Whole Grains: Wild California Rice

Whole Grains: Wild California Rice

Wild California Rice. Have you tried it?  It’s obviously not local to Pennsylvania, but it is a sustainable, healthful, and tasty addition to your year-round pantry. It’s perfect for stretching meats or mushrooms, stuffing poultry, making cabbage rolls, stuffing squash, tomatoes, or peppers, and adding to substantance tol cold salads and soups.

Wild rice is actually not a true rice, but is instead an aquatic grain. It is an extremely important food in Native American traditions, where the ritual of harvest, drying and hulling is an important cultural touchstone to old ways. Nutritionally it is a powerhouse, near quinoa in protein content. It is not certified organic, but no pesticides or herbicides are necessary, and the water used is carefully managed to conserve and reuse before allowing it to drain back to the source.

This California wild rice is a more production-oriented product than the wild indigenous product. It is farmed from similar grains as the truly wild rice, but is instead intensively managed making it more productive and reasonably priced. The flavor is hard to describe, being somewhat floral, nutty, and smoky at once. The texture when properly cooked is toothy and substantial; and a 1/4 – 1/2  cup portion is really filling.  It really is a different ingredient entirely from regular rice – a direct substitution would certainly work, but might not be exactly what you had in mind.

Wild rice takes longer than more common white rices; about 45 – 55 minutes. Cooked rice also freezes well, so packets of precooked rice or other whole cooked grains like farro, spelts, or rye berry is a handy ingredient to have at the ready in your freezer. I really had no recipe in mind, just wanted to spend some time getting to know the rice, so I cooked the entire pound bag, even though I was cooking just for myself.  I mean, if I am going to boil a grain for almost an hour, I want to make that hour count, right?

From my pound of dry rice, I got about 14 loosely measured cups of cooked rice, of which I scooped approximate two cup portions into zip lock freezer bags, squeezed the air out as completely as possible, flattening and sealing the packages. I lay them flat on a plate and freeze, then the packages once frozen will stack neatly upright and fill as little freezer space as possible.

So, now I have seven 2 cup portions of frozen rice, ready to quickly steam as a side or toss into soups and recipes. Your milaege may vary. What are we gonna make? When cooking Rancho Gordo products, I always return to their Rancho Gordo Recipes for inspiration. Steve Sando rubs elbows with some diverse and interesting food people, and the recipes and ideas always give me if not specifics, direction.

The linked recipe for stuffing caught my attention. Of course I did not make it exactly, since my rice was already cooked, and I didn’t really have all the ingredients, but I was close. And just because it is called stuffing, doesn’t mean it wasn’t good in a bowl, by itself, as a main dish. I did stuff a roasted squash for lunch, brushed first with Swad coriander chutney, garnished with a plop of thick whole milk yogurt,  it was a bright spot in a dark, dreary, rainy day.

The recipe makes about six cups, and I only used one, so once again, I have cooked for both now and later, and when summer squash and chickens arrive, I am so ready with a frozen quart ready and waiting. By the way, freezing grains has very little effect on their quality, particularly if you cook them a tiny bit al dente. Mushy overcooked grains will not magically improve in the freezer.

Okay, here we go, to the printable recipe:

Wild Rice Stuffing

This recipe will stuff a 12-pound turkey or half a dozen game hens. It's delicious as a side dish for meats, as a filling for cabbage rolls, squashes, ingredient in soups & salads, or simply on its own.
Servings 6 cups

Ingredients
  

  • 4 cups cooked wild California Rice
  • 1/2 - 2 tsp Mexican Oregano
  • 1 pound lean ground beef, pork, elk, venison, or bison
  • 1 can green chilis
  • 1/2 large red onion, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped and lightly toasted pecans
  • 2 Tbs fresh orange zest

Instructions
 

  • Sauté meat in heavy large skillet over medium heat until cooked through, breaking up with a wooden spoon, about 10 minutes. If your skillet has excess grease or liquid, drain the beef, and remove excess from pan. 
  • Add chiles and onions to the meat. Continue to sauté over medium heat until onions are soft, about 10-15 minutes, adding a bit of liquid if necessary to keep beef from becoming dry. 
  • Add the cooked wild rice (frozen is okay), sauté gently until heated through, again taking care to keep it moist, not wet. Stir in the pecans and orange zest. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Can be prepared a day ahead. Cover and refrigerate once cool. If you'd like to serve as a side dish, re-warm covered in 350°F. oven for 20 minutes.) Transfer to bowl and serve. 
  • If using as poultry stuffing, cool completely and fill bird. 

