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Rice Pilaf

I don’t eat a lot of rice, and I’m not sure why, but maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up eating a lot of rice? One thing I did eat a lot of and love as a child, though, is rice pilaf. You know, the stuff in a box with rice, orzo, and the seasoning packet? Delicious! I’ll let you in on a secret that I learned only a few months ago: that’s not real rice pilaf. WHAT!? Yes, that’s right. From what I understand, “real” rice pilaf starts with some sautéed onions and other flavorings, then the rice is added, and then some stock/broth until the rice is cooked. Wikipedia has more details, as I am clearly not an expert. All I know is that now I want to eat more rice. This is a simple, delicious addition to a meal, and doesn’t take much longer than just making plain rice. You’re welcome.

I also saw a woman in Guatemala make rice essentially the same way, but she fried some chopped onion and tomato in oil, added the rice, then water and plenty of salt. While she didn’t use stock or broth, it was still an eye-opening experience and a new way to cook rice. Here is Leticia, making tortillas, chicken stew, and rice in the jungle:

Hypothesis: You might never make “plain” rice again.

Materials (for what is pictured):

  • 1 medium white onion
  • 2 coves garlic
  • 2 packets of beef stock concentrate
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups Basmati rice
  • 4-5 cups hot water
  • Salt and Pepper

Tools:

  • Knife and cutting board
  • Measuring cups
  • Large skillet with lid
  • Spoon

Method:

Yes I store my rice in a Fluff jar. Don’t you?

Dice onion to medium chunks and garlic to small. You can certainly change the sizes of these depending on preferences. Heat skillet over medium heat, then add butter and olive oil (or all butter, all oil, etc). When hot, add onion and sauté until soft. Add garlic, cooking for another minute before adding the rice.

Sautee onion + garlic

Stir the rice to coat in oil/butter, then cook for a few minutes to toast the grains.

Prepare the stock by diluting with hot water (mine was one packet for one cup water, so I had 2 cups stock total). Add the stock to the pan, and be careful of splattering. You can add salt and pepper now too, and cover the pot after stirring. Turn the heat down so that the liquid is simmering but not boiling.

You can either start a timer now based on your rice directions, or just let it cook for a while – whatever you’re comfortable with. You’ll need to add more water though, so add more as needed. You could also add more stock, but there comes a point where there’s too much flavor, so I stuck with 2 cups stock and the rest water. Cook until rice is tender, then season again with salt and pepper if needed. Leftovers make a really good fried rice (that’s what we did anyway!).

Observations:

  • This recipe is infinitely adaptable – amounts of everything can be changed. It’s so versatile and easy and will soon become a staple.
  • Flavorings can be changed as well, so use whatever stock you have (chicken, veggie, etc), whatever rice you like best (short grain, wild, brown, etc), and any other flavorings you’d like (fresh or dried herbs, nuts, even cheese if you want). I used beef stock because we were having grilled steak.
  • Different rice varieties need more or less liquid and different cooking times so adjust as necessary.

Conclusions:

Friends don’t let friends eat bland rice. Make this!

For dinner tonight, I knew we had fresh, local, delicious burrata, mozzarella, and ricotta, plus local tomatoes. Since there was no time to start bread yesterday, something had to be done today to round out the meal of cheese + tomatoes. Biscuits immediately came to mind because they are quick, easy, and most importantly we have buttermilk in the fridge. I don’t have a “go-to” buttermilk biscuit recipe, so I Googled it and came up with Alton Brown’s. In my experience, there isn’t too much innovation or variety in the buttermilk biscuit arena, so I wasn’t particularly concerned with choosing the perfect recipe. There was, however, a jar of homemade pesto in the fridge that B made from the acres (ok, maybe 12 plants, but they were huge and not being eaten) of basil in the garden of our house-sitting house – lightbulb! What goes with tomatoes and mozzarella better than basil? Nothing really, except balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. So instead of just fresh from the oven buttermilk biscuits to go with dinner, why not pesto buttermilk biscuits!? I’m the dinner hero tonight, which is usually B, so I’m claiming my moment of glory with a somewhat inspired biscuit recipe.

Hypothesis:

Pesto makes everything better.

Recipe adapted from Alton Brown.
Yield: 13 2-inch biscuits

Materials:

  • 2 cups AP Flour
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 heaping Tbsp pesto

Tools:

  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Mixing bowl
  • Pastry cutter
  • 2 inch biscuit cutter
  • Cookie sheet

Method:

Preheat oven to 450°F. Mix flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl. Cut butter into chunks, add to bowl, and incorporate into the flour with a pastry cutter (or 2 knifes, or your fingers).

Add buttermilk, and mix until almost completely incorporated. I added the pesto at this point, but in hindsight I might have pre-mixed it with the buttermilk or added it with the butter. The secret to flakey tender biscuits is to not over-mix the dough! By adding the pesto after mixing in the buttermilk, I probably made my dough a bit tougher, plus it was harder to evenly distribute the pesto after the dough was already formed. Next time I’ll do things in a different order. After mixing everything together, scoop dough onto a floured surface, dust with flour, and kneed 5 times.

Pat dough until it is an inch high, which is always higher than I think, so use a ruler if need be. Cut into 2-inch biscuits with cutter, placing on a cookie sheet (I used my Silpat but it’s not necessary).

Bake biscuits for about 15 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.

Observations:

  • Use shortening like Alton does if you have it/would like to – I don’t have any so I just used butter.
  • If your oven is not up to temperature when you put your biscuits in, they will “melt” and fall over like mine!
  • You can cut your biscuits to any size you like, or even just drop them onto the cookie sheet.

Conclusions:

Success! Maybe next time I’ll even add some parmesan cheese if we have any….

It’s PEACH SEASON! I’m not sure which season I love more: peach, corn, apple, berry, asparagus, or winter squash. We were invited to dinner at the home of B’s coworkers for whom we would be house-sitting for the following week and I, of course, volunteered to bring dessert. Since it is peach season, peaches are a favorite of mine, and pies are a bit fancy, I decided to make peach pie. The first place I turned to for a recipe was Smitten Kitchen, my kitchen heroine. I also looked at Gourmet for a change as well, and they didn’t have much for peach pie, but what they did have looked interesting. I sent the 2 frontrunners to B, and he chose the Gourmet pie because it, “seems more difficult. Therefore you should do it. Experiment. :)” He knows my issues with cooking sugar (they’re usually not pretty), plus I really thought he’d pick the crème fraîche (being French and all).

Hypothesis:

I hope this effort is worth it, and please let me not burn the sugar!!

Materials:

Pie recipe from Gourmet.com. Crust recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

Crust:

Filling:

  • 3lbs local ripe peaches
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp AP flour
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

Honey Caramel:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup local honey
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter

Topping:

  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • 1 Tbsp demerara sugar
Tools:
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Mixing bowls
  • Pastry cutter
  • Rolling pin
  • Plastic wrap
  • Pie plate (9 or 9.5 inches)
  • Large and medium pot
  • Paring knife and cutting board
  • Aluminum foil
  • Cookie sheet (rimmed is best)

Method:

First step is the crust, because it has to chill. Deb’s tutorial is pretty flawless, but the one thing I do differently is to remove whatever dough is wet enough after adding the fist bit of water, then adding more water to the dry part left in the bowl. I had my dough in the fridge for at least 3 hours, but had to let them warm up a bit before I could roll them out.

Second step is the filling, which starts with the peaches. I had slightly less than 3lbs of peaches, all from local farms. They were not free-stone, at least I don’t think they were, but I imagine the whole peach-dissection process would have been much easier if I had been using free-stone peaches. I’ve never blanched, peeled, and sliced peaches, so this was new to me. Blanching the peaches makes them easier to peel, and the first step is to make an X in the bottom of each peach with a small paring knife, cutting through the skin but not a lot of the flesh. Next, add 3-4 peaches to a pot of boiling water for about 15 seconds, and then move them to an ice bath.

After cooled, it’s time to peel and slice, which is easiest if you have truly ripe free-stone peaches. Peeling the peaches was a bit tricky because they become very slippery without the fuzzy skin, and the riper the fruit, the easier they are to peel (some of mine weren’t completely ripe).  I tried to cut around each peach then twist the halves apart, but even that was difficult, so I cut them into quarters and rip the peach flesh from the pit with my fingers. I did not have pretty slices as the recipe shows, but that didn’t effect the finished pie at all.

