Rice Pudding Tart with Rum Raisins

A rice pudding tart with a piece removed

Today’s Musings:
The other day, I accidentally stumbled upon a photo of an ex-boyfriend. Fucking Facebook. My heart immediately jumped into my throat, my nerves felt jittery and I got a little flushed. “What the heck is this? Why is my body reacting this way?” I wondered.

I extricated myself from this man’s web years ago, processed the damage, recognized the situation for the disaster it was, and moved on. I dealt with that shit.  Today, I don’t care what he’s doing, nor do I care who he is doing it with, or where he’s doing it.

My reaction on seeing his image, made me wonder, “Am I harboring some sort of unprocessed emotion? What the fuck is going on?”

It seems this is an automatic response from my body and entirely normal. It doesn’t matter what my head tells me, my body is going to do its own damn thing.  This reaction is my fight or flight response. It is the same response I would experience if I came face to face with a lion. My autonomic nervous system’s way of telling me, “Danger, bad situation ahead!”  Even though it was just a photo, my body was saying, “Girl, you do not want to go there!”

So, my reaction was automatic and nothing I can influence.  My shit with him is processed, I am in my right mind, and my body is just doing its job.

If this ever happens to you, just acknowledge it and then let it go, which is exactly what I’ll do next time – rather than Googling the feeling to see what it was, ruminating on the flight or flight response and relationships, and writing this damn blog post about it.

However, now at least I know I cannot control what my body does in this situation. I can only control my reaction to it, and that reaction should be to acknowledge it, keep scrolling, and then…Let. That. Shit. Go.

Today’s Recipe:

Rice Pudding Tart with Rum Raisins

  • Servings: One 9” Tart
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Creamy, cinnamon-scented rice pudding dotted with rum-soaked raisins encased in a sugary cookie crust.


Ingredients

  • 1 cup uncooked Basmati rice
  • 1 ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
  • 5 Tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup (scant) golden raisins
  • 1 Tablespoon dark rum
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons (generous) cornstarch
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for dusting
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, well-beaten
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Sweetened whipped cream

Directions

  1. Make Rice: Rinse rice and place in a small saucepan with two cups water. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes until tender. Set aside rice in a bowl to cool.
  2. Make Rum Raisins: In a small bowl, combine golden raisins and rum. Heat in a microwave for one minute, stirring once. Set aside.
  3. Make Crust: Preheat oven to 350°. 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 25 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and cool.
  4. Make Rice Pudding: In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, corn starch, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk in egg until no cornstarch can be seen. Add milk then cooked and cooled rice.
  5. Place saucepan on medium heat and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Simmer until pudding is very thick, similar to the texture of thick oatmeal. Take saucepan off heat and stir in rum-soaked raisins and vanilla extract.
  6. Scoop rice pudding into pie crust and cover with plastic wrap, ensuring the plastic wrap makes contact with the pudding surface to avoid a skin. Chill at least two hours. Decorate with sweetened whipped cream and dust with cinnamon. Let tart stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.

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Carrot Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting

A plate of carrot cupcakes with carrot decorations and a cup of tea

Today’s Musings:
During my online dating years, I’d roll my eyes at the triteness of profiles that claimed, “I’m as comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt as I am in a suit and tie,” as if that sentence proclaims, “I’m a tangle of contradictions.”   All that tells me is you’re not a stuffy elitist or backwater hillbilly.

 In my relationships, I often feel the other person doesn’t see me as I truly am, but rather they narrowly define me as they want me to be.  But, then again, why should they – I am a kaleidoscope of contradictions, turn me one way and see one thing, turn me another and other colors and patterns emerge.  I am a human Rorschach test – what do you see? 

