Simple Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding

Two servings of rice pudding with stawberries

Today’s Musings:
My friend, Frenchy, asked me to show him photos of recent desserts that made me proud, because, “you know, you’re never happy with the outcome. You think it doesn’t taste good or the texture is off, or there’s some other issue.” Frenchy’s correct…partially. He’s a musician and should understand the creative process. I challenge him to write a song,  from beginning to end, without adjustments, without tinkering until he is pleased with it; not a piece that is “good enough” for his audience, but a work that makes him proud.  A recipe rarely comes out perfect the first time and, if it does,  it often cannot be duplicated with the same results the second or third.  Tinkering is needed.   It’s part of the process. 

Yet, I won’t deny that I’m also my worst critic.  Self-doubt and I have done battled in the ring since childhood.  Regardless of what others may think,  and I’ve heard my share of snarky comments,  this is not feigned modesty constructed in an effort to appear meek and humble or garner compliments.  Confidence has been a lifelong struggle.  I remember a fellow student in culinary school,  Michelle,  who always seemed self-assured, even when she screwed up,  even when she undercooked her shrimp or used a recipe from Epicurious and called it her own.  And,  the thing was,  Chef bought it.  Chef loved her, thought she was the best,  because she was self-confident.  I, on the other hand, have often felt I’m one step away from being found out as a fraud.  Although,  confidence does not necessarily translate into competence. 

Over these last few years over the last year,  if I’m really honest my self-confidence has improved…in my baking, in my writing, in my photography, partially due to the feedback and encouragement of my friends and readers,  but also because I’m beginning to silence that incessant critic inside me.  I may not have Michelle’s hubris yet,  but I’m trying.  I recently found the following, illustrating just how far I’ve come: 

With clammy hands tightly gripping the steering wheel, I gulp pranayama breaths of air, desperately trying to calm down. A cake box filled with my future slides around on the passenger side floor. I am running late.

I’m taking my tarts to the owner of the Steakhouse for final judgment. My worst critic, me, appraises the final products harshly. A week before, I was a proud cock, crowing about my tarts – the best key lime ever! Today, as I test and decorate them, my confidence crumbles. The key lime is too sweet and its crust is gummy. I re-bake it. The coconut cream is dry, flat, and lacking coconut flavor. I re-bake it. The lemon tart is cloudy on the surface and a little undercooked. If I had more filling, I would re-bake this one as well. I attempt to cover up its flaws with powdered sugar and whipped cream. The apricot-almond seems overcooked and lacking flavor, I also re-bake it. The hours tick by; my kitchen is a war zone with sheet-pans and counters scattered with the bodies of discarded tarts.

Can’t I call him and cancel, start over, and wait until I produce something I deem remarkable?

I can’t endure criticism and my fear of it has only grown with each new culinary plan, scheme, and pursuit. Negative comments sear my skin and positive ones bounce off the scars, unable to sink in. It’s a throwback from my youth, I am sure. In our house, crushing another’s confidence was how you buoyed your own worth and superiority. Now, the effects paralyze me.

I drive the tarts to him and gather courage in the parking lot. He gives me bottles of wine as payment for my work and we chat. He doesn’t fear failure and I admire him for that. We talk about how difficult it is to tell a vendor their product isn’t any good, like breaking up with someone – “It’s not you, it’s me!”

I can’t do it. I can’t watch as my work is judged. I ask him to taste them after I leave, share them with the staff, and call me with his feedback. I cannot endure a breakup, not from him, not now. I wait. My phone is silent and I am deflated.

– Written 2014

He finally did call.  He loved the key lime, coconut and apricot-almond. You are probably expecting one of these recipes to be listed below.  Nope, not today. 

Today’s Recipe:


Simple Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding

  • Servings: About 4 half-cup servings
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Many rice pudding recipes call for raw rice and 45 minutes or more of simmering. With this recipe, you can have comforting rice pudding in less than 10 minutes.


Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon corn starch
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup cooked rice, cooled
  • ¼ t. vanilla extract or 2 teaspoons brandy

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together corn starch, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Whisk in egg, then milk, and finally cooked rice.
  2. Place saucepan on medium heat and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Simmer for 4-5 minutes until pudding is thickened and the texture of oatmeal. Take off heat and whisk in vanilla extract or brandy. I enjoy eating rice pudding warm from the stovetop. If you prefer chilled rice pudding, place in a dish and cover with plastic wrap, ensuring the plastic wrap makes contact with the pudding surface to avoid a skin.

