Day 5, Orange-Scented Rice Pudding

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 5

It’s a real joy to reach into the fridge for prepared ingredients and pull together a new dish in no time flat. If you’ve been following along, you’ll know I made extra rice for the smoked turkey gumbo on Day 2 and was left with orange sugar syrup from yesterday’s candied orange peels, so I added just a few staples and came up with this quick, elegant rice pudding.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 5

The orange flavor wasn’t assertive at all, but the scent was divine. To send it over the top, add a little orange flower water.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 5

Garnish individual cups with a sprinkle of cinnamon, add a few candied orange peels, and you could serve this to guests who’d never know they were eating leftovers. Hah!

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 5

The tiny cups are perfect for portion control, but determined eaters don’t let them stand in the way. We absolutely demolished this and I hope you will, too.

recipe after the jump

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The beet and the coconut

It’s not unusual to plan a meal around one ingredient, I think. You find a beautiful cut of grass-fed beef or see a flat of ruby red strawberries and the wheels start spinning as you think about the best way to highlight their natural beauty. This sort of thinking influenced a couple of our meals this week.

Usually when I buy beets, both root and green are destined for a salad inspired by an episode of Lidia’s Family Table — roasted beets, boiled greens, and sliced green apple are tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, topped with hard goat cheese, and seasoned only with salt & pepper. It’s simple and delicious, especially when the produce is at its freshest and most vibrant.

But wanting something different last weekend and thinking (incorrectly) I was prepared to deal with a certain amount of frustration, I decided on a beet tart adapted from this one. The process involved me buying my first tart pan from a store that fascinates and repels me in equal measure — New York Cake & Baking Distribution, conveniently located across the street from my office. I’m attracted to its bare bones design and singularity of purpose; this isn’t a place you go for a comfortable shopping experience with easily navigable aisles or readily located merchandise. No, you go here for baking supplies (pretty much anything at all) at a good price. Period. I’m repelled only because I’m woefully ignorant about baking and expect to be given the bum’s rush when I walk in. Insecure much?

And, you know, there’s a reason for my insecurity — I’ve never once made a pie crust that hasn’t frustrated me to the point of tears. Part of the problem is a lack of counter space, but mostly it’s simple inexperience. Is the dough too dry? Is it too wet? I DON’T KNOW! I think the problem you see above was a too-dry crust, but couldn’t say. My quick fix was to jam bits of dough into the areas where it broke apart, figuring the filling would hide my mistakes from sight, if not taste.

But what a filling it was! While the beets were roasting, I threw in a whole head of garlic, too, which I later sautéed with a chopped onion and copious amounts of thyme. Just meditate on that for a minute.

And then I topped that layer with an egg, crème fraiche, and goat cheese cheese mixture before the roasted beets and even more cheese found their way to the tippy top of the tart.

It was a lot of work, I won’t lie, and I don’t really know if I’ll be preparing the crust again since I’m such a numskull with the pastry-making, but that filling definitely will be featured again in future meals, the layers alone or in some combination. For you see, it was DELICIOUS.

OK, it looks a little pizza-like, but warm from the oven with the sweet caramelized onions, garlic and beets sandwiching that creamy filling, mmmm…

We polished off about half of the tart on the spot, calling it dinner, and put the other half away for quick lunches later in the week.

The other (and probably the more surprising) ingredient I planned a meal around was … coconut juice. I picked it up on a whim at the grocery one day and couldn’t quite figure out what to do with it, so it languished in the pantry for a few weeks. Then I thought — hey, Thai! So I broke out my new rice cooker and set about making coconut rice with brown basmati and a mixture of coconut milk and strained coconut juice. I was on a roll!

To top the rice, I defrosted about a cup of sofrito from my stash, thinking the cilantro and culantro would be right at home with the coconut, and made a thick stew with the addition of lime-marinated shrimp, shrimp stock, hot pepper paste, and the rest of the coconut milk/juice. I topped it all with thinly sliced green onions and toasted sweetened coconut to balance the tartness from the lime and have to say I was pretty pleased with the outcome:

But I think it could’ve used more heat and possibly a little funky fish sauce to bring the whole thing together. I’ll try that variation next time and report back to you.

And it doesn’t have anything to do with this post, really, but because ’tis the season, I have to show you what I did with my garlic scapes last weekend instead of grilling them.

