Friday, June 15, 2012

Spiced Rice Pudding

It’s late at night, and I’m hungry. This is not an unfamiliar place for me to be. So I’m staring into the pantry, looking for the tuna that nobody has bought, because I’ve had this reoccurring late night craving for tuna casserole. By reoccurring I meant for the past year at least, and the reasons that this craving has never been satisfied are as follows:

  •          No one in my family buys tuna. Ever since our magnificent cat, Fuzzy, passed away (and yes this cat deserves the euphemism), tuna purchases in the Aboul-Fotouh household have really dropped.
  •          I’ve never actually had tuna casserole, and I’m going to go ahead and say I’m 100% certain of this fact because I remember every meal of my life. The honey-buttered-crusts-cut toast of my picky eating childhood, the unpleasant ricotta-stuffed lasagna of my grade school cafeteria days (and that tomato soup and grilled cheese, don’t get me started on the dazzling effects of sweet, canned tomato soup on an unsuspecting child’s palate. I can easily go through cans of that stuff now), the avocado cream sauce on the pasta I ate at my high school graduation dinner. All meals. Stored. Saved forever.
  •           I have this soul-deep feeling that making a 1 AM bastardized version of tuna casserole is not going to work out for me. Knowing what we usually have in the pantry, and having read “Tuna Casserole” I-IV on allrecipes, I would probably end up making some weird paste of whole wheat pasta, skim milk (we never have anything but skim milk in the house, which will feature later in this story after the tuna casserole tale is told), really old shredded cheddar cheese, and a can of albacore tuna that dates back to the Fuzzy days. This would be some nasty tuna casserole. I would end up throwing it away, then covering it in newspaper to hide the shame of wasting so much food.

Getting back on track, I’m looking in the pantry. And what do I see but a package of Arborio rice? Previous trauma prevented me from making risotto, but why not make rice pudding? The comfort food of days gone by. One of the few deserts that my mother, who I love and who is an excellent cook and who fed 4 hungry children after coming home from work every day for forever, ever made.

I rinsed the rice to get rid of the pantry funk, which I know is against the rules for Arborio because what business do I have washing away any of that precious starch, but really it was a necessary step in this case. I started a pot triple the volume of the rice (oh how na├»ve I was) on the stove with the rice and milk to two inches above the rice. I squeezed some honey around, put about ½ cup of sugar.  Then I started rummaging again.

I knew the handicaps I was facing. Nothing but skim milk in the house, when I would have preferred whole. So I decided – hey – if this is going to be some thin, fat-less rice pudding, I’m at least going to make it tasty. 
So other than dropping in a precious tablespoon of butter , I plopped in a few more potent flavors.
Yes there is a pinata in the background. 

Into the pot went: a stick of cinnamon (kashia let’s not lie to ourselves) and some imitation vanilla for tradition’s sake. Two cardamom pods because I just KNEW they would be amazing. And two black peppercorns (and honestly, in retrospect, two more would have done the job) for a little old-school burn. A cup or so of raisins from the depth of our fridge, because no matter how weird they get in the fridge, once they plump up they become beautiful and everything that those 1800s Americans adored in their plum cakes and plum puddings and plum deserts. And finally, a handful of shredded and sweetened coconut in keeping with the cardamom, and if I had some coconut milk I wouldn’t be typing this but drowning my face in some uncomfortably hot but out-of-this-world rice pudding. Mmmm.

I stirred and stirred, and added more and more milk (I know this is a lot like the risotto process, but I don’t use the r-word aloud in this house), and more and more milk. I finished three separate quarts of milk, none of which were full at the beginning, in the process. Lactose-free, vitamin-enhanced, and CVS-brand all went in without judgment.

Finally, when I could happily chew the Arborio grains, I gave the pot a final boil. Now here is one of the life lessons that has come from this late night escapade: when you are cooking Arborio, please use a bigger pot than would ever seem reasonable. The pot was filled to the brim by the end. You should never be afraid to stir your rice pudding. It just goes against the nature of this cooking process.

I removed the cinnamon stick, and decided the other spices would be lovely surprises for those who ate the pudding, and ladled it out into a set of dishes to chill. The dishes are now chilling, as I’m typing and planning on finally sleeping.

But I’m fully confident in the superiority of this rice pudding, having snuck many spoonfuls in the tasting process. The last dainty taste I had, as I was loading the Tupperware into the fridge, was mind-blowing. This is some good rice pudding, y’all.

SO. TL;DR – Skim milk sucks for cooking. Arborio rice is greedy. Use a big pot. And when making rice pudding, add some cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper corns, and coconut and you’re in business. Too bad I’m working out the copyright process so you can’t actually be in business. HAHA.
The end.

