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Just like how every food culture has a version of meat-on-a-stick (kebabs, souflaki, brochettes, etc.), every food culture has a version of rice pudding. Why? Rice pudding is delicious, inexpensive, and uses ingredients that everybody has: rice, milk, sweetener, and flavouring. It can be savoury or sweet, though for the purpose of this blog I have chosen to neglect the savoury kind and indulge my sweet tooth for a week, and it’s really, very easy to make! Over the course of this week, I have eaten four servings of pudding, and have sampled nearly ten different flavours, giving me the knowledge and experience to share with you the ultimate in rice pudding.

For some research into flavours and a bit of inspiration I started at Riz en Folie (On Mackay, just south of Sherbrooke, for you Montrealers), a teeny restaurant that serves only rice pudding. Set up like an ice cream parlour, when you go inside, the different puddings are all displayed under glass and you get to sample each flavour before you make your decision. Riz en Folie uses short grain sushi rice and bakes their pudding. It has a super creamy texture with a sort of tapioca pudding vibe – lots of pudding, only a little rice. This past Tuesday, I went for lunch (sort of) with friends and between the five of us we sampled seven of ten flavours on display that day.  Again, like an ice cream parlour, Riz en Folie does your standard vanilla and chocolate; “rough & tough”, a sort of rocky road flavour; and a mint-chocolate. Of these flavours, I tried the mint-chocolate. It tasted as weird as it looked:

While the flavour started out like its delicious, ice cream counterpart, its finish was unfortunately reminiscent of the “almost mint” flavour found in oral hygiene products, particularly floss.  A rough start, but Riz en Folie did redeem themselves with some of their other flavours:

Original: It was sweet and creamy and hardly spiced, if at all. The girls who tried it found it light and described it as “nice” and “yummy.”

Sucre a la crème: This one was like the original, but more. It was more sweet, and more creamy, and heavier and denser. I asked about the flavours and the response was, “It’s not that it has different flavour… it’s just MORE. It’s better than the Original.”

Exotika Passion:  “What does taste like?” “It tastes like passion fruit.”  “…weird.”

Rose Water: The flavour was so light and delicate that it was almost bland – at least when tasted next to the other very sweet puddings. Rose water didn’t seem like it could stand alone as a flavour. The pudding was obviously missing something we thought.

Lemon: Straight up lemon curd. It was oh-so-delicious like lemon pie filling and was the one I chose to have a full serving of.

Carrot cake: This one was definitely the team favourite. It was very lightly spiced and the flavour was very fresh and carroty.  It was more like a carrot ice cream or cheese cake. Very good!

I left with a different idea was what I expected from rice pudding. Though it’s obvious now, I never would have thought to do anything more to it then add cinnamon and sugar, never mind lemon or passion fruit.  Since I had Friday off work, I did a little reading up on rice pudding recipes and picked a few to try out. I invited a couple friends over and with my roommate, my old roommate, and a coworker we binged on 3 rice puddings:

Our trio of rice puddings for the evening

Black Rice Pudding

I got this one off Epicurious.  Such a simple recipe, and it looked so cool in the photo, I decided I had to try it. It was probably the most basic recipe I found and the truest to the natural simplicity of the dessert:

1 cup black rice

3 cups water

1 can coconut milk (1 ½ cups for cooking and the rest for garnish)

A pinch of salt and sugar to taste

[Gourmet, December 2005]

Bring to boil rice, salt, and water in a large pot. Reduce to simmer and cover for 30 to 45 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Stir in a roughly a cup and a half of coconut milk and sugar to taste (I added about a half cup) and cook until creamy and pudding-like. Let it cool, or eat it warm and serve with coconut milk poured over top.

This pudding was a little chewier since black rice doesn’t get at gooey and mushy as white rice. It has a really nice nutty, sweet flavour and anyone without a big sweet tooth would probably appreciate this one for it more subtle flavour.

Banana-Anise Pudding

Soooo, it didn’t really work. This recipe was dictated to me by one of the kitchen staff at work (I chose the flavours and he gave me portions of each ingredient), but I must have missed an instruction. It tasted great! But, there obviously was not enough liquid and the rice ended up not so pudding-y and a lot like… rice. This one was done in the oven, and I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t precook the rice or that I needed more cream, but the texture didn’t work out at all. I’m planning on trying this again, as aniseed and banana and coconut milk were meant to be together, but this time maybe they can mingle on the stove top where I’m clearly more apt. If you wanted to try it, combine your rice of choice, cream, coconut milk, mashed ripe banana, LOTS of aniseed (we’re talking at least a couple teaspoons), and sugar to taste and bake covered at 350F for 45 minutes to an hour. I’ll leave it to you to portion out the ratios though so perhaps you have more luck than I did!

