Monday, May 30

Ice Cream Cookies

My family has two holiday seasons.  The first holiday season is the traditional one - Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's...  At the moment, we're in the middle of the second, mid-year holiday season.  Basically, we celebrate my parents' anniversary, my dad's birthday, my birthday, and my sister's birthday in one 26-day period.  And in case we feel as if we have not consumed enough cheese, champagne, and favorite-dinners, this whole season of festivities is bookmarked on either end by Mother's Day on one end, and Father's Day and the Fourth of July on the other.  Occasionally we sprinkle graduations in there.

Anyway, we just celebrated my dad's birthday.  Instead of ordering an ice cream cake, I decided to make ice cream sandwiches.  I tweaked the recipe a little bit, but here's the original:

Ice Cream Cookies
from 500 Cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening (you know, that Crisco stuff)
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups cornflakes or crisped rice cereal
1/2 cup melted semisweet chocolate
4 cups vanilla ice cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease two baking sheets (I'd recommend using little bits of the vegetable shortening.  It should be out on the counter already anyway).  Sift the flour and baking soda.  Beat the butter and shortening with the sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla extract and gradually add the flour and cereal.  

the crispy rice-infested dough

Roll the dough into small balls (there should be 24 of them) and place them on the baking sheets.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, then allow them to cool on a baking rack or something.  

When they are totally cooled, coat the bottom of each cookie with a layer of melted chocolate.  Put the cookies in the refrigerator to make sure the chocolate hardens.  

I'm just impressed I was able to clear out this much space

Spoon about 1/4 cup of ice cream onto the chocolate side of a cookie and then make a sandwich with another cookie.  Put the cookies in the freezer as you work to prevent the ice cream from melting.  

the first cookie

When all the cookies are finished, transfer them to an air-tight container and store in the freezer for up to 4 days.

I've never been a fan of crispy rice or cornflakes or whatever you want to call them.  Plus, I made some (minor) changes to the recipe.  As a result, I was deeply suspicious of what would become the finished product.  I was horrified at the thought of ruining precious ingredients (just think of the ice cream!), but I decided I had to trust the cookie book because it has yet to disappoint me.

I had to taste ahead of time to ensure the utmost quality

I ended up making mint chocolate ice cream sandwiches instead, with only a few changes.  I subtracted 2 tbs of flour from the whole cup and added 2 tbs of cocoa to the cookie dough instead.  The cookbook suggests crushing peppermint candies and adding them to the dough in addition, but I just couldn't do it.  I considered adding mint chocolate as well, but I honestly forgot to.  However, I did manage to get mint chocolate in there.  After melting 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I would recommend adding another small handful to the 1/2 cup just because I started to run out), I added peppermint extract - somewhere between 1/2 tsp and 1 tsp.  When you melt the chocolate, make sure you do not anger it or the oils will start to separate and you'll end up with a weird half-boiled, half-crusty shell that is only vaguely reminiscent of its previous glory.  Use a spatula to coat the bases of the cookies.  I had some problems with the chocolate starting to harden, so I submerged the chocolate bowl in a larger bowl of hot water and stirred frequently.  Instead of vanilla ice cream, I used mint chocolate ice cream (the kind with the chocolate chunks in it).  Finally, you will want the ice cream to be fairly soft to ensure ease of scooping, and the edges of the ice cream will melt and drip regardless.  I would recommend using a circular 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop the ice cream and freeing the ice cream using that trusty spatula. That way, the ice cream will already have some semblance of a disc-shape and sandwiching the ice cream will not have an incredibly lop-sided effect.

I added frosting to make them as
ice cream cake-like as possible

Despite the crispy rice things, these actually turned out really well.  In fact, I'm guessing the crispy rice is what made the cookies so, ahem, crispy.  When I pulled the cookies out of the oven, however, it seemed as if they were a little gooey so I'd recommend flattening the dough more than just a little (make sure they don't burn).  That said, sitting in the freezer does have the lovely effect of solidifying any unruly bits.  And, to make the cookies more like an ice cream cake, I made some frosting (here) and decorated the ice cream cookies.

