Recipe fantasy to food reality.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Kitchen Lab Notebook: Rice Report

As an excuse to perfect my rice skills, I made lemon-oregano rice to go along with the chicken and vegetables last night. Rinsing the rice until the water ran clear was very helpful, and the rice turned out to be very acceptable, but not great. When I brought my rice and water to a boil, there was not the starchy bubbling over that generally occurs, so it seems pretty clear to me that there was a significant amount of loose starch nestled amongst the rice grains I was previously using.

As it was, I used 1 cup chicken stock and juiced 1/2 of a lemon into a measuring cup and filled it to 3/4 cup. I brought this mixture to a boil and then added my rinsed rice. Once the rice and water had come back to a boil, I reduced the heat and let the rice cook with minimal disturbance. After the rice looked acceptable, I fluffed it with a fork and added in 1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano.

(It was a great pair with the rest of the dinner.)

My hypothesis is that the rinsed rice had a small amount of liquid adsorbed to it, so my liquid measurements were off. I will next reduce my liquid by a few tablespoons to see if this will completely alleviate the gluey rice problem. Other possible sticking points may be whether I add the rice to boiling water or bring the water and rice to a boil at the same time. I will continue to isolate these variables until I am satisfied with the results of my experiments.

Chicken Thighs with Roasted Sweet Vegetables

This is another recipe I saw in passing on Food Network months ago, but never got around to trying. Once we got around to tackling it, we made quite a few changes, and the results were fantastic. I'm always amazed at the profoundly deep tastes that result from roasting just about anything, and this is the best example I've made yet.

12 oz spicy italian sausage, either loose or if in casings, chopped into pieces
4 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground fennel seeds
1 teaspoon ground red pepper flakes
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1-2 fennel bulbs, quartered
1 small red onion, peeled and cut into wedges
5-6 shallots, peeled
1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
kosher salt

Preheat oven to 450F. Heat an ovenproof vessel on the stovetop at medium-high heat, and add sausage to pan. Cook for a few seconds, allowing oil to seep out into the pan. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add to the pan with the sausage. Brown meats on all sides and remove from pan to a dish. Dispose of drippings except about 2 tablespoons which should be left in the pan and the pan replaced on the hot burner. Add pepper, red pepper and fennel to oil and cook for 30-60 seconds. Pour in white wine and deglaze the brown bits stuck to the bottom. Burned chunks may be removed and thrown away. Allow about half of the volume of the wine and oil to evaporate off and then add remaining ingredients. Coat with hot oil and wine and cook on high heat for 1-2 minutes. Replace the chicken and sausage in the pan with the vegetables and put the pan in the hot oven. Allow to cook for 20-30 minutes until edges of vegetables are browning and chicken is cooked through. Remove from oven and allow to stand about 5 minutes before serving.

PS - Doug, the enameled cast iron pot was perfect for this and I love it. Thanks so much!

Monday, December 26, 2005

I need help

I am not good with rice. I am bad with rice. It my single greatest cooking flaw. I was helped immensely by Rachael Ray's advice to measure out the amount of liquid the recipe suggests, and then to dump a bit out of the cup. I can handle the technique of coating the grains in oil and cooking them for a moment before adding liquid, but boiling rice without doing that always gives me a gluey mess. Can someone please help me? I don't care if half of your rice routine is superstitious rituals as long as it works. I need help!

Bet you didn't know...

Hefeweizen pairs well with swedish fish candies.

Overnight Caramel French Toast

This Christmas, my mother charged Andy and I with making brunch on Christmas day, and were more than happy to oblige her. We just went with two dishes, a layered polenta dish with marinara and wilted spinach, and a recipe for french toast that I lifted from the latest issue of Cooking Light. And if it's brunch, there have to be mimosas.

The french toast blew me away. I'd never eaten baked french toast before, but the way it gets toasty and crispy on top but stays gooey and moist (but cooked) inside. The recipe was a reader-submitted recipe, so I'd liketo say that Vanessa Johnson was a very big help for this successful brunch. I used nice crusty italian white bread, and it helped the texture immensely. This is going to be a recipe I'll use many times.

