Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rice 1: Mission statement and Jasmine rice.

As many of you fine readers may know I eat a lot of rice.  Hell I think I love rice almost as much as Hanada Goro.  When I have the grumblies I often just whip up a pan of rice with whatever I have in the fridge and/or pantry.  I don't have a rice cooker - I have to agree with Alton Brown that a person should never own a single task piece of equipment.  I used to make rice in a sauce pan but stopped doing that over a year ago.  Now I use a frying pan with a lid.  Personally I prefer this method because I find it's easier to monitor the state of the rice and in my opinion diffuses the area of heat, thus reducing the risk of having a layer of burnt rice underneath either under done or just plain gloppy rice.

I am starting this short series on rice; types of rice, how to cook each type, tips and tricks, a few favorite and simple recipes, and a piece on rice alternatives (y'know, for when you get sick of rice).  My reason for writing this series is because lately I've been coming up with new ideas for rice, talking to people about how they cook their rice, problems, concerns, and so on and so forth.

My favorite type of rice is Jasmine (particularly MTT Brand - the 25lb bag with the Dragon on it) from Thailand.  In Kasma Loha-unchit's article about the differences between Thai and American Jasmine rice she is right on the mark.  Jasmine grown in America is boring.  It's just boring rice.  Thai Jasmine is, well, different...it's fragrant with a delicate, almost floral aroma when you open the bag or the storage container (yes I have a rice container - on wheels - large enough to hold a 25lb bag of rice).  That smell reminds of good Southeast Asian meals I've had across the country and also brings a sense of nostalgia (though of what or where I'll never know).  Yes, Jasmine rice makes me misty eyed.  Shut up.


Another reason I love Jasmine is because it's the simplest rice to make - in my experience.  It's also tasty by its lonesome.  However it's even more tasty when combined with the simplest of ingredients.  Here's how I make it:

  1.  I heat my pan a bit (medium heat) and add just enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan.  Personally I prefer grapeseed oil but that's because at the grocery store, grapeseed oil was cheaper than olive oil.  You can also not use any oil at all if you don't plan on adding any herbs or seasonings before the rice - I, however do.  Often I will add some minced garlic to the oil and gently saute for a little bit before adding 1 cup of dry rice.  Keep the mixture moving over medium heat, yes this requires a modicum of patience but you a) don't want burnt garlic or b) burnt rice.  You don't have to flail at the rice like you're whipping ingredients around a ten quart wok.
  2. Now while you are toasting your rice, there will be a slight change in color in the grains usually around the same time as you start to smell your rice.  Here's a trick, take the pan off the hot burner while you get your liquid (unless you were smart and got your mis en place set up ahead of time).  Now the rule of thumb with rice is 2 to 1 (i.e. 2 cups water to 1 cup rice).  That being said I eyeball my liquid to rice ratio (especially when cooking with stock).  I pour enough liquid in to cover the rice about...maybe a quarter inch-ish.  Then I keep some liquid on reserve.  Let's say use a cup and half/cup and two thirds of liquid in your rice, and save a third (you'll see why in a moment).
  3. Now add your liquid to the rice (important safety tip: speaking from personal experience try to be careful because room temperature/cold liquid with create steam and steam can scald the shit out of your hands), return the pan to the burner.  Drop the heat down to low/medium-low.  My mnemonic device is, "Slow and low, that is the tempo."  Set a timer for maybe sixteen or seventeen minutes.  Go check facebook or Hooligan Youth Reviews.
  4. When the timer goes off, lift off the lid and check the rice.  Is there still liquid?  Put the lid back on and set the timer for another five minutes.  Is there no liquid?  Give the rice a poke with a poking implement - check to see if it is getting stuck to the bottom of the pan and to check the texture.  If you are unsure, then taste the rice.  Does it taste good?  Yes?  Then you're done.  Does it taste bad or is the rice still kind of crunchy or al dente?  Ah, that's why we have some liquid on reserve, although if your rice tastes bad then do not get discouraged just make some queso and have chips for dinner or since you're a grown up you can have cookies and ice cream for dinner.  If your rice is still al dente but tastes fine just add the remaining liquid, clap the lid back on and go do something for five minutes.
  5. Here's my final thought:  So your rice is done, good taste, good texture, it's not something you can use as spackle...gently fluff the rice, remove from heat, replace lid and let rest for a minute or so.  I know, you're starving, this rice thing takes forever.  However, while the rice has a moment to sit - get out your favorite rice bowl, your favorite condiments, and whatever else you need.  Now go om nom nom your rice.
In part two I will probably tackle two more favorites: Wild Rice and Rice Pilaf.  Part three will be how to make brown rice without screaming and part four will be couscous, barley, and quinoa.  If anyone has questions or comments please let me know or if there are recipes you'd like to suggest please let me know.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Impending kitchen madness or A Man, a Plan, a Pan...Panama!

