Bananas, meet Condensed Milk.

A few weeks ago we were invited for drinks and light dinner at a friend’s house. The kind of friend who doesn’t want you to bring anything. Now, as a chef, it is very hard to show up empty handed or holding a bottle of wine. But if I do bring something, I always also try not to over-do it, as it’s not my show after all. So of course – dessert is always the classic choice.

After a short interrogation I discovered their favorite sweet ending for a meal was Banana Pudding. Great choice for the cold nights of NYC. Having made a couple of puddings, I’ve decided to try a recipe that’s a little different this time. Unlike my usual cream-based puddings, I thought of trying to apply some short cuts and use Condensed Milk. The thickness of the condensed milk provides with that richness you want to feel in puddings, and if you use pre-mixed vanilla mixture, well – you’ve just cut half the work!

Let’s talk condensed milk.
Condensed Milk. Nestles under “other dairy” section. Not the sexiest sounding category.

Sold as a canned product which does not require refrigeration, It’s usually found somewhere on the baking shelves, right next to Wondra and almond extract (and if you ever shopped for it, you know you have to really look – it’s usually higher/lower than eye-level: marketers have better-selling items to put within your natural reach).

It’s one of those things that you don’t necessarily have in your pantry; some cultures use it more than others, for traditional recipes like the Mexican ‘La Lechera’ cake or the Brazilian candy ‘brigadairo’; it’s also used as a short-cut in pies and pudding recipes, acting as a great thickener-sweetener, a combined quality that is rarely found in many ingredients. Basically, it’s a great way to get away with some steps in baking/cooking procedures; using it will save you a couple of hours of waiting for milk to reduce to a thick, sticky, heavenly consistency which is necessary for certain dishes.

Like many commodities, these products aren’t really being promoted in any kind of ATL advertising; I don’t recall any commercial for these items, actually. But as mentioned, most people look online for inspiration anyway, so let’s check the brands websites, shall we?

Brand-Dropping
Eagle Brand – who is manufacturing only Condensed/Evaporated milk products – is doing a great job in giving some creative ideas as to how to use their products in various recipes. Nestle’s brand Carnations, on the other hand, means well – but directs you to a broken link (hey Nestle guys, I’m sure you have some good stuff in there, please look into it!). Nestle have another brand, La lechera , and here they have a whole website dedicated to product-use ideas that features both brands (and many more). Nestle is also doing a great job connecting the website to all of its social outlets: Pinterest, Facebook and Tweeter. The only thing with this site, is that it involves many different products and their own recipes, so if you happened to buy this one product – condensed milk, and want to know what you can do with it, it doesn’t let you sort by product but by other navigation options. Under the brand page itself, because there are more products rather than only sweetened condensed milk, some recipes may seem like they utilize it but actually call for other products of the brand, like milk powder or evaporated milk (do not mistake it for sweetened condensed milk!)

So, generally, I was pleased with what I found around the culinary marketing of this product. Now, without further a due, my Banana Pudding recipe for you all to try. I tried a different plating option, which I think is nice and interesting. In this recipe I caramelized half of the banana, and left the other part whole, to support the plating. This gives an additional texture and flavor source to the dish, and invites you to “play” with your food a little, just for fun.

NYC-Winter Glazed-Banana Pudding
Serves 4

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From the Pantry
5 bananas
¼ cup maple syrup
1 container (14 oz) condensed milk
1 package instant vanilla pudding
2.5 cups milk
1 pint (4.73ml) container heavy cream

For show:
½ package Vanilla wafers/cookies (I made it myself..)
The bananas from before (see below).

Get Mixin’:

Make the pudding:

  1. Take one banana. Mash it up well, preferably in a food processor, to a paste.
  2. Mix the instant pudding with the milk and condensed milk. Add the mashed banana. Set aside to firm up, about 20-30 minutes in the fridge (or outside on the fire escape if it’s 7 degrees out and you have no room in your tiny little apartment).
  3. Whip the heavy cream until firm peaks appear, but be careful not to overwhip it – it will become butter and there’s no turning back from there… (What are firm peaks? When the whipped cream holds its form and don not budge when you test it. Use any utensil like a spoon or a fork. Just take a little bit out of the bowl to see if it holds).
  4. Gently incorporate the whipped cream into the pudding mix. Start with 1/3 of the batter. When incorporated, add the rest.

