Carrot Surprise

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When the temperature hit 90 degrees here in DC last week, it was clear that time for spring planting was upon us.  Mercifully, this week has brought some slightly cooler weather, but it seems that the time of hard frost has passed, and I am itching for some home-grown arugula.  With lots of “help” from my two-year-old, I began pulling up the weeds from our two raised-bed gardens and in addition to foot-deep dandelion roots, we unearthed-surprise!-some carrots.  Ah yes, I do seem to remember planting those at some point last year.

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Some of the carrots were clearly past their prime, but a handful were still surprisingly orange and crunchy.   I knew that these semi-miraculous winter survivors deserved some special treatment, so I decided to make a carrot-cashew salad that I had enjoyed at book club a few weeks before.  I even went so far as to (gasp) purchase some ingredients specifically for the recipe.  Served over curried chickpeas and rice, this little salad was the perfect inauguration to a summer of homegrown produce.

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Shredded Carrot and Cashew Nut Salad

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A Slice of Arancini

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Originating in Sicily and often coined “rice balls” in Italian-American eateries, arancini are the ultimate crispy, melty snack. The tennis ball-sized spheres of risotto are filled with ground meat and cheese, coated in breadcrumbs, deep-fried and served atop a pool of marinara sauce. The name is derived from the shape and color which is reminiscent of an orange, “arancia” in Italian.

While arancini are incredibly enjoyable as snacks, we decided to revamp the traditional, crunchy cheesy orbs and transform them into a savory tart.

Our Arancini Tart is an elegant auburn display that when sliced, reveals a decadent ragu–an impressive entree at any dinner party.

Arancini Tart

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Breaking it Down: Deconstructed Sushi Salad

Sushi is one of my favorite foods in the world. Sometimes, though, it can be a real pain to procure. If I’m not in the mood to hit up a restaurant, what am I supposed to do? Roll my own sushi at home? A fun activity, but pretty time-intensive for the average American. Who has a sushi mat, anyway? So I came up with the next best thing—or maybe even better: sushi salad!

That might sound a little weird, but let me explain. All you do is break down all of your favorite parts of a sushi roll—rice, seaweed, fish, and fun condiments like soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger—and serve them over spicy Japanese greens, and there you have it: a beautiful and fun-to-eat plate! Sugoi!

While sushi used to be super exotic, these days it’s pretty easy to find most of the more unique ingredients in mainstream grocery stores. Pickled ginger and wasabi paste are readily available in the Asian section, and even seaweed has become pretty accessible; for example these seaweed snacks by Annie Chun’s even come in non-intimidating packaging and cool flavors (like wasabi—perfect for this salad).

Deconstructed Hot & Cold Sushi Salad

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Beach Paella

At a recent beach gathering, instead of bringing the common potato or pasta salad to accompany burgers and hot dogs, we decided to really go for the wow factor with a one-dish meal: Paella.

We used a recipe that we adapted from an old friend from Spain. The dish is a burst of colors, flavors, and textures that can be made ahead of time, enjoyed at room temperature, or thrown on the grill to add a bit of heat. If you have the paella pan, it is quite the display and the handles on the pan allow for an easy transport. Because you can eat it at room temperature (it does not have to be super hot), you can place it on a picnic blanket or table for people to dig in!

Seated in beach chairs and covered in blankets, with a fork in one hand and a glass of sangria in the other, we dig in.

Beach Paella

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Endless Ice Cream: Toasted Brown Rice

I have had the joy of working in a coffee shop for almost 11 out of the last 12 years. One of the many, many highlights of this job is the sheer number of teas and coffees I have been privileged enough to taste along the way. A steadfast favorite tea is The Republic of Tea’s Tea of Inquiry. It’s a classic genmaicha, green tea with toasted rice. The depth and warmth the toasted rice lends to the tea is what made me fall so quickly in love with it. After going through several tins I decided to try my hand at toasted rice and mixing it with different types of tea. Oolong, black, white, pu-erh — all have been made better with a small handful of toasty brown rice.

The last time a brewed a cup, I wondered how toasted brown rice would fare in ice cream form. My first instinct was to steep the rice with tea leaves for an ice cream take on genmaicha, but I have a handful of other tea-themed ice creams already up my sleeve. So I decided to pair it with the sweet molasses flavor of brown sugar. The results were beyond my expectations. Dark, toasty, creamy and sweet, this ice cream has a subtle depth that keeps your spoon going back for more.

Toasted Brown Rice Ice Cream

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Friday Fuck-Up: Ten-Year Dejá Vu

A few weeks ago, I did something that I haven’t done since high school.  No, I didn’t stay up all night watching the entire Mighty Ducks series or eat nothing but French fries for all three meals.  Either of those things would have been preferable to what actually occurred.  No, friends, instead I burned a pot of rice, and not just a little bit.  I am still sketchy on what the exact sequence of events was that led to this tragic incident, but upon reflection on my tendency towards distraction, I am surprised that it hasn’t happened more often.

I still have a clear memory of the last such disaster.  I was probably about 16, and I was tasked with making Spanish rice from a packet to accompany dinner.  I put the rice on, forgot about it, and went to watch TV in the basement.  The squealing of the smoke detector was my first hint that something had gone horribly wrong.  After shaking her head in pity at my irresponsibility, my mom declared the pot irredeemable and tossed it in the trash.

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Cooking Down the Fridge: Inauthentic Fried Rice

Recently, someone criticized an old post of mine, calling my gado gado recipe “as authentic as General Tsao chicken.”  Ouch.  Except that I made no claims about authenticity, and when I made it again this week, it was delicious.  Someday, perhaps I will comb the web for the bestest recipe there is before embarking on a three-hour dinner-making odyssey.  I’ll make tortillas from scratch before collecting freshly laid eggs from my personal chickens for breakfast.  Given my current life situation, I estimate this to be a possibility in the year 2032.  Until then, the Moosewood Cookbook will do just fine.

So, all this is to say that if authenticity is what you seek STOP READING THIS POST RIGHT NOW.  You will be only left bitter and disappointed.

Moving on.  Growing up, we did not eat casseroles.  My mom was raised in a family of six children with one income, so canned mushroom soup was a pantry staple.  Tuna noodle casserole, chicken a la king, chicken pot pie, the iterations of the creamy baked dishes were endless.  As a result, my mom was rendered unable to eat another casserole once she began her own household.  And as a result of that, I never got into the whole casserole scene.  Without a cream sauce and puff pastry crust, though, what was I to do with my leftovers?

Half a block of tofu, some dried out rice and whitish looking baby carrots can stare me down from the fridge, and I can confidently stare right back thanks to one secret weapon: fried rice.  At least once a week, usually on the day that a tenuous nap situation has left my nerves ragged, I fire up the cast iron skillet (that’s right, I don’t even use a wok —culinary sacrilege, I know) and get to work emptying out the fridge in search of dinner.

Here’s what usually transpires:

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