Ode to a rice cooker

Rice cooker

My culinary workhorse.

I hate to admit this, but I have a thing for kitchen gadgets. I like to talk a big game about how I don’t really care about owning a lot of “stuff,” that it’s experiences that matter to me, but… as soon as I step into the kitchen, my hippy-ish anti-materialistic philosophy kinda flies out the window. My sous-vide circulator, my pressure cooker, my Vitamix, my bullet smoker—they all bring me a lot of joy. And, hell, I’d argue they help me create experiences—delicious dining experiences—and don’t just sit there looking pretty and collecting dust.

The gadget I use the most in my kitchen—once or twice a day!—isn’t as sleekly powerful as the Vitamix or as geekily futuristic as the sous-vide machine. In fact, it’s probably one of the most common kitchen appliances in the world.

It’s my rice cooker.

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Rice milk: not nice milk?

Us low-FODMAP-living lovers of milk products can’t catch a break. We can’t drink regular cow milk (unless it’s lactose-free). Soy milk is a no go (unless it’s specifically made from soy protein, not soy beans, which is harder to find). Almonds are no good, so we stay away from almond milk. Rice, at least, is easy for most of us to tolerate, so rice milk should be fine, right?

Right?

Not so fast. The good researchers at Monash (aka the people who discovered this whole FODMAP business in the first place) recently found that rice milk, even in small quantities, contains a high amount of oligo-saccharides and even some fructans as well. Therefore, it’s definitely not good for those on the low-FODMAP diet!

If you’re confused, don’t worry—the Monash folks are as well, and in this blog post they detail their findings and posit a hypothesis as to just how this came about. (They theorize it somehow takes place during the manufacturing process.) And they do warn that perhaps not all rice milks are troublesome—they didn’t test them all.

For now though, it might be best to stay away. Sorry cold cereal and milky coffee lovers—we’ll have to just keep looking for another substitute.

RECIPE: Low-FODMAP Moorish Paella

A pot of low-FODMAP Moorish Paella

One (delicious) pot.*

One of the saddest goodbyes I had to make as I embarked on the low-FODMAP journey was to one of my dearest old friends, spaghetti with red sauce. Spaghetti and meatballs was my all-time favorite meal as a kids, and I never really outgrew it. Sure, I discovered the joys of Marcella Hazan’s simple, sweet marinara, and got myself tangled up  in various  elaborate bolognese and ragù recipes, but that core love of pasta, tomatoes and ground meat never really changed—for better or worse.

In fact, spaghetti was one of the reasons it took me so long to come around to the low-FODMAP diet. I knew I always felt sick the day after eating it, but I always thought it had something to do with the acidity of the tomatoes. I never suspected that it could be the onions and garlic flavouring the tomato sauce—and the very pasta I poured it over—that was the source of the problem.

But not only did I just love eating spaghetti bolognese because it tasted so delicious, but it was also such a convenient meal as well. I could cook up a big ragù on Sunday night and eat it through the week, or freeze it; I could even, on a lazy evening, just pick up a good bottle of meat sauce from a local gourmet grocer that would do the trick almost as well.

So, in starting out on this new diet, I was hungry for meals that could bring back some of that one-pot convenience, while hitting all the starchy, tomato-y, meaty flavor notes I was craving. A friend sent me a link to a recipe that Food52 community blogger NWB called Moorish Paella, and I knew I was in love. As is, the recipe contains some FODMAP warning signs, but I knew I could create a “recipe translation” that I could happily eat, digest and, importantly, not feel like I was compromising on by enjoying. And it’s the ultimate one-pot meal!

Make sure you use low-FODMAP chicken stock to cook the rice. And while the original recipe contains a healthy portion of onions and garlic; you can use the “fry” method to impart flavor to the cooking oil, add garlic-infused oil or just drop them completely. It’ll be delicious either way!

Low-FODMAP Moorish Paella

Parsley optional.

Low-FODMAP Moorish Paella

Ingredients

4-6 chicken thighs (I prefer to use bone-in, skin-on, but when I can’t find them I go boneless/skinless and it works out just fine)
2 links of merguez sausage (or other spicy sausage)
1 tsp ground caraway seed
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tablespoon harissa (may contain a small amount of garlic; if you malabsorb, replace with a hot sauce that doesn’t cause problems)
2 cups Arborio (risotto) rice
3/4 can tomato paste OR 1 cup low-FODMAP tomato sauce
3 cups Delicious Low-FODMAP Chicken Stock
OPTIONAL: 1 small onion, quartered
OPTIONAL: 2 garlic cloves, halved OR 1 tbsp garlic-infused oil
1/2 cup red or white wine (I use a splash of port, myself—wine vinegar will do in a pinch)

Instructions

1. If you can, toss the chicken thighs in a plastic bag early in the day or the night before with a tbsp or so of kosher salt (don’t worry if you forget/skip this step).

2. Slice the sausage into disks (or diagonal chunks and stick them in the bottom of your saucepan (I use a 26L Creuset) while cold. Turn the heat on low and let them slowly render out their fat and brown in their juices. Brown both sides, then remove them with a slotted spoon to a drain on some paper towels resting on a plate. While they’re browning, combine and mix the spices together with a teaspoon of kosher salt.

3. Turn the heat up to medium. While the pan heats up, pat chicken dry on both sides (important step!). Then, in batches if need be, brown chicken on both sides in the rendered sausage fat, about 5 minutes a side. When they’ve got some colour on both sides, stick ’em on some more paper towels to dry.

4. If using onions and garlic, add to pan (splash in some olive oil if it’s dry—it probably won’t be) and let them fry away for a couple of minutes. Once they start to get golden brown on all sides, remove them with a slotted spoon and toss ’em out. (If not using onions and garlic, or using oil, skip this step.)

5. Deglaze the pan with the wine and scrape all the good fond-y bits off the bottom. Spoon a good portion of the spice mixture into the pan. Before it completely dries out, add the harissa or hot sauce and re-introduce the sausage, then give it a good stir. Add the tomato paste or sauce and another big spoonful of the spice. Let it all simmer down for about 5 minutes, but if it seems to be drying out too fast, proceed to the next step immediately.

6. Add the rice and mix it in with the sauce and sausage bits, then distribute it evenly across the bottom of the ban. Stick the chicken parts on top (again, evenly). Pour in the stock. Stir in the rest of the spice mixture. Cover.

7. Bring the pot to a boil (this should happen quickly) and then immediately reduce to lowest heat. Let cook away, lid still on—remember the BBQ rule, if you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin’!—for about 20 minutes, then check on it. If the rice seems tender and most of the liquid is gone, you’re golden. If not, cover again and wait a few more minutes. (It can theoretically take up to 30, but mine is usually done on the earlier side.)

8. Serve with a squeeze of lemon, and enjoy!

And as always, drop me a line in the comments below if you have any questions, or if you made the recipe and have something—good or bad—to say about it!

* Check out the super-cool “Nonna Spoon” from bottledBrooklyn, a wedding present (and not a paid endorsement—I really love it!)