Monday, September 29, 2008

I did it again

Once again I have managed to throw a bunch of stuff in the KitchenAid mixer, pour into a pan, pop into the oven and, 25 minutes later, pull out a really yummy cake -- all without following a recipe!

Yay me!

Downside: yet another kitchen triumph that may be emulated but never duplicated because not only did I not write down what I did as I went along, I didn't even measure anything. Slap-dash baking at its best!

Which wasn't what I set out to do. Late morning-ish I took 4 eggs from the fridge and a stick of unsalted butter from the freezer and set them out on the counter to warm up to room temp. I thought I was going to make a small genoise with a nice butter-creamcheese-tangerine frosting around, oh, mid-afternoon or so.

Then I got caught up in sewing projects, and laundry, and baking more whole grain bread (a higher priority, to my husband, than cake, though not to me), and the day got away from me and suddenly it was 6 pm and I was wiped and I still hadn't made a cake (Sunday is CAKE NIGHT! in our house, so disappointing when I drop the ball and don't come through with the goodies, even if they're just for the two of us).

By that point the eggs were warmer than room temp (they'd been hit with an hour of late afternoon sun on a warm, sticky day here in Hilo, oops) and the butter was droopy and leaking. And I just didn't have the zip left to do the genoise thing, which isn't all that hard but is a bit of a production.

So instead I dumped the butter in the KitchenAid mixer bowl, poured in some raw sugar and set it whipping up. 4 eggs to one stick butter is a little off as a general cake ratio, though, so I added about 2 TBSP of cream cheese. And the 1/2 cup of grated tangerine rind and sugar I'd had in the freezer, and had thawed with the genoise in mind. In that went. All four eggs, one at a time. A generous glug of vanilla extract. Threw some toasted almond pieces in the mini-chop and ground them up, in they went, too. Then a couple of generous scoops of (fluffed with a fork) whole wheat pastry flour, a bit of salt, a couple teaspoons of baking powder, and a few large spoonfuls of yogurt.

Looked like batter, tasted like batter, so into my 7x11 pyrex baking dish it went, and into the oven at 350 until browned and yummy smelling and done. Total prep time, oh, maybe 3 minutes?

So, some kind of an almond-tangerine butter cake. A little frosting would be good, or a drizzle/soak with orange syrup, but I haven't bothered with any of that. I did, however, have a nice piece for breakfast this morning with my coffee, and the flavor is even better than yesterday.

Now, the dilemma: do I wrap up a few pieces and put them in the freezer for future Cake Nights, or just keep the pan in the fridge till it's gone?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Delicious Brown Rice

Ooops, somehow I've let almost a month go by since my last post. Partly 'cause I've been busy answering feng shui questions on my "Fast Feng Shui" blog, and partly 'cause I've been spending most of my free time sewing lately (and reading, but I'm always reading), but mostly because I haven't cooked much of anything very interesting recently.

What I do cook a lot of, no matter what else we might be eating, is brown rice. My husband sometimes eats it twice a day. And because he's a certifiable health food nut, that means we go through many 2 lb. bags of this wonderful stuff:

The last time my parents visited, my dad (who's a potato man, and not super enthusiastic about rice) commented, with some surprise, that the brown rice I'd served was "really good." That's because I've learned a thing or two about cooking yummy brown rice over the years. Here are my secrets:

Brown Rice Secret #1:
Use organic brown basmati rice, not "long grain"! Plain old long grain brown rice looks the same as basmati and costs a noticeable amount less, but if you've been having a little trouble learning to love brown rice, dig into that pocket and splurge for the good stuff. Get basmati. Lundberg Family Farms Organic Brown Basmati is my all-time favorite and our daily grain. It requires much less washing than the stuff from the bulk bin at any healthfood store I've ever shopped at, and cooks up beautifully. The basic recipe on their website works fine, but I can do better.

Brown Rice Secret #2:
When the instructions say to "rinse," they mean "rinse really well." That means put your measured amount of rice into the pot (or your rice cooker insert) and run cool water in to cover by at least an inch. Swish it around with your fingers, then look at the water. It will be either somewhat or very cloudy. Pour out the water (into a mesh strainer is a good idea, to catch the grains that will make a dash for the drain). Now rinse again, at least once. One rinse is never enough. Depending on what rice you are using, you may have to rinse three or more times before the water is acceptably clear. Skimping on this step leads to gummy rice.

Brown Rice Secret #3:
Most cooking instructions will mention a TBSP of butter, and call it "optional." I use olive oil, rather than butter, and consider it essential. Even with good rinsing, the starch in the water is likely to create lots of bubbles that will seep out under the pot lid, run down the side of the pan, and make a mess on the stove. A little oil prevents a nasty cleanup job later. Plus it's tasty.

Brown Rice Secret #4:
I use a little more water than the 2:1 ratio Lundberg recommends. Back in the days when I cooked on the stovetop, I used 2.5 cups water for every cup of rice. Now that I use a rice cooker I use about 4-1/4 cups of water to my standard 2 cups of uncooked rice.

Brown Rice Secret #5:
Use filtered water. If you don't yet have a Britta filter or equivalent, what are you waiting for?
If you want to get really fancy, substitute chicken or vegetable broth for half the water.

Brown Rice Secret #6:
Salt to taste, of course, but I also add to the pot:
~ freshly ground black pepper and maybe a dash of cayenne or chipotle powder
~ 1-2 TBSP of fresh lemon, lime, tangerine, or orange juice (basically, whatever citrus I can get my hands on); a splash of dry sherry is a good substitute if there's no citrus in the house
~ about 1 tsp of some kind of dried herb (my standard is thyme)

And I usually also toss in:
~ about 1/2 tsp dried coriander
~ 3 whole green cardamom pods, crushed with a knife blade so the seed flavor can get out
~ 2-3 fat slices of fresh ginger root

This sounds like a lot to put in everyday rice, but my rice cooker is next to the spice drawer, and when you cook rice as frequently as I do it becomes habit and doesn't take long at all to toss the extras in. Especially when you don't bother to measure anything but the rice and the water and just eyeball everything else.

If you want to get really fancy make an easy pilaf:
Add 1/2 cup of french green lentils and an additional cup of water
and 1 cup of finely chopped carrots and celery

Brown Rice Secret #7
Get a rice cooker. I resisted this for years. I thought a rice cooker was a needless extravagance. Why did people bother? They're pricey, and take up a lot of counter space. Then I got a very nice one for under $40 at Costco, and can't imagine going back. It's just so easy: put all your stuff in the pot (you'll have rinsed your rice really well first, of course!), close the lid, and push the "brown rice" setting. It takes a lot longer than on the stove, but once you get in the habit of remembering to start the rice sooner than usual, you don't have to think about it until the machine beeps at you that it's done. I do not miss popping into the kitchen every 10 minutes or so to check on the rice and see if the flame needs to be turned up or down, or if it's done yet.

If you don't have a rice cooker, bring the covered pot to a boil, then turn town to a simmer and cook until the water has all been absorbed. This will take about 45-50 minutes, but keep an eye on it. If your pot lid is not tight-fitting you could loose a lot of water to steam and the rice will be charred on the bottom, before you expect it to be done. When all the water has been absorbed, remove from heat (still covered) and let sit 5-10 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Happy healthy eating!