Thursday, May 19, 2011

Foodie Fiction Review & a Recipe: "Already Home" by Susan Mallery & Jamie's Creamy Rice Pudding (With Some Healthy Changes)

Jenna Stevens is feeling adrift after her marriage breaks apart and she leaves California and the trendy restaurant she served as sous-chef for her ex-husband to come home to Texas and her loving adoptive parents. On a whim she sees a for-lease sign on a great building in a thriving location and spontaneously decides to open her own cooking store. With minimal experience in retail and a lack of confidence in her abilities, she hires savvy Violet to help out. Violet is escaping her own past and trying to build a future and after a rocky start she and Jenna begin to make Grate Expectations a success. Just when Jenna is starting to feel more settled, she receives an unexpected visit from a pair of aging hippies--Tom and Serenity, her birth parents who want to strike up a relationship with Jenna, throwing her world back into turmoil.

This is the story of "Already Home" by bestselling women's fiction author Susan Mallery. Although the story centers around Jenna, it is also the story of three other strong women, Violet, Beth--Jenna's loving adoptive mother, and Serenity her birth mother. Themes of family--the ones we are born to, raised by, and the ones we create ourselves, food, love and finding one's place in the world come together in a charming and poignant story. I enjoyed this book and was sorry to have it end--I wanted more time with the characters, especially Violet and Jenna, and more time at Grate Expectations--Mallery's descriptions of the store and it's cooking classes made me want to hang out there. A good foodie novel to escape with.

For a recipe to represent this book, I wanted to make a vegan rice pudding --a dish that Serenity brings to a get acquainted breakfast with Jenna and her parents.

"Refrigerator or oven?" Jenna asked Serenity, raising the casserole slightly. "If we are eating in the next half hour, it can stay out. I made a breakfast rice pudding with vanilla rice milk and dried fruit." Which didn't sound too awful, Jenna admitted.

"Rice milk, not soy or almond milk?" "Too much soy can mimic estrogen. Almond milk is delicious, but too sweet for the recipe I use rice milk often. Most people who have grain issues are fine with rice."

"The rice was well-cooked, the texture creamy. It was sweet, and the dried fruit was just moist enough to balance the consistency. "This is good," Jenna said, hoping she didn't sound as surprised as she felt. "Could I get the recipe?"

Because I was multi-tasking for a busy week and the theme is "Potluck" over at I Heart Cooking Clubs, I found Jamie Oliver's recipe for Creamy Rice Pudding with the Quickest Strawberry Jam and decided to adapt it to be vegan and a bit healthier. Instead of Serenity's choice of rice milk, I chose my favorite So Delicious Unsweetened Vanilla Coconut Milk. For the rice, I chose a medium grain brown rice for the extra fiber and a slightly chewier texture (which works better for me and my "mushy" consistency issues). I used honey and a little extra vanilla in place of Jamie's vanilla sugar and added golden raisins because I wanted some dried fruit in there, as in Serenity's recipe. Instead of making the jam for the swirl, I took the easy way out and used the last bits of a container of my Mom's homemade strawberry jam that I had in the freezer. Made with fresh, gorgeous, Oregon strawberries, it is my favorite strawberry jam. Finally instead of topping it with the meringues, I used some freeze-dried strawberries and almonds thinking that it would add a similar crunchy texture. Yeah, yeah, it's a whole lot of adapting, but Jamie's spirit and ideas are all there (especially the strawberry jam swirl which is genius) and now it fits into the vegan 28-day Engine 2 Challenge I am taking part in. (See I told you I was multi-tasking!) ;-)

You can find the recipe on Food Network here. My changes / additions are in red below.

Jamie says, "Rice pudding is loved by everyone, and it's one of my favorite desserts. Proper feel-good food, it's gorgeous served on its own or with whatever fruit you've got knocking around. For me, though, the best way of eating it, especially in the summer, is really cold with hot strawberry jam. As an alternative, you can broil or roast peaches and plums to serve with it. Beautiful!"

