Simple foods that stretch
1) Rice Porridge (a.k.a. Jook/Congee)
I have only passing familiarity with jook. I can count on one hand the number of times I've eaten it, but after SueAnn blessed me a delectable spoonful of her lunchtime jook--filled with succulent, juicy prawns--I became mildly obsessed. For two weeks I thought about jook. I tried to get it at a local dim sum place, but they were out. I considered paying a visit to the adorably named Jook Time restaurant near my house, but I was too lazy to walk that far. Meanwhile, I pestered SueAnn with questions: what time of day should I eat it? What can I add to it? What's the difference between congee and jook?
Finally I just decided to make it myself. One cup rice, 8 cups chicken broth, and a scattering of star anise, ginger, dried mushrooms, and tangerine peel. Bring to boil; simmer one and a half hours. Insert in mouth. If you want to glam it up, add some chicken, duck, shrimp, abalone (SueAnn's favorite), or anything else you want. Jook can take it. The recipe above makes enough for a large family, or one girl with limited funds working at home for a week. I am also told that this is the thing to eat when you're sick.
(Incidentally, I like to tease SueAnn about just how many Korean dishes seem designed with illness in mind. "Don't order that!" she warned us about a soup on the menu at lunch recently. "It's really bland, only good if you have a cold or something." "Jeepers, how many sickroom dishes does one culture need??" I asked. There's even a special word for generalized aches and pains: mumsal. A great addition to the lexicon for a whiner like me.)
A few weeks ago, my friend James came to visit and returned from City Lights bookstore with a copy of the Chez Panisse Pasta and Pizza cookbook. I fell in love; I had to have it. The recipes still seem completely current and fresh, despite the fact that the book is almost as old as I am. The mark of a good cookbook indeed. Inspired, I dragged out my extremely-infrequently-used Imperia pasta machine and spent a happy afternoon cranking out black pepper fettuccine. The bandaid-sized strip of dough in the photo below should give you some idea of what a novice pasta fabricator I am.
I was amazed at the transformation: a fist-sized amount of flour and one egg became four hearty servings of pasta with mushroom cream sauce. Add a bit of tiny, tender asparagus and lemon, and dinner is served.