Speedy Lemon Linguine & An Alberta Food Event!

Team! Time is of the essence!

The next few weeks promise to be some of the busiest ever. Ever! And so, when it comes to eating, efficiency is going to be key. Tastiness will also be essential: to keep my stamina – and my sanity – I’ll need to be well-sated. So, to kick of a few weeks of easy, delicious meals, I’m starting with a super-tasty dinner recipe that can be made in the time it takes to boil a pot of pasta. Good news!

Upload from March 12, 2012

Here’s the idea: while your pot of linguine bubbles away, a handful of kitchen staples – lemon juice, olive oil, parmesan – are stirred together. Throw that speedy sauce into the pot of drained, al-dente pasta alongside a handful of peppery arugula and super-fresh basil, and dinner is complete. 

(Unless, of course, you’re the type to laugh in the face of fat, in which case you should absolutely top off a serving with a spoonful of that decadent and slightly-sweet Italian soft cheese, mascarpone.) 

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While the dish will turn out just fine using your regular run-of-the-mill lemons, it’ll be extra special if you can get your hands on Meyer lemons, a fragrant variety born from the union of standard lemon and an orange. The smooth, thin-skinned result is part-tart, part-sweet, and all happiness. 

Upload from March 12, 2012

Never before having seen them in Edmonton, I found them last week nestled next to that horseman of the industrialized food apocalypse, the Grapple. Being one who covets unusual foods the way birders long for the Dodo, I took five lemons home with me. And while I had intended to play up the fruits’ unusual sweetness by baking, time precluded me from doing so.  And I’m glad that it did: the mildness of the Meyer plays just as well with savoury ingredients (in fact, it plays well with 100 different things!), allowing you to add a lot of lemon flavor without leaving your other ingredients overpowered, or you puckered.

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If you’re in Edmonton and want to give Meyer lemons a try – they work well here, and in all sorts of other awesome creations – you can find them at Save-On Foods and, I’m told, Costco. If Meyers are beyond your reach or your interest, use regular lemons, scaling the juice back by a third and adding a little spoonful of sugar to the juice to mellow it out.

Now, like I said: time is of the essence. Let’s get to it!  

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Lemon & Herb Linguine 
Adapted from Jamie Oliver
Serves 6-8 (and halves easily!)

Ingredients
500 grams dried linguine
Juice of 3 Meyer lemons, or 2 regular lemons mixed with 1 tsp sugar*
Zest of 1 lemon
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1-2 dried red chiles, crushed (optional)
1.5 cups grated Parmesan cheese
Sea salt & cracked pepper
1 large handful arugula
1 large handful finely chopped fresh basil leaves
6 spoonfuls mascarpone cheese (optional)

Directions
1. Over high heat, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once the water’s boiling, add the linguine and cook over high heat for 11-12 minutes or until it’s al dente.

2. While the pasta cooks, whisk together lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil and chiles (if using) until combined. Dump in the grated cheese and whisk again until everything comes together reasonably well (don’t worry if little bits of cheese remain visible — they’ll get taken care of later!). Season with a couple big pinches of salt and pepper.  

Upload from March 12, 20123. Once the pasta’s cooked, drain it and return it to the pot. Pour the lemon sauce over the pasta and give everything a stir until the pasta is evenly-coated with sauce and the cheese has melted. Add the arugula and basil and stir again to combine. Give the pasta a try and adjust flavours as necessary, adding more lemon juice, cheese, herbs, etc. as you see fit. Top each serving with a small spoonful of fresh mascarpone cheese.  

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*Like most citrus fruits, the skin of the Meyer lemon is intensely fragrant and full of flavour. If you don’t want that goodness to go to waste, wash your lemons well to remove any wax, then zest or peel the skin off the fruit before juicing, tossing the zest/peel into a small jar of sugar or salt. Give the whole thing a stir and, in a few days, you’ll have lemon-scented sugars  or salts. Try substituting the lemon sugar for regular sugar in a pound cake, and the salt sprinkled atop roasted potatoes or shoestring french fries
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Eat Alberta!

For all of you Alberta folks, Eat Alberta will be holding their second food conference on Saturday, April 14th from 8:30AM to 5:00 PM at NAIT. The day promises to be educational, tasty and a whole lot of fun, offering up:

  • Hands-on sessions that will walk you through the how-tos of making cheese, bread, pasta, macarons, indigenous fare and more!
  • Tasting sessions that will introduce you to amazing local fare, including fruit wine, honey, cheese and beer. 
  • Presentations, including a keynote session from Alberta producers from Nature’s Green Acres Farms on the importance of considering the environmental impacts of our food decisions, and a session all about foraging for wild foods. Awesome! 

Registration for the conference opens today at 8:00 AM MST. For more about the event, or to register, visit Eat Alberta at www.eatalberta.ca!  

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The Start of a Good Sandwich: No-Knead Baguettes!

Last week, I hopped aboard four planes, innumerable taxis and a shiny bus to travel from city to city to city and back.

The purpose of the trip — work — was a great success. But when you spend an average of twelve hours in each place, most of it engaged in traveling, working, and/or sleeping (mostly just the or), there’s not a whole lot of time left for finding food.  