In honor of my dear father, here is the Eurythmic's "Sweet Dreams", a song to which he cannot resist dancing with unabashed zeal:

Vanstone, Philippa.  500 Cookies: the Only Cookie Compendium You'll Ever Need.  Portland, Me.: Ronnie Sellers Productions, 2005.  Print.

Sunday, May 29

Puentez Taqueria

I basically live at Puentez Taqueria for the week leading up to when I leave for school in the fall and after Winter Break.  This place is in Montecito Plaza in downtown San Rafael (what?  Is that a Trader Joe's three doors over?) off of 3rd St. and Union St. and they have pretty much ruined all other burritos for me.  It is a family-owned business and I have to wonder what they start to think of me during the week.

I am a food purist (why ruin something that is so pure and delicious even in its most simplest form), so I really really really enjoy a burrito with black beans, rice, and cheese.  Yep, that's it.  Sometimes though, when I'm feeling a bit adventurous, I'll throw caution to the wind and add a bunch of stuff.  This happens rarely.  But still, the grilled chicken, boiled chicken, guacamole, different salsas, and vegetable mix are all good.


I would recommend a burrito and a cup of horchata, which is ridiculously cheap and ridiculously delicious (it is homemade).  Last time I think the whole meal cost me about $6.


If you're not in San Rafael, Gordo's (yes, this translates to "Fatty's") is somehow familially related to Puentez but they have more locations: three in San Francisco - Clement St., 9th Ave, Geary Blvd. - and three in the East Bay - Telegraph Ave., Solano Ave., College Ave.  All of these places are worth the effort and the prices are more or less the same.

Marin Greek Festival

the dancers
(particularly the astounding Alexis)
Go to the Greek Festival!  The music is fantastic, the people are wonderful, the dancing is splendid, and the food is to die for.  Seriously, this food is the food that I compare all other Greek food to (and everything else always falls short).  It ends tomorrow and won't be back until next year, so get on it!

Just to explain a little, the Marin Greek Festival is an annual event that the Nativity of Christ Greek Orthodox Church puts on every year.  This is actually the fortieth festival (since 1971).  Anyway, the festival takes place at the church.  The inside/rec room is full of food and various merchants selling everything from gorgeous earrings to ouzo candy (SO. GOOD.).  Outside they sell more food and there are tons of tables under the trees and live music.  The church also participates in many folk dance festivals throughout the year, so every hour or so one of their dance groups dances traditional Greek dances decked out in full, handmade, traditional Greek costumes.  This year their eldest group won second place at FDF (the folk dance festival) so they are clearly fantastic.  Make sure you go!

the desserts 

too many things to name
(including dolmathes and pilafi)

tiropita and souvlaki

the youngest dance group

galaktobouriko and baklava

Saturday, May 28

The Garden House Cafe

Two friends of mine, the lovely Mary and Margaret, introduced me to this place about a year ago (18 months ago?) as a cheaper alternative to Angelina's Catering Co. (another cute but pricier cafe on California St. and 23rd Ave.).  The Garden House Cafe is on Clement St. between 32nd and 33rd Ave - close to the Legion of Honor and fantastic views of the city, the ocean, and Golden Gate Bridge.  I recently returned for a cup of coffee and a croissant when Java Beach Cafe was too crowded (shocker).

Inside the cafe, there are booths, small tables, nooks, crannies, and bookshelves.  Dear Lord, the bookshelves.  As far as I can tell, loyal patrons leave much-loved copies of books for others to enjoy.  (I most recently spotted a copy of Jane Austen's Persuasion.)  Thus, The Garden House Cafe seems like the perfect place to nest and read a book as the infamous (and cherished) San Francisco fog rolls into town.  Better yet, for those perfect days when the sun is shining, there is a patio behind the shop with mini-statues and little tables to enjoy your meal.

As for food, the cafe offers an array of hot and cold beverages and sandwiches, all reasonably priced.  They even offer discounted refills!  (Cough, Java Beach, cough.)  More importantly, in order to cut the bitterness of the freshly brewed dark roast coffee, they sell a variety of delicious pastries.