Spiced Rice Pudding Recipe

-2 cups Arborio rice
-1 gallon milk, skim works! 
-2 tbsp butter
-1/2 cup white sugar
-1/4 cup honey
-1 stick cinnamon
-2 cardamom pods
-3-4 black peppercorns
-1/4 cup shredded, sweetened coconut
-kosher salt to taste (I think I used about a teaspoon in the end)
-1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Place rice and milk to cover about a knuckle above the rice in a LARGE pot on medium-high heat. Add all of the remaining ingredients except for the milk. Once the mixture is boiling, lower the heat, and stir well. When the rice is peeking above the liquid, add more milk. Continue like this for 30-40 minutes, until the rice is cooked (not mushy, but not crunchy any more), and the remaining liquid around the rice sticks to the back of a spoon. Now here is the trick. Add even more milk even after you think you’ve finished cooking, at least a cup or two, and even if it looks too thin, pour this mixture out into your containers. Refrigerate overnight, the rice will soak up even more liquid. Enjoy! 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

I'm Perfectly Normal

Normal 17-year-olds do make savory crepes for dinner when there is nothing to eat, therefore, there is nothing abnormal about me and my habits.

So the fact that I was hungry has been established, but you really don't understand the full circumstances. There was really nothing to eat. My mother suggested oatmeal, which I hate after a month of eating a cup and a half of it every morning at 5am and no I will not give it another chance it's disgusting. My father had eaten already, and therefore disenfranchised himself from my problems. In the end, it was up to me, my pantry, and the vegetable drawer in the fridge. So naturally, because I can't eat oatmeal, had eggs for breakfast, and didn't want cereal, I made mushroom crepes. Perfectly rational, you see??

I just made a regular crepe batter, the recipe to which I'm not offering because seriously there was nothing special about it, sauteed some mushrooms, and went to work. The mushrooms were the real star of the show. I cut them finely, and sauteed them in a little bit of butter and some sliced garlic forever. Then I added some cream, maybe a spoon of it. So this really wasn't that light, but I was starving, okay??
The real tragedy was that there was no Parmesan cheese to add to the mushrooms, which would have made them 14810 times better. Really 14810 times.

It was the assembly which maybe makes this look unusual, if there was, which it is not, an atypical meal. I just laid out a crepe, spooned on mushroom stuff, folded and repeated.

It was good, but my family is still making fun of me.

Thanksgiving 2010: Part 1 out of ?

Above, Top to Bottom: Azerbaijanian knot bread, roasted carrots, stuffing,
gravy and cranberry sauce, turkey (number 1 of 2), garlic mashed potatoes, and the-best-rolls-ever.

Yes, it's 2011. Happy new year, everyone. In other news, I've finally gotten around to my Thanksgiving post. Once again, I started Tuesday night when I got out of school, by going grocery shopping and elbowing people out of the way to get a good turkey. People get vicious in the season of giving-thanks :)). This year, though, I made several improvements, one of them being not losing my favorite t-shirt to sloshed turkey-brine.

There was, regrettably, no theme this year. After Jamaican-themed dinner a few years ago, and Pennsylvania Dutch last year, I found I had run out of plausible ideas. So my "motif" of this year was .... myself. Yes, inflated ego, blah blah blah, but it was delicious, wasn't it?? I didn't really use recipes this year, the breads not included because someone who can make bread without a recipe is just a culinary genius in my opinion. I really don't think it was that hard not to use recipes, considering most of these foods are pretty common-sense-y.

My handy-dandy white board.

I approached this meal unusually methodically. I plotted out the menu and the tasks. Why, you may ask, would I be so intense about this? For a few reasons:
-I love Thanksgiving. Yes, it's nice to give thanks and see my family and all those things, but it is the one time a year I have three days to make whatever meal I like and test my (skeelz) skills.
-When I told my sisters what I wanted to make, and then my mom, and then my dad, they all expressed the same skepticism of you really think you can make all this? Well I showed them, didn't I?? DIDN'T I?? But they may have sort of won by eating the meal without having to cook anything.

Blurry picture of coconut caramel custard. Blurry because everyone was ready to eat, so I was in a bit of a rush.

I had a few things to prove with this menu :)). One, I was, and still am, really tired of sweet-pumpkin-pie-spice butternut squash soups. Really tired. Another, I defeated another enemy of mine from way-back-when: custard. Custard (and if you've been following you know about mygeneral fear of anything that is supposed to thicken) is not a friend of mine. The first and last time I tried to make flan, I was frightened. When placing the pan inside the oven, water sloshed from the water bath into the custard. I thought, what harm can it do? An hour later I had sweetened scrambled eggs in little ramekins, and a complex that followed me for a few years. Just kidding about the complex.