Here's my hypothetical meal list for after my next grocery store trip:

  1. Meatloaf with a combo of pork, ground beef, and chorizo. I might make a huge batch and turn some of the meat into meatballs and freeze them for when I want meatball subs.
  2. With those leftovers (chopped up) I will make rice.  Om nom nom nom.
  3. With those leftovers I will make stuffed peppers.
Additionally, I am thinking:
  • Grilled bbq tofu with some form of noodly goodness.
  • Sausage and kraut.
  • Gazpacho
  • Cucumber soup with fresh dill
  • Carne guisada
  • Fried rice with mirepoix, cooked salt pork, and I want to add some nuts but I can't think of which
  • Homemade mustard
  • Salad Nicoise with grilled salmon
Any suggestions, questions, or comments are welcome.  I'm also on the look out for your favorite summer dishes.  Hope you all are in good health and spirits and enduring the heat as well you can.  

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Last Airbender (2010) Dir M. Night Shamalayan

  1. I have to preface this review by saying that while I know quite a few fans of the animated series, I have only seen part of one episode out of context and had no idea of what was going on.  I was basically flying blind on this movie.
  2. I haven't seen a movie in 3-D since Jaws 3-D and am opposed to the whole schtick but I wanted to hang out with friends and try this new fangled moving pictures folderol on for size.
  3. I only like one M. Night movie, Unbreakable.  The rest of his movies I pretty much sneer at.
The Last Airbender is currently the lowest rated movie in release on metacritic with a 20/100 score.  Now I don't completely cotton to metacritic scores (I loved Hitman) but let's just say I wasn't expecting much.  For my nine bucks I didn't get much except eyestrain and vague feeling that I would have been pissing blood angry if I had been a fan of the series.  I also got radioactive yellow popcorn salt in a cat scratch and it still hurts but that's besides the point.

The movie doesn't completely suck and if it hadn't been in 3-D would have been pretty cool to watch.  Sections of the movie were pretty kick ass (so few though I was surprised when something kicked ass, then by the time I had gotten over my surprise the movie went back to being crappy).  I enjoyed it more than "A bunch of spoiled English brats hanging out with anthropomorphic Jesus" and a good many other movies I've had the misfortune to watch (cough Phantom Menace cough Transformers cough Nick Cage movies).  There are a few problems that rendered The Last Airbender nearly painful at times to watch:
  1. 3-D sucks.  I'm sure the slack-jawed mouth breathers who are in awe electric can openers think 3-D is real darn neat (as well as the movie going audiences who will blithely pay nine dollars to sit in a theater and text).  I will never see another movie in 3-D again because: the film was too damned dark to really take in the effects and scenery (I could have been wearing my sunglasses for chrissakes), I was forced to watch through 3D glasses awkwardly placed over my own, and 3-D is just another rehash of the old 50s ploy to get asses in the seats.  It also completely buggers the artistry in cinema, the illusion, the craft, and the talent.  You want to see 3-Dwatch Blade Runner in the theater - that shit'll give you vertigo.
  2. The Last Airbender supplants The Phantom Menace in my list of big budget movies with the worst dialogue and acting.  Combined with exposition and repetition to put the Underworld series to shame The Last Airbender is terrible.  The little kids in the school production of Scarface were better actors.  Fuck, any elementary school play would garnish better actors.  An elementary school adaptation of Twelve Angry Men put on by short bus and shop kids would have better actors.  At one point I think I actually laughed out loud (even as I slowly stewed about the couple giggling behind us throughout the entire movie, though some of their jokes were funny).
Those major issues aside, I have a few positives:
  1. I am giving Mr. Shamalayan props for making a movie for his kids, for being shackled by trying to fit the entire first season of the series into a 120 minute movie, and I imagine he wasn't very happy about his movie being shoehorned into a 3-D format.  I actually will give his next movie a shot (if he stays away from his penchant for crappy twists and the Airbender series).  I think he might have a decent eye for large scale action and if (ever given a red-cent again) he could make a pretty kick ass chop-socky movie. 
  2. Ben Cooke did an excellent job as fight coordinator.  He's primarily a stunt double (in really impressive action roles - he was Daniel Craig's stunt double in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace for chrissakes) and part of the Raimi factory (Hercules, Xena, & Jack of All Trades).  One of the main fight sequences that used a minimal amount of elemental chicanery was a really slick fight between two guys fighting in tandem against a whole bunch of baddies.  Nice work Mr. Cooke.
  3. James Newton Howard's score was pretty solid and a far sight better than many scores I've heard recently in fantasy/action movies.  I wouldn't say I'm gonna run out and buy it but someone made me a copy I wouldn't say no to it.
Don't waste your money seeing this in the theater, it's a 2-D rental, but it's not any worse than some of the cockamamie chop-socky movies I've seen where people wire work around chuck elemental blasts at one another and march of the wooden soldiers through their dialogue.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Red Dead Redemption Single player final review & initial thoughts on multiplayer.

