Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Perfect White Rice

I'll admit it. I have a gift. I can make perfect white rice all the time, every time. It doesn't matter where I bought the rice, the quality of the stove, how beat up the pan is, or the ph level of the water. My rice is always perfect.

The thing is though, I don't think it's anything special that I do. I read the directions off a package once, and have cooked it that same way ever since. With this simple recipe you'll never need a rice cooker, and you'll always be twenty minutes away from making great fried rice out of your leftovers.

Take one part rice to two parts water. Mix together in a pan over high heat. Bring to a boil, stir thoroughly, then reduce stove to low and simmer for fifteen minutes. Remove from burner and let stand for five minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.

See how easy that was? Now you can top it with stew, vegetables, or meat strips, stir it into broth for rice soups, eat it plain or with your favorite seasonings, and toss it into a frying pan with soy sauce, chopped vegetables and/or meat, and an egg to make a quick and easy stir fry.

Best of all, if you have any kind of bulk nearby, they're sure to have rice, so it's an easy, zero-waste staple for any meal.

P.S. For those of you yearning for the health benefits of brown rice, just soak it in water for several hours, strain, and cook as you would white rice. Otherwise you'll have to cook it for almost an hour.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Little Summertime Treat

Feel like you're so hot you're just going to melt? Yeah, me too. Cooking doesn't seem like much fun right now, and even eating can sometimes be a chore in this kind of weather, so I thought I'd lighten it up today by  sharing a quick and easy recipe.

Watermelon is great, and I often just cut the green globe in half and attack it with a spoon, but sometimes I want a little variety, and salting fruit (or any of my food) has never really been my thing. So when I'm feeling adventurous, but not adventurous enough to move around, I like to dice or ball a whole watermelon (this means I can share or there will be some for later) into a lidded Pyrex bowl, juice a lime over the whole thing (or use the equivalent amount of bottled stuff), and mince a bunch of mint on top. Mix it all up (or shake it, if you're lucky enough to have a Pyrex bowl), and dig in. The lime and mint give the watermelon a delicious flavor, and you've achieved culinary interest without turning anything on.

Stay cool out there.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Making Stock in Three (or Four) Simple Steps

For most of us, the weather isn't quite right to be making broth or any food that would require it, but I've been having problems in the kitchen lately, so I'm going to teach you how to make stock in three or four simple steps, even if it will be several months before you actually want to.

The first step to making great home-made, waste-free stock is collection. All those weird little bits of vegetable tops and peelings are great for this, as are meat scraps and bones. Since you won't actually be eating the solid food you put in your stock, the rooty tops of onions or unchewable ends of celery are fine for this. Rotten or moldy food is not okay though; reducing waste only goes so far, better to compost anything questionable. If you're a vegetarian, you can still make great stock, just leave out the meat. I like to save bits of onions, celery, and carrots in my freezer, along with whatever bones I'll be using. As soon as I have a full carcass and at least a few good-sized vegetable chunks, I make stock. Other collection possibilities include tough mushroom stems, tomato peels and ends, garlic cloves (whole, not chopped), potato peelings, corn cobs, the green part or root cluster of leeks, and any herbs you fancy. Some people like to put bits of fruit in their stock as well, but I have yet to experiment with this.

Once you have all your bits collected, it's time to pull out a large pot and start them simmering. I like to brown any root vegetables I have in a bit of fat from the meat (a dollop of oil works too) to help enhance and strengthen the flavors. Once everything is fairly caramelized, I toss in the rest of the bones, add two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to draw minerals and nutrients from the bones(white vinegar works too, but won't do any flavor favors), and cover the whole pile with water. Alternately you could throw a bit of wine in, but pick either wine or vinegar, as they don't mix well. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and
leave for two to six hours. I like to go as long as possible, but do whatever you're comfortable with. It's best to have a ratio of one or two times the water that you do to solid ingredients. Any more and the flavor will be weak.

The last step to making stock  (or second to last, depending on your dining plans) is to strain it. I fish out larger chunks with tongs and a slotted spoon, then pour the stock through a colander, then a mesh strainer, and then through cheesecloth over a mesh strainer if there are still little bits floating around. While you're straining the stock (two pitchers work great for this, just rinse them out as you pour back and forth) get a friend to wash out the stockpot and get it ready to go for you. That way the finished broth can go right back onto the stove to become the base  for a delicious soup.

