rice

Do not eat rice off the bar

I’m not sure if it was all the germ-infused hand-shaking at an event last night, the food I ate after wards, or the result of a stunning – nay, shocking – breech of etiquette made by yours truly but an hour after delivering a lecture all about etiquette, but my gut is, um, not functioning properly. Sipping-mint-tea, staying-in-bed, cursing-the-heavens not functioning properly. Enough said.

Last night I gave what is now my annual etiquette lecture to the willing seniors of my alma mater. The idea behind the event is that they are going out into the world and need some information besides Habermas’s theory of the public sphere in order to function in the adult world, that, perhaps, they will be brought to lunch or dinner as part of a job interview and they just might want to know where their bread plate is. They always seem very appreciative of the information and, I hope, the spirit in which I give it.

I think they all would have gotten a big kick if they had seen me about an hour later, at the bar at Yakuza Lounge, sharing a plate of duck fried rice (with duck confit, shitake mushrooms, and duck cracklings – hey, it seemed like a good idea atthe time) with a friend: When a chunk of the rich rice fell on the bar in front of me instead of into my mouth and I picked it up with my fingers and shoved it in my pie hole. It was wrong, but post-etiquette lecture it was pretty funny, and I’ll always go for the cheap laugh. Is a churning gut my punishment?

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Radicchio risotto (and cakes!)

We got a beautiful head of Treviso radicchio in our CSA box this last week. I could have grilled it, sauteed it, broiled it, roasted it, thrown it in a salad. But instead I made an old family favorite – something I created maybe 10 years ago and which my dashing husband loves. I warn you: it’s weird, it’s intense, it’s probably a bit much for most people. Radicchio and blue cheese risotto. It’s a bit blue-ish purple, which I find rather fabulous. 

And yes, Ernie ate it. I did, however, pull out his portion before I added the blue cheese. 

And the best part? The risotto cakes I just made myself for lunch. There’s a whole tray of them in the fridge waiting to be fried up for dinner. 

Risotto Cakes

Leftover risotto

1 egg per 1 1/2 cup leftover risotto

1 cup white rice ground into powder in a coffee or spice mill (this will be enough for plenty of cakes and make it super easy to coat them and keep your hands somewhat dry)

Vegetable oil

Stir risotto to loosen it a bit if it’s started to get clumpy. Beat egg(s) and stir into risotto. Put ground rice powder in a shallow bowl.

Scoop risotto mixture in 1/3-cup balls and put them in the rice powder. With a dry hand, pick up rice powder from around the risotto and spread it over the risotto ball, slightly flattening it into more of a patty or cake. When cake is thoroughly coated, transfer to platter to baking sheet. Repeat with remaining risotto.

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Swirl in enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom. Place risotto cakes (as many as will fit without touching) in pan and cook, undisturbed, until browned. Carefully flip each cake over and brown on other side. Serve and eat pretty much immediately. They are extra delicious with a salad of hearty or bitter greens with a pungent sherry-vinegar or balsamic-vinegar dressing.

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Drinking helps

Can I recommend a glass of cheap Spanish rosé cava to go with your de-frosted Black Pepper Beef With Turnips, rice pilaf*, sautéed baby bok choy, and final presidential debate? Worked for me!

*One Kind of Rice Pilaf

Brown a finely chopped onion a about a tablespoon of oil (I used grapeseed) and a teaspoon of salt in a medium sized, heavy bottomed pot. Add 1/4 teaspoon each of cumin and fennel seeds, a couple cardamom pods, a few whole cloves and allspice, a bay leaf and half a cinnamon stick. Stir that until it smells super duper yummy. Add a cup of rice and cook, stirring a lot, until the rice is opaque and smells just a bit cooked (like when you microwave one of those rice-filled heating pads) but isn’t browned at all. Add 2 cups water, bring the whole thing to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook without even thinking about looking at it or otherwise distrubing it in any way for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit–again, leave it completely alone–for 5 minutes. Uncover, fluff, and serve.

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Summer, Fall; Fall, this is Summer

In our farm box last week it was clear that summer and fall are in a passionate embrace and we are the voyeuristic onlookers. Tomatoes, melons, and zucchini were all still there, but a butternut squash showed up too. And what says the cold and rains are a-comin’ like a winter squash? So last night I let Ernie choose the entry in Project Eat That Rice (a little short grain brown number from the Central Valley), made his favorite zucchini and tofu stir-fry, and cooked the lovely little butternut with garlic, ginger, and mustard seeds. The whole thing was sort of painfully good for us–so healthful and frugal and all–but we loved it just the same.

