Bedtime Banana and Coconut Rice Pudding

Bedtime Banana and Coconut Rice Pudding


Banana and Coconut Rice Pudding

Every now and then, I fall victim to insomnia.  My mind starts racing, I toss and turn in my bed, and often, my stomach starts growling.  When things like this happen, I know enough to give in, get up and go do something.  Some nights, I’ll put on an intriguing movie to get lost in, or I’ll pick up a fascinating novel and read it cover to cover. Other nights, I go into the kitchen and start creating.  This is one of those nights.

I love tropical fruits like mangos, bananas, coconuts and pineapple.  There’s something so refreshing about biting into a juicy, sweet, chunky piece of fruit, and rich flavorful coconut milk feels like silky cream on my tongue.  This is probably why fruit is always in my refrigerator, rice can always be found in my pantry, and lately, all types of coconut products can be found in my home.

Haupia, from my Instagram feed

Haupia, from my Instagram feed

When I was a kid, my favorite desserts weren’t cookies and cupcakes, but all the Asian ones: Thai mango and sticky rice, Vietnamese che chuoi (tapioca and banana pudding), Japanese mochi (sticky rice cakes) and Hawaiian haupia (coconut gelatin).  [If you follow me on Instagram or Pinterest, you’ll see all my favorite foods and more].   Even in a restless state of mind, I remembered all of my favorite childhood desserts, raided my cupboard and threw together this easy banana and coconut rice pudding.  The result is a thick, custard-like dessert, with flavors of coconut, banana and almond to enjoy.

I used Trader Joe’s coconut milk, the kind that comes in a carton and is kept in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.  It’s less fattening than the canned milk type and cooks the rice well.  Because I love the way almond and coconut mix, I used almond extract, but vanilla will do if that’s what you have on hand.  For the rice, I use Calrose premium rice.  I like it’s chewy, thick texture, and find it similar to tapioca pearls.  The rice cooks quickly, in about 20-25 minutes, and you’ll need to stir it frequently.  Towards the end of cooking time, the pudding will thicken quite a bit, so keep your eye on the pot!

This dessert is enjoyable warm or chilled.  The aroma of cinnamon and coconut is pretty irresistible, and will offer a nice, soothing fragrance to your home.  Sweet, sweet dreams, my friends.

IMAG0640Banana & Coconut Rice Pudding
Serves 4


1/2 cup rice, uncooked
2 cups coconut milk (beverage type)
3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 banana, peeled and split lengthwise, then quartered

  1. Add the rice, coconut milk, cinnamon and almond extract to a pot over medium high heat.  Taste the milk and adjust sweetness or cinnamon as desired.  Once the mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat and allow to gently simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.
  2. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, add the bananas.  Continue to stir to prevent from sticking.
  3. Allow to cool, then serve warm or chilled.
So Long Summer Vegetable Tart

So Long Summer Vegetable Tart

Summer Vegetable Tart

I just completed a segment for Daytime TV — hopefully, you had the chance to see it!  The show was focused on Labor Day weekend, so I chose to do an end-of-Summer recipe, featuring yellow squash and zucchini.

This recipe appears in my cookbook under Asparagus and Almond Tart.  The nice thing about this savory tart is that you can swap out ingredients to fit the season, as I did for the show.  I cut long zucchini and yellow squash into thin circles, then used both fresh and dry herbs to season.

The other ingredient you can swap out with this tart is the cheese.  I love the combination of Gruyere and Parmesan, however, you can use other cheeses, such as fontina, Comte and even white cheddar.

Because the crust is made from store-bought puff pastry, this recipe comes together in no time.  So take a break from too much work this weekend and celebrate the finale of a delicious Summer.

Summer Vegetable Tart
Adapted from the recipe: “Asparagus and Almond Tart” published in the cookbook Food with My Friends

Serves 4-6

1    sheet of puff pastry dough, thawed
1    cup Gruyere cheese, grated
1    cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2    zucchini and/or yellow squash, cut into ½ inch circles
2    tablespoons fresh or dried thyme
1    egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water

Olive oil for drizzling
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Thaw the Puff Pastry
Thaw the puff pastry. Line a 13-by-9-inch rectangular baking sheet. Once the dough is pliable, roll the dough to fit baking pan. Transfer to baking sheet.

