What To Do When You Can’t Cook

I had several things I wanted to make and post before Easter – my Bunny Garden Carrot Cake, my sister Heather’s Flan, and a great rub for Grilled Lamb which I was planning for our Easter feast. Then I blinked and Holy Week seemed to blur by in a high-speed blip from the Bishop’s visit on Palm Sunday to the wonderful Agape meal on Maundy Thursday to Easter morning. I didn’t get a single post written, though I managed to buy some groceries and scribble a few notes. On Saturday Isabelle, Russell,  and Mary helped me make several dozen rainbow-colored peeps to take to the Easter service at our church. In my pathetic slacker mode I planned to at least post the Angel Food Cake I was going to make for our Sunday dessert on Easter Sunday.

Maundy Thursday Agape Meal

I got up early to revel in the quiet and peace that only seem to happen when everyone but me is sleeping. It always makes me smile to hear the snores and turnings of everyone as I tiptoe to the kitchen. Since I am the only one who is conscious it feels as if I have the house to myself. The sunrises have been glorious of late plus the trees are just on the cusp of budding out. Being the first one up allows me to absorb all of that whispered, early morning beauty. I put the kettle on to make myself a cup of tea,  part of my wake up routine every morning, and as it comes to a boil I start doing some dishes left over from the night before. I like doing dishes. Dunking my hands in the warm sudsy water I can simultaneously loosen my joints – scrub – think – as I slowly enter into full consciousness. Doing the dishes is my drifting time. I can look out the kitchen window and watch the birds flit from branch to branch as I plan out my day. And let me tell you in case you don’t know this, you can do quite a lot of dishes in the time it takes for the kettle to boil.

Spring sunrise

You can also, in the time that it takes for the kettle to boil,  have an accident, which in my case came in the form of a glass breaking in my hand as I twisted the sponge. The circular movement of my hand carved a horseshoe flap off my knuckle. If I’d been going any faster I probably could have managed an entire oval. I sank to my knees and grabbed the paper towels to stop the bleeding then screamed. I wanted the whole house to wake up – I wouldn’t have minded if the whole neighborhood woke up since I needed someone to drive me to the hospital. Easter baskets, breakfast, Angel Food Cake, and the broken glass were left behind as we sped off to the emergency room.

You would think going to the ER at 7:30 am would be fairly quick, but apparently, according to one of my nurses, Easter and Thanksgiving are when most people visit the ER.  For church it’s  the Chreasters (people who attend church on Christmas and Easter), but for the hospital it’s Thanksters (Thanksgiving and Easter). So I waited (still holding the paper towels on) until Dr. T. could look at my X-Ray and decide there was no glass in the wound and then finally, after several shots of numbing stuff, was able to sew me up. No holiday colors of thread to choose from, it was a choice of black or black. I chose black.

Flowering Easter Cross

Five stitches later Isabelle and I dropped Shawn off at church so he could usher in his pajamas (he had thrown on a pair of jeans but he was unshaven, sported a stunning bed head hairdo, and hadn’t brushed his teeth). I had the presence of mind to get a replacement for myself on Altar Guild while we were waiting at the ER. Belle and I zoomed back to the house, changed in less than 5 minutes, and somehow made it back to church with Russell, Mary, and the peeps in time for the end of the sermon. Shawn later joked that all the Chreaters who came to church dressed in their Sunday finest probably thought we had a very embracing community ministry since our church apparently allowed homeless people to usher.

When we got home I realized Easter dinner needed to be significantly truncated since I wasn’t going to be able cook. Turns out I didn’t have to lift a finger other than to feed myself left-handed. Everyone pitched in. I did manage to play my role as the one-handed (one-paw?) Easter bunny once Russell helped me out by bringing up all the baskets and Easter grass. So despite all the drama we had a lovely meal and I got out of doing any more dishes for a while.

Not having the foresight to become ambidextrous my kitchen time will be somewhat curtailed until I heal a bit. Obviously I can type, but gripping a knife or hefting a heavy pot aren’t things I can manage right now. So I’m catching up on some reading and watching a few of my favorite movies again. The good news is the Easter season is six weeks long so I have time to work on those recipes.

Until then here’s what I’m enjoying:

Do you have any recommendations?

Photo Credits:

Maundy Thursday Agape Meal by our Deacon Eric Elley

Sunrise by Shawn Allen

Flowering Cross by someone at St. John’s Episcopal Church

6 Comments

Filed under In between

Allison’s Brisket

I’m one of those people who, when surrounded by a strong accent, will start to unconsciously mimic what I hear, which is ironic (or pathetic, depending on your point of view) since I am not a very good mimic. When I lived in Scotland my speech became peppered with “Och aye” and “A dinnae ken” and my pronunciation for words like aluminum and vitamin changed. My American family thought I’d developed a serious Scottish accent, though the Scots were not fooled one bit and referred to me as the wee American lassie. It happened again when my husband and I took our kids down to Louisiana to help with hurricane Katrina recovery. Despite being a lifelong Northerner, I developed a bit of a southern accent while we were there. Yes, it is embarrassing when I find myself doing it, but it really is subconscious. At least it doesn’t happen after watching tv or I might have to give up Downton Abbey on Sunday nights.

Just as my ear is swayed by a dialect I am immersed in, I’ve noticed my cooking goes through changes depending on what I expose myself to. It could be the cookbook I am currently reading, a food styling shoot I was recently on, the people I live with, or the city I find myself in. I’d never tasted spätzle until my husband, who’d lived in Germany for a year, introduced me to it. Now it’s a regular at our dinners. Seven years in Brooklyn gave me a fluency in Bialys, baklava, knishes, and egg creams. While my friend Allison (who is Jewish and Italian) introduced me to Matzah Balls, Borscht, Chopped Liver, and Brisket.

Beef brisket, carrots and potatoes

Allison’s Brisket (she has more than one, but this is my favorite) is something I make infrequently because it is so melt-in-your-mouth delicious you tend to keep eating until eventually you find yourself in a  catatonic lump on the couch. You can adjust the soporific effect of this dish by eating it with heaping spoonfuls of horseradish. With winter ever so slowly giving up its hold on us (yes, I still have a few patches of snow in the yard) I decided to make brisket last week. It might make you sleepy, but it is one of the ultimate comfort foods, and guaranteed to take the chill out of winter.

Brisket ready to braise in the oven

For those of you who are uninitiated in the ways of brisket here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Allison suggests using the First cut. Second cut isn’t second-rate, it just has more fat.
  • You don’t need to brown the meat, but you can if you want to.
  • Pay attention to your liquid levels – too much and it’s soup, too little and it’s dry.
  • Brisket is always better the next day, it really is.

Adding vegetables to brisket

If you want to know more about the dos and don’ts of brisket cooking you can read here or get Stephanie Pierson’s  The Brisket Book. A Love Story with Recipes. In my original recipe I was told to use “tons of onions”, hmmm tons. I love onions so I use a lot (though not quite a ton). It depends on the size of your pan and your tastebuds. So without further ado:

Allison’s Brisket

2-3 pounds onions, peeled and sliced

6-8 pounds Brisket, first cut if you want it a bit leaner

16 ounces beef broth

16 ounces water

1 bottle chili sauce  or  1 cup catsup and 1/2 cup horseradish

1/3 cup Worcester sauce

1/3 cup Dijon mustard

14 medium size carrots, peeled and cut into short lengths

8 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes

Preheat the oven to 325°F. I had two pieces of meat and used a long shallow pan. Since I didn’t have any chili sauce I subbed in catsup and horseradish, which tasted fine. Basically you add everything in the ingredient list, in the order they are written above, stopping when you get to the carrots and potatoes. I wasn’t using a lidded pot so I covered it all with a sheet of parchment paper and then crimped a huge piece of aluminum foil on top. If you have a lidded braising enameled cast iron pan you can use that.

I did sear the meat first, but when I talked to Allison she later said she doesn’t bother with that step any more, so it’s your choice. Bake for three hours. Add your carrots and potatoes, recover and bake another hour.

At this point you have two choices. You can dig in, but you won’t get nice, pretty slices, or you can be patient, let it all cool down, slice the meat across the grain when it is cold the next day, and reheat the pretty slices. To be honest I do not have the patience nor self control.

