Whisper the word “detox” to me and watch as an immense, unexpected desire for French fries gathers steam. This reaction happens at all times of year, but I mention it now, in January, because you’re probably hearing a lot of mutters about “healthy” and “detox” and “cleanse” and then, like me, running in just the opposite direction.

Still, there are eras of overindulgence, and, after those months, I want food that’s simple and light. This appetite shift is natural, obvious, and far less intense than the contrarian fry craving. (To note: I have no problem with French fry cravings when they’re genuine, I just dislike the rebellious ones.)

But since I last about one day on substances like salads with lite dressing, overpriced juices, and low-carb anything without getting mad and contrarian, light food now means this nourishing and comforting soup.  I’m not the first to rely on this slow-cooked rice, or its starchy brethren, for comfort and health. Whether you call it congee (China) or risotto (Italy), the stuff is delicious and life-affirming: my kind of detox.

In Thailand, kao tom appears at breakfast–that’s where Alex and I first tasted, and adored, bowls of the gruel. Now, I make rice soup for any of the three meals. Since we returned from the trip two years ago, I’ve experimented with recipes, and recently, I hit on a flexible version that tastes right and isn’t too complicated or ingredient-rich to make on the regular. (I owe a lot to this recipe.) 

To make rice soup, you need to make two elements: cooked rice and homemade stock. I try to have both ready ahead of time so that rice soup itself takes about 15 minutes start to finish.

Instead of fluffy rice with sought-after separated grains, you want the rice for rice soup to be soggy and clumped together from being cooked in three times as much water as usual. The water-logged grains are both starchier and thirstier, and they combine with the broth to make a thick, unified soup. I make a cup or two of rice around the same time I brew the stock. Then, I cook the soup itself fresh when I want it, in portions for one or two. At first, I used only white rice, but recently, I switched to brown.

I know that cooks pressed for time and space don’t want to hear about homemade stock, but this soup is not the same without it. In fact, these days, I make stock almost every week, and as soon as I made simmering a practice instead of a chore, I began to cherish the process. For this soup, you don’t need the pot going all day: I make a light broth quickly, so the chicken meat doesn’t dry out too much, and I keep the vegetables to a minimum, so there’s barely anything to buy, wash, or chop. Store the soup in quart jars and you can eyeball the pour when you make kao tom.

As for the soup, now’s why I tell you how good it is. Grated ginger, garlic, and soy sauce turn neutral rice and stock into a punchy base for a poached egg whose yolk will thicken the broth when you crack it and eat, making the mixture truly filling. Chicken, salvaged from stock-making, helps with that too. Then, it’s all about the toppings: sesame oil enriches, kimchi brightens, peanuts lend texture, and Sriracha warms. One bite, and you’ll feel better. One bowl, and you’ll be pretty sure you can conquer the world. And how healthy is that?

Three New Year’s Eve Menus

Posted by on Monday Dec 29th, 2014

New Year’s Eve approaches! Depending on your satisfaction with prix fixes and paid bar events, the last evening of the year can represent the most fun party ever or a crowded and frustrating journey to tomorrow’s hangover. However you prefer to celebrate, an easy way to improve on any festivities is to add home cooking into the mix.

So, I wanted to make some menus to suit your party, whether the vibe lands on casual, hearty feast, candlelit date, or champagne-powered cocktail party.

Chocolate-Dipped Candy Cane Meringues

Posted by on Monday Dec 22nd, 2014

Natalie of Good Girl Style joins us each month to share incredible desserts with Big Girls, Small Kitchen readers–desserts that are entirely gluten-free, but not like obviously gluten-free. That means no specialty flours or hard-to-find ingredients, just egg whites, peppermint extract, and chocolate.  Want even more peppermint? Don’t miss Natalie’s recent recipe for Peppermint Snowballs

These cookies use four ingredients and, with just those four, magically transform into Christmas–cookie-ified. Aside from being a festive addition to any holiday cookie exchange or dessert table, these are light as air and a welcome breathe of fresh air this time of year. Package them up in clear cellophane and they are a delightful gift. Since they’re light as air, though, the cookies are fragile and the tips are prone to breaking off or being crushed. Keep them well-protected in a single layer in an air-tight container for storage, so moisture doesn’t make them sticky.

Fair warning that this mixture is very sticky, so get everything prepared ahead of time. The circles on parchment paper are optional, but will help the cookies turn out a uniform size–and get you your full 30-cookie yield. A spice jar lid or even a roll of washi tape will make the right size circle stencil. A piping bag and tip are optional; a corner cut off a Ziploc bag will work well, too, and you can either swirl the mixture to create the shape or press down for one big “kiss.” The gel food coloring is also optional, so feel free to make the kisses snowy white or green-striped if you prefer.

