Monday, September 12, 2011


Once I began my pudding mania, chocolate pudding was bound to happen, and I am happy to report that it was just as delicious as expected. I’d bookmarked this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, but at the last minute I balked at the thought of having to futz with a double boiler, even though I’m sure pudding made with pure melted chocolate is divine. I figured there must be puddings made with cocoa powder instead, and as usual, Simply Recipes delivered a strong, straightforward one.

As usual, I used 1% milk instead of whole and detected no ill effects. I also tossed in a little vanilla extract, because it always seems to make chocolatey things taste even better. My one error was managing to cook my pudding until it was actually a tiny bit too thick; I didn’t really think that was possible, but I’d forgotten that this pudding would be enriched with chocolate chips at the end, which of course makes it set to a firmer consistency. Mine was almost like a soft ganache instead of a pudding—not unpleasant by any means, but I think I’ll go easier on it next time. This is definitely a must-have basic recipe, so easy to throw together whenever a chocolate craving strikes. If you’ve never made pudding that didn’t come out of a box (which I certainly hadn’t before this summer), I urge you to give this one a try.

¼ cup sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 pinch of salt
2 cups milk (original recipe calls for whole, but 1% worked fine for me)
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

1. Whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt in a heavy 2-quart saucepan. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, and boil, continuing to whisk, until pudding is thick, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. Immediately beat the egg lightly in a medium heat-proof bowl. Very gradually, add the hot chocolate mixture to the egg, whisking constantly. Whisk in the vanilla, then add the chocolate chips and stir until they are melted and the mixture is smooth.

3. Pour the pudding into the ramekins or cups. If you want, cover the surface of each of pudding with plastic wrap or wax paper to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate, covered, until cold, at least 2 hours.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: OK; pudding will keep for a few days in the fridge.


Shortly after making chilled avocado soup with a corn-bacon-jalapeno-onion-cilantro topping so delicious I could have just as happily eaten it sans soup, I stumbled across a recipe that’s pretty much exactly that. This iteration—from The Way the Cookie Crumbles, based on a version by Joy the Baker, who is the source of the avocado soup recipe, so we have truly come full circle here—is rounded out into a hearty breakfast (or, in my case, a cozy Saturday night supper) with the addition of potatoes and eggs. I punched up the color and vitamins by serving the whole thing over a bed of greens (spinach because I had an orphaned half-bag in the fridge, although I would have used arugula otherwise), which added a nice freshness and texture—the greens achieve a pleasant state of semi-wiltiness, with the egg yolk coating them like a dressing. The original recipe didn’t call for jalapeno, but Bridget mentioned adding roasted green chile, and since jalapeno had been so tasty in the soup topping, I figured it would be good here, too (spoiler: it was). And, in a further effort to replicate the magic of the soup topping, I subbed cilantro for parsley again and was well pleased.

My one misstep was to distrust the idea of cooking potatoes in the microwave (I know it’s perfectly possible, but I’ve never done it and our microwave is rather temperamental, so I wimped out). The original Joy the Baker recipe calls for them to be roasted, but my oven’s still defunct (GRRR), so I boiled them instead. This of course (a) took more time than microwaving and (b) made them quite soft and damp, which in turn made them take forever to get browned and crispy in the skillet, and they broke down quite a bit in the process. I don’t know why I didn’t just start frying the potatoes from a raw state, which is what hash recipes usually direct you to do, except that sometimes it’s hard to get the potatoes tender that way before they’re too well browned on the outside, and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s a crunchy potato. (This is, in my view, the downfall of 70 percent of restaurant breakfast potato preparations.) In retrospect, I should have just tried the microwave method. Next time! For there will certainly be a next time; this is my favorite version of hash I’ve ever made. I loved the way the sweetness of the corn balanced out the smoky fried flavors, with a hint of spice from the pepper and brightness from the cilantro. Also, I’m late to the party with this—it took me a long time to learn to tolerate runny yolks—but I’m becoming obsessed with topping things with eggs. Note to self: Eat more eggs; you like them. Also: learn to poach.