Frenchy’s Chocolate Raspberry Tart with Pistachio Crust

A chocolate raspberry tart with a slice on a plate

Today’s Musings:
I recognize this evening as a non-starter before I even order my Sauvignon Blanc. I realize before this ass of mine has warmed the bar stool. There’s no chemistry – no spice. I’m more interested in the cute, tattooed bartender (alas, a wedding ring) than the man beside me. Before my first sip of wine, my date has managed to “casually touch” my thigh and arm a half-dozen times during conversation. I don’t need to wear my body language decoder ring – I get it; you’re interested, now back off. Our tactile evening continues with me receiving a demonstration of his co-worker’s hugging techniques followed by an unsolicited and awkward one-handed back rub. He has unquestionably grabbed or stroked me at least three dozen times. Body language hint – if your date is slowly sliding away to regain her personal space, stop with the hands! Ten minutes into the conversation, he declares that he wants to “claim” me as his own and our next date should be in my neighborhood. Next date?! I’m squirming through this one – and I’m beginning to believe you’re stalker material as well. Okay…polite conversation, polite conversation; I can do this; just finish my wine and leave – fast. I’m out the door in 40-minutes flat, but he insists on walking me to my car. Please don’t try to hug, kiss, or molest me at my vehicle. Not surprisingly, I receive his text on the 10-minute drive home, “Good night, Sweetheart.” Sweetheart – already?! Disturbing.

Reaching the safety of home, I’m tempted to bee-line for the kitchen and bake up a batch of David Lebovitz’s chocolate chip cookies – culinary Xanax. This type of dating debacle deserves an edible pacifier – a dozen warm, gooey cookies or even a chocolate cake with thick chocolate frosting – devoured in one sitting. I content myself with a turkey sandwich and Netflix instead.

Today’s Recipe:
This recipe was especially made for my friend, Frenchy.  When it comes to dating, he’s the Jerry Seinfeld to my Elaine, always good for a few dating horror stories of his own.  But rather than chatting about our pitiful love lives over a “Big Salad,” we prefer coffee and dessert.  This one is especially for you,  Frenchy!  


Frenchy’s Chocolate Raspberry Tart with Pistachio Crust

  • Servings: One 9” tart
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The raspberry coulis is a must to help cut the richness of this decadently sinful dessert. If you love chocolate and raspberries, this dessert is for you.


Ingredients

    Crust
  • 1 cup (about 10 cookies) shortbread crumbs, such as Lorna Doone
  • 1 cup pistachios, raw
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Filling
  • 1 lbs. dark chocolate
  • 1 ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 7 large egg yolks, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon instant espresso (optional)
  • ½ cup seedless raspberry jam
  • 12 oz. fresh raspberries
  • Raspberry Coulis
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 12 oz. frozen raspberries, thawed
  • 1 Tablespoon raspberry or orange liqueur (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine shortbread crumbs, pistachios, sugar and salt in a food processor and process until finely ground. Add melted butter and process until mixture begins to clump and resembles wet sand. Press crust along the bottom and up the sides of a 9” tart pan. Bake until crust is golden and smells like roasted pistachios, about 12 minutes. Cool.
  2. Chop chocolate and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at 30-second intervals, stirring in-between, until chocolate is fully melted, about 1 ½-2 minutes. Cool slightly.
  3. Whisk together heavy cream, beaten egg yolks, and instant espresso (if using). Add melted chocolate and whisk until fully combined.
  4. Fill crust with chocolate mixture and bake in a 350° F. oven until top is firm to the touch but center still jiggles slightly, 25-30 minutes. Cool 30 minutes and then refrigerate until completely cold.
  5. While tart is cooling, make raspberry coulis by combining sugar and water in a heat-proof liquid measuring cup. Microwave on high power for 2 minutes and stir to ensure all sugar crystals are dissolved. Combine this simple syrup with thawed raspberries in a blender. Blend until smooth. With a rubber spatula, stir and push puree through a fine-mesh strainer to catch the seeds. Add liqueur, if using. Store in the refrigerator up to a week.
  6. When tart is cool, heat seedless raspberry jam in a small bowl in the microwave until it is liquid. Brush top of tart with warm jam, arrange fresh raspberries on top, and brush raspberries with more jam. Serve tart with raspberry coulis.

