comment 0

Margaritas

fullsizeoutput_317.jpeg

Winter is my favorite time for margaritas.  Maybe it’s because citrus is at its finest this time of year, or maybe it’s because fall is for bourbon and summer is for rosé and beer.  Whatever the reason, nothing seems to taste better on a bitterly cold winter night than a margarita made with not much more than freshly squeezed lime juice and chilled tequila.

The first margarita memory I have is an evening spent with two of my closest friends in college.  Maybe it was finals week, or maybe just a week packed full of classes and work and internships, but for some reason we all felt it just to celebrate a hard week with something a little more special than $5 pitchers of PBR.  We journeyed to the liquor store in the town over from our college, and each came away with small bottles of three different types of tequila.  We bought some limes, and being the great baker I was at the time, I also felt inspired to create a margarita cupcake to enjoy alongside our pint-sized libations.

So I stirred a thin batter full of lime juice and sugar and flour, and the three of us took shots as I baked.  Our kitchen became a joyous mess of salt and decimated lime shells and cupcake wrappers.  I suppose we never actually drank a margarita – that type of concentrated mixology was beyond our patience – but the flavors were there.  A lick of salt, a swing of the bottle, and a bite into a lime and then a cupcake.  No one knows how to have a good time like college kids, and good times were always had in our kitchen.  Except for maybe that time my one roommate told my other vegan roommate that he wanted to smear cream cheese on her.  That was a bit tense, but I think we’ve all moved past that in our old age and continued friendship.

I think it was probably after enjoying the dangerously good margaritas at Mazunte that Jason and I decide it was time to make our own.  I made the all-important purchase of a citrus press, and embarked down the rabbit hole of internet searches marked “best margarita recipe ever”.  We squeezed and stirred and shook, and eventually found our way to the ratios of the drink we enjoy today.

fullsizeoutput_318.jpeg

The margarita is one of the few mixed drinks I like, mostly because it relies on a few quality ingredients and is low on sugar.  It’s important to remember that these bad boys are really composed of not much more than liquor, unlike the syrupy sweet watered down junk you find at most chain Mexican restaurants.  We’ve seen a friend lose the battle to our margaritas and it was not pretty.  Consider yourself warned.

There is a bit of financial investment involved with these margaritas, and that is due to the need to purchase Cointreau.  It’s not cheap, but it really makes all the difference.  You can usually find smaller bottles, and since you only need one shot per drink this will last you a decent amount of time.  If you can’t bring yourself to throw down for the good stuff, then just leave it out all together or follow my recipe for margaritas on the run.  Any other cheap orange liqueur will just ruin it.

My last note for this recipe is that I really recommend pairing chocolate and tequila together.  One night I made a batch of Jeni’s milkiest chocolate ice cream and we enjoyed bowls paired with margaritas and it was amazing.  A square of salted dark chocolate with a margarita is as close to heaven as you can get on a weeknight, and I urge you to give it a try. 

Full force margaritas for two

2 ounces of lime juice (I find one lime usually gives me about an ounce, sometimes more, sometimes less, so plan to buy at least 3 limes to ensure you get enough)

3 ounces of good quality 100% blue agave silver tequila

2 ounces of Cointreau

1 tablespoon light agave syrup

Salt

Get your set up ready. Good preparation means you won’t let your margarita sit in ice and get watered down, so prepping your station is important. Grab two small plates, and into one pour a very small amount of tequila. Into the other sprinkle a decent amount of salt. Grab the glasses you plan to drink your margaritas out of.  Because I am a terrible hipster type person, I love using small jam jars. I’m not so much a fan of a stemmed margarita glass because I am clumsy and the bowl shape doesn’t allow for nice ice distribution.

Dip the glasses first into the tequila plate and then into the salt plate. I don’t know why the tequila makes for much better salt stick-age than water or lime juice, but it does.  Swivel around for good salt application.  I am a salt fiend and this is probably my favorite part of the drink, so I am pretty generous here.

