rice and beans

I love beans. This is a recent revelation, as the only beans I remember eating as a kid were refried or mixed with hot dogs. (And just like that, pork and beans has been added to my “To Cook” list.) I’m not sure if it’s the beans that are so good, or the type of recipes that beans tend to be in – mishmashes of various flavors and textures blended together so each bite is just a little bit different from the last, but equally delicious.

Rice and beans is beans at their simplest. I have a Puerto Rican friend who makes fantastic rice and beans, and I’m kicking myself for not getting the recipe from him before I moved away. However, I’m finding that rice and beans is completely adaptable to personal tastes and availability of ingredients. The first time I made it, I used a recipe, but I don’t find myself following it very closely these days.

The original recipe uses sausage, onions, garlic, beans, chicken broth, and some seasoning. It’s a great recipe, but the beauty of rice and beans is that you can ignore the recipe and still get something fantastic. This time I used a bit of celery, a chipotle chile, and as many tomatoes as beans. Last time I used red pepper and less tomatoes. Any number of additions would be great – green pepper, squash, maybe even sweet potatoes. The only requirement is beans, although I admit that I wouldn’t make it without onions, and now I’m loving the tomatoes. I also love the sausage, even though I prefer not to use meat in my staple weeknight meals. If you can think of a great substitute, let me know!

I’ve linked to the original recipe above, and I’ll provide a recipe for what the pictures show, but keep in mind that this is a fun meal to adapt to your own preferences.

Rice and Beans

Serves 4

8 ounces cooked sausage, such as kielbasa (I used salami this time)
1 medium onion, diced small
1 stalk celery, minced (red pepper would be great too)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cumin (I’ve also used Old Bay)
2 (15-ounce) cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes (I used 2 cans, but it was admittedly very tomatoey)
1 cup chicken broth (I didn’t use this, but I should have)

6 cups cooked long-grain white rice (from 1 cup uncooked rice)

In a 3- or 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, cook the sausage until it begins to brown and fat begins to render. Add the onions and celery/pepper/whatever and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and just beginning to brown. Add the garlic and spice(s) and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beans, tomatoes, and broth. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick and the flavors have blended, about 45 minutes (or as long as you want actually – I’m not sure I’ve ever cooked it for the full 45 minutes). Serve over rice.

sichuan green beans

I’m not very good at mise en place. I know that isn’t a sign of a particularly good cook, but I must be getting better lately because the kitchen isn’t so messy when I’m done cooking. I didn’t do a good job with this recipe though. I read “cook beans for 5-8 minutes” and I think Perfect! I’ll have just enough time to mince garlic, chop ginger, get the pork out of the fridge, measure out 3 liquids and 5 powders for the sauce, and slice the scallions! While stirring frequently. Dork.

Sichuan green beans was one of my favorite meals to make when I lived alone, and I still make it fairly often for me and Dave. It’s a quick, easy, balanced, healthy one pot meal. The recipe (according the Cooks Illustrated article) is based on a traditional Chinese meal involving deep-fried green beans. This recipe gets the same effect with just a couple tablespoons of oil over very high heat. The beans are cooked until they’re shriveled and blackened. It sounds like they’d be overcooked and soggy, but I swear they’re not. They’re crisp and sweet. It’s similar to what you get when you roast vegetables.

I did a quick scan on the internet of similar recipes, but I can see immediately that they’re not going to get the same sweet crunchiness out of the green beans. One steams the beans separately, one adds water to the pan to steam/boil them in the pan, one sautés them for a few minutes over medium heat. Bland (and extra work and dishes), boring, raw. No good. The high heat searing is necessary to get the most flavor out of the beans. I tried using Chinese long beans for this recipe once, but I actually didn’t like it as much. Besides costing far more than regular green beans, they weren’t as sweet.

The rest of the recipe is no problem. Cook some ground pork, add garlic and ginger, stir in some sauce ingredients, serve over white rice. You can leave the pork out and add shiitakes instead. This would make a nice side dish, but doesn’t have any protein source for a full meal. Either way, just make sure you do your chopping and measuring before you do your cooking. Otherwise you’ll be scrambling around like a dork, like I was.

Stir-Fried Sichuan Green Beans (from Cooks Illustrated January 2007)

Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main course

CI note: To make this dish vegetarian, substitute 4 ounces of shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and minced, for the pork. If using mushrooms, you will need to add a teaspoon of oil to the pan in step 3 before adding the mushrooms. The cooking of this dish goes very quickly, so be sure to have all of the ingredients prepped before you start. Serve this dish with steamed white rice.

