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Your Culinary Nemesis in the Kitchen


NeroW
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  • 4 weeks later...

Here are some perhaps not-well-known techniques for rice, and they’ve always worked for me. I learned these from Asian roommates in college and that was 20-odd years ago. I’ve seldom seen non-Asians use these methods. Hopefully they will be of some help here. (By the way, I have always used long grain rice, and the consistency I am going for is NOT “every grain separate from the rest” because that’s too hard to eat, whether with fork or chopsticks. But neither is it gluey or overly clumpy. It’s like rice you get from a Chinese restaurant; sticky enough so that it will clump when pushed together by chopsticks)

1. Rinse the rice before you cook it. In the pot you are going to use, which should be heavy-bottomed, mix the rice with tap water, swish it around, pour off the cloudy water, and repeat. Do this a minimum of 3 times, more if you like, or if company’s coming. Don’t go nuts here. 5 times for company, 8 times if you’ve developed some kind of fanatical religious mission about this process. You are rinsing off excess starch, which will reduce tendency towards stickiness. (By the way, this is the same reason they tell you to boil pasta in a BIG pot of water, so that the ratio of water to rinsed-off starch high, which makes it less likely that the pasta will stick together.)

2. Measuring the rice-to-water ratio. I never put anything but rice and water in the pot. Once you’ve done the final rinse, add water to the rice to cover by a certain amount, whatever some reference cookbook suggests, then gauge it as follows. [This is a long description of a simple technique, far easier than tying your shoes. Do not be put off by its length.] You are going to use the index finger of one hand as a measuring stick for the height of the rice grains and the height of the water above that. The advantage of this method is that it works for any amount of rice and gives you an easy way to benchmark your results if you want the rice to be softer or firmer next time. Make sure the rice is laying flat in the pan, not piled up higher on one side than the other. Stick your (non-dominant hand’s) index finger into the rice and dig down until you are touching the bottom of the pan. Now use the nails of the thumb and forefinger of your other (dominant) hand to touch the first hand’s index finger so that the forefinger-nail touches your (non-dominant) index finger at the level of the top of the rice grains. Place your (dominant) thumbnail on your (non-dominant) index finger at the top of the water. Now lift both hands out of the pot, with the nails of one hand still touching the index finger “measuring stick” of the other. Note the ratio of the two distances so you can adjust it next time if you think the rice came out too soft or too firm this time. For small amounts of rice, the distance from fingertip to forefinger-nail may be equal to the distance from forefinger-nail to thumbnail, which is what I would call half-and-half. If it turns out you like the grains firmer, make it so the pan-bottom-to-rice-top distance is two thirds of the total fingertip to thumbnail/water-top distance.

3. Cooking it. The most important thing is DON’T STIR IT. The way steamed rice works is that the steam burrows its way up from the bottom, forming a series of holes in the rice that work like chimneys. If you stir it, you destroy the chimneys and screw the whole thing up. So don’t stir it. Cover it, bring it to a boil with the lid on, then turn the heat down to its lowest setting and let it cook for 20-25 minutes. Accumulating steam should make the lid occasionally belch a little steam during this time. When the time’s up take it off the heat, or just turn the burner off, and let it sit for at least five minutes before messing with it. This allows any residual moisture to cool and be re-absorbed by the rice. If you’re going to fluff the rice, do it after this resting period, and not until just before serving.

4. What if it didn’t turn out the way you wanted, even with these techniques? Anytime you do this on the stove, your mileage may vary, because of variable ‘lowest settings’ on burners, variable pot-bottom thicknesses, and variable quantities. Even with all that, the fact is you are only guessing about the point at which all the water has been fully absorbed by the rice.

5. The way around most of the difficulties above is a rice cooker. I don’t want to come across as some sort of rice cooker evangelist, but these machines have advantages. Rice turns out perfectly, regardless of quantity and water/rice ratios because there is absolutely no guesswork about when the full absorption point has been reached. Not only that, but once the raw rice and water are in the pot, you can cook it anywhere there’s an outlet, like on a bedroom nightstand if you want. You are not going to be fiddling with it between start and finish, it’s a ‘set it and forget it’ tool. So it doesn’t need to take up precious counter space in your kitchen, even when you’re using it. And you don’t need to be using your oven for something as pedestrian as making rice when company’s coming and you had other plans for the oven, or it’s summertime and too hot to use the oven. A small rice cooker costs $20. (You can buy or borrow a 2nd one if you are going to be making enough rice for a lot of guests.) It’s so simple to use that you can have your kids make the rice, if you want. There are a lot of dumb one-job kitchen gadgets out there that are cheaply constructed, but a rice cooker is not one of them, because its main market is Asian/Latin people who eat rice every day and will have absolutely no tolerance for an appliance that cannot withstand this sort of workhorse treatment.