Grab a cocktail shaker and into it put your lime juice, tequila, Cointreau, and agave syrup.  It’s useful to taste the lime juice before adding.  If it is bitter, add a little more agave syrup.  I also really like to add a pinch of salt to help offset any bitterness. Once all your ingredients are in the shaker, fill with a generous half cup of ice.  This is also a good time to add the ice to your glasses.

Shake until the outside of the shaker becomes frosty and cold.  I like to joke that you should shake once for each year of your life, because as you get older you need a more watered down drink. Whether this is true or not, I find about 30 shakes to be right for me.

Immediately pour into your glasses and enjoy.  It’s really easy to just sip the shit out of these because they are so tasty, but I recommend taking your time.

Margaritas on the run for one 

Sometimes I don’t have the time or energy to get out the cocktail shaker, so I make a half ass margarita, usually while cooking something else at the same time.  They are also a nice alternative when we are out of Cointreau and I don’t have $40 lying around waiting to be spent on booze.

1 ounces of lime juice

1.5 ounces of good quality 100% blue agave silver tequila

1/2 tablespoon light agave syrup

Salt

If I am feeling really lazy, or as though if I create one extra dish to clean I will scream, I take the remains of the lime I just juiced and run it over the rim of my glass.  I then sprinkle salt on the glass while holding it over the sink.  Not a perfect system, but it gets the job done with limited clean up.

Fill your salted glass with ice.  Pour your ingredients over the ice, and stir.  I have these really adorable animal drink stirrers, but the handle end of a spoon will also work.  Stir generously until ingredients are mixed or you are bored.  I usually let this sit for just a little bit to allow for more of the ice to melt, or I just keep it close to my stove while I cook and it melts just fine.

When going to store for nothing more than a couple limes sounds unbearable, I have on desperate occasion used lime juice from a squeeze bottle.  This admission alone should probably discount all of the above advice, but I call these “fake margaritas” and I enjoy them all the same.

comment 1

Baked Pasta & Cooking In Between Seasons

fullsizeoutput_d9.jpeg

Saturday morning, we woke up to snow.  Considering the weak winter we’ve been experiencing, it qualified as a blizzard in our minds.  Heavy snowflakes swirled in the wind, with the consistency that promised a few hours of the good stuff.  It stuck, mostly, but by late afternoon it was gone.  Sunday by noon the temperatures were flirting with low 60s, and we were driving with the windows down to the grocery store.  Jason was in just a t-shirt and I was enjoying how good it feels to release my feet from the prison of boots and tights to breath in nothing but a pair of Toms.

When the weather is in such a constant state of change, figuring out what to cook for Sunday dinner can be a challenge.  When I am writing my meal plan on a cold Saturday morning, pot roast sounds great.  By sunny Sunday afternoon, the idea of slow cooking sounds downright oppressive.  But still, it’s not warm enough nor is there good enough produce for an excellent salad or dinner of cured meats and fruit.  What I have found that works nicely, however, is baked pasta.

fullsizeoutput_da.jpeg

Baked pasta gives you the best of both seasons, winter and almost not winter (a period of time long enough in Ohio to qualify as a season), by providing a hearty meal that involves a nice spell of time in the oven, while also allowing you to infuse the dish with some brightness that speaks to a warmer future.  Last weekend I made Ina Garten’s crispy shells and cauliflower, which has a cheerful topping of bread crumbs, parmesan, and lemon zest.  It’s not heavy on cream or cheese sauce, which makes it a little more refreshing than maybe a big dish of macaroni and cheese better suited for winter.  The ricotta and lemon take the lead, and the shells get nice and crusty in the oven.  It’s best enjoyed sitting on the floor with a glass of cheap white wine.