Zucchini & Tofu Stir-Fry

1 Tbsp. (or so) of vegetable or grapeseed oil

An amount of garlic you like (I like about 5 o 6 cloves for this), minced

Same with fresh ginger (for me it’s a nice 3-inch piece), peeled and finely grated or shredded or whatever you want to call it

Red Chile Flakes (to taste and optional, a chopped fresh chile works great if you have one)

4 green onions, chopped (optional)

1 Tbsp. fermented/salted/Chinese black beans

2 Tbsp. sherry or rice wine vinegar or white wine if the pantry is in that bad of shape

3 medium zucchini, chopped into large but manageable pieces

1/2 cup broth or water

8- to 12-oz. silken firm tofu (the shelf-stable kind), cut into small but still bite-size pieces

Soy sauce to taste

Heat the oil is a large and deep frying, saute, or braising pan. Add garlic, ginger, red chile flakes, and green onions. Cook, stirring, until all pasty-looking and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add black beans and sherry. Stir to combine. Add zucchini, stir; add broth or water and stir and cook until zucchini is tender and liquid is mostly gone. Depending on how fresh and tender (or not) the zucchini is, I’ve been known to cover it to cook for a few minutes. Add tofu, combine and cook until hot. Season with soy sauce to taste.

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Minnesotan fried rice

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It’s really only Minnesotan because I made it in Minnesota. And because I added chopped leftover brats at the last minute. Yes, it was a serious clean-out-the-fridge sort of dinner. But it was also pretty damn good. All the more so because I located the soy sauce. My mom keeps it in the fridge. I was all, “she’s crazy, who keeps soy sauce in the fridge?” until I read the side of the bottle: Keep refrigerated once open.

Oops. Have I been risking life and limb (or at least stomach) for years by not refrigerating soy sauce? Seriously, it never even occured to me to do so. All that salt, how could it go bad? What could grow in that environment?

[Addendum for the Lovely Luisa:  Honestly, it never occurred to me that someone would want to make this. :) Start with leftover cooked rice. The leftover part is key since you want the rice a bit dried out--the better to get it to brown up. If I know I'm going to use leftover rice for fried rice I even spread it out on a pan and let it air-dry for a few hours (in the fridge can get too dry if spread out, making the whole thing crunchy in the uncooked-rice way).

Beat an egg or two with a pinch of salt and a few pinches of sugar. Heat some oil in a frying pan, add the egg, and use a spatula to pull the cooked parts in towards the center of the pan, letting the uncooked egg flow onto the now-exposed pan. Continue doing that until the egg is almost completely cooked (the top will still be a bit wet). You can flip it to cook the top or not, depends on how you like your eggs. Turn this omelet onto a cutting board and chop.

Put the pan back on the heat, add more oil and saute plenty of minced garlic, finely shredded fresh ginger, and chopped green onion. I also throw in a chopped serrano chile or some red pepper flakes. After that mess it all awesome smelling, add any vegetables or chopped meat you want in the rice (if these are already cooked let them get hot before adding the rice; if they aren't cooked, cook them until they aren't letting off any liquid before adding the rice). Then stir in the rice. let it sit and brown a bit, then stir it up good. Repeat until it's hot and as browned as you like. Stir in soy sauce to taste and then stir in the chopped egg.

Chopped cilantro makes a nice garnish, if you have some.

Note: unless you use a lot of oil and have a very hot stove, it will not look like restaurant fried rice. It's a much lighter, cleaner tasting version--unless, that is, you use leftover bratwurst....]

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Rice and beans

dinner81.jpgRice and double beans, really. I bought the green beans at the jalapeño-less wild-rice-saturated market the other day. They looked good. Then I got them home and started trimming them. No snap. They were old. Not in-the-store-too-long old; they were on-the-vine-too-long old, with that slightly woody texture thing starting to happen. The upside to that is the beans inside were bigger and taking on a toothy starchiness that I rather like, in its way. So I cooked them a little extra and marinated them overnight. They were edible. Even tasty. But again, in their way. Qualified, circumstantial deliciousness.