Triple Coconut Tart with Berries

A coconut tart covered in fresh berries

Today’s Musings:
July 4th in my city – there’s nothing safe nor sane about it. It starts weeks prior with the random M80 explosion rocking the neighborhood, usually at 4:00 a.m., as well as the testing of mortar rockets at 7:30 a.m. before the culprits head off to work.   By the time dawn breaks on the 4th,  an alarm clock isn’t needed to wake me from my slumber.  Fire crackers, Piccalo Petes, and cherry bombs ensure I’m out of bed by 9:00 a.m.  The cacophony increases throughout the day to a crescendo of illegal sky rockets and mortars with skyward explosions akin to a war zone, overshadowing any display from my neighbor,  Disneyland. The night is punctuated by the howl of fire engines – and we wonder, “Has someone blown off a finger?  Has a wayward rocket caused a fire?” By 10 p.m., a sulfuric haze has blanketed the city and I’m thankful my roof is still intact. The next morning, a tour of my backyard reveals a smattering of detritus from the festivities – charred end caps from the mortars and thin red sticks from the sky rockets.

My dog-owning neighbors hate this time of year. I, on the other hand, delight in this reminder of my childhood and consider myself lucky to be owned by two unruffled felines, no matter how loud the blasts. This one night, my city is alive and decidedly lawless. The neighborhood celebrates with a backyard party each year – more anarchistic that patriotic, except for my choice of dessert.

Today’s Recipe:


Triple Coconut Tart with Berries

  • Servings: One 9” Tart
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Coconut in the crust, along with coconut milk and shredded coconut in the pastry crème ensures coconut lovers won’t be disappointed.


Ingredients

    Coconut Pastry Crème
  • 3 Tablespoons corn starch
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup canned coconut milk
  • 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Graham Cracker Crust
  • 2 cups Graham cracker crumbs (about 15 sheets)
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • Topping
  • Assorted fresh berries
  • ¼ cup apricot jam
  • Sweetened whipped cream
  • Toasted coconut

Directions

  1. Make coconut pastry crème: In a medium sauce pan, whisk together flour, corn starch, salt, and sugar. Whisk in eggs, milk, coconut milk, and shredded coconut. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until custard is very thick, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in butter and vanilla extract. Scrape into bowl, press plastic wrap against the surface of the custard, and chill in refrigerator for several hours until cool.
  2. Make graham cracker crust: Preheat oven to 350° F. In a food processor, pulse graham crackers, coconut and salt until ground into crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse until combined and beginning to clump together. Press in the bottom and up sides of a 9” tart pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned. Cool.
  3. To assemble: Pour pastry crème into crust and smooth. Cover with fresh berries. Heat apricot jam for 1 minute in microwave and strain. Brush berries with jam, decorate with whipped cream and toasted coconut. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Swedish Apple Pie

Swedish Apple Pie on a blue background with pie cutter

Today’s Musings:
I first visited Mt. St. Helens in 2000, 20 years after the devastating blast in May, 1980.  The landscape didn’t appear substantially changed from the stark images I saw in Life Magazine immediately after the eruption.  Except for the blue sky,  it was as if we had driven into a black and white photo; shades of ash and smoke surrounding us.  Waves of fallen monochromatic grey tree trunks remained scattered across the somber mountainside, reminding me of images I’d seen of the civil war dead.   The area appeared decimated, lifeless.  But once we parked at the visitor’s center and started to stroll along the paths,  signs of life became apparent – dun-colored grasses,  knee-high alder saplings, purple lupine, fuchsia fireweed flowers, all punctuated by a few scurrying squirrels.   Slowly, life was reemerging from the destruction. 

My mother died, her adult children around her, in late August 2010; my former Love, and man who still possesses a chunk of my heart, ended his own life two days later.  Two people torn from my life in the span of 48 hours.  In the weeks and months following these losses,  I numbly went about my routine, elbowing waves of grief into the periphery, feeling as obliterated as St. Helens’ landscape.  I met Jake two and a half months later.  Opening myself up to a new relationship was like the first violet lupines popping their heads above my ash-covered earth.  I was tentatively taking the first steps towards reawakening, acknowledging I’d likely be hurt in the end, but possessing an optimistic soupçon of impetus to try.   