1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter
Cooking Spray
10 slices french bread
1 1/2 cups 1% low-fat milk
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Combine first 3 ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat 5 minuites or until mixture is bubbly, stirring constantly. Pour mixture evenly into a 13x9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.

2. Arrange bread slices in a single layer over syrup in dish.

3. Combine milk, flour, vanilla extract, salt and eggs in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Pour egg mixture over bread slices. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

4. Preheat oven to 350 F.

5. Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over bread.

6. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes or until golden. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Yield: 10 servings.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Plate is Political

Red State Rebels gives an update this morning on the status of Albertson's in Idaho. Apparently it's going to stay put, which is great to hear.

Later in the post, Julie goes on toe disparage Winco, and I am going to have to take issue with this, because I am a big fan of Winco. For anyone who might not have one in their area, Winco is a cost-cutting supermarket that doesn't go the extra mile to make your shopping experience cozy, but it really makes up for it in price and selection. In Moscow, it really is the best place to get most of your groceries. I'm pretty selective about food, and other than the Co-op, it has the best produce in town, a huge bulk food selection, and the best prices and selection on just about everything else. I do generally buy my meat at Rosauers, which is one of very few local grocery stores to actually have a butcher's counter instead of pre-packaged meats.

Another great thing about Winco is that it is very employee-friendly, with benefits and stock options for employees (even some part-time employees). In a country that is getting less and less worker-friendly every day (my own sister works almost full-time at McDonald's in that limbo where your primary employer refuses to give you benefits), Winco is a great business to support.

There's also the irksome political habits of Albertson's, which recently pulled an issue of Seventeen magazine off its shelves because it contained an educational illustration of a vulva.

Winco may not concentrate much on the tasteful display of their wares, or accept credit cards, but I'm happy to overlook these inconveniences in favor of supporting a worker-friendly company.

(I'm cross-posting this at F-words, my opinion blog, because it was equally appropriate to each blog.)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

San Miguel's

I tried to take a picture of my delicious meal, but the idea of letting it get cold was too, too sad. I'll have to just stick to an endorsement for now, and say that if you're in Moscow and need mexican food, it must come from San Miguel's tacos on Jackson street. San Miguel's operates out of one of those cool taco trucks, but don't fear. I recommend tacos al carbon, the torta cubana or the chorizo burrito.

I am fascinated by taco trucks. Where do you buy one? Do you just have to customize it yourself? Are they really really cold in the winter, or does the cooking warm it up enough that you're comfortable? If I ever get the courage, I'll ask to see inside.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Foodies Don't Eat Hamburger Helper

After berating my friend for suggesting such a graceless recipe as cheeseburger soup, I realized it was exactly on the wavelength of what I wanted for dinner tonight. I do think there are some major problems with the soup (Chicken broth in a burger-inspired soup? Velveeta?). Also, whereas some foods have evolved over time to be served on a stick, this strikes me as a devolution from a solid, land-lubbing perfect food creation back to the literal primordial soup.

Andy and I decided that the solution to this junk food craving was to de-box box food. We made Hamburger Helper. This would satisfy the craving and our pride. If we were actual, discerning foodies, this meal would have been censored before it made it into the pan, let alone us letting it pass our lips. If it was never clear before, we now know that we are not foodies, but chowhounds. We served it with frozen peas on the side.

6 ounces wide egg noodles
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced finely
1 lb extra lean ground beef
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon paprika (smoked paprika is what we used tonight)
salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat a large pot of salted water and add egg noodles when water reaches a rolling boil. Heat olive oil in a wide skillet, and add diced onion. When the onions have become translucent, add the ground beef, and cook until browned, seasoning with salt to taste. When noodles are done, strain and return to pan. Add the browned meat and onions to the noodles to prevent them from sticking together, and set aside. Add butter to a heated saucepan, and once melted, whisk in flour slowly. Allow flour to cook in the butter for about thirty seconds, and then slowly whisk in the milk. Stir in the grated cheese, allowing it to melt into a thick sauce with the milk, butter and flour. Add seasonings and adjust to taste. Pour cheese sauce over noodles and beef, and stir to combine.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Garlic, Chickpea and Spinach Soup

When my husband isn't around at dinner time, I get to choose what's for dinner. Ha!

