The Next Step in My Career + Chocolate Pudding

Remember how a few weeks ago I told you I was making a big change? Well, that wasn’t the end of the story. How could it have been? As exciting as it was to bid the finance world an enthusiastic goodbye, I had to get moving on what the next step would be for me, professionally. While it took a few weeks to get everything in line, I’m finally ready to share with you some big news.

Starting May 28th, I will begin my training as a student at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. That’s right guys, I’m going to culinary school.

A photo of me getting fitted in my chef's uniform.

Getting fitted in my uniform.

For all the grief that deciding to leave my old job gave me, the decision to enroll in culinary school came surprisingly easy. When I sat down to think about how my future career might shape up, I had a few criteria I knew I wanted to address. First of all, I wanted my career to be centered on cooking. Not food, the end product, but specifically cooking, the process. Second, I wanted this career to express my very personal point of view, my belief that cooking is a simple yet powerful way to care for yourself. I wasn’t (and still am not) fully sure what a career meeting these criteria would look like, but I knew that if I were to put myself in a position to speak about food, I wanted to be able to do so with authority. It was apparent to me that culinary school could provide me with the training I needed to speak with such authority.

Now that I am officially enrolled at ICE I am allowing myself to get excited about the upcoming months in culinary school. I’m going to be spending the next five months in a classroom in the middle of Manhattan, learning from some amazing chefs. Some of the curriculum I am already familiar with (I have pretty good knife skills), but I’m excited to improve. Other things will be entirely new to me. I can’t wait for my early classes in “protein fabrication”, where I will learn how to butcher a cow and break down a whole fish, and I’m really looking forward to learning how to make proper sauces, which is something I rarely bother with in my home cooking. I’m also eagerly anticipating the module on modern culinary masters, where I will learn the stories and recipes behind great chefs like Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud, and Thomas Keller. Learning how they developed their culinary personalities will be incredibly useful to me as I begin to develop my own.

After those five months in the classroom, I’ll move on to an externship in a professional kitchen. In my externship, I’ll choose a restaurant whose aesthetic and values I admire, and begin to hone my skills under the guidance of the chefs there. For me, a girl who thinks staying out late means coming home at 10:30, this portion of my training will be particularly demanding, but I’m nonetheless excited for the challenge.

Through all of this, I’ll still be blogging regularly, keeping you up to date on the changes in my life and providing you, as always, with simple and delicious recipes. This next step in my journey is so exciting for me. I can’t wait to begin and to share everything I’ll be learning with you.

Chocolate Pudding with Homemade Whipped Cream

Serves 4

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Homemade chocolate pudding.

One Saturday in March I attended an open house at ICE, during which they took all the prospective students on a short tour of the school. At one point we were shown to a pastry classroom for a short demonstration. There, the pastry chef-professor made for us a simple chocolate pudding as we asked questions about the program. My boyfriend had a few extremely important questions he voiced to be answered, like “How much time will she spend learning pastry?” and “Is ice cream a part of the curriculum?”. Two weeks, Brian, and yes, I will be making you ice cream.

At home I attempted to recreate that chocolate pudding from memory, and of course it was an utter failure. I’m happy to report that this new recipe was more successful. It produced a pudding that was creamy and smooth and totally nostalgic. Because it uses cornstarch as a thickener (instead of eggs), there’s no worries to be had over scrambling the custard. I promise you it’s super easy and definitely an improvement over store-bought pudding.

Chocolate pudding ingredients array.

Chocolate Pudding Ingredients:
1/4 cup (30 g) cornstarch
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
1/8 tsp salt
3 cups (710 ml) whole milk
7 ounces (200 g) chocolate coarsely chopped – I have been really like Green & Black’s chocolate lately, and used a mix of their 85% Dark and Milk chocolates here
1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract

Combine the first 4 ingredients: In a large bowl, mix together the cornstarch, sugar, and salt. Slowly pour in the whole milk, whisking as you go to ensure there are no lumps.

Heat the pudding base: Transfer this mixture to a saucepan, and heat over medium low. Stir occasionally to break up lumps. After 15 minutes, the pudding base will have thickened enough so that when you drag a finger across the back of a coated spatula a dry line will remain.

Mix in the chocolate: Remove from heat after mixture has thickened, and whisk in the chocolate and vanilla extract. Once all the ingredients are thoroughly combined, pour the pudding into individual serving containers (or into a single large bowl). Cover loosely with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to set for at least 3 hours.

Photo Apr 03, 2 56 50 PM

Whipped Cream Ingredients:
1 cup (710 ml) heavy cream
1/4 (31 g) powdered sugar
a few ounces dark chocolate, for shavings (optional)

Beat the cream: Using electric beaters (or by hand, if you are very strong and naive) beat the cream to soft peaks. It is best to start slowly so that you don’t splash cream all over your kitchen, and then kick up the speed as the cream thickens. Sift the powdered sugar over the cream, and continue to beat to fluffy medium peaks.

