Simple Rice Salad

Let's call it The Headache That Negatively Impacted My Appetite. A dull, throbbing pain emanated from behind my left eye and spread across the top and sides of my skull. Never sharp or searing, it didn't interfere with more test driving this weekend (the Volkswagen Golf TDI is the current leader)  but the pain was just unpleasant enough to make me feel sick.

Sunday night I scraped myself off the couch — cranky noggin be damned — and scrounged through kitchen, searching for something edible that was light, easy, and wouldn't require a run to the grocery. The result: rice salad with fresh herbs, a simple dish that I often serve as a side in the summer. 

Rice salad variations are endless, but I rely on a squeeze of lemon, minced shallots, a few ounces of good extra virgin olive oil, and freshly chopped herbs to produce a lovely summer side dish (or a light meal for those who aren't feeling well). To feed healthier appetites add a few cooked peas, chopped steamed asparagus spears, chicken, or shrimp. Use any long-grain rice you'd like — I often have basmati or jasmine in the cupboard. 

My friend Jeanne taught me to cook rice like pasta, in a large pot of boiling water. This method ensures fluffy, individual grains that don't stick together. Give it a try.

Rice Salad with Parsley, Chives and Mint
Makes 3-4 side servings

1 cup long-grain white rice
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 shallot, minced
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley, chives and mint

Fill a large stockpot with water, add a pinch of salt, and bring it to a rolling boil. Add the rice and cook until just cooked through, about 15 minutes. Drain in a sieve, then spread the rice on a baking sheet to cool.

Put the lemon juice and shallot in a bowl; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil, creating a vinaigrette.

Place the cool rice in a medium bowl and fluff with a fork or your fingers. Judiciously dress with the vinaigrette — you don't want to drown the rice. Sprinkle with freshly chopped herbs just before serving, tossing well to be sure the herbs are evenly distributed. Taste and correct seasoning if necessary.


Honey-Nut Brownies

I've spent the better part of June obsessing about cars instead of food. New vs. used, diesel vs. gasoline, economy hatchback vs. substantial sedan, fun and sporty vs. somewhat boring but reliable. My 10 1/2 year old Subaru still runs, but it's silly to pour anymore money into it. Time to buy a new vehicle. I've gone on test drives, spent hours doing research, and quizzed friends about their cars every night this month. Very little cooking has taken place in my kitchen as a result; I've grown fond of munching on pistachios while reading online car reviews and calling it dinner.

I don't find car shopping fun — pressure from salesmen makes me want to bludgeon them about the head and shoulders with something very, very heavy. I took a break from the craziness last night and baked brownies. Cake-like brownies filled with nuts, brownies that deliver a light dose of chocolate and an interesting twist of honey that catches you by surprise.

I will enjoy one tonight, thinking about cars I can't afford, and tuck a few in my carry-on bag — tomorrow I fly to northern California. Cooler temps, no work, and a celebratory birthday dinner at Chez Panisse await!

 Honey- Nut Brownies
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours
Makes 16 brownies

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup honey
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup roughly chopped nuts

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9-inch square pan with foil, butter the foil, and place the pan on a baking sheet.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water (the bowl should not touch the water). Remove from the heat when the ingredients are just melted - be careful not to overheat.

Beat the eggs and salt together with a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. When they are light and foamy, add the honey, sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the chocolate-butter mixture. Add the flour and mix just until incorporated. Fold in the nuts with a spatula, then pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for 45-50 minutes. A knife or toothpick inserted into  the center should come out clean. Place the pan on a wire rack and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Turn the brownies out onto the rack, peel away the foil and invert onto another rack. Cool to room temperature right side up. Dust with confectioners' sugar or cocoa powder just before serving if you'd like.