Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Rice Bowl Project-Mushroom Rice

"Endless rice." These two words appear on the inside of the menu at a Filipino restaurant which I read about recently. Oldest Daughter's Southern Beau is half-Filipino and believe me, rice runs deep with him. So much so that I have learned to adjust the amount of rice I make when he comes. The first time I made rice with dinner, my daughter leaned over to him and whispered, "The rice is for everyone." You learn and make adjustments. Rice is to him what mashed potatoes are to her: comfort.
This recipe was influenced by one of the rice pots on the menu at SakaMai, a Japanese restaurant in New York City. It’s simple and filled with the satisfying flavor of  umami, the “meaty” flavor called the “fifth” taste in Japanese cuisine. At Saki Mai, they take it over the top with shaved truffle, but we’ll overlook that here. For the rice’s cooking liquid they use dashi, the traditional Japanese broth/cooking stock made from kombu (edible kelp) and kezurikatsuo (preserved and fermented tuna). The kezurikatsuo imparts umami to the rice, but I rely on the flavors of the mushrooms and some soy sauce for that in this recipe. Both of those ingredients are rich in umami.
Any rice will work. I chose brown Japanese rice but as long as you follow the cooking directions for the rice you choose, the recipe will work just as easily. I used a 4 ounce package of mixed mushrooms (crimini, shiitake, and oyster) that were readily available to me. It’s too early for fresh wild mushrooms so I will have to put off making this with wild mushrooms for a few weeks longer. You could also use dried mushrooms. You won’t need four ounces since they expand when they hydrate. 1½ to 2 ounces should be enough. If you do use dried mushrooms, cover them with hot water and leave them to soak until tender. Carefully drain the soaking liquid watching for any sediment and use the flavor rich liquid as part of the cooking liquid for your rice.
I skipped the truffles. Not practical. SakiMai also uses some truffle butter. My local grocery store had D’Artagnan’s truffle butter but I found that it didn’t add that much additional flavor. I drizzled some truffle oil on the completed rice but that was only because I had some on hand. (I am the lucky recipient of food gifts from friends and family).
I know it’s just a bowl of rice and mushrooms, but what is a mushroom risotto after all? You could also use the mushroom rice to accompany a protein of your choosing. Or pair it with a salad or with a sautéed vegetable. It’s your choice. 

Mushroom Rice Bowl
For two servings
4 ounces mushrooms (your choice)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and ground black pepper
olive oil, for cooking the mushrooms
½ cup rice
1 cup water
½ teaspoon light soy sauce
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, optional
1. Rinse and slice the mushrooms. Place a medium-sized sauté pan onto the stove over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, swirl in about two tablespoons of olive oil into the pan. Add the mushrooms; season with some salt and pepper and cook the mushrooms until tender, about five minutes. Remove pan from heat and set aside.
2. Place a medium-sized saucepan onto the stove. Add the water to the pot and season with the soy sauce. Add the butter (if using). Bring the water to a boil. Stir in the rice. Place the cooked mushrooms and any cooking liquid in the pan into the pot. Stir, then cover the pot. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook the rice until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Mix the cooked rice together with the mushrooms and serve.
The bowl, or chawan, pictured here and above was made by Mitch Iburg, a gifted potter currently
living and working in Mendocino, CA. You can view his work at his website: 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Milanese ( or the phrase a la Milanese,“ in the style of Milan”) often refers to the method of preparing cutlets (either veal, pork, chicken, or turkey) by pounding them thin after which they are breaded and pan fried. The German speaking parts of the world refer to this as schnitzel (from the German word “sniz” meaning “cut”). Similar preparations are found worldwide and no wonder since it’s an easy and quick meal. You could finish the cutlets with lemon wedges or in a simple tomato sauce but I prefer topping the cutlets with a tangle of mixed greens. It’s light but deeply satisfying. Vegetarians, don’t despair. You can use eggplant. Slice it thinly. There’s no need to pound it. And while it has nothing to do with Milanese, the breading method works perfectly for firm, white fish fillets, such as fluke, tilapia, grouper, etc. It could just make a fish eater out of your pickiest eater. Or at least make your Friday night fish fry a little fancier.
I am guessing that this preparation came about from finding a way of dealing with tougher cuts of meat. By pounding the cutlets thinner, you break down the meat fibers thereby tenderizing them. Today that’s not as important but the thin nature of the cutlets means fast cooking. Ideally the oil in your pan should be hot enough so that as the bread crumbs brown on each side, the meat cooks through. A few minutes cooking on each side and you’re done.
As I said, you can use any meat. Thin sliced boneless pork loin that you find in the store is perfect since it will require less pounding. As for chicken, make slices from a breast. Don’t pound an entire breast. Turkey cutlets may be harder to find so you could make thin slices from a boned breast. If it’s more than you need, slice, wrap, and freeze the remaining turkey breast to use at a later date. (Those of you close to Philly’s Reading Terminal Market have Godshall’s as your go to place for all things meleagris).
When you are pounding the meat, don’t think of it in the same way as you would if you were hammering a nail. You want to thin the meat, not take out your frustrations on it. Place the thin slice of meat between plastic wrap and pound it out to about twice its original thickness without tearing it. A meat mallet will work but you can substitute with a rolling pin.
The breading step is the classic combination of flour, beaten egg, and bread crumbs. This method uses the “wet hand, dry hand” technique where one hand dredges the cutlet in the flour—your dry hand—while your other hand puts the floured cutlet into the egg wash and then into the bread crumbs, preventing both hands from becoming a floury, crumby mess. While an Italian might use plain bread crumbs, I like the not-so-traditional Japanese panko bread crumbs. You could also season the bread crumbs with a tablespoon or two of your favorite herb.
The salad for the cutlets can be any mix of greens or just one such as arugula. You could add some cheese to the mix, perhaps some shaved Parmesan, or goat cheese or a blue. Keep it fresh by making your own vinaigrette for the salad. It can be as simple as some olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. I include our “house” vinaigrette recipe below if you want it.

