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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Puddification

I consider myself both a wannabe foodie and cook. (I have very few actual skills or talents but many things to which I aspire...)

Since I got married I have journeyed on a veritable cooking odyssey. Seriously, if I were to pen a memoir about my adventure there is a good chance that 2,500 years from now high school students would be studying it in their literature class, much like they study Homer's story of Odysseus today. Not that I'm boasting about a Homeric writing prowess but the tale is certainly epic. Epic in the sense that when I began to cook I did not so much as know how to use a teaspoon. And like the Odyssey, it includes much wandering off course, beseeching of God to protect me (and those who would eat my food) from disasters, mistaken identities and even violent combat (like when I tried to quarter a chicken).

When Peter and I began dating in college he bought me a cookbook for Christmas. My response was a little haughty. I was all "what are you trying to tell me, homeboy?" (Just kidding, I never actually called Peter a homeboy but it sounded funny when I wrote that.) But soon I had picked out a few recipes to try and realized that I actually enjoyed preparing meals.

One surprise that I learned along the way was just how many things can be made from scratch and some of them quite simply. For example, pudding. Once I was looking for a recipe that required mint leaves because I had an abundance that I needed to use. I came across this recipe for chocolate-mint pudding.

Wait. What? I incredulously perused the recipe. You mean there are actually raw ingredients for pudding? And it can be concocted without the use of one of those packets from the grocery store? I guess I just thought that pudding was a 20th century invention of the Jell-o company and it never occurred to me that all of those figgy-pudding-making Dicken's characters probably didn't shop at H-E-B.

So I made the chocolate-mint pudding, which was delicious. But there are a few things that I have always struggled with as a cook. One is the thickening up of things- puddification, if you will. This process occurs in pudding but is also necessary for a variety of other culinary offerings. Saturday night I was making another pudding recipe for a cake (which turned out only mediocre so I don't really recommend it) and I was fretting over my thin pudding. So I googled "why won't my pudding thicken up?" (google, where would I be without you?) And I came across this article. It is hilarious. It is somewhat of a thesis on puddification and includes the tenets of pudding theory.

It is very funny so you should give it a read. But I learned a valuable nugget of knowledge that will help me in future cooking endeavors which is this:

When using thickeners such as corn starch or egg (of which pudding can contain both) they will remain liquid until just before the boiling temperature at which point they will rapidly thicken. When I was making my pudding Saturday night I was more concerned about it getting too hot as the recipe had cautioned not to let it boil. But reading that article made me realize that I needed more heat to get it to thicken. And it worked beautifully! This little bit of knowledge sheds a lot of light on problems I've had in the past. So, one more cooking lesson learned. With about 400 more years of experience I'll be a regular Julia Child.

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