Monday, July 31, 2017

The Best Brown Rice Ever

So ... I like rice. A lot. I like plain old white rice and Mexican-flavored rice and rice pudding and risotto and paella and fried rice. Yeah, I like rice a lot.

But ... most of my favorite rice dishes involved white rice. I know that brown rice is better for me, but I've never been that fond of it. I'll eat it, but I don't get all googly-eyed about it like I do over my favorite white rice recipes.

That all changed a while back when I figured out how to make brown rice that's actually ... well, I won't say it's exciting, because after all it's still just rice - but it's something that I look forward to eating.

It's so freakishly simple, too. It's not about how you cook the rice, because you cook it any way you normally cook rice, whether that's on the stove or in a rice cooker. Personally, I prefer my rice cooker because it's so easy.

Okay fine, you can go ahead and tell me your tried-and-true rice cooking method that's always 100 percent foolproof.

I had a foolproof method, too, until I moved to high altitude and rice became my nemesis. I decided it was a battle I wasn't willing to wage, so I bought a rice cooker. Problem solved.

So anyway, when I cook white rice, I often flavor it with Better than Bouillon's chicken base. But I wasn't that fond of it with brown rice for some reason. It just wasn't a good pairing.

Then I found the magic ingredient, again from Better than Bouillon. But this time, it's their mushroom stock. Oh heck yeah. The mushrooms enhance the earthiness of the rice while at the same time adding some richness and savoriness. It's the perfect pairing.

The rice doesn't taste particularly mushroom-y, but it definitely adds something extra. If you want mushroom-flavored rice, add more of the mushroom base - but don't get too carried away, since the Better than Bouillon also adds salt. In fact, when I use it, I often (usually) omit salt.

Sometimes I add butter or oil when I make brown rice like this. Sometimes I add a touch of saffron. Sometimes I add fresh mushrooms (crazy, right?) or I'll add frozen peas when the cooking time is done. I just stir them in and let the rice rest for a short while. They warm up, but stay bright green and they don't overcook.

To be honest, I probably won't be making brown rice without the mushroom base ... unless I run out of it. And that will probably be a white rice day.

Awfully Good Brown Rice

2 cups uncooked brown rice, rinsed
1 tablespoon Better than Bouillon mushroom base
(more or less, to taste)
Butter or oil (about a tablespoon, or to taste) optional

Cook the rice as you normally do, with the added Better than Bouillon.

Oh, and if you think the rice in the photo is a teeny bit overcooked ... perhaps it is. I've been messing around with a new appliance as well as some new brands of rice, so it's not a perfect as it could be.

This is NOT sponsored, encouraged, or nudged by any companies. and I didn't get any samples.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Colorado Beef - It's what's for dinner! #UnitedWeGrill

Okay, let me admit this. You know those cooking competition shows on television, where a bunch of cooks are set loose to cook stuff in an unfamiliar kitchen? You know, like The Next Food Network Star? Or maybe Master Chef?

Those are my guilty pleasure. Except I'm not so guilty about it. I don't watch sports on television, so I think you can cut me some slack for watching people scramble to poach the perfect egg rather than watching them plopping a small ball into a hole in the ground.

So anyway, Sprouts Farmer's Market hosted a blogger event at the home of the Colorado Beef Council. I attended an event there in December that focused how to cook beef roasts. This being grilling season, we learned about steaks and grilling.

The had some great handouts about beef in general and a super-handy chart that listed different beef cuts and how to cook them. And about nutrition, storing, reheating, and more. And there was a pamphlet with some recipes, too.

We also learned that Sprout sells two types of beef. The first is grass fed beef that is 100 percent grass fed - never corn - and is raised with no antibiotics, ever. The second is natural beef, which is grass fed and grain finished. The cows do not receive antibiotics for the last 300 days, but it's possible they might have received them before that.

Someone asked if Sprouts carried organic beef, but it was explained that they used to buy organic beef from a trusted supplier, but there came a point where they sold so much beef that the supplier couldn't keep up with the demand. There just isn't enough organic beef out there.

In the kitchen, we learned about cooking beef and saw a demo of how to get proper grill marks on a steak ...

... and then the fun really started ...

