It was his photography that first caught my eye. He shoots really interesting food photographs and his use of light/darkness and his use of narrow depth of field (Translation: photos where a sliver of the shot is in focus and everything in the background and foreground is slightly blurry) are unique. He is able to capture specific moments in preparing a recipe that make you wish you were there cooking with him. You can check some of his beautiful food photography here. Choose Portfolio and select Food.
I actually spent a chunk of change buying a lens that is f1.8-capable in order to try to emulate his style. My last few posts and this posting have my feeble photographic attempts to incorporate his style.
Then I started to discover his recipes. His heritage informs his cooking. His parents are from two very different parts of India and he takes a unique approach to mixing western and eastern cooking. I've made a couple of the recipes featured in the SF Chronicle (and some are on deck to try).
So each October, we get a Sugar Pie pumpkin (or two) in our CSA box. We typically put it on the porch or window sill to acknowledge Fall and Halloween. After a few weeks it goes bad and we compost it. One year, I did try to cook one but the results turned me off for a few years. Then I recently saw Nik's Pumpkin Flan in a recent SF Chronicle feature. So I decided to give it a try.
The results were quite tasty. There are a few steps that I need to master and improve upon (like the caramelized sugar topping) but we enjoyed the flan and will make it again. This, however, is not your typical custardy flan. Nik introduces some new ingredients that harken to his upbringing. In addition to pumpkin, he adds ground ginger and turmeric. The latter provides a glow of yellow that mixes with the orange pumpkin to create a very Fall-looking dessert.
The main thing about this recipe is that you need to plan out--ahead of time--how you can get a cake pan into a water bath. I did not catch this until I was fully committed and in progress with the recipe. So you need a cake pan and then a larger receptacle, like a full sized skillet, into which you can have the cake pan sitting in a water bath. In addition you need something to raise the cake pan off of the base so that the hot water is directly underneath. The original recipe calls for a wire rack underneath the cake pan, but I did not have a small enough wire rack to fit in my 12" skillet. So I improvised and made it work.
The original recipe is here but you might not be able to access it as it's part of the subscriber-based part of the San Francisco Chronicle.
- Pumpkin - 1 medium sugar pie pumpkin
- Sugar - 1/4 cup
- Water - 2 tablespoons
- Eggs - 5 large
- Ginger - 1 teaspoon ground
- Turmeric - 1 teaspoon ground
- Milk - 1 cup whole milk
- Condensed milk - 1 14 oz. can
- Evaporated milk - 1 12 oz. can
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Slice the pumpkin in half and remove all of the seeds. Place face down on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast until soft, around 45-60 minutes. When done, remove from the oven and let cool.
- Once cool, scoop out the flesh and put it into a food processor and run until smooth. Measure 1 cup of processed pumpkin.
- Reduce oven to 350 degrees.
- Have ready a 9 inch cake pan.
- Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Stir and heat the mixture over medium high heat. Stir regularly and in 6-9 minutes the sugar will start to darken. Watch carefully as it can easily burn. Once the sugar reaches a dark amber color pour it into the bottom of the cake pan swirling the pan to distribute it across as much of the bottom of the pan as possible. I was too conservative and did not get the desired brown on my first try as you can see in the photo.
- Put the cake pan in the refrigerator until the caramel hardens.
- In a large bowl, add the pumpkin puree, ginger, turmeric, and eggs. Whisk until eggs are scrambled.
- Add the three different milks and whisk until smooth.
- Prepare the water bath. Place the cake pan in a pot and fill it with water so that the water reaches halfway up the side of the cake pan.
- Bake for 2 hours at 350 degrees. Make sure the center of the flan is firm to the touch before removing.
- Remove the cake pan from the water bath and let cool.
- Cover in plastic and refrigerate overnight to set.
- Use a knife around the edges to release the flan from its pan. Flip carefully and gently tap to release.
- Serve chilled