Vanilla Pudding

I’m not sure if Brian likes vanilla pudding. Maybe he prefers chocolate or will only have chocolate or will have none, of it, thank you. But I love vanilla pudding. Actually, the real intention here was to try out a vanilla pudding recipe in thoughts of eventually making a super legitimately delicious banana pudding. I love vanilla pudding, but banana pudding is AMAZING. I thought it was literally banana-flavored pudding, but it’s actually vanilla pudding with sliced bananas and (usually) vanilla cookies. I’ll get there eventually, but in the meanwhile I had to try my hand at scratch-made pudding in general. Now, when I was a first-year grad student, desperate for some dessert, I actually whipped up chocolate pudding, mexican chocolate pudding, and mocha chocolate pudding a few times. I had no recipe to base it on, besides the forever internet influences, but I knew cornstarch was a thickening agent and pudding was basically milk, otherwise, so I went at the stove with a plan and actually got some really good results. But for vanilla pudding, and my eventual banana pudding, I wanted to know traditionally how it was done. I altered the recipe a bit, cutting some butter and sugar, just to make a tiiiiny bit “healthier” (I mean, pudding is basically breakfast foods, right?), but this still comes out like the classic. Indulgently creamy, cool, and smooth, and really not much more difficult that adding milk to a Jell-o packet, you should definitely try this at home.

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Vanilla Pudding

Based off this recipe

Serves 4

1/4 cup sugar

2 tbsp. cornstarch

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. honey

2 1/4 cups milk

3 large egg yolks

1 tbsp. unsalted butter

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a medium pot, add the sugar, cornstarch, and salt, whisking to combine. While whisking, add 1/4 cup of milk to make a smooth paste is achieved. Add the honey and the rest of the milk, while whisking. Add the egg yolks and whisk to combine.

Turn the heat to medium and cook the pudding, whisking frequently, for about 5-10 minutes, until the pudding just begins to boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and, using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, begin to constantly stir the pudding. Continue to stir, making sure to scrape the bottoms and sides, for another 5 minutes, or until the pudding has thickened (a way to discern this is if the pudding drizzles atop the pudding without being absorbed into the pudding below). Add the butter and vanilla extract and stir to incorporate.

Pour the pudding through a mesh strainer into a bowl. Once strained, pour the pudding into separate ramekins. You can add plastic wrap to the top to prevent a skin from forming, but I love the skin, so I don’t. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours prior to serving (unless you want to eat it warm!).

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Chia Seed French Toast with Blood Orange Strawberry Syrup

So this was not my birthday breakfast (see this post), but this was a delicious breakfast from last weekend. Yes, I made French toast again. I wanted to experiment with healthifying French toast a little bit. Not too much; it still needs to be creamy yet crusted and delicious. But I figured the basics of French toast- egg, bread, milk- didn’t need to necessarily combine into an overly indulgent dish. In fact, it takes to these additional healthy ingredients and toppings very well, and I actually found this preparation more filling and satisfying. The blood orange strawberry syrup draws on this lingering-winter, almost-spring produce I’m noticing now, combining the acidic, thick-skinned winter fruits with the delicately sweet spring flora. They’re a match made in heaven; the perfect sweetly tangy topping to the more heavy toast below. I used chia seeds to amp up the nutritional profile, as chia seeds are a great source of omega-3 fats and other minerals. I also wanted to see if they’d add a bit of a crunch to the toast (spoiler: not too much, really). Regardless, this French toast was phenomenal, with way less added sugar than the typical preparation topped with maple syrup, and more nutritious as well. (But if you want something more indulgently custardy and traditional, use this recipe).

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Chia Seed French Toast with Blood Orange Strawberry Syrup

Serves 1

2 thick slices (about 1 inch) of country bread, preferably multi-grain or whole wheat

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk

1 tsp. honey

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. chia seeds

Blood Orange Strawberry Syrup, to serve:

  • 1 cup hulled and halved strawberries
  • 1 tsp. blood orange zest
  • 2 tbsp. blood orange juice, freshly squeezed (feel free to eat the remaining fruit)
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Start by preparing the blood orange strawberry syrup. Mix the syrup ingredients together in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium low. Allow the syrup to simmer until the strawberries are broken down and it has reduced to about half the initial volume, about 15 minutes. The syrup will be thick with small strawberry chunks, but still pourable. Set aside to cool slightly.

