Caramel Rice Flan

One recipe that caught my eye a week or so ago while browsing the New York Times’s website was Caramel Rice Flan.  This egg-enhanced rice pudding is made with risotto rice, giving it a nicer “toothy” feel when you eat it.  The best part is the homemade caramel which lines the bottom of the souffle dish, subsequently becoming the sauce for the flan when it is flipped upside down and unmolded onto a serving dish.  I decided to try the recipe for dinner last Friday at Ko and Per’s place, where Tawn and his girlfriends gathered to watch the royal wedding.


The recipe takes about an hour of active time to prepare and then around two hours to bake.  After that, it needs at least six hours in the refrigerator so it really is a “make today for tomorrow” sort of dessert.  Ingredients include arborio rice (one of the types you use for risotto), milk, cinnamon sticks, ground cardamom, lemon zest, cardamom pods, cream, eggs, egg yolks, salt, and sugar. 

The recipe said it serves 8-10 but looking at it, it appeared to be a big recipe so I cut it in half.


The recipe is moderately complex, requiring several saucepans, a few bowls, and a strainer.  Helpful to have everything prepared in advance and maybe even an extra pair of hands along the way.  The first step is to simmer the rice in boiling water for about 15 minutes to start cooking it.

You then drain the rice, then add it to a medium saucepan with most of the milk, the cinnamon, and ground cardamom, bringing it to a boil and then lowering the temperature and simmering it for 30 minutes, cooking until the rice is very tender.


Any unabsorbed milk is poured off and then the rice is put in the bowl and lemon jest is stirred in.


You then make the custard, cooking the rest of the milk, the cream, and the cardamom pods.  While that is coming to a simmer, in a separate bowl you whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and part of the sugar.


When the milk comes to a simmer, you temper the eggs by adding the milk and cream mixture to it a little at a time, whisking constantly.  This keeps the eggs from scrambling.


You then strain the mixture back into the pan, discarding the cardamom and any bits of egg that scrambled.  Next, stir in the rice.


This was the point where I felt like too many things were going on at one time and the recipe would be easier if a second set of hands was helping.  That way elements of the dish could come together simultaneously.

The next step was to make the caramel, heating the remaining sugar and a little water in a saucepan until it boils and starts to caramelize.  I think I had the heat too high because it burned a bit, leaving the caramel with a slightly bitter taste.  Must remember to be gentle when making caramel, something I have little experience doing.


The caramel is poured into the buttered souffle dish and quickly swirled around the sides before it starts to cool.  This was easier said than done!  Then, pour the rice and custard mixture on top.


The souffle dish is placed in the middle of a baking pan and boiling water is filled about halfway up the side of the pan.  This water bath helps the custard cook more evenly, instead of the outsides cooking too fast and the inside still being uncooked.  Cover the pan with foil, making some small slits in the corners of the foil for steam to escape.


Pop it into a 300-degree oven for about 2 hours, checking after 90 minutes.  Try to use a better bending technique than I did as I was just begging for a strained back. 

Since I had a half recipe I failed to anticipate that the cooking time would be less.  When I checked at about 1 hour, 40 minutes the flan was a bit more solid than desired.


Remove and allow to cool.  At this point when I shook the dish it didn’t jiggle very much.  The idea would be just a little jiggling in the center when it comes out of the oven, as it will continue to cook for several more minutes.  Once cool, cover the flan with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours. 

The real moment of truth was how well it would unmold.  You set the souffle dish in a larger pot with hot water in it for about 20 minutes, letting the caramel melt again and then loosening the edges of the flan.  Invert it onto a serving dish.  Expecting a potential disaster (after all, the recipe warns of this possibility), I decided to film it for posterity.

And the result is….


Quite pleasant to look at, actually.  Not quite as beautiful as the picture illustrating the Times’ article, but they probably had a better set-up for photography. 


The texture was like a pretty thick rice pudding, a little eggy but not overly so.  The caramel was burned, there was no getting around the bitter flavor.  I attribute it to making a half-recipe, which is so little that in even my smallest saucepan, overheating was a risk.  Next time, maybe I’ll add a dollop of butter at the end to tame it a bit.

