The word is, food prices may begin to soar due to inflation. More news: Since the ongoing pandemic, home-cooking is more popular and spices are in big demand. Not only do herbs and spices flavor up your dishes — they contain antioxidants to keep your immune and heart health healthy.
Flashback to 2008, the Great Recession. As a journalist living on the South Shore I was affected big-time. I recall losing regular contributing editor positions in five magazines within one month. Tough times. So, did I starve? Nah, I went back to graduate school days in San Francisco. Students struggled and we ate lots of seeds, fresh oranges and apples, whole grain pasta, marinara sauce, vegetables and brown rice, and picked berries in the hills or backyards.
More than a decade later, it’s books and novels for me but a warning of skyrocketing prices for food. No worries. We can still eat healthy with flavorful home-cooking on the cheap. You just have to remember to buy the staples (i.e., pasta, rice, honey, dried fruit, nuts) and include seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables. And don’t forget seasonings — spices with a long shelf life and your favorite fresh herbs (which do not last long).
So, inspired by spring-summer hot and cold days and nights, I cooked you all up a yummy dish. Recently, when I was interviewed about bay leaves (I am now considered an “herb expert” thanks to my book on herbs and spices), the journalist asked me about using bay leaves for a baked rice pudding. We both agreed. It’s worth a go.
Spiced Rice Pudding
1 ¼ cups cooked brown rice
1 large or 2 small bay leaves (dried, Turkish variety)
2 eggs, beaten
2 ½ cups organic half-and-half
½ cup organic low-fat milk
¼ cup granulated white sugar
2 teaspoons honey (local to fight springtime allergies)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons cinnamon, ground
¼ teaspoon cardamom. ground
European style butter (to grease baking dish)
Nutmeg, ground for sprinkling on top
Berries, fresh or orange slices
Cinnamon sticks, fresh mint or basil for garnish
In a pan, cook rice according to the directions. Add the bay leaves to the water and remember to toss out when the rice is cooked. Set aside. In a bowl, combine rice, eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, honey, vanilla, raisins, and spices. Lightly grease small baking dishes or an 8 x 8 baking dish. Bake at 325 degrees in a pan of water (2 or 3 inches if using ramekins) for approximately 1 hour or until firm and golden brown. Top with nutmeg. Serve warm or cold. Garnish with fresh berries or orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and your favorite mint or basil springs. Serves 6-8. Pair with hot or iced tea (depending on our weather for the day).
Keep in mind, dried spices have a long shelf life and add plenty of flavor for your sweet and savory dishes such as this one. As long as we keep a stocked pantry with healthful staple, including brown rice, plenty of spices and now is the time to put some herbal plants in your window sill — we’ll be fine.
Cal Orey, M.A. Is an author and journalist. Her books include the Healing Powers Series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate, Honey, Coffee, Tea, Superfoods, Essential Oils, Herbs and Spices) published by Kensington. (The collection has been featured by the Good Cook Book Club.) Her website is http://www.calorey.com.