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EASY FRENCH 3-COURSE MEAL FOR VALENTINE’S DAY AT HOME:  2-HOUR COOKING CLASS @  SHOUSE APPLIANCE- THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 5:  5-7PM.  INTRODUCTORY OFFER 2 FOR 1.  $50.00 for two students–includes food, recipes and ideas for wine pairing. Email me or leave me a message. Can’t wait to cook with you!  (Will repeat class at home 2/14 10a-12p–1 opening left.) Ok, now on to football food…

I have this sad, old, worn-out, and tired collection of game food recipes.  I nearly hate football; I take the Sunday New York Times to Super Bowl Parties and only look up when the food’s served or people are screaming at such a pitch that I’m frightened out of my reverie.  Anyway, because it’s just not my thing, I make whatever someone asks me to (once I made gorgeous gingerbread cupcakes-see below ), or if we’re home, I make Dave’s -GAG- hot sausage dip (recipe at bottom) followed by a very-healthy-indeed-chili with a six-pack of beer and call it done.  Last year, our son Sean was home and made a half-dozen gorgeous rah-rah dishes including some sort of really hunky stuffed potato skins; he loves football and he’s an ace in the kitchen.  Breathe out. This year he’s in his own home and I’m up to bat all alone. Ok, not up to bat; I’m up to the goal line all by myself. Yuck.

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So  I decided this week to figure out a couple of fun and healthy game day picks ahead of time. I tried out two of them today and I have to say they make me want Sunday to come.  No, not really. This  Sunday there are football games all afternoon and all evening.  (I’ve saved a new Louise Penny book for the long haul.) I’ll say the thought nearly makes me want Super Bowl Sunday to arrive (one game only), which, if you don’t know, is February 1.  I had to look it up. Honest.  But I absolutely cannot wait to cook and eat this meal again.

The first recipe is not my own, but comes from a fine cook named Justin Chapple, who works at FOOD&WINE–lovely source of recipes of all sorts.  (Do like them on fb; the posts are excellent.)  I won’t print it out, but will give you the link so that you can find it on your own.  I will give you a photo, though.  I don’t know Justin, but I’m about to find him on Twitter or somewhere so I can thank him for…

SESAME-GINGER CHICKEN MEATBALLS-recipe by justin chapple, F&W

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Eat them and weep.  My husband, my wonderful taste-tester, ate this entire plateful for lunch.  Wrap them up in the lettuce leaves and garnish with a little of the chili sauce (I use the inexpensive Mild Sweet chili Sauce made by MAGGI) or eat them on their own on a toothpick. You could even add a little julienned carrot and jicama inside the lettuce for an Asian taco. Some chopped cilantro on top of the finished meatballs could work, but I liked them just the way they were.  The only thing I added was some fresh ground black pepper; you might want white if you decide to go my route.  I think chicken needs all the help it can get. (at left: great orange/pink-patterened oven mitt from hip chick aprons and handmades.  She (Heather) does great aprons, too–available on etsy:  HIP Chick.

Once I could stop eating the chicken meatballs, I made the fried rice.  If you don’t make fried rice, give it a whirl. No fear here.  It’s a versatile and dynamic dish well worth mastering and it can hardly be messed up; you can season it at the end if necessary and do a better job next time.  Try this:

SHRIMP FRIED RICE WITH HAM OR BACON OR BOTH

  serves 4

This is shorter and simpler than it appears.  Read through it first and you may just be able to nearly wing it from there. Making a good pan of fried rice is a necessary and happy accomplishment in the kitchen.  If you learn how to do it, the world is nearly yours at dinner. This is a wonderful use of leftover rice from a restaurant Asian meal or of leftover vegetables and meat of almost any kind. (Have a vegan coming?  Skip the meat and eggs and it’s a filling, luscious meal. You could add cooked tofu.)  It’s also a great food stretcher for a frugal cook who has some dibs and dabs and must feed a few people (or just herself) quickly. Get everything ready to cook before you begin; this goes quickly.

Read on and don’t let your puppy near this stuff; Rosie was crazy about it.  (Below:  waiting for the deer to come around to the back of the house.)

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First, make the rice.  Start a day ahead (or in the morning.)  If you need to make it right beforehand, spread it out on a big baking sheet after cooking to cool and dry out for 15 minutes or so.  You’ll need 35 minutes to make the rice, excluding cooling and drying if you’re doing it just ahead of making the fried rice.

Start with the inexpensive short or medium grain white rice that comes in a plastic bag if possible.  Sushi rice will work.  If all you have is long grain rice, plunge on ahead anyway and buy short or medium grain the next go-round.

  1. Take 1 cup of rice and place it in a bowl; fill with water.  Swish around 10-15 seconds.  Drain in a fine-meshed strainer or pour water out while holding your hand at edge of bowl to prevent the rice escape.
  2. Repeat 5-6 times until water in bowl is becoming or is clear.  Shake rice well in strainer. (Don’t skip this step; it makes all the difference.)
  3. In a  2 – 2 1/2  qt. pot, place rice and 1 1/2 cups water (1 3/4 cup if you have long grain rice.)
  4. Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low or low and cover tightly.
  5. Let cook 15 minutes at sea level or 20 minutes at altitude (above 3,000 feet).  You should be able to hear the rice bubbling and little wisps of steam should come from the pan.  (Not big streams of water that hiss and run; turn that mess down.)  If you don’t hear/see this, turn the heat up a tiny bit until you do.
  6. After 15 or 20 minutes, remove from heat (leave covered) and let rest for 15-20 minutes. 
  7. Remove lid and fluff rice gently with a spoon or wooden paddle from the bottom.  Salt and pepper with a light hand; this is the first layer of seasoning for the fried rice.
  8. Let cool.  Store in covered container for a day or overnight if possible.  No time?  Spread out on a baking sheet to cool as per above.

