Relaxed hospitality.

I really enjoy Israeli ideas of hospitality (even if I’ve yet to practice them much from the other side . . .). Lunch today was a perfect example.

First, there are drinks — generally juice and water — before the meal, while the food finishes cooking.

Next, everyone sits down for the main meal, which usually features meat but in a supporting role, and includes at least one good salad. For example, today there was a kind of picadillo with ground turkey and summer squash, boiled peeled potatoes, a salad with chopped tomatoes and lettuce in vinaigrette, and a salad with small-diced cucumber, mint, and cooked whole grains in vinaigrette. All were delicious.

After the meal, there’s dessert. Today was ice cream (raspberry swirl) and fruit (watermelon pieces), which is also typical.

After dessert comes coffee or tea, little cookies to nibble (today’s were homemade miniature bars with chocolate, walnuts, and marmalade over pastry), and conversation.

If one is willing to assume that all the desserts and drinks are storebought, then it’s not actually that much work: prepping the main course beforehand, making the salads and starch in the half hour before serving, and preparing hot drinks while everyone relaxes after dessert. Nor is it overly expensive, given the cheap cost of fresh produce here in Israel. The result is really lovely, though: a relaxed, extended meal with good, healthy food and congenial conversation. Honestly, it makes me wish I had more chances to be a hostess. Which is entirely up to me!


Thai Black Rice Pudding

The housemate and I made a big Thai dinner for friends today, and I contributed a dessert of Black Rice Pudding. The pudding was a resounding success, so here’s a record of what I did.

Black rice is, as far as I can tell, a name that encompasses a few different kinds of rice, including the “forbidden rice” that’s in vogue in some stores. I bought mine for cheap at the local Chinese supermarket, but I’ve also seen it in the bulk bins at places like Whole Foods. I based the pudding on a traditional Thai rice pudding that can be eaten as breakfast or dessert; a good recipe is here, though I tweaked it a bit myself.

In the end, the results were superb. The black rice had a fragrant scent and a subtly chewy texture, the coconut milk infused it with flavor and richness, and the sweet spices rounded out the flavors without overpowering them. It had all the unctuous comfort of traditional rice pudding, with a more interesting texture and a wonderfully enticing aroma. Plus, it’s vegan and high in fiber and nutrients.

The color is amazing; it comes out a deep, velvety purple that looks like no other natural food. Sadly, I didn’t have a chance to photograph it before everyone dug in.

Thai Black Rice Pudding
(serves 10-15 as a dessert, fewer if it’s a main breakfast dish)

2 cups dry black/purple rice
2-3 cans coconut milk (13.5 oz each)
3/4-1 cup brown sugar (palm sugar or demerara would be even better!)
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
toasted slivered almonds or sesame seeds (optional)

1) The night before (or several hours before), rinse the rice and soak it in lots of water.

2) Drain the rice. Put in a medium-size pot with 2 cups water, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce to low heat, and leave it alone for 20-30 minutes, until all the water is absorbed. The rice should be tender inside but still a bit chewy on the outside.

3) Mix in 2 cans coconut milk, 3/4 cup sugar, vanilla, cardamom, salt, and nutmeg.

4) Simmer for another 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice is quite soft and most of the coconut milk is absorbed. If the pudding gets too thick, add more coconut milk; I used an extra half-can.

5) Taste for sweetness and mix in more sugar as necessary. Serve hot or cold, optionally sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds or slivered almonds.

Buttery tart with red onion, bell pepper, and sharp cheddar

One of my contributions for Thanksgiving this year was my standard buttermilk pie, which is so yummy and easy that I make it whenever I have an excuse. I used the same pie crust recipe as last year: the NY Times’s all butter pie crust, which nicely expands to match a pound (four sticks) of butter with four cups of flour. I knew it’d give me extra pastry, even though I was using a double recipe of buttermilk pie to fill a rectangular cake tin, so I refrigerated the unbaked dough for later.

Today, I took the dough and pressed it out on a parchment paper-covered cookie sheet, shaping a rough circle with a rim around the edge. Meanwhile, I sliced a red onion into thin slivers, sauteed it in rendered turkey fat* until it was soft and starting to caramelize, and added thin slices of bell pepper to sautee until they were tender. I covered the crust with sliced sharp cheddar, piled the bell pepper and onion on top, and sprinkled it generously with salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme. Then into a 400 degree oven it went, until the cheese was melted, the peppers were beginning to crisp and brown, and the crust had turned a lovely golden-brown.

The result: savory, flavorful, gooey, crumbly perfection. Butter pastry dough really is a lovely thing. Next time, I must remember to photograph it before it gets devoured . . .

