Banana Pudding

Fact: some days, you are sad, and banana pudding is the only answer.  And not the cop-out Jell-O instant pudding with Nilla wafers kind (#sorrynotsorry for the sass).  I mean like making an actual sponge cake with actual pudding (or pastry cream, I'll try that next time) and borderline too ripe bananas, with the little hint of chocolate and lots of whipped cream.  If you're having a super terrible day, get a good night's sleep and eat some for breakfast too (i.e. what I'm doing right now as I type).  

Banana Pudding

1 recipe vanilla bean pudding (below)
1 recipe Génoise cake (below)
4 ripe bananas, sliced
1/3 c cold heavy cream
Several tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting

Cut the Génoise into small cubes. I cut the cake into two semicircles, then turned each semicircle onto its side to easily cut it in half again into two thinner semicircles. Use whatever technique you prefer to break down the cake. I didn't end up using all of my cake, so you'll have some good snackage later.

If you have a glass bowl with high sides, you'll probably be able to get two layers of filling going. I just used a 9x13 inch Pyrex baking dish because it's what I had (plus one of the pretty glass cups I used for pictures), so I only did one layer. Cover the bottom of your vessel of choice with cake cubes, followed by banana slices, and then pudding (I find it's easier to spread pudding over bananas than cake when you have a big bowl of it... For the small glasses it doesn't really matter, so that's why they're layered differently in the pictures). If you have space and material for two layers, repeat. Once you've finished layering, dust the surface with cocoa powder through a fine-mesh sifter. Let the pudding sit for a few hours before serving. 

Whip the heavy cream into soft peaks, with sugar if you prefer (I didn't feel the need to sweeten mine). Dish up your pudding with a spoonful of whipped cream. Protip: the pudding is even better the next day, for breakfast.

Vanilla Bean Pudding

2 2/3 cups whole milk, divided
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean (or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract)
1 large egg

Bring 2 c of the milk to a boil in a medium saucepan. Be sure to stir frequently, and be careful to scrape the bottom completely so it doesn't burn. While it is heating, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and vanilla bean in the bottom of a medium, heatproof bowl. Slowly pour the remaining 2/3 c milk over the cornstarch mixture, whisking the whole time so lumps do not form.  Whisk in the egg. Once the milk has come to a boil, very gradually add it into the cornstarch mixture while whisking.

Return the mixture back to the saucepan, stirring constantly with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon (switch to a whisk if lumps begin to form from the cornstarch). Once it comes to a simmer, cook it for one minute longer. Set it aside in a clean bowl to cool to room temperature.

Génoise Cake
from The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1 c cake flour, sifted
4 large eggs, at room temperature (this point is very important, the eggs cannot be cold)
2/3 c sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line with parchment paper. Butter and flour the parchment, knocking out any excess flour.

Melt the butter in a small dish in the microwave and set aside to cool. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl for a hand mixer), combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt.  Beat the mixture on high 5-7 minutes until it has tripled in volume, and is thick enough that the ribbon formed by the beater takes a couple seconds to dissolve (you won't be able to incorporate enough air if your eggs are not room temperature). 

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in 1/3 c flour at a time, then the butter as well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with the spatula. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the cake has set. Absolutely do not open the oven in the first 20 minutes, or your cake will fall. Let the finished cake cool for 20 minutes, then turn out onto a plate and remove the parchment.  Flip onto a wire rack to let cool completely. 

Snap Pea + Cilantro Quinoa

I can feel myself becoming increasingly more frantic.  The more stress I put on myself, the less I am able to concentrate, to sit still and do all the things that would relieve that stress.  I'm sure you're familiar with this feeling.  The impulse to hide under my covers curled up in the fetal position grows stronger as finals become more of a reality, as I am pulled into more urgent work projects at the last second, as everyone tries to say goodbye for the summer.  I'm more worried than usual about the outcome of this finals week (rather than just the horrible prospect of the whole finals process), since it'll shape my schedule next year.  I'm generally pretty chill about grades.  Sure, I'm terribly disappointed in myself when I don't do well; but if I've learned anything in college (especially one like UChicago), it's that my best is all I can give.  And that has to be enough, lest I drive myself crazy.

If I prepared as well as I could, and did as well as I could in the moment, then there was nothing else for me to do.  There's peace in that.  When it comes time to sit down and take a test, or write a paper, if I haven't prepared adequately, there is no sense in being upset about it.  And there's no sense in getting upset about it when I get the grade, because what is there to do about it then?  

Up until my second year here, I would actually cry when I got a poor grade on an assignment or exam.  Crying is one way that I deal with stress, disappointment, frustration (as I've probably talked about here before, I'm quite skilled at crying in public) -- but I've since stopped crying over my grades.  There's the moment of disappointment, that sinking feeling in my gut -- and then I fold the paper in half, shove it in my bag, and it's gone.  Maybe this is an immature defense mechanism I've developed, but I like to think that maybe it's a sign that I've matured.  We'll see what happens when I graduate with this degree that nobody seems to think is employable or leads to a successful (read: high-earning) career (and that, friends, is a rant for another day).

Snap Pea + Cilantro Quinoa

2 handfuls snap peas
1 handful cilantro
very heaping 1/3 c sliced almonds
2 cloves garlic
1/4 c grated parmesan cheese
1/3 c olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 sweet potato, sliced into thin half-moons
Salt to taste
1 c quinoa
2 kaffir lime leaves (optional)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.  Toss the sweet potato slices in a tablespoon or two of olive oil, sprinkle with salt to taste, and roast until soft inside and golden brown on the outside.  On a separate baking sheet, toast the almonds until lightly golden.

Meanwhile, bring 2 c water to a boil, add the lime leaves if using and a teaspoon or so of salt, then add in the quinoa.  Cook for ~12 minutes with the cover on until the water has been absorbed, then let sit covered for another 15 minutes off the heat.  Remove the lime leaves and drizzle with a couple tablespoons of olive oil.

In a food processor, add the snap peas, garlic, and cilantro.  Process until chopped finely.  Add in a scant 1/3 c toasted almonds (you want to leave a few tablespoons to have whole in the final dish) and process those as well.  Add in the parmesan and a couple tablespoons of olive oil.  With the machine on, drizzle in enough olive oil for the mixture to become a smooth paste.  Add in the lemon juice and process until combined.  Adjust seasoning as needed.

Once the quinoa has cooled briefly, toss with enough snap pea pesto to coat (but not drown) the quinoa, then toss in the sweet potato slices and almonds.  This can be served at any temperature, but I preferred it at room temperature.