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.



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


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.



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.

What is wrong with Americans.

Not a question. A statement. I’m doing some research for another post and I come across this little tidbit in a USDA report, U.S. Per Capita Food Supply Trends: More Calories, Refined Carbohydrates, and Fats:


Iceberg Lettuce, Frozen Potatoes (Mainly French Fries), and Potato Chips Constituted a Third of Total Daily Vegetable Servings in 2000

And that is a third of the 3.83 servings Americans currently consume, less than the recommended 4 servings of vegetables a day (for a 2200 calorie diet).


Listen people, for the sake of your waistline and hearts and livers, POTATOES ARE NOT A VEGETABLE!

I know, technically they are vegetables but when I total up my servings for a day, I have not counted potatoes under vegetable in a really long time. They get lumped in with other true starches like pasta, bread, etc.

Living in a Decaffeinated World

Here’s the story. My doctor, I call him alterna-doc as he practices holistic medicine, wants me to eliminate a “few” things from my diet and follow this special plan for 1 month (28 days). Partly this is to determine if I have any food sensitivies (which I doubt) and partly this is to detox my body and eliminate some of the junk that’s probably clogging up the ole’ digestive system.

Today was day 1 of Week 1. During this week, I am to eliminate all gluten-containing starches and the products made from them. I can eat rice, quinoa, amaranth and spelt (I think). I am also not to eat any artificial sweetners- only brown rice syrup, stevia and molasses, oddly. No dairy. Only poultry, fish and legumes for protein. No soda- no diet coke- no caffeine.

Now, this is the real world, not the one in the little booklet so I didn’t go cold turkey today. I’ve cut back on the diet coke for the last few days but I still had a little today. It was either make it through the work day or turn postal (in my case it would be justal, judicial, justified?) And my lunch was a sandwich although not a bread-heavy sandwich. But other than that, I’m right on track. Which means I’m seriously caffeine deprived. Fortunately, I have little worry of falling asleep due to my altered state as I’ve had so much water today I need to run to the restroom every 20 minutes.

I’ve had this altered state song stuck in my head since about 10 AM

Living in a decaffeinated world
And I am a decaffeinated girl
You know that we are living in a decaffeinated world
And I am a decaffeinated girl

And don’t forget the backup vocals: Decaffeinated Decaffeinated Decaffeinated

I’m hoping this program won’t be too tough on me since I don’t eat that much junk anyway. I do however like me the cheese and the bread and the cream sometimes. I’m quite concerned the next two weeks will be quite tough on Chris as he prepares for exams. I’m trying to make sure that dinners are things he can eat or if I go vegetarian, he can add a little meat. Next week, its all vegetarian for me- only fruits, vegetables and rice (plus spices and oil for fat) supplemented with a protein-like shake.

On to tonight’s recipe

Veggielicious Ginger Stir-Fry


1/2 onion, sliced
1 bell pepper, sliced
1/2 can sliced water chestnuts
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
3 green onions, sliced in 2 inch pieces, tops reserved for garnish
2 cups shitake mushrooms, chopped roughly
2 chicken breasts halves, pounded thin and sliced on the diagonal, seasoned with S&P
garlic,3 cloves mashed, chopped fine, etc
ginger, about 2 tsp mashed
sesame oil
tamari soy sauce
fish sauce, oyster sauce or Worchestershire sauce
rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
salt & pepper
1/2 tablespoon corn starch mixed with 1/2 cup cold water
Rice or noodles for serving


Heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil over medium-high heat in either a wok or large pan. I use an Everyday Pan from Calphalon although I do have a wok, somewhere. The everyday pan rocks:

Okay, heat the oil and then add the onions and bell peppers. Toss in about a clove of garlic, mashed. Then add the mushrooms and keep tossing everything around. Finally, add the water chestnuts and bean sprouts. Cook to your desired stir-fryness then remove to a bowl and keep warm. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and add the chicken. Its probably going to stick at first, unelss you have the pan really hot. That’s okay, just let it cook until the pan lets go. After the chicken is completely cooked through, add it to the vegetables in that bowl.

Return your pan to the heat and add 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula to get all the good bits scraped up off the bottom. Add 2 cloves of garlic, the ginger, 1 tsp sesame oil, a tablespoon of soy sauce and a splash or two of the fish sauce. You could add a hot pepper in here too, now would be the time.

Cook to a light sauce then add 1/2 cup broth. Reduce heat to medium-low and let cook 1-2 minutes. This should be enough sauce (after thickening) for the ingredients above but you can always add more broth to stretch it out. Add the water-corn starch slurry and stir to combine. Return your vegetables and chicken to the pan. The sauce will thicken up and coat everything nicely.

I served our stir-fry over vermicelli rice noodles- very thing clear noodles that you often see in Thai soups. These are nice because you just soak them in very hot water for 10 minutes, drain and serve.


I use tamari soy sauce, the Japanese style, as I don’t think its overly salty and its low in wheat (sometimes wheat free, depending on the brand). Please, please, please don’t use soy sauce made from hydrolyzed soy protein. I don’t even really know what that is but you’ve ever had soy sauce that is watery and salty with no other taste profile, that’s probably the problem.

Obviously, this recipe could be made with any number of vegetables and protein choices. The multiple steps of cooking the vegetables then the meat and finally doing the sauce may seem a bit tedious but its worth it in the end. You get a nice sauce using leftover bits of meat and vegetables; it coats everything without overcooking the vegetables. Bear in mind, stir-fry veggies should still be crisp and have a nice bright color.