The Luxury of Chocolate

Chocolate ranks high among all the comfort foods in which one can indulge. It’s even better when it’s incorporated into a homemade recipe lovingly prepared by Grandma’s hands. And while chocolate in all its many forms is delicious, I do believe there isn’t anything that can’t be made better by eating homemade chocolate pudding.

Grandma Josephine Tedesco believes in love as the main ingredient in everything she makes for her grandkids. And even though Grandma’s mind isn’t always in the present, when it comes to cooking or baking, she’s as sharp as Gordon Ramsay’s knives. The following recipe for chocolate pudding is the one I had in mind when writing about pudding in my novel, The Tedescos. It’s absolutely decadent and just the sort of dessert Grandma Josephine would proudly serve. It’s simple, elegant, and a little bit of chocolate heaven.

Grandma Josephine’s Chocolate Pudding

2 ¼ c whole milk

½ cup sugar (I used raw sugar for a deep, rich flavor)

Pinch of sea salt

1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder

2 T cornstarch

2 large egg yolks

1 large egg

5 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped or in chips

2 T unsalted butter

2 t vanilla

STEP ONE: Whisk the cornstarch, cocoa, and ¼ c of the sugar in a mixing bowl. Add ¼ c of milk, and whisk until it’s smooth. Set aside.

STEP TWO: In a medium bowl, thoroughly whisk the whole egg with the two egg yolks. Set aside.

STEP THREE: Combine the remaining 2 cups of milk, ¼ c of sugar, and the sea salt in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Stir constantly to dissolve the sugar. When the mixture in the saucepan comes to a boil, reduce the heat and stir in the mixture from Step One. Once the two are thoroughly combined, bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Do this for about two minutes or until the pudding is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

STEP FOUR: Reduce the heat to low under the pudding and gradually whisk about ½ c of the hot pudding into the egg mixture from Step Two until thoroughly combined. Pour the egg/pudding combination back into the saucepan taking care to scrape out the bowl. Cook the pudding over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a soft boil is achieved, about two minutes.

STEP FIVE:  Remove the pudding from the heat and add the semi-sweet chocolate, butter, and vanilla. Stir until the butter and chocolate are melted and the pudding is smooth. Pour the pudding into six dessert dishes or ramekins that hold about 6 ounces each. A piece of plastic wrap placed directly on the surface of the pudding will keep a skin from forming. Refrigerate the pudding until chilled.

Serve with whipped cream and/or chopped peanuts if desired.

Enjoy!

Too Tired to Rest

too-tired-to-restThe reel of unseen dreams flickers her eyelids as the man who has slipped into her room watches. A crescent smile glides across his face like a canoe trailed by ripples of worry. Deep within her consciousness, she senses his presence, and the blue eyes marred by clouds of age slowly open.

“Hello, Grandma.”

One, two, three seconds pass as recognition surfaces. Her face, soft as worn flannel, bunches around her eyes and mouth.

“Hello, Freddy.”

Her equally soft hand pats his sandpaper chin.

“I know I haven’t been to visit you as often as I should, but…”

“No apologies, sweet boy. You’re here now.”

“I came to spend Shabbat with you, Gram.”

The old soul leans forward in her bed, peers out the window.

“Seems a little early yet,” she says.

“Well, Mom says you’re asleep by seven, and the summer sun sets so late.”

“Cheeky devil,” she chuckles, again patting his face. “Go ahead and light the candles. Fetch my shawl from the drawer—no, that one, Freddy, the next one down—and I’ll say the blessing.”

Fred complies with her request, draping dark blue silk around her head and shoulders. Daylight blasts hot and bright through the windows of her room in the nursing home; her white crowned head swathed in navy gives the appearance of the moon in the night sky. He lights two candles in cut glass holders, and the sun withdraws its spears behind linty clouds.

Elsa Cohen breaths as deeply as her ravaged lungs will allow; she wheezes like a broken bellows, drawing withered hands above the dancing flames, the ancient prayer she recites flowing like new wine. When she finishes, she looks up into her grandson’s drum-tight face.

“Why so troubled, Freddy?”

“I don’t know, Gram. I’ve been feeling kind of…melancholy lately?”

“Are you asking me?”

“Well, no.”

Elsa pushes the shawl off her head, smooths the fabric around her shoulders.

“It’s just that, I haven’t been keeping Shabbat lately either, Gram.”