6. Both Trillium and I have said more about rice cookers in the Q&A for the eGCI course on southern Chinese cooking, if you’re interested. This would be useful to look at if you are considering a bigger-than-the-smallest rice cooker with more features.

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Wow. I have so many.

Broiling meat. I second-guess myself, get paranoid about the food bursting into flame, change the position of the pan too many times, flip the food too many times, and usually undercook it. I made a flank steak that was so raw inside I couldn't chew it. The worst part is I stubbornly ate 1/3 of my piece before admitting defeat and chucking it in the microwave. Same thing with tilapia. And on and on.

Meat doneness in general. I'm so afraid to overcook that I undercook way too often and many of my meals get finished in the microwave.

Pie crust. Greasy, heavy, ugly.

I don't have a delicate touch. Any kind of food I make is going to look "rustic," to put it nicely. This goes from decorating cookies and cakes, to cutting up meat...I give new meaning to the word "butcher."

Oh! And tasting for seasoning. I can tell when something needs salt, but that's it. I can say, "this needs something" but I have to kind of guess as to what to add.

Edited by RSincere (log)
Rachel Sincere
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I tried fudge again last week. This time, I thought I'd make absolutely sure it had reached temperature, so I left it at two hundred-whatever degrees for a minute --

yep, overcooked fudge crumbs. :angry:

Then I made another perfect batch of pralines.

me no understand.

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I can say, "this needs something" but I have to kind of guess as to what to add.

Next time that happens, try a little acid--citrus juice, or vinegar. Maybe it just needs the "brightness."

Noise is music. All else is food.

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This is the reason I signed in today! To get some thoughts from cooks with more expertise than I, with regards to Chicken nemisis.

I am a very basic cook, as my family is less than adventurous.As chicken is a staple this is driving me to distraction.

No matter how long I cook chicken (usually frozen and always completely thawed) there is a 'spot' of dark red, slightly pulpy matter close to the bone. mostly we use chicken legs for economies sake.If it was wild game I would call it bloodshot, but as I am ignorant ( and was hoping to stay that way) as to methods of butchering chicken I do not know what term to use.

There is only one chicken producer in the area, and I am not alone in this problem.

Is it cooking, prep,storage, slaughter?? Is it safe? I dont know any of those answers but I do know it is very unappetizing!

Any feed back will be appreciated.Thanx.

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This is the reason I signed in today! To get some thoughts from cooks with more expertise than I, with regards to Chicken nemisis.

I am a very basic cook, as my family is less than adventurous.As chicken is a staple this is driving me to distraction.

No matter how long I cook chicken (usually frozen and always completely thawed) there is a 'spot' of dark red, slightly pulpy matter close to the bone. mostly we use chicken legs for economies sake.If it was wild game I would call it bloodshot, but as I am ignorant ( and was hoping to stay that way) as to methods of butchering chicken I do not know what term to use.

There is only one chicken producer in the area, and I am not alone in this problem.

Is it cooking, prep,storage, slaughter?? Is it safe? I dont know any of those answers but I do know it is very unappetizing!

Any feed back will be appreciated.Thanx.

It's because they slaughter chickens really young nowadays and their bones aren't hard, is all. It's unappetizing, but doesn't (necessarily) mean your chicken is undercooked.

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I can say, "this needs something" but I have to kind of guess as to what to add.

Next time that happens, try a little acid--citrus juice, or vinegar. Maybe it just needs the "brightness."

Thank you, I will try that!

Now, what if it's too "sharp," or vinegary, or sour? I'm torn between adding cream/butter, or sugar. Part of the problem is I don't know what these classic pan sauces are supposed to taste like. The first time I made beurre blanc, when I tasted it it was so vinegary I could feel it on the back of my throat--but when it was on the food, it wasn't a problem at all.

Rachel Sincere
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As far as culinary nemesis go- I can't decorate cakes for shit. I can bake them perfectly and make the various icings and stuff like a champ, but when it comes to combining the two it often looks as if I made the cakes in an Easy Bake Oven

I'm good enough with the decorating...basketweave, string work, sugar, gum paste and all that. JUST DON'T ASK ME TO WRITE "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" ON TOP AND WE WILL BE OK!!!!!!!! My penmanship on paper is bad enough, on top of a cake...forget about it. :sad:

Tobin

It is all about respect; for the ingredient, for the process, for each other, for the profession.

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glad to see I'm not alone here on this one, but RICE......

I can NEVER make it properly! I always over cook it. I always have the dried over cooked very close to burnt but not quite rice bottom. (though I have to say that my Brother-in-Law LOVES that part, so at least with him I'm a culinary GOD :biggrin: )

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glad to see I'm not alone here on this one, but RICE......