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So meals were sourced from whatever was open and close, and consumed with suitcases in tow. And while everything that crossed my plate or take-out bag was tasty, after seven straight meals eaten out, all you really want when you get home — aside from finding an extra day to catch up on all those lost hours of sleep — is something simple, un-deep-fried, and wholly homemade.

A sandwich. 

Upload from March 05, 2012So on Saturday, I made a second attempt at the baguettes that had, last summer, burnt something fierce to my baking pan. And this time, having access to an oven unafraid of hovering at a consistent 500 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 minutes (this is key!), they were a delicious success. Their crisp exterior infused with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt, their chewy interior intensely flavourful thanks to the slow rising time, they were the perfect starting point for a homemade sandwich. 

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I ate one half-baguette sandwiched topped with unsalted butter, crisp radishes, and fresh pepper and sea salt; the other, with avocado, tomato and arugula. 

But, had I been a little lazier and less intent on eating veggies, I would have stuck with the original recipe and squashed whole olives, halved cherry tomatoes and whole garlic cloves into the tops of the unbaked baguettes and enjoyed them that way. And I would have been wholly happy either way. Homemade bread, having eaten out or not, is tastiness, plain and simple.
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No-Knead Baguettes
Adapted from Steamy Kitchen, where it was sourced from Jim Lahey’s My Bread
Makes 4 baguettes

Ingredients
2⅔ - 3 cups (400 grams) bread or all-purpose flour*
3/4 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp instant or active dry yeast
1½ cups cool water (55-65°F)
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp coarse salt

Directions
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, table salt and yeast. Pour in water and mix with a wooden spoon until dough is soft and sticky. If bits of dry flour remain in the bowl, add water a tbsp at a time until the flour is incoprorated into dough. Cover bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free place until it’s doubled in size, 12-18 hours. 

Upload from March 05, 20122. Once dough has doubled in size, use a spatula to scrape it out of bowl onto a well-floured sheet of wax paper. Dust your hands with flour, then turn the dough over itself a couple of times to shape into a ball. Place dough in a well-oiled bowl, seam-side down. Brush a bit of olive oil over the top of the dough and sprinkle with a few big pinches of the coarse salt. Cover bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free place until ti’s doubled in size once more, 1-2 hours.

Upload from March 05, 20123. Half an hour before dough is done doubling in size, place rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Oil a 13x18-inch baking sheet. 

4. Once dough has doubled in size, cut it into four equal-sized pieces. With floured hands, gently stretch each piece of dough out to be roughly 1-inch across and 10-inches long and place on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pieces of dough, leaving 1 inch of space between each baguette. Brush each baguette with remaining olive oil and sprinkle evenly with remaining salt. Bake for 15-25 minutes or until tops are golden. Remove baguettes from oven and let cool on pan for five minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.  

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*You want to make sure you’ve got the right amount of flour: too much, and the baguettes will be too tough; too little, and they’ll be sticky. The best way to ensure you get the right amount is to measure the flour by weight using a scale. If you don’t have a scale, I’ve found that 2 measured using the scoop-and-level method (i.e., dip the measuring cup into the bag of flour and level it off) yields about 400 grams. If you do try this method, don’t add all of the 1.5 cups of water right off the bat — start with a bit less and add more, 1 tbsp at a time, until the flour is fully incorporated into the dough. 

Food Delivery Schemes + Broiled Grapefruit

For the past week, I’ve been sort of stranded. And I can’t remember the last time I’ve eaten so well.

See, seven days ago, I relocated to my sister and brother-in-law’s place in the suburbs to kitty-sit while they adventured south. Not long after I settled in, winter showed up, four months late but in full force, making the treadless tires that I’ve put off replacing for months — because the roads are fine, Dad — essentially useless. And with the closest grocery store not close at all (remember: suburbs), I would have been left to rely on nonperishables and eat — happily, but not healthily — pancakes all week. Would have.

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Fortunately, my hosts are part of the growing group of people that subscribe to a food delivery system. Here’s the basic idea: In exchange for a set number of dollars, hard-working folks will bring great food — typically boasting at least one label from the feel-good trifecta of local, organic and fair trade — from their central distribution centre to your doorstep on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. While these vegetable box schemes started off by focusing on fresh produce, nowadays it’s not uncommon to see bread, dairy, eggs, and more (again, of the feel-good variety) offered overtop of fruits and veggies. 

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Last week, on the day the delivery was set to arrive, I scurried home from work to find happiness in a waxed cardboard box: fingerling potatoes boasting the prettiest pink sheen, truly orange tangelos, earthy shitakes, the grocery-store-elusive perfect avocado, and so much more.

There was, in one box, enough to last me at least a week. And, with the remnants of my hosts’ last delivery still hanging out in the fridge — multi-coloured carrots and beets, crisp broccoli — alongisde the few supplementary veggies they pick up now and then, it’s by both necessity and enjoyment that I’ve been feasting on produce all week. 

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The recipe below — a tasty way of making a dent in an abundance of citrus — is just one of the many things that’s come out of a surfeit of fresh food; I’ve roasted broccoli with garlic and root vegetables with thyme; I’ve made beet chips, Nicoise salad, vegetarian shepherd’s pie, banana ice cream, and the ultimate veggie pizza. I’ve forgone my requisite morning bowl of oatmeal every day since arriving so that I can eat leftovers for breakfast. 

