Ripton Community Coffee House

The Evolution of a Recipe

The Evolution of a Recipe

When I was about five years old, my family took a trip to New York City to visit relatives and then to have dinner with an army buddy of my father.  It was well before GPS or Google maps, and my father got lost in Brooklyn, refusing to stop and ask for directions.  By the time we got to the restaurant, I was starving.

Rice pudding has been my go-to comfort food since I was five.

Rice pudding has been my go-to comfort food since I was five.

My mother ordered lamb chops for me, normally a favorite.  But at this Greek restaurant, they arrived smothered in a spinach sauce.  I wept.  I wailed.  I was inconsolable.  A waiter came by, removed the offending chops and replaced them with a soup bowl filled with rice pudding.  Heavenly!

Rice pudding has been my favorite dessert—no, my favorite food since then. It would be included in the menu of my last meal, should I ever knowingly hav a last meal.  I have made it my birthday dessert instead of cake many times.  I frequently make it to sell at the coffee house concert series my husband and I run in the Ripton town hall. And in every cookbook I have written, I have tried to slip in rice pudding, so I could enjoy re-testing the recipe.

No, it isn't in my pickle book, nor in any of my other vegetable books. But, various iterations appear in 366 Delicious Ways to Cook Rice, Beans, and Grains, 250 Treasure Country Desserts, and The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How.

Baked rice puddings have never met my standards: too dry, not creamy enough, though I have iterations in both 366 Delicious Ways to Cook Rice, Beans, and Grains and 250 Treasured Country Desserts (meeting those number requirements is tough!). In 366 Delicious Ways to Cook Rice, Beans, and Grains I have a eight different rice pudding recipes.  In 250 Treasured Country Desserts, I have only six, including ones made with vanilla yogurt replacing the custard, coconut milk replacing the traditional cow's milk, and black rice replacing the traditional short-grain rice.

In 250 Treasure Country Desserts, my favorite recipe was the Creamy Rice Pudding, which is made by cooking short-grain rice in milk, then folding in a stirred custard made with three eggs.  I tweaked that recipe for The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How, because those recipes were designed to be economical (what the French might call la cuisine de bonne femme) and use up leftover cooked rice, excess eggs and, perhaps, milk.  That recipe uses four egg yolks and is everything I can ask of a rice pudding: creamy, delicious, and as comforting as the bowl I had in the Greek restaurant when I was five.

But something nagged me about that recipe, perfect though it tasted.  It was those egg whites.  I hated to waste them.  So the last couple of times I made this recipe, I beat the egg whites with sugar and folded them into the pudding.  Cloud-like perfection!

Folding in egg whites

Folding in egg whites

Now the question is how to incorporate this revised recipe into the cookbook I am currently working on, which is all about cooking with animal fats.  I am thinking I may embellish the recipe with apples caramelized in duck fat.  Now doesn't that seem like a great idea?

Rice Pudding with Duck Fat Caramelized Apples will probably be included in my next cookbook. 

Rice Pudding with Duck Fat Caramelized Apples will probably be included in my next cookbook. 

Here's the recipe in its current state, with no embellishments, but with the egg whites folded in. You'll have to wait for the apples; I'm still tweaking the recipe...

Creamy Rice Pudding

Serves 4 to 6

2 cups leftover cooked rice

4 cups whole milk

1/2 teaspoon salt (if rice was cooked without salt)

4 eggs, separated

2/3 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. Combine the rice, milk, and salt in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Slowly bring the milk almost to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. 

2. In between stirring the milk, combine the egg yolks and 1/3 cup sugar in a bowl and whisk until well blended.

 3.  Test a grain of rice.  If it is pudding soft, then continue.  Otherwise continue to stir over medium heat until the rice is fully softened. Slowly add about 2 cups of the milk and rice mixture to the egg yolk mixture, stirring constantly, to temper the egg yolks and prevent the eggs from curdling.  Pour the tempered eggs into the pot with the milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of the spoon. You should be able to run your finger through the velvety coating on the back of the spoon to leave a distinct trail. which happens at about 170°F, if you have an instant-read thermometer.

4.  Stir in the vanilla.  Transfer to a bowl and lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the pudding’s surface to prevent a skin from forming.  Chill for at least 1 hour, until the mixture is no longer warm.

5.  In a stand mixer fitted with a whip, beat the egg whites, gradually adding the remaining 1/3 cup sugar.  Continue to beat until soft peaks form.  Stir one-third of egg whites into the pudding to lighten it.  Then gently fold in the remaining egg whites until no white streaks remain but take care not to overmix and deflate the egg whites. Serve at room temperature, or chilled.



Winter Salads

One of the pleasures of my life is feeding the bands that come to play at the Ripton Community Coffee House every month.  After the sound check, I send dinner over to the community house to feed the coffeehouse crew, and the band comes over to my house to have dinner and relax before their set begins.

I always point with pride to the photograph on the wall of Robert Frost enjoying tea with Agnes and Eunice Billings.  The Billings sisters used to own this old farmhouse where Frost took his meals while living across the road and teaching at the Breadloaf Campus.  The photograph means that the band is being served in the Robert Frost Memorial Dining Room.