All my peach chunks went into my biggest bowl, along with all the juice I made as I was man-handling them. In a smaller bowl, I combined the cornstarch, flour, cinnamon, and salt, then added the lemon juice. This didn’t mix very well, and I think that pre-mixing them probably wasn’t necessary – just add everything to the peaches. The clumps I had did disappear with mixing because of the peach juice.

Now it’s time to take ½ the crust out of the fridge to let it warm up a bit. I also turned the oven on to 425°F, and did take a minute to line a cookie sheet (with a lip is best) with foil – fruit pies mean there’s a big chance of oven-ruining leakage. And now we’ve come to the crossing of my threshold on this journey, which is cooking sugar. In my medium saucepan (2 Qt) I mixed the sugar, honey, and water over medium heat. I stirred the sugar in for a few minutes, brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush after everything dissolved. Now comes the really scary part, which is to let the mixture boil until the color deepens to dark amber. I find this difficult because it was hard to tell the color with all the bubbles, plus sugar can go from caramel colored to burnt in an instant, so I’m weary to cook it too long. After cooking for a few minutes and becoming darker, I removed the sugar from the heat and swirled in the butter. The sugar is poured over the peaches and mixed, then set aside.

The third step is pie assembly, which starts with rolling out the bottom of the pie, and removing the 2nd piece of dough from the fridge to warm up. On a floured surface, roll out half the dough to at least a13-inch circle, more if your pie plate is 9.5 inches (which mine is). Carefully transfer dough to the plate, trimming excess to about ½ an inch. Put the plate in the fridge so the dough doesn’t warm up too much. Now repeat with the 2nd half of the dough, making a slightly smaller circle. Once the top crust is ready, remove the pie plate from the fridge and pour in the peach filling. I had a lot of extra juice that I didn’t add to the pie for fear that it would be too wet.

Carefully place the top crust, seal the edges and trim crust to the pie plate. I scallop the edge of my pie using my fingers, placing the middle and pointer fingertips of my left hand on the edge of the dough and using my right pointer finger to pull up the dough between my left fingers. I cut a few fun steam vents in the center of the crust, brushed with milk, then sprinkled with demerara sugar. The pie went in the oven for 20 minutes, then reduced the heat to 375°F and let it bake for another 55 minutes until the crust was golden. My pie overflowed, proving that I made a good choice by using the foil-lined cookie sheet. Cool the pie completely before serving, or until you’re ready to serve. Mine cooled for about 4 hours and was still warm, but we were ready to eat before it was room temperature. We served the pie with JP Licks vanilla ice cream.

Observations:

  • Too much peach juice diluted the caramel and I couldn’t really taste it
  • The caramel could have been darker, and therefore more tasty
  • Next time: ripe free-stone peaches

Conclusions:

I liked this pie, certainly, as did everyone else who ate it. I couldn’t, however, taste the honey caramel, so I don’t think I’d repeat this step in the future. For me the crust was the show-stealer and not the peaches. It took me about 6 hours (including time to cool the dough) from start to hot out of the oven, so this is a weekend/day off project.

“Naan”

Bienvenue!

I think it’s appropriate that I begin this new experiment by making something that I’ve only eaten a handful of times and don’t know much about. I’m talking about naan, and though I’ve loved eating it from Indian restaurants, I’d never thought about making it myself. I had a hankering to do something with lentils, which turned into daal, which I thought would benefit from some naan on the side. Considering I’ve been a bit obsessed with making my own bread these days, there was no way I was going to buy naan. Mayhaps I should have, or at least done some more research. Read on and I’ll explain!

I picked the first naan recipe I found, which was from Jenna at Eat, Live, Run. Comments range from, “This is amazing!” to, “This is not at all naan, how dare you.” I know practically nothing about Indian food, but the recipe looked easy and I’ve made things from Jenna before that turned out great so I forged ahead. The few things that I changed about her recipe are: I doubled the recipe, used 1/3 whole wheat flour, and omitted the garlic butter.