We were told that we could pick from three different types of steak - ribeye, tenderloin, or strip. We could also choose where we wanted to cook - oven, grill, or stove (with different pans available). We could choose from a variety of different seasonings, and we could choose from a bunch of fresh vegetables and herbs, as well as some grains. There were also a few sauces including a red pepper coulis and a horseradish sauce.

Although they didn't say, "Ready, set, GO!" that's sort of what it was like as the teaching portion of the day was complete and we were set loose in a commercial kitchen to create and plate our own vision of what that evening's steak dinner.

And then bloggers scrambled in every direction. Some chose their steak first, while others claimed their work space. Still others went to the "pantry" where the vegetables and spices were waiting. Some chose their utensils, but that's the last thing I did, so I ended up cutting my vegetables with a fillet knife. It was super-sharp, so it didn't really matter that it wasn't a chef's knife.

Unlike the shows on television, however, there was no pushing and shoving. Everyone was polite, and waited their turn at the ingredients. No one yelled "medic!" The staff was awesome, answering questions and pointing toward ingredients and tools we needed. And they got stuck cleaning up the mess we made.

When it came to the vegetables, there was a limited amount of each: a small cauliflower cut in half, a bunch of asparagus, a small bag of baby potatoes, a few summer squash, a few types of mushrooms. No one went hungry, and no one hogged any of the ingredients, but it meant that everyone chose different combinations of sides. Which actually was kind of brilliant.

I would have been happy with the steak slathered with all of the mushrooms, but I took just a few mushrooms. And a zucchini. And some potatoes.

And then the prep and cooking began. Unlike competition cooking shows, we weren't given a time limit for our cooking, although it was suggested that we be finished by a certain time so we could all take photos of our plated food and then get down to the devouring.

I decided to cook my vegetables on a sheet pan in the oven. I seasoned them with salt, pepper, and thyme, then drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and popped them in 450 degree oven that would look really good in my kitchen. I think I was one of the few who used the oven, but I chose that method so I could pay more attention to my steak.

The area near the grill was really hot, but I wanted to give it a try. Ooooh, grill marks! Flames! Wheeeee!

The folks who didn't use the grill worked on one of the stoves. Here's a happy steak sharing space with the sides in a cast iron pan.

We were told that a 3/4 inch steak should take 6-7 minutes to cook, but I cooked mine slightly less because I knew that most of it would be coming home with me as leftovers. I wanted to be able to cook the leftover steak at home without overcooking it.

An area was set aside in the lobby with a nice light for photos, and the photographer who handles the Colorado Beef photos was on hand to document our successes. Because they were all successes. Of course they were, because we all cooked food that we liked!

Each blogger also took photos of their own steaks, and when were were all assembled and eating, we were treated to a slideshow of the photos that the photographer took. It was pretty amazing to see how different all the plates were (check out the collage at the bottom of this post!) We all started with the same meat and we chose from the same array of vegetables, but they all looked very different from each other.

Here's the photographer's version of my plate:

And here's my photos - slightly different angle, but still top-down. I really should have put a garnish on there, but I was pretty hungry and everything looked and smelled so darned good.

Beef. It's what we all had for dinner!

After I plated mine, I realized that I should have cooked something to add another color. While my beef and vegetables were nicely browned and looked darned tasty, the presentation could have been improved if I had chopped some herbs or piled some of the pickled onions on top of the steak. Or maybe a quick salad from the fresh corn on the cob and some red bell pepper.

But ... when I was choosing my pantry ingredients, I was thinking more about what I wanted to eat than what the plating should look like. I was thinking more like a hungry person than like a blogger!

I also should have chosen a larger plate or perhaps a different shape ... but when I went to grab a plate, I didn't realize how many choices there were. So ... basic round white plate for me. Other people were much more creative.

I did use the sauces to decorate my plate, however. And they were delicious.

Unlike competition shows, no one judged us, we didn't have to hold our hands in the air when we were done cooking, and no one else tasted our food. We sat down, chowed down, and then we had dessert, too, all provided by Sprouts. Handy to-go boxes helped us take our leftovers home (YUM!) and pretty soon we were on our way with full bellies and a better understanding of beef.

Collage photos courtesy of Colorado Beef Council

Thanks to Sprouts Farmers Market and Colorado Beef Council for sponsoring and hosting this event!


