Thursday, February 18, 2010

Baked Brown Rice... Say what?

Reasons why one might need to know how to cook rice in the oven:

1) You're making brown rice, and it happens to turn out better in the oven.

2) You have too many dishes on the stove, and not one more burner is available for rice.

3) Your gas is out in your building because of a carbon monoxide leak and someone was hospitalized. You cannot use your stove (or hob, depending on where you're from), but you can use your oven, because it happens to be electric. You also happen to have an electric tea kettle. (Doesn't everybody?)

Okay. Yes. Number 3 is the reason I tried this recipe...

But listen, you should just try brown rice this way and trust me. I don't know about you, but I've had a lot of trials and tribulations with it in the past. It usually takes longer than the directions on the packaging say and never actually gets tender. I didn't have high expectations before trying this recipe, (any high expectations for the day were squashed by our loss of gas, and thus, loss of heating) but was very pleasantly surprised when the rice actually turned out perfectly fluffy and soft!

This method completely gets it right. No more half-cooked, too-al-dente-to-be-considered-al-dente brown rice. No more scorched bottom-of-the-pot brown rice. No more soupy, even-though-it-cooked-for-twice-as-long-as-the-directions-said brown rice. The texture will be correct.

It also seemed to taste better (probably because it was cooked more thoroughly) than when I make it on the stove.

And that all makes sense because this is Alton Brown's recipe. (Alton Brown is never wrong.) The oven, according to Alton, provides multi-directional heat which produces even cooking. You wont even have to stir once you put it in the oven.

served right out of the oven, topped with a little bit of soy sauce

leftovers used in fried rice the following day

And by the way, guys, looks like we'll be heading home in the next couple of weeks. (Not a moment too soon, I might add!) And by home I mean my in-laws' home until we get the law school/job/new house or apartment, etcetera, etcetera situation ironed out. So, boo that my beloved rotisserie will still be buried in storage upon our arrival! But, hooray that we get to come home to mom-in-law's yummy food!

Things are going to be chaotic for a little while, but I'll do my best to keep blogging. (I really like blogging.)

Cheers, friends!

Baked Brown Rice
adapted from Alton Brown via
serves 4-6

• 1 1/2 cups brown rice, medium or short grain
• 2 1/2 cups water or stock
• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or olive oil
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the rice into an 8-inch square glass baking dish.

Bring the water, butter, and salt just to a boil in a kettle or covered saucepan. Once the water boils, pour it over the rice, stir to combine, and cover the dish tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, remove cover and fluff the rice with a fork.

Fried Brown Rice
I like a high-ish ratio of vegetables to rice in my fried rice. If you don't, consider adding more rice, or using only half an onion, or less broccoli or peas. Baby bok choy and shitake mushrooms go well in this fried rice too.

• 2 cups leftover brown rice
• 2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce, or to taste
• 3/4 cup cooked meat or tofu, chopped
• ½ cup frozen peas
• ½ cup broccoli florets
• 1 onion, chopped
• 1 medium carrot, chopped
• 2 eggs, lightly beaten
• 1 teaspoon minced garlic
• 1 teaspoon minced ginger
• 2 tablespoons peanut oil or canola oil for frying
• Chopped scallions, optional

Heat oil on medium-high heat in a large wok or frying pan. Add chopped onion, carrot and broccoli and cook for 5 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Move vegetables to one side of pan and add beaten eggs. Tip pan back so that egg creates a thin layer on surface the of the pan. Once the egg is set, break it up with a wooden spoon, and mix with vegetables.

Add rice, peas, scallions, soy sauce and meat or tofu and continue to fry for about 3 minutes more, or until peas are heated through.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Champagne and Truffles

Hand rolled truffles, to be exact. Buttery, dark chocolate truffles made by my own loving hands.

And the best part? They require very few ingredients and are impossible to screw up. In fact, if you plan on giving these away to someone special, the more irregular the shape of the truffle, the better. You want them to look like you made them, not like they came out of a mold in a factory.

You can roll these truffles in a variety of toppings, including (but not limited to) nuts, colored sanding sugar, white sugar, cocoa powder, powdered sugar, cinnamon and chipotle powder, nonpareils, sprinkles, cocoa nibs, and flaked coconut. You can also dip them in melted dark or white chocolate for a hard coating. Experiment with different truffle flavors by adding nuts or jam to the mix and different extracts. You just can’t go wrong, you guys.

