shmaltz Brewers over at Amante a cool old school bar that called to mind Frank Sinatra. They were pouring some of their He'Brews line at the tasting and I didn't realize till the brewer gave me their card that they also brew the "The Freak" Beers which are named and labeled after Circus and Carnival characters. Their Albino Python is one of my favorite Belgian White Ales. We wrapped it up at Northstar with the Laugunitas tasting.  Arthur had actually gone tasting at Laugunitas the weekend prior (after arriving WAY to late to get in at RRBC) and was familiar with the beers we were tasting particularly their "Sucks beer" which is a second run of one of their really good beers. True to name it did suck. This was a great way to spend a Saturday, the weather was mostly sunny and warm and the crowds not overwhelming if you chose your next bar carefully. It was a good value for all we got and I look forward to going again next year!

Beer week is so much fun each year and the list of events I want to attend. Even the little things (beer flavored ice cream at Humphrey Slocombe?! way tastier than you might imagine) make it a special time in the City!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Healthy Breakfast for the week: Kale & Pancetta Egg "Muffins" Trader Joe's Post #5

Getting in a healthy breakfast on the week days can sometimes be hard. I often eat at work and what this usually means is CARBS. Toast, Bagels, Croissants.... Now I will never ever be anti carb but I do agree with the breadth of research that suggests starting your day with protein is really the way to kick things into gear. So then comes the question how can I make a protein breakfast accessible and fast on week day mornings where I don't want to go in my kitchen except to maybe grab something out of the fridge? I know a lot of people will do shakes, I'll often do Greek yogurt with a little granola but what if I want something warm? I now have a great solution! Baked ahead of time Sunday night and stored in the fridge for the week to be re-heated once I arrive at work these egg "muffins" pack great protein flavor and even some green vitamins from the kale! And at 100 calories a piece you can't beat 'em.

6 Large Eggs
1/3 Cup Fresh Ricotta Cheese
1/4 Cup lowfat Milk
3- 6 Cloves Roasted Garlic roughly chopped (depending on your taste)
2 oz Cubed Pancetta or Bacon
2 Cups hand torn Kale

(Makes 9 "Muffins")

Preheat oven to 340* F

In a Saute Pan Over Medium Heat Crisp pancetta or bacon cubes (10 - 12 minutes)
Lower heat to low/med and scoop out pancetta from pan leaving the fat behind. After about 5 minutes once the pan has cooled some saute your kale for about 2 minutes (you want it to get soft not crisp up in the fat which is why you want the pan to cool)
Spray your muffin tins with olive oil or baking spray, add sauted kale to the tins in even portions
In a medium mixing bowl whisk together eggs, ricotta, milk, chopped roasted garlic, & salt & pepper.

Once the egg mixture has been whisked smooth add cooled pancetta. Transfer the mixture to an easy to pour glass measuring cup in two parts.
Pour egg mixture over kale in the already sprayed muffin pan. Fill each cup to the inside edge be sure if the pancetta has sunk to the bottom of the pouring cup that you distribute it evenly amongst the cups.
Transfer your muffin pan into the oven and bake for 14 - 16 minutes, until you can pierce the centers with a  knife or tooth pick and it comes out clean.

These are great served warm right out of the oven for a brunch buffet or if you plan to save them to eat at work throughout the week make sure they cool fully on the counter top before transferring them to a plastic ziplock and refrigerating. A few stuck a little when I was removing them from the pan so make sure the cups are sprayed well with the olive oil or cooking spray and use a knife around the edges to help loosen them.

Microwave on high for 45 seconds to reheat!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

2 State Bird Provisions Appetizer Recreations

My dinner at State Bird Provisions last month has been to date one of the best and most fun meals I have ever had. I fell in love with every item coming out of that kitchen and have been itching to try to make a few of their dishes myself at home. Since their actual recipes aren't available I have put together my own spin on two of my favorite items- the Garlic Bread with Burrata & the Mushroom Dip & Chips.