2. Score the Dough
Using a knife, score a 1-inch border around the dough, making sure not to cut through. Use the tines of a fork to prick inside the border, at small intervals, about ½ inch apart. Docking the dough will allow steam to escape while baking, ensuring a flaky crust.  Freeze the dough for 15 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F.

3. Bake the Dough
Brush the border of the dough with the beaten egg and water. Bake the dough for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Using the back of a flat spatula, flatten the pastry crust inside the border, leaving the crust high and intact.

4. Fill the Tart
Fill the inside of the crust with both cheeses. Lay the squash circles into rows, alternating types if using both zucchini and yellow squash.

5. Bake the Tart
Return tart to oven and bake until the squash is tender, about 12–15 minutes. At 2 minutes prior to finish, sprinkle the tart with the thyme leaves and bake. Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle generously with olive oil.

Allow tart to cool then slice and serve.

Caldo Gallego: Soup from Spain and Emilio’s Special Recipe

Caldo Gallego: Soup from Spain and Emilio’s Special Recipe

Emilio’s delicious Caldo Gallego

Whenever I feel the need to laugh or share a smile, I pick up my mobile and text my friends.  Our exchanges are filled with wacky updates, snarky attitudes and silly responses.  One day, I’m going to publish these texts into a photo album and call it Words with Friends.  But that’s an idea for another day.

Today, my thoughts and palate are focused on my friend Emilio, who shares his recipe for Caldo Gallego, the historic hearty soup from the hills of Spain.  Emilio and I were texting about food and memories, and he shared that during his childhood, he refused to eat caldo gallego.  His great aunt (who immigrated from Spain to D.C.) would spend hours in the kitchen tending to the soup, and when it was ready, she would call him in from playing in the street.  Like most kids, Emilio would squeamishly refuse to eat anything made with spinach and frowned at the sight of tender meat falling off a ham bone.  I smiled when I learned this, because at one point in my childhood, I refused to eat sushi.  The reply Emilio sent me had me howling with laughter.

Emilio and I share a hug in the kitchen

Thankfully, tastebuds mature and change with our bodies, and Emilio and I are no exception to this.  By recalling the memory, Emilio found himself longing for the soup – made with creamy potatoes, salty pork and earthy spinach – and decided to re-create it in his kitchen.  It seems the best memories make the best recipes; I’m so thankful Emilio is willing to share his recipe here.

This soup comes together easily in one pot.  If you have a pressure cooker, you can make it (from the dry beans to boiling the ham hock) in less than an hour.  However, if you want to cook it traditionally on the stovetop, Emilio’s tips and instructions guide you through the process.  When I made the soup, I savored all the wonderful aromas that filled the house. I also decided to use fingerling potatoes, left whole, instead of dicing them up.  Emilio called that an “interesting twist” but it’s up to you to decide how hearty you want your soup to be.

I lift a bowl to celebrate Spain’s glorious Euro Cup win, but mostly, to celebrate my friend, the laughter and all the fun — I’m so grateful for our phone calls and text messages when we’re apart.

The finished Caldo Gallego

Caldo Gallego
by Emilio Rouco
Makes 4-6 servings


For the Rostrido (a traditional Spanish sauce which adds flavor to soup):

3-4 Tablespoons olive oil – enough to fry garlic
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp paprika (sweet, Spanish paprika is best)
¼ cup white wine (optional)

  1. In a frying pan with olive oil, gently fry sliced garlic until lightly golden brown (be vigilant, as garlic burns very easily).
  2. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool for a minute or two – then mix in the sweet paprika – the cooling off period is important, if you don’t do it the paprika will burn.

Emilio’s Note: Stick to Spanish paprika for this, it’s way better than the Hungarian variety. Stir until well blended. At this point you can remove the sauce from the heat or you can add the optional white wine. If you add the wine, leave the sauce on heat and simmer  gently until wine is completely evaporated.

For the Soup:

1 lb medium dry white beans (you may substitute 2 cans of beans for a quicker recipe)
2 1/2 quarts water
1/2 lb salt pork, cubed*
2 smoked ham hocks
6 small white potatoes, peeled and diced
1 bunch fresh spinach
4 Spanish chorizo sausage
Salt, if needed

* Cubing the salt pork is optional.

Emilio’s Note: Salt pork can be a wee bit too ‘real’ for some. It’s fatty. I recommend NOT cubing it. Rather, remove skin and discard. Throw salt pork in whole then remove and discard when soup is done. You can also substitute ½ lbs of bacon, whole, not sliced, for the salt pork.

