Rice Pudding, Revisited

My first-ever post on this blog, almost exactly three years ago, was for rice pudding - a recipe I had taken directly from a cookbook and proceeded to ruin. I posted it anyway, imploring my imaginary readers to "not mess it up like I did." Oh, me.  

I suppose I posted it (despite its flaws) because I don't really care for exact science (measuring, temperatures, what have you) when it comes to food, nor do I care when things aren't perfect. I just don't think anyone has time for that, frankly. "Good enough" is actually pretty good.

Part of my philosophy when I coach cooking students is to help them get out of their heads and have FUN, without feeling enslaved by recipes. I do recognize, though, that there's a baseline skill and comfort level that has to be achieved before this can happen. 

One of the biggest building blocks you can understand - something that will help you for the rest of your life - is learning about why balanced foods taste good and how to correct your dish if it's tilted too far one way or another. As chefs, we look for the magic spot where lightness meets dark, where sweetness meets salt, where crunch meets silk, where acid meets fat. It's the slaw brightening the pulled pork, the herbs grazing your meaty stew, the cool yogurt on your spicy daal. It's salt and lemons. 

Anyway - in honor of 3 years of hosting dinner parties under an official moniker, here's another rice pudding recipe. It's a more interesting and healthful version of sticky rice and mango, if you're a fan of that.

Coconut and Persimmon BREAkfast rice with Cashews and Lime

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In a small pot, measure 1 cup of white rice (basmati or jasmine are both fine). Add 1 can of coconut milk, one cup of mylk (pick your favorite - I used almond), and a big pinch of salt. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower your heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.  Note: feel free to use brown rice, but you'll need an additional cup of liquid and more time to cook. 

Your rice will be wet, but that's good. In fact, you might want to add even more mylk to loosen it up if it gets dry. It's not a pudding, per se, but more like pappy soft breakfast rice. 

While your rice is cooking, dice your fuyu persimmon. Make sure to use the crunchy, squat fuyus - hachiyas are soft and very tannic (I'm not a fan). Squeeze lime over the persimmon generously, tossing to cover. 

Chop ~1/3 cup of cashews roughly. In a 325* oven or in a pan over low heat, toast the cashews until light brown. 

In a bowl, serve a generous scoop of coconut rice and top with limey persimmons and cashews. Drizzle raw honey generously over everything, and sprinkle with finely chopped lemon balm, bee balm, or mint. 

Not Gloppy Clam Chowder

I'm the granddaughter of a fisherman from Newfoundland - North America's easternmost crag; a weather-worn island that, once upon a time, teemed with cod. Cod and...well, not much else. It's so freakin' cold in Newfoundland that salt cod (dried and salted fish), potatoes, and cabbage were often the only thing on hand. No wonder the people there make such damn good soup - it's all you can do with such meager offerings. I'm lucky enough to have a soup master of a mother who taught me all secrets to making something out of nothin'. It's a thing in my family. Almost genetic, let's say.

Here in the bay, fish chowder is also a thing - a gloppy thing of the clam variety, beige and uniform and doled out to the foreign masses at Fisherman's Wharf.

Needless to say, as a product of Canada and a San Francisco Bay Area resident, I have some thoughts and feelings about clam chowder. Unfortunately, many tourists to our fair city eat this glop-in-a-bread bowl without knowing how incredibly SUBLIME a really good bowl of chowder can be.

That's why, when Airbnb asked me to host an authentic San Francisco experience for a bunch of travelers from around the world, I decided to make them some. And thus, the Canadian girl fed the weary travelers this nourishing potion, each precious element floating in a gold- and green-flecked broth, not at all homogeneous or beige, and it did not glop, and it did not gloop, and it was good. Amen.

Not Gloppy Newfie Clam Chowder

Ok, first things first: you're going to need some good fish stock. You can buy this from most fish mongers or nice grocery stores - just make sure it's made in house and fresh or frozen, not from a tetrapak. You can also make it:

Making Fish Stock:

Most fish counters will have bones available if you ask. The best ones are non-oily white fish - I usually use halibut, but cod and bass work too. Take your fish bones (you can use fish heads, too - but not gills) and rinse them well before cooking.

