Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Twice As Rice

For a food blogger, I am a ridiculously picky eater. I don't think I dislike more foods than other people do, just that the ones I can't stand are probably some of the most common in American cuisine. Give me a warm plate of foie gras with fig compote and brioche toast points and I will relish it--actual relish however? Ugh, I hate pickles. And mustard. And I cannot describe the absolute loathing disgust I feel towards tomatoes. As you can imagine, my cheeseburgers are pretty boring.

You probably also remember that I may have possibly said at one point that I hate rice pudding. Cold, mushy, bland and with a texture that's just...eeww. I mean, what's to like? I remember going to a school sleep away camp in junior high where the dessert at dinnertime was rice pudding every night. Even ravenous teenagers that had been drug through the woods for three days would not eat this stuff.

So why the change? I have no idea. I simply woke up one morning in February craving the stuff. And not just any old stovetop or refrigerator rice pudding but warm, thick, delicious rice pudding spiked with--you guessed it--cardamom. At the Washington Cooking & Entertaining Show way back in November, I happened to try an eensy, weensy, safely tiny portion of rice pudding offered by a Thai food stand and remember being intrigued by their use of coconut milk. Maybe this was the subconscious beginning of my rice pudding craze.

I say craze because I have a feeling this is only the first of many rice pudding attempts. Even though I was pretty content with this batch, I know I could do better. While I liked the custardy feeling of the baked pudding, I think I might actually prefer more of the creaminess you can get from a stovetop pudding. Also, this time I was timid with the coconut milk, afraid to go overboard with the modern twists on this traditional dish. But next time I'm hoping to do the basmati rice justice with a healthy dose of coconut milk and maybe even some chopped mangoes.
Of course, you can always make this dish with regular milk and short-grain rice, so don't feel like you have to get too fancy. Or, like me, if you're just easing into a dish you previously detested with the passion of a thousand suns, you may want to take it slow. Who knows, maybe this time next year I'll be singing the praises of Caprese salad. But I wouldn't count on it.
Anyone out there have any similar experiences with a food they used to hate?

Baked Spiced Rice Pudding
3 beaten eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup cooked rice
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 tsp each cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a bowl combine eggs, milk, coconut milk, sugar, vanilla and spices. Beat until combined but not foamy. Stir in rice and raisins. Pour egg mixture into a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish.

2. Place casserole dish in a 2 quart square baking dish or pan on an oven rack. Pour boiling water into baking dish around casserole to a depth of 1 inch.

3. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, stirring after 30 minutes. Serve warm or cold.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cardamom Panna Cotta

I have only recently come to realize how completely in love with cardamom I am. If you're not already intimately familiar with this sweet, permeating, Indian spice, it may sound intimidating, but a small dash of this amazing powder will put your cinnamon to shame.

I still remember my first encounter with cardamom during a spectacular Restaurant Week lunch at Rasika: the meal closed with a tiny gulab jamen--sort of like an Indian donut soaked in honey and spiked with--you guessed it--cardamom. New to the whole Indian spice game, I walked away from the meal determined to discover what had made the dish so distinctive. Cardamom is a member of the ginger family and comes in black and green varieties. And don't worry if you only have cardamom pods on hand, you can grind or crush them yourself, with 10 pods equalling about 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cardamom--just remember to strain out the pods after infusing into whatever dish you're making.

Ever since my Rasika experience (an absolute MUST try for Washingtonians also for their one-of-a-kind palak chaat if not for their exquisite use of cardamom), I've been on the lookout for cardamom-centered dishes to put my newly acquired jar to good use (I've said it a million times people--Spices. World Market. $2.99. Do it.) I've also been on a panna cotta kick lately (conveniently, so it seems, are most DC restaurants) so after some searching I sort of fused Alice Medrich and David Lebovitz's recipes for panna cotta for this delicious cardamom version. Also feel free to add orange or rose essence or top with chopped pistachios.

Cardamom Panna Cotta
3 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp ground cardamom or 5 cardamom pods
1 cup whole milk
2 1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin

1. In a small saucepan, heat the cream, sugar and salt until steaming, stirring from time to time. Remove pan from the heat and add cardamom. Cover and allow to steep for 25 minutes (or less if using ground cardamom).

2. Meanwhile, pour the milk into a small bowl and sprinkle with gelatin. Set aside, without stirring, for 5-10 minutes to allow the gelatin to soften.

3. Add the milk and gelatin mixture to the cream and reheat to steaming, stirring well to dissolve the gelatin. If using cardamom pods, strain the mixture and discard the pods.

4. Pour the panna cotta into custard cups or serving dishes. Refrigerate for 4-12 hours, unmold and serve topped with ground cinnamon, orange zest or chopped pistachios, if desired.