Creamy Rice Pudding with the Quickest Strawberry Jam
Heavily Adapted from Jamie Oliver: "At Home with Jamie"
(Makes 6-8 Servings)

5 cups organic whole milk (I used So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk)
7 oz medium-grain rice (I used medium-grain brown rice)
2 Tbsp vanilla sugar (I used 2 Tbsp honey + 1 tsp vanilla)
(I added 1/3 cup golden raisins)
2 oz store-bought meringues, crumbled (I used freeze-dried strawberries & sliced almonds)
Optional: a few wild strawberries, to serve

Place the milk, rice and vanilla sugar in a deep saucepan. Bring to a medium simmer and put on the lid. Cook for half an hour, stirring occasionally, until the rice pudding is thick, creamy, oozy and moist. If it ends up being a bit too thick, you can thin it down by adding a little more milk. (The brown rice needed a little over an hour to cook. I threw in the golden raisins for about the last 20 minutes so they plumped up nicely.)

To serve, divide the rice pudding between your bowls. Spoon over a big dollop of your beautiful strawberry jam, then slowly swirl it in so it marbles and ripples through the rice pudding. Sprinkle over the meringue pieces and scatter with a few wild strawberries, if you like.

The Quickest Strawberry Jam:
2 pounds strawberries, hulled, washed and drained
1/2 cup sugar

Place the strawberries in a wide, stainless steel pan and sprinkle the sugar over the top. Scrunch the strawberries up with your hands, really pushing them between your fingers to pulp them up - the mixture will start to look like jam at this point. You want all the sugar to dissolve in the strawberry juice before you put the pan on the heat and bring it to the boil. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes on a medium heat, and every 5 minutes or so come back to your jam to skim off the foam. Don't worry if it's still a bit liquid - it needs to be so you can swirl it into your rice pudding. Remove the pan from the heat and put aside. There you have it - beautiful, quintessential strawberry jam!

Notes/Results: Excellent--sweet, creamy and delicious. It's good either hot or cold--although I prefer it warm--it's more "comfort food-like" that way. I ended up very happy with the changes I made--especially using the vanilla coconut milk as it made it very creamy, even with using the slightly chewier brown rice. I think the golden raisins put in towards the end of the cooking time are essential too. This is still a rich an indulgent dessert but if I can cut the processed sugar, add more fiber, make it non-dairy and have it taste this great, it works for me. My only regret is making just a half-batch as I wanted more. ;-) I will be making this again.

You can check out what the other IHCC participants made for their Potluck dishes by going to the post here and following the links.

Obligatory Disclosure Statement: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher and PTA Reader Rewards but I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.


  1. I'm fairly certain that if I were going to meet my long lost daughter, rice pudding would be high on my list of dishes to bring. Any daughter of mine will be head over heels for rice pudding, no questions asked. Love that strawberry jam swirl! And all of your healthy changes!

  2. I always dream about owning my own gourmet food store (our town needs one desperately) so this is a must read book for me!

    Love that you were able to adapt a good 'ol comfort food recipe, such as rice pudding, for your challenge. The touch of strawberry jam seems like just the right way to top it off.

  3. Nothing at all wrong with multitasking. And you've done it so well! Good for you for adapting the recipe to fit your challenge!

  4. Mahalo for sharing this delectable dessert recipe. We LOVE rice pudding, and yours truly looks SO Delicious!

  5. Looks amazing! I love creamy rice pudding, strawberries make it even better!

  6. I know you made this for me, lover of all rice puddings - so thanks!! Please pass me an extra large bowl. ☺ Delicious.
    I love how you are able to adapt for your vegan challenge!

  7. I think rice pudding is possibly my #1 dessert, can't wait to try out this recipe

  8. I just caught this recipe on Jamie at Home on the Cooking Channel last week. It looks so good. I have to try it with all the strawberries we have!

  9. Wow, Deb, full marks for all that multi-tasking and some great adaptations to the recipe - I love that about Jamie's recipes, that they are rather more inspirational than directional.

    I have to say I'm not a big rice pudding fan (something about "sweet rice" that triggers my gag reflex - sad but true). That said I really like your idea of using brown rice and the vanilla coconut milk - I would brave a try :-)

    Sue xo

  10. An enjoyable read Change Anything by Kerry Patterson . loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and original, this book is going in by "to read" list.


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