Rice. (Arborio Rice Pudding)

I've been thinking a lot about rice lately.  In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't seem that important.  In the midst of attacks, more attacks, and attempted attacks, me thinking about rice in the small corner of Wisconsin hardly seems mentionable at all really.  But maybe that is the point.  That all of us are tiny, living (or trying to live) out our lives in a small way in a minuscule part of the globe.  Like grains of rice, each one of us matter and are important.  Like grains of rice, we function better together than separately.  

I've been reading Michael Solomonov's Zahav - maybe you are too.  I find myself losing 20 minutes at each instance I open it, so full of stories and good looking things to make and eat.  A different perspective on the world - and on rice.  When I was growing up, my family always had a late Sunday lunch - usually a casserole or something long cooking that could go on "timed bake" while we were away at church.  Even when I was really little, I would hope for chicken and rice, which my Mom baked in a beat up graniteware oval baking dish.  The rice would bake and stick to the bottom and sides of the oval, and it was the best part.  My Mom thought so too - and would gladly take the portions that would stick to the sides.  Until this point in my life I was unaware of Persian rice, which prizes this crisp bottom layer and gives it the name "tahdig", which means, literally, the bottom of the pot.  

Solomonov talks about his (half) brother-in-law trying these last 40 years to continually perfect his pots of rice.  Something so simple becoming so transcendent that it changed the way Solomonov thought about cooking in general.  The surest way to perfect something is to do it often, over and over again; the humblest of ingredients become transformed into something much more, in this case the grains of rice reminding us of humanity, of family and tradition, culture and heritage.  All of those tiny grains nourishing generations of people all over the planet -  it's almost easy to feel an overwhelming connectedness to people everywhere when considering it.

arborio rice pudding

I've never been the best rice cooker.  In my kitchen notebook, I have rice ratios written that no matter how much I try I can never memorize.  While I will likely take years more before mastering savory rices (and tahdig is now definitely on my list), I feel pretty confident about one rice dish: arborio rice pudding.  The source recipe is long gone, and what remains is a sugar-slashed version that includes a bit of almond extract.  To make it in my favorite oatmeal pot, I use the smaller ratio listed.  The full amount will cook nicely in a 3 quart pot.

Take care not to cook the rice too long since it thickens more as it cools.  The pudding is my favorite texture, temperature, and flavor about 2 hours after making it, and I sometimes plan my dessert eating around it that way.  But even chilled completely, the texture is so lovely and soft. That is the nature of arborio, it is the definition of comfort.

Arborio Rice Pudding

yields 3 cups (4 cup amounts in parenthesis)

  • 6 T. arborio rice (1/2 c.)
  • 3 c. whole milk (4 c.)
  • 3 T. sugar (1/4 c.)
  • good pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 t. vanilla extract (1 1/2 t.)
  • 1/4 t. almond extract (1/2 t.)
  • as many raisins (or currants) as you wish or don't wish.

Combine all the ingredients except the extracts in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil.  Immediately lower the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring regularly, until the rice is al dente.  Remember that it will continue to thicken as it cools, and also that the rice will continue to soften after you remove it from the heat.  When it has cooked enough, stir in the extracts and transfer it to a glass storage container.  Cool at room temperature for a bit and then refrigerate.  Best eaten within 3 days.

arborio rice pudding

I usually don't measure the quantities of vanilla and almond extracts that I use, or the amount of raisins.  I've also been known to include some freshly grated nutmeg or even a cinnamon stick if the mood strikes.  But no matter what I do to it, the arborio never lets me down with a lacking texture.  It's silky and encouraging, and just the thing to remind you of all the good things in life when the bad seem overwhelming and likely to overcome you.



Chocolate Pavlovas: June 2010 Daring Bakers Challenge

The June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers’ to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard.

I was happy with this month's challenge, especially with the similarities to the most delicious dessert on earth: Burp!'s Chocolate Schaum Torte... but somehow I procrastinated until the last second, and then found myself out of town visiting the farm for the past 5 days. I decided to complete my challenge in my Mom's kitchen, and since I have already made mascarpone and other rich pastry creams, I took the liberty of altering this recipe to make it more health conscious.

My Dad has to be careful, as we all should, not to have too much saturated fat in his diet. Meringues, then, are the perfect dessert, since they only contain egg whites. I remembered a chocolate pudding recipe that was in The Healthy Kitchen Cookbook by Dr. Weil and Rosie Daley, and figured that while it wouldn't be mascarpone mousse, at least I could serve it guilt free to my Pop (and me)! I omitted even a trace of heavy cream by topping it all off with my homemade chocolate syrup.