I can NEVER make it  properly!  I always over cook it.  I always have the dried over cooked very close to burnt but not quite rice bottom.  (though I have to say that my Brother-in-Law LOVES that part, so at least with him I'm a culinary GOD  :biggrin: )

If you look up a page or so in this thread - you'll see a message extolling the virtues of rice cookers. I second that message. I make perfect rice for 2 all the time in a small National (Panasonic) rice cooker I bought on line. Robyn

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Wow.  I have so many.

Broiling meat.  I second-guess myself, get paranoid about the food bursting into flame, change the position of the pan too many times, flip the food too many times, and usually undercook it.  I made a flank steak that was so raw inside I couldn't chew it.  The worst part is I stubbornly ate 1/3 of my piece before admitting defeat and chucking it in the microwave.  Same thing with tilapia.  And on and on.

Meat doneness in general.  I'm so afraid to overcook that I undercook way too often and many of my meals get finished in the microwave.

Pie crust.  Greasy, heavy, ugly.

I don't have a delicate touch.  Any kind of food I make is going to look "rustic," to put it nicely.  This goes from decorating cookies and cakes, to cutting up meat...I give new meaning to the word "butcher."

Oh!  And tasting for seasoning.  I can tell when something needs salt, but that's it.  I can say, "this needs something" but I have to kind of guess as to what to add.

Can't help you with everything. But perhaps I can with a thing or two.

When it comes to cooking anything - whether it's meat - or chicken - or eggs - doesn't matter what. Buy/prepare uniform ingredients. Then experiment until you get it the way you like it. Make notes. And then just repeat - repeat - repeat. E.g., - I like to grill rib eye steaks. I buy the same steaks at the same market - marinate them for the same length of time - and cook them on the same grill at the same temperature. It took me a couple of times to figure out that mine were perfect at 5 minutes - my husband's at 8. Same rules apply to other thin things - like fish (cooking by minutes).

With something that's thick - like a whole chicken or turkey - or a pork tenderloin - or a prime rib - whatever - you usually must use a meat thermometer. Might take you once or twice to get the temp at which you like it - but once you get it right - just keep doing the same thing again and again.

Never serve meals to company unless you're confident you're done with the experimentation mentioned above. Never "finish" a protein in the microwave. Microwaves turn proteins into rubber (they're good for a lot of things - but not finishing off a steak).

I think when you're talking about "seasoning" - you're basically asking what if anything you should use to flavor your main ingredient in the first place. If you start with a good recipe - or a marinade you like - etc. - you really shouldn't have to do much. I use some "store bought" stuff - like Pirate's Gold for steaks or Goya mojo for chicken breasts - and some recipes I've collected over the years (like a great marinade for pork tenderloin). Again - experiment until you find something you like - then repeat.

As for pie crust - I use frozen Mrs. Smith's. If yours is greasy, heavy and ugly - perhaps it's worth a try :smile: . Mrs. Smith's is not as good as my mother-in-law's pie crust was - but once I put my sweet potato/pecan pie stuff in it - I'm not sure anyone notices :wink: .

I think being a decent cook is simply a matter of trying until you get it right - and then not messing around with winners.

If you have any questions about how to cook a specific thing - why don't you start a thread here about it? I'm sure you'll get a lot of good feedback (I once started a thread about how to cook a prime rib - because I'd never done it before - got great feedback - which I passed on to my sister-in-law - who had never cooked a prime rib before either - we are now friends for life :biggrin: ). Robyn

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Wine reductions.

Deglazing/pan sauce works fine. But trying to make a larger amount of sauce by concentating a good red wine always comes out harsh and acidic, even after adding reduced stock and finishing with butter.

Timing.

Preparing a meal is a bit more than just cooking a dish. The timing of each task is crucial to having things come out really well, and I often have trouble with that.

Chip Wilmot

Lack of wit can be a virtue

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Re: fudge vs. pralines

Pralines are supposed to be grainy, so there's hardly a way to ruin them unless they get too hard to remove from the pan (in that case, add a little rum and beat well), or if you don't cook long enough.

Fudge, on the other hand, is ruined when it becomes grainy due to crystallization of sugar on the sides of the pan. If this happens, add a little milk or cream to the cooking pan, add the ruined fudge and start over again. Do this until you get it right. If it's too runny, cook some more.

Softball stage for fudge is 234 degrees F. Remember to remove the pan from the heat while testing. I've made it so many times I can tell by looking at the bubbles.

Another use for runny fudge: sandwich between soda crackers. My mother used to make these for school lunch boxes when there was no other dessert to be had.

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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  • 1 year later...

Homemade pie crust is my nemesis.

Making a non-sticky gingerbread cookie dough is also high on the list. I find it very difficult to work with.

I make a crappy apple pie. Even with store bought pie crust. The bottom always ends up soggy.

