Rice Pilaf the Geek Way

Standing in line at Target the other day, I noticed the Food Network magazine. Apparently it comes out on a regular basis but I’ve never noticed it before. This issue is the Thanksgiving galore edition with 50 versions of mashed potatoes. Since I’m probably hosting Turkey Day again this year, I need to start working on my meal plan so I picked it up, just $4 for the issue.

I’ve folded over 3 or 4 pages for the future but decided I wanted to make Alton Brown’s rice pilaf as soon as possible. Alton Brown is my hero. His shows are the perfect combination of silly props, real science and cooking (which is, after all, a science as well as an art). I learn things on his show that can be applied far beyond the one or two recipes he’s making. It dawned on me today that I will be able to watch the new season, now that we have returned to the world of cable (TV and internet).  I hate the bill but I’ll survive, I guess.

 PA188340The ingredients in the Rice Pilaf a la Alton are nothing unusual: onions, red pepper, rice, peas. Its the method that brings out the geek. Because all we get from the magazine is the directions, I don’t know exactly why Alton chose this method. I think I’d need his book, which I sadly do not own at the present time. There is a second version of the recipe at the Food Network website but its not a 1-dish version which is much nicer, clean-up wise.

 

 

Ingredients
1 medium onion, small dice
1 red bell pepper, small dice
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups long grain rice
2 bay leaves
1 1inx2in slice of orange peel
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
pinch of saffron in 1/4 cup hot water
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 1/2 teaspoons salt plus 2 pinches
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup shelled pistachios, chopped

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350.

In large saucier, or in my case the Everyday Pan, melt butter over medium heat (must be an oven-okay pan with a lid). Add onion and pepper with 2 pinches of salt, stir to coat. Reduce heat to low and sweat vegetables until onion is translucent but not browning, 3-5 minutes.  Return heat to medium and add rice to pan. Stir constantly for 3-4 minutes until rice is coated and nutty aroma begins to waft through the kitchen.  Add broth, saffron with water, orange peel, bay leaves and 1 1/2 tsp of salt. Bring to a boil.

Here is where it gets geek: Thoroughly wet a large kitchen towel. Turn off the heat. Sprinkle the peas over the top of the rice.  Lay towel over the pan then place the lid on. Wrap the ends of the towel up over the lid and place the whole thing in the oven.

Bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven and keep covered for an additional 15 minutes.

 

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Remove lid/towel and remove orange peel and 2 bay leaves. Transfer to serving dish, fluff with fork and sprinkle raisins and pistachios over the top. Serve family style in the center of the table.


 

I only transferred about 1/2 to a serving dish since there were just 3 of us (the recipe serves 6, generously). The other reason I didn’t fancy up the whole thing was due to some disappointing results. Mostly in the center of the pan, there were pockets of rice which were not cooked. Really not cooked- still crunchy. I am all for al dente but some of the grains were nearly raw. I believe the error lies in the amount of cooking liquid and was all my fault. I added some wine to the pan before the aromatics and broth. In the end, I shorted the broth slightly and should not have. Every bit of liquid was absorbed in the stated cooking timess so I think, but cannot be sure, that if I’d put a little more broth in, we’d have been fine.

Jon didn’t say anything and Chris didn’t seem to mind: both went back for seconds. I believe I avoided most of the really uncooked bits, in any event.

Other than that issue, the pilaf was great. Nicely flavored without overpowering or even competing with the main dish (grilled pork in a chimichurri marinade in this case). I have noticed a number of disappointed reviews around the ‘net complaining of a lack of flavor. I would call this delicate but it definitely had flavor. While I do like vampire-repelling ultimate garlic dishes, I can also appreciate something a little more subtle too.


Thanks to the dedication (obsession) of a particular fan of Good Eats*, I was able to learn the why of cooking this rice in the oven. The oven, with its highly controllable temperature, is most like a rice cooker; a rice cooker doesn’t work too well for pilafs though as you must first saute your rice and optional flavorings in a pan before adding the liquid.

On the subject of Good Eats, the new episodes are Monday nights at 8pm. Rejoice, I have cable and can watch them!! Except, oh crap, one of the (only) two shows I watch regularly is also on at 8pm Mondays. We may have to upgrade to the DVR package.

*If you go, the episode is called Power to the Pilaf, full transcipt available and even some YouTube.

Multi-use Tools or How to lose a finger in the kitchen.

1. I like kitchen gadgets. I like appliances and little tools, pots and pans and whatever else you can think of. Since most of our wedding registry is really for me in this regard, I’ve taken to putting things like the entire Deadwood series in our registry so Chris has some guy stuff. Plus I let him put a branding iron for steaks with his monogram in there.

2. I’m a huge fan of Alton Brown. He’s a geek, like me. His television show is a lovely combination of food and Mr. Wizard scientific stuff. In many episodes, he will also have a segment on cooking equipment- utensils, appliances, etc. Alton is not a fan of the one use tool. He prefers what he calls multi-taskers. He once said something about the only acceptable single use kitchen tool is the fire extinguisher.

