Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Variations on Rice Pudding

4/23/08 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Today, we’re talking rice. Not savory rice for dinner but sweet rice for dessert — specifically, rice pudding.

For many of us rice is largely a side dish at dinner. We have available an infinite variety of rice for our consumption: aromatic Basmati, red and Jasmine rice; short, medium and long grain white rice; short and long grain brown rice; and even a variety of instant rices.

At our house, we don’t get too exotic with the varieties because my husband does not share my enthusiasm for it. However, if we’re having rice with American, Chinese or Mexican dishes, I always cook extra for the next day’s breakfast or dessert. He loves rice pudding.

There are three ways to make rice pudding: baked, boiled or the lazy way. The last one would be my way. I take a bowlful of cold rice; add a tablespoon of butter, a little sugar and some milk. I then warm it up in the microwave. Finally, I sprinkle it with cinnamon, mix and eat. Delish!

Cooking rice pudding in the oven produces a distinctly different product than cooking on the stovetop. The result of mixing eggs, milk and rice with spices produces a layered custard. No matter how well you mix the ingredients, the rice is on the bottom, the raisins next and the smooth custard on top.

Simmering the ingredients on the stove top renders a creamy texture and requires a watchful eye to be sure that it doesn’t burn. In some recipes, the two processes are combined such as cooking the pudding on the stovetop and finishing off with a meringue in the oven.

By definition, puddings are soft, sweet, smooth desserts. For this reason, I use long grain white rice in my recipes. I do not use the healthier, nutritious brown rice because the resulting product is a nuttier taste and texture. I once added finely minced pecans and I didn’t like that either. Nutmeg is the traditional spice topping but substitute cinnamon if you prefer a milder taste.

Having said that, I am including a recipe that includes all of the above! It is a bit more rustic that the bland white pudding I enjoy and using soy milk, it may be suitable for some vegetarians.

All things considered, pudding is a relatively healthy food. The sugar content is low and it is possible to substitute 2-percent milk for whole milk without sacrificing quality. I do suggest that you use whole eggs because I have not had good results using egg substitutes. And finally, to get a true vanilla flavor, use a good quality vanilla or even a real vanilla bean, it does make a difference.

The following recipes are representative of a custard and a cooked rice pudding plus the brown rice recipe. I have been using the first recipe for as long as I can remember. The cooking times are flexible due to the differences in egg sizes, depth of pan and any number of other variables.

 Custard-style Rice Pudding
2-1/2 cups milk
1 cup cooked rice
1/3 cup golden raisins
3 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla

Put a deep pan in the oven and fill with hot water. Preheat oven to 350° F.

Lightly coat a 1-1/2 quart baking dish with a non-stick cooking spray. Spread warm rice and raisins on the bottom of the dish.

Scald (heat) milk on stovetop or in microwave until very hot but not boiling. Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla together in a large bowl.

Add some of the hot milk into the egg mixture and stir until smooth; then add the remainder of the milk. Pour milk mixture over the rice and raisins. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Place in pan with hot water in the oven. Bake about 45-60 min. (depending on depth of dish) or until knife comes out clean. Serve warm or cold, garnished with whipped cream. Serves 6

Rice Pudding with Meringue

1 cup rice, cooked
2 cups milk
2 eggs, separated; reserve whites in small bowl
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Dried cranberries or other fruit if desired
¼ cup sugar

Add cooked rice to milk; heat to scalding point in saucepan. Beat egg yolks with ½ cup sugar and vanilla. Add some of the rice and milk slowly into the egg yolk mixture, stirring briskly. Pour all back into the saucepan and cook until thickened. Fold in dried cranberries.

Pour pudding into a lightly greased baking dish.

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form; slowly add the ¼ cup sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form.  Cover the rice pudding evenly with meringue and bake 8-10 minutes at 350° or until browned. Serves 6

Mongolian Rice Pudding
(University of Phoenix)

5 tablespoons brown rice
1 cup water
2 ½ cups milk or soy milk
½ cup sugar
½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
¼ cup raisins
Cinnamon or nutmeg

Put rice and water in a saucepan. Cook until water has been absorbed. Add milk and sugar and cook over low heat until mixture thickens. Add walnuts and raisins. Serve hot, sprinkled with cinnamon.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare. Contact her at 942-1317 or email

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Inspirational Life of Padma Chetti

