really good sushi rice without a rice cooker

eggplant with sweet miso, quick shiso cucumber pickles and sauteed shitake for Quinciple

I want rice that's fluffy and tender, never mushy or crunchy. There's this funny thing where I can execute finicky pastries and complex sauces, but when it comes to the basics I often mess up. Maybe it's just carelessness (or arrogance). But really good rice is a devine thing, and worth anyone's attention.

I'm not talking about sesoning sushi rice, but cooking short-grain rice perfectly. It turns out the trick is pressure. If you don't have a rice cooker, you can acheive this by creating a tight seal, and weighting the lid of the pan. I put a big cake pan on top of my cooking pot instead of a lid, then weight it with another heavy pot, some big cans of beans, or whatever I can find. Look around your kitchen (heavy chopping block? cast iron skillet?) and improvise.


You'll want about 1 1/2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice, and a pinch of salt. Rinse the rice several times in cold water, then drain it and add the water for cooking. Another way to measure is by resting your hand on top of the rice: the water should just cover your fingers.

Turn the heat to high. As soon as you hear the water rumble to a full boil, turn the burner to low and set a timer for 18 minutes. DO NOT LIFT THE LID. After 18 minutes, turn the burner to high and count to 60, then turn off the burner (if it's an eletric stove, remove the pan from the heat). DO NOT LIFT THE LID. Set a timer for 5 more minutes.

After the 5 minutes, lift the lid and fluff the rice. (If it's too wet, cover, turn to high for 30-60 seconds then cover for 5 more minutes.)

This might sound complicated, but really its easy. And it will likely be the best rice you've ever made.

Breakfast Pizza

Just before my brother finished law school and left New York to work with Bay Area start-ups, we spent an evening tinkering with how to make pizza on a hot steel slab. Our first attempt, a simple margherita, we burnt to a blackened crisp. Still, it was somehow delicious. By the third or fourth miniature pie, we were getting the hang of how thick to roll the dough, how hot to keep the oven, how long to cook each pizza–and getting creative with toppings from the odds and ends in my fridge. A favorite was heaped with olive-oil drizzled arugula that wilted in the oven, then finished with slices of avocados and a sprinkle of lemon zest. Perhaps that’s not authentically a pizza, but it was really good.

That’s the thing: pizza is as versatile a vehicle for just about anything as is a sandwich or a burrito. Once you have dough (if you don’t have the desire or time to make it, you can walk into about any pizza joint and ask to buy some, and many grocery stores carry it), and a hot oven, pizza is a very quick thing to make, and a great way to use up bits of this and that–last nights steamed vegetables, a forgotten sprig of herbs, the end of bit of cheese. Often, my best cooking happens when I try to use things from what seems like an empty pantry.

My favorite pizza right now, and one I always have the ingredients for, is a breakfast pizza. I believe it was inspired by an article I tore from the New York Times Magazine years ago, about Big Sur Bakery. It made perfect sense to me the moment I saw the recipe, and stuck in my imagination until it became my own. Maybe my brother and I can take a trip to try the original when I visit him in California. And I hope he continues our pizza experiment, just as I will.

 

Breakfast Pizza

If you want to get serious about pizza, head over to The Pizza Lab at Serious Eats.

  • fist-sized piece of dough*
  • spoonful cornmeal
  • generous drizzle extra virging olive oil
  • handful shredded sharp cheddar
  • 2 scallions
  • sprinkling of cooked sausage or bacon (optional)
  • 2-3 eggs
  • small handful pasley or cilantro
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat a steel slab in a 500 degree oven, ideally for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, trim and oil the scallions, and put them on the hot steel or under a broiler until they wilt. Cut them into two-inch sections.

On a floured surface, roll the dough as thin as you can without it tearing. Sprinkle cornmeal on a pizza peel or cutting board. Lay the dough on it. Drizzle olive oil generously over the dough. Scatter the cheese and scallions on it, and meat if you're using it. Make little nests in the toppings to hold the eggs.