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In short, then, food delivery systems are an awesome way to fill up your fridge. Whether you’re a city-dweller like me or live, like my parents, in the near-middle of nowhere, chances are there’s a vegetable box scheme within your reach. Of course, the specifics — the price, schedule, quantity, quality, contents, flexibility in choice and overall aim (local, organic, etc.) — will differ with the system. And while it’ll likely cost you a little more than if you were to pick up the same items from your non-organic grocery store, it’ll be for good reason. 

Because the benefits are clear: 

  • It’s beyond easy — food appears like magic (or old-school milk). 
  • It’s super-tasty — if I could share with you one of those colourful carrots, you’d never want to go back to the old grocery-store standbys. And while the quality will vary between items and schemes, have a quick chat with folks who are already signed up and they’ll steer you to the best of the best!
  • It’s fun — Not only is there novelty in having food show up on your door, but the food itself can be novel too — sea beans, anyone?  
  • It encourages you to eat your fruits and veggies. If you’re clever about the way you order, opting for both variety and different degrees of perishability, one installment should keep you eating well for a good while!
  • On top of it all, you get to support environmentally- and socially-conscious agriculture. 

If you’re in Edmonton, check out The Organic Box or The Good Food Box (I have no affiliation or ties to either). Outside of Edmonton: get Googling or ask family, friends and your favourite farmers’ market producers to see if they know of a system. And then get cooking!
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Broiled Grapefruit
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Serves 1 — scale up for more!

Ingredients
1 ruby red grapefruit, washed
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 big pinches of ground ginger

Directions
Position oven rack close to the top of the oven so that, when you insert the baking dish into the oven, the grapefruit will be within 4 inches of the broiler. Heat broiler to high. 

Cut grapefruit in half horizontally. Loosen each grapefruit segment slightly by running a small, serrated knife between each segment and its surrounding membrane. Place grapefruit halves in a baking dish. 

Upload from February 27, 2012In a small bowl, combine sugar and ginger. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly overtop each grapefruit half. Transfer grapefruits to the top rack of the oven and broil for 5-15 minutes or until tops are beginning to brown. Remove from oven, spoon any juices that have collected in the bottom of the baking dish overtop grapefruit, and serve warm!

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*The grapefruits will be tastiest if the sugary syrup that develops during the broiling process is able to collect in the grapefruit (I realized this after I made the one you see in the photos). With that in mind, once you’ve cut the grapefruit in half, trim the halves a bit so that the centres are slightly lower than the edges. 

In Celebration: Potato Pancakes

Team, I’m deeply conflicted about this post.

On the one hand, tomorrow is, in all its lexical guises – Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival – Pancake Day. The day where pockets of the world don their sparkly beads to eat starchy discs of deliciousness composed of many of the tasty ingredients that, for those observing Lent, are off limits for the forty days that follow.  

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And pancakes have been my favourite of foods since the beginning of (my) time, when I first ate them topped with whipped cream and rainbow sprinkles. They’re my answer to the age-old small-talk question of what one thing I’d eat if I were to be stranded on a desert island until the end of (my) time, had I been so short-sighted as to not do a better job of planning my desert-island grocery shopping trip. (Fun fact: a better answer to the desert island question, from a nutritional point of view, is hot dogs.) Imbued with history, endless versatility, and fluffiness: pancakes are what I wanted to make. 

But then, I’ve already shared pancakes with you guys. Four times. And it would have been more, had my mother not intervened, more than once, to urge me to post something other than another pancake recipe, Stephanie. Not wanting you to think me the Anti-Atkins, my mother’s words echoed in my ear as I contemplated pancakes once more. And so, I was reluctant. 

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Like I said: Deeply conflicted. These, friends, are big questions I’m grappling with.

So I went for a second opinion. And, after outlining an incoherently roundabout way in which I could give credence to Pancake Day without actually making pancakes (there was talk of comparing pizza pies to pancakes), my sister, with the raise of an eyebrow, gave me the OK to make pancakes.

Upload from February 20, 2012

Naturally, then, I’ve gone for a compromise: Potato pancakes. Not the sweet, floury things we typically associate with pancakes, but savoury, crispy rounds that aren’t unlike a giant French fry in texture and flavour. Topped off with plain yogurt, green onions or homemade applesauce and served with veggies on the side, they make for a tasty meal, Pancake Day or not.

They come together speedily and will fry to golden-round perfection as long as you take the time to squeeze the excess moisture from the grated potato (which, if you’ve got a bit of kid in your soul, happens to be a whole lot of fun). Which means you’ll have enough time, once you’ve polished off these tasty cakes, to make the legitimate pancakes that I couldn’t. Or rather, that I couldn’t share. Come tomorrow, I will, of course, be making both. 

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Potato Pancakes
Adapted from Epicurious
Makes 12 2.5-inch pancakes (serves 3-4)

Ingredients
1 small yellow onion, peeled
4 medium potatoes (Russet, Idaho, Yukon Gold), peeled (about 1.75 pounds)
1 large egg
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
Butter and vegetable oil for frying

Directions
1. Place a large, non-stick baking sheet in your oven and preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Using a coarse grater or food processor with grater attachment, coarsely grate onion.
3. Place grated onion in a strainer and set the strainer in the sink or over a deep bowl, to drain.
4. Coarsely grate potato and place in the strainer with the onion to drain further.