Today I decided to make J. Kenji López-Alt’s baked ziti.  I had a big can of San Marzano tomatoes in my cupboard that had been staring at me for a few weeks, as well as some basil that was starting to darken.  Jungle Jim’s sells this wonderful made in house ricotta, of which I had taken two  (okay three) free samples of on the previous week’s shopping trip, and therefore felt inclined to actually purchase some to make up for my greediness.  An unattended sample tray at the grocer is not something I am capable of resisting, especially after a beer and no lunch.

I am normally a clean as I go kind of cook, almost to a fault.  Okay, definitely to a fault.  I have eaten dinner cold as a result of my compulsive need to tidy after cooking, and my favorite taco is actually a taco bowl of all the leftover ingredients that I’ve collected on my plate and then enjoy after I’ve done the dishes.  But today I could not fret over tidying as I had limited time to crank out a red sauce and assemble the baked ziti before Jason left for his hockey game.  One of the best parts of baked ziti is that it gives Jason and I an excuse to do our best Anthony Soprano impressions, yelling “Hey Carm!  We got any bake zeet in the freezer?”  Never gets old.

fullsizeoutput_db.jpeg

I was only mildly cranky as I let the dishes pile up and also made the rash decision to simultaneously deep clean our HydroFlasks while the ziti baked, flicking baking powder paste all over my hoodie and the kitchen.  Mostly I was contented by the warm weather and the wonderful smell of red sauce, as well as open access to my own big container of ricotta.  It’s a relatively easy recipe, albeit a messy and time consuming one, but in a very fun way.  You get to mix up the red sauce with the ricotta and cream, watching it change from a deep red to an almost off putting shade of pink.  The pasta is not cooked, but soaked, before being tossed with the sauce and cheese.  I kept snacking on the soaked, half softened pasta, and remembering how often as a kid I ate raw spaghetti.  My standards have apparently not changed much when I’m hungry.

Somehow I managed to snap a few haphazard shots of the final dish, scooped up a plateful for myself and for Jason, and then enjoyed it deeply with little thought of the disaster in the kitchen. It’s fantastically saucy, and one of the best examples of how good ugly food can be.  The ricotta and mozzarella make it taste fresh, not overcooked or heavy.  My basil was pretty sad looking, but I managed to find a few leaves that still had some life in them and they brightened things up as well.  Best of all I have half of it waiting in a disposable pan in the freezer, and if I can manage more self-control than I have at the sample station at the grocery store then I will save it for our first night back after our vacation, when exhaustion and hunger are both high and my bank account is low.

You can find the recipe for J. Kenji López-Alt’s baked ziti here, and I also highly recommend his massively beautiful cookbook The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science.

Happy eating.

comments 2

My Weekend with Ina and the Boys

img_0157

When Jason told me the band was coming over Friday night to listen to their recently recorded album, my first thought was that I could cook dinner for them.  Something about “the band” coming to the house pushed me to feel the need to cook up a hearty meal for some hungry men.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve been re-reading Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking, and I feel the impulse to have fabulously quaint dinner parties in the face of limited resources, like she so eloquently writes about in her book.

Jason’s first reaction was “sure, something simple”.  Either he didn’t want to appear too fancy to the band, or didn’t want to stress me (more likely).  Who knows why that man says the things he says, and I know better than to push for an explanation.  Our relationship is built as much on the silences we allow each other as the long conversations and playful banter we enjoy.  As an introvert who spends all day talking to people, I really appreciate that about us.

So I laid in bed that night thinking about what I could make.  Pot roast sounded pretty good until I remembered they were coming on Friday, not Saturday, and as we do not live in Spain 10pm would be too late to dine.  I briefly considered a roast chicken and mashed potatoes, but my end of the month budget dismissed that idea.  It was then I remembered I had leftover spicy vodka cream sauce, which while boring the first time around seemed to have improved with age.  With the addition of a little more cheese and cream I thought it could make for a fine dinner when paired with a simple green salad.  Plus with the purchase of just a few more items I could also make my pesto cream sauce, and we could then have a dinner for not much money or sweat.