From Vegetarian: the best-ever recipe collection, edited by Linda Fraser

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
5 cups vegetable stock
12 ounces potatoes, peeled and finely chopped
15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2/3-cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light tahini
7 ounces shredded spinach
cayenne pepper
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and cook the garlic and onion for 5 minutes, or until they are softened and golden brown. Stir in the cumin and coriander and cook for another minutes. Pour in the stock and add the chopped potatoes in the pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and simmer for 5 minutes more, or until the potatoes and chickpeas are just tender. Blend together the cornstarch, cream, tahini and plenty of seasoning. Stir into the soup with the spinach. Bring to a boil, stirring and simmer for another 2 minutes. Season with cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper. Serve immediately, sprinkled with a little cayenne pepper.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Baby Baklava

Aren't they adorable? I was surprised at how well these turned out, and how little effort they really required. I brushed butter on four or five sheets of phyllo and stacked them. I then cut them into squareish shapes and stuffed those into the cups of a muffin tin. Then, I mixed about 1.5 cups each of crushed walnuts, crushed pecans and pine nuts, and some large amount of cinnamon (probably about two and a half tablespoons). This mixture was poured into the phyllo-lined muffin cups, and then I put the pans in a 375 degree oven and baked for about 10 minutes, until the edges of the phyllo dough were browned. During baking, I warmed up to a boil a syrup of 1 cup honey, 2 cups white sugar, 1/2 cup water and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. This was poured into the cups (about 1.5 tablespoons per cup). Cooling was easy when the temperature was hovering around 0 degrees (F) outside.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


When I was pawing through the clearance book rack at Hastings the other day, I came across Cookoff by Amy Sutherland, and figured it would be worth the $4 investment. It's an investigation into the lives and motivations of the participants of cooking contests in America, and the content is really very interesting. Unfortunately, Sutherland is a terrible writer and condescending to boot. I've not finished the book and she's already misused the word "copious" twice, and even worse, repeatedly calls what is obviously message board a "chat room." That may have been acceptable in 1996, but lady, it's the 21st century here. Also, she seems to have an axe to grind when it comes to gender roles. I figured the gender angle would be really interesting, but Sullivan seems to be more interested in reinforcing gender roles than exploring them. I cringed through most of the burger chapter while she told me that women are afraid of grills but big strong men know how to handle them - apparently that's just the way things are, even though there are plenty of women in the burger contest. Further, for a book purporting to celebrate cookoffs, there is an awful lot of condescension. I realize that the Pillsbury Bakeoff is not the forum for cutting-edge cuisine, but these are things Americans eat, and the people in this book are the ones making the food Americans eat. There's no reason to say that a contestant "slimed" her dish with russian dressing unless you're actively trying to be mean.

Still, I'm almost finished with the book, and have enjoyed the content if not the delivery. The idea of entering recipes in contests is becoming more and more tempting, epecially considering the substantial prize money offered at some contests - the Pillsbury Bakeoff has a grand prize of $1 million. Check out Cooking Contest Central for info on contests around the country.


It was several years ago that I saw this recipe on Food Network, but only this week did we get ourselves together enough to make us some brika.
They're Tunisian pastries filled with mashed potatoes, tuna, capers, feta, cilantro, coriander, amongst other ingredients. It sounds like a bit of a train wreck, but I promise the results are delicious and the taste not overwhelming at all. The recipe Food Network gives calls for filling won ton wrappers with the mixture and frying the parcels. I didn't have the heart to deep fry something at home, so instead we made phyllo dough parcels and baked them and served them with a tomato and fennel yogurt sauce for dinner. They were delicious, but I was surprised to find that the flavor was really only intense enough when they were cold instead of hot. I still don't know how that many flavorful ingredients can go into something with such a subtle flavor coming out.