Slide the pizza off the board onto the steel with one swift shake. Crack each egg into a teacup, then pour it into its nest on the pizza. Cook for a few minutes, then check to see if the bottom of the dough is browned. Watch out, it cooks quickly! You want it quite brown, but if the crust cooks before the eggs, slip the whole thing onto a pan under the broiler just until the eggs set.

Sprinkle a handful of fresh herbs and a pinch of chili flakes on the pizza. Season it with freshly ground pepper, and a sprinkle of salt on each egg. Eat right away.

 

*I'm talking about my fist, which is pretty small.

 

 

 

Pickled Jalapeños

 

You know those little orange cans with the glamorous Mexican lady offering pickled peppers? They are one of the best things you can buy in a bodega. I love the can’s cheery kitsch, and the pickles are as good with a hasty breakfast of eggs and leftover rice as with tacos or burritos. (They get an honorable mention in the latest edition of Sweets & Bitters Quarterly, Corner Store Entertaining.)

There’s nothing wrong with opening one of those cans, but you can make pickled jalapeños from scratch really easily. The advantages of cooking your own are that you can add other vegetables–cauliflower, radishes, young turnips–and the sense of pride that you get from making something yourself.

I’m going to give you a recipe, but you don’t need one. Just slice some carrots and pierce some jalapeños (so the brine gets inside, and so they don't squirt you in the eye when you bite them). Put them in pot and cover them with equal parts of water and vinegar. Season the brine with salt and sugar, and a handful of pickling spice if you have it. Garlic is good too. Some people drizzle in a bit of olive oil. Bring it all to a boil and simmer it until the peppers change color. That's it. Now put everything in glass jars, refrigerate them, and wait at least a day (three is better) before eating the pickles.

Pickled Jalapeños

makes 2 quarts

  • 8 medium carrots
  • 15 jalapeños
  • 12 cloves (1 bulb) garlic, peeled
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 cups apple cider or white vinegar
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup kosher salt*
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 2 Tablespoons pickling spice
  • (or 1 Tablespoon peppercorns and a cinnamon stick)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil (optional)

Wash the carrots and jalapeños. Slice the carrots into ¼ thick rounds. Pierce each jalapeño.

Put everything in a large non-reactive pot. If the vegetables aren’t covered, add a little more liquid. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 3-5 minutes, until the jalapenos change color (from bright green to olive green). Scoop the vegetables into clean glass jars, then cover them with brine. Seal and refrigerate.

*Iodized table salt contains anti-caking agents that will cloud  brine. Also, due to the crystal size it’s nearly twice as much salt per volume as kosher salt. You can use table salt if you don’t mind cloudy brine, but use half as much.

 

 

Herb Butter

You could spoon melted herb butter over pan-cooked steak. Spread it, softened to room temperature, on thick slices of sourdough. Toss green beans with a spoonful of it and a squeeze of lemon. Whisk a dollop into a sauce or creamy soup. I’m eating a sandwich spread thick with the stuff as I write this.

Herb butter is a simple way to season all sorts of things, and to use up those bunches of herbs that always seem to wilt before you can finish them. (And it makes a lot more sense to me than putting olive oil in ice cube trays.)

It’s nearly as easy to make as it is to use. Chop up any combination of herbs, to make two to four tablespoons. Stir the herbs into a stick of room temperature butter. You could add salt too, if the butter is unsalted. Press the herb butter into a dish and refrigerate it, or if you won’t get to it in a week or two you can freeze it rolled in saran wrap.

Now you’re ready to dollop and spread, season and savor.

Tatsoi and Eggs with Crispy Spring Shallots

My friend Kate can tell you who grows the best watermellon radishes, when and where to get lovage, and which stalls to check out at the farmers markets in New York City any day of the week. If I want to plan a special dinner two months from now, Kate can tell me what will be in season. If I want to make a batch of Tequila Por Me Amante (I'll give you that recipe soon), she'll show up at my door with a flat of the first local strawberries. Even with all that esoteric knowledge, she's a down-to-earth cook.

