Long weekends are always good cause for extra-special meals and indulgences. In my case, that usually involves tackling another baking project from my to-bake list (I have a list for everything; it’s a problem, I know) and splurging on a drink or two. This weekend, however, brought even more cause for cooking celebration–my wonderful friend from Yokohama and her family came to visit!
We squashed three futons and a following of pillows in my four-and-a-half tatami living room, and for three incredible days my normally quite apartment was filled with the adorable gurglings of a five-month old baby, cooing words from his mother and father, and thrilled outbursts of his two and a half year old sister. Saturday afternoon, as I prepared the the garlic toasts for dinner and cleaned the last crumbs from my kitchen counter and table, it suddenly occurred to me that small children do not find the same pleasures in a bottle of good wine or entertainment in pleasant adult conversation, and I dropped the kitchen sponge I was using and scrambled off in a mad rush to find paper and markers. As it turned out, socks and blankets and funny foreign friends make as good entertainment as any, and the little baby boy was fascinated in even more humble diversions: my left hand.
I wanted to prepare a lovely dinner for us all on the evening of their arrival, and at the suggestion of my friend, I made spaghetti and homemade fresh tomato sauce (thank you smitten kitchen!) to satisfy the food whims of toddler and adult alike. But the true focus of the evening meal, of course, lay not in the delicious sweet sauce, steamed asparagus or forkfuls of pasta, but in the tiny single-serving cups of rice pudding I had prepared for dessert! Considering the wide range of palates at the dinner table, and the availability of hands and attention to dessert, I wanted something homey, comforting, and requiring as little fuss as possible, in case food turned to entertainment for the little guests.
Rice pudding, however it may appear for all the world a simple, uncomplicated dessert, is actually quite a finicky little dish. The pudding requires constant attention so as not to let the milk or rice burn in the saucepan, and if serving for guests, I would recommend preparing the dessert ahead of time to spare yourself unnecessary frustration during and after dinner. I found that by making the dish the night before, and letting the pudding rest overnight in the refrigerator, actually brought out the delicate sweet flavors of the honey, vanilla, and whole milk, all infused more fully with the dash of cinnamon.
2/3 Cup short grain rice
2 Cups water
1/2 Cup sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
2 2/3 Cup whole milk
2 TB butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 egg yolks
1 TB honey
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Bring the rice and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Simmer on low heat, uncovered, until rice is tender and most of water is absorbed, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure rice doesn’t burn on the bottom.
Mix sugar, cornstarch, and salt together. Add to rice with milk, and increase heat to bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for one minutes, and remove from heat. Add butter and vanilla. In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks, and pour a ladle-full of hot rice and milk mixture from pot into yolks and stir to combine. Dribble yolk-rice mixture back into pot and cook over medium heat just until mixture begins to bubble. Turn off heat and let stand at room temperature. Mix in honey and cinnamon just before serving. Serve warm, or refrigerate over night and serve chilled.