Chocolate Truffles
Makes about 15 truffles
Adapted from

• 6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (depending on how dark you like your chocolate)
• 1/6 cup heavy whipping cream
• 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
• pinch of salt
• White sugar, powdered sugar, cocoa powder, chopped nuts, sprinkles, melted chocolate etc. for rolling or dipping truffles

Slowly melt all ingredients over very low heat in a nonstick pan, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Cover chocolate mixture with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cover a sheet pan with aluminum foil.

Remove chocolate from fridge and roll into small balls using hands. If chocolate becomes too sticky, place in fridge again for another 15 minutes. Roll chocolate balls in topping of choice. If desired, refrigerate and re-roll balls for a thicker coating.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

We’re all in luck

because today, Adam is going to tell us how to make baguettes.

He’s mastered them. I can say so conclusively!

I’ve been fortunate enough to be his guinea pig as he’s tested various recipes over the past few years. Seriously. That is not a bad position to be in. Who wouldn’t want to come home to fresh bread, hot out of the oven and a house that smells like warm, yeasty goodness?

There are few things better, I say. This is what Adam says:

Hi. BONjour!

I imagine this is some sort of guest appearance on a show where I come out and answer questions and sip a coffee mug with water in it? Sweeeet. If you couldn’t tell from the Porc Mignons episode, I’m a big advocate of French food and cooking. I’d say fan, except I promote all things French so much, as many of my friends annoyingly know, it’s unfair to just say “I like French food.” Technically my father’s side of the family is French, although my mom can speak it fluently if you lock her in a room. I think it’s important as an American to understand one’s cultural heritage, and without sounding too pretentious, I think you can gain some understanding by exploring the culinary aspects of your roots, among other things.

I’ve been a fan of bread for a long time, I think all of us are –especially when it’s fresh. I first started baking bread when I moved out to Westwood, and was finally on my own and not at home or in a college dorm. Having grown up with a mother who has excellent cooking skills, I wanted to replicate what I could get at home, which led me to comb through various cookbooks searching for something I could actually do. One of the books was a Williams-Sonoma breadmaking book, which had a recipe for a very traditional Jewish bread usually eaten at Passover called Challah. This braided loaf with a dark exterior and sweet taste wasn’t actually that hard to make, and miraculously came out looking like the picture on the first try. Slight variations in the recipe (ie. due to laziness) taught me some of the basics of what makes a good bread, the time involved, ingredients, and like all equations, doing things in the wrong process yields the wrong result.

Over time, I tried several types of breads with average success, but one that can taste so good yet never ever came out the way it should be was the French baguette. Over the past five years, I have tried probably 20 different baguette recipes. The first results were mediocre, and much to my advantage my wife and I had the opportunity to spend a week in France where I really got to learn what a good baguette looks and tastes like. If anything I made in the past was close, it was now obsolete. This started an obsession with finding a recipe and process that yielded a baguette with the perfect distribution of oddly sized bubbles in the loaf, combined with a crisp, slightly dark texture.

Now, you might be saying, “But wait! The identically sized submarine sticks they sell down at Vons or Ralph’s are called baguettes and those have fine little pockets throughout with a soft, light amber colored skin!” Sorry kids, that’s an impersonator. Real baguettes have an irregular pattern of bubbles big and small, with a semi thick sounds-like-a-tree-falling-over crispiness perfect for beating your lurking spouse out of the kitchen.

So, now that you hopefully have images of beret-wearing Parisians riding on bikes with a quiver of baguettes, alas! The perfect recipe. Remember! The quality is in the time put into this bread, give yourself a solid four hours to make magic.

Authentic French Baguette Recipe
• Flour: 4 cups. All purpose works, experiment with “strong” or “bread” flour which has a more robust protein structure. I like organic all-purpose.
• Salt: 1 teaspoon. Hold on, none of that morton’s iodized crap. You need flake kosher, or be really gastronomique and get a specialty salt like Himalayan Pink.
• Yeast: 14 grams (should be two of those packets) of active dry/ready yeast. Get a good one, not Bob’s Mystery Yeast.
• Water: Just below the 2 cup line. Tap works well, unless you’re in a 3rd world country.
• Olive or cooking oil: 1 teaspoon.

• Three mixing bowls: small, medium, and large. Two will work if you don’t have three.
• Dry measure cup: 1 cup size
• Dry measure spoon: 1 teaspoon size
• Wet measure cup: 2 cup size
• Medium size metal whisk. Could be substituted with a fork.
• Wooden spoon
• Kitchen thermometer, digital instant-read is the best
• A clean, solid, flat surface suitable for kneading and rolling dough (the more the better)
• A knife or bench scrapper
• A Silpat, if you’re a badass
• Two baking sheets
• A basting brush. Silicone for the high tech folks.
• A radio, iPod, or ghetto blaster with your favourite victory music

Let’s Do THIS:
Get out all of your inventory and equipment. Place the inventory on the left side, equipment on the right. Ensure your work space is clean and sufficiently lit. Recipes, especially ones like this, are properly executed with precision, which starts with the right environment.

