When I discovered that O’Rilley publishers came out with “Cooking for Geeks”… The turn around was nigh instantaneous– not counting UPS time. My husband picked it up like it was a highly contagious disease– well, if that were a good thing.
I have not had time to look at it in detail– but it is a book about meta-cooking. I’m not even talking about meta-cooking in a sense of the fine procedurals that the likes of Alton Brown and “Joy of Cooking” and the like. I’m talking about thinking about food. About how you organize your flavor profiles, how do you think about meal planning; as well as the science behind making your food more tasty.
Things like– you generate hydrochloric acid in your eyes when you peel onions– so here’s how to avoid that! But handy tips and recipes are more of an aside. It spends the bulk of the book covering various schools and philosophies of cooking, such as seasonal, cultural, and profile cooking– which deals with the chemically related constituents of the food and how they might relate to each other, and grouping your foods that way.
While I’ve certainly heard of all of these approaches, This book gives you a good in-depth introduction to each of them. It also covers the science of baking, browning, and other main techniques amped up to a new level– with recipes there for you to experiment. There are indeed lots of experiments here that go outside of things you might want to eat, that teach you the basics of things like– modernist cooking. You know what I mean. Other people call it Molecular Gastronomy– but that’s like organic gardening. The former makes real modernist chefs wince, and the latter makes farmers laugh, or cringe. Care to have some sodium metal in your food? It’s guaranteed not to be organic!
There are interviews with both geeks (say, Mr. O’Rilley, head nerd at the publisher himself) of note and real food geeks like David Arnold of Cooking Issues fame. If you don’t listen to his podcast– and you like my cooking blather– you should. He even took one of my questions seriously enough to answer it on the air!
So if you want a recipe for dinner *tonight* I don’t really recommend this book. They do have some recipes you could turn into something that those various monsters (large and small) you live with might eat– but frankly you are better off going to your old stand-by tattered and stained cookbook or just searching for what you want on the internet.
But THAT is the great thing about this book. They understand that we can just look up any arbitrary popular recipe that you might want. This gives you the other stuff that you might need– say to swap out an ingredient or to put a dish into it’s proper context so that you are less likely to ruin an experiment.
For me, it was about inspiration. These past few weeks I haven’t been inspired to cook much. Being sick, and having to deal with it for over a month really drained my ability to enjoy the flavors of things, or even to think creatively about how to circumnavigate the barrier of feeling lifeless, and ill– to put something that I might want to eat on the plate. I literally spent weeks using mad-dash techniques that made fast food sound attractive.
So… faced with that, I picked up this book, wondering what it was about– and lost about three hours of my day. I was riveted. I did not come away with any particular ideas of what to have for dinner– but I wanted to fix dinner. I did make something worth eating– but things got even better when I slept on it. I looked forward to lunch, my most hated meal of the day.
Generally I don’t want to break into my most productive phase of my day to sit there and do something like eat. Eating is for dinner, when I can be leisurely and really enjoy myself. Eating is for breakfast, while I’m focused on doing things for survival– like feeding the cats and making sure Husband has socks. Heck, some hot cereal and a kale smoothie and I’m good to go. There is a process, and it gets me awake enough to not only face the day, but do it well. I’m sold on breakfast. I just hate lunch, which seems to exist only to inconveniently break up my day and weigh me down. Sometimes I forget about it until I’m falling over with hunger.
I decided I really liked the idea of dirty rice– and I had beans. The two seemed like a natural pairing. The problem, of course, is that it’s Friday. Yes, in traditionalist Catholic circles, we still observe the Fish on Fridays phenomenon. So as much as it pained me, sausage is out. I thought about adding some kind of fish to the mix, and found it somewhat repellent. I actually do like sardines, but… no. Please. Not in my nice black beans.
And… I had some black rice. The two seemed like they would taste– really good together. They both have a nice earthy taste, and the textures were compatible, provided I did something about that starchy canned texture. Have a fry pan, and it’s easy to take care of.
I decided against naming it in honor of the unfortunate Superbowl blackout– because actual people suffered. But you can’t help but snicker that it was caused by hardware designed to stop blackouts.
