Category Archives: dessert

Tapioca Pudding

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved tapioca pudding. For as long as I can remember, I’ve also been known in my family as nutmeg. (You better believe there’s a direct correlation.)

Megala. Goobie. Little. Cowsey. Wilbur…

Just a sampling of the other charming names my siblings and I acquired growing up. Fortunately, they never really took off beyond the walls of our house. Every so often, there are occasions when sharing means more when it’s intimate (and when it means avoiding potential ridicule).

This recipe, however, is meant to be shared. Just don’t ask me to share my pudding. It’s fluffy and creamy and best straight from the fridge with a large spoon.

Fair warning: don’t top it with too much nutmeg. In large quantities, nutmeg is a hallucinogen. Read into that as you will.

Tapioca Pudding:
Serves 4 – 6
1/2 cup small pearl tapioca (NOT instant)
3 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, room temperature, separated
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
nutmeg, if desired

1) Combine tapioca, milk, and salt in a saucepan on medium high heat. Stir until boiling. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes at the lowest possible heat. Add sugar gradually.
2) Beat egg yolks in a separate bowl. Stir in some of the hot tapioca so the eggs don’t curdle when added to the pudding.
3) Combine eggs in the pan with the tapioca. Slowly bring mixture barely to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and stir several minutes at a low simmer, stirring constantly until the pudding thickens and coats the back of your spatula.
4) Beat egg whites in a bowl until they form soft peaks. Remove the tapioca pudding from the stove and fold in the beaten egg whites.
5) Cool the pudding for 15 minutes. Add vanilla. Serve either warm or chilled and sprinkle with nutmeg.

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nestMeg’s First Birthday: Celebrate with Chocolate Cake

Wow. I can hardly believe a year has passed since I began this whole food blogging endeavor.

In that time, I have experienced some of the most defining moments of my life: Figuring out, with all the certainty a 22-year-old can possess, what I want to doGraduating from college. Moving to another country. Monumental moments that happened beyond the promising comfort of my kitchen–yet that was the place from which I drew my strength and sought my inspiration.

I started this blog to hold myself accountable in the kitchen. To learn how to be self-sufficient. I also learned, inadvertently, how to take risks. Within the confines of my apartment, I combined rosemary and peanut butter into a pie. (I know, I live on the edge.) But outside, I quit obligations that no longer resonated with me. I pursued passions that did. In lieu of accepting a job straight after graduation, I opted to take one last hiatus.

For some, these decisions are easily made. For me, they require deliberation akin to that of our current Congress. But I want to be the kind of person who trusts her instincts, and so I’ve expanded my risk-taking beyond the kitchen and into the real world. It’s the only way to increase one’s repertoire. And if I burn the hummus? Or make a fool of myself? Well, I can take comfort in knowing that, whatever the outcome, I learned more than I would have sitting on the couch and watching three seasons of Skins. (Not that that behavior isn’t totally acceptable sometimes.)

Then again, this chocolate cake recipe is hardly risky, unless one considers the lengths my siblings and I went to in order to eat this cake outside of permissible hours. It’s not the kind of cake you forget is lying in your kitchen, waiting. It’s the kind of cake that demands attention until the last bite has been consumed. Personally, my preferred method of extra cake attainment was running my finger around the perimeter of the pan, gathering up frosting like a snow plow, then dipping it into the cake crumbs from slices past, before licking my finger clean. Then, I’d smush the unaffected frosting down to cover my misdeed.

As you can probably guess, my stealth was no match for my mother.

And the three-year-old hand you see featured in the first picture above? I’m pretty sure the body attached to it was contemplating a similar covert operation. It runs in the family.

Speaking of family, I want to thank you, my blog family. Without your support, I’d be just another not-so-starving writer. I hope you’ll stick with me in year 2 — won’t you?

