A word about blessings: I just realized the 40-year-old “to-do list” that followed me around like a curse is quite suddenly, in the year of coronavirus a blessing. Between a couple of active kids, a farmer husband and two downtown stores, I was busy. When you’re busy, you have to do everything in a hurry. You look for shortcuts, ways to be more efficient, and some things are left undone. Forever.
Far from punishment, staying home for me, is a luxury. I’m luxuriating in time. Time to cook that long recipe, have a real conversation, on the phone, with a long-missed friend, write a few letters, dig out that blank sketchbook and pencils. When I run out of things to do, I count my blessings: 40 years of drawers to clean out, cookbooks and recipes to organize, tubs of pictures to sort, windows to wash, and a lovingly tended backyard to sit in and enjoy.
Then, there are the things I want to learn — like aperture first photography, all about camellias, how to sketch dogs and paint a still life, backyard chickens, how to design a website, find out where squirrels sleep, perfect the art of baking bread, I want to finish the novels of Steinbeck and Stegner and make myself useful to someone who needs help. And now, thanks to this vicious little virus, there is time for everything.
I am also learning patience. My enthusiasm for baking no-knead bread has been on hold, along with 2 ½ cups of flour in a yellow bowl waiting for instant yeast. I found yeast in a spice shop in New York City, waited for it to arrive, and baked the bread, which was great!
Now there is no flour to be found. Is everyone channeling the Great British Baking Show, or is this another example of panic hoarding? The word from Bob’s Red Mill Flour is there’s no shortage of grain just more demand than production can keep up with. Be patient. For all our divisive political differences, we seem to be on the same page when it comes to toilet paper and flour.
As we are duty-bound to shop infrequently and anticipate our needs for two weeks out, there may come a time when you are faced with a bag of rice, frozen vegetables and some canned goods in the pantry. Our grandparents could whip up a casserole from these meager items that would feed a family of four for two days and I would share some of their recipes with you, but they all involve cans of cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup. Cooking styles have changed.
If you Google “best fried rice” you will see a range of ideas for how to use leftover cooked rice, from classic fried rice to substantial entrée fried rice. They all seem to involve an egg or two, cold leftover rice, fresh or frozen vegetables, a bit of shrimp or chicken, leftover Easter ham, even Spam and almost anything else. You live in rice country — there is plenty of rice. This recipe falls in the substantial category.
Shrimp Fried Rice
Start with day-old cold rice, it can be white, jasmine, brown or whatever you have. Have on hand eggs, onion, mixed vegetables (fresh or frozen or leftover), meat or seafood and green onions. Use a large pan, even a wok — although you cook the elements separately, they all end up in the same pan in the end.
First cook the scrambled eggs and break up into bite-size piece – set aside. Next Kielbasa Polish sausage cut in small cubes and nicely browned in the wok, set aside, and sauté a diced yellow onion. Remove onion from pan and fire up the heat for a minute or two then add peeled shrimp, toss until pink and cooked through, remove from pan. Add mixed vegetables, frozen peas and carrots are fine but defrost before adding so they cook quickly.
Last, add the cooked rice, a dash of sesame oil and some soy sauce. Toss until the rice is heated through, then everything goes back in the pan. Toss to heat, turn off the burner and stir in the chopped green onions.
One-Pot Gingery Chicken and Rice with Peanut Sauce
This recipe is big on flavor — gingery and garlicky with tender chicken thighs, crunchy cucumber and peanut ginger sauce and it all happens in one pot. Recipe by Molly Baz – Bon Appetit, March 2020.
Chicken and rice ingredients:
- 6 small skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 3 lb.)
- ¾ tsp. kosher salt, plus more
- 2 large shallots, finely chopped
- 8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled, finely chopped
- 2 cups high-quality basmati rice, rinsed
- 2 whole star anise – if you have it the flavor is amazing, but optional of you don’t
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
Sauce and assembly:
- ½ cup creamy peanut butter
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- 5 teaspoons Sriracha
- 1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled, finely chopped
- 1½ teaspoon honey
- 1 English hothouse cucumber, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced on a diagonal
- 1 cup cilantro leaves with tender stems
- Green onions for garnish
Chicken and rice preparation: Pat chicken dry and season all over with salt. Arrange, skin side down, in a cold, dry medium Dutch oven and set over medium heat. Cook, undisturbed, until skin is golden brown and crisp and easily releases from pot, 8–10 minutes. Slide thighs around to different spots (this will ensure even browning) and continue to cook until deeply browned, 3–5 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to a plate. Let pot cool 2 minutes.
Set pot over medium-low heat; add shallots, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, until very fragrant but not browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in rice and star anise and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Stir in soy sauce, ¾ tsp. salt, and 3 cups water. Nestle chicken back into rice mixture in pot, arranging skin side up. Increase heat to medium and bring liquid to a simmer. Immediately cover pot, reduce heat to low, and cook 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let chicken and rice sit 10 minutes.
Sauce and assembly: While the chicken and rice are cooking, make the sauce. Whisk peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, Sriracha, ginger, honey, and ¼ cup warm water in a small bowl until smooth and pourable. If sauce still looks a little thick, continuing adding water until it reaches a drizzle-able consistency.
Remove lid from pot and fluff rice with a fork. Pluck out and discard star anise. Serve chicken and rice with peanut sauce, cucumber, green. onion and cilantro alongside. Sauce can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill.
Outdoors is not closed, and spring is in full bloom, so walk around the block, in a socially distant manner, enjoy the weather, cook something good to eat and watch for those blessings that might be hiding in your closet.