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Joni Woolf: A rice pudding to remember

Whenever there is a food event to be judged, I raise my hand and shout “Pick me!” In fact, I’ve only had the privilege of judging a couple. So, I was pleased recently when asked to be one of three judges at the Furlow Charter School’s Junior Chef Club’s cooking event. What a treat… literally.
Natasha Williams, their teacher, wrote parents last fall, telling about plans to integrate a Junior Chef Club into the gifted education program this school year. Her goal, she said, was to highlight a crop each month, allowing students to taste and experiment with the crop. Then the students would spend time researching recipes that used the crop of the month as the key ingredient. At the end of each month, students in the club could choose to bring their recipes and prepared food to school, where it was presented to their peers and then to local judges.
The foods considered this school year were all foods that are grown locally. Peanuts, spinach, pumpkin, pecans, milk, kale, strawberries, grains and peaches were the foods studied. In April, when I was one of the judges, grains were the focus of recipes and the students brought in their recipes accordingly.
The foods I sampled included a Fruit and Grain Parfait, Sour Cream Pound Cake, No Bake Peanut Butter Balls, Pancakes, Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies, Black Bean Quinoa Salad, Fried Rice, and the piece de resistance, Mocha Java Rice Pudding with a Cinnamon, Saki and Tarragon Drizzle. I began too eagerly, learned to control myself so that I could sample all nine entries, and had a delightful time.
The criteria by which the entries were measured included appearance, taste, degree of difficulty and the use of ingredients of the month. Most were tasty; I enjoyed every entry. But the winning entry of Ivey Latini — the Mocha Java Rice Pudding — was outstanding in several ways. The main ingredient was a grain — rice. But the complementary flavors of cocoa, coffee, cinnamon and saki took it over the top. Also, her presentation was lovely — she had chosen the perfect container to showcase her masterpiece.
Second place went to Matthew Kuipers, for a luscious Sour Cream Pound Cake; and third place went to Martin Kostov, for a Black Bean Quinoa Salad, a healthy and attractive lunch or dinner item.
Below is the winning recipe. I encourage all you cooks out there to try it. It is a delicious combination of several flavors and not like any rice pudding I’ve had before. I will be cooking it soon, so that I can have more than a spoonful!

Mocha Java Rice Pudding with a Cinnamon, Saki and Tarragon Drizzle
2/3 cup white rice
1 ¼ cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sunflower oil
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
¼ cup filtered coffee
1 cinnamon stick
Mix ingredients and place in a rice cooker. After rice is prepared, proceed as follows:
2/3 cup prepared rice (using instructions above)
1 ½ cups milk
Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add ½ cup milk, ¼ cup sugar, 1 egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract to the rice mixture.
Cook for 2 minutes and allow to cool.
Refrigerate for 8 hours.
Make the Cinnamon, Saki and Tarragon Drizzle as follows:
1 cup Saki (reduced)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon tarragon
Coconut flour (to thicken)
½ cup raw sugar
Combine in pan. Stir over low heat. Add coconut flour as needed to thicken.
Drizzle over pudding. Garnish with strawberries.

This is a major undertaking for a fifth grader. Ivey Latini is to be congratulated for going over the top with a recipe that is sure to win a vote of approval from all who sample it. And their teacher, Natasha Williams, deserves three cheers for finding such a creative way to teach students about healthy foods, while (in her words) using math, research skills and presentation skills. They all earned an A-plus.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at  indigojoni@windstream.net.