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Got Cherries? Jam 'em, booze 'em, and eat 'em all up! #canbassador

When I was a kid, the best part of summer was walking with my mom to an empty lot a few blocks from where we lived. A guy would park a truck in the lot and sell fresh fruits and vegetables, weighing them on a hanging scale and putting them in paper sacks.

When cherries were in season, my mom would buy some for me. I'd munch on them all the way home, spitting the seeds out as I went. By the time I got home, there were no more cherries.

I'm surprised a forest of cherry trees didn't sprout along our route.

When the nice folks at Northwest Cherry Growers asked if I wanted to be a #canbassador, I jumped at the chance. Enough cherries to do some canning? Count me it!

I'll admit that I might have eaten several pounds of cherries all on my own. But I didn't spit the seeds all over the living room. That would have been weird.

The rest of the cherries were pitted and divided up for several different recipes. My two favorites were a smooth cherry jam, and some brandied cherries.

I also made a Luxardo cherry recipe that was good, but not perfect. I think it would have been better with tart cherries, or perhaps I need to tweak the sweet/tart ratio.

If you like Luxardo cherries, though, that recipe is a great starting place. Check it out!

The recipes I'm posting here were based loosely on some that I found on the Northwest Cherries site, but I cut back on the quantities so I could try more recipes.

Since I made so little of each recipe, I didn't actually can them for preserving, though. I tossed them into the refrigerator and started using them right away.

The great thing about making recipes for use "now" rather than canning is that you can adjust the sugar and acid to your taste, rather than for preservation. If you're making vast quantities of foods for long-term, non-refrigerated storage, make sure you're using a recipe from a trusted food preservation source. There's no sense spending the time and money to make a dozens of jars of jam, only to find they've molded in the jars when you open them.

Yeah, my mom made moldy jam once. It wasn't pretty.

First, I made some brandied cherries. Like this:

Brandied Cherries

Based on a recipe from Northwest Cherry Growers.

Oooooh, this was so good.

I used these as a topping for ice cream. Adults only, of course. They'd also be nice in cocktails, but for that I'd suggest not chopping the cherries.

If you don't happen to have brandy, it should work just as well with bourbon or whisky. Maybe even rum.

1 pound sweet red cherries, pitted, stemmed, and roughly chopped
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup brandy

Combine the cherries, sugar, and lemon juice and bring to a simmer and let it cook for a minute or two.

Add the brandy, bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.

Transfer the cherries and liquid to jars or other storage containers (this makes about a pint, plus a little extra) and allow it to cool, then refrigerate.

Next, I made a cherry jam, also based on a recipe  from the Northwest Cherry Growers website, but I used sweet red cherries instead of yellow ones. 

Sweet Cherry Jam

2 pounds red cherries, stemmed and pitted*
1 1/2 cups sugar, or to taste
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Put all the ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth. If you're not sure about the sugar amount, feel free to start with less - let's say about 1/2 cup - and add more sugar later, if you want more sweetness.

Transfer the blended cherries to a saucepan and heat to a boil, then lower to a happy simmer. Continue cooking, stirring often, until the jam reaches your preferred thickness.

Like the napkin? Get them here
Since it will become thicker as it cools, the best way to check it is to put a small amount of the jam on a spoon and put the spoon in the refrigerator to chill.

Taste your thickness tester and add more sugar to the pot, if desired.

If you prefer more tartness, add more lemon juice. Continue cooking until your optimal thickness is reached. Since I wanted to stir into yogurt or drizzle onto ice cream and for spreading on toast and muffins, I left it a little looser than if I only wanted it as a spread for toast.

Transfer to jars (this will make a bit more than a pint) or other storage container.

Let it cool, then refrigerate.

*Make sure your cherry pitter is actually ejecting every single pit from the cherries. Sometimes one will get stuck, and since you're blending, it could be a problem.

When I was done with this recipe, I had just a little jam left in the pan. Not enough to fill a jar, but more than I wanted to throw away. I added some pitted chopped cherries and let them cook a while to create a chunkier, not-as-sweet jam, adjusting sweet and tart on a whim. Did I write anything down? No, of course not. But that's the great thing about refrigerator jams - you can wing it, adjust flavors on the fly, and end up with a little half-pint of something fun.

Thanks to Northwest Cherry Growers for sponsoring! 
Napkins shown in photos provided by The Napkins at no cost to me for use on my blog.