4 slices bacon, chopped
4 medium red potatoes, cubed
1 onion, chopped
1 medium jalapeno, seeded and chopped
4 ears corn, kernels removed
¼ cup cilantro, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 eggs
4 large handfuls spinach or arugula (optional)

1. In a large nonstick skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat, cook the bacon until almost crisp.

2. While the bacon cooks, put the potatoes in a medium microwave-safe bowl; spoon a couple teaspoons of rendered bacon fat from the skillet into the bowl; stir. Cover the potatoes loosely and microwave on high for 3 minutes, stirring twice.

3. Add the onions, jalapeno, and potatoes to the skillet with the bacon; cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in the corn and most of the cilantro.

4. Lower the heat to medium-low. Using the back of a spoon, create 4 wells in the hash. Break one egg into each well; season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan and cook, without stirring, until the white is set, about 8 minutes. Garnish with the remaining cilantro; serve immediately, over spinach or arugula if desired.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: OK, except the eggs will not keep or reheat well. If you’re planning to save some as leftovers, fry the eggs separately for the servings you’re going to eat right away (as shown in the photo above), then fry additional eggs as needed when it’s time to eat the leftovers. Alternately, you can break the eggs into the cooking pan but break the yolks of the ones you want to save for leftovers, so that they cook thoroughly and harden (they will be slightly tough in the leftovers, but edible—more of a scrambled consistency).


In general, ice cream and popsicles aside, I don’t like cold food. Even in the hottest weather, I prefer my salads at room temperature. And the less said about cold pizza, the better. (Ugh, I can’t get over the congealed melted cheese.) Obviously, then, I have never really warmed (ha) to chilled soups. Most of the gazpachos I’ve encountered have just made me feel like I’m eating a big bowl of salsa. Given that logic, when I spotted this cold avocado soup at Joy the Baker I should have assumed it would taste like eating a big bowl of pureed guacamole, but instead I thought, “Ooh, pretty!” and “Ah, corn and bacon!” Maybe it’s just that I really like guacamole, or maybe the warm topping made it seem less like sauce disguised as a meal to me, but I bookmarked it instantly and made it soon afterward, in the throes of a 100-plus-degree heat wave.

This soup is good, with a wonderful velvety texture. The dominant flavors are, of course, avocado and lime (which I was even more generous with), but the savory broth (the recipe called for vegetable, but I used homemade chicken stock because I like its flavor so much) and the dollop of dairy (the recipe suggested sour cream, crème fraiche, or milk, but I knew plain yogurt—specifically, Trader Joe’s nonfat European-style yogurt, which is thin but not watery and my go-to for stirring into soups and sauces—would be the perfect choice for me) save it from guacamole-dom. I took a taste after blending it up and liked it pretty well but wasn’t sure I could eat a whole bowl of it. But the topping—oh, the topping!

The original recipe called for “cooked bacon,” as though you would just happen to have some sitting around, and then had you sauté the vegetables in olive oil. LOGIC FAIL! The best part of bacon is the grease, specifically the heavenly, transformative things it does to whatever you happen to cook in it. So I fried up some bacon, removed it from the skillet, and then cooked the onion, corn, and jalapeno in it, which was absolutely the correct choice. My second gripe with the original recipe was that it called for parsley when, to me, cilantro is made for moments like this—big handfuls of it, too. I mean, with avocado, jalapeno, and corn, we’re clearly already rocking this soup southwestern-style, am I right? When the topping mixture was all softened and browned and generously seasoned, I took a taste and had to stop myself from eating the entire skilletful with a spoon while standing over the stove. Stirred into the soup, it elevated it from “Hmm” to “Hell yes!”, its smoky heat providing much-needed textural, temperature, and flavor contrasts to the cold green creaminess. Instead of feeling like I was eating a beverage or condiment in a bowl, I thoroughly enjoyed this as a refreshing, satisfying summer meal.

Sauteeing the topping in bacon fat and swapping in cilantro really made this dish extra awesome, but then I made a major misstep in packaging up the leftovers: Not realizing how much I was going to enjoy the interplay between the warm topping and the cold soup, I premixed all my topping and soup portions before putting them in the fridge (perhaps I was a bit distracted by the complicated serving instructions in the original recipe, which asked me to put the topping in the bowls and then add the soup around it; for me, that just ended up burying the topping). When I went to eat the leftovers, I realized this meant I either had to heat the whole thing up (Cooked avocado soup? No thanks) or eat it all cold. It turned out I didn’t enjoy the topping nearly as well cold—especially the soggy-chewy-greasy texture of the bacon—and it was clear I should have stored the two components separately, so I could microwave the topping and then add it to the chilled soup. If I’d done that, this recipe would have been downright perfect. Oh, well; live and learn. I’m almost hoping for another heat wave this month (not unlikely, given Southern California’s traditionally hot Septembers) so I have an excuse to eat this one more time before autumn sets in.