I polished of the Single Player story a day or two ago and have to say that Red Dead Redemption might have one of the best end stories of any Rockstar game I have played.  I was actually shocked...not only at the length of the story (it just seemed to keep branching, though I have some problems that I won't address because they are spoilers and in retrospect they do play their role in the story arc) but the end and the denouement were really solid.  It took me about a day to reach 100% complete - the easiest 100% in a Rockstar game I've ever gotten.

With a fond farewell I bid adieu to Red Dead Redemption  single player and delved into multiplayer.  I am still flabbergasted that it took so long to make a Rockstar multiplayer that serves a purpose and also shocked that multiplayer is as engaging as single player.

It's not just a run around, PvP mayhem with tweens screaming (aka GTA IV multiplayer).  There's a massive amount of free roam goals and challenges.  Most of these run parallel to the single player challenges but in multiplayer they have added depth and challenge.   Many are extended and others are simply more difficult because if you try to tackle them on your own they are a pain in the ass.  Example, trying to cause trouble in a town will bring the full force of the law down upon you tout suite and trying to raise levels and get achievements solo is nigh impossible.  Example: I was going toe to toe with the Mexican army over and over again and dying over and over again.  I another player causing mayhem as well and lent my guns to his fight.  We ended up running out of ammo before we were swarmed and gunned down.

The PvP is brilliantly fast and brutal.  While I was riding the high country hunting I made the mistake of shooting first and asking questions later on a player who happened upon me.  I spent the next half hour in a running retreat/gun battle with him and his friend who kept gunning for me.  I held my own, though I have to admit I laughed my ass off when one guy was shooting the shit out of me and a bear charged out of the bushes and mauled him to death.

I'm looking forward to more Red Dead, thanks to the expansive multiplayer.  Now if only some of you folks would play so we could get a posse together and whomp the coop missions.

Friday, July 02, 2010

HYR Top Ten Favorite Live Albums...in no particular order, plus honorable mentions.

  • Belafonte at Carnegie Hall (1959) - Harry Belafonte
  • Nighthawks at the Diner (1975) - Tom Waits
  • Stretching Out (1981) - The Skatalites
  • In Case You Didn't Feel Like Showing Up (Live) (1990) - Ministry
  • Live at Fulsom Prison and San Quentin - Johnny Cash
  • Live at Winterland (October 10-12, 1968) - The Jimi Hendrix Experience
  • Sunday at the Village Vanguard (June 25, 1961) - Bill Evans Trio
  • 101 (June 18, 1988)- Depeche Mode
  • The Pietasters Are Strapped Live! (1995) - The Pietasters
  • I Heard They Suck Live! - NOFX
  • Roseland NYC Live (1998) - Portishead

Greatest Hits

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