Tis the season of sweets, of cakes, cookies, and puddings. If your belly’s already bulging from holiday parties and gifts, you don’t need me to tell you what season it is.

But you can make cakes and cookies in your sleep–after all, you bake some version of them all year round. With the exception, perhaps, of Valentine’s Day, there’s no better time than December to attack a fourth category of sweets: candy.

I know there are a lot of artisan chocolates and lowbrow candy bars out there, and I totally get if you’ve already ordered pounds of candied yuzu peel or chocolate-covered pretzels and don’t want to make your own.

I, on the other hand, can never resist trying my hand at the impossible.

Polka Dot Holiday Chocolate Log Cake

Posted by on Thursday Dec 18th, 2014

Our Christmas food tradition counts on chocolate cake more than anything else, in part because December 25th was my chocolate-loving grandma’s birthday, and cake had to be on the table. (You shouldn’t miss the recipe for my mom’s chocolate cake, one of the first recipes I posted here.)

But just because you love one chocolate cake doesn’t mean you can’t love another. Especially another classic, like this one. Yet until this year, this cake, though classic, wasn’t mine yet.

It’s Hershey’s. And it’s the one on the back of the cocoa powder can.

Cheesy Winter Squash Bake

Posted by on Wednesday Dec 17th, 2014

Look, I dug through all the sugar and found us some vegetables!

One of my favorite tricks to play on myself during seasons of vegetable apathy is to bury greens (or oranges) under melting pats of butter, generous pours of olive oil, or mountains of melted cheese. This is not a sabotage, a cop-out, or a rejection of salads or carrot sticks. It’s just self-imposed bribery.

Of course vegetables aren’t chores and fat isn’t bad, so my bribery is hardly treachery. Really, making a wild thing taste good is probably smart in the long run.

The vegetables involved in this particular production include a whole acorn squash and two carrots. The cheese? It’s Roth Grand Cru, a nutty, aged cheese from Wisconsin that adds tremendous depth to the vegetables in this dish. The cheese, cured in copper vats as the Swiss alpine tradition dictates, melts beautifully on top and within the rice-and-vegetable bake.

As for the dish itself, you’ve seen a version before. Somewhere between a frittata and a soufflé, this baked casserole centers on vegetables (you already heard about those), eggs, rice, and cheese. No one part overwhelms the others, and the resulting wedges present themselves as viable, yet humble breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.

The dish is as good at room temperature as hot or cold, and though I got into to talking about this as some way to disguise vegatables with cheese, that’s really not that point. The Cheesy Winter Squash Bake is best understood as an elegant hodgepodge, a nutritious and wholesome way to merge the foods we should eat with the ones we really want to–with the result that we remember how great carrots, squash, and their vegetable brethren are. Almost as good as cheese.

This post is sponsored by Roth Cheese, an alpine-style cheese crafted in Wisconsin. All opinions, as usual, are mine. Thanks for supporting BGSK’s sponsors!

Peppermint Snowballs

Posted by on Monday Dec 15th, 2014

Natalie of Good Girl Style joins us each month to share incredible desserts with Big Girls, Small Kitchen readers–desserts that are entirely gluten-free, but not like obviously gluten-free. That means no specialty flours or hard-to-find ingredients, just ice cream, peppermint, and coconut. Today’s wintry dessert is dressy and fun: snowballs! Don’t miss Natalie’s recent recipe for cashew-cranberry turtles, which make a sweet Christmas gift.

I love Christmas traditions, both old and new. These peppermint ice cream snowballs are a tradition for my boyfriend’s family on Christmas Eve, and one I am more than happy to adopt! I’m a huge fan of peppermint ice cream with hot fudge; it just tastes like Christmas. Add in some coconut “snow” to make things even more festive and who could resist? Combined with the fact that these are probably the easiest dessert you’ll make all holiday season, there’s really no reason not to get the ice cream scoop out right now.

You’re going to want to get a little bit hands-on to make these. I’d recommend lining the counter with some waxed paper to help you work. Use a scoop to gather the ice cream, then use your hands to shape, working quickly to minimize melting. Covering the ice cream in coconut helps the scoops become more stable. Serve in a pool of hot fudge and/or pour it over the top. Old-fashioned ribbon candies make a beautiful accompaniment (available at most grocery stores), but crushed candy canes will look lovely, too.