Notes

When I purchase a bag of wild rice, I cook the entire pound, which I then portion a loose two cups into ziplock pint bags for the freezer. Cooked slightly al dente, the rice is a really handy ingredient to have ready for fast meals and saved cooking time, as wild rice takes about an hour.
*Also, about the orange zest - whenever I have good oranges, I always scrub the outside and zest the orange before peeling, saving the zest in a freezer container for later recipes. If you don’t have it, you could substitute chopped apple, parsley, lemon zest, raisins or cranberries for a fresh bit of bright flavor; it's a flexible recipe overall. 
Phone-it-in Orange Beef

Phone-it-in Orange Beef

 

Some cuts of beef just are never going to be Ruth’s Chris caliber. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t good, they are just something else.

A disappointing, tough, lean Delmonico makes a damn fine Chicken Fried Steak, or pepper steak. Ditching the supermarket has made me step up and learn a few things, and now I see how truly cheated we have been.

I kid you not, a well raised chicken fried steak is ten times better than an easy supermarket commodity-raised wet-aged steak. Regaining those food skills is well worth the effort, and honestly? Not even all that hard.

Restaurant style Orange Beef is an amazing treat, involving steps for dredging, frying, and otherwise giving your beef strips an amazing, crispy, tender texture, coated in rich, sticky, delicious orange-flavored sauce. 

This quickie is not that.  It has the flavors, but not the oil, the deep fried stickiness, the deep fry smell or fussy steps. It also doesn’t have that ethereal texture, or glaze, but being so  quick, easy, delicious, healthy, and tasty, it’s exactly what a weeknight needs. Pleasing and satisfying fuel for mind and body, and a non-burger way to honor  and enjoy the more complex parts of the animal. 

I struggle a little with the sourcing of the frozen veggies, the Bird’s Eye I used are Conagra, which is… Conagra. But we live in the world we live in, and one battle at a time.

Makes about four servings

  • 1/2 – 1 pound of some type of everyday beef steak; flank, round, sirloin tip steak, something chewier and not-too-fancy, thinly sliced across the grain and cut into 2-by-1/2-inch strips 
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce 
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar 
  • 2 tablespoons sake or white wine
  • 2 tablespoons sugar 
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch 
  • 2 tsp cooking oil (I use lard or olive)

Rub the beef strips in the baking soda, and refrigerate, approx 30 minutes. 

Mix together the orange juice, soy sauce, vinegar, wine, sugar and cornstarch. 

Rinse the beef strips well, pat dry on paper towels. Heat the cooking oil in a skillet, add beef strips and brown, about 4 minutes, turning to brown all sides. Remove to a plate. 

Add the package of frozen stir fry veggies to the hot skillet, with 2 tablespoons water, and cover. 

Simmer for about 8 – 10 minutes to allow larger pieces to cook through, then remove lid. 

Allow the water to simmer away, then add the soy mixture to the skillet and simmer until thickened and nicely coating the veggies. 

Return the beef strips to the mix, combine well, and serve warm, alongside rice.

Sustainably and attainably delicious, twenty minutes or less. 

 

Slow Cooker Pepperoncini Beef

Slow Cooker Pepperoncini Beef

So tender, a little tangy, with a very gentle spice, this is one of the laziest meals ever, and everyone loves it! I didn’t even bother to thaw my quart of stock, and used pork stock because it’s what I had, and still delicous. 

Ingredients:

  • 3 – 4 pund bone in beef chuck, arm, or English roast
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 tsp coarse black pepper
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 jar pepperoncini
  • 1 pint of stock – beef, pork, chicken or veg is fine
  • 4 tbs butter

Instructions:

Combine black pepper, salt, and granulated garlic. Rub generously into the roast. 

Place roast in crock pot, pour over the jar of pepperoncini with it’s juice and the quart of stock, top with the pats of butter, cover and cook on low for eight hours or so. 

Remove the beef from the slow cooker, remove any fat or collagen, shred and return to the juice. 

Serve as au jus sandwiches on sausage rolls topped with pepperoncini and your favorite fixings (including generous slather of butter on the bun), top salads with beef shreds and pepperoncini, or as a meat course wtih rice, mashed potatoes or cauliflower, polenta, or your favorite sides.  

If you have leftover juice, do not throw it away! Freeze it for another dish calling for beef stock later – that little tang will make some fantastic fall soup!