26 May 2012

Adventures in flavor!

Happy Springtime, Friends! I hope our sunnier days and blooming blossoms find you well!

Like many of your children, my son is wrapping his school year (Pre-K) and we've been so fortunate to spend this time at an amazing cooperative preschool. What an adventurous experience it has been for our entire family! We have made some life long friends and gotten to know some truly sensational children. Among other fascinating things the class got to do, Miss Marilyn, our lovely and incredibly dedicated teacher, conducted imaginary trips to far off lands! We traveled to Australia, Asia, Mexico, Arabia, England and France (my favorites!) and most recently South America.

Not only did these wonderful adventure-and activity-filled days make a huge impression on all the great kids in our class while we learned about the cultures of these beautiful places, we had a very special snack time where we explored the "local" cuisine! By doing so, these kids have been so lucky to be exposed to some very interesting and unusual (at least for 4-5 year olds) foods!

Most recently on our trip to South America I signed up to bring something made with Rice, Quinoa or another type of grain. I decided to look for a dessert recipe authentic to Columbia, Brazil or thereabouts. Soon after my search began, I discovered Arroz con Leche! It is basically a very sweet version of Rice Pudding made with milk, sweetened condensed milk and cinnamon. I decided to mix it up a bit and add extra cinnamon and orange zest for some freshness, and also chose to cut a lot of the sweetness. I was really happy with my changes, and it was a hit on our South American adventure, along with papaya and mango (both fresh and dried), jicama, Brigadeiro (Brazilian chocolate bon bons rolled in sprinkles!). By presenting these kids with such a great variety of treats and eats, they have all become more open minded and have, at the very least, tasted, and in some cases really enjoyed, a few new foods that we are so lucky find in our wide array of local cultural market places.

These trips and experiences made our Pre-K school time so much more full and educational, but there is no reason we can't continue these special days at home for years to come! There is a whole wide world to explore, not only through food, but through clothing, climate, ecology and beyond! Take time with your family, whether you have young children, teens, or are kid-free to explore our world. There's no better place to start than your own keen kitchen! And in the meantime, while you are playing travel agent, give this recipe a try! Enjoy your explorations, and don't be afraid to try something new yourself! You just might find a new favorite food...

Courtney’s Coconut Cinnamon Rice Pudding
1 1/4 cup long-grain white rice, washed 
4 cinnamon sticks
2  cups water
2 1/2 cups milk
Pinch salt
2 tablespoon butter
1 1⁄2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 (about 13.5-14 oz) can coconut milk
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons orange zest
1. In a large saucepan, add water and cinnamon sticks, bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Remove cinnamon sticks.
2. Add the rice and to the water and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. 
3. Add salt, butter, vanilla extract, 2  1/2 cups milk. Stir well to mix and cook uncovered for approximately 15 minutes.
4. Reduce heat to medium low. Add the coconut milk and condensed milk. Stir frequently while cooking for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the rice pudding thickens to desire consistency and rice is cooked completely. If the pudding seems to be too thick before the rice is fully cooked through to your desired consistency, add another 1/2 to 1 cup milk or coconut milk until desired texture and thickness is reached. 
5. Stir in the ground cinnamon and orange zest, and let it cool at room temperature. The consistency should be very creamy. Refrigerate for a least 2 hours or overnight. If you wish the pudding a bit sweeter, add 1/4 cup of honey or agave nectar. Serve cold or at room temp.