Vanna’s Nam Van – Coconut Milk & Fruit Dessert

Our dear friend Vanna is the most amazing cook.  Literally everything she makes is the best I’ve ever eaten – no matter what she’s cooking!

Last night she was in town and made supper for all of us, including one of my favorite desserts – Nam Van, and she shared the recipe with me.

Nam Van is a popular dessert in Southeast Asia, and it’s a fruity, coconut milky dessert that’s unlike anything you’ll ever try. More liquid than a pudding, it’s refreshing and not overly sweet. The green jelly make it a pretty light green color, too.

We are lucky to have a great Asian Market close by, so we were able to pick up all the components, but you can always order these items online as well.  All the fruit and coconut milk was Arroy-D, and the green jelly is Chin Chin brand.

Next time I’ll photograph it before it’s all gone!

Ingredients:

1/2 cup palm sugar (or 1/3 cup brown sugar)
1/2 cup water

1 can lychees in syrup  (save lychee syrup)
1 can longans in syrup
1 can rambutans in syrup
1 can toddy palm seeds
1 can jackfruit in syrup

3 cups of coconut milk (We used Arroy-D cartons.)
2 cups ice
2 cans Green Jelly (We got Chin Chin brand)

1 cup fresh cantaloupe chunks
1 cup fresh muskmelon chunks

Make a simple syrup with palm sugar and water, by heating them in a pan until it comes to the boil and the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.

Open all the cans of fruit. Drain the syrup and rinse all the fruit.  Be sure to save the lychee syrup – you’ll add it back in later!

Palm seeds are oddly slick and sticky at the same time, but add a wonderful chewy texture. Don’t freak out – just put them in a colander and rinse them really well.

Place all rinsed, canned fruit into a large bowl.

Add the coconut milk, lychee syrup and about half the simple syrup. Stir the fruit gently until well mixed. Add ice and stir more until the mixture is a little chilled.Stir very gently and taste – adding more of the simple syrup as needed.

Shake the jelly out of the can, and cut it into 1/2″ cubes.  Cut melons into chunks and add both to the coconut fruit mixture, again stirring very, very gently.

Refrigerate at least a couple of hours.

To serve, add a little crushed ice to a bowl or cup and fill with fruit and coconut mixture. The ice helps keep it cool.

You could probably save time by refrigerating the cans and carton of coconut milk overnight so they’re cold to start with.  Still add ice to the mix and to the cup – this lightens the milk a bit.

The Best 4th of July Banana Cream Pie

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Perfect Banana for Banana Cream Pie by Lucian Alexe on unsplash

It’s been so long since I’ve made banana cream pie, and Kumy really loves it, so I thought it would be fun to make for the 4th of July.  We had plenty of bananas at just the right stage of ripeness and everything else we needed.

I used the oil pie crust recipe from my mom’s old Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook from the 1960s, and a version of Melskitchencafe’s filling.  (Mel uses 5 yolks but I make custard all the time using the whole egg, so I just did that.)  You do have to temper the eggs so they don’t get grainy in the milk, but that’s stupid easy.  You just heat the milk, sugar, salt and cornstarch, and then slowly beat some into the beaten eggs.  That’s it, that’s tempering.  Stupid easy, right?

We watched socially-distanced fireworks at the neighbors and came home to pie.  Kumy said he was too full – he’d made lassi (Pakistani yoghurt beverage) and drunk 2 big glasses, but even he had to get a piece for himself after taking a bite of mine.

Next morning, he had it again for breakfast.  Banana Cream Pie for breakfast – he’s got his priorities straight.  I was planning to take a photograph of a piece, but alas – that ship has sailed…

Anyway, here is the recipe.  If you don’t want to make a regular crust you can always purchase a ready-made crust or make a graham cracker crust.

Pie Crust:

1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3-4 Tbsp cold water

With a fork, stir together flour and salt in a medium bowl. Pour in vegetable oil and mix gently until the mix is quite crumbly.

Dribble in 3 Tbsp of cold water and gently start mixing it in. The dough will start to stick together and start to form large lumps. If it isn’t, add the rest of the water.

Lay out a section of waxed paper that is twice as wide as it is tall and fold it in half. Unfold it and dump the pie dough onto the bottom layer. Form a flattish 6″ circle. You don’t want to beat it up – just pull all the loosish bits together. Fold the top over and begin to roll it out in a rough circle.

Keep your pie pan handy, and keep rolling until your circle is roughly 1/2″ – 1″ bigger than the pie pan. Unpeel the top layer of wax paper and slide your hand under the wax paper and pie crust. Let the crust sort of fold over your hand, and place it on 1/2 of the pie pan. Gently unroll the part that’s hanging over your hand onto the other side of the pie pan, so the whole pan is covered.  Unpeel the waxed paper, and gently press the crust all around the bottom. Fold the crust up and under the edge of itself, cutting off any extra-long bits and adding them anywhere your crust isn’t quite long enough. Then using the old two fingers and thumb method, crimp the edge of the crust all around. Here is a link to a youtube video of how to do it:  crimping a pie crust.

