rice and peas

Side dishes aren’t my strong suit. I often find myself googling dorky things like “what to serve with Jamaican jerk chicken?” Rice and peas kept coming up, and I kept bypassing it. Who wants green peas mixed with plain white rice?

It turns out, of course, that rice and peas is nothing of the sort. Peas, in the Jamaican way, are beans. I was fortunate enough to find pigeon peas at my store (another reason to stop complaining about my grocery store), but red beans work too.

Rice and peas, then, is rice and beans cooked in coconut milk with thyme, green onions, and a spicy chile. The chile isn’t minced and eaten; it’s left whole and removed after cooking, so it adds just a hint of heat, which really does make this the perfect side dish for spicy jerk chicken. Thanks, Google!

Two years ago: Croque Madame

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Rice and Peas

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup long-grained white rice
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup coconut milk
1 cup water
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 (15-ounce) can pigeon peas (or red beans), drained and rinsed
1 habanero chile, whole
2 green onions, chopped, plus extra for garnish

1. In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and rice; cook, stirring constantly, until the rice is translucent at the edges and the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the remaining ingredients. Stir once, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer. Once the mixture simmers, reduce the heat to the lowest heat.

2. Cook for 15 minutes, then, without removing the lid or moving the pot, turn off the heat and let the rice sit for another 15 minutes. Remove the chile pepper, fluff the rice with a fork, and serve, topping with additional green onions.

pork chops loco moco

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I feel a little guilty when Dave and I spend most of the weekend sleeping in, watching football, reading books, and, in my case, cooking. We are booooring.

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But then I figure that someday, if everything goes as planned, we’ll have kids and then we won’t be able to spend all weekend being lazy. I don’t think I’ll be cooking from Cooks Illustrated’s Restaurant Favorites at Home very often when we have kids, which is a shame, because it’s a fun cookbook and I haven’t used it as much as I should. I better take advantage while I can.

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Although really, this meal didn’t take nearly as long to prepare as I thought it would based on the length of the recipe. It’s true that there are five parts – rice, pork chops, scrambled eggs, mushroom gravy, and fried onions. Fortunately, the rice, meat and eggs are as simple as they could get, and the sauce is pretty quick as well. That means that only the onions take some time.

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Loco moco is a Hawaiian dish that, as its most basic, is rice, a hamburger patty, gravy, and a fried egg. For their cookbook, Cooks Illustrated adapted the recipe from Sam Choy’s, who replace the hamburger with a pork chop, the fried egg with scrambled, and the brown gravy with a mushroom cream sauce, in addition to adding the fried onions.

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Hoo boy, I like this kind of meal anyway, where a bunch of different stuff all meshes together, but this in particular was fantastic. So many textures – the meat, the rice, soft eggs, crunchy onions. So many flavors – nutty white rice, sweet fried onions, savory pork, all coated in a rich mushroom sauce. Even if it had taken most of a day to make, which it didn’t, it would have been worth it. Especially since I would have just been lounging around in my pajamas anyway.

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One year ago: Pumpkin Pancakes

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Pork Chops with Rice, Eggs, Onions, and Gravy
(from Cooks Illustrated’s Restaurant Favorites at Home)

This is the recipe straight from the cookbook. However, next time I plan to use a boneless pork chop. I think it will brown better in the pan, plus it was a little hard to see where the bone was versus the meat once the pork was covered in sauce and other goodies.

Also, I think it makes more sense to cook the pork chop before the eggs. And, in step 3, I don’t see why you’d want to dirty an extra dish by transferring the sauce to a measuring cup; just cover the pan you cooked it in. Finally, the recipe calls for both the eggs and the pork chops to be cooked on high heat, but I’ve had better luck with medium-high heat for both.

Fried Onions:
3 cups vegetable oil
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon ground black pepper
1 small yellow onion, halved and sliced thin

Rice:
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 cup long-grain white rice
½ teaspoon salt

Sauce:
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced thin
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
salt and ground black pepper

Eggs:
4 large eggs
¼ cup whole milk
pinch ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Pork chops:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 thin bone-in center-cut loin pork chops, about ½ inch thick
salt and ground black pepper

1. For the fried onions: Heat the vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it reached 350 degrees. (Use an instant-read thermometer that registers high temperatures or clip a candy/deep-fat thermometer onto the side of the pan before turning on the heat.) Meanwhile, mix the flour, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl. Add the onion to the flour mixture and toss thoroughly to coat. Transfer the floured onion to a large strainer (or colander) set over another bowl (or the sink) and shake vigorously to remove the excess flour. Add the onion to the oil and fry until golden brown, 2 to 2½ minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain the cooking temperature. Remove the onion from the oil using a spider or slotted spoon, tapping the handle several times on the rim of the pot to drain any excess oil, then transfer to a large plate lined with several layers of paper towels. Set aside.

2. For the rice: Heat the vegetable oil in a small saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until transparent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1½ cups water and the salt. Bring to a boil, swirling the pan to blend the ingredients. Reduce the heat to low, cover tightly, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover the pan with a clean dish towel and then the lid. Let the rice stand, covered, to finish cooking, about 15 minutes longer. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

3. For the sauce: Mix the cornstarch and 1 teaspoon water together in a small bowl and set aside. Heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Stir in the shiitakes, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the mushrooms release their moisture and begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cream, soy sauce, and oyster sauce, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture and return to a boil, whisking constantly. Cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 30 seconds. Remove the sauce from the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the sauce to a liquid measuring cup, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set aside.

4. For the eggs: Crack the eggs into a medium bowl and add the milk, salt and pepper. Beat with a fork until the streaks are gone and the color is pure yellow; stop beating while the bubbles are still large. Melt the butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until foaming, swirling it around and up the sides of the pan. Before the form completely subsides, pour in the beaten eggs. Using a heatproof spatula, push the eggs from one side of the pan to the other, slowly but deliberately lifting and folding the eggs as they form curds, until the eggs are nicely clumped into a single mound but remain shiny and set, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and cover to keep warm.

5. For the pork chops: Wipe the nonstick skillet clean with a wad of paper towels. Add the vegetable oil and heat over high heat until smoking. Season the pork chops generously with salt and pepper. Lay the pork chops in a single layer in the skillet and cook until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and cook on the second side until lightly brown and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes longer.

6. To serve: Divide the rice among 4 individual plates. Lay a pork chop on top of the rice and top with equal portions of scrambled eggs. Pour about 3 tablespoons of the sauce over the egg and pork on each plate, and sprinkle with the fried onions. Serve immediately.

pumpkin risotto

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Everyone’s goal for their food blog is different. Are you keeping a log of recipes you make for your own sake – to store them somewhere, or to track your progress as a cook? Do you only publish recipes that you recommend others make? Do you have a blog just to cook along with various groups? All are perfectly fine reasons to maintain a food blog.

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Periodically I have to ask myself what my stance is. The question only comes up when I make something that I’d like to share, even though it wasn’t necessarily my favorite dish ever. And I think I’ve decided that, for me, my food blog is somewhere I get to talk about cooking to people who are also interested in food. Basically it’s to offload my food thoughts to people who actually care, saving my friends and family from hearing about cooking nonstop. Not that the topic doesn’t still come up…let’s just say, periodically.

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So, let us discuss, then, this risotto. I’ve made risotto plenty of times before, but usually following the same basic recipe and just adding in whatever extra ingredient I wanted (peppers, peas, greens, etc). This time I decided to follow a different recipe.

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You probably know the basic risotto process – sauté onions and garlic, add the rice, then the wine, then the chicken broth, gradually, and ending with parmesan cheese. This recipe is a bit different. It starts with substantially more butter than I would normally use, in which the onion (supposed to be leeks, but I always forget to buy them) and pumpkin are sautéed. Then the rice is stirred in, like normal, but next is the chicken broth instead of the wine. The broth and wine are added alternately as the rice cooks. Mascarpone is stirred in at the end along with the parmesan.

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It was quite a bit winier than I’m used to risotto tasting, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was also quite a bit cheesier, which I suppose should have been a no-brainer with all the mascarpone, but somehow I was expecting it to add richness without the cheesy flavor.

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Overall, it was…fine. Good? Not necessarily great. I just like my regular risotto better. Some foods are already rich enough that you don’t really need to add twice the butter and a dollop of the creamiest cheese ever. So maybe I don’t strongly recommend this recipe, but I thought it was interesting, and when it comes to choosing recipes to blog about, I guess interesting (to me, and if I’m lucky, to you) is what I’m most concerned with.

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One year ago: Mulled Cider

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Pumpkin Risotto
(copied with no changes from Cucina Italiana April 2001)

3.5 cups chicken broth
1 small pumpkin (about ½ pound)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large leek, white part only, halved lengthwise, rinsed, and diced
1 cup Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
¼ cup Mascarpone
⅓ cup (.67 ounce) grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1. Heat broth in a small pan and keep it hot. Cut off the pumpkin stem. With a vegetable peeler, remove the skin. Cut the pumpkin in half, and remove and discard the seeds and stringy flesh. Dice enough of the pumpkin to make 1 cup. (Save any remaining pumpkin for another use; soup is a particularly good possibility.)

2. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the pumpkin and leek, and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the rice and stir well to coat it with the butter. Cook, stirring, until the rice begins to crackle, about 5 minutes; do not let the rice brown.

3. Slowly add ½ cup of the broth and stir constantly until the rice absorbs all the liquid; add 2 tablespoons of the wine and continue stirring until it is absorbed by the rice. Continue adding broth and wine alternately to the rice, stirring all the while, until the rice is al dente and has a creamy consistency, about 15 minutes.

4. Stir in the Mascarpone and Parmigiano, blending well and stirring until the Mascarpone melts. Serve immediately.

risotto with swiss chard

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Although I think that adding green pepper is the easiest way to ruin otherwise perfectly good pizza, I’m not in general a picky eater. There are no common ingredients that I refuse to eat, I’m game to try just about anything, and I think even green pepper has its place. (Caveat: margarine and the like – gross. But that stuff doesn’t count.)

On the other hand, sometimes I do have problems wrapping my mind around certain things. For example, I love sushi, love it, and make an opportunity to eat it once every week or two, but somewhere, in the back of my mind, when I eat tuna sashimi, I’m still thinking “ew, raw fish.”

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A year or two ago, I realized that I really like kale, and you might think that would lead me to believe I’d also enjoy other hearty greens, like swiss chard. But I had it in my head that swiss chard would be bitter and mushy. It took me a long time to convince myself to try it.

Risotto is a really good way to introduce new vegetables. For one thing, it’s so freakin’ good on its own, and the flavors go with a lot of different ingredients. For another, it makes a convenient side dish to a nice piece of meat, because it often incorporates both a starch and vegetables, so you only need to make one side instead of two.

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I did look at a recipe for risotto with swiss chard, but ultimately decided to just add chard to my standard risotto recipe. I tried adding it with the rice at first, but I was worried that it was overcooking, and even though the final result was actually very good, I had hoped to hold on to the bright green color that the chard turns midway through cooking. I tried again, this time adding the greens later, with the broth. And it made no difference that I could tell. Once cooked, chard turns a dark olive green, and there’s no getting around it.

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The earthiness of swiss chard goes really well with risotto. And one thing that’s satisfying about eating hearty greens like this is that they lose so much volume during cooking that I feel like it’s easy to eat a whole lot of greens! As usual, I’m glad I tried and managed to accept a new ingredient. Maybe raw oysters will be next?

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One year ago: Gazpacho

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Risotto with Swiss Chard

6 servings

3½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt
2 cups Arborio rice
1 large bunch swiss chard, coarsely chopped (4-5 cups)
1 cup dry white wine
2 ounces (1 cup) parmesan cheese
pepper

1. Bring the broth and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cover; turn the burner off but keep the pot on the burner.

2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat until the foaming subsides. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rice, chard, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice is opaque, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring until the rice nearly completely absorbs all the liquid, about 1 minute.

3. Add 2 cups of the hot stock and stir occasionally until it’s mostly absorbed (the spoon will leave a trail on the bottom of the pan), about 6 minutes. Continue to add stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently, until each addition is absorbed. Cook until rice is creamy but still somewhat firm in center (add more water in ½ cup increments if broth/water mixture runs out), 10 to 12 minutes longer.

4. Stir in the cheese. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve.

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vegetable curry

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I’m particular about cookbooks. I’ve gotten into the habit of buying one hopefully comprehensive cookbook per cuisine. It started with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Marcella Hazen’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, then it was Corinne Trang’s Essentials of Asian Cooking, and most recently, Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking.

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The thing is, I’ve hardly made anything from any of these. I’ve barely even opened Indian Cooking since I got it for Christmas this year, and to be honest, I’m really not bothered by this. It makes me happy just knowing that I have them, and that someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, I’ll find the time and discipline to learn what I can from each one.

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In fact, I’ve only made a couple of Indian dishes ever, but that was all I needed to be convinced that I’ll love it; I enjoy the basic flavors and ingredients so much. One of my favorites is a vegetable curry dish from Cooks Illustrated, but every time I made it, I was surprised by how long it took. I wanted something simpler that I could reasonably make on a weeknight.

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Then I found a recipe for Aloo Gobi that had a lot of the same ingredients, except less of them, plus a simpler cooking method. It has potatoes in it, as does the CI recipe, but since I wanted to serve my curry mixture over rice, I decided that I could eliminate the potatoes. I also wanted this to be a one-dish meal, but the original didn’t have any protein. Exchanging the potatoes for chickpeas killed two birds with one stone.

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The recipe starts out with sautéing all sorts of delicious aromatics – garlic and ginger of course, but also spices, including curry powder and garam masala. Garam masala is seriously delicious stuff. It’s a blend, so brands will vary, but I’ve been perfectly happy with McCormick’s. Then I added cauliflower, which is my favorite vegetable, and then tomatoes and chickpeas. One ingredient I love after another. At the end, peas are stirred in.

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This was exactly what I was looking for. It has similar ingredients to the Cooks Illustrated recipe that I enjoyed so much, but it’s easy enough to make on a weeknight. Aloo gobi  has similar flavors, but this version has the right nutritional balance for a one-pot meal. I wonder how many more great Indian dishes I can discover by actually looking through a cookbook?

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One year ago: Grits, Onion, and Cheese Souffles

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Vegetable Curry

Serves 3-4

I love this over basmati rice (I like to put a cinnamon stick and some cloves in the pot with the rice cooks) and topped with mango chutney and plain yogurt.

I didn’t have peas when I photographed this. Also, I used too much of the spices; the recipe below calls for less than I used, so if yours looks a little different from the pictures, that may be the reason.

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon minced or grated ginger
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons curry powder
Salt
½ medium head cauliflower, cut into small-medium sized florets
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 ounces (about ¾ cup) frozen peas

1. In a large skillet, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, garam masala, and curry powder. Cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.

2. Add the cauliflower and toss to incorporate with the spices, then stir in ½ teaspoon salt, the chickpeas, and the tomatoes with their liquid. Cover the pan and simmer over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in the peas, cover again, and continue simmering for 2-3 minutes, until the peas are heated through. Serve over rice, topped with plain yogurt and mango chutney, if desired.

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crispy bagel roll

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A third grader was telling me once about her favorite restaurant, and she said that it served “eggs and bagels and bacon and everything good.” That’s kind of how this sushi roll is – full of fish and cream cheese and avocado and everything good. And then it’s fried.

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The first time Dave and I tried sushi, we were visiting friends, who took us to one of their favorite sushi restaurants. We ordered a crispy bagel roll, and it was so good! I haven’t found even one restaurant since then that serves anything similar. After almost two years of my friends mentioning that they went out for sushi and enjoyed the crispy bagel roll, I decided I’d have to try to re-create it at home.

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I made sushi rolls a few times last year, and it wasn’t a disaster, but it was a lot of work, and I always ended up frustrated because my dull chef’s knife couldn’t cut through the nori. But since then, I’ve acquired a new knife and new inspiration from Jen, who makes homemade sushi seem so approachable.

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Bagel rolls aren’t original to the restaurant I had them at, but recipes differ slightly. I looked up their menu and found that their version includes pretty much all of my favorite sushi ingredients – fish, cream cheese, avocado – everything good indeed. If I recall, they serve theirs with aioli, but I opted to just mix the mayonnaise with the fish before forming the roll.

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And then there’s the “crispy” part. The rolls are delicious without frying, so if you want to stop here, be my guest! Making tempura batter, heating oil, and deep-frying the rolls adds a significant amount of work to an already labor-intensive meal. But it’s a fun way to give this roll a different flavor profile than a lot of other sushi rolls.

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This roll lends itself especially well to being made at home, because it calls for smoked salmon, so there’s no worry about finding or working with quality raw fish. (Um, except that the pictures show tuna, because we love tuna. But smoked salmon makes more sense in this roll.) Plus, the roll is full of everything good. How can you go wrong?

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One year ago: Olive Oil Bread

Bagel Rolls (rice recipe adapted from Alton Brown)

Unfortunately, I can’t share the tempura batter recipe I used because it’s I recipe I tested for Cooks Illustrated, and it isn’t published yet. However, I think this one would work fine. I fried the rolls until they were just slightly browned. I didn’t want the filling to cook, or even get warm really.

The only part of making homemade sushi that I haven’t nailed down is how much of the sheet of nori to use. The whole sheet is too much and ends up forming a spiral, but a half sheet isn’t quite enough to fit the fillings. I ended up using about 3/5 of the sheet and saving the scraps for sushi bowls.

Makes 4 rolls, serving 2 people

Rice:
1 cup sushi rice
1 cup water
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt

Filling:
4 (8- by 7-inch) sheets nori (see comments above)
4 ounces smoked salmon
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 avocado, sliced
2 ounces cream cheese
2 teaspoons sesame seeds

For serving:
Wasabi
Pickled ginger
Soy sauce

Rice:
Rinse rice and let drain for 30-60 minutes. (I often skip this without any huge loss in quality.)

Place the rice and water into a medium saucepan and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

Heat the rice vinegar, sugar and salt (either in a small pot on the stove or in the microwave) until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer the rice into a large wooden or glass mixing bowl and add the vinegar mixture. Fold and cut thoroughly to combine and coat each grain of rice with the mixture. Fan until rice is near room temperature. Do not

Chop the salmon into approximately ⅛-inch pieces and mix it with the mayonnaise. Fill a small bowl with tap water and place it near where you’ll be doing the rolling.

Lay a sheet of plastic wrap over a bamboo rolling mat. Lay 1 sheet of nori, shiny side down, on the plastic wrap. Wet your fingers with water and spread ¼ of the rice evenly onto the nori. Sprinkle the rice with ½ teaspoon sesame seeds. Flip the nori over so that the rice faces down onto the plastic wrap. Place ¼ of salmon mixture, the avocado, and the cream cheese in the middle of the nori. Use the plastic wrap to roll the nori and rice around the fillings, as tight as possible without squeezing the fillings out. Use the bamboo mat to shape and compact the roll. Leave the roll covered in the plastic wrap while you use the remaining ingredients to make three more rolls.

If you’re frying the sushi rolls: Heat 2-3 quarts of canola, vegetable, or peanut oil to 400C in a Dutch oven that holds at least 5 quarts. Remove the plastic wrap from a roll. Dip the entire roll into tempera batter. Fry one roll at a time for about 2 minutes, until the batter is firm and slightly browned. Drain on a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining rolls, making sure that the oil is at 400 degrees before adding the next roll.

Remove the plastic wrap from the rolls (if you didn’t fry them). Cut each roll in half, then half again and again to make 8 pieces for each roll. Serve with wasabi, pickled ginger and soy sauce.

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rice pudding

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I thought Tuesdays with Dorie was going to mutiny this week. Isabelle chose rice pudding for us to make, but the recipe has a mistake in it regarding the cooking time, and Dorie was traveling without an internet connection and wasn’t able to give us a heads up until many of us had already had frustrating experiences.

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Even worse, the recipe was suspicious from the beginning. Dorie uses just ¼ cup of rice to thicken 3¼ cups of milk, far less rice than most rice pudding recipes use. Plus, the instructions actually say that the pudding will be thin when it’s taken off of the stove, but it’ll thicken once it chills. I don’t think Dorie meant that it should be quite this thin.

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Unsurprisingly, my “pudding” never thickened. I left it in the fridge for two days, too irritated to think about it, until I realized that I could just put it back on the stove and try cooking it longer and maybe it would thicken. And eventually it did. Once Dorie was able to let the group know about the typo, I realized that the cooking time was indeed supposed to be longer than what the book says.

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In the end, the rice pudding was pretty good. I wouldn’t say that it was any better or worse than the only other time I’ve had rice pudding. At least there was chocolate this time.  Rice pudding just isn’t really my thing though. I kept thinking to myself, “why is there rice in my pudding?” Dave wondered why anyone would eat rice pudding when they could be eating tapioca pudding. He has a good point.

Isabelle has posted Dorie’s rice pudding recipe. Keep in mind that you’ll need to cook it for 55 minutes or so, until the texture is pudding-like. The ratio of rice to milk does work.

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sushi bowls

I’m so proud of this recipe. I actually came up with the idea on my own. Whoa. Not that sushi ingredients mixed up in a bowl is a groundbreaking idea, but that isn’t the point. The point is that I didn’t know there was already a recipe out there when I came up with it. I was creative! That never happens!

The inspiration behind my big idea was that Dave and I love sushi, but making it is a pain in the ass and going out to eat all the time isn’t feasible. So I figured, why bother making cute little sushi rolls – it’s the ingredients that we like, not their shape. I decided to mix up the ingredients in a bowl and call it a day.

And that makes this a pretty darn easy meal. Sushi rice takes only a little more effort than basic long-grain rice does, and that’s the only ingredient in this recipe that needs to be cooked.

I’ve made this a few times now, and once I used smoked salmon instead of raw tuna. I used smoked salmon twice when I made sushi rolls, and I thought it was good. It’s convenient, and I thought it might be a good option for people who aren’t comfortable eating raw fish. But when I used it in the sushi bowls, it was so salty that it kind of ruined the whole dish. I’m not sure if there’s a difference between brands or if all smoked salmon is so salty. I bought the cheapest brand, because that stuff always surprises me by how expensive it is.

But, every other time I’ve made this, it’s been just so good. And healthy! Look at all that green stuff. There’s no added fat in the recipe; the only fat involved is what’s naturally in avocado, sesame seeds, and the fish. That makes this a super tasty, easy, healthy, balanced meal on its own. It’s perfect.

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Sushi Bowls

I’ve used raw tuna, smoked salmon, and imitation crab in this, all with very good results.  If you’re using salty smoked salmon, reduce the salt in the rice mixture slightly.

4 servings

1⅓ cups rice, rinsed well
1⅓ cups water
¼ cup soy sauce
wasabi to taste, probably at least 2 teaspoons
4 teaspoons rice vinegar
4 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 (8 by 7-inch) sheets nori, cut into strips 1½ inches long and ⅛ inch wide
1 avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from skin and cut into chunks 1 inch long and ¼ inch wide
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into matchsticks 1½ inches long and ⅛ inch wide
2 green onions, halved lengthwise and cut into strips 1 inch long
8 ounces sushi-grade fish
¼ cup sesame seeds, toasted

1. Rinse the rice. Place the rice and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, combine the soy sauce and wasabi in a small bowl. Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a separate small bowl and heat in the microwave on high for 30 to 45 seconds, until the sugar dissolves. Transfer the rice into a large wooden or glass mixing bowl and add the vinegar mixture. Fold and cut thoroughly to combine and coat each grain of rice with the mixture. Fan until rice is near room temperature. (If you use an electric fan, this will only take about a minute.) Do not refrigerate.

3. Combine rice, wasabi mixture, and remaining ingredients. Serve.

kung pao shrimp

I almost always ask Dave if he wants any input on our meals for the upcoming week, looking either for new ideas or for a way to limit all the ideas already swimming around in my head. Sometimes I ask just to be polite, even though I already have a nice plan forming, betting on the good chance that he won’t care. That’s what happened this time, and even though Dave wouldn’t mind one bit if I totally ignored his suggestion, I feel like a jerk for asking and then dismissing his opinion.

Not enough like a jerk to not tweak his response though. Dave simply answered “Sichuan” to my request for dinner ideas, and while I’m pretty sure he had something specific in mind, I chose to take his answer literally, opening my options up to anything Sichuan. A quick search on the Cooks Illustrated website turned up the perfect compromise – Kung Pao Shrimp, a classic Sichuan dish that also used up the red pepper I had and satisfied my craving for shrimp.

And satisfy it did. I wasn’t surprised, because it contains a lot of my favorite ingredients for Asian cooking – shrimp, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, peanuts, chiles…I’m sorry, I’m naming every single ingredient. But each is something that I love, and they worked wonderfully together in this dish.

Kung Pao Shrimp (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

You can substitute plain rice vinegar for the black rice vinegar (available in Asian markets), but we prefer the latter for its fruity, salty complexity. If you prefer roasted unsalted cashews over peanuts, substitute an equal amount. Do not eat the whole chiles in the finished dish.

1 pound extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 count), peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon dry sherry or rice wine
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 medium cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced (about 1 tablespoon)
½ inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about 2 teaspoons)
3 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
½ cup roasted unsalted peanuts
6 small whole dried red chiles (each about 1¾ to 2 inches long), 3 chiles roughly crumbled, or 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons black rice vinegar or plain rice vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1½ teaspoons cornstarch
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch dice
3 medium scallions, sliced thin

1. Toss shrimp with sherry and soy sauce in medium bowl; marinate until shrimp have absorbed flavors, about 10 minutes. Mix garlic, ginger, and 1 tablespoon oil in small bowl; set aside. Combine peanuts and chiles in small bowl; set aside. Mix chicken broth, vinegar, sesame oil, oyster-flavored sauce, hoisin sauce, and cornstarch in small bowl or measuring cup; set aside.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add shrimp and cook, stirring about once every 10 seconds, until barely opaque, 30 to 40 seconds; add peanuts and chiles, stir into shrimp, and continue cooking until shrimp are almost completely opaque and peanuts have darkened slightly, 30 to 40 seconds longer. Transfer shrimp, peanuts, and chiles to bowl; set aside. Return skillet to burner and reheat briefly, 15 to 30 seconds. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, swirl to coat pan, and add red bell pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 45 seconds. Clear center of pan, add garlic-ginger mixture, mash into pan with spoon or spatula, and cook until fragrant, 10 to 15 seconds; stir into peppers until combined. Stir broth mixture to recombine, then add to skillet along with reserved shrimp, peanuts, and chiles; cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits on bottom of pan, until sauce has thickened to syrupy consistency, about 45 seconds. Stir in scallions; transfer to serving plate and serve immediately.

rice and beans

I love beans. This is a recent revelation, as the only beans I remember eating as a kid were refried or mixed with hot dogs. (And just like that, pork and beans has been added to my “To Cook” list.) I’m not sure if it’s the beans that are so good, or the type of recipes that beans tend to be in – mishmashes of various flavors and textures blended together so each bite is just a little bit different from the last, but equally delicious.

Rice and beans is beans at their simplest. I have a Puerto Rican friend who makes fantastic rice and beans, and I’m kicking myself for not getting the recipe from him before I moved away. However, I’m finding that rice and beans is completely adaptable to personal tastes and availability of ingredients. The first time I made it, I used a recipe, but I don’t find myself following it very closely these days.

The original recipe uses sausage, onions, garlic, beans, chicken broth, and some seasoning. It’s a great recipe, but the beauty of rice and beans is that you can ignore the recipe and still get something fantastic. This time I used a bit of celery, a chipotle chile, and as many tomatoes as beans. Last time I used red pepper and less tomatoes. Any number of additions would be great – green pepper, squash, maybe even sweet potatoes. The only requirement is beans, although I admit that I wouldn’t make it without onions, and now I’m loving the tomatoes. I also love the sausage, even though I prefer not to use meat in my staple weeknight meals. If you can think of a great substitute, let me know!

I’ve linked to the original recipe above, and I’ll provide a recipe for what the pictures show, but keep in mind that this is a fun meal to adapt to your own preferences.

Rice and Beans

Serves 4

8 ounces cooked sausage, such as kielbasa (I used salami this time)
1 medium onion, diced small
1 stalk celery, minced (red pepper would be great too)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cumin (I’ve also used Old Bay)
2 (15-ounce) cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes (I used 2 cans, but it was admittedly very tomatoey)
1 cup chicken broth (I didn’t use this, but I should have)

6 cups cooked long-grain white rice (from 1 cup uncooked rice)

In a 3- or 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, cook the sausage until it begins to brown and fat begins to render. Add the onions and celery/pepper/whatever and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and just beginning to brown. Add the garlic and spice(s) and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beans, tomatoes, and broth. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick and the flavors have blended, about 45 minutes (or as long as you want actually – I’m not sure I’ve ever cooked it for the full 45 minutes). Serve over rice.