While I'd like to think I'm the kind of person that can make stock and soup in the same day, I'm not, and I doubt the rest of humanity can pull it off either, so handy step number four is to reduce and store the stock in some fashion. To reduce, simply simmer on a low temperature to evaporate some of the water. When you have it down to a manageable amount, or your desired consistency, pour it off into a container to cool, then put it in the fridge. Come back in an hour or two and skim the fat off the top. If you'd like, you can use this for frying food, but I usually get too lazy and just compost it. If you concentrate the stock down really well, it's handy to freeze the stock in ice-cube trays. Once it's frozen you can pop out the cubes and store them in a glass container in your freezer to just use as you need.

Congratulations, you've just made home-made, waste-free stock. Enjoy.

On a side note, I'm the kind of person who hates loosey-goosey recipes like this. I want exact measurements, precise temperatures, and cooking times listed to the minute. However, making stock from a specific recipe has proved too time-consuming and frustrating for me. When you have to make a bouquet garni and then fish it out of a pot after cooking it for six hours, homemade stock looses its appeal, which is really a shame, because it's delicious. So now I just take what I have on hand and use it to make a variable stock that is still quite tasty. It's hard to mess up making stock, so take this opportunity to throw caution to the wind, and have fun making a kitchen staple that conveniently uses bits of waste from previous meals to produce a magical, healthful, scrumptious broth.

P.S. If you need stock but haven't made any yourself,  Better than Bullion comes in a glass jar with a metal lid, tastes great, and is additive-free.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pizza Dough

Pizza with spinach, tomatoes, and zucchini. Yum.
As far as take-out goes, I think pizza has the lowest amount of waste, as long as you don't get one of those little plastic tables, and you compost the box afterwards. There aren't any extra napkins, ketchup packets, or plastic forks to worry about, which is nice, because going zero waste doesn't guarantee you'll always have the energy to cook.

While take-out or delivery is nice, sometimes I just don't have the dough for it, so I have to make my own. That's where this super-easy pizza dough recipe comes in handy. The first time I made it I had to go to the store to buy a jar of yeast, but it's now become a staple in my kitchen and I always have the ingredients for a tasty pizza on hand, unless somebody wants specific toppings like pineapple or anchovies. Personally I like to slice up a lot of vegetables, saute if needed, and layer thickly over my pizza, though plain cheese makes me happy too. This is also a nice recipe to start with if you aren't used to working with yeast in dough. It's fairly simple and fool-proof, and quickly gives you an idea of what baking with yeast is like.

I'd have to say my favorite part about this recipe is the versatility. I can make one big pizza or a bunch of personal pizzas, which is handy in a house full of picky eaters. As long as I have tomato sauce and cheese in the house (and I always do), I can make a pizza, then let everyone else find the toppings they want. In short, this recipe is a lifesaver; something that gets made at least once a week, and a food that everyone is almost always happy with.


Pizza Dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (or the equivalent of one .25 oz packet of yeast. I buy yeast in a jar for less waste)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup warm water

Pizza Sauce:
About half a can of tomato sauce
Italian seasoning, or whatever seasonings float your boat

Shredded cheese (I like a mix of mozzarella and cheddar)
Whatever your heart desires.

Mix the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar together in a medium-sized mixing bowl, then pour in the vegetable oil and warm water. It's important to mix the dry ingredients before you add the wet ones, or the yeast will all stick in one place and be a pain to disperse through the dough. As you stir in the liquids the dough will become lumpy and sticky; just make sure it's consistent-feeling and you'll be fine. I like to let my dough rise for a half an hour or so, but if you're pressed for time it's fine to bake it right away. If you do let it rise, it's nice to cover it with a damp tea towel so it doesn't dry out. Alternately, if you get side-tracked, the dough is fine even if you let it sit for several hours.

When you're ready to make your pizza, punch the dough down then turn out onto a floured surface and flatten into a circle, or whatever shape you want your pizza to be. I admit, sometimes I'm too lazy to flour my counter, so you can spread it out on a pan, it just won't be as even. I find that rolling the dough out to about 1/4 an inch works well.

Mix the tomato sauce and about a tablespoon of Italian seasoning together. I like to mix my own out of thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, and sage, using whatever ratios taste right to me that night. Sometimes  I'm too lazy to do this (have you figured out that I'm lazy yet?) so I just put half a tablespoon of basil in and mix, then add additional basil in pinches until I like the taste. My family sometimes likes to use regular spaghetti sauce from a jar. Whatever you choose, spread the pizza sauce over your prepared dough, then top with cheese and toppings of your choice.

Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 25 minutes. This recipe makes enough dough for two 10--12 inch pizzas, or about enough to feed four adults.

On a persnickety note, transfer your pizza off the stone or pan to a cutting board before you slice into it. This will keep your baking surface smooth and serviceable, and will drastically increase the lifespan of your pizza cutter or knife.