Sunday, February 26, 2017

A New Rice Cooker (Our first one!)

Our buddy Marisa Baggett, who wrote the book on vegetarian sushi, told us that to make really great sushi rice, we needed a rice cooker. We trust her on that, so we started thinking about it. And then Andrew Adams of Acre here in Memphis recently said that a rice cooker is the one kitchen gadget that changed his life in the kitchen. (Andrew knows a lot about kitchen tools and toys. I mean, that guy has four immersion circulators, so we have to believe him 100% when he tells us something so definitive.)

So, we started researching and found that you can spend anywhere from $30 to $300 bucks or more to buy a rice cooker on Amazon. We wanted a newfangled digital model that would set the timing and temperature for us, but we didn't want a non-stick coating that can chip and scratch on the inner bowl.

After trying out a few different models, we've found a rice cooker that we love at a good price! It's the Vita Clay 2-in-1 Rice N' Slow Cooker. Instead of a nonstick-lined metal bowl, the Vita Clay has an unglazed natural clay bowl. We've used it for sushi rice for our usual at-home Valentine's Day dinner tradition and for mushroom chili with brown rice so far, and it's going to be a game-changer.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Roasted Red Pepper Penne Alla Vodka (+ what we're reading now)

We have dinner pretty late at night sometimes, especially on the weekends -- one of us, a photographer, has a crazy schedule that rarely fits into normal weekday hours. So it's nice to come home to a meal that we can share, even if it's after 9 or 10 p.m. And if we're hanging out at the table that late, the main dish is probably going to be pasta. That way, whoever is at home can relax in the quiet and just read for a while…and then jump up and throw dinner together at the very last minute.

By the way, Jonathan Franzen's essay collection  was a recent excellent find; the very first essay, "Pain Won't Kill You," about how technology unfortunately  (and probably purposely) mirrors love, was originally the 2011 commencement speech at Kenyon College. It is perfectly critical and absolutely true, and you really should read it, too, so we can all chat about it. :)

(Crazily enough, we wrote to Mr. Franzen years ago, and he immediately wrote us back. That was a pretty memorable moment at the mailbox.)

Anyway, for your next post-reading meal, this new TCV recipe is our take on traditional penne alla vodka. We just work some more vegetables into the mix and add a ton of flavor. Sometimes we confit peeled garlic in olive oil in the oven and crush a few more cloves on top, and sometimes there are rolls; also, our Southern Caesar Salad would be a good first course if there's time to make it.

Roasted Red Pepper Penne Alla Vodka

No-Peel Roasted Red Peppers (recipe follows)
3 tablespoons olive oil (more to garnish)
1 medium onion (diced)
1 medium carrot (peeled and finely grated)
4 cloves garlic (crushed)
1/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup vodka
1 28-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes (divided)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
1 box penne pasta
Romano cheese (to garnish)

Make the No-Peel Roasted Red Peppers according to the recipe and set aside.

 Into a large skillet, pour the olive oil and bring it to medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and carrot and stir occasionally until browned. Lower heat to a simmer, add cream and vodka, and stir. Add half of the fire-roasted tomatoes to the pan. Add sugar, red pepper flakes, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally. Blend the cooled red peppers with the other half of the fire-roasted tomatoes and add it to the sauce to complete it. Keep the sauce warm until ready to serve.

Put the water for the pasta on to boil and cook penne according to package directions. Drain pasta and coat it with a tablespoon or so of pasta water and a splash of olive oil. Mix it and serve in bowls. Ladle the red pepper vodka sauce on top of the pasta and top with Romano cheese.

No-Peel Roasted Red Peppers

2 large red bell peppers
3 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roughly chop the red peppers, coat them in olive oil, and add salt and pepper to taste. Spread peppers onto a parchment-lined sheet and bake for 30 minutes until the edges have darkened. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.