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under 50 Recipes

Mazel Tov Mexican Wedding Cookies

J.D. and Sara got married last weekend. I was so excited I made a giant batch of Mexican Wedding Cookies to celebrate. Of course I should preface this by saying I was not invited to the wedding. Since the groom and I haven’t seen each other for thirty-five years and I have never met the bride it’s about what one would expect. I was just so tickled having watched the relationship unfold on facebook that I wanted to wish them well from my kitchen.

Mexican wedding cookies

I knew the groom in high school. He was a year younger than me, very smart and sardonic, in a Dorothy Parker sort of way, and it was clear to most of us, even back then, he was going to be a writer. He had an impish smile, a ready (if snarky) wit, and had a headful of hair. But soon after I left for college we lost touch.

That was until my classmate Jerry Eisner decided our class should have two 30th high school reunions – one in our old stomping grounds of central New York and another online via Facebook. The physical reunion was a whirlwind of fun. Forty-eight hours of eating, drinking, pulling out pictures of kids (and in some cases grandkids), catching up with each other’s lives and life paths. It was difficult to see everyone in such a compressed space of time, and many of our classmates were unable to attend for one reason or another. In comparison the virtual reunion (as I think of facebook) has been quietly going on now for six years. It includes a much broader group – people who were a year ahead or behind of our graduating class, siblings of friends, friends of siblings, folks who moved before graduating. A true reunion. It’s a smörgåsbord of  life stories and pictures (some of which I maybe didn’t want to know, but hey) and better than the annual holiday card. It was through this virtual reunion that J.D. and I reconnected.

Grinding nuts with sugar

Turns out he has written some books, is into yoga, plays the guitar, and has a lot more face than in the old days. Along the way he met Sara and I watched as his status updates moved them from “in a relationship” to “engaged” and finally to “married” this past weekend. So Mozel tov to you both, I wish you a very happy marriage.

Mazel tov Mexican Wedding cookies ready to bake

 

This recipe is from the inimitable Nancy Baggott‘s book The International Cookie Cookbook. Nancy suggests using pecans, but I’ve used walnuts when I didn’t have pecans on hand and the cookies are just as delicious. I’ve also come across variations which used almonds and were called Russian Tea Cakes. I will put out a warning that these cookies are so buttery they almost crumble in your hand, plus the powdered sugar gets all over everything. Unless you’re wearing black you won’t care about the powdered sugar as you reach for another.

Ready to powder with confectioners sugar - Mexican wedding cookies

Mazel Tov Mexican Wedding Cookies

1  2/3 cup pecans or walnuts

1  1/2 cups unsalted butter (use really good butter)

2/3 cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3 cups flour

2-3 cups more powdered sugar for coating

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spread the nuts onto a jelly roll pan and bake 7-10 minutes, shaking the pan every so often. Take out and cool before grinding. You may not want to do this step (or you may forget) but trust me you will like the cookies made with toasted nuts sooooo much more. They have a nutty flavor that hits your taste buds in all the right places.

If you’re good at multi-tasking cream the butter while the nuts are toasting. You can do this with a mixer. The batch I made for Sara & J.D. I creamed by hand and those cookies were especially wonderful. So consider skipping your trip to the gym and beating the butter by hand. When the nuts are cool pop them into a small food processor along with the powdered sugar or some of the flour. You want to grind them into a powder without turning them into toasted nut butter. The sugar (or flour) helps keep them nuts. Cream whatever sugar you didn’t use in with the butter, then add the vanilla. If you ground your nuts with the sugar mix that into the butter. Fold in the flour and salt.

Roll the dough into 1″ balls and place on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Adjust your oven rack so it is in the top third of your oven. Bake the cookies 10-12 minutes, swiveling the baking sheet 180º mid way through. The cookies don’t brown too much, but may have some color along the bottom edge.

When you take them out of the oven let them sit for a minute then carefully move them from the cookie sheet to a cooling rack. Let cool for 5 minutes. In order for the powdered sugar to stick to the cookies you need to put it on while they are still warm. The problem is if you put the cookies in powdered sugar too soon they will melt it. So warm, not hot and not cold.

