Saturday, April 27, 2013

Comfort Food: Rice Pudding

We all have foods we identify as comfort foods.  They are different for each of us, but they tend to be things we remember from childhood.  I think anyone who grew up in the North East or near a Greek population is familiar with rice pudding.  It appears in every diner, Greek restaurant, and local dive around here.  I have always loved ordering it, although I like it better in some places than others.  I spent years trying to make my own rice pudding and never being really pleased with the results.  Some of the recipes were easy and some were multi-step nightmares.  No matter what I always felt they just didn't taste right.  I also knew in my heart these diners were not spending a huge amount of time cooking these complicated recipes.  They were throwing the left-over rice from the last few days into a pot and creating magic.  I continued to hunt and finally I struck gold.

A couple of years ago someone gave me a gift subscription to the Rachael Ray Magazine.  I have always enjoyed seeing her on T.V. and I enjoyed reading her magazine.  She had a little blurb on one page about a super easy rice pudding.  I read it and made a note of it in my mind.  The next time I had left-over rice I gave it a try.  SUCCESS!!  This was the recipe I had been looking for.  Easy and wonderful.  Then we moved and I lost the magazine.  Sigh.  I went to her website and did a search for it and, Viola!  Since Ms. Ray posts the recipe on the internet, I am going to share it with you.

Rachael Ray's Easy Rice Pudding


  • 3 cups milk
  • 2 cups cooked white rice
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • Ground cinnamon, generous pinch
  • Salt, generous pinch


  • In a saucepan, combine 3 cups milk, 2 cups cooked white rice, 1/2 cup raisins, 1/3 cup sugar and a generous pinch each ground cinnamon and salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the milk is absorbed and the pudding is thickened, about 20 minutes. Serve warm or let cool, press plastic wrap onto the surface and refrigerate until chilled. Makes 3 1/2 cups.

I always use left-over rice when making this recipe.  Since I have usually buttered and salted the rice, I don't add extra salt to the pan.  The butter in my rice just adds another delicious layer to the recipe.

Is that not simple, or what?  I can sure see this happening in a diner kitchen.  I also love that there is very little sugar in the recipe.  One thing I disliked about many of the recipes I tried was how sweet they were.  I just don't like sickly sweet things.  You can see the raisins are mixed in with the rice already.  I didn't have a full half-cup of them today, but that doesn't matter.  If you don't like raisins, don't add them.

I use 2% milk because that is what I normally buy.  Low-fat milk will break and curdle much easier than whole milk.  You can avoid this in a couple of ways.  You can add a bit of heavy cream to your milk.  This ups the fat content and helps prevent curdling.  The added butter from my rice also helps.  The best thing to do is to just heat the milk slowly and only let it simmer.  Make sure to stir it every few minutes.  You shouldn't have a problem with curdling if you are gentle with the milk.

Just throw everything in together and put the burner on to Medium.

Once it starts to simmer turn the heat down to Low and stir.

As it gets closer to finishing it will need more frequent stirring to prevent burning.

You can see how it has thickened nicely.  When you stir it and can see the bottom of the pan as you pull the spoon through it, it is done.  It will also begin to mound a bit as you stir it.  Ms. Ray talks about what to do with left-overs of the rice pudding, but I think that is very funny.  Left-overs!  Snort.

If you want a more decadent version you can always make this with half-n-half.  I love it just the way it is.  I also love that I don't need to go shopping for anything to make it.  I just always make some extra rice when I'm cooking.  20 minutes to comfort food heaven!  This is why I love to cook.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hummus Anyone?

I think hummus is just about the perfect food.  I seriously could eat it every day and be very happy.  I work in a grocery store and it astounds me how much hummus we sell.  Not because I'm surprised people like it, but I'm shocked more people don't make it themselves.  It can be expensive to buy and, if using canned chick peas, can be made in about 15 minutes.  I can adjust it to suit my family and the flavors we like too.  We love lemon, so I make it with more lemon juice than some people might like.  If you like garlic or cumin, use more!  If you like roasted red peppers or avocado, throw them in.  Heck, dump in the Buffalo Wing sauce if you think it would be tasty. This is the perfect dish to play with.

If you have read my other posts, you know I'm a fan of using dried beans.  They are far more economical than the canned ones and they have far less salt.  However, I have made this recipe using canned beans many times.  I usually don't add extra salt when I use canned beans.  You will have to taste it and decide for yourself on the salt.  If you want to use canned beans then just scroll down to the directions for the hummus. One drained, rinsed can will make a batch.

Last night I put a bag of dried chick peas to soak.  I often will let them soak during the day and cook them at night.  I knew I would be around the house this morning, so I let them soak overnight.

Rinse the beans and pick out any stones.  Then just dump them into a large pot.

Cover the beans with water so that you have about two inches of water above the beans.  Cover the pot with a lid and let it sit on the counter overnight.  In the morning drain the beans.  They will be about twice the size.

Add fresh water to about 3 inches above the beans.  I threw in 3 smashed cloves of garlic, 1 quartered onion, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.   Don't add anything acidic when cooking dried beans.  It will make them tough.  Bring the pot to a boil, cover and simmer for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the beans are tender.  This can be done in a pressure cooker in just a few minutes.