Upload from February 20, 20126. In a large bowl, lightly beat egg with a whisk.
7. Add flour to beaten egg and whisk to combine.
8. Using clean hands, squeeze as much excess moisture out of onion-potato mixture as you can. Transfer mixture to paper towels and pat/press to remove additional moisture.
9. Transfer onion-potato mixture to egg mixture, season with salt and pepper, and stir to evenly distribute egg mixture through the potato and onion.

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10. In a large, non-stick skillet, heat 1/2 tbsp oil and 1/2 tbsp butter over medium heat until hot.
11. Transfer scant 1/4 cup of batter to pan and gently press with a spatula to flatten until pancakes are roughly 2.5 inches across (a bit flatter than you see in the photo). Repeat to create 2-3 pancakes (as many as will comfortably fit in your pan).
12. Fry pancakes for 4 minutes, or until bottoms are golden. Flip and fry for an addition 4 minutes, or until the other sides are golden.
13. Transfer cooked pancakes to a paper towel to drain, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and transfer to the baking sheet in the oven to keep warm.
14. Wipe pan clean with a paper towel (careful, the pan will be hot!) add another 1/2 tbsp each of oil and butter, and cook next batch of pancakes*. Repeat, cleaning the pan and adding new oil and butter before each batch.  

Upload from February 20, 2012*The potatoes and onions release moisture as they sit, so you may find that your batter gets more liquidy as time passes. If that’s the case, simply spoon the excess liquid off.

Gram's Coffee Cake

Meet my favourite cake. 

A single-layer, vanilla variety studded with cinnamon-y Granny Smiths. It may not be the prettiest or most elaborate thing I’ve ever made, but this is easily the most special cake in my repertoire.

Upload from February 13, 2012

The recipe came from my grandmother, who would make it whenever she travelled from Prince Edward Island to visit our family. It’s the cake of my childhood: of my first forays in the kitchen; of summer camping trips where, on mornings when we’d hit the road early, cake stood in for breakfast; of our family dogs who would, if ever you looked away from your plate, give your slice the attention it deserved. Baking of Proustian proportions it’s not, but the memories it evokes are mine and wholly happy. 

Upload from February 13, 2012

When my grandmother passed away nearly a decade ago, the recipe seemed lost for good. Not the sort of cake we’d make without her, no one in my extended family had written the recipe down. Last year, just a month after I’d sliced into another disappointing attempt at a passable replacement, my aunt Lauraine found it, tucked inside a notebook detailing the dishes Gram would make when she came to Alberta.

Upload from February 13, 2012

I’d been holding off on making it until the right occasion came along. And now, as so many of the people I care about have something to celebrate – from birthdays to big-deal life changes and achievement – it’s time. Because this cake – essentially the baked-good version of a tight hug, with its warm batter enveloping squishy little bits of apple – is a coffee cake, something that’s meant to be shared with the people you love. 

Upload from February 13, 2012

So I made it yesterday. Having put it in a too-small pan, it rose to great heights before unceremoniously overflowing onto my oven floor. Baking gods on my side (well, sort of), my oven didn’t burst into flame and the cake tasted just fine. It didn’t look quite right though – monstrously bubbly at the edges – so I gave it another go, this time in a slightly too-big pan (the proper ones, if you’re wondering, are with my parents on PEI). And though the apple goo was spread a little thinner than it should be, the cake turned out once more.  

With a tender, sweet vanilla crumb that finds balance in a sugar-crisp shell dotted with tart bites of cinnamon-spicy apples, it’s happiness. And I’ve got lots of it. So for those of you celebrating: expect cake. And those of you who aren’t (your time will come!): expect cake. And for those of you at a distance: give the recipe a try while you wait, but next time I see you, we’re making cake. I’ve got a good recipe.
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Gram’s Coffee Cake
Makes one single-layer, 9-inch square cake
Note: Don’t be tempted to use a smaller cake pan — the cake needs all of that room to keep from bubbling over!

Ingredients
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup of milk (I used 2%)
1/2 cup Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced into 1-cm cubes
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
3 tbsp melted butter
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon

Directions
1. Butter and flour a 9-inch square cake pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together baking powder, salt and 1.5 cups of flour. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and granulated sugar.*
4. Add egg and vanilla to creamed mixture and beat until light and fluffy.  

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5. Add a third of the sifted mixture to the creamed mixture and stir to lightly combine. 
6. Add half of the milk to the creamed mixture, and stir to lightly combine.
7. Repeat steps 5 and 6, adding another third of the sifted mixture, followed by the remaining milk, followed by the remaining flour, stirring lightly after each addition to combine. Don’t overmix! 
8. Spread batter into prepared cake pan.

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9. In a small bowl, combine apple, brown sugar, melted butter, remaining 2 tbsp of flour, and cinnamon and stir until apples are evenly coated with the resulting goo. 
10. Sprinkle apple mixture evenly overtop cake.
11. Bake cake for 40-50 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. 

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*You can do steps 3-7 in a large bowl using a spoon or hand mixer, or in a stand mixer (keep the speed of your mixer low for steps 5-7)— either works just fine!