Holding the bag of flour, POUR it into the measuring cup, and dump into the small bowl, four times. Do not scoop, do not pack, do not force the flour into the measuring cup other than its own pressure of the flour coming out of the bag and into the cup. You’ll notice pouring flour from the bag into the cup is not a smooth process, that’s alright. As you get good at this, you can slowly shake the flour out of the bag with one hand while using a sifting motion on the measuring cup to cause the flour to disperse evenly. Baby steps. You may pour a little too much, that’s alright, fortunately most bread recipes can accommodate water and flour by counteracting with the other. Once you can gage the flow of flour from the bag, you can hold the cup over the small bowl to catch overflow.

Scoop a teaspoon of salt, if you have to pour it, don’t do it over the bowl, just in case you get a little too excited. Dump the measured salt into the bowl, take the metal whisk and spend no less than one minute calmly mixing the flour and salt mixture. The objective here is to get the salt as evenly dispersed through the flour as much as possible.

Now you have a choice: you can either turn the handle on your kitchen sink to hot, and use the thermometer to wait for the right temperature. Or, you pour the water cold into the measuring cup, pop it in the microwave, and using small increments of time, heat the water. I like to get the water hot from the sink, the hard way, so that’s how we’ll do it here. With the water adjusted to hot, it will slowly, or quickly, go from cold to hot. Place the thermometer so the tip is in the water stream and wait until the temperature gets to 105 degrees (F). Hold the cup under the water and fill to just less than 2 cups. Place the thermometer in the water filled measuring cup and take a reading. You want the temperature to be between 113 and 115 degrees (F). “Well mine is 121 I’m sure that’s alright.” NO! You’re using hot water to activate the yeast, which requires a specific temperature range; too low, it doesn’t do anything, too high, they die. Yeah, it’s bad. So, if your temperature isn’t right, just adjust the sink output and add in hotter or colder water. If you microwaved, well, you really shouldn’t be using a microwave anyways now should you?

With your water temperature at 115, take a scissors or knife and open two packages of yeast. Don’t pour them in the bowl yet, if you do, when you pour in the water the yeast will clump and stick to the bowl and you’ll waste time trying to break them apart. Take the water, gently pour it into the medium bowl. With all of the water in the bowl, take your metal whisk in one hand, and gradually pour in both packets of yeast while lightly whisking. The objective is to fully incorporate the yeast with the water. When you’re done, the water should be a cloudy sand color and there should be no clumps of yeast anywhere. Let the water mixture sit for 5 minutes. During this time, depending on the yeast, the cloudiness may settle and then re-rise as a foam, or do nothing. Don’t worry, a genie isn’t going to pop out, you’re just letting the yeast properly activate.

With the five minutes elapsed, take the flour salt mixture and evenly pour half of the mixture into the water mixture. Take the wooden spoon, and begin mixing the flour/salt, water/yeast until it forms a fairly smooth consistency. Make sure you scrape along the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all of the added flour is properly mixed. In order to get big clumps out, I like to quickly rake my spoon a quarter of the way into the dough and pull across rapidly to break apart flour clumps. What you have now is technically called a sponge, since it’s not really a full-on dough yet. Cover the bowl with something tight, but not air tight, and let the sponge rise for an hour. I use plastic cling wrap with a hole poked in it so I can see the progress. Store the bowl somewhere room temperature, not under a vent, and not in sunlight.

After 45 minutes, check on the sponge. Come back in 1hr 15mins and if it hasn’t changed in size it’s ready. This is part where you’ll need all of your clean counter space. Uncover the bowl, take the rest of the flour mixture and evenly pour it into the sponge. Using one or both of your hands, mix the flour into the sponge to create a dough. This process will result in your hands being completely covered in dough, which is why I recommend, if you have the energy, to use just one hand. You can use the other hand when we transfer the dough to the counter for kneading. After about 10 minutes of mixing, you should have a very sticky dough ball and a hand covered in dough.

Use the clean hand to thrown down some flour and spread it around on the counter to prevent the dough from getting completely stuck to the counter. If you’re really cool, you can run out to a kitchen supply store prior to doing this and get yourself a Silpat. Aside from saving you scraping dough off your counter when you’re done, you can leave it out for friends and guests to find and wait for them to inquire what in the world it is. Tell them is a magic carpet for baking and can take you to distant lands. Then look off into the distance out a window, sigh, and walk away. Assuming you don’t have a Silpat, make sure you properly flour the surface, some of the dough will still stick so don’t get upset when it does.