Simple Chocolate Sheet Cake:
Makes one 9 x 13 cake
3 1-ounce unsweetened chocolate baking squares (or 9 tablespoons cocoa and 3 tablespoons butter)
1/3 cup water (omit water if using cocoa and butter instead of baking squares)
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
2 1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup water

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place baking squares and 1/3 cup water into a microwave-safe bowl. (If using cocoa, skip to step 2.) Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring after each interval, until the chocolate has melted fully. Set aside to let cool.
2) Cream butter in a bowl (including the 3 tablespoons for the cocoa, if you’re not using baking squares), then add brown sugar. Stir until well-incorporated, then add eggs one at a time. Stir in vanilla.
3) Once the melted chocolate has cooled, stir into the butter and sugar mixture. If using cocoa instead, combine cocoa.
4) Stir in flour and baking soda, alternating with the 1 cup of water. Pour batter into a 9 x 13 baking pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
5) Once the cake has cooled, frost with your favorite buttercream recipe. I used this buttercream frosting recipe, but omitted the mint and added a few tablespoons of cocoa.

Banana Pudding

It’s difficult to say exactly when Southern culture wooed its way into my heart and spread, like kudzu, straight into my stubborn Yankee soul. Born in New York and transplanted before I could even start school, I felt like a vagabond. A Girl Without a Region. So, I clung to the only identity I thought I had, knowing that any real Southerner would pronounce me a fraud the moment I opened my mouth and produced any word with a short “o” sound. (“D-aw-g,” “aw-fice,” and “c-aw-fee” were all dead giveaways.)

For much of my adolescence, I fought valiantly against any influences that hailed from below the Mason-Dixon line. In my earliest years in North Carolina, I argued with countless other children that “y’all” was merely a contraction and not, in fact, a real word. I refused to participate in our high school tradition of wearing camouflage and neon orange to football games. For that matter, I refused to acknowledge football, period. I always chose Dunkin’ Donuts over Krispy Kreme during “which is better?” doughnut debates.

Over the years, I made a few concessions. I went to Bojangle’s for lunch, on occasion. I began saying “ma’am” when I got my first job. I learned to slow down. (Or, rather, I tried to learn. I’m not entirely sure I am capable of the task.) Sometimes, I ate Krispy Kreme donuts. And liked it.

As I’m sure you can guess, I learned to love the South through food. Maybe it was the cold, crunchy fried chicken my middle school friend always shared with me at lunch. Maybe it was the smoky dry ribs I devoured in that iconic basement barbecue restaurant, Rendezvous, in Memphis. Or the pimento cheese on soft, pale bread. Or the grits, shiny with bacon grease and sprinkled with grilled shrimp. Or the cornbread, which speaks for itself.

All I know is, one day I was criticizing the number of Confederate flags stuck to pick-up trucks and flying from flagpoles, and the next I was correcting the misinformed people I met in D.C. who still subscribed to antiquated Southern stereotypes. And then, one night, I said “y’all.” And meant it.

I’m not suggesting that I have become a Southerner. I’m not sure it’s an identity you can adopt, particularly when I’m still harboring a decidedly non-Southern accent. Rather, I like to think I’m a hybrid. I can appreciate the best of both worlds, and recognize the worst, too.

One of the best things about the South, by far, is the banana pudding. (Or banana puddin’. Your choice.)

I cannot recall the first time I indulged in what was likely more than one serving of this layered delight, but my most fond memory of banana pudding is on a summer evening in Beaufort, eating banana pudding by the bowlful, often adding a spoonful of hot fudge or two. (We had no concept of restraint that summer.) A close second in the memory department is eating banana pudding in Munich last year, when the Icelandic volcano left me “stranded” in Germany.

My hostess loved it so much, I thought I’d take another stab at the creamy, Southern classic, served up for a European audience. And this time, I made the pudding completely from scratch. And I will also acknowledge Paula Deen for her contribution, as much as it pains me. Her original banana pudding recipe is here.