Friday, May 27

Ricotta and Herb Ravioli

This was how the fresh pasta started.  It was kind of a project.

Ricotta and Herb Ravioli
from The Art of Simple Food

1 cup ricotta
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil or softened butter
1 egg
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons mixed chopped herbs such as marjoram, basil, thyme, savory, parsley, or sage
fresh-ground black pepper
plus 1 recipe of the Fresh Pasta

To make the ravioli filling... mix everything together in a bowl besides the pasta dough.  That's right.  Then you're done.  Oh but wait, now you have to roll out the pasta dough.  

ricotta and herb filling

Roll out all the dough until it's fairly thin and cut it into sheets that are about 14 in. long.  Keep the stack of well-floured pasta sheets under a towel to keep them from drying out as you work with one sheet as a time.  

Spoon 1 tbs of the ricotta and herb filling.  Keep about 1 1/2 inches between each blob of filling.  

Spray lightly with a fine mist of water.  Fold the upper half of the pasta over the lower half and then gently press the two layers of the pasta together, making sure to squeeze the air out of the little pockets.  Use the zigzag roller to cut the ravioli apart.  

Separate them and lay them out on a sheet pan sprinkled with flour.  Make sure they aren't touching each other because apparently the ravioli filling with seep through the pasta and everything will stick together.  Cover them with a towel or something and refrigerate them until you are ready to cook them.  

Cook the ravioli in salted simmering water for 5 to 6 minutes or when the pasta is done.  Drain and serve, with 1-2 tbs of butter and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Eat!

Everything was actually pretty easy to do, but I did over stuff some of the ravioli.  It worked out alright though.  However, I did put all the ravioli in the pot at once and they all ended up floating to the top and some of them didn't cook evenly.  I had to use a strainer to submerge the ravioli so they would actually cook.  So I would suggest only putting a few ravioli in the pot at a time and that way they'll cook without too much effort on your part.

Here's another guitar song.  Last summer I went to an amazing concert, courtesy of my lovely friends.  Rodrigo y Gabriela are two guitarists that... well, you'll just have to listen to it.  This is called "Hanuman":

Waters, Alice, Patricia Curtan, Kelsie Kerr, and Fritz Steiff. "Ricotta and Herb Ravioli." The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2007. 271. Print.

Thursday, May 26

Fresh Pasta

I don't know why I did this.  Don't get me wrong, the pasta was good and not that difficult to make, but what was I thinking?!  I'm mostly asking myself this because I did this not once but twice.  Later, I used some of the pasta to make homemade ravioli.  Here's the recipe for fresh pasta:

Fresh Pasta
from The Art of Simple Food

2 cups flour
2 eggs
2 egg yolks

Mix the eggs together in a bowl.  In another bowl, measure out the flour and make a well (LIKE MASHED POTATOES AND GRAVY) to pour the eggs in.

Mix with a fork like you're scrambling an egg and incorporate the flour bit by bit.  If the dough becomes too dry (as in crumbly), then add a few drops of water.  Shape the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic.  Let it rest for at least an hour before rolling.

Roll the dough out by hand on a lightly floured board or using a machine.  I didn't use the machine, so don't ask me.  But I did roll it out with a rolling pin until it was fairly thin.  Cut it into noodles.

I actually made herb pasta by adding about 2 tablespoons of sage to the flour before adding the egg.  I also got the little crinkled edges on the end with a pastry roller thing, but you it also works with just a knife.  Also homemade pasta uses a lot more water than store-bought pasta, so make sure there is a lot of hot water and that it is a rolling boil.  It also cooks a lot faster, so depending on the thickness and how al dente you want the pasta, it should boil for about 3-6 minutes.

In other news, there's a storm here!  Which is really sad because the Marin County Greek Festival is coming up and we NEED it to be sunny and nice.  On the other hand, Marin looks really dramatic... and I saw a rainbow!