Whisk together the egg, milk, honey, and vanilla extract. Pour the egg mixture into a shallow pan (I use a pyrex baking dish) and toss the chia seeds throughout the mixture. Soak the bread in the eggs, making sure to evenly distribute the chia seeds through the batter on the toast. Allow to soak for 2 minutes, then flip to soak the other side.

Heat a griddle to 350 and lightly grease with butter. Add the French toast and cook for 4-5 minutes. Flip then cook the opposite side for another 4-5 minutes.

Plate the French toast and top with the blood orange strawberry syrup.

 

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Enjoy for a filling yet healthier weekend breakfast.

 

Brian’s Favorite Snickerdoodles

I didn’t make these snickerdoodles today. I didn’t make them a week ago, or a month ago. I’m actually not sure when I last made snickerdoodles- it may have been near the end of 2013- but when I make them, I use this recipe, every. single. time. They’ve been eaten at office parties, at friend’s homes, as Christmas gifts, for an indulgent snack, and in I’ll-eat-this-entire-recipe-at-once binges, courtesy of this blog’s namesake. Brian loves snickerdoodles, and he especially loves these snickerdoodles, so every time I make them I think of him. Today is a good day to ponder the life of my younger brother, because it’s a good day to be distracted from the stress which bookended my weekend and the many goings-on I have looking ahead for this week. It’s a good day to ponder things you love and care about, because Chicago doesn’t have a lot going for it right now, and I’m actually pretty sure the city itself is trying to break up with me. I haven’t given in yet, but I may be delusional. Really, I wish I could be sitting with Brian, stealing a snickerdoodle or two (as he gobbles down the rest, still warm), with some of his beautiful music playing in the background, losing sight of the fact that my life is very far away and very much more serious than video games and cookies. Every one needs a moment or two to just stop and eat a snickerdoodle. And if you’re going to give yourself the time, go for a good one.

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Brian’s Favorite (Unbelievably Soft and Fluffy) Snickerdoodles

Makes ~15-20 cookies

Based on this recipe

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. cinnamon

2-3 tbsp. milk

1/4 cup sugar & 1 tbsp. cinnamon for rolling

In an electric stand mixer at medium speed, or hand mixer, cream softened/ room-temperature butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add egg and beat until incorporated, about 1-2 minutes. Add vanilla and mix again for ~30 seconds.

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients- flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl in 3 batches, beating on low until each batch is incorporated. If the last batch makes the dough seem too crumbly or dry, add in 1 tbsp. of milk at a time until cookie-dough consistency is achieved. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a shallow bowl, mix together the sugar and cinnamon for rolling. Remove the cookie dough from the refrigerator. Grab a small chunk of cookie dough, enough to form a golf-ball sized dough ball, and roll in your hand. Drop the rolled cookie dough into the sugar and cinnamon mixture and toss until covered. Place the cookie dough ball on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and repeat the process until all cookies are formed.

Bake the cookies in the oven for 10-12 minutes, erring on the longer side for larger dough balls. The cookies should be juuuust lightly browned on the bottom edges and still appear fairly raw in the middle. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack, where they’ll firm up slightly and become delectably soft, fluffy, and chewy, with just the hint of a crackle-crunch when first biting in.

These cookies are the essence of cinnamon-vanilla wonder, absolutely perfect warm, but undeniably delicious at room temperature, even 3 days later. Keep fresh in a covered container for 2-3 days; otherwise, freeze to last longer. I promise you do not need to freeze these.

Brian deserves a batch today. Tell him they’re from me.

 

 

Salted Vanilla Caramel Mocha

It’s the post Merry-Christmas-to-you-! let-down, and I have the method and means to warm everything back up. Your Christmas package this year included vanilla caramel and marshmallows, and, while homemade, they come together better than a Starbucks mocha in a red cup. I’ll include the recipes I used for the caramel and ‘mallows, because they turned out tremendously well, if I do say so myself. But, more importantly, you should ASAP marry those foodstuffs into a mug full of mocha goodness. This could be done with simple hot chocolate, but given the recent days upon days of indulgence, I find a coffee kick to be a good counter to the ensuing, near-constant food coma. Not that we should stop the indulgence, however; we’re nearing the new year when resolutions (and green eating!) can abound. Let’s finish this year strong (it is still winter, after all).

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(You’ll notice there are no marshmallows in this picture. That’s because I sent them all to you, Brian [and other family members, eh hem]).

Salted Vanilla Caramel Mocha

Serves 1 (in a large mug)

1 cup fresh brewed coffee

1/2 cup milk, anything but skim (cream if you’re living big!)

