Full, Happy Tummies

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Passing an old drive-in in a dodgy part of town, my sailor and I noticed the parking lot was full…really full.

Craning our necks to see what was up, we saw a packed dining room through the large windows.

Later, a Facebook friend posted a picture of food in take-out containers along with a glowing recommendation of the new Indian restaurant in town.

Relying on the combination of a Facebook review and the crowds we’d seen, we decided to give it a try.

The decor was meh, the dining room tiny and (horrors!) the strongest drink available was Chai Tea. With so many strikes against it, one would think the Tandoori Junction would be an epic fail.

But it wasn’t! With an extensive menu, heavy on chicken and vegetarian dishes, there was plenty for a picky eater like me to choose from.

We shared Chicken Curry, Aloo Gobi (caulilower and potatoes in onion, tomato and garlic gravy) and Pea Pulao (Basmati rice and aromatic Indian spices, cooked with green peas and onions). We ordered medium spicy, and it was perfect–just enough heat to be really flavourful without a burn.

Sadly, I didn’t notice the dessert selections until we were ready to leave so I missed out on Kheer (Indian style rice pudding). Since rice pudding is one of my favourite things in the world, this was especially disappointing, but all is not lost! I’m certain we’ll go again and I’ll be prepared to save room for dessert.

The best part of dinner: leftovers for the next night (or late night snacking)!

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Finally–Some Good News!

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After going for a gentle afternoon jog, I popped a rice pudding in the oven before popping myself into a frothy bubble bath. As I scrubbed and exfoliated, the house slowly filled with a warm milky scent that brought back yummy childhood memories.

For those not following the saga of my quest for perfect rice pudding, this is attempt number three, and it worked! Well–almost. It was a little runny and I did lose some rice down the sink during the initial rinsing stage. (For some reason, this step remains challenging.) Oh, and the crust on top, delicate and wispy on my mom’s rice pudding, was dark and thick as roast turkey skin on mine. But progress is being made.

The cause of my (near) success: Italian Arborio rice! I had no idea they grew rice in “the hilly regions of northern Italy.” I thought it all came from Asia. My advice for anyone else looking for specialty ingredients like short grain rice: try an actual grocery store instead of the food aisle at Walmart.

Now that I’ve (sort of) mastered rice pudding, I may attempt another sweet favourite–creme brulee.

I think I have everything I need excpet a blow torch to burn the sugar on top and I KNOW I can get that at Walmart.

Rice Pudding, Part Deux

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In my never-ending quest to rediscover the yummy baked rice pudding of my childhood, I tried a different recipe.

This one is from ladyredspecs at Please Pass the Recipe. It’s quite simple, apparently transcribed from someone’s grandmother’s 1907 edition of Mrs. Beeton’s.

I followed this recipe to the letter–almost. I seem to have a pathological need to change recipes. Occasionally my alterations result in genius (well, maybe not genius–who am I kidding.) Most of the time, I learn the hard way why not everyone is cut out to write their own recipes. In this case, I used a mixture of canned and fresh milk, added a splash of vanilla extract and, because I still hadn’t bought short grain rice, long grain it was.

Today’s effort is getting closer to my dear old mom’s version. Except for the long grain rice. It looked like plump juicy maggots in the bowl–not the most appealing image. (There’s a reason all the good cooks recommend short grain.)

Although my boy honestly declared it wasn’t quite up to Kosy Shack standards and he carefully picked off each sliver of leathery skin from the top, he did go back for seconds.

If he ate it, I can assume I’m making progress on the rice pudding front.

My goal: perfect rice pudding by the time my sailor returns from Afghanistan. Raised by a Canadian mother, the homemade treats of his childhood include pumpkin pie and Rice Crispies treats, but everyone needs a bit of Wales in their kitchen.

The Proof is in the Pudding

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My mother wasn’t much of a cook. (I was fifteen before I realized lasagne didn’t come in a box from the freezer), but she did have a couple of fabulous signature dishes–a killer steak and potato pie that caused me to give up my vegetarian tendencies every time she made it and smooth, dreamy rice pudding that filled the house with a heavenly milky scent while it baked.

British Blokes Cooking were kind enough to post a recipe for traditional baked rice pudding.

Theirs was rich, velvety and undoubtedly delicious, like the rice pudding I so enjoyed throughout my childhood.

Sadly, mine was more solid than creamy. (My boy said, “Where’s the pudding? I only got rice!” when I served him a slab.)

The recipe called for short grain rice, but all I could find in Wal Mart was long grain. Rice is rice, I thought tossing a bag into my cart.

Apparently not. I learned today that size does indeed matter.

Trouble started at step one when I rinsed the starch off the rice prior to cooking. I discovered the holes in my colander are bigger than grains of rice. (This was actually a lucky break–if I hadn’t lost so much rice down the sink, my pudding would have been too dense to cut with a steak knife.)

Things continued to go down hill when I converted the baking temperature from Celsius to Farenheit. It seemed far too low to cook anything properly so I added about fifteen degrees because nobody likes raw, crunchy rice. Note to all inexperienced home cooks: the baking temperature given in a recipe isn’t merely a suggestion.

Other than rice size and baking temperature, I followed the recipe to the letter, well, except for not adding quite enough milk because Canadian cans of evaporated milk are smaller than British ones. Instead of adding extra regular milk to make up the difference, I added less because I wanted to preserve the ratio of canned to fresh milk. Yes, I know, thinking about it now, it doesn’t make any sense to me, either.

But the experience wasn’t a complete failure.

I have a rice pudding starting point now, and that’s gold. After years in the rice pudding desert, I can see the oasis of creamy, mild comfort food on the horizon. All I have to do is get the right kind of rice, use enough milk and cook it at the proper temperature. It’s easy peasy!