How to Cook Rice!

Today we wrap up our foray into the wonderful world of rice. And, after learning about the difference between all sorts of varieties of this tasty grain, we’re ready to get down to business and make a batch of the stuff.

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I won’t be giving you the operator’s guide to a rice cooker because, while they’re handy, you can make an awesome pot of rice without having to invest in one-use gadgetry.

Instead, I’ll pass along a simple technique that – requiring just a pot, heat, and teeny spot in your memory – can go places no rice cooker can: campgrounds, rice cooker-less friends’ houses, maybe even the moon (we’ll see how that election turns out). I’ll also touch on some other common rice-cooking techniques, along with a few ways to make your rice, cooked to perfection, extra-tasty.

Friends, grab a suitable hat and hang onto it tight – it’s time for one last rice adventure!

Upload from February 06, 2012Good news, team: this standard approach – known as the absorption method – is easy stuff. The key is to combine rice in a pot with just as much water as it can absorb when cooked over low heat. Fortunately for you and I, other folks have already figured the right ratios of rice and water, and the optimal cooking times, for all kinds of rice. Good deal.
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How to Cook Rice 
1 measure of dry rice yields ~3 measures of cooked rice

Ingredients
1 measure of rice
Corresponding measures of water (see table below)
Additional water for washing rice 

Instructions
1.   Remove excess starch from the rice by swishing it in a pot of cold water, changing the water a few times until the water stays clear. Drain.*
2.   Add specified quantity of water to the pot (see table below).
3.   Bring water and rice to a boil over high heat, stirring once or twice to prevent the grains from sticking to the pot.
4.   As soon as the rice comes to a boil, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and reduce heat to the lowest setting possible. Cook for specified amount of time (see table below).
5.   When the time is up, remove pot from the heat and let sit 5-10 minutes (see table below). 
6.   Remove lid and let rice sit for a few minutes more to let excess heat and moisture escape.
7.   Using a fork, gently fluff rice to separate kernels from one another.
Upload from February 06, 2012*Removing excess starch helps prevent mushy, sticky rice. This step is a must for white rice!
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While these are the industry-standards for awesome rice, lots of factors affect how your rice cooks (hence the range in cooking times!), including the shape and size of the grain, the thickness of your pot, the heat-level of your stove, and the list goes on. So if your rice doesn’t turn out perfect on the first go, simply adjust the cooking time or quantity of water as you see fit when you make your next batch. 

Upload from February 06, 2012Now that you’ve got the basics down, here are a few tips to making the standard method produce its best work!

  • Keep the lid on: Resist the urge to peek partway through the cooking process, or you’ll let valuable heat and moisture escape. Oh no!
  • Set a timer: One sure-fire way to soggy or burnt rice is to forget when you put it on the stove. Set a time both when you’re cooking and when you’re giving it it’s post-cooking rest.
  • Use an appropriate-sized pot: If your pot is too teeny, your rice will boil over into a mushy mess. For 1 cup of dry rice, I use a 1.5 L pot with great success!
  • Soaked rice = awesome rice: Soaking rinsed rice in cold water for half an hour before cooking gives the grains a chance to plump and soften. Once you’ve soaked the rice, drain and proceed with Step 2 as directed, reducing your water by about 1/8 of a measure. 

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Here are a few other easy paths to amazing rice!

  •  BoilingEssentially the same cooking technique you’d use for pasta, some folks simply chuck rice into a pot of boiling water and simmer it until it’s tender, draining off any excess liquid. This technique is particularly common with wild rice. 
  • Baking: This low-effort method of combining boiling water and rice in a casserole dish, covering and baking, is said to make for the best brown rice you’ll ever eat. Awesome! 
  • Steaming: This unusual approach involves setting rice and water in a bowl on a rack in a pot of more water, where the rice is then steamed. Gosh! Word has it, though, that it makes for the most tender jasmine rice around. 

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 Once you’ve got the standard technique down, give one of these tasty variations a try: 

Upload from February 06, 2012If you’re feeling really adventurous, skip the standard method and try mastering a technique specific to a dish built on a foundation of rice, such as risottopilaf or sushi
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So there we have it team — from the difference between brown and white, to how to decipher other varieties, to how to cook the stuff — you’re armed with just about everything you need to know to make an awesome batch of rice from memory! To celebrate this momentous occassion, check back next week for a recipe that’s — everyone breathe a sigh of relief — rice-free!

4 Tips to Help Find the Right Rice for You!

Keen to experience the globe through our plate, we now have a lot of options when it comes to rice. So in this installment of our rice adventure, it’s all about navigating the seemingly endless array with ease. 

Upload from January 30, 2012I’ll avoid science speak as much as I can because, for the eater, there are easier ways to get to know this tasty grain. Just remember that, like apples and oranges, varieties of rice can differ, even though they’re all still rice in the end. 

With that in mind, here are four simple things to look — and smell — for next time you venture down the rice aisle. Remember what these guys mean in terms of tastiness, and you’ll get exactly what you’re after! 

Upload from January 30, 2012Before we get into the general tips, I want to start with an exception. Because while all of the simple factors I’m going to talk about from hereon in apply to most of the varieties of rice you’ll have available to you, they don’t apply to one: wild rice. 