To Make the Soup:

  1. Rinse beans, cover with 6 cups of water and soak overnight. (If using canned beans, simply rinse and drain and place beans in a large pot with 6 cups water).
  2. When beans are ready to cook, add additional 1 quart water with the salt pork and ham bone.
  3. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer about 2.5 hours or until beans are tender (if using canned beans, simmer for about an hour).
  4. Add potatoes and Rostrido sauce. Simmer an additional 20 minutes.
  5. Slice chorizo into 1-inch pieces. Add chorizo and spinach to beans and cook ten minutes more. Taste and add salt (if needed). If the soup is too salty, add additional water.Remove salt pork and discard (if using bacon, remove it). Remove ham hocks. Cut meat from ham bones, discard bones and return meat to stew. Serve in soup bowls with buttered, crusty bread.

Emilio’s Note: The taste and consistency improves if the soup is allowed to rest, partially covered, for a few hours before serving.

Breakfast Torta: Chorizo, Egg, Black Bean and Cheese Sandwich

Breakfast Torta: Chorizo, Egg, Black Bean and Cheese Sandwich

Tortas in a cast iron grill pan

Red, Green or Christmas?  That’s a question you get asked a lot in New Mexico.  The answer has nothing to do with the holiday spirit or festive lights.  It’s about salsa, the Spanish word for sauce, which accompanies just about everything you can possibly order at a restaurant.  Personally, I find Christmas, using both red and green salsa, to be the best option — especially in the morning.  New Mexico has the BEST breakfast burritos!

Prickly pear cactus margaritas in Chimayo, NM

I happen to love spicy foods, especially during Summer.  When the weather heats up, I long for hot weather cuisines such as Jamaican, Ethiopian, Indian and Mexican.  The capsaicin found in chilies and peppers have long been known to boost circulation and cool the body, but beyond these health benefits, I find that spicy foods make me eat less and drink more.  And there’s nothing wrong with that!

Recently, my friends Charles and Tim told me they were hungry for breakfast.  It was the middle of a hot and sticky night and they needed an energy boost.  While sipping on a cold beer, my thoughts drifted to my travels in New Mexico, which made me smile and offer to cook.  In less than 15 minutes I whipped up a handful of breakfast burritos, and I’ll never forget how much fun Charles, Tim, Ivana, Joel and I had while eating them.

In Old Town Albuquerque

Since I can’t leave well enough alone, I decided to improve my breakfast burrito recipe.  It started off with the basics: eggs, shredded potatoes, hot sauce, bacon, salsa and tortillas — and has grown into a Breakfast Torta recipe.  Torta, is the Spanish word for bread, and in Mexican cuisine, tortas are hefty sandwiches.  My breakfast torta is inspired by New Mexico foods, with ingredients like crumbled chorizo, black beans, diced onions, a fried egg, and of course, plenty of salsa.

This breakfast torta is intended to wake up all of your senses in the morning by being spicy, savory, hearty, fragrant and flavorful.  I use a panini press to bring it all together, but you can use a heavy pan or even a foil lined brick to toast the sandwich.  You can also make and refrigerate the chorizo filling before hand, in order to save time in the morning.  However, if you find yourself playing short order cook in the middle of the night, taking orders for after-hours eats, this torta will surely keep the party going.

Breakfast Torta
Serves 4 hungry people

Food photography by Stephanie Cameron.

2    Bolillo Rolls (or 4 small ciabatta or kaiser rolls)
1    pound fresh chorizo, casing removed
1    small yellow onion, diced
2  cloves of garlic, chopped
1   14.5-ounce can black beans, drained
8   ounces queso fresco or cotija queso (or equal parts grated fresh mozzarella and crumbled goat cheese)
4  eggs
1   cup red salsa
1   cup green salsa (Hatch chile preferred, but tomatillo is a good substitute)

  1. In a cast-iron or heavy skillet, crumble the chorizo into small bits over medium-high heat. When the sausage is mostly cooked, after 3–4 minutes, add the diced onions and garlic, and cook until onions are clear and transparent, about 3 minutes more. Add the drained black beans, and stir well to combine.  Adjust flavors if needed (using seasonings such as salt, pepper, cumin and oregano) and remove from heat.
  2. Split the bread rolls in half. Use your fingers to remove the inside breading. Save this bread for breadcrumbs or for garnish for soup at a later time. Slice, grate or crumble the cheese as needed.
  3. Heat a panini press or flat griddle pan.
  4. In a separate pan, fry the eggs (I prefer over-easy, to a medium softness, but scrambled works too).
  5. Fill the bread cavities with the chorizo mixture then top with eggs and cheese. Add the remaining sliced bread to create a sandwich. Place sandwich in panini press or on heated griddle. If using a griddle, be sure to weigh the sandwich down with the bottom of a heavy pan, plate or brick. You will need to flip the sandwich to toast both sides.
  6. Once sandwich is toasted, allow to rest for 1 minute then slice diagonally.  Serve with two salsas for dipping.

