Celebrating 85 Years with Flan

My mother just turned 85 years old yesterday, and my family and I are having a small celebration tomorrow night to honor this milestone. Although, my mom almost did not live to see this wonderful age. She almost died when I was a young teenager.

After a life saving surgery for a bleeding ulcer, and a tremendous weight loss due to complications after the surgery, the doctors desperately wanted her to gain weight.

Even as a teenager I was always making something in the kitchen, and I knew my mom loved custards. All types– flan, crème caramel, crème brulee, and pastry creams. Looking at a dessert menu at a restaurant the family ALWAYS knew what she would order for dessert. If there was a custard, they had better save one for her.

Knowing this, I thought if I made her some custard it may help her appetite and help her to eat. After checking with the nursing staff they thought it was a wonderful idea.

A few days later, I brought  my best vanilla custard to the hospital. It was rich and smooth, full of egg and milk proteins to help mom to bulk up. It turned out she loved it so much she sometimes craved it in the middle of the night. The nurses had a solution for this. The custard was put in an airtight container outside on the window ledge of her hospital room for easy access. It was winter time so there was no chance that the custard would spoil.

Now almost every year I make some sort of custard to honor mom’s birthday, and she loves every bit of it.

For mom’s 85th we will have flan- a coconut coffee flan! Flan is super easy to make. So that you can celebrate along with us here is a quick recipe for you to enjoy:

Coconut Coffee Flan

Melt down some granulated sugar, about 1/2 cup to make a caramel. Add about 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice to the sugar to prevent it from crystalizing. Stir it with a fork. Allow it to melt undisturbed in a small saucepan until it is the color of a lightly brewed tea. Remove it from the heat and slowly whisk in about 3 tablespoons brewed coffee. Do this over the heat so that the clumps of caramel melt.

Now quickly pour some of the coffee caramel into each of 6 ramekins. The ramekins should each have a 3/4 cup capacity. Tilt the ramekins so that the caramel covers the bottoms and slightly up the sides of each. Place the ramekins into a rectangular oven safe pan with a kitchen towel under them.

Heat about 1 1/4 cups of milk and one can of coconut milk to the simmer. In another bowl whisk 3 whole eggs and 2 yolks with 2/3 cup granulated sugar. Slowly whisk the milk into the eggs. Add about 1 teaspoon coconut extract and blend well. Divide the custard evenly between each ramekin. Pour some hot water into the pan being careful not to get any into the custard until the water comes halfway up the sides of the pan.

Bake the flan for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cut around each flan with a knife and allow to cool and chill over night.

Invert each flan onto a dessert plate allowing the coffee caramel sauce to spread all around it. Top with some shipped cream and serve at once!

Happy Baking and Happy Birthday Mom!

Chef Gail


Loving Valentine’s Day

I love Valentine’s Day! I guess it’s because the thought of giving someone you love chocolate or other sweets to let them know how you feel is so romantic. The other reason I am so fond of Valentine’s Day is that it just happens to be my birthday.

I look forward every year going into stores and malls and even restaurants and seeing the hoopla with hearts, lace and all sorts of sweets in honor of that special day signifying love. Plus, as a kid I thought that everyone was celebrating MY birthday.

There should be no extraordinary reason to tell that special person in your life that you love them. You should tell them EVERYDAY, because love does not come around everyday. I, also, love making special desserts for those in my life that are special in a non-romantic way as well. For example, I love making sweets for my kids and my students as well.

A simple creation that you can make even if you don’t have the time is to create chocolate drops. Just melt some high quality chocolate and drop small circles of chocolate, about 1/2 teaspoon each, onto a waxed paper lined sheet pan. Then go crazy and top each circle of chocolate with some toasted nuts, coconut, pomegranate seeds, tiny pieces of fresh fruit like a fresh raspberry or a small clementine section. You can even melt some white chocolate and drizzle it over your tiny creations. Place the sheet pan in the fridge and chill the drops until the chocolate hardens.

You can pack them in a tiny box and keep them in the fridge until you are ready to present them to your special someone. Trust me, anyone can make these, and the rewards you will receive will be exponential to the small amount of effort it took to make them.
You never know, you might get a marriage proposal after offering these little sweets. By the way, do let me know when the wedding is.

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Jamming With Bacon

I just had dinner at Tupelo Honey Café in Washington, D.C. this past weekend. They specialize in Southern cuisine. Ribs, fried chicken and a salmon fillet with an oh so yummy, sticky BBQ sauce. Let’s not forget about their famous biscuits that hold up when you dip them into a gravy.

The best thing on the menu was a vegetable platter with pickled cauliflower, carrots, green beans, okra and pickles. The best thing about this platter was the bacon jam that came with it. I dipped EVERYTHING into the bacon jam, and the great thing about it is you only need a small amount of it to give an incredible flavor boost to any food.

I never experienced this type of jam before. Savory and sweet at the same time. A quick rundown on how to make it goes something like this:

Bacon is finely chopped and cooked until crispy and the fat has been rendered. After straining the fat away from the bacon, the bacon is put aside.

A small amount of the fat is put into a saucepan and onions are sautéed until caramelized and soft. Brown sugar is then added along with some balsamic or sherry vinegar. The bacon is added back in and the mixture is then cooked low and slow until it has reduced a bit. Some heat can be added, if desired, in the form of cayenne or red pepper flakes.

Bacon jam would be amazing drizzled on top of a grilled pizza or on a sandwich, as a spread, or as an appetizer spread onto puff pastry squares or in between phyllo sheets. How about on top of a baked sweet potato… As a glaze on doughnuts or served with corn bread… The ideas on how you could use this stuff never end…

Try it and if you have a unique way of using it, please let me know by writing back.

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail