Homemade Vanilla pudding

May is a fickle month, weather-wise, at least in this region of the country. Last Friday it was warm. I actually felt hot running around doing a few errands in the afternoon. But the cooler temps are back, and I have my sweatshirt on over my turtleneck. Yes, I’m still wearing turtlenecks. It’s my uniform from September through May, so I’m in the home stretch, getting ready to switch over to clothes that at least suggest warmer weather is in sight. But it will be a little while yet before I break out the tank tops.

Tonight it seemed just right to  mix up a little warmth for an after dinner treat. One of my favorite comfort foods, plain vanilla pudding has just the right everything: the right amount of sweet creamy buttery warmth that makes it irresistible on a chilly evening. This makes a small amount, so if you are making this for more a couple of people, you’ll probably want to double the recipe.

Vanilla Pudding

Vanilla goodness

Ingredients:

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 cups half and half

2 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan.

2. Whisk in about a third of the half and half, stirring until smooth. Stir in remaining half and half until well combined.

3. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened (about 5 minutes, but the time will vary).

4. Reduce heat to low and continue to heat, stirring gently, until the mixture reaches a simmer.

5. Cook one minute more over low heat, then remove from heat.

6. Fold in butter and vanilla extract. Spoon pudding into serving dishes.

I like this served warm, but if you prefer it chilled, just make early enough in the day to chill in the fridge before serving. I always have a bit left over, and it keeps well for a day or two in the fridge. Just reheat briefly in the microwave if you like it served warm.

This is a thinner pudding than the instant variety, but it is simple to make, silky smooth, and has no artificial ingredients!

Enjoy!

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Confessions from a cookie monster

I’ve been good for a long time. I rarely buy junk food: chips, sodas, cookies, all those things that get their taste from sugar, fat, and artificial flavoring. They aren’t good for you, and I’m usually strong enough to avoid them.  But I had a major downfall this week. So here’s what happened.

Had an event I needed to take a little treat for, and in a very uncharacteristic choice for me, I stopped by the grocery to pick up something rather than bake a dessert myself.  What can I say? I don’t always have to be in the kitchen! I was strolling around the bakery looking for a likely treat when I spotted them: the Lofthouse Sugar Cookies. You know those fat, soft, white sugar cookies with the really bright frosting? They aren’t the most beautiful cookies I’ve seen. But I love the soft texture and the just right mix of the frosting and the cookie. So I bought a tray of them.

Downfall of the diet

Then…no event! Ended up being rescheduled. And now I was home, facing these cookies, just watching them watching me. I decided to have just one. Of course they wouldn’t keep for another week, so no need to save them all. My back up plan: take them into work, which is a frequent option for me when I’m in baking mode. But somehow, I walked out every day this week without those cookies. And every day, I’ve had another one. Ok, twice I had two for dessert. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to have enough left to take into work at this point.

I comfort myself. I can’t remember the last time I bought cookies. I certainly don’t know the last time I ate a whole batch by myself in one week. Maybe this is a once in a lifetime behavior? I’ll just finish these off and then I’ll be done with this episode. That’s the plan. Don’t bring them in the house, they can’t stare at me from my kitchen counter if I don’t buy them first.

Ok, it’s everyone for themselves. I tried to save myself, but it looks like I’m going down with the ship…er, cookie. I can’t ignore them. They call to me. Just try them, see if you’re any stronger. I dare you. I double dare you! These cookies are evil! And delicious. And addicting. And fattening.

Sorry, I know there are lots of world issues occurring. I’m just having a moment here. I’ll pull myself together and give up being self absorbed shortly. I just have one more to go and then I’m finished. I can throw the evidence…box…away, and go buy myself the makings for a week of salads.

No standing on the scales until next week. By then, I hope the salads will have erased the cookies. It works that way, doesn’t it?

English Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky toffee pudding

Yum! Sticky Toffee Pudding

Recipe of the Week

Ok, I don’t really post a weekly recipe, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?

