Years ago, a friend took me to one of his favorite restaurants in New York City. Dinner was fantastic, the company riveting, but what stayed with me most was dessert: maple budino.
The pudding was luxuriously fatty and creamy, and the flavor was incredibly clean: maple and maybe a little floral vanilla. Budino is simply Italian for pudding, but this was unlike any pudding I'd ever eaten. For the record, I am a pudding fan. I grew up having "pudding parties" with my sister, the two of us making pudding out of the box, lightly scorching every saucepan in the house.
Later, I learned how easy it is to make a quick stovetop pudding from scratch. Simply follow this formula, which is easily scaled up: 1 cup milk plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch plus 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar plus flavorings (vanilla, chocolate, cinnamon, etc.). The trick to a smooth stovetop pudding is to whisk the cornstarch and sugar first in the cold saucepan to break up lumps, then whisk in the milk. Heat over medium and allow to boil gently for 2 to 3 minutes, constantly whisking. Pour into ramekins and chill. Or eat warm.
Making your own puddings means you control the ingredients. Since milk already is a little sweet, you don't need a ton of extra sugar. Fat, too, is under your control. You can use whole milk for restaurant-creamy results or skim milk if you don't mind a less-lush texture.
I also love baked custard puddings. They require more effort, but they are more likely to feel at home at a dinner party. This maple budino is a baked custard, but feel free to make a stovetop version using my recipe.
Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget and the author of "Supermarket Healthy."