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All posts for the month September, 2007

My interest in eating brown rice and sharing its preparation with you, dear eater, stems from the fact it is pretty darned healthy.  Sure, it is a source of carbs (brown rice has the same amount as white),  but for those that do not mind a few carbohydrates, brown rice is a far better choice than white.To understand why, I pulled these facts off Wikipedia:

  1. It is high in fiber which may lower LDL cholesterol
  2. It is higher in nutrients
  3. It is unprocessed (good for macrobiotic diets and those trying to eat fewer prepackaged foods)
  4. It is more filling than white rice

The only problem, for me at least, is that flavor is about reason 200 on the list.  While some enjoy the nutty chewiness of brown rice, I am not one of them.  If taste were the only factor, give me white any day.  Unfortunately it is not, so in my house we eat brown rice 90% of the time.Now to the steps.  This howto is equal parts technique and what not to do.  Step 1.  To make brown rice, pour the desired amount of brown rice into a measuring cup.  Add to a sauce pan.  Then measure out twice as much water (yes I said water, not stock) as rice.   Add that to the sauce pan.Thing not to do #1:  Do not eyeball your measurements.  Brown rice needs a lot of water to fully cook, but it is a water sponge and will soak up as much water as it can.  To avoid gummy, brown rice keep the ratio at 1:2.  One part rice to two parts water.Step 2.  Bring the rice to a boil over medium heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes.Thing not to do #2:  Do not season the rice with salt.  Adding salt hardens the bran (the outer covering that makes brown rice brown) and will increase the cooking time dramatically.  Hence the fact you should not use stock unless you are 100% sure it does not contain salt.  You can add spices if you are sure they contain no salt.  Garlic powder or ancho chili powder is good candidates.As one final note, if you are considering trying to make a dish like my Mexican Rice or risotto, you have three options.  First, use white rice (my preference).  Second, make the brown rice the day before and store it in the refrigerator.  Use the cooked brown rice instead of uncooked white, but use far less liquid and shorten cooking time.  If you are serious about swapping in cooked white rice, leave me a comment and we will work it out together.  Third, and I do not recommend this, go ahead and follow the recipe using brown rice, but increase the amount of cooking liquid in the recipe by at least half.  Cooking the outside of brown rice in a skillet turns the bran into body armor and will increase cook times even longer than adding salt.With that being said, try brown rice rather than white next time and tell me how it turns out. 

I have been trying for a while now to perfect the secret of restaurant quality Mexican rice.  My first attempt to make Mexican rice was to add salsa to boiled white rice.  Please never try this.  Next, I tried adding a can of tomato sauce and sautéed garlic, onions, peppers, and chili flake to cooked white rice.  It was edible, but not Mexican rice.  Then, I went to the Internet.  What I found there was that Mexican rice is closer to risotto (which uses dry rice) than it is to stir fry (which uses cooked grains.)From everything I read and cooked, this is the recipe that works for me:

  • 2 tablespoons of olive or canola oil 
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or turned to paste 
  • 1 pinch of red pepper flake (optional)
  • 1 small white onion, minced
  • 1/2 of a small green pepper, minced
  • 1 cup of white rice*
  • 1 14.5 oz can of diced tomato
  • 2.5 cups of chicken stock (go with vegetable stock to make the recipe vegetarian)*
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the pan and turn the heat to medium before adding ingredients
  2. Add olive oil, garlic paste, and chili flake(if desired).  Cook for 30 seconds.
  3. Add minced onions and green pepper.  Season with a pinch of salt.  Cook until onion is translucent.
  4. Add rice and cook for about a minute.
  5. Add diced tomato, stock, pepper, and another pinch of salt.  Bring liquid to a boil.
  6. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the liquid is absorbed.  It is a good idea to check the rice about fifteen minutes into the boiling process.  If the rice is very crunchy, add more stock or water.
  7. Fluff on to a serving dish and top with a garnish of cilantro.

When making this recipe, always use twice as much stock as there is rice plus one-half a cup more stock.  For one cup of rice, use 2.5 cups; for two cups of rice, use 4.5 cups of stock; for three cups of rice, and use 6.5 cups of stock and so on.  It is traditional to use twice as much stock as rice, but for this recipe it is important that there be a little more liquid that can evaporate while the tomato/stock liquid is coming to a boil so that rice can cook fully.

