Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dinner for one.

I timed myself as I was cooking dinner tonight, starting with washing two cups of rice and putting it in the rice cooker. This is always the first step; it takes 45 minutes for the rice to cook, and it will taste better if you let it rest for an additional 10 minutes before you scoop it out. It was always my job to make the rice before dinner when I was growing up, after piano practice, before chopping vegetables and setting the table. I hated how cold my hands got unless I turned the water to lukewarm while rinsing the rice. Did you know that in Chinese, the word for uncooked rice (mi - 米) is not the same as the word for cooked rice (fan - 飯)? This has always confused me.

Once the rice is out of the way, the rest of my prep is easy. I have a few Shanghai bok choy left - unlike regular bok choy (large or baby), it has brighter green stems and leaves, instead of nearly white stems and dark green leaves - and I slice off the bottoms, detaching the thicker outer leaves and keeping the heart intact. I roll cut some Chinese eggplants - or maybe these are the Japanese ones, I can't remember - into smallish chunks so they'll cook faster. L. is the only one who has ever noticed that I roll-cut my vegetables, creating irregularly-shaped pieces that are, nonetheless, about the same size. Twenty-some years of cooking under the eagle eye of my mother means unbreakable habits.

Quickly, I slice some shiitake mushrooms to stir-fry with the bok choy, and finely mince several cloves of garlic for the eggplant. I check my timer. Half an hour has gone by. I clean up the kitchen - a little - and pull out blocks of cream cheese for the cheesecake I have to make later, so they can come to room temperature while I eat dinner. I know from experience that if I start the actual cooking when the rice is nearly done, then I can eat by the time the rice has rested long enough. I take a break, and come back to find 5 minutes left for the rice cooker.

To cut down on the number of pans I have to wash, I generally use one pan for two dishes, and don't bother washing the pan in between. This works for me because, to keep a balance of flavors in my meal, I usually cook one dish with soy sauce, and one without. Obviously, you cook the dish without soy sauce first, to avoid contaminating the second one. In no time at all, the bok choy with shiitake mushrooms is done. The eggplant takes a little longer; I add water to the pan to steam it soft, then stir-fry it until the soy sauce begins to caramelize around the edges of the eggplant. Finally, it's done. I check my timer. 54 minutes, 03 seconds. Time to eat.

No comments: