Sunday, July 22, 2012

O.M.G. Banana Cream Pie

These days, it doesn't take much to inspire me to make something new in the kitchen.  I crave all sweet things!  I saw this post on Cupcakes and Cashmere and had to make it... immediately.  I love banana cream pie, so this recipe already captured my heart.  But a banana cream pie with an Oreo cookie crust?  Sounds like O.M.G. in my mouth.  And was it O.M.G., indeed!  I made this pie for a family gathering one sunny Saturday evening, and every single person that had a taste of the banana cream pie were raving about it.  I was shocked by the responses.  I'm not a great dessert maker, so I am quite glad that this turned out great!  Even my dad, who "grades" our cooking and rarely gives out anything above an A-, took a bite and shouted, "A+!!!!"  It is truly an amazing pie.  Please, I beg of you, give it a try!

Banana Cream Pie with Oreo Cookie Crust

Oreo Cookie Crust - 
- 2 cups crushed Oreo cookie crumbs
- 5 Tbsp butter, melted

Custard -
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 5 large egg yolks
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, soften
- 1 tsp vanilla extract

3 ripe bananas, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

Whipped cream - 
- 1 cup chilled whipping cream
- 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract

- chocolate curls (optional)

- food processor
- whisk
- fine-mesh sieve
- wax paper
- peeler (optional, to get chocolate curls)

1. Make the crust first.  Grease up a 9 1/2 inch pie plate (if using a glass pie plate then there is no need).

2. Separate Oreo cookies from its' filling.  Crush the Oreo cookies with a food processor, until fine.

3. Mix the cookie crumbs with melted butter until moistened.  Dump it into the pie plate, spread it evenly over the pie plate, and press down nice and firm with a spoon.  Place in fridge for 30 minutes before baking for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.  Let it cool while making the custard.

4. Next, make the custard.  Heat milk in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not boiling.

5. While milk heats, whisk together yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a heatproof bowl until smooth.

6. Add 1 cup of hot milk to yolk mixture in a stream, whisking, then add remaining milk, whisking constantly. Transfer mixture back to saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and registers 170F on thermometer, 6 to 10 minutes (do not boil).

7. Immediately force custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl and stir in butter and vanilla. Cover the surface with wax paper, cool to lukewarm, about 45 minutes.

8. After the Oreo cookie crust and custard are cooled down, start assembling the pie.  Spread about 1 cup of custard in crust.  Top with sliced bananas, then cover the bananas with the rest of the custard.  Chill the pie for about 2 to 3 hours.

9. Beat chilled whipping cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract in a bowl to soft peaks.  Spread cream over pie.  Place in fridge for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours.

10. Garnish pie with chocolate curls, if desired.  Cut into wedges and serve.

Serves 8 - 10.

Crumbly Oreo crust, eggy and sweet custard filled with bananas, and clouds of whipped cream.  Heaven.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Just Pictures: Four Years = Three Fantastic Meals (Part 2)

For the last two years during "anniversary weekend", we've headed up north to Napa for a meal at Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller's much cheaper restaurant in downtown Yountville.  We wanted to continue this tradition, so we made our way up again this year.  Since I couldn't enjoy any wine-tasting activities, we decided on a chill day of driving up in the morning whenever we felt like, a no frills lunch date, and whatever our hearts desire for the rest of the afternoon until dinnertime.

We discovered the Marin French Cheese Factory last year, thanks to LivingSocial deals.  We visited this factory in Petaluma with our friends on our food-filled adventure day.  They had a fabulous picnic area overlooking a cute little pond, scattered picnic tables all around, and it looked like a perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon.  I've been wanting to come back here ever since and decided that since we were heading up north anyway, we should stop here for a lunch picnic.

From top left to right, clockwise: fruit salad with plum, asian pear, apricot, and strawberries // spicy pasta salad // castelvetrano green olives // triple creme brie and pesto brie // salami // hummus // garden salad // Dorito chips // sliced french baguette.  A few items from home, a few items from Whole Foods, and cheese from the factory.

We ate, we played games, and we read our books and magazines on a sunny yet slightly breezy afternoon.  All of our worries were washed away for a few hours.

Baby boy at 28 weeks.  I think he enjoyed the relaxing time-off too!

Now on to dinner...

Drinks to start: Ginger beer from Bundaberg (light ginger ale drink... yummy!); chilled Viognier white wine (didn't get a chance to note from where and what year).

First course: Summer pole bean salad - blue lake, romano and yellow wax beans, blonde frisee, pickled radishes, chopped shallots, fingerling potatoes, with meyer lemon vinaigrette.  This salad was pretty darn delicious.  I can eat plates and plates of this!  The pickled radishes were the best thing in the dish.  This is the second time I've had something pickled from Ad Hoc and they never go wrong!!