Prick with a fork all over the bottom and bake at 425 for 12-15 minutes.  No chilling – and no baking beans or whatever.  Just pop it in the oven and bake it. You want the edges of the crust to just begin to darken. You’ll also smell a cooked flour aroma.

Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Add filling.  (If you’re using the crust for a filling that needs to bake, obviously fill it first and follow the baking times for baking a filled pie.)

Pie Filling:

1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup half ‘n half
2 cups milk (I used 2%)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten in a small bowl
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp butter
3 medium bananas, peeled and sliced into 1/2″ slices just before filling.

Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium sauce pan. Add half ‘n half and milk and stir well. Bring to a low simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly. Keep the beaten eggs close by.

Once the mixture has thickened and is bubbling, remove it from the heat. Start to pour into the eggs, whisking furiously as you do. Once you’ve added a cup or so of the milk mixture, you can go ahead and add all the eggs and milk back into the pan. Put back on the heat, and bring back to a gentle simmer. Once you start to see some movement, continue cooking and whisking for another 60 seconds. Remove from heat and add the vanilla and butter.

Leave to cool.

To assemble your pie, pour a thin layer of filling onto the pie crust, then add banana slices. Top with remaining pie filling and put into the fridge to cool.

Whipped Topping:

1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 Tbsp powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Just before serving, whisk heavy whipping cream, vanilla and powdered sugar until it’s nice and fluffy. (Don’t overmix – you’ll end up with butter.) Pour over top of filling and serve.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake

sticky-toffy-pudding-cakeI’ve always wondered why British people are so obsessed with Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake.  After all, I’ve had pudding cakes and they were fine.  Usually awfully sweet, but nothing worthy of hero worship.  Then one day, I decided to try making it.

My friend Donna and her husband Bob had come over for  dinner and brought a gorgeous carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and caramel sauce, which is the only way I will ever be able to eat it again.

There was some caramel sauce left over and I thought – Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake!  Fortunately Kumy loves dried dates and figs so we always have dates in the pantry.

I found a recipe on Mel’sKitchenCafe.com, made it and the world tilted on its axis. (Mel’s recipes are truly the best!)  The cake is tender, moist and not too sweet.  Kumy loved it plain.  I couldn’t resist the caramel sauce and cream on top.

Sooo good!   I understand now, British people.  I understand.

Ingredients for Cake

6 ounces dates, pitted and finely chopped (they’ll be quite sticky – but just power on through them!)
3/4 cup boiling water
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar
6 Tbsp butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Ingredients for Caramel Sauce   (I haven’t made this yet, but I’m sure it’s good.)

3/4 cup brown sugar
8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Pinch of kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Additional heavy whipping cream for drizzling (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8×8 or 9×9 pan.  (I used a small rectangular pan.)

For the cake, in a medium bowl, stir together the dates, boiling water, baking soda and vanilla extract. Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes.

In a separate medium bowl, cream together the granulated sugar and butter with an electric mixer (handheld or stand mixer) until well-combined and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.
Add the eggs and mix.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, and mix until just combined. Fold in the dates and the water they soaked in until combined; don’t overmix.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake for 22-25 minutes. Cake is done when the top springs back from a touch.  Let cool.

Make the sauce by adding the brown sugar, butter, cream, and salt in a saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves and the sauce is smooth, 5-7 minutes.

Serve cake warm or at room temperature with a drizzle of caramel sauce and a smaller drizzle of heavy whipping cream.  Your world will never be the same again.

Irish Apple Cake

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Apples by Shelley Pauls on Unsplash

Simple, delicious and not too sweet!

Ingredients:

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter (1 stick) softened and cut into pieces
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
2 big apples, or three smaller ones, chopped  (no need to peel)
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
powdered sugar for topping

In the bowl of a mixer, gently blend the flour, baking powder and sugar.  Add the butter and stir just until the butter is in little pea-sized shapes.

Mix egg and milk together in a cup and pour into the flour. Mix just a few moments until they are combined and there is barely any flour mixture left on the bottom.  It make quite a thick dough.

Mix 2 Tbsp sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl and toss the apple chunks in it until they’re coated.

In a 9 springform pan, or a quiche dish, spread about half the cake batter evenly.

Sprinkle apples evenly on top of that, scraping out the bowl to get every last bit of cinnamon and sugar.