Banana Pudding:
Serves 8
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 cups milk
4 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
4 medium bananas, sliced
1 (12-ounce box) vanilla wafers
1 cup whipped cream

1) Heat a double boiler (or create your own with a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of water) on the stove. Meanwhile, mix together sugar and cornstarch in a bowl. Add sugar and cornstarch to the pot and slowly stir in milk. Let thicken slightly.
2) Take a few spoonfuls of the pudding and stir into the bowl containing the beaten egg yolks to heat (temper) the eggs so they won’t overcook in the pot. Then add the egg mixture to the pot and stir for another 2 minutes. Pudding should coat the back of the stirring spoon. Remove pudding from heat and let cool.
3) In a baking dish (9×9 works best, but I used a more rectangular baking dish and it was fine), alternate pudding, bananas and wafers, beginning and ending with pudding. Be generous with the banana slices–slices should be touching.
4) Top the pudding with whipped cream. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Do you identify yourself regionally? If so, from what region? Do you think it’s possible to “become” Southern?

Strawberry Meringue Buttercream

That’s right. Get me in a foreign country renowned for its baked goods, and I’ll bake cupcakes that look like they came straight out of an all-American Martha Stewart cookbook.

After baking wedding cupcakes, I swore cupcakes off for, well, ever. Those suckers are so cloyingly sweet that I predicted my making them again would result in a lengthy sugar-induced coma, followed by my dramatic demise, frosting oozing out of every pore. I mean, I had nightmares about the last cupcakes I baked. I desperately want to move on to  a new baked-good food trend–perhaps whoopie pies, or macarons. Sometimes, however, my cupcake reputation precedes me. Or, as in this instance (and many others, frankly), I could not keep my mouth shut and, one afternoon, out poured my admission: I was in a class where my nickname was Cupcake. My cupcakes have won awards. My cupcakes bring all the boys to the yard. Et cetera.

This admission was followed by a shocking revelation: my family didn’t know what a cupcake was! As a self-assigned American Ambassador to Germany, I could not allow this ignorance to continue. Sure, the country already has yeasty soft pretzels, vibrant fruit tortes, and, my personal favorite, nuss-nougat croissants, but without cupcakes, Germany is a country still lacking in the ultimate vehicle for carbohydrates, butter and sugar.

Thus, I found myself baking cupcakes for one of my German family member’s birthdays. As much as I gripe about baking yet another dozen cupcakes, I derive great pleasure from the oohs and aahs that my cupcakes always elicit. Somewhere around the time that I take those little cakes out of the oven, they transform from the bane of my existence into my personal pride ‘n’ joy. Piping frosting on them is the closest I’ll ever get to being an artist.

My friend Kasey discovered this buttercream recipe, so I finally have a strawberry frosting I can be proud of, unlike last time. The recipe actually is Martha Stewart’s strawberry meringue buttercream, though I changed the wording in the directions to better represent how I interpreted the recipe, and included the European conversions I needed to make since I now lack proper measuring cups. I used the same chocolate cupcake base I always use.

Even I enjoyed the result of this cultural immersion experience. But, seriously, I need to learn how to make nuss-nougat-filled croissants before I ever delve into cupcake-making again. Recipe suggestions welcome!

Strawberry Meringue Buttercream:
Makes enough to frost 16 or so cupcakes piped fancy-style, 24 cupcakes when simply spread on
4 large egg whites
1 1/4 cups (250 grams) sugar
1 1/2 cups (350 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) strawberry jam, pureed in a food processor or blender

1) Set a heatproof mixing bowl over a pot of simmering water. Stir in egg whites and sugar, whisking constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is a glossy white. Remove bowl from heat and beat egg whites with an electric mixer until the egg whites form stiff peaks and the mixture is cooled. (It has to be cool or the butter will melt!)
2) Slowly combine butter into the egg mixture a few tablespoons at a time, beating well between additions. Add vanilla, then stir in strawberry jam puree until the frosting is smooth.

