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Rhubarb Crème Brûlée

Rhubarb Crème Brûlée

At the ripe age of 20, battered copy of The Sun Also Rises in hand, I traveled to Paris alone (for some reason). Among my fondest memories of that lonely city is the outdoor café where I sat with my journal everyday, writing bad poems, eating crèmes brûlées for the first time, and drinking cafés crèmes by the gallon (to replenish my fetal fat stores). Years later, I would remember those brûlées the most, and the handsome boy who served them to me; and in my tiny New York kitchenette, still later, I would recreate a lactose-free version for my more evolved (though equally lost) self.

1–2 stalks rhubarb, chopped
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
5 eggs yolks
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons brown sugar, for burning

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

In a small saucepan, cook the rhubarb and maple syrup until soft and falling apart (like a compote) and set aside.

In a separate saucepan, gently heat the coconut milk until bubbles form around the edges. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, salt, and vanilla until pale yellow. Very slowly pour the heated milk over the eggs, all the while whisking until incorporated.

Next, line a roasting tray with 4 ramekins. Evenly spread a tablespoon of the rhubarb compote into each of them, followed by a ladleful or two of custard (until nearly full). Transfer to the oven—but before closing the door, fill the tray with recently boiled water halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 1 hour or until set. Cool slightly before storing in the freezer for at least an hour or in the fridge overnight.

When ready to serve, evenly sprinkle a tablespoon of brown sugar over each ramekin and place under the broiler of your oven for about a minute or two. Results will vary greatly from oven to oven, so check frequently until the sugar has melted and bronzed up nicely. Say one Hail Mary before cracking into the sugary crust with a spoon, which will reveal layers of temperature within: first, warm and gooey; then, cool and creamy.

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