When I arrived at the wine bar for our first date,  the afternoon sun shone directly through the front windows, blinding me and obscuring Jake in shadow.  As I turned around to finally see him, my back to the window,  I felt like the bachelorette on The Dating Game when bachelor #3 rounds the corner and she can’t wipe the tinge of disappointment from her face.  He was shorter than I imagined – about 5’ 9”– and his teeth were in a terrible state, with a prominent chip in the front.  I later learned that was a result of an unfortunate run-in with a fork.  His eyes were a pale sky blue; his complexion ruddy. I noted and approved of his style – Vans, Levi’s and a rockabilly plaid shirt.  I glimpsed a tattoo on his wrist, a sneak peek of the ones I’d discover later. I’m a sucker for a tattoo.  His hair reminded me of Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20.  In fact,  he resembled Rob Thomas – after a bender.  I didn’t fall for him until our second date; I remember pulling up to the Oaxacan restaurant, finding him waiting for me outside and thinking, “Yeah, he’s cute.”  I almost didn’t agree to that second date.  By our third, I was enamored with that adorable, weathered, chipped-tooth face and found myself, sated and lying naked in his arms, tracing the tattoos on his chest with the tip of my finger.

Time heals,  we survive, and eventually poke our heads above life’s greyness, renewed.

Today’s Recipe:
How did I not know about Swedish Apple Pie?  Thank you to my friend, Joan, for turning me on to the easy-to-throw-together “pie.”  Of course,  true to form, I zhuzhed up the recipe a bit. If you over-fill the pie plate, be prepared for a butter pool in the bottom of your oven. 


Swedish Apple Pie

  • Servings: One 9” Pie
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Apple pie on the bottom, giant cookie crust on top. A winning combination.


Ingredients

  • 3 – 3 ½ large tart apples, peeled, cored, cut in half, and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup butter, melted
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Freshly whipped cream (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter a 9” pie plate. Combine apples, zest, 2 Tablespoons sugar, and cinnamon. Arrange in pie plate.
  2. Stir together flour, sugars, and salt. Combine melted butter, egg and vanilla and stir into flour mixture just until combined. Spread batter over the apples.
  3. Bake at 350° F. for 50 minutes until top is fully cooked and crisp. Serve warm or room temperature with freshly whipped cream (optional).

Key Lime Tart

Today’s Musings:

Jump!
“I can’t.”
Jump!
“I’ll fall.”
Jump!
“I’m afraid.”
Jump!
“I don’t know how.”
Jump!
“I’m not a jumper.”
Jump!
“Others can jump further.”
Jump!
“Who am I to think I can jump?”

 Jump!
“We will steady you.”
Jump!
“You’re so close!”
Jump!
“Trust us; We will catch you.”
Jump!
“You’ll be great at it.”
Jump!
“Be Brave!”
Jump!
“We believe in you.”
Jump!
We’ll jump with you.”

Thank you for requesting baking demos until I said, “yes.”  Thank you for telling me when my words on the page move you. Thank you for giving feedback on my recipes. Thank you for believing I can write a book worth reading.  Thank you for reminding me I’m worthy of love. Thank you, to all my friends, who support, encourage, and push me just a little further.  I’m better for knowing you.   

Today’s Recipe:


Key Lime Tart

  • Servings: One 9-inch tart or six tartlets
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Mouth-puckering Key lime custard in a shortbread cookie crust garnished with raspberry coulis sauce.


Ingredients

    Crust
  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 Tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 9 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Filling
  • 28 oz. sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ cup full-fat Greek yogurt
  • ¾ cup key lime juice
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons grated lime zest
  • Raspberry Coulis (optional)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 12 oz. frozen raspberries, thawed
  • 1 Tablespoon raspberry or orange liqueur (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and melted butter. Pat dough on the bottom and up the sides of a 9” tart pan. Bake about 20 minutes until beginning to brown. Remove from oven and cool 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine condensed milk, Greek yogurt, lime juice, and lime zest. Stir until combined and pour into crust. Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, until tiny pinhole bubbles burst on the surface of pie. Do not brown. Chill tart thoroughly before serving. Garnish with raspberry coulis, whipped cream, shaved white chocolate or grated lime zest.
  3. To make coulis, combine sugar and water in a heat-proof liquid measuring cup. Microwave on high power for two minutes and stir to ensure all sugar crystals are dissolved. Combine simple syrup with thawed raspberries in a blender. Blend until smooth. With a rubber spatula, stir and push puree through a fine-mesh strainer to catch the seeds. Add liqueur, if using. Store in the refrigerator up to a week.