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Renee Comet / USA WEEKEND
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Enter now for a chance to win a copy of Pure Vanilla by Shauna Sever.

Founding Foodie
Thomas Jefferson is believed to have introduced vanilla to Americans after becoming smitten with it during his ambassadorship in France. Jefferson’s vanilla ice cream recipe was so good, in fact, it’s kept at the Library of Congress.

Orchid Magic
The vanilla orchid looks like other flowers of the same name but can grow only in tropical climes. When it blooms — which happens only once a year — the flower must be hand-pollinated by farm­ers … and then 10 months later, the green seedpods are harvested, cured and dried.

Cook's Tip
Give this rice pudding a grown-up twist by adding two large egg yolks and a shot of dark rum during the last five minutes of cooking.


There aren’t many people who would admit to being vanilla. But if you ask author Shauna Sever what flavor best describes her, that’s the one she’d pick. To her, vanilla is not boring — it’s exotic and spicy and altogether exciting.

Working on this book, she developed an appreciation for the nuances of the spice, depending on its source: the rich, complex Madagascan vanilla; the intensely bold Mexican; the Indian and Ugandan, which are almost too strong on their own; the Tongan, which is peppery, and does best in savory dishes. The rice pudding here goes well with any type, but especially Tahitian. “It’s fruity and floral,” Sever says, “and it really shines with anything creamy.”

Creamy Vanilla Rice Pudding

• 6 cups whole milk
• 2/3 cup medium-grain white rice*
• 1/3 cup granulated sugar
• 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and inside “caviar” scraped (or 1 Tb. pure vanilla extract)
• 3/4 tsp. salt

*Note: This recipe calls for medium-grain white rice (not long- or short-grain rice), which lends the perfect amount of starch, creaminess and texture to the pudding.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, combine milk, rice, sugar, vanilla caviar and pod, and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring gently.

Cover pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover pot and continue to cook, stirring often, until rice is very tender and pudding has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes more. Remove pot from heat and let pudding cool for 5 minutes; fish out the vanilla bean pod before transferring to a heatproof bowl. Refrigerate until cold and thick, at least 4 hours or as long as overnight.

Yield: 8 servings

Per serving (1/2 cup): 204 calories, 30g carbohydrates, 7g protein, 6g fat (3g saturated), 0g fiber, 18mg cholesterol, 297mg sodium

PURE VANILLA by Shauna Sever, food blogger and dessert caterer at Bake Sale Bakery in San Francisco

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