Better news today

I have much, much better news for you today. I tried another experiment with an unusual ingredient, but this time, it was edible. Not just edible, in fact, but dare I say, delicious. And just the thing when the weather at the beach is looking very un-summery, like this:

This time, it was oat groats I was trying to tame. If the name makes you giggle, well, it does the same thing to me. Every time I hear it I think of some old man of the forest tending goats, which is very much not the picture you should be getting. In reality, oat groats look much more like dark, wild rice.

They also (and this still seems to me almost too good to be true, so I'm sending you a imaginary drum roll as I type) taste like rice. And act like rice. And chew like rice. And do just about every other thing rice does, except have to be cooked with the lid on, and grown far away. The only real difference is they cook like oats, with plenty of water and stirring, which is just fine with me. Better, really, for those of us who like to peek.

But the most exciting thing of all that is they came from as close as Maine. This is much, much closer than any rice I've found, so I think that fact in and of itself deserves a big hurray. While they're not quite rice—they get a little stickier around the edges, because of the stirring I think—they're awfully close. They're good with a stir fry on top, or in soups, or even (!) in rice pudding.

This last fact I discovered late last night, after a somewhat blah Monday. I was rustling around in the kitchen, and talking with my mother on the phone, and sort of wishing I were still on last week's vacation, sitting in my parents' kitchen in Maine. I was picturing the scene in my head, my mother rummaging through her recipe box, my father studying his wine chart at the counter, the fishmonger pointing out a vintage here, shaking his head there. It all seemed very far away.

And then I remembered. There would be a rice pudding recipe on that counter, floating around, talked about, but never made.

My father had made it once, last year, the night before we'd arrived on another visit. My mother'd had a particular hankering, and we'd shown up, after dark and hungry, and just in time to demolish the leftovers. It had been a rich, creamy pudding, flecked with raisins and topped with a perfectly sumptuous meringue, and with us it had lasted mere minutes, at most.

Yesterday, that was true again. Only this time we made it with oat groats, and a little bit survived until lunch. But after that, the pan was clean, and that was only with two of us. I'd hate to imagine the damage a family of five or six could claim.


A quick note about puddings and custards and ice creams with egg yolks, before you dive in. When you make anything like this, it involves tempering the egg yolks and a thickener (like cornstarch or flour) with the hot milk before simply adding the egg mixture in. If the milk is too hot, the yolks will burn and separate into little chunks, rather than getting creamy and smooth. If it's too cold, the only thing that will happen is nothing much at all. It simply won't get thick until everything gets much hotter.

If the milk and eggs are boiling and still the mixture isn't getting thick, try the process again. Whisk another egg yolk or two with a good dose of cornstarch or flour, temper them again, and add them in. This will almost always do the trick, and in most cases doesn't change the flavor much. Good luck!

2 cups cooked oat groats
2 cups milk
4 eggs, separated
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
dried cranberries, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine rice and milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and heat to the scalding point. (The milk should begin to steam, but not quite boil.) In a medium mixing bowl, beat egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the sugar and the cornstarch. When the milk is hot, add a bit of it, whisking constantly, to the egg mixture to temper it. Then pour the eggs and milk back into the saucepan, and continue whisking over medium heat. After a minute or two (depending on how hot the milk is), the mixture should thicken into a custardy pudding-like state. If not, use more egg yolks and cornstarch, and try again.

Turn the heat off, stir in the vanilla and dried cranberries if desired, and in a large mixing bowl beat the egg whites and sugar into a meringue (Egg whites should be stiff and glossy. If they're not getting there, try adding a pinch of cream of tartar). Pour the pudding into a greased custard pan, and spread the meringue over top. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, or until meringue is golden brown. Enjoy hot.
P.S. Don't worry. I put yesterday's naughty cookies out to think about what they'd done. And then it snowed, which melted into a cold, wet puddle. I think they've learned their lesson. Next time, I have a feeling they'll be plain.

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