Cover the top with the remaining batter.  It will be pretty chunky so it’s easier to just drop spoonfuls and not worry about smoothing out the top too much.

Bake in a 350 oven for 35-40 minutes, or until lightly browned on top.  Serve with powdered sugar, whipped cream, or caramel sauce.

Rich Custard for Maya

This recipe, which seems too simple to be so delicious, has always been an integral part of my Strawberry Trifle recipe. But my daughter Maya asked me to list it separately, so it’s easier and quicker to find. So here you go, Maya!

1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
5 cups whole milk
4 eggs, well beaten in a medium sized bowl
1 1/2 Tbsp vanilla

Blend sugar, salt, cornstarch and whole milk in a large saucepan on medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil stirring constantly. Once the custard reaches the boil, remove from heat and add 1 cup to the eggs in the bowl, stirring vigorously so the eggs don’t cook. Add another cup of milk mix to the eggs, and continue stirring.

Return the whole thing to the saucepan and put back on medium/low heat. Heat for 1-2 minutes until the custard is just starting to bubble a little. Don’t leave it for a second at this point or it will curdle. Remove from heat and add in vanilla. Let cool before adding to trifle dish.  It will thicken as it cools

This recipe also makes a lovely pouring custard. Just add another cup of milk. We don’t eat pouring custard much in the US, but it’s delicious dessert sauce. Just a bowl of fresh fruit with pouring custard poured over – it’s simple and wonderful.

Silver Lining Sour Cream Rhubarb Coffee Cake

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Image by MikeGoad on Pixabay (be sure to cut off and discard all leaves!)

Rhubarb can be a bit too tangy for many people, but it is amazing in coffee cake. My version is stuffed with fruit and features a slightly crunchy, cinnamony crumble top.

We had a huge hailstorm a couple of nights ago and among other things, my rhubarb was demolished. There was nothing to do but gather up the broken stems and dice them up for baking. I froze most of the diced rhubarb, but used 4 cups for this recipe.

Fingers crossed, my plant will recover, but in the meantime, we’re enjoying this moist, delicious cake as the silver lining from an awful storm.

Cake ingredients:

1 cup white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
2 cups flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups rhubarb, diced

Topping:

1 cup sugar
¼ cup melted butter
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Mix 1st cup sugar, baking powder, salt and flour In a large bowl. Add in 1 cup sour cream and eggs and stir until smooth. (Batter will be very thick.) Add rhubarb and stir to distribute evenly. Scoop into a 9 x 12” baking dish and smooth top with a spatula.

In a small bowl, mix 2nd cup sugar, melted butter, flour and cinnamon until very crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over cake.

Bake for 45-50 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  So good – I’ll be surprised if you can stop at just one piece!

Tangy Fruit Salad

Another great recipe from Ree Drummond, that’s both pretty and delicious.  I ended up halving Ree’s original recipe, which serves 12, and still had more than enough for the 6 of us, with plenty left over for nibbling later.

The Orange Vanilla sauce adds just enough sweetness and tanginess to brighten everything up without being too sweet.  We loved it and had leftover fruit and syrup on vanilla ice cream the next day.

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
juice of 1 orange
zest of 1 orange
1 tsp Vanilla extract
2 pints strawberries, hulled and halved
2 pints blueberries
1 cup red grapes, halved
1 cup green grapes, halved

INSTRUCTIONS

Place the sugar, water, orange juice and orange zest into a small saucepan and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer for 15-20 to thicken slightly. Set aside to cool, then stir in vanilla. Store in the fridge until cold.

Mix together all the fruit in a large bowl and refrigerate.  Just before serving, pour the syrup over the fruit, tossing gently to coat.

 

Warm Bourbon Sauce

This is a wonderfully boozy sauce that we love on Bread Pudding.  It’s from Emeril’s Louisiana Real and Rustic Cookbook.

Ingredients

4 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup bourbon
4 egg yolks, beaten in a small bowl

Melt the butter in a double boiler. Add sugar and whisk to dissolve. Add bourbon and whisk for one minute. Remove from heat.

Drizzle in several spoonfuls of the hot syrup into the egg yolks, stirring constantly. Return all to the pan, and continue whisking until the sauce is pal and slightly thickened. Serve immediately.

I store any leftover sauce in a mason jar, which I reheat by placing back in simmering water. If the sauce is too thick add a few drops of water.

 

Apple Upside Down Cake

applesI love Fall, when apples are abundant! We always buy way too many, but upside down cake (who doesn’t love upside down cakes?) is a wonderful way to use them up. This recipe,  which  came in the mail from a clever local realtor, is dead easy and not overly sweet. I had Gala apples so I used those, but you could use almost any apple.