All in all, though, it was a nice dessert.  I’m going to try it again soon at the full recipe and see how it turns out.


Food in Bangkok: BKK Bagel Bakery

First it was the cheesecake; now the bagels have arrived.  There seems to be a growing affinity for things New York (or, at least, things perceived to be in the New York style) here in Bangkok.  This trend first caught my attention a few months ago with the opening of NYCC – the New York Cheesecake shop at the Crystal Design Center.  In the last few weeks we’ve added another source of New York style carbs to the local dining scene: bagels.


While I’m no bagel expert, I do recognize that a really good bagel must be boiled before it is baked.  Simply steaming them (as is done in a lot of faux bagel shops) just produces doughy round bread.  In fact, last October I made two attempts at making bagels, just to understand the processes better.  Thankfully, I don’t need to rely on my own bagels anymore as I can now stop at BKK Bagel Bakery to purchase some freshly boiled and baked bagels.


Tawn and I made our first visit to BKK Bagel Bakery during their soft opening in late February.  At this point they had at least a half-dozen types of bagels, several types of cream cheese spreads, and also several sandwich offerings.  Sadly, the pastrami recipe has not yet been unveiled.  We tried a simple toasted bagel with a cream cheese and olive oil spread, which had a nice, nutty taste.


I tried a roast beef sandwich that was alright but nothing to write home about.  Besides using iceberg lettuce, the roast beef was a little dry.  All of the flavor came from the generous helping of whole grain mustard.  For the price – about 250 baht (roughly US$8) – it was a little pricey.


A week ago, I stopped by a second time to bring home some bagels for breakfast.  The bagels themselves are quite nice with a good chewy texture and dense crumb.  Again, I don’t claim to be a bagel expert but these certainly remind me of the bagels I’ve bought from bodegas in New York City.  I’m eagerly awaiting their attempt at pastrami, though.

Located in the ground floor of Maneeya Center, adjacent to the Chidlom BTS station, BKK Bagel Bakery should have a ready supply of customers: not only is Chidlom in the heart of the high-end expatriate community but the Foreign Correspondents’ Club is located in the Maneeya building, too.  I wonder what will be the next New York food to be introduced here?


Food in Bangkok: New York Cheesecake

New York is a city that holds a special place in the imagination of many people around the world.  So it is no surprise to see the mystique of New York used to sell everything from condos to makeup here in Bangkok.  The most recent addition to this “Big Appleing” of Bangkok is a small restaurant at the Crystal Design Center: NYCC – New York City Cheesecake.

Located in a rapidly expanding strip mall in the suburban outskirts on the northeast flank of the city, NYCC claims to offer a real taste of New York with not only authentic New York style cheesecakes but also pastrami sandwiches.  Being a lover of pastrami, I had to go out and try this for myself.


The restaurant is really more of a shack or hut, located between other buildings at the Crystal Design Center.  CDC is a design-oriented strip mall located on Ram Intra Road, an already overcrowded road that extends from Ekkamai Road out to the suburbs.  Despite the overcrowding, the past five years have seen an explosion of businesses and housing this direction.  Perhaps the good news is that with these new shopping centers on the periphery of Bangkok, the traffic on the streets in the core of the city will not get any worse.


The interior of NYCC looks more like a noodle shop with stools and small tables.  It isn’t much of a surprise then to learn that NYCC has a sister shop behind it that sells – wait for it – noodles.  Framed posters of Broadway shows lines the windows and various New York theme tchotchkes sit for sale on a side shelf.  The friendly staff take the orders and deliver the foods.  On a weekday afternoon around lunchtime, the place was not very busy.


NYCC’s motto is “cheese will never cease” – I’m not sure what that means.  For some reason, it makes me think of an alternative definition of the word “cheese”.


After a few minutes longer than I thought it would take, our sandwiches arrived.  I ordered the pastrami and Tawn ordered the chicken club.  The sandwiches are monsters, shooting for the “mile high” measurements for which New York deli sandwiches are know.  Let’s take a closer look at what we really have, though, from the toothpick down:


The bread was actually pretty good, although it would have been a bit nicer lightly toasted.  It wasn’t a nice dark rye but was slightly more substantive than the wonder that passes for bread all too often here in Bangkok.