I made a simple rice pilaf–sautéed a chopped onion in olive oil with salt until it started to brown, added a few cloves of chopped garlic, added a cup of long grain white rice, sautéed that until the rice looked opaque, added 2 cups of water (broth would have been better, but I had none), brought it to a boil, covered it, reduced heat to a simmer, and let it sit for 15 minutes, turned off the heat, left it covered and sitting there for 5 minutes, uncovered it, fluffed it, and voila! Oh wait, I almost forgot: I also added a handful of orzo to the rice right before adding the water. It makes it a bit like homemade Rice-a-Roni.

You like the look of that dal? Here’s how to make it: devote a decade or so of your life to studying French history, drop that and become a “food writer,” take about 5 years figuring out how that works during which time you spend six months writing for what may have been the worst magazine ever published and another six months at an overpriced cooking school where you learn very little and get even less professional help, be lucky enough to have a friend who gets a job at a large and well-respected regional lifestyle magazine who leaves said job and recommends you as a replacement, have another friend corporate-savvy enough to tell you how to ace interviews, ace the interviews, work there for almost three years, bust out as a freelancer, end up on Amy’s Kitchen PR list, receive an unsolicited box of their new canned soup varieties, bring said soups to the family cabin because you’re never going to try them at home, open the can of “Indian Curry Lentil Dal,” heat it up, and serve with rice pilaf and marinated green beans.

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“Best dinner ever”

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“Thanks for making this delicious dinner, Mama,” Ernie said. “It’s the best dinner ever.” And then he continued to use his chopsticks gamely* while declaring with freakish glee, “I love tofu!”

Hmmm…. What does the child want from me? You see what we had: summer squash and tofu sort of braised in a garlic-ginger-chile-rice vinegar-black bean sauce type thing. With some cilantro. And some “bamboo-infused rice” (yes, Project Eat That Rice continues). It was good, but it really wasn’t the best dinner ever. Not by a long shot. Maybe he’s just in a good mood. Yesterday was his last day of pre-school and we’re headed off on a three week vacation to the family cabin in Minnesota (I’ll be working on this “vacation”–I’m thinking of it as a “writing retreat” to give it a vacation-esque feel while acknowledging that pages must be produced!). He has reason to be happy. So do we all. He’ll be going to a day camp (with swimming and t-ball and big kids, oh my!) from which I expect him to come home utterly exhausted.

*Hold the tops together with a rubber band to make it easier for kids to master the art.

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Cold summer nights

Ernie summed up the frustration of many a San Franciscan on the way to school this morning: “Mama,” he asked, “why are these summer days so cold? Summer days are supposed to be hot.”

And yet they are not.

It’s dreary and cold, the middle of summer, and our cupboard is overrun with rice. Yes, that’s right: rice. I agree it is a better problem to have than being overrun with mice, but it’s ridiculous:

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And this is after I pulled out six (6!) 1-lb.bags of Minnesota wild rice because it was just embarrassing. My dashing husband asked how it could have happened. I had no clear answer. Yes, there was a rice story for Sunset. Yes, some of the above was given/sent to me by rice growers. But still. How does a person end up with three bags of “forbidden rice”? How much risotto do I think I’m going to make? Why a 5-lb. bag? I hope it was on super-sale.

So I let Ernie pick out the rice we would have for dinner and got to work. Something warming and yet summery. I didn’t hit it perfectly, but we were all surprised by how delicious everything was together.

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Some small white beans cooked in a broth of onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and peppercorns until tender, heat turned off, generous salt added, and allowed to cool in their broth until drained and sauteed in olive oil with garlic, red chile flakes, and parsley. I cooked the “wild rice” (I used some of the cultivated California stuff infecting my cupboard) with onion and celery and used the bean broth as the liquid. A handful of chopped walnuts thrown in at the end highlighted the nutty taste and texture. I will say this: California “wild rice” always seems to take about a thousand years to cook and it goes from underdone to overdone in about a second. If you’ve never had it, track down some of the real stuff. The kind that grows in rivers and marshes in Minnesota and Canada. You’ll never look back.

So now we’re warm and cozy, so we can stand a bit of summery “health salad” of chopped cucumber (garden and Armenian), red onion, and tomato. I used the red brandywines we got from the farm this week. They’re perfect for salads–firm enough to stand up to being dressed a bit. I also used some red wine vinegar I’ve been making. More on that later….

And I’m sorry for all that rhyming above. I don’t know what got into me.