I sift a layer of powdered sugar into a small lasagna pan and gently place the cookies in. Then I make it “snow” powdered sugar. I take them out and let them finish cooling on a rack. When they are all cooled I put a thin layer of powdered sugar into the box I’m keeping them in and sift a bit more on top.

It's snowing powdered sugar on top of Mexican Wedding Cookies

 

 

Snowball cookies

P.S. to J.D. & Sara – These cookies aren’t the best travelers since they are so buttery and crumbly but if you two want to taste them email me your address and I’ll pop a box of them in the mail

 

Pecan Mexican wedding cookies

3 Comments

Filed under 50 Recipes

Our Daily Bread

I’ve been reading Jennifer Reese’s book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter and if you somehow missed it, or were just too busy to put it on your reading list when it came out a few years ago, I suggest you get yourself a copy. One of the reasons I am enjoying this book so much is Reese is willing to try making anything from scratch. From Croissants to Nutella, Goat Cheese to Potato Chips. She makes her judgements with her own highly personalized algorithm of how much the actual ingredients cost vs. how much time and effort/hassle you need to spend making a recipe of something you’d otherwise buy, then factors in how it tastes. Make your own vanilla extract (I have) but buy the Pop-Tarts, and of course as her title suggests you make the bread but buy the butter.*

Homemade bread cooling

With this winter-that-will-not-end we have been making a lot of bread recently. Years ago, when I still bought the New York Times every Wednesday because of Wednesday was food day,  I came across Mark Bittman’s recipe for No Knead Bread which he got via Jim Lahey. You can watch Lahey show Bittman make it here if you want a time compressed visual. I’ve been making this bread, and a myriad of variations of it ever since. While I miss the kneading you get with more traditional loaves of bread like I’ve written about here and here, I cannot argue that the loaf made from this recipe is superb. If I were to buy it I’d be shelling out $6 or more per loaf.

There are a couple of caveats you should keep in mind with this bread –

  1. You cannot be in a hurry
  2. You need to own cast iron or enameled cast iron cooking pots with lids
  3. You have to not be afraid of smokin’ hot pans

Homemade bread hot out of oven

Taking into account caveat #1 we always make two loaves and in our house they are both gone within 24 hours. It is no wonder that after this long winter and many loaves of this bread I am starting to look a little dough-y myself. The pans are what makes this recipe doable at home. You could use glass or baking ceramic, but they would need a lid, and I don’t actually own anything which would work in those materials (plus the thought of what would happen if it slipped and broke is unimaginable in my mind). I do own lots of cast iron and enameled cast iron with lids and they are perfect even though the colors of the enamel start to shift when they get so hot. The third caveat is something to think about. The printed recipe (and how I myself make this bread at home) calls for a 450ºF oven. That is HOT. Seriously people, one slip and you will loose skin, with or without an aloe plant at hand. The oven temperature is another reason why I rarely make this bread in the summer months. I just can’t contemplate having the oven on at that scorching temperature when it is 100ºF outside. So if you do make this bread use oven mitts not pads or as Lahey does in his video dish cloths.

As for variations here’s what we’ve tried:

  • A medium handful of Rosemary
  • Cup or so of pitted Kalamata Olives
  • 1/2 – 1 cup roasted garlic cloves
  • 1/4 – 1/3 whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose

I’m sure you can come up with some stellar ideas and I’d love it if you let me know them in the comment section.

Homemade bread

No Knead Bread

6 cups all-purpose flour, you can also use bread flour

3 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon yeast

3 cups and a splash of water

cornmeal or wheat germ or extra flour to keep dough from sticking

Mix the bread, salt and yeast in a bowl, swirling everything together with your fingers. Pour in the water and finger-stir until just mixed. Cover and put in a warm-ish place for 14-20 hours. Scrape dough onto floured surface, separate into two blobs, then in 4 folds or less shape into two balls. If you’ve made bread before you will be tempted to knead it – DON’T. Plunk dough blobs onto well floured or wheat germed or cornmealed kitchen towels, flour the tops, then cover and let rise 2+ more hours.