4/16/08 Chatterbox Padma Chetti Betty Kaiser Padma Chetti celebrated a milestone 90th birthday this week. This lovely woman is everything that we would all hope to be at her age: attentive, gracious, humorous and — her serene face has barely a wrinkle! She is the biblical “pearl without price.” Over the decades, Padma has seen tremendous changes as she moved from life in a tiny village to life in a huge city; from one continent to another — from cooking on a mud stove to a gas one; from using kerosene lamps to electric; from riding in a rickshaw to an airplane — and she has taken it all in stride. Padma (whose name means ‘lotus flower’), was born April 14, 1918 in the village of Narsapur on the south India coast. She was one of seven children and a sister, 85, still lives in India. In a largely Hindu society, her family was Christian, as was her future husband. Life has never been easy in rural India and it certainly wasn’t 90 years ago. A land of contrasts — with times of feast or famine; palaces vs. mud huts; drought and torrential rains; dense forests or vast, dry deserts; and suffocating heat — life in Indian villages is hard. But Padma’s father and uncle were entrepreneurs. Their business, Jonah and Joseph Brothers, began as a cottage industry to help the village women learn a trade: crocheting. In time, it became very successful as they exported beautifully crafted crochet lace doilies and tablecloths to England. “They were deeply godly people," Mercy Johnson, Padma’s daughter, said of her grandfather and uncle. “My grandfather believed in reverse tithing. You gave 90-percent and spent 10-percent! And as the business grew and prospered they built a large church — Bethany Chapel — to serve many villages.” The children were taught giving by example, as there were many hungry villagers and strangers who would knock on their door for a meal. No one was ever turned away without a bowl of rice and curry. The family also kept large bags of dry rice to generously scoop into villager’s pots. Feeding others became a way of life for Padma. She and her siblings attended boarding school in another town, where she became a champion tennis player. At 17 years of age, she had to quit school due to constant poor health. She met Devasahayam Chetti, her future husband, when he came to visit her cousin. Theirs was a long courtship — five years — during which time he was a street evangelist while he finished his education. They were married Dec. 30, 1942. World War II was raging and he served in the British Navy as chaplain until 1946. When he returned home, Chetti became the first National Indian missionary (i.e. non-European) and moved the family to a village under the umbrella of Canadian Baptists. Mercy, is one of their three children, two having died at birth. She vividly remembers village life. Cobras and scorpions not only roamed the fields but also shared their hut. “You would look up and the snakes would be stretched out on the beams. They were everywhere but ou don’t mess with them and they don’t mess with you!” she laughed. Red and bronze scorpions were also lurking in the room although no one in their household was ever bitten. Finding and killing them was a daily affair. At night, the bed sheets would be shaken and the beds moved to the center of the room because the scorpions only lived in the corners. Strange but true. During those years in the village, Padma was often alone 20-25 days a month with the children and the ministry. Her husband traveled by motorcycle from village to village teaching and preaching. Rickshaws were the common form of transportation but the family rode to church in a bullock cart. While her husband was gone she taught, fed the hungry, dispensed homeopathic medicines and kept the home fires going. This, she said, was her favorite time of life. Eventually Chetti became the Academic Dean of Serampore Theological University (from 1960-1975), founded by William Carey, from which he had graduated. There, Padma greeted the queen of Denmark and fed and ministered to homesick students from all over India. Kindness to all is a thread that runs through her life. Chetti then became the first native pastor of the Lower Circular Road Baptist Chapel in 1975. In Calcutta, Mother Teresa became their neighbor. The nuns lived in the convent next to the church, picked their flowers and admonished Mercy when she was late to school! Mercy and Steve Johnson (Pastor First Baptist Church) and their children welcomed Padma into their home when she was widowed in 1993. Grandson Matthew, now 19, remembers having fun teaching his MaMa to say “Wazzzzup!” from the Budweiser commercials. In turn, she taught him that everything in her life has a story. Even the pretty saris that she wears to church were never purchased but given to her by either a special person or for a special occasion. Also, she taught him how fortunate he and his siblings are to live in the U.S. Mercy is deeply grateful for her mother’s example: “Mom has a strong and deep faith in Jesus Christ that has sustained her all these years. During her missionary days she single-handedly ran the mission house and raised three kids. Her heart and home were always open to feeding and meeting the needs of those who came to her. She instilled in us the importance of hospitality and I try to emulate those same principles.” Looking ahead, Padma softly says: “God is gracious in keeping me. I have been a diabetic 45 years; had heart by-pass surgery 10 years ago and then broke my hip. But God is gracious.” Happy Birthday, Lotus Flower. Long may you blossom! Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Cruise Ship Cuisine: Poi and Polenta

4/9/08 Cook’s Corner
Cruise ship fare: Poi and Polenta
Betty Kaiser

Sailing along on a Hawaiian cruise ship last month, I expected to see ‘Poi,’ a staple of the traditional Hawaiian diet on the menu. Made from pounding cooked Taro roots, it was used by the early Hawaiians for both food and medicinal purposes. Once you taste its sour, fermented purple texture, you understand the medicinal part. And while it’s a good source of nutrients, you might say that eating it is a highly acquired taste!