This is Andy McKee's "Drifting".  We love Andy McKee:

Waters, Alice, Patricia Curtan, Kelsie Kerr, and Fritz Steiff. "Fresh Pasta." The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2007. 89. Print.

Wednesday, May 25

The Five Stages of My Mom's Cooking Process

Much like the Five Stages of Grief, my mother has five stages - emotional, verbal, and otherwise - in her cooking process.  I actually wrote this out about three years ago and it's been on our refrigerator ever since because it is still true.  She may not follow this outline every night, but for all intents and purposes it works.

(Note: my mother is not a sailor...  She never swears this much.  The stress of the kitchen gets to her.  HI MOM!)

  1. Resignation: As she takes stock of what is left in the kitchen, "I'm just going to pull something out of my ass."
  2. Anger at perceived ingratitude: As she notices that my father has once again disappeared to wash his hands or respond to one last email or do who knows what, "Where the hell does your father go every night?!"
  3. Denial: As she finishes sautéing or boiling or broiling, "Jeez you guys, I have no idea how this is going to taste.  It's probably complete crap."
  4. Acceptance: As she takes the first bite, "Goddamn, I'm good."
  5. Assessing the consequences: As she surveys the dining table, "You have no idea how good you people have it." (Now I do, Mom!  Now I do!!)

first trip to NYC

Brussel Sprouts Al Lindsay

I think brussels sprouts are an underrepresented vegetable.  They are incredibly healthy for you - benefits include DNA and cancer protection, as well as a ridiculous amount of vitamin K (about 250% of your daily value in one cup), vitamin C, and tons of other stuff.  And brussel sprouts actually taste really good when cooked correctly.  I stole this particular method of cooking brussel sprouts from my mother, and she stole it from a family friend (Lindsay... hence the title).  Basically, the vegetables are slowly cooked and then infused with vinegar flavoring.

Brussel Sprouts Al Lindsay

brussel sprouts
olive oil
balsamic vinegar

Cut the brussel sprouts by trimming the stems (or where the stems were) and then cutting them in half.  Heat a reasonable amount of olive oil in a pan over medium heat.  Lay the brussel sprouts flat on the pan and slowly cook them for about 20-30 minutes.  The goal is to brown the bottoms gradually.  When they're ready, throw some balsamic vinegar until the pan and let the vegetables sear while absorbing the vinegar.  Consume happily.

I'm fairly positive my mother refused to make brussel sprouts because the most common way to make them is by boiling or steaming, which all too often results in mushy, overcooked, and flavorless vegetables.  Now they are a frequent dish at the dinner table.  Trader Joe's sells packs of brussel sprouts, but you can also get stalks of brussel sprouts from farmer's markets (and thus feel so much color as you cart your plant-bit home).

Here is George Michael's version of "Feeling Good":

Tuesday, May 24

Dates and Cream Cheese

I know, I know, right off the bat the combination seems really really strange.  But the combination works really well.  Dates are a really sweet fruit (apparently they grew along the Nile in ancient Egypt...?) that are full of fiber, with a lAZittle bit of potassium and other vitamins and minerals (like calcium and magnesium).  Cream cheese really isn't good for you - low in sugar, but high in saturated fat and cholesterol - but what are you going to do.  Fresh dates are excellent, but dried dates are just as good and last longer.  The dried dates are usually found near the raisins in the supermarket.

Dates and Cream Cheese

cream cheese

Slit one side of the date lengthwise and remove the seed (which always remind me of pecans for some reason).  Stuff the date with enough cream cheese to satisfy your date-to-cream-cheese ratio.

dates are kind of funky looking

a lone date stuffed with cream cheese

Something about the sweet dates and the cream cheese complement each other... don't bash it until you've tried it.  Today I re-explored some classic rock, so here's Boston's "Peace of Mind":

Monday, May 23

Meringue Tart Shells

I used up something like seven egg yolks total on the flan and on some homemade pasta (coming soon!), so there was a bowl full of egg whites sitting in the fridge.  There are a couple things that you can make with egg whites, most notably sorbets (in order to emulsify and stabilize the sorbet and preserve it while it's frozen) and MERINGUES.  For those of you who don't know, meringues are weird thing made out of sugar and egg whites that are super sweet and kind of melt in your mouth.  My grandmother likes to make banana cream pies using meringues as the pie crust instead of actual pie crust.  TRY THIS.  Anyway, my mom (rightly) got fed up with the egg whites that were sitting around and made these.