After 1  1/2 hours put your pans in the oven with their lids on and preheat to 450ºF. When the pans have preheated and your dough has had its second rising carefully remove one pan at a time and dump one dough blob in, give the pan a shake, then put the lid on and slip it back into the oven. Repeat with second loaf. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove lids and bake another 15 minutes. When done plop your loaves onto a cooling rack. Your house will smell glorious. You will be tempted to open a bakery. Bask in your ability to make artisanal bread at home then pass the butter.

Sliced homemade bread

*I hope I can meet her someday, sometimes you read someone’s cookbook and you just know you’d hit it off.

One of my readers asked what size pots I used. Here is a photo (and a motley crew they are) of my no knead bread pots. They range from 3  3/4″ – 4  1/2″ tall (just the base measerment not including the lid) and 8″ – 9 1/2″ wide.

pots for no-knead bread

6 Comments

Filed under 50 Recipes

Toaster vs. Toaster Oven

For many years my friend Jessica collected toasters. They were fun and often inexpensive to buy, plus toasters seemed to satisfy the curator in her since they were objects where form followed function. I grew up with a toaster, or rather a series of toasters. I even had a toaster when I was first married, but years ago I traded in my two slot chrome classic for a toaster oven.

toaster oven

The thing about toasters is you have to put them somewhere. Certain kitchen appliances can be cleverly stowed. I remember my sixteen-year-old mind being blown the first time my friend Marisa pushed a button in her Mom’s kitchen counter which triggered the mixer to majestically rise up from somewhere below. It was as if Judy Jetson and Marcella Hazan had designed a kitchen together where space age met Italian American. It was beyond cool.

For most of us we have to choose. Food processor up or down? Stand mixer tucked into a corner or sitting on a shelf in the pantry? The decision often follows this equation –

How often you use it + How much the dang thing weighs = Where it lives

My husband and I don’t drink coffee anymore so all our coffee paraphernalia is tucked away. We do not own a microwave (which I’ve been told is somewhat un-American of us but I really don’t feel the need) so that is not a contender for the limited amount of counter real estate. However our toaster oven is a major appliance in our daily lives so we gave it its very own counter.

Honey & toast

I love this toaster oven. In fact it is so great that in conjunction with a two burner hot plate I once made a lovely Easter dinner of asparagus, creamed potatoes, and a tiny glazed ham the year our kitchen was being remodeled. Toaster ovens take up more space than a regular two slot toaster but in my opinion the added functionality more than makes up for their larger size. I can reheat a bit of last night’s lasagna, toast a thin slice of bread as easily as a bagel half, or make my favorite late night snack of toasted bananas and cheese. Not having to worry about possibly electrocuting myself as I extract a burning bagel which wedged itself too tightly in the slot is a bonus. Think of a toaster oven as the Easy Bake Oven for grown-ups.

I was introduced to toasted bananas and cheese when I was living in Scotland. There were many things I loved about Edinburgh – getting mail twice a day, incredible scones, milk delivered in glass bottles to your doorstep, the smokey peat of single malt whiskey, haggis (yes I really do love it), hard cider on tap, plus the proliferation of tiny stores for various edibles. Without a car I almost never went shopping at a big chain supermarket, instead doing my shopping by foot. There was a fruit and veg store a few blocks away, several good bakeries, as well as a fish shop for swimmy things, plus a lovely Italian store on Leith Walk which had a delirious assortment of pastas as well as regular shipments of fresh ricotta and mozzarella. Two things that didn’t seem to exist back then were central heating and large fridges, at least not in any of the apartments/houses I lived in. The lack of central heating meant I drank gallons of tea plus found myself acquiring an extensive selection of jumpers (sweaters). Meals were planned on a daily basis to accommodate the limited amount of fridge space.

Cheesey bananas on toast

On nights when we’d go out to the pub we’d walk back home after last bell and if we were feeling peckish but didn’t have enough money to stop for fish and chips we’d go home and make ourselves something to eat. Between the teeny dorm size fridges and our limited income we often didn’t have much more to work with than part of a loaf of  bread, the end of a chunk of cheese, and some bananas. I just had no idea the three could be combined.

