Super Simple Dark Chocolate Pudding

Two recipes, five or six ingredients.

Chocolate Pudding
It’s not difficult to make chocolate pudding from scratch.

I love chocolate pudding. With my new stove needing testing and my good pots and pans finally unpacked, I’ve decided to use chocolate pudding for experimentation. The trick was to find recipes with ingredients I had at home.

Why make pudding from scratch? Well, why not? It’s all about knowing exactly what the ingredients are. Neither of these recipes are much more difficult than cooking pudding from a box, but there are no mystery ingredients. Best of all, you can fine-tune the recipe you prefer to change the sweetness, thickness, and darkness of the chocolate.

The Cornstarch Version

Nutritional Information
Basic nutritional information for this recipe. Click here for the full information.

The other day, I made a chocolate pudding recipe I found online. Like most pudding recipes, it used cornstarch as a thickener. It had just five ingredients and looked pretty simple, so I gave it a go.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 cups nonfat milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preparation

  1. In a saucepan, combine the dry ingredients.
  2. Stir the milk in slowly until smooth.
  3. Cook on medium heat, stirring continuously, for 3 or 4 minutes.
  4. Stir in the vanilla.
  5. Pour the hot pudding into 4 individual serving bowls.
  6. Serve warm or chill at least 2 hours to set.

It was good, but not as good as I’d hoped. I thought I’d try another one.

The Flour Version

Years ago, when I was seriously into cooking, I used to make chocolate pudding from scratch. I found the recipe in my original Fanny Farmer Cookbook, which I replaced for some reason years later. The recipe I used for chocolate pudding was gone. This evening, I went searching for a recipe using the search phrase “chocolate pudding w/cocoa and flour.” I came up with a bunch of options, but the one I tried was on Cooks.com, mostly because I didn’t want to scald milk or put eggs in my chocolate pudding.

Nutritional Information
Basic nutritional information for this recipe. Click here for the full information.

I made the recipe exactly as written. I was disappointed. It was way too sweet and the “almost heaping” measurements were a bit too vague for my taste. So I rewrote it.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups nonfat milk
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Preparation

  1. In a saucepan, combine the dry ingredients.
  2. Stir the milk in slowly until smooth.
  3. Cook on medium-low heat until pudding thickens.
  4. Stir in the vanilla and butter.
  5. Pour the hot pudding into 4 individual serving bowls.
  6. Serve warm or chill at least 2 hours to set.

As you can see, the preparation is almost identical. The flavor is different. It could be the butter — which I’m not convinced is needed. Just seems to make it richer. I like this version better.

If you try either one, let me know what you think.

Taking “Home Made” to New Levels

I realize that I can take home-cooking to extremes.

French Toast Breakfast
My home-made/grown bread, eggs, and honey went into this.

This morning, I made French toast for breakfast. For most people, that’s not a big deal — French toast is easy enough to make. But I realized that my French toast went beyond what most people would consider a home-cooked meal for a few reasons:

  • I baked the bread.
  • The eggs came from my chickens.
  • The honey I put on top came from my bees.

The only thing related to my plate that I didn’t make or grow was the cooking spray I used in the pan and the fresh strawberries. In two months, the strawberries will come from my garden.

While anyone with an oven (or bread machine) and a tiny bit of skill (or ability to follow directions for a bread mix) can make their own bread — and I highly recommend it! — I agree that raising chickens or keeping bees is not for the average person. So no, I’m not trying to tell you to follow my lead here. I’m just pointing out that it’s possible to have better control over what you eat.

And the results can be delicious.

Construction: New Kitchen Video Tour

It’s about 95% done and I love it!

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse and walkthrough movies that go with many them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

After losing a full day to an unscheduled (but lucrative) trip to Sacramento on Sunday night through Monday afternoon, I finally finished up the shelves in my pantry. That enabled me to put away a lot of the things that were sitting around my countertops, thus making my new kitchen presentable in photos and videos. I thought I’d show it off now, before I start my next big project.

Because I only had 1200 square feet of total space to play with, I had to limit the size of the kitchen. Somehow, however, I managed to create a good-sized, highly functional space.

Kitchen
My kitchen is now about 95% done. Most of what’s left to do is just trim.

I designed the kitchen space from scratch, carving an area at the end of my great room that shared a wall with my bathroom. The idea was to minimize plumbing costs by minimizing the plumbing runs. With the sink on that wall and the stove on an island, the refrigerator would be set into the adjacent wall, completing the “triangle” that’s so important in kitchen design.

The countertop length was limited by the fact that there’s a window at the end of that wall, but it’s still a full 11 feet long. The island is 3-1/2 feet wide by 7-1/2 feet long. Frankly, I think I have almost as much counter space in this home as I did in my old Arizona home with its extremely spacious kitchen.

