Sticky Situation

So deeply rooted in history, so utterly essential that in many cultures, the word for “rice” is the very same word for “meal,” or just simply “food.” The whole world as we know it could have quite plausibly begun from a single grain of rice. Trying to break down the myriad varieties though, from ancient to modern hybrid, is where things start to get sticky.

That’s exactly what I want to pick apart today: Sticky rice. For starters, sticky rice is distinct from common long grain white rice, and no amount of special preparation will come close to its unique characteristics. Don’t let any blissfully thrifty cooks tempt you into thinking that any overcooked long grains, gummy and swollen with too much water, are even remotely acceptable substitutes. While many types of short grain rice may be lumped together and called “sticky rice,” true glutinous rice is a separate breed. It all boils down to its starchy constitution. Glutinous rice contains just one component of starch, called amylopectin, while other kinds of rice contain both molecules that make up starch: amylopectin and amylose. Amylose does not gelatinize during cooking, which keeps grains separate and fluffy. Without that buffer, you’ll find a range of creamier or downright cohesive results.

Thai sticky or glutinous rice has been the object of my affection and frustration since the very first forkful I enjoyed in Thailand itself. Back at home, understanding the culinary transmogrification happening to turn out such a familiar yet entirely unique staple has been a fascinating, humbling experience.

A medium-to-long-grain rice hailing from South East and East Asia, glutinous rice does not actually contain gluten, but the name refers to the rice’s glue-like sticky quality, which easily binds it into rice balls and cakes. Black Thai sticky rice is simply the wholegrain version, meaning the bran has not been removed. Contrary to the name, it’s actually more of a mottled, deep purple color and has an exceptionally chewy, toothsome bite. Like other unmilled or brown rices, it takes slightly longer to cook than white varieties.

Typically soaked overnight, gently steamed in a special bamboo basket, and painstakingly tended all the while, traditional methods of cooking are as intimidating as they are ultimately gratifying. Every minute of planning and preparation is well worth the effort, but not exactly an endeavor for an everyday meal. If you’re willing to sacrifice authenticity for the sake of almost-instant satisfaction, I’m happy to share a secret shortcut to get those sticky morsels on the table in a fraction of the time.

Use 1/4 – 1/2 cup dry grains per person and bundle them up in a nutmilk bag. Plunge into a pot of boiling water, keeping the top drawn tightly closed and out of the water, as if you were steeping an oversized tea bag. Turn off the heat and let soak for 10 minutes. Bring the heat back up to medium, bring to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes. Elevate the bag in a large strainer, raise the heat to high, and steam for a final 10 – 15 minutes. If using black sticky rice, soak for 15 minutes and simmer for 25.

Most Americans might be familiar with mango sticky rice, a simple dessert featuring ripe mango slices crowning tender grains in a pool of sweetened coconut cream. The combination is hard to beat, tried and true, but so easily adapted for further flavor sensations. Consider the avocado, if you would, as an alternate fruit to feature. Straying a bit from the beaten path, I played around with this Blue Lagoon Sticky Rice by adding a touch of butterfly pea tea powder to the rich and creamy sauce, since it’s also a native Thai ingredient.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with eating fresh, hot sticky rice straight-up, ungarnished in all its fully fragrant, tenaciously clingy glory.

 

 

 

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The Straight Dough(p)

It was only a matter of time. After releasing a glorious vegan version of their infamous cookie dough ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s has now unveiled the next level of dough indulgence upon the world. Joining the previously limited run of “just the chunks,” vegans will soon see a variation with their names on it appearing in grocery stores and scoop shops nationwide.

This is the real deal; the straight dough(p). Cylindrical extrusions exactly like you would see rolling down factory conveyor belts, destined for an unceremonious ice cream burial. Now, they’ve been freed of that typical, undistinguished fate for a glorious full feature. No longer the sidekick but the true hero, every nuance of their buttery, brown sugar sweetness can be properly appreciated. Never before have I tasted anything so closely matched to the flavors of homemade dough without reaching right into the bowl of my stand mixer.

Suddenly, I’m three years old again, standing on a chair to see over the tiled kitchen counter while my mom prepares cookies. Stretching to reach the very edge of the beater, I surreptitiously swipe tiny morsels of soft batter, one after another, letting the flavors explode across my palate and slowly dissipate before going in for another bit. Each stolen taste was just enough to flood my senses with the slightly grainy texture of undissolved sugar and flour, subtly balanced salted edge, and deeply satisfying richness. Stealthy, I was not, but my mom charitably humored my advances, pretending to be engaged with very complicated oven calibration every now and then while I made my moves.

