Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Rice Pudding, with Tangelo, Hibiscus, and Red Rice

Lists are such a handy tool for organizing thoughts and grouping together like sets of items. For instance, pride. Or more specifically, things that I have either done or not done in the past few weeks and afterwards felt some pride. I'm feeling a bit pleased with myself, as this list isn't short.

Jenn's list of things that she has done or not done recently that make her proud:

-Getting Seth to recoil in horror when making a beastly noise right in his ear (ok, this happens a lot, but I will never cease to feel pride) .

-Finding the smudge known as Andromeda in the binoculars during some nighttime sky watching.

-Figuring out a workaround after Max's light-up toothbrush died

-Not telling my grandmother about her surprise 80th birthday dinner (keeping secrets is not one of my specialties in life).

-Used a plunger without having to frantically call a loved one to find out if I a) did indeed need to use one b) how to actually use it.

-Managed to leave Whole Foods with only two cartons of candy instead of the 5 (give or take) that I wanted to hoard.

-Found a replacement monitor cord just lying in a drawer, and almost successfully swapped this never-been-used one for the extremely frayed, cat-chewed one that we had been using for far, far too long (this is notable because my brain actively refuses to learn anything that remotely pertains to hooking up electronic stuff, and I actually made the correct identification of where this cord goes).

-Made and ate rice pudding, as I had 
previously never made a rice pudding. 

Which brings me to our Creative Cooking Crew challenge entry for this month.  This month’s challenge (hosted by Lazaro from Lazaro Cooks) is all about rice, asking us what we can do to transform, elevate, modernize or creatively spotlight it in a dish.  Check back in a few days for a link to the roundup of everyone's dishes!

I've never been drawn to the idea of rice pudding. I was turned off by the idea of a non-savory use of rice. Texturally, the whole thing seemed utterly unappealing. Plus, my brain automatically equates pudding with chocolate.

I am now ashamed of my audacity, the brazenness in that belief, my lack of imagination, my inability to see how delicious a pudding made from rice can be.

I now understand the appeal. Instead of repulsion, there is delight to be had in sinking your teeth into those little granules of rice, all puffed up from a nice, long cook in some milk, and suspended by a creamy and sweet concoction that struggles lovingly to hold the whole thing together.

Rice pudding is also infinitely customizable, and it now seems ludicrous that I scoffed at it before. I used Bittman's How to Cook Everything to guide me through this whole new world of rice pudding. I was so extremely excited to see that the instructions amounted to basically - stir, put in oven, stir, put in oven, stir, put in oven. Exactly the kind of thing that one can handle with an active three year old demanding continuous attention.

I went with a combination of tangelo, hibiscus and coconut milk for this particular pudding. This is not really the result of a concerted effort, but one of those happy accidents in which mismatched ingredients all found a home with one another. I'm still not quite sure how it was decided that the home would be rice pudding.

The tangelos were extremely hard to not bring home. So bright, almost glaringly so, just about ready to burst with that sweet and tangy juice. So home with me they went. Dried hibiscus leaves had been hanging around in the cupboard, waiting to give a floral, tangy hand to the enterprise. Red rice (a particularly toothsome form of rice), leftover from a previous CCC challenge, was begging to be used up, and would complement the color from the hibiscus. Coconut milk gave the whole thing some heft, some sweetness, some tropical flair. I'm not sure if this fulfills the requirement of the challenge. but at least I feel proud to have tried.

*adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

2 14-ounce cans coconut milk
1/2 cup red rice
5 tablespoons sugar
pinch salt
zest from 1 tangelo
2 tablespoons fresh tangelo juice
1/4 cup dried hibiscus leaves, wrapped in cheesecloth or spice bag
chopped macadamia nuts, optional, for serving

Heat oven to 300. In an ovenproof baking dish or saucepan, stir together coconut milk, red rice, sugar, salt, and tangelo juice/zest. Drop in the hibiscus leaves. Bake for 30 minutes, then stir. Place in oven again for 30 minutes, and stir. Then bake again for another 20-30 minutes, until the rice has plumped up and the mixture is nice and thick. Remove hibiscus leaves.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Blueberry Pomegranate Yogurt with Sage Butter and Almonds

Every once in a great while, lines, shapes, forms and expanses all come together in such a way that one can actually feel the roundness, the spherical nature of the Earth.  This fact, which exists in the realm of abstraction, is accumulated as knowledge, to be carried along like eggs in a basket as one travels along.