Key Lime Cupcakes

Friends, it’s been a while.

I know, I know. My absence is absolutely inexcusable, especially when you consider most of the activities in which I’ve been partaking: watching three seasons of the U.K. version of Skins (such scandal!), shopping, running errands in preparation for Munich, running, baking for Share Our Strength and baking for my friends’ wedding. So much fodder for blog posts that I failed to write.

Actually, that last activity renders my absence entirely excusable. Baking cupcakes for a wedding is surprisingly time- and energy-consuming and, in the end, leaves one with a strong aversion to consuming cupcakes. So strong, in fact, that when I attended another wedding last night (two weddings in one weekend, which meant two evenings of doggedly dodging the bridal bouquet), I couldn’t fathom taking more than one bite of the luscious-looking red velvet cake. After baking 200+ cupcakes on Monday and frosting them Friday morning, my pores practically ooze butter. My cat has been especially devoted to me these past few days; I’m good for both a relaxing pet and a pleasant dairy aroma.

I would bake wedding cupcakes again, despite the overexposure to butter. What better way to show your engaged friends you care than to mass-produce baked delights for their friends and family? I baked love into every bite. For Dan and Casey, I made mint chocolate cupcakes, vanilla & chocolate cupcakes with Nutella filling and key lime cupcakes. As a key lime pie purist, I was initially skeptical about the latter. If I’m going to eat something with “key lime” in the title, I want that food to result in a graham cracker crust and cream cheese filling. Still, key lime pie is Dan’s favorite dessert, and I was not about to volunteer to make 75 key lime tarts in addition to 100 chocolate cupcakes. Everyone has a limit to his or her baking masochism, so key lime cupcakes it was.

Lesson learned. Key lime is acceptable in other forms on occasion. I got this key lime cupcake recipe from Bon Appetit and eliminated the green food dye since it was a little too St. Patrick’s Day for a wedding. I also intended to sprinkle more lime zest on top in lieu of sprinkles, but sometimes I’m a little too ambitious for my own good.

Case in point: I leave for Munich Wednesday evening. When I booked the flight, 20 days of prep time seemed ample. 17 days later, my to-do list should sufficiently fill every spare moment. The next meal I make will be in southern Germany rather than the southern U.S. Oy vey, eeek and yay!

Key Lime Cupcakes:
Makes 1 dozen
Cupcakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup self-rising flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon finely grated lime peel
3/4 cup buttermilk

Frosting
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon finely grated lime peel
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin pan with paper liners. Combine flours in medium bowl.
2) Beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar and beat to blend. Beat in eggs one at a time, then add lime juice and lime peel.
3) Add 1/3 of the flour, then add 1/2 the buttermilk. Add another 1/3 of the flour, then the rest of the buttermilk. Add the remaining flour.
4) Fill each cupcake liner about 1/3 full and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in pan briefly, then remove.
5) For the frosting, combine all ingredients until smooth and spread or pipe over the cupcakes.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies (According to Cookie Connoisseurs)

For years, I’ve been considering whether my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe was, well, wrong. That the whole time I’d pledged allegiance to the original Toll House classic, out there existed another cookie recipe that was superior in chocolate content, chewiness and cookie dough consumption potential.

For that reason, I decided to host a chocolate chip cookie tasting. I carefully selected the recipes and not-so-carefully selected the judges, culminating in an afternoon of sugary, buttery, chocolatey goodness and 120 cookies in my kitchen. (I know. I should have halved the recipes.) The judges were given index cards on which to rank each of the three cookie recipes on a scale of 1 through 5, 1 being the worst and 5 being the best.

The cookies were ranked on the following criteria:

  • Chewy-to-Soft Ratio
  • Cookie-to-Chocolate Ratio
  • Salt Content
  • Milk Dippability
  • Thickness
  • Taste of Cookie Dough

I also asked the judges what their favorite cookie was overall and, if each cookie was a celebrity, which celebrity it would be.

