Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sauteed Mushrooms

~ 'Shrooms and The Hot Dog Theory ~

My husband earned the nickname HotDog because of his theory that "Everyone secretly enjoys being called a hot dog."  He bases this on the reactions he has received when, in response to a job well-done, he says, "Wow! Great job! You're a hot dog."  He usually accompanies the compliment with a friendly little point to accentuate the word "You're".  He says it always brings a smile to the recipient's face.  While it has never really been determined whether the smiles stem from pleasure or sheer amusement, one thing's for sure:  it does always get a smile.

It's hard to say whether HotDog was truly craving sauteed mushrooms or if he scanned the refrigerator to see how he could capitalize on my new-found bloggedness.  "Smoochie, will you make me some mushrooms?" he asked today in a sweet, pleading tone.  "Sure...," I say as I grab my camera and head to the kitchen.

Of all the lines in the movie Julie and Julia, I was most fascinated with, "Don't crowd the mushrooms."  Mom used to saute mushrooms in butter quite a bit when I was younger, and I can remember they were always very good.  What I couldn't remember was if those mushrooms were crowded.  Julie's quote made me wonder just how delicious a mushroom could be.  Could they possibly be better than Mom's?  I looked up Julia Child's recipe for sauteed mushrooms and went to town, tweaking a bit as I went.

Kimmers' Version of Julia's Sauteed Mushrooms
1/2 pound white button mushrooms
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon canola oil
pinch of kosher salt

The trick to tasty mushrooms is they have to be dry. Mushrooms are crazy-porous and will hold a lot of water if you clean them via shower or bath. This will result in steamed mushrooms instead of sauteed, and you will lose a hefty bit of that earthy browned goodness that makes a sauteed mushroom so delectable. Since I'm usually an impatient chef, I do not like to wash them and wait for them dry overnight. What I prefer to do is wipe them down with a damp paper towel. This can be quite the labor of love when HotDog buys pre-sliced mushrooms, but I still wipe them all down nonetheless.  "Sweets," I ask, "the next time you buy mushrooms, will you buy the whole ones?  I think it will be easier to wipe down a whole mushroom then slice it, as opposed to wiping down these slices."  "Sure...," he says.  That HotDog is quite a guy!

Start by heating your butter and oil in a heavy saute pan on high heat.  I prefer to use a stainless pan to get the optimum browning of these luscious fungi; non-stick simply doesn't give quite the same result.  The butter will foam, then subside.

When the butter stops foaming, add the mushrooms and stir.  You can see here that they have plenty of room to breathe.  I once tried in my zealous hunger to make a full pound, and it truly does make it harder for them to brown.  So many lessons that Julia taught us!  Anyway, your mushrooms will immediately absorb all the fat, and your pan will be somewhat dry like mine is here.  Don't be alarmed and add more butter or oil.  Dry as they are, just keep gently and periodically stirring them around for about five minutes and have faith.

Sure enough, they will do two cool things.  The first is that they begin to release the fats back into the pan as they saute.  You'll actually see the mushrooms "sweating it out".  The second cool thing, and I admit part of the reason I had to try Julia's recipe, is that they will squeak as you stir them - fascinating!  I like to tell myself it's because I got them so clean with the loving wipe-down they received minutes earlier.

Continue to stir them for an additional two or three minutes until they get nicely browned.  Julia tells us to saute until they are light brown, but HotDog and I find them to be extra tasty when they get a bit darker.  Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt when they are sufficiently brown and stir one last time.

Our favorite way to inhale these mushrooms is as a side dish.  They really need nothing else as they are spectacular on their own; however, I can imagine how they would be an amazing complement to any beef or chicken dish you can strum up.  They just never made it that far in our house.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Shrimp Fried Rice

~ The Hot Pursuit ~

For what seems like eons, I have been in hot pursuit of happiness in the form of fried rice.  Naively thinking as one sometimes does in her early 20s, I thought I found the secret to great fried rice right out of the gate.  Seasoning packets from the grocery store were enthusiastically prepared with the rice as directed by Uncle Ben and then much, much less enthusiastically dismissed.  Cookbooks failed me.  The Internet... well, that was nothing but a bunch of AOL chat rooms at the time.  Nothing I tried at home quite cut the mustard.  How on earth do those restaurants do it?

Enter Benihana.  Under the guise of socializing, countless evenings were spent at the hibachi grill carefully eyeballing the chef's every move.  And it seemed simple enough.  Rice, butter, oil, soy sauce, onions, chicken, some scant shredded carrots, salt.  Why does this mystery elude me?  Surely someone has cracked the safe to the Chicken Fried Rice recipe and posted it online, right?  No dice.  While they claim to be Benihana CFR recipes, something was always missing.  They lacked that... that... what IS that?

