With Valentine's Day looming before us like a giant pillar of red, heart-shaped flames on yonder hill, it's time to think about quick romantic, stay at home, the "let's not go out, why don't you just come over and I'll cook?" "Oh? You cook?" "Yeah, I cook"-style date meals. Let's face it, the romantic over-priced restaurant prix fixe dinners that will soon be offered at all the dimly lit restaurants around, with their heart shaped menu and desert of complimentary champagne, are all well and good, but for real romance, nothing beats inviting your future sweetheart home to your house for a home cooked meal. While this isn't advisable for the first date, it works miracles on the second, sometimes speeding up the "get to know each other first" period by weeks ,if not months.
But here's the rub; you work all week, and for this date to go right you have to have it during the week. So how do you whip up a sexy candle-lit dinner for two in almost no time at all? I can answer that in two words:
Eel rolls are a favorite for most people as far as sushi, but you may have noticed the eel isn't raw like the rest of your sushi platter. It's roasted in teriyaki sauce, a little bit; not too much. It's still mighty delicious, but one can't help but think, hey, why not just get a whole eel instead? I'm paying $4.50 for what is basically some rice and a strip of eel no wider than a straw. So why not cut out the middle man. Of course you will be too tired to roll sushi once you get home from the factory, but if you have some rice and seaweed at home, all you need is a frozen eel (it helps if you live near a Japanese grocery store) and viola! You have cooked eel and rice, or as it is known amongst the Japanese, "Unaju."
Now, in order to make this lovely and quick dish all you need is the eel and rice, but it's extra cool to add a bit of seaweed. If you don't keep a re-sealable bag of seaweed around, you can get some at the same place you find these eels. P.S., if you don't have a rice cooker yet, Valentine's Day is the perfect time to get one! It's your present to yourself because you love yourself, and you should use brown rice because it's healthier. So now you got your rice you got your seaweed, all you need is the frozen eel. At the M2M where I shop, you can buy these eels for $5.99 which, considering they're big enough to feed two, is pretty amazing. They come frozen in their teriyaki marinade in a tight platic sleeve.
So, that's it, one frozen eel, a handful of dried seaweed tossed in a bowl of hot water, and rice. It's so easy you can do most of it while taking a perfumed bath.
The NYC-style Valentine's Day Eel Dinner:
As soon as you get home from work, relax, whistle a tune, take a long hot bath and put the rice in the rice cooker (one cup brown rice, two cups water, put on pot, plug in, you are done).
Don't take too long in the bath, get yourself all pretty, and wear - for guys, a Hugh Hefner robe and pajamas, and girls, a silken kimono. When the rice is near done, take a big handful of seaweed and let its freak flag unfurl in a bowl full of hot water, hot from the tap will probably do.
Now, poke some holes in the eel's bag and put it on a microwave safe plate and nuke it for about four minutes.
When it's done, leave it in the microwave to cool while you divvy the rice into two colorful ceramic bowls, top off with the seaweed. You should have this move timed with the arrival of your dinner guest. So make sure the smooth jazz or classical or R. Kelly is flowing, and there's some candles lit in the other room. You can stay in your robe through all this, because a) it's your place, and b) it's sexy, and c) it fits the Japanese theme, thus making it a good lead in to you commanding they take off their shoes before entering your apartment.
Gingerly remove the bag from the microwave, cut the top part of the bag off with scissors and carefully slide half the eel out onto bowl number one. Cut it, then dump the rest of the eel into bowl number two. Squeeze out excess teriyaki sauce evenly between the two bowls. If there doesn't seem to be much, give the most to your guest, because you are generous and not stingy.
If you have some soy sauce, teriyaki sauce or any kind of Asian spicy sauce hanging around your fridge, add some to the rice as well, or bring it to the table for a nice option.
As for the alcohol, nothing whispers "hook up" like some sake. I wouldn't worry about the little ceramic cup set though if you don't already have one. It will be just as sexy if not sexier in Barney Rubble jelly jar glasses or coffee cups. Failing that option, anything with "blanc" on the label. If you or your date are in AA, you can always serve green tea instead, or failing that, Red Bull on the rocks.
From here on in, you're on your own!
The seaweed is rich in protein, phosphorous and vitamins. Between the eel, the brown rice, the seaweed and the wine, you should be fired up so high you just disappear into that intimidating red plume of heart-sthaped flame that's now right inside your apartment. Oh yeah, and if your date asks you what it is that you are serving, you can reply with a stoic look on your face, "Unaju."