Monday, March 18, 2013

Comfort in a Bowl: Cheesy Rice

The weather is nasty today. Well, as I write this, it's actually wound down quite a bit: the sun is peeking in and out of the clouds, the rain has stopped, the temperature is a whopping 40ºF. On the balance, though, still a nasty day. I left the house this morning (first day back from - ahem - Spring break) to find my car glazed in a (not too thick) layer of ice, and the sky's been blowing bone-chilling drizzle at me about 15mph ever since. When I got home, I knew what I had to do. Mission: Comfort Food.

Cheesy Rice

A nice bowl of cheesy rice really is comfort in a bowl. On top of that, it's simple and incredibly customizable. I can't even bring myself to write this as a recipe. I cooked up my rice, making sure it was a little on the damp side when done, then mixed in a few tablespoons of evaporated milk, and a half cup of finely grated pecorino romano. Since I knew this was going to be my dinner, I also added about 3/4 cup of frozen broccoli, just warmed through and chopped up. This works wonderfully with any grain, any cheese, any vegetable.

The evaporated milk is a deliberate choice, though. Many (most? all?) canned evaporated milks contains an ingredient called dipotassium phosphate, which is used to prevent coagulation in processing/storage/etc. It also makes for really awesome, creamy, smooth cheese sauces. If you've ever made a cheese sauce melting grated cheese into a bechamel, you've probably experienced that those sauces never have quite the mouthfeel of commercial sauces. Evaporated milk is a perfect substitute, and keeps this sauce smooth and creamy, without any melted cheese stickiness. Obviously if you don't have any, you can make this with regular milk instead - it'll be almost as good.

Keep warm, all. Indulge in a little comfort food.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Faux-Thai Stir Fry

I promised a while back to write about my faux-Thai sauce I use for making stir fries. And look, only two months later, I'm really doing it! Stir fry is a go-to meal in this house, especially for me. It's quick and easy, incredibly flavorful, and a great way to incorporate a mountain... a ton... a heap... a slew! of vegetables into dinner. I can't count how many times I've literally eaten a pound of broccoli for dinner, thanks to the joy of stir fry.

Peoria is in the unfortunate situation of being a fairly well populated small city that lacks good Thai food. We have one Thai restaurant, but the service is so atrocious I refuse to go there, which means I'm pretty much in a constant state of Thai-withdrawal. This sauce is my attempt at assuaging the symptoms.

Sambal, Kecap Manis, Nam Pla

Now, don't get me wrong: this isn't Thai food. Thai sauces are complex and finicky. But this sauce does highlight many of the flavors that make me adore Thai food. The recipe is simple. For each serving of stir fry, mix one tablespoon of sambal (left - garlic chili paste), 1.5 tablespoons of kecap manis (center - sweet soy sauce), and one teaspoon of nam pla (right - fish sauce). This is a great starter recipe, and each ingredient fairly independently controls the heat, sweetness, and saltiness, so you can adjust them as necessary. After you've stir fried your veggies, remove the pan from the heat, and pour the sauce over everything, and mix it up until well incorporated. You can cook it down to a glaze or leave it saucy to be soaked up by rice or quinoa, whatever you might serve it on.

These are all fairly accessible ingredients. I bought this sambal at the regular grocery store, and I've bought fish sauce there as well (though not this brand). Kecap manis is the only one you might need to venture to an international grocery store for, but you definitely should. And don't be afraid of the fish sauce! Yes, it is very stinky, but it's the flavor that really pushes it into Thai territory - without it, you just have a sweet stir fry sauce. Which is fine. But it ain't faux-Thai.

As for the final product, let's just say I've learned my lesson about trying to photograph stir fry.