First, let’s meet the judges. In the interest of parallel structure, their biographies consist of where they attend(ed) college. (I like to think I achieved diversity by drawing from UNC and Duke. It’s reassuring to know that being in the same geographical area isn’t our only commonality. We all love cookies.)

Rachel: UNC graduate
Cookie preference: A

Ryan: UNC graduate
Cookie preference: B

Gwynne: UNC graduate
Cookie preference: A

Melissa: Duke graduate
Cookie preference: A

Lauren: Duke student
Cookie preference: B

Me, Meghan: UNC student
Cookie preference: between A & B (my blog, my rules!)

As you can see, the race was a close one. Cookies A & B were quite similar in their ingredient ratios, but not quite. Check out each cookie’s profile below.

Cookie A: The Tollhouse Original
Ranking:

  • chewy-to-soft ratio–3.9
  • cookie-to-chocolate ratio–2.8
  • salt content–3.1
  • milk dippability–4.2
  • thickness–4.6
  • taste of cookie dough–4
  • overall–3.78
Celebrity Equivalent: Julia Roberts

Cookie B: Martha Stewart Chocolate Chip Cookies
Ranking:

  • chewy-to-soft ratio–4.4
  • cookie-to-chocolate ratio–4
  • salt content–3
  • milk dippability–3.9
  • thickness–4.1
  • taste of cookie dough–4.1
  • overall–3.9
Celebrity Equivalent: Dakota Fanning

Cookie C: Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Ranking:

  • chewy-to-soft ratio–2.1
  • cookie-to-chocolate ratio–3.5
  • salt content–3
  • milk dippability–3.4
  • thickness–2.2
  • taste of cookie dough–1.6
  • overall–2.6
Celebrity Equivalent: Snooki

As you can see, our results were inconclusive. Cookie B won in rankings, but the majority of judges preferred Cookie A. I felt bad for Cookie C, because I wanted to believe that the extra step (browning the butter) would be somehow redeeming. Rachel said it was “trying too hard.” Naturally, I have to try making it again, just to be sure I didn’t mess up royally during the production process.

I’d say that if you like a chewier cookie, go for B. If you like a softer cookie, go for A. Melissa also wavered between A and B, but said that A had “some magical superiority” that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. If you like your cookie GTL-style, go for C.

As for the The New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe, I decided that, in the interest of maintaining some semblance of a budget on this blog and in my life, spending $20+ on Valrhona chocolate discs contradicted my food and finance principles  (food is worth the investment, but let’s not get crazy). Also, a lady I met while contemplating the Valrhona chocolate at Whole Foods declared the cookies “nothing special.”

Ultimately, I’ve learned that sometimes, all you need is a little tweak to the original to keep things interesting. Change the ingredient ratio, change the type of chocolate, bake the cookies a bit longer, etc. Like music. (“American Pie” album version versus live version is all well and good, but never, ever the Madonna cover.)

Like life, in fact. Tweaking ourselves in the quest for self-improvement, but still maintaining our original integrity, our core beliefs, our buttery-sweet goodness. Never compromise on that. (And always use real butter.)

And the Judges Are…

Can I just say that this decision was really, really challenging? You all love cookies–we’re kindred spirits.

Which is why everyone who commented is invited to my cookie tasting. I can’t deny you a love we share. That’s right; acruisingcouple, deMandy, Hannah, Courtney, Leah, Chelsey, Gwynne, Meghan, Andrea, Carly, Molly, Lauren and Melissa are all invited.

The tasting will be from 2 to 4 (approximately) on April 23rd. If you’re still interested in attending, please email me at nestmeg [at] gmail [dot] com by Monday, 4/18 at 9 p.m.

This is gonna be sah-weet!

Oh, and by the way, if you love me, or if you love when good things happen to good people, OR if you love love, you should click this link and give it a thumbs up (the icon is above the video).