One of my worst cooking traits is that when I get frustrated with a recipe, it can take me years to get back to it. I mean, I’m theoretically too old to be having tantrums, kitchen or other, but there’s no other way to describe this behavior where I get frustrated, throw my jangly measuring spoons in the sink and huff off to gaze at jeans I could probably fit half a thigh into, which is how I mope.* Sure, you could just say that I need a little space, a break, it’s-not-you-it’s-me from the recipe so I can gain some perspective, and consider other approaches but six years? That is how long it’s been since I last attempted to share a recipe for old-school, dead-simple butterscotch pudding from scratch which refused to set. A six-year tantrum. (Fine, I snuck some pudding pops in there, but it’s so cold today, I cannot even look at them.)
Look, I know it’s prime resolution time. I realize that outside the 10 percent of you who have understandably succumbed to the explicit demands of the polar vortex with salted caramel brownies, the remaining 90 percent of you out there are swearing off carbs, gluten, fat, sugar, things that your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food or things that even had a mother, while sweating off the holiday’s demons on stationary bikes. (Although I’m sure no matter how bad you may think things got over the holidays, surely none of your children announced at preschool’s circle time that his mommy was going to have a baby, which was news to you? Which led to you having to make an awkward joke about too many cookies in December? Nope, surely none of your angels would do a thing like that. Not unless they wanted to go to boarding preschool next year, right?)
Guys, I just discovered the ultimate weekend brunch treat/decadent dessert that still contains a whiff of moderation/preschooler snack. The ingredient list is so short, and the cooking process is so simple that you’ll have the recipe memorized by the time you make it the second time. And you will make it a second time, maybe even within a week. It looks pretty, tastes luxurious and… well, most of you probably discovered panna cotta a decade ago.
Today is my sister’s birthday. Every year, I ask her what kind of cake I can make her and do you know what she says? “I don’t want a cake. I just want a big bowl of vanilla bean custard.” I hope you understand how hard this is for me (and please read that back in your brattiest little sister voice; it is, after all, all about me, right?) Making elaborate birthday cakes for family and friends is my thing. It has launched an entire section of this site, and portion of my cookbook (which includes my son’s 2nd, my husband’s 37th and 38th, and maybe even your next birthday cakes, too). I delight in trying to find a layered summary of everyone’s favorite things that fits in a cake carrier, and I think it’s awfully mean of my sister to deny me this outlet every August 30th. (Huff. Puff.) A bowl of custard? There’s not much to say about it.
Sunday night, I emailed off 497 pages containing 80,392 words to my editor (846 photos had been sent over before the weekend), went to bed at 2 a.m., woke up at 6 a.m. and a few hours later came home to a completely empty apartment and two entire hours to myself — two hours to nap or just stare slack-jawed at the ceiling fan and think about nothing for a while — and decided instead that I’d had enough of this pumpkin-free November I’d been having and went back into the kitchen to make pudding. That’s normal right? That’s what normal people do, right? Wait, don’t tell me.
Almost without fail, January — which is always too cold, too dull, and too overdue for an antidote for holiday excess — puts me in the mood for rice pudding and this year was no different. I played around with it all month. I made my standard. I made a “creamiest” version I found online that landed me with an undercooked eggy puddle and a wobbly belly. I made a baked version that never came together. And I caved to my husband’s repeated request for chocolate rice pudding which is something you will never see on this site because it was, hands down, the most revolting looking dish I’ve yet to ladle into a bowl. (I added 3 ounces of bittersweet chocolate added to my old favorite, and nixed the almond. See? Now I’ve saved myself a photography challenge!)