I've just picked up the last of the deflated balloons on my porch from the first birthday party we had for Oliver during my friend's visit from London, and I can't help feeling the same- deflated. Sure, the sun is shining and I should be out basking in it, but the house seems too quiet without two little ones racing across the floor with toy cars and the constant "Wheels On the Bus" song that played consistently for 10 days.
After watching Liz and Claire make endless pots of tuna pasta for the kiddies, I made a grown-up version for Martin and I for a mid-week quick lunch. I wished the bowl was never ending. It was simple and comforting and even though mine contained salt, it was very nutritious. Next on my "inspired by children's food list" was rice pudding. I watched as Claire stirred the "pudding rice" that she brought from England and wished I could dive in. Instead, Stanley lapped up every bite during his not-so-picky phase that lasted until we left Chicago.
So this week, my Stanley and Oliver inspired rice pudding made me head to the store for another carton of whole fat milk, which normally never graces the inside of my refrigerator, but was something we couldn't live without during their stay.
If ever there was a dessert that made you feel right as rain, rice pudding is it. The creaminess that surrounds each soft grain of rice should be scooped mouthful after mouthful.
I added a simple twist to my rice pudding by adding two crushed cardamom pods, something I like to add to rice when cooking it normally. You can add a little vanilla extract or a scraped vanilla pod as well or on it's own. The slight hint of gingery spiciness from the cardamom not only kept the rice from becoming too sickly sweet, it also paired well with the stewed apples I spooned on top for my first nod towards autumn.
Again, my friends had just done a few stewed apples for the boys and it reminded me of when my own Mother made them for us as children. A few slices of apple combined with brown sugar and butter make a perfect topping to rice pudding that no child or adult can pass up.
This recipe is partly adapted from Claire's pudding and a recipe in this month's Bon Appetit paired with my Mom's stewed apples.
Cardamom Rice Pudding with Stewed Apples
For the rice pudding
1/2 cup arborio rice
4 cups of whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups of water
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cardamom pods, crushed
For the apples
2 gala apples
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cardamom pod, crushed
Bring the water and a pinch of salt to a boil then add the rice. Boil for ten minutes, drain and discard the water. Put the rice to one side. Add milk and sugar to the pan and bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Watch the pot during this process or you'll let the milk boil violently over like I did whilst chit-chatting to my sister.
Crush the cardamom pods with the back of a knife.
Add the rice and cardamom pods and reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 35 minutes until the rice is tender and the sauce has thickened and reduced to about 3 cups. Stir occasionally to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat, fish out the cardamom pods and stir in the vanilla extract. Transfer it to a bowl, press plastic wrap onto the surface of the pudding so a film doesn't form and let it cool to room temperature then refrigerate until cold.
You can do this up to 2 days ahead.
When you're ready to serve, cut the apples into slices or cubes as I've done here. I don't like to peel them because it gets rid of all the beautiful color. Combine them in a saucepan with the brown sugar, butter and cardamom pod and cook them over medium-high heat until the sauce and apples are simmering away. Cook for about 5 minutes until the apples are softened but still have their shape.
Serve the puddings in little glasses as I have done, or a nice bowl and spoon over the hot apples. The cool rice and the hot apples will send you straight back to childhood.