There are times, however, when this fact becomes more that theoretical.  It becomes practical and alive.
Instead of seeing the world with its immense tracts of perceived flatness, these rare and beautiful moments occur, in which we can feel the bends and curves of the world . The four dimensions of reality that we know of are actually felt.  Not only known, but experienced.  With sight, with sound, with touch.

The body becomes alive, electric, taking in the sensation and rolling it around in the mind.  For this moment, this brief and fleeting moment, it is as if you have been bestowed a secret from the universe.

That electric feeling... was sparked with this yogurt.  The butter, infused with the unmistakable smell and taste of fresh sage leaves is what does it.  Adding butter to something that generally is served butter-free raises possibilities.  So many possibilities that bend and curve the world of taste, giving glimmers and whispers of what can exist in edible form.

Not only is there sage butter here, but blueberries and pomegranate arils glistening like jewels, dusted with a hint of cinnamon and squeeze of fresh orange juice, orange-scented yogurt, and almonds and flax seeds to give some crunch, some heft to each bite.  A taste of what it means to be alive.

I am aware that blueberries are not yet in season, but here is a video all about this fruit from Cooking Light to file away for that time, that precious precious time when blueberries make their glorious appearance once again.

6 ounces blueberries
1/4 cup pomegranate arils
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 1/2 teaspoons honey

1/3 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons flax seeds

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
pinch kosher salt
8 sage leaves, torn

In a small bowl, toss the blueberries and pomegranate arils with cinnamon and fresh orange juice.  In another bowl, stir the yogurt, juice, and honey together.  In yet another bowl, combine almonds and flax seeds.
mix everything together

Melt the butter and salt in a small pot over medium low heat.  Add the sage leaves cook for a few moments until the butter takes on a wonderful sage fragrance.  Assemble the yogurt bowls with the yogurt, berries, almond/seed mixture and a generous drizzle of sage butter. Serve immediately before the butter has a chance to harden.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Persimmon Vanilla Muffins with Streusel

Baking muffins has become part of my routine, my comfort, my joy.  My love for muffins has always burned, but previously, it was at a low and steady temperature.

Now it has burst into all-consuming flames, and I am unable to stop myself from heading to the kitchen, whisking together some dry ingredients, mixing the wet ones, then gently combining the two and filling up those eagerly awaiting cups in the muffin tin.

I can't quite put my finger on the reason why this passion has become an engulfing one.  But I find myself taking refuge, needing refuge, in the hypnotic motions required to make a muffin.  And then there is the subsequent free falling into the delightful, delicious arms of the muffin waiting to catch my feelings once they have cooled after baking. I also know that once I find out that the muffins have all been consumed, I become anxious. Jittery, really.  At which point it becomes evident that muffins desperately need to be made again. And so it goes.

99.9% of the time, the muffins that get made have chocolate chips in them.  Banana muffins with chocolate chips. Orange muffins with chocolate chips.  Pumpkin muffins with chocolate chips.

This time, I strayed just a bit in my muffin making.  No chocolate.  And a topping was added.  Chopped up persimmon in a vanilla-kissed baked good and topped with some crunchy streusel.

These muffins were a diversion from the usual routine that has marked so many of recent days.  Yet my passion for the stuff has grown even hotter.

Want some more information about this most wonderful winter produce - the persimmon?  Check out this article from Cooking Light!

1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil

2 cups chopped persimmons

1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
pinch kosher salt

Heat oven to 350.

In a bowl, whisk together the vanilla bean caviar, cinnamon, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In another bowl, stir together the egg, buttermilk, brown sugar, oil, and vanilla extract.

Gently stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, being careful not to overmix.  Stir in the persimmon pieces.

To make the streusel topping, pulse flour, sugar, butter, cinnamon, and almonds in food processor.

Prepare a muffin tin with baking spray or with liners.  Divide the batter amongst the cups.  Divide the streusel topping amongst the batter.

Bake for 2-30 minutes, until golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.
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