Spring is here at last and that means you’ll find two things at the farmer’s market that you won’t find there any other time of the year: ramps and asparagus.
Sure, you can find asparagus at the grocery store in January, but that asparagus is as far a cry from farmer’s market asparagus as a Monet is to a paint-by-number flower. And ramps, love them or hate them, are here for just a fleeting moment.
Recently, I received a rice cooker from a company called Zojirushi which happens to be the #1 rice cooker manufacturer in Japan. I know that because the P.R. e-mail said so and it also assured me that even though I didn’t think I needed a rice cooker, I did in fact need one: “Now that I’ve been using one consistently for 4 years,” said the e-mail, “I can’t imagine cooking rice without one.”
Needless to say, I was dubious.
When going to lunch with a James Beard award winner, it’s best to let them choose the venue.
Such was the case when I had lunch with Rachel Wharton last week. I first met Rachel years ago when she profiled me for The Daily News and we ate lunch at S’Agapo in Queens. I thought Rachel was one of the quirkiest and most spirited food writers I’d ever met and also one of the hardest working. Now her hard work has paid off: she won the 2010 James Beard award for her “Back of the House” columns that appear in Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan, beating out luminaries like Colman Andrews and Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl in the food-related column category.
Which is all to say that Rachel really was the one to choose where we’d eat lunch when the lunch date we’d planned arrived last week. I pitched Chinatown and sure enough Rachel came back with a James Beard Award-worthy response: “Excellent Pork Chop House.”
My proudest culinary achievements aren’t the ones where I followed a recipe really well or repeated a specific technique demonstrated by a chef, they’re the ones where on a freezing cold night, instead of ordering a pizza or Thai food (side-note: we still haven’t found good take-out in the West Village; anyone?) I whip up something delicious with what I have on hand.
Innovation in the kitchen is not my forte: I like to follow recipes. But every now and then I am lazy and home on a weekend and unmotivated to shop. It’s then that I open my cabinets and my refrigerator and see if I have enough on hand to whip something up.
And it just so happened that last weekend, I had a tub of basmati rice and leftover pineapple from my pineapple with molasses and lime zest. Here’s what I did: I cooked that rice according to the package directions. I chopped up some ginger, some onions and some celery and got my cast iron skillet really hot (next time, I’ll just use my non-stick pan). I added vegetable oil, tossed in the veggies, and cooked them a bit; then I added half the rice. I moved the rice around and then let it sit so it started getting crusty. I also added some Sriracha and soy sauce. While that was cooking, I cut up the leftover pineapple and when the fried rice started looking like fried rice I tasted it and liked it; then I added the pineapple and stirred it around, turning off the heat. Voila! Pineapple fried rice.
The road to dinner may be paved with good intentions (something healthy), bad intentions (something naughty), but most frequently it’s paved with whatever you have lying around. And in my case, a few days ago, that happened to be kimchi and rice. The rice I keep with the pasta and polenta as an always-on-hand base for dinner–at the very least I can always make rice and beans, pasta with nutmeg and butter, and polenta with cheese if all else fails. Sometimes, though, I have an ingredient that pairs perfectly with a base–like broccoli rabe last week, which paired perfectly with penne–and, this week, kimchi which goes very well with rice.
After my sticky bun disaster, I need to redeem myself and redeem myself I shall with the picture you see above: that’s cannellini beans and rice, an improvised dinner I whipped up with just a few cheap ingredients in less than 20 minutes.
And it was good. Really good! What was so good about it? Let me tell you.