Coconut Sesame Rice Bowls and a Table for One

I recently moved into my own place, a decision that only those not entirely disgusted by watching their paycheck drop into a bottomless pit every month should undertake.  The part of me that can overlook the pains of that, however, thrives in this situation. Quiet solitude may not be for everyone, and as a frequent assembler of people, it’s certainly not what I want all the time, but for the time being this solitary physical space feels very right.

In the month leading up to my move, I dished out at sizeable portion of my savings for apartment staples. You know, things like a couch and a TV so that I can at least maintain my solo nights of Netflix and chill. A dining table and four chairs also took a high priority on my furniture-buying list, because what home would not be complete without a place to eat, right? So now a simple wooden round table with four unabashedly hipster, white plastic bucket-seat chairs divide the space between the kitchen and my TV corner.

I envisioned having bi-weekly dinner parties, filling those four spaces with friends, good food, and hours of storytelling at its finest.  Just as the kitchen table during my childhood was a fundamental place where the family reassembled each night to share the day’s experiences, I desired that my table too would become central to the little life I’m creating here. And yet, eight weeks after moving in, I can probably count on my two hands the number I times I’ve, including on my own, sat at the table to eat.

I’m afraid to say that that I play victim to the monotonous rhythm of the daily eat-work-eat-run-eat-sleep routine. I cook the same handful of go-to recipes, ones that make enough to serve 4-6 and that I heat in the microwaves at work all week. I find that I all too often park myself on a stool at the countertop or on the couch to idly take in forkful after forkful alongside a daily dose of unnecessary and unfulfilling Facebook perusing. Amidst the repetition, the kitchen table remains ignored.

Unfortunately I don’t see this changing too much. My goals of hosting frequent dinner parties were lofty to say the least, though let it be heard that I will gladly welcome anyone who wants to let me cook for them in exchange for bringing the wine. And the reason I find myself turning to the same old recipes month after month is because, well, I like them. I mean, yes, cheesy eggs on toast does get a little old after 4 days in a row but somehow I still crave it pretty frequently. But above all other go-to dishes, the one that stands alone as the meal that I could eat every day for the rest of my life and die happy, is little more than a bowl of rice.

That might be why I’ve kept this recipe to myself for so long. Something about the dish feels inherently solitary. It provides the “wrap yourself in a blanket on the couch and eat while watching Anthony Bourdain or The Bachelor” sort of comfort you want to experience alone, whether you’re feeling lonely or not at all.  It pairs well with contemplation, red wine, and the threadbare pair of leggings you’ve had for ten years. And since it was a dreary sort of day where many may not venture outside of the confines of their homes, it seemed right to finally share it.

It starts with a pot of rice, a 50/50 mix of brown and white rice cooked in Alice Waters’ foolproof method of boiling and then oven steaming. I mix it with kale and coconut that have been roasted with a sesame dressing until crisp and smoky-sweet. It’s seasoned with furikake and sesame seeds and beyond that, this simple rice base only needs a variety of topping options. The simplest add-ons are slices of avocado and sheets of nori which I use in place of utensils to grab onto a clump of rice. It’s not a very graceful way of eating which is probably another reason why I consume this alone. Other options are a fried egg with a runny yolk or chicken, salmon, or shrimp that’s been diced, doused in soy sauce and sesame oil, and sautéed. So tonight, hungry and alone, though not at all lonely, and with a lot of things on my mind for good contemplation, I set my table for one.

Coconut Sesame Rice Bowls
serves 4
adapted from Shutterbean's recipe 

½ cup brown medium grain rice
½ cup white medium grain rice
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbs. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 bunch of kale, stripped from its stalk and torn into rough pieces
1½ cups large flake coconut
2 Tbs. furikake rice seasoning
1 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds
salt and pepper, to taste

Topping options: fried egg, avocado, nori, sautéed chicken, shrimp, or fish

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring water to a boil in a large, ovenproof and nonstick pot. Add the brown rice and let the water continue at a low boil, uncovered, for 20 minutes. If you are using all white rice, skip this step. Add in the white rice and cook for 10 minutes. Drain almost all of the water, stir in a splash of olive oil and cover the pot with the lid. Transfer to the oven to cook for an additional 10-15 minutes until dry. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

While the rice cooks, add the kale and coconut to a bowl. Whisk together the olive oil, sesame oil and soy sauce. Add two thirds of this dressing to the kale and coconut and toss to thoroughly coat. Transfer to a sheet pan and roast in the 400 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, tossing periodically. When cooked, remove from the oven and sprinkle with a large pinch of salt.

Toss the cooked rice with the rest of the sesame dressing along with the furikake and the sesame seeds. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Add in the kale and coconut mixture. Place a portion of the rice in a bowl along with your desired toppings.

Rye Pasta with Salmon and Tomato Cream Sauce

In an effort to take advantage of the relatively mild weather before the inevitable cold spell comes (though the winter wonderland decorations already bedazzling just about every outdoor space have me believing that it’s already here), I’ve been booking my weekends with just about every outdoor activity possible. From long walks and wineries to old college town tailgating and, just last weekend, to the delightfully food-oriented Emporiyum.