Garlic Bread with Burrata

The first time I had burrata cheese was while working at Pizza Antica when we started serving a bruschetta topped with saute kale and one ball of this delicious cheese sectioned onto 3 toasts. Burrata is ricotta cheese formed into a ball and surrounded by mozzerella cheese which is then sealed with cream. As these are both very mild and creamy cheeses they are a lovely palate for full flavored olive oils and salts. In this dish the slices of burrata melt onto the hot pizza bread making for the most refined cheesy bread you will ever eat!


1 Package Trader Joe's Fresh Pizza Dough
1/2 Cup Fresh Ricotta
1 head of Roasted Garlic
1 Ball fresh Burrata
Good Olive Oil
Salt, Pepper, Seasonings of your choice

Preheat oven to 425 F

Line baking sheet with Parchment paper

After allowing the dough to rest and come to room temperature on a  floured surface (about 20 - 25 minutes) shape your dough into a rectangle roughly 6 inches by 8 inches. Cut your dough into 4 long pieces 6inches by 2 inches. Stretch your first piece out a little wider and a little longer until it is roughly a 1/4 inch thick. Spray or brush the surface with olive oil, down the center spread about 2 Tablespoons of ricotta. Along the ricotta line pieces of roasted garlic (whole cloves if they are small or half cloves if they are bigger, about 6 - 7 pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Starting at one end begin to slowly fold over the corner of the dough twisting as you go making sure the filling is fully inside. As you twist toward the end begin to coil in so eventually the whole twist wraps around it's self.
Place the twists on your parchment paper lined baking sheet. Spray or brush liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with salt (this will help the dough get nice and golden in the oven). Bake 15 - 18 minutes until light golden brown on the outside. Plate your twist and add a 1/4 piece of the burrata to the top. Drizzle liberally with good olive oil and sprinkle with more salt and cracked pepper or any other dried seasoning you desire! ( I used a Dukka mix which I also purchased a Trader Joe's it is basically an herb and seed mix that added great flavor & texture!) These are a little big to pick up if you are feeling classy use a fork and knife, or by the end if you are like me just rip off pieces with your fingers!

Mushroom Dip with House Made Potato Chips
I was really fascinated by this dip when I enjoyed it at the restaurant. While my recipe may be totally off from what is actually in theirs (for instance they use porchini mushrooms which aren't always the easiest to find, I substituted Crimini which you can get pretty much anywhere) it still has the same essence and I thought it captured a lot of the flavors and textures. This is a great recipe to make the same night as the burrata dish as you will be able to get more mileage out of your container of ricotta!


12 Crimini Mushrooms
6 Cloves Roasted Garlic
3 Tblsp Olive oil or Black Truffle oil
1 Tblsp Chopped Fresh Thyme
1/4 Cup Ricotta
2 teasp Mascarpone
Salt & Pepper

1 Large Russet Potato
Vegetable oil (quantity will depend on whether you are using a fryer or frying on the stove top, if stove top make sure you have a deep enough pan and oil for about 2 inch depth)

For Dip: 

In a food processor get a small rough chop on the mushrooms (wiped clean, stems removed & quartered) and roasted garlic cloves. In a saute pan over medium heat coat the pan with the oil, once warm add chopped mushroom & garlic mix. Sprinkle with your chopped fresh thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Saute stirring with regularity until the mushrooms have darkened and are nice and soft (about 5 minutes).
Remove from the heat and allow the mix to cool for a few minutes. In a bowl mix seasoned mushroom mix with your ricotta and mascarpone. Refrigerate until you plan to serve (at least 1 hour allowing flavors to meld)

For the chips:

This was my first time making potato chips (I just got a mandolin slicer for Christmas and was excited to test it out!). I used my handy dandy fryer and although I got great tasting chips they were a little darker than I desired. Because I still have a lot of testing to do I'm going to send you to another blog Serious Eats where you can read about their tests and how they found the best technique for the perfect at home made chip! If you don't feel like reading the whole thing (it is very educational but very in depth) the author after many trials suggests first boiling your sliced potatoes in water spiked with some vinegar (the acidity helps keep the potatoes together while the starches boil out) for 3 minutes, drying them on a kitchen towel and then frying them in 325* oil till crisp! I promise to report back on this method.

