Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Learning to love brown rice

I love rice. I have eaten white rice several times a week for my entire life. Now I know that brown rice is better for you, but I've always hated its gummy consistency. Recently though, I started to experiment with various types of the brown stuff to try to find a palatable option. Here's the method I've found that makes a very nice, flavorful, slightly chewy rice that keeps well in the fridge and stands up to reheating. The rice I've found that I like the best is Thai jasmine rice, which I found at Trader Joe's. This is a long-grain brown rice. I first saute 1/2 an onion, finely diced, and an inch or so of peeled fresh ginger (also minced), in a pan with a little mild oil (high-heat safflower, for example). Get out your rice cooker. Rinse and drain the brown rice and add either chicken stock (preferred) or water. I use the 1 to 1 ratio of rice to liquid, plus another 1/2 unit of liquid. E.g.: 2 cups rinsed rice = 2 1/2 cups liquid. You might need a bit more liquid for brown rice than for white. Add the sauteed onion and ginger mixture to the rice and stock, stir well, and then cook as usual. Be sure to fluff up the rice once it's cooked, and then put the lid back down and let the rice steam for a few more minutes before serving.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rice cookers

In my previous post, I talked about how to do a basic stir-fry.  If you like Asian food, the one essential kitchen appliance is an automatic rice cooker.  If you don't have one, you are missing out on the joys of quick and easy rice!  Rice cookers allow you to cook rice without once checking on the process.  They never boil over; your rice is never sticky, and the cooker can keep the rice warm for several hours.
Rice cookers were invented by the Japanese, and the best and most expensive ones are made in Japan.  Sanyo, Panasonic and Zojirushi (maker of automatic hot water kettles and thermoses) are some brands.  These days, they all feature non-stick pans, eliminating the need to soak the pan overnight in cold water before washing.  Many of them also have removable steamer trays, which enable you to put an inch of water in the bottom of the pan, then the tray, and then vegetables or other foods on top.  I've never used my rice cooker for anything other than rice, but I do know that people steam other foods in them.  The cheaper rice cookers are made in China or Korea, and they are perfectly serviceable.  Obviously, the best place to look for rice cookers is an Asian supermarket.  In San Francisco, there is a market at 711 Clement Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues) called the New May Wah.  Big selection of housewares there.
To make rice in a cooker, first decide what type of rice you like.  Despite having grown up in Japan, I really don't like short-grain, sticky rice.  I prefer long-grain California-grown white rice, but you might like the short-grain type.  Each rice cooker comes with a little plastic measuring cup.  Use this as a general rule of thumb: for enough rice for 2 people with leftovers, measure 2 cups of dry rice.  Rinse in cold water and drain ( I just use my hand to let the water flow out of the pan).  Add 2 1/2 cups of cold water, or, if you prefer, chicken stock to the rinsed rice. In general, use 1/2 cup more water than rice, so 3 cups rice = 3 1/2 cups water, 4 cups rice = 4 1/2 cups water, etc. Plug your rice cooker in, and turn it on!  It only takes about 20 minutes to cook that quantity of white rice, but brown rice takes at least 45 minutes.
Once you've used a rice cooker, you'll never go back to cooking rice on top of the stove!  You can walk away and do other things while the rice is cooking - no peeking until it is done.  Once the button pops off, lift the lid of the cooker, and, using the paddle provided, stir up the cooked rice.  Cover the pan again (make sure the 'keep warm' light is on), and your rice will keep hot until you are ready.