In a big pot, melt a half stick of butter and add 2 finely chopped leeks (make sure to rinse them well; they're gritty) and two finely chopped carrots. You can also use a few chopped celery stocks, or replace the leeks with onion. Stock is hella flexible like that :)

Cook the vegetables (this particular combo is called mirepoix in French and is the base of many a tasty thing) for 5-10 minutes, or until they start taking on a little color and are soft. Add your fish bones and sweat for another 5 minutes. Add a good lonnnnnng splash of white wine - probably at least a cup, and let everything come to a boil. Cover the bones with water and toss in some herbs - a few bay leaves, some parsley stems and leaves, some peppercorns, some thyme if you have it.

Bring to a simmer - not a boil. Boiling fish stock will make it cloudy and possibly a bit bitter. Let it simma' for about 45 minutes. Yep - that's it! Unlike chicken or beef broth, it doesn't have to cook for hours upon hours. When it's done, add salt to taste.

PRO TIP: If you put your pot a little off the burner, any weird stuff that's floated to the top will float to the side of the pot, making it easier to scoop it out and clarify everything.

Ok! Now that you're a fish stock expert...

The Soup

  • 2-3 pounds of clams - preferably littleneck - about 25 clams
  • 1/2 LB pork lardons (or chopped bacon)
  • dry white wine
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 head of celery, chopped into 1/4in pieces
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme, stems removed
  • two large potatoes, peeled & cubed
  • fish stock
  • 2 bottles of clam juice
  • Optional: 1 can baby clams
  • 1 cup cream
  • ~ 1 cup frozen or fresh corn
  • salt & pepper

First, wash and scrub your clams. Place in a big pot with 1/2 inch of water at the bottom and bring to a boil. Remove from heat after 3-4 minutes - clams should be open. Discard any dead ones that didn't open. Line a sieve with cheesecloth or a paper towel and drain clams over a bowl, saving juice and clams but leaving any gritty bits trapped in the paper towel (no one likes sandy food!). Set aside.

Heat a big pot over medium and throw in bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally until all of the fat has rendered out and the bits are dark golden brown. Remove half of the bacon and set aside. Add onion to pot and stir - splash with a bit of white wine to get brown bits off the bottom and keep things from burning. Continue cooking onion until soft. Add more wine - at least a cup - but save some for yourself to drink. Let it boil for a minute or two, and add celery, potatoes, thyme, and about 4-5 cups stock. Bring to a simmer and let cook until potatoes get soft (about 8 minutes).

Bring down to a low heat and add clams and clam juice (reserved from steaming and/or jarred), cream, corn, and salt to taste (you will likely need a fair amount). Cook gently for at least five minutes, but do not bring to a boil.

To serve: cut the top off a small sourdough round of bread and use your fingers to rip out its guts. Brush lightly with oil or melted butter and toast on low until it's kinda crunchy. Ladle soup into bread bowl and top with chopped chives and reserved crispy bacon. You can use parsley, too - I did! Enjoy.

This recipe is in honor of my Oppy, who I have to thank for this fish chowder and for my long skinny legs.

This recipe is in honor of my Oppy, who I have to thank for this fish chowder and for my long skinny legs.

Recipe: Dangmyeon Noodle Soup with Chickweed, Nasturtium, and Gomasio

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I really want to tell you about these noodles. They are slippery but not slimy; silver gray and opalescent; perfectly round, chewy, and slurp-able. They are better than rice noodles. That's big.

GLASSY BRAIN NOODLES!

GLASSY BRAIN NOODLES!

I used a couple of neighborhood weeds in this soup - and they are quite pretty - but the noodles are the star. They are sweet potato vermicelli, also known as Korean glass noodles, and available at any Korean or Asian food market. I happen to have such a market in the neighborhood; if you don't, Amazon is your friend.

Dangmyeon noodles are most commonly used in a delicious stir fry dish called Japchae. If you'd like to try making it, check out this adorable video (thanks for sharing, mom). Like rice noodles, though, these are super adaptable to whatever you want to throw on them. In this case, I had some chicken stock brewing on the stove, some wilting chard in the fridge, a half an avocado, and some neighborhood weeds.

Dangmyeon Noodle Soup

Prep your toppings: I used a ragtag assortment of greens, but almost any veggie would be nice. In this case - quickly sauteed chard with some garlic and lime juice, Thai basil, chickweed (literally a weed that grows all over my neighborhood and tastes real nice), nasturtium for a peppery kick, some avocado, some gomasio (or furikake), and a few lime wedges. If you don't want to eat weeds or don't know where to find them, cilantro, green onions, and mint would all be nice. Same goes for other sauteed greens, carrots, roasted yams, corn...if you've got it, try it. No limits, I tell you!