On the other hand, I never expected to see the humble cornmeal mush featured on a Hawaiian menu. Of course, on a cruise ship, it isn’t called ‘mush.’ That would be way too plebian. Instead, over the last decade, mush has morphed into a gourmet item. It is now called ‘polenta’ and served in many fancy forms.

Technically (if I understand it correctly) the term polenta is an Italian word for coarse yellow corn meal mush. And since ‘polenta’ certainly sounds better than ‘mush,’ I can understand why restaurateurs are using it. Whatever the semantics, the ingredients are the same: yellow or white cornmeal is cooked into a thick porridge with a liquid of water and milk (breakfast cereal); chicken or beef broth (dinner); or just plain water with a dollop of butter anytime.

The result is a smooth textured, bland product and an interesting change from rice, potatoes or pasta. Some eat mush as a hot cereal such as cream of wheat or oatmeal. To change the cornmeal taste, a dollop of yogurt and fruit preserves can be stirred into the porridge, making a sweet and creamy breakfast dish.

I grew up eating fried corn meal mush for breakfast. Prepared the night before, it was smoothed into a rectangular baking pan and refrigerated. The next morning, mother would slice and fry it until crispy. We kids would smother the slices in butter and drizzle with maple syrup. Served alone or with bacon and eggs, we always looked forward to our mushy weekend treat.

The following recipes will stretch your creative thinking juices. If you’re planning on having a luau this summer, try the Taro Rolls now, so you can order the poi (available on the Internet) and fine-tune the recipe. Sorry, I have eaten them but I haven’t made them! An alternative would be to just add purple food coloring to your favorite yeast rolls!

Polenta, also known as corn meal mush, is really very simple and quite versatile. Basic recipes can be found on most packages of white or yellow cornmeal. I am offering the best recipe of all time from Mary Randolph’s “The Virginia House Wife” cookbook written back in 1824. The original form gives no measurements and her recipe is a narrative, so I am taking the liberty of putting it into a more readable format.

Taro (Poi) Rolls
(Served at Polynesian Cultural Center Alii Luau)

1 1/3 cups warm water (90-degrees)
1 egg
1 cup Poi
½ cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon purple food coloring
1 cup sugar
2 pounds flour
1/ 4 teaspoon salt
2 ½ teaspoons yeast

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil; set aside.

Using an electric mixer with a stand: Combine egg, butter, food coloring, poi and water in the mixing bowl. Add yeast to warm water, dissolve; add to dry ingredients. Mix together with a dough hook at medium speed until texture is smooth.

Remove from mixing bowl and place on floured tabletop; knead lightly until elastic. Remove 3 ounces dough and roll into ball size; place on backing sheet. Continue rolling taro balls until dough is gone. Cover and set aside in a warm place to rise for 15-20 minutes.

Bake at 225 degrees for 20 minutes. Yield: 1 ½ dozen rolls

Mary Randolph’s Corn Meal Cheese Casserole
“The Virginia Housewife” 1824

Corn Meal (approx. 1 cup)
1 quart water
Cold water (enough to moisten corn meal)
1 teaspoon salt
1 large spoonful butter

In a pan, put a large spoonful of butter in a quart of water and bring to a boil. Wet your corn meal with cold water in a bowl; add some salt and make it quite smooth. Then put it in the hot buttered water and let it boil, stir continually till done.

