Thursday, June 19, 2008

Making Mom's Flan

I remember going over my grandmother’s house when I was little and helping her make flan. I used to know the recipe by heart. She would let me crack the eggs into the blender and add a teaspoon of vanilla.

Years later, and the recipe forgotten, I boasted about my mom’s delicious take on the dessert to the Elevator web team, promising to recreate it for them. Lost in the prospect of its amazing taste, I had forgotten the fact that I am possibly the worst cook ever. I didn’t even own a blender.

Even so, I sought to make good on my promise. I called my mom for the recipe, bought the ingredients, a blender and even the same tin mixing bowl that my mom uses as a baking pan.

After an evening of making batter and caramel from scratch (my first batch of caramel went straight to the garbage after I burned it), it went into the oven, and I thought the hard part was over. But the next morning, when I tried to flip it onto a plate after it had cooled, it was still stuck to the pan with caramel. It took 30 minutes of coaxing to get it out.

But once it was out and in class, everyone seemed to enjoy it. As I tried a piece myself, I could barely tell the difference between mine and Mom’s.

I know what you’re all really waiting for, though, and that’s the recipe, so here you go. But be warned, it is a labour-intensive process.

And in case that's not enough, here are some more recipes for unique variations on the custard.

Ingredients for batter:
8 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla
1 package of cream cheese
1 can sweetened condensed milk,
using that can as a unit of measure for:
1 can sugar
1 can regular milk

For caramel:
5 tbsp sugar
1 small half of a lime

Mix together all the ingredients for the batter. I used a blender. Mom uses a food processor. You can use whatever mixing/beating method you prefer.
In a saucepan, melt the sugar on low heat. Sugar burns fast, though, so keep an eye on it. Once it is golden brown, squeeze the lime into the pan. This will keep the caramel from hardening in the end.
Before the caramel cools, coat the bottom and sides of your baking pan (my mom and I use a metal mixing bowl) with it. Then pour in the batter and cover the pan with aluminum foil.
Set the baking pan inside a broiling pan filled halfway with water and put them in the oven. My mom and I used cheap aluminum foil broiling pans you can get at the grocery store for less than $2.
Let bake at 350 degrees for two hours, when you test whether it is done by inserting a knife into the middle of it. My mom said it could take as long as three hours to finish.
Once it’s done, let cool for about 30 minutes. Then put it in the fridge for a few more hours (I did this overnight) still in the same baking pan.
Use a sharp knife to separate the top edges of the flan from the baking pan.
Flip it onto a serving plate, but because of the caramel, it can take as long as 30 minutes to fall from the baking pan onto the serving plate. I let the baking pan sit in hot water for about 5 minutes at this point. That did the trick. Let the caramel soak the top of the flan.
My mom usually coats the dessert with coconut and cherries. I opted not to. You can do as you please.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hands Down, Utensils Up

Like Top Chef? Head over to the Elevator Arts & Entertainment blog for a recap of part 1 and part 2 of the season 4 finale.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Private Dining

Food snobs have been around about as long as food itself. The minute someone found a turnip that was fresher than that which was floating around in his or her stew, a new snob was born.

In that vein, the culinary collective or private supper club too was born. But don't mistake the simple title for simple food. These clubs (which exist in almost every nook and cranny of the country) were created for culinary elite and their over-satiated palates only. No simpletons allowed. Entry requires a password, a bottle of wine (most of the time) and your checkbook (a plate can run you $150 to $200 at some clubs). Studiofeast asks interested diners a series of questions, including what your last meal would be before you die, to weed out the aforementioned simpletons. How very death penalty warden of them.

The clubs began popping up about three or four years ago and were first based on the principle that without having to drop the cash on the ins and out of running a restaurant, hosts would be able to take culinary chances on menu items, chefs, and ingredients. Without the fear of losing their culinary clientele, it was thought that the food would reign supreme. But, with new clubs popping up every week, they have also become favorites of the localvore/green foodie revolution. My arugula is more local than yours!

And if you are wondering why the local health boards don't launch a SWAT operation to shut the clubs down, it's mainly because they can't find them. The passwords provide some protection, as do the treasure maps some groups employ that don't reveal the final address until the very last moment. In a you-can't-catch-us-if-you-can't-find-us sort of way, the clubs seem to protect themselves. But even so, a couple quoted in a Newsweek story on the same topic refused to give up their last names in fear of being nabbed for the illegal operation. 

Jeremy Townsend, who founded Ghetto Gourmet more than four years ago out of Oakland, Calif., says that many clubs also dodge the feds because their affairs are invite-only and ask patrons to "chip in" to help with the cost of ingredients, not to pay for the meal. Making diners bring their own booze helps to keep the liquor board away, too.

Culinary collectives now appear to be a full-blown movement (see ya soon to pass trend) with no signs of slowing anytime soon. And in a way, it makes sense. With the price of food jumping nearly everyday, why not find a way to eat, mingle and stuff yourself while cutting a few monetary corners? And as long as there are cooks willing to stretch their culinary muscles in the underground kitchens of America, there will be foodies waiting to gorge. 

To find a local club in your area, Townsend's features listings of a number of California-centric clubs as well as those beyond the Golden State. A Google search of "underground dining" in your respective city never hurt anyone either.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Bad Boys of Baking

Move over ladies. Or at least make some more room in the oven. Baking cookies and cakes isn't just for women anymore. Instead, it is actually becoming quite the contrary. A new breed of bakers are rising up and adding a little bit of testosterone to what is typically an industry choking on estrogen.

Men from a mix of backgrounds in law, graphic design and graffiti are making their way into the kitchens of some of the countries best restaurants and bakeries. So mothers hide your daughters. Husbands, keep an eye on your wife. The bad boys of baking are on the prowl, and that got plenty of sweets to put even the most tamed into a sugar coma.

Below are a few noted members of this flour fraternity:

Duff Goldman, Owner, Charm City Cakes; Personality on Food Network's Ace of Cakes

Warren Brown, Owner, Cakelove; Host of Food Network's Sugar Rush

Jorg Amsler, Owner, Truly Jorg's Patisserie

Jason Ellis, Owner, Cakes by Jay, Inc.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Say it isn't So Saranac

The already down microbrew industry took quite a large hit this week when the F.X. Matt Brewing Co. in Utica, NY, the makers of wonderful Saranac beer and ale, suffered a serious fire. While no one was injured, the bottling building is pretty much a total loss. The building was a historical landmark in Utica and had been around for about 120 years. Fred Matt, who owns the brewery, says he is pretty sure that they will be able to rebuild and move on. I, on the other hand, would not take any chances and would go out and buy up all the Saranac in sight.

For complete coverage of the fire and its $10 million aftermath, checkout out the Utica Observer-Dispatch's special coverage section online.