Bring a pot of water to simmer and add an egg to boil After six minutes, remove and run under some cold water. Set aside.

Bring the water back to a boil and add a half bunch (handful) of dangmyeon noodles as well as a heavy pinch of salt. Boil for 1 minute, stir a bit to make sure they don't stick together, and cover to boil for another 6-7 minutes (or until they are soft and chewy). Remove, drain, and divide into bowls (or, you know, just put it all in your biggest single person bowl like I did).

Top with desired toppings, including the egg, which you will have cut in half and gently spooned out.

For the broth:

Bring chicken or vegetable stock (or water) to a boil and add some ginger chunks. Reduce heat and let simmer for at least 10 minutes.  Add a heaping spoonful of miso and a generous squirt of gochujang (Korean spicy fermented paste...sriracha is an acceptable substitute) and stir to combine. This broth is in no way authentic, it's just what I made that day.

Pour broth over eager ingredients and slurp loudly.

Musings: little indescribables

Morning at Oz Farm

My (limited) experience so far in life has taught me that my own ideas of what I should expect or what might happen cannot possibly comprehend what will actually present. I'm especially ready for that element of mystery these days as I continue to make weighty life decisions with very little to go on besides my gut. Rebecca Solnit describes this well in A Field Guide to Getting Lost when she says “Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.”

I have a love affair with little indescribables - the meandering paths and chance encounters and surprise coastal weekends - those things that are beautiful and, well, indescribable in their way of brightening your senses and making you really notice the path you're on. Like any love affair, they don't come along through pursuit. They present. Unexpectedly. Breathlessly.

Perhaps this is why I so enjoy cooking with new ingredients and re-imagining flavors in unexpected ways. I'm always looking for herbs, flowers, spices, and produce that I've never seen before; hoping to be able to capture that moment of surprise and intrigue from a diner. Whether it's the grassy flavor of a Californian olive oil lacing a cake or the scent of orange water on your salad, these subtle details are the ones that make you notice and slow down. They're the ones that make you question what you're experiencing, rather than just shoveling it down.

5 varieties of heirloom apples from the farm with coriander, a little brown sugar, lemon juice, flour, and a pinch of salt. Later topped with an oat streusel and baked for breakfast.

A "mise en place" of sorts

The photos in this post are from Oz Farm, an organic apple farm just north of Point Arena in Mendocino County, California. I found myself there after a series of interconnected events led to me agree to help a new friend feed everyone at his birthday weekend celebration. The entire weekend was somewhat of an unexpected indescribable special thing - you know the type - with interesting people, much laughter, and approximately 947 million stars dabbed across the sky; the milky way cutting a rainbow through it all.

With this theme in mind, here are some "surprise elements" I used while on the farm:

  • Coriander: inspired by Heidi Swanson, I've begun sprinkling ground coriander in my fruit dishes. Especially perfect in stone fruit or berry salads, it lends a complex and earthy citrus note. Despite having tasted coriander thousands of times in savoury dishes, it still tastes totally new to me once combined with something sweet. Just don't confuse it with cumin...
  • Lemon Balm: Also known as Bee Balm, Lemon Balm is a lemony mint (more lemon than mint) with a delicate flavor. It goes well in fruit salads as well, and can also be added to teas and juices (or cocktails!). I've also infused it into heavy whipping cream for panna cotta - it's excellent with berries. I found lemon balm growing all over the Oz Farm property. Plant some in your backyard!
  • Olive oil: My favorite budget-friendly olive oil is Corto. I only buy olive oil from California (it's just so much better) and this is my favorite I've found in terms of diversity. It works especially well in sweets because it lacks the peppery, bitter zing of some other olive oils.

I recognize that most of our life is not composed of these special flavors or moments or feelings. How could it be? Our routines and patterns and habits make the little indescribables that much more special when they happen, because they break us from the myopic vision we've had of the path below our feet and hint at a bigger, wilder world of exploration. Cheers to embracing that feeling when it happens.

Recipe: Coconut Chia Pudding with Hibiscus Rhubarb Compote

Coconut Chia Pudding with Hibiscus Rhubarb Compote.

Coconut Chia Pudding with Hibiscus Rhubarb Compote.

This is the easiest recipe.

Combine 1 can full-fat coconut milk with 1/4 cup chia seeds and a splash of vanilla extract. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.

In a saucepan, gently cook 1/2 lb rhubarb with 1/4-1/2c sugar (to taste) and 1/2 cup very strong hibiscus tea (made by steeping at least a half cup of hibiscus flowers with a full half cup of boiling water; let steep for 5-10 minutes and strain into rhubarb).