Staring at my fingertips, I delight in my dirt manicures from Sunday gardening as much as my freshly painted digits on Monday.  I deftly tick off each item on my long to-do list in the morning and lie, sloth-like, on the couch binge-watching Better Call Saul in the evening.  After a recent camping trip with Mr. M, friends and siblings said, “you must really like him,” as if I’m only comfortable enrobed in the luxe of a Ritz Carlton. I’m horrified that I can walk through the streets of my neighborhood noticing the details – the scent of orange blossoms, the buzz of a hummingbird, the fluffy tail of a squirrel and simultaneously walk blindly past the homeless woman sitting on the curb.  My irreverent words can end long-held friendships, my posts ignite family controversy, yet I yearn to be proper and not ruffle a feather.  I sign up for every Meetup, my social calendar bulging at the seams, while an afternoon of quiet solitude at home with my phone switched to silent mode restores me. The suburbs have never fulfilled me, yet I’ve spent more than half my life with green lawns and welcome mats.  I desire acreage, a forest filled with birdsong, a nearby stream where I can dip my feet, with a Michelin-starred chef around the corner, a music venue that books the newest bands, and a museum showing the Egon Schiele retrospective, an impossible amalgamation. I’m blissfully happy driving the winding roads of an unfamiliar country and just as content steering through the curves of a good bit of fiction, ensconced at home, my two cats curled up and sleeping contently beside me.  I am level headed and calm and I am emotional and irrational.  I can be as competent as I am unsure and clueless. I am both intrepid warrior and fair maiden in equal measure.

I am an inkblot of contradictions.

Today’s Recipe:
When I worked at the steakhouse, chef nixed my suggestion to offer carrot cake on our dessert menu. He claimed carrot cake was too divisive – carrot cake lovers have strong beliefs when it comes to the proper ingredients…nuts or no nuts, raisins or no raisins, and, if raisins are allowed, black or golden raisins.  The carrot cake debate, in his mind, was as impassioned as “does pineapple belong on pizza?”

If given the chance, I would have served the recipe below, which, for this baker who usually gilds the lily, is surprisingly straightforward.  No nuts, no raisins, – and just a bit of pineapple for flair.  I like pineapple on my pizza – and in my carrot cake, too.  Served with cream cheese frosting, it ticks all the boxes.


My Favorite Carrot Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Servings: One Dozen Cupcakes
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This is my go-to carrot cupcake recipe – the secret ingredient in this moist version is a bit of pineapple.


Ingredients

    Cupcakes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon (generous) cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon (generous) ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon (generous) allspice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 Large eggs
  • 1 ½ cups grated peeled carrots
  • ¼ cup drained crushed pineapple
  • Frosting
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, well chilled
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • ½ vanilla bean, scraped

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line 12 muffin tins with paper baking cups.
  2. Sift first 7 ingredients into a medium bowl. Beat together sugar, oil, and eggs in a large bowl for about 2 minutes. Add dry ingredients to egg mixture in two additions, beating until just blended after each addition. Stir in carrots and pineapple.
  3. Spoon batter into muffin cups. Bake about 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool.
  4. To make frosting, beat chilled cream cheese and softened butter 2 minutes. Add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla bean. Beat on low 30 seconds until fully combined. Continue beating on high for 3 minutes until light and fluffy.

Gourmet No-Bake Banana Split Cake

A slice of banana split cake on a white plate with the entire cake in the background

PINEAPPLE CONFESSIONS:
Never have I ever dissected a whole pineapple.  Me – the woman who whips up her own marshmallows, won’t buy jarred caramel sauce when homemade tastes so much better, who measures out and combines 16 ingredients over 2 days to concoct her own vermouth  recipe – can’t be bothered to dismember an innocuous pineapple.  In the produce section, faced with the choice of intact pineapple or flayed and filleted cylinder,  I’ve always chosen the latter,  gladly plonking down a few extra quid for the convenience.  During my childhood, we often enjoyed fresh pineapple in our home on Nutwood street.  I remember mom deftly slicing off crown and bottom,  paring off the skin, gouging out the brown eyes, carving the pineapple carcass into equal disks, removing the core,  and then ultimately chopping the remaining succulent flesh into chunks to be devoured after dinner.  My mouth would water at the sweet, tart, tropical scent wafting from the kitchen.  To assuage my longing to savor a hunk of the golden flesh,  mom would hand me scraps of the core to suck and gnaw on while she worked.  A poor surrogate for the fleshy real McCoy, these woody nobs with mere hints of juicy tartness managed to sate my desire until after I had cleaned my dinner plate.  Perhaps watching mom wrestle with this bromeliad beast turned me off from the dismemberment process.   It’s always seemed like too much work and  too much waste compared to the juicy payoff.  I was faced with this pineapple dilemma when purchasing ingredients for the following recipe.  Convenience won out again. 