My basic stir-fry recipe

Chicken with Thai Basil and bak choy

Most nights, I'm just cooking for my daughter and myself, so I'm looking for something fast and healthy.  Anything stir-fried fits the bill since I can cook the meal in one pan plus my rice cooker.
Here's what I made yesterday, when I happened upon a lovely bunch of Thai basil.  For those of you who haven't tasted Thai basil, it's less sweet than your garden-variety basil.  The leaves are dark green, tinged with purple.  I wouldn't pair it with tomatoes, but it is delicious with chicken.
For 2 people:
one small - medium white onion, diced
a small chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and diced
a bunch of Thai basil - leaves only: strip the leaves off the stem, wash and spin dry.
another green vegetable of your choosing:  I used baby bak choy (Chinese baby cabbage), but asparagus  or snow peas would be nice as well.
Optional, if you like spicy:  a small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely minced.
boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into strips, or, if you're lazy as I was last night,chunks.
Alternatively, you can use pork.
dry sherry
soy sauce:  I prefer to use Japanese soy sauce, NOT Kikkoman.  Here in the Bay Area, there are loads of Asian markets that stock many varieties of soy sauce (shoyu, in Japanese).  I use Yamasa "less salt" shoyu.
peanut or grapeseed oil for the pan.

It helps to have a wok to do stir-frying.  The volume of the vegetables can be quite large, and a regular frying or saute pan's sides are just too shallow to accomodate the vegetables.  I have a great non-stick pan from Atlas that I got at The Perfect Edge in San Mateo years ago.

In the wok, bring some water to a boil.  Blanch your green vegetable (which you have cut into smaller pieces) in lightly-salted water for a minute or two, then shock it in ice water and drain while you prepare the rest of the dish.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil until just below the smoking point, then add the diced onion and saute until light brown.  Then add your meat and the ginger, and saute until the chicken is well-browned on all sides (2 minutes or so).
Now add the Thai basil leaves and stir and toss until they begin to wilt. Add the other vegetable and stir well to reheat.
Finally, add some sherry (or chicken stock if you cannot use alcohol) to the pan and bring it to a boil.  Lastly, season the dish with a splash of soy sauce & some freshly ground pepper.
Place in a heated bowl and serve with white or brown rice.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Nature's Bounty: I love our local farmers' markets! I'm so lucky to live in a town that has not one but two markets, one on Saturday and the other on Sunday. Here are some of my favorite farmers and their best products:
Full Belly Farm, Yolo County, CA: Charentais melons - these succulent little melons are just like you'd find in France. They are similar to cantaloupes, but so much more flavorful!
Hare Hollow: delectable oils and vinegars. My absolute fave is the Fig/Date Balsamic Vinegar - drizzle over heirloom tomatoes.
Molino Creek Farm, somewhere in the Santa Cruz Mountains: they grow these amazing 'dry-farmed' tomatoes, which means that they are not watered by hand at all, relying solely on the moisture in the soil. These little tomatoes are the most intensely-flavored I've ever had. Perfect for soup or sauce, but I just like them sliced, drizzled with the fig/date balsamic vinegar, and scattered with basil leaves. Yummy.
The Hmong lady who sells the best green beans, Thai basil and all sorts of Asian vegetables. I should know her name by now, but I don't, but I was so thrilled when she told me earlier this summer that her eldest son would be attending Stanford University this fall! A true American success story!
Karin Johnson baked goods: Karin comes over from the East Bay each Sunday with her lovely parents, and sells scrumptious, homey creations from her stall at the California Avenue Farmers' Market. I am partial to the lemon semolina cake and often buy it if I'm entertaining on Sunday night. It's moist and lemony, and goes well with sliced fruit and ice cream. If I'm feeling charitable, I also buy a couple of the little single-serving flourless chocolate cakes for DD, my ornery teenager. Oh, and the cherry bran muffins, brownies, (gluten-free) macarons, and fruit galettes are also great.
Under the "Too Dumb to Live" category: today I spotted an Asian man texting while driving his silver Mercedes northbound on 101. His phone was propped up on the steering wheel in full view of anyone driving by! I honked as I drove by, and as I glanced in my rearview mirror, I saw him drifting into the adjacent lane. Aii-yah, as we saw in Hong Kong! Yesterday a young woman was yacking on her cellphone while driving on crowded El Camino Real in Menlo Park. I didn't realize what was happening until I pulled abreast of her. I guess people just aren't afraid of getting tickets! On the same topic, why do people let their dogs sit on their laps while they drive??? Talk about an accident waiting to happen! Finally, the winners of my "Too Dumb to Live" awards have to be all the bicyclists around Palo Alto who have neither front lights nor rear lights, and who zoom around in the dark!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Musings on packing