So a pasta party it was.  I bought some basil and mixed greens, whipped up the amazingly easy and delicious pesto sauce, whisked together a simple vinaigrette with the amazing balsamic vinegar I got Jason for Christmas, and dinner was set.  Actually, dinner was almost set and then I remembered I was cooking for band boys for whom 7:30 was probably more likely to be 8:15. I turned off the boiling water and put the sauces on to simmer and joined Jason on the front porch.

It’s February in Ohio, which usually means relentless cold and endless gray. This year it means relentlessly unpredictable temperatures and endless gray.  It was warm enough to step outside in just a sweater, and we sat on the front porch listening to music and talking about our week. Gayle our dachshund sat loyally on Jason’s lap, enjoying her up close watch on the sidewalk and bike path. Eventually I sensed it was time, and returned to put the pasta on to boil and to make the salad.

The bandmates showed up shortly after the pasta was drained and the table was set.  It was fun to try two different pastas at once – one spicy and rich with tomato, the other peppery and inappropriately creamy. The best compliment of the night was that the person who thought they preferred a red sauce liked the pesto cream sauce more, and the one who thought they preferred a pesto sauce liked the red sauce best.  I’m winning hearts and minds, people.

Actually neither of the recipes we cooked that night were from the cookbook I’m currently working my way through, Cooking for Jeffery by Ina Garten, but the rest of my weekend was spent with her.  I made her crusty baked shells and cauliflower for a different set of friends on Saturday night.  Not like a creamy mac & cheese, these shells are roasted until crispy and topped with a bright sprinkling of bread crumbs, lemon zest, and parmesan.  It was delicious, but did not translate well to frozen and then reheated leftovers tonight. Although that might be because I defrosted overnight, cooked for a sleepy 30 minutes at 6AM this morning before work, and then microwaved the poor thing upon returning home.

Sunday I made her creamy parmesan polenta. Polenta to me has always been associated with vegetarians for some reason, and as a reformed veg head I stayed away from it. It was only recently I realized that it was more Italian in tradition than anything else, and after the most recent Spilled Milk episode I promise I would give it some time in my kitchen. Her recipe was the perfect thing to have on a solo Sunday night where I was feeling a bit under the weather, mentally and physically.  Loaded with parmesan and a slight kick of garlic, it made for a meal worthy of sitting on my kitchen counter to enjoy.

So while I have my head wrapped up in the worlds of Laurie Colwin and Ina Garten, two women who know how to host a dinner party, you probably want to try and make your way to our place because I will inevitably end up cooking for you.  I cannot, however, promise that afterwards when you go up to the attic to listen to music that I will not fall asleep on the downstairs couch with Home Cooking opened flat across my chest.  It’s a small price to pay for a free meal.

Easy Pesto Cream Sauce

1 bunch basil (about an overflowing cup’s worth)

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan (plus more to finish)

2 tablespoons pine nuts (or any nut you have on hand)

1 small clove of garlic, minced

3/4 cup olive oil (give or take)

S&P to taste

1/2 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons butter

Prep

Make the pesto.  In a food processor or blender, combine the basil, parmesan, nuts, and garlic.  Blitz a few times to get combined, and then start to drizzle the oil into the blender or processor.  Pause a few times to scrape down the sides.  Blend and add enough oil until it is smooth and coats a spatula without being grainy like wet sand.  Taste, and season as needed with salt and pepper.  If your pesto “breaks”, meaning the oil doesn’t want to emulsify or blend with the other ingredients, add a teaspoon of mayo and blend.  Works every time and you can’t taste it.

Cook

Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Add in the cream and whisk until combined.  Whisk in the pesto and leave on heat just until warmed through.  Once it starts to thicken slightly, remove from the heat.

Finish

Add to your favorite pasta, using some pasta water to help it really stick to the noodles.  Finish with more parmesan.  Goes very nicely with bacon, cherry tomatoes, and gnocchi.

comment 0

Falling in Love with Wordford Reserve

dsc05739

I knock on the door. Once, twice, and still nothing. Concerned, I strain to peek through the door’s windows. Finally there he is, making his way to the door with messy hair and a half asleep look.

