Tropical Interlude

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There’s nothing like a fruit net full of mangoes, papayas, bananas, and tangerines! I may be making something with this sucker next.

        Welcome to week 2 (or is this week 3?) of my time in the Bahamas. Is it so wrong that being here has kept me from blogging? There are cays to visit, treacherous passages to sail, and island ways to learn.
        Since crossing the gulf stream into this otherworldly place, Lee and I have visited Grand Bahama Island, a couple of spots in the Berry Islands, and Nassau. We actually arrived in the bustling capital more than a week ago but needed to accomplish a long list of things before moving on. Tomorrow, hopefully, we will cross the banks to the Exumas and spend the remaining month or so before our wedding exploring those fabled isles.
        Food wise, the Bahamas are fascinating. Big, beautiful Conch shells lie in heaps as evidence of the local obsession with their meat. Conch fritters, burgers, salad, and fried Conch are sold in ramshackle stands on Nassau’s Potters Cay and in restaurants serving local cuisine.
        I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I have not tried any preparation of the Bahamians favorite mollusk yet. Conch salad, a raw, ceviche-like concoction, appeals to me the most. I know we will encounter local joints selling it in the Exumas so I’ll work up the courage to try some.
        Other than Conch, fresh seafood available includes Grouper and lots of Snapper. Lee and I bought a Snapper and had it fileted at the Potters Cay market (where fishing boats come to sell their catch and produce arrives from the out-islands). We cooked it on the grill with some of the sour oranges that a produce vendor recommended as a seafood marinade. It was delicious!
        Peas and rice is the side dish of choice on the islands. As a vegetarian, I have to wonder whether there’s ham involved. Macaroni and cheese is another stand by and I hear great things about island-style bread.
        The supermarkets in Nassau and Freeport are similar to US stores but their stock is limited. I could only find one carton of plain yogurt on my main provisioning trip but when I went back the next day they were stocking the shelves with a new shipment.

        Baking…yes, I’ve done some of that. I made cinnamon rolls the other day but they did not turn out well enough to be blog-worthy. I know today is Valentines day and I have some chocolate cupcakes planned for my valentine!
        The recipe I have to share today is not a local dish or my usual baked fare. It is so simple that I’m sure I’m one of the last kitchen-oriented people to make it. Still, I am so proud of myself for pulling this off. I made plain old vanilla pudding from scratch!

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        That may sound ridiculously easy but for someone who has never done it before and has limited experience with cornstarch pudding is a great feat. I’m a bit of a pudding addict (when there’s no ice cream around) so I carry lots of instant Jello pudding packs on the boat. Still, it seems silly to make instant pudding when all it takes to make it from scratch is milk, corn starch, salt, sugar, and some flavoring.
        I went with plain vanilla flavor and stuck to a simple cornstarch thickened recipe. Adding eggs for richness is the next step. I’ll move on to that when I’ve perfected this formula!
        There are a zillion recipes for pudding out there. I consulted Joy of Cooking but went with the recipe in Laurel’s Kitchen.

Vanilla Pudding
Serves 3-4
From Laurel’s Kitchen by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Bronwen Godfrey

2 cups fresh milk (I made mine with powdered milk)
2 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Optional
2 well-beaten eggs
Toasted coconut
Chopped nuts

Gently heat 1.5 cups of the milk in a heavy pan or double boiler.
Combine cornstarch or arrowroot with reserved milk, adding this mixture to the pan when the milk is hot.
Stir in sugar, salt, and vanilla and cook over low heat until thick.
Reduce heat further and cook gently for about 8 more minutes.

Optional richer version
Mix 1 cup of the pudding with 2 eggs, then return to the pan and continue cooking, stirring constantly.

Serve warm or pour into bowls and chill. Garnish with toasted coconut and/or chopped nuts (fresh fruit would be excellent too!).

        I poured my pudding into 3 dishes, covered them, and chilled them till dessert time. Mine was not particularly thick when I stopped cooking it and I was worried that I’d somehow screwed up. The pudding had thickened by the time we ate it that evening, though. I love this simple, smooth vanilla dessert with a dollop of whipped cream!

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