Balancing my love of gadgetry with knowing I should minimize junk in my drawers is not always easy. Hence, the multi-tasker’s true advantage: cool tools in less space! But is it possible to go too far- combine tools in such a way as to render the original useless or more hassle than its worth?

I’m going to go with yes, after viewing these new knives at The Kitchn: BasicKnives

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(photo from the The Kitchn, reference first found at The Food Section)

At first, I thought these were a good idea. And in limited use, I can see how some portions might come in handy. For example, the zester tool which could also be used to make peels for drink decoration. The little scoops for small amounts of herbs- although limited to dried herbs or salts- might also have its place. I admit to using the pointed end of the knife to scoop out garlic and ginger from their respective jars although I keep that to a minimum in fear of contamination.

Now the grater. Originally, I thought: fantastic! I own 4 different graters (at least) but the convenience of not having to wash one for just a bit of fresh garlic would be lovely. Then mechanics got in the way. You see, I am left-handed and this lovely knife with build-in grater is not built for us southpaws. Those sharp biting little teeth would be scraping along my knuckles with every slice.

The peeler/knife combo, quite frankly, scares the crap out of me. That is just an amputation waiting to happen.
I loved the irony on the designer’s website:

Our world is over technologized and we tend to forget and enjoy daily things in life. Evidence can be found in our kitchen where blenders and food processors are taking over our place.

Bad English aside, if these complicated knives aren’t over technologized, I don’t know what is. Oh and I wouldn’t browse the rest of Ms. Noordijk’s site with kiddos around. Or at work. a-hem.


For an excellent source on all things Alton Brown, check out the Good Eats Fan Page with transcripts of every show (sorted chronologically and by main ingredient!) along with information on all the equipment and guest stars including Shirley O. Corriher, author of CookWise, The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking (buy it).

From farm to fork

From my bag of treasures from yesterday’s Farm Market, we made corn on the cob for dinner last night. This is, by far, the freshest corn we’ve had this season. You know its going to be good when you put a hole in a kernel and the juice is sticky like sugar.

We don’t really have room for a grill, what with the herbs, tomato and pepper plants taking up the patio,  so I opted to just boil the corn on the stove.

Since I was buying this at the special Michigan Farmer’s Market and since the signs on the stand said “picked last night!” I didn’t really have to consider how fresh this corn was. BUT, if you are out shopping and don’t know when the corn was picked, consider the color and texture of the husks. Green and pliable is best. Also, the softer and lighter the silks are, the fresher the corn. Lastly, peel back a little bit of the husk and pierce a kernel with your fingernail. If the liquid is a little cloudy, its probably fresher corn. One thing you shouldn’t do is peel all the husks off at the store. I admit that leaving the mess there is nice but your corn will like you better if you keep the husks on till you get home.
Besides, if you want to grill your corn, you can use the husks as free wrappers. There are a few variables to consider when grilling corn on the cob.

  • Husk removal: You can take them all off and wrap the corn in foil. Or you can peel off all but the innermost 2-3 layers. That is what I do. You will want to peel back all the layers enough to remove the silk before you throw them on the grill. If your husks won’t stay on, use a little piece of kitchen twine around one end or create a tie with a narrow piece of husk.
  • To soak or not to soak: SOme people soak their ears (of corn!) in water prior to grilling. I can go either way on this one depending on time and type of grill. The water will help to steam the corn which can speed cooking along. But you lose some of the “grilled” flavor. Not so important on a gas grill but with a woodfire or wood chips, you might want to consider not soaking or a minimal soak.
  • Flavor enhancement: Grill them plain or add spices, herbs, oil or butter. WHen I’m really feeling ambitious, I’ll mix up a flavored butter which I then smear on the ears (under the husks) prior to grilling. Serve with more butter at the table. Some people prefer oil on the grill then topped with butter.

Since we just boiled ours last night, it was a really simple process. Boil a big pot of water. Add salt. Toss cleaned ears in pot, let boil 5-10 minutes. Done.

On the subject of salting the water, I read something at The Sustainable Kitchen about the proper salting of food. This was a hurdle for me, when learning how to cook. I grew up in a household that minimized using salt due to blood pressure concerns. Overtime, I learned to prefer low-salt versions of some things and my palate adjusted to the point where many common processed foods were too salty. I still prefer low-salt peanut butter and I would still buy reduced sodium canned goods because I’d rather add the salt myself. BUT, I do add salt now. I had to readjust my tongue but now I understand that foods should taste better- brighter and stronger, not salty, when properly seasoned. Alton Brown once referred to salt as a flavor enhancer not a flavor in itself. And we all know that Alton is a genius.

By the way, Mr. Brown is a fan of kosher salt which I also use. But lately I’ve become enamored of sea salts. Nothing fancy although there are some gourmet sea salts available. I use the fine texture and had found that it works well to pre-season meats but also as a table salt.


We ate our corn with a cranberry-brie stuffed chicken breast from The Fresh Market. I was really not excited about the chicken- not enough stuffing, never did find the brie and it took much longer to cook than indicated on the directions. I was saved from having to cut through the ties and lose all the juices by my handy-dandy probe thermometer. Another Alton Brown referral. You set the target temp, insert the probe and set the timer to beep when your targeted temperature is reached.