2 ripe avocados
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
1–2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons plain yogurt (or sour cream, creme fraiche, or milk)
¾ teaspoon salt, plus extra to taste
1¼ to 1½ cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 ears fresh corn, sliced from the cob
1 small jalapeno pepper, de-seeded and diced
4 slices diced bacon
1 handful cilantro, chopped
Freshly cracked pepper to taste

1. To make the soup, place avocado flesh in a blender along with broth, lime juice, yogurt (or sour cream, crème fraiche, or milk), and ¾ teaspoon salt. Blend until the avocados are creamy. Remove the center from your blender lid, and while blending, slowly add 1¼ cups water. Soup will be done when smooth, with your desired consistency—feel free to add another ½ cup water if you prefer a thinner soup. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary. Place in a covered container in the fridge (I just left it in the blender pitcher) while you make the topping.

2. To make the topping, cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and set on a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Add onion to the bacon fat in the skillet and cook until translucent and browned, about 5 minutes. Add corn and jalapeno and cook for 3 minutes more. Add bacon and cilantro. Cook until everything is warmed and just browned. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Divide the cold soup into four bowls and top each with one-quarter of the warm topping mixture (unless you’re planning on keeping some of the soup as leftovers—see my note below). Garnish with additional cilantro, if desired.

Serves: 4
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Soup will last for about three days in an airtight container in the fridge. I recommend storing the topping mixture in a separate container, so you can reheat it before adding it to the cold soup.


After getting hooked on homemade pudding, I started looking for new pudding recipes. I’d already bookmarked the usual suspects, vanilla and chocolate—which make up the vast majority of available recipes—as well as my childhood faves, butterscotch and pistachio, but it was surprisingly hard to find other options. In trying to narrow my search, I was brainstorming my way through the Jell-O instant pudding varieties and remembered banana pudding. Literal banana-flavored pudding, not the Southern dessert made with vanilla pudding, sliced bananas, whipped cream, and Nilla Wafers. I do remember my (most definitely not Southern) mom making this occasionally when I was a kid, and although I liked the flavors together, I was never really a fan of all that lumpy stuff interrupting the nice, smooth texture of my pudding. I preferred the fake-banana flavor of the instant variety, so I thought it would be fun to try to replicate that with real banana. Unfortunately, 99 percent of the “banana pudding” recipes on the Internet are for the Southern-style version, and of the remaining 1% that are actually banana flavored, most seem to call for banana extract rather than an actual banana. After a dogged search, however, I finally found what I was looking for—at least, sort of—at Homesick Texan. It was still a version of the Southern dessert, but lo and behold, there was a pureed banana in the pudding itself!

I ended up improvising to an uncharacteristic degree with this one. I tinkered with the procedure to make it more similar to the other pudding recipes I’ve made (adding the egg midway through the cooking time rather than at the end), but my main changes were to the banana cooking method; since my oven was broken, I couldn’t roast the banana as the recipe asked me to. My original plan had been to use a ripe frozen banana instead (I always have some in reserve for banana pancakes), because when defrosted again they become almost totally liquefied. But then I happened to acquire some non-frozen ripe bananas from work that week, and I couldn’t resist gilding the lily. I’d had great success with adding rum to my vanilla pudding, so what about taking a cue from bananas Foster and putting rum in my banana pudding too? And if I was doing that, I should really go whole hog and sauté my banana in butter and brown sugar, right? I don’t even like bananas all that much, but I can’t resist a caramelized banana. I also, afraid there wouldn’t be enough banana flavor, used two small bananas instead of one large one.

