Winter Comfort Food: Baked Rice Pudding
When we were kids, the CFO and I would rejoice if we woke up on a December morning to find that the street had been coated in a blanket of snow while we’d slept. We’d squeal with delight (after the high-fives) knowing that we’d most likely be snowed in for the day (and have a reprieve from school). Looking out at the the trees and bushes dredged in soft, white powder, our imaginations transformed the front yard into the setting for any number of outdoor games, from “Living-in-an-igloo” to “I’m-going-to-infiltrate-your-fort” to “My-snow-angel-is-prettier-than-your-snow-angel.” We couldn’t help but feel elated as we wriggled into our snowsuits, boots and mittens before our mother wrapped our heads, mummy-style, in multicolor striped scarves, smeared a swath of Vaseline across our cheeks and noses, then ushered us out the door into the cold.
While we perceived snow as a novel backdrop to hours of carefree games, my mother, I realize now, wasn’t so keen. To her, snow was another hurdle in an already-harried existence, one that added time and effort to her ten-block walk to the grocery store and back (she never did learn to drive a car): a cold, wet, unwelcome crystalline substance that, packed into balls at the hands of snotty little Peter Piacek next door, could be hurled in her direction as she attempted to maneuver her way home amid the snowdrifts that settled in the tops of her anke-high boots; the erratic ruts carved out along the sidewalks (threatening to topple her along with the grocery bags); or the slush that soaked through to her toes and left grey splotches on her pantyhose once she finally got back into the house.
This morning, I woke up to discover that our street had been entirely blanketed in snow while we slept. The white stuff floated gently from the heavens, settling like the dust after a skyscraper demolition on the sidewalks and driveway. No, I did not squeal with delight. No, there were no high-fives. I blinked a few times in disbelief before a little sob caught in my throat. I couldn’t deny it any longer: winter has arrived.
I need to move to a place that has no winter.
True, there was a cute little twitter exchange among a few of us in the GTA this morning about snow and how it is, indeed, very beautiful–for the first twenty minutes or so. After that, it’s simply a collosal pain.
When the weather turns frigid, white, and bone-chilling like this, I want to hunker down. I want to curl up and squeeze myself into a very small space. (“Actually, Mum, that’s rather relaxing–I think you’d like it! You should come join me under the bed once in a while.” ) I want to be anywhere but here.
And so, I seek out comfort. Sure, I could ask the HH for a hug (and sometimes, I do). And that would comfort me–for a few seconds, at least. Comfort food, on the other hand, will remain with you for hours after the fact (or, depending on where it eventually settles, years!). And rice pudding, my friends, is the ultimate comfort food.
My mother used to make a particular style of rice pudding in the winter. First, it was baked rather than cooked on the stovetop; and second, it contained eggs and milk, which, when baked, formed a custard layer on top of the rice. I suppose the custard was meant to be stirred into the grains to form a creamy coating that blended throughout the pudding; but in our house, my mom simply cut the dessert into big blocks and placed them on plates, like pieces of cake. I used to scrape off the custard and leave the densely packed rice behind (no, that didn’t go over too well with Mom. I think she was already in a foul mood because of those snowballs).
I decided to try my hand at a vegan version of Mom’s pudding. After all, I’d made custards with silken tofu before, right? I cooked up some rice, topped it with the blended custard mixture, and baked it. The result was almost identical to my mom’s pudding–well, the bottom, brick-hard layer, that is. Somehow, the tofu mixture dissolved into the rice, leaving no custard behind. Undaunted, I opted for custardless pudding instead. In fact, I went for a fairly non-creamy pudding entirely, switching from custard to fruit. Equally comforting, if not equally rich.
This pudding is similar to a baked oatmeal, using rice instead of oats. I grate the apple rather than cut it in chunks so that it becomes part of the pudding base, adding sweetness to the entire dish rather than offering small diced bits studded here and there. The result is a slightly less sweet, definitely less creamy version of a rice pudding, but one that is immensely comforting in its rustic wholesomeness. You’ll taste a hint of apple throughout, but I wouldn’t call this an apple-flavored pudding; rice is definitely the main attraction. I topped mine with some vegan whipped topping for richness and creaminess, which worked perfectly when stirred into the pudding base.
Earlier today, I stood before the window of my office and watched the snow continue to flutter from the sky as it filled our driveway with a thick, deep layer of silver that glimmered in the early afternoon light. It showed no sign of abating, and I knew I had perhaps an hour or more of heavy shovelling in my future if I wanted to get the car out of the driveway (or if the HH wanted to get his car back in after work).
But there was rice pudding in the refrigerator. I served up another bowlful and enjoyed it as the snow continued to accost the streets below. May as well build up my strength for the inevitable.
Baked Apple Rice Pudding (ACD Stage 2 and beyond)
from Diet, Dessert and Dogs (http://dietdessertndogs.com)
Because it’s not too sweet, this pudding also makes a great breakfast dish. If you wish to dress it up, add some creamy whipped topping and chopped macadamia nuts.
2 cups (480 ml) cooked brown rice (long grain or basmati are nice)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) organic cornstarch
2 cups plain or vanilla rice milk
1 large apple, peeled, cored and grated (I used golden delicious)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) pure vanilla extract
20-30 drops plain or vanilla stevia liquid, to your taste
2 tsp (10 ml) cinnamon
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) ground ginger
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 325F. Spray a large casserole dish with nonstick spray or grease with coconut oil. Spread the rice evenly in the dish.
In a medium bowl, mix the cornstarch with about 2 Tbsp (30 ml) of the milk until smooth and there are no lumps. Slowly add the rest of the milk, whisking constantly to prevent any lumps. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine.
Pour the wet mixture over the rice in the casserole dish; cover the dish and bake 1-1/4 hours, removing the dish from the oven and stirring the pudding every 30 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is very soft. Allow to cool for 20 minutes or so before serving. Makes 4-6 servings. Will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days (I actually preferred it cold the next day).
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Two Years Ago: Raw Imitation “Fried Rice”
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© 2010 Diet, Dessert and Dogs