TODAY’S RECIPE:
With another nod to edible nostalgia,  I’ve whipped up one more sweet treat from my childhood.  The actual name of this dessert is “Banana Split Cake,”  but, growing up, it was known around our house as “Happy Easter Cake,” because mom would often serve this dessert after Easter dinner, spelling out “Happy Easter” with garishly bright red maraschino cherries on the top.  My favorite part of this cake was the decadent second layer, which I believed to be pure butter and confectioners’ sugar – should I be relieved to know now that it also contained cream cheese to, um, cut the richness?  Always one to gild the lily,  I’ve spiffed up mom’s recipe substituting fresh pineapple for the original canned, freshly whipped cream for Cool Whip®, luxurious Luxardo maraschino cherries for the grocery store variety, and I toasted the raw pecans. 


Gourmet No-Bake Banana Split Cake

Close your eyes and take a bite. You’ll be reminded of a banana split when the ice cream begins to melt and the flavors meld. For a twist, my mom added a layer of tart, homemade raspberry jam between the banana and pineapple layer for an added jolt of color and flavor. I've kept it out of this version.


Ingredients

    Crust
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 15 full sheets of crackers)
  • pinch salt
  • Filling
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup (8 oz.) cream cheese
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 2 ½ cups finely chopped fresh pineapple, well drained
  • 4 ripe bananas, sliced
  • 1 ½ cups whipping cream
  • 2 Tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 16 Luxardo maraschino cherries, drained and patted dry
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted and cooled

Directions

  1. Melt ½ cup (1 stick) butter and combine with graham cracker crumbs and salt. Press firmly into the bottom of a 9×13” pan.
  2. Beat together remaining ½ cup (1 stick) butter with cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and salt 3-4 minutes until fluffy. Spread evenly over graham cracker crust. Layer with chopped pineapple then bananas.
  3. Whip whipping cream with 2 Tablespoons confectioners’ sugar. Cover bananas with whipped cream and garnish with Luxardo maraschino cherries and chopped pecan.
  4. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Frango Semifreddo

A small frango Semifreddo with a pink plate holding more on the side.

TODAY’S MUSINGS:
Oh, my goodness.  I’m seated at my desk astonished that it has been four months since I’ve practiced my writing exercises,  over three months since I’ve posted on this blog, and well over a month since I’ve attempted writing anything at all.  How has this lag happened?  If only I could blame it on a busy life and blossoming relationship, but those are pathetic excuses.  If I have time to watch Netflix,  I have time to write.  And, full disclosure,  I have plenty of time for Netflix.  So,  what’s the impediment?  Writing for me, alas,  is a lot like my efforts at a consistent gym schedule. It’s good for me; it’s something I need to do, I’m frequently satisfied with the long-term results, but I’m not wholly convinced I actually enjoy the process.  “Write” is on my daily to-do list,  yet the climb from contemplation to commencement is a monumental crag to ascend, necessitating further tenacity when the words on the page fail to satisfy me.  After a hiatus, after putting my pen down for far too long,  the first few visits to my writer’s retreat are a trudge…a snail’s pace on a treadmill while staring at a blank wall.  I want these efforts to be fruitful, expecting to see the contours of my writer’s muscles reflected on the page immediately, yet I often gaze upon flabby dreck even following an entire afternoon’s hard labor.  It takes consistent, focused determination to settle myself and put words on the page without expectation of an inspired outcome.  It takes a few sessions before I’m once again caught in a rhythm of writing and re-writing,  before it becomes part of my day and begins to feel natural, as if I was meant to do this.  If I practice, I will, eventually, produce results.  I will write and write and, in due course, dare to label myself “writer” once more, until, a distraction throws me off  yet again – a vacation, a need to work late, a new interest – and then, before I realize what has happened,  it’s four months later,  the season has changed,  and my writer’s muscles have atrophied again. After yet another hiatus, I will sit astounded in front of the recriminating blank page, admonishing myself for veering so widely from my decided path yet again.