My talented friend, photographer and New Mexico native, the incredible Stephanie Cameron

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic: C’est Tout!

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic: C’est Tout!

“Trapped! Yes sir, trapped! Into frittering his life away being nurse-maid to a lot of garlic eaters!” – Mr. Potter

I smirk whenever I hear Mr. Potter say this during It’s a Wonderful Life.  Not only because it was Frank Capra’s way of thumbing his nose at bigotry, but because it shows how much American tastebuds have changed in just a short amount of time.  The movie was created in 1946, a time when garlic was consumed mostly in Europe, Asia and Africa.  It’s hard to think what American dishes tasted like without garlic (in fact, I don’t want to think about it!)

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

A lot of people give credit to Italian cuisine for introducing garlic to the American diet.  While I tend to agree, I think credit also needs to be shared with French cooking, particularly by way of Chefs Julia Child and James Beard.  Both Julia and James embraced French cuisine and made it easy for Americans to relate to — simply by making classic recipes new, exciting and fun.

Child and Beard made Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic into a trendy dish during the 1960’s and 70’s.  The idea of peeling so many cloves of garlic challenged and excited the hands of home cooks, but even more so, was the idea that this strange, bitter, odor filled bulb would transform itself into culinary liquid gold.  “A recipe I taught in my classes for many years,” Beard said, “and one that never failed to astonish the students because the garlic cloves become so mild and buttery when they’re cooked through!”

Peeling garlic, two bulbs down, two more to go!

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic is a classic French dish that is served in many brasseries and countryside kitchens.  What I love about this dish is the simple, warm presentation of chicken in a rich, savory sauce — only to be met by the sensation of soft creamy garlic that will melt on your tongue and spread easily on your chicken or even bread.  I recommend serving this with a freshly baked baguette.  You won’t need any butter, as the garlic and sauce are rich on their own.  And yes, peel the 40 cloves of garlic yourself.  It’s easier than you think.  C’est tout!

P.S. I leave this week for Paris.  Time for some relaxation and inspiration.  I’ll write when I return. Au revoir!

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
Serves 2 people

Simmering away!

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 legs of chicken, skin-on, bone-in (drumstick and thigh separated)
20 cloves of garlic (about 2 bulbs) peeled
      *use 40 cloves if using a whole chicken
4 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 cups cognac
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter
Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Heat a heavy stockpot or dutch oven with the olive oil over medium high heat.  Salt and pepper the chicken generously.  When the oil is hot, add the chicken to the pot and cook until golden brown on all sides.  Use tongs to turn the chicken easily.  When chicken is toasted (about 10 minutes) remove from stockpot and set aside.
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the pot along with all the garlic and lower the heat.  Stir quickly until the garlic is fragrant, about one minute.  Add the chicken stock along with 1 cup of the cognac and all the thyme.  Stir with a wooden spoon to pick up any brown bits at the bottom of the pot.  Return the chicken and all the juices to the pot.
  3. Once the liquid begins to simmer, bring the heat to low then cover the pot with a lid and allow to simmer for 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.  After cooking, remove the chicken from the pot and set aside.
  4. Turn the heat up to medium high.  In a small bowl, mix the flour and one cup of the hot broth to make a slurry.  With a whisk, slowly whisk the slurry into the stockpot.  Add the remaining cognac to the broth along with the cream.  Stir and adjust seasonings.  Allow the mixture to boil, reduce and thicken, about 6 minutes.  During the last minute, add the remaining tablespoon of butter.
  5. Serve the chicken with the gravy and garlic cloves, along with fresh baguette.  When dining on this, you are encouraged to smear the soft garlic onto the chicken or onto your bread.  It’s liquid gold, trust me.  Bon appetit!
Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza: Fresh and Easy

Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza: Fresh and Easy

Bad pizza annoys me.  Processed cheese, old tomato paste, bland ingredients — yuck!  Why waste your time and money? Good pizza, on the other hand,  thrills me.  Fresh dough, rich cheese and savory ingredients — it’s the stuff food dreams are made of.

