Bear Down

I would imagine, firsthand if I were a mother to something other than a cat, that feeling proud of your children when they accomplish something is probably one of the best feelings on earth. I would imagine that, when they finish college, or get married, or when they land the job of their dreams, it’s probably a bit too much to bear – that fullness you might feel inside, that beaming, happy feeling that has you grinning from ear to ear.

I’m not a mother, and won’t be anytime soon, but I know that feeling still. I’m sure it’s a little bit different, but all the while, I am definitely that ‘happy, proud, beaming from ear to ear’ person I described.

Chris (aka Hubs), after somewhere between 3 and 4 years of crunching numbers on Excel, working with probably 20 different groups (some good and downright horrible), and all the while working full-time at a job that has been much less than rewarding, has finished school – once and for all. I was definitely proud when he got into Northwestern’s MBA program, but I’m infinitely “prouder” (and relieved) now that he’s completed it, and with honors.

When I finished culinary school, he took me to Alinea – and I’ll never forget that experience. For a long while, I’ve wondered what I’d get him for his (final) graduation – to not only celebrate his fancy new degree, but to also celebrate the fact that we, both of us, are finally. finished. with. school. forevah. It’s a big deal, I think.

And while I didn’t go the “you finished graduate school therefore I should buy you something professional, like a leather attache case or nice tie so you can look spify when you interview for new jobs” present, I swear I hit the nail on the head this time. I realized that, after almost 7 years of living in this city, we have never forked out the Benjamins (yes, plural) to watch the Bears in action at Soldier Field. And for years, season after season, we’ve promised ourselves to one day, one year, suck it up and buy the tickets. So I did.

Let’s just say that I definitely picked the best game of the season to watch in person – the December 12th Bears vs. Patriots game, the day Chicago got pummeled with snow & extra-frigid temperatures what with the windchill and all making the “feels like” temperature hover solidly in the single digits. The day that left my hands and feet feeling so numb for so long that even a bucket of hot chocolate and “complimentary warming stations” couldn’t remedy – those were the tickets I bought.

And despite all of it, he loved it. And I loved it because I knew he did. It felt good, frigid temperatures and all – watching someone grin with excitement, and that someone being someone you are so incredibly proud of, admirable of, and in love with all at the same time – that’s a feeling that’s hard to put into words.

Ever since that game, the horribly played game, I’ve been craving some more hot chocolate. I had some at work the next day – the kind that comes in the box with the fake marshmallows – and it wasn’t half bad, to be honest. But I’ve wanted to make my own, and I finally did. There isn’t much not to like about a hot chocolate full of all those awesome Indian spices, and it’s definitely a warmer for all the cold days and nights that are sure to come. Having a mug of this at home during a Bears game, a game the Bears are winning (since we are officially division title holders, again)? Priceless.

Oh, and Happy Holidays. Stay warm and stay safe out there, kids!

Chai Hot Chocolate
chiknpastry recipe; makes 2 servings

time commitment: 10 minutes

printable version

ingredients
2 c 1% milk
1/2 c bittersweet chocolate chips OR 6 T sipping chocolate (like Theo)
5 green cardamom pods
1/4 t whole allspice
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 t ground black pepper
1 t g ginger
2 T brown sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract
marshmallows, optional

instructions
Combine first 8 ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer; simmer for a couple of minutes and remove from heat. steep for 10 minutes with cover on. add in vanilla extract.

strain hot chocolate into 2 mugs. top with marshmallows, and snuggle ;).

Dessert of Champions

This is an ending to all endings. This is a dessert that’s gonna make you go ‘ooh la la’. This is a dessert that makes you happy for spring and the arrival of those summer days sandwiched in between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Also, you can now wear white shoes. But if you’re a rebel like me, you may have already broken out those white strappy numbers (or flip flops).

Need to make use of bread in your freezer? Make this bread pudding. Or maybe this one, which has alcohol in it. And caramel.

Tired of cereal for breakfast? Have leftover bread pudding. With or without the ice cream. Probably don’t put an egg on top though; this is one breakfast recipe where that might not work so well….

Basically, this is good for just about everything in life.

Come to think of it, ice cream alone solves all of life’s worries. Did the hot sun get you all sweaty and stinky? Eat ice cream – you’ll forget you smell. Did you get in an argument with your spouse? Ice cream makes that seem so unimportant. Did you wake up with a hangover? Yup, ice cream probably makes that go away too. But don’t eat it too fast, because brain freeze is nothing lovely either.

Of course, it helps if that ice cream involves cardamom and vanilla bean. With a side of bread pudding.

On the other hand, a spoonful of caramel powder is probably quicker and easier to make, which is pretty much awesome if all you have at home is a canister of sugar. When all else fails you in this world, you still have sugar. And as long as you have a food processor, you can spin that sugar into pure magic.

And if you can’t quite decide what you need in life, you can make all three – which is exactly what I did. I feel much better about things as a result, and you would too.