Glaze the bananas:

  1. Take the rest of your 4 bananas. Peel half way. Cut each half way down to nice discs.
  2. Heat a non-stick pan. Add the maple. When it starts to bubble a little, add the bananas in batches. Flip bananas when it turns nice and golden.
  3. Set aside to cool.

Plate it!

  • Put some of the pudding in a piping bag. If you don’t have any, you can use a spoon.
  • Arrange one banana, peel and all, on a plate. Working from the banana side to the top, use your spoon or piping bag to pour some pudding, about 1 tablespoon. Add one glazed banana disc. Continue until you get to the banana top – about 3-5 banana discs.
  • Put some vanilla cookies on the plate. You can put some pudding underneath it to give it some moisture.
  • Dig in, and don’t forget to take a bite out of the raw banana – it’s the texture mix that makes this so much fun!

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SHOW ME YOU LOVE ME

FLOWERS PAIRS BEST WITH CHOCOLATE

“I made reservations to this great new place”.
“I’m preparing some romantic dinner. Italian”.
“I’m just going to dip some fruit in chocolate. Says it all”.

Valentine’s Day is yet another great example for how food is everywhere, this time – in our love life. What we all guessed is true: food and love goes well together, in a very primal way in our brain. Now you know what the famous “wine me and dine me” phrase is based on.
It’s also a great opportunity to show our significant other we’re a great catch, and that they should stick with us. And I have the perfect glue:

HELL YEAH

This year, Valentine’s Day is a Saturday. And you have to admit it, not many things says ”Big Impression” like breakfast in bed. So I give you: perfect, easy pancakes. Preppy and all. The good stuff. My secret ingredient? Yogurt. The texture of yogurt gives great structure to the pancakes, while also making the art of shaping them foolproof. They turn out rounder and thicker than other pancakes, so when you stack it up you don’t need 20 of them: 4 will create that awesome “Eifel effect” and draw joyful squeaks of appreciation from around the room (or bed).

 I LOVE

Yogurt. Especially Greek yogurt, which has this tanginess to it, an attribute that makes it a perfect companion to many highly flavored dishes that need to “tone it down” a little – like spicy food, a hot pureed soup or very sweet items.

Yogurt brands are doing a good job in marketing this product to foodies, as it is so versatile and easy to combine with many dishes, showcasing the product can be used in more than just at breakfast with fruit.
Chobani did great with recipe suggestions on their website. I love the fact you can browse by dietary restrictions or by products, which shows good reading of current food trends and attention to niches. FAGE has paired up with celebrity chef Bobby Flay to give many cool recipe suggestions but is harder to navigate; refining by too many categories just narrows your search to such extent, that you find yourself with no recipes suggestions at all. Sometimes it’s better to keep it simple, especially when not all of your categories can yield enough search results, and will make the opposite impression of not enough variety of recipes.

 

LET THEM EAT CAKE

Pancakes are within the ‘Quick Bread’ realm, and indeed they are: very quick to make.
It can even be done faster in real time, if you prep the dry ingredients in advance. This way, you add the liquids at the very last minute – even days later – and be done in 15 minutes. Good way to ensure the surprise effect (you don’t want to be away from bed too long for your valentine to notice you’re gone and up to something, right?).

 

TOUCH OF TECHNICALITIES

Pancakes are mostly:

  • Flour
  • Leaveners – which are the agents who will fluff up your product – such as baking powder, or baking soda.
  • Eggs –in charge of both flavor enrichment and leavening.
  • Liquid such as milk, cream and water.
  • Other flavor ingredients, such as melted butter, which will also contribute to flavor.

 

For best outcome, all ingredients should be at room temperature. This is to avoid an uneven batter. Come to think of it, the logic is pretty simple: Cold milk meets melted butter. Butter is not melted anymore. It lumps up. Big chunky soup. Catch my drift?

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BIG AND FLUFFY ATTENTION PANCAKES
Yields 2-4 serving (depends on how large you prefer your breakfast..)

From the pantry:

3 cups (12 oz) AP flour
¼ cup (1.5 oz) sugar
½ Tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 small container (7 oz) Greek yogurt
¼ cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 oz melted butter
Optional: 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (it will not totally ruin the recipe if you don’t use any).