With the dough on counter, try and spread it out somewhat flat to 1.5” thickness, grab a little flour from the bag and sprinkle it onto the dough. Using the palm of your hand, press the flour into the dough. Take the upper left corner, fold it across to the lower right. Take the upper right corner, fold it down to the lower right. Take the lower left corner, folder it to the lower right. At this point you have made a semi triangular mound. Again with the palm, press down compacting the dough. Use your palm to flatten the dough again and repeat the folding steps. To change it up a little bit, you can improv with some different folding patterns and some twisting. Keep in mind it’s not rocket science, you’re creating bonds in the dough by constantly stretching and then compacting the dough. Each time you press the dough flat, you can optionally flatten out in a greater area and spread more flour on it if it’s remaining too sticky. The final product should be semi smooth and somewhat sticky, but not nearly as much as when you first started. In total, this process should take 15-20 minutes.

Grease the large bowl with the olive oil by pouring it in the bottom of the bowl and using your fingers wipe the oil upwards to the top of the rim until the inside is completely oiled. Keep in mind you don’t need a lot of oil for this, just barely enough to coat the surface. Take the dough, make it nice and round, place it in the greased bowl and cover again for an hour. This time the dough will rise substantially and really start to look like bread dough.

After an hour, remove the cover, re-dust the work surface with flour, and pour the dough out onto the counter gently aiding the dough while it’s coming out as to not let it tear. Without a lot of force, form the dough into a thick rectangle and factor slicing it into four pieces (that’s three cuts). I suggest lightly marking where you will cut the dough in case you make a mistake –be sure to compensate for the fact that the ends of the dough are not as thick as the middle. With four pieces cut, dust more flour on the surface, place three of the dough units to the side, and take the first one placing it in front of you. Gently flatten the dough to about 1 to 2 inches thick, making sure you don’t press out all of those valuable bubbles inside. Using the same folding pattern as before, instead this time rather than pushing it all down with your palm, clamp the bottom of the dough together, as if you were sealing a seam, and begin rolling it into a log on the counter. The rolling process consists of starting with both hands in the middle, rolling the dough, pressing down lightly, and moving your hands outwards, all in a consistent motion. This will cause the dough to form into a circular shape and will extend it as you gently press down and work your hands outwards. This isn’t a wrestling match, so take it easy when pressing down on the bread. Again, it’s those bubbles on the inside you don’t want to lose. Do this process to all four dough units. Each cylinder of dough should be from 1.5” to 2.5” in diameter. They do not have to be perfectly even, although you’ll see after baking whether you want them thinner or thicker depending on your preference.

Place the formed dough, two each, onto a flour dusted baking sheet. If you have enough clean kitchen towels, take two of them, lightly wet them, and place them over the dough and let it proof for 30 minutes in a room temperature space. I didn’t have spare towels, and took a glass baking tray, filled it with hot water, placed it in the bottom of the oven, and then placed my baking sheets in the oven to proof. Keep in mind, the oven is not on yet.

Depending on your oven, you may want to start pre-heating now to 410 degrees (F), or 210 degrees (C). My oven only takes 10 minutes to heat, so I took the loafs out of the oven 10 minutes prior to being ready and let them sit out in the open. With the oven ready to go, and the dough proofed for 30 minutes, take a brush and brush a decent coat of water onto the loafs and send them into the inferno. After 10 minutes, slide them out, re-brush with water, and continue baking for another 15 minutes, for a total of 25 minutes. When done, remove immediately from the oven and place on a cooling rack or appropriate surface. Let them cool for a good 10-15 minutes before you break them open and inspect the masterpiece.

These baguettes go great with a little beurre blanc de sel and a glass of Fleurie or Beaujolais.

Monday, February 1, 2010

You will never eat a better taco in your lifetime

or enchilada, or quesadilla for that matter, than one made with a fresh corn tortilla.

I promise you this, taco connoisseurs: you have not lived until you’ve eaten a fresh-off-the-griddle and still steaming, soft and delicious corn tortilla.

As many of you may already know, my mom lives in Mexico. And her house is right up the street from a family who makes corn tortillas all day, every day, and sells them for something like 50 cents a dozen. Walking past that house and catching scents of toasty corn and masa harina dough will make your mouth water.

That could be your house, you guys.

You know what you could even do? You could let some carnitas braise on the stove while you make some corn tortillas. Yeeeeaaah. (Can you picture me nodding, eyebrows raised?) Or you could make some enchiladas. I’ll even tell you how I make mine.