The first time my friends Alan and Sid offered me one of these late night sandwiches I was pretty sure it would be disgusting. Toast topped with banana slices and cheese melted on top? Ick and double ick, but I knew after my first bite I was wrong. It is good, in fact better than good. Put away your prejudices (if you have them) and try it. I truly can’t remember if we made these in an oven with a broiler or not, but they are perfectly suited to a toaster oven. In less than ten minutes you have a crunchy-melty-sweet-savory late night snack. Good before going to bed but you don’t have to save them for when the moon is out, they’re also yummy in the morning.

Bananas and cheese on toast

Toasted Bananas and Cheese doesn’t really need a recipe. You toast a piece or two of bread for each person, then top each piece of toast with slices of half a banana, and slivers of some sort of melty cheese – cheddar works a treat. Once you’ve piled everything together pop it into a toaster oven (on a small tray or piece of aluminum foil) and bake until the cheese starts to melt and drip down the sides. Take it out then wait a few seconds so you don’t burn the roof of your mouth when you gobble it up. I’m pretty sure you’ll want more. You may even decide to get a toaster oven just so you can make these.

Photos – Toast and Honey by Jim Scherer

All others by Cynthia Allen

3 Comments

Filed under 50 Recipes, Favorite Tools

Custard for After a Cold

I’m not superstitious, not really. Black cats don’t worry me and the only reason I don’t walk under ladders is because it is just plain dumb. I wouldn’t knowingly break a mirror but if I did accidentally break one I don’t believe it would result in seven years of bad luck. Despite my pragmatism when it comes to superstitions and wive’s tales I have spent the last two months trying not to jinx myself. You see there was something really big and wonderful that I wanted to share, but I thought that if I told anyone it would no longer be true. This thing was so great (in my opinion) that I tried hard not to even think of it too often. Not once did I let the words slip past my lips. The amazing, fabulous secret I tried so valiantly not to jinx was this –

For the first time in eighteen years it seems as if I might make it through a New England winter without getting a single cold.

You see one of the things none of the baby books will tell you is that after you have kids you enter into what my friend Tom calls “a walking, talking petri dish of germs”. Kids have to build up their immunity systems. We send them off to school where they learn to read and write and share things and one of the lovely results of this societally accepted socialization is they share every germ they come in contact with. After decades of being fairly healthy adults my husband and I got the opportunity to rebuild our immunity systems when we had our two offspring. As our kids got older and better at hand washing and covering their sneezes I started teaching Sunday School to preschoolers, which meant I had to go through the whole cycle again (for the life of my I do not know how teachers or doctors manage this with their overload of exposure to germs). Just after I convinced the parents at our church that if they kept their sick kids home on a Sunday morning God and I would both be okay with it, my own body betrayed me with allergies. My allergist explained that it was a bit like peeling an onion. You take off one layer only to find another below it. He thought my constant colds were caused by my compromised sinuses which had been weakened by my allergies. Last year I finished a long, drawn-out series of allergy shots and was cautiously optimistic about the upcoming winter. I made it through the holidays, my birthday, even as far as Valentine’s Day. With March only a few weeks away I almost said it out loud but I held my good news in. I knew if I blabbed I would get sick. So I stayed silent and then got sick anyway. Not a bad cold, but my almost healthy-all-the-way-through-winter record was kaput.

Delicious home-made vanilla pudding

Now aside from having to wait until next year to see if I can make it all the way through winter without a single cold I had to cope with the stupidest of cravings. My head was stuffed up and I wanted custard because everyone knows that a huge dose of dairy makes all that nasty icky stuff clogging up your nose go away. Problem was I wanted it anyway (I am such an illogical baby when I am sick – just ask my husband). I made do with the ready-made stuff from the store because I could grab a container, a spoon, and my box of kleenex then head back to bed, but when I got better I put away my kleenex and got out my saucepan.

This is a simple custard. The kind my grandmothers both made. I really don’t know why anyone would bother with the other stuff unless it’s because there is a cranky sick person in their house demanding pudding right now!!!

