Friday, 20 November 2009

Food for the Infirmed - Creamy Tapioca Pudding

My gramma had fully embraced the packaged food generation by the time I came around. Originally farmers, I assume they used to eat "real" food, but when I visited my grandparents in the seventies their shelves were filled with cans and packages. Mysterious wonders such as pre-sliced cheese, whiter than white bread - which also came pre-sliced! - Kraft Dinner, Jello, ice cream that came in a box and my gramma would slice off a little brick for me and put strawberries on top. One pre-sliced cheese slice, folded to make four equal segments, would fit perfectly on Premium Plus crackers for salty little square sandwiches. She made Jello salads for family events and for me she would make orange jello with canned mandarin orange segments in it. I loved this alien food, all of which was served to me on a tv table in my grandfather's chair in front of the television. Beside me was a box that changed the tv stations when you pressed down hard on the buttons.
If gramma was on the couch beside me, we had Lawrence Welk on in the background while we played rummy. If I was alone, comedies and cartoons kept me company. Grampa was usually sleeping in the bedroom or curling or whatever else grampas do. He didn't speak much but if I asked him what time it was he would always say "half past kissing time". Then I would be careful to remain out of reach in case kisses were actually imminent. Looking back, I should probably have let him catch me once in a while.

I am so touched by the support and good cheer sent to me by my friends out there for my (relatively minor) surgery. I am feeling much better than I thought I would. I'm bruised, battered and sore, but the pain of recovery is nothing compared to the pain I was in before-hand.

What I have been craving is comfort food. Comfort to the extreme. Soft, warm, pillowy food with no rough edges, that would slide down my sore throat and soothe my tummy. This recipe for Creamy Tapioca Pudding made in the slow cooker was perfect. I chose to add tinned mandarin oranges as they are soft and remind me of my gramma. What could be better than that?

Creamy Tapioca Pudding
Beth Hensperger, Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook
as found on Notes from my Food Diary and subsequently adapted by me.
Serves 4

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup small pearl tapioca (not instant)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
Fresh or canned fruit for serving, optional

Coat the slow cooker with butter-flavor nonstick cooking spray.

Combine the milk, sugar, tapioca, and vanilla in the cooker; stir well with a whisk. Cover and cook on LOW until the milk is absorbed, the pudding thickened, and most of the tapioca balls are completely transparent, about 1 1/2 hours. Some of them will still have a white dot at their centers; that is okay. While cooking, the milk will be gently bubbling.

Beat the egg in a cup or small bowl. Stir the tapioca thoroughly to break up any clumps. Spoon a few tablespoons of the hot tapioca into the egg and beat well; pour the mixture into the cooker and stir well with a spoon or spatula to combine. Cover and cook on LOW for another 30 minutes.

Turn off the cooker and let the pudding cool, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Serve warm or pour into individual bowls, cover and chill. Serve plain or stir in fruit as desired. Store, covered, in the refrigerator.

I am a big fan of Beth Hensperger's books, and she taught me not to be at all intimidated by the slow cooker. Lift the lid if you want, season, stir, use your own good judgement. All you lose is time. It is better to know that the consistency and flavours are correct. Mine took a little longer than the instructions state, I find my smaller crock pot cooks on a slightly lower heat than my larger one.
My pudding was a little creamier as I subbed in some cream, you could even make it lighter with a lower fat milk. Flavourings could be changed, cinnamon or cardamom would be nice. It's up to you. Real tapioca pudding, like rice pudding, is comforting and versatile and just as delicious as you care to make it.