September 27, 2007 is Blog Against Abuse day where thousands of Bloggers sit down and write a post against abuse.  I do not plan to use this blog as a political forum because it is about food, a wonderful artform that transcends nationality, race, creed, and religion.  Still, I feel like every endeavor needs a certain amount of social responsibility.

So I decided to do a post.  All day, I pondered what type of abuse really concerned me.  Ever since my son was born, the topic of child abuse has hit closer to home, but I was stuck trying to figure out a way to tie child abuse into the mission of my blog.  Then I saw this article.  I looked into that little girl’s eyes and I knew she was pain.  Right now, if she is lucky, she is being tortured for someone’s sick pleasure.  If she is not, the man in the film may end her young life.

If you are religious, pray.  If you are not, hope. Either way, if you have kids or a young cousin or niece/nephew, give them a hug.  Call them if they live in a different state or country.  And tonight, tomorrow, next week, as you sit down to a good meal with your family and friends, take a moment to be thankful.  There are a lot of people in the world who cannot enjoy even that simple pleasure with their children anymore.

In this post, I talk about who was eliminated from part one of the Top Chef finale.

It was rather fortuitous that Food and Media day happened to land on Wednesday, the day part one of the finale of Top Chef aired.  It strikes me that I might have set things up that way…

I am not a TV critic so I will not delve into the episode except to say two things.  First,  I looked forward to this finale far more than I did the Season Two finale, though I liked last season better.  Unfortunately, this episode fell really flat.  There was no tension or drama or instructions on how to make poi or poke.  This felt like an ordinary episode of the show except everyone kept talking like they were stressed out, but there was no tension or drama.  Where’s Marcel when you need him?

Second, I think Brian’s elimination was a poor choice.  During the entire episode, I kept thinking Casey (who I’ve been rooting for for the entire season) was going to get the boot.  Serving raw meat feels like a far worse sin than having too much on the plate.  Now, the decision to ask Brian to pack his knives and git could have been based on comments made that were not aired, but I thought Casey was a goner for sure.  My fear is that Casey is a fan favorite and that kept her on the show if it was at all close between she and Brian.  I know Top Chef is a TV show first and a cooking competition second, but something about tonight’s episode felt off.

I am not claiming they kept Casey on for her sex appeal or any of that nonsense.  I just wonder how Brian, who braised a lean piece of meat in three hours got kicked off when no one said anything bad about his dish.  Maybe the smoked tomato butter was enough.

With that being said, go Casey!  I’ll probably swap weeks and have another food and media post next week to discuss the Top Chef finale and my reactions to it.  My guess is that Hung takes it.

Also, when The Next Iron Chef comes on, I’ll be covering that on the blog as well.  As part of covering each show, I will discuss one recipe that I find interesting.  I will not give you a recipe because I will not have had time to prepare the dish since Bravo has yet to decide to send me previews of each episode and I do not present recipes I have not made myself.

The dish that I could interesting in tonight’s Top Chef was Dale’s huckleberry sauce.  I found these links.  Check them out!

http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,,FOOD_9936_28858,00.html?rsrc=search
http://homecooking.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.bbonline.com/mt/paradise/recipe1.html
http://www.mooses.com/printouts/duck-breast.shtml
http://www.italiancookingandliving.com/recipes/archive/1658-Panna-Cotta-with-Huckleberry-Sauce,cs=13,cc=,ps=,pt=nc,.html
http://www.starchefs.com/features/indian_spotlight/html/cumin_ostrich_t_john.shtml

I’ll try to make as many as I can and get back to you.  Now, tell me, what did you think of tonight’s Top Chef?

There is tremendous scholarship concerning what types of wine to pair with which foods.  It is pretty well established that one should pair white wines with lighter dishes and red wines with heavier meat based dishes blah blah blah.  (I find this last point particularly troublesome since I prefer whites and oftentimes find the tannic flavor of some reds more than enough to drown out the taste of a good steak.  I also wonder about the appropriateness of this maxim given the large number of steakhouses that prominently feature white wines.)However, there is much less being written about which wines to use when cooking.  For a while, the Food Network held a debate across its many shows about whether one should cook with so-called cooking wine or normal wine purchased from a wine shop.  Uncorking a wine shop bottle rather than screwing off a plastic cap seems to have won hands down as the general consensus is that cooking wine is a salty, cheap, and has an overall bad flavor.But does varietal, appellation, or grape matter?  Let’s first set aside the obvious distinction that when a recipe calls for red wine, you should use a red and when it calls for a white, you use a white.  But when you open your wine cellar (or closet or drawer or whatever) is it better to pull out a dry Chardonnay or a sweet Riesling?  A merlot (which tend to be lighter) or a shiraz (some of which can coat your tongue)?To be honest, I do not believe it matters.  I have yet to make a salmon en papillote and said “You know, I wish I would have used a drier white” or made really fancy Sunday gravy (that’s spaghetti sauce to non-Sopranos fans) and thought that I would have preferred a sweeter or drier variety.  Again, I will frame the conversation and say that I would never add a dessert wine or a port to a savory recipe, but at the end of the day, I just am not concerned about which style of wine I put into my food.

