Thursday, February 25, 2010

Creamy Rice Pudding

Phew! What a day! After completing a long day at work and an equally long session at the gym, I ran to the store to pick up a few ingredients to make something which the idea of had been taunting me the past few cold February days. Rice Pudding. Now, something you should know about me and rice pudding -- I discovered it, literally, within the past year when I tried it at a restaurant in my hometown. The Artist's Cafe is located downtown and besides being a great restaurant, it serves rice pudding as a dessert with their lunch specials. Free & Dessert are two words that, when put together, I immediately say 'yes, please.'

So, with that in mind, I set about to make what the cookbook said was a 43-minute dessert. This recipe definitely tried my patience. It ended up taking double that time. In fact, at the 43rd minute, I was staring at this:
Things moved fairly quickly after about an hour of soaking and it finally began to look like this:
For some reason the rice took about thirty minutes longer to soak up the milk and then a little longer to finish soaking up the yolk/sugar/cinnamon mixture. But, in the end, it was a bowlful of goodness.
If you don't like raisins, by all means, leave them out. I actually did have a moment of "oh-no!-did-I-just-ruin-this?" when I dumped them in the pot. But they do add a nice touch to the dish -- I guess someone knew what they were talking about when they figured rice pudding and raisins go together like peas and carrots.

How I spent my evening:

MacBook: check. Warm and delicious dessert: check.

Creamy Rice Pudding
modified from this guy
I made the low fat version by using 1% milk and fat free half-and-half. I am not sure if that is why it took twice as long but, nonetheless, I thought it tasted just as delicious.

1 quart milk (here, I'll save you a google search: 1 quart = 4 cups)
1 cup uncooked rice (The original recipe calls for medium grain but I swear that is a conspiracy because in Aisle 4 of my Harris Teeter there was long grain and short grain but no medium grain. I used long grain.)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 egg yolks, beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup raisins

Combine first four ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cover and cook over low heat until rice is tender, stirring occasionally. (This took me about an hour and ten minutes -- the original recipe said 40 minutes. Perhaps it was because of the altitude? I do live on the third floor . . .)
Combine egg yolks and next three ingredients in a small bowl. Gradually stir about 1/4 of the hot mixture into yolk mixture; add yolk mixture to remaining hot mixture.
Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches 160 degrees and is thickened and bubbly (this took me about ten minutes, the original recipe said 3). Stir in raisins. Serve warm or chilled. Yields 10 servings.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cranberry Walnut Chicken Salad

So, here is my first cooking post -- and yes, I realize how unglamorous a chicken salad is but believe me, it's a very versatile and useful dish. Especially for someone who gave up microwaves for Lent and therefore needs a lunch dish that is a little more grown up than the usual peanut butter & jelly sandwich. Enter chicken salad. This Southern girl knows her chicken salad but was hesitant to make her own because of her fear it wouldn't live up to the smoothness of H & W Drugs' legendary salad or the richness of the chicken salad at Heidi's Deli in DC (Chicken Salad Thursday's, hollaaaa!) . . . but I digress. This dish is a little chunkier. A little heartier. A little more wintery, if you will. And is sure to make lunchtime at work a little more satisfying.

Stuffings -- celery, cranberry, shallots.

Toasted walnuts. This wouldn't fly for four-year-old MJ. 26-year-old MJ appreciates the nutrients.

Lunch tomorrow. Chicken Salad Tuesday, hollaaaaa!

Cranberry Walnut Chicken Salad
From Smitten Kitchen -- For those of you who do not know my obsession with this blog, it is the reason for my endeavor into the food blogging world. I started following it about three years ago and have been hooked ever since. Who wouldn't love Deb's honesty and her love for all things New York and all foods delicious. Obviously I need to work on my creativity and getting my hands on a better camera but this is my homage to Smitten Kitchen and all the deliciousness she brings into my life in the form of this, this, this and now this.

4 cups cubed cooked chicken (about 1 3/4 pounds or three fairly large chicken breasts)
1 cup toasted and chopped walnuts
1 cup diced celery (small bits)*
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
1 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup mayonnaise (I used fat free mayo, it still tasted great)
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (the recipe called for tarragon vinegar, champagne or white wine vinegar; not having any, I used apple cider vinegar)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon (I used dried)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Toss together all ingredients in a large bowl until well combined.

*Not being too much of a celery fan, I thought it was a little too celery-ish. I would reduce this a bit the next time I made it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Season of Beginnings

Happy Lent! I realize I am about five hours early but I wanted to be sure to greet my faithful readers appropriately . . . Happy Lent it is.

As this new (Church) season begins, I am beginning a few new things. First, there is the standard, "what-am-I-giving-up-for-Lent" decision and I must say, I've got a good one this year. I will use my blog to expound on how it goes (or doesn't go). I am giving up something that is such a modern-day convenience that it seems so obvious and perfect to me now that I can't believe I've never thought to do it before. No, it's not a TV -- come on people, this is about sacrificing not taking a turn at living in hell. No, it's not electricity, or anything broad like that. This year, for Lent, I am giving up . . . Microwaves! Pretty good, right? So, I will have my last bag of 94% Fat Free Pop Secret Popcorn tonight and prepare myself for the next forty days filled with reheating via the stove and oven, eating more fresh and ready-to-eat foods, and having sandwiches for lunch (no more Lean Cuisines). Should be interesting . . .

That brings me to my second 'new' thing except this isn't quite as novel as it appears. Everyone knows I love to eat but everyone might not know how much I love to cook. That being said, I have spent a lot of time on cooking blogs the past couple weeks and really love how the journey through a recipe is perfect ground to writing about one's day-to-day lives. So I may try that here and there as I prepare more fresh food and create more meals via cooking and not just heating up. And I'll use this as a chance to tell you, dear reader, about my day, the subsequent repast, and hopefully expose you to some humor and good eats.

The final thing I will be beginning this Lenten season is a new book. I just finished The Berlin Stories for the CLT book club I am in. I conveniently finished it the day before Ash Wednesday so I'm going to see how many books I can get through by Easter. This will be tricky considering I've got a major backlog of magazines but we'll see how I deal with the challenge.

So, in closing, sit back. Be patient while I make some dinner. But be excited that I will be telling you about the dinner while also passing on some good recommendations in the book department to keep you occupied while you wait for me to bake my potato in the oven (the audacity!) instead of the microwave (who cares if the skin turns to rubber -- it's done in 6 minutes). And don't worry, I promise my first food post will not be about a baked potato.