It’s a little after 10am, our agreed upon departure time. Clearly he is not ready. But he is charming in his apologetic sleepiness and I am enamored with him. I offer to change our outing to another day, but he objects. This is the bourbon trail. There’s no turning back now.

We hop in his BMW M3. Before we started dating I had been told by friends that he had a nice car. The first time I saw it I saw a car, nothing else. I supposed the interior was nice and it was a pretty shiny black, but otherwise I didn’t get it. That is, until we took it on the bourbon trail.

The route to the bourbon trail from Cincinnati starts out on highways and then eases into country roads. The lanes exhale over rolling green hills, curving through fields of horses and farm land. His car sang through the hills, effortlessly hitting speeds I had no idea we were approaching. I now understood why this was a ‘nice’ car.

Woodford Reserve was our destination. The road leading up to Woodford turns at the last moment to crest a green sloping hillside. At the top of the hill is the visitor center, and further down the hill are the stone buildings that hold their copper stills and historic barrel houses. It’s a tight set up, but manages to feel cozy and spacious at the same time.

Steve M. (M as in mash, he told us) was our tour guide. He had that most perfect of Kentucky accents. Not harsh and overdone like you see on TV, but slow and slightly musical. Each word was said with gentle purpose, my most favorite being the slow rolling of the word “tuuuuor”, as in “I am honored to be your tour guide today”.

Our first visit of Woodford Reserve, back in 2011, was quiet and relaxed. The layout of the visitor center was simple but welcoming, and despite it being a beautiful spring day there was hardly anyone there. We would return in future years and see the crowds multiple and the interior get remodeled with a modern fireplace, leather couches, and a attractive tasting room.

dsc05736

Steve M. took us on an excellent tour. We hovered over fermenting mash, twisted our way through the dark and delicious smelling barrel houses, and met Elijah, the distillery’s beloved cat. He was a ragged old thing, but he sweetly rolled from his place in the sun so I could pet his tough orange fur. He added so perfectly to the homelike feeling of the place. You felt as if you could pull up some lawn chairs and enjoy an afternoon in the April sun with same comfort of your own backyard.

At the end of the tour, we went to the counter to claim our included samples. Tall plastic shot glasses were filled with two bourbons, and we also were given bourbon balls. We found a spot at a wooden table, and did as instructed with the samples. Smelling deeply, sipping it first straight and then with a drop of water, and “chewing” the bourbon to extract all of its flavors.

The photo that appears when Jason calls (which is never – we both hate talking on the phone) is from this day. He has on a gray short sleeved button up, hair so short compared to the shoulder length hair he sports today that I barely recognize him, and his perfectly distinct nose is stuck deeply into the narrow shot glass as he inhales the signature Woodford scent.

I loved the way that bourbon tasted. I loved the stories we were told about this small brand of bourbon, with its historical founding and raggedy orange cat mascot. It was complex yet straightforward, loyal to its roots but still adventurous. All qualities that I would discover in Jason in the months and years that followed.

Woodford is still one of my favorite bourbons, and I can’t argue that it may have something to do with that perfect afternoon spent driving through the hills of Kentucky, meeting Steve M. the tour guide and Elijah the cat, and sharing something remarkable with someone I was about to fall in love with.

Plus, their bourbon is damn good.

dsc05729

Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select

Almost gold flecked amber in color, this bourbon tastes like soft serve butterscotch vanilla swirl ice cream served in a charred oak bowl (Is that a thing? Can we make it a thing?). It’s warm and sweet, but with an earthy finish that keeps it grounded.

After the sweetness fades, a spiciness lingers, begging you to have another sip to start the cycle of flavors all over again. I’ve never been one to put more than a twist of orange in my old fashioned, but something about this bourbon makes me want to muddle a cherry in it to bring out even more of the fruity notes.