Ultimately, when you cook with wine you are concentrating the flavor.  Just make sure you like the flavor in its unconcentrated form and your dish should come out just fine.

What have you found when cooking with wine?

As I understand the term “braised,” I made braised potatoes last Friday.  My son had tossed several spuds into the pan I was using to hold potato peels, covering them in potato juice.  Figuring that putting the potatoes back into the bag was a good way to ruin the rest of the spuds in the sack, I figured I should cook them.  Unfortunately, my judgement was a bit off and what I thought would make enough mashed potates for dinner and perhaps lunch the next day turned into the largest batch of mashed potatoes I have ever prepared.  Which left me with four medium sized golden potatoes that I did not want to add into the boiling water for fear of overflow.

Still on an Indian kick, I decided to experiment.  This is what I used:

  • 2 tablespoons of ghee (butter or olive oil is fine)
  • 4 medium sized golden potatoes cut into 1/4 inch coins
  • 1 teaspon of cumin seeds
  • 1 pinch of red pepper flake (more is fine)
  • 1/4 cup of broth 
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powdeer
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon of pepper
  • salt to taste
  1. Melt the ghee in a large skillet over medium heat.  When the ghee is melted, toast the cumin seeds and the red pepper flake.
  2. Add enough potatoes to cover the bottom of the skillet.  Do not pile the potatoes on top of each other.  Season with salt.
  3. Stir the potatoes to coat in the ghee/seed/pepper flake mixture to coat and let cook for two-three minutes, until the potatoes begin to change color.
  4. Add enough broth to come up half way on the potatoes.  Cover with a lid.  The potatoes are ready when they are fork tender.
  5. Move to a serving dish and add the ground cumin, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, garlic powder, pepper, and any additional salt.  Toss to ensure all potatoes are covered in the spice.

Try this dish.  I enjoyed the cinnamon and the potato combination far more than I had hoped.

Question:
So if you don’t mash ’em or fry ’em, what do you do with your potatoes?

First of all, sorry for the week long hiatus.  Things have been just that crazy.

For this edition’s restaurant review, I decided to do something with a little more national appeal.  Last week, my wife suggested that we have lunch at Dean and DeLuca.  About a month ago, I had gone our local Dean and DeLuca and noticed that they had swapped out some of their shelf space for food counters: a sandwich and soup area, a gelato bar and most importantly: a sushi area.  Being close to work, I consented.

Even now I’m not entirely sure how the bill came to $54, but it was worth it.  I ordered a tray of sushi and a tin of lobster, asparagus, and brie macaroni and cheese.  (It’s important I stop here and say that I have never purposefully ordered mac and cheese and even when it was forced upon me, I have not enjoyed it.)  The sushi was good, though it had obviously been languishing for an hour or so.

On the other hand, the mac and cheese was amazing.  I hade it heated until it was warm all the way through and the brie was melty, but not runny.  The bits of lobster flavored the cheese sauce so that even if there was not a piece of lobster on my fork, I still got a pleasant hint of seafood.  The asparagus was surprisingly firm and provided an excellent texture against the softer noodles.  To round out my tasting menu, I also got some spicy lobster dip which again had just enough of the seafood to flavor each bite without being overpowering.  The addition of what I believe was sriracha and a little red bell pepper added a depth of flavor I would call gourmet. 

My wife ordered a sandwich and some spinach-artichoke dip.  I was not fond of the spin dip (the cream cheese had gotten too firm), but her sandwich was huge.  At first I was a little dismayed that she had paid nine dollars for a sandwich, then I saw how bit it was.  That one sandwich could have easily fed both of us.  For dessert, she munched on a lemon poppy seed cupcake from the bakery case.  It was good, but too lemony for my taste.