“I see.”

“Do you?”

“No, that’s just what people say when they’re giving you time to collect your thoughts and tell what’s on your mind. Spill it, Freddy.”

“Oh…uh, well, I haven’t been keeping Shabbat because…because it’s really hard to do in today’s society, you know? I mean, living in America and all, well, people don’t stop, like, working and stuff at sundown on Friday until sundown Saturday.”

“Oh gosh, people don’t even stop on Sunday anymore either.”

“That’s true.”

“I remember when you were little that gas stations and stores were closed on Sunday, and all the good people went to church, and everyone rested.”

“We live in a ‘round the clock kind of world these days, Gram.”

“That we do. How’s that working for you, Freddy?”

“What do you mean?”

“When you visited three months ago—”

“Ouch.”

Elsa waves him to silence.

“You said you and Margaret were so exhausted with long hours at work, running errands, shuttling the kids from here to there.”

“Well, I don’t see how taking a whole day off to do nothing is going to help any of that, Gram. Wouldn’t that just put us more behind?”

“Do more on the other six days. Totally run yourself into the ground. Or you could save up all your Shabbats until retirement and lay around doing nothing for ten years.”

“Gram, be serious.”

The old woman chuckles until she coughs. Fred leans her forward and delivers firm pats to her back. Her nightgown is a floral landscape across the sharp ridges of her shoulders. Once settled against her pillows, she continues.

“You have to decide for yourself, Freddy, why you do or don’t do these things.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier if you just told me what to do?”

“What fun would there be in that? Besides, there’s no guarantee you’d do it just because I say so.”

“It was so much easier when Grandpa was alive. We all met for dinner at your house and followed his lead.”

“Fredrick—Shabbat hasn’t gone by the wayside just because your grandfather died. Everything that is good about it is still with us. My goodness, dear boy, for one so educated, you sure are stupid.”

Fred can’t keep from laughing at his little grandmother’s spoon-blunt words cutting him sharply.

“Okay, Gram, I get it.”

“Are you sure? Because I could spell it out for you. Use pictures and small words.”

He kisses her forehead like she is his child.

“I love you, Gram.”

“I know, Freddy. Now take that box of candy over there your mother sent me—she knows I can’t chew caramel and nuts anymore—and go home to your family. Rest, my boy.”

Elsa snuggles into the blankets her grandson pulls up over her chin. Her eyes flicker as the dream scenes resume, and she is asleep before he crosses the room to leave.

Spread the Love

One of my earliest memories of butter includes sitting on the carpet in the kindergarten classroom, all of us in a large circle, passing a massive canning jar from person to person as we shook the sealed jar full of whipping cream as hard as our little arms could manage. We’d been told that this would produce butter. I remember my skepticism, but since I loved butter, I gladly took part and watched the magic unfold.

It’s funny how many of my food memories are attached to my Grandma Smith, but I believe her kitchen is where I developed my love of butter.Butter versus Margarine There was something different about the sunshine yellow block that sat in her cut glass butter dish. It was lighter, sweeter than the golden-colored sticks of ‘butter’ we used at home. As a young child, any yellow, creamy substance that one spread on toast or crackers was referred to as butter. My mother provided the explanation of the difference, and I learned the definition of margarine. It wouldn’t be until decades later that I learned what an evil substance margarine is, but I digress.

Grandma Smith would bring me packets of real butter from restaurants where she had dined. Nothing against my mother, but she used margarine for years until I finally convinced her to switch. Glory be–my taste buds rejoiced and food became so much tastier.

Where is all this leading you ask? To my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, of course. I’ve already established that as an author, I love to feed my fictional characters. Twice I reference butter specifically, once in conjunction with biscuits and again with cornbread, but what I want my readers to understand without mentioning it every time is that butter is my fictional characters’ ingredient of choice when it comes to cooking and baking.

As I wrote the scenes involving food and envisioned the preparation, butter was always in the picture, sitting in a crock or dish, just within reach of the experienced hands that would lovingly incorporate it into the recipe. I’ll spare you the debate on the health benefits of butter versus margarine and simply say don’t fear butter and all things in moderation.

To sum up this post, I made butter with my son because I wanted him to experience how easy and fun it is. The added step of washing the butter is new for me based on research for this post. The instructions for this activity follow. I highly recommend doing this with your kids because the memories you’ll make are priceless.