Meringue Tart Shells
from The New York Times Cookbook

6 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp lemon juice
1 2/3 cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.  Beat the egg whites, salt, and lemon juice until they hold soft peaks.  Continue beating the egg mixture and add the sugar gradually.  Keep beating all the ingredients until it is glossy and stands in firm peaks.  Using a pastry bag (ie. a ziploc bag or something with like this with its tip cut), shape the meringue into 3- to 4-inch rounds on unglazed paper on a baking sheet (we used tin foil).  Build up the sides by laying coils of meringue one on top of the other to a depth of about 1 1/2 inches.  Bake slowly in the oven for about 1 hour.  Remove from the paper/tin foil with a spatula.

the remains a mere 24 hours later

We actually used all 7 egg whites and adjusted the recipe accordingly, but they still turned out really really well.  Again, this is something that is really difficult to do by hand.  You'd probably be beating the eggs for a good half hour with a whisk alone.

Today on a hike I put my iPod on shuffle (ALWAYS a risky move...) and Dave Matthews Band came up, which took me instantly back to the eighth grade.  Here's Dave Matthews Band's "Eh Hee"... it's a weird song but it's pretty entertaining:

Claiborne, Craig. "Meringue Tart Shells." The New York Times Cookbook. New York: Harper & Row, 1961. 523. Print.

Sunday, May 22

Good Luck Dim Sum

A family friend of mine introduced me to this place about five years ago and it is now the dim sum place that I compare to all others.  Good Luck Dim Sum is on Clement St. in San Francisco between 8th Ave. and 9th Ave.  While it may not be the absolute best dim sum place in the city, it is definitely the cheapest.  They have everything you could ever need.  Except maybe bubble tea, but that's alright.  Most dumplings go for around $1.60/3 pieces and it's incredibly difficult to spend more than $10 on food for two people without getting sick.

look at all the boxes that will soon be filled with food
and will then go out into the world!

The shop itself isn't too much (it is another one of those hole-in-the-wall places) and I'd recommend taking the food to go and driving to Golden Gate Park or Ocean Beach or something.  And most of the people who work there aren't especially friendly, but they have the awesome task of preparing dim sum for the world so we can forgive anything.


Saturday, May 21

Unadulterated Guacamole

My guacamole preferences are a little strange.  I am not a big fan of chunky bits of tomato and onions and whatnot.  In my mind, that is more of a guacamole-salsa hybrid.  When I want guacamole, I want something that exploits the pure deliciousness contained in an avocado.

Unadulterated Guacamole

sour cream
lemon/lime juice

Cut the avocado and put it in a bowl.  Add a dollop of sour cream and mash the avocados and sour cream together with a fork.  I usually add just the right amount of sour cream to the avocados so that by mixing them together, I achieve that weird green color of really awful 70's wallpaper.  Add a pinch of salt and some lemon or lime juice.  Taste and adjust as necessary.  I would recommend salted tortilla chips or those lime tortilla chips that are addictive and a little frightening.

pre-dinner snacks that basically became dinner

I continued getting my biannual dose of nature today.  Here's a shot of Mt. Tam:

As for an appropriate song choice, I have to go with Jarabe de Palo's "Grita".  It's a song about friendship, but I really enjoy it because I can pretend I can still speak/understand Spanish and he also just has a nice voice:

Friday, May 20

Zachary's Pizza

I love authentic Italian pizza, but the Chicago-style pizza of Zachary's Pizza pretty much makes me cry with joy.  If you've never had Chicago-style pizza, it is a deep-dish pizza with the tomato sauce on top of everything.  Their best pizzas are a little expensive (about $27 for a large) but this is why you go with your parents or with a big group of friends.  It is really filling, so don't be too worried.  There are a couple different locations, but I go to the one on Solano Ave. in Berkeley (address is 1853 Solano Ave.).