Rhubarb-Ginger Cardamom Bread Pudding w/ Cardamom-Vanilla Ice Cream & Salted Caramel Powder

printable version (all 4 components)

Rhubarb, Ginger, & Cardamom Bread Pudding
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2010; serves 10-12

printable version (bread pudding only)

ingredients
rhubarb
1 c seedless raspberry preserves
1/2 c water
1/3 c chopped crystallized ginger
1 T finely grated orange peel
2 1/2 lbs rhubarb (preferably bright red), ends trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch-wide pieces

pudding
3/4 c sugar
3 large eggs
2 c 2% milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
cooking spray
1 loaf cardamom-spiced bread (recipe below) or storebought  brioche or challah
(1/2 t ground cardamom, if you don’t make the spice bread)

instructions
rhubarb
Whisk preserves and 1/2 c water in heavy large skillet over medium heat until preserves dissolve (if using seeded preserves, strain seeds out and toss seeds; add rest back into skillet). Sprinkle ginger and orange peel over. Scatter rhubarb evenly in skillet. Bring mixture to simmer over medium heat, occasionally stirring very gently, until rhubarb is slightly tender but still intact, about 10 minutes. Pour mixture into large sieve set over large saucepan. Let drain 15 minutes. Cover each separately and chill. Can be made at least 1 day in advance.

pudding
Preheat oven to 350 F. Whisk sugar and eggs in medium bowl. Place milk in heavy medium saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Gradually add hot milk mixture to egg mixture, whisking custard to blend, but doing this slowly so as not to scramble eggs (add ground cardamom here if using).

While heating milk (above), place bread cubes on a sheet pan and toast for about 7 minutes. However, if you have “old” bread that’s somewhat dry/stale, skip this step.

Spray a 9×13-inch baking dish. Arrange enough bread cubes in dish to cover bottom (will have some gaps). Spoon half of rhubarb evenly over. Repeat with bread and rhubarb. Pour custard over. Place baking dish in roasting pan. Add enough hot water to pan to come halfway up sides of dish.

Bake pudding until just set in center, about 50 minutes. Remove from oven. Let stand in water bath 30 minutes; remove. Meanwhile, boil reserved syrup until reduced to 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Keep warm.

Brush top of pudding with some rhubarb syrup. Spoon warm pudding into bowls; top with syrup and ice cream (or whipped cream, or nothing).

Cardamom Spice Bread
Adapted from Saveur Issue #128; makes 2 loaves

printable version

ingredients
1 1/3 c warm milk
2/3 c sugar
4 t g cardamom
2 1/4-oz. packages active dry yeast
3 eggs, lightly beaten
5-5 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 t kosher salt
5 T unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes, room temp
1 T cream or milk
1 egg yolk

instructions
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, combine milk, sugar, 3 t cardamom, and yeast; stir together and let sit until foamy, 10 minutes. Add eggs; mix to combine. Add flour (may not need full amount; add until dough forms) and salt. Replace paddle with hook attachment; knead dough on medium speed for 2 minutes. While kneading, slowly add butter in batches, mixing until incorporated before adding next batch, 3–4 minutes; continue kneading for 4 minutes more after last of butter is added.

Transfer dough to a bowl oiled or sprayed with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap; let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down dough; cover again with plastic wrap and let sit until fully risen, 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 375 F. Transfer dough to a work surface and divide into 2 equal pieces. Set 1 piece aside and divide other piece into 3 equal portions. Roll each portion between your palms and work surface to create a 16″ rope. Braid ropes together to form a loaf, following the instructions below. Transfer loaf to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Repeat with second dough piece. Cover loaves with plastic wrap and let sit until slightly puffed up, about 20 minutes. (For fancier braids, search You Tube.)

Whisk together remaining cardamom, cream/milk, and egg yolk in a small bowl; brush over loaves. Bake, one loaf at a time, until golden brown, 20–25 minutes. Transfer to a rack; let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Cardamom-Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Adapted from The Spice House; serves 6-8

printable version (ice cream only)

prep time: 1-2 days before serving

ingredients
1 c half & half
1 c organic 2% milk
1/2 vanilla bean
5 green cardamom pods, crushed slightly
4 egg yolks
3/4 c sugar
1/8 t g cardamom

instructions
pour half/half and milk into medium-sized heavy saucepan. scrape seeds from vanilla bean, and toss into milk with cardamom and vanilla bean pod. slowly bring to a boil, remove from heat, and cover to steep for about 20 minutes.

slowly heat milk mixture up, just to a boil. meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and sugar together until light yellow. when milk is just boiling, remove from heat and slowly add milk, whisking simultaneously, into the yolk/sugar mixture. whisk constantly until all milk is incorporated (you can slowly add milk, then whisk if you’re less coordinated; but work quickly!), then pour mixture back into saucepan. over low heat, stir almost constantly until it thickens (forms a custard). the mixture will coat the back of a spoon at this point, and this means you are ready to go!

pour mixture back into bowl from egg yolk mixture, add ground cardamom, and place that bowl over an ice water bath to cool custard quickly. for best results, chill overnight to develop flavor. once ready, freeze in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions (usually 15-20 minutes). freeze overnight.

Salted Caramel Powder
makes at least 1 cup

printable version (caramel powder only)

ingredients
2 c sugar
Maldon sea salt

instructions
Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil. In a large heavy skillet, heat sugar over medium heat. Swirl sugar, but try not to stir. Once sugar melts, it will slowly caramelize. If clumps form, stir to melt sugar. Remove from heat once caramel is light gold.

Pour hot mixture, carefully, onto sheet pan. Move around to make a thin sheet. Let hot caramel cool and harden, about 30 minutes.

Once caramel is cooled, remove from sheet pan and break into small chunks. Add chunks into a (dry!!) food processor and blend until a powder forms. Place in a dry container and refrigerate. Stores for 1 month, if it lasts that long!