Top chia pudding with fruit compote and sprinkle with toasted coconut (if desired).

Weird tip: I actually eat hibiscus flowers after they're steeped. They have a weird seaweed texture that I dig. 

Ottolenghi's Lentils with Asparagus & Watercress (boosted!)

I'm just returning from ten days off the grid at Camp Grounded, a magical place where adults disconnect to reconnect. Ten days of play, music, deeply spiritual conversations, leaning into discomfort, great food, dancing, and commune with the California redwoods - what a blessing! Above this scene, the moon waxed until she reached a glorious fullness on the very last night - a fullness I too felt.

Back at home, I've been allowing myself to slip back into my tech-fueled reality slowly - sipping, not gulping; cooking meals for myself and going to bed early each night.

Here is a recipe I found in Ottolenghi's Plenty - one of the humble ones without a picture, filling only a half page. I made it as part of a private dinner for the recruiting team at Airbnb, choosing it for the watercress, which I am convinced will be the next kale (it's far more nutritious), and for the asparagus, which is nearing the end of its season. The next day, the leftovers (with a few boosts) made a complete meal - the simple, nutritious, one bowl kind I'm totally satisfied with these days.

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Wash one cup of green lentils (I used de puy lentils) in fresh water and pick over for any small stones. Cover lentils in a small pot with water and bring to a boil, reducing heat to simmer and cooking for 15-25 minutes (time will depend on what type of lentils you use). They should hold their shape.

While the lentils cook, pulse 2 cups of watercress (big stems removed) with one big handful of parsley, a half cup or so of olive oil, a big swig of red wine or sherry vinegar, one garlic clove, and a hefty pinch of salt and pepper in a blender.

When lentils are done, drain them (don't rinse) and return to pot. Pour watercress dressing over the lentils while they're still hot and mix together.

Snap the woody ends off one bunch of asparagus and either sear them in a super hot pan or blanch them in boiling salted water (3-4 minutes tops).

Mix asparagus and 2 more cups of watercress into lentils. Salt to taste (you will need it).

This salad is wonderful with pecorino or manchego grated over it. I did so and also added a half cup of quick pickled shallots, some chopped toasted walnuts, and sliced avocado. A drizzle of walnut oil (if it's available) and a squeeze of lemon take it over the top.

Eat mindfully.

-Sophie

Coconut Cardamom Cashew Brittle

Fondly referred to as "CoCoCaCa," this brittle has become a favorite of my friends and family who receive it in their holiday boxes. 

 

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and rub some butter all over it. 

Have your ingredients measured out in advance - candy making goes fast! And be careful. Sugar burns are uncomfortable, to say the least. 

In a small bowl, combine: 

2 Tb butter
1.5 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda

In another bowl, combine:

1 cup dry roasted cashews
1 cup unsweetened coconut; lightly toasted

Set both bowls aside. In a heavy-bottomed medium or large pot (dutch oven is best), combine 2 cups of sugar,  1 cup corn syrup, and 1/2 cup water. Stir just until combined; bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer reaches 335°. Remove from heat; stir in all remaining ingredients. The mixture will bubble because of the baking soda - don't freak! :) Quickly pour mixture onto prepared pan, spreading evenly. Cool completely (about 1 hour, if you can); break into pieces. Share liberally.

Salads Lately (my favorite art form)

Editor's Note: Since I'm always making salads, this post will be updated regularly. It's a collection of pretty salads - mostly iphone photographs, since they're a casual part of my life.

<3 Sophie

Winter sunset salad. Orach, mixed citrus, beet sprouts, pistachio, jasmine creme, and a hibiscus vinaigrette. 

Winter sunset salad. Orach, mixed citrus, beet sprouts, pistachio, jasmine creme, and a hibiscus vinaigrette. 

This is actually salad on top of pasta, because why stop at only one good thing, amirite?

This is actually salad on top of pasta, because why stop at only one good thing, amirite?

persimmon/pomegranate/arugula/lime/fromage blanc

persimmon/pomegranate/arugula/lime/fromage blanc

On the left - a market salad tossed with a lemon-miso-tahini dressing. On the right, a special solar system salad (earth is an avocado and we're all spinning through vast swath of nori!), made for a friend's space-themed birthday. Below, a persimmon and burrata caprese with mint and preserved lemon relish from last fall (photo just recently unearthed).