As those of you who are early morning visitors to The Buzz know, I like to check the National Food Holiday Calendar on a fairly regular basis and then make sure that everyone knows what food to celebrate. I’ll even add a link to a somewhat related recipe and add a pithy comment that is usually as flat as a culinary student’s first soufflé. I preface all this because recently a food from my youth appeared not once but twice and that prompted me to forgo perfectly good samples in the dairy case and attempt to make it on my own.
One of the fond memories I have of my grandparents who lived in Texas was eating dessert with my grandfather. It was never anything fancy. Maybe it was a slice of pie that was more crust than filling or maybe some canned fruit with a scoop of Vanilla Bluebell Ice Cream. My favorite was always the Tapioca Pudding. Warm or cold, my grandmother knew how to make it and I always got seconds. This wasn’t the gloppy mess that you found at the end of the all you can eat buffet that went largely untouched even if the whipped cream and maraschino cherry slice did make it look somewhat inviting. This was real tapioca pudding. It was creamy and had just a slight hint of vanilla in it. It didn’t matter to me whether it was small pearl or large pearl I loved them both but my Grandfather always preferred the large pearl or fish eye tapioca as he called it. So one day last week, when it was National Tapioca Pudding Day, I decided to use the recipe I linked to (http://allrecipes.com/recipe/slow-cooker-tapioca-pudding/detail.aspx) on The Buzz for Slow Cooker Tapioca when I made my “Daddy hasn’t done any Crazy Cooking since he went on his DIE-t” menu this weekend for my daughter who is going to camp in the next few days. I had visions in my head of sitting in my Grandparent’s kitchen eating the creamy goodness and feeling the pearls of tapioca dance across my tongue. Sunday couldn’t get here soon enough.
As fate would have it, Sunday arrived and I dug out the package of large pearl tapioca we had stashed in the back of the pantry for some odd reason. Who knows how long it had been there or when it had been purchased or given to us. The recipe actually called for small pearl tapioca but seriously, how much different could it really be ? We had all the other ingredients on hand so I wouldn’t even have to buy anything at the grocery store later when I made my daughter’s last crazy cooking meal before camp. I got the slow cooker out from the front hall closet and went to grab the rest of the ingredients when a small voice appeared in my head. Well, it was really my wife’s voice that said;
“Why don’t you try and make it sugar free & fat free so it will fit with your DIE-t ?”
I love my wife. I really do. I try to listen to her as best as I can. This, however, was one of those times where I wished I had tuned her out like it was the third period of Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but I didn’t. Instead, I responded by saying;
“That sounds like a great idea Honey. Thanks.”
So instead of whole milk, I grabbed a quart of fat free half & half we had in fridge along with a carton of fake eggs instead of the real Grade A Jumbo eggs that were nestled on the bottom shelf. I also grabbed the Splenda instead of the sugar and set to making all of the changes to make this a dessert of my youth that could fit the realities of my today.
The recipe says to combine the ingredients and set the slow cooker to low for 6 hours while stirring every so often. I forgot that WARM is really LOW on our slow cooker and that LOW on our slow cooker is really MEDIUM TO HIGH. I stirred it a few times and then grabbed my kids to go do a couple of errands. As we were out looking for Beyblades, manure, hoses, a lawnmower and Crocs for camp, time seemed to keep slipping away. Thanks to not 1 out 4 stores having a pair of size 6 women’s crocs in any color other than brown (seriously, what kid at camp is going to wear brown crocs by choice ?) our quick sojourn to the store turned into a just under 2 hour fiasco. I was fretting about the tapioca during the race home but I was sure it would be fine. I was wrong. The pearls had started to stick to the bottom of the pot and I had to use a wooden flat edge spatula to get them free. The tapioca also looked like it was starting to separate a little and the taste was really kind of bland. Not quite like Grandma’s but missing something. So I added vanilla which gave my white tapioca a muddled brownish tinge. I turned the heat down and hoped for the best.
A few hours later, it still didn’t look like my Grandmother’s Tapioca. In fact, I am not quite sure what it looked like but it did look like it had started to change into the pudding of my youth but forgot what it was trying to do somewhere along the line. I didn’t seem to remember the fish eyes staring back at me so and I certainly didn’t remember this off white color but I thought maybe if I let it chill before serving, it would look & taste better.
I was wrong. I was very wrong.
When I brought it to the table, my family stared at it with wide eyes of wonder. Or was it horror ? My wife and two daughters each bravely scooped some out of the Tupperware (I had really gone all out with my serving dishes based on what I saw in the crock pot). My son was having none of it. He was happy with the chocolate & vanilla pudding cup courtesy of Jell-O. We all took a bite. It wasn’t half bad but then again, it wasn’t exactly half good either. The flavor was slightly off. The texture was way off. The large pearls were a lot more like “fish eyes” than I would want to admit. Then the comments started and they were followed by howls of laughter that would have made hyenas look twice to see what was so funny.
“It tastes like a sponge.”
“It could be used to fill in cracks in your wall.”
“If you don’t behave, I am going to make you eat it.”
“It looks like someone got sick.”
“My spoon can stand up in it.”
“Look ! It doesn’t fall off my fork when I turn it upside down !”
The kept going & going. I kept taking small bites as I tried to convince myself that it was still good but it wasn’t. It was terrible. I tried to tell them that it was better if you drowned it in Cool Whip but they couldn’t hear me as they rolled around on the floor holding their stomachs from either laughter or pain. At that point there was a small part of me that was hoping for pain.
So what did I learn from this ? Some dishes don’t adjust well to tweaking for a DIE-t and that I probably need a better slow cooker because why blame the chef, when you can blame the equipment ?
Come back next time when we discuss the many other dishes I have destroyed in the name of weight loss under the misguided motto of “If you can’t eat the food, you won’t gain the weight.”