Serve: Spoon the whipped cream over the chocolate pudding. If desired, use a vegetable peeler to shave some impressive little chocolate sprinkles over the finished dessert.

Making a Big Change… And Cheesecake

One month ago I did something crazy. I made a decision that was poorly thought out and highly risky, and I made it blind to what the potential upside might be if things worked out well. And, while the wisdom (or folly) of this decision has yet to bear itself out, I can still tell you with certainty that it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

One month ago I quit my job.

Photo Mar 19, 12 49 22 PM

Overlooking the Financial District as I write this article.

Let me take you back a little bit, and explain where this whole story begins. You see, for the past year, I’d spent my days working at a hedge fund as an equities trader in New York. That sounds impressive, doesn’t it? I had the job that everybody wants, and the sky-high aspirations of success to go along with it. But somewhere along my way to “making it”, my aspirations began to fall back down to earth. Six months in, I looked around me and saw how few of my colleagues had made it, and a suspicion over my chosen occupation was born. By my eighth month there, with little success to show for my time, my suspicions had grown so that I realized that the trading business, as I knew it, was largely a sham, and that my time and skills would be better spent elsewhere.

Only ten months after having moved to New York for my dream job, I was already looking for something new. I applied to jobs within the finance industry (as that was where my major and prior experience left me most hirable) for positions in compliance and analytics. Two more months went by, interviews came and went without offers, and my optimism that I might find something new began to dull.

Flowers sent by my family while I was dealing with a lot of stress.

Flowers sent by my family while I was dealing with a lot of stress.

In February of this year, my mom came to visit during New York Fashion Week. I ducked out of the office one day to meet her for lunch, and, as we began talking, lunch quickly turned into an entire afternoon off. The subject of conversation that prompted such extended discussion was the very matter that had caused me such despair of the past few months: my job. My mother wanted to know why I was having such difficulty finding a new job that I liked, and if maybe the positions I was applying for were part of the problem.

Mom: Why do you want to do compliance, Kirsten?

Me: Because, that’s what I’m qualified for. And I don’t want to do what I’m doing now, so that fits.

Mom: But, do you want to be an analyst? Doesn’t that sound… boring?

Me: Yeah. And I don’t want to do it. But what else am I supposed to do? This is kind of the hand I’m dealt.

Mom: Well… what do you want to do?

Million dollar question. Thank you, Mom, you asked me the question I never thought was relevant.

One of the million cappucinnos that I had to help me relax and come to a decision.

One of the million cappucinnos that I had to help me relax and come to a decision.

Me: I don’t know. Not this. I’m wasting my time doing this. I mean, if I really got to choose, I wouldn’t even be in finance. I wouldn’t be doing any of this. It’s boring, I’m not good at it, and frankly, the more I think about it, I think the whole industry is kind of a scam. It’s just… you know, I’m so unhappy with what I’m doing now, and if I want to really be happy in my career, it’s not going to be in finance. It’s going to be in something that makes me happy, that I care deeply about. Like the way I care about food, and cooking, and taking care of yourself, and how cooking can do that for you – how it can take care of you.

That’s where everything changed, in that conversation I had with my mom. My passion for cooking and opinions about food are no secret to my family, and so to her it made complete sense that I would make a career out of cooking – it’s what I’m good at, it’s what I love. Yet the idea that a creative career path, which offers no real security or predictability up front, was a valid choice for me had never existed until that moment there with my mom.

Taking the long way home through Washington Square Park after I quit my job.

Taking the long way home through Washington Square Park after I quit my job.

Two days later, with my parents’ blessing, I quit my job. For the week following, my mood came and went like the tides. At the start of each new day, I awoke feeling liberated and enthused. My concept of what life could be expanded with each new thought. In the evenings, though, my enthusiasm retreated, and fear that I had made the wrong decision began to haunt me. But the glorious mornings continued to come, and my eagerness over all the new possibilities grew larger. That eagerness soon grew so large that it pushed out my lingering fears and replaced them confidence.

I have made the right decision, and my future is now mine to shape how I like.


The day I quit my job was Friday, February 14th – Valentine’s Day. At the suggestion of my very thoughtful boyfriend, I took on a project that afternoon that would keep me too busy to bother with worrying about the decision I had just made. I shared the finished project with him that night, and I’m sharing it with you here. If you, too, are in need of a multi-step challenge to keep you occupied, or really just want to impress someone special with a massive treat, I highly recommend this recipe.
"Baby, I'm Yours". Click to hear our favorite band's cover of this classic song.

“Baby, I’m Yours”.
Click to hear our favorite band’s cover of this classic song.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Serves… a lot (2 for a week, or at least 12)

Note: I prepared the recipe as written here, and it was incredible. But, if I were to make it again, I would probably cut out the chocolate ganache topping. It was difficult to cut (shattering with each slice), and the cake already has so much chocolate in the crust and fudge layers that the ganache kind of just gilds the lily. But, if lily-gilding is your thing, go for it!

Note #2: I made my cheesecake in a 9-inch round cakepan. If you have a springform pan, I would recommend using that instead.