What a view to bake to!

Baking in my Mom's kitchen is a pleasure, since she has a gorgeous and well appointed one with loads of counter space. It is also wonderfully quiet and clean, well - clean until I get busy in it. My Mom is a very neat person, and can cook and bake without making any mess whatsoever. I, on the other hand, seem to make twice as much mess as I do even in my own kitchen... My Mom is among the most gracious people I've ever had pleasure of knowing (and I'm so lucky, since she is also my Mom!), and she never minds that her kitchen needs cleaning after I visit. I try to do my best to clean up after myself, but I suspect she goes behind me, catching what I missed.

Unlike the famed Schaum Torte, these chocolate meringues are baked at 200 degrees f. until they are completely hard - so no soft, squoodgy middles in these guys. I piped the meringue into serving-sized nests:

After 2 1/2 hours in the oven, they were hard and hollow sounding when tapped. They cooled in no time, and I stored them in a lidded 9x13 metal cake tin to stop them from getting sticky in the very humid weather.

My Parents have a small raspberry patch, which was just starting to get a few ripe berries. It appears the jury is still out on if I do indeed have a raspberry allergy. If I do, I can't quite come to grips with it, and eat a couple of berries here and there to test myself. I know, I know, this can be extremely dangerous. But since the reaction I had more than a year ago now was do to the raspberry LEAF extract in some shampoo, I keep pushing the envelope. Chocolate and raspberry are two things that are just not meant to be kept apart, and they were absolutely worth any risk of anaphylactic shock that may have ensued.

Fortunately, the 4 or 5 berries I ate didn't cause me any reaction at all. I have never had a food allergy before, and thinking about avoiding something so wonderful as raspberries for the rest of my life is kind of a downer. As you may have already surmised, I do keep on checking to see if in fact I am allergic. I probably shouldn't do that, so please don't go out and eat things that make you allergic just because you have read about my foolhardy approach to food allergy here.

The truth is, I've never been officially diagnosed with the allergy; a dermatologist just suspected my reaction was to raspberry since when I stopped using the particular product that contained a lot of it, my symptoms improved dramatically. Hence, no more Octomom lips...

I think that my approach to dessert has changed since my interest in raw and vegan foods has been piqued. I'm happier now with some fruit or something lighter than I was a short while ago when I could hardly go a day without a slice of chocolate cake. Proof, I guess, that you can recondition yourself to enjoy a whole lot of things under the guise of dessert. I'm not saying that I don't eat dessert, since I usually do and usually once per day, but I do like lighting up a bit and it's a good feeling to be guilt-free when I do have a bite of something sweet.

As far as chocolate desserts go, this guilt-free version of the Daring Baker Challenge was truly delicious. I'd have to say that I think the raspberries made it perfect, and so did the scoop of vanilla ice cream that we ended up having alongside. If you are counting the calories, this one is probably up there, but saturated fat-wise, it is very low.

Thank you to Dawn for a delicious (and healthy) challenge, and remember to find all of the original recipes either on her site or at the Daring Kitchen website. If you would like to make some pretty tasty and low-fat chocolate pudding for the low-fat version I made, here you go:

Low-Fat Chocolate Pudding (adapted from a pie recipe from Dr. Andrew Weil and Rosie Daley)
  • 1/3 c. cornstarch
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1/3 c. cocoa powder
  • 3 1/2 c. non-fat milk (I did use 2 % to make it a little richer)
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of espresso powder if desired
Sift together cornstarch, sugar and cocoa powder into a medium saucepan. Whisk in milk gradually. Place over medium heat, and cook until mixture thickens and boils, whisking constantly, about 7 minutes. When mixture boils, reduce heat to medium low, and continue to cook for 2 minutes stirring constantly.

Remove from heat. Taste, and add salt and espresso powder if desired, and add vanilla extract. Stir to combine, then pour into a clean, glass bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and allow the wrap to sit directly on top of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming.

Cool for about 30 minutes, then transfer to refrigerator until cold, about 2 hours.

I am just remembering that Alton Brown made meringue as a pie crust in one of his books. He baked it in a 9 inch pie plate, then let it cool. He suggested filling it with pudding and topping with whipped cream, and I'm figuring that this could be pretty delicious finished off with a few raspberries as well. That Alton, he really is on to something... Next time, I'll try this dessert in Alton Brown Pie Form. Stay Tuned.