Rose Water-Cardamom Pudding

AAH, SO GOOD. The rose water rice pudding at Riz en Folie was lacking, but it has the potential to be amazing! More rose water, some cardamom, and some vanilla make for the favourite rice pudding. On epicurious I found a recipe for a guideline. The amount of sugar in this recipe was waaay too much. I cut it in half  to 3/4 cup and it was still quite sweet. Here is what I did:

½ cup Arborio rice

3 cups cream

½ to ¾ cups sugar

Some cornstarch (optional, maybe?)

1 tablespoon Rose Water

Some cardamom (I write my recipes more like mum every day. By “some” I guess I mean to taste.)

Some Vanilla

Bring to boil one cup of water, add rice, reduce to simmer and let the water absorb. Add 3 cups of cream (I used 10%), cornstarch, sugar, rose water, cardamom, and vanilla, stir it all up thoroughly and bring to boil again. Watch that pot or else it will boil over and make a pretty awful mess on your stove top. Reduce to a simmer and cover partly. Stir periodically and cook until it has the pudding consistency that you want. This will fit into 4 ramekins. Allow it to cool. It might make a skin/film on top, but if you give a good stir before you serve it, it will look and taste just fine.  I dyed mine pink and sprinkled it with pistachios for a garnish. It looked quite cute I think.

This one is my favourite rice pudding now! After extensive research, this is the best in Rice pudding. It was creamy, but the rice was still present. The flavour was very rosy and spiced and sweet and just wonderful.  From these 3 recipes, I have made a sort of criteria for my ultimate pudding: done with Arborio rice and on the stove top.  The Arborio made for a really fantastic texture and the stove top gives you more control; you see if you need more liquid or taste if you need more sugar or spice.

The Greek men at the cafe-bar I worked at during world cup say that Efes, the Turkish bakery across the street, makes the best rice pudding – “it’s better than my mom’s.” I haven’t tried it yet, but it might be worth the trek out to Parc-Ex to see if my number one can be beat.

Also, Happy Birthday Dad!

Best,

Monique

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[Ed: We’re very happy to have a new guest blogger with us today – the lovely April Caverhill. April is a visual artist, and has treated us to an original illustration to compliment her musings on fudge…]

Ah, fudge. How I love the stuff! Yes, it’s mercilessly sweet, the sort of sweet towards which children, and childlike adults, gravitate. Fudge is the hick hillbilly cousin to more glamorous, citified candy like almond roca or amaretto truffles. The fudge monster is what lures me from my bed at midnight, enticing me to the cupboard and then inviting me to cut a substantial chunk from it’s delectable, creamy body. And nothing, not even the sublime rush of caffeine can surpass the legal high obtained from fudge overindulgence. This is the sugar wave that will keep me hyper-energized through four hours of housecleaning, a long bike ride plus half an email-reading session before blood sugar levels plummet and I become an incoherent, gibbering idiot.

What makes this treat so alluring? Certainly it’s about texture. The best fudge is firm on the outside, yielding to a lush but not-too-soft interior. Flavour is also key. Simple flavours are best in my opinion; chocolate of course, or vanilla or even maple-and dear god, no marshmallows please. When I do stray from convention it’s to enjoy an East Indian version of fudge called, unfortunately, “barfi”. It tastes fabulous though. Here is one recipe:

Pistachio Nut Barfi

10 oz sugar
2 TBSP pistachio nuts, broken
2 TBSP unsalted butter
1 TBSP white flour
4 oz full fat powdered milk
1/2 TBSP ground cardamom

Put sugar in small saucepan with 8 ounces of water. Stir over low heat until sugar dissolves, then bring to a boil and simmer until a bit of the syrup forms a thread when pulled. Roast pistachios in a dry pan until lightly toasted and put aside.
Heat butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, then add flour and fry for 1-2 minutes. Add powdered milk and stir. Now add sugar syrup and reduce heat to low. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture leaves sides of pan.
Add half of pistachios and all of the cardamom, then pour mixture into a pan roughly 8″ x 10″. Sprinkle with remaining nuts and leave to cool at room temperature for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until set. Cut into small squares to serve.

So there you go. May you and your fudge monster live in harmony.

