Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Happy National Chocolate Pudding Day! YUM – Could there be a better holiday?!?! Chocolate pudding is such an American classic. You can make it in less than two minutes thanks to the instant pudding people, you can rip off a lid and enjoy it immediately now thanks to the pudding cup manufacturers (I always worry about shelf stable dairy products, but that is another topic). Or you can really treat yourself, take about a half-hour and make it from scratch.

So rich and creamy! Chocolate pudding is essentially the same as custard, the difference being the added cornstarch to make it thicker. Pudding, or a version of we call pudding today, dates back to the Middle Ages where they would make sweet pudding-like custards flavored with honey and nuts. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, pudding was fed to children and invalids not as a dessert but as high-caloire, wholesome food to those with little appetite.

In 1918 the first packaged pudding was introduced to the marketed by My*T*Fine. Jell-O did not introduce its chocolate pudding mix until 1934 as Walter Baker’s Dessert, changing it to Jell-O in 1936.

The key to making chocolate pudding is to use a heavy bottomed pot over medium-low heat to prevent the milk from scorching and to stir it constantly to prevent it from sticking. Some people push their pudding through a fine-mesh sieve after it has cooked to remove any lumps that formed while cooking. Pudding can be eaten warm, striaght from the stove top or cooled in the refrigerator. If you do not like a thin film or skin on the top of your pudding, then press a sheet of plastic wrap over the top while it cools.

Milk Chocolate Pudding
Gourmet, February 2007 from
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz fine-quality milk chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, and a pinch of salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then gradually whisk in milk and cream. Bring to a boil over moderately high heat, whisking constantly, then boil, whisking, 2 minutes. (Mixture will be thick.) Remove from heat.

Whisk in chocolate and vanilla until smooth.Transfer to a bowl and chill pudding, its surface covered with wax paper (to prevent a skin from forming), until cold, at least 2 hours.

Cooks' note: Pudding can be chilled, covered with plastic wrap after 2 hours, up to 3 days.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Shrimp in Spicy Tomato Sauce

Tonight for dinner I threw together a tasty dish and thought I would share it with you. It was very easy and while I know my on-hand stock is not like most, I made it from ingredients I had available to me. It can easily be modified with items you have on-hand.

It started with shrimp that I had picked up on sale. I think the hardest part of cooking with shrimp is peeling and deveining them. If you can find already peeled and deveined shrimp, it is worth the investment. They cost a bit more, but save you so much time. Also, I like to purchase the biggest shrimp I can find. It is less work if you are peeling and deveining and large shrimp feel so much more indulgent!

When buying shrimp, the size of the shrimp is indicated by the number on the bag. The number refers to the amount of shrimp in a pound. For instance 16/20 means that 16 to 20 of that size shrimp will make up a pound (large shrimp). The largest shrimp are U/10 or U/12 meaning under 10 or 12 in a pound. The smallest shrimp are 51/60 and 61/70.

Keys to buying shrimp:

  • Always purchase raw shrimp. Pre-cooked shrimp are already overcooked so if you will be heating them they are going to taste like rubber.
  • Unless you live where you can buy truly fresh shrimp, buy your shrimp frozen. Keep them frozen until you are ready to use them. Either defrost them in the refrigerator or I like to defrost them in a colander under cool running water. It takes about 1/2 hour or so.

To clean the shrimp, remove the shell. Then run a sharp paring knife down the back of the shrimp and remove the brown/black line (this is deveining). I like to do this under running water, it allows the vein to rinse away easily.

Shrimp in Spicy Tomato Sauce
Serves 4

1 tablespoon oil (canola or olive)
1 small onion, finely diced
3 stalks celery, finely diced
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
14 ounce diced tomatoes (I love Muir Glen’s Fire Roasted Tomatoes)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon chili sauce (I used Sriracha), or to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined (16/20 sized)
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

Serve over orzo (rice shaped pasta) or other pasta, white or brown rice, barley or steamed vegetables

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the celery and cook them both until the onions are almost translucent. I like to slowly cook my onions to allow the taste to mellow. Many recipes say to cook over medium or high heat and that is acceptable but not how I prefer to cook. And by adding the celery second, it will give the final dish a bit of crunch. The celery can be added at the same time as the onion if you prefer no crunch.

Meanwhile, start preparing the pasta, rice or whatever you will be serving the shrimp over. I used orzo, a rice-shaped pasta. It is sold in the pasta aisle in the market and is great because it cooks in only 5 minutes.

Once the onions and celery have cooked, add the garlic and cook stirring constantly for about 30 seconds. This allows the garlic to cook without burning. Then add the wine and increase heat to high. Allow to boil for about 5 minutes until it has reduced by half.

Add the tomatoes, juice and all, chili sauce, tomato paste and salt. Cook and continue to boil until most of the juice has evaporated, about 3 or 4 more minutes. Once it has reduced to the consistency you like, add the shrimp and cook them for about 1 to 2 minutes. Stir constantly and as soon as they have lost their opaque color and turned pink they have finished cooking.

Stir in heavy cream, sour cream, black pepper and sprinkle with fresh herbs. Stir until warm only about 1 minute more.

Serve over pasta or rice with some roasted asparagus, a nice mixed green salad or steamed green beans.

Modifications: You do not have to add both the celery and onions, you could leave out one or both or substitute shallots if you have that instead. Instead of using white wine, you could omit or substitute chicken or vegetable stock. Adding regular diced tomatoes will do if you do not have fire roasted. Stewed or crushed tomatoes would work well also. The tomato paste just thickens the sauce quickly. You could omit and cook a bit longer. You could use regular milk instead of cream, sour cream only or leave them out for a tomato sauce that isn't creamy. Other herbs to use instead of basil and chives - thyme, parsley, oregano.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Moment of Silence

What do Cheez Whiz and McDonald's French Fries have in common?

Edwin Traisman. The food scientist who helped invent Cheez Whiz in the 1950’s when he worked for Kraft foods and later as a franchaise owner invented a process for McDonald's to help keep their french fries consistent passed away last week at 91.

Mr. Traisman was highly regarded in the food industry. He was a pioneer and will be missed. Read more about Mr. Traisman