In the middle, which is where most of the bulk is in this sandwich, is a stack of two types of lettuce, a stack of raw onion, and a stack of tomatoes.  The problem here (other than whether or not there should be any vegetables on a pastrami sandwich) is that everything is stacked, so you get a lot of onions in one bite, for example, and no onions in another bite.


At the bottom is the pastrami.  I’ll give them credit for tasty pastrami, albeit sliced a little thicker than I like.  It was tender and smoky.  There was also not much of it, especially when compared with the bread and vegetables.  As for the sauce, the sandwich was over-sauced – which is not unusual here in Thailand, with brown mustard (nice) and Thousand Island (wrong – this isn’t a Reuben).

How to rate it overall?  Well,  for a sandwich that carried a price tag around 340 baht (about $11.40), it was mighty short on meat and might high on everything else… except a pickle, which would have been a nice touch.  Now, I’m not a New York, just a frequent visitor.  But from what I know of New York pastrami sandwiches, this is what my expectation looked like:

Carnegi 1

This is a pastrami sandwich from the Carnegie Deli.  We can debate which deli is the best, but in my mind, this is a good example of what a pastrami sandwich should be.  Lots and lots of pastrami with little or nothing else between the bread.  Now, I understand that beef is expensive here and I’m not opposed to paying a good price for something that approximates a real New York style pastrami sandwich.  But if I’m going to pay that much money, let’s lose the salad, add a little more meat, and put the sauce on the side.


As for Tawn’s chicken club, it was a similar tower of salad but had a very substantial amount a chicken at the base – probably two breasts’ worth.  The meat was bland and instead of being thinly sliced was more slab-like.  It was about 250 baht and, from Tawn’s perspective, overpriced. 

As for the eponymous cheesecake, a recent dining companion (at another meal) told me she thinks the cheesecakes are flown in from the Cheesecake Factory in the United States.  I don’t think that’s the case, but the potion sizes are enough to make you believe it!


We ordered a slice of regular cheesecake with strawberry topping, more than ample for two (or four!) to share.  I’ll give them credit for making a pretty passable New York style cheesecake.  The consistency is smooth, solid but not too dense, and nicely flavored.  It had obviously been frozen previously as the center of the slice was still icy – a faux pas when service cheesecake – but it was better than a lot of the overly airy cheesecake I’ve had in Bangkok.

We ended up with a bill of about 850 baht for two sandwiches, one slice of cheesecake, and two bottles of water.  For Bangkok, that’s a pretty pricey meal, especially for a lunch.  It was fun to try and NYCC had some things going for it, but not so many that I’d be easily tempted to make the trek out Ram Intra.  Instead, I’ll just save my pastrami cravings for my new trip back to the real New York.

Would you believe five years alreday?

After more than a year of planning, my move to Bangkok occurred the morning of Sunday, October 30, 2005.  I departed from New York, spending my final two nights in America there.  As with most of my trips, visiting friends and eating food were the main pastimes.  Saturday evening was a 5-course tasting menu at Blue Hill just off Washington Square.  The fantastic menu and wine pairings were a perfect goodbye gift from the land of my birth.

Thankfully, Daylight Saving Time ended at 2:00 Sunday morning, giving me an extra hour’s sleep before having to head out to the airport.  The friend with whom I was staying flagged a taxi while I pulled off a minor logistics miracle and got my three large/heavy suitcases, one heavy trolley bag, and fully-stuffed backpack down three flights of stairs and through the front entry doors.


A few hours later, I was situated in seat 44D aboard a THAI Airways A340-500 as we rolled down the runway for a more than seventeen hour flight to the capital of Thailand.  Since the flight crossed the International Date Line, it arrived on October 31 at 4:20 pm.  Exactly five years and fifteen minutes ago.  My, how time flies when you’re having fun!

If you’re curious to read all the details of that flight, which has since been discontinued, check out my trip report here on An interesting bit of trivia, that picture above is of the actual flight I was on that day.  Through sheer coincidence, a member of was taking pictures at JFK airport that morning and shot my flight.  After reading my trip report, he emailed the pictures to me.


