When my oldest was a toddler, she loved to play with other people’s toy kitchen sets. I wanted her to have one of her own, but all our money was going toward our first home and diapers.
One day I looked at the number of Costco diaper boxes piling up in the basement and realized just how sturdy those boxes actually were. I had a brainstorm. Maybe I could make a kitchen set using those boxes.
If you had asked me before that day whether I was capable of even thinking up such an idea, let alone following through with it, I would have said, “No way!” Growing up, my best friend was the artsy, creative one. I was the math and science nerd. I didn’t “do” crafts.
As life often proves, though, necessity can breed skill. My daughter loved to play “cook”, and I was going to make it happen for her. Using the diaper boxes, duct tape, and contact paper, I created a complete kitchen for her which included a stove, a fridge, and cabinets. I even added a diner style counter with a cash register to go with it.
That kitchen set lasted us for years, and my daughter loved it. And other people loved it, too. I got so many compliments on that set that, to this day, I am still amazed by what I accomplished.
I share this because recently folks have been telling me that they’re not capable of revamping their recipes like I do; but if I can create a kitchen set out of diaper boxes, folks can most definitely learn how to accommodate their food needs. And I’m going to help folks do it!
For the next several posts, I’m going to focus on technique, specifically the “how-to’s” of certain dishes with special reference to making them healthier and allergy friendly. For today’s post, we’ll look at puddings, because someone recently wanted to know how to make it.
Puddings are ridiculously simple, but people rarely make it homemade. They think it’ll take too much time or that they’ll mess it up. Neither is true. There are, however, some tips to keep in mind.
1. Make sure your recipe is a good one. Don’t just presume that because it is online or in a recipe book that it actually is correct. For some reason there are a lot online and in books that tell you to do things incorrectly like add the cornstarch by itself to the mixture, which leads me to point two.
2. Cornstarch (or another thickener like arrowroot or tapioca starch): The key to pudding is how you thicken it. Cornstarch is the traditional thickener used, but it should never, ever be added to pudding by itself. Doing so will simply “gummy up” your pudding. Cornstarch is always to be mixed with your sugar (if you’re using it) and salt before adding it to your liquid or it needs to be mixed with liquid before adding it to the rest of your pudding mixture. The same should be kept in mind if you use arrowroot or tapioca starch.
Cornstarch also thickens best when your cooking temperature is even, so a stainless steel pan or enamel covered is best which leads us to point three.
3. Cooking Method: The best way to make pudding is to use a double boiler. I don’t own one so I simply put one pan on top of another. There are two ways of doing so: put a smaller pot filled halfway with water on the bottom and a slightly larger one on top or put water halfway in a pot that another pot will fit snugly into without touching the water below.
Whichever method you use, you want to bring your water to a boil before you begin making your pudding, because the heat from the boiled water is necessary for thickening your pudding.
When you do begin making your pudding, it’s important to stir the mixture well in the beginning so all ingredients are evenly mixed and there are no lumps. Then, after your mixture has come to a boil, when you’ve added your thickener, it’s important to continually stir the mixture so it doesn’t burn on the bottom, which brings us to point four.
4. Patience: Pudding doesn’t actually take all that long, maybe fifteen minutes or so to completely cook, but when you’re standing over it, stirring constantly, fifteen minutes begins to feel like a long time. When it does, do not be tempted to try to speed things up or to stop stirring. Use the time to relax. Allow yourself the luxury of not being rushed and being able to reflect. Before you know it, the pudding will have thickened, and you’ll have a nice treat.
Okay, for a recipe: I have a chocolate recipe that is simple to make. If you are simply trying to lower your fat intake, use skim milk. The pudding won’t be as rich and thick, but it’ll still be delicious. If you have food allergies, I’ve successfully made this with flax milk, soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and rice milk. If you actually use sugar, then use 1/2 cup of sugar instead of the 1/4 Agave. You can also use 1/4 cup Stevia instead or 1/2 cup coconut sugar instead. If you want a really rich pudding, use soy or coconut creamer (or heavy cream if you don’t need to worry about milk allergies or fat intake.)
1/4 cup Agave
1 3/4 cup “milk” (whichever type you want to use)
1/8 tsp salt
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup “milk”
1 oz unsweetened chocolate*
1 tsp vanilla
1. Bring water to a boil in a double boiler or makeshift boiler.
2. Mix together the agave, 1 3/4 cup milk, and salt. Set aside.
3. Mix together the cornstarch and the remaining 1/4 cup milk. Set aside.
4. Stirring continually, melt the unsweetened chocolate.
5. Slowly, while continuing to stir, add the agave-milk mixture.
6. Bring the mixture to a boiling point. (Little bubbles will begin to appear at the top. You don’t need to continually stir here, but you’ll want to occasionally stir it until it begins to boil. Usually it’s less than five minutes to bring the chocolate liquid to a boil.)
7. When the mixture begins to boil, re-stir the cornstarch mixture and slowly pour it into the hot chocolate liquid, stirring continually.
8. Continue to stir the pudding until it begins to thicken. (It’s okay to stop stirring for a few seconds at a time, but not for minutes, because once the pudding begins to thicken, it’ll thicken quickly. Usually it takes less than ten minutes for the cornstarch to thicken the pudding. You’ll know when it’s thickening because it’ll go from its liquid state to more of a solid.)
9. When the pudding thickens, remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla until well blended.
10. Scrape the pudding into a shallow bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap directly against the top of the pudding. (This keeps that “skin” from “growing” on top of your pudding as it cools.)
11. Cool the pudding completely in the fridge before eating. If you put it into a shallow dish, you can usually eat the pudding within half an hour.
*Chocolate Note: If you don’t have unsweetened chocolate on hand, you can make your own. Three tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder mixed with one tablespoon of shortening or oil is equivalent to one ounce of unsweetened chocolate.
You can also substitute an ounce of chocolate chips which is one tablespoon of chips. This will make for a sweeter pudding so if you don’t want it that sweet, simply reduce the agave by half.
If you like to use carob powder instead, 3 tablespoons of carob powder mixed with 2 tablespoons of water is equivalent to one ounce of unsweetened chocolate.
Also, if you don’t have allergies to it, you can use one of those pre-melted chocolate packages they make these days.
Finally, if you want, you can also just use chocolate flavored soy or rice or almond or coconut milk and skip the chocolate step and leave out the Agave. I often use unsweetened chocolate soy milk with the Agave so I can control the amount of sweetener.