(This love affair has gone on for quite some time.  At the height of my lust for CFR, which I admit unashamedly was just last year, I sent it a bonafide Valentine to profess my love and confess how crazy it makes me every time I see it wearing that shrimp sauce.  I came to find out that the Valentine now hangs in the manager's office, as shown below.  But I digress.)

During one evening of particularly dogged CFR research, I stumbled across a forum.  Someone mentioned that Benihana uses garlic butter in their CFR.  AH HA!!!  That's it!  Well, I couldn't race to the kitchen fast enough.  As soon as I got there, though, the race was over.  You see, the best fried rice is an exercise in patience and is not for the imminently hungry.

My best advice is to order a pizza and put your water on for the rice.  The rice takes a day.  Yes, a whole day.  Maybe a half day if you are really jonesin', in which case do like I do and start your rice in the morning when you feel a dinner craving comin' on. helped me figure out that one of the secrets to fried rice is how you prepare the rice.  It's an important component of the finished fried rice, and it is worth the time it takes.  Here is my adapted version:

Chinese-style Rice
2 3/4 cups long-grain white rice (not converted) or brown rice
4 - 5 cups water

The secret to this rice is to first rinse it very well.  I like to put it in a big bowl of cold water, stir it around, transfer it to a strainer, and repeat until the water stays clear in the bowl.

Place rice in a heavy saucepan.  Add 4 cups of water for white rice; 5 cups of water for brown rice.  Bring to boil.  Cover and reduce heat to low (I put mine as low as the burner will go) 16 minutes for white rice and 35-40 minutes for brown rice.  The rice will have absorbed the water and have steam holes.

Spread rice onto two baking sheets and refrigerate uncovered at least 12 hours.  Rice can be made two days ahead and transferred to a sealable bag after 18-24 hours.

Makes 10 cups cooked rice.

As much as I love Benihana's CFR, I prefer to make shrimp fried rice at home.  Based on years of experimentation and searching, this is the fried rice recipe that was finally worthy of putting pencil to paper so it could be repeated.  And so it goes...

Shrimp Fried Rice
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded
18 raw shrimp, shelled, deveined, and cut into thirds
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs
5 cups cooked rice (half the yield of recipe above)
2 Tablespoons butter
3-4 Tablespoons canola oil
1 Tablespoon sesame seed oil
2 Tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

On low heat in a large, heavy wok, heat butter and canola oil.  Add minced garlic and cook until soft but not brown.

In a small non-stick fry pan, use a couple tablespoons of the garlic oil to scramble the eggs.

Turn wok to high heat and add onions and carrot to oil/garlic mixture.  Stir fry with large metal spatula until just tender.  Add shrimp and stir fry until shrimp begins to turn pink/opaque, about 1-2 min.  Add rice and eggs; stir fry.

Drizzle with sesame seed oil and soy sauce.  Sprinkle with salt.  The key here is to measure and learn from my past mistakes; overseasoning will ruin the melding of the delicate flavors.

The next exercise in patience begins here.  Stir then press rice against wok and wait several minutes for it to lightly brown.  This is where fried rice earns the "fried" part. 

Continue to stir, press the rice to the wok, and wait for it to brown.  Repeat, scraping the brown bits from the wok with the spatula each time, until about half the rice is nicely fried.  The wok and rice may start to look like this.  It's okay.  Don't be p'scared.  It's flavor you're seeing.

Whatever your favorite bowls may be, scoop a delightful heap of this stuff in there and serve piping hot right out of the wok.  Because of my well-known desire for fried rice, my dad and step-mom bought me this cute rice bowl set for Christmas a few years ago.  (My shamelessness does come with the occasional benefit.) Thanks, Dad and Nancy! 

Makes 4-6 servings.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Little Sprout

Early 70s.  Every recipe blog has a beginning, and that is when the seed for this one germinated.  In those days of yore, sharing a recipe meant hand-writing a list of ingredients and instructions on a vegetable-laden recipe card that more often than not said, "From the kitchen of...".  At my house, those words were followed by my mom's name printed in different ink and a different font.  Gotta love Mom for supporting my desire to sell catalog items for prizes when I was young.  As a result, she always had an assortment of these personalized recipe cards.

So, there I was... the first-born and the girl my grandma never had.  So much of my childhood was spent helping Mom and Grandma in their kitchens.  Here I am baking pies in 1974 (three years old), and somewhere in the family photo albums is a picture of me making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the kitchen floor.  If it ever surfaces, you can count on it showing up here, too.

I don't require a stool to reach the counter anymore, and I've long since moved my sandwich-making operations off the floor.  My love for kitchen creativity and sharing the subsequent spoils of my labor remain, however.  Thus, the seed continues to grow and sprouts a blog in 2010.