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound green beans, ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
¼ pound ground pork
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 scallions, white and light green parts sliced thin
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1. In small bowl, stir together soy sauce, sherry, sugar, cornstarch, white pepper, pepper flakes, mustard, and water until sugar dissolves; set aside.

2. Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add beans and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp-tender and skins are shriveled and blackened in spots, 5 to 8 minutes (reduce heat to medium-high if beans darken too quickly). Transfer beans to large plate.

3. Reduce heat to medium-high and add pork to now-empty skillet. Cook, breaking pork into small pieces, until no pink remains, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and ginger; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds. Stir sauce to recombine and return beans to pan with sauce. Toss and cook until sauce is thickened, 5 to 10 seconds. Remove pan from heat and stir in scallions and sesame oil. Serve immediately.

Per Serving:
Cal 200; Fat 14 g; Sat fat 3 g; Chol 20 mg; Carb 12 g; Protein 8 g; Fiber 4 g; Sodium 680 mg

sushi

14.jpg

Sometimes I don’t know what gets into me. Last week, I became determined to make my own sushi. But what possible good could this serve? I certainly wasn’t expecting to exceed the quality of the sushi restaurants I’ve been to. I couldn’t, or at least didn’t want to, make it any healthier. And with the specialized tools and ingredients I’d need to buy, homemade sushi promised to be similar in price to eating out. Finally I realized that I wanted to make sushi for the simplest of reasons – for fun.

But I was intimidated. I had difficulty finding precise recipes for sushi rolls. I also wanted to make a variety of rolls with a minimum of ingredients. Not being a spontaneous cook, I did a lot of research and took notes on exactly what I’d need to buy and prepare.

I decided to stick to one fish type (tuna, this time) for four different rolls. I made adapted versions of Philadelphia rolls (fish, cream cheese, cucumber), California rolls (fish, cucumber, avocado), spicy tuna rolls (tuna, avocado, scallion, spicy mayonnaise), and sort of a spider roll (tuna, tempura bits, cucumber), plus a few nigiri.

I settled on Alton Brown’s sushi rice recipe. The rice is cooked similar to standard long-grain rice, except without salt, and then a mixture of rice vinegar, salt, and sugar is poured over the cooked rice and folded in. The rice must be fanned while it cools so that the starches on the surface…something. I can’t remember. Just fan it until it’s near room temperature, and be gentle with stirring. I used a paper plate to fan the rice. If you have an electric fan nearby, that would work great.

2b.jpg

Obviously the fillings must be prepared before any rolling starts. I’m not usually great at mise en place, but I didn’t have a choice this time. This picture shows, clockwise from the upper left, mayonnaise mixed with ancho chile powder, toasted sesame seeds, tempura bits, cucumber, scallion, cream cheese, and avocado. I never did mix in enough chile powder to make the mayonnaise spicy enough, plus I should have used more mayonnaise. For the tempura, I simply mixed up a bit of batter and fried it. I peeled one strip of cucumber and not the other two, and I do prefer it peeled. The avocado I brushed with lemon juice so that it wouldn’t brown.

43.jpg

Alton’s California roll recipe recommends cutting the nori (seaweed) sheets in half. At first I didn’t, which is what this picture shows. However, they should be smaller. You don’t want to spiral your fillings, you just want to enclose them. I found half a sheet to be a little too small for the amount of filling I used, but a full sheet was far too big.

51.jpg

The relatively more simple method of rolling is shown above, where everything, including the rice, is inside the nori. Slightly more complicated is the inside-out roll, where the rice is on the outside.

61.jpg

Except that, it didn’t actually end up being more complicated. I was pleasantly surprised when it actually…worked.

71.jpg

Look at that, a sushi burrito. Mmm…sushi burrito. Unfortunately, sushi isn’t, in fact, eaten in burrito form. It is cut into “bite-size” pieces. Except I don’t know whose bite-size, because sushi rolls are always way too big for me. Anyway, cutting the rolls was the only part of the process that was really frustrating, and I recognize that the problem is my dull knives, but I don’t have an immediate solution. I found that a serrated knife worked better on the inside-out rolls.

8.jpg

…My display needs some work. By this point, I was frustrated with the cutting and worried about the raw fish sitting at room temperature while I figured out how the hell to make sushi. Plus sushi rice? Is sticky. Moving around individual pieces inevitably resulted in rice stuck to my hands and the plate. I decided aesthetics be damned, it was time to eat.