This recipe came to me from a dear friend, Ann, who is a wonderful cook of Southern heritage (no disrespect to other regions of the US, but I must say, all the Southern cooks I know are skilled and accomplished in the kitchen). Ann is a shining star in that area, and she has been a source of many family favorites through the years of our friendship. My famous cinnamon rolls (famous among my friends) are really Ann’s…and I am always happy to give credit to her.

But cinnamon rolls are for another day. Today’s little jewel is Sticky Toffee Pudding, possibly my favorite dessert in the world next to decadent chocolate cake. And there’s a secret ingredient: dates! Don’t be put off by that if you’re not a date fan. They dissolve beautifully. Make a game of asking family or guests what fruit is in the pudding. My bet is that no one will even know there’s fruit in the dessert, much less guess what it is.

The first thing to know about this dessert is that it is not a pudding. This is a recipe of English origin, and the English seem to label many things “pudding” that would not be a pudding to an American…just a little clarification going in so no one is surprised by the result. But believe me, you won’t be sorry this is not the traditional American pudding…just ignore the name and proceed as directed. This is a moist and delicious cake with the best and easiest-to-make caramel sauce I’ve ever had. In fact, the sauce alone is worth making. I use it for other desserts that need a little extra love in the form of gooey-buttery-brown sugar decadence. It keeps well in the fridge and reheats like a charm. And it dresses up anything, from a plain pound cake to a bowl of fresh fruit; perfect for ice cream too. Thank you, Ann!

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Pudding Ingredients:

  1. 1 cup plus 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  2. 1 tsp baking powder
  3. ¾ cup chopped pitted dates
  4. 1 ¼ cup boiling water
  5. 1 tsp baking soda
  6. ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
  7. ¾ cup granulated sugar
  8. 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  9. 1 tsp vanilla

Toffee Sauce Ingredients:

  1. ½ cup unsalted butter
  2. ½ cup heavy cream
  3. 1 cup packed light brown sugar

Topping:

1 cup heavy cream, whipped

Directions for pudding:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8 or 9 inch round cake pan, or square baking dish of similar size. Sift flour and baking powder together and set aside. Finely chop dates if you purchased whole dates. (You can purchase these pitted and whole, or already chopped, either option works.) Place dates in a bowl and add the boiling water and baking soda. Set aside.

In bowl of electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and blend into butter/sugar. Gradually blend in the flour mixture. Gently fold date mixture into the batter, and pour into the prepared baking dish. Bake until the pudding is set and firm on top, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven to wire rack. Cool in pan.

Directions for sauce:

Combine the butter, ½ cup of heavy cream, and the brown sugar in a small heavy saucepan. Heat mixture to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil over medium heat until mixture is thickened, about 8 minutes.

To serve:

Preheat oven broiler. Spoon about 1/3 cup of the sauce over the pudding and spread evenly over the top. Place pudding under the broiler until the topping is bubbly, about 1 minute. Portion pudding into dessert dishes, drizzle with additional toffee sauce and top with a spoonful of whipped cream.

Delicious!

Extreme Banana Nut Bread

Homemade Banana Bread

Here’s an old favorite, good any season of the year. And for those pesky bananas that zip right past their 30 second window of ripeness, it’s a great way to use produce and have a taste of comfort food. This is delicious with a cup of morning coffee or afternoon tea.

Extreme Banana Nut Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar (1 cup granulated white sugar, 1 cup brown sugar)
3 cups mashed overripe bananas (about 5 bananas)
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9×5 inch loaf pans. (Or just spray with Pam baking spray). Or, use a muffin pan if you prefer muffins rather than a loaf of bread. Spray muffin cups with Pam, or use cup cake paper liners.