I'd only dreamed of Kate doing my grocery shopping, but now she does. If you live in New York, her new company, Quinciple, will deliver a weekly box of reasonably priced farm-fresh food. I've been having a lot of fun with what Kate brings me, and now I'm contributing some recipes for the neat little set of cards that comes in each box. A version of Tatsio and Eggs with Crispy Shallots was in this weeks Quinciple box. You can find the ingredients any time of year in Chinatown if not at the farmers market.

Tatsoi and Eggs with Crispy Spring Shallots

  • 2 limes
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce, best you can find
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 5-6 spring shallots (or scallions), cleaned and dried
  • 3 Tablespoons good canola or peanut oil
  • pinch kosher salt
  • ¾ pound (1 bunch) tatsoi*, stems trimmed and separated, cleaned and dried
  • 1 cup loose-packed cilantro leaves, cleaned and dried
  • 2 eggs
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • serve with rice or rice vermicelli

*baby bok choy works just as well

1. This dish works best cooked in a wok. Any wok will do, as long as it’s not non-stick. The keys to a good stir-fry are a very hot pan and very dry vegetables (so they don’t steam and get mushy). Once all the ingredients are prepped, the cooking goes quickly.

2. Set your wok over low heat while you prepare your ingredients. Make the sauce. Zest one of the limes into a small bowl. Juice both the limes into the bowl (you should have about 2 Tablespoons juice). Stir in the fish sauce and sugar. Set aside.

3. Trim off and discard the roots of the shallots. Cut the dark green tops off, leaving about 2 inches of white and pale green stalk. Chop the dark green tops into thin rings; set aside. Slice the pale base of the stalks lengthwise on a slight diagonal, to make one-inch strips. Set aside.

4. Make sure all your ingredients are ready to cook. Turn the wok to medium-high. Set out a serving plate for the finished dish. Set out a bowl with a sieve or tea strainer over it.

5. When the wok is visibly hot and you can feel the heat radiating if you hold you hand over it, add the oil. Let the oil heat for just 30 seconds before adding the pale part of the shallots. Stir the shallots in the sizzling oil, keeping it just below the smoking point, until they are golden brown (they will continue to cook to dark brown as you remove them from the pan). Pour shallots and oil into the sieve. Reserve the oil in the bowl. Sprinkle the shallots with kosher salt.

6. Return 1 Tablespoon of the oil to the hot wok. Keeping it over a high flame, add the tatsoi. Toss it around the wok for a minute or two, until it’s uniformly bright green and barely becoming tender. Transfer it to the serving plate.

7. Add the remaining oil to the pan, and let it heat for 30 seconds. Crack the two eggs into the pan. Break the yolks. Fry undisturbed until the edges are crispy and golden. Flip, and break into bite-sized pieces. Quickly add back the tatsoi along with the sauce and sliced scallion-tops; toss everything together. Transfer to the serving plate, add the cilantro leaves and crispy shallots, and season with freshly ground black pepper. Serve warm, with rice or rice vermicelli.

I say frittata

Fritatta, Spanish tortilla, flat omelet–whatever you want to call a skillet of beaten eggs baked with stuff–this is my favorite dish to serve last minute guests. Brother and his friends stopping by on their way through town? Potluck to attend? Fridge looking nearly empty? If there are eggs, you can make a fritatta.

Here’s how I do it. Look at what’s on hand and gather some ingredients: potatoes, greens or parsley, cheese, eggs, olive oil. Heat the oven to 375°F. Pour about 1/8 inch of olive oil into a cast iron skillet. Coat the sides with some of the oil. Thinly slice the potatoes, lay them in the skillet, and put it in the oven.

Now you have some time to fix your hair or wash the dishes while the potatoes soften. Check them after 15 minutes. Take the pan out of the oven when the potatoes are fork-tender but firm.

Chop up the parsley or greens (unless you’re using salad mix or baby greens), then scatter it over the potatoes. Shred or crumble a cup or so of cheese and sprinkle that on. Beat some eggs (I use about 8 for a ten inch pan) with a little salt and pepper, and a splash of milk or cream if you want. Pour the eggs over everything. I like to sprinkle a little more cheese on top.