For the most part, I think my plan worked pretty well, but I’d like to experiment a bit more in the future. I went easy on the brown sugar (just 1 tablespoon, I think) in sautéing the banana, fearing the finished pudding would be too sweet, but I didn’t end up getting much caramel flavor and almost wished for more sweetness at the end. The caramelizing also created some textural challenges; as the pureed banana mixture cooled while I heated the milk, the sugar resolidified and I had to whisk it like the dickens to break up the chunks after adding it to the pot, so either this isn’t the best method, I need to sauté the banana simultaneously while heating up the milk so it doesn’t get a chance to cool, or I need to learn to live with some lumps in my banana pudding. The latter may well be the case; I always think of bananas as being smooth and soft, but they have some fibrousness to them and never break down entirely in baked goods, so it’s probably unrealistic to expect them to do so here. I suspect the reason that I didn’t find many pudding recipes using real banana is that it’s nearly impossible to get a totally smooth end product resembling the creamy, pillowy artificially flavored Jell-O version. I even strained mine to be sure and still ended up with small grainy flecks. But if I can live with pistachio pieces in my pistachio pudding, why not banana pieces in my banana pudding? Or did I simply use a bit too much banana?

Texture issues aside, the flavor was quite good. I thought it tasted a smidge flat (it needed more brown sugar, a pinch of salt, or both), but A, who was absent for the initial tasting session and ate his portion after I went to bed, loved it so much that he wrote a note to me on the bathroom mirror singing its praises, so it’s possible my expectations were just too high. Even though it wasn’t my favorite of the puddings I’ve made so far, it was certainly worth making again. I’d like to try some variations to see if I can improve it, though—once with the frozen-and-defrosted banana to see if that makes it smoother, once (if my oven is ever repaired) with roasted banana as written, and once again with the caramelized banana but more brown sugar. The best thing about pudding is that it always seems to taste good even if it’s too thick or too thin or too lumpy, so I’m happy to devour any number of “failed” batches in the name of science. I’ll keep you posted!

1 large ripe banana or 2 small ripe bananas
1–2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar (optional)
2 cups milk (1% worked just fine for me)
⅓ cup white sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon rum (optional)

1. Place the unpeeled banana(s) on a parchment-paper lined sheet and roast in the oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until skin blackens; then peel banana and lightly mash with a fork. Alternatively, peel and slice the banana(s) and sauté in 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat with the 2 tablespoons brown sugar, then puree with a food processor, blender, or immersion blender until smooth.

2. Place the milk, white sugar, and cornstarch in a saucepan, mix well with a whisk, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until just before it boils. Add the mashed banana and whisk until as smooth as possible.

3. Beat the egg in a separate dish. Very gradually add 1 cup of hot pudding, stirring constantly, and then add egg mixture back to the pot of pudding on the stove.

4. Bring pudding to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil 1 minute or until thickened.

5. Remove pudding from heat and mix in the vanilla, 1 tablespoon butter (I skipped this here since I’d already sautéed the banana in butter, but you could do both for a richer pudding), and rum (if using).

6. Press pudding through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any stringy banana pieces.

7. Divide pudding among four ramekins or airtight containers, cover surface of pudding with plastic wrap if you don’t like pudding skin, and chill.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Will keep in the fridge for a few days.

Thursday, September 08, 2011


I seem to be accumulating a lot of potato salad recipes for someone who hates potato salad—or at least claimed to until last year, when I realized it doesn’t necessarily have to be ice-cold and dripping with mayonnaise). Just when I think I’m all set with my two faves, along comes another good-looking recipe, like this one from The Kitchn, so alluring with its lemony greenness. I love potatoes with dill and parsley and shallots, I love lemon-olive oil dressings, and I love spinach, so it seemed like it couldn’t go wrong—and it didn’t, even though I tried my best to flub it by temporarily forgetting how many ounces are in two pounds and only putting in three-quarters of the amount of potatoes. Luckily, one of the main things I like about this recipe is how many greens are packed in here, yet they’re wilted by the heat of the potatoes so you still feel like you’re eating a potato dish, not a leafy salad with potatoes in it. Even A, not always a veggie fan, claimed to like my overly high ratio of spinach to potatoes and said he’d happily have it that way again.

