New York Theatre Ballet’s Sarah Stafford Shares Her Grandmother’s Arroz con Leche Recipe

June 27, 2023

In elementary school, Sarah Stafford came home each afternoon to find her grandmother preparing her a snack to enjoy before ballet class—often, it was arroz con leche. Now in her first season with New York Theatre Ballet, the comforting rice pudding is in Stafford’s own cooking rotation and remains an all-time favorite.

Originally hailing from Mexico City, Stafford’s grandmother Yolanda lived with her family in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the dancer’s childhood. “I was 17 when I moved to New York for the Joffrey Ballet School,” explains Stafford. “I’d always watched my grandma cook but never really did it on my own, so, when I moved here, I would FaceTime her. This is one of the dishes we’d make together because it’s so easy.” Their shared repertoire also includes chipotle lime chicken, quesadillas, Mexican rice, pasta dishes, and more. The best cooking advice Stafford received from her grandmother? “She taught me to clean as I go. Having the food as a reward at the end instead of having to clean up afterwards has been huge for me.”

a woman sitting on the counter holding a bowl of rice
Courtesy Stafford.

Kitchen Playlist

Stafford loves to play music loudly and dance around the kitchen while she’s cooking. “I’ve found a way to make it fun for myself,” she says.­ Recently, her kitchen playlist has primarily­ featured “First Lady of Song” Ella Fitzgerald. “She’s soothing, but she has some music that gets you moving,” says Stafford.

Air Fryer Aficionado

“Getting an air fryer changed my life,” says Stafford. “It speeds up everything.” Her favorite things to cook in this much-loved kitchen tool are potatoes, sweet potato fries, and chicken. “I chop those small potatoes into cubes, season them quickly, and pop them in the air fryer. Instead­ of coming out gushy in the middle, they’re nice and crispy,” she says. “And it takes half the time!”


  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups long-grain white rice
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 12-oz can evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 tsps vanilla extract (optional)
  • ground cinnamon, for serving
a white bowl with rice and cinnamon
Courtesy Stafford.


  1. Add the water, rice, and cinnamon sticks to a medium -sized pot.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat to medium and cook uncovered until the rice is tender. (You’ll know the rice is ready when it’s about 2 minutes from done and still has a tiny bit of crunch to it, like cooking pasta al dente.)
  3. Strain out the liquid, and remove and discard the cinnamon sticks.
  4. Return the drained rice to the pot and place on low heat. Stir in the three milks (evaporated, condensed, and whole) and the vanilla extract, if using. Continue cooking over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture starts to boil and thickens into a puddinglike consistency.
  5. Transfer pudding to a bowl, add cinnamon to garnish. Can be served warm or cold.