Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Comfort Food Classic

I'm the third of four children, a "middle child."  I have an older brother, an older sister, and a younger brother.  When I was a little girl, every summer my mom would let me spend a day with her older sister, my Aunty Isabelle.  That was such a special treat, because I was treated like a princess for the day.  I would read lots of comic books

and help Aunty Iz with her housework (seemed like fun at the time!).  She would watch her soap opera while she ironed and I would watch, too.

It made me feel so grown up.  And I remember that for dinner, she would let me try a little coffee with lots of warm milk (cafe' au lait, before I even knew what that was!) which I pretended to like but really didn't.  And Aunty Iz always made my favorite dessert, too:  chocolate pudding.

Aunty Iz has been gone for many years now, but to this day, when I go home to visit my mom, she makes me chocolate pudding.  Unfortunately, I don't get home to visit as often as I would like.  January is my personal  nightmare on the job front, and as much as I would sometimes like to return to those easy, breezy childhood days, I can't.

So instead I made a batch of chocolate pudding to conjure up the warm, fuzzy feelings of the past and to celebrate the end of January.   Ten minutes and a few kitchen staples are all you need to create your own comfort food classic!

Rich and Creamy Microwave Chocolate Pudding
(click here to print)

3 cups milk (I usually use a combination of evaporated skim milk and regular skim milk)
3/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks, well beaten
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla

In an 8 cup pyrex measuring cup (or microwave safe bowl), combine the milk, sugar, cornstarch and egg yolks.  Whisk vigorously to blend.  Add the chocolate.

Uncooked mixture
Microwave on high for 3 minutes, then whisk.  Microwave on high for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, then whisk again until smooth.

You may have to add additional milk to thin it out to your desired consistency.  Add butter and vanilla and stir until incorporated.

Pour through a fine-mesh strainer to eliminate any lumps.  (There aren't usually many lumps with this microwave method.)  Immediately press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the pudding to prevent formation of a skin.

Let cool for about a half hour if you like to eat it warm.  You know I can't resist!

Otherwise, refrigerate and serve it cold.  It's great either way, but you better hide it in the back of the refrigerator if you don't want your kids to eat it all.  Trust me on that.

 Oh yeah, I feel SO much better!

Linking to:

Cast Party Wednesday

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Taste of Summer in the Winter

We have been having unseasonably warm weather here in Texas.  It was in the 70's today!  To add to the illusion that winter is over, all kinds of beautiful, fresh berries have started to make an appearance in our local supermarkets.  My Man came home from the market last week with 12 half-pints of raspberries because they were a dollar each!  I waited all last summer for them to go on sale and they never did, so I was so excited, I went back and got another 12!  Or was it 16?!

I froze a bunch of them for future pies, trifles, and maybe even an ice cream or sorbet.  Place them (unwashed) in a single layer on a sheet pan

 and pop into the freezer for a few hours until frozen through, then bag and label.

We also ate a lot of them fresh.  We all love raspberries and feel absolutely no guilt when eating them as a snack as they are rich in antioxidants and fiber.

Blackberries have also been really cheap lately (88 cents for a half-pint this week!).  So I decided to combine the two berries in one delicious, fresh salad.

Spinach Salad with Fresh Berries, Candied Almonds, and Raspberry Vinaigrette
(click here to print)

5 oz. fresh baby spinach (or greens of your choice), washed and spun dry
1 avocado, peeled and diced
1/3 to 1/2 cup feta cheese (optional)
1/2 cup each fresh raspberries and blackberries
1/3 cup minced green onion

Candied Nuts
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 Tbsp. sugar

Raspberry Vinaigrette
1/3 cup canola oil
2 Tbsp. raspberry jam
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Combine almonds and sugar in a small nonstick frying pan and toast over medium heat until golden brown.  Pour onto a piece of parchment paper to cool, separating so that they don't stick together.

Combine vinaigrette ingredients and mix thoroughly.

When ready to serve, mix the spinach, onions, almonds and feta cheese together.  Toss lightly.  Scatter the avocado and berries around each portion.  Drizzle with the raspberry vinaigrette.