One of my many barriers to writing consistently is the obvious fact that my writing is at its best when I am indignant over some personal affront. When I am passionately righteous in my position,  the words flow from my fingers to the page as if the tap of a deep, dark, underground well has been cranked wide open.  Yet,  I cannot live in a world of perpetual righteous indignation for the sake of writing.  The tap runs dry, the wound scars over,  the damage, if not repaired, is razed for rebuilding.  My obsession over others’ wrongs slowly fades away into “who cares?” and with this diminishing ire, my muse also dissipates. It’s difficult to write when my life is on track. Of course, I can always tap into that faintly festering swamp of ancient hurts and childhood traumas, but it’s not pleasant spending one’s down time perpetually slogging through the mire. 

Writing,  for me, never comes easy. Never.  Even when the words flow,  there is rewriting to be done and, even when the writing is good and I complete a piece, splaying myself on the page,  I hobble from this desk, sore and a bit delirious with stiff joints and cloudy brain, not prepared to reemerge into the world outside my writer’s retreat.  The process is never straightforward for me, and yet it beckons.  So,  after four months away,  I am hunched over my laptop again,  rusty in my attempt to make these words sing, tinkering with each sentence in hopes you can relate to what I’m trying to say.  I’ve renewed my membership, returning to my writer’s gym, gently, tentatively stretching these muscles once again. 

TODAY’S RECIPE:
When choosing desserts,  mint chip is a flavor both Mr. M and I agree on,  so when I decided to whip up a quick dessert a few weeks ago,  I recalled my mom’s iconic recipe for “Frozen Chocolate Frangos.”  These “special occasion” velvety chocolate and mint semi-frozen treats were so decadently rich, wee little Julie couldn’t finish one by herself.  I dug out my mom’s  old recipe and zhuzhed it up just a bit for an adult palate. These semifreddos are the result. NOTE: Semifreddos are made with uncooked eggs.  If this is a concern for you, substitute pasteurized eggs.


Frango Semifreddo

For those who love the combination of refreshing mint and smooth chocolate, these rich, not-too-sweet semi-frozen treats will delight your taste buds. Named after Frango mints, these melt-in-your-mouth treats are a perfect after-dinner dessert.


Ingredients

    Crust and Topping
  • 14 Chocolate wafer cookies (or Oreo cookies)
  • ⅓ cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • Filling
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 cup whipping cream, Slightly sweetened and whipped
  • Mint sprigs for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. In a food processor, blitz cookies and toasted walnuts until finely ground. Add melted butter and blitz until crumbs begin to stick together. Reserve 2 Tablespoons of crumbs. Evenly distribute remaining crumbs between 8 lined muffin tins and lightly press into bottom of each liner. I use the bottom of a ¼ cup to help pack the crumbs into the liners.
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat together butter, sifted confectioner’s sugar, and salt until smooth and fluffy. Add melted chocolate and beat until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and peppermint extract. Beat for 5-7 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed, until filling is very light and fluffy.
  3. Pipe filling into each muffin tin until full. Sprinkle reserved crumbs over top and freeze until firm, about one hour.
  4. To serve, remove frangos from freezer and let set at room temperature for 10 minutes. Pipe with whipped cream and garnish with mint sprigs if using.

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.