I'm also not that great with fried chicken cutlets. My mother makes them seasoned and crisped to perfection. I just can't get them right...either they come out underseasoned or a bit soggy on the bottom.

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Homemade pie crust is my nemesis. 

Making a non-sticky gingerbread cookie dough is also high on the list.  I find it very difficult to work with.

I make a crappy apple pie.  Even with store bought pie crust.  The bottom always ends up soggy.

I'm also not that great with fried chicken cutlets.  My mother makes them seasoned and crisped to perfection.  I just can't get them right...either they come out underseasoned or a bit soggy on the bottom.

If you are going to use storebought pie crust, the brand that always works for me is Oronoque Orchards. The bottom is never soggy.

My sister likes Pillsbury crust, which comes as a flat round of dough, folded up in a box, not shaped to fit an aluminum pie pan. Also, it is often in the same place as the biscuit dough in a tube stuff from Pillsbury, rather than in the freezer.

As far as apple pie goes, you can make tarte tatin with these store-bought crusts or with any crust. It's a sort of upside down apple pie, where you only put a top crust, then you flip it out of the pan so the crust is on the bottom. No one can see whatever mishaps you had getting the crust on there to begin with.

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Homemade pie crust is my nemesis. 

Making a non-sticky gingerbread cookie dough is also high on the list.  I find it very difficult to work with.

I make a crappy apple pie.  Even with store bought pie crust.  The bottom always ends up soggy.

I'm also not that great with fried chicken cutlets.  My mother makes them seasoned and crisped to perfection.  I just can't get them right...either they come out underseasoned or a bit soggy on the bottom.

You can pre-bake any pie crust for a very short time, perhaps 10 minutes (less than you would a blind-baked crust) to avoid soggy bottom crust.

Or you can paint the crust, after it is in the pie plate, with melted apricot jam or some kind of marmalade, allow it to cool and set up, then add the fruit to the pie shell then the top and bake. This will keep fruit juices from soaking into the bottom.

If you start the pie at a higher temperature for 15 minutes, then lower the oven temp and finish baking at the usual temp, the bottom crust should bake faster and brown nicely.

If baking in a glass or ceramic pie plate, increase the oven temperature by 25 degrees. This also increases your chances of having a nicely done bottom crust.

Incidentally, Trader Joe's now has a prepared pie crust in the dairy section that is excellent.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Timing. I can put together a beautiful main course (cranky smoker not withstanding). I can do a nice side or three. I make a good salad. But I just cannot get them all ready to go at the same time, no matter what combination I choose. Even if I have stuff pre-made so it only has to be heated in the microwave oven, I still can't seem to get everything on the table together. My only hope is to plan for a one-dish meal, like soup with bread, where it won't matter if I need to delay things because the bread didn't bake as fast as I'd wanted it to.

I'm sure there's a trick somewhere!

MelissaH

edited to fix punctuational error

Edited by MelissaH (log)

MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

foodblog1 | kitchen reno | foodblog2

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Never had any trouble making a pie crust, but I can't make hash browns to save my life. And it's just about the only thing I can't do in the kitchen. I have tried every trick everyone has ever suggested to me, but I cannot turn out a decent hash brown no matter what I do.

My one and only success with them was when we made hash browns in culinary school (oh, excuse me, "pommes roesti"). That day I managed to do it perfectly. I was so proud, I told everyone I knew. Then I tried to put them on the menu for my next five dinner parties. Always a complete disaster.

I always go out to eat when I want a big breakfast for the sole reason that I absolutely cannot make hash browns, and they're undoubtedly my favorite part of breakfast. 

The whole situation is very, very sad.

Found the secret to crispy hashed browns. Cook them in a cast iron skillet and leave them sit (don't over stir). They'll brown up wonderfuly.

Ken

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Homemade pie crust is my nemesis. 

Making a non-sticky gingerbread cookie dough is also high on the list.  I find it very difficult to work with.

I make a crappy apple pie.  Even with store bought pie crust.  The bottom always ends up soggy.

In addition to the suggestions already offered, try baking on the bottom or next to bottom rack.

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

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Timing. I can put together a beautiful main course (cranky smoker not withstanding. I can do a nice side or three. I make a good salad. But I just cannot get them all ready to go at the same time, no matter what combination I choose. Even if I have stuff pre-made so it only has to be heated in the microwave oven, I still can't seem to get everything on the table together. My only hope is to plan for a one-dish meal, like soup with bread, where it won't matter if I need to delay things because the bread didn't bake as fast as I'd wanted it to.

I'm sure there's a trick somewhere!

MelissaH

I have the same trouble but console myself with the knowledge that this was a challenge even to Julia Child! I heard (or perhaps read) an interview with her in which she admitted that getting everything on the table in a timely fashion was something even she had trouble accomplishing! Probably the one and only thing she and I had in common. :rolleyes:

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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