Update on the rice cooker and an epic soup failure

I thought it was only fair to give an update since buying and using my rice cooker a couple of times. A couple =  2.

My first try was plain old Basmati rice. I followed the instructions and about an hour later I had delicious, perfect, Basmati rice.

First thought: YES! I kick so much ass at this!!
Second thought: Settle down, Heather. 1) YOU didn’t do anything and 2) unless you suddenly became illiterate you couldn’t have screwed this up, and probably not even then.

My second try was brown rice which, admittedly, I am not really a fan of. In fact, I think it tastes like cardboard. I decided to get crazy (brave? ballsy? no, crazy works) and (try to) turn it into black beans and rice. I have a ton of black beans and I love beans and rice. My thought was I could cover the flavor of the brown rice but still get some flavor enhancement from it. I probably could have done just that, had I known how much of the other ingredients to add. This is the part where it is blatantly obvious that I have zero culinary skills. More on this later.

I followed the directions for the brown rice, added the beans, added some other stuff, hit the Brown Rice option and waited. After about an hour the alarm went off and my culinary creation was “done,” at least according to the sensors in the rice cooker. I really had no idea what to expect when I opened the lid. Was it a good idea to put the beans in at the beginning? They were canned beans so I didn’t know if that would affect anything. Was it going to be a big pile of mush? Just what was I going to find when I opened the lid? The suspense was killing me!

I found brown rice with black beans. It looked pretty good. I stirred it up and while it was moist, I had read that sometimes brown rice needs a wee bit more water and put on the “Keep Warm” setting for a few more minutes. Deciding to do that, I poured a little water in and closed the lid back up – but not without scooping a little bit out to try first. I needed to know what my creation tasted like.

Cardboard. It tasted like cardboard with black beans. None of the “other stuff” I added came through in what I was tasting. For me to succeed in the kitchen I desperately need a recipe or strict instructions to follow [except when I make my world famous chili. I can do that blindfolded with one arm tied behind my back]. The “other stuff” I added was red pepper flakes, cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Keep in mind here that I have no idea what goes in beans and rice, I just know there’s delicious heat when it is made well. Initially I just gave a few shakes of each of those and it turns out I put in so little that I may as well have not even bothered. Since I had just added the water for it to steam a little more, I decided to add a few more shakes [twss] of the spices and see how it tasted in a few minutes. I let it all marinate for about 10 more minutes and gave it another try. The water was a big help, and I could definitely taste more of the spice this time but it still wasn’t good. Of note, the rice was cooked properly so the problem here is me, not the rice cooker, and not so different from my dating life.

I’m sure I didn’t add enough of the spices, and probably not even the right combination. Maybe just using some plain jerk seasoning would’ve worked better. I don’t know. Regardless, I’m not calling the brown rice and beans a success. It wasn’t an epic failure because it was edible, it just wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I didn’t throw the leftover away though, so maybe after sitting in the fridge overnight it’ll be better. I’m not optimistic, but I can be hopeful.

On the night I made the Basmati, I also tried to make broccoli cheese soup in my slow cooker. A few lessons come from this experience. First, when I’m at the grocery store picking up ingredients for whatever I’m going to Frankenstein together, I need to make note of how much of each ingredient I need. The failure this time around was heavy cream and chicken broth. The recipe I was using said 1/2 cup of heavy cream and 5 cups of chicken broth. At the store I bought two little cartons of heavy cream and one can of chicken broth. I’m already at odds with this turning out halfway decent. I didn’t want to go back to the store to get more of the broth because it was super cold out, but I had already started making and combining the other ingredients (onion, garlic, broccoli florets) and I didn’t think I could stop and save it until I would be out again and could stop at the store. I had chicken bullion though, and while I don’t like using it, I thought I may be able to get away with it this time since it was going to be more of an enhancer than a true chicken flavoring. Plus, I thought, I won’t need to add salt later. Forethought, I has it.

It all went downhill from here. It made WAY more than I thought it was going to and it was really watery, even after I added the cheese [yes, twice what the recipe called for because cheese]. What could I do to thicken it up? Flour! Oh, or corn starch! Yes! I have both of these! But how much do I use? And can I just put it in and stir it up?

Uh, no. I tried corn starch since it was easier to get to in my kitchen and it did nothing. I didn’t want to use too much, but I didn’t know how much was too much so I just kept adding some. Turns out you’re supposed to make a “roux” and add that. The trick is, you have to make it separately and then add it. Just dumping in some flour or corn starch won’t do anything. I later learned that I could’ve used some instant potato flakes but that’s not something I keep on hand so… [note to self: buy some instant potato flakes]

Finally I gave up. It is important to note here that it didn’t taste horrible, it just wasn’t…good. It had way too much onion and garlic flavor which, believe it or not, can actually be a bad thing. It had very little cheese flavor. And it was watery. I tried putting some over the Basmati. No improvement. I tried crunching up some saltines. No improvement. I didn’t know what to add to balance out the flavor so the onion and garlic would be less potent.

