Monday, February 20, 2012

Failed Pudding Is Always An Opportunity

I've been cooking for long enough to have failed miserably. I've even shared some of those stories with you. Sadly, most of my failures can be summed up in one category: dessert. I've failed candy, baked goods, ice cream, even simple things, like cookies... but today, I turned a corner.

It started with failure... surprise, surprise.

I cooked a dal for Bart since he needs liquid food. Lentils have lots of protein and are tasty when cooked with the right spices, so an Indian lentil soup like Dal makes perfect sense. His favorite is Dal Shorva, but today I decided to make Masoor lentils (red ones) with a traditional masala. I prepared a ton of rice to go along with the dal and wanted to make some rice pudding as well...

After dinner, I started chopping strawberries. I know what you're thinking... rice pudding means dried fruits like raisins, or nuts - pistachios, walnuts and pecans. Maybe some cinnamon, but never strawberries. I probably would agree with you, except the strawberries were on sale, and I have 4 pints of them in the fridge that need to be used before they turn into a furry mass of wasted sale-food. So I diced some berries, spooned out a couple of cups of rice into the pan and lit a fire.

I should mention that while I've made countless rice puddings, I've never made rice pudding with strawberries before and evidently, I had a lot to learn. Normally, I take cooked rice, sugar and milk and bring it just to a boil before reducing the heat and simmering the pudding until it's thickened. This time, I added the strawberries in the beginning, thinking they'd enhance the flavor. Probably, but you have to remember the basic fundamentals of cooking science.

Milk is an emulsification of fats, solids and liquids. To separate these, cheesemakers use acids and enzymes to split the curd from the whey. Usually this is done with heat. So I made a fundamental mistake when I added the berries - acidic and full of enzymes, to the hot milk and rice. It curdled pretty quickly, and I had a separated mess of rice and berry water.

What happens when I ruin a dish? I usually say some curse words, and most of the time, I start again.

So this time, I thought a little bit more before I started the second batch. Instead of dairy milk, which I cook so rarely with I couldn't predict what would happen, I used coconut milk... something I'm used to. I heated the coconut milk, then added the cooked rice (glad I made a ton) and a can of condensed milk. All of the milk flavor, fewer separating qualities, and added sugar. I was in business. Bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer for 20 minutes while it thickens, and I have a reliable rice pudding, that I will wait to add berries to right before serving.

After seasoning with vanilla, I cooled it slightly before spooning into a bowl and covering with good old-fashioned sugared strawberries. This was a tradition in my house growing up, buy a flat of strawberries, clean and trim them, smother them in sugar until they make their own syrup... and my own twist, add a splash of vanilla to the syrup just before serving over angel food or shortbread. In this case, I served the berry goodness over the rice pudding. Heaven. Like sex in a bowl. Good sex. Good, vanilla, strawberry, rice-sex. Enjoy.

Moral of the story: if you screw up your pudding, you can quit and be without pudding for the foreseeable future. Or you can be awesome and fix your problems from the first batch by analyzing what you did wrong, and changing enough to rock it out of the park the second time, and enjoy plenty of successful pudding. It's up to you whether you actually eat pudding or not. (this may be a sugary metaphor for life)

Kate's Strawberry Sex Pudding

2 cups cooked rice
1 can lite coconut milk
1 can condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 pints strawberries, stems removed, diced
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine berries and sugar and set aside. Berries will macerate into a lovely syrup. Meanwhile, combine rice, coconut milk and condensed milk in a 2 quart pan over medium heat. Heat just to boiling, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes until thickened. Stir in vanilla. Spoon into dishes. Add vanilla to macerated berries and use the mixture to top the pudding. Make awesome faces and noises while you eat.
Bon Appetit!

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