Second course: Marinated beef skirt steak with parsley cous cous, Indian eggplant, romesco sauce, cauliflower florets, and wilted arugula.  Because of the baby, I have to eat red meat that is thoroughly cooked (no red, no bleeding) so I was a bit disappointed that the main entree this day was steak.  They were accommodating enough to provide us 2 separate steaks so the hubs doesn't have to suffer eating overcooked steak.  As I was cutting through the first slice, it was amazingly easy to slice through.  I was surprised.  Then I took a bite of the skirt steak.  Oh My God.  It was so tender, perfectly marinated, and really THE BEST medium-well steak I've ever had!  Especially since I've been pregnant!  I kept gushing about it to the hubby and finally, he decided to try a piece.  He couldn't believe it also.  When the waitress came to check up on us, I gave her high praises for this amazing piece of skirt steak.  The chef made my day!

Third course: Cowgirl creamery's wagon wheel with pepper stew and paladin toast.  I thought this course was just OK, I think I would have preferred individual slices of different cheeses like last year.  There was a younger diner sitting at the table behind us (he must be around 10 or 12 years old) and when he saw this course, he excitedly screamed, "Oh wow, grilled cheese sandwich!"  That was cute.

Fourth course: Vanilla poundcake with strawberry sorbet, rhubarb compote, candied pistachios, and chantilly cream.  I could have been happy with another scoop of the sorbet! Hmm hmm!

Behind the restaurant sits a fabulous garden and an extension of Ad Hoc, called Addendum, that serves up their famous buttermilk fried chicken and barbecue ribs.  The fried chicken alone is seriously worth a trip up, a definite MUST-VISIT spot when you are in town.  It's only open Thursday - Saturday and from 11 - 2 PM, or whenever they sell out.  I got the chance to try Addendum a few weeks ago when I was in town for my sister's bachlorette party, and that's why I can say this is a MUST-HAVE lunch!

I am amazed and in awe of Thomas Keller's gardens, the one behind Ad Hoc and the grand football-sized garden across the street from The French Laundry (pictured below) are simply fabulous.

I aspire towards having a garden like this one day... hey, a girl can dream the impossible, right?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Just Pictures: Four Years = Three Fantastic Meals (Part 1)

It's that time of the year again... our wedding anniversary.  Seriously, where does the time go??

This year we indulged ourselves with 2 fantastic dinners and a relaxing lunch picnic by the pond.

The first dinner was on our actual anniversary, on a Thursday.  Our friend EH actually kind of picked the restaurant for us - she gave me a gift certificate to James Randall in downtown Los Gatos for my birthday earlier this year!  So we went and indulged...

We were early enough for happy hour that day (hey, pregnant lady's got to eat, and usually early!) so the hubby ordered a delicious sounding cocktail from the menu.

The drink actually had a cool name to it, and I really should start writing these things down, but I forgot.  This contained grapefruit juice and vodka, and probably some cool other things but seriously, we both forgot!  And yes, it was delicious.

I had a homemade lemonade (not pictured) that totally hit the spot.  Hmm, I can drink many glasses of that...

We also ordered 2 appetizers to start that were $5 for happy hour.

French fries with lemon zest, black pepper, arbequina olive oil, and homemade ketchup.  Simple things are simply the best!

One of the special appetizers of the day, pork belly on a bed of arugula salad with figs and blackberries.  Disappointingly, I was expecting fatty and juicy pork belly in sauce, but this was deep fried and therefore, I think, made it dry and hard to eat.  Boo.

The hubby's entree: seared kobe new york steak, onion and bacon ragout, tarragon pistou, topped with foie gras butter (optional topping for some extra $$, but totally worth it!), with a side of au gratin (not pictured).  I'm not a big foie gras fan, but that butter with the steak was yum-mmmy!  The potato au gratin was also really good - I should have found out the cheese that was used.

My entree: Fried chicken, bacon collard greens, buttered mash potatoes, buttermilk biscuit, with honey and chive butter.  All of the items in this entree were superb - my favorites were the biscuit and chive butter.  The biscuit was amazingly flaky and soft, and I don't know what they did with the butter but the chives were perfectly blended in and it was just so darn good!  Maybe the baby is a butter lover?  Now that's my boy!

We skipped dessert at the restaurant and walked about a block to get gelato at Dolce Spazio.  Although we walked around downtown a bit to work off our meal prior to dessert (a great "walk", I scored some cute things at J. Crew!), we only had enough room for an uno size (small).

Half amaretto almond (amaretto gelato//toasted almonds), half oreogasmint (mint gelato//oreo pieces), with a triangle wafer.  YUM!

Since we are taking every chance to enjoy our time left as two, with just about 12 weeks to go, we took the next day off from work and ventured up north to continue our "anniversary tradition" (examples here and here).  Part 2, a lunch picnic and fabulous dinner, will be posted next!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Tangy Fingerling Potato Salad

Looking for a quick and easy potato salad for a summer BBQ or pool party?  Here it is!  It's cold, it's sour, it's salty.  The potatoes also have a great crunch.  It's a delicious little side to go along with some barbecued meat or hamburgers. Give it a try!

Tangy Fingerling Potato Salad
from Martha Stewart

A few variations...
- I used purple, red, and yukon potatoes instead.
- I didn't have any white wine vinegar so used rice vinegar instead.  It worked!

Colorful potatoes.

Cold and tangy.