Aside from that inadvertent change, I did make one important improvement to the recipe: adding Dijon mustard to the dressing. I think mustard and potatoes are BFFs, but even if you don’t care for the flavor of mustard that much, a dab of it in a salad dressing will work savory wonders without necessarily being identifiable as mustard. I always add it to my everyday lemon vinaigrette, and since the dressing here was basically the same thing, I thought it seemed a shame to leave it out. Mine was probably a pretty heaping spoonful, but I’ve added it to the recipe below as a more modest 1 teaspoon; use your judgment depending on your degree of mustard love. My one regret: Adding the 1 teaspoon of sugar that the original recipe called for. I was trying to play by the rules the first time around and trust that it added some important element, but I should have trusted my instincts—I enjoy my lemony tartness straight up, so I could taste the sweetness in the dressing and didn’t like it. I wouldn’t add the sugar in the future, and I’ve removed it from the recipe below.

Lemons and dill and new potatoes always remind me of spring, so that’s when I’d be most likely to crave this salad, but it was good in the summer too. Plus, since it can be served warm and the ingredients are things most people can get fresh year-round, it would be a lively way to brighten up your winter diet.

2 pounds extra-small Yukon Gold potatoes
1 large lemon, juiced and zested
⅓ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
5 ounces fresh baby spinach, well-washed
⅔ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, loosely packed
⅔ cup fresh dill fronds, loosely packed
3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat a large pot of water to boiling and salt the water generously. Add the potatoes and cook for 15 to 18 minutes, or until they are quite tender and creamy. Drain, slice each potato in half, and place them in a large bowl.

2. In a measuring cup, whisk together the lemon juice, zest, mustard, and olive oil. Whisk until well-combined; it will be thick and opaque yellow. Pour over the hot potatoes and stir gently until the potatoes are coated with dressing.

3. Slice the spinach leaves into thin ribbons. Mince the parsley leaves and the dill fronds as well. Add the spinach, parsley, dill, and shallots to the potatoes, and toss gently. The spinach and herbs will wilt as they are combined with the hot potatoes. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

Serves: 4–6
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


Even though I firmly believe summer isn’t summer without watermelon, my appetite for it is limited. I love its cool, crisp, and well, watery properties, but its sweetness can be cloying. I’d had savory treatments of watermelon before—a restaurant near my office serves a complimentary appetizer of watermelon with balsamic vinegar, feta, and basil—but they’d never really spoken to me. This one, however, looked so pretty, and I am fully aware what wonderful things mint and lime can do for fruit, and my obsession with feta only grows, so I gave it a try and HOLY COW, PEOPLE.

Make this right away. Seriously. It does crazy things to your taste buds, transforming the relatively uncomplicated flavor of the watermelon into a salty-sweet-savory kaleidoscope. You can even leave off the cheese if that seems just too weird to you—it does add a wonderful saltiness, and the contrast of its creaminess with the liquidity of the watermelon is interesting, but I’m convinced that it’s really the lime, mint, and pinch of salt that I love the most here. The lime adds that tang I’m always missing from watermelon, the mint makes the watermelon even more refreshing than you ever dreamed possible, and the salt cuts the sweetness so much that it really brings out the melon flavor in the watermelon, something you can’t always detect when it’s accompanied by all that sugar. This is all theoretical, though, because I haven’t tried it without the feta yet; I’m addicted to it just the way it is. It’s become my default way of preparing watermelon, and I’m going to have trouble going back to the plain stuff after this.

I first made this when A and I were going to the Hollywood Bowl, and it was very tasty as a picnic food—I just assembled it a few hours ahead of time, leaving the feta, mint, lime, and salt on the very top of the container of watermelon until it was time to eat. I’ve also taken it to work for lunch that way, putting it together the night before. But over time, the salt draws so much juice out of the watermelon and the feta starts to break down in the acid, leaving you with a milky-watery mess, so it’s really best to eat this fresh, with all the ingredients still chilled from the fridge. Luckily, it’s so easy to make that I can throw together a single serving at the drop of a hat. Measurements aren’t really necessary here (just don’t drown the watermelon in the toppings; it should still be the main feature), but if I had to guess I’d say I use the juice from a quarter of a lime, a tablespoon of chopped mint, a tablespoon of feta, and a single pinch of fleur de sal per every cereal-bowl-sized serving of watermelon.