See, much of the rice we consume — the rice we think of as rice — is a member of a big group of grasses called Oryza sativa. Wild rice, on the other hand, belongs to a distantly-related clan of grasses — Zizanias - that have their own set of tasty characteristics. Here’s what’s up with wild rice: 

  • Appearance: Dark brown or black, long-grained rice that splits when cooked to reveal a white interior. 
  • Flavour: Nutty, wholesome, delicious!
  • Health factor: High, thanks to it’s whole-grain status.
  • Cooking time: 60-75 minutes, typically. 
  • Cost: Grown mostly in North American lakes and streams, wild rice is tricky to harvest (there’s talk of canoes), making it pricier than regular rices. 

If you’re choosing wild, make sure to check the label — if it doesn’t say it’s wild, it’s probably not. As for those wild rice blends, they’re a tasty — and less expensive — mix of wild and brown rices. 

Now, onto the tips!

Upload from January 30, 2012Last week, we learned the difference between brown rice and white and what that means for your meal. Because the difference is an important one, here are the basics one more time: 

  • Brown rice = nutty flavour, chewy texture, more good-for-you qualities, longer cooking time, shorter shelf life
  • White rice = mild flavour, tender texture, fewer good-for-you qualities, shorter cooking time, longer shelf life

Rice comes in more colours than just brown and white though (think red, green and black!). Lucky for us eaters, you can generally assume that rice with its exterior layers intact — that is, rice that isn’t smooth like white rice — will be similar to brown. Of course, exceptions exist (Bhutanese red rice looks like brown rice but cooks as quick as white!), so if you’re not sure what to do, Google away! 

Coloured rices offer up a lot of options in the way of fun. What could be cooler than a rice pudding made with short-grain Forbidden Rice, a naturally-black grain that turns indigo when cooked? 

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One of the most amazing things about rice is its ability to offer up so many textures: a bitey base for a saucy curry; a sticky solution to an otherwise impossible bite of sushi; a comfortingly creamy bowl of risotto or rice pudding.

While your cooking method will influence your rice’s texture, the big determinant is really the length of its grain. Here’s what you need to know:  

Upload from January 30, 2012The general rule, then, is: the shorter the grain, the stickier and softer the rice (due to the presence of more sticky starches); the longer the grain, the drier and firmer the rice (due to presence of more dry starches). Medium-grain rice falls somewhere between the two, with cooking times for all three depending on whether you’re using brown or white rice and your method of cooking (more on that next time!). 

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While most rice tastes and smells like, well, rice, a few varieties have their own unique fragrances and flavours. Known as aromatics, these are easiest to identify with your nose. But if the packaging gets in your way, no worries — there’s not a lot to remember!

See, these aromatics all derive their popcorn-y fragrance and nutty flavour from the same chemical compound, meaning they all smell and taste similar. They’re all long-grained too. So really, all you need to know is this: 

  • Basmati Rice: The most intense and dry of the batch, due to an aging process. Available in brown or white, this stuff is the standard for Indian-style curries. 
  • Jasmine Rice: Not aged, jasmine is less intense and more tender than basmati. Available in brown or white, jasmine is common further east of India. 
  • Texmati, Wild Pecan and Wehani: These varieties are made by crossing basmati and non-aromatics, making them the least intense. To be best of my knowledge, only Texmati is offered in white. 

Word has it that aromatic rices lose their fragrances over time (especially if they haven’t been aged), so use these guys up quickly! 
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To finish off with a quick review:

  • Plant Type: Wild rice — long grained and packed with good-for-you things — is it’s own variety of rice. 
  • Grain Colour: Brown grains — and other grains with their bran and germ intact — provide rice that’s nutty, chewy, loaded with good-for-you nutrients and fiber, and takes a bit longer to cook. White grains — grains without their bran and germ intact — are mild, tender, less nutrient-dense and quick-cooking.
  • Grain Length: Shorter-grain varieties produce rice that’s sticky and softer while longer-grain varieties produce rice that’s drier and firmer. Medium-grain rices fall somewhere in between.
  • Flavour & Fragrance: Aromatics are a group of five long-grained rices that have a popcorn-y aroma and a nutty flavour. Common varieties include basmati and jasmine.

There we have it team — four tips to help you navigate the rice aisle. Happy rice-hunting! 

Brown Rice vs. White Rice: The Big Difference and What it Means for Your Meal!

Buying rice seems like an easy business, sure. 

But come Saturday morning, when you find yourself staring down six shelves of the stuff, contemplating the difference is between short, brown and brown, short, choosing the right rice can be a confusing experience. 

But that shouldn’t be the case. Because as a grain whose 100,000+ varieties can offer up so many different kinds of deliciousness, and who feeds more of us than any other cereal out there, rice is something worth knowing how to navigate. So over the next two posts, I’m going to pass along some simple ways to determine what a rice’s name and appearance mean in tasty terms so that, when you stare down those shelves, you’re able to pick precisely the variety you want.  

Upload from January 26, 2012Today, we’ll see how one of the simplest distinctions an eater can make between varieties of rice — whether it’s brown or white — can mean a lot for your meal. But first, we need to know what it means for rice to be brown or white. 

Upload from January 26, 2012The big difference between brown and white rice is not the plant they come from, but how that plant is treated when all is said and done. See, almost all rice gets its start the same way — seeds are transformed into teeny plants who spend their lives in irrigated (read: purposefully soggy) fields growing, with the help of water, sunshine and people, into less-teeny plants that bear seeds composed of lots of layers. It’s how these layers are treated that determines whether your rice is brown or white: 

  • Brown rice is a seed whose thick, inedible husk has been removed (via milling), but whose remaining interior layers — the nutrient- and fiber-rich bran and germ that lend brown rice its colour, and the tasty white bit that makes up the bulk of a grain of rice — are left intact.
  • White rice is brown rice taken a step further, where the bran and germ are also removed (via more milling), leaving intact only the tasty white bit (the endosperm) and a bit of residual bran dust.

In other words, white rice is just brown rice that’s shed a few brown sweaters! (Botanists, forgive me.)

Upload from January 27, 2012But what does all of that mean for your meal? The difference between a grain of rice with and without its bran and germ sweaters is a big one, when it comes time to eat the stuff. Here’s what you’ll find:

Flavour & Texture

  • Brown rice typically has a distinctly nutty flavour and offers up a grain with a good amount of “bite”, or chewiness. 
  • White rice, on the other hand, is much milder (and sometimes even sweet) in flavour, and is more tender to the tooth.

Nutritional Value (Fiber, Vitamins and More!)

  • Brown rice’s bran and germ pack a nutritional punch, offering up a handful of good-for-you things like magnesium, phosphorus, B-vitamins, and loads of protein and fiber. 
  • White rice pales in comparison when it comes to vitamins, minerals and fiber (the energy, or caloric, content is not too different). Some minerals and vitamins can be regained through the enrichment process or retained through a process called parboiling, where rice is steamed in its husk to infuse the white bit with the vitamins and minerals found in the bran and germ, after which these exterior layers are removed to reveal a more nutrient-rich form of white rice. 

Cooking Time

  • As a result of its tough exterior, brown rice takes up to 60 minutes in total to cook. 
  • White rice, lacking the fiber-rich exterior, will take as little as 25 minutes to cook.

Shelf Life

  • Dry brown rice will only last about 6 months at room temperature before the fatty bits in the bran and germ go rancid . Word has it that you can stave off the spoiling process for a good while by keeping your brown rice in the fridge or freezer. 
  • Dry white rice, lacking the fatty components found in brown rice, will keep for…well, a long, long time (up to 30 years, if you know what you’re doing!). 
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So there we have it, team: the distinguishing factors between brown rice and white (bran and germ!), and what that means when it comes time to eat (a lot!). 
 
Next up: How to navigate a zillion (or so) different kinds of super-cool rice (including a couple of midnight-coloured varieties!). It’s going to be awesome! 
 

An Eater's Introduction to Rice: Part 1

Tomorrow marks the beginning of a new year at FoodHappy. To celebrate in true FoodHappy style — that is, in hopes of making great food accessible and fun — I’ll be passing along the information you guys have requested most over the past year:  Upload from January 23, 2012Sounds like a rather bland way to ring in a birthday, I know, but rice is anything but boring. Because this teeny seed beats out the other grain powerhouses — corn and wheat — to be the cereal we humans consume most, accounting for over a fifth of the calories we collectively enjoy. Its 100,000+ varieties have, over multiple thousands of years, travelled the globe to fight famines and signal celebrations in an unfathomable array of colours, shapes, textures, and flavours. As the foundation of entire cultures (not to mention a lifetime of tasty dishes!), rice, then, is a big, big deal. 

So to do this grain — and your question — justice, I’ll be posting through the week to pass on tidbits, tips and techniques that will not only help you make the precise batch of rice you’re after (you’ll have the methods down in no time!), but will also help you understand how you got there. Fun will be had, jokes will be made, silly diagrams will undoubtedly be shown. 

So join me over the week, as we embark on:

Upload from January 23, 2012

Yogurt: 5 Reasons Why You Should Pick Plain! (Plus 2 Tasty Recipes!)

Navigating the yogurt aisle can feel like a losing battle, one that forces you to call into question your very identity as an individual (or, given the predominance of pastel packaging, your identity as a woman). 

Should I be the healthy type, choosing the yogurt that boasts bucketloads of that latest superfood? Or should I be the romantic, and pick up a container of seductively satin strawberrilicious swirl? Which would go better in that cake I wanted to bake? And should I really be getting a lifetime’s supply of fibre from a rainbow-hued dairy product? 

Gosh. 

Upload from January 16, 2012Fortunately, we — men and women alike — need not choose because there’s a yogurt that does it all, without imposing on us artificial body-lotion flavours, omega-probiotic-flax-nugget fads, or identity crises. 

Unsweetened, unflavoured, unadulterated, plain yogurt. Simple? Yes. Boring? Anything but.  

When it comes to yogurt, here are five easy reasons why you should keep it simple and pick plain! 

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Though undoubtedly well-meaning when it was first commercialized in the 20th century, flavoured yogurts can now contain ingredient lists so complex one may need more than a dictionary to decipher their meaning. In addition to the heavy dose of sweeteners, these yogurts can contain thickeners, artificial and natural flavourings (and natural may not mean what you think it does), food dyes, and the latest fad ingredients, healthy or not. Exceptions abound, of course, but overall: not awesome. 

Plain yogurt, on the other hand, is a more humble thing: the combination of wholesome dairy and body-friendly bacteria that, together, make for a treat that’s low in lactose and high in protein, vitamins and minerals. Fad-free, plain yogurt has been consumed over the millennia as the food of gods, the mortal’s elixir, the hippie’s dream. 

Imposters do exist, though, so check your ingredients list — the most basic yogurt contains just real milk or cream and a few bacteria (these guys are standards) — and you’ll be doing just fine. Better yet, get googling and learn how to make your own! 

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And this time, the options revolve around a simple question: Do you want to skip the saturated fat or indulge in as much as your body can take? Offered in many more “percent-fat” options than flavoured versions, plain yogurt caters to the whole spectrum, meaning you can have precisely the level of richness you’re looking for (just yesterday, I saw plain offered in percents of 0, 1, 2, 3, 3.9, 6 and beyond!)Just make sure to check the ingredient list before buying, since some super-low-fat varieties are pumped up with not-so-tasty thickening agents like gelatin. 

Upload from January 16, 2012When you pick plain yogurt, you’ve automatically expanded your culinary options a billion-fold (or thereabouts). Because plain yogurt isn’t just a treat, it’s an ingredient to be added to all kinds of dishes. Go plain and you can, with the same container of yogurt: 

And that’s just a start! Yogurt makes a great base for baking and cooking, and typically substitutes well whenever you’re short on buttermilk or sour cream. No big deal, plain yogurt, no big deal. 

Upload from January 16, 2012

In my part of the world, plain yogurt can be found in larger-than-standard sizes that are offered at cheaper per-unit prices than the flavoured varieties. Of course, the savings won’t be worth it if you’re not going to use it all up, but once you see all of the opportunities you have to incorporate plain yogurt into your cooking and baking, you’ll go through it no problem. 

If organic’s not your go-to for dairy, it’s worth detouring in your grocery store to check out their selection of organic yogurt. Where I shop, larger containers are always a great deal, both for me and the happy cows supplying the store!

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If flavoured yogurt is your thing, plain yogurt is the place to start. A blank canvas of tasty, plain yogurt gives you room to experiment with your flavours while maintaining creative control over what makes it into your bowl. Adding more expensive ingredients will, of course, make the cost of your yogurt go up, but then there’s something to be said for having fruity yogurt over fruit-flavoured yogurt, right? Seasonal or frozen fruits should (in theory, at least) provide the tastiest and least expensive options.  

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To help get you started flavouring your own yogurt, I’m passing along two simple recipes that make for awesome, fruit-filled results. Stir a few big spoonfuls of either one into your yogurt and life will be good. For more ways to make your morning yogurt extra-tasty, try:

  • Drizzling your yogurt with honey
  • Adding a dash or two of a pure extract, like vanilla
  • Stirring in a couple spoonfuls of a prepared fruit syrup or sauce that’s high on fruit and low on other stuff
  • Taking inspiration from the recipes below and bubbling or blending together your own syrup or sauce of fresh fruit, a bit of sweetener and whatever tasty additions you can think of
  • Topping the whole thing off with granola, toasted nuts, or fresh fruit! 

So there we have it, team: five reasons why plain yogurt is where it’s at! Grab a container, or make your own (google away, friends!), and be sure to share your greatest creations.

Now onto the recipes! 

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Blueberry Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes roughly 1 1/2 tasty cups
Note: I’ve chosen the sauce below because it’s super-simple. Looking for something a little snazzier? Try this delicious-sounding citrus-and-spice-infused blueberry sauce

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen (unthawed)
1/3 cup granulated sugar*
1/3 cup water 
1/2 a fresh lemon

Directions
In a small saucepan, combine 1.5 cups of blueberries and all of the water and sugar.
Simmer over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the blueberries burst, about 10 minutes.
Sitr in the remaining 1 cup of blueberries and continue simmering until the new berries burst and the sauce coats the back of a spoon, about 8 minutes more.
Remove the sauce from heat, stir in the juice of half a lemon, and let cool.
Spoon three big spoonfuls of the cooled sauce over a 1/2 cup (or so) of plain yogurt.

Upload from January 16, 2012*Next time, I’ll swap in a natural sugar, like honey or agave nectar, to boost the health factor of this sauce. If you want to do the same, omit the sugar and add 1-2 tbsp honey at the same time you start cooking the berries and water. As the sauce cooks, taste it and increase the quantity of sweetner as you see fit! 
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Mango Sauce
Adapted from Gourmet
Makes roughly 1 1/2 tasty cups

Ingredients
3 ripe mangoes
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp granulated sugar*
Water, as needed

Directions
Cut mangoes into little cubes, discarding the peels and pits. (Not sure how to cut a mango? Follow these handy instructions!)
In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine the mango pieces, lime juice and sugar.
Process or blend the ingredients together until smooth, scraping down the side of the bowl/blender as necessary.
Thin the sauce with water, 1 tbsp at a time, until it’s reached the consistency you’re after (I used 2 tbsp of water).
Spoon three big spoonfuls of the sauce over a 1/2 cup (or so) of plain yogurt. 

Upload from January 16, 2012*Again, I’ll swap the sugar for honey or agave next time around!