For two servings
6 to 8 ounces pork, chicken or turkey (or eggplant), sliced thinly
1/4  cup all purpose flour
salt and ground black pepper
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon of water
1 cup bread crumbs
olive oil, for cooking
lemon wedges, optional
two good handfuls of salad green and some vinaigrette
1. Pound the cutlets gently to twice their size between pieces of plastic wrap then set them aside. Pounding hint: Place a folded kitchen towel under your cutting board. This will help to muffle most of the noise.
2. Place a baking rack onto a baking sheet. This will be for the completed cutlets after they have been breaded and later after they are cooked.
3. Set up your breading station: Place the flour onto a plate and season with 1 teaspoon salt and some ground black pepper and mix together. Beat the egg and water until blended and place it onto a second plate. Place the bread crumbs onto a third plate and season them if you wish, mixing the herbs evenly into the bread crumbs.
Going one at a time and starting with your left hand, dredge each pounded cutlet into the flour, shaking of any excess. Pass the cutlet to your right hand. Use your right hand to coat them in the egg wash and lastly into the bread crumbs, coating both sides. Set the breaded cutlet onto the wire rack. Repeat until all of the cutlets are breaded. Discard any leftover flour and bread crumbs; it should work out that you will use up most of the flour and crumbs.
4. Place a large sauté pan onto the stove over high heat. Add enough oil to the pan so that there’s about 1/8 ” of oil in the pan. When the oil is hot, add the cutlets to the pan; you may have to do this in two batches. Cook the cutlets until the bread crumbs are nicely browned. Turn the cutlets over and cook on the opposite side until brown. You can always flip them back over if they haven’t completely browned. Remove cutlets from the pan and place them back onto the wire rack. Cover loosely with a piece of aluminum foil to keep warm. Repeat until all of the cutlets are cooked; reduce the heat under the pan if they appear to be cooking too quickly. You may need to add more oil to the pan.
5. Place the salad greens (and cheese) into a bowl and mix with a few tablespoons of vinaigrette. To serve, divide the cutlets onto two plates and top each with some of the salad. Alternately, you could serve the cutlets with lemon wedges with the salad on the side. I like mine with the salad on top. My red-haired food co-pilot prefers the latter presentation. Crispy, crunchy, and delicious, what more would you want?

“House” vinaigrette
A classic vinaigrette has 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar but when I make it, I change the ratio slightly because I like a slight vinegar bite. I like a combination of red wine and sherry vinegars but that’s me. I also use a mix of canola oil and extra virgin olive oil. Do as you wish. The vinegar/oil ratio is the most important part of a vinaigrette. You can use the shallots and/ or garlic or not. It depends on your taste.
This makes a small batch of dressing, more than you will need for the recipe but it can be stored in the refrigerator for future use. I make and store my vinaigrette in a small container. If you have a small clean jar, it’s perfect for the task. Just add everything and shake.

3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 to 2 teaspoons finely minced shallot
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon honey (optional)
½ teaspoon salt
ground black pepper
9 Tablespoons oil (extra virgin olive oil or canola, or a combination of both)
1. Place the vinegar, shallots, and garlic into a small jar and let stand for a few minutes (The acid of the vinegar will pull out some of the flavors from the shallot and garlic and flavor the vinegar). Add the mustard and honey and stir together; season with salt and ground black pepper. Add the oil. Close the jar securely and shake until the vinaigrette is mixed together. Shake again before use. Spoon enough vinaigrette over the salad to even coat (but not drown) the salad and toss to distribute the vinaigrette evenly. (Alternately this can be made in a bowl. Mix everything except the oil together. While whisking, slowly add the oil to create a smooth vinaigrette. Store the vinaigrette in a small container in the refrigerator until needed. (If you had a small container in the first place you wouldn’t be using a bowl, would you?)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Irish Soda Bread

                    “Tomorrow was St. Patrick’s Day, I’m a layman now I don’t have to pray.”*

“There is no bread to be had equal to it for invigorating the body, promoting digestion, strengthening the stomach, and improving the state of the bowels.” -from an article in the Newry Telegraph, a N. Ireland newspaper, about 1836.

Irish soda bread is a bread born out of poverty. Flour? Got it. Baking soda? Salt? Got it. Buttermilk? Got it.” In this recipe I swap out half of the white flour for whole wheat flour. This is a little more “complicated” than many soda bread recipes that by their nature are as bare bones as you can get. I make no claims for it like those in the Newry Telegraph, but it is good. You could use this for a Leopold Bloom-style gorgonzola sandwich on Bloomsday (June 16th). Glass of burgundy is optional. “God made food, the devil the cooks.”

Irish Soda Bread
An easy recipe to make.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup brown sugar (either light or dark; dark will lend a molasses accent to the bread)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¼ cup dried currants or raisins
1 ½ cups buttermilk

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place all of the dry ingredients and the butter into the bowl of a stand
mixer. (Alternatively, this can be mixed by hand). Mix the dry ingredients with the paddle attachment to break the butter into the flour. Add the buttermilk and mix until the dough comes together; if the dough appears to be a little dry, add a little more buttermilk until it comes together.
2. Empty the dough onto a clean, lightly floured surface and knead the dough together. Pat the dough out into a circle about 7” round. Lightly dust the top with flour. Cut a cross into the top of the loaf about ½ “ deep. Place the soda bread onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake the soda bread for 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool, slice and serve. Irish butter is optional.

*from Me and My Friend the Cat, Loudon Wainwright III