Fresh arugula meets salty prosciutto and rich cheese.

I have a preference for thin crust pizzas, as thin as a cracker, with crispy edges and a delicate middle.  When I make pizza at home, I roll the dough super thin then place it on a sizzling hot pizza pan.  The resulting crispness is just fantastic!

I happen to love a combination of hot and cold ingredients on pizza.  When hot cheese meets crisp cold arugula, smoked salmon or freshly cut pineapple, my mouth sings with intense sensation.

Below is my Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza recipe, one of my favorite casual dining dishes.  It’s light, fresh and filled with flavor.  I recommend using a super hot oven (450 degrees) and allowing your pizza stone or pan to get just as hot.  Do this and you’ll get a wonderfully crisp bottom.  Also, if you use a prepared dough, that’s fine, but I find a good pizza dough comes together easily with the help of a food processor.

Use freshly cracked seasonings at the very end, just seconds before you take your first bite.  This recipe is all about bright, light, fresh flavors — I’m sure you’ll enjoy it down to the last crumb!

Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza

Pizza Dough
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups fresh mozzarella cheese, grated
1 cup gorganzola cheese, crumbled
1/4 lbs. prosciutto, thinly sliced
2 cups fresh arugula
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

The cheese and crust become browned and bubbly

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place one rack in the lowest position in the oven.  Oil pizza stone or pan and insert in oven.

Mix the garlic and olive oil.  Roll out pizza dough into a thin circle, using a well floured surface and rolling pin.  Spread the garlic mixture over the dough.  Top garlic with mozzarella cheese, then dot the pizza with the gorganzola.  Using a pizza peel, carefully place the pizza on hot stone or pan.  Bake until cheese is browned and bubbly, approximately 9-12 minutes.

Remove pizza from oven and top with slices of prosciutto.  Add the arugula and sprinkle generously with olive oil, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Slice and serve immediately.

Thin slices of prosciutto meets the cheese

Braised Lettuce and Peas (Yes, I’m Cooking Lettuce)

Braised Lettuce and Peas (Yes, I’m Cooking Lettuce)

Say the word lettuce and many Americans think of a crisp cold salad, the start of a large buffet or some sort of landing area for other vegetables.  But say lettuce to someone knowledgeable in Chinese or French cuisines and thoughts of casseroles, stir-fry and soups come to mind.

Cooked lettuce is comfort food to many in Asia and Europe but has yet to make much of an impression in the United States.  While we love the taste of braised collard greens, steamed cabbage, creamed spinach and rich pasta mixed with leafy arugula, there’s little appreciation for cooking lettuce.

When I buy lettuce, I opt for a whole fresh head as it’s cheaper than buying the bagged stuff.  Having a variety of ways to enjoy lettuce – from a garden salad, to a wrap around a filling, to a steamed side dish – ensures that nothing will go to waste.

One of my favorite late night snacks is a small pot of peas with wilted lettuce.  Every now and then, I find myself hungry, knowing it’s too late in the evening to cook a full-on meal, yet too early to go to bed.  In those instances, I opt for some sort of vegetable snack and when I need something heartier, I cook the vegetable.

Cooking lettuce is so simple, I have a new variation with every attempt.  Some days I squeeze fresh lemon juice on Boston lettuce, allowing the tender leaves to pick up fresh acidity.  Other times I’ll add a sprinkle of freshly chopped mint, right at the end, to give the lettuce a hearty bite.  I love the taste of Romaine lettuce, with its dark green leaves and thick stems, paired with bright baby peas and a pat of butter.  Below I’ve included such a simple recipe I hope you enjoy it as a side dish or special snack.  Warm and rich, it evokes the joys of soup without the heaviness of a stew.

Braised Lettuce and Peas

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small shallot (thinly sliced)
Half head of Romaine lettuce (chopped into large pieces)
1 cup chicken stock (vegetable stock is also good)
1 1/2 cups frozen peas

In a stockpot or deep saute pan, melt the butter.  Add the shallot and saute for one minute.  Add the lettuce and chicken stock and bring to a simmer.  Add the peas and cover for two minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with any variety of heavy cream, freshly chopped mint, grated carrots or squeeze of lemon juice.