Sift the flour, salt and baking soda into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the butter and sugar until smooth. Stir in the bananas, eggs, vanilla and nuts until well blended. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry mixture, and stir just until blended. Divide the batter evenly between the two loaf pans, or muffin cups.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes in the preheated oven; about 20 minutes for muffins if you choose that option, or until a knife inserted into the crown of the loaf or muffin comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pans for at least 5 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack, and cool completely. Wrap in aluminum foil to keep in the moisture.

Two other tips for free…if you have bananas that are getting too ripe and you don’t have time to make this bread right away, you can freeze the bananas and defrost to use when you’re ready.  Throw the bananas into the freezer unpeeled and whole (the skins will turn black when the fruit freezes, but it doesn’t affect the taste). Or, if you have time to prep, you can peel and slice the bananas and freeze using a freezer bag. Use in the bread recipe or use a few slices at a time in fruit smoothies or milk shakes. When you thaw the bananas to use in the bread recipe, the texture will be almost liquid in consistency, but the thawed fruit works perfectly in the bread. To use the slices in smoothies, don’t thaw, just add to the blender with other smoothie ingredients.

Enjoy!

Soft Sugar Cookies

I’ve been on a baking holiday recently. Rob isn’t much of a sweet eater, and I’ve been trying to be good….no baking treats to eat all by myself! But getting a Christmas box ready to mail to our daughter-in-law, Becca, stationed in Iraq, demanded a home-made addition. I tried a new sugar cookie recipe, and I think I have a new favorite. Some sugar cookie recipes are too eggy for my taste, or bake too crispy. These are soft and chewy, and have a great flavor. You can roll the dough if you want, or use a scoop and flatten method for uniform cookies perfect for gift packages.

Ingredients

Method

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. Combine flour, salt and baking powder and set aside. Cream butter, 1 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, mix until combined. Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Using cookie scoop, drop dough onto cookie sheet. Flatten rounded cookies to 3/4 inch discs, then sprinkle with granulated, turbinado, or colored sugar, as desired. Bake cookies approximately 15 minutes, or until just done enough to hold shape. I don’t let these brown. Remove cookie sheet from oven and let cookies cool for a couple of minutes before removing to cooling rack. The cookies should still have a soft chewy texture when cooled. Enjoy!

Best Fudgy Brownies

These are the BEST fudgy brownies!

Ok, I know this is going to be hard to believe for brownie lovers, like me, who are ever in search of the perfect brownie recipe. But I think I finally have my favorite for a basic fudgy brownie. No cream cheese here, no peanut butter, no additional exotic flavors…just good old-fashioned chocolate nuttiness. And the best part…no expensive or hard-to-find chocolate required. And since this recipe is made from scratch and standard pantry/fridge items, you don’t have to remember to pick up a mix to have these decadent chewy morsels any night of the week. The process is simple too: all you need is a bowl and whisk.

You won’t BELIEVE how basic this recipe is:

  1.  2 eggs
  2. 1 cup granulated sugar
  3. 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted (I use salted or unsalted, whatever I have on hand)
  4. 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  5. 1/3 cup Hershey’s Cocoa powder
  6. 1/4 tsp salt
  7. 1 or 2 tsp vanilla extract (use ONLY real vanilla extract, makes a big difference)
  8. 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

 Method:

  1. Butter or spray with baking spray an 8” x 8” baking pan, or you can also use an 8” pie dish for these if you want to serve the brownies in pie shaped wedges.
  2. Heat oven to 350 degrees ( I like my brownies a little under-baked, so my trick is to bake these in a slightly cooler oven, 325 degrees).
  3. Beat eggs; blend in sugar and melted butter. Stir in flour, cocoa powder and salt. Add vanilla extract and chopped nuts.
  4. Pour into a prepared pan. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until ALMOST set. Brownies will not test done in center. Cool for a few minutes, or as long as you can stand to wait; cut into squares or wedges. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream. Serves 6 to 8, depending on how generously brownies are cut.

 Recipe can be doubled if preparing for a larger group.

Enjoy! And let me know what you think.