Is America Saudi Arabia?

Not to get bogged down in this topic, but I was amused to read this quote in a newspaper article today:

“Ground zero is hallowed ground to Americans,” Elliott Maynard, a Republican trying to unseat Representative Nick J. Rahall II, a Democrat, in West Virginia’s Third District, said in a typical statement. “Do you think the Muslims would allow a Jewish temple or Christian church to be built in Mecca?”

What the Saudi government would or would not allow in their own country is irrelevant to the question at hand.  Saudi Arabia is a theocratic monarchy.  The United States is a federal constitutional republic and a representative democracy.  Is Mr. Maynard proposing that we change our system of government so that we can meet out religion freedom (or the absence thereof) in the same manner as the Saudi throne?

Oh, brother!

There are a couple of salient points made in an op-ed on that I want to highlight:

The problem with [Republicans’] claims goes far beyond the fate of a mosque in downtown Manhattan. They show a dangerously inadequate understanding of the many divisions, complexities and nuances within the Islamic world — a failure that hugely hampers Western efforts to fight violent Islamic extremism and to reconcile Americans with peaceful adherents of the world’s second-largest religion.

Most of us are perfectly capable of making distinctions within the Christian world. The fact that someone is a Boston Roman Catholic doesn’t mean he’s in league with Irish Republican Army bomb makers, just as not all Orthodox Christians have ties to Serbian war criminals or Southern Baptists to the murderers of abortion doctors.

Yet many of our leaders have a tendency to see the Islamic world as a single, terrifying monolith. Had the George W. Bush administration been more aware of the irreconcilable differences between the Salafist jihadists of Al Qaeda and the secular Baathists of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the United States might never have blundered into a disastrous war, and instead kept its focus on rebuilding post-Taliban Afghanistan while the hearts and minds of the Afghans were still open to persuasion.

Food for thought…

The Morning of My Departure for Bangkok

Daylight Saving Time has ended – yeah, an extra hour this morning before departing to the airport.  Holly and I are sitting around her living room watching New York 1 for local news, drinking coffee, and I’m thinking about walking down to the corner bagel shop for one last taste of New York.  Thai Airways webite is showing an on-time departure (hours and hours before departure) for my flight.


Saturday night it was a pleasure hanging out with Keith and Aaron for about ninety minutes.  Keith had his “Boyfriend-aholic” t-shirt on, which seems appropriate.  Had a good conversation with Aaron about a little puppy that has been following him around!


I walked down Seventh Avenue to Blue Hill and thankfully allowed myself enough extra time because I overshot the restaurant by six blocks.  It is in that section known as Greenwhich Village – the point where the grid of streets ends – that I got confused.  Holly was just starting on a glass of Pinot Noir at the bar when I arrived, spot-on at 9:00.  We had a fantastic dinner, that only could have been improved with the presence of Tawn and you, of course!


Holly and I chose the tasting menu, paired with a wine tasting menu.  It was fantastic:


Amuse bouche

  • Celeraic soup
  • Butternut squash sorbet

First plates

  • Grilled wild striped bass with salsify puree and tomota-pepper vinaigrette
  • Wine: Lieb Family Cellars Rose, North Fork Long Island (New York) 2004
  • Chatham Cod with razor clamgs, lobster, crab and sucrine lettuces
  • Wine: Channing Daughter’s Vino Bianco, South Fork Long Island (New York) 2004

Main plate

  • Loin of Vermont baby lamp with wild mushrooms, chestnuts, banana squash, Stone Barns brussel sprout leaves
  • Wine: Joseph Phelps Le Mistral, Monterey County (California) 2002


  • Buttermilk Panna Cotta with plum marmalade and plum sorbet
  • Cheesecake with bitter chocolate sauce
  • Wine: “MR” Mountain Wine, Malaga (Spain) 2004

Last taste

  • Miniature chocolate muffin top


The celeraic soup, served in a tall, thin shot glass, was very tasty and quite hot.  It had a infused foam on top that was really a nice textural contrast to the rich soup.  The butternut squash sorbet, served on a demitasse spoon, was richly flavored and subtly sweet.  Very interesting and buttery but the flavors are better as a soup.