Caramel Base
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 tsp Cinnamon

4 large apples, peeled and sliced
6 tbsp butter
1/8 tsp salt

Cake
6 Tbsp butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
½ cup milk.

In a skillet, heat caramel base ingredients together for 3-5 minutes over medium heat, until slightly thickened.  Pour into a quiche pan. Rinse and wipe out skillet and add butter, apples and 1/8 tsp salt. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until softened and spread evenly over the caramel in the quiche pan.

Cream butter and sugar and add vanilla and eggs. Blend dry ingredients and add by a third at a time, alternating with milk beating well after each addition.  Pour batter over the apples and bake for 35 minutes at 350.

Let cool for 10-15 minutes and flip onto a large platter.  Enjoy warm as is, or with a scoop of ice cream. Delish!

A Tale of Two Trifles: Strawberry Vanilla and Chocolate Raspberry, for a Graduation Party

Warning: this is a pretty long post, but includes some of my favorite tricks, so hopefully it will be worth it. Maybe get a fresh cup of coffee before you sit down to read it!

My daughter Maya, who is an excellent baker, decided that she couldn’t bear to have just a cake for her high school graduation party. Nope – what she really wanted is what we traditionally serve for birthdays around here: Strawberry Trifle.  It’s cool & creamy with soft custard and whipped cream, but not overly sweet.  We all love it.

I’ve shared my trifle recipe before (see link above) and it is pretty easy to make.  But honestly the thought of a giant trough of trifle is just too unappetizing to even consider. Trifle is lovely in a clear dish – until the first spoonful is removed and then it’s a sloppy mess. Delicious – but basically dessert carnage.

Fortunately, I’ve made individual trifles before and it’s a neat and lovely way to serve them. Making 100 individual servings is a little more serious endeavor, but I thought – we can do this! To add to the fun, we added Chocolate Raspberry Trifle.

Here’s how we did it:

The day before the party, we made 2 1/2 gallons of vanilla custard, and 1 1/4 gallons of chocolate custard. In hindsight I’d do the opposite, since the chocolate was a huge hit.

A triple batch of my regular recipe yields just a little more than a gallon, and my biggest pot just held a triple batch without disaster.

First trick: when making party-size quantities, reuse containers that the original ingredients came in.

After we’d made the custard, Taylor (who was helping me, God bless her!) poured the slightly cooled custard into a pitcher, put the lid on, and then poured the custard back into the empty gallon milk jugs. I also mixed up the frozen strawberries, sugar and sherry in a bowl and returned them to the frozen strawberry bag, which then just zipped shut. (Didn’t thaw or sweeten the raspberries or add anything else to them – I like the tartness they bring.)  Both milk jug and zipper bag were way easier to store in the fridge.

Second trick: buy an unfrosted chocolate cake and angel food cakes. The bakers at Costco thought we were nuts, but it worked beautifully.

Third and most important trick: We used shiny, clear plastic drinking glasses (the shorter, wider ones) and got 7 empty strawberry “tray” cartons from Costco to hold them. Each tray held 15 cups, and let us stack them neatly.

Fourth trick: on the morning of the party, we cut the cakes into 2″ pieces and put them in the bottom of each cup. Half the cups were chocolate and half were angel food. Then we covered them all with plastic wrap (just a couple of big sheets over each layer) and stacked them.

So to recap, the day before, we made the custards and sweetened the strawberries, which we stored in the refrigerator. We also had 6 cans of whipped cream and the mini-chocolate chips ready to go.

Morning of: we prepped the cups with cake.

Just before serving we dropped a nice spoonful of  fruit onto the cake, and poured about 1/3 cup custard directly out of the milk jugs onto the cake, and topped that with a spritz  of whipped cream (and sprinkled mini chocolate chips on the chocolate ones.)

Because it was a very warm day, we served the trifle cups in aluminum catering trays, nestled on top of a second tray with ice. A couple of wooden spoons in the ice kept the tray from sinking too far down, but kept the trifles nice and cool.

We were lucky enough to have two lovely young ladies helping during the party and they assembled the trifles and refilled the trays all evening.  The trifles were a hit and I know many people couldn’t resist seconds!

So for the record, here are the layers:

Chocolate Raspberry Trifle:

First layer: chocolate cake
Second layer: frozen raspberries
Third layer: chocolate custard
Fourth layer: whipped Cream
Topping: Sprinkle of Mini chocolate chips

Strawberry Trifle:

First layer: angel food cake
Second layer: strawberries, slightly sweetened and with a splash of sherry
Third layer: vanilla custard
Fourth layer: whipped Cream

We did end up with an extra 1/2 gallon of Vanilla custard, but what with one thing and another, that  has already mysteriously disappeared! (We do love our custard.)

So if you’re hosting a party and want a really “wow” dessert, try making individual trifles.