Bake this until the eggs are nearly set, but a little wiggly in the middle. If it seems like it’s taking forever, turn the oven up to broil. Cool for a few minutes before slicing. You can serve frittata warm or at room temperature. It’s fine to make it hours ahead. I like to set out salt & pepper, hot sauce, and fancy ketchup and let everyone season their slice of fritatta as they like.

Pantry really really bare? Just onions and dried herbs will do, especially if you have a sprinkle of parmesan for the top. Just sauté sliced onion in the pan until translucent before adding anything else. Mix the herbs into the beaten eggs. Proceed as above.

You could also add leftover cooked vegetables instead of greens, or stew some canned tomatoes in the pan for a few minutes with sautéed onions. It’s hard to go wrong. And the leftovers make great sandwiches.

Hudson St. Sandwich

photo by Kristen BlushOn Saturday mornings I used to meet my best friend, Steph, for a two-or-three-hour bike ride, then get lunch at Husdon St. Deli. That enormous sandwich on a whole loaf of Italian bread, with veggies and cheese spilling out the ends, was the real reason we went on those rides. After we devoured it, we’d sit there shivering as our bodies put all their energy towards digesting. We named this Hudson St. Sandwich Syndrome.

I moved away and the original Hudson St. Deli closed years ago. This recipe approximates the glorious sandwiches of my memory. I hope Steph will eat one at the beach with me this summer, and we can sit there shivering in the sun.

 

Hudson St. Sandwich

  • 12-14” loaf Italian bread
  • more mayonaise than you’d think, trust me!
  • brown deli mustard, to taste
  • 1/3lb. dill havarti
  • whole avocado
  • handful sliced pickle
  • handful sprouts
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablspoon vinegar (wine or cider)
  • pinch salt & pepper
  • 1/3 block tofu raw or steamed, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • handful carrot, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • handful iceburg lettuce, sliced ¼ inch thick and chopped into inch-long pieced
  • 9 green pimento olives, halved

 

1. Slice the bread open lengthwise, leaving the crust attached on the spine. Spread a generous amount of mayonnaise on both sides, and a squiggle of mustard. Line the bread with havarti. Scoop chunks of Avocado out with a spoon, and place them alongside the cheese on one side. On the other side, place a layer of pickles. Place the sprouts next. Toss tofu and the rest of the veggies with the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Fill the middle with the salad.

2. Squeeze the sandwich closed, and wrap it in deli paper. Cut into sections, and return it to the bread bag.

 

Homebound Cooking

photo courtesy of nasaAll the recipes I've been playing with for the forthcoming "Corner Store Entertaining" volume of Sweets & Bitters Quarterly seem especially pertinent as Hurricane Sandy shuts down New York City. If there are stores open, they are mom and pop delis where the proprietors live upstairs. I'm not the only one thinking about how to make good meals out of canned goods and pantry staples right now–what else is there to do besides cook, drink, and obsessively scan social media for storm pictures?

Here are two recipes you shouldn't have to leave the house (or at least the block) to make. Improvise a hurricane cocktail, see what's in the pantry, and get cooking before the power goes out.

Grandma Joan's Pimento Cheese

  • 2 cups grated sharp cheddar
  • ½ cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
  • two 4-oz jars pimentos, finely chopped
  • 25 shakes Tabasco

Stir all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl. It should be thick but spreadable. Add more mayonnaise if it’s too thick, and more Tabasco if you like it spicy. Transfer to a pretty serving bowl.

Serve with Ritz crackers, baguette slices, or beer bread.

Beer Bread

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 bottle (12 ounces) beer
  • 1/4 cup melted butter or olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375, and grease a bread pan (fold one out of doubled up aluminum foil if you don't own one).

Whisk together the dry ingredients. Dump in the beer and brikly mix together to moisten the flour but leave it lumpy. Transfer the batter to the pan so it's somewhat evenly distributed, and pour the butter or olive oil over the top.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until a skewer or fork comes out mostly clean. Remove it from the pan to cool for about 15 minuted before slicing.

Notes: Avoid using a bitter beer, something cheap and light is ideal. Substitute up to 1 cup of the flour with wheat flour. Add spices or shredded cheese for fun.