Now granted, the joker in me says that I’m making “Goth Chow”, [if you are younger than me, it makes more sense to sub in “Emo” for “Goth”– or whatever term we have these days for people who wear black lace and velvet, stiletto heels and black eyeliner for both sexes]I go ahead anyway. The only way to make this more perfect is to add in some red wine– and garlic for Irony’s sake.
Now, the technique was nothing new to me. I made a white bean dish with pork jowl bacon, caramelized leeks and shredded carrots that convinced my husband he doesn’t hate beans. But reading about how other people group foods together and figure out what tastes good and what doesn’t– led me to the idea that black rice and black beans was more than a cultural stunt for a pretty pretty dish. These things actually taste good together. Some time I want to try a “black and white” dish where black rice is paired with navy or cannellini beans– but that’s another show. 🙂
If you really want the “dirty rice” experience without the meat, try adding these ingredients (and double all of them) in a meat grinder. If you can, toast the soaked TVP and add it as well. Don’t if you are like me, sensitive to soy.
See, even vegetarians have a reason to own a meat grinder!
Blackout Beans and Rice: or Goth Chow (“Beans and Rice painted Black”)
- 1 can of black beans,
- 1 can of mushrooms,
- 1 cup of black rice, cooked (that is, you measure it dry, then cook it in 3 cups of water, using the technique you always use to cook rice– only for 40 minutes)
- 1 small onion,
- 1/4-1/3 of almonds, chopped fine
- 1.5 tbs of “Better than Bullion” Vegetable, Mushroom or Beef– or Tomato Paste
- 1 tbs (optional) plus 2/3 cup of red wine (you CAN use white in a pinch)
- reserved liquid from beans
- 1/3 cup of carrot juice
So, I cooked my black rice. I diced up some onions, chopped slivered almonds and canned mushrooms (yeah, I know, it should be fresh. But you know what? It’s what I had. M’kay?). Add your onions first, Almonds shortly thereafter, then your finely minced mushrooms last. Drain your beans, but reserve the liquid. Black beans are different. Their cooked in essence is not even remotely nasty if you use it wisely.
I tossed the diced onions, almonds, and mushrooms in the pan and let them brown a looooong time. I’m trying to mimic that finely gritted sausage in dirty rice, remember. I fried them up in grape seed oil. Then, when the pan is dry and they are a dark brown,and you might be worried that your mushrooms are burnt, add some either tomato paste or Better than Bullion.
Clear off some space in the center of the pan, and smear on your paste, getting it brown, too. One should probably add more oil, but I didn’t. Once you have an unsightly smear of paste that’s coating the pan with a thin layer that might burn, add your garlic, and a splash of garlic juice, or maybe a tablespoon of wine. There will be more later, but trust me. Let that evaporate, but stir it in rapidly, mixing the paste with the browned veggies. It should make things even darker brown. This is a good thing.
Then, when you despair of everything drying up and blowing away (but before it burns) dump in your beans. Cook them until they are as soft as you want them. After you have dumped in your beans this is the optimal time for your first round of spices. I used powdered onion, cumin, black pepper, fenugreek, a little coriander, three bay leaves, and more chopped garlic. Let the spices cook and hydrate on the top of the beans for a bit before mixing them in. It may be superstition but I find that my spices are less gritty that way.
So now you cook the mess together until your beans are right. Now you add the rice, one dollop form a wooden stir spoon at a time. I like mine kind of thick… so it was slow going. I did manage to use up all my cooked rice as well as my entire can of black beans.
Cook until it’s dry-ish. Add your wine, and whatever corrections to the spicing you want. Stir until it becomes creamy and smells like wine and mushrooms and wonderful earthiness. Serve to the ravening hordes. Serves approximately four hungry people, to six penitential people. Serve over lightly steamed kale and chard– which is a good way to extend the dish even further. Actually, rocket (AKA arugula) tastes good, too. I topped it with more toasted almonds, and a few dried cranberries. Serve with more red wine. 🙂
Ideas: well, ok, you can also add hydrated TVP and/or sausage and brown it with your mushrooms and onions and whatnot. You can sub in leeks for the onions if your family is adverse. You can use about any bean and just about any rice instead. You can add bacon or duck confit or whatever to it. This is an insanely versatile dish.
The up-front cooking time can be up to an hour if you are not careful about chopping things up finely, however. Be warned.