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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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The World's Greatest Whisk

You might be wondering why it is that I have posted a picture of a whisk when the topic is National Whipped Cream Day.  In theory, I suppose I should have posted a picture of mounds of creamy, pillowy, delicious whipped cream, but the thing is, without this whisk, there is no whipped cream – at least not in my house.

I feel rather passionately about whipped cream, making me a bit of a shoe-in (is that how you spell it?) for this post.  As I mentioned on National Cream Puff Day, I am a bit of a purist.  I like my whipped cream made fresh and preferably not tampered with a great deal.  I loathe the idea of whipped cream in a can.  Dea and I have debated this at length as she is a proponent of the canned cream.  I understand her perspective.  Whipped cream in a can is convenient, mess-free and keeps longer than the fresh stuff.  There is no labour involved whatsoever and no dishes other than the ones you eat from.

For me, however, it is simply not worth it. The texture of canned cream is all wrong and it is, almost without fail, too sweet and kind of chemical-y tasting.   There has been more than one occasion when I have walked out of Dea’s house late at night in search of a container of whipping cream in order to service whatever dessert we are having; this despite the fact that there is a perfectly useful can of whipped cream already in her fridge.  Reading this you are probably in agreement with Dea and whichever other house guests have been present on such occasions – yes, I am a little nutty.  I won’t deny it.

I used to work in a restaurant that used whipped cream in a variety of things, including special coffees and most all the desserts.  We used those whipped cream canisters that use those little Whip-It cartridges.  We would pour a litre of whipping cream into the canister and then add just one small packet of sugar before screwing on the top and putting in the cartridge.  This is when I came to the understanding that whipped cream is really just better on its own.  A tiny bit of sugar – 1 teaspoon to an entire litre – is really more than enough to flavour it.  You might add a smidgen, just a smidgen, of vanilla too.  But whipped cream is sublimely decadent and is usually paired with desserts that are verging on the obscene when it comes to sweetness.  You need a delicate touch to balance that out.

I do not use Whip-It cartridges at home.  Whipped cream that is produced via the instant injection of nitrous oxide bubbles is unstable and a little light in texture.  It won’t hold it’s “whip”, so to speak, and reverts to liquid form too quickly for my tastes – particularly when served over a hot food, beverage or … I leave it to your imagination.

I also don’t use a power mixer to make my whipped cream.  Why?  Because when I use my magical whisk, I am faster and less messy than any electric beater.  I recently confirmed this at Christmas dinner at my parents’ house where I used their electric mixer and managed to spray the entire kitchen, top to bottom, with little white droplets of cream; and it took ages for the cream to thicken.

The trick to good and fast whipped cream is to use the freshest whipping cream and to chill the cream and the stainless steel mixing bowl in the freezer for 5 – 10 minutes before whipping it.  And you have to have the right whisk.  Note the large tines of my whisk and how there are multiple layers of tines set in different directions. This whisk aerates the cream so fast you hardly have time to think about it before you’d better stop or you’re making butter.

I would be remiss if I did not note the fact that whipped cream and its accoutrements have and are used for a variety of illicit and naughty purposes.  The notion of whipped cream as sex toy is so common as to be cliché, and surely more than one high school student has enjoyed experimenting with a few Whip-Its from time to time (if you didn’t know, Whip-Its are canisters of nitrous oxide, a.k.a. Laughing Gas).  But these things simply add to the Whipped Cream Mystique, the aura of the forbidden, the decadent, and yes, the divine.

Whipped cream is more than just a garnish.  Indeed, it can be a dessert in itself (as witnessed at Christmas dinner this year when my sister-in-law, N, a woman after my own heart, chose to forego the pumpkin pie and simply have a bowlful of whipped cream for dessert).  It is deceptively light and utterly delicious and I can eat dangerous amounts of the stuff.

Whipped cream is one of the top 5 reasons I took up triathlon.

xoxo B.

Anything you say?  Wow.  A person could have a lot of fun with that.  You could cover hockey pucks, dog kibble, cheese balls …

Ok, ok, ok.  I’ll be serious (sort of).  It’s not really a serious subject though.  Weird things abound in relation to this day.  For instance, if you go to the original website that started this blog, that being the American Food Holidays website, and click the link for National Chocolate Covered Anything Day, you get sent to a site called Screaming in Digital at which you will discover interesting tidbits like David “London” Ascoli (of Queensryche fame) died last month (oops – sorry for all you London fans out there if that was a little too brutal for you), or that someone named Chris DeGarmo is starting up production with a band named Dredg.  Strangely, despite its domain name (chocolate.scream.org), I didn’t see anything about chocolate.

Honestly, when you get the option to cover absolutely anything in chocolate, it is a little stymy-ing (is that a word?).  Despite my best intentions, I, of  course, managed not to plan very well (again) for this blog.  I have chocolate, but not really sure what to cover with it.  There’s bananas in the basket on top of my microwave – and my chocolate is dark, bittersweet – so it wouldn’t be too sweet.  Could work.  There’s also the frozen blueberries and strawberries in my freezer.  Also a good option.  Then there’s the problem of my missing Advent Calendar, which I am finding perplexing as well.  I know, at first blush that doesn’t exactly fit into this particular thoughtstream, but it’s about chocolate so it does.

Here’s the thing.  I’m not exactly a choc-o-holic (or is that chocaholic?)  It’s kinda like Eva, she of the non-sweet-tooth, being tasked with National Cupcake Day.  Given the choice between chocolate and almost any other dessert, I will almost always choose any other dessert.  Which is not to say that if chocolate is the only sweet available that I won’t eat it.  At my office, there often appear in the communal treat location various chocolatey treats, usually at about that time of the afternoon when you’re either going to eat some sugar or pass out on the floor under your desk.  So, of course, I eat them and have even begun to crave them – all of which has nothing to do with the chocolate and everything to do with (a) the opportunity to leave my desk for a few minutes, (b) the sugar, (c) the walk away from my desk, and (d) did I mention getting up to leave my desk?  As a result, I seem to have been mis-labelled by some of my co-workers as a chocolate freak!  How ironic.

But I digress.  I was supposed to cover something with chocolate and eat it, so I did.  I still had this delicious juicy orange left over from National Bouillabaise Day, so I sliced off the peel (and briefly considered candying the peel and then covering it with chocolate but decided against it on account of the likelihood of high pesticide levels), and sliced up my orange.  Then I used my microwave (yes! no double-boiler to wash) to melt some of the chocolate bar that my husband and child got me as a random gift a while ago (not because I’m a chocaholic, I assure you) and drizzled the chocolate overtop of the oranges.

Not only was it pretty, but it tasted pretty great too.  I used to think chocolate and orange was gross, but it’s actually not.  It was very very nice.

xoxo B.