Overall, it was good. Probably as tasty as a restaurant’s, although obviously not nearly as pretty. I’m sure I can improve on that with time, even though I don’t plan on buying any special platters for sushi. I’ll make it again, at least until I use up the ingredients I had to buy. As far as a cost comparison goes, Dave and I generally spend $30-40 on a sushi dinner, and including the special equipment and ingredients that I won’t need to buy again for a while, this meal was $25. Next time I’ll use a cheaper fish, and I can probably make sushi for under $10. The preparation should also be far easier now that I’ve done it once. But I don’t see this becoming a regular thing for me. I think I’ll leave sushi-making to the professionals.

Sushi recipes/method

Serves 2

Sushi rice (adapted from Alton Brown)

1 cup sushi or short grain rice
1 cup water
1 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt

Rinse rice.

Place the rice and water into a medium saucepan and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small bowl and heat in the microwave on high for 30 to 45 seconds. Transfer the rice into a large wooden or glass mixing bowl and add the vinegar mixture. Fold and cut thoroughly to combine and coat each grain of rice with the mixture. Fan until rice is near room temperature. Do not refrigerate.

Ingredient preparation

Mix ¼ teaspoon of ancho chile powder into 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Toast and cool 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
Tempura-mix 1 tablespoon flour, 1 tablespoon ice water, 1 teaspoon egg – cook in hot oil
Seed and peel cucumber and cut 3 ¼-square strips
Cut green part of green onion
Shape ¾ ounce cream cheese into strip
Cut nori in half crosswise (or not…see text)
Peel and pit avocado, cut into 2 strips, brush with lemon juice to prevent browning
Cut fish into strips

Rolling

Fill medium-sized bowl with cold water. Cover bamboo mat with plastic wrap.

Regular rolls:
Lay 1 sheet of nori, shiny side down, on the plastic covered mat. Wet your fingers with water and spread ½ cup of the rice evenly onto the nori, leaving 1 inch of far side bare. Lay filling near edge of mat closest to you. Grab the edge of the mat closest to you, keeping the fillings in place with your fingers, and roll it into a tight cylinder, using the mat to shape the cylinder. Lay it seam side down while you form the other rolls. Cut into 6-8 pieces.

Inside-out rolls:
Lay 1 sheet of nori, shiny side down, on the plastic covered mat. Wet your fingers with water and spread ½ cup of the rice evenly onto the nori. Sprinkle the rice with sesame seeds (optional). Turn the sheet of nori over so that the rice side is down. Lay filling near edge of mat closest to you. Grab the edge of the mat closest to you, keeping the fillings in place with your fingers, and roll it into a tight cylinder, using the mat to shape the cylinder. Lay it seam side down while you form the other rolls. Cut into 6-8 pieces.

Fillings:
“Philadelphia”: cream cheese, fish, cucumber
“California”: fish, avocado, cucumber, sesame seeds
“Spicy tuna”: avocado, fish, mayonnaise (1 tbsp), green onion (1 stalk, green parts only)
“Spider”: fish, cucumber, tempura

rice pudding

copy-of-dscn4349.jpg

While I was visiting my family in New Mexico last week, I came across a recipe for rice pudding. My mom and grandmother said that they liked it, but sister said she’s never cared for it, because it’s…rice. For dessert. I had never tried it, but I wanted to make a dessert (without guar gum or anything else weird) that my gluten-intolerant grandmother could eat, so I gave rice pudding a try.

And it was good, but it was definitely…rice. For dessert. That ain’t right. My mom and grandmother liked it. My dad was unsure at first, so he scooped out just a few spoonfuls for himself and then came back for more after he established that it was good. I seemed to be the only one unconvinced on the rice pudding. It had a lot of good traits – sweet, creamy, a bit nutty. But you know what else it had? Grains of rice floating in it. That ain’t right.

copy-of-dscn4347.jpg

Simple Stovetop Rice Pudding (from Cooks Illustrated September 1996)

Serves 6 to 8

CI note: We prefer pudding made from medium-grain rice, but long-grain is perfectly acceptable if that’s what you happen to have on hand.

Bridget note: I used long-grained rice.

¼ teaspoon table salt
1 cup medium-grain rice (white), or long grain white rice
2½ cups whole milk
2½ cups half-and-half
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1¼ teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Bring 2 cups water to boil in large, heavy-bottomed pot (at least 3 quarts) or small soup kettle (4 to 5 quarts). Stir in salt and rice; cover and simmer over low heat, stirring once or twice until water is almost fully absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Add milk, half-and-half and sugar. Increase heat to medium-high to bring to simmer, then reduce heat to maintain simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring frequently, until mixture starts to thicken, about 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook, stirring every couple of minutes to prevent sticking and scorching, until a spoon is just able to stand up in the pudding, about 15 minutes longer.

3. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Cool and serve at room temperature or chilled. (Can be covered with plastic wrap on surface of pudding and then refrigerated up to 2 days.)

operation empty freezer (risotto with peas)

rice.jpg

With our move to Philadelphia imminent, I’m desperately trying to empty our freezer and cabinets. I knew I had a bag of frozen peas in the freezer, and I was having trouble figuring out what to do with it. No way was I going to just cook up a bunch of peas to chase around my plate.

Paula of Half-Baked had this recipe for risotto with peas, and that was the perfect accompaniment to our defrosted strip steaks. Let’s try to look past the fact that I had to buy Arborio rice in order to make risotto, and I only used half of the box. The other half will be making its way to Philly with us.

I get the idea that some people think risotto is a lot of work, but I’ve actually found it to be very forgiving. It really doesn’t need constant stirring after the broth starts being added. It’s perfect for a cook like me – I don’t have to stand at the stove indefinitely, but I’m free to stir whenever I want. Dishes like long-grain rice and slow-cooker meals always stress me out because I don’t get to check on what’s happening. Occasional stirring is fun! Constant stirring is tedious.

Paula provided a recipe for her risotto with peas, but I got the impression that it was just her standard risotto recipe with peas added near the end, so I opted to follow my standard risotto recipe instead of hers.

Dave and I agreed – cheesy salty starches are good.

Risotto with Peas (adapted from Cooks Illustrated and Emeril)

6 servings

3½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup frozen peas
2 ounces (1 cup) parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter, optional
pepper

1. Bring the broth and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cover; turn the burner off but keep the pot on the burner.

2. Heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat until the foaming subsides. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rice and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly, until rice is opaque, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring until the rice nearly completely absorbs all the liquid, about 1 minute.

3. Add 2 cups of the hot stock and stir occasionally until it’s mostly absorbed (the spoon will leave a trail on the bottom of the pan), about 6 minutes. Continue to add stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently, until each addition is absorbed. Cook until rice is creamy but still somewhat firm in center (add more water in 1/2 cup increments if broth/water mixture runs out), 10 to 12 minutes longer. Add peas in last 5 minutes of cooking.

4. Stir in cheese and optional butter. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve.

to clear our sinuses (crockpot rice and beans)

dscn1760.jpg

Well, we can’t eat sandwiches every night! We also had rice two nights in a row. Not a great week for variety.

I realized recently that I only have one crockpot meal that I make regularly. That needs to change! My sister is a crockpot fiend, so I need to ask her for some good ones.

This recipe came from my brother. The first time I had it was when I visited him in Oklahoma. We drove there from Indiana, and our car broke down in Missouri, so…we ate at like 10pm or something. Incidently, while we were waiting around for the car to be fixed in Missouri, we wandered into a bar, where we met up with an older couple who had just gotten married. Cute!

copy-of-img_9807Photo updated 12/02/08

Back to food. I’ve made a few changes to the recipe. It originally called for boneless, skinless chicken thighs, but I decided they weren’t really necessary. There’s plenty of protein from the beans and rice, right? Sometimes I do add bone-in, skinless chicken thighs and then shred the meat right before serving. There’s something about shredded chicken that I just like. Also, it’s supposed to be served over spanish rice, but white rice is easier and there’s plenty of flavor in the beans. Oh, and I changed the beans from pinto to kidney. My friend from Puerto Rico makes rice and beans with kidney beans, so maybe they’re more authentic? I don’t know, I bought them on accident once and liked them better.

And! I had to use actual canned green chiles! My New Mexican green chile supply ran out, and no one resupplied me this year!

Spicy Crockpot Beans
Serves 3

2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 (4-ounce) cans green chile, diced
2 chipotle chiles from adobo sauce, minced
1 (0.85 ounce) package chicken gravy mix (I use Simply Organic)
½ teaspoon sugar
2 tomatoes, chopped, or ½ (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups cooked white rice

Add first five ingredients to crockpot and cook on low for 3-5 hours. Stir in tomatoes 30 minutes before serving. Serve over white rice. (If you use chicken pieces as well, add them skin side down on the bottom of the pot and cook for 6-8 hours.)