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Sweet corn & fava bean risotto

cornfavarisotte.jpgMy theme of “spring-to-summer” cooking continues. I developed this lovely risotto with fava beans and sweet corn yesterday before heading off to see Sex and the City with a bunch of women from my crafting group. I’m not sure how it could have been more clichéd. Oh, yes I am: we could have dressed up or snuck in a thermos of cosmos. We were all happy to see it, all happy to meet beforehand for a strawberry-lemon vodka concoction whipped up by our fearless leader, all happy to walk to the theater through the wind-blown sun that defines San Francisco this time of year, all happy to get a break from what seems like a work-intensive month for each and every one of us. One of us was thrilled with the movie because, by her own account, she had decided to be. Me? I would have used some of that product-placement money and hired an editor.

Full disclosure: Like so many movies of this ilk, this one is designed to make you cry. And I am not dead inside. Quite the opposite, in fact. I like nothing more than expressing emotion through fictional characters and will cry at the drop of a hat when it comes to books, movies, and television. I once cried watched All My Children. I literally sobbed at Juno. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I’ve teared up listening to This American Life. I cry easily in real life too. My husband and father have placed bets (actual wagers than involve an exchange of cash, I tell you!) on whether I can make it through wedding toasts dry-eyed.
All that to say: I was not completely dry-eyed through SATC. I don’t think I’m giving anything away: when Samantha spoon-feeds Carrie some yogurt, well, the tears were flowing. Did I feel manipulated? Did I steel myself against further cheap moves by the script? Yes and yes. But the tears were there.

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For the love of twirling

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When my dad used to go out of town it meant eating tuna casserole (which I LUVED) or this awesome faux-souffle my mom would make with eggs and cheese and it would bake up puffy with crispy edges (and I LUVED that too) at the kitchen table with the TV on. It was awesome.

When my dashing husband, semi-vegetarian that he is, goes out of town it means meat. Sausage one night, beef the next. I saw some bee-u-ti-ful little white turnips with their greens still attached at the market the other day. I knew immediately I would make Beef Baked with Turnips and Black Pepper from Madhur Jaffrey’s Spice Kitchen.

First of all, it contains lovely little turnips and BEEF. Second, I’ve had this dish before and it is unbelievably delicious (although, admittedly, no beauty contestant). Third, I hadn’t cooked from someone else’s recipe in so long I was starting to really miss it.

So I cooked the recipe as is. Pretty much. I streamlined some technique because that is my way. Poke 10-15 little turnips with a fork. Toss with 3/4 tsp. salt and let sit while you do the following. In a large heavy pot (like a Le Creuset) heat a bit of vegetable oil and brown 2 to 3 lbs. trimmed boneless beef chuck cut into 1 1/2- to 2 -inch pieces. You’ll need to do this in batches and watch it closely. Take your time. Deeply browned meat is the secret to delicious stews of all sorts.

As each batch browns, transfer it to a bowl .When all done preheat oven to 350. Meanwhile, cook 3 minced onions and 6 cloves minced garlic in the oil and browned (almost burnt!) bits in the pan. The almost burnt bits will loosen right up. Cook, stirring as you like, until onions start to brown. Add 1 Tbsp. ground coriander, 1/2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper, 1/4 tsp.cayenne, and 2 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring, for a minute. Stir in 1 1/4 cup yogurt and 1 cup water. When everything combines into a sort of sauce, add turnips and beef (plus any liquid that’s accumulated in the bowl). Bring just to a boil. Sprinkle with 1 tsp. garam masala. Cover pot with foil and its lid to seal it as much as possible. Bake 1 1/2 hours without so much as thinking about looking at it.

Madhur Jaffrey has you then “reduce” the sauce on the stovetop, but I’ve never found there is so much sauce to reduce. Instead I let the whole thing sit in the turned-off oven until dinner time (5+ hours – no food poisoning yet!) and reheated it on the stove, resulting in a nice second-day stew effect, which we all know is way better than fresh stew.

We had it with plain basmati rice and turnip greens quickly cooked in a bit of olive oil and a sliced clove of garlic.

Ernie did not really care for the turnips, but he loved the greens–especially while he was allowed to play “twirling greens” (related to twirling strawberries – food item is twirled before eater’s mouth and then eater tries to bite it best they can) so I could take pictures. Once they were snapped he was told to use his fork. How’s that for some awesome parenting?

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