As soon as you can handle it, make it into a ball and let it stand till quite cold (put in the refrigerator). Cut mush in thin slices, lay them in the bottom of a deep dish so as to cover it; put slices of cheese on it and on that a few bits of butter; then another layer of mush, cheese and butter until the dish is full. Put on the top thin slices of cheese. Put the dish in a quick oven; 20-30 minutes will bake it.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! 
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Hawaiian cruise leads to 'Hula Brain'

4/2/08 Chatterbox Betty Kaiser Thanks to a little known condition called “Hula Brain,” I am going through an out-of-body experience. My body is in Oregon but my brain is still in Hawaii. Fifteen days on a cruise ship zipping around exotic islands will do that to you A kind of a tropical vacation state of mind sets in: Hula Brain. My husband and I are not devoted cruise ship cruisers. Land cruising is more our style but occasionally we feel the urge to go to sea. In the last 25 years, we have been on about seven cruises and every time I come home slightly disoriented, wondering what happened to warm weather and my personal wait staff. That respectful and gracious gang of room stewards, cooks, waiters maitre’ds, florists and spa personnel never seem to catch the same flight that we do. Some folks really become addicted to cruise pampering. In fact, cruising is more than a vacation, its a way of life to many. Every meal on this trip (and there were many) we sat with a different group of travelers from all over the U.S. and Canada.. The meal ritual began with three questions: Where are you from? How many cruises have you taken and where are you going next? Our paltry seven cruises paled in comparison to the dozens of cruises that others have taken. The hot topic of discussion was where they were going in 2009. Amazing. I barely know where I’m going next week! We had booked this cruise eight weeks in advance and called it planning in advance. Silly us. Two couples received platinum medals for having sailed over 700 days with this cruise line! That’s two years of sailing, my friends. I’d have seaweed between my teeth by the time I reached shore! Many first time cruiser singles and couples were also aboard. One widowed lady from the Midwest had never seen the ocean, been on an airplane or (obviously) a cruise ship. For her, this was the trip of a lifetime and she wanted to do it all. I think she did. One day, she bravely went down on a submarine because she has grandsons in both the Navy and the Coast Guard. She rhapsodized over the colors and variety of fish and pronounced the experience “wonderful.” I said, “You go, girl!” A Florida couple was on their honeymoon. He was 91 and she was 86! They had been friends when previously married to others when both lost their spouses. They decided to tie the knot and head for Hawaii. They were happy as clams, dressed in tuxedo and sparkling gown, holding hands while deciding on dessert. Dr. Dan and his wife Jane (a former commodities trader) were more fun than a barrel of monkeys. She and I met in the laundry room. I had one load of clothes and she had six. There weren’t many washer or dryers and we noticed that people weren’t returning for their clothes, leaving the machines full but idle. We decided that the delinquent launderers were probably having a cappuccino or coffee with a deck officer. Maybe they were playing sudoku, bridge or bingo. Who knew? They weren’t there. It was nearly lunchtime and not wanting to miss another meal, we became “The Laundry Ladies.” One of us whipped a perfect stranger’s clothes out of the dryer and folded them while the other took someone else’s wet clothes and put them in the dryer. Not everyone appreciated our efficiency. One lady complained that her socks were still damp but we assured her that a quick swipe of the iron would cure that! In a vain effort to offset our calorie consumption, Chuck and I took daily walks around the upper deck and attempted to play tennis in gale force winds. Depleted by all that exercise, we would scoot down to the Lido deck and have a double scoop of whatever ice cream was the special of the day topped with hot fudge. Honestly, it was sacrifice after sacrifice. Everything seemed to involve food, especially the popular beach party and luau at Paradise Cove. Wearing orchid leis and sipping exotic drinks we enjoyed hula lessons, a symbolic Imu ceremony and then learned the hukilau at sunset. At dinner, I passed on the native Hawaiian famous “poi,” having previously gagged on it. Ugh. Each island offers its own special treat but the two most impressive experiences for us were complete opposites. Our time at Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial was sobering and thought provoking as we contemplated a horrifying act of war, inspiring acts of heroism and the aftermath of both. The pounding of hearts and silence at sea was deafening. The following week at midnight, as we sailed out of Kona, we were confronted with the glowing majesty of the volcano Kilauea. This splendor of creation was awe-inspiring as steam rose and lava splashed into the sea and red flames fanned the shoreline. All too soon fantasyland receded and reality intruded. Here in Oregon, there is no one to cook my breakfast, make up my bed, offer me a cup of tea, tempt me with rich food, strike up the band after dinner or leave a chocolate on my pillow. But to tell the truth, I’m pretty happy to be on solid land petting my dogs, watching the snow come down, cooking our meals and washing the dishes. Still, my Hula Brain hasn’t completely cleared. Some days I feel an overwhelming desire to return to those warm Hawaiian days, awe-inspiring sunsets and just a little more pampering… Aloha! Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel: