A Bowl of Rice

Things are getting cold out there. It’s only mid-November but I woke up this morning feeling as if it could have been the dead of winter. Five blankets deep within my bed, I huddled in a little ball, burrowing myself under. Only my nose poked out to the world beyond, numb and pink like a little mouse. I left my house, plump with multiple coats yet despite the layers, the cold settled deep. I was in a cold mood, had cold thoughts. It’s been a cold sort of day.

A cold day calls for foods of comfort. Rich starches, warm flavors, long and slow cooking so that the heat of the stove permeates the house.  I made a simple bowl of white rice for dinner, that wholesome grain that I relied on so much for comfort as a child. The only thing I could stomach when sick and the cure-all for a bad day. Rice, butter, salt, pepper.

At the end of this long week, on the first day in a long time where I simply had nothing to do, on a Friday night when everyone else was busy and my thoughts a little bleak, I bundled up at home and made and basic yet elegant spiced Indian rice. It started with toasting an array of spices; cinnamon, cardamom, black peppercorns, whole cloves, a bay leaf, cumin seeds. The spices were tossed with white basmati rice and left to cook for several minutes in which time the air became perfumed with exotic aromas. Rich and sweet cardamom mingled with the bright and spicy cumin. All the while cinnamon filled my lungs with festive warmth and the toasting rice released deep floral nuttiness. Its smell almost visibly swirled seductively through the air, a belly-dancing courtesan of a smell. The rice, once finished, was topped with a sprinkling of pistachios, crispy fried shallots, and a fresh poached egg, The egg yolk coated the granules of rice for a rich and creamy sauce and each bite brought back a little warmth to the my body as the aromas first passed under my nose and into the mouth.

I know, I know, a little non-traditional for Friday night. Shouldn’t I be out having beer and greasiness and other college Friday night things? Well besides my general lack of “traditional”, I just know that it was alone-time sort of night. A night where I needed to sit down with a bowl of rice. The bowl now sits empty and all is good.

Spiced Indian Rice
Adapted from Journey Kitchen
serves 2-3 as a main dish

1½ cups white basmati rice
2¼ cups water
1½ Tbs. vegetable oil
1½ tsp. cumin seeds
2 whole cloves
2 black peppercorns
½ cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
2 cardamom pods
1 shallot, cut into rings plus oil for frying
a handful of shelled pistachios
1 egg per person
salt and pepper

Wash the rice until the water runs clear and soak in water for an hour. After an hour, drain the excess water. In a deep and thick-bottomed saucepan with a lid or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the cinnamon, bay leaf, cloves, peppercorns, and cardamom. Stir to coat with oil. Add the cumin seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, add the rice. Stir to coat and toast for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the rice has toasted, add the water and some salt, stir, turn the heat to high, and cook uncovered for 7-8 minutes until the water is almost absorbed. Cover with the lid, turn the heat to medium-low, and continue to cook for 5-7 minutes or until the water is absorbed completely.  Fluff the rice with a fork.

Meanwhile, put a pot on water or the stove and bring to a simmer. This will be for poaching the egg. Also, heat enough vegetable oil in a small frying pan to cover the bottom. Once hot, add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently until crisp and deep golden colored. Transfer to a paper towel to drain. When the water in the pot is simmering, crack the egg/s into the water and cook for about 4 minutes each. Remove from the water and let drain on a paper towel.

To assemble, place a good portion of the rice in a bowl. Top with salt and pepper and a little butter if you’d like. Scatter on the pistachios, onions, and the egg. Season with salt and pepper.

P.S. Be careful that you don’t confuse any of the cardamom pods with the pistachios. They look quite alike and that could lead to an interesting little surprise.

Halloween Soufflé

Halloween. I’m not sure what to say about Halloween without offending a large number of people. But I think its safe to say that it is a holiday I could do without.

I don’t particularly like wearing costumes. People in costumes (i.e. Ronald McDonald) were the objects of terror to me as a child and I cried and hid whenever I saw them. This fear kind of stuck around as I aged and even now I run away from costumed people. I don’t like not being able to see their faces. I’m not fond of the idea of wearing a barely-there costume outside in 40-degree weather. I know I should be celebrating but on a cold night I’d rather stay cuddled with my hot chocolate indoors. To me, Halloween is just another one of our “made in China holidays where we are forced to eat disgusting candy that tasked like amoxicillin.

That is why I liked Halloween so much last year, when I was in London. There, the holiday was treated as an excuse to celebrate the season’s bounty and spend time with each other, enjoying good food and fun, fall activities. Last Halloween I walked amongst changing leaves, bought a purple and turquoise hydrangea from the flower market, visited the peter pan statue in Hyde Park, ate the most delicious lavender and honey ice cream cone, and attended and festive Bompas and Parr jelly-making session at Fortnum and Mason. I had butternut squash for dinner with a cup of warm tea and called it the best Halloween ever. So this year I want to celebrate similarly despite the cheap and typically American craziness that will occur around me. And I will most definitely treat myself to this dish again.

This is a Halloween Soufflé.  I made it two weeks ago…for lunch on a Monday…at 3:00 in the afternoon. It is a recipe I’ve had marked for a while in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. The recipe note says, “try something scary today, by scary I mean soufflé.” So that Monday afternoon, on the brink of a serious case of the hunger shakes, I decided on a spur of the moment decision to forgo eating for another two hours and try something scary: my first soufflé.

It’s called a Halloween soufflé because the lovely mixture of eggs, butter, and flour is combined with a large dose of creamy pumpkin puree. It turned the dish a deep golden color and added a subtle hint of earthy sweetness. And despite the time-consuming aspect, the soufflé was much less scary than I’ve always thought. I created my rue without any lumping problems. I mixed it with my egg yolk and pumpkin and miraculously avoided a curdling disaster. And finally, I folded this with my perfectly whipped egg whites. It went into the oven and for a frightening 20 minutes I waited, hoping for a successful outcome.

What I pulled from the oven was a beautiful thing; it had done exactly what it was supposed to. The top rose in a crackly golden mound above the lip of the bowl. It jiggled slightly as I quickly transferred it to the table, letting me know of the fluffy, airy surprise waiting inside. And within minutes I watched as the soufflé slowly started deflating and with that, I knew it was time to eat. It was warm and silky, and flowed like cream on my tongue. The tangy goat cheese offset the pumpkin’s sweetness and a nice smoky flavor and crunchiness came from the ground hazelnuts that coated the inside of my cooking bowl. A seemingly horror story with a happy ending…and it sure beats the hell out of candy corn!

Happy Halloween!

Halloween Soufflé for One
adapted from Plenty

The ingredient amounts are a little guessed and wonky for this recipe because I cut the original in half and was also trying to convert from the metric system without a kitchen scale. But what I ended up doing worked fine so that’s all that mattered to me. Since I made it for just myself, I cooked it in a large, oven-proof soup bowl. Enjoy this with a nice green salad and a glass of white wine. Trust me, if you have this for Halloween, you won’t even miss out on the candy.

2/3 cup pumpkin puree (I used fresh roasted and pureed pumpkin but I’m sure canned would work. Refer to here for roasting instructions)
a handful of hazelnuts
15 grams melted butter for greasing
15 grams unsalted butter
1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. flour
125 ml milk
2 egg whites
1 egg yolk
pinch of chili powder
1 tsp. chopped thyme
35 g strong goat cheese
sour cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and put a baking sheet on the top shelf. Chill your cooking bowl in the fridge. Pulverize the hazelnuts in a food processor until you have a powder. Brush your chilled bowl with the melted butter and coat the entire inside with the ground hazelnuts. Tip out the remaining hazelnuts and set aside.

Melt the remaining 15 grams of butter in a saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook while stirring for about a minute. Slowly add in the milk and stir with a wooden spoon until the sauce is thick and free of lumps. Set aside.  In a bowl, combine the pumpkin puree, egg yolk, chili powder, thyme, goat cheese, and ½ tsp salt. Add the milk sauce and stir until smooth

Whisk the egg whites until you have stiff peaks but they are not dry. Gently incorporate them into the pumpkin mixture, being careful to retain as much of the air as possible. Fill up your prepared bowl and place on the preheated baking sheet for 22-24 minutes until the soufflé is puffed, the top is golden brown and the center just slightly moves when jiggled. Eat immediately with sour cream on the side.

End of Summer Salad

So this is it, the “end of summer” post. The chance to bid farewell to hot days, long nights, and amazing food. It really hit me last weekend. I was browsing around the farmer’s market and everywhere I looked there were hints of fall. Squashes of all shapes and sizes were mounded at every stand from quintessential round, orange pumpkins to my favorite bell-shaped butternuts, to the oddest assortments of lumpy, crooked, and cankered looking things that I’m not even sure how to cook. I even spotted some emerald heads of broccoli that I sorely regret passing up. But the buzz of the market came when one long-awaited truck pulled up late, harboring the very last supply of the summer’s sweet corn. I swear I’ve never seen such a rush of market-goers in my life elbowing to the front of the line for their cherished two-dozen ears. It was sheer mania. And yes I did get some, three plump ears for a mere dollar. They made for an outstanding lunch. I boiled them up, cut he kernels of the cob and tossed them with a simple mix of butter, parsley, cherry tomatoes, feta, and salt and pepper. I used the knife to scrape ever bit of warm, milky sweetness from the cob into my bowl which melted and mixed with the cheese to make a salty and tangysauce. It was a great way to end the harvest.

But now its fall, which is actually my favorite season for both the food and the weather. I love the root vegetables. I absolutely love the apples and pears. I love hot coffee on crisp mornings and warm pies on cool evenings. I love the hues of rust red, ochre, and goldenrod. I love corn mazes and pumpkin patches and apple cider and mulled wine. Fall is my elixir. And though the transition into the season in compliance with tropical storms galore made this past week miserable cold and drizzly, I sit here with my just purchased fall issue of Food Network magazine patiently waiting for the typical Autumn days. School has begun, stress has settled in, Senioritis is nagging at me, but fall will get me through. It always has.

But I’ll leave you with one last hurrah for summer. A semi-recipe that makes use of the leftover bits and bobs of summer produce. It’s a meatless nicoise salad of sorts made from leftovers and essentially made to suit your tastes and whatever is in the house. The dressing is just an estimate in terms of amounts but use your own judgment to make it how you think you would like it. So here it is.

Last of Summer Salad for One

Salad Ingredients
A handful of leftover potatoes, chopped roughly
A handful of leftover green beans, chopped roughly
1 boiled egg, chopped (reserve half the yolk for the dressing)
Toasted almonds, chopped
Real Parmesan cheese shavings

Dressing Ingredients
2 parts olive oil
2 parts white wine vinegar
1 part plain yogurt or sour cream
½ part Dijon mustard
The reserve half of the egg yolk
Salt and pepper

Mix the salad ingredients expect the Parmesan together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients until the egg yolk broken up and well incorporated. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Top with the Parmesan and extra salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy outside, in the sun, with a cool glass of wine or sparkling fruit juice.