Above all, I recommend the spinach and mushroom pizza.  My family also goes for the pepperoni.  The restaurant is a lot of fun, with pizza-inspired artwork all over the place, but the most amazing part about going to get pizza all the way in Berkeley at this place is to get the pizzas half-baked.  (They quite literally "half-bake" it and then give you instructions as to how to finish the masterpiece in the oven.  I suggest calling your mom/dad/sister/dog and telling them to preheat the oven so it will be ready when you get back.)  This way, you still get fresh pizza in the privacy of your own home.

baking the half-baked


spinach and mushroom

Thursday, May 19

Chocolate Truffles

My parents have been married for 21 years today!  And I'm also making truffles!  I've been waiting to make these truffles for SO LONG.  Get excited.

Chocolate Truffles
from The Art of Simple Food

1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 lb bittersweet chocolate
10 tbs (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
6 tbs heavy cream
1-2 tbs brandy (optional)

Sift the cocoa powder into a small bowl and set it aside (I actually sifted this time).  Put the chocolate and the butter in an medium heat-proof bowl and put it in a pot of simmering water.

Once it melts, stir in the cream and the brandy.

oh it is so perfect

Refrigerate the mixture until it's firm.  Use a melon-ball roller or some really small spoon and scoop 1/2-inch balls onto a baking sheet.

Smooth the balls with your hands and drop them a few at a time into the cocoa powder to coat them.  Then, put them back in the refrigerator until they are firm.

When you're ready to eat them, bring them back to room temperature for the best flavor.  Viola.  C'est magnifique.

And now that I've employed one of the five French phrases I have in my arsenal, I have to add this song: "La Vie en Rose".  I realize that Edith Piaf did it first and did fantastically well (and did it French, for that matter) but I just love Louis Armstrong's version.  His voice and his trumpet just make it an entirely new song for me:

Waters, Alice, Patricia Curtan, Kelsie Kerr, and Fritz Steiff. "Chocolate Truffles." The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2007. 382. Print.

Wednesday, May 18

Roasted Asparagus

I love Alice Waters.  (And Ira Glass... Unrelated, but I've been listening to him all day.)  This book (The Art of Simple Food) explains easy ways to prepare basically everything, and it doesn't assume you know too much (except maybe how to caramelize sugar).  But all in all, my experience has been that if you trust Alice, she will not lead you astray.  Tonight we had some ravioli, steak, and asparagus.  More on the ravioli later, but here are some notes on the asparagus.

Roasted Asparagus
from The Art of Simple Food

olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Snap the ends off the asparagus (remembering to let the asparagus snap where it may).  Lay the spears out on a baking sheet, side by side.  Drizzle olive oil on them and then sprinkle some salt.  Then roll the asparagus around so that they are coated in olive oil and salt.  Roast the vegetables in the oven until they are tender, which should be about 9 to 11 minutes.  Make sure to flip them over about halfway through their roasting time.  Serve from the oven or cooled to room temperature.

they are so green!

I didn't hate asparagus growing up - I definitely didn't love it - but I find that in New York I gaze forlornly at the bundles of deflated-looking asparagus that is $5/lb.  In other related news, it was almost summer-like today!  If you look dead-center on the horizon, you can just make out San Francisco:

San Francisco Bay Area, folks

While I love Alice and Ira, I also love Sam.  Here is Dooley Wilson singing Herman Hupfeld's "As Time Goes By":

Waters, Alice, Patricia Curtan, Kelsie Kerr, and Fritz Steiff. "Cooking Asparagus." The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2007. 289. Print.

Tuesday, May 17


My sister got her driver's license.  Yes, this did happen a good 6 months ago, but it's really only affected my life now.  Sure, I no longer have to ferry her around the Bay Area, but apparently going to school (even during post-AP season) is more important than not being stuck at home until a friend can come and get you.  Thankfully, my father has prepared a list of things I can do to stave off the boredom: walk the dog (which is nice), clean the kitchen, do the laundry, glue together that ceramic bowl, take photos of the house so we'll have some kind of document of our belongings in the case of a natural disaster...

it's pretty much winter here

Instead I made flan.  Mostly because it's made with really basic ingredients that I didn't have to go shopping for.  But also because it is delicious.  You'll need a 9-inch round dish that is ovenproof.  And something bigger than that that can hold the dish and enough water to partially submerge the contained flan.

from The Art of Simple Food

1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 3/4 cups milk
1/4 cup cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
3 eggs

In a small pot, pour 1/4 cup water and then sprinkle 3/4 cup sugar in an even layer.  You're going to want to have the rest of the water (another 1/4 cup water) at the ready.  Cook the water and sugar over medium-high heat until the sugar caramelizes.  DO NOT BE AFRAID.  I was terrified.  I've never caramelized anything except maybe onions and googling images wasn't helpful either.  My problem was that I used some raw sugar that was kind of brown to begin with.  But you'll know when it has finished.  Just be a little wary of the bubbles.  Anyway, here's what will happen: the whole thing will start to bubble violently.  If it's not heating evenly, swirl everything gently in the pot but don't stir it.  

this is when I took it off the stove...
you can't really tell, but it's golden brown

When the sugar caramelizes, it will turn a rich golden brown color.  When it does this, take it off the heat.  It will keep cooking with the heat of the pan.  Have a wooden spoon or something nearby, plus the 9-inch round glass or ceramic ovenproof dish.  When the sugar and water has turned dark golden brown, step back and pour in the measured water.  It will be a little violent, but have courage.  Stir everything together with the spoon and then immediately pour the mixture into the dish because it's going to start to harden really quickly.  (Side note: IMMEDIATELY after pouring the caramelized sugar from the pot, run it under hot water a couple times because it is going to be ridiculously difficult to clean.  As will that wooden spoon.)  

ready for the water

all the goodness is hardening

This is a good time to preheat the oven to 350 degrees if you plan to bake immediately.  In another pot, heat the milk and cream over medium heat, but do not let it boil.  Once it is steaming, add 3/4 cup sugar and the vanilla and remove the pot from the heat, making sure to stir the mixture until the sugar has dissolved.  Let it cool until it is lukewarm.  In the meantime, whisk together the eggs and egg yolks.  Tip: when separating the whites and the yolks, use two different bowls and do each egg one at a time.  That way, if you drop the egg and the yolk breaks, you won't waste all the egg whites that you've already separated.  

Whisk the eggs into the cooled cream mixture.  Pour the custard mixture into the prepared dish.  Place the dish inside a larger oven proof pan and fill with warm water to a depth halfway up the side of the dish.  

ready for the oven

Cover the larger pan with foil, place in the oven, and bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until the custard is just set around the sides, but still jiggly in the center.  Take the flan out of the water bath and let it cool.  Run a knife around the flan to release it.  Cover it with a platter that is large enough to hold the flan and retain the caramel sauce.  Quickly invert the custard onto the dish.  Top the bottom of the baking pan and gently lift it off.  Serve the flan in slices with its sauce spooned on top.


So here's the deal: do you see how little of the bowl is taken up by the flan?  (The smaller of these two dishes cracked so I had to use the larger one.)  So when I inverted the flan... shit went down.  It was definitely delicious and perfect, but it was destroyed.  This is the final product, minus the bits that we ate in order to make it look better...

yeah... but it was really good!

Use a size-appropriate dish if you care about aesthetics.  (But would you really reject aesthetically-displeasing flan?)  Also, this recipe was a little egg-y, or so some people thought.  But all in all, it was fairly easy.

There's a whole convoluted history of flan, the origins of flan, and the etymology of the name(s), but I associate it most closely with Latin America.  And since Cuba is culturally kind of considered Latin American, here's Buena Vista Social Club's "Chan Chan":

Waters, Alice, Patricia Curtan, Kelsie Kerr, and Fritz Steiff. "Flan." The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2007. 372-3. Print.