When the beans are done, drain them and reserve the cooking liquid.  I do this by putting a pan under the colander. 

The cooking liquid is full of flavor and vitamins.  It is fantastic to use as a base for soup.  Mine is becoming split pea soup as I type.

Rinse your chick peas under cool water and they are ready to measure and use to make hummus.

Hummus is a very basic, simple food to prepare.  It can be done without any fancy equipment, but a food processor or a blender makes it much easier.  Here are the ingredients I use as a basic recipe.

2 cups cooked chick peas
2/3 cup tahini 
3/4 cup lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more depending on the beans
salt and pepper to taste

Let me say a word about tahini.  It is simply ground sesame seeds and there is no substitute when making hummus.  If you don't have it or can't find it, buy hummus in the grocery store.  I can get it in my grocery store, but when I lived in rural Indiana my sister had to send it to me in care packages.  It can be mail ordered, but it is cheaper to stock up when you travel to a larger city.

I use bottled lemon juice because I like a lot of lemon.  I don't want to spend that much time squeezing lemons.  Yes, fresh lemons taste better and you are free to use them.  This is all about what you like.

I simply dump everything except the olive oil in the the food processor.

I let it run until everything is well combined.

At this point the mixture is coarse and very thick.  Some people like a chunky hummus, but I prefer it to be more smooth.  At this point I turn the machine on and drizzle the oil in while the machine is running.  When it seems light and fluffy I stop the machine and taste the hummus.

I had a cup of tahini left in my jar and I wasn't going to waste it, so I just added more beans and lemon juice.  I did decide to add more lemon and more salt and pepper when I stopped to taste it.  

I got about 3 1/2 cups of hummus out of this batch.  I put enough cooked chick peas into the freezer to make 2 more batches.

That's all there is to making hummus.  It is fantastic served as pictured above.  I love to make pita sandwiches with lots of tomato and cucumber too.  Hummus and falafel sandwiches are incredible.  I have some falafel in the freezer.  Hmmmmm........

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Artisan Individual Pizza

Do you love gourmet pizza?  How often do you wish you could get the same experience at home?  Well, I have very good news for you.  You can make dough in no time flat, seriously.  If you have never tried making no knead bread or dough, this should be reason enough to give it a try.  I threw some ingredients in bowl yesterday and pulled it out today to make pizza.  Five minutes a day.  That's it.  Really.

O.K.  When making the pizza it takes a couple of minutes to roll each one out.  I made four individual ones.  It would be much quicker if I were doing one.  We really enjoy customizing our own pizza, so why not do four smaller ones?  Mind you, the only one to eat their whole pizza was my fourteen year-old son.  The rest of us have lunch waiting for us tomorrow.

The recipe I used for the dough is the basic dough recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.  This recipe is posted all over the internet, so I don't think they'll mind me posting it again.  If you like this, I highly recommend getting the book out of the library and trying a few other recipes.  You will probably want to buy your own copy, like I did.

In a large container with a lid, combine the following:

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast (1 1/2 packets)
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
6 1/2 cups unsifted, flour.  Measure it using the scoop and sweep method.

Using a large wooden spoon (or your hand) mix the ingredients until combined.  Put the lid on, but not tightly.  The gas from the yeast needs to escape.  Let the container sit on the counter for two, or up to five, hours.  Then put it in the refrigerator and ignore it until tomorrow.  

When you are ready to make the pizza get all of your ingredients ready.  You can use whatever you like.  I usually buy a jar of pizza sauce or just use a little pasta sauce.  Sprinkle your cookie sheet well with cornmeal.  Turn your oven on to 500 degrees F.

Now flour a board or your counter really well.  Flour the rolling pin really well.  Open the container and sprinkle the top with flour really well.  Now reach in and grab a blob (I get a small grapefruit sized piece for the individual pizzas).  Cut the piece off with a sharp knife.  Put it on the board and flip it over so it is well floured.  Roll it out to the size you want.  If you are making one pizza, roll it directly on the cookie sheet.  Just make sure you use lots of corn meal for that.  I find it works better if I start rolling and set it aside while I start the second piece.  This gives the dough time to loosen and it rolls out better without pulling back.

I put two pizzas on one cookie sheet and let the kids make theirs while I roll the next two.

Into the oven the first two go for 10 minutes.  While those cook we make up the second batch.  Those cook for 10 minutes and we all enjoy our pizza.

See how big these pieces are?  Only three of the four would fit on the plate.  This was my son's plate.  None of the rest of us could manage this much.  He went back for piece number four.  It's a good thing he has Crew practice tonight.  He needs to burn off some calories.

We like to use turkey pepperoni so the pizza isn't greasy, but to each their own.  

For the ingredients listed I get four individual pizzas and I have enough left to make a loaf of Artisan bread tomorrow.  It can stay in the refrigerator for up to a week if I don't have time tomorrow.  

Treat yourself to some gourmet pizza.  You won't be sorry.