The bass and the rose wine were the best pairing.  The bass had a seared crust with a tomato-pepper vinaigrette that absolutely melted in your mouth.  The rose, which was enjoable on its own, just jmped to life following the bass and the flavors continued to evolve for the next several moments.

The cod was very lightly cooked, tender and flaky.  The broth was a high point full of great crustacean flavors that I sopped up with one of the fresh soft breadsticks.

The lamb, an unusual choice to serve a generous portion of loin, was lightly breaded on one side, tremendously tender and flavorful, and also a bit too salty.  The banana squash slice was delectable and wild mushrooms and chestnuts captured the season beautifully.

Of the desserts, we suggested to the server afterwards that the order should have been reversed.  The cheescake was served in individual small preserve jars and had a small dallop of bitter chocolate on top.  The cake increased in richness the deeper you dug and the chocolate had an interesting counter-note of saltiness.  It was very enjoyable, but had been completely overshadowed by the amazing buttermile panna cotta.  Like a fresh yogurt, the tangy creamy base had a layer of plum marmalade that was bursting with ripe fruitiness.  A wedge of plum sorbet added a coolness to the whole thing.

It was an absolutely fantastic meal and I can’t wait to return to Blue Hill again.

Last Day in the US Spent in NYC

Saturday in New York City.  Upper East Side, Lexington and 84th.  Holly’s lived in this charming corner apartment on the third floor for 14 years. Needless to say, the rent is a steal, and it is a charming neighborhood. 

Last night we walked a few blocks down to Tiramisu, a local Italian restaurant.  It was about nine o’clock and the restaurant was crowded as we arrived.  Fortunately, the maitre d’ was someone that Holly had known several years ago so we were seated quickly.  In fact, they must have been good friends, because he came back and refilled our glasses of wine and was very attentive.

The food was good – it is a neighborhood type of restaurant – satisfying but not too fancy.  I had the daily risotto special, which featured asparagus, arugula, and large fresh shrimp.  Interestingly, it was served in a hollowed-out grapefruit perched atop additional risotto.  Tasty.

The tiramisu itself was fantastic, a good size brick that Holly and I shared.

Hard to believe, or maybe not so hard, that the time has come for my move.  After several years of possibility, sixteen months of planning, and three months of actual organization and execution, the day has arrived.  The first twenty-two plus years were stationary; the next dozen have been downright nomadic. 

This morning I met my protoge and now boss, Kim Fordham, for brunch at Danal – a fantastic, eclectic brunch place that looks like your English great-grandmother’s back patio.  It was very nice.  While waiting for Kim and her friend Pat, I sat on a bench in the front window and played with the resident cat, a fat white and black long-hair.  She was quite fond of me and I spent the remainder of the afternoon removing white cat fur from my black wool jacket.

During the afternoon I browsed at Strand Books, one of the largest used bookstores in the world.  I picked up Ruling Your World: Ancient Strategies for Modern Life by Sakyong Mipham.  While the book doesn’t have anything “new” to say – common sense, really – it is interesting to read how the basic messages of not being so centered on “me” are packaged.

This evening, I’ll meet up with Aaron Wong and Keith Chan for drink at G Lounge – a bar in Chelsea.  Then Holly and I will have a late dinner (9:00) at Blue Hill.  One of my favorite restaurants in New York, this cozy spot with acclaimed chefs Dan Barber and Juan Cuevas features – their words – “Seasonal American food featuring the produce of the Hudson Valley.” 

Bonus: Last night I took my thirteen months’ collection of coins to the grocery store.  After CoinStar’s 8.9% service charge, I still had $108.36.  Enough to pay for my cab from LaGuardia and then to JFK airport.  Ha.

Second Bonus: Here’s a photo I snapped at my bon voyage party thrown by my sister, Jennifer, last week.  My niece, Emily, my father, and Jennifer’s dog Zoe were in a three way tug of war in which Emily ended up the loser!

Many thanks to Jenn and Kevin for hosting the party.  It was a lot of fun to spend time with all our family members as well as dear friends.