Enjoy!

Homemade Butter

2 c whipping cream (Raw cream from grass-fed cows is recommended, but store bought organic will work as well. This quantity will yield approximately ½ c of butter.)

sea salt

I used a stand mixer with a wire attachment for this process and chilled the bowl and wire attachment prior to using.

Pour the cream into your mixing bowl, filling the bowl halfway so it does not overflow as air is whipped into the cream. Mix on a medium-low speed to prevent splashing. As the cream thickens, you can turn it up to medium.

This process should take about 15 minutes but can vary depending on how much cream you are using and what type if mixer you have. Whipped cream will develop first. When the whipped cream begins to deflate, watch closely as your mixture can rapidly change to butter. To prevent splashing, cover the bowl with a lightly dampened tea towel.

When the butter begins to clump and stick to the whisk, it is done mixing. Pour the mixture through a fine strainer to separate the solids, butter, from the liquids, buttermilk. If you want it to last for more than a few days, you need to wash the butter. This will remove as much buttermilk as possible to keep the butter from going rancid. Put the butter back in your mixing bowl and cover with clean, cold water.

Use a large spoon to press the butter into the sides of the bowl. The water will become cloudy as the buttermilk is removed from the butter. Pour off the cloudy water and add more fresh. You can repeat this process until the water stays clear. Stir in a large pinch of amount of sea salt for every ½ c of butter.

Store in refrigerator or at room temperature if you will use it within a week or two.

Cast Ironclad Alibi

One of my most prized possessions is the cast iron skillet I inherited from my beloved Grandma Smith. The skillet is twelve inches in diameter and easily weighs as much as my Kia Spectra. I have to use both hands to lift it, and if it weren’t so unwieldy, it would make one heck of a weapon.

I know I surprised Grandma when I asked her if I could have the skillet when she broke up housekeeping. She was leaning toward giving rest-home living a try about a year after my Grandpa had passed. I assured her there was no rush and that I’d wait until she was completely ready to part with it.

“What do you want that ole thing for?” she asked and laughed.

I explained to her that is was infused with memories of her and all the delicious things she ever cooked in it. She smiled sweetly, I imagine still somewhat amazed that I’d asked for it, and said okay.

The day my father brought it home to me was actually kind of a sad day. Grandma was still with us, but her days of clomping about the kitchen (she wasn’t exactly light on her feet) and directing the creation of large meals for family gatherings were over.

Unfortunately, I let the pan sit for many years because I was too intimidated to use it. I wasn’t sure I could live up to my Grandma’s reputation as a great cook. Besides, I had a shiny set of Revere Ware Copper Bottom pots and pans. They were dishwasher safe; the cast iron skillet was not.

So, Grandma’s skillet languished in my stove, setting off the fire alarms every time I forgot to remove its oil-preserved self from the oven prior to preheating. I’m ashamed to say that I moved it to the storage shelves in the basement. Its presence was replaced with a non-stick skillet from my mother.

A couple of years ago when I began writing my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, the skillet drifted back to the edges of my memory. As I mentioned in a previous blog post (Edible Fiction), I love to feed people, both real and imagined. One of my characters, Collie Mercer, is responsible for a great deal of the food mentioned in my novel. Without realizing it, every time I wrote about Collie cooking, without even stating it, I pictured her using a large, cast iron skillet exactly like my Grandma’s.

Black Beauty with a gleaming coat of oil.

Black Beauty with a gleaming coat of oil.

Long story short, the skillet, re-seasoned and currently in use, now reigns supreme in my kitchen. I never thought I could fall in love with a cooking implement, but I have. Who knew that cast iron was not only healthier for you, but the non-stick qualities put the new skillets to shame? And keeping it seasoned is not the chore I initially believed it to be.

There is so much about cast iron that I want to share with you, but I’ll direct you to two books, The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook by Sharon Kramis & Julie Kramis Hearne, and The New Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook: 150 Fresh Ideas for America’s Favorite Pan by Ellen Brown. What I love about these books, besides the delicious recipes, is the sentiment the authors express for the cast iron cookware they inherited.

So, whether you’re starting out with a brand new piece of cast iron, rescuing an old relic from the back of someone’s cupboards, or just pulling out Grandma’s skillet to use for making dinner, get your hands on a piece of cast iron and fall in love with cooking all over again.

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