Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country

Risotto Cakes

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September 1st, I began my dream job. (OK, maybe not my dream job: No one is paying me a handsome salary to cook tasty food and take photos of it, feed it to my pretty family and take photos of them, and then write about it. If you know anyone who wants to pay me for that, you can let me know, but they will just have to wait for a while, because I’m booked up right now.) Instead of laboring as an adjunct “teacher” (grader) for a handful of online colleges, “teaching” curricula I didn’t write and often didn’t much approve of, I’m working full time as a teacher at an online high school: I write the classes, I teach the classes; I grade the work my students generate and answer their questions and generally do my online best to behave as an actual teacher. (Did you just hear angels singing? I did.)

If you’re thinking that teaching is noble and all, but hardly constitutes a dream job, then you may need to hear this next part: I do it all from home. So I’m still walking the kiddos to school in the mornings. I’m still grocery shopping when Kroger is pleasantly quiet (I like 10 a.m. on Tuesdays, personally). I’m still cleaning my house bottom to top on Fridays. I’m still hosting pre-K playdates in the middle of the week. I’m still doing all the things I like to do to care for my kids–and my husband, but more about that in a minute–but I’m also doing work that I enjoy and feel good about. I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, the classes I’m writing are awesome! The real deal. Hard work, but good work, in my humble opinion.

Now that I’ve finished congratulating myself, I have to concede one point: Working full time requires more time than working part time…or even than working part time + part time + part time. And working from home means you never leave work, which is something I already knew, but it’s something that is even more true with a full-time gig than it was with three part-time gigs. So, even though we’ve still been eating pretty well over the last several weeks, I haven’t been writing about it. In fact, I think I need to change my title to “An weekly occasional peek at one dinner table in the heart of one home in the center of the country.” I can live with that–especially given all the dreaminess of the dream job.

One under-appreciated aspect of that dreaminess is the fact that I get to have lunch with my husband almost every day. We live so near to his high school that he dashes home for lunch. In past years, he has shared his midday meal with me and whichever of the kids was still at home. This year, our sole remaining preschooler has usually already eaten his lunch and taken up residence on the couch for his “rest time” before his daddy gets home, so my husband and I share a quiet lunch at an otherwise empty table. He claims to feel a little blue about the emptiness, and I think he does, in a cosmic way, as it’s clear that our future holds not many noisy lunches with sticky toddler hands that need wiping and spilled juice cups that need righting. He tends toward melancholy and nostalgia, my husband. As for me, I can appreciate a little melancholy in the abstract, but spilled juice and sticky hands are all too concrete, and I enjoy a quiet 20 minutes at an unsticky table on weekday afternoons. After all, we have plenty of time with our kids in situations that don’t require swabbing and mopping. Here’s an example: The third annual “Gaylord Gallop,” in which my husband pins racing bibs to all of their shirts and runs around the middle school track with them, while I serve as official photographer. And, look, no one is sticky. It’s just 100% good clean fun. I don’t look at this event and think wistfully of feeding kids in high chairs. You know?

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He came in first place, if you ask him.

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What the heck are you doing, Daddy?

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Smoking his old dad.

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After a few laps, she said, “I think Bubby’s more into running than I am.” Yes, indeed.

Returning now, to the quiet midday table: For weekday lunch, typically, we eat leftovers or I make a big salad with some fancy cheese on the side and a bit of fruit. It’s lunch, after all, and I don’t aim for meals that inspire wonder, just meals that satisfy. But one day this week, I outdid myself. I took one look at a pan of leftover risotto (or risotto-ish rice)…

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Leftover “risotto”: I didn’t have quite enough arborio rice, so I had mixed in some wild rice blend. I think this would work well with any kind of leftover rice.

…and I thought, Golly, that would taste good pan fried. With some cheese in the middle…

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That’s extra sharp Vermont white cheddar, cut into tiny cubes. I put one or two in the middle of each rice patty.

And rolled in some seasoned panko…

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I mixed some Penzey’s Northwoods Seasoning (which is a lovely, hearty autumnal blend) with my panko and rolled the rice mixture in it.

I was right.

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Dang.

Maybe I was just really hungry that day. Then again, I’m not especially hungry right now, and these are still inspiring some pretty intense longing on my part. I put them on top of some lightly dressed arugula, and I felt okay about what the imaginary nutrition police would say, even though it’s true that I probably wouldn’t serve these to the nutrition police for lunch every day. These could certainly become dinner–even the main course in a vegetarian meal. I’m putting them in my rotation of dishes composed of generally wholesome ingredients, bound with an egg, and fried in a bit of butter. I have a few such dishes in my repertoire: Chickpea cakessalmon cakes, and a few others in the pipeline, including a pinto bean patty that I plan to tell you about soon.  Apparently, they’re one of our “things” around here…

Risotto Cakes

2 cups of leftover rice (well-seasoned, moist rice, like risotto will work better than the straightforward fluffy white stuff)

1 egg

2 oz. fairly soft, meltable cheese (this is not a good place for Parmesan), cut into small cubes

1/2 cup panko

1-2 teaspoons of your favorite seasoning blend

1 tablespoon olive oil + 1 tablespoon butter

  1. Mix the egg into the rice mixture and mix the seasoning into the panko.
  2. Form the rice mixture into balls and press 1 or 2 cubes of cheese into the center of each ball.
  3. Roll the balls into the panko and seasoning blend. Flatten them to form patties.
  4. Over medium/medium-high heat the olive oil and butter in a large, heavy bottomed skillet. Fry the patties for 2-3 minutes on each side, until they are golden brown.
  5. Serve them on a salad for lunch or with a green side for a vegetarian dinner.
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When placed atop a bright arugula salad, these seem wholesome and respectable, right?

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When you cut into them, you’ll find an indulgently gooey center.

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