Anyway, I’ll let you take a look at it for yourself. Here’s my narrated video:

It’s not quite done. As you saw in the video, I still have these little projects ahead of me:

  • Install under cabinet lighting.
  • Install trim around walls and cabinets.
  • Install transition trim between appliance floors (adhesive vinyl on plywood) and main floor (Pergo laminated hardwood planks).
  • Wrap finish (with wood trim) pantry doorway and hang pantry doorway curtain. (This is temporary until I can get a custom door, likely sometime next year.)
  • Install white trim on pantry shelves and paint shelf support ends and screws.
  • Hang pendant lamps.
  • Hang fifth track lighting fixture.
  • Put decorative baskets and silk plants atop cabinets.

As one of my friends pointed out not too long ago, the work never really ends when you build or own a home. I don’t mind. I have plenty of free time at home in the summer months and always need a project to work on.

Unpacking My Kitchen

What was I thinking?

Yesterday evening, I planned a little get-together with girlfriends to keep me company while I unpacked some (or all?) of my kitchen boxes. I’d packed well over a dozen kitchen boxes during my final months in Arizona and now that my kitchen cabinets and countertops were in, I didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t start unpacking them and putting things away.

The Backstory

For those of you who don’t know the circumstances under which I left my Arizona home in the spring of 2013, let me give you a tiny bit of backstory. In 2012, while I was away in Washington for work, my husband told me he wanted a divorce and began living with another woman in Scottsdale. When I returned to Arizona, I found the locks changed on my home. I broke in, got the permission of the court to live there without him, and began what would become an extremely ugly divorce battle. My future ex-husband seemed anxious to get me out of the house — which he claimed he wanted to keep — but refused to agree to a reasonable settlement and even pushed back the original court date to delay things.

Meanwhile, other than making a few trips to visit friends and family and start a new job, I was pretty much stuck waiting at home, heartbroken, bored, and angry. I filled my time by packing up things I’d bought throughout the years — things I probably would have left behind if the bastard I’d married had settled. I blogged about this here. (Of course, if you want the dirty details on my divorce ordeal, you might want to read about my upcoming divorce book, tentatively titled Expensive Delusions: A Midlife Crisis Gone Horribly Wrong.)

Anyway, the longer I was stuck waiting, the more I packed. I was finally set free when he agreed to a list of the items I’d leave behind in exchange for me leaving the house. Agreeing to that list was the first — and so far only — reasonable thing he’s done in the past three years.

Nearly two years later, I have dozens of boxes stacked on pallets in my RV garage, waiting to be unpacked in my new home.

Kitchen Unpacking

The kitchen unpacking was the obvious place to start. With the installation of the cabinets, appliances, and countertops, my kitchen is 95% done. All I need to do is finish the flooring (which I’ll likely do today), add the trim, put shelves in my pantry, and get my kitchen sink and dishwasher hooked up (which will be done Monday). I was already using the refrigerator to store some of my food and the stove and microwave to prepare some of my meals. It would be nice to cook with my good pots and pans and eat on my good plates. These were among the first things I packed — the things I knew I wanted with me when I built my new home — and I hadn’t laid eyes on them for well over two years.

I spent most of yesterday laying Pergo in my great room. I was really hoping to get the whole room done before my guests arrived, but by 3:30, I still had the far end of the room and much of the kitchen to do. I spent another half hour cleaning up and starting to bring up boxes. Then I took a shower and prepped to receive my guests.

Great Room
Here’s what my “great room” looked like before I brought up the kitchen boxes. I like to think of this as the calm before the storm.

Although I was hoping to do all of the unpacking and let my friends just keep me company, they dug right in. Soon, the floor was full of empty boxes, wrapping paper, bubble wrap, and unwrapped kitchen items. I was extremely happy to get those every day dishes and pots and pans unwrapped and put away. And pleased to find many of the things I’d forgotten all about — various vases, my canister set, hand-made serving plates, glass mixing bowls, stainless steel measuring cups and spoons — basically everything I’d need in my new kitchen. And even a few things I don’t use often but really like, like my three little teapots, which will look great on the shelves near my window.

I found my immersion blender, which I’d been searching for months ago, in the bottom of the box marked “Last Kitchen Box” — just where I thought it was. That’s also where I found the last bunch of things I packed: two coffee makers, my coffee grinder, a few mugs, and various things I was using right up to the last day I lived in my old home. Some of those things duplicate what I’ve been using while living in my RV; I’ll take the items that are in the best condition for my home and put the duplicates back in the RV.

But I also found things that I can’t believe I packed: a microwave rice cooker I didn’t use in Arizona and won’t likely use here, a sprouts spouter I hadn’t used in at least five years, several tiny milk pitchers, at least ten extremely uninteresting serving plates and bowls — the list goes on and on. There’s the white marble lazy susan that’s heavy and ugly. There’s the glass plates shaped like fish, which I remember once thinking that I had to have and then rarely used. There’s a pair of desert dishes shaped like a bunch of grapes. There’s a pair of very large Starbucks Christmas mugs. There are also duplicates — I can’t believe I packed three cutting boards, even though I know I left at least one or two behind.

I know I got rid of a lot of my things before I moved — the local thrift shop could have opened a whole room with the Jeep-loads of things I dropped by every week — but I definitely packed stuff that should have been given away.

And now it’s here.

On Being a Packrat

My friends and I got through most — but not all — of the kitchen boxes. This morning, I came back upstairs to the crazy mess I’d left the night before. As I sipped my coffee and gazed out the window at the brightening landscape around me, I gave it some serious thought.

Unpacking Mess
Looks like I have a lot of cleaning up to do this morning!

I know I live with a packrat mentality — it’s one of my problems. I think it comes from my early years, back before I was able to afford the things I needed. Back then — especially in college — I became a scavenger, always looking for things I could use in my life. My dorm room was a perfect example, with furniture, lamps, and even a rug that I’d scavenged from the trash area on moving day.

Plates
Nice plates, but do I really need them?

Even years later, when I lived in Arizona, I’d often encounter items I thought would be useful and save them. For example, I remember buying frozen crème brûlée that came in very nice flat ceramic plates that had a terra cotta look. I couldn’t see throwing out those plates. So here they are, in my new home, making me wonder what the hell I’m going to do with them.

Even today, it’s hard to pass up an item I can use as is or modify to repurpose for another use. As I type this, there’s a load of eight pallets in the back of my pickup truck. I use them to create things like raised bed planters. I have lumber and scrap metal left over from the construction of my building — I’ll use them to redo my chicken coop this summer. And don’t get me started on the empty wine, cider, and beer bottles — all raw materials for my glass work.

Anyway, last night I’d tried to put away all of the things I packed, but with the clarity that comes after a good night’s sleep, I realize that less is more. It’s time to unload those extra things — the things I should have gotten rid of while packing.

I don’t want to continue my cluttered packrat habits in my new home.

Besides, I have a lot more boxes to unpack.

How to Calculate Nutritional Information for a Recipe

And why you might want to do it.

As the folks who know me well or follow my blog know, I’m dieting again.

Back in 2012, I lost 45 pounds in four months and regained both my health and my self-esteem. Although I’ve managed to keep most of the weight off since then, it’s been creeping up slowly. I want to nip that in the bud so I’ve gone back on the same diet that helped me lose so much weight so fast nearly three years ago. I expect that two months of serious dieting should be enough to get back down where I was in September 2012.

Nutritional Info Example
Calculating the nutritional info for an easy and yummy looking biscuit recipe a friend shared on Facebook makes it clear that this is something I need to avoid. (In case you’re wondering, this recipe’s ingredients are 4 cups Bisquick, 1 cup sour cream, 1 cup 7Up soda, and 1/2 cup butter.)

I know the reason I gained that weight back, which is important to prevent it from happening again:

  • Portion control. Although the diet I was on basically “shrunk my stomach” so I couldn’t eat those big portions, over time, I stretched it back out by eating more and more. What can I say? I like to eat. And when you put a big plate of food I really like in front of me, I want to eat as much as I can. This is something I need to control once I’m back down to my goal weight again.
  • Bad food choices. In general, I eat very well. Lots of fresh foods — not prepared foods — cooked simply. I grill or smoke most meats, I eat salads and fresh vegetables. But occasionally I make bad choices — usually at restaurants — that include fried or high-carb (or both!) foods. And every once in a while a friend will share a recipe online that looks too good to pass up and I’ll make it.

I believe that if you’re at a good, healthy weight and keep relatively active, short forays into the realm of bad food choices should be okay. Sure — enjoy a piece of pie or a flaky biscuit or a plate of pasta once in a while. But remember that portion control! And don’t do it every day.

That’s what I’ve learned over the past two years. Now if only I could remember that when you place my favorite food in front of me!

But how do you determine what’s a good food choice and what’s a bad food choice when it comes to preparing recipes? That’s where nutritional calculators come in handy. The one I use is on a site called SparkRecipes, but there are plenty of others. You enter the ingredients for the recipe along with the quantity of each item, indicate how many servings it creates, and click a Calculate Info button. The result is a display like you see here, which I calculated this morning for a four-ingredient biscuit recipe a friend shared. The numbers make it clear just how healthy — or unhealthy — a food choice the recipe can be.

I began doing these calculations for all the recipes I share on my blog. I recently learned that by omitting part of a recipe — for example, the dumplings in the chicken and dumplings recipe I recently shared — or substituting one healthier ingredient for another, you can make a recipe healthier without sacrificing flavor. This can help you cook healthier meals for yourself and your family — something that’s especially important when weight-related health problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes is an issue.

Is calculating nutritional information like this worth the effort? What do you think? Isn’t your health worth a few minutes of time in front of a computer so you can make an informed decision?