I made a chickpea dip inspired by Mark Bittman’s white bean dip with lemon zest. I could eat this everyday. I just whirled together some canned chickpeas (drained of squack), the zest of one lemon, the juice of the same, quite a few chopped garlic scapes and harissa. While the machine was running, I drizzled in some good-quality olive oil until the mixture turned creamy; I topped it with more lemon juice, olive oil, and another sprinkling of harissa before we dove in. Yum.

recipe after the jump

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My own cure

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I’ve been following Apartment Therapy’s Kitchn Cure for the past few weeks, thinking what a great idea it would be to do one of their assignments in our house someday. Of course something always seems to come up — travel, dog adoption, and chronic laziness being the three obstacles lately — but I did find inspiration in this week’s assignment to clean out the fridge and pantry, tossing processed foods and things that contain high fructose corn syrup. I’ve been on the anti-HFCS bandwagon from a taste perspective for years, so we don’t have much of that stuff around here, but I did toss an old bottle of ketchup which I’ve replaced with the organic stuff from Trader Joe’s. (Haven’t tried it yet, but I’ll let you know how it compares to the Heinz gold standard.)

While I was in there, I took note of anything that was nearing its expiration date and should be used ASAP, which is a roundabout way of saying that this meal was brought to you by cleaning out the fridge. Appetizing, yes? What lurked in the inky depths were leftover chopped tomatoes in juice, a fennel bulb waaay back in the crisper drawer, and half a jar of roasted peppers. Hmmm, tomatoes and fennel, tomatoes and fennel. When it comes to those two ingredients, there’s only one place to go for inspiration, so I headed over to Last Night’s Dinner and cobbled together a meal that did me proud.

It was really simple to put together, too, and could easily qualify as a weeknight meal. In a stainless steel pan, I heated some olive oil and sautéeed half of a thinly sliced red onion, a thinly sliced fennel bulb, and three small chopped cloves of garlic. Once they’d softened, I deglazed the pan with about 1/4 cup of Herbsaint to deepen that lovely fennel flavor even more; feel free to substitute another anise-flavored liquer or simply dry white wine if you don’t have it. Once most of the liquid had cooked off, I added about 3/4 of a large can of chopped tomatoes in juice, 1/2 jar of chopped roasted peppers, 1/4 cup golden raisins, salt, and pepper, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Into the food processor it went (being quite unattractive in its natural state) along with some lemon juice for a quick whirl; it emerged much better-looking than it had been only minutes before.

When we were at Trader Joe’s last weekend, I branched out from the organic ketchup and picked up a bit of fish and a brown rice medley, which completed this meal. I seasoned the mahi mahi filets well with salt & pepper, then dusted them lightly with flour and pan fried them in a little olive and canola oil until golden, about 2-3 minutes per side. The light crust added a nice dimension to the fish and even held up to the liberal dousing of lemon juice I always give white fish before serving.

Pork & peaches, and some healthy stuff, too

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Though I hesitate to call it a resolution, we are trying to eat a bit healthier now that the holidays are over. I’m not going to extremes, of course, but I am trying to incorporate more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables into my cooking, so our crisper drawer is full and I’m working my way through it faithfully.

But getting back into the old routine takes time, so I started the weekend completely unprepared for our dining needs. Flipping through the pages of Cooking Light for inspiration, I ran across a wild rice salad that looked completely scrumptious and sounded like it’d be perfect with a little pork. As luck would have it, our freezer is stocked with obscene amounts of pork (and beef. and chicken) thanks to Gil’s company’s annual holiday gift of Omaha Steaks. There was also a jar of peach sauce from our last Trader Joe’s run, so all I needed was a recipe to tie things together. Inspiration for the pork came from the Epicurious website, where I found a recipe for pork with brandied peaches that called to me. I did change the recipe a smidge — I used peach sauce instead of frozen peaches and preserves, cooked the butter in the recipe a little longer than suggested for that rich, delicious, brown butter note under the fruit and brandy, and added cumin … because I’m incapable of not adding cumin.

The salad satisfied my non-resolution requirement for healthy dining, while the pork chops were just rich enough to keep us from feeling deprived. But the sauce was the real highlight of the meal.

It was all I could do not to lick the plate.

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recipes after the jump

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