Robert Frost in my dining room!
What to serve the band is always a dilemma. It has to be made in quantity to feed both crew and band.  It has to be transportable and tasty even if sound check runs long or the band gets lost.  There is always at least one vegetarian in the group.  There is always at least one singer who would prefer not to eat dairy before a performance.  Vegans?  Of course.  And wheat free, gluten free, soy free.  It is a dilemma okay, but hey, that’s expected with modern diets, isn’t it?

This past Saturday, Laura Cortese played with a back-up band.  All in all, the band included 3 fiddle players, a cellist, a sound man, and a merch person.  And all diet preferences and limitations were represented.  What to make?

I quickly decided on a trio of salads—carrots, because of the abundance of carrots in the root cellar (see previous entry), wild rice salad with roasted vegetables, and lentil salad made with a jar of my Rosemary-Onion Confit (see March 29, 2012, March Market Madness).  

Carrot Salad with Lime Dressing

The carrot salad is one I’ve been playing with lately, and I don’t have the recipe firmed up.  It is simply grated carrots, chopped scallions, minced cilantro, olive oil, lime juice, a touch of sugar, and salt and pepper.  It is done when the carrots, cilantro, scallions, lime juice, and olive oil are in perfect balance, and you can taste each one. Make it yourself.

wild rice salad with roasted vegetables
The wild rice salad?  Easy as can be.  Cook up some wild rice.  Roast up some root vegetables and/or winter squash and an onion.  Make a dressing with olive oil, cranberry sauce, and sherry vinegar.  Toss with roasted almonds and dried cranberries.  How seasonal can you be?

lentil salad
The lentil salad is made with French green lentils—lentiles du Puy—because they hold their shape so well.  Add something crunchy (usually I add carrots, but that seemed redundant, and besides I had celery leftover from Thanksgiving).  Then dress with a jar of Rosemary Onion Confit and a touch more apple cide vinegar.  

Do you really need recipes for dishes this simple? 

Music and Noodles

When you live in a DIY world, music can be as much a part of your life as carpentry and dinner from food you raised yourself.

It was around my dinner table—I can’t remember the menu at this point—that a casual conversation about the dearth of venues for singer-songwriters morphed into the idea of starting a once-a-month coffeehouse series.  Eighteen years later, the Ripton Community Coffee House is still going strong.

There’s a dedicated volunteer crew to keep the organization going.  I feed the performers and crew who come early for set-up.  I got that job because I live closest to the venue, and not because I am a cookbook writer.  The musicians expect dinner made by the executive director’s wife.  Expectations are low.

My expectations are high, however, and I like to please.  Still, the menu can be a problem.  Inevitably there is a vegetarian in the group. Vocalists want to eat lightly and never want cheese before they sing.  Male instrumentalists eat hearty, the younger the heartier.

The dishes I choose must be ready by sound check time for the crew, but hold up for the sound man and the performers, who will eat a bit later.  The meal must be portable, because half will be served at the venue and half at my house, where the performers can relax. 

Lately, my go-to meal is Chinese sesame noodles, accompanied by Sweet Spicy Thai Slaw.  Sometimes I’ll roast some tofu to add protein.  The great thing about Sesame Noodles is that it can be adapted to what is in season and what is in the fridge.  In this week’s version, I swapped in a handful of chopped cilantro for the leek.  Scallions can replace leeks; cilantro is always a good addition.  During the gardening season, summer vegetables replace the carrots and daikon radish. 

In a DIY world, musicians should always eat free (see my favorite DIY blog, Cold Antler and recipes should be freely adapted.

Sesame Noodle Salad
Serves 4 to 6

 An arsenal of Chinese condiments combines to make the spicy dressing for these noodles.  Serve as soon as you combine the noodles and dressing.  If you want to make this dish ahead, cook the noodles and toss with sesame oil, assemble the vegetables, and make the dressing.  Refrigerate separately and combine just before serving.


1 pound dried vermicelli
1 leek, very thinly sliced
3 tablespoons Asian sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 inch fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons soy sauce, or more to taste
1 tablespoon rice vinegar, or to taste
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
1 tablespoon rice wine
1 to 2 teaspoons Chinese chili paste with garlic, or more to taste
2 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste
1 carrot, finely julienned
2 turnips or 6-inch piece daikon radish, peeled and finely julienned

 1.  Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling salted water according the package directions until tender but firm to the bite. 
2.  Place the leek in the colander.  Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water. Drain the noodles by pouring into the colander; the hot water will cook the leek.  Rinse with cold water.  Transfer the noodles and leek into a large bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of the sesame oil.
 3.  In a blender, combine the garlic and ginger and process until finely chopped.  Add the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil, tahini, water, soy sauce, rice vinegar, black vinegar, 1 teaspoon chili paste, and sugar.  Blend well.  Dip a noodle into the sauce to taste for seasoning, and add more soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, or chili paste, as needed. 
 4.  Toss the noodles with the carrot and turnips. (If you can’t serve immediately, cover and refrigerate the noodle mixture.  Hold the dressing at room temperature for up to 4 hours. Just before serving, add the dressing to the noodles and toss well.  Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Serve immediately. 

Recipe from Recipes from the Root Cellar by Andrea Chesman. ©2010.  All rights reserved