Why does it take more time to pack stuff other than clothes? As our lives become more intertwined with our electronic possessions, it is increasingly more difficult to set out on a journey. Gone are the days when I could throw my clothing, toiletries and some reading matter in a bag. Now, the clothes packing takes about an hour, but the other crap takes about six!! There is the cellphone, of course, the camera, the Ipod, and for some, the computer. These devices all have chargers, USB wires, etc. Then there is the madness of a middle-aged woman's toiletries. Creams for the face, body, feet; pills, vitamins, toners,make-up,hair accessories,tweezers, first-aid items.....aargh! Add to all that the complications of packing 3 oz. portions of everything should you want to carry your possessions on the plane, or if you're like me, you just worry about being separated from your precious stuff! I never, ever, fly without my little quart-sized zip-lock bag with mini-containers of all the potions I can't live without. Knock on wood, I haven't lost a bag yet, but I'm not taking any chances! Then there is the business of being connected. Once upon a time, you could disappear for awhile and be blissfully unaware of what was happening back home. No more...everyone expects you to keep up with your emails while you are gone! I long for the day when I'd just jot a few postcards and send them off. Now, if you neglect your emails, you're faced with a mountain of junk when you return...for me this just obliterates the good feelings I had while on "vacation".

Monday, May 18, 2009

There WILL be sludge! (a coffee primer)

A few years ago, I had a life-changing experience at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza. I wandered into Frog Hollow Farm's shop looking for sustenance after shopping at the farmers' market, held every Tuesday and Saturday. There was an intriguing "New Orleans-style " iced coffee on the menu. One sip of this smooth, dark confection and I HAD to find out how to make it at home! I emailed the owner of Blue Bottle Coffee, James Freeman, and he kindly shared his recipe with me. Now that Blue Bottle has achieved national fame and has several retail outlets, more people are discovering the delights of this exceptional roaster. I've tried several of the blends, but my favorite is my first love, Bella Donovan. This coffee is available either by mail, at www.bluebottlecoffee.net, or in 1/2 pound bags at several retail outlets including Fraiche Yogurt in Palo Alto (only from Thursday afternoons through Sundays). So, here is New Orleans-style iced coffee my way: for 1 pound of Blue Bottle's Bella Donavan beans:
Grind the coffee coarsely, either in a supermarket grinder set on Coarse, or in your home blender (do 1/2 pound at a time!). Pulse the coffee beans using the ice-grind or ice-crush setting until it's granular, but not powdered! DO NOT over-grind or THERE WILL BE SLUDGE! Actually, there will be sludge no matter how coarsely you grind, but that's part of the deal.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground coffee with 2 ounces of ground chicory and 2 liters of cold water. Chicory can be hard to find. My local Whole Foods used to carry it, but now I can only find it at a small health food store, Country Sun. Larger Whole Foods Markets may have chicory in the bulk herbs section.
Stir the mixture well, and let the whole brew soak for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
In the morning, strain the coffee several times, pressing firmly on the grounds to extract as much liquid as possible. Be sure to use a fine strainer. Don't discard the grounds! Use them to fertilize your acid-loving plants. Do strain the mixture a couple of times - each time you'll extract a bit more sludge!
Once you've completed this rather messy process, you will have enough coffee for about 10-14 tall iced coffees, depending on how strong you like your brew. To make your iced coffee, pour a few inches of the coffee extract into a tall glass, and add cold milk to taste. You might want some sugar, but I think this is smooth and sweet enough without any! There is absolutely no bitterness, just the most intense coffee flavor! You can, of course, add hot milk to the coffee extract, but I prefer it iced most of the time. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.