Dessert in Five Minutes

IMG_3017

There are always going to be days when you NEED dessert. And those times are invariably when you have nothing in the house to bake with. Or you don’t have the time or the energy to make even cookie bars and deal with washing those dishes. Microwave Chocolate Pudding to the rescue!

There is, of course, a story. Rich and I were looking at chocolate pudding mix once in Wild Oats (that dates us, they have long since been swallowed up by Whole Foods), and wondering what made the pudding “health food.” The ingredients were cocoa, evaporated cane juice (otherwise known as sugar?) and cornstarch. That started us thinking about what Jell-O pudding was. Sure enough, the ingredients on the side of a box of cook and serve chocolate pudding were sugar, cocoa and cornstarch, along with dextrose and a few thickeners. We wondered why we were bothering to buy pudding mix (especially with the extra ingredients), when we had cocoa, sugar and cornstarch at home.

Lo and behold, we found this recipe in a book we already had and even better, it was a microwave recipe. So it’s quick, it only dirties one bowl, which is also the serving bowl, and it is the deepest, darkest chocolate pudding you have ever eaten. We haven’t bought pudding mix since.

The original recipe came from a Cooking Light cookbook. The only change I made to the ingredients was to double the vanilla. I did revise the directions a bit to make them a little more precise. Without further ado…

IMG_3024

Microwave Chocolate Pudding
Adapted by The Cook’s Life
from “The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook”

 6 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1½ cups 2% milk*
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine sugar, cocoa and cornstarch in a 1-quart glass bowl and stir well with a whisk to break up all the lumps. Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk until well blended. Microwave mixture, uncovered, at 100% power for 90 seconds. Stir well. Microwave at 100% power for another 90 seconds. Stir well. Microwave at 70% power for 60-90 seconds, or until thick. Watch closely so it doesn’t boil over. Add vanilla and mix well. Pudding will thicken more as it cools. Let cool a bit before serving warm, or cover and chill. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the hot pudding if you don’t like the skin that forms as it cools.

Makes 3-4 servings.

* Works really well with skim milk, with no other changes to the recipe, but 2% tastes better, of course. Go all out and use whole milk if you have it.

 Download recipe here.

Cornbread in a jiffy…from scratch

Yes, you can get Jiffy cornbread mix for not much money. But you can also make it, and
yours will be so much better. And it will be yours. Nothing like pulling piping hot cornbread from the oven right before you sit down to dinner.

When I was younger, Mom did most of the cooking, but as I got older and she was working more, Dad shared in the cooking more. Mom usually made cornbread in a square glass pan, but Dad usually used a cast iron skillet. I haven’t ever really asked why. Probably that is how his mother did it.

My dad has six brothers and sisters and they were all in the kitchen a lot when they were growing up. And it seems they all have different memories of how my grandma did things. Some of the most interesting conversations at family reunions revolve around their different memories. Some of them remember their mother melting the shortening in the cast iron skillet and then pouring the hot, melted fat into the cornbread batter. Others swear she never did this. And was it butter or shortening? Theirs was a large, spread out family, so it could be Grandma changed how she did things over the years. Or she could have done it different ways, depending on her mood. I am still looking for the aunt or uncle who has any of Grandma’s written recipes, but I don’t think many of them ever made it to paper.

I do know that a cast iron skillet makes a wonderful crust on the bottom of the cornbread. And I always feel a connection to my grandmother when I bake in cast iron. I even have one of her griddle/bakers that she gave to Dad and he gave to me. Hmmm, I think I need to do another post on cast iron cookware.

But back to cornbread – Dad is from southeastern Missouri and his parents were from Tennessee and Mississippi. You could definitely say there is a Southern background there. And Southern cornbread is not sweet. At all. My dad and his family usually only have butter on cornbread, or use it to soak up the juices from greens, beans or soups. Sometimes they even put jalapeño or other hot peppers in it (definitely not my favorite when I was a kid). When Dad married Mom and saw her put jelly on her cornbread, he was a little surprised. But time, and marriage, change all things – I have witnessed Dad putting jelly or honey on his cornbread. I like my Southern cornbread with butter and honey or jelly, but without sugar in it. Try it this way once, and then if you must put sugar in it, you can. But don’t tell my dad.