Hypothesis:

This will probably make delicious flat bread type creations, but maybe not authentic naan.

Materials:

  • 3 cups warm water
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 4 cups AP flour
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • Cookie sheets
  • Silpat and/or parchment
  • Kitchen Aid
  • Rolling pin
  • Plastic spatula
  • Large and small bowl
  • Oil spray
  • Measuring cups and spoons

Method:

Put warm water from the tap in a small glass bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top of water, then add sugar and stir with small plastic spatula. While letting this sit until the yeast foams, add whole wheat flour and 1c AP flour to the bowl of the Kitchen Aid. Put the paddle on and add yeasty water to the bowl after its foamed. Mix this soupy mess for about 1 minute on low speed. Stop mixing and add another 3 cups AP flour and the salt. This was the last point during this process that I was sure of what I was doing.

At this point Jenna says to mix on high for 6 minutes. Does high mean level 10? If it does, my mixer would have blown up or broken my table. Maybe it’s because I had 6 cups of flour, but I wasn’t about to mix this on high. I mixed on speed 4 for a few minutes, then switched back to low for another few minutes. My dough also seemed impossibly wet and wasn’t pulling away from the sides of the bowl, so I added another ½ cup of AP flour. From my failed attempts at airy baguettes I know I have a tendency to add too much flour, so I was keeping this in mind as well. The dough was becoming more elastic, which is a good sign, so I kept mixing on low speed. I ended up adding a few tablespoonfuls more flour, and thinking that the dough was still too wet. At this point I would not have been able to make the nice ball she shows before putting in the oiled bowl. I stopped mixing anyway and transferred the dough to my biggest bowl that I had sprayed with PAM olive oil spray (oil sprayer still on my wish list). I put the bowl into a plastic bag and left it on the counter away from the open window to rise for 2 hours.

I checked the dough after an hour and it was in fact rising, which was a relief. After the second hour I heavily floured my work area and poured the dough out. I needed to use a lot of flour to prevent disastrous sticking, but I was able to manipulate the dough easily with enough flour. I should have pre-heated the oven before this, but I forgot and had the oven tuned on now. I divided my dough into 8 pieces by tearing it – I didn’t think a knife would be good because of how wet the dough was. After making 8 pieces that weighed roughly the same, I started shaping the dough into naan. Jenna says to sprinkle water on the dough and use your fingers to create dimples. I tried this on one piece but immediately regretted my decision because it just made my dough incredibly sticky and I couldn’t work with it anymore. I’m not sure why the water is needed except to help the salt stick, but I didn’t use it.

I pulled and pressed and stretched each piece into a rough circle, using my fingers to create dimples as best I could.

I sprinkled each with kosher salt, then had to let them rest for about 10 minutes while the oven finished heated up. I ended up with 3 pans of dough, so I baked 2 and then the 3rd by itself. The first 2 pans didn’t look done after 10 minutes so I rotated them top to bottom and put them back in for 3 more minutes. I think they could have used even more time, but it was late and we were really hungry so I took them out. The dough puffs up nicely in the oven, deflating slightly after being removed. They didn’t brown at all, but that might have been the whole wheat flour or the fact that I didn’t put them under the broiler. B covered two naans with butter (because he’s French and therefore covers everything he can in butter) and we proceeded to eat them with daal.

And then we each ate another, because they were that good.

Observations and Notes:

  • The dough was much wetter than any I’d ever worked with, but everything worked out in the end.
  • After eating dinner we Googled how to make naan, and I’m realizing that if I rolled the dough out much thinner it might have turned out more like naan.
  • I stored the cooled bread wrapped in a dish towel on the counter.
  • The leftovers were eaten after being toasted and tasted just as good as the first day.

Conclusions:

While I’m certainly no naan expert, these did not taste nor look like any naan I’ve eaten before. They were, however, amazingly delicious, but more of a thick chewy pita than naan bread. In fact they reminded me of the frozen soft pretzels we had sometimes as kids that you put water and then sea salt on before baking. I will be making these again, because they are really nice and much faster than baguettes, because homemade bread beats store-bought any day, even when it doesn’t end up as expected!