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.

Welsh Rarebit Risotto

Excuse me if I seem a little distracted lately. It’s just that there’s been quite a bit going on. The weather has been nice, therefore inspiring serious bouts of lounging and laziness. I’ve been busy thinking about what I’m going to make for a Superbowl party this weekend (I think its going to be deviled eggs…let me know if you have any good recipes). And I guess the main reason for the distraction is the fact that I‘m here at school but wish more than anything that I was at home playing with this little guy all day.

Meet Ozzie, the newest addition to the household. And no, he is not named after Ozzy Osborne but more so after Ozzy from Survivor. See the similarities? He is a dark brown miniature poodle from Dimarnique's Poodles in Delaware but part of me thinks he is part brown bear. He is composed almost entirely out of fluff and looks like this waddling little feather duster scooting around the floor. But he does have these huge feet that our even bigger that our 5-year old poodle’s that look just like baby bear paws and a sweet, fat tummy. He spends either half of his time going nuts and running around like a maniac or knocked out asleep. He likes to be around people at all times so he has fallen into slumber wherever we happen to be; under the coffee table while we watched TV, right next to the stove as we were cooking… Man I miss this little guy.

But I will not see him for at least two weeks longer. I’ll be hanging around school this weekend for a Superbowl party on Sunday and boy am I excited. Not necessarily because I actually like football but I cannot wait to gorge on some chicken wings. And as I said, I’ve been looking up a snack to make for the game and after spending some time browsing amongst “game-day” food lists of all things meaty, greasy, and tasty, I got an urge for something along those lines…imagine that. So I took classic football flavors and turned it into a filling and moderately healthy dinner. Now for the second big introduction in this post…meet Welsh rarebit risotto.

The best way I can describe this is that classic risotto met a hardcore football fan, one that paints his face with team colors, bears foam fingers, and may or may not have a bit of a beer belly, and birthed something entirely new...and brilliant. It’s a cacophony of all things masculine with a deep sweet bitterness of porter beer and all balanced out with tangy Dijon mustard and extra sharp cheddar cheese and a dash of Worcestershire. Made with a mixture of barley for even more malty flavor and risotto rice, it has heft and integrity from the chewy barley but the rice lends a silky creaminess. And if that is not game day enough for you, I topped it with a smoked bratwurst, cooked until tight and charred and bursting with sweet meaty flavor. And finally, to retain the elegancy or risotto, I scattered diced tomatoes and fresh green broccoli overtop to cut through the richness of the salty and tangy flavors. Like I said before, total dude food. I mean, beer, cheese, mustard, meat…it speaks for itself.

Though I won’t be making this to bring to my game-day potluck, I imagine it would be a winner if you served this at a small get-together this Sunday. Just set it up DIY style. Keep the risotto warm on the stove and set the brats, tomatoes, and broccoli to the side so everyone can heft up one whichever add-ons they please. If you thought risotto was a feminine, fancy dish, just wait until you see the manic football guy (the one who hoots and hollers and runs around the room at every touchdown, only leaving his recliner to get another beer) missing part of the game to chow down on this. I can almost guarantee it will happen.

Now how did I go from talking about our puppy to Superbowl food? See, I told you I was distracted.

Welsh Rarebit Risotto
serves 4-6
If you have leftover risotto, like I did, you can use it to make a quick lunch. Just heat it up and top it with some brussels en papillote and a sprinkling of parmesan (pictured below). It's very filling and warming and a great way to mix things up with the remaining risotto (which is much needed after I've been eating with twith the brats for four days straight). 

1 quart vegetable or chicken broth
1 Tbs. olive oil
½ onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 cup pearled barley
½ cup Arborio rice
12 oz dark beer (I used a porter and to be honest, only about 10 oz made it into the risotto. The rest was snack)
2 tsp. Worcestershire
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1.5 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
3 cups broccoli florets, steamed
1 tomato, diced
4 fully cooked smoked bratwursts (I used these)
salt and pepper

In a small saucepan, heat the stock until boiling. Turn the heat to low and allow to simmer lightly until you are ready to use it. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook about 3 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and continue to cook 1 more minute. Add the barley and the rice and a little salt and pepper and stir to coat. Cook for a minute while stirring to lightly toast the grains.

Add the beer and the Worcestershire and stir until the liquid had completely absorbed. Then, add in the hot stock, one cup at a time, stirring occasionally. As the risotto absorbs the liquid and starts to look dry, continue adding one for cup of stock until it is gone.

While the risotto is cooking, prepare the tomato, steam the broccoli, and start crisping up the sausage in a pan with a little olive oil over a medium heat.

Once you have added all of the stock and the risotto has absorbed most of it, add the Dijon and the cheese and stir until completely incorporated. Add a little more liquid if it looks too thick and if it seems to thin, continue to cook. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, dollop a mound of risotto on a plate and top with a sliced brat, some steamed broccoli, and a scattering of the tomatoes. 

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.

Hot 'n' Cold

Yes, today is the first day of fall. And if I the weather of both today and the last three weeks were to have a theme song, the royalties would have to go to our very own Katy Perry because yes, this weather is PMS-ing like a bitch, I would know! It rains…a lot…and drops down to 45 degrees…and then rains again…and then goes up to 85 degrees, turning the universe into a giant sauna. And this is all in the matter of a day! I’ve been waiting and waiting but those typical crisp cool days where the sky is blue and the air fresh and dry, yeah, they haven’t made a single appearance.

So you know what I did. I decided that maybe the only fix is to be a little mocking. Maybe, I thought, if I brought a little Hot 'n' Cold, a little contrast, I might just get this weather to whip itself back into shape. So of course I used food to implement my plan.

The Hot: Beef Meatball Curry. 

Oh man. This stuff is pretty insane. I loooove curry but don’t get to eat it a lot because my dad isn’t too crazy about spicy stuff and there are no Indian restaurants in my hometown. So now, living on my own, I took full advantage of the fact that I can make a big pot of curry and eat it for four days straight. I just ate the last bit of it a few hours ago and it was still as delicious as it was on day one.

Organic grass fed beef is mixed with hot red chili and ginger and shaped into little meatballs. And then they are slowly simmered in a vat of tomato and coconut sauce flavored with shallots, ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, and cayenne. The aromas in my kitchen wafted around me in en exotic dance. My tastebuds did the same with each spoonful of sauce and beef-soaked brown basmati rice and naan. The recipe came from Aarti Sequeira. You can find it here. I made it almost verbatim but excluded the cilantro (yuck), used only half of a milder red chili, only 3 cloves of garlic, used a can of diced tomatoes instead of fresh, and reduced the added water to ¼ cup. I really like her by the way and her approach at making Indian food accessible to everyone. I hope she comes out with a cookbook soon.

The Cold: Mint Ice Cream

I actually made this a while ago but one can only go through so much ice cream. The dessert plays up the coldness in two ways. First, obviously, it’s physically cold in the mouth with microscopic ice crystals melting into creaminess on the tongue. But second, a refreshing coolness comes from the fresh peppermint that I got at the farmer’s market. When making it, the mint hangs out with the milk for about 2 hours, permeating it with its tingling qualities. I got the recipe from David Lebovitz and just left out the chocolate because I wanted the pure mint flavor to shine. I loved it although if I try mint ice cream again I may go for a Philadelphia style because the custardiness of the eggs overpowered the mint somewhat.

So will my culinary weather mocking work…I guess we’ll see. If not, I got an amazing meal out of the situation. I guess that’s one way to brighten up the day.