When I was a child, going off to school and being confronted with school lunches was an eye opening experience. For one thing, we were forced to eat our entire lunch, something that would never happen today. But, for me, the food was just different. Most of it was not different in a good way, either. Even so, some things that stayed the same through several school systems have remained with me, as well as having been passed on to my daughter, as comfort foods.
It’s funny that my two favorites are both “desserts”, after a fashion. They are both very simple and familiar foods, just served as a sweet in an unexpected sort of way.
The first is just corn bread, served with maple syrup. I don’t know who decided that that was the only way cornbread was going to be served, but that is the only way it was served at school–as a dessert topped with maple flavored syrup. I still love fresh, hot cornbread topped with butter and maple syrup. My daughter, on the other hand, wants stale cornbread (seriously dried out and practically crunchy!) to have with her maple syrup.
My other secret comfort food comes from the gummy, overcooked rice we were served with a topping of syrupy boiled raisins. I still love the combination, sort of like rice pudding without the pudding! Instead of overcooked gummy rice, I prefer jasmine or brown jasmine rice today. I make a raisin sauce too–but have had that “grow up” over the years. It’s one of those things that I don’t measure to make, it’s all sort of approximated!
To make the raisin sauce, simply start off with some water (or apple juice) in a small saucepan (about a cup is all I normally use.) Add a healthy amount of cinnamon (about a teaspoon) to the water, along with about 3/4 c. raisins. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then simmer it until the raisins are nice and plump. (about 10-20 minutes) Add about 3/4 c. white or brown sugar, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Next, mix about a tablespoon of cornstarch with about 1/4 c. of cool water in a small bowl, then stir the cornstarch mixture, a little at a time, (this allows you to stop adding the cornstarch when it gets as thick as you want it to be) into the raisins and stir continuously as you continue cooking the mixture. Return mixture to a boil and boil for about a minute before removing from heat. Serve it with rice, hot or cold. This same mixture can also be made with dried apples or a mixture of dried apples and raisins, and is as good on ice cream as it is on rice.
In a sense, this rice and sauce dessert is as old time and “country” as it could be. It’s also economical, tasty, and appeals to almost everyone (if they like raisins, rice and cinnamon anyhow!) To make it look “fancier” and more appealing, the rice can be packed into an ice cream scoop (spray it with non-stick spray for easy removal) and the shaped rice can be placed in ice cream or sundae dishes. Drizzle the raisin sauce over the rice, ala sundae style, give a small squirt of whipped cream and a cherry…and voila! A “sundae” that won’t melt!
Serving this combo in winter as a hot dessert and summer as a cold one makes it adaptable. Other fruit sauces, using fresh fruits, can be made in a similar manner, and served the same way. Simply prepare the fruit for cooking in the normal manner for that particular fruit, cut it into bite-size pieces, and cook it in a small amount of liquid on the stove, adding sugar and spice as desired, and then thickening it in much the same way with corn starch. These fruit sauces or compotes can be used with rice, ice cream, frozen yogurt, pound cake, angel food cake, or even short cake. Get creative with your choices…how about peach-melba (peaches & raspberries) over something? Strawberry rhubarb? Strawberry banana? (I’d suggest adding banana after the strawberries are cooked into the compote!)
I’m wondering about blueberry lemonade sauce now…using frozen lemonade for the water and sweetener…