This can easily be enjoyed straight, but a small cube of ice or a few drops of water from your months (maybe years?) old Brita filtration system will also treat this bourbon right. Also note to self: if I can find $36 in my budget to spend on a bottle of bourbon, then I cannot keep saying that I can’t afford a new $12 Brita filter pack.

This bourbon is always on rotation as a favorite in our house. I would pour some out in memory of Elijah the cat, who passed away in 2014, but I know he wouldn’t want me to do that. Instead I’ll find a sunbeam and enjoy a generous pour of the bourbon his homeland was built on. I suggest you do the same.

 

 

 

comments 2

In Defense of Adult Snack Time

DSC03888

Since I was young, appetizers have always been my favorite part of a meal. At family parties there would always be a spread of good Midwestern cheesy dips and classic veggie trays laid elaborately out on a table, complete with miniature paper plates and corresponding napkins. I loved the smorgasbord of salty variety that allowed you to both sample and indulge at the same time. Often I had no interest in whatever the main meal was, and would have been content to graze at the appetizer table all night for my meal.

This is still true of me at family parties, and now when I throw my own gatherings I love nothing more than a cheese and charcuterie plate.  I like to enjoy the indulgence of appetizers in miniature form, even when there is no party to be had, while I am cooking. It seems silly and indulgent to be eating while preparing something I am  going to be consuming in the next hour, but I can’t help myself. Especially if it has been a particularly long day (or long commute), and I haven’t eaten since the early lunch shift, then I am in definite need of sustenance before dinner will be ready. As Jason will happily tell you, a hungry Sarah is not someone you want to be around.

There are really two most ideal items to snack on while cooking: cheese and olives. These can be easily placed on a napkin or small plate, or in the case of olive eaten directly from their container. Whenever I’m cooking I take up every inch of available space with cutting boards and ingredients, so a compact snack is important. One that also only requires one hand to consume is also ideal, as my other hand may at the same time be salting the chicken or deglazing a pan.

DSC03774

Typically the cheese will be whatever is leftover in the fridge from a previous meal or being used in the current one, unless I was feeling very bold at the cheese counter that day. Parmigiano Reggiano is a frequent ingredient in our meals, and a few deliciously crumbled chunks with a class of a light Chianti or Italian red wine are the perfect cooking companion. If you don’t want to shell out for the really high end stuff, Murray’s Select Parmigiano Reggiano (featured in most Kroger’s with a good cheese shop) has a very delicious version, as well as the even cheaper (but really one of my favorites) Satori Parmesan.

Another favorite snacking cheese is a Spanish Manchego, a slightly gamey, but still with a caramelized and nutty sweetness, sheep’s milk cheese. Not that I would ever have this on hand, but it goes really well with quince paste. A substitute of some quickly chopped strawberries or even strawberry jam can do the trick if you have some on hand, or just reach for a glass of Tempranillo or grassy Sauvignon Blanc.

DSC04006DSC03948

Lately what I have been snacking on most often are olives. They are one of my favorite foods. They pack a lovely punch of salt, but are so much more than that if you’re eating anything decent (not that I wouldn’t turn down a jar of pimento olives in a pinch). Castelvetrano, bright green and so buttery, are my absolute favorite snacking olive. Kalamata, dark purplish black and almost winey, come in second. I am by no means an olive variety expert, so I recommend checking out this extensive Serious Eats post about olives.

Most often I get my olives from the olive bar in Kroger or Whole Foods. I’m sure they are not the same quality as what I might find special ordered by mail or what not, but in general they meet my standards. It’s usually best to buy them with pits, as often the pitted varieties are quite smooshed and sad looking. (Pitted means without pits – a bit confusing at times.) If you are eating them that day or soon after, then put in as little of the liquid they are packed in as possible to save yourself some cash at the counter. Otherwise, make sure they are floating in enough of the liquid to keep them plump and prevent them from drying out.

