Some Things Take Time

You know what? I’ve been thinking a lot lately. This may come as a surprise to some of you, but it’s true. Mainly, I’ve been ruminating about this wee ol’ life-changing event that’s coming along rather quickly, and all the eensy-teensy pieces that have to fall into place over the next few weeks.

When I’m not running all of the possible iterations of how things are going to shape up over the next few months in my mind, I’m reminiscing about life in Chicago, staring at the skyline as I’m taking the bus into work, and cramming in all of those “Chicago lasts” into the early 2011 months.

Chris and I had our last “last” together this past weekend, and thus began Phase 2 of this feat. We crammed a lot of great restaurant visits into the last two weeks, including Schwa (finally!), Topolobampo (again, finally!) and a regular, Hot Chocolate. For our final weekend together, we figured it totally appropriate to head to one of our very favorite restaurants in Chicago, Bonsoiree, for a Valentine’s day tasting menu. The dinner was amazing, as was expected, and we ended the night with a nice walk (most of the way) home followed by one last movie watched (well, half of it – I nodded off, as usual) together in our condo, a warm fire burning and crackling in the background.

He flew out early Sunday afternoon, and I drove him to the airport and watched him walk away, bags in hand, a nervous smile on his face. My eyes were filled with tears, just like they are as I type this, but not because we’re now living apart until April, as we’ll fortunately see each other a couple of times between now and then, but because it’s the true beginning of a lot of unknowns, a lot of change.

I got back into the car and cranked up some music, which, when Chris aka my DJ isn’t in the car with me, means that I play my Christmas mix from 2009 over and over. Don’t get me wrong, my 2010 mix was nothing short of awesome, but I haven’t managed to take the CD down to the car yet. The first song that played was a Dave Matthews song, You & Me, and the tears started all over again. It’s appropriate though, that song, as if he left it there – on track 5 – on purpose.

It got me to thinking (I know – again!): this whole process, it really isn’t that big of a deal. Really. Sure, were it just lil’ ol’ me heading out West, I’d be terrified. But it’s not, and I’m not. This is an adventure, a new journey, a new Chapter in our lives, and as much as I hate to rush time, I can’t wait for these next few weeks to end and for that new Chapter to begin. I know things will all work out, I know this move couldn’t be more perfect for us, and I know we (cats included) will love San Francisco.

I realized this: when you’re in love, and when you’re happy, there are no doubts in life. None.

It’s just that some things take time. Simple as that.

Homemade Vanilla Extract
makes 1 cup

time commitment: this is a recipe that takes some time – at least 2 months (5 minutes active)

Sure, vanilla beans are expensive, but buying good quality vanilla extract is expensive-r. I buy vanilla beans in bulk from here, and then feel less guilty using them more freely. once you make your own, you’ll never go back to buying store-bought extract – promise.

printable version

ingredients
3 good quality Madagascar vanilla beans
1 c vodka, bourbon, or rum
1 pretty bottle

instructions
using a small knife, slice open the three vanilla beans and shove into a fancy bottle. measure out your liquor and pour into the bottle. close and shake gently.

store bottle in a cool, dry place for at least 2 months – the longer, the better.

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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!