I am great lover of restaurants not just for the dining experience but also for the at home recipes that dining at creative establishments inspire. It was so fun for me to try to break down what I ate and re create it for myself. Are there any restaurant favorites you would like me to create a home recipe for? Leave them in the comments below!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Beer Braised Short Ribs with Polenta

Despite the promise of spring around the corner the winter chill has yet to let go of the air. I keep trying to convince myself that it's time to start eating fresh and lite but when I come home at night what I really want is warm and filling. This weekend I had a little dinner party and I wanted something soulful- and easy to serve! Since these short ribs braise for hours there is no last minute rush before you have to serve them giving you plenty of time to clean up and serve your appetizers (to be posted next week) in peace!

Ingredients (serves 6):

4 -4.5 lbs Beef Short Ribs
(4.1 lbs were 6 perfectly portioned 5in
 long pieces when I bought mine at Whole Foods)

Spice Rub:

1/4 Cup packed Brown Sugar
1 Tablespoon ground Chipotle Chili Pepper spice
2 teaspoons ground Ginger
2 teaspoons Garlic Powder
2 teaspoons Salt
2 teaspoons black Pepper

Braising Liquid & Veggies:

3 large Carrots chopped
12 shallots (peeled whole)
28 oz Can of whole San Marzano Tomatoes
1/4 cup Dark Maple Syrup
1 3/4 Cups + 1/2 cup Beef Broth
2 (12oz) Bottles of your favorite dark ale
(I always use Firestone Double Barrel Ale when cooking beef)

Special equipment: You will need a heavy duty non reactive 6 qt pot (often called a Dutch oven)

Preheat oven to 375 F.

  On a sheet pan lined with foil pat dry and lay out your short ribs evenly spaced bone side down.
Sprinkle spice mix evenly over all surfaces lightly pressing it in to be sure they are thoroughly covered. Let the spice rub marinate the meat for 1 hour in the fridge (after the first 30 minutes I added any of the spice rib that I couldn't get to stick at first).
Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil over high heat in your pot just before smoking. Sear each piece on all 3 meaty sides excluding the bone ( the recipe I based this off of suggested about a minute on each side). I did mine in batches of two. Feel free to add a little more oil as you go if needed. After setting aside the seared meat lower the heat to medium low. Once the pot has cooled a little (2-3 minutes) add your half cup of beef stock to help deglaze some of the flavor that may have crusted to the bottom of the pan with a whisk. Proceed to add your chopped carrots and shallots letting them soften a little.
After 3 minutes or so add your braising liquids- the can of tomatoes, maple syrup, beef broth, & beer.
Add your ribs submerging them in the liquid (my pot was getting very full at this point so it took some wiggling to get them all situated in the liquid and veggies). Bring to a boil uncovered on the stove top. Once the liquid is boiling put the lid on and transfer your pot into your preheated oven (make sure before you preheat your oven to move the middle rack lower so there is space for your pot).

And with that all the hard work is done! Your short ribs will stay in the oven for 2- 2.5 hours and when they are done they will literally fall off the bone. I served mine over some polenta which can be made quickly right as you are ready to serve:

1 Cup Polenta grind corn meal
1 1/2 Cups Chicken stock
1 1/2 Cups water
2 Tablespoons Mascarpone (if you want your polenta a little creamy)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Bring stock and water to a boil in a sauce pan, slowly whisk in polenta, once it is all incorporated and cooked to desired thickness add mascarpone, salt & pepper.

Scoop a 1/2 cup or so of polenta on each plate and top with a short ribs, sauce and veggies. If you want an even thicker sauce about 30 minutes before you want to serve ladle out 2 cups of the braising liquid into a glass measuring vessel and put it in the freezer (about 10 minutes or so until the fat from the liquid has hardened on top so you can scoop it out) once you have removed the fat pour the liquid into a sauce pan and heat to boiling, in a small cup whisk together 1 Tablespoon of corn starch with 2 Tablespoons water, add to the boiling liquid while whisking continuously till your sauce is your desired thickness!
Rich and heart warming this is a wonderful winter weekend meal. I really love that once it's in the oven you don't have to worry about it and you have 2 and a half hours to do anything else you need to before serving. The combination of flavors is sweet smokey and spicy all my favorite things!