* – I am perhaps old-fashioned in this, but I love saving animal fat, on the infrequent occasions when I cook meat. It can be substituted for oil or butter for sauteeing vegetables, making a roux, browning lean meats, etc. Bacon/sausage fat adds smokey richness, and poultry fat (chicken, turkey, duck) adds a tantalizing savory flavor to any dish. It saves money, and you can get a surprising amount of it from a whole bird. I tend to toss all the scraps from a roast bird (bones, skin, fat, drippings, etc.) into a big pot with some water and chunks of onion and celery, simmer it for a few hours to get a good rich stock, then save the fat that rises to the top of the stock when it’s chilled.

Cranberry Sauce

Happy Thanksgiving, all. Have a recipe; I made this last year for Thanksgiving and amazed my friend CJ with the fact that non-canned cranberry sauce can be easy and addictively delicious. So upon his request, here’s my recipe. (Think of it as an approximation; for example, this time I substituted grapefruit for the oranges, and it was fabulous.)

3 lbs of cranberries (washed, with any bruised or bad cranberries removed)
3 cups of sugar
3 cups of orange juice or water
zest of 3 oranges
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
pinch of salt

1) Put all the ingredients in a largish pot.

2) Boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to keep the bottom from burning, until the berries have all burst and the liquid is thickened. This will probably take 20 minutes or so.

3) Taste for sweetness, and add more sugar if necessary. Once the sugar dissolves, cool and refrigerate.

Food shorts: roast chicken and walnut-olive pasta

I have half a dozen longer food posts written, and I really need to start uploading them. But in the meantime. . .

I’d been craving roast chicken for a while, and yesterday, stuck at home Saturday evening doing sermon edits and other work, I decided that I’d give in to temptation. The result was seriously the best roast chicken I’ve ever produced. The skin was crisp and salty and succulent, the drippings tasted so good that they made a fantastic side dish drizzled over plain rice, and the flesh was uniformly delicious, even the white meat; it managed to be moist and flavorful and rich-textured throughout. I began with a nice happy chicken (vegetarian, free-range, whatever; the corner Italian grocers sold it to me!), then mostly followed this roast chicken recipe, which various friends have recommended. I didn’t bother with trussing the drumsticks — partly because I couldn’t find my twine, and partly because I’ve never found it that necessary with a small chicken — and I stuffed the chicken with a lemon that had been pricked with a fork all over, so that the citrus aroma perfumed the meat and juices. Also, I find that one of the trickiest parts of roast chicken is figuring out what “done” is. I used a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the meat, took it out of the oven when it hit 160 (it rose to 165 while resting, which is the minimum that’s safe for poultry), and poked its thighs with a fork to make sure the juices ran clear. The result: roast chicken perfection.

Then, tonight, a friend came over to chat and cook dinner, and the grocer’s decided to close early, so we got to improvise, with highly successful results. I boiled water and tossed in some good tagliatelle pasta; really, any kind would work, especially those with a porous surface. While the pasta cooked, I heated two tablespoons of good olive oil over medium-high, then added a cup or so of coarsely chopped walnuts and sauteed them until they were brown and toasty. I tossed the oil and walnuts into the drained pasta, added about three tablespoons of black olive tapenade, and seasoned it with generous black pepper, nutmeg, and salt, adding some more olive oil to help it coat. The result was just wonderful, something I’ll have to add to my vegan cooking repertoire; the tapenade and toasted walnuts gave it a fantastic earthy richness. We ate it with my standard French salad (green leaf lettuce and a homemade vinaigrette) and some pungent Sicilian table cheese. Very satisfying.

And I know that time will be / When I consider my source instead of me.

I am eating dinner. It is vaguely modeled on Corn in a Cup: sauteed corn, edamame, red bell pepper, carrots, onion, and garlic, with a good hit of cayenne and coriander, doused in a sauce of cream, milk, lemon juice, and Parmesan. It is delicious.

Last Sunday, I preached for the first time. It was at the 8 AM service, so practically no one was there, but it went . . . okay. I’m learning so much lately about preaching, and part of what I’m trying to learn is the courage to step back and get my self out of the way.

And tomorrow is a Greek midterm. One day I’ll have the luxury of journaling at length again.

Crunch-Topped Apple Coffee Cake

Crunch-Topped Apple Coffee CakeA few months ago, I volunteered to bring baked goods for the local cycling coalition’s monthly Bike to Work breakfast, as is my wont. I decided that I was in the mood for coffee cake, but I couldn’t find a single recipe that encompassed everything I wanted: a crunchy, crumbly topping, with a moist, fruity, not too sugary interior, all in a tender cake that would cut into nice pieces for eating without utensils.

This is what I cobbled together; I’ve made it three times now, and it’s been a big success every time. In fact, I might just argue that this is my platonic coffee cake. So while it does involve a “mise en place” approach of preparing several different components, then combining them, I think the results are worth it. Enjoy!

Crunch-Topped Apple Coffee Cake
(makes 32 smallish pieces)

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