If you’re stirring the pot, it’s your pot

Don’t be afraid to have an opinion when you are cooking. The beauty of being the one at the stove is everybody else just stand back. You want to put buttered graham crackers in your banana pudding instead of vanilla wafers or stuff your stuffed pepper filling into pumpkins instead? You go.

You could, but you don’t have to worry do Bobby and Betty like their steak with onions or do they like it with a roasted red pepper mayonnaise because if Bobby and Betty are that worked up about it they can cook tomorrow night. I’m not saying you have to be nasty, or that it’s a problem cooking what you know somebody else is going to like, but only cooking to please Bobby and Betty can give you cramps and lead to trouble. I’m saying that if you love what you cook, it can keep you cooking until you’re too tired to stand, and you just let Bobby and Betty worry about what they love to cook on their own time.
I’m making a banana pudding for dessert and I’m making it with graham crackers and to go along with it for dinner, maybe first, maybe second, I’m making red lentils with coconut milk. You could serve sides of okra and tomato or roasted cubes of butternut squash and sliced red onions or just bitter greens mixed with a mustard and shallot and parsley dressing. Or you could just toast up some whole almonds with a little sugar, salt, cinnamon, butter and cayenne pepper and have those as your first course. Smile while you stir the pot and ask somebody (nicely) to get you a drink.

For the lentils: Rinse a half pound of them well in cold water, then cover with more water, season with salt, a spill of olive oil, a few whole cloves of garlic and a sprig of fresh thyme. Simmer until softened, about twenty to thirty minutes. In a saute pan add a good spill of olive oil, a few inches of minced fresh ginger, two or three cloves of minced garlic and a few red pepper flakes. Season with salt. If you like onion, add a small minced red onion or a few diced green onions to the mix. Smash a teaspoon of each, fennel and cumin seed in a mortar and pestle, and stir into a clear spot on the pan to toast, before you combine with the rest of everything in there. Drain the lentils and add to the ginger mix. Spoon some of the cooking liquid or stock to make them a bit soupy. Add about a quarter cup of coconut milk and keep warm. (keep the rest of the coconut milk in ice cube trays in the freezer and take out as you need it)
Meanwhile, make basmati or jasmine rice by using 2 1/4 cups of water to 1 cup of rice with some salt to taste, a spill of olive oil and a bay leaf. Put a black peppercorn or two in there as well if you have them, but don’t forget to fish them out before you serve. The lentils and rice are really good served with fried onions as a garish, or even just toasted and salted pumpkin seeds.

The banana pudding is adapted from Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant Cookbook: Heat 4 cups of whole milk with one scraped vanilla bean to the simmer. In a separate bowl mix 2/3 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of cornstarch, 4 egg yolks and 3 tablespoons of cream. Whisk a little hot milk into this mixture and then and add the mixture back into the milk, whisking constantly. Cook for about 15 minutes until it’s thick as pudding. Be sure you are using a heavy saucepan and don’t stop stirring.

Using either vanilla wafers or espresso and sugar soaked Pavessini or graham crackers, line the bottom of a 13×9 pan. Spoon on half the pudding. Slice on bananas. More whatever type cookies you are using and the rest of the pudding. More sliced bananas. Cover with either whipped cream beaten just until soft peaks, or beat the 4 remaining egg whites with a pinch of salt and 2-4 tablespoons of sugar until it holds soft peaks and plop on top of the pudding. If you are using the meringue, bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for about 20 minutes until lightly browned.

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