I generally avoid canned olives, and will only buy jarred olives from specialty stores like Jungle Jim’s or smaller international markets. I’ve never had much luck with jarred olives from chain stores or big brand names, but buying from specialty markets or an international brand is usually a safe bet. There have been occasionally disappointments, but it’s a learning process. Don’t be afraid to try a new variety or unfamiliar brand – in the end it won’t be more than a 5 or 6 dollar loss if you hate them.  I bet most olives could be revived in a good tapenade recipe.

DSC03836

Snacking while cooking helps me embrace the whole process of making a meal. It turns it from a meaningless weekday chore to the time of day where I can finally slow down, and shift from the day’s toils into evening mode. Last night as I finished prepping our meal and put it in the oven to finish, I sat on the floor of my kitchen, wine and olives within reach, and threw my dog’s toy for the 20 minutes it took to cook. The smells of rosemary and roasting tomatoes filled the air, and my dog’s stupidly happy look every time she brought her toy back further relaxed me. This, for me, is just as much a part of the cooking process as prepping vegetables and marinading meat.   This is what home cooking is all about.

 

comment 0

Quick Curried Lamb Rice & Lessons on Success

DSC05370

Cooking rice has for a long time a point of shame for me. It is one skill that I never managed to cultivate, no matter how hard I tried or how many tips I followed. I always ended up with a different malady of badly cooked rice – dry, burnt, soupy, soft outside crunchy inside – which only made those I consulted more confused as usually the rice cooker novice is making the same mistake repeatedly. Not me! I’m quite diverse in my failures in rice cookery.

I made it a goal of mine to learn how to cook rice. I consulted food blogs, Chris Kimball (not personally, but that would be cool), and the ultimate source of knowledge: a Facebook post. The Facebook post mostly ended up making me feel worse, as the usual refrain was, duh, just use X ratio of water to Y ratio of rice and leave it alone. The repeated “I’ve never had problems once I did this –insert rice skill here—“ only made me feel more inadequate because I had tried all the methods, and still failed.

Something I don’t like to admit about myself, mostly because it’s a bit cocky to say, is that usually I am good at the things I want to be good at.  I’m no wunderkind, but through skill or perhaps just good luck, things usually happen when I want them to happen. There are indeed plenty of things I am bad at. For example estimating the number of people in a room or remembering how old I am. But I don’t really care about these things and have never tried to get better at them.

So when rice and I were constantly bickering, instead of just being okay with being bad at making it I instead turned against its universally accepted usefulness. “Who needs rice!?” I thought, trying to ignore the cries of China and protests of India. I took my last pot of ruined rice – in this case simultaneously too soft and too crunchy – and turned it into a pretty delicious brown sugar rice pudding. I sat enjoying a small victory and vowed to never make rice again. Similar to my experiments with driving a manual car or becoming a runner, I’m not familiar enough with the shame of sucking at something to persevere. That’s the honest truth.

The more astute among you are probably wondering why I didn’t just buy a rice cooker. I thought rice cookers to be like avocado slicers or asparagus peelers: one task kitchen tools doing a job you should be able to handle yourself. I eschewed the rice cooker as a big piece of equipment in my simple kitchen that would clutter my countertop and cabinets and bring shame to my skills as a home cook.

That is, until I finally broke down asked for one for my birthday.

DSC05386

Jason purchased me a rice cooker, and it has quickly become a close friend in the kitchen. Yes, it is big and takes up a lot of storage space. But the results are so consistently perfect, almost effortless in their production, that it is worth finding the space to store. It is truly a set it and forget it situation. I’ve also found it is not a one hit wonder. I’ve used mine to steam veggies and dumplings to great success.

Now that the emotional turmoil has been removed, I can fully embrace the perfect utility of rice. How it turns any shred of fridge scraps into a meal, and fills you up in the most satisfying of ways. I love cooking up a big pot on Sunday, and using it to boost up a simple chickpea curry for weekday lunches or to use for dinner in a cast iron skillet of sticky crunchy fried rice.