1 tbsp. cocoa powder

2 tsp. sugar or stevia

Smallest pinch of salt

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. water

1 tbsp. homemade vanilla caramel

1-2 homemade vanilla ‘mallows (or more, or store-bought if you’ve eaten the homemade in an indulgent binge)

First, prepare fresh coffee to your liking. Using a Keurig, I brewed 1 cup in a separate mug and set aside. In a separate, heat-safe cup, heat/microwave milk until just before boiling and also set aside. In the mug in which you’ll drink this delicious concoction, mix together the cocoa, sugar (or stevia; I used two packets of Truvia), and the smallest pinch of salt. Add approximately 1 tbsp. water and vanilla extract until a thick paste is formed.* Drizzle the vanilla caramel around your mug, just below the rim, so it drips slowly around all sides and rests above the cocoa paste. Pour in hopefully-still-very-warm coffee and milk and stir. Top with a homemade vanilla ‘mallow and enjoy immensely.

*Alternatively, you could use about half of a hot cocoa packet, if you keep those stocked. I feel the homemade cocoa powder option to be just as satisfying and significantly cheaper.

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Homemade Vanilla Caramel

Based off of this recipe

Makes approximately 4-5 cups of caramel (a large batch for multiple recipients)

4 1/2 cups sugar

2 tbsp. sugar cane syrup*

1 cup water

1 quart (4 cups) heavy cream, organic preferably

2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a large (large and deep!) Dutch oven or sauce pan, mix together sugar, sugar cane syrup, and water until all is well distributed. Insert a cooking thermometer and turn the heat to LOW. Heat the sugar mixture until completely dissolved, which, given this large batch, may take quite some time, approximately 20-30 minutes. Trust the process, and don’t give in to turning up the heat. We’re here for quality, not speed.

Once the sugar has completely dissolved, gradually turn up the heat to medium-low. I still err on the low side here, because lower heat just means more time, whereas higher heat may mean unequal cooking and a higher incidence of crystallization. If the boiling syrup deposits some drying crystalized molecules along the side of your pan during cooking, use a wet pastry brush to paint the sides of the pot with water and rehydrate the sugar along the edge. Be careful during this entire cooking time to NOT stir or overly aggravate the pot.

The sugar mixture will gradually approach a deep amber color. The heat rises more quickly as the sugar approaches caramelization, so check the pot and thermometer regularly. Once the cooking thermometer reaches about 330-340 degrees (over 350 the product begins to go south, so I like to stop it a bit early), remove the caramelized sugar from the heat. Pour into the pot 1 quart of heavy cream and 2 tsp. vanilla extract. The cream will rise and bubble violently, but don’t worry, it will calm. Return the cream and caramel to LOW heat, and stir constantly until the caramel has dissolved into the cream and the mixture is smooth and dreamy looking. We’re practically in the waterfall of caramel in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Pour the caramel into receptacles of choice (I obviously chose mason jars), and cool to room temperature, approximately 4 hours. Refrigerate to store.

*I used Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which is so, so delicious. Light corn syrup is an appropriate substitute, albeit less flavorful. Sugar cane syrup/light corn syrup supplement this recipe by providing stability to the sugar molecules formed during the caramelization process. Making caramel can be rather temperamental, quickly resulting in crystallization (read: failure) if the sugars are over worked, dried, budged, unevenly heat, otherwise upset that day, etc. By adding syrup, the sugar molecules are significantly less likely to crystallize during the process (although stirring, shaking, and moving the pot are still strongly discouraged), resulting in a smoother and more successful (and less frustrating) caramel product.

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Homemade Vanilla ‘Mallows

Makes 60-75 marshmallows

For the homemade marshmallows lovingly packed for you, I followed this recipe exactly. I’d report here, but that would be extensive and tiresome, and I truly found this recipe perfect unadjusted in any way. There are many, many recipes for marshmallows of varying flavors, dipped in varying sauces, atop varying hot beverages. Follow them as you’d like; just make sure you enjoy the result.

And just so there’s documentation, I sent along the roasted nuts below to complete your winter package. I’d repost the recipes, but to be honest I sort of winged it in the kitchen as I did not have many of the ingredients used in the recipes I was following. If I recreate at home and perfect these roasted and spiced nuts, I’ll be sure to post.

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Roasted Sweet and Spicy Mixed Nuts and Smokey Roasted Pecans