My enchiladas could win you a girlfriend. They could win you a husband. They won me a husband.

Yeah, that guy. The one pouring Tapatio all over that freshly made tortilla with re-fried beans.

But Andrea—don’t I have to be a Mexican mom with a tortilla press to make corn tortillas?


All you need are your lovely young hands, some plastic wrap, masa harina, a rolling pin or a wine bottle (both can get the job done), a dinner plate, and a frying pan (preferably a cast iron one if you have it).

Handmade Corn Tortillas
Makes 12-14
Of course, having a tortilla press would expedite this entire process. If you have one, roll dough into balls per my instructions and press between two sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper in tortilla press before tossing onto a hot pan.

• 2 cups masa harina
• 1 ½ to 1 ¾ cups warm water
• Pinch of salt

Mix masa harina and 1 ½ cups of water with hands. Dough should come together easily and not feel too crumbly or too sticky. If needed, add a little more water at a time until the dough becomes soft and malleable. (Think playdough consistency.) Knead for 2 minutes.

Cover dough with damp paper towel and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

Roll dough into balls slightly larger than golf balls. You should get somewhere close to 12 balls of dough. Cover dough balls with a damp paper cloth while you roll out your tortillas. (Dough dries out quickly.) Preheat pan over high heat.

Lay out a sheet of plastic wrap and place one dough ball on plastic wrap. Place a new sheet of plastic wrap over the dough and press down with a plate until dough is flattened into a disk. Note: if the bottom of your plate is not rimmed you may even be able to flatten the tortilla enough to not need to roll it out any more.

Finish off tortilla by rolling dough out to about 1/8 of an inch thick. Each tortilla should be about 6 inches in diameter.

Place tortilla on hot pan. Cook tortillas for 20-30 seconds on each side.

Speed racers: While first side of tortilla is cooking, quickly flatten the next ball of dough with the plate. Flip the tortilla that’s in the pan. Go back to the tortilla you flattened with a plate and roll out quickly. Remove tortilla that’s in pan and place on a plate. Place newly rolled tortilla in pan and repeat process.

Huh?...: Roll tortillas out as directed and place between dampened paper towels until ready to cook.

Reheating instructions: Place tortillas between slightly dampened paper towels on a plate and cover with plastic wrap. Nuke for 30 seconds.

Cheesy Chicken or Vegetarian Enchiladas
Makes 12
My madre and I always found it a little too time consuming to make the enchilada sauce from scratch, especially if you're already using homemade tortillas. (We’ll get to some homemade salsas another day, you and I.) The addition of cream cheese to the filling of these enchiladas make them a semi-American spin-off of my mom's.

• 12 fresh corn tortillas
• 1 large can red enchilada salsa preparada (La Victoria, or Frontera Grill brand)
• 1 1/2 cups cooked shredded chicken
OR 1 1/2 cups worth of frozen corn and/or beans
OR a combo of all of the above
• 1/2 cup frozen spinach, thawed and drained of liquids
• about 1.5 cups of shredded Manchego cheese, or Oaxacan cheese, or Monterey Jack cheese
• 4 oz reduced fat cream cheese
• 3 tablespoons sour cream
• 1 onion, chopped
• Oil for sauteeing onion
• Salt and pepper
• Tapatio salsa
• fresh cilantro or green onions for garnish

Note: if you decide to use store-bought tortillas for this recipe, they will crack easily. Prevent this by frying each tortilla in hot oil about 3 seconds per side, and draining on paper towels before using.

Heat about a teaspoon of oil in a small pan and sautee the chopped onion until soft and translucent. You can use butter for this if you want. (I think it tastes better.) Spread on a paper towel to cool and drain.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the chicken filling. Mix together the cream cheese and sour cream with a wooden spoon. Stir in a few dashes of Tapatio sauce and 3/4 cup of the shredded cheese. Mix in the shredded chicken, or vegetables, the spinach and the sauteed onion. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Do taste it--if you think it needs more of anything, add it before you move on to the next step.

Assemble the enchiladas. In the bottom of a 9 by 13 baking dish (or whatever you've got that can hold 12 enchiladas and some gooey cheese and sauce) spread about half a cup of the enchilada sauce. Then take one tortilla, place it in the baking dish with the sauce, and put two big heaped spoonfuls of your chicken mixture in the tortilla.

Now, gently roll the tortilla up as tightly as you can and place it seam side down in the dish. Repeat for the other 11 enchiladas. Pour the rest of the enchilada sauce over the prepared enchiladas. Sprinkle with the remaining shredded cheese.

Bake the enchiladas for about 20 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is melted. Sprinkle with chopped fresh cilantro or green onions.
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