As evidenced by my lack of knowing how to adjust the flavors in my beans and rice above, it is apparent that I have no palate for identifying flavors. This is true for me with wine, beer, even Dr Pepper which I just recently learned is a “spicy cherry” flavor. Yeah, I can totally get that now that I’ve been told what it is. Had you asked me a year ago what the flavor was I probably could’ve explained nuclear physics easier. The end of the story is that I dumped out the soup. It was an expensive waste. I’m sad.

I didn’t really plan for this to turn into a “Heather learns to cook” blog, but from the looks of things it just may be heading that way, or at least be a recurring theme. Stay tuned for what’s sure to be more awful adventures in the kitchen.

Now I’m cooking with rice!

…or something.

I had my first exposure to using a rice cooker while house/dog sitting for some friends last week. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that one of the dogs had an upset tummy and was put on a rice diet. They told me to just make some rice and feed that to the dog for a few days and she’d be fine. The conversation went something like this:

Friend 1: Just make some rice and mix it with a little baby food and feed that to her for a few days. She’ll love it and it’ll stop her up and she won’t poop for days [joke].

Me: uh, okay. (thinking maybe they have Minute Rice? htf do you make rice? is it just rice and water? how much? WTFOMGIDONTKNOWHOWTOMAKERICE?!?!?)

Friend 1: ?

Me: I don’t know how to make rice. [In full disclosure, I don’t claim to be able to cook many things so rice should be no surprise.]

Friend 1: just use the rice cooker.

Me: *crickets*

Friend 1: we are having dinner now but Friend 2 will call you when we are done.

Me: okay, thanks.

A short while later Friend 2 calls and walks me through the steps of making rice using the rice cooker. By steps I mean 3; 4 if you count plugging it in.

I did the steps and holy crap I kid you not! 20 minutes later I had rice! Beautifully fluffy nicely cooked rice!

I was totally blown away. I told another friend about my enlightenment and she began telling me how awesome rice cookers are and how they can be used for much more than rice. It was at this point that I decided I really needed to look in to getting one. She said it was the best thing ever for making oatmeal, grits, steamed veggies, etc. AND MEAT. YOU CAN MAKE MEAT IN A RICE COOKER! [I suppose this makes sense if you think of it as being a close cousin to a slow cooker, but me and my lack of culinary vision never would’ve considered this.]

I should also admit here that I never had a toaster oven until recently. Another friend couldn’t understand how I’ve gotten this far in life without ever having or using one. I don’t use it as much as I probably could/should, but I will say that it is a handy thing to have, especially for reheating pizza, and it is not a purchase I regret making. It would seem that I have been small-but-incredibly-awesome-appliance deprived in my life. I never even saw a hot plate until I went to college. One of my friends had a fondue (no idea what fondue was at the time) pot that she used for cooking things in. I blame my parents for this lack of exposure and a life full of meals actually being prepared with a stove.

Up until now I haven’t had a big rice diet because for one I never knew how to make it, but also it just never seems to taste good. I can only assume that’s because when I’ve had it, it wasn’t prepared in a (glorious) rice cooker. So, here we go. Once it comes, I’m hoping to be able to come back and say how life changing it has been, or, alternatively, how good Target’s return policy is.

Yes, I ordered it from Target because Ebates is the best thing ever and I’m not in a huge hurry to have it. Sign up for Ebates if you’re not already a user. Get cash back when you shop. Yes, seriously. Use my referral link and we both get a bonus.

http://www.ebates.com/rf.do?referrerid=JocWJA9MZ%2BCsSpWra4q7Bg%3D%3D

2013 in a very brief review

of note: all previous posts to this blog have been removed. It was time to start fresh. sorry if you were a regular reader.

I was looking back through my social media history trying to put together the past year and remember all of the good that happened. Is it bad that I had a phenomenal year and have to rely on social media to help me remember it? And yeah, there were some crappy things that happened, but I’m not going to dwell on them.

A rundown of what I can easily recall:

Appointment to the New England Journal of Medicine‘s Academic Advisory Board for a 3 year term. Kind of a big deal.

My first trip ever to Dallas. A place I thought I wanted to live when I was younger. I blame my mom and JR Ewing for that.

I went to NYC where I’ve repeatedly said I never cared to go again – and I had a great time.

I turned 40 but still have the maturity level of a 12 year old boy.

I broke my first bone – sober.

I finally admitted to myself that I loved someone. Yeah.

I WON MY COURT CASE. Talk about an extended nightmare.

I had my 10 year anniversary at my job (commitment issues whaaaat?). Possibly the biggest deal of the year.

I was elected to the Nominating Committee of the Medical Library Association (MLA). Also kind of a big deal.

I presented at the MLA annual meeting as one of the panelists on Top Tech Trends. Another sort of big deal.

I taught a CE course for MLA on Research (versus research). A sort of big deal that was a lot of fun.

I was asked to serve on the newly formed Research Task force for MLA. A Presidental appointment even!

So yeah, lots of good things happened this past year. They were mostly related to my career but my career is essentially my life and that’s just fine with me.

Bring it on, 2014. Bring it on.