Note #3: You can bake this cake in a water bath, which promotes even cooking, though I found my cake to bake fine without this extra step.

Smitten Kitchen Finished Cheesecake

I have to credit this beautiful photo, which shows the finished cake so much nicer than my own photos do, back to Smitten Kitchen.

Chocolate Crust

9 oz (255 g) chocolate wafers (I used Oreo sides)

6 oz (170 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

½ cup (95 g) packed dark brown sugar

7 tbsp (100 g) unsalted butter, melted

Fudge Layer

1 cup (235 ml) heavy whipping cream

13 oz (370 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Cheesecake Layer

2 8-oz packages (455 g) cream cheese, at room temperature

1 ¼ cups (320 g) smooth peanut butter

1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar

¾ cups (180 g) sour cream

3 large eggs

2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla extract

Ganache Topping

1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy whipping cream

4 ½ oz (130 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

Photo Feb 14, 11 30 29 AM

Make the chocolate crust: In a food processor, blend cookies, chopped chocolate, and brown sugar together until finely ground. (You can do this by hand by bashing up the cookies in a paper bag and mixing them with the chocolate, very finely chopped, and the brown sugar.) Drizzle in melted butter and process until crumbs begin to stick together, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Transfer crumbs to a greased 9-inch cakepan. Evenly distribute crumbs along the bottom and sides (within ½ inch from the top) of the pan. (I find that keeping my fingers wet helps a lot here.) Chill the crust while making fudge layer.

Photo Feb 14, 11 56 44 AM

Make fudge layer: Bring cream to a simmer in a large saucepan. Remove from heat, and whisk in the chocolate. Continue to whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Pour over the chocolate crust and spread in an even layer. Freeze until fudge is firm, about 30 minutes.

Photo Feb 14, 11 59 18 AM

Preheat oven to 350°.

Make cheesecake layer: Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese, peanut butter, and sugar in a large bowl until well-blended and fluffy. Beat in sour cream; then the eggs, one at a time; and the vanilla. Mix until smooth. Pour over the now-chilled fudge layer.

Bake: Bake in the middle rack of the over for 75 to 90 minutes. When done, the outer edges of the cheesecake will feel firm and dry to the touch. The center of the cheesecake (about the innermost 2 inches) will still be quite wobbly. Transfer cheesecake to a rack to cool slightly, the place in the fridge to set for at least 3 hours.

Photo Feb 14, 7 09 50 PM

Make ganache topping: Bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Off the heat, whisk in the chocolate. Pour onto chilled cheesecake and spread to the edges. Return cheesecake to the fridge for the ganache to set, about 30 minutes.

*To write on cake: Mix 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter with 1 tbsp softened unsalted butter and ¼ cup powdered sugar. Beat until fluffy. Transfer to a bag to pipe onto cake. I used a sandwich bag, rather than a piping bag, which is why my lettering looks so… homemade.

The Inaugural Post

Hi, my name is Kirsten, and this is my blog, Cooking with Bells On.

If you’ve found this page, I’m going to assume that you’re family. Or possibly a friend, or even a friend of family. In any case, thank you for coming. If by some fantastic stretch of reality I’ve become very famous in a few years and you, my reader, are in fact neither friend nor family, but instead a fan, I thank you all the more. The idea that someone might come to this site by their own volition (not forced here by the impossibly supportive hands of my parents or sisters) is incredibly exciting, and I will work very hard to make sure that the posts to follow are worth your time.

Cooking with Bells On is about cooking with freedom and curiosity. Its about letting go of rules and recipes, and instead embracing spontaneity.

I believe a lot of things about food, but most fundamentally I believe that food is meant to nourish. We all know that healthy food will nourish our bodies, providing us with the energy we require to get through our days. And many of have experienced the inherent value that comes in providing a meal to someone we love. What I hope to express, though, builds further upon these principles of nourishment. I believe that food, and especially the act of cooking food, is deeply nourishing to our souls. When we take the time to prepare food, we inadvertently begin to take care of ourselves in a variety of ways that exceed simply putting food in our bodies. For one person, cooking may be an act of meditation, a rare opportunity to focus on a singular task. For another, it could be a creative outlet, bringing joy as flavors and techniques are combined in  unexpected ways. For perhaps a third, cooking is medium for self improvement, wherein the refinement of skill is a never-ending journey. For me, cooking is all of these things.

This blog is documentation not only of the food that I am cooking, but of the care that I am taking of myself and those around me. Yes, there will be recipes here, ones which I promise will be delicious and really easy. And if you want to just stop by and grab an idea for dinner tonight, that’s awesome and I am totally excited to share my recipes with you. But, if you’re interested, I also invite you to follow my story as it unfolds. In the coming posts, I’ll be talking about my journey so far, and how I learned to take care of myself through cooking. I’ll also tell you about with you whats coming up for me, which – spoiler alert – has a lot to do with cooking, too.

Again, thanks for reading. You’ll be hearing more from me very soon!