Thursday, November 28, 2013

Good, Fast & Cheap

It appears in a dizzying array of permutations and is something you shouldn't cry about spilling, unless you’re the one that’s cleaning it up.

Ah, milk.  People either love it, would like to love it or would like others to love it.  And who wouldn't want a fan base like that?  In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a place or culture on earth where milk hasn't left its footprint, I mean, uh…breasts. 

Wow, I'm really glad I was finally able to get that off my chest.

All right, all right.  There's no need to blush, here.  We're all adults.  Sometimes.  But I must admit that I've never heard a television commercial loudly announcing at the top of its lungs, the advantages of "freshly squeezed."  Have you?

But don't let that deter you, for it's milk you'll discover as your knight in shining armor (mounted on a white horse, of course), when you need to cook up something good, fast and cheap.  Now I know you've all heard that of that particular combination, you can only choose two, and in most cases, I'd wholeheartedly agree.  But, there's always the exception to every rule, and I'm here to share that exception with you.

So our story begins with three little milks.  But just to set the record straight, they're not really that little and our story is only about dairy, so nix the pigs and the wolves.  Ready to get started?

Our first milk is the granddaddy of our three milks and first appeared in the marketplace in 1856.  The daddy of our granddaddy milk, Gail Borden, was a farmer who, devastated by the death of several children in 1851 due to spoiled shipboard milk, set himself upon a mission to develop a milk that was long-lasting, safe to drink and could easily be transported and sold.

Prior to this, milk could only be kept fresh for a short time and was only available in the immediate vicinity of a cow.  Gail Borden's product, called sweetened condensed milk, and produced under the Eagle Brand, changed all that.  And it came to market just in time to play a major role in helping soldiers during the Civil War combat food poisoning and other illnesses. 

His breakthrough in creating shelfstable milk, was in the process that he developed, over several years of trial and error, that remarkably remains essentially unchanged, today.

First, the milk is pasteurized, before adding about 40% sugar, then heated until nearly two thirds of its water evaporates.  The added sugar, which helps to prevent the growth of bacteria, also extends the shelf life of this thick and sweet milk, which, I'm told, can last unopened on the shelf for up to two years.  Well, I don't know about you, but that's a test I've never been able to complete on my sweetened condensed milk.

Of course, with today's refrigeration, we don't tend to dilute and drink it as a safe source of milk, as they did in the early 1900’s, but we do use it in and baking and candymaking, and it's a popular addition that lends its distinctive caramelized flavor to Vietnamese coffee and Thai iced tea.

Our next youngest milk, evaporated milk, is the less sweet cousin of granddaddy sweetened condensed milk.  And in fact, this milk isn’t sweetened at all, but the process is the same, minus the addition of sugar. 

But, just like its granddaddy, the heating process gives it, too, a caramelized color and flavor, and in both milks, the loss of 60% of their liquids produces milks with twice the calcium and protein of fresh.  But please, don't ask me about calories.  For if you don't mind, it don't matter.

Now, our last milk is likely something you won’t find unless you visit a Latin market or head for the Latin/Mexican food section in one of your larger supermarkets.  Called "media crema,” which means “half cream” or “light cream” in Spanish, this product is available in both cans and vacuum sealed juice type boxes.  And it sounds just like what it is – cream without refrigeration (until, of course, you open it up).  Available to use in both sweet and savory dishes, I've come across some enterprising characters using it to make homemade sour cream (with the addition of a tablespoon of vinegar) or even, buttermilk (thin the cream, first, with ⅓ cup water before adding the vinegar).

So now that you're familiar with all our milky players, it's time to put good, fast and cheap to the test.  Three cans, five eggs, and vanilla is all it takes.  And if you don't believe me, just take a peek, because by now, I'd just like to keep this short and oh, so sweet.


(Serves 12 – 16)

¾ cup sugar
¼ cup water

1 can (14 ounce) sweetened condensed milk
1 can (12 ounce) evaporated milk
1 can (7.6 ounce) media crema
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Add the sugar and water to a heavy saucepan set over medium heat.  Stir initially to combine, then cook undisturbed until the large bubbles subside into small bubbles and the caramel reaches an amber honey color.  Carefully pour the hot caramel into the bottom of a 9 inch deep dish pie plate.  With potholders, gently tilt to coat along the bottom and up the sides.

Place pie plate within a larger ovenproof container and preheat oven to 325° F.
Set rack to mid-oven and prepare a small pot of boiling water.

Add all flan ingredients to a blender and blend until well combined (or alternately, whisk the ingredients together in a large bowl).

Pour the mixture into the caramel coated deep dish pie plate.
Slide into the oven and carefully pour the water into the outer container, until it reaches about ⅓  to ½ up the side of the pie plate.

Bake 40 – 50 minutes until flan is set, but still has a slight jiggle in the center.
Transfer to rack to cool, then refrigerate until chilled.

To unmold, run a thin knife around the edge of the flan, then carefully place a large plate firmly over the top of the pie plate and invert.

No comments:

Post a Comment