One thing I love about this salad is that it also tastes divine with dried cherries or cranberries in place of the fresh berries.  Or you can use bleu cheese instead of feta.  You can also change up the nuts and/or just toast them without candying them.  You could even try different types of preserves or jam in the basic vinaigrette recipe: maybe orange marmalade or fig preserves?

I just love salads with fruit and nuts.  It satisfies my sweet tooth in a healthy way.  And isn't this salad fresh and pretty?

Linking to:

 Ms. enPlace

Cast Party Wednesday

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Viva Las Vegas

Today I welcomed my friend and co-worker, Thelma, to the Nifty Fifty club.

She and I share January birthdays: mine is on the 16th and hers is on the 18th, so she's exactly 1 year and 2 days younger than me.  Thelma will be celebrating her 50th with a girls' trip to Las Vegas.

I was invited to go, but I don't enjoy losing my money.  Maybe it's because I'm a  control freak accountant, but I'm constantly assessing my financial position to see how much I'm down.

Kinda hard to enjoy yourself when you're worried about losing your shirt.  (Figuratively, not literally, although in Vegas, you never know.)  I figure that anyone who's as risk-averse as I am shouldn't be in Vegas.

Luckily, though, I don't mind taking calculated risks.  So I committed the cardinal sin of baking and tried out a new recipe for Thelma's birthday cake.  Luckily, this was a low-risk gamble because the Triple Coconut cake recipe I used was posted by a very accomplished cook, Paula at Salad in a Jar.  I saw it a few months ago and have had it on my must-try list ever since.

It's called Triple Coconut Cake because coconut milk, flaked coconut, and cream of coconut hit the trifecta of flavor.  And it starts with a boxed mix, which is a benefit when you need to whip something up in a hurry.

Coconut milk replaces the water that's called for in the cake mix and adds another layer of coconutty goodness.  I used light coconut milk to cut the calories (550 calories per cup for regular, 180 for light).  If you can find coconut water (46 calories per cup), that could be used in place of the coconut milk for an even greater reduction in calories.

Bake the cake

and let cool for about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, heat the cream of coconut in the microwave and stir to combine.  Poke holes in the cake

and pour the warm cream of coconut into the holes and around the edges of the cake.  Cool, then refrigerate overnight.

Frost with cool whip (I used light to cut calories), then sprinkle with coconut.  I used both toasted and regular flaked coconut and just plain whipped topping for the middle stripe.

I may not be going to Vegas, but I hit the jackpot with this recipe!

Want a bite?

Linking to:

Cast Party Wednesday

Miz Helen’s Country Cottage

Monday, January 16, 2012

My Word!

Layla from one of my favorite blogs, The Lettered Cottage, is hosting a party today (on my birthday!) which caught my attention:

The Lettered Cottage
I am intrigued by this business of choosing a word for the year that will provide focus and direction to my life.  Imagine, the Word providing direction!  Did you know that another name for Jesus Christ is the Word?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was GodHe was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)

The universe was spoken into existence with a word by the Word!
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.  (Hebrews 11:1-3)

Clearly, words are powerful!

I have been convicted lately that I have let some of my relationships lapse or haven't been pouring as much into them as I should be.  This goes for both my vertical relationship (with God)

and with my horizontal relationships (with others).

   Ever notice what that vertical and horizontal represent?

"Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?"  (Luke 9:23-25)
I need to take up my cross and follow daily.  Daily.  Now there's a challenge.  I have been tending to relationships in fits and starts and haven't been very disciplined in the art of daily communicating with my Lord or even with my friends and family.  I have been putting self-interests above His interests (which always prioritize relationships over the things of this world).  Even this little ol' blogging thing can be a major distraction!

So my word for this year is

con·nect   verb \kə-ˈnekt
1. To become joined or united: two streams connecting to form a river.
2. To be scheduled so as to provide continuing service, as between airplanes or buses.
3. To establish a rapport or relationship; relate: The candidate failed to connect with the voters.

Interesting that my logo has a power cord associated with it.  My phrase for accomplishing connection is:

"The power to DO comes from YOU!"

I know that my Spirit is willing but my flesh is weak and that the only way to actually have daily connection with God and with others in a Christ-honoring way is through my power source: the Holy Spirit.

Lord, please help me to Connect with you and with others in a way that brings you glory.  Help me to be consistent (daily) and deliberate and to find my power to do this in YOU.