 

For Show:
Any and all berries, bananas, confectioner’s sugar, and of course maple syrup (the real stuff, please)

 

Get Mixin’:

  1. Get all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. If you want to make your mix in advance, just put it in a container (make sure you label it so you don’t mistake it for just flour!).
  2. Mix liquids: yogurt, milk. Eggs, butter, vanilla if you feel like it.
  3. Mix dry and wet.
  4. Voila! Le Pancake Batter.
  5. Heat a non-stick pan and spray with some oil. The first pancake is always the trickiest: wait until the pan is hot, then pour a little of the mixture using a ladle. Turn the fire down to relatively low; this batter acts better to moderate heat.
  6. Flip pancake when small air bubbles appear and the pancake batter is no longer runny.
  7. Don’t panic. Told you the first one is tricky. I promise practice makes perfect.
  8. Stack and top with your favorite fruit and a sea of maple.
  9. Wait for it…    Who’s the favorite part of the relationship now?

 

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Future Never Looked so Delicious

Not too long ago, being a “cook” meant the kitchen was your only option. When children were asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” most answers would involve the use of stethoscope, shouting “objection!” or riding a cool red-truck on your way to the rescue. These days with celebrity chefs and reality TV, it’s not far fetched that kids will say “I want to be a Chef when I grow up”.

Yumm Generation
Health trends, nutrition-conscious eating and back-to-home-cooked-dinner efforts are here to stay. The Foodie community is growing, and everyone seems to want the world to know what they had for lunch. Reports dated to as early as 2008 say that this community will just keep getting bigger and gain influence via social media and the internet, and current predictions suggest that this culture is also the future: Millennials have been declared the foodie generation.

Grandma Googles Chicken Noodle Soup?..
According to a study released on 2012, 90% of people learn about food online: 50% of people use the leading social playgrounds Facebook and Tweeter, and another 40% use various other options like blogs, websites etc. 3 years into the future, I believe studies will now show more people are out looking for information in content-driven websites rather than the social apps, for two reasons: people want more knowledge, and they want it from a source whom they trust.

Smarter Cooks
Foodies are a very loyal community and can be great advocates. It’s extremely important to gain their trust. Foodies are willing to search and search until they find a recipe that they would like to try.
Many food brands now have a website or a blog dedicated to recipes featuring their brand. Posting interesting recipes is great, but brands have to be careful with what they send out there, as foodies can spot a ‘broken recipe’ if they see it. Moreover, if they try a recipe and it doesn’t work – they won’t necessarily give your brand a second chance; cooking is a time-consuming hobby, and can be costly; remember it’s not just your product they’re investing in. Recipes have a whole shopping list.
Another thing to remember is that there are different levels of foodies; the ad hock foodie will just look for something to cook for dinner, and will try and find something very specific. Others will browse online for general inspiration. They also differ by cooking skills: some are down home cooks, who would prefer the easier and faster recipe versions and some are professional chefs who would be interested in long, detailed explanations; some are interested in learning about the process and the gadgets, and some just want to get down to business. Some will search for a recipe and some for an ingredient and its uses.
One thing is common to all: they are all actively searching for food knowledge.

A Good Recipe for Culinary Marketing
There has never been such a great opportunity for brands to expand marketing efforts and target the foodie segment. But the kind of effort I’m talking about is not necessarily a billboard or a rising star; it’s content marketing. Meaning: a pack shot is great, but an ad showcasing the product via a mouthwatering dish photo accompanied by a recipe – that’s more like it.
Being a chef and a Marketer, I sometimes find myself contemplate these issues. So I’ve decided to use this platform to choose ingredients, talk a little about the product and its category, suggest an interesting and creative recipe that will showcase the product to my fellow foodies, who always want to try something new.
Beyond the recipe, I’m always interested in the logic behind the procedure, so I’ll try and explain why we do what we do.

This has been a long post, so I’ll save the recipe for my next one – but I promise it would be worth the wait!

Footballs and Cheeseballs

“No way you’re watching this now, not when I’m in the room!”.  This is usually my reaction when he turns the TV on sports. Seriously – had we owned two T.V sets (or lived in more than a tiny-one-bedroom, to absorb all the noise he makes while watching)… Not football though. Somehow, something very interesting happened around this sport: it became a gathering. An experience bigger than “just” the sport; the commercials, the half time show – the food – Either with family or friends, football – and particularly the Super bowl – had become an event people share.