With sticky lips,
April Caverhill

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History in the Making: Hot Sauces + Cold Ice Cream = Melting!

If you google “sundae” the first two hits you get are wikipedia answers.  The first, of course, is the ice cream confection that just about everyone is familiar with.  You know the one – ice cream, goopy sauce of some description, maybe a marschino cherry on top. But the second one … whoa.  I almost went there.  Really.  I chickened out though.  Boiling pig intestines and filling them with noodles and pig blood just didn’t seem all that appealing and, besides, as un-Canadian as this may be, we are celebrating American Food Holidays here (silly Canadians don’t seem to have one for each day of the year – we are so out of it) so I went with the more American ice cream dessert.

I should add in here that today is also Remembrance Day – which doesn’t really have anything to do with sundaes, but I just felt it would be wrong to write something about November 11th that didn’t also take a moment to acknowledge the sacrifices of all those who have fought in and suffered through humanity’s many wars.  As the saying goes, “Lest We Forget”.  Sometimes it’s pretty easy to forget stuff like that when you’re someone who gets to live a life in which your key responsibility for the day is blogging about ice cream.

There is much debate about the origin of the sundae with two American cities fighting to take credit for the invention.  Whether it was an accidental compromise made to avoid the sinfulness of serving an ice cream soda on a Sunday (Two Rivers, Wisconsin), or whether a fountain clerk got creative in an effort to impress his boss and a local reverend (Ithaca, New York), there is no doubt that the sundae is a near ubiquitous American dessert.  Whether it be the soft-serve McDonald’s variety in a plastic cup (which, has its own fan site and strangely, makes a great dip for McD’s fries – really), or the $1,000 Grand Opulence Sundae from Serendipity in New York, there is no doubting that a sundae is a special yummy sticky messy treat.

While I was mulling my choices of toppings for whatever gourmet sundae concoction I was going to make for my blog, I did some research (wiki really – it’s pathetic that the sum total of most of my research these days comes from wiki) and was delighted, delighted, to discover that Bananas Foster is actually a sundae.  I love Bananas Foster.  Really, really.  How can you not love bananas fried in butter and brown sugar and then flambeéd in rum?  You’d have to be crazy, that’s how.

I didn’t exactly make Bananas Foster though.  I have this deep and abiding fear that my house is going to burn down.  Flambeéing anything in my house is out.  Period.  I did a little further research at Epicurious.com and rummaged around in my cupboards and freezer and eventually concocted what might have been the Greatest Sundae of All Time – and it did not involve gold leaf or celebrities.

I fried my bananas in butter and brown sugar, added a titch of cinnamon and nutmeg and then settled for deglazing the pan with rum instead of lighting it on fire.

I made two sauces.

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Boil, Boil, no Toil, no Touble!

One is a Cardamom Praline Sauce that I found on Epicurious and I invite you to click on the link for the recipe.  I picked it because the second I got this assignment, I knew I was going to make something with Cardamom in it for my sundae.  Why?  Because.  Cardamom is good.  It likes desserts.  Desserts like it.  Plus all the reviews of this recipe raved about how good it was, and how easy.  They were all correct.  It’s truly brilliant – just use more Cardamom than the recipe calls for – like a 1/2 tbsp.  N, previous guest blogger on National Candy Corn Day and willing test subject said, “the cardamom sauce tastes like Christmas.”  I do believe she was on to something.

For the other sauce, I tossed 2 cups of frozen local strawberries (the good sweet everbearing kind), 3 tbsp white sugar, 1/2 c. Sambuca, 2 tbsp. orange juice concentrate, 4 tbsp. water and a squeeze of lime juice into a saucepot.  Cooked it on medium-high until it came to a boil and then simmered until the liquid was much reduced and I had a nice thick syrup with chunks of berry floating about.  God it was good.

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"Secret" Ingredients ...

Two scoops of Praline Ice Cream surrounded by the fried bananas, a glop of Cardamom sauce on one side, a glurp of Strawberry Sambuca sauce on the other, a blob of fresh whipping cream on top – let’s just say that everything got real quiet for a while.

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My two willing test tasters N and K

I confess, I ate the same thing again the very next day.

B.

p.s.  I was going to try the Brandied Fruit on the ice cream but I just wasn’t brave enough.  It’s brown.  Not pretty.  Not appetizing looking.  Still smells ok but I think I might have to confess to epic failure on that one.  I won’t even show you pictures.  It’s too nasty.