Like the flashbulb of an antique camera, the memory fades off into black, and just like that, the bag is empty, too.

Ben & Jerry’s, take another bow. This is a completely faultless edible masterpiece by any standards. If you’ve ever craved raw cookie dough, this is what you’ve wanted all along.

Ease into Easter

Watch out for seasonal whiplash. Ready or not, we’re hopping madly towards the first big family gathering since Christmas. If you’re still recovering from a brutal winter, far removed from the pastel-clad merriment of egg hunts, parades, and garden parties, fear not. There’s still plenty of time to shake off any residual frost and turn out a stunning dessert.

Inspired by the brilliant fresh flavor of real berries baked into Voortman Raspberry Wafers, these light and crispy creme-filled cookies have kept me sane in the dark days of barren farmers markets and middling fresh fruit options. Now, paired with the tender ruby gems themselves, those sweet sticks become the building blocks of even greater tastes.

Swapping bland, spongy ladyfingers for these new treats from Voortman injects new life into an Italian staple. Stacking bright, vibrant layers of flavor with the greatest of ease, anyone can assemble this masterpiece in minutes.

Be it an elegant brunch or low-key gathering with friends, it’s hard to beat this invigorating combination of rich, tangy cream cut by a touch of citrus zest, lightly spiked and softened wafers, and whole fresh raspberries. Bundle up the whole pan to go and take it away on breezy springtime picnics, since it’s surprisingly stable at room temperature too.

Served immediately, the cookies will remain crunchy for a resoundingly satisfying bite, but hold up brilliantly to delayed gratification. After a day or overnight, you’ll enjoy a more tender forkful from top to bottom, easy to slice, serve, and fully embrace with an open mouth. Go ahead, prep well in advance, so you can be ready whenever your party springs to life.

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Mousse Tracks

Like so many great culinary achievements, we have the French to thank for inventing the edible frothy custard known as mousse. Originally a savory dish akin to aerated pâté, it didn’t catch on as a dessert, typically built upon fruity flavors, until the later half of the 19th century. Undergoing a dramatic rebranding since then, the concept is now nearly synonymous with chocolate, which is precisely what we’re celebrating today.

National Chocolate Mousse Day is a real date on the official calendar, and this designation is genuinely warranted. As easy to whip up as your average pudding but far more decadent, eggs need not apply for any of the natural loft in my last course. Swapping in tofu makes the process effortless, and the end results impressively high in protein.

Fool-proof, crowd-pleasing, and devilishly decadent, one of my favorite versions comes from Laura Theodore. Her Marvelous Chocolate-Peanut Butter Mousse has been a frequent dinner party guest. Always welcome at the table and excellent company to share, it even seems to clean up after itself; every glass is licked clean by the end of the night.

Continue reading “Mousse Tracks”

In Crust We Trust

In a rapidly changing world, there are certain constants we can depend on. Mathematically speaking, we have Euler’s number, Archimedes’ principle, and the Pythagorean theorem, of course, but for someone as nonacademic as myself, there’s little comfort to be found in such jumbles of numbers, no matter how concrete in concept.

Pie, on the other hand, immediately soothes the mental strain of of the scholarly and simple-minded alike. Also reliable is the knowledge that Pi Day will always fall on March 14th (3.14 of course), celebrating the golden ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Pie itself, however, should really be honored everyday.

This time, I propose we all cozy up to an everyday sort of pie. Mini pies, actually, easy to prepare, perfect quick snacks or last-minute desserts, they can even be prepared in advance, frozen, and thawed on demand. Warm out of the oven or reheated after a quick blast in the toaster oven, tender chunks of apple mingle with a soft, almost gooey peanut butter filling, infused with the warmth of cinnamon and lavished with a sweet crumb topping.

The combination is nothing earth-shaking, nor should it be. It’s a universally satisfying combination that’s stood the test of time, and will reliably treat you to a taste of nostalgic comfort in every mini morsel.

Yield: Makes 24 Mini Pies

Mini Peanut Butter Apple Pies

Mini Peanut Butter Apple Pies
Enjoy a tiny little bite of nostalgia with these cute mini pies! Nutty, fruity, and full of comforting cinnamon spice, they're best eaten warm.

Ingredients

Crust:

Peanut Butter-Apple Filling:

  • 1/2 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
  • 1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
  • 1/4 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 3 Medium Granny Smith Apples, Peeled, Cored, and Chopped (About 3 Cups)

Crumb Topping:

  • 3 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
  • 3 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Melted

To Serve:

  • Confectioner's Sugar (Optional)

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease 2 dozen mini muffin tins.

