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Archive for the ‘basics’ Category

Oven brown rice

For a long time, I was one of those otherwise-competent cooks who could not make a pot of rice to save her dinner. Then I ate a seriously restricted diet for six weeks to try to nail down some food sensitivities and rice was one of approximately eight foods I was allowed to eat, so I learned to make white rice on the stovetop. Brown rice continued to elude me, though. It took forever. If it wasn’t burnt, it was mushy. Or crunchy. Or sometimes both. And then a miracle occurred: someone taught me to make brown rice in the oven.

brown rice - cooked

This recipe isn’t perfect: it still takes forever. I’m not sure there’s any help for that unless you’re willing to abandon your principles for converted rice (a move I don’t recommend if you care about rice texture). But if you are afraid of rice — or even if you’re not — it is the one for you. It takes ten minutes of attention and an hour of waiting, and best of all, it comes out perfectly every single time.

A word about pans: I have successfully made this in both glass and stoneware pans. I have attempted it in metal pans several times and have never gotten good results: the pan itself gets so hot that you end up with crispy rice in the corners, and no matter how carefully you scoop it out, you always end up getting some mixed in with the good rice and aaaaargh. Also, if you are cooking for more than a couple of people, you can double the quantities and bake for the same time in a 9×13 baking dish.*

Oven-baked brown rice
Adapted from The New Best Recipe by the folks at Cook’s Illustrated

1 1/2 c. rice**
2 1/3 c. water
pinch salt

Put the water in a saucepan or tea kettle and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375 F and put the rice in your square baking dish.

brown rice

When the water boils, pour it over the rice and immediately cover the pan with foil. You want to make sure it’s really sealed so the steam stays inside. Heavy-duty foil is awesome here; if you use lighter stuff, you might want to do a double layer.

brown rice - covered

Stick it in the oven (carefully, right? because of how the pan is full of boiling water?) and bake for an hour. Remove the whole thing from the oven and then pull off the foil, watching out for steam escaping when you first open it. Fluff with a fork before serving.

*I know someone is going to ask me if you can freeze this. The answer is “it depends.” Some people claim that frozen brown rice (cooked, cooled, and frozen in plastic bags) is totally fine, while others find the texture of rice frozen at home to be unacceptable. I am very picky about rice texture, so I don’t freeze mine, but if you do, tell me how it works!

**I can often get brown basmati at my supermarket, and I like it quite a bit. Failing that, I find long-grain to be the best general-purpose rice.

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90 minute beans

This technique has changed my cooking life. It has ended my relationship with canned beans (I never really loved you) by providing an alternative that doesn’t take hours, require planning ahead to soak, or call for a pressure cooker. The best part: it takes beans from in-the-bag to beautifully cooked in ninety minutes. True story!

chickpeas - done

I think that this (completely genius) idea first appeared on the internet on eGullet, and it came to me through the Paupered Chef. And at this point, all I can do is apologize for holding out on you so long.

Ninety-minute no-soak beans

1 lb beans
Two big pinches of salt
Water

Preheat your oven to 250 F.

Pick over the beans to make sure there are no rocks in there. (Seriously, this happens.) Put them to a Dutch oven* and add cold water to cover them by a couple of inches.

chickpeas - sink

Add the salt, and put the whole thing on the stovetop. Bring it to a boil on the stove.

boiling chickpeas

When it boils, put on the top, move the entire thing to the oven, and bake for about 75 minutes. It’s worth peeking in around 40 minutes to make sure they’re still covered in water. If not, heat some more water to a boil and pour it in.

Taste one at 75 minutes to make sure that they’re done; if not, you can leave them in for a few more minutes. (If your beans take more than 90 minutes in the oven, it’s probably a sign that they’re quite old and you should check the expiration date on your package! Nothing terrible will happen to you, but they will probably suffer in both taste and texture.)

*Okay, the Dutch oven situation. They are awesome, and not just for this, and if you don’t have one, you should consider it! There are two brands, Lodge and Tramontina, that make good enameled cast-iron versions that come in around $60 (rather than the $200+ that Le Creuset and Staub will set you back).

If you don’t have one, I have an untested theory that you could make it work by boiling the water in a kettle or pan and putting the beans in a Pyrex or enameled stoneware pan, then pouring the water in, covering tightly with aluminum foil, and baking as directed. If you try this, let me know!

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Making vegetable stock

This is the first in an occasional series covering really excellent ways to make simple core ingredients. This week: vegetable stock.

veggie stock - after.jpg

As most people who have cooked for vegetarians can attest, store-bought vegetable stocks vary widely in taste, and only a few are palatable to me. In some cases, like strongly flavored soups, the precise taste isn’t so important, but dishes like risotto, the taste of the broth can really dominate the dish.

Which brings us to the much-vaunted solution: make your own!

I have two pieces of good news about this. The first is that making stock is as easy as throwing some stuff in a pot with a lot of water, bringing it to a boil, and waiting. The second is that pretty much anything you make is going to be better than store-bought stock, so experimenting is pretty painless.

Vegetable Stock

What to use:

The usual suspects: These include carrots, celery, potatoes, and onions. Onions need the papery skin peeled off, and I usually trim parts I wouldn’t use in cooking off the vegetables, although some people report great results with leftovers like peels. (If you try this, let me know!)

Other veggies: Mushrooms, parsnips (they’ll make the broth cloudy, but who cares?), sweet potatoes or winter squash, peas, corn

Aromatics: Peeled garlic cloves are a great addition, and a bay leaf is practically mandatory. Parsley is common, as are whole peppercorns and thyme.

Salt: You need some! You can use anything you have on hand, or try soy sauce.

Extras: White wine is perhaps the most common addition to vegetable stock. You can also use a splash of fruit juice (try apple cider!) for a slightly sweet stock that would be good in squash soup.

Look out for: Brassica vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower) often taste overwhelmingly strong. Use tomatoes in moderation, as they have a strong flavor too. Beets will make your stock pink. Using herbs with a particular flavor palette is fine, but remember to label your stock with this so you don’t use something heavy on Italian herbs to make a Japanese soup!

The method

Roughly chop the vegetables: quartering them is fine!

Aim for roughly equal volumes of vegetables and water. If eyeballing is not your strength (it isn’t mine!), throw the vegetables into a big liquid measuring cup as you chop. Throw it all in a stock pot. [Note: do as I say, not as I do, here. The photo below doesn’t have nearly as many vegetables in it as you should use!]

stock - before.jpg

Heat it to a boil, then lower the heat until it’s simmering. Leave the top off. Simmer for about an hour.

stock - during.jpg

You can strain the stock at this point with a colander and store it in the fridge or freezer, or you can continue to simmer it until it reduces significantly — I usually aim for about an eighth of the original volume — and then cool it and freeze it in ice cube trays. Once it’s fully frozen, you can pop it out and throw the cubes into bags for later use. Note how concentrated it is so you know how much water to add when you use it!

Stock will keep a few days in the fridge; if you need it to keep longer, pour it out into a pot, boil it for 10 minutes, and then put it back in the fridge. It will keep forever in the freezer, but will taste best in the first two or three months.

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