20 April 2009

A Leeky Day

April in Qingdao fulfills the stereotype of spring--rain and cold one day, hot and humid the next, windy after that. Yesterday evening, the heavens dropped a deluge on us. It poured. And roofs are supposed to keep everything under them dry, right? Well, at the top of our stairs, above the seventh floor landing is a hatch that opens onto the roof. For some reason, the tenants on the seventh floor decided to remove the hatch cover, providing ventilation and a very leaky hole. The water drizzled down onto our landing on the sixth floor and continued to make it's way downstairs until it eventually dried out on the third floor.

Today fared little better. It started off breezy and rainy, turned cold and windy, and finished the day off downright tempestuous. I almost had to yell in class so the students could hear me over the howling wind. Tomorrow promises to be sunny and warm. So there you go; spring in a nutshell.

The foul weather put me in the mood to try this macaroni and cheese recipe that I have been saving for awhile. It takes just the right day to justify cooking with two c
ups of milk and almost a pound of cheese. Well, today was the day.

The recipe for Baked Penne with Farmhouse Cheddar and Leeks is from March's issue of Bon Appetit. I halved the amounts to fit in my little baking dish inside my little toaster oven. Luckily, I had almost a whole block of Vintage cheddar that is crumbly and pungent, like I think a "farmhouse" cheddar would be. It's the one decent cheese we buy regularly here in China, and it imported from Australia. Maybe someday the Chinese will come to appreciate good cheese, but I think it's far in the future. Leeks, however, they have in abundance.

Anyway, the recipe is fairly straightforward, using eggs as a thickener instead of a roux. The flour is stirred into the sweated leeks as the base for the cheese sauce, which then gets mixed in with a beaten egg and tossed with the pasta. Some Dijon mustard and hot sauce round out the dish, lifting it from the usual heaviness of a cheesy casserole. My own adaptation is to toss some panko breadcrumbs with olive oil, salt, oregano, and cayenne pepper and sprinkle this over the top. I love having the crunch on top of the soft goodness of the mac and cheese.

While the casserole baked, I made a quick rice pudding with our leftover rice from yesterday's leftover Chinese dinner. If you ever have any white rice sitting in the fridge (possibly because your husband doesn't want to waste anything, even 10 cents of cooked rice), then you should definitely learn a basic rice pudding recipe.

The one that works for me (and I love to eat) seems simpler than others I have come across. I merely mix up some dry soy milk powder with hot water. You can certainly use fresh soy milk, but we don't have that luxury in China. For about two cups of cooked rice, I start with two cups of milk and about half a cup of white sugar. Stir everything together over medium heat until it's gently simmering. Then you can add flavorings. I'm trying to use up my whole spices so I dump in a few cinnamon sticks, some star anise, and slivers of crystallized ginger. To westernize it, I add some ground nutmeg and vanilla. This all cooks until the rice is the consistency you like, usually very soft. You had to stir it occasionally to prevent it from burning to the bottom of your pot and you may have to add hot water every now and then if it thickens too quickly (which will depend on the type of rice you're using).

I prefer rice pudding to oatmeal actually, though I know it's not nearly as good for you. Sprinkle some cinnamon on top (and sweetened condensed milk if you're feeling decadent). It's great warm or cold, morning or night.

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