Sometimes our successes don’t need to look the way we originally imagined them. I’d still love to be the person with a perfect simmering pot of rice on the stove, but I’ve got to move on from this fantasy and embrace my rice cooker and the joy it has brought me. Likewise if anyone knows the electric rice cooker cheat equivalent of driving a manual car or running, let me know.

Okay that’s probably just an automatic car in both circumstances, but you get what I’m saying.

DSC05366

Quick Curried Lamb Rice

This is one of many possible recipes for leftover rice.  It’s not sophisticated or complicated, but makes for an easy weeknight dinner.  This takes your leftover rice from its original inception, to dinner, and then to breakfast the next morning.

Ground lamb, 16 – 18 ounces

Curry powder, 1 tablespoon

2 bell peppers (red, yellow or orange), roughly chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

Fresh ginger, 1 – 2 teaspoons minced

1 – 2 cups leftover rice

2 scallions, chopped

Brown the lamb in a medium pan.  Salt and pepper lightly.  Half way through cooking, add half of the curry powder.  Remove lamb from pan and set aside on a paper towel to drain.  Pour out all but a coating of the lamb fat.

Add peppers and sauté until tender but still crisp, about 5 – 7 minutes.  Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, 1 -2 minutes.

Meanwhile, lightly steam the rice.  Add 1 tablespoon of water to a microwavable dish containing rice.  Microwave with lid loosely on for 2 minutes.

Add rice and lamb to the pan.  Add the rest of the curry powder and mix until well combined.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Top with scallions.

Enjoy for a quick dinner and then add a fried egg and sriracha the next morning for breakfast leftovers.

comment 0

Nigella’s ChocoPots

DSC05345

My friend Derrick and I once spent a summer worshipping Nigella Lawson. In between early morning shifts at the Starbucks (for him) and late night shifts at the local hookah bar (for me), we would lay in my sun filled bedroom, feet on the pillows of my bed, watching YouTube video after YouTube video of the great Nigella.

This was my first summer in Kent, Ohio. With two of my best friends just down the hall, an old house that creaked in the most endearing of ways, and a cat named Gus, there was no where else I would have rather been. We took a summer course here or there, worked easy jobs, and enjoyed the splendor that is a college town in the summer time.

At an age where most of our friends were jumping on the vegan bandwagon, Nigella’s love affair with bacon and good cream was refreshing. Derrick and I were entertained to no end by her unabashed sex appeal that still remained down to earth, and at times almost goofy. One episode in which she gets home late from a party, pulls off her gorgeously large earrings, and then cooks up a bacon and tomato hash embodies everything there was to love about her that summer. She was bold, she was fun, and she loved to eat without guilt.

Best of all, her food was something we actually felt like we could cook. I had spent my first year living on my own, without a college dining halls, doing something that maybe came close to cooking. A Real Simple recipe here or there, maybe, but grilled cheese and a chickpea salad was as advanced as I had gone. Nigella inspired me to think differently about food. She taught me to love the act of preparing it as much as the act of eating it.

DSC05346 DSC05355

That summer we cooked a lot of recipes. Playing and pausing the videos to write down ingredients and follow her instructions. She taught me that egg can make a pasta sauce. Her curry in a hurry would become a standby dish for me, and was the first meal I cooked for a dinner party. But there was no recipe we made more that summer than her ChocoPots.

We would make ours in coffee mugs, and favored them as a late night snack. It would not have been unusual for Derrick to greet me at the door with one of these individually sized chocolate concoctions. You can use mugs or ramekins, but they are best enjoyed alone curled up on the couch or eaten standing in the kitchen talking to close friends.

I like to swirl in some melted peanut butter and top with sea salt to give it a nice savory kick.  The recipe starts at about 50 seconds, but I recommend watching the whole thing, maybe while lazing on your bed on a sunny afternoon.