Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rum Raisin Rice Pudding


Can anything be so elegant as to have few wants, and to serve them one’s self? 
Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Once upon a time, we were poor as the proverbial church mouse, yet living quite happily and abundantly in our frugality. We marketed together, eyeing prices, buying seasonally and planning out our meals. We loved to cook and did so in our little kitchen whose wide French windows opened out onto a tiny stretch of lawn, a handkerchief-sized garden. The sun would flood in through those windows as we stood and chopped, minced, breaded, stirred and simmered. Our few cookbooks, our past travels and my days spent working as an interpreter in a cooking school, listening and watching a series of chef-instructors, were a constant source of inspiration and recipes. We went out for the occasional couscous at the neighborhood Moroccan restaurant, but we were more than content, actually quite tickled pink to play house in that little doll-sized abode on the outskirts of Paris. Not only did we stay within our meager budget, but we were well fed and satisfied.

When we met, he was working part time in order to allow himself a few days a week to devote to his photography. He lived in a communal house in the outskirts of Paris and owned exactly one mattress tossed on the floor, a worktable and chair, his camera and darkroom equipment. I moved in with my two battered suitcases and between the two of us we had all that we needed to be happy. A few months later, we were married, expecting our first child and had moved into our tiny dream house. We both worked part time yet the money was enough for our needs. We each left for work in the morning, or I saw him off to spend the day shooting, the evening in our livingroom-converted-darkroom. A day off, we took the train into the city to visit a museum or the gardens or drove further out for a jaunt in the woods and then back again. And we cooked.

Food has always been a necessary part of our life together in more ways than one: nourishment, yes; a connection to our past, our separate cultures and heritages, indeed; but it has always been a great pleasure for us to cook as well as eat, to cook for each other and for friends and family and cook together side by side. Food and cooking as love, the heart and soul of our home.

As humble as our beginnings, the food we cook has never had to be fancy to be special. Big one-pot stick-to-your-rib stews of inexpensive cuts of meat, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and carrots simmered until fork tender, tagines, crêpes or savory tarts, frugal yet scrumptious and filling dishes, leftovers that taste better than the day they were made. It is true that at times our grocery bills have gotten out of hand, our food budget exploding like a crazed, fiery asteroid; we give in to temptation or allow a lazy complaisance to set in and we turn to restaurants, take-out or ready-made. And then we look at that big, bad, glowing black hole in the budget (or so it seems) and the numbers scream at us to slow down and rethink the whole thing, reign it in and start all over from the beginning. Channel that couple who slept on a mattress in that big old run-down house in the ‘burbs or that snug little three-room doll’s house on that narrow strip of a street.

Rice pudding is nursery food in old English novels. Riz au lait is the sweet, frugal treat my mother-in-law made for her children to satisfy their sweet tooth as much as fill their tummies. Riz au lait, the Frenchman’s rice pudding, simply milk, rice and sugar, stirred long on the stove and spooned into bowls, is comfort food at its finest. We decided to kick it up a bit by cooking in rum-soaked raisins and more rum, the perfect mate to vanilla.

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Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying. 
The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things. 
Elise Boulding 


2 Tbs raisins
3 Tbs dark rum
7 oz (200 g) uncooked (round) rice for risotto or pudding
3 ¼ cups (750 ml) whole milk + ¼ cup more if needed to think the pudding
6 –7 Tbs (90 - 100) sugar or to taste
1 vanilla bean
Pinch salt
1 Tbs (15 g) unsalted butter

Place the raisins in a small bowl and cover with the rum for about an hour before making the pudding so the raisins are softened and soaked with rum.

Place the rice in a fine mesh strainer or colander (so as not to lose any rice out the bottom!) and rinse under running water until the water runs clear. Drain.

Put the rinsed rice in a saucepan and cover with water; bring the water to a boil and allow to boil for 5 minutes. Drain the rice. 

Return the drained rice to a medium-sized saucepan with 3 ¼ cups of the whole milk, 1 tablespoon of the sugar and a pinch of salt. Using a small, sharp knife split the vanilla bean down the center and scrape out all of the seeds. Add both the seeds and the pod to the other ingredients in the saucepan. Bring it just up to the boil and then immediately turn the heat down to very low and, placing a cover atop the saucepan but leaving it ajar, allow the pudding to simmer, stirring often, for 30 to 35 minutes or until the rice has absorbed almost all of the liquid. The rice should be very soft almost melting in the mouth. It should not be al dente. The pudding should be creamy, neither runny nor dry. Add the raisins and the rum about 10 minutes before the end of the cooking. Add more milk if the rice becomes too thick and gluey rather than smooth and creamy and heat through.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and remove and discard the vanilla bean pod. Stir in the tablespoon of butter and only half of the remaining sugar. Taste and add as much of the remaining sugar until desired sweetness. Spoon into individual serving dishes, glasses or bowls.

The riz au lait is best eaten warm. If refrigerated, simply reheat for a very short amount of time in a microwave.


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

That's the kind of lifestyle I like... Your rice pudding looks and sounds mouthwatering. A treat I have been used to eating all my life.



Barbara Bakes said...

Rice pudding is one of my favorite desserts in the winter. Make me want to come live in Paris and explore the museums and markets.

Denise said...

We pride ourselves on being frugal. Living big but on a small budget. It is amazing what one can do with local resources that are right in front of them, and without being "fancy". Our first apartment together was the smallest we have lived in, and we still talk about how romantic it was and how much we miss it. Rice pudding was the icing on this post - love a big bowl of if for breakfast or dessert.

Jamie said...

@Denise - that's nice; we often say how happy we were back then with no belongings, living small, so many less worries!

Jill @ MadAboutMacarons said...

Funny, with this weather cooling down I made riz au lait (hehe, it won't let me type that and I keep getting it changed to rid au laid!) for French hubby, who wants it for breakfast.... I love your idea of adding rum - who knows, it may waken him up quicker in the mornings!

Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things said...

Ah, such memories you have evoked, dear Jamie, My mother always made a beautiful rice pudding, her Hungarian kind. Thanks for sharing. Beautiful words and images.

Rambling Tart said...

I love rice pudding so much, Jamie, and your addition of rum-soaked raisins is absolutely marvelous. :-)

Kiran @ said...

What a fun and nostalgic glimpse into your life, Jamie. Love rum raisin rice pudding. SO cozy :)

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said...

That's a heartwarming story, Jamie and one that doesn't surprise me at all. Recipes passed down the generations are always wonderful.

Terra said...

I love the sound of the dish, and the feeling of comfort when reading the ingredients. I have not made rice pudding yet....have thought about it. My Great Grandma used to love to make it. Unfortunately I was too young to appreciate the dish, but today realize what I possibly missed out on. I love the simplicity of the recipe, and all the gorgeous flavors combined! Hugs, Terra

Dina said...

I love rice pudding and this sounds like a wonderful variation!

Jeanne said...

Hmmm, I wish I could like rice pudding more - I didn't grow up with it and so it has no comforting conntations for me. Although the addition of rum would help (hic!) ;o) So true how our lifestyle expands to fit our income and then when we have to cut back it's hard to imagine how we lived frugally in the first place


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