Dad’s Cornbread
8-10 servings 

Shortening (Crisco) to grease pan
1 cup cornmeal (stoneground is best)
1 cup all-purpose flour*
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder**
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup vegetable oil, melted butter or melted shortening
1 cup milk or buttermilk**

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 8-inch square pan or 10-inch cast iron skillet heavily with shortening. If using a skillet, place in oven to preheat.

Mix cornmeal, flour, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl. In another bowl, mix together egg, oil and milk. Add to cornmeal mixture and mix well. Make sure there are no dry pockets of cornmeal or flour.

Remove hot skillet (if using) from oven and add batter. Spread batter to edges of skillet or pan, leveling top. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until just starting to brown on top. Serve hot from the oven with butter, and desired toppings. Best served hot.

Leftovers make great breadcrumbs for breading fish, as you can see in the picture. I pan-fried these filets in just a little olive oil and they tasted like they had been deep-fried. Calvin said they were “awesomely good.” From the mouths of pre-teens…

*I sometimes use ½ cup white whole wheat flour and ½ cup all-purpose flour.
**You can use buttermilk, but if you do, use 1½ teaspoons baking powder and ½ teaspoon baking soda instead of the 2 teaspoons baking powder. You can’t really taste the tang of the buttermilk, but it makes the cornbread a little lighter.

Download recipe here.

Last Minute Dinner

As some of my friends and family members will tell you, I can be overly meticulous about some things. For instance, I like to plan the meals for a week, make my store list in the order of the layout of the store and do one grocery shopping a week. At least that is my goal for most weeks. Last week I could only come up with four good ideas for dinners, so I went with it and figured I would come up with something by Friday.

Is it any surprise that I was totally without any creative dinner ideas by Friday? And to top it off, it was freezing rain by late afternoon and I really didn’t want to go out to the store or to a restaurant.

After complaining to myself and to Calvin, and brainstorming with him to figure out what we would eat, I started sifting through recipes. I came up with a lighter recipe for Fettuccine Alfredo that I have made a few times. Not the healthiest of dinners, but better than restaurant Fettuccine Alfredo and we had all the ingredients in the house.

Rich was glad to be able to come home and stay home after a stressful drive home on icy roads. And we had time to make some homemade crackers after dinner. But that is another post.

I found the recipe on myrecipes.com. And of course I changed it a bit. First I used whole wheat pasta to up the fiber and protein. But you can certainly use regular pasta. The original texture seemed a little off, so I doubled the butter and added a splash of cream. You could use 2% milk instead of skim to get a little more creaminess. I reduced the salt from ½ teaspoon to 1/4 teaspoon. I left it out the first time I made it, but it is better with just a touch, at least to us. You can certainly salt it to your tastes. You can add diced, cooked chicken at the last minute, if you like. Here’s a use for that bit of chicken that is left over, but not enough for another meal. Throw it in the freezer and save it for adding to this, or any other pasta dish.

Lighter Fettuccine Alfredo
Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 4

8 ounces (1/2 pound) fettuccine or linguini, whole wheat or regular
2 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups skim milk*
2 tablespoons cream (or 2 tablespoons milk)
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons 1/3 less fat cream cheese, room temperature
¼ teaspoon salt
1-2 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces (optional)
Parsley, dried or fresh
Black pepper

Put a large pot of water on the heat on a back burner and bring it to a boil. When the water boils, cook the pasta according to the package directions. You can cook the pasta at the same time that you are making the sauce. If the pasta finishes first, drain it and let it rest in the colander until you need it. If the sauce is done before the pasta, turn the heat off and leave the pan on the burner. If it cools off too much, turn the burner on low for a minute of two, stirring to warm the sauce, before you add the pasta.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan or skillet over medium heat. The sauce will cook faster in a skillet, if you are in a hurry, but don’t be tempted to turn up the heat. You don’t want to bring this to a boil, or even a simmer, once you add the milk and cream. Add the garlic, and cook for one minute, stirring. Stir flour into butter and mix thoroughly. Add milk gradually, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Stir in cream. Cook 6-8 minutes, or until mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Add 1 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano, cream cheese and salt, stirring until cheeses melt. If your cream cheese isn’t warm enough, it might make lumps, but they will melt and smooth out.

Add the pasta to the pan with the sauce and toss with tongs to combine. Add the chicken now, if you are using it. The sauce will thicken just a bit as some of it soaks into the pasta. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately, with extra Parmigiano-Reggiano and black pepper.

*We drink skim milk, so that is what I have on hand. Feel free to use 1% or 2%.

Download recipe here.