How Football made its pass 

I personally got to know Football better when we were someplace upstate on a winter road-trip, and came into one of those small towns where you have exactly one bar, a supermarket and a souvenir shop. Lucky for us, they also had a local brewery (a very good use for the family’s garage). Once we came in I realized from the screens we were just in time for the championship: the Patriots Vs. the Colts. He managed to fool me. Well, it’s not like we had anywhere to be. A few freshly-brewed beers and pizza slices later, the game got very, Very. Interesting. Seems like I developed patience over dinner. He started explaining the rules, and suddenly it made sense.

Here’s the thing.

When football season kicks in, you can more or less divide your friends into 3 camps: the die-hard fans, the ones who just don’t care, and the people who suffer an allergic reaction every Sunday afternoon. One thing though; they would all gladly RSVP to your Super Bowl party – as long as you keep the pizza comin’..
This is such a good example of good marketing strategy (which I think was created by the fans’ close families but encouraged by the NFL). By making football a more social experience, it really takes off the edge from having to know exactly what it’s about and just enjoy your time with your friends and family.

Let’s talk Culinary Marketing.

  • I have one word for you: Tailgating. This was probably invented by a bored significant-other who was trying to keep busy before the game. But seriously – this is great platform. Lots of semi-football-lovers are persuaded to watch the game only because they get to try that onion-dip recipe they got from their favorite newsletter a week ago. So many food brands are preparing well in advance for the holy grail of condiments. Take, for example, Avocados from Mexico, who not only went the whole nine yards with their super bowl commercial, but also uploaded more than 15 different Guac recipes.
  • Talking about blogs – almost every blog ran a dedicated Game Night theme: snacks, pizza and even recommended mixology ideas. Food52 who always features recipes contributed by its community, featured some really interesting ideas. Game day is now almost a synonym for wings, Tortia chips and Pizza.
  • NYC’s ICE did a really nice job harnessing the potential behind this concept. They joined forces with the New York Jets to create a new and unique experience – the Tailgating Series. This is a great example of going beyond the sport, making the experience interesting and fun for everyone.

So for your next Super Bowl party – or if you really want to spoil your friends next time they come over, try these little treats. The sharp cheese flavor pairs perfectly with beer (I always prefer Belgic style ale):

Spicy, Cheesy Game Night Salty cookies

image Run to the store:
1 stick (4 oz) butter, room temperature
3 eggs
4 TBS (1 oz) grated cheese *see comment.
¼ cup (1 oz) sunflower seeds
¼ cup (1 oz) pumpkin seeds
½ tsp cayenne
¼ tsp paprika
1 cup (3 oz) AP flour
1 tsp salt

For show:image
1 egg, lightly beaten
poppy seeds / sesame seeds

*Cheese: You can use hard any cheese you have in your fridge (Not including the one from last month, it will be very comfortable somewhere else. in the trash, for instance). i used sharp cheddar, it has a really nice color to it.

Get mixin’:

  1. If you have a stand mixer, perfect, use the paddle attaachment. This can also be done manually with a wooden spoon (and you’ll work up some muscle while you’re at it). Beat the butter until it’s no longer lumpy. About 2 minutes if it really is room temp (no, don’t microwave it, it’ll just melt the butter and cause the whole thing to have a dense texture..).
  2. Break the eggs into a small bowl (This is mostly to prevent eggshells from ending up in your cookie.) (No, it will not pass as a nice crunchy texture. I’m saving you here. Trust me on this.), then add it to the butter.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix all the dry ingredients: flour, salt, spices, seeds.
  4. Add to the butter/egg mixture and mix 1 more minute, until well incorporated. The dough will be a bit sticky.
  5. Wrap in plastic and cool in the fridge for at least 1 hour, or spread on ¼ baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes (how I love cutting coreners).
  6. After cooling when the dough firms up (it will still be a little sticky), using wet hands, make about three 8’’ logs. Wrap and freeze again.
  7. Pre heat oven to 375.
  8. Take the logs out, cover with egg wash and drizzle the poppy seeds.
  9. Cut to 1/8’’ thick discs and bake for 15-18 minutes or until ends turn golden.
  10. Don’t forget the beer.