I used coconut milk (really light, healthy stuff...) instead of milk in the recipe, which made the custard soooo rich. Also, because I can't leave anything alone, I made caramel for the first time (bubbling sugar also frightens me) and placed that in the bottom of the large ramekin. It was a success!

Noon Rogani/Azerbaijanian Knot Bread. And no, I am not usually manicured,
but somehow almost always manage to be when I am taking pictures for the blog.

My real pride and joy though....was the bread. Adapted from this recipe off of King Arthur Flour's Baking Banter blog (which is completely addictive and awesome), I was ready to dedicate hours to this bread (also not a first). The recipe wasn't difficult because of the ingredients so much as for the manual labor involved. You are supposed to take a rectangle, maybe a foot and a half wide, roll it, and stretch it to five feet. I got to four feet before I felt my resolve (and the dough) tear, and the bread was really no worse for wear.

In the end, I was really pleased with the meal. However, I can also say I haven't really cooked for more than an hour since November. I guess I tired myself out?
Next Thanksgiving, then!

Saturday, October 9, 2010


I love figs. If there is anything in this world better than figs, I don't want to eat it. It will just make the rest of my life a disappointment. During the summer with my cousins, I usually eat a good kilo of figs a day. That's a lot. Unfortunately, people in the states don't seem to believe in figs and their amazingness, and so finding them is really an occasion for celebration.

Did you know figs are grown in the desert?? The trees look all dry and gross, and then from them come these super delicious, sugar bomb juicyness monsters!! I know, I should calm down.
Another fruit I loooove are prickly pears, also pictured above :).

What happens is everyday when I return home from school, I make myself a rather large snack and relax for a bit. That day, I found the figs.
I made myself a plate of green and purple prickly pears, some figs, and half a lime, and realize how pretty it all was.

The lime probably needs to be explained. I'm going to go ahead and say that 90% of fruit are more delicious with lime. Most fruit that I just am not crazy about because they are too sweet; so much better with lime! Guavas, prickly pears, honeycrisp apples are all delicious with lime. I'm not insinuating that the figs need any improvement, because I'm pretty sure everyone now understands how much I love them, but lime just makes them even more amazing.

The only downside was that although I had prepared for the purple prickly pear (tongue twister!) by wearing an old t-shirt, it also stained my hands :). The picture above is after washing my hands a few times, and it didn't fade for about a day.

But in conclusion: I love figs.

Tea and Cookies

Tea and cookies is the ultimate Egyptian comfort food-snack. In this instance, mom felt bad for me and and my 4-hours-of-sleep-a-night and brought me a cup of tea with milk and some old-school cookies. When I say these cookies are old-school, I really mean it. They're not dipped in jam or sugar or shaped nicely or dyed. They are nutritious and delicious :).

Above are the cookies. There are two folded cookies stuffed with mashed date, a powdery walnut cookie, and a piece of aniseed biscotti.

As you can see, I was hard at work. And I'm also a very bad highlighter.

It may have been the caffeine, but I did feel better afterwards :))

Monday, August 9, 2010

F's Work Bento Boxes - Part 3

This was the last of F's work bento boxes, and made in a bit of a rush. Because I had to pack up my bento boxes to take home with me, I used one of her pyrex glass-because-plastic-leaks-chemicals tupperware.
In it is:
-a sandwich of: a morningstar spicy blackbean burger with avacado, tomato, mayo, spicy mustard, and pickles on an onion roll.
-some dry-looking carrot sticks
-half an apple, slices and limed

The whole sandwich is skewered on one of my plastic (that leaks chemicals) Popsicle sticks, because F doesn't have wooden skewers ad who wants to eat a sandwich that has completely fallen apart?

Man, I love those spicy black bean burgers. They're almost one of my favorite freezer foods, and they're awesome for breakfast too! I want one right now, actually...

F was rather sad when I left, and I was too, but I have this feeling that maybe she's missing having her lunch packed for her, ready to go in the refrigerator every morning, more than she misses me? Quite possible.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

F's Work Bento Boxes - Part 2

Unfortunately, F left her bento box at work the day before - which led to an exchange reminiscent of a parent and a grade-school kid who had left their lunchbox on the playground. I put her in time out, and improvised with the next day's lunch.

I bargained some pita into this bento, which made me feel quite pleased with myself :))
In this lock-and-load box:
-more chicken salad, this time more salad-y and less chicken-y, with carrots and spinach
-kiwi, with apple underneath
-grapefruit and basil salad
-in the stacked silicon cups: ranch dressing and pistachios, both for the salad
-celery and Istanbul white cheese pita roll-ups
-cottage cheese (ewwww) with blueberries and kiwi layered in

Good thing F remembered to bring both lunchboxes home or she would have been in biiiiig trouble hahahahahaha.