Easy to make vanilla pudding

Pudding for After a Cold

2 cups cold milk, divided

1/2 cup sugar, divided

4 egg yolks *

4 Tablespoons cornstarch **

pinch salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

In a small saucepan combing 1 1/2 cups milk with 2 Tablespoons sugar. Gently stir then heat until the milk is quite hot and beginning to steam.

With the remaining milk stir in the rest of the sugar (1/2 cup minus the 2 Tablespoons), egg yolks, cornstarch and salt. Beat this cold mixture until thoroughly mixed and a bit frothy. You’ll want to temper the cold mixture (heat it up a bit before starting to actually cook it). Just pour a bit of the steaming milk into the milk-sugar-eggs-cornstarch as you whisk wildly. Why all the vigor? To keep your custard from clumping up into a mass of milky-sugary scrambled eggs. Once you’ve heated up the cold mix a bit you can then pour it back into the saucepan and cook until it thickens up into pudding. Keep whisking the whole time – it should only take a couple of minutes. Once it is thick, turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla and butter.

Let cool a tiny bit then pour into custard cups or small glasses (make sure the glasses can take a bit of heat or wait for the custard to cool more). If you are not serving immediately cover with a piece of plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the top and refrigerate.

Home-made vanilla pudding

In the future when someone asks if I am superstitious I’ll pick up the black cat strolling by and pet him as I stand next to a ladder and answer, “Maybe just a little.”

All gone

*  Don’t throw away the egg whites. Freeze them and when you have enough they can be used to make an Angel Food Cake.

** Cornstarch clumps if you try to mix it into hot liquids without first mixing it into something cold. Once you’ve turned it into a slurry you can then add it to hot liquids to thicken them up.

7 Comments

Filed under 50 Recipes

Jeepers Peepers

One of the facts about middle age is that your body changes. You can’t eat as many calories as you once could – unless you want to live at the gym. Staying up all night becomes impossible, even if you could do it with ease and caffeine in your 20s. And if you’re like me your eyesight eventually deteriorates enough so that you need glasses.

I did not grow up wearing glasses, other than the occasional groovy pair of 70s mirrored sunglasses, but I always wanted to. There were three things I desperately wanted when I was younger – curly hair, braces, and glasses. Strike one, strike two, strike three. Sometimes I would mold my gum up over my teeth to pretend to myself that I had braces, which in retrospect was completely lame. For years my mother assured me that if I ate all of my bread crusts my hair would become curly, but it didn’t. Occasionally she would wind my hair up in strips torn from old pillow cases to give me rag curls, probably because she felt guilty for lying to me about the bread crusts. I owned a curling iron for a short period then in my 30s I broke down and got a perm, which was frightful. I went back to straight hair and curly hair envy. Finally in my late 40s one of my dreams came true and I got glasses. I loved them.

The trick was I only needed to wear my glasses sometimes. My husband has worn glasses since he was two and because of his eyesight he wears them from the time he gets up until just before he goes to bed. It’s hard to lose your glasses when they’re always on your face. At first I would have the kids help me find my own glasses, offering cookies as a reward. Often they were on top of my head where I used them like a headband to keep my hair back. Eventually my friend Rick told me that his eye doctor had a solution for people like us who only need glasses for certain tasks. His doctor recommended having a pair of glasses everywhere you might need them. So now I have a pair next to the computer, by the side of my bed, in my car, in my purse, in my food styling kit, and most importantly in my cupboard next to the vanilla.

chocolate, vanilla and reading glasses

Yup, I’ve got them in the kitchen because while I can cook without my glasses on, I can no longer read recipes without them. Turns out I can’t even go to the grocery store without glasses because while I can tell the difference between an apple and a tomato I can’t read the ingredient list on most boxes or discern the code numbers you’re supposed to write when you’re bagging up bulk items. One time, before I succumbed to the glasses-in-every-nook-and-crany school I forgot to bring my glasses to a photo shoot. I could not see the food I was styling well enough to work. The photographer loaned me a magnifying glass from his prop room just so I could see to put all the nuts in place with my tweezers on the hot fudge sundae we were shooting. Talk about embarrassing.

reading glasses

Looks like I got one of my childhood wishes in multiples.

1 Comment

Filed under Favorite Tools