The low point of the meal were the truffles.  Last weekend we went to a chocolate festival and gotten to try some unbelieveable truffles made by hand in chocolate shops across the city.  Those chocolatiers blew away the mass produced high end chocolates served in the Dean and DeLuca dessert case.

Still, it was an enjoyable change of pace.  Even if the price had not been steep, I am not sure I would go to Dean and DeLuca every day, but for something different, I would heartily recommend it.

The beautiful part of buying a side of salmon is that you get to experiment with a number of different recipes.  On the same night I made Salmon En Papillote, I also made a little salmon mousse.  I was expecting something difficult to make (I think it’s the French word in the title), but it was very simple:

  • 8 oz of salmon
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • 4 tablespoons of heavy cream
  • 1 medium shallot, diced
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • endive leaves for serving
  • soy sauce (optional)
  • sriracha (optional)
  1. Season both sides of the salmon with salt and pepper.  Bake the salmon in a 350 degree oven until it is cooked through.  If you are serving the mousse on a buffet or appetizer platter, it is important that the salmon is fully cooked to kill off bacteria.  Let the salmon cool or else it will affect the cream.
  2. Saute the shallots in the olive oil with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Cook until they are translucent.  Let them cool or they will affect the cream.
  3. In a blender, mix the salmon, the shallots, the cream, the lemon juice, the lemon zest, another small pinch of salt and pinch of pepper in a food processor and pulse until it has reached a soft, velvety mousse consistency.  This may require more cream.  If so, add it in half tablespoon increments.  I tend to use a little more cream because I like my mousse to be very soft, almost runny.
  4. Serve the mousse on endive leaves and optionally dress with a small splash of soy sauce and top the mousse with a very tiny drop of sriracha hot sauce.

This recipe is quite simple and accentuates the taste of a good piece of salmon.  I also like the addition of the shallots as another layer of flavor.  Oftentimes in mousse, the flavor of the salmon is overpowering, but the lemon and shallots give the dish several layers of flavor and prevent salmon overload.

As a side note, the recipe calls for endive for plating, but you can serve it on brioche, puff pastry, or cucumbers if you do not like the bitter flavor of endive.  For an extra kick, consider adding Worcestershire sauce or  Tobasico sauce to mousse for a deep or spicy taste.

So if you have tried this recipe or you like salmon mousse, I am curious.  What do you serve it on?  Do you add any sauce?

I was on a quest last night at Wal-Mart for puff pasty.  I do not cook with puff pastry too much so I had no idea where to find it at other than it was somewhere in our local Super Wal-Mart’s ginormous (now a word…look it up) frozen foods section.  My search for puff pasty took me down three isles, past ice cream, frozen pizza, frozen pasta, frozen veggies, frozen burrios, and more frozen calories than I could shake a stick at until I finally broke down and sought a Wal-Martian Merlin to guide me on my quest.

“Do you have puff pasty?”  The simple question seemed to confuse the middle aged male stocker until I repeated it.

“This way,” he tells me and leads me to the next aisle over (of course) and points out the cream puffs.  Not what I am looking for at all.  Then he points out the fruit pies before finally pointing out the puff pastry.  “I don’t think is what you want, but there’s just the pastry.”

“Perfect!  That is exactly what I need.”

“Oh.  Well, frozen fruit is right there.”

I admit, with some shame, to being a little taken aback that this man, who was stocking Wal-Mart shelves at ten o’clock on a Tuesday, knows how what to do with puff pastry, especially after his utter disbelief that I was actually looking for it.  I smiled, thanked him, and then told him I was not going for a fruit filling, but mushrooms and shallots (recipe forthcoming.)

“Oh, you like savory fillings.”  Another shock to the system.  It had taken me months of watching Food Network to understand the fundamental terminology of savory vs. sweet.

“I do.  What do you fill your puff pastry with?”

“I like jellies and jams.  I bet your son” — we were at Wal-Mart to my child ice cream for going in potty for the first time — “would like them.”

I bet he would, too, and so you should expect a recipe for puff pastry filled with jam in near future.

And while I will be indebted to that stocker if create a good recipe, I learned something far more valuable from him that night.  I learned to always listen.  There are gourmets out there everywhere, sometimes where you least expect them.  Behind every gourmet there is a story, a recipe, or a technique that adds something wonderful to this thing we call food.