According to Barbara Tropp (my go-to for Chinese cooking info), this will result in a perceptibly lighter, fluffier, cleaner kind of rice.  In fact, it does, AND it’s delicious.  You can well understand why Asians eat a pound a day!   You’ll make rice like this always once you’ve done it. The rinsing takes just a few minutes and what’s a 20 minute rest after the rice has cooked if you’re making a meal?

Then make the fried rice:

  • Peanut or vegetable or canola oil (I like peanut.)
  • 1/2 – 3/4 pound (8 – 12 ounces) deveined and peeled raw or cooked shrimp (if raw, cook first; if cooked, add at end-see #5.)
  • 2 eggs, beaten lightly 
  • 3 cups cooked/leftover rice
  • Sea salt (or table salt) and freshly ground pepper (many cooks like white pepper for a Chinese meal; suit yourself)
  • 1/4 cup sliced ham, cut in thin slivers, or chopped cooked bacon or both
  • 1/4 cup each sliced red onion, sliced cabbage, green onions (save out 2 tsp for garnish),  cut-up broccoli, peas, thinly sliced carrots (1/4″x1″”), chopped asparagus, etc.  (whatever raw vegetables you have)  up to 2 cups total*
  • 1 clove garlic minced AND 1 teaspoon ginger, minced 
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper (or use a couple of drops of hot sauce or a sprinkle of ground cayenne–crushed red pepper is definitely best here and you might like more than a pinch.)
  • Optional garnish:  You can add soy sauce at the table if you like it.  The Chinese eat white rice with white salt. 

COOK THE SHRIMP, IF USING RAW SHRIMP, and set aside: In a wok or very large, deep skillet or sauté pan, heat a tablespoon of peanut oil over medium-high heat. Tilt the pan to coat the bottom.  Add shrimp and cook 2 or 3 minutes or until just firm and opaque.  Remove to plate; season with a pinch of salt and pepper; toss.  Set aside; you’ll add it back with the eggs near the end of cooking.

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MAKE THE EGGS: In a wok or skillet, heat 2 teaspoons peanut oil over medium-high heat.  Pour in eggs; let set a few seconds.  Turn over or pull eggs up to let uncooked egg underneath using a large wooden spoon.   Continue for a few seconds more until the egg is nearly done, but not browned.  Remove to a bowl and chop into tiny pieces with your wooden spoon.  Set aside.

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  1. Wipe out wok or skillet with paper towels or cloth towel being careful not to burn yourself.
  2. Pour in 1-2 tablespoons peanut oil and tilt pan to coat the bottom.  Add cooked rice.  Stir and cook for 2 minutes to heat and coat all grains of rice with the oil; do not brown.
  3. Push rice to one side of the pan or in a circle to the edges of the pan, leaving the center empty.  Add a bit more oil and throw in the ham +/or bacon and vegetables, including garlic and ginger.  (Keep out a little green onion for garnish.)  Sprinkle on salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper.  Stir the vegetables and ham or bacon for 2 minutes or so until vegetables are just beginning to wilt, but meantime also lift/stir the rice a little bit to ensure it doesn’t brown.
  4. Stir everything in the pot together.  Add the reserved chopped egg bits and stir. Add the cooked shrimp.  Stir together a minute or so to heat through.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Add a bit more salt, pepper, or crushed red pepper if necessary.
  5. To serve, place fried rice in a bowl and garnish with the reserved scallions.  Chop sticks are fun; use them if you can.
  6.  Soy sauce can be put on the table for those who want it.

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*If you have leftover vegetables–or meat– from another meal, use them by all means.  Just heat briefly at #4 until they’re hot and continue the recipe.

DAVE’S -GAG- HOT SAUSAGE DIP RECIPE:  In a 12-inch skillet, cook a pound of hot bulk breakfast sausage until well-browned without any pink showing.  Spoon out the cooked meat onto a thick layer of paper towels on a plate and let drain 5 minutes.  Return the meat to the pan. Add 8 ounces cream cheese and a 15-ounce can of Rotel tomatoes with green chiles.  Cook, stirring, over medium low heat until the cheese is melted and everything is hot.  Serve hot with tortilla chips.  (If you have  a tiny crock-pot or a dish with sterno or a candle, use that to keep the dip hot.)

DRINKS: I like fried rice with hot tea—Oolong is my favorite, but you might want jasmine.  If all you have is green or black tea, make one of those.  Let’s face it, though, you’ll probably drink a beer with this, especially if you’ve added a little extra crushed red pepper.  If you’re a wine person, try an off-dry  or dry Riesling. If it’s German, it might say Halbtrocken or Trocken (half-dry or dry). If it’s an American wine, you’ll have to read a bit of the label and perhaps use the alcohol percentage for a guide.  The lower the percentage, probably the sweeter it is.  Try for a 10% or 11%.

NEED MORE?  Chop up a grand platter of vegetables and include some bok choy, some napa cabbage, edamame, and so on.  Find a cool Asian-style dip.

JUST FOR FUN:  There’s no “bon appétit” in Chinese; but read up here for the customary dinner expressions.  One important thing to learn is that Chinese eat slowly when at all possible; eating quickly is assumed to be bad for your health. And so it is.

DESSERT:  You could buy some fortune cookies; why not?  If you’d like to make dessert, do something like a swank green tea ice cream.  Really want to bake?  Almond cookies or almond shortbread could do it.  Unless your neighbor’s bringing my gingerbread cupcakes.

May the best team win.  I guess.

Sing a new song; make a new game day dish to eat while you read the NYT,

Alyce