Essentially a pop-up market, Emporiyum set up shop at Union Market in DC and about 100 chefs, creatives and artisanal food-makers brought their beautiful and delicious creations for all to eat, drink, and purchase. With free samples at almost every stall, my friends and I spent a good two hours meandering through every inch of the space, robotically reaching out to try everything presented to us. Scattered amongst some more well-known purveyors like Shake Shack and Route 11 chips, it was actually the tiny food businesses, the ones really experimenting with their subjects of choice, that impressed me the most. A crowd favorite was Buredo, the sushi burrito sensation that’s taking DC by storm (and yes, it is as good as it looks). I also ended up walking away with cod brew coffee aged in whiskey barrels from Vigilante Coffee, spicy maple syrup from Mixed Made, a smoked cinnamon ice cream from Little Baby’s Ice Cream, and some rye trumpet pasta from Spoglini Pasta Shop.

I’m not entirely sure why I bought the pasta. I honestly don’t even really eat that much pasta. But something about the unique and interesting shapes they offered, the rough-textured exteriors of the dry noodles, and the array of flavors from Everything Bagel Fusilli to Mint Cavatelli, had me suddenly needing to buy a bag. When it came time to make a dish out of it, I started with my favorite tomato butter sauce and built upon that with ingredients typically paired with rye, in this case hot smoked salmon and capers. I cut the tanginess of the sauce with a little bit of cream and added some freshness with spinach, fresh dill and a touch of lemon juice and zest. The dish is comforting and hearty without being overly heavily – it is Thanksgiving in 4 days after all – and once the sauce is done it all comes together fairly quickly. Of course the dish would still be great with any standard pasta, but if you can get your hands on some made with rye (Spoglini sells online!) you’ll see just what a difference it makes.

Rye Pasta with Salmon and Tomato Cream Sauce
Serves 4-6
Sauce recipe based on Marcella Hazan’s tomato butter sauce

1x28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
5 Tbs. butter
1 medium onion, peeled and halved
½ cup heavy cream
1 lb rye trumpet pasta
1 Tbs olive oil
1 large bunch of spinach
2 Tbs. capers
juice and zest of a lemon
8 oz hot smoked salmon, torn into large chunks
1 Tbs chopped fresh dill
salt and pepper

Start by making the sauce. In a large saucepan combine the tomatoes, butter and the two halves of the onion along with a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer to cook for about 45 minutes, until thick. Occasionally use a wooden spoon to stir and break up chunks of the tomato. When the sauce is done, transfer the onion pieces to a plate, cut into rough chunks, and return to the pot with the sauce. Stir in the cream and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Reserve a half-cup of the pasta water and drain. Pour the noodles back into the empty pot and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium in a large skillet. Add the spinach and sauté until wilted. Add in the capers and the lemon zest and pour in the tomato sauce to warm it back up.  Once hot, add the sauce to the pot with the cooked noodles. Add the salmon pieces and the dill to the pasta along with a squeeze of lemon juice and gently mix to combine. Pour in some of the reserved pasta water if it looks a little dry. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired.

Chocolate Olive Oil Zucchini Muffins

Living this suburban, just-outside-the-city-but-still-metro-accessible sort of life is pretty great but summer has a tendency to call me home. Home in the summer is a sigh of relief. It reminds me that there is a place in the world where I don’t have to put on appearances, where simple pleasures always exist. I can close my eyes and everything I hear, smell, and feel floods me with waves of nostalgia. A symphony of cicadas, a dozen or so mosquito bites on the ankles, the humid and hot air mingling with the smell of sunbaked grass and acrid tomato plants. If I could spend the rest of my life standing barefoot under the sun, a glass of iced tea in hand, watching that garden grow, it would certainly be a happy life.

But time is fleeting and just as I start to settle into the simpler ways of life at home, it’s time to head back to suburbia. But at least I’m usually laden with bags of fresh green beans, tomatoes, squash, and zucchini. Always so much zucchini.

And when there’s an excess of zucchini, quick breads are not far away.

I tried out a new recipe from Tara O’Brady’s book Seven Spoons. I haven’t yet had the chance to explore the book in too much depth but from the looks of it, the book is a treasure trove of delightful recipes that I can’t wait to try. But I can say that the chocolate olive oil zucchini muffin recipe is a definite win. These muffins have quite the flavor profile. The chocolate flavor is definitely there, but not in a way that makes you think you are simply eating a chocolate cupcake. It more so brings about this deep and earthy cocoa taste that pairs up nicely with the grassy component of the olive oil and the zucchini. Chocolate chunks and toasted walnuts bulk up the muffins providing a good crunch and chew to juxtapose the ultra moist aspect of the muffin itself.

I made 2-dozen muffins a few days in advance for an upcoming family reunion (they were a hit!) and I found that they froze really well too so you can stash several of them away for a day where a little taste of home is just what you need.

Chocolate Olive Oil Zucchini Muffins
Makes 24-28 small muffins
Recipe from Tara O’Brady’s Seven Spoons

1½ lbs zucchini
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups whole wheat four
½ cup cocoa powder
1½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. salt
1 cup toasted and chopped walnuts
8 oz. chocolate chunks
½ cup olive oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place muffin liners in two muffin tins. Using the large holes of a grater, grate the zucchini onto a clean kitchen towel. Once grated, place another towel overtop and press down to squeeze out some of the moisture. Let sit for 15 minutes and then transfer the zucchini to a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, walnuts, and chocolate chunks together. In a different bowl, whisk together the olive oil and the buttermilk. Whisk in the eggs, sugars, and vanilla and finally stir in the zucchini. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and gently stir until just combined. Do not overmix.

Divide the batter between the muffin tins. I filled each so there was about a half inch of space between the batter and the top of the tins. Place in the oven and bake for 17-19 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the muffin. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.