Roll out your prepared pie dough to about 1/8th of an inch in thickness and use a round cookie cutter, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, to cut out the crust pieces. In a pinch, the top of a drinking glass could work as well. Gather scraps, re-roll, and cut again as needed.

Ease the pieces into the greased pans, pressing them to fill the bottoms and up the sides as evenly as possible. There will likely be some overlap, but try to smooth out the edges to keep things neat and consistent.

Place the unbaked crusts in the fridge to chill while you turn your attention to the filling.

In a large bowl, mix together the peanut butter, brown sugar, yogurt, flour, cinnamon, and vanilla until smooth. Toss in the chopped apples and stir to incorporate, covering the fruit thoroughly with the peanut butter mixture. Set aside.

For the crumb topping, simply combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and use a fork to combine. Continue stirring until the mixture is coarse, chunky, but cohesive.

To assemble, fill the chilled pie shells with the peanut butter and apple mixture and top each with about a teaspoon of the crumb topping.

Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until the crusts and crumb are golden brown. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before removing from the pans and serving.

If desired, sprinkle confectioners sugar over the top very lightly just before enjoying.

Notes

To save these for a rainy day, let them cool completely before storing them in an airtight container, seperated by layers of parchment or waxed paper. Stash in the freezer for up to 4 months, or in the fridge for up to a week.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

24

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 72 Total Fat: 4g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 2g Cholesterol: 3mg Sodium: 36mg Carbohydrates: 9g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 6g Protein: 2g

Look Out for Lemons

Heads up!

If you’re not paying attention, there’s a real danger of being pummeled by falling fruit while walking the city streets of Berkeley. Woven in among the cozy cafes and compact apartment buildings, fruit trees flourish, exploding with fragrant citrus fruits that rain down like hail on the unsuspecting passersby below. Streets are littered with lemons, oranges, and other unidentified flaxen orbs, as if a fruit cart had overturned on its way to market. Some shatter upon impact, hemorrhaging precious sweet nectar in a macabre spray, but many others remain perfectly intact, perfectly viable for salvage.

Like any other compassionate cook, I’ve taken it upon myself to rescue any forlorn fruit. Given the conditions, you could understand why my fridge is overflowing with citrus, particularly Meyer lemons, which land in my direct path on the way to the bus.

Best practices for managing the surplus is expeditious disassembly, before they have time to spoil. Zest and juice all fruits, freezing liquids in ice cube trays and solids in little baggies. I’m not much for canning, but I like to think of my freezer as an icy pantry, extending the life of these abundant sweet and sour gems for later days.

Thrifty and measured as I am, don’t think for a minute that some of this gracious surfeit hasn’t been used for more immediate gratification.

Crisp, lightly sweetened shortbread cookies come to life with the bright acidity of fresh lemons, which also plays off the natural bitter edge of raw cacao nibs. Though undeniably buttery, their richness comes entirely from olive oil, adding a complementary grassy, peppery undertone. Irresistibly adorable spoon molds make them the ideal shape for dunking, but a regular old round cake pan will do the trick for simple, standard wedges.

Even if the urban landscape isn’t quite so generous in your locale, now is the time to enjoy citrus of all shapes and sizes, so stock up!

Yield: 16 - 18 Cookies

Lemon-Cacao Crunch Shortbread Cookies

Lemon-Cacao Crunch Shortbread Cookies
Crisp, lightly sweetened shortbread cookies come to life with the bright acidity of fresh lemons, which also plays of the natural bitter edge of raw cacao nibs. Though undeniably buttery, their richness comes entirely from olive oil, adding a complementary grassy, peppery undertone.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Confectioner's Sugar
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Cacao Nibs
  • 1/2 Cup Olive Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 and set out (but do not grease) a spoon-shaped baking tray or a 9-inch round springform pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, and the salt. Add in the cacao nibs and toss to coat with the dry ingredients.
  3. Separately, mix the oil, lemon juice, and zest together before pouring the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Stir well to combine; you may need to use your hands, as it's a very thick, stiff dough.
  4. If using spoon molds, fill each indentation about 3/4 of the way to the top, pressing firmly to make sure there are no gaps. For a springform pan, gather the dough into one large ball and press it flat and even across the bottom. Score into thin wedges with a sharp knife.
  5. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until lightly browned.
  6. For cookies baked in a springform pan, they may need to be re-scored at this point and baked for another 5 minutes, depending on spread and color.
  7. Let cool completely in the pans.

Notes

Both unbaked dough and finished cookies keep well in the freezer. Baked cookies keep for 2 weeks in an airtight container at room temperature.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

18

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 135 Total Fat: 8g Saturated Fat: 2g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 6g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 31mg Carbohydrates: 13g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 3g Protein: 2g