Watermelon, cubed
Feta cheese, crumbled
Fresh mint leaves, cut in ribbons
Freshly squeezed lime juice
Coarse finishing salt, such as fleur de sal

1. Place your watermelon on a plate or in a bowl.

2. Sprinkle watermelon with feta cheese, mint ribbons, lime juice, and a pinch of salt.

Serves: As many or few as you like
Time: 5 minutes
Leftover potential: Will be OK for a few hours in the refrigerator (leave the toppings on top of the watermelon and don’t stir to combine until you’re ready to eat), but it’s best freshly made.

Friday, September 02, 2011


I wish I had fallen in love with a dessert that’s a little more photogenic…

It’s puddingmania over here right now. I’ve made four kinds of pudding in the past month (one of which will be posted shortly; the other I forgot to photograph and will be forced to make again—poor me!), one of them twice. I can’t get enough! All the recipes are similar in terms of ingredients and basic procedure (heat milk, add egg, heat again until thick), but it’s interesting to see how much the methods vary—more so than, say, your basic cookie or cake recipes. Some have you heat the milk with the cornstarch and sugar, others have you add them to the egg mixture. I sense that pudding is a lot more forgiving than I expected. Even if you mess up and it turns out lumpy, you can always just strain it. And if it’s too thin: it’s creme anglaise!

Of all the recipes I’ve tried so far, this one has been, rather surprisingly, my favorite. I say “surprisingly” because even though I love vanilla more with each passing year, I still tend to think of it as a plain favor on its own, something I would rarely choose over, say, pistachio or butterscotch. I don’t know if this recipe was just the best of the bunch (which wouldn’t be a shock, considering it’s from the Smitten Kitchen) or if I just really nailed the execution, but it came out wonderfully. Part of what I loved about it was that it is really custardy, by far the thickest pudding I’ve made so far (even though I used 1% instead of whole), so thick it pulls away slightly from the sides of the ramekin when you stick your spoon into it, and it turns out I love thick pudding. It also seems that I love pudding skin, which I’d never encountered before because I’d never had homemade pudding, except my mom’s (skinless) rice and tapioca puddings when I was a kid. It’s often maligned and I’d always thought it sounded gross—I mean, “skin”?—but in fact, the way I’m encountering it in my own puddings, it’s just a slightly thicker top to the pudding, not something slimy and chewy that you can peel off in a big sheet, as I had always envisioned it.

I am also learning that the full flavor of pudding doesn’t tend to come through when it’s still warm. The vanilla bean I was using was rather elderly, and once I’d finished making the pudding, I kept tasting it and it seemed sort of bland, so I added some vanilla extract (about a teaspoon, I think) just in case. Then I saw that Deb had mentioned that you could add a teaspoon of rum if you wanted, and I had a tiny bottle in the cupboard left over from some baking project, so I went for it. I wasn’t sure I could taste any difference in the hot pudding, but into the fridge it went. A few hours later I spooned a bite of chilled pudding into my mouth and—zowie! It probably would have been fine if I’d left it as written, but the extra vanilla and rum pushed it over the top into amazing. (You couldn’t identify the rum and rum per se—it just seemed to enhance the vanilla even more.) Not too sweet, slightly eggy, intensely creamy without being especially rich, and super-vanilla-flavored, this recipe is definitely a keeper.

2⅔ cups milk (the original recipe calls for whole milk, but I used 1% with no ill effects), divided
½ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
½ vanilla bean (or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract) (or ½ vanilla bean plus 1 teaspoon extract, if you’re me)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon rum (optional)

1. Bring 2 cups of the milk just barely to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

2. While the milk is heating, if you are using a vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds into the bottom of a medium, heatproof bowl (I recommend adding the scraped-out pod to the pot of simmering milk for an extra vanilla boost). Add sugar, cornstarch, and salt, and whisk to combine. Gradually whisk in the remaining ⅔ cup milk, a little at a time so lumps do not form, then whisk in the egg.

3. Once the rest of the milk is boiling, remove the vanilla pod if you used it, then very gradually add the milk to the cornstarch mixture in the bowl, whisking the whole time.

4. Return the mixture to the saucepan, stirring constantly with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon. Once it comes to a full simmer, cook it for one minute longer. Stir in vanilla extract if you’re using it and the rum if desired. Divide pudding among 4 to 6 dishes (cover the surface of each